Presidential Misery: Shit Won, Shit Lost

Boy, it’s been awhile. I didn’t think my first blog post in a good, long while would have to do with politics. Frankly, I hate politics.

One thing I actually make a concerted effort not to do is vent on social media. I include any blogging I do in that philosophy.

But I guess I see no harm in breaking that rule on occasion, especially under these circumstances.

For many people, as far as the eye can see, this 2016 United States presidential election has been taxing. For me, I saw two horrible, corrupt people leading the way to become arguably the most powerful person in the world. Meanwhile, the least corrupt people in this race, our third-party candidates, simply did not have the financial nor big media support to possibly compete. Imagine if the presidential debates were between four candidates instead of the two major party leaders? But I digress…

For me, I was confident that at least one of these horrible people would win this Presidential election. I was mentally and emotionally prepared for this eventuality.

So why am I feeling so emotionally drained, miserable, and angry?

It’s actually fairly simple; there are a couple of members of my family, people I love very much, that are acting like they won. They’re happy that Donald Trump won. They’re acting like an inspiring beacon of hope, truth, and justice has won the presidency.

And it’s pissing me off.

“Calm down. Don’t take this so seriously. Have a sense of humor about this.” My family members say. This is rich, considering the person who says this has a shorter temper than me, and basically yells about something stupid everyday of their life. Said person also emailed me a link to Trump’s acceptance speech and let me know that America will be great again. Unbelievable!

I’m charged and angry because their mindset is that one of these people running is horrible (Clinton) while the other is a fantastic human being (Trump.) It’s pissing me off, because they’re not necessarily saying this; instead, they keep saying it’s the “lesser of two evils.”  It’s pissing me off, because actions speak louder than words, and their actions are telling me very loudly and clearly that Donald Trump is the Superman ideal: the bastion of truth and justice that we should all aspire to.

I have never bought this argument. Like I said previously, both are horrible people. When you compare shit with shit, no matter how much paint and nail polish you pour over it, it’s still shit. And make no mistake; both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both despicable human beings.

So please stop acting like good has conquered evil, because that’s not what happened. Evil was going to win in either event. Shit won and shit lost. Case closed.

Maybe America will be better in four years, when it’s all said and done. Maybe Trump will be the progressive president that he painted himself to be. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll at some point recognize the delusional mindset and cognitive dissonance that plagues his psyche and make a concerted effort to move forward and become a better human being. At this point, that’s all I can hope and pray for.

But if I were a betting man, I’d say America will be worse off. He’ll do nothing to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Foreign relations will be jeopardized. Mega corporations, the foundations of extreme corporate greed and corruption (and ironically backers of Clinton) will be richer than ever with corporate taxes having been cut. And Donald Trump will be much wealthier than he is now, much more than the President’s annual salary would indicate.

Perhaps the greatest irony is if Hillary Clinton won, I would have written the exact same final paragraph. That’s how horrible this presidential election has been. And perhaps, for the moment, it’s what America deserves.




The Second Blog of 2015: More Fun with Dungeon World

The following post was written by Chris Fong and the players for Philo and Tesla. Enjoy!

After escaping the Slave-Pit of Drazhu, you all managed to find a waterfall to bathe in. Despite the intense cold, it honestly felt like the greatest shower you’ve ever experienced. You found clean water to drink; sweeter and more satisfying than any ale you’ve drunk. You hunted for some wild animals, and roasted them over a campfire. It was the best meal of your life. Over the course of the month, you all slowly managed to reintegrate yourself into civilization, doing various odd jobs to earn money, and buy clean clothes along with the gear you normally enjoy.

And now, in your travels, a mighty tempest blows in. You all instinctively know to seek shelter. You also all know that there’s a small fishing village nearby named Codcliffe. Your destination determined, you all make your way towards the shelter of an inn until this strangely powerful storm passes…

This is me paraphrasing roughly how the night began for the second session of Dungeon World. The big damn heroes continue to be:

  • Lilly, a female, human bard. Joyous eyes, rather fit, usually wearing fine clothing and a stylish cap. Wildly in love (or lust, not sure at this point) with Tesla.
  • Philo, a male human ranger. Wild eyes and physique, wearing a cape and hood. Accompanied by his animal companion, a snake named Whiskers.
  • Sashin Hadib, a male human thief. Shifty eyes, messy hair, knobby physique, and usually wears fancy clothing. Also stands 5’0″.
  • Tesla (aka The Artist Formerly Known as Eccentrius), a male elven wizard. Haunted eyes, wild hair, and very thin, adorned in strange, purple robes.
  • To be revealed…

Staying at an inn called the Fishhead, the party stayed a few days after the storm passed, enjoying Codcliffe’s salted fish and the peace and relative quiet the village offered them. Friendships were established, and Tesla and Sashin played games with the village children while Lilly composed and performed songs dedicated to Tesla. Meanwhile, Philo just kept an eye out for everyone in general.

Then the Empire came; thanks to the storm, the HMS Relentless, an Imperial treasure galleon, washed ashore near the village, mostly intact but no longer sea-worthy…

It’s morning a few days after the once-in-a-lifetime storm. A commotion occurs outside the inn; Philo, Sashin, and Tesla go out to see what’s going on, while Lilly sits and enjoys her fish stew. Most of the townsfolk are outside, listening to the ramblings of Captain-Senator Balbus, his sorcerer bodyguard Apothiko Vitula (whom I kept calling buff sorcerer dude for some odd reason), and six Imperial soldiers. Calling on the villagers to do their duty to the Empire, Balbus explains that they need volunteers to capture their escaped prisoners: the notorious Colbert and his Marauders. Sashin tried to negotiate for rupees (we collectively decided to not have gold coins like virtually 99.9% of all fantasy RPG’s, but rupees. Yes, this is in fact a Legend of Zelda reference) to do this deed, but Balbus would have none of it. After all, peasants and commoners should be glad, privileged, honored, to serve the Empire. With no one volunteering, Balbus had his bodyguard turn some of the villagers into chickens. Philo tried to stealthily attack Apothiko, and managed to stun him with an arrow momentarily. This distraction gave Sashin enough time to try and sneak attack Balbus, lunging at him with a weapon. But alas, fate was not kind to the diminutive thief, and he found himself face first on the ground, immobilized by an Imperial soldier. For their insolence, Balbus had Apothiko turned two children into chickens, the very same children that Sashin and Tesla had played with just the day prior. Angered, but realizing the situation they were in, the party finally agreed to Balbus’s demands. The Captain-Senator in turn explained that his scouts have determined that Colbert has been captured and being held by Octopus Folk (think mystical Octopi that can thrive on land as well as under the sea, and don’t play nice with other species) at their Islet Cave Home, and that the Marauders are camping out in a nearby abandoned Dwarven mine. Both areas are south of Codcliffe, and a map is given to the party. Before they leave, the party demanded a gesture of goodwill; feeling generous, Balbus had two children chickens (I suppose they would actually be chicks) polymorphed back to their human form. As a final warning, Balbus told the party that the Relentless was guarded by the Empire’s strongest magicks, and that they were forbidden to go near it.

As an aside, the original adventure had the notorious marauder leader named Hobart, but for some reason I kept calling him Colbert (pronounced like Stephen Colbert, of the The Colbert Report fame…I’m sad that show has ended…), and it just stuck. But I digress…

So the party left the village and after some discussion, decided to make their way straight for the HMS Relentless. For Sashin, the pursuit of wealth and treasure was his first priority, and the fact that the Relentless is a treasure galleon was simply irresistible. For Tesla, he immediately distrusted the Captain-Senator and was hoping to find more detailed answers at the ship. For Lilly, she trusted Tesla implicitly and would follow him to the ends of the realm. For Philo, he felt that someone had to watch over the party, it may as well be him; well, that and the fact that he too appreciated a good rupee when he sees one.

By mid-day, they make it to the HMS Relentless; on their approach, they can see the ship washed ashore, the tide lapping itself against the ship bottom. There are holes wedged in with broken ship debris throughout the bottom parts of the ship. It’s likely that water is slowly leaking into the ship. On the deck of the ship, there is movement. The party investigates, and discover these fish-like humanoids, almost undead in their appearance as their scales had a decomposed look to them. They are in fact Sea Ghouls (as opposed to seagulls, which is what one player thought I said.), and combat ensues. During the combat, a new friend appears: Muneera, a female human cleric clad in chainmail and brandishing a warhammer and magical shield. She is also apparently a cousin to Lilly, and has been looking all over for her.

Making fairly quick work of the Sea Ghouls, the party finds their way to the Captain’s Cabin. Sashin is confident the door to the Captain’s Cabin is not trapped. He is correct. He continues to declare that the treasure vault they find within is not trapped. He is incorrect, and the entire party is sprayed in acid for their efforts. They do however find in the vault 2,000 rupees. It is here that we learn that when Tesla casts ‘Detect Magic,’ the spell connects with his olfactory sense. In other words, he literally smells magic, and he does smell something magical about this treasure, though he’s unsure what is so magical about it.

Proceeding below deck, they find more rupees, along with weapons and armor in good condition. Sashin is confident all these weapons and armor could be sold. It’s all very heavy, but Philo is up to the task of hauling so much equipment. Continuing onto the bottommost deck, they find the water here to be waist high, and that there are mangled iron bars here that were likely a makeshift prison of some sort. They also manage to discern that there are thousands of rupees concealed within the stones of the ballast underneath their feet. However, Tesla detects magic once more and smells something cursed about this treasure, a fact that Muneera reinforces, for she has studied Imperial ships in her past. Despite these warnings, Sashin desperately tries to get to the treasure, and the party resorts to dragging him out to the beach.

Between the battle, the ship exploration, and simply putting away all the treasure and items they find, most of the day has passed. With less than an hour of light remaining, the party elect to camp for the night. We also discover that at some point in their lives, Sashin and Philo were both pirates together, as they both proceed to bury the treasure they acquired off the HMS Relentless. The night passed uneventfully, and fully recovered from their injuries, our stalwart group of adventurers make their way to the abandoned Dwarven mine where they were told the marauders were hiding out.

Entering the mine, they proceed about 100 yards from the entrance before happening upon a shaft station, with a shrine to the Iron God, a Dwarven deity, at one end, and a door in the corner. Muneera calls upon her deity for guidance, and as her deity is on friendly terms with the Iron God, a torch near the corner door briefly flashes a bit more brightly. Opening the door, standing before them are four marauders, who are shocked to see them and appear angry. Lilly charges in, tackling one of the marauders to the floor.

Over the next several moments, the party tried reasoning with the marauders numerous times, and there were quite a few tense moments where they considered lowering their weapons. Philo even managed to disarm one charging marauder, and with the help of Whiskers, redirected an incoming attack from another, all in an attempt at peaceful resolution. In the end though, the party had to put the four marauders down; Muneera smashed the skull of the marauder pinned by Lilly with her warhammer, while Sashin killed two others by throwing a rock (seriously!) and his steel bucket attached to a chain. Tesla blasted a hole through the body of another with his magic missile spell, which he has dubbed ‘Purple Rain,’ (or is it ‘Purple Reign?’) and with no more time left, the play session came to its conclusion.

The adventure we’re playing is The Indigo Galleon, written by John Aegard, and will continue when next we meet in Dungeon World.

Things I Still Like:

  • Two-and-a-half play sessions (I’ll explain the ‘half’ in a different blog post.) and the game is still fun to run. I totally did not mean to make a rhyme there. I think my players are having fun, I know some of them are since they told me such.
  • Many tabletop RPG’s have the mechanics drive the narrative. With Dungeon World the opposite is true, where the narrative drives the mechanics. After two sessions, I still find this to be accurate, and continue to find it refreshing.
  • Players contributing to the fiction / story much more continues to be a blast. They find out things about their characters they never knew, then have to justify it in their backgrounds / origins somehow. Case in point, when Tesla casts Detect Magic, he basically does so with his nose; he starts sniffing like a hound dog. I love it! Reminds me of the episodes of Tabletop when they played the Dragon Age tabletop RPG by Green Ronin Publishing, and one of the player characters smelled everything. It’s worth watching, here you go:
  • Everything I mentioned about character discovery is really cool, but I wonder…

Things I Wonder About:

  • …it occurs to me that in the long run, this self-discovery could lead to an uncomfortable degree of retconning, as well as an overabundance of things that simply don’t make sense. So, you were an elite athlete, master-of-arms, basket-weaving champion, ladies man, poker champion, master chef, scholar of rocks, and trained in weapon-and-armor-smithing, and a gold medalist in yogurt churning and chicken laying before you turned 18? Really?! Still, we’re not at that bridge yet. Heck, it may be a bridge we never get to, so no sense in worrying about it…yet.
  • I think we’re all still getting used to the rules. I know for a fact that I’m still getting used to them, and I’m running the game. As for the players, basically everyone has come from playing D&D, so I suspect it’s weird for them to not be making skill checks and the like.
  • Stun damage is a bit strange to me; it’s basically the equivalent of non-lethal damage in Dungeons & Dragons, where the player wishes to subdue rather than kill. However, there’s no mention of a player declaring such; rather, it appears to be a weapon tag, where certain weapons / attacks inflict stun damage. Ironically, none of the weapons listed in the base book appear to have the stun damage tag. I had emailed my players discussing a homebrew rule, where a player can declare stun damage and attempt to justify it in the fiction (I use the flat of my blade, the pommel of my warhammer, etc.) However, on this morn, I’m now thinking it should be an overlay over their damage dealing moves. So normally in Dungeon World, the idea is that if you roll: 10+: the player gets what he/she wants, 7-9: the player gets what he/she wants at a cost, 6-: the player fails to get what he/she wants. So let’s take that a step further; if a player wants to subdue somebody and can justify it in the fiction (no, you’re not knocking a dragon the size of a small barn unconscious with the flat of your blade. Not gonna be able to do it!), he or she can roll their regular Hack and Slash move (a melee attack), simply to determine if their attack is successful. If it is, before they roll their damage, then they roll a second time and if they roll: 10+, they deal their damage as stun damage, 7-9: they do reduced stun damage (Damage die minus damage die; they basically overcompensated too much in trying to pull their punch, and can potentially do zero damage), and on a 6-: they in fact do regular, killing, death-dealing damage. Choices, choices…
  • I’m still not entirely sold about the lack of initiative order. Then again, I think I ran it better the first time, and honestly wasn’t on top of my game the second time around. I work my arse off at DM-ing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes all the time. In hindsight, there were a few moments where I should have pushed things forward. Ah well, you live, learn, adapt, and strive forward. Easier said than done, I know. 😉

Philo’s Observations After Playing Two Sessions of Dungeon World, as Told by Philo:

  • Paying attention is critical. In D&D, stepping aside for a second and finding your way back into the action is usually easy. In Dungeon World, it’s a different story; even the same characters doing the same thing twice in a row is usually wildly different. Instead of “I attack that guy”, players are allowed to do something unique and not have to worry if they took ranks / are trained in ‘jump’ or ‘climbing’ 5 levels ago. This is great for player engagement, but it also demands a higher level of player attention.
  • Dungeon World encourages quick action over careful planning. When the GM sets up the situation for the player, everyone thinks about how their character reacts. Reacting first means that you deal with the situation given. Reacting second means that you deal with the situation that the first player just altered. It seems to encourage spur-of-the-moment moves over strategic planning. This is not a bad thing.  In D&D, there’s usually a slower pace set about by unspoken election. Unless there are 2 or more players with the same abilities, informal voting usually dictates who the main driver will be. Locked chest? Send in the Rogue. Disgruntled noble? Let the Bard do the talking. Gnoll with an axe? Let the fighter handle it.
  • In Dungeon World, all players are usually equally equipped to deal with the situation, but in their own way. This was something that I really came to appreciate when playing Star Wars D20. Everyone was okay in a fight because we all had blasters. You have a socially centered character that had a decent shot at blasting a flunkie. Your Soldier would still do more damage, but everyone felt capable.  In D&D, the wizard doesn’t charge into the front lines.
  • There’s definitely a different feel to dealing with the situation.  This means that everyone has a shot at dealing with the situation at hand, but sometimes also creates a race to act on your solution, and I feel, speeds up the pace of the interactions.

Philo’s Concerns After Playing Two Sessions of Dungeon World, as Told by Philo:

  • Sharing basic moves makes play feel very balanced. My question is: will advanced moves change anything? They should help separate each character, but I wonder if it will set some character’s apart too much, or create the old, “Here’s a lock, you need a Rogue” situation.
  • I was also worried that having roughly 8 basic moves would be repetitive. So far it has been the opposite and the advanced moves should only serve to further that. Then again, it’s only been two sessions, so the sample size is small. (It feels like I just resolved a bond with my moves sheet, lol).

Notes From Your Friendly Wizard, Inventor, and Part-Time Accountant, Tesla:

  • I am loving the freedom that Dungeon World is providing. Having played Pathfinder, I find in that game it can often take a long time to get around the table, whereas in Dungeon World you can act on a whim so long as you’re not talking over anybody. Similar to what Philo mentioned, I can run head-first into battle if that’s what I feel my character would do in that moment. Though I have no armor, every character seems to be well-balanced, I suspect this has a little to do with the lack of a point-buy in the party, though two of our party members did roll for their stats, and everyone seems to be doing fine.
  • The freedom isn’t just in the mechanics, however. I feel a lot less constrained by a backstory since I have opportunities to discover and add on to that all the time. A good one was after the exploding acid fiasco in the Captain’s Cabin on the HMS Relentless, when I wanted to patch up my robes. The GM asked how I knew how to sew, so I improvised that I had done some experimenting with an automatic sewing device (I’m going for the very eccentric, mad-scientist type of character, hence Tesla). Thinking on my feet like that is something I’ve never been very good at, so the GM has been really pushing my creativity and decisiveness.
  • Also, since the detail for moves is usually minimal, it leaves a lot of room for making them your own. Using my nose to smell magic when I cast detect magic is a blast. I can definitely feel myself improving as we play, and it helps to have a DM that describes the gory beheading of an enemy rather than just saying: “He’s dead.”
  • I find it a lot easier to get into character with this game than in any other I’ve played. Sashin is really hilarious and I can play off of that, which is great because I love playing goofy characters. I found myself nearly yelling at Captain-Senator Balbus because I didn’t feel that Tesla would have any reason to follow his demands (plus it’s hard not to argue with a guy who calls himself Captain-Senator). In Pathfinder, a simple roll can end the conversation, but in Dungeon World, you really have to work your way out of situations.
  • My only negative so far is that players need to put a lot of effort into being on the same page. In most games you can strategize between turns, but in Dungeon World, it can be easy for your party’s actions to interfere with your goals. Mostly due to my distrust of Balbus, I really didn’t want to kill those marauders, but I was forced to use Purple Rain when we were unable to calm them down. Of course, some of that is on me for not being a larger part of the conversation.
  • All in all I’m having a great time with Dungeon World, and I hope to continue playing if we can get everyone together. So far, I’d say this game is worth a shot for anyone who isn’t overly aggressive in conversation or a logic-bent robot. The optimist in me has hope that creatively-challenged people like myself can get some good practice with it, and maybe your friend who’s slightly on the min-max side of the force can learn the value of good, honest, pure roleplay.

Some Streams of Consciousness on Doctor Who

Lately, I’ve been watching more Doctor Who than I should. That is, past episodes of the show. Heck, I would have an episode running in another tab as background noise while I do work, so “watching” might not be the most accurate term. But then during a lunch break today, I got to wondering why, then a ton of different thoughts all entered my brain at once and I thought: Better write this down. Though I should warn any prospective readers that this post might be rather…jumpy, very ‘train of thought / flow of consciousness-like.’ In other words, rather disorganized. Sorry! 🙂

When I was a kid, I never got into Doctor Who. I’m not afraid to admit that the opening title sequence scared me when I was four or five years old. At that time,Tom Baker was playing the fourth Doctor (aka “teeth and curls”), and for that opening, all I’d see was a bunch of stars, then the Doctor’s giant face appear in the center of the TV, which would then come flying towards the screen.I’m pretty sure I thought that giant face would emerge from the TV and chase me around, so I fled the room in fear. But I digress; the only reason I mention it is that my oldest brother at that time was into Doctor Who, and Tom Baker was his Doctor.

As a quick aside, another thing that scared me as a kid: Bill Bixby transforming into Lou Ferrigno in the live Incredible Hulk show; I could watch David Banner or the Hulk, but whenever he transformed, I had to leave the room for a moment.

Back to Doctor Who, the thing about fandom, the show, and thirteen portrayals of the Doctor (if you include the War Doctor, and no, this post is not a debate on the numbering of the Doctors,) one question often asked is: ‘Who’s your Doctor?’ I got into the show with the modern era, and interestingly enough, not with David Tennant, but with Matt Smith. I’m not sure what prompted me to watch the first episode of series 5 where Matt Smith took over. It’s not like I ever even heard of Matt Smith (no offense Matt Smith.) But from that first episode I was hooked. The writing, music, acting and story were just…perfect for me. And it helps that I think the writers took care to try and make it a good “jumping on” point for new fans. So anyways, Matt Smith is my Doctor. And I miss him in the role, and find myself watching a bunch of my favorite episodes / specials with him as the Doctor.

Peter Capaldi recently took over from Matt Smith. He’s doing a terrific job, and the show is still enjoyable for me. The Robin Hood episode was fun, the Dalek episode was illuminating, and the latest episode “Listen” was shocking in a good way (Interesting that I talked about some childhood fears earlier, and this episode basically was about fear…no, I didn’t plan it this way.) While the sample size is rather small, I actually think Capaldi’s first episode was the weakest thus far. That’s not to say his first episode was bad; it was fine for what it was, and the appearance of the Pasternoster Gang is always awesome. As another quick aside, BBC, just start a separate series starring Vastra, Jenny, and Strax already. It can fill the void The Sarah Jane Adventures left, and it’ll probably be a license to print money. Seriously, not hard to figure this out BBC. You’re welcome.

Back to Capaldi’s first episode, I recently told a prospective fan not to start with the current series airing right now, but to start with either the beginning of the modern era, which aligns more with our modern sensibilities, with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, or Matt Smith with series five as either ones are good “jumping on” points in my opinion. Personally, I think Capaldi spent too much time in a post-regenerative haze. Granted, regeneration is a lottery, and how long it can have the Doctor acting addled and confused appears to be random (from a meta perspective, whoever wrote it, but eh, whatever), but as an episode, for prospective new fans, the Doctor is just all over the place in his behavior and actions, and while entertaining, it’s just not a good place to start watching Doctor Who. Compare that to Matt Smith’s first outing (writing-wise), and he was basically being the Doctor, helping Amelia Pond out, within ten minutes. The episode even mixes in some humor, with the newly regenerated Doctor desperately trying to find something he likes to eat.

So how about some of my favorite moments from Matt Smith’s tenure of Doctor Who? They’ll probably make more sense if you’re already a fan. But if not, though you’ll miss the context, they’re still powerful, moving scenes, and maybe there will be just enough to make you go think: ‘I should go check this show out.’ So here we go, just a couple of my favorite scenes from Doctor Who, in no particular order:

  • Doctor’s Rings of Akhaten Speech from ‘The Rings of Akhaten

Beautiful music? Check. Epic speech? Check. Doctor being heroic / self-sacrificing? Check. I’m fighting back tears whenever I watch this moment. Manly tears, of course. This wasn’t a popular episode for many fans. There were things I hated too, like the Doctor’s screwdriver being able to control / lift stone doors. Even if I can buy they were controlled by machinery underneath the stone, it was just one of those ‘Is there anything the sonic screwdriver cannot do?’ moments. But for me, the music makes the episode. It’s a very musically charged episode with lots of touching moments and an epic speech. At the very least, I can say I love this scene and a couple of other scenes from this episode. Maybe not the entire episode as a whole, but it doesn’t diminish this scene. Also, did anyone check out Matt Smith’s tear as he gave his speech?

  • Thirteen Doctors Saving Galifrey from ‘Day of the Doctor’

Powerful music? Check. Thirteen Doctor’s being heroic / self-sacrificing? Check. I just loved this climactic moment to this special. Sure, it’s somewhat fanboyish, but suitably epic. As an aside, the scene previous to this one where the Doctor reveals that he may have forgotten who he was, finding himself not sure what to do until he receives some prodding from his companion Clara; the companions aren’t just our ticket, our link to the alien time traveler. Various Doctor’s have said it repeatedly in more or less the same words: they represent the best of him, which is why he likes traveling with humans. He also reveals that the name he chose was a promise. The promise? ‘Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up. Never give in.’ His decision to alter his own history was a perfect lead-in into this scene. Unfortunately, I can’t find out it on YouTube, or I would have listed them back-to-back. Grrr.

  • Eleventh Regenerates to the Twelfth from ‘Time of the Doctor’

As a whole, I wasn’t crazy about ‘Time of the Doctor.’ Disappointment is too strong a word; there were some great scenes, but his Superman-esque / Dragonball Z-esque regeneration powers near the end were just…not very Doctor Who-y to me. It seemed like something out of Japanese anime, or a Superhero movie. Considering I love both, I would think I love it here, but I don’t. Still, I’m judging scenes, and Matt Smith’s final scene as the Doctor was very moving. Music was perfect, and he gave a great speech that really touched me.

“It all just disappears doesn’t it, everything you are gone in a moment, like breath on a mirror. Any moment now, he’s a’coming’…But times change, and so must I…We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people, all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day, I swear. I will always remember, when the Doctor was me.”

I know what these words mean to me. I’ll let you, the reader, decide what these words mean to you.

  • P.S. Unshot scene from Series 7, an epilogue of sorts to ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’

The final appearance of Amy and Rory was heart-wrenching, and yet the most tear-inducing scene wasn’t even filmed. Still, the BBC released their storyboards for this planned scene, with Rory narrating what happened to him and Amy to his father in a letter. The music is perfect, and everything about it is tragic and beautiful and moving and powerful. A part of me wonders if the storyboards alone somehow make it more touching…because for an unshot scene, it’s just fantastic. All the scenes I listed above, I fought back tears, but this one made me cry. Manly tears, of course.

There’s so many more scenes, so many great moments, but this post will go on forever if I don’t stop now. I think I’ll just end this post with these words: I think the reason I enjoy Doctor Who is that for me, it’s thoughtful, emotionally engaging entertainment / art. What more can you ask for?

D&D Encounters, Tyranny of Dragons, part 2

Previously, on Tyranny of Dragons, our party of adventurer’s had arrived in Greenest, only to find the town besieged by figures wearing robes, kobolds, and a blue dragon! Running to the town to help, they happen upon a family fighting for their lives, trying to make their way to the most fortified position in town: the keep at the center of town. Helping the family to the keep, the party help repel an attack on the keep, and clear out a secret, underground tunnel that will allow them to sneak to and from the keep without incident. Making their way back to the keep to report their progress, they debate over whether to keep the looted gold they found on the raiders they defeated.

Our big damn heroes for this week include:

Upon returning to the keep, the party report to the Castellan of the keep, Escobert the Red, a dwarf with a brilliant red beard. Escobert leads the part to Governor Nighthill, who is in the parapet at the moment. As they approach, they swear that they heard the Governor talking to himself, saying how he wished he had a prisoner to interrogate. Alerted to the party’s presence, Nighthill is happy to hear the secret tunnel is now secure. At that time, the blue dragon appears, breathing his lightning breath at the people on the parapet. Everything happens so quickly, that almost no one has time to react, save one. Selwyn heroically knocks everyone out of harms way, but the lightning breath thunderously sears his body, and he is killed for his efforts (and very quickly looted by certain party members.) Spurred to action, the party attempt to time their attacks on the blue dragon’s next diving run. Just as they’re about to attack, a blast of eldritch energy and an arrow strike the blue dragon. The party follows suit, and manage to do enough damage to drive the dragon away, who seems less than interested in being in Greenest in the first place. Looking behind them, they find new companions have join them in their ongoing battle against the raiders:

Having repelled the dragon, the Governor notices and Escobert notice a new threat emerging in the horizon; the mill looks like it’s being set on fire. It’s destruction would be a mighty blow to the town’s long-term survival, so the duo asks the party to go and save the mill while they gather a small militia to eventually catch-up and join them there. Naturally, our heroes agree to this task, and use the secret tunnel to get into town undetected. From there, they use the riverbed for cover to avoid as many enemy patrols as possible. Despite their stealthy approach, they do end up in a single battle, and thanks to a well-placed sleep spell, manage to capture three of the robed figures. Xavier immediately dispatches two of the prisoners, reducing their number to one. After a very large debate, most of the party head towards the mill while Icarium drags the remaining prisoner back to the keep, again employing the secret tunnel to his advantage. Luckily, he doesn’t encounter any resistance on the way back.

At the mill, the party notices something strange; the mill itself is not on fire, and there are small fires around the mill that could be put out quickly and easily, almost as if this entire fire is staged. Bindlethorp quickly does a quick reconnaissance around the mill, and ifnds nothing else. Vladimir finds himself at the front double doors, while others peer into the various windows. Finally, Tarvik finds a stone, casts light on it, and throws it through a window. This proves to be a wise choice, as the sound of weapons striking the stone echo through the windows, before a shout from inside the mill stating they’ve been discovered. Battle naturally ensues, as twelve enemies emerge; it’s a closer battle than it seems. Vladimir falls at some point, though through strength of will he remains stable, and Anders falls twice throughout the battle, though magical healing, courtesy of Tarvik, is useful. Icarium eventually catches up, and finds himself staring at a grisly scene; dead enemies, some of his allies fallen, the noble sorceress suddenly having a beard made out of feathers (Gabrielli has a wild magic bloodline, which can make things…unpredictable at times,) and two humanoid goo things (Gabrielli managed to kill two enemies with a poison spell; when asked to describe her kill, she basically described it like poisonous melting goo. Wicked witch of the west, I suppose.) Icarium helps dispatch the remaining two living enemies with eldritch blasts. With the battle won, the make-shift militia of around twenty people show up to secure the mill as best they could, though it is clear that these townsfolk are not trained in combat, and some of them are incredibly young, perhaps too young to be fighting.

Returning to the keep via the secret tunnel, the party relays their findings to Governor Nighthill, who they find in a makeshift interrogation room, having unsuccessfully interrogated the prisoner thus far. The Governor suspects that the trap at the mill was laid for the doo-gooders helping the town in their darkest hour. In other words, by helping Greenest, our heroes have become targets. The Governor illustrates this by leading them to the parapet and pointing out one of the cult leaders barking orders in the distance, and advises them to stay away.

Unknown to virtually everyone, Xavier remained behind in the interrogation room and gave the interrogation to end all interrogations. It’s not a true interrogation, but all I can think about is this, because it was almost this good: He discovers that this cultist is a member of the Cult of the Dragon, and that they are looting the town to collect a great hoard to “usher in the reign of the Queen of Dragons…” Ominous. I honestly don’t remember if Xavier shared this information with the party, though I can say with authority that he does not share this information with Nighthill.

So in real-world D&D terms, the party has reached level 2 around this time, except for any newcomers.

Back to the game, with no rest for the weary, the party is asked to save the villagers trapped in the Sanctuary, a temple to Chauntea. Once again employing both the secret tunnel, and the riverbed for cover, they encounter minimal resistance, a quick battle with three enemies who they dispatch easily, and see before them a large building with three groups of foes. One group is at the front door employing a battering ram. A second group is at the back door trying to get in that way. A third and final group appears to be patrolling around the perimeter of the building, about 50 feet away.

With this information, how will our heroes arrange a rescue? I can’t say, but I’m confident that between now and next week, either the group will think of something brilliant or something…not so brilliant?

D&D Encounters, Tyranny of Dragons, part 1

So my intention is to move soon, but for the moment, I remain where I am, so at the very least, I’ll start DM-ing Tyranny of Dragons, and when I need to go, someone else will need to step up. Speaking of which, Tyranny of Dragons started last night for our groups at the friendly, local game store we play at. There were quite a number of new players last night, and we had more than enough players for two groups. I’m actually concerned in that if the trend continues, we’ll need a third DM soon. Since we’re going by ‘Adventurer’s League’ rules, a legal table is 3-7 players, so going beyond that isn’t supposed to be an option.

But I digress…our big damn heroes last night at the table I judged include:

So as the sun sets, our heroes are making there way to a village called Greenest, when they happen upon a horrible sight; the village looks like it’s under attack by a blue dragon! They scramble to the village entrance, and find some houses, shacks, bundles of hay on fire. Between the fire and light of the full  moon, they can see the carnage rather clearly, when a family appears in front of them, chased by eight kobolds. Battle ensues, and the party is successful in rescuing the family. The warrior woman informs the party that they must make their way to the keep at the center of Greenest, the most fortified structure in the area and the place where everyone is supposed to retreat to when under attack.

With the village overrun by kobolds as well as humanoids wearing strange robes, they fight there way to the keep successfully, though there were a few close calls along the way, as the mighty Vladimir was knocked unconscious twice. Nevertheless, they manage to make their way in just as the keep doors slam shut.

Inside the keep, the party immediately elects to take a one-hour short rest. In game terms, they desperately wanted to spend their hit dice to recover precious hit points. After their short rest, they meet the Governor of Greenest, an older human gentleman named Tarbaw Nighthill and the Castellan of the keep, Escobert the Red, a dwarf with a brilliant red beard. Nighthill informs the party of the current tactical situation, where the raiders attacking Greenest appear more concerned with looting than all-out war. Suddenly, the party hears a resonant thud, as Escobert rushes to the Governor and company, informing them that the Sally Port has been breached and that their help is required. After a fight with a robed human, four kobolds, and an ambush drake, they manage to secure the area, with Tarvik casting mending on the door for five straight minutes before restoring the door to proper status. Furthermore, the door is barricaded with barrels and other heavy objects.

Returning to Nighthill, the Governor informs the party that there are many villagers that did not make it to the keep before their doors closed, and implores the party for further aid. Readily agreeing, Escobert informs them of an old, underground tunnel that has never been used. It was supposed to be a secret way to collect water form the stream during a siege, but was actually never used for that purpose as the keep as never been besieged before until tonight. As the tunnel has never been used, it needs to be secured. The party does just that, killing two rat swarms to do so. Furthermore, at the secret tunnel exit some nearby enemies are patrolling. Using some creative tactics (involving stealth from some members and a distraction by the tiefling who is skilled in playing the lute), they manage to lure two robed figures and six kobolds into the tunnel and ambush them.

With the old tunnel secure, the party now has a secret passage they can use to enter and exit the town without drawing too much attention, as well as a means to sneak villagers into the keep. As the clock strikes midnight, the party make their way back to the keep, arguing over what to do with the looted gold they found on the enemies they ambushed.


#DepressionLies – You Are Worthy

This blog post will be heavy, and a tad preachy. My apologies. You have been warned.

When Robin Williams was reported dead yesterday, it was saddening news. I think I used the word ‘shellshocked’ when I tweeted my condolences. What happened next was a very large number of tweets showing up on my timeline with regards to depression. In hindsight, it wasn’t surprising. While stereotypical, there is truth behind the idea that artistic types (actors, musicians, comedians, etc.) suffer from depression.

It can be a difficult dialogue to address. Those with depression may be dealing with feelings of shame and unworthiness, and those feelings alone can be crippling and detrimental to honest discussion. It doesn’t help that we all remain in constant judgment of one another. But I think as we progress forward, it’s an important dialogue to have, primarily because I want people to find help. I want people with depression to seek help, and let them know that they’re not alone. It’s not quite at the same level as full-fledged depression, but I do know what it’s like to feel like an outsider, an outcast, a freak of nature, just plain different from everyone around me. It’s uncomfortable, nerve-wracking, and no pun intended, depressing. So I can only imagine what those with severe depression go through. There are over seven billion people on this planet. Seven billion unique people who think uniquely, feel uniquely, express themselves uniquely. And in spite of all our differences you’re not alone. It’s okay to be different.

But it is important to seek help. There are a multitude of hotlines available. There are good therapists available. And bad ones too; it’s important to do your due diligence, do your homework and shop around. There are a multitude of resources available. Here’s a link to one of those many. Because you are worthy.

In each of us, there is a fount of strength you can draw from. Finding it, taking care of it, nourishing it…it takes work and you need to hold yourself accountable. You may stumble, you may fall, and that’s perfectly fine. Get back up and keep going, because it is worthwhile. And you can do it, absolutely. You are worthy.

We all have beautiful souls. We can all be beautiful people. We are all worthy of being happy. Everyone on this planet is worthy of happiness, love, and life; becoming the person that believes in that will be a lifetime of practice, but it’ll be worth it. Take it one day at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be in a better place then you were before.

Let’s end this on a hopeful note. While it was a polarizing movie for many, it honestly had top notch music. Let the music wash over you, and try to understand the feelings it invokes. Inspiration. Hope. Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman taking flight for the first time from Man of Steel. He stumbled and fell, and he got right back up and tried again.

It’s your turn. Take flight. You are worthy.

D&D Encounters, Dead in Thay, part 13: The End

I feel like a comic book writer, a genre filled with a number of retcons. DC did this in the mid-80’s, and again recently around 2011 with their ‘New 52’ revamp. We all discovered tonight that the next D&D Encounters story, Tyranny of Dragons, was starting sooner than originally thought, so Dead in Thay had to end tonight. So a little bit of fast-fowarding, rectonning, and improvisation were required. It was also decided that instead of splitting into two tables, I’d run one, giant super-table. Thankfully, I few weeks ago, I drew out the map of the Phylactery Vault (thank you Gaming Paper!) ahead of time, so I was ready to go. I also had pre-gens I took the time to level up to level eight, and since a new player showed up, that ended up being a good move on my part. To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, “Prior preparation, prevents piss poor performance.”

So, previously on Dead in Thay…

Our heroes stormed the Temples of Extraction, destroying Shrines and saving / killing the Chosen of various deities of the Forgotten Realms. With the shrines destroyed, they could no longer steal power from the Chosen, allowing the good guy NPC’s (aka the ‘B’ team) to disrupt the black gates in other parts of the Doomvault so that the black gates at this location would allow entrance to the party’s final destination: the Phylactery Vault.

Speaking of which, our big damn heroes of the week include:

So we start out in the gatehouse once more. Almost everyone elects to use the Seclusion Crypt (an extra-dimensional space that can be used to heal wounds, recover spells, etc.) to recover, knowing that the final battle is at hand. Hadarr, Jek, Shalendra, and Kelson all agree to stay behind as the ‘B’ team, coming in if things go sour. In real-life game terms, after awhile, I allowed players whose characters have been killed to play with one of these players. At least, that was the plan.

The party’s benefactor, Syranna gives a speech (which I improvised a bit for fun and flavor, basically insulting the party’s friends back in Daggerford) about their final task and how they must accomplish this to be teleported back home. As far as I can tell, no one suspected a thing, so score one for me and my thespian skills. In any event, the party teleports to the Phylactery Vault, which is strange to describe. They’re basically on the inside of a house-sized tetrahedron. Yes, the inside, not the outside. And no, it’s not bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. On the floor of the tetrahedron where the players stand are three sepulchers, also shaped like tetrahedrons, each with double doors with gargoyle carvings on the doors. At the center of the floor is a dark, murky pool of water that looks rather ominous.

Our heroes figure out that the only way to open the doors to any of the sepulchers is through brute strength or picking the lock. Keeping in mind that people were walking in and joining the game whenever they could (par for the course, really), at this moment, no one had any lockpicking skill, so brute strength it was. And it was successful, because the doors smashed open, and transformed into two four-armed gargoyles. Unsurprisingly, the party makes short work of the gargoyles and enter the sepulcher, where they find shelves of vials, scrolls, and other objects. These items are protected by magic, but our heroes quickly ascertain that using arcana or calling upon a deity (aka a religion check) may be able to disrupt the magic protecting the phylacteries. It works, and with the magic disrupted, the phylacteries in this first sepulcher explode into nothingness. When I say explode, I don’t mean a Michael Bay explosion. I mean tiny explosions; no one gets hurt here.

But something does happen. With the first sepulcher deactivated, a skull with glowing jewels for eyes and gem teeth emerges from the pool and telepathically screams bloody vengeance against the party. What follows is a giant battle of attrition. The demilich proves to be formidable, sucking the soul out of various party members over time. I did alter one of the demilich’s abilities to make it more fair, in my opinion. More on that later.

Realizing the predicament they’re in, the party actually does split their forces, some concentrating on the flying demilich, while others concentrate on opening the other sepulchers, defeating the gargoyles, and disrupting the magic contained therein. It takes a very long time (my brain shut down after awhile,) but the party is successful in disabling the sepulchers. With several party members downed (in some cases, permanently), I allowed the first four players whose characters died to take control of the ‘B’ team NPC’s (Hadarr, Jek, Kelson, and Shalendra) and teleport in to participate in the battle. In the end, they do take down the demilich. I believe Waxon’s ‘Sacred Flame’ ability was the killing stroke, and some of the people whose souls were sucked out were restored. Others were not so lucky. In the end, the party permanently lost Szenden Avere and Tassidar, whose bodies continually decayed in front of everyone before exploding into a pile of dust. In Tassidar’s case, since he’s seven-feet tall (or ten-feet depending on who you talk to) and three-hundred pounds (or half-a-ton depending on who you talk to), his body exploded into what looked like a small sand dune. Other people who had their soul sucked out, but managed to retain their bodies (all of this explained later) include: Crassus, Sam, Selwyn, and Moonbow.

So with the phylacteries and the demilich destroyed, our surviving heroes hightail it out of there, teleporting back to the gatehouse. True to her word, Syranna transports the party back home to Daggerford, where they are greeted warmly by their friends and for the moment, everyone could rest easy.

The end. Yay.

FYI, the demilich has a huge number of powerful abilities. The soul-sucking ability, as originally written, when successful, has the original physical body decay into dust after a turn. So if the party succeeded in defeating the demilich (which they did), the souls trapped in its jeweled teeth and eyes would be released when destroyed. However, if there is no physical body to return to, and if the body is not within 10 feet of the destroyed gem, the soul is “released into the afterlife.” I changed this, where if a character got his / her soul sucked out, that character would start making “death” saves, exactly like the dying rules. Three successes before three failures, and their body stabilizes and does not turn into dust. Three failures before three successes, and their body does decay and burst into dust. I felt this added some dramatic, narrative tension. The players knew their characters souls were sucked out, but why were they making death saves? I also axed the ’10 foot’ rule, feeling it was minutia that added nothing to the story.

As an aside, I feel sorry for the newest player that showed up last night (he played Anubis); a giant slog-fest is not necessarily the best introduction to tabletop role-playing games. I worked hard to make it fun for him, but I honestly don’t know if I succeeded.

Since it made absolutely no difference, I conceded to Szenden Avere’s player that yes, he can come back as an animated suit of armor, like Al from Fullmetal Alchemist.

I sometimes wonder if I’m far too nice a DM, but my personal opinion is that a good DM shouldn’t be actively out to kill the PC’s. A good DM presents a challenge and does his best to call things down the middle, making changes, and improvising as necessary in the name of crafting a good narrative. To me personally, that’s what a good tabletop role-playing experience is all about. Everyone at the table is playing to create story.

Up next, Tyranny of Dragons, but first a break. I’ll be attending Gen Con next week, so there will be no D&D Encounters. I might try to write a blog about Gen Con, key word being might. Also, I must admit that I may not be blogging Tyranny of Dragons, but more on that when the time comes.

And since we’ve come to the end of Dead in Thay, I feel this is an appropriate song to go out on, because I always feel this song is a good ‘ending’ type song, thanks to sfdebris.