Friday, September 25, 2015

Modern Spidey is... What?

The first time I saw the red and blue costume I was hooked. The wall crawling, the jumping, the swinging on webs high above the city streets... t'was amazing to even think about for my four year old self. As I grew older I found that the character I'd attached to had a surprising amount of depth. Peter was someone who was committed to being a normal man and a hero. He didn't care about saving the world, the world seemed to be doing very fine on it's own. He just wanted to get a job, marry Gwen, and settle down, saving the people around him as he could. Peter Parker just wanted to live.

Well, then One More Day happened, and Marvel sold Spidey's soul to Joe Quesada. I stopped reading immediately. This was not Spider-Man. I'm sorry, but Spidey doesn't make deals with the Devil, particularly when most of the arc that Straczynski had been running about been about Spidey's questioning of the mystical! How's a guy who has issues with the concept of God going to make a deal with the Devil? Not that Quesada cared.

Yes, this is still a sore point for me, deal with it or stop reading. I really don't care.

Anyway, I refused to read after that until I heard about Slott's run from a friend of mine. I was told that the stories were really good and that I was missing out. This friend of mine has good taste, so I decided to give it a shot. And y'know what? They were really good stories. Peter was finding his feet as a scientist and hero and he was knocking it out of the park. No, it wasn't my Peter. Peter is married to Mary Jane in my 90's kid memory. But it was a good facsimile of Peter and that was good enough for the moment. Heck, my hopes were raised with "Renew Your Vows", where we see Peter and Mary Jane married again with a daughter, Annie May.

But now Slott has come out and said  that the new volume of Amazing Spider-Man will focus on Peter Parker as a billionaire gallavanting around the world with a Spider-Mobile.

No, I did not just make that up. Peter Parker, the guy who just wanted a normal life, all of a sudden a billionaire and globetrotter, with a friggin' Spider-Mobile??

I have never seen a more drastic mistake on what makes a character tick. Spider-Man, contrary to popular opinion, is not a coming of age tale. It's the story of a man who tries to be a hero for the people right around him. The early issues work because they reflect where Peter is at at the time: he's a lonely teenager who's way too friggin' smart for his own good and trying not to turn into the crazy villains that he keeps running into. He's meeting twisted funhouse mirrors of himself and learning how to be a better person from it. The reason why the marriage was done is because Peter, being the Everyman, is logically going to get married, since it's the most common thing we do. Marriage is the bedrock of humanity, and since Spidey is explicitly stated as the Everyman it makes sense for him to be married and evolve in that way. The villains naturally would need to change to suit and mirror Peter's struggle like they did at the beginning of his career, which would bring new variety and allow for the title to grow instead of stagnating like it has been.

But, instead, we're getting Spidey globe trotting as a billionaire with a Spider-Mobile. This is not right. This is not my Spider-Man. It hasn't been ever since One More Day and, no matter how hard I wished for Big Time Spidey to be the hero that I had missed, Slott doesn't seem to understand the character anymore than Marvel does.

So, what would my Spider-Man look like?

Well, Peter being married to MJ again would be a no-brainer and they'd have their child. Aunt May would be dead, and so would Harry. So, for starters, J.M. Matteis's beautiful work wouldn't have been undone. But it would be more than that. Peter's too good a guy to not try to take care of New York however he can. Being a schoolteacher made a lot of sense for a man who never wanted to look away from trouble ever again and it would begin Peter's transformation into his father figure, Uncle Ben. The left over villains from Spidey's earlier times would then begin to try to form families of their own. Vulture with his little Vulture-lings, Doc Ock trying to form a nation out of Manhattan that would worship him in the way he always wanted, Alyosha Kravinoff trying to figure out who his father was (by means of torturing those who knew him like Chameleon and Spider-Man), things like that. On the home front Peter would be trying to adjust to having a baby and all that requires: do they use formula? Cosleep? Does MJ want more help with the baby, which cuts into Peter's night-time patrols, thus raising the crime rate and triggering Peter's guilt complex? What about the days when MJ just wants a a day off and Peter's already so exhausted he can't give her one, or doesn't want to?

See how I, a blogger sitting up at 11:30 at night with a computer, came up with all that in a few seconds? I literally just rattled that off the top of my head. That's good character based drama right there, all within the Spidey mythos. It would be amazing to see. But instead we're getting a Spider-Mobile. It almost makes me wanna write the thing myself, just so everyone could see what I'm talking about. Spidey isn't about riches, fame, or glory. That's Iron Man's M.O. Instead, Spidey is about the little man doing the little things that mean the world to the people around him, who happens to have the ability to stop a rampaging Rhino and does so because none of the Avengers are around to do it. That's my hero. That's my Spidey.

A note to Dan Slott should he find this: I know what you'll tell me should you read this. You'll tell me to wait and read. Which I might do, depending on my budget. However, please don't miss my point: Spider-Man is about a normal dude who is a hero to those immediately around him. I know you reference as much as you can from the Lee/Ditko/Romita era as you can, but that part-the most important part!- seems to have been left out. It's what made Spider-Island so great: Peter impacted those around them and made them all heroes, right along with him.

It's another sleepless night guys! I lay next to my lovely wife and son, listening to them breathe, for about twenty minutes and realized that I had more to say about this subject. Well, more of an announcement to make.

I'm gonna start writing the Spider-Man I wanna see, right here on this blog. Here's the skinny on that.

  1. That it'll be any good. Don't get me wrong, I'll try my darndest, but I'm not Matteis, Slott, or Lee. Not by a long shot. 
  2. That it'll last forever. It most probably won't, cause at some point I'll have said whatever I wanted to say about Peter Parker and then I'll be done. It'll be one more project talked about on this blog.
  3. It will start shortly before Mary-Jane gives birth to her and Peter's kid. Aunt May is dead. So is Norman and Harry Osborn. So is the Jackal. Ben Reilly is around, only recently having returned from his wanderings. No sign of Kaine, although I can't guarantee that'll be a permanent thing or that he'll be like what we're used to in the comics. Doc Ock is still alive and has no idea Peter is Spider-Man. 
  4. Dead is friggin' dead. 
  5. While I may borrow some elements from modern comics I will change anything about character's backstories that I so wish. I will not be sticking with preconceived notions of the characters, not by any means. So just cause it's been done in the comics does not make it canon for this little fanfic.
I have no idea how long each individual chapter will be, but you will hopefully get a chapter once a month. Chapters will be divvied up into books, which will last one year at a time. So, starting in October or November, you'll see the first chapter for my take on Spider-Man. What'll this new part of the blog be called?

The Amazing Spider-Family, of course! Stay tuned sometime in October!

Friday, September 18, 2015

13th Age Paladin

13th Age is an amazing game. Combining bits of indie story-telling with kick-ass action from the other d20 games 13th Age is easily the best of the modern d20 games (in this humble blogger's opinion). Each of the classes to fit around a different theme. They fit together pretty well...except that blood paladin. What is with d20 game and their inability to get how a paladin operates?

Out of all the d20 games I've played I've felt that 4th got the paladin the best, warts and all. The paladin in 4th edition was the rockstar of the figher classes, taking on crowds and laughing with impunity as the hordes crashed against him like waves against a rock. Sometimes I'd leave my DM speechless with how much damage I'd soaked up for the rest of the party. I would usually take double my full HP a battle and would not need to heal afterwards! Things like a critical hit would make me wince, sure, but it was only a flesh wound and my paladin could (and did) walk it off. Not that the paladin didn't have any weaknesses. A radiant-resistant enemy could laugh off my mark and my paladins went through healing surges (the recovery method in 4th) like a Russian did with vodka. The adventuring day would end because my paladin had run out of surges and could no longer block for anyone, nevermind protect himself in the midst of battle. Paladins also require a very competent healer to back them up as they play front man because, unlike the other defenders, paladins would pick fights with whole swarms of bad guys and needed the group to make sure he wouldn't fall flat on his face. It took a lot of trust to play a paladin, because if your teammates didn't back you up you were dead very quickly. Fortunately that was never a problem, as the other players were relieved to not need to spend more than two healing surges after each battle.

I don't get that feel in 13th Age. I just run in and smite things. The impression I've gotten from the online 13th Age community is that they're just as unimpressed as I am. So I decided to hack it. After talking with Andy and having some frank discussions about the state  of the Negative Zone this is what was cooked up. The following is a class feature:

Divine Challenge: Whenever you engage or are engaged by an opponent you gain temporary hit points equal to your Charisma modifier plus your level. Apply the double and triple rules for the Charisma modifier as normal. Temp hp gained this way stacks with itself. This caps at half your HP.

In addition, Smite has been renamed to Channel Divinity. You can either gain the bonus to damage as stated in the class feature or your can use it to burn a recovery. The feats that increase damage also increase healing by the same amount.

The class feature was designed with a meta in mind. Paladin players will be looking at this class feature and thinking "MOOKS!". Good. The intent is for paladins to throw themselves into battle against their enemies, shrugging off damage and tying up their foes while healing off wounds that should kill them and killing them as fast as possible.

Obviously, this is not playtested. I haven't gotten the math crimped down, nor do I know for sure how this will affect paladin play. If anyone reading this blog does try it out on their paladin please let me know, because it might be a while before I get around to testing it!

Remember, if you ain't charging into battle with the brazen faith that your god will protect you you ain't a paladin.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Spyder's Burner: Beliefs

So the other day my Burning Wheel group finally got back together to play. Most of the players did alright by themselves, around two or three fate and persona which isn't half bad. One of the players, however, managed to get four fate and four persona. One of my players looked at the session and commented that the session had been designed around this person. Which, to a certain degree, was true. The player had had a really specific situation handed to him on a platter at the end of last session... but then I looked at it again, and noticed his Beliefs. Every single one of them was organized around one of his Beliefs. It's not an exaggeration that his entire character was wrapped around one central Belief: become the king.

As I contemplated my player's actions my mind drifted to the other Burning Wheel games. Now, I know that the Adventure Burner says not to borrow rules from the other  Burning games, since they were designed with a different emphasis in mind, but that doesn't mean I can't look at the other games to see commonalities. And there are more than a few. However, the greatest philosophical commonality of the Burning Games, aside from the base dice rolling mechanics, is the importance of the session. Goals, when made in the other Burning Wheel games, are to be accomplishable in the session you make them. The rest of the mechanics work around making that a reality. Why wouldn't it be any different in Burning Wheel? The mechanics support that style of play the best from my understanding.

So, here's my thoughts on what that means. Beliefs are very hard things to nail down, but if I had my druthers (and with my players I do :P ) I would recommend trying this out:

  1. Your first Belief is the Vector (goal) Belief. This is something you mean to accomplish this session. Yeah, right now. This absolutely has to happen now. Go do it, now. This is the thing you're doing tests over and bleeding for. I call this the vector Belief: pick a direction and go.
  2. Your second Belief is the anti-Vector. Your character has some doubts on whether what he's doing is the right thing or not. Or maybe what he's trying to do grinds against him somehow. Cullen Bohannon's first arc in Hell on Wheels is the epitome of this. He's actually a very honorable man, but the death of his wife had filled him with so much rage that he couldn't see straight. So his better nature would call out to him, eventually leading to his redemption. I'm not saying everyone has to do exactly what Hell on Wheels did, but there needs to be something to grind against. Character growth is uncomfortable in real life and it's just as uncomfortable for your character. There is something he must do, but is it really the right thing to do? If given the chance will he abandon his post? I suggest very heavily tying this Belief into a Character Trait, it will make play a bit more organic.
  3. The third Belief is your compass. The tried and true thing that has always gotten you through every trial. This is your fall-back. When in doubt consult this Belief. 
  4. Have a Fourth Slot? This functions as per the Trait.
I'm thinking on my next Burning Wheel session I'll be playing with Andy (if that ever happens, thanks to bad work schedules). What should my character Tomar do? Now, at this point there's this dude called the Westlord destroying the kingdom Tomar lives in. Tomar, the bastard son of a local lord, has found out that he and his half brother share the blood of the true king. He also knows that the Westlord is taking over his city. Here's tentative Beliefs for the next session:

  1. The Westlord is destroying everything and, while I approve of his methods, I can't approve of his actions. I will find the general leading his campaign against my city and kill him.
  2. Nothing in the world is as disgusting and dishonorable as sneaking around.
  3. **** the government, I'll do things myself. 
That's a very clear picture I've given Andy to work with as far as challenge Beliefs go. Tomar believes himself to be a monster like the Westlord but wants to stop him. However, he doesn't want to sneak in but fight his way through. By himself. If that's not a series of hooks for Andy to challenge I don't know what is. Assuming I keep these (and why not?) it should be a very entertaining session of Andy trying to get Tomar to not only sneak into the camp but to do it with the government's help. A good session is in the makings right there.

Let's have another example, shall we? Let's say we have another campaign with a duke and I'm playing his brother who hates his guts cause he's a jerk and does all the poor folk my character's grown up with. So I decide I need to write some Beliefs.

  1. I will topple my brother the duke no matter the cost.
  2. Kurim, my contact in the court, is a noble man. I owe him much for all the kindness he's shown me and I will repay the debt.
  3. Assassins are the lowest scum of the earth. They took my mother.
Again, you've set your bait for the GM to chase after. The duke needs to go down, no matter what. He's such an evil bastard he needs takin' out, NOW. However, there's a man in the duke's court that's a good buddy and my character hates assassins because they killed his mother, probably at the purview of my brother. Now that's something the GM can really bate.

Now, one of the things you should do as a good player is to try to get the other players involved somehow. Write them into your goals if you can, get them mixed up in your business, or make Beliefs about they need to stay out of yours. The GM should do his level best to make everyone's business go together. Somehow. That's part of what makes being a GM fun...

Do you have to do it exactly like this? No, not at all, but I really do think the best way to make Beliefs work is to make sure they can all be activated in one session. The best sessions I've had in Burning Wheel so far have followed this pattern. Have different experiences? Please post and comment, cause I'd love to hear it!

Friday, September 4, 2015

East and West: The Liturgical New Year and the Theology of Mary

Welcome to yet another intermittent column as I compare Eastern and Western Catholic and Orthodox theological stuff. I'll look at things from liturgical celebration to theology to private devotions and go compare and contrast them.  Sometimes things'll look different, and sometimes they'll be much more similar than anyone who believes we shouldn't be reunited would like to think. Up first: the Liturgical New Year!

Everyone say Happy New Year to the Byzantines and Orthodox who are on the New Calendar! September 1st is the first day of the year liturgically. The beginning of the Eastern New Year is linked with the seasons: much as the beginning of the day is the setting of the sun so the beginning of the year is the end of summer and the preparation for winter. 

Sorry, couldn't resist. For those of you who don't like mixing theology and humor I am truly sorry for you.

The Gospel reading of the feast is Christ standing before the synagogue declaring that He, the Messiah, has come and the work of God has begun.

"On Mount Sinai You gave the stone tablets
Today in Nazareth You read the prophecy
O Christ our God in the flesh.
You took and opened the scroll
to teach the people that the Scriptures were fulfilled in Yourself"
(Stichera from Vespers)

We are to pay attention to Christ, Who is the center of all Scripture that we are to read for the year. The year is dedicated to God. The East also shows us St. Symeon the Stylite, a great ascetic who spent his life on a pillar, away from everyone. The year is to be dedicated to God for His kingdom is outside and inside our hearts. 

This contrasts with the Roman Calendar, where the New Year is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the fast (Put the eggnog down!) of Advent, which focuses on the parousia of Christ in all three year's readings as well as the Liturgy of the Hours. The West looks to the two comings of Christ with eagerness and hope.

"We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom."
-Saint Cyril of Jersualem, from a catechical instruction quoted in the Office of the Readings

Another thing I noticed when I looked at both halves is the context that the liturgical New Years are placed around. In the East you have the Birth of the Theotokos on September 8, followed by the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14th. In the West you have the Immaculate Conception on December 8 followed by Christmas on December 25th. In fact, come to think of it, September and December are the only months of the year that begin with a Marian feast and end with a Christological one, East and West (meaning January, which has the feast of Mary followed by the Epiphany, doesn't count, although the fact that  it marks the start of our secular new year reinforces the theme even more strongly). It's almost like they're saying that this is the start of salvation history or something. 

"By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin,
Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness;
Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death.
And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you:
The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!"
-Kontakion of the Birth of the Theotokos

"Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain."
- Saint Anselm, from the Office of the Readings

Huh, how 'bout that.

It's interesting how it all lines up, isn't it? To the Church the beginning of Christ's salvation is with His Mother who, because of her yes, made all that followed possible. The whole world is indebted to Mary and so should celebrate her existence. To the East it's in her birth, that meeting of Joachim and Anna and Mary for the first time. To the West, it's the lovemaking of Joachim and Anna and God's favoring of it. Both are starts and, as a new parent, I can finally see why the East might prefer the birth over the conception. But there's something special about the conception as well that's amazing; the secret beginning that can only be known by you, your spouse, and God. Both are beginnings in their own right. The beatific vision of a child's face or the whispered secret that heralds the dawn.

But the Marian event is not the only special thing that goes on in both months. You also have the Exaltation of the Cross and the Nativity, both of which are 1st class feasts in the Eastern Church. The West doesn't emphasize the finding of the true cross quite as much, which is odd considering their emphasis on the Crucifixion, although they have Corpus Christi already, so I suppose they emphasize the Cross another time of the year with gusto. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross can be considered a type of the Incarnation: after all, who could possibly doubt Christ's life if we actually found the cross that He died on? The concreteness of the Faith is the most important element. After all, if we didn't have proof that God became man then what's the point of being a Christian? The East does this by saying: "Here's the cross, centuries later! How much more proof do you need?" and the West answers with a just as pertinent Feast Day that proves the historicity of Christ. God became a baby. A perfect little baby, literally. Both feast days are proofs of the reality of our Faith.

Ultimately, then, the Christian faith, East and West, begins with the following statements: God is man. He had a mother. He was here, He is historical. Christ is real, and He is coming into our hearts. It's the same doctrine but different ways of expressing it. It's almost like we were commenting on the same reality but in different ways, like men and women.  And, to be even less subtle about it, it's almost like both ways really are just a matter of preference: you're still celebrating Mary and Christ. I'm not saying the differences don't matter but it's the similarity between East and West that needs to emphasized, now more than ever.