"I wonder if that was from the pastrami rueben I had yesterday?"

Monday, November 19, 2012

A night at the theater

Skyfall


            I applaud the Daniel Craig series of Bond films for taking him in a new direction, even if I do not think it is an entirely successful direction.  Bond is back, and Bond is very human.  In Casino Royale, but truly falls in love and actually has to convalesce from his wounds for an extended period of time.  He even has to be saved from poisoning by his love interest.  Skyfall continues along this same vein.  This is a Bond that feels, a Bond that bleeds, a vulnerable Bond at times.  This makes the endless chase scenes more exciting, because we are keenly aware that this Bond could fail (perhaps even die?)
            It’s hard for me to evaluate a modern Bond film because of my memories from boyhood.  My mother took me to see my first bond film when I was around 11.  I can’t match the enthusiasm or willingness to suspend disbelief that I had then.  To my failing, jaded adult eyes, this film scores a solid B.  I don’t give A’s to many films, and Skyfall never approaches anything nearing perfection.  The talents of Judy Densch and Ralph Fiennes are largely wasted in this film.  Oh, their characters are likeable enough, but I wanted much more from their interactions with each other and the rest of the cast.  These are heavyweight actors in an action fantasy, I know, but why cast them if you’re not going to let them reach their full potential.  There is a deliberate lack of gadgets in this film (which is the source of some self-referential humor in a brief scene between Bond and the new Q) and I’m ambivalent about how that plays out.  I like exploding pens and cars with ejector seats.  More of that, please.  That’s not what this Bond is about, though.  He’s about blood and guts, real blood and guts, and he demands the suspension of your disbelief through shock and awe as Bond is battered by forces that are largely beyond his capabilities to effectively confront for much of the film.  Roger Moore never seemed to so much as spilled a drink on one of his suits.  This Bond goes to work with bullet holes in his.  One is left to wonder, in fact the very question is posed by more than one of the characters in the film, why Bond perserveres through it all.
            If you’re looking for a fairly innovative take on the Bond character, go see this film.  The old theme music is worth hearing at a theater.  If you’re at all nostalgic for cars that turn into submarines and watches with lasers in them, you’re going to be disappointed, but perhaps not entirely.  There is a notable cameo from Goldfinger towards the end of the film.  I could have lived with shorter car chases if it brought the film down to 2 hours instead of nearly 3.
            Thanks to Coach for taking care of Lily while Kim and I saw the film.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday's session

We last left our heroes in the bowels of the Misty Monk Monastery and Brewery.  They had encountered several monks with bloated stomachs and twisted, demonic faces who spewed forth animated ale that then attempted to worm its way down the throats of the nearest humanoid.  The monks and the ale monsters were dispatched, and Ripley the thief (a rogue by class, but a thief by some poor life choices) unlocked a door to a hallway lined with many large barrels.  As the company proceeded cautiously down the hallway (much to the displeasure of Graela the barbarian, who disdains caution) Several of the barrels fell off the shelves and coalesced into a humanoid shape with glowing eyes. 
Without waiting for a consensus on whether or not to act, Graela and Bolo the fighter proceeded to try to chop the barrel monster into kindling with their massive swords.  They made short work of the beast, but not before Graela was dropped once to the floor, bleeding profusely.  Thanks to some healing from Witch Hazel, the barbarian was quickly back on her feet but still low on hit points.  Mixx the alchemist lobbed a bomb into the fray, expertly avoiding setting any of her teammates on fire.
No treasure was found on the vanquished abomination, but the hallway did have two closed doors to examine.  The one to the right was locked (and trapped, much to Ripley’s chagrin).  Ripley narrowly avoided becoming a Halfling shishkabob by virtue of his quick reflexes, just missing falling into a spiked pit.  After rigging the platform to stay put, Mixx listened at the door and heard voices discussing the noise outside.  ‘Something activated the trap,’ said one.  ‘Get ready for whatever comes through the door,’ said another.  Deciding to leave the paranoid denizens of the monastery well enough alone, the party elected to try the door to the left, which was not locked, trapped, nor did anything jump out at them when they opened it.  How dull, thought the DM.
Before they could proceed down the next hallway, Hazel (whose player had heretofore been occupied with a squalling real-life baby...) allowed as how she wanted to talk to the people in the trapped room.  So they went back down the hallway and let Hazel wave a white flag on a stick poking through the door.  (The flag was fashioned from fabric from one of the poor fallen monks in the entry hall.)  After a bit of brief negotiation, the group learned that the bank hiding behind the trapped door was the Father Superior mentioned in some of the letters Hazel had read earlier in the adventure. 
The ale at Misty Monk Brewery, it seems, was possessed by demons who were summarily dispelled by a priest from the Temple of the Five before it was shipped out and consumed by the general public.  This process gave the ale a taste that no other brewer could replicate.  Unfortunately, something had gone wrong with the latest batch, and the ale had escaped it’s magic circle and began pouring itself down the throats of the hapless novices involved in aiding the ritual possession and exorcism.  The party’s aid was entreated and they consented… in return for some platinum pieces, a magic sword to help defeat the main demon in the summoning room (who might even now be attempting to gate in more of its brethren), and the title of ‘count’ would be bestowed upon one of the lucky adventurers.  Mixx thought to give a hard look at the Father Superior to see if he was on the level, for his methods of ale making were suspect at best, but her powers of sensing motives were dim, and so far as they could tell his offer was on the level.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: The Prophecy

It seemed like a bargain - 6 movies for 5 dollars.  Of course, all six movies were The Prophecy 1 through 6, but my brain ignored that inconvenient fact (along with the fact that this was a grocery store hawking dvd's in a bargain bin) and I happily deposited the 6-movies-on-3-DVDs set in my cart.

Mind you, I still have a 6 month old in my house and have zero time to watch movies.  That, and the infant currently sleeps in the same room as the main DVD player.  (Incidentally this is the reason I've watched T.V. exclusively on mute with closed captioning for the last 6 months.)  I thought I could make it work.  I saw my opportunity when my wife left for a few hours with the baby for a support group for (relatively) new moms.  Dishes be darned, laundry be darned, porch in desperate need of sanding and painting be darned, I was going to watch a movie and get my .833333 cents worth. 

My view could be squewed by the fact that I was giddy to be watching anything with the sound turned on, but Prophecy wasn't exactly bad.  Well, the 30 minutes of it I watched weren't bad.  Then I stopped.  I doubt this is a spoiler to anyone who cares, but the film seemed to be centered on certain angels, led by Gabriel (played by the ever-creepy Christopher Walken) instigating a second war in heaven (the first having been led by lucifer).  I got to the point where Walken fries a hapless Eric Stoltz (who is an angel on the 'good' side, if any side is good in this film) and stopped watching.

An asside:  there are certain things I don't watch, ever, even if they're corny.  One of them is the show Ghost Hunters, because I refuse to take ghosts seriously or watch anyone else who does the same.  This is because I am weak minded and would have trouble sleeping for the rest of my life if I believed for a second that there were dead people from every past generation floating around houses just waiting to cover me in ectoplasm.  Another thing I don't watch are films that take certain liberties with certain... figures, let's say. 

Gabriel, I'm told, was the angel who let Mary know she would soon be pregnant.  Gabriel is an archangel, right up there with Michael and pre-fall lucifer.  There is no way he turned into Christopher Walken, no matter how bad a day he had.  It just couldn't happen.  If they had made up a name for Walken's character other than Gabriel, I might not have taken issue with the film.  There are other films with angels in them that I've watched -  Constatine, for example.  Now that's a bad film (that I enjoyed watching), and exactly why that was palatable to me and Prophecy wasn't is a thing I can't exactly put into words.  Perhaps I can't take a film seriously with Shia Lebeouf in it.

I'm sorry that this is a review of a film, rather, 30 minutes of a  film that I stopped watching due to my own foibles.  There aren't many.  Add Prophecy movies to the list.  There you have it.  There were cool parts, like a recent suicide victim acting as Walken's lackey for a time with the promise that he'd be really dead once his service was over.  I liked that angels perch on things like ravens while they're observing things. 

Yep.  Might be a cool film.  I'll never know.  And I'm not watching the other 5 to find how they turn out, either.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rereading

I've been going back through the Pathfinder rulebook since a)  it's been a while, b) most of the people I relied on to correct my rules knowledge aren't currently playing as far as I know so now it's on me to be the rules expert in an inexperienced group, and c) holy crap are there a lot of mechanics I've never used.  Particularly the skill rules.  I started on 1e AD&D where there were no skills and never really played with them much in 2nd or 3rd.  I'll go ahead and say it:  I'm not a purely OSR kind of DM.  I actually don't mind if player agency is dimished by character ability at times.  If I have a player who doesn't want to roleplay much, so be it, make a diplomacy roll and be done with it (although I've had some great outpourings of role playing from players who told me they don't much care for that sort of thing).  I like role playing a lot, and I'm heavily into it when I'm a character, but when I'm a DM I want players to want to come back to the table again and again.  That definitely involves making the player feel challenged, and that can't be done just by measuring out stat blocks against character capabilities.  I want them to have ideas I never thought of in the creation of the dungeon.  I want them to speculate about the little snippets I throw in that hint at a greater backstory, but they're free to ignore them as well.

Not sure why I felt the need to say that, since I don't know that anyone was wondering.  I guess I think the OSR is a cool thing - that people are still that passionate about the ideas and underpinnings of this game - but I'd rather not pigeonhole myself into any category, even a cool one.  Again, not that anyone asked me.  I sort of like the skill rules for Diplomacy.  I like that a player who foolishly spent feats just to increase his roll might talk the hostile princess into running away with him and abandoning her betrothed on the night before the wedding.  Does there have to be a rule set for this scene to happen?  I suppose not.  In fact I know from experience that it doesn't.  But I like there to be a framework that the players and the DM have a common reference to.  (Damn, ending a sentence in a preposition.)

Anyhoo, I don't think I can remember every single rule from the hundreds of pages I've read through (again) and I'll definitely make stuff up on the fly since none of my players will know the difference

(Unless they read this specific entry, to which I say:  I'm sorry you had to find out that I'm a fraud in this fashion - I should have told you up front that I know nothing.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

This Sunday's Session

A party of mostly parental players met on Sunday night for a brief 3 hour sojourn into the bowels of the Misty Monk Brewery.  They’re other choices, rejected out of hand in favor of beating up monks and the possibility of getting soused, were the Deadcliffe Caverns and the Fens of Filimore.  The monks, it seemed, had stopped producing their world famous ale a few days ago, and the doors had remained shut and locked.

A locked door was no match for Ripley the Halfling stereoty… I mean thief.  She quickly popped the lock and the PC’s were in like a swashbuckling icon I’ve yet to invent for this world.  There was a secret entrance behind a nearby waterfall, but the front door worked, too.  Inside the brewery the Witch, Hazel, ever hungry for knowledge, started reading books on the shelf in the entrance hall.  One of the volumes, “The History of Mister Misty, Mascott of the Misty Monk Brewery,” caused a secret door to open into another chamber.  Ripley rapidly lost interest in the statues he was examining upon the appearance of the secret room.  Hazel kept the volumes, “Secrets of Ale Making” and “The Cronwell incident – When Monks Father Children.”

The room was rather lavishly decorated with a gold-inlaid tapestry and a silver bust of a bald, severe-looking monk which the placard identified as the current Father Superior of the monastery/brewery.  Not one with a head for figures, Ripley asked Mix to appraise the tapestry and other objects in the room.  Meanwhile Hazel learned through perusing letters on the Father’s desk that he had been ordered to find new methods of productions before his staff or the general populous were severely injured.  The group speculated as to how something dire must have already happened that caused the shutdown.  Hazel also learned from the books that some had speculated the monks were tampering with supernatural forces beyond their control in the process of their brew making.

Further into the Brewery, the party came across a room that must have been for record keeping, although the furniture had now been smashed to kindling.  There were the bodies of 6 monks on the ground.  Upon further examination by the witch’s familiar, the monks’ stomachs were distended and seemed to writhe.  This was all the provocation Graela the half-orc barbarian needed to strike, and as she roared her battle cry one of the monks, his features bloated and his eyes milky white, rose to meet her charge.  One swipe of a greatsword later, the monk lay in pieces on the floor (some pieces splattered on a wall), but something remained.  A strange liquid oozed from it’s wounds and its mouth and extended a pseudopod at Graela!

In the battle that ensued, Bolo the fighter, Ripley and Graela engaged the possessed monks in melee, all of which carried the strange writhing liquid within them.  Mix managed to destroy the liquid with bombs, while the melee fighters made quick work of the possessed monks.

Shortly after, we ran out of time as both (real life) babies were crying and one of the players had to adjourn for work.  It was an enjoyable session and I hope the group can meet again some time.  I am still hopeful my original group can meet again soon, as well.  It’s been too long.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hey! A comment!

Thanks for the visit, Joe.  Reminds me I'm not alone here.  I'll have to stop hanging out at my blog in my boxers from now on....

For better or for worse, I'm starting a new game tomorrow.  It is likely a one shot.  Two of the three couples playing have an infant, and I've been killing myself just getting material for one adventure together.  Part of that is I love to keep things open ended and sandboxy, so I actually have three possible adventures they might embark on.  Likely they will finish none of them, but it made me happy for a bit, nonetheless.  I couldn't have even cobbled together the effort I did manage without a lot of work I did on a world prior to this while I was inactive before Lily was born. 

I don't think there's anyway I can get back into world building until Lily is much older.  I barely got my minis and maps together between feedings, changing, and entertaining a bored 5 month old (she's peacefully sleeping now, so I've got about 20 minutes).

Lily's baptism was just two weeks ago (for any of you not there in person).  It was truly lovely.  Lots of friends I hadn't seen for months (some of them decades) showed up, and my cousin flew in from Los Angeles to be Lily's godmother.  It really was a perfect day, including Lily's three hour tantrum right up to (and some during) the church service.  Thanks to all who came.  I don't thank my friends enough for all they do for us.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My thoughts on GURPS

(After reading the basic ruleset for 3rd edition)

I like it!  I'll never find anybody to play it!  I found the basic ruleset for $6 at a used book store.  I think it's an ingenious system, in that each new genre is a potential sale for the game designer.  Wanna play a Cthutlu campaign?  There's a book for that.  Like space opera?  There's a book for that.  Wanna start a campaign with the diseased offspring of Kermit and Miss Piggy called Muppet Rabies?  Okay, that hasn't been written yet, but there's no reason you couldn't write it yourself using this system. 

That being said, I think the mechanics, being that they are streamlined to fit many different possible genres, are a bit too simplistic for my taste.  Granted, this is based purely on a single reading of the rules and a few other sourcebooks, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.  But it seems like combat has far fewer options than, say, a game like Pathfinder.  Now, I'm sure that options multiply with each supplement I buy (or a compendium, were I inclined to pick one up), but I'm talking about pure mechanics in play during battle, not the number of weapons, skills, vehicles, spells or powers I might utilize with a given character.  I think I like variety in my dice and in my rolling options. 

One of the things I've heard proponents of GURPS tout is its vaunted realism.  'Realism' in this case seems to refer to player mortality.  This could potentially appeal to the OSR crowd, possibly, if they weren't busy churning out their own retro clone kickstarter projects at the moment.  While I do applaud the fact that a fall of 50 ft would kill the average, or even considerably above average player, it's simply not my own style of play, nor would it have appealed to the group I was playing with up until Lily was born.  Although the way things are going now, I may be looking at waiting until Lily's of gaming age before I get to bust out my DM'ing skills again.

In conclusion, I think my previous group is a  bunch of poo-heads for not asking me to DM for them by now even though I'd have to tell them I'm much too busy at the moment.  What?  Oh, GURPS, right.  Good game.  Wish I'd get the chance to put it into practice.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Dark Knight Mumbles


Due to the graciousness of my parents’ babysitting service, the wife and I went out to dinner and a movie on a fine August weeknight.  We watched the ‘final’ (meaning ‘give us two years for the release of the next reboot’) installment of this Batman franchise at the Stoughton Cinema CafĂ©, where you can stuff yourself on pizza or lasagna whilst watching costumed heroes eviscerate one another with high tech gadgets of destruction.
            I am ambivalent about the film still as I ruminate upon it the following day.  There is much to be liked in the film.  There are numerous nods to the comic book mythology, and just as many areas where it breaks from tradition entirely.  This is a radically different take on Batman/Bruce Wayne than I’ve seen before.  This is a Dark Knight on the skids, physically and financially.  The Wayne Empire has crumbled due to neglect.  The Batman has disappeared since the death of Harvey Dent (whose death was blamed on the Bat in the last film).  Bruce Wayne is a limping recluse who refuses to visit his own dinner guests at a party honoring the deceased Dent.  All this in the first 20 minutes!
This is a difficult movie for me to review because there is much I could spoil for anyone even more wrapped in baby-induced lethargy than myself who hasn’t seen the film yet.  I think I can safely say without spoiling anything that it was painful for me to stay awake throughout the 2 hour and 40 minute film.  This is only partially the film’s fault, as I’ve just started meds that cause drowsiness and my daughter is still only 3 months old.  I felt that the film does drag a bit, and I lay the blame at the feet, or rather the mouth guard, of Batman’s main nemesis in this film:  Bane.  Tom Hardy is perhaps hamstrung by the loss of his face.  With no expressions available to him except a hundred-yard-stare and an accent that at times stuck me as Scottish (?) Bane makes the movie more than a little dull.  I think the film could have been pared down to under 2 hours if his monologues were cut, and little of the plot would have been sacrificed.
            But I did say I was ambivalent, not antipathetic toward the film.  There were parts of it I thought were beautiful.  There are genuine surprises woven into the film with such subtlety I missed them entirely until thinking about it after the fact.  One big one:  not once in the entire film is the Selena Kyle character (played with an understated grace by Anne Hathaway) referred to as Catwoman.  Go ahead, watch the film.  They never once call her that.  They didn’t have to.  It’s assumed, it’s implied, and it’s a corny and unnecessary name, so director Christopher Nolan does away with the reference entirely.  And I didn’t even notice until I was walking home digesting my theatrical and gustatory repasts.
            I loved the ending (or one of the endings).  Batman seems to truly be laid to rest once and for all, and for me it was in a satisfying fashion.  I can forgive any mess that ends well.  There’s a lot I could have wished for out of Bane.  In the comic book rendition he’s the villain who not only bests Batman physically and shatters his spine, but breaks him mentally and spiritually as well. (Something of a spoiler ahead!) Batman’s recovery takes a whole series.  In the movie, Batman is broken in a single scene, and his recovery is handled pretty much in a single montage of push ups, sit ups, oh, and some guy pushing a vertebrae back in place with his fingers.
            But wait, I was talking about the stuff I liked about the film and I’m getting sidetracked again.  Bale is competent and did not break immersion for me, which is impressive to me since I was so ready to hate him this time around.  Oldman is practically cuddly, but I can’t think of a film I’ve seen him in that I haven’t liked.  Joseph Gordon Levitt steals the show as a rookie cop, perhaps by Nolan’s design even.  It’s an ambitious film, and I don’t believe it’s successful on all counts, but I’m glad to have seen it in the theater instead of on the DVD rebound.  I’m the son of the guy who publishes this newsletter, and I support this film.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Monk Above

... Is Thomas Merton.  I chose him, and the name, forgetting that Merton died by accidentally electrocuting himself by knocking a fan into his bathwater.  Some may speculate it was suicide.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was indeed an accident.  Better to be clumsy than to be hopeless.  'The Hopeless Monk' would be a different blog entirely.  I may have written just such a blog in my teens, back when I wore a black trench coat and scowled a lot.  Well... at least the trench coat is gone... and my penchant for reading Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

Merton is worth looking up, I think, if you're not already familiar with his work.  He was a brilliant writer and his perspective is unique and worth investigation IMO.  I was introduced to him by one of my atheist friends in the 90's.  I've been a Catholic my whole life, but for some reason or other my friends always seem to be predominantly atheist.  (This has become a problem recently when I started thinking about the baptism of my 2 month old daughter, as the Church frowns upon non-Catholic God-parents... actually, their stance is that non-Catholics as God-parents are right out, and you can't get baptized without one.)

I've never screened my friends (likely anyone who does doesn't have any friends to begin with), and from time to I've wondered why I tend to gravitate towards people who have such disparate world-views from my own.  It could mean I'm ambivalent at heart, or just an outright bad theist. I rejected elements of faith that I found inconvenient when I was younger, but never could shake the feeling that there was Something - a Something very different than what was proclaimed to be worshiped at the churches I attended in my youth.  I thought the Gospels attested to this, for the church in the time of Christ was at odds with Him as well.  I thought the people who went to church were hypocrites, who very demonstrably did not practice what was preached in the edifices they attended every Sunday.  Most priests struck me as loveless and perfunctory, while the ones who did seem sincere seemed on a plane I could never reach even if I wanted to.

I finally realized one day that I was never going to be any better than the hypocrites I was rejecting.  I believe in Love, but ask me on any given day if I've managed it to practice it consistently.  Maybe on a good day I'll say yes.  I work at it.  Loving friends and family is easy.  I trust them to forgive me despite what pains I may give them, for they have forgiven me time and time again in the past.  And I forgive them as well, for I am greedy and unwilling to part the joy that they bring me.  But loving those who slap me in the face with a look or cutting words?   That's a different story. 

I'm rambling now, and I'm not sure where I was going in the first place.  Full disclosure, I guess.  I've erased a lot of similar posts from this blog.  I'm not erasing this one.  One of my favorite pieces from This American Life on NPR came from Dan Savage.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/379/return-to-the-scene-of-the-crime

He proclaims at the end that he is not capable of belief.  He talks about his mom on her death bed.  I think it's such a beautiful piece for the honesty and the love that is present in his words and his voice, even as he says he cannot believe.  That's exactly what the God of my understanding is made of - honesty and love, and I find Him everywhere....

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Anniversary

5 Years ago today, my wife foolishly signed a contract without reading the small print.  Actually, she married me willingly and I didn't even have to trick her.  We planned on going to Hawaii for our honeymoon, until we looked at prices and went to San Diego instead (which was amazing).  We promised ourselves we'd go to Hawaii on our 5th anniversary....

Well, our 5th has rolled around and we had the cash this year, but that plan was torpedoed by the arrival of our 6 week old, Lily (who is amazing).

I'm just one more guy who's the luckiest guy on Earth.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tales from the Founderland

“Old Three-Fingered Rub”
(Pt. I)
 As told by Jezzrik Toeman
Regular patron at the Copper Kettle Inn

            “You’re not from around here I can see, so I’ll give you a bit of local lore for nothing (or for an ale if you’re the generous type).  Here it is, strangers:  Three fingers is bad luck, as anyone in the Founderland can tell you.  Hold up three fingers on any street in Coddleton and men will turn their heads and spit.  Just ask Old Rub if it’s unlucky, though he’s like to throw you out of his pub if you do.  Lost all five of his sons to the Deadcliff Caverns, he did, or so the tale is told.
            “Old Rub was a blacksmith from the Old Lands just West of here.  You probably don't need my telling you that Dwarves are renowned as fine smiths, and their work is coveted by all, but most dwarves don’t take to a big city like Coddleton.  So he ran a good bit of business as a smith and a tavern owner and did quite well for himself.  His wife gave him 5 sons while he dwelt here among men, but she died with the last.  Rub’s made a fortune making weapons for the gladiators of the Arena and exotic armors for the fighting animals at Tyson’s Farm. 
“You’ve… you’ve never heard of Tyson’s farm?  Never you mind, that’s another tale, and Old Rub’s tale is already long enough.  Anyhow, Old Rub had 5 sons (which is an exceptional brood for a dwarf - Old Rub had the fire, that's for certain, but never mind that). They grew up as strong and stout as Rub himself, working the forge with him day in and out.  But the sons had their father’s hot blood in them as well.  See, Rub was a warrior in the Old Lands before he settled down, and whenever dwarves come East to visit our fair city they’d pay a visit to Rub’s Tavern (‘Old Rub’s Brew Pub', that is – fine ale but a sad place, as you'll soon learn).  They’d drink enough to drown a stable full of horses and tell all the things Old Rub had done in his youth.  Well, the sons, they heard all this, and they got the idea in their heads one night to make their own name for themselves as adventurers.  They bought climbing gear with the wages Rub gave them and girded themselves for battle and then made their way by moonlight to the Deadcliff Caverns.
“If you've never even heard of Tyson's Farm, you won’t have heard of the Caverns as well,  I wager.  Well you won’t hear of them from me, either.  Men come from miles around seeking them out, hoping to find some artifact or bit of treasure not looted by the hundreds who came before them.  It’s said the Caverns were home to an ancient people, dead before the Founders ever set foot in these lands – I know, I know, it’s a tired tale told of many places, but that’s what the Caverns are, a tired tale set in the cliffs to the North of Coddleton.  That’s where Rub’s eldest three went that night, Jonquil, Haddock and Tate, there heads dancing with all the wealth they’d bring back and the monsters they’d slay with their mighty arms.  Their arms and necks were thick, and so were their wits.  All I can say is, well, perhaps you've been young yourself once.
“The next day, Rub was running all about town asking if anyone had seen his three boys.  When he found the man who’d sold them climbing gear, he beat that man senseless and toothless.  The next morning, Rub and his friends srearched and they found his boys alright - found them at the bottom of the Cliffs, their ropes cut and their bodies crushed by the fall.  Old Rub, he doesn’t howl or even shed a tear; he just binds them up in sheets, lays them gently on his cart, and takes them back to town to prepare them for burial.  Paid to have them all shipped to the Old Lands, he did to be laid in his family’s tomb.  Didn’t say a word of it to anyone, though many told him how sorry they were for his loss.  Rub was well liked about town, you see, even if he was an old dwarf.
             “Now everyone knows the Birdmen live in dwellings above the entrance to the Caverns, and everyone knows they’ll make trouble for all comers if they’re able.  Oh, they’re a cowardly lot to the last, and bear no arms save beak and claw, but a man or dwarf scaling the cliff - well, it’s hard to fight and climb at the same time.  The birdmen cut their ropes, you can be sure of that.  Think of that before you decide to go treasure hunting yourselves, and think whether a fall from 500’ suits your fancy.
(cont.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Night of Mario Van Peebles

I am a new dad, and as such I have been spending more time watching television between the hours of 1 and 5am than I have since... well ever.  My infant daughter hardly wakes for her 3 feedings/diaper changes during my shift, and I'm left holding the bottle and staring at the screen (which is muted) in the dark.  Last night was a rare treat - a Mario Van Peebles double feature.  This event was not planned either by myself or the networks who aired an old episode of the Outer Limits (staring Mario) and the early 80’s film “Exterminator II” (in which Peebles plays a well-muscled villain who leads an evil street gang that leaves a big ‘X’ on all their victims).  This type of fortune cannot occur through the planning of executive bigwigs but rather is the perfect concordance of luck, sleep deprivation, and the fact that Mr. Van Peebles had to pay the bills somehow at both ends of his carrer.

Now, my knowledge of the plot of either of these delicacies is going to be very limited since the volume was muted and for some reason no one thought either of these gems was worth closed captioning.  The first feature I saw was the Outer Limits episode (the 90’s remake, not the black and white original although I have the option of viewing that every night as well).  I learned through Google that this was titled “Bodies of Evidence” and first aired in June of 1997.  Jennifer Beals costars as a lawyer charged with defending Peebles who is accused of murdering three of his subordinates while serving on the space station Meridian.  Peebles was already a bit past his prime at this point, and the contrast between old 90’s Peebles and early 80’s Peebles had me wondering at first if they could really be the same guy (thanks again Google).

Anyhoo, I really dig the 90’s Outer Limits.  There’s always a bit of a mystery to unravel, even if it’s ineptly presented more often than not, and I’m a sucker for all things fantasy and sci-fi.  The mystery in this episode (and the unfolding of events aboard the Meridian in reverse throughout the trial) is whether or not Peebles was driven crazy by ‘space psychosis’ (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess this is not a real disease) and killed the crew himself, or if, in fact he is telling the truth when he states that a shape-shifting alien with psychic abilities tricked them all into killing themselves.  I’m going to go ahead and spoil everything for you because unless you are an insomniac who just had their cable shut off you are never, ever going to see this episode.  If you bet on shape-shifting alien being the whodunit, you win a kewpie doll.  This is not revealed until after Peebles is exonerated of all crimes but then committed to a mental institution for his insistence on the existence of aliens when the alien in question shows up at his cell to give him the raspberry as Peebles is dragged away in a straight jacket.

The second film (the silent version on my TV) got all of one and a half stars in the IMDb database (and worthy of every half-star in my opinion) and stars John Eastland (never heard of him, not going to Google him) as a garbage man or possibly and out-of-work steel worker who confronts a New York drug lord (Peebles).   Peebles has one expression throughout the film, which I interpreted as wide-eyed and crazed contempt for anyone watching network television this late at night.  Eastland is a blue collar type who's had enough and welds a bulldozer blade and several machine guns onto a garbage truck to turn a street gang into an instant barbecue.  If I am any judge of a film from which I never heard a single syllable of dialogue, the writers drew heavily from Taxi Driver and Mad Max.  De Nero and Gibson could only wish for the body count Eastland achieves with grit, a little elbow grease, and lots and lots of flamethrowers and bazookas.  (Another spoiler ahead, so please avert your eyes if you are masochistic enough to still want to view this film in its entirety.)  Peebles finally gets his wide-eyed come-uppance in the form of a booby-trapped bag of stolen loot that explodes, sets him aflame, and then impales him on a steel girder.  My daughter was actually asleep for the thrilling climax, but even sleep deprived as I was I couldn’t tear myself away.
I’m told this phase in a baby’s development is over quickly.  I can only assume that persons with experience are also victims of ‘baby psychosis’ – a condition that causes parents to forget what having a newborn was actually like for the sake of duping them into furthering their own gene pool with additional progeny after the first.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to change into a shirt that has no spit-up on it for work.

All of the things worth saving from 4e

All of the players who still like 4e. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Bad Review

A BAD REVIEW

...Of a bad film.  My wife and I dropped Lily off at my parent’s house earlier this week with the intention of seeing a movie - any movie.  We'd been out of the house together a total of 3 times in the last 6 weeks, so we weren't too particular.  Our choices on Wednesday afternoon were MIB III, seeing Avengers for the second time, or Snow White and the Huntsman.  I can only blame the fact that I'd only had 4 hours of sleep a night for the last 6 weeks on my decision to go with... Snow White. 

I thoroughly got what I deserved for my choice.  Christin Stewart wasn't awful, but she really only had about 4 lines in the entire film.  Most of the time she's in a scene the audience is treated to seeing her reactions to what's going on around her:  Ms. White reacts in terror to her cell mate's fate; Ms. White watching helplessly as others fight to defend her; Ms White setting her jaw as she leads her forces into battle.  Okay, she does have an 'inspiring' soliloquy where she rallies the troops (Christin Stewart is no Winston Churchill, and neither were the script writers) but for the most part she's scenery.  Charlize Theron doesn't help, going over the top with every syllable, and Chris Helmsworth just left my wife wishing he were 'more like Thor' in this film. 

It wasn't terrible.  Parts were entertaining and harkened back to classic faerie tales (including actual faeries - possibly the best part of the film).  But man, I started to cringe every time someone opened his or her mouths to deliver the next speech.  I blame the script.  No, I blame myself, for I chose to watch.  This is the sort of film I would highly recommend if it happens to be on cable and you are stuck at home giving a bottle to a newborn on a Saturday afternoon.  I am only mildly disappointed in myself for seeing this in the theater as it was a matinee and I paid half price. 

(Yes, apart from being caustic in my poorly expressed opinions I am also an unrepentant tightwad.)

All your base are belong to baby

My first child, Liliana Lenore Cook, was born 6 weeks ago on 04/25/12 at 12:37am.  She was born 6 weeks early (due tomorrow, June 9th).  She didn't need help breathing at all and sucked down 60oz of formula the first hour after she was born.  Since that time, every waking moment is spent either sleeping, taking care of the baby, or thinking about the baby and my wife while I'm at work.  We divided up the night into two shifts:  I sleep 8pm to 1am, and she sleeps 1am to 6am.  We keep the baby in the living room so the other can sleep. 

Taking care of Lily is a wonderful thing, but of course, leaves zero time to game.  I haven't met with my gaming group for about 3 months now.  I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, of course.  She's changed me so much already, I wonder if I'll even want to game once she's old enough to sleep though the night and we're not feeding her every two hours.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In the beginning

The first time I DM'd a game of 1st edition D&D, I didn't own a rule book, I hadn't prepared an adventure, and I'd never met all but one of the players I started with.  There were no minis, it was all 'theater of the mind', and I'd only played the game as a player 3, maybe four times.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?  I don't remember much of what happened.  I let each player start with two characters with the understanding that there would be a high mortality rate.  Two characters did die that night, one turned to stone by a basilisk and one eaten by a black pudding that dropped from the ceiling over a pile of bones and a few coins (no one looked up).  I had no concept of what challenges were appropriate to a 1st level party.  There was a little griping, but mostly the players liked the session, and we kept playing for nearly 5 years afterward.  Some of the players said I was the best DM they ever had.

From that brief experience, I'd already become frustrated with some of the mechanics of the game (the monster's taken 50 points of damage, but still functions the with the same effectiveness as when he had taken no damage?).  But I didn't care about mechanics, except as they affected the players feeling like they were having a cinematic experience.  I wouldn't have put it in those terms then.  What I wanted was to evoke the kind of reaction I had had like the first time I saw the movie 'Highlander'.  I wanted their imaginations firing on all cylinders.  I wanted them to feel at least on some level that they really were in another world, being another person, experiencing things that couldn't happen in the real world. 

I've continued to play this way up through 4e.  I ignore or modify rules when they don't fit the experience I want to create in the mind of a player.  Wealth by level is a good way to keep a gauge on the relative power level of your players.  A better one?  Through monsters at them with varying power levels and see how they do.  I've never been a system master.  Oh, I read the rules through, many times, and I reference them often - there has to be a common framework that the players have the same access to as I do or the game is just arbitrary with no way for the players to meaningfully interact with the fantasy setting I create.  But if there is no magic carpet available at an appropriate level for my party in 4e rules and I want a flying carpet shop in the town my players are entering, I make something up, rules be damned.  Does this render some challenges like trying scale a cliff irrelevant?  Perhaps, temporarily.  But how hard is it to bypass?  Can I still invent challenges that are appriopriate to their capabilities despite this?  Of course.

The system doesn't matter to me.  The game and the story has always been inside my head.  I play the game/edition that my current group plays.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Campaign Saturday

The Pathfinder game went swimmingly on Saturday.  The group was down to 3 with the absence of the dwarf fighter and gnome oracle.  The intrepid band of heroes has been adventuring in the dwarven city of Freeholm, beset of late by a plague of alchemical zombies created by Androgenes Narulo the evil head of the Narulo crime family.  Androgenes came to an unfortunate end last session... well several unfortunate ends, really.  He had mastered the secret of creating alchemical simulacrums of himself, and had made two previous attempts to slay the party.  They finally cornered the scoundrel in his laboratory, accessible only through vents in one of the inmates cells of Narulo Tower (the city's center for the criminally mentally ill).  The only way in was through a 2" high by 4" wide vent... that is, until the party cleric stoneshaped the ceiling and did some renovation on the assylum, the lab, and finally Narulo himself.  In the penthouse of the tower, the party found Narulo, an elderly bedridden woman (Isis Narulo), 3 clerics, and a young girl (the daughter of Margrave Lager, who had been kidnapped to ensure the Margrave did not thwart the Narulo's plans for taking over the city). 

This is an experienced and wily party I play with, and they quickly suspected a possible bait and switch between the elderly Isis and the Margrave's daughter (Isis was known to be a powerful sorceress).  The halfling paladin detected evil on the young girl and did indeed find she was evil... only seconds after the party sorceror had incinerated the elderly woman on the bed with a fireball.  The young girl then became enraged, told the group her father would make them all pay dearly, and then vanished.  The ensuing fight between the party and Androgenes and the three clerics was brutal.  The party had already used up considerable resources to get to this point.  The top Narulo assassin, called 'Jumper', had feebleminded the party sorceror on the level below (restored after the battle with a Heal potion found in Narulo's lab) and nearly slew the party inquisitor with a Phantasmal Killer spell.  It was a close thing, ending in a fistfight between the exhausted sorceror (who had used all his spells for the day) and a naked Narulo, finally cornered in a concealed chamber when the paladin's mount sniffed out another creature using its scent ability. 

With Androgenes slain and Isis in the body of the Margrave's daughter, this left many questions open.  Would the Margrave retaliate against them?  And how would they yet thwart the alchemical zombie invasion the Narulo's had planned?  And if they did manage to thwart the invasion, had Androgenes told them true when he claimed the entire city of Freeholm would be incinerated if the Margrave or the party managed to stop the Narulo takeover of Freeholm.  ('This city will submit or burn, one of the two.')

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stream

My hands are full of mangoes in light syrup.  A shopping cart once ate my family.  A classmate of mine froze to death this week at the age of 41.  Some of these statements are true.  You cannot go against nature.  I am convinced that all my coworkers hate me.  Many of my thoughts seem to stray back to food.  You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead.  I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  I find toothpaste in the cat litter all the time.  Why are my fingers on fire?  Even my stream is muddied with repetition.  Small muddy little mind.  Will this excercise clear it?  No one is listening.  A lot of songs use the same cliche's over and over.  Can't stop, Can't stop.  Even if there's nothing to say.  Another person just walked by.  I am a speck of mud on the lapel of the universe that can only be seen under infinite magnification.  Why does everyone I went to highschool with look so old?  I used to miss being a child; I blame this fact on my poor memory.  Life can be sweet at times but it is never really easy.  You can rest but somewhere in your mind you know you are floating closer to the waterfall's edge with every second you aren't swimming. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dying

Well, my character in Alexis' campaign currently has 3 hp left, and my opponent doesn't seem to want to let me leave.  C'est la vie.  If Ninetoes does buy the farm, it could well be a sign that my time is better spent in things other than an online campaign.  No regrets, I've enjoyed the game immensely, but some new characters have joined of late, and I'm under increased pressure and scrutiny at work.  All things work for the good in the end.

In the meantime, I have a job, baby's coming, all's right with the world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ugh.

Thanks for the visit, Beedo!

Well, as I can see from the last day I posted here, I haven't kept with my resolution.  I've kept with some of my resolutions (exercise, practicing guitar, yoga breathing, prayer) but writing wasn't one of them.  I find the practice of writing excruciating under most circumstances.  I am so disenchanted with what winds up on the page.  Things that seemed beautiful in my mind look ugly when they see print.  I have had this frustration with all my attempts at art in any medium.  I hear a song in my head but lack the displine and practice to play it on guitar.  I see a picture in my mind but lack the skill to draw or paint it.  When I act and have the opportunity to see myself after the performance, I am shocked by how differently I appear in reality than I appeared in my mind's picture of myself.  I delete so much of what I try to write over and over again. 

D&D is a nice outlet, as I am usually unaware of the fact that I'm creating a narrative for my players when I conduct portions of the campaign over email.  Current players are level 22 in my 4e campaign (hopefully coming to a close before the baby arrives in June), level 6 in my Pathfinder campaign.  I'm a 12th level monk in another Pathfinder campaign, and a 2nd level monk in Alexis' campaign.  I have to say I love them all, mostly because I love the people involved in them.  I've come to believe that the system played does matter, I won't pretend that it doesn't, but the people playing matter so much more.  No system will ever be able to codify imagination or level of involvement/commitment.  I've played from 1e to the present, but my background in roleplaying began with my dad.  He painted our house when I was 4 (an endeavor that took him nearly all summer) and while he would work he would mimic voices of Disney characters (rather well as I remember - Donald and Mickey were his fortes) and he would essentially narrate an adventure with myself as an active participant.  We didn't roll dice; there weren't any rules.  That remains to this day my favorite role-playing experience - my dad spending time entertaining his 4 year old son while he worked.

He painted the house lime green.  Hey, it was the 70's....

I'm actually glad to read my first post on this blog, as I'm somewhat abashed for not keeping with my own promise.  Maybe this will become a means of holding myself accountable.