Sunday, October 20, 2019

Role-Playing Game as Marketing Gimmick

Art by Alex Lopez

Earlier this month, Wendy's – the restaurant chain – released a tabletop role-playing game, Feast of Legends (hereinafter Feast).  It is available as a free PDF.  (A hardcopy version was available at the New York Comic Con.)  Now that I've time to digest it, I provide my thoughts in this post.

First and foremost – Why?  Evidently, “There are 4.7 million RPG fans across the U.S. and 13.8 million worldwide, according to Google Analytics data cited by Wendy's.”  This fact and the extent to which RPGs have encroached upon popular culture are apparently sufficient for an ad agency (or marketing consultant or whatever they call themselves nowadays) to convince Wendy's that this demographic is important enough to solicit.  According to Ad Age, advertising agency executives playing RPGs is a thing, so it was only a matter of time until something like this saw the light of day.

At 97 pages, Feast is the product of eight months of work.  Although infused with tongue-in-cheek humor, Feast is a professionally rendered product with a workable system influenced by Fifth Edition.  (No writing credit is given and there is no concession to the Open Gaming License.)  Aside from the PDF, the Feast home page has a thirty second YouTube video, a rudimentary die roller, and the requisite DoorDash link.  What about the droves of hamburger consumers who aren't familiar with RPGs?  The Feast page also has a “New to This?” link.  However, page two of the PDF does a better job of concisely describing how role-playing games work.  Game Master advice (on page 36) includes appropriate statements like “The most important part of being a GM is to make sure the group is having fun” and “This is simply your template to create the best game possible for the players.”

Feast presents itself as both a rulebook and campaign.  The rulebook is 19 pages and the campaign, “Rise from the Deep Freeze,” has 35 pages.  The remaining pages consist of the covers, introductory material, art, a map of the setting, a character sheet, and five pre-generated characters.  The setting is Beef's Keep...
     ...where the nations have been splintered over major disagreements in how to treat the realm’s people.  Creepingvale and the United Clown Nations have led their people into a collective darkness known as The Deep Freeze.  While the world currently feels like a cold and desolate place, you reside in the one nation that remains a true beacon of hope: Freshtovia.
     Freshtovia is known for its lush fields; signature dishes; and redheaded queen, Queen Wendy.  As queen of Freshtovia, Wendy has clapped back at all attacks on her borders.  She is strong and has maintained her nation’s integrity despite the growing pressure of the other nations.
The marketing message is obvious; Wendy's serves only wholesome, fresh beef while the competitors foist ungodly, frozen beef upon their unsuspecting customers.

The basic mechanic of the system is to obtain a high result on a d20 roll.  A roll of 1 is considered “a big oops.”  A roll of 20 causes a character to enter “FEAST MODE,” the best possible outcome.  In combat, this means maximum damage and an additional roll with advantage.  Instead of short rests and long rests, there are snacks and meals.  Feast characters have “five main stats” (Strength, Intelligence, Charm, Arcana, and Grace).  For the most part, they are self-explanatory, but Strength represents both “physical and mental strength.”  To determine the score for a stat, 4d4 are rolled.  (This is supposed to reflect Wendy's “4 for $4” promotion.)  All five scores are  determined before assigning them.  Even an average roll (i.e., 10) offers a +1 bonus.  Starting Hit Points are also determined by rolling 4d4.

Instead of classes, there are 14 Orders – each based on one of Wendy's offerings (e.g., Order of the French Fries, Order of the Baconator, Order of the Asiago Ranch Chicken Club, et al.).  Orders provide:  Base Defense (like ascending Armor Class), Additional HP (if any), Other Bonuses (to stats), Skilled With (armor and weapons the character can use – characters receive a +1 on attacks with weapons with which they are skilled), and Cannot Use (prohibited armor and weapons).  Orders also provide one or more skills per level.  For example, 'Two Beef Patties' is a Level 1 skill of the Order of the Double Stack (“You can dually wield any weapons that don’t require two hands”).

Characters start with ten gold pieces.  There is no other coin denomination, which means that a nail costs 1 gold – the same as a blanket, a weaponized spoon, or ten feet of rope.  Characters “also start with a basic outfit, which can include clothing or armor that matches your character’s skills...a basic weapon or two if the Order you choose permits it...other basic tools or items that make sense for your character to carry...” and possibly a shield.  Examples of equipment that can be purchased include ukelele (7g), pigtail wig (4g), and strawberry lemonade (10g) which heals 1d12 hit points.

One important aspect of Feast is that the behavior of a player in real life can affect game mechanics that apply to his or her character.  Eating various Wendy's items will grant bonuses “for the entire duration of play for the day.”  These are called “buffs.”  As an example, eating Wendy's french fries confers “+1 to your Intelligence stat.”  By eating an item that matches the character's Order, the character will “gain advantage on all attack rolls for the day.”  This seems overpowered.  There are also “debuffs.”  A player eating food other than Wendy's during gameplay may detrimentally affect a character for the duration of the session.  A sub sandwich causes a -2 modifier to all Strength rolls (including attack rolls).  Consuming tacos inflicts a -2 modifier to all Arcana rolls.

I won't disclose spoilers for the multi-part adventure, but it includes puzzles and various activities.  We learn, “Each square on the table represents 5 feet of movement,” but no scale is provided for the maps.  Characters can encounter people with names like Chilbo Bacons and Frostina LaSpoon.  At various parts of the adventure, player characters gain a level.  Regardless of Order, each character gains 2d4 + 4 hit points upon reaching a new level. The adventure takes the characters to fifth level.  Since the Order descriptions only lists skills through fifth level, there is no means of improvement for characters once they finish the adventure.  Yet there is a larger world beyond the adventure; part six of the campaign is titled “Continued Adventuring.”  It describes additional locations and activities.  Page 83 provides a 'Karaoke Charm Rolls' table.  Characters can obtain exotic steeds at the Spicy Stables.  The listed attack for camels is 'spit' (1d6 damage).  The 3.5 SRD description of camels does not mention spitting; Feast is therefore superior in at least one aspect.  (1d6 damage might seem to be excessive, but Feast characters do not perish upon depleting their hit points, instead they “pass out from hunger.”)

Players are encouraged to describe their characters:
     Writing down a physical description of your character will help you and your party members be fully immersed in the experience.  Use your class [sic] to help inform the look and feel of the character you want to create.
     Oh, and don’t forget to give your new hero a super dope name.  People are going to be calling you that for the entire game, after all.
Yet the character sheet does not have a place to write such a description, although it has sections for Photo and Bio.

Presenting a free PDF is well and good, but if Wendy's wants me ordering their food, they need to provide premiums.  People in the YouTube comments are clamoring for figures.  I have another idea.  Page 7 has a representation of a d20 with a Wendy's cameo depicted on the '20' side.
This should be a real thing.  They can even call it a Wend20.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Return of Comic Book Creatures

Infrequently, your humble host provides examples of monsters from comic books now in the public domain.  (The previous posts are here, here, and here.)  Just in time for your Halloween edification, here are ten additional comic book creatures.

Captain Science #4; 1951, Youthful Magazines;
Art by Joe Orlando & Wally Wood
Great Klameth

Captain Science learns from a robot brain that “danger lies in the east [and] once more, men are being roused in fanatical fury by a promise of power.”  The person responsible is a ‘yellow peril’ villain with the wonderful (yet unlikely) name of Doctor Khartoum.  “His purpose,” the robot brain exclaims, “to take over the world!”  To this end, the insidious doctor “has set up headquarters in the ruins of the ancient temple of Klameth in the forgotten city of Btuh, deep in the Gobi Desert.”  The ancient priests evidently “found a way to bring SOMETHING  from another DIMENSION” via an altar/portal.  This extra-dimensional something is Klameth.  Like the ancient priests, Doctor Khartoum sacrifices young, nubile maidens to Klameth.  Captain Science and friends see this by means of “the viewing screen.”  The robot brain declares, “You must journey back into time and stop this danger before Doctor Khartoum has a chance to use it!”  Accordingly, the robot brain tells Captain Science how to make a time machine. The robot brain additionally states, “You must also learn the language of the Ancients, have dress like theirs, and a weapon to destroy this evil!”  Captain Science dutifully follows these instructions and, after traveling thousands of years back in time, “blasts the monster tentacle with hy-sonic rays, withering it . . .”  The hy-sonic (also spelled hi-sonic) rays “are also from another dimension” and are thus able to harm Klameth.  In an explosive incident, Captain Science makes use of a “tube,” the rays of which cause the temple to collapse and seal “the entrance off for good!”  After “rescuing the girls who were to be sacrificed,” Captain Science returns to the present just in time to witness Doctor Khartoum attempt to summon Klameth.  “Suddenly,” we are told, “there is a cataclysmic explosion and Klameth disappears forever and with him Dr. Khartoum.”  Captain Science explains that the robot brain had him “fix it so that whoever called Klameth forth again would be disposed of by hi-sonic rays.

Captain Science’s jaunt into the past was predicated on Doctor Khartoum’s successful summoning of Klameth.  (He saw it on the viewing screen.)  The reader may well wonder why the hy-sonic rays did not take effect at that time.  The reader should be assured that this is SCIENCE and if the reader had a robot brain, said brain could explain the details effusively.

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Tales from the Tomb #1; 1962,
Dell Publishing Co.; Art by Frank Springer
Mister Green

Speaking of extra-dimensional horrors, our next creature lives “within” a hooked rug.  For the comfort of Harry Felt, one of her boarders, kindly, old Mrs. Wittly places the rug “right by the bed, so’s you won’t have to put your bare feet on the floor.”  In reality, whatever comes into contact with the rug disappears with a loud snap.  When Harry accidentally drops a book on the rug, Mrs. Wittly assumes he has fallen into Mr. Green’s clutches.  Realizing this is not the case, Mrs. Wittly states:
Oh dear!  Mr. Green must have missed!  Well . . . so much the worse for you, Harry – Now Mr. Green will have to come out after you!  It makes Mr. Green quite peevish to have to come out after a body . . . He’s quite clumsy out of the rug . . . not nearly so efficient!  It’s always so . . . messy this way.  I’m sorry, Harry, Mr. Green must be fed!
We also learn that “Mr. Green needs one a night” and that he “can’t stay out too long!”   When out, Mr. Green seems nearly blind.

Once Mr. Green has fed, the rug can be touched with impunity.  Fresh stains are the only indicator that Mr. Green has dined.  The relationship between Mrs. Wittly and Mr. Green is curious.  She treats him like a pet, but it’s not as though they can ever interact.

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Amazing Man #26 (Meteor Martin feature); 1942, Centaur Publishing; Art by Basil Wolverton
Insect Monster of Gorikon

Square-jawed space hero, Meteor Martin, “was attacked by Martian warships while on moon patrol duty.”  A curious property of the “Martians’ blast ray disrupts atoms in such a way that all objects the ray strikes are turned into a negative condition,” causing such objects to transition to “a negative world – an invisible world inside our native universe!”  Said universe is occupied by Gorikon, an air-filled “galaxy of tiny planets.”  Unfortunately, Meteor and his companions find themselves in an insect’s trap – essentially a pond of quicksand.  Of course, if there’s an insect’s trap, there must be a responsible insect.  In this case, the insect is the size of an elephant.  Despite the injunction voiced in the illustration provided, the insect does indeed “get Rana!”  The insect rushes off “to toss Rana into a fiery pit . . .”  Armed only with a club, Meteor pursues.  Can Meteor prevail against the monster?  Will Rana be saved from blazing doom?  What will happen to the other fellows in the insect’s trap?  Sadly, we shall never know since the adventures of Meteor Martin did not continue past this installment.

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Weird Comics #6 (Blast Bennett feature);
1940, Fox Feature Syndicate; Art by Don Rico
The Unknown Horror

While walking in his garden, Lex, beloved ruler of New-America, is “bitten by the deadliest of all snakes – the winged snake!”  (“The winged snake!,” a physician exclaims, “Great thunder – not that!”)  We learn that, “Far off in the unexplored planet of Kolzo, there is a monster whose blood will cure Lex – but that monster is ‘The Unknown Horror!’”  So, contrary to the notion of “unknown,” there is an awareness that the horror (1) exists, (2) resides on Kolzo, and (3) has blood with curative properties.  Blast Bennett – last seen on Planet Alpo – is recruited to obtain some of The Unknown Horror’s blood.  (Although Lex is “mortally wounded,” he can apparently resist death while Blast goes on a “long trip . . . into unchartered [sic] space.”)  Blast and his youthful sidekick, Red, come across “a planet that isn’t on any of our maps!”  Blast jumps to the conclusion that “it must be Kolzo!”  After landing, Blast and Red soon encounter a monster “blowing smoke and fire from its nostrils!”  Somehow, they realize this monster is The Unknown Horror.  The monster easily resists one shot from Blast’s “explosion gun,” but eventually succumbs to two shots that Blast fires from behind.

A normal person sent to retrieve a blood sample would likely carry a container intended for such a sample.  Yet Blast Bennett is not a normal person; he “scoops up . . . blood in his glove” where it remains for the duration of the “long trip” back.  Rather than a nickname, perhaps “Blast” is a pejorative (as in “Blast, Bennett . . . What were you thinking!?”).

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Strange Suspense Stories #55; 1961,
Charlton; Art by Bill Molno & Vince Alascia
Winged Snake

Although having the same name, this winged snake is a much larger variety than the New-American type referenced in the above listing.  In fact, rather than a winged snake, this creature seems more like a giant eagle with a snake tail and scaly highlights.  Although it is twice referenced as “the crawling bird,” the monster flies about “in a hot, brilliantly lighted mammoth cavern” within an Andean mountain.  Said cavern is connected by tunnel to an Incan sun temple.  Stuart Baintree, an American archeologist fires a shot at the monster.  Because the winged snake “passed too close to the heat . . . or one of Baintree’s slugs grazed its head . . . the flying horror landed on the cavern floor!”  Baintree checks to see if it’s dead and monster comes to life, taking off with Baintree on it’s back.  An English speaking Incan princess toss a scepter to Baintree, who uses it to bludgeon the the creature to death.  Now that the winged snake is dead, the princess “can leave here at last!”  (Yet, the princess appeared out of the cavern earlier in the story.)

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White Princess of the Jungle #4; 1952, Avon Periodicals; Art by ?
Swamp Beast

Speaking of princesses, Taanda, “white princess of the jungle,” is the enemy of the swamp beast.  Regarding its origin:
     Five million years ago a small particle of matter swooped down from space and fell into the ocean.  There it remained, dormant and harmless - -
     - - - Until a storm lashed the planet in gigantic fury.  This was no ordinary storm - - planet Earth was undergoing physical and chemical changes! - - And the spore began to evolve - - -
     Eons of time passed - - Slowly, Earth’s surface changed - - Oceans grew larger and deeper.  Slowly, the spore developed into an embryonic creature that gulped down whatever swam by - -
     As the years went by it increased in stature - - Finally, it ventured out of the water - - strong enough to devour any jungle beast - - -
The swamp beast is brought to the attention of Taanda after it devours several villagers.  “It is like Karnok, the octopus,” the jungle princess observes, “yet it has the body of a giant slug!”  Thrown spears “fall harmlessly from the hide of the swamp beast.”  Fire doesn't bother it.  Planes are called in to defeat it, but to no avail.  Taanda concludes, “We must try trickery!”  Fortunately, Tanda notices the monster's “red spot.”  She swims underneath the thing and stabs it (presumably in the aforementioned spot) causing it to die.  So, a white jungle princess accomplishes what bullets and bombs could not.  Let that be a lesson to you.

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Weird Thrillers #4; 1952,
Ziff-Davis; Art by George Tuska

We learn, “The octeel is part octopus and part electric eel!”  It thrives in the water caverns of Genero, a “small planet in the second universal orbit!”  An “electro-bolt gun” is useless against it because “the bolts of current are merely absorbed by the rubbery flesh of the octeel!”  A “brilliant young scientist” arranges the defeat of the creature by using a cable to connect a “jet spar” to a space ship's generator.  After he “plunges [the makeshift harpoon] deep into the monster's flesh,” electric current from the generator kills the octeel.  The scientist explains:
. . . I guessed right that that the monster's body current was positive!  That bolt of negative current from the ship's generator worked perfectly!  When that harpoon hit it, the circuit was complete!  My freind, we short-circuited the octeel . . .
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Alarming Tales #1; 1957,
Harvey Comics; Art by Jack Kirby
Plant Men

Professor Horace Googer, “tops in bio-chemistry,” developed seeds that “were human in form!”  Googer cultivated these plant men in his “chemical gardens,” likening the process to the legend of Cadmus.  (Kirby would would use the term again in his later work for DC Comics.)  Googer wants to monetize his “boys” and describes their usefulness to a business man:
They never tire!  They like to fight - - They’re powerful and aggressive - - Oh!  One other detail...bullets can’t hurt them, you know! - - You can’t destroy plants with bullets - - and that’s what they are - - plants!
Googer meets an untimely end, having “turned a wrong valve or something during an experiment and blew himself sky-high!”  Twenty plant-man survive the accident and the aforementioned business man decides to “assume full responsibility for them!”  What practical use does he put the Googer’s creation?
The plant men took to competitive athletics like ducks to water! . . . They’re unbeatable in the pro-football leagues! . . .One of them became a contender for heavyweight champion of the world!
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Gorgo #16; 1963, Charlton; Art by Steve Ditko

These creatures are also examples of humanoid vegetation, but unlike the plant men, the chloryllfids came into existence as a result of an atomic explosion:
...In the ocean depths where the center of the bomb had detonated in a huge kelp bed, a strange mutation had taken place . . . a living, biped vegetable grew rapidly in the smashed kelp bed, a fetid horror, spawned by radiation from the deadly bomb . . . They grew to huge size then broke free of their roots and stalked the ocean floor!
The chloryllfids are dangerous and voracious.  Upon invading an island, they consume all of the animal life there, including a jaguar.  (You know, one of those south seas jaguars.)  A scientist claims, “I cannot find a way to kill them . . . and I’ve tried everything!”  We learn that, “Each new lethal plant would spread its own seed until millions of the men-killers would be harvested to swarm over the Earth destroying all that man had built in centuries, destroying man himself!”  How can mankind survive such a threat?  Just have giant, prehistoric reptiles eat the chloryllfids.  (I guess the scientist doesn’t consider giant, prehistoric reptiles to be part of “everything.”)

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Forbidden Worlds #3; 1951,
American Comics Group; Art by King Ward
Atomic Creatures

An atomic bomb is also prominent with regard to these beings.  Even given the peculiar circumstances of comic book creatures, these atomic creatures are outstanding in their strangeness.  Their origin – to the extent I can comprehend it – follows.  So, there’s this two-fisted American scientist in charge of an experiment to detonate an atomic bomb “twenty miles up into the stratosphere!”  Commies attack the army base in a desperate attempt to sabotage the experiment.  As a result of the fracas, the high altitude balloon carrying the bomb launches.  Along for the ride are the scientist and his fiancée, who manage to survive in outer space.  The scientist guesses, “we’ve absorbed enough atomic rays from the fissionable material inside the bomb to enable us to withstand the extreme cold and lack of oxygen!”  (Also, the scientist’s voice somehow carries in a vacuum.)  Eventually, “the balloon and its deadly burden settle on a weird of the small nameless planets that sometimes enter the solar system from the outer limits of space!”  The subworld is inhabited by spirits (?) who were once human evil-doers.  By exploding the bomb, these spirits believe they will be changed into “mortal beings,” allowing them to invade Earth.  (Still with me?)  The explosion indeed causes the spirits to become mortal but “the creative force of the atomic blast” brings into existence entities “black and brutish - - as primitive as the rock from which they were formed.”  Although having “mute and groping minds,” the atomic creatures are opposed to evil and the confront the one-time spirits.  Once the former spirits are defeated, the scientist opines about the atomic creatures:  “They may not have minds or souls, but they sprang from the basic matter of the universe - - - the very source of life!  That means they’re good - - - ”  After the scientist uses “repeated gestures,” the atomic creatures project a molecular beam that carries the scientist and his fiancée “through space to the Earth’s atmosphere!”  Upon reaching Earth, “an invisible force checks the hurtling flight.”

The fiancée queries, “Do you think we’ll ever be able to explain what we’ve been through…?”

To which the scientist replies, “I’m not even going to try, honey!”

I doubt even a robot brain could make sense of this.