Friday, June 28, 2013

It Was Another One of Those Sessions...

... and I wasn't even the one GMing this time!

So my character, Tomar Leo, was storming in to confront his step-mother Queen Jain, who may or may not be a witch. Well, Tomar thought she was, that's why he was there. He starts to call her out on it, and lo and behold, my fellow player Marty shoots Queen Jain right through the mouth as she's screaming at Tomar! It took Andy and I a moment to process that, and all of a sudden we were taking advantage of the confusion and getting the hell out of there.

Sometimes things just don't work out the way you thought they would. I kinda figured that would have been the session, y'know? Screaming match with Jain, followed by either getting the hell out of there or killing her in a just fashion. So that was...sudden. The session ended with a shouting fest between the two characters that ended with both of them confused and more than a little angry at each other as they called each other inconsiderate jerks (and, to be honest, they're both right).

So what's next for our gaming group? Well, we're gonna make Torchbearer characters and sit on the revelations of character we just hit each other with, and when Torchbearer is done we're gonna go and do the right thing. For once.

Well, I think we will. We better not meet anymore witches.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Read Thru Review: Civil War

At the risk of looking incredibly tacky:


Just go ahead and hit the replay button, I'll wait.  Yes, this RPG bit the dust after just one supplement was printed, Civil War. And it's really too bad. I mean, really it is, cause this book is amazing.

I'm not going to review the basic rules for this game, which I already reviewed here. You can go and peruse that if you're wanting to know what this now-out-print game is like (Short review: IF YOU LIKE MARVEL BUY IT!), but this is going to be all about the event itself.

Civil War breaks down the major beats of the comic book event Civil War, allowing players to go through the entire event. The authors were quite thorough: they chose beats from almost all the comics that were involved with the event to make a more layered story, cutting from talks in Washington to beating up Doctor Doom in a way that only a Marvel comic could allow. They also throw in enough random points sitting around, begging to be connected, that you could take this book and come out with a completely different story than what the established Civil War was.

So, to start out, the book details all the organizations that can be involved with the event, and gives you some ideas how on to use them. Almost nothing beyond SHIELD is truly mandatory, although even that could be swapped out pretty easily. The flexibility inherent in the set-up is truly remarkable. I could tell my players that SHIELD isn't responsible for enacting the SHRA, and that AIM instead is, and this event book would have the tools to allow for that! Or, maybe Hydra has been doing some serious kissing of bottoms lately, and so they got it. The possibilities are not confined by anything the book says, and that's a beautiful thing.

The next item in the book is the actual set-up of the Event itself, Acts 1-3. Each act is comprised of action and transition scenes in a suggested order.Act One focuses on the build-up to Civil War, Act Two on the actual implementation  of the act, and Act Three resolves all the plot threads.  Each scene has a series of suggestion as to how you can modify it, along with datafiles for the scene. It's important to note that none o these scenes demand a certain flow, although the suggest flow is one you should probably take at least the first time you run this. Honestly, however, they way you should do this is dependent on how you set up the game with your players.If it looks.. scattered... don't be fooled. With your players using their Milestones to full effect you won't find any trouble finding direction. The scenes are meant to interact with those Milestones and will drive the plot forward. You just have to have let the players drive the plot forward and throw these scenes at them in whatever way they come up.

After the acts there's an extensive set of  GM and player datafiles. Pretty much everyone you could think of who participated in the Civil War is here. There aren't a whole lot of X-Men,  but that's because they have their own Civil War event book. I would have preferred they put in more X-Men to this book instead, but oh well. The datafiles are all current to that time period of Marvel, including Spider-Man's red and gold costume.All the characters play differently from each other thanks to their SFX.

In conclusion, the now-defunct Marvel RPG really hit it out of the park with this book. You can run a game that, while using most of the main plot points from the Civil War comic event, make a completely new story. Hopefully one without all the stupid plot holes and convenient character decisio- I mean, something completely new and really cool!

Yeah, that's totally what I meant. Something new. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go and fantasize how to NOT screw up such a good idea...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Attack on Titan as of Episode 11

A lot of people I know have commented to me that there's no good modern anime, that it all seems to have come from a few years ago. I have always disagreed with this statement, mostly because we're in the moment of everything and we really can't tell what's going on til we have a few years to look back.

Also, Attack on Titan exists, so therefore your argument is invalid. 

Attack on Titan is about the struggle of Eren Jaeger to overcome the seemingly-all-powerful titans, a race of giant humanoids that have all but wiped out humanity. After losing people dear and near to him Eren swears revenge upon the titans and, with the help of his friends Mikasa and Armin, sets out to do everything he can to join the Survey Corps, the group that actually leaves the walls of humanity's last home.

To say that this show is one giant sucker punch would be a bit of an understatement. Every single hit in this show is brutal and horrible, contrasted by the slower heartwarming moments of the show. No, Titans does not forget that in order for horror to work there needs to be something mundane and slow, mixed at just the right amount. I'll admit that sometimes that pacing is a bit weird, but it all pans out in the end. 

The only real disadvantage of this show? IT'S NOT DONE, AND I WANT MORE. Particularly after the ending of episode 11! Mush! Mush! Faster! Now!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Someone Got There First...

John C. Wright is awesome.

The Importance of Fantasy

Us Catholics have begun a "New Springtime" according to Blessed John Paul the Great. With the aid of the Catechism, the Scriptures, the Magisterium, and our communities, we have begun a period of discovering anew our faith, a new understanding filled with a new zeal for what we have found. We study, pray, and live to the best of our ability what has been discovered. This means bumping up against all sorts of things in the world around us, particularly things like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and other fantasy series. And that's before we get into the plethora of horror movies that keep uh...gracing(!) our theatres and private rooms. While Lord of the Rings is mostly accepted by Catholics as a Catholic work, many good and moral Catholics I've met seem to have issue with the fantasy and horror genres in general. I find this a bit baffling, to be honest. Those two genres are more Catholic in nature than most, and we should be going out and owning those genres of fiction! This is because both fantasy and horror remind us of essential truths that other genres cannot and, since we live in a post-Rationlistic culture that has a hard time taking spirits seriously, it's more important than ever that we stand up for these truths, truths that are mostly ignored by modern Catholics in favor of a much fuzzier, friendlier Catholicism that's lost it's teeth.

1. We are not alone.  The basic tenets of Catholicism and Orthodoxy show us that we are not the only intelligent beings in the universe, and never have been. No, this does NOT mean E.T. That's a horrible stereotype that needs to be...addressed.  While we don't know if there are other corporeal intelligent beings, we do know that we are surrounded by angels, demons, and the souls of the righteous and unrighteous departed. Our world is a lot more like a tossed salad than a melting pot. Fairy tales in particular enforce this worldview, by describing the supernatural things that happen around people in pretty graphic and down-to-earth terms.

2. Most of the things that we are surrounded by  that we need to keep track of are malevolent.  I can now hear the rolling of eyes that are happening right now. "Ah, demons aren't anything to worry about, right? Ghosts aren't anything to worry about, right?" Wrong.  Each and every diocese in America has been required to have an exorcist, and for a good reason! Things like witchcraft and Satanism are very real and need to be watched carefully. Most fantasy stories revolve around how power can corrupt, warning to be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

3. Using the power of evil never gets you anywhere you truly want to go.  I mean, welcome to Lord of the Rings, right? The idea that we can't use power that's not meant for us is a huge staple of fantasy. Another good amount of fantasy plots revolve around the evil artifact or power corrupting someone into being the next Sauron or White Witch.

4. Evil deserves nothing less than absolute hatred. The type of hatred you need to go to war over.  Conflict is a necessary part of fantasy: you can't get along without it. Life is struggle, it is painful. You can't get around that, and fantasy makes no attempt to. In addition, the types of evil that a person can run into are usually best revealed to people in indirect ways first, through stories, so that way when you do meet something that reminds you of the evil you've heard of you know how to deal with it. Without that backing there's no way to deal with some of the more sinister things you'll run into in life.

5. It's actually easier to process for the average brain. If I started telling you how to operate a complex piece of machinery in the abstract you wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about, would you? Well, most of us wouldn't. But if I told you a story that resembled the process most of us would remember that, and be able to operate the piece of machinery. The same's true for all of life. Stories are always preferable, particularly with sensitive stuff. And considering how weird life can get, doesn't it make sense that the stories would be just as weird and fantastical?

Those are just five reasons I can think of right now. As time goes on I've become more and more convinced that fantasy is a necessary part of anybody's life, and I'll certainly be writing on the importance of it as time goes on.

Book Review: Talking Back

Some religious books are nice little add-ons to your library, some are heretical, and some are just plain old necessary. "Talking Back" fits into the latter category for any serious practicing Catholic or Orthodox. It resurrects one of the most uncomfortable aspects of Christian theology: demons and their role in temptation. While it's sure to be a bit of a surreal book for any post-Enlightenment Christian, it's something that really needs a look at.

The book begins with a historical look at St. Evagrius of Pontus and examines his place in patristics, which is considerable. Evagrius was one of the great Egyptian monks and helped synthesize all their teachings down. He was a contributor to the "Philokalia", a collection of Eastern Christian writings and was known for his practical advice. Talking Back was written as part of a request from another monk who wished to know how to resist demons.

Yeah, you read right. How to resist demons.

Turns out that the monks of Egypt all believed the same thing: our sins are the result of being actively tempted by demons. Our sins are not just from our corrupted nature., they're our demons taking advantage of our weakened nature. To deal with these temptations Evagrius suggests that the temptee rebuke the demon with scriptural passages.This fills a much-needed hole in practical theology: resisting temptation.

The following sections of the book deal with the eight deadly demons: gluttony, fornication, avarice, sadness, anger, despondency, vainglory, and pride.Each demon has a list of circumstances and replies. Each of the lists were compiled by Evagrius and his compatriots. These are very specific and practical. Some of these circumstances can seem a little strange to anyone in our modern day and age, but some of the other circumstances are so right on the money that I can't help but lend credence to the others.

Everyone should have a copy of this book. Period. It's essential.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Anime Review: Monster

*Gulp* Where do I begin? I mean, how do you review this thing? Monster is, honestly... it's Monster, how can I sum this thing up? 

Well, I'll try anyway.

It's a long, fast-paced, action-packed, dark, depressing, hopeful, light-hearted, beautiful, horrifying masterpiece. No, I did not use too many adjectives. This is not for the weak-minded, folks! Do not enter without doing some soul-searching first.

Monster follows the struggle of Dr. Tenma, a brilliant neuro-surgeon, and Johan, a young German boy who's essentially the anti-Christ. Johan, with a bullet in his brain, comes under Dr. Tenma's care and, what can only be described as an act of self-definition, Dr. Tenma fixes him. Dr. Tenma gets a lot of grief for healing the boy due to some political maneuverings and, in his despair, says that all the people giving him trouble should die.

In front of the comatose Johan.

What do you think is going to happen?

Well, I'll give you a hint: they don't go to the park for ice cream.

Anyway, eventually Tenma finds out that his sudden fortune was made possible by Johan's acts of violence, and resolves to go and kill Johan. He meets up with a lot of people along the way, finds out what Johan is and where he came from, and just how screwed up the bugger is.  And that's all I can tell you about the plot. No, really! In good conscience that is all you are allowed to know, and even that's saying almost too much. This is because Monster goes through a lot of material. Considering that it's 74 episodes long, you'd think that that's a no-brainer, but consider things like Narutard for a moment and you'll get my meaning. A LOT happens in this show. Every single episode is jammed to the brim with plot, character development, and philosophy. I lost track of how many characters were introduced and then given sufficient (at worst) development. Each person is given their due in a stunningly horrifying way, as they encounter Johan and learn to deal with the presence of such a malevolent being. 

Despite it's length, Monster does not feel all that long at all. You'd think that 74 episodes of a good anime would feel long, right? No, not this one. Monster grabs you by the hair and drags you along, demanding your full and undivided attention as it shows you the horrors of... everyone? Johan? Tenma? Lunge? Grimmer? Anna? It's hard to explain in a review, and even harder to understand at some times what the show is trying to do, right up until the end when it becomes astoundingly clear what's going on. I wish I could tell you more without ruining it, really I do, but this is a show that really needs to be seen without spoilers for the greatest effect. 

Yes, you have time for something like this. So go watch it. Now. I'll see you at The Three Frogs when you're done, with beer in hand. And I don't even drink beer!

(WARNING: If you don't like your anime anything less than clear-cut and juvenile, don't watch. Please, for everyone's sake. Thank you)