Monday, February 23, 2015

Jupiter Ascending - unfairly maligned

Jupiter Ascending, the new big-budget sci-fi film by the Wachowski siblings, is currently imploding in a theatre near you. The movie stars Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones, an illegal Russian immigrant working as a maid with her mother and aunt in Chicago when she finds herself the target of an alien hit squad. Coming to her aid is Caine, played by Channing Tatum, a disgraced former soldier who is a hybrid of a human and a wolf-like creature. Jupiter, it turns out, is the genetic reincarnation of the recently-deceased matriarch of a massive interstellar corporation. The discovery of Jupiter's existence threatens to destabilize the delicate balance of power among the children of said matriarch as each seeks to deal with the situation in different ways so as to derive some benefit or simply to eliminate the threat.

The visual effects are dazzling, as befitting the massive budget, and the plot is far better than one usually expects from a popcorn flick. Sadly, some of shock of the big reveal is tempered because of the trailers. One of the scions of Abrasax mentions his intention to "harvest" the earth, betraying some hint of the true evil of this family. Still, when all is revealed, it is pretty chilling.

The acting was a bit uneven. Kunis and Tatum delivered performances worthy of their talents. Eddie Redmayne. who claimed a Best Actor Oscar last night for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, was less inspiring. I don't know whether he was attempting to portray his character, Balem Abrasax, as deranged or merely an evil caricature, but suffice to say, the scenery was thoroughly chewed by the end of the film. Still overall, the film deserves more love than it is getting and seems destined to join John Carter on the junk heap of good sci-fi movies that never found an audience.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Skylanders: Trap Team turns the wackiness up to 11

Although my kids and I have been playing a lot of Disney Infinity 2.0 lately, we have been Skylander fans for a lot longer and it was inevitable we would get the new Skylander: Trap Team when it was released. Each iteration of the Skylanders franchise brings with it some new gimmick. The original Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure introduced the "toys-to-life" concept whereby collectible figures with embedded RFID chips could interact directly with a video game. A world of floating islands with a force of defenders known as the Skylanders is being menaced by a diminutive, would-be conqueror known as Kaos. Many races including elves, dragons, trolls and robots inhabit the world and many of the Skylander characters are derived from these races. Next came Skylanders: Giants which introduced a new story involving the indefatigable Kaos, a giant robot voiced by George Takei, and a new group of special extra-large figures. The third installment, Skylanders: Swap Force, introduced a new group of figures that had separable upper and lower halves, each of which had its own RFID and which could be interchangeably attached to mix and match capabilities. Once again, the Skylanders battle Kaos, but this time, his mom shows up.

Finally, in the most recent version of the game, we have the "Trapmasters", a special team of Skylanders who have mastered the power of traptanium. a magical crystalline material that has the power to trap villains and turn them to good. Extra crystal traps are available to allow the player to call up trapped villains as needed to either fight or engage in certain side quests that only the villains can do. Obviously, there are a lot more unique villains in this game than in previous Skylanders games in order to utilize this new game mechanic and some are pretty crazy. The elite villains are a gang called the "Doom Raiders" led by the imperious Golden Queen and included among their ranks are a giant disembodied doll head with a Vally Girl accent, a leather-pants-wearing rock star wolfman and a Cajun chef who is an anthropomorphic chili pepper. Of course, Kaos is also back (this guy has more lives than a cat which has been genetically spliced with a cockroach). When you are carrying a trap, the villain can talk to you through the portal. It's generally quiet enough to ignore, but some of the chatter is quite entertaining. Spend a few minutes carrying Broccoli Guy around and you'll never want to bring anyone else.

After spending a fair bit of time playing both Skylanders and Disney Infinity, I have come to some conclusions. First, I like the two-person split screen play of Disney Infinity better than the single screen two-person play of Skylanders. My oldest daughter is a better and more aggressive player than the younger one and she often finds the tether to the other character very frustrating. Hence, they don't play it together very well. However, in Disney Infinity, my younger daughter can interact with the game environment at her own pace while the older one can charge ahead and do as she pleases. On the other hand, the linear adventures of Skylanders seem to be more playable for my kids. The adventures in the DI playsets are often quite challenging even for me and nearly impossible for my kids, while the worldbuilding opportunities of the toybox mode just don't appeal to anyone in my family. After twenty minutes of putting up buildings and laying down racetracks, we are pretty much bored to death. So overall, I give a slight edge to Skylanders as far as playability is concerned.

But damn, those Disney figures are sweet!


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Intermission +

With our Way of the Wicked campaign finished, we took a couple weeks off and debated what to do next. We often play something a little different in the space between long Adventure Paths to try other things out or get a break from the norm.

We've done short evil adventures, tried out Basic Role Playing, did Star Wars and probably others I can't think of right now. For this break we agreed to play some Numenera. Rognar broke out his GMing short and some of us got together to try it out.

Character creation is pretty simple and quick. Once you get a general idea for your character it comes together pretty quickly.When it comes to role playing games, not all option are created equally and its always tough to guess what sort of character is going to be the most useful. The players discussed what they had in mind for a character. We had one fighter type, one Nano (wizard type), and two Jacks.

I was one of the Jacks. I played Dennis Duvalier, a reformed smooth talking thief. So far at least the game hasn't had much combat so a skilled base character has been very handy. The system itself is quite light. you roll a 20 sided dice and tell the GM what the result was and whether you are trained in the task or not. You can put in effort to make the task easier. The GM thinks about how difficult the task is and lets you know whether you succeeded or not. That's it. No adding different buff modifiers, or adding circumstantial bonuses, or rolling a fistful of dice and then multiplying them on a critical hit.

My initial view of the system is that the PCs were pretty wimpy until we actually fought a battle. I quickly realized that we were not super powerful but most other things are pretty wimpy so in actuality the PCs are pretty tough. With that being said we decided not to pick fights with two very bad-ass looking body guards or an ancient monstrous work. Strong we are, suicidal we are not.

So our Numenera campaign should run until the end of the year. This seems to be quite an epic quest we've found ourselves. The first session was lots of fun and I think everyone is looking forward to what comes next. If I can find the motivation I'll do a write up of the session from my characters point of view.

Looking ahead it appears we're going to be playing Wrath of the Righteous next. After playing evil-doers, we switch over to Big-Damn-Heroes. Everything I've read and my test PCs indicate that the Mythic rules for Pathfinder increase the level of Rocket-tag exponentially
. I look forward to inflicting 1000+ points of damage a round.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Unpopular geek opinions

One of my "go to" geek sites is Like most of the Gawker media world, they do spend a lot of time railing against the Patriarchy which can get a little tiresome, but the good outweighs the bad most of the time. One of the things I like is when they pose questions to their readers about their tastes in geek entertainment. The latest asks what unpopular opinions do you have about geek culture. It's an interesting question and one sure to elicit strong opinions, so I put it to our readers. What things do you like in geek entertainment that are unpopular?

I will start:

1. I don't hate Michael Bay. There, I said it. I recognize he is no Stanley Kubrick or even Steven Spielberg, but he's no worse than George Lucas. Nobody in the business, with the possible exception of James Cameron, is as adept at FX as Michael Bay.

2. I never got into Doctor Who. I first watched it in the Tom Baker era and stuck with it for awhile mainly because there wasn't much else to watch. Now, just not interested.

3. I think the Cthulhu Mythos is very cool, but I think Lovecraft's writing is weak and dull. Other writers did a far better job bringing the Mythos to life than HPL ever did.

Note, these are just my opinions, your mileage may vary. Anyone else?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Way of the Wicked 26 - The End

Its interesting that this campaign  went 26 session which assuming we played every two weeks would be exactly one year.

The original plan was to start this session with a Kracken hunt but the player that was driving this was missing so the PCs decided to put that off until the next session. Kingdom building continued. The cathedral to Asmodeus was completed and a foreign princess arrived looking to marry the king. She had with her a thousand of loyal soldiers and a large dowry.

The king thought about it briefly: a young hot sly virgin princess that wants to have my baby and whose dad is rich? They got married and was shortly after pregnant.

Being a Vampire is pretty awesome but comes with some pretty serious drawbacks. Knowing what was coming, I threw the vampire a tainted bone in the form of an Elixir of Protection of Sunlight. Knowing that the PCs would want to make more I came up with an ingredients list that was meant to signal that they should forget about it move on: a Tooth from a Demilich, a Balor fart, essence of rainbow, and the tears of a Ancient Great Wurm Gold dragon. The PCs thought that the Balor fart was hilarious and it was good for about 20 minutes of solid laughing as different people riffed on it. Even though they had no intention of going after the other ingredients, collecting a Balor fart was just one of those things that will never ever happen in another campaign and so it had to be done.

The wizard began researching Balors trying to learn a name so it could be Gated in. I tossed out the name of the Balor Lord Khorramzadeh and one of the players (who is currently DMing Wrath of the Righteous) went very pale and suggested that they go after a regular non-Barlor Lord.

A less TPKing candidate was found and was gated in. The Balor spent the first round threatening the PCs but they immediately hit it with a spell that made it Helpful and then diplomasized the Balor into fart for them and allowing them to collect it. I thought it was simple, funny and seemed legit so I let them get away with and they talked the Balor into returning through the Gate before their spell wore off. That Balor is going to need some therapy.

Word came form the Frost Giant Queen Ellisif that there was trouble in the far north and to come ASAP. The PCs arrived and were told of a strange shadowy substance that was spreading across the land killing every living thing that touches. They quickly discovered that it ignored the undead and so they set off to find the source.

The shadowstuff was erupting out of a volcano in a remote mountain range. The PCs found a tunnel that led into the heart of the volcano and there faced off against two monsters from the darkness between worlds. The two Shoggoths were dispatched without too many problems (some of the PCs being grappled and engulfed aside) and then much time was spent trying to figure out how to stop the flow of the shadowstuff. The key was several large magic stones. These were moved and the flow began to reverse. The PCs then moved the Stones to a location near Matharyn were they could be studied further.

At this point we were cruising right along with still 2 hours left to play so we decided to start the end game. Everyone leveled up to 20 and the Princess returned. She sent riders across the land to summon the faithful. The PCs called up their armies and used  Gates to transport them to the capital. The Princess led her forces to the Fields of Tamberline where the Makardians had to defeated the Barcans to take the crown 80 years earlier. There a Solar extended the artifact, The Veil of Mitra, to cover an area a mile across protecting it from Divinations and Teleportation.

Thinking they were being cheaky, the PCs challenged Belinda to a 4 vs 4 duel, winner take all. Thinking how many lives would be saved and knowing the strength of her allies she accepted.   Cleric, Vampire Fighter, Bloodrager, and Wizard vs an Elysian Titan, an Ancient Wurm Silver Dragon (Mom), Half Dragon Sorcerer, and a Solar. While they PCs grumbled a bit after the battle started that they should have been sneakier about attacking, doing it this way saved them from having to deal with the Titan's Cohort a Ghaele, and the High Inquisitor. The Princess had no shortage of high powered companions.

The battle stretched on over 4 long hours although in game time it was probably only a couple minutes. Lots of very high level spells were tossed and there were some big hits ( a couple PCs can cross off "Getting hit with a Maul of the Titans" from their bucket list). The Titan was the first to go down despite getting Healed twice. The vampire kept the Princess Belinda pinned and was slowly draining her blood. The Dragon and Solar were on a rampage with the PCs trying to keep away from them. Finally the Bloodrager went down and the Wizard a few seconds later. The cleric moved next to the vampire and used Word of Recall to whisk away the Vampire and the Princess's body.

We decided to end the campaign here because the logistics for continuing would be difficult with the Bloodrager and Wizard in the custody of the forces of Good, and the Princess in the hands of the Vampire and King who have retreated to their sanctuary in the Agathium.

The forces of good hold the field and most of the PCs forces would surrender or withdraw after the defeat.

The forces of the White Unicorn take the capital, arrest the Queen and other members of the PCs court. A few battles are fought but troops loyal to the PCs quickly find themselves isolated and are forced to revert to banditry to stay alive. As the capital is restored to Markadian rule, the heroes of the White Unicorn begin their search for the missing princess. The Titan is True Resurrected and joins the search. The High Inquisitor begins to purge Asmodean influence from the kingdom.

But where are the remaining PCs?

As the King used Word of Recall something felt slightly off but under the circumstances (a colossal dragon coming to eat you) it was ignored. As things cleared the King was immediately aware of a few things that were not as they should be. Firstly, this was not his sanctuary in the Agathium. This was  a second circle that had been drawn outside the walls of the Agathium. Second, the almost continuous storms of the area were not present today and the sun was shining - perhaps that was why Sergent was screaming beside him. Thirdly, they were surrounded a number of beings. There were the Death Knights, the wizard Grigori with a far away look in his eye and lastly a large Skeleton in fancy robes. There was something about its skull that seemed familiar, the Gems that were set in it perhaps? It whispered in voice heard long ago, "Welcome Home" and began to laugh.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The power of the Raccoon

It looks like Disney Infinity 2.0 is set to eclipse Skylanders as the leader in the collectible toy/video game market, thanks largely to Marvel. Pre-orders of DI2 starter packs and figures, due for release later this month, are skyrocketing, with Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise being exceptionally popular. Because of this, Disney is already starting to announce future figures most likely to be available next year. The first of these are Yondu from GotG and Falcon from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Here we see the first image of the Yondu figure:

I better go pre-order the GotG starter pack this weekend.


Monday, September 08, 2014

September Blahs

So after a flurry of posts in August we are back to the regular pace of updates for September. The kids are back to school and starting after school activities which sucks up energy and free time.  There won't be a Way of the Wicked update today since our game this weekend got postponed due to scheduling conflicts and the coming weekend is already looking iffy. We are coming to the end of the campaign and I'd kinda like to see it over with.

I have the next session planned out but I'm still a bit up in the air about how I'm going to close things out. The Adventure Path has some good suggestions but some elements are dumb. Why would some of the antagonists split off from their group and try to fight the PCs one at a time? The PCs always fight as a team so why would their opponents be dumb and not do the same? I do like the idea of a duel though. maybe I'll slide that in their somewhere.

I have also let the PCs get immensely powerful this campaign. I hate tracking WBL rules (and XP for that matter) so we implemented some training rules that replace a lot of the Big six magic items in the game (weapons, armor, headbands, belts, cloaks, and amulets of NA). Rings of protection are still in. This has made for highly optimized PCs. They pretty much ROFLStomp most of their opponents and I'm ok with that. As long as they assume that combat is not going to be easy and they have to retreat from time to time I know they are still being challenged.

So Good vs Evil, Evil vs Good. Who should win?