The Risus Companion has rules that gives a character the ability to spend Lucky Shots (or Questing Dice) to summon a training montage sequence. I couldn't help but think of that rule when I saw this montage of training montages on Youtube:
Almost two years ago to the day, I began a series of posts to document my experience of reading The Hobbit aloud to me two young boys. It was a wonderful experience in many ways. Not only did it rekindle my adoration for the book and open my eyes to the similarities of Bilbo's adventure to all that is good about old school Dungeons & Dragons, but it was also one of the first big steps in my efforts to share my love of fantasy with my boys boys. The actual reading took many months. My boys were five and three years of age when we sat down to do the reading and there were many questions and digressions as we worked our way through the text. But they really loved it and even now, two years later, they still remember specific scenes.
So, given that context, how could I not take them to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Unfortunately, there was one hitch. The movie was rated PG-13. My wife and I (my wife especially) raised concerns that it might not be appropriate for small children. I poured over early reviews and IMDB's parent's guide, hoping that the rating wasn't justified. But I saw what I wanted to see and given that my boys did fine with other "adventure movies with cartoon violence" on our own TV, I thought it would be ok. After all, I remember when my father took me to see Star Wars when I was only six years old. It was one of the formative experiences in my life. I wanted the boys to have something similar.
Alas, the movie earns its PG-13 rating and my five year-old spent a good portion of the movie under a blanket. My seven-year-old did much better, but there are certain scenes that we had to shield him from.
And here's where I may need to get into SPOILER territory. Whereas Tolkien's books was definitely aimed at children, the movie is most decidedly *not*. Funny thing is, the problematic scenes all involve additions to the original text. By that, I mean:
Everything relating to Azog the white Orc
The addition of a rather frightening scene of Radagast investigating Dol Guldur
Yes, Goblin town was a bit much much as well, but that was expected and most violence was not close up and the Goblin King wasn't really scary. But, and I've read this in other reviews, Azog was something out of 300.
So yes, my enjoyment of the film was tempered by my need to be vigilant about monitoring things for my kids. Fortunately, the movie did telegraph potential problems pretty well. I think we caught all instances of places where it was about to get inappropriate. If you are a parent and I thinking of taking young kids (my advice: definitely not if they are younger than 7) then watch for the following:
Bilbo's prologue about Smaug's attack on Dale is a little scary.
The bloody backstory that introduces Azog occurs when the company first makes camp after leaving the Shire, just before the Troll encounter.
The Troll encounter itself is pretty safe.
The Radagast scene only gets scary when he steps foot into Dol Guldur
Azog and his wargs attack the party after Radagast relates his story. And though this one is mostly from a distance, the initial attack can be startling.
Azog has a scene before Goblin Town as he berates his minions for failing to get the dwarves.
Yes, there is Goblin Town proper. In HFR IMAX, it can be a little intense and there are a couple of startling scenes (like right after Bilbo gets separated). Not much gore, though, aside from the Goblin King taking a sword across his belly.
Gollum clubs an goblin repeatedly in the head. Gollum itself might be frightening to kids, but my boys had scene enough clips of him ahead of time to be ok with it.
Azog shows up again when the company emerges from the mountains. There isn't any gore here, but I found that Azog himself was the most frightening element.
Ok, so that's a parent's perspective. But did I actually like the movie? And how was the HFR experience?
Short answers: Yes, I did like the movie (though I have reservations). HFR was a little weird, but I found it to be more interesting/curious than anything else. It really added to some scenes and detracted from some others. The biggest problem is that scenes that take place on interior sets really look like they take place on interior sets. Some sets are awesome (Bag End) while other not so much (Dale, Dol Guldur, Rivendell). But actions scenes really do sparkle.
I made a wise choice in pre-adjusting myself to HFR by checking out videos here. My first reaction was BBC drama or HD stage theater. I continued to have that reaction all the way through Bilbo's prologue. But by the time we flashed back to young Bilbo, I was pretty much adjusted.
'Tis the season for throwing a little Christmas cheer (and a little cash) at some of the RPG projects that are currently making their way through Santa's workshop. I haven't bought much in the way of game product in the last few months, but the following Kickstarters have all caught my eye. I am going to fund or will shortly fund each of them to some degree.
I remember discussing this project with Joe Wetzel of Inkwell Ideas on the way out to GenCon this year and it has gone through several iterations. It all started as a collection of really spiffy fantasy artwork that Joe would like to turn into monster cards - a deck of cards with a handsome image on one side and Dungeons & Dragons (insert flavor) stats on the other. I was mildly intrigued. I do like good fantasy art but I had little use for cards with monster stats. I suggested augmenting this with encounter cards featuring cool Dyson-style maps and Joe was off and running. The current iteration of the project that is featured on Kickstarter has a little of something for everybody. Monsters cards w/ stats, encounter cards, and even stock fantasy art for purchase. Knowing who's involved with the mapping, I'm at least going to pick up the encounter cards. DungeonMorphs were just the coolest RPG toys of the previous year and these should should be similarly awesome.
I'm a big fan of ICONS and of the work of Steve Kenson in general. More importantly, I'm seriously considering using ICONS for my next big RPG campaign. Great Powers is essentially a supplement that revises and expands the powers for ICONS. Having seen the playtest file (available if you pledge), I can attest that it clarifies existing powers; has a cool new approach to stunts & gadgets; and includes a bunch of sweet new powers. I could build every superhero concept that I could think of with these rules. Incidentally, I love it when Kickstarters offer playtest files as soon as you pledge.
Run as fast as you can and jump on the bandwagon of this hugely successfully Kickstarter. FATE is a fantastic system and you'll get a crap-ton of awesome at the $10 level and higher. Seriously. Look at those stretch goals. That's a lot of stuff. Plus, the playtest files are available right now for the main book and the Wild Blue setting. I've always flirted with using FATE for games and if ICONS doesn't do the trick for my supers game (especially if my setting evolves away from straight supers) then FATE is going to be it. At the very least, I'll be looting the rules for things that I can use for ICONS (which is mostly FATE compatible).
There is a new home for the Risusiverse fan site. Dan Suptic has moved everything to Google sites due to a collapse in support from the previous hosting mechanism. The new site is spiffy and easy to use, but you will need to re-register to contribute. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and make the request to become a member.
And now for something that doesn't pertain to gaming directly yet is somehow very relevant. Check out this article from Wired about using machine translation to decode an 18th-century manuscript that concealed arcane rituals of a real secret society. Fascinating stuff for the cryptography but more so for what it reveals about the cults, cabals and conspiracies of Enlightenment Europe.
Our latest Knights of the Astral Sea session was awesome as usual. We've entered a new phase in the campaign, with the player characters taking the fight to the enemy. Jim Di Benedetto once again provides the play report as Genevieve...
Capt. Alastair Hawkesworth
HMAS Richard Lemon Lander
My Dearest Alastair,
It is possible that I may
hand-deliver this letter to you.I
do not know if you and your ship are part of the Britannic fleet that even now
is en route to the Cloudlands, but it is my fondest wish that it is so.All I have done in these past few days
has been done with that hope firmly in mind, and it is on your behalf as much
as my own that I have struck a blow against our enemies.I shall describe in full detail precisely
what has occurred.
After dispatching our two
captured airships back to Tudor with our prisoners and the intelligence we had
gathered therefrom, we continued on our journey to the Cloudlands.AS you know, the last stop on the Path
to that world is the horrid, hellish world of Gehenna.In our mercifully brief stop there, we
encountered (nearly collided with, in fact) an astral slaver vessel.It was only the quick actions of our
pilot, Iris (or, as she is apparently also known, Princess Andromeda – I shall
explain that in due course) that saved us from disaster.
We went on, arriving in
the Cloudlands.We deliberately
avoided the usual entry point – a cloud island formerly controlled by our
Empire but now occupied by the Spanish.Instead, iris maneuvered us to on an alternate course, which
unfortunately deposited us close to a Cloudlands warship.I do not know if you have ever visited
the Cloudlands in the course of your service, or seen one of their capital
ships.They are truly massive;
they most closely resemble the giant American warship from your own homeworld
that you once showed me a photograph of, the vessel which you named a
“supercarrier.”I recall at the
time how amazed I was at the sheer size and power of such a ship; imagine then
my reaction on seeing one in the flesh as it were.
The warship – which Iris
recognized as being the Hand of Sorrow,
the personal ship of the Emperor of the Cloudlands (who is also her father as
well) – was in close proximity to the astral slaver ship we had previously
encountered on Gehenna.Naturally
we wished to avoid detection by either of those vessels, and I turned my
attention to the possibility of assisting in that endeavor.With some quick and somewhat unorthodox
modification of the Lady Blackbird’s
Tesla Drive, I was able to alter the Tesla field to bend visible light away
from our ship, causing it to “disappear” from the sight of our foes.The effect was not perfect; a blurry
distortion in the air would still be visible, but it was nonetheless effective
at hiding us for a considerable time, allowing Iris to closely approach the
enemy vessels before engaging the alternate teleport engine that installed
aboard our ship.
The teleport drive is the
primary means of travel within the Cloudlands – it works by means of a beacon
system.Every destination has
coordinates associated with it, and the teleport engine instantly moves the
ship from point to point.Unfortunately,
the list of coordinates Iris had was somewhat old, and she did not feel fully
confident in the reception we might receive upon arrival, even though in theory
all the destinations she had access to were controlled by her colleagues in the
rebellion against her father the Emperor.
Our first destination
turned out to be deserted, and after fruitless investigation, Iris tried
another stop, the port city of Crendor.This one was quite occupied; it was as busy as any port I have ever seen
on my travels.We were escorted in
by a local ship, the Wind Dancer.Upon arrival, I commenced repairs on
the Tesla Drive (which was damaged in the course of my modifications) while my
comrades went “ashore” to meet the locals and to negotiate for further repairs
to the Lady Blackbird.Iris obtained parts and labor for the
required work, and I remained aboard ship to supervise – and to ensure that no
tracking devices or other unwelcome surprises were placed aboard.Thankfully, none were.
Meanwhile, Iris, along
with Marcus, Elspeth and General Pickton, ended up in a tavern, where she met a
former companion in rebellion, a woman called Robina.It transpired that Robina was, perhaps, not as fond of Iris
as she might have been.There is,
it turns out, rather a lot of history between them.There is also much history in general that we learned about
Iris during our time on Crendor.She was, apparently, involved in not one, but two rebellions – first
with her father to overthrow the previous ruler of the Cloudlands, and then
against her father.It is all
In any event, Iris and
company were invited to a meeting of the rebellion, which began quite
poorly.Upon the arrival of my
comrades at the meeting (as I noted above, remained with the ship and only
learned these details after the fact) tensions were raised when Robina produced
a photograph showing a younger Iris standing with a man who looked much like
Marcus, both apparently in the service of the Emperor.
The man in the photograph
was Marcus’ father; and Iris was forced to reveal that in fact her name was not
Iris, but actually Princess Andromeda, daughter of the hated Emperor.Robina and the other rebels, quite
understandably, did not take this news well.But Elspeth and Marcus (talking through an interpreter, as
only Iris among our company speaks the local Cloudlands tongue), managed to
defuse the situation.
Over several hours,
intelligence was shared, and it became clear both that we and the rebels have a
common enemy (the Spanish, with whom the Emperor has recently allied himself)
and that immediate action was called for (the Emperor’s fleet had been recalled
from all its ports for reasons unknown to the rebels – putting that together
with the information we had, my companions realized that all the Emperor’s
ships were most likely at the former Britannic outpost, now serving as a
Spanish base.Further, we assumed
that all those ships were being refitted with Tesla drives, so that they could
be used to attack Britannic worlds – and, worse, all those ships would be at
the base, fully armed and alerted, when our own fleet entered the Cloudlands).
On our voyage to the
Cloudlands, our company had discussed the possibility that a fleet of Spanish
or Cloudlands warships might be based at our former outpost, and what might be
done about it.It occurred to me
that the magical powerstone we captured, as I described inmy prior letter, could be utilized to
create – for lack of a better description – a Tesla bomb.My thought was to create an unstable
Tesla field which would be massively amplified by the powerstone (in truth,
creating an unstable Tesla field is easy; it is the stabilization that is
difficult!) and which would then cause a chain-reaction, with the instability
being both propagated and further amplified with each additional Tesla drive it
encountered.In this way, one such
bomb might destroy an entire fleet of ships.
I was able to build the
device and we mounted it on one of the captured missiles in our
possession.Although I was
obviously unable to test the weapon, I was certain of my work and the theory
While I worked on the
device, our new allies obtained the teleport coordinates for our former base,
and also revealed their possession of a captured Imperial air-yacht (and
several Imperial uniforms as well).Our plan would be to teleport to the base and observe the
situation.If a sufficiently large
fleet of ships was there, we would immediately deploy my weapon.If not, we would attempt to land on the
base, bluff our way in, and conduct reconnaissance on the ground.
My company was augmented
by Robina and a dozen or so of her compatriots.We loaded the weapon, donned our stolen uniforms, boarded
the yacht, and teleported away.
We arrived precisely on
target, and observed a truly massive fleet of Imperial warships, including
several of the huge carriers.Now
was clearly the time to attack.I
made one last quick calculation to determine the optimum target for my device,
and then I launched it.
The missile flew swiftly
and truly, and detonated precisely as designed.The first enemy ship went up in a flash of bright light as
its Tesla driveoverloaded and
exploded, followed by a massive fireball as the entirety of the ship went
up.The vessels on either side of
it followed suit almost immediately, and the effect travelled almost
instantaneously from ship to ship, until the entire base was ringed with fire
and showered with debris.
I wish you had been here,
Alistair, to witness our triumph, to see us strike back against our foes with the
iron fist of righteousness, and most of all to view the great and terrible
beauty of Science in its fullest expression.Mere words cannot adequately describe my feelings as I
watched the unstoppable Power of modern Science called into existence by my
will and brought into being by my hands.I shall never forget it as long as I live.
The thought that I was
striking a blow for you, ensuring that this enemy fleet would not survive to
ambush you should you be among the Britannic forces coming to the Cloudlands,
fills my heart with pride.
Unfortunately, in one
small respect I miscalculated; I did not factor in the concussive force of the
explosions caused by my weapon, and that force tore the wings off of our yacht,
causing it to tumble out of control.Iris’ skills saved us from destruction, but even her excellent piloting
could not stop us from crashing upon the deck of a warship that had just that
minute teleported into the area.It will not surprise you that the warship was the Hand of Sorrow.
Although we were all
injured to various degrees in the crash, all of my companions were well enough
to exit the ship and, in the chaos, go belowdecks in search of the bridge
(Elspeth was the most seriously injured, but Marcus used his magical sword to
heal the worst of her injuries so she could join us in our attack upon the bridge).Iris, knowing the ship as she does, led
us directly there, and we burst in.
Standing there on the
bridge, naturally, was Iris’ father, the Emperor.She jumped upon a railing and from there towards him,
drawing and activating an energy sword as she did so.For his part, he likewise drew and activated a sword of his
Meanwhile, I used my
weapon to annihilate several armed crewmen; they vanished in a blaze of Tesla
energy.General Pickton, using one
of the captured energy pistols we recently obtained, slew several more, while
Marcus endeavored to close a door seconds before several more enemy troops
entered the bridge.
Then followed a brief
shootout on the bridge; I called to Marcus to release the door and get out of
the way, and I destroyed all the entering troops with a second blast of my
weapon.At the same time, Iris and
her father dueled with their deadly energy blades.Both of them narrowly avoided grievous injury (or, more
likely, instant death), but it was clear that her father had the upper
I hesitated for a moment;
I well understand the personal nature of their combat, but I caught Iris’ eye
and she indicated that I should shoot at her father.Just as I did, however, another man entered the bridge – a
Duke, and, as we later learned, the man her father intended Iris to marry.As I fired, the Emperor anticipated my
attack.He could not dodge the
blast of my weapon or move out of its path, but he was able to grab the Duke
and use him as a shield.The Duke
took the blast but was not instantly killed, and in the chaos, the Emperor
retreated, jumping out a window and scampering across the flight deck of the
ship to a small fightercraft which he then took off in.
Iris approached her
intended, and with one stroke of her sword, ended her engagement and the Duke’s
life.She then took command of the
bridge; she is, after all, the rightful heir to the Emperor, and she was thus
A moment later, a man
entered the bridge; Marcus’ father.I do not yet know the full tale of his activities, or of their reunion,
but we shall all doubtless know it shortly, and I will then relate it to you,
Our plan now is to
teleport immediately back to Crendor, there to pick up as many rebel troops and
ships as can be quickly organized, and return to the Britannic base to rout out
whatever enemy opposition remains and take command of the base in the name of
the Britannic Empire once again.I
am certain that our flag shall proudly fly there before you and the rest of our
fleet arrives there, and I shall be counting the moments until you do.
Until that happy occasion,
I remain your most loyal friend,
Genevieve Chantal Therese
de Lisieux Lamballe, La Reine du Le Cour d’Automne
Earlier this year, I was an early and enthusiastic backer of the Story Forge Kickstarter. Aside from the DungeonMorph Dice (to which I contributed and from which I benefited), this is by far my favorite product to emerge from the new funding mechanism. Even before I had heard of StoryForge, I had been noodling with similar ideas of using playing cards or a Tarot deck as idea generators and possibly resolution mechanics for gaming. It just hadn't occurred to me to make new cards entirely. What I love about StoryForge as compared to a good Tarot deck is that the text of the StoryForge cards cut to the chase and describe a specific (yet generically applicable) gaming/writing element. There's no extra step of interpreting art or remembering the occult symbology of a particular Tarot card. I draw a card and I have an idea right away.
And I've been using these babies a lot lately. They've really been adding something to both game preparation and actual play. For example, here's how I prepared for my last session of Slaying Solomon (arguable the best episode we've had in a while):
I created a three-act structural outline of the episode and inserted questions like so:
Where/When Are We Now?
What Is Threatening?
Why Is He/She/It Threatening?
What's Going On With [PC name]?
What's the Villain's First Move?
What's a Likely End Point of the Teaser?
Where/When Are We Now?
What's the Essential Mystery?
What is [NPC name] doing?
What is the Expected Twist/Act Transition?
What Is [NPC name]'s Next Move?
What Is The Complication?
How is [NPC name] Involved?
What's the Twist?
What is the Expected Act Transition?
Where is the Final Confrontation?
What is the Villain's Weakness?
What is the Twist?
What is Expected to Conclude the Showdown?
What's the Surprise in the Epilogue?
To each of these questions I made a pull from the Story Forge deck. If another question presented itself, I'd pull again to answer that question. The key thing is that the whole process didn't take much time (a couple of lunch hours at work) and was enormously fun. It was fun because I didn't necessarily know what the answers would be (though I had a basic situation in mind). The results took me to places I was not expecting and it lead to a much more satisfying session.
Of course, in play, things often diverged greatly from the outline that I generated. But even then, I made draws from the Story Forge deck to come up with ideas during play. And even though the actual events of the session didn't match my notes (and it never does), the ideas that I came up with during preparation really drove the session.