Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In Which The Warlock Makes His Christmas List Early...

One of the nicest things about Origins is the fact that it's almost like Christmas comes twice a year for this geek. Yeah, there are no presents, but there's geekdom! And that's just as good.

To be perfectly honest, it's really difficult not to spend a whole pile of money at Origins. When you're in that dealer room, and there are something close to 200 different vendors and game publishers selling their's incredibly tempting to just grab a shopping cart from the closest Wal-Mart and just say: "I'll take one of these, and two of these, and four packs of dice, and a new dice-bag, and a mint-in-box Ravenloft boxed set..."

...and, at that point, this Warlock would be poor. Completely poor. Totally and absolutely destitute.

So, last year, I set a spending limit: $100. No more, no less. Now, naturally, this amount didn't count the food we got while there--that's an entirely different matter!--but it kept me from breaking the bank. And boy, it would be easy to. No doubts about that one...

So, with that in mind, I decided to set up my own little Wish List. Without further we go:

Wargaming Backpack

My backpack, which has seen me through the final days of high school, through four years at Wittenberg and another year at Earlham, has finally bit the dust. It's full of holes, the leather is wearing through, and the straps are worn so pitifully that I can barely carry it any longer.
As such...this will fit the bill. When one of your selling points is your ability to fit a footlong hoagie in one of the "side compartments", you've sold me.
With luck, the PlatinumChick will be nice enough to get this one for me before Origins, so I can use it there...(subtle hint, right?)

Inquisitor's Handbook

With our Dark Heresy game in full swing, I'm eager to see what the first real supplement in this stand-alone game is like. I've heard good reviews of it over on, but I have yet to really see any of the content. From what I understand, it includes alternate choices for each of the career paths, as well as equipment and (boy, I'm sure hoping for...) vehicle rules. I was debating picking up the adventure compilation Purge the Unclean as well, but I've never been a big fan of pre-packaged adventures. While the temptation for new storylines would be good, I'm not sure how much milage I'd actually get out of these.

Kingsport Horror

We Witt-Weggers have been fans of Arkham Horror for a while, but I've been torn about which of the expansions to pick up. Curse of the Dark Pharaoh was fairly unimpressive, so I can write that one off just about immediately. We've gotten more milage out of Dunwich Horror, but we've pretty much played that one out. I was personally intregued by the King in Yellow expansion, but that's mainly because I'm a sucker for Has...yeah, and you really thought I was going to say it. :D
However, Kingsport Horror seems to have what I'm looking for--new locations to visit, some new rules to try out, and an effect to balance with Arkham's gates--the vortices. I'll be intregued to see how it all pans out in play.

Koplow Dice Trays

One of the problems with our current gaming space is, quite literally the lack of space. In our living room/dining room, I typically sit on our futon, whether I'm GMing or playing, which doesn't give me a lot of room to roll dice on.
As such, I picked up a Dice Boot. That was a mistake.
The Dice Boot was fairly fragile, made up of clear plastic pieces which did not snap together correctly and would fall apart at the slightest breeze. Further, the lip on the front side--where the dice would fall to--was not large enough. So, frequently, my dice would end up on the floor or under the futon: exactly the reason I had purchased the Dice Boot in the first place!
So, I figured...let's go simple. Elegant, felt-lined, and self-contained, a small dice-tray should fit the bill.

Those are the big expenditures so far, but I'm sure there'll be more...I'm eager to see what HellRails, a new game I've signed up for, is like, so that may be on a purchase list. Not to mention if I find any old 2e Planescape or Ravenloft source material. And that's to say nothing of the $10 SJ Games booth, complete with cheap minis and the Exact Change Dance! And if there's a good Cthulhu t-shirt...or Cthulhu swag in general...or some old Heroes Unlimited game material...

Sigh. So why did I have this $100 limit again? Oh, keep from going broke!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In Which The Warlock Wishes His Fedora Still Fit...

So, earlier today, the PlatinumChick, Lionel, and I went off to The Greene, out in Kettering, to catch a glimpse of yet another massive summer blockbuster. This time on the agenda: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

To be perfectly blunt about this, I've been skeptical about this installment. Yes, I know--I was first in line when it came to the Star Wars prequels, but the casting in those was different; we weren't relying on a 60-something to be a pulp-action hero. And, for that matter, there weren't the massive scripting issues, or the disagreements on the pre-production level. Hell, in many ways, we were lucky that this film even came out. To say the least, I went in with reservations.

That said, onto the movie!

Indy IV opens in high style, with WWII long over and the McCarthyism of 1957 in full-swing. We find our titular hero being dragged into Area 51 by some disguised Commies led by wannabe-psychic dominatrix Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett. It turns out that the Commies are in search of an alien body, recovered from Roswell 10 years prior...and an accompanying crystal skull.

This results in a madcap chase across the better part of the Western Hemisphere, ending in the Peruvian Amazon Basin as our heroes--Indy, the resurgent Miriam Ravenwood, an aged and insane John Hurt, and the greaser Mutt (Shia LeBoeuf, whose name I can't help but chuckle every time I hear, as I think "Shia the Beef"). Pursued at every turn, Indy and Co. attempt to return the titular skull to an ancient lost city that might-or-might-not be El Dorado and might-or-might-not be an alien spacecraft. Particularly standing out is the end of the 'jungle chase scene', which culminates with a horde of angry stinging ants carrying away and feasting on unlucky Commie soldiers.

The plot, while servicable, is a distinct departure from the Indy films of old. The pseudo-mysticism of the first three films becomes a Fortean paranormalism in this film, which is reminiscent more of Hellboy or The X-Files than Raiders of the Lost Ark. The problem is...this isn't just a normal action film! This is Indiana Jones, for sweet Zombie Jesus' sake! The whip and fedora are certainly present, but the feel is off...

Any movie that makes me want to run game can't be bad, but in this case...I'd rather be running a paranoid DarkMatter/Warehouse 23 than pulp-ish Eberron.

There's nothing technically 'wrong' with the film. It's a fun little action flick, with some great scenes. Any movie that makes me want to run game can't be bad, but in this case...I'd rather be running a paranoid DarkMatter/Warehouse 23 than pulp-ish Eberron.

Harrison Ford's performance in this go-round really was solid, and as I mentioned, John Hurt does a fantastic job. I honestly could have done without the contrived reunion with Mirian Ravenwood, and the romance sub-plot felt particularly tacked on. What hurts, though, is the lack of a really powerful villian. Cate Blanchett drifts in and out of her Russian accent like the tide coming in and out, and she never gets beyond the 'hot chick in a tight uniform with a sword'. Shia LeBoeuf, similarly, leaves me wanting. Compared to prior Indy sidekicks--John Rhys-Davies' Sallah comes immediately to mind, followed by Short Round--Mutt Williams falls short quickly. While the movie makes him something of an heir-apparent to Indy's whip and fedora, I'd probably avoid a movie that focuses on LeBoeuf as a new Indy.

This is going to sound weird to say...but I was genuinely not impressed by John Williams' score. Coming from someone who owns all of the Star Wars soundtracks, I love John Williams' work, but this time around? No risks were taken, and nothing was rewarded. The soundtrack was servicable, at best, but not memorable or sweeping, as I've come to expect. Definintely one of the sadder points in this one.

I guess nostalgia is the biggest killer for this one. I remember the Indy series fondly, so this film had a ton of expectations to live up to. It's a good movie,'s just not the way it once was. If it had any other name than Indiana Jones attached to it, I'd love it. But, in this regard, its own name is its biggest flaw--it cannot possibly be too much.

So go enjoy it for what it is. Just's not the second coming of the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In Which The Warlock Prepares for Brain Surgery...

I realize it's been a tick since I last talked about this, but it bears mentioning. The Friday night Dark Heresy game utterly rocks on toast.

The plot so far has been very close knit and claustrophobic. The PCs, en route to the Calixis sector, were placed into cryogenic stasis. However, as they traveled, an unknown force ripped the ship in half, leaving them adrift in a decaying orbit around the capital of the sector, Scintilla.

The players discovered the last bit of this in last session, as they found their way to the Astropathic Navigation Cathedral, and then to the Piloting Chamber. The only problem was who found the Piloting Chamber--Brandon's character, an Imperial World Assassin.

Typically, only Psykers (powerful psionic characters) ever even see the Astropath chamber, much less the Piloting Chamber. When the Piloting Chamber is entered, mindless servo-drones essential "jack" the character in, using various neural cybernetic interfaces. And, by neural cybernetic interfaces, I mean "Data Jacks wired straight into your medulla oblongata and spinal cord".

Brandon, as you can imagine, did not have the appropriate neural jack.
Now, he does...sort of.

So, the session tomorrow opens with the characters under arrest by the Adeptes Arbites troops, and are being taken to the High Inquisitor of Scintilla, after crash-landing the half-ship in a massive conflagration. And Brandon? Well, his character's unconscious, at at the tender mercy of the Scintilla Chiurgeons...who have a bedside manner not unlike a combination of a Terminator robot crossed with Hannibal Lector.

This, needless to say, is going to be fun, as a GM.

Now, this is to say nothing of Fred's character, who was injured by a Daemon several sessions ago, and has an infection steadily spreading up his left leg.

Yay for GM fun!

In other news, I've kind of kept my opinions down on D&D recently. I've felt more than a little burned out on D&D for a while, and I'm only now really coming out of it.

I guess my disillusionment with D&D came with the finale of Dungeon magazine. I really enjoyed Paizo's run on it, and while I hadn't played any of the Adventure Paths, the concept of them intregued me as a DM tool, and I was actually kicking around the idea of running Age of Worms for quite a while. That is, until the finale of The Savage Tide AP.

You see, the capstone in The Savage Tide (no spoiler tags here--deal with it) is a confrontation with DemoGorgon, the Prince of Demons, in his own layer on the Abyss. The concept is brilliant: the players spend 4+ sessions wrangling allies--other Demon Lords, Archon Angels, the Witch-Queen Iggwilv, the Stygian Boatman Charon--and basically invade DemoGorgon's stronghold in a massive plane-shaking war. Awesome, epic stuff.

Or, it would be.

DemoGorgon's stat block was no less than 4 pages long. There's so much text there, which will almost never be used, that the game becomes a bad Cold War analogy--whoever strikes first manages to avoid the Mutually Assured Destruction of bad gaming mathematics. So we're clear, this was not a once-in-an-adventure thing. The adventure needed its own specialized appendix for all of the character stats in the adventure, which made running game painful.

I ran an epic game during my time at Wittenberg. While the concept was engaging--a Celestial-driven planar crusade--the game bogged down in the details. Players did more book-keeping than they did role-playing, as they tried to keep track of all of the massive details inherent to the 3.5e system. Others were upset when the wealth system seemed out of sorts as to what was expeted to get. The game became more about "the game" than "the story"...and that pissed me off.

I guess I'm a sucker for rules-transparency. I love Call of Cthulhu because if you're doing it right, the rules fade into the background. Dark Heresy is much the same way. I like D&D at its best when I do not actually use a battlemat--I tend to feel like that mat takes up more of the focus than the story does, which makes the game more tactical and less "cool".

I like the "cool" stuff. Fights over lava, bridges made of ice, the mud pits of White Plume Mountain...I'm all about that.

So, when 4th Edition came out, I immediately latched onto it--the "cool stuff" seemed more apparent. Everyone gets powers! The Warlock is now a base class! Monsters have genuine roles!

But, there were reservations...4th Edition scraps the Great Wheel cosmology, which I've loved for a long while. Dragonborn replaced Orcs/Half-Orcs as a base race...ugh. A dark, pseudo-gothic setting (i.e. Ravenloft) seems almost impossible to pull off, with rules as written. Something of an increased reliance on minis/tactical combat?

So, I got a little skeptical.

But, in the end...this is still D&D! And, the more previews that are released, the more my grognard-ism drifts away...which is a glorious thing, since one of the biggest selling points of 4th is the ease of DMing, through unified, simple rules. Here's for hoping that this is the case, but we'll see. The 6th approaches, and my check card's already locked and loaded...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

In Which The Warlock Has a Place To Sit!

So, we've had a problem with the last few games that we've run. It's not been player issues, not timing, not characterization, and not plotting....'s been seating.

The PlatinumChick and I bought a nice kitchen table set from Value City Furniture, complete with four chairs. The table has held up immaculately well, and looks nice in our living-room/kitchen, but the chairs? Not so much.

The chairs that came with it had a wooden seat, with a metal backing and legs. The problem with this was the fact that the frame was held together with tiny aluminum screws and washers which promptly broke. For over a year, we haven't been able to sit in our own kitchen chairs, for fear that the frame would literally collapse beneath us. The worst chair of the bunch was moved up against the kitchen wall, so that there was at least some support if someone sat there....though we not-so-subtly encouraged them not to sit there.

However, the winds have changed, mes amices!

Courtesy of our happy local K-Mart, we now have a full complement of all-wood chairs to complement our table. What's best? They match!

At last, we have a suitable area to WEGS it up! At last, we can cluster around the battlemap and burn the xenos of Dark Heresy! The Crystal Pot shall rise again!


Sunday, May 04, 2008

In Which The Warlock Wishes He Had Some Power Armor...

What a weekend of geekdom. Life is good, aside from the fact that my back has been killing me since about 4 pm today, for unknown reasons. However, the last few days have more than made up for it.

Yesterday, the Witt RP-Guild held their bi-yearly LARP in Bayley Auditorium. Lionel put this one together, much as he put together the "Diplomacy" LARP last year. Running a role-playing event for 15 people is no easy task, but Lionel's results are regularly great. He puts in a ton of time and effort, and the games themselves speak to that effort.

This year's LARP put us on the S.S. Triton Bay, a massive ship that capsized in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Stuck in the ship's cargo hold, our characters connived and backstabbed their way through the "Poseidon Adventure"-esque scenario...that is until the Marines arrived...

As Yannosey Cuthbert Allgrave III, my major task was to purchase a recently unearthed sarcophagus from a black marketeer to add to his collection. While I wasn't successful in this regard--the sarcophagus radiated evil like a heat lamp, which somehwat brought down the desire on it--I did get to play a massive misogynist twit, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering personal assistant Ms. Lovegood.

(And, for the record, neither Lionel or I actually realized the Bond-esque awfulness of Ms. Lovegood's name until the day of the LARP. At least it's better than Dr. Holly Goodhead!)

However, that's not what you want to hear about...nor is my new Dark Heresy campaign, but I'm going to tell you about that instead! :D

So, the PlatinumChick is notorious for her dice luck. Or, to be more specific, her lack thereof. In d20 games, it's always Natural 1. In WEGS, or other percentile games, it's always 99 or 00.
In Dark Heresy, she's found a new bane--the Willpower test.

Thusfar, our intrepid Acolytes have come out of cryogenesis aboard the Emperor's ship "Persephone", only to find the ship ransacked and nearly torn apart by daemons, loose through the Warp. Daemons have, associated with them, a Willpower test to avoid a fear aura. The first session centered around the PCs exploring a warehouse and attempting to find their stored gear...while being assaulted by a daemonic horror.

Jules? As soon as she got within the fear aura, her character failed her Willpower test, breaking ranks and screaming off into the dark. Typically, it takes a Willpower test to break out of the fear. She spent no less than 7 rounds--the duration of the combat--failing Willpower tests.

So, this past session, we hoped for something a little more helpful for her. En route to the astropathic navigation chamber, the PCs had to jury rig their way through several elevators, and were again assaulted by daemons. Again, Jules' character failed the Willpower test and flailed about on a greased floor before passing out. Then, when faced with a massive daemonically-inhabited avalanche of bodies, she simply puked on herself and passed out again.

Man...the effectiveness of first-rank characters. Just like Call of Cthulhu!

Yeah, you didn't want to hear about either of those, did you? Okay, I guess I'll give you what you wanted:

Iron Man

The movie absolutely rocks on toast. It's gotten high praise, even from some of the most critical of Hollywood reviewers, which really speaks to its quality. This may well be one of the best comic-book movies of all time. It's that good.

Iron Man begins in medias res, with billionaire industrialist/weapons developer Tony Stark riding in a convoy to an Afghani airbase following a demonstration of his newly-developed Jericho missile system. Pure to the Iron Man continuity, the convoy is blown out of the water by guerilla insurgents, and Stark is injured by one of his own weapons and is captured.

Upon his capture, Stark is given an ultimatum--build a missile for the local warlord (who makes a beautiful reference to perennial IM villain "The Mandarin") or die. Stark, and his fellow captive Yinsen, choose option D--blow the hell out of the insurgents with a powered suit of armor and escape. The experience gives Stark the proverbial kick in the butt that he needs, causing him to simultaneously disband his weapons-development division and begin his own special project--the Iron Man armor.

The plot culminates in two parts industrial-espionage and one part epic mech battle as Stark faces off with business partner-turned-rival Obidiah Stane, wearing a reverse engineered version of Stark's Mark-I armor.

As far as origin stories go Iron Man, the storytelling techniques used by director Jon Favreau really keep viewers interested. We're given the rundown on Stark's past in an awards speech, keeping the exposition brief and the camera on the action. Stark's experimentation with the Mark-II and Mark-III armors, particularly, feel real to viewers. Stark feels like 'one of the guys', tinkering around in his man-cave with hard rock blaring. It's hard not to empathize with someone like that--he feels real, and looks like the billionaire we'd all love to hang out with.

The dialogue, above all else, is what made this movie for me. So often, comic book movie dialogue is stilted and full of bad one-liners (Fantastic Four, I'm looking at you!). In Iron Man, however, the dialogue is quick and snappy--always keeping us interested. Jeff Bridges' lines drip corporate sleaze-man, and the sections between Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. are simultaneously cute and awkward, as they try to rectify their middling relationship between boss-assistant and romantic-partners.

The special effects, done by titan Industrial Light and Magic, are predictably good, but it's the art designs that make the effects so great. The film's development staff went immediately to recent Iron Man artist Adi Granov to cull some ideas on the Mark-III armor. And their homework has paid off. The armor looks just as if Ol' Shellhead had stepped out of Granov's "Extremis" arc and onto the screen. Brilliant job, on this section.

I'll be honest. When I first heard about Iron Man's casting, I was more than a little worried. Jeff Bridges hasn't really done much of worth in years, and saying that Robert Downey Jr. has had character issues is like saying that geeks like spandex costumes. However, the entire cast delivers a consistently great performance all around. The only real low point in the cast--and I'm nitpicking here--is Terrence Howard's James "Rhodey" Rhodes. That said, he has little to work with, aside from set up for the already-in-the-works sequal. War Machine, anyone?

All told, Iron Man is a class of superhero movie reserved for only the best. To be honest, I'm seriously doubting that any movie this summer can keep up with it. The summer began with a bang, and it's in red and gold.