Today I’m introducing a new kind of post, a daily link round up. I read dozens of articles and blog posts every day. I’ll be providing links to the most interesting with some commentary.

Design Comparison: Exploration and Journeys by Brandes Stoddard

If any game should have a good system for travel, it should be a game based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s masterpieces. Stoddard reviews D&D 5e’s rules on Exploration and The One Ring’s rules on Journeys. He offers suggestions for how to adapt the Journey rules for Fifth Edition. If I ever ran a more lethal D&D campaign with say the slower recovery options, I would add in the Exhaustion of Travel rules.

Captain Marvel: A Carol Danvers Primer by Charles Paul Hoffman

With the conclusion of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run, it’s a great time to re-examine her history. She’s risen from a male-based heroine to a defining feminist figure in Marvel. Hoffman’s primer is a great beginner’s guide to Carol Danvers and includes recommended readings.

SpaceX Successfully Lands Falcon 9 at The Verge

SpaceX landed the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral last night. The ORBCOMM-2 mission lifted 11 satellites into low-Earth orbit. Quite the accomplishment. I look forward to SpaceX attempting the water landing again.

Secret Code Found in Juniper’s Firewalls Shows Risk of Government Backdoors at Wired

An internal code audit of ScreenOS, the software running on Juniper Networks’ firewalls, revealed multiple vulnerabilities. Juniper Networks issued a security advisory and updated software for their hardware. Many conclude that state actors are responsible for the malicious code. The security advisory provides enough detail to locate the master password backdoor. This makes it easy to hack any unpatched firewalls.

Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation

On one hand, I’m disappointed I didn’t catch Rogue Nation in theaters. On the other, I’m happy I saw Spectre first because I’m sure my review of it would have been less favorable. In the fifth installment, a US security committee determines the Impossible Missions Force to be obsolete. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on the trail of The Syndicate, an organization modeled on the IMF but with cross purposes. The film follows Hunt as he evades Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin), with the help of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), to root out the Syndicate.

It’s a fantastic action thriller. But if you only see one spy movie, go see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. But if you see two, watch Rogue Nation.

Terminator Genisys

Another in-universe reboot, Terminator Genisys brings the franchise back from the depths. As always, John Connor (Jason Clarke) send Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). This time a T-1000 greets Reese at his arrival. Sarah and Pops rescue Reese and they try to adapt to the changes in the timeline. They travel forward to 2017 to stop Genisys, the proto-Skynet developed at Cyberdyne Systems in San Francisco. Genisys updates the franchise for a future of constant connectedness. The performances are good but the story is convoluted at times.

Trainwreck

Amy Schumer stars in Trainwreck, a movie about … well, a trainwreck of a woman. There is romance, comedy and drama but this film drags on far too long. Amy struggles with the imparted views of her father on commitment. Her younger sister is a model family first mother that raises her stepson as her own. Amy is the uncommitted half of a relationship but jokes made at Steven’s sexuality fall flat. Assigned to write an article on a sports surgeon, Amy dances with Dr. Conners through a one night stand to a relationship. Amy, and Dr. Conners, messes up a good thing. After alienating her sister following the death of their father, Amy realizes that she messed up a good thing and moves to win Dr. Conners back.

Trainwreck is a mess of a movie that drags on as it meanders through the various relationships of Amy, how she messes them up, realizes that she needs them and attempts to fix them.

Spy

The supporting cast in this movie drew me to it. The headlining actress deterred me. Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Morena Baccarin and Melissa McCarthy. I’ve struggled to enjoy McCarthy in films like Identity Thief, The Heat and Tammy. But watching her in Gilmore Girls was an enjoyable experience this summer. She continues to grow on me and Spy might be the film that has brought her to the watchable level. McCarthy plays a support agent sent into the field after Law’s character is KIA trying to recover a nuke. The jokes and physical comedy are consistent and above average. Spy won’t rank high in the grand scheme of things but it’s a solid action comedy good for some laughs. I anxiously await Ghostbusters.

The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur suffers from being a Pixar movie that debuted the same year as Inside Out. The animation is the best I’ve seen in a movie. Just like the first time I saw Incredibles and Elastagirl’s hair, the scenery in The Good Dinosaur is astounding. Unfortunately, this movie is otherwise a run of the mill Disney film. Arlo, the eponymous Good Dinosaur, is the runt of his siblings and fails at every task assigned to him. His father is killed in a Mufasa-esque scene this time with rushing water instead of a herd of wildebeests. I’m not sure why this movie had to take place in an alternate universe.

Watch It: If you want to see a solid animated movie.
Skip It: If you have young children, there’s no blood, but a decent amount of violence and scary moments.

Creed

A fantastic story with Rocky (Stallone) mentoring Creed’s child (Jordan). Donny fights his way through his childhood and eventually into the ring. The relationships and character growth in this movie a superb. I only wish the resolutions were cut so short to move the film into the final fight with Pretty Ricky Conlin. Otherwise a great movie even though I haven’t seen any of the other Rocky films.

Watch It: If you’re want to see an Oscar worthy performance from Stallone and a mostly fantastic screenplay.
Skip It: If you’re allergic to blood, but even then you can watch it.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Henry Cavil and Armie Hammer play American and Russian spies sent to help Alicia Vikander find her nuclear weapon scientist father. What a fun romp through Cold War Europe. The chemistry of the cast and the direction of the film are great. Not a top tier film for me but clearly a cut above.

Watch It: For a good water/oil team up action movie.
Skip It: If you’re looking for something more serious.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (2014)

A movie I skipped in theaters last year, this turned out to be a very enjoyable family friendly film. It can be tough to adapt children stories into screenplays but this film does a good job of maintaining the message of the book. Every character in Alexander’s family gets a share of the bad day but they realize that family is what really matters.

Watch It: If you’re in the mood for a comedic family friendly film.
Skip It: If you can’t be bothered with a kid film.

Selfless

Ryan Reynolds is really solid in this movie that deals with death, immortality and immorality. He plays two characters, the first has sold his body (and thus his life) to a corporation in exchange for treatment for his sick daughter. The second character is the transferred consciousness of Ben Kingsley a dying real estate mogul. The movie focuses on the cost and morality of exchanging someone else’s life for your own.

Watch It: If you want to watch a good thriller with an interesting theme.
Skip It: If you dislike Ryan Reynolds.

I figure I’d take a day to promote one of my major projects, The Culture Conquistadors Podcast. The podcast is an audio journey through the arts. Well mostly movies but sometimes television or music. Charles and I have collaborated on other side projects before but the Culture Conquistadors Podcast maybe the most enduring one. For two years, we published an episode every other week. Some of our discussions meandered for over an hour. One of our triumphs is the AniMadness Bracket.

But then Charles and I ended up as roommates1 and the time for recording disappeared. I’ll admit, I’m at fault for a lot of it. Often we’d schedule a recording session but then I’d cancel last minute and we’d just keep pushing it off. During our “Roommate Period”, we recorded just four episodes! It was a fun time. Charles was a great roommate for me but our podcast suffered. In July, our lease ended and we moved in with our respective significant others.

The Culture Conquistadors website has also hung over my head during most of this time. I’m responsible for the technology aspects of the podcast and we’ve both been unhappy with the website. Figuring we should re-launch the podcast with Season 3, I decided it was now or never to do a website overhaul. Much like Concrete Chaos, I moved the Culture Conquistadors website to WordPress. I love Drupal and will continue to use it but for the current needs of the podcast, WordPress is just better. We’ve integrated analytics for both the podcast episodes and the website itself.2 It’s a pretty plain website but it works for us. Maybe in the future we’ll add some more stuff but we’re focusing on the actual podcast for now.

Speaking of the podcast, Charles has streamlined the production process. Previously, he worked hard to clean out “umms” and “uhhs” and other things. While he still does this to an extent, it’s much more focused and the production timeline has gone from days of hard work spread over a few weeks to a couple hours over a few days. The end result should sound a lot more natural with fewer cuts. I’ve also upgraded my recording equipment with a Blue Yeti mic. So hopefully, the episodes sound not just more natural but clearer.

With that production process revolution, we’ve worked hard to try some new things with the podcast. For Spectre and Mockingjay, we’ve split the discussion into a preview and review. Taking what would’ve been a two hour conversation and splitting it and making both discussions more focused on the topic. We’ve also been on a weekly recording cadence. The publication of the episodes hasn’t quite hit an exact rhythm yet but we’re recording every Tuesday night! I’m not sure we’ll be able to keep it up forever but it’s encouraging that we’ve managed to do so for the past couple months.

All in all, the podcast is in far better shape than it was for most of 2015. We’re excited for Awards Season, playing Fantasy Movie League and looking forward to continuing to produce a podcast that we hope will grow. But even if it doesn’t, we’re still having fun doing it.


  1. Also long-term committed relationships. 
  2. The numbers aren’t high, but there are at least a few people listening to us. 

For me, a big part of being a game master is preparation. And I’m dedicated to constant self-improvement. Seeing that I already spend so much of my time connected to the Internet, it makes sense that I would dedicate a part of that time to locating resources and hopefully learning from them. So, here’s a few of my favorite resources.

The Alexandrian

The Alexandrian has proven invaluable to my most recent campaign (and likely to my next one). His series on Node-Based Scenario Design, Urban Crawls, The Art of Pacing are top notch. Really anything from his Gamemastery 101 is great reading that will make you evaluate how you run games, ways to improve, and encouragement to try new things.

Blog of Holding

Paul’s Blog of Holding is another fantastic independent resource for D&D DMs. He often takes tiny bits of information from the margins of the text and fleshes them out into cohesive thoughts and suggestions. A great example is his post on a campaign setting based on ideas from unpublished TSR settings. Some others are the Bank of Tiamat, 5e Demographics, and 5e hex maps. One of my favorite recent posts is the cuteness rule, which is something had put into use in my Time and Tide campaign.

r/DnDBehindTheScreen

Reddit is a favorite of mine. There’s several good subreddits for GMing but r/DnDBehindTheScreen which is a newcomer to the game has some of the best content. The Ecology of the Monster is my favorite. It makes you think critically about the monsters available and how you should deploy them against characters. But there are many, many posts spanning everything necessary to be a DM. And while most of the content is oriented towards Dungeons & Dragons, the concepts generally presented are good for running any type of game.

Dungeonomics

Not necessarily great for rulings or direct GM advice. But multiplexer tells amazing stories that mesh real historical economics into the high fantasy worlds of D&D. Every time I’ve read one of her pieces, I’ve come away with a deep appreciation for the depth of her research and the craziness of financial instruments. Also, I’ve laughed every time. Murder hobos, Transmuters Bank, Old Man Quest Givers and so much more.1

Preparation

There’s a bunch of other preparation I’m doing to get ready for my Pulp Heroes campaign. I’m going to re-watch the entire Indiana Jones series and take copious amounts of notes. I’ve got a basic plot outline structured but until my players create their characters nothing is final. I expect to do a few re-writes between now and when we open the campaign early next year.


  1. Critical Hits which hosts the column is also a solid back catalog of DM advice. 

Today, we return to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Before I delve into the latest lesson, I’d like to take a moment to express how much I’m enjoying this process. My fiancée and I are reading through this book and completing the exercises together and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been making a concerted effort to do more things with her in the time we have together. We’re both independent people who can spend days in solitude. But reading this book and trying to improve our drawing skills together has been great. Highly recommended for other couples out there.

Since my last post, I’ve read through a few more chapters and completed three more exercises. At times I wonder if some of her theories hold up but regardless, the lessons and techniques she’s teaching do seem to work. The first exercise was to replicate the Vase/Faces image.

2015-11-28 - Faces and Vase

After completion, and for a day or so, I was disappointed with this drawing. I didn’t find it nearly symmetrical enough. In addition, after re-reading the instructions, I feel I may have skipped over some of the exercise. But after returning to it a few days later, I find myself quite proud of the result. Sure, there’s some symmetry issues but overall I find it very close.

The next exercise asks the reader to replicate a drawing by Picasso of Igor Stravinsky. Now I personally find Picasso difficult to decipher as is, but Edwards instructs the student to draw the image upside down. Fortunately, she has printed the image in the text upside down.

2015-11-28 - Stravinsky

I still don’t have proportions right but I’m again pretty proud with how this one turned out. I didn’t quite complete the exercise due to time (and material) constraints. It became quite clear to me that I wouldn’t have enough width or height to finish the left side or the head. And man, those hands are gnarly but they turned out far better than I expected.

2015-11-28 - Ironman

The last exercise is again an upside down drawing. This time I used one of my new comic books as a reference. I’ve always been a big Ironman fan and last year I even made a cosplay Superior Ironman. Unfortunately, I struggled with the design and the costume deteriorated quickly after the con. Next year, I’m hoping to do the armor above and decided I should get my practice in now. I struggled with the proportions again and ended up rushing the drawing. The right leg is a bit out there and the extended arms are squished. But again, I’m fairly happy of the result. I wish I could turn everything upside down for drawing.

Another thing I learned while drawing the Ironman armor. I hate hard pencils. We finally used our drawing paper instead of printer paper and broke out our nicer pencils instead of the shark #2s. My fiancée gave me the 4H to start and I just struggled with it. It didn’t feel right and the lines that were appearing didn’t look right. Since I scrapped the original attempt after messing up the left leg, I switched to the 4B pencil. What a difference. It felt far closer to the #2s we’d been using and the lines looked exactly the way I wanted them to.

Hopefully the next lessons will involve drawing things right side up and help me get the proportions a little bit closer.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

What an awful title for a good movie. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to the Capitol to bring down President Snow. Teamed with fellow games survivors, Finnick Odair and Peeta Meelark, she joins a special unit to film propos and morale boosters. But much like she has in the previous films, Katniss goes rogue in a mission to kill President Snow. Her friends and unit sacrifice themselves in attempt to help Katniss fulfill her goal. Lil Hems still isn’t any good in this movie but the screenplay keeps close to the source material (somewhat to my chagrin for once).

Watch It: If you need to wrap this series up on a solid note.
Skip It: If you’re done with the post-apocalypse, young adult genre.

Despite my love of superheroes, I’ve never been a comic book reader. Sure, I bought a trade paperback here or there, but until recently I had never bought a single issue. A big part of that comes down to disposable income – like me finally having it now. At four or five dollars a piece, comics can get expensive if you’re trying to keep up with more than a single series. Another part is that now it’s become a shared thing with my fiancée. She started reading Captain Marvel on my recommendation, which has led to Bitch Planet and Ms. Marvel. But the biggest reason why I’ve decided to subscribe to comics at this late date is… drumroll… Marvel’s recent diversification of it’s lineup!

The changes Marvel is making are absolutely incredible. And it’s not just the changes we see with Sam Wilson becoming Captain America or Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir. The creative teams behind these heroes are finally being diversified also. While there has always been some minority presence around Marvel, it’s now being made known even in their marketing materials: Marvel is diversifying its creators, its editors and its heroes to match the world we actually live in. This is a thing.1 And it’s incredibly personal for me. Until their recent announcements, I never had a hero I could look at and say “That could be me.” And seeing is the real issue here, race and gender.

For those unaware, I’m an adopted American. Ethnically, I’m Chinese-EuroAmerican but culturally I’m a pretty typical middle class American. I’ve had my favorite heroes, certainly ones I’ve identified with in some way like Iceman, Cyclops or Iron Man. But these identifications have always been with their personality or mental gifts, never the color of their skin. And over a lunch at DragonCon, this led to an interesting discussion.

Heroes like Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Logan (Wolverine) are treasured by their fans. Their stories, personality, costumes are integral to the character and those core principles are shifting. There’s a new new Cap and a new Wolvie. And look, I understand this: one of my favorite heroes, Iceman has been seen his own sea change, admitting that he is gay. So I feel that pang of change. But while I might lose some tiny shred of identification with Iceman, another character somewhere in the Marvel universe might change and I might gain some identification with that one. Which is wonderful. So my group talked through the entirety of lunch and I did my best to be understanding of the traditionalists – the ones who want to keep everything as is and see diversity come through in new characters – while also trying to present my point of view. Eventually my argument billed down to one critical question: How many male Asisn superheroes can you name?

Sunfire.

Lots of others were offered, Silver Samurai (but he was a villain), Sunspot (Brazillian), Warpath (Native American), Amadeus Cho (isn’t actually powered up), Iron Fist (white). 2 There are plenty of women – Jubilee, Blink, Psylocke (though her racial issues are considerable). And there’s lots of Asian villains, most notably Mandarin and Silver Samurai. So, I didn’t really have anyone to look at and say “Look that could be me.”

Let’s take a moment to talk about mantles and titles. I would love for there to be a new character with a new name that represented me really well. Unfortunately, these old superhero names hold a lot of cache. It’s much easier to still use the same superhero name for a new character than it is to build a new character from scratch. That new character just will not sell as well. Plus, mantles have been passed before. Sam Wilson is not the first non-Steve Captain America. Before him there was Bucky. Just how many Robin’s have there been in Bat-verse? Or Green Lanterns? Or Flashes? Sure, it’s much more prevalent in DC but it’s not like it hasn’t happened in Marvel. Carol Danvers is now Captain Marvel. Kamala Khan is now Ms. Marvel. Miles Morales is Spider-man.

The day after the DragonConversation, Marvel announced that Amadeus Cho would be taking on the mantle of the Hulk. And that the new book would be written and drawn by two Korean-Americans. That is incredible… or, in their parlance, totally awesome! Prior to this, I had been lukewarm about picking up reading comics. Despite crafting a foam armor of Superior Iron Man for DragonCon 2014, I didn’t end up reading the series. But now I have. My interest in comics, specifically Marvel Comics, has spiked to the point where I went to my local comic shop and setup a pull list.

I’ve read more comics in the past month than I had my entire life previously. I’ve finished the Superior Iron Man run. I’ve started Uncanny Inhumans and Armor Wars. I’ve picked up lots of single issues in case I find something I like. I’ve also added Totally Awesome Hulk and Spider-Man to my pull list, while strongly considering many more. And I can’t wait to read International Iron Man and follow Tony’s search for his biological parents.

So thanks Marvel. Thanks for making Sunfire not the only superhero that looks like me. Thanks for making Tony Stark adopted and showing his journey. I know there are a lot of upset people who hate what you’re doing and they’re really loud about it. But I’m not one of them. Your changes to the universe are good for me and thus good for you. My fiancée and I will be closely following several series. And I’ll try and be as loud as I can be to tell you that I support these changes.

Thank you.


  1. Yes, I wish their cinematic universe would move faster in diversifying but creative processes take time and MCU is now a behemoth. 
  2. Editors Note: Charles would like to point out Shang Chi here, though he won’t hold it over James or anyone else for not knowing Shang Chi. Poor guy always gets overshadowed by the white kung fu guy, Danny Rand. Which further validates James’s point. 

Today, I continue my journey towards my next RPG campaign. In my last post, I offered up my reasoning for leaving Dungeons & Dragons aside for a time and moving to Fate Core. A big part of that is wanting to tell stories that aren’t in a high fantasy setting. So now, I’ll expand on my one thought storylines and maybe figure out which one I’ll run.

Burned Spies

Originally, this started out as Cold War spies. As a big James Bond fan, I really like the idea of a spy thriller. However Bond is a solo character. He has supporting characters in M, Q, Felix and Moneypenny, but they don’t get the same camera time Bond does. And shared spotlight is important in role-playing. So this idea morphed from 60’s to the modern day and became a bit more like Mission Impossible or a mashup of RED and Burn Notice. The players are former intelligence agents burned by their former employers. After that it’s up in the air. Did they deserve the burning? What is bringing them back into action?

The prompt is good but I don’t have a good plot idea. I can fall back onto the tropes but I don’t think that’s where I’d like to explore at the moment. For this idea to work, I’d need to look for more inspiration and a plot outline that strikes me as interesting and fun.

Retired Adventurers

This story idea is mostly a vehicle for allowing high level play in Dungeons & Dragons. The players are characters that have long since retired from active adventuring. Their deeds are sung by bards. Their faces are known by even the most remote town. Their wealth was enough to buy large private spaces. They’ve spent the past decade (or more) enjoying the rewards of their service. But the apocalypse is here and it’s here to take everything that they treasure away. Now, the heroes must un-retire, unite the kingdoms and take on one last adventure to save the world.

I like this prompt a lot and it shouldn’t be difficult to design an apocalyptic threat worthy of drawing the characters back into the world. But this story brings me back to Dungeons & Dragons and I’m just not ready to return there yet. But this is an idea I’ll be keeping around.

Star Trek

One of my favorite settings. Space, futuristic society and technology, exploration, and teamwork. It has all the ingredients of a great TV show, which I find a lot of similarities in RPG storytelling. I doubt my ability to do the setting justice. And I’m just not sure my players would be interested. I know a few of them are fans, but enough that the setting would be compelling?

So it’s a setting prompt but not much beyond that. Perhaps waiting for next year’s Star Trek movie and the new TV series will ignite my imagination and help me come up with a plot that is fitting for a Trek-based game.

Star Wars

Another great science-fiction setting. And as Star Wars is more action oriented than Star Trek, probably a bit more fitting for my group. I think this one is a bit easier for me to get into because I don’t have the massive depth of knowledge that I do for Star Trek. I’m a fan but I haven’t consumed every possible piece of content that has been created.

I think it’d go over better with my players and it’s certainly boosted by Episode VII’s release in December. But, I’m currently playing in a Star Wars campaign and don’t think I’d enjoy running one simultaneously. Plus again, no plot ideas yet.

Lovecraftian Horror

While I’m not widely read in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, I have very much enjoyed playing Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror. I think my recent appreciation for the genre has grown from my brief time playing The Secret World and one of the recent D&D campaigns I was in. In addition, the few times I’ve run horror sessions in my D&D campaigns, I’ve found them to be some of my best work.

Fortunately, Lovecraftian Horror can work in any setting really and certainly could be paired with the Urban Fantasy idea below. But I feel like I’d need to spend some time reading up on Lovecraft before fully committing to a campaign like that. Also, I have concerns about Fate and horror, as Fate heroes are considered a cut above.

Superhero Team

My love of superheroes spans decades now. I fondly recall the days of the X-Men and the rise of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. Now we have the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I haven’t read comicbooks until recently, the action has always captured my imagination. In addition, one of my favorite games, City of Heroes allowed me to be a superhero of my own design. I think I’d like to explore a street or small city scale story set in the MCU, like Daredevil or Jessica Jones.

The biggest strike against superheroes is that part of my group played Mutants & Masterminds with me a couple years ago. But this one is in contention for the top tier and I know a couple of my players would love it. But one of the players who would like it the most is taking a temporary hiatus. Might be best to shelve this one for a later date.

Urban Fantasy

Magic in the modern day. Obviously, The Dresden Files are a prime example but Constantine, Hellboy, and Buffy all present interesting takes. Could easily be combined with Lovecraftian Horror to give it more focus. But other than the setting, I don’t have any particular plot ideas that have stuck with me thus far.

Pulp Heroes

Early 20th Century adventuring. Heroes, villains and dungeons. Indiana Jones being the primary inspiration. It’s close enough to high fantasy that the transition would be hopefully smooth and comfortable. It also has a solid formula for a story that works. Granted it revolves around a Macguffin, but that is very much a in trope for the genre.

It doesn’t need a ton of planning, as the story can flow around travel and adventure centered on recovering the Macguffin. It’s a recently historical time that none of us lived through but everyone knows about. Stories set in this period are very action-oriented which seems like a natural fit for Fate.

Conclusion

After due consideration, I find the Pulp Heroes setting to be the best for my next story. It should provide a comfortable transition for the mechanics as the action will be very much like what you’d expect in Dungeons & Dragons. So, next time I’ll dig in to the resources I’m using and my preparation for this next campaign.