Monday, January 22, 2018

Dark Liaison

The night is sweat, salacious
Blood crawling through sluggish arteries
A trombone's bleating in the distance
Wafting up from an almost empty club
Slowly dying on the riverbank
A note scrawled in pencil abandoned on fetid carpet
The door softly closing, a sliver of light disappearing
Ice melting in a shot glass on the nightstand.

Two enter, one leaves
A moment remembered five decades or six
And then lost forever
Like all the others

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Confronting The Wolf Inside


"The Wolf Inside" establishes definitively that poor Ash Tyler was the Klingon Voq all along, surgically altered and overlaid with Tyler's personality to appear human. To my mind, this somewhat blunts what I thought was an important and interesting examination of post-traumatic stress disorder, trading it for subterfuge and intrigue. Everyone saw this coming, so I'm not surprised, but I am somewhat disappointed. 

On the other hand, this revelation (or rather, clarification) certainly raises the stakes for Michael Burnham, who, on top of all her other issues, now knows she fell in love with a Klingon spy, with all the attendant betrayal that entails. To complicate matters still further, it appears as though the Ash Tyler personality implant/overlay is making it hard for Voq to take control, or at least to maintain it. And now that he's been revealed, surely Tyler/Voq has been neutralized as a threat, which makes you wonder where this story was going in the first place. 

On to other matters. This week, the Discovery's crew continues their mission to steal the technological data necessary to make their way back to the so-called "prime" universe without falling afoul of their evil counterparts. To that end, Michael Burnham makes contact with something she calls a "coalition of hope," the assembled Mirror Klingons, Andorians, Tellarites and Vulcans who stand in opposition to the evil Terran Empire, the our peaceful Federation's dark counterpart. 

As in last week's episode, the creators manage to create a palpable sense of jeopardy for our heroes, trapped in a dark reflection of their own reality; "Even the light is different," Burnham remarks. First Officer Saru's Mirror counterpart serves as slave labour in this reality, denied even a name. And we continue to be shown the duplicitous and savage nature of the human beings in this universe, who show not the smallest fraction of the humanity and compassion displayed by the alien rebels. If nothing else, this storyline comes at an opportune time, as people in our reality are reminded once again that we are often our own worst enemies. 

There's a bit of derring-do bait-and-switch action in this episode that fooled me in a delightful way at a pivotal moment, and the final reveal was, if somewhat predictable, still powerful - and puzzling, given Captain Lorca's sinister, smiling reaction to seeing the face of power in the Mirror Universe. One gets the impression that Lorca has been planning this journey all along...

There's one more note of mystery as we see the internal voyage of coma-ridden Stamets, who meets with a duplicate - perhaps from the Mirror Universe, perhaps not - in a hallucinatory alien forest. What wonders might unfold here? 

While not as strong as the previous pair of outings, "The Wolf Inside" remains solid, if uneven, entertainment. There's certainly a lot to unpack in each episode of Discovery, so much so that it may take until the end of the first season to see if it all hangs together in a coherent and satisfying way. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

A New Twist for RPG Gamemasters

Today at work I played Dungeons & Dragons with some colleagues over our lunch break--genuinely great team-building exercise, as there were at least four people there who I only infrequently work with and whom I got to know a little better.

The experience must have sparked my imagination, because on the drive home tonight a thought occurred to me. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, if you gathered a group of friends to play one roleplaying game or another, but with a twist: instead of playing Jandalor the Barbarian or Maxi the Hacker, what if your players played themselves, but tossed into the roleplaying setting with only their own skills plus their knowledge of pop culture tropes? And, furthermore, what if the characters/players knew that they were not the originals tossed into the roleplaying world, but perfect copies, with the originals living out their lives back in the real world, a la Black Mirror? (I stipulate this because if this actually happened to us, I know we'd spend the entire scenario trying to get back to our loved ones in the real world. Copies might feel conflicted, but they'd be comforted to some extent by the knowledge that they're copies. Plus this adds an existential crisis angle to roleplay! Postmodern fun!)

In my own case, I was thinking specifically of the new Star Trek roleplaying game that I'll likely never play simply because we're all too busy at this point to cram another game into our lives. But it made me laugh to think if, for example, perfect copies of my Gaming & Guinness friends were tossed into that milieu, but with random roles assigned.

In fact, I'm going to pause right now and randomly determine (by rolling a d8) which of my friends gets assigned which roles in this kooky scenario. The setting is the U.S.S. Excalibur in the year 2266, right around the time of "The Corbomite Maneuver," the first regular episode of the original series.

Captain: Mike T
First Officer: Scott
Science Officer: Rob
Chief Engineer: Steve
Chief Medical Officer: Pete
Helm: Colin
Navigation: Island Mike
Redshirt: Jeff

All right. This is going to be inside baseball to some folks, but these results are hilarious to me. Mike has a pretty good handle on Star Trek trivia, knows the episodes, and would probably do a pretty good job of using inside knowledge to keep the crew safe. He's pretty well suited to the Captain's role in this scenario, but he can also be rather volatile in a gaming setting, and might wind up ordering crazy shenanigans just for fun; for example, I can see him saying "Let's mix things up by slingshotting around the sun and going forward in time to the Next Gen era," or "I've always wondered how powerful the weapons are supposed to be. Let's see if we can shatter a planet with torpedoes."

First Officer Scott, on the other hand, is somewhat infamous in our circle for getting heavily invested in the rules of the games we play, but sometimes, as we all must, misinterpreting them. So I can see him and Mike arguing a bit over what the group can do as opposed to what they should do.

Rob, I can see having fun throwing his hands up in the air and saying "WTF do I know about microbiology (or whatever)?" and simply ordering his staff around to do the actual science work.

Actually, that probably holds for Chief Engineer Steve, too, who (I believe) does not necessarily have the technical knowledge to maintain a 23rd century starship. But he, too, has a lot of Trek trivia knowledge, and could rely on his team to do the real work.

Poor Pete winds up as the doctor, and for some reason I see him as taking on the role with ghoulish relish, choosing to trust in his tools and hope that by this time, medicine is pretty much automated.

As the helm officer, I imagine Colin would have fun flying the ship around, since that, too, is controlled mainly by computer, with only gross inputs from humans required. This should also be true for Island Mike at the navigation station. They also get the fun job of managing weapons and shields, and I think Colin, in particular, would enjoy blowing things up with photon torpedoes.

Poor put-upon Jeff winds up as the red-shirted security officer, which is funny to me because of all of us, Jeff has gotten into the most accidents, most of them not his fault. I can just hear him saying "OH, GREAT!" when he (or rather, his copy) arrives on the Excalibur.

I, of course, would serve as gamemaster. I'd provide the initial setting, the first initial problem for the players to solve, and I'd play the roles of the other 422 Excalibur crewmembers. I'd play them as rational but compliant beings, following the orders of the senior officers if not without question, then with only reasonable resistance to truly crazy decisions by the team. But ultimately, what the players say goes.

I think playing this out would be hilarious, although the idea probably tickles me more than my hapless friends. Even so, I think the basic idea is sound, and could be fun if used for other roleplaying genres: high fantasy, superheroes (Villains & Vigilantes approaches this, but you're not supposed to have metatextual knowledge of the setting and tropes), spies, the old west, etc.

Fun to think about! 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hello Daylight

Hello daylight my old friend
I’ve come to lecture you again
Because I’ve reconciled my failure here
To hang on to the things that I hold dear
And ambitions I had chosen turned to dust
Of course they must
So here we are
In conference.

And as I burned under your gaze
I kept my counsel in the maze
Of the arguments both weak and strong
Forever doubting if we could belong
To a homeland that rejected all our loves
With velvet gloves
And stole away
Our best selves.

(with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)