Archive for the ‘Star Wars’ Tag

A Cup of Kindness Yet…   Leave a comment

I’ve not actually checked, but I’m sure this title is being used by lots of people writing blog posts today.  You probably recognize it from the chorus of Auld Lang Syne, though I actually wanted to run with a lesser known line from the second verse.  Sadly, “Surely you’ll buy your pint cup, and surely I’ll buy mine” is kind of long for a title.  Plus I don’t buy pints, but I doubt anyone’d fact check that.

The fact remains, we’re sitting at the end of the 2016th calendar year in the Gregorian system.  The system’s not even that old in the grand scheme of things, clocking in at roughly 434 years (to make the math nice and fun they went ahead with the switch in October instead of just waiting three months for January.)  There have been a lot of opinions about 2016 as a year to the point that a few people have even started personifying it, typically as a sort of bumbling thing but every once in a while as a kind of malevolent one.  It’s a subconscious thing, but for the last few months pretty much anything unpleasant that’s happened has been blamed on the year.

And I have to admit that general events in the United States haven’t been great.  My understanding is that events in the rest of the world have also been less than awesome, even if the non-Brexit specifics aren’t coming to my mind right now.  From zookeepers who had to make a horrible decision about the life of a boy and a gorilla, to a ridiculous amount of beloved famous people passing away, to an election that was just mean no matter what your political leanings are, to callous disregard for the lives of black people in the face of armed police officers… and lest we forget, the city of Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.  This is just what I remember off the top of my head, and this is just the United States.

To make it worse, 2015 was a tough act to follow.  We celebrated the date that Marty McFly went to the Future, often at the exact time that he got there.  MST3K fans raised enough funds to create a new, twelfth season of the show.  Star Wars’ fabled seventh installment came out, and while the fans who’ve been keeping the franchise alive had strongly mixed feelings about it and what it meant for the expanded universe, the film was also applauded for taking steps toward less of a cast of white guys.

Possibly most surprising about that film was that its director actually agreed with criticisms that it too slavishly followed the plot of the original film and said he’d lessen so much imitation moving forward!  Legitimate response to a fair critique of a movie that most people admit was okay? Sweet.

So… 2016 already had a lot working against it, it doesn’t compare well to 2015 especially if you’re a fan of nerdy things.  But 2016 wasn’t all bad, either.  There are some gems here.  Ghostbusters 2016 was, despite fears that it would “ruin our childhood forever”, a really nice movie (with a villain that was, hilariously enough, seemingly composed of all the worst parts of the Internet’s complainers.)  It’s sad that Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder concluded, but they had amazing final episodes.  Police around the country are taking stands and saying that things have gone too far and they’re working for reform in their own departments to, hopefully, save lives.  People seem to be done talking about Deflate Gate.  Everywhere I look, I see signs of positive change.

Like, I’m not trying to sugar coat anything here.  2016 was a lousy year.  But a lot of the problems with it seem to be indicative of change, and I think there’s a lot of good change.  There’s bad change to, definitely, but the good change is really good.  I feel like the really bad stuff, not counting celebrity deaths, are suggestive of growing pains.  We have some entrenched systems in place and a lot of people don’t want those systems to change because change is scary, so it’s expected that we’ll see resistance in the form of both a lack of initiative and a presence of active opposition.  This resistance isn’t really stopping the change, though, it’s just… well, it’s just resisting it.

So when we remember auld lang syne tonight… that is, times long past, or even just “old times”… let’s remember the good parts of 2016.  The bad parts of it need to go away forever, yeah, but let’s celebrate the wins we got.  And, of course, let’s take the time to remember those no longer with us.  I’ve got lots of plans for 2017, and most of them wouldn’t be possible without the way that 2016 went, so… here’s to the good old times, and good riddance to the bad ones.  Seeya in 2017, everyone!


Magical Mondays: A Presence I’ve Not Felt Since…   Leave a comment

Vader Sensing A Presence

“You study the arcane symbols on the ground, careful not to enter the field of energy that’s caused the villagers to fall into their deep slumber. There’s something familiar about this magic. The handwriting that inscribed the runes may be different, but there’s no hiding the identity of one so foul, and so powerful…”

The modular approach to magic in most gaming systems is a wonderful thing, but it comes with certain concessions. Many standard fantasy tropes that have to do with magic fall by the wayside without any supporting rules. One of these tropes is the recognizability of magic from familiar casters. Often, magic of this sort is recognizable only if it relates to a particularly powerful or flavorful source, meaning that it can give the audience a taste of what might be coming. More importantly, it informs the audience about the history that a character has, even if it’s just “this person’s studied a lot.”

As a game master, if you make magic recognizable then there are many plot points and secrets that can become clear to your players. There are two basic approaches: magic from a person they’ve seen using magic before, and magic from a source that would be familiar to them. For the first of these approaches, recognizing magic would be similar to recognizing a person who’s disguised or recognizing familiar handwriting. For the latter of these approaches, it would tie in to what a character knows about magic, history, the occult, or certain magical creatures. The exact approaches would change based on the game you’re playing (a game of Mage: The Awakening handles this differently than Dungeons & Dragons which handles it differently from Cosmic Patrol, naturally) but understanding what you’re working with can inform your approach. Let’s look at some different kinds of recognizable magic.

The magic is innately tied to the caster. In this case, the magic is an extension of how a caster manipulates certain energies. Something like this would be most common in science fiction stories where psychic energies are a “scientifically acceptable magic” for most plot purposes. Darth Vader’s ability to feel the presence of Obi Wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker in Star Wars is an example of this; their very presence affected the force enough for him to be aware. A game where magic comes from auras or other personal things could use this. A sorcerer in D&D’s third edition or a Mage from Mage: The Awakening is almost perfect. If you’re playing a Moon Man in Cosmic Patrol, you could probably also recognize the Dynamo Psychism of another Moon Man that you’re familiar with, if it comes up. This can be used to inform players that an old enemy, or perhaps an old friend, is again on the scene.

The magic is from a historically significant source. If there was an invasion of fairies from another realm or aliens from another world fifty years ago, someone who’s studied that period of recent history might be able to recognize technology or magic if these forces are starting to encroach into the world again. This is more or less what happened when Gandalf realized that the Dark Lord was returning, and that Bilbo’s old ring was more than it seemed to be. This can alert players to the presence of some ancient magic or technology, both as a warning about upcoming events and as a feature of discovered ruins on archaeological digs. This can give your players the chance to shout “I’ve discovered Atlantis!” or “The Mordothermitites are returning from the ninth dimension?! I’ve got to warn someone!”

The magic is related to a certain tradition or history. This is related to the one before, but it generally requires more specialized knowledge. It would be like Indiana Jones realizing what ancient treasure he’s looking for and which secret societies or fascist militaries will be trying to stop him. Of all the methods that would be best for your traditional tabletop RPG wizard to use, this is the best. Use this one to give your players a quick run-down of the history of what you’re about to face. “Did you see the color of the fire from that wand? You only get that if you use a certain form of manganese in the casting… they must be learning their magic from the Fire Giants of Mishkala! Careful, guys, those people train dangerous canines to guard their homes…”

The magic is intentionally stylized and practiced in certain ways. This is similar to Voldemort developing certain signs and symbols to be associated with himself, and flavoring many of the dark arts that he practices in those ways. Often, a mage choosing to stylize his or her magic in this way will become very used to it, almost always performing magic in that fashion much like how serial bombers come to prefer certain methods of triggering their bombs (based on my in-depth knowledge of serial bombing from the movie Speed.) This method sort of combines all the previous methods into one. Recognizing magic this way is easy, largely because the force at work is so dangerous and self-confident that it *wants* to be recognized.

In my games, I treat all magic as being related to the first of these approaches, with a likelihood of the second two, but that’s because magic is always a very personal thing in my game worlds. If you prefer thinking of magical spells as being identical… every casting of magic missile being the same as every other regardless of caster or origin… then using one of these approaches to make magic recognizable might not be for you. Or if you just want a flavor of this, you can use the commonality of magic to make recognizing it more of a challenge… instead of recognizing it on sight, you might have to make it a challenge akin to a ballistics investigation, trying to match a single bullet to the gun that fired it. In that case, identifying the source of magic can become impractical, but possibly very rewarding. In fact, I just had an idea for an adventure while I wrote that, hang on… okay, I’m back.

It’s also worth noting that these four methods I’m suggesting are broad categories, not meant to be restrictive and, in fact, may confuse things if you try to apply them too strictly.  For instance: a fortune teller being able to recognize someone afflicted with Lycanthropy is one of those instantly recognizable moments from literature.  They can see the signs, or they can sense the aura, or they’ve studied werewolves, or something… it almost doesn’t matter.  For that kind of thing, you might want to make a “passive spellcraft check” to see if a player’s spellcraft check, on a roll of ten, might be enough to recognize cursed individuals or everyday magic (assuming you want your players to have a caster who’s always spotting things like that.  If it’s just for NPCs, I recommend not even worrying about the check, unless what they’re recognizing is something that the players are actively trying to hide.)  In some ways, doing it this way almost obviates the need for Detect Magic as a spell in D&D and turns it into a semi-reliable knack that casters have (which I’m fine with, personally, but I can understand why that might rub some people the wrong way.)

Here’s a few methods you can use to identify the presence of magic depending on games that you play.

In most editions of D&D or Pathfinder, this would usually be covered by something like a Spot/Perception check if it’s related to personal experience or a Knowledge check relating to Arcana or History (or Religion or the Planes or whatever) if it’s based on specialized knowledge. In third edition, or Pathfinder, preface this with a Spellcraft check to represent your studies of the magical presence that you’re dealing with. In fifth edition if you’re basing this on a personal history with something, just make it the standard check, but give advantage to that check so that the players can roll twice. If the caster being recognized tries to disguise their casting in some way, Disguise is probably the best roll to use on their part.

In the Storyteller System (World of Darkness, Adventure!, Mage: The Awakening and the like) there are a lot of different ways to make this work, and it really depends on the story you’re telling (and which of the myriad WoD sub-games you’re playing). A Wits roll would usually be called for, along with an appropriate check relating to knowledge, the Occult, or something.

If you’re playing a game like Cosmic Patrol or Valiant, this is almost entirely a Brains roll. We run into an interesting feature if the caster tries to disguise their presence; in this case, it becomes a Contest instead of a regular check, so the person identifying would roll their Brains die along with a d12, while the caster would roll their casting stat die (probably their special die, but it could be anything really) and a d12. Alternatively, if the Narrator for that scene just wants to make it a situational thing or something where there’s no attempt at discretion, the opposing roll should just be a d20.

Ultimately, if this is something you want to use in your gaming sessions, there’s no telling how many chances your players will take to investigate this kind of thing, especially since you’ll be going against the path of least resistance for most assumptions about Vancian-style magic. If you want the players to be aware of things this way, feel free to give them some extra checks after they’ve investigated something, and let them know that it feels familiar, or give them some information on what history they’re aware of.

They might not notice the change. But if they do? Well, then they’ll feel a presence that they’ve not felt since… possibly ever.

“Calling” All Airkids…   1 comment

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Korra officially lapped me last night.  The final week of October was so incredibly busy, that I was late with everything.  Magical Mondays’ Halloween One-Shot went up on Thursday, to give you an idea.  So, me talking about Episode 4 of Korra is a bit late.  I’ll try to keep my discussion of The Calling brief.  (I’ve already started compiling my notes for Episode 5, “Enemy At The Gates”, so I’ve gotta get to that.)  As always, though, I need to say upfront that I plan on spoiling a lot of things.  I will do this by telling you spoilers.  If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read on.  Spoilers will begin as soon as we get beyond the image of Spoiler, which will begin right after this paragraph.


Anyway, as we saw at the end of Episode 3, The Coronation, Tenzin had turned to his three children to go seeking out Korra.  This episode begins with those preparations, concerned parents making sure they’ll have supplies and provisions and Jinora pointing out that they’re about the age that Aang was when he traveled the world.  Meelo is more or less convinced that he’s going to be the sole driving force of their mission’s success, demonstrating from the start that he’s going to make the trip a round one for both Jinora and Ikki.

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Each of them has a different mindset, though, and while Meelo is definitely the most childish of the three, they each want to tackle this problem in a different way.  It’s an understated theme (until the end of the episode, at least) but in some ways it’s the glue that holds the plot together (and the engine that drives most of the conflict; if their only concern was finding Korra, this episode wouldn’t be good as a narrative.)  Much of their plan seems to revolve around asking people, though.  It’s not the *worst* plan in the world, but you’d think that there’d be more to it than walking through cities and asking people “have you seen this Avatar?”  Still, we get to see some really talented artwork from Meelo.

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That’s some talent there.  Anyway, the three go into the world, checking out large locations, primarily ones in the Earth Kingdom (or should I say Earth Empire?)  Showing people the photograph and asking questions doesn’t do much for them initially, though it does lead Meelo to an interesting encounter.

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He meets, strikes up a quick friendship, and develops a quick crush on a girl named Tu Yin that he meets, but the meeting is quickly over when Ikki shows up, performs her sibling duty of taunting him it, and saying that Jinora’s looking for him.  Tu Yin walks away, giving him a flower, and Meelo blames Ikki for ruining his meeting with the love of his life (more or less verbatim.)  We’ve seen him develop rapid crushes before, of course, but this one seemed like less of a throwaway joke.  It’s possible that this is just another character moment for Meelo, but I’m sorta hoping that we see more of Tu Yin in the future in some way.  Anyway, their search continues and eventually gets to an island.  When going to a fish monger’s stall, they see a wall that should be familiar to viewers this season.  A wall… of Avatars!

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Man, I hope that there’s a third Avatar show just so that this guy’s wall can get a third photograph on it.  Or his kids can put a third photograph on it.  Anyway, they realize that they’ve found the trail, but it’s months old.  This stunning realization means it’s time to shift viewpoints to Toph and Korra.

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Toph continues to basically be herself, but with more experience.  Blunt as a rock but wiser than just about anyone who’s ever been a martial artist sage in a swamp (that’s right, Yoda, she’s gunnin’ for your job), she’s eager to do some rest and relaxation while Korra wants to be active.  Toph asks her to put that to good use, and sends her to a place in the swamp to get mushrooms for dinner (specifically asking for the slimy ones.)  Korra heads off.

Meanwhile, the Airkids continue to press onward, but Meelo reveals that he threw all of their food into the river (including all the special treats that their mom made for them.)  Meelo’s reasoning for this seems a little shaky, but my guess is that it’s because he’s eager to play the role of the triumphant hunter.  He’s reminded that he reveres all life, and that they’re all vegetarians, so he decides to forrage for suitable plants to consume.  Ikki heads off to find food as well, but locates a military base stationed by, well… these two.

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I got a kind of Laurel and Hardy vibe from these two.  They “capture” Ikki (though she’s apparently not really held down by the ropes) while the two plot to catch the other two Airbender kids, reasoning that three of the most experienced airbenders in the world, children though they may be, will probably be worth something to either their father or to Kuvira.  Kuvira can tell that they’re planning something and avoids helpful answers to their questions, but she’s a bit stunned when they reveal that they’ve got the supplies that Meelo tossed away.

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Korra, meanwhile, is troubled in the swamp.  The swamp is showing her things, things that she doesn’t care to see.  She’s been having images of Zaheer all through this season so far whenever it looks like she’s about to make progress, but this time the images of Zaheer are included with those times when Amon and Unalaq hurt her the most.  With everything that happens in this show it’s easy to forget that in the space of less than a year, she had someone steal her bending, someone rip the spirit of light out from her, and someone poison her with mercury, but the visions in the swamp show it very effectively.  Toph arrives, looking for her dinner, and helps Korra to deal with what she’s seeing.  Yoda tells Luke that he brought only what he took with him into the swamp and Toph tells Korra that she’s carrying her villains with her (or at least the pain she experienced at the hands of these villains), something that was foreshadowed a bit during the finale of Book 3 when she saw images of her previous enemies telling her to give in to the poison.  Toph points out to Korra that the general goals of these people weren’t bad things on their own… wanting Equality, a greater connection to Spirituality, or Freedom and Change can be very good goals… but each of them lacked a sense of balance, something that Korra will need to be able to know the difference between right and wrong.

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Meanwhile, Jinora is meditating, seeking Korra.  Who should return then, but a “successful” Meelo!  He has a bag stuffed with berries.

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Yeah, that’s… that’s not good.  Meelo’s picked a huge bag of bad berries, and apparently ate a lot of them before returning to camp.  He’s fine, though.  Right?

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I almost used that as the top image of this review.  Anyway, Meelo and Jinora realize that they’ve not seen or heard from Ikki in quite a while, and decide that they need to track her down.

Ikki, meanwhile, has been making friends with her two captors.  She talks them into discussing their problems, not being part of the larger group of the army, and compares it to the problems she’s having relating with her siblings.  The soldiers warm up to Ikki, and decide that they should release Ikki and let her go.  Just when they start to reach for the ropes to untie her, the door bangs open and Meelo and Jinora rush in (with a literal rush of air, naturally), that bangs the soldiers against the far wall, knocking them out cold.  Ikki yells at them for messing up the situation, and easily extricates herself from the ropes.  Using the soldiers’ maps, the airkids figure out a reasonable area that they can look for Korra; the Earth Empire’s army has bases all over, and people are watching for Korra, so the areas where the army isn’t watching should be good places to look, right?  That place takes them to a swamp.  But not before Ikki leaves a few of her mother’s treats for the two soldiers, thanking them for all their help.

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Meanwhile, Toph takes Korra to a familiar looking Banyan tree…

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We hear a very similar talk about how the tree’s roots spread far, and how it’s a way that Toph can stay connected to the greater world.  Toph tells Korra that some of the difficulties she’s been having recovering could come from her willingly choosing to stay away from those who love her and care about her.  Toph suggests that Korra needs to try to reconnect, which she does in a moment that serves as a nice visual callback to The Last Airbender.

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As the roots stretch away, the vines allow Korra to locate the nearby airkids.  And, just as soon as Korra chooses to reach out to those who love her, Jinora’s spiritual connection locates Korra.

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The airbenders leap onto their sky bison and fly toward the banyan tree, where Toph and Korra wait.  Just seeing those three again is obviously an emotional moment for Korra, and I’d say one of the first times this season where we can see a visual sign of emotional healing after everything she’s been through.

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Toph makes a side comment about having to deal with even more airbenders, but she decides that she likes Meelo a lot after just a few words from him.  With Korra spiritually on the mend, they head to a little “cave” in a hill beneath the roots of a smaller tree.

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Toph remains adamant that she won’t remove the poison from Korra’s system, and that Korra should do it herself.  Korra has to focus on it, and goes through a number of breathing exercises before and during what’s obviously a trying process, but she’s ultimately successful.  Toph locks the poison into a rock, safely away from Korra.

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Ultimately, this was an episode of healing.  It put Korra back on track to finding her way back to civilization, and to the fact that the Earth Kingdom is on the verge of being totally conquered by a militaristic tyrant.  It wasn’t my favorite episode of the season, but it was a fun ride, even if it had shades of a “getting the band back together” plotline.  I don’t think the episode would’ve worked without Toph or someone very much like her.

Also: it was nice to finally see the airbender kids as the primary focus for an episode.  It was a little scattered since the show had to divide its time between the three of them, but they ultimately learned that they each have valuable skills that the others need.

Now then… time to write the NEXT one so that I can stop being behind.  …I’m not gonna finish NaNoWriMo this year, am I?  Argh… so much writing in the way of the writing.

Anyway, see you soon!