Monday, September 19, 2016

Life vs. Blog

Just a note that I am not dead or missing.....but this is a very busy time for my work schedule, and I have (alas) not had even enough time to preload blog entries to simulate the appearance of my being around. More soon, when time permits!


Monday, September 12, 2016

Check out the new D&D 5E Ranger

Well, in the tradition of this century we now have a ranger revision to compensate for the arguably substandard ranger from the D&D 5th edition Player's Handbook. The new ranger can be found here, and is a full 20 level build for people to test out. I'd say tentatively, without seeing it in action yet that the new design for the class definitely addresses some of the issues with the ranger my game table noticed, and which I house-ruled a bit to fix.

Some of the context of this article is with regards to how WotC needs to approach such larger rule changes in the future for D&D, which up to now they have preferred avoiding. From the looks of it, they have plans in the (near?) future to publish an Unearthed Arcana rules tome with new rules, house rules, alternative class builds like this and other things. For my money, I hope that book comes sooner than later, simply because my table loves more options than less.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Film Review: Morgan


Morgan (2016)

(Mild spoilers in the review)

It's possible you'e heard some not-so-nice reviews about this movie, but I will squelch that right now: this is a really good film. It's not a perfect film....I have more than a few questions about some of the implied dynamics of the near future universe Morgan resides in, especially the ethical and experimental controls that the corporation behind Morgan exercises, but all those aside, this was a compelling mix of SF and horror....with a lot of horror toward the end. Also, a touch of existentialism, framed from the view of what is essentially a tale of the origin of Blade Runner's replicants.

Morgan's tale is set in the not too distant future, when controlled experimental live hybrid AI are a thing under development: techniques described which seemed (to me) to suggest implanting programmed nanites into a host egg allowed the nanites to control and direct the creation of a unique sort of life form. Android might be one word, but anyone knowing Ridley Scott's son is the director will immediately think "replicant." In a great many respects this film feels like it's taking place in that universe, the one where Dekker hunts down rogue replicants......and we're getting to see another, similar kind of hunter in Morgan.

Anyway, a corporation is funding research into this hybrid "human" which is grown to adulthood over a space of five years, directed by the nanites in her system that make her uniquely NOT human. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the result of this experiment, one of several it is suggested, including the alluded to Helsinki event in which it sounds like we have the makings of a future "prequel" movie. Morgan herself appears to be a somewhat emotionally disconnected teenage girl, with a grey tone to her skin and and interesting affect. She's surrounded by a research team in a remote woodland location which is utterly dedicated to her.....she is clearly perceived as their first great success story, an artificially intelligent being which has "grown" a human body from donated tissue/egg cells, directed toward specific and intense purpose and intelligence by the nanites suffusing her very being.

Until, of course, a little incident that starts the movie off, in which Morgan displays a sudden burst of psychotic anger and badly stabs one of her caretakers. In comes a company Risk Management Assessor, a "cleaner" named Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) who is a no-nonsense professional here to protect company interests and ideally insure that the asset (Morgan) is retained for further study and use, if possible. Lee is very business focused and no-nonsense.....and has an agenda on behalf of the company, to get the mess cleaned up by any means.

As Lee pieces together what has gone on at the research location, she sees scientists deeply invested in Morgan, who have seen her grow up over five years from a baby to a little girl to adult, at a rapidly accelerated pace. Each of the scientists have their own private agendas clouding their judgement, of course....the couple who see Morgan as like the child they cannot have, behavioral psychologist Amy who has projected deep emotional feelings on to Morgan, Dr. Ziegler and Dr. Cheng who see Morgan as their chance at redemption for the failings of Helsinki and other prior experiments in the field.

Amidst all of this is are even bigger problems, revealed slowly over the course of Lee's investigation: not the least of these is the fact that despite the research team aiming for an artificial being who is emotionally capable, Morgan is in fact part of an experimental weapon project. Also, Morgan kind of likes killing things, but she doesn't know why (yet), though visiting psychoanalyst Dr. Shapiro (played as always to the hilt by Paul Giamatti) will, ultimately, get down to the brass tacks on this problem.

The film has a slow but steady build up, with an increasing level of menace that just oozes with every word, every unpleasant engagement with the powder keg brewing at this research station. It's not a conventional horror film in this sense, and if you came to the movie expecting a more conventional terror ride you will be disappointed; there's a level of psychological malice at work here that does a fantastic job of setting the mood for later, when the shit really hits the fan.

Ultimately the film gets to where it's been building up, as Morgan proceeds in the way we've all been anticipating since the first second of the movie, leading to a brutal finish. There's a surprise or two along the way, of course, but at a couple moments I really felt a sort of resonant throwback to Rutger Hauer's performance in Blade Runner....not in any dialogue so much as the "feel" of where Morgan is at, what she is. If you wonder why, in Blade Runner, replicants are built with short lifespans....well, this movie is explaining it to you.

I had mentioned some plot issues earlier. SPOILER ALERT!

Here's my beef: the film establishes that other "incidents" have taken place, in which bad stuff happened (Helsinki). In fact, it implies that this is "round 3" of the program. So if there's a really bad track record for these projects, why not include a greater level of control and security? Sure, they run the program in the boonies, far from civilization.....but it's clear that wasn't going to cut it, no matter what. Maybe the charisma of the lead researchers was enough to persuade their employer that they could do it this time? But even so, five years of limited supervision, with a team of researchers who all have hidden psych issues that have "psychotic android AI" as a key trigger....well, I guess it wouldn't be as exciting if they were all balanced and had lots of heavily automated weaponry protecting the place, would it?

There's also a scene where Lee has to escape from a location deep in the secured bunker where Morgan is normally held. Morgan's been there five years and never escaped on her own, but Lee does it in a few hours. Also....in the scene where Morgan first makes a break for it, power goes off. There was no explanation (that I could detect) for why this happened. The vague reference to her "precognitive abilities" couldn't have been a hint, could it? How would precog have allowed her to do so? She also seemed to know a heck of a lot about people she had never met, but it was never established in he movie just how she knew this.

And finally: I love Paul Giamatti when he shows up to chew the scenery as "batshit crazy middle aged dude with an agenda" in any film, but I really felt it was a bit odd that he was apparently operating with a death wish, because if his specialty was evaluating the pysche of potentially rogue AI experiments, what on earth prompted him to goad Morgan like he did? Her referencing his teen daughter? The fact that he apparently had no idea how violent she could be because he didn't review the footage of her prior acts of carnage?

Conclusion

I don't know if Morgan is deliberately intended to suggest it belongs in the Blade Runner universe, but it resonates very well with that film. If you're in to an intense blend of near-future SF, psychological horror and brutal down-and-dirty murder-porn, Morgan is going hit all of your buttons at least once or twice. For me this was a sleeper gem, flawed but fascinating, which I almost ignored until I (luckily) read up on what it was about. If you want some cool SF and horror but the barest minimum of CGI, this is a good choice.

B+ 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Art of Guillem H. Pongiluppi

Check out his site here and at Artstation here. I'm really impressed....I don't often talk art on this site, but the imagery Guillem conjures up is singularly amazing (even the really odd stormtroopers & sith vs. Aliens panoramas!)

Some examples (last one is slightly NSFW):

Dystopian Cyberpunk Barcelona

Dawn of Time

Sith Lord vs. Xenoforms...!!!

Avoiding zombies

Avoiding zombies with less success

Ummm....good question...???



Monday, September 5, 2016

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second Edition

Along with the announcement that all copies of The Mystery at Port Greely had shipped (I got mine over a month ago, and yes, it is as cool as we've come to expect of North Wind Adventures), this graphic was attached:


As cool as the boxed set was in all its mighty retro-ness, a deluxe hardcover of 2nd edition is really more functional for the kind of game table I run, so I will definitely be backing this one. October 21st, mark your calendars!!!


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dungeon Fantasy RPG powered by GURPS is a Real Thing

ENWorld breaks the news! Look at it right here:

UPDATE! Kickstarter is Live. BACK IT NOW!!!! NOW!!!! BACK IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!


Short version:

It's a full featured stand-alone edition of the game tailored for dungeon fantasy gaming

Box includes five books, maps, cardboard flats and dice

Will incorporate some changes/udates to the 4E GURPS rules

Sounds like its slated for a 2017 release

....If SJGames makes this happen, I will be very pleased. I'm sincerely hoping this does well, as it's exactly the kind of stand-alone product that I and many other GURPS fans have said the game needs, and a boxed/print set, no less!!!!

We could see some GURPS revivalism in gaming in the near future all of a sudden. Print remains the "living" realm for gaming, no matter what PDF fans might say....gaming is very tactile, very much an experience in physicality for most gamers who aren't invested in Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds, so a product like this is necessary for the "health" of a game system. Very exciting!


EDIT: If you're not 100% sure about this, imagine for a moment two scenarios:

1. A realistic fantasy gaming system that goes for verisimilitude on a level unparalleled, while still delivering to you a genuine dungeon crawling experience
2. A revival of The Fantasy Trip, or as close to it as we can get in the 21st century

If either of those appeal to you, then this is why you must back Dungeon Fantasy!!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lingusia - the Age of Strife: Fire Knife Assassins in D&D 5E

So the rule of thumb is: as soon as I invest time in another fantasy game, I start pining for D&D 5E again. With that, I offer you the 5E version of the Fire Knives for your enjoyment....

Fire Knives
Group Alignment: Neutral Evil
Leader: Shadulos Elas Boron
Headquarters: An anonymous guild hall in the Guild District
   The Fire Knives are an international organization of illuminated conspirators who have supporters within Hyrkania, Octzel, and Jhakn. Rumors indicate that there are even members operating within the empires of Persedonia and Galvonar to the south, and maybe even as far east as Cretea and Namintha. The Fire Knives are a vicious predatory political organization, motivated less by religious or moral principles than they are by political gain, despite their origins as a cult to Haro, the god of murder. The mysterious Council of Thirteen are a secret council of dissident political radicals from across the Middle Kingdoms who work together to maintain long distance ties and support. Their agendas are many and varied. Some employ magical prowess which is often learned from the Cabal of Southern Hyrkania, while others practice bastard magic, culled from the books of Blue Robes and Geomancers who dared to cross their path. Most members of the guild are common men and kindred folk who rely on stealth and swift assassination to accomplish their nefarious deeds.
   At its roots, the guild looks like some sort of thug-enforcer type of thieves’ guild that seems to have little obvious direct connection to their actions. In some cities, such as Octzel, their movements are silent and unobserved by most people. In Krythia, they wear their shield of stars surrounded by a weapons symbol proudly, and are believed to be a mercenary's guild by most people. In Jhakn the existence of the Fire Knives is unknown, as their movements are so carefully concealed and hidden that not even close allies know who they are dealing with.
   In Octzel, the Fire Knives have few allies and many enemies, often coming to blows with rival organizations and guilds. Of the many thieves and mercenaries guilds in Octzel only the Order of the Blade maintains neutral relations, and is willing to hire out sellswords to the Fire Knives for any unsavory deeds.
   The Fire Knives have the primary support of three Barons, and possibly other nobles, in Octzel. House Boron, House Killaman, and House Agrapor are the primary backers. House Boron, of the Merchant Lord Shadulos Elas Boron, and his wicked daughter Teylayurana Sorinos are the most dangerous members. Hallergan Blacknails is an infamous orc assassin of the order.
   Beside the illegal and secretive activities which likely take place in the shadowed chambers of the manors of each noble house, the Fire Knives own property through indirect channels throughout the city. They own a trade and import shop in the Marketplace which leads to a secret meeting place. They own a Guild Hall that is rented out regularly, except on dark, moonless nights when they convene for a recap of their actions. They own warehouses by the docks, where imports of special relation are often kept, or where bodies can safely be dumped. Members of the Fire Knives learn as much as they can about the back alleys, secret passages, sewers, and catacombs beneath the streets of Octzel.
   Some would say that the Fire Knives go beyond being a society of political assassination and into the realm of a secret society for the sake of secretiveness. Much of this is due to the fact that the three barons behind the house lack the backing or funds of a major political interest, and it is believed that none of them belong to the Thirteen. Yet, since some claim that Fire Knives in Hyrkania, such as Dame Magna Mordent, say that there is a member of the Thirteen in Octzel, then who is he or she, and what are they planning?

The Thirteen
   The Thirteen are an entity unto itself, operating in utter secrecy throughout the Middle Kingdoms and the East to further its diabolical ends, using assassination, slavery, and the sale of opiates (especially of the blue and black lotus) to manipulate the political currents of the realms.
   An agent, follower or servant of the Thirteen is likely to be a lower order member of the Fire Knives, but someone could also have a conflicted relationship if they revere the god Haro, or are independent assassins, and an adversarial relationship could stem from any number of cases where one would see cause to oppose the actions of a murderous guild-cult.

Shadulos Elas Boron
   The guild master of Fire Knife operations in Octzel, Boron is a local merchantman with family ties back to Hyrkania. His rise to power on the surface appears to be one of a shrewd businessman, but behind the scenes he is suspected of being ranked as one of the Thirteen, relying on the bloody death that his guild can heap upon those who stand in his way to further his ambitions.
   Boron has locked down the city for the Fire Knives, eliminating most other rival guilds, and now schemes to find ways to dislodge the Black Lotus and the Guild of the Spheres.
Level 12 Human fighter, NE
CR 6 (2,300 XP)
STR 12 (+1)     DEX 16 (+3)     CON 18 (+4)    INT 15 (+2)      WIS 17 (+3)     CHA 20 (+5)
HPs 114 (HD 12D10+48)         AC 16              Saves STR +5, CON +8, DEX +7
Initiative +3
Skills Intimidation +9, Perception +7, Persuasion +9, Sleight of Hand +7, Stealth +7
Multiattack Shadulos Boron may make three rapier attacks or three ranged dagger attacks (or any combination) as an attack action.
Melee Rapier Attack +9 attack, 5 foot reach; 1D8+5 piercing damage; any attack may be sacrificed to attempt a disarm: the target must make a DC 18 DEX save or become disarmed (see additional details below).
Ranged Poisoned Daggers +9 attack, 20/40 range; 1D4+4 damage and target must make a DC 17 CON save or become paralyzed for 1 minute (target may make a save each round to end). If Shadulos rolls a critical hit the target also takes 4D8+2 poison damage.
Disarming Personality Shadulos has learned a little magic in his time and may cast charm person 3 times per day and charm monster once per day. Shadulos has subjected his very body to complex rituals to allow for unnatural magical guile.
Entourage Shadulos rarely travels alone. Typically he travels with 1D6 assassins in his presence at all times.
Equipment scale mail, Rapier +2 of disarming, a bandolier of 2 dozen poisoned daggers, 3 vials of paralytic poison (6 doses per vial), 1,230 GP pocket change


Teylayurana Sorinos
   The bastard daughter of Shadulos Elas Boron, Teylayurana has worked her way up the ranks in the Fire Knives to become the premiere assassin in Octzel. She is ruthless and efficient, though regarded as unstable by those who have seen her succumb on occasion to a bloodlust driven by her madness. Some believe that when she experiences these “episodes” she is actually channeling the spirit of Haro himself; no one knows for sure, but her skill has nonetheless attracted the attention of Celiobantes Astiriate in the east, and within the guild it is rumored the two have had relations.
   About two years earlier Teylayurana also traveled with the adventurer Cassius Augustus and was lured into a war between the Fire Knives and the Guild of the Spheres. This conflict led to ongoing enmity between the two guilds.
Level 14 human rogue, CN
CR 9 (5,000 XP)
STR 14 (+2)     DEX 20 (+5)     CON 13 (+1)    INT 16 (+3)      WIS 12 (+1)     CHA 14 (+2)
HPs 77 (14D8+14)                   AC 19              Saves DEX +10, INT +8
Initiative +9
Skills Acrobatics +10, Intimidation +7, Perception +6, Sleight of Hand +10, Stealth +10
Multiattack Teylayurana may make three twin dagger attacks (at 2 attacks per strike) or three ranged crossbow attacks (or any combination) as an attack action.
Melee Twin-Dagger Strike +12 attack (twice), reach 5 ft against 1 or 2 targets; 1D4+7 piercing damage per strike and target is subject to blue lotus poison (see below).
Ranged Hand Crossbow +12 attack, 1D6+6 piercing damage, and target subject to blue lotus poison (see below).
Blue Lotus Poison target must make a DC 19 save vs. CON or target is incapacitated (save each round to end) due to intense and sudden hallucinations.
Sneak Attack if Teylayurana has advantage on the target then she deals an additional 7D6 damage on a single successful attack.
Evasion if Telayurana rolls a successful DEX save she takes no damage. If she fails the save she takes ½.
Blindsense Teylayurana does not roll for disadvantage on attacks and actions in total darkness or while blinded.
Equipment Leather +2 (wyvernscale), 2 daggers +2, 6 vials of blue lotus poison (5 applications per vial), one hand crossbow +2, a case with 30 bolts, pocket change of 500 GP

Hallergan Blacknails
   Hallergan Blacknails is Shadulos Boron’s right-hand man. He is an accomplished mage, a tough fighter, and a tricky devil. Hallergan is approaching middle years, but has worked hard to keep a lean figure, and avoid the bloatedness so characteristic older male orcs. His snout is stubbier than usual, perhaps due to some forgotten human blood in his ancestry, and he will often pass without question in the city streets if he wears heavy robes like a priest. He is a master tactician when it comes to weaving his magic, and he can bring down some rather impressive foes with little difficulty.
Level16 Orc fighter/warlock, CE
CR 7 (2,900 XP)
STR 20 (+5)     DEX 12 (+1)     CON 18 (+4)    INT 15 (+2)      WIS 14 (+2)     CHA 20 (+5)
HPs 141 (11D8+5D10+64)      AC 19              Saves STR +10, CHA +10
Initiative +5
Skills Arcana +7, Intimidation +10, Perception +7, Stealth +6
Multiattack Hallergan may make two axe attacks as an attack action.
Melee Great Axe of the Beheader +13 attack, reach 5 ft; 1D12+7 slashing damage. On a natural 20 the axe deals triple damage and if the target reaches zero hit points is automatically decapitated.
Ranged Spectral Syphon +10 attack, reach 60 ft (one target); 4D8+5 psychic damage and target must make a DC 18 INT save or target gains -1 AC and Hallergan gains +1 AC. This effect continues each round dealing damage and making a save until the target succeeds; AC gain/loss is cumulative and lasts five minutes. This terrifying and unique warlock power Hallergan has taught himself drains spirit energy from the target and does not stop until forcibly interrupted or the target succumbs.
Warlock Abilities Hallergan has a Spell Attack modifier of +10 and Spell Save DC of 18.
Cantrips: eldritch blast, true strike, blade ward
Warlock Spells (3/day): invisibility, Dream, Hallucinatory Terrain, vampiric touch, tongues, dimension door, hunger of hadar, crown of madness, contact other plane, misty step, shatter
Equipment Great axe +2 of the Beheader, full plate +1, loose change of 225 PP and 1,500 GP

Other Fire Knife Assassins

Use the assassin in the MM but substitute blue lotus poison and black lotus poison (below) for master assassins.

New Magic Items and Gear:

Great Axe of the Beheader
Very rare (attunement required) weapon
This +2 great axe deals triple damage on a critical hit. If the target is reduced to zero hit points as a result of being struck by this axe, the target is automatically beheaded (or equivalent, if target does not have a head).

Rapier of disarming
Very Rare (attunement required)
This +2 rapier makes disarming an opponent incredibly easy. Whenever a strike connects, instead of dealing damage the wielder may declare a disarm attack. The target must save vs. DEX at a DC equal to 8+DEX Mod+Proficiency+2 of the wielder or the target’s weapon lands 1D10 feet away from him in a random direction. Target may save at advantage if it is a two handed weapon or larger.

Blue Lotus Poison
Uncommon (poison); typical retail value 250 GP/vial
The blue paste that is made from the leaves of the blue lotus poison is well known for it’s strong hallucinogenic properties, which seem to cause distressing feelings of madness and entrapment within the walls of the City of Nith in the Dreamlands of Ethenur; some mages speculate that the person’s astral self is actually displaced by this poison.

When used the target must make a DC 19 save vs. CON or target is incapacitated (save each round to end) due to intense and sudden hallucinations. One vial contains 5 doses, and each dose will last for one combat.

Black Lotus Poison
Rare (poison); typical retail value 4,000 GP/vial
The incredibly deadly black lotus leaf, when treated correctly with a special alchemical ingredient known only to assassins and poisoners, can be applied in food (for ingestion) or to a blade (for wounding). The poison in minuscule doses causes severe hallucinations and catatonia (DC 19 save vs. CON or become incapacitated) for 1D6 hours; a DEX check (DC 18) is needed to correctly apply the dose at this level (proficiency in alchemy or poisons will grant proficiency bonus to this check). At full doses the user must make a DC 15 DEX Save to avoid accidentally making contact with the poison, subjecting him or herself to its effects (roll at advantage if wearing thick leather gloves; cloth won’t do). Once applied, a single dose will last until a target drinks or eats the poisoned product, or a wound is made. The target then makes a DC 18 CON Save or immediately drops to zero hit points and begins making death saves. If the target stabilizes he or she will remain catatonic and unconscious for 1D6 hours.

A typical vial of black lotus poison contains 3 doses and comes with measuring tools, pestle, and the “vitae mortae” liquid added to bring out the lethal component of the leaf. Rumors that the liquid is derived from the blood of medusae are not entirely unfounded.


Fun notes about statting for 5E vs. 13th Age:

In working out comparable stats for both systems I realized that 13th Age is much quicker, but also very floaty, since you can pretty much make up anything you want as long as you confine your design to something that makes sense....and be ready to revise when it doesn't work as intended in actual play. The incredibly basic core stat block of 13th Age is also a real boon for quick monster design. It's not the fastest system for statting NPCs and monsters (that honorific necessarily goes to Tunnels & Trolls) but it's probably the fastest one for D&D, short of Swords & Wizardry.

D&D 5E has more precision in it than one might realize, since you have lots of design rules and guidelines (those who say otherwise are coming from Pathfinder and 3.5, where the mechanical complexity makes 5E feel spartan), and compared to 13th Age it's rather complicated in that regard. But you can "template" classes as a base of design without having to rigidly adhere to all features of the class (as I did above), instead focusing on those elements relevant to the likely encounter. It takes longer than 13th Age....but if you get used to 5Eisms and memorize the process it can be almost as speedy.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Argumentation and Representation in the Internet Age

In my youtube haze recently I stumbled across this video on Ryan Holiday, discussing his career as a professional marketing shill slash Internet Troll for hire which has, honestly, been something of a revelation for me.

I mean, yeah....I understand how marketing rules the internet, sure.

And I grokk the concept of the troll, yes.

And I have enough millennial friends to realize that when I speak from my voice as myself online, I am Totally Doing It Wrong. And that taking anything seriously on the internet is a failing, not a strength.

But....this video interview with Ryan Holiday really hammered the message home in a way I had not previously been able to fully grasp. Like, big picture kind of way, I guess.

Hmmmm....



(Old Tricks New Dog problem here....or the reverse....I just don't think I can "not be myself" despite thinking about it. But the next generation's internet is going to be seriously hosed, I think. Not the millennial's internet...my son's, the post-millennials. Where nothing is real and everything is permitted, essentially.)

Revisiting Neverwinter Online


Neverwinter Online has been out for a little over three years now, and judging by the regular updates on WotC's home pages it appears to get a new content update every time they release a book expansion for D&D 5E these days. I had dived in to Neverwinter back in 2013 (an initial impressions review here, followed by my "lost interest" phase here) with all the hope that it would live up to its predecessor, D&D Online from Turbine, which I had played extensively and was quite invested in.

Lomng story short: Neverwinter, in 2013, was not quite what I needed to replace my addiction back then to games like D&D Online and World of Warcraft. In 2013, that is.

Cut to 2016! I've all but given up on ever truly understanding or appreciating the nuances of Guild Wars 2, and while I continue to play and enjoy The Elder Scrolls Online, I have also grown to wonder why it feels like all quests in ESO seem to fall in to one of the following three categories:

1. Bored noble elf who is tomb robbing/inspecting ruins/digging for artifacts/just being a prick deigns to let you suffer through the task on his behalf, and usually with little acknowledgement of credit.

2. Angry/sorrowful ghost either tries to stop you from righting a wrong it did, or begs you to wright a wrong it either did or failed to stop in life.

3. Desperate soldier convinces you to do what his entire army appears unable to do, mostly because they are apparently standing around waiting for you to show up and end the local conflict on their behalf.

Yeah....after a while there's a pattern that emerges from many TESO missions, and not even the awesome Razum Dar can save you from a sense of bored familiarity at these moments.

Enter Neverwinter! With a recent modest upgrade in my PC (to a better i5 setup with a 960GB SSD) thanks to a friend of mine, I've been able to run certain games at max or near max capacity that used to chug on my older rig. Neverwinter was on my "see how it runs now" list, and this weekend, recovering from an illness, I had some time to kill....

Anyway, it turns out Neverwinter has gotten much more robust than I recalled, and had really fleshed out. I still need to play longer than the 23+ hours I sank in to the game leveling a half-dozen characters up to 18-20th level, but I spent a healthy amount of time with Forge adventures as well as taking the time and effort to figure out the bizarre coin economy that Perfect World likes to implement in all of its titles, a sort of weird freemium shell game that they keep in place so you have to be careful figuring out whether you need certain marks, zen coinage bought wish cash, astral diamonds acquired through "means most obscure," auction house trades and still others that don't seem to become relevant until much later in the game. It's not probably much more difficult to decipher than the way such coinage/marks have worked in other titles such as WoW, but the inclusion of RMT in the process makes one want to be careful....

But really, that was only about 5% of the process. Once I had the inventory/item/crafting nonsense figured out so I knew what stuff was relevant and what I could effectively ignore for the time being, then it was much easier to focus on enjoying what the game had to offer that I was actually interested in. Also, I spent about $10 to get some zen coinage, which I can tell you two things about:

1. I bought some keys for the lockboxes, and outside of some training manuals for companions I was nonplussed at what I was getting.
2. I converted some Zen into astral diamonds to pick up companions and stuff on the auction house. What I discovered was that certain things were worth it (if the AD cost was low) but most stuff in the AH was vastly overpriced for the level I was at. If i make it to 70 I'll let you know if that changes.


Anyway, the quests:

First, the storylines in Neverwinter have grown considerably since release, and if D&D 5E has a module release out, it's also in Neverwinter as a scenario pack. The scenarios appear to all be free; they get your cash through zen sales to buy vanity items, special gear and gods know what else. Fine with me! It does so far appear that you can ignore the RMT element of the game and play what one might call "the base game" with no loss of experience.

The basic storylines up to level 20 remain quite entertaining. I hadn't gotten past level 12 when I played before....I really lost steam back then....and it felt like leveling was going faster and making more sense this time to me. An effect of visiting it at the right time, or a reflection of changes and improvements? I couldn't say.

Then I dived in to the Forge scenarios. When I was last playing Forge was fresh and weird but appeard to be very limited. Well, it's still kind of limited, but between 2013 and now people have really taken the Forge system to the nth level. I played some amazingly interesting scenarios, and finding the cream of the crop was now quite easy, with various agents and billboards everywhere providing you advice on what to explore.

Some of the Forge scenarios were so good I took notes on ideas to steal for my weekly tabletop session. That good. 

I have one character of each class type going on right now. Sadly there are only seven classes currently in the game, up 2 from 2013. I had sort of hoped they would have expanded it a bit by now. The classes still have a style/feel closer to D&D 4E in terms of language and thematics, but don't let that dissuade you....those thematics actually convey quite well in an action RPG, which Neverwinter most definitely is.

Back when I was into it before I had bought an extra character slot or two on sale, and had gained access to drow and tieflings. Since then, dragonborn and some weird elf variants have been made available. When I clicked on the "buy dragonborn" option it took me to a page where I could buy the dragonborn pack for an insane $74.99. WTF. In the general in-game store I think I spotted an option for like 2,000 Zen though just to unlock the race itself (no frills), equivalent to $20. Hmmmm. Not sufficiently excited about dragonborn to spend any of that, though.

So Neverwinter looks like a fine game now, with some robust user content in the forge that really stands apart from other MMOs out there. It's got me thinking about it....obsessively!.....which is something I haven't done for a while (in fact only Destiny and The Division have gotten me there in recent years).

I'll report further along as I finally break the 20s in level and start seeing the mid and upper tier of the games. Intrigued to see what the Neverwinter take on the various D&D 5E scenario books are like.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Film Review: Appleseed Alpha



Appleseed Alpha (2014)

Somehow I have not written a review about what is basically one of my top, favorite sci fi/anime/wasteland apocalypse/cyberpunk films. Yes, I'm talking about the 2014 Appleseed Alpha, a sort of reboot/prequel to the Appleseed series which takes a look at the early careers of Deunan and Briareos before they reach Olympus....it's got some story revisionism as well, but nothing that should bother you unless you're a canon nazi.


The story focuses on two survivors in post-apocalyptic New York: Deunan, a former soldier turned surivalist/merc, and her once husband Briareos, who was part of a full metal conversion program and is now a Hecatonchiere-Class combat cyborg that is unfortunately suffering from low power and maintenance issues in a New York City that's a skeleton of its former self, a bombed out wasteland ruled by two groups: a gang led by the oni-like cyborg Two Horns, and Atlas, a rogue corporation trawling the rubble for lost weapons tech led by the cyborg Talos.


The story revolves around Deunan and Briareos being down on their luck, played by Two Horns, when they stumble across a soldier named Olsen who's on a mission to escort a girl, a young bioroid named Iris (for reasons that become obvious toward the end) that eventually reveal they come from the fabled utopia of Olympus....a place that Deunan was hoping was real and Briareos thought a myth. Talos is after them, and he's got some history with Olympus, and Olsen....

The tale weaves between our two protagonists, their unexpected charges, the amusingly comic Two Horns and his vendetta, and the promisingly evil Talos and his henchmen. As Olsen reveals more of their mission, it eventually becomes Deunan and Briareos's jobs to stop Talos from taking control of a "Final Weapon" of the last war, which could wipe out all of New York (or what's left of it).


The movie is well paced and a load of fun to watch with some great action sequences. The animation is CGI but has a sort of "light reality" quality to it where it still feels like animation, just very realistic...the result is something which doesn't stress your inner sense of the uncanny valley (at least, not for me). One would not be remiss in thinking that the movie felt like all of the cuts cenes from a video game streamed together into a coherent narrative....it definitely feels a bit like that.

Watch this movie if you've got a thing for cyborgs, a battle armor fetish, a deep appreciation for apocalyptic wastelands, and happen to really want to see what a good anime-style CGI film can look like that isn't made by Square-Enix. I easily give this one an A+ and can't wait for more, which the film ends with the tentative promise of for the future.

A+