Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Witcher Series

I was going to call it a TV series, but since it's on Netflix is it really TV? I suppose the format is very similar.

The series is ok. I've not played the games or read the books, so it might be goring sacred cows left and right. I've watched six of the eight episodes. The tone is all over the place. Bits are so baldly comedic they feel like they were lifted from that old Wizards and Warriors TV show. Other parts have that ugly darkness you'd expect from the IP's reputation. The CGI ranges from nicely subtle to laughably bad. Ditto for the casting and for the costuming. It keeps trying to have emotional payoff without actually earning it. I fear fans are going to be horribly disappointed, but I'm enjoying it (though chiefly as fun but disposable entertainment).

Henry Cavill's a bit one-note as Geralt, but he oozes charisma. He's not nearly as interesting, however, as either Ciri or Yennefer. Though watching Yennefer flail about with sword and dagger seems a bit meh after you've seen her do all this. I mean, how the heck is Netflix supposed to top death by magical raven punching its way through someone's skull?

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Stat Blocks and Table Space

On a post from 2015, Ruprecht recently asked:

I'm curious what people think about the way the modules are handled. They just say Knight (for example) and the DM is expected to look up the Knight statblock in the back of the monster manual. This is brilliant to save space but seems less useful at the table.

This is easily one of the areas where OSR publications stomp all over WotC's stuff: ease of use at the table. An A5 size book with a good binding is easy to use and doesn't eat up nearly the table real estate that 5e's core books and adventures take up. Plus, in the best OSR stuff, the stat blocks and maps are all there on one page for you.

Compare to trying to run an official 5e adventure. You'll have the adventure itself, a big coffee-table tome with the adventure itself. And you'll be flipping back-and-forth because the maps are pages away from the keyed descriptions. And, as Ruprecht points out, you'll also want the MM with you to look up any foes the PCs might encounter.

But wait, there's more! Because you'll also need the PHB so you can look up the details on the spells everyone is going to be casting. And maybe Xanathar's as well, if someone is using stuff from that book. Luckily, you'll only need to flip back and forth in the MM if the encounter includes more than one type of monster. You'll be flipping a bit in the adventure book, and a LOT in the PHB. (Gift idea for the DM in your life: a pad of post-its they can use to mark important pages in all these books!) Which means your DM is going to be taking up twice to three-times the space of a player. Oh, wait, but we forgot about any notes the DM might have written down. Or space to roll dice!

This is extremely sub-optimal, but unlikely to change. Current RPG tastes dictate the complex stat blocks and rules, as well as the honkin' big books as the standard for AAA RPGs (and this is after WotC made a big deal about simplifying D&D).

Due to the extreme unwieldiness and generally meh contents, I've not felt the need to run one of the official adventures. But I do know people who are, and I can probably get some more info from them on how they're finding it.

Monday, December 02, 2019

More Probably Completely Incorrect Musings on the D&D Movie

So we got new info! Joining our hero, Raven Hightower, will be the gnome thief Olivan Trickfoot and the “half-dragon” Hack Karroway.

Olivan is clearly the comedic sidekick here, and probably the “Smart Guy.” Hack is… well, what exactly do they mean by “half-dragon” anyway?

Depending on how accurately they’re using the term, we could be talking about a sorcerer with dragon’s blood in his veins. But with a name like “Hack” that’s probably not the direction they’re going with.

In ye olden days, I’d assume a human sorcerer with some scales on the back of his arms and maybe cheeks, but CGI is so good now they could totally mean a dragonborn. (They could also mean a literal half-dragon, but I don’t think we’ve seen an official version in 5e yet? In any case…) Such a hulking CGI mass of scales, fangs, and horns would obviously be the “Big Guy” and, if the writers have some skill at dialogue, would share comedic duties with the gnome in classic big-guy-and-little-guy fashion.

Our final good-guy is “a masked warrior named Alyssa Steelsong who is set to take over Palarandusk's role [as leader of a group of Triadic Knights] when the dragon dies.”

I cannot express how much this riles up my cynicism, which expects Steelsong to only wear the mask long enough to defeat a gang of villainous flunkies before doffing her mask to reveal OMG-a-woman-warrior-unpossible!!! Somehow, I doubt this option will have much impact a full quarter-century after the debut of Xena: Warrior Princess. (Yep, 25 years ago come 2020!) We will then never see the mask again, and Steelsong will proceed to get her ass kicked in every fight for the rest of the movie, constantly needing to be rescued by Hightower. This will culminate in a climax where the arch-villain male drow Razer Horlbar threatens to kill her in exactly the same way he murdered Hightower’s sister.

In this version of things, Razer’s tiefling ally Damala (probably a spell-slinger of some flavor) ends up travelling with the heroes. Trickfoot and Hack will constantly be going on about how she can’t be trusted, but she won’t actually do anything sinister except behave in a vaguely femme-fatale fashion. In this case, Damala will be the Lancer and Steelsong will be the group’s Heart. If the crew isn’t careful, and they give her enough screen time and cast a skillful actress in Damala’s role, she’ll steal the show from Hightower and there will be clamor for a spin-off solo movie for Damala.

A more interesting option casts Steelsong as the Lancer. The mask will come out regularly, usually when she’s about to do some serious ass-kicking, and it will be quite clear that she’s more skilled as a warrior than Hightower. She’ll keep saying that she ought to be leading the mission, but Hack and Trickfoot will keep reminding her that she hasn’t earned their trust yet. Respect, sure, but that’s not enough to get them to follow her into the Abyss. Her time with the trio will be about teaching her to let go of her mask and allow herself to make real connections with others in order to be a more effective leader. The final climax will have her fighting against the Beast without her mask, possibly forcing her to rely on Trickfoot for survival and victory. 25% chance she chooses to betray the party at the end of the second act for what she thinks, at the time, is the greater good, but returns in the final battle to redeem herself.

In this case, the Heart of the group will be Hightower’s dead sister, who will appear to her brother in dreams and hallucinations (after he’s been knocked unconscious by drugs or blunt trauma to his skull) and impart vague words of wisdom or warnings. 10% chance she’s still alive, serving as a masked or veiled oracle for Razer or something similar. Very slim chance she’s an undead bodyguard for Razer and Hightower is forced to kill her just before he goes mano-y-mano with the drow.

Razer will likely look like Nightcrawler from the X-men movies or possibly like the pale elves from del Toro’s second Hellboy movie. Hack has a 50-50 chance of making it alive to the end of the movie. Too high a chance they’ll try to make Trickfoot into a furless Rocket Raccoon. If they give him goggles, gadgets, and a heavily sculpted “adorable” hairdo, consider it a warning.

No mention of good-guy spell-slingers. They don’t say what Hack is, so he could be a wizard, but that’s not the way to bet. Steelsong could be a paladin, but in any incarnation she likely won’t be slinging too many spells. Honestly, while it’s insane to consider a D&D party going after the relics of Vecna without a cleric, by keeping the spell-slingers to a minimum they reduce the need to explain how D&D magic works to casual viewers.