Saturday, May 18, 2013

Super Saturday: The Iron Man Movies

Since 3 has been out for a few weeks I thought I would go ahead and indulge myself with a  recounting of why I love these movies so much. You really need to see all 3 before reading this as I'm not going spoiler free here.I will issue a "Shameless Gushing Alert" though. You have been warned.

There are 3 comic book boxes in my house:
  • One is a grab-bag of stuff I've had forever, mostly Marvel, from Secret Wars to some Spider-Man to a bunch of X-Men I was sent by mistake in an Ebay deal. I have them mostly because I've had them.
  • One is a bunch of Avengers, including a nearly complete run of West Coast Avengers, which I really liked for a while, and its successor, Force Works
  • The most-packed is a box of Iron Man, from around issue 100 up to a little over 300, almost complete, and also a nearly full run of War Machine's first solo series.
Iron Man was my favorite from about the time I discovered him (in the single digits) onward. I liked plenty of other super hero types but he was a lesser-known guy (snobbery at an early age? most kids knew who he was, even if the grown-ups did not) that I thought was really cool.

So I heard they were doing a movie and I cringed - they'll change up something or the special effects will suck or the acting will be terrible. Remember, Superman and Batman had movies before I was born and were on TV all the time, cartoon and live action. Spiderman and Hulk and even Captain America were on TV too, again with cartoons and even some live action (70's live action - it wasn't great but it was there). Iron Man couldn't even get on Saturday morning when I was a kid. Now they're going to make a movie of him? I was afraid that besides being bad it would turn the character into a joke for the next 20 years.

Boy was I wrong.

I will say when I learned Robert Downey Jr. was going to play Tony Stark I thought he was an excellent choice within about 30 seconds of hearing it. So, why is the first movie so awesome?

  • They get the origin story right. Eve the update from 'Nam to Afghanistan is perfect
  • The villain is right out of IM200, one of the signature moments in the 80's Iron Man books, and they didn't screw him up
  • The supporting characters are right out of the comics as well, and handled just perfectly
  • They got the suit right. This is a huge deal.
  • They got the right actor for the main part. Christopher Reeve fit like this. Hugh Jackman was basically an unknown before Wolverine, befitting the mysterious past of the character and slipped right into it. Downey was all too well known, mostly for being a brilliant failure on some level, and this carried into the part perfectly. It seems like this would be the #1 concern but it isn't always - remember the first time you heard about who was going to be Batman in that big new movie? Michael Keaton? I think there's still a faint question mark hovering over my head from that. They got it right this time.
  • Little nods to the fans count for something too: Ten Rings, "Next Time", etc.
  • Changing things up at the end with "I am Iron Man" - now you've managed to show respect for the original material AND open things up completely for the future. The closest thing I can think of to how this was handled was the Trek reboot of 2009 and I liked that too.

Iron Man 2 - some people don't like it. I like it just fine. Why?
  • We open with natural consequences of the unmasking at the end of the first movie with Congressional hearings and a Russian named Vanko building a rival technology.
  • Lots of nods to history - Vanko (the original Crimson Dynamo), Rhodes finally getting into the action, Justin Hammer showing up - lots of that kind of thing.
  • They worked in Iron Man's Briefcase AND the Silver and Red armor in one scene! It's so far beyond my expectations at that point that right there in the theater I was ready to anoint it greatest super-movie ever!
  • Nods to the camera: "I'm here, deal with it" for the recast Rhodey's first scene.
  • Black Widow shows up, much like she did in the comics: pretty face first, action heroine later.
  • Finally, that big finale with IM and WM back to back - when the masks clang shut the second peak of the film hits for me - it looks like a comic book cover, then it looks like a two-page spread as they take down a horde of robots together. Yeah!
No, not that one!

No, not that one either!

Yeah, that one!

Iron Man 3 - the Big Finish

  • We open with consequences again - this time from that other movie, and more personal than public at first
  • Usually introducing a kid into a movie series is a terrible ting - see that last Zorro sequel for all the franchise-wrecking evidence you should need - but it worked in this one. And it was temporary.
  • Not a huge fan of the overheated armor-ripping badguys but it worked OK for the story and it is a comic-book movie.
  • Thought the house-wrecking scene was really well done, better than I expected from all of those trailers.
Sniff .. it brings a tear to my eye! Why can't all comic book movies be like this?
  • The Mandarin thing ... yeah I was pretty shocked as I thought the whole terrorist angle was going to be epic and very modern. Guess not in some ways, a little too "modern" in others, but I appreciate the ability to be shocked by a movie - it doesn't happen much anymore. So I'll call it a draw.
  • Tony Stark investigates a mystery and solves it! How very much like the comic character, especially the early years of the comic books! There's more detective work here than in some of the recent Batman movies!

  • Our nod to history here is to Iron Man #300 where Ultimo resurfaces and Tony gets his crew together - Pepper, Happy, Rhodey, everybody - and has them suit up to fight it. So in the movie it's just the suits (well, Pepper does get to use one) but the visuals are the same. That kind of thing doesn't happen by accident.
  • It ends as appropriately as any superhero movie I've ever seen, especially for a trilogy. It finishes the story and as a side effect pretty much brings the movie character up to date with the comic character in most ways.
Iron Patriot - Beta version
So yes, I liked them. The feeling that somebody gets it and then does it right is a good one to have, and it's all over these movies. The combination of actors, characters, stories, villains, effects, and a general paying of attention to the source material puts them at the pinnacle of the comic book movie pile for me. The Avengers is just the cherry on top. It might not go on forever but it's incredibly good right now.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Overreaction Friday: Pre-Order Your Special Kickstarter Stretch Goal Preview Now!

Wow, seems like at least half of the blogs I visit semi-regularly are selling something directly, or via DriveThru RPG, or are pushing a Kickstarter of some kind. Sheesh. I'm all for people putting out good material but there are a lot of products being thrown out lately.

Selling stuff directly: I'm still amazed at what people will pay for a tweaked version of old D&D rules. Is it nostalgia? You could buy several decent copies of the original D&D books for what people are paying - sometimes for the price of the PDF option! Adventures I get, but core rules ... I don't know. This mostly seems to be an OSR thing but in the early days of that it was a big deal to put "your" version out there on the web for free. Now it seems to be some kind of deluxe printed box set thing. I suppose if there's enough demand for it, why not, but it seems like a reach to me.

DriveThru RPG: PDF's are everywhere and lord know I've bought plenty of them, but some of them are a little weak. I see people selling single character writeups for $1, mainly for superhero games. Do those sell? I mean, would you spend a dollar for a single character that you could make yourself in maybe 10 minutes? Especially characters for games like ICONS - the only thing I can't instantly do myself is the art, and it's not terribly difficult to find character/superhero art online, from Google to Heromachine. Again, adventures for existing games, rules for completely new games, I get all that, but a lot of the lower end stuff just baffles me.

Kickstarter: Well that got pretty popular in the last two to three years and now it's tricky to keep up with everything  that's going on. "Back this, back that" - there's something new dern near every day. Now I like KS - I like the approach, I like the concept, I like that it lets some things get created that might not otherwise. Some are great, some fail utterly. I've backed a few and I've been pretty happy with those. Others have at least been entertaining to observe. The only thing that is starting to bug me is the regular cross-promotion of another KS project in an update for another! What's supposed to be an update for KS X ends up shilling for someone else's KS Y! Not a huge thing, and I get the whole cross-promotion thing, but c'mon. Between the blogs, the company pages, and the forum and email signatures it seems inescapable.

 Not everyone is a fan
General Observation 1: A lot of the material found online used to be stuff from someone's campaign. A lot of what is coming out now seems to be written specifically for sale. There's so much material coming out that I wonder how much of it is actually playtested before it is published? Of those I wonder how many are tried by at least two different groups, with at least one of those GM's being someone besides the author? To me that seems like the minimum for actual "testing" but I doubt everyone feels the same way. As far as just writing something up and throwing it out there - why should I pay for that? Anyone with a computer can do it and ideas are cheap - polish, especially in the case of an adventure - is something worth paying for.

General Observation 2: Once someone tries to monetize this hobby, there seems to be a shockingly high number of family and personal emergencies that occur. Or maybe they happen all the time and we don't hear about them until they have a kickstarter or a preorder to fulfill. Is it the Curse of the Kickstarter?

This came up in a search for Kickstarter, so I thought I would add it to the page

So, to the point:

  • I won't be selling anything on the blog. The day job covers the income needs, and trying to sell hobby stuff turns the hobby into another job, for me anyway. With the aforementioned day job, and the family stuff taking up time, I'd rather spend my free time doing  stuff and playing games than doing more work. Plus it would turn "doing kid stuff" from a friendly Facebook update into an excuse as to why Chapter XX isn't completed yet. That doesn't sound like fun at all. Anything I put together and decide to share will be here and it will be free, simple, and completely unprofessional. I don't have a burning desire to be a gaming professional so that's what you will get.
  • I won't be putting any PDF's up on DTRPG either. I've put PDF's of a few things up here, linked to Dropbox, and that's about the extent of it. I know there are free PDFs on there, but if I'm not planning on selling anything then it seems like a waste of time to set all that up.
  • I'm not running any Kickstarters either. Really! I may be the last person who isn't, but it's true!
  • I don't work for a game company, in any capacity.
  • I won't be putting ads into the blog either. I don't like them, and if I did that to my own site then I couldn't complain about them on other sites with a clear conscience. So no ads here.
Now now it's not that bad. Yet.
Corner Cases: I actually backed off some from talking about Kickstarters on here because they're all over everything else. The most I will do is occasionally mention one that is directly tied in to a game I play AND is something I think is cool. D&D, LL, M&M, ICONS, Marvel - the usual suspects. Rest assured I have no involvement in them other than as a player of the game in question. Same with other new stuff - part 2 of Stonehell is coming some day, Emerald City for M&M is coming some day ... I'll be watching for both of those. I may review something that came from a kickstarter, but I'm not going to get into what I'm backing or what I am not at any given time- I don't think it matters that much.

What I Do ... Do: I've become a big believer in Actual Play: Theory is cheap and there's plenty of it already online. Interesting characters come from actual play. Interesting plots come from actual play. Interesting settings come from actual play. Interesting adventures come from actual play. That's the kind of thing I want to see, so that's what I will post here: From those April characters to the Random Female Bystander Generator to my one short adventure to the Extremely Expert DM Advice, it all comes from actually playing and running games. It's mainly for myself as a record of what I've been doing at any given time, but if it turns out to be useful to someone else then that's even better.

This came up in the same search - I didn't realize they had Kickstarters for bikinis, but they do. End on a high note, right?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Modern Marvels - Session 2 "Into the Savage Land"

We open with a Transition Scene: Knowing they were dealing with a magical artifact the team contacted the only expert they knew - Dr. Stephen Strange. He traced the location of the item to Antarctica but could not pinpoint it. He offered to teleport the heroes but admitted he was not sure he could return them given the fuzziness of the signal. He gave them a card - "Nick Fury - Director of SHIELD" - and suggested that they contact this person and explain the situation. He would be interested in the situation and it was likely he could provide transport.
I decided Strange was at least sort-of-known as an expert on the occult to local NYC heroes, even the new ones.

Meeting with Mr. Fury the next morning he had already talked to Strange and agreed that the threat should be pursued. He shares that he has a file on all three of them and is willing to "deputize" them and provide them with transport to the Antarctic. 

Castle bows out at this point - he has a war to wage here, not at the other end of the world.
Apprentice Who decided that he wanted to take a different hero for this mission

Iron Man says he has to check in with his employer first and heads out. 
Apprentice Red had to go to work earlier so he was not available

Fury announces he's bringing in another "resource" to help out as he doesn't want Panther going alone and can;t spare any of his normal agents. He introduces T'Challa to Peter Rasputin, code name "Colossus". They jump into a (Flying Car? Does SHIELD still use those? Momentary confusion, ended up giving them something like a quinjet. I figure it's an earlier version that Stark has developed and the more advanced one will eventually end up used by the Avengers.) SHIELD jet and head south - waaay south!

Apprentice Who decided he wanted to try out Colossus instead of Punisher so now we have an interesting situation where Colossus has ties to Nick Fury and SHIELD - do the other X-Men fit into this too or is it just Peter? What about Professor X? Is SHIELD behind the X-Men somehow? We will have to explore this some more down the road a bit.

The estimated location of the Serpent Crown has been loaded into the S-Jet's Nav system so navigation is not an issue. Panther makes an easy Vehicles check against the Doom Pool. 

Unexpectedly, in the middle of the icy wasteland the whiteness gives way to a verdant green valley! This is where the Crown is located! Is it responsible for this tremendous climate change?

Attempting to get the lay of the land they spot 3 areas of interest: a mountain with a skull carved into it, something that looks like some kind of ice fortress, and something that looks like a modern-ish installation. The jet is acting up so they decide to land an equal distance from all three structures to minimize travel time. The VTOL system engages and they land in a clearing, in the jungle ... in the middle of what should be Antarctica.
Scene Distinctions now in effect: "Dense Jungle" and "Dangerous Flora and Fauna"

Feeling that the jungle is at least something like familiar territory, however unexpected, Black Panther debarks the jet and climbs a tree to take a look around. Colossus loiters near the jet and is suddenly jumped by 3 velociraptors! Shifting to metal form the "Russian Farmboy" uproots a nearby tree and tree-slaps all 3 of them into next week! Panther looks down in amazement - he didn't even have time to jump out of the tree.
This was creative action and an awesome roll by Who backed up by some pretty vivid descriptions of what he was doing and a nice justification of how  "Russian Farmboy" applies to fighting dinosaurs in Antarctic jungles. The answer is that he pulled up a lot of trees working on the farm and used to swing them around like baseball bats for fun - sounds good to me!

Fortunately for Panther's ego, 3 more raptors emerge from the jungle, this time circling and approaching more warily "Surrounding" the metal man. (Imposing the "Surrounded" condition on Colossus) Panther leaps out of the trees, sinking his daggers into one of the beasts - he's never fought dinosaurs so he's not taking any chances.

Line of the night, Apprentice Blaster:"... that's a d6 Weapon for my daggers because I'm going to stab him, then a d8 for Enhanced Strength, because, uh, I'm going to stab him really hard ..."

The remaining 2 dinos attack Colossus whose steely skin resists their tearing teeth.
Apprentice Who learns the awesomeness of the "Invulnerable" SFX: Spend a Plot Point to ignore physical stress or trauma unless caused by electromagnetic effects" - yeah. The dinos don't have a chance after that. The kid gets pretty giddy because he has about 5 Plot Points when he discovers that.

Colossus finally gets to go and sensing his chance he leaps into the air, snatches a Pterodactyl, lands back on the ground, and proceeds to beat a raptor senseless with it.

He wants to use the "Dangerous Flora and Fauna scene distinction to do this - WTF? I made a face, and then it was pointed out to me that he's playing a metal man fighting dinosaurs in a jungle in the middle of antarctica. I decided to allow it Heck, that one is right out of the basic book and dangerous doesn't have to mean only to the player characters..

Black Panther goes next and throws a dagger "really hard" and takes down the remaining raptor.
T'Challa is pretty vicious in melee

Raptors handled, the heroes turn to discover the face of a huge T-Rex peering at them from behind some trees - then it emerges from those tress and steps on their jet!

"Threat to Wakanda!"
'Denied! - with the jet destroyed he's stuck here just like you so Wakanda is safe!"

Colossus is kicked like a football into the jungle when the beast charges. Panther runs up the dino's back and looks for a good place to execute his tried and true anti-dinosaur strategy. Then with a roar of full-throttle boot jets, Iron Man flies in!
Apprentice Red is home now and jumps right in!

The Unibeam charges up and unloads - doing absolutely nothing! Those Rexes are deceptively quick! 

A ferocious furball of snapping jaws of giant teeth, punching metal fists, stabbing daggers, and more metal punches end with a T-Rex on the ground and 3 slightly battered heroes still standing  The Doom Pool ends at 2d6 and a d10. In the distance, three interesting structures beckon ...

Notes: Progress continues and this one went much smoother. The basics are down. I added the scene distinctions this time and they actually saw use! I am using elements of both the campaign I mentioned in Session 1 and the material in the basic rulebook that is Act 2 of Breakout - if you have it you might as well use it!

Blaster got in a bit of a rut with Panther's dagger attacks and I pointed out he might as well play Wolverine, but he did handle the plane stuff and did some scouting around as well.

Plot Points flowed freely - Apprentice Who rolled three "1's" at one point - and the Doom Pool was rising. Who sat on his quite a bit to keep his new favorite ability going. Red and Blaster got pretty comfortable with theirs, spending them on stunts and adding in extra total dice too.

I really like the concept of "Scene Distinctions" as a way to include the setting and the scenery in the game mechanically. I think any location deserves at least one and they will be a part of my notes from now on.

I'm still figuring out Complications. I went with "Surrounded" as the three dinos closed in but as soon as Panther dropped one the question came up: Is he still surrounded with only two? I said he was but then once we're down to one it doesn't really make sense anymore. There's a fairly subtle note there that I think a complication really has to apply only to the target, without requiring anything further of the inflicting party, or it can fall apart in the next round. Typically I think the target should have to use some kind of effect to offset or counter the Complication but against weaker foes it may just be easier and quicker to wipe them out in spite of the complication, rather than wasting a round to undo it. I need more practice here.

I also need more practice sing Hordes (like the raptors) and Large Threats (like the T-Rex) as I thought it was all clear then once the game started I got a little fuzzy on how it all worked. I'm sure we will see more of each type. 

Finally, we all  still keep forgetting to use an opponent's condition against them. Hopefully we will get past this eventually.

The best part - we kept laughing all through the game as it was a blast. Something about the Marvel thing combined with the mechanics of the game leads to a very different atmosphere when we're playing this one, even over ICONS and it's fairly relaxed structure. I think it's that Marvel is something we all are familiar with to some degree and so we all "get it" when someone makes a reference or does something interesting with a "known" character. I can't really pin it down just yet but it's just a lot of fun.

Next up: Exploring the Savage Lands! What could they possibly find down there?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Random Nearby Vehicle Generator

How relevant is this? Looks like they've been throwing cars since the beginning!
Along a similar line of thinking as last week's Random Female Bystander Generator I give you another occasionally useful gap-filler: The Random Nearby Vehicle Generator! Sure, it's not quite as much fun as hitting on helpless NPC's but it can add a little color to your fight the next time the brick wants to throw a car at someone. Dress up those otherwise dull descriptions of everyone's favorite improvised weapon with the tables below:

What is the closest vehicle to the character?
1 Compact Car (Civic, Corolla, Focus, Beetle, 1-Series, Soul)
2 Average Car (Accord, Camry, Taurus, Malibu, Mustang, 3-Series, )
3 Large Car (Town Car, Crown Victoria, S-Class)
4 Minivan/Small SUV (Caravan, Odyssey, Escape, Liberty, RAV4, X3)
5 Pickup/Large SUV (F-150, Silverado, Explorer, Tahoe, G-Wagen, Hummer)
6 Special

This should cover most of the vehicles on the road with #6 allowing for the unusual stuff. When interacting with vehicles in an RPG one important consideration is weight: Compacts weight from a little less than a ton to about a ton and a half, Average runs about a ton and a half to two tons, Large runs two tons plus, Minivans and small SUV's run about one and a half to two and a half, Pickups run about two and a half to four, while Hummers are three tons plus. So yes, sometimes strength matters a great deal, at least for non-bricks. 

There's no tank on the table. Those aren't really a random kind of thing in most cities.

Special Vehicle Table
1 Motorcycle
2 Classic Car/Exotic Car ('57 Chevy, '65 Mustang, Ferarri 455, Lamborghini Diablo)
3 Limousene
4 Bus (City/School/Tour/Greyhound)
5 Cement Tuck/Garbage Truck/Dump Truck/Fire Truck
6 18-Wheeler (Box Trailer, Flatbed Trailer, Tanker Trailer)

This set of options should pretty much cover everything else. Motorcycles are typically less than half a ton, Limos are generally two tons plus, a bus weighs 10-20 tons, a cement truck weighs 10-35 tons, the traditional garbage truck weighs 20-30 tons,  dump trucks are 10-40 tons, fire trucks are 15-30, the cab of an 18-wheeler weighs 10-15 tons and can haul up to 40 tons.

Lift with the legs!

What color is it? (2d6)
2 Primered/so dirty you can’t tell
3 Gold
4 Green
5 Red
6 Black
7 White
8 Silver
9 Blue
10 Yellow
11 Orange
12 Unusual Paint Job

Unusual Paint Jobs
1-2 Metallic (roll again for color)
3 Stripes! - roll again for colors
4 Logo or ad-wrap - pick a local company or organization
5-6 Multicolored - roll again twice

Should cover it, edit to taste. Based on some of the more recent reports as to the most popular colors of new cars.

Lift with the ... yeah

Distinctive Feature
1 Smoking, probably sounds bad too
2 Thumping Stereo
3 Custom Wheels
4 Dark Tinted Windows
5 Lowered or Lifted
6 Custom Exhaust - kinda loud

Use as necessary to embellish. You might not find a thumping stereo on a cement truck, but then again you might.

Looks like we're going to need to use Extra Effort

1 Pristine - looks brand new
2-4 Looks pretty good
5 Battered, beaten, used hard
6 Rustbucket

It may not happen a lot but your players will remember for a long time the day they ran into a rustbucket Ferrari.

Call it half of normal vehicle weight

Think of this as an opportunity to throw a little bystander roleplaying into a combat encounter because every one of them has a driver somewhere. Maybe the exotic car driver is an associate of the millionaire secret ID of one of the players. Maybe the hapless dependent NPC of a character just happens to be sitting there in their car. Maybe the female cement truck driver starts arguing with the brick about just what he is up to. Maybe the worried classic car driver asks one of the PC's to move his baby to safety. Is the bus full of senior citizens on a tour or are they really Viper agents in disguise waiting to unload a full broadside on the unsuspecting heroes - those "hunteds" or enemy complications can be a real pain sometimes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Motivational Monday

... well, MAD scientists anyway.