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The Fringe of Cool

When I saw that J.J. Abrams had a new show out, and watched the trailer for it, I couldn’t help but think Lost meets X-Files with a bit of Millenium thrown in for good measure.  Boy was I wrong, and frankly I’m pretty happy with being wrong for once.

What Fringe is about is probably a question that I’m not ready to answer.  In the 95 minutes I spent in front of the television, all I saw was the set-up for the rest of the season.  And boy what a season it looks like is coming.  First, there is a strange form of biological attack onboard a plane.  Thanks to a new autopilot system, it lands safely, but there are no signs of life.  All the passengers are dead due to this odd circumstance.

What follows starts off very X-Filesish before taking a hard left at the corner of Cool and Awesome.  The main character is Special Agent Olivia Dunham, who must uncover the source of this attack (yes, the FBI quickly decides it’s bioterrorism).  During her investigation, she finds similarities between the disease and the work of scientist Dr. William Bishop, who has been incarcerated in a mental institution for the last 17 years (I guess his work as Denethor in Return of the King typecast him ;)).  To access him, Agent Dunham must recruit the assistance of Bishop’s wayward but brilliant son Peter.

What follows is a wild ride to the truth, only to find more layers to the secret.  It’s very clear that Abrams is following the formula he’s ridden to success with Lost.  A tragedy occurs.  A secret is shown to exist.  Now, the characters must uncover that secret.  However, that’s where similarities with Lost really must come to an end (although I really had to wonder when the tragedy was on board an airplane again).  In this one, Abrams takes this formula into a new direction where despite access to all the wonders of the modern world, the characters are still on an island…this time metaphorical.

The actors delivered strong performances, but the stand out to me was Joshua Jackson’s job with Peter.  He comes across as brilliant, snarky, and a bit cynical for his age.  All these actually fit what back story was shared, and create a character that is at once likeable and annoying.  Jackson gets into the role with gusto that I haven’t seen in him before.  Joining him in the “strong performance” category is Anna Torv with her role as Agent Dunham.  I’ve never seen her work before, but I will be looking forward to more.

Next Tuesday, Fringe will be on at it’s regular time of 9:00 Eastern time.  I was ready to never watch another episode again before this came on.  Instead, I know where I’ll be next week…in front of the TV watching Fringe!


September 9, 2008 Posted by | Television | | 3 Comments

Crafting a Good Back Story

“So, tell me about your character,” the GM says to Bob. 


Bob stares back blankly.  “Well, he’s an elven wizard.”


Politely, the GM smiles and says, “No, tell me about him.  Give me his background.”


“Background?” mutters Bob.  “I didn’t know anything about a background.”


Have you ever been in this position?  I have, a long time ago, and frankly I’m glad I do this well before the game now.  It gives me more time to answer the questions I tend to ask myself when forming a character of any type, for any purpose.  The question some may be asking is, why bother?


Well, for one thing, I personally like to have a typewritten back story in the GM’s hands so they know the plan for the character.  It lets them figure out hooks for my character’s story, and if enough others submit their backgrounds similarly, the GM can find connections between the stories that make forming a group so much simpler.


Some GMs seem to prefer the background info come up in a group session, while others want the character to do it on their own and pass it along.  There’s no wrong way for the GM to do this, so don’t sweat it either way.  However, here are the questions I tend to ask myself when starting a new character.


What were his birth circumstances?  For example, was there something that can be used by the GM to use the old “Chosen One” trope on your character?  Perhaps you’re playing a 4e warlock and a wolf howls just as the character is born, foreshadowing his few pact later in life.  In contrast, there doesn’t have to be anything.  Not every character has some unusual circumstance at birth.  Birth circumstance could be something pretty mundane, but tragic like mother’s death at birth, etc.


What was his childhood like?  Was he a popular kid, talented musician, a bit of a bully, what?  Our adult personalities are formed in childhood, so why would your character be any different?  Just remember how you want to play the character and make the childhood fit.


Why is he adventuring?  Since most RPGs assume some level of adventuring of some sort, there has to be a reason.  It could be anything from poverty leading someone to seek fame and fortune to revenge.  The important thing is to have a reason that makes sense.  A cleric seeking to spread the word of their God makes sense.  A cleric seeking fame, fortune, and a kingdom to rule doesn’t.


What I like to do is try and type up the answers to these in a story format, usually running from 4-5 pages double spaced to make it an easier read.  Of course, it can easily be shorter, especially if you don’t try to flesh out the character more with details like hobbies, love life, enemies, or anything else.  A finely crafted back story contains a great deal more information that those three questions can possibly answer, so go ahead and ask your own questions.


Once you’ve written up the back story, let your GM read it.  Make sure they understand that you’re willing to revise to fit into their story/world better.  Flexibility is the key here, because you’re asking the GM to read your writings and plug them into their story.  That’s not easy at all, so be prepared to revise the heck out of your back story so that it will fit!


Obviously, there are other questions to be asked out there, and other approaches to a well crafted back story.  I look forward to hearing some of those!  Just write it up and let’s see what happens!

September 9, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 7 Comments

We’ve Got Staff!

With the coming of the new site, we’ve got tons of new stuff I’m hoping to do.  It’s a big deal for me, and I want to give you the very best I can.  In many cases, to do that means letting someone else do it something.  There’s avenues I either know nothing about, or I just plain suck at (like video games).  I could write about them, but it wouldn’t be a fair appraisal of the game.

Well, I’d like for everyone to welcome Liambic and his wife Lilyth (screen names obviously).  Many of you have read Liambic’s comments on many of my posts.  He and I go way, way back and I’m trilled to have him as part of the “staff” that will be part of the new Geek Emporium experience (I feel like Jimi Hendrix when I say that)! 

Liambic and Lilyth will be writing mostly on role playing, video games, and anime.  However, there will be articles from them on anything I can get them to write.  So welcome aboard guys!  I’m glad to have ya!

September 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

The Future of Role Playing

I’m going to take a moment and ponder the future.  Where will role play go, and what form will it take when it gets there?  What will influence the future generation of gamers?  Let’s face it, even if you play your first session ever this week…of any game…in a few years you’ll start to experience some of what I have in the last 15 years.  You’ll experience the hobby change.

Change is inevitable.  It’s just going to happen.  However, I’m not talking about a switch from D&D 3.5 to 4e.  That change is inevitable as well, but D&D doesn’t shape the entire hobby by any stretch.  While it is probably the largest and most played role playing game in the world, there are tons of others that owe little homage to Wizards of the Coasts offering.  So what all will be happening.

First, where will future gamers come from?  After all, publishing role playing games is a business, so they want to get new players as they’re able to.  The thoughts seem to be to get MMORPG players to convert over to tabletop RPGs, thereby bringing new blood into the role playing fold.  4th Edition seems to be well suited to ease this transition over for this group, but in time that field will dry up as well.

For my money, I see the future gamers of the world all the time.  Every time I go see a Narnia, or Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, or any other fantasy-type movie in the theater.  Our future players are cutting their teeth on some of the same works of fiction we did, only in a film format.  People who don’t necessarily enjoy reading still make these movies hits, and the numbers that flocked to Lord of the Rings is indicative of the fact that no matter what, the hobby is still going strong.

The biggest phenomenon in literature in the last 50 years or so has to be Harry Potter, and so I figure it’s just a matter of time before someone convinces J.K. Rowling to license her beloved wizards to some game company and we’ll have Harry Potter: Role Playing Game.  I can hear some of you cringing right now, but I really think that it’s inevitable.  In fact, without having even done a Google search at this point, I still can’t help think there’s probably a couple of home brews floating around out there right now.

Technology is another new area that I see changing the shape of things to come.  Despites Wizards of the Coasts lackluster performance, computer technology will take on a more active role in even table top games, and here’s the example I envision.

A group sits around the table, all with laptops open and running.  They’re not connected to the net, just each other.  The DM has access to all character sheets, so no more asking “what’s your AC?”  Instead, he just looks at your sheet.  Firewalls prevent anyone else from seeing your sheet though…that’s only between you and the DM after all.  He can also deduct gold after dealing with a merchant automatically, making it one less thing a player can forget about.  Dice are still rolled as usual, but the computer can calculate all the buffs and such a player might have (who knows what future editions will have as far as buffs go), so all a player has to do is roll and enter their roll (or an alternate setting as the DM do is to prevent cheating).  When the DM has a note to pass along, it takes the form of an instant message to the player instead of physically passing a note, creating suspense among the players.

I don’t know if any of this will happen, but it’s just one thought I’ve had.  Since I wasn’t sleeping well anyways, why not dream a bit while I’m awake?

September 9, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 15 Comments