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Friday, May 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War and my MCU List

I watched Civil War on opening night with a packed crowd of Marvel fans, and boy was it fun!

My initial take: A solid "A" (5 stars), though it will take more viewings to determine its place in my MCU list. (Winter Soldier, Iron Man, and Avengers are also solid "A"s in my opinion, and my top 3 before Civil War).

GREAT setups for the next set of solo MCU movies (Black Panther, Spidey, etc.), and everyone gets at least one "wow" moment.

Can't talk about anything/anyone in the movie without spoiling it.

The action is some of the best ever in a super hero movie, especially the big teased fight.

I felt the story had meat, and the stakes felt real. We'll have to see how it effects the MCU going forward.
There were some brutal violent moments in the film. Not sure if my younger kids are ready for that.

I thought I'd finish this by making a quick list of the MCU movies in order of my favorites.  I left off Civil War as I need to let it sink in before I decide where in my top 5 it will go.  I will also say that I enjoy all of the MCU films.  Ranking one low doesn't mean I think it's a bad movie.

I rank them based on how good a film each is and how much I enjoy watching it again.  Some movies are better the first time than others but don't continue to excite me on future viewings.

  1. Captain America: Winter Soldier
  2. Iron Man
  3. The Avengers
  4. Incredible Hulk
  5. Ant-Man
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy
  7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  8. Iron Man 3
  9. Captain America: The First Avenger
  10. Thor
  11. Thor: The Dark World
  12. Iron Man 2
There's my list.  What's yours?  :)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Indie Review - Taken in the Dark of Night

Taken in the Dark of Night is Daniel Howard's first story in his coming series of dark fantasy writings about James of the Darkwood.  I met Mr. Howard on twitter and he gifted me a copy of his novella for an honest review.  The book is available on Amazon, and Mr. Howard's website is here.

Daniel Howard's debut novella brings James of Darkwood out of the shadows to the pastoral Eastlands: a land of magi who commune with the Source to protect the realm and simple folk who work hard to build themselves a better life. But dark things dwell beyond the lights of town... 

They come in the night. They come for the children. Slavers. 

Tabitha is a girl who dreams of vanquishing monsters and rescuing the innocent. Then she is sold to a mysterious man of grotesque appetites. She discovers that monsters are very real and innocence 
is a fragile thing. 

James of Darkwood is an Eloria'an with a dark secret. Brutally trained as an assassin by the House of Knives, James may be the only hope for children bound for slavery – and worse – as he leaves a wake of death across what was once a peaceful land in his search for vengeance. Can James rescue the children, and with them a small part of his soul? Or will the Void take them all into dark oblivion?

Mr. Howard's novella (about 100 pages long) is a middle story between the author's planned first two full length books.  Children are kidnapped from their village homes by slavers and it's up to someone to save them.

Taken in the Dark of Night sucked me into the world Mr. Howard created.  I found myself curious about James' dark background, and I appreciated Mr. Howard's description of his world.  The novella felt like a solid appetizer to get me ready for what I expect is a fully realized world with rules, cultures, histories, and the like.

I am most intrigued by the origin of the mystical "Source" and the magi who deal with it.  Mr. Howard gives just enough taste to keep me guessing and wanting to learn more though his planned stories.

I also found myself rooting for Mr. Howard's anti-hero protagonist, James the "elf."  He felt believable, even though he was not always the most likable - most likely by design.

Mr. Howard is a skilled writer.  His prose is easy to read, clean, and exciting.  Still, I continue to be convinced even the most skilled writers need skilled editors.  There are several points in the story that could be improved by a fresh set of trained eyes.  The most jarring is a middle chapter with a point of view change mid-scene, but most other issues are minor and did not take me out of the story.

The tone of the novella is very dark and violent, with dark themes and very dark antagonists that deal in kidnapping and trafficking children.  Mr. Howard does not shy away from the reality of this evil, though I welcome that he stays away from gratuitous or vulgar descriptions in the tale.

I highly recommend Taken in the Dark of Night to readers who enjoy dark fantasy and good world building.  I am interested in what James of the Darkwood will get caught up in next!

Friday, October 10, 2014

DnD Character Creation - Syris the Halfling Monk - Part 3

Welcome to the final part of my ongoing series discussing player creation in the new Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook.  Don't forget to see RedRaggedFiend's conclusion to his own character creation process here.

The final touches for creating a character in the PHB are Chapter 4: Personality and Background, and Chapter 5: Equipment.  The rest of the PHB discusses variant customization options (multiclassing, feats), play rules, and spell lists.

My focus for this final part in the series on chapter 4, where we flesh out the specific role playing aspects of the character.  This chapter includes discussion on the basics, like Name, Gender, physical characteristics, alignment, etc.

Personal Characteristics and Backgrounds

5th Edition D&D adds a detailed set of rules for "Personal Characteristics," broken down into four parts.

  • Personality Traits
  • Ideals
  • Bonds
  • Flaws
The PHB discusses each characteristic in detail, so a player can design his own.  It then discusses Backgrounds, which give additional proficiency, languages and equipment.  The chapter closes with a series of example Backgrounds you can choose from with tables of examples of the four personal characteristics that would fit the background.

Work With Your DM!

As a side note, do not do this part of character creation in a vacuum.  This should happen with the input of your Dungeon Master and even fellow players.

Perhaps you are like RedRaggedFiend, and your character is of some noble background.  If that piece of information is important and you want it to come up in game, your DM should know about it and can even help you with possible details based on the setting of the coming adventure.  Perhaps you have a bond to another player in the group.

In one game we had a human bard and her adopted dwarven sister out adventuring in the world together.  The time spent putting that relationship together during character creation and ahead of starting the game paid many dividends throughout that party's adventures.  As the DM, I was able to help fill in why that dwarf would be outcast and adopted by a human family.  

Syris has no game waiting for him, so I put him into the world of Ryndaria.

The Hermit

The Handbook provided a "Hermit" background that fit the needs of Syris' monastic life.  A player can roll d8 die in order to randomly select characteristics from these tables, but I decided to select them myself based on the vision I had for Syris.

A hermit is proficient in Medicine, Religion and the Herbalism Kit, has studied an additional language of the player's choice, and gets a small set of additional gear: a scroll case of random notes, a blanket, common clothes, an herbalism kit, and 5 gold pieces.

Personality trait: "I connect everything that happens to me to a grand, cosmic plan."  This just fits Syris.  He left his home after seeing visions of a coming calamity.  He believes a greater power calls him to save his people.  Everything that happens to him must be related to this call and his cause.

Ideal: "My gifts are meant to be shared with all, not used for my own benefit."  Syris believes he is called to save his people.  He must be here for a reason, and he does everything in order to help others.

Bond: "My isolation gave me great insight into a great evil that only I can destroy."  There is a person or power behind the coming destruction.  Syris sees himself as the avatar of the One who called him and he must find and defeat the evil he is now bound to.

Flaws: "I'd risk too much to uncover a lost bit of knowledge."  Any clues that lead him closer to his fate take precedence over all else.  His zeal has caused him to sacrifice relationships and hurt others.  He sees this as a necessary consequence of saving everyone.

Backgrounds and personal characteristics help me flesh out Syris in more concrete ways.  I started with a vague idea of who Syris is, but specific traits, bonds and flaws force me to create Syris' personality and style before I play him.  In the past, when my ideas stayed vague, the first few sessions of play could be awkward as I tried to find a character's voice.  Here, I put the effort in ahead of time, so I have a starting point for Syris.  I have plenty of room for him to evolve and grow as we play, but his background is a solid start.

With this complete, Syris is ready to adventure.  Will he find what he seeks?  Will he stop the coming storm?  Is he just delusional?  I can see myself having a lot of fun playing this character (or at least writing about him in the future).

I hope you found this series on creating characters useful.  While the focus is on 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, the basic approaches RedRaggedFiend and I outlined can be used in any role playing game.  

Are you usually a by the numbers player, or do you care about role playing first?  Let me know in the comments, and I encourage you to try a different approach in the future.  It will stretch you as a player and you might even enjoy it.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

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