The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 8: Exeunt

After a long break, we were finally able to play our 13th Age game again on November 9.

Now, after a rather long delay, I can write what happened.

Our cast continues to be as follows:

Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
Zeema (as always, the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Legolis, the High Elf Ranger
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer, and
Yoshi Antien, the Samurai flavored Half-Elf Fighter

The one sad note was that our friend who plays Yoshi was not able to make it to play and has had, for the time being, to drop out of the game. You will see that we found a path for Yoshi to take so that he may wander back into our adventures at a later time. Until then, we wish him, and more importatntly our friend, safe travels and good fortune until we meet again.

At the end of the last session, the heroes stood triumphant over the undead guardians of the Accursed Magic Spear Alkaarg, and also over their rival, Seth, who had sought the spear for his own dark purposes.

In the aftermath, the debate of whether to proceed away with their prize immediately, or to see if there was more stuff to loot became the topic of discussion.

Dark Paladin Delthen represented the "loot" faction, suggesting that they set a modest time limit and try to grab as much stuff as they could in the unexplored portions of the dungeon.

Zeema and Rolen argued that it was improtant to get out with the spear while they could.

Indigo added that they could do something to collapse the stairs behind them so as to seal other explorers out and keep whatever else was down there in.

The NPC Brother Crommard was, in the meantime, going through the room as a fascinated scholar of Orcish culture and history, exclaiming at this and that. Nuri, the apprentice workman trailed along. They slowly made their way forward to the throne upon which Mondru, Fourth of His Name, had rested all these centuries.

Taking a break from the argument of "stay and loot" or "go while the going is good," Delthen chopped off Seth's hand to keep as a grisly prize. The Owlbear, Who-grrl, meantime began to act very agitated and hungry. Zeema attempted to call on her experience travelling with a meanagerie to calm the beast, but to no avail. Who-grrl was tired, wounded and hungry, and she wanted to EAT RIGHT NOW! Half-Orc pastry chef and sometimes warrior, Hey Watchit, stepped in, distracting the Owlbear by wrapping one brawny arm around its neck, and then shoving his remaining supplies of pastries (chiefly croissants) down the beast's maw. This temporarily mollified the murderous beast. There was some discussion of whether Who-grrl should be encouraged to eat Seth's corpse, but the general feeling was that giving her encouragement to eat a humanoid would set a bad precedent for everyone else.

During all of this, Brother Crommard and Nuri had made their way, at last, to examine Mondru's throne. Crommard noticed that a metal plate was set into the seat of the throne. Before he could touch it, there was a brief scuffle and Nuri pushed Crommard aside to take up the plate himself. Members of the party saw that the plate was etched with lines, like a map. A moment after Nuri took up the plate, there was a bright flash, and many of the party that witnessed it, saw in the afterglow the symbol of the Prince of Shadows. Nuri and the plate were gone.

Everyone interpreted this event as a reason to pack up and head out quickly.

The took the stairs from the Orcish level, up to the underground level that had been built in old Imperial times, but repurposed first by Elves and later by Mondru's Orcs. They decided to seal off the lowest level with a ritual that would place illusion and a deadly trap over the entrance to the deep dungeon. After some discussion at the table, the players decided that the "ingredients" of the ritual included spears (of which there were many in the dungeon), reflective surfaces (they polished some pots) to dazzle, and poison that disoriented. The illusion was to be woven like a spider's web, and a "sting" powered by Spirits of the Righteous provided the punch to anyone who would seek to pierce the veil. Spirit Touched Cerise cast the main ritual, and Gnome Cleric Indigo, a spider expert, helped with the weaving of the enchantment. After that was completed, they decided to exit up the main stairs from the first subterrainean level back to the fort.

The fort was mostly smoldering ruins at this point, but it still presented some obstacle to easily exiting it's courtyard. After some work, they made their way out. Who-grrl had simply muscled her way through the rubble and over partially collapsed walls and headed out to find food (that was not the adveturing party).

Then, they found their mounts gone, having seemingly broken off their tethers. Briefly they wondered if Who-grrl was to blame, but the signs indicated something else. In the distance, they could see a massive amount of smoke from where the town of Awad must be burning.

Yoshi whistled for his mount, and it just showed up. None of the other mounts did. He saddled up and rode off to find the other animals. The others got moving.

Rolen sent up his familiar, the Raven they affectiuonately call "GPS." The Raven returned with disturbing news. A pack of Kobolds and a continent of Orcs were heading towards them. They decided to hide and either let the monsters pass, or attack by ambush.

Not everything went exactly to plan. The High Elf Ranger, Legolis, got them all situated on the far side of a hill, hunkered down. But a sharp-eyed Kobold Archer spotted Legolis and sounded the alarm. Everyone rolled initiative and started combat.

Round 1

Legolis, Lief, and the Kobold Archers all acted at once. Legolis let fly with one of his precious Twin Arrows, six of which had been gifted him by Yoshi. He rolled a hit and a miss, but rerolled the miss with his Archery and hit killing three Kobold mooks. Lief began his Battle Chant, but failed to hit a Kobold with his magic. The Kobold Archers put three arrows into Legolis, but all other attacks missed, and one fubled due to the power of Lief's magic hood.

Zeema initiated her Shadow Walk.

Delthen killed two Kobold Warriors with his Smite Evil.

Hey killed one Kobold and seriously injured another Kobold Warrior with his tree.

Rolen summoned his power to fire a jet of flame at the Kobolds, but failed.

Cerise, the Spirit Touched cleric summoned her Halo and then cast Javelin of Faith, however, with a fumble she became Daze because of the powerful presence of the divine which she had touched to cast her spell.

Indigo fired his heavy crossbow, but missed.

A troop of six Orc Archers then entered the battle and rolled very poorly for initiative for the next round.

Round 2 Escalation 1

Legolis, for the first time, successfully cast his Acid Arrow, instantly melting four of the six Orc mooks, and leaving the last two with ongoing acid damage.

Lief leveraged his Battle Chant to kill off a Kobold, and he also allowed Hey to pop free of engagement with a Battle Cry.

The Kobold Archers loosed their arrows, hitting Delthen, Legolis and Rolen.

Delthen attacked and missed. Hey attacked and missed. The Kobold Warriors attacked and missed.

Rolen failed his Elven Grace roll, and then failed his attack roll with his fiery attack.

Cerise missed with her Javelin of Faith.

One of the remaining Orc Archers managed to hit Rolen.

Indigo moved up to cast heal on Rolen and then fired off his Javelin of Faith hitting an Orc Archer.

Round 3 Escalation 2

Legolis loosed another of his Twin Arrows at the Kobold Archers, making one hit and one critical hit and causing devestation to the Orc Archers. Lief sang another Kobold to death with his Battle Chant. Kobold arrows missed Legolis, but a critical hit found its mark on Lief.

Zeema then returned from the shadows and attacked with Flying Blade, killing the last Kobold and ending the engagement.

The adventurers were then a a crossroad. Do they continue back on the side road to get to the main road, facing increasing danger of more Orc patrols? Do the head for the coast and try to proceed along the shore? Do they strike out through the rough overland terrain to take arrive at the main road while keeping the marauding Orcs at their back? After some deliberation, enough of them felt that they had wilderness experience to make it across the rough, wilderness terrain and catch the main road away from the main body of Orcs that burnt the town of Awad.

As they head into the wilderness, a Thrush, sent by the High Druid, came to Lief and communicated to him the best way to go. In return, he had to once again find Who-grrl the Owlbear and bring her to the main body of the Wild Woods. Delthen suggested that they pack along some of the Kobold bodies for her to eat. It seemed that Who-grrl was tame (ish) to Hey Watchit's hand, given the many pastries he had fed her, so between his calming influence, Zeema's menagerie experience and the Kobold kibble, Who-Grrl came along redily enough.

Finally, as they slept out under the stars, Lief had a dream granted by the Priestess. In it, he saw that Yoshi had gathered their mounts, and that the mounts would be waiting for them near the road. However, a ship had signalled Yoshi when he was gathering the mounts on the beach. A fast ship from the Imperial Capital Axis had found Yoshi through the Archemage's magic and Yoshi was summoned to imperial duties. He was reluctant to leave his friends, despite being honor-bound to heed the command of the Emperor. The Archemage's envoy used magic to guide the mounts to where Lief and the others would find them, and Yoshi left with the ship to find his way in the Capital.

The next day, the party found their mounts and saddled up to go back to Santa Cora.

Everyone leveled up to second level, the details of which will be worked out next game.

We are all going to miss Yoshi and our friend who plays him. We hope that someday Yoshi will come back into our stories.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

More Musical Inspiration for My 13th Age Dragon Empire

I have previously written about some musical inspiration for my 13th Age Campaign (see here).

Since I last wrote, a few more music tracks have made it into my essentials list, so I thought I would record them here.  I hope others may find these pieces as interesting and enjoyable as I do.

Artist Clannad
Album PastPresent
Title(s) Newgrange, Coinleach Ghlas an Fhomhair
Clannad is a quintessential band in the Celtic Folk revival that went beyond the reinvigoration of the old tradition (so capably done by other bands like the Chieftains) and on into creation of new forms of popular Celtic style music.  Some of their experiments showcased what could be best and worst about the so called "New Age" music, but mostly they just made really interesting and beautiful songs that laid the foundation for artists such as Enya (who is from the same family as the members of Clannad) and Loreena McKennit.  Clannad created some groundbreaking fantasy music for the 1980s series Robin of Sherwood, which is still, for my money, the best TV series ever done around the Robin Hood myth.  These two pieces, Newgrange and Coinleach Ghlas an Fhómhair are two beautiful songs that definitely speak to sounds one might find in my Dragon Empire, possibly in Concord, or the Wild Wood.

Artist Jack Wall
Album Mass Effect 2
Title Suicide Mission 
Usually, I keep my science fiction (Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc.) music and my epic fantasy music (Lord of the Rings, Willow, Conan, etc.) in different boxes.  Star Wars does some crossover.  Jack Wall's "Suicide Mission" from the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack also can end up in either list as far as I'm concerned.  Its soring instrumentation and urgent vocals sets a heroic and resolved tone that could be the prelude to any hopeless battle or potentially fatal act of courage.  Good stuff.

Artist Inon Zur
Album Lord of the Rings War in the North
Title Nordinbad
Inon Zur has established himself as a major player in electronic fantasy gaming music.  This track evokes the feeling of a lonely frontier fortress, ever watchful, standing guard against the forces of darkness.  The kind of place I need to send my gamers' player characters to check out.

Artist Jamie Christopherson
Album The Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle Earth II
Title(s) Joining Forces, Elven Morning Light, Elven Nightfall
I have already extolled the great virtues of Mr. Christopherson's Middle Earth music.  Let me just add, it is so good that I had to add these three additional pieces into my regular mix because they so consistently evoke the wonder of a fantasy realm.

Artist(s) Bill Brown, Jamie Christopherson
Album The Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle Earth
Title Heroes Shall Rise
In my original list, I had not included a track from the first "Battle for Middle Earth" album, composed not only by Jamie Christopherson, but also by Bill Brown.  This track does exactly what it says on the package.  Heroes rise to the challenge on the majesty of this music.

Artist Two Steps From Hell 
Album Legends
Title(s) Infinite Legends, Goddysey
You will hear Two Steps From Hell (a music company that specializes in Movie Trailer music, heard in trailers for movies, computer games, and TV and in commercials) everywhere.  This is not a bad thing, because their music is reliably excellent.  Both of these pieces evoke the huge sweep of an amazing and fantastic world.  Infinite Legends unfolds for me over the sprawl of a vast and fabulous city.  Goddysey takes me across the vast oceans of an imagined world.  Very good music.

Artist Jack Wall
Album Jade Empire
Title Into the Fray
Here's Jack Wall again.  Before he helped define the amazingly successful Mass Effect universe, he scored an earlier BioWare game called Jade Empire.  Jade Empire . . . Dragon Empire, you can see how things might fit together.  This piece is pretty much just the kind of thing I want to play during a martial arts smack down.  Great east Asian percussion worthy of Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh.

Artist Two Steps From Hell 
Album Dynasty
Title Elementum
Here's Two Steps again, because they are awesome.  Another track from the Dynasty album.  I visualize some serious spell slinging to this track with its driving beat and soaring chorus.

Artist Inon Zur
Album Dragon Age: Origins
Title I am the One
The signature track from Zur's first foray into the Dragon Age franchise.  I already highlighted the album for another track in my last music post, but this one also found a place in my heart.  A song of destiny, and we always have those characters in our games it seems, especially in the 13th Age of the Dragon Empire.

Artist Oscar Araujo
Album Castlevania Lords of Shadow
Title The Warg
Araujo's Castlevania is a triumph of an album with dark and powerful musical set pieces, but I had a hard time choosing the right track from it.  I settled on The Warg.  This is a dynamic musical piece with great choral parts (of course).  It might narrate a battle, or a frenzied ceremony, or even a cat and mouse chase (with explosions maybe).  Whatever images are inspired by this piece, it is a little piece of dark majesty.

Artist Nox Arcana
Album Blood of the Dragon
Title The Mystic's Keep
Nox Arcana can be hit and miss, but they produce a lot of very moody and interesting theme albums.  This one is tailored for a fantasy campaign.  The Mystic’s Keep is perhaps not the best track off the album, but it has such great atmosphere, with a recurring chant, I just can’t resist it.  Visions of a horrible death cult for my players to face? Check!  Mission accomplished.

Artist Two Steps From Hell 
Album Archangel
Title Norwegian Pirate
Here's Two Steps one more time.  What is the meaning of this song title?  I don’t know.  What it has to do with pirates or Norwegians is not entirely clear, but it is a rousing tune that could take one from the heaving deck of a dragon longship to a vast fantasy battlefields.

Artist Taro Iwashiro
Album Red Cliff
Title Battle to Battle
Red Cliff is a terrific movie (see the extended two part Asian release).  Lots of heroic combat and beautiful cinematography.  Also, the music is a highlight, and this piece is just what I look for to visualize the clash of great armies.

Artist Atli Örvarsson
Album The Eagle
Title Return of the Eagle
The movie "The Eagle," based on one of my favorite books as a kid, "The Eagle of the Ninth," was a big bust at the box office, and one of several quite bad sword and sandals movies in the last half decade.  However, both "The Eagle" and "Centurian" had good music.  I featured a piece from Centurian in my last discussion, but I am glad to include this piece by Örvarsson here.  It is a dynamic, Celtic fiddle inspired piece that conveys a sense of motion, an urgent chase or desperate escape.  A very fun piece of music.  Atli Örvarsson is someone I hope keeps making great music.

So, I hope this helps someone out there find great music and great inspiration to continue life in the Dragon Empire.

Stay Legendary.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

13th Age, Organized Play, Actual Play and the universe of great ideas

For anyone who reads this blog (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) , you know that I try to keep up an actual play description (pretty much bow by blow) of my current "Heroes of the 13th Age" game.  Our progress has been slow, as we can only manage about a gathering once a month at best.  Still, we are close to done with our first epic adventure and dungeon crawl, and the characters are all going to get to level up to second level.

While I have been developing my 13th Age game, I have tried to absorb all that I can from other people's experience with the system and the world of 13th Age.  There is a lot of fun stuff out there from which to learn.

One thing in which I have not been able to participate is the 13th Age Organized Play.  Pelgrane Press, with the work of 13th Age luminarie Ash Law (head of organized play) & Wade Rockett (strategy and promotion), have put together a plan for a series of regular games in which friendly local gamings stores and individual groups can participate.  Each will apparently revolve around places and issues important to one of the 13 Icons of the game.  The first, Crown of the Lich King, is already done, and a second set of adventures, Wyrd of the Wild Wood, is in progress (dealing with the High Druid).  Each regular game is 6 weeks of adventures (at least in its ideal form), much like the pioneering D&D Encounters model used by Wizards of the Coast.  However, after the 13 individual icon inspired adventures, there will be an epic scale 13 week "end of age" adventure released (read more in this article).

Why am I not getting into this?

Basically, timing.  The organized play is interactive.  Play reports need to be submitted, because events in the earlier adventures help shape later planned events.  Given the timing of getting my ten person group together, we would not have even started Crown of the Lich King.  So, Organized Play, will have to go on its own way.

But, I can still draw inspiration from it, because so many other people are sharing it.  If you want to vicariously experience the organized play (or just compare your experience to others'), I highly recommend the following:

A Game of Whit's Whit Mattson is currently running his play group through Crown of the Lich King using an online meet up, and he is recording and posting the play sessions.  They are very entertaining, and I have learned a lot about pacing and technique from just watching.  The videos are posted through YouTube, so you can find them directly there, but Whit's website has a deep library of video and audio actual play, as well as reviews and other interesting things.  Whit and his friends were early playtesters of 13th Age, and their actual play recordings of the playtest definitely help to inspire me to run the game (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).  Whit and his group are running a little behind on posting their actual play, and they are not on the strict schedule for Crown of the Lich King, but they are a fascinating group to watch.  Highly recommended.

Tales of the 13th Age is the website for the written (and illustrated!) actual play reports by a GM tag team, Ben and Sarah, who are running the organized play at Fair Game store in Downers Grove, IL.  They are keeping to the strict schedule of the Organized Play, and have already completed Crown of the Lich King.  It has been fascinating to see that they played through the same structure that Whit's group (above) is following, yet the play packets are so flexible, that so many details are different, and so responsive to the individual characters, their Icon relationships and their One Unique Things (1UT) and Backgrounds.  So now Ben and Sarah are running Wyrd of the Wild Wood, and I am hooked on their narration.  Their write-ups definitely show how to run a good store game, where people may have to drop in and out.  They clearly have a lot of discipline in keeping the pacing.  Also, they are geniuses with bringing interesting visual terrain and monsters (hey, play doh giant monster tenticles--awesome!!) to the table.  They document this with actual play photos.  I love reading the reports and I learn a lot. 

After I got hooked on the Organized Play write-ups/broadcasts, I started looking for more examples of play.

There is a very intribuing start of a blog at 13th Age: Squires of Skyharbor Abbey.  I am hopeful that more will appear at it soon, but what is there so far has been very interesting reading.

Also, a really interesting set of actual play recordings can be found under the term 13th Age MadCast.  A GM that goes by the moniker Khaos and his group have been new to playing 13th Age, and they obviously started with the adventure in the rule book (having to do with the Bolt Strike Tower (of which an earlier version Whit's group above played through for the playtest).  The actual play picks up in the aftermath of the written adventure, and it is the epic way the game springboards from there that is really fascinating. 

It is also prolific.  They began to record their third play session (at least that is the earliest I can find), and they are well into ten or so sessions recorded at this point.  They play in a virtual play space and are calling in from different time zones.  Unlike A Game of Whit's, we don't see the players, but instead we see the (often static) play space, so it is more like listening to a podcast than watching a video.  Still, despite it being visually less engaging and despite it dragging at times as the group is very large (so the juggling Khaos has to do as GM is daunting), the way the characters and the story develop is really fun and interesting.

Here are all the links to what they have put up on YouTube so far:

MadCast 13th Age Session 3 (2/2)by MadCast13thAge
MadCast presents: 13th Age, Sept. 7th (Part 2)
13th Age, led by Khaos (22/9/13) - Part 1
I am on Session 5, and before I figured out the order, I listened to some of a later session, and Khaos is clearly building to some epic challenges for his players.  This is harder going than the other write-ups or recordings, but it is definitely rewarding and entertaining and there are ideas I will be stealing.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 7 Mondru, an Owlbear, and Sethus Maximi, oh my!

After a very long hiatus, we played 13th Age again on Saturday, September 14 (our last game was back in May and is the write-up is here).  This was the first game where we had the actual hard back 13th Age rulebook at the table (and our friend Steve actually bought his own as well, so we had two!)

The best thing about our session was that everyone was at the table and really engaged in the game.

Our cast continues to be as follows:

Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
Zuzu (yet again the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Legolis, the High Elf Ranger
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer, and
Yoshi Antien, the Samurai flavored Half-Elf Fighter

The continue to explore the Orc created dungeons beneath the crumbling (and now burned down) Citadel by the Sea.  They search for an ancient magic weapon, Alkaarg, a spear forged in alliance between the followers of the Orc Lord and the Diabolist in an earlier Age (some 500 years ago).  The speak was especially designed to kill Elves.  The Priestess and the Elf Queen dispatched the heroes to locate the spear, secure it, and return it to Santa Cora for safekeeping.

At the end of the last game, after a big fight against undead skeleton rats and a nasty Ghoul, our heroes earned a full rest.

The returned to a side chamber where in a previous game they had left a prisoner and found a carving and inscription that spoke about the spear.  Some members of the party wondered aloud where their prisoner, the Orc Garshak, had disappeared to?  Delthen, the Paladin/Inquisitor of the Crusader gave a "who can know" shrug, not looking at the pile of dead Orcs that Garshak had joined after he proudly declared how he and the other Orcs were accepting aid from the Diabolist.

During the rest, Rolen received a sending from the Court of Stars, and an Handmaiden of the Elf Queen informed him in his dreams that he and his companions were close to finding the spear.  The Elf Queen had made provision for this and sent him aid.  When he awoke, he found a shroud for the spear, woven of starlight and gossamer, but as strong as steel, with a silver mesh end to contain the wicked spear and transport it safely back to Santa Cora (this disposed of his last unused Icon Roll with the Elf Queen).

Zuzu also had a dream.  In it she was wandering the Wild Wood, where once she was lost without her memory.  Here she was aware of who she was and she followed the flight of a great owl down a path into a grove dedicated to the High Druid, surrounded by Standing Stones.  Within the circle stood a great bear.  The owl landed on the bear's shoulder and the creatures spoke as one.  Zuzu understood that the spirits of the High Druid would allow her to rescue the Owlbear who resided in the fortress' cistern (brought there by the Orcs) and in return the Owlbear would not be dangerous to her and her friends, and it would help with their task.

After these dreams were experienced and explained, the party evaluated the treasure they had obtained so far (coins, jewelry, etc.).  They felt rich.

Then the characters all made Icon rolls and I secretly rolled for an additional Icon influence.  Many helpful Icon rolls ensued, some to be awarded immediately, others to be held for later. 

Delthen rolled a 6 on his positive relationship with the Crusader and a 6 on his negative relationship with the Diabolist.

Legolis rolled a 6 on his positive relationship with the Elf Queen.

Yoshi rolled a 6 on his complicated relationship with the Elf Queen and a 6 on his positive relationship with the Emperor.

Lief rolled a 5 on his positive relationship with the High Druid, and he rolled a 6 on his positive relationship with the Priestess.

Indigo rolled one 5 and two 6sfrom his positive relationship with the Priestess.

Cerise rolled on 5 on her positive relationship from the Priestess.

Zuzu rolled a 6 on her positive relationship with the Priestess.

Hey rolled a 5 on his negative relationship with the Orc Lord.

The additional Icon turned out to be the Orc Lord, which was no surprise.

Half-Orc Hey Watchit made sure everyone knew he was going to use the "facilities."  In the mean time, the Cleric Indigo prayed for the Priestess to intercede with the Gnomish Gods and give him a sign to guide them to the spear.  His hammer began to glow faintly, and he knew that as the brightness grew, he would be able to tell how close they were getting.

Zuzu also prayed for the intercession of the Priestess, and she plucked a newly appearing gem from her magic necklace (her One Unique Thing) and asked for a sign of guidance.  The gem glowed to show which path to take, with one of the points of the gem glowing to guide Zuzu on the path.

Yoshi awoke from a dream of his grandmother, the Elf Queen, and found himself drawn to a pile of old armor and weapons in a corner of the room.  Beneath it, he found a quiver filled with 12 arrows.  The quiver bore the coat of arms of the Court of Stars, and the arrows flickered such that sometimes each arrow appeared to be two, and sometimes just one.  Yoshi immediately shared half the arrows with the other follower of the Elf Queen, Legolis the Ranger.

After rising from meditation, the Paladin Delthen realized that a power had awakened in his weapon of office, his mace, which now was show to have the power of the Crusader enchanting it.

Hey Watchit decided that the name of their band of adventurers should be called the "Hey Guys."  No one is sure if that is going to stick.

Zuzu declared to the party that the Owlbear, "Who-grrl" wanted to be set free, and that she aimed to do it. 

They gathered their equipment and headed back to the unexplored section of the dungeon.  Briefly they thought about going through to what might be a "short cut" through the room with the giant spiders, but no one wanted to fight the spiders, and both Zuzu and Indigo decided that the signs were clearer to proceed down the main passage.  They could hear the cries of the Owlbear.

They found a secret door behind an old tapestry in the hallway, and they discovered it opened into the fortress cistern, at the bottom of which was the Owlbear.  The Owlbear immediately started climbing towards them.  Zuzu met it once it clambered into the dungeon.  Delthen tossed it his dried up Wyvern head, and Hey tossed it some croissants.  The Owlbear ate indiscriminately.  Zuzu used her background of having once worked with a menagerie to read its mood.  Also, some of the magic of the High Druid's dream lingered.  She understood that the Owlbear would be friendly and would help with one task, and then all bets might be off.  Zuzu decided the Owlbear should come with them.

They proceeded into an Orc spirit temple filled with dark foreboding and menace.  Nonetheless, Rolen the Sorcerer was not able to detect much in the way of mystic forces from outside the room.  The temple was a huge room, over a hundred feet on each side.  Massive pillars lined the center, each decorated with the depiction of an Orc hero bearing a spear.  The construction was originally human (Imperial) and Elvish, but the Orcs had redressed and re-purposed the room.  They could tell from the entryway that one side of the room was dominated by a throne, behind an altar.  The throne was occupied by an Orc skeleton dressed in plate armor, holding a great spear.  Before the throne/altar area were arrayed the skeletal forms of about 30 other armored Orcs. 

Yoshi, Delthen. Rolen and Indigo entered the chamber.  Yoshi, Rolen and Indigo began edging around the chamber on the side away from the throne.  Legolis picked up the tracks of their rival "Seth" heading out of the chamber down a stone staircase.

Delthen, meanwhile, defaced one of the columns with his mace, smashing the features of the carved Orc.  He then was joined by Zuzu and Cerise and approached the throne.  They all felt a brief wave of fear, which then they each faced down.

Cerise, taking no chances, case her Spirits of the Righteous at the figure on the throne, blasting it to pieces.

There was no reaction from anything in the room.

Delthen tried to sense whether there was any demonic or other malevolent presence in the room, but the sanctifying light from Cerise' spell just made him feel itchy.

Indigo, moving opposite of the throne, continued to detect nothing, but the light of his hammer grew as they crossed the room to a staircase that lead out the back.

Meanwhile the other members of the party, led by Hey, decided that Who-grrl the Owlbear, should be called Perry.

Having renamed the Owlbear, and Hey then went to sit on the throne.  It was nicely sanitized by the blast of holy light.  Legolis quickly sketched the scene and posted it on Elf-Scroll.

Hey noticed in the fragments of the skeletons left gauntlet a mysterious ring covered in skull motifs (like this).  He loudly announced his find.

Delthen tried to recall if anything about the symbols of the ring from his training as an inquisitor, but he could think of nothing.

Zuzu also examined the ring, but came away with no impression of it.

Delthen decided to set aside his magic mace and try on the ring, but just before slipping it on, a pinprick of intuition, like a dark whisper stopped him, and he began to see the aura of cursed magic around the ring (cross off his successful Icon role for his negative relationship with the Diabolist).

Indigo then took charge of the ring, and praying through the intercession of the Priestess to the gods and light and wisdom of the Gnomish pantheon he divined the nature of the ring (a curse ring of terror).  He carefully wrapped it up and put it away among his things.

The adventurers then decided to take the stairs down.  Along the way Zuzu spotted a trap, which was on the landing at which the stairs down turned.  She detected pressure plates that would unleash a barrage of darts.

Legolis carefully examined the tracks that Seth had left passing over the pressure plates and he easily passed the traps.  He pointed out how to get passed, but it still took some fancy footwork.  Fortunately, Hey had long studied interpretive dance, and he easily waltzed through.  Most of the other members of the party made it safely as well, using a variety of Dexterity based tricks, but both Zuzu and Rolen took one solid hit from a misstep.  Delthen decided to try to the Strength-based trip through the trap, hunkering in his armor and jamming his shield against the wall to block the darts.  He was surprisingly successful.

The chamber at the bottom of the stairs was lined in black marble, and the walls held rows of skeletal Orcs in armor, and the trophies made of the skulls and other body parts of the Orcs enemies.  Delthen decided to, out of an abundance of caution, smash all the standing Orc skeletons in the kneecaps, at least along the right side of the chamber.

Meanwhile, Indigo and Zuzu figured out that while there were several passages off this main chamber, their true path led through a seemingly blank wall.  The wall soon yielded a secret door, and they passed through a series of rooms with murals and more sepulchral guardians, until they reach a final chamber.  At the end of the chamber sat another mummified Orc on a throne, but his spear looked far more convincing, especially when the tip began to burn hot in the presence of the elves and half-elves in the party.

The chamber was also lined with heavily armored skeletal Orcs, each bearing a spear.

Round 1 Escalation 0
The party moved into the room, and I called for initiative rolls.  The skeletons had top initiative, followed by the reanimated Mondru, Fourth of his Name, then Zuzu activated Who-grrl, the Owlbear.  After that were the two clerics, Cerise and Indigo, then Lief the Bard, Legolis the Ranger, Yoshi the Samurai (fighter), Delthen the Paladin and Rolen the Sorceror, then Zuzu the Rogue and finally Hey the fighter.

A phalanx of spear wielding Orc skeletons charged the party.  Legolis was hit critically, but then the next skeleton fumbled, injuring the first skeleton.  Yoshi was missed, Delthin got hit, Hey got hit, Rolen was hit twice, Lief was hit and then missed, and using his magic hood he converted the miss into a fumble, which hit the next skeleton. 

Mondru, wielding Alkaarg the Elf Destroyer, struck at Zuzu (a half-elf) hitting her for 23 points of damage (normal hit).

She used her Ring of Defense to lower the damage to 13.

The Owlbear then attacked, savaging a skeleton (but these skeletons were tough and heavily armored, thus it survived).

Indigo cast Turn Undead, Dazing four of the skeletons.

Cerise cast Spirits of the Righteous with a critical hit for 36 points on Mondru.  He was staggered.

Lief began his Song of Spilt Blood, then unleashed his Battle Chant to damage a skeleton.

Legolis sought to disengage with the skeletons attacking him, but failed and instead, at the suggestion of Hey to "Axe them a question!", he swung his axe, regretfully only doing "miss" damage.

Yoshi, engaged with two skeletons, drew his Katana and did 16 points with a Power Attack.

Delthen stepped forward to Smite Enemy on Mondru.

Rolen failed to disengage, but moved anyway, avoiding being hit by an opportunity attack, and unleashed his Scorching Ray.

Zuzu hurled a throwing "glaive" with her flying blade attack and hit.

Hey rolled a fumble, and started to fall over, however he gained a re-roll with his "lethal" talent and he cried out "Hey just kidding!" as he smashed his tree into one of the skeleton's kneecaps.

Round 2 Escalation 1

The skeletons, all still up, struck.  Two misses on each Legolis and Yoshi.  Two hits on Delthen.  One hit and one miss on Hey.  Two misses on the Owlbear.  Two misses (which would have hit, had it not been for the ongoing Song of Spilt Blood) on Lief.

Mondru attacked the Owlbear and missed.

The Owlbear struck back at Mondru, crushing him, putting him to rest permanently.

For a moment it looked as if the destruction of the reanimated Mondru would have some effect on his skeleton guards, but then the Necromantic Tribal Curse marked onto the Bard Lief's skin pulsed, channeling necrotic energy into them, and they fought on (Hooray One Unique Thing (1UT)!).

Indigo moved up and cast a quick heal on Delthen, then cast his Javelin of Faith, which missed.

Cerise also cast a quick heal and struck a skeleton with her Javelin of Faith.

Lief continued his song, lashed out with Battle Chant, thunderously damaging a skeleton, and he allowed Legolis to disengage through his battle cry flexible "attack"!

Legolis used his Ranger's pet snake to "mimic" Rolen's Elven Grace, but failed to activate it this round.  He then pulled out one of the magic Double Arrows, and fired, destroying a skeleton with the first arrow, but missing (and missing his Archery reroll) with the second.

Yoshi deals damage to a skeleton with his Katana.

Rolen unleashes the fire of Scorching Ray on another.

Delthen strikes with Smite Enemy against another.

Suddenly, out of the shadows, the creature know as Seth (a Man Orc whose real name is Serga Ulmus) appears and picks up Alkaarg.  However, now the party, in melee with almost a dozen skeletons, lies between him and the exit.

Zuzu immediately springs into action; she spend her Momentum on Swashbuckle and runs up the back of the Owlbear, flips off the Owlbear's back, over the heads of the skeletons, and neatly kicks out at the speak in Seth's hands.

Her kick, unfortunately, is not effective and Seth retains the spear.

[n.b. Zuzu's player found this highly unsatisfactory, and she wondered whether Swashbuckle had any real value to contribute; I told her we could discuss it when she leveled up; while I let her narrate a lot, I think she probably should have received a bonus to her attack (it was pretty spectacular), which I did not give her (probably a +2); however, in the end, she missed by a lot still, so that probably would not have mattered; I think it might be worth her giving the talent a few more tries, but I happy to let her work in whatever she thinks will best go with her character).

She then called on the Priestess to grant her a second strike.  She found herself paused in the air, able to take another strike.  Her role was woefully bad, and she landed on her feet having failed to disarm Seth.

Hey then swung his tree using his Reach Tricks, to smash two skeletons back into Seth, and they all ended up in a pile on the floor.

Round 3 Escalation 2
The skeletons continued their relentless attack.  Legolis was missed, Yoshi, now with three attacking him, received a hit, a critical hit and a miss,  Delthen was hit.  Who-grrl the Owlbear was hit once and missed once.  Lief was hit.  The two knocked back by Hey disentangled themselves, and stood and moved up to him, but had not attack.

The Who-grrl smashed one of the skeletons attacking her and hit the other one (it was an even escalation die and she got two attacks!).

Indigo healed Delthen and then did a quick heal on Rolen.  He then cast his Javelin of Faith at Seth, but missed.

Cerise then invoked the Priestess to intercede on her behalf to allow her to cast Spirits of the Righteous for a second time in battle.  Her prayer was answered and she let loose on Seth for 20 points of holy damage.  As a side effect she Blessed Legolis.

Lief continued singing his Song, he then cast forth his Battle Chant at a skeleton, resulting in a critical hit.  He also used a flexible "attack" to allow Delthen to disengage.

Legolis fumbles a disengage, failed to make a borrowed Elven Grace roll, and he missed with his Axe.

Yoshi struck down a skeleton with his Katana.

Delthen stepped forward and seized Alkaarg from Seth, wrenching it from his grasp (19 Strength).  Unfortunately, he then had to fight the cursed, Diabolist and Orc Lord linked Champion Tier weapon.  He managed to save so that he could release the spear.  He hoped to heroically hurl it away, but barely managed to open his fingers to allow it to fall to the ground.  The heat of the spear badly scorched him.

Rolen succeeded in his Elven Grace roll.  He used his first action to gather power, and then let loose a Lightning Fork of double power against Seth with his second action for 34 points damage.

Seth/Sergus in response blasted Delthen with chaos magic and Delthen crumpled to the ground atop the Spear.  His shield began to smoke.

Zuzu attacked, but missed against Seth with a Flying Blade.

Hey missed a skeleton.

Round 4 Escalation 3

The relentless skeletons continued their assault.  First Legolis was his.  Three misses ensued against Yoshi.  Hey was missed.  The Owlbear was missed.  Lief was missed.  [Bad round for the skeletons]

Who-grrl smashed another skeleton to pieces.

Indigo once again sought the intercession of the Priestess with his gods to once again cast Turn Undead.  His spell lashed out, dazing four skeletons once again.

Cerise cast a quick heal on Delthen, but then missed Seth with her Javelin of Faith.

Legolis, close to going down, called out to the Elf Queen, and then entered a brief trance (during which he had the equivalent of a Quick Rest, allowing him to use as many recoveries as he wanted).  He used two recoveries to get out of immediate danger.  He then failed to disengage and instead killed a skeleton with his axe.

Yoshi hit one of the skeletons.

Delthen, rising from the ground, struck out with his mace, which had a special additional damage due to the Escalation Die, and he killed Seth.  Because he follows the Way of Evil Bastards, that use of Smite did not count against maximum (score!).

Rolen cast Scorching Ray on a skeleton, setting it aflame.

Zuzu stepped into the shadows with Shadow Walk.

Hey bashed a skeleton with his tree.

Round 5 Escalation 4

Three attacks against Yoshi by the skeletons resulted in two misses and a fumble (the skeletons starting to malfunction and damage one another).

A skeleton missed Hey.

A skeleton hit Who-grrl the Owlbear.

A skeleton hit Lief.

Cerise summoned to her the powers of the gods of light for her Javelin of Faith.  She fumbled.  The gods interpreted her prayer to allow her to strike against the agents of darkness directed a strike against Delthen the dark paladin.  He roll was a miss, but did miss damage.  Delthen's player interpreted this as his shield blocking most of the strike, but some of it bleeding through to harm him. ["Rejected light gods! Ow!"]

Indigo summoned his Hammer of Faith and bashed a skeleton.

Lief continued to thunder his Battle Chant against another skeleton.

Legolis fired a second set of Double Strike Arrows, hitting one skeleton over Yoshi's shoulder, but then fumbling the second attack and sinking an arrow into Yoshi's back. ["Good shot! Ow!! Bad shot!!!]

Yoshi, ignoring the damage, slashed another skeleton.

Rolen succeeded in his Elven Grace roll and gathered power, which had the side effect of damaging all the skeletons (because they were all staggered) and he then did a double damage scorching ray on a skeleton.  It barely remained standing.

Delthen then struck that skeleton down.

Zuzu returned from the shadows to destroy another skeleton.

Hey destroyed yet another.

Round 5 Escalation 5

The last skeleton missed Yoshi.

The Owlbear smashed the last skeleton to pieces.

After a long desperate struggle, the characters are now triumphant.  Their prize is within there grasp and their enemies lie dead at their feet.

What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Short Notes: New-ish Comics

I ran through a period of time when I tried my hand at some regular comic book reviews.

Then I ran out of time.

Also, they cancelled Greg Rucka's Punisher and that was the book that pulled me into trying my hand.  I kind of lost heart after that.

Still, I continue to read a handful of comics regularly.  So, because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, I thought I would give some quick thoughts to recent issues (and thanks to my local shop, Beyond Comics for pulling my books and especially for Lazarus #1, which due to a miscommunication did not get pulled for me so the owner gave me HIS BOOK; thanks guys! You rock!).

First, Lazarus #1 by Greg Rucka (writer), Michael Lark (artist), & Santi Arcas (colors): GET THIS BOOK.  This is the first issue in a planned long (but finite) story set in a dystopian future.  Now, from Hunger Games (book and movie) to Elysium (upcoming movie with Matt Damon) and everything and more in between, dystopian future settings are hot, and some may feel saturated.  If you were to give Lazarus a pass because of that feeling, it would be a BIG MISTAKE (yes, it's my blog, I can yell if I want to).

Lazarus is the story of a world ruled by powerful families who control almost all wealth.  Each family has vast holdings, private armies, scheming members, and at least one champion, who is a bioengineered miracle.  The family at the center of the tale is Family Carlyle, and their champion is Forever Carlyle.  In the first pages of the first issue she is mortally wounded.  Then we get to see why her kind is termed a Lazarus and why she is a bioengineered miracle.

If you want a taste before you buy, there is a free teaser story (complete unto itself and not part of the first issue) here.  You should read it, then you should go get issue #1 and you should put the series on your pull list. 


Hawkeye #12 All I have to say is DAMN YOU MATT FRACTION (in the best possible way).

I opened this book, which continues the storyline of the last few issues, and I was just going to look at the first page . . . . and . . . the next thing I knew, I was at the end, and I do not have issue #13 in my hands yet!!


Read this book.

Captain Marvel # 13 In general, I love what Kelly Sue DeConnick has done with Captain Marvel.

I did not love this issue.

Not really even a little bit.

The art was a mess.

The story that had been building within the title got hijack for an "event" across a bunch of other books I don't want to buy.

I got to the last page, and I kinda did not care.

That made me sad.

I hope this mess is over soon and Kelly Sue can get back to her focus on the character driven book of fun and adventure that I so admire.

Sad to say it, but unless you are a completists or collecting all the other books this story got splashed across, you can skip this.

I may not do more reviews, but then again I might.  We'll see what next month brings.

Short Notes: BJ Shea's Geek Nation

This summer has been insanely busy.  The 13th Age game has been on unintended hiatus as no-one has been able to synchronize their schedules.

So, in the meantime, let me recommend to you the fantastic podcast BJ Shea's Geek Nation.  I ran across this program first for their 13th Age actual play broadcasts.  I had not planned to become a regular listener, but I gave some of the regular shows a try, and I was hooked.  The general show runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday; Tuesday they focus on Magic: The Gathering, and on Thursdays they have "Special Ops," which focuses on special topics that writers Brandon Jerwa and Mark Rahner choose and discuss. 

I find all the regulars on the show to be interesting, funny and to bring a diversity of perspectives which alert me to interesting topics, new trends and new media to check out (books, comics, film, games, etc.).

The interplay of the cast is lively and fun, often tinged with the kind of joking, puns, "friendly" put-downs, and movie and book quoting that characterized the time I spent with friends in my formative years growing up geeky.  Listening to one of the shows puts me back in a room among people who speak my language fluently.

I recommend the podcast very much.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Star Trek--Into SPOILERS!!!!


Damn it Jim, I'm a SPOILER!

Okay, with that out of the way, I would like to discourse about Star Trek Into Darkness, Trek in general, and, of course, me (my blog and all).

Bottom line first: I liked the new movie.

It is clever and exciting.  I think they have a solid cast for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and the supporting cast, particularly Peter Weller and (break out performer soon to be starring in everything) Benedict Cumberbatch, were outstanding.

Still, I have problems with the movie, and even moreso for what it says about the future of Star Trek as a franchise and cultural phenomenon. 

This history of Trek is well know and covered by pop cultural historians and science fiction gurus of much greater brain than me.  However, I have my own personal take.

Star Trek was first broadcast in 1966, the year before I was born.  Before I was two, the show was off the air.  But the phenomenon was just starting.

I don't remember when my father first introduced me to Star Trek, but I was probably fairly young.  Until I was in middle school, we only had a black and white TV, so my memories of Star Trek start without color, though I have mostly overwritten those memories with having seen all the episodes in color, and many of them remastered and enhanced.  Still, my father, who had worked in the aerospace industry and contributed to the development of the Saturn V rocket (one of thousands of engineers, but still, SATURN V!), introduced me to science fiction, first with Star Trek, and later with books like Ringworld.

As a little kid, I not only got to get acquainted with the Original Series, but I also saw quite a few episodes of the Animate Series, which, despite mediocre animation, actually holds up with pretty good writing for a lot of the episodes.  I absorbed a lot of Trek.

When I was in fourth grade, my dad spent a semester back as a visting professor at his alma mater, University of Utah, teaching in the math deparment.  This would have been 1977 and I was 10 years old.  I remember owning a Star Trek uniform shirt with the insignia patch (blue, though I think the patch had the "Command" insignia, because it was just some off the rack novelty shirt).  I also had bought the plastic model kit that let me build my own phaser, communicator and tricorder.  I was a firm fan.  And one magical night in Salt Lake City, my dad took me to a Star Trek presentation.  I wore my shirt.  It was not really a convention, as far as I can remember.  We went to an auditorium, and Gene Roddenberry was there, and gave a talk, and then showed "The Cage" and then a blooper reel, and it was really cool.  And my dad gave me the Star Trek Concordance, by Bjo Trimble, which I devoured.

So, I have to say I have a fundamentally emotional connection to Star Trek, which starts with my childhood and my dad, and continues to present.

Along the way, there have been other notable connections.  In 1979, when the Star Trek movies launched with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I went on my first date with a girl to see the movie.

I'm not sure whether she thought the movie or me was more boring, but I mildly enjoyed the movie.  They had successfully got the crew back togeher.  The film is ponderous, a script and production that was neither in touch with the old series, nor with the cinematic zeitgeist that had seen the revolutionary change wrought by Star Wars.  Star Trek TMP harkens back to films like 2001 A Space Odyssey in its shots of space and space ships, and that was rendered a dead language by the fast flight of the Millenium Falcon and the run of Luke's X-Wing down the trench on the Death Star.  It did, however, manage some of the character work decently, especially the critical relationship between Kirk and Spock.  Still, the movie is hard to watch.

However, without The Motion Picture, and its modest box office success, you would not have had the next movie.

I saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with my family in Monterey California in 1982.  Everything that had been wrong with the first movie got corrected.  The writers and the director understood the series, the characters, and understood the cinematic language needed to tell a story of the 23rd Century as envisioned in the Original Series.  I was on board for almost anything they would feed me.

I enjoyed Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, despite some flaws.  I loved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  It's focus on the characters, especially Kirk, Spock and McCoy, the humor, and the setting (some of which was filmed in my home town) all hooked me.  Also, it came out on my birthday in 1986, and I managed to make it home from college and to the theater just in time to join other high school friends to see it.

Also, by this time, I was not only watching Star Trek, but playing a role playing game, run by a friend, with my own captain and ship.  We were not content to just watch Star Trek, we were making our own memories and adventures with our imagination, using the tools Trek had given us.

The year Star Trek: The Next Generation came out, I was studying abroad and missed the first run of the season.  However, my friend and Trek RPG game master, sent me a huge care package for my birthday with included posters of some of the cast, the novelization of the first episode, and also hilarious "radio drama" he had made with friends at college, which was all about the crew of my starship in the game going in search of their lost captain.  In my friend's letters, I got an overview of how the series was developing, the positives and setbacks.

Then, when I got back, my mom had a friend who had video taped all the episodes, so I had my first experience with binge watching a series in 1988, as I caught up on the entire season.

My fandome was firmly renewed.

Then Star Trek V came out and my fandome was sorely tested.

Still, I stuck with it for seven seasons of TNG. 

I loved Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (actually, I think I cried a bit when they did the sign off at the end.

I stuck with Deep Space 9 for all seven seasons.

I enjoyed Star Trek Generations.

Star Trek Voyager lost me in season 4 or so.

Star Trek First Contact was a revelation, and I saw it on a day that was one of my best and then became a nightmare of one of the worst times in my whole life.  Through it all, the fictional heroism, sacrifice and friendship of the crew of the starship Enterprise shadowed me and help hold me together just a bit.

I terribly disappointed with Insurrection and Nemesis. 

I never watched Star Trek Enterprise (though riding a wave of nostalgia, I watched the pilot: Broken Bow, this past weekend, and it was actually pretty good).

So, in 2009, when they were leading up to the JJ Abrams reboot/What If? version of Trek, I had not been watching a regular show since 1999, and the last movie I had seen in the theater was First Contact in 1996.

I was skeptical.  Very skeptical.

It seemed to be taking one of the worst rejected ideas of rumored Trek development "Starfleet Academy," which would recast the main crew with new, young and more attractive actors, and running with it.  Also, by doing a kind of reboot, it put the creators in the position of taking the pieces of what made the Orignal Series great, and just cherry picking from them rather than doing much new.  I wasn't sure how it would work out.

However, the first movie in 2009 was a lot of fun.  They did play with the elements of canon and character to recombined them in new, but interesting, ways.  Sure, in some ways it was a revenge movie akin to Star Trek II, madman Nero and all.  Also, it rehashed some of Star Trek The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home with giant space probes coming to destroy Earth.  It also had a dash of the time travel timeline change elements of Trek IV and Star Trek First Contact.  The changed a great deal about the technology and they rode roughshod over a lot of logic.  They left the timeline "polluted," but all in the name of a "fresh" start.  Yet it all worked.  It made me interested in what they would do next.

So fast foward four years.  In that time, many things had been tossed around as being what was "next."

The thing I was certain would be a terrible idea would be to bring in Khan Noonian Singh.  TOS episode Space Seed and Star Trek II are pretty sacred objects in the Trek pantheon.  It seemed like there would be so much room to screw it up, and, in a limitless universe, it seemed like you could find some other stories to tell.  Besides, the whole reason for the reboot was in order to escape the shackles of the canon.  Take the characters, with some twists, and do them afresh with new adventures and new developments.

So, what did Star Trek Into Darkness bring us?


Now, I have to concede that they were extremely clever with the "What if?" scenario.  In the wake of the last movie, including the total destruction of the planet Vulcan and the majority of the Vulcan race, we are in a darker, more frightened Federation.

So, in a timeline that fractured off from the old timeline when the Narada (a Borg enhanced Romulan supership) crossed back into this period, destroyed the U.S.S. Kelvan and set Kirk on his divergent path, you get Khan, but a Khan who makes a different entrance into the Federation.

He is not encounted on the Botany Bay by the Enterprise, but instead by some other ship, and he and his crew are not revived, but instead, brought back to earth.  Admiral Marcus wakes Khan up and employs him as a special advisor on weapons and tactical developments because it is a darker and scarier universe out there.  Marcus is eying war with the Klingons, Khan is biding his time to free his fellow Botany Bay exiles to return to his dreams of conquest and rule.

Clever.  Well done.

But . . .

Like the last movie, there are more than a few holes.


Why is Khan paler than the paint on the Enterprise hull?

Look, I know Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, and his performance was terrific.  It was a great way to make a counterpoint to the way that Ricardo Montalban owned the role.  However, while you could almost believe that the Mexican Montalban could be a Punjabi Sikh, I can't for a minute see Cumberbatch in a beard and turban and being at all convincing.  Of course, the selection, beyond the intensity and capability of the acting, served another purpose.  It is hard to guess that Cumberbatch is Khan because it is so ludicrous that the Sikh Khan Noonian Singh could be played by the very English Cumberbatch.  Further, Cumberbatch is a decade younger in his portrayal of Khan than Montalban was for the filming of Space Seed.  So, it serves the deception.

JJ Abrams could have cast someone who knew and trusted as a much more believable Khan, Naveen Andrews, who is of Indian heritage, who played a Sikh in The English Patient, and who worked with Abrams on Lost.  He is also in his 40s, just a Montalban was.  Of course, if he had been cast, it would have ruined the surprise.  Everyone could have guessed that he would play Khan, because it is an obvious choice.

They had to preserve the gimmick.  As much as I loved Cumberbatch in the role, I think Andrews would have been better casting.

That aside, the other BIG THING, is the death scene for Kik.  Now, on the whole, I thought they handled things well.  They made the dialog between the dying Kirk and Spock a similar, but different conversation than the reversed situation in Star Trek II.  It was clever.

But it was not earned.

Between the Chris Pine Kirk and Zachary Quinto Spock we have hardly any relationship built.  The 2009 movie started it, but then we had a four year hiatus, and then this movie.  While we can accept that off screen they built the relationsip that brings Spock to tears as Kirk dies, all the work, all the heavy lifting is done by the work done by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in three seasons of The Orignal Series and five movies (okay, there were six, but I really want to forget one of them).  The emotional depth is there because we know not this Kirk and Spock, but because we know the REAL Kirk and Spock (or at least the original versions).

I mean no slight to Pine and Quinto.  They nail the scene, but they had to come to that scene with little groundwork for their portrayals of the characters, not to mentione them just being younger men and actors than Shatner and Nimoy were when they played their version of the scene.  They just don't have the mileage in the relationship on and off screen. 

For this accelerated, streamlined version of Trek, this has to happen, not after decades of service together, but after just a few years.  Further, it continues the trend of sidelining McCoy.  DeForest Kelley was at the center of the dynamic that made The Original Series work.  While Karl Urban is doing a fine job with what he's been given, this version of Trek has him sidelined.  While the Kirk-Spock relationship is key, where it is not leavened with McCoy, it just is not working as well as it could be.  It seems to have been replaced, in some ways, with the Three being Kirk, Spock and Uhura.  There is some interesting dynamics there, and I am not opposed to widening the roles of other characters, but McCoy either is a central part of balancing Kirk as a leader, or we are not balancing the characters in a way that I think is needed.

And finally, as we are moving at Warp speed through the highlights of the Trek universe in the new version, we already know from not one, but two BIG HINTS, that Kirk won't be dead for more than a few minutes of screen time.  For Spock, there was a funeral and a whole other movie.  For new Kirk, we know before he went into the warp core that he would be back on top before the movie was over.

Some other obsevations I had that nagged me from the movie.  The second half is choppy. 

We get the battle, Kirk's death, but then KHAN!!!! and we are having a huge mass casualty crash of the Dreadnought (another old Trek concept) into San Francisco, then a foot chase between Spock and Khan, then Uhura is beaming down and shooting Khan and calming Spock, then Kirk is waking up Alive! (what a surprise!) and then he is making a speech a year after the events.  Then they start the 5-year mission.

That was a bumpy road to the ending.  They tried to do a lot.  It was all exciting and all, but it did really give me a little mental whiplash.  Not a smooth conclusion.

Okay, and a year later and . . . why aren't we at war with the Klingons?  Kirk and Khan beat, kiled, and exploded a bunch of them and their ships.  How is it that there are absolutely no reprecussions?  Well, in our accelerated Treknoverse, either 1) the just didn't notice because it would be an inconvenient plot development, or 2) it all got resolved off screen before Kirk made his speech. 

Either way, a little cheap there.

Carol Marcus.  I have mixed feelings.  Clever introduction.  Good tie back and across to Star Trek II.  She gets added to the crew, so, maybe they will try to realize some really different ideas, but I knind of think they are going to blow it.  I did think it was interesting that in Star Trek II she was a total peacenik scientist, at odds with, but begrugingly cooperating with Starfleet (really a reflection of what was the zeitgeist of the early 1980s), but here she is a weapons expert who was only a few steps behind her crazy warmongering Admiral dad.  But they have to go somewhere with the character or it is just a "look how clever we are" moment which is all sound a fury, signifying nothing.

They continue to make the galaxy feel very small.  It takes seconds, seemingly, to travel to the Neutral Zone with the Klingons.  And seconds to get back from there too.  This is just like the seconds it took to get to Vulcan.  True, there are explosions and chases and huge starship crashes that need to get on screen, so spending time getting from point A to point B is kind of a waste for what they wanted to do, but it does kind of take the Trek out of Star Trek.  There is little sense of journey.

Finally, Old Spock.  Okay, glad to see Nimoy and Quinto on screen besides a car commerical.  It doesn't add much.  Hey young Spock, as you guessed, Khan can't be trusted, he's a dangerous, and it might cost a lot to stop him.  Of course, most of the cost is off screen.  Kirk is less than temporarily dead.  The thousands of people that would seem to be killed with a Dreadnought crashing into San Francisco, well, we don't even get to spare a thought for them.  This is, after all, a BIG MOVIE.

And my really big but . . .

While we have been shown two movies where the writers and production staff have cleverly reimagined the Federation and the Enterprise crew, they have not reached escape velocity from the gravity of Trek Canon, which was something they had intended to do.

We are still telling the same stories.  This movie, expertly made (with some issues), is a mash up of themes, events, ideas and characters from Star Trek II and Star Trek VI.  It is bright, shiny, exciting, but it is essentially a retread.  There is not much new here.

Now, maybe all the stories have been told.  But then, that might mean trouble for Trek.

I don't believe all the stories have been told, but I think it is going to take a great deal more brain and imagination and a willingness to leave the clever twists behind.

I think they need something new.

Ironically, I think they could get there by going old school.  JJ Abrams can't direct the next movie as he takes over the Star Wars franchise, though he will stay on as Executive Producer.  Who should direct?

Paging Nicholas Meyer! 

Really, I think it could work.

So, to bottom line it, again, I liked the movie. 

But I fear for the future of Trek.  I mean, it will never die.  Fans proved that after it was cancelled.  But, as a living franchise that can add ideas that appeal to people going forward.  We are on the point of losing it, it seems to me.

First, with no episodic series, there is no journey, no long development of characters and relationships.  The movie cast won't be coming to our small screen, and it is unclear if any other story vehicle for the new or old Trek universes ever will again.  So, what we can look forward to is perhaps a few more New Trek movies, spaced out over many years.  And, while they have achieved great success as spectacle and action, they are coasting on character.  I don't mean to downplay the performances of the actors.  I admire them, but much of the ensemble gets little to do, and so these alternate versions of the beloved characters are either coasting on the groundwork laid by other actors, or reduced to mere characatures.  While there are fine moments for Kirk, Spock and Uhura, and a good portion for Scotty, McCoy, Sulu and Chekov don't do much.  I've already commented about how we really don't have enough screen time with these characters to have had the new journey with them.  So instead, we are forced to rely on what came before.

I think we need a movie that is less explody and chase filled, and one that explores some ideas, and most especially this crew and their relationships.  If they can do that, they can trascend just cleverly reconstructing plots and reassembling characters from old Trek movies, and move really into a new universe.

If not, well, its been fun, and it probably will be fun.  But it won't be the kind of Trek that Gene Roddenberry bequeathed us. 

Maybe they will bring us the next Voyage Home or Undiscovered Country, in that they bring us original elements of character, humor, zeitgeist and an ineffable feeling of Trek, or maybe they are going to jump the shark and give us Insurrection or, gods forbid, Final Frontier.

Or maybe they will just bring us a big loud Transformers like Sci Fi movie, or some other pleasant enough actioner with Star Trek trappings, but the fact that it is Trek won't matter at all.

I am hoping that Nicholas Meyers or the next generational heir of his approach is coming to set a strong course for us.

But I just don't know.

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 6-Dungeon Ecology 101--Everything IS trying to kill you

Our last 13th Age play session happened last month, and we found a few hours this last weekend to get in a play session for May.  With one combat after another, I thought we might settle down into more exploration and role playing for this session.  I even mentioned this to my son.  He laughed.  He was right.  Read on to find out what else they decided to fight in this session.

The adventuring party still consists of
Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
Zazz (and once again the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Legolis, the High Elf Ranger
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer, and
Yoshi Antien, the Samurai flavored Half-Elf Fighter

All players were present and accounted for, and we had a fun, if shorter, session.

Initially, there was a firm conviction on the part of the party as a whole to continue down the main passage forthwith, and to find the way down to the crypt level, where they hoped to find the Elf-slaying spear Alkarg and keep it out of the hands of suspected Man-Orc Seth. 

Ominously, they heard the cry of the Owlbear echo down the main passage.  Again, they went over the fact that, though the Owlbear was in the courtyard cistern (upon which they had placed the old partially broken stone cover, it was possible that there was some access to the cistern from this lower level, as that would be a convenience that would fit the design of an early Imperial fortress (according to researcher Monk Crommard, one of the two essentially helpless civilians that they were having to drag along since the party had rescued them).  Listening carefully and creeping forward, they determined that the Owlbear had not yet broken its way into this level, but, it seemed possible that it could.  They noted that the main 20' wide passage continued after taking a sharp left turn off into the darkness (towards the sounds of the hungry Owlbear).  They noted several side passages, and, after the turn, several old tapestries covering possible openings on both sides of the main passage.

Then they go distracted by the side passages.  Retreating back up the main passage, they first proceeded twenty feet down a side passage where they found a door, which had been jammed by the settling over the years of the stone lintel.  However, they also noted that some animal or animals had, over the years, chewed open a significantly large opening at the base of the door.  After some examination and discussion, they concluded that probably giant rats were the culprits.  They also decided that someone needed to check the room.

There was a lot of joking about how it was a low entry and that the Gnome, Indigo, ought to fit right in.  Indigo was having none of it.  Every dutiful to the party, Samurai Yoshi set aside his pack and larger weapons, drew his wakizashi and crawled through the hole.  Unfortunately, despite years of training, Yoshi's characteristics are no great shakes for alertness, and he was easily surprised by the giant spider dropping onto his back as it crossed the threshold.

Unfortunately for the spider, it totally failed to make an effective attack. 

Round 1

Everyone rolled initiative.  Yoshi (with Improved Initiative and a high DEX) scored a 27, to easily win ahead of the spider and everyone else.  That was the good news.  He planed to stand and fight the spider in the room.  However, the superior initiative allowed him to wisely scan this "battlefield" before standing, and he spotted the five additional spiders rushing down the webs that lined the ceiling and walls of the room.

New plan.

He quickly backed out, shaking off the Spider and grabbing his larger weapons while shouting "burn them!!"

Now, among the party is one spider expert, Indigo.  He was very interested in the spiders and was ready to use his background (+5 Raised Spiders) to assist in the battle.

The rest of the partly simply let loose, initially on the spider they could see at the base of the door.

Legolis the Ranger, however, missed his bowshot.  1 point miss damage.

Leif the Bard shouted thunder with his Battle Chant.  This was, unfortunately, a fumble.  Borrowing from Dungeon World, I asked "What happens?"  The players quickly decided that the blast of thunder blew the door open, so that their plan to pour flammable liquid under the door and ignite it was spoiled, and also permitting the six spiders all to boil out of the doorway more easily to attack the party.  Oops.

Hey Watchit, the Hal-Orc Fighter swinging his mighty tree. . . missed, doing miss damage.

Zazz the Rogue dashed forward, still hoping to used lamp oil to some effect.  However, her attempt to parkour her way forward and throw the oil flask forward in a cool action-movie like slo-mo coating spiders and then igniting was interrupted by her fumbling her roll.  In order not to land among the spiders coated in oil herself, she invoked a maneuver using a combination of DEX and her Raised in a Tavern background (which is perhaps the most broadly useful background ever perpetrated in the game; it is also highly amusing, and thus the player gets to push it a lot).  I let her roll.  She rolled a 20.

Okay, we had a fumble followed by a critical.  Both had to be honored.  So, the oil flask skittered harlessly into the web strewn room without breaking.  The Rogue remained uninjured.  However, she was now front a center and made the main target for the spiders, and slightly tangled up in the doorjamb such that she could not easily retreat.

Dark Paladin and Inquisitor Delthen Eversoar then charged forward shield first to hold the door.  Normally, he could have placed himself alone between the monsters and the rest of his companions, but Zazz was all tangled up beside him, so that put both him and the Half-Elf Rogue at the top of the target list for the spiders.

I ruled that three spiders could make their attacks that round.

I rolled three attacks (1 for Delthen and 2 for Zazz).  I rolled 3 consecutive 3s.  Stupid d20!

Shimmering with holy light, Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric loosed her Javelin of Faith.  Miss.

Finally the spider expert Indigo had his turn.  He rolled a phenomenally good roll using his background to find out what odor would attract the spiders away back into the room (a helpless fear drenched halfling was the suggestion of one of the players).  Using his Illusion Domain, Indigo created the smell in the room, forcing all six spiders to make standard saving throws (11+).  All of the spiders except the first one failed the save (yes, that's five failures in a row--stupid d20) and turned to charge back into the room to retrieve the mysteriously appearing yummy snack.

The last spider continued to hang at the top of the door frame, attempting to bite Delthen's head.

Rolen the Wood Elf Sorcerer focused his Scorching Ray at the last remaining spider.  Fizzle.  Nothing.

Round 2
Yoshi, with the initiative, lunged forward over Delthen's shoulder with his katana, and he missed . . . no wait, hit!  Thank you Escalation Die!  Max damage!

Legolis also rolled a miss, and invoked his Archery feat to reroll, which was unfortunately a miss.

Lief determined to try to charm the spider, using his Linguist feat and enormous CHA.  The spider was not impressed.

Zazz then pulled herself away from the door and made a quick crossbow shot at the spider, making a hit!

Delthen then swung his mace, powered by his Smite Evil, and landed a 14 point damage blow.  However, he then went on to try to flick the spider off the doorjamb with a maneuver, but failed.

Cerise sent blazing forth another Javelin of Faith, this time landing a critical hit.

Indigo also fired off his Javelin, but missed.

Rolen then cast his Scorching Ray to minor effect. 

The spider was mostly done for, but not yet dead.

Round 3
Before the spider could make a move to retreat, the swift moving Samurai Yoshi thrust into it again with his katana, slaying the arachnid.

With the immediate combat ended and the other spiders still looking for a helpless hafling that they could smell, but could not find, the party backed into the main corridor to regrroup and continue to explore.

A couple of things became apparent.  First, as Lief looked down to the left turn in the main corridor, off of which was another side passage, he began to feel a distinct foreboding.  Second, Rolen, the Sorcerer, realized that the cursed mark on his left hand reacted with what seemed like hungry interest every time it could "see" Legolis (whom Rolen nearly incinerated last time with a critical fumble).  If the curse were a being, it would be saying something like the Wild Things in Maurice Sendak's book "I'll burn you up I love you so."

Both revelations got the appropriate "well, that's not good" reactions.

Moving down the corridor, they noticed that the next side passage was filled with bones.  Indigo suddenly sensed a powerful emanation of undeath from the passage.  Lief suddenly realized what was bothering him, as he had the same feeling he had experienced when he was ensorcelled by the Tribe of Necromancers (his One Unique Thing).  From the dark, some THING started to call his name and to call him to the service of the Lich King.  The voice told Lief that they could glorify the Lich King and leave his living companions behind (by killing them).

That was enough for the party, who all prepared for a fight.

Round 1
Zazz was first, tied with the suddenly rampaging giant rat skeletons (mooks).  The Rogue easily slipped into the shadows with a Shadow Walk.  There were ten skeleton rat attacks, with more coming out of the piles of bones.  Most missed, one fumbled on Rolen, preventing another's attack, but Cerise, Indigo and Lief were hit, with Lief being hit critically.  The hit on Cerise caused her Halo power to do down, much to her chagrin.  However, the little rat skeletons did not pack much of a punch otherwise.

Delthen and Hey then counterattacked, quickly destroying three skeletons.  These, however, were just as quickly replaced from a total pool of 20.  Yoshi had a swing and a miss.  Cerise's Javelin of Faith missed.  Lief began his Song of Spilt Blood and then hit with his Battle Chant and Rolen made a successful Elven Grace roll, allowing him to make an empowered Scorching Ray attack.  Legolis also scored an arrow hit.

At this point, out of the bones sprang a rag clad, tattooed Ghoul Necromancer.

Gnome Cleric Indigo then called on the gods of his people and blasted out with his Turn Undead spell.  This had an immediate effect on the rat skeletons, two more of which disintegrated, and the rest became dazed (-4 to hit, as if they were not rolling badly enough already).

Round 2
Zazz stepped out of the shadows behind the Ghoul Necromancer, but only nicked him with her dagger, rolling a miss.

All the rat skeletons attacking missed.

The Necromancer turned on Zazz.  Madness burned in his dead eyes.  Dark power shimmered across the foul tattoos etched on his corpse body.  The temperature dropped around Zazz, as the cold of the grave seeped into the space between her and the Necromancer.  Her breath frosted in front of her.  With a cackle of glee, the unclean spellcaster unleashed his blast of necromantic energy.

Zazz carefully stepped aside as he missed, leaving his lethal attack nothing more than a cold spot on the wall (stupid d20!)

Delthen, Paladin of Darkness, charged forward swinging his mace at the Ghoul's head.  The Ghoul neatly side stepped and it was Delthen's turn to miss. 

Hey mashed some rats with his tree.

Lief unleashed the thunder of his voice, smashing more rat skeletons.  The magic of his voice also allowed Zazz to freely disengage from the Ghoul.

Yoshi drew a bead on the Ghoul, and his fumble almost put the arrow into Delthen's back.  Fortunately, the arrow pinged harmlessly off his armored shoulder.

Cerise, suffused again with holy light, cast forth the Spirits of the Righteous, dealing a serious, but far from lethal blow to the Necromancer.

Rolen's Elven Grace failed him in this round, yet his Scorching Ray was effective, not only frying another skeleton, but also setting the rat mooks alight for ongoing damage.

Legolis fired his bow at the rat skeletons, rolling a critical hit.  The table suggested that he had made a double shot, loading two arrows onto his string and hitting two separate rat skeletons, destroying both!

Indigo hurled his Javelin of Faith and did damage AND befuddled the Ghoul.

Round 3
Zazz, having taken a few steps back, let loose with her Flying Blade attack, arcing her throwing glaive at the Ghoul.  Once again, the capering spell caster stepped aside, only getting nicked by the miss. 

The Ghoul again called upon the cold of the grave to attack Delthen and Zazz.

And . . . nothing.  Swish.  He did save and end the effects of being Befuddled.

The few remaining burning rat skeletons tried to attack, but failed.  One fell apart. 

Hey missed his main swing, but the slight impact of his tree on a miss was enough to shatter the last charred rat skeleton.

Delthen had a swing and a miss.

Cerise called upon the powers of light and cast forth her Javelin of Faith once again, this time landing a solid hit on the foul undead Necromancer.

Yoshi's arrow missed its mark.

Lief's Battle Chant only rattled some old bones.

Rolen's Elven Grace once again failed him, but his Scorching Ray sizzled the tattooed skin of the Ghoul.

Legoli's arrow found its mark.

Indigo's holy Javelin of Faith also struck.

Suddenly, the fearsom Ghoul Necromancer was down to very few hit points (13).

Round 4
Zazz loosed another Flying Blade attack, with another glaive and hit . . . for 12 points.

The Ghoul, now with one hit point, sought to disengage with Delthen and dive back into its river of bones.  However, that (stupid!) d20 roll failed.  So it instead launched itself in a frustrated physical attack against Delthen.  It bit and slashed and battered the Paladin, finding every chink and weakness in his defenses, doing 21 points of damage after scoring a special attack with its rolll.

The Paladin, battered and bleeding swung his mace . . . miss.

However, the one point of miss damage, the slight glancing blow, easily shaken off usually, felled the dread Ghoul.

End of combat.

Once again the, the adventurer's triumphed!  Everyone celebrated by digging through piles of bones and trash in the Ghoul's lair to find coins, gems, jewelry and other sundries!


Delthen sucked down a healing potion, because he was about, literally, dead on his feet.

In the distance, they heard again the wild cry of the Owlbear seeking some way to enter the level.

They decided they needed to find a place to rest, and indeed, after suffering so much punishment, with their recoveries nearly all exhausted, they had earned a full rest.

But where . . . ?

Find out next time as we continue Heroes of the 13th Age!!!