15 December 2017

The Last Jedi is solid


So I just saw The Last Jedi... Here is brief (spoiler-free) review.

It’s a fun film. Like The Force Awakens, it captures the spirit of the original trilogy. Unlike TFA, it does not retell a story we’ve seen already.

The acting is strong—especially Adam Driver as ‘Kylo Ren’. And it has some nice humourous moments in it. ‘General Hux’ (played by Domhnall Gleeson) in particular is delightful.

But it’s a little too long. The middle drags a bit. Fortunately, it ends with a bang—and has some nice twists in it.

Of the new Star Wars films, I think it’s the second best one so far. (Rogue One remains my favourite—indeed, it’s tied with The Empire Strikes Back as my favourite Star Wars episode of all time.)

In short, The Last Jedi is definitely worth seeing if you like the ‘Star Wars’ universe (even if only to moderate degree).

I give it 8.6 (out of 10).

11 December 2017

Best pint in R'lyeh?


So I had a pint of the "Blood of Cthulhu" Imperial stout tonight. (Once I spotted it on the board at The Oxley, how could I not? I'm akratic!)

It had a nice flavour: dark chocolate, cherry, and tart. Also, it packed a subtle punch (9.5% alc.).

It's definitely not a "session" drink: far too rich for that. But it's a nice way to finish a delicious meal.

When it arrived, however, I didn't know whether to say "Sláinte" or "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"!

06 December 2017

I want my MTV (Middle-earth television)

A few weeks ago I mentioned here that Amazon is set to produce a series (perhaps more than one) set in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Moreover, the focus will be on events distinct from either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.

As I mentioned then, I think that there are many great potential stories to be developed out of the appendices of the LotR, Unfinished Tales, and (especially) The Silmarillion.

This article makes a similar point:
Like the LOTR appendixes and Unfinished Tales, The Silmarillion has little of the depth and detail found in LOTR or The Hobbit, but all three contain material with marvellous potential. There is the tragic tale of Beren and Luthien, whose romance is set against the backdrop of the quest for the Silmarils; there is the epic story of Elendil and Isildur; and the rise of Sauron and the forging of the nine rings. These stories may be slender in print, but they are surely rich in televisual potential. 
So I'm not alone in my hopes for the new Middle-earth television series. (Phew!) In fact, if The Silmarillion is in play, there are many, many great stories to be told...

05 December 2017

Mirkwood Adventure 1: Discovery of the Spider Orb

Year 2946 of the Third Age


Early May:

Over the course of several days, Hengil (Dúnedan Warden), Ulvmund Galmund (Barding Warrior), and Hartmut Hare-Eye (Beorning Wanderer), separately arrive in Esgaroth. They learn that notices of jobs for ‘mercenaries’, ‘adventurers’, and the like can be found in the Adventurers’ Hall within the Town-Hall Quarter.

Mid-May:

Hengil, Ulvmund, and Hartmut all read the following notice within the Adventurers’ Hall:
“Wanted: Help for the village Ulgarstat near the great wood! Gold reward! Those with strong swords, hunters’ eyes, and valiant hearts are to inquire at The Golden Gull on Bridge Street.”
That evening the three men go to The Golden Gull, where the innkeeper—a great bear of a man named ‘Baldur Baldurson’—directs them to a table in a secluded corner of the common room. At the table are two emissaries from Ulgarstat: a fair-haired young man named ‘Guntar Resticsard’ and his friend, the tall and dark ‘Aecstan’. Introductions are made—the adventurers learn something of each other and their backgrounds.

Guntar explains that he is the son of Ulgar Resticsard, the founder and leader of the village Ulgarstat. (Ulgarstat was settled on a strip of rich farmland at the very edge of Mirkwood, amidst some smaller forests, about a decade ago. It is roughly a day’s march from Lake-town.) His reason for wanting to hire some adventurers is that a number of people have gone missing around the village in recent months. Two months ago a farmer who lived nearby, to the north of the village, disappeared en route Ulgastat. Three weeks later, a peddler left Ulgarstat, announcing his plan to visit the farm of ‘Wessun Fraelsen’ to the north. The peddler never arrived. Ulgar and Wessun tracked the peddler as far as they could along the wooded trail between Ulgarstat and Wessun’s farm. Wagon tracks led halfway up the trail, and then disappeared into the forest. The two men found the wagon, but though they searched the woods around it, they could find no other signs of horse or peddler. Two weeks later, three young men went game hunting up the northern trail. When they didn’t return for supper, their fathers and brothers went after them. No trace of any of the three was found.

[Hartmut]

Aecstan claims that it is likely wolves that are causing the disappearances. Wolves had attacked the village twice in the past year. In response, six months ago a wooden palisade was built around Ulgarstat. To this claim Guntar remarks that while this may be the case, no bodies have been found…

The following day the party travels to Ulgarstat with Guntar and Aecstan. It is a short, uneventful journey, and they reach the hamlet in the early evening. At Ulgarstat, the company learns from Ulgar Retiscard (the leader of Ulgarstat) and his friend the farmer Wessun Fraelsen, of the recent disappearance of Runnal Retiscard (1st son of Ulgar) and Currael (oldest daughter of Wessun).  The party’s mission is now urgent!

Early the next morning the company—along with Ulgar, Wesson, Guntar, and Aecstan—follow the trail north toward the Fraelsen farm. The group soon reaches the site where the peddler’s wagon was found a few weeks ago. No tracks are found, but sharp-eyed Hartmut spots some webbing high in the trees, glistening in the sunlight.

Leaving the villagers behind, the trio of heroes follows the silky strands deeper into the forest. As the green canopy above them casts the company into twilight, they discover a region covered in thick webs. It is a ‘web fortress’—thick webs drape a line of trees, creating a malevolent mound. Ulvmund and Hartmut react to the sight with profound horror [they gain a shadow point each].

[Map of the area around Ulgarstat]

Recovering from his unmanly fright, Ulvmund sneaks around the mound. While doing so, he hears creatures muttering and moving. He also notices a rotting hollow log that seems to penetrate the web mound—it provides a web-free ‘tunnel’ through the morass of sticky strands.

[Ulvmund]

The company deliberates what to do next. But their conference is interrupted when two hideous spiders the size of large wolves attack! Hartmut and Hengil are paralyzed by the spiders’ poison. Fortunately, the Valar smile upon the companions as Ulmund slays one spider, and the other flees. Hengil recovers from his bite, while Ulvmund manages to draw the poison out of Hartmut.

Deciding to act before another ambush, Hengel crawls through the rotting hollow log, followed by Hartmut and Ulvmund. A dimly lit hollow is revealed. Two more great spiders drop from the ceiling of webs! But Hengil speaks words of encouragement to his companions [‘Gift of the Warden’ is granted to Ulvmund and Hartmut]. Hearts filled with valour, the fight progresses well, and the spiders are slain by Ulvmund and Hartmut.

[Map of the Spider Mound]

The companions search the interior of the foul mound. They find cocoons hanging from a tree in the northeast corner. Within the cocoons Runnal and Currael are found—damaged but alive!

Also discovered: a stone pedestal on which is mounted a jet-black orb. On the orb is written something in Quenya. Alas, none of the heroes can read the High Elvish tongue. Hengil takes the orb—and immediately feels nauseated by its malignant aura [suffers corruption]. The party also finds a small locked chest amidst the rubbish and rotting corpses that litter the floor of the spider mound.

[Hengil]

Having rescued the missing villagers, the party rejoins Ulgar, Wesson, Guntar, and Aecstan. The group of nine promptly returns to Ulgarstat. There, the company is rewarded with some gold coins. Ulgar also writes a letter of recommendation for the party.

Thrilled by their first success at adventuring, Hengil, Hartmut, and Ulvmund return to Esgaroth. There they celebrate and make grand plans for the future. Still, the black orb disturbs their thoughts…



  • Notes:
  • The pictures of the characters are taken from Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide
  • The map of the region around Esgaroth is taken from ICE's Mirkwood
  • The other maps are taken from ICE's Denizens of the Dark Wood
  • The core elements of this adventure also were taken from Denizens (the spider orb is my own, however, and is connected to a larger plot...).


Altered Carbon trailer

I mentioned here almost 2 years ago (!) that Netflix was producing a series based on Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon novel. (I'm not sure if the other books in the 'Takeshi Kovacs' series will be covered.) And at long last ... the first trailer has arrived.

Enjoy!

26 November 2017

Living the dream?

There is an interesting article at Wired that readers of this blog may want to check out: “It’s a Living: Meet One of New York’s Best Professional D&D Dungeon Masters.” It profiles Timm Woods, a ‘professional DM.’

Some bits:
“Woods is … busy these days. He’s currently overseeing nine games a week, all of them focusing on either Dungeons & Dragons, or the kid-friendlier, D&D-influenced game Dungeon World. His clientele is made up of an assortment of armchair-adventuring adults, students, and families (including one with a few Oscar wins, though he’d prefer to keep their identity a secret). He’s spent the past few years doing all of this while also working to earn an RPG-related doctorate (his dissertation title: “Anything Can Be Attempted: Table-Top Role Playing Games as Learning and Pedagogy”).” 
“But while Woods is one of several DMs-for-hire out there, this isn’t his hobby or a side gig; it’s a living, and a pretty good one at that, with Woods charging anywhere from $250 to $350 for a one-off three-hour session (though he works on a sliding scale). For that price, Woods will not only research and plan out your game but also, if you become a regular, answer your occasional random text queries about wizard spells.”
Fifty or more dollars per player for a 3-hour session? Eh… that’s way too rich for my blood. But all the more power to Woods if he can support himself in this way. I have to confess that a part of me is envious.

However, I can’t imagine ever paying someone to DM a session. RPGs for me are a social activity among friends. ‘Employing’ a DM would change the dynamic at the table. It would alter an act of friendship—the creation and sharing of an idea, and the subsequent collaborative activity of determining how that idea develops, by the players and the DM together—into a commercial transaction.

Anyhow, it’s a fun article, despite some sloppy writing (e.g., “There are seven different dies, from four-sided to 20-sided”—um, ‘dice’ is the plural of ‘die’!) and the author’s occasional ignorance of the game about which he is writing (e.g., “skeletal beasties called Gnolls”—wtf?).

13 November 2017

Will Middle-earth be getting the ‘Game of Thrones’ treatment?


It looks like Amazon will be producing at least one series set in Middle-earth. And—interestingly—it appears that this series will not cover either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit stories:
The new series will explore Middle-earth in a time period before the events of The Lord of the Rings — but given that Galsor says that it will concern “previously unexplored stories,” we might not be looking at another adaptation of The Hobbit either. That leaves two options: Amazon could plumb the depths of the appendices of The Return of the King, potentially detailing the early romance of Aragorn and Arwen, the creation of the Rings of Power and the history of the line of kings from which Aragorn is descended. 
Or, in what would be more of a revelation for Tolkien fans — and provided that Amazon had also purchased the television rights to the author’s The Silmarillion — the series might have the entire history of Middle-earth from its creation to play with. Amazon’s press release does note that the deal with the Tolkien estate “includes a potential additional spin-off series.”
Regarding The Silmarillion: I was under the impression that Christopher Tolkien was 100% opposed to allowing anything like this to be done with it. (He loathed the LotR + Hobbit movies.) But I would be delighted if he has changed his mind!

Even if The Silmarillion isn’t covered, though, there is a goldmine of storylines in the LotR appendices. And since those storylines are quite sketchy, there would be more room for writers to be creative with them within the overall framework of Middle-earth.

As for Amazon hoping that this might be ‘their Game of Thrones’, I think that they should remain true to the distinctive character of Middle-earth. While the Akallabêth (the tale of the fall of Númenor) is kind of ‘GoT-ish’ (with it many nefarious actors and the Stark-sh House of Elendil), Middle-earth is much more black-and-white than the GoT world. That should be retained—if not emphasized—not downplayed. Viewers might be in the mood for such a change (especially given how GoT-ish the real world seems these days).

31 October 2017

Massachusetts 1920s – Call of Cthulhu 7e – Campaign Index

[A lovely cheesecake created by two of my players]

Since it’s Halloween I thought it appropriate to post (finally!) the index for my 7th edition Call of Cthulhu campaign.

The campaign actually has been on hiatus for several months now. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll return to it, as I’m focused more on my Middle-earth campaign right now, and a friend is planning on running the Laundry RPG soon. But since the Cthulhu campaign did go quite well (only one character death!) and was a lot of fun, it would be a pity if I didn’t finish the scenario summaries and post links to everything related to it on this blog.

So here is the index (to be updated when I post the final summaries)…

7th Edition (‘non-campaign’) posts:

·       Some initial impressions of the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu.

·       I ran the ‘one-shot’ adventure ‘Missed Dues’ at the 2016 Loz Con.

The Investigators:

  • Bertrand Smyth. Lecturer in Archaeology. Originally from London.
o       Visiting lecturer at Harvard University (1922-23); permanent lecturer at Miskatonic University (1923+).
o       Specializes in Ancient Greece.
o       A veteran of the Great War.
o       Cousin of Stephen Knott (property-owner and collector of rare artefacts).
o       A bit of a ‘fuddy-duddy’ (dresses in an unstylish Edwardian manner).

  • Max Brewster. Private Investigator. Bostonian (originally from Lowell MA).
o       A forty-ish, slightly greasy, gumshoe.
o       A specialist in dodgy divorce cases.
o       Plenty of street smarts, but little formal education.

  • Helen Tilton. Freelance photographer and journalist.
o       Originally from Toronto.
o       Sometimes works for the Boston Globe.
o       Has Marxist sympathies.

  • Kellen Tilton. Football coach at Miskatonic University.
o       Originally from Toronto.
o       Brother of Helen.
o       A veteran of the Great War.

The Massachusetts scenarios:

Except for the first one (which is a classic that has been around since the beginning of CoC), all of the adventures that I ran for this campaign are new for the 7th edition. After the each summary I provide some general reflections on the adventure.

·       The Haunting (September 1922).

·       Dead Light (late November 1922).

·       Blackwater Creek (September 1923). [Summary coming soon.]

·       Crimson Letters (October 1924). [Summary coming soon-ish.]


Happy Halloween!


06 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 is very good


So I just saw Blade Runner 2049Here are some immediate reactions (no spoilers!):

·       It’s very good. I give it a 9.7 out of 10.

·       But…it’s not as good as the original (well, maybe as good as the initial theatrical release, the one with cheesy voice-over and the tacked-on happy ending, but not as good as either the ‘Director’s Cut’ or the ‘Final Cut’).

·       While not as good as the original, Blade Runner 2049 nonetheless builds interestingly on the original; it does not detract from the power of the original by ‘ruining’ elements of the world (so think ‘Aliens’ not ‘Highlander 2’).

·       It’s visually stunning. In this respect, it is equal to the original (though of course that’s not a fair comparison, given the greater budget and technical power available for the sequel). 

·       The world-creation is amazing—just as it was in the original, but the new film expands the world in interesting ways by going places (geographically, intellectually, and visually) that the original did not.

·       The acting is uniformly excellent.

·       The story is compelling. Perhaps there are some holes, but nothing leapt out at me while watching the film.

·       The music is good, but not quite the equal of the original Vangelis score. Towards the end of the film it became slightly distracting.

So overall it’s a great film. See it! As a sequel, though, it doesn’t quite capture the ‘lightning in a bottle’ of the original. But it is a very worthy follow-up. I certainly plan to watch it again soon…

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.