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2022 end-of-year hobby wrap-up

2022 has thrown the Ralyas a couple pretty hard curveballs, but so far we’re doing [whatever you’re supposed to do in baseball when someone pitches you a curveball] and managing pretty well. I usually focus on hobby stuff here on Yore, though, so I figured it was time for a little 2022 wrap-up — all highlights, no lowlights, and a few surprises.

The Unlucky Isles

One of my biggest hobby milestones for 2022 was starting up Halfbeard Press and publishing my first Godsbarrow sourcebook, The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]. I’ve never had a well-developed fantasy campaign setting of my own before (which has always made me feel like a bad gamer), and having Dormiir to work on and explore and expand has been a delight.

The Unlucky Isles print proof

I work on Godsbarrow every single day — sometimes just a word or sentence or two, sometimes much more — and have been doing so since March 16, 2021. I’m often hard on my own work, so I’m honestly still a bit surprised I still love this setting as much as I do. (Hell, I’m more jazzed about it now than I was when I started out.)

I’m proud of doing as much of the work on The Unlucky Isles as possible myself, which was one of my goals; I did everything but the artwork. That includes some stuff I’ve notably never done in a professional capacity, like layout and cartography.

And I’m not sitting still: I’m about 25% done with the manuscript for Godsbarrow Guidebook 2: The Gilded Lands. It’s a little while away yet, but it’s coming!

Two Godsbarrow campaigns

Hobby-wise, the only thing that tops publishing a Godsbarrow book for me is running two campaigns set in Dormiir. This is one of those quintessential GMing experiences — designing your own world and then running games there — that I’ve just never had until now. I’ve run games in homebrewed settings before, but those worlds were never more than a sketchy map and some rough concepts; Godsbarrow is much more fleshed-out.

Both of these games are ongoing, and I’m having a blast with both of them. The first Godsbarrow campaign started up in July: a Dungeon World [affiliate link] hexcrawl set on the island of Bal Acar, which I’m running for two of my best friends, Rustin and Greg — the first explorers of Godsbarrow. This game feels like all the best parts of exuberant high school D&D — just weird-ass exploration and shenanigans, all signal and no noise.

Our Google Jamboard map from the first couple sessions

In November my kiddo, Lark, expressed an interest in playing D&D — a moment I’ve been preparing for my whole life. Lark picked Godsbarrow as our setting, and after some discussion we landed on Old School Essentials [affiliate link] for the system.

Lark and I starting up our Godsbarrow campaign

It’s impossible to overstate how cool it is to be gaming regularly with Lark. We’ve previously played a couple of sessions, but nothing ongoing; I never wanted to push this hobby on Lark. We’re having an absolute blast — and, again, I can’t overstate how much that means to me. (This is also another of those quintessential gaming experiences that I’m just chuffed about.)

Wargaming

Lark and I have also been playing Car Wars 6th Edition — Lark’s first proper wargame — and having a great time with it. I pitched CW because we’ve played tons of board games together over the years, and I thought the minis and zaniness of Car Wars would interest Lark. Sixth Edition is superb, and just the right rules weight for us.

That’s led me to delve back into my wargaming roots, which stretch all the way back to having huge naval battles with my dad, all spread out on my bedroom carpet, when I was maybe 10-12 years old. I re-acquired Renegade Legion: Centurion, which was one of the first full-fat wargames I played (circa age 12-14), because it seems like one Lark might enjoy.

And then, to my complete surprise, I stumbled across an RPG.net thread about BattleTech just the other day and learned that 1) there’s now a fast-playing alternate version of the rules, Alpha Strike, and 2) there’s also a huge range of plastic ‘Mechs available. After a bit of research I pitched that one to Lark, got an enthusiastic yes, and ordered the core AS box.

My old BattleTech minis from the 1990s and 2000s

This hasn’t been a banner year for miniature painting, which is understandable given my focus on Godsbarrow and real-life stuff. With 40k (and Kill Team), my motivation has been sapped by not wanting to play with strangers during the pandemic, so I’ve done tons of painting and never gotten to use the fun toys I’ve painted. Even the return of my beloved space dwarves, which were my intro to Warhammer 40k many years ago, hasn’t shaken me out of my painting doldrums.

I’m hoping that some comparatively easy-to-paint BattleMechs, which — and this is key! — I’ll immediately be able to use in a game, are just the shot in the arm my painting hobby needs at the moment.

Ranma 1/2

No segue, but I can’t do a wrap-up post without noting that this was the year I finished Ranma 1/2, one of my all-time favorite manga series — which I started in 1992. I’ve read a shit-ton of manga this year, which has been a lot of fun.

Revisiting the Star Wars prequel trilogy

I decided it was time to revisit and reevaluate the prequel trilogy, all of which I previously rated ½ (which I think marks the first time I’ve voluntarily rewatched any ½ films), for three reasons.

One, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the first couple episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I wanted to see if I might like the prequels now, decades later. (Andor had the same effect, but for Rogue One.)

Two, I’ve based some of my identity as a Star Wars fan on hating the prequels. I wanted to try to appreciate them on their own terms rather than, when they clash with my expectations, simply assuming my expectations are perfect and therefore the films are the problem.

And three, 20+ years later I’m a different person, I love the Star Wars universe even more than I did back when these films came out, and my appreciation for the Republic Era has grown. I’ve spent dozens of hours playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and engaging with prequel content in other media, and I’ve enjoyed it.

I wound up liking or loving all three prequel films. Reviews/comments, with spoilers, are on Letterboxd: Episode I, Episode II, Episode III.

Mastodon

I said earlier in the year that Mastodon felt the most like Google+ of any G+ replacement I’ve tried, but it wasn’t until the first Twitter exodus that it really took off. My feed is full, it lacks virtually all of the toxicity of Twitter, I’m having fun gaming conversations and learning about cool stuff there — the whole nine yards. It feels like it’s going to stick for enough folks to provide a real hobby haven, too.

#dungeon23

The #dungeon23 challenge doesn’t kick off until January 1, 2023, but it was — thankfully! — announced much earlier, giving me time to noodle about it, decide to do it, and come up with a framework I think will help me succeed.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

I’m going to write Godsbarrow’s first dungeon, the Black Furnace. I’ve got my ducks in a row and I’m excited to get rolling!

Yore’s 10th anniversary

This blog turned 10 years old back in August, making it my the longest-running ongoing thing I’ve ever done online. My quiet approach, erratic non-schedule for posting, and eclectic mix of hobby stuff haven’t done wonders for attracting an audience — but I write Yore primarily because I want to write it, so that’s okay by me.

At the same time, I’m thrilled whenever anyone mentions enjoying Yore, comments on a post, or uses what I’ve shared here. If that’s you, reading this, thank you! Knowing Yore is useful to other folks is a big part of why I keep at it.

Here’s to a 2023 with more hobby milestones, and maybe — hopefully! — with fewer curveballs. Happy holidays!

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Comics

Thirty years later, I finished Ranma 1/2

I started reading Takahashi Rumiko’s brilliant manga Ranma 1/2 in high school back in 1992. My then-girlfriend (and future first wife) introduced me to it, and to quite a few other manga and anime series. Our time together was far too lengthy and often extremely unhappy, but a deeper interest in anime and manga is one of the few genuinely positive things I took away from the relationship.

And as I write this, that’s probably part of why it’s taken me thirty fucking years to finish Ranma 1/2. I’ve also gotten more into manga (and anime) since then, so that’s not the only reason — but it’s part of it.

Anyhoo, Ranma 1/2 was one of my ride-or-die tankōbon-only series for the past few years. Whenever I was in the mood for messy, funny, chaotic romance and gender shenanigans, I had a volume near at hand to work on. But once I realized how few volumes I still needed to finish the series and decided to buy the rest of them, I found that most of the final volumes were currently either between printings or just out of print.

I cobbled most of them together used, in the old flipped format, but folks are charging like $200 for the final volume and no thank you. So I wound up having to finish the series in digital format — which is fitting, in the end, given the long print-to-digital arc I’ve been on for years now.

Like when I finished The Walking Dead, finishing Ranma 1/2 was a bittersweet moment. This amazing manga has been a part of my life for thirty years — several relationships, two marriages, having my kiddo, friendships formed and lost, and living in three different states, not to mention the transition from childhood to adulthood.

It’s way more sweet than bitter, though. Part of why I put off finishing it for so long was than then it would be over, and I didn’t want it to be over. But I’m glad I finished it, and of course Takahashi stuck the landing.

Ranma 1/2 is one of the greatest manga series I’ve ever read, and even though I’ve finally wrapped it up it’ll always have a unique, special place in my life. Whole lotta transformations in the last thirty years — so what could be more fitting, touchstone-wise, than a manga all about transformations?

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Comics Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

From pulp to pixels (and sometimes back again)

I love comics. But how I read them has changed over the years, from all single issues as a kid to all TPBs in college to all-digital…and then back to single print issues. And now back to digital-only again, but this time for good (I think).

Reflecting on the notion of pulling or subscribing to single issues in this, the fourteenth year of the pandemic, it feels a bit like starting to buy CDs again. Would I start buying CDs again? Nope. There’d be no point.

Everything except the smell and feel of a printed comic, and the implementation of double-width splash pages, works better for me in digital format.

Looking back

From the early 1980s until 2000, I read all of my American comics in print as single issues. In 2000, when Preacher ended, I switched almost entirely to reading TPBs. It wasn’t until 2019 that I started up a pull list again.

That lasted about a year, until the pandemic hit and I fully committed to digital comics in March of 2021. I was subscribed to 12-15 X-Men books every month, and that eventually burned me out; after a break, I came back with a leaner subscription list that stayed steady for a few months. I transitioned back to print in February 2022, when comiXology went from awesome to pretty crappy overnight.

And then in May of this year I realized I just wasn’t going to read single issues in print again. Never say never, of course, but I canceled my pulls and went back to digital-only. Most of my big-two reading these days is older runs on DC Universe Infinite or Marvel Unlimited, and it’s incredibly rare for me buy TPBs anymore.

Manga

On the manga front, I was almost exclusively a tankōbon reader from childhood through the end of 2020. Subscribing to Shonen Jump online in 2020 was a seismic shift for me, and I’ve done about 90% of my manga reading digitally ever since. (Series I’m attached to in print for one reason or another make up the other 10%.)

Inevitability

Like music, and then novels, and then movies, as much as I love holding a comic in my hands the convenience of digital options outweighs that love 95% of the time. My eyes aren’t getting any younger, and it’s hard to argue with backlit pages I can read anywhere, zoomed-in as needed, without having to manage, store, and haul around hundreds of pounds of stuff every time we move.

I don’t think my love of print will ever vanish entirely; that connection runs too deep. But nowadays I mostly buy print comics as slabbed books, or intending to send them to CGC, so I can hang them up and enjoy them that way.

Look upon this trend, my creaking RPG shelves, and weep

This reckoning is coming — slowly, but inevitably — for my RPG collection and reading habits as well. I passed the tipping point where my PDF collection outnumbered my print collection years ago, and the amount of time I actually use my print RPG books in play has diminished steadily for the past 5-7 years.

For now, I still buy print RPG books that are special in some way, because they’re gorgeous, out of nostalgia, or because they offer usability advantages in some specific cases (mainly modules, sometimes, or handing books to other people). But I’ve thinned my print RPG collection by 40% over the past couple years, and I don’t miss a single book from the culling.

The intersection of convenience and usability is the ultimate reaper.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Comics

Manga bakuhatsu: Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, One-Punch Man, and Assassination Classroom

A recent family outing to Uwajimaya snowballed into a trip to Kinokuniya Bookstore, and that place is trouble — particularly because their manga selection is insane.

I wound up picking up the first Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus and the first volume of One-Punch Man (paid link), and quickly followed those up with the first Assassination Classroom (paid link) collection.

Just look at these covers. They’re glorious! Graphic design for all three of these books is on fucking point.

I’ve been reading manga since I was a teenager, but generally less of it than American comics. These three books have brought me roaring back to it, and I wanted to share some of that joy here. (The only spoilers in this post are revealed in the first few pages of each respective first issue.)

Sound effects and Watchmen

I also want to focus a bit on sound effects, which are so often used poorly in comics. Alan Moore’s Watchmen (paid link) was, I think, the first comic I read that did something I’d been waiting years to see: There are no sound effects in Watchmen.

Watchmen is the comic that made me realize my general annoyance at sound effects was justified, at least most of the time, and it’s an aspect of comics I’ve paid close attention to ever since.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

KCDS is about a group of students and alumni at a Buddhist university who all have talents which relate in some way to the dead, and they use those skills to identify souls trapped in corpses and bring them to peace — usually by taking the body somewhere and righting a wrong in the process. It’s a horror comic, at least in part, so murder and revenge play a big role in many of those corpse deliveries.

Housui Yamazaki’s artwork is stunning, and it’s beautifully matched by Eiji Otsuka’s writing. The whole series is suffused with dark humor, and the characters are weird, believable, and fascinating.

It’s genuinely creepy, and it manages to make what are essentially zombies unnerving. I find myself thinking about things from KCDS long after I’ve put the book down.

KCDS also does something I’ve never encountered before in manga: The dialog is translated into English, but the sound effects are left in Japanese. Each volume has its own page-by-page glossary of sound effects, but it’s not really needed — you can almost always figure out what the sound would be.

I love this approach because it reinforces the story’s tone (many sound effects are creepy), but leaves me to imagine the specifics.

One-Punch Man

One-Punch Man (Saitama) is a superhero who’s so powerful that he can defeat any foe with a single punch, and this bores him to tears. It’s a pure comedy/action blend, with Saitama’s egg-like, low-on-details head nicely contrasting with the rest of the artwork.

Yusuke Marata’s writing is quite funny, and OPM only takes things seriously in order to make fun of how seriously other manga take them. ONE’s approach to drawing Saitama meshes perfectly with how the character is written: He’s often bored, far more excited by a big sale at the grocery store than punching out a hundred foot-tall kaiju, and he doesn’t think about the world like a “normal” superhero would.

The sound effects in OPM are a hoot. It wouldn’t be the same comic without them.

OPM is a good example of a comic that uses written sound effects to reinforce humor, and it works really well.

Assassination Classroom

Just as much a full-bore comedy as OPM, Assassination Classroom is one of those comics you’ll know whether or not to read just based on the premise: An apparently omnipotent alien destroys Earth’s moon, then announces that in one year he’ll disintegrate the Earth itself unless he’s allowed to teach a class of junior high school rejects — and unless they can succeed in assassinating him before the end of the school year.

The alien, Koro Sensei, is a big smiley face atop a multitude of tentacles. He can fly at Mach 20, he’s invulnerable to normal weapons, and he reveals other powers over the course of the series. He also turns out to be a fabulous teacher, making the students — who’ve never been given much of a chance before — feel conflicted about being assigned to kill him.

Yusei Matsui both writes and illustrates AC, and he somehow manages to maintain — and constantly escalate — the ridiculous premise. It’s a hoot.

It also uses sound effects traditionally, which I usually don’t enjoy, but it does so sparingly — and artfully. In AC, I enjoy the sound effects.

In the scene above, Koro Sensei is demonstrating that yes, the special weapons he gave his students can actually harm him, and without the SPLORCH it would veer from over-the-top and funny into darker territory. The scene works so well because of the SPLORCH.

Manga bakuhatsu!

I love all three of the series I’ve written about here. After reading the first volume of each of them, I was hooked. I’ve already devoured all of the One-Punch Man (paid link) trades, I’m working on the third Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus, and all of the other volumes of Assassination Classroom (paid link) are winging their way to me from Amazon.

If you’re in the market for some manga to read, I highly recommend all three of these titles.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.