My First Time With D&D

So my board game night people decided to do D&D.  While I know a good deal about D&D rules (from plumbing the depths of old D&D video games for how they all work) and have roleplayed a bit in the past in other venues (just not D&D), this is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.

Because organizationally it was easiest, I was to be DM for our maiden voyage.

As a reference, we had one person who had played a few campaigns, another two who had played once or twice, and then myself and my wife who had never played.

We decided to play 5th edition, mainly because it was the easiest to find resources for, and most opinions online were very positive (for those who had tried it; many people still stick to 3.5, Pathfinder, and some version of 2E as well, from my understanding).

Anyways, we forged ahead with what more or less amounted to the starter set: pre-generated characters (halfling rogue, high elf wizard, human fighter, dwarf cleric) and the Lost Mines of Phandelver starter campaign.

Sadly, I was not as organized as I would have liked going in; I had intended to cull my resources the night and morning before, but real life decided to make that difficult, so my running of the campaign left a bit to be desired, since I had to stop and look stuff up from time to time instead of having it all prepared.

However, everyone had a blast, and I think I did a good job of DMing as far as keeping things going, and presenting the setting.  No one was confused as to their options, and I felt I played the different NPC characters rather well.  There were already some pretty memorable moments of silliness.

Also, RNGesus decided to pay a visit.  There was a bandit fight that had two critical misses and three critical hits.  One exchange involved the wizard getting 20’d and one-shot by a bandit, then the bandit on the ensuing turn critically missing, which I interpreted as him tripping over the wizard’s corpse and accidentally head-shotting himself with his short-sword.  That was fun, because it let the dead wizard feel at least somewhat useful, in death.

I think we’ll be continuing with this week-to-week, and I can’t wait.  I don’t think DMing is something I always want to do, but I certainly don’t have a problem with it, and I think I’m pretty decent at it.  Just need to get more organized and learn the rules a bit more.

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Baldur’s Gate: Again

I have this strange relationship with the Baldur’s Gate series.  Actually, this applies to the whole Infinity engine family of games; BG, Icewind Dale 1&2, and Planescape Torment.  But we’ll focus on Baldur’s Gate here first.

I got Baldur’s Gate as a random present from one of my mom’s friends wayyyyy back in 1998.  I was immediately hooked; it was only the second game I had ever played that gave me so many choices (the other was Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar for the NES).  It was top-down, which allowed for incredible strategic elements.  It had dialogue choices that meant something.  It had humor, seriousness, epicness.  It had it all.

Baldur’s Gate 2 was just a continuation, but stacking complex high-level spell combat on top of the already wonderful freedom and storytelling.  It also had one of the best villains in video game history, Jon Irenicus, who was voice-acted tremendously by David Warner.

I consider both of those games heavily influential on my gaming tastes.  I consider them both among the best PC games ever made, if not among the best games ever made, regardless of system.

I’ve never beaten either of them.  This is baffling.

I’ve certainly found it harder in recent years to complete games.  I often reach a point where I go “I get it” and put a game down, regardless of where I am.  I never beat Final Fantasy 9, despite getting to the final area.  I did the same with Final Fantasy 13 (though didn’t get quite as far, but I did get to the point where the game opened up).  I’ve done it with a few Ultima games.  And I did it with BG and BG2.

I’m not sure if they’re too long or what, but I have just never finished them.  I certainly got quite far into BG1, but never beat it, nor did any of the expansion content.  I got somewhat far in BG2 in the sidequests, but never advanced the main storyline past breaking into Spellhold, which is barely halfway, I think.

I’m currently trying to do a full playthrough of both, starting a character in BG: Enchanced Edition, play through it all plus the expansion content, then import the character into BG2 and do the same there.  I doubt I’ll make it, if previous attempts inform future actions.

I think it might be the combat.  It can range from mundane to ruthless, and I don’t think I like either.  I feel that my time is wasted with a fight with a few kobolds, but then my time is wasted when staring down a Beholder and six Yuan-Ti mages, which is pretty tough.

Or it might be all the freedom.  I often restart the game multiple times since I can’t decide which class to play.  I’ve found in other games that I can be paralyzed by choice, and end up putting the game down rather than settle on a certain race, class, or playstyle.

I had a startling thought just now.  Maybe I just want to play actual table-top D&D.

Luckily, I’ll be doing that this weekend.  I’ll write on that as well.

 

A Quick Rundown of the Crazy People Running for President

REPUBLICANS

Jeb Bush
jebthug
A man with his pedigree and record cannot be trusted.  Look at that snarl.  He’ll probably steal again!

John Kasich
kasichfruitninja
How can a person so good at Fruit Ninja find any time to govern effectively?  NEXT.

Ben Carson
carsonsqueeze
He might be the most intelligent Republican candidate, but if he can’t hold in a fart without making a face like that, diplomatic trips are going to be a non-starter.

Carly Fiorina
Carly Fiorina
I know that we’ve recently broadened our horizons when concerning who’s able to get into the oval office, but this is way too far.  Say what you want about a woman in the White House, but someone with a giant doppelganger twin?  This is too far.  That might come in handy in diplomacy, but the White House is NOT big enough for a failed businesswoman and her colossal clone!

Marco Rubio
rubiohuh
Old-guard Republicans are in love with him, but he looks more like an extra in a John Hughes movie.  Is this a face you can trust with the nation?  Or is it a face you can trust with helping the main character with a tricky relationship problem?  I think the answer is clear.

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) Announces His Run For President At Liberty University
Cruz may be the leading alternative to front-runner Trump, but are we sure we can let this man kill again?  How could we let someone who feeds on the souls of the innocent into the White House?

Rand Paul
randsmoking
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that people with hair that looks like that are either middle managers in retail, or the villain of an Adam Sandler movie.  May as well elect Christopher MacDonald to office.

Donald Trump
trump
Perfect.  You can’t beat the perfection that is Donald Trump…’s hair.  The hair is perfect, and would kill in the general election.  Too bad it’s attached to a despicable human being.

THE DEMOCRATS (thank Jebus there’s a lot less of them)

Hillary Clinton
hillarysecret
The idea of a Hillary presidency has long been a goal of the Democratic party, but honestly, we can’t elect someone to a third term.  Seems unfair.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders
Aw, grandpa woke up after falling asleep watching Gilligan’s Island reruns.  Can you go get him some hot cocoa and a blanket?  And tell him to stop sleeping on the couch, it’s bad for his back!

Martin O’Malley
marty
Martin O’Malley is a person, who happens to be running for president.  I think he’s real.  Citation needed.


 

Jack Nicholson as The Joker: A Remembering

For some reason, I always remembered the original Batman as a sort of sublime representation of the property; a wonderful blend of the serious, dramatic side and the charming camp of the television series.  Before we get to The Joker and Jack Nicholson, a few notes from when I watched it again recently:

  • I totally forgot Billy Dee Williams was Harvey Dent.  Obviously this never built to him playing Two-Face for whatever reason.  That would have been very interesting to see.  Shame.
  • I’m not a big Tim Burton guy; I enjoy most of his work, but I don’t automatically like everything he does.  His work in Batman is superb though.
  • The art destruction scene, while campy and dated, is a pretty great representation of the Joker character.
  • The pileup after the first chase scene is hilarious.  It’s like a million cars, vegatables, bricks, and a mountain of other inanimate objects.
  • I still think Michael Keaton was a curious choice for Batman/Bruce Wayne.  He ended up being quite good, but I can’t recall any body of work that would make anyone think he would be specifically good at either part of the role.  But he is.
  • Why would Batman fly up to silhouette on the moon like that?  Oh whatever.
  • I think there might only be four women in this movie.  Vicki Vale, the girl that was dating the Joker and the old mob boss, the news lady, and Bruce Wayne’s mom.  I think all the extras were dudes.  This movie is a sausagefest.
  • Fucking Danny Elfman.  Everything he touches is gold.

OK, with that out of the way: Jack Nicholson as the Joker.  It gets weird.

So, the defining characteristic of all of all of the 80s/90s Batman movies is that they paid homage to the camp of the TV series.  To me it’s pretty clear that this was intentional, but I also think it would have been done deliberately if only because Batman villains are very cartoonish and campy in their own right.  The villains typically don’t have superpowers (since Batman technically doesn’t either), so they are strange and fantastical in their own right, with curious origin stories and blown-out characterizations.

What we now know is that the Joker can be gritty, real, and terrifying while still maintaining the trademark name, facepaint, and character traits.  Heath Ledger’s turn as the iconic villain has been heavily lauded as one of the greatest villain performances in history, and much of that is owed to the writing of the character.  In The Dark Knight, the Joker seems very real, very dangerous, and very believable to many extents.

However, the original Batman movie was still stuck in the mire of camp, so the characterization of the Joker was still rather silly.  Creating an origin story that had never really been explored, Jack Napier is a bad guy turned worse by circumstance, with a mangled face (to explain the perma-grin) and a chaotic sense of entitlement.

Jack-Nicholson-as-The-JokerHowever, when compared to all the other villains in that initial run of Batman movies, the Joker certainly stands out.  Part of this is that the Joker is simply the least ridiculous of the villains; all the others were either historically weirder or just portrayed as extreme caricatures.  The other part is Jack Nicholson.

Is it strange to feel that Nicholson both helped and harmed the Joker character in Batman?  I feel that his performance was a double-edged sword.  Let me explain.

What Nicholson did lend to the Joker role was prestige and menace.  The simple fact that it was him portraying the Joker made the performance important, only because Nicholson is important.  Not to say Michelle Pfeiffer, Jim Carrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, et al aren’t important, but Nicholson brings with him some serious dramatic weight, no matter what the role.

Additionally, nobody can appear menacing and charming at the same time quite like Jack.  This did lend the Joker character a true degree of danger, despite the purple suit, cheesy jokes, and perma-smile.  I’m not sure if Nicholson was the only person who could have done that, but he certainly did it.

However, Nicholson clearly didn’t have his heart into the character whatsoever.  It’s a common problem with him in many movies, where his performance is still good because he’s largely incapable of poor performance, but his lack of enthusiasm is evident in the quieter parts of the performance.  The crescendos are magnificent, but the expository parts of the dialogue are lackluster.  It’s as if the gravitas of his personality still fills the role, but he himself isn’t trying very hard.

The casting alternatives for the Joker role are always tantalizing.  Names like Robin Williams, Tim Curry, and David Bowie are fun to think about.  However, the best name I’ve ever heard associated with that role was Willem Dafoe.  I think Williams and Curry would have definitely filled the humor and insanity parts of the role well, but I would have concerns on how much menace and danger either of them could portray.  Dafoe would have been able to make the Joker more dangerous, similar to how Nicholson did.


 

Funny thing I just realized while typing this: I probably would have never considered myself a Batman fanatic, but I’ve written like three or four blog posts in the last month about the movies.  I guess I am one.

Magic-ing for the First Time in Years

I actually played real, live Magic: The Gathering last night.  It was a release event for whatever new expansion is out, and it was a two-headed giant booster draft.  OK, that’s a lot of weird words.

Two-headed giant is where two players sort of play as one.  They have separate cards and play fields, but share turn order and life totals.  It’s an interesting format.

Booster draft is where instead of bringing your own preconstructed deck, you have to build a deck on the spot with cards you just bought.  How it works is that you open up a booster pack, pick a card from it, then pass the rest of the pack to your left.  You get another pack passed to you, and you draft another card, and on and on.  I’ve always considered it my favorite format, as it flexes both playskill and deck-building skill.  And you get to play with and use a lot of cards you wouldn’t normally consider in a constructed format.

So anyways, I played.  It was fun.  I’ll probably do it again, though only limited.  As I’ve said before, I do not wish to spend the time and money it takes to maintain a M:TG collection, and by proxy constructed decks.  I’d rather just breeze in, play limited (draft or sealed), and breeze out after selling any worthwhile cards.  I don’t want to know what prices are.  I don’t want to stress about format rotations or the metagame.  I just want to sling cardboard, and limited is the way to do it.

At the Drive-In Might Be Releasing New Music So Here’s Some Words About It

At the Drive-in is one of my favorite bands.  Sadly I didn’t get to enjoy them while they were active; they were one of a number of bands that I put off digesting before it was too late.  But whoa man, were they life-changing to me.

I don’t have to yammer on about how influential they are, or how their breakup spawned one of my other favorite bands (The Mars Volta).  We should all know that, and if you don’t this post probably won’t interest you.  What I’d like to yammer on about is their unreplicated style and energy that I’m hopeful we’ll get to hear again.

The first time I heard At the Drive-In, it was hearing “One-Armed Scissor” on the radio.  I’m not sure why that song didn’t immediately trigger a purchase of all their albums, but that song is just aggressive fire.  It’s almost a perfect rock song at face value, but has so much going on in it that it resembles the sort of movie that reveals more layers to it upon further viewings.

The pure primal energy of the vocals is enough to hook any rock enthusiast, but the music is where they truly shine.  It’s a perfect blend of sonic density and energetic punk sensibility.

Relationship of Command is also a near-perfect album, with a great variance of songs that are all unique and memorable.  I can put on that album at any time and enjoy it, front-to-back.

I don’t really have much more to say.  There might be new At the Drive-In music tomorrow.  Or at least, an announcement for a full tour, which would also be exciting.  Either way, I get to experience more of one of my favorite bands, that should also be one of your favorite bands.

The Horrible Powerlessness of Waiting

One of my wife’s friends from college went missing on Thursday.  Before I write about it, the essentials:

Facebook Page: “Find Sierra Shields”

News Report from PIX11 News

While I didn’t know her personally, it is important to note that thousands of people have liked and shared the post, and there is a large, organized effort to gather information that’s a coalition of friends, family, colleagues, co-workers, and even random concerned people.  Clearly she has touched many lives in a positive way.

Watching this from the outside, this is a heart-wrenching situation, obviously.  While I don’t have any personal grief, my wife has been in an emotional stasis for the past few days.  There’s no way to know how she should be reacting, since the lack of information prevents any sort of reasonable reaction.  Almost any reasonable conclusion is negative, but not knowing for sure is debilitating.

All I can do is console and reassure, which I’ve done, but I can’t say “it’ll be OK.”  I don’t know.  Chances are it won’t be OK.  False hope isn’t good for anyone.

The only great thing I’ve extracted from this is the comment sections in news outlets.  For the most part, it has been overwhelmingly positive.  It’s a healthy reminder of the fact that there is humanity out there still.