Vicious Mockery #DnD #RPG

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Sundays are now lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work or just do something silly. Today, it’s something from gaming.

Image may contain: text that says 'DM: With a mighty crash they send you flying into a tree. What do you do? Fighter: cast Vicious Mockery. DM: But you're a Fighter. You don't ha-'

One the battlefield, one must remain flexible.

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Some More Wild Speculation on Margaret Weis, LLC & Tracy Hickman v. Wizards of the Coast, LLC Lawsuit @WeisMargaret @trhickman @Wizards @TheCancerThati1 @daflyondawall #WotC #DnD #RPG #Dragonlance

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I’m one of a wake of attorneys that was asked to comment on the recent filing of the above-referenced lawsuit. I’ve spoken my mind but always included my statements with the stereotypical legal caveat that we don’t have all the facts yet. This caveat exists for good reason and is clearly applicable here. All we have is one side of the story, and we don’t have the licensing agreement on which the entire case turns. Ergo, everything at this point is speculation, and I feel that there are enough people commenting that I don’t need to add to the chorus.

That said, there’s one thing that came up in a Twitter conversation that’s important to me, and I felt it was important to expand on it.

As I’ve written before, I no longer play D&D, but in my 19 years of playing it, I’ve never played anything in the Dragonlance setting, and I’ve certainly never read one of their novels. (I prefer non-fiction.) This suit has no bearing on my life personally, but certainly does so philosophically.

Why Do We Have Intellectual Property (“IP”)?

Many people assume that the goal of IP is to reward the creator, inventor, or producer. That’s incorrect. The reward is the means to achieve the real goal, which is to make sure that the public — you and I — has access to plenty of art (copyrights) and technology (patents); can instantly know whether they want to purchase particular goods or services based on brand names (trademarks); and have access to lots of other products not otherwise protectable (trade secrets). We assure that goal is reached by giving those creators, inventors, and producers a financial incentive to do what they do by granting them a “limited monopoly” on their endeavors. However, in the end, the point is to serve the public interest. If that interest isn’t being served, why grant the limited monopoly in the first place? There are several exceptions to IP that prove my point, but they’re not relevant here.

Campaign Settings Gone AWOL

Wizards of the Coast (“WotC”) owns the rights to several campaign settings that haven’t had anything significant published in years. We know that WotC will be publishing works within three classic campaign settings in the near future, but we don’t know how extensive those efforts will be, or what their nature will be (e.g., novels, campaign settings, living campaigns). However, it’s been a long time coming, and there are still plenty of other campaign settings that won’t be published soon. How long will we have to wait for those?

When I raised that issue via Twitter, someone with a better sense of their profitability pointed out that it made no financial sense for WotC to publish them. I believe him, and in fact it’s hard not to. After all, WotC isn’t publishing them (or is just getting around to doing so). Obviously, despite their popularity, WotC can’t financially justify producing them. A smaller (yet still competent) company could do so, but only if WotC’s contract terms aren’t so draconian as to make it unprofitably even for them. To my knowledge, this licensing is open only for novels anyway, so we’re still looking at the suppression of the IP with respect to the actual game where they belong.

My Philosophical Issue

The entire point of IP is to get that IP to the public. As steward of these properties, WotC should (not must) get that material to the public. However, the situation effectively uses IP to do the very opposite. The limited monopolies are being used to horde the material, so there’s no legal, viable means through which that material can be marketed to the public. That’s a big problem for me. As I asked above, what’s the point of granting the rights if it means the public won’t get access to the material?

Wies/Hickman v. WotC

According to the Complaint, WotC wants to walk away from the deal altogether. If that’s true, then WotC stands to gain nothing from the Dragonlance IP. We’re right back to square one with that property, but the important point is that WotC themselves have nothing to gain from the property, so they have nothing to lose if the property is transferred to Weis and Hickman.

There’s no legal basis of which I’m aware for stripping WotC of their copyrights in these other campaign settings, so I don’t want to see that happen by force. They acquired the property fair and square. However, if WotC is in the wrong here, and this suit gives Weis and Hickman the leverage to take ownership of the Dragonlance IP, WotC breaks even, and everyone else wins. I wouldn’t be upset if that happened. I suspect that if Weis and Hickman did get the license back, then they’d produce a lot more Dragonlance content than WotC ever would. When I suggested that on Twitter, I received this response:

Infer what you will from that. I did.

What are the odds of this happening? Probably slim to none, but wouldn’t that be something else?

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How I Prefer to Play Dungeons and Dragons, and Why I No Longer Do @Raddu76 @Luddite_Vic @SlyFlourish #DnD #RPG

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A couple of weeks ago, one of my posts raised some questions from my social media contacts both on Facebook and Twitter. Specifically, they were wondering what I meant when I said I played Dungeons & Dragons differently from most others. It’s tough to express what I mean by that, but there’s been some back and forth, so I’ve given some thought on how to express it. I’m going to do my best here in an uncharacteristically long post. I’d like to make four quick points for context before I explain.

1. For RPGs, I limit myself to D&D out of necessity. I could play other games (and have), but nothing is more accessible than whatever the current edition of D&D is, especially in light of the living campaign being run for that edition.

2. There’s no right way to play D&D. Nothing I’m saying is a criticism of how other people play except to the extent that I’m saying I don’t prefer to play that way myself. Moreover, I was in Sly Flourish’s home game for years, and people like me can absolutely coexist on the same table as people . . .  not like me. That was probably the best gaming group I’ve ever been in because no matter who was in the group, everyone let everyone else do their own thing. I credit the DM for creating that atmosphere. He certainly guides the game but always places fun ahead of his own ego. Not many DMs do. Unfortunately, my gaming experience has conditioned me to go along with what other people expect, so even in that game I’d often sabotage myself by becoming what I didn’t want to be. But if that’s the way you want to play, then go for it. Some people reading this will know I’m talking about them and their play style. They shouldn’t be offended. None of this is meant as an insult.

3. Combat is part of the game, and I’m capable of enjoying a good combat.

4. Luddite_Vic and I have been designing our own RPG for a few years now. It’ll probably never see the commercial light of day because we’re too busy to meet regularly, but to some extent game design can absolutely accommodate my play style. It can even encourage it, though the best game system is going to be one that allows anyone to play it the way they want to play it.

So, what am I talking about?

I’m an Actor

No, you shouldn’t be asking me for my autograph. I didn’t say that I’m a good actor.

There are several player types. Some players change their type over time, and some fall into several categories at once. I’m certainly what I call an actor. I create a character with at least one notable, obvious personality quirk, and I play that up for maximum effect. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it isn’t, but it always defines my character, so much so that years later people reference the quirk by shouting, “Honor duel!”, “Bongos!”, or something referencing a character, when they see me. Whether I’m in combat or not, if I’m not playing up that quirk (or quirks), I’m not having fun.

Sometimes character concepts fail, so in theory I could impose an annoying play style on others, but I don’t. If I make a mistake with a character concept, or if it just doesn’t work within the game system, I move on from it before it becomes a burden. I’m self-aware of the impact I have on others, so if I’m annoying you, it’s intentional 😊, but I avoid doing that with characters.

True Immersion

The key to me having a good time is true immersion in the game world. I don’t think many players do that, and I think the best way for me to explain this is through a few examples.

The simplest and most talked about example of that is alignment. If you’re playing a lawful good character, then your character should act as such. I see far too many players choosing an alignment because of some mechanical bonus it gives, or because it serves a class build well, but then they act according to tactical needs rather than character philosophy, and their alignment goes right out the window. Again, if it makes you happy, fine, but I think you’re losing something valuable by doing that. After all, rolling a critical hit isn’t really an accomplishment. It’s random unless you’re cheating. As the great philosopher, Neil Peart, once wrote, “The point of the journey is not to arrive.” Misplaced modifier aside, by that he meant that how you get somewhere can often be more rewarding than where you wind up.

Assuming your character has roughly the same alignment as you, is that how you’d behave in the real world? If you’re playing a character with vastly different morals than you, is that how such a character would behave in the real world? If not, you’re not immersing yourself in the game world.

Here’s a better example. I openly wanted to test a story line but covertly wanted to test whether others would be interested in my play style, so I took over a 4e campaign when our characters hit paragon level (11th level). This is 4th edition, so even the bard had at least 70 hit points. The first encounter in the paragon campaign was clearly underpowered. It was designed to be a “James Bond” moment, where everything started off with a bang, but the point was to deliver the story hook. Any experienced player could recognize that, and in fact they all did.

The characters were visiting “the Lawns,” which was an area of the city best described as a much smaller version of Central Park. Commoners were everywhere, and I had the PCs place themselves randomly on the board. There were three magical cages containing a bear, a destrachen, and a manticore, all of heroic tier. Collectively, they were no match for the PCs. A blast of energy wipes out the vegetation in the immediate area and causes the cages to burst open. The bard wins initiative. He’s standing near the bear, an elf, the elf’s two small children, and a human. He elects to run over to the manticore to gang up on it with two other PCs. I say, “Just in case neither the minis nor I have described the scene properly, you have the jump on the bear, and the bear has the jump on the commoners. If you run away, those commoners, including two children, are as good as dead.” He said he understood but was going for the better tactical move, and the other players agreed, saying, “Get over here!” (or words to that effect).

I know these players well, so I knew this would happen — this encounter was also designed by me to be an ethical set up — but I couldn’t believe they fell for it. What exactly is the “better tactical move”? In my mind it was to limit as much damage to the citizens as possible. That’s what heroes do. (If I recall correctly, only one character was neutral on the good-evil axis, and I know it wasn’t the bard.) The party instead defined “better tactical move” as personally taking the least amount of damage possible. (Later, I’ll provide more evidence that this is their thinking.) This was the case even though the bard would be looking at taking, at most, one healing surge worth of damage in a one-on-one combat against any one of them.

When the bear got its turn, I described the event in gruesome detail. The elf shouts out, “Run to your mother, children!” right before he’s disemboweled with one claw. Then the human has his face ripped off by the other claw. I don’t expect the players to lose any sleep over make-believe characters getting killed, but not one of the characters expressed the slightest bit of sadness or regret. And don’t think for a second that I missed it. I was watching them carefully and prodding them in character (through NPCs) to let me know what they thought about these events. From a meta perspective, that was the entire point of me taking over the game as DM.

Isn’t a role-playing game supposed to be about writing a story? What kind of a story are these “heroes” writing?

As I said, I knew this would happen because I knew these guys, and part of what I was testing was this principal of immersion. I was trying to see if the right story would change the players’ approach to the game. So, I had some more tricks up my sleeve. I bit my lip for three months waiting for the story to progress to a specific encounter. The players needed to research some very obscure information, so they visited the “Black Library.” This place held all the knowledge of the universe in special crystals, including dreams and memories.

The Black Library was at a very important place in the multiverse. It was near the “Grand Stairwell,” which (as far as mortal minds could perceive) is a stairwell that leads up and down to each of your potential final resting places after death (e.g., the Nine Hells, Archeron, Nirvana). There was always a long line of souls of the recently departed waiting their turns for final instructions. Go up four levels, go down two levels; whatever.

I asked the players to make a Perception check. It didn’t matter what they rolled. I said, “You seem to recognize one of the people in line,” and they took the bait. It was the elf they let die. He confronted them, and once again all of the player characters showed no remorse other than an insincere, “Sorry, but . . . .” I gave them one more shot though. The elf said, “Okay, I don’t agree, but I at least understand the tactical approach. So did you at least make sure my children were okay? Did they find my wife? My wife and three children, one of them a newborn, depended on my farming to earn a living. My wife doesn’t know how to farm, and now she must feed three young children on her own. How are they doing?”

This sounds really sad, and it was somewhat predictable considering the scene in which the elf (and human) were brutally killed. Nevertheless, I received no showing of true sympathy despite closely looking for it. Instead, the characters (players, really) stood their ground and responded (essentially), “It wasn’t our problem.” They were so intent on being right that they couldn’t muster any sympathy for such a tragic circumstance their choices created. And of course, even after this conversation, not one of the characters even suggested checking in on the elf’s family. These were 15th-level characters at this point with more wealth than entire towns, but they just didn’t care. If that’s how they wanted to play, so be it, but that’s not immersion.

As I said, when bad things happen to innocent but make-believe people, I don’t expect players to be sad, but I do expect their characters to be, especially where the bad things were the result of the characters’ own choices.

If you were in an analogous situation in the real world, would you have behaved this way? Would you have any remorse for these circumstances even though there was no financial reward or information to be gained?

Another Example: The Puzzle Encounter

I created a puzzle encounter, which I’ll describe here. There’s a magically charged, metal plate with an array of 100 lighted buttons (10 rows of 10) in front of it. Each button is numbered from 0 to 99 in order (left to right). You must figure out which buttons to push and in what order. If you fail, the plate will light up and zap you (but not your allies) for an amount of damage equal to the number of the button you should have pushed. For example, if you should have guessed 4 but pushed 87, you’d take 4 points of damage (not 87!). You then should push the 4 and continue with the sequence. Remember, at this level, the relatively fragile bard (now at 13th level) has at least 80 hit points, so even a 4 would result in 5% of his total. If you couldn’t figure out the answer before running out of buttons to push, you couldn’t try again in your lifetime, so another player would have to try this level. If you push two correct buttons in a row (something you could pull off by guessing in some cases), the plate acts as an elevator and moves you and your allies up to the next level, where you face the identical situation but with a different code. There are four levels you must pass to get reach your goal.

All this information was deduced care of an easy Arcana check. My intent wasn’t to hold back the nature of the puzzle at all, so if someone was confused, I freely shared any information they needed. What they never got was a hint as to what the code was applicable to each level. The only way to discern the codes were through trial and error, and that was the actual puzzle. Hit some buttons, get zapped for a tiny amount of damage, but figure out how to avoid it and move forward.

Answer: FYI, the codes were based on various sequences. The first sequence was a series of squares (i.e., 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc.), the second was a series of cubes (i.e., 1, 8, 27, 64), the third was the Fibonacci series (i.e., 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13), and the fourth was the digit product series (i.e., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 22, 26, 38, etc.). Again, the only way to discern the codes were through trial and error, and the players were angered by that. More on that later.

The point is this: If you truly immersed yourself in the game world, you wouldn’t have a problem with this puzzle. In fact, you’d expect this because of course this is how a puzzle would be designed. These are meant to keep out would-be intruders. They aren’t supposed to give you an out in which you take no damage, and logically you wouldn’t expect there to be any way to deduce a code unless you personally knew the puzzle’s creator and the way he or she thought. If anything, puzzles should be a lot harder (e.g., a simple 6-digit pin impossible to guess), but that makes the game inaccessible, which we don’t want. However, it’s reasonable that 1) you’re not going to be able to reason out the code except through trial and error; and 2) you’ll be punished when you get things wrong; however, 3) the initial punishment is easy in case the puzzle-maker himself makes a mistake or forgets which code goes in which order.

Remember when I said above that I’d provide more evidence that the players define success by how much damage they take? When we were finished with the third level, the players had had enough of my nonsense. They accosted me because the puzzle was unfair. The straw that broke the camel’s back? The third sequence was the Fibonacci sequence, which means when they got the first number in that series wrong, the plate lit up, and one player took a whopping . . . zero (0) points of damage. That’s right. A couple of them actually raised their voices and complained because one of them took 0 hit points of damage. After they were finished complaining, we continued. They pressed the one (per the instructions), then a two (which zapped them for one point of damage), and that’s all the damage one player took. Another player immediately deduced that 0, 1, and 1 were the start of the Fibonacci sequence, so for this sequence, a single 13th-level player with close to 100 hit points took exactly 2 points of damage, and that was unacceptable to all of them. I was so annoyed at this point that I didn’t tell the about the fourth level. I just said that they had reached their goal after the third puzzle (essentially, “Congratulations! You won D&D!”). The digit product series would have been a bit tough anyway, so frustrations aside, that was probably a good call.

Explain that any way you want. To me, it’s as simple as this: Some people just want to win D&D flawlessly, but that won’t always be possible if you immerse yourself in the game world. You always lose at least a little. I don’t get this at all, but I at least respect the fact that some of these players admit that immersion isn’t what they want from the game. Others claim they like immersion, but it seems like nothing but talk to me.

So Why Is This Important?

Why is this important to me? Why do I think this sort of thing would matter to far more players than it does if they ever gave it a try? Simply put because all mechanical bonuses and victories in the game are illusory. The only true successes or failures are story-based.

Let’s first look at the mechanics. Game designers, take note. As a DM, you may want to balance your encounter or campaign to be easy, even, or hard. I don’t care which; that’s not the point. The point is that you want a certain “balance,” which I’m using as a general term that doesn’t necessarily mean having a 50% chance of success. If a game is designed such that a 3rd-level PC is expected to have a +1 sword, then that disturbs your balance. It doesn’t do something cool like 4th edition frost brand weapon does. It simply increases your chances to hit by 5%. To keep the game balanced as you want it, the NPCs must have built within their mechanics a boost to defenses at 3rd-level (more or less). That means that the +1 bonus isn’t a bonus at all; it’s just keeping things consistent. Maybe you’re falling for that, but I’m not. I see it for the poorly-disguised illusion that it is. A frost brand weapon, on the other hand, allows (for example) a fighter to become a wizard for just a moment or two by giving the fighter a limited-use blast attack. It’s not enough to steal the wizard’s thunder, but enough to mix things up a bit. It’s a far more legitimate reward, though even that is still a bit illusory (just not as noticeably). It also allows the fighter to get a nice boost of damage against cold-vulnerable NPCs (if the game designers would ever create such creatures!), which mechanically is balanced by the fighter’s reduced damage against cold-resistant creatures. Thus, the reward is that the fighter has yet another avenue to get their moment to shine within the story. That’s much closer to a real reward.

The same can be said of encounters. If you’re trying to sneak by a campsite but get caught, you have an extra fight on your hands. Worse, if they’re able to sound the alarm to their allies, you have a single fight on your hands against, let’s say, 25 opponents. Levels don’t matter at that point. Even 25 kobolds 5 levels below you will likely be unstoppable. So, what does the DM do? He fudges it. He has the kobolds choose poor tactics by not all rushing the PCs, or he eliminates an encounter or two so that this extra encounter doesn’t upset the balance. Sure, the math allows some wiggle room here, but not a lot. Too many encounters, and you’re facing an inevitable TPK simply because you stepped on a dry twig. Because DMs don’t allow for a single twig to result in a TPK, the punishment is also illusory.

Something Real

So, what’s a real reward or punishment? A story-based one. Let’s say you’re approaching that same campfire, but the kobolds have prisoners. The prisoners are commoners who have no money, no information, and aren’t even important enough to have names. If you immediately charge, one of commoners gets their throat slit before you get there. If you’re sneaking but step on that dry twig, a few get their throats slit. Before you know it, you’ve got a lot of dead kobolds, but also a lot of dead commoners. That shouldn’t be seen as a victory despite the dead kobolds. Instead, the dead commoners should be your punishment for your failure. The more that die, the greater your failure. After all, aren’t you adventuring to save the world (assuming it’s not an evil campaign)? Unfortunately, commoners aren’t a concern to anyone unless they find enjoyment in immersing themselves in the game world. I haven’t met many of you that truly do, or perhaps most of you (like me) have resigned yourself to how things are done, so you don’t play that way despite it being your preference. I don’t know what’s in your heads; I can only guess based on your words and actions, and I’ve never heard anyone voice these specific concerns. Many adventure and game system writers don’t write that way either. Ergo, gaming has grated on me, and I no longer enjoy playing. The one time a year I do is at Winter Fantasy, but if I play too much, I get into a bad mood.

End Rant

That’s it. Rant over. I hope that explains my position. Please keep in mind that if all of this is falling on deaf ears, that’s fine. You don’t have to agree. None of you owe me a game played the way I want it played. If I’m not enjoying the game, I’ll find something else to do. We can still catch a movie together when the pandemic passes. That’d be fun. I rarely drink, so I can be the designated driver if necessary. 🙂

Side Note: 4th Edition D&D

In response to something someone said to me on Facebook, I’ll add that I love 4th edition. It’s my favorite edition of D&D. Despite the way I want to play, and even though it’s largely a combat simulator, I really enjoyed it. The math and logic were largely normalized, meaning you could focus on story above the math, which was easily dealt with as you went along. I wish more people took advantage of that. Instead, I think people prefer the convoluted, illusory math because they want that to be their focus. If true, that’s rather ironic considering the primary criticism of 4th edition is that it’s too rules heavy. But now I’m just picking fights. 🙂

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Travelling Through the Star Trek Universe, Part III. Viewing Notes on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. @StarTrek @Hulu #StarTrek #movie

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This is an important movie to me. As always, I’m going to be vague about why. There was a time when, for better or worse (worse, really, but necessary), I asserted my “independence.” This movie was part of that in a strange way. I will say that this is the first movie I saw in the theaters because I got on a bus, rode up to the (now closed) Aspen Hill movie theater, and bought a ticket with my own money. Twice. So, this movie is really important to me for reasons that don’t apply to any of you. Nevertheless, based on everything I’ve heard, I couldn’t believe how good its numbers are. Though I’m not sure how “scientific” Rotten Tomatoes is, I’m certain our personal experiences are even less so, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. Here are my viewing notes.

This movie starts with such high hopes, having us relive the most heartbreaking loss in Star Trek history.

That cadet that wanted a ceremony was a dingbat.

Christopher Lloyd was awesome as Kruge, and as with the Reliant, it was cool to see a new type of Klingon ship.

Are the Klingons still using 8-track tapes?

Why would anyone deal with the Klingons knowing they kill anyone working with them? Oh, wait I know why. Because the script says so.

The existence of Spacedock was also a no-brainer, but it was still cool to see it. The Excelsior was even better. As I said in yesterday’s Wrath of Khan post (and just above), it was neat to see other ship designs that we know must exist. The Excelsior represented the future as far as we knew; same-but-different. Who cares if Scotty liked it? The FASA Star Trek RPG really scratched that itch, but there’s nothing like seeing it on the big screen.

Scotty learning of his new assignment wasn’t the last time Starfleet told personnel their new assignments in casual conversation.

Hey, I know that Klingon!

Was Maltz once a prosecutor for the Klingon Empire?

And here’s another one: The USS Grissom. Another same-but-different design.

David’s hatred for Kirk was intense in the novelization, but in the movie, his brief interaction was polite. None of his thoughts on the matter were explored because there wasn’t any time to do so. The same can be said for David’s romantic relationship with Saavik, which wasn’t even hinted at in this movie. I remember a scene where they were criticized for taking the risky move of holding hands while being transported. Even more, Saavik’s Romulan side came out in the book. She was ferocious when provoked.

Hey, I know that Klingon!

As I mentioned yesterday, the novelization of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan didn’t have the “remember” scene in it.

Admiral Morrow was a dope. How can he not understand “Vulcan mysticism”? He must have witnessed neck pinches and, more importantly, mind melds. Plus, his mustache sucks, though it could be worse.

The highlight of Allan Miller’s career.

“How many fingers do I have up.”
“It’s his revenge for all those arguments he lost.”
“Up your shaft.”

🙂

I remember an interview with Nichelle Nichols. She was initially disappointed in the size of her role. She thought it was too small but eventually was happy with it considering how important it was. The novelization went into her role much more deeply.

I hoped we’d see James B. Sikking again. The reason we didn’t is because Sulu took over as captain of the Excelsior. In fact, in the novel, he was already assigned to do so. As they were stealing the Enterprise, Sulu reflected on how he was throwing away that opportunity. This also explains why This brings up an anecdote. George Takei lobbied heavily for Sulu to become captain of his own ship. I remember Howard Stern making fun of him for it, saying, “You realize that Sulu becoming captain of another ship means you’re out of a job, right?” Takei stood firm. I guess it worked out. By the time he got the Excelsior, it was this crew’s final movie.

So, they find a young Spock. That raises an issue for me. When Spock’s consciousness goes back into his body, what happens to the personality of the new Spock. However briefly he existed, he’s a separate person. Is the new Spock wiped out, or are the two personalities merged? What are the ethical ramifications either way?

That Klingon dog was ridiculous.

“Range, 5,000 killicams.” Why? Why are they speaking entirely in English but use a Klingon unit of measurement? They’re speaking Klingon, of course, and we’re hearing what we would assuming there was a universal translator present. Wouldn’t the universal translator also translate the range into units we’d understand?

The conversation between Kirk and his son, David, was the most cordial David was regarding Kirk in the novel. Then David dies, and Saavik says, “Admiral, David is dead.” After that, she goes nuts and attacks the Klingons. This is what I was referring to when I said she was ferocious.

I was hoping Kirk would say, “No tricks once on board.” That would have been a good call out to the Original Series episode, Day of the Dove. That reminds me: Kang is currently running around somewhere in the Klingon Empire.

Beaming down to a dying planet was a risky plan.

Klingons are like the Drow in D&D. Their society and psyche could never work in the real world, but we overlook that because they’re cool. That is, if Klingon captains are so eager to die, you won’t have many qualified captains running around. Deep Space Nine pulled back on that a little bit, but perhaps not enough. They are cool though.

You know, Kirk left the remaining Klingons on the planet knowing they’d die.

The refusion scene had me thinking about Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Boy did that drag even though it really wasn’t that long. They wanted to give you the feeling that it took hours, but the verisimilitude was broken because no one left to pee. The same could be said about Spock wandering around in a confused state (except the peeing part). Overall, though, a good ending.

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Travelling Through the Star Trek Universe, Part II. Viewing Notes on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. @StarTrek @Hulu #StarTrek #TWoK #movie

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Continuing my revisit of all the Star Trek movies brings me to the gold standard of sci-fi movies, liked by virtually everyone that saw it. This entry is a little shorter than the last, not so much because the movie is shorter, but because I kept getting distracted. I wanted to watch the movie itself.

In an early version of the script, the opening scene took place in the middle of the movie, so it wasn’t a surprise. I’m glad it didn’t stay there.

Everyone I’ve ever heard say the name of the Kobayashi Maru pronounces it ma-RU. I do so myself. It’s actually pronounced MA-ru. Aren’t we all stupid?

If one photon torpedo can take out your helmsman, your ship’s design sucks. Depending on whom you ask, ordinary cars of today make the driver’s seat the safest place in a car.

Saavik seems irritated. So illogical. Of course, in the novelization it’s revealed that she’s half Romulan.

Shatner is such a wonderfully shitty actor.

The Reliant was wonderful. Not only was it a cool design in general, but it was also the first starship design we saw that wasn’t a Constitution or Enterprise class. Sometimes all it takes is a single piece of data to inspire your imagination to run wild and fill in the gaps they don’t have time to provide. The FASA Star Trek RPG helped me in that regard.

The Reliant’s scanners suck. Weather notwithstanding, how did they think that a bunch of humanoids and cargo carriers were just a single “particle of pre-animate matter”? Their computers must also have sucked. How did they not know that there was a colony of genetic supermen living on the planet next door? When Terrell and Chekov saw the cargo carriers, they should have figured it out. *sigh* The things we tolerate for drama. And yes, I know Chekov never met Khan, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t know the story. He served on the Enterprise for years after that incident, which was a matter of Starfleet record. That part was not a continuity error.

Now that’s what I call an earwig.

When I was a kid watching this in 1983 (when it hit TV), I was confused by Spock referring to Saavik as “Mr. Saavik.” I thought, “Wait, is that a dude?” I should have figured it out. My favorite episode of any Star Trek series is Balance of Terror, and in it an officer refers to a female subordinate as “mister.” The subordinate happens to be his fiancee. The FASA Star Trek RPG taught me the generic use of that term. Never underestimate the educational value of RPGs.

Piloting a ship out of space dock? I never thought the buildup was worth the payoff. I’m sure I could do it. All Saavik did was say, “Hey, you guys, do your jobs,” and everyone else did all the work. Managers think way too much of themselves.

Khan’s followers know how to talk to him: Appeal to his inflated ego.

I never forgot an interview that Ricardo Montalban did on the character. A specific part always stayed with me: Basing his approach to the character on this overwhelming rage that built up over 15 years or so.

Go to 3:12 to hear what I’m referencing.

A jump scene (bloody arms) immediately after a fake jump scene (door opening to Kirk’s face)? Not scary.

“But he was late. He had to get back to Reliant in time to blow you to bits.”

Was that supposed to be a joke? It wasn’t funny. It didn’t even appear to be an attempt at funny. What an odd line.

The worm thing continued to scream even after it was liquified by Kirk’s phaser. Duh.

As I said, Shatner is such a wonderfully shitty actor.

I was annoyed about a scene in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. In Kirk’s talk about his cheat on the Kobayashi Maru (yeah, I just said that in my head as ma-RU), he mentions that he received a commendation for original thinking. The fact that the universe was rebooted doesn’t explain why Star Fleet would swing 180° and place him on suspension.

“Explain it to them.”

Yeah, okay, since you’re threatening to kill us, we’ll stop going into the nebula. We’ll stay out here so that you can kill us more easily. Not much of a threat, huh?

Kirk also knows how to talk to Khan: Appeal to his inflated ego.

The way Kirk beat Khan was perfect. Exploit the fact that he’s from the 21st century, and thus doesn’t think three-dimensionally. (We’re all assuming there are no aircraft pilots among Khan’s bridge crew.)

After seeing Star Trek III and reading the novelization, I went back to the novelization of this movie. It confirmed my recollection: The “remember” wasn’t in the book. How could a book not have something important that the movie did?

As a kid, I was disappointed that Khan didn’t see Kirk get away. Then I grew up and shed such prideful notions.

Spock’s death was heartbreaking, especially for a kid watching it.

On a final note, I think it’s appropriate to provide this visual.

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: THE LAST DAYS OF MADELINE KAHN
It’s “Wrath of Khan,” not “Wrath of Kahn.”

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Ice Cream is for Suckers #dnd #rpg #gaming

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Sundays are now lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work or just do something silly. Today, it’s something I saw on Facebook.

ToHIceCream.jpg

Sometimes, you just want to hack and slash, but fair warning: So does the DM.

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I’m Playing Again! (Until I Get Sick of It.) #DnD #RPG #Theros

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I was invited to an online, 5e D&D game with some friends. The recent release of Mythic Odysseys of Theros inspired me to accept. Our first session was last night. I’m playing a leonine (anthropomorphic lion) fighter modeled after the archetypical Spartan. Dory spear, xiphos, loin cloth; all the trimmings.

The character, Grexes, has been transported through space and time by the blacksmith god, Purphoros, from the world of Theros to the Forgotten Realms. His quirk: He speaks in riddles. For example, when he went to the bar, he asked the host for that which has four legs but cannot run (table, though chair works). As a player, this is hard to pull off, but that’s a good thing. I won’t be able to overdo it to the point it becomes annoying. I also sprinkle in Greek care of Google Translate. For example, I refer to Waterdeep as the most splendid polis I’ve ever seen. This also isn’t overdone because Grexes is notably learning Common through divine inspiration. Being from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, he otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Bestiary: Wrath of the Titans, Part I (of 1) #dnd #rpg

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Better late than never?

I wrote this in 2012 but never published it. I wanted to finish Part II before doing so, but I never really learned how to create artifacts in 4th Edition D&D, so that never happened. It’s been sitting in my Drafts folder for 8 years and 9 days. Just in case anyone is playing 4th edition and can make use of these high-paragon to epic level NPC stat blocks, and/or my take on their history, here they are. I’m not optimistic, but this “quarantine life” finds me posting a lot of material. Warning: I haven’t proofread this other than to delete a dead link. 🙂

In 2010, Wizards of the Coast published Dragon 178, and in it was an article that provided 4th Edition material for the creatures that appeared in the remake of Clash of the Titans. With the release of the sequel, Wrath of the Titans, it’s time for a sequel to the article. This article contains the stat blocks for the creatures that appeared in the movie. Part II will provide the artifacts that appeared in the movie: Zeus’s Thunderbolt, Hades’ Pitchfork, Poseidon’s Trident, and the Spear of Triam, as well as the stat block for Kronos himself.

These creatures are built based in large part on how they were portrayed in Wrath of the Titans. Obviously, the movie took (far too many) liberties with the legends, and at times the legends themselves contradict, so don’t expect a perfect congruence between the creatures as presented here and your personal understanding of their legendary counterparts. FYI, a third movie is planned. May Tharizdum have mercy on our souls.

The Chthonic Cyclopes of Hephaestus

My depth perception may be lacking, but that doesn’t matter when I swing for the fences.

Hephaestus guarded himself with three Cyclopes, a father and his two sons. These giants aren’t by any means evil, but as brutes, they tend to fire, ready, and aim in that order. They represent a good test of character for PCs that might take the same approach. Sometimes tact is the best weapon you have. If that fails, they’ll never attack someone wielding Poseidon’s Trident.

Lore

Arcana 37: Chthonic Cyclopes are master blacksmiths that aid Hephaestus in his work. Though not inherently evil, they’re territorial and fiercely protective of their master. They will attack first and ask questions later, but they will certainly

Encounters

The Chthonic Cyclops is the epitome of a brute, charging into battle against any sentient creature daring to intrude upon Hephaestus’s island sanctuary. It will use Hurl Foliage to toss tree trunks at its opponents until it has entered melee range, then switching to Sweeping Club to lay waste to its enemies.  For lower-level characters, they represent an opportunity to negotiate a truce in the heat of battle by way of a skill challenge. For higher-level characters, they represent a good test of character for PCs that might be inclined to immediately attack. Sometimes tact is the best weapon you have. If that fails, they’ll never attack someone wielding Poseidon’s Trident.

Wolf-Chimeras

Look, people. Special effects difficulty goes up exponentially by the number of heads you put on these things. Three heads of different animal types is just too much to ask of the filmmaker.

Unlike their better-known, worldly cousins, these creatures have only two heads, both of which are that of wolves that can spew ignited venom. Additionally, their tails end in serpent’s head that packs a poisonous bite.

Lore

Religion 32: Residents of the underworld, these immortal beasts serve Hades as a reminder of the order of things. Their master, god of the Underworld, Hades, relies upon the fear of mortals to feed his divinity, and uses Wolf-Chimeras as a source of that fear.  Hades occasionally sends these creatures to the World to random places at random times, leaving its residents in constant state of fear. The resultant carnage can weaken a city’s resources, or forever wipe remote villages from the World.

Encounters

Wolf-Chimeras are used by gods of the underworld to strike the occasional chord of fear. However, they occasionally serve as an initial wave of attack in a war against humanity, serving as a harbinger of much worse things to come.

Tactics

A Wolf-Chimera begins combat by closing the gap with Ferocious Leap. The Wolf-Chimera will use Flaming Venom whenever available, but will otherwise use double attack to do as much damage as possible.

The Tartaran Minotaur

The ancient Greeks had no concept of dentistry. Even the gods couldn’t fix my teeth.

The greatest of minotaurs guards the greatest of mazes. With a spirit-filled maze, Tarterus, as its domain, this already fearsome creature knows exactly how to strike fear into the hearts of its enemies, then tears them to pieces with his natural weapons.

Lore

Religion 35: When Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon commissioned Hephaestus to create the prison-maze of Tartarus, the architect knew that a guardian was needed. Knowing of the affinity minotaurs have for mazes, Hephaestus chose from among their greatest warriors the honor of immortality, all for the small price of eternal damnation. It took very little time for the guardian’s rage to cross into the realm of insanity, but his insanity didn’t stand in the way of complete mastery of his domain. He uses its effects to full advantage.

If we have to be miserable, we’re taking you down with us!

Encounters

The great maze of Tartarus houses the souls of those who lived treacherous lives. These souls find little solace in their eternal existence and savor the rare opportunity to feed off the fear of the living that pass through their prison. They accomplish this feat by uncovering the greatest fear from within the minds of their targets and enhancing it. The Tartaran Minotaur takes full advantage of the crippling effect this causes.

Tactics

The Tartaran Minotaur attacks with its bare hands and horns. It attempts to gain surprise — a feat made relatively easy by its surroundings and at-will invisibility — and attack an unsuspecting target with its Teleporting Slam. Once isolated with its prey, the Tartaran Minotaur stays hidden the shadows, slipping in and out of invisibility, and doing extra damage from the resulting combat advantage.

Soldier of Kronos

When not waging war, we make great Vegomatics(TM)

When Kronos formally launches his war against humanity, he will be preceded into battle by the damned souls of long-dead soldiers, some of whom are fused into a single being.

Lore

Religion 31: When a great soldier dies, he becomes a leader in Hades’ army. When a mediocre soldier dies, his life force is joined to another in the hopes that together they will serve competently as foot soldiers in that army. Accordingly, these dual-torso soldiers serve as the first line of attack in the war waged upon residents of the World by the god of the underworld.

Encounters

Soldiers of Kronos protect Kronos from harm while he remains imprisoned. As Kronos emerges from the underworld to begin his war against humanity, he hurls Soldiers of Kronos onto the battlefield before him, where they weaken his enemy’s forces by literally slicing through their ranks.

Tactics

The Soldier of Kronos is thrown onto the battlefield by Kronos. Upon landing, it uses Cinder Strike to burn all in its range, then immediately hurls itself into battle using Rain of Steel. It constantly moves across the battlefield, attacking a different target each round. It focuses on a single target only if no other targets remain.

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Pinned Post: Looking at My Stats and Revisiting My #RPG #Copyright Posts

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The quarantine has me doing a bit of blogging lately, which means I’m also looking at my stats. With respect to my posts regarding copyright and RPGs:

The posts are broken into two separate issues. Part 1 and part 2 are about the copyrightability of RPG stat blocks, and part 3 (not relevant here) is about the OGL. As to the first issue, to date, part 1 represents ~30% of text by page count and has 17,037 hits (edit 10/20/2020: 17,667 hits), whereas part 2 (70%) has only 704 hits (edit 10/20/2020: 802 hits). Moreover, part 1 spends much of its text on going over basic copyright principles that don’t represent the actual argument. It’s clear by the stats and the basis of the criticism itself (often peppered with personal insults) that the vast majority of (non-lawyer) criticism I’ve received is from people that have read only 30% (at most) of that argument. I know it’s long, convoluted, and at times poorly written (mostly because it targets two very different audiences); and you’re under no obligation to read it (or even care about it). However, it’s all connected, and if you’re going to criticize it, you should probably understand it first.

Or not. Free speech and all that.

Endnotes:

  • Part 3 has only 703 hits (edit 10/20/2020: 849 hits), which is surprising. I thought it would be the most read post.
  • Part 3.5 provides necessary clarification and correction to Part 3.
  • Part 4 answers frequently ask questions and addresses frequently raised issues.
  • Over on a lawyers-only subreddit, the attorneys seemed to want to discuss only my side note on patentability of the Shadow of the Demon Lord initiative system. I guess it’s great that they all agree that my argument is trivially correct, but Rob Schwalb has seriously hijacked my glory. I let him have it when I saw him last February.

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