06 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 is very good


So I just saw Blade Runner 2049Here are some immediate reactions (no spoilers!):

·       It’s very good. I give it a 9.7 out of 10.

·       But…it’s not as good as the original (well, maybe as good as the initial theatrical release, the one with cheesy voice-over and the tacked-on happy ending, but not as good as either the ‘Director’s Cut’ or the ‘Final Cut’).

·       While not as good as the original, Blade Runner 2049 nonetheless builds interestingly on the original; it does not detract from the power of the original by ‘ruining’ elements of the world (so think ‘Aliens’ not ‘Highlander 2’).

·       It’s visually stunning. In this respect, it is equal to the original (though of course that’s not a fair comparison, given the greater budget and technical power available for the sequel). 

·       The world-creation is amazing—just as it was in the original, but the new film expands the world in interesting ways by going places (geographically, intellectually, and visually) that the original did not.

·       The acting is uniformly excellent.

·       The story is compelling. Perhaps there are some holes, but nothing leapt out at me while watching the film.

·       The music is good, but not quite the equal of the original Vangelis score. Towards the end of the film it became slightly distracting.

So overall it’s a great film. See it! As a sequel, though, it doesn’t quite capture the ‘lightning in a bottle’ of the original. But it is a very worthy follow-up. I certainly plan to watch it again soon…

30 September 2017

OK, I'm now excited for Blade Runner 2049


When I first learned that a sequel to Blade Runner (my all-time favourite film) was in the works, I was not thrilled. Why mess with a singular work of art?

But after the first trailer was released I began to think that the sequel might not be so bad after all. And now it is receiving almost uniformly positive reviews (like this one). It currently enjoys a 98% 'fresh' rating at Rotten Tomatoes

So now I'm excited to see it! It's a nice feeling...

UPDATE:
While you're waiting for the film to be released properly, there are three short 'prequels' available at Youtube to re-familiarize yourself with the world: (a) "Blackout 2022" (an anime short); (b) "2036: Nexus Dawn"; and (c) "2048: Nowhere to Run". As the dates imply, these short films fill in some of the history between 2019 (when the original film, now quite amusingly, takes place) and 2049.

07 September 2017

Music-Movie-Fantasy Crossover Images

Over the years I’ve acquired a few cool ‘nerd’ shirts and hoodies (or at least I think they’re cool; my wife seems to disagree). For the most part, the image on one of these shirts is drawn from a single source. Examples in my collection include the two-headed snake image of ‘Thulsa Doom’ from the original Conan film, and the ‘White Tree of Gondor’ symbol from The Lord of the Rings. Some mock the ubiquitous ‘university’ promotion shirts. For instance, I have a few ‘Miskatonic University’ ones (e.g., ‘Go Pods!’, ‘Miskatonic Metaphysics Faculty Member’, ‘Miskatonic University 1930 Antarctic Expedition’, etc.) and one ‘Mordor University’ shirt (I like to tell my students that the graduate program there has a terrible attrition rate).

But probably the most unusual shirt that I own is this mash-up of the movies Reservoir Dogs and The Lord of the Rings:


(From left-to right: Sauron [notice the ring!], the Balrog of Moria, the Witch-king of Angmar, the Mouth of Sauron, a Nazgûl [Khamûl?], and Saruman.) 

I also have a shirt with an image that tweaks the cover of Joy Division’s classic Unknown Pleasures album to include Barad-dûr:


But probably the most unusual mash-up I’ve ever encountered is this one:


Wow. So there is a market for Leonard Cohen - Game of Thrones crossover fan merchandise. (“First we take King’s Landing, then we take Berlin…”) That … is unexpected. 
Pity the shirt is so damn ugly (I couldn’t bring myself to get one).

06 September 2017

Middle-earth Adventurers: Backgrounds

I mentioned recently that I had started a campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle-earth system (which modifies 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons in some interesting 'Tolkien-esque' ways). In case anyone out there is interested, I thought that I would post the characters' backgrounds here. Since culture and history are so important in running a good Middle-earth campaign, I put some careful thought (in collaboration with my players) into these backgrounds. Hopefully they are somewhat flavourful and interesting. (The pictures are taken from various C7 AiME books.)

Enjoy!

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HENGIL (S. ‘Eye-star’) FOROS

Dúnedain (martial) – Warden (class) – Foresight of their kindred (virtue)
Seeker of the Lost (background) – Determined (quality) – Dark Secrets (specialty) – Lure of Power (shadow weakness)


Background:

Hengil was born in the wilds of Eriador, far to the north of Lake Nenuil, in the ancient lands of his family, the Great House of Foros. Lords of land no longer, Hengil’s family nonetheless still dwells in their ancient territory.

In his teens Hengil displayed unusual foresight and a capacity to inspire with poetry and history. Sensing an aptitude for scholarship, Hengil’s father sent him to dwell with the Dúnedain and Elves of Imladris. There the young man learned the lore of his people, as well as knowledge of how to fight and survive. Hengil planned eventually to join the Rangers of the North, as his forefathers had for generations, to help their endless guardianship over the few peaceful settlements that lingered in Eriador. A prophetic dream, however, changed everything.

A gift of his ancient lineage, Hengil sometimes observes events with great vividness while dreaming. Some of these dreams are of things that happened long ago to the Dúnedain of the North, and especially his family, but most of the time they seem to reveal things in Hengil’s future. A year ago, he had a most unusual vision whilst in a deep slumber. In it he saw his ancestor—Cúthalion (‘Strongbow’), last Lord of the Foros—blow the great mithril horn of his family, “Fuinavar” (‘gloom-refuser’). Hengil knew immediately that what he was witnessing occurred during Arthedain’s final battle with the hordes of the Witch-King of Angmar, almost a thousand years ago. The horn had been forged in lost Númenor, and had the ability to inspire and remove fear in all those who fought on the side of the Light.

Despite rallying the forces of Arthedain with Fuinavar, Hengil saw his ancestor ultimately struck down by the Witch-King himself. The terrible eldritch tyrant seized seized the horn and Hengil’s vision faded. But the dream did not end! Though he did not see anything for a few moments, Hengil sensed that many centuries had passed. When his vision returned, Hengil saw the glorious horn, still brilliant silver despite its great age, locked away in a tower of shining black stone. The tower stood upon a mountain ridge amidst a waterfall deep within a vast forest. Hengil then awoke.

In his subsequent research, Hengil discerned that the tower likely was located somewhere deep within Mirkwood. How the horn could have travelled there he had no idea. But he now sought to recover it! And so Hengil departed from Rivendell on a quest to recover the ancient artefact of his family, one perhaps that could help the Dúnedain in their enduring struggle against the Shadow.

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ULVMUND GALMUND 

Barding (prosperous) – Warrior (class) – Swordmaster (virtue)
Fallen Scion (background) – Proud (quality) – Story-telling (specialty) – Lure of Power (shadow weakness)


Background:

During the golden age of the kingdoms of Dale and Erebor, the Galmunds were one of the leading Dalish aristocratic families. They served the line of Dalish kings in defending the northern realm for centuries. During the reign of King Bladorthin, the family—with the assistance of skilled dwarven masons from Erebor—built a magnificent tower some leagues outside of the city. Men of Dale worked their lands, and the family became quite wealthy. They dwelt in their glorious tower, along with their manor within the city, throughout the reign of King Bladorthin and his son King Girion.

Tragedy struck the family in the year 2770 of the Third Age. Smaug descended upon Dale and Erebor—destroying the former and occupying the latter. The surrounding settlements also were laid waste by the terrible dragon. Most of the Galmunds were slain that terrible day. The few who survived fled to Esgarath. There they dwelt for almost two centuries, in a comfortable but diminished state, until the death of Smaug five years ago.

Ulvmund is the last of his family line. The rest of his family—his mother, father, brother and sister—were slain when Smaug wreaked destruction upon Lake-town. Distraught at his loss, the young man devoted himself to training in arms, helping to rebuild Dale, and serving King Bard. While he has found favourable service under his new king, Ulvmund aspires to re-establish the Galmund family as one of the preeminent forces within Dale. Part of this ambition is to find, clear, and rebuild the ancient Galmund tower. Another part is to achieve such glory that King Bard eventually will appoint him a royal advisor and a leader of the Dalish soldiers.

To this end, Ulvmund hopes to perform deeds of heroism and nobility, thereby gaining honourable renown. He also hopes to raise funds so that he eventually can reclaim and rebuild the ancient Galmund tower. His dream is to resurrect the ancient glory of his family—and he shall not be deterred, no matter the foes he faces.

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HARTMUT HARE-EYE

Beorning (martial) – Wanderer (class) – Brother to Bears (virtue)
Hunted by the Shadow (background) – Elusive (quality) – Swimming (specialty) – Wandering Madness (shadow weakness)


Background:

Hartmut was born near the great Anduin River, in a modest but ancient family holding located north of the Old Ford and south of the sacred Carrock. Like his father, Hartmut became a hunter. He ranged widely across the Anduin vale and into the northern reaches of Mirkwood (though he prudently avoided the lands still claimed by the reclusive Wood Elves). Because of an ancient bear-bond made by his ancestors, Hartmut felt more comfortable and skilled while hunting at night. 

Last autumn, in the western eaves of Mirkwood under a dark moon, Hartmut witnessed something that scarred his mind and soul—and changed the course of his life forever. Pursuing a magnificent stag deep into the woods, a light caught his eye. Because of this distraction, the stag escaped. Having lost his prey, Hartmut decided to investigate the light. 

Scouting deeper in the forest the hunter stealthily approached a small clearing. Warily hiding at the edge, Hartmut spied a band of strange looking Woodmen arranged in a semicircle around an altar of black glassy stone. Behind the altar stood a man dressed in a grey cloak; upon the cloak were sewn a myriad of black web-like patterns. The man’s face was hidden in shadows, but his hands were sickly pale. Bound upon the altar was a small child. Confused at this strange sight, Hartmut witnessed the terrible ritual progress: the cloaked figure spoke harsh, strange words that burned the hunter’s ears, and then plunged a dagger into the child’s chest. In shock, Hartmut let out a shout of outrage. Alerted to his presence, the malevolent congregation turned upon the Beorning and tried to capture or slay him. Fortunately, Hartmut’s skills served him well that day, and the pursuit failed. Hartmut roused his brothers the next day, yet no sign of the black altar or the vile men could be found. The cultists and their shadowy leader had disappeared without a mark…

Since that terrible day, though, Hartmut frequently has had the sense of being watched, especially at night by inhuman eyes—yet when he looks about to see what is observing him, he sees nothing. In the corner of his eye, though, shadows linger…

Troubled by the vile sacrifice he witnessed and his worry that he frequently is the object of an ill-willed gaze, Hartmut decided to journey away from his homeland for a few seasons. Learning of King Bard’s call for brave souls to help Dale, Esgaroth, and Erebor establish peace and prosperity in the lands around the Long Lake, the beorning travelled east. Perhaps his concerns might fade through heroic actions elsewhere? Still, if Hartmut could find and destroy the terrible cult, he surely would… 


01 September 2017

Have a pint at the RPG pub



There is a new forum for discussing role-playing games: the RPG pub.

So far it appears to have an active and friendly group of folks, most of whom seem positively inclined to the kinds of games discussed here. I haven't bothered to visit any RPG fora in many months, but I like the vibe of this place, so I may post there (sporadically) in the future. (A friend described it to me as: "Like the RPG site, but without the assholery.")

Sláinte!

19 August 2017

New Mirkwood Campaign

Last year I noted that I was pleasantly surprised by Adventures in Middle-earth—Cubicle 7’s adaptation of the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons rules to the world of Middle-earth. Simplifying greatly, C7 sliced-out a lot of inappropriate ‘D&D-isms’ (e.g., the magic system, the standard classes) and inserted a number of ideas from their The One Ring game (e.g., rules for journeys, corruption [Shadow], fellowship phases, etc.). The result is a version of 5e that seems reasonably well adapted to Middle-earth (at least in my view).

I recently started a campaign set in Middle-earth with three players. In addition to the setting material provided in C7’s Loremaster’s Guide, I’ve drawn on some of my old ICE Middle-earth Role-playing (‘MERP’) material—a couple of modules and the Mirkwood campaign book—as well as some old White Dwarf MERP adventures by Graham Staplehurst (in particular, “Dawn of the Unlight”), and my own ideas and knowledge of Middle-earth. I have a campaign arc loosely sketched, but I hope to run adventures that also are responsive to the characters’ decisions and goals.

For the most part, I’ll be using my old MERP regional maps in the campaign. While the Cubicle 7 maps are attractive, nothing beats the ones by Peter Fenlon:


We’ve had three sessions so far, with a fourth planned for this week. Overall I’m pretty happy with how things are going. I’ll post more about it here (soon-ish).

14 August 2017

A nice tribute to the art of David Trampier

I’ve mentioned my longstanding adoration for the art of David A. Trampier (‘DAT’) in this blog a few times. One early post features the iconic ‘Emirikol the Chaotic’ picture from the original Dungeon Master's Guide. And when I ranked my top-5 favourite FRPG artists, Trampier was ranked #1.

I mention this because there is a nice piece on DAT’s work at Tor.com by Saladin Ahmed. If you too are a fan of Trampier’s unique style, check it out. (Apparently the piece was first posted in 2011 and was reposted today.)

10 August 2017

The Design Mechanism improves its Charisma score

The Design Mechanism—publisher of the excellent Mythras roleplaying game (formerly RuneQuest 6)—has a smashing new website and forum.

I'm pleased to see that their ‘Mythic Earth’ line is chugging along nicely, with Mythic Constantinople scheduled to come out in the autumn.

07 August 2017

Ancient black dragon uncovered

Last summer, while visiting my parents, I uncovered some old fantasy pictures that I had composed while a young lad (ages 11-15). These were inspired primarily by my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons activities during those halcyon years.

My favourite is the ‘Dragon Slayers’ picture (which I posted almost a year ago). And here are a couple of (far less cool) paladins.

Inspired by last night’s epic episode of Game of Thrones, I thought that I would post this picture of a black dragon today:


As you can see from the signature, this was composed in 1984. I'm not sure why I never finished colouring the wings...

15 July 2017

Valar Morghulis

Like 99.9% of the global fantasy nerd community, I am looking forward to the seventh season of The Game of Thrones, due to start tomorrow evening.

Since the series only has 13 episodes left, and given its propensity to kill off major characters in unexpected ways, the question naturally arises: who will survive to the end? Vox assesses the chances of 15 important characters here. While I agree with author Todd VanDerWerff that Samwell Tully is the most likely character to survive at the end (someone has to be able to tell the whole story, after all), I disagree with some of his other predictions. Specifically, I think that Tyrion Lannister is more likely to survive than Jon Snow (as I can see Snow going out in a blaze of glory in the final episode, whereas Tyrion will carry on with cunning and bluster no matter what), and I would place Arya Stark’s odds of making it out alive quite highly—above those of Sansa Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. Finally, I would rank Bran Stark’s chances above all other characters except Samwell, given that he seems to be pivotal to the entire history of Westeros.

While not ‘major characters’ in any sense, ravens appear regularly in the series. This is because ravens are central to the communication system of Westeros. This is one of the reasons why I like the setting so much. I’ve been fascinated by ravens since a teenager, when I first learned about their high intelligence. It turns out that they are capable of planning for the future.

[Image found somewhere on the intertubes]



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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.