Thursday, March 31, 2011
"I'll come running...to see you again."
"Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall..."
Rowlf, Scooter and Big Bird
"All you've got to do is call..."
Fozzie, Piggy, Floyd, Janice, Grover and Oscar
"And we'll be there, yeah we will...Mee be be"
Bunsen, Beaker, Van Neuter, Gobo Fraggle, Red Fraggle, Ernie and Bert
"You've got a friend!"
(Bunsen and Van Neuter's Transdimensional Teleporter blinks, flashes and emits beams in a vast array of colors - Fizz-Zoom *crackle* KA-POW! BOOOM!!!)
"I'm back! You guys did it!"
"Hey man, we did it together. High paw!"
"Well that about wraps it up gang. We've come to the end of another show..."
"What?! The end? But I have so much more to talk about! I never go to go into Locations and Sets in detail. I had this idea, my take on Ravenloft featuring Count Von Count. The PDF! The PDF isn't finished!"
"And I, the Great Gonzo, never got to do my act. See, I was going to juggle active thermal detonators while being randomly teleported about the stage by the Transdimensional Teleporter, all to the music of the Anvil Chorus!"
"And I need to get back to Piggy's dressing room...My keys! I lost my keys and she found them! Sheesh!"
"Well sorry guys, that's all the time we have. Listen we can come over and help you out on Monday's starting in May."
"Perfect! Muppet Mondays is unofficially officially a go!"
"Great! OK, let's have a big round of applause for our very special guest stars Adam and Barkley! Yaaay!!!"
"It was fantastic everybody. I had so much fun this month and received huge amounts of support. I'd like to thank Erin Palette for all her help and input. Also, James Mal of GROGNARDIA, The Happy Whisk and Jay of EXONAUTS for their guest blog posts. I want to thank Joe of Tough Pigs, Ryan of the Muppet Mindset, the Muppet Wiki without which I'd be lost and of course, the Muppets. And the audience! I hope you all enjoyed the show!"
"We'll see you next time on Barking Alien!"
"Well, what did you think?"
"I thought that it was the most self-indulgent collection of cockamamie ideas and new school claptrap I've ever seen in one place on the internet."
"Ah...so you didn't like it."
"It was OK."
"Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue,
Orn desh, de born desh, de umn,
Bork! Bork! Bork!
(Crash of thrown utensils)
Hedu de hoo! Vercum der me de shoo de keetchee! Und me gust tudu de Heppy Vheesk! Mmm-hmm. Und de Heppy Vheesk ish cook un du Strudiburrbies und du Crem Biskee Skoons. Oo-ooh! Du Strudiburrbies und Crem Biskee Biskee Skoons! Yum!"
The Swedish Chef always makes me laugh and he inspires me to try new ingredients. But sometimes he scares me, too.
"Ooh-oh. Me du scuri? No. Me du no du scuri."
Like the time he wanted to make frog legs using Kermit's nephew. The poor little guy was still alive and screaming, "Help! Uncle Kermit, help!" Good thing Uncle Kermit showed up. Whew. That was a close one.
"Weel du shtum muss ruddin ish boo du shoo. Me du tinkee tinkee!" (Points at his own head)
Then there was the time the Swedish Chef used a shotgun to make holes in doughnuts, a bazooka to make talking pumpkins into pie and a cleaver to decapitate a live turtle. That's some scary stuff.
(Chef puts away the jackhammer he intended to use to mix the ingredients)
"No no. Ish me du cheef. Ish du cheef is du tru jorn de difren tingee du mudensherd goot de meel!"
(Sweats. Dabs forehead with a cloth).
But scary stuff aside, the Swedish Chef cooks with style, never runs from a challenge and always has fun. Just like the time he made bouncy ball meatballs and used a tennis racket to knock them into the audience.
"Aww ya ya! Ishoon der du de booncee-bouncee be de meetee bawls! Heheh. Ood gud ish un datee woond. Muyorn be du hee hee hee."
Say what you will about his muffled speech, messy kitchen and scary cooking - that's one chef who knows how to cook. And, he's never afraid to try new ingredients, even if they're screaming for help.
"Aww, tandu ud de Heppy Vheesk...Ud tinkee."
Strudiburrbies Und Du Crem Biskee Skoons
Biscuits/Scones with Strawberries and Cream
Ivy Shorts (The Happy Whisk)
Preheat oven: 425F, 200C, Gas Mark 6.
Strawberries: I often use frozen berries.
Put them in a bowl with raw sugar and honey.
When they start to defrost, mash and adjust sugar to taste.
Cream: I enjoy making whipped cream with double cream, raw sugar and organic vanilla. But I also buy spray whipped cream from the market. Either will do nicely.
Plain flour (145g)
Good salt (1ml)
Raw sugar (17ml)
Baking powder (7ml)
I’ve used half and half, double cream, almond milk and soy. They all worked well in the dough. I recommend trying them all and picking your favorite.
Organic or good butter (60g)
Steps: Mix all four dry ingredients into a bowl.
Cut butter into pieces. Hand-mash butter into dry mix, leaving some butter chunks. Make a well and add just enough liquid to make dough pliable. About 80ml or so.
Don't add too much liquid.
Once ready, I work the dough on a surface of raw sugar crystals with a bit of flour.
Roll dough to about 2cm thickness and slice into preferred portion size. I make mine a little smaller than the size of my palm.
Place on a sprayed cookie sheet.
Lightly spray tops of biscuits and quickly sprinkle additional sugar crystals on top.
Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
To Eat: Fork split the biscuit/scones and cover with berries and cream and eat. Or, if you’re me, show your husband, but refuse to let him eat it until you’ve snapped just the right shot.
"Who are you calling a moron?"
"What? I didn't say anything. Listen Barkley the show is going really well. I've got to hand it to you."
"The whole show? Your giving me the Muppet Show?"
"I said 'hand it to you' not 'hand it over.'"
"Never mind that...if you didn't pitch me the line...who did...wait! Adam! I...I see a hole filled with colorful creatures...a big purple crystal...a bear...in a big blue house!"
"Talk about a rainbow connection."
"I think I've got a bead on him. I can hear him in my mind but the usual echo in there is making it hard to understand him. He's trying to lock in on us! Get Bunsen and Van Neuter and...everybody! Get everybody you can! I think our boy is coming home..."
“Hi there, Sam, you're just the eagle I was looking for, because today I wanted to salute two beloved cultural institutions born in the 1970s.”
“Finally! A kindred spirit! Someone who understands that what we need more of around here is culture and an appreciation for history.”
“I couldn't agree more, Sam, as anyone who's read my blog, Grognardia, would know.”
“A blog, eh? Isn't that one of those new fangled Internet thingies where self-important blowhards with too much time on their hands talk down to everyone who disagrees with them?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“That's what I thought! How do I get a blog of my own?”
“I'll tell you later, but, as I said, right now we're going to honor two beloved cultural institutions that first appeared in the 1970s.”
“The Republican Study Committee and the Trilateral Commission, both of which were established in 1974?”
“No, not those.”
“The Moral Majority and the Covert Action Information Bulletin?”
“No, not those either.”
“The Office of Net Assessment and the Executive Intelligence Review?”
“Surely, you're not talking about National Public Radio?”
“No, no, of course not. What do you take me for, some kind of hippie?”
“Well, you can never be so sure about people nowadays. Why, the things I could tell you from my time on The Muppet Show ...”
“What a coincidence! The Muppet Show is one of the two beloved 1970s cultural institutions I wanted to discuss.”
“The Muppet Show? A beloved cultural institution? Pop cultural maybe, but I'm interested in high culture -- programming that elevates the mind and ennobles the soul, not the low brow ephemera that distracts Johnny Know-Nothing from the drudgery of his daily existence.”
“I ... see.”
“So what's the other 'beloved cultural institution' you intend to discuss? Let me guess: Pong? Duck Hunt perhaps?”
“No, Sam. I'm as devoted to uplifting and edifying activities as you are. That's why I want to talk about another 1970s cultural institution that is, in my opinion, both uplifting and edifying -- Dungeons & Dragons!”
At first glance, it might not seem as if The Muppet Show and Dungeons & Dragons have a lot in common other than the decade in which they were both born. That's what I thought too when this blog's furry green proprietor approached me about doing a guest post on this very topic. What could I possibly say about these two staples of my youth that somehow connected them in a way that might provide even a small bit of insight to others? I spent a long time trying to unearth some hitherto unknown connection between Jim Henson and Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, something -- anything -- that might let me talk about these world-changing creations as part of a larger movement in entertainment in the 1970s.
And that's when it struck me. When I think back on the decade of my childhood what I remember was a riotous mess of strangeness. This was, after all, the decade of Star Wars, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a decade obsessed with the weird, the Fortean, and the Satanic, from King Tut to Bigfoot to The Amityville Horror and more. It was, for a kid like me, a great time to grow up, serving up a heady stew of half-digested oddities, claptrap, and, above all, fantasy with which to feed my imagination. I still largely subsist on a diet of such nonsense, the taste for which I first acquired more than three decades ago.
Both The Muppet Show and Dungeons & Dragons -- heck, roleplaying in general -- are fruits of that riotous mess of strangeness I remember so well. They grabbed hold of everything that was going on at the time, from the ridiculous to the sublime, and ran with it in amazing, imaginative directions. They treated us to the spectacle of Ethel Merman singing a duet with a vain, anthropomorphic pig and to a game where Conan and Gandalf can team up to fight Dracula. They were vehicles of wild imagination that taught us that value of reckless borrowing from anything we could get our hands on to create something that was somehow more than the sum of its parts, whether it was throwing an alien spacecraft or a cowboy into a D&D adventure or spoofing medical soap operas with a cast made up entirely of animals.
It's worth noting too another important lesson imparted by both The Muppet Show and Dungeons & Dragons: fantasy isn't just for kids. Whereas Henson's earlier Sesame Street was clearly aimed at children, The Muppet Show wasn't. It was broadcast in prime time and contained plenty of sly humor and allusions that would go right over a child's head, even as he laughed at the sight of Gonzo eating a rubber tire to the music of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Likewise, D&D was a game whose audience included adults; my Holmes-edited Basic Set proclaimed itself “the original adult fantasy role-playing game.” That may seem like a small thing, but, to a child like me, it suggested that growing up didn't mean an end to fantasy, a lesson I've carried with me all these years and imparted to my own children, thanks to these beloved cultural institutions of the 1970s.
- James Maliszewski
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The Storyteller with Ars Magica
Do this. Watch all the Storyteller episodes and then play Ars Magica. You'll thank me.
Labyrinth with Changeling: The Dreaming
Is it just me or is this combination just so obvious?
The Dark Crystal
So many ways you can go. Erin Palette suggested Unknown Armies. I feel I could go with a modified Faery's Tale Deluxe. Most people would just as soon D&D it but I think that's like using a hammer to screw in a nail.
Do doo bee-do-doo
Do doo bee-do-doo bee-do-doo bee-do-doo bee-do-do-doodle doo doo do-do-doo*
Sam and Friends
The first prime time television series to feature the Muppets was a Washington D.C. local show called Sam and Friends that ran twice a day for five minutes each episode. While most of its characters have faded into obscurity, the program did feature the earliest version of Kermit, then a lizard like creature.
I've often considered what a remake of this show would be like or how to make a cool Muppets campaign using the look and feel of Sam and Friends. Having aired from 1955 to 1961, the idea of giving the game a film noir or 'Mad Men' quality is very intriguing. As yet the concept is largely undeveloped.
The Hoobs, Mopatop's Shop and Bear in The Big Blue House
While 'Bear' is best served using a trimmed down version of the Sesame Street rules, the Hoobs and Mopatop are a little Sesame Street and a little Fraggle Rock in some ways. I may have to think on them a bit more to get a more definitive idea.
"OK, my friend, we see you need some help. Being the enlightened higher beings that we are, we're going to do you a solid."
"No problem my karmic castaway. You need to focus on something or someone who will act as an anchor in the reality you wish to go to."
"An anchor huh? Hmmm...wait...I'm got it. In regards to my last set of ideas, I may have to think more on them..."
To Be Concluded...
*Credit for the In Nomine joke goes to Pete Hernandez, a talented artist who I used to be good friends with and who I gamed with all throughout high school. This was the first thing that came out of his mouth when I told him about In Nomine. The title of this post refers to a proposed TV series featuring Tim Curry as the exiled ruler of a small fictional national, now forced to live in America (New York City to be precise). Both Human and Muppet characters represent members of his formerly royal family.
It's time for another thrilling episode of...Pigs In Spaaace!
When we last left the crew of the Spaceship Swinetrek they had discovered and boarded a mysterious, alien derelict...
"My goodness, what a mysterious, alien derelict this is."
"Agreed First Mate Piggy. And spooky. Dr. Strangepork, what can you tell us about this vessel?"
"Vell according to the computer, this is the EXONAUT, a spaceship created to explore space and find intriguing items to collect and bring back to its creators in a distant galaxy."
"It looks like a galactic yard sale."
"The good stuff is in the Cargo Holds. Come on, let's check out..."
Muppet Random Space Finds!
By Jay of Exonauts
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
(Flash of light, loud pop echoing off the cavern walls and a 'POOF' of smoke)
*THUD* (Adam falls to the floor of the cave from out of thin air)
"What the...? Where am I? This is definitely not Sesame Street and it isn't the Muppet Theater. Holy Moley...it looks like..."
"What do you think it is Gobo?"
"I'll tell you what it is. A herald of the end of days."
"Don't be such a boober Boober. It's one of the Silly Creatures from Outer Space my Uncle Traveling Matt is always talking about. But how did he get here?
"We should hide! No wait, we should talk to it. No, we should go see the Trash Heap and ask her what to do, yeah. Hiding still sounds good though."
"Wembley relax. I'm not afraid of any Silly Creature. I'm going to go see what it wants. (Gulp)."
"Um...Hi Silly Creature from Outer Space. I'm...(clears throat)...I'm Red Fraggle. Who are you and what do you want?"
"Red? Fraggle? This is Fraggle Rock! Wow. I'm a long way from the Muppet Theater. Listen Red, my name is Adam. Can you and your friends help me? You see...I'm lost and I kind of got here by magic and I need to get back to my friends...in Outer Space. Thing is...hmmm...Outer Space is big and I have no idea how far it is from Fraggle Rock to where I need to go."
"It's OK Silly Creature. We can help you. We'll go see the All Knowing Trash Heap and she'll know what to do."
If the Muppets have something akin to old school dungeon delving with that particularly peculiar Muppet twist, it's the amazing universe of Fraggle Rock. Jim Henson conceived the series as a world of bright colors and music that nonetheless functioned based on the somewhat complex symbiotic relationships between the different "races" of creatures that occupied the cavernous region of Fraggle Rock. While most certainly a program aimed at children, the show could entertain and amuse while seriously exploring complex issues of prejudice, spirituality, personal identity, environment, social conflict and death.
In some ways, I've always viewed Fraggle Rock as a bridge between Sesame Street and the Muppet Show. I used to watch it religiously with my younger sister (five years my junior) and we were at ages where we both understood the show but probably got different things out of it. My nephew has watched it and love it as well. I am actually a huge fan of Fraggle Rock and could easily do an entire week just on it alone but I'm going to try to condense my basic ideas here and save the rest for Muppet Mondays.
The website Muppet Mindset has an excellent article on why Fraggle Rock is even better to watch as an adult.
Fraggle Rock has many of the troupes and trappings of more magical settings and less of a modern or science fiction feel. There are mystic oracles, a race of large ogre/giant like creatures called Gorgs, mentions of treasure, magic potions and many other element that work to create a Muppets RPG campaign more in line with traditional gaming concepts. Also Fraggle Rock may be the only major Muppets production where it is implied that characters can die. This would definitely be reflected in the rules of a Fraggle Rock RPG variant.
I would think that scenes work but sketches and skits wouldn't really apply in the world of Fraggle Rock. As we watch the series and see the Fraggles go about their lives and adventures, there is a much less episodic nature to the series over all, with continuity of relationships and events progressing throughout the seasons.
For this reason, Upstaging, Stealing the Show and anything of that nature goes away. Though it may sound very odd, mechanically Fraggle Rock is more like the Land of Gorch crossed with the Sesame Street rules than it is like the Muppet Show.
Props are a definite (the Fraggle Horn, Love Potions, Peas of Power, Gorg Butter, etc.), Costumes rarely apply or matter (many Fraggles are unclothed or only wear a cloak or a scarf) and Playgrounds/Locations/Sets might work if treated a bit more like that building of a base, home or secret clubhouse.
First we rename.
Applause and Star Power become Appreciation and Spirit, reflecting the more spiritual and mystic nature of the show. The more you Appreciate the world you live in, the creatures that live in it with you and the more your fellow creatures learn to Appreciate you, the higher it raises your Spirit.
That right there is my basic philosophy for all game design. You should be able to read one or two lines and get the idea of the game, the mechanics and the atmosphere and still have all the words make sense.
Mini-rant...One of the reasons I'm not a fan of many old school games is very often you accumulate Experience (with you so far) to raise your Level (Level? Level of what?) in your Class (My class? Geometry? Or it is like social class? So my class and level improve from Lower Middle Class to Middle Class? Oh no wait, it's medieval. So I go from Peasant to Merchant or something?). Never understood that. ...Mini-rant over.
Shticks...could pretty much stay Shticks because of the wacky and often oddball nature of Fraggle thinking. In regards to combat, dangerous terrain and the like, all damage is considered to be 'Real'. Nothing is 'Staged' unless a PC or Director run NPC explicitly desires it to be so. Furthermore, if you lose all your Shtick dice due to damage, you lose one Spirit. If your character is at zero Spirit, he or she will be alive but unable to move for an addition 1D6 scenes plus the amount of Appreciation you have. If the other PCs give up five point of Appreciation it is enough to restore you to health and you will be fine for the next adventure. The PCs must be near you (physical contact range) to do this. If this is not done by the time allotted, the character is no more.
Remember too that Fraggle Rock has a bit more established canon than any of the other show's we've talked about so far. I highly recommend checking out the Muppet Wiki for information and of course, watching the show. A Fraggle Rock theatrical motion picture is said to be in the works as well.
... "Are you guys sure about this. I'm starting to see where Boober is coming from?".
"Don't worry Silly Creature. The Trash Heap gave use very specific instructions. When I say go, tug on Wembley's tail while Mokey, you start singing. Red, you hop up and down on one foot while Boober reads the latest postcard from my Uncle Traveling Matt. Everybody ready?"
"Hold on. Every Fraggle knows it's unlucky to tug your tail. It will bring death and pestilence remember?"
"Ready! Wha...Wait! Death and Pestilence?!"
(Wembley takes off running and Adam tugs his tail accidently to keep him from getting too far away)
"I hope he went where he needed to go. He seemed like a nice Silly Creature."
"Sprocket you funny dog. Get away from that hole. We've got tickets to the Muppet Theater tonight. I want to get there early and get popcorn. Come on, it's a 30 minute drive."
(Groggily, as if sedated)
"Huh? Where am I? What's going on here?"
(Struggles against her bonds)
"Scooter? What are you doing here? What am I doing here?"
"Why, you're the first guest author for Mr. Adam's blog, Miss Palette! Adam's missing though so Barkley said to bring you in anyway. You're here to talk about Muppets, Monty Python, and subversive humor."
"So I've been shanghaied?"
(Scooter nods assent)
(Shaking her head is resignation)
"Done in by my own rules. Isn't that ironic?"
(Scooter checking guest list) "No, Alanis Morissette isn't until next week."
(SFX: Sad trombone)
CUE MUPPET SHOW OPENING.
SPOTLIGHT ON PALETTE, STILL TIED TO CHAIR.
Er… hello, everyone. Apparently I'm today's guest author for Adam's blog. I knew that making rules suggestions and revisions for his Muppet RPG would eventually have repercussions, but I had no idea it would be something like this. Oh well. At least I'm earning that co-author credit!
When I started reading Adam's posts for Muppet Madness Month, I noticed an amazing bit of similarity between the humor of the Muppets and that of Monty Python. Compare the following videos:
Beef Falling Dramatically
French Secret Weapon
Now you may well be asking "But Palette, what do these two sketches have in common other than airborne beef?" That's a good question, and thank you for asking, purely theoretical audience who might be only the voices in my head. I'll tell you: Both are forms of subversive humor.
When I say "subversive," I don't necessarily mean treasonous, radical, or designed to overthrow established social order (although some sketches on both sides frequently satisfy that last definition); I instead mean that they take the audience's expectations and subvert them humorously. Well, what's a subversion, then? It's what happens when the audience is led to believe one kind of thing is going to happen, and something else – perhaps even something completely different – happens instead.
The classic example of this is the speeding car hurtling down a busy street as two workers are carrying a pane of glass across the road. The audience expects that, one way or another, that glass is going to be broken dramatically. Played straight, the car will smash the glass. But if something else happens – the car avoids the glass, something else smashes the glass instead, or perhaps the car itself shatters after hitting the glass – that's a subversion. It is essentially messing with the minds of the audience, wherein what happens is funny not necessarily because it is humorous, but because it is so unexpected that it strikes the viewer as absurd, and therefore hilarious.
Both the Muppets and Monty Python are masters of this technique, and pioneered it at a time when humor was very straightforward and formulaic. Both heavily influenced the evolution of televised humor, and both are still immensely popular over thirty years later – a testament to the immortality of their craftsmanship. "But what about this alleged similarity you talked about earlier," I hear you say.
Well, my thesis is quite simple. Monty Python has never been especially huge in the United States, due perhaps to its very British-ness, despite how absurd or subversive it could be. But the Muppets – cute, unassuming, and decidedly American – made this form of humor much more palatable to U.S. audiences. In fact, Muppet humor is doubly subversive, because audiences are not inclined to expect sophisticated wordplay from brightly-colored pieces of felt with funny voices.
Van Gogh Impressions
In fact, I would go so far as to say that The Muppet Show is, in fact, Monty Python made American. An American Python, if you will.
The GREEN HOSE that was wrapped around PALETTE twists and shifts, revealing itself to be an oddly-dressed snake. He hisses in PALETTE's ear.
American Python: You rang?
PALETTE shrieks and faints. AMERICAN PYTHON shrugs – don't ask me how a snake with no shoulders manages to shrug, he just does, okay? – and continues narrating in a voice much like David Ogden Stiers, only prissier and more New Englandish.
Oh dear. I seem to have startled the poor dear. But not to fret! I studied theater at Haaaaahvaaaaahd.
To illustrate the point that the Muppets are American Python – hellooooo, everyone – watch this clip from 1967 and pretend that instead of Jim Henson doing the computer voice, it is actually John Cleese. I think you will find that it would be quite at home in any Flying Circus episode.
IBM Training Video
And wouldn't this sketch be simply splendid performed by Muppets?
Yesss. Yesss, indeeeeeed.
And so, my friends, in conclusion, please consider the following:
What's That On The Television?
"Our first rule was: no punch lines.. [some sketches] start brilliant, great acting, really funny sketch, but punch line is just not as good as the rest of the sketch, so it kills the entire thing. That's why we eliminated them." -- Terry Gilliam, Monty Python Live at Aspen, 1998
"What my father figured out was if you can't get out, you just either blow something up, or you eat something, or you just throw penguins in the air." -- Brian Henson, Brian Henson Introductions, 1999
Thank you very much, and goodnight.
SFX: AMERICAN PYTHON explodes.
-- Erin Palette
Monday, March 28, 2011
"Barkley! There you are. We've been looking all over for you. Where were you all this time?"
"I was in Miss Piggy's dressing room checking out her Bacon."
"Or was it Bach. She has quite the collection of CDs in there."
"Heh, oh...right. I forgot she borrowed some of mine."
"Hmm. I guess. She didn't mention you."
(Crumples face is annoyance)
"So why were you looking for me?"
"We have an emergency! Adam has...um...vanished."
"Well actually, according to Bunsen and Van Neuter, Adam was hit with a combination of Magician Magic, Fairy Magic, Grouch Technology and Monster Superpowers. Currently he is spinning out of control through space and time as we try to build a device to locate him and bring him back here."
"Is that all?"
"Mmm hmm. In the mean time, we may have to cancel the show. We don't know what's next for the Muppet RPG blog entries."
"Say no more Kermit. You did the right thing trying to find me. I'll take over from here!"
"Of course. I know Adam's whole plan...somewhat. Just leave everything to me."
"First, I need to use your phone. I've got to call in some favors..."
I've had so much fun but right now I have to get going. I'm sure I'll be here again before long but I'm needed back at the Muppet Theater for the last part of Muppet Madness Month. The problem is I'm already late do to blogspot not working very well for me tonight. So I've brought some help... Meet the Dream Team!"
"OK gang, I need to get back to the Muppet Theater really quickly. What do you think is the best way to go?"
"I could help with my fairy magic wand!"
"And I, Super Grover 2.0, can fly you there."
"And I suppose I could give you a lift in my crummy cab. I got nothing better to do."
"I've got it! Mr. Adam, get in the cab if you would. That's right. And now Oscar. Good, good. Super Grover will lift the cab and Abby Cadabby will use her wand to enchant it. Right. Now when I say the magic words, everyone do they're thing. Ready..."
"I was thinking more like directions or if you told me which train goes express. I'm not sure this is such a good id..."
"A la Peanut Butter Sandwiches!"
(Monumentally loud and sparkly KABOOM)
"What...what happened? Mr. Mumford, where did Adam go?"
"I don't know Abby. Everyone else...yes we're all here but he's...disappeared."
To Be Continued...
Today's post was brought to you but the letter R, the letter P, the letter G and the number 1.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
When creating a Sesame Street campaign one might assume, and with good reason, that the 'setting' for your game is a given. I mean, we're talking about the world's most famous address, 123 Sesame Street is known all across the United States. You've got a good forty plus years of material to utilize and new characters, events and even places are constantly being added.
But what if...what if...you made your own Sesame Street? What if your hometown had this one magical place where sheep sang and monsters played and Humans went to work with Grouches? For ideas on a different kind of Sesame Street, I direct your attention to the rest of the world and the over 140 countries whose children have grown up with Sesame Street in some form or another, even if that form isn't exactly the same as ours.
Currently, approximately 20 countries have unique co-productions with Sesame Workshop that produce unique interpretations of the Sesame Street 'milieu' if you will. Each has its own unique setting and characters and so of the variations on familiar Muppets and themes are remarkably entertaining.
Here is a small sampling...
Sesamstrasse is the international version of Sesame Street in Germany. Sesamstrasse was the first co-production of Sesame Street outside the United States. It is currently in its 36th season.
A number of changes and additions were made to Sesame Street when it was adapted for Germany, my personal favorite being Rumpel, a green Grouch who lives in an old water barrel with his pet caterpillar.
The German production company and many parents found Oscar too negative and most suburban and rural German children had not familiarity with trash cans. Rumpel was created to serve as a cross between Grover and Oscar. He likes rainy days when others want sunshine, eats food people don't often like and has other Grouch like qualities but is generally friendly, good natured and even a bit playfully mischievous at times. At one point he had a superhero identity similar to Super Grover and often tries to make weird, near alchemical recipes from his great grandfather's cook book.
Produced in Mexico and initially covering mostly Mexico and Puerto Rico, Plaza Sesamo first went on the air in 1972. It was and remains extremely popular, eventually spreading throughout Latin America as many of my Spanish speaking friends can attest too.
In addition to having Spanish speaking versions of a number of the American Muppet characters, this show features what has to be, without a doubt, the most awesome alternative to Big Bird I've ever seen. The colorful, giant parrot Abelardo Montoya is Big Bird's cousin, appearing on the American Sesame Street once in an episode explaining the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Since then he can be seen in his next writing letters, emailing and video chatting with his American cousin.
The Norwegian co-production of Sesame Street is set in a train station. Many stories revolve around a train taking the characters somewhere or bringing a new character or situation to the station. The two main Human cast members and four original Muppet characters work at the station or on the Sesame Train. A major departure from the standard Sesame Street format, aside from the unique setting, was that some stories unfolded over a number of episodes. Multi-episode story arcs were quite popular with viewers and give Sesame Stasjon a very different feel.
Indonesia's co-production, Jalan Sesama means, "Street for All", a name perfect for its overall theme of diversity and acceptance. The series is set in an Indonesian village rather than the New York neighborhood featured in the American version of the program. It began in 2008.
It features a number of new Muppet characters including the very cool looking Tantan the Orangutan and the strangely furry Jabrik the Rhino.
Sesame Street Japan
For over thirty years Japan simply dubbed the American Sesame Street until in 2004 they created their first localized co-production.
The show was praised by many for covering a wide range of lesson topics such as ethics, the environment, interacting with friends and how to approach problems and solve them logically.
Unfortunately it was also ridiculed by critics who said that the parts of the show dedicated to learning English words were not especially accurate with their use of grammar, thereby perpetuating language issues instead of helping.
The show does have another of my favorite international characters however; the sweet, chipper and adorable orange monster Grorie. Grorie (also seen as Groly) is basically a female Grover, right down to doing sketches in which she has various jobs such as a waitress in a pink and white stripped French waitress apron. Rumors have it a Super Grover like magical girl identity was planned but never used. Come on! Sailor Grorie? What's not to love?
I could go on and on. Really. Don't get me started on Israel's resident Grouch, Moishe Oofnik. Old Jewish Grumpy Grouch? I think we might be related!
So as your planning your Sesame Street campaign, think about the people in your neighborhood, the street where you live and what things do and don't belong in your version of everybody's favorite locale.
Phil Donahue: This is Sesame Street. A place where people, birds, monsters all live in perfect harmony.
Here's A Sesame Street News Flash!
Well, later today we leave Sesame Street and head for stranger pastures. I hope everyone is ready for a bit more Muppet craziness and guest cameos galore!
If you have any ideas or requests for stuff to be covered let me know. While I can't guarantee I'll get to all (or any) of it before the month's end, my new regular feature of Muppet Mondays should start in May. April will most likely be taken up by the A-to-Z challenge.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
"Bert! Bert! Oh Bert! You've got to come outside and check out this cool new RPG Bert! It is fantastic!"
"Ernie, not now. I'm reading about my favorite RPG, OK? Maybe later."
"Bert, you're reading a RPG book? What game is it?"
"Oh just the best game ever. See - Pigeons and Pedestrian Walkways!"
"Pedestrian Walkways Bert?"
"What are Pedestrian Walkways Bert?"
"What? Oh, sidewalks. It's a game where you play Pigeons trying to find crumbs and having adventures up and down sidewalks all over the city. Doesn't it sound great! Exploring all these long, grey, flat areas of stone and concrete. Oh and get this! If you advance in level to High Arch-Pigeon you can explore Mega-Pedestrian Walkways!"
"Mega-Sidewalks? You can look around really, really long sidewalks Bert?"
"I know! I can hardly wait to play. Ernie, would you like to play?"
"Umm...maybe later Bert but I need to get back outside. Telly, Elmo, Big Bird, Snuffy, Zoe, Rosita, a bunch of kids and grown ups and now even Super Grover 2.0, Cookie and Oscar are playing the um...the other game I was going to tell you about."
"Oh. Wow, that's...that's a lot of people."
"You're welcome to come Bert."
"...yeah, I can finish this later. After all, if my best friend thinks it's worth checking out, I should at least check it out."
"Thanks Bert. You're my best friend too. We'll play your game next."
"Can I be a Ranger/Dragon Slayer Pigeon with magic armor and a +5 backscratcher?"
Just a quick post to remind everyone of the importance of Relationships and Routines in the Sesame Street RPG.
I don't think I need to retell the mechanics but I would make a note on style. Where as the Muppet Show take on this is sort of 60/40 Routine to Relationship and the Gorch version is 70/30 Relationship to Routine, I imagine Sesame Street's view would be almost 50/50. That is, the two are really connected more closely. Ernie and Elmo meet, sing together and have fun but they don't have Routines with reoccurring themes the way Ernie and Bert do. If you check out old episodes you'll notice a strong Relationship between Grover and Kermit. Grover and Mr. Johnson (aka 'Fat Blue') illustrate a nice use of an Anything Muppet in the creation of a Relationship Routine (Charlie's Restaurant sketches).
Another quick Saturday note...I don't think I actually defined the rules for Humans in Sesame Street games. My idea is that if something can be handled by the PC's 'Trait' you would roll the number of dice connected to the attribute. If the task relates to a 'Skill' the character should use that number. If a Trait can help a Skill then add the number of dice in the Trait as a modifier to the Skill roll results.
Susan is Smart. Why as a matter of fact, we'll say she's Smart-2. If she needs to figure something out she rolls two dice. Susan also has the Skill Teach-4. If she wants to teach something to Elmo she rolls four dice. Since being Smart is related to Teaching, Susan can add +2 (the number of dice she has in the Trait Smart) to the results of her Teach roll.
So what might have been 2, 3, 4 and 6 are now 4, 5, 6 and 8! Nice job Susan. Elmo finally gets punctuation.
Have A Sunny Day Everyone!
Bert: Ernie? Ernie, come here... did I just make a complete fool of myself?
Ernie: [patting Bert's shoulder] Absolutely, Bert.
Here's A Sesame Street News Flash!
Bert and Ernie Trivia!
Bert is considered to be 'older' then Ernie, though not by much.
Bert's pet pigeon is named Bernice.
Bert wears a shirt with vertical strips to visually reinforce his uptight nature.
Ernie wears horizontal strips because they appear more relaxed.
Ernie appears without Bert (alone or with another character) far more often than Bert appears without Ernie.
A common rumor is that Bert and Ernie are named for the cop and mailman in the film, 'It's A Wonderful Life', though Henson and company has always said it's merely a coincidence.
"Good evening. Me Alistair Cookie. Welcome to Monsterpiece Theater.
Today we look at big deal in literature. Conflict. Yeah. It major part of story. For example, Me want cookie. How Me get cookie? What if there no cookie to be had? What if someone have cookie but not want to share with Me? What if other monster challenge me to game of Go Fish! over right to get cookie?
Me don't know about you but Me on edge of Me seat wondering what outcome will be!"
How does a Director create Conflict and Challenge in a Sesame Street RPG?
While I have my own ideas, I have looked to Japan for inspiration.
There is a very cool Japanese Tabletop RPG called Yuuyake Koyake, which Ewen Cheney of Yaruki Zero Games describes as follows on the website J-RPG Talk,
" Yuuyake Koyake ("Vivid Sunset") is a game about henge, animals that have just a little bit of magical power, including the ability to take on human form. The creator specifically wanted to make a game that eschews violence and accumulation of power, and in YK these henge mostly help out ordinary people with everyday problems. The henge come from Japanese animal myths, though needless to say they've been toned down for the game's more heartwarming portrayal."
I highly recommend reading up on this particular game but the key element of it that I found most interesting was the development of a role playing game that had, at is heart, a system for doing things other than beating up monsters and stealing their stuff. The Conflict in Yuuyake Koyake is best described, as noted by its author, as " someone is troubled by something; no evil intentions involved."
That is the same basic adventure, conflict and challenge design parameters for a Sesame Street RPG. Now and then you can throw in a bit of 'evil' in the form of a melodramatically nasty villain but even they are often just misunderstood or in need of something to not be so nasty anymore.
When creating an episode of Sesame Street for the RPG, it's best to start by setting up a situation where an NPC needs something or doesn't understand something. Present the PC's with an opportunity to try to figure out what the NPC's situation is and then how best to help them. This can be used to teach kids by creating an adventure in which you discuss things like how to find clues, look up information, talk about ideas in a group setting and many other elements most gamers take for granted. These important skills need not be directly related to the item or situation but they do show how you find a solution to a troubling situation.
"Me all over this like chocolate chips on a chocolate chip cookie. Me demonstrate."
"Really? OK. By all means."
"Monsterpiece Theater presents, World According to Carp."
"Uh, the book is Garp. The World According to Garp."
"You demonstrate your way, Me demonstrate my way."
So one day a Carp, you know, the fish, comes done Sesame Street in a large fish tank on wheels. Maybe it's in a wagon. It is being pulled by a turtle or similar amphibian. The Carp is describing what he sees to the turtle and several smaller fish in the tank. His descriptions are a bit off. Never having been out of the lake he lives in for long, he doesn't know as much about the surface world as he thinks he does.
He'll say, "And over there is a tall, hard and rough, brown thing with small leaves on the top. Birds live in it. You sometimes see those at the edge of the lake."
A small fish says, "What are they called Mr. Carp?"
"Those are...Big Hard Bird Home Plants."
As the PCs listen it gets more and more made up with some of the descriptions being way off and all the names being wrong. The PCs must figure out what he is referring to, what it's really called and how to teach the fish the right names and info without make Mr. Carp look bad in front of his students.
Something like that.
Now remember this idea is aimed at younger kids. Grown-ups playing the game can create and partake in much more in depth and complex stories. I'll address some ideas for those another time.
"Thank you Alistair Cookie. Here is a Snickerdoodle."
"Mmm...if it all the same to you, Me not like friend Grover. Costume or not, Me Cookie Monster. SNICKERDOODLE! Om-nom-nom!"
" Hey, You know what?
A round cookie with one bite out of it looks like a "C"
A round donut with one bite out of it also looks like a "C" but it is not as good as a cookie
Oh, and the moon sometimes looks like a "C" but you can't eat that
"C" is for Cookie that's good enough for me,
"C" is for cookie that's good enough for me,
"C" is for cookie that's good enough for me,
Oh! cookie, cookie, cookie starts with "C"!
Cookie Monster, Sesame Street
Here's a Sesame Street News Flash!
It was revealed in an episode of Sesame Street that Cookie Monster is his nick name. Before he ate his first cookie his name was Sid. A twitter tweet confirmed this something later. Cookie was born Sidney Monster.
I have a lot more to say on the subject of Sesame Street adventure design but I doubt I will get to it all this month. I actually think that a long term Muppets campaign is best achieved in a Muppet Show meets Sesame Street format that we haven't really seen the Muppets produce. There is some sweet spot between Sesame Street and Avenue Q that would be awesome to explore.
If you don't know what a Snickerdoodle is, may the heavens have mercy on your soul.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Playgrounds combines three elements of the regular Muppets game, namely Props, Costumes and a renovated idea called Locations/Sets, into a catch all title that better fits what they are and how they work on Sesame Street.
"OK, he told me to turn on this signal light to let him know when I'm ready...here goes."
"There! Look, it's..."
SUPER GROVER 2.0!
"Once more the call goes out to the cutest and furriest of do-gooders, say it with me, Super Grover 2.0."
"Excellent Super Grover 2.0! Do you have the list?"
"Come again? List?"
"Yeah. The list I told you to get together of everything that fit the description of a Playground for the Sesame Street RPG. You did do it right?"
"Ahh...a list is all you wanted. Oh dear. I may have overdone the superheroics a bit. I am still working all the bugs out of this upgrade you know."
"Super Grover 2.0 is that...did you...Holy Macaroni!"
"Yes. I um...I gathered together everything you wanted to use to represent Playgrounds and put them over here. Big Bird's Nest was a bit tricky but Oscar's Trashcan was surprisingly easy."
"You're not half as surprised as I am fur-face. Now what's all this racket about a Playground?"
Playgrounds are basically locations that act similarly to Costumes in the Muppets RPG but in a way can do even more. Essentially, all the props and more you need for various adventures are back at your Playground. However, all the items must follow a certain theme. There is no problem with a loose interpretation of a theme but a Spaceship would be unlikely to contain a Magic Wand for example, without a really cool reason of course.
There are two kinds of Playgrounds, Personal and Community.
To obtain a Personal Playground you need to spend five Sunny Days. Once created, it is yours and all the other Props and Costumes you obtain can be kept in your Playground regardless of how strange it may seem. Oscar's Trashcan contains an Olympic sized swimming pool, a piano, his pet elephant Fluffy and, at least in my mind, somewhere to park his car, the Sloppy Jalopy.
To create a Community Playground, at least two characters must give up four Sunny Days each. If more than five characters are involved, each needs only spend three Sunny Days. All the characters involved in the creation of a Community Playground can keep their stuff there (Props, Costumes) and the location is assumed to be slightly bigger to accommodate multiple characters.
In addition, for each character connected to the Playground, it (the Playground that is) can produce one Bonus Die Prop per session. Alternatively, it can make one +1 item and one +2 item, or three +1 items.
Personal Playgrounds from Sesame Street include Big Bird's Nest and Oscar's Trash Can. Possibly even Elmo's World!
Community Playgrounds can range from small, two character places like Bert & Ernie's Apartment or Luis and Maria's Fix-It Shop to Hooper's Store!
"Yeah I tried to lift that one but it was a bit tough. Not heavy so much as awkward."
"Right. Well, I think I got my idea across. Couldn't have done it without you Super Grover. I mean, Super Grover 2.0."
"Glad to be of service."
"That sounds kinda fun. Now then, since you're so glad to be of service, do me the service of putting my trash can back where it belongs!"
Kermit the Frog: "Hi ho there. This is Kermit the Frog and I'm here to find out why Oscar the Grouch likes public television."
Oscar the Grouch: "I don't like public television!"
Kermit the Frog: "How about live concerts?"
Oscar the Grouch: "I prefer recorded concerts on badly scratched records."
Kermit the Frog: "How about movie classics in the original black and white without interruptions?"
Oscar the Grouch: "I prefer colorized versions with lots and lots of commercial interruptions!"
Here's A Sesame Street News Flash!
Playgrounds were originally called Locations, then Bases (As in 'Base' in a game of tag), then dropped, then added back as Locations in the first rules sets I did for a Sesame Street game. Erin Palette helped me come up with the name Playgrounds by first suggesting 'Play Areas'.
Did you honestly think I would do a Sesame Street RPG blog that didn't include a least one shot of Mr. Hooper? Come on now.
Getting down to the wire, eh? A bit less than two weeks left on this Month! How am I going to fit everything in? We'll see. It's going to be fun trying.