Friday, June 23, 2017

Gilded Needles

Michael McDowell's Gilded Needles is a captivating tale of two families from dramatically different circumstances, engaged in a bitter feud set against the backdrop of late 19th Century New York City. This grimy vision of the metropolis, populated by opium addicts, thieves, and lesbian brawlers, could easily have earned the moniker Fear City long before the first stag reels flickered onto the screen of a Times Square grindhouse. Get to know the Stallworths, a family with wealth and political ambitions, and the Shanks, a clan of criminal women who have found their place in lower Manhattan's Black Triangle. How do these families' lives overlap, why do they loathe each other, and what are the consequences of their battle?
Jack and Kate have kept this episode spoiler-free in an effort to encourage others to seek out McDowell's under-appreciated thriller.
Intro/Outro music: "How We Quit the Forest" by Rasputina
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Beguiled, My Cousin Rachel, The Alienist

2017 isn't doing a great job getting me excited to go to the theater. I was looking forward to XX, but it was a disappointment. I was excited for a good Dark Tower movie, but the trailer looks like garbage.

Please please please let these be good...

The Beguiled

My Cousin Rachel

The Alienist

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Your Problem is Not My Problem

"Your problem is not my problem" sounds more flippant that I really intend it to be, but one thing I've noticed in talking to people online about D&D is that a lot of people have concerns that just wouldn't have ever occurred to me on my own. In the examples below, I'm specifically talking about problems that some DMs encounter that don't factor into how I run games; some of these I understand, and some of these are just plain alien to how I approach gaming.

The Character Information Problem
Recently I was in a thread on G+ where several people expressed that they have difficulty keeping track of all the player characters' powers, spells, and abilities in medium-to-heavy complexity games. This one baffles me; when I'm running a game I don't focus at all on what the player characters can do--that's the job of the player of the character because I've got enough on my plate as it is when I'm busy being everything else besides the players' characters.

If I need to adjudicate a rule in play regarding a character's ability, I ask the player to tell me what it does or I have them read me the text of the ability from the book if we've got a question about how it works. It's their responsibility to keep track of it because it is an aspect of the game attached to their particular character. I think of it like this: if someone is playing chess, and they don't know how the knight moves so they never move it, well, that's on them. 

The Cleric Problem
This one I understand: D&D's archetypal cleric just doesn't fit into the campaign settings some DMs want to play in. As a character class, the cleric is such a D&Dism; it doesn't really have much in the way of antecedents in the literature that inspired the game, or even in fantasy in general until the fantasy began to respond to D&D's cultural and aesthetic influence. For example, if you want to run a game that is true to the sword & sorcery genre, the cleric fits badly. 

The most obvious "solution," simply taking the cleric out of the game, presents some mechanical difficulties; in many editions of the game, healing magic is mainly sequestered in the cleric's hands, and without it the game's balance can be thrown off. Luckily for me, the cleric class tends to fit my settings pretty well. In my Krevborna setting, for example, the idea of a divinely-empowered inquisitor, a fanatical exorcist, or a vampire-hunting priest hits the aesthetic conventions I'm going for. 

The Game With No Players Problem
Offering up a game is a way of putting yourself out there; I have sympathy for people who are trying to get a game together but are struggling to find players because if people aren't interested in your game, that probably feels like rejection. My sympathy ends, however, when that feeling of rejection becomes a jealous hostility toward people running games that have no problems attracting players who want to play in them. Instead of moaning "My game is more fun than that guy's game, why aren't people playing in my campaign instead of theirs?" consider what the people who are running successful, beloved games are doing to make their games attractive and figure out how to incorporate that into your own games.

Part of this problem is that a lot of DMs construct their philosophy of what makes a "good game" from bad sources. Instead of thinking about the things they could do to get the game experience they want, they default to theories and perspectives that have more ideological value when arguing about games on forums than they have in utility value for games being played. Not all advice about how to run a game is equal. I have my own opinion on this. Mathematically speaking: Advice from DMs who frequently and currently run games that people are excited about is greater than:

  • Advice from DMs who maybe ran some games "back in the day." 
  • Advice from "game designers" who don't actually seem to run games. 
  • Advice from people who design games that few people are interested in.
  • Grognard consensus about the "right" way to play D&D.

So instead of deciding to die alone on a lonely hill of bitterness because other people are running games that people want in on, consider asking them what they're doing and what is working for them. Maybe people aren't interested in your game because you're presenting limited player options, maybe you're so invested in the metaphysics or history of your setting players feel like they're just along for the ride--but you might not figure that out until you honestly compare your techniques and ideas against those of people who are getting the kind of results you want.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Martyr's Kiss

† The Howling Void, The Womb Beyond the World
† Funeral, From the Orchestral Grave
† Evoken, Where Ghosts Fall Silent
† Skepticism, Pendulum
† Rise of Avernus, Disenchanted
† Lychgate, Letter XIX
† Myrkur, Skadi
† Peccatum, Parasite My Heart

Monday, June 19, 2017

More Than a Likeness

Pietra Donna Sangino is currently one of the most popular painters in Krevborna. She is much sought after by nobles, rich merchants, and powerful members of the clergy because having one’s portrait painted by the artist and being seen as one of her patrons is guaranteed to be worth its cost when balanced against the social capital to be gained. One of Pietra’s current projects is a massive set of paintings upon the ceiling of a chapel devoted to St. Ophelia in Piskaro.

It is much-remarked upon that Pietra’s rise to fame was meteoric; she appeared out of nowhere and now is the name on every aesthete’s lips. Some have noted that many of the incidental figures in her paintings resemble the persons of her artistic rivals; the very artists she has eclipsed seem to be strangely referenced in her works.

The truth of the matter is that Pietra’s art carries a dark secret. Although she is a talented artist, the secret to her success lies in her mastery of an occult formula she uses when painting: when she paints a person known to her, she doesn’t just capture their likeness–she also captures a bit of their soul and binds it to her portraiture. In this way she has siphoned the souls of her contemporary artists and paved the way for her own success, as well as insuring her own popularity by ensnaring the spirits of her patrons.

(Joint effort by myself and Katie.)