... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, January 25, 2021

Updates and Plans: 2021

Don't have much to say yet, because I just got a new computer that I haven't set up yet. Lots of redistributing junk in the room and moving the old computer before I can even start unpacking the new one. And, of course, no one who sells something that connects to a display ever includes HDMI cables, so I'll have to order at least one more of those.

But I thought I'd make some brief comments on plans for the blog. Obviously, I'm scaling some things back. I've also taken a break from the reviews and will probably do future reviews elsewhere, although I will post the upcoming Star Wars reviews here because that's what I promised. I just haven't watched any more Star Wars movies yet.

I do still have OD&D-related plans, but I have fewer random rules observations these days. What I want to focus on is completing some projects I've talked about here over the years, and I've concluded that the blog in a way interferes with those projects, because I've been too focused on getting material for the blog that I lose creative steam and don't work on the projects. The non-rpg reviews in a way were meant to be a way to escape that trap, but turned out to be as much work, if not more.

So, posting is going to be light for a while until I figure out what to use as "light RPG-related entertainment" in between updates on RPG projects. I am now aiming for a weekly posting schedule, instead of twice a week. But even that might not happen in the next one or two weeks while I wrassle with the computer.

Hope everyone is having a good year so far. Talk to you all soon.


Monday, January 18, 2021

WandaVision: Inspiration for Episode 1

I’ve watched the first two episodes of the new Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series on Disney+, WandaVision. Not sure yet if I will do a review of that yet, although that would be a ways down the road. Need to watch a few more episodes.

But some friends and I were having a discussion: Which sitcom is closest to the first episode?

Without getting into spoilers, the first two episodes of WandaVision are designed to look like classic TV sitcoms. The second episode is obviously patterned after Bewitched, and not just because of the animated opening. The layout of the house is practically identical: staircase facing the front door, living room to the right, sliding glass doors on far wall of living room, dining room behind the stairs to the left with door to kitchen. Wanda’s clothes match Samantha’s '60s style, and even the theme of that episode reflects typical themes in Bewitched.

The first episode has a very different style. Some people have compared it to The Dick Van Dyke Show, but I think that’s a very poor fit for a couple reasons:

  • House layout is missing the infamous ottoman that Dick trips over in the opening credits.
  • Also, there’s a window opposite the “fourth wall”.
  • Wanda wears a '50s style dress, not Laura’s '60s style capri pants and top.
  • Theme doesn’t feel like DVD, which is usually not about miscommunication between wife and husband.

I’d almost compare it to I Love Lucy, but again that show has a very different feel because of Ricky’s job at the club and Lucy’s obsession with being in show business. Also, the front door in Lucy is directly opposite the “fourth wall”, with windows on the left, while WV episode 1 has the front door on the left and windows opposite the “fourth wall”.

What it reminds me of are '50s sitcoms about childless newlywed couples, where the plots revolve around a husband trying to get used to his quirky bride. But I’ve only seen clips of shows like I Married Joan, Life With Elizabeth, or The Donna Reed Show, and only have vague knowledge of Lucille Ball’s pre-ILL show My Favorite Husband, so I don’t know how well those match.

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Monday, January 4, 2021

Speeding Up Five-Sentence Character Creation

As I said in my earlier post about Justin Alexander’s Character Creation in 5 Sentences, I think it could be sped up by skipping ability rolls until they are called for. I know some people think you need the scores in advance to know how to play the character (Are they strong? Smart? Clumsy?) But we’re talking about getting people at the table right now. These are people with no OD&D experience, possibly no roleplaying experience. The most important thing for them to know is how to interact with the fantasy world through a character, without worrying about rules. They can think about how to roleplay different kinds of characters later, as they are slowly introduced to each concept during actual play.

In the same vein, I think we can speed things up even more by simplifying equipment rules. Justin’s blog post covers very thorough equipment kits, but I think that’s too daunting. Justin’s first sugestion, just telling a new player “This is what you have”, was more in the right direction. Characters should have:

  • Basic Gear: backpack, rations, waterskin, torches, rope, one spare large sack, two spare small sacks, a dagger
  • Basic Cash: 2d6 x 10 gold coins
  • Fighters Only: leather armor, a sword, and either a shield or a second weapon
  • Magic-Users Only: a spell-book and starting spells, 6d6 extra gold

You will notice that this only gives players two options: Fighter or Magic-User. It also gives them narrow choices for weapons and armor. This is based on my philosophy that you give players, especially new players, limited options, but then freely allow them to choose something else.

If you give a player, again especially a new player, a whole bunch of class, race, and equipment options, they will get bogged down in all the possible choices. If, on the other hand, you give them no choice or a very limited choice, if they don’t like that, they will ask “Can’t I be a bard or thief? Or an elf? Can’t I have a battle ax instead of a sword?”

When presented with no options, their imagination runs wild with other possibilities.

So, I’d revise the five sentences to:

  1. Are you a Fighter or a Magic-User?
  2. What’s your character’s name?
  3. “Here’s the most basic equipment. Your gold coins can be spent on gear or supplies when you are in a town. For just this session, if you think of some simple equipment you’d like, you can spend the money and we’ll assume you bought it before the adventure. Also, if you want to upgrade your armor to chain or plate, you can spend money for that now. Are you good for now?”

We skip everything else, for now.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

Blog Post of Note: Character Creation in 5 Sentences

I know I said I was taking this week off, but decided I needed to draw attention to a blog post.

Justin Alexander of The Alexandrian has a post on Character Creation in 5 Sentences, a way to make running an open table easier. It only takes five minutes for someone to join a game if all they need to do is to write down these simple things listed:
  1. Roll 3d6, total them, and write them down in these six boxes in order.
  2. Are you a human, an elf, a dwarf, or a hobbit?
  3. Are you a fighting-man, magic-user, or cleric? (If they picked a dwarf or elf you can skip this step. Randomly roll hit points and the magic-user’s spell.)
  4. What’s your character’s name?
  5. You have a sword, chain armor, a shield, 8 rations, a small silver mirror, 2 torches, flint and steel, a bedroll, and 16 gold pieces. (Customize equipment list appropriately.)
OD&D is uniquely suited for this of the various official versions of D&D because of the simplicity of the rules. I'll add, though, that you could speed up the process even more by skipping Step #1. Just roll and explain each ability score when it's actually needed.

Friday, December 25, 2020

RiffTrax Christmas Review: Santa's Village of Madness

It’s finally Christmas, and here’s my last review of the year for a RiffTrax Christmas movie. Or rather, a bundle of short movies. This, like the previous reviews, can be found on the RiffTrax website.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

Christmas with RiffTrax: Santa’s Village of Madness

Rating: B+

This is not one of RiffTrax’s newer releases, but it is a fitting follow-up to Santa Claus. After K. Gordon Murray purchased and redubbed Santa Claus, he decided “Why not get more use out of that film?” He took clips of that and combined it with other footage he shot in some holiday theme parks to create short films about a wolf, a skunk, and Puss in Boots, all of whom work for Santa. And there’s also a giant who attacks Santa’s village. And other crazy things that make no sense.

Village of Madness is a bundle of three of those films (not sure if they are the only three, or if there were more…) The first film actually uses very little footage from Santa Claus, but you’ll recognize more in the other two films. But there’s still a lot of new footage, all the better to tell an incoherent story!

Favorite Lines:

“The Christmas Wolf with an Ulcer trope is so overdone!”
“So, to recap: Santa’s toys are manufactured at offices that are overseen by a ferocious wolf, and he delivers them all over the universe using a fifth dimension that Merlin discovered.”
“So, this situation couldn’t be handled with a phone call, hunh? Santa had to sniff the moon flower and come to Earth?”
“The Forced Child Labor Factory Song. One of my favorite Christmas hymns!”
“Trademark K. Gordon: Show, don’t tell. And also don’t show.”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! I may or may not be posting next week, so I’ll wish everyone Happy New Year as well. Let’s hope for a better 2021!

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Thursday, December 24, 2020

RiffTrax Christmas Review: Santa Claus

One more day until Christmas, and here’s another RiffTrax Christmas movie. And I think I hear sleigh bells, kids! All of these can be found on the RiffTrax website.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus

Rating: B+

When I was a kid, I saw Santa Claus in a theater, for reals. Some of you may have seen it, too, either under that name or as Santa Claus vs. The Devil. It’s a Mexican movie that an American producer bought the rights to and then dubbed into English. And yes, The Devil, or rather a devil named Scratch, is sent to Earth on Christmas Eve to stir up trouble for Santa.

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Trace Beaulieu riffed this back when they were on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Then, as RiffTrax, Mike, Kevin, and Bill Corbett riffed it during a live performance, along with an ACI short, “At Your Fingertips: Sugar and Spice”. Those of you who have seen other shorts in the At Your Fingertips series, riffed or unriffed, know the cheap lunacy you can expect.

The riffing on the main feature, at least at first, is not as good as on the MST3k version, but it’s still pretty funny, plus it’s a much better looking and more complete print. More Merlin! More Keymaker! More dancing!

Favorite Lines:

“Line your garbage with more garbage to make future garbage. It’s the circle of trash!”
“The puppet lovin’ in Act Three makes Team America look like Howdy Doody.”
“Devils in tights breathing nightmares on children. Merry Christmas, everyone!”
“Well, Santa may have to get bizz-zay!”
“Bow down before Blitzen! BOW DOWN!”

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

RiffTrax Christmas Review: Christmas Circus with Whizzo the Clown!

Two more days until Christmas, and here’s another RiffTrax Christmas movie. All of these can be found on the RiffTrax website.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

RiffTrax Christmas Circus with Whizzo the Clown!

Rating: A+

How to explain this? Whizzo the Clown was apparently a clown who hosted cartoons on a TV station somewhere in the Midwest. He was popular enough that they either edited clips from a Christmas episode or filmed new material to make a weird movie for regional distribution. And then Mike, Bill, and Kevin found out about it.

But it’s not just that. They start with a short about Christmas trees made by mimes, maybe. It takes a really bizarre turn. I’m not sure, but I think this short is my favorite live-action Christmas short.

The main feature is just … nutso. As the RiffTrax guys describe it, it’s like watching a middle-aged clown having a mid-life crisis on film. Just a constant stream of gibberish while a bunch of kids try to look entertained.

I hope the little girl with tuberculosis got medical attention afterwards.

Favorite Lines:

“I didn’t think our little holiday short would have quite so much sexual weirdness.”
“The closed captions for this movie just say ‘Lucky you’.”
“There’s a rodent controlling him, like Ratatouille, that’s the only explanation.”
“It’s just not Christmas until Mom gets drunk and tries to surf on the cat!”
“Screaming, laughter… at this point, what’s the difference?”

If you like insane obscure crap like this, also try Christmas with RiffTrax featuring Magic Christmas Tree or (around Thanksgiving time) Fun in Balloon Land.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

RiffTrax Christmas Review: Christmas Shorts

Three more days until Christmas, and here’s another RiffTrax Christmas movie. This time, I’m doing some Christmas shorts: the newest ones, and a sprinkling of older ones. All of these can be found on the RiffTrax website.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

The Snowman

Rating: B+

When RiffTrax does an old-timey cartoon, it’s worth a watch. The underlying cartoon is always a weird experience, even without the added mockery.

In this case, the cartoon is about denizens of a polar region who build a snowman, bring it to life with ceremonial magic, and then have to deal with its sudden rampage.

Favorite Lines:

“I’m starting to get a Wicker Man vibe from this!”
“I think this guy was a boss in Cuphead.”

December Holidays

Rating: B

One of those school educational films you saw in grade school for social studies, or whatever they call it now. This teaches you about three December holidays from different parts of the world and how they are exactly the same because people all over the world celebrate December holidays to take their minds off the cold and darkness outside, even in places where it’s not that cold or dark in December!

Favorite Lines:

“The serving tool symbolizes the … the great spatula that is God’s love!”
“Cosplaying Jughead is a treasured family tradition!”

Alias St. Nick

Rating: B+

Another old-timey cartoon, this time about a hungry cat pretending to be Santa so he can eat any mice who don’t believe in Santa.

Word of warning: like evil Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the little mouse who doesn’t believe in Santa doesn’t get his come-uppance at the end. How is this even a Christmas cartoon?

Favorite Lines:

(after a skeptic mouse doubts Santa is real) “Merlin does it all with the help of a tongue computer and a skunk!”
“AGH! Santa’s butthole!”

Spunky the Snowman

Rating: B+

Another old-timey cartoon. One could argue that the title would not have meant back then the same thing it means now, but the guys at RiffTrax don’t. The story is similar to Frosty the Snowman, except Spunky is created to deliver mail. Everything that follows is just crazy.

Favorite Lines:

“Wild animals LOVE letters!”
“A snowman sledding is like a human riding through flesh.”
“That’s what Santa’s known for, right? Killing animals with his breath?”

Santa Claus’ Workshop

Rating: B

A live-action short. I think it was a theatrical short, back in the days when movie theaters ran a bunch of shorts and cartoons in addition to the main feature. I mean, it can’t possibly be an educational short, can it? It teaches nothing. Unless it’s meant to explain why most kids don’t get toys: Santa only delivers to one house a year!

Favorite Lines:

“Can’t tell if he’s proud of the toy, or mocking it savagely.”
“And they’ve made enough toys for … two houses.”
“Wait, Mothra sings Christmas carols.”

There are plenty of other Christmas-themed shorts, both animated and not. But if you like shorts, you need to consider:

RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza!

Rating: A+

This is a collection of shorts available on DVD or as a digital download, recorded at a live performance. You could get each of the individual shorts separately, but these aren’t the live versions and won’t include a special appearance by Weird Al Yankovic. (The short Al does really has nothing to do with Christmas, but it’s damned funny.)

The other shorts are funny, too, but one cartoon alone makes the whole live performance worth it: a very weird version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Favorite Line:

“WOAH!”

(Sorry, you’ll just have to get it to find out why this is the funniest riff ever, and why it makes you forget all the other quite decent riffs.)

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Monday, December 21, 2020

RiffTrax Christmas Review: It's a Wonderful Life

It’s almost Christmas, and for me lately, that means watching a lot of RiffTrax Christmas movies and short films! All of these can be found on the RiffTrax website.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Rating: B+

Yes, it’s the Frank Capra film everyone’s seen. Sort of. Because of the weird situation with the copyright on this film, they couldn’t get the rights to stream a riffed version of the entire film. The whole “I wish I had never been born!” moment and the resulting trip to an evil parallel universe is technically a derived work based on a short story that is still under copyright, as are a couple songs used in the original film.

So they cut it out to restore it to a public domain version.

It sounds crazy, but they actually made this work. It’s a solid B riff, but I gave it the B+ because of the audacity of this move. It’s no Star Wars Holiday Special, but it’s definitely worth watching.

Some of my Favorite Lines:

“Their eyes are in their WINGS?!”
“Try not to sound so excited about the abuse, Clarence!”
“You were always best at getting Uncle Billy’s head out when he got it stuck in the pickle barrel!”
“Can’t wait until I escape from this giant house full of servants and REALLY make it big!”
“Hey, remember when Harry smacked the maid on the ass and chased her around?”
“Grab a complimentary office crow!”

Side Note: One thing that strikes me odd about the (unriffed) movie is what a miserable, horrible person George Bailey is. Also, I still find it enraging that Harry Potter, the evil banker, gets away with stealing $8,000, which would be more than $112,000 in today’s money. I know people today steal much higher sums of money, but for several decades around the time that movie was made, there was a big deal about movies showing villains not getting their come-uppance in the end. I’m shocked people accepted this.

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