Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Week in Geek (25-31/01/10)

Buys'n'Gifts

While I bought Fables vol. 12, what I really want to talk about is a surprise package from Folded Soup containing a Science Fiction Video Compendium Gazette (vol.1... so you working on a second?) that features the best stand-alone episodes of 15 SF shows - everything from the Treks to Futurama and the Outer Limits. He's got some nice DVD menus for them with music and liner notes that would make a good blog entry. I remember suggesting a few ideas in a conversation we had years(?) ago, but forgot all about it. Sure, I've got many of the episodes on DVD already, but not all, and it makes a good introductory grab-bag for friends of mine who don't know what they like yet. If I count the three bonus MST3000 shorts, there are 9 items I haven't seen on there, so you might hear from me on this again. Maybe I don't agree with the choices. Maybe I do! Controversy's always good for a blog post.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Kung Fu Fridays this week closed our Asian Tour Month by coming back to China and Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower. A very heavy tragedy that's not at all the non-stop action film its trailer promised (which we watch only after the film). So a more quiet evening than we're used to, but strong performances, incredible set design and cool flying ninjas made up for it. The lesson is that while yes, Tang Dynasty China was corrupt, at least there wasn't any unemployment. There's a very Hollywoodish 20-minute featurette on the DVD with a condescending narration, but we spend enough time speaking with the director and stars to redeem it.



I also watched Boondock Saints for the first time. A fun indy action film about Irish catholic vigilantes with its tongue firmly in its cheek that still means business when it counts. Really, it's Willem Defoe's gay FBI detective that makes the movie. What a great character. That, and the way the film is structured around his investigations. Very nicely done. The "special edition" DVD extras are a bit of a downer though. There are two commentary tracks, one by writer/director/bitter pill Troy Duffy (did I mention how bitter he sounds? very bitter), and the other by actor Billy Connolly who is in it for all of 15 minutes, and while he's a fan of the film, he doesn't all that much that's relevant to say about it. The second disc has a few deleted scenes and outtakes and a printable script. That's it. Hardly worth minting a second disc.

On the TV side of things, I flipped yet another season of Spooks (MI-5) - its fifth. I'll name three things wrong with the season (but bear with me): They replace two sympathetic characters with one unsympathetic one; we're still not going home with most of the characters, leaving Zaf in particular with no more character development than he had when he first appeared more than a season before; and there's a notable over-reliance on government (or MI-6) conspiracies. And for all that, it's one of the most engrossing seasons of Spooks. I ran through it in about a day. Great, great stuff, (especially as Adam unravels) and keeps you holding your breath until the very last shot. It's a case of diminishing returns on the extras though. There's a making of for the season, but hardly anything else and commentaries on only two episodes instead of the whole lot. Now for some reason, Series 6 has a higher price point than the rest and I can't explain why. It's keeping me from pressing that "order" button at the moment...

I also finished Life on Mars Series 2, the 70s retro John Simm vehicle. Is he mad? In a coma? Or back in time? The last episode answers that question. Or does it? It's at once ambiguous and wholly satisfying, with a closing shot that turns it on its head again. The real answer is that we're not in Sam's head or in the 70s, we're on tv. The creators are playing with us, but this was always a slightly meta-textual show, so it's fair. If you liked the first series, you'll certainly like this. Nice extras on the DVD, with about 2½ hours of interviews and behind the scenes material. I can't wait for the sequel, Ashes to Ashes, to come on DVD on this side of the ocean.



Big Finish Doctor Who audios: Moving right along, I listened to Terror Firma, the first "non-series" 8th Doctor audio (Doc8 now folded into the regular release schedule), by Joseph Lidster. Like Lidster's The Rapture, this was a story I didn't always like, but that I admired for its creative editing. It's the kind of thing in which you sometimes wonder where you are, but gets better once your ear is "tuned" to its style. Terry Molloy once again returns as Davros (I guess he had to meet each of the audio Doctors) and he's losing his mind to the Daleks post -Remembrance. It is a very weird story, with the last humans partying under a metal sky, and previously unknown companions of the Doctor coming out of the woodwork. Some strange ideas, but in the final analysis, I have to say I like it more than I disapprove of it.

Next up was Paul Sutton's Thicker Than Water, an 6th Doctor/Mel story that acts as a sequel to the same writer's Arrangements for War, and reveals the final fate of Evelyn. It's not her last story, mind you, but it's her last chronological story. Consequently, Mel doesn't have much to do, but the Doc6-Evelyn relationship shows why it's one of the best pairings in TARDIS history. That element is the star here, not so much the political/mad scientist plot, though that's fine.





Third and last (and least) this week was Will Shindler's Scaredy Cat, featuring the 8th Doctor with Chalrie and C'rizz. At 1h14min, this is a much shorter audio than most by at least a half hour, with very brief scenes that do not reward the lazy listener. Things move at a brisk pace indeed. The story, with an Eden-like planet on whose natives experimentation on the nature of evil is going on, made me think of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Word for World Is Forest a heck of a lot, but with silly grunting and an adult voicing a little girl. So it's a pass on this one, I'm afraid. And maybe I'm getting a little bored with Doc8's present companions at this stage.


Operas: Got snuck into the University opera workshop by the set designers this afternoon at what might just be my first opera. I mention it here because of the subject matter - Baba Yaga. Now I told my set designer friends that I'd be much disappointed if the opera didn't have the hut with the chicken legs. I was much disappointed then. But other things made up for it. First, great set and lighting design, that's a given. Second, the music was lovely, especially considering the whole thing was the creation of one of the 4th-year students, James Fogarty, who also played a role. If there's a weakness, it's in his lyrics and dialogue, but his music was great, and I still find myself humming it. One day he'll meet a brilliant lyricist and away he'll go to stardom.

Hyperion to a Satyr entries this week include:
Act I Scene 3 - Jumping into a new scene! About time!

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 12 new cards from The Deadly Assassin, not yet half what I have planned for that story. More through the week.

Neglected Posts of the Week
If you haven't been checking out Michael May's Plump Sister, in which he goes through various film versions of A Christmas Carol, you're missing out on lots of Dickensian goodness. As far as I'm concerned, all the posts on there deserve more love.

Star Trek 1150: Oaths

1150. Oaths

PUBLICATION: Starfleet Corps of Engineers #16, Pocket eBooks, May 2002

CREATORS: Glen Hauman

STARDATE: 53661.9 (follows the last novel)

PLOT: Captain Gold starts counseling a disaffected and insubordinate Dr. Lense who appears to be suffering from burnout. Then a virulent plague breaks out on Sherman's Planet and in speaking to Fabian about computers, Lense figures out a way to use the transporter to upload a genetic patch to the population, giving them an extra chromosome that can destroy the virus. Unfortunately, that's an illegal act according to laws about genetic enhancements. Lense can't believe Gold would stop her so she threatens to relieve him of command and he finds a way to save both the planet and Lense by finding a loophole in the law. Starfleet isn't happy, but millions of lives saved counts for a lot, and Lense will reverse the genetic tampering once the virus is dead anyway.

CONTINUITY: Sherman's Planet was a matter of importance in The Trouble with Tribbles (how the planet got its name is mentioned and pays homage to David Gerrold's original reasons as per the book version of the episode). There is a reference to Memory Alpha, which was first mentioned in The Lights of Zetar, but could also be a sly nod to the wiki. Lense took a class taught by Beverly Crusher (TNG Season 2) and was investigated following the news Bashir was genetically enhanced (Doctor Bashir, I Presume) in case she was too.

DIVERGENCES: None.

FAKE SCREENSHOT OF THE WEEK - Dr. Lense loses it.
REVIEW: It's the 16th SCE novel, and the first to feature Lense for any amount of time. Turns out it's one of the better installments in the series. Hauman writes Lense, Gold and Fabian with wry humor, adopting the style of a play for the long dialogues of the counseling sessions. Though the dilemma is medical in nature, he still integrates the engineering solutions that are the series' main focus, and he's done his research, both in terms of the science and its integration into Star Trek lore. There's an odd moment in the middle of the book which references 9/11, strangely touching despite coming out of nowhere (though it does inspire Lense - it's given a plot justification). In Voyages of the Imagination, Hauman says he started the book before 9/11 and finished it after, and was only a few blocks away. It's a very personal moment for him, and though brief, it's memorable for the reader too. As for Lense, her breakdown has been implied by the preceding novels, and Oaths almost meta-textually acknowledges that the character has nothing to do in an SCE series. You couldn't even imagine actress Bari Hochwald sitting on her hands for most of a season without going to a producer. But in a book series, it becomes an opportunity to damage a character and have that damage become the focus of a good story.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What If... Dr. Strange Were a Disciple of Dormammu?

After too many issues trapped in 70s hell, the series returns to Marvel's more classic characters with a Dr. Strange story by Peter Gillis and Tom Sutton. It's not that I don't like Conan, Nova, Shang-Chi, Johnny Blaze or Jessica Drew, but their origins and pivotal moments are far less iconic than Marvel's first stars. And since this is a bimonthly comic, the series hadn't gone there for a YEAR, aside from the Nick Fury in space issue which had nothing to do with events in Nick's life. This marks a turning point for the series, which won't be headlined by a B-lister until Dazzler in issue #33 (and even there, she shares the bill with Iron Man). So good times ahead.

What If Vol.1 #18 (December 1979)
Based on: Strange Tales #110
The true history: Selfish surgeon Stephen Strange gets into a car accident that cripples his hands so he turns to boozing until he learns about magical healing in Tibet. After he thwarts Baron Mordo's attempt on the Ancient One's life ordered by Dormammu, the Ancient One takes Strange on as his pupil and allows him to fulfill his destiny as Sorcerer Supreme.
Turning point: What if Dormammu told Mordo to befriend Dr. Strange?
Story type: Phoenix Forced + Reset.
Watcher's mood: Hand contortionist.
Altered history: On Dormammu's orders, Mordo heals Strange's hands and sends him home still a selfish, callous man.
The Ancient One is denied his best pupil and he knows it, watching Dr. Strange's life unravel from afar. A deal with Dormammu's magics means all sorts of bad luck come to Strange, as he is slowly being manipulated into evil's arms. Soon, Mordo reappears and offers Strange the power and control he craves and teaches him black magic, which he takes to like a fish to water. The Ancient One, knowing a war must come, assembles a coven of obscure mystics from across the Marvel Universe.
Now, I recognize Dr. Druid because he was in the Avengers, and Agatha Harkness, Franklin Richards' governess in the first Fantastic Four comics I ever read, but who are the rest? Google, don't fail me now! Turhan Barim, Lord Phyffe, Rama Kaliph and Count Carezzi are all Dr. Strange foes turned allies, and Aged Genghis is a servent of the Vishanti. They all appeared in the Strange Tales days. Dr. Doom is the only one who refuses the Ancient One's invitation. Meanwhile, Dr. Strange outgrows Mordo and destroys him, and follows that up by freeing Dormammu's sister Umar the Unspeakable from captivity. They become lovers.
Of course, she just wants to use him for his power and then she'll take over. And vice-versa. Strange next attacks the Ancient One and his coven who are invoking the power of Eternity to defeat Strange. The spell goes wrong (oh, Dr. Druid, will you never learn?) and Dr. Strange is sent to face Eternity by himself. In our universe, Eternity judged Strange its champion and gave him power over the Eye of Agamotto. In this universe, not so much.
Dr. Strange takes the rejection badly and vows to destroy Eternity. The Ancient One summons the Vishanti for advice and they devise to give Strange the Eye of Agamotto. Since the Eye makes you see the truth, they hope it will turn him. He receives it and overconfident (he thinks he can overthrow Dormammu with it), he once attacks the Ancient One's coven. They fall, and he uses the Eye to face Eternity once more. But Dormammu's there and both forces shoot their power through him, using the Eye as a focus. Battered by the forces of both good and evil, order and chaos, he must make a decision.
RESET BUTTON! He chooses good, and the resulting explosion presumably banishes Dormammu. Strange is returned to the Ancient One to whom he appeals. He has seen the truth, and the truth is that his destiny is as the Ancient One's disciple. He indeed becomes Sorcerer Supreme, but is now someone who's tasted of both the black and the white arts. And like every villain-turned-hero, he must change his costume to reflect the change of allegiance:
I dunno, looks more evil than before to me.
Books canceled as a result: The Doc's origin may take a little longer to resolve, but since it kinda comes out the same, there's no reason to cancel any Dr. Strange comics.
These things happen: I can't remember any time in the last 50 years when Dr. Strange served Dormammu, so no.

Next week: What if Spider-Man had never become a crimefighter?
My guess: None of us would know a single thing about power and responsibility.

Star Trek 1149: Shanghaied

1149. Shanghaied

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #16, Malibu Comics, November 1994

CREATORS: John Vornholt (writer), Leonard Kirk, Jack Snider, and Richard Emond (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (between The Maquis and The Wire)

PLOT: Jerakans stop by the station no their way to a two-year trip to the Gamma Quadrant and shanghai two Bajorans as crew. Odo is on the case, and since Quark made the introductions, he forces him to help by allowing the next Jerakan freighter to kidnap some security. Quark tries to warn the Jerakans, but he and Rom and kidnapped and made to work in the kitchens instead. But it's not Rom, it's Odo, and he and Quark successfully take over the ship, reach the first freighter, and intimidate it into coming back to DS9 to release its captives. Back on DS9, Quark's has become Rom's.

CONTINUITY: Morn and Rom both appear.

DIVERGENCES: Odo imitates Rom perfectly.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Dax clones the background extras.
REVIEW: John Vornholt is a pretty good Trek novelist and his abilities translate to a pretty good comic here, despite the comics books' annoying habit of giving Odo more powers than he has on the show. That aside, the story could have been a little longer, perhaps allowing for an on-station subplot. Good, fun art, especially when inked by Jack Snider in the first half. I like Kirk's alien designs.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Movie Marquee Friday: Gamers Edition

This edition of Movie Marquee Friday is brought to you by gamers like you...

Celtic classic and by invitation only...
Oh those gamers, they chart new frontiers...
Anemone-like, riding the waves...

Those gamers who don't need much, except a system by which to become a...
They follow the calligraphed maps with their blood...

Gamers who know that demons and angels are often the same...
And that some creatures have been with us longer than we think...

One game to rule them all...
In metal worked by wetas...

And it not all for pencil and paper...
As ectoplasm boils under the surface...

Star Trek 1148: Dax's Comet Part II

1148. Dax's Comet, Part II

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #15, Malibu Comics, October 1994

CREATORS: Charles Marshall (writer), Leonard Kirk and Bruce McCorkindale (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: During the blackout caused by the explosions rocking the station, one of Those Who Wait attacks Kira, but she's tougher than she looks. When the lights come back on, Sisko has the cultists confined to a security cell. Meanwhile, other extremists are sabotaging the station and almost make it to Ops before Odo stops them. The cultists break out and Sisko gets into a public debate about how they hid while "real" Bajorans went on and thrived. At the same time, the crew take three runabouts and create a shield bubble to deviate the comet's path, saving the Wormhold and Bajor from the resulting explosion. Will Dax be able to forgive herself if the deviated comet one day hits a planet with life on it?

CONTINUITY: Nog appears. Sisko says he's a (Edgar Rice) Burroughs fan, which sheds light on his waking dream in Far Beyond the Stars.

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - So Buck Rogers science WRONG. Star Trek science RIGHT.
REVIEW: A good finally in that 1) it includes a great speech from Sisko and 2) its techno solution is dynamically illustrated. So it works for me. I do have caveats however. For one thing, writers of late have had the tendency to make Odo invincible. Not only is there too much shapeshifting relative to the show, but here he's defeating numerous opponents off-panel and getting all the big hero shots. It jars with the tone of the show and the comic. Second, the link to the title is extremely flimsy, just a postscript told in a caption box, and not even from Dax's point of view. And third, well, I'd like to know what happened to Those Who Wait! Sisko gives them a stern talking to and they disappear from Trek entirely (unless the story has a sequel later, but I'm not aware of one). That's a problem with a comic with revolving writers - introducing new elements may not be followed up on, and certainly aren't on the show.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On the Doctor's Coat Tails: A Campaign for the Doctor Who RPG

I've been having ideas left and right for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG, but of course, will never be able to use them all. So I'm passing on the savings to you, gentle reader! In this AITAS series, you are a Time Lord just escaped from the Time War (the Doctor is wrong about being able to "sense" you), desperately trying to catch up to him. Unfortunately, and in a way that can be played for both comic and tragic effect, your TARDIS keeps missing his. You arrive just after he's left, or take off just before he arrives. Or just possibly, you're stuck fighting Cybermen in India while he deals with them in London.

This allows fans of the new series to take part in their favorite stories, without retreading the same ground. There are really two types of adventures. The first gives the GameMaster the most freedom, sending the TARDIS crew to places the Doctor says he's been, but that we never see on tv. In Rose, we discover that the 9th Doctor visited the Titanic, Krakatoa and JFK's assassination. In Boom Town, we further hear about Woman Wept and other adventures. What was that planet with the strange flying creatures at the start of Army of Ghosts? Let's find out!
The second type of adventure creates a sequel, prequel or parallel story to one seen on tv. The Doctor notoriously never sticks around to see the consequences of his actions. Your Time Lord is cursed to be stuck with them. You arrive on Midnight just as the native creatures attack the pleasure dome. You destroy the Sontarans' last clone farm, making them head to Earth to build a new one. Car wars on post-Gridlock New Earth. The Unicorn escapes custody. Toclafanes to fight, but no one thinks to tell you the Doctor's been Gulumed aboard the Valiant.

Companions: Ever wished a guest character joined the Doctor on his adventures? This is a golden opportunity! Your Time Lord can travel with Sally Sparrow, Tallulah and Nancy! Fudge a little and you might even be able to rescue Lynda with a Y or Jabe.

You could of course intersect the Doctor's path out of order, but let's imagine you don't. What would a first series look like? Here are some ideas:
-5 billion A.D.+1 day, and at the center of the rubble that was once Earth, an ancient Racnoss artifact starts to glow...
-Were you there when the Metaltron Dalek fell from the sky? Or do you visit the States later and discover there's more than one threat to defeat in Van Statten's Goddard's bunker?
-Something's caused a major paradox and you're left to fend for yourself in the Egyptology exhibit as the Reapers fly down...
-The Chula come back to World War II for their missing ambulance. Mauve alert!
-Juvenile delinquent Baby Blon Slitheen causes problems on Raxicoricofallapatorius...
Classic series version: For players whose Whovian lore predates the new series, it could be great fun to try to follow the Doctor, ANY Doctor, through all of his adventures and incarnations. Meet Silurians in Caribbean caves and fight the Dakeks when they first storm 22nd century Earth. Destroy Scaroth's plans for the Roman Empire. Materialize aboard Control's stone spaceship to witness Josiah's next evolution. And you can then do away with the Time War explanation and have your Time Lord just stumble on the Doctor's tracks (maybe the TARDISes are sisters and intimately linked).

Anyway, just another structure to hang your AITAS game on.

Star Trek 1147: Dax's Comet Part 1

1147. Dax's Comet, Part 1

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #14, Malibu Comics, September 1994

CREATORS: Jerry Bingham (writer), Tim Eldred and Bruce McCorkindale (artists)

STARDATE: 48273.5 (between Profit and Loss and Blood Oath)

PLOT: As the legend goes, every 2000 years, Bajor is rocked by natural disasters, but its civilization is reborn each time thanks to "Those Who Wait", a lost tribe of religious zealots who live underground. Now they have returned just as a stray comet called the Messenger is set to hit the Wormhole. The station is disrupted by riots as the Bajorans cry apocalypse. A contingent of the lost tribe arrive on Deep Space 9 and warn Sisko not to interfere with the comet and that rebirth will come out of death. As if on cue, the station is hit by multiple explosions...

CONTINUITY: Nog appears.

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Glow sticks are no match for rocks.
REVIEW: Though principally known as an artist, Jerry Bingham does a good job introducing the Bajoran legend of Those Who Wait, and though I might've liked a stronger link to Bajoran religion as we know it, it still feels very DS9. Rioting Bajorans, fundamentalist sects and objects threatening to destroy the Wormhole are all staples of the series. We still haven't had an artist of Purcell's weight on the series, but Eldred (like Kirk before him) do a good job nonetheless. Bottom line, I'm interested in seeing how this story turns out, so thumbs up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cat of the Geek #46: D&D Familiar

Name: Various
Stomping Grounds: Dungeons & Dragons (RPGs)
Side: True Neutral
Breed: Various
Cat Powers: An eldritch link to its master. Balance, Hide and Move Silently racial bonuses. Claw/claw/bite.
Skills: Eat 5, Sleep 4, Mischief 7, Wit 4, Armor Class 14 (is that right? what is that, d20?)
Cat Weaknesses: The encroachment of homunculus, pseudo-f***in-dragons and other grotesques.

Star Trek 1146: Lapse

1146. Lapse

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #13, Malibu Comics, August 1994

CREATORS: Charles Marshall (writer), Leonard Kirk and Bruce McCorkindale (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (between Playing God and Profit and Loss)

PLOT: Just before a security exercise in which the crew must find Odo without the aid of internal sensors, Bashir inoculates him for the Bajoran flu. This makes him go crazy and he believes he's being hunted by enemies. Eventually, he's shapeshifted so much, he reverts to a gelatinous state and Bashir cures him.

CONTINUITY: Odo's flashbacks include his people, the Denorios Belt, Dr. Mora Pel and Dukat.

DIVERGENCES: Odo shapeshifts into a convincing Quark.

PANEL OF THE DAY - It's "Let's switch make-ups" Day.
REVIEW: It's another Charles Marshall script and it's a lot like the previous two. The story is slight, not much more than a chase before the pages run out and he has to plug in an easy resolution. On the up side, each character gets a set piece, and there's at least an attempt at flashing back to an important moment. On the down side, the premise is ridiculous, with Bashir pumping drugs into Odo despite the fact he admits to knowing nothing about his psychology - and Sisko ordering it! In previous issues, this seemed to be done in the name of comedy and turned out to be pretty silly. Played for straight here, it's just stupid.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Diceless Moments in an Otherwise Dicey Universe

Heresy?

I've mentioned this in brief before, but one of the things that was most pleasurable about our short cinematic GURPS Black Ops campaign was the concept of the diceless TEASER. Because the game was about these action movie badasses, I started each episode with the end of a previous, unseen mission. Something like the teasers in James Bond movies. Within the parameters of their character sheets (a guy couldn't suddenly fire bolts from his eyes, for example), the players simply responded to the situations narrated by the GameMaster, going for big and spectacular and not having to worry about rolling for it. Such spectacular effects would normally have generated massive modifiers, but we made as if they always rolled a critical success, basically. They could also fail on purpose to make the situation more dramatic and cutting the successes closer. No "XP" was ever handed out for this, but I handed out "Cinematic points" (call them what you will, Hero points, Karma, Story points, Bennies) which could then be used in the full scenario that followed. This teaser scheme had a variety of effects:
1) The players got into describing actions in a more exciting way reducing the boring "I shoot him" stuff to a minimum during the session.
2) The players got into the spirit of the game very quickly and carried on with the right tone through the whole of the game.
3) Because there were no ruling issues, these encounters didn't take long and yet were quite memorable.
4) Set up any subsequent challenges and opponents as more epic because they had a greater chances of failure.
5) [System-specific] Served as a smooth Cinematic points engine.

Now last week, I was reading a post at the Dungeon's Master.com about "Calling the fight" and it made me realize that a similar diceless moment can come in handy at other times. What Ameron was saying there was that the last rounds of a fight are often a war of attrition. The PCs have already won, but have to go through the motions of rolling dice until the monster's hit points drop below zero. In such situations, he recommends you "call the fight" and end it there, especially at higher levels where dropping the enemy may well take 10 more rounds. Now, his article is D&D-centric, but he makes a good point. A GM in any game could conceivably call the fight for the PCs (never for the bad guys, of course) and narrate over their victory. "With a few extra slashes, you cut down your enemies and they now lie at your feet. What's next?"

What I propose however is to marry this idea to the one before it. DON'T narrate the PCs' victory, but allow THEM to do so. This has a few results I like:
1) You don't rob the players of the joy of victory. In fact, you heighten it by allowing them to create a "FINISH HIM" moment all their own.
2) It allows players to get the result they want from their success. If they want to capture a foe, they can (no more "oops, sorry you did too much damage, shoulda pulled your punch, he's dead"). If they want to let a goon get away so he can sow fear into his organization, they can. If they want to knock out rather than kill, they can. And no crunchy rules required.
3) Saves time. This isn't really for your climax, but all the intervening fights keeping you from getting to that climax.
4) Everything I said about the teaser holds true as well.
So let them strategize, let them get their noses bloody, let them surge back. But when it's clear they're going to succeed, reward them with a cool moment. "You did so well, you get to do whatever you like!"

Dicelessness, it's not just for Amber anymore.

Star Trek 1145: Baby on Board

1145. Baby on Board

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #12, Malibu Comics, July 1994

CREATORS: Charles Marshall (writer), Leonard Kirk and Bruce McCorkindale (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: When a cranky Bajoran baby is abandoned at Quark's, it gets suffled between every member of the cast as they get called to duty. On the same day, a Starfleet inspector is ready to give DS9 a bad grade based on how tired its personnel seems. When he sees the baby, he guesses everything and forgives them. The baby's mother awakens from a fever in the infirmary and collects her child.

CONTINUITY: There's a flashback to Jennifer Sisko (Emissary). Keiko and Molly appear.

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Just what you're buying comics to see.
REVIEW: Another comedy issue from Charles Marshall, and while I'd prefer they spaced these out a little, it's at least better than issue #11. Quark changing diapers wears thin pretty fast, but once the entire crew gets in on it, we do get some good moments. Sisko remembers how Jennifer taught him how to hold a baby. Kira sings a Bajoran lullaby. And O'Brien's magic touch with children is invoked. Marshall's lazy writing is on show though, with the resolution all too easy, and timeline problems with Odo melting into a puddle after playing with the baby too long (there's just no time for it to be that long). Not perfect, but still enjoyable fluff.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Live and Let Die: d4

Being the first of many profiles on the polyhedral life our favorite dice. This week: the d4.Poor four-sided die... He's truly the runt of the litter. Though he seems to invoke pyramid power, he is doomed to be called "3-sided" by noobs, and stare up at confused faces who can't tell what number he landed on.

Real name: Tetrahedral Die
Nickname: Caltrop
Uses: Mostly D&D and derivatives. Represents crappy weapon damage and the feeble health of magic-users (no time to go to the gym when you're studying magic).
Beloved because: Though extremely hard to spin (a popular time-killing activity for gamers), the dreidle-like d4 IS spinnable and is the most impressive to see.
Hated because: Doesn't roll very well. Just... drops really. Plops. And if plopped on the floor, beware your tender feet.
Biggest rival: The 4-sided prism.
The d4 remains traditional and will always be included in polyhedral sets thanks to its small size, but the prism actually rolls and can, in a pinch, be used to represent a precious gem.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got something sharp in my shoe.

Star Trek 1144: A Short Fuse

1144. A Short Fuse

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #11, Malibu Comics, July 1994

CREATORS: Charles Marshall (writer), Leonard Kirk and Bruce McCorkindale (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (between Shadowplay and Playing God)

PLOT: Jake and Nog dream of being the heroes of the Promenade, so when there's a bomb to be found on the station, they go into action rather than to their quarters. They eventually find the bomb and bring it to Ops for Dax to beam into space. Later, they're disappointed to find that Sisko considers Odo the hero of the day. What they found was a sensitive piece of equipment O'Brien just got after months of waiting, and now it's ruined. Short fuse indeed.

CONTINUITY: Nog and Morn appear.

DIVERGENCES: Nog says Ferengi males do not live with their mothers (see Family Business onwards for a different view).

PANEL OF THE DAY - The Klingon Doctor Light?
REVIEW: A very slight comedy issue from Charles Marshall that at its best, reminds one of Treachery, Faith, and the Great River, but nowhere near as clever. One of the problems is that the story is full of holes. Jake considers abandoning the mission and going to school, though all civilians are restricted to their quarters. Why doesn't Dax recognize that the chief's whatsit isn't a bomb? Why doesn't she scan it? Why doesn't she call Sisko immediately? What we're left in is a slapstick scene of Bashir sliding on marbles and some comedy anger from O'Brien at the end. There are some fun visuals in there, sure, but the story is lacking.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This Week in Geek (18-24/01/10)

Buys

Nothing this week. Move along.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Though I watched most of the episodes around New Year's, I didn't "flip" Spooks/MI-5's 4th season until yesterday. The quality of writing, acting and filming is still quite high, and I don't think I miss the first season's leads, but there's one thing missing - there's not enough about the characters' private lives. The first three series were about more than the threat of the week - they were about what it meant to be a spy. Though there's Adam and Fiona struggling with parenthood, Zaf and the non-agents get nothing of the sort.And even the parent stuff isn't on the same level as what we've seen before. Still, some great and daring episodes in the mix. The DVD has commentary tracks on each story and only three rounds of interviews, mostly on a windy balcony with crappy sound. Rather disappointing compared to past releases.

Kung Fu Friday's Asian Tour brought us to South Korea this week and we watched Ryoo Seung-Wan's The City of Violence. This story of childhood friends now clashing from different sides of the law pays hommage to a large number of directors and styles, from John Woo to Scorsese to Peckinpah and sounds like a Tarantino movie. The action has a style all its own though, incredibly raw despite the set pieces veering on the ridiculous. Watch the fight with b-boys and the baseball team for example. There are too many stylistic flourishes for them all to work, but it remains a very entertaining tragedy which I might compare to Snatch in that sense. The DVD is extra loaded, with a commentary track by the star/director (in Korean with subtitles) and a second disk with at least 3 hours of documentary features, deleted scenes and action scene breakdowns.

Big Finish Doctor Who audios: Caroline Symcox's The Council of Nicaea is a surprising gem. A pure historical that reminded me of the old Hartnell episodes, concentrating on the early history of Christianity (specifically, the debate that would lead to the Holy Trinity) that features various points of view (even the three stars - The 5th Doctor, Peri and Erimem) and doesn't tread into unwanted controversy. Solid and educational, with strong character beats and historical figures painted in shades of gray. For the third time in row, they have me thinking Erimem might leave the crew. I wonder how many times they can pull that trick before she actually does.


I also gave The Veiled Leopard a go. This is a 2-episode Doctor Who magazine exclusive by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett that features two sets of companions and no Doctors. It's a real HOOT! Some lovely comedy double acts via Peri & Erimem and Ace & Hex, whose stories intersect (though they never meet) in 1966 Monaco in events surrounding the heist of a famous diamond. The various characters each have their reasons to care and each team gets an episode in which to shine. The dialogue is as sparkly as the gem and doesn't take itself too seriously. The audio exclusives have been slight on the whole, but this one's a real winner.

Hyperion to a Satyr entries this week include:
Act I Scene 2 - Ghost Stories according to Classics Illustrated
Act I Scene 2 - Ghost Stories according to Johnny Hallyday's French Rock Opera

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 16, finishing the cards I wanted to make from The Next Doctor. I've started production on cards from The Deadly Assassin, but none were ready for "release" before I posted this.

Neglected Post of the Week
Because I'm launching into a gaming-related week, how about I showcase my painting tricks for lead miniatures? It's called RPG Week Gets Miniaturized. If you missed it the first time around, it's new to you!