December 31, 2016

As one year closes, another year awaits

Okay, so been a while since I last updated this.    This post will probably fall into the "& Etc" part of the blog's title, so bear with me.

I can't be fully honest as to what I expected out of 2016, but I think I can say there were a lot of surprises, and only a few of them good.

First off, there were the sheer volume of celebrity deaths, many of whom were far too young to be taken from us, running the gamut from David Bowie and Prince to Alan Rickman and most recently Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.  There others to be sure, sadly far too many for a single year.  Being the life-long Star Wars fan that I am, it's safe to say that Carrie Fisher's passing is probably the one that hit me the hardest.  And while her "Hutt slayer" ensemble was indeed memorable, I remember her more as the sassy, spirited princess in a white gown with buns in her hair, who took charge of her own rescue.  Carrie's own life was a roller coaster to be sure, with ups and downs, but it's impossible to deny the influence that one role had in terms of the movie industry.  From what I've heard, she did finish up her work for Episode 8, so it'll be interesting to see how they address her absence come time for Episode 9.  May the Force be with you Carrie, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.  To us, she'll always be royalty.

To address the political elephant in the room, there's the very unwelcome surprise of the election of the thin-skinned narcissistic orange-skinned man-child Donald Trump, a man so unqualified to be leader of the free world he makes George W. Bush look like Franklin D. Roosevelt by comparison.  And on the backs of Trump's campaign of racism, misogyny, and ignorance rode a crop of Republican senators who failed to do their jobs under the Obama administration, stymieing if not outright blocking President Obama's efforts for no reason other than political affiliation and (if leaked details from former high-ranking Republicans are to be believed) the color of the man's skin.  I make no secrets about my being a liberal in terms of political views, and ascribe to Bernie Sanders' views in regards to democratic socialism (something this country already makes extensive use of).  And while Hillary Clinton was not my first choice, I still voted for her as she was probably one of the most qualified Presidential nominees we've seen in the past few generations.  But because of a screwed up Electoral College, we instead got a loud-mouthed braggart that has openly admitted to sexual abuse whose only "qualifications" was that he was white and that he was rich.  And to the surprise of nobody that actually bothered to look past Trump's rhetoric, he's breaking just about every promise he made on the campaign trail, and because of one comparatively small group of Americans that bought into his many hate-fueled lies, the whole nation and probably the world itself is going to suffer as that buffoon abuses the office of President to further enrich himself and leave the rest of us holding the bill.  As I mentioned to my dear friend Adie from across the pond, while I'm hoping for 2017 to feature a return of the reason and sanity that the world seems to have lost as 2016 comes to a close, I'm not holding my breath for a speedy return and expect it's going to be on hell of a bumpy ride.  Admittedly, as a white male in a solidly Democratic state I probably have less to worry about under a Trump presidency (ye gods I feel sick just typing those two words together), I'm more worried about my friends in the LGBTQ+ community as well as those who rely upon the Affordable Care Act, two groups the GOP have made no bones about putting in their crosshairs.

Okay, enough of that topic; it's a sunny day outside and I don't want to spend the last day of the year in a foul mood because of a ferret-wearing shit-gibbon and the dimwitted monkeys that support him.

Some of the good things that 2016 brought for me were the movies Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange.  Both were solid and fully entertaining movies, with Strange being far better than I was originally anticipating.  And while I was pretty much TeamCap in regards to Civil War, the Russo brothers were able to present the issue as not being entirely clear-cut, with both sides having valid points.  The major highlight of the film for me was of course the introduction of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming next year.  Also looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, especially after seeing the trailers.  Still unsure about Thor: Ragnarok, but I'll still probably go see it in the theater, but I'll admit that Thor: Dark World is probably one of my least favorite of the MCU entries; Norton's Incredible Hulk takes the cake there for me, and I find Mark Ruffalo to be a much better Banner.  Also on the movie front was the new Ghostbusters movie.  While it's not as good as the original Ghostbusters, this female-lead reboot of the franchise was very enjoyable, making me and Amy and Tiffany all laugh at various points, especially at many of the cameo appearances of the original movie's cast (I think my favorite was Dan Akroyd as a cabbie with Sigourny Weaver's scientist/mentor being a close second).  I really do hope this movie gets a sequel, as I really enjoyed watching this new crew go bust some ghosts.

As for Rogue One... I'll admit that while I did like the movie, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed The Force Awakens,  Probably for the fact that (SPOILERS!) that none of the new heroes introduced survived to the end.  And while that sort of "kill em all!" approach might work for horror movies, I still don't care for that plot path.  It may not have been the screenwriters' intent, but the fate of the Rogue One crew honestly felt like they decided "well, this is the easiest way to explain why they weren't around in ANH" and thus avoid "so what was Jyn/Caspian/Chiffut/Baze/etc doing during the rest of the Galactic Civil War after that mission?" questions.  Now, I knew going in this was going to be more of a war movie, and that there was no way that everybody was going to make it out alive; if nothing else I figured Jyn Erso (died to redeem her father in wake of his role in building the Death Star), K2-SO, Chiffut (too cool to live), and Bodhi the pilot were going to be toast, but I was figuring at least Caspian would make it out with the plans, even by the skin of his teeth.  Apparently there was a different ending, which reportedly revolved around the Rogue One crew getting decimated by Lord Vader, but that got re-shot as it was found too dark/depressing.  As for Darth Vader, I think they did a great job bringing him to life on the big screen.  He didn't have a lot of screen time, but he made the most of what he did have, especially that end sequence where he just demolishes a squad of Rebel Troopers, and you can tell from their reactions that they know full well that they are completely screwed at that point.  I didn't have any problem with the CGI used to bring Tarkin and young Leia to the screen either; what little uncanny valley effect there was with Tarken worked to make him seem even creepier than Peter Cushing's incredible performance in ANH already did.

Back towards the end of March, when the horrors to come of 2016 were still far off and there was hope that a Russian-backed lunatic wouldn't be installed as this nation's leader, there was GamerNationCon 3: Beyond Thunderdrome.  I got to play in a number of Star Wars RPG sessions, including a fun adventure run by Christopher West set just prior to The Force Awakens with the PCs all being Resistance operatives, a pick-up run by Sam Stewart with a whole crap load of players, a pick-up run by Sterling Hershey based around material he wrote for the Nexus of Power supplement.  I was able to play in three of my good friend Eric's sessions, one being a D&D pick-up where I had a lot of fun playing a Human Paladin as well as two of his Star Wars games, playing a Jedi-type in each one, even if the PCs were very different builds.  Though the coolest moment for me was getting to help induct Rodney Thompson as an Honorary Member of the Rebel Legion for all the time and hard work he put into the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG, the game that pretty much was responsible for the creation of the d20 Radio Network and with it the Gamer Nation, a large extended family of which I am proud to call myself a member.  There was a lot of concern that GNC3:BT would be the final con, as the venue was due to lose it's lease and options for a new venue were not promising, but the Force was with the Gamer Nation as GamerNationCon 4: A New Hope will be happening, as the original venue was able to renew their lease for the foreseeable future.  So that's at least one thing occurring in 2017 that I can honestly look forward.

Another cool thing from 2016 was the unexpected early preview release of Evil Hat Production's Dresden Files Accelerated game.  This was a last-minute "why the heck not?" backer goal from Fred Hicks' wildly successful FATE Core Kickstarter, and apart from a general announcement of "hey, we're looking for playtesters!" not a peep had been heard.  And then, in the final weeks of the year, backers get an e-mail notice of "Hey, we've got an early preview PDF of DFA with your name on it!"  While I generally like FATE as a system, and liked the general simplicity of Fate Accelerated Edition, I am seriously loving Dresden Files Accelerated.  The changes made to both streamline the old Dresden Files game and account for new information has made for a very interesting game.  The concept of using Mantles to define your character is very cool, especially in light of the information on mantles in the Dresden Files setting that came to light during the Cold Days novel.  Wizards (or Magical Practitioners as their Mantle is called) no longer stand quite so tall above vanilla mortals in DFA, which is nice in terms of general balance, and the concept of scale in terms of rating levels of power works out very nicely, allowing for PCs to have a chance against heavy-hitters like Senior Council members and even the Queens of Faerie, even if that chance is slimmer than a pipe cleaner.  My buddy Doran has expressed interest in running a one-shot at some point in time, and I'm very much eager to step into the shoes of my old Dresden!Lite character Danny Copperfield, a Young Wizard of the White Council.  To my surprise and delight, it was amazing easy to convert Danny from his original Dresden File starting point (Submerged) to DFA and still be fundamentally the same character in terms of what he can accomplish.  I will most certainly be purchasing this in dead tree format when it comes out.

Cool RPG Thing #2 has been the Star Wars campaigns that I've been running and playing using Fantasy Flight Game's amazing system.  To be honest, I think FFG's Star Wars RPG is one of the most fun and mechanically interesting RPGs that I've ever played, and I've played a LOT of different RPG systems.  Admittedly, most of my recent characters have been Jedi of some stripe or another, with my TFA era rebuild of Valin Starsmor perhaps being my favorite, if only as I've seen him grown from a starting PC with only a few shreds of confidence to having just recently built his own lightsaber.  But also fun has been the Force and Destiny campaign that I've been running, set during the classic Rebellion Era.  The cast of characters is quite diverse and none of them are even remotely similar to one another; the three Force users are as different as can be.  After life circumstances caused us to take a brief break from the campaign, it was nice to get back into the swing of things last night.  I'm currently running a tweaked version of the Beyond the Rim adventure module (written by Mister Silver Chocolate himself, Sterling Hershey), and the group's had a lot of fun.  I've had to tweak a few combat encounters as the PCs have earned close to 400 XP by this point, so they're vastly more capable than what the module is written for.  For instance, Nolt (Zabrak Seeker/Hunter/Hermit) was able to legitimately one-shot an arboreal octopus that had completely gotten the drop on the party with a single shot from his generally unmodded blaster rifle; after what happened to Eric earlier in the month, I was glad to see him have such an awesome moment, along with a number of group laughs about how his character is already planning a summer home on Cholganna given how much of an untamed and hazardous place the world is.

And last but not least in cool RPG things has been the release of the second edition of 7th Sea.  I've discussed this before, but I had a lot of love for 7th Sea when it came out over a decade ago.  When you've got a game about swashbucklers, pirates, and magic, that's something that's hard not to love.  Now I'll admit in retrospect that the first edition of 7th hasn't exactly aged well in terms of mechanics, as a number of things were a lot clunkier than they probably needed to be and the product line was kinda strangled by a huge metaplot that players generally couldn't effect.  But the second edition is a very welcome addition to my RPG library, and I've had a lot of fun running and playing this game.  While it's very unusual, I do like that the moment you choose to pick up dice, your Hero is generally going to succeed at whatever task they're attempting, and that your dice results help determine how well you were able to avoid the consequences of your risky actions.  And yes, I am intentionally using a capital H for Hero, because in this game your character is very much a heroic figure of the likes you seen in the movies, being highly capable and thus far less prone to failing simply because of the vagaries of fate (i.e. bad roll of the dice).  The game's not 100% perfect as there's a few bits that still feel a little rough around the edges to me, but that's probably more still getting a feel for this system.  I do like the concepts of Pressure and Opportunities as they can be applied to Action sequences such as combat; we've got a Fate Witch in the Wednesday night game I play in that is able to create and employ Opportunities with impressive results without having to mechanically employ her magic simply by using her mundane skills but adding the narrative slant of her tugging/pulling/twisting the strands of Fate to get the desired results, which itself adds a creepily cool element to the character, reinforcing to the rest of the group just why people in her native Vodacce are generally afraid of drawing the ire of a Fate Witch.

Naturally, I am of course thankful for the friends I have, ranging from local folks such as Amy and Tiffany, who were kind enough to invite me into their home for a Christmas Eve dinner for another year, with the night ending my getting roped into helping Amy put together her LEGO Ghostbusters set, to the members of my Friday Night Skype group, with whom I've had many a fun night rolling dice and sharing laughs as we guide our characters through various adventures.

I do have some RPG mechanical stuff that I've been tinkering with off-and-on, ranging from converting a number of 7th Sea Swordsman Schools from their first edition versions to be used in second edition to some Dresden Files Accelerated characters.  The DFA characters I'll wait on posting until after the PDF becomes available for sale to the general public.  If you're a fan of the Dresden Files books or just the setting in general, then DFA is very much worth checking out as by all signs it looks to be a fantastic RPG.

Well, I think that's enough for me for this entry.  To be honest, I'm not sure when the next update will be, or what it'll cover.  Until next time, thanks for reading and let's hope 2017 becomes a year to earnestly look forward to unfolding instead of dreading what's to come.

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