Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

I can pretty much sum up this movie in one word, but since this is a blog post, I'd probably better write a bit more than that!

And obligatory note for people Google searching "Thor Ragnarok curse words" and ending up here, there are a few in the movie, but not much.

So that one word? FUN!

The previous two Thor movies were kind of the mostly forgettable duds of the MCU. Kenneth Branagh made a solid movie, but the attempts at gravitas felt forced in some places. I really don't remember much about the second movie except for a cell phone and shoe falling through a dimensional portal and Loki's illusions to trick the dark elf at the end.

This time, Marvel pulled out all the stops and just made a rollercoaster movie. It's not deep. It's not some wonderful study of the human condition. It doesn't have any Oscar level performances. But it's got Dr. Strange being kind of a dick to Thor, Loki scheming as only he can, Thor and the Hulk smashing things, and a lot of humor.

Plus...spoiler alert...just as in the Norse mythology, Asgard is destroyed. How it gets destroyed is actually kind of clever.

And the obligatory after credits scenes...one is apparently a set-up for Avengers: Infinity War, the other is just a fun little extra. My son was a bit disappointed that there wasn't one for Black Panther, but I guess there was already the one at the end of Civil War so Marvel is thinking ahead.

Anyway, if you're in the mood for a fun popcorn action flick with sci-fantasy trappings, this is a good one. I'd rate it up there with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies for fun cinema.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Lost Art of the Cursed Item

People these days seem to misunderstand cursed items in D&D. Players find some magic items and divvy them up. Then one player finds out that their item is cursed, and they now have some sort of drawback. And they probably bitch and moan a bit, and depending on edition and how high level the PCs are, they probably cast (or purchase) a spell to remove the curse, grumble a bit more about getting screwed over by the DM, and carry on.

But it's not intended to be that way. Back in the earlier editions of the rules, especially for cursed swords and armor, the rule was that if you could get the curse removed, the item then reverted to a beneficial item*. So curses were a means of providing an adventure hook.

If a player found a cursed weapon or armor, at low levels they had to deal with it until they could find a high level NPC to remove the curse (requiring paying large sums, a quest, or both), or go on a quest  of their own to a location (in a dungeon or far out in the wilderness) where the curse could be removed. Getting a curse was a means of providing the players with a goal - remove the curse. And there was a reward to it besides just elimination of the penalty. The weapon or armor that was previously lowering combat efficiency would improve it instead.

Yes, this post is inspired by my 5E gaming. It seems like newer gamers just don't see the value in things like curses, save or die spells (a double edged sword, yes, but also fun!), or dwindling resources. And WotC seem to also have this mistaken idea that any sort of hindrance is unfun. Everything is awesome! Everyone is special! All the time! Well, to tell the truth, that's NOT fun. Getting cursed and then having to jump through hoops to get rid of the curse is fun and satisfying! Getting cursed (or level drained, or finger of deathed, etc.) adds spice to the game if it actually affects you. If you just need to have the party Cleric come over and cast a spell and it's over, what's the fun in that? Where's the challenge? Where's the satisfaction?

Probably more to come along this line of thought if I have time to blog again soon.

*Yes, cursed scrolls, potions, rings and miscellaneous items don't have this benefit. But it's easily house ruled for the permanent rings and miscellaneous items, isn't it?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chanbara: The end draws nigh!

I have the final bits of feedback I need from my editors. I'm in the process of revising and editing based on it. I should have that done soon.

So it's time for me to get serious about a cover design. I also will need to figure out layout and stuff for print and pdf versions. The pdf will have convenient hyperlinks while the print version will have references to "see page XX".  That should take some time. Luckily, we have a 10 day super-Chuseok holiday this year. Plenty of time to work on this stuff then.

The publishing plan for Chanbara will be a full color pdf version and a color cover/b&w interior print version in soft cover (print on demand). I want to keep the print version as economical as possible. I may put out a full color hardback deluxe edition if people want that, but at less than 70 pages, I don't think many would. I may have a local printer do up some as a vanity project or to send out as thanks for people who helped along the way.

I'm just glad to finally be nearing completion on this. Two of the editors have mentioned maybe publishing mods for the game, one to make it more anime style, another to play up the weird Japan angle. I'm likely to put out an expanded monster book for the game as well as try to work up my play test notes into modules. So hang in there, Chanbara fans! I'm really close to done!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A few complaints about DMing 5E D&D

In general, I've found that as a player I really enjoy 5E. The system is fairly slim, the options aren't overwhelming (at least if you stick to the PHB only), and it feels like D&D again (sorry 4E fans, you know I wasn't a fan myself, and although it's not a terrible game, it just isn't what I want out of D&D). As a player, I really like it.

But a few months back, I started DMing a face-to-face game again, using 5E. My son wanted to play in a game, and our normal Saturday night G+ games are too late for him to finish. So I started up a West Marches game using 5E. And while it's not a bad system, I keep constantly saying to myself, "Why didn't I just try to run this with my Classic D&D houserules, or Labyrinth Lord?"

Basically it comes down to a few points. I may elaborate on each later in their own blog posts (I need some impetus to get back into blogging semi-regularly). For now, it's just a list with a bit of commentary for each based on my WM game.

  • Lack of Morale rules. I've been estimating what I think a creature's Morale score should be, and rolling 2d6 like in Classic D&D. Yes, I could just wing it and have creatures flee or surrender when I feel like it, but I like the uncertainty of the dice.
  • Not much variety in treasure. There's no risk/reward analysis when it comes to deciding to face a monster or not, it's simply a threat assessment. 
  • Spell lists are too combat focused. This is actually something I chafe at as a player as well. It's hard to plan interesting encounters where magical utility spells might make the difference between an easy encounter and a too tough one (something I like to do) when there are so few utility spells, and spell durations are for the most part just not that long. As a player, it's hard to come up with that creative solution with a well-used spell when most just do damage.
  • Too much player rolling, not enough DM rolling. Maybe some DMs like that. They can focus on the details of the adventure, the NPCs and monsters, the "plot" and whatnot. Let the players make all the rolls. As a DM, though, sometimes I want to build suspense by making the roll myself (and having the option to ignore a result I don't like). This applies to things like getting lost or foraging in the wilderness. 
None of these things are terrible in and of themselves. I can work with them, and we're all having fun with 5E. And it's working out fairly well, actually. But I have worked in some old school mechanics into how I run the game because I feel it's just better that way. 

And I'm still wondering if I can convince the group to switch to my "D&D Mine" rules. And if I should try to convince them, or just let this campaign play out in 5E and when it's petered out try something else. If I want to get my son on board, though, I'm going to have to come up with a Dragonborn equivalent for my D&D Mine rules. He doesn't want to play anything but a dragon-man.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Castlevania Netflix Series

I just finished watching the four episode Season 1 of the Netflix Castlevania series. Seeing that it was written by Warren Ellis, who I've heard does good work in comics...I'm way out of the loop in American comics these days...and being a big fan of the video games (as you can tell from the title of the blog)...um, can I add any more parentheticals or asides to this introductory paragraph? OK, I'll get down to it. I was hoping this would be a lot cooler than it turned out to be.

Don't get me wrong, there's some good stuff here. But I wasn't expecting it to be what it was, which is basically all setup. The entire four episode "season" is basically just all Act 1 of the drama. And because of that, it's a bit unfulfilling. I'll break it down episode by episode, but avoid spoilers as much as I can while doing so.

Episode 1 tells us of Dracula's motivation for unleashing his army of monsters on Wallachia.

Episode 2 introduces Trevor Belmont and explains his family's background.

Episode 3 introduces Sypha Belnades and explains why her people, the Seekers, want to help.

Episode 4 introduces Alucard and why he wants to defeat Dracula.

And that's it. There are some cliches from horror movies, some of which seem to contradict things in the video games a bit, but mostly it keeps the gothic horror vibe of the games. And Trevor teaming up with Sypha and Alucard (but no Grant Danasty) to defeat Dracula is what Castlevania III is all about.

The problems are that it's all set-up and no payoff (yet). I was expecting this to basically go from Dracula's army invades to Trevor defeats Dracula in four episodes. And I was expecting each episode to be an hour (or 45 minutes) long. They're about 20 minutes each. So it doesn't get very far in the tale.

I read on Wikipedia that originally it was set to be a feature length movie. The switch to a series was probably a good idea, but I guess it would have been nice if Netflix had had enough faith in this project to fund the whole thing in one 10 or

12 episode series, rather than split it up. Still, I hope it gets enough viewers that Netflix doesn't kill it. I think my opinion of it will go up if they can ramp up the action in the next season.

Basically, watch this so that they keep making it. But it will likely be more satisfying once the show is complete and you can binge-watch it from start to finish.

Oh, and before I sign off here, if you're a parent wondering if there's "cursing" in the show? Yes, quite a bit. And plenty of animated gore and dismemberment. It's a horror themed show based on a horror themed video game, after all. I won't be letting my older boy watch it for several years yet.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Crazy Idea? Or is this basically what DCC does?

I sometimes feel like I'm the only OSR guy that doesn't have Dungeon Crawl Classics. I've gotten some modules for it, but don't have the game itself. I've of course heard about the spell system, where every spell has a random table to go with it.

What I'm proposing is a bit different from my perception of DCC's spell system, but somewhat similar. I'm not sure how well this would work in play, it's just a random idea I had. But enough blather, what was my shower thought last week?*

So, using a TSR version of D&D, or a retroclone of the same, here's an idea for Magic-Users (I probably wouldn't allow it for Clerics, but then again, maybe I might) that might give them a bit more oomph. Once they've cast all of their prepared spells for the day (or if a situation calls for a spell in their spellbook but not prepared), they can cast it, but need to make a roll using the Chainmail spell chances (2d6 rolls) to see if the spell goes off or fizzles.

Probably too powerful if it's just "cast or fail" so (like DCC) it would need some chance of misfire of some sort (Wild Magic tables? Reverse effects or targets? Page in the spellbook is burned and the spell is lost?) to make it a gamble to keep casting spells when you've exhausted your spells per day or are casting something you didn't prepare. Higher level spells would also incur a higher chance of a negative effect besides just not casting the spell.

It might be fun to try this some day.

*Or was it 2 weeks ago? I'm so behind on blogging. We've had two sessions of Dean's game that I haven't posted about. I've also been doing the West Marches for 2 months now, and it's going well. Chanbara is nearly ready for publication. And I've seen a movie or two I could review. No time for any of that recently.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

More Progress on Chanbara

Today was a good day. During my breaks between classes, I rewrote some sections of Chanbara, and I think really improved what I had.

I mentioned in the last post that I was cutting out theoretical blather (that can and should go here on the blog) and replacing it with more concrete tools that should make Chanbara easier to run.

I'm not always trying to reinvent the wheel here. If subsystems from Classic D&D work, I'll copy and slightly modify them for Chanbara. But one thing that is very different, and vital to get a distinctly Japanese (Confucian) feel to the game is the Allegiance system.

This replaces alignment, and gives your PC some ties to the game world. It also has an effect like sword & sorcery carousing rules. To get XP for gold, you need to turn it over to one of your lieges. I like it, because it dispenses with bean counting 'honor' systems like in the original OA but should serve the purpose of making behavior have consequences. My new work today gives some solid guidelines for that, I hope.

So I'm more confident now that Chanbara will be worth people's money. All the delays...and they have been numerous...have given me the time to get this right. Or at least pretty dang good, if not exactly right. So for those of you following the blog and my work on this, thank you for your patience. I hope to amply reward you with a kickass game.