Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016 and the Year That Was

I'm several days late on getting some sort of end-of-year retrospective, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know, I suspect.

Way back in January 2016 I drew my D&D 5E campaign to a close.  This had been going initially as a way to try out the new rules, and lasted until then with a pretty dramatic climax.  At that point the Other Rob picked up the D&D ball and ran with it, doing his own 5E through the Fall.  That was a good game in many ways but to me illustrated the weaknesses of 5E high-level play and made me appreciate bailing out when I did.

But in addition to the regular "house" game, 2016 saw a lot of people get behind the GM screen.  Rachel ran her zombie game using the FATE system.  Emma did a one-shot of her own D&D story, and is talking about starting a club at her school.  John started up a regular game of d6 Star Wars, which had a strong start and is still going on.

a great photo of Rachel perched behind the GM screen

Somewhere wedged in there I ran a couple of off-book sessions with my kids of games like Marvel Heroic (the infamous "Deathwish Brigade") and Prowlers and Paragons.  This was partially to scratch my own GMing itch, partially to have some family fun, and partially to try out some rules.

I bought a few gaming books; Traveller, Champions Complete, Cold Steel Wardens, and Bash! to name a few.  A lot of supers games in there, but the irony is that I'm not sure I'm going to end up using any of them.

With Other Rob done last Fall, the "main game" slot has stood vacant.  Initially I proposed running Champions, inspired by some sentimentality and the release of the new Aaron Allston's Strike Force sourcebook.  This seems to be a real struggle however.  Two months, November and December, were lost educating people about rules, trying to explain PC creation, and the holidays.  Now it looks like I'm going to a brief hiatus in terms of gamemastering as personal issues take precedent.

So for now, a break, at least in terms of post-game reports.  Hopefully they will start up again soon.  In the meantime I'll consider what kind of content I can manage during this period.  Suggestions always welcome.

-WQRobb

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas


To all my blog readers and countless Russian spambots who think I'm a gambling site for some reason, Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why I'm afraid the Arrowverse may be jumping the shark

I don't usually critique TV shows on this blog, but I talk about about comic books and superheroes so I thought that it might be fun to jot down my thoughts (and concerns) about the foursome of superhero shows on the CW.

Of the four, I'm least concerned about Arrow, which is funny because if you had asked me last season I'd have said it was about done.  The hero/villain constellation of Damien Darhk and Oliver/Felicity just didn't do it for me and the show seemed poised to lose its edge.  Much like the old sitcom News Radio and Moonlighting, the fans might want to see the romantic tension resolved, but it's not what is best for the show.

Wiping that slate clean and introducing a slew of new characters, both heroic and villainous, brought a lot of new life to Arrow.  The new proteges deserve more time to develop, but they really helped put Arrow back on its feet.  Plus I'm kind of a sucker for non-Batman non-super DC characters.

The show that I'm feeling the most dread about is The Flash, which used to be my favorite.  Barry Allen was a delightfully retro superhero just as DC was cramming darker versions of their iconic characters in the New 52 and the gawdawful movies.  But there's several problems I see developing.  First, the arch-villains are getting tired.  Originally there was the Reverse Flash, and he's a threat because he's deadly and a faster speedster than the Flash.  Then there's Zoom, and he's even faster and more scary.  And now there's (help us) Savitar, and he's even faster and scarier and he looks like someone took the Michael Bay version of Ravage and made him a Flash villain.

And while each sort of has their own agenda, in the end they are all basically the same kind of villain--a malicious speedster.  Lackluster villains are a problem with the Flash mythos in general; they tend to be gimmicky mooks who really don't stand a chance against the Flash, or evil speedsters.  The show needs to find a way to create a compellingly threatening villain cast from a different mold.

They have also managed to give superpowers to every single character except Joe and Iris.  When Wally starts whining about not having powers, I actually thought he was being irrational until I realized that he was virtually the last one who didn't.  It's like the Flash is contagious.

And finally, and I realize that I might be in the minority about this, but I totally dislike Iris West.  It's a perfect storm of poor acting, zero chemistry, and lame storytelling. She's the poor man's Lois Lane, but not the cool Lois Lane, but the simpering Silver Age one.  I just keep thinking to myself, "how have the writers conveyed why Barry should be with her?"  Lois Lane is, in so many ways, Superman's equal.  Not in power, but in personality and conviction.  Clark Kent respects her.  The writers of Flash just figure because she's cute and they can do lots of close-ups of her wide-eyed stare that it'll all make sense.  But she spends most of the time harping, worrying, or getting into trouble.  Bleh.  Bring back Patty.

And finally, Flashpoint.  Flashpoint was a big deal in the DC universe, including a chance to trot out and explore some alternate-reality versions of classic DC characters.  If the TV show it was a two-episode wash to build a lot of dramatic tension about "how dare Barry muck about the time stream!"  The hardest part was having people give Barry grief for changing the lives that they have only known their whole lives.  Actually the really hardest part was watching the Legends give Barry grief about changing the time stream right after they crashed through the Reagan White House.  Pot, kettle.  More on them later.  Instead of having the chance to freshen up some things, or at least explore some off-track plotlines, Flashpoint instead became the cause of a lot of really overblown emotional drama that sometimes didn't ring true.

How to fix The Flash?  Build a villain with a real backstory who is not a speedster.  Give him or her three dimensions.  Introduce a new love interest.  Don't give Joe powers.

And finally, the Legends of Tomorrow (I'll write about Supergirl later).  A lot of people thought they would become the Justice League or the Justice Society, but they are not.  They are the Doom Patrol.  Crossed with Doctor Who.

Did someone say "Doctor Doom"?  No?  Okay I'll leave...
Low powered, oft-beligerent misfits of the superhero world?  That's the Doom Patrol.  I would love to see the Doom Patrol in the Arrowverse, as a side note.  But anyways, what I can not figure out is why they whittled out Hawkgirl and Captain Cold (although the latter appears to be an issue with the availability of the actor) and put in another chipper, naive, square-jawed white guy.  Who, by the way, is substantially more powerful than the rest of the team.  And has the dorkiest costume of the Arrowverse, which is saying a lot.  We already had Ray Palmer (and the show has already highlighted their similarities).  Even weirder, Steel appears to be the "tentpole" character, the one that the audience is supposed to identify with.  I never got into Rip Hunter, mostly because he felt a little too much like a bitter, snarky Doctor Who (not helped by having the actor they did, and constantly calling Heatwave "Rory") but there are plenty of other ways to have a historian on the team.  And as the "contrast" character to the hoodlums on the team, well you already had that).

(And can I just say that I actually liked the DC Comics version of Steel.  The dorky mohawk headgear made sense when you realized he was a totally pre-packaged farce of a patriotic hero, forced into the role by a domineering father.)

Then there's the whole time-travel thing.  I find time-travel problematic as a plot device in any genre, and the Arrowverse is saturated in it.  With a new time-frame for every episode, it is starting to feel gimmicky and as a way to pad-out what is often a pretty thin plot.  Plus you're going to run out of options after a while.  Just on the American side you've already had the 1860's, the 1880's, the 1920's, the 1940's, the 1950's, the 1970's, the 1980's, and the dystopic future.  Actually there are several of those.  So what's left?  The American Revolutionary War.  The Victorian era (doubtless with either a gothic horror or steampunk twist).  The Great Depression.  The show already did the archtypical cultural indicator (aka stereotype) episodes of non-American venues with the Russian gulag and Japanese samurai.

My answer?  Ditch the time-traveling gimmick and rename the team.  The Outsiders is available.  Put them on the weird pseudo-science fringe of the Arrowverse, rather than the front-and-center superhero team.  Start bringing in the bizarre wing of the DC Universe.  Not campy (at least, not much), but there is plenty to work with out there. In their second season they have been relying too much on retread villains and time travel, and it isn't working.

And bring Captain Cold back.

Okay, that's plenty of ranting for now.  Comments welcome.

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