Sunday, July 29, 2018

Audible Review, "Year One" by Nora Roberts

As you might be able to tell from previous blogs, I have an Audible account.  Listening to audio books is the chief reason I have been able to introduce myself to so many books while at the same time being able to go on long walks to drop weight.

It is unsafe to read while walking, don’t do that.

Audible is good at what I would call “Toe Dipping”.  Running sales on books that are the start of a series or gateway titles into an author’s work.  This allows their listeners to dip their toes into a much larger pool of literature to check the temperature.  No need to commit more than a few bucks, but potentially finding something great.

I have taken a few opportunities to try out authors I otherwise wouldn’t.  Most recently it was Nora Roberts.  A woman whose ability to bang out so many books is shocking, and I decided to try her first foray into fantasy, “Year One”.  At least I think it is her first fantasy story, she has written so many books one of them is bound to have a witch or wizard in there just by accident, like how someone you know is almost certainly superstitious about something stupid, but it never comes up and you don’t notice.

Mild Spoilers, but I am not recommending the book, so take that under advisement.  Also, prophecy plays apart in the narrative, if you are paying attention the book spoils itself, which feeds into my central gripe of the book’s lack of tension.

The Plot

After a mysterious bird flu sweeps across the planet killing billions, Magic returns to earth.  Witches, elves, fairies, and other supernatural entities emerge.  How a group of survivors cope with not only an apocalypse but a complete rewriting of how they understand the world serves as the focus of the narrative.

The Good

There are scenes that are effective.  A news station finally broadcasts how bad things really are to the public because the panic is causing mass hysteria… that is an effective way to end the first act.  Traveling thru a subway tunnel that is full of crazy murderous wizards and people who have turned into violent rapists because of the breakdown of society is an effective and atmospheric start to the book’s second act.  No one part of the book is all that bad on its own, it is more about how those parts hang together.

The Bad: Tension

The scenes do not hang together all that well.  Generally, there is little tension to the narrative because not enough information is given to the audience for them to anticipate something happening.  I am reminded of an interview by Alfred Hitchcock about how you can bore an audience by not giving them enough information about how much danger exists in a scene.

This book is full of LONG discussions between characters about things, and those discussions are dull.  There is a tone/theme of, “How strange that we now live off the land after being city dwellers for so long… Isn’t it great?” which is fine, but it gets repetitive, and it is strange to me that there is more awe and personal soul searching about living in a rural setting than there is ABOUT FUCKING MAGIC BEING REAL.

There is also a redundancy to listing traits, I think the books tells us that the main character is a chef like 19 times and it has zero relevance to the story.  She’s a doctor, he was a writer, that guy is into tech, but I rarely get a sense of people beyond their skill sets… and I guess a bunch of them get a love interest, but since the characters rarely if ever have ulterior motives or apprehensions they all seem to be in love because they are attracted by how bland each other are.

In a more interesting story a character might feel conflicted about being in love with someone because they are scared of their magical powers, feel guilty about moving on from a lost loved one, might want to leave the community and want the lover to come with them, and that stuff is almost there, but no… There isn’t even a love triangle, which would be cliché, but at least it would be something.

This meme dead yet?
There are scenes that have tension, violent people are seen, and then are encountered later when the characters are in a weaker and more panicked state, planting and payoff.  It is the arc of the story which is not great at planting things.  At least to me.

Some information is put out there related to how there is a group of dangerous people roaming around, with some descriptions of their attitudes and symbols, but their methodology, where they are or where they are headed, no mini-skirmish with them ever happens.  Some refugees from their violent acts show up, but there is no first-person scene of the bad guys being bad to the characters.  We have a concept of the bad guy army/community, but no visceral encounters.

There is a somewhat effective villain in the form of the Dark Angel like characters that menace the main character and her husband.  They are ostensibly dealt with near the end of the second act in a clever way, it is a good magic battle which utilizes the environment well and there are stakes.  When they show up again it is after no information is given about them still being alive after being “killed” in a fight with the heroes… But, they are so obviously not killed in that fight that I wasn’t surprised, I was just baffled that they showed up again when they did because IT MAKES ZERO SENSE for them to be there in that way.  The inclusion of the Dark Angel characters (I am calling them that, the book just describes them as having wings) works until they come back, then it falls apart.

You do not really feel the looming threats is what I am talking about.  They are there, we know of them, (as readers) we fully expect them to show up eventually because this is a book we are reading, and a confrontation makes sense, but it still feels like they came out of nowhere when they do show up.  Like, “Oh yeah, those guys.”

Tho, abrupt encounters might just be a staple of the genre.

Some More Bad: Character Traits and Act Breaks

To go back to something I mentioned earlier about the main character being a chef, it is not a metaphor for anything, her decision to take along a set of designer chef knives when fleeing the city is not a set up for anything (I expected her to use them as weapons or part of some ritual, nope), and ultimately the chef part is just a character trait that gets referenced a lot but has no bearing on the plot.  When they keep talking about her being a good cook I just don’t care, especially considering her actual role in the story that makes her important has NOTHING TO DO WITH HER SKILLS.
The book also has a weird structure for its acts.
  • ·         Act I is about the plague and ends with the news broadcast about how bad things are.
  • ·         Act II is about getting out of the city and meeting up with various other minor characters ending with the fight with the dark angels.
  • ·         Act III is about the town of “New Hope” a post apocalypse colony and it ends with the whole thing being destroyed (it is cheap when it happens and that more than anything kind of killed the story for me). 
  • ·         There is then an Act IV which feels either like an overlong epilogue or like the first few chapters of another book.  It is about the main character (by virtue of being the last one standing) finding someone to help her after the destruction of New Hope, it ends with the birth of the Messiah (hence the novel’s title “Year One”).
  • ·         Then there is the Epilogue in which a wizard shows up and tells the characters something they already know to set up the sequel.

I am fine with Acts I and II, but the others do not work for me.  III is especially boring and the ending does not feel earned.

Even More Bad: Magic *Yawn*

Lastly, I want to talk about the magic.  Call me a nerd but I like when people spend time explaining their goofy as magic systems like it is some kind of Role Playing Game and you need to know when to drink a mana potion.  I have invented my own magic systems for stories, they are fun.

The magic in this book is vague and boring.  I was expecting it to be a lot weirder, because there is mention of a naked woman riding a unicorn at one point and there is a Fairy supporting character… But it gets real dull real fast.  There is just talk about Dark and Light, and honestly that was simplistic in “Star Wars” which is a space-fantasy aimed at a much younger audience. 

In a book there is no reason not to spend time discussing the implications of magic, how it works, how it makes you feel, but they just keep coming back to light and dark.  “I feel the light within me.”  That is dull.

Paradoxically it is treated like a big deal, but never feels that way, aside from some villainous characters (thin and pathetic characters clearly portrayed as being wrong) nobody really gives a shit about magic, they treat their friend’s ability to fly almost like they got a new bread maker, “That is cool, Fred… I guess.  It is a bit doughy, keep practicing.”  I get no sense of awe, nor any real understanding of the metaphysics at work here.  It is just boring and obtuse.
I am not so subtly making fun of my friends who own a bread maker.
In Summation

I thought this was going to be a mix of Stephen King’s “The Stand” and Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files”, and that is still my go to comparison, but the characters are not as flawed and interesting as they need to be, the threats don’t feel as oppressive and immediate as they need to, and the philosophy behind the magic is vague and dull.

It is not the worst book I have managed to read all the way thru.  Maybe one day I will get around to writing a blog about Elizabeth Moon’s “Sheepfarmer’s Daughter”.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Audible Review, "American Pharaoh"

As a promotion for the most recent Triple Crown winner, Audible gave out free copies of “American Pharaoh: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise”.  In my eternal endevour to sample different things for no other reason than to make myself into a more well-read and well-rounded person with a myriad of experiences and perspectives.
I also thought “American Pharaoh” might be a break from my usual fantasy, science fiction, and crime books.  I had never read a book entirely focused on a sport before and this was a chance for the author to sell me not only on horse racing (something I consider deeply stupid) but also on the genre of sports writing in general.  Did it accomplish that task?

The author, Joe Drape is annoyingly enamored with a sport and takes as a given that horse racing appeals to the listener.  Which I guess is a fair assumption to make, why else would someone be reading this thing if they didn't pick it up with at least some affection for the subject matter?  As I got it for free via the promotion I seem to lack the requisite mind set.
I not only dislike watching horse racing, I have an actual disdain for gambling, seeing it as a major drag on society.  When “American Pharaoh” started describing the whole thing as quintessentially American, not just horse racing, but gambling too I became rather disgusted.  Also, quintessentially American?  You know, in a book about a horse owned by, Ahmed Zayat, who is Egyptian…. Eh, that part doesn’t matter, the US is a nation of immigrants and if some insanely wealthy person wants to race his animal eugenics experiments for ungodly amounts of money he can do that.
However, let me try to explain to you what I think “quintessentially American” means in the context of sports.  To me, “quintessentially American” means a being with talent using that talent to find success in an industry where talent is rewarded, so far this rather fits the bill right?  The horse has talent, it won the races.
Yeah, here is the thing, that horse was bred to be amazing, it was trained its entire life to be amazing, the horse did not choose to do this, did not make sacrifices to do this, American Pharaoh is a product.  The horse has no agency, no personality, and does not experience the thrill of victory not the agony of defeat.

Say what you will about how trite the self actualization thru the "Big Fight" is...
It works as a narrative and no horse is capable of experiencing it.
A final criticism, maybe don't start so early with the horse breeding part.  That is an odd first footing.  I get it, selling horse spunk is kind of the whole point, it is where the money is.  But maybe, I don't know, start more with the exciting part, the horse racing part.  Maybe rewind to the conception later after you have given the audience a fun opener.  Because starting off with Ahmed Zayat watching a horse he named after his daughter getting violently plowed by a stud is one of the creepiest collision of images this side of President Trump talking about Ivanka Trump.  The whole enterprise of raising animals for this sort of thing strikes me as creepy and weird.
Whatever.  I am certainly not the audience for this fucking thing, and my review is really for those people who might like the occasional nonfiction title to break things up but are not invested in the subject matter.  Don’t read this if you are not already in the tank for this sort of thing.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Robert Mueller's Investigation" and "Democratic Slogans"

I want to talk about a couple of political topics.  I will try to make this amusing to offset the apocalyptic nature of them.  Well, the first one, the second thing I want to talk about is how lame the Democrats are that they might just lose again while playing on easy mode.

Let’s start with the bleak one

As of right now there are numerous criminal charges being brought by the Mueller investigation into the illegal dealings of the Trump Campaign for President and the numerous connections between it and Russian Oligarchs.  While not all of the criminal dealings they have uncovered trace back to Russia (a lot of it is just good old fashioned domestic crime) they are conducting one of the most important investigations in the history of the world.

Yes, the fucking world.  The US has nukes and if the President is a criminal then that is a historical hot potato.

My real point is this, Short of Anubis, the Egyptian God of Death and Judgement, I can think of no other being I would more readily trust with this investigation.

And let's be clear, I am not 100% sure Bob isn't secretly some mythological creature of grim and glowering expressions toward disappointing and criminal persons.  He has the face of a sphinx.

Can you tell I don't own photoshop?  I think that is passable for an MS Paint job.

But there is another narrative taking shape that is scary in a way that really is the death knell of Law and Order.  It is the break down of the public trust that is not coming back.  It starts here.

"It is a deep state conspiracy to keep President Trump from being President."
Why did they let him win the election then?

"They tried to stop him with millions of fraudulent votes."
Why did they put those fraudulent votes in states that wouldn't affect the outcome?

All of this is the language of making a boogeyman.  The villains are degenerate, weak, unable to stop the might of the glorious leader; simultaneously they are well organized, deeply implanted, and cunning enough to make innocent lawyers plead guilty.

It is part of the victim complex that is necessary for President Trump to rally his followers.  The narrative that claims, “you have to apologize for being white these days” or that “Christian values are under attack”.

In a political environment where the Conservative (capitalized for emphasis, not for proper noun status) party is in total control, able to push out policy after policy if they had the patience to write it all out coherently, they claim that they are victims of a grand conspiracy.  For the record they don’t have the patience to write out all their policies because they are dumb.

Rather than admit that they just can’t be bothered to actually accomplish thing… I mean they can't just admit that they are indifferent, because even though they don't care to do anything with the power (again, dumb), having power for its own sake IS WHAT THEY WANT.

In order to justify keeping the power they don't need or want, they have to construct some bad guy that keeps hamstringing them, "We want to save you, but those assholes won't let us.  I am for the good things, BELIEVE ME.  I know the best people, believe me.  We are against the bad things; those bad things are a disaster.  Total disaster, those bad things.  Not like the good things that I am definitely for."

Now onto the funnier story, if you find the Democrats fucking up to be funny

How will the Democratic Party snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this time?
(Checks notes).
Oh.  Yeah, that is certainly a step in the right direction.

You don’t have to follow that link, here is the stupid tagline,
And that link leads to this boring and rambling mission statement that is pathetically weak.

Seriously, "A Better Deal" or "For Our Democracy" EITHER ONE WOULD HAVE WORKED, but both of them together is bloated and fails.  Just like every policy position paper put forth by Secretary Clinton in the Presidential election.  Too many words, too much nuance.

How do you fuck up a slogan?

Beyond that there is a deeper issue.  The boring and rambling article linked up there is boring not because they are off topic, they have a policy agenda, but here is the thing, it is basic.  There is a quote that cycles online it goes something like, “The Democrats are better than the Republicans, the problem is, that is all they aspire to be.”  The policies spelled out in that mission statement boil down to, “Voting”, “Ethics”, and “Campaign Finance”.  That is about it.

Here is why all of that is boring, “Ahem…. THAT SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE SAID!”

Why?  How?  Why is the bar so low?

Well, I guess I am stuck with them.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Poem, "Wildlife Passage"

Wildlife Passage

Predators, Stalking
So hard, to leave dead and gone
In us, sleepwalking

Know that, there they were
Know that now, they are all gone
Know when and why too

Know, it is the shame
Of an age we could not tame
When our blood lust raged.

A drive we all try
Ringing in the ears, outcry
We did nothing wrong

Come to the Tunnel
Dark for loss, of the Deer ones
Where the wild things cross

Salt, apple, ivy
Thru the wood wound, a chapel
Learn from this wisely

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Why the "Venom" Movie Trailer is Bad

            Another new trailer dropped for the “Venom” movie has dropped.  And the half second of Venom being Venom looks… like Venom.

The first trailer (which was admittedly worse) just showed Tom Hardy flipping out and precisely none of the Venom character fully realized.  It was crap.  That being said it left its audience with some hope that Venom would be cool once they worked everything out.  I have no idea what the line of reasoning was there.  Probably, “we haven’t worked out any of the visual effects yet,” but that is all speculation.
This latest trailer dispels 90% of those hopes.  While I think that the final image of the character LOOKS fine… The rest is rather garbage.  The CGI tendrils look shoddy at best, the liquid effects are stiff, and most of what makes the character interesting (and oh boy am I being charitable with the word “interesting”) those traits are gone.
            Rather than talk about the trailer exclusively, let’s talk a bit about the character of Venom, and why it is inexplicable that he is as popular as he is.

Venom: The Character
            Venom was created by Todd MacFarlane during his tenure on Spiderman, years prior to his creation of the character “SPAWN” and completely unveiling how much of an asshole he really was, this was done along with writer David Michelinie, who as far as I can tell is a perfectly nice guy.
            The basic premise of Venom is that Eddie Brock, a coworker and rival of Peter Parker at the Daily Bugle comes in contact with an alien creature called a symbiote, which was used and then cast off by Spider-Man when he stimulated the hero to be more and more violent.
The symbiote bonds with a host granting a telepathic link between them and granting the host a slew of powers.  This gestalt being needs to ingest certain proteins to remain functional and thrives off of negative emotions which acts as a drug.  Eating people is a good source for both of these things.

            Initially, Eddie and the Symbiote came together and targeted Spider-Man because he was the enemy of both Eddie (via Peter) and the alien (via not wanting to bond with it thru greater acts of violence).  Eddie, not realizing the emotional high of violence and the desire to “Eat Spider-Man’s brains” were coming from the symbiote allowed himself to be taken in by it.
            Being seduced to give into your petty bullshit by a demonic blackness that lives inside of you is pretty good symbolism.

Venom: The Appeal
            Venom is a fascinating case in that he is a garbage human being.  Eddie Brock is a muscle head and bully who blames others for his short comings and sees the success of others like Peter Parker as not just an affront to his masculinity, but a cheat.  Thinking something to the effect of, “Peter can’t possibly be better at his job than I am, he must be sabotaging me”.
            What is more, Eddie is uncreative.  His whole plan for fighting Spiderman is to mimic the look, behavior, and powers of his enemy, BUT EVIL!  That is lame.  In the long tradition of villains being a dark reflection of the hero (Joker, Red Skull, Lex Luthor, Doctor Doom) Venom is a shell.  He hates Spider-Man not because of a philosophical reason, he hates him out of pure petty ego and… gluttony on the part of the alien monster.  His look is JUST a dark reflection, he himself is not a reflection of anything on a conscious level.  And for the reader, Eddie is the jock, Peter is the nerd.  Wow.  Such a dichotomy. 
That is lame.  Venom is lame.
            Why the hell is this character so popular?  I am sure it has something to do with the same surface level appreciation that allows “Ghost Rider” to keep appearing on t-shirts, but really the concept KIND OF works.
There are a lot of shirts of this guy.  LOTS!
            If you take for granted that Eddie Brock is an uncreative, stupid, petty, insecure, and intemperate dipshit then you can kind of see a good metaphor for the suit.  He is a petulant asshole who dresses up like an evil version of Spiderman to act out against people who haven’t done anything to him, but he never the less sees as a threat to his masculinity.  He is physically what every loser “Men’s Rights Activist” with a superhero web handle is online.
            It rings deeper still.  That the violence is a drug that fills in his emotional weakness, and that the monster fills the emptiness in him, he is not lonely or judged as a thug and fool by people he looks down on as not being his macho ideal.  The monster goo doesn’t judge him, it loves him for who he is.  As a violent jerkoff.

Venom: The Adaptation
            So, why does this movie look like shit?  I mean, aside from the bad special effects I am hoping they will fix in post.  Because in this movie Eddie isn’t a brain-dead asshole, he is a crusading reporter fighting for the little guy.  What is more, there is no Spider-Man to be seen.  The core concepts of the character are gone, and the motivation to look the way he does is gone.  What is left?

I have already seen "Wassup"parodies in memes
            The image of Venom presented is that of a big monster, and a guy bonding with that monster to fight for what’s “right” except that isn’t true either.  We are now in a situation where the monster is just compelling a good guy to do bad and the good guy is trying to aim the monster to do “good”.  Eddie isn’t (ostensibly) slaved to any sort of drive like loneliness or drug abuse that the symbiote can help with, he is not getting anything out of interacting with the monster except powers that are completely out of his control, “Why did we do that” is a line in the trailer.  Eddie is just a victim of circumstance and anyone could wear the monster skin, which potato peels off another slice of characterization.
            You have, with this movie, taken the Venom out of Venom on all but the MOST superficial level.  You don’t need those elements by the way.  The idea of some guy getting infected with a lovecraftian ooze monster that gives him a sense of belonging and emotional fullness while at the same time compelling him to hurt people is… Basically the mythology of werewolves where you get down to it.  Or for a recent example, “Split”.

            As a merging of elements from Spiderman’s life as a superhero and his life as a reporter, Venom served as a potentially great badguy.  Much like Lizard, Doctor Octopus, and Green Goblin, Venom was a person who had a personal report with Peter beyond being a bank robber with some gadgets or an animal theme.  Venom could become greyer in the black and white morality of the world.  People can change, Eddie could change.

Venom: The Conclusion
            All they have done by calling this movie “Venom” is invite unflattering comparisons.  But maybe I am being too harsh.  Tom Hardy is a good actor who has to put some thought into the parts he chooses to play.  What other instance can you think of where a popular actor did a superhero movie divorced from its core mythology while bearing (at best) a superficial resemblance to the character?

Oh... Yeah...

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

5 Random Thoughts

            I had 5 random thoughts over the course of the last couple weeks and rather than just let them float away because I couldn’t work them into anything larger I figured I would just slap them down here to hammer at them a bit.  In order of complexity.

Idea Number 1: Talking about Marvel Movies
            Marvel should have made a “Thanos” movie before they did “Avengers: Infinity War”.  Aside from being a constant looming threat for years and clearly being super powerful from what is shown in the trailers and his reputation, Thanos as a character has not been explored.

The Description of "He is powerful and just... like... The Worst" can only take you so far.
            I am sure that “Infinity War” would be a perfect place to explore him as a character, but considering that movie will have something like 40 heroes and a half dozen supporting villains to Thanos, there is not going to be enough time.  While I am confident of the Russo Brothers abilities to make a fun and entertaining movie, I can also envision this movie being the latest to have a villain that is powerful, built up, and ultimately a let down (see Malakith and Ronan for Further examples).
            Besides, having a movie from the perspective of a bad guy trying to pull off the creation of a literal doomsday weapon is cool.  I even know how you could structure the movie’s acts.
Act one (maybe even the prologue) being Thanos taking the Reality stone from the Collector.  Act two he battles the Nova Corp and kills Glenn Close’s Nova Prime, taking the Power stone.  The final act he confronts a cosmic being, it could be Galactus, the Living Tribunal, or Eon.
The cosmic being attacks Thanos on a personal level, delving into WHY Thanos is after the gems, and revealing that the cosmic entity is able to see into Purple Puss so completely because they have the previously unseen Soul stone.  Thanos is then given the Soul stone, because the cosmic being knows what Thanos will accomplish with it (inevitable failure because of Thanos canonical inferiority complex, not telling the audience this, they will be left thinking that even the god like celestial being has abandoned the universe to its fate).
Then you could move into “Infinity War” with the three remaining stones, Mind, Time, and Space on Earth (or the Asgard refugee ship in the case of the Space stone).  “We have one advantage,” says Tony Stark.  “We have what he wants, and we know that he is coming for it.”

Idea Number 2: Another thing about Marvel Movies
            Recently Fox Studios, the company that owned the movie rights to both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four were bought up by Disney, who at this point has almost reunited all of the Marvel IP under one production house.
            This is cool/terrifying news as more quality movies will be made with characters and premises that I like by a company that is insanely rich, powerful, and loved.  All hail Disney?
            Regardless I would like to draw your attention to the movie poster for “Avengers: Infinity War”.

More specifically I want you to pay attention to the shape of the “A” and the fact that it is kind of shaped a lot like a “4”.
I probably could have put more work into that "4"... But then again, Fox Studios could have too.

Add to that Marvel moved up the release date of the movie from its original May release date to April… the 4th month.  And when they did so, the move was described as “Fantastic”.

This is super thin conspiracy theory stuff… It is also totally something Marvel would do, because NERDS.

I mean, it is not like they are re releasing the comic too.
With star writer Dan Slott fresh from his career defining work on Spiderman.
I don't make too many predictions, and they are often wrong.

Idea Number 3: A short little comedy sketch
My brother and I have great conversations. I can see why we are so popular.
"How do you even get to be the world's greatest mime?" I asked.
"He was able to sit in an invisible chair," said my brother. "While propping his feet up on an invisible ottoman."
            "He's magic," I said.
            "Unfortunately, he died tragically young," my brother continued. "Cancer from smoking all those invisible cigarettes."
            "Invisible cancer," I replied. "Very hard to treat."
            I told this to my other friend a bit later and he added, “I'd love to go pay my respects, but his headstone is so hard to find.”

This is perhaps the world's most evil mime.  Perhaps.

            (Links go to our Twitter handles.  Follow us for more quality content… Not really.)

Idea Number 4: Domestic Terrorism
The FBI cornered a cowardly domestic terrorist the other day and the asshole blew himself up. When asked about this, the terrorist’s neighbor said, "I'm hoping that it's all over. It's crazy to think he lived right down the street. This is a really quiet neighborhood, like one of the safest cities to live in and it's insane that this guy lived here."
            Maybe it is just my brief time in law enforcement, but I never understand when people say things like this.  Where do these people think terrorists like this live? The moon? The space between spaces? Des Moines?

Idea Number 5: Violence in Video Games
In case you hadn't heard, the White House posted a video showcasing "Video Game Violence".
This is a stupid thing to do for a number of reasons, but I will point to only two of them... because I find these two to be funny.
First issue, most of these clips (I haven’t counted and sourced them all, I am eyeballing this) come from a series called "Call of Duty" which is a game series depicting Warfare. Aside from it being an occasionally fun series and extremely popular, it also encapsulates a strange pick for saying "Video Games are Violent" because the thesis statement of the whole series could boil down to "War is violent, GUNS are violent".

Second and sillier thing, one of the most notorious missions in the ENTIRE "Call of Duty" series is a mission called "No Russian", which is (of course) featured in the video.  In this mission an American operative is framed for a terrorist attack on a Russian airport.
So, and here is the funny part, Even President Trump's bone headed references to an industry he does not understand CONTAINS TIES TO RUSSIA.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons, "Steel City"

            I have previously written about how orcs are different in my campaign world.  That their culture is most defined by their belief in a single God that created the universe, and who is a cruel tormentor of the mortal races that the orcs wish death upon.
As that entry proved to be rather popular I decided to do a sequel to it to emphasize other aspects of orc culture.  This entry, however, is heavily inspired by the play style of one of my players, who liked the Maltheistic religion of the orcs, and a couple other elements of the lore in my world, so he integrated himself into it rather nicely.  He then proceeded to be the team’s Hulk, a fun character that had certain traits start to boil up to the surface.
Before long I wanted to do a series of adventures based around each of the characters in the party, the dashing swordsman learned who his real father is, the druid resettled her people who had been displaced by war, and Jif the Thousand Faced Hero, Slayer of the Leviathan, the Sixth Finger, King of all Orcs got his turn.
To help me make the adventure more about him he gave me some of his personal history and I then used how he played his character to extrapolate a culture from it.  Here is the history of Ugmund Ka, also known to the world as “Steel City”.

The Grey Devils
            The company known as the Grey Devils, was the power behind the throne in the orc city of Ugmud Ka, or as it is commonly known to outsiders, “Steel City”.  Pressing the orc population into a state of wage slavery, they built a trade empire emulating the style of the Coal Dwarves, mass producing cheap and interchangeable goods.
            While they could never match the market share of the Coal Dwarves they did grow wealthy off the exploitation of the orcs.
            Strangely, the Grey Devils are in many ways responsible for the second most defining feature of Orc culture on the continent, their shockingly over the top self-aggrandizing.  For decades the Grey Devils built an entire social order around the idea of bragging of one’s own accomplishments and personal honor… While sitting on top of that social order and allowing no social mobility what so ever.
Every Orc was the absolute best wage slave ever and would compete to produce more product than their coworkers, even as they were all paid the same hourly wage.

            When the legendary Orc craftsman, and now secular saint, Xoruk, discovered what has now been dubbed “The Riddle of Steel” allowing for the highest quality of steel manufacturing currently known, the Grey Devil’s social order turned against them.
Orcs previously taking pride in how many cheap swords they could quickly hammer out instead shifted back to emphasizing personal touches and craftsmanship.  Now that their weapons were made to last they needed to look good enough that people would want them around for much longer.

The Legacy of Xoruk and the Grey Devils
            The Devils were never able to unravel the Riddle of Steel.  Shortly after its discovery they faced a worker uprising and were forced out of the city by their own social order.  Orcs in a constant state of trying to out do one another pushed product quality to new heights and Orcs who were not craftsmen were now able to fan out as warriors with fantastic weapons.
            New crusades against mad cults and divine influences were stamped out and as those deeds spread so did the commercial opportunities.  Endorsements from Orcs like Randal the Savage, Pompous, and Macho sold more and more weapons but also an image of orc culture that was powerful, flashy, and loud.
            This has also given rise to a new Orc “Government”.  1-part meritocracy, 1-part carnival, and 2-parts caste system, Orcs everywhere participate to make the best stuff, tell the best stories, daring the best do, and generally being the best around, allowing no one to ever bring them down.  The mightiest warriors and the best craftsmen formed twisting alliances pointing to each other’s great works and endorsements as evidence of each other’s greatness.
The State of Things
            The Coal Dwarves have declared war on the city of Ugmud Ka.  Presumably this is to either learn the Riddle of Steel, or to simply destroy the city in hopes of rubbing out the competition in the manufacturing business.
            The Coal Dwarves are utilizing an army of crystal-men, marching out of their mountain fortresses and firing (an admittedly beautiful) barrage of lasers.

Inspirations and Uses
            As you can see, creating an entire culture of warriors that dress flamboyantly and never stop talking about how awesome they are could only resemble one thing, Professional Wrestling.  I also threw in some Karate Kid and Conan the Barbarian, because Jif was also a gladiator/barbarian and those fit well.
Making Jif into the reluctant face in a story was an interesting turn.  He had previously been a gladiator and right-hand hatchet man to a leader in the campaign.  Now he was being called out by another orc with a laundry list of titles and accomplishments to complete a heroic quest and be crowned High King.
            Andre, Hogan, and Duggen showed up at Jif’s door and told him that he was to gather up a team of adventurers (the party), go into the heart of the Coal Dwarves territory, and somehow defeat the invaders and their magical foes.  All the while an unseen rival orc was gathering up resources to commit the deed and claim the title himself.

"No one in this world can you trust..."
            This is a great example of how a player can give a DM a huge amount of material and together can create something new and fun.  He developed the names of the city, the Grey Devils, and Xoruk.  He came up with the ideas of the orcs making the best materials.  And thru his play style presented a race that is obsessed with titles and honors and not afraid to walk around wearing a garish magic crown that everyone just shrugs and says, “sure he is wearing that, he is an orc gladiator.”
            If you are a DM, don’t be afraid to let your players give you write ups for cities and cultures.  In fact, leave space on the map (or just off the map) for all this stuff to go.  Then add spins to them based on whether you think your player should be typical or oddball in his own culture or place of origin.  It adds a dimension to the creative process, and also saves the DM from having to build the ENTIRE world.

Other stuff
            I asked, and my player doesn’t have a twitter or blog to follow, but feel free to compliment him in the comments.
If you want to read more stuff by me, this week has been a good cross sample of the stuff I do on this blog.  I wrote a book review for the book “Ready Player One”, I wrote two quick movie reviews for “It” and “Blade Runner 2049”, and I did a re-write of a poem.  If you want more DnD stuff, I also continued on my rather ancient quest to write a character for every class/background combo in the Players’ Handbook.

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.