Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons: Skills in DnD- On the Job Training

Before I dive into the supplemental rules I’m using for languages, I’ll briefly mention the original tweak that led to these rules. It’s something I refer to as On The Job Training, and it allows an extra layer of customization for characters. Somewhere between first and third (or 11th and 13th, or 21st and 23rd) level, players determine that there is a particular skill they’re using a lot, but not trained in. At 3rd/13th/23rd level, players select this skill and receive a +1 bonus to checks with it. This bonus increases by a cumulative +1 for each odd level reached in the tier; when players attain the next tier, they simply become trained in the skill.

I like this option because it addresses something I’ve experienced in most 4e games, which is that certain skills are simply missing from the party (or in the hands of folks not especially well-suited to their use) and other characters are constantly rolling those skills despite lack of training, banking on the rp bonus to pull them through. For myself, this happens a lot because very few of my characters have diplomacy or bluff relative to how many of my characters give long speeches. I like to monologue, whether to deliver horrifying threats to humbled villains before I send their souls to the Abyss or to inspire the party to do something awesome like drop a bridge on a dragon. I don’t always create my characters with the expectation that they’ll do these things (though I’m starting to bow to it), but even if I did, many characters lack the necessary skills on their skill list to make this possible. See also my comments regarding Intimidation in my last language post.

I recognize that 4e already provides a few options for players to pick up skills they’re using (or that the party needs someone to use), but I feel that this option solves things more logically and attractively. Obviously, a player could simply take a feat to gain training in a skill, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one do so; it’s usually much more sensical to pick up a multiclass feat so you get the skill and something else. However, that’s usually a choice made at or around character creation. I have played characters who switched up their multiclass, but this was usually prompted by the publication of new books rather than seeking a different skill.

Characters can also retrain, but as someone who puts roleplaying pretty high on my list of priorities I struggle with the idea that Thog the barbarian suddenly forgot everything that he knew about nature in order to…hell, I don’t even know what else is on their skill list. You get the point. Plus, retraining still locks you into your skill list in the first place, which isn’t helpful if Thog is a Thaneborn who suddenly finds himself thrust into a leadership role and would like to be a bit more politic than just introducing everyone to his axe. The issues I’ve outlined in this paragraph also explain why I don’t view backgrounds as much of a solution.

I want the perception that players grow as they gain experience, and giving them an incremental bonus as they increase their familiarity with a skill dos this. I suppose I could have just opened up retraining to let a player replace a skill on their list, but then they’re spending their retrain for a level, still doing that forgetting thing, and there’s the loss of a sense of learning. I don’t want Thog the Face to be a silver-tongued devil immediately, but I want players to gradually grow in confidence as his skills improve.

Now, one problem that’s already been demonstrated to me by an applicant for Tinderbox is how the on-the-job training bonus combines with Bard of All Trades; so a simple “this bonus does not stack with other feat or class bonuses” probably does the trick, since it means the character will use the higher bonus until such time as On the Job surpasses it or the skill becomes trained. I don’t tend to look at interactions like that as crises, since they usually give the player additional options and expect them to make proper choices.

This is a rule I'm using in Tinderbox, and hopefully it'll spread some of the key roles (from a skill perspective) around the party's class roles.

Language in DnD: Part 3- Headless Turtle

(My turtle is sleeping on a pair of my pajama pants right now, but with her head tucked into her shell.)

Now, the mechanical benefits section could be taken as odd or unnecessary, especially if I've already convinced you of the need for language revolution with all of my appeals to setting richness and roleplaying.

However, many of the benefits are simply psychological; someone likes to be addressed in their own language. DMs can certainly apply circumstance bonuses to reflect this, and I'd encourage it; but in the case of goblins, for instance, the effect is even more considerable. Even if I were awarding a player a +2 bonus on a Diplomacy roll for an impassioned plea for mercy from a Despot Goblin holding a spear to his throat, I'd still also give them the bonus for speaking Goblin to a goblin. The Despot is moved by the eloquence of his captive, but further moved that his captive is managing to be eloquent in Goblin. I'd apply both bonuses even if the character was also a goblin, since in that case there's the added empathy of staring into a like face.

The Draconic and Elemental Tongue bonuses (and possibly the Spirit tongue, which I'm mulling over as I type this sentence) have a bit of that extra mystical flare to them. They aren't just psychologically appealing, they're essentially appealing, in that they speak to something at the core of the audience member. The effects will presumably come into play less often in the Tinderbox campaign than the benefit of knowing Goblin. What makes them powerful, though, is their capacity for use in situations where the audience can't talk. The krask are a good borderline example, as krask are fairly unintelligent and almost never know any language other than Draconic. A player has no hope of convincing a krask to halt its charge if he calls out in Dwarven, for example; but the same command delivered in Draconic gets a boost. Players, even non-rangers, could use similar tactics when beset by guard drakes, which are a fairly common creature in the Tran Empire.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Movie Review: Red

I recently took a trip out to Kansas to visit my lovlier half. It was a wondrous trip, at least partially due to our not having seen each other for about two months. We did all the trip things we do: eat at Olive Garden, walk around Barnes and Noble, watch Nickelodeon.

But after today I thoroughly regret our not doing one that thing was on our list but a low priority: seeing Red.

I am sorry for the pun; I didn’t intend to put it there, I hoped to avoid it, but now it’s present and we all have to live with it in our lives. Her life (“Her” being my lovely lady) is likely to remain tragically unenriched by the experience of Red, at least until it hits DVD and we’re in the same city; she’s not much for hitting the theater by herself. But you, dear reader, could go watch it right now. And you should.

I’ve already expressed my appreciation for The Losers, another excellent film sharing many virtues with Red. I’ve also talked up The Expendables as a fun romp where a bunch of action stars get together and are burly and violent (or tiny and violent, in Jet Li’s case). With Red, we have the lighthearted and generally overblown approach to plot and villainy of the former, with an ensemble cast like the latter—only instead of Red’s cast being comprised of action stars, they’re really talented actors, some of whom can also fire a gun or get into a vicious, choreographed fight.

Bruce Willis (also in The Expendables) is great as Frank Moses, but is that really news? Outside of films like The Kid, does Willis’s performance still require commendation? If nothing else, he seems completely comfortable in this action roll. He’s able to remain extremely understand and laconic without coming off drugged or oblivious. Freeman and Malkovich are also spectacular, each stealing scenes in ways that suit their respective characters. Malkovich’s Marvin is guano crazy, though justifiably so; Freeman’s Joe oozes an affable charm. It’s interesting to view these characters as retirees and feel like one has a sense of what they would have been like in their youth, flying around the globe committing espionage. Joe seems like he’d have been very much a faceman, while Marvin probably didn’t get to interact with people much…though the special surprise during the credits might fly in the face of those assumptions. Karl Urban gives a performance which isn’t nearly as entertaining as Bones, but I’m just happy any time I see the guy getting scenes where he uses full sentences and doesn’t have to be angry at everyone. Richard Dreyfus, whom the lady and I both loved in My Life in Ruins, also has fun with his relatively small role…and gets pimp-slapped by Morgan Freeman, which might very well be a hearkening back to one of his early roles.

I know some men prefer women several years older, though I can’t claim to have ever been one such fellow myself. But Helen Mirren’s performance in Red gave me many reasons to reconsider my predilections. John Rogers mentioned, in a review of Body Heat, that one of the incredible things in that move is Kathleen Turner isn’t the “most gorgeous creature on earth -- until the film convinces you she is.” I’ve loved that line since I read his review, and it was at the forefront of my mind when Mirren’s character is introduced and Morgan Freeman declares she’s still sexy. I don’t know if it’s Mirren’s incredible charisma and vacillation between practical arctic camo and elegant dress (both ivory) that sold me, or that the innate response of a human being to Freeman’s voice making a declaration is immediate agreement. She fabulously portrays a character who remains “one of the boys,” where by boys I here mean a trio of still-lethal superspies…but does so while also remaining inarguably and irresistibly feminine.

Mary-Louise Parker also shines in the film, to the point where I felt guilty that I stopped watching Weeds after two seasons. I don’t think that I actually feel bad enough about it to go back to watching Weeds, but it was nice to be reminded of her exceptional charisma. In a film with so many big names, Parker’s Sarah Ross is content to sit back and react…and that’s what makes her so great. With her alabaster skin and wondrously expressive face, she’s at her most compelling when she has nothing to say—and while that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it’s wholly genuine.

I also loved the earliest scenes depicting Willis and Parker. In an alternate universe there’s a movie that is just shy of two hours of them courting one another over the phone, followed by fifteen minutes of explosions. And I would probably watch that movie.

The movie is fun, well-written, and acted in such a way that one can’t ignore the familiarity its stars have with their craft. Your experience may vary, but I find that extremely engaging, and am a sucker for films where the cast seems to be having fun and not feeling especially stressed. Combine that with lots of gunshots and explosions and Red is a very satisfying, worthwhile experience.

However, I do want to voice one small caveat. This is something I’ve become more conscious of in the last few months (specifically in Dungeons and Dragons Online, which I might address at a later time), and it’s gradually growing more noticeable: the morality in Red is thoroughly ambiguous. I don’t just mean the cloak and dagger, “can you trust your government?” elements to the plot, either. There are least two points when characters, thoroughly likeable ones at that, lament how long it’s been since they’ve killed someone or how difficult it is to stop killing people. And in both of those situations the context is completely lacking.

When we learn Frank Moses was a black ops man (and if that’s a spoiler, people…come on now), the information is carefully packaged to focus on his killing terrorists and drug dealers. The movie spends very little time trying to convince us that Frank is a bad, or even morally questionable, man. Marvin is initially presented as being dangerously paranoid, but the scope of what the retirees are caught in quickly vindicates his apparent mania. Yet when these other characters talk about killing, there’s no discussion about their targets. It made scenes where the team is quite clearly going out of their way to avoid killing other people, both innocents and armed lackeys, ring somewhat false. I was surprised that there was not even a suggestion that certain people are reasonable targets for execution because of their lines of work. I suppose if the film actually did present that sort of argument, it might invalidate the premise of the movie itself.

So maybe I’m glad it didn’t. I don’t think the absence of that moral conversation breaks the film or makes it impossible to enjoy. I’ll be purchasing it the weekend it hits DVD, so that I can sit back and enjoy a double-feature of The Losers and Red….and The A-Team…and The Expendables. That’s less a double-feature, more a movie orgy—and I’m looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons: My Planned Posts Begin to Resemble a Matryoshka- Defender Marks Part 1

Note: This post was originally a response to a PM on Myth-Weavers, but as it grew in length I figured I'd move it here. You know, to up my post count and drive sweet sweet traffic. Plus, the questioner reads the blog, so it's allll net gain.

So I was talking to a longtime associate and applicant player for Tinderbox today about his character concept. I was shocked when he explained that he'd traditionally avoided the Battlemind class because it was almost universally reviled on boards, and had a worthless mark. I didn't doubt his words--I avoid boards of most any sort like a sane man avoids the plague, so I wouldn't know what they do and don't like today. The part about the mark being worthless, though, really caught me off-guard. One of the games I'm currently playing in has a battlemind defender, and I've never noticed any deficiencies. My associate went on to explain that the mark's damaging effect seemed difficult to trigger, particularly in the following two situations: 1) When the marked target chooses to move away from the battlemind, rather than shifting (battleminds have an opportunity at-will that shifts) and 2) When the battlemind has marked 2 (or more) creatures. My associate compared Battlemind's Demand, longingly, to Swordmage Aegis...and I found that even more interesting, since I'm markedly less bullish on the swordmage (though oh how I wish I could be).

I thought the swordmage comment was useful, though, because it highlights what I consider to be the two most important questions when considering relative mark quality: what are you consider the "base" defender, and what do you expect out of a mark? I'm only going to address the first question in this post, however.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons: Skill Challenge- Don't Come Knocking

A brief intermission from my thoughts about languages.

Consider the following hypothetical:

The 5-person party is in the Engineering District, fleeing a detachment of 12 Goblin Points (Lightly-armored Despot skirmishers) and two Goblin Scuta (Points with swords instead of spears, specialize in creating openings for other Scuta to slip in and swing). They slip into a warehouse through one of the broad double-doors, which is hanging off of its top hinge. They don't stop to consider whether the massive wooden door was ripped from its hinge during the riots following the bells, or by something inside the warehouse getting out. The party does not care about these things, because the goblins chasing them attacked immediately after a much larger battle with four Savage Elementalists and their flaming-rock minions.

The players are weary, wounded, and out of encounter attack powers and second winds. With mere moments before the goblins arrive, the players manage to hoist the door back up. Two characters hold the door fast in its frame, another player braces the first two so they won't slide once the goblins start slamming into it, and the last player, a swordmage with ritual caster, begins incanting the Arcane Lock ritual...after some clever rules-laywering where he points out that the ritual description does not require a functional door, and causes anyone other than the caster to experience the door in question as "locked." Amused by the creativity, and enjoying the tense scenario, the DM allows this.

The players are now locked in a skill challenge.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons: The Problem With Language Part 2- Sunflower Bullets

So. Apparently blogger interprets unordered list bullet points as sunflowers. I'm not sure if I change that through asking the html to display a different type of bullet, or by fiddling with my stylesheet...but now that I've titled this entry as I have, I can never change them without it no longer making sense.

This is part two of my discussion of language in DnD and how I plan to change it; specifically how I plan to change it within the 4e rules. In part one I described my goals for this project...and I say project but I put it together over about an hour, most of which was typing. So perhaps we'll call it "this whim," but then it hardly sounds well-considered. So we'll call it...this ish.

My goals for this ish, nicely bordered by little sunflowers, boil down to making language both sensible and significant in the kind of realized fantasy world that has actual, different cultures who might not see the merit in bowing before the needs of Man and learning common.

Lockout: The Problem With Language Part 1- Suntory Time

There's a great scene in Lost in Translation (albeit an apparently difficult one to find on Youtube) where Bill Murray's character finishes delivering a line in a commercial, only to be subjected to a rapid-fire, very intense stream of commentary (in Japanese) from the director.

Which is translated as "He wants you to turn, look in camera. Ok?"

And Bill, wonderful, unflappable Bill (Who did such an amazing job of portraying a weary actor in that movie I was convinced it would be his last role ever, and the comedic idol was going to die...this movie came out in '03) asks "Is that all he said?"

The concept of language in Dungeons and Dragons suffers from the same translational problems. Specifically, DMs and players tend to skim over questions of communication and assume that everyone understands everyone else all of the time. While this is certainly convenient for gameplay purposes, and avoids some of the problems that not handwaving linguistic differences away creates, I find it deeply dissatisfying.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lockout: Game Teaser

Here's the vignette I posted at the head of my Game Announcement for the new Lockout game, which I called Tinderbox- Aftermath of the Tran.

"The peals of the bells marked the first moment most of us knew that there was something wrong. It's not as though we ever saw any of the Tran, unless some second son felt like slumming at the market rather than sending his servants. A massive city in a massive empire, all dedicated to the glory of a clan of dwarves who never left their walled sanctuary. An empire of the empire whose army was almost entirely comprised of races they'd made slaves. I sometimes think the dwarves took the surface just to see if they could; most of the cities, and most of the empire, are still down in those tunnels and we're just living in a tumor. An abscess swimming with puss and desperation, surrounded by furry, clawed parasites who sold themselves to monsters thousands of years ago.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lockout: Cultural Overview 1- The Silken Kingdoms

Kingdom of Silks is a well-ordered society on the whole, where etiquette and poise are paramount. Many different schools of philosophical thought contend for commercial and mystic authority, but overall the society has advanced beyond inter-faction violence. Arcane and psionic pursuits are what define the Kingdom, and the advances and conveniences these studies have produced allow most citizens to live in relative leisure despite the tremendous ecological devastation surrounding them. Though it is uncommon for most citizens of the Kingdom to pursue a purely martial path, those who do are extremely well-trained and dangerous. Much of the warfare is relegated to ranks of constructs, from the numerous terracotta soldiers cast from living earth before great battles to the sentient warforged and mysterious, musical shardminds.

The Position of the Races Within the Kingdom of Silks

Eladrin: The majority of Kingdom citizens are Eladrin, and thus form the peasant caste. Most can read and write, and as farming is handled magically, most focus on jobs as scribes, carpenters, and artisans. Many Eladrin join the military, of course, though usually as martial characters. Eladrin also comprises a large percentage of the ancestor-worshipping clergy in the Kingdoms, using their powers to cast out malevolent entities unleashed by the other Bloodlines.


"Bloodlines" are specific magical philosophies, genetic qualities, and cultural similarities that bind particular citizens of the Kingdom of Silks. Most bloodlines are not actually related to the circumstances of a creature's birth, but rather represent conscious choices available to most qualified Eladrin of the Kingdom willing to undergo the necessary changes and sacrifices. However, many bloodlines also breed true, or simply raise their children in such a way that the possibility of rejecting the covenant associated with the bloodline is never presented; this is especially true of Tieflings and Genasi.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lockout: Faction Overview 3- Loyalist Goblins

Loyalist Goblins

Midway between the merciless tyranny of the Despots and the unthinking violence of the Savages, the Loyalists are goblinoids whose only desire is to maintain the stability of the Tran Empire until such time as a dwarven authority can be re-established. This attitude is perceived as stagnant and traitorous by both Savages and Despots, and both factions attempt to kill Loyalists on sight.

The Loyalists are thus a small faction, but they are extremely well-ordered, and equipped. There is a higher proportion of hobgoblins amongst the Loyalists than in either other goblinoid faction, due to the superior position hobgoblins tend to occupy in the Tran military. The Loyalists are also completely devoid of Calmblade and Crookcatcher presences, focusing primarily on martial power. Their forces are supplemented by powerful Hobgoblin Certainties, commanders who wield psionic power to inspire their allies; and Hobgoblin Bastions, who twist the minds of their foes until they are perceived as irresistible targets or horrifying foes. The other advantage the Loyalists possess is their experience; the majority of this faction’s membership is comprised of warriors with years of military service, closely bonded with the other members of their unit, and united in awe and respect of the mighty military heroes who’ve maintained their loyalty to the Tran. While the Despots are far more numerous, and the Savages wield horrific Primordial powers, the Loyalists have staunch determination and brilliant tactical minds.

Loyalists also disdain most of the "tainted" warmachines favored by the Tran; they refuse use of the Steelscale drake constructs and the Iron Scorpion self-firing ballista. Instead, Loyalists maintain the ancient art of drake training, nurturing broods of various reptiles which fearlessly defend their goblin masters.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lockout: Faction Overview 2- Savage Goblins

I couldn't resist the perfect straight-man comment on my Lockout post; to whit, how nice it was to see goblins who weren't "filth-encrusted cave beasties with bone clubs."

The Savage Goblins are filthy monsters who wield crude weapons, often constructed from the corpses of their foes. But...I think they're cool?

Savage Goblins

The Savage Goblins represent those goblins who chafed under dwarfish rule, but have no desire to take control of the civilization while the Tran are out of power. Instead, the Savage Goblins are attempting to tear down as much of the city as possible, and kill any Loyalist or Despot goblins they locate. They murder or enslave citizens, eating most of the slaves eventually. Savage Goblins lack most of the military organization possessed by other members of their race, but their violent rejection of millennia of training grants them two advantages. The first is the sudden resurgence of Throwbacks amongst their ranks; traditionally, Throwbacks were exterminated in Tran society. The goblin military was so assiduous about killing potential throwbacks that their manifestation itself became unusual. Throwbacks are elite warriors, commanders, and trackers (bugbear/hobgoblin/goblin) who have rediscovered their races’ ancestral links with forest predators like wolves and weasels. Another advantage the Savage Goblins have is a specialization in negation; rather than relying on the sophisticated arcane constructions and protections of the Tran, the Savages excel at unmaking them. Bugbears with a talent for the arcane, already extremely rare, are often trained to physically destroy arcane material, and set to work smashing through buildings and walls as the Savages increase their areas of control. Both of these gifts, along with many of their other unique powers, are a product of the Savages’ alliance with some of the same Primordial forces that empower the Beastmen. Like Beastmen, any Savage with an altered form has the Abomination keyword.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lockout: Faction Overview 1- Despot Goblins

I'm going to be previewing some of the factions from Lockout and, since the following was the only faction the original party encountered, I thought it would be appropriate to start here. I'd post up some statblocks, but I've yet to find a good, Mac-friendly utility for generating them in 4e form. Might play around with html and see if I can devise something that looks acceptable.

Despot Goblins

The largest faction active in the Lockout campaign, Despot Goblins comprise the majority of the Tran Empire's domestic military force. Unlike the rabble in a typical fantasy campaign, Despots are well-organized, well-equipped, and extremely disciplined. The Despots have control of much of the city, because their role as city guards and protectors of the nobles put them in position to seize significant areas quickly. While the Despots outwardly claim to be maintaining the stability of the Empire, their methods are brutal; in particular, they've made a habit of arresting any non-citizens of the city, not just the Empire, on sight.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lockout: Apparently My Thoughts On Sam's Race/Feat Question Were Too Long For A Comment

As such, I will make them a post!

First, I very much appreciate the consistent feedback! It's nice to have to think about my posts summat after I make them.

I ported some of the racial stuff over from another campaign I wrote, specifically the coloration of the dragonborn and the orcish feats. I'm not sure if you noted that the Greenblood grants half-orcs access to the orcish feats (which include an always-active weapon feat, though at present some of the others require the orc racial, which I might grant half-orcs another feat to take). I also understand that the expertise-style feats are big, but every 4e game I've played in for the last year or so has adopted the policy of just handing out expertise (now versatile expertise) for free, based on the thousands of internet-spawned words churned out about the combat gap issue. So the first part of my reason for including that sort of feat is, yes, an expectation that players will be allowed to make some more flavourful choices when less interesting things like expertise are already provided.

The second part of specific inclusions like that is setting related, for the half-elves and half-orcs. It's important to stress that there are no humans in my setting, effectively. Humans exist, but only in the swamps, mountains, and woods...they're all near-savages, and the vast majority of "humans" one meets are going to be closer to a shifter at the very least (with most of what you find in a human tribe actually being a reskinned gnoll, minotaur, goliath, squirrelman, etc). That's crucial because I'm not for one second trying to buy into the 4e revisionist half-orc bullshit where they're a "separate race." That's ridiculous. A half-orc comes about when a mommy or daddy orc and a mommy or daddy something else bump one ugly with one not-so-ugly. In the Tran empire, orcs have opportunity to breed with elves or dwarves (I could possibly see opening hobgoblins and bugbears up there too). If it's the former, though, it's going to be the result of military conquest, since the main thing orcs are doing other than fighting beastmen is trying to kill off those darn independent elves. Elves wouldn't raise a half-orc, so the creature is much more likely to take Greenblood and be a hulking savage who is perhaps a mite more graceful than his companions. Dwarven camp followers might give birth to a half-orc child, and occasionally a dwarven ranger might fall in love or lust with an orc and raise a dwarf/orc hybrid, which would actually find itself fairly well accepted in frontier Tran society. However, because the options are so very limited in terms of genetic mixing, I wanted to ensure that players were making their choice of parentage a significant part of their backstory.

It's the same with the half-elves. Again, with no humans to breed with, half-elves on the Tran continent are elf/dwarf hybrids exclusively. Some elves trade peacefully with the Tran, and elves are hot, so it's all sensible. In the Silken Kingdoms, since all the races represent the same core race (elves) further altered due to magical specialization/experimentation, mixing two already hybridized races produces offspring who favor one side of their parentage alongside the elven blood that they still retain. They can't take human feats (it wouldn't make any sense) so I wanted them to have an option whereby they can explore some races' feat trees...hence the dilettante swapping.

The third reason for my choice of feats like Greenblood is that I do expect the specific players I anticipate playing in my game to jump for this because I'm not a man with patience for min-maxery. Perfectly optimizing a sheet is fine for a delve or convention, where you may be on a timer and you're sure to be up against some utterly brutal encounters. However, in the 16+ years I've been playing DnD I've never gone in for character optimizaiton; I've always preferred character realization (was that lame? Perhaps!). That's true no matter what kind of game I'm running, but since I'm incorporating some rules into this specific campaign that make situations a mite less lethal (players have resources at their disposal to skip particularly dangerous encounters, though doing so will limit their options in other areas) there's even less call for the maximized approach. A half-orc in the Tran empire is going to be viewed a certain way and reacted to a certain way; I want her to have options regarding how much of that view and reaction is founded, and how much of each racial heritage is displayed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lockout: Races and Classes

Eventually I'll have flavor text for all of this, but I started writing individual, kingdom-specific flavor for each class and nearly blacked out. Most of the racial abilities were wholly off the cuff (feats too) so I don't know exactly where they fit in terms of balance. Goblins and bugbears stand to receive some special feats, and kobolds will probably either get feats of their own or have the ability to just feat into dragonborn feats.

Races Allowed

The Kingdom of Silks


(+2 Dex or Cha, +2 Int)


(+2 Int or Con, +2 Cha)


(+2 Int or Con, +2 Str)


(+2 Dex or Int, +2 Wis)

Changeling (Eberron Player’s Guide)

(+2 Dex or Int, +2 Cha)


(+2 Int or Cha, +2 Wis)


(+2 Con or Dex, +2 Cha)
Special Rules In lieu of their Dilettante power, half-elves from the Kingdom of Silks may select the racial power of Eladrin, Tieflings, Genasi (select one manifestation and only gain the encounter power portion), Githzerai, or Changelings (Changeling Trick only). This represents the strength of that portion of their bloodline, and the half-elf counts as a member of whichever race he selects the racial power from for the purposes of feat and paragon path selection. Note that a half-elf cannot select Deva with this option.

Warforged (Eberron Player’s Guide)

(+2 Str or Int, +2 Con)
Special Rules Warforged may not begin the game as Artificers. They can, however, multiclass into Artificer.


(+2 Wis or Cha, +2 Int)
Special Rules Shardminds do not possess the Immortal Origin. Shardminds may not begin the game as Artificers. They can, however, multiclass into Artificer.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lockout: The Zones of the City

Drawing up my map for the city of Placeholder, I knew that I wanted a larger number of zones than The Angry DM’s example area, but I only added approximately 50% more than his purposefully small example presented. Even sitting at a mere 14 zones I’m still intimidated by the prospect of statting everything up, and keep telling myself “It’s a sandbox, it’s a sandbox.” The dream is that after a tremendous amount of work up-front, I’ll be able to largely coast through encounters in these various areas. Of course, plot hooks popped into my head as soon as I started labeling and connecting the zones, and I very much look forward to sending players backtracking through dangerous areas to reach something important.

For instance, the players might find their path to the A Gate blocked by a barricade that requires them to travel back through the Merchant Quarter to reach the Engineering District and secure an explosive. However, the plans for that explosive require reagents that send them searching both the Merchant Quarter and the Arcanum. By the time all that’s done, they’ll have the explosive necessary to take down the barricade—but the various factions will have shifted and battled in the meantime. The barricade may have already been removed through the main strength of bugbears, or overrun by feral squirrelmen. Squirrelmen are absolutely a real thing in this campaign.

Since Zak S mentioned the 25-word campaign descriptions idea, I’m going to use that to briefly sketch out the nature of each zone and what the players can expect there…perhaps not in 25 words, but I’ll at least shoot for that many. That makes this a work in progress.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Embarking On a New DnD Campaign

Infused with energy after completing my master’s degree, excitement over some new things I’ve read in DnD (both recently, and all the way back to when Krahulik started his sandbox game), and the endless restless hunger that constantly has me switching my entertainments, I’m starting up a campaign. I’m going to resurrect one of the campaigns I built for a relatively open-ended game right after I had moved to Sioux Falls and 4e dropped: the Tran Empire.

The hook for the game will actually be identical to that of the original adventure I ran (which actually managed to make it through two encounters and two skill challenges, a pretty incredible level of success for a play-by-post game on Myth-Weavers), though advanced a few hours or even days and not necessarily featuring the same characters. The Tran are, or were, the dominant clan of dwarves in a civilization stretching across a massive continent and spreading slightly into the connected landmass to the south. The vast majority of the dwarven empire is subterranean, with major surface settlements every few hundred miles for commerce with other nations and consideration of those citizens who do not thrive beneath the earth. However, almost all travel within the Tran Empire is conducted through paved and buttressed tunnels underground, patrolled by crack dwarven guards mounted on trained saurian’s (or, even worse for brigands, arcane steel mimicry of the same). There are no highways above ground, and in fact hardly any roads at all. The major Tran cities are all walled, and the farmers who operate directly outside the walls can depend on the efficient protection of the Tran army—thousands of goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears bred and trained to serve their dwarven masters without question. The rest of the Tran surface “territory” is essentially held just like countries use radar and airforces to keep the skies above their land clean of strangers, and for the same reason. Bands of Tran dwarves roam the woods with their orcish troops, killing dangerous monsters and quelling the savage beastmen that infest the woods and fens…but frankly, the dwarves aren’t even trying to be everywhere at once.

Unfortunately for the players, this is a time of great upheaval in the Tran Empire. Specifically, all of the Tran are dead. Somehow, in an undertaking so massive it boggles the mind and eclipsed the preparation of the nation, hordes of beastmen were teleported into the homes and holdings of every Tran dwarf. With the clan eradicated, the other dwarves of substance have been recalled beneath the surface to debate who is best suited to seize the civilization; a debate that is likely to drag on for some time. Once their dwarven masters disappeared, however, the goblinoids seized the cities with a practice and precision that suggests decades of planning for this very eventuality. They have a nice, already-crafted empire they’re loathe to see wasted, and have set about eradicating any foreign elements in their towns while efficiently killing off those dwarves who might remain on the surface to challenge their rule. On the frontiers, entire orc bands had their dwarven handlers snatched from their midst by magic; lacking leadership, they’re quickly working to expand their control and fortify themselves, equally eager to escape the iron gauntlet of dwarven rule.

Other races and cultures exist, of course, and there are some innovations I’m anticipating bringing to the game; but this serves as a brief introduction for what is to come.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Movie Review: The Expendables

There's a book joke at the beginning of The Expendables. When I saw the film today, I was the only one who laughed.

There's a joke in the movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger's political aspirations in the film; everyone laughed. I think that probably says a lot about the crowd in the theater when I saw the movie, but I also think it says something about the film itself. The Expendables looks like it should be a stupid fun romp, and it certainly succeeds at the fun part. But it's also something pretty magical, in that it concentrates decades of action movie talent across a wide gamut of subgenres (Stallone, Statham, Li, and DOLPH LUNDGREN!), along with lesser-known actors (Terry Crews and Randy Couture) who've made their names in other areas (Being a huge muscly black guy and UFC, respectively). The middle field is also stocked with classic character actors like Eric Roberts, who can't help but be the villain whenever he's on camera, and Mickey Rourke who, frankly, gives the most moving monologue of the entire film.

But what praise is that last statement, really? It's a valid question. The Expendables is not a thinking man or woman's film, and doesn't spend overmuch time beating your head in with moral lessons and geo-political commentary. Even The Losers worked harder to establish just why the bad guys were bad and the main characters were just misunderstood. None of that takes away from Rourke's speech, though, and the little details (The focus on his ravaged grill, the way his voice catches and chokes) sell that this is a man who went into Hell, came back out, but was never quite right thereafter.

I feel, though, that all you need to know about the film is this: Arnie and Bruce Willis are uncredited for their appearances in this film. You know they're going to show up, you've seen them in commercials and trailers, but it's still awesome when they do. The exchange between Schwarzenegger and Stallone condenses what one assumes is a lifetime of familiarity by association, and a recognition of one another's physical changes. It sets a tone for how I, at least, want to take the film: as a gathering of men who punch, stab, and shoot things on film. I'd like to envision that between takes Dolph discussed kicks with Li, Stallone and Statham talked about how loud blanks sound when they're going off right by one's head, and so forth. Everyone seems to have been having fun, and even Crews and Couture give performances that make up for in amusement what they might lack in thespian ability.

Ability, though, is on display. There is nothing The Expendables reminds me of so much as Tango and Cash, and not just because the characters have such improbable names (Barney Ross, Toll Road, Ying Yang). Tango and Cash is another film where nearly every line any main character speaks is, in itself, a one-liner; usually met with another one-liner from whomever else is in the film. Everything the villain says oozes menace and contempt, and everything the three female characters in the entire film say....doesn't amount to much.

However, what was somewhat painful in Tango and Cash has largely been remedied here. It's not that the jokes are necessarily more amusing (short of the book sight gag, it was all pretty trite). However, the actors are much, much better. They're universally large men (Though some are shorter than you'd expect, and it was a surprise to see Willis tower over Stallone) with one exception, and Jet Li has a charming monologue where he makes much of his struggles amidst such company ("I'm smaller, I work harder."). They are, in most cases, veterans of the kind of film that requires punching someone over and over while the director yells cut, repositions, and shoots again. In a film directed and co-written by Stallone himself, the crew he's assembled gives a loving send-up to violence, gunfire, and the camaraderie that develops between crews of lovable misfits who don't belong in polite society. I think you already know whether or not you'll enjoy the movie without reading a word of this review, or even seeing a second of the trailer. If the list of names in the film made you say "Fuck YES!" then you're in.

The other advantage that The Expendables has over Tango and Cash is that fight choreography in American cinema has improved by leaps and bounds (Sometimes literally. Thanks David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli!). Statham, Stallone, and Li all get their respective spotlight solo fights, and there is something magical in seeing how different a type of action film each man represents. Stallone is a slab of meat murder machine these days, but that's presented much more engagingly here than in the last Rambo movie, which felt like punishment to watch. He's in a knock-down, drag-out brawl that feels a little Rocky, even if he's not punching Lundgren. Statham doesn't go up against any significant character, but he gets to take on a whole slew of them instead, and do so stylishly and while championing a lady; very Transporter without all the oil and shirtlessness. And Li...well, I won't say much about Li's fight, except that it adds a little bit of humor (in the tradition of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Li himself) without ever failing to be deadly serious. It's telling that Statham and Stallone both have stunt doubles, yet Li has an entire fight team plus a choreographer.

All of the fights are entertaining, and the climactic battle lets every actor show themselves impressively in some way. They mix guns, blades, and knuckles with liberal explosions, are highly kinetic, and rarely flinch-worthy (again, I'm thinking of John Rambo here). I watch for a few things in action movies, like places where a quick cut suggests something went wrong. There is one shot where an explosion seems like it must have gone off too close to Stone Cold Steve Austin (yeah, he's up in this piece too) but, ever the consummate self-stunman, he barely flinches. There's also a single shot where one of the characters, I think Statham, kills a soldier who barely looks 18; I imagine that it's a scene they wish they'd cut from sooner than they did, but it doesn't break the movie.

Like I said, you already know if you like The Expendables. But maybe there's a sentence in here you can use to justify that appreciation to a dubious headshaker in order to get their butt in a seat for the big screen experience.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Movie Musing: Short Circuit 2 and Violence

What the Hell was up with 80's childrens' movies?

Watching Short Circuit 2, I'm struck by the realization that even Resevoir Dogs wasn't this violent. Mr. Blonde only takes an this, we watch two thugs hack the main character apart. They take an axe to him. Hitting one of the thugs in the ass with a big remote-controlled plane doesn't make that any less horrific.

Then, instead of the sob-filled conversation between a mortally wounded Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth, we get to watch Johnny 5 make his horribly maimed, spark-dripping way down the street to sad violin music. Please recall, this is after he ran through a crowd, screaming out for any sort of help, completely ignored by the confused amateur aereonauts. These are people, note, who watch a man with an axe running through a park and don't think to ask what's happening.

The 'bot can't even talk. When the sleazy swindler feller catches up to him, Johnny has to write on the wall with chalk to communicate that he is dying.

Johnny's triage instructions provide an interesting theological argument: "My memory is me. If it loses power, I die." I would have been 4, maybe 5, when I saw this movie. I'm not sure if a 5 year old needs exposure to that sort of material (though I suppose I'd been going to Sunday school for a time by then).

What renders all of this more ridiculous from the perspective of someone watching in 2010 is that Johnny proudly proclaims he has 500 MB of memory. This heart-wrenching examination of morality and survival is presented in the words of a character with less memory than the flash drive I bought years ago.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all of this, Short Circuit is very much a part of my life. When the villains are hiding their ill-gotten gems they use a bunch of plastic dinosaurs (and at least one Kaiju). I still have two of the creatures sitting on the table during that scene. Rewatching it now, I wrestle with the question of whether or not kids' movies today ought to treat their audience with a similar presumption of maturity. I know there's a vast gulf between G and PG, but I've seen PG-13 movies made in the last five years with less profanity and certainly less visceral violence.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One Piece Makes Me Cry

The plot of One Piece: The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Alabasta is functionally identical to that of Lord of the Rings, or even Henry V. When I weep at One Piece, it's no different than when I sob through the entirety of Branaugh's interpretation of that latter tale. The Dancer, the Detective, and the Talking Reindeer saddling up to help their friend in her deadly quest is no different than Falstaff's drunks going to war against France; it's all the same delicious, resonant stuff. Impossible odds, unrepentant villains (some of whom will obviously redeem themselves), and a conflict that will shape the fate of nations.

If you allow One Piece to distract you with its art style, or the unusual characters, you miss the point. I understand that many of the characters are strange and confusing--why is that reindeer wearing a hat, why don't that man's hands ever leave his pockets, what's with the swan-wearing crossdresser? However, if one watches the show without falling prey to these inquiries, the film makes absolute sense.

You needn't be versed in Shakespeare to understand which character is the coward, which character is playing it cool despite being in love with another, and which character is the generally goofy but profoundly driven character. The urbane villain, the misguided rebel, and the doomed retainer...these are all atavistic tropes presented in One Piece just as they are in any other work, but with more swans.

The archetypal nature of the film extends to its plot as well. It's unnecessary to understand why the princess is on a pirate ship; it's unnecessary to comprehend why her most loyal guards can turn into a bird- and dog-man respectively. I don't mean for my readers to mistake my dismissal of the need to understand these things for a rejection of the film's value. It's profoundly the opposite.

The Japanese practice of producing OVAs (Original Video Animation) is something I've come to appreciate. An OVA is usually an addendum to or remix of a successful anime series; a way of saying either "And then this happened..." or "But things might have happened this way..." The most impressive task of OVAs is that they must cram a multi-episode, if not multi-season, storyline into a few brief minutes; even if they aren't theatrical releases, OVAs need to appeal to an audience that might not be well-versed in the background material. As such, OVAs are adept at communicating everything that the viewer needs to know about the actors, and situations, with which they are presented.

The characters are archetypes, the plot is eternal, the Pluton is just a MacGuffin. Once you understand that, One Piece ranks amongst the greatest films of all time...because it's functionally identical to them along all the valences that matter.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Movie Review: Daybreakers

Guys, Daybreakers is really bad. Painfully bad. The same night I rented it (for a dollar, from the bounty of the Redbox) I also purchased three DVDs for a full cost of $10 from the Smith's where I do my grocery shopping. Those films (Knight Club, Spreading Ground, and Meet Market) are all completely unknown to me. I picked up one because it has Dennis Hopper, one because it had Julian McMahon and Alan "The Tudes" Tudyk, and one because it's about a secret organization of bouncers either run, or about to be betrayed, by Lou Diamond Phillips (The box doesn't tell you who stars in each role). I do not anticipate that these will be incredible films, though I suspected each would a bare minimum exceed the quality of Mazes and Monsters, which was an option.

In brief, Daybreakers is about a near future where vampirism is rampant across the entire globe. They never explain where the vampirism comes from, or what it represents (A disease? A curse? Interbreeding?), and frankly I cherish that. One of the biggest frustrations for me in watching vampire films is how much time they tend to devote to explaining all of those things. They’ll have the scene with the cross, or the character conveniently chopping up some garlic for a nice Italian dinner, and then the vampire busts in so the director can confirm or disconfirm some typical vampire myth.

Instead, the film focuses on the prospect of starvation vampires are facing. While we’re presented with a well-ordered, fancy vampire society, news broadcasts and a special meeting make it clear that the human blood supply is running low. The meeting goes further, illustrating how vampires deprived of vampire blood gradually devolve into monstrous, feral bat-men. Ethan Hawke portrays one of the vampires’ top blood researchers, desperately attempting to master an artificial blood system before the humans in the bank all expire and rioting reaches catastrophic levels (In the US; it’s pretty clear that it’s already there in third-world countries). Of course, some plucky humans kidnap Hawke and try to put him to use in their own project.

There are some nice touches. At one point, when a group of humans are taken by the vampire army (Which still recruits using Uncle Sam on its posters), a baby audibly cries in its mother's arms. The audience never sees the child, but it's a subtle reminder of the sheer scope of horror in the vampires' hunger.

I won't pretend the plot isn't interesting; it's a clever reversal of the typical vampire myth, mixed with a little disaster movie and a little zombie movie. Those merits, honestly, could have applied to Ultraviolet as well (The movie, not the British TV show). Daybreakers also has a unique visual style, washed out and pale during the daylight; with a slight retro, WWII aesthetic. Minus the last part, that's reminiscent of Blade; possibly the greatest vampire-killing movie of all time.


I originally had the impression that the human resistance somehow made use of exploding arrows in all of their crossbows, given the pyrotechnics that result from every shot…except for the bolt Hawke takes through his arm at the beginning of the movie. It wasn’t until the film’s last-minute attempt at action, with Hawke running around ramming chair legs into vamp chests, that it became clear vampires simply explode when you poke them…like balloons, if we filled them with fire.

Ethan Hawke ends up dressed like Robin of Loxley, and I can't produce any logical argument as to why. Knight Club, I expect I'll be far more enthused.

A Pop-Culture Inquiry

If the ONLY reasons you're famous are being naked for money and being the girlfriend of Hugh "I have amassed so much awe and respect amongst the men of the world that I never need to get out of my jammies, and despite looking like a bag of chicken bones, people totally buy that I'm plowing a furrow through my many nubile girlfriends," can a tape of you having sex with someone be considered a "scandal?"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Movie Review: I'm Not Going to Make a Pun About Kick-Ass or The Losers

Spoilers exist below, albeit in a somewhat subconscious way. Beyond mention of a few critical scenes that you might not see coming, I’m mostly just pointing out where things in one of these films find their way into the other. It’s cool, kids.

Anyone possessed of a familiarity with either myself in general or EgoPoisoning in particular may have been surprised that I didn’t post a review for Kick-Ass immediately after it hit theaters. Please believe I saw it then, and spent much time engaged in acts of gushery thereafter. However, I suppose that I decided writing a review was unnecessary: it was the #1 movie in the nation, and outside of my immediate circle of friends (Or rather, a large concentric circle around the smaller data point that was the guy who went with me when I saw it) and their steadfast refusal to consume the awesome, it seemed as though everyone went and saw the movie. As my bubonic memeticism drives me to fill folks’ heads and ears with things they ought to be consuming, but aren’t yet, Kick-Ass seemed to be doing okay without my help. Sure, Ebert hated it, but he also thinks video games not only are not, but cannot be, art. Big Doughy E, “You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in.”

Then my younger brother caught the flick after a week of my urging, and his response afterward was a resounding meh. Given that I readily idolize my younger brother—this is a man who asked his special lady friend to be his special lady friend by having Colorado rapper Black Prez write, record, and e-mail him a song to that effect in the time it took her to shower--learning that he didn’t dig the movie distressed me deeply. I hit him with a rapid-fire interrogation: “So what you’re telling me is, when a twelve-year-old impales a man’s hands with a rope-tethered kunai, leaps over him while wrapping the rope around his wrists, and then tugs the rope in order to draw his gun against his chin and fire a bullet into his own head…that did nothing for you?” After a few more such questions, my brother ultimately said that, even after having seen the film, I made it sound better than he found it while watching it. I said he just needed to watch the movie with my eyes, which is probably true but not biologically possible.

However, I can watch movies with my eyes, and I just finished watching The Losers, a movie I had initially been pumped for based on the trailers, and then swerved away from when I realized it was only rated PG-13, and finally decided to see (12 minutes before the showing, at a theater across town) on the recommendation of the illustrious Wesley Johnson. So what I’m really sitting down to do is talk about The Losers, not Kick-Ass, except that from the position of the brain situated behind my eyes it’s impossible to talk about the former without the latter. But when I say this, I mean it for reasons other than the superficial similarity that both films are based on comic books (in the case of The Losers, the comic is actually based on another comic). If I were going to make a comparison between The Losers and something else on purely superficial, it would be The A-Team, or the Expendables, or Xuande’s crew in Romance of the Three Kindgoms. The Losers follows a group of elite government agents, each with particular specialties including piloting vehiclesand talking really fast while being a fetchingly bestubbled Caucasian male, led by a grizzled strategist in disgrace. They’re framed and betrayed by a sinister government agent (Portrayed by an actor with experience playing a nocturnal individual). For serious.

So taking the aerial view, it is vastly easier to compare The Losers to other movies; Three Kingdoms obviously lacks an overabundance of Caucasians, but a ragtag group of mercenary warriors follow their grizzled, framed leader Liu Bei while pursued by the shadowy and manipulative Cao Cao. That’s my masters education at work, people.

No, where The Losers and Kick-Ass are disturbingly similar is in tiny, specific things. There’s a slow-motion fight in the darkness, while flames lick around the edges of the scene. There’s a shocking betrayal. And bad things happen to tiny children.

I want to stress that I enjoyed the hell out of The Losers. It’s a great action movie, full of entertaining dialogue. The villainous Max is superlatively portrayed by Jason Patric, who manages to be every bit as sociopathic and unhinged as Gary Oldman’s Carnegie without ever going over the top. He doesn’t chew the scenery, he doesn’t fly off no frothing tangents; when he does reprimand his underling it’s always very subtle, understated, self-aware…and hilarious. All of the characters manage to be likeable and expressive, conveying a subtle (And not-so-subtle) badassery that feels comfortable and well-worn. The early fight between Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana has a charming pre-combat stretch on both actors’ parts that leaves the audience with no doubt as to what’s about to go down.

What fascinated me in watching it, though, was how I kept thinking that I ought to buy a ticket for the 7pm showing of Kick-Ass afterward. Partially this was because of the combat; it’s great in The Losers, very technical and weighty, but that fired a hunger in me to watch Chloe Moretz flow gracefully through a crowd of armed guards. Partially it was the difference in scope and scale of the emotional connection I was able to form with the characters in each film. It’s made clear, reasonably subtly, that one of the characters in The Losers has a pregnant wife; Chris Evans’s Jensen is also adorably fixated on his niece’s soccer team, even from Boliva. However, beyond these simple statements and occasional references to them, The Losers isn’t really crafted to give you a deeper understanding of what drives and motivates the characters; beyond the two connections I just mentioned there’s essentially nothing for anyone else in the film. Of course, part of the purpose behind this fits the characters, whose truest and deepest connections appear to be with one another, a group of brothers forged in battle to function as a single effortless unit. Which is cool, and well done. But it feels like small beer in comparison with the utterly heart-wrenching family dynamic portrayed in Kick-Ass, where Chloe Moretz and Nic Cage form a parent-child bond that puts 7th Heaven to shame.

But truthfully, at its core, I think what put me in mind of Kick-Ass as I watched the Losers was something that happens at the very beginning of the film, and could be a spoiler if you’ve never seen an action movie before. The Losers give up their spot on an extraction helicopter after aborting their mission due to the presence of a number of children. As they put the children on the chopper, one of the little boys tries to give Clay (the Loser’s leader) his teddy bear; Clay pushes it back into his hands and says “No Gracias. You keep your bear safe.”

If you don’t see a missile coming at that point, movies must be full of surprises for you, and I’m genuinely a little envious. I watched the helicopter rising back into the sky, and I thought about something that had troubled B.D. Ebert in the review I linked above, but from the opposite angle. In Kick-Ass, Chloe Moretz does get kicked around, smacked around, at one point brutally, viciously beaten…all by adults who are right there in front of her diminutive frame. It’s horrifying, and gut-wrenching, and it leaves a profound impact…because it’s the point of every scene where it occurs. The impact of the images, of what they say about her conviction as a hero and the upbringing that led her to that life, is never hidden or obscured. We see her gasping on her back, blood caking her nostrils, and are struck by her fragility and her ferocity.

In The Losers, 25 kids are blown up in the first ten minutes. They’re never seen again, and while their death is at least part of the impetus for the film’s plot, their tiny lives have less repeated significance than the bobble-headed Chihuahua that Pooch the driver puts onto the dash of every vehicle he nabs, or the cowboy hat Couger the sniper wears. In many ways, Kick-Ass and The Losers are using the same tools to tell a story, including the very human reaction that seeing children threatened elicits. However, in this I think the point goes to Kick-Ass, because there’s not a moment in that film where you can forget that Hit-Girl isn’t old enough to see her own movie.

Monday, April 5, 2010

MMO Adventures 3: Leaving Perfect World for DDO

The credit card was slippery in my sweaty fingers. My brow was moist with a feverish flush of heat. My finger hovered over the button…

My computer saved me from re-subscribing to WoW, however, by simply refusing to download the bastard. I tried for two days while visiting my girlfriend (Because, see, that meant I was off the computer, busy being a devoted boyfriend.) which is atop the week I spent at home trying first; it sounds like I’m describing efforts to conceive. However, after the second time it failed to function, I despaired. I had Perfect World, of course, and Perfect World’s not bad…but I can honestly say that if Perfect World has a story, I haven’t found it yet. Every time some apothecary tells me, completely seriously, that a giant dog had the wherewithal and drive to steal a crucial recipe…I just shake my head. Some of the quests are entertaining, though; I loved the guy who had nightmares of being killed by ambulatory cacti, despite the specific breed existing on the coast of a continent while he was standing inside a plant-free city at its center. I killed the cacti for him. I killed the turtles for some other dude, covering my roommate (Who is a tortoise, natch)’s eyes as I did so. I ground and ground and picked up iterative power increases and new abilities.

But ultimately, Perfect World is linear in a way I struggle to accept. It’s not even the linearity of the questing, the endless grind. It’s the fact that I have yet to find any uniqueness in character progression whatsoever. My Barbarian, for instance, can use all manner of polearms, one- and two-handed axes and hammers, and even paired hammers. Some of these weapons swing faster than others; for the uninitiated, this has an effect on your DPS (Damage Per Second). If one weapon deals 68-118 damage and has a swing speed of 1.9 seconds, and another deals 60-100 damage but has a swing speed of .8 seconds, the latter weapon provides better DPS. In other games, WoW for instance, swing speed really does matter. Certain classes and builds favor the quickest, nastiest weapons they can wield, because they’re dependent on abilities triggered off of critical hits (Basically, a really good result on the random number generation that determines if your attack is a success) or upon things that they apply, like poisons, with every hit. Other classes and builds prefer big, nasty, slow weapons with tremendous base and maximum damage; usually they’re going to employ a number of special abilities which ignore swing speed and inflict their damage based on the damage capacity of the weapon, such that what matters is how much damage your weapon is capable of.

In PW, though, none of that seemed to matter. If a weapon did more total DPS, you upgraded to it. It didn’t matter what the swing speed was, because the Barbarian really doesn’t care. The class is built off of a mana (and chi) energy pool, which runs out so quickly that you’re either spamming potions or just hitting stuff. Barbs also have a tiger form with totally different abilities, higher armor and speed but lower damage. In this form, though, your weapon swing speed seems to be utterly normalized, so your weapon again doesn’t matter. Even the existence of this tiger form provides few to no decisions. Are you tanking? Tiger form. Are you running somewhere? Tiger form. Do you want things to die faster? Manbeast form. It also think it’s a shame, a true shame, that every Barbarian turns into a white tiger…as you can’t actually make your character a white tiger-headed man. If I’m running around as a lion man, I want to turn into a lion; same for wolf and, for pantssake, Pandas.

PW has some amazing qualities, and it’s visually exceptional. Being able to totally recustomize your character’s appearance before each login was impressive as well.

But once I managed to log into DDO, I knew I wouldn’t be going back any time soon.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

I saw Clash of the Titans today. Simply googling that title further bolstered my already formed thrust for this review. Gentle Giant John Meo (I don’t know if John Meo is a gentle giant. I don’t know anything about John Meo) suggests that it will be a much-hyped bore; he apparently draws this opinion in part from the esteemed Doug Cooper (Don’t know anything about the Dougster either). Earlier today I was speaking with my boss and asked if she planned to see the film; she’s in a similar situation to that of my own lovely lady in that she’s been so long attached to a nerd it’s caused her own recessive nerdity to express itself fully. My boss said she’d heard the movie was cheesy. Really, really cheesy. This is not to say she wasn’t going to see it, but it did impact the likelihood of her seeing it in the theaters. Later, another coworker popped by the office (It used to be her office, but she moved down the hall and it’s certainly not my office, hence “the” office.) and when I mentioned my ever-increasing excitement to see the film she said it had received “mixed reviews.” I’m pretty sure that was a diplomatic way of saying that she’d heard it sucks.

People of the world, heed my words: Clash of the Titans does not suck. I try to refrain from being that guy who says “You’re just watching it wrong,” but (Like anyone who starts a sentence by saying “I try to refrain from x”) if you think Clash sucks, you are watching it wrong. You are watching it with unwarranted, unreasonable, unrealistic, or undeserved expectations. And, honestly, that’s fine. The movie is already made. It already exists, in gorgeous 3-dimensional sexy. If the flick bombs in the theaters it will simply reach DVD, and my collection, that much faster.

Real talk folks: Clash is kind of cheesy, but so is mythology. That is why mythology is awesome. Dudes are jumping onto the backs of giant monsters and stabbing them with enchanted dinnerware; ladies are beguiling men and magic-ing them into bestial forms; completely impractical pieces of metallic fruit drive entire countries to war. The Trojan War? Sex and the City-style cat fight. Do the characters in Sex and the City fight? I don’t know, I’ve never watched the show and really can’t back that comparison up. But mythology=cheese, and sometimes even camp, and that’s a glorious and beautiful thing. It’s a major part of why we even remember this stuff. So in Clash, when Perseus learns that Zeus slipped a magic roofie to his mom and made baby times, that’s what the Greeks say happened. Granted, Perseus’s mother was king Acrisius’s daughter, not his wife, and Big A Little c wasn’t besieging Olympus at the time, and Zeus didn’t appear as a copy of the king and then flash a little butt at the king when he stormed into the chamber after the deed was done; but is that somehow cheesier than Zeus appearing to Danae as a shower of gold? I submit to the reader that it is not. The change of moving Calibos’s identity from suitor-to-Andromeda to pissed-off-king is actually less cheesy, since it removes a tangled and somewhat wearisome romantic subplot.

As for the rest of the plot, the only really glaring change is the addition of those fellows you may have seen in the trailers, standing around in robes and having fewer than five fingers while they point at scorpions. I won’t go into their role in order to avoid spoilers, but I will make the claim that any movie already including giant sea monsters, giant scorpions, and giant snakes with the torsos of women attached where their head would be-with snakes attached to where the woman’s hair would be-really can’t be rendered more ridiculous(ly awesome) with the addition of some scaled desert-dwelling-dudes. There is arguably a larger alteration to the motivation behind the plot, but it remains “gods be capricious and petty, yo.” As for Perseus’s involvement, as much as I proudly wave the flag of a romantic I can definitely buy his character’s current motivation more easily than

This is not to say that the new Clash is simply a tired retread of the classic original. Clash has several new and delightful things going for it. The first is Gemma Arterton. Gemma is fast becoming one of “my” people, and I hope she keeps it up. What this means is that Gemma keeps showing up in awesome films that I want to see, and is hopefully approaching the point where her willingness to be involved in a project helps get it the green light, thus creating more films I want to see. In this she’s like a more (well, equally) attractive Orlando Bloom circa early 2000s; they’ve even both starred in movies with Liam Neeson and magic desert people! Gemma portrays the immortal Io, whose mythology for the film does not involve being turned into a magic cow and chased by a demon fly. Again readers, I ask you, is it possible for the background she does receive-lady who doesn’t get old-to be any cheesier than her mythological backgrounds? Would there be any great cinematic gain to remaining more faithful to the original plot for the character? I submit that, while Gemma could voice a cow beautifully, there is not.

The other major victory for the new Clash is the advancement in our special effects and combat choreography since the 1981 version. I mean no disrespect to Dominaar Harryhausen, who was and is a man of magic. His films shaped my childhood, my imagination, and my entertainment predilections. However, you can love caramel and dark chocolate; as much as I enjoyed the incredible scene where Calibos summons giant scorpions in the first film, the scorpions in the 2010 version are bigger, meaner, faster, and somehow more believable. What ultimately happens to them is ridiculous, and I will make neither excuses nor apologies for it because it is also awesome. The Kraken has been prominently featured in most of the trailers and commercials, so it’s not really necessary to say much about it; I assume you’ve seen it and can draw your own conclusions. Calibos is also awesome; he was always my favorite part of the original, and this version is much more powerful and sinister. The only complaint I raise is that he looks so much like New Mickey Rourke that it’s criminal they didn’t just cast him in the role.

However, I do want to say a few words about Medusa. I’ve seen countless Medusae in my life, particularly as a fan of fantasy films, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, and video games across all platforms. I battled my first Medusa in a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System; I decapitated scores of the creatures in the various God of War games. Clash of the Titans has the best Medusa I have ever seen. It’s not just that they went for a beautiful face, rather than the equally popular serpent-skinned face. This is important, though, because I’ve always felt that the idea that the Medusa is so hideous she kills with her gaze but still manages to be beautiful is the most chilling part of the creature. However, Clash also does a phenomenal job of conveying Medusa’s size and heft. Her tail is huge, thick, and agile, and the stinger at the end of the rattle is the sort of unnecessary yet totally like the Greek Gods touch I cherish. After all, these are the folks who gave us the Hydra (It’s like a snake, but it keeps growing new heads!), the Chimera (You know what’s scary? Take a big lion and give it a snake for a tail. And then make it breathe fire. And then? Then give it an extra goat’s head for no reason.), and the Sphinx (Let’s take another lion, right? Lions are cool. Then, let’s stick a lady where its head should be, and give her wings, and make her really smart.). There’s absolutely no reason that their giant super-archer petrifying-gaze snake lady wouldn’t have a rattle with a poison stinger on the end.

Clash of the Titans isn’t a movie about character development, emotional growth, or successful family dynamics. If you purchase your ticket expecting these things, you will be disappointed. However, I would challenge you to name the last 3-D blockbuster to focus on those themes. Or the last Greek myth. The movie is an excellent spectacle, an action-filled orgy of strutting about and hitting things with other things. If none of that sounds appealing to you, then there’s really no reason whatsoever for you to see it. If those things do appeal to you, you probably bought a ticket already.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Movie Review: The Crazies

A Confession: I was maybe 20 minutes into The Crazies when I found myself asking...myself...the following question: "Why am I watching this?"

It's important to stress that this is a compliment. The Crazies scared me several times, and left me deeply unsettled throughout. At one point I actually considered closing my eyes, which is a horror movie tactic I haven't employed since I wasn't considered old enough to watch them. The Crazies can't take the entirety of the credit for this, granted, because part of what was happening was likely holdover from Shutter Island. That movie's score was phenomenally unsettling, and from the opening shots onward the music was twisting my stomach and keeping me on the literal edge of my seat- seriously, I remember becoming aware of my precarious perch part-way through that movie, feeling ridiculous, but not moving. The Crazies is not Shutter Island, but I saw it in a theater I'd last been in right before I saw Shutter Island, and I hadn't hit the theater in between.

Still, Secondary-Scorsese aside, The Crazies still freaked me out, and American horror movies almost never do that. I have to go to fabulous Nippon for that, or catch a flick crafted from the guts of a movie originally written with Japanese sensibilities. So I am impressed that I was so disturbed, that I flinched so often, that I jumped at points that should have been simple (and easily telegraphed) gotcha gags. I think the score is responsible for a lot of that fear, but the way they use the Crazies does the rest. Its not a film that went the zombie route, with infected townsfolk running through the streets while bloody spittle flies from their lips. If they had, it would have too greatly resembled 28 Days Later, which the infected already do to a certain extent. Instead, the Crazies spend a lot of time brooding, peering quizzically into the middle distance, and even talking. They seem to retain their capacity for reason even in the deepest throes of the disease, possibly even possessing an enhanced cunning and predatory sensibility. It's that latter point that helps to make them so disturbing; you get the sense that the Crazies could converse with their potential victims, but they're too busy setting up an elaborate ambush or methodically slaughtering people to bother. Their chilling silence did a lot to make the jump-scares more frightening; the Crazies don't appear in a shot with a roar or a hiss, usually. They're just there, and maybe they kill you. At the same time, though, they possess a level of emotion that a character like Mike Myers (at least Classic Mike) explicitly lacks.

A Second Confession: Okay, this is where things get a little weird. At the same time I was twisting, and jumping, and being unsettled by The Crazies , I kept expecting one of the ominous government vehicles, or perhaps the massive combine seen at the beginning of the movie, unfold into Optimus Prime. Throughout most of the movie I couldn't shake the expectation that the autobots would show up and really just break the situation down. And near as I can tell, this is also the score's fault, at least partially. Something in its bombast, even some of the specific notes it hits, sound exactly like the two recent Transformers films. And while that is absurd, parts of the film are absurd too. The saw chasing Sheriff Seth Bullock is absurd, for instance. And, waxing philosophical for a moment, the crux of the plot itself is also absurd.

Either I, or the folks behind this movie, don't fully understand viral pathology. Specifically, if you're exposed to a virus and you don't get sick, does that mean you're immune to the virus forever? I understand that the body eventually develops the capacity to fight off certain viral infections...but if I injected myself with AIDS-carrying blood today, and didn't get sick, I wasn't under the impression I could do it again tomorrow and be fine. This is relevant, and not just a staggering display of my lack of biology classes, because the virus in the film is waterborne at the begin of the film, but eventually is thought to have become airborne. I can understand that, maybe, the airborne version doesn't make people sick once they've been exposed and emerged unscathed; it's a mutation, its a new strain, maybe its weaker, etc.

But if the disease starts out waterborne...isn't it bloodborne as well? This becomes extremely relevant when you consider that one character just wanders around in a blood-stained smock for a good chunk of the movie, and before things have progressed too far they've all be slopped and splashed with twitchy crimson. Sheriff Bullock, at the very least, has quite a few open wounds as this is occurring.

Also, and equally relevant: we want these brave souls to survive, and escape, and get to safety. But aren't they covered in airborne virii? Isn't that soaked into their clothes, their hair, and even their skin? Again, I don't mean simply because they've been traipsing through town; I mean because they've been wrestling with Crazies throughout the film. So even if they're somehow immune, and they make it to Cedar Rapids, aren't they just going to get everyone around them sick? Zombie movies dodge this question by having the disease transmitted entirely by fluids (even though that's now how the original Night of the Living Dead sparked it off), but The Crazies makes a point of the disease being airborne.

So the goal is to root for these people, to want them to escape, even though the act of doing so is almost sure to result in the deaths of many hundreds, or thousands, more. For whatever reason (and without markedly detracting from my enjoyment of the film) this was at the forefront of my mind for the latter half of the film. Well, that and Transformers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

MMO Adventures 2: The Shaggening

Once Perfect World was running on my system, I set out to make a charac…wait, no. Before I jump into character creation, I should acknowledge two pernicious bugs that impair playing PW on a Mac running Crossover. The first is that the game client itself, upon launching, occasionally opens in a windowed mode. Perhaps there are humans who play MMOs in a tiny window (the window that appears is not resizeable, and is about 40% of the screen; I check my e-mail in larger windows), but I am not one. I need that full-screen action to fully click and stab all the monsters on screen. Once I log in, select a character, and play for a few moments, I can usually quit the game and when I open it back up it’ll play in full screen mode.

The second bug is something I actually do worry about. Whenever I open the game, it checks my version. It then, every time without fail, mentions that a new version is available and gives me patch options. Now, the first time I opened the game this worked fine. I said patch, hells yes and patching occurred and everything was fine. However, when I try to patch it now it automatically dies. This hasn’t prevented me from playing the game, but my fear is it very well could one day in the future. I’m assuming I can use the manual patch download option and transfer the patch into my bottle, but I’d prefer to be able to patch in the prescribed fashion instead.

Anyway, I managed to slither my way into the game proper. Perfect World has apparently unleashed a “Rising Tide” expansion; think Burning Crusade for WoW, only it costs nothing. It’s similar to BC, however, in that it provides a new environment which, Lorewise at least, was not accessible before. It also (and here’s the BC comparison) grants access to a sexy new race of entirely too pretty individuals, the Tideborn. Tideborn are basically elves (or Blood Elves, which are basically elves) with fins coming out of their skulls where ears should be. The classes available to Tideborn are Assassin and Psychic, and either gender can be a member of either class (this is distinct from some races, as you’ll see). When I sat down to make my first character, I want to stress that I remained strong. I did not roll a Psychic, despite that being a ranged, element-using, caster-based class; which is to say, right up my alley. I did not roll a pet class, despite always rolling a pet class. Instead, and after examining all of the race and class options available, I rolled a male Tideborn Assassin.

The character customization in PW is impressive, and equally impressive is how Aeria managed to work a certain amount of cash shop into it. I could alter the dimensions of my character’s head, eyes, lips, nose, arms, torso, legs, and so forth. I could alter his hair, its color, its texture (ever feel your human paladin needed some highlights?). I could reposition facial features. And, most important to me personally as a mulatto gamer, I could alter his skin color across an incredible range. I settled on a swarthy, milk-chocolate Tideborn fellow of svelte build and powerful thighs.

I want to stress that this customization is incredible; the only MMO I’ve played with a comprable level of flexibility is City of Heroes/Villains. While that game gets the nod in terms of clothing optimization and weird additions to your character at the start, since you’re designing a supe and their costume as opposed to playing a character who’ll constantly be up-gearing and gaining status on the basis of that equipment, I’m quite favorably impressed by PW’s character creation for Tideborn, Humans, and Winged Elves.

Why the list? Well, I’ll make an admission here: after playing the Tideborn up to level two, some control frustrations had me quitting out to Google for a solution. When I popped back in, my altaholism kicked in and I made a new character. One of the critical elements of PW is that each individual race has exclusive (and sole) access to two classes. The Tideborn provide Assassins (high-DPS melee) and Psychics (high-DPS ranged). Humans provide Blademasters (DPS/Tank melee classes) and Wizards (Wizards are wizards, eh?). Winged Elves can fly from level one, which surprised me as Aion made a huge deal out of eventually providing wings to characters, whereas PW does so at level one if you roll in this race; they can be either Archers (ranged high-DPS) or Priests (the healing class, with the buffs and restoration powers you’d expect).

Sexy? Sure. But there’s one more race, a race who has, unlike all the others, a limit to its classes based on the gender you select. A race I knew, going into this game, I was going to roll sooner or later. The race which my choosing Tideborn first was, not a snub, but an acknowledgment of the sexy of. I am no furry, even a slight tiny bit, but how’s a brother supposed to ignore the prospect of playing a big, angry tiger man? That’s what male Untamed represent, unless you’d rather be a Lion man (which is what I rolled), or a wolf or panda man. All male Untamed are Barbarians, which is the core tank class for the game. All female Untamed are sexy lady (honestly, all the PW ladies are scantily clad and 0 body fat) creatures, which can shew fox, bat, demon, and so forth in human form. The All Untamed have a WoW-Druid-esque shifting ability, which turns the males into white tigers and the females into foxes. These secondary forms provide passive benefits, and further learn skills that explore whatever the core class fails to obtain. The Barbarian, for instance, has increased defense and speed in his tiger form at the cost of reduced DPS. The Beastmaster (the foxy lady class) is the pet class, focused on debuffs and ranged combat while their tamed pets battle. Their fox form, however, is a melee-oriented class along the lines of your typical rogue or assassin.

So yes, by the time I’d logged into PW a second time I was already rolling a giant roaring beast man who remains my highest-level character to date. He stepped onto the scene with a big two-handed weapon, and he cut some plants to their roots because a strange lady told him to.

And it was good

Saturday, March 13, 2010

MMO Adventures 1: The Not-Playing

I spent the last week in an MMO frenzy. I was ravenous to play something online, with rpg elements and a persistent story. The fact that I read daily, and haven’t played WoW since 2008, probably has something to do with this. The fact that I read on the daily as well does much to explain how this urge could come upon a man.

So I spent literally the entirety of last week engaged in a project to download and patch WoW. Spring Break was coming up, and as my college provides two whole weeks for that celebration, it seemed like a good time to jump back into the game and see how my Warlocks (I have three, one for each spec) were doing.

I managed to get WoW onto my computer, though it took approximately 30 hours to do so. I was using a free trial, just to be sure that I still enjoyed the gameplay, but after an evening I was confident that I’d like to spend my time grinding, skinning, mining, and engaging in all the other joyous repetitions WoW provides. My defunct account is licensed for the Burning Crusade already, which meant I could try a free trial of Wrath of the Lich King. I clicked yes to that…and thus broke everything.

Despite a night of searching, I’ve yet to find any way to just upgrade to Wrath from Burning Crusade; I have to re-download the entire client. Which, again, takes ages. My ten-day trial is already a third over, and I’d say I could just wait it out and then go back to playing BC; except I deleted the game in order to try downloading the new client. I have the DVDs for the original game and BC, but it doesn’t seem that they’re usable; I can’t install that much of the game first and then just pick up the Wrath expansion. That puts me in a position where I need to spend 40 dollars to get the expansion plus also pay the monthly subscription fee, as it doesn’t appear there’s a free month’s service included in the Wrath price.

I’m not complaining, really. WoW is awesome, it’s doing very well for itself, and I’m glad of it. I’m simply in a situation where 15 dollars is very different from 40, and already feels like a wild expenditure. Luckily, partway through my WoW travails Fallen Earth came to the Mac. I’d followed the recent columns about one player’s journey through the wastes of that post-apoc game, and it struck my fancy…mostly as a substitute for Borderlands, which my poor laboring Macbook could apparently run if not for the DRM on the game, which prevents my running it through Steam/Crossover Games. I live in a world where my great interest in games is unfortunately combined with a near-total inability to play any of them.

The Fallen Earth client was, unfortunately, a 4.9 gig download that died halfway through the process (this, too, took a day). I fell into a deep despair.

And then

Then I remembered I had installed a few free-to-play MMOs through Crossover. I played Last Chaos for a time, but it failed to grab me, largely do the catastrophic slowdown I suffered any time I went into town. I had also attempted to get Perfect World working, with no success…at the time. Well, whatever problem PW had, it’s functional now. That means I actually have the capacity to play an MMO, get my grind on, fill them bars, and otherwise experience the joys of playing an rpg on the internet.

Great Story, eh?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

LJ Classic: The Nice Guy Trap (Originally 10/10/06)

As much for my edification as the enjoyment of my avid audience, I've been going through my auld Livejournal and re-reading the musings of a younger, fro-ier me. When I come upon something I particularly enjoy, I'm porting it over here.

Don't fall into the trap. I'm constantly skirting the edge of the trap, but a desperate part of me still recognizes that the trap offers no succor.

I had a great conversation with a buddy the other night, it was high quality stuff. It mostly had to do with the nice guy/asshole dichotomy and how it seems that women only want the latter, and when you treat them shitty (or shittier) they're suddenly all interested.

I argue for mitigating variables. I say that the reason "nice guys" don't get girls is because we half-ass it. We really want a relationship but "Oh gee, she's so keen...I'll just...hang around. I don't wanna push anything, and the friendship is really important. Plus, if I stick around for two or three years she'll magically realize I'm worth it, and get with me!" Lies.

What reason does the woman have to pursue a nice guy, if he's been there through every other great and shitty relationship she's ever had? Odds are, he'll still be there. If he starts to move away, that's scary and gets her attention because he's a cushion, but he's a cushion with no demands, so there's no reason to shake up the status quo by risking a relationship.

The nice guy approach does have its benefits, though, if you don't half-ass it. Some, actually most, of my best friends are girls with whom I've never had a relationship. Another sliver are girls I've maybe made out with once, but never pursued anything further. But with all of them, I went ahead and settled into the friendship and embraced it. Sure, in some cases it took a little longer to accept than in others, but the end result has been great. I have loyal friends, I have a different perspective on my problems, I have girls who can threaten to beat up exes who done me wrong (and there's something crazy comforting to that)...and most importantly, I have a critical link keeping me sane.

If there's a thing I cannot stand, it's women going "I hate guys! Guys suck!" especially if we happen to be hanging out. Last time I checked, I wasn't smuggling bananas in my trousers-I'm a guy. I can understand wanting to rail against a particular group because of the wrongs of a subset therein, but just because one understands the impulse doesn't make the action right. By having good female friends, I never reach that far, hairy horizon of utter misogyny. When I've made a typical Seth relationship mistake, it's not that all women's not even necessarily that I pick women who suck. It's probably more specific than that...I just end up in relationships that are unhealthy, and probably contribute to making them that way. Depending on the relationship, more or less of that contribution may fall at my feet, but it's yet to be a vast cosmic conspiracy where the universe is out to get me by breaking my heart. Female friends are a critical linchpin keeping that concept rooted in my head.

So the nice-guy gig is fundementally rotten, almost sick. It's this attempt to keep yourself safe from any personal risk of rejection, while emitting this thin, feeble whining that is supposed to somehow render you irresistable to the target of your affection. I am a nice guy, a lot of the time...I get it, I understand why it has an appeal. But it's still fundementally rotten.

Now then, the trap. The trap is in deciding that, since being nice and respectful and honest and loyal and all of these things doesn't work, it's time to switch it up. It's time to go in Zach Morris style, over-the-top asshole style. If being respectful didn't work, fuck 'em. Don't give them any attention, don't call them back, give them no end of shit.

I'm not gonna deny it, I've seen this whole style work. I've seen it work, and I've heard stories, and I've even had it work for me. I had a frat brother who accomplished amazing things, mind-boggling things. I once knew him to have sex with three different women in the same night, all of whom were friends, and all of whom came to the house together; yet they left, again together, in complete ignorance of what had transpired. When I was a searching youth, a lost freshman marooned in a very strange place geographically, socially, and emotionally, I apprenticed myself to this man. I wanted to learn his secrets.

His method was beautifully simple. You started the night, chose your target, and spent most of the evening insulting her. Everything she said. She opened her mouth, you talked over her. Or you ignored her. You walked away in mid conversation, and pursued other women. You went so over the top that she finally confronts you, or storms off all mad. That is when you approached her and said "Hey, I was just kidding with you! Gosh, I can't believe you thought I was serious!"

That was it. That was the entire method. Now, obviously the method presupposes some sort of charisma or physical appeal on the part of the actor, and a certain willingness to be had on the part of the target. Presuming those qualities were in effect, though, the results were frighteningly consistent.

Yet I still say unto the congregation, forsake the path of the asshole. Why? If it works, if one could daresay that the conduct of the female population encourages, if not demands, such behavior, why would I shy away from it? Have I abandoned my long-trumpeted quest to get more nerds and nice guys laid (actually, yes, but that was a long-ago entry)? Of course not.

I disdain the assholery because, in part, of my earlier comments about nice guys. Let's say that things in a particular woman's life break down into two camps. Camp one is filled with the devoted male friends who've been around forever and aren't going anywhere, but will never make a move, or make a single halfassed move, or took steps to scuttle things in other ways (such as complaining to the girl about some other girl they have an equally ineffectual and unrequited crush on). Camp two is constructed of basically every other male on the planet. These guys maybe don't know the woman, or maybe they do. They could be in it for sex, or a relationship...none of that matters, though, because whatever play they make is at least novel in comparison to the nice guy friends. Basically, the nice guyage creates an environment which is singularly receptive to taking the early stages, the woman doesn't have a lot to lose, and has a support group in place if things don't work out.

Make no mistake, women still turn guys down. Lots of guys. They don't snap for every asshole that comes into view, either. For the nice guy on the outside, it seems that way; but it's sort of like centripetal/centrifugal forces, where illusory effects are created based on the position of the observer. There is also the central, and very confusing, fact that many women seem capable of just deciding not to like someone. I don't know a lot of guys equipped with this particular feature, and fewer still who can't be convinced to rethink things with the proper combination of garments, alchohol, and interest.

But there's still a vast gulf between the guy who tells his female friend "Look, I really like you. We get along great, and I think you're gorgeous. Rather than sit idly by and comfort you when someone else treats you like shit, I want to show you the appreciation you deserve." and gets shot down....and the guy who sighs longingly while staring at his lovely friend, stays up till 3am listening to her sobbing about this or that, and figures this will one day blossom into her tearing his clothes off in a sympathy-induced sexual frenzy.