Bis – Data Panik Etcetera

So, while I’d completely stopped paying attention, Bis came out with a new album. Crazy, huh?

Starting out playing mostly weird and over-the-top pop punk, often satirizing punk’s obsession with rooting out the phonies (seriously, the only genre of music more self conscious about rooting out phonies than punk is probably rap), they release a bunch of hard to find singles and EPs, culminating with their most successful release to date, their debut album “The New Transistor Heroes”. Despite reaching international fame with the PowerPuff Girls theme song, Bis abandoned their cartoonish anime-inspired personae, opting for a more mature pop look and sound for their second album. The snarkiness and clever commentary was still there, but most of the punk edge was not. That’s not to say it was a bad album, it wasn’t. It was the first Bis cd I got, like many people, after looking up who did the PowerPuff Girls end song. And the further back I was able to dig into their catalogue, the more I liked Bis.

I was pretty stoked when I heard they were following up Social Dancing. I was less stoked when I actually heard the Music for a Stranger World EP, which was entirely electronic pop.   I never bothered to get their third album. Apparently a lot of folks preferred the old cartoon punk-rock anime super heroes to the electronic Bis, because they were never as successful as when they were fighting the DIY Corp as the New Transistor Heroes, and they called it quits shortly after went to college.

So now, after an extended hiatus broken by a few reunion shows here and there, Bis got back together and recorded and released a new album, Data Panik Etcetera. While there are still a lot of electronic elements incorporated in the instrumentation, it comes across more as electro-punk and dance-punk than pure pop or pure electronic pop. Bis sounds in many place here more like a pop-punk band that figured out how to use sequencers and synths than a band that rapidly switched genres.  Of course, there are still a few solidly electro-beat tracks here, but it’s not as uneven as something like Moby’s Animal Rights (still a fantastic album).  It is certainly the post-punk to their early punk. While it’s not one of those “best album evers” or even a “best comeback ever”, it would not be a stretch to call Data Panik Etcetera Bis’ second best non-compilation album (cuz if you consider Intendo an album, that’s still number two). If this had been Bis’s 3rd album and they had never released Music for a Stranger World, I’d’ve probably spent a lot more of the last 11 years listening to Bis, even if my fan-crush on Manda Rin did eventually abate.

As a final note, while it’s hard to say, Minimum Wage sounds almost more like an indictment of lazy youth than a clamor for a higher wage.  But I’ll be the first to admit that punk has always been hella confused about social messaging.  “I’m an Anarchist and I demand an all powerful State!”  (At least the punk band I played in stayed focused on murder and guts… our most nuanced socio-political song was a little sludgy ditty called “Fuck Religion”)

NME is hosting the album for streaming and it can be listened to here:
http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/bis-data-panik-etcetera-exclusive-album-stream

 

Note: The stylistic gulf between New Transistor Heroes and Music for a Stranger World is on par with gulf between Unknown Pleasures and Republic.

 

Update:  Turns out that Data Panik Etcetera is comprised of a mish-mash of old tracks by their post-bis project Data Panik as well as tracks that had been composed for an aborted 4th bis album.  This could very well explain some of its uneven nature.  Still, it seems like they have intention of staying around and making a real come-back of it this time.  And I can also appreciate their self-awareness:

“Albums “The New Transistor Heroes” (Under-fi pop/punk songs with twitches into disco, hip-hop and synth-pop), “Social Dancing” (Glossy electro-pop that somehow failed to take the world by storm) and “Return To Central” (An expansive rebirth, taking in Eno, Moroder and Can like a bunch of hipsters – sales negligible) showcased the over-development of their creators, always keen to move onto the next project.” – from bisnation.com

Drasmyr Week Begins! (Part 1: A Review)

I’d followed Matt Ryan’s blog for some time, so it was really a shame that it took so long (and winning a contest) to get around to reading his novel, Drasmyr. So, as a partial disclaimer, while I read the book because I got a free copy for winning a contest, I’m featuring it here because it’s really good, not because I got a free copy. There will be some spoilers in this review, but you’ll probably have these spoilers and more after reading the back-of-book summary of the sequel, Children of Lubrochius.

Initially, I was slightly wary of Drasmyr. I’m not a huge fan of most modern vampire stories, which are overrun with long-toothed poofs or wangsty rebels with an attitude problem. I can assure you, neither are the sort to be found in Drasmyr.

I’ve written on occasion that the one place where vampires aren’t played out is in the realm of high fantasy. And you don’t get more high fantasy than a conflict between a mages guild and the greater undead.

Drasmyr begins like one of those police procedural dramas where you see who committed the crime and how before the opening credits runs. The audience knows the who and the what, and maybe some of the why, while the good guys play catch up until the remainder of the story involves catching the culpret. Drasmyr begins with the titular Lucial Val Drasmyr kicking off a string of brutal murders at the mages guild, starting with the Archmage who ‘vanishes’ after a ‘mysterious’ fire in his chamber that leaves two others dead. The guild calls in a team of intrepid-but-disillusioned bounty hunters, reluctant to work for nobility but also short on coin, to investigate the fire and disappearance of the archmage.

Originally, I felt that there may have been a lost opportunity here to have a straight-forward mystery with a shocking reveal, because Ryan is very good at writing the who-dunnit sifting through clues part. The readers know Lucian killed the Archmage and that the culprit is a vampire long before the heroes do, but Ryan keeps it an enjoyable enough ride. After finishing the book, I realize that the who-dunnit is to distract from the real mystery of what the heck that one girl is up to. I mean, she’s OBVIOUSLY evil and OBVIOUSLY up to something, but WHAT COULD IT BE!?

Drasmyr is very much a Dungeons & Dragons like vampire tale, more Ravenloft than Rice. I hope that you readers here take that to mean a positive thing, because (to me, at least) in terms of Vampire stories, this is a good thing. Ryan’s writing is also well above average, able to juggle a fairly large ensemble of characters and perspectives without ever sacrificing pacing. There are several minor critiques I could make, but this is far and away one of the most polished self/indie published fantasy titles I’ve read. There are no glaring typos or grammatical errors that are going to jar you out of your reading groove. I wouldn’t even bother to note this, but I know that many people (myself included) are always wary of self-published titles. This is me saying “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” (Well, be afraid of 1000 year old vampires, just not this book about them.)

One of the things I liked was the inclusion of a short glossary of a few of the various things in the world of Drasmyr that are mentioned briefly, such as a few of the non-human races who, while not present in the story, are mentioned in passing. My only complaint was that it was not more extensive. Additionally, I would’ve enjoyed having a map of Drisdak and the surrounding areas, but that’s a personal nit-picky thing; I love maps and love for my high-fantasy books to have them.

One of the main reasons I wanted to highlight Drasmyr was to bring it to the attention of folks in the rpg gaming blog community.  There’s a lot of really great stuff here for inspiration, whether it’s setting, systems of magic, or simply taking the Vampire from the monster manual and fleshing out its strengths and weaknesses  to make it an adversary in your game.  Drasmyr is a great model for how a short undead scenario could play out at your game table: mystery, journey to dungeon, dungeon crawl, retreat from dungeon, penultimate town encounter, final town encounter.  A lot of times, ‘mystery’ doesn’t work well in table-top rpgs, especially D&D.  Drasmyr really helps illustrate how to successfully setup a short vampire scenario that unfolds from a mystery where the breadcrumbs are in place.  How well your players piece together the clues could well determine how prepared they are for that first dreadful encounter with your recurring villain.

Drasmyr’s a fairly quick, easy, well-written and enjoyable read that I highly recommend for anyone who likes filling their games with high level undead.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of other folks would enjoy it too.

There are a lot of ways you can get Drasmyr to check out for yourself.

You can download it FOR FREE (so, seriously, there is NO REASON AT ALL why you can’t at least download this)
From Smashwords
From Barnes and Noble
From Amazon

or you can buy a really nice hardcover edition (which I highly recommend; it’s very shiny!)
From Lulu

That is maybe the Mages Guild or Lucian's castle.

Drasmyr’s sequel, the Children of Lubrochius, will be available on April 2nd in both e-book and dead tree format:
From Amazon
From Lulu
From Barnes & Noble
From Smashwords

I imagined Korina wearing less revealing clothing given the Guild's dress code.  Don't let stock-art dissuade you, gentle reader!

(Don’t let this cover fool you, these books are pretty PG, and would make for good YA reading.)

He also has a collection of short stories that I might be checking out soon that you can find here at Smashwords.

Drasmyr week will continue on Wednesday, when Author Matt D. Ryan will be joining us to talk about his book and answer questions.

My First MYFAROG character: Krokar the Barbarian Swordsinger

In my first serious attempt to roll up a character for MYFAROG, I probably made some mistakes, some due to laziness (mostly in the form of omissions), others due to difficulties in finding the appropriate tables.

Once Varg hammers out power levels a bit better, it might be easier to create NPCs, but if you want a fleshed out, equipped individual, you’ve gotta get your hands dirty. Very dirty. Especially since things like birthdays actually have significant gameplay effects in terms of abilities and divine favor.

The result of a little over an hour’s work, I give you Krokar the Barbarian Swordsinger.

Name: Krokar (I didn’t give him a full name; he should be ‘Krokar af (tribe) auk (homeland)’. While you wouldn’t think this would be a big deal, it kind of is. Because I didn’t give him a full name, he cannot properly and formally introduce himself to strangers, and will thus provoke a hostile reaction for bringing dishonor upon both himself and the other party.)

Species: Jarlaaett (the default)
Race: Jarnmaðr (Iron Man, again the default)
Gender: Male
Weight: 146 lbs (this involved some rolling dice, comparing against strength, gender, etc)
Size: Average
DV (Defense Value) ME (Melee): 0 (I think I made a mistake here. Probably because I equipped him, but never got around to crunching the number on what his furs and swordsdudeship meant to his real defense)
DV (Defense Value) MI (Missile): 0 (Again, I think I was too lazy to crunch the numbers. Pulling out Krokar’s sheet, I’m pretty sure I never finished him. Stuff at the top of the sheet can’t be fully calculated until you get all of your equipment values and skills calculated first.)
Height: 70″ (again, there was some dice rolling involved)

I think I should’ve checked a table somewhere to figure out what my Skin, Hair and Eyes are, but I figure that regardless of the dice or tables Krokar is gonna look like one of the guys from Vore .

Again, I didn’t get far enough to calculate Daily Needs, in terms of hours of Sleep, lbs of Food, justas of Beverages, number of Hugs, etc.

Social Class: Noble (default; think ‘Honorable Bloodskaal’ rather than lord of the manor house)

Life Stance: Asatru (religion & gods rather than spirits and animism; also, he can’t be a wizard)
Cultural Background: Byggjandi (sedentary rather than hunter gatherer)
Alignment: Ecstatic Harmonic Spiritual Sympathetic (Just go look for yourself)
Birthday: Summer (aspect of fire), month of Pulkawangis (“folk meadow” sacred to Prio), and the 18th day (no cool bonuses, but born under the Full Moon and cycle of Life)

Age: 19, but with a maximum calculated age of 57.

Krokar is “marked” by the Gods and has +1 to fortitude.

Krokar is pretty middle of the road, healthier than normal, but a little slow-witted.
Chr 11
Con 14 +1
Dex 10
INT 8 -1 (This is a huge problem, because skills are skewed heavily in favor of INT mods)
STR 10
WIL 9

He’s got 13 stamina points (I think) based on the base of 12 + whatever I pour into the skill and modifiers…

I haven’t calculated his Melee or missile values on attack or defense, again, cuz lazy.

He wears fur and leather armor, an Iron Cap helmet, Leather arm guards and leather greaves and wields a short sword.

As new character, he has 12 skill points to distribute, so I gave him
Acrobatics: 1 (so only a -1 penalty)
Foraging: 1 (-1 penalty)
Singing: 4 (+2, he’s gonna sing a song while he kicks your ass!)
Social Skills: 2 (0)
World Lore: 1 (-4)
Melee: 2 (0)
Swords: 3 (+1)

There are 2 dozen or so extra skills that he doesn’t have points in, so he really sucks at all of those, like his -5 when attempting to do Arts & Crafts.

He only has his starting role, which is “Buandi” or “Peasant”, though presumably, as a sworddude, he would quickly pick up the “Striðsmaðr” or “Warrior” role not long after his story began.

He may or may not have divine favor based on god knows what, but I haven’t bothered to fill out the half page of character sheet devoted to that.

Again, I find myself loving the setting more than the system, though the system is like a precious ore: there may be something of great value once it has been smelted down.

The thing that will be most beneficial to the future of MYFAROG at gaming tables would be if someone came up with character Generation software. I know this goes against the spirit of playing tabletop RPGs in the woods after civilization has collapsed, which Varg puts forth as a great selling point of his and other tabletop games, but the rules, as currently organized, pose a fairly high wall into entry of the world of MYFAROG. Then again, if Varg’s apocalypse comes about, we’ll all be LARPing as Hunter/Gatherers, like it or not, which may be preferrable, at the end of the day, to learning a new core rule system.

Note that I’m not doing a ‘necropsy’ on this, by any means, and I fully intend to get the finished product when it’s available, because the world is great (I cannot state this enough), but whether or not it ends up on my shelf or on a gaming table is highly dependent on the changes Varg makes to the core rules, both in content and presentation. Maybe someday down the line, someone can Holmes Basic it for him?

Next MYFAROG post will be taking a look at the adventure Demise of Watchman Isle and some of the Monsters and Ettins in the world of MYFAROG.