Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Post-Traumatic Slide Syndrome"

"And you expect me to believe in Sliding?" "Of course." "Why?" "Because it's real..."
This is an episode that, to this day, sparks a lot of debate over an event that happens right near the end. The creators have established their original intent, though it really has no bearing on the show given events that occur next season (which we'll get to when we get to). As for my own personal feelings on it, we'll get to that in the conclusion. For the time being, let's get on with the episode.

We begin in another world's San Francisco as Rembrandt is pouring out his heart to a Dr. Matthew Liebling, a psychiatrist. He drops a few details about their adventures, apparently having explained the concept of multiverse travel to him as his starting point and claiming that his "boat has been rocked too many times" in their travels. Liebling tells him to start at the beginning, and Remmy begins to tell a story from a few weeks ago.

The Sliders fall into a suburban area in the customary manner and with the usual banter. As they recover, however, Quinn suddenly begins to recognize things about where they've landed. A neighbor's car that was rear-ended before they left...a neighbor's place...and then they find the Mallory home.  Quinn tries the Squeaky Gate test...and it passes! It squeaked! To further compound the belief, Quinn's mother rushes out and there is a joyful reunion between mother and son. As Remmy puts it, after eighteen months of wandering the multiverse, it seems that they are finally home at last.

Except, y'know...totally not, but it's not actually a twist this time, so I'll let it go.

In the Mallory household, champagne flutes are passed about in celebration, Wade phones her family who are apparently in joyful shock at their return, and Quinn and Remmy stroke Arturo's ego about a few of his exploits including ripping off the movie Armageddon (which came out a full two years after this, so...Arturo got ripped off by Michael Bay). Enjoying the fact that they've finally come home, Quinn makes a toast to friendship and Remmy adds "and to home".

Later, in Quinn's basement, Arturo is lost in thought while Quinn shows Remmy the basement where it all started. Arturo relays his thoughts to the group, seeing as they don't know how to fully control Sliding, they ought to keep quiet about their experiences. Remmy immediately takes issue with it, saying how it would boost his career and Wade and Quinn bringing up the more practical notion that they can't just lie to their families about where they've been for eighteen months.

Quinn eventually talks Arturo into agreeing that they need to at least tell their families and swear them to secrecy.  Arturo promises, in about a month, he and Quinn will have the biggest press conference the world has ever seen, giving Quinn a pointed note that they will start work on Monday. Quinn and Wade share a tender moment where she thanks him for all they've expected and kisses him before taking off herself.

Remmy continues to narrate as Arturo returns to San Francisco University, meeting his assistant who is apparently surprised to see him...and seemingly rather confused at Arturo's references to having been away for a long time. Apparently, his ego is so intense that he can't figure out something's up. Remmy, meanwhile, meets up with his agent and promises him a big comeback the likes of which the world has never seen.

"Son of a bitch must pay..."
Back at the ranch, Quinn gets a call from Wade who tells him to turn on the television. Arturo is on a talk show where he has come out claiming to have invented Sliding. Wade is outraged, claiming that Quinn needs to call in, but he's so shocked at the revelation he can't even speak. At a bar, he meets with Wade and Remmy who both think he needs to bring Arturo to task over stealing the credit. While they feel bad about it, of course, both Wade and Remmy have benefited from Arturo spilling the beans - Remmy's career is taking off like never before and Wade has been offered a million dollars to have her diary serialized. Quinn tries to get a hold of Arturo before things get off the trails, but gets deferred by his assistant and then notices a framed newspaper claiming that the 49ers beat the Jets in the Super Bowl XIX.

I'd make a sports-related joke, but as we established in "Eggheads", I don't sports goodly at all.

He brings this to the attention of Remmy and Wade claiming that this isn't their world because the 49ers didn't play against the Jets in the Super Bowl that year, but the pair of them are not convinced in spite of the fact that Quinn is a football fanatic and would very obviously remember statistics like this.  Quinn heads back to Casa di Mallory just in time to hear glass breaking in the basement and a figure in a black ski mask coming from downstairs to tackle him and make a break for it. Quinn pursues, but the figure escapes via Oz's van from Buffy.

The next morning, Quinn arrives at Wade's new place and talks to her new assistant. Getting her of a conference call, Quinn informs her at the timer was stolen in the break-in. He's avoided making a statement, however, as he doesn't care about getting the credit because he still isn't convinced this is their world. He shows her a picture of his first grade class,  and one of the children who had braces on their world...doesn't. However, Wade insists it makes no sense because their families were here waiting for them. Quinn theorizes that their doubles on this world slid at the same time they did, but Wade refutes it. Quinn is determined, however, and leaves in spite of Wade's protests.

Arturo has his press conference to explain the Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Bridge theory. When Quinn enters, he is flustered and calls for a recess. The two talk, Quinn trying to convince him that they are not on their world. But Arturo is no more convinced than Wade and Rembrandt were.

Rembrandt, in the meanwhile, is in the studio listening to a re-recording of his hit "Cry Like A Man" when Wade shows up and they discuss Quinn's seemingly deteriorating mental state and that everything is wonderful and, in spite of everything, they owe him for it. They also mention a museum opening tomorrow, Remmy wanting to try to get Quinn to it to smooth everything over with Arturo if they can.
[Insert Statue Pun Here]

At the opening, a big black tie event, Arturo greets Wade and Remmy before they are swallowed up by the media. Shooing them off, Wade immediately turns on Arturo and chides him for taking credit for the discovery of sliding. Arturo retorts that he laid the groundwork and would have done it himself had Quinn not done it, a rather callous attitude that makes neither of them all that suspicious. However, upon the unveiling of Arturo's new statue and him being proclaimed "the Father of Interdimensional Travel", they suddenly realize that the Professor's head may have gotten a little too overinflated and something needs to be done.

They also find the timer on display. It appears that Arturo had it stolen.

On the phone, Wade tells Quinn of his betrayal and insists that he cannot steal the timer back. He begins his usual spiel of "we're not home" and Wade angrily tells him that they are and that he needs to get over it before hanging up and coming up upon the big, shocking twist of the episode - the Azure Gate Bridge!
...except for the framing device of story. And the fact that something as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge being a different color surely wouldn't be missed by actual native San Franciscans, but there's me trying to bring logic into Sliders again and we all know how well that will turn out.

This is at least addressed when Wade laments that she must have heard "Azure Gate Bridge" over the radio a few dozen times and it just never registered. Quinn tries to comfort her, telling her that they'll get the timer and then slide out of there and that their real families are still out there waiting for them. Quinn also forgives Wade for thinking he was going crazy. They confront Arturo with the knowledge of the world being different...and apparently he already worked it out. He tells them to grow up - this is likely to be the best they will get, since they'll likely never get back to their own world.

Quinn demands the timer back, but Arturo says its on loan to the science museum. Quinn reasserts that he'll get the timer and they're sliding out with or without Arturo. The Professor tells him the veiled threat of "so will I" after saying that Quinn will do what he has to. Outside, Quinn tells Wade that Arturo has basically lost hope that they'll ever get home. He tells Wade he can't promise that he'll ever be able to get them home, but Wade has faith that they will get home.

Having seen the rest of this show, it's really sad that such innocent naivete will go punished repeatedly. But we'll beat that dead horse when we come to it.

The two of them head off to go tell Rembrandt. And I haven't been noting it, but the episode has been cutting back occasionally to Rembrandt in Liebling's office telling the story. He tells him that, at this point, the re-issue of "Cry Like A Man" had sold more copies in a short time than the original had in sixteen years, and he was being worked into a deal to get his old band back together - the Four Topps. Maurice (who you may remember from "The King Is Back") and another one of the Topps come in and make demands of him, interrupted by Quinn making a call that Remmy just says to take a message for.

"Uh...hey, guys! We were just looking for the bathroom, can you help us?"
In the museum, a guard checks the area and makes the all-clear just as Quinn and Wade make their move, checking out the timer display case. With only thirty seconds left, Quinn lifts the glass and sets off the alarm, taking the timer...which suddenly resets to twenty four hours before the next slide - something that it's never done before. Quinn reasons its a replica just in time for the pair of them to be arrested.

After the commercial break, Remmy tells Liebling that the experience really woke up him, learning what happened to Quinn and Wade and bailing them out of jail and realizing they were willing to miss the slide for their sake. Liebling's secretary interrupts and he steps out to speak to her, telling her to call a nearby mental hospital for the most extraordinary case of off the wall dementia he's ever seen. She complies and he comes back to hear the insanity.

The Topps apparently pulled out and Remmy got some of the sheet music to learn that some of the Topps' hits...are actually co-written by his bandmates on this world. He knew the truth, but was so caught up in his success that he didn't want to admit it, apologizing for his actions. They head to Arturo's place, reasoning that he must have the timer. Because breaking and entering worked so well before, Quinn does it again and they begin rooting around. As they do...they suddenly hear a familiar voice calling for help...

...the Professor! And I think you know what that means!

Times The Sliders Have Run Into Their Doubles: 8

With a shorter, snappier line, no less!
"Help! Peter Jackson's keeping me here until I agree to be in The Simarillion!!!"
As it seems, the real Arturo has been captured by his double from this Earth, who I will hereafter refer to as Fauxturo. They come down and release him, Arturo explaining that Fauxturo apparently was going to slide with their other doubles from this world, but he chickened out at the last minute and has been spending his time since trying to recreate Sliding...during which time the four of them fell into his lap. They prepare to search for the timer, but Fauxturo arrives and reveals he was in on the whole thing.

We get a wonderful scene where Arturo argues with himself, each one trying to convince the others that they are the real Arturo. The one we believe to be Fauxturo brings up such adventures they've had as one where he built the atom bomb or the one where he met his late wife, though the one formerly chained retorts that anyone who's read Wade's diary would know that. They get down to fisticuffs, the unchained one punching out the other. Quinn gets back the timer, telling them they have seventeen minutes until they slide.

Buuuuuuut, that doesn't keep them from going back and giving goodbyes to their families - Quinn his not-mother and Wade her not-father and not-mother. Arturo opens the vortex, and Fauxturo arrives by taxi insisting they've made a terrible mistake. Quinn thinks to just bring both and sort it out when they slide, but Arturo eighty-sixes that plan and tells the others to slide while we witness the most epic game of "Stop Hitting Yourself" ever devised since Kirk fought that shapeshifting alien chick in The Undiscovered Country.

Wade and Remmy go through, Quinn remaining to witness the fight and make sure the Professor gets through. One eventually wounds the other to the point where they can escape and he proceeds through the Vortex with Quinn, leaving the other to watch as it closes and proclaims "oh, my god!". Back in the "present", Remmy wraps up his story, having said all there is to say.  They're back to wandering the multiverse with no idea if they're ever going to get home, on top of not knowing whether the Arturo they have is really their Arturo or not.

"Tell me about the lambs, Rembrandt..."
Outside, Quinn, Wade, and Arturo (?) have caught up with Remmy and get past the secretary to get into the shrink's office,  apparently only having a short time before the slide takes place - Arturo telling the secretary that they're family before closing the door on her face. The vortex gets opened, the others leap through as Liebling looks on in  shock at the sight of the thing...and it appears that the straitjacket he called for has been given...to him...

Okay, let's go ahead and get the big thing about this episode out of the way. I hold that the real Arturo (that is to say, the Arturo from Earth Prime) slid from that world with the others. My reasoning for this is simple, his actions in later episodes up until his departure from the show is more consistent with the Arturo we've seen than the one that appears as a double in this episode. True, Arturo has had moments where his ego has gotten the better of him (and he is no stranger to them after this episode, either), but he is a man of reason and logic and not one to be overcome by selfish pride or to not ultimately do the right thing when the situation called for it.

And it becomes a moot point regardless as the situation would never be resolved before executive producer Tracy Tormé would leave the show. His original intention was for the Arturo that slid with the group to be the double from Earth Double Prime, but as I've stated before his actions after his episode give me no reason to believe that he is or was indeed ever planned to be. There is such a thing as pretending to be something else in order to survive, but I imagine the persona could only have been kept up for so long, given Arturo's rather pigheaded nature in either universe.

Also, this does bring to mind how a lot of Arturo's duplicates are strangely in the psychotically evil category.  But then, hey, doubles be cray, am I right?

Also of note in this episode is the continuation of Rembrandt's character development. Consider back in "The King Is Back", when he had to be pulled offstage by the others once screwed over by his double in his big comeback. In this episode, when Remmy realizes that the fame is keeping him from seeing what's important, he not only turns his back on all of it, but actually apologizes to Quinn and Wade - something that he would have never done in the early days.

It's a very small moment, but it's a good one that contributes to his change from an egotistical jerk into the beloved everyman that he will be...barring some writing issues, of course, but again - dead horse we'll beat when we get there.

This episode in general is a pretty good one. I do like the mystery of which Arturo is which throughout, even if it's obvious (to me, at least) which one did slide with the others at the end. I like Remmy's character development, and besides the minor niggle with the fact that they somehow get back to their families in seventeen minutes to talk to them before they slide, I can't find any real problems with it.

I mean, other some use of the Idiot Ball and failed Spot Checks for them not to realize that  THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE IS THE WRONG COLOR!

Next time, we get another love story. This time with some unforeseen circumstances. Stay tuned!

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, July 24, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines"

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is a game based on White Wolf's Classic World of Darkness RPG setting...most specifically Vampire: The Masquerade.  This requires a little background, both on the RPG itself and this game that was spawned from it.  So, for the TL;DR crowd - you play a vampire, in a society of vampires, and you are in a unique position to shape the world before you based on your decisions. Now scroll down a paragraph or two.

For those that aren't of that caliber: Vampire: The Masquerade is an RPG in which you play...a vampire. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, where the objective is killing monsters and getting loot, Vampire is more about the introspection on the nature of the feral side of vampires, known as "the Beast" and trying not to succumb to it.  And while there is more to it than that, that's the basic roleplaying reason by it. The emphasis here is on the roleplaying, developing the character and, again, trying to stave off the Beast.

...unless you're playing the other side of it, but that's a whole other can of worms.  But luckily, you can get a crash course in the lore of the setting, including the separate factions and the legends of Caine and the Antediluvians (read: really, really old vampires)...right, I said Caine, as in Cain and Abel, with the former being the original vampire cursed by God.

...unless you're one of the vampires that come from Asia, but again...another can of worms.

Perhaps it'd be better to just skip the background on the RPG (it's not really that important anyway, and you do get the cliff notes), and get to the game itself.  Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines was released by Troika Games and Activision back in 2004. It was an unplayable, buggy mess of a game, largely because Troika had a very truncated development cycle and a deadline from Activision that saw it sent out basically unfinished by the development team, who were already using an engine they were unfamiliar with.

However, like in many endeavors, the desire of gamers to enjoy a game has seen them go to astoundingly insane lengths before and Bloodlines has gotten better than most thanks to fan efforts. Even to this day, there are still mods out there being made for it, as well as patches and fixes being done up.  The one in particular I was told to get was the "official" patch, currently in version 9 when I got a hold of it.  Otherwise, the game is, as I said, a buggy and unplayable mess.  So, thanks a bunch, internet!

As for the game itself, you can begin by picking one of several different clans of vampires - each with their own abilities and drawbacks - and set your stats, or you can do a questionnaire and have the game pick for you based on your answers.  Having some familiarity with the Old World of Darkness, thanks to my gaming group, I decided to go for two different characters for "serious" playthroughs - a low-Conscience Ventrue with a fondness for being all silver-tongued and using a bat when that didn't work, and a Brujah who didn't care much for politics and preferred to hit, stab, or shoot her way out of situations.

Needless to say, given that I was working on shifting to a computer interface from console, I died quite a few times with that playstyle before I got the hang of it.  Still, having gone through a few different characters to check out the disciplines, I found them (mostly) to be rather workable and mostly balanced, given that the player has to give up blood in order to use them...which dries up quick if you're not paying attention...which can often happen in intense combat situations, which leads to a Frenzy mode where the player loses control as their avatar goes on a killing rampage.

Which leads into the Humanity and the Masquerade ratings. Humanity is how much the player is resisting the Beast, holding on to their humanity. If your Humanity drops to zero, it's game over. Same goes the the Masquerade - the rules of Camarilla society that try to keep humans from learning about vampires (in Camarilla lands, anyway). If your Masquerade rating drops to zero, the game is also over. Simply put, you have to be just human enough and just hidden enough in order to keep things going.

...which is funny when very visible events like blowing up a warehouse are directly caused by you in the plot...but whatever.

Speaking of the plot, it goes as follows. Your character has been seduced by a member of your future clan and Embraced - that is, turned into a vampire.  Unfortunately, the laws of the Camarilla state that a vampire has to seek permission from the Prince (the ruler of the city) to sire anybody and it seems that your sire didn't do that in the least.  You witness the Final Death of your sire before you are nearly put to death yourself...saved at the last minute by the Prince's "generosity". From there, you're given a mission to go find a man named Mercurio and given a craphole safehouse in an apartment building to work from.

From there, you're given Los Angeles to travel around performing various quests.  You can join in on the Main Quest or you can delve into several hours of side questing, which is all pretty in-depth and rather enjoyable all on its own, which several enjoyable characters (voice acting aside), including a jive-talking weapons dealer, a ghoul med tech, and a Japanese demon hunter (that is a demon hunter who is Japanese, not a Japanese demon who hunts).

But the Main Quest involves your sudden throwing into vampirism at the time near Gehenna - the destined vampire apocalypse where Caine and the Antediluvians will rise up and kill off all of vampire kind in a bloody...well, apocalypse. It's the whole metaplot that was running through the Classic World of Darkness's Vampire setting and is one of the main reasons why Masquerade is superior to its follow up Requiem, but that's neither here nor there.

Over the course of the quest, the player learns about a mysterious McGuffin with possible deep significance to Kindred society that has been brought to Los Angeles by parties and for reasons unknown.  As several factions vie for control of it, the player is in an optimal position to help or harm others depending on their choices.  The Camarilla, the Anarchs (a group of anarchist vampires if the name didn't tip you off), the Kuei-Jin (those Eastern vampires I mentioned that aren't vampires at all...sort of), and the Sabbat (the really, really bad and scary vampires) are all valid and workable options depending on both actions and dialogue choices within the game.

Granted, some of them are better than others, but I'm not going to spoil which ones are which.

And, of course, there's the option to just flip everyone off and walk away after the fan has been hit...which is what my Brujah did after what was essentially her worst and most confusing night ever.

Oh, right, nights, sorry...because this totally doesn't all take place on the same night or something...nevermind there's no rest period or anything.  I joke, and I know that it has been mentioned by other reviewers, but how exactly do they justify this taking place over several nights when you never have periods where you must return to your domain to rest from the punishing light of the sun? It rather bugs me, but not enough that it cuts out my enjoyment of the game.

Really, I'm not joking.  The only other complaints I have are the lack of customization of the player character (in appearance, there are other outfits as my Ventrue was glad to find out) and the fact that you can't learn other vampire disciplines (they're all based on clan, which can be a pain in certain sections - like, say, the Elizabeth Dane). Other than that, there's the combat, which is more me adjusting to computer controls versus console so I'm not going to knock the game for that. I like the story, I like the crash course in how the Vampire game works and some of the lore without getting insanely intrusive.

You can go in with the basic understanding of "Oooh, vampires!" and just roll with it without losing too much in the process. After all, nobody needs a glossary when first stepping into a new world, they want to be immersed, and it's true to the RPG as many vampire characters can come and go without ever really knowing the whole truth of the Final Nights.

Mind you, it's not true in one respect - it's too combat-heavy. But a game where you go around doing nothing but contemplating existential dread and learning to quell the raging Beast that dwells inside of you would just get boring...so they pepper in a few combats and blowing up a warehouse (like one does in such a game).  Though it is true in that it's not like D&D where you get experienced based on the bodies you've piled up, but strictly for completing quests and finding unique(ish) solutions to objectives...which carries its own issues, but for the game it works fine.

Not much to say other than, after playing it, I know why it's so beloved. It's got a few flaws that can't be worked out with patches (or can, given some of the mods I've seen), but I'm not going to knock it for that.  Troika was trying to make an awesome game and it really does show, there was a lot of love in the room for what they were doing.  The setting is good, the designs are pretty excellent all around, and it has more than a few healthy doses of humor sprinkled around (such as a call-in radio show of hilarious proportions and the chance for a Malkavian to get into an argument with a Stop Sign). And for a game like this, I can't really think of much more to ask for.

Oh, and a final note - Don't. Open. IT!

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is now available from Troika Games and Activision for Microsoft Windows.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter@MadCapMunchkin.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

MadCap's Tabletop Tales - "...Comes Many Bullet Wounds"

I was recently pulled into the world of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade by my RP group. We were winding down from our D&D 3.5 game - "Marks of Destiny" - for a bit and were still going on with our Pathfinder game "The Age of Scared Worms" - when good ol' Ripley (who you might remember from last time) sent us all PDFs for Masquerade and thought it would be an enjoyable experience for us.

So far, she's not wrong. I've been enjoying it very much, but then I'm one of those weird players who actually likes to roleplay in a role playing game.

Because we were starting out with a new system (all but one of us had never played it before), Ripley took the time and effort to make us demo characters and run us through a quick adventure to get us into the mood and learn the rules we'd be using. It was definitely an interesting change from all the swords, maiming, and killing of D&D.  Being creatures of the night! The living dead! Horrors and abominations so dark and evil that humanity did not dare dream of it in the darkest of their nightmares!

.,.except we're not so much playing a Dracula or Angel character type as we are...the people on the bottom rung of vampire society's totem pole.  Which seems boring to the munchkining type and...pretty much anyone who doesn't care for a deep role play experience. Don't get me wrong, however, when I say that I totally get the people who wouldn't be into it.  In fact, there are problems that I have it, such as how advancement works...which is technically what this story is about, but that's not what I'm hear to discuss.

This is basically a story about using your power responsibly when you do get it - which I suppose could be applied to any RPG - and making sure to have a little common sense (which is actually a Trait in Masquerade, I'd suggest picking it up, whether you're a newbie or a seasoned veteran) and do you best to get rid of your naivete at the door, because a good Storyteller (the Dungeon Master of Masquerade) will twist it and leave you royally, royally screwed.

Yes, they will. Don't give me that look.

So, to set the scene, we started playing a campaign under Ripley's Storyteller-ing. Set in the distant land of...Canada! Returning from the last campaign was Keith, freshly recovered from his brain aneurysm, and our new player and current Pathfinder GM Cassie. Thus beginning, we were all given our demo characters and the one that I received was an Irish Ventrue by the name of Sean O'Malley.  Yes, I immediately started with the cracks about how many stereotypes I could manipulate, and indeed made him repeatedly cry "Jesus, Mary, and Joesph!" at every exasperation.

Basically, through no fault of my own, I grew to like the rascally Irishman with a silver tongue...even though it had been revealed to me that the guy was a cocaine dealer for an international drug cartel who was not only hooked on it himself, but also had hooked on several others - among them a cop in Winnipeg - on the stuff, and had manipulated several others to his own ends.

Needless to say, not a nice guy.

But still, a Ventrue through and through.  For those unfamiliar with Masquerade, there are several different clans to choose from, one of which is the Ventrue - essentially the upper class merchant kind of vampire.  And Sean was indeed quite the capitalist, always looking to get something for something...but to make a profit off of it as well.  He owned a bar in the city of Winnipeg, O'Malley's (where we'll make our escape) and was a generally respected businessman.  But after some time, simply running a bar wasn't doing it for him.  He needed more.

In the game, vampires have special abilities based on their clan called Disciplines.  The Ventrue in particular have Dominate as one which...does exactly what it says on the tin, truth be told.  Put enough dots in it, and you can even advance to a point of being able to rewrite people's memories, which Sean had after a few sessions.  So he decided, rather than go through the long waiting game of buying his way through other businesses in Winnipeg...he would just mindscrew someone into handing over the keys.

He'd found a man by the name of Randall Taub, a prominent owner of several businesses in Winnipeg and - as it turned out - a devoted member of the German mafia. Between sessions, we played out some business negotiation between the two, eventually working out a deal that Taub would send a man to Sean's business and see how he operated things. But because Sean got a little greedy and forget that he basically had forever to wait this guy out, he decided to put to use his Dominate skills that he had acquired over his relatively short career.

...it actually went off without a hitch. Sean's rolls went insanely well with no botches.  Taub was ready to hand over the keys to Sean and head off to start a new business in the Bahamas and well out of the way of Sean's power grabbing. Unfortunately, because Sean does not have Common Sense, Ripley could not tip me off to the fact that a man whose office was guarded by men with very obviously not street legal sub-machine guns might be a bad idea when Taub suddenly rushed out and told them he planned to hand over all operations to him.

Sean fought valiantly, but isn't a fighter in the least, so he was quickly gunned down.  In Vampire, the rules work a little differently.  Bullets can't kill vampires...or, at least, a bullet can't. It's a long and complicated process, but it basically ended with Sean going into torpor - the vampiric equivalent of a coma.  Believed to be very, very dead, he was eventually buried in Winnipeg while still in torpor and it seemed that Sean would be lost forever, trapped in a steel-reinforced box in the bottom of a grave.

Talk about living hell, am I right?

It would have been a fitting end, but Sean thankfully had some connections with his cartel.  One of them particular, a childhood friend, was his superior and arrangements had been made to dig up his grave and take the casket back to their homeland of Ireland. Due to some hilarious hijinks - including the wrong casket being taken all the way to Ireland, being held up at customs, and more - Sean finally woke up from his torpor and was forced to explain himself...afterwards getting a new identity and hiding out in Ireland with the whole world thinking he was still in that grave in Winnipeg.

So yeah, it's a story about "just because you can doesn't mean you should".  Sean's retired for the time being, though he may potentially come back and hopefully a little wiser for his near Final Death experience.  Vampires are tough, but...bullets fired by four men from high-grade illegal weaponry are tougher, it's best to always remember. No matter how big you get, the Storyteller or the GM always has something bigger.

That's not to say you shouldn't take risks, that is part of the game after all, but go into it cautiously. Otherwise, you'll be filled with enough holes to whistle as you hit the ground...

Oh, and if you're playing Masquerade, always spent the Freebie Point to get Common Sense! Always, always, always!

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

MadCap At the Movies - "Ant-Man"

Ant-Man is not one of Marvel's bigger properties.  Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is known for two things - being an Avenger and creating Ultron. And since Marvel elected to take that away from him for that one movie that just passed, we have him now as neither of those things.  Yay. However, the beginning of the film clears up Pym's involvement in the plot as having been a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent back in the day, chastising Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) for trying to replicate his work on "Pym Particles" and shoving a resignation letter down their throats before storming out...

...which opens the door for Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a down on his luck ex-con fresh out of prison who just wants to do right by his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), to be our protagonist. And what a good choice this was by Marvel, due to the fact that Scott is a great, great deal more relatable to the general public than Pym would be.  Having been sent to prison for screwing over the company he had previously worked for, distributing millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains back to those the company had taken them from, Scott finally gets out and is determined to go straight.

However, he eventually cracks when he flits from job to job due to his criminal record and is convinced into a heist by some of his friends...to rob the house of one Henry "Hank" Pym, during which he steals a suit right out of  some astonishing tales...and prepares to make a few of his own, though not without a certain scientist hanging on his ear and asking him for some help in dealing with a problem that has spouted up at Pym Tech.

The problem being Pym's former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) coming close to replicating Pym's work on the Pym Particles - which can shrink a person or object and increase their density, meaning (in the case of Ant-Man) small size, big punch.  With this technology in hand, Cross could send the entire world into chaos.  Rather than do the logical thing and call the Avengers (which is actually brought up and shot down with two lines), Pym decides he needs to get a hold of Scott Lang and have him take on the mantle of Ant-Man.

What follows is, essentially, a heist film.  Of course, that's not before Scott goes through some heavy training to use the suit as well as communicate with the ants for which Ant-Man is known for communicating with.  But once he's done so, they plan to infiltrate Pym Tech and stop Cross from selling off his "Yellowjacket" prototype to HYDRA (who are totally not evil now, honest) and causing chaos throughout the world.

Let's get the characters out of the way.  Paul Rudd plays an amazing Scott Lang.  I had only ever seen him in comedic roles before this (such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), but I have to admit this guy can pull serious drama when he needs to. You can see his anguish about not being able to see his daughter and provide for her, his love for her - indeed, before he goes into the final battle, one of the last things he does is visit her. He's not perfect by any means - more Iron Man than Cap - but he is trying. He wants to do right and is determined to do anything he can to be the man his daughter sees him as.

Hank Pym fits into the mentor role, and I do like that Marvel didn't just cast him aside or relegate him to a background or flashback-only role in the story.  The original inventor of the Ant-Man suit and the Particles after which he's named, Pym was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent until Stark and others crossed him...though his disassociation with them began long before that with the disappearance of his wife, Janet van Dyne (Hayley Lovett) due to his technology. This makes his desire to not want to call in the Avengers to solve his problem all the more poignant, and also feeds into the third of the main trio of the film.

Evangeline Lilly plays Hope van Dyne, a new character who is the daughter of Hank and Janet.  She's capable, witty, and tough, all the things you'd expect from a child raised by two superheroes. However, she's become estranged from her father and thus worked with Cross to remove him from Pym Tech's board of directors...until she realized Cross was a homicidal maniac with a god complex and started working with Pym to take him down. She even says herself that she'd be better suited to put the Ant-Man suit to use than Lang (which he agrees with), though Pym refuses due to the loss of his wife years earlier. Nevertheless, she forms an integral part of the plan due to being in Cross's inner circle.

And, at last, we come to out villain - Darren Cross.  Now the CEO of Pym Tech, he wants to sell off weapons to HYDRA because...profit.  No, really. That's his motivation. He's basically the same character that Ezekiel Stane was in Iron Man (he even has the Bald of Evil going on!).  The former assistant of Pym, he became resentful of his mentor for excluding him from the secret of Pym Particles, and so began work on trying to re-discover the secret himself...which has driven him to an obsessive insanity not helped at all by his exposure to the Particles which has driven him even more insane.

One also should consider Scott's three partners in crime (Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, and T.I.).  Of many nationalities as we know all gangs in the world must surely be, they serve as the comic relief for the film, but also a handy group of Chekov's Gunmen when their skills are needed to help Scott in the final heist.  Unlike many comic relief characters who do nothing but take up space and shoot off corny one-liners, they're at least useful to the plot with said skills, so I won't give Marvel too much grief for them.

I would also like to give props to the crew's work with the shrinking, which as not used in a gimmicky way as I feared it would be.  Much like the comics of yore, it's actually used to make relatively mundane environments - such as a bathtub, a child's train set, or the inside of a suitcase - seem very big and grandiose, playing on their former mediocrity in some rather amusing ways, especially later on in the film.

It's a rather enjoyable film, even if the plot is very Iron Man in its delivery - simply swap out Pym Particles for the Arc Reactor and Cross for Stane - but if they're going to copy any of the Marvel films that have come before, it should be that one given how it still remains universally beloved.  Though it is greatly spiced up by Paul Rudd in both drama and comedy, and the rest of the cast rounds out nicely what is overall a very enjoyable film.

Oh, and the post-credits scene...

Marvel, Civil War better not suck...the slippery slope is a whole lot more slippery...

Ant-Man is now in theaters from Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Motion Pictures.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: In Dino Veritas"

With those tossed salads and scrambled raptor eggs...they're callin' again...
Who doesn't love a good dinosaur story? I remember the first Jurassic Park fondly from my childhood, growing up in the 90s being an awesome time for dinosaurs (see also: Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers).  And what with Jurassic World already out at the time of writing this (doesn't matter, had review), there couldn't be a better time for me to get back into the realm of the dinosaur.

...y'know...except a month ago. When Jurassic World actually came out...


...anyway, let's get the ball rolling.

We begin with Arturo and Quinn waiting in a park for Wade and Rembrandt. The Crying Man has hooked himself up with a foxy lady that he is apparently incapable of lying to - because everyone on this world is equipped with one of those bomb collars from The Running Man with a thankfully added difference, even the tiniest of white lies gets you an electric shock. This comes back to bite Wade, however, when her inability to lie brings up the greatest foe the Sliders have yet faced...the media! They roll up in a van, coming to witness the oncoming Slide and have intimate knowledge of the group thanks to Wade's electroshock therapy.

But leaving the snarky news reporter and his camera man behind, the group slide through the vortex...and Wade gets her hands into some scrambled eggs. Or rather she makes some as she falls right into a nest of them upon leaving the vortex. She's squicked, but they're quick to note that this is unlike any San Francisco they have been in yet. In fact, it's a forest that seemingly goes on forever. Quinn theorizes that it could be a park, backed up by the fact that they can hear no urban noise or see any cityscape.

The first look at a familiar dinosaur...sadly not our last...
Before they can ponder the meaning of the lack of a city further, they hear a beastial roar from within the foliage and decide to start running off in a random direction. Through the trees, we get our first glimpse of the Tyrannosaurus Rex just before the opening title sequence...and I'm sorry to say it's not our last, because this is going to be a very, very shameless low-budget ripoff of Jurassic Park.

While this won't become a thing until the third season, when producer David Peckinpah will be brought in by FOX to murder the show, this is really the first of the episodes of Sliders that is a shameless ripoff of another property just to use that popular movie or show's brand recognition in a way that skillfully avoids copyright infringement. This will move Sliders from being a more cerebral show about things like a world where Penicillin had never been invented, or posing questions about how intellectual superiority does not equate to ethical superiority into a more action oriented one that turned many viewers off and nearly killed the show.

...and then did kill the show.  But that dumpster fire awaits us going forward.

Escaping the woods with the Faux Rex's roars still being heard in the distance, the group seems to be getting far enough ahead...only for Arturo to fall and injure himself. Unable to continue alone, Quinn and Rembrandt assist him.  However, none of the Sliders noticed that they've left something behind...the Slide timer! They have a few more concerns, however, when the T-Rex first comes into view...and it's just...well, see for yourself...

Worst. CGI. EVER!
...I have no words. I'm aware it was 1996. I'm aware this was a fairly low-budget production. I'm aware that FOX goes with science-fiction like oil goes with water. But really? Was an attempt even made to make this thing look anything but absolutely ridiculous? Giving the main four actors credit, they do express their horror at seeing it...though I prefer to thing it was more a fear of having seen the effect and being shocked that such a thing could exist.

The T-Rex avoids them, because plot, and the group continue their way through the woods. They decide to head for a cave, Quinn asking Arturo to check for the time until they slide...and then they realize no one has the timer, Arturo must have lost it when he tripped.  Quinn decides to go after it, reasoning that they might only have a few minutes before the next slide. While Remmy stays to help Arturo, Wade goes to get some water from a nearby river. And once more, the T-Rex shows up to muck about and (I preumse was intended to) look menacing.

And of course, Wade doesn't sound remotely frightened by it as she runs off to tell Remmy and Arturo about it, the three running off to a cave with Wade saying that Quinn will find them. Thus, they settle in and start discussing before Wade decides to go look around...because she's not afraid of the crappy CGI T-Rex.

No, I'm not letting this go. Get over it.

As Wade is scoping out the cave, she notices a few items of interest - a cot, some large tusks, several crates with dino eggs and bones. When Remmy comes to check up on her, she brings to him her belief that there are other people here, which I'm sure they're all grateful for beyond belief. Around the campfire, they discuss who these people might be. Arturo mentions that sliding is never time travel, time in every universe remains consistent. So the question isn't why there are people here so much as it is why dinosaurs are here, seeing as dinosaurs and humans on their Earth are separated by about sixty five million years.

Arturo also brings up the theory that dinosaurs might not have been cold-blooded, saying that there's no conclusive evidence that they were - except, y'know, there has - so they could potentially have lived in any environment.  Before they can make science cry some more, however, a woman comes into the cave. A Dinosaur Perservation Ranger, she is here to arrested them all for poaching. All of San Francisco on this world is a gigantic biological preserve for dinosaurs.  Some might call it a...park? Heh heh.

They protest their innocence, saying they've got a friend who ought to be able to corroborate their story, but the Ranger tells them they don't anymore - she found a man's body not too far off. Arturo tries to get them not to panic, but Wade pulls a Tea Leoni and runs out to call for Quinn...only for Remmy to stop her and talk her down.

Back in the cave, the Ranger and Arturo talk - the Ranger identifying the dinosaur that has been pursuing the group as an Allosaurus, not a Tyrannosaurus...because just barely avoiding completely being a rip-off. Arturo begins to explain, but she tells him to save it for the trial - an arrest team is already on the way. Remmy tries to grab her to talk some sense into her, but his hand passes right through her...she's a hologram! Arturo tries to use this to their advantage, bringing up that they have never seen a holographic guard before. And thus, he gives the outline of the series thus far.

Because Hologram Ranger is firmly on the sanity train, she doesn't believe them. And she claims that she's been seeing them for weeks and seen the trouble they've caused...which puts me into mind of her seeing their doubles from this world, but it's not quite time to revive that counter gag yet. For the time being, Wade tries to use the fact that they're wearing the True Collars as proof that they're not lying, and even allows herself to get shocked several times to prove their innocence.

We get a bit of the "humans are genocidal monsters" talk from the Ranger - and shockingly not from Wade - before they discuss that Quinn is still missing and needs to be found. Remmy moves to head out, wanting to identify the body and see if it's Quinn. The Ranger assures them that they will not be able to escape and she can track them anywhere. In one of the redeeming moments of this episode, Arturo, Remmy, and Wade all share a laugh over that statement before Remmy heads out to find Quinn.

In the woods, he calls out for him, looking about as we hear the ominous roaring the Allosaurus in the distance. Back at the campfire, Arturo and Wade talk about the naked folks world from the end of "Gillian of the Spirits", and Wade talks about her crush on Quinn from before and admits for the first time that she unconditionally loves Quinn, even to the point of giving her life for him.

Remember that. It's going to hurt later.

Arturo reminiscences about the first time he ever met Quinn. He looks upon Quinn as a first class mind, He's certain that he's well, completely and utterly believes it to the point where his Truth Collar doesn't even go off when he makes the statement. And from the smile that Wade gives as a result of realizing that, it seems she believes it, too.
Don't move...can't see you if you don't move...
Back in the woods, Remmy's still looking around in what is clearly not night for Quinn. The Allosaurus catches him and he holds perfectly still, thinking that that will save him. Back in the cave, Arturo and Wade hear two whooshes that they believe are gunshots. Remmy, in the meanwhile, uses the gunshots as a distraction to pull a Usain Bolt and run run run! Wade runs out to him, but they both head back toward the cave and decide not to stick around to find out what caused the gunshots...until they get back to the cave and find that the real poacher has returned.

They get Arturo's leg in a splint and the Ranger and the Poacher have an argument with raptors being brought up that we are unfortunately not going to see...presumably because there was only enough money in the budget for the CGI-Rex. The Poacher wants to cut a deal with the Sliders, seeing that his partner was killed. They help him haul his goods out of the park, he gets them out of the park and gets Arturo help for his leg before he has to lose it. The Ranger insists that he's lying, though he retorts that he's been able to run around in the park and the poaching that he's doing is bringing in a lot of help to various medical applications.

Their bickering back and forth goes nowhere and the Ranger begs them for help. The Poacher refutes it, though, saying that they would never bring the helicopter out to the park before he uses a device to disrupt her hologram projection.  Remmy, Arturo, and Wade discuss the deal and Arturo's state, which has only improved marginally. They have three options before them - the Ranger, the Poacher, or the timer. There are all in agreement that they cannot leave until they learn of Quinn's fate.

Wade goes to tell the Poacher, but he's not having any of it. Because of them, he's potentially going to become the most wanted man in America, so they owe him as he sees it. They all head to get some rest...more or less at gunpoint thanks to the Poacher threatening them with his hair trigger. While Remmy is able to get some sleep, Arturo and Wade aren't and stay up and prepare to hatch a plan to turn the tables on the Poacher.

Wade sneaks over and removes the device he used to jam the Hologram. They activate it, but she does not reappear. Going with Plan B, Wade heads out after being shocked by her collar for insisting that she knows what she's doing. In the woods, we hear the sounds of nature but alas see no dinosaurs as she skulks around searching for Quinn. The Poacher catches up to her, insist that Quinn is as good as dead if he is out here. The Allosaurus finds them...though we don't see it this time because I presume the budget ran out. And suddenly, Quinn arrives after having spent nearly the entire episode offscreen and pulls a George McFly before fling rocks to distract it.

Quinn and Wade escape as the Poacher readies his gun...only to realize, what do you know, no more bullwets! The Allosaurus has a tasty snack as Quinn and Wade watch with apathy. Back at the cave, Quinn explains where he's been and Quinn gets their collars off again. Quinn also reveals that in all the time he was gone...he still didn't miss the timer, so they very well could have missed the Slide.

That's right...we're in the last five minutes of the episode mode.

Remmy starts digging around for anything that would be useful against the Allosaurus and the Ranger reappears. Apparently, she's been trying to get them to authorize a helicopter...but it's apparently a no-go because of dinosaur mating season. She did, however, find the timer - they have about an hour and a half left. They being frantically looking through the Poacher's belongings, finding attractants and repellents but they're not labeled. They also find a flare gun, a rope...and a grappling hook, noticing the hole in the roof of the cave they could climb out of.

The Sliders set their plan into motion, Wade climbing out while the others go through the front door. Quinn heads out with the Ranger to get the timer while Remmy and Arturo give commentary from the doorway. On Quinn's signal, Wade fires the flare gun to distract. By the time Quinn gets the timer and finds out the Ranger was wrong - they now have only two minutes.  The Ranger pops back to the cave to warn Remmy and Arturo, who take off running. Wade, likewise, is also running for it. At the foot of the hill, Quinn opens the vortex as the other Sliders and the Allosaurus all make their way to it.

Nope, still dumb...
Quinn gives another signal, Wade shatters the tube of repellent, which distracts the Allosaurus long enough for everyone to make the Slide just in the nick of time and Quinn narrowly avoiding being eaten before he jumps in. We cut away to an archaeological dig, where one of the people on site says that they've unearthed the best Allosaurus skeleton he's ever seen just before the Sliders fall in from their vortex, Quinn getting a jump scare as he falls right toward the skeleton's mouth..and then accidentally steps on and shatters a bone...earning him an irate look from the archaeologist. So we can presumably have one more laugh before the credits roll...

This is one of those episode that I don't like (go figure), but not for the usual reasons. It's not a terrible episode, in all honesty. The pacing is a little wonky, but its Sliders, and complaining about pacing in Sliders is kind of like complaining at the sky for being blue. The message of "humans are genocidal maniacs" is a drum that is far too often beat on, and doesn't really work in this situation. The Sliders are not a group of hubris-driven maniacs out to play God or kill dinosaurs for profit, they're a bunch of people that go lost in a biological preserve with creatures that want to eat them. Now for the Poacher, yes, but he ends up getting his just desserts anyway. So...who exactly is that message for?

Even the Poacher is using some of the gains from the hunts to help with various medical applications such as skin grafts and heart surgery (even if he makes a profit with some of it - after all, he says, he's no saint). So, that message doesn't really work here except for just being one of two generic ones that one uses in a "man meets dinosaur" story.

Quinn's absence during this episode is also rather confusing, and I would attribute it to other dinosaurs becoming involved...except that we don't see any. Some other species get mentioned, but otherwise there's no appearance by anything but the Allosaurus in a biological preserve of some creatures. And of course, I do understand the limitations of budget, but not seeing any others in an entire park devoted to them is just depressing.

We do get some good character moments, particularly the scene with Arturo and Wade in the cave when talking about Quinn. But this is really one of those situations where if they couldn't bring their A-Game to the table, then the they shouldn't have made the attempt.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, July 17, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Goat Simulator"

Ba! Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba ba?

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Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba ba! Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba ba! Ba! Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba! Ba! Ba ba ba! Ba ba ba! Ba! Ba Ba!

Ba ba! Ba!

...okay, now I know why they say not to leave your laptop out near goats. I thought that watermelon was a little suspicious.

But yeah, that's pretty much it. You're a goat, you wreck shit. If it were a Bethesda game, people would be rolling their eyes in disdain and calling for the dev team's heads. What else could I possibly say about it?

Goat Simulator is now available from Coffee Stain Studios for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

MadCap's Tabletop Tales - "The Lyre Story"

Hello and well met, fellow adventurers!

It is I, the MadCapMunchkin, with a brand new segment called "Tabletop Tales".  I've made it no secret that I'm an avid player of quite a few RPGs, the most common that I've referenced being the legendary Dungeons & Dragons. In what is not a shameless rip off of The Spoony One's "Counter Monkey", I wanted to bring in this segment to share my experiences with the world of tabletop, maybe entertain and inform others.

...I said it wasn't a shameless rip-off, I never promised the premises wouldn't be suspiciously similar...

So, on Thursdays - if I have something funny or insightful to share - I will and happily do so.  And here comes the first edition of Tabletop Tales, where I'll share a tale from one of the first campaigns I ever played through to completion - the Apophis Campaign.
You'll likely hear me referencing this a lot and with good reason - it was one hell of a campaign.  We started out in the most clichéd way possible and ended up kicking all the asses on our way through the world. I'll have to hammer out all the details again some day, but basically put it was a great campaign, I absolutely loved it and it had an immensely satisfying conclusion.  The best part, of course, being that we earned it.  The DM probably gave us a few more breaks than we deserved, but ultimately never gave us anything.  We fought tooth and nail and eventually we came out on top. Certainly no cake walk, I can say that for certain.

This story, however, comes from early in the campaign, not too long after we had already started. We had a group of about three of us - protecting the innocent with alternate names - myself, Keith, and Eugene and our DM Ripley.  This was Ripley's first campaign as a DM, and we had started up with our characters. Keith ended up pulling a Sorcerer/Ranger (which ended up working quite well for him), Eugene had made your stereotypical dwarven fighter, and I had made my first bard - Aion Moonblade.

Bards were a class I had never played before. We were going by 3.5 rules and I was thumbing through the player's manual and I kind of dug the whole aspect of "jack of all trades, master of none", being able to fight, do magic, or sneak around without having to be stuck doing just one of those things.  However, when one tends to look at Aion Moonblade they...didn't really get that impression from him. Or, at least, that was my intention.

I believe "Bunny Ears Lawyer" is the correct trope to define Aion Moonblade. He's often off in his own world, thinking to himself and working out things, never his mind on where he was and what he was doing, all that mess.  This is one such story of Aion's (and, coincidentally, my own) scatterbrained antics. Luckily, this one wasn't particularly lethal to anyone, but in any other situation I imagine it really would have been.

To set up the actual campaign, our group had been brought together by a priest wanting to get his daughter out of a mausoleum.  We faced some low-level monsters and even a couple of undead before we faced the "Man in Black", an antagonist we'd been introduced to early on, and ended up finding a portal to another plane...which might have been one of the Hells, though I'm not certain that we ever got confirmation on it.  Journeying around the placed we'd slid out of the vortex into, we eventually faced some of the local residents and got some tasty magical items off their corpses - namely Aion scoring a Lyre of Building.

For those of you who don't know, a Lyre of Building is a magical stringed instrument that...well, builds.  With the right combination of chords, a player can do things like make ditches, mines, tunnels, and even full buildings depending on how long the playing goes on.  And Aion having Perform (stringed instruments) pretty much saw it as perfect for him, so he yoinked that right away and didn't even look back. It made a nice replacement to his common lyre anyway...or so I had intended.

, I made a rookie mistake.  I had Aion put it in his pack...and then completely forgot it was there.

It's a good idea to remember what you have, regardless of the class you're playing. You never know what might come in handy.  While I wasn't the guy who kept track of who had want and how it would be useful in practice, we had Keith who absolutely excels at that sort of thing, and it's a skill that I appreciate a good bit more even if it's a wee bit intrusive. But Keith remembered,  and Keith kept that little nugget in the back of his head for a bit.

And I think I used the Lyre in one other instance, but Ripley came to realize he might have given a third-level character a bit too powerful of an item. Eventually we ended up coming back out of the Hell Dimension and got back into a lower level of the mausoleum, finding ourselves face to face with a trap that made the ceiling lower and the floors rise to crush anyone without the Reflex save to avoid them.  Your standard Indiana Jones trap.

Unfortunately, none of us had a bag of sand to swap out for the Idol, and the bard is the one reigning authority on picking locks and disarming traps...neither of which he does well...so we're stuck at an impasse...until Keith suddenly has an idea and taps me in the shoulder, telling me "Dude, use your lyre".  And sitting there as I was, lost in thought of what we could do, I didn't realize what he was talking about so I looked over at him...and completely confused by the statement, I asked...

"You want me to throw my lyre at it?"

And I sit there for a minute...and I'm looking around the table as this awkward silence passes over us.  Keith's eye has started twitching like his rage is about to break, and both Eugene and Ripley are laughing their asses off.  We finally decided it was an in-character moment, since Aion is rather a left-handed monkey wrench, but it was just hilarious incompetence on my part that I'd completely forgotten I even had the item.

And inevitably, it didn't work for one reason or another - as I said, Ripley had caught on that he had probably let an item that was too powerful fall into my hands too soon (which will be kind of hilarious later on, but that's another story) - but now I pretty much take it as a lesson to remember what I have on me and keep that in mind. Even for characters that wouldn't do that as a rule, I usually will just to be able to tell other players that would do that and have them sort of tip me off in character about that.

Even to this day, we still occasionally tease Keith with it and "Throw a lyre" has been a recurring in-joke in our games every now and again.  But yes, if anyone who games takes anything away from this - remember what you have. It can save your life.

Or it can save your fellow adventurers a brain aneurysm. Either way, it's a win-win.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

MadCap's Comic Reviews - "Lando #1"

"He's a card player, gambler, scoundrel.  You'd like him."

Better words have never been uttered to more accurately describe Lando Calrissian.  Administrator of Bespin's Cloud City, Rebel Alliance hero, and lovable rogue. Even more so than Han Solo himself, Lando Calrissian as played by Billy Dee Williams in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is absolutely awash with charisma and it just oozes through in his performance. Sure he's a conman, sure you're not entirely positive you can trust him, but damn it if you don't want to root for him.

Apparently, when Marvel bought up the Star Wars franchise, they figured this out and set him up with his own comic series.  Set years before he joined the Rebels in their quest to save the galaxy, it is destined to follow Lando as he goes from conman to respected administrator of the Bespin mining facility of Cloud City.  Normally, I'm against prequels, especially in the case of Star Wars, but I have to admit I was suckered right in.  And how could I not be? I mean, it's Lando Calrissian.  The guy's as cool as ice!

The comic starts up with Lando on the planet Castell, somewhere between the Inner Rim and the Core of the Galaxy (it's a planet, in a place, in the galaxy. Don't be a nerd) admiring a mysterious and intricately designed orb.  Like a certain Guardian before him, Lando steals it...but by smooth-talking his way past a foxy Imperial Governor who he's been involved with for some time.

Afterwards, he explains to Lobot about his con.  Lobot, if you remember, was the guy in Empire Strikes Back who had the funky futuristic earmuffs and never said anything.  Here, he's a bit more chatty, giving Lando grief for taking too many risks despite the fact he did win out in the end (despite staggering odds).  Lando presents the Orb to Papa Toren, a crime boss who Lando's in quite a bit of debt to thanks to his gambling.  Instead of calling the debt even, though, Toren cuts off ten percent much to Lando's dismay.

However, if Lando does want to clear up the debt, then Torren has another job in mind...

Cue Gone in Sixty Seconds in Space. Boom.  Torren wants a pleasure craft belonging to some rich Imperial, so Lando and Lobot get a team together to pull the heist. It's a great little story, leading into a massive cliffhanger when we learn just who the stolen craft belongs to.  And without wishing to spoil, I'm afraid Lando and company will be in quite a bit of pain when he finds out...

The opening issue gives just enough to whet the appetite for future issues, with an excellent story written up by Charles Soule, and work on the art and coloring by Alex Maleev and Paul Mounts that faithfully recreates the futuristic feel of Star Wars.  I can't wait for more, and if you haven't picked this one up, you most definitely should.

Star Wars: Lando #1 is now available from Marvel Comics wherever fine comic books are sold.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Time Again and World"

"I'm the bearded lady! Who are you, one of the freaks?!"
Oh, goodie, another episode using an important document in U.S. History as a plot device. Raise that bar, Sliders writers! Oh, I'm sorry, I'm jumping ahead, let me jump back forty-four minutes...

We begin with an opening narration from Wade, as we did back in Luck of the Draw. Apparently the Sliders have been stuck on this one world for two weeks and are all at their wits end, lashing out at one another. Rembrandt and Arturo talk in a bar, the Professor lamenting that they're still sliding after all this time. Rembrandt apparently believes that it's God's will that they're in this mess, and His will to get them out of it.

Of course, Rembrandt hasn't actually seen what is to come, but if he did he'd know that if there's a kind and loving God overlooking the Sliders multiverse, he's taking a long, long vacation...

Wade arrives to tell them about the Slide, Rembrandt paying a bearded woman for his and Arturo's drinks. On a street near where the four plan to undertake the slide, several figures in black sunglasses wait around.  The air is tense as the Sliders reunite and have some quips about the world they've landed on, then suddenly a car accident sees a woman in purple and several others take notice.  One of the drivers laments his wrecked car...and he gets shot for his trouble.

Since the writers threw some darts at a board to decide which of our main characters should get involved, Wade runs up to help the gunshot victim. With his last words, he tells her "Elsie. The Rock. 4. 5." and then tells her it's dangerous to go alone, giving her purple matchbook. They hear the sounds of sirens and Quinn pulls her away so they can slide.  Arriving just before the nick of time, they head through with Rembrandt and Arturo...and the opening credits roll.

Out of the vortex, they arrive in the same park that they just left because budget and have their traditional falling out of the vortex banter. Wade examines the matchbook, finding a black chip inside. Arturo brings up point that the last time they became involved in the affairs of a world, Quinn got a bullet in his back. Of course, this is completely discounting the following: when they helped Quinn's double the Sorcerer find the person leaking information about slide technology from his organization, when the three male Sliders were kidnapped and forced into a breeding program, when your group exposed a corrupt lawyer/gunfighter for what he was and saved a woman's company, and caused a massacre that would have made Jason Voorhees proud at a maximum security prison.

Continuity? What's that?

Wade snaps at him for chiding her for becoming emotionally invested, being pulled away by Quinn. He checks the timer, saying they have thirty-six hours on this new Earth. They wander off and, because budget, they end up in the same place where the accident occurred in the previous world...save for the fact that it hasn't happened yet. Which is odd, considering we were told in "Pilot" that the time on all worlds goes at exactly the same speed. So, strictly speaking, it should have already happened...but if that were the case, we wouldn't have a plot.

"What's a Siri?" "I don't know, Wade. We're from 1996..."

This world apparently lacks bearded ladies as well, as evidenced by some quick cuts to various people and fixtures in the area. Quinn notices the woman in purple passing by, and they call deja vu. Just as they are, the two cars from before come twisting around and the accident occurs as in the previous world. This time, Wade warns the man (apparently called Judge Nasa by bystanders) who was shot before...who shoots his shooter before getting back in his car, giving the Woman in Purple a meaningful look, and taking off.

Unlike the previous world, Wade runs up to the fallen shooter, who repeats the same words that Nasa did on the other world "Elsie. The Rock. 5. 4.." An examination of the body shows that the man was a cop. Which means that Judge Nasa just murdered an officer of the law. Uh-oh!

Later that night, kilted policemen arrive and interrogate the Sliders, led by Police Chief "The guy who played the Springwood Chief of Police in Freddy vs. Jason". The Sliders insist they didn't see anything, but the police were apparently told that Wade gave a warning to Nasa, so they decide to keep an eye on her. The Sliders are released and head off to the Dominion Hotel on this world, meeting the hotel owner who I hadn't realized until now is and always has been a young Will Sasso. Huh.

He gets them to do a fingerprint scan so they can be admitted, but is a bit uneasy about some of the things he overheard them saying, so when they head upstairs he decides to call the police about it. Upstairs, Rembrandt find a copy of Not-TV Guide telling them about "Dragnet: The Next Generation", which leads into a short conversation where Arturo takes a few jabs at the Scottish, but does mention they invented Scotch Whiskey, a definite plus. Wade, however, is not up for the jokes and jibes and still lamenting how Nasa could possibly be a cop-killer.

Rembrandt brings up the very obvious point that this is a different world, and the man might be completely different here than he was on the previous world. Of course, this ultimately is wrong, but it's a point that the writer at least bothered to bring up, so kudos there. Luckily a pissing match between Arturo and Wade is stopped when a man and a woman in trenchcoats arrive to hold them at gunpoint, telling them to forget what they saw that afternoon. One wrong move, and they'll be sleeping with the fishes, etc.
Beware, Sliders. For tonight...Curly Howard will betray you...

Rembrandt immediately gets his coat and is ready to run for the hills. The others agree...except for Wade, who apparently wants to stay behind. A man is dead and she might be able to help...somehow. Rather than knocking her out and dragging her along, however, the three leave and then come back...because reasons...and of course Wade has to be right because, as the mouthpiece for the writers' "honor before reason" agenda, she is never wrong. Also, we'd have no plot.

So following the emotional blackmail, the group get taken to the station and Wade tells the tale of how they were assaulted in their room, and of the words the man who had been shot whispered. Apparently, Agent Tyler "found the rendezvous" and it means that the police will now have "them", whoever they are. They thank Wade for being a good American, though Quinn still wants to know what this is all about.  The cops tell him of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. On our world, they were known as the A-Bomb Spies, and were executed for selling state secrets of the United States to the Soviet Union - particularly those of the atomic bomb.

On this world, though, they killed President Kennedy. Bit of an upward career move. Maybe they were on the grassy knoll.

Realizing they might have screwed up (and realizing the two who assaulted them in their room were undercover cops), Quinn and Wade return to the Hotel to learn that the cops are there. The group ducks into the bar and they learn that apparently the world diverged from there's in 1962...when J. Edgar Hoover got elected to the office of President, and we get some background on Judge Nasa - apparently he was a former California Supreme Court Judge who went against the FBI and is a "free thinker", which have both put him at odds with them.
"Hey! You can't do this! I haven't even been in the Three Stooges movie yet!!!"
Seeing that the same computer chip she was given before seems to exist on this world, too, Wade and Quinn hit up the Electronics Store where they worked on their world in "Pilot" and discover that the chip holds an encrypted copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. Rembrandt also discovers, much to his dismay, learns that Rock and Roll doesn't exist on this world (though Kurt Cobain has a Christmas album).

And now, because I am hilariously snarky, I shall now and forever more call this world "Footloose Earth".

But Wade has come to the horrible realization that they've set Nasa up to walk right into a trap and need to correct the problem. Thus, Wade and Rembrandt a bar...that looks a bit like a high school prom (or as Remmy puts it, full of squares)...and ask the bartender about Elise. He says he doesn't know of an Elise who works there.  Wade and Rembrandt leave, thinking the whole thing a wild goose chase, but fail to notice the woman in purple.

In the park, the group reunites and Arturo tells about the group J. Edgar Hoover's cross-dressing to explain the dress code with policemen wearing skirts. Wade begins to connect "the Rock" with Alcatraz, since that's the nickname it went by on that world. Asking a bypasser, they learn that Alcatraz is open to the public...and is where several political prisoners such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy are kept. When Quinn asks who's in cell 54, the bypassers think they're Secret Police and they shove off after telling them about Radio Free America and to ask for a "Natalie".

Quinn needed a friggin' drink...can't blame him after the last few episodes...
Back at the bar, Quinn asks for someone named "Natalie" and finds out that it's the woman in purple - now no longer in purple. He pops over and they have a side by side discussion, Quinn telling her that that Judge is about to be set up and shows her the disk as proof. He and Wade follow her to the back...with two men in suits not far off watching menacingly. Backstage, there's a much more lively nightclub feel going on as Natalie leads them to speak with Roy Clark, the voice of Radio Free America.

However, before they can put the Constitution over the airways, the cops bust in and a firefight ensues. Quinn, Natalie, and Wade escape, Quinn pulling a Cannonball Run to get them out in spite of the cops who forget they have guns. But with the party broken up and Clark arrested, it seems that all hope is lost. The Judge, too, is arrested...who the group passes just in time to see them arrested. It is also revealed the Calhoun is a double-agent for the Resistance...but has been turned.

At the bar, Rembrandt and Arturo are drinking away their sorrows and fearing that Quinn and Wade shared a similar fate. Eight hours from now, they'll be sliding...but luckily, the two arrive and all is well for the moment. Wade, it seems, has a plan much to Arturo's irritation.  The plan begins with Rembrandt marching right into the police station with a confession - they have an unabridged version of the United States Constitution. The cops are less than willing, but eventually agree to his terms after he reveals that killing him will see the Constitution sent over the internet in it's entirety.

Of course, being that it's 1996 even on this world, the police and FBI might have problems in...oh...two, three weeks?
Quinn lamenting the worlds where "I'm Jerry O'Connell" is not a pick up line...

But since the police haven't installed more firewalls, they do agree. And so, with around seven minutes left, the Sliders plus Natalie wait on a bridge in the dark. Quinn and Arturo take the time to wax poetic about the nature of freedom and democracy. Quinn brings up that good ideas only work if there are good people to fight for them. Arturo counters with the fact that while the idea of freedom is reborn with each generation, only one generation ever created the U.S. Constitution. Something to consider, considering what they're giving up so one man can be free.

But the fuzz arrives with the armored SUVs of doooom. The hand off occurs, Nasa being released into their custody. Wade hands over the disk. Quinn gives a muscle-bound lunk head of a cop who can't speak well some lip about destroying the Constitution. But the cops head off, Nasa thanking the Sliders for what they've done and each of them getting a word with him in turn (Wade still having a rather creep-ish Father-daughter moment) except for Quinn, and they slide. Quinn, as we expect, gets a word with Natalie before he slides, never bothering to ask her about her fur coat.

...okay, that was a bit of an obscure reference, sorry.

But it seems that all hope is lost even as the Judge and his daughter will continue the fight...at least until we cut to the Electronics Store. A customer calls over the Salesman, all the people in the store reading...the preamble to the United States Constitution, just as Wade intended it would seem...
The people of 1996 were utterly baffled at the thought of high-speed internet. All that porn!

This is actually a pretty good episode. The pacing isn't all that bad, the main characters are very consistent as we've come to know them, and the ending is a pretty good one showing of Wade's computer savvy and providing some hope for the future. While I'm still confused as to why they had to go to a different world for this one and didn't just arrive on the world to begin with. That coupled with the use of a document of U.S. History as a plot device again after we just had one in an episode not long ago does kind of make it a bit of a drag, but no real major problems.

Next time...dinosaurs!

...sadly, no space ship.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.