Friday, December 29, 2017

"the shape of water" 2017 review

it is edited badly. sally hawkins is enchanting as the reverse end of a monster-human relationship. the score is cornball. Octavia Spencer is good, but a little cornball. Then we have the white guys- Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon, and the indomitable Rich Jenkins. This movie is insane, it gives the three white guys SO much screen time, some of it is good like the Rich Jenkins relationship with a pie counter clerk but a lot of it seems intent, laser-focused-in on exploring a white supremacist’s background life, & this boring scientist guy, and even Rich Jenkins talking a lot reveals this movie has very little to say

Also it’s a mild whitewash with Elisa Esposito/Sally Hawkins

I think it’s ‘cause Guillmero thought he could bring out some of the sharp edge out of the white supremacist dude, like he did with that Spanish General in “Pan’s Labyrnith”, that we spend so much time with the antagonist’s home life, buying a car, the pressures of his job. But, thankfully, there’s just nothing there, the dude is a fascist and you can see the vein popping out of Michael Shannon’s forehead TRYING to bring some sort of a humanity to the position

when you think there’s something there but there’s nothign actually there

“Crimson Peak” was another less successful long-scale experiment in trying to convert golden age horror into, like, a soft-focus modern feminist drama with f/x, Crimson Peak was also _very boring_, it seems Guilmerro really loves and wants to take his time with the individual swimming details of the set and the ornamental character personalities. It’s like a Studio Ghibli film, like if it were all Spirited Away, with 90% less detail (more lke, 200% less) and less characters etc, and it’s slower because there’s -less stuff-

THAT BEING SAID that kind of joy that made the original Hellboy good rears its head a couple times like with the dream sequence near the end, but uh there’s still a lot of deliberation on “glassy green water” looks


movie does a VERY GOOD JOB of encapsulating a male sexuality as the target, something to be contained and fought over, with 1 (one) phallic object and a bunch of yonic objects in the mix, just the idea of a captured/vulnerable sexual monster that ppl fuck, as a male figure, it is definitely a male monster rescued (spoilers) by a female main character and they have empowering consensual sex

its badly edited tho but it makes it seem half-awkwardly like Elisa Esposito is like, from the start, zoomin in, super into this monster man. I’m being unfair, at the start its clearly curiosity, the film does a good job of revealing Elisa’s attraction to the monster-man in retrospect, like all along she was in it to win it... Which is kinda a thing, right? In the space in my little brain it doesn’t have enough room to process upfront that Elisa would be immediately attracted to The Thing From The Black Lagoon, but she totally is

it still has this sort of throwaway sexual harassment subplot which is brief but not brief enough and I think is simultaneously too much and doesn’t go far enough, not meaning “there isn’t enough sexual harassment” but rather I mean it ends up in easy movie characterization territory, vile

vis a vis Elisa’s status as a mute character: the film is pretty good at going the distance with this one, but it’s still an uncomfortably central dramatic theme, like the ability to talk/not to talk, its pretty bald at times

I mean I’d push for a movie with a mute main character where the preponderance of the film isn’t squarely on their muteness about 20-30% of the time

the white supremacist’s journey actually is a little interesting, he’s kinda swirling down the toilet bowl of materialism, pop psychology, he actually makes a break for it but gets reeled back in, it’s half-sympathetic, and at the end he realizes “ooh there’s actualy NO LIMITS” and he gets his throat cut

which, again, is Guilmerro Del Toro’s half-decent attempt to try to soft bush a villain but it comes off as too generous in my opinion, we have already been informed about what’s going on

Friday, December 15, 2017

'deep carbon observatory' review & lamentations of the flame princess diary

 THIS REVIEW is mostly inward-facing to people who have already read or indeed, written the product. To those who haven’t, suffice to say that even if you don’t play RPGs, the text of “Deep Carbon Observatory” is notable literature, being serious and well-written and not fucking stupid like every other piece of rpg material under the sun.

 things are good:

  • the opening scrawl with the village worked servicably for me, imparted a sense of interconnected chaos
  • I played the rival adventurers a little corny 
  • the deal with the eel in the tree was resolved well
  • the wizard’s duel was truly chaotic, with a miniaturized flying 8ly mirrored little wizard flying around, the players got a canoe and were introduced to the pike, and also backstabbed a wizard after the spells wore off; that was pretty good
  • the windmill with the crabs was the source of enormous energy and fun due to the creative problem solving revolving (literally) around the crabs… also the gore of like 19 murdered ppl inside the windmill was horrifying
  • the squid, the hill, and the farm animals trapped on it was also pretty much the above; a lot of fun, creative and risky problem solving getting past the squid, a little sense of peace and hope from the animals including one pc getting a (second) dog, and then a messy escape from the island with squid-fishing and -towing and -wrestling and deaths of the two dogs and a PC
  • the golems were the source of some hints on the mystery, a constant source of mercurial intimidation, and good tools ultimately as the pcs used the golems to destroy Snail Shell Zarathustra’s ship
  • Snail Shell Zarathustra was professional, and relatively no nonsense, and he had a doctor onboard. As the PCs began to lead him astray he grew more suspicious, but was still betrayed by them when they lead a golem to his ship. 
  • gruta was just a weird sight that I forgot to capitalize on
  • the scratch-built dam didn’t make sense w/r/t hydrophysics 
  • I was too afraid to use The Crows, much. They mostly dickied around with a zombie horde, before forgetting about the retreating pcs and completing the adventure themselves. I shouldn’t have played them as a truly independent force and instead should’ve used them entirely in relation to the pcs (but I was afraid)
  • the scrolls in the crypt that the family was burning was good because the scrolls were the proper fire-making tool that the pcs needed to burn down the windmill to get the gear to get the gold boat. Also they figured out that one of the scrolls they got was the very powerful Time Stop but they lost this when the crab smashed them when they got the boat.
  • The gold boat was good and complicated and incurred the crabsmash and got the party 50,000 sp and the two surviving party members a level each (like +1 and +2 hp each, and 2 skill points) and allowed them to buy a river galley and hire 30 soldiers and a crew for the galley and a cannon and 3000 rations to feed the starving villagers, well, those who survived. It also provoked a deep and physics-knowledge-intensive puzzle of how to dredge up a sunken boat using a pulley, which we tested using a real tub of water like it was science class
  • the crabsmash was a philosophical moment: a giant crab dropped out of the sky and killed half the party. no warning, just a save. philosophical bcuz I asked 
...but I think crabsmash as written sorta functions as a violation of that principle. Sometimes random instadeath, fersure, if you think that you’re exempt then look sometimes rocks actually fall and everyone actually dies in real life and if you’re using save vs. death as common as it is in most lotfp products isn’t that “random instadeath”? But really, the entire thing makes me uneasy, in a way that I like.
  • the giant platypus was good
  • the dam: the interior of the dam was probably the most “tight” part of the whole adventure, that being said my players managed to find a way to both make impassable the secret door to the right as well as lure out all the Canoptic Guards to bombard them with cannon fire. But the red-herring trap room worked well, they never relaxed about it. 
  • the valley: was good, although I removed many of the elements from it, mainly the battle between the reed people and the kapeks, the kapeks had already won, and the bacterial mat had turned solid brown. The light defense system was creepy and good. The golden boats were another red herring, the chieftain kinda pointless maybe because the reed people had already died. 
  • The eel forest was funny because our suicidal player kept getting 1dmg eel bites and an eel got a critical and bit out her eye
  • The first descent into Nightingale hall was good and creepy and the players picked up the evidence to deduce a horrifying slave-culture 
  • The cave giant’s long fierce fingers were creepy and deadly, I wish I remembered that it didnt kill by squeezing but by slamming u into a wall and chewing
  • The cave giant served as a territorializing force, although for most of the dungeon crawl everyone was too preoccupied with internal strife and with the many strange things in the observatory to notice it was there. It came into focus only when it first snatched up a child PC who stayed alone in the dungeon and later when the monster was blocking exit from the dungeon
  • The chem-plant-bomb room killed everybody but also they had fun roleplaying not knowing what an electric light was
  • The Cervit was cool because it was like something you’d find on a factory floor, the value thereof was not obvious, everyone was really anxious about transporting this mysterious industrial material
  • The hall of silks was o.k., the monsters terrifying, and they used a chem-plant-bomb to kill these 
  • The silks in the hall of silk was a fine note of color
  • The hall of shells didn’t capture their attention and the hall of core samples was too much detail for anyone’s good
  • the overall shape of the Observatory tripped me up vis a vis describing it and simultaneously not making it too obvious that it was “two giant stalactites hanging in an abyss” but the depth and darkness of the abyss was good
  • the metal boxes full of gear was good, everyone was really happy to find like, equipment
  • the little elevator/scale setup in the lower lefter hall was too hard to describe compared to its relative interestingness, but i did describe it and the pcs did ignore it
  • the azimoths and reflectors remained a mystery but a good one, there was disappearing vomit
  • I fucked up describing the world-clock and honestly seems like a mouthful
  • the sheer craziness and utility of the tables for the Tektite Lens made the whole procedure of generating and saying the results fascinating for everyone, it exactly hit the note of “peering into another world? but how? what’s going on? what is this… madness??”
  • I actually wish I would have limited the use of the Lens to d6 uses in retrospect. Why? more cthonic…
  • Climbing down the chain in retreat from the Cave Giant was the pretty much “transcendental cliffhanger” which will serve as the perfect transition into a campaign of Veins of the Earth, especially since I get to emphasize the sheer starving darkness of climbing down an infinite chain, I’ll get to lead off with new character sheets and a new inventory system saying “due to your infinite climb downward, you’ll have to discard anything too heavy or too cumbersome that you can’t make fit on your body” and emphasize food and water as resources and start everyone off in a place of desperation. This ending also gave a beautiful, dark bow on the whole geographical narrative of the adventure. There were only 5 soldiers left, descending into the deep…

 Biggest overt issue is the geography of the flood not being too clear, even one sentence like “the flood extends for miles before turning into pseudo-swamp” would have cleared everything up.

 The other issue is the practicality of everyone starving. "The water of the river is ripe with life, over-full with predators and fish of every kind." Players pointed out this was ideal fishing, which seemed kind of obvious.

Also to stop all the villagers from just becoming refugees I had to say some stuff about how the village was 2 weeks of travel away from the rest of civilization, or any source of food, which was odd, because there was a river right there

 Minor issues that maybe are just the referee’s responsibilty: figuring out relative speeds in flooded areas, translating the Crows’s AD&D stats, figuring out the geography around the dam (mountains, thanks to the authors for help on this), the physics of the scratch-built dam, and yes, the clearness of the maps. 


 I posit: that if the referee is gratious in their warnings, and if the players are -all- trying to stay alive and are somewhat good at it, you can run a game of Lamentations of the Flame Princess where everyone starts at 1st level AND there is extremely lethal shit everywhere AND if you die you restart at level one AND some player characters survive and level up.

 My actual experience with LOTFP is that there are 1d4 deaths per session, it’s really frustrating and depressing to some people, and it’s really frustrating to everyone at some point. And yes, some players take a liking to it.

When I first started writing play reports for this system ‘lanir’ on the forums was talking about how I was basically gonna burn through players until I found some who liked my playstyle. I really was trying to create a roleplaying game where:
  1. combat was deadly and pretty simple & quick, and kinda realistic
  2. no railroad would reign
  3. NPCs mostly acted realistically, in their own self interest
  4. a lot of the fun came from figuring out how to survive 
...and with a handful of other values which I enforce more or less conciously, like “no fudging”.

  After about 2 years of play I think I found some players entirely willing to play in the above frame of mind, where stupid mistakes in lethal situations are usually lethal. I did have to burn through a bunch of other players to find these couple players. But then again the burned ones have their own group now, which I’m apart of, we’re playing GURPS…

 (I might ease off the difficulty in the Veins campaign, because I’ll be writing it all myself.)


 When I first started LOTFP dming and I ran “tales of the scarecrow” I was laughing in the faces of my frustrated players. This sounds bad and is bad I guess but also that was kinda how it was in that group of people. And then there was the time where I did just the heart puzzle from “Fuck For Satan” for my brother and his girlfriend and how they were hounding me for the answer for hours after.

 One night after a roleplaying game I was walking with my friend Dave and I had a little broken buddha statue in my pocket. I said, here’s a riddle, what’s in my pocket? Dave couldn’t guess, even after 20 questions, and I was like, O.K., you lost, I won’t tell you. This seemed essentially unfair to Dave. What was I gaining? (I did tell him)

 I sort of thought that way of the grinning game master who has the knowledge that you don’t have and the allure and the power-mystery was kinda something to bring to my friends’s tables back in 2014-5. These days I still do it, but with a subtler hand, and with plenty of warnings beforehand: this game is going to be super hard, you’ll probably all die… and although it’s still frustrating at times it also gives out some thrills: