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Close to the Edit

When Batman Begins the Beguine

by Ross Winn
Jun 20,2005


When Batman Begins the Beguine

You don't meet a lot of game designers that have an oeuvre. As a matter of fact I think that there are two. Jared Sorenson of Octane (and a few others) is the most enigmatic man in roleplaying. I don't understand half of what he writes, but those few parts I do get are brilliant. I think it was Ken Hite who described Octane as "like being in a fast moving car, just after the bennies hit" of course I am paraphrasing. The second is Clinton R. Nixon, he of The Shadow of Yesterday and Donjon. This guy forgets more about storytelling than I may ever know.

I think there will shortly be a third guy with an oeuvre. His name is Chad Underkoffler. I live in almost perpetual fear of two things. One is that I am going to misspell his name and he will box my ears. The second is that he will stop writing games. I talked about Dead Inside sometime last year. If you were not reading the column then I urge you to go back and look at that one. I like that game. Better yet, throw Chad a few bucks and buy Dead Inside from your favorite online retailer. If you are looking for something different you won't be disappointed.

You see I thought that Chad was just going to be a groundbreaking designer with his game of loss and redemption. I was wrong. Chad did not just think of a new way to play an old game, he also thought of an old way to play a new game. Stick with me, we will get back to this in just a minute.

I took my wife to see Batman Begins tonight, on opening night. The movie, as she so elegantly put it, completely rocked. From the first shot of Bruce Wayne as a child, to the last shot of Bruce Wayne as a Batman, this film was very nearly perfect. It is hard to argue with a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, and Michael Caine. As a matter of fact it would be foolish to try. Even though I do not particularly care for her, even Katie Holmes did not phone this one in.

Batman as a person was thrilling as portrayed by Christian Bale. Were it not for the amazing cast of supporting players I would say that he carries the film. That he could stand on screen with some of the better working actors in film and did not look like a complete piker would have impressed me enough. That his performance actually wrested the attention away from those professionals was something quite extraordinary.

I could sit here and talk about how cool the technology was, and holy crap it was cool!!! I could sit here and talk about the way the art direction and cityscapes enhanced the film. I never imagined that the city of Gotham would look that way. I never saw the Wayne building quite that way either. I do not think I will ever see them differently in my mind's eye again, but that isn't what I want to say.

What I want to say, and this goes back to the whole oeuvre thing from the beginning, is that I kept thinking of this as a game. Well, not just any game. I kept seeing it as a great honking campaign of Truth & Justice.

Truth & Justice is the new game from Atomic Sock Monkey Press. If you were wondering, Atomic Sock Monkey is Chad Underkoffler. Rarely is a mechanic so simple and elegant at emulating another medium. However Truth & Justice is nearly perfect at the narrative form of comics. This is the point I made about making and old idea new again. There are a lot of superhero games, but Truth & Justice is different. I thought that the PDQ System was very intuitive for emulating the real and spirit worlds in Dead Inside. I did not realize how much better it was for superheroes. Even those supers who are not mutants or aliens sent here by their parents. The idea of using prose descriptors for not only abilities as they are at their best, but degrading as they are worn down in combat over time, makes other games that claim to support a narrative form in superhero games pale in comparison.

Over the course of the last few weeks I have been lucky enough to be part of the play-test of Truth & Justice. I haven't been so much play-testing myself as watching some very talented people beat the living crap out of Chad and the manuscript. I will say that I have rarely seen a game so affected by the play-test, and it would be a lot better too see more games affected as much.

Truth & Justice was a damn fine idea that was made finer by the ability of the creator to accept help and guidance. I think that was another reason I liked Batman Begins so much. This was not the Bruce Wayne as a paranoid schizophrenic that I have become somewhat disillusioned by as the DC universe spirals toward a nebulous 'Infinite Crisis'. This is not a man so completely consumed by his own self that he destroys others casually. This is a man who needs and wants friends as well as comrades, allies, and family. He is a man of flaws, hope, and talent.

For these same reasons I urge you to go out and support Truth & Justice, Atomic Sock Monkey, and Chad. You will even be able to buy a physical copy of this work as a print on demand book and not just a PDF. I think that in Chad's own words these "mad, beautiful ideas" need our support.

Next month I will talk about the nature of simplicity as it relates to a particular RPG, and how we got from there to here. I should also mention here that Chad's ideas fit nicely as an introduction. These are not long winded rules spanning volumes and splatbooks ad nauseum. These are simple ideas presented elegantly that can grow, change, and mutate quite nicely without the hand-holding and crutches that a continuous flow of support creates. These are strong bones that can well support the weight of the world on their shoulders.

My metaphors are mixing. My vision is fading. I am tired and alone. Still, I will go off to fight the good fight, for truth and justice!

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