Monday, 3 October 2011

Cheese and cake?

Hi all,

Cheesecake. Bad or good?

No not the tasty dessert, the style of art. For those not in the know Cheesecake is a style of art, usually of women that presents them in a scantily clad and suggestive manner. Those images of women in lingerie on the front of WWII bombers? That's cheesecake.


Opinions on cheesecake pictures are divided. Some see them as exploitative borderline pornography and others see them as empowering for women. The question is what constitutes cheesecake and what is exploitative? On top of that what is cheesecake for one person is mild for others. Those two questions rage and unintentional offence can be caused by almost any picture.

From my point of view there is a line which separates cheesecake from exploitative images. I read comics, watch movies and play fantasy games. Cheesecake is very prevalent in those genres and to be honest for the most part I like it. The point is that those media are built around cheesecake for better or worse and it goes with the territory. For me it's about how the characters are portrayed. Take Black Canary for instance:

Black Canary

Now Black Canary is a good example of cheesecake. Blonde hair, fishnet stockings and pneumatic breasts. However this image is what I would classify as ok, she's obviously in a fight, kicking arse so that's ok as far as I'm concerned.

This one on the other hand I think is less cool:

Black Canary

Now that one is just an excuse to show her in as little as possible. It's not an action shot, it's a pinup shot and not a particularly great one at that. Worse it's not the character. The thin line has been crossed. Black Canary is meant to be one of the toughest martial artists in the world, on a par with Batman so she should be portrayed kicking arse. Yes her costume shows off her femininity but that's not actually a bad thing, sexy is good. However when her artwork becomes just about sex then that's not the character, she's a forceful personality and she should be portrayed as such.

One of the characters that is company sanctioned to be utterly ridiculous is Power Girl. Now before I get into this, I love Power Girl she's a kickass powerhouse who takes charge and has an interesting (if confusing) backstory. The problem is... well this:




Power Girl's cleavage is a running gag in the comics but seriously, that circular cutout is just ridiculous at this point. Be honest, would Power Girl be any less sexy if you covered the boobs? I would contend that she would actually look sexier. Plus her ginormous proportions take away from the character. Hell it's a good job she has super strength or she would have serious lower back issues by now. Ask anyone what they first think of when Power Girl is mentioned and those that have heard of her would just say boobs. She's a better character than that, she deserves more.

What got me thinking about this was the fact that Paizo publishing (who produce the Pathfinder roleplaying game) have sometimes been criticised for perceived cheesecake in their publications, specifically the way their female iconics are portrayed. Iconics are characters created by Paizo to illustrate the different classes in the game. To give you a better idea, here are the particular characters people tend to mention:




Are these cheesecake? Well a little bit I suppose. Are they over the top? Hell no.

The thing is that this is a roleplaying game. To a certain extent it's wish fulfilment. Do I want to look like me when I roleplay? Hell no, I'm 5 stone overweight and bald. I want to look like this:


In a fantasy setting the men should be handsome and the women should be sexy. If you want to play a character you want one that looks good. Now if the iconics looked like this:

Barbarian in bikini

Then you'd have a point. However the fact is that there's nothing in those three portraits that I consider beyond the pale. It is a little bit of cheesecake I suppose but I have seen a load of images with these characters at this point and I don't see them as exploitative or demeaning to women. They are sexy and they kick butt. Hell I want to be that too, just male.

Of course this is just my opinion and therein lies the problem. My line in the sand is pretty liberal. I like images of hot women so long as they are not demeaning. Any image that shows a woman in a subservient role to a man is just wrong (look up images of the Gor series of books to see what I mean.) I don't want BDSM in my fantasy thanks, if you want that then fine but it should be a niche market.

However, some people are not as happy about these images. Some would see that all these images are nothing but exploitative and wrong. It's difficult to please all the people all the time so I would stand up for what you believe on this. I love Power Girl. I love Black Canary and Starfire and Wonder Woman and She Hulk**. They are all great characters. I think the creators should set a benchmark and say "this is what we do." Trying to catch the zeitgeist can lead to this:

Fashion faux pas***

And no one wants that.

Your resident cheescake connoisseur

Fall of Camelot

* Yeah I know he's gay. So what? He's awesome, live with it.
** And Mrs Camelot of course
*** Don't get me wrong, I love the JLI but that Black Canary's outfit was just... ouch

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Doctor Who ratings

Hi all,

Happy birthday to me! Thanks for best wishes on Facebook etc.

OK now we have got that out of the way, onto the blog post. Last night we had the last episode of this season of Dr Who. I love this show, its essential quirkiness, great plots and clever dialogue make it one of the most watchable shows on television. That's not to say it's always great and I do have some issues with the series. With that in mind I thought I would go through episode by episode in this series and give a rating from 1-10.

To be clear I am using a rating system based on the show in question. So a 6 would be an average episode of Dr Who, 10 would be a rare rating that puts it up as one of the very best Dr Who episodes (Girl in the Fireplace, The Satan Pit), and conversely a 1 will put it down as one of the worst (Victory of the Daleks). This rating is solely a rating compared with other episodes of Dr Who not anything else.

So here are my ratings and a quick explanation why:

The Impossible Astronaut: 6.5

A good start to the series this. The Silence are good villains in the style of the Weeping Angels, Canton Everett Delaware III is an interesting character even if he does have a stupid name and the death of the Doctor is a shocking twist.

The problems with this episode stem from the weird bits that Moffat tends to put in his episodes. Why an Apollo program spacesuit? This is never explained, not even in the final episode (unless I missed it: feel free to correct me in the comments if that's the case). This is an irritating tendency that Moffat has, to add in images and ideas and then never explain why they are there.

Overall a pretty good episode though.

Day of the Moon: 7

A good conclusion to the two parter. Delaware is one of those characters in time travel stories who doesn't get overwhelmed by the oddities of advanced technology. I like that. Can we have more of him please Mr Moffat?

The ending of this one was good as well, with the Silence's own hypnotic abilities being turned against them and the rest of the season was set up well with Amy's pregnancy, the Doctor's death and the threat of the Silence.

This earns an extra .5 of a mark over the Impossible Astronaut because it was a tighter and more focussed episode. Sadly this focus would not be there in other episodes this season.

The Curse of the Black Spot: 3

I love pirates with all the arring and Jack Sparrowesque fun that they bring to any plot. As a wise man once said, everything's better with pirates.

So why the 3?

Well to be serious for a moment there are two reasons why this one merits a significantly below average mark. Firstly, this is a rehash of an old episode, namely "The Empty Child." Basically a piece of advanced medical technology threatens people in a historical setting. Unfortunately this won't be the last time this series that I call shenanigans because the episode is a rehash. Note to Moffat: new episodes with new ideas please!

Secondly the ending is ridiculous. I don't care how good a captain you are, you can't go from being a competent sailor to piloting an advanced medical starship with phasing technology. Total bollocks.

That said the episode is OK, it's just not very good.

The Doctor's Wife: 8

I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman but sometimes his sense of the odd and the unusual can overtake the plot creating work which can be style over substance. Happily this is not the case here. Gaiman marries his considerable imagination and sense of the macabre to a tight and well written plot that has some genuinely unsettling moments.

Also the episode examines the Doctor's relationship with both the TARDIS and his people. The Corsair is an interesting character even if we never meet him/her and the Doctor's sense of loss for his friend is obvious and profound.

Having said that one of the few missteps in this episode comes with the Doctor's anger at the discovery of the death of his friend and the other Time Lords. Whilst I do like Matt Smith's Doctor, I can't help but feel that both David Tennant and Christopher Ecclestone were more menacing when that side of the Doctor was revealed. It's a minor thing but it is an important aspect of the Doctor's personality, he's never so alien as when he is angry and I remain to be convinced by Matt Smith's performance in this regard.

Still, that's only a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent episode.

The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People: 4

I'm reviewing these two episodes together because frankly it's one of those two parters for which the individual parts don't really have their own identity (unlike for example the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit or the Empty Child/Doctor Dances two parters).

This episode suffers from too many ideas and not enough exposition. The "Solar Tsunami" plot device was weird seeing as how this episode was set on Earth, I can't remember ever seeing a solar flare that massive, can you? Also the obvious goal here was an attempt to explore the concept of humanity and what constitutes a person. But that was somewhat undermined by the fact that one of the character goes all "The Thing" on everybody. "Yeah, we're all human really, apart from the fact that one of us is trying to eat your face..."

Another weird thing was the fact that the factory was a monastery. Why? Surely a purpose built facility would be better? The only reason I can think of was because they liked the visual imagery evoked by the setting. The problem with that is that it just makes no sense. Repurposing an old building (that was still crumbling in parts) for a highly dangerous industrial process is just bizarre, not to say incredibly impractical. The acid is a weird concept too. Why would you manufacture such a dangerous product offshore and pump it to the mainland? Isn't that overly expensive? And dangerous? Imagine the ecological disaster if you had an underwater leak. Also having the TARDIS get sucked into the earth has been done before in "The Impossible Planet." Yet another recycled plot device, shenanigans.

This episode is reasonable but it tries to combine a dash of Thing style paranoia into an exploration of the human condition. Plus Amy's distrust of Ganger Doctor seems out of place considering that she is perfectly happy with an alien friend. Sloppy writing and inconsistent characterisation bring this one down I'm afraid.

A Good Man Goes to War: 9

The only truly great episode of the series. The new characters are ice cool (I would pay good money to see the further adventures of a Victorian, dinosaur, lesbian swordswoman and her plucky assistant and Strax was utterly awesome.) The bad guys were menacing and Frances Barber as Madame Kovarian chews the scenery like a pro. Rory's ultimatum to the Cybermen is fantastic as well.

The only slight gripe I have is that for an episode called "A Good Man Goes to War" there is very little actual war going on. A more accurate title would be "A Good Man Turns Up and No One Shoots Him For Some Reason."

A minor gripe though in a great episode.

Let's Kill Hitler: 3

OK seriously Moffat, what the hell was all this about? Let's get this straight, Rory and Amy have a hitherto unmentioned BFF who turns out to be River Song who takes them back in the TARDIS to kill Hitler (for some reason) who in turn is being pursued by a bunch of miniaturised humans in a ship that can make itself look like anyone.

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.

This is totally out of left field and is a complete missed opportunity. Moffat throws in so many bizarre plot twists that you don't know how to react. The Doctor's "death" has no resonance because we already know he's supposed to die at Lake Silencio, the Teselecta is such a weird concept that it harms the episode by taking time away from the battle of wits between Melody/River and the Doctor and the inclusion of Hitler in a comic romp felt a bit off.

The real problems with this episode was the character of "Mels." Look Moffat, this character could have been introduced in episode 1 of season 5 and appeared half a dozen times since then. That way it would have had far more impact when she turns out to have been River all along. By introducing her in the way that you did, you just made her annoying. I was having horrible visions that this character was going to join the TARDIS crew for the rest of the series, a bit of a Scrappy Who if you like. I have never been more relieved to see someone die in a TV show and once she regenerated to become River Song I will admit the episode got a lot better.

Also since when does the 11th Doctor's TARDIS go exactly where you want it to go by shooting it? A minor quibble but an important one I think.

Night Terrors: 2

Someone find Mark Gatiss and stop him making Doctor Who episodes will you? Gatiss' record of writing Doctor Who episodes reads mediocre, crap and diabolical (or The Idiot's Lantern, Night Terrors and Victory of the Daleks if you prefer). This is a truly dire episode.

The thing is it's a total rehash of "Fear Her" (shenanigans). Here's a tip Mark, if you are going to shamelessly rip off another Dr Who episode don't choose a rubbish one OK? Oh and don't tell me you also ripped off "The Empty Child" as some sort of defence because that doesn't fly mister.

This was so by the numbers it wasn't funny. The plot was dull, the characters were uninspired and it just felt like exactly what it was, a filler episode. Hell when you can't even do better than "Fear Her" you should just hang your head in shame.

It's also nice to see that Amy has got over the loss of her daughter so quickly. Yet more "Amy is a bitch" characterisation. Unintentional this time but still noticeable.

The Girl Who Waited: 6

Ho boy this is a tough one.

When I first watched this episode I thought it was awesome. A timey wimey episode with a great performance from Karen Gillan and a tearjerking conclusion. All the elements are here for a classic and taken on it's own it deserves an 8 or 9.

So why a 6?

As a standalone episode this would have been fine but in context with the rest of the series we encounter problems. So Amy waited 36 years? Big deal. Rory waited 2,000 years. The characterisation of Old Amy as a bitter resentful woman who has given up on her friends does not ring true. The love Rory and Amy display is supposed to transcend space and time. Well this episode dispenses with that and says that whilst Rory can wait, Amy can't. More "Amy is a bitch" characterisation brings this one down to average I'm afraid.

The God Complex: 7

A decent episode this one. A monster that consumes faith is creepy and Rita begging the Doctor not to watch her lose her faith was actually a quite effective and gut-wrenching moment for me. Faith is often the most important thing to a person and having a monster that consumes that is like having a monster that consumes your essence. That's a far more unpleasant fate than merely dying. Losing your deepest beliefs really is a fate worse than death.

It's been mentioned that this episode bears many similarities to the Seventh Doctor story "The Curse of Fenric." It's been a while since I saw "The Curse of Fenric" but the Doctor having to force his companion to abandon their faith in him happens in both stories. So a mild case of shenanigans here.

Where this episode falls down is that Amy losing her faith in the Doctor really doesn't ring true. She had that faith challenged in the last episode and yet now she loses it because the Doctor just tells her to? Really? Plus Amy's faith is in the Doctor, not her husband? Rory has no faith in anything? Sorry, I can't see anyone waiting 2,000 years without any faith in what they are doing.

David Walliams was good though.

Closing Time: 7.5

Dodgy aliens in a department store? Shenanigans (Rose). The Doctor going on a tour to visit places because he knows he's going to die? Shenanigans (The End of Time)

Right now that's out of the way. This was a good episode. I quite liked the quirky relationship between Corden and Smith and the comic timing was very good. I disliked the ending (power of love beating the Cybermen? Please) but the rest of it was good fun stuff. Plus Stormageddon was hilarious and earns this episode an extra .5.

The timing of this episode was odd, just before the finale. That doesn't take away from the quality of this episode though.

The Wedding of River Song:7

A good end to the series. Fixed points have been used before but as that's a major part of Dr Who lore I won't call shenanigans on that. The meshing of history was cleverly done and the Silence were a decent enemy yet again.

My criticisms lie with the fact that this episode felt almost identical to last season's finale and I will call shenanigans on that. Also "it's not really the Doctor" is a cop out but I suppose that is better than the rest buttons that we have had before.

A good episode though and the buildup for the next season was good.

Season overall: 5

This was a below average season  for Dr Who. There were some bright moments but the series falls down on 3 basic issues.

Amy Pond turned into a bitch: Amy Pond became much less of a sympathetic character this season. She was nasty to the Gangers, blamed Rory for a load of stuff that wasn't his fault and basically acted like a spoiled brat at times. Cold blooded torture/murder in the last episode put her beyond the pale as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad she's gone, a shame because she started well. Taxi for Pond.

Style over substance: Scary dolls don't make an episode, if you are going to have a astronaut suit in the show have a reason for that, industrial complexes are usually not found in ruined monasteries. Narrative sense this season was often discarded in favour of making things look cool. Go back to plots that make sense please Moffat.

Rehashed plots: Too many plots and events in this series were lifted or "inspired" by previous Dr Who episodes. At times I just felt that the series didn't have the courage to do something new. Next season would be infinitely improved if they stopped treading old ground and wrote some new plots.

Long one I know but I'm interested if you agree or disagree. Comment below as always.

Your resident Galifrayan

Fall of Camelot

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Bioware, MMO's and my hopes and fears for the Old Republic

Hi all,

I'm a total Bioware fanboy. As far as I am concerned they produce the best games I have ever played. I also enjoy MMO's, particularly Rift and World of Warcraft and I love Star Wars. So Bioware + Star Wars + MMO = Nerdgasm amarite?

Well yes and no.

The thing is you can put three awesome things together and get a lump of turd. At the moment if I am frank I don't know what to think. Whilst I am expecting awesomeness I am also bracing myself for a huge let down. To make it clear here are the main reasons why it will be awesome followed by the 3 reasons it will suck donkey.

Awesome the first: It's Bioware baby!

Screw Valve, forget Blizzard and goodbye Infinity Ward; there is only one game studio on the planet who have never made a misstep as far as I am concerned. That company is Bioware. This is the company that produced Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic and my personal favourite Mass Effect. Their games are like crack to me, I just can't get enough. They provide a style of game that is perfect as far as I am concerned, user friendly gameplay, fantastic plots, memorable villains and the best characters in any games that have ever been published. I can't think of any character that is quite as awesome as Minsc except possibly Mordin Solus. They can't possibly screw this up right?

From what I've seen no. The companion characters look awesome and I look forward to running around with a rocket launcher wielding Jawa. 

Awesome the Second: A return to the Old Republic

Star Wars is great and all but there's a load of Lucas inspired bullshit in there as well. Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks, Lucas' continual tinkering with the original trilogy (seriously stop that shit) and of couse the immortal "I love you because you're not sand" speech from Episode 2.

The Old Republic setting has none of the Lucas bullshit, only the core stuff that people actually want to see. Jedi vs Sith, smugglers, scoundrels and galactic war on a massive scale. Seriously, that's the stuff of Star Wars and Bioware have proved before that they get this.

Awesome the Third: Fully voiced storyline.

Holy crap dudes! An entire MMO with cinematic cutscenes, distinctive characters and fully voiced quest givers? Sign me up right now! Oh there's more? Quests that change depending on your choices in dialogue? Alignment to the Dark or Light side that's not dependent on faction but rather actions? Companions that can go off and do stuff for you whilst you sleep or go to work furthering the storyline whilst you do other things?

If all this is true, wow, just wow...

But like the light side there is also a dark side: Reasons it will suck:

Suckfest the first: An MMO? Seriously?

Massive is fine, Online is fine. It's the Multiplayer bit I don't like. I have no idea how this game is going to work but I do not want to see something like this:

Luke: How did my father die?
Obi Wan: A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and mur...
WOKKIEBOI: LF2M for Caves of Ossus!


The problem with MMO's is there is not roleplaying involved, just numbers. The general idea from most people who play is to treat it as a game to beat. That's all well and good but Bioware win because of their immersive plotlines and intricate characters. I remain to be convinced that the Bioware style will survive 13 year old tossers shouting bollocks on chat.

Suckfest the Second: Old Republic now, Mass Effect later.

This may be paranoia on my end but it's noticeable that the launch of SWTOR has put back Mass Effect 3. This does not make me a pleased lapin.

It may be Bioware's usual "it's ready when it's ready" stance but that's not a good precedent to set.

Suckfest the Third... Seriously though, an MMO?

I can see it now. I finish installing the game, create my character and step out into the bright galaxy of a movie series that defined my formative years. I can feel the excitement rise as I examine the interface, looking around for my first quest giver. Boldly I stride forward ready to make my mark on a galaxy I have loved since I was a child.

What will I be asked to do? Duel Sith Lords? Rescue a princess? Break a planetary blockade? I click my mouse with a mixture of eagerness and reverence...

And they ask me to kill 8 wamp rats...

Seriously, none of that shit Bioware...

So will this turn out to be a spectacular realisation of greatness for Bioware or will it suck arse? Are you girding your loins for awesomeness or are you biting your lip in fear of what may come?

Your opinion is always welcome in the comments.

Your frustrated Jedi

Fall of Camelot

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Why I hate Michael Bay's movies. (Swearing involved here folks)

Hi all,

It's been a while since my last blog post, in my defence I'm in America. (or I was when I started writing this originally, sue me.)

I hate Micheal Bay. I really, really hate him. For those of you who may not know who Michael Bay is let me explain.

Michael Bay is a Hollywood director of some of the most profitable movies of recent years. He is responsible for Armageddon, Bad Boys, The Rock, Pearl Harbor and the cinematic excrement that is the Transformers series. It is my concerted and firm belief that this man is responsible for some of the biggest pieces of turd ever put on celluloid. His films are sexist, racist, obsessed with fetishising the military and worst of all they are popular.

"Oh Mr Camelot" I hear you cry "they are just big summer blockbusters. Popcorn movies don't have to make you think, they just have to entertain you." to which I reply, shut up, sit down and let me tell you why you are wrong.

I accept that summer blockbusters don't need or want deep philosophical stuff in them. The latter two movies in the Matrix series for example suffered from an attempt to be too clever and ended up just looking pretentious (not to mention the end of the second movie was actually pointless making the whole movie a tremendous waste of time). However, Bay's movies actively denigrate the concept of being intelligent. Anyone who is supposed to be clever in a Bay movie is seen as weird and geeky and is often portrayed as the guy who loses it big time. Armageddon is the worst for this, lauding a bunch of ignorant rig pig pricks over NASA and when they get on crap CGI Asteroid who loses his shit? Yep Steve Buscemi, the guy who was pointedly mentioned as being the most intelligent of the lot. This leaves Bruce Willis to save the day in the most overblown way possible.

Actually this is a symptom of a much larger theme in Bay's movies. The rampant hate for authority, particularly civilian authority. Every Bay movie features the individual struggling against some kind of organisation. It's like the Ayn Rand inspired scribblings of a bad sixth form English student. It's ignorant and boring at this point. The only authority Bay has any time for is the US military but he treats this with an almost fetishistic appeal that borders on totalitarian. Also it is the individual military characters that he is interested in and there is always a point in a Bay movie that the military character(s) have to act on their own authority or disobey orders. Again the hate of authority coming into effect.

Then we have his treatment of women in his films or rather the treatment of the boob and arse carrying frames because that's all they are in a Bay movie. Compare this with James Cameron, for all his faults he always has strong female characters in his movies. Bay never has this, his female characters are there to look hot and pout, pine for their menfolk or provide comic relief in the case of older females (I'm still in fucking therapy about the doped brownies bullshit in Transformers 2). The lack of any realistic female characters is frankly laughable. Even Paul W. S. Anderson can do a kick ass female character for fuck's sake. It's not hard.

Then there's the over production of his movies. Bay is in love with slow motion, odd camera angles and jump cuts to the extent that the film becomes plastic and unreal. He also uses only two colours in his movies teal (orange) and blue because they are opposite on the colour spectrum and thereby provide a good contrast. His movies do not feel real because they exhibit an overproduced cinematic style; one that divorces itself from reality. It is as if Bay wants to make films that overwhelm your senses thinking that in some way this makes them memorable when in actual fact the relentless pace of his movies does the exact opposite.

This relentless pace does irreparable damage to characterisation in his movies. Bay mistakenly believes that dialogue and character building can be done in short snappy sentences and brief scenes. Everything is rushed in his films because he does not trust his audience to have an attention span. That leads to cliched characters and stilted dialogue because the characters have no time to develop a personality. A good director finds some time in his movies to slow the pace in order to frame the frantic pace of the action. Bay just barrels ahead like a juggernaut.

Bay's racism is evident in a lot of his movies. The horrendous "wigger" stereotypes in the second Transformers movie are the most obvious example of this, however he's been doing it for a while. The guy who betrays the honour bound Colonel in The Rock? Yup the black guy. John Tuturro in the Transformers movies? Jewish guy who lives with his overbearing mother. The Cosmonaut in Armageddon? Yup crazy and living in a crap space station, because it's, y'know, Russian and all their stuff is shit. Oh how we laughed. In the absence of time to develop an actual character Bay just uses lazy racial stereotypes because that's easy.

All of this brings me to the crux of the matter. Bay makes easy movies. No subtlety is involved, no craft, no skill. The point is he is appealing to the dumbest person in the audience. He just wants to overwhelm you with sound and image because I suspect he does not have the talent to employ subtlety. Either that or he knows that he doesn't have to. If you can just put a souless and relentless parade of banal action together and it still grosses a billion then why try?

This is the problem. People look at the money that Transformers and the like make and they realise that the more basic a movie is the better it plays overseas. There is a reason that Baywatch is the most viewed TV show in history because everyone understands tits. Similarly Bay's over produced, relentless and earsplitting drivel can be understood by anyone, be it a moron in a western multiplex or someone who speaks no English in a small movie theatre anywhere in the world.

I am resigned to his success by know so I have taken a vow never to endure any more of his orange and blue cinematic vomit. I urge you all to do the same. Not because I believe it will spell the end of Michael Bay (because it wont) rather I implore you to avoid it for your own sake. Watching a Bay movie is the equivalent of admitting that you don't care about cinema, that you would rather watch spectacle than nuance. Do yourself a favour and watch something else, something that involves you on an emotional level, something that deserves merit. Trust me, you are better than Bay's bullshit

Your resident hack praying that Michael Bay will crawl off into a fucking hole somewhere and stop inflicting his bullshit on us all.

Fall of Camelot

The five best tips for running pre written adventures

Hi all,

Nowadays I only run prewritten adventures. I have found that I don't have time in my day to come up with a coherant plot and stat up opponents for my players to face. A good prewritten adventure takes all the hassle away.

That said you can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you need not do any work. Thinking like that can get you into trouble fast. So here are my five top tips for running prewritten scenarios.

1) Manage player expectations. A prewritten adventure will have it's own style, so make sure you let your players know what characters will work and what characters will fall flat. For example, an adventure may start at sea but 90% of it may take place in a dungeon where sea based skills and abilities will be useless. It's therefore important that you let the players know this.

Tied in with this is making sure concepts fit the campaign. If the campaign calls for eco warriors try to steer the players away from corporate stooges. Likewise if a player has her heart set on playing a total coward in a game where you become superheroes, it may be an idea to steer her to a different concept (or at least a modified concept). Communication is the main thing, without it the players may feel railroaded and by extension resentful.

2) Preparation is still key

So the plot is written for you, the NPC's statblocks are generated, everything is there for you so no work is needed right?

Wrong. I'm not saying that running a pre written adventure doesn't take out some of the grunt work of creating a game but nor does it mean that you have nothing that you need to do. The trick is not to memorise the whole thing but to get the flow of the plot as written. That way you can make the game flow to your style. Be confident in how the plot works. Ask yourself how the players get to a certain point and then make sure you give them the opportunity to get there. However...
3) Find the break points

A wise man once said that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Well the same can be said for RPG's. Of course it's feasible to allow your players to go completely off the rails and do something random. If the players want to spend their time running a bar rather than follow the plot then sure, knock yourself out if that's what you want to do.

That said by buying a prewritten adventure you have a perfectly acceptable plot that you have paid good money for. My contention is that you should try to run according to that plot wherever possible. Does that mean you should follow a plot religiously? No, and I will cover that in point 5. However if Bob the Lich is the enemy of the campaign it's a bit disappointing if the players don't end up fighting him.

To that end you have to find the break points. These are the points in an adventure where the writer will make an assumption about what the players will do and if they don't do it then the campaign can't continue. The trick is to identify these points before they come up and have a contingency plan in place in case the players don't do that.

A good example is in Paizo's Legacy of Fire Adventure Path *obvious spoilers here folks*. The first adventure has one of the players become semi possessed by a friendly spirit. This is contingent on a particular monster hitting a PC and said PC failing a saving throw. If they don't become possessed then as written the plot comes to a shuddering halt in the second book because they wont find a secret passage without said spirit's help.

As a GM you have a few options here. Fudge things so someone automatically gets hit and fails the save (that's what I did btw) or have the secret door automatically found by the players. What you do is not important what is important is that you identify these problems before they occur.

4) Messageboards are your friend

Messageboards are an odd little thing. I love posting on them but I often find the vitriol and ignorance expressed on them to be a pain in the arse to wade through. The fact that I often am responsible for some of the vitriol doesn't exactly help.

However messageboards are a great resource for identifying issues with prewritten scenarios. Reading about what people are saying about an adventure gives you a great insight into the issues you can encounter when running it. It can help you identify problem encounters, plot issues and break points and the responses can help you mitigate problems before they occur. Use other's pain to your advantage.

5) Personalise and alter

The last point and the most important. You know your players better than anyone else, what they like, what they hate and what helps you to all have a fun game.

Everybody's game is different even when it's a prewritten adventure. Running as written never works unless you adapt it for your players and their PC's. Find ways to include your PC's more closely in a plot, give them ties to important NPC's, implement their backgrounds into the plot. They will have much more fun if you do this. After all the story is about the players, they should feel intrinsically linked to the plot.

Also if there is an encounter that you don't like or you feel would work better in a different way then just alter it. The players will react better to interesting encounters than cookie cutter opponents. In addition no one likes annoying pointless obstacles. If an adventure has encounters that are not a threat but take up time (such as a Guards and Wards spell that isn't being monitored by an NPC) just handwave it. No one wants to sit rolling dice for no reason when they could be getting on with the plot.

I hope you find these tips useful. Let me know if you feel that this list could use an extra entry.

Your resident Games Monkey

Fall of Camelot

I'm back baby!

Yeah I suck

I know my rants haven't been on here for a while. If you are wondering why I haven't posted a new post recently then you need to get out more.

I will endeavour to add some new posts over the next couple of days. Thanks for being patient.

Your resident fat lazy useless bastard

Fall of Camelot

Thursday, 21 July 2011

I believe it means a whale's vagina

Hi all FOC here,

Greetings from comic con! Myself and Mrs Camelot have been in San Diego for acouple of days now and I have been struck by how much this con has entered the public conciousness over here. We have been stopped by random passers by in the street to ask us about comic con. They all seem to be proud of it here.

That's new to me. My interests are fringe really. Fun, but fringe and that's ok with me. It's just that every time I mention comics or games to a muggle there's this kind of polite smile that comes across their face of total incomprehension. They don't really understand it. To most people comics are for kids, tv shows are disposable and the closest they have got to a tabletop rpg is a game of monopoly.

Comic con is different. For one thing it's massive, 150,000 attendees of massive to be precise. The reason for that is that it trancends fandom boundaries. We have comic fans, tabletop gamers, video gamers, anime and manga fans, genre tv fans, movie geeks, action figure collectors, Twilight fans, Harry Potter fans, cosplayers, you name it there's something for every fandom here.

If anyone were to think the popular geek stereotype is true then all they have to do is come here to have that notion disproved. This convention attracts normal people who just so happen to be fans of something. It's not just a bunch of fat thirty something guys (like me) who go, there are kids and teenagers, retirees and just as many women as men it seems. What strikes me is how normal everyone is and that may show how the fandom is invading the mainstream.

That said, someone has just passed me in a camo pattern kilt so normal is relative...

Your resident fanboy

Fall Of Camelot

Monday, 11 July 2011

Sport, legacy, money and Christian Lopez

Hey all FOC here,

On Saturday afternoon a 23 year old mobile phone salesman called Christian Lopez went to a baseball game with his father and his girlfriend. It was a special game, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees was going for 3000 career hits and his total stood at 2998 hits going into the game. For those of you that don't know, 3000 hits is one of baseball's great achievements representing a career of great longevity and fortitude. Only 27 other players had hit 3000 hits in history and none had ever done it as a New York Yankee.

Jeter proceeded to get a hit in the first inning past the third baseman. His next at bat came in the third inning. The pitcher for Tampa Bay, David Price, challenged Jeter with a variety of pitches until Jeter connected with a curveball.

And he hit it straight to Christian Lopez.

Immediately Lopez was ushered out of his seat and taken into the backrooms of Yankee Stadium. Under baseball tradition that baseball now belonged to Christian Lopez. The Yankees staff asked what Lopez wanted for the ball. Lopez said that he wanted nothing for it and Derek Jeter could have it.

Now to put this in perspective. The home run ball that Mark Magwire hit for his 70th home run in 1998 was sold for 3 million dollars. Lopez could have easily held out for a million. Instead he got a few gifts and Yankee stadium box seats for the rest of the season.

Some people might say that he should have held out, that he was irresponsible for not looking after his family. But in my opinion Christian Lopez did the right thing. He recognised the significance of this ball in baseball history and made sure that the ball went back to who it truly belonged to. Baseball is a game about history and tradition and in making this gesture Christain Lopez has proved that he understands that. A class act and a true baseball fan.

Your resident Yankee

Fall of Camelot

Saturday, 9 July 2011

My 5 most underrated movies

Hey all FOC here,

There are many films I dislike, some I even hate (Michael Bay I'm looking at you). Then there are those movies that I love. Some are well known and yet others seem to be an afterthought for many people. These are my top 5 films that really should have a higher profile:

5) Wag the Dog

Robert De Niro is an odd case. Some people consider him to be a great actor but really in my opinion he plays the same character again and again (much like Michael Caine and John Wayne). So if you have a film that suits the gruff, always serious De Niro then you could well be onto a winner.

This is one of those movies. For those of you who haven't seen it De Niro plays an aide to a Clinton like president in the weeks before a presidential election. Unfortunately a scandal occurs when the president seduces a girl scout whilst she is on a tour of the Whitehouse. To avoid a political disaster De Niro decides to fake a war in Albania and brings in a Hollywood producer played by Dustin Hoffman to achieve this.

What's great about this movie is how De Niro and Hoffman play off each other. De Niro plays the straight man to Hoffman's eccentric producer and most of the humour comes from the way this preposterous situation is handled by both with dry humour and seriousness. It's that juxtaposition that makes the film a success.

4) Excalibur

When people are asked what their favourite fantasy movie is other than the Lord of the Rings they will usually answer with a 1980's production like Krull or Willow. Excalibur is very rarely mentioned.

I don't understand that. Excalibur is a vastly superior movie, more ambitious, more visually impressive and far better acted than any of the 80's fantasy offerings. To make a film about the entire Arthurian epic from beginning to end is a tremendous undertaking, one that they pull off with aplomb.

3) Master and Commander

"Hang on" you say, "I saw that film, it was awesome" and yes, yes it was. If this was a "films everyone thinks are sucky but I don't" post then Master and Commander would have no place here.

The point is that this post is about underrated movies and I think this is one. This is such a good movie that it should be regarded as highly as Gladiator or the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Yet it sits there as a movie everybody likes but then kind of forgets about. This is such a well acted, well directed movie that it deserves so much more.

2) Pitch Black

Much like Master and Commander this is an awesome movie that deserves more respect. Beautifully shot, brilliantly tense and well acted it's a sci fi classic that needs more support.

It's a shame that the grungy junk tech of the first movie was replaced by a gothic feel in the second movie but that doesn't invalidate the first movie in any way. Plus Riddick is awesome in this movie.

1) Tombstone

Man I LOVE this movie. It has "badass" stamped right through it. A truly magnificent film and it baffles me that it is not more widely respected.

From Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday to the brothers and the Cowboys the cast does a brilliant job. The gunfight at the OK Corrall is very well done, the dialogue is snappy and endlessly quotable and at the centre of it all Wyatt Earp is a spirit of vengeance played with perfect menace and drive by Kurt Russell.

This is a great movie, if you haven't watched it go find it now.

Your resident critic

Fall of Camelot

Thursday, 7 July 2011

PvP (or how I learned to stop worrying and panel the shit out of Charlie Bellows)

Hi all

A certain lurker has asked that I talk about PvP or Player vs Player for the uninitiated. Actually he requested a rant. Now, I'm all for a good rant about stuff but in this case a rant is not exactly warranted. The reason is that I'm not opposed to PvP in all circumstances.

PvP is a contentious issue. Some people love it, some people hate it. Now before I begin to outline my views I must say that generally I think it's not the done thing. In fact, it sucks. Losing your character isn't nice but to lose it to another PC is even worse. It means that someone has taken the conscious decision to end your character. It's not a monster, it's not a bad roll or an unfortunate mobbing in LARP, it's personal.

That's not to say it's always unwarranted. I have done it once or twice but the key to all those instances is that they were the culmination of months and months of events. For me it is the weapon of last resort, the DEFCON 1 of gaming and it should never be taken lightly. In all the instances of PvP I have ever participated in severe provocation was the cause.

What I do have a problem with is casual PvP. Mrs Camelot got killed at a LARP by a group that found it amusing to kill people's characters for no legitimate reason. Oh they said that it was to do with the background of the group and their IC religion demanded it but that was just stuff they had made up to justify being a douche. Just because it's in your character background doesn't mean it's warranted. Mrs Camelot was in tears because she lost a character she loved in the lowest, most pointless way possible.

This is one of my problems with "player led" LARP's. The essence of drama is conflict. So if no conflict is forthcoming from the plot players will manufacture it. Players will kill other players for something to do. If I lose a character I want it to be for a reason not because some nasty scumbag is bored.

Your resident psychopath

Fall of Camelot

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What I want from LARP and why I’m not going to get it.

FOC here,

LARP is one of my major pastimes and I think when it’s good it is some of the most intense and satisfying roleplaying you can get. That said I am beginning to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with the LARP environment and I am beginning to realise that what I want to play simply does not exist.

An explanation, I only play fantasy LARP. Modern day and Sci Fi LARP’s don’t get my interest and besides they would cost a lot of moolah in new kit. So everything I say here pertains to fantasy LARP.

There are a lot of different LARP systems out there. Now I dislike the big systems. I find that the big systems are an excuse to wander into a field, set up a tent and then sit there for 90% of the event doing nothing. It’s majorly dull. Plus I loathe being anonymous at an event and in a group of hundreds you just get lost. You don’t feel special at a big event, you just feel like a drone.

So a game of about 20-50 players and a decent amount of crew is what I’m looking for. I want a game world that’s fully developed with distinctive regions and countries. I want to be able to develop plans and goals through downtime submissions. I want a coherent and established ongoing plot which ties into every event run and can be influenced and even changed by the actions of the players. That said I don’t want the plot to be exclusively player driven, if I am paying for an event I want a plot goddamn it!

All of that that I think is not difficult to achieve. But there is one thing I want my game to have which I think no LARP organisation can or will do.

I want it to end.

My serious issue with LARP games is that they just run and run with no clear goal in mind. Each event tends to be self contained with little or no reference to an ongoing plot. LARP events feel like comics in that they just meander along with no ultimate goal in mind. People turn up, play a game, enjoy themselves and then leave again. Characters just go on and on without purpose, plots are quickly forgotten and there is no sense of overarching world events.

A self contained campaign that lasted a finite amount of time would change that. Each game would advance the plot. Enemies would be familiar, people’s goals would be consistent and we would lose the meandering nature of LARP. I feel that this campaign style would enliven LARP and give people a more memorable experience. A good ending can be a great roleplaying experience and that is sorely lacking in LARP.

Of course that will never happen because it's in the vested interest of a LARP organisation to keep running events. Thus every LARP system potters along without any real sense of unity or urgency until someone runs off with all the money or something similar.

A proper LARP campaign with a beginning, middle and end would be great. I doubt this will ever happen but I would love to see it done.

Your thoughts as always are welcome

Your resident plot monkey

Fall of Camelot

Monday, 4 July 2011

My issues with WOD

Hey all FOC again,

Roleplaying is a funny thing. What one person likes, another person will hate. The reason for this is that playing a character is a personal thing and we each get something different from it. Some people treat it as a game, something to win or beat. Others treat it as a form of self expression, whilst there is yet another camp that likes the simulation aspect and looks for as realistic a game as possible.

All this leads to some pretty entrenched camps. Optimisers vs. Roleplayers; Realism vs. Abstract; Dice vs. Diceless and often System vs. System. As I have previously said roleplayers love to argue.

The big gaming debate when I left home in the mid nineties (other than “will Magic: The Gathering kill roleplaying?”) was the battle between Dungeons and Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade. D&D had been around since 1975 and it ruled the roleplaying environment. There were other games out there but they either folded in direct competition (Rolemaster, Runequest) or carved out their own niche so as not to compete with D&D (Traveller, Call of Cthulhu). D&D by the early nineties was the big dog on campus.

Vampire and its successors (collectively the World of Darkness or WOD) changed that, at least for a while. This was the first big challenge to the hegemony of D&D and at that time you could find just as many Vampire players as players of D&D. At this point I was playing and running both D&D and Vampire equally. I also played and ran Vampire LARP. For a time they were the two dominant games on the market.

However, this rivalry lead inexorably to a war of words between the adherents of both systems. Hardcore WOD players accused D&D of being a simplistic dungeon hack and D&D players accused WOD players of being mopey Lestat wannabes. It got pretty heated for a while. I clearly remember reading a letter in the White Wolf magazine that said Vampire was better than D&D because it was a “storytelling” game not a “roleplaying” game. The inference was that Vampire was for roleplayers and D&D was for munchkins.

Of course none of this is true. You can have awesome roleplayers in D&D and munchkins in Vampire. But it must be said that after a few years of WOD I gave it up and concentrated on other games, primarily D&D. My last big bash playing a WOD game (aside from Changeling which is an honourable exception to everything I am about to say) was a Vampire LARP game I played about 10 years ago. I realised that the WOD was not for me about then.

Why? What is it about WOD that makes me dislike it so much? Well I’m not a fan of the mechanics and systems of WOD but I can ignore that in other games. Likewise the Paper-Scissors-Stone nonsense of Vamp Live I can get past. No, my objection to the WOD is more deep rooted than that. It comes down to four things:

1) It’s depressing: Everything in WOD is downbeat and pessimistic. That’s just not me. I don’t want to play a whiny depressed soul wailing for the loss of his humanity. I just can’t empathise with that. I don’t want to be the bad guy; I want to beat the bad guy.

2) It’s largely pointless: In WOD whatever you do is pointless. There’s always some bigger, badder, nastier ubervamp/wraith/wyrm thing waiting to beat you, manipulate you or turn you into something horrible. If I have no control over the destiny of my character I don’t want to play

3) The deferential attitude: In WOD games you must defer to those with more status and more power and it takes a buttload of booklicking to work your way up the greasy pole. How is that fun? One of my favourite cinematic moments is Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood marching into the Sherriff of Nottingham’s court and telling him to bugger off. It’s audacious and cool. In Vampire that scene would have ended with a quick bit of dominate and a staking. It’s a game about being a toady not a hero.

4) It’s not conducive to party cohesion: WOD in many instances sets itself up to have inter party conflict. I never like that, PvP is generally nasty and unwarranted. In LARP that is magnified five fold as PC’s eat each other alive. This is not fun.

Basically no-one in the World of Darkness smiles. There are other dark games out there but they all have a joie de vivre about them. Cyberpunk 2020 is a good example, you may only have a plastic gun with 2 bullets, a pair of sunglasses and a leather jacket but damn if you don’t look cool.

WOD is miserable and it’s characters are miserable. I don’t want to be miserable. I want to enjoy myself and play the hero. I want to jump out of a dirigible over Iceland, I want to hold the bridge against an army of thousands, I want to look into the teeth of the 1,000 year old dragon and know that it’s toast. I don’t want to explore my angst or be afraid to use my powers or defer to a corpse. Give me heroes anytime.

Your resident hero wannabe

Fall Of Camelot

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Haye, Murray and the perceived pain of being a UK sport fan.

Hi all FOC here,

Forgive me readers for I have sinned, it has been 4 days since my last blog post. In my defence I have been busy gaming. Sorry about that, I know you all hang on my every word :).

What an eventful 4 days it has been though hasn't it? England get beaten by Sri Lanka in the cricket, Murray flatters to deceive in the first set before Nadal steps up his game and Haye finally faces an opponent that's too good for him. All we needed was a miserable performance from the England football team to have a true weekend of British sport. Lucky they weren't playing really...

All of this got me to thinking about the state of British sport. Some people say that in this country we love the loveable loser. The plucky Brit who tries against all the odds but just falls short. Now about 10-15 years ago I would have agreed. Henman, Bruno, the England Cricket team of the 90's, all plucky but ultimately they all lost and we loved them despite this. But now we are getting angry as a nation when we lose. We have had an era of almost but not quite and I think the nation is less forgiving of defeat. This has given rise to two interesting phenomena.

Firstly our expectations have been raised. Why can Spain win everything in football and we get schooled by Germany (again)? Why can't we have a world beater who sweeps all before him? Our expectations have been tempered by years of disappointment and we no longer find it endearing. As a nation are beginning not to accept defeat lightly, we now expect success. Almost but not quite doesn't cut it any more.

Secondly, many of our sportsmen and women have got better. There is no doubt in my mind that Murray is orders of magnitude better than Henman. England now have (in my opinion) the best Test Match team in the world. British Olympic teams now accumulate buckets of gold medals. In cycling, sailing and Rowing we are a significant force. In rugby the home nations no longer get routinely schooled by the southern hemisphere giants. In many sports we have steeled ourselves and got better. Look at Rory McIlroy's imperious display in the US Open for a good example.

This success is in marked contrast to the England football team of course who (if anything) have got worse over the years. The fans are restless because we all see other British sportsmen and women doing well and we can't understand why England football can't emulate them. This doesn't include the women's team of course who have progressed impressively- now there's a team to follow. The British sport paradigm has shifted, we've had enough of losers, we want winners now.

As to this weekend's events well here's my opinion (you lucky things). Murray lost to a genius, pure and simple. Murray is a great player and if he doesn't end up winning a major eventually I will be surprised. I do think however that if he does win a major it will be on the hard courts of the US or Australia which suit his style better. As to Nadal, what a player and what a performance, most players wouldn't have even taken a set so Murray has some reasons to be cheerful. Murray's time may yet come.

Heavyweight boxing is not where it's at now really. Athletes from all around the world have realised that you can get more and earn more playing sports that don't require you to get punched repeatedly in the face. Why be a heavyweight boxer when you can be an NFL linebacker? It's more money and (presumably) less pain. For me Haye was always a cruiserweight pretending to be a heavyweight. As soon as he came up against a decent opponent his weaknesses were exposed. In my opinion Haye should call it a career now as he has vowed to do. He was a two weight champion, he's earned a lot of money and he just came up short of the best. Do what Hatton failed to do, bow out gracefully.

Finally English cricket. There's a strange thing in cricket that you can be massively impressive in one form of the game and an also ran in another. The fact is England are much better than Sri Lanka at test cricket and the positions are reversed in one day cricket. There are signs of encouragement though. Keiswetter is a better choice than Prior as the wicketkeeper and the likes of Bresnan and Morgan should provide a good backbone for the side going forward. There's no doubt though that England need to learn the game better in the 50 over format and must improve. But at least they haven't been whitewashed by Sri Lanka this time so clouds and silver linings and all that.

So this weekend has been a moderately depressing one for a British sport lover but that's only in the context of our new found expectations for our sportsmen and women.

Your resident pundit

Fall of Camelot

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The five worst episodes of long running sci fi shows

Hi all, FOC again,

I watch a lot of Sci Fi and for the most part I enjoy it. Sci Fi has had some of the best single episodes of TV ever written. Good Sci Fi can be a melting pot of ideas coming together to create ideas and themes that examine the human condition.

Then again it can also produce crap like the following:

5) Babylon Five: A View From The Galley

Series five of Babylon five was a mess. But actually that was not the fault of J Michael Straczynski. Meddling from the studio executives had meant that two series had to be condensed into one, leading to a rushed Series 4. So by the time it was eventually renewed for a fifth series all the compelling stories had been resolved. That led to a lot of filler in series five and this episode was no exception.

"A View From the Galley" is one of those episodes where the events of the episode are seen from the viewpoint of background characters. When done well (such as in the Star Trek TNG episode Lower Decks) this is a good technique. When done badly it's this piece of crap.

This whole episode is a love in for the established cast and is so appallingly self congratulatory that it makes you want to shoot yourself in the face. The episode is shown from the viewpoint of two mechanics whose only job it seems is to talk about how wonderful the main cast are. This culminates in one of these working stiffs saying to Captain Lochley that she's OK with him. If I didn't know this episode was written by Harlan Ellison then I would have put it down as ascended fan fiction. It's just that bad.

4) Doctor Who: Love and Monsters

I love Doctor Who. Absolutely love it. For me it contains some of the best TV characters and moments ever written.

This episode however is not an example of that. The whole thing revolves around a search for the Doctor by him off Hustle. Peter Kay is in it wearing a green fat suit and there's implied oral sex with a brick.

Need I say more?

3) Deep Space Nine: Let He Who is Without Sin

Some people say that Prophet and Lace is the worst DS9 episode. Well they are wrong. This episode is far worse.

This episode takes Leeta, Julian, Worf, Jadzia and (for some reason) Quark to the pleasure planet of Risa. Unfortunately Worf has a rod shoved so far up his arse that it may be tickling his tonsils and he gets jealous that Jadzia is spending time with someone she did the nasty with back when she was Curzon. So what does Worf do? He commits an act of terrorism.

That's basically it. The worst bit of this frankly bizarre episode is that Worf would consider doing that. It's so completely out of character that you are left scratching your head wondering what the hell just happened. Plus the acting is forced and no one seems to be having a good time. Just to reiterate, this is a pleasure planet with implied hot and cold running sex and no one is having a good time?

The Federation puzzles me...

2) Star Trek Voyager: Threshold

Ho boy, we are getting to the big dogs now. Voyager was bad. I mean really bad. It had a captain who managed to make all the wrong decisions, a first officer who was a walking native American stereotype, an ensign who couldn't get promoted on a ship 70,000 light years from resupply, a chief engineer who (as has been established elsewhere) can't identify shit without a tricorder and Neelix.

Oh Neelix, how I hate thee. For any of you blessed enough to not have experienced the horror that is Neelix imagine a 5'8" bipedal hedgehog wearing a carpet, with a personality so annoying it would make you want to punch a kitten in the face. Neelix makes Wesley Crusher look like James Dean driving a Ferrari through a series of explosions.

Funnily enough though this episode has very little of the annoying one. Instead we are subjected to a "science" based episode whose science is so patently absurd that it stops being dramatic and starts just being stupid. Very, very stupid.

A quick potted synopsis. Tom Paris (Voyager's resident talking head for "I love the Twentieth Century" a shtick he developed in place of characterisation and personality) has worked out how to go so fast that you can be everywhere in the universe simultaneously. Leaving aside for the moment that this means you will be inside every star and black hole at the same time, who exactly came up with this astonishing leap in technology? It sure as hell wasn't Torres.

Anyway it works, but doing it makes Paris die (yay!) come back to life (boo!) and then "evolve" into a giant space newt. I kid you not. He rounds this off by kidnapping Janeway and making giant space newt babies with her.

Sounds stupid? Bear in mind that this is the worst Voyager episode. That's like winning an award for the biggest waste of space in Jersey Shore.

1) Star Trek TNG: The Outrageous Okona


What could be worse than Threshold? Well dear reader let me introduce you to the Outrageous Okona. This is crap to a biblical degree, an episode so inept on every level that it goes beyond mere badness into anti entertainment. This episode's very existence makes the world that little bit worse. It is by far the most awful TV episode of anything ever.

So what makes this episode so bad? Well this is one of those episodes which has an A plot and a B plot. This is a little conceit that Star Trek used a lot and often it works well. The A plot would be the meat of the episode and the B plot would almost always be a more light-hearted comedy story. Often an episode would have a poor A plot rescued by a fun B plot.

This episode has a horrific A plot and a B plot so bad it's a punishment for shoplifting in some countries.

The A plot concerns a shameless Han Solo rip off called Okona who is apparently Outrageous because we are told this in the title. Everyone fawns over him like he's the second coming with Wesley grinning like a moron every time he comes within 20 metres. He then proceeds to hit on and sleep with everything with boobs and a pulse, tell awful jokes and basically act like a cock. We are supposed to think this guy is great mainly because we are told to through the script whereas it's obvious to anyone with any experience of talking to other human beings that this man is a colossal tosser. There's some vague Romeo and Juliet romance plot going on as well but frankly by the point that came up I was too pissed off to care.

The B plot is the worst thing ever created by Human civilisation. Data decides to find out about humour so he goes to speak to Guinan who tells him the worst joke ever written. Data proceeds to explore humour by talking to comedians, trying stand up and doing Jerry Lewis physical comedy. Crucially none of this is funny, none of it even approaches anything even remotely resembling funny. What's worse is that poor old Brent Spiner has to grit his teeth and mug his way through all this losing any good will that Data had accumulated to this point. It's truly painful to watch, like a car crash in slow motion, you are horrified but you just can't stop watching. By far and away this is a truly joyless and cringe worthy waste of 45 minutes and everyone involved should hang their heads in shame.

Your resident masochist

Fall Of Camelot

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Rules for a happy and healthy PC and player

Hi all, FOC here

I have done so much roleplaying by now that I am beginning to become an expert on what not to do as a player (what not to do as a GM I will cover in a later blog post). It's easy to screw up in a game in a myriad of ways and that's fine, we all make mistakes. There are some cardinal rules however that we should all follow when gaming. For instance:

1) Never split the party: This is such a serious screw up that I named the blog after it. Splitting the party is never a good idea. An adventure assumes that the party is at full strength for encounters. Monsters are built to take account of a party of 4 not a party of 2 and 2 others exploring the latrines. Splitting the party therefore increases risk of death exponentially, don't do it.

2) Don't create a contrary jerk: So the party consists of a bunch of go getting good guys? Don't play a sadistic murderer. It's that simple. You should be allowed to play what you like sure, but creating a concept which directly goes against what other people want to play is selfish. They will have to adjust to accommodate you and that's not fair.

3) Pride cometh before a failed saving throw: Just because you have a 95% chance of success doesn't mean you can't fail. High chances of success can often lead to a sense of invulnerability, don't risk it, you will just end up looking like an idiot.

4) Character backgrounds should be short: The GM is writing a story with you and the important stuff happens during the game, not before it. Writing a detailed 4 page background for a starting character is too much. A GM looks for inspiration in character backgrounds but if you swamp him with too much detail he will miss things that are key to your character, which in turn will lead to resentment from you. 500 words max for character backgrounds is enough, preferably with bullet points.

5) "It's what my character would do" is an excuse for being a dick: When I acted as a youngster I remember someone objecting to a line in a play we were doing. "My character wouldn't say this!" came the cry to which the director replied "but he does say it so find a way to make it work."

That always stuck with me and it is a useful piece of advice for roleplaying. "Sorry guys, it's what my character would do" is a horrible phrase. It usually means that player has just screwed over the party. How is that fun for anyone else? It's selfish roleplaying and actually shows a lack of imagination. Don't do it.

6) You don't have to describe everything you are doing: No one else wants to hear you describe exactly how you are picking the lock. Make the damn roll and get on with it.

7) The GM is eventually right: By all means debate rules interpretations but once the GM makes a call accept it and move on.

8) Accept death like an adult: So you are dead? Deal with it. No one likes a whiner.

9) Don't do other stuff whilst playing: Don't play on your laptop, do work, read comics etc. It's rude to the GM.

10) Always fill in your character sheet: It's extremely irritating to have to work out your to hit modifier on the fly. Work it out, fill it in and save everybody a lot of needless hassle.

There will be more of these in later posts as I think of them.

Your resident rule monkey

Fall Of Camelot

Monday, 27 June 2011

2 gamers, 3 opinions

Hi guys, FOC here

So I thought I would kick off by giving my opinions on games. I play all sorts of games, Tabletop RPG's, Video Games, Board Games, LARP, Wargames, you name it I've probably played it. I owe my not so chiselled physique to countless hours at a table cramming jaffa cakes down my gullet whilst pretending to be an elf. It's fun, hell it's more than fun to me, it's what I do. You get that question all the time when meeting new people "What do you do?" well I game. Oh I have a job and suchlike but if I'm honest my calling is little funny dice on a table somewhere.

Is it weird? Well yeah, sure it is, I spend an awesome amount of time pretending to be someone else, that's nothing if not weird. But there's nothing wrong with weird. I'd rather be weird than not actually, at least then I'm interesting.

Of course this leads to one of those interesting things about gaming. It attracts the long and the short and the tall (of which I am one). People less concerned about image than their boundless enthusiasm for escapism. I have met hundreds of these people from all around the world and I am constantly amazed by their capacity for originality and creativity. That's what gaming does. It promotes creative thinking and attracts those who exist on the fringe of popular culture. That's what we often are, fringers, a creative group who live vicariously through characters of our own devising.

Of course such an eccentric group does have it's share of opinions and as I post more I will be sharing with you some of the more interesting splits and disagreements in gaming. Gaming attracts it's share of strong willed people who are not afraid to share an opinion (whether you want them to or not). This is one of the best things about gaming, it is also often one of the things that causes the most consternation. Two gamers can indeed have three opinions. That's a good and a bad thing.

But we wouldn't have it any other way.

Your resident fringer

Fall of Camelot

So I'm bored...

Hi folks, FOC here.

So this is my new blog. Funky isn't it? Now I guess you are wondering why I'm bothering to write a blog and that would be a very good question. The fact of the matter is that this is a purely selfish thing I am doing. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has their blog and the world is replete with morons spewing forth their opinions on just about everything. I therefore am exercising my rights to spew forth my opinions because I'll be damned if I am not adding to that. If you have to read what some dickhead has written at least let it be this dickhead.

I will try to add a little note every day so long as real life doesn't get in the way. (This also assumes I can pry Mrs Camelot away from the keyboard).

As ever feel free to comment on anything I write just if you feel the necessity to insult me please try to be creative about it. There's nothing worse than an unoriginal insult y'know?

As ever, your resident dickhead

Fall of Camelot