Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Force Mistakened; One Fan's Opinion on Star Wars Episode 7 (SPOILERS HEREIN!)

Being married to a beautiful lady whose entire family consists of three generations of die hard Star Wars fans, I did not wish to decline an evening in her presence at the theatre and be the ultimate stick in the mud so we attended a showing last week of this newest JJ. Abrams reprise of an old classic.

I'm not going to strike a sour and discordant note just to be a curmudgeon or deliberately retro...not that I have to try hard at let me begin with a positive word.

As a film in and of itself, it is certainly entertaining. Why?

Here's What I Thought Was Good About It

1. A very quick pace, fast moving action, and great dialogue.

2. Excellent cinematography. A good camera eye throughout.

3. Some great special effects and without exception the greatest shots of the Millenium Falcon both on ground and in flight that are to be seen in any scenes from the entire film canon.

4. Harrison Ford does another great Captain Solo performance. Han and Chewbacca were my favourite element in this film and for me the one that was most evocative of the Star Wars trilogy that I recall with fondness.

5. Great concepts for sets and very interesting locales. My favourite was the graveyard of Imperial ships crashed in the desert of Jakku.

6. There was very little in the movie that I would call stupid; for the most part, it had a high cool factor.

Here's Why The Movie Was a Huge Disappointment

1. No  actual plot, merely a collage of rehashed former episode material.

2. The gravity of the peril that was defeated and the magnitude of the rebel victory in Return of the Jedi was thrown away like yesterdays coffee grounds. It was not only all for nothing, somehow you are supposed to care about a story that thrusts you into thirty years later just like that. I realize the actors have aged and there would be logistical difficulties with presenting the events that led to the First Order but there could have been more, perhaps with flashbacks, by omitting the whole Starkiller Base motif, which was actually dumb and not exciting at all as we have already seen all of it before. A director would not be able to use the original cast in the flashback scenes, but characters like Snoke and Kylo Ren could have been explained better. Why everything got all screwed up so thoroughly could have been explained somehow, but apparently we were expected to sum it all up ourselves based on a few cryptic characters and the scattered references. As you can read clearly, this was my biggest disappointment.

3. The script was extremely well edited to maintain pace and continuity, and it did a good job of keeping scenes brief without feeling rushed, but character development was not effective--time was not taken to get you to care. In the very first Star wars release, there is quite a lot of care given to characterization and creating empathy with the characters. I did not know these characters at any point during the film.

4. No interesting new worlds or races, none that you are given the slightest information on at least. 

5. A few pretty colossal logic fails, the most notable of which was stormtroopers calling in an airstrike on a settlement they were still present in and this while searching for a droid they believed to be in the settlement. It was like huh? You are searching for a droid here so lets ask our air support shell the place, possibly destroying the droid we want and killing ourselves as well. Makes zero sense. There are enough moments like this to annoy, including a person completely new to a lightsaber wielding it against a trained saber-wielder strong in the Force (Finn vs. Kylo) and seeing a person hit full on in the back with a lightsaber strike and not dying.

6. A couple really dumb concept ideas, like a Stormtrooper using some bizarre electric weapon against a lightsaber just for the sheer weirdness, I guess. Why the lightsaber didn't cut it half might be plausibly explained away but not why a storm trooper in a battle was carrying such a weapon to begin with. It was probably so another toy could be marketed. Also, the Starkiller Base female Storm trooper Commander had a terrible armour design--it was silly because it tried to be sexy and that's something a stormtrooper suit should not do.

7. Han and Leia's relationship ended. Yes, I know I'm a guy, and I'm not supposed to care, but it seemed like cynicism for it's own sake. It evolved through the first three films and was a fairly happy element, the end of which was thrown in to this movie, just like the way in which Han was killed, simply out of sadism for the oldest fans.

8.The opening scrolling narrative was written as well as one of my fifth grade book reports and had all the impact of a nerf bullet. I'm getting too nitpicky now, so I will quit.

I know...I'm just negative and stuck on my generation... 

...but I will say it. Not Star Wars for me. I did not expect it to be, although I will say it was not the disaster I was expecting. It was exciting at times. Going into it, however, knowing that Abram's directed it already had me weary. I have friends who said he got Star Trek, he didn't even approach the original Star Trek. He rewrote the main characters altogether. I will say he did better here, but I have no interest in this series anymore. If a good Netflix series pops up, like the Han Solo Trilogy or something of that nature, I might tune in, but with the exception of Han and Chewbaca, there was just not enough special care taken to get me back on board the Star Wars train.

In fact, I kept thinking throughout that if this movie was anything but Star Wars right now, I would be thrilled with it. Remember the Spacemaster roleplaying game? This would have been a great Spacemaster movie with a little character revising.

However, to end on a positive note, I will say that this film will be to a lot of young kids what that first Star Wars movie was for me, and I suppose that that is a good thing, kind of like how Christmas is still magic for little kids but for adults its mostly a wistful and nostalgic yearning.

Enjoy it anyway!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Jackson Pollock Style Adventure Design Or: Using 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide Random Dungeon Generation

Greetings, Maze Dwellers.

In this post and a few more to come I'm going to be discussing random dungeon generation. 

One reason I am trying it this way is to take some work and pressure off of myself as a DM.

In this vein, I sat down one night this past week and after being very chore focused for three days I relaxed with a bottle of wine, my dice and the DMG and tried my first random dungeon generation.

If you are unfamiliar with the 1st Ed. DMG, there are appendices containing page after page of dicing tables to map out, stock, populate and "dress" a dungeon. The tables contain lists of monster denizens separated by level, hall and passage lengths and directions, chamber sizes and contents, treasures and magic items, furnishings of rooms and the list goes on.

I had intended to randomly generate the dungeon map itself but I found that this is pretty time consuming, so in my typical A.D.D. fashion I quickly scribbled a map with a black pen and a sheet of typing paper. I don't know about you but anymore it bores me to tears to draw detailed graph maps. It was fun when I was sitting in my junior high classes and designing dungeons instead of learning (: /) but I don't like it anymore and now I have weird ways of making maps like photographing strange patterns and designs I see in a piece of wood or rusted metal surface and turning them into complexes. This time I just sketched a bunch of random squiggles and lines that weren't even connected and then kind of linked them together.

Anyway, having got my map, I just started dicing on then tables without the slightest restrictions or any attempt to have a rational and well planned dungeon ecology...I decided that instead, I would get the dungeon stocked and populated and then construct a narrative for it and add rhyme and reason after the fact.

It was very enjoyable and I got much further than I would have if I had used my usual approach. I ended with the entire dungeon being mapped, numbered, and keyed, the key consisting of simple numbered notes in sequence like "1. 1000 Copper Pieces....2. Spear Trap. 3 spears, non poison....3. 2000 Copper Pieces. Giant Rats, 19.....4.Pool, nonmagical."

I have already began to add more details but they are finishing touches and I have something to work with already. For example, the spear trap is the greeting to the dungeon for intruders and is activated if anyone steps off of the stairs without turning the torch sconce  on the wall above the bottom step. Once turned, the dungeons occupants can pass safely across the room and pull a lever which returns the sconce to it's usual position in the stair and resets the trap.

After I finished keying in the dungeon I meditated upon some of the denizens I had rolled and began to formulate a premise for the dungeon, it's purpose and nature. I deviated from the tables once and chose a human character from the monster lists for one room--I then diced for it, thinking to make it a fellow adventurer. But when a cleric came up and I used the NPC random generation tables in the front of the DMG to write him up, I rolled an evil alignment. So I decided then and there that he (or she, haven't decided yet) will be the overseer of the complex and it is religious in nature.

I even randomly determined the cleric's deity and it came to Inanna from the Sumerian mythos in the Deities and Demigods book. This also determined that the adventure would take place in a distant land like Sumer and that the architecture of the dungeon would be Sumerian. Architecture is important in my dungeons because I work it into puzzles, traps, secret doors and magical effects.

I decided that the players would be sent upon a quest by the devotees of the other Sumerian gods, who, while certainly not wanting to anger or dishonor the goddess of love, sex and war, also do not want her priestesses to gain ascendancy or political hegemony in that civilization, so the players will be equipped and aided by the other priests and gain healing potions, retainers and possibly even NPC assistance. And they will not desire the death of any of the devotees of Inanna in the dungeon, if at all avoidable...

I added a simple wandering monster list:

1.Human Acolytes

I have yet to work out why Gnolls and Trolodytes are on peaceful terms with a priest or priestess of Inanna--there are some natural caves in the dungeon and these are the lair of the trogs. If I am unable to come up with a logical reason they are a part of the complex, I will decree that they are under enchantment!

I did place fountains throughout the dungeon when designing my map so an afterthought is that if any characters drink from them, they may fall under the influence of Inanna's sphere temporarily, either becoming amorous or suddenly wishing to fight....

I did do a few moving around tricks to the random elements I had generated because if you use the random generation tables, you will come up with quite a few empty rooms, and in fact you will probably have to ignore that result frequently since it comes up on a roll of 1-12 on the 20 sided dice.

I will also add up all experience points for monsters and treasures to see if I have a good total to see the players well on their way to 2nd level and also to make sure I did not provide too many XP. I usually do this with all my dungeons. Also, I will roll hit points and note AC and abilities of any monsters to speed play.

Finally, I will also review the magic items in the dungeon and make sure they will be fitting for the party I end up with as players.

All told, I spent two hours at this, and I could run the dungeon as is, so aside from being an enjoyable unwinding, it was productive for my coming game and as anal retentive as I get sometimes about dungeon design it takes me me anywhere from a week to three weeks to design an adventure and I just don't have that kind of time anymore.

I highly recommend you try it, as it proved fun and surprising.

I did not finish the bottle of wine, however.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Collage...

Continuing work on Down in the Dungeon...

 I am really enjoying doing this though it kept me up til 2 AM  the other night...I realize my limitations and lack of color savvy but I do like the overall vibe, especially happy with the Reaper's robes.

For some reason this piece reminds me of some of Ronnie James Dio's verses:

"The world is full of kings and queens who blind your mind and steal your dreams, they tell you black is really white, and the moon is just the sun at night, and if you walk in golden halls, you get to keep the gold that falls, it's heaven and hell. Fool, fool, look for the answers." (Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell on the album of the same title).

You know, I don't think he intended one ounce of metaphor in that line...

May he rest in peace.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Caves of Quarl

I finally own a scanner/printer again after almost a year of not having one.

This means I will get to upload some of my maps and some more free dungeon


I have plans for the Caves of Quarl. I originally wanted to call them the Caves of

Quarn but discovered that some one else already thought of that name for a

video game level...

With the caves of Quarl, quite simply, I don't want it to be laborious and so after

setting a few guidelines for the design, I will be almost completely using the

random monsters, traps and treasure generation tables to populate and stock

the megadungeon.

I will then write the Dungeon Key and somehow reconcile all of the elements in

the dungeon...

When I run this for players, I intend to introduce some sort of teleportation

artifact to the party which will allow them to come and go from the Dungeon at

will, though I will place limitations upon it. Times of day it may be used, charges,

too complex to be used in the middle of combat, etc.

This is because Quarl's vastness is such that making forays in and out without

such a device is not really tenable--once you are down there, you are down

there. It would take days to make the journey out from the lower reaches, and

wandering monsters are common in Quarl.

The other map I am going to upload and will have ready before Quarl is a

double level map of the Sunken Temple.

The Sunken Temple is not an aquatic is the remains of a Temple of

Poseidon that was built before the seas diminished, leaving the Temple ruin

inland. In course of time, earthquakes and tectonic activity have consigned the

old sea temple to the subterranean realm. Humans were driven out of the region

by the Erlking, Lord of Goblinkind.

The lost Temple of Poseidon now rests under the Goblin City.

In the original campaign where I first ran this dungeon, the players discovered

it after being  taken prisoner in the Goblin City, being thrown into an arena

where they were beset by giant beetles for the entertainment of the Goblin folk,

and winding up going down a Beetle hole to try to survive the onslaught.

They dead ended at an ancient underground wall--just as the Beetles were about

to eat them, a secret door opened--the players had no choice and rushed in.

The door closed behind them, and they found a strange underground ruin.

It was well lit by maintained torches and after descending several long stone

stairs and crossing a few bridges, they came into a little underground town

where a human cleric played father to hosts of orc, hobgoblin and goblin

children and teenagers.  Some of the clan were adults by now, as well, but all

were friendly. The confused players learned that a mysterious power emananting

from the Sunken Temple had assisted the cleric in bringing up relatively

benevolent humanoids--most were orphans and street urchins from the city

of the Erlking.

The cleric told them the way to a great cavernous shaft that led to the old

temple, and told them that a wondrous relic lay within the Temple..however, it

was also guarded by a  Demon who was set there by the Chaos gods to ensure

that no one ever retrieve the relic or restore the altars of the Sunken Temple...

I will be uploading the Sunken Temple map and Dungeon key shortly!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Art Project "Down In the Dungeon"

Here are some shots of the beginning of an art project I am working on called...for now at least...Down in the Dungeon.

What you see above is not what it will be...the final paint coat will be key to making this what I want it to be.

I am a big fan of collage art and make quite a bit of that.

Most of my collage art is not fantasy themed, though, so I don't share it on the Mazes... Down in the Dungeon, however, is meant to evoke an old school D&D vibe.

The pieces so far are all found/bought/scavenged toys and game pieces.

The death's head is from a bottle of cologne I had, some of the dungeon heroes are either plastic knights from a dollar store toy rack or salvaged board game pieces. The robes on Death are paper towels soaked in glue and water.

Obviously the maze structures are all Styrofoam but I brushed them with acetone to pit and age them. I will prime them black and then drybrush them to look like stone.

The frame and the fabric art in it were bought at a thrift store for ten bucks. Of course the fabric will disappear when I start the paper mache. And I still need some 3D pieces for the maze chambers. Pieces that are too round for setting on a flat canvas are sanded down flat on one side. 

The chess pieces are added to emphasize the game element and the fact that we can be any piece on the board we want to be...

I have not completely decided the colours that will be used in the piece, whether realistically painted or otherwise, I don't yet know.Part of me wants to add something mechanical to it, like a clock or do something with either glow in the dark or fluorescent blacklight paints.

I'd also kind of like to obtain or make some of those images that present the illusion of movement due to the wavy line placements. We shall see. I have an old cut up D&D 1st ed. Monster Manual that I may cannibalize for some Trampier or Sutherland images in the "rooms"--since I'm not going to be selling the piece I don't have any qualms about that. But they aren't really big enough. Instead I'd like to find some more cheap toys or old odds and ends cause I'd really like even more relief in it but I don't want King Death overshadowed, for he is in fact the Dungeon Master here. 

I will be adding many other pieces...currently keeping an eye out for a small hourglass, for example. Also, a skeleton key. And I'll be throwing in some symbolism and riddles to reward the patient observer. I will not reveal these in the blog but I will give one away: the chess piece above Death's head was not placed accidentally...


Why throw sh* away? I will post photos of the evolving art piece.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Megadungeon Map: The Caves of Quarl!

So here is the first draft of a map of an underworld I am playing with, the Caves

of Quarl!

Quarl shall be a place of limitless caverns and underground lakes and rivers...

The DMG shall assist me in populating it's expanses with to the

 ancient subterranean race that was (and is) master of Quarl, and the

peculiarities of their culture and architecure, I am still deciding but it shall be a

traditional 1st ed. Race from the Monster Manuals or Fiend Folio, but that is

yet to be determined...