Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hereditary & Midsommar

The films are mirror images of each other. There's an obsession with sacrifices made by fire. Cults and manipulation in the face of grief. There's a formula:
  1. Messy family trauma played realistically
  2. Loud crying scene
  3. Cult enters; first signs of cult
  4. Cult influence and horrid intentions become more obvious
  5. Total abandonment of reality as cult reigns supreme 
Like "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Wicker Man" pretty much but with family trauma and loud crying scene upfront. The contrast between grief and the supernatural is what "Hereditary" receives praise for. I think both films don't stick the ending.

"Hereditary" has a perceived resolution with the Mom hanging above her son (Peter) and cutting her own head off with piano wire.  Unlike my mom who would never do that. In "Midsommar" the main character watches her boyfriend burn alive in a bear suit.

I think it's about the cult in both cases-- in "Hereditary", the cult is mostly invisible, and therefore their web of power can be easily imagined. The supernatural flourishes in the dark. In "Midsommar", the cult is very visible.

"Midsommar"s visibility leads to a lot of beautiful and striking crowd scenes. It's all shot in a giant field which, by the end, feels claustrophobic. The utter presence of every building in every exterior shot is a notable accomplishment for the filmmakers.

However, the acts of violence that start piling up feel too extreme for the Swedes. By the end it's a horror movie bloodbath. What we deserved was a more nuanced and realistic tale.

It's a case where utter visibility defines, for me, stricter requirements for my belief.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Collected Silent Titans Play Reports

Collected Silent Titans Play Reports, Spring/Summer 2019

Session 1:
OK SILENT TITANS PLAY REPORT... DRUNK DRUNK DRUNK... THE "TIME TORNADO" NEAR-IMPOSSIBLE TO DESCRIBE... FRIEND BRINGS OUT KNIFE... IS THIS THE END OF OUR SOCIAL CIRCLE?

Session 2:

Play report of 2nd session of SILENT TITANS.... folks wander around wir-heal.

NOTES ON WIR-HEAL:

  • it became obvious that is hard to leave wir-heal, due to the travelling mechanic. There's only two spots to get to the "southern border" which you have to roll randomly. In addition tracking your own location can be difficult.
  • Court of wapentake happened, went pretty well, fairly disheartening for the convicted player who was sentenced to the gibbet for killing a pig child
  • Near end of session: court of wassail overturned this conviction, freeing the player character (after the player had already made a new character)
  • Players got separated within wir-heal, to avoid too much b.s. gonna start off new session "you all found your way back to legion's fort"
  • They were on a quest from the Cathedral of the Duck to check on the other two churches, they will be rewarded 5 shillings on return to Legion's Fort

Session 3:

 SESSION SUMMARIZATION: They go into R8-BY in search of lost memories after speaking to NPCs about titan-lore. There they find the Wraeca, a scrambled ghost of one PC... after some trouble with the Court of Wapentake this Wraeca is sentenced to "crawl" on all fours for a year.

The Wraeca leads the party to R8-BY's Titan Mouth. Within the titan/dungeon they defeat a giant screaming owl and some associated ghosts... The environment: flooded libraries and stained-glass angel doors.

It takes them a while to understand, but they learn they can open the dungeon's doors with eyes stolen from cephalopod monsters. Wandering further in the Titan, they feed milky fluid to some ghosts and listen to lore-fragments from a giant damaged android. They climb to a central room full of damaged cephalopods. Striking battle there to claim more cephalopod eyes, they win, but are damaged. They choose to retreat from the dungeon.

On the way out they are harassed by ghosts and sadly a PC is lost. They head back to legion's fort, numbering one less...

PLAY/MECHANICAL NOTES:
  • they are learning how to navigate Wir-Heal surprisingly fast, and I think the navigation system is reliably providing strange picaresque elements as well as a melancholy doom.
  • the R8-BY titan went very well, considering the bizarre elements. I really thought the tone came across, and the descriptions went well! Christian Kessler's layout was generally helpful, I just read from the specific notes when they wanted more information. ((should take more time to analyze this later)). Flipping back forth to the monster stats was an issue although a minor one.
  • players were appropriately confused by R8-BY's eternally flooding room, not by first encounter but by their second.
  • I didn't realize until later, but I was misusing the table with the talking damaged android. I was summing all the d8+mods and reading one entry/turn instead of using each d8+mod to read one entry for a total of 3 entries per turn.
  •  I used the R8By map, printed out full color, with unexplored segments of the map covered with scrap paper. It worked really well, particularly bc the more straightforward elements like the hallways and doors are very clear and simple. (there's a picture below)

(I used scraps of an extra copy of the ravens dungeon map to cover the unexplored parts of the R8-By map)
  • I think I'm good at running npcs now as a dm. I should also commend the text. The Wraeca seemed like a challenge to run when I first read it, but I found that the loose and shallow amount of information provided encouraged me to rp the character as glitchy and confused, which is exactly how it should be.
  • the combat; one player (who's pc died) complained that they don't know if they really like it. We had some ambiguity about Critical Damage. I'm generally very generous with initative. Lots of ghosts wrestling each other in this session.
  • overall this game is going very well. The mechanical elements flow smoothly, nothing takes too long as far as I'm concerned. Both wir-heal and the Titan function well, and the Titan in particular is exploding with bizarre detail. I'm having much less trouble describing this detail than I initally feared.

xxxxxxxxAs for difficulty: Into the Odd combat seems to lead to escalating stakes as PCs start taking Critical Damage. IF the last PC is knocked out, everyone dies, but if they kill the monster first, everyone recovers quickly. There was at least one time where one die roll would decide whether everyone died or everyone was fine. I consider one PC death after a dungeon delve to be pretty good result in terms of player demoralization, not too bad.

Silent Titans Session 4:

ok we dropped silent titans gonna do a veins of the earth campaign instead

:/ basically we concluded that the wir-heal navigation system + random encounters was bullshit having to repeat dense adjective-laden prose on a random, frustratin basis, and then encounter one of two wandering Courts, was kinda bullshit like. it just got tiresome after they figured it out, and involved a lot of guessing and for me, stumbling though a lot of dense prose :/

Sunday, June 16, 2019

how my silent titans game crashed and burned

"I stopped paying attention because every time I looked up you were struggling with a series of adjectives"- my friend

The overland exploration part of the Silent Titan is pretty busted. You get to choose between two random paths; the paths themselves are described via complex pieces of prose:

Some examples.

Some of these are a little hard for me to visualize, let alone describe. "Escher-maze of cracked concrete steps."

And the courts kept showing up-- Court of Wapentake, Court of Wassail. 2 primary entries on the random encounter table. Good the first time but stopped being weird and started being repetitive. Not much was happening between iterations of mock trials, parades, and Ouzel visits.

It feels like a failure of with the system. Wir-Heal can be weird to navigate but it shouldn't be onerous and repetitive.

It would also be better if the paths you could take were more succinctly described as paths and not just landscapes. "Do you head over towards the gogmagogic buildings or the dense maquis?" Along with the vocabulary and diction it's a clear case of style over function.

The paths they took would often lead right back to where they started, which grew frustrating. It felt like a slot machine where most results were boring, creating boring gameplay.

Things I should have done to save the game:

  • Not just read the prose describing the paths, but rather use the prose to inspire some simpler options. (In retrospect, I did this: "Tarmac paths or concrete steps"- but it was too late?)
  • Fudge the results on the random encounter table to achieve more interesting results.
  • Completely substitute the navigation system as soon as it stopped working. 
  • The players were trying to ask locals for directions, which I resisted giving. 
 I also think the players could have been more inspired to find the titan's mouths. That might have ameliorated the aimless frustration. 


How it crashed and burned: the end of the 4th session I realized all the business with the tables and rolling options and being marble-mouthed at the prose wasn't working out, and we the gaming group decided to play something else... another Veins of the Earth campaign.

Ironically I'm having similar overworld journey struggles with the exploration rules in Veins, the setting thereof being a giant series of underground caverns.
My new overworld map for Veins.

Navigation in strange environments probably a continuing difficulty for roleplaying game's mechanics... blogosphere dead, unable to sort it out... Nonetheless I'm applying best principles and dropping a massive amount of preparation which has shown itself as unworkable.

I used to get heartbreak over this kind of thing, reading a big beautiful rpg book, preparing for weeks, and then not getting to use most of it... Difficulties in the rpgtext forbidding an ultimate experience. Well I've been through enough to not be too troubled. Maybe it will work out next time.

Friday, May 24, 2019

SILENT TITANS PRELIMINARY REVIEW

"Silent Titans" is kind of like if Joyce's "Ulyssess" was a rpg, same islander's speculative take, a lot of wandering through shitty beaches. Have not covered an actual Titan proper in my game, outside of the first one, Chronos, where the book has you start.

Properly speaking, it's worth your $50, because the book is a3, (a4?), and has good art in it, and has good writing. That's all it takes being worth as much.

The game itself: I haven't gotten to the dungeons/titans yet. I wrote Chris Kessler, the layout designer, a bunch of questions as I read it for the first time. The room labelled #1 is where the PC's start off in. The tubes in Hilb are hallways. Sometimes a bullet point is in the wrong place. I got all mad about the overmap but it's working great as a play-aid.

I printed out all the maps using my work printer, in color, the players loves them. Character creation is lovely. The gang is wandering around Wir-Heal and one got captured by the Court of Wapentake.

Big weird-o's are the combat, which is quick, area weapons are crazy good. Does the keyword "fast" mean they get to act twice? What about "slow"? This is not a book which, as a design choice, makes sure to define every little thing. The navigation system inside Wir-Heal is quite strange and provokes some dictionary lookups.

The navigation system essentially has you experience what I imagine, quaintly enough, Patrick experiences wandering around the post-industrial landscape of his homeworld, kicking trash and occasionally encountering bombastic threats. A lot of loneliness, and then you stumble into another animal-man village, while you're slowly turning into a Woodwose. It's surprisingly somber experience...

...As the rest of the book is, when you get into it, it tells a story which is quite fatalistic, the implicit tale of the Knight of the Pentangle. I originally wrote Dirk Detweiler Leichty that I hoped the game would be kinda board-game-like, considering his art looking like Jumanji/Chutes and Ladders. I definitely do have a board game experience when I print out the maps and slide around my friend's 3d-printed miniatures on them.

There is the added benefit that Dirk's escherian/arcane linework can be displayed to the players without giving away too much; and once explained it becomes clear.

AN EXAMPLE:
Guess what the below map-segment illustrates...

.... it's a library filling up up water... "Ink-black water sheets down the shelves and falls from the sky in an eternal pounding rain." Obviously the verbal description is needed to make this clear, but once done so the image becomes a shorthand. No visual spoilers by displaying the whole map.

The above is hypothetical as I haven't run most of the game yet, although a few illustrations like:
have already served me at the table basically as I've described.

-----

I am worried, or rather, more aware that within my group there will be a lot of character-chucking into the abyss, horribly random occurrences may prevent any dungeons from being explored, or maybe they'll visit just one. What is the larger narrative to be had here; PIGPIP, the players will fall and be consumed by the raging time-lords.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

endgame's spoilers


  • meal scenes
    • jokes
  • void
    • dialogue

  • pretty good action sequences
  • mark ruffalo slowly enunciates

Overall this is a comic book movie in a way I can't be mad about. How could I be mad. What is madness, the state of being mad. Is it that there is something we are watching and we feel bored and irritated? I felt that way a lot. The outer-space sequences especially. 

It is cool that there is so much scale in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The space stuff is important like the Los Angeles stuff (there is no L.A. stuff -ed). There are a lot of meal scenes.

This is the basis for fun that comic book superfans extoll. The interconnectedness of all places, and people. Will this freeform fun extend to the machinations of larger studios? Well, the movie is three hours long, and it features Fat Thor.

As the Red Letter Media guys said, the powers-that-be realized that Chris Hemsworth is an excellent comedian. Wisely, they continue to countenance immortality with humour. The project, large scale, could be said to be thus.

Of course, they fail, for the most part. "I get the sense that comic book movie's main struggle is over sentimentality". I said this in a blog review of into the spiderverse and I repeated it for my friends when we rewatched "Spiderverse" last week. There are 3-4 father figures in that movie.

At the end of the day, wringing emotion out of supercharacters becomes a crapshoot based on who the audience actually knows about, the confluence of writing, the "needs of  plot", the acting, and ultimately the editing which has to assemble. No wonder the movie is three hours.

Monday, April 22, 2019

jordan peele's us

“Us” is at its core an experiment in acting, wherein the principals are asked to play alternate horror-versions of their characters. I assume that each actor was worked with individually to come up with this character; I might be wrong who knows. 

Anyway that experiement in acting can be judged either to the good or to the not-so-good, that’s probably why this movie is divisive. The other reason it is divisive is due to the gaping blatant holes in the plot and logic. You can really chalk this up to the shitty writing. I tried to find  a sort of neo-camp disregard for plot or logic but nah.

Also J.P. is still not that great of a filmmaker, things were really boring and slow a lot of the time, and the momentum of the film stutters a lot. There are some pretty cool images and scenarios, though.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

delivarance 1972: reviewed

a fruity pebbles rice krispies treat… left in a small green plastic bag. It sat on my living room end table for a week. I had run out of money for groceries... no dessert.

I ate the rice krispies treat. Yeah, it was an edible. I was watching “Deliverance” and getting really happy. I eventually understood that I had been poisoned. The best part of the movie is the end, where the author of the book interrogates his own characters. James Dickey played the sheriff who has final call over our protagonist’s fates.

The movie does an admirable job of interrogating american/southern masculinity. “Deliverance”, the title, refers to the process by which the four southern middleclass men scramble their way out of deep deep trouble. Most stories would end with the death of the villain and handwave the police; this one instead sees the entire process through.

And as such this movie has: a dinnertime breakdown in tears, hurried grave-digging, that scene with the sherriff/author, and a very good shot looking at the man who was a victim of assault, back lit by gold walking away saying he’d “rather keep this under wraps”. 

“Deliverance” implying a burden, the relieving of a burden. That scene with the sheriff is very good. James Dickey has thin little teeth.