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dc logoThe following discussion of the superhero genre of fiction may have some information that spoils one or more stories. I’ve tried to avoid any specifics, but I can’t know what you don’t know. You have been warned.

SPOILER ALERT

SPOILER ALERT

I begin by acknowledging Warner Bros./DC Comics will make money on their film franchises. “Batman v Superman” is going to gross close to one billion dollars, which is more than adequate to spawn more DC movies. However…I enjoy the Marvel movies much more than the DC movies and I want to outline some of the reasons why.

One of the reasons is not the “tone” of the DC movies. Yes, they are more serious[1] than the Marvel movies. But, that’s not a bad thing and could work. Also, the Marvel films are not exactly fluff pieces. It is not the darker, more serious tone of the DC films that bother me. But Marvel is significantly eating DC’s lunch in a few other areas…

Actors

marvel logoMarvel has struck gold with this, starting way back in 2000 with the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. He’s so fitted to the role that Fox has recast the entire school of X-Men for their prequel series, but keep shoehorning Jackman in because no one else can play Wolverine. And when Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans decide to finally stop making superhero films, Marvel is going to have to kill off Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. They are that linked.

And there are more that have really elevated their characters so it would be difficult to replace them: Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (it only took one movie and he’s the definitive Wade Wilson), Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange (yes, I’m calling it seven months before the movie comes out, I mean, just look at this!)

DC…well, on TV, Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist certainly shine as Flash and Supergirl, but on the big screen…Meh. Any of the big three from the recently released BvS are replaceable and nobody will really care. Maybe we’ll get a better feel for Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in her feature, and one of the other three (Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ezra Miller as Flash, and Ray Fisher as Cyborg) could really hit. But, so far, DCs best actor-to-character fit is Heath Ledger as Joker, and…sigh.

I don’t know if this is scripting, good casting directors, or what, but Marvel keeps nailing the characterization of their superheroes and DC…well, just doesn’t.

Connections

Marvel has gone all-in weaving their movie, television, and comic franchises together. DC is deliberately keeping them all separate. A connected universe is far more interesting, and pulls people to your other properties. I can’t imagine Marvel having one version of a hero on TV and a completely different version of the same hero in the movies, but DC is going to do just that with The Flash. sigh

Marvel is also keying comic story arcs to the movies, with a second (albeit not the same story) Civil War run hitting comic books this summer along with their movie. DC is, at least, releasing some comic book series that are based on their TV franchises, so that’s something.

Pacing

This isn’t about the pacing of individual movies, but the franchises as a whole. Marvel has spent ten years and twelve movies setting up Civil War. We KNOW these characters. We’ve seen them fight side-by-side. Yes, it has taken a long time (not that Marvel has suffered financially), but it’s been well-worth the wait. Marvel is already setting up Infinity War with more solo films as part of “Phase Three.”

DC wanted to go straight to where Marvel is at so they throw Batman and Superman at each other with no investment in backstory or growth of character, and then they’ll jump immediately to Justice League where they’ll introduce a bunch of new characters who we’ve only seen on surveillance footage for a minute each.

Yay.

Even though I recognize the DC heroes and have read a few of their series, I don’t actually care about their movie versions. I haven’t gotten to know them or been given a reason to like them. So, meh.

Villains

A hero isn’t truly a hero without a good villain. OK, Marvel has had a few insipid villains (Whiplash, whoever that was Ben Kingsley was playing), but they have, at least, tried to stretch themselves. We’ve had space tyrants, Nazis, out-of-control AI, alien invaders, Cold War hangovers, etc.

DC gives us the Joker; if not in person, in spirit[2]. It’s not funny.

Current Events

Marvel draws strong parallels between events in their movies and the real world. Current hot topics in the real world are represented in the films; for example, the link between mutant/hero registration and gun registration. Their films, despite their fantastic nature, thus feel grounded.

Batman v Superman gave us mommy issues.

What DC Needs Now

DC needs to stop associating a violent, dark “tone” with maturity and actually grow up. They need to slow down, pace their franchises, and spend time developing their heroes and getting actors that truly inhabit the roles.

They also need to get Superman to lighten up. He’s the Big Blue Boy Scout, not the Big Blue Brooding Scowler.

[1] Most people throw in “more mature” with this, as though being serious is equal to being mature. Pfui.

[2] See Luthor, Jr. in Batman v Superman.

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wiiuToday, Nintendo officially implied the WiiU is dead, less than four years after release. Here's Game Informer's take on the announcement. Because I like to toot my own horn, I'll point out I said this FOUR YEARS AGO, before the WiiU was even released.

Thank you.

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Within the first several minutes of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the camera follows Bruce Wayne as he careens his SUV through Metropolis city streets during the catastrophic battle between Superman and General Zod that served as the climax to 2013’s “Man of Steel.” The streets are nearly empty, which is strange considering the cataclysmic events taking place. Eventually, he rounds a corner and is forced to halt by a throng of onlookers. As he stops, a couple of firemen walk up behind his car. The camera switches to a front view as Wayne gets out of the car, which is now surrounded by more throngs of people, boxing him in.

bvs smallWhere did these people come from? They weren’t in the streets just seconds before. They certainly were not running along behind him, considering how fast he was driving. They aren’t the people in front of him, because he stopped before driving in among them.

It’s a rookie mistake. Zack Snyder wanted Bruce Wayne to be surrounded by people, so they will fill the screen from every angle, so…people are there. This is one of two central problems with BvS. There may have been a plot here, it might even have been a good one, but it is lost as Snyder doesn’t shoot movies with plots. He creates artistically designed vignettes, and then strings them together and calls it a film. If you have arresting characters and interesting dialogue, this works. Unfortunately, BvS has average characters and completely inane dialogue.

There’s a good movie here, but it is buried under Snyder’s auteur sensibility that wants to stage every scene in some grand manner—whether it makes sense or not. It also doesn’t help the entire movie takes place at night. Can DC superheroes not operate in daylight? Are they all closet vampires, or something? It’s depressing; especially when it lasts over two hours.

The second major problem with BvS is Lex Luthor. Excuse me, Alexander Luthor, Jr. The “real” Luthor’s son. It’s a shame. Lex Luthor is to Superman as Joker is to Batman. He is the iconic nemesis to the Big Blue Boy Scout. And he’s replaced here by a sniveling madman who is basically Joker without the makeup. Maybe the point was to mix both Batman and Superman’s main villains into one character?

Sorry. Didn’t work. Eisenberg’s Luthor is pitiful, not predatory. He’s not even terribly frightening, which is why they had to release the big bad of Doomsday at the end. It only serves to exacerbate the overall mediocrity of the movie.

And that, perhaps, is the biggest problem with BvS. It’s just an OK movie. It has enough big action sequences to thrill the audience, but they’re empty set pieces, just like the rest of the film. I hope WB/DC can step up their game with the individual movies, or Justice League is going to fall quite flat.

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rpg diceI played the original Advanced D&D for several years while in high school, but abandoned tabletop D&D years ago when I graduated. With the release of Fifth Edition D&D, I decided to buy the Starter Set and try it out with my family. My two younger children love it. My wife tolerates playing. My oldest only wants to play with his friends, not his family. (Teenagers.)

So, I thought I would post ruminations on our gaming sessions, and this first one is going to be about using dice. When running a game, I follow two basic rules for dice rolls:

  1. Always make the players roll dice.
  2. Never tell players the target score.

Dice rolls lend an air of mystery and uncertainty to the game. Any time the players attempt to do anything, you should tell them to roll a die—even if you have already determined the outcome or there's no choice of outcomes. To help keep the players guessing, you should never, or rarely, tell them the target score.

For example, the players choose to search the room for trap doors. There are no trap doors in the room, but, instead of telling them, “You find nothing,” make them roll a die. Don't tell them the target score (which is completely irrelevant, since there's nothing to find). Then, after the roll, you have three possible outcomes:

  1. The player rolls a natural 1, in which case you can invent some catastrophe, such as, “You don't find a trap door, but your probing causes the rotten floorboards to give way, leaving one leg stuck hip-deep in the floor."
  2. The player rolls a natural 20, in which case you can say, “Your careful search reveals that not only is there no trap door, but the construction is so tight, you couldn't even slide a feather between any planks. Truly a remarkable achievement.”
  3. The player rolls anything else, in which case you say, “You find nothing.”

The effect of this on the players is to always keep them guessing. They will frequently try multiple times with multiple characters, vainly searching for something they just KNOW is there, even when it isn't. Keeping your players guessing means they never quite trust you as DM, which means you have even more control over their actions. They will respond positively to even a minor suggestion, since they think you're finally giving in and letting them in on your secrets.

Of course, the one “downside” to this is you must have something for the natural 1 or natural 20 rolls. This will lead you to want to avoid die rolls for pivotal story points, but this should be the time you get the most creative.

For example, the players are questioning an NPC that has important information. As DM, you absolutely must have this information passed to the players. The inclination is to just have the NPC open up and talk. But you can still make this interesting for the players.

  1. A roll of 2 – 19 results in the NPC talking, just as you intended.
  2. A roll of 20 results in the NPC gushing over the players, frequently interrupting himself to compliment the players, or constantly asking to go along, and otherwise annoying the players.
  3. A roll of 1 has the NPC grudgingly giving out the information only under repeated questioning with the most charming of the players. Force the player to properly role-play the wheedling necessary to draw knowledge out of the NPC.

Over on YouTube, LindyBeige has another interesting take on dice rolls and how they affect the world. I may try to incorporate some of that into my games as well.

(Dice image courtesy of WikiMedia.)

 

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warsheep

My younger son has an online persona called SheepEtiquette. He wanted some type of ovine player, so I created Warsheep. This is not wholly original. I scoured the Web for a while looking for ideas, and incorporated some things I found in various places. The seed idea comes from Dragon #300, which introduced weresheep. I post it here in case you find it useful for your own game, either as is or inspiration for your own custom character.

A Warsheep is both a race and a class.

Race

Warsheep are Medium creatures, mostly human in appearance, with wooly white or gray hair all over their bodies and two horns sticking out of their heads. Both male and female Warsheep have horns. Warsheep have the following innate characteristics:

  • Constitution +2
  • Always have Disadvantage on Wisdom checks
  • Always have Advantage on Charisma checks
  • Unarmed attack: Head Butt, 1d8 bludgeoning + 1d4 piercing + STR bonus for damage, Proficiency bonus + 2 + DEX for attack roll, can only be used against Medium or Large opponents, DC 10 + CON bonus saving throw or Warsheep is stunned by own attack (add +5 to DC against solid metal armors)
  • Warsheep suffer -2 attack against any type of wolf.
  • Warsheep can cast “Charm Person” as a Bard of the same level the same number of times per day as the Bard can cast 1st level spells.

Class

Use the Barbarian as the class for Warsheep with the following changes:

  • Must follow the Path of the Totem Warrior and the totem animal must be a sheep. Use the “Bear” template for totem animal abilities with the exception that, while raging, Warsheep also have resistance to psychic damage.
  • While raging, Warsheep are affected by Tasty, a condition in which carnivorous or omnivorous foes are attracted to the Warsheep. Unless actively engaged in melee with another character, the foe will attack the Warsheep at a -2 for attack, but +2 for damage. Tasty affect is -3/+3 at 9th Warsheep level, and -4/+4 at 16th Warsheep level.
  • At 2nd level, Warsheep gain the Fluffy Comfort ability. This ability works exactly like the “Song of Rest” ability for a Bard of the same level. This ability only works for companions that can physically rest against the Warsheep during the resting period.
  • Warsheep cannot multiclass.

 

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I was born in the Deep South[1] to parents who had migrated from north of the Mason-Dixon. My interest in the debate over display of the Confederate battle flag is limited to its place as a relic of a seminal event in American history. I have no vested heritage tied up in that history. However, I’ve decided to weigh in on this debate because I see in it echoes of a greater ill that plagues society and reaches even into such cultural kerfuffle as #GamerGate.

releeReminders of the Confederacy are everywhere. For the past 20+ years I have lived in the capital of the Confederacy. My kids go to schools named after Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. A downtown street is lined with huge statues of Confederate leaders. So, go ahead, get rid of the flag, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Confederates were also Americans, and that cannot be erased no matter how much we try. It is baked into our cultural memory because we are all descendants of both sides of the conflict. The Civil War was a struggle that exemplified a problem that continues to infect society today; and, no, I’m not talking about racism. Rather, it is the belief that people who disagree are better off dead.

In 1854, the US government created the states of Nebraska and Kansas. The Act called for popular vote in each new state to determine whether the state would permit slavery. Activists from outside the states immediately went to work, especially in Kansas. In May of 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts gave a blistering anti-slavery speech on the situation in Kansas, and delivered disgusting insults to a couple of Southern senators. House Representative Preston Brooks, cousin to one of the impugned senators, entered the Senate chamber three days later and beat Sumner half to death. Both Brooks and Sumner were praised as heroes. Two days later, John Brown led a group of men into a house in Pottawatomie Creek, KS and hacked five pro-slavery men to death.

The bloodshed had begun. It would end almost ten years and 650,000 lives later.

The Civil War began because one group of people decided another group of people should be put out of their misery. In the past 150 years, American culture—indeed, the culture in most countries around the world—has changed little. You can hear echoes of Civil War mentality in rhetoric surrounding race relations, gender identity, abortion, immigration, climate science, gun control, terrorism, religious freedom, healthcare, welfare…yeah, verily, even videogames.

Two thousand years ago a Jewish carpenter stood on a hillside and told an assembled crowd that just calling someone a fool was equal to murder. Today, every minute, thousands of these verbal murders are committed in the press, in blog posts, on social media, in private conversations. If we are ever to deal with these problems in a non-violent way, it will not be in removing a flag, or changing the name of a sports team, or putting the picture of a woman on our currency. It will be when we stop vilifying people who disagree with us and have honest, open, peaceful discussions about our disagreements.

No, the Confederate battle flag should not be flown over government buildings; it is a symbol of separation and segregation. But we can’t—and shouldn’t—bury it. So let us display it in appropriate venues, and when we see it, let us point to it and remind ourselves and our children this is what happens when you decide other people are better off dead. Then let us work toward living in peace.

[1] Florida; sort of the Cleveland Browns of the Confederacy.