Saturday, July 23, 2016

Wonder Woman

I just saw the first trailer for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. Especially given that I had just moments before seen the trailer for an upcoming King Arthur movie, I am full of thoughts.

Again, even though it's not directly gaming related, I'm going to take a little bit of a detour and talk about something else nerd-related. Hold on to your hats, people, here we go.

Thoughts on Movies in General

I used to like watching movies. I really did. I watched quite a few of them. Then one day, when I was working at Blockbuster Video (many years ago, obviously), I looked out over the many shelves of films on both VHS and DVD, and found myself wondering how many different titles there were. I did a little calculating and estimated that there were probably around 700 titles in that specific location alone.

Just that one store.

If anyone were to watch even a quarter of that many movies, that would be 350 hours spent sitting on one's butt having little cognitive function, and essentially no physical activity at all. And I realised, why would I spend that much time of my life sitting on my butt doing nothing when I could be doing something? 

Maybe still sitting on my butt, but doing something. Reading. Writing. Actively creating. 

Honestly, I have the same sort of thoughts about sports. How much time and money do people spend to sit in uncomfortable stadium seats to watch other people playing games? Wouldn't it be more fun to play the games yourself? Even if you're not as good as the players on professional or collegiate teams, you'd still be having more fun because you're the one doing it, rather than watching someone else do it.

Which brings me to the inscrutable custom of streaming video games. Once more, we have people (thousands at a time, from what I'm told) watching other people play games that they could be playing themselves.

Ok, enough of that tangent. Back to my point.

My point is that I don't much care for movies. Since that time (roughly 2003 or so), my movie-watching habits have steadily decreased. These days, I watch maybe twenty movies total over the course of a single year, and most of those are old movies (I kind of feel sick calling movies from the 80s 'old') on DVD in my own home. The number of films I see in the cinema each year? Two, maybe three.

Seriously, unless it looks like it's going to be an amazing movie (as was the case with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) or belongs to a franchise to which I have become completely addicted (like Tron, Star Trek, or the X-Men), I'm just not going to bother.

And from what I've seen of movies that I haven't watched, it doesn't look like I'm missing much. The movies that get attention these days, from what I can tell, are either ridiculously over-the-top action films with overly convoluted storylines that seem to think they're only successful if they can confuse the audience so much that they don't really know what's going on anyway, but that doesn't matter because the audience isn't there for the story, they're there for the CGI fight scenes; or they're so-called comedy films that think 'comedy' is defined as 'as many dick jokes as they can squeeze into two hours.'

The aforementioned Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a delightful exception. There was very little CGI (outside of the opening credits), the story was excellent and able to hold its own without confusing the viewers, and it had a strong emotional impact.

But other than that? Movies just don't deliver what I want from them anymore. And what I want is story. If the story is accompanied by CGI or flashy fights or whatever, I'm ok with that, as long as the story is there. If the story gets overshadowed by the CGI or the flashy fights, or if the story gets too complicated, or if the story is bad, then I've lost interest. Nothing else you can cram into a movie will make me interested in it again once the story itself has failed.

This is one of the things I love about roleplaying games. The ones in which I'm involved are stories. If I'm involved in a game that's not telling a good story, I'm going to bail. I've done it before. And telling a story together with my friends? That just makes it even better.

But if I'm going to be told a story, in whatever medium that story is told, it better be a good one.

Preceding Wonder Woman

Right before I saw the Wonder Woman trailer, I had watched a trailer for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It's blatantly obvious from the trailer that this movie is going to suck. First, they claimed that Arthur was 'raised on the streets,' which goes against everything that has existed for any decent Arthur story told up until this point. The story that appears to be forthcoming from this film, based on what I've seen in the trailer, looks like absolute pants. And as is usual, it appears to prop its appeal entirely on excessive CGI and flashy fight scenes.

Count me out.

Watching the Wonder Woman Trailer

So then I saw that a trailer had also been released for the upcoming Wonder Woman. I was curious partly to see if Zack Snyder was directing it, and partly to get an idea of how Hollywood is going to treat the first (and, as far as I know, still only) major solitary (as opposed to part of a team) superhero to be female. Yes, you can argue that several of the X-Men (Jean Grey, Storm, and Rogue) are major superheroes, but they aren't considered by the general populace to be characters in their own right, but rather characters that wouldn't work without the rest of their team. Most people don't know who Power Girl is. Captain Marvel has similar recognisability issues, and the current incarnation isn't even the original character anyway. And finally, characters like Supergirl and Batgirl are just 'Superman, only female!' or 'Batman, only female!' anyway. Wonder Woman is pretty much the only one left.

The Look of the Movie in General

I was pleased to see that Zack Snyder is not directing this film. I didn't have to watch either of his Superman films to see how badly he'd ruined that franchise. I really didn't care for his adaptation of Watchmen. And Sucker Punch... well. 

But as I watched the trailer, I could tell that there was a lot of the same 'Lots of CGI! Lots of flashy fights!' that plague so many modern movies. I'm having trouble getting excited about it.

Granted, my perceptions here may have been coloured by having just watched the King Arthur trailer. Maybe I'll give it another try another day, or when another trailer comes out.

Feminism in Wonder Woman

I really want to like this movie. I really want to want to see it. She is the only major solitary superhero that is a female. Given how hard it is for people to take women seriously in American culture, it's nice to finally see her given her due. Of course, she does fall prey to what I call 'The DC Curse.' The main reason that I prefer Marvel over DC (aside from the fact that the X-Men are about the only superheroes for whom I really care) is because most of the Marvel heroes have actual powers, whereas most of the major DC heroes have an object or set of objects that grants them powers. To see what I mean, let's compare the major characters from both universes:

Superman: has strength, flight, x-ray vision, heat vision, etcSpider Man: Has strength, wall-crawling, danger sense
Batman: has a bunch of toolsThe Hulk: Has incredible strength
Wonder Woman: Has magic bracelets and lassoIron Man: Has a robotic suit of armour
Green Lantern: Has a supernatural ringCaptain America: Has super strength and reflexes
The Flash: Has super speedWolverine: Has mutant healing power and uncanny senses as well as adamantium claws and skeleton
Green Arrow: Has arrowsDaredevil: Has radar hearing

There are more heroes from the Marvel universe that are fairly widely known, but not a lot more from the DC universe. But on the DC side, Superman and the Flash are the only two with actual powers. The rest have a bunch of gadgets and gizmos. On the other hand, only Iron Man is lacking in actual powers on the Marvel side. I know there are other characters that aren't as well known, but this chart shows the general trend.

Anyway, Wonder Woman falls into this trap. She has a magic lasso that forces anyone within it to tell the truth. She has bracelets that she can use to deflect bullets. She has an invisible aeroplane. In the new movie, she apparently also has a sword and shield.

But even more than that, the thing that bothers me is that she's still seen as beautiful first and a capable hero second. Sure, the movie versions of Jean Grey and Storm and the other female X-Men wear skin tight leather suits, but so do the males. Even in The Fantastic Four, Susan Storm wears clothing similar to her teammates. But Wonder Woman? She wears ridiculously revealing clothing, even in the film. Gal Gadot was chosen in part because she fits the 'ideal' female form. Despite the fact that any capable fighter would have some muscle bulk. I mean, are we seriously supposed to believe that anyone with legs that thin could actually deliver kicks with any power?

Wrapping it All Up

Anyway, that's what I was thinking as I was watching the trailer. So I'm really torn about this film. I suppose it's a step in the right direction, although it's agonizing just how long it's taken us to get to this point. And I wish it wasn't a case of 'one step forward, one step back.' But maybe I'll see something more promising in the future that will make me want to give this film a try.

In the meantime, go forth, have fun, and above all,

Game on!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Board Game Review: Eclipse

Longtime readers of this blog may notice that I've already written an entry entitled 'Board Game Review: Eclipse.' That entry was not about Asmodee's space conquest game.

This one is.

The two games are very very different. This one (the Asmodee version) is a very heavy game. It usually takes around two hours or more, and has a lot to keep track of.

Speaking of keeping track, let's look at the stats, shall we?

Strategy: 5
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 5
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 2 hours

This game is very detailed. This review will be quite a bit longer than normal. For that reason, I'm going to put it behind a cut, which I wouldn't normally do.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Overview of the Original World of Darkness (Part 3)

(continued from part 2)

Other games in the original World of Darkness

I never played any of the games that came after Changeling. The first, Hunter: The Reckoning, went against everything I loved about the first five games. Mummy: The Resurrection was a reworking of an earlier supplement, and I felt that it ruined everything that was wonderful about the original version. Demon: The Fallen brought into the World of Darkness a religious aspect that had been absent from previous games, and I was very disappointed by that fact, so I never looked into it. And although I owned a copy of Kindred of the East, I never got to play it. In fact, I never got to read it, primarily because I knew I wasn't likely to get to play it.

They did also release historical versions of most of the original five. It began in 1996 with the release of Vampire: The Dark Ages. It was essentially the same as the original Vampire: The Masquerade, but it was set in 1197 CE. The primary vampiric sects (the Camarilla and the Sabbat) had not been created yet, and there were some other differences reflecting the state of the vampires at that time. The following year saw the release of Werewolf: The Wild West. As with Dark Ages, it reflected the state of the Garou in the late 1800s. The next year, they released Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade. It had more changes than the other historical versions, as the mages had changed far more in their history than the vampires or werewolves. But it still reflected the state of the mages in the year 1466 CE. The year after that, they released Wraith: The Great War. This game reflected the status of the dead in the wake of World War I. It was the first of the historical games that was not a stand-alone game. It did not include all the rules needed to play; new players would have to already know the rules if they didn't want to buy another core rulebook in the World of Darkness line.

At first, Changeling did not get its own historical book. However, the Vampire: The Dark Ages line was renamed to Dark Ages: Vampire, which served as the core rulebook on which the supplements Dark Ages: Werewolf and Dark Ages: Mage were both based. Finally, in 2004, the same year that Time of Judgement was released, White Wolf published Dark Ages: Fae, which allowed players to play true fae in the Dark Ages setting.

The End of the World of Darkness

The very first World of Darkness book, the first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade, included references to Gehenna, the end times in which the elder vampires would rise up and slaughter all those of lower generations. This trend of prophecy continued in the later games; Werewolf made frequent reference to the Apocalypse, when the Wyrm and/or Weaver would emerge triumphant, and the Garou would be eliminated from the world. Mage was not as overt in mentioning an end times scenario, but everyone knew that there would likely come a time when one of the factions (most likely the Technocracy) would be victorious in the war for reality. Likewise, Wraith didn't often mention the end times. Changeling, however, often spoke of Endless Winter, when Banality would wipe out all traces of the fae.

The Wraith line ended in 1999, with the Year of the Reckoning supplement which detailed the return of Charon and the Sixth Great Maelstrom. Then, in 2004, the end time prophecies all came true, with the release of Gehenna for Vampire, Apocalypse for Werewolf, Ascension for Mage, and Time of Judgement for all the remaining game lines.

After that, they began releasing new versions of the games, with the core rule book (called World of Darkness) describing the rules for humans and ghosts, and each game line released as a supplementary rule book. But I no longer had any interest in the new setting. From what I had seen of the new version of the WoD, I was not impressed.

My thoughts on the World of Darkness

I really enjoyed playing Vampire when it first came out. The character development possibilities were very enjoyable, and the focus on storytelling strongly appealed to me as well. I resisted playing Werewolf for a long time, because it seemed to me to be so strongly focussed on combat. But I finally gave it a shot, and found that I was able to create a dynamic spiritualist character that I still remember fondly. Mage was a lot of fun for me as well, with some interesting metaphysical concepts. Alas, many others felt that it was overpowered, and I didn't often get to play. By the time Wraith was released, most of the people in my circle of friends had no interest in playing anything other than their chosen favourites (normally Vampire or Werewolf). 

But once Changeling was released, I became a full-time devotee. I loved the expansive universe. I had been a fan of faerie mythology for some time before that, so the idea of playing a game based on the faeries was a massive draw for me.

Alas, I was one of the few. Most fans of the original WoD were drawn to the angsty darkness of Vampire, the easy violence of Werewolf, or the free-wheeling nature of Mage. They felt that Changeling was the 'fluffy bunny' of the WoD, that it was not dark enough, that it was too happy and not sufficiently gritty. And to an extent, that's true. But it's also the most creative of the games.

Obviously, I love Changeling. When White Wolf began to have financial troubles in 1999, their less successful games began to get less attention. Changeling was one of those. The supplements slowed, and eventually waned in quality. But I was still a devoted fan and consumer. In 2002, the game stopped releasing supplements entirely, despite the fact that two highly-anticipated books (Keys to the Kingdom and Book of Glamour) were nearly ready for publishing, and the final kithbook (describing the various 'races' of fae) had not been released. Then, when Time of Judgement ended the series entirely, all hope of completing the series was lost.

Until now.

Five years ago, a 20th Anniversary edition of Vampire was released. The following year saw the 20th anniversary of Werewolf, followed by 20th anniversary editions of Mage and Wraith. And the 20th anniversary edition of Changeling is scheduled for release later this year.

Needless to say, I'm excited.

Anyway, I think that's quite enough of this series. Next week, another board game review, then back to my normal schedule of random game postings. Until then, don't forget to

Game on!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

An Overview of the Original World of Darkness (part 2)

(continued from part 1)

Mage: The Ascension: 

Players take on the role of a powerful wizard. There are three primal forces that work together to form the universe: Dynamism (creation and unbridled possibility, often seen as pure chaos), Stasis (order and lack of changeability), and Entropy (destruction and cessation of existence). There are four factions of mages: the Technocracy (representing Stasis, champions of safety and dependable mundanity; they see themselves as stewards shepherding the Sleepers — those humans who've not awoken to the true magical nature of the universe — into a paradise of technology and security), the Mauraders (those mages who have given themselves over to — or been overtaken by — the pure chaos and insanity of Dynamism), the Nephandi (mages representing Entropy who have 'sold their souls' to ancient demonic beings from other planes of existence, serving them in exchange for vast power), and the Tradition Mages (those who represent some level of balance between Stasis, Dynamism, and Entropy). Tradition mages run the gamut from traditional Hermetic magi (think Merlin or Gandalf) to shamans to Wiccans to the mentalist Buddhist-monk type, and even mad scientists or those who use computers to try to free the minds of the Sleepers.

Normally, players play a Tradition mage. According to the game, the universe is pliable, conforming to the beliefs of the majority of the people alive in the world. Thus, back when most people believed that the world was flat, it was flat, and after early wizards 'proved' (through the use of their magic) that it was actually round, and people came to believe that the world was round, it became round. Mages are those who have 'Awoken' to the true nature of the universe, and have learned to alter reality through force of will. That is, by forcing themselves to believe strongly enough that a bolt of lightning will fly from their fingertip and electrocute the person standing in front of them, a mage causes reality to alter to the point where that lightning bolt actually does shoot out of their fingertip! Of course, reality doesn't like to be altered in such a crass manner; making something happen that is so far outside of the 'realm of possibility' results in a force known as Paradox, which can (especially in large quantities) be disastrous for a mage. They can counteract this by making their magical effects look more plausible (instead of a lightning bolt shooting out of your fingertips, you can have your victim 'accidentally' touch an exposed electrical circuit).

The premise of the game is that the mages are engaged in a war to determine the nature of reality: free for all Sleepers, utterly chaotic, enslaved to extradimensional demonic entities, or conforming to the consensus for their own good. Right now, it looks like the Technocracy is winning, but the fight's not over yet...

Wraith: The Oblivion

Imagine that you have just died, but you weren't ready to die yet because you haven't resolved all of the issues that you had in life. Maybe you didn't get to resolve the conflict between you and your father, or maybe your soul can't rest in peace because you never reached your goal of becoming the richest person in Omaha. Whatever it is that is tying you to the world of the living, it has prevented you from moving on to the 'real' afterlife. Instead, you find yourself standing at the site of your death, looking around you at the scene of your final breathing moments. Everything looks darker; the colours are muted (almost black and white). The world is blurry, as if you've lost your corrective lenses (even if you never needed them before). You try to touch things, only to feel an apparent barrier between you and the object. If you force it, you feel an intense pain, and suddenly you are immaterial. You can pass right through anything you try to touch. A few moments later, you regain your substance, but the invisible barrier is still there. Then, you see someone coming towards you. This person looks more substantial than the other people you see (the rescue crew working the scene of your fatal accident, the doctors trying to revive you in the hospital, your killer standing over your bloody corpse, etc). He's still bereft of colour and blurry, but not as much as the others. Whoever he is, he reaches up and grabs a membrane that had been covering you, which you did not realise was there previously. He pulls the caul from you, and suddenly, the world falls into sharper focus, though the colours are still drained and pale.

What happens to you next depends on who has removed your caul. If you're lucky, this person is recruiting for the Heirarchy, or for the Renegades, or possibly one of the Heretic Cults. Another fortunate option is to be recruited into one of the Guilds, the organisations that oversee and regulate the various powers (known as Arcanoi) that wraiths can learn.

Most wraiths aren't so lucky, though. Very few physical objects enter the Shadowlands. As such, the only way to create physical items is from the ghostly substance that makes up the 'body' of wraiths themselves. The majority of ghosts are captured by such individuals, their corpus being melted down to forge into coins, bricks, weapons, or other items. This 'soulforging' process does not destroy the consciousness of a wraith so forged, however; this means that when using a coin to pay someone in the Shadowlands, you may hear the wailing of the soul of the person that was forged into that coin...

As you move beyond the Shadowlands (the reflection of the living world where wraiths can observe, but seldom interact with, the living), you come to the Tempest, a massive writhing storm which buffets the spirits of the dead, all drawing you inexorably closer to Oblivion, the gaping morass of non-existence at the centre of the Tempest which unmakes any unlucky enough to fall into it. There are stable points within the Tempest, however; one such island is known as Stygia, the Dark Kingdom of Iron. This is the home of the Hierarchy, originally founded by Charon before he disappeared millennia ago. 

As you grow accustomed to your new existence, you find yourself torn between the desire to continue existing in this eternal torment, and the desire to resolve your Passions (the emotional bonds that prevent you from moving on to your final release) so that you may Transcend. But there is a third force: your Shadow. The darker aspect of your personality has splintered away from the main force of your Psyche, and is now a voice that whispers in the back of your head, tempting you to give up, to embrace Oblivion. It can offer you boons, but be ware of accepting help from your Shadow, for it always comes at a price.

This is the dark and grim world of Wraith: The Oblivion.

Changeling: The Dreaming

I know I've described Changeling in detail elsewhere, but for those who don't know:

At the dawn of time, the first humans dreamed. These dreams became the first fae; dreams of nobility and honour became the trolls, dreams of winsome playful animals became the pooka, dreams of hedonism and sex became the satyrs, dreams of things that go skritch in the night became the sluagh, and so on. These beings needed the energy of Glamour, the force which originates from the dreams and hopes and fears of humanity, in order to survive. Glamour makes up the substance of the fae, as well as fueling their magic.

So, when humans began to turn away from dreams in favour of cold rationality, Glamour began to wane, and a new force, Banality, emerged. Over time, as humans became more rational, Banality grew and Glamour faded, until the Renaissance, when the sidhe, the elven rulers of the fae, declared that the human world was no longer safe. They began an exodus to Arcadia, the distant homeland of the fae in the deepest reaches of the spirit realm known as The Dreaming. The sidhe demanded their right as rulers to travel first, despite the speed with which portals leading to Arcadia were collapsing. Just as the last sidhe passed through the last portal, it collapsed, trapping the commoners on earth.

In order to survive, the remaining fae cloaked their faerie spirits in human bodies. This allowed them to survive, but they have now been forever tainted with Banality, such that they can never return to Arcadia, even if they were able to find a way to travel there. Now they must balance two lives: their human lives, where they interact with and exist as humans, and their faerie lives, where they are kings and queens and knights and bards and pirates and adventurers and crafters of wondrous things, interacting with dragons and goblins and giants and gorgons and other magical creatures besides.

They must balance the two halves of their being; if they neglect their fae side, they fall to Banality, and risk erasing their faerie soul forever. If they neglect their human side, the excessive Glamour will drive them to insanity. And the worst part of all is that, even though most of them have little memory of the lives they lived before, when their faerie souls inhabited human bodies in previous incarnations, throughout the last six centuries, they know that they used to be so much more than what they are now. Cavorting with fantastical creatures such as the nar-pea-raffe (a hybrid of a peacock, a giraffe, and a narwhal) and casting cantrips that allow them to teleport, or control a person's emotions, or transform a car into a giant gryphon, it is a pale shadow of what they once where, back when they were pure fae, and could have grandiose adventures beyond the ken of mortal man.

That is the true horror of Changeling: knowing what you once had, what you once were, but can never attain again.

To Be Concluded...

I'm going to finish this overview next week. Until then, remember to play more games, have more fun, and as always above all, remember always to

Game on!