Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ladies of Power: Dark Horse Comics

+Dark Horse Comics  has long been ahead of the pack when it comes to having powerful female leads in their comic books.

For whatever reason, Google Play and Amazon.com have a ton of collections on sale for $2.99

Buffy Season Ten Vol 1 New Rules: $2.99

Buffy Season Eight Volume 1: The Long Way Home (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8) : $2.99 Here's one where if you're looking forward to the new movie featuring the Avengers, Age of Ultron, look at the writer: Joss Whedon.

Buffy Omnibus Volume 1 (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus series) I know, terrible that there's so much Joss Whedon writing eh? Dark you Dark Horse for your $3.99 collections! 

Willow Volume 1: Wonderland (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) I know some people favor the sidekick. For $2.99 even!

There are numerous others on sale. Anyone remember the Super Hero Dark Horse did called Ghost?

Ghost Volume 1: In the Smoke and Din by Kelly Sue DeConnick for $2.99

Alabaster Voume 2: Grimmer Tales Caitlin R. Kiernan . This is a weird series. Not traditional super heroes or horror. Let's see if the description can cover it any: "Dancy Flammarion possesses a savvy awareness and a keen knife for the monsters that lurk in the shadows. She does the bidding of an unholy host, a legion of dark gods guiding her across America's southern wilds. And a blackbird's grim tales of her battles could be his only salvation from becoming dinner for a boxcar full of beastly hoboes. Collects Alabaster: Boxcar Tales #1–#13 from Dark Horse Presents. "Caitlín R. Kiernan is the poet and the bard of the wasted and the lost."-Neil Gaiman" For $2.99

Ladies of Power! Super Hero Woman on Sale

Amazon and Google Play are doing some sales on comics featuring strong women. For those who want some visual inspiration, some of these quite new, the following should appeal:

Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More : $2.99 :

Captain Marvel Vol. 2: Down: $2.99

Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Pursuit of Flight: $2.99

X-23: Vol 1: The Killing Dream: $2.99

X-23: Target X: $2.99

Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal: $2.99

Storm Vol 1: Make it Rain: $2.99

Elektra Vol 1: Bloodlines: $2.99

Black Widow: The Name of the Rose: $2.99

Black Widow: Kiss or Kill: $2.99

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Venus in Copper: Gaming Lindsey Davis' Ancient Rome

Detective stories are often hard to capture in a role playing session. There are often times when a system will rely on characters having select specialized skills to gather the specific information needed, and lacking those skills can cause the game to grind to a halt.
This is not a unique feature of detective games mind you. I remember when Green Ronin brought Warhammer FRPG back. One of their first ‘Adventure Paths’ involved some wilderness exploration that required characters to have some wilderness or tracking skills and well, things wouldn’t move forward without those skills. It’s been a while so bear with me if I’m not remembering some 10+ year old adventure with 100% accuracy.
Some products and systems, like the Gumshoe system, try to move beyond such limitations by always allowing the players to move forward in the mystery, allowing the other parts of the game to take the crunch if you will.
For example, I’ve mentioned Lorefinder before. It’s got all the crunch of Pathfinder but the investigative components are specialized into the Gumshoe style which allows potentially more satisfying results than just “make a skill check.” Mind you the more skilled such individuals are, the more information they can unlock with their skills.
But in dealing with role playing games, there are many facets that should be considered and utilized when possible. When of the things that Lindsey Davis does, is brings excellent description to the reader. The first person narrations of Falco, have the detective meet an Oracle who Falco describes in the following flowery manner:
“She looked about sixty. Her straight dark gown hung from two small silver niello shoulder-broaches, so her arms were bare, thought hidden in spare folds of the material. Her hair was rather thin, mostly black yet with broad silver streaks. Her face lacked professional mystique, except for severely hooded eyes. The eyes were no special colour. It was the face of any businesswoman in the male world of Rome: accommodating, yet with an underlying stubborn strength and a trace, faint as snail tracks, of personal bitterness.”
It’s a great list and includes age, clothing, hair, eyes, along with a few other characteristics thrown in.
If this were a role playing description, other elements, such as any noticeable aura, weapons, or other strangeness, like say, floating Ioun Stones, would be marked.
Description is the character’s key to the world. It doesn’t matter how much detail the Game Master knows if he is unable to relay that information to the players.
Players tend to perk up on details because they assume that the Game Master is providing them for a reason. When in combat, it can be vital to know where a pillar is. How many feet between floors in a three story building. How many skeletons are climbing out of the graveyard.
The details in description can provide a lot of depth and information to characters that pay attention, but know your group. Just because you provide the detail, does not mean that your group is paying attention.
If your group is one who loves combat, all of the loving details about the weather, the increased temperature, the rise in the flu, and other bits that hint at events, are probably going to go by the wayside.
As a Game Master, you’ll have to focus on what the player’s are paying attention to. See if they pay attention to description’s of NPCs. See if they pay attention to rumors. See if they pay attention to local events and holidays.
Another aspect to look into when running a detective game, is investigation. The facets that should be examined include the old standards: Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why.
In a role playing game, the Who can be easy. In this  case, Falco is hired before a murder, to insure that no murder takes place! Serverina is a three time widower former slave making her world in the ancient Roman world. Those who've hired Falco want to insure that their friend, ally, and business patron, doesn't fall to her.
To know about Serverina, Falco goes through learning about how the past husbands died. Learning about how Serverina used to live. Learning about those who've hired him, just in case they themselves are not always what they seem.
This provides numerous character hooks and builds the whole of Rome in that it allows many characters to enter the realm of possible murderers, especially when Servenia’s husband to be dies BEFORE the wedding. If she was a gold digger as feared, then there are other suspects at play.
In addition to the investigation, a role playing game can have other elements. One of the fun things about gaming, are the rewards. In traditional games like Dungeons and Dragons, this is usually a more powerful magic item. Some things might included non-traditional rewards like titles or land.
In this novel, Falco is awarded with a turbot.
A turbot in this time, is a fish of royal importance. When caught it was often given to the Imperial House to carry favor. Falco getting one? When he doesn't have the house or means to properly prepare this giant fish? It borders on comic.
Giving players a reward that has social status and requires them to work with it to get the full benefit of that status? It can provide solid entertainment. Are there characters with skills in music? Get them into a bard college for a special performance that requires a special instrument.
Are there players who are master weapon smiths? Have them learn how to craft exotic weapons, but have to provide the materials and space to the trainers who will teach them.
With a little give and take in the reward, the reward itself becomes part of the story.
One of the things that players can learn, is a deeper history of their surroundings. For example, consider this exchange between Falco and Severina.
“After a moment Severina lifted her right hand, showing the cheap ring with a crudely etched Venus and a small blob that was meant to be Cupid nestling her knee. ‘Now copper-‘ she dlcared obscurely, ‘that’s for eternity!’
‘Eternity comes cheap! Did you know, copper is named for the mountains of Cyprus, where the oxhide ingots come from? I collect obscure facts. ‘And Cyprus is the birthplace of Venus, so that’s why copper is the metal of Love-‘
These bits of historical information may provide interesting tidbits of trivia to have, or may be important clues to something coming down the pipeline.
Lastly, I would say that detective stories, especially those set in a large city like Rome, benefit from set pieces. Having a place that the characters can use as a compass, to know where they’re at, that is a local spot that knows what’s going on around that particular location.
For instance..
‘Before I stalked out the gold-digger, I wanted to explore the Hortensius menage. People tell you more than they think by where they live and the questions they ask; their neighbors can be even franker. Now I had gained a general impression, the sweetmeat stall where I had been given directions earlier was ripe for a return visit.
‘When I got there a hen who liked the high life was pecking up crumbs. The place itself was just a shack opposite a stone pine. It had a fold-down counter and a fold-up awning in front, with a small oven tucked away behind. The accommodation in between was so scanty that the stallholder spent a lot of his time sitting on a stool in the shade of the pine tree on the other side of the road, playing Soldiers against himself. When a customer turned up he left you long enough to get excited over his produce, then sauntered across.
‘The freeholders of the Pincian discouraged shops: but they liked their little luxuries. I could see why they let this cakeman park on their hill. What his emporium lacked architecturally was made up for by his bravura edibles.
‘The centerpiece was an immense platter where huge whole figs were sunk to the shoulder in a sticky bed of honey. Around this circular dish were tantalizing dainties set out in whorls and spirals, with a few removed here and there (so no one need feel reluctant to disturb the display). There were dates stuffed with whole almonds the warm colour of ivory, and others filled with intriguing pastes in pastel shades; crisp pastries, bent into crescents on rectangles which were layered with oozing fruits and sifted with cinnamon dust; fresh damsons, quinces and peeled pears in a candied glaze; pale custards sprinkled with nutmeg, some plain and others cut to show how they were baked on a base of elderberries or rosehips. On a shelf at one side of the stall stood pots of honey, labelled from Hymettus and Hybla, or whole honeycombs if you wanted to take someone a more dramatic party gift. Opposite , dark slabs of African must cake drowsed beside other confections which the stallholder had made himself from wheat flour soaked in milk, piercing them with a skewer and drenching them with honey before adding decorative chopped filberts.
Lindsey Davis makes ancient Rome much more interesting then just a place where detective stories happen, and by engaging the players on multiple levels, you can do the same for your own campaigns.
If you enjoyed the ramblings, please +1, share, or comment. Talk about unusual rewards and what you’re players did with them. Speak of skills rarely used save for those special occasions.

Reading and Reading Challenges

At the end of February, on the website XO Jen, a challenge was mentioned on the website: http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year
One of the reasons she states that she started it, is that she needed to read more. Stephen King, in his excellent book, On Writing, discusses the need to read. That if you don’t read, you can’t write. You won’t have the tools for it.
In her readings, she found “I would come across stories that I didn't enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.”
I’m curious what she was reading that would cause such a misfiring of enjoyment of reading.
Her solution? “Instead of reading everything, I would only look at stories by women or people of color or LGBT writers. Essentially: no straight, cis, white males.” I am so unhip that I had to look up what a cis was and well, it’s apparently some weird code for “man.” As opposed to identifying as transgender male? I apologize for being so unhip.
The good news? For her, this worked. Again, without having any background of WHAT she was finding so bad and WHAT she was reading, hard to say where the actual change came into place. I know that when I read the dreaded generic fantasy, there are often times I'm like, “No, not another farm boy destined to save the world…”
The article discusses some more points, such as another author taking a similar challenge, reading only novels written by writers of color. That must have been a great delve in many ways because there are so often different realities then a “straight cis white male” goes through.
She does provide a nice list of books. This is handy because too often, I see a ‘challenge’, a call to arms if you will but it’s just some generic anger directed into the void to call for action as opposed to “and as a way to start, let’s look at this specific authors.”
But I don't find myself rising directly to the challenge.
Part of that is I already read a variety of authors. I'm not saying that it’s probably not slanted towards the dreaded cis white male but Lindsey Davis is not a man. Charles Saunders is not a white dude.
But somewhere in my brain, I’m trying to get to saying something intelligent and I think I’m failing.
Why do we read?
The author notes “If the majority of books being held up and pronounced Good and Worthy are by white, straight, cis men, it's easy to slip into thinking that most good and worthy books are by authors that fit that description.” But here’s the thing… if you read my blog, you'll probably spot some top ten movies, but top ten books? I'm unmoved by popularity. I still haven't read the novels of Stephen King’s the Dark Tower. I’m one of those weird people who owns more than they read due to yard sales, store closings, friend’s moving, etc…
But then there’s the whole why do we read thing?
Remember, her article initially starts off with the purpose of reading to fuel her writing.
I’m not that guy.
I think that the larger problem is that there’s literally too much to read.
Again I’m trying to make a point here but flailing about.
I have friends who are writers. They write to eat. They write to pay their bills. If all of the sudden everyone said, “Yeah, all of you independent writers who aren't on the best sellers list, well, you’re still white and straight and we're not reading you”, what happens to them?
Do you read to support a favorite writer?
I will to a point but that has to be earned. For example, as much as I enjoyed the first few books of The Wheel of Time and A Game of Thrones, I stopped reading when it became clear that the audience didn’t necessarily matter to the established writer, in a way that say, to a new writer, a hungry writer, one that was very actively involved with his fan base, matters.
This isn't some weird era where there needs to be barriers between the audience and the creator and if the creator isn't putting out the material the audience wants, but at the same time doesn’t need the financial support of the audience, let’s call it “I'll get around to it one day.” Much like Stephen King’s Dark Tower or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I'll get around to it one day.
Do you read to understand the genre better?
I ask this one because one of the reasons I read Lindsey Davis is she’s writing mysteries set in Ancient Rome. As someone who enjoys ancient history, I’m fascinated by how she portrays this ancient time. And how she mixes the historical with the detective side of things.
But…there is a collection of stories by author Manly Wade Wellamn, Who Fears The Devil. If you’re someone who enjoys role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, it’s good to know who Manly Wade Wellamn is because he’s one of the cornerstones or one of the ‘inspirations’ to the original game.
The same could be said of C. L. Moore Jirelof Joiry. I've read the stories of Jirel several times. I find them terrible.
But they are foundation stories. They set the steps for things that come after. They are important because they are some of the first stories by a woman fantasy writer.
I could say similar things about the ‘grand dame’ of Science Fiction, Anne McCaffrey, whose works my opinion varies tremendously on because some I enjoy and some bore me. Or C J Cherryh who’s Gate of Ivrel, for me, easily stands the test of time.
These are stories that are important because the help everything that comes after.
But do they?
Do you read to learn a new skill? I recently bought two books on painting miniatures. One written by a Angel, a Spaniard, the other by aJBT, Frenchman. Are they ‘semi-white’?
If Jen Haley came out with a book on painting miniatures, just as I have done with her instructional video, I’d buy that in a heart beat. Appreciate technical skill where you find it.
Part of my wonder at some of the ‘anger’ I get from here comes from looking at the following, and maybe I’m reading it wrong, “After a year of that, the next challenge would be to seek out books about or with characters that represent a marginalized identity or experience by any author. In addition to the identities listed above, I suggest: non-Christian religions or faiths, working class or poor, and asexual (as a start).”
Maybe one of the reasons that best selling lists are topped by white csi males is that they are a good portion of the consumers? And that they don't feel the need to challenge and marginalize themselves when others are already calling them out for it?
I think there is an immense arrogance that white people throughout all of time are the same. I think that even now people think that white people in Britain and America are the same. Perhaps to a certain point we are.
But here’s one thing I'm trying to flounder out, trying to throw the idea on the table. Reading Shakespear is reading a white guy. It’s not the same thing as reading early Michael Moorcock despite the fact that again, it’s a white guy from England.
Reading C J Sansom and David Liss, both of who do historical. The former British, the later American. Their work has oceans between them in style, tone, tonality, and methodology.  
There are so many stories that I think sometimes there is a panic that those who want to write and have a working job with those slivers, are worried that they’ll be outshone. Just as many others, regardless of what their writing, are outshone.
So what’s my point?
Read more. This is probably the biggest thing. Having any conversation about reading challenges and reading lists and things to read in a year, can be downright silly if you buy twenty books a year and read two. There’s no conversation about expanding your reading horizon because you don’t have one.
Know why you’re reading. If you’re reading to support an author, do so. See if they are active on twitter. See if they have a forum. See if they have a facebook fan page. Keep up to date with their works. Promote them.
Be open to reading a variety of material. Someone may wonder what my point was if I was going to come back around to this. I've been trying to mention it before, but I read a lot. I’m not as well read as many. Let there be no illusions that I read everything and anything under the sun. A lot of what I read is indeed garbage fit for popcorn enjoyment levels.
But if someone says, “Charles Saunders new book is even better than Imaro!”, I'm on that. The thing is, I have the frame of reference that I know who Imaro is as a fictional character, and who Charles Saunders is as an author.
If you don't know who an author is that’s recommended, ask for more details. Explain who you currently read. Explain what you currently enjoy. Explain why you like it.
Promote! After expanding your horizons, tell others. Share your reactions. Expanded other people’s reading circles.
I’m sure I have failed to make a coherent point but I’m trying folks. Help me out here. Share the post, +1 the post, get some discussion going on. Help me flesh out what I'm trying to say in a manner that doesn't' sound crazy.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Venus In Copper by Lindsey Davis

Venus in Copper is the third novel by Lindsey Davis in the Marcus Didius Falco detective novels in ancient Rome.

Lindsey continues to have a skilled hand in multiple fields that makes reading her novels about Falco worth while.

1. Funny. Lindsey has a light touch in her sense of humor, but it is persistent and shows up in much without overpowering things.

2. First Person: Her use of Falco in the first person to share his world view with the reader goes beyond the humor as Falco, despite some skill in various fields, is not a Spartan warrior. Is not a rich Senator. Is not much of anything except determined and understanding of his own limitations. He is enough of a rogue, of a scoundrel, that he never quite fits in exactly, but friendly enough, honest enough, hard working enough, that the reader wants him to win. 

3. Descriptive: Lindsey could drown the reader in the world of Ancient Rome. Her talents allow her to pick almost any point of entry and ram home the important parts like a master carpenter driving home nails. When she's describing what the new found rich are wearing? When she's describing what the vendors are selling from their stalls? When she's providing details on the objects to be found for sale in the warehouse district? All written with a flare for providing the details needed for the reader to understand what's going on and to paint their own mental picture of how it all works around them.

4. Continuation: One of the things I enjoy about a continuing series, is seeing how the characters change, evolve, grow, and react to the events that happen to them. Lindsey's  touch with Falco and romantic partner, Helena, is one that makes me want to see what happens not only to the mystery, but to the characters.

If you're looking for a well written novel Venus in Cooper is overflowing with description, character, and humorous happenings. Well worth the reading.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Numenera Session Two

This post took me forever to compose. I've been in the hospital for the last three days. I've had back problems. Normally it effects me more when I'm walking but somewhere over last weekend, it got to the point where only when I was laying down was it bearable.

I learned this while trying to compose my recap of Numenera last Saturday. Sigh. Now on pain killers after a steroid shot. I can walk better but sitting upright for any amount of time is still out.

Anway here it is. Are these recpas something people are interested in or would you like to hear more about how the game mechanics, setting, group dynamics, etc.. . are working out?

For Johnah Hammer, one of the few benefits of being in the grand city of Qi was the opportunity to visit family. His mother and father were older now and the children gone, but those who visited the city were always welcome to stay.

Not for long though. It was after all, due to a shortage of resources that his parents had sent him to the Monastery to start with.  He did not hold it against them. It had turned out well for everyone in the end. The skills that they taught Johnah allowed him to make a small living as a wilderness guide.
The Hammer pondered exploring the city. It was a city built upon city built upon city. The further one could descend down, the more ancient and archaic the city became.

His stay was not long though. A summons to temple by an Acolyte arrives. Summoned to a Clave where he would learn The Truth had been issued.

Johnah smirked. The Aeon Priests and their summons. Still, with the last caravan he had been a part of destroyed without him… Self sufficiency in the wilds did not transfer to the city so easily.
The temple would be enough to make even the non-believer give pause. He walked through long halls. Each step in front lit but ever step leaving darkness behind. The hall went on forever until they didn’t.

And when Johnah walked through the door, he was no longer alone.

Rather several of those he had recently worked with were entering the room from different entrances. If the Hammer was a suspicious man he’d have paused for a moment but given the size and scope of the priesthood, he doubted there was anything they wanted from him.

The Hammer looked at the chair. They were transparent and cool. When he sat, the chair began to turn to a faint red. As the others sat, theirs did too. Except for one… the man machine.

He sat alongside Dameris the White, the immortal Lady. Across from him was the man machine, Hugo Hall. The Hammer narrowed his eyes and examined Hugo closely. Was that monstrosity more machine now than before? Next to Hugo sat Drugah Voss. Drugah seemed both intrigued and repelled by Dameris. Their powers did not often mix well when the duo were in close proximity to one another.

An Aeon priests enters the room. “May the truth show you the light to all.” He intones. While they are not a popular group, they have brought up ‘the Truth’, the language that we all speak. A wise move, insuring that communication at least is nearly universal.

“The incident you recently resolved. It did not originate in this area.” He moves his hand and the wall behind him changes. It shows the youth uncorrupted. Until cables from the Hub emerge and inject into the lad. All of us here know what happened after that.

“We tracked the source. It comes from the undercity. The undercity is home to the machine people.”
The Hammer looks at Hugo.

“I am not one of the machine people!”

“indeed, Hugo is not a full automation.” The priest shows us his arm. Pistons and gears whirl and click. “Be at ease guide, not all who are of our nature are machine people.”

To be honest, the Hammer wasn’t worried. Members of this priesthood were known for only spreading “The Truth”. There were not interested in taking over the world or taking over minds and hearts. Rather spreading a universal language and a universal math. Theirs was a religion of tolerance.

Except for the abuse of Numenera. That they had no patience for.

“We will take you below and then…”

“Hold priest, what do you expect of us? You get ahead of yourself.”

Hugo laughs.

The priest shows us videos of the undercity through a camera mounted on a flying platform; some type of drone. The bots are numerous and without any regular variety. The bots rip apart other bots, and use those components to enhance a massive hub. They seek to make the hub reach all the way to the city of Qi directly. From hub to tower, from tower to Qi? A port under Qi.

The drones make short work of the ports, but the creatures continue to make their hub reach further.
“We seek your assistance in destroying this hub.”

“My hammer is powerful, but I doubt it could destroy this.”

The priest smiles and pulls out a round acrylic chip.

A few of my comrades look at the chip. Hugo and Drugah in particular are fascinated by it. Drugah recognizes it from the gleam in his eyes.

“This chip must be inserted physically. It cannot be used wirelessly.”

The priest looks at Hugo. “You are the one who will need to insert the chip. You will have to have that program.”

“And if we fail?” The Hammer asks.

“It does not bode well. Our glorious Mayor” and the priest’s eyes actually roll, “Will set off explosive devices under the city. The support beams will collapse. Those in the dirigibles… they will remain unaffected.

“Well, my parents live in this city so I shall strive to take care of this issue for you.” The Hammer nods. The others agree.

“The bots are the most honest of us all. They have no use for politics. No use for deception. They are those who will make any sacrifice. We see you are a group somewhat similar, in terms of dedication to a cause.”

“And what of you Immortal?” The Hammer asks. “Will you be of use against these automations?”

“I am always useful.” She smiles.
“Not in that way. In a useful way.” The immortal frowns at Hammer’s words.
Another enters. The Immortal apparently has a cousin, well-groomed with white hair and a wooden katana. “Evening cousin. I have been sent by your mother to insure that you are taken care of. My name is Vexar. It’s an honor to be traveling with you.”

The name is known. He is a wandering swordsmaster who serves a blind swordsman who is out in the world making his mark. Only after years of training with his wooden blade will he upgrade to a more dangerous weapon.

The Hammer and Vexar trade war stories in terms of melee and distance attacks. When the Hammer extends a big beefy hand to Vexar, the Hammer is surprised by the strength in the grip.

The Immortal and Vexar trade some barbs about their various origins. The males, on Vexar side, are mainly glaives. Those on the Immortal, are from female to female and are often nano’s or jacks.

The Aeon Priest, finally decides to introduce himself as Timerius. “Any questions?”

The Hammer pipes up. “How do we get there.’

Timerius shows us a massive drone. “This will take you down, and return you to the surface.”

“Uh… which of us flies this?”

Timerius smiles. “Professionals. Not one of your people. You will have two days. Failure will result in bombing.

“Now there is also a secondary objective. If you wish to perform it, this is up to you.”
Drugah speaks up. “This objective will provide us with some funds? Some extras?”
The priest speaks again, ignoring the TK specialist. “Not too far from where we’ll be dropping you off, is a ‘meatbag’ area where humans life. We wish to make contact with them. They are masters of bio-modification with machinery and Numenera. They have mastered it beyond what knowledge is up here. We have tried to send emissaries before but they have no returned.”

The discussion of the ‘meatbag city’ reveals that it is a city on the move. One that doesn’t necessarily stay in one place all the time. 
The group takes something called the Lifter down. Objects built as copies of how the machine people use them.

The Hammer speaks about the different roles that each will take. The Immortal avoids the subject for the most part, making references to having some healing ability and a razor ring that she uses to defend herself. No wonder Vexar has been sent to watch over her.

The group follows the Aeon priest. With each step, the light illuminates us. For everyone in the group save Hugo, it’s a red light. For Hugo, it’s a blue light. When The Immortal and Vexar touch the floor though, the panels become a bright red, almost to the point of yellow, and unlike when we leave, the panels remain glowing for several minutes.

The group gets into chairs. Bands surround the chairs keeping us from moving. The globe moves through ha series of tubes. Numerous globes containing other Aeon priests with other adventurers move through these areas.

It ends at a landing pad with the ship that we were shown earlier. Around us are various sized dirigibles. From them depart nobles. They have an immense satisfaction of not caring about them. Their outfits and uniforms are not suitable for the wilderness. One of them looks to have a hat that stands some odd ten feet tall with globes dancing around it.

Vexar fits in. His own uniform being a high-tech device despite its appearance.

Dirigibles come and go and the group continues to move through the crowds.

The lifter the group is brought to is heavily armored and pock marked with numerous different types of injuries. Even as we approach, it is being worked on.
Timerius assures us, “While your pilot is very experienced, he requests silence. He is a little touched from the numerous individuals he has sent down that have not returned. This is a dangerous mission, but we feel we have chosen well here.”

Much like the globe, we are strapped in. The pilot and co-pilot come in from another entrance. They are safe and secured behind additional armor plating.

Timerius smiles. “Good luck and may the Truth be with you.”

Things grow dark. Air is pumped into the chamber. The vehicle is sealed from the outside world. 

Vexar smiles. “I’m claustrophobic.” He reveals.

And then the pressure of take off hits. It’s like being smashed by hundreds of fists evenly across the body. But at the same time, its exhilarating.

Flight halts. Red lights blare. Rattling shakes the entire ship.

Hugo looks about. Something in the man-machine’s eyes indicates that he knows something is wrong. He looks at a HUD “Nano-Cloud detected.”

The metal, the heavily armored plane? It begins to disintegrate. The group hears from the front, “Williams! Williams!” And at that point, know that the front has broken off.

The group can see numerous buildings through the holes in the ship. The Hammer looks at Hugo. 

“Well man-machine? Can you control this heap?”

Hugo doesn't reply but instead jacks into the ship and begins the effort of controlling the ship. He has some success. He can’t stop the ship. He can’t cease our descent. But he can angle it. He can control the direction we move in.

Drugagh uses his own power, that of his TK mastery, to bounce the ship. This takes some of the fall and impact that we might otherwise have taken all at once.

The heroes leap from the ship. The Hammer, long used to such physical activity, uses his body and the knowledge gained long ago in the monastery, ignores the effect. The others have various degrees of success.

The Immortal and Hugo don’t land that well comparatively. Hugo smashes through a few floors while the Immortal smashes firmly into a wall and leaves quite a bit of blood stains.
The Hammer extends his own hand down to Hugo. While the naturalist isn’t a fan of the man-machine, he finds himself admiring the willingness of Hugo to put himself into danger over and over again.

Vexar makes the rest of the group look foolish in terms of how quickly skillfully he lands.
Looking down, the group realizes that they are still some odd twenty stories into the air. The stairs are in various stages of degeneration but enough remains that descending doesn’t provide that troubling.

Vexar and the Immortal make more banter. The Immortal is not impressed by Vexar’s ability to take care of her.

The Hammer activates his own Numenera, the Sheen. The Hammer’s skin becomes coated in liquid metal. The metal is cool to the touch. “One encounters many a thing when travelling between the cities.” The Hammer smirks.

On the bottom level, there is a rain of greenish black oil. Clouds of it. The air is so tainted that everyone save for Hugo begins coughing. The Sheen surrounding the Hammer minimizes the coughing.

All around the sound of machinery pounds.

The ground is slick and covered.

Eventually the oil and cloud and noise die down.

“Hugo, can you determine where we’re at as opposed to where we need to be?”

“Roughly five hours. Two hours to the town.”

The group begins moving towards the town. Vexar and the Hammer take to the streets walking directly while the Immortal brings up the back and the Hugo and Drugah take to the sides in order to stay out of the way of what else is out here.

Who knows what the machines have sent out here? Who knows if there are drones or hunters.
There is a sudden realization on the Hammer’s side that his ride has been destroyed. The others assure the Hammer that there are more ships that can be sent.

The Hammer pauses. All about him, he  senses eyes. Shadowy things that are hunters.  The Hammer signals them. Perhaps the allies he was sent to find in the ‘meat city’?

No. They pull forth steel and approach.

Combat is joined! Vexar proves his mettle as does the Hammer. These metal creatures, when injured, prove to have human components to them. This reveals them as the former agents sent down. The meat on these creatures long dead.

After the initial attack, more of the machine men take to the streets, but these are armed with some sort of lasers and are heavily armored. They too prove no match for the group.

After the battle, the Immortal speaks to one of the skulls. It’s weeping is piteous. It reveals that it is indeed another agent of the priesthood and that it doesn’t understand what happened to it until it starts shrieking at which point the Immortal lets it rest.

The travels take us to the city where we are warmly greeted. Cleaning off is a priority. The dwellers of the city are appreciative of not only our presence, but the offered exchange of knowledge with those above.

Even better, they have need of our talents. They wish to be away from the Hub least it activate and do more damage to them.

Like the priests above though, they have lost many soldiers. We agree to scout out the region in order to provide a cleaning.

This will allow their city, which has folding components and is able to move through some type of hoover technology, to safety navigate.

We are given a guide. He is old and knows his way about. He shows the group the under city ecology of how the different bits of machinery react to the different intrusions about it. During the scouting, the group comes under attack by yet more automations. The guide wisely chooses to hide and allow the professionals to do what they’re best at.

In thanks the group is given jet backs. The chip Hugo has is not going to be kind to the Hub and to make a hasty escape the jet packs are a vital necessity. Would have been nice if the Aeon priest have provided such but…

More important than the jet packs however, is knowledge of how to get into the machine city without being spotted. This proves more useful as it allows the group to converse their powers.

In the main fight, a robed full-fledged machine, one that is apparently self aware enough to call itself “Legate Terrminus”, with a red flaring cloak sends out two mechanical lions and two giant man-machines to duel the group.

Drugah gains the enmity of the red robed robot who launches a bolt of energy from its sword and severs his arm.

Hugo manages to move into the red-robed machine man’s path and insert the chip. The two lock horns over it for several seconds. Hugo somehow loses a mechanical leg in the melee.
One of the man-machines shorts out the Hammer’s back pack.

Somewhere in it all, the Immortal uses her unique powers to take some of the other dead servants sent down by the surface, who aren’t completely decayed, into fighting the mechanical lions.

As the machine ruler goes down, Vexar gives Drugadh something that sprouts him a new blue arm. In exchange, Drugadh works on the Hammer’s destroyed back pack.

They use these back packs to escape from the city. The Hammer’s backpack lasts most of the way and when it gives out, he’s not surprised, only surprised to survive the fall itself thanks to his Sheen.

The machines however, have not given up the chase and follow. Taking a last stand, the group fights back to back until exhaustion threatens to overwhelm them. Armor and clothes stripped and ripped. 

Bolts and energy expended. Chain armor torn.

And then the sound of the pick up ship unleashing new levels of death that the machines can only retreat from.

Safety at last.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2 follows the original cast and crew of the original movie with a slide of five years down the timeline.

During that time Hiccup continues his role as inventor. He manufactures a sky diving suit that enables him to glide for example.

He also continues to push new barriers between himself and his father. This gives them different reasons to fight. In this instance, it's Hiccup's desire to travel, to explore, to map and know the world.

That exploration brings with it new discoveries that allow old wounds to be healed as well as inflict new ones. For the good, Hiccup meets his mother, Valka. Her design is fantastic and strange, a wild woman with advanced knowledge of the dragons.

Not only does she have knowledge of the dragons, but her heart, much like Hiccup's, is on the side of the dragons. It was this willingness to see the dragons as more than just monsters that lead her to leave his newborn son and husband in the first place.

She becomes a caretaker of injured dragons and lives in a fantastic and majestic local.

For the bad? That would be The new villain introduced this time, Drago, is a 'dragon master'. This stands in stark contrast to Hiccup who is friends with his dragon. Its an interesti

I've heard some complain that Valka suffers in that she is brought in and shown to be a powerful and knowledgeable figure in her own right only to be "punk'd" by the villain, but if she's punk'd, what about poor Hiccup's father eh?

Hiccup's father, a king, a warrior king, a warrior king whose been shown to survive previous encounters with Drago, is slain.

But people want Valka to have more agency?

The important thing to remember, is that despite the large cast of characters and the very important role some of them have, Hiccup and Toothless, still the only Night Drago, are the stars of the show. If Valka and Drago were introduced at the same time and Valka defeats Drago right off the bat, why bother introducing him? What would the point be? Drago is there for Hiccup to defeat.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 features numerous battles, great action scenes, fantastic views of aerial overland shots, and some emotional weight due to the subject matter. While probably not suitible for very young children, it's handling of the subject shouldn't be dismissed by those teens who might see it.

The alpha of this movie? The large dragon? He's hinted at before being seen, and when he does make his appearance, it's one that is a callback to the glory of the wild. When we see what Drago has done to a similar alpha? One that is of same stature and size but with manacled tusks? It's like seeing something out of the last movie of the Lord of the Rings with their specialized elephants, a massive murder machine.

And now for direct spoilers and how I look at a movie like this.

1. Contrast: The villain Drago is brought in to show a different way of "living with dragons'. He is not their friend, he is their master. He is not there to make allies, he is there to become a ruler. He can protect you from the dragons, but fail to heed him and he will crush you. There are also the visual differences. Drago is older. Drago's hair style is far different. While both Drago and Hiccup are missing limbs, Drago's is a massive metal arm while Hiccup's is a tool to mount his dragon's stirrup.

2. Design: Both Drago and Valka benefit from very interesting visual designs. It allows the viewer to quickly identify each character and allows each character to have their own 'thing'. For Valka it might be seen as 'wild woman and Drago conqueror. This is also true for the many different and new dragons introduced. Each has its own visual identification and each allows the viewer to know what they are looking at quickly.

3. Scale: Drago is an invader with a sizable force. This includes siege weapons, numerous ships, hundreds of men, and his own dragon king. The scope of the movie is far greater than the original. As your own campaigns continue to advance, are you thinking big enough? Are there enough interesting challenges going on?

4. Loss: Hiccup loses not only his father, but his dragon Toothless as well. This is a tremendous setback and a powerful reminder that not everything is supposed to be easy.

5. Symmetry:  Toothless and Hiccup are both missing limbs. Drago lost his arm to dragon fire before the movie started and it motivated him to become what he is today. Drago's alpha dragon? At the end, toothless blasts off it's left horn, on the same side that Drago is missing his real arm. These little effects can lend symmetry to the characters and further bonds them while showing their differences.

6. Advancement: Hiccup comes from a small town in an isolated part of the world. Hiccup explorers and this increases the size of the setting. As he does so, he encounters not only his mother and Drago, but also Eret. This expansion allows the setting to grow naturally. In a larger setting like the Forgotten Realms, while the setting may have dozens of supplements published, that doesn't mean the players know the setting. Bring them to places that they may not be familiar with. Take the characters to locals that their characters don't know or are only vaguely knowledgeable about.

7. Redemption: Eret starts off as a dragon trapper who sells his captured dragons to Drago. At the end of the movie, he is fighting alongside Hiccup. The transition is relatively smooth in that Drago is a cruel master to start off with, already giving Eret a scar, and Hiccup? He is a loyal friend and ally who does Eret great honor by allowing Eret to ride his father's dragon.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 has action, exploration, villains, redemption, and fantastic visuals to keep fans of dragons appeased for many viewings.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Pain of Adepticon

I may have mentioned before that I enjoy miniatures.

Often the companies making them are making them for use in role playing games or I can draw inspiration for my role playing games from them.

One of the local conventions is Adepticon.

They moved the convention this year, much closer to me. I used to live in Mt. Prospect so it's new location was in a regiion well known to me.

The hotel has some nice art outside of it as well as some nice ponds.

But the place was rammed.

And that meant walking.

Walking when I have a bad back.


This year, among the vendors, was +Scale75mm , +Games Plus , #GamesandGears, +CoolMiniOrNot and numerous others.

Games and Gears sold out of the brush I was looking for. I backed a few of their Kickstarters. At the convention they were very humble, talkative and friendly.

Scale 75 sold out of all of their fantasy colors in their new paint range except for Steam and Punk. They mentioned that they had distribution in the United States now and I suggested they hook up with Games Plus among others since Games Plus is one of the local stores.

Wyrd Miniatures was not there in their own booth, but had their own section in the Coolminornot area. The Coolminornot, CMON, is really just almost an advertising venue for their Kickstarters at this point with a ton of Wrath of Kings, Dark Ages, Sedition Wars, and of course, Wyrd.

There were a LOT of games going on. Lot of people playing. Some fantastic scenery, some fantastic paint jobs. I snapped only a few because every minute of standing was unpleasant. These are from #Antimatter Games who do a Shadowsea and Deep War, games based off of #Ganesha Games and their Song of Blades and Heroes.

I like messing with different things so I did buy some pigments and fixer from #SecretWeapon as well as a few other bits.

A few other places I stopped, say to get some scenery, didn't have exactly what I was looking for. THAT one item I said, "Gee, that looks cool" was sold out. This happened when I was looking for some stencils too.

For me? The whole thing was a mild disaster. If Scale 75 had their full range of Fantasy & Games paint, it would've been worth it. See, I have a pinched nerve in my back. Walking for any length of time? Disasterous. Leg, knee, and foot get numb. Had to take several rest stops.

Now on the other hand, if Scale75 is able to take advantage of there being multiple local vendors there, because the #DiceDojo was also there... Then I wouldn't have to order them online and my desire for instant gratification could be meet!

Seriously though, everyone was great to talk too. The whole Kickstarter event environment has made everyone more 'neighbor' like in that you don't want to poison the water in such a small environment. Lots of great products.

Just hopefully next year, you know, they'll actually bring them to the convention!

Afterwards one of my friends saw how bad I was hurting and took me to Buno Beef. Got a combo with an Oreo shake! Almost made the pain worth the trip.

No, not really, but it was a good beef and sausage anyway.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Top 10 Things I MIss about 4th Edition

There was a bit I enjoyed in 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn't my favorite edition. It wasn't perfect. It made a lot of people angry in many ways due to things that had nothing to do with the mechanics itself.

But it wasn't as bad as many people would have you believe!

1. Class Balance: I can buy the argument that the classes might have been a bit too balanced and that too much damage looked like damage from any other class but... Fighters and rogues weren't useless at higher levels. In most versions of Dungeons and Dragons, once mages get past a certain level, really, why do you need a rogue in the party at all? Rangers didn't cast spells. I was so disappointed to see rangers casting spells again in 5th edition. This pain is only amplified by having the various Lord of the Ring movies with the very archetype of Strider out there never casting spells and then having someone trying to recreate that going, "Yeah, not happening."

2. Alignment. So wish they kept the simple stuff: Unaligned, Good, Lawful Good, Evil, Chaotic Evil. Alignments in 5e aren't almost worthless but worded very closely together...

3. Minions. Monsters that might be of a certain power level but were not meant for long running fights? Mind you, given how long fights in 4e tended to be, and how underutilized minions were, I don't think this every fully shone through, but fun stuff there.

4. Fey and Shadow Planes: Heck, I think that it was wise of 5e to snag as much as they could of the 4e setup there. The Shadowfell boxed set had a lot of great mood and elements to it despite the box itself being a cereal box and not an actual gaming box.

5. The Mythology. Yeah, a bit generic in places but I thought it was cool. Some of the new gods, like the Raven Queen really struck out. I also liked the Scarred Lands back in the day. They were even able to tie the new mythology into the Revenge of the Giants, a nod to the old classic. It made sense in that the giants in 4e were tied far more into the elements with some variants than previous editions did.

6. Digital Tools. I prefered it when they were downloadable but grew to grudgingly accept the online needed portions. The DDI made having a host of gaming material not impossible to handle.

7. 'Evergreen products'. Remember when the tile sets first came out and would quickly go out of print and be on sale at Amazon for like $100? And then WoTC said, "Hey girl, we love you. We're going to keep certain tile sets in print all the time and they'll be like, the most useful ones ever." Surprised to see that as of now, Amazon still carries them and still has a good discount on them. 

8. Fixed Hit Points and ability scores. I know some people hate them and I understand that. There is a thrill in the randomness of rolling those numbers but in my many, many, many years of experience, the real differences tend to be towards characters who are so powerful that they never could have been made via rolling and "Such Luck" as the old meme dog would say. 

9. Setting: While this ties into the mythology, there was a 'feel' that the new edition was going for; Points of LIght. Such a compelling idea that Goodman Games made not one, but two sourcebooks about it!

10. Running Encounters Rewards: I received a few freebies for running numerous adventurers at one of my friend's stores. This included miniatures, maps, and modules. It was a very nice thank you for running a game. On one hand, running a game can be fun. On the other, running at a store with people you don't know on a time you might rather be doing something else? That's almost like work and well, it's better to have some incentive than a pat on the back and your elderly aunt whispering that if you don't do it the future of the game is doomed.