Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Games

I'm sure I've written this before, but I'll write it again: much as I love the game of Blood Bowl (and the latest edition might be the best version yet)....much as I love the game, there are a lot of ways in which it fails to mimic the actual game of American football on which it's based. While the various discrepancies could be written off as just a post-apocalyptic fantasy world's imperfect interpretation of the ancient rulebook (so would say the original "fluff" of the game) there are other, non-field aspects, that simply cannot be emulated. The current brouhaha in the NFL, for example, where players are using their public platform to bring attention to the continuing racial injustice in our country that has led to more inappropriate outbursts from our sitting POTUS. While some non-field events and antics can (and are) emulated with the use of random event cards, in the existing fantasy setting the various Blood Bowl teams play for different nations and species, rather than a single country. There can, thus be no single cause or rogue leader against which to rail and bring unity between teams bent on mutual annihilation in the name of sport.

As usual, reality proves itself stranger than fantasy.

Even so, Blood Bowl is a great game, certainly one of my All-Time Faves. Diego and I have had the chance to sit down and play a game or two since the NFL season started. As said, the current release might be the best iteration yet published (previously, I would have given the nod to the 3rd edition), at least in terms of rules. But then, Games Workshop has been publishing and evolving Blood Bowl since 1986...thirty years!...and while the main "overhaul" of the game was the '94 version (when they introduced time limits and turnovers) the last 20 years have simply been tweaks and tinkering based on actual play and feedback in an attempt to make the gameplay experience better. Blood Bowl isn't the flagship game of the GW brand; hell, there have been periods in their history when they weren't even publishing the game. Their business strategy for getting new cash infusions from BB fans is based on newer, shinier releases (better game pieces, cooler models), not some false proclamation that the "older version" is no longer viable as a system. The game is still about 16 fantasy figures taking the field 11 at a time, and I still can (and do) utilize the playing pieces I've owned since I got into the hobby circa 1989 (with the 2nd edition).

The reason I bring all this up is the recent series of thoughtful posts from Alexis over at the Tao. For reference, you can check out:
Noob-Talk
Measuring Yourself as a DM
Those Who Quit the Game

They're all short, but particularly thoughtful (and thought-provoking) posts on Dungeons & Dragons. One thing Alexis has been good at over the years is reminding his readers that D&D, for all the wonderful things it is and all the joy and meaning it may have given us, is still a game. A game that has to be played to have any real value. A game that we can...and perhaps should...strive to become better at.

Last week I received a comment on an ancient blog post in which the reader expressed doubt of my actual experience with the game (and, presumably my authority to blog about it). It's true that I've played D&D since 1982, but those 35 years have been "off and on" and the last five years or so have been mostly "off." If I really consider the actual years I've spent playing and running D&D...not just acting as an "armchair DM," my actual experience probably amounts to only 15-17 years...and maybe not even that. Reading and designing and prepping are all a part of the game (especially for would-be dungeon masters), but most of the practice is only accomplished at the table. Like flight time for a pilot...there's a difference between hours spent in a simulator and hours spent in the air. It is quite possible that there are people out there who only started playing D&D with the 3rd edition (released in 2000) that have more hours "in the chair" or "behind the screen" than I do, despite my decades of involvement in the role-playing hobby.

And that actual, hands-on experience makes a real difference. It does so with any game or sport, and the more challenging and complex the game, the more difference that experience makes. When I play Uno or Rummy 500 with my son, he beats me nearly as often as I beat him. With Cribbage, I generally beat him (even though we don't count muggins and I help him with counting). When we've played Magic cards...recently discovered this month...he's beat me a single time in a dozen plus games (random draw should preclude this from happening). And I've never lost a Blood Bowl game to him. But then, I can only remember losing a handful of Blood Bowl games, ever, to anyone...BB is just my wheelhouse.

And it's not just about winning (after all, D&D isn't about "winning," right?). The boy and I were at the local game shop where we completed a full game of Blood Bowl in a couple-three hours...and during the same time period we watched a pair of adults struggle to even complete a half in the same time period (Blood Bowl, like soccer, is played in two halves)...despite having been set-up at the table before we even sat down. When I've simply acted as referee for two players (I do this sometimes), I've managed to facilitate complete games far quicker. That's just experience that comes from playing.

D&D is a game. A special game, sure, but still a game. A complex game with a strange set of rules, some of which are unwritten, some of which can only be parsed out in play. Especially for the development of a competent DM, real experience is needed at the table...hence, the often heard phrase, "you learn to be a DM by running games."

And yet, imperative though it is, just running games is not enough to hone your craft as a DM. I've run the Hickman module Pharaoh two or three times (boxed text and all), but if that was all I did I wouldn't develop anything except my ability to run that particular module. I think Alexis is right when he states part of the reason people quit the game (assuming that they had an enjoyable experience with it when first played) is that they reach a point where the game's perceived limitations fail to satisfy their expectations of entertainment. "I'm tired of killing things and taking their stuff," or even "I'm tired of pretending to be something I'm not," especially when one can instead escape into the easily accessed television program.

There are several strategies for enhancing and retaining player enjoyment...and I think those strategies are ideas worthy of exploration. But that's going to have to wait for a follow-up post.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #30 and #31

From the #RPGaDAY 2017 challenge (information here):

And we've reached the end of these posts...and because I completely spaced that YESTERDAY was the 30th, I will be doing yet another combo-post. Sorry about that (but at least it's over)!


#30 What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

This is another fairly easy one to answer: some sort of mash-up of dinosaurs and (modern day) warfare. M16s versus velociraptors. Dudes in a Bradley fighting vehicle being chased by a triceratops herd. That kind of thing.

I love this kind of thing.
This goes back to my longtime interest in "lost patrols" stumbling into some kind of Land of the Lost, prehistoric dimension. Like The War That Time Forgot or my one-time micro-game Out of Time, I just get a thrill off the idea of pitting automatic weapons against gigantic killing machines. I know I'm not the only one who digs on this (Jurassic Park, anyone?) but it seems to be a genre-mash that's gone largely unexplored. Yes, I already have a copy of Hollow Earth Expedition...it's not enough.

And, just in case anyone's interested, I did find my old copy of Cadillacs & Dinosaurs (I was cleaning/organizing my office last week. Fortunately the chewed portion was limited to the back cover and index). Maybe I could adapt the dinosaur stats to Twilight 2000...


#31 What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

This is a tougher question. "Anticipate" means "expect" or "predict," but do they want an answer with regard to my gaming? Or to gaming (the "state of gaming") in general?

I'm not expecting much, truth be told. Regarding my own gaming, I predict more Blood Bowl and Pokemon and the same drought of RPG gaming. With regard to gaming in general? I don't see a 6th edition of D&D yet on the horizon. The indie market seems to be striving right along. FFG will probably roll out a new Star Wars supplement based on Episode 8, hoping to capitalize/cash-in on a tie-in with a popular film. The Old School community will continue as it has.

Yeah, I really don't know. I know that *I* have a LOT on my plate these days, but my hope is I'll be more active in blogging, designing, and publishing than I've been the last couple years. And hopefully (hope-hope!) I will be able to produce some stuff that inspires some folks. Especially around this corner of the blog-o-sphere.

But even if I'm not as active as I hope, I hope other folks will pick up the slack. And while that's for selfish reasons...well, it's my hope.

All right. That's it. Thanks for reading.
: )

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #25 thru #29

From the #RPGaDAY 2017 challenge (information here):

Wow! I'm nearly a week behind...again! A "quick trip" to Montana (or anywhere, really) can sure set you back when you're trying to do regular blog posts.

Then again, August is a pretty poor month in general to try scheduling regular blog posts...at least if you're a parent of school age children (like Yours Truly). The next few days look to be exceptionally busy as I get unpacked from vacation and ramp up for the coming school year. Plus, I've got coffee and ice cream socials to plan, coach training for soccer, uniforms to patch, and blah, blah, blah. Because go my limited time, I will be combining my delinquent posts into a single missive.

Here we go:

#25 What is the best way to thank your GM?

Beer. A six pack or pitcher is good, but a pint at the local pub is perfectly acceptable. If you're feeling spendy, or can't get together at the bar, a bottle of wine is always a welcome substitution.

If you're too broke to buy and you still want to express your gratitude for a game (whether it be a multi-session campaign or one-off), words of thanks are always appreciated.


#26 Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

Probably Twilight 2000, with its pamphlet reference sheets (included right in the box). The original Marvel Superheroes RPG (and the later Advanced version) had excellent maps, paper figures, and character cards for reference, but fighting over the same few blocks of New York City could get old.


#27 What are your essential tools for good gaming?

Dice. Pencils. Paper. Imagination. Back when I was playing a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade, I made good use of a scientific calculator to run random numbers (since VtM uses D10 dice pools), but these days I do my best not to pull out a calculator (or smart phone) at the table.

A laptop has become essential for ANY gaming recently, as my only gaming has been on-line.


#28 What film or series is the most frequent source of quotes in your group?

I don't have a regular group, but even so, this has always depended on the game being played (as folks tend to reference in-genre films). I mean, at least when I've recognized quotes from players (I would never, for instance, recognize a line from Doctor Who as I've never seen the show).

Personally, I often find myself quoting Star Wars or Blade Runner...usually something like "I have you now," or "Time to die." I try to keep it to a minimum, however.


#29 What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

I have only ever backed one Kickstarter, ever: Top Secret: New World Order. I talked about this earlier this month. It seems to have been a well run operation; we'll have to wait and see if the goods are delivered by November as promised.
: )

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Defenders (Part 3)

[continued from here; as with that post, this one includes:]

 ***MAJOR SPOILERS***


Just moving right along...

Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones): So let's talk about this particular Danny Rand. I'll say it again, I think Finn Jones does an excellent job in the role. Danny Rand isn't a terribly complex character (few superheroes are), but he is a bit of a strange duck as I've written before. Yes, he's the immortal weapon of K'un Lun and he's plenty cocky about his fighting ability. He also prefers not to fight people who he clearly over-matches (like non-powered criminals), often trying to talk them out of it ("You know I was trained in the martial arts for ten years in the mystic dimension of K'un Lun...") which, of course, never works, thus requiring him to lay the beat-down. 

In some ways, he's a stunted man-child, as one might expect from his upbringing. There's a wonderful scene in an early episode when he speaks in Mandarin to the owners of a Chinese restaurant where The Defenders are hiding out, getting them to stay open by offering to float their business for six months (and making the owners throw in dinner as part of the deal). When Luke points out that Danny could be using his money rather than his fists to have real impact on injustice, Danny gives it a try...even after Colleen (rightly) points out to him that he's a warrior, not a businessman. The complexities of living an adult life in a 21st century American city are still things Rand is coming to grips with; for most of us it takes decades to accomplish (I didn't really mature until my late 20s, early 30s), and some of us never make that adjustment (my brother, for instance). Even though Danny can center his focus with meditation and harness his chi, he's only just begun his road to the kind of maturity he needs to survive like a functioning adult in a city like New York.

He's a kid. I imagine that's part of why he's always referred to as "Danny," never Dan or Daniel.

It's the same in the comic books (though, by the time of The Immortal Iron Fist series, he's mostly got his shit together...the character's existed for decades, by now). Mostly. But in the television show we're still watching these characters as they grow into their own, and even though he may feel he's ready to be a hero (or a warrior or whatever), the truth is there're a lot of areas where Danny Rand still has growing to do. And I think Jones is great at portraying that. It's just too bad the writers don't do a better job of showing his goofy, likable side, instead focusing on his frustrations and resentments with the situation of his life. I can understand why some people find the character annoying. 

As for Iron Fist's fighting style, I like the way they've done it. In his comics, especially the more recent Immortal Iron Fist series, he is drawn with an unorthodox style of long sweeping movements, fully extended legs and arms, contorting his body horizontally at times, more like a ballet dancer than a UFC fighter or centerline military HTH. It is distinctly different from other scrappy heroes of the comic universe, and I think Jones is fairly competent in his action. Others look at his wild flailing about and say, "boy, that actor sure sucks at martial arts." To me, it simply appears to be the fight choreographer's attempts to emulate the comics. The proof of course is in the character winning his fights...he must have some preternatural ability to fight like that and get away with it, right?

But that's part of the suspension of disbelief...the same thing that allows us to turn a blind eye on four heroes miraculously NOT catching a bullet when half-a-dozen automatic weapons open up in a cramped restaurant space (despite only one of them being bullet-proof). The same suspension of disbelief that makes us ignore a killer with a sword deciding to execute a kick on an unarmed opponent rather than slashing them dead. This is how Iron Fist fights...yes, even hunching up to deliver a single chi punch when his fist becomes LIKE UNTO A THING OF IRON (thanks, Stan). We've seen fight sequences in cinema, and have an idea of how we think they should look. But Iron Fist's moves aren't based on cinematic fighting alone. Like it or not, there are some comic sensibilities at work here.

[that's not to say that things won't change down the road. Observe the final battle sequence in the first cinematic Avengers film. They have Captain America doing full frontal flips while running along the tops of cars...much as he would in an 80s comic book. Later films have removed these needless, comic book acrobatics from his fight sequences. His fighting style has changed to fit the needs of cinema]

But I'll stop belaboring the point. Me liking a particular quirky show (Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, Firefly, etc.) has never stopped such shows from being cancelled.

Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), a.k.a. The Daughters of the Dragon: Also known (in the comics) as Nightwing Restorations detective agency. But I suppose you couldn't do yet another superhero detective agency, seeing as how we already have Jessica Jones. Come to think of it, that may be part of why there's no Heroes for Hire agency either. Ah, well.

I'll talk Colleen first, since hers was the larger part in the series (she was as much one of the "Defenders" as any of the big four). Remember how I praised the Iron Fist series for the way they chose to portray Wing as an interesting, complex person instead of some two-dimensional, cardboard sidekick? Well, The Defenders reduce her to pretty much a two-dimensional sidekick. I'm sure Ms. Henwick was just happy the creators haven't chosen to kill her off like her Game of Thrones character (or like Ben Urich in Daredevil). You know...to give Danny Rand some "extra motivation."

*sigh*

But even so, she must be chomping at the bit for a new run on Iron Fist. There was quite a bit of interesting stuff that was going down with Colleen's character in the first series...her relationship with her students, her relationship with Danny, her relationship with her own martial art (and the best use of that art). Of course, there was also her relationship with The Hand which (I felt) was only poorly explored in Iron Fist and in The Defenders was simply milked for a couple extra fight scenes. I found the entire Bakuto subplot to be a waste of space (and a waste of Ramon Rodriguez's talents). He just wasn't as villainous, or creepy, or scary-deadly as he needed to be. In the end, he was only there to cut Misty's arm off and even that was unnecessary...she could have lost it to the bomb explosion, similar to her comic book canon.

Yes, she finally lost it. Even as they teased us at the end of the Luke Cage series (before confirming that, yes, she would keep her arm), it was clear to me that they were going to take it from her the moment she walked into the Midland Circle building in the final episode. I saw it coming a mile away...I know they're trying to develop these characters along lines similar to their comic counterparts and being a one-armed, ex-cop is part of Misty's whole identity. The faster she gets a bionic replacement from Stark Enterprises (or the Rand Corporation or whoever), the better as far as I'm concerned. Her introduction to Colleen Wing already took waaaay too long.

But though Misty made strides from being a hard-nosed cop to hard-boiled cyborg, she still was left on the sidelines for most of The Defenders, much to my chagrin. Like Colleen, her character and subplots were downplayed (though Simone Missick is such a strong actor, she demands attention even in the few scenes she appeared). But, boy, was she watered down...especially with her being all hunky-dory about Luke's new girlfriend. I realize that the comic book history destines these two for other people (Luke for Jessica and Misty for Danny...well, for about 40 years before she moves on to Sam Wilson) so it's not a huge deal, but she was really crushing on Cage in his series, and I fully expected at least some...I don't know, antipathy? Rivalry? with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson)

[perhaps she's too busy to pine over "the Hero of Harlem;" perhaps she gives zero fucks because she is too busy fighting real crime as an officer of the law. That would certainly fit with the character and Missick's portrayal]

And as for The Night Nurse/Claire Temple: we did see Rosario do a lot more medic duty and a lot less ass-kicking in The Defenders...a good thing in my opinion (that whole hippocratic oath thing). But she's still a good fit and nice lynchpin for all these various Defenders of New York, and she was in on plenty of action, as well as providing Luke Cage with a serious, solid love interest.

Now let's be clear here. The Jessica Jones comic book character (to whom comic book Luke is happily married) has only been around since 2001. Luke Cage's character has existed since the 1970s. And for much of those early years, his main girlfriend/romance was with Dr. Claire Temple. She only broke up with him because she got tired of Luke putting himself in danger all the time, even while she knew (and encouraged him) to be a help to people using his abilities. The end of their relationship actually reminds me a bit of Rosario's walking out on Daredevil in his first season; apparently, she has less worries (so far) about a man who's bulletproof (even though she's now had to treat him...what? Three times?...when Luke was comatose and/or seriously injured). 

I only write this for folks who might not know the old Cage stories and who are wondering why he's with Claire when he obviously continues to have feelings for Jessica (and vice versa). This is actually the writers sticking to the character canon. And if they continue to do so, Claire may one day leave Luke and leave the door open for Jessica. So there. 

[still have absolutely no idea how the Danny of the television series will ever end up with Misty]

Anyway, in case you can't tell, I have a soft spot for these particular ladies. I would really, really like to see a Daughters of the Dragon series featuring Colleen and Misty (and Claire) at some point in the future...a little vacation from the men-folk of the Marvel Netflix Universe. However, no such series appears to be scheduled at this point...more's the pity.

Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver): I'm not going to talk about the various Hand villains any more than I already have, and these posts are already super-long and I've got other stuff to do, but I do want to finish up with "the Big Bad" of the series. I love Sigourney Weaver. I've been a fan since the Alien films and Ghostbusters and I've seen quite a few of her films over the years. I could gush over her for a paragraph or so, but most folks are familiar with her work...she's been nominated four times for Academy Awards, and she'll probably pick-up a lifetime achievement Oscar someday.

This was not a good role for Ms. Weaver. It has nothing to do with her acting chops or her ability to appear subtly menacing and powerful while still trembling with desperation at her character's impending demise...she does as much as she can with the role. It's just that the writers don't give very much for her character to do in the series. Mostly she stands around (or sits) talking. Usually quietly. Sometimes just staring, pondering her immanent doom. 

As the head of centuries-old shadow organization called The Hand...which had all sorts of crazy in previous shows that set our superheroes trembling (remember draining people of their fluids and turning them into zombie abominations?)...you'd think she'd have something more interesting to do than snipe and politic with her (suddenly all-too-frail) fellow "masterminds." 

"Alexandra" is weak...the character is weak. The bad guys are all weaksauce. She's put all her chips into Elektra (based on some "prophecy" that we never really hear anything about), clearly a loose cannon with a history of being on the other side and betraying EVERY side for her love of Daredevil. That's just suicidally stupid...and it doesn't make any sense. I'd think some Machiavellian immortal would hedge her bets at least a little...maybe have a Plan B and Plan C? Seems like that would have made more sense. Certainly more sense than turning your back on a malfunctioning weapon and going out like a chump.

I don't know, I guess I've played to much Vampire over the years with Antediluvian machinations manipulating world politics, and exerting influence over the world of darkness.

It's pretty lame. Despite having the biggest name star yet in any of these Netflix series (certainly the biggest star in a Marvel flick since Robert Redford showed up in Captain America), this has got to be the most pathetic excuse for an antagonist yet. And that's saying something when you consider the ones in the Iron Fist series. 

Look...I'm not going to write a whole bunch more on Elektra than what I wrote in my last post, but it seems to me that the showrunner(s) of The Defenders have done a major disservice to these Netflix shows. There's a LOT that could have been done with Elektra...especially given her history as an assassin for the Kingpin and her conflicts with the Hand. Clearly, the creators of the Daredevil series didn't want to retread the same ground as the Affleck film, killing the character off in a rooftop ninja fight (*sigh*). But bringing her back for this? Just to fight a few useless battles, kill Stick, and go all Godfather on the shadow mob? And then die again? What a frigging waste.

But that all goes back to the writing...again. The Defenders had some fun, and it was (mostly) fun to watch, especially as I like the characters (and the actors that portray them) so well. But a lot of the story was pretty crappy, I'm sorry to say. I look forward to better things in new seasons of Jessica Jones 2, Luke Cage 2, and (hopefully) Iron Fist 2.

All right, that's it. I'm out of words.

RPGaDAY 2017 #24

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

All of them.

Unless you're releasing some sort of "beta test" or art-free sample or promotional product (i.e. things that are usually given away for free), folks should be charging money for their work.

If you've taken the time to create and publish a finished project, you'd best be putting a price tag on it. Doesn't matter what price you decide on...if it looks really sucky, charge a dollar...but put some sort of value on it. Because if you don't value your own work, why should anyone else find value in it? And if you're not sure it's worth anything (because it's incomplete or has gaming flaws/holes), then you should probably polish it up to a point where you find it has value BEFORE you decide to publish it.

I am assuming this question refers to the many self-published independents out there putting electronic PDFs on DriveThruRPG, and similar sites. Those are the folks I'M talking about. I've picked up a couple or five of these "PWYW" products over the years and can you guess how much money I put in that little box?

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Every time.

If you won't value your work, why should I? Truthfully, I usually pass on anything marked PWYW, but sometimes I've heard something, or read some review, that piques my interest, and I'll download it (despite the quickly diminishing storage capacity on my laptop). And I never pay a thin dime. And I usually delete it from my hard drive, following a quick perusal. No skin off my nose, after all...I paid nothing, I lost nothing, and I have nothing invested in holding onto your work.

That's pretty f'ing terrible. If I pay for something, at least I'm likely to use it, to play it, at least once...if only to get my money's worth out of the thing. And don't you want your games to be played? Isn't that why you're writing them? Or is it really just sheer vanity as you live off you trust fund, futzing around on your desktop publishing program?

Because if THAT's the case, why don't you get off your ass and do something useful...like publish a newsletter organizing a grassroots movement to combat the bigotry and intolerance that exists in every American community, even now, in the 21st century.

Assuming you're NOT just writing "for shits & giggles," assuming you design games and game products because of a deep personal need to do so, and that you're publishing independently because you can't afford to not keep your "day job" due to having a mortgage or family or pet that needs supporting...then you should put a frigging value on your work. How long did it take you to write? A couple months? A couple years? How many hours of your precious, valuable time (remember, your days on this planet are numbered, you WILL die eventually, and every moment you're alive is a blessing)...how many hours did you put into your project? How much is your life, your creativity, worth on an hourly rate?

At least minimum wage for your locale, I'd hope.

Of course, I'm as guilty of undervaluing myself as anyone. My Five Ancient Kingdoms has only netted my about $1700 in net profit (since 2013)...it is, by far, my poorest selling product. In Washington State, at the time I wrote it, minimum wage was $9.19 per hour, but my own employer paid me substantially more than that. Did I work less than 184 hours on the thing? Probably...probably more like 100-120 hours. But there was more to it than just writing: researching (Middle East myth, folklore, history, and culture), play-testing, layout, finding (public domain) art, driving places (printers, shops), packaging the thing (a couple hours figuring out the shrink-wrap machine), marketing it (minimally...mainly blog posts), dealing with the post office...all those things take time. Plus all the stress, arguments, and headaches such a project can cause with the non-gamer spouse. All that adds up....and the $1700 profit I've made over costs (and that's a high estimate) has been recouped over four and a half years. Most businesses, I believe, would want to get paid within two years of an investment...but, for me, this is still more of a hobby than a business. As a hobby, I don't mind the trickle of sales that come over time.

But only about 45% of my money has come from PDF sales...if I'd made those e-books "PWYW" how far away from $1700 would I be? That $750 in e-sales is the price of a new, small print run for my B/X Companion. I lose that money and all of a sudden it's taking me a lot longer to bring my next "hobby project" to light.

So my answer to the question of the day is, "all of them;" if it's a sample or promo project, then offer it for free. If you need funding for your project, start a kickstarter. If the project is already complete: charge money. Something, anything. If no one buys it (because your price is too high) than reduce the price...but give your work some value.

It has value to you, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #23

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

Layout, huh? I can only interpret this question as meaning "jaw-droppingly bad," as there are only two kinds of layout: functional and dysfunctional. There's no such thing as mind-blowingly great layout. It's either adequate for conveying the game, or it's poor at doing so.

There are actually a few I can think of that had some poor layout. I didn't think much of HOL (Human Occupied Landfill), though I "get" that the RPG was supposed to be some kind of "joke." The Malkavian Clanbook for Vampire: The Masquerade was designed with a similar "joke" in mind (and was similarly un-funny)...but as it is only a splatbook, I don't think I can count it as bonafide RPG.

I don't own World of Synnibar anymore, but while I seem to recall it being a trainwreck in the layout department, I can't verify that's actually the case without looking at it (Synnibar had a LOT of design flaws already, so I don't want to "pile on" based on a memory from two decades back). Palladium games (Rifts, Heroes Unlimited, TMNT, Beyond the Supernatural, etc.) aren't any great shakes in the layout department; however, they are consistent in the way their books are laid out, so once you've figured out one, you've pretty much got them all. First edition Chivalry & Sorcery has fairly adequate layout, but the font for the text is sooooo small (they really wanted to save on page count, I guess), it's really challenging to read.

No, I think the game who's layout was the worst in my mind (that stand out, anyway) is the original Villains & Vigilantes RPG. I didn't actually acquire the game until a few years ago (long after V&V had gone out of print and then revived), so I was probably biased by 21st century sensibilities; still, I can remember opening the cover and being disappoint and slightly distressed at the haphazard layout of the game, the lack of (to my mind) adequate information, and the overall poor presentation of the rules (despite fine artwork).

Sorry to single you out, Jeff Dee.

The Defenders (Part 2)

I was listening to the Alexis Smolensk podcast on the Point of Insanity Network and, as usual, he had a lot of good things to say, not the least of which was a bit of insight into how journalists (and other writers) write stories: the subject has a carrot (they chase) and a tiger (that chases) that helps steer the course of the story based on the various complexities inherent in these elements how they interact with the subject.

This may be "no duh" stuff to folks who've actually studied writing or journalism but, of course, I'm not one of those. I studied acting at university, with a minor in partying. Is it any wonder than my blogging is mainly hack-work and stream of conscious babbling (and often booze-fueled)? Probably not. 

*ahem* AS SUCH, my "reviews" aren't much like how a real journalist would write. At least, if there is a carrot or tiger involved, they're not something I'm putting there consciously. Instead, I'm simply sharing my thoughts and opinions and (sometimes) critique. Often aimlessly, perhaps not in an entirely fair-minded manner...but then, this is a blog, not a newspaper. Maybe I'm the tiger in these reviews.

Anyhoo, if you gathered enough willpower to stomach through the entirety of my prior post on The Defenders television series (from Netflix). You'll have seen that I praised the actors and their portrayal-interpretation of these various characters despite some issues I had with the writing of the series. This post is going to be less of a "review" and more commentary on the individual characters and the actors that embody them. It will probably be long, and will certainly have *SPOILERS*.

Wait, one more time: there will be **MAJOR SPOILERS** here. Got it?

You've been warned.

Matt Murdoch/Daredevil (Charlie Cox): when writing the series, the show creators needed to find a way to bring the various "Defenders" together, and their choice for this was to use Daredevil's longtime foes, The Hand, and his dead-resurrected love interest, Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung). This is not the road I would have taken...but then, I don't work for these people and they're not asking me to consult in their writing room. If they were, I would have said, "ah, crap." This is a crap idea. Elektra is very specific to Daredevil...is this a Daredevil story? It should be in a Daredevil series. Can't we take a break from the ninjas? But, of course, they already made The Hand the enemy of K'un-Lun (in the Iron Fist series) so, like, fuck it, we've got to work with it now.

Cox is an excellent casting choice (all apologies to Ben Affleck...you're a great Bruce Wayne/Batman!) for Daredevil. His "polished-up" NY accent is so subtle, his physicality so excellent, his "blindness" pretty believable (gets better with every series). Yung is, pardon me, exquisitely beautiful and delightfully wicked...in Daredevil she gave such a "playful" interpretation of the rather stoic assassin found in the comic books. Here, she does a fantastic job as a zombie coming back to her old personality with "something wrong" in the noggin. I'm not saying I don't like Yung/Elektra...damn it, Cox and Yung are so adorable in their roles that I really wish they could run off together and live happily ever after. Of course, they can't (that's one of the tragedies of Daredevil, made even more so by Yung's inherent charisma and likability)...but it's a damn Daredevil story. It pulls the character away from the rest of the group causing a bunch of extra friction that isn't needed (they already have plenty of that without adding Elektra). It sets DD apart from the team, and this particular series was supposed to be about a group of diverse (if not outright dysfunctional) individuals coming together. 

And, oh boy is Murdoch dysfunctional. I already mentioned the poor writing that lacks consistency. In the two Daredevil series, Matt seemed to have come to a point of acceptance with his double life and role as vigilante hero, even coming clean to both Karen and Foggy. Here we have a 180 reversal, he's "quit" the vigilante thing, but he wants to get back into it like some recovering addict jonesing for a fix. Another pointless distraction from what could have been a tighter storyline; there's far more drama than THAT angst in DD's life. How about the fall out of his busted partnership? The fall out with Karen? His floundering "law practice" (he's working out of his apartment). Daredevil is all about how shit continues to pile up on a guy who insists on living a double-life and the way he deals with it. In The Defenders, all he's doing is NOT dealing with it and all the shit is just bullshit in his own mind. And it doesn't help that there's the resurrected love of his life butchering people with a sword (of course)...but that shouldn't be his SUBPLOT for the series. It's too big. It washes out everything else...even his role in the group dynamic of team. Almost makes you glad he dies in the end.

Of course, he doesn't. Crap. Now what? I don't know where the Daredevil writers have to go with this, when everyone's basically buried Murdoch (including and especially Karen and Foggy).

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter): Man, I did not know how much I missed Jessica Jones until I saw her in The Defenders. I don't think she was in either Luke Cage or Iron Fist (if she was, it must have been a "blink and miss her" moment). Ritter's portrayal of Jones is quickly becoming iconic...in her Alias comic books, she is nothing like the train wreck of a person she is on the show. She is a serious antihero: yes, she accomplishes good things for good reasons, but there's not much role-model to look up to here. If she didn't have super powers where would she be? I mean, I've known some serious alcoholics in my time (not just family members), including ones with PTSD, and they had a real hard time finding a place to live or work, let alone holding down their own business. 

Of course, it's already been established Jones is financially assisted by her adoptive sister, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), who appears here again, for the first time since Jessica Jones. Her role is minor, though important, and again it makes me want another season of Jessica Jones. I have a feeling she will not be morphing into her comic book alter-ego Hell Cat (how could she compete with the Daredevils of this world), but she's helps provide the Yang to Jones's darkness. Come to think of it, so does Malcolm (Eka Darville) who is so goofy and almost exhibits the same hero worship of Jessica that his comic book character does (even more funny, given that Mr. Darville's an adult...but since Jones saved him from Kilgrave's influence, I suppose he's entitled to be forever in her debt). 

Anyway, Ritter is redefining a character who outside of her original series (and until recently) made most of her comic book appearance's as the wife of Luke Cage. In the comics, she's opted out of the hero biz because her powers are dwarfed by those of The Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. Here, at the street level, she holds her own just fine. The fight scenes that mix in her brawling with Daredevil's parkour with Rand's mixed-martial arts are pretty cool. It makes me almost wonder if they had multiple fight choreographer's working together on the action sequences. 

However, her whole relationship with Luke Cage? That's going nowhere fast. I already commented how, in her series, things ended on a particularly sour note between the two. Going back and re-watching the last episode I see that's not exactly true. Yes, the last time they spoke face-to-face (without Kilgrave's influence) Luke was ready to do some violence. But once he comes out of his coma (after having experienced Kilgrave) his attitude seems a little softer. But his interactions with Jessica in The Defenders seem almost forced...especially given the relationship between him and Claire (Rosario Dawson). In the comics, they are the loves of each others' lives (more or less)...here they seem fairly star-crossed considering the relationship Claire has built up with Luke through two-and-a-half series. The whole wife-mother thing seems pretty much off-the-table for Jessica at this point...just adding a whole extra layer of misery to her character.

But I love her. She is so dependable in her undependability. She is a rock.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter): Which brings me to Power Man. Colter is so good in this role. I mean, the casting is fantastic anyway, all of them. But having watched Colter in Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and now The Defenders, he's becoming the only "Luke Cage" in my mind. And like Ritter, his interpretation of the character is so different...he's no mercenary, "hero for hire," simply concerned with "getting paid." He's a REAL (street level) hero: concerned with the community, the neighborhood, being a model citizen, doing the right thing. When The Defenders have an argument over blowing up The Hand's headquarters, dramatically it feels like a real waste of time...in the end, they're going to do it (and, yes, they all agree to it and Luke doesn't walk off the site). It's a stupid argument that doesn't actually move the plot forward. But it illustrates something about Luke's character for him to disagree...it's a character development moment for Cage to make a stand about hurting innocent people, even though the others are more than willing to do the "expedient thing."

[it's just that it's not done very artfully. Again, just poor writing, really. Daredevil, Mr. I-Don't-Kill-Ever-Ever, seems to have no qualms about dropping a building on people in the scene. *sigh*]

I love how they film Colter's action scenes. I love that he moves methodically through a hail of bullets, gauging his strength when he smashes someone (probably so as not to kill them). I love how he's become adept at shielding others...he's a real "tank" in every sense of the term. The action sequences, for me, are the most fun when he's involved.

But what I really wanted to see was Luke's interaction with Danny Rand. Power Man and Iron Fist were a power couple in the Marvel universe for nearly a decade (1978-1986) and so firmly established as team that they often crop up in each other's solo titles. In fact, in the comic books, Luke Cage's daughter (with Jessica Jones) is named Danielle in honor of Cage's best friend, Danny Rand. What I wanted to know was how these two would interact, how they would work together, how they would resolve their different backgrounds to become partners and (hopefully) friends.

And, it was okay. There are some good scenes between the two: Cage telling Rand he's a privileged asshole who should be using his money to help people instead of his fists (great), Cage trying to be nice with Danny (who was tied up at the time), humoring him by asking about his "fight with the dragon" (which Luke clearly has difficulty believing). And, of course, the mandatory First Meeting Fight where Danny just about knocks Luke out (in the comics, they fought the first time they met as well). Yeah, some good stuff...but lukewarm and tentative. Too hesitant, too reserved at times.

But that's part of the reinterpretation. I've been re-reading old Power Man & Iron Fist comics (I have a collection of some 20 or so from the early 80s, bound in a trade paperback). The pair worked well together because they had a certain balance: Cage was bold and brash, but shrewd while Danny was reserved and calm, but naive. When Luke is pounding the bejesus out of someone, Danny will remind him to keep his cool. When Danny bites off more than he can chew, Luke is there to pull his fat out of the fire. They have a lot of mutual respect for each other, they're "comrades in arms," but they don't always understand one another (Cage always gets a bit hinky about Danny's monkish habits and zen weirdness). 

Here's the thing, though: Colter's Luke Cage isn't the big ball of raging stereotype found in the old Marvel comics. He's as cool as a cucumber...and so what does that lead Finn Jones to play off of as Danny Rand? They can make him the angry guy who's likely to go off half-cocked (and sometimes, the show does just this), but A) that makes him an unlikable jerk-wad, and B) seems at odds with the rest of his character. The fun parts.

[man, this is getting long...going to have to break it into a new post; sorry!]