She Can Fly: Broken Trinity?

So, we’ve got a female Thor. We’ve got a black Captain America. We’ve got an evil, megalomaniac billionaire playboy in Iron Man.

That’s Marvel’s new trinity, it seems, one to combat the Wonder Woman/Batman/Superman iconography that’s been over at DC for almost seven decades. And you can see some analogous choices in Marvel’s new direction, with Thor now aligning more with Wonder Woman than Superman in terms of character structure (although Thor is an alien now, I guess?). Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are both jerky, occasionally dislikable, rich white guys with lots of toys. Cap and Superman stand for the American way, in theory, at least.

But here’s where the Trinity falls apart: of the four books that feature the starring three (Thor, All New Captain America, Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, and Superior Iron Man) half of them present their titular hero as evil.

Part of the issue with Captain America is that his two debut books were released simultaneously, and they present to very different versions of the new Cap. One, All New Captain America is the positive, heartwarming, and dynamic introduction of a new hero born from an old one. The other, Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, presents a cold, cruel, thug of a “hero” in the role of Cap. This is because the latter title is an Axis tie in.

Superior Iron Man seems also to be an Axis tie in, present a Tony Stark that is rough, edgy, and cruel. To put it quite simply, Tony Stark is a jerk. This character presentation is a lot darker than the iconic Demon in the Bottle storyline, and the character has been compared to John Galt in multiple reviews. Honestly, the idea of Iron Man as an Ayn Rand-ian hero is a hard pill to swallow, and I’m barely invested in Tony Stark as a character to begin with.

Finally, Thor is maybe the best presented of the trio, and even then, the title is more focused on the mystery of “who is Thor?”, rather than Thor’s interaction with the rest of the world. The closest she gets to being humanized is dealing with the Roxxon CEO, who is also apparently a bloodthirsty centaur.

The biggest problems with this trinity really derive from one, singular thing: big events. After all, Thor’s change in gender spins out from the lackluster Original Sin, and both Cap and Stark are having about-face-turns due to the events of the underwhelming and clichéd Axis. Axis, certainly, seems like a storyline that better belongs in a What If one off than a line-wide event. And though Marvel’s been building to it since the Marvel Now and All New Marvel Now rebrandings (don’t forget, Red Skull had Xavier’s brain in issue #1 of Uncanny Avengers), that doesn’t mean it is something that will resonate with their audience.

The other issue is derived from the fact that these three have yet to interact with society. They’re seen surrounded by evil CEOs, businessmen with no scruples, and fighting other superheroes, but they aren’t seen standing toe-to-toe with a regular citizen. These are the moments that stand out the most in superhero comics: when Wonder Woman tells a little girl how to sword fight with a stick and beat the boys; when Superman saves a troubled teen from committing suicide by encouraging them; when Batman rescues an orphan, seeing himself in them. Likewise, Cap, Thor, and Iron Man have all had moments like this in past storylines, but these new interpretations of the characters have yet to have these shining moments of human interaction.

I think the most successful trinity Marvel had was during the brief period that the Ultimate line, right before the Cataclysm event, where Steve Rogers, Miles Morales, and Kitty Pryde represented the best and the brightest the universe had to offer; all three were shown as compassionate and complex characters, fighting for the right to be a hero, but also to be human (said trinity is now in shambles, with President Cap dead and the All New Ultimates team book a pretty pale shadow of what it could have been).

It seems fairly clear that Marvel’s greatest weakness is big events—I would even go so far as to say this is where all big superhero comics falter. Imagine what these books could have been like without having to be tied into Axis. Imagine a Mighty Avengers team fighting against the racism that the new Cap has to face. Imagine a relapsed Tony Stark, who, instead of dealing with his demons, chooses a darker path. And imagine Thor smashing the patriarchy.

Those are the books I would like to read.

IMAGINE IF: Iron Man, Release Date 1968

Imagine if Hollywood had released tent-pole comic book movies starring their iconic characters around the time of the source material’s release date. For the purposes of this experiment, we will say that a movie would be released 5 years after the introduction of the character, and only movies that have been made would be made.

Imagine If: Iron Man, Release Date 1968

Iron Man- Rock Hudson
6’5” tall, considered one of the best dressed leading men of his time, best known for his light, comedic roles, producers took a chance on Tony Stark, and cast the popular Hudson as the super capitalist and inventor in their Cold War analogue.

 

 

 

Pepper Potts-Shirley MacLaine
Sexy without being a sexpot, funny, sassy, but with serious acting chops, dubbed the Golden Globe New Star of the Year in 1955, a two time BAFTA winner and consistent Golden Globe nominee, she would prove a worthy foil and confidante for Tony Stark.

 

Happy Hogan-Tony Randall
Hudson and Randall had performed quite well together at the box office, and who were producers to argue with such chemistry.

 

Crimson Dynamo-Telly Salvalas
Exotic and menacing looking enough to play the Russian Dynamo, Salvalas frequently played the villain, and was coming off the wild success of The Dirty Dozen.

 

Mandarin-Mako
Asian actors had a difficult time in Hollywood playing beyond stereotypes, Mako had made enough of an impression in The Sand Pebbles in 1966 that he was nominated for an Oscar.

Game the Game: The 13th Kool-Aid

I have three friends who all like and run D&D.

Friend A loves the Old School Renaissance, has issues with 4e, can tolerate 3.x and is loving 5e so far, even having committed to running 6 sessions of it at a gaming convention. Friend B feels somewhat similarly about 1st and 2nd Editions, enjoyed 3.x well enough, has a deepseated hatred of 4e (as a GM, though he enjoyed playing it as player), and is also enjoying 5e. Friend C liked 4e a lot, like 3e a lot, and thought both were improvements on 1st and 2nd, yet he too is running 5e.

I have shared my love of 13th Age with all of them, Friend B is the only one who has looked into it too much, and didn’t like the way magic worked. Friend C has promised he will take a look, but his job keeps him busy along with his family. Friend A has not as far as I know looked at it.

Why? WHY? I might cry out, clenching my fist, as if I had some financial investment in it. I don’t.

And I think I can answer why. I have discussed before how 13th Age could have been laid out better.

More than that though, the player creation portions of the book are dense.

So, even though these cats are DMs at heart, I don’t think they can get past the character creation.

So, on the off-chance that Jonathan Tweet or Rob Heinsoo or some of the fine folks from Pelgrane stop on by, here is my suggestion: create a book for DMs. Create a book that explains the rules, make some DM Screen inserts, create a book that just explains how to run the game, create a book that has the monsters, create a book explain why the One Cool Thing is awesome, as are the backgrounds, show off the Icons. Let the players for these DMs deal with the character creation chapter. Highlight the good from a DMing standpoint. I think folks get lost, and can’t see past what they see as elements they don’t like. I want all of them to see how the game is run, how much players enjoy their characters, how a campaign isn’t reliant on magic items, how one character has a conflicted relationship with the Elf Queen because of a mispronounced word, and how this is a wonderful thing. Make it thin, make it cheap. Convert the DM, convert the players!

As a DM, my only complaint is that they don’t have a DM Screen or inserts available. That is a minor quibble. It plays beautifully. It allows for DMs to tell the stories they want to tell, to create the conflicts they want to create, to populate their worlds with interesting NPCs. The rules encourage this, not just with words, but with actual game mechanics.

Is this too much to hope for as the holiday season approaches?

A warm fire, some winter themed Mountain Dew, a bowl of Holiday Doritos, and a table of friends to game with?

She Can Fly: Bechdel Hero Six?

If friendship between two women is implied, but the female characters don’t directly interact with one another, does the media still count as passing the Bechdel Test?

This is the question I wondered to myself after seeing Big Hero 6. As you may know from the reviews on our site, kids and adults alike enjoy this visually stunning movie. It’s beautifully animated, with an interesting and diverse cast of characters, and an emphasis on friendship being important to personal well-being, with a nuanced addressing of the grieving process. It presents men and women as equally good at, and enthusiastic about, science and technology. But it’s biggest failing–more over, the thing that stuck in my craw the most–was the fact that the two prominent female characters never actually address one another. In fact, the film presents three amazing, different, and interesting (though occasionally bordering on cliched) female characters: Aunt Cass, Honey Lemon, and Gogo Tamago. Not a single one speaks to the others.
Yes, in one scene, Honey Lemon comforts Aunt Cass silently, but it is in regards to Tadashi, meaning it’s about a male character, ergo it does not pass the Bechdel Test.
BigHeroSixSheCanFly01The movie isn’t really about Honey Lemon or Gogo, or any of the older characters, and the fact that a third of the main cast is female (and one sixth has no gender identity) is great. To see a character like Honey Lemon on screen–girly, attentive, motherly, and still smart and enthusiastic about science–is positive (Gogo, however, is slightly problematic, as she represents the modern teenage re-imagining of the classic “dragon lady” trope–including the blue streaks in her hair a la basically every female Asian character since the early 2000s). The fact that it is implied these strong, smart women are friends is even better. But they never talk to each other. Not about science. Not about one of the male characters. Not even to say “oh no, we just got attacked!” Once, they glance at each other in a single reaction shot, but that is literally all the direct interaction the characters share.
I am quick to acknowledge that the Bechdel Test is a simple, glib, and arbitrary way to judge the female-positivity of a film. At the same time, it really struck me that, while, to my recollection, Fred and Wasabi shared exchanges, Gogo and Honey Lemon said nothing to one another, ever.
It speaks to a bigger issue, not only within kids movies, but film in general, that there are so few female-led movies (especially “kids” movies), so few female friendships represented in film, and even the movies that are positive and progressive in their representations of women lack the basic substance in their scripts to have those women exchange a single word.
I liked Big Hero 6. I would say it’s the Marvel movie with the most positive, diverse, and interesting female characters thus far. But if it doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, can it really represent positive female relationships?
Or maybe is “good enough” female representation really good enough anymore?

Game the Game: Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy- Roguish Characters

The Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy Project is a collaboration between Acts of Geek and Worlds Workshop. For more of the Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy, click here

 

Rogues? Bah! Thieves!

I still have a pin from my first ever gaming convention, held at the Mountain Farms Mall in Hadley: Thieves Do It In Leather!

Thieves were where it was at for me! Assassins were cool, but always seemed like weaker Thieves. And then, there are the Elite Classes: Monks and Bards. And, what about the forgotten Thief-Acrobat?

1e made it easy, too easy. All Thieves were very much the same, their abilities progressed at the same rate. 2e allowed for a degree of customization. 3e and beyond made these skills. But the skill based approach made it so that anyone could be a Thief. Lame.

Thieves need their niche back. And is there room in that niche for Assassins and Acrobats? Let us take a look at the 1e Thief:

  • Pick Pockets
  • Open Locks
  • Find/ Remove Traps
  • Move Silently
  • Hide In Shadows
  • Hear Noise
  • Climb Walls
  • Read Languages
  • Use Magic Items
  • Thieves Cant
  • Backstab

Assassins had the %based Thief abilities, but at a reduced level, as well as:

  • Poison
  • Alignment and Secret Society Languages
  • Disguise
  • Assassination

And the Acrobats, what of the Acrobats, necessary so that the D&D cartoon can be enjoyed to the fullest? Acrobats were really the first Prestige Class. An Acrobat gave up the advancement of some Thief abilities (PP, OL, RM, F/RT) but gained

  • Tightrope Walking
  • Pole Vaulting
  • High Jumping
  • Broad Jumping
  • Tumbling (which was broken down into Attack, Evasion, and Falling)

So, should we allow for all these variants? How different should they be? Is an Assassin different from a Thief?

Some editions rely on skills, and this seems to make the Thief obsolete, excepting Backstab/ Sneak Attack. In 5e, a Rogue’s sneak attack can be almost too powerful.

With the goal being universal appeal and niche protection, let’s see what we can do to codify all these ideas and keep the Thief cool. Rogues are romantic, Thieves are down and dirty. Is there room for both, a dashing rogue, and a sneaky thief?

Fate Accelerated Edition has the following approaches, instead of skills:

  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky

Can we look at these approaches and find some inspiration. Inspired by FATE, but not wanting to subconsciously repeat, I came up with the following:

  • Stealing
  • Sneaking
  • Killing
  • Maneuvering
  • Infiltration
  • Social
  • Connections

My goal is to make Thieves cool again, to make being a Thief mean something, to encourage players to remain Thieves, and to work within a framework that has diminished the Thief to one or more skills.

What stays: Sneak Attack/ Back Stab, call it what you will. It will start at first level, and get better every other level.

This seems easy.

Assassins never seemed to click, I loved the idea of the Assassin, but the implementation has never been as cool as it should be. The 4e Assassin might as well have had “Shark Jumping” as an ability.

As I am banging my head against the wall, thinking about what Thieves were, what they evolved into, and what they can be again, I had a moment of inspiration.

I will remind folks that my design goal is to make something rules-light, rules-easy, with lots of open-endedness, recapturing the  core of the 1e classes and their intention, as well as niche protection.

I have been looking for a way to differentiate Thieves from the Skills based approaches in 3e+. These skill heavy games have marginalized the Thief, and turned the Thief into a  Rogue, and that can be ok, but I would argue the world needs more Thieves!

Then, inspiration came! Thieves are Secret Agents! Thieves are James Bond! So, instead of reinventing the wheel, I turned to other sources, specifically John Wick’s spy game: Wilderness of Mirrors. This game strips out everything but cool spy stuff. There are stats that tell what you do, an even more streamlined approach to the FAE idea, this time focusing on cool spy stuff.

In Mr. Wick’s game, spies have Expertises. Every spy has them to some degree, so every spy can do everything. Spies can:

  • use technology
  • lie
  • kill people
  • be strong
  • steal

There is bit more eloquence to the way Mr. Wick writes up the Expertises, but I want you to buy that game and not get him mad at me for just copying his words.

But I think this can work.

So, I have a bit of a back and forth with Scott, and we come up with the following:

  • Acrobat
  • Arcanic
  • Assassin
  • Swindler
  • Thief
  • Thug

Great, you say to yourself having read this far looking for something interesting, or just killing time at work, what does it all mean, and why, and how does it work?

First, explanation:

Acrobat- tumbling, climbing walls, doing cool movement based stuff, a legacy term for 1e.

Arcanic- using magical items, deciphering ancient scripts, understanding unknown languages, understanding complicated traps. It is derived from Arcane, which yes, in D&D circles means magic not divine, but is being used here to refer to magics as well as mysteries and secrets, and instead of arcanist, which might have specific definitions, arcanic, is a derivative of mechanic, which has both utilitarian and criminal definitions.

Assassin- killing people, poison use.

Swindler- charming people, long cons, short cons, disguise.

Thief- stealing stuff, this would cover disarming locks, sneaking around, breaking into a building listening.

Thug- using force and intimidation, shadowing people, gathering intelligence.

So, how does these bits work? In keeping with my philosophy of avoiding frobt-loading classes and encouraging multiclassing as well as single classing, I offer the following:

At 1st level, and then at every even level, a Rogue (yes, I know, I didn’t like the term, but given that Thief is now an ability…) can assign one point to each of these six abilities. Each ability can be taken three times, so an 8th level rogue, who has 5 picks available [1,2,4,6,8] might have Acrobat- 1, Arcanic- 1, Assassin- 3.

These points may be used for Advantage dice with appropriate rolls. Additionally, some abilities might have additional effects:

Acrobat- a point may be expended for the session to avoid some catastrophic event, by jumping, rolling, falling out of the way.

Arcanic- a point may be expended for a session for a reroll when applying effort to an Arcanic related task.

Assassin- each point increases the base sneak attack dice, they start at a d4, and move up d6, d8, d10. A point may be expended once per session to allow a player to make an attack roll against a target using their Int as their ability and opposed by the targets Int or Wis. If successful, this “attack” does damage equal to the sneak attack damage, it is poison, or a trap. However, expending this point, does effectively reduce the players sneak attack dice appropriately immediately following.

Swindler- a point may be expended for a session to narratively, and retroactively have just the right thing, or to have put in place something unexpected. Think of this as the Leverage ability. The player would announce what they had done, which no one expected or noticed!

Thief- a point may be spent for a session to improvise what they need for a particular action, within reason. Maybe the player describes how they earlier pickpocketed the appropriate something, or truly, how they can make something out of nothing. This is not a chance for a character to avoid having to roll, if a players needs a specific key to open a door, or a wax seal, they will stull need to work for that, this is more when everyone thinks there is no chance a character might have something, they can come up with it: stripped naked, they still have thieves tools.

Thug- a point may be spent for a session to call upon previously unknown contacts for assistance.

Now, if I were given the power of Mike Mearls, and could actually design UD&D from the ground up, there might be more granularity within these abilities, but because I am going for very broad strokes so that UD&D can be a template on top of other rules engines, getting too specific would miss the point.

And when they decide to edit this blogpost down for Reader’s Digest, this will be my gripping conclusion: Rogues, previously known as Thieves, have been twisted and evolved to such a point that the joy of the Thief is missing. With skills being a necessity of later editions of the Dungeons & Dragons, the Rogue has been marginalized, and is known for some mobility and sneak attack, but in so doing, one has taken away the niche and role of the Thief, the player who wanted to be a bastard, who wanted to be sneaky, who wanted to lurk in the shadows with a cloak pulled up obscuring their face. We need to get that back. Later editions of D&D are like Denzel Washington in Book of Eli- white teeth. We need to get back to some differentiation, Thieves were an ugly necessity of an adventuring party, don’t marginalize Bilbo.

I will next tackle Monks and Bards, two of the most unique classes that have had varying success in their post 1e iterations.

IMAGINE IF: Thor, Release Date 1967

Imagine if Hollywood had released tent-pole comic book movies starring their iconic characters around the time of the source material’s release date. For the purposes of this experiment, we will say that a movie would be released 5 years after the introduction of the character, and only movies that have been made would be made.

Imagine If: Thor, Release Date 1967

Thor-Rutger Hauer
Producers had a very difficult time with the casting, not many leading men could pull off the long blonde locks of the god of thunder, they finally stumbled upon an unknown Dutch actor with naturally blonde hair!

Loki-Jerry Lewis
The King of Comedy, if ever there was an annoying trickster with a very dark edge, it was Jerry Lewis! Plus, how amusing is it that the star of a DC comic would star in a Marvel movie?

 

 

iit08

Odin-Laurence Olivier
Sir Olivier was the obvious and best choice to play the All-Father.

 

 

 

 

Laufey-Clint Walker
Six feet, six inches tall, 54” chest.

 

 

 

 

Heimdall-Robert Shaw
Well known for his intimidating demeanor, the multi-talented Shaw would bring the perfect gravitas to the role of the guardian of the bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

Volstagg-Tom Poston
Poston was well known for bringing his subtle comedic talents to any project he was involved in.

 

 

 

 

Hogun-Bruce Lee
Kato on The Green Hornet was a revelation to Hollywood, and producers snatched him up for Hogun.

 

 

 

 

 

Fandral-Albert Finney
Audiences loved him as Tom Jones, and he would bring that same sense of roguish charm to Fandral.

 

 

 

 

 

Sif-Martine Beswick
Two-time Bond girl, able to mix it up (see her infamous cat-fight with Raquel Welch!).

 

She Can Fly: NYCC Marvel Announcements

DC Comics did not have great representation this year at New York Comic Con. 80% of their panels were about Batman—and with good reason, considering it’s the 75th anniversary of the caped crusader. All the same, most of their panels lacked announcements that were particularly (multiple) earth-shattering (those came a few days later via Twitter).

Marvel, on the other hand, embraced NYCC as a chance to show off all the things they had planned, as well as the company’s own 75th anniversary. I attended three general Marvel panels, Death of Wolverine, Axel in Charge, and Cup o’ Joe. Each panel had their fair share of exciting announcements, and a positive patter with attendees who asked questions.

Marvel’s announcements ranged from new non-hero titles, like James Patterson’s YA book Maximum Ride series, and properties, like Star Wars, with a core Star Wars title, as well as solos for Darth Vader, Leia, Kanan as a padawan, to TV tie ins, like Operation SIN, part of the Peggy Carter television series (Howard Stark and Woodrow McCord will star alongside Peggy in the title, written by Kathryn Immonen) and Agents of SHIELD, which features a different artist each issue (the “essence” of the show will be interacting with the entire Marvel Universe), to classic superhero announcements:

Superior Iron Man will be a return to the “old” Tony: hard partying, fun loving, drinking…but he’s a “bad guy” now, and will be dealing with (fighting?) Daredevil.

Sam Wilson as Captain America will represent a shift for Cap. Sam has a “different way” of going about things.

Thor #2 will feature Thor in action, including “more hints” about who she is.

Axis is 9 issues in 3 months, with Red Skull use of Onslaught’s powers ultimately causing the Avengers and X-Men to team up and face him.

The final incursion of the “Time Runs Out…” series will filter into Secret Wars. “It will be the biggest thing we’ve ever done.”

The Black Vortex is a crossover including the Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-Men, Captain Marvel, and more. The titular vortex unleases the inner power of characters. “We could get a cosmic Kitty,” Sam Humphries teased. “What would her cosmic power be?” Bendis asked. “Being cosmically awesome?” The crossover will bring characters together, but also test the relationship of Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill.

Though Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye is ending, the solo series will not. Marvel announced that Hawkeye will continue, and the panel confirmed Kate Bishop will be a part of the series.

A new Ant-Man series featuring Scott Lang will also start up in January. The panel remained tight-lipped about the possibility of Cass or Hank Pym in the series.

Groot gets Venom-ized in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Kaine will be “all over Spider-verse…but we’re not killing him. Yet.”

Gamora, Spider-Gwen, and Silk are all getting their own solo titles.

In Uncanny X-Men “Scott will deal with the new, powerful mutant most successfully.” The newly recovered mutant will become a big part of Scott’s revolution. The story line will span the entire Marvel Universe, with the panel teasing that the “teen” characters on the team may come to realize they aren’t on the “right” team.

In All-New X-Men, the team is crossing over with the Ultimate universe. “There’s a very good chance that all the X-Men will not go back to the right universe,” said Bendis. His statement that “Ultimate Kitty will make an appearance” cause the crowd to cheer.

On the topic of the Ultimate Universe, Bendis revealed that “Jean will meet a Jean that is closer to her than the Jean Jean Jean Jean…”

The Uncanny and All New annuals feature Eva. Bendis is very excited for the titles to be released, teasing that they will include visits from the Rawhide Kid, X-Men 2099, and more.

Amazing X-Men’s next arc will focus on the return of the Juggernaut, pitting Cain and Colossus against one another.

Spider-Man and the X-Men will be written by the head writer of the Daily Show. Peter Parker tries to become a teacher, but not everyone at the school is who they seem to be. The second issues features dinosaurs and shirtless men as an incentive to buy it.

All New X-Factor is coming to an end, but not before tying up all its loose ends. In issue #18, Danger gets laid, and in issue #20, the secret of Harrison Snow and his plans for X-Factor are revealed. Peter David is also working on Deadpool’s Art of War, in which Deadpool resolves to use the Art of War book as a survival guide, and basically tries to plunge the entire world into war.

Greg Pak talked about inclusivity and his new comic Storm. “Comics are for everyone, and Storm was one of the first characters who opened that up to me.” Storm was one of many non-white characters on the Uncanny X-Men, and Pak emphasized the importance of Storm getting her due as both an important and a powerful character. In the wake of Wolverine’s death, she will “take care of some of Logan’s unfinished business,” as well as teaming up with Yukio.

As of November, Wolverine has been around for 4 decades, but he died the Wednesday after NYCC back at Weapon X. However, his story isn’t over yet! Following the end of the Wolverine series is a 7 part mini, the Logan Legacy, which looks at the less heroic characters associated with Logan, and how his death affects their villainy. The Weapon X spin off features labrats escaping and following in Logan’s footsteps, described as “the Runaways meets Frankenstein.” Other oneshots will spin out from the Death of Wolverine, including a Deadpool and Captain America team up and the Life After Logan anthology issue, with stories starring Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Armor.

In January, Marvel will present an all new weekly series that follows Mystique, X-23, Daken, Sabertooth, and Lady Deathstrike as an unwilling team in Wolverines. The first issue features the Wrecking Crew. “We’ve got guest stars from every side,” including Fin Fang Foom in a later issue.

The Death of Wolverine panel definitively stated “Wolverine is dead and he’s not coming back any time soon.” “Wolverine and his death affect so many characters in so many profound ways” and all the different titles will try to handle what happens with as many characters as possible.

Of course, fans had plenty of questions, and, excitingly, plenty of time to ask them. One fan asked about the tinfoil hat theory that Marvel was ending the X-Men because of movie rights (much like the Fantastic Four). Bendis responded by pointing out Uncanny is almost entirely full of new characters who weren’t going away any time soon.

Another fan asked about Darkhawk; there are purportedly some hush-hush cosmic plans for him.

A question arose about the Ultimate Universe ending, to which only the cryptic answer “in 8 months, time runs out” was give.

At the time, the Captain Marvel movie had yet to be announced, so, when a female fan asked about female-led movies (a question repeated many times in different panels), the panel deflected her; “that’s a question for Kevin Feige.” They then pointed out that a number of coming television shows featured strong female leads. The panel also confirmed that the movies, TV shows, and upcoming Netflix series all existed in the same universe.

Events aren’t editorial dictates, something everyone was a little surprised to hear. The panel claimed they came about naturally from all the different characters existing in a shared universe.  “Our core titles tie in because they set the tone for the Marvel Universe…we try to make sure all the new books have their own identities,” but we have to reminder readers that they exist in a shared universe.

A fan asked “why are you killing Wolverine?” The panel glibly responded “to replace him with a female Wolverine.” And, let’s be honest, with the way Marvel has been producing female led titles (including the NYCC announced Silk and Spider-Gwen), that doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

Game The Game: Believing You Can Fly, and Letting It Go

R. Kelly and Frozen leading things off. Bad news, but hopefully we will get to a much better place and it will all make sense.

John Wick is a game designer. He wrote an article about how chess is not an RPG. That was the title. He talks about the non-tactical, visceral elements that make up an RPG, and how deadly Vin Diesel is as Riddick, and how game balance doesn’t matter. There is a lot of stuff in this article. A lot of good stuff. Stuff to think about.

And a lot of folks are writing their own articles, some supporting Mr. Wick, and some offering a counterpoint. I am here to declare that I, Barak Blackburn, definitively do not have a Strength of 24.

However, when we fought the Tarrasque, my barbarian did. Yes, this was not as much a roleplaying experience as it was a bunch of adults rolling dice and having fun and playing some semi-tactical game.

But, I can say this, my ½ Orc (or is that Ork, hi John!) barbarian was a brute, and every time I broke free of the beast’s grasp, I was making a statement, it was memorable, and cool.

Roleplaying? Maybe.

John goes on to define roleplaying:

roleplaying game: a game in which the players are rewarded for making choices
that are consistent with the character’s motivations or further the plot of the story.

So, let me get to the heart of my article, which is not about game balance, but as a response is about roleplaying, and players, and the choices they make, the art and skill of roleplaying.

Roleplaying: When I play a superhero game, I might want to be able to fly, that does not mean that I can fly. I am portraying a character who can fly. I think we would all agree this is acceptable.

Similarly, my ability to portray a character who is gifted with the use of a sword does not require me to be gifted with the use of the sword.

I think we also all agree with this, but the waters are starting to get a bit murky.

Say there is a player at the table who has a vast knowledge of swordplay, and his descriptions of swordplay are accurate and amazing and outstanding. Some GMs might reward this behavior, even if the character was not that knowledgeable in the finer details of swordplay.

I would not. Why?

Because it is the character who is skilled in the art of swordplay.

If my character is a 15th level fighter, a ruler of a land, and a swordsman without peer, it can be assumed he knows all the subtleties of swordplay.

If my character is a black-ops agent in a hard sci-fi setting, that character will know the things to look for, be they nano-transmitters, or some other technobabble hoo-ha.

But, I the player might not know that. So, it is the GMs job to help facilitate this empowerment. If a character is good at something, let them be good at it.

Gary Gygax designed a game post his TSR time called Lejendary Adventures. It had no mental stats to speak of. The design philosophy was, that the player would bring that to the table.

Interesting.

But perhaps I want to play a hyper-intelligent archmage who has a vast knowledge of forgotten lores and ancient histories. Does this require me, the player, to have such knowledge. I, the player, do not have that kind of time. I would argue that players engage in roleplaying to do things they might not normally be able to do. Punishing the character for the player’s lack of knowledge, or inability to fly, or any such things is just that… punishment.

It is the GMs job to facilitate immersion, and if that means you ask the player playing the archmage to make a roll, and they make a roll, and you the GM then convey the cool tidbit of info that only he would know, you do so. If a player wants to be the World’s Greatest Detective, but the player isn’t, and the GM doesn’t give them the clues, then what is the point?

In the game I wrote, Riddick might be UNIVERSALLY DEADLY. That would be his Trait. And the all-caps are a specific detail of my game, it is how a Trait is notated. That Trait allows him to beat the snot out of anybody, even with a tea cup.

Roleplaying is a collaborative effort. The GMs job in a RPG is to facilitate immersion, and allow the characters to do what they do.

If one player likes to play charismatic characters, but is not the smoothest cat around, should that player be punished? No. Does this mean that every interaction allows a roll, and that the GM has to sell goods to the PCs at 50% off because they made a roll and the rules said so. No. This is a systematic problem.

But when that character is talking the kings of various nations, and attempting to gain insight, and perhaps influence them, there is a roll, and then there is roleplaying, and there is back and forth, and I might even put some words in the charactesr mouth, with the players approval.

“You speak with King Shoobie in his private chambers, and you are attempting to persuade him to ally with you. He is reluctant at first, but you remind him that you know of his penchant for spending time with King Mylok’s wife, and it would be incredibly unfortunate if that information were to get into the wrong hands.”

The character has done something incredibly cool, and likely, that helps the player feel like they got their money’s worth with those points invested in charismatic skills, stats, traits, powers, etc.

Give a player choices. Help guide them along, but do not make the choice for them. Allow them the option of coming up with their own solutions.

I think of the David Mamet film Heist, one of Gene Hackman’s final roles.

 

“You’re a pretty smart fella.”

“Ah, not that smart.”

“If you’re not that smart, how’d you figure that out?”

“I tried to imagine a fella smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, ‘what would he do?’ “

 

That is roleplaying. Sometimes the players will figure it out, sometimes they will not. But sometimes, their characters would figure it out, and you have to help make that happen.

Onto the second part of this article, Letting it Go.

 

Mr. Wick writes:

the players are rewarded for making choices that are consistent with the character’s motivations or further the plot of the story

 

And that can be very true, but there are games out now that take some of these choices away from the players. Games that put you in the driver’s seat of your character, but the gas pedal is stuck, and you are holding on for dear life. Games that might take away some player choices. But, in so doing, empower the players and the GM to tell an immersive, powerful story.

 

Many of these games are Powered By The Apocalypse, of which my preferred iteration is MonsterHearts. Not because of the sexual nature of the game, but because there are times when you have to Let It Go, and accept that sometimes we are not in control, sometimes our characters make bad choices, or give into urges we didn’t know they had, or expect them to have.

 

And, boyohboy does this allow amazing stories to be told.

 

“4th Edition doesn’t feel like D&D to me. Waaaaah!”

 

D&D is what you make it and allow it to be.

 

This is true of any game. Some games shift the focus from tactical combat to something else. Some games have this as a sidenote, some focus entirely on it.

 

What do you want your game to be about?

 

Mr. Wick excises social traits in his game. That works for him. I disagree with that approach. If the rules allow me to make a social character, I might want to do so. I would suggest he find another game. If he doesn’t like a whole 1/3 of the traits in a game and gets rid of them, it seems like that game might not be the best fit.

 

If one is playing 3.x, and the DM decides to get rid of the grid, well, this changes the game. A lot. Because there are feats and spells, and attacks all based on the grid. It is a literal game-changer. Excising Social traits is also a literal game-changer.

 

I am always on quests to find games that speak to me, that force me and my players to do things differently. I enjoy putting in this time and effort. If you want to change your game, Change Your Game! Close the book and find a different game!

 

I think Mr. Wick should give Monsterhearts a try next time he wants to run a WoD style game.

She Can Fly: ‘Yes Please’ Review

I dreamed of being famous. I dreamed of being famous for being funny. When I was 8, I would hide behind the couch in my living room late at night, hiding from my older brother and sister so I could stay up late and watch Mike Meyers’ movies and, ultimately, Saturday Night Live. SNL was my holy grail. On nights when I was being babysat by my siblings, I would fake slumber so I can sneak back downstairs and hide behind the couch, my head peaking out over the side of one arm just enough to catch Weekend Update (and a plethora of jokes I honestly didn’t get, but the delivery of which made me giggle). I can only imagine my brother and sister both knew I was there. I am not a subtle laugher.

And so, when I saw Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and so many other women with amazing comedic timing and strong voices, on screen, I knew what I wanted to be.

Of course, actually getting in to comedy is a lot harder than these ladies made it seem. So I settled with utter fan devotion.

In middle school, I stayed up later every Saturday to watch SNL. In high school, Thursdays were devoted to academic team and NBC comedies (30 Rock, and later Parks and Rec). I cursed that Tina Fey won the Mark Twain award for comedy only a week after I had visited Washington, DC (I was so close to seeing her live and in person). In my junior year, I wrote an essay about how the women of comedy ran throughout my life, and in senior year, I begged and pleaded that Tina Fey or Amy Poehler be our Commencement speaker. I was told that they were not “academic enough” by the president of the college. Jane Lynch was our Commencement speaker that year.

So whenever one of these women I idolize puts out a book, I am first in line to pick it up. I’ve devoured (and loved) Girl Walks Into a Bar… (Dratch), Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Kaling), Bossypants (Fey), The Bedwetter (Silverman)…each one is as fascinating and unique as the women who write them, but none of them had tickled my desire to live the life of a comedian vicariously through them. Some books leaned towards the more personal (Kaling), or more about their post-comedy life (Dratch), or were more a series of funny vignettes (Silverman), or just vague, tantalizing peeks into what it’s like to be them (Fey). None fully satisfied my lust for both knowledge of their life, and experiencing things through their eyes.

But now, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please satisfies that itch pretty well.

Yesplease01Yes Please is a “missive from the middle” (a line which is repeated on multiple occasions), and is broken down into three parts; “Say Whatever You Want”, “Do Whatever You Want”, and “Be Whoever You Are”. The titles are honest, and Poehler is very upfront about who she is and how she’s always know that. Her voice is exuberant and open, without actually revealing too much (she touches on her divorce with Will Arnett, but the chapter focuses on what the people around you say after a divorce, instead of about her personal battle). The gossip she reveals about SNL hosts, former cast members, and coworkers is tantalizing, but inane. She acknowledges her privilege, but also allows herself to be vulnerable. A standout chapter is “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry” in which Poehler talks about apologizing, and the one time she feels she waited far too long to do it. She isn’t always the hero in her own story, but Poehler always ends up being an extremely relate-able everywoman.

The most amazing thing about Yes Please is how Poehler talks about other women. Rarely is she disparaging, and when she is, it’s because she’s making a point–acknowledging that women are forced to compete with one another, that “woman-on-woman drive-bys” are the most common form of social violence–and that’s amazing. To have a female figure emphasize the inherent issue of women seeing only women as their competition is amazing, and to have Amy Poehler do it in such a funny way is amazing.

Poehler doesn’t just talk about supporting women, she actually does it. She produced the under appreciated Comedy Central show Broad City, a female-positive slacker comedy starring two up-and-coming comediennes. She is one of the leading voices for the website Smart Girls at the Party, which celebrates women and how they can “change the world by being [themselves].” And she’s doing it again in her book by being upfront and frank, but also sharing stories about how all the woman nominated for the Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Emmy decided they wanted to do a bit where they all got up on stage and acted like they were contestants in a beauty pageant, complete with tiara and flowers.

Because as much as woman vs. woman is a problem, women supporting women is worth celebrating.

The book is a beautiful one, with thick, glossy pages, bright, full-color photos speckled throughout, pages from notebooks, old report cards, and full page spreads of Amy “a face for wigs” Poehler in many wigs, playing many characters. There are other full page spreads of pithy, supportive words to live by, quotes presumably from Poehler herself (my favorite of which would probably be “like who likes you.” Simple, elegant, precise, and unbelievably true). The whole book feels like a scrapbook meets a memoir, and the writing reads appealingly like you’re talking to a best friend. That’s really the vibe that the book is clearly going for, the inside flap even stating “in a perfect world, we’d all be best friends with Amy.”

So, while I may not be famous, or all that funny, I feel like I’ve gotten to live vicariously through a wonderful friend who is always there to remind me that “everybody is scare most of the time.” And that’s totally all right.

Yes Please is everything a smart girl (or guy, or however you choose to identify) who loves comedy would like. It succeeds where other books about being a smart, dorky woman have failed, and it takes the comedic autobiography genre further than many comedians are willing to go. I say “yes, please, more Yes Please!”

Yes Please by Amy Poehler is published by HarperCollins

Game The Game: Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy-Martial Characters, Part Two

The Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy Project is a collaboration between Acts of Geek and Worlds Workshop. For more of the Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy, click here

 

Q: How many types of human fighter can you be in 5e? 13 backgrounds x 2 Archetypes= 26!

Wow! That is a lot of choices, an outsider might say. I say not. I say the backgrounds idea is neat, but it is incredibly limiting. I say the two archetypes are even more limiting.

When you very clearly define what choices someone has, on a very granular level, you are inherently limiting their choices. When you say what someone can do, you are also saying what someone can’t do.

This is my thesis.

In Part I, the Fighter and Ranger were rebuilt, allowing for some combat choices, a great degree of individual customization, and more significantly, making them each, IMHO, cool again, and providing niche protection.

Now, we move onto the most specialized of fighter-types, the Paladin and the Barbarian.

Originally, Part I was going to cover all martial characters, but the word-count started getting unwieldy, and full disclosure, I was struggling with the Paladin and Barbarian.

But I have them figured out now, and I will explain why I was struggling and my solution.

Returning to the introductory discussion about limiting player choices, this was my undoing. In trying to secure niche protection, I want each class to be able to do cool things that no other class can do, but also want to discourage the willy-nilly amount of nonsensical (non story-driven) multi-classing that happens.

Scott and I were having yet another discussion about the Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy experience, and agreed that many player choices are mechanically driven and not at all story related. And many class features are the same. And, ultimately, where is their corollary in the literature and other inspirational materials? The spiked chain fighter build? Please. That is a child solely of the game mechanics.

So, that brings me, finally to the Paladin and Barbarian. These are what I will call Elite Classes.

What are Elite Classes? Elite Classes are classes that do limit choices. Classes with such a degree of dedication required that committing to them is committing to a lifestyle. A character does not just decide “oh, I want to pick up a level or two of Paladin.” Paladins spend years training, they are vessels for their gods, they are beyond reproach. And Barbarians, it’s not a class it’s a lifestyle. That seems like an ad-campaign, and if I ever decided to publish this, I just realized how fun it would be for each class to have a full page spread ad promoting the class, showing off what it can do, what makes it unique, describing the classes niche protection. One does not simply become a Barbarian, it is what one is born into.

End. Of. Story.

So, these Elite Classes will have special rules, as will other Elite Classes.

But given this article is about the Paladin and Barbarian, both of these Elite Classes have the same rule applied to them:

Paladins and Barbarians are classes that are decided on at first level, and characters cannot multi-class. If a character decides to abandon either class, they lose all the class benefits, and may not get them back.

Call me draconian if you like, but as I dissect these classes, you will see it is a choice, and with that choice comes many benefits.

Sometimes freedom is about what you cannot do.

What were the traits of a 1e Paladin?

Very high Charisma was needed.
Lawful Good.
Detect evil.
Protection from Evil.
Lay on Hands.
Limited amount of treasure.
Bonus to saves.
Immunity to disease.
Able to cure disease.
Turn undead.
Warhorse.
Clerical spells at higher levels.

There is a lot here. A lot of very cool stuff. The difficult requirements made being a Paladin something very, very cool. The alignment restrictions made being a Paladin very difficult. Truly, if there was a paladin in your party, everyone showed respect.

I will flat out say this: I am ignoring the war horse. It is cool flavor, but the mechanics of armored combat never really seemed to click with any edition. Keep the flavor, it is awesome, but I am not going to worry about the rules of it.

Lawful Good is a must. There is no room in D&D for the “every kid gets a medal for participating” attitude. LG or go home. Except for the anti-paladins, of course! But, those are NPCs. None of this namby-pamby other aligned paladins.

Detect Evil: At will, as per the spell of whatever edition you are playing.

Protection from Evil: “evil” creatures are at disadvantage against the paladin, and the additional effects as outlined in a Protection From Evil spell. Additionally, those within melee range of a Paladin are also subject to this effect.

Limited amount of treasure. This one is a keeper. Deal with it.

Immune to disease seems pretty easy to keep as is.

Now, we have the bonus to saves, curing disease, turning undead, and cleric spell access to deal with. I will also add smite to this, because although is a newer addition to the Paladin trope, it seems to fit.

The high Charisma should factor in, and as I look at what is left to address as well as various paladin iterations through the years, and also factoring in the tendency to min/max, the picture perhaps becomes more clear.

The Channel Divinity approach to turning undead as well as resolving other cool abilities was really sharp. As editions progressed, turning undead became less of a thing, and was even wasted in many campaigns, so modifying it and allowing it to be used other ways was a clever reinterpretation.

If a Paladin veers from their alignment of religion, the DM has the right to strip away any and or all of their cool abilities.

That has be part of the Paladin. This discourages wanton disregard for the trope of the Paladin, and also discourages becoming a Paladin just for the cool powers and abilities.

Paladins get a bonus to all their saves equal to their Charisma modifier.

Paladins can turn undead as a cleric two levels lower. Turning undead is a thing again in 5e. Let’s keep it that way. Additionally, Paladins are at advantage when attacking undead. And, if you want to expand your definition of undead to include evil creatures from the outer plans, summoned creatures, etc, those are all very appropriate, both for turning and advantage.

Avatar: a Paladin is an Avatar of their Deity. They have a number of Avatar Points equal to their level, per day!

And what can a Paladin do with Avatar Points?

Lay on Hands: Each Point spent heals a number of HP equal to the Paladin’s Charisma modifier.

Smite: Each Point spent allows a Paladin a bonus to Hit or Damage equal to the Paladin’s Charisma modifier.

Spellcasting: Paladin’s can cast Cleric spells. As Avatars, they do not memorize spells, they are able to cast what they need depending on their level. Starting at 6th level, a Paladin may spend Avatar Points to cast 1st level Cleric spells, at a cost of 1 point/ spell level. At 9th level they may cast 2nd level spells. At 12th level they may cast 3rd level spells. And at 15th level they may cast 4th level spells.

Additionally, because Paladins are martyrs personified, they may call upon their inner reserves for Martyr Points. A Paladin may, once per day, take HP damage up to their Cha modifier X their level, to gain Marytr Points equal to their level. Martyr Points are used the same way as Avatar Points, but their effectiveness is equal to the modifier amount +1. For example, a 7th level Paladin with an 18 Charisma calls upon his Martyr Points, he doesn’t have a lot of HP left, so he only wants to take a modifier of +2, so he will take 2×7= 14 damage, and gains 7 Martyr Points, each with a modifier equal to 2+1= 3, and needing that awesome amazing attack, uses 1 point to increase his chance to hit (+3 to hit) and the other 6 points to add to damage (+18 damage).
The damage taken by the Paladin does not affect the Paladin until the end of the following round, and this damage may not be healed until the end of the following day.

Avatar Points can be spent singly, or all at once.

Thus, a 5th level Paladin with a Charisma modifier of +3, has 5 Avatar Points.

Fighting the Big Bad, the party is not doing so well, so the Paladin spends one Avatar Point as a +3 bonus to Hit, and after hitting spends the remaining points as 12 points of bonus damage.

And, finally, the Barbarian!

What did the 1e Barbarian look like:

Lots of HP
Detest/ distrust of Magic
Ability to overcome defenses that require magic to affect
Bonus to poison saves, and poor saves against magic
Climbing cliffs and trees
Hiding in natural surroundings
Surprise
Back protection
Leaping and springing
Detect illusion
Detect magic
Leadership
Survival
First aid
Outdoor craft
Animal handling
Horsemanship
Long distance signaling
Running
Small craft, paddled
Small craft, rowed
Sound imitation
Snare building
Native territory

That is a lot of abilities. Now, keep in mind that 1e was skill-less, and they wanted to outline what a Barbarian could do, but the language in the text itself gave them several outs, so all of these abilities had to do with a barbarian in surroundings that were familiar to them, etc.

For the purposes of UD&D, we will also add Rage, and attempt to distill all this flavor down to rules that are simple, easy to understand, and allow for maximum flavor meets fun!

A Barbarian has to have a lot of HP. This is a must.

Many of the Barbarian abilities can be simplified, but because we are trying to make something system independent, we will not address specific skills, rather, we will try to codify everything and make it somewhat universal:

Survival: Barbarians have advantage when in the wild, whether it is attempting to secure dinner for the party, climb a cliff, jump across a chasm, or set up an ambush.

Heightened Senses: Barbarians have advantage for rolls involving their innate senses, be it for surprise, finding something out of the ordinary, examining a corpse. These are all their senses, sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. Barbarians are almost feral in their ways, sniffing, making quick small movements, touching, even tasting.

Heightened Physical Prowess: Because they come from a culture not as dependent on the comforts of magic, Barbarians have learned to make do. Any check involving Str or Con is treated as if the character’s modifier is one point higher, and all of these checks are made with advantage. Additionally, their carrying capacity is as if their Strength was 4 points higher.

Movement: Barbarians are faster than other characters. Because we are trying to make this system independent, instead of arbitrarily assigning them an increased rate of speed, Barbarians get two movement actions, and may use their full rate of speed with both.

Savage Points: A Barbarian gets one Savage Point per level per day. A Savage Point can be spent for Rage and First Aid.
Rage: Barbarians can enter a Rage. This lasts for an entire combat or scene. When Raging, a Barbarians is at disadvantage when being attacked, advantage against magic effects, and each Savage Point spent gives the Barbarian an extra attack or a temporary +2 to Str and Con. Additionally, while Raging, a Barbarian can overcome any magical defenses that require +X magic items to hit.
First Aid: A Savage Point can be spent for First Aid. First Aid gives a character advantage on a Save, or allows the barbarian to heal one HD. So, if a Barbarian is using First Aid on a character with d4 HD, they would heal d4 HP. If a Barbarian used it on a character with d10 HD, they would heal d10 HP.

Magic: This one is difficult, as I appreciate the idea behind Barbarians being removed from magic, at the same time, it is very hard to make this a fun reality in an RPG without limiting the player enjoyment, or having a player manipulate their way out of the restrictions. A Barbarian should be limited in what they keep in terms of magic equipment. What exactly does this mean? They should have less magical stuff than other party members, their magical inventory should be sparse. I don’t know what your campaign is like, so I will not give a number. This is up to the DM. How do you enforce it? You are the DM, you can make anything you want happen. Maybe take away their stuff. Describe it narratively “oh, that sword, you threw it away, it had bad mojo.”

Uncivilized Ways: Barbarians should be restricted to how much they embrace “modern” technology. But, instead of offering a list of what they can and cannot do, how about we say that their uncivilized ways should always be apparent. So, can they wear heavy armor, or metal armor? Sure, but they might throw away the sleeves to the armor, and use just the chest plate. Barbarians are not dumb, they are just more in touch with where they come from. Do they have to be illiterate, no? Should a DM restrict the amount of modern items they have? Perhaps. But more to the point, if you, the DM feel that the player is abusing the loosey-goosey nature of this “rule” put them at a disadvantage. “yes, you can wear the elaborate magical plate armor, but you will be at disadvantage when doing so, and enemies will be at advantage attacking you.” And, because you are the DM you can decide that these Uncivilized disadvantage dice trump all (meaning determine advantage and disadvantage as normal, and then apply disadvantage, so that no matter what a Barbarian does, they are at disadvantage).. Additionally, you can take away their Heightened Senses to some degree, or their increased movement. Do so subtly, or overtly. You have my permission to screw with your players. And maybe you don’t tell them until a most crucial moment.

Are the Paladin and Barbarian overpowered? Yes, the Barbarian could rage at 20th level and get an extra 20 attacks, that is pretty bad-ass, right? Yes, but that is some serious front loading, so, who cares. What can a wizard at that level do? Well, we will find out when we get to the spellcasting classes. Next up will be the roguish classes: The Thief, Assassin, and possibly the Bard and Monk, though the latter two are in some ways even more elite than the Paladin or Barbarian.