Archive for the ‘Event’ Category

Toronto After Dark Returns

October 18, 2012

The fall is awesome.  New TV shows, Halloween, horror movies, and the fantastic genre film festival, Toronto After Dark.   The festival gets underway tomorrow, Oct. 18, and unleashes nine nights of mayhem on the city.  Once again I’ll be in attendance, reviewing every film, searching for gaming inspiration and extracting the gooey rpg goodness from the centre of each one.
If you’re in the GTA this week, Toronto After Dark is definitely worth checking out.  One of the things I love about this festival is the crowd.  Seriously, if you’re planning on seeing any of the films in this year’s lineup later on, don’t wait.  Sitting in front of your TV or computer screen can’t compare to the experience of a theatre packed with energetic fellow genre geeks (when it comes to film festivals, we Torontonians are very quick to shed our up-tight and reserved image).  Here are the films I’m most psyched for:

American Mary (Oct. 18)
“A medical school dropout enters the seedy world of extreme body modification”.
I love to be creeped out by body-horror films (I’m not sure what that says about me), and the trailer for this entry into the category shows a lot of promise.

Lloyd the Conqueror (Oct. 21)
“Three college students try to bring down the reigning champion of the local Live Action Roleplaying tournament”. 
A comedy about rpgs?  I’m there (even if I don’t LARP personally).  That Brian Posehn is involved gives me hope that it will be more of a case of laughing with us, than laughing at us.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (Oct. 21)
“An amnesiac soldier must stop a legion of renegade UNISOLs bent on revolution”.
I totally missed the last universal soldier movie, so I’m eager to catch up with Van Damme and Lundgren in a nice, straight actioner (Expendables 2 was a little too liberal with the ham for my taste).

Sushi Girl (Oct. 24)
“A gang of violent criminals reunite over dinner to settle old scores”. 
A simple enough premise ready to be filled with stylish gun violence, slick dialogue and over the top characters played by a who’s who of genre favorites including Mark Hamill, Tony Todd, Michael Biehn, Sonny Chiba and Danny Trejo.  Hell yes.

Wrong (Oct. 25)
“A man tries to track down his missing dog”. 
I am a huge fan of Quentin Dupieux’s last film, Rubber.  It was a crazy, absurdist fantasy that can best be described as a Dadaist horror comedy.  Based on the trailer for Wrong, it looks to follow suit (though maybe a Dadaist thriller comedy instead?).  I’ve cleared out the clutter and my mind is ready to be blown.

The Monster Does Fan Expo – Part 2, Gaming Seminars

September 14, 2012

As I mentioned in the first part of my coverage of this year’s Fan Expo, it was nice to see gamers being catered to specifically in the convention’s programming and guest choices.  While I enjoy the buffet approach that Fan Expo takes, tabletop gamers are definitely in the minority among the other fandoms, so there’s a worry that our interests will be overlooked.  That fear was unfounded, as there were plenty of treats for gamers to fill their plates with (and Fan Expo has had some great gaming guests in the past – it’s where I had the chance to meet Gary Gygax before he passed away).
Although time constraints prevented me from chucking some dice in the game room (I was only there for the Friday), I was able to attend two of the con’s gaming seminars: Robin’s Laws of Gamemastery and the Gamemaster Master Class.  Both seminars had excellent turnouts, were a lot of fun, and in spite of having read stacks of Dragon magazine articles on the subject (many of them written by the seminars’ panelists), I still found them informative.  It just goes to show that there is always something for old Dungeonmasters to learn.  I took the opportunity to jot down the most interesting points of both seminars to share them with those who missed out (yeah, this would have been a good time to record a video of the whole thing, but that’s beyond my tech level and honestly, I find of few paragraphs of highlights more interesting than two hours of video).

Robin’s Laws of Gamemastery

Toronto’s own Robin Laws hosted a solo panel (an oxymoron I guess, but I can’t think of a better term) on GM advice, fielding some pretty tough questions from the audience and taking the conversation in unexpected directions.
He had an interesting take on the place of ‘story mechanics’ (that is, mechanics in a game that deal with social interaction or other non-combat activities) in rpgs.  In games with these kinds of mechanics (say 3e D&D or Pathfinder), Laws sees a player’s character sheet as an order slip for the DM.  If a player chooses to create a sub-optimal combatant by taking ranks in brewing, music or bargaining, she is telling the DM that she wants those things included in the game.  The player won’t mind that they are a little weaker in combat if they can feel important and shine when later in the campaign she can brew a legendary beer for the king, compose a famous symphony or broker a peace agreement.  I really appreciated the fresh perspective (and a player-centric one at that) on the moldy old role-playing vs. roll-playing debate, especially since I favor those mechanics and still consider myself a role-player.
Laws also had some great advice for how to handle rolling those social skill checks at the table if you feel they are an impediment to role-playing.  Instead of having the player state what their character is going to say and then making the roll (which is what I do, with a bonus or penalty based on what the player says), have them make the roll first and role-play it out based on the outcome.  Then, when the Rogue with the eighteen Charisma rolls a 1 for her Diplomacy check, have her decide why she uncharacteristically failed so badly.  Perhaps she is racist against Dwarves, or has a hard time talking to people of the opposite sex…  This is a trick I’m definitely going to talk to my players about bringing to our game.
When asked his opinion about ‘killer dungeons’, Laws brought up what he called the Tomb of Horrors paradox, which I thought was pretty funny.  Tomb of Horrors is seen as an anathema to new-school sensibilities and is often used as an example of how not to design a scenario (what with its arbitrary puzzles and instant-death traps).  Yet everyone seems to have a gleeful Tomb of Horrors war story, recounting fondly how their entire party was killed by this crushing room or that grinning devil face, so there has to be a place in the gaming world for this kind of adventure.
Finally, I managed to sneak in a question of my own about monster design.  I asked Robin; out of all the creatures he has created for rpgs, what monster was he the most proud of?  Like most writers, his favorite was his most recent (we’re a fickle bunch): a strange otherworldly hairball for the Esoterrorists game that possesses corpses and turns them into serial-killers.  Apparently, he wanted to try and include as many horror tropes as possible in a single monster.  I’m not sure about the whole ‘hairball’ thing, but the rest intrigued me enough to look up the game.

Gamemaster Master Class

While the second seminar I attended covered a lot of the same ground as the first, the change in format (five panelists instead of one) gave it a very different feel.  Panelists Ed Greenwood, Monte Cook, Malcolm Sheppard, and the Chatty DM weren’t able to get as in-depth on every topic as Laws was (that’s just the nature of splitting the time between so many people), but the riffing between the four of them was very entertaining and often hilarious.  Also, I was pretty psyched to finally meet Ed Greenwood, who I’ve always ‘just missed’ at these kind of events, and get Monte Cook to sign my copy of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (which he was gracious enough to do, even as the event organizers where trying to kick us out of the room).
Most of the time was spent discussing what I call ‘player management’ (things like problem players, meta-gaming, player expectations, etc.), which while interesting and a boundless source of humor, isn’t all that useful to me, since I game with close friends whom I’ve played with for years (going on twenty plus years for some of them).  We’ve worked out most of the kinks when it comes to things like that, and besides, they’re awesome (in case they read this).  I will admit to enjoying a certain amount of schadenfreude listening to other DMs’ horror stories though.
The most interesting bits came when the panel were asked about running memorable villains.   Malcolm Sheppard suggested using what he called the ‘devil’s advocate method’ – getting a different player to run the villain each session.  It’s a very cool idea, and I love that it harnesses players’ competitive nature.  If the villain is the player’s character, even if only temporarily, he will do his damnedest to keep it alive – probably more effectively than the DM.  Sheppard did give this advice with a pretty funny caveat though: he warned DMs to underpower their villains, since in his experience, players were much better at dreaming up ways of killing each efficiently than he ever could.  While I don’t think my group is ready to wholly embrace this technique (who wants to give up their own character in a fight with Big Bad?), I think it would work perfectly for players whose character has just died, keeping them involved in the game instead of waiting bored on the sidelines.
Ed Greenwood warned against focusing so much on a single villain if you want the campaign to continue beyond their demise.  When you invest so much character motivation into a single enemy, they become the source of the game’s momentum, and without them there is no movement (I believe Thulsa Doom said it best in Conan the Barbarian: “I am the wellspring from which you flow…”).  Greenwood’s solution to this dilemma, which you can see played out in his game-world the Forgotten Realms in spades, is to make sure that the characters occasionally get entangled with unrelated side-villains.  When the PCs’ nemesis is defeated it’s easy for one of these enemies to pick up the mantle of arch-villain.
Conversely (I believe his words were “even though Ed Greenwood told you not to”), Monte Cook had a sneaky trick to help transform any recurring villain into a character the players will hate with every fibre of their being (and really, it might be weird, but DMs live for that).  Basically, Cook’s advice is to have everything the PC’s do be a part of the villain’s plan, even (especially) when they win.  Rescued the Princess from bandits?  Excellent, now the villain can blackmail the King into offering her hand in marriage.  Slew the dragon?  Perfect, it was guarding a magical gate the villain needed access to.  The trick here is to let things play out as they will naturally, and figuring out how it fits into the villain’s plan in-between sessions.  Admittedly it’s a bit of a cheat, but I think it nicely replicates the highly organized mind of a manipulative and super intelligent antagonist.  Besides, I can attest first hand that when I used a slightly modified form of this in a Planescape campaign that it generated a healthy dose of hate, and there’s no stronger engine to drive your campaign forward.

The Monster Does Fan Expo – Part 1, Highlights

August 29, 2012

I have a lot of love for conventions (I even wrote a play about one – 2007’s GeekGasm at the Toronto Fringe Festival).  Getting caught up in the atmosphere of positive energy at these events really recharges my batteries.  If you’ve never been to a con, I can’t recommend it enough.  At the risk of sounding flaky, they really do feel like a gathering of the nerd tribes, and I think a lot of what I love about the atmosphere comes from the carnival-like vibe and the opportunity for those attending to openly express their geeky passions without self-consciousness or irony.
This weekend I was a part of the horde that descended on downtown Toronto for Fan Expo (cheers to all the folks I got the chance to chat with).  For those unfamiliar with the convention, Fan Expo is essentially Canada’s version of Comic-Con with the unique feature of bringing together the fandoms of comics, science fiction, anime, horror and gaming under one roof.  That mixing of genres is one of the reasons I try and attend Fan Expo every year – not only do my own interests cross many of those borders, but I appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to something new that I wouldn’t necessarily have encountered in my own circles.
As usual Fan Expo did not disappoint, and I’m happy to say that gamers were especially well represented this year with an excellent roster of celebrity guests and seminars (I’ll cover that specifically in part two).  For now, here are the highlights (please excuse my crappy photography).


I am continually impressed by the great costumes I see at cons.  Seriously, these costumes aren’t only a great showcase of artistic talent and attention to detail but also a triathlon-level display of endurance and fortitude (shuffling around for eight hours with thousands of people is hard enough when you can breathe properly and use the bathroom easily).   I salute you! (click to enlarge)







Hasbro were in full effect with a large pavilion on the show floor and some great Lego displays.  Too bad WOTC weren’t there to join them.



There was a wicked Frankenweenie pavilion with sets and stop-motion models from the upcoming film.  The level of detail was incredible, and since most of it will probably be impossible to see in the movie it was nice to have the opportunity to appreciate it up close (any props you see with writing on them are actually legible – most filled with references to Burton’s body of work).




Toronto After Dark

A personal highlight at this year’s Fan Expo was finally meeting Adam Lopez and the rest of the folks from the Toronto After Dark film festival for a face to face chat.  Not only did they have one of the coolest t-shirt designs at the con (Cthulhu devouring the Bloor Cinema), I was able to get the scoop on the festival’s first 10 films: Rec 3: Genesis, Excision, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (featuring the return of Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude-Van Damme!), Grabbers, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Dead Sushi, Doomsday Book, Wrong, Lloyd the Conqueror, and Sushi Girl.  A very promising lineup.  With the addition of the Darkcade (a showcase of indie video games), things are shaping up very nicely for the festival in October.

Toronto After Dark, Now With Appetizers

June 22, 2012

I’ve got a lot of love for the Toronto After Dark film festival – last year the festival inspired a few months’ worth of posts, and scored me my first interview – so I was pretty excited by the news that this year the festival is getting even bigger (and the prospect that there are a lot more weirdos like me lurking in the shadows of old T.O).  Not only has the actual festival expanded to nine nights (Oct. 18-26), but two summer screening ‘appetizers’ have also been added to whet your genre appetite before the fall.
I’m a little bummed out that the festival is leaving the Toronto Underground Cinema to go back to The Bloor (now called the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema).  The Underground seemed like such a good fit for the festival, even if the Bloor is a lot nicer (especially after the renovations), has some really great places to eat across the street (Sushi on Bloor!), and is near my super-secret place to park for free in the Annex (OK it’s not that secret).  Then again, maybe returning to the festival’s birthplace isn’t the worst idea.
The summer lineup looks promising too: Juan of the Dead (a Cuban zom-com filmed in Havana) and The Pact (a haunted house flick with a creepy trailer) screen June 27; Detention (high school slasher comedy with Peeta from The Hunger Games) and V/H/S (an anthology film tied together by a great premise) screen July 11.  If you’re in the GTA check them out – buy a double pass and the tickets are less than a regular movie.  If you already plan on going, I’ll see you next Wednesday.


Absentia Screening Thursday Night

January 30, 2012

As I said in my recent review, Absentia is an “instant indie horror classic”.  It’s frightening, intelligent, and a great source of rpg inspiration.  Unfortunately, if you don’t live in a festival friendly city, it was also difficult to find a screening.  Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore.  There are now a few more ways to catch this creepy gem, and I urge everyone to check it out.
The first, and most exciting option, is a special screening and Q+A with director Mike Flanagan on Constellation, a new online movie theatre platform, Thursday Feb. 2, 10:00 pm EST.  This is a pretty cool service that brings together the social experience of going to the theatre with the wide distribution of internet streaming.   You buy tickets for the film, just like a traditional theatre (tickets can be purchased here) for a scheduled showtime.  This may seem like the service’s weakness, but because viewers are watching the film at the same time, it allows filmmakers to appear via webcam, chat with the audience and field questions – just like a festival Q+A (which is exactly what Absentia director Mike Flanagan is taking advantage of).  Of course if you don’t care about seeing a movie with the director, you can always set your own time, host a film and invite friends to watch, whom you can chat with during and after the screening (a format fans of play-by-post and google+ rpg sessions will be familiar with).
I think this is going to become an invaluable tool for independent filmmakers to promote and distribute their work.  Nothing beats the fun and frenetic energy of a film festival, but the amount of people you can reach through festivals alone is fairly limited.  A site like Constellation broadens the audience and allows fans not just to spread the word, but to spread the films themselves, without the need for mainstream distribution.
If you’re not that keen on watching movies on your computer, Absentia will also be released on DVD by Phase 4 films, March 13.

Toronto Zombie Walk

October 29, 2011
Smack in the middle of the Toronto After Dark festival was the annual zombie walk.  It’s been a few years since the last time I participated, but this past weekend I was able to get my act together and join fellow undead enthusiasts from the city on a march (shuffle really) from Trinity Bellwoods park to Dundas and back again.
Luckily it didn’t rain and my costume was warm enough that the cold didn’t matter.  The walk has really grown since the first time I attended, and was easily six-thousand strong.  This year even featured the walk’s founder and organizer, Thea Munster (I hope she kept her own name), getting married in a public zombie wedding.  I was too busy trying to find parking, so I missed the ceremony, but got to see the awesome costumes of the bridal party.
In addition to greater zombie attendance, there were also plenty of spectators checking out the costumes and taking pictures.  I have to admit it was pretty cool stopping to pose for pictures from the ‘paparazzi’.  With people watching it was easier to ham it up and get into character, and with thousands of other people doing the same thing I didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious (the fact that I was wearing a mask that I could barely see out of helped too).
Speaking of pictures, I managed to snap a few of my own.  Apologies for the crappy photography, I was wearing fake nails (zombie claws) which reduced my manual dexterity to about zero (click on the picture for full-size)
    ‘The other bunny’ – yours truly as a zombified bunny rabbit
    Scare Bear – the result of a horrible experiment gone wrong, this undead ursine has recently fed.

      Our pack – the bear zombie, the glory days zombie, the gypsy zombie, and the zombie zombie
      The zombie walk is a great outlet for creative self-expression. That means plenty of political messages, like this funny comment on the recent controversies in the NHL.

        A zombie band played us out of the park… with all the skill their cold, dead hands could muster
        Just so no one thinks zombies take themselves too seriously – a pair of zombie ‘yip-yip’ Martians (these guys were hilarious).

            The zombies slowly swarm out of the park, absolutely overrunning Queen Street.