St. Louis Renaissance Faire 2015

st-louis-renaissance-fair-2

                I have been to the St. Louis Renaissance Faire when it was cold and rainy. I have been there on gorgeously sunny days with no humidity. There were also times when the heat and humidity were so high people walking past left vapor trails. Traditionally we go on Memorial Day weekend and this year was no exception.

But regardless of the weather we always have a great time!

The day started off cool but got hotter and more humid by the mid-afternoon. Since that is also the time the crowds get bigger it makes for a stuffy and claustrophobic time. But by then we are ready to go home and the heat and crowds only confirm our decision!

The Faire’s website is here: http://www.stlrenfest.com/info.html. It runs weekends this year through June 16th and is described on their website as:

The St. Louis Renaissance Faire is a long-standing event that brings you the adventure, excitement, and spirit of the Renaissance!

Travel back in time as you step into the beautifully wooded, 16th century French village we call Petit Lyon! Thrill to the exploits of Jousting Knights on thundering steeds. Roam the village shoppes for unique crafts as our artisans demonstrate period skills like blacksmithing and woodworking. Delight in comedy, music, magic, and more on our nine stages of non-stop entertainment! Feast on delicious food and drink from the far reaches of the globe, and interact with the colorful villagers, nobles, peasants and characters of ages past!

Children will love the petting zoo, games, and daily free activities. Adults will enjoy beer, wine, and mead at our three thematic pubs! There is truly something for everyone at the St. Louis Renaissance Faire! Huzzah!

(they might want to update this as they have not had the petting zoo for a handful of years now…)

Traditionally my wife and I attend the Faire to listen to and watch 3 Pints Gone perform. They are a trio of musicians who play Celtic traditional folk songs: Bill Masino, Kathleen Masino and Jesse Linder. Their latest CD is called “It’s About Bloody Time!”

3 pints

             Jesse, just so you know, is my wife’s brother. In past years we spent most of our time watching them perform and wandering the Faire between sets. This year and last my sister and her family went with us and we wandered more of the Faire grounds with our daughter and their four children. Our daughter Abby beamed with happiness playing with her cousins as well as cheering on her Uncle Jess!

Another set of friends joined us at the Faire for the first time this year – the same friends who joined us at Wizard Con two days before! We coincidentally arrived at the front gate at the same time, saw them several times during the day and coincidentally saw them at the gate when we left! They also had a wonderful time!

But back to the kids: there was a lot for them to do! Abby’s favorite was the pony rides. She spends the rest of the year looking forward to the pony rides! Oh god how she goes on about the pony rides. Always with the pony rides…

pony

               One booth we enjoyed allowed children to blow bubbles, dress up in renaissance outfits for pictures, and play tic tac toe and ring toss. They also had a large sandbox. Ooo, my daughter and her cousins loved the sandbox. It was a nice place for the parents to sit and rest while the kids played.

sand

               Once again the Faire had the Quest for the youngsters. The take their quest sheet to various vendors or performance areas where they are given a stamp. Fill in all the stamps (about twelve or so) and at 2:30 the king will knight the boys and the queen will make the girls a princess! They each receive an official scroll with their title!  Fun for the kids but also fun for us OCD adults looking for the special sign in front of the participating shops and areas!

quest

               It was a nice way to get shy boys and girls to go up and ask for a stamp and to learn to say “please” and “thank you”. Everyone was very friendly to the kids, although one booth tried to sell our two girls into buying something. “Only two dollars,” the lady said, not realizing our five-year-olds were still oblivious to the concepts of money and purchase of things … we thanked her and left. That’s not the nice fairy pictured, just so you know…

Throughout the Faire, performers dressed as various types of fey gave the children small colorful stones. They could trade the stones in for necklaces and bracelets at the fairy grove. My nephew enjoyed his spider ring and my niece traded for a pretty bracelet. My daughter got a shell necklace. It took some doing – at first she preferred to keep the shiny stones!

Photos of past Faires are available for public viewing on my Facebook page. Because of the children with us the more recent years are for Friends only. I’m sure you will understand. If you don’t, go get bent …

I kid …

While I’m thinking about it … no, no I don’t …

We like to go during Memorial Day weekend but this was the first time we attended on the day itself. They have a touching ceremony for fallen soldiers every year on the jousting tournament grounds that most of the performers try to attend. The royal cast was there (the king and queen and their entourage who roam the Faire grounds and greet visitors all while in character) and singers from various groups were asked to do the national anthem (ours, not renaissance-era France’s – if they even had one). On this day the singers were asked to meet at 1:50, but by then the ceremony had begun and they were unable to sing. So they met on the stage where 3 Pints Gone performed at 2:00 and sang it there instead!

national anthem

               Some performers and booths were unavailable this Monday of Memorial Day. But there were plenty of renaissance-themed items for sale – clothing, gear, jewelry, and more artwork than I remembered being sold in the past. Lots of fantasy-themed items, too: dragon puppets and the like. The food vendors were my favorite this time out. I was hungry! Bison burgers, brats and nachos for the kids. Hard cider took the edge off the heat, but later in the afternoon nothing tasted better than bottled water!

I was glad to find Raymond Edge at his usual booth. I complimented him on his trilogy of books I bought last year. He has a new one out now – a memoir of Saint Nicholas! I may buy that next year (Wizard Con tapped me out for the next few months!). I asked him about his planned fourth book in his series and he said it might be out this time next year – he had to stop the fiction to write a textbook. That way he can make some real residuals. Funds before fun!

Perhaps because of the special day I missed some of my favorite local regulars who attend and perform. That is, they either did NOT make it to this third day of a three-day weekend or I simply couldn’t find them.

Aaron Rabe, who does a pitch-perfect Captain Jack Sparrow was likely too busy at that weekend’s St. Louis Wizard Con to perform and I also missed a few other cosplayers who likely attended the busier Saturday or Sunday.  Having said that, there were lots of people in costume to complement the hired performers.

My nephew especially enjoyed the magician. He performed at the stage usually saved for a children’s story hour. I did not see his act but per the website he was Korso the Magician. I walked past him a few times showing children and adults a few tricks.

We usually ignore the themed weekends – if only because we do not dress up and participate.  My sister’s family looked forward to this weekend’s Highland Fling, but that was set aside for the Memorial Day ceremonies. They have a pirate-themed weekend and an Irish weekend. Last year the performers and cosplaying guests created an impromptu “drow invasion day” where the dark elves attacked! As our daughter and her cousins get older we may pay more attention to these special events.

Watch the Faire’s website for these kinds of specials – and on some weekends if you bring canned goods to donate you can get a discount on tickets! Sweet!

I will see you there next year!

fire! joust performer1 performer2 performer3 plague singers storyteller

Copyright 2015 Michael Curry

 

 

 

 

Part two of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies review…

A review of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

from Seven Chapters, shown in Three-D

Part Two

(one last time)

Hobbit 2

            War between elves, dwarves and men is about to begin…

            Quick! Read my blog of Part One of this review: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/12/28/a-late-review-of-the-hobbit-battle-of-the-five-armies/

            An army of elves and remaining Laketown humans line the fields in a scene reminiscent of the Battle of Helms Deep in “Two Towers”. When Thorin’s cousin Dain and his dwarves of the northern Iron Hills crest the mountain and march to the Elf/Man army, we share Bilbo’s despair that war cannot be avoided.

            Dain, by the way, is marvelously played by comedian Billy Connolly.  His presence steals every scene – an incredible feat for such an epic movie! Plus he rides a war pig (Jackson resisted the One-Ring-level urge to play the Black Sabbath song…) and tells the elves to sod off! What’s not to love?

            Just before the three armies come to blows, the orcs attack from underground tunnels. D&Der will thrill at the sight of purple worms bursting through the earth’s crust. Movie fans will have traumatic “Dune” flashbacks.  “I will kill him!” MacLachlan! Is … is that Picard? Sting! {SLAP} Oh, sorry … thanks …

            The scene of the dwarves holding the line against the oncoming orcs is thrilling – the dwarves and elves unite against a common enemy. If there weren’t just six people in the theater that day, I probably would have cheered!

            In Jackson’s non-novel storyline, Legolas and Tauriel travel to Gundabad, an orc stronghold to the north, and find a second orc army coming from the north to form a second attack wave. They arrive to warn the Three Armies just before the second wave hits.

            Thorin and company are still held up in Erebor, refusing to help even his cousin. The three armies are being decimated, but still Thorin does nothing. We find Thorin deep in the dwarven compound and watch his internal struggle. He finally comes out of the Dragon Sickness to help his family and friends.

            He takes three of his companions to the fortress of Azog “to cut the head off the snake” to paraphrase Gandalf.  We watch Thorin and Azog’s final battle (Azog killed Thorin’s grandfather, remember…). Fili and Tauriel resolve their affection with one another – both events done with a sense of finality – especially if you know what was going to happen (I am so glad I read the book before seeing the movie).  The inevitable knowledge of the fate of some of the dwarven company made me sad during the movie.

***

            (MILD SPOILER) Near the end, the fifth army of the title appears to save the day. No surprise, it is the same “army” who saved the day in three of the past five LOTR movies…).It’s getting to be a bit of a joke … but Beorn’s appearance was cool!(END OF SPOILERS)

***

            The aftermath, while not as sad and wistful as “Return of the King” is so, nonetheless. This really is our last visit to Jackson’s Middle Earth and we say goodbye to our friends. But seeds are planted foreshadowing the “LOTR” movies. Thranduil and Legolas make an uneasy peace: father telling son to seek out Rangers from the North, one in particular named Strider, whose real identity Legolas must discover himself; Gandalf tells Bilbo to take care of the ring (in the book Bilbo reveals he has a magic ring early on; in this movie series it was always a secret).

            The movie series ends as it begins, with Ian Holm as Bilbo writing his memoir “A Hobbit’s Tale, or There and Back Again”

***

            People who do not like the genre will probably not like the film. But they didn’t like the LOTR movies either. “Return of the King’s” Oscar sweep won’t happen here. As epic as these Hobbit movies have been, they were made to complete the circle.

            In previous blogs I discussed the detractions of this second series of Middle Earth movies: the necessity of making it three films to keep the money machine rolling, etc. But I didn’t think of such things watching this movie. I went in expecting to enjoy it and I did. Obviously, as is always the case with multi-part movies, if you have not seen the first two, I’d recommend renting them and watching them first. You’ll be lost.

            The chase scenes that plagued the first two movies are not present here. The battles probably go on longer than necessary (most notably Thorin/Azog), but they are divided out proportionately and I never got the urge to go out to the lobby for a while.

            One thing missing in this movie that was prominent in the prior five Jackson/Tolkien epics was the celebration of the small. All through LOTR was the idea that even a little person can make a big difference. My blog of the movie “An Unexpected Party” was rife with the joy of the small.  And although Gandalf mentioned that theme in his parting words to Bilbo, it was there in words only. Like “Return of the King”, here we faced a battle that would be sung about for ages. Unlike “Return…”, the very small had no part. It’s the fault of the novel, really. Bilbo got knocked out early on and had to be told how the battle ended. Not quite the case in this movie, but still … one small person (embodied by Bilbo in this series and Frodo and Sam in the first) made no difference in this movie. And not just in the actual battle – his attempts at brokering peace failed; his attempt at breaking Thorin of his Dragon Sickness failed.

            “Return of the King’s” climax was not only a battle to end an age, but also featured a pair of small everyday people saving the world. In “Battle of the Five Armies” the climax featured kings battling kings.  A grand feast, but I yearned for the small tasty dessert at the end.

            I left the theater knowing I enjoyed a complete story, but also knowing it was prequel …

            Put another way: the novel The Hobbit is a satisfying and complete read.  Although I will probably read LOTR in the near future I was not filled with the desire to read it immediately after putting The Hobbit down.

            The movie “The Hobbit”, although completely satisfying, is not satisfyingly complete.

            The LOTR movie trilogy was always in the background;  always there to compare itself with the Hobbit trilogy. As good as “The Hobbit” trilogy is – and it will stand the test of time as well as the LOTR movies – it will always stand in the shadow of its bigger cinematic brother. Something the novel does not suffer.

            Put yet another way: this movie was a great set-up for the LOTR movies – now one can spend an entire weekend watching the six movies instead of “just” an entire day. And as fun and complete and satisfying as it was – it is still also a great set-up for the LOTR movies.  A great opening act is still just the opening act …

 Hobbit 1-1

***

            Did 3D help the movie? No. This was my first 3D film since the trend returned with “Avatar” and I was not too impressed.  Two scenes were incredibly well-done, I will say: the battle with the Nazgul and Legolas’s fight on the stone bridge.  If the whole movie were of that caliber I would go buy a 3D television – do they still sell those?

            Otherwise it looked as if I was watching a Viewmaster reel. Things in the front were too blurry and some obvious takes – Thorin holding his sword toward the camera as he walked – took the magic away by reminding me I was in a theater watching a movie in “3D!!! (insert echo)”

            And 3D ruins any forced perspective. The magic of suspended disbelief in Peter Jackson’s six movies were based not only on CGI but on forced perspective. Here when a human talks to a dwarf or hobbit you can see how far away they are from each other due to the 3D/Viewmaster perspective.  A shame.

***

            So go see “Battle of the Five Armies” – enjoy visiting with old friends one last time – just like the advertising campaign says.  We probably won’t see another treatment of LOTR or the Hobbit on this scale in our lifetimes. At first I was upset that I had to see this last movie alone. In the prior five films I was surrounded by my family and friends.  But as the movie started I realized I was still among some very old and dear friends … and enjoyed it immensely!

 

Original Material Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

A late review of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

A review of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

from Seven Chapters, shown in Three-D

Part One

(does any of this add up?)

 Hobbit 2-1

                This review contains mild spoilers of the movie as well as MAJOR spoilers of the five prior Tolkien movies by Peter Jackson … I tried to make this pretty safe to read. Keep in mind, this movie is based on a work that is seventy years old, available free online and is a major piece of fiction in Western Civilization, to complain that I “ruined” your pleasure by revealing facts of the movie is just plain silly.

                If you don’t know the outcome of the story by now, or that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, the chick in “The Crying Game” is really a man, Rosebud was a sled, and/or continue to be tricked by any plot twist of a movie from M Night Shamalamadingdong movie; you need to crawl back into your cave…

                Note: to avoid confusion, book titles are underlined, “movie titles” are in quotes…

***

                Just as you should watch the first two films before seeing this movie, you need to read my blogs about the prior films first!

https://michaelgcurry.com/2013/01/03/114/

https://michaelgcurry.com/2013/12/29/42/

***

Hobbit 1

            Christmas Eve day we planned on seeing the third movie of Peter Jackson’s version of “The Hobbit”. This third installment is called “The Battle of the Five Armies”.

            On the way to the theater my daughter’s day care called and said she was running a fever. We brought her home, gave her some medicine (her pediatrician called back right away and called in a prescription quite quickly!) and she felt better by Christmas Day. During the 24th she was quiet and mellow and spent most of the afternoon lying on the couch or snuggling with Mommy and/or Daddy.

            Just before her afternoon nap my wife said I could go see the movie by myself if I wanted to. I didn’t. I wanted to see it with her. But all I would otherwise do that day, just as my little girl would do, is to sit around the house and lie quietly … I was going to see the movie again on New Year’s Eve Day when my wife worked and I did not … it would give me a chance to do some last-minute Christmas shopping when it was over.

            Well, why not?

            We missed the 10:00am show, but there were more at noon and 1:30. The noon showing was in 3D. I had never seen a modern-day 3D movie – the last one I saw was one of the Nightmare on Elm Street thingies from the 1980s. And the noon showing would get me out of the theater sooner and home by four or so …

            Again, why not?

            I watched the first Hobbit movie many times in the theater and on blu-ray, and although I have the second one in disc, I had yet to watch it! I haven’t seen it since it was in the theaters! The weekend before I watched the second movie again. Because of the new material in the movies and the cliff-hanging ending of the second movie, I was afraid I would be a bit lost watching this third movie at first. I’m glad I watched “The Desolation of Smaug” to refresh my memory.

            Earlier in the month of December, on a whim, I decided to re-read The Hobbit novel -I had not read it since I was in New York during the birth of my child; and then it was only the second time I read the book (I have read Lord of the Rings five or six times by now…). I finished it that weekend – the evening after I finished the book I watched the second movie.

            “Why!?” the nay-sayers shout. “This travesty has nothing to do with the book!” Not altogether true. The movies are wonderful fun. There are new scenes and characters, true, but as I said in my previous blogs … who cares? Who wouldn’t want to spend more time on Middle Earth and meet new friends?

            And I’m glad I read the book again. It helped me remember what happened – Thorin’s gold-fever and who survived (and who didn’t survive) the battle.  The deaths of some of the friends we made during this series is fore-ordained – what about our new friends? Whither their fate? Hmm?

            “Battle of the Five Armies” picks up right after “Desolation of Smaug” ended. Smaug wings his way to Laketown – convinced they were in on the dwarves incursion into his mountain. Bard, the human fisherman/smuggler descended from the ruler of Dale (thus making him an early draft of Aragorn), is locked away in a Laketown cell.

            Smaug’s attack is awesome in the adult sense of the word.  Terrifying. Stephen Frye returns as Laketown’s Master whose escape tries to provide comic relief, but we are too swept up in the townspeople’s attempt to flee to really laugh at the Master and his toady Alfred’s cowardly acts.  Alfred becomes a thorn in Bard’s side throughout most of the movie. Not as inherently evil as Wormtongue from “Two Towers”, but just as oily …

            Bard escapes, finds his family, retrieves the black arrow and faces Smaug. The result is similar to the book and to anyone who saw its obvious foreshadowing in “Desolation…”.

            Then the credits roll…

            The next third of the movie builds up the war envisioned in the title.  As in the novel, Bard and the Laketowners make refuge on the shore and ask Thorin’s company for reparations. We see Thorin’s descent into gold fever (or dragon sickness as it is called in the movie) as he refuses to keep his word to the Laketowners. His fever grows as he demands his company find the legendary Arkenstone amongst the treasure hoard, eventually suspecting even his kinfolk of duplicity – an act unthinkable in dwarves to their allies and kin.

            Thranduil, the elven king from Mirkwood, and his army of elves appear with supplies for the Laketown refugees.  Rather than being beneficent, as in the novel, Thranduil comes to the Lonely Mountain to get back his people’s diamond jewels kept there.  Thus he and Bard demand what they think is rightfully theirs.  The audience believes this, too.  The film does a convincing job showing us Thorin’s greed without making him a true villain.  Bilbo and the other company often remark (even to the great King’s face to their peril) that this is not the Thorin they knew and followed loyally.  We side with the men and elves, but sympathize with the dwarves.

            Orc armies are marching to Erebor (the Lonely Mountain). In the novel, they marched when they learned Smaug was dead and his treasure hoard was up for grabs! Here, the reasons link in with the ”Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy …

            When we last left Gandalf in “Desolation…” he was the caged prisoner of the Necromancer, revealed to be Sauron.  He watches Azog’s orc army march to Erebor at Sauron’s command. The Lonely Mountain is of strategic importance (Sauron has no need for coins and baubles). It is the initial step in his conquest of the West.

            Gandalf escapes in a thrilling battle between the Ringwraiths and the White Council. After five movies we finally get to watch Elrond and even Saruman kick ass. Galadriel’s confrontation with Sauron is terrifying and well done – reminding us of the glimpse of her true power in “The Fellowship of the Ring”. The look on Saruman’s face when Sauron appears makes the movie fans giggle in delight: is this the point he begins to turn to the dark side? Has it happened already and he stops fighting when his master is revealed?

            Bilbo attempts to negotiate a peace, by “betraying” Thorin. By now we are, of course, on Bilbo’s side here, so the betrayal was from Thorin, not the hobbit. The negotiation tactic does not work, Thorin is even MORE infuriated and he and his dwarven companions prepare for war…

            In honor of the movies, this review is split into two unnecessary parts … 

             … to be continued…

Original Material Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition: The Apology

What Am I Reading: Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition

Part Five: Now, where were we?

 

                I started to write a simple review of Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition, but it grew into a series of blogs about the history of the game itself! Refer to my previous blogs for some of the terms if you are confused.

                We’re sorry, really really sorry. We won’t do it again. Can we go back to being friends?

                This is what WotC seems to be saying with its 5th edition. The Player’s Handbook is out now and the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual are coming in the next few months.

                When they realized that, good or bad system notwithstanding, their 4th edition was failing, they had to decide what to do. Should they scrap everything they have done? Yes. Should they just go back to 3.5? That wouldn’t be a bad idea, but Pathfinder has filled that niche now. Not only as a game, but their Pathfinder Societies has created gaming communities. Not only is Pathfinder a game, but it is something like a club – GMs and players can accumulate points as they play. They can get free stuff. It’s like the Boy Scouts or the Illuminati.

                Let’s go way back, they may have said, go back to first edition – really make it rules light. No, there are plenty of companies that do that already. Pits and Perils (http://www.oldehouserules.com/), Labyrinth Lord (http://www.goblinoidgames.com/labyrinthlord.html), and (my favorite) Basic Fantasy Roleplaying (http://www.basicfantasy.org/).

                Let’s keep the d20 system, WotC said, but make it lighter than Pathfinder. We’ll find our niche there. Something for the non-number crunchers. We’ll streamline 3.5 and they’ll forget all about 4th edition.

                They’re off to a good start.

5th ed players handbook

 

                Now I can finally begin my review of Dungeon & Dragon Player’s Handbook for 5th Edition. It’s a beautiful book solidly bound – beautiful art, excellent layout and easy to navigate. I would expect nothing less from D&D – the bar is raised higher for them than, say, an upstart retro-clone. There I expect cheap …  and am usually not disappointed.

                The book starts with a lovely explanation of role playing – what it is and how it works. I usually skip over this part – the necessary intro to any RPG. It’s boring and repetitive to me (“…this is a movie in your mind … you help write the script…”), but if this is your first foray into tabletop role-playing, this has a solid intro.

                The races are more or less back to the basics – Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc. From 4th edition they kept the Dragonborn (the whiners who demand to be able to play a dragon as a player-character is too large a lobby group to ignore) and the Tiefling.

                The classes are back to those listed in 1st edition AD&D with some Unearthed Arcana thrown in (although the revised names are used): barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, rogue and wizard. They also added sorcerer and warlock.

                Backgrounds are added – you could call these character kits harkening back to the class kits of 2nd edition. Did your character start his adulthood as a soldier, an urchin, a sage, an artisan? If you do, you have some ready-made skills, tools, and traits and flaws. I like the traits and flaws – it helps with role play, not roll play. It’s there for flare.

                The usual equipment lists are canny and necessary for any game. I skimmed through that part.

                The combat hearkens back to oulden times. Nothing new here – I mean that in a pleasant way.

                Skills are down to 18 in number. Wow, 18 – and each are limited to certain classes. If you are proficient in a skill, you get +2. No slots, no purchases, +2. The idea of a proficiency bonus is a nice, slimmed-down touch. If you do anything well, if it is your proficiency, you get +2. Class or race attributes (Rogues use Dexterity, Warlocks use Charisma – smart move there. Unless you played a Paladin Charisma was always the low-roll dump of attributes) or skills – +2. Simple enough.

                Feats are down to 42 in number. Still too much, but at least it’s lost some weight. As with 3.5 you only gain a feat every three levels. A player is given an interesting choice – every third level you can either pick a feat OR increase an attribute by one. Hmm … some of the feats are pretty tough – you can reroll damage and pick the higher roll, you can increase your hit points to the same number as twice your level. Some of these feats will be huge at higher levels!

                A minor quibble: the XP needed to level is ridiculously low. 300 points to make second level?  The XP value of creatures and monsters must have suffered quite a bit of deflation since 3.5…

                WotC did a smart move by frothing up support and buzz for 5th edition through their Adventurer’s League: a structure of organized, public play sessions. Encounters is a short, weekly session at local game stores, Expeditions is for regional conventions – usually an all-afternoon event and Epic for major cons lasting days. For Encounters players meet at a game store and play a pre-set module sent to the DM directly from WotC. Both the DM and the players receive points for their play. Eventually, the gamers will run through the entire adventure path (another name for long module that will get you to the highest levels). Pathfinder has the same thing with their Pathfinder Society. The exact same thing. I wish WotC luck in this – but it seems no business gets ahead by copying its competitors. Pathfinder copied 3.5, true, but only after WotC abandoned it.

                The expunging of all things 4th edition is underway. The gaming community is starting to forgive them.

                I’m too far away from any game store to do the Adventure group thing. And with my baby girl I doubt my wife would let me run off once a week to play anyway. Maybe when she is old enough to entertain herself.

                To say that 5th edition is weighed down by what has gone on before is an understatement. But they should look on it as a legacy, not a burden. Embrace and respect the past. But note the future. Right now they are copying Pathfinder – with their lighter version of the rules and their Society-like Adventure teams. When you are in a parade – you never march behind the horses. But D&D is in a position it had never been in before – an upstart follower instead of a leader. They may still claim to be the premier world leader of RPGs, but the Sumerians were the premier world leader of … um … world leaders. You see where Sumer is now … or isn’t. As with any upstart, they’ll have to fight their way up. They may never make it back on top, but at least they are on their way to giving it a good try!

                And I think they are on their way. If Player’s Handbook is any indication, they can create their own niche of a Rules-Light d20 game. They are already past the point of being completely “rules light” with their skills and feats – diminished as those are. Leave that to the retro-clones (and I hate that phrase as being too negative, but it seems to have caught on without a taint. Those companies use the phrase as a badge of honor).

                I’m already looking forward to playing a Tiefling Warlock with the Great Old One patron…

                Happy gaming!

Cthulhu DM shit

Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

A History of D&D: 4th Edition – Wow, Just … WOW…

What Am I Reading: Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition

Part Four: WOW…

5th ed 1

I started to write a simple review of Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition, but it grew into a series of blogs about the history of the game itself! Refer to my previous blogs for some of the terms if you are confused.

Just like everything else in the world, D&D was suffering from poor sales during the economic depression of the mid-2000s. Gamers were leaving the tabletop games in droves to play online. Neverwinter and World or Warcraft (WOW) were the dominant games in the sword-and-sorcery genres. This fit into the isolationist mode most of us were going into with the invention of smart phones. Instead of rows and rows of kids sitting on the benches in malls, now there are rows and rows of kids sitting in coffee shops texting. Probably texting the kids sitting right next to them. Zombie apocalypse indeed…

Sitting at a table with dice and paper was passé; why imagine attacking an orc compound when you can see it in 3D on your computer screen? Wizards of the Coast realized they were losing their gamers. So in 2007 it was time for a new edition of D&D. A version that would attract those gamers back! They couldn’t beat the electronic games … so what do you do if you can’t beat ‘em?

4th edition gets a lot of bad press – has ever since it came out. Once something is pronounced a bomb – whether it be a movie, a TV show or a game system – it cannot recover even if it really isn’t so bad. Go to your favorite browser and type “4th edition D&D criticism” and look at the topics: link titles include “What Went Wrong” and “It’s Awful” -and these are dated 2008 and 2009 when the game had only been out a year or less! I won’t add to the chorus of contempt except to reflect what I have already blogged before.

4th ed 2

                4th edition isn’t a bad system. Some bloggers said if it wasn’t called D&D it would not have lasted. That’s true, but that is the case with MOST non-D&D RPGS.

If done correctly and with players acclimated to the system, 4th edition might even be fun. But it was so vastly different from anything before it … it was hardly D&D at all! It was a table-top version of a video game. WOW on paper. Ironically, WOW had its own tabletop version of itself – with a hardback guide, etc. Its tabletop version of D&D did just about as well as D&D’s tabletop version of WOW.

The basic classes and races are the same – although it took three Player’s Handbooks to get all the classes listed (Barbarians, Monks, etc.). Later Player’s Handbooks added tieflings (a race with a demonic taint), dragonmen, crystaline beings, angelic Devas, etc. It kept the 3rd edition’s Prestige Classes but called them Paragon Paths.

And the role-playing aspect of the game is still there, albeit it is made secondary to combat. From the few modules I read, role-playing is set way back on the list of things to do while playing the game. Way way back.

The biggest changes are in the way 4th edition handles combat. Remember, we’re talking about a table-top MMORP (massively multi-player online role-playing game).

Play with miniatures is encouraged. Some scenarios/modules seem to require it. For the first time since the D&D Basic Set, back when it was a spin-off of Chainmail, players are encouraged to dig out their miniature figures and terrain, whip out their tape measures and roll play. Miniatures never went away, strictly speaking. Gamers could use miniatures throughout all the editions – but 4th edition made it a necessary part of combat. Without miniatures – using a power that pushed back an opponent one square made no real sense without something on the table to help visualize it. How can we know if the push-back pushed the orc back into the waiting arms of an assassin’s blade? Make a luck roll? Miniatures take the guess work out of it. And takes the imagination out of it, too.

Powers? Oh yes, perhaps the biggest change in 4th edition, and the one that makes it seem more like a table top MMORP than anything else.

Each class and race was given powers. These are abilities one can use in combat. At-will powers could be used every round (portion of combat) – Healing Surge can heal you for 6 points – keeping you alive to swing your mace at least one last time. Per-encounter powers can be used only once during combat – and you cannot use it again until the next mob of bad guys come around the corner – Flurry of Blows might give you two chances to hit in a round. Per-day is just that. Until you sleep and recover, you can only do this power once per day – Knock throws everyone to the ground.

It’s like the cool-down period for abilities in WOW – you have some buttons to click that gives you an arcane blast or sword swipe every few seconds, some you cannot use for ten or more seconds, come only once every few minutes.

Even the terminology and class “assignments” come straight out of a MMORP. Rogues are attack dogs – nicking and cutting opponents. Fighters are referred to as “tanks”. There’s a Warlord class that gives other characters plusses just by standing in the midst of combat – there’s no other real reason for the class. Combat combat combat.

With this, were I to play 4th edition, I would like to have all my powers laid out before me on cards. My at-wills to the left, per-encounters in the middle and per-day on the right. Other stats would also be available. That way I can keep track of what I used and when it will be available again. Just like on my computer screen. I go from playing on my desktop to playing on my desk top.

Stats for abilities became uniform. Before, if you had 14 Strength, it would give you a +1 on “to hit” rolls, damage, opening doors, etc.  A 14 Dexterity gave you +1 on initiative, “to hit” rolls for ranged weapons. Now a 14 in any stat gives you a +1 benefit on anything involving that stat. No more lists – if it involved Strength, you get +1 to your roll. I like that. (remember that I am winging it on the numbers here – don’t tell me “a 13 gives you +1, a 14 is +2. Cool, but regardless, if you get my point, let’s move on…).

With 4th edition, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) went with the nuclear option. It stopped producing anything remotely to do with 3.5. It left that to Piazo. Piazo was the company that published Dragon and Dungeon magazine. WotC cancelled both magazines – no one will care about 3.5 once 4th edition debuts!

“Um,” Piazo said, “would you mind if we continue with the 3.5-style game system? We’ll call it Pathfinder and it will be completely different from your new edition.”

“Of course you can, you little upstart, we’re too big to worry about such small potatoes as you…”

pathfinder

                I usually end these blogs with our little troop of characters trying to swing over a chasm. Just use the same ending as my last blog. Since it has nothing to do with combat combat combat, the roll play of swinging over a chasm is unchanged.

But that brings up one of my biggest criticisms – roll play vs. role play. In previous editions, I am a thief named Visilai; in 4th edition, I am a rogue/assassin hybrid with the invisibility character build!

Pathfinder started beating D&D in sales. Bad. Then the Star Wars Role Playing game started beating D&D in sales.  D&D was third overall. From the only game in town to third place. Something had to be done.

They quickly created a 5th edition.

They called it D&D Next. I call it D&D: The Apology.

TO BE CONCLUDED…

Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

Continuing my history of D&D with 3rd edition – this changes EVERYTHING!

What Am I Reading: Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition

Part Three: You Turned My Game Upside Down …

 

I started to write a simple review of Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition, but it grew into a series of blogs about the history of the game itself! Refer to my previous blogs for some of the terms if you are confused.

In 2000, Dungeons and Dragons, now owned by Wizards of the Coast, released a 3rd edition of the game. They referred to the “core books” – Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual but over the next seven years added dozens upon dozens of supplemental books and modules.

The biggest change was the d20 system.

3rd ed

                The d20 system turned dice rolling on its head. Instead of rolling lower, I had to roll higher! Not necessarily higher than my Dex, but higher than a fixed number that was based on what I wanted to accomplish. 10 is an easy task, 15 more difficult, 20 still more difficult. Tasks were given a Difficulty Class (DC). Remember the scenario from prior blogs…?

“I try to grab the vine and swing over the chasm.”

“That has a DC of 15,” says the DM.

{Roll} “8!! Finally! I beat my Dex! It’s about frickin time – after twenty years! Woohoo!”

“No, this is 3rd edition, you have to roll higher than the DC now. You fail. Your character plummets to his death. Mage?”

{Rolls} “I got an 18,” says the mage.

“You swing across safely,” says the DM.

“I hate this game…” mumbles the poor roller.

The people I have gamed with for nearly twenty years had a very hard time adjusting to d20. My wife suggested we look at it as an entirely new game system. We are no longer playing D&D; we are playing something like Rolemaster or Chill. That helped a little. Switching to Pathfinder definitely helped with the “it’s a different game system” mentality – primarily because it WAS a different game. But I am getting ahead of myself.

“Remember – roll higher,” is the 3rd edition mantra. Armor Class and Difficulty Class are similar. Before, the lower the Armor Class the harder it was to hit it. Now … roll higher. Someone with an AC of 18 is harder to hit than someone with an AC of 12 – in the older editions there was no such thing as AC 12. The limit was 10 going down to negative infinity, presumably … although negative five and lower were usually reserved for gods and unbeatable demons…

Classes and races remained unchanged. Thieves were now called Rogues. Bards were given their own class instead of a Thief sub-class. Half-orcs, removed from 2nd edition to appease the Bible thumpers, returned. Sorcerers were mages who cast spells without the aid of studying spellbooks were added as a class. That always smelled like an appeasement for whiners to me (“Why do I hafta study?” “That may work on your mommy, but not the DM! Study!”).

Experience points (XP) changed. As a character wins battles, solves puzzles and gets treasure, he gains experience. After gaining so much experience, he gains a level. This adds to his hit points, increases his ability to hit or avoid magical damage (called saving throws) and otherwise makes him more powerful. Different classes had different XP – a first-level fighter became a second-level fighter after accumulating 1000 XP. Magic User’s had to get 2000 XP to level up. Now it is all uniform – no matter what class 2000 got you to second level, 4000 to third, etc. (those may not be the exact numbers, but you get the idea)

Initiative was changed. Initiative is the term used to determine who goes first. “I hack at the ogre with my sword!” “Sorry, the ogre goes first.” “Who says?” “The initiative roll.” At the beginning of combat, each player rolled initiative on a dice (some used d6, some d10); the DM rolled for the bad guys. In the old system players or the DM who rolled 1s went first, all the way to 10. If you had a high Dex score you could subtract from that roll. If you were dexterous, you could go faster you see. When everyone was done, everyone rolled again.

3rd edition changed that. Those who rolled HIGHER went first. Once you roll, that was it until you were done with combat. “I go last AGAIN!?” “You rolled a 3; you go last until combat is done.”

Now there are Prestige Classes. These are class kits you can take at higher levels to make your specific character different from other players of the same class. Instead of just a cleric, you can be an undead slayer. Instead of a thief – er – rouge, you can become an assassin (brought back from 1st edition) or a dragon-horde stealer. As you go up in levels, you must pick certain skills and feats to give you the abilities to become a prestige class.

Leveling causes quite a bit of rule-hunting. In 1st edition, if you went up a level, you’d role more hp and find some new spells and that was it. In 2nd edition, you have more non-weapon proficiency points to increase your ability to Jump or Appraise. Now, along with the above, you may also get to increase a stat, or gain a skill or feat.

There I go again with the skills and feats, what are they? Oy. The optional non-weapon proficiencies of 2nd edition are the mandatory skills of 3rd edition. But now skills include, for example, what was once the domain only of thieves. If your wizard wants to learn pick-pocketing, he can get that skill. If he wants to wear heavy armor and use a sword, he can get that skill. Some skills have prerequisites (the wizard will have to learn the light armor skill first, for example). As with 2nd edition, some skills have levels, or slots. You get points to spend on skills when you create your character and when you level up. If I have two slots in the Jump skill, I can add +2 to your jump roll. At least they whittled the skill list down to 47 skills. Some of the rest were turned into feats.

Feats? They are harder to explain. These are bonuses you can choose to improve a character’s abilities and stats. These are real bonuses – not just for flare and role playing like a white scar down the cheek. A Feat can be, for example, Toughness, giving you two extra hit points; or Quickness, giving you +1 on initiative (I know there is a feat called Toughness; Quickness I made up as an example).In 3rd edition you had 60 feats from which to choose. You gained a feat every three levels. Not a lot, but when you could choose, where do you begin?

Thus now with feats and skills, the designers have finally closed the mouths of the whiners. Or have they?

“I try to snag a rock on the other side of the chasm with my rope,” says Mr. Poor Roller.

“You don’t have a rope. I took it when I picked your pocket,” says another player.

“You’re a gnome cleric!? Why are you picking my pocket?”

“It’s a skill I wanted.”

Sigh, I try to grab a vine to swing across, I have the Jump Skill, 2 slots.”

“I have the Empowerment Feat active, so you get plus one,” says the gnome.

“I’d rather have my rope.”

“Your Dex gives you another +2,” says the DM. “This is DC 15”

“I cast Helpful Hand,” says the mage,” that’s another +1.”

{Roll} “Carry the five, cosine of the two vectors … 45? Do I do it?”

“Damned if I know,” says the DM.

“I hate this game.”

There was a 3.5 edition released shortly after 3.0. It cleaned up some of the inconsistencies, but it was otherwise the same game with no major changes. It’s what a new edition should do…

Said major changes would come in 2007 with the 4th edition. It was to 3.5 what 3rd edition was to 2nd and changed the entire dominance of the roleplaying game business. So much so the D&D label has yet to recover.

3rd ed books

TO BE CONTINUED…

Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

End note: I made up the names of the “feats” because, frankly, I’m too lazy to look them up myself and I wanted this to come from my heart, but the rulebook. So ease up on the “that feat doesn’t exist” because I do not doubt you, I just wanted to give you the flavor of what a feats can do. If those are actual feats, I simply made a good guess…

Dungeons and Dragons and Caving – a look at 2nd Edition…

D&D3

What Am I Reading: Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition

Part Two: Dungeons, Dragons and Caving …

I started to write a simple review of Dungeon & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th edition, but it grew into a series of blogs about the history of the game itself! If you are confused about some of the terms and initials – I define them in my previous blog: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/09/03/a-brief-history-of-dungeons-and-dragons-being-an-eventual-review-of-dd-5e/

I pick up in 1982 …

The game in both its versions – D&D and AD&D caught on among us nerds like the plague! We played and played and bought supplement after supplement and module after module. Modules were scenarios and maps of a complete adventure the DM’s could use for their game sessions. I still love reading modules and imagining characters going through the game. It’s like reading the outline of a book and coming up the details on my own! Much like a ghost writer for most celebrity fiction…

New classes were introduced – the barbarian and the thief-acrobat. There was a Saturday morning cartoon.

D&D cartoon

                There were also complaints.  Lots of them. “I have an 18 Dex and I can’t roll for squat! Why should the Magic User make HIS Dex roll of 9 when he jumps and I can’t with my 18?”

“That’s the way the dice rolls,” says the DM.

“It’s not fair!” whines the poor roller…

And then there were the Christians…

Jesus D&D

Since neither D&D nor AD&D mentioned Jesus every third sentence it was deemed Satanic. They said the books taught youngsters how to actually invoke devils and demons – which of course explains their proliferation in the skies of the mid-1980s. D&D replaced Judas Priest as the chief cause of teen suicide. “That’s cruel, Mike.” True; and I apologize. I shouldn’t make light of such a serious subject – but to use D&D or Judas Priest as the straw man is also unfair. Those kids needed help from the adults around them and didn’t get it.

OK, back to the Christian nonsense: read Dark Dungeons – I’ll wait. http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.ASP

So between the whiners with bad dice and the kooks with bad divinity, TSR (the parent company that published D&D and AD&D) came out with a Second Edition in 1987. It came with a new Player’s Handbook, Monster Manuals (several of them) and Dungeon Master’s Guide.

The classes and races were toned down to satisfy the kooks (like you can ever satisfy the kooks) – Magic Users became Mages, Assassins were removed altogether. So were any references to devils and demons. Some changes weren’t so puritanical and made a bit of sense – Rangers became a sub-class of Fighters. Druids became a subclass of Clerics.

2nd edition introduced THAC0 – “to hit Armor Class Zero”. Players and monsters had armor classes – the thicker your hide or armor the better your armor class and the harder it is to take damage. Too much damage and you die. Fighters clad with metal plates ala Ivanhoe and King Arthur had ACs of 1 or less. Magic Users – er – mages in robes has AC 9 and were easier to hit – if you could get around the fighter in plate mail. Dragons had ACs in the negatives. A particular goblin had a THAC0 of 18, say. A player with a fighter with an AC 1 would be hit if the goblin rolled a 17 or higher (18 – 1) – not too good. The fighter had a THAC0 of 14 and this goblin had AC 7, so he could hit on a roll of 7 or better – which has pretty good odds of succeeding. This won’t be much of a fight…

I have yet to mention the dice used in the game – it started with what the rest of the world calls dice – a six-sided cube with dots on it you found in all the board games and in every scene of “Guys and Dolls”. D&D and other role-playing games use a lot more than those. There are 4, 8, 10, 12, 20, and even 30 and 100-sided dice available. You can always tell a gamer by the way they refer to a standard dice with the dots on them. We call them “six siders”. By the time I got into the game – d6s (six-sided dice) was used for rolling stats and some hit points – mostly the d20 was used. If I had a Dex of 15 and had to “beat Dex” (see my previous blogs), I had to roll a 15 or less on a twenty-sided dice.

Anyway, back to THAC0: once you got used to it, and you used your fingers and toes, it wasn’t so bad.

Magic and Clerical abilities were divided into “spheres” – your character concentrated on only a few spheres. You couldn’t cast just anything. Whether this is good or bad is an individual choice. Personally, I think we should be leery of any rule that limits play. On the other hand, it makes for more of a challenge in selecting how best to overcome a game’s obstacles. “Blast the orc with a fireball!” “But I’m an illusionist! All I can do is turn him purple!’ “What the hell good is that spell!?” “You didn’t mind when we hid in front of that purple tapestry!” “Shut up!”

They also added proficiencies. A fighter could no longer just pick up an axe dropped by that ogre and use it to slice necks. He had to be proficient in the weapon. The character learned proficiencies as he got higher and higher in level (note: as a character plays, he gains experience points and goes up in levels – this means he can gain hit points, gain more spells, gets tougher and better at what he does, etc.).

There were also non-weapon proficiencies. Here is where the rot set it, in my opinion.

Remember the scenario from Part One?

“I try to grab the vine and swing over the chasm.”

“Beat your Dex,” says the DM.

“I have the Jump Proficiency, so I can subtract one from my roll. {Roll} Good thing, I just made it!”

“It’s about time, Mr. Poor Roller. Now the Magic User – er – Mage, sorry, you roll your Dex.”

“I only have a Dex of 9…” {Roll} “Made it!” says the Mage.

“You always make it,” says Mr. Poor Roller.

“Whiner,” mumbles the Mage.

The Jumping Proficiency. Jumping. Anybody can jump! My grandmother could jump! Roll your Dexterity – if you roll shitty, you fall, if you roll low, you make it. You don’t need to be proficient in jumping…

And Jumping was only available to the Rogue class. If you were a Rogue, you got a plus to jump if you selected Jumping. The rest of us had to rely on our die roll. Between the four base classes there were about 68 skills to choose from.

68.

It gets worse.

But in the meantime 2nd Edition was an even better success that 1st! Character kits were introduced – there are different types of thieves (an urban pickpocket vs. a Robin-Hood-esque-good-guy) and with the different non-weapon proficiencies you add lots of different flavors to the basic classes. Classes had their own supplements. A mage could be a chronomancer and cast spells based on time. Different worlds and venues developed – Aztec-like rules and scenarios to play along with the Oriental Adventures (a 1st edition supplement); Dark Sun – set in a ecological-disaster-desert world; Ravenloft – a gothic horror setting, Spelljammer took the players into outer space: all were available as 2nd edition play.  The supplements filled the shelves.

D&D2

It was huge. Huge! So huge the fat and bloated company that was TSR sold the company lock stock and dragon hoard for $25 million to Wizards of the Coast.

And WotC took the game and changed everything…

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Copyright 2014 Michael Curry