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On Your Left – The Importance of Falcon in the MCU

With the recent news of Sony’s reclaiming Spider-Man I feel like anything I write on the subject of the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now will feel increasingly post-mortem, but there’s nothing wrong with the odd retrospective.

I don’t know why I found myself dwelling on the character of Sam Wilson, but his introduction in The Winter Soldier I found to be one of the most important moments in the MCU. The ninth film, six years after the advent of the series, and up until that moment we were missing several profound elements that Falcon brings to the table especially in his introductory scene. (more…)

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Advice for Creatives – Buy A Good Notebook

Sounds pretty dumb, right?

We all do it, at least all writers I know have notebooks at home that never get written in because dammit they’re just too damn pretty. Despite the acres of prime note-taking real estate on £30+ leather bound acid-free paper, instead we swamp our desks with post-its, cast off receipts and torn out pages from notebooks that cost a quid for a shrink wrapped pack of five. Oddly specific? Well there’s also heaps of dice, magic cards, and an empty chocolate raisin wrapper if you must know.

Here’s the perverse logic I realised a while back that has an oddly profound effect on confidence in one’s own work. All those disposable pieces of paper with your thoughts are too easy to throw away, and we apply the same disposability to the ideas we’ve written down.

And yet here are these pristine and beautiful notebooks that we spent money on and now keep on shelves, unwritten in because we don’t want to spoil them with our thoughts. Does that make sense? Would we put greater value on our notes if we wrote them on better paper that’s harder to throw away? Would our doodles and scribbles have greater importance if we actually put them between prettier pages?

From experience, let me tell you, yes to all of the above. Writing now for six years, starting my own business, and slowly but surely coming to value my own work enough to put an actual price tag on it has all taught me better and more productive habits. I’ve probably tried too many at this point, but among those I can say actually work, highest on the list are: writing to a regular schedule, and actually valuing your own work, holding yourself to a standard*, and part of that is actually putting your work into something you care about, like a good notebook.

Most of you have that notebook, and let me clarify that the notebook needn’t be a notebook, it could be a sketchbook, a particular folder, maybe it’s music that you’ve only ever written and heard via synthesised but you never actually play and record it on a real instrument. Maybe you’re surrounded by scribbles but you’ve never put those images to canvas… I’m spitballing here, I’m out of my format, I don’t know how the same hangups apply to other creatives, you tell me.

I am encouraging you all to apply greater value to yourselves than you may have done before. No, not all of you, some of you are already out there, putting yourselves out into the world and aspiring for something new, some of you don’t need to hear it. Some of you may be staring at your desk quietly nodding to yourselves and wondering what to write. Here’s the next part, stop wondering, and just start writing something about your current project, or resurrecting one that you loved once and haven’t touched in far too long.


*Not a high standard, not even a good one particularly, just set a certain expectation like word count, or upholding certain values like adhering to certain rules.


Gen Con – Meeting Zombie Orpheus

Ok, last article about Gen Con* or I’m not coming off the subject until October and frankly I’ve got some other stuff wants writing sat in my to-do pile, but this one’s a big deal for me.

Regulars here know I have a particular fondness of the works of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, more specifically The Gamers film project and it’s miscellaneous spin-offs (like Human’s and Households, Natural One, and so on) and Journey Quest which has just had it’s fourth season renewed via kickstarter. The fan supported studio creates comedy for nerds, and I’ve been watching and supporting them since I got into the hobby over ten years ago. The chance to get to meet some of the faces who have inspired my passion for the hobby was something truly incredible. (more…)


Gencon 2019 – A Foreigner’s Guide

Foreign from another English speaking country, but I had to get on a plane and go over real water. Still, you take my meaning, America – to me – is a strange country with no mountains, straight roads, and personal injury billboards. Your food does strange things to my stomach, and you don’t appear to have trains. To your credit, only three people out of the countless I spoke to got my accent wrong, and in most cases not by much, but on the other hand some of you seem to think that Brexit is all done and dusted, and that made me cry.

So based on my one and only experience, here’s what I’d tell anyone coming from outside of America headed to Gencon, and some advice I’d give to any first-timers. (more…)


Gencon 2019 – In Brief

Oh boy do I have a lot to talk about, but I’m going to try and keep my week of experiences brief, which means I’ll only be talking about it for a couple of weeks*, and for this article in particular I’ll be painting in broad strokes.

Getting to Indianapolis was a saga in its own right, a screw up with booking the flight cost me a grand more than it should have done, I missed out on a couple of the opportunities I’d have liked, and learned a few other lessons about how Gencon works differently to other conventions, but I’ll save a lot of that for another article. For now here’s a quick summary of my experiences. (more…)


GenCon 2019 – On My Way

By the time you read this I should… hopefully be on my way to GenCon (assuming you’re reading this on day of publish, I may already be there, I may have left). After a disastrous and costly mixup with the flights, the only thing I have to be nervous about now is being on my own in a foreign country… and everything afterwards.

I’m booked in to a hotel almost an hour’s drive away from the convention, and I missed booking to see Critical Role live. This journey has been problematic to say the least, but…

 

It’s quite possibly the biggest gaming convention in the world, with only Essen and UKGE to present any real competition. I’ve got chances to meet some of the most famous faces in the business, the same business that technically I’m now in. I’ll also be watching the Gamers perform live on Saturday, the only event I’ve actually booked a place at, for the rest of the event I intent to wander the con floor and see who and what I can find.

I plan to bring games, anyone who wants a quick D&D one-shot, I will be carrying a few on me, and I know it’s not too hard to land a game at GenCon, but that’s not going to stop me preparing. I’ll also be packing a couple of Magic decks, seriously, seek me out.

And while I’m trying to meet new people, anyone else going who DMs/GMs for hire? I’d love to meet other people in the same field, talk about your experiences and share some of my own. If any other pros are out there and want to chat, give me a shout in the comments, or on the Shropshire Dungeon Master Facebook page.

Otherwise, this ends my work at GeekOut for the next week or so… hopefully see some of you in Indianapolis.


GeekOut Shrewsbury July ’19 – Convention Season

We shouldn’t cancel GeekOut during heatwaves, no matter how tempting it might be. Who’d go outside in that? No one should have to endure those kind of temperatures but… y’know if I start down this path, the discussion gets dark. There were cold drinks and board games, ultimately that’s what’s important here.

The Pour House

I recently found out that The Pour House is about the change hands. Here’s wishing the previous owners the very best of luck in their future endeavours, and hoping the new owners uphold the legacy. We like the Pour House, I mean, I don’t drink so a place that does interesting things without alcohol is always high on my priorities list.

Thanks Tom for bringing in an old rendition of Jumanji as a real-life board game… not as immersive as the original. I managed to settle a score in Magic… that is a blatant lie, I had my ass handed to me by Kim again! Time to raise a deck with a higher pace to it, or maybe raise the Super Soldier deck from the archives.

Main Event

It should no longer be a surprise for me that our events these days get busy early and stay that way pretty much throughout, especially at this time of year, no doubt things will change come October or something, but in either case Monty’s Tower started out being pleased to see us, then asked us nicely to start using the other bar for a while after everything got a bit hectic. Fair ask, cheers guys.

Highlights of this month’s Shrewsbury Meet, Julia fetching out a 3D camera to play with, we did, shamelessly, an improvised chessboard, and the time it rained for about two minutes and it was… just so great.

Con-Poster Competition

Half an hour to design a poster for the best convention you can imagine! A theme, an event, and a special guest star are the minimum requirements, and design talent not… strictly necessary, although apparently an unfair advantage was granted to those who understood – or at least shared – my personal sense of humour, which is almost certainly how Murray won. Milencon would be a bleak affair of staring blankly into our respective hands as we despair over the world we live in and the unhealthy coping mechanisms we use to handle it.

Second place Cluedo Fest appealed to my bloodlust, love of the noir, and I liked the ambiguity of… literally every component. Vanitycon takes third place for it’s cynical approach to internet based narcissism. Other events were beautiful in their own regard, except Joelcon, which had the hubris to assume any relation between me and colours outside of grey.


Next Month, August 29th, Netflix and GeekOut, a celebration of Netflix and internet streaming original content. Attendees are not required to chill… if it’s anything like this month, it may prove impossible.


SDCC Trailers 2019

The last time I did one of these was four years ago, I really ought to make it a more regular thing because San Diego Comiccon is a prime event to promote new material and media coming up in time for the mass indoor-migration. Here are a few of the highlights I’ve picked up on:

Harley Quinn Animated Series [NSFW]

No seriously, they packed this thing with bad language and violence.

Ok, this has some potential. I like Kaley Cuoco as Harley Quinn although I wish she’d given it the proper southern-drawl* that has been a hallmark of the character for decades, but that’s about my only complaint. In the post-Nolan DC days it can be hard sometimes to remember that there have been fun days in DC, even in Gotham where some of the dumbest villains have challenged the caped crusader, and that includes Quinn. So far we appear to be capturing the essence of what Suicide Squad wanted and failed to achieve, and we’ve kept key elements of the Suicide Squad Quinn in the pink and blue look.

Being broadcast on the new DC subscription network may limit the potential pretty dramatically, I actually think this may prove to be a growing problem because Disney are doing the same thing (more on that later) and the number of subscription services are getting as prolific as the number of television channels, but now you have to pay for all of them individually, and slowly but surely that new business model is going to prove how well it doesn’t work. I think. That’s my opinion at any rate.

Anyway, reserving judgement on Harley Quinn but holding on to a shred of optimism.

Picard

The Abrahamsverse Star Trek has put one hell of a stamp on Star Trek since then, we’ve seen it all over STD, and apparently we’re seeing this new theme of industrial style sets and higher colour-contrast lighting schemes in this resurrection of the greatest captain to ever command an Enterprise. The story looks to be another combination of Data and the Borg, and Seven of Nine will be joining the crowd as well to really dig into themes like artificial intelligence versus actual intelligence, life, freedom and independence. Rumours are that Jonathan Frakes will also be reappearing.

Our new crew includes Allison Pill and Harry Treadaway, two very talented young actors who never seem to have broken big which is a genuine tragedy.

Prediction: Turns out the young woman in the trailer with all that mystery around her is the borg queen and somehow time travel is involved… again. I say that because it looks like that borg cube is under construction, and as everyone has a particular loathing of this woman there’ll be some kind of shenanigans with nanomachinery and paradoxes. In short I can’t say as I’m all that excited, but I’m curious.

Marvel Season 4

I was expecting a long slow decline for the MCU that would slowly hurt everyone’s feelings and ruin ten years of amazing cinema by soaking the legacy in bleach until we’re left with a flimsy, pale imitation of what used to be. It looks like they just gave up, no part of the line-up gets me excited, no, not even the new Thor film.

Blade and Fantastic 4 have been confirmed for the future, along with another Spidey-film, and a Black Panther follow up, and sure we’ve got the groundwork for a Secret War or something, and who knows, maybe this is a grand fake-out, but I have some issues, and I’ll keep them short.

The time for Black Widow was about three years ago, some time around Civil War or Winter Soldier when she was at her most popular. A great animated film was made with her and the Punisher working together to take down Crimson Dynamo, and that was about as good as I think we’ll see. You want a good Black Widow? Red Sparrow is probably your best bet.

One quick look into the history of the Eternals tells me that there will need to be some serious conceptual changes to make them work well in the MCU. They’re a bunch of demigods in service to the Celestials, which should bring in a few of the Celestials in time for the likes of Glactus and whatnot, but from what I read they’re far from beloved characters. Shang-Chi is a house built on sand, with Iron Fist flopping harder than Finn Jones’ hair (hah!) and the Mandarin being a fake-out that upset a lot of fans.

“Multiverse of Madness” is a rather uninspiring subtitle, as is “Love and Thunder” which sounds like an episode of Miami Vice.

And here are all of these Disney+ titles, all of which were unsubtly set up during Infinity/Game, Hawkeye will be about training a younger archer, Loki picks up from the Tesseract incident, and buddy cops Falcon and Winter Soldier screams of Lethal Weapon with more vibranium. What If… sounds like it could be mildly interesting, but it’d need to do something more than regurgitate the old What If’s of the comics. What they plan to do with Wanda and Vision is anyone’s guess but for now I’m contenting myself with some early 00’s style sitcom in which most of the comedy is Vision trying to understand people.

A better sounding fan-timeline can be found here, filled with titles that – while clearly fake – has a few more beguiling titles.

Et Al

So the Witcher looks… fine, I guess? There are a few showpiece scenes that look like they could be cool, but I’m listening to the story and it doesn’t grip me yet. I’m quietly hoping to see a Mad Max style approach to Geralt, approaching as a nearly blank slate who comes to propel someone else’s story.

Far more interesting, we saw a mini making-of for dark Crystal along with a bit of new footage which looks like it’ll be a genuine masterpiece of television. It’ll be something to look forward to binging straight after Insomnia.

We’ve had new trailers for a bunch of extra films that we’ve known about for a while, a glimpse of what Rick and Morty’s fourth season will have to hold which… basically is more of the same but that’s cool, that’s what we like. A, hopefully better, television adaption of His Dark materials is on the way and now we can see a bit of it, it looks like it won’t be shying away from the anti-religious themes that were omitted in the Golden Compass film, but also features a cast of some of the best actors of the decade. IT, Watchmen, Westworld, but perhaps the thing that worries me the most is the Snowpiercer series that I simply cannot envision accomplishing what the film did.

Hate to end this on such a downer, so I’ll let it fizzle on a bad line instead.


*New Jersey accent! Turns out I’ve been getting it wrong for years.


Endless Character Sheets

Today’s article is late, that is a fact. Which is not to say that I’m sat staring at a blank page in desperation trying to reach a deadline, no I’m being quite productive. Folder after folder is filling up with 5e character sheets ready for this Summer’s Insomnia, at which I will again play ten games in four days, and as each session is only two hours long, better to get the character sheets ready than to have people prepare their characters at the table.

With such efforts comes practice, and better yet comes an abundance of other characters from which I can copy and paste important content like class features that require a certain amount of abridging to be made palatable to new players who might be daunted by enormous blocks of text. It’s now very little effort to actually fill in the basics, but with that comes a freedom to get experimental, and at I65, I’ll be bringing a few experiments, because we’re playing a few Plane Shift games. And so as not to give away too much, I’ll only be introducing you to one team…

Khef Crop: Amonkhet

Welcome one and all to the trial of strength! Pulling a few rules from the guidelines set out in Plane Shift: Amonkhet article, the group will step into the sandals of the surviving members of Khef Crop, each bearing the cartouches of both the trials of solidarity and knowledge, now they fight their way along the Luxa river, the mighty god Rhonas looming nearby as a beatific tutor and pitiless judge. For these heroes, there is only one class, Initiate, but in each case I have multiclassed like mad and modified a hell of a lot. I’ve also been going by a slightly more old-school approach to character creation, rolling stats in order having already decided on the race. Here are some of the characters I’ve come up with…

The Naga: A mixture of the cleric of strength and a worshipper of Rhonas himself, and a fighter battle-master. The character has spells to lend a degree of utility outside of combat, much of which is healing but still potentially useful, and I added the maneuvre Sidewind, which allows the Naga to make a heavy hitting attack and immediately disengage from combat, allowing him or her to evade the worst of retaliation, or perhaps land somewhere to threaten someone new. The cleric elements reflect the Naga’s ability to overcome the trials that came before, but here is where he or she is most desperate to shine.

The Devotee: Revering the God Pharaoh first and foremost (hey, it’s not their fault he’s a manipulative dragon planeswalker), and borrowing some inspiration from these warlock invocations that I absolutely adore, this character uses the one listed as Blades of Demogorgon and makes it Horns of the God Pharaoh. I also added Torment of Scarabs because this pdf doesn’t have invocations for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything cantrips, this makes Infestation a concentration spell that consumes your bonus action to maintain. The Devotee has a little bit of rogue in them to add greater potency to their weapon attacks, and lend a bit of evasiveness to the famous glass-cannon.

The Khenra: Khenra come in pairs, it is very rare for the jackal-headed folk to be born as anything other than twins, so hey, let’s stay in-lore shall we? Both are a classic blend of barbarian and fighter, and I added an element of an Amonkhet card I liked and threw in some mechanics I knew would work. Consuming Fervour (fervor in the American spelling) steals a little from the Scourge Aasimar, upping the damage of the barbarian Rage, and taking some extra damage back in kind. Well that’s fine, right? You can just end the Rage whenever? Well not if you’ve got a mean spirited DM who decided to make it impossible to end a rage unless your doused in water.

I might change one of these two subtly, possibly lending a complimentary variation of Rage, or perhaps shifting the balance of classes more in favour of fighter than barbarian… TBD.

The Aven: The Aven might end up as the only pure-class character in the crop, but lately I have been making a lot of wizard subclasses, so expect some homebrew materials no matter what. Having an Aven in the Crop makes my designs a lot more three-dimensional, so there should be a few options to make other people fly in there as well so that everyone can enjoy.

And that makes five… leaving one more. So far I have characters reflecting four colours, leaving only white to go…

Well I have to leave something a surprise for the day. And I still have two more planes to work on.


Three More Netflix Reviews

I had fun with the last one, and there’s a few things I have opinions on that I didn’t review while I was in my last run of Dungeon Situationals. Rather than review one at a time, let’s take a short look at each. (more…)