22 February 2017

A Revelation on Why I Love my Fandom Clubs

  Earlier today, I read THIS article posted by a friend of mine on Facebook.  It's clear the author's intent was to discuss religion versus the SCA as far as instilling morality and civic virtue in children.  That's a concept I'm going to leave alone, as I've vowed not to discuss religion or politics on this blog- it's about gaming, fandom, etc.  But in that discussion, the author touches on some things that are near and dear to my heart and did give me one of those phantom lightbulb over the head moments as I read.

  As far as anyone can remember, I've had a tendency to martial custom and tradition.  I was part of a Boy Scout troop that was led by senior scouts who were all JROTC, so beginning in Middle School I got my first exposure to formations, proper forms of address, military courtesy, etc.  Now, bear in mind this is the same time period during which my love of fantasy, science fiction and roleplaying games were all exploding into the huge mass of geekiness that sits before this keyboard today.  It all amalgamated together into my particular flavor of geekitude.  By the time I was in High School, I went JROTC myself, then ROTC in college, then a speedbump when I got diagnosed with sleep apnea.  A decade and a half later I would finally get to soldier a bit in the Texas State Guard, but in the meantime I was part of a long tradition of fandom clubs that had very martial themes and practices.

  Beginning with our Trek club at Round Rock High School and continuing to the foundation of the Caladan Highland Dragoons in 1995/96 I was drawn to expressing my fandom in a structured, martial way.  Members had rank and title, there were award systems, formal standards of how meetings run.  At the height of the CHD, a Battletech club, we opened every meeting with a battalion formation- and by that I mean a BattleMech battalion of two companies of 12-16 members each plus a staff.  Our STARFLEET chapter, USS Ark Angel was much the same.  We had an award-winning Color Guard who opened ceremonies for Region 3 for the better part of a decade.  The Royal Dragoon Guards, the 2008 reboot of our Battletech club, got back to the Dragoon roots - roots we still carry on as part of Fort Shorncliffe in the Royal Manticoran Army.

  For the life of me, I could never explain *why* I always wanted to run things the way I run them.  Why it was important to me.  Why our gaming clubs had to have such structure.  After reading this article I finally get it - the structure, for me, filled the same niche the author talks about the SCA's structure fulfilling.  It's a social construct that teaches members a set of values and behaviors- in my head, I can hear the grandmother of one of my young members in the early 2000s commenting how unexpected it was to hear her grandson using "sir" and "ma'am" in conversation and practicing manners he'd never practiced before.  This was a happy side effect of our club insisting on proper courtesies not just to other members - but to everyone our members interacted with while in club clothing or actual uniform.

  The social construct created things like award systems and rank systems that rewarded members for participation and for giving their time and energy for the entertainment and sustenance of the other members.  To me, one of the best parts of being in one of these organizations was seeing people that worked hard to make the club go be recognized for their work.  In STARFLEET and the Dragoons it was with awards.  In Amtgard, like SCA, it could take the form of noble titles.  In The Royal Manticoran Navy/Army - it can be both!  I realize that the structure and immersion that the author ascribed to the SCA - which was missing from the standard church experience - is what meant so much to me about the fandoms I have been a part of.  It's something we live, something we do, something we are up to our eyebrows in for hours or days at a time when we attend events.  It sets expectations of civility and respect that we all adhere to.  It allows us to, as the saying goes, stand alone together.  Geeks against the world, with our own way of recognizing each other for our contributions.

  I never could figure out before why these constructs were so important to me - but after reading the Huffington Post article above, it all makes sense now.  It's my context, my framework for interacting with people of similar values and mores - and I'm not talking religion or politics here.  The members of Fort Shorncliffe include people of many religions and none, people of various sexual orientations, old people, young people, couples, singles, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians...  but for all that, for all our differences in the things that really matter in our mundane lives, what matters to a Dragoon is pretty basic.  We don't care about your race, religion, sexual orientation, political views - are you a gamer?  Do you love fantasy and sci-fi?  Are you able to get along with others who share those aspects if perhaps not others in your life?  Yes?  Welcome to the Dragoons.  Fall in. 

  It's that simple.  Like the article said about SCA, it doesn't care what your mundane job is.  Nor do I care about the personal details of the Dragoons in the club.  I actually find the diversity wonderful, and lament the folks who would give these people a pass because they have body art, or piercings, or are Pagan, or gay, or whatever.  The people I choose to spend time with in the Dragoons are a family I've chosen, and they may be staggeringly diverse and possessed of qualities or opinions repugnant to some folks- I mean, one of them is an Arsenal fan - but in the end we have created for ourselves a social framework in which none of the BS that divides us outside our fandom matters.  We all roll dice, we all love gaming, and whatever else we do- that keeps us together.

  The garb, the awards, the ranks, the titles, just like with SCA all of it contributes to forming an immersive framework in which we play, and thereby learn and perpetuate our social values.  We are accepting of one another.  We are tolerant of one another.  We differ in our opinions on the big issues, but we leave that at the door so that we can all have a great gaming experience.  We show respect for each other both up and down the social construct pecking order - we know that the club can't run without the organizers and game masters, but nor can it exist without the "privates" who only show up, game, and head home.  Each of us is valuable to the organization in their own way, and brings our own talents to the table.

  So let's look at the things the author stated about the SCA that were "good" as far as instilling good things to the membership involved:
  1. The SCA has a practicum.  Yep, we Dragoons have training for members that instills in them the skills, courtesies and customs we expect of them for representing the organization to potential members and the public.
  2. Expectations of behavior int he SCA increase as seniority does.  Yes, the leadership of the Dragoons are expected to be examples of proper behavior and service.
  3. The SCA reinforces behaviors and socialization through play therapy.  Yes, play is what we're about, and in collaborative play we practice the behaviors and socialization skills regularly.
  4. The SCA is all about the carrot.  From service to gaming, the Dragoons uses the Royal Manticoran Army award and promotion system to provide the "carrot" to our members, rather than the stick.  Members who show the values and behaviors expected of our social construct are recognized and applauded for doing so.
  5. In the SCA, how you behave is more important than what you believe.  Absolutely.  If you're not an ass, and you behave with respect of others and the organization, we're not going to question your personal belief system.
  6. Your day job doesn't matter.  This, too, is correct of our social construct.  We have everything from plumbers to massage therapists to soldiers to sailors to professors to retirees to computer techs and more.  None of that comes into what we do.  It's about who you are as a Dragoon.
  7. The SCA is inclusive.  As are we.  Again, we don't discriminate based on any factor other than being a gamer, following our rules, and not being a dick to others.  Do that, and we really don't care what else you are.

  This article really helped me put in perspective why I love the structure of my fandom, and why I've instinctively gravitated toward these organizations since I was a kid.  It provides the context and structure for myself and people like me in a way non-geek institutions just don't.  I'm proud to be a member of the Dragoons, and of the Royal Manticoran Army.  I love recognizing my friends for their accomplishments, be it raising money for Extra Life or passing their promotion exam.  Sure, being a Private First Class in a fictional Army means nothing Monday morning at work- but it means something to all of us as we band together in our geeky pastimes.  Our stripes, our ribbons, our war stories about that time we assaulted the insect shaman nest in Seattle, or fought the Wolf Clan on Trellwan, or were cornered by orcs in Moria, or Stormtroopers in Mos Eisley... those things matter to us.  They're our shared history, our war stories, that which we bond over as brothers and sisters when the rest of the world and our blood relatives just don't understand the preoccupation with Star Trek and funny dice.

  So... I may not be SCA, but the same observations apply.  This is why I geek the way I geek.  Hooah.

12 February 2017

Some gaming musings on Voltron...

  I was a fan of the original Voltron back in the 80s.  I loved the Lions, the vehicle team, I even dug the gladiator Voltron and the only thing we had to go on for him was the toys, since the original anime, Albegas, was never brought to the US.  Since then, I have purchased Beast King Golion on Voltron: Legendary Defender series I used the opportunity to introduce my kiddos to one of my favorite shows from childhood.  They already loved Dungeons & Dragons, Thundarr, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends...
DVD and re-watched the US edited Voltron series, purchased the soundtrack CD... yeah, I'm a fan.  When Netflix launched their Voltron: Legendary Defender series I dove in with both feet.

  So... Voltron.  Season one of the new series rocked.  I've just begun season two.  Being the gamer I am, I starting thinking about how to use some of these concepts and themes in a tabletop RPG.  The colorful lions and teams of heroes come from the Japanese Sentai tradition.  The Sentai-style show began in 1975 with GoRanger.  This is the great-great-ancestor of what we know as Power Rangers over here.  In fact, the official Super Sentai lineage is still ongoing as of this writing.  While Beast King Golion is not strictly a part of this line, many of the concepts of the Sentai series are present here.  A team of pilots (usually 5, usually with 1 female and sometimes a kid) in multicolored uniforms with matching mecha that usually combine to form a super-mecha.  We can see shades of this in everything from Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman) to Mighty Orbots.  Usually each teammate has a definite focus, a skill, a personal attribute, an archetype.  Sometimes this has something to do with their color codes - blue has an affinity for water, for example.

  How does this translate into gaming?  On the surface- perfectly!  Think about it.  An action-oriented team where the concept of niche protection is hard-coded into the genre.  Think about it from a D20 Modern perspective, using Voltron as our basis.  Shiro, Paladin of the Black Lion, is primarily the leader archetype.  Yes, he is a great warrior- possibly the best in the party, and if anime conventions and plot lines from the original Golion remain in play, he's the Roy Fokker.  By that I mean he's probably more of an NPC than a PC, the seasoned vet who brings the team together and then gets taken out so that the younger hero can take his place.  But, we're going with the season one team, here.  So Shiro would have levels in Charismatic Hero.  Perhaps not all his levels- but half of them at least.  His function is to lead and inspire.  Hunk is the mechanic and tough guy archetype - his levels would be split between Smart Hero and Tough Hero, with Tough being the majority and adding a few Feats to back up his technical acumen.  Pidge would be Smart and Fast, with Smart being the focus.  Lance would be Fast in great part, as his piloting and combat skills are his primary asset.  Keith would be fast and charismatic, as he is the heir apparent to Shiro.  Princess Allura, although she does not currently pilot a lion, would probably be Dedicated Hero with a dash of Smart and Charismatic.

  The lions each make up a part of Voltron - and here's where the problems come in.  Each lion contributes its essence to the whole that is Voltron, but Voltron effectively becomes one character when the lions are united.  This means that four out of your five PCs are twiddling their thumbs in a conventional game.  So what to do?  I credit my partner in crime in game design Bobby for coming up with this idea: If each lion represents one of the core attributes, then certain combat options would be under the control of that lion's pilot alone.  The new Voltron series seems to bear this out- when they need the shoulder cannon, Shiro has Hunk activate it.  When they need the sword, Keith activates that.  Each Ro-beast has a different fighting style and different weaknesses, which makes figuring out how to fight them a puzzle for the entire party if written correctly.

  So, just for giggles, let's take a look at this.  I'm going to assign each lion a primary and secondary Ability Score from the D20 array that they bring to Voltron.
Black Lion:  CHA and WIS - As an individual lion, the Black Lion is the largest and most powerful of the lions, but as the core of Voltron, it is where Voltron's intimidation and inspirational abilities spring from.  Voltron puts fear into evildoers and inspires those of good heart to have hope.  As part of Voltron, Black Lion brings these abilities to the table.
Blue Lion: WIS and CON - The Blue Lion in the original series was the powerplant for Voltron.  Therefore this lion brings some of Voltron's CON, but it also brings WIS to contribute to the kinds of actions that would come from a Dedicated Hero - repair of Voltron being an important one.
Green Lion: INT and DEX - Green Lion brings stealth and wiliness to Voltron. 
Red Lion:  DEX and STR - Red Lion brings the Blazing Sword, as the contributor of Voltron's combat skills, DEX and STR flow from Red Lion.
Yellow Lion: CON and STR - The Yellow Lion is the hear of Voltron's toughness and resilience.

  So, each lion would get a list of abilities they can add to Voltron.  For the sake of brevity, let's give each Lion three abilities just to see what it would look like.

Black Lion
  • Basic Attack (Melee)
  • Intimidate - Force Morale Check on enemy units of smaller size class than Voltron.
  • Inspire - Similar to Clerical Bless, gives bonus to allies on saving throws and morale checks.
Blue Lion
  • Basic Attack (Kick) - Option to do Cold Damage
  • Automated Repair Systems - As Cure Light Wounds on Voltron
  • Power Surge - Grant bonus to Voltron's FORT Save.
Green Lion
  • Basic Attack (Ranged) - Beam weapon from lion's mouth.
  • Analyze Enemy - Give attack bonus on following round.
  • Find Weakness - Give PCs a clue as to the deficiencies of an opponent.
Red Lion
  • Basic Attack (Punch) - Lion Bite
  • Blazing Sword! - Hell yeah.
  • Multi-Attack - Attack multiple opponents.
Yellow Lion
  • Basic Attack - (Kick) with optional Fire Damage
  • Power Attack - Modifies any of Voltron's melee attacks.
  • Shoulder Cannon - BIG Ranged Attack.
So, during combat, the Black Lion pilot can let any other Lion pilot activate their special attacks and abilities and make rolls for Voltron.  In this way, all five PCs can be active in combat, not just the one calling the shots.  Each of them must make all the die rolls that are tied to their special abilities.

Now that I've jotted down these ideas, there are other things to look at.  Bobby mentioned each lion and pilot being able to lend their feats to the whole, which reminds me of the way the Pointman class can lend feats to the whole team for the duration of a  mission...  There's a lot to consider here if I want to run Voltron or a similar Sentai-inspired game in the future.

  Just some notes and ruminations I thought folks out there might enjoy.