Ren the series is one of those gems that I hope for and quietly support that I hope every person who likes fantasy literature and media takes a look at.
High fantasy is one of the toughest genres to work in. As a director, shooter, and writer I marvel that anyone is willing to risk it all at serious fantasy on a low budget. The cost of production is pretty extreme, costumes cannot usually be made in post production and require a dedicated team of wardrobe people to get right. Dialog in high fantasy is hard to get right and taxes actors who have to make big concepts come alive. It is hard to blame small small production groups when acting is less than stellar when the acting in major productions like the Twilight movies have a rough go making their two main actors sympathetic. The challenge of anything epic is enormous.
That is why whenever I see a project like Ren the Series get off the ground and show some success I become an immediate fan. Just watching the behind-the-scenes videos is proof that Kate Madison and Christopher Dane are a working team with big ideas and the ability to make a production like this work on a budget that is very modest.
Check out Ren the Series at its Mythica Entertainment home, and if you find a series you like, support it in any way you can. I always budget 25% of my earnings from my own creative work to support projects such as this simply because I like to see them turned into reality.
The Internet is about taking risks and doing cool stuff, and nowhere will you find a show that is more cool and more of a risk than Saving Throw.
Dom Zook, the executive producer, has come up with an excellent format that never would have been possible in the era of big-three networks into which I was born (I keep forgetting to take Quad tape machine operation off my resume.) Saving Throw essentially takes a group of typical table-top gamers and has them play an hour or two of a different role playing game, repeating as needed until you pretty much get the idea of what a game session is like in real life. I was directed to Saving Throw by a game producer who I was negotiating with on a book deal. I had already played the game and am familiar with role playing games, so the videos were not useful as they were intended, to teach me what playing a game was like, but instead they inspired me because of the quality of the people Dom Zook has playing in his expositions.
Basically, the people who are playing in Mr. Zook's games are all interesting people. You watch them play a new game, and you realize that you would love to be sitting with these people, drinking bad soda and eating whatever they are eating, in that limbo-lit little stage basement. So while Mr. Zook and company intend to show us the mechanics of the game, they actually succeed more in showing the audience an ethnographic slice of why gaming is so enjoyable and why after decades on the outside, geek is cool and gaming rocks.
I ended up showing a group of students these videos and pointing out that the Internet brings us endless possibilities. It also reminds me how the Hollywood talent machines will have their work cut out for them finding the next generation of talent. I pointed out just the week before to a talent representative that the shows like Saving Throw are training a new generation of production talent such as Dom Zook and Amy Vorpahl, as can be seen by the success other actors and producer coming from small tv series such as Christopher Folino, Matt Vancil, Rob Hunt, Joanna Gaskill, and Tara Pratt.
Saving Throw is on Youtube. If you have never gamed around a table and want to see what it is about, give it a watch. If you like creative and unusual television, then this is required watching.
Despite table-top gaming being a mature art there has continued to be developments in games, and 13th Age is one of the most important.
The earliest role playing games were simple affairs. The Blue Book edition of Dungeons and Dragons, later deceptively called Basic D&D, consisted of fewer than 8,000 words of rules, a few short tables, and a listing of some basic ideas for encounters and adventures. If one were to add to this book a copy of In Search of the Unknown> by Mike Carr (another 3,000 words of supplemental information plus a nice adventure layout), then a group of friends had the possibility of a hundred or more hours of fun. With little structure, the games were at the mercy of player creativity, but that was the point.
The state of the art advanced of course, and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons added new rules, many designed to curtail player bad habits or to give cover to beleaguered game masters. Soon there was a rule frenzy with each new game looking to have more complex rules. There were exceptions of course, no one can point at Paranoia and say there was a rule crazy game, but the trend was established.
13th Age is an attempt to bring back the age where role play trumped all other considerations, and the game was an attempt to build a story. My own experience playing it shows that the game has accomplished this. The basic gaming system is a streamlined d20 model, but the true art can be found in character generation and play. Every character is built around a set of story points and connections that provide advantages (or disadvantages) to the player. These points then become foils to encourage role playing. The main strength of this system is that it allows the player a wide scope to invent a character they like.
The only downside is the quality of the player and the game master. This is a game where people who like to tell and listen to stories will shine, while people who loudly proclaim they do not like creative things but instead like to crunch numbers will fail. The game master in particular must be on the ball to make the game work.
Despite these caveats, 13th Age is a winner whose influence can already be seen in other games.
Thank you for visiting my micro-blog on people doing neat things in the industry.
Imagine the Internet. Billions of people browse its digital halls looking for entertainment. Most of these people are looking for material that is free or inexpensive, they are already paying an arm and a leg for unreliable cable-based Internet access and for a computer or digital phone, and economics say they have to be frugal with their choices. Serving these people is a small brigade of creatives who create the labors of love that make the Internet special. I hope to have the opportunity to point out a few of these people and their projects.