Gamers (2006)…let me elaborate.

So I’ve had a couple of stressful days away from this film, and I have a few more things to ad. 

My biggest issue with this film is how very crappy the characters are as people. We’ve got (and I’m stealing most of this from the sparse tvtropes.org page):

  • Paul: A telephone relay operator who lives with his parents. 
  • Gordon: A low-level public television employee who lives with his parents.
  • Kevin: The GM. A musician (in the loosest sense of the word) who rents a room from his grandparents. Kevin insists on never fraternizing with the players outside the game.
  • Fernando: Sent to America from Argentina after he embarrassed his family by sucking at “the soccer”. Fernando supposedly learned English by playing DND. Lives with his girlfriend but suspects correctly that she is cheating on him. He jerks off horses for a living.
  • Reese: A late addition to the group who none of the other players much care for. Fills just about every stereotype of the annoying and creepy gamer. Lives in a one bedroom apartment with his mother.

These characters gave me nothing. NOTHING to care about. They’re either losers, creepy weirdos, or jerks (see what I did there?). They don’t even seem to like each other. Why should I care about them, or their gaming streak, or any of the weird, stupid stuff that happens to them? I’ve got my own problems, that involve real games. 

I may have issues with GamerZ ( which I’ll get too soon, i hope. Also, can we decide on something DIFFERENT for a gamer movie title from now on?), but at least I thought the characters were interesting, if not likeable. They were strange, but they were strange in a way that made you WANT to see what happened next. Gamers started right away with the gags and crappy jokes, and gave you nothing. I payed for this movie, with real money. Don’t waste yours. Or do, I’m not a cop.

Proper Party Put-together.

I’d like to make this little impromptu post to address a concern I’ve had. As you may know, I’ve been slowly growing weary of D&D. I don’t WANT this to happen. I love D&D. I love the stories I get to tell, the decisions I get to make. It’s amazing. But I’ve had to deal with a lot of…interesting players. It seems to be a growing trend that players always fall into one of three categories: People that build characters for versatility, People that Build characters for their Special Little Snowflake (SLS) status, and for the purposes of this article, the people who do it “right” (remember folks, cum grano salis I’m only one man). Here’s my issue. At it’s core, D&D is a game about creating a team that works well together, has adventures, faces dangers, and generally cracks skulls. 

When I see a party that ultimately looks like this:

I say to myself “What’s the point?”. You’re all basically playing the same character. There’s little variation, there’s no real stand outs. Everyone is functionally the same. You can all do magic, you can all use magic items, and you all have a lot of points in Dexterity.

And when I see a party that looks like THIS:

Just…Are you freaking kidding me? It creates a case of “If everyone is special, then no one is.” They probably bicker, because each player has so lovingly created a unique and tormented backstory that strives to dominate the narrative. And believe me. This game will be narrative heavy. All the players will talk in character in low tones, growling at each other.

“But Goblin!” I hear you saying. “This type of party can totally work well together”. In a perfect world, yes, sure. But we live in a world of selfish, broken people who have a hard time empathizing with others. If you didn’t want to deal with this type of person, you’re in the WRONG hobby, Dave.

Here’s my argument. D&D is a team game. A good team is made out of individual pieces that work together. checks and balances. Not everybody is going to be great at everything, and not everybody should. Playing with different strengths and weaknesses means you actually have to do this crazy little thing called relying on others.  The best part of playing a more traditional party, doing it “right”, is that each archetype, those being stuff like Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard, all have dozens of interpretations, each one with its own bailiwick of abilities and outlooks on life. Simply amazing opportunities for role-playing. Try them out next time, instead of making that CN Dragon-blooded half-demon Hadozee soulknife-necromancer you’ve been thinking about, consider seeing what kind of mileage you can get out of an Elven Wizard. You may surprise yourself,

Food on the Table

Okay, that was weak. I was tired and on my way to work when I wrote that last “update”. Let me try again.

I’ve even got a good topic. Food around the table.

We’ve all heard the Mountain Dew and Cheetos jokes, right? Well, as far as they go, I prefer Doritos, and the Dew? It has to be Code Red. Code Red is my DM fuel, in the most literal manner. I’m currently not of drinking age in America quite yet, but if you want to talk alcohol….I dunno. Ask your parents. I once tried to teach a room of drunk people how to play Munchkin, and it went about as well as trying to put a cat on a vegan diet, with similar results.

I’m well acquainted with snacks, and I’d like to share a few tips and ideas:

  • If you’ve got a fancy-shmancy expensive game mat like I do, it’s probably a good idea to limit the messy foods. stick to small, handful-style foods, like M&Ms, Skittles, pretzels, or chips. No dips though. Expensive game mat, remember?
  • These will probably get me laughed at, but if you’re of a healthier bent, then nuts, raisins, trail mix, and my personal favorite, dried fruit (pineapple especially, but trust me when I say that eating more than a pound of the stuff in one sitting? Not a great idea.). IF you spill any of these, you probably won’t ruin any character sheets.
  • If you want to get a little more creative, you can tie in the foods you eat into your game. Smell and taste are your major memory trigger senses. If you’re running the game, and the PC’s are traveling over a long distance, serve them up something that might be a part of their rations, aside from the dried fruit and nuts mentioned above, people tended to take foods that wouldn’t spoil on long journeys, and this meant preserved foods like pickles, dried meats like beef jerky and smoked fish (As a former Alaskan, that means salmon). If your PCs are in a tavern then you can try simple stuff like cheese and bread and pickles (a cheap plowman’s lunch). If you want to put in the effort and make it a party, meat pies still might be a little messy, yet historically accurate.

Fun fact: in D&D or one of the spin-off video games, you might have seen an item called an “Iron rations”. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, assuming it was something like beef jerky or something else with a high iron content, but after looking a little into it, Wikipedia tells us:

The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the “iron ration”, first introduced in 1907. It consisted of three 3-ounce cakes (made from a concoction of beef bouillon powder and parched and cooked wheat), three 1-ounce bars of sweetened chocolate, and packets of salt and pepper that was issued in a sealed tin packet that weighed one pound. It was designed for emergency use when the troops were unable to be supplied with food. It was later discontinued by the adoption of the “Reserve Ration” but its findings went into the development of the emergency D-ration.

Sounds less than appetizing to me. Why, you ask, is something  that was invented in the 20th century found in a medieval fantasy setting? Remember, the first D&D players were wargamers, people who studied the culture and tactics of wars throughout history. Gygax, a huge wargamer himself, probably borrowed a little something from that to add to his games.

If you’d like to share your typical gaming fare, leave it in the comments below. Until next time!

Diceroller Flicks: Zero Charisma…Finally

I’m back folks! Please, let’s hold off the raucous applause and adulation until after the review.

Today we look at one of the newer entries into my bailiwick. I proffer to you, Zero Charisma. Released last October, the film was funded on Indiegogo.com, making about $25,000 for production.

It follows Scott, metalhead, delivery boy, and the general stereotype of a Game master that takes his fantasy too seriously.

As our film starts, it’s interesting to note that this is the second film I’ve looked at that starts in a supermarket. The main character Scott is buying snacks for his gaming group.

ZC1

If you could call them that.

I like this guy’s style. He’s got a bumper sticker on his car that says “Because I’m the Game Master…that’s why”. He arrives to his game, and the night seems to be going really well, he’s got snacks, a real DM screen (Lucky him, I made mine out of cardboard, and then glued a bunch of AD&D rules inside it. Alas, it was destroyed in the purge [when I moved a few months ago]), all his players sitting around his kitchen table, and he seems to be working his magic as a game master, until his friend makes a small joke that happens to interrupt his narration.

ZC2

I’ve been there. It took a week to get the blood off the game mat.

Slightly irked, he continues his narration, that is until his grandmother comes in to make a sandwich and asks him to open a jar for her. When he gets up to do that, one player leaves the room to make a call, and the others start watching the latest episode of their webseries.

ZC3

Scott goes to check on Kenny, the guy who left the room. You know, it’s a pretty big rule of mine (and I’m sure the same goes for a lot of you) that I don’t allow cell phones at the table. I don’t know what this guy’s doing that’s so important, but he did get up without saying anything. That’s pretty rude. Scott chooses to ignore Kenny’s blatant disregard for etiquette and just tells him to come back to the game. He says he’ll be back in a minute. Dude, you can’t start the game without everyone at the table! What’s your deal?

His wife’s leaving him? Oh. Umm…that’s not good…Well, I guess he’s allowed to have a reprieve. He says he can’t play anymore, and Scott tries to reason with him, saying they’ve been playing the same continuous weekly game for three years.

THREE YEARS?!? Kenny, bro. Let’s be reasonable, there are other fish in the sea…

What? You think that’s cold? I’d move to Tiksi if it meant a weekly game.

kerrik in the snow sad

I jest. Kinda.

Anyway, this means that Scott’s group is now incomplete. Because Scott is the kind of guy that can’t tie his shoes without rolling a success check, this comes as a bit of a shock. Seriously though, you can really tell that RPGs are his life. He gives this impassioned speech about “reawakening the tradition of communal storytelling” to one of the prospective players, and even though it didn’t get him very far, and was so much marketing baloney.

While delivering Chinese food to the local game store (from which he was fired the previous month for letting the cash register get robbed), he runs into Miles. Miles is looking to get back into D&D, and Scott takes the opportunity to rope him in.

The next game session rolls around (see what I did there? Like dice!), and Miles shows up. This guy seems really cool, he brings a six-pack, he’s a hugger, he’s up on his nerd trivia (Apparently the Millennium Falcon is faster than the Enterprise. Who knew?), and he’s a really great role-player. He’s a little too perfect for Scott, who likes to be in charge in order to put himself above others, (plus Miles answered a text at the table. Seriously, that’s just wrong) and heads are butted.

That night, Scott’s grandmother has a stroke, and his mother, Barbara, comes to visit her. Apparently Scott and his grandmother share a dislike for her, and it’s easy to see why. She’s pushy, controlling, and dramatic, and a little self-centered. Her fiance that she dragged along with her seems a little backwoods, but you can tell he’s trying to be a good guy. And she clearly doesn’t approve of him playing “that little dragons game”.

Quick tangent. Sorry. The thing is, I have never understood why people can look at certain things and think “Oh, that’s immature”. The really cool thing about being an adult? It’s that I get to decide what being an adult means, no one else. If I want to piss away hard earned money on plastic figurines and dice and books, that’s my prerogative. You watch football? I watch Game Grumps. Entertainment is entertainment. To each his own, right?

ugly_strange_men_07

Even this guy. Especially this guy

Anyway….sorry.

At the next game session, Miles wants to put the webseries the two guys were making onto his website, a popular geek-gaming-pop culture news site called geekchic.com. Which is apparently like a Nerdist.com or Kotaku stand-in for this movie. Scott tries to puff himself up. He’s got a blog, a totally awesome blog that is “mostly game related, but he writes about movies and other stuff”….I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’d kill for his “14 visitors a week” though….

Barbara tries to stop the game, telling him it’s late and to “be an adult”, and he tells her to leave. This means war, and she sits down with the group, telling all kinds of embarrassing stories about Scott until he quits. He storms up to his room, and in classic “I can’t deal with my emotions” fashion, blasts some thrash metal and puts his fist through his bedroom wall.

They decide to hold the next session at Mile’s house. Things just can’t get much worse at this point, right? WRONG!

Miles not only runs a popular website, is relatively physically attractive, nerd-savvy, and has a super cute girlfriend, he’s also a talented comic book artist with a really nice house.

After a failed attempt at claiming he wrote The Matrix (long story), Scott ends up crying in Mile’s bathroom. Throughout the movie, we see Scott painting a mini of  Ulric Bennevon, his DM avatar character in his campaign setting. He uses Ulric to block the PCs from gaining a certain plot-necessary magic item called the Stones of Light, and tries to shepherd them into a quest.

Miles decides he wants to just kill the guy and take the stones. Having been confronted on his controlling nature, Scott flips out and reveals to the room that essentially, he thinks that all his friends are losers, that he thinks their webseries sucks, and he hangs out with them to be the big man, something he just accused Miles of doing.

As much as I want to hate him, I can’t. Honestly I used to be this guy. I’m sure a lot of insecure nerds have done similar things in the past. Especially the ones that are big on fantasy because they prefer it to real life.

There’s a lot going on in this movie…Barbara tries to sell her mother’s house because she’s in a lot of debt and doesn’t want her fiancée to know. As the house had been promised to Scott, he’s more than a little upset.

You should have seen it before…

Amidst the rubble, he sees a picture of Greg “Totally Not Gary Gygax” Goran, the Godfather of Gaming. Who he remembers is making an appearance at the game store soon. He decides to go and see him, to clear up some of his doubts (as well as try to get his old job back). After this fails, and he’s at the lowest of the low and seething so hard you can see his ears steaming, he shows up to Miles house, where he’s having a party and all the cool, hipster-y people are there (excluding the game group). This random party guy named Kevin who looks a lot like Oancitizen goads Scott into challenging Miles to a medieval-style duel. With Crutches.

ZC5

Screw Kevin.

Miles is clearly panicking, his thin veneer of plastic glasses and cool-guy facial hair fading, he has nothing else to do but follow along. But then he gets a shot to the face, and repays in kind with a punch to the stomach that floors Scott. Scotts sidekick, who shows up to pick up Scott, jumps on Miles and gets a fistful of his hair.

After a brief time skip, Scott is now working at the retirement community that his grandmother agreed to go to after the house was sold. He’s looking after his grandmother and running an RPG for some of the old folks. One of the old guys tries to put the moves on a female character. It’s pretty cute. Fun Fact: Did you know that the STD rate among retirees has doubled in the last decade?

I think a lot of freaks and geeks can identify with some aspect of the main character. I know I could. That’s actually one of the reasons this took so long to do. It felt a bit too personal for me to comment on it. He’s socially inept, controlling, selfish, takes things way too seriously, can be over dramatic, can’t handle his emotions well, and puts other people down in order to make himself feel better. At least half of those were me in middle school. But that’s the point. He realizes all of these things and by the end of the film, he hasn’t changed too much, but he’s a lot happier and a lot more self-aware, as well a bit more forgiving of others.  And I think that makes all the difference.

Portrayal of RPGs – 4/5

There isn’t really a lot of RPG in this RPG movie. It’s about the gamers. There’s no “game world” footage, no random in-jokes about kobolds or mind flayers, and we barely see the sessions that take place throughout the film. The few times we get a good look at them, they’re very solid. and while Scott (the character, not Sam Eidson, the guy playing him) isn’t the greatest of actors, you can tell that he puts a lot of himself into the game. I would have liked to see a little more of it as the film progressed.

The Plot – 3/5

This movie, technically, is really well shot, well-acted, and the writing is pretty good. It almost seems to  suffer from another case of “Don’t sue us, please”, but it’s more subverted, in that the real counterparts do exist in universe, they just choose to do their own thing.

If I had to not like something about this movie, it’s the time skip at the end. It’s not jarring, but it really implies a lot that I would have liked to see. I can’t believe I’m saying this but “SHOW! DON’T TELL!”. You can see that Scott is a lot happier with this life, and although he hasn’t learned much, he’s much more relaxed.

Huh. Well, I guess this didn’t need that much editing after all. If you want to check out Zero Charisma, it’s available for streaming on Netflix, Amazon instant video and…Google Play? You can watch movies  on that? Huh. Cool. Anyway, until next time, See ya cyborgs!

NOTE: Due to a shift in my schedule, Tuesday will now be the day that I’ll be regularly updating. I can’t promise movie reviews, but I’ll have something for you to see here!

Goblin Interstitial: Gaming Philosophy

I really need to play more D&D. Or any RPG for that matter, but I don’t have the schedule for it. My work schedule isn’t overtaxing, but it’s erratic enough to break up any ambient creative energies that might try to coalesce.

RPGs and I have an interesting relationship. I’ve known about them virtually my entire life (thanks Dexter’s Lab and Disney’s Recess!). I want to say I never actually role-played in any real form (besides regular childhood stuff) until high school, but that isn’t quite true. In Elementary school, I had a friend who was a big fan of the Deltora Quest book series. I hadn’t read them at that point, and he would sort of…run me through the books, as if I was the main character, Leif. it was neat.

In high school, I went through a couple of different “I’m not part of the group” phases. One of the phases was me asking my best (and pretty much only) friend if we should try playing D&D. I GMPC’d the first game, and I can still remember my first character, a Turban-wearing, battleaxe-wielding sorcerer named Jack Redwave. I convection roasted an Owlbear. And don’t even get me started on what my friend’s monk did.

One thing that I’ve held pretty true is that story should always be a pretty important part of RPGs. You can thank Hickman, Weiss, and Salvatore for that. I’ve been a really avid reader my entire life (sometimes to the detriment of other things), and the “flow” of a story has always been the most interesting part of RPGs.

As the Pathfinder game that kicked me out can tell you, I’m not that great a player. I refused to turtle before every single room in the dungeon and I always wanted to do things the “clever” way, plus I get really bored waiting for “my turn”. My real passion is running games, where I can worldbuild, create interesting characters on the regular, and be constantly interacting with the rest of the people at the table.

My favorite method of DMing is pretty spontaneous. I read through a lot of the books, and then I create a list of “Cool Stuff” to use. Example:

  • A good-aligned lich living in the walls of an old church
  • An assassin dryad ninja who is out for revenge for the death of her sister
  • A ship graveyard that was turned into an independent  floating city

And then I lead the players in the direction of one of said cool things. Often just as waypoints on a larger journey, but it makes the world seem that much bigger.

As far as the entire scope of a campaign goes, I honestly can’t help you. I’ve got a confession.

I’ve never “finished” an RPG. Ever. I’ve been playing for almost 7 years, and I’ve never had a game come to a satisfying conclusion, or even a conclusion at all. They’ve always been interrupted. It’s frankly depressing.

I always plan these epic journeys where the characters have interesting things happen to them, they defeat a big bad, maybe even get a girl or two, but I’ve never even taken a party over level 7.

If anyone has some interesting stories they’d like me to share for them about their D&D experiences, email them to me. If I like them, I’ll post them here.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness Thoughts

So, there comes a point in every role-player’s life. At this point, they’ve played a few different campaigns, a few different characters, but there has always been one this that at least one of the DMs they’ve had have never allowed.

Playing an evil character.

The DMs will argue that having evil characters just doesn’t work in their game. It’ll ruin the plot and cause characters to fight and why would the rest of the party allow Ethelred the Adulterer to travel with them, especially after the damage he caused to the Temple of Boccob when they needed the priest to give them his blessing to enter the Sanctum of Magic and repair the Crown of Marragin? But I digress…..

The point is, at this point, the bright eyed and bored role-player wants to try his hand at slaughtering villagers instead of saving them, of holding the princess for ransom instead of rescuing her. In comes the evil campaign

The evil campaign is the ultimate gamer cathartic experience. They get to try their hand at “more complex characters” with “deeper back-stories”. A lot of the time, this is baloney. They just wanna smash stuff and get rewarded for it, instead of chastised for their insolence by the DM.

The Book of Vile Darkness is the third installment in the D&D movie franchise. If the first movie was the franchise in it’s infancy (and let’s face it, it wet the bed), and the second movie was the more mature flick that had some better indication of what it wanted to be, then the third film is the adult realization of the bunch. And I do mean adult. Apparently, if the mature content disclaimer on the front of the D&D splatbook of the same name is any indication, then the nudity and “mature themes” in this movie are well expected.

The film features Grayson Azreal, newly knighted member of the Knights of the New Sun, a coterie of knights dedicated to the Sun God, Pelor and the eradication of all evil. Every knight during their initiation prays to Pelor hoping to gain his divine blessing, but no knight has in over 800 years, but they still get to be knights, so it’s not that bad. Grayson is butthurt that he wasn’t the one to awaken the blessing of his deity, but before he can sulk too much, the knights are ambushed, and Grayson is the only survivor, his father carried off by the baddies. Grayson denounces his faith, and rushes off to find his father. He soon discovers the best method to achieve his goal is to join a group of evildoers on their quest to locate the pieces of the titular Book of Vile Darkness and present them to the man who kidnapped Grayson’s father.

Forced to to terrible things like murder in cold blood, break his vow of chastity, lie, cheat, and steal in order to fit in with the group and not arouse suspicions that he is more than just a man-at-arms looking for gold. Eventually it gets to the point that when he reaches his father, he’s decked out in black armor, carrying a cool wicked-looking vorpal blade, has a scar on the side of his face, and his father thinks that he’s just gone totally evil. This led to one of the facepalmiest realizations I’ve ever had. Gray-SON. His entire quest revolves around engaging in morally GRAY activities on a quest to rescue is FATHER. Clever writers, very clever…

I think this is the strongest out of the three Dungeons & Dragons films, and the purest example of the evil campaign done right. The film has relaxed a little on the previous installment’s penchant for referencing the source material while still presenting the casual role-player with enough Dungeons & Dragons-y things to call it self a D&D flick. Bonus points for including the Slaymate from the Libris Mortis splatbook in what is genuinely a very creepy scene. If you can find this movie, check it out. It’s my personal favorite of the lot, and is a great way to cap off a series that has until now really dragged.

Other genres??

Wassup? Sorry, no new full post today, no excuses, I’ve just been working. I had a question though. Can anyone out there in internet-land recommend any RPG movies?

I’ve been compiling my list, and I was wondering if there existed any non-fantasy RPG movies? There are sooo many different genres of RPGs. Pulp, Cyberpunk, Urban Fantasy (which comes in both Vampire and Faerie flavors), not to mention whatever Don’t Rest Your Head is.

There is so much unused potential for different genres or even cross-genre clashes! A group of Vampire LARPers get the crap kicked out of them with boffer weapons. A bunch of CCG players are ostracized by role-players (Yes, I am currently watching Gamers: Hands of Fate, episodically on youtube, I highly recommend it). Both are great opportunities for lots and lots of papercuts!