Monday, June 19, 2017

San Diego...

...feels like a wasteland.

But that's probably just a first impression. And certainly, colored by my personal biases.

Hmmm...I said "first impression" but this is actually the third (or fourth?) time I've been here. I remember the first time, when I was about twelve, and I thought (and said) that San Diego is where I wanted to live one day. It was the first city I ever considered as a permanent replacement for my beloved hometown. And (as far as I can recall) it was the last and only time I emphatically wanted to go, a place I was willing to make (mental) plans for how I would facilitate such a move.

But that was thirty plus years ago and, I suppose, I've changed a lot since I was twelve. And perhaps Seattle has changed, too, offering more of what I want and love. San Diego has nice weather, and some passable Mexican food, but I'm not a fan of the beach and I have ocean views in Seattle, too. With mountains.

Anyway, just some morning musings from my hotel room. Hope folks had a happy Father's Day yesterday.
: )

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I AM The Game

Let me preface this post with the following: there have been a lot of ideas percolating (if not particularly "gelling") of late in my brain, and they are derived from a number of internet babblers. Here's the list (for interested folks):


I think this is posted in the order in which I read them, but I'm not actually going to go back and check the dates. My time is fairly limited today.

As said, all these have been percolating in my head, making me examine...and re-examine...and re-define, my personal concept of myself as a Dungeon Master. How I do it, why I do it...hell, even should I do it. And if I should, then how should I and why should I...

This Spring, I had the opportunity to closely observe my son's Little League coach successfully wrangle (and encourage and teach) a squad of mostly unruly and often disinterested six year olds through a season of "America's pastime" (tee-ball version). The man had the fucking patience of Job, and I felt myself thinking (and often commenting to others) that I couldn't even begin to see myself in such a role...that it would drive me crazy with frustration, or that I would be too competitive and too hard on the kids. And, yet, I was recently petitioned to take the head coach position for next year's (first grade) soccer team...and I accepted. Despite my misgivings and worries that I'll morph into some sort of petty tyrant of the pitch.

[*sigh* we've got to grow, right?]

The role of Dungeon Master is one that is custom-made for the would-be petty tyrant. And while most folks who play D&D could hardly be blamed for hoping for some sort of "benevolent dictatorship," my base feeling is that autocratic, authoritarian rule is imperative to running a solid (i.e. effective) game of Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, the same thing I fear in myself as a teacher and coach for children, is something I find necessary for this Great Game of ours.

"Autocratic?" Yes. And please note I'm speaking specifically of Dungeons & Dragons, not all RPGs in general. The vehicle for gaming that is D&D requires an absolute authority to act as referee and rules arbiter. It is a requirement if one wishes to experience the entertainment of the game as designed.

Let me clarify, though, lest folks misconstrue...this isn't about some Machiavelli "better-to-be-feared-than-loved" power trip. This is about being an umpire. This isn't about "social contract," a phrase many of us (including myself) have carelessly thrown around with regard to what should happen at the game table. Again, let me be clear: social contract is the reason I don't simply piss on your couch, should I find myself needing to urinate while visiting your home. Nothing else (short of physical restraint) prevents me from doing so...the accepted proprieties and shared cultural assumptions of our (supposedly) polite society.

When we sit down at a table to play a GAME, we are agreeing to abide by a set of rules that govern play. And in the case of D&D, the Dungeon Master is the one responsible for presenting the players with the world in which they find themselves. Game exists within social contract...as does all human interaction...but it does not govern the rules by which we play. Rules are not, must not, be subject to negotiation. Interpretation, perhaps, but not negotiation.

Not at the table, anyway. Away from the table...before a game, after a game...that is the time to have a discussion (if required) regarding the way the game will be played, the way the rules will be interpreted. Many DMs feel the need (for whatever reason) to alter or tweak D&D's designed systems in ways that differ from the Rules As Written...and so long as these are presented formally, prior to play, the existence of such changes to the RAW game, good or bad, become a non-issue. Players of American football may bitch (or cheer) rule changes made during the off-season (such as the addition of a two-point conversion, or a new penalty for excessive on-field celebration), but once the season begins, once the games begin, the players (and coaches and fans) are expected to shut the F up and play the game by the new rules.

When I sit down to play Chess, I don't get to fuck around with the rules. When I sit down to play D&D I should be giving the same respect to its rules. If the rules state "a player's character should not act on knowledge the character doesn't possess," dammit, that's a rule! If the rules say dwarves can't play thieves or clerics don't get spells till 2nd level, it doesn't matter whether or not I think the rule is nonsensical or "un-fun." Likewise if I say we have a house rule preventing player versus player combat. Them's the rules, and bugger off if you don't like it.

A dungeon master needs to embody this, needs to run the game table with an iron fist, for good reason: it is only by being an absolute stickler and hard-ass can the players be assured that the game being played is fair and balanced (yeah, I realize this statement might prompt a WTF moment). Here's the skinny: the role of the Dungeon Master is, by design, an adversarial one. The players are not playing against another each other (as in Monopoly), nor against another team (as in football), nor against the game itself (as in a video game or certain board games like DungeonQuest). The players are pitted against the challenges presented to their characters...that's what the game is about, in every edition...and those challenges are crafted and run by the dungeon master.

That's the DM's job. If the DM is shitty about it, then the game will be a shitty one.

And in this case, being shitty means being arbitrary, being "flexible," bending rules and fudging dice rolls, and forgetting various rules and minutia they're too lazy to remember or implement, even in the aid of "pacing" or "storytelling." I'm going to come down hard on the side of Ozymandius here: D&D is not about creating a story. It is not collaborative storytelling. There are other RPGs that do that; some that do it well and make storytelling and "addressing premise" a priority of design. D&D is not one of those; D&D is about challenging players. A story of "what happened to us and what we did (or did not) accomplish" may come out of game play...something resembling fiction...but D&D is, in the end, not about creating fiction. It is a game that challenges players, and challenges them in pretty specific ways.

The DM provides that challenge. The rules (which the DM must enforce with absolute authority) are there to govern play, including both inspiring and constraining the DM: the DM must follow her own rules as well. I acknowledge there is difficulty in being fair and impartial at all times, especially when tension runs high and tempers flare during an especially spirited session, and that is why it is so important that the DM have iron resolve regarding the game, its rules, and the authority and responsibility invested in the position.

So long as the DM embodies her own authority consistently, players can play from an informed perspective...they can explore the boundaries of what's possible within the system, they can face challenges (and then greater challenges, and then even greater challenges). They can master the rules themselves, they can judge risk and reward, they can hedge, they can find ways to cooperate and grow together as an effective team while building camaraderie. And they can do it while losing themselves in escapist fantasy, trusting the DM will not be arbitrary, but both firm and fair...even if it is (at times) dingy, dangerous, and unforgiving.

Kind of like the real world.

I find myself wanting to write some sort of treatise on dungeon mastering, outlining an ordered system as an aid to would-be petty tyrants (i.e. DMs), like myself. I might do so (though probably nothing in the near future, mind you), if only to codify my own thoughts on the matter. Some sort of manual to help me remember my values and ideals when I'm sitting at the table, both alone (writing worlds and scenarios) and with others (running the game).

Some sort of DM's guidebook, I suppose.
; )

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

All Too Human

[and here I was going to blog about the new Wonder Woman film. Ah, well...perhaps tomorrow. Here's the TL;DR version: it's good and you should spend money to see it. More later]

One of the...what? Nice? Interesting? things about Seattle is that it is (or was) the erstwhile home of Wizards of the Coast (now located in Renton, Washington) as well as plenty of geeky RPG enthusiasts and game designers who have actual experience with and insight into the industry. Unlike folks like Yours Truly...people who have theory-bashed and compiled info from research, publications, and the internet...there are folks who have actually been a part of companies like White Wolf and Wizards and Paizo and other, smaller, outfits, who can offer real information on The Biz as it relates to the last couple decades.

[unlike the prior decades...the 70s and the 80s...where you'd have to go to the midwest to meet the right people]

So it was, today, that I spent a good couple hours bending the ear of one such (former) insider about Wizards and the RPG industry of the early WotC years. A dude who has done freelance writing for a number of big name game companies and worked in marketing department for the biggest. The conversation was...well, fascinating, to say the least. If I hadn't had to get my three year old her lunch and a nap (she was in tow at the time) I probably would have hung out a couple hours more.

Fascinating. But sad...and sad in the ways you might expect but hope wouldn't be the case. Tales of how shit isn't ideal. How people are human and (thus) prone to flaws of human frailty. How folks can do good while still being jerks...in various ways.

Just fucking sad.

I write this (quickly) while filling the bathtub for my kids, and after quaffing half a bottle of pinot gris (really need to do something about my drinking). I know Seattle-ites like myself live life in a bubble beauty and light and liberal values that aren't really reflective of our American society as a whole. I know that I often think of fellow gamers in a similar light: that because we tend to be well read and above average intellectually that we are more often on the side of angels. I know that's a false assumption...I know it. I've read about it. I've heard about it from folks with first hand knowledge. But  to hear that the industry people at the highest levels fall prey to the same problems of us "lesser mortals," well...it's just sad.

Power and money tend to corrupt humans. Whether you're talking about high ranking politicians or poor little ol' gamers. And even when it doesn't, nepotism and bitterness and jealousy often fuel and influence business practices...even when smart people should know better. All people have good inside them...but they can get lost along the way, and really end up doing a lot of fucking damage. To themselves and others. Much as I'd like to write it off in a jokey fashion, it's not really a joke. Not when people lose their livelihoods. Not when people wreck their relationships. Not when...

Ah, F it.

It's 2017. As always, hindsight is 20x20 and folks will continue to make the same mistakes and fail to learn from the mistakes of the past. It's the way of our human species, and I know that, too (man, I saw enough of that in Paraguay). I will probably never be in a position to make a ton of money (few of us are ever so lucky), but I hope...I really, really hope...that if such happens, I'll remember not to be stupid. I'll try not to get to big for my britches.

*sigh*

All right, got to go wash the filth off my children. Yak at y'all later.

D&D

Even though I'm off the caffeine these days, my sleep cycle is somewhat of a mess. I woke up around 4 or 5 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, instead thinking about the new Wonder Woman film (which I got to see yesterday afternoon), and all the thoughts I wanted to blog about it.

But that's a post for later. Sunday, I ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons for my children after several days of begging and pleading on their part (mainly, the part of my six year old, though his three year old sister apes most everything he does, and thus chimed in).

What was the impetus for their desire? I'm not really sure. Probably it has something to do with all the books (my reprints) lying around and taking up space. Then, of course, there was the barbecue last week (at the home of my son's classmate) in which I spent a good chunk of time talking Dungeons & Dragons and the hobby/industry. The kids were also playing the Dungeon! board game last week (though that's not especially new), and we also played a game of DungeonQuest on Saturday...though that was more to stave off the harping to play D&D that had begun mid-week.

I don't know. I was actually hoping to interest them in Raiders of the Lost Artifacts (hmmm...still need to write-up a post on that particular game), going so far as to show them the first Indiana Jones film (with heavy cut-aways). While that inspired D to write his own game (yet another post I should probably write), he still wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons.

And so we did.

Diego (my son), wrote up the character sheets and helped his sister with the dice rolling. After much internal debate, I decided to run straight B/X with a few extra combat abstractions (that the kids wouldn't know or understand anyway). Both ran elf characters (Elrond the Brave and Scarooca). For a beginning adventure I used the one found in Mentzer's basic set.

The kids sat rapt with attention as I read them the (fairly short) boxed text. They encountered the carrion crawler which, with my house rules, they were able to defeat.

[I've run Mentzer's introductory adventure in the past and the carrion crawler encounter has ALWAYS resulted in a TPK. The problem is its number of attacks (eight!) and the low probability of saving against multiple hits. My (simple) house rule gives creatures with multiple attacks one attack roll per round versus a maximum number of opponents equal to its multiple attacks...so the crawler (for example) would be able to attack up to eight opponents, but regardless it would make only one attack per character per round. This is something I've been doing for a while now, and I find it works well in practice]

After pulling the body from the hole and doing a bit of digging, they discovered the 200 pounds of treasure (1000 coins each of copper and silver) only to find they hadn't brought enough bags to carry it all. So they filled their backpacks with silver, headed back to town to buy some large sacks, and then recovered the rest of the loot.

And then I put them to bed.

They were very excited by the game. They really enjoyed it. They wanted to keep playing.

And I felt very good running the game. I've missed playing D&D. I really enjoyed myself. It was fun.

I'm not sure we'll be playing again any time soon, but I want to.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Stuck In A Rut

It is a terrible thing (well, subjectively speaking) that putting off blogging for long periods of time actually makes the act of blogging harder, not easier. One might not think this is the case...after all, in the time between my last post and this one I've had half a dozen (or more) ideas for good, solid posts that I wanted to write. But the sad fact is, the more those ideas "pile up" in the head, the harder it is to actually write them down. After all, which one do you start with? Does it make sense without the context of the earlier (non-posted) ideas that led to it? Is it still timely?

So...fuck. That's where I find myself at the moment. And rather than simply put off posting yet again, I've decided to put something down just to take a swing at blogging. Maybe this will help open the flood gates for yours truly.

The surprising success of my B/X Companion re-print (I've sold more than a quarter of the run already) has really made me want to get back to (i.e. finish up) one of the several writing projects that sit on my laptop. Seriously, I've got two or three books that range from 85% to 98% written, and I just can't seem to pull the trigger on them. One (Cry Dark Future) is actually done (except for artwork)...proofed and edited even...and I just want to blow the whole thing up because it's not good enough. I'm pretty sure I've written about that before (oh, yeah: right here), and the sad fact is nothing's changed since the last time I complained about it, eighteen months ago or whatever. Nothing's changed, except that I've started other projects that are near completion but have stalled, and that I've built up my own personal resentment for my own work.

AAAaaargghhHH!!!

So here I sit in the Baranoff, drinking decaf and going through my laptop docs and wondering just which one I should crank out. Because I WANT to crank something out. Really. Really really really. And I think it's going to be Cry Dark Future, I really do, and I THINK I can get it up and ready to print and I even have a couple-three people who I can task for artwork, BUT...

...I have a problem.

The magic system. It blows chunks.

Cry Dark Future was originally imagined as a B/X version of Shadowrun. Converting the latter system to the former (back when that was my main objective) was surprisingly simple, even with regard to the non-Vancian magic system.  However, upon years of reflection, I find I dislike the non-Vancian magic system. In fact, I'm getting pretty darn sick of magic systems in ALL of these RPGs I'm designing. I need a different paradigm.

Recently...like, a week or two ago...I started thinking that MAYBE I should build a game BEGINNING with the magic system. I've actually been reading a lot of different, older RPGs looking at approaches that were taken by others back in Ye Old Formative Days of RPG design: Chivalry & Sorcery, Ars Magica, Fantasy Wargaming, etc. There are things I like, things I don't but there's nothing I can really polish and mold and re-purpose...which is kind of my forte when it comes to game design. I'm good at refining ideas, but I seldom have full blown creative spurts that spring from my noggin like Athena from Zeus.

More's the pity.

That's why this post is titled as it is. Yes, I'm stuck in a rut with regard to my blogging, but with my designing as well. I'm nearly on the verge of adapting a straight Vancian system (spells by level, fire and forget, etc.) system to Cry Dark Future because it's less fiddly than worrying about success rolls and mana burn and whatnot...not to mention I prefer a system that's dissimilar from other systems in the game (combat, for example). That's part of the beauty of original D&D...it has all these mini-systems that work in different ways, but are all uber-simple to grok and remember. Cry Dark Future should be like that...interesting to use while being easy to learn so you can spend your time playing and exploring the setting of the game.

*sigh*

Hmm.

Huh. I just remembered something...a different game I wanted to examine (not an "old school" game) that might give me an idea or two. Oh...wait. No that was for something else.

Aaargh! You see? Too many ideas fighting for space in my brain!

My six year old really, REALLY wants to play Dungeons & Dragons with me, just by the way. I don't really feel up to it this week...but maybe I'll write up a short adventure for him. That might help my brain to clear this fog.

The decaf certainly isn't helping (duh).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

B/X Companion - Now Available in PRINT


As the title says, I am now in possession of a couple crates of my B/X Companion. For those who have been clamoring for a print copy, you may once again order it directly from me through PayPal by clicking on the drop down menu in the sidebar (make sure it's the menu underneath the correct image), and selecting the book's destination.

Sorry to have made you folks wait so long.

Anyway, my excitement is marred a bit today by the passing of one of the greatest rock vocalists to ever come out of the Seattle area: Chris Cornell. Like me, Chris was a local boy...attended the same elementary school my boy goes to, went to the same high school I would have (if I'd gone to public school) and worked as a sous-chef at a restaurant just down the street from my (current) home. I've had the pleasure of singing his music on occasion, but I'm a poor imitation (at best) being about an octave shy of his full range...and unlike me, Mr. Cornell was an accomplished and excellent songwriter, musician, and wordsmith. Prince and Bowie were losses that most of the world could grieve, but losing Chris...well, that feels much more personal.

Andrew
Kurt
Layne
Chris

Rest in peace, boys.

Louder than Love? Damn Straight.

Monday, May 8, 2017

"Last Words..."


"As two relative neophytes to the gaming industry, we aren't exactly sure what reception our baby...will get out there. Putting our time, energy, and scanty resources into this project has been an adventure for us, and it's now coming to an end, or rather to a climax. For now is the time of truth, the moment when we discover if others out their share our tastes, and if our thoughts were actually headed in the right direction all along. We must admit that we are tense with anxiety as we finally let this game slip from our sticky fingers and let it be at last completed. It is difficult indeed to stop working on a well-loved project that has taken more than two years of our lives to complete (in all four hemispheres of the earth!), and may take many more to be successful. If even at all.

"While we were designing, we had one main concept lodged tightly in our minds -- that was to make a role-playing game that helped us role-play, that let players immerse themselves in other people's lives, and for a time at least, vicariously live out those lives completely. Realism, playability, excitement, and personality were only included insofar as they move this game toward that goal.

"Now it only remains to be seen how many role-players there are out there, and how well this game suits their needs."


Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein-Hagen
Ars Magica, first edition
1987
The wizard writes...

I think it's important for folks to remember that everyone starts somewhere; that we all have hopes and fears and doubts. And that we shouldn't let that stop us from putting out our labors of love even in the face of gigantic opposition or competition. 

Hopefully that inspires some folks. I know it inspires me.
; )


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Fan Service


While I don't miss living in Paraguay, I've actually come to miss some things from that country (as I figured I would). For example, last weekend I ditched my old propane grill and picked up a cheap charcoal burner so that I could do a Paraguayan-style asado at my house...various cuts of red meat, rubbed in coarse salt and slow-roasted over several hours to be consumed in pieces sliced and shared (along with grilled sausages, mandioca, and fantastic sopa paraguayo baked by my lovely wife). Sure we consumed a medley of vegetables, too (we're a little more health conscious, after all!) but it was a nice reminder of flavors we enjoyed...and missed...from our time down there.

Another thing I've come to miss over the last nine months of American life is quality soccer. Sure the Seattle Sounders won the MLS cup this year (my son and I watched the championship game in a local Greenwood brewhouse), but the professional level of play in the U.S. is, unfortunately, not quite to the standard seen in South America (or, indeed, other parts of the world...the Classico this year was one for the ages!). This became readily apparent when my 6-year old (at the time five) joined his first American soccer team and played like a frigging superstar: scoring 8-10 goals a game, going end-to-end with the ball through multiple defenders, scoring goals from mid-field, one-timing passes like Leo Messi. Jaw-dropping for the other parents at his school (who said he needed to play with the 4th graders and bring some much needed power), and immensely entertaining for Yours Truly. However, it's more a mark that the competition in the States...and over-all player skill...just isn't up to the same standards as in South America.

The trophy is taller than my boy. We've measured.
Plus, my son brings a lot of enthusiasm to the game...after all, soccer is really the only show in town in Paraguay, and it's pretty much all he played and talked about with the other boys while he attended school there for a year-and-a-half. It made for an especially memorable MLS finals as we got to cheer famous Paraguayan Nelson Valdez (the guy on the left in the above photo), who was excellent in the Sounders' championship run.  After the season ended, Valdez (whose actual last name is Haedo-Valdez, and who is known in Latin America as Nelson Haedo) transferred to Paraguayan professional team Cerro Porteno, which just happens to be  my son's favorite pro club in Paraguay. When we visited Asuncion in February, we had a chance to see him in his second game with Cerro and, due to my wife's connections, our children got to meet Nelson in the locker room afterwards. He was was warm and gracious and signed all their jerseys (both Sounders and Cerro) and gave my boy a memory he'll cherish forever. For a fan, one couldn't have asked for a better experience.

I would certainly NOT consider myself any kind of "international superstar," but I know that I have a certain degree of fame (or at least notoriety) for my writing. A month or two back, the kids and I were up at Around The Table in Lynnwood (probably playing a game of Blood Bowl), when Nick (the co-owner) introduced me to some guys who were huge fans of Five Ancient Kingdoms; folks who owned and were playing it and whom I'd never before met. Their enthusiasm and praise was...well, frankly, it was a little over-whelming. I'm just not used to complete strangers gushing over my creative works, at least not face-to-face, and I may have been at a loss for words. I only hope I was nice and humble with them and gave them a good impression (i.e. that I'm a nice guy) and not some sort of aloof asshole.

Yeah, sometimes I worry about this kind of thing. I'm not really anti-social...I'm usually pretty gregarious in social situations. But deep down, there's a part of me that simply has a hard time believing folks really value my creations, despite the monthly evidence of payments being deposited for my PDFs and the emails I receive asking for a re-release of the B/X Companion in print form. And perhaps it is this doubt that has (in some subtle, subconscious way) contributed to me dragging my feet when it comes to actually getting around to re-printing the book, despite the numerous requests.

[which has led to some amusingly ridiculous incidents: like the person selling a copy on eBay for over $1K. I mean, it's not like I'm dead or something!]

And SO...I am doing a new print run of my B/X Companion. Called my printer today, in fact, to get a price quote. This will be a limited run...probably a hundred copies or so...and I'll need to check postage rates before I put the order button on the web site, as shipping prices have gone up the last few years. But the book's price should remain the same: $24.99. Once I have product in hand, I'll let folks know it's cool to order again.

Time to get back into this publishing thing.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Some Folks Have Been Working...

...I'm just not one of them.

But someone who IS working, is Alexis Smolensk, over at The Tao of D&D. A little more than a year ago, Alexis solicited "jumpstart" funds to help support him while he completed his new novel, The Fifth Man. While the book has not yet materialized, I can indeed confirm that the novel exists, as Alexis has provided me with access to the most recent drafts (it's in its third).

Not that I was worried...writing is what Alexis does (well, in addition to D&D world-building); it's his vocation, unlike the hobby blogger (example one: me). But he was worried...worried he might be losing credibility with the folks who had ponied up money in support of his work. Plenty of people have been burned in internet crowd-funding projects the last few years.

So that's why he allowed me to see the book. I'm not going to offer any critique or review of it at the moment, as it's possible it may change during the editing process...and, anyway, that's not what Alexis wanted me to do. But I can confirm that the novel exists and Alexis is working to make it ready for publication. It's just taking longer than anticipated, as is so often the case with creative works (especially those held to a meticulous standard).

I will post further updates if/as I receive them.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Iron Fisting

Yes, I'm alive (that's an obligatory statement for delinquent bloggers returning from a long hiatus). Been busy and, no, not writing anything. As a result, expect my composition skills to be a bit "rusty."

So just finished watching the Netflix series Iron Fist last night (the fact it took me this long to get through it should tell you something about my schedule). While I'm sure folks would rather hear about something besides another television review...well, I've done the other Marvel series on Netflix and it would seem unfair not to. Also, the show has taken a serious beating by reviewers and I thought I'd offer a bit of a dissenting opinion.

Yes, I've even come to like the beard.

[there will be some minor **SPOILERS**]

As I've written before (I think/hope) a show can be judged strictly by its merit as "good (episodic) television" or by its value as "other-medium-(comic book)-translated-to-TV." I prefer to judge by both, but it's hard for me to watch withOUT considering the comic book it adapts, and I find Iron Fist to be very enjoyable from that perspective. And I'll offer a real 180 turn from most reviewers by commending Finn Jones's portrayal of the titular character: I was surprised at the fantastic job he did with a very complicated character.

[more on this in a moment]

Iron Fist definitely has its failings. Like the other Marvel Netflix offerings, the development of its story and characters is slow for the first episode or two. It also suffers (as did the otherwise excellent Luke Cage) from a rather anti-climactic final episode...at least when it comes to the showdown with the Big Bad. Its pacing, story-wise, is a little stilted at times, and the director/writer has difficulty juggling so many characters without feeling rushed. There's a deftness of handling the material (and communicating the concepts) that is frequently missing. It often feels like their are scenes that are missing, or that were cut, in favor of lingering on some other plot point that (perhaps) didn't require as much time.

But despite this, I quite enjoyed the series. Let me put it this way: Iron Fist is an acquired taste. His comic book is not well known, and never enjoyed the popularity of the Spider-Mans and Captain Americas or the Marvel universe. His status as a second (or third) tier hero is one of several reasons cited by folks who wanted Netflix to reboot the character as Asian-American, to make him more interesting than some "Batman knockoff."

But Iron Fist doesn't...and has never...resembled Batman or Green Arrow or any other billionaire playboy type other than in the most superficial of ways. Batman's wealth exists to explain his vehicles and gadgets and the leisure its afforded him to hone his detective and fighting skills. One of Iron Fist's (multiple) conflicts is his relationship to his wealth, how he reconciles himself to money considering that he's learned to live without it, and has all but taken vows of austerity and poverty...especially in light of the greater good one can do as a philanthropist, compared to punching people.

He's also anything but the smug, self-assured playboy. He constantly makes a hash of things, whether with regard to his attempts at business (he has little to no financial acumen) or with his love life (his long-time love affair with Misty Knight is one of the more realistic on-again/off-again relationships I've seen depicted in comics). The only thing he really knows how to do is fight...and yet he has the whole peaceful, Zen-attitude thing that butts up against that. At the same time, he has this stunted personal development because of his abbreviated childhood (his approach to things is a bit of the wide-eyed innocent-type), despite NOT being raised from birth with some Jedi attitude (he spent his formative years living in wealth and privilege in New York City). He is no stranger to having wealth, but his attitude towards it is that of a child, with no concept of what it takes to earn it, to run a company, to maintain propriety, etc.

It makes him a bit of a shmuck, but a lovable one.

Many reviewers have complained about the inordinate amount of time the show devoted to the boardroom dealing with the Rand Corporation as opposed to the ass-kicking one would expect from a martial arts superhero. But Iron Fist isn't about non-stop fights. I mean, Danny's the Iron Fist...he doesn't get defeated in hand-to-hand combat, so how many fights do you need to see him winning? As with most Marvel characters, much of his story revolves around his private life. And in this case, it's the family drama he shares with the Meachums and his relationship with Colleen Wing. Maybe that doesn't scratch your comic book itch...like I said, Iron Fist is a bit of an acquired taste...but it shouldn't be unexpected.

The juxtaposition of corporate politics and violent takeovers (in The Immortal Iron Fist comic series it's Hydra - not the Hand - that has infiltrated Rand in recent years) against the pulp mysticism of K'un L'un is part of the fun of the series...though to be honest, I found the show worked best when dealing with the pulp elements. Ninjas showing up at Harold's apartment, Danny and Davos reminiscing, the "iron fist" glow effect (which I particularly liked)...these things really helped to emphasize and distinguish Iron Fist from the other Netflix Marvel offerings. They were also fun, and part of the reason I enjoy the comic (I don't get enough pulpy mystic Tibetan fiction in my life).

Why does Danny sometimes lose his mojo and get it back mysteriously? Because it's mysterious and weird and he's young and has an imperfect understanding of his powers. In the comic, mystic enemies are always "stealing his Chi" or damaging it or finding ways to sabotage it...just like villains find ways to overload and disrupt Daredevil's heightened senses (thus hindering his fighting ability). Just like kryptonite puts in an appearance in every Superman film.

There's real sense, and there's comic book sense. From a television-watching POV, I really appreciate Rosario Dawson's normal person, no nonsense straight-talk...and I absolutely HATE watching her take a few karate lessons and holding her own in melee against professional assassins (presumably) trained from birth in hand-to-hand combat. But this is very comic book-y: all sorts of minor characters have, over the years, been "trained" by Captain America (or whoever), becoming capable vigilantes; call it the Rick Jones effect. It's something akin to the movie "training montage" on a separate, parallel scale of silliness.

ANYway...a few last notes:

  • As with Luke Cage, viewers are treated to a double-feature with regard to heroic protagonists, this time with Colleen Wing sharing the handbill. Jessica Henwick, similar to Simone Missick, is a quality casting choice, showing a wide range over the course of the show (and some nice sword-work), but what's doubly impressive is that she's given so much to do. Misty Knight has had a variety of interesting things to do over the years: working with the X-Men, running clandestine organizations, blasting people with a cyborg arm, etc. But Wing's role in the comics has mostly been "Misty's BFF," supporting her, tagging along on adventures (even as an "equal partner") and giving an excuse to incorporate a little "Jap-sploitation" in the comics (why does a half-Chinese girl carry a samurai katana and follow a "bushido code?" Because the sword's more recognizable and "Wing" is easier to pronounce than, say, Watanabe). Here we have an American girl of Asian ancestry (a welcome change to the canon), with a complicated history, the same vigilante lust for violence one finds in male comic characters, and some interesting dichotomies-dramatic splits one would expect in a headliner. Kudos to the writers for offering a complex character in place of a cardboard sidekick...and good work by Henwick in an expressive, believable portrayal.
  • I would have been pleased just to have Colleen Wing by the way (to complete the "Heroes for Hire" set), but the fact that she turned out so cool, makes me happy to see where the next show goes...even if it is "the Defenders" (see below).
  • That being said, the way they've set up Wing's relationship with Rand, it makes it even less likely that we'll see the long-established Knight-Rand romance. *sigh* Still wondering if Jessica Jones will eventually end up with Cage...how could they not when it's such an important part of their books (ah, yes, the soap opera that keeps us reading Marvel). So Misty ends up bitter and alone? Hardly seems fair...I thought that was only Daredevil's destined lot in romance.  ; )
  • It would be difficult to follow-up the strong performances by Vincent D'onofrio (Kingpin), David Tennant (Purple Man), and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali (Cottonmouth), but David Weham is delightfully weird and sinister as Harold Meachum. It doesn't bother me that the viewers were aware of his villainy for the entire series, even as Danny was (characteristically!) obtuse...there doesn't have to be some "big reveal" in these series. And he had some absolutely fantastic moments throughout the series. But the final episode was a little cliche and disappointingly written. In this way, it was reminiscent of Luke Cage's series one finale.
  • Also, enjoyed the Meachum kids, including their flip-flopping (few people are 100% evil or good). Good performances from both Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup.
  • I did not expect Finn Jones to do a good job, and I was clueless as to how the writers would approach the titular character. I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. ALSO, Finn Jones definitely nailed the look of the character from the comic books (at least, The Immortal Iron Fist series) in spite of his curls, and his moves and fighting style are straight out of the comics. I was not expecting Hong Kong action theater, and I didn't think I'd see Bruce Lee (still the greatest martial artist on celluloid, apologies to Chan, Li, and Jaa). What I got was Iron Fist...even the ducking behind cover when facing automatic weapons. I thought it was good, and I look forward to Jones portrayal in the future.
  • On the other hand, while I liked Sacha Dhawan's portrayal of Davos (the Steel Serpent), can I be a little disappointed that he wasn't...um...taller? Also, he's of a radically different ethnicity than Hoon Lee (who plays Davos's father in the show) but...ah, well. It was a good performance.
  • I know there's supposed to be a giant cross-over of all these Netflix heroes (DD, JJ, Cage, Iron Fist), but, man, they do NOT scream Defenders at me. When I hear "the Defenders" I'm thinking the more mystical side of the Marvel universe: Doctor Strange, first and foremost, but also Moon Knight, Gargoyle, Valkyrie, Prince Namor, etc. These street level heroes should really be called Heroes for Hire (except none of them are for hire in Netflix), or maybe Marvel Knights (except that's a stupid name). I'm still looking forward to seeing what they do (I'm guessing something involving the Hand...again), but...well...it's a quibble. I'm allowed a few.

The Defenders(?)...minus Daredevil
Okay, that's enough for now. Wow. Wasn't sure I'd get through a whole post today, but I somehow managed it. We'll see what happens tomorrow.
: )

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

WIP

Is it February yet? So much for my New Year's resolution to blog more.

Since some folks may be curious, I'll give a very brief rundown. November was a clusterfk on a variety of fronts, save for the always pleasurable Thanksgiving holiday. Fortunately, my family survived and December was much, MUCH better and January continues that trend. Still doing the "stay at home Dad" thing, and it appears this will be continuing for at least a few more months, but I'm good with it. Heck, I'm enjoying it...even getting into the cooking thing a bit...though I'm continuing to scheme ways at monetizing my existence.

[yes, yes...some day I will probably be sticking ads on Ye Old Blog. Fortunately, I'm in a position that such scandal isn't yet necessary]

The fact that both football seasons has ended for Seattle certainly frees up a lot of my free time and energy. Yeah, we got caught up in the Sounders (MLS) last October...more on that later...but the Seahawks are always a timesink of passion. This year, they were a constant source of irritation; the loss to the Cardinals on Christmas Eve was the low-point of the season, and you'd have a hard time convincing me that THAT home loss wasn't the one that cost them a Super Bowl berth. But whatever...go Pats, I guess.

In semi-football news, Games Workshop released a brand new edition of Blood Bowl over the holidays, which I completely missed till...oh, about two weeks ago. Otherwise, I would have thrown it on the Christmas list. As it is, I still picked it up, especially as the boy (six years old, as of last Thursday), has become a fan and player. He'll be painting the new human team who he has imaginatively dubbed The Seattle Seahawks. They've only played one game so far, but it was a barn-burner against the wood elves (coached by Uncle AB...papa was acting as referee for the game). Despite a heartbreaking loss (the elves stormed back from a 3-1 half-time deficit to win 4-3 in overtime), he was impressed enough with the team's performance to make them his permanent side (previously, he'd only used orks).

I'm actually very pleased with the current state of the BB rules. I might post about it later, but my previous gripes (basically, everything since the 3rd edition) have mainly been answered. I do dislike the current version of Mighty Blow (having to pick whether to apply +1 to armor OR injury), but I can live with it. And the new campaign rules (in the new Death Zone Season One supplement) are much improved over more recent iterations (in terms of clarity, efficiency, and balance), but I'll have to play it for a bit to really judge. I really like the current version of the Nurgle team, and I picked up a pack of green stuff in anticipation of doing some serious conversion work over the next month or two. Very excited to pass some infection around the pitch!

Right now, however, I'm trying to get a new team ready for possible play in a local, one-day tournament (cash prizes! yay!). One thing I've learned about mini-painting over the years (at least, regarding myself): it really is best to "strike while the iron's hot." If you get the itch to paint, and you have a few extra bucks (and a few extra hours), there's no better time to just do it. Interest wanes, money and time dry up, and you're left with a stack of unpainted (or unfinished) minis just gathering dust. Some of my best painting work...probably ALL of my "best" painting work...has been done in small periods of time when I seized the moment. So, I'm trying to take advantage at the moment.

My kitchen counter this morning at 6am.
Blood Bowl is great for this, by the way, because the team size is so small and easily managed; no team is larger than sixteen figures (plus a couple odd star mercenary types) and often fewer (you only need 11 minis to field a full team). It's probably what makes the game one of my faves (in addition to the obvious draw of football + fantasy). And the pieces in the new edition are really exquisite...it's doubtful that I, a journeyman painter at best, will really be able to do justice to the little guys...but I aim to try!

Those are the orks I'm currently in the process of priming...using a paint-on primer for the first time in decades (as opposed to the usual spray-on stuff) because, I assume, it's easier on the lungs. They're a long-time favorite of Yours Truly...this should make the fourth such team I've painted over the years, despite a profound non-interest in the orks for pretty much any other war game (too many minis required to field a decent horde). However, in honor or my son's newfound interest in the game, I shall be giving them a new color-scheme inspired by his favorite color: pink.

I plan on calling them Bubblegum Dynamite as I fully expect them to blow up the teams they play.
; )

[Diego, BTW, plans on giving his Seahawks a green-and-blue paint job aimed at aping the Sounders soccer team...should be pretty hip, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out]

All right, that's all I've got time for at the moment...I have a meeting at the kid's school this morning regarding registration for next year. Busy-busy-busy...that's my life these days!