Real Life

#acus2018, the games played

An extraordinary Ambercon where all games were above average (and this is a crowd of great roleplayers) and the fun was wall to wall. I ran 4 games and played 4 games. I even got almost enough sleep!

Slot 1. Agents of the Argent Rose: City of Oaths (GM me)

A really fast-paced chapter in ongoing adventures, all inside the Palace this year.

The Team working on peeling back the secrets of the world Grandpa Corwin has created. Somehow he’s forgotten important things about its creation and he’s so cagey, has he really forgotten, or is there something there he doesn’t want to talk about?

The Team dug deeper and deeper. Everyone seems pretty sure that Grayswandir has something to do with the entire mess. But the Goddess Kali hints that the wedding of Lorelei and Corwin itself may be part of the origins of the troubles.

Vivian and Venkatta vacuum up all military intel of the Stigma history across the globe.

America seems to be coming apart under influence of Stigma. Kali is offered an escape from Corwin’s confinement of all to the Palace, and immediately takes it.

The Team takes a lead from Simone and goes to find the Trump cards locked in Corwin’s study. Three locked draws exist there. The first yields Trumps, 4 with white unicorn backs and one with red serpent back. Simone recognizes the unhandsome man who spoke to Corwin briefly in years past.

Locked drawer two yields a silver serpent in mobius loop. Not familiar at all.

Locked drawer three yields a silver feather that smells of ozone.

Spells are released as each drawer is broken into. Each spell seems different from the others, surely as if placed by different people.

Corwin arrives, more questions are had, but when Corwin doesn’t recall the Trumps or any of the items, everyone recognizes the worst case: something powerful is messing with the Realm.

Explosions and violence follow, two of the items try to escape, the feather is briefly used to quiet the serpent.

Team members and grandpa are seriously injured and Lucien saves the day, sorta.

Slot 2. Agents Extraordinary: 1968

Fun for any addict of 60s spy themes.

John Drake has gone rogue, killing agents, and vanishing in Europe. Modesty Blaise follows clues from New York to Vienna. Modesty also sends Illya Kuryakin clues. Drake tries to meetup, but since Modesty doesn’t want to join the agents in peril list, she sends an actress/messenger who arranges a quieter meeting with Drake for the next morning.

Before any of that can happen, most of the Agents Extraordinary also arrive in Vienna. Will they arrest Drake? Will Drake kill Modesty? Will we ever not be paranoid? Will Felix Leiter get to enjoy his vacation? NO!

Everyone is captured and sent to the Village! Stay tuned for next year!

Slot 3. The Kraken Retrieval Squad

Themed off Rebma and very loosely based on the A-team adventures, this was a pretty good romp. Got to meet some new players to me, which is always part of my aim in taking on GMs and games new to me.

My character was seriously a trouble magnet the whole time. I think the team was half hoping I’d get thrown in a dungeon.

Overall a very interesting mix, which fulfilled the A-team style, I thought.

Barca, master of disguise, Garner, master scrounger, Howling Mad Kodrum, trump specialist, Ms Grazie, master of height and muscle, Joss Sloan, charming rogue with cunning plans, and S’Mestra, trouble magnet.

We had a grand military parade of Rebma’s might. The Kraken broke free and our not-charming Rebman handler, Tiberius, screamed at us like it was our fault.

Ya, we fixed it all up. Of course.

Slot 4. LoGaS: Gossamer Alternity! (GM me)

I took a stab at putting a new alien race (Kinz) in the Grand Stair to see if such adventures would play out well.

I got a bigger response than expected (meaning the game actually ran) and the players did well by the concept.

A twisty variant of LoGaS.  Prepare a 50 pt character with the LoGaS (Lords of Gossamer and Shadow) rules. Note that Kinz are able to understand any intelligent beings, even humans. Speaking to other intelligent beings requires Exegesis. Make a point on your PC submittal if you do NOT have Exegesis. Characters submitted 3 weeks before the con get to use 70 pts.Note! Kinz characters must have less than nine lives remaining, but your stats are based on your original life and points above. Players decide how many lives remain. Your previous deaths will bonus your stats, so please include descriptions of your previous deaths so the GM can calculate your fame and game stats. GM will not ask for your Kinz‘ Secret Name, however, if you share your Personal Name with other members of the mission, you will have Icon contact possible during the mission and beyond.No readings of T. S. Eliot’s book ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ are required to enjoy this game.

And then shared some additional items with Players in an email before the con to buff up creating the PCs.

there are three broad backgrounds/clans of Kinz you can associate your PC with (or provide your own small tribe background)

so curious, such explorers, they originally came from parched dusty climes but have spread all over the Stair because they always seek what is over the next Door threshold

so mad, such minds, they originally lived in mountain forests but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to hear new stories

so feisty, such many scars, they originally lived in cities but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to test themselves

After a few questions, and based on some chat in the LoGaS Facebook group, I added a cultural background, etc.

Since the Kinz are smaller and crafty, they rely often on being mistaken for cats and left alone to gather information or wander around listening. Even if you had the same stats as an amberite or a gossamer lord, you have a hard time fighting them on equal footing. You weigh 20 pounds top range, and those pesky two legs are usually 6 to 12 times bigger. That mass makes a difference to your Strength and Warfare. However, you can confer abilities (or Artifacts) on your Kinz that will translate also upon death, as that becomes part of your legend.

The Alternity is a mind state inside of the Stair and Gossamer worlds. Humanoids generally dream there but don’t recall anything about it. Exceptional people can travel in the Alternity, or adventure there, where dangerous ideas are found. One such dangerous idea is killing the Grand Stair. Kinz can with effort drag humanoids etc. into the Alternity, but then they may remember the journey, so it is not done often. Children are easier to work with than adults.

That’s pretty much the mission. Find out who/what/how someone is planning to kill the Stair.

and finally just before the con, a big summary:

KINZ summary:

culture with internal conflicts

the Kinz respect the Grand Stair by tradition. They originate from at least three gossamer worlds within the Stair network. Studies are inconclusive as to which world might be the ultimate origin of Kinz. Loosely speaking, the Shamans, Bards, and Scouts correspond to the mini-cultures of those three worlds, but there are also at least five other worlds not as old that have their own tribes. So far there has never been a civil war, and the (Kinz) Council has three Speaker seats for every gossamer world of the Kinz. Day to Day, the Kinz are much about their own agendas and passions. This also means they are polite but not overly ‘team players’ until a crisis presents itself. The Family is more important than Politics. Religion is a loose idea that only has a loose following, mostly centered on the Venerables and Bastet.

a non-human perspective that has its own logic

the Kinz seem to have always recognized the Alternity. Within the Alternity, they realized that other sentient species had a part in a Grand Design. However, it has been disappointing to discover that most other sentient species do not process the Alternity or work against the horde of Bad Ideas that thrive there. In fact, many of the Bad Ideas have been proven to come from other sentients. This leads the Kinz to treat with most TwoLegs as if they are ….immature species. There is Chowder (read Council) debate regards finding partners in the Grand Stair who can help to manage the Bad Ideas.

hierarchy with unusual authority/positions

Kinz generally defer to their own kind who have died more times. Which is to say, they are polite and listen to opinions. Only those Kinz who have died 8 times are considered Venerables. Dying more than 5 times confers Elder to your honorifics (as you are headed into your few remaining lives.) No Kinz has ever lived more than 9 lives. However, it is said that some rare cases, the Kinz who have best lived their 9 lives may exist in the Alternity after their final death.

child raising and reproductive culture

Due to death, gender change, or demands of the Alternity, and with an Understanding that young children are perceptive of the Alternity, raising children is a task given to the older experienced parent once the children are weaned. It is very common for the First Adventure to be led by the Guardian Parent. Assistance from the Blood Parent is not expected nor demanded, but Adoptive Parents or Grandparents will often participate.

gender identity

Kinz recognize five genders, two of which (female & mischief) can bear young:
Female / shows all the physical sides of warm-blooded child carry and reproduction
Male / shows all the physical sides of planting seed for children
Mischief / shows both physical sides of child reproduction but cannot impregnate self (intersexual)
Topsy / shows no physical gender traits at all, with no sex interests, but may find a partner that inspires a gender transformation to another gender state
Yowl / may show physical gender traits but has no interest or ability to reproduce unless Circumstantial

history and place on the stair

the Infinite Stair was first mind-mapped by Bastet, who later became a Goddess of the Alternity, or just a really powerful dead female (PC choice)
Bastet was part of the early culture meld of the three worlds of Kinz
Bastet believes that the Grand Stair favors Kinz and needs their assistance, and she also says she can talk to it, go figure!
Kinz respect a symbiotic relationship with the Stair

Since the Kinz are smaller and crafty, they rely often on being mistaken for cats and left alone to gather information or wander around listening.

Even if you had the same stats as an Amberite or a gossamer lord, you have a hard time fighting them on equal footing.

You weigh 20 pounds tops, two legs are usually 6 to 12 times bigger. That mass makes a difference.

However, you can confer abilities (or Artifacts) on your Kinz that will translate also upon death, as that becomes part of your legend


The Alternity is a mind state inside of the Stair and Gossamer worlds. Humanoids generally dream there but don’t recall anything about it. Exceptional people can travel in the Alternity, or adventure there, where dangerous ideas are found. Kinz can with effort drag humanoids etc into the Alternity, but then they may remember the journey, so it is not done often. Children are easier to work with than adults.

crafts/arts/music that is not human

Kinz love to tell stories and sing
Kinz have opposable thumb pads (4) and dew claw
they will make complex musical instruments to enhance their stories (they rarely carry around their prized instruments)
the culture is not tool-based, but Kinz love to create things and are good at whittling and/or sculpture


four legs are the major dexterity mode for the Kinz (if your attributes are above Paragon, it won’t matter much to normal actions, if you sell down, there will be limits)
opposable finger pads (four thumbs)— meaning they have no problem using tools, or picking things up, they also wield retractable claws
!do not make overpowered!

average Kinz is small and no more than 20 pounds
they are nimble and quite athletic but prefer to sleep in short bursts that allow them to monitor the Alternity
they are quite self-sufficient and generally, do not carry tools or other burdens

!multiple lives!

Kinz have nine lives, when fatally injured, they surge with Alternity energy and regenerate into a new body
the new body can be different in size, gender, markings, etc, but will retain your Attributes et al

they will regenerate in the vicinity of their death but rarely into a deadly environ

!avoid monoculture

Players are encouraged to devise their own tribe/gossamer world if they want to take on that task for PC design

Scouts/Navigators, world Riverhunt

so curious, such explorers, they originally came from parched dusty climes but have spread all over the Stair because they always seek what is over the next Door threshold

Sages/Shamans, world Monastery

so mad, such minds, they originally lived in mountain forests but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to hear new stories

Bards/Brawlers, world Shenanigans

so feisty, such many scars, they originally lived in relic cities but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to test themselves

Slot 5. Pendrad: Labyrinth! (GM me)

A serial game running about 4 times now. This year, a rescue mission to find or bury missing agents of the Fae Khans.

Again, this is the GM adding complexities of Amber and Chaos to the Grand Stair rule set. Not something you are likely to see in other games. The Fae are quite flexible and powerful compared to your average Stair dweller or PC.

Everyone did a smash up job.

Slot 6. They Fight Crime! (Space Opera Edition)

the GM created an alternate version of Firefly for the PCs to adventure in using James Arnoldi’s Key RPG system. The game system worked very well.

With a random selection of pregen characters, we all started right away with immersing into our roles. The twist was we each got a secret Motivation from the Player on our right to incorporate into the play. It seemed to work well for everyone.

Robin Grant, Captain of the space freighter Odyssey

Vincent ‘Ernie’ Grant, Hot Gunman for Hire

Vivian Hill, crusty engineer

Meer’Ton, alien hot-shot pilot

Prince Rutann of Zircon, tourist charming rogue

Dr Peter Tanner, medic and guy protecting his sister

Miserly Tanner, psychic waif of illegal Federation experiments

It’s been a long time since I’ve played in James’ Key system, and this seemed a smoother ride than I expected. There are Flaws to disadvantage you, and Keys to advantage your Expertise in six Attributes. A pretty slick package that works fast.

The parts were juicy ones, and everyone seemed to have a very good time. Viv was heroic, the Captain was steely and uber-competent, Ernie was loud and full of action/ideas/menace, while Meer’Ton, the Prince, and Dr. Peter were all played by the GM as some folks got pulled from the game by Real Life conflicts.

By chance, I got the random draw I would have picked anyhow, Miserly was the wild card in the crew, her actions always being a bit unproductive and distracting.

Our choices started out bad and got worse as we went along, one step ahead of disaster or being broke and stuck in on a station/world. We crashed in and out of several worlds, and situations, one step ahead of the law in some cases. In the end, we lost the Prince and pilot to the story line (they left for greener pastures) but the Feds never caught us.

A clever bunch of roleplaying kept us ahead of complete calamity. A good crew.

Special note here, the GM was feeling poorly and might have canceled the game, but he found a special reserve of awesome and we all had a great time.

Slot 7. Dark Water: The Company 2018

Serial consequences on the Grand Stair. A new team, more players than ever before, and this game came out very well.

The Company is a team of low-level mercenaries who are tracking fallout from an original adventure on the found Fountain of Youth. The water there turned out to be anything but friendly. Several adventures now have circled around how getting rid of the original problem has spread issues to other Doors.

This year it was gossamer Phoenix’s turn to be checked and cleared.

The good news, Prof Nine-thousand Entry 3 (9KE3) finished grading all the semester papers during the adventure, AND helped solve a knotty logistical problem in Phoenix. YaY us! The princess was saved. The world was rebalanced. We had a party!


Slot 8. Soft Cimmerian: No Mirror Has Two Sides (GM me)

Well… this was the ninth? outing of the Soft Cimmerian game, now a closed-game not open to new players. #softcimmerian #acus2018

the plot was a bit of social ninja work by one PC who can mask his presence from those of lesser Psyche, so he shared out a tale of anxiety and mystery: the crown princess seemed to have an aura that paled and wavered on social occasions. Eventual reveal: the 8-year-old was dying of a rare Chaosi war-poison. She’d been harmed right under the noses of all her significant security layers.

Lots and lots of interesting reveals to Rebma history, the burden of thrones, and how complex Rebma politics can be as a comparison to what is known about Amber politics (reflection of, where the King is always right.) Moire is not always right.

A scary plot that could have broken important NPCs or seen some dead— if the Gallants of the Glass did not do some very heroic measures. So they did commit fully and wove a great story through the minefield of plot tragedy.


Review & Thoughts: Doctor Strange (2016)

Hey here’s a way to show you the goods without you having the read this whole thing. A very good friend/critic I’ve known for years put out a ranked list of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films as part of a Dr Strange review. I loved his list and thought I’d do my own, before I talk about Dr. Strange (2016).

!Captain America!
Iron Man I
Captain America: the Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Doctor Strange
—Threshold of Awesome–
Captain America: Civil War
Avengers II
Iron Man III
Thor II
Iron Man II
The Incredible Hulk

So there you are, films ranked as they contribute to the whole and stand on their own, not really going to chat about it, per say, but if you think my list is wacky you can stop now before the review.

Here there be spoilers:

I’ve read a lot of reviews for the film before I saw it in theaters. And I read a lot of comments on the Facebook for the film from my circle of friends. Generally, both places really liked the film, and for the most part, they focused on the visual story being told, often from the viewpoint of high marks for effects and connection with the original source material as conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (genius!).

Dr Strange impressed the critics (and my friends) but the critics also often made a side comment directed at Marvel, “hey, we’ve seen this before”. And the implication, the subtext, is pretty easy to see, and to me, a very cultural American sideways compliment: “Marvel, loved it, but really, you’ve jumped the shark”.

Setting aside, that every critic wants to be on the good side of “I knew the MCU was headed downhill when I saw…”, I’m going to address my thoughts about the film, and then directly counter the entire competition aspect with other MCU films that many people will insist on making, because hey, that’s just who we are as fans and critics and long-time aficionados. Yes, it could have had stronger parts for women (but hey, Swinton was amazing). Yes, it could have been more true to the original casting of Eastern ethnic wisdom (but hey, it was so OBVIOUS that all the Enlightened masters were diverse and interesting, generally more so than Stephen.)

This is a great movie, well deserving to stand next to the rest of Marvel’s collective work. The script accomplishes an amazing amount of the original material, and better yet, actually refreshes it in a way that makes it much more accessible to audiences in general, and audiences like me, who poured through the original comics back in the day.

Dr. Strange has always been a bit of a sore thumb in the Marvel comics pantheon. He sometimes gets included in the most important, thoughtful ‘crossovers’ between the brightest and brainiest leaders of the Marvel supers (as he should), but he sometimes just isn’t around. I could spend a lot of time talking about how Difficult a character he is to write for, but perhaps you might take some time to read the entire web site devoted to writing for Dr. Strange instead. It has some really clever points.

Suffice it to say, from my point of view, Dr Strange is not actually a super hero like any of the ones that we’ve seen in the MCU.

In fact, if you do a bit of research, you’ll find that (like the Fantastic Four) Dr Strange has been translated into animated films, and previous TV and other efforts. These works have all pretty much been modest and then forgotten.

I do not think this film, 2016, will be forgotten. And it is not modest. It goes right back to the heart of the original story and grabs big handfuls of that wondrous stuff and drags it kicking and screaming 50 some years into the future. I could digress and talk about how many film failures there are for material written 50 years ago, but then, clever writers have done the job and made it work over and over. Dr Strange may be a little less accessible than most of these, Superman, Batman, Captain America. There is a list of American heroes that have been cherished, and some that have grown on us slowly, and a very few that suddenly stuck, like webbing, to our sense of fun and ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Dr Strange is none of these.

I’ll go a bit further. Dr Strange is not Tony Stark. It amazes me when I see the criticism that Marvel is retelling us Tony Stark’s origin in this movie. Because if that was the case, I would not have enjoyed this film at all.

The two stories have a brisk superficial resemblance (snarky white guy proves better than all others despite any challenge), and yet, when you look at the journey, they are from different places and going different places. I cannot stick to merely the films to prove this case. Both films are really good. Both actors are uncanny in their willingness to freshen the material. Downey has both captured Tony Stark and actually upgraded his story. But again, I cannot sing the Praises of Iron Man and get to what I want to say about Dr Strange.

But consider this:

Tony Stark is a genius, son of a genius, and his talents are at such a level that he is in fact SUPER before he ever invents the Iron Man armor. Stark discovers, personally, the tools he creates and the resulting chaos of war chews up good people. His creations make misery. Tony creates unstoppable mayhem because he excels at his gadgets and everybody (largely his own country, but really everyone) wants his toys. What does he learn? He learns a good fellow having a good life can actually be completely a dick because he never bothers to leave his circle of wonderful, his privileged neighborhood. And what does he do with this knowledge? Does he realize that with great power comes great responsibility? No. Does he stop being a dick? Well, no. He becomes superdick. And he stops making weapons available so he can decide who is going to have the best toys. That’s a lot of his journey; a very American hero, sure of his privilege and genius.

Captain America just threw up. Sorry, Cap.

Dr Strange has a different journey. Stephen Strange is an asshole. Stephen doesn’t seem to come from wealth. His dad was not a genius. His childhood was not one of wonder. (The original origin does not cover this and the movie presents us only with the adult, so everything I’m saying is reverse engineering.) Stephen is keeping score with material possessions (a sign he was not always wealthy.) Stephen is keeping score on Everything. He saves people who others say cannot be saved. He sets the bar higher when he’s mastered a level of amazing surgical technique. He doesn’t much have time for anything else in his drive to be the most amazing surgeon ever. He has to read the latest science. He has to know more than everyone around him.

People look up to him because he is really talented. But Stephen knows it is hard work as much as talent. He has earned his privilege.

And what happens? Unlike Tony Stark, who is caught up in the Fire he has often himself made, Stephen is smashed by carelessness, arrogance, and I guess we have to say Fate. Stephen makes a single mistake and crushes his own abilities, and his hands. It is his fault. There are no terrorists. No bad guy. Boom! Game over, Dr Strange. You are no longer special.

You are broken beyond repair.

I cannot see the two stories of Stark and Strange in anything like the same terms. And the Marvel bosses driving this film get that. They hammer it home.

So now what is Strange’s journey? Well, Stephen thinks it is all about him. He’s not broken. He can fix it. He has money, friends, colleagues, etc. And he’s wrong. It is not something to be fixed. And then he burns through all his money and all his friends. And he is desperate and savagely angry.

And he is still an asshole. And this puts him on another path. Because… Stephen is such an asshole, that a therapist cruelly wants Stephen to know he is wrong. There was a patient worse off than Stephen who got better. Someone did what Stephen cannot do. Someone got fixed.

This information sends Strange on the fated journey, to find out how the impossible is possible. Strange is no hero. He is a broken man. He’s not wealthy any longer. He’s not talented any longer. He has ruined himself. And it is still all about him.

Enter the Ancient One. Hey, if you are still reading this, you can enjoy the rest of the movie and come back to finish this review later. I’ll wait.

Dr Strange in the comics doesn’t often use his fists. He doesn’t always win. And in the early days of his adventures, he often barely got out of situations with his skin because he defended the world against really big scary threats from other Realities. He did have a community behind him. He was a student, promising, of the Ancient One, the Sorcerer Supreme of the Mystic Arts.

One of the best parts of the early Dr Strange books was, he had a teacher, a long relationship, and he was always learning just HOW STRANGE the universe was.

You cannot quite do that in a two hour movie. But they did manage to give you that sense of time stretching out. The learning sequences here are subtle and seasonal and pretty nicely handled. They may not explicitly say …seasons pass…. but it is interesting and effective to me, knowing the material.

So what does the film accomplish that makes it good?

Well, I for one, expect a Dr Strange movie to be weird in a way that will give Thor a jolt or cause Heimdall to raise an eyebrow. This movie does that.

I expect a Dr Strange movie to have a villain who is accomplished, talky, and probably better than Strange at obscure powers. This movie does that too. Indeed, it could be said that the villain is more understandable than Stephen Strange. (Critics disagree, finding the writing shallow and the performance ok. I think they are wrong, I’ll get to that.)

I want a Dr Strange movie to give me pause from all the other MCU stuff going on. I want the plot to make me start worrying about things I know the other supers are NOT watching and cannot be expected to defeat. This movie really does that.

This is a really first class Dr Strange movie. Go see it if you are a fan, and if you are not a fan, well you may have some of the reservations that critics had. Maybe you’ll agree Marvel has jumped the shark.

This movie is not a summer blockbuster. And really, Dr Strange is not quite an action thriller guy (there’s even a few explosions!) But what Dr Strange is supposed to be is mostly captured in this well constructed film. On top of that, there are great character moments for the cast. A villain that is convincing and misguided. A teacher that is a fine example to her students.

And the hero’s journey? Perhaps the reason this film will not be considered a major success is exactly the choice that Strange makes in the film. You see, very late, he learns something shocking, and then even more shocking. (That’s a great Dr Strange thing, by the way, always reveal the unexpected.) And Stephen Strange chooses NOT to recapture his wonderful life. He can be the man he was, can be healed, can fix the impossible. But if he does, he walks away from having his Third Eye open and spends his magic healing his hands. He really wants that old life. He wants to save lives and be the marvelously talented surgeon, but… he finds out that it isn’t all about him. He has changed. He takes on a bigger burden, a calling. And he loses his old life.

And Tony Stark? He’s still a dick.

movie grade: A, go see it and enjoy the story.

no drama, just make it stop

Linked article that is important for gamers to understand and think about. Trigger warnings for Harassment.

So here’s the thing, I’m not the most observant guy, and I don’t game much outside of a select group of very nice people, but to my great sadness this is real and happens every day. While I feel there’s little I can do about such shallow juvenile Terrorism, if you ever have questions, or need help, whether you are in one of my games or not, I will listen and take action. This kind of Social Terror should be talked about and I’m glad that gaming events I go to have harassment policies that they talk about.

Article: Gaming has a Terrorism Problem.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens review


So, not that I’m qualified to mind meld with Abrams, or Lucas, let alone the Imagineers of Disney, but here goes, my own take of the world class phenom that is this film.

First: really enjoyed it. Looked great. Felt great. Man, I love the new characters.

Second: read 75 thoughts, because this is neatly much of my experience in watching the movie. SPOILERS, seriously.

Third: While this is a good film, with class actors, and a great future for the franchise… I hope some of the things I expected from Star Wars find their way into the next two films (let alone the next 12 years or so of the franchise.) With a running time of over two hours, there were plenty of important things left out. More on that later.

In context, you may have already read folks slotting this film into the appreciation of  SW films that have come before, (y’know, better than 1, 2, and 3, not as good as 4, 5, or 6. That kind of thing,) but I’m going to make the case that we’ve seen an adroit storyteller’s illusion in 7, setting us up for the whole future of the franchise, not really a film that was intended to give us a great stand alone story.

Movies and stories have changed a lot since the 70’s in no small part because of Star Wars.

Just think about the Lord of the Rings movies. No one much even thinks of them separately, as they know the story being told is too big for one movie. That’s what we just saw with this film. SW:TFA is not a story we can evaluate yet, as it just put the pieces on the board and a passel of questions to be answered. The next two films are intrinsic in really evaluating this film.

So if you accept that unusual premise, the rest hopefully follows. OK?

So my review in short is: good film, clunky plot. Great performances. I found Rey to be a riveting character, and the actress (Daisy Ridley) totally hooked me in every scene I can think of.

All that said, there are enough weaknesses in the film that jumped out at me in the showing that I don’t even want to entertain how long it will be picked apart before SW8 comes around. So I won’t really. I’ll just point out that the transitions between plot points were more awkward than they had to be and the film’s end doesn’t even qualify as an end. (As I pointed out above, it is a cliffhanger pointing to the next film.)

So why did we get a cliffhanger? And is it the right move?

Well, yes, I think it is. Not so much because the films up to now are structured that way but because audiences can handle cliffhangers like this due to other media exposures and more importantly, Disney decided to make the franchise films on a schedule that everyone thought was amazingly fast.

Point of fact, Abrams has now admitted that several plot outlines for this movie were discarded leading up to ‘go time’ and that the script they were going to film was discarded because the author did not have time to finish it. Last minute, literally, Abrams started from ‘scratch’ with Kasdan to script the film we saw.

So, polished story? Not so much. Which leads again to the idea of telling a bigger story across three films. This is something that Lucas could never have pulled off before SW came out.

What about turning the ‘no time’ problem into an opportunity?

My working premise right now is that they sat down at one point (Disney may have insisted on a Opportunity Assessment Session) and looked at all the places that George got himself into trouble with the Star Wars fans/franchise. Then they looked at the aggressive time schedule of shooting the films. And then they said, “Where the prequels introduced more details that contradicted the first three movies, we should be introducing more mystery so that we have time to really figure out how the next trilogy ends.”

If you look at SW:TFA as a movie that almost did not have a story ready, it is clear to me that they needed to give themselves ‘story slack’, and mysteries to solve in the next two unwritten scripts, and that they knew they would be smarter to give themselves holes to work with. I think they have ideas, but actually bet they chopped things out of this movie, to make things more ambiguous. Some of that could be cutting room floor and pacing, but I think much of it (omg, LUKE does not even have a line of dialog), is giving themselves another year to get a smarter sharper story line.

Not only that, but think about how many mysteries are in SW4. Even with exposition, there is a tremendous amount of story detail breezed past to spend time with characters. We don’t know about the Clone Wars, we don’t understand the Jedi, we don’t get a feeling for the Dark Side, we don’t know that Ben is only present to make sure Luke isn’t killed off, and etc.

This is the thing SW:TFA gets right for me: they spend time letting you love and discover these new characters. They don’t explain what the holes are there for.

They don’t know exactly what the holes mean yet. But unlike Lucas in the 70s, this is the opportunity to reveal a better story, a bigger story, that can take the franchise to a new level of cool.

Here’s some food for thought, because I’m a big fan of Ahsoka Tano. Wouldn’t you like to see the earliest parts of the timeline show up in the next future bits of story? Would it not be very cool if Qui-Gon Jinn was right? That Anakin was going to be essential in balancing the Force? Perhaps because his apprentice was going to be essential?

Would you not pay good money to see the Jedi get their shit together in the next two franchise movies? The Jedi Council failures of the past are obvious at this point. And SW: Return of the Jedi does not address those failures.

What if Luke’s journey off to find a better Jedi path crossed with Ahsoka’s own journey to find a better path? She teaches Luke some things and the next movies reveal a new path for the Jedi.

Hey, you read it here first.


10 years… blowing dust off the sidebar

ahem… tap, tap, tap
can you hear me?
Well, the links are so rusty. Blogroll just died and my delicious really isn’t set up to replace it… and… well, I’m in a mellow place where I don’t know that I’ve got much more to say about Zelazny that you have not heard before.
So, I sorted and corrected a couple things.
If you find something you’d like to see corrected, send me a note at

ambercon 2010 :: the aftermath report

“(Martin’s) got a bad case of ‘God Benedict is so awesome’ and ‘Dad, you suck.'” — Gérard to Avia (from Changing Hands slot 7)

So a very nice Ambercon in Detroit, Michigan. Many thanks to all the GMs and Players who give of themselves so strongly. We win!
the brief reviews…
Agents of the Argent Rose (Arref game)
I note that this has become something of a family romp through a very broad canvas. Yet it satisfies in a way that a canon elder game through an earlier age in Amber might. We have the movers and shakers, the little games between the sibs and their pleasant conflicting motifs.
The asides and snarky wit of the cousins for each other is stronger than any plot.
Suffice, it may be that there is war between China and France coming, for the Imperial Princess returns to China, not chastened by the superior glory of France but inspired by the cousins to break her chains.
Oh, and Grandmama and Grandpere Corwin are speaking again. Separate bedrooms but very much in lust. Perhaps the world will be well, despite the loss of Cousin Max to vile Stigmatists. Farewell, Max, we shall all miss you.
Quotes at link above.

In the Lonesome October
(Paul Vlamis game)
Full of win. Lovely reproduction of the original material with full props to Zelazny on charm and etiquette of the archetypes. I found the other Players full of wit and style with their unique sets of Hero/Villains. Smashing game. Yes, the Openers lost, just barely. Darn.
Major Hatreds/Petty Animosities (Madeline game)
Full of win. Random is a punk. Gerard is sly. Eric panics and kills Corwin on earth when the elders settle in to play family politics with Flora’s plans in the middle east. Flora is dear. Fiona and Bleys are charmingly ruthless while Brand expounds and explodes in every direction.
Llewella: clueless as she misconstrues all events and tries an alliance with Random.
Oberon squashes Fiona/Bleys…and sets Eric on Brand’s trail. Score one for Random and Flora and Gerard…the only ones to really come out well.
House of Midnight and Fire (Arref game)
Eric’s plans to keep the throne surface twenty years after he is dead. Six very impressive scions of King Eric meet to discuss taking the throne back from Random. They bring secret weapons and plenty of guts.
But what’s this? Instead of invading, they decide to personally scout the Amber situation. So they infiltrate and then charm their way directly to the Eternal City. They get sell-sword jobs and join guilds. They buy buckets. They get fed and get the inside scoop on the war with Chaos. They find out their father is a hero, who died defending the Realm.
They find out no one really understands how Random became king…but Gerard handed him the throne and there seems to be little conflict in peaceful Amber.
They pass through Random’s security and at least one walks the Pattern. One gets thrown into the dungeon and quickly escapes. Finally they get an appointment with the King and have a dinner, meet the Queen and discuss current events.
Mordu (PC Paul Vlamis): “Worst throne war EVAR!”
Privately, the scions realize that they have a very very very good chance to kicking Random’s ass right outta the country.
Then what? Very nifty game with good roles handled by all.
Clandestine Chronicles of the Cobalt Charter (Arref game)
Three new players came up to speed very well with my experimental premise that has now run some six times. A game completely at the mercy of the Players and their wit…this time around, three plots were handled well until Julia Barnes tripped into a trap of the Chaos Vendetta on her.
But the Players quickly regrouped to save the day. Kudos to those mad bad shadow folk in their defiance of the Poles of Reality. Maybe next year, Amber will have a reaction to Viral Unicorn Sightings?
Dashing Blades (Sol Foster game)
Ever wanted to swashbuckle in good ol’ Amber before there was a Corwin? This game was a sweet play for me. Been hoping to see it play for a while. New guy (me) got a trifle enthusiastic and foolish trying to measure up to the Blades and their reputation.
Suffered minor wounds….a lot.
Changing Hands (Arref game)
Over fifty shadows essential to Amber’s future well being? How do we know what Chaos might have done to them while Amber was under siege?
Send out the young amberites while the Elders wrangle a treaty. That’s how.
Very awesome game with full PC wit on show. Infiltration. Shootouts. Magic. Poison. Cultists. Talking horses. Acres of flaming death. Shadows full of Black Grass. Beheadings. Science. Steam-powered tanks.
Lovely. Thank you for the great roleplay I saw in this game. I also appreciate the quotes listed at the link above.
Soft Cimmerian: Mirror Teeth (Arref game)
Quiet game of intrigue and relationships between 10 people (3 PCs this year).
Really indescribable here. My kudos to the Players. Very very cool.
I can say this: Guisels 3000 Amblerash 5
‘Tis a fabulous way to end the convention.