Film Review: Sin City 2

sin-city-2-joseph-gordon-levitt-posterSo, as anyone who knows me knows, I love film noir. That love extends to neo-noir film. I mean, crap, I even loved The Spirit. It’s hard to go wrong by me with noir.

Way to go, Rodriguez and Miller. Bunch of jerks figured out how to make me actively dislike a noir film.

The movie was visually stunning, as I expected. And I really liked the plot structure of the stories they told. The plot a, plot b, plot c, wrap up c, wrap up b, wrap up a, was an excellent and different narrative structure.

But. The dialogue felt cliche, forced and worn. It lacked the uniqueness and pop of the first one. The acting was forced and several of the characters were wooden and empty. The stories were generic and cliched and I really just found myself losing interest several times throughout the movie.

Frankly, I will buy it. Mostly to complete my noir collection of films, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Rating: 2/10

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RPG Review: Dungeons & Dragons 5e PHB

10390393_10152396043581071_7602083816466343216_nSo.

This would be the place where I review the new Player’s Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition.

I’ll just tell you the rating now. 11/10

There’s tons of content in there. But I want to focus on three major things.

1.) Classes

2.) Races

3.) How this differs from Pathfinder/D&D 4e

Let’s start with classes:

There are 12 classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard.

Each class has at least 2 options for class development (called something unique for each class). Think of these like built in archetypes (from Pathfinder, if you’re familar with that.)

Barbarian
All about the rages and the hitting things. They get a Berserker path (moar rages. rages better!) and a Totem Warrior path (animal powers!).

Bard
Bard gets a boost. He’s now a full spellcaster up to 9th level spells. There are Lore bards (classic knowledge bards) and Valor Bards (combat/skald bards).

Cleric
Clerics stay the same. Priests. Magics. Heals. Cool. The default gods are different (Forgotten Realms based it appears), but it’s still great. The domains are Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, War.

Druid
Druids are pretty cool. There are Land Druids gains extra spells and abilities based on their terrain. Moon Druids are all about the shapeshifting being better.

Fighter
Stab. Stab. That sort of thing. Champions are basic fighters. Just..hitting stuff. Battle Master uses a “superiority dice” mechanic to drive his abilities. Eldritch Knight is a gish who can use wizard spells and hit with a sword. I think it’s awesome that this is here as a base option for the game.

Monk
Monks are still the same. Punching. Kicking. Their different traditions function as follows. Way of the Open Hand emphasizes unarmed combat. Shadow is a weird teleporty/sneaky monk. Very cool. Four Elements monks are all about fire hands and stoneskin.

Paladin
Paladin’s are still the holy warrior I know and love, but now they’ve added options! Devotion is the classic paladin. Healing and smiting. Ancients are nature guardians, extremely good against evil magic. Vengeance is the new “blackguard”. Seem very focused on hunting down targets and battlefield control.

Ranger
Rangers are split now. There’s the Hunter (favored enemy ranger) and the Beast Master (animal companion ranger). Still gets spells. Still awesome. Just hyper focused.

Rogue
Rogues are still…thiefs, backstabbers and trapfinders. Thief was in the basic rules. He’s the trap rogue, and the pickpocket. Assassin..stabby stab. Murderface. Arcane Trickster can spellcast, and rogue it up. Coolest thing? Can steal spells from casters.

Sorcerer
All about the bloodline and magics. Draconic becomes more dragony. Breath weapons and wings and stuff. Wild Magic has surges of awesomeness with rolls on a table of bad.

Warlock
Pact based magic. Archfey is a trickster warlock. Fiend gives luck and hellfire based powers. Great Old One is all about the crazy, aliens and madness.

Wizard
Still the basic student of magic, the wizard has the most variety of magic. Arcane Traditions are like the schools of old are are still the same: Abjuration, Conjuratiom. Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, and Transmutation.


Fantastic right?

Races. 

Well races are cool. They function like classes with a base with suboptions. Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Humans are already in the main section and basic rules as the “Big 4.” Each one has 2 options or more (even Humans!). The less-common races are Dragonborn, Half-elves, Gnomes, Half-orcs and Tieflings. I wish Aasimar were included, but that’s a personal preference.

Very cool. Very balanced. And pretty standard to what they’ve been sine 3rd edition.


 

How is this game different from 4e/Pathfinder?

Well, I think it’s simpler. The overall modularity of the game is fantastic. You can plug and play any number of options you want.

The advantage/disadvantage mechanics are great.

The layout, art, writing, and focus on content is brilliant. It’s good. Well delivered. Thought out. It’s just…top notch in a way no WotC RPG product has been in a while.

Frankly, I consider this a step up from 3rd edition/Pathfinder, and a whole flight up from 4e. This is the D&D I’ve been looking for, and I think I found my new go-to Fantasy RPG. Sorry Iron Kingdoms and Pathfinder.

This is a game worth of the title Dungeons and Dragons.

I think Gary would be proud.

My GenCon Schedule

If you didn’t already know, I will be at GenCon this week.

My schedule is pretty crazy and packed but we’ll see what you can figure out. If you find me, we’ll be throwing together random tests and play of the Schlock Mercenary RPG.

I fly in Wednesday night, and have a Pathfinder game with friends.  After that…see the schedule below.


Thursday

2-6 pm: I work the Greater Than Games booth

7 pm: L5R RPG Grand Experience

8:30 pm: Demoing Gallant with Dungeon Crawler Radio


Friday

11 am: L5R Main Storyline Qualifier

2-6 pm: I work the Greater Than Games booth


Saturday

10 am to 6 pm: I work the Greater Than Games booth

8 pm: L5R Big Experience


Pretty packed. I’m gonna be swamped. But if you can track me down during any of the times I’m free, or catch me at the Greater Than Games booth during one of my work times and set up a time for us to playtest the SMRPG with you. You’d better find 3 other friends who want to play though.

Howard has every intention of playing with us, at least once! So let’s get this squared away and have a great time. I look forward to seeing ywithll there.

If you wanna find me without hunting me down, check  @AlanBahr@HowardTayler, and @Schlocktroops on Twitter.

RPG Review: Fiasco

Fiasco_coverRecently, my RPG group and I had some players from our regular game unable to make it. So, in true geek fashion, instead of cancelling, we decided to whip out a game we’d never played and give it a whirl.

I’d had FIASCO for some time, and had never really read it beyond the cursory first glance of a new game. Well, it was time. We busted out the rulebook, printed the cheatsheet, grabbed some index cards and dice, and  looked over the playset list. 

Let me back up. So every session of Fiasco takes place in a different setting, as identified by the “playset”. The playset helps you determine the starting relationships with your characters, the items, places, and desires that drive their actions and motivations, and it provides a framework for you to start telling that story.

We selected “The Last Frontier” playset, a story set in Alaska. The relationships we rolled were Smuggler/Fence, lovers, co-workers, and competitors. Lots of cool objects. The character relationships were wonderfully easy to play and were obvious and great to tie together. We established a story around lovers, drugs, a boat, and a woodland logging camp in Alaska.

Fiasco uses an unique and interesting “scene” driver mechanic. Each player has two scenes per act. They can choose either to establish the scene they are in, but other players get to determine how it ends, or they can determine how it ends, and the other players get to set the scene. Both turn out to be a ton of fun.

After all players have their first two scenes, you go to the Tilt table. The Tilt table uses the dice earned from your first two scenes to determine how horribly things go sideways.

Act Two is used to resolve the Tilts and show how everything goes so horribly wrong for you and your “friends.”

This game, was a ton of fun. I’m hauling it and several playsets to GenCon with me because I am gonna make people play it with me. I can’t imagine the last time I had this much fun telling a story with my friends.

 

Guest Post: Historical Fantasy Campaigns

Todays post is a guest post from Cavan Helps. Cavan is a friend of mine who was telling me about a very interesting campaign he was running. I asked him to write a quick post about it to see what others thought.
From Cavan:

The Maiden of Orleans
I love historical fiction campaigns. Perhaps the best thing I did with my Russian degree was run a D&D 4e campaign set in Russia during the Communist Revolution.

Wanting to recapture the fun of that campaign, and wanting to have a good excuse to do a lot of Wikipedia research, I decided to run a short Joan of Arc campaign with my regular long-running group.

We’re running it in Pathfinder, because that’s the only fantasy RPG that I particularly like at the moment, and the players are all comfortable with the ruleset.

There were a couple design decisions I made based on my experience from the Russian campaign:

The players have to be the chief actors: I didn’t want the players to follow Joan around, I wanted them to be Joan.

All the players have to be important: The quick ‘n dirty method I used for this was giving them all powerful connections. (A strategy I can scarcely endorse enough!) Joan of Arc talked to God. The party wizard was a disenfranchised nobleman from English-controlled France who was connected to the dauphin. The rogue was connected to the most extensive and powerful smuggling ring in the nation. The bard was a celebrity. The barbarian was an English turncoat.

While the paladin Joan made an obvious party leader, I made sure that all of the character’s backgrounds came up at critical points in the story, so everyone was helping bear up the load. I’m pretty pleased with how this turned out.

Sexism has to be alive and well for the story to work: I normally encourage players to run characters of the same sex as themselves for the simple reason that it helps avoid pronoun confusion. The story of Joan of Arc, however, cannot be told without a sexist environment. I told my majority-female gaming group that women were treated as second-class citizens in fifteenth-century France, and I wasn’t going to shy from that. For that reason, I asked them to consider playing male characters if they didn’t want to deal with it. Clearly, Joan’s character had to be female.

Joan has to be special. I did this by making Joan a paladin, and the only divine caster in the world. “Clerics” in this setting were people with several ranks in Knowledge(Religion) and First Aid, and were not really playable as a character class. Arcane magic existed, but were thought of as consorting with the devil. (God told Joan it was okay to travel with this wizard, however, whose heart was pure. I will fully admit to some hand-waving here.) Nobody wanted to play a druid (because, I mean, yuck), so that didn’t come up.

Combat has to be brutal. I love the E6 variant of Pathfinder. Essentially, it says that the highest level character anywhere in the world is level 6. This creates more of a heroic fantasy feel, because anyone, even the most legendary swordsman, can be felled by a few lucky blows. I wanted combat to be scary, and the paladin’s healing to be miraculous. Careful readers may note that Cure Light Wounds is available to bards. After discussing the theme with the group, we decided to house rule CLW as a buff to first aid checks.

Full disclosure: In pretty much every campaign I’ve run, I’ve thought, “This time I’ll make combat really dangerous!” with the appropriate evil cackling. This is probably because I’m a George R. R. Martin fan. Anyway, in this campaign, I really committed to making combat dangerous, and I didn’t care for the result.

That’s a pretty good segue into what I learned from this experience, and what I think I did wrong.

Pathfinder is a completely different game without clerics. I understood this going in, but I don’t think I appreciated how different it was. No clerics (and only one lvl 3 paladin in the world) means healing items simply don’t exist. Fights need to be rare, and need to be scaled down considerably, as character death is a huge threat in this setting. For some groups, this will probably work great. My group, however, likes to give their dice plenty of exercise. A heavily injured party can take about a week of game time to recover, and multiple combat encounters in a row, like, say, when storming a city, all but guarantee player fatalities.

Historical Fiction is great, but playing actual historical figures is meh. Our paladin, shockingly enough, was not played by Joan of Arc. Rather, it was my friend Sam. The funny thing about that is that Sam and Joan of Arc have different personalities, opinions, and backgrounds. My options were to railroad the heck out of her (which I despised) or let her make her own choices, (in which case, she stopped being Joan of Arc in a very real way.) Were I to do this again, I think I would make the story’s plot a much more generic one about holy warriors liberating France, and that way the players could go as far off-script as they wanted.

Don’t enslave gameplay to (hi)story. I expect some readers to hate me for this point.

I am a strong subscriber to Rule Zero in RPGs: The game must be fun for everyone at the table. I’ve been yanked around at tables where the DM wanted to tell an epic story, players be damned. I’ve sat for hours, bored, as one or two players at my table wanted to sort out their deep, emotional, personal storylines that had nothing to do with the rest of the party or the overall story. Those are hours of my life I will never get back. I know there are groups out there who want RPGs to be little more than cooperative storytelling or wish fulfillment, and see dice, minis, and tactical displays as an inconvenience–or even a dilution of pure play. I have no quarrel with such groups, but I don’t want to play with them, either.

My group likes epic stories, well-rounded characters, and a healthy dose of tactical combat. Since that is the group I am playing with, those are the games I should run. A game where characters could die from a single errant arrow, and where the rails are pretty firmly set by history, (each session covers a historical battle in the Hundred Years War) has been a lot of fun, but ultimately is the wrong fit for my group.

Maybe it’s the right fit for yours.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

guardians-of-the-galaxy-poster-high-resSo.

 

This movie came out Thursday night. Within twelve hours of it coming out, I’d seen it twice.

This is the best movie ever made.

I saw this as a huge Captain America fan, who consistently decries anyone who disagrees with me on that topic. And don’t get me wrong, my opinions of the Captain America stand-alone films are not diminished. Rather, I had no idea a movie that felt like this could be made. Frankly, I imagine my feelings in the theater as the opening title danced on screen were similar to the first viewings of Star Wars: A New Hope on the big screen.

I could rave on and on about the action, and the dialogue, and the special effects, and the in-Universe references, and the soundtrack, and the score, and the acting, but I won’t.

It was awesome. I’ll see it again. And again. And then I’ll buy it.  I don’t have any better words to describe this movie. I felt like a kid, who had been given the worlds greatest present.

And Marvel now has a line of credit with me that will last them several bad movies. Several.