Monday, April 29, 2019

The Avengers: Endgame Non Review

It hardly seems worth posting a review to a movie doing $1.2 billion in opening weekend box office totals, and likely will be seen by everyone on the planet. So rather than do that, I'll just make the following comments (possible SPOILERS ahead):

--If you want to get off the treadmill of Marvel movies, this is a good one to go out with. It neatly wraps up the last 21 movies into a nice, tight package. Sure, there are future stories, but honestly? I feel like this was a pretty good close to the first decade of Marvel films.

--Now that all the high-cost actors are out of the way for the most part, the movie quietly suggests the direction this future franchise can go with big name characters, even Iron Man (did you catch it?). The questions is....will anything post Robert Downy Jr/Chris Evans really be as fun? I bet the next Captain America movie will be amazing, but I'm not so sure about Iron Man. And Thor....hummm, well, I guess time will tell.

--The Marvel Cinematic Universe is definitely doing one thing boldly no comic universe has done before: it's sticking to real time in its own universe. This means, among other things, that the "roling timeline" of the comic universes does not apply here. In the comics, everything before the current issue happened in the last ten years, and everything in the future is malleable. In film, we have a universe that needs a replacement for guys like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers because they are aging in real time with the actors. Or dying, or retiring, or getting fat and out of get the point.

--The movie does jump forward five years. It's a weird notion, but it fits well with the "weird events happening to our characters/weird alternate future timelines" theme of many Marvel crossover events. Except this time it's permanent and is the new "now" for the MCU. This is weird. I was not expecting them to project a future in which we really do see all the key Avengers effectively out of commission for various strange reasons.

So....good film, good run, and good closure on ten+ years of interlinked films. I'd like to say I am excited to see what the next ten years will bring (and I am, for sure), but I am honestly just elated that I could stop now and feel like I'm actually at a point of closure. It will be weird seeing what the future holds, though....ten years of a future franchise carried by mostly B-List heroes, barring maybe Spider-Man and Black Panther, and the inevitable post Stark/post Rogers incarnations of the two top dogs in the Marvelverse is going to be interesting. Maybe.

The Print Reconversion (and the Problem of Choice Paralysis and Distraction)

I've been going through a phase lately, and I'm not sure what to make of it yet other than that I've decided to just roll with it for as long as possible. Here's the deal:

I'm back to reading more print books now than I am ebooks.

Yep, I love the tablets (I have approximately 6 of them...that still work, anyway) and hundreds of books in both the Nook and Kindle stores, plus lots more through other venues (Google Play and Aldiko most notably). They offer all the obvious conveniences that tablets do when you are a reader, including:
--Easy to read in the dark
--easy to manipulate the font type and size
--extremely portable and you can bring your entire collection anywhere with no effort*
--Most tablets give you at least 7-10 hours good reading time and the proper ereaders last even longer

I've blogged plenty about my love of tablets, ebooks and their conveniences over the years. So....why am I suddenly mostly reading print books again? And why have I spent a few hundred bucks rekindling my mostly anemic print fiction selection again?

At first it seems counter-intuitive. Hell, some of the books I've read in print recently I also had or at least started reading in ebook format. Sometimes I have tired eyes and need to drag out the reader glasses. I have to find convenient places to sit with light. What the hell, man?

I have some theories, though. Here they are in a nut shell: tablets are awesome, but they suffer from two problems that will eventually get in the way of a good time. These are choice paralysis, a problem of the human condition; and distractions, a problem with how the Google and Amazon electronic marketplace wants to sell you things and barter for your time.

The first one is a known problem that people like to wax philosophical on. It is also known that the ebook market lately has been seeing a downward trend, rather steeper than one might expect. Here's my theory: the traditional form of reader requires a structured mechanism by which one finds a book, claims the physicality of it, eventually reads said book, and then passes it on. Some time can pass before this recycling event happens, and the recycling can be where you trade it in to a used book store or give it to a friend, but the important part is that the book exists in your possession for a time and then leaves, to be replaced by a new book at a future date. It does not linger on your shelf forever (in many cases; biblioholics are a different exception here).

I've always liked being able to read and then recycle a book. I have a bad habit of reading one book and then buying ten, but hey....I can always dream of a future in which I have all the time in the world to read, right?

The problem with this notion is that when applied to the ebook ecosystem, I end up with hundreds, then eventually thousands of books. The ebook ecosystem is also designed to drive cheap sales with $1-3 books, hooking you on tons of casual "this looks cheap, I might want to read that" buys. At some point it becomes easy to have twenty or thirty books in your collection you want to read, another hundred or two you thought you'd want to read in the future, and hundreds of additional books that were so cheap or free you couldn't turn them down. (Yes, this is how biblioholics often function, pity us). Before you know it, your tablet or ereader is actually out of room....and you find yourself stricken with the curse that is a bounty of choices every time you pick up the old tablet to read a new tome.

Right now, I have a selection of print tomes I have gathered together and set myself a nice, snug little goal: I will read these ...ah, approximately 25 books over the coming Summer months. Can I pull this off?  Y'know, I feel more confident about these 25 print tomes than I do the 1,000 odd Nook books staring me in the face every time I load up.

I guess I could "load up" my ebook reading list and refuse to look past the first two pages in the Nook library, but that would require discipline...seriously.

The second problem is (in my personal experience) the greater and more insidious issue, and it really boils down to this: when you have 20 minutes to read, are you going to crack open a book and try to plow through a chapter, or are you going to open up the news feed app, or Youtube, or literally any of a hundred other apps on the tablet that can occupy 20 minutes (and more, you realize) of your time more easily and with less effort? To keep a tablet on task you pretty much need to ditch the Google Play store....and forget about the Kindle Fire, it's awesome and all but is so insidiously designed to sell you content that the book section isn't even the first tab you can choose from.

There are other reasons I've decided to make ebooks my secondary thing and go back to print. One of them has to do with screen glare: at some point I got it in to my head that staring at a bright blue-light emitting screen all the time is probably not the best way to keep my eyes healthy. Never mind that blue-light makes sleep harder (and the red-tinted alternative is unpleasant to stare at), just focusing on so much  light emitting tech is tiring. This is, of course, part of the whole current phenomenon of people trying to reduce "screen time" in their lives and I am feeling that screen-fatigue as well. Hell, I feel it right now in front of my giant PC monitor as I type this. I'll be feeling it at work for 8 hours tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, I can reduce some of that by not feeling it when I'm trying to read?

There's also a little problem with battery life/shelf life of tablets. One of my Samsung Galaxy S2s is acting a little funny these days, and it doesn't hold much battery life anymore. It is my oldest tablet right now, at about five years of age, so not unexpected.....but the idea that I might want to replace it with an equivalent device (it is a very nice tablet) at a $500+ pricepoint every few years? Nah.

The last reason is insidious but notable. Buried in this article is a compelling point: when you have a tablet in your hand you could be doing all sorts of things, and few of them are reading books. My son is growing up in a world of technology, and he is just now starting to take notice of books, actually enjoy them....but to help him with this, I need to be setting a good example. Tablets don't really let you show a book off, show that you're, you know, actually reading something other than a garbage news feed. They also can't be easily exchanged. You can't hand a good book to your friend to enjoy....even after all this time both Nook and Kindle have been woefully inadequate when it comes to book sharing.

Put another way: physical books allow you to be social in certain ways that ebooks cannot and by design will not let you. This, it turns out, has been really important to me.

Anyway....I never stopped preferring print games and comics, so returning to print fiction and nonfiction isn't really that big a step for me. It will cost me a bit more....but I also feel like I'm returning to a space where I am more likely to spend my money wisely, and not just one the daily bargain basement e-deals. Plus, I get to spend more time actually shopping, in real book stores. There's just something about browsing aisles of books that is immeasurably more satisfying to me than scrolling through random lists of what Nook thinks is relevant. So consider me "back in print!"

*When I started the tablet/ereader journey this seemed like a brilliant notion. Years later I realize I almost never actually get any reading done on most trips, except maybe on the plane; and I've been on the plane only a handful of times in the last several years.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Tricky Gray Apocalypse

This is a bit from the past....basis for a 1 shot Savage Worlds game I ran, with the potential for more....if I re-use this it would work well with Cypher System. 

The Tricky Gray Apocalypse Campaign

To the Players:
You are all people in the near present who have found yourselves one month out from an apocalyptic event*. You were each either chosen, invited or kidnapped by the Reverend Wilhelm Sikorsky to his mountain retreat, the "Temple of the Healing Earth" located in the White Mountains east of Sedona. Traditionally Sikorsky is known as a medicine man and healer, something of a mystic, and a major believer in UFOlogy and the presence of aliens in our affairs, even if we don't know it. One day, abruptly and unexpectedly, Sikorsky invites all of his attending guests to the "cave" where he conducts his spiritual healing ceremonies with the Earth and find yourself unexpectedly locked away, the cavern entrance in the mountains protected by a sealed vault door that can only be opened from the outside....

This is where your tale begins!

Suggested archetypes include: the wealthy millionaire looking for a relaxing vacation, the eccentric conspiracy UFO theorist, the healing crystal follower, the skeptic who was out to debunk Sikorsky's "Cult of the Healing Earth," the complete innocent person who was kidnapped from a local diner in the nearby town of Alpine by two of the cultists and locked in a, anachronistic, secure prison chamber in the network of tunnels behind the "healing cave," or perhaps even a halpess cultist who was just trying to help the newcomers feel comfortable and is completely oblivious to why the Reverend closed the foot-thick steel door that you had always been told was designed to keep the cave a "living" environment by preventing its internal moisture and atmosphere from evaporating. 

Equipment is limited (obviously) by what you would have reason to bring to this "cult spa and resort" but stuff you might have in your bags could be inventoried in the event you escape the cave....

Everyone can start with 10 XP (so, 2 picks). No arcane magic, weird science, anything. Zero magic world. Any profession that fits "today, or not too far from now" works. 

The Apocalyptic Event:

Each of you is certain doom is nigh. The apocalyptic event you believe in is as follows (pick one, because none of you think it's the same):

1. Asteroid 2015 GL5589 has been rumored to be on close approach, passing between the orbit of the moon and the Earth. You believe (either rightly as an astronomer or wrongly as a fanatic) that there's a deadly risk it is really going to strike the earth and the government is hiding this from the populace. (FALSE)

2. You recently heard about the bizarre outbreak in South America of the mutating Small Pox Virus that is completely resistant to all vaccines and is deadly so far in 94% of those infected. The news claims the virus is quarantined and under control in Brazil, but rumors are that three cases cropped up on the border in the US...(TRUE)

3. In the wake of belligerent diplomats and politicians, a major conflagration took place in the South China Sea between the US and China. Bombastic rhetoric on both sides could be the lead in to nuclear war....or more noise...but either way you're not taking any chances. White Mountains are way off the grid....(TRUE)

4. The sudden surge in UFO sightings in the last several weeks, culminating a month ago in approximately 200 exotic ufo sightings over Mexico City, Phoenix and Denver have level heads stating it's a product of military build up due to the South China Sea conflict, but you know better....this is the culmination of a pattern that began over twenty years ago, a pattern of invasion....! (???)

5. You can't say it's the "end of the world" but a month ago you attended a conference on the American Association of Biology on the adverse risks of CRISPR technology. One scientist warned that it was already suspected that North Korea had used CRISPR technology to create a cordyceps sinensus that was extremely robust and hearty, primarily (it was suspected) to harvest a more robust form of aphrodisiac for Kim Jung Un. The results were questioned however when it was found that the fungus could infect and grow on large scale hosts outside of ants....and rumors were that North Korea had moved it to weapon testing. Disturbed by the concept, you made your way to the retreat a month later to clear your head, after an ex-GF suggested it was a great place to veg out, if you ignored the crystal stuff. (TRUE)

The Set Up
The post-apocalypse was caused by a startling convergence of events. In sequence the following events transpired in the last month which led to an unexpected apocalyptic scenario…an existential crisis for humanity at large:
Day 1
Yellowstone Erupted. The entire American continent is cast in shadow and darkness, and most of the mid-western states are essentially gone. In the White Mountains several inches of ash dust the region, but the real devastation is a winter-storm effect that blanketed the entire country. Over the course of a month the disruption to electronics and the basic infrastructure of the country is devastating.
Day 2-15
In the middle of this event, China abruptly makes a move, strongly and decisively moving in on the west coast under the pretense that it is providing aid and assistance initially, but rapidly taking pains to secure territory on foreign soil. Two weeks in to what started as humanitarian aid, the west coast collapses into anarchy. Nuclear weapons are abruptly engaged, though few know who made the actual call….rumors of a rogue five star general Arnold Mcallahoun usurped control from the President and made a decisive first strike against China abound, but the reality was that China quickly retaliated. The devastation to most major population centers and military installations in the US was swift and devastating….and the remainder of the country collapsed.
Day 4
Rumors of an immense creature, blackened and ruinous, veined with burning light, moving through the devastated Midwest, are largely disregarded as the ravings of PTSD survivors of the event.
Day 10-20
In Asia, North Korea uses its weaponized Cordyceps fungus as a bioweapon against China and South Korea, sparking additional local conflict and war. The cordyceps virus proves even more devastating than anticpated due to its manufactured airborn quality and the virus spreads across the Pacific and throughout Asia rapidly. By day 20, Canada, the US and Mexico are facing an unprecedented catastrophe as desperate people are turned into fungal zombies. Worse yet, the fungus behaves strangely in the “Super Small Pox Virus” which has been hitting South America during this time….people who succumb to the super pox and then are infected by the cordyceps seem to live on unnaturally past the life span of their body and mind….
Day 12 In a crushing state of alert, stories of refugees from Idaho, both covered in ash and bombed by a Chinese attack, are compounded by stories of thousands killed while seeking escape when the immense creature that was previously sighted days ago appears and seems to “drain” the life of all around it for a mile.
Day 21-29
Desperate militia groups, civilians, rogue military and more are seeking out pockets of safety and resources throughout the country to batten down the hatches in the wake of a grotesquely overwhelming nuclear war coupled with the super volcano eruption. The teeming masses of fungal victims from the coast and the south are initially seen as one more aberration but as their numbers increase, the survivors realize that the only hope is to find a way to hide out, and wait for the devastation to past. Meanwhile, along the southern borders the first of the infected “pox” victims succumbing to the cordyceps fungus begin to attack survivors in that region.
Day 30
Acting President of the US Mcallahoun declares that the state of Emergency has moved from martial law to a need for all citizens to arm themselves and maintain defense of local interests until “such time as the United States can restore its essential governance and infrastructure.” He signs off and the national broadcast goes dead….
Day 31 (Today)
The Sons of the Constitution arrive at the Crystal Healing Ranch to take over, having heard rumors that there’s plenty of resources hidden in the healing cave….they find the ranch abandoned, seemingly devoid of life….a pickup truck is attached to the cave door to pull it off. The noise alerts the lurkers in the woods….for it turns out that the compound survivors were all part of a unique ritual, one which Reverend Sikorsky had intended to be the “point of ascension” for his flock to join the Messengers of the Stars.
The Messengers did indeed hear them, and descended, to take possession of each of the cultists. Only those in the healing cave, ironically, were allowed a chance to live….
The new Hunters, lean and oily with black and gray skin, transformed from their human hosts, quickly make short work of the Sons of the Constitution….and the human abominations protected in the Healing Cave are next….!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Checking out While Complaining About the Lack of Good RPG Sites

If you're an old RPGer and you have scoured the internet over the years then you know that beacons of information in this hobby are few and far between. You pretty much are stuck with one of the following:

--flash in the pan websites which seem to start off strong then evaporate when something changes for the host. You know them....even if you can't remember them, because most of these sites are already gone to the internet grave of fading memories.

--blogs (like this one) that are dependent on the fickle whim and disposition of the author. The blogs are actually the best place for actual game content (stuff you can use, DM and player advice, mad ramblings, and of course lot's of "Get Off my Lawn"isms.

--ICV2 which is an interesting industry site for geek fandom at large, but it's gaming section tells you far more about the fact that RPGs are barely an itch on the back of the geek profit industry than anything else.

--Forum sites like and which are contentious pits of madness from which no cogent discourse escapes (YMMV), and are an embarrassment without exception to the entire hobby. I wrote a lot more about my opinion of this wasteland and then edited it out, reminding myself I prefer to keep my blog about actual gaming, not the mess that is today's rpg forums.*

....and then there's which does sometimes fall in the last category, but has also been going strong for close to 20 years now as a viable daily news source. It's only failure is it usually only has a bit of news, a lot of ad bits, and the site design is kind of bleh.

But no more! They have piloted a new site over there at and it's really kind of cool. It's an aggregate source of information, seems to be doing a really good job of it, and in fact has proven to be my favorite daily stop for what's up in the rpg sphere of gaming. Therefore....I feel compelled to get the word out, so that this nicely designed, informative site gets proper attention for those wondering where to find some daily rpg news and information.

*Yes, I do write on these forums occasionally and that does sort of mean I'm being hypocritical, but I really can't find any actual, decent places to chat about RPGs that doesn't seem to be mired in identity politics, character assassinations and witch hunts. If you know a place, please tell me of it.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Gaming on the PC - Destiny, Anthem, Fallout 76 and More

Not too long ago I snagged an Aurora R7 Alienware PC with some nice specs, loaded it up with All The Fun Stuff and have been more or less neglecting consoles ever since. My PS4 is now the place I pretty much engage the PS exclusives (plus Black Ops IIII, which I tolerate because my son loves it), and my Xbox One X is suddenly a legacy device for where I play Halo and Gears of War again (and sundry other favorites of the past).

PC meanwhile: it's where I'm busy engaging with a medley of New and a few Old. For example....Far Cry 5, which I have been enjoying more on PC than I'd expected. Destiny 2 Forsaken...a resoundingly better way to play Destiny 2. It is with just a tiny measure of self-introspection that I concede I own Destiny in all it's versions and content packs on both PC, PS4 and Xbox One. PS4 because it started there for me, Xbox One because that's where my son and I can team up, and now PC because that's the default preferred stomping ground.

Yes, I will feel a bit foolish if they ever get crossplay going for Destiny 2....thank goodness I got the extra copies (for myself, my wife and my kid, sigh) on various and sundry sales...!

Anyway, the New part of the PC universe includes stuff like Metro: Exodus, Anthem, Assassin's Creed Origins and Odyssey, and The Division 2. Overall there's a deep and compelling satisfaction to powering up the latest and greatest (ymmv) AAA game at maximum graphics and 4K default resolution and enjoying no drop in framerate. Usually, anyway....Anthem runs better in 1080p, for example...but by contrast Division 2 started up that way and is as smooth as you can imagine.

The only problem is....I just keep playing Destiny 2, which I am finally "back in to" after a bit of a hiatus. Destiny 2 came out originally after I had just finished an enormous push to finish all content I reasonably could in Destiny 1, and still play with my son who is currently working through The Tide of Iron (on good school days with homework finished). So the mood for Destiny 2 took longer, but I finally have it, and am eagerly exploring the game in great depth....and my PC account has now surpassed my PS4 explorations. The Destiny universe continues to be my favorite.

It's also a far cry from Anthem, which I am slowly working on but have grave reservations about. More on that in a future post...!

And also....yes, bear with me here....Fallout 76, which is the game everyone loves to hate. I have found it's soothing empty ambience and armies of mutants accompanied by Randos I can Ignore to be a surprisingly fun experience. Maybe not for much longer; it does require more personal dedication to get the most out of, and I've never been much of a crafter or much of a socializer in these games, after all.....but if you're the kind of person who just likes exploring and doesn't mind that the only "live" humans in the game are all a bunch of nutters played by other people then actually yeah, there's something here worth checking out. Just do it on sale, you know?

Monday, April 8, 2019

Cypher System - World of Ensaria: The Hallowed

The Mystery of the Hallowed

Among the many tribes of humans throughout Ensaria, hidden in enclaves around the world of Ensaer, are humans known as the Hallowed. The Hallowed are ordinary men and indistinguishable on the outside from any other common human, but they hold a very special heritage: the Hallowed have kept to themselves over the eons, and have maintained a tradition of close intermarriage within their clades, refusing to commingle with what they consider the “common genotype,” or the “baseline” as their old records refer to it.

The Hallowed are actually the descendants of the last of a breed of ancient human who had uplifted their kind, genetically modifying themselves to be resistant or immune to most diseases of the old era (this immunity has been diminished over the eons, however, as diseases mutated with time), as well as aging (Hallowed can live three or more centuries). They enhanced all elements of their genotype to reflect the peak of performance and function. In this lost era, when the colonial world of Ensaer fell to the control of other-dimensional invaders, a small number of these genetically enhanced survivors banded together and began a strict cultural tradition that insured their genetic traits would continue. In this first generation a series of strict protocols were put in place my means of genetic tags that would encourage future generations to interbreed and remain true to the Hallowed heritage.

Over the course of twenty-seven thousand years, due largely to the inherited protocols, the Hallowed gradually became a distinct and unique species of man, self-described at one time in the past as the “Homo-verum” or true men. Hallowed can still breed with other humans, but their offspring are always sterile, and described within the enclaves as the “fractured,” meaning their genetic heritage has been disrupted and cannot continue.

Despite the genetic programming, homo-verum, the Hallowed, have lost almost all recollection of their heritage outside of a mythical conception of their origins. They know they are descended from what they believe to be the first men, the ancients, and that the inferior stock of men were the lesser beings, the workers of their lost history. This sense of entitlement is carefully hidden, however, for the genetic markers built into all Hallowed leave them almost compulsively unable and unwilling to identify their existence to others as a matter of survival. Hallowed today dwell in their remote communities, sometimes right in the heart of normal cities and lands, but remain distinctly separate from those around them, including exercising a modernized version of the ancient language that has shifted only slightly over twenty-seven thousand years, allowing them to read the lost monuments and records of their people with greater ease.

Although this language is retained, little understanding of what the ancient technology of their ancestors was like is understood, though the Hallowed more than any other group in Ensaria today realize that it was a true lost age of greatness, and that it was brought down only by the hubris of their kind as they learned to harness the interstitial realms for energy, accidentally exposing this world to the corruption of the orcs and other beings which served the Old Gods. A handful of Hallowed belong to an order calling themselves the Wardens of Calipsai, which claims to have a tradition stemming back to the fall of their kind, and a venerable order of ancient servants of the Ancient Empire which protected humans against the Old Gods. Today there are not more than a few dozen in this order, but they dwell in the dark corners of the earth squelching any evidence of cults rising in the name of the Old Gods.

Other rumors suggest stranger things. Stories of hallowed enclaves dwelling in remote regions near volcanoes or the ice shelf at the edge of the world speak of tribes of Hallowed who still serve the whim of ancient technology, and some even seem to have retained an understanding of its purpose. These ancient machines, immense in size, seem to serve some sort of function that keeps the world alive, and the Hallowed who dwell in these remote areas continue to engage in rituals designed to maintain and upkeep the machines, even if the purpose of their behavior has long been forgotten. The names for these machines in the old language is “Terraformers” and it is thought by these Hallowed that they continue to preserve the world and make it possible for all life on Ensaer to continue.

Hallowed Descriptor:

Attributes: Hallowed gain +2 Intellect.

Sense Interstitial Energy: similar to magic, which is forged from the “bleed” of interstitial energy into the world, Hallowed are particularly attuned to this and can spend one minute studying and sensing an object or location to detect and learn of the approximate source of such energies.

Language of the Ancients: Hallowed have carried the language of the ancients from generation to generation, and due to being genetically programmed for tradition they have managed to do so with very little linguistic drift over time. The Hallowed are all able to speak and read this unique language, and original sources from 27,000 years or older can be understood on a level 3 Intellect test.

Technomancy: Hallowed are particularly attuned to their heritage and have an easier time of relating to and understanding the lost technology of the ancients. They gain one favorable shift when attempting to understand lost tech, and because of their genetic purity, technology which required proof of that inheritance to work will respond positively to their genetic markers.

Initial Links to Starting the Adventure:

1. Your enclave is charged with the protection and maintenance of ancient ruins buried nearby. You befriended at least one other PC when you found them snooping around the place, and was charged with helping them out by your elders, while also steering them clear of the ancient site.

2. You are the last of your enclave which was wiped out in a raid by an unknown enemy. You have set out to learn who was responsible and to try to reclaim a better understanding of your people.

3. As you came of age your elders set you out on the world to learn and explore, for while it might be an enclave working within normal human society you have been isolated in your teaching and must learn of the regular world as well as how to “blend” and hide the ancient heritage of your people in plain sight.

4. You are Hallowed but know nothing of your heritage, having been orphaned at a young age, or possibly kidnapped during a raid, and later raised by one of the raiders as their own. One day you encountered a Hallowed warden who revealed to you that you belonged to a greater legacy and charged you with learning of it.

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Quick Shazam Review - Actual, Earnest Fun

I'll keep this simple because Shazam works great when you see it with no expectations at all; the trailers do not do this film justice, and as a result I was pleasantly surprised that it...

A. Had an actual story
B. Was actually well thought out, carefully written and filmed
C. Was actually fun!

I mean, I'm a DC fan at heart (unapologetic) and expected to enjoy this movie, but Shazam did something even the best comic films sometimes have trouble with: it managed to faithfully adapt the character to the big screen for a moderrn audience in a way which was both true to the underlying characters and tales and also resonates well with today's audience. No small feat!

If you were worried that the trailers suggested this would be a cheap Seth McFarland-esque style comedy romp, fear not; the trailers lie, and lie well. There's humor, yes, but this movie felt to me like it deserved a place in the subgenre defined by movies like Ghostbusters and the Goonies as much as any superhero film.

I'll offer no details or spoilers, it's better to see this movie straight up with no knowledge going in if possible. In the Thursday night showing I was in, every kid in the crowd cheered and clapped at least twice during the showing...when was the last time you saw kids (actual kids!) getting that excited over a movie? It was such a fun, earnest experience....absolutely worth it.

For those with kids, do note it's closer to PG-13. There's one spot where some bad CEOs get eaten, and a bit of swearing (the s word) but if you think, "same genre as Goonies" you'll understand. Totally fine for my 7 1/2 year old to see it, and he wants to see it again.

A+++ best DC movie to date, hands down, and better than most Marvel films, too.

P.S. stick around for the mid-credits twist, DC is diving deep down the rabbit hole of its traditional comics weirdness, no holds barred. Speaking of which, I need to blog about the awesomeness that is Doom Patrol soon.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Five Things Pathfinder Classic Does Extremely Well

I considered posting this list as a "Five Things Pathfinder 1.0 Does Better Than D&D 5E" but realized that frankly it does these things well regardless of any specific system comparisons.

As usual with 3E era games, your mileage will man's boon is another's bane when it comes to this system and its many iterations. However for me these happen to be five of the key features of classic Pathfinder that I have always appreciated.

5. The Nuanced Skill System

One of the key features of Pathfinder that changed the rules from D&D 3.5 was the skill system. It cleaned up the slightly more complex system of its predecessor while retaining all of the gritty bits people liked. Sure, you have skill synergies and other pieces still in place, but Pathfinder took the fundamental class vs. non-class focus on 3rd edition skills and refined it to keep the same level of nuance while allowing for plenty of depth in character design. You could much more easily get a return on your skills in PF than before, and the math was easier to figure out without losing any granularity. Overall more skill points, more skills (well, except for poor Rope Use from 3.0) and more flexibility in design. You still have a measure of "escalating skill ranks" tied to level but it is quite possible to make multiple characters of the same class with very different skill sets.

Pathfinder's skill system continues to haunt me as I find that I tend to want to call out skill rolls based on its list to this day, regardless of the game system I am using.

4. No Recovery Rolls

This is very much a YMMV moment as I doubt recovery mechanics would be so popular in D&D 5E and other systems without good cause....and I certainly like how systems like Cypher System handle recovery rolls a great deal. But prior to D&D 4E, the idea of Hit Points as an abstract "numerical value that counts down to when you lie down and groan" mechanic was still open for debate. Pathfinder did not introduce any special recovery mechanic to 3rd edition, and because of this it still feels legitimately in the same bucket as old school game mechanics....the mechanics where your hit points can arguably be considered a good base measurement of how long you have left before you die. When hit points change in PF, it's because of extraordinary effort, natural healing or unnatural magical causes.

What this means is that you can still provide some narrative depth to any Pathfinder session that includes the notion of "you have suffered an actual wound, from which you must somehow recover." It is nearly impossible to accomplish this in D&D 5E with any meaning, to contrast, as no wound will ever be nasty enough in 99.9% of cases that you aren't fully recovered within 1-2 days.

3. A Wealth of Character Class Options

Other D&D variants have ranged from very static class designs (B/X D&D) to rules for just about anything (3rd edition) and in between. Some editions pay lip service, trying to shoehorn a less flexible system in to options because it turns out the design intent of the system didn't mesh with player needs that well (4E), and the farther back you get the stranger and messier class options get (such as 2E's class and kit mechanics). Pathfinder however maintains and expands upon 3rd edition's dynamic class design, leading to a bewildering array of design possibilities while also introducing flavor-driven ideas like archetypes. You can build a far richer array of characters in Pathfinder than almost any other edition of the game, and it patches up many of the issues 3E had with the process. The addition of prestige classes, archetypes and other special options make for a wealth of resources for players.

There are issues with this approach, most notably system mastery creates a situation where you could build suboptimal designs, but there's a school of thought out there which I subscribe to that a game system which tries to proof itself against suboptimal design leads to a more homogenized, less interesting experience.

2. Magic is Rich and Diverse but not Cheap

Homogenous design can lead to a smaller but more tightly designed array of spells for spellcasting classes. Pathfinder is more old school (heh) in this still has spells with teeth, spells with potent effect, and spells that are extremely situational. It only allows at-will magic in cantrips, and cantrips in Pathfinder are minor effects that are not going to have a significant impact. It rewards the studious player of spellcasters but curbs some of the problems with earlier 3rd edition and caster dominance....but not at the expense of having the potential for truly fantastical magic in the game.

If I have a general complaint about magic after 3rd edition in D&D It is that it is sometimes just a bit too boring. Not true in Pathfinder and 3rd edition, though. Yes, magic in 3E was borked for a while because it took much of the power from 1E/2E but stripped it of the in-game controls (rigorous requirements for spellcasting components and time/actions needed to accomplish such spells), but Pathfinder refined this just enough to resolve key issues without necessarily (again, YMMV) making caster dominance an overwhelming issue. I personally had many great games with a mix of casters and non-casters in Pathfinder, and never had the "CoDzilla" experience like I did in one campaign with straight 3.5 edition, and the only time I experienced anything resembling that caster dominance issue happened as a direct result of some third party books on psionics, actually.

1. You Can Have A Complete Game Now

Here's the best thing of all about Pathfinder 1.0: there are about twenty-odd hard cover rulebooks, and you only technically need 2 to play (Core and bestiary), though most GMs usually have 5-10 books they consider "necesssary." For me that list includes Bestiaries 2, 3 and 4, Advanced Player's Guide, Advanced Race Guide, Monster Codex, Gamemastery Guide and probably Ultimate Combat and Ultimate Magic, but mostly for the new classes the introduce to players.

The point though is....thanks to PF 2.0, Classic Pathfinder may now be the best and most complete (and updated) iteration we will have of the 3rd edition rules going forward. Yes, it has enough issues that I could do a top five biggest problems list easily enough (stacking rules, system mastery issues, overly complex NPC stat blocks, too many feats and swingy high level play), but most people who have played Pathfinder have a hard time disputing that the game has a sweet spot from levels 1-10 that is incredibly hard to beat, and it remains fun, even if at times frustrating well into high level play.

Right now, it's hard to find a game currently on the market that offers as many tools and is essentially as complete as Pathfinder classic. And with the pocket editions, its even pretty affordable if your eyesight can take it!