Tag Archives: Column

Journal of the Emerald Specter 67: Resurrecting Awesome IPs Part 2!

After writing the last column and stating that I would love to continue with this line of thinking (basically converting IPs I love or a no longer “a thing” into solo RPG settings), I started making a list of what else I wanted to cover…

That list is very long.

Not only do I have a few more to add to the mix, but I came up with some other examples of ones I wish I would have included in the previous column. There are enough of these that I might have a part three, too, and if I keep coming up with them, a part four!

First, the “space series” that I mentioned in the previous column (the one more Firefly than Trek or Wars), another great property that is long since dead but much beloved by me is Earth Star Voyager… this one is about a ship heading to a new planet for colonization, but it was designed as a series pilot that was never picked up. There are so many questions left unanswered: why is there an OTZ? What reason do the ships have for weaponry being installed on them? What exactly was the reasoning behind the Triton Corsair’s master plan?

There’s also a similarity with Interstellar, which could fit into the puzzle nicely, too.

On to the rest of this column!

Continuing on with my look at properties that can be used for settings, I came up with Final Fantasy… a perfect video game franchise that, while not dead, presents itself as a “world that is unveiled through play” that would be well suited for my solo RPG purposes.

In some installments, the characters kind of know what is going on with the world and basically have their “railroad” to follow to the end of the line. There are examples of the “I don’t know what is going on” scenario (in two of my favorite installments of VIII and X), with a world of fantastic possibilities to delve into (summon creatures, Chocobos, etc).

This is a setting I can use to flesh everything out with minimal preparation (world background, historical information, power limits, extras, etc). I can literally start rolling die with the Mythic Game Master Emulator and get to moving in the right direction… of playing an actual game.

The Final Fantasy franchise is large and would allow for a lot of expansion as far as a solo RPG goes, but that can also tie into another franchise that runs with a large “amnesia” angle through many of the installments… that being Legend of Zelda.

Digging back into the “I was going to write prose” options, Heroes is a great place to point at for ideas.

The direction I’d go in, rather than having the “secret society after secret society” layered on without much of a plan, I was thinking more along the lines of the 4400, where the super powers come out and people are challenged in moral and ethical ways on how to use that power. You’re going to have a nut job who wants to rule the world and you’ll have other strange things going on around you that are tangentially related to the goal of stopping the “big bad,” but will ultimately reveal what the hell is going on.

What I was essentially going to prose write was something happened, globally, that gifted a lot of people super powers… while there were a few characters who really wanted to use their abilities for good, there were a large set of groups that wanted to fight to control vast stretches of population across the globe. There were strange things going on around the world, too, like a half sphere-sized hole in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a suddenly tropical location in Antarctica that is impenetrable by modern scanning devices, strange creatures running around altering DNA, and more. Hell, the very reason people got the power was geared towards a specific end goal (something like an alien invasion).

In this setting, the world is already technically fleshed out (because it is our world) and the powers would be discovered along the way. The Walking Dead uses a definitive formula that would fall right in line with how my Heroes-esque version would be: survive, discover civilized folk, discover those folk aren’t so civilized, destroy, move along… that is the Walking Dead model. How many times can that be done before people stop being interested?

What about the lovely Black Sails?

Living on the high seas, as a pirate (not terribly unlike Pirates of the Caribbean), experiencing the pirate life and fighting for survival. Black Sails is specifically a “prequel to Treasure Island,” which mixed real and fictional pirates together… I liked that version better than Disney’s because it is more grounded in realism.

Unless I could really come up with a few “grand scale” ideas about a long arc, the story would be mainly about plundering the odd ship’s stores, sinking the enemies of piracy, and just living through life that way… interesting, yes, but is it solo RPG worthy? Sure is!

Continuing with a “treasure hunting” theme, I present Indiana Jones!

I love me some treasure hunting movies. I love the National Treasure series, the Robert Langdon series, Goonies, and basically I’m saying if there is a treasure to be sought out through figuring out of clues, I’m probably going to like the property.

As a character, obviously I’d come across some long lost thing that leaves me a clue to go somewhere, which leads me to more clues, which lead me to more places, and I eventually come to the end of the line where I find the treasure (or whatever that treasure ends up being) at the end. With Last Crusade being my favorite installment of the Jones series, I think that finding a “Grail Diary” type prop would be a great way to start out that type of adventure.

Moving right along, I will dive back into the “I had a series idea” pool… with Knight Rider.

This idea was fleshed out in the late 90s and early 2000s… where a team of scientific types designed some artificial intelligences to helm vehicles to aid with crime fighting. We’ve advanced well past the point (technologically speaking) where my original premise for the story would work (plausibly), and that leads me to look for a means of making it work in today’s world a little better. So I decided that maybe taking the Airwolf model would benefit the story.

If you are unfamiliar, a top secret helicopter was stolen and two operatives were tasked with retrieving the chopper. Once they get it back, they decide that the technology shouldn’t be in the hands of reckless government types and they opt to use the helicopter FOR that government if they deem the situation bears the necessity of using Airwolf.

Tying that in with the Knight Rider idea, there would be a special operations group that runs missions with the aid of artificial intelligences that can transfer between all kinds of vehicles (choppers, cars, etc). This ties in with the military unit style game that would interest me and it could always branch out as the “the government shouldn’t have this, we’ll go on the run” type storyline.

Speaking about “going on the run,” how about Doctor Who?

I have, many times and in many ways, created alternate versions of the Doctor (and Doctor Who universe) to tell stories in. First I named the main protagonist the Stranger, then Inspector, then Agent, back to Inspector, then to something else and so on… always existing in the same general backdrop with the stories being “rejiggered” to work with the new mythology that was modified.

Always those ideas ended up failing… but there were points that I continued to use and have developed into something that I’d dip my toes into here with you.

One concept was the possibility of regeneration into either sex (something Doctor Who finally did with the Time Lords). Other ideas related to more “investigating mysteries” without so much of the science, leaning me always towards the “Inspector” role… which was ruing in parody for me with Inspector Spacetime on Community.

My most recent iteration, though, ties all of the ideas I’ve ever had into one… continuing through my “adventuring time traveler.” I won’t name that traveler, as there is a distinct possibility that will come up in play during one of my solo RPG games, which I would love because then I’ve tied another thing into that item… which would then allow me to flesh out that character in detail through the same means of discovery!

I wasn’t sure how to broach this particular subject, but the idea of not being an amnesiac and discovering the setting through play relates to two properties I love: Terra Nova and Lost.

The premise I’m looking at exploring is the “I end up someplace I don’t understand, which looks familiar, but isn’t what I think it is” type game. No amnesia. Lost uses the plane crash as a means of getting people corralled on an island, where weird crap is going on and no one really understands what is happening… then they go exploring and they discover the secrets of this magically impossible island.

As far as Terra Nova goes, fleeing the future (which is in a state of disrepair and destined to cease existing), people travel back 65 million years to set up a new civilization and save the human race… except, there are weird things going on here, too, with random factions, rogue future elements that are altering the course of things, discovering they aren’t the first civilization to end up in the past like this (due to a boat being found), and finally learning that the past they are in isn’t the same past they thought they were in…

Fun times! Sadly, Terra Nova will never be explored out and I’ll never learn where the weird boat came from, but that doesn’t stop me from using the same basic premise as a game setting to play in.

Next I’ll draw way back from science fiction and get into police drama, like the Chicago Code.

I’ve long liked good police dramas. One series of books I was fond of (until the author changed) was the Badge of Honor series by W.E.B. Griffin. The focus is crime fighting with a good helping of understanding about the cops involved doing the job. While you could also include Hawaii Five-O in this listing (I haven’t watched the original), my hope would be to be as exciting as the Shield without the untoward shenanigans going on in the background.

Police drama these days, though, concentrates a little heavily on murder… which is all well and good, but there is so much else out there to explore. What about what Miami Vice did without needing to rely heavily on homicide? How about Nasty Boys? Hell, even CHiPs managed to have several great seasons of entertainment without needing to have a dead body every week. I love the NYPD Blue aspect but I think having a far more well rounded “not just homicide” department would work better for my gaming needs.

Finishing up with one more property, I’d like to explore the ideas in Smokey and the Bandit.

Generally speaking, Bandit (who is a trucker) is approached by two rich guys who make a bet whether or not it’s possible to bootleg beer from Texas to Georgia in a specific (technically short) amount of time without getting caught. Bandit gets his friend, Snowman, to run the rig while he drives the iconic 1977 Pontiac Trans Am as a “blocker” to attract all the cops his direction. While there were two sequels and a TV series that loosely followed the same logic, I’m going to concentrate on the original film. (Note, in finding the link for the movie I learned that Edgar Wright is doing a reboot in 2019 of this movie, so with any luck, it’ll stay basically the same premise rather than it being some modern version of the same story, ruining the entire thing.)

Having someone who is running illegal things from point A to point B is a great idea for a game. The concept allows for an episodic feel, or can expand out to the “big screen” feel of the movie. The setting will be key, whether it’s in the 1970s bootlegging or running moonshine like the Dukes of Hazzard was originally supposed to be about… the setting will inform the types of things being done.

This would definitely be a different type of game and would allow for more action than dialog, keeping the pace of the chase up throughout. I don’t think I’d want to have this as some sort of government operative escaping with things from other countries, I would really want to have the looming threat of being imprisoned for doing things I shouldn’t be doing at speeds which attract a lot of attention… in the end, the idea is heavily under consideration.

Again, I’m over 2,000 words already and I still have more properties I’d like to cover. Sure, some of what you read has devolved into less about what the original column was and more speculation, but I can get back on track with the next edition.

If you’re curious, the list I made is currently sitting at 17, with me remembering other properties I’d like to include on that list. These are all settings for RPGs, basically, with my own spin on making them as great as they can be…

Hopefully you’re enjoying the ride.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 66: Resurrecting Awesome IPs

The title will be a little misleading but I wanted a means of drawing your eye in to read a little more, so hopefully you’ll forgive me a little. I will actually be talking about a great many intellectual properties (IPs) but that talk will be done in a little bit different way than you might be expecting.

In order to ride a little bit of the “nostalgia factor” that everyone is experiencing with Stranger Things, I wanted to talk about turning those IPs I love into RPGs or prose fiction.

Yes, this may technically be another “RPG” centric column but I’m going to label this one in the more broad sense of being… 

If you can’t see the title, there, it’s “Storytelling.” I guess I shouldn’t just let that be without explanation.

There are a lot of IPs that I’d love to see brought back, or continued, that are sitting in development hell, are already completed (as far as the story goes), and didn’t have the “multiples of billions of dollars” made in their one attempt so they just put it on the shelf.

I’ve got a little bit of a history of making a fairly entertaining version of a property that I would never be able to gain the rights to, so I made my own… this was when I was younger, much younger, and I would like to resurrect that piece of my history to give something like this another run.

Let’s start with Tron (as well as Tron: Legacy).

Creating this particular IP back in the early 1980s, Disney took the “computing terminology and technology” of the era to come up with a digital world where games were real and programs were humanoids with real problems. This all fell under the control of the company’s “overseer” program, which in the digital world was the “big bad” of the story. In the sequel, many of the terms (which were long out of date) were still being used and the general concept was similar in nature to the original, just updated for the new technology to make everything look prettier.

That being said, I love Tron and I loved Tron: Legacy… so much so that I really wanted there to be more sequels to Legacy that are just never going to happen because Disney didn’t make a bazillion dollars and had to settle for a few hundred million. What will they do now? Reboot it, most likely, and try again.

What I’m considering doing with one of my solo RPGs is run in a world very similar to Tron. Yes, I said similar.

I’ve spent a bit of time coming up with how I wanted to run this thing. I’m going to concentrate on the story, rolling a set of dice with the Mythic Game Master Emulator as the GM, to determine the outcomes and general direction of the story. I am literally going to “wake up without a clue as to what is going on.”

Like Tron, there will be (generally) black clad programmed entities that will glow with a light or color and my goal is to figure out where I came from and whether or not something more to be discovered in this digital world. Unlike Tron, I’m not going to have an “outside world” component to the story. This will be more “program dealing with programs,” though I’m probably going to update the terminology to be more like what we actually use today.

No “User,” now it’s Developer. No “Program,” now it’s Application. No “Grid,” now it’s probably going to be something witty that I haven’t come up with, yet… but you get the picture.

And the beauty of this is that I don’t have to come up with a vast amount of history or anything because I don’t know any better as a character, I get to discover this along with you (because I’m publishing the results in a prose-like format).

Before I move on to the next IP, what if my “Tron” ends up being somewhat like The Matrix? I love the Matrix, all of them, and I wouldn’t mind if that ended up going in that direction… but I’ll let play determine that.

Moving right along, let’s talk about the Bourne series.

Derived from a series of books that are as blandly written as one can experience, the film series features a super spy who is seeking out his origins and a means of freeing himself from the ones who put him into the position he’s in of being a super spy. We even had a single “non-Jason Bourne” movie that delved a little into a spy who wasn’t the titular character, which much like the Disney “Tron: Legacy” example above, didn’t perform as well as they’d hoped so they scrapped all future editions that didn’t feature Jason Bourne.

I’ve loved the idea of being a super spy, amnesiac or not, and working my way through a world who is out to get me because of one reason or another. This also technically fits into the John Wick mold, being in a world that is awesome and having awesome skills as I try to get the hell out of my predicament! If I go with the amnesiac angle again, sure it’ll end up being somewhat of a trope, but I can discover the world along with you, the reader.

Or I can develop a little bit of the basics and move along from there… which is far more likely than the not remembering thing… but we will figure that out before play actually begins, I just know I’d rather be more Jason Bourne than James Bond.

How about going with a property that you might not expect from a grown ass adult? I’m talking about Centurions: Power Extreme.

The cartoon was a “far off future” where technology was running rampant over the globe and a special force of three guys wielded awesome weapons against a cyborg evil doer and his dolt of an apprentice.

In no way, shape, or form does the premise or the technology hold up, but the overall idea has lasted… and this fits into another wonderful solo RPG idea, where I would play as one of the weapons specialists fighting against something more sinister than a couple of inept cyborgs to save the planet… and the weapon systems would have to be far more generic and be far more diversified than they were in the cartoon.

Yep, this was a cartoon, dear readers… go watch the five part series opener and the five part series conclusion to experience some of the most awesome parts of the show.

My version wouldn’t be called Centurions, they’d be fighting something more realistic (or at least more along the lines of what G.I Joe: the Rise of Cobra did as opposed to the actual cartoon’s “far future” premise)

Sticking with the cartoon factor, I’d like to hit on Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.

As with all hokey 80s cartoons, a planet of highly advanced technology did something to screw themselves in some way and magic returned to their world, controlled by a wizard who granted a bunch of Medieval-esque knights the ability to change into animals and whatnot.

My own concept would be more akin to Samurai, as I’m a bigger fan of Eastern settings than Western settings, and the magic would have already been there and not gone away… maybe the wizard is someone who is actively removing the magical abilities and the Samurai have to go and knock the crap out of him so they can retain their hard earned magical abilities.

Yeah, that sounds like an idea I wouldn’t mind running through. No amnesia, which means I’d have to have a basic understanding of the background of the setting, but that shouldn’t take too much of the fun out of the adventure of going up against a nearly omnipotent foe for the greater good.

What about a space themed adventure? I could go with a Star Trek-like experience, or a Star Wars-like experience… but I’m going to actually delve a little more closely into a Firefly experience.

But DJ, you hate Firefly! Yes, I do… but that’s because it’s a Western… that happens in space, and I don’t care where a Western happens, I don’t like Westerns (generally, there is always an exception to the rule).

The basic idea that I’d be interested in exploring is a crew on a ship, doing something innocuous like shipping freight from one location to the other, but belonging to some form of official government in a limited setting (like the Solar System) and getting drawn into some sort of conflict that is a little bit bigger than the crew of the ship.

I like the idea of a small crew, of a military nature, operating in a “small but powerful ship” that is doing things and gets called into service. Star Trek, in this case, is too vast as far as space as well as ability. Star Wars is a little to fantasy for the science fiction I’d like to be doing, though I’d take away the “ships just do stuff” aspect from the Wars. As much as I don’t like the series, the Firefly move Serenity was great, and I really do like the “comfy little crew” aspect of the dynamic.

Since I mentioned the franchise earlier, I’d like to draw from the G.I Joe: Retaliation installment of the seemingly dead movie franchise.

The idea I’m going with, here, is the idea of a military unit being hunted for a reason and that unit being forced into action to defend itself.

Well, this kind of relates to the Bourne idea above, as in there is probably a secret we (as the unit) know something about something that we go into hiding for, only to be flushed out by over zealous people who just can’t let sleeping dogs lie… and that forces said unit back into action, exposing that secret while killing all the bad guys in the process.

This is actually a story I developed for a prose novel I wanted to write and never did… if I turn this into an RPG setting, I can leave the secret up to the game emulator. I gave a link earlier, and it’s the one I’d use because it’s the one I own.

Since I love me some Vampire the Masquerade and Vampire the Requiem, why don’t I look a little bit at the Underworld franchise for the next idea?

I’m looking at the “war versus another supernatural creature” aspect of the vampires in my own solo RPG experience. I’ve toyed with the idea of the “brand new vampire discovering the world they actually live in” angle, and I’m not necessarily ruling that out, but I’ve also recently wanted to do the “ancient vampire rejoins the world and discovers they’re really an overpowered child learning the ropes of the society they’ve created” angle…

One of my favorite series of novels from the VtM line was the Masquerade of the Red Death Trilogy of books, which were almost immediately made “non-canon” because of whatever reasons… they are a damn good story, a little on the long side, but at no point are you sitting there thinking “when are we going to get to the damn action.” They also contain all of the major supernatural splats from the game lines (vampires, werewolves, and mages, though I don’t think the werewolves did a whole lot in the story now that I think about it).

I won’t spoil the story for you, but there is a ton of stuff in there to mine as far as story possibilities… but that doesn’t relate, necessarily to the Underworld aspect.

One thing I didn’t like about Underworld is the lack of super powers by the vampires. The lycans had all kinds of abilities (well, the ability to transform into a monstrous killing machine) and I would want to expand on that a bit… which means the “new vampire discovering the 411” is probably the best angle for this one, as well as one of the VtM or VtR splats being the best place to host the story in (at least the framework of how vampires and other supernaturals work).

There IS another variation of this, which I’ve created a vast and wonderful world around, that I could do and have some form of “random learning” going on… and that is a werewolf version of Vampire Diaries or True Blood but with more focus on the wolves than anything else. I have named this venture Moonrise, because the story was originally about the heir to the werewolf throne in a time when the politics of the society are starting to unravel… and that would be what I’d consider using as a basis for a story along these lines.

I’ve covered a lot of IPs… not all of the ones I was thinking, but with a column word count over 2,000, I think it’s time to wrap this edition up and consider a sequel (once I write down another series of possible IPs I would love to turn into my own little creations as possible solo RPG options).

The biggest reason for my concentration on solo RPGs is that I can’t get anyone else to play with, reliably. There are groups in my area but I’m not super interested in playing D&D, Pathfinder, or anything like that… I don’t want to necessarily physically go somewhere, either. Online, I don’t have anyone who can meet regularly enough in order to run a game more than just a week (see Greatest Show episode 109), where I reference Green Team that ran exactly once… and the entire cast has never been all on at the same time since. Hence, my point.

So, until I find a crew (hopefully containing a GM so I can be just a player once in a while), I will look into the solo RPG avenue.

Stay tuned for a second part if I have enough material!

Thanks for reading.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 65: Playing the “Unique” Characters

I was three or four paragraphs into expounding on a topic I’ve already covered when I decided that I didn’t want to rehash the same information… and realized I didn’t have much more to say than I’ve already said. So, why don’t I just go over that little bit and move on to the topic of this particular column.

When thinking about Discovery versus the Orville, the Orville is the one worth watching. If I want dreary, un-Star Trek like Star Trek, I’ll go watch something other than Star Trek. CBS has not only missed the mark, they’ve actively started driving away long term Star Trek fans, of which I am one. I just don’t care about what Discovery has to say anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest again, let’s move to a little RPG topic I decided to come out and talk about… 

Wherever there is a roleplaying game, you can be sure that someone playing in that game wants to play something either completely off the wall or something that has been specifically stated they can’t play it…

In short, if you’re told in a Star Trek game you can’t play a Borg, one of the players will inevitably say they want to play a Borg.

I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted to play some unique characters, too, but I listen to the barriers erected by the person running the game and tried to work within that specific set of parameters. Basically, I’d try to come up with something interesting based on what was available and what kind of mood I was in.

There was a time, though, I actually got into an argument with someone over this very subject. Since the argument was involving Vampire the Masquerade, I’m going to go into depth on that.

I was coming into a group that the game master (GM, storyteller in VtM) had specifically limited the available playable Vampire clans to the Camarilla (meaning Brujah, Gangrel, Ventrue, Toreador, Malkavian, Nosferatu, and Tremere at the time), with no exceptions. So one of the other players, whom I’ll call Steve, wanted to play an Assamite… they are the stereotypical assassins of VtM.

While you’re looking at the list of Camarilla clans, you’ll notice that Assamite is not one of them. The GM didn’t want an Assamite in the game, so the request was understandably denied. Steve fought and fought, basically throwing an adult version of a hissy fit.

I was originally going to play a Brujah gang banger… then Steve and I got into an argument.

What I asked Steve, point blank, was why he couldn’t play an assassin from one of the available clans? His response related directly to the stereotypes of each of the clans (Brujah being gang members and bikers, Gangrel being woodland folk, Venture being uppity socialites, Toreador being airheaded artsy types, Malkavians being “ha ha” crazy, Noserfatu being sewer dwellers, and Tremere being conspiracy magician types). If you wanted to play a Ventrue, by Steve’s understanding, you HAD to play an uppity socialite.

I challenged Steve that you could be anything from any clan, meaning that the stereotype was a broad generality and Steve was not seeing that they could be anything but their most base generic surface features. Steve complained and I replied that I could be something that, in his mind, wasn’t possible.

May I also say that the GM found this argument very entertaining, mainly because Steve was being an inflexible ass and someone else was standing up to him.

Steve challenged me to do exactly what I said I could do… so I chucked out my Brujah gang banger, totally in the stereotype of the clan, and decided instead to play a Toreador assassin.

Yes, a Toreador assassin.

The Toreador, as a stereotype, are into art and music. They make paintings, sculptures, clothing, and all kinds of things that make them the generic airheads Steve thought they were because that’s how he saw “artsy types.” I want to go on record that I do not see artsy people like that, but in order to drive home my points, I’m using the Toreador stereotype in a somewhat derogatory way.

Silas Bancroft was born in the early 60s, grew up and was embraced into the clan in the middle of the “free feeling and loopy” 70s, finally to be trained as the personal assassin of the Prince of Memphis (Tennessee). The game was being played in the early 2000s and that made my Toreador a whopping 40 or so years old.

Steve was beside himself. How could anyone become a quality assassin in such a short period of time? That was along side the fact that if he wasn’t admiring the latest Jackson Pollock painting he couldn’t possibly function.

Well, Steve pointed out that the clan flaw of the Toreador was to be “unable to turn away from a thing of beauty.” That meant I had to play Silas as someone who couldn’t pass a bus stop advertisement because it was a pretty picture. How could an assassin be effective stopping to smell all the roses along the way?

The GM and I both understood that the weakness meant that Silas had his own beautiful thing he couldn’t turn away from… and I decided that Silas really loved the sight of the true dead. The reason he’d been trained as an assassin in the first place is his desire to see things die, in a most permanent fashion.

If you think that Steve lost his mind, you would be correct. He couldn’t tolerate this “complete lack of respect for the rules” and decided he didn’t want to play anymore. Steve then left.

Before I move on, I ended up playing that Toreador assassin until his untimely demise (which came when I botched an assassination attempt and was killed by the bodyguards of the target).

The whole point of this scenario was to show anyone that you can play something “unique” without having to bend the rules to achieve that goal. Steve really wanted to be the unique Assamite in a game that Assamites weren’t allowed in more than he actually wanted to play an assassin.

I’ve played in and run email SIMs that took place in the Star Trek universe. In those games, despite being expressly prohibited from playing “connected Borg,” you’ll get at least one player asking to be a Borg who is still connected to the Collective… why?

Someone reading this is probably one of those people and that person is probably saying they do it because they “want to shake things up.” Why? In a galaxy without Jedi, you want to be the one guy who still uses the Force as a Jedi? You need to absolutely be the one Borg who isn’t disconnected? The thing that makes you complete as a human being means you need to be the only person who is allowed to play a human Cylon when you weren’t allowed to play them?

Take the game that you are going to play in, look at the limitations, and figure out what you want to actually accomplish in the game and then work with what you are allowed to work with from that starting point.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a few actual play podcasts in recent days and I am overjoyed to hear things that I haven’t ever personally experienced: players creating characters within their limitations AND the players not being antagonistic towards the GM.

Yeah, the GM isn’t the enemy! A story is being told, it isn’t a competition!

I’m interested in telling stories with friends in a game where we’re all bound and playing within the same limitations. If I want to play something I can’t play, I will find a way to get as close to that WITHIN THE LIMITATIONS as I can… because I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake like Steve was in my example. He’s a delicate little flower that needed to have his way or he was taking his ball and going home… and he did.

Do what you can with what you have and let’s all start playing better games, shall we?

Journal of the Emerald Specter 64: Emerald Specter Chess Club

After a nearly 3,000 word rambling on my first draft of this column, I have decided to rid myself of the innocuous terminology from the first attempt to just go forward with something far easier to read. The other one was detailed, it explained a lot, I just didn’t really format the thing in a way that was productively explaining what the topic intended to explain.

So, here we go again with the second attempt! After a brief preamble, I’m hoping to keep things moving in a specific and cohesive direction.

On this day, November 16, 2017, I am announcing the official formation of the Emerald Specter Chess Club. I’ve had a chess club with the previous domain that wasn’t successful, but that had more to do with the lack of a specific direction than anything else. The Emerald Specter Chess Club, or ESCC, is going to combine two things that I love into one wonderful experiment of chess awesomeness. What are those two things? Chess and sumo.

The origin of this idea came to me when I was coming up with different methods of holding chess events towards the common goal of producing a competition that could be completed annually. While I came up with quite a few methods to accomplishing this, the one that really stuck with me was the sumo format.

Sumo Grand Tournaments, or honbasho, are held six times per year. Each honbasho pits every member of the top division against 15 opponents, one per day. After the 15 days have elapsed, a winner is crowned and from that series of results a ranking is produced. Without filling you with too much information, only the top division does 15 matches.

When I started working on this idea, I’d given it the working title of “Chess Basho.” Since I have made a few important decisions on how to translate the sumo honbasho format for chess, there are noticeable differences in how things are going to develop.

That’s the point of this column. I need to give the rules for the ESCC, or the previously referred to Chess Basho Project.

Divisions

The ESCC will be organized into divisions of 12  with each player playing every other player twice (once with white and once with black). Every player will play a total of 22 games to try to score the highest possible results to compete for the tournament win, as well as titles.

Divisions in the ESCC will be titled after metals on the periodic table, with the top division being the Gold Division. As membership grows, other divisions will be added and given their own designations (such as Silver, Copper, etc). Each division will have 12 players.

In the Gold Division, players will be ranked according to their performance based off of previous tournament results. Initially, the ranking will be strictly done from Chess.com‘s Elo rating, but only for the initial launch.

When there are more than one division, the top four finishers in the lower division will be promoted into the higher division, and the bottom four finishers will be relegated into the lower division. Only the Gold Division will have no promotion for the top finishers, as there is no higher division to be promoted into.

Titles

The players in the Gold Division will be ranked from one to 12, alternating “east” and “west” (with east being higher than west), except for the titled players.

In order to avoid providing titles beyond the scope of the club, the terms “master” and “expert” will not be used. In order to avoid providing the sumo versions of titles, none of the sumo titles will be granted within the ESCC. The ESCC will provide titles, in ascending order: Sapphire Adept, Ruby Adept, Emerald Adept, and Diamond Adept. Each Adept title will have requirements in order to be promoted into or demoted from.

A player can be promoted into a Sapphire Adept (SA) simply by earning 5.5 points in a tournament. Players can be demoted from this rank by simply failing to score at least 5.5 points.

An SA can be promoted into a Ruby Adept (RA) simply by earning 5.5 points in a tournament. Players can be demoted from this rank simply by failing to score at least 5.5 points. Once achieved, there can be no less than two Sapphire and Ruby Adepts (combined) at any one time.

An RA can be promoted into Emerald Adept (EA) by achieving specific benchmarks. First, the RA must have scored at least 24 points over the last three tournaments, with the last tournament being at least a score of 8.5. There can be no results in these tournaments less than 5.5 points and a tournament win will eliminate the requirement of 24 points over three tournaments, simply allowing the RA automatic promotion to EA. Demotion from EA is a two step process: failing to achieve 5.5 points in a tournament will mark the EA as “chipped.” A second straight sub-5.5 point result will result in demotion back to RA. A player can return to EA immediately if they score at least 8 points in the tournament immediately following their demotion.

An EA can be promoted into Diamond Adept (DA) by achieving specific benchmarks. First, the EA must have scored at least 32 points over the last four tournaments, with no sub-5.5 point results as well as having won a tournament in the ESCC. Winning two consecutive tournaments as an EA automatically promotes the player to DA, as long as they did not score sub-5.5 points in the tournament prior to their consecutive wins. If there was a sub-5.5 point result prior, then the performance following the consecutive tournament wins must be 9 points in order to receive promotion to DA, else the previous requirements must be met. Demotion from DA is just like demotion from EA, the DA will first be chipped and then demoted with sub-5.5 point scores. In order for the EA to immediately return to DA, though, they must score at least 9 points in the tournament immediately following their demotion, unlike the 8 point score for EAs.

I know that all looks a little confusing but it makes sense. Unlike sumo, there CAN be demotion from the top most title.

ESCC Tournaments

The idea is to hold four tournaments per calendar year, quarterly. They will be Winter (beginning the second Sunday of January), Spring (beginning the second Sunday of April), Summer (beginning the second Sunday of July), and Autumn (beginning the second Sunday of October). The time control for these tournaments is one move per day, allowing for an accelerated pace and wrapping of the tournament results prior to the next tournament starting.

Ideally, players would participate in every tournament every year. Life happens, though, and a provision will be made to miss one tournament per year (12 months) without penalty. This would be treated as scoring 5.25 points (a score not possible in chess) when rankings are considered. If the player misses two tournaments in the year (twelve months), the result will be considered 0 points and rankings will be adjusted accordingly.

Ranking

Prior to the tournament (as far in advance as is possible), a ranking will be released based on the prior tournament’s results. Scoring 5.5 points or more will result in going up the rankings and scoring 5.0 or less points will result in going down the rankings. The missed tournament considered at 5.25 points will leave the player as close to their previous ranking as is possible.

Rankings will always include east and west positions, with titled players being ranked in order at the top. A sample ranking follows:

EAST   #   WEST
John Smith   DA         -vacant-
John Doe    EA   Jane Public
Sally Smith   RA        Jane Doe
Bill Fold   SA     -vacant-
Someone   1   Someone
Someone   2   Someone
Someone   3   Someone

Expansion

Since I’m realistic, I’ve decided to launch divisions with 12 players per division. This would make the rankings only contain 6 lines per division. If the need exists, due to the popularity of the ESCC demanding, divisions may be bumped up to 24 players per division, with two groups of 12 players competing (in an east and west format), with the top two finishers advancing to a special (untracked point) round for the ultimate winner of the tournament.

In the event that this would occur, revisiting the rules would be done in order to ensure that provisions would be put into place for the “advanced round” of play, as well as requirements on how many titled players could exist at any one point in time. 

The reasons that certain things here are spelled out in some detail is because I’d like to personally participate in the ESCC, at least initially. In order for me to do that, and be the “overseer of the ESCC” at the same time, I need clear rules and benchmarks for all of the above in order to avoid the perception of any impropriety. Thus, I am bound by the same laws as the rest, which is how things are supposed to be, without bias.

Is this a gimmick? Sure, and I’ll readily admit that. Is this something designed for super strong players? The intent is that players under 1700, ideally, would be the ones most interested in this (as players that strong or higher tend to be working towards specific chess goals). The tournaments will all be rated and no interested player will be turned away.

This isn’t in the official rules above because I don’t really know if this is going to be an issue in the future, but players who just stop showing up for tournaments all together will be “retired from competition.” Retired players can always come back into play, but they’d start at the bottom (the lowest division, untitled) and have to work their way back up.

I personally am hoping for at least five divisions of 12 players each. I’d love 24 players per division, but I don’t want to get my sights set too high. That would mean we’d have a Gold, Silver, Copper, Nickel, and Cobalt Divisions (with a possibility of bumping up the Gold to Platinum and eliminating the Cobalt). I won’t count my chickens before they hatch, though.

One thing I eliminated from the original draft of this column was the consideration of a “fighting name” (what the Japanese call shikona). Using the handles on Chess.com will be sufficient and eliminate any possible confusion as far as who is who.

I hope you’ll join me in the inaugural tournament and in the ESCC (the link is here). Most likely the first tournament will be open to all, with the results hopefully enticing a few of those players to stick around after being ranked.

Thanks for reading.

The Specter Show 042: The Art of Self Destruction, Part One

Do you want a BuJoRPG podcast that is video? Audio? Both? Feedback is needed and this one is about what I’d be offering as your BuJoRPG podcast… so chime in!

Host: DJ Allen
Intro Music: The Idea of You by Nine Inch Nails (from Not the Actual Events)
Outtro Music: The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails
Intro Lead in: Dirk Manning

Contact:
Email: EmeraldSpecter.com@Gmail.com
Twitter: @EmeraldSpecter
Instagram: @EmeraldSpecter

Support Emerald Specter at Patreon!

Thanks for checking this out, you can find more at EmeraldSpecter.com!

Journal of the Emerald Specter 63: The Benefit of Hindsight

Technically, this will be a “random history” column, but will also fill the role of figuring out how to move forward with concepts and ideas… it’ll all make sense as I role this out.

The problem with this particular bit of random history, I find myself unsure of a heading image to use… I want to continue using headings that get made and I’ve already created three that I don’t think will ever get used again. I could be wrong, of course, but the idea of the headers is to give me ample options when I’m writing these columns.

So, with the thought process on this next one, I think I have covered a wide topic while still keeping the general topic at hand in one piece. Things will look a little weird in the beginning but I promise that I’m actually going somewhere with this, so without further ado:

In late 1996, Bob (of the Greatest Show fame) and I decided to form an American knighthood. Bob came from a background, of which I only vaguely remember, that had him and his hometown posse with lengthy “titles.” The idea that Bob would be able to add “sir” to that was something he was interested in. If you’re wondering, I also had a lengthy title, thanks to Bob inducting me into the gang, and after the knighting between the two of us, my title was now Sir Lor Tian Dark Tiger, Teydani Priest of the Werecat Clan. I haven’t used that in two decades, but I have retained the knighthood.

The idea of the knighthood wasn’t anything more than improving myself and having a background to do so. The Emerald Knights, as we were, had a bit of a falling out and when I left the Navy, I took the knighthood’s concepts with me back home.

I was going to build the Emerald Knights from the foundation that was what Bob and I had established. There was a small recruitment and I ended up adding friends (Viper, Dan, Kyle, and Angus). Yes, two of those are nicknames and rather than struggle with forcing my use of their real names, I’ll just call them how we all referred to them for all this time.

Establishing a structure by which the Emerald Knights would operate was our first order of business. We established a hierarchy, recruited a few more members, and we were well on our way to being better. Our mode of self improving wasn’t quite solidified, though, as we were entrenched in trying to build that idea from scratch. The “from scratch” is what you should remember as I continue with this tale.

Building the Emerald Knights slowly converted from a self improvement group to creating shadows where shadows didn’t need to exist. A faction within a faction was eventually created, bureaucracy in our meetings was formed, and we stopped growing and sort of just treaded water at that point.

Here’s where things got rocky.

Trying to control things without necessarily having a goal in mind, I ended up driving a wedge between myself and Dan, the person I would have chosen as the successor to the “leadership” that was (at that time) myself. The wedge was so deeply driven that I hadn’t even spoken to Dan (or any of the others) for almost two years, when Dan and I started talking again.

Gone was the idea of doing anything with the Emerald Knights, as far as the group was concerned, but I did still want to get back to the focus of what the Emerald Knights was supposed to be: self improvement with some flowery caveats to entice the populace in general.

Here’s the call back to what I mentioned before, and in hindsight, I realize that building something from scratch when resources existed to build up from was a terrible idea. With several failed attempts at rising up into a management position in my working career, I realize that I should have formed the basis for the organization and stepped back to let the others grow that as I simply filled in with input now and then.

Basically, induct everyone into the organization with the idea of growing it in a certain direction and then stepping down from leadership into a more ceremonial role, leadership emeritus if you will.

If Dan, Kyle, Angus, Viper, or any of the others read this above description, they might be confused by what the ultimate goal initially was… we didn’t really have a lot of clear communication on that front, which was part of the problem. Reconnecting with Bob and bringing up the concept again, the Emerald Knights just kind of “died on the vine” as our distance didn’t make the idea of a knighthood (for self improvement or otherwise) feasible.

My concept for self improvement has had a resurgence in recent times (by recent, I mean in the last couple of years). Discovering bullet journaling, then building the BuJoRPG with self improvement as the very core of the system, I was making progress again on a solo level. I’ve never liked the solo idea in totality and believe that groups can improve better as we have each other to draw from rather than drawing from a single source.

This leads me to a more recent set of ideas that I’ve wanted to develop.

The core “tagline” of Freemasonry is “making good men better.” I’ve toyed with the idea of joining the fraternity several times, but after digging into what the fraternity did as far as ceremony, I’ve decided against becoming a member. Personally, the deep connection to a “supreme being” isn’t a terrible idea but intertwining that concept with almost everything is what really turned me off. The other item that bothered me is that while the fraternity claims to be enlightened (at least more than the common individual), they retain that women aren’t really worthy of being part of the group and thus Freemasonry is a “men’s only” club.

If the switch from the Emerald Knights history to Freemasonry seems jarring, bear with me. I didn’t have a great segue to get from one to the other.

Freemasonry teaches “good men to become better” by teaching lessons of allegory wrapped in symbolism and ritual. I think I’ve covered all the buzz words in that sentence. That all boils down to each lesson is a play, acted out by the initiate (the Mason seeking that degree) and other members, to “bring light to the Mason.” The concept of the “bringing light” is where I came up with the enlightenment bit, though I don’t believe they, themselves, consider themselves enlightened.

I’ve known for sometime, from the words of the Masons themselves, that if you look on the Internet, you’ll find everything you need to know about the Freemasons. If you look for yourself, the important thing is to push aside all the asinine conspiracy theories to find out exactly what is at the core of the organization.

What I was looking for, and will point you at now, are the lessons of the degrees themselves. Since the Scottish Rite has 32 degrees, I felt that the “more lessons” would better my self improvement far greater than just the generally accepted “three degrees.” Thus, I began my search for the rituals (as that is what I believed was what I needed to find). I came across a little bit more, though.

Discovering what the actual “play” of the ritual was, while tedious in its reading, contained the basic information I was looking for, I also discovered the lectures (which contain most of the same information but also go on to describe in more detail what needs to be learned from the ritual itself). I tried just learning from the lectures themselves but noticed, when I went back to look at the rituals, that the pair of them were important to have together rather than separately.

Thus, my research now includes both ritual and lectures, but also is expounded upon by dogmatic and esoteric research for each degree by Masons “of old.” Together, these sources flesh out the concepts that help make “good men better.”

I’ve done a lot of research that I plan to produce a podcast explaining each degree. The podcast would be a monthly podcast, probably be a little longer than I normally do (on a solo basis), and would each concentrate on one of the degrees of Freemasonry.

Things that won’t be included are the secret passwords and handshakes… mainly because they do not further my own self improvement and are what the Freemasons actually consider the “secret” portion of their fraternity. No conspiracies for world domination, no ritual butt sex, and no manipulating the world to suit their own needs.

Here’s where I tie everything together.

If I would have used the Freemasons as the basic foundation for the Emerald Knights, the Emerald Knights would still be a thing today. I don’t believe the general idea is lost but I don’t think that I, nor any of the others I mentioned above, could be the ones to resurrect it.

My own self improvement will be benefitted from researching the Masonic degrees. I’m not into the conspiracy theories, I won’t have a “grand organization” from which to govern others in their own self improvement, and I’m content to leave the past in the past. I’m not even sure that building an organization around this is necessary.

The morality within Freemasonry is rooted by their religious background, something to give a “reason to be moral.” Religion has used this concept to give others an anchor for their moral actions. If you need an anchor to be moral, then what kind of monster would you be without that anchor? I don’t need an anchor, personally, and since I don’t I’ll have to be content without the “brotherhood” aspect of Freemasonry that I think enriches the general concepts of their lessons.

Hindsight being 20/20, the Emerald Knights should have found a basic foundation from somewhere else (actual Medieval English chivalry, Samurai Bushido code, Freemasonry, etc) and built up from there. Coming up with the concepts from scratch would have meant (I now realize) decades of refining things that others have already done the work on.

Without revolving around self improvement organizations, this should be applied to everything you do. Want to create a roleplaying game? Why build everything without the benefit of looking at the work of others? Why not take the foundation laid down in other games and build up from there? What about bullet journaling? Why “recreate the wheel” instead of just using the concepts in the system already created?

Why do we make things so difficult on ourselves?

When I was young, just like billions of youths before me, I thought I had all the answers and knew everything I needed to know. What did I need from the older generations who had lived life and tried to pass on that knowledge to me?

I didn’t exactly shun that information but I should have listened a lot earlier, a lot more, and definitely put more effort into following the advice.

I sit here typing this column up as someone who has 40+ years under my belt. I’ve seen things and made mistakes that didn’t need to be made because those mistakes had already been made by others. Now I am the one who points out the mistakes I’ve made to prevent others from having to make them, trying to enrich the “youth” of tomorrow from coming to the same realization that I’ve outlined (in general concept) in this column.

Maybe there DOES need to be an organization that does what Freemasonry does, but be far more inclusive to the world at large?

I can’t be the one to build it, though… not alone, at least.

Thanks for reading.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 62: Fixing US Soccer

You’d all be so proud of me if you knew that I wrote this well in advance and didn’t wait until the last minute.

Oh, well now you do! Boom.

I was listening to the Total Soccer Show (the “10 Ways to Fix US Soccer” episode) and I decided that I wanted to throw my own thoughts in on the subject. I’m going to parrot a little of what the guys were talking about, but I’m also going to try and not JUST parrot what they said.

All of this stems from the US Men’s National Team being eliminated from the World Cup qualification. I’m not a big World Cup follower, I’d rather see the league play from any league other than the World Cup, but I’ll allow this to be the push to get things started.

In order to have a quality US Men’s National Team (USMNT) to compete and actually be a viable to win the World Cup, we have to take a look at the entire US soccer system and understand that it sucks. In fact, it sucks so much that it is the one thing that the general US population doesn’t “care about” because they aren’t any good at it.

Why not FIX the problem?

Our recruitment system in the US sucks. We don’t foster the youth programs but a fraction of a degree to which other countries who ARE successful do. Forget about the idealized Brazil, Argentina, or other “mythologically” great teams… they aren’t myth, those countries work really hard to identify their quality players at a very young age and put them through the training they need to be big names on the world stage. The US, as far as I understand, doesn’t have anything even remotely close to a system that does this… and it shows.

Once the US recruitment system identifies and puts the new recruits through their training system, they need a place to go in order to grow. Every single other league in the world has a promotion/relegation (pro/rel) system in place except the US. Why?

The story about this, from most of the US citizenship, is that if a club wasn’t competing with the rest of the top leagues in the country, that club would lose all support.

That is an excuse.

Let’s look at the NFL… first as is and then as a pro/rel system. (Please note that I do not think American Football should have a pro/rel system installed.)

In the NFL, there is a system in place (the Draft) to reward teams who fail to have a winning record in the league. The Draft allows a small boost, in the form of a few new talented players, which can then lead to signing free agents who believe that newly drafted player can raise the team up. After a few more signings, ridding the team of naysayers, and maybe even a rebrand (planned over the course of years), those teams can rise up… possibly even to the point of making a decent Super Bowl run, or get close for several years.

Before free agency, a terrible team would linger in the gutter for a decade or more, being beaten down year after year until they get a shot to build up.

Now let’s look at the NFL with a pro/rel instituted… and for the purposes of this example, I’m going to make up a second tier league that I’ll call NAFL (North American Football League). The NAFL will have 16 teams, in markets that the NFL currently doesn’t fill (San Diego, Sacramento, Portland, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Memphis, Orlando,  Richmond… and five teams from markets the NFL could stand to branch out into in this part of the world: Mexico City, Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec, and San Juan).

The first part of this is eliminating “the NFL Draft,” which forces the “undrafted NCAA talent” to enter the general free agency market… and let’s eliminate the salary cap, too.

We now enter a “slump” where San Francisco and Indianapolis have really bottomed out, being the worst two teams in the NFL. After the Super Bowl, those two teams are relegated to the NAFL and the two top finishers in the NAFL, in this case Mexico City and Toronto, are promoted into the NFL in their places. This gives San Francisco and Indianapolis a reason to try harder to recruit better players, spend the money necessary to improve to be promoted, and the other NAFL teams are just as motivated to be the next ones to be promoted, too. Every team in the NFL has every reason to compete as hard as possible, spend what is necessary, and get the best talent they can to remain in the NFL.

The next season, maybe Toronto finishes last and the New York Jets finish second to last… Indianapolis manages to redeem themselves to be promoted again, along with the second place NAFL team San Juan getting their chance to advance out of the NAFL.

Yes, this scenario screws up the regional divisions a bit, but teams that suck will be given a reason to not suck.

The Barclay’s Premier League, or the English Premier League for the uninitiated, have four or five clubs that are really strong all the time with everyone else taking a swing at them and striving to beat them. Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea are those clubs, with an occasional other club managing to compete at the highest level for a season or two. When clubs get relegated, they work harder to get promoted again, as well as making sure they don’t just get relegated right away again.

There is nothing even remotely like this in US soccer. So, let’s go all the way back up to my “recruit the youth” situation, with a concentration on the “system those young talented players can come up in.”

In a state of the league address by MLS commissioner Don Garber, the commissioner wanted MLS to be one of the top leagues in the world by 2022. With the “NFL style” system used in MLS, that isn’t going to happen. Despite what the MLS believes, we are still the “hey, I’m well past my prime but I can play in the MLS for a few years and make multiples of millions of dollars in the process because they are starved for the highest quality talent” league.

Things working against the MLS in becoming “one of the best leagues in the world” are: 1) time… MLS is one of the newest leagues in the world and since everyone likes to point at tradition, MLS is almost a century behind in the legacy department… 2) salary cap… because limiting the amount of money that can be spent, which also falls into limiting how many “designated players” a team can have, is always good for business (I say that with extreme sarcasm)… 3) no pro/rel… if you don’t want a club to fold or move on, institute a pyramid system so that team can be properly relegated and allow another club can rise up and fill their place, enriching the competition because someone else doesn’t have to spend money to “get in”… 4) thinking MLS will ever be anything close to the NFL… Garber has such a hard on for how popular the NFL is that he’s forgetting that simply “white washing US soccer to be like the NFL” isn’t going to end well, mainly because soccer fans don’t want MLS to be like the NFL, they want MLS to be like other world leagues.

Build a “tier two” league. Limit MLS to 18 clubs, 20 at the very most, and anyone wanting in to the MLS has to win their way out of T2. The US actually has two leagues that can fill the role of a tier 3 and tier 4, so why not bridge that gap and finally take the plunge to make the MLS the league Garber would like it to be: competitive on the world stage.

One last thing… if you want to compete with the world, you should be on the schedule that the world is on. Put the MLS in the fall/winter/spring and keep the players from dying of heat stroke in the summer. Very few leagues in the world compete over the summer, and ALL OF THEM are second tier leagues… because they can’t compete with the top tier leagues (your Barclay’s, Bundesliga, Ligue Un, etc).

Show the US how to excel by doing it on the same schedule, so that when there is an “International break” for the World Cup qualifications, the US isn’t in the midst of the MLS wearing our top tier players out in the process.

And now I’ve come full circle.

You want to be the best? Start beating the best at their own game, using their own rules, and competing when the best of the best compete… otherwise, Garber’s words are just going to be like some politician’s words when they’re just trying to get you to vote for them.

Enough preaching. I would like to see the MLS be more like the other leagues in the world… until then, I’ll keep watching the “real” football leagues in the world.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 61: The Chess Story

I’ve told a chess story from the fifth grade on my websites for years, one might even say more than a decade, and I continuously end up coming back to revisit that topic from time to time. I’m not going to recount that story here, again, so don’t worry about that… but I wanted to talk a little bit about what I mentioned on the most recent Specter Show (episode 39) about integrating this concept in with a solo RPG experience.

I’d like to flesh that concept out a little bit here. Won’t you come on this adventure with me?

The roughest concept of what I’m going to talk about is my fifth grade chess club running itself like the WWE. Replace WWE with “UFC” or “poker on TV” if you need to not have glazed eyes at a professional wrestling reference, but that is the basic idea. We were 11, so give us a little break.

In my solo RPG research, I came up with the idea that I could integrate this concept (for adults) in with playing actual chess games to include in the “episode posts.” Bear with me, here.

Let’s create a quick character concept in a man I’ll call David Charles Price, who is a (roughly) 1100-1200 rated chess player and is aged somewhere between 35 and 40-ish. David is my character who is approached by John Smith (yeah, all that work to name the very next person John Smith) about recreating their “fifth grade chess experience.” After some discussion, the concept that anyone rated above 1700 wouldn’t like this idea and wouldn’t participate, so the rating limit is made at 1400 (initially).

Player invitations happen “in character” and test games are run (by test games I mean games played to familiarize everyone who is playing together gets familiar with each other’s style). The players who need help to compete are taken aside and taught to get better, while David C. Price and company continue into creating “personalities” and getting ready to compete “on camera.”

All of this would be character interactions in this RPG that I, DJ Allen, would be using to play the “Chess Story” scenario. Dice would be rolled and different strengths of players would be determined in their character creation.

The stage would now be set.

As David C. Price, whom has adopted the moniker “DCP” as his persona, I would begin using my own Chess.com games against real people as the chess games in this Chess Story to advance the DCP character into the story. I’m taking actual chess games to integrate them into my chess RPG story that I’d be telling.

Centered around the fifth grade chess club concept. The “What Would That Look Like” column discusses the idea of no restrictions and introducing this to the world at large.

I’m taking that column bulk and restricting the situation to chess players under a certain rating level. Someone who isn’t really following “profession chess” can even understand that someone rated 1400 will more than likely beat someone rated 1100 with some ease. This would have to be eliminated as our “rating system” for this RPG to be more interesting and to be presented more like the UFC than the actual FIDE chess federation. As a replacement, because I’m creating this around the concept of “under 1500” rated players, I’m suggesting using a martial arts style belt system (as an example, here’s one of the pages that gave me the idea).

You, as a potential chess spectator, are more likely to watch a game between two green belts (not really knowing which one might win) rather than a game between a 1412 rated player versus a 1356 rated player.

In the game, advancing from one belt to the next would require performing on the board at a specific level or maybe beating someone from the higher belt color. That can be determined through the playing of the solo RPG elements of the game, but everything would be outlined on the site for reference.

Would there be a specific career path in this Chess Story RPG? No, that would come out as part of the play. Maybe DCP ends up advancing until he reaches a wall that he can’t beat a specific player, or maybe every time he gets an opportunity at a championship he fails miserably (on the bright stage of the “main event.”). Maybe DCP becomes the strongest player in the league and becomes legendary player for others to aspire towards (or to aspire in defeating).

Obviously, if my actual games are the ones being presented, I’d have to be getting better along the way to be that “best player in the league,” assuming any of the characters end up being closer to the 1400 rated player, because I have my issues playing them at my paltry 1100 level.

But you wouldn’t know that if it was DCP (Blue Belt) vs. Giant Pawn (Blue Belt) for the League Championship… see how that modifies the scenario a little?

I’m not 100% positive that I’ll be running this exact thing as a solo RPG, but since the basic elements are present and possible, why not throw a little actual chess into the mix to make things a little more fun in my RPG?

The content will be produced and published on the site and I think that I’d have a grand old time playing the game (and the games). Hopefully, you’d find the story interesting enough to follow along, too.

That’s all for this week, see you again next week!

Journal of the Emerald Specter 60: The Big Roundup Edition

If you woke up this morning wondering where the Journal of the Emerald Specter was, you’d be right in thinking you just can’t find it. Well, here it is, and it wasn’t prewritten for a number of reasons.

I normally write the Journal on the same day I record the Specter Show, which is Sunday. Every once in a while I’ll write the Journal earlier, giving me less “rush” to record the podcast (knowing I also have a column to write). This week has been a bit of a hectic push to get things going and I’ve had to dump a truckload of stuff out of the way to make way for everything else coming in.

Along with the issue of the podcasts not downloading (the backup server we are using from the server crash last week was being temperamental, so we had to finagle some things), having multiple appointments for my foot (I have been cleared for full duty at work, finally, so the appointments will cease and I can have a little bit more free time without having an appointment to worry about), and TV season kicking back into full swing, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed.

Enough about me whining, though, let’s get to some decent content, shall we?

On October 28, from 8:00 AM Pacific until sometime around 3:00 PM Pacific, the PRO Chess League will be holding their qualifying tournament to kick off Season 2. I don’t believe the event will have much to do with team play, which is confusing for a team based league, but once the event is over, we should know the teams competing in the 2018 PRO Chess League season (which I’ll be covering on the PRO Chess League Podcast).

When I woke up this morning, the PRO Chess League had it’s very own website (where it was using a Group Page on Chess.com before). The site is still fairly sparse, though, that is going to change with us coming into a new season.

I’m excited for the chance to see the season happen instead of finding out about results well after the season is over (like I did for season 1).

On a personal chess note, a podcast that I recently listened to inspired me to work on my own chess development in the way that the guest suggested. The podcast is the Perpetual Chess Podcast, hosted by Ben Johnson, and the episode in question was episode 44 with GM Jesse Kraai. The way that Kraai teaches is by deep diving on the analysis of a student’s games. The way he explained how he does his own development is that he replays the game, analyzing every move, as to understand what both sides were thinking and seeing what could be improved upon. He said “write it down,” which I’ve taken to mean on a “standard sized sheet of notebook paper” and said that when some people start out, they have a hard time filling a couple of pages. Kraai makes it sound like you should be writing a small book for each game.

Knowing this, and knowing that I’m starting back into my bullet journaling again, I’m going to start deep diving on my own games. My rating on Chess.com has slipped from around 1150-1250 to under 1100, which was not making me very happy. I won’t ever be a Grandmaster, or most likely never even be a titled player, but I’d like to be playing at 1600 or better.

Doing this will also help me beef up my pages in the bullet journal, since I had a hope to start a new journal at the beginning of the year. Maybe a 15 page game analysis would be beneficial to eating up those pages a little faster.

If you weren’t aware that I love professional sumo then you must be new here. The Banzuke (pre-tournament rankings) for the November tournament comes out on October 30, and for the first time, I’ll be playing in the Sumo Game to try to see how good my sumo knowledge is and picking winners.

I bring this up because I’d like to see others participate, as well as putting my own skills on notice as I embark on a “pick ’em” style quest to become the Sumo Game’s 4th Yokozuna. When you sign up you have to pick a Shikona (fighting name), so I’ve combined my last name (Allen) with my favorite rikishi’s Shikona (Ura)… that makes me Allenura.

I’ll post updates here to see how I do, since my time zone is in a wonky location for daily picks (because the matchups are made following the day’s activities), we’ll see how well I can keep up with this and see how far I can go.

Remember above when I said that I was cleared for full duty at work? Well, there is a caveat to that (in that I am not quite brave enough to start running again, yet), but I’m going to start back up on the road to fitness and nutrition.

I say that after having eaten six Krispy Kreme donuts in the past 12 hours.

When I injured my foot, my weight had been on a down trend with me seeing a good possibility of not only dipping under the 270 mark but remaining there… then the injury happened and my weight went up (albeit slowly) up to 290. I’ve been hovering around the 288 mark for the last couple of weeks and since I can do my job again without restriction, the weight should once again start coming back off.

On the nutrition front, my wife and I decided to start planning out our meals on a weekly basis (for the purposes of grocery shopping as well as getting back into healthy habits). I’ve had a wicked sweet tooth the last two months and I really need to start loading up my diet with healthier snacks. The bullet journal will come in handy here, too, as I start logging what I’ve eaten and how healthy I’ve been with my meal choices.

The bullet journal is coming back!

My wife and I watch a lot of TV together. There are a number of shows that I’m prepared to drop for the sake of not having an overwhelming amount of things to catch up on but we still have quite a few shows that we watch together that we barely keep up with at present. I wanted to comment on a few of the shows, making decisions on whether they are even worth my time anymore.

The first one is Star Trek Discovery. While I’ve been a big Star Trek fan for decades, and I’ve always been big on the “new” rather than dwelling on the legacy aspects, Discovery isn’t hitting the right buttons for me. I’m interested in the arc for this season but the show, in my opinion, isn’t Star Trek. One of the issues, in my opinion, is that the show is struggling to jam in a story without altering the continuity any.

Just like Marvel and DC in the comics world, Star Trek Discovery should be unbound from continuity to tell their stories and not try so hard to fit within the tiny time period they’re trying to in order to appease the assholes… sorry, die hard fans, that can’t accept the fact that trying to remain tied to a TV series from 1966 isn’t the smartest thing to do.

While I’m not the hugest fan of J.J. Abrams’s style on many things, his take on the Star Trek movie franchise was out of this world. I didn’t care for the amazing rank jumping that Kirk did in the movies, but I can let that go because Star Trek was fun to watch! And do you know why that is? Because he wasn’t held down by decades of continuity.

Abrams only misstep, in my opinion, was trying to retell that Khan story. If he’d have left that one alone, I’d say the new trilogy would be unmatched (save only by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

The next show I wanted to discuss was Netflix’s Castlevania. So many people watched this and so many people said this was the greatest thing since sliced bread and I’m just over episode 3 and thinking “um, why is this so mind-blowingly popular?”

Did I play the games? Yeah, I did. Was I a super fan over them? No.

The story of Castlevania is an interesting one but where I’m at in the series, we JUST met Trevor Belmont and I’m not even sure he and Dracula will meet in this first season.

If I had to choose right now, I’m pretty sure I’d drop Castlevania like a bad habit in favor of making time for other things.

Next let’s talk about some of the “standard network programming” that I’ve been watching. On Fox, the Orville is what Discovery should have been… more story, less flair. It’s corny, and I can blatantly see the formula they’re using, but I’d rather watch that than CBS’s offering.

Midnight, Texas is another one that I’m watching, though I’m not really sure why. The concept of a town full of supernaturals is interesting but since Charlaine Harris is the one who created it and I know that, I can see the last couple of seasons of True Blood in the show (the seasons that really ruined things). Stop putting it all out in the open, discovering the supernaturals is part of the fun.

The Exorcist is a refreshing take on the old movie, though I’m already a little annoyed that they’re dragging out the storyline already. I can understand they need to fill up a season, but when will the networks jump on board the “only enough episodes as necessary” instead of their tired old “22 episodes a season” schtick? What worries me with this one is that it’s on Fox, meaning they have a solid premise that they’ll probably ruin by having way too many seasons (like Prison Break, the Following, etc, etc).

Welcome to the section of this that is going to (most likely) take up the most room. What I’m going to talk about here is going to be covered on the Greatest Show on Saturday (assuming any other host shows up), and that’s solo RPGing.

I’ve known for some time that there is a way to play a roleplaying game alone. What has always nagged at me was how to tell a story that would be surprising to me (as a player), but would be planned out enough to be interesting (from a GM standpoint).

How do I surprise myself?

About a week ago, I came up with an idea to tell a long form story about a spaceship tooling around the solar system (ours) while discovering all kinds of new bits and bobs about the way things work. I’ve come up with a few plot ideas that I would like to explore and I even started jotting down a rough timeline of events to arrive where I arrived. The last thing I wrote on my note, three days ago, was “is this worth developing?”

I was about to sideline the idea when I decided to start poking around my favorite SIM group (Obsidian Fleet), as well as some of the others I have found in looking around the Internet (Bravo Fleet, Pegasus Fleet, Horizon Fleet, Theta Fleet, and the like). They are all Star Trek-centric SIM fleets, with a few of them having a non-Trek SIM here and there. Whenever I get an itching to seek out a SIM to participate in, I check these and I’m normally looking for a Battlestar Galactica (reimagined) SIM… and never find one. My hope is that someone will take BSG and say “the show premise was wonderful, but let’s SIM in the era before the complete loss of Caprica or maybe the events of the show never happened” or something like that. Nope and nope.

Two days ago, though, I decided to try to find SIMs that were far more generic. I decided to search for something that would be almost identical to what I was looking for but wasn’t necessarily tied to a “fleet.” I popped into Google and looked for “online rpg writing free.”

I discovered a whole slew of stuff I didn’t know existed.

The first thing that really caught my eye was what I thought I was looking for: Storium. Storium is basically a writing exercise for telling a story (and using “cards” to add twists, quirks to the characters, etc) in chapters. After perusing the site for a while, I have decided that the idea, while sound, was not doing what I needed it to do (for me).

I kept looking.

After searching through the results, I came across Die Heart, a blog dedicated to solo roleplaying. The “big list of solo RPG resources” is really what led me to the G+ group and looking into solo roleplaying as my hope for telling stories.

Jackpot.

One of the people who was writing his blog as a means of “instruction” (to improve his own solo RPG experiences) mentioned that he was utilizing the “bullet journal style” in recording his gaming… and that drew my attention, again.

The concentration on using notation of things in the solo RPG, for those folks, is to make notes rather than write down everything (to avoid them slipping into just “writing a story”). I’m interested in turning my solo RPG experience into content for this site, so I’d be looking for taking down information for the entirety of the solo RPG rather than just note taking… which will be the true test of whether I can RPG rather than just “write prose.”

Once again, we return to the fact that I’m getting back into my bullet journal.

Without writing, word for word, exactly what is happening, I’m going to track my solo RPG experience into what these sites are calling “reports” so that I can create longer form content. Learning recently on the latest Greatest Show (the Greatest Boot) that the Expanse was actually just an RPG setting turned into books, I want to make my aforementioned space adventure into an RPG that is basically a story (where I don’t 100% control the outcome).

I also had an epiphany that my “hopeful comic book” creations could also be made from solo RPG sessions. Holy crap, right?

In order to avoid “talking about doing things rather than just doing them” I’m going to stop writing this column for this week. I’m going to do some bullet journal set up and prepare myself for a rocking space adventure that I’ll publish onto this site in installments. I’m picking a game system to use first, then I’ll figure out which GM-less engine I’ll use to run the game for me… and hopefully awesome will then ensue!

Thanks for reading!

Journal of the Emerald Specter 59: Content is King

I’m not entirely sure what kind of banners I should use for this particular article. This is going to be another attempt at a full length article here, but I’ll be touching on different types of content (podcasts, articles, YouTube, storytelling, etc)… so, why don’t I do what I think I need to and just go ahead and make something custom?

I am all about making content. Content is the easiest thing I can produce without needing to be doing something for a living, somewhere specific, for someone else. Sometimes that content may seem erratic, sometimes that content may seem like a waste of time, but the content is always accomplishing the task of putting something on this site to keep people poking back to see what else I’m doing.

Last year, I started doing the ESPL (Emerald Specter Premier League) based on a project that I love from the Chris Creamer Sports Logos Concept forum, which is basically creating a league and developing the logos from their initial appearance until the modern day. In that thread, the AFA is in their 1987 year… the thread is HUGE. I bring this up because I had an epiphany the other day.

So, when I was running the ESPL, I had a big concentration on what was happening in the games (and the league) from week to week, with a passing “side enterprise” with the designing of logos (which was the whole reason I started the damn thing up in the first place). Veras (the creator of the AFA thread) runs some simulations in the background and gives some broader recap rather than an in-depth look “from game to game,” with a heavy concentration on what the whole point of the thread is: logo, uniform, and field designs.

Unless I wanted to go back in time and start doing the ESPL in some randomly selected year in the past and work my way forward, that approach won’t necessarily work for me. I do realize that the reason the interest waned somewhat was that I was being bogged down in the tedium of running a fictional league “in real time” rather than enjoying the process of creating concepts for the logos, uniforms, and whatever else… If I were to rebirth this concept, I’d be concentrating on the broader overviews of the ESPL and keeping the week to week format, but being far more general as I released the uniform and logo concepts throughout the year in a longer format (instead of a big logo reveal extravaganza followed by the tedium of details of the league).

Would you like to see a second attempt at the ESPL?

I have several podcasts at the moment that I’m enjoying producing with several others I’ve got in the “concept” stage. The Greatest Show, my long running YouTube (and our original channel) show that initially started out as a pre-produced show and turned into a live show (followed by a more produced version, so that I can release audio versions of the show again on a feed). The show was started with a forum for my best friend, Bob, and I to have conversations about “the good old days,” geeky topics, and whatever else crossed our minds.

The show developed into the conversations while watching my wife make wonderful food, which enjoyed a solid run of interest from all kinds of folks, and saw an uptick in our traffic. We developed into a later night show, moved away from the cooking segment, and added a whole slew of other hosts (as Bob was having a hard time making appearances). What we have going now is an attempt at running the show in seasons, rather than continuously, and we’ve only got experiments to run as we figure out what the next stage of the show is…

And speaking of that, we’ve added a regular rotation of guests into the mix. I got a good push of guests right up front and have since had an issue lining up more as the season progresses. I’m doing what I can but the effort is monumental in scope and I’m hoping to have a better process for the future.

I wanted to speak about this show specifically at length because there is an issue that has arisen where Saturday nights, while they work for the majority of the cast, don’t seem to be able to include everyone AND our viewership seems to have declined (in the live arena, anyway) because of the time slot. Metal Jesus has school, Rachel has a new job, Bob’s job is giant in scope, I have a fluctuating schedule, Kevin C. has activities from time to time, and Tricia doesn’t believe the time slot is convenient. All of these things make it hard to continue the show in the original vision and I’d be interested in getting some thoughts on the possible future of the show.

Options, before I move on, include returning to the “pre-produced” and uploaded version from way back, the cooking while talking version, and moving the recording time to a variable option to open up the possible guests that can be included in the future. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Specter Show is my personal show, which has only been me talking to the audience (save one episode that included me talking to my wife). In a conversation with my wife, I was told that I spend a lot of time talking about what I’m going to do rather than doing what I say I’m going to do. A good example of that is the BuJoRPG 2 beta, which hasn’t been touched at all in a month… more on that in a few paragraphs.

I originally wanted to keep the Specter Show “off the rails” so that I could talk about anything I wanted without worrying about sticking to a genre or topic. While that has worked in large part, there are episodes I’m not super pleased with because I’ve just sort of muted through and released a show to release a show.

One of the original intents of podcasting, for me, was to present myself as a viable radio personality that could carry a show for 30, 60, or 120 minutes (or maybe even longer). I’ve dropped my desire to be on the radio, not because I’ve lost interest, but because the radio isn’t going to allow me to accomplish the expansion that podcasting will… and that leads me to a history lesson of sorts.

When I originally launched the Lime Flavored Podcasting Network, I had the vision to create a lineup of shows that would give me a place to talk about a multitude of topics and build up a network like TWiT, which has blossomed into a viable podcasting business. The reason that TWiT works as well as it does is because they have a broad umbrella under which they operate: tech related podcasting.

The LFPN had an expanded topic lineup: the Greatest Show, the Lime Flavored Podcast (which made it to 50 episodes), Limelight on Apple (our tech news show), Echoes Darkly (our RPG centric podcast), and Comic Cast (our comic book industry show). When we (my wife and I) were into FitBit deeply, we also sort of launched a half hearted attempt at a fitness show, known as the FitBit Challenge… all of these shows collapsed for one reason or another except one, the Greatest Show. (In order listed above after the Greatest Show): one show stopped because the domain was sold, keeping up on tech was tough to maintain with busy lives, my co-hosts all became unavailable, and we just weren’t collecting or reading as much as we’d like to have been… that all led to the LFPN death, mainly with the loss of the domain, and a reevaluation of my dream.

I’ve currently got three podcasts running, with one in a concept phase. The Greatest Show, the Specter Show, and the PRO Chess League Podcast (new, concentrating on the PRO Chess League). Since the last one hasn’t been running (due to the season starting in January), I’m confident that keeping up with three shows is a distinct possibility. I’ve offered shows to Kevin C., Metal Jesus, Bob, and Rachel… all of them are in some stage of development, but we’ll see what develops there. This is a good start, but as the title of this column says: content is king. Only three of these are producing any content.

Now I come to my “bread and butter,” the BuJoRPG. Since launching my initial bullet journal roleplaying game, I have developed that as far as I felt it could go before bringing out the next concept for what I thought was possibly, namely BuJoRPG 2. I had promised to release the first “version” (a post-beta) as it was developed but I’ll be honest, I’ve not had the time. I also haven’t MADE the time, either.

This is where my wife’s comments about talking about something and not doing it come in.

I have a concept for what I want the BuJoRPG to ideally become. That requires a lot of work and with the release of the open beta, I’ve asked for help and feedback. Since releasing that open beta, I’ve received neither help nor feedback on the BuJoRPG 2, making me think the effort is being wasted. Without a drive of an audience to see the result, I can’t be faulted for not wanting to work on the product. Would you like to know what I envision for this in the future?

Ideally, you’d order something I’ll just call the “BuJo Box.” The box will be prepacked and contain (at least, but not limited to): a lore book (for the BuJoRPG world of the Jade Realm), a preformatted bullet journal (for the BuJoRPG), some bullet journal pens (in various colors), some dice (since they are part of the BuJoRPG 2), a wall map of the Jade Realm (it would unfold to include the “basic” map, which is everything before “expansions”), and maybe some stencils to aid in the creation of the BuJoRPG style graphical elements.

Doesn’t that sound nifty?

Finally, I’d like to talk about some of the things I’d planned on for the future but will decide whether or not they’ll make the cut. These each will be a “mini-paragraph” of information, just to explain enough to let you know what I was hoping to do but might not actually develop it (to shut the door on the “talk about doing what you should be doing but aren’t” conversation).

A podcast for each degree of the Freemason Scottish (and York) Rite, as I wanted to learn the lessons they teach but do not like the religious overtones within the brotherhood. I’ve got all the materials ready, I’ve read what I need to, now I just need to put fingers to keyboard to write up the material and start recording. This is a “monthly” podcast, rather than a weekly one.

Serial fiction has been written, not edited by any of the editors that I’ve enlisted, and sits collecting digital dust in the cloud. With the Greatest Show crew talking about running an RPG before the show, this is being converted into the game that I’ll be running (inside the Green Ronin Fantasy AGE system, although probably more closely related to Will Wheaton’s TitansGrave version). There are modifications that I’ve made to the story but the general theory is in tact.

A re-release of SpecterFit, my fitness centric blog/column/podcast that would help you along your own personal journey to getting more healthy. Since I’ve been injured, I can’t really do much other than eat healthier and I haven’t written or podcasted about this at any length, so it’s sitting in development hell.

Specter of the Galaxy, which I’d intended to play No Man’s Sky at least weekly with the release of their Waking Titan release, I’ve taken multiple weeks off between the second to last and last podcast that have made the future of this in doubt… I just haven’t had the time with everything else going on.

In a few months, or within a few months, the Fire Pro Wrestling World game will be released on PS4 and I had intended to run a new eFed (electronic federation) on Emerald Specter.com, which I haven’t run anything like this since 2002! The original eFeds from “back in the day” were all angle or RP feds, the FPW World fed would be a CAW (create-a-wrestler) style fed… but that requires a little bit of time.

With the declining interest in the “Greatest Show Fight Series,” I thought that running a two division UFC fighting league might be a possibility without centering around the hosts of the Greatest Show… but I’d likely wait for the next release of the UFC (UFC 3) before doing anything like this, leaving this dormant.

Spawning from the aforementioned “serial fiction” paragraph (since I have the planet’s entire history mapped out), I was going to launch a SIM (similar to those run on Obsidian Fleet) within this story’s universe… my server died, was resurrected, and requires lengthy work to get this to where it would allow me to do this, and I’d need a lot of help getting the flagship SIM working so that expansion into other “ships” would be possible.

Quite a list, huh?

Well, I’m hoping to get things moving in a generally positive direction. With the end of 2017 comes the “behind the scenes” development of a new look for Emerald Specter.com, which has been planned for some time. I’m running through some concepts and will have something to launch whenever that is ready… but it is actively being worked on. With this new release, I would conceivably use that refresh as a way to relaunch things that went dormant, launch new things I’ve talked about here, or just freshen up the graphics on the site as a whole.

I’m done talking about doing things and not doing them… I’m going to do things, now.

Right now.