29 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), A Review

Spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

I enjoyed this latest episode in the Star Wars franchise. It told a story consistent with the Lucas universe while moving away from being a retread of an earlier film in the series ... yes SW:VII I'm looking at you.

First a couple of fun trivia points:
  • the "spaceship" that actually turns out to be a closeup shot of an iron is a nice nod to one of the earliest Star Wars fan spoofs "Hardware Wars" (1978). 
  • nobody utters the increasingly annoying and intrusive "I've got a bad feeling about this" (though the director has stated BB-8 "says" the line in his beeps, I'm not going to count that).
  • Yoda's force ghost appears and is portrayed by Frank Oz using a puppet, not CGI. 
  • the golden dice appearing in a single scene in "Star Wars" (1977 and later subtitled "A New Hope") make a reappearance in this movie and, by cracky, I want a pair! 
  • And now we know where blue milk comes from. Okay, fanon states blue milk is actually bantha milk, and this milk was more green than blue, but it was a fun scene anyway.

Many fans have strong feelings about how the Star Wars universe should play out on film. I'm not one of those folks, I just like watching Star Wars movies. If you're looking for a hardcore review? This isn't it. Now, on with it!

The Resistance is in trouble. Like the Rebellion in Episodes IV-V-VI they are underfunded, meagerly equipped, and on the run. Ace pilot Poe Dameron ignores his orders and needlessly squanders some Resistance assets and putting the remaining ships in peril. This places him at odds with his commanders and leadership.

Meanwhile, Luke casually ignores Rey's request for training and goes about his daily routine. Some good scenes here, though, with Luke reuniting with Chewie and stepping into the 'Falcon cockpit for the first time in long years.

And Finn goes on a covert mission with a new face (Rose) to find a hacker with the skill to get the Resistance out of its current tight spot. Did I say tight? The situation seems hopeless. The few remaining capital ships of the Resistance are being picked off one by one, and none of the sympathetic but uncommitted factions will come to their aid. Leia is injured and at the point of death, necessitating a Vice-Admiral (played by Laura Dern) to assume the role of leadership after Ackbar's death. Yes, things are grim.

Let me cut to the chase here: the Resistance survives. The struggle between the Resistance and the First Order are merely the backdrop for the struggle between Kylo Ren and Rey, with a side dish of Luke Skywalker being all "crazy hermit Jedi." Skywalker says the Jedi are all but gone and he is the last of the breed. Further, he believes this is what should happen. Rey sees her sole chance at real Jedi training pass her by. Ren shows signs of wavering in his desire to become Darth Vader II, and begins a dialog with Rey. They even join forces in a battle which sees the death of Snoke and a Class AAA butt-whoopin' of a bunch of elite palace guards.

But the shaky alliance does not endure. Rey resists Ren's overtures to rule the galaxy at his side and bringing order to the unwashed masses. It turns out Ren may have only wanted Snoke out of the way so he could take over his spot. Kylo Ren orders the remnants of the Resistance to be wiped out.

The movie ends with the Resistance all but wiped out, Luke Skywalker dead, and the First Order still in charge. Which leaves us with:

Will Kylo be an effective leader? Is he beyond redemption, or does he waver in his devotion to the Sith ideals?

Luke Skywalker has become one with the Force, but obviously he'll be back as Force Ghost in the next installment ... won't he?

What will happen with the Rey/Kylo dichotomy? Are they destined to found a new Order neither Jedi nor Sith? What role does Luke have yet to play in this aspect of the story?

Is Rey/Finn/Rose a clumsy and poorly written love triangle? I've always held the belief, only rarely proven wrong, sci-fi writers do a poor job with romance. Further, romance makes for poor drama unless handled very cleverly. What little we have seen on-screen is IMO neither convincing nor cleverly handled. 

The Rebellion is a small handful of folk on an junk freighter ... but there are sympathetic factions out there. Was Skywalker's sacrifice enough to ignite them into a unified New Rebellion?

How will SW-9 handle the lack of Carrie Fisher to fill Leia's role, since that character is one of the few "old hands" to survive?

Bottom Line: I enjoyed this movie a great deal and look forward to the concluding episode. All the things that made me love Star Wars are there, though a few are "stood on their head" (so to speak), and I had a great 2+ hours for my $8. See it in the theatre, it's worth a trip to your local cinema.

It's Getting To Where You Can't Like or Dislike Anything

Or, How To Ignite Yet Another Internet Flame War



I liked [ABC]!  But [XYZ] is better.

On its face, this is just a simple statement of opinion by someone who enjoyed watching the latest episode of a popular franchise film.

What I saw, and still see, is an unintentional troll challenging other trolls. Note the word "unintentional" before opening fire, please. I myself have posted things in all innocence that brought a real firestorm down upon me and others; so I've nothing but sympathy for anyone experiencing the same fate.

The first half of the statement is going to set off the section of fandom who didn't like it. Because, hardcore fans being what they are? If they don't like it that means they hate it. If they hate it, you'd best hate it, too. Or you open yourself to doxxing, death threats, rape threats, etc. All this has happened to people who refused to join "best film ever/worst piece of trash ever" club.

The second half of the statement will likewise provoke anyone who believes the second film (book, tv series, comic, etc.) was obviously superior to the first. Once again, battle is joined.

Then, of course, is the "I'm not a troll, but..." guy who wanders in-thread and makes the observation everyone involved (even those striving to remain civil and somewhat cogent) are idiots and wanders back out.

Thought #1: why can't a fan say he liked or didn't like something and not get a lot of flack over it?

Thought #2: why the thinly disguised dig at another title?

Thought #3: why are fans' identities, their very sense of self-worth, so firmly wrapped up in yet another let's pretend story?

Conclusion: can't we all calm down and just get along?

Conclusion #2: okay, the above conclusion was too simplistic. I have no solution, to be frank. Feelings are hurt, friendships ruined, cool online gaming hangouts are rendered toxic by these discussions. Discussions which, by their very nature, are inherent to that hangout (or forum, 'blog, convention, etc.).

21 December 2017

A New Traveller Race

Uplifted Monkey (Cercops)

I've always liked the concept of the Niven & Pournelle's "watchmakers" so I've adapted and broadened the concept for MTU. I've used the Blue Monkey as a base for my new race. IMTU they were research subjects on a remote planet before The Fall (a space-based Dark Ages) who thrived in those times in the absence of humans.

Average Specimen: ~15 kg (~30 lbs), 90 cm (~36") 

Cercops have a prehensile tail about the same length as the body and opposable thumbs. A cercop's hands and feet are equally dexterous and they will often remove their footwear for intricate tasks. Cercops are extremely adaptable and adept at improvising and customizing equipment.

Diet: omnivorous when needed but primarily frugivores supplemented with seeds, flowers, and insects.

Social: gregarious and inquisitive, cercops can be found in a variety of Traveller settings. They are most often encountered in technical or engineering capacities. They rarely serve as scouts, most eschew being alone (though exceptions exist).

Unique: cercops have developed a needler that attaches to the tail. It is carried in a small back holster, the tail slips into it and the needler can be in play in a split-second. Short of a combat situation, this is typically their preferred weapon.


20 December 2017

Replacing Lost Limbs

Inspired by a thread on a D&D forum ...


Pyka "Zil" Zilarra, human female

Zil lives in the largest city in your campaign (Coleston in my Khordesh). She is a talented smith, capable of making ornate customized armors. She is best known for two things: (1) ornate helms inspired by hunting birds (raptor-helms), and (2) her silver limb replacements. These replacement limbs are fully functional within the individual user's DEX score, and are custom-made to match the original in exacting detail; excepting the fact they are shiny silver. They are not available in a matte finish or other metal/color, roll for reaction if they customer asks for this with a bad roll indicating refusal of service.

Hand, foot, eye, ear, and similar: 5,000 gp & 1 month
Forearm, shin, similar: 15,000 gp & 3 months
Whole limb such as leg, arm: 25,000 gp & 6 months

Half on order/fitting, half on completion. Prices and times are non-negotiable. Subjects must be available for the first week of the process for refits and adjustments. Zil cannot replace a missing head without some rather creative refereeing, but let's say it would be 200,000 gp and require a year of work.

Zil is tall and burly, dark-haired and swarthy. She has a short temper, though she is slow to violence, and very proud (justifiably so) of her work.

08 December 2017

Resolve All Actions!

Or: Okay, Now Roll For Initiative! 

How you conduct combat makes a difference. This is not, of course, a revelation to anyone running a D&D campaign. This post is just a quick look at how changing initiative and order of combat alter combat and strategy.

Everybody Acts

At its simplest, combat is a question of rolling a couple of d6, with highest roll winning. The winning side acts, performing all attacks and resolving all actions. Then the survivors on the losing side get to do the same. It has the advantage of being simple and fast, a resolution for D&D I typically prefer.

Phased Initiative

Taking a cue from Holmes (among others), some referees use Dexterity based initiative, acting in order of highest to lowest. This is a nice perk for player-characters with high DEX, granting importance to ability rolls. It puts a bit more work on the referee, rolling DEX for all monsters. The default position of assigning the same Dexterity to all NPCs or rolling once for a group of monsters can help out.

Phased Combat 

Then there is phased combat, inspired by Chainmail et al. In this system, the faction winning initiative moves first in a series of steps comprising a combat round. Typically magic/missile, movement, melee. I like to call this the 3M's. This adds more subtlety to melee tactics but takes a little more time at the table. Phased combat using this order makes the magic-user a bit more prominent as the artillery of the group, also allowing missile fire or an offensive spell to interrupt the other side's wizard. The movement phase in the middle allows for split-fire and move, a big advantage of the elf class. Movement also lets the fighters maneuver to protect team members or go on the offensive against a particular opponent. Finally, we have the melee phase.

Besides adding a bit more tactical thinking to the game? Phased combat also gives the referee more options. One can decrease the potential of magic-users by moving spell-casting after the melee phase, giving two opportunities (missile and melee) of interrupting spell-casting. Or one can do as we do, adding a second missile phase after movement. This allows half-move/fire or fire/half-move for non split-move and fire characters. This greatly increases the punch of missile fire in the game.

Declaration Of Intent

We have seen games that require declarations and others in which the referee merely asks each player, in turn, what they are doing either before or after rolling initiative. Declaring a spell before knowing if one has initiative requires a bit more thinking than knowing one gets to act first before deciding.

Recommendations?

Go with group initiative and declaring one's actions when it is time for them to act. If you want a more war-gamey feeling game go with:
  • Declaration of Intent
  • Roll for Initiative
  • Phased Combat: magic/missile, movement, missile, melee
  • Morale Check

12 November 2017

Merging D&D & T&T

So, you like OD&D’s monsters but T&T’s fast and easy combat system. What to do? 

There is no question both games have a different feel to them. As this writer sees it, OD&D works better for grim, dark fantasy; while T&T has a definitely lighter tone. While it should be noted both games lend themselves easily to customization, it is equally obvious many players feel constrained by the rules and rarely deviate from them. This problem seems especially common among D&D hobbyists. 

This essay, by the way, is written in the here and now. The 1970’s and all the free time I had back in those days is gone. So please, there is no need to remind me but Piper with a little time and effort you could do that yourself you knob lolzer! Now? I’m lucky to have an evening free to run or participate in a game. So hours of prep time are out the window. I need to be up and running with a minimum of work, and the time I have I wish to put into adding imagination and fun into the game. 

Shaddap already! 

Okay, okay ... so, how to merge the two? Well, I have found it easier to borrow the concepts of T&T than the actual mechanics. Combat, for example. In T&T you roll dice + adds and compare those to your opponents roll. I do not care for damage absorbing armor as in T&T, though I think piecemeal armor is a nice touch, so what to do? I use the AAC of Mythmere Games’ “Swords & Wizardry” (S&W). This speeds up combat tremendously, giving it a much more fluid feel. Also stolen from S&W is the single saving throw, another boon to quicker play and less bookkeeping. 

I like T&T’s kindred. Adding fairies to the mix is easy as pie. Same with weres. I do not like the implied elfin allergy to iron (as from folklore) so I leave that off. I like D&D’s racial variation so I add various types of humans and few different demi-humans from which to choose. With regard to classes, the two systems are similar but I disallow the T&T’s warrior/wizard combo class. That is not within my vision for milieu. I import the idea of the wizard’s staves, I think that’s a dandy addition, but leave D&D’s wands and miscellaneous magic items in the mix. 

I love T&T’s varied monsters, implied by the relative lack of statted creatures in the rules. I could emulate this by throwing the D&D book out with regard to a fiendish folio and writing my own. Heck, I could even completely reskin some of my favorites from D&D and other FRPG systems. Take that, you players who’ve memorized the whole unprintable book! 

So, what else? Much of the remainder is flavoring. T&T’s varied weapon damage? Thrown out, in favor of a much simpler weapon damage system. Spell casting? Hmm ... it might be interesting to see how that works in a D&D setting. I think we’ll fold that into our mixture, but that will take some fiddling. There is some work I’ve been trying, as referee, to avoid but it will simplify play and I believe my players will enjoy it.

At any rate? That’s a few ideas off the top of my head. I don’t know if I’d advertise a game as a D&D/T&T hybrid, but I’d certainly run this game! If you’d like specific questions answered or suggestions on how to merge these two games, please let me know.  

24 October 2017

Bumper Sticker Activism

Or, Should You Wear A Flag Pin In Your Lapel? 

tl;dr: I was taken to task for not speaking out regarding certain current events. I was told my silence was giving support to a socially unacceptable stance within the community. My reply? Not speaking due to insufficient facts is in no way support or opposition to a viewpoint. You can look at my life and see exactly what I support, or ask me how I feel if it isn't plain enough. You do not, however, get to assign motives or thoughts to me ad lib. Doing so makes you a troll and I want nothing to do with such. 

I always struggle with in your face philosophical discussions. I know they have a great many proponents, but I've never been convinced to change my ways by having my words or actions distorted for effect. Certainly not by being insulted or, even worse, having words put in my mouth and being lambasted for that which I've neither said nor implied.

I find myself in a similar quandary now. In fact, increasingly of late and on several fronts. I'm being asked to post this in favor of XYX and that in favor of ABC or I'm just not a good [opponent of cause célèbre]. 

I recall a bit of controversy about a political candidate for president of these United States of America being castigated for not wearing a US flag pin on his lapel during his election run. All the other candidates did, why didn't he? My (now ex) wife accused me "being a communist" when I removed a patriotic bumper sticker from my car, one she had placed there. She didn't accept my explanation I thought bumper stickers looked cheap and trashy, the actual reason (and still the way I feel all these years later). No, she wanted the outward display, erupting into a fury when I told her I lived my life in such a way as to show my love of my country through my actions: I voted, paid my taxes on time and in full, obeyed the laws, and absolutely refuse to engage in idle trash-talk about a sitting president (NB: thoughtful criticism of actual news about the president is another matter entirely). 

Now, we're rolling into a newer public argument about sexual harassment and the attendant libel and slander accusations getting hurled around. I work primarily with younger females, and I'm constantly on guard about what I say or do. I work in the medical profession, and in medical emergencies I often have to make more bodily contact with them than would be considered appropriate in most other situations. So, I take great care to otherwise be extremely respectful of both their space and the way in which I communicate with them. I refer to them as coworkers and healthcare professionals and avoid observations about their sex or appearance. I don't do this to avoid getting into trouble, though it does have that effect, too. No, I do this to insure they understand I look at them as a professional colleague upon whom I can count for assistance in a medical emergency.

In other words, I live my life in such a way as to reflect how I feel on the inside. This is why I don't do bumper stickers or hashtags or copy/paste/reposts. If you can't look at my life and understand I'm on your side? Then all fault lies with me for not living up to what I strongly believe on the inside. 

But understand this ... and hear me well. Talking to me as if I'm stupid or projecting your bigotry onto me to draw me into an argument with you is fruitless. I don't bother with feeding Trolls, I simply block and forget about them. Life is simply too short for tomfoolery.