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Sunday 26 January 2020

Skip Week

Honestly... I just have nothing.

I'm sorry.

Brain is being very unkind to me, and I am totally lacking in inspiration.

I'll be back on form sooner or later.


Two next week maybe. At last one.


Sunday 19 January 2020

Coming Out Of Left Field

Some of the best times you can have while playing RPGs is the really wild stuff that you can't plan for.

You know what I mean. That totally screwball idea, that thing that blindsides your GM from nowhere.

See we love it when everything goes to plan, right? We GMs love setting up a moment that goes off without a hitch, seeing the thing develop from point to point until the party are where you want them and the story point pops off. Sure, it's been a little bit hairy here and there - maybe there's been a couple of times where a little handholding was necessary, and perhaps some clues were missed...

...but you got to the bit you needed to get to, and you get to deliver the blow that you had up your sleeve the entire time. And hopefully the party enjoy - or at least appreciate - it.

The stuff of legend, though, is when you go so far off the beaten path that at least one person is helpless through laughter and half of the campaign notes suddenly seem bone-crushingly inadequate for what you are dealing with.

Two examples I will quote include when myself (a sickly but heavily-armoured cleric of Pelor) and my travelling companion (a dashing spellsword) got to the castle of the evil lich in a D&D 3.5 campaign, took one look at the front gates, and flew up onto the roof to go in through the top of the tower - getting the drop on the final boss of what was effectively a dungeon, and having to clean it out after he was dead...

...and the GM of that game pulling exactly the same trick in a Pathfinder game, going into an overrun guard bastion in the first campaign book through the roof. Dropping in, murdering the big bad, getting mythic power, and then liquidising the rest of the fell creatures present like a BlendTec commercial.

Most recently, this happened to me. I was the GM in the driving seat. I've been running a game of Eclipse Phase for a few months - you've probably seen a couple of my blog posts about it, but if not, look here and here, that will clue you in - and I have been typing up each session as a read-along that you can read here. Take a look - it's called Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.

This particular thing is some kind of murder mystery. The party are putting together some clues as to why someone was killed, and they discover that there's a lot more to it than random acts of violence - in fact they have a short list of other potential targets, and one of them correctly guessed the inciting agents within minutes of seeing the original crime scene (much to my combined joy and nervousness).

So they find out the identity of one of the other potential victims, and go to talk to her. One of the characters is highly social, and is also a genuine psychic. So I get ready to provide some snippets of information before the inevitable happens...

...and then the way it gets played out - the interview turns into a confession, which turns into the party smuggling the potential victim (who isn't so innocent herself) off of the habitat in a body bag assisted by octopoid gangsters, stealing her identity, and using it to accidentally incite a couple of stampedes before finally turning the murderer against a mob of gangsters, resulting in mutual destruction.

What started out as being some kind of Maltese Falcon sleuthing ended up like using a laser pointer to direct a cat into a pile of action figures.

And I had genuinely not really planned for that, at all.

But it did the job!

(Meme not technically accurate cos people totally got killed but:)

Fellow Game Masters - I know it's scary when the party go off the rails. I know. But sometimes it will actually add to the world you are making. For me, it produced another long-term NPC that I can use, and some long-term problems that I can bring back down the line. And even if it doesn't add anything - who cares? Sometimes, we're here to laugh like idiots at the dumb things we just did.

That's what the hobby is about, right?

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 12 January 2020

The Boogeyman In Three Parts

John Wick is one of the best action franchises that has ever existed, and I will prove it.

I'm aware of the irony of my last blog, calling for a cessation of murdering people and planet alike, being followed by one about an action movie trilogy with a three-figure body count. The incongruity of me not wanting real actual people to die, and yet capable of watching a movie wherein fictional people fictionally die. Yes. Thank you.

Now that that's out of the way.

I've mentioned John Wick in a previous blog about motivations, and you might recall I used the above picture in that very blog. It's a great picture, is why. Look at it.

I only recently got to watch the third instalment of the series. I have had a chance to consider it, think it through, listen to all three soundtracks a whole bunch, and here I am with opinions.

The first thing you have to respect is the work put in.

Like, I am a fan of those old, dumb action movies wherein you have Steven Seagal walking around like a mummy and occasionally doing little hand-slappy attacks. Wherein you have to cut away every half-second so it looks like he delivers an actual roundhouse kick. That kind of nonsense.

So when you see minute-long shots of Keanu Reeves just putting in the work, close combat stuff, rough work - when you see how much training he has done to make this whole thing look absolutely feasible, even as it becomes less and less so as the trilogy continues - you have to respect that. The stunt work, the attention to detail. He's renowned for doing that, for applying himself. The other actors that appear alongside him, fighting him, they deserve that respect too. Ruby Rose, Common, Halle Berry, Mark Dacascos. Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, from the Raid movies. They put in WORK, and it shows on the screen.

The screen. Yeah, let's talk about cinematography.

Sometimes this trilogy is painfully ugly, deliberately so. It's warehouses, back alleys, trashy clubs. Sometimes, it is beautiful - art galleries, the grounds of a villa, various sites throughout New York City, a souk in Casablanca. One thing it is not is easily forgettable. What are you watching a movie for? Why isn't it a book? So you can watch it. So you can see it. There isn't a single shot in this -

Wait, that's a lie. There is one single shot in this trilogy that I dislike. I'm not going to show it to you. Just pay attention to the bit at the fountain with Wick and Cassian when he gets back to New York in Chapter 2. You'll see what I mean. I have no idea why it is there. One shot, perhaps two seconds long if that. I digress.

How it looks is important, because how it looks is telling you the story within the story. And yeah, there is one. Action movies don't have to be what they used to be. They don't have to be a bunch of goons with muscles and two outdated racial stereotypes shouting at each other until everyone but Arnie is dead.

The story isn't necessarily complex. The imagery is, though. The thematic. What the movie is about, as well as a man being the living embodiment of muder-death-kill.

Allow me to elaborate.

John Wick was a monster who stopped being a monster, and then the things that stopped him being a monster were taken away, one after the other, until he became a monster again. John Wick has no brakes. Those brakes were killed by 1) illness, 2) Alfie FUCKING Allen, and 3) the devil (his name is Santino, look at him).

This trilogy is a lethal exploration of what happens when two forces - the entire criminal underworld and one really angry Keanu Reeves - could back down, at any time, but don't. They literally do it to themselves, and they keep on doing it to themselves. At any point during this journey, one side or other - Viggo, Santino, the High Table - could have downed tools and said: Okay, enough. At any point, John could have put his gun down and gone to live somewhere in the country. Neither of them backed down or gave way, and so, the bodies just kept on stacking.

Time and again, the mythological nature of the entire concept comes up. In the first movie it begins with just a reputation, which steadily becomes proven to be 100% legitimate - but still within believable human boundaries. Boundaries that get stretched with each instalment. As John passes through purgatory, goes through the long walk across the desert and has his heart measured and has to give up everything he loves, as John has to fight through reflections of his own soul to reach the devil, as he has to trade trinkets for passage across the river. As John is tested by emperors and gods and kings and comes away bloodied but alive every time. As he begins the first movie falling out of an SUV half-dead, and ends having survived almost insurmountable odds and yet somehow, still in one piece.

It's a myth.

It's Ajax and Achilles. It's the Green Knight and Sir Lancelot.

So consider that a ringing endorsement.

Maybe skip it if you can't stand to see animals getting hurt - at least, skip the scene in the first one. (Weirdly enough outside of that, great pains are taken throughout the rest of the trilogy to prevent harm to any of the other animals present. This is especially obvious in the third one. I'm a fan.)

Maybe, also, skip it if you're not a fan of action movies - but then I doubt you needed me to tell you that.

Otherwise, get all three of them for a weekend and buckle up.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 5 January 2020


This painting is called The Massacre Of The Innocents, by Léon Cogniet.

It was painted in 1824, and it depicts Chapter 2, Verse 16-18 of the Gospel of Matthew. King Herod - yes, that King Herod - realises that he hasn't been told where the new king has been born, and thus, decides to take the broad-strokes approach; he has every single child below the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem killed.

(Jesus, at this point, has been whisked off to Egypt at the urging of an angel.)

It bears mention that there is historically little evidence that this actually happened, and that none of the other Gospels even mention it - some suspect that Matthew was basically just borrowing from Exodus and the Pharaoh's ordered execution of Hebrew children.

That isn't to say that Herod wasn't an absolute asshole when it came down to murder and carnage - after all if historical record is anything to go off he apparently killed three of his own sons and one of his wives.

None of that is really the point, though.

You can't see any soldiers, in the painting. You can't see the people actually prosecuting the massacre. All you can see is - in the left third - people running for their lives, and a mother holding her child, eyes wild with fear and anger and determination.

Take a closer look.

Now you can say what you want about the Mona Lisa but when I look at it, I feel nothing. Nothing at all. I have never seen a face so carefully and measurably bland, so determined to be feeling or expressing nothing whatsoever, aside from maybe slight smugness.

This woman - this nameless woman with her child - makes me feel something.

Do any of them - the woman, her child, the fleeing people - know why they are being put to sword? Do any of them know why the soldiers have come to their town, know why they are having to run for their lives? If they do know, does it change anything?

Some people believe in fate, or destiny. Some people believe that everything happens for a reason.

I don't believe in any of those things; I believe in causality, wherein one thing leads to another.

This woman, clutching her child and looking for a way to escape the doom coming for them, is the latest in a long sequence of events, most of which could have easily been prevented or avoided or just not undertaken at all.

Of course the story from Matthew is fiction, and involves supernatural powers. None of it needed to happen whatsoever. The Magi - rather than listening to an angel and just not going back to Herod - could have gone back to him and lied, told him the child died in childbirth. The angel could have gone to Herod and told him to please not do a massacre today. God could have just smashed Herod into a million pieces.

In the real world, things are a bit different, but the concept remains the same.

I am very fortunate to have never had to experience this - to have never been in a position where I had to flee for my life. My family, though? My family on my father's side literally had to survive a war zone. There are more Lebanese folks in Brazil then there are in the Lebanon, and this exodus, this diaspora, featured hundreds of thousands of moments just like this painting - because of the wars brought into their lands by other people, decisions made by other polities, attitudes forged by decades if not centuries of ill will and hatred.

Nobody becomes a refugee because they want to.

The word "refugee" literally means "someone seeking refuge". Someone fleeing from somewhere unsafe. We humans have made a great many places unsafe, and almost all of that has happened because someone, somewhere, made a policy decision.

Fires, droughts, natural disasters. Scientists warned decision-makers, decision-makers listened to other people instead. Decisions got made. Awful things happened. People ran for their lives, and are still running for their lives. Countries and land masses burning or melting.

Despite World War One being "the war to end all wars" we have pretty much been at war continuously since then. Someone makes the decision to shoot where previously there was no shooting. Someone makes the decision to drop the bombs. The bombs fall. People run for their lives, and are still running for their lives. They flee to places that aren't burning or melting or being bombed, and those places...

...well, a lot of those places made money making sure their home got burned or melted or bombed - and is relying on a percentage of their citizens to hate outsiders enough to overwhelm their sympathy or pity for those fleeing destruction. No room here. No space here. No resources here. Plenty of resources for bombs and drills, none for people.

These things don't happen just because. They don't fall out of heaven, proclaimed by angels. They aren't fated, they aren't destined.

They happen because people make decisions.

We owe it to the entire world, let alone ourselves, to do what we can to stop those decisions leading to the massacre of innocents.

I don't have the answers as to how we do that. I'm just a blogger. What I do know is that it starts with a recognition as to where this starts; what follows is the will to make it change.

If you need to - look at her face again.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.