Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

 I just finished watching the new, and final, Indiana Jones film. I won't spoil it, but I'll give a few thoughts. 

And for parents wondering about curse words in the film, rest assured, this is as family friendly as Indy has always been. 

I, like many people my age, grew up with the original Indiana Jones trilogy, and love those movies. And while they're set in the modern age, they've got a lot that can be emulated in D&D. The movies are, after all, about a treasure hunter. But also like most of us, I felt that the 4th film, which came out 15 years ago, was terrible. It had some of the style of the old movies, but not enough. It relied overly much on CGI (which wasn't always that good), and had a clunky script. 

But this latest and final movie learned from those mistakes. And it's not surprising, as it's directed by James Mangold, who knows how to make a great movie. 

This iteration of Indiana Jones is of course much older, but we do get some time at the beginning with a digitally de-aged Indy during WWII, and it looked really good. It felt a lot like Spielberg's original trilogy. The whole movie, really. Even once it transitions to the "present" of 1969, they quickly move the action to the Mediterranean Sea, where things are a bit older and less modern than 60's New York City. 

The movie has all the plot points you'd expect from an Indy film. Lots of chases, reversals, switching possession of the McGuffin, clever escapes from dangerous situations, bad guys who just won't stop, and tension between Indy and his allies. One down-side is that the movie is nearly 3 hours long. That's a bit much, but the movie does keep things moving so it wasn't boring. And Harrison Ford was still able to pull off that Indiana Jones charm one more time. 

In addition to all the swashbuckling, derring-do, and such, Indiana Jones is given an emotional character arc in the movie, but that part was a little weak. It's set up and worked into his character choices in the film, but in the end it gets resolved a little too quickly, and not by a choice made by Jones. But we really come to these movies for the chases, the crawls through old ruins and tombs, and the excitement. So it doesn't bother me too much. Indy didn't really have much character growth in the first two films, either. 

There are only a few references to the older movies (and that includes Crystal Skull), but there were some nice cameos from some of our favorite characters. One was noticeably missing, though. Too bad. 

Now that Ford is retiring the character, I'd love to see a reboot of the series, but not a rehash of the old films. I'd rather they do what they do with James Bond. Cast a new young actor. Make more Indiana Jones films set in the 1930s. Hell, they don't need to stick to any sort of timeline. Just give us some good early 20th century cliffhanger serial style adventure films, and every few years recast Indy with a new, younger actor. Why not? Disney has the property now, you know they're going to try and milk it for all it's worth. Might as well dive feet first into what really works. 

Oh, and an interesting side note. Neither of my boys were interested in seeing it, so I went by myself. There were maybe around six or seven fellow geezers (yeah, I'm not quite that old, but...) in the theater. When I arrived, there were around 100 6th graders hanging around the lobby. I thought they were probably going to see Across the Spiderverse as a school trip (my younger son's school is right now on a science museum field trip, must be field trip day in Busan). But no, they were here to see this movie. And there were more than 100. The theater was packed with them, and I think there were 180 seats. While they were somewhat noisy and disruptive, they were having fun. And when the movie finished, a lot of them started to applaud.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Rewards of Social Encounters: A TS&R GMG Excerpt

 I finally finished my chapter of the TS&R Game Master Guidebook dealing with social exploration (whether in towns/cities, or in dungeons). This is the final bit, on giving rewards for this sort of play. I used to think (maybe I still do?) that the in-game rewards were adequate for this, but since XP drives the type of play that players engage in, it helps to have some guidelines for awarding XP for talking through the monster encounters. 

I say 'maybe' above because I do award full monster XP for creatures encountered that the players engage with but pacify, scare off, or talk their way out of an encounter with where no combat dice get rolled. In the past, I only gave XP for creatures defeated in combat. I'm still not giving the goal-oriented awards to my group, but I may give it a try. Anyway, here's the excerpt. If anyone has feedback or suggestions for improvement, I'm all ears! 

Rewards of Social Exploration: Traditionally, the rewards of social exploration are in-character rewards such as new information about the setting, alliances with NPCs or monsters, or avoiding hazards (such as combat). Experience points were not considered necessary, as the rewards listed above are intangible but significant, at least in long term campaign play. However, the GM can easily award XP for social encounters in which the PCs achieve their goals if they wish to encourage more of this sort of play.

For encounters with monsters or NPCs that could easily have become combat encounters, the GM may award the monsters’ XP value for successfully talking, bargaining, or deceiving their way out of the encounter. In order to avoid abuse, it is suggested that the reward only be applied once per adventure for each group of opponents “defeated” in this way. Continuing to deceive, intimidate, or negotiate with the same monsters or NPCs over and over again in short order does not provide much experience.

For encounters where the PCs gained useful information, made new friends, fulfilled duties, got a feel for a new city, or similar types of social exploration, the GM may wish to provide individual bonuses of 100xp multiplied by the level of each PC for that game play. This bonus XP should be rewarded for the entire session’s play, not for each individual encounter. If the PCs somehow made a profit or managed to gain some treasure from their social exploration, they should earn 1 XP per 1gp of value, as with loot from dungeons.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Multiversal Movie Micro Reviews

 Just a quick post to discuss briefly two movies I've watched. Gaming is going well, and work on the GM guide for TS&R is going really slow (too much real work to do), so not much directly game related to blog about at the moment. So we get this instead. 

And yes, today I'm going to give my quick capsule reviews, spoiler free, for Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse from Sony/Marvel, and The Flash from Warner/DC. 

For parents worried about cursing: I don't remember any horrible swears in Spider-Man. The Flash had the one allowed F-bomb for a PG13 film, right at the end, and not a lot of other swearing. 

Across the Spiderverse (AtSV) is of course the sequel to Into the Spiderverse from a few years back. As with the first movie, I really love the mixing and unconventional use of animation styles in this movie. It's just a pleasure to watch from a visual arts perspective. It uses colors, art styles, meta details like art direction notes, and even frame rates to make each world and each version of Spider-Man distinct and interesting. I really enjoyed watching this up until the ending. The story is good, but not as tight as ItSV. It's got that "middle of the trilogy" problem that we saw in The Matrix or the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, where the first movie was a solid standalone story with potential for more, but the second and third installments are really one big story so you need to wait for the conclusion. That said, it was a solid film otherwise, and it has me excited for the conclusion. 

The Flash is the possibly final entry to the current DCEU movie line (I think there's some TV shows left as well) before James Gunn takes over and relaunches things. I've never been as big of a DC fan as I am a Marvel fan from my comics reading days, but the Flash has always been my favorite DC character. This movie actually does something I found really cool, in that while telling its own self-contained story, it also sets up the possibility of multiversal rebooting, which would allow the upcoming Gunn line of DCU movies/shows to take what they like from the Snyderverse and ditch the rest. As a story on its own merits, it was entertaining, and I don't want to spoil things, but it was a bit refreshing that the main conflict for Barry Allen/The Flash Prime in the end was internal, and the external challenges are really resolved by all the other characters. It seems like they learned from the mistakes of Wonder Woman, which should have had internal conflict front and center in the end, but was just a big punch-out instead. 

Both of these movies, by their multiversal nature, spend a lot of time referencing previous media involving their main characters, which is always a lot of fun. I think both of these films handle multiverse concepts better than either Spider-Man: No Way Home or Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness did. Of the two, AtSV is the better movie, but The Flash wasn't bad.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Satisfying Game Play

Last weekend (yeah, it's nearly Friday already...I've been busy!), I ran a session of my TS&R Jade campaign and things went really well. In the session before that, the party had confronted a corrupt merchant and his yakuza buddy who were selling black lotus powder in town. Well, in that session, they fought the final battle on the outskirts of town, as the merchant and gangster were trying to flee.This session, after a bit of discussion of where to go and what to do, they decided that since they still had the warrant from the town magistrate to search Merchant Choi's home, they were going to use it and confiscate all his treasure. But first, they paid a visit to Kunio, the yakuza lieutenant who wanted Hideo, the drug dealing yakuza, out of the picture. Kunio agreed to lend them three thugs (using Justin's yakuza PC's streetwise ability to call in favors), and asked for Choi's ornate decorative suit of armor as a reward. The party also hired five men-at-arms, several of whom they had hired before, including Yu-seok (pronounced "you suck"), and Yeuh Dai (pronounced "you die"), much to the delight of the boys. 

When they got to the home, my younger son's Blade Mage used a disguise spell to make himself look like Choi. After they put a loose binding on his arms, they went in and demanded that the guards surrender. "Merchant Choi" told them to comply, and so they did. 

In the house were Choi's guards (around 15 left), a handful of drunk gamblers (who had been hanging out with the yakuza kashira), eight dancing girls, four gardeners, and around a dozen servants. Each group was interrogated, with my older son's Wu Jen using ESP to learn a few secrets. The gamblers were quickly let go. The guards and entertaining girls were disarmed (the poison blades of the dancing girls, being dumped in the koi pond, killed the fish), and most were then let go. One of the gardeners' thoughts betrayed that there were secret passages in the house, so he was kept while the rest were let go. The servants were sent to bring all the valuables. 

Well, knowing there were secret passages, and not getting a suit of armor among the loot collected by the servants, the party started searching the house. But in one guest room, there were three paper lanterns, and ghost-like creatures (ao-andon) emerged from them. The ao-andon got initiative, and they all used hold person, which paralyzed nearly everyone. My older boy's Wu Jen and one m-a-a were unaffected...and of course "Merchant Choi" who ordered his guardian spirits back into their lanterns. One reaction roll later, the plan worked, and the gardener was revealed to be a type of ninja guardian called an o-niwa-banshu. The three lanterns went into the koi pond (along with jokes about zombie koi fish emerging because of it).

The plan to overcome the party with the spirits failed, so the ninja agreed to show the party the secret chambers, including the treasure room which had the armor, and several rectangular areas free of dust, where the crates with black lotus powder had been removed (those had been recovered in the previous session, but the players had suspected there would be more). 

With all the treasure confiscated, Nate started scheming a plan to take over the mansion. Not a bad idea, it's a nice big house with a nice garden (now with zombie koi fish?), secret passages connecting rooms, and space for the party to settle down and expand their operations. Maybe even take on some permanent hirelings instead of recruiting men-at-arms each session. 

But there was a quandary. If they took the loot to the magistrate, it would be public knowledge that they had taken it. Also, Choi's family might stake a claim. But if they took the loot to the yakuza Kunio, he wouldn't pay them full value for it. Eventually, after debate and a vote, they went to the magistrate. But a bad reaction roll to the idea of him granting them the house led the magistrate to take half of the value of the treasure as a tax. And they don't get the house. There were some schemes hatched to "haunt" the house and make the Choi family want to sell it cheap... but that's for a future session. 

I was really satisfied with this session, and so were the players. There was technically a combat. We rolled initiative with the ao-andon, and players made saves vs the spells. But there wasn't a single to-hit roll in the entire session. Just a lot of talking, scheming, intimidation, cleverness, and invention. Not only that, most of the PCs leveled up after the game.While I do enjoy running combats, it's also great fun to have a session like this without any real combat, and everyone's engaged and having fun.

It's also satisfying that Stevie's Blade Mage made it to 3rd level, so he was able to pick two 2nd level spells, and chose phantasmal force and locate object. He's definitely not trying to be a combat power-house with his spells, which is good. He can play more cleverly this way, something he's learned from our earlier West Marches games (although in Star Wars his Jedi is packing more guns than anyone else in the party, including the Mandalorian!).