Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron movie review

I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron last Thursday, when it opened in Korea, with my son.  Since it still hasn't opened everywhere (and I'm maybe just squeaking this in as a "blog brag" that I've seen it and you haven't), I'll keep this spoiler free.

First of all, for those searching Google for "Avengers Age of Ultron curse words" and finding this post, yes there is some bad language in the film.  In fact, there's a running gag about it.  But there's not a lot, and much less than in Marvel's Netflix Daredevil TV series.

Overall, I liked Avengers 2.  They introduced the new characters well, brought in some old minor characters, and are setting up the transition from the original cast to the "next generation" of Avengers.  Contracts for the stars only run for one more (two part) movie, from what I hear. 

The movie has a darker tone than Avengers 1 or Guardians of the Galaxy.  There are jokes and humor in the movie, but it's muted.  Or maybe just not as funny this time around?  Joss Whedon isn't infallible, after all.  But the action is intense, the plot is character driven, and it's setting up the events to come in the next wave of MCU movies.

One thing that did surprise me (this is a tad spoilery so highlight the black bar to see it)

they didn't introduce any of the Phase Three characters, Ant Man, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, or Captain Marvel in this film.  I didn't think they'd have time to work in a Spider-Man cameo, but since Ant Man is coming up in a month and part of the film takes place in Wakanda, I thought they might have an after credits scene at least introducing one or both, but they don't.

How would I rate this film?  It's pretty good on its own.  As far as compared to the other MCU films?  Not at the top, but up there.  It's not as fun as Guardians of the Galaxy, it doesn't have the rough, rock n roll feel of Iron Man 1, and it's not as much of a roller coaster ride as Avengers 1 or Captain America: Winter Soldier, but it's solid. 

Hawkeye and Ultron really stand out as strong characters in this film, and I really like their take on the non-human intelligences of Ultron and Vision. 

If you're an MCU fan, you're gonna go see this anyway regardless of what I write.  But if you're on the fence, I'll ask you a question.  Do you want to see a semi serious take on super heroes and the stress that having to "save the world" puts on them, with some awesome fight scenes and a lot of fun references that comic book geeks will get?  Then go see it. 

If not, then save your money for Mad Max Fury Road or Terminator Genesys or something else that strikes your fancy.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Crafting a RIFTS character

God help me, Alex is finally getting a chance to run the RIFTS game he's been wanting to run for a few years now.  And yes, I'm playing in it.

Yet another reason I haven't been blogging much this month!

Anyway, I had a concept I wanted to try out (a cyborg commando), but it wasn't nearly cool or overpowered enough for the game Alex wants to run.  This game will be the sort where we're taking on demi-gods and alien intelligences and demonic ancient vampires and whatnot (so I'm told).

So after looking at the sheer number of titles available for options to sift through...yes, just literally only looking at the number of  books available for RIFTS (not to mention the Palladium system as a whole, from which things can easily be ported/grafted on), I gave up in frustration.  As the meme-makers like to say, "Ain't nobody got time for that."

Well, turns out Alex actually DOES have time for that.  He's graciously stepping in and helping me.  He scoured various sourcebooks for something close to my concept, but at the power level of the game.  He gave me some options.

I sorted through the options, and I've got my character basically sorted out.

I'll play an Oni Ninja (from the Phaseworld Sourcebook) who is also a Mystic Ninja (from RIFTS Japan) to boost his psychic powers, and who practices the version of Ninjitsu found in Ninjas and Superspies.  So I'll have mega-damage martial arts along with awesome psionically powered ninja skills.

Close enough to the Solid Snake meets the $6 Million Dollar Man concept I started with, and I can play a pseudo-Japanese culture without breaking a sweat.

HOWEVER, now I've got to sort through the Oni Ninja special abilities, Mystic Ninja abilities, Ninjitsu abilities, and also decide if I want magical or technological equipment (and what, of course).

Oh, and reacquainting myself with the Palladium system, since I haven't actually played a game since I was in high school.  P.E. and P.P. and all these acronyms...  There's definitely something to be said here about system familiarity and ease of use.  Luckily, this game will be a PbP game, so I'll have plenty of time to look up rules if they become relevant.

Alright, I'm off to read through some character options before my next class.  Excelsior!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Group Adventure

The Group Adventure consists of a lot of numbered passages, with Choose Your Own Adventure style "do A, go to section X, do B, go to section Y" prompts at the end of each.  At the time, CYOA books were the rage.  I was into them.  My brother and sisters were into them.  Many of my friends were into them.  And not just the CYOA series, but TSR's Endless Quest books, Twist-a-Plot, Fighting Fantasy, and all kinds of other second person narrative, non-linear fiction books.  So this seems like a good choice on the part of Frank Mentzer to get new players (who would mostly be young) into the game easily.

In this post, I'll cover entries 1 to 19, which get the party through the ruins around the dungeon.

First off is a long bit of description about the trip from town to the ruins.  It's fairly railroady, but my players didn't complain at the time.  It's just a segue from "you're shopping in town" to "you're at the dungeon, what do you do?"

After this, a DM only section reviews a few rules, and advises the DM to start tracking time.  The "game" has begun.

The first encounter is with a carrion crawler that hides under the fallen gate.  The DM is actively encouraged to try and get the players to investigate.  It doesn't say what to do if they don't, only that you should warn them that "hidden monsters behind the party is a bad thing."  While this is a training module, that could set a bad precedent.

When I first ran this adventure, I had my two best friends over, and they each had a character - one Fighter and one Elf.  The carrion crawler paralyzed the Fighter, but we missed the fact that an Elf is only immune to ghoul paralysis, so the crawler was ineffective against the Elf.  Also, I messed up Turns and Rounds, so the Fighter was only out of it for 3 rounds, not 3 turns.  Well, they needed that help anyway, since there were only two of them and otherwise they would have been crawler snacks.  Frank says in his notes to the DM that this should be an easy encounter, but well, 8 paralyzing attacks per round is a bit much, even if they don't do any damage.

Next, the main gates of the castle wall are shut as the PCs approach.  There are kobolds guarding the gate.  This encounter is much better designed.  It offers multiple approaches to the problem, rewards planning and tactical thinking, and also rewards players who are less vicious (leave at least one alive, it will show you to some hidden treasure).  Most of this section is taken up with covering a variety of ways the party might approach and investigate the problem, as well as many different ways to run the confrontation between the party and kobolds (spells, melee, ranged combat, a mix of tactics).

One thing I like about this section, although I really can't remember if we did this when I first got the game or not, is a suggestion that after this encounter is finished, to read through the other options, or even play through them as a way to show the players different ways they could handle the encounter.  That's a good learning tool, right there.  If the players made a bad choice at the beginning, it can show them better ways.  If they were smart or just got lucky, it will show them how things could have gone worse.  And the lesson they will learn (hopefully) is that combat is deadly, stack the odds on your side.

So while I don't really like how the first encounter plays out (too restricted), the second and longer encounter is an excellent teaching tool for new players.

Apologies for not getting to this last week.  Life is hectic these days.  Only getting three posts up last month was unfortunately a harbinger of things to come, I'm afraid.  And my first post of this month is this one, and the month's half over already.  One reason for that is a side project I'm working on which I hope to announce soon.  The pictures in this post are related to that.