Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The infamous episode six of Dollhouse

For weeks now, the TV show Dollhouse has been promising that Episode 6, Man on the Street, would be the one that “changes everything”.  I don’t know if I agree with this, but it did change the way I view the show.


I know I have commented on the casualness of the rape sequences in previous episodes.  This episode contained more rape, and more explicit rape, than any episode before it.  Heck, it probably contained more rape than any 48 minutes of prime time could reasonably be expected to contain, and I am including Law & Order: SVU!

Seriously, let’s go into how many ways it comes up in the episode: 

  • Echo’s initial engagement was another sex based engagement.
  • Agent Ballard’s conversation with Echo’s client brings up human trafficking and the sex trade.  
  • This conversation is echoed in several of the video clip interludes.
  • The main mystery of who has been raping Sierra in her default “doll” state.
  • The fact that Sierra’s rapist is sent out to rape and murder Mellie, ostensibly to teach Agent Ballard a lesson.
  • The revelation that Mellie is also an active, and one can only assume was programmed to sleep with Agent Ballard to gain his trust.
  • Echo being sent back at the end of the episode to complete the engagement that was previously interrupted.

Considering how disturbed I have been by the amount of rape in the show so far, you probably imagine I hated this episode.  Actually, I thought this was one of the better episodes so far.  My main issue with the show so far is how it glamorized the sexual engagements.  This episode tackled the issue head on.  If they had treated it this way since day one, I would have a lot less to complain about.

The only thing that bugged me in this episode was the final scene where Echo “chooses” to finish her engagement by drawing a crayon picture of her client’s house.  I found it very disturbing, since it seemed to imply she was competent to choose.  However, her child-like demeanor and drawing were at odds with her compentence to make this choice.  Hopefully this was deliberate.  Otherwise I feel it undermines a good deal of the episode prior.

Ok, so what did I think of the rest of the episode?

  • Is everyone that Agent Ballard interacts with secretly an Active?  Not that I didn’t see the Mellie revelation coming.  I had her pegged as an active as soon as she opened the door across the hallway.  Sadly, they telegraphed that way too hard.
  • The “secret” man on the inside who is communicating with Agent Ballard through Echo is a necessary twist.  This episode seemed to be setting up Ivy, but she is way too obvious a choice.  At least I hope so after the non-surprise of Mellie.
  • I was actually a little surprised that Agent Ballard (or should I call him Paul now?) got fired from the FBI.  It is probably just as well, since I found the FBI sequences a little to “rogue movie cop” for my tastes.

I suppose writers of Dollhouse can claim one thing: They have gotten me to post about it twice now.  Which means, at the very least, they have gotten me to care about it.  Bravo!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Three wrongs make a right?

I am one of those guys who can spend hours debating the minutia of RPG systems.  One frequent debating partner of mine is my friend Todd.  He is not one to embrace new game systems lightly, and 4E is no exception.  Some of his recent issues with 4E include:

  • It is too difficult to hit opponents.  In 3E it was often too easy, but 4E has swung too far the other way.  This can frustrate players, especially when they are using a one shot ability like a daily power.
  • There is really no reason to use implements unless you have a magical one.  Well, maybe for Wizards, but the rest of the spell-casting classes get nothing.
  • The feats Implement Expertise and Weapon Expertise, from the new Player's Handbook II, are really too good to pass up.  When you pick those feats you either choose a implement for the former type or a weapon group for the latter.  You get a +1 when using the item of your choice.  The bonus increases to +2 at level 15 and +3 at level 25.

I am not sure if I agree with him on all points, but I realized that a simple house rule that would help address all of the points.  Simply grant all characters a bonus feat at first level that must be spent on either Implement Expertise or Weapon Expertise.

Having this feat would help with the issue hitting opponents.  It also gives spell-casters other than wizards a reason to use implements from the start.  Finally, getting one of the feats for free alleviates the "must have" nature of the feat, since you will have it. 

It is true, some of the classes that use both implements and weapons will have to make a choice, but many characters in those classes tend to lean one way or the other already.  If they really want both feats, well at least it just costs them one instead of two.

Is this change really necessary?  Of course not!  Nevertheless, it alleviates some potential issues without changing game balance too much.  So if your players agree with Todd on the issues described above, why not give it a try!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Learning to Fly: Addendum

Well, the Player's Handbook 2 is here, and it adds the best flier in 4th Edition yet: The Scion of Arkhosia.  This class is a Dragonborn paragon path, that allows your Dragonborn to grow wings!

At 12th level, the paragon path gains an At Will Utility Power that allows you to to fly your speed as a movement action.  You do have to land at the end of your turn, but it is a great tactical option.

At 16th level, you actually gain overland flight at a speed of 12.  Sustained flight at last!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Learning to Fly... in 4th Edition

My friend Chadarius recently entitled one of his posts, "D&D 4th Edition Hates Flying... Kind of".  The post was referring to the Sky Hunter paragon path.  Its not bad, but for a paragon path named Sky Hunter, it doesn't do a lot of flying.

In general, it is much harder to fly in D&D 4E than in previous editions.  In general, this doesn't bug me.  In fantasy fiction, from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter , prolonged unassisted flight is rare.  Plus, I was infamous for abusing spells like Overland Flight and Wind Walk.  So it is probably for the best that that door is closed.

Still, difficult is not impossible.  So without further adieu, here are some of the ways to achieve sustained flight in D&D 4E:


Phantom Steed (PHB p. 310): High-level casters can create flying steeds by getting a 40 or better on their Arcana check.

Overland Flight (Dragon 366): This level 20 ritual allows you and your allies to take to the skies.  However, you can do nothing than fly while in the air.

Magic Items

Flying Carpet (PHB p. 254):  It has a flight ceiling of 50', but who can resist a magic carpet ride?

Ebony Fly (p. 181):  If you have to fly, why not ride a fly?


Griffons (MM pp. 146-147):  Classical flying mounts in all editions of D&D.  Hippogriffs (Standard & Dreadmount) and Griffons (Standard & Rimefire) are all available as mounts in 4E.

Manticores (MM p. 184): An unconventional but deadly flying mount.

Nightmare (MM p. 196): The perfect mount for your evil paladin.

Pact Dragon (Draco pp. 190-191): A great mount... if you are a githyanki.

Wyvern (MM p. 268): If you can't be a dragonrider, why not ride a wyvern?


Airship (AV p. 18): Didn't I see this in the Mummy Returns?

Ornithopter (AV p. 19): A flying device made by dwarves?  Um, I guess it must be safe.  Right?

Spelljammer (MoP p. 159):  Flying and plane shifting.  This is the ultimate ride.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I Watched the Watchmen

I know I have a bit of a reputation for being longwinded.  So, I will start this thing out with the short version of my review: 

I watched the Watchmen on Friday night, and it was good.

If that is all you needed to hear, then you can stop reading now.  Otherwise, here is the long version:

Even though I am a fan of the original, I had some concerns about the movie going in.  Watchmen, with its text pieces and comic within a comic, would not be an easy comic to adapt.  The previews looked slick, but maybe a bit too slick.  Not to mention, I kept hearing that Zack Snyder had changed the ending.

I need not have worried.  The movie is one of the most faithful adaptations of a comic book to the big screen, perhaps surpassed in faithfulness only by Zack Snyder’s previous film 300.  The changes made were minimal, and even the much touted change to the end of the film did not bug me that much. 

Faithfulness isn’t the only measure by which a movie adaption should be judged though.  It also has to succeed on its own terms as a movie.  I believe it did.  In general, I think an excellent job was done in casting the film.  Specifically, I felt Billy Crudup did an excellent job portraying the benign detachment of Dr. Manhattan, Patrick Wilson was wonderfully nerdy as Dan Drieberg, and Jackie Earle Haley was convincingly psychotic as Rorschach.

I will also go on the record as saying that I liked the soundtrack.  I have heard complaints that it was too obvious, too clich├ęd, or simply “crazy”.  It was all of these things.  It was also fun, and in a movie as dark as Watchmen, you take your fun where you can get it.

That being said, Watchmen is probably not a movie for everyone.  It is violent and quite gory at times.  Limbs crack, skulls are split, and people explode into bloody goo.  It has some depressing things to say about the human condition.  After all, the only character willing to tell the truth about a mass-murderer is a violent psychotic. 

All I can say is it was everything I wanted out of a Watchmen movie.  I am frankly amazed that a movie like this was able to come out of Hollywood.

Or to put it another way:

I watched the Watchmen on Friday night, and it was good.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More Watchmen Mania

Get ready for the Watchmen cartoon series!  I am psyched, aren't you!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In Memoriam: Gary Gygax

One year ago Gary Gygax passed away.

I have been playing D&D for thirty years now.  In 1979 I was just a child, and I had no conception that D&D would become such a big part of my life.  Few other interests I had as a child have stayed constant throughout the years.  At the same time I was playing D&D I was building space ships out of Legos, sword fighting with fake lightsabers, and creating hideously complex soap opera style storylines for my Star Wars action figures.

Nowadays I have a long commute, spend most of my day working, and if I am lucky, manage to spend some quiet time with my wife.

But I still play D&D.  I think I enjoy it more than ever.  Not because of I enjoy memorizing obscure rules or rolling dice.  No, I enjoy it because it is quintessentially a social experience.  It's different from getting together to watch a movie or go out for some beers.  It is collaborative story telling, and when it is done well there is nothing like it.

So thank you once again Gary!  The game that you and Dave Arneson created all those years ago continues to entertain countless people.  You have left behind an amazing legacy.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Top Ten Monster List

As always, I seem to be late to the party. So here is my (belated) top ten monster list.


Dark Elves got a lot of bad press on the top ten lists, mostly because of backlash against Drizzt and the overexposure they get by Wizards of the Coast as a result.  Regardless, I will admit I have a soft spot for them though, mostly because of my fondness for the G1, G2, G3, D1, D2, D3, and Q1 modules. Back then, the drow were a shocking reveal. After all, the players had read the Elf entry in the Monster Manual, and it said that dark elves were “only a legend”. As long as they are used in moderation, I feel they can still be a dangerous and intelligent foe for your group.

Mind Flayers

Another major player in the D1, D2, and D3 modules, I grew to love them despite the confusing psionic rules and complete rip-off of Lovecraft. I have been told I have a flair for horror in D&D. I also enjoy intelligent monsters who try to outwit rather than outfight the party. So obviously Mind Flayers are a good fit for me.


I6: Ravenloft was my hands-down favorite 1E module. As a beginning DM, the tips provided on turning Strahd into a credible threat for the party were a real eye-opener. Plus, you can take almost everything I said about drow and mind flayers above and wrap them into these adaptable undead.


Shades in the original Monster Manual 2 were an early example of what we would now know as a “template” monster. This adaptability suited me well, and a Shade Assassin became a major reoccurring bad guy in one of my long-running campaigns. Ever since then I have had a soft spot for them.


I can’t leave these guys off the list, since they are actually in the name of the game. Dragons were designed to give the players a big fight and boy could they deliver.


Players in my game learned to fear pixies. Seriously, they started leaving pre-emptive offerings for them when they entered the forest.


Despite having read The Hobbit, I always had difficulty reconciling the Lawful Good alignment of Halflings in the Monster Manual with their amazing talent for thievery. So in my games, Halflings had a carefully maintained veneer of respectability, which was a cover for horrific mafia-like activities. If you knew what was good for you, you did not enter the Halfling parts of town after dark.


These temptress demons were a pretty potent weapon when aimed at a group of geeky high school kids. Plus they possessed the dreaded Energy Drain ability. So I used them a lot.


Intelligent, cool looking, and capable of creating potent illusions on a whim! I had a lot of fun pitting these against the party.


If the party has to fight a demon prince, it might as well be Orcus. Well-stocked with powerful undead and demon minions, a battle with Orcus was a great way to finish off any campaign.

And honorable mention goes to…


Many of my most memorable “monsters” were of the human variety.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Better does not necessarily mean good: The D&D Compendium

Well, the Lords of Tyr game was last night, and I have finally had an opportunity to use the reworked D&D Compendium under actual game conditions.  I had read some reviews about how much better it is since the recent update, so I figured I would give it another chance.

I was horribly disappointed.  Our party's warlord used Wolf Pack Tactics and wanted to give the free shift to a character who was prone.  So obviously, the question came up whether or not you could shift while prone.  I figured this would be a good  opportunity to use the D&D Compendium to find the answer! 

So I brought up the compendium and typed in "Prone".  I hit clicked search and looked down at the results.  The first answer was "Elephant".

Obviously this was not looking good so far.

Looking up at the categories I realized that the D&D Compendium had defaulted to the "Creatures" category since it had 329 results.  Well, easy enough to fix.  I looked for a "Rules" category, or a "Conditions" category, or something else appropriate. 

Well, apparently there are categories for Races, Classes, Items, Creatures, Epic Destinies, Paragon Paths, Rituals, Feats, Powers, and Skills.  Well, those are nice categories, but none of them were helpful right now. 

No problem.  Obviously I just need to run a search without applying one of the categories.  That should be simple enough, right?  Apparently not.  After looking all over the interface I realized that there was no way to search the database without choosing one of the categories. 

This was frustrating.  It's not like I was making a search for an obscure term or corner case scenario.  Conditions like "Prone", actions like "Shift", or attacks like "Grab" seem like obvious things a DM or player should be able to look up during a game with the D&D Compendium.  In reality, it is impossible to look up any of these.

This wouldn't be so frustrating if I hadn't already seen free resources like The Hypertext d20 SRD implemented so well for 3E D&D.  You would think that with the resources available to them, that Wizards of the Coast could implement a database that worked half as well for their paying customers.