Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Answering Twenty Questions about my campaign

 Wayne Rossi reminded me that I have been meaning to do this for a long time.

1) What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
See here. Shorter version - you're Catholic.

2) Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
Any true town or larger has places to get gear. You begin in Ekull, a city on the frontier so prices are decent.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review: Captain America Civil War

This is not a "full review", which involves me watching a film 5-12 times, but more of a 'pocket review' [meaning I watched it once].


The Nuts and Bolts
Direction: The Russo Brothers. Did well with Winter Soldier, although I am amazed their careers survived You, Me & Dupree.
Writing: Markus and McFeely. Pretty much have only written for the Narnia series and the MCU as a team.
Production: A large team, but I am focusing on Bell and Woebocken. Bell is a line producer for the MCU and Woebocken is a pro for years.
Music: Henry Kacjman, whoi mainly does superhero and action films.
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch who did Chappie and District 9.
Editing: Ford and Schmidt. Ford has more experience (his One Hour Photo work was great) and Schmidt is pretty much an MCU guy.

The Good
Acting: Chris Evans had to carry the acting on this one and he did a yeoman's job of providing the emotional content without being melodramatic. Downey did a solid job portraying Stark as wracked by emotions to the point of being untrustworthy in an understated manner. Olsen and Bettany had a little side movie going on that was done well, if point on. Everyone playing an avenger showed up and read with conviction.
Paul Rudd and Tom Holland were a ton of fun. They knew why they were there, they knew what was expected, and they delivered.
Chadwick Boseman was better than I had expected and did a great job of portraying a man with dual missions.
Action: The fights were fun. The use of powers was fun. Car chases, aerial chases, fistfights, etc. - a nice amount of well-delivered action.
Camera work: Opaloch was especially good with the crowd scenes and was very good with cameras for dynamic work.
Production: Sets, locations, props, costumes, etc. were all great.

The Bad
Editing: The Matrix showed an entire generation of film editors a very important lesson - when you shoot melee like the 1980's you get confusing jumbles but when you shoot melee like classic Shaw Brothers wuxia movies you get compelling action sequences that can carry great emotional weight.
The people involved in editing this film never learned that lesson.
Great fight set pieces were cut so rapidly and jarringly the viewer had to fill in and figure out what was happening. As a result the fights had less emotional impact.
Camera Work: Dialog was bog-standard two camera work akin to a 1980's sitcom far too often. During fights individuals were so tightly framed it was hard to tell what they were doing, let alone who they were fighting.
Directing: I was taught that underacting/wooden acting is the fault of the actor while over acting is the fault of the director.
I found some faults with the directors.
The directors had a weird combination of taking 'show, don't tell' too far (how many times did we flash back to the exact same thing in 1991?) for motivating events and then doing info dumps in a tell not show way for plot critical information. It is like they were in reverse film land, or something.
Writing/Plot: First, they take one of the most iconic of Marvel's villains, Baron Zemo, and turn him into a weaker version of the rather forgettable villain from The Peacemaker. His motivation is obscure until the very end and then? It is ridiculous. We have no idea how this obscure third-world soldier somehow broke codes that the CIA, NSA, and SHIELD couldn't, nor how he tracked down super-deep HYDRA agents, nor how he was able to place a massive bomb well within the security perimeter of the UN while also placing an EMP device at just the right spot at just the right time and also assassinate and replace a well-known man and then slip into a secure facility  WITHOUT a disguise and use his real name on security footage with no one noticing while alone with one of the most wanted men on the planet to manipulate some of the smartest men in the world to hate each other (despite saving each other's live multiple times) to have them travel to an obscure place in the middle of nowhere after he needlessly kills supersoldiers to stage a fight for...
I can't even write about how effing ludicrous the backstory of Helmut Zemo is, anymore. But it boils down to this,
"Obscure nobody from nowhere with no powers, no support, no agency, and no money can predict exactly how a bunch of people he has never met will react to information they might never encounter so well that he can manipulate the entire planet into doing his bidding and no one notices."
  It is the sort of plot a 12 year old dreams up for his first attempt at fan fiction, then discards when he is 12 as 'childish'.
 So the plot was horrible. Actively, objectively terrible.
 And elements of the film were as bad or worse.
  The United States Secretary of State shows the avengers some video to show them how bad they have screwed up. What does he who them?
1) The Hulk jumping around fighting an invading alien armada intent on conquering the entire planet.
Who is expected to feel bad?
  The avengers, who literally saved the entire world during that encounter.
2) The helicarrier fight from when clandestine terrorist organization  Hydra came within minutes of taking over the entire world using technology given to them by governments that were compromised by Hydra and that almost prevented the Avengers from saving the world by manipulating an oversight group to stop the avengers!
Who is expected to feel bad?
The avengers, who defied the corrupt oversight group, revealed the compromised government actors, and saved the world from slavery to Hydra.
3) Footage of Ultron preparing to cause an extinction-level Tunguska event that would destroy all life on earth using alien  technology from the invaders in clip 1 and technology from the international terrorist group in clip 2. The event was disrupted by the avengers saving all life on earth.
Who is supposed to feel bad?
The avengers, who ignored the calls of various pressure groups and governments that tried to stop them so they could (again) save the world.
4) Footage from the beginning of the movie. A team of terrorists led by a high-ranking member of that same terrorist group from #2, attempts to steal what appears to be a bioweapon of incredible lethality and rather than be taken prisoner detonate a suicide vest to kills scores-to-hundreds of innocent civilians and potentially release the plague. Scarlet Witch is able to channel the blast away from the crowd bit it still kills many innocent people.
Who is supposed to feel bad?
The avengers (especially Wanda) who demonstrable prevented terrorists from gaining a potent bioweapons and saved scores of innocents from a suicide vest.
I am going on a bit, but the point here is that we are expected to believe that the ENTIRE WORLD is so enraged by collateral damage that the overwhelming majority of people want to strictly control the handful of people that saved the entire world three times in 6 years and are SO UPSET that one of them did not completely stop a suicide bomber to the point that any one of them that does NOT submit to government oversight (which has already been PROVEN to have been compromised in the past!) will go to prison?!
As my oldest son pointed out during the movie,
"Anyone who ever took a course on morals, ethics, theology, or philosophy would have ended the movie in 1 minute."
Or, as son #3 opined,
"If I show footage of a gendarme kicking down a door at the bataclan theater I can blame the police for the Paris attacks?".
The stupidity was bad in many other places, too.
A) Based upon a blurry photo a terrorist attack is blamed upon the Winter Soldier and a 'shoot to kill' order is issued immediately even though the investigation cannot have properly begun yet and with the governments of the world being aware that the Winter Soldier was a brainwashed Hydra asset.
B) The Head of State of a UN Member nation chases down and fights with a known assassin who is wanted for multiple crimes, is the focus of an international manhunt, and when the assassin is apprehended the police also arrest the head of state?!
C) Wanda Maximoff, a foreign national, is held in the avenger's compound against her will on orders of a private citizen (Stark) for fear of 'bad press'? That is at best false arrest and at worst kidnapping and threats with a weapon (Vision is a machine) which could put Stark in prison for life.
D) A group of people, one of whom was never an avenger (Ant Man) are involved in a brawl. He (who was never incited to sign the accords!) is placed into a secret prison along with the 'bad' avengers without any form of trial and they are put there not by the UN, not by Interpol, not even by the Department of Justice, but by the US Secretary of State(!) personally(!!) and then interrogated by a civilian (!!!) Stark. I don't think Sokovia would be too pleased with Wanda being treated thusly by the US, do you?
The sad thing is, I only watched this movie and I could go on that much longer about the idiot plot, the plot holes, and the shabby, third-rate writing.

The Fun
Marisa Tomei: Back in the '90's RObert Downey was in a RomCom called Only You with Marisa Tomei - the two of them flirting on a couch was a nice shout-out to that.
Alfre Woodard: Downey also made a movie in the '90;s with Alfre where she played, essentially, his conscience. She sorta' does that in this film, too.
Comics: Too many, from the spidey signal to the birth of Giant Man!

Bottom Line
A deeply flawed movie that is still fun to watch.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How I Prep For Games

  I mean, naturally, 'other than write the adventure and make maps'.
  If we have a quick pickup game, I don't do all of this, but for any game scheduled in advance - I do!

  Once the players tell me which characters they are taking on the adventure I go through my notes on each character to see if there are any hints, hooks, etc. I need to drop. Will Ember recover another lost memory? Will Brigid's sword tell her some lost bit of lore? Will Thorin's bracelet give him more orders?

Monday, December 12, 2016

What Is Going On With Magic?

I clearly remember a certain moment in 1980. It was about the 12th of August. I was at the desk in my bedroom working on an encounter and going through the various 1e books. Shine A Little Love was playing on the eight track (jealous?). I was taking notes on a sage when POW!
  "What is going on with magic?"

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Play Report #2 - The Sky Fell

See the initial set up here.

  After recovering in the nearby town (not the closest village! We needed resupply as well as healing) we returned to the mine complex.

  While investigating a previously-ignored spur we encountered a troglodyte chief and two sub-chiefs - the two half-orcs (the wife and I, in a fun game) formed the front line with the secondary fighters in the second rank with spears/military forks. It was a tough fight, but we prevailed. My cleric/fighter had to rotate out of the front to get healed up!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Play Report: The Sky Is Falling

  I get to make a play report!!

  The party:
  Me: Michael, a LG half-orc fighter/cleric 2nd/2nd
  The Wife: Tsarina, a CG half-orc fighter 3rd
  Son #1: Torvald, an LG dwarf fighter/thief 2nd/3rd
  Son #2: Wallach, an NG half-elf fighter/mage/thief 2nd/2nd/2nd
  Son #3: Ferenar, a CG half-elf cleric/mage 3rd/2nd

  Son #4 DMed

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Capsule Reviews by Genre

  Inspired by a talk with the sons last night:

1) We meet the protagonists, and they are Good
2) The antagonists are bad and do bad things to the protagonists
3) Training montage
4) The protagonists gain vengeance
Genre: Kung-fu

1) We meet the protagonist and he is Good, if Flawed
2) The antagonists are bad
3) Escalating action encounters
4) The protagonist wins in a final showdown
Genre: Action

1) We meet the protagonist, and he is Bad
2) The secondary characters are also bad, the antagonist is Worse, and everyone does bad things
3) Betrayals happen
4) The protagonist kills the antagonist
Genre: Film Noir

1) We meet the protagonists, and they are Good
2) We meet the antagonist, and he is Not Good
3) Musical Numbers and gunplay
4) The protagonists prevail, and sing
Genre: Singing Cowboy

1) We meet the protagonist, and she is Nice
2) We meet the antagonist and he is Handsome
3) 50 minutes of miscommunication
4) The protagonist and antagonist kiss
Genre: Chick Flick

1) We meet the protagonist and he is Smart
2) We meet the antagonist and it is Dangerous
3) Science!
4) The protagonist prevails
Genre: Sci-Fi Peril

1) We meet the protagonists, and they are Wholesome
2) We meet the antagonist and he is Greedy
3) Let's put on a show!
4) The protagonists prevail
Genre: Andy Hardy/Shirley Temple, etc.

More to come!

Worldbuilding: The Rhythm of the Year

  This time of year can be tough for my family for reasons that will seem a little odd to most people.
  It is because of the calendar.
  You see, to us it is not the Christmas Season, it is Advent. We don't put up ornaments or lights or a tree until December 24th. Then we go to the Vigil Mass for Christmas. Then the Christmas season starts and we celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas until Epiphany, then we take down the tree but leave up the lights until the Christmas season ends with Candlemas on February 2nd. I finally take down the lights on February 3rd.
  We're Catholics with traditions from the Old World.
  In the liturgical calendar the beginning of the new year (for the Church) is the beginning of Advent. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day (November 30th) which is the 4th Sunday before Christmas, of course. Advent is traditionally a time of penance and fasting in preparation for Christmas, almost a sad time as we reflect on why Christ had to manifest. Once Christmas actually arrives then we celebrate, decorate, and play Christmas music.
  Why is this hard? Look around! For almost everyone else the Christmas music starts the afternoon of Thanksgiving, the tree and lights go up the weekend of Thanksgiving. The music stops on December 26th and the tree and lights come down around New Year's, if not before.

  No, this is not about me telling you that you are doing Christmas wrong. You aren't. You just have a different calendar.