Monday, May 31, 2010

A Dragon Fist retro clone

In my recent post about Dragon Fist, Matt of the Land of Nod blog thought my idea to create a DF retro clone was a good idea, and that I should contact Chris Pramas to see what he thought of the idea.

Now, that might be a good idea, but I get the feeling Chris wouldn't sign on to such a deal. The way he always talks about DF, it seems like it's a very personal game for him--it's his RPG baby. He's holding onto a new version until he can find a way to put it out that pays some bills.

More power to him. It's a fun game, and if he can rework it in a way that makes him happy and makes him some money, I'm all for it.

But in the meantime, it's been 4 years since Green Ronin shut down their DF forum and sacked their plans to revise and re-release the game. The original free pdf version has been unavailable for a few years more. I think whether Mr. Pramas signs off on such an idea or not, a retro clone is in order.

Here are my thoughts on how to do it:

Use either Labyrinth Lord or Swords and Wizardry as a base. DF was a 2E based game, but it got rid of a lot of the fiddly stuff from AD&D, so why not go with a simpler system than OSRIC?

Remove all the Tianguo world info (including the secret societies). Either replace it with an original idea, or just add a section with tips for creating a campaign.

Write up information for the kits (generically), the martial arts maneuvers, the spells and the monsters.

Work up a hybrid combat system that meshes LL/S&W style combat and the original DF system (streamlining initiative, which is a little wonky in DF would be the big thing, I think).

Rewrite the section on martial arts feats and contests.

Find or beg some art.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Oriental Accents -- Outlaws of the Marsh

Outlaws of the Marsh (also known as The Water Margin and All Men Are Brothers) is, in my opinion, one of the best books I've read for inspiration about what it means for a society to have large numbers of adventurers running around. The 108 Heroes of the story (yes, there are that many, and they've all got distinct personalities even if most of them are minor characters) are all martial artists, criminals, sorcerers and failed monks that end up outlawed for one reason or another. They band together in a fortress on a hill in a marshy area and try to serve the interests of the common people in an age when the government is oppressive. In this sense, it's sort of the Chinese version of the Robin Hood legend in the west.

The frame story tells how there were 36 heavenly spirits and 72 earthly spirits that were reincarnated with destinies tied together in the coming life. What we get first are several vignettes about the main characters. How did they get trained, how did they get outlawed, how did they escape punishment. Then the characters start banding together. Sometimes they fight each other when they meet, but their destiny results in them respecting and befriending each other eventually.

Of course, they are bandits, raiding the government offices or store houses. So the government cracks down on them repeatedly. But the outlaws are always able to repulse the military because of the incompetence of the officers or through the fact that the outlaws are better fighters.

Eventually, though, the government manages to capture them. Rather than execute the heroes, they instead volunteer to take their army north to battle the Mongols who have taken over large areas of northern China. They are generally unsuccessful, and the heroes all die.

The best thing about this book from a gamer's perspective are the 108 heroes. There are former public officials, soldiers, monks, aristocrats, peasants, sorcerers, thieves, and scholars. They all have awesome nicknames like The Tattooed Monk, Nine Dragons, Ten Feet of Steel, Flea on a Drum. And each has their own signature weapons or fighting styles. It's great fodder for anyone wanting to make a cool wuxia hero.

Even if you're not playing an Asian inspired game, as I mentioned above, this novel shows in a realistic manner (despite the low fantasy elements) what happens when you have 'adventurers' causing havoc in society. It's good inspiration for the Game Masters in this regard. How do the authorities and the common folk react to these warriors, thieves and magicians getting rich and powerful? You've got lots of good examples right here.

The early portions are picaresque, with the various heroes committing crimes or getting unfairly outlawed by corrupt officials, then wandering China getting into trouble or righting wrongs as their personalities dictate. Once they've all banded together, there's more of a epic-tragic feel to the work as the destiny of the heroes to die and be reunited in the heavenly realm comes to pass. It's another good (and again long) read that I think most gamers will find inspirational.

And while it is not quite as pervasive in Asian culture as Journey to the West and Three Kingdoms, it has still inspired its share of movies, TV shows, comics, and video games.

Author's Note: I still have yet to read A Dream of the Red Chamber so this ends my section of Oriental Accents on ¾ of the Great Classical Chinese Novels. I'll be moving on to other areas next time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Firearms in the Maritime Campaign

I'm allowing personal black powder weapons in this game. It just wouldn't be a pirate game without guns. Cannon, however, are getting left out. I didn't find any cannon rules (let alone ones I liked) aside from rules for field artillery for mass land combat. Maybe I didn't look hard enough, but I've got no problem allowing pistols and blunderbusses (blunderbi?) while not allowing the big guns.

I have stats for pistols, dragons (pistol blunderbi), muskets, blunderbi (okay, I'll stop now), hand held bombs and large placed bombs. Gamma World 4 and d20 Past were my primary sources of information/inspiration for this.

Pistol -- damage 2d4 -- rate 1/3 -- range 20/40/60 -- price 100gp -- enc. 40cn
Dragon -- damage 3d4 -- rate 1/3 -- range 10/20/30 -- price 150gp -- enc. 60cn
Musket -- damage 2d8 -- rate 1/3 -- range 40/80/120 -- price 300gp -- enc. 100cn
Blunderbuss -- damage 3d6 -- rate 1/3 -- range 30/60/90 -- price 400gp -- enc. 140cn
Hand Bomb -- damage 3d6 (10' radius) -- rate 1/2 -- range 10/20/30 -- price 50gp -- enc. 50cn
Large Bomb -- damage 5d6 (20' radius) -- placed only -- price 250gp -- enc. 250cn
Powder and Shot (10 rounds), any type -- price 25gp -- enc. 25cn

These weapons misfire on a natural 1 on the hit roll, resulting in a) an automatic miss, b) necessity to clean the weapon (1 turn) before use, and c) Save vs. Wands or take 1 die of damage of the weapon's die type.

Any of the four gun types can be used as a club (1d4 damage) and the musket only can have a bayonet for 1d6 damage.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The dragons are here!

I posted a while back that I had ordered some of the Safari dragons.

They arrived the other day, and I had a chance to take a few pictures of them with an adventuring party from my minis collection. First we have a group shot with all of my dragons at this scale (3 Papo dragons, 1 Japanese dragon from a set of Buddhist icons at a Toys 'R Us in Japan, and my 3 new Safari dragons)

Here's the adventurers vs one of the Papo dragons.

Vs. the Japanese dragon

Vs. one of the Safari green dragons

And two shots vs. the big Safari mountain dragon

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hoist the sails!

On Saturday night, we met up at Josh's house and rolled up characters and fitted out ships for the Maritime Campaign.

Lucy came, which was a surprise to me. Dave couldn't come. We've still got a bit of work to do on Lucy's characters. She has one complete and ready to go, but still needs to decide on equipment (I'll likely work on that for her) and her specials. I'll also try to get Dave to roll up his guys before the next game as well (we've got two weeks).

Alex was pretty unhappy at first because he started gaming in the late 2E era, and mainly played Palladium games where there's more selection and min-maxing. He wasn't happy with rolling down the line 3d6 for stats, but I relented on the by the book 'only change your highest roll into your PR' stance I had hoped for and let him make one switch of rolled numbers. That way, he was able to have a Half-Orc captain, something he had wanted to do. It wasn't that big a deal for me, and it was better than a full on 'place your numbers where they'll do you the most good' option that Alex wanted.

Anyway, by the time he got to the 'select a special' and select some potions and scrolls section, he was happier. He did complain that his Fighter's magic weapon was only a +2 bastard sword (they're starting at 10,000 xp, so that's a 4th level Fighter). But when I allowed him to upgrade the party's small sailing ship to a small war ship instead of taking another boat for his captain option, he was happy. Another character took a special mount, and he spent most of the rest of the evening doing comparison shopping on the best monster to take (ended up with a hippogriff). He was min-maxing, but he was doing it with an eye toward strategies that would keep them safe in combat or allow them overwhelming odds, which I applaud.

Alex sometimes has trouble thinking outside the mechanics of the game, but at least he does well using the mechanics in creative ways.

Josh, on the other hand, was done relatively quickly with his characters. He also chose one captain, with a longship, and spent all of his characters' gold on kitting it out. Another took a special mount as well, and decided on a giant squid. Alex had taken 'aristocrat' as his final special, so he had extra gold to spend, and still has some, but his ship is full of reserve provisions and water, and a small complement of marines.

Lucy's Elf is the only one so far with a special decided, and she took a Wand of Petrification.

So far, Alex has a Fighter, Half-Orc, Illusionist and Cavalier. Josh has a Thief, Illusionist, Barbarian and Bard. Lucy has an Elf, Thief, and two Fighters. No idea what Dave will come up with.

The highlight of the evening for me was probably Alex considering taking a Living Rock Statue as his Cavalier's mount, but instead of riding it afixing it as the figurehead of the ship, so it could attack other ships with liquid hot magma.

I can see this turning into a really fun campaign. Everyone's pumped for it, and it will take minimal prep from me from the sounds of what they want to do--mostly freebooting and some trading, with only the occasional quest or search for fabulous treasure.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Have you seen these monsters?

I picked up this set of 54mm monsters with ring-hands and detachable weapons and shields back around 1984 at a supermarket. They were in a plastic bag and sold for a dollar or two.

There are 5-6 each of the lizard men, skeleton guys and furry guys with laser guns. The other three were singles (I call them, left to right in the top picture, the Beast, the Demon and the Phantom)

Around the same time, my best friend Todd got a similar pack of human warriors with the same weapons.

Stamped on the base, it says "Marty Toy 1983 Made in Hong Kong"

Marty Toy seems to have gone tits up years ago. Anyway, just wondering if anyone had ever seen similar toys--or even had them. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on the human warriors if I could, but it looks like I'm more likely to win $1,000,000 in the lottery.

Update from Ze Bulette: Yes, those are the guys I have. M Toys Warriors of the Galaxy. Thanks, now I know where to look for the other set.

Update from Todd, in regard to the guys he had:
As for the little plastic dudes: Yes! After seeing the picture, I definitely remember those. The guys I had were a goldish color and did have the same types of weapons. They almost seemed like some kinda crazy space gladiators. I think they all had matching helmets on and maybe some shoulder pads, and various leg protection, but I think most of them went bare chested and wore speedos. Also, I'm pretty sure my dudes were all human. Not the assortment of races like yours. Sadly, I have no idea what became of my figures. If I ever stumble across them, I'll let you know.

Friday, May 21, 2010

We're getting the band back together

I've got Josh and Alex confirmed for tomorrow night. We're finally getting the Maritime Campaign going. Dave may not make it, but he said he'll be there if he can.

So I'm pretty pumped about that, and I'm going through all my stuff to make sure I've got enough prepared. I never do, but at least I have enough that I can make it look like I do...

Anyway, getting back to gaming with the guys has gotten me nostalgic about my old gaming groups.

The original group: Todd (best friend #1), Ben (best friend #2, and 2nd cousin), Tim (little brother) and myself were the core. Bridget (my little sister), Josh, Adam & Jacob (Ben's brothers) and the occasional other friend would sometimes play. We grew up in the country, so it wasn't unusual for a 'game session' to be just one DM and one player. We mostly played BECM (Ben had Immoratals Set I think, but we never did more than look at it), and Star Frontiers.

Magic the Gathering and some members of my university gaming guild who were the stereotypical gamers you don't want to game with kept us from playing much in college, but after graduating I fell in with Tim (not my brother), Kenny, Jason and Steve. Tim and Jason were co-workers with me at Circuit City, Kenny was Tim's roommate, and Steve was a friend of theirs. We played a lot of short lived campaigns that were a mish-mash of 1E and 2E AD&D, including me running a game set in Feudal Japan for a few sessions. This is the Evansville Group.

Then I went to Japan, and after a couple years 3E came out. A few other teachers had also played, and we were all curious about the rules so I picked up the PHB when I was at home for the summer and ordered the DMG and MM when they came out. With the nature of the expat life, we had a bit of a revolving membership, which included Billy, Chris, David (he's Puerto Rican so it's pronounced Da-veed), Nick (who was actually the exchange student at the high school I taught at), and Gene. This is the Toyama Group. We played 3.0 D&D.

I moved to another part of Japan, and Billy, Chris, Gene and I tried gaming online with voice chat and OpenRPG, but it didn't go so well. We did get to try out d20 Modern and d20 Star Wars though.

After a few years, I got to talking with some other gamers in Tokyo on the Wizards message boards, and we formed the Ebisu Gaming Club. The members were Steve (not Steve from Evansville), Pete, Gene (from the Toyama group, he'd also moved), and toward the end Tim (number 3). We met once a month at Steve's apartment in Ebisu and played marathon 8 hour sessions on Sundays. We played 3.5 D&D, d20 Modern, d20 Conan, and tried out several Forge Indie games including one Steve was working on himself.

Concurrent to the Ebisu group, I fell in with some local guys who were playing a game of White Wolf's Trinity. This was Paul, Brent, Tanya, Mish, and another guy whos name is escaping me at the moment. The other guy was frequently absent, so they asked me to join up. After that game ended, Brent, Tanya and Mish all left Japan, but Paul and I recruited some other friends and formed a second group.

This second group was Paul, Atley, Josh, Jacob, Michelle, and Mark. Later, Lauren, Rick and Renee joined after Mark left the country and Atley lost interest. We started out with a d20 OA game that I ran, but then switched to a Classic D&D game run by Paul. Another guy named JD also ran a 3.5 game with some of the same players, but I was too busy to join them for that. Collectively, this is the Yamanashi Group.

And then I moved to Korea and fell in with my current Board Game Group.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dragon Fist

Anyone else remember Dragon Fist? Chris Pramas's 2E based martial arts RPG that Wizards put out as a free download just before 3E came out?

With my Oriental Accents articles seeming to be a hit (at least compared to my normal traffic), a sumo tournament going on, and the fact that the Maritime Campaign keeps getting put off, I decided to print myself up a new hard copy at work.

Finished the printing and comb bound it today. Maybe I'll actually get to play it again someday (ran a 2-session test run back in the early Oughts and had a blast).

Related to that, does anyone know of a good place to get cheap plastic kung fu/wuxia minis en masse like army men style? I've got a set of 54mm Boxer Rebellion figures and some samurai/ninja stuff, but nothing like what you see in the movies.

Anyone got a lead?

Post Script--since Pramas isn't doing anything with this, it might be a prime candidate for a free retro-clone. Again, if I ever get the time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Over at BX Blackrazor, JB has had a series of posts on Sex in D&D. He describes how sex and matters related to sex made his games better back when he was a kid, and how he feels something has been lost in later editions.

He asks the question:

Am I the only one that experienced campaigns like this? Somehow I doubt it. Perhaps it wasn’t as explored in as great o depth by other gamers, but SEX is present in AD&D for those with eyes to see it.

Reading through the posts, I gotta say that my old group (myself, my two best friends, my brother, and the occasional other friend or sibling) played fairly similarly to JB. Maybe not to quite the extent, but we did have romance in game (even though the only female player was my little sister occasionally joining us). Most of the romance, therefor, was Player-NPC. But it did happen.

We didn't play AD&D much, mostly BECM. But even in those books, it seemed obvious to us that characters, especially higher level ones who became rulers, were spawning offspring. We had quests to save the princess, assassins posing as prostitutes, ass-kicking female adventurer retainers (before Xena, and before I'd read any Fritz Leiber), and plenty of other opportunities for our characters to get it on.

And not just in D&D, but also in Star Frontiers or other games we played.

And like JB, since we were young and mostly inexperienced, we tended to just drop the curtain when that sort of thing happened.

But yes, just like in JB's games, our teenage gaming had quite a bit. Characters got it on, characters got married, sometimes divorced, etc. In one memorable adventure, my best friend Todd's character with a Charisma of 3 had been forced into marriage as the result of an adventure we went on. Later, he found out (through a scroll of communication or a two-way crystal ball or something) that Archduke Stephan Karamiekos was moving in on his wife while he was out saving the world again. This led to two things--the wife was also an adventurer, and when she bit the dust in a trap-filled dungeon, the 'bereaved' husband ended up using her corpse as a trap-finding method. "Just throw her against the door and see what happens."

Crude, but we thought it was hilarious at the time.

Later, also, that character ended up deposing Karamiekos and setting himself up as ruler. That ended up being pretty much the capper of that campaign, since I was in college by then, and we were only playing when I was home on breaks.

So sex did have an impact on my early gaming, and it also made things more fun for all of us involved.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Maritime Campaign about to set sail

Looks like we're finally getting things going! This Saturday, we're going to launch the Maritime Campaign.

Last Saturday night, board games fell through again, so Josh and I ended up drinking in front of a convenience store (legal here in Korea to do that). We were both pretty drunk--I was on my third bottle of baeksaeju, Josh his fourth--when Dave happened to wander by. I called him over, we started talking, then I went to take a piss and he and Josh started talking. They worked out their differences, and so Dave is in!

Alex, who normally doesn't want to play any version of Classic or pre-2000 AD&D, is excited about the sandbox oceanscape, with no demands on battling monsters or fulfilling quests unless they choose to do so.

Josh is just itching to play anything, since we've had so many cancellations.

The only down side is that Dave is going on a trip up to Gyeongju on Saturday to see the old Silla kingdom ruins, and probably won't be back to play. So it might just be me and Alex and Josh. But we'll roll up characters, see what sort of ship they end up with, and just hand-wave that Dave's characters are part of the crew.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oriental Accents -- Journey to the West

If there's any work of Chinese literature that could be considered as influential in Asian culture as Three Kingdoms, it would have to be Journey to the West.

The journey that the book is about was inspired by the actual journey of a Chinese monk to India to get better translations of Buddhist sutras.

The beginning of the book tells of Sun Wukong, also known as Monkey (and the story is often titled Monkey as well, since he's the main character). Monkey gains Taoist power, and upsets the Heavenly Realm (other-planar Asian adventure fodder here) and the Buddha steps in to trap him.

500 years later, the monk Xuanzang sets off on his quest, and the bodhisattva Guan Yin provides him with Sun Wukong (Monkey), Zhu Bajie (Pig), Sha Wujing (Friar Sand), and Yulong Santaizi (the Dragon Horse) as his companions and protectors on his journey.

The lion's share of the book is their journey, and all the (often formulaic) encounters they have in the exotic wilderness between China and India. They constantly run into demons, goblins, sorcerers, animal spirits, and plain old evil people that want to do them in. Rumor has it that eating Xuanzang will make you immortal and erase your sins, so lots of monsters want to catch and eat him. Many monsters have past beefs with Monkey, so there's double impetus to waylay the group.

Most of the episodes involve someone in the party getting captured (usually Xuanzang), and the others have to effect a rescue. The magical powers of Monkey often save the day, but sometimes Pig, Friar Sand or the Dragon Horse manage to pull off the victory. Often, Guan Yin has to step in to help them out when their usual tricks don't work.

The episodes can get a bit tedious in their repetition, but the monsters and demons do seem to learn, and things that work once or twice stop working in later encounters.

There's a lot of humor in the book, as the pious and pure Xuanzang has to control his protectors. Monkey is violent and prideful, Pig is lazy, lustful and greedy, and Friar Sand is dependable but not so bright. The interplay between their personalities gives life to the repetitious monster encounters along the way.

The books is chock full of magic, monsters, Buddhist and Taoist philosophy and symbolism, unusual locations, devious monsters with motivations besides just hanging out waiting for heroes to show up and slaughter them, and all sorts of great ways to inspire your gaming.

And of course, besides movies, games, comic books and what not based on the original work, they inspired Dragonball (Sun Wukong, read in Japanese, is Sun Goku), sci fi retellings, and all sorts of stuff both in Asia and the West. Wikipedia has a good list here.

Why should you read Journey to the West?

Despite it's length and occasional repetitiveness, it's an engaging, exciting, comic story. It's full of magic and monsters, and exotic strange locations. That alone should make it required reading for any GM running a fantasy Asian game.

Where Three Kingdoms is good inspiration for the Fighters in your game, Journey to the West is great for the Spellcasters, and for giving life to dungeons, wilderness, and especially the monsters.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Random Encounter

Had a busy weekend, including a hiking trip/drinking session with my wife's uncle and his co-workers that took up the whole day yesterday, so I didn't get to post my next Oriental Accents piece like I wanted. Don't have the time today either, so here's a short little post to bide my time and waste yours. :)

Last Friday morning, I was going to the radio station to record for the Saturday show and then do my normal live show. I got off the subway and up onto the street, listening to my mp3 player. There's a homeless guy, 50-ish, who walks up and says to me in English, "Are you a foreigner?"

Well, I think to myself, "That's bloody obvious," and keep on walking. He runs up and kicks me. Not hard enough to bruise, but it did hurt. I turned around and knocked the asshole on his ass. Then I went about my way.

Now, what's this got to do with RPGs? It made me think about the rate of XP for encounters. Now, in D&D terms I'm just a Normal Man and so was the homeless guy, so by the book I'd get no XP for that. If I had been of a character class, I'd have gotten like 5xp from the bum (didn't take his stuff--if he had any, so only monster xp). At least if I were playing any old school games.

If I were playing 3 or 4E, that would have been a level appropriate challenge for me. Since I was alone when I was accosted, all of that XP would have come my way. I don't need 3-4 other guys to take down a bum. I don't know for sure the 4E XP scheme (10 appropriate encounters to level I think...), but for 3E it was 14 encounters. Since I did this alone, I'd be about 1/10 of the way there in 3E, maybe 1/8 of the way to a new level in 4E.

Seems like levels mean more to acchieve if they take more than knocking 10 homeless guys on their ass to earn them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A 'Second' look

For some reason, the urge struck me about an hour ago to pull the old 2E DMG off the bookshelf and see what sort of rules it had for ocean travel/combat. I found a small section for travel, nothing for combat (was it in the PHB? Have to look later). I was wanting to see if there was anything I might port over for the Maritime Campaign if we get it off the ground.

I started flipping through the book after reading the small section I was looking for, and was reminded that there's a lot of good stuff in there. Sure, it lacks the simplicity of BX or BECM or the grandiose verbosity of Gygax in the 1E DMG. But there are some nice little tidbits to find within. [And the art wasn't quite as bad as I remember--better than the RC anyway.]

In particular, I'd forgotten that there are about 20 different types of Protection scrolls. I've always been a fan of them, and missed them during my 3E era. They provide cool effects, and are usable by any class. Scrolls don't become the 'dump on the M-U' item with them available.

Usually when I think of 2E I think of the rules bloat of the Complete this and that series. But the core books are solid, and deserve another look every now and then from those of us not playing them.

You never know what you might find that you can use in whatever other edition of the game you're playing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Considering RPOL again

Looks like the either Star Frontiers or D&D game isn't gonna happen this summer after all. Chloe isn't interested (she plays darts every Saturday evening) and Bill's not interested and will be away for 6 weeks anyway. There had been some hope that if Chloe played, Bill would (they're dating).

That leaves just me, Josh and Alex, and Alex doesn't want to play RPGs with only 2 players, if the other player is Josh especially. So we may just stick to board games for now.

So if I want to put all this work I've sunk into the Maritime Campaign to use, the internet would be the way to go. With my crazy work schedule, Skype or chat games won't work. But something like RPOL, a message board game, could maybe.

But every time I've tried to get into a game on RPOL it's always died a sudden death shortly after things get interesting. People just don't seem to have the attention span to stick with it. And I get obsessive about checking for updates all the time, and waste so much of my day on the site hoping someone's posted something.


Monday, May 3, 2010


I've got this guy, his red buddy, and the green version without large wings. But the other day the wife agreed to let me order these guys:

I spent a lot of time trying to find black and white dragons, but the only ones I could find were either too expensive ($35-50 each) or had saddles and bridles/hoods. So I'll pick two of the above to repaint and see how that goes.

Once I finally get the time to paint anything, that is...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Iron Man 2 Review

My wife and I, and my friend Dave, went to see Iron Man 2 last night. We all enjoyed it. It kept up the fast-paced balance of action, comedy and character development that the first one had.

I had actually been expecting it to not be as good as the first, since it was a rushed sequel in order to capitalize on the popularity of the first movie. Was it worth pushing back all of the other Avengers lead-up movies for this? I'm not sure about that yet. We'll have to see how the others end up before I answer that. But it was a fun, entertaining movie that didn't get bogged down in techno-babble exposition or simply trying to repeat what made the first one a hit.

Don't want to add any spoilers, but the major weak point of the movie is the simultaneous reveal of Howard Stark's legacy/solving the palladium poison problem, which was basically deus ex machina thanks to Samuel L... I mean Nick Fury. The fact that the story didn't stop long enough to dwell on it makes it passable, but IMO the elements should have been introduced earlier in the film so Tony would have had some time to mull over the problems. As it is, Nick Fury gives Tony a MacGuffin that instantly solves two problems in short order, with no real complications.

Other than that, though, I really enjoyed it. I think the final battle with Iron Man and War Machine against the Hammer Drones and Vanko was better than the Iron Man/Iron Monger showdown in the first one. I still need a day or two to think over things from a screenwriting perspective, but from a fan perspective it was worth the price of admission.

See this movie if:

You're a fan of superheroes, Marvel in particular. It's well done superhero fare, without the need for Shakespearean dramatics (The Dark Knight) or silly self-parody (Superman III).

You enjoy a popcorn action movie that doesn't treat the audience like total idiots (Avatar).

Skip this movie if:

You're not into superheroes or action movies.

You expect Oscar level dramatic tension and acting in any movie you want to see on the big screen.