Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lightsaber Crystals

In the original Star Wars trilogy, we see only a very limited number of lightsabers. Luke and Ben's are Blue. Vader's is Red, and later, Luke's is Green. They're all cool, primary colors (RGB). The whole contrast of Luke's Green vs. Vader's Red (diametrically opposed colors) is nice and symbolic and all. And yet, when I first started my RPG campaign, I never once thought that lightsaber colors would be limited to these three. In my campaign, we had different shades of blue and green, one purple saber and even a nice golden blade for the Tusken jedi. It just seemed to make sense to me that such things would exist—plus it was a nice differentiator to make Jedi just a bit more unique.

When the prequel trilogies came out we first saw much the same: Green and Blue for the good guys, Red for the bad. But there WERE anomalies (Windu's purple blade) that seemed to support the theory of multi-colored sabers. Yes, the bulk of the Jedi seemed to use either blue or green (witness the battle of Geonosis), but there was never anything explicitly stated that ruled out other colors. 

And then, somewhere in the Expanded Universe, someone had to make up a rule that there were no longer any other colors but red, blue and green. This went on further to make lightsaber crystals exceedingly rare and that the 'source' (singular) of other colored crystals was lost/destroyed long ago. 

This bothers me on several levels. First of all...why even come up with this needlessly restrictive 'rule'? It doesn't make sense. Its a huge galaxy and you're telling me there is only ONE source for non-blue-green lightsaber crystals? If they were this rare, it would stand to reason that the blue-green crystals would also be so, and if they WERE why hadn't the Sith destroyed these few sources as well (they had 20 years to do so under Palpatine). Bleh. To me, it just seemed like another lame author running with  what he thought was a 'cool' way to tie in something he saw in the prequels and make a plot point out of it. But to me, it just doesn't make sense.

In the Knights of the Old Republic games, there are various different crystal colors (gold and purple in the first game, and lots of different variations in the second)—and I see no reason why that should have changed. As I said before, its a fun and harmless way in the RPG for people to personalize their Jedi and make them a bit more visually unique. Symbolically, I think this goes hand in hand with the diversity of races represented in the Jedi Order, too. 

KotOR also introduced the idea of lightsaber color relating to jedi 'specialty'. I don't entirely buy into this as a hard, fast rule, but I did find it interesting. Blue for Guardians, Green for Counselors and Gold for Sentinels (spys). I can see where that might be something of a tradition, but I'd never limit my players to that. 

Monday, June 29, 2009

Time Travel In Star Wars

While it is a rather staple scenario in a lot of Sci-Fi (heck, they travelled back in time every other episode in the various Star Trek shows), time travel has never really been dealt with in the Star Wars setting (at least not as far as I've ever seen). Therefore, I found the idea of time travel in my Star Wars campaign to be intriguing—though I never 'went there' during my initial two-year run of the game.

The reason for my hesitation was the whole paradox thing. When you throw a chaotic element like player characters into a situation where they could change the course of galactic history, you should probably sit back and think things through a little while. In my overall experience with time travel, there seemed to be two main schools of thought on the subject:

1) The Star Trek Theory: Every decision creates a different parallel time-stream. Thus, you'd have an unimaginable number of different timelines all existing at the same time. 

2) The Dragonlance Theory: No matter what you do, you can't change the course of history—the names and faces may change, but the end result is the same. This was likened to a river, where you might subtly alter the flow of water, but it would continue on its course nontheless.

Neither of these options sounded especially appealing to me. In option one, in fact, they often contradicted their own theory, by having people go back to 'fix' the mainstream timeline. Which made no sense with the whole parallel timeline thing, but.. whatever. I also didn't like the 'fate' element in option 2, where nothing you did mattered. So, what was a GM to do?

I had a few ideas, but it wasn't until AFTER my first time travel adventure that I finally 'locked down' my personal theory of time travel. This first adventure involved the characters raiding a remote imperial asteroid base where (according to intel) they were developing some kind of teleportation technology. What they discovered, however, was an Imperial plot to send a team back in time to stop the destruction of the first Death Star by killing Luke, Leia and the others while they were still onboard. What resulted was a behind the scenes shoot out between the characters and the imperials, even as the events of Episode IV played out. I honestly don't remember the particulars of HOW the time travel machines worked. As I recall, the time travelers used a 'pod' to teleport themselves in time and space, then had a 'return' device of some kind that would open up a door for them to return.

It was in this first adventure that several major things happened. First of all, I began to lock down my time travel theory. This was prompted largely by the fact that one of my players (Todd) put forth the idea of "Why don't we time travel to ten minutes before the Imperials left and just stop them from going?" It was a practical idea, actually—even though it would have completely thwarted the whole time-travel aspect to the adventure! For a moment, I was thrown for a loop. Luckily, the other characters quickly poo-pooed the idea (using some pseudo-science explanation of "well, since they left before us, they would have already changed the future, so...). I also think the players were looking forward to going back in time, and didn't really want to miss out on the opportunity by using the more practical approach.

Secondly, this was another showdown between Rina Nothos' team and the character's team—Rina being a major nemesis of Arianne. The final showdown on the Death Star turned into a massive brawl/melee/shootout in which Rina (shot by Arianne) was tangling with another character (Oman) when she was shot again (by Oman) and the two of them then fell into a time rift and disappeared.

Thirdly, this was the adventure where Rick Oman (the Mandalorian) got lost in time and wound up in the clone wars era—where he assumed the name of Fenn. He battled through the years, fighting in the war and afterwards (and even alongside Boba Fett on a few occasions)—but he tried to keep a relatively low profile, so as not to disturb the past TOO much. This brought him full circle to when he encountered his younger self and helped 'him' finally liberate Mandalore from Imperial oppression. How is THAT for a paradox? 

By the next time I was ready to run a time travel adventure, I had things all worked out, theory-wise. How it works in my game is this: There is a main 'timeline'. It can be altered at any moment—causing it to diverge. But at most points in time, these divergences do not have any long-standing effect. In this way, it is somewhat like the Dragonlance River of Time. Oman's experience is like this. A slight change in name and face that didn't change the course of history. HOWEVER, there are specific points in time (dubbed 'nexuses' by the Imperial scientists who came up with the technology) where MAJOR changes to the timeline can be achieved. These generally coincide with major events in the galaxy—like the battle of Yavin, or the start of the Clone Wars, etc. (essentially, the points of time shown in the movies are nexuses). 

This prevents the whole 'lets go  back in time 10 minutes' solution—because unless 'ten minutes ago' was a time nexus, any changes made wouldn't have any major effect on the timeline (i.e. some other thing or cosmic coincidence would prevent it). This also eliminates the parallel timeline thing, which just gets quickly confusing.

My next sojourn into time travel was with Adren and her nemesis Lord Qar. In this case, the insane Sith Lord got ahold of the Imperial time-travel technology and went back in time to assume the role of Emperor (by killing Palpatine/Sidious when he was less powerful). He established a bizarre and twisted version of the Empire, based upon his own whims, turning it into a chaotic playground where he took delight in tormenting the various figures from Adren's life (her family and friends). Thus, when Adren followed him, she had to endure a nightmare tailored especially to her. She managed to defeat Qar, however (and in the process prevented him from killing the Emperor—how's that for another paradox?) and returned to her own time with an intense dislike of time travel—so much so that she subsequently broke into a high-security Republic science base and destroyed the technology that had been captured from the Vermillion crew's previous mission to the Death Star.

Alas, Adren's actions could not prevent one MORE madman from utilizing that technology (still in the hands of the Empire). Rogue ISB Agent Barezz was on a personal crusade to rid the Galaxy of Force Users and all other genetic 'freaks'. By this time, his obvious obsession and insanity had alienated him even from the Empire—thus, he had to come up with some force capable of conquering the galaxy—but also one that HE was in control of. In his research, he had stumbled upon records of the Charon (from the Otherspace Adventures). 

Foolishly (in retrospect) Barezz managed to time and dimensionally travel to Otherspace. There, his 'negotiations' with the Charon quickly fell through. The bugs 'modified' him, picked his brain, and managed to cross over to the Star Wars Galaxy in force—striking prior to the Clone Wars and devastating an unready Republic. When the Character's finally managed to 'follow', they at first wound up in the nightmare future where the Charon ruled the galaxy. There, they encountered several survival/resistance groups, one lead by an elderly, but still steely Princess Leia, the other lead by an elderly but still reckless Han Solo—and both including several personages from both the Empire and Rebellion in the previous timeline. With the help of Han and Leia the party managed to repair their time-ship and made the jump back to the Clone Wars era, where they joined with a young Ben Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker and managed to thwart the Charon crossover.

This was the adventure where Lee's character (Syril Vanus) was seriously pondering killing Anakin to prevent him from becoming Darth Vader. It was touch and go for a while whether or not he would try—and the moral discussion among the players was actually pretty fun and interesting—the argument being that if he did, he might change the future, but he would also prevent Luke and Leia from even being born...and then nobody would be there to stop the Emperor.

All in all, I have GREATLY enjoyed my the various time travel adventure's we've had. I'd love to do another, but I don't want to overuse the concept (like they did in Star Trek). But with my Time Nexus theory, I feel like I have a good framework if I ever DID want to delve into the past again. Hmmm... KotOR anyone? ;)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Speaking of hyperspace...

For all my... ones of readers out there, I'm going to be on vacation for the next week. Yes, yes. I know you were all clamoring for me to elaborate on the intricacies of Ewok mating rituals, but alas, it will have to wait—for tomorrow, I travel to the far off land of New Jersey. See you soon!


The exact 'physics' behind hyperspace has been an ever-evolving thing in my RP campaign. In the first movies, we are shown hyperspace jump times that seem incredibly short. For example, the trip from Tatooine to Alderaan doesn't seem to take more than an hour or so—even though Tatooine is on the outer-rim and Alderaan is a 'core' world. Likewise, we see that the Death Star makes it from Alderaan to Yavin within a single day. 

In the RPG (notably in the various sourcebooks), they largely ignore these transit times, possibly writing them off as simply cinematic devices. Instead, we're giving slightly more 'realistic' jump times of hours and even days. This is the rule I used throughout most of my campaign. With journeys from the rim to the core taking quite some time.

When the prequels came out, the amazing speed of hyperspace travel was again on display. In just about every movie, we see folks travelling from Coruscant to the farthest reaches of the galaxy in what seems like only hours. Since this is shown time and again, we can't just write it off as a cinematic device, and I wouldn't want to just ignore it, since a lot of the major plot points in the movies depend on the timely arrival of forces from far distant locations. 

So, what's the answer? Go with the seemingly incredible speeds shown in the movie? (meaning you could cross the galaxy in mere hours) or go with the realistic speeds of the game? (meaning it would take months to cross the galaxy). The answer is in between. And like a lot of things, the original 1987 rules described it best: 

Question: How long does it take to get from planet A to star system B?
Answer: As long as you (the GM) want it to take.

It's obvious that George Lucas has made travel in the Star Wars galaxy travel 'at the speed of plot'. So that's what I've finally decided to run with in my own campaigns. And I've even developed my own technobabble theory/explanation for how it is possible. On the maps that have been appearing of the Star Wars galaxy, they have numerous major hyperspace trade routes. The original rules state that travel along well-charted lanes means that ships can move through hyperspace at much greater rates. Thus, utilizing these lane, you could cross vast distances of space almost instantly (in a few minutes). Then you'd have to 'exit' and set course for your final destination-going a bit slower to get there. Essentially, in my game, they work just like an interstate system.

Well, it works for me, anyway. Plus I would NOT want to try and bog myself or my game down with figuring out 'realistic' space travel times.

Astromech Droids

As a young boy, I totally wanted a sidekick like R2-D2. Yeah, he was cute—but he was also useful, and brave, and stubborn and loyal. What's not to like? Even as a youngling, I was struck by the whole idea of astromech droids like R2 being able to 'plug in' to a fighter like an X-Wing. A kind of co-pilot and in-flight repairman in one. That was an ingenious little addition to the movies that really was kind of understated. Like a lot of the technology in the movies, it was just presented in the 'background' and never expounded upon by the characters (which made it seem all the more 'routine' and 'realistic' within the universe).

In thinking about this, I suddenly realized that this little technological trick has never really been dealt with in the rules (at least not to my knowledge). And in all the time I've played the games, I've never really made much use of astromechs or their special abilities. What a travesty! These little guys are useful as heck—well, at least the cool ones like R2. Therefore, I'll do a bit of brainstorming on how astromechs might be handled in the game.

How I figure it working game-mechanic-wise is almost akin to the Jedi force power 'control pain'—in that the in-flight repairs that an astromech is able to accomplish are only jury-rigged and temporary solutions that remove the penalties for damage without repairing the actual damage itself. Thus, your X-Wing gets hit, takes 1 level of damage. Lets say this results in a 1D penalty to its maneuverability. Our plucky little R2 unit re-routes power and does some quick damage control the very next round—returning that 1D of maneuverability. However, the ship itself is still considered to have 1 level of damage on it. 

Of course, there would have to be some limit to the droid's ability to repair systems. Perhaps something like they can only negate 1D worth of damage to a system—and once the damage level on that system reaches critical level, they can no longer repair it. Hrm. I'm still finalizing my ship damage system, so I'll have to think on this for a bit.

All of the above would seem to me to apply ONLY to those fighters especially equipped to incorporate astromechs (in those cool little sockets). Thus the fighter itself is built around having a droid around to do repairs on it. On larger ships (say a Naboo royal cruiser), Astromechs would also be useful, but their repairs would take longer—mainly due to the size of the vessel and the increased complexity of larger systems. 

Oh, and no. In my Star Wars galaxy, Astromechs can't fly. At least, not in normal gravity conditions (zero-gee thrusters would make perfect sense considering the purpose of the droid).

Words of Wisdom from Obi-Wan

In thinking about Star Wars and all the debate over what is and isn't Canon (especially the expanded universe stuff), I wound up doing some reading online—and found an awesome quote that someone else pulled from the movies that pretty much sums up my attitude on the whole thing:

"Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." -- Obi Wan Kenobi

Heh. Yep. That says it all—and from now on, that'll be my official 'mantra' when it comes to my SWRPG game. Anything I don't like (from midichlorians in the movies to the death of Chewbacca in the novels) simply won't exist in MY Star Wars galaxy. I don't have a problem with that, and I know most of my players don't either. So its all good—because Obi-Wan said so!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Expanded Universe Silliness

Okay, don't really have a whole lot to say. Just wanted to share this picture I found. This relates to an earlier post I made about Corellia, and how author's concepts of that system differed greatly from my own...in a rather silly way. 

Thrill to the sight of Han Solo punching a giant Sea Otter with a bling fetish.

p.s. So I know a lot of Star Wars races are based on 'real world' critters. But come ON. Not only are the Selonians completely Sea Otters—the concept of a Sea-Otter humanoid race had ALREADY been done (and done much better) in the Han Solo trilogy. So not only is it silly, its just unoriginal.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: Game Chambers of Questal

Game Chambers of Questal was the last of the module-format adventures for the Star Wars D6 game. After this, all further books would be in perfect-bound (spined) format rather than saddle-stitched. As far as I'm concerned, though, the original modules were some of the best ever produced for the game (and no, it wasn't just because of their binding)—and this includes Game Chambers.

The plot of the adventure is as follows: The characters are sent to recover a lost Alliance agent. They track him to Questal, where they discover he had become embroiled in a scheme of the local Imperial Moff to create some kind of mass mind-control device. Following a trail of clues and contacts, the players eventually put the pieces together and ultimately have to infiltrate the Moff's palace to rescue the agent and destroy the evil machine. There, they find themselves in the titular 'Game Chambers'—a deathtrap playground used by the maniacal Moff Bandor for his personal amusement. 

Though taking place entirely on one planet (Questal) the adventure includes a multitude of different settings, each with their own challenges. From the streets of the city, to a local junkyard, to the floating penthouse of a crime lord, to the Game Chambers themselves. The types of encounters are likewise varied and interesting—chases with swoop gangers (through an amusement park, no less), gladiatorial duels on floating platforms, calming an enraged Trompa (a cousin of a Wampa), negotiations with greedy underworld types—you name it. And that is all before you even REACH the Game Chambers themselves. Once you're there, you have a variety of horrific death traps that test characters on various levels (from puzzle-solving to physical challenges) not to mention the different bounty-hunters and assassin droids (each with their own unique 'hook') trying to take them out.

I also enjoyed the fact that the super-weapon in this was not just another variation on the 'big gun that blows up planets' thing. It is essentially a fear generator—used to keep a planet's population docile and servile. A rather insidious thing if you think about it—and one I actually used (in a slightly different manner) in my Nagai invasion plot.

Most of all, I enjoyed the rather open-ended nature of this module. Yes, it has specific plot points and encounters—a track for the character's to follow—but I often point to this adventure as a showcase of how well-run story adventures don't have to follow a 'railroad'. This was the adventure that featured the infamous 'Rogue Squadron' incident in my campaign (see more about that here—scroll down a bit). Long story short, a couple of my players jumped the tracks and we had a lot of fun doing it. 

Another way this module stood out to me was the small modification I made to it—making the lost Rebel none other than Tiree—a fellow agent who had helped the group out several times (and had a budding relationship with Arianne). In this way, I was able to tie the adventure in a bit more tightly to my campaign specifically. 

Now for the criticisms—I guess my main one was the artwork. I don't mind a sketchy or even cartoony style, but the art in this module just seemed BAD to me. The people were all rather squiggly and odd looking. 

Also, I remember having to work to modify some of the challenges in the Game chambers (the starfighter simulation in particular). They just felt a bit too 'forced' to me, and didn't flow as well with the other challenges (i.e. they kind of brought things to a halt rather than building up the tension). 

Overall, Game Chambers—the last of the module format adventures—did its run proud, upholding some of the best qualities of the early version of the game. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Unknown Regions

This blog entry is going to be short and it is going to be a rant, so fair warning.

In the Star Wars universe, the 'Unknown Regions' were first introduced (I believe) during the Heir to the Empire trilogy. Grand Admiral Thrawn was said to have commanded a fleet in this region in the late stages of the Rebellion—and thus was not around to thwart the Alliance after the Imperial defeat at Endor. The exact location of the 'Unknown Regions' was never detailed in this book, and I was fine with that. I figured it was somewhere at the edge of the galaxy, beyond the outer-rim. That would make sense, as not too many travel out further than the outer rim.

And then the map came out—I believe it's first appearance was in the crappy 'Vector Prime' novel. And there, it is revealed that the Unknown Regions are actually... the other half of the Galaxy. You know, the left half. As opposed to the right half, where all the cool planets are.

This never made a bit of sense to me. Especially when you consider the proximity of Coruscant and other major core worlds to the Unknown Regions. I mean, its like the first explorers just decided not to turn left...for...10,000+ years, they just.. decided not to turn left. Oh sure, there are billions of planets in (relatively) close proximity to Coruscant, but we're just not going to go that way in favor of pushing out further and further to the 'right'. 


And there is no explanation (that I've heard of) as to why half the freaking galaxy is unexplored. Nor could there be any sensible one. This is a prime example of the stupid part of the Expanded Universe—and this from a person who is really TRYING to like the EU. 

I had always assumed that the Republic and the Empire actually DID rule over the entire 'Galaxy'—oh sure, not all parts of it, and especially not the less explored outer and 'unknown' regions, but the majority of the galactic disc at least. And in my campaign, that's how it is (and that's one of the reasons one of my projects is to revamp the Galaxy Map).


Reading other blogs is what inspired me to do this one—and its also where I steal- err... get inspiration for a lot of what I write about. For me, its fun to hear other people's takes on subjects that I'm interested in—even if I disagree with them. It's fun to see where we're different, and where we're alike. One blogger mentioned something called 'Projectitis' and it struck a chord with me. His theory was that a lot of nerds/geeks constantly have some project or other that they are working on, but never finish. In talking with his nerd/geek friends, he found this to be the case with most of them—and it certainly is the case with me.

I have an entire library of projects that I am currently working on. And are any of them finished? Heck no! I bounce from one to another, depending on which I am most excited about at the time. Like this blog, they're simply fun things that keep my mind working—in a much more fulfilling way than just playing a video game or something. A short list of what I am currently working on would look something like this:

1) Finally finishing the module-form of the Otherspace III adventure I came up with.

2) Revamping (again) my D6 system into a 'final' set of rules and skills

3) Building a highly detailed map of my version of the Star Wars galaxy

4) Building a highly detailed map of my 'conglomerate' fantasy-game world

5) Writing up supporting material on my conglomerate fantasy-game world (cultures, religions, etc.)

6) Working up a list of superheroes/characters, weeding out the crap ones and modifying the savable ones into my OWN superhero universe. 

7) Building a library of Star Wars images

8) Reflecting on just how big of a geek I am after reading the above list

9) Still reflecting on how big a geek I am...

You get the point. And those are only a few of the projects that I'm working on...and still haven't finished. So yes, I would say that I suffer from "Projectitis" in a big way—and I am loving every minute of it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Myth of the Invincible Jedi

In again perusing various Star Wars RPG forums, I have recently been pondering another 'complaint' that a lot of people seem to have about the D6 system. The consensus seems to be that Jedi, particularly 'high level' jedi (those above 4 or 5D in their skills) are unbalanced and practically invincible. Now, while I agree that there is a 'tipping point' on Force skills that takes them from 'useful trick' to 'near superpower', I do not feel that it makes the game unbalanced or 'unrealistic'. My reasons for this belief are as follows:

Within the Star Wars movies we are shown that fully trained Jedi ARE pretty mega. In Episode I, for instance, the Trade Federation guys at the beginning receive word that there are TWO Jedi on their ship and one of them chimes in with "We will not survive this." Yes. Some of that is their own cowardly nature and the whole intimidation factor of the Jedi, but we are shown that two Jedi CAN handle a lot of opposition all by themselves. And yet in the same segment we see that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan actually have to flee when they hit too stiff of opposition. 

Strangely enough, when the Force users in my campaign started to get powerful, they experienced much the same kind of dynamic as shown in the prequels. And mind you, most of my campaign took place BEFORE the prequels ever came out. In a hand to hand fight, or versus a relatively limited number of opponents, the Force users were indeed pretty much untouchable. But when facing highly skilled opponents, or masses of troops (squad sized or larger) a lone Jedi (or even pair of Jedi) was no match.

It is, to me, one of the selling points of the D6 system that even 'super powered' characters can be brought low by bad luck (a blown roll) or by overwhelming numbers. It is realistic and heroic at the same time, and gives even a high-power character reason to be cautious. And it all exists within the game mechanics of the system—or at the very least within my interpretation of it.

The combined fire rule is one of the main tools a GM can use to level the playing field. Say you have a squad of eight stormtroopers with 5D blaster skills (the average in my campaign). They engage a Jedi by firing a volley of eight shots. Mechanically, this means you take the lead shooter's skill (5D) and add +5 pips to it for each additional shooter (because each shooter has a 5D skill—if they had a 4D skill, you'd add +4; 3D you'd add +3, etc.) This means that as a squad, the troopers would be rolling 5D+35—producing an average roll of 52. Say your Jedi has a 7D Sense skill (the skill used to parry blaster shots). Even if he does a full parry (doing nothing else that round but blocking, which adds 10 to his roll) his average roll would be a 35. He'd get shot.

At that point, you also figure in the damage system in Star Wars. The average character has a strength of 3D to resist damage. The average trooper blaster does 5D damage. Which means that our Jedi would at the very least take a wound—which would further impair his ability to fight and defend himself. Even if the character were wearing typical armor (which adds 1D to their strength roll to resist damage), odds are they'd still take a wound. Yes, a Jedi can try to control pain from his wounds, but that is yet another action he must take—which lowers his defensive ability again until he is successful... and he'd be doing so in the face of yet another volley from the troopers. 

So there you go. Game mechanic-wise, eight troopers can (in the right circumstances) be a match for a single Jedi. The trick for the Jedi is making sure he never faces the troopers in those circumstances. It works in the game and it works from a sense of cinematic and thematic realism, too. Just look at the Jedi generals during Order 66. That was the TRUE GENIUS of the Emperor's plan, to put unsuspecting Jedi into the crosshairs of a number of troops. Most of them didn't even see it coming. Those that did, didn't last long under a sustained volley. 

When you DON'T have masses of troops to throw at a Force user, however, there are yet other ways to defeat them (and again, this is borne out both in the movies and in game mechanics). Area effect weapons neatly bypass the Jedi's ability to block or deflect pinpoint or melee attacks. Flamethrowers, Gasses, Grenades, Explosives—all of these mean that the Jedi is going to have to rely on their dodge skill to avoid—and even if they successfully dodge, odds are they are going to take SOME residual damage from an AOE effect (shock from a blast, burns from a flamethrower, etc.). This will, of course, further hamper their ability to defend themselves on subsequent rounds. Just look at the tricks Jango Fett used versus Obi-Wan and Mace Windu—explosives, flamethrowers. They work.

What if you don't have troops or area effect weapons? Well, then things are difficult. If you can, you should flee (just like Jango did on Kamino after he'd used all his tricks). Again, its things like this that thematically support Force users being difficult to handle within the Star Wars universe. It isn't a flaw in the system, its a story element that GMs have to learn to handle. 

I suppose the REAL wrinkle in all of this comes with the use of Force Points.  I will admit that as a GM I both love and loath these things. If used cinematically, they can provide for some really incredible moments, if used mechanically, they can turn a character (Force user or not) into a tank. But these too have their limitations. First of all, a character only has so many of them—even high powered characters cannot use them indefinitely. Secondly, major NPCs have Force points, too—and can use them to essentially negate the advantage. So as with many things, a GM needs to consider the power levels of his characters and make challenges that will fit them. If you truly want to push a character to their combat limits, then you have several options: a long series of encounters with large numbers of grunt troops or encounters with highly-skilled NPCs similar in skill-level to the characters. I find a mix of these things to work best. 

All of that having been said, when you get to 'epic' level characters (above 7D), a GM shouldn't gear his ideas solely towards combat. Presenting players with moral choices, challenges and other difficult decisions with consequences place emphasis on roleplaying and not roll-playing. By this time, most combats SHOULD be easy for the Jedi—but combat really isn't their mandate. They're peace-makers, which makes things interesting and difficult in its own right, as they can't simply 'kill them all and let god sort them out'. 

In any case, that's my two cents on the issue.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Long Road

I got to thinking today about the old Star Wars campaign, and though I've already talked about the characters in it before, I want to focus on several of the them who exemplify the 'epic' nature that my campaign evolved into. With each character, I want to contrast the humble nature of their beginnings with the heights they have achieved through roleplay over a very long real-life and in-character timespan. 

Where she began: Arianne began as an idealistic young pilot, raised on a Rebel safeworld by her parents. Though a skilled fighter pilot, she was ultimately selected for service in Alliance Intelligence. Her starting military rank in the game was Lieutenant, JG (or equivalent)

Major developments: Arianne served as the leader of her intel team throughout the war, but took on other duties as well, including command of a captured Imperial Lancer-Class frigate (during the Minos Campaign) and command of the Gunship Handree during the battle of Endor. During an early mission (Battle for the Golden Sun) she manifested force sensitivity, though her training throughout the war was sporadic. 

Where she is now: Arianne is now a Colonel in New Republic military intelligence. She has also earned the rank of Jedi knight (after turning more seriously to her training in the post-Thrawn era). She is married to a former Alliance field agent, Tiree (who now works with Intel command) and has one child, a son. Recently, Arianne lost her father to a terror act committed by long-time rival Rina Nothos.

Where he began: Marko began as a smuggler and owner of the tramp-freighter 'Lightblade'. He had a 'typical' Corellian-Spacer upbringing (mucking around in the underworld) before throwing in his lot with the Rebellion. At the beginning of the campaign, Marko held no official rank (except captain of his own ship).

Major developments: Marko served with distinction throughout the war, participating in the battles of Hoth and Endor (in the latter, he was one of the commandos that made up Han Solo's strike team). He also worked as informant for Alliance Internal Affairs for a time, helping to uncover a mole within the team.

Where he is now: Marko is now a Colonel in the New Republic Special Forces and the leader of his own commando team (Raz's Raiders), which also includes several other veterans of the Endor Strike team.

Where he began: Ruuk was a free wookiee (I recall), but one with little love for the Empire. His wanderings eventually took him into the Rebel Alliance, though initially as an 'independent operator', without rank.

Major developments: Of all the original characters, Ruuk was one of the most sporadic in his mission-attendence—though he DID serve at Hoth and several other major engagements throughout the course of his career (I honestly don't remember if he served at Endor or not! GAH! Help me out here, guys...)

Where he is now: Ruuk resigned his commission (which I believe was around Captain or Major in rank) and started his own freight hauling business—utilizing several captured pirate craft as the basis for his expanding merchant fleet. He is now a (corporate) force to be reckoned with and has become an inspiration for his people, still recovering from the shackles of slavery.

Where he began: Oman was working as an independent bounty hunter prior to joining the Rebellion and being assigned to Arianne's team. Much like the rest of the team, Oman was initially 'unranked'.

Major developments: As with many of the 'core' team, Oman served in engagements throughout the war, including Hoth and Endor. During the latter battle, he served as a gunner onboard the Millennium Falcon (his kill record during other missions earned him the spot). 

Where he is now: Oman retired from the New Republic with the rank of Colonel (a seemingly common rank among the party—as I kind of see it a the highest a character can have and still be sent into the field). After a convoluted time-travelling excursion, Oman became Governor of a Free Mandalore and (recently) assumed the title of 'Mandalore' of his entire culture. Sometime during all of this, he also managed to marry his one-time rival, Zardra. The two have a daughter.

Where he began: Harry began as a gambler and hustler, floating his way from port to port in the Minos Cluster (at the tender age of 16). At the time, he was just tagging along with a Force adept friend of his. Of course the two of them quickly got caught up in the Rebellion, though they started with no official rank.

Major developments: As with the rest of the team, Hugganut had an exemplary service record during the war. Fighting at Hoth and Endor (serving with Han's strike team). Through it all, he became something of a renaissance man—working a bounty-hunter, a gambler, a doctor (!), a droid-tinkerer, a scrounger, etc. etc.

Where he is now: Like many of his companions, Harry too eventually resigned his commission (as Major). He married a former spy contact of his, the underworld gun-runner Kel. He and his wife used their combined wealth to purchase and develop a resort world, which they now run.

Where he began: Not surprisingly, Bob began his career on Tatooine, as a wandering Shaman who assisted Arianne in the recovery of several Jedi 'heirlooms' from Ben Kenobi's old stead. He sensed his 'path' would take him off the planet, and that is just where he followed it.

Major developments: Though he never quite fit the 'mold' of a Rebel or Republic officer, Bob served faithfully throughout the war. He too participated in the Battles of Hoth and Endor. In the former, he (further) developed a very strong dislike of ice planets. In the latter, he served as part of the strike team (for you movie buffs out there, he took the place of the briefly glimpsed 'prune face' guy—aka the shadowy cloaked figure you see boarding the strike shuttle as Han and Lando talk in front of the ramp). 

Where he is now: Bob never held an 'official' commission among the Alliance or the Republic, but he has attained the rank of Jedi knight in that order. Indeed, Bob has become quite the teacher in that regard—responsible for instructing Arianne, her ward, Reen and finally his own padawan and wife (?), Tishana (whom he met in an excursion to Otherspace). Bob has since returned to Tatooine and become a major spiritual figure among his people—and a moderating influence on their otherwise warlike ways.

Where she began: An orphan, Adren grew up on the streets of Mos Eisley, but somehow finagled her way into captaining her own, ramshackle freighter while still in her late teens. She didn't get involved in the war until AFTER the battle of Endor—when she somehow got recruited into he fledgling New Republic. Her latent Force abilities began to manifest at this time as well.

Major developments: Adren's skill as a pilot earned her fame and rank among the Minos Cluster command and her burgeoning force-skills eventually turned her into one of NRI's top solo agents. Through her efforts, she has not only 'brought down', but actually 'redeemed' several threats to the Republic (including Faarl the Conqueror and a rogue General Veers). Along the way, she married fellow Republic soldier Sebastian Kalidor and also discovered that she was related to the Santhe family (of Santhe/Seinar technologies).

Where she is now: Adren resigned her commission with the (ever popular) rank of Colonel. Though she gave up service for a time to try her hand at professional swoop racing (where she made a name for herself in an exhibition match vs. Blizz Pinnix), she was recruited again into NRI in the wake of the Nagai invasion. She has also attained some stature among the Jedi Order, though she serves somewhat reluctantly—unsure of her own worthiness to be a member of that group. Recently, during the Nagai invasion, Adren lost both her husband and grandmother (Lady Santhe) to separate terror attacks.

As you can see from the above, each of these characters have undergone a remarkable transformation from humble beginnings to (varying) heights of power. I know a lot of GMs would probably qualify this as a 'twink' campaign, but I look back on all of this (and look forward, too) with a sense of pride. And to my players' credit, they all seem to take their elevated positions with grace—and in some cases, IC feelings of inadequacy. 

To me, it is only natural for a campaign to grow in this way (as I have stated ad nauseum in previous posts). In fact, this post is probably just self-serving reminiscing on my part, but then—that's the point of this whole blog, so deal with it!

Review: Riders of the Maelstrom


One of my top ten Star Wars RPG modules, Riders of the Maelstrom centers around the characters infiltrating a top-secret meeting between two Imperial Moffs—a meeting that just happens to be taking place aboard a luxury space-cruise-liner. The adventure begins with a frantic chase scene, moves on to a vacation-like romp through the various diversions available ton the liner, and climaxes in a clash with a band of vicious space pirates!

Like many of the early adventure modules, Riders comes with a fold out supplement—in this case, a huge map of the cruise-liner Kuari Princess (the main setting of the adventure). This is one of the first things that drew me to this module. It is impressive and surprisingly detailed for a game that prides itself on keeping things 'vague'. This map and the 'sandbox' of locations it presents, makes the module somewhat unique among its contemporaries. The usual, linear plot of the adventure is quite suddenly blown out in the middle, giving the characters time and room to explore all kinds of tangents—most of which have nothing at all to do with the main story. As much as I do enjoy a well-run 'story-based' adventure, open-ended play like this is always fun to throw into the mix (in fact, I think its necessary to a healthy campaign to have a mix). 

Indeed, the main strength of this adventure is its subtle encouragement of roleplay. It gives the characters a wide variety of things they can do—things that will help build just WHO those characters really are—beyond just their stats and skills. The couple times I have run this adventure, the players seemed to take full advantage of this room. Some characters went to the bar/dance-club, others on a shopping spree, others lounged at the pools and still others competed with various guests in sporting events. 

While all this playing may seem to distract from the plot, the fact that the ship is a 'confined' location helped to keep characters from ranging TOO far (and out of the story entirely). Throughout this middle (and indeed main) section of the adventure, the writers include helpful hints and suggestions to keep reminding the players of the plot—Stormtroopers will occasionally pass by, threatening with their presence. The crew and passengers will spout rumors and the like of what is going on. The characters will occasionally glimpse the Moffs themselves as they move about their business. And finally, a secret Alliance agent will send them messages and updates about what is going on. All in all, its a nice way to 'gently' keep the player's eyes on the 'prize' without ruining their chance to run amok.

Eventually, though, the characters will have to get back on task and infiltrate the Moff's meeting to find out what they're up to. This is, in turn, interrupted by the attack of the titular 'Riders of the Maelstrom'—a vicious pirate fleet operating in the nebula through which the cruise-liner is passing. This sets up another rather open-ended scenario, turning the entire ship into a battleground through which the Character's must navigate. While it was a little overwhelming to me the first time I ran it, it was fun nonetheless. This battle is given a bit of an edge in the fact that the characters find out that the pirates intend to ram the ship into the asteroid base of a rival pirate group—a group that just happens to serve the Rebellion and is harboring thousands of refugees. Thus, there is more at stake here than simply escaping the ship with their lives.

Unfortunately, the climax of the adventure is hurt a little, in my opinion, by the somewhat weakly presented villain—Big Jak Targrim, commander of the Riders of the Maelstrom. Though he appears in a couple cut-scenes throughout the adventure, there really wasn't much development of him. Likewise, his odd yet interesting background (having been 'spliced' with the genetic material of legendary pirate/underworld figures) didn't seem to come across when I ran the adventures. I mean, it was interesting for me as a GM to know, but it didn't come across to the players. If I ever do this again, I will have to take steps to build on his character a little. Also, as with many adventures, Big Jak's stats were, by the time I ran this adventure, way too underpowered to give the characters a run for their money. As with most modules, I had to beef up the NPCs to keep pace with my PCs.

On a side note, Big Jak's reputation was further besmirched (in my eyes) during my second run-through of the module—when Sharon's character (still in her swimsuit and fresh from lounging poolside) beat the snot out of him in hand-to-hand combat. Yes. There were good rolls on her part and bad rolls on mine, but...I think the Big Jak is officially 'cursed' now (though quite amusingly so).

My only other criticism of the adventure is actually something I struggle with in a lot of adventures: the whole concept of 'In media res'. This is a cinematic technique whereby a movie starts in the middle of the action already. There may be some brief exposition as to how things got the way they are, but otherwise, the audience is thrown into the thick of a situation and left to guess/enjoy. Riders begins with the characters already running for their lives from Stormtroopers. On the one hand, I like a quick start up like this to get things moving. But on the other, it can be jarring to the players and feel kind of railroady. I guess the main issue is whether or not your players buy off on a situation or not. If they do, then you're golden. If not, then you may need to modify the beginnings of several of these modules.

All in all, Riders of the Maelstrom was a great module that broke the somewhat linear mold of many of its contemporaries and followers. It reminded me that giving the players some wiggle room from time to time is important—and fun. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sci-Fi Movies That Influenced Me, The 00's

And finally, my exploration of Sci-Fi movies that influenced me (and how they might work their way into a Star Wars adventure or setting) turns to the twenty-first century. 

Battlefield Earth
I remember laughing at some of the reviews I read of this. One said "Oh, the humanity!" another said "Positively Travolting". And those were probably two of the more positive comments. This is a bad, bad movie, folks. From premise to execution to acting. And plot holes big enough to drive a truck through: Like how the hell do people who are essentially cavemen suddenly learn to fly Harriers within a few days? Like how an advanced alien race with a lust for gold some how missed Fort Knox? Like how an entire planet can be destroyed by a chain reaction from one small tactical nuke? Like- oh, nevermind. About the only thing this movie had going for it were passable CG effects with the alien aircraft. And.. yeah, that's about it. I only bring it up because it IS so bad—probably the worst movie included on these lists, including Escape from LA.

Pitch Black
I don't particularly like Vin Diesel (or however you spell it), but this was actually a pretty well done sci-fi monster movie. I liked the fact that the characters and plot were unpredictable. You never knew if you really could trust Riddick. You gradually find out that the Marshall (who seems like he'd be the good guy) is really more of a bounty hunter—and one with a drug addiction. The spunky female 'hero' actually wanted to kill all the passengers at the beginning of the movie—to save her own skin. On its surface, it seems like it would be a pretty generic movie, but it turns out not to be—and that is a good thing. It is pretty directly translatable into a Star Wars adventure, too—just get the team on a transport and have it crash and there you go.

Red Planet
As usually seems to happen, two different 'mission to mars' movies came out in the same year. Of the two, I liked this one more, mainly because I still have a soft-spot for Val Kilmer (remembering him from his Real Genius days). Overall, though, I didn't really love this movie—mainly due to one huge plot hole—the damn killer robot dog. I loved the idea and the look of a robotic canine scout, but the whole idea of it having a switch you click on to make it into a killer... come on. Nobody thought this was a bad idea? I also liked the fact that there was a scientific explanation for the strange phenomena, rather than 'oh, its all powerful aliens'. And finally, I loved Kilmer's line before blasting off on the old Russian lander. He leans up and flips the bird, growling "F*ck this planet!" Yeah! Take that, Mars!

Titan A.E.
I liked this animated adventure tale, but I was also just a bit let down by it. I saw a lot of potential, but it never quite lived up to it. Plus, it suffered from that thing that seems to plague almost all animated flicks—the inclusion of 'wacky cartoony' moments, evidently to appeal to a younger audience. Now, I have nothing against children's cartoons or family oriented cartoons. There are some really great ones out there. But when a movie tries to straddle the line between 'gritty' and 'goofy' it looses a lot of its ability to be either. I just wish that producers would make up their mind whether or not they want the thing to be a kids flick or a serious movie—and stick with it. Rumor has it that Joss Whedon helped to pep up the dialogue in this movie and that seems plausible considering the kind of banter shown. Plus, I loved the part where they try to trick a guard with some lame con and the guard sees right through it—pointing out everything they did wrong. As one of the characters commented. "A smart guard.. didn't see that coming." At which point, they just knock the guy out. Good stuff.

Ghostbusters, only with aliens. I can see that's what the movies producers were going for here. Unfortunately, they just missed the mark a little. I don't know what it was, exactly. I can't point to any one thing as THE thing that made it bad. It just lacked the spark, and a lot of the humor, of Ghostbusters. I still enjoyed it, though—and did get a fair number of giggles. Loved the whole 'K-Kaw, K-Kaw! Tookie Tookie!" sequence and, what can I say, the whole 'Play that Funky Music' scene in the car made me grin, too. It must be the 80's music-video lover in me peeking out. 

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Awesome computer animation. Typically stupid and convoluted japanimation plot. Another movie I really wanted to like (and hey, Aki Ross was pretty hot for a CG character). But... gah. This movie is a showcase for what I don't like about Japanese storytelling. Everything is so unnecessarily complicated and over-dramatic. The story clubs you over the head with its 'message', even as they take a pretty gritty and 'grounded' story into a realm of... alien ghosts battling with the ghosts of gaia, the spirit of the earth and.. bleh. Its just freaking stupid. And is it just me? Or do the japanese have a fixation on apocalyptic stories?

Ghosts of Mars
Another John Carpenter movie, and probably my least favorite appearing on this list. It was one of those movies I liked the look of, but otherwise thought was stupid. Natasha Henstridge was in this one, and once again nice to look at (especially without the prehensile nipples of her 'Species' days). Jason Statham was in this—and I think he's a fun actor. Ice-Cube? Well.. bleh. Don't particularly like him. Overall, I thought there was some merit to the idea—of the 'spirits' of an ancient race locked away, then suddenly released to wreak havok. Had a pseudo-zombie-apocalypse feel to it, only quite a bit more dangerous, since the bad guys were non-corporeal and could just leave a body when it is killed and take over a new one. If I were the guys in this movie, I would have at LEAST tried to wear some kind of breath-mask. I mean, the things couldn't go through solid objects.. maybe they couldn't fit through air-filters? Worth a shot anyway. Could be an interesting adventure idea—investigating a remote outpost only to find it overrun. 

Jurassic Park III
I liked this movie more than Jurassic Park II. But then, that's not saying very much. This one at least didn't have the greenpeace overtones to it. But it just felt gimmicky to me with the inclusion of 'Spinosaurus', who is even MORE mega than T-Rex! Still, it was less of a 'who gets killed next' fest than JP II. Call me a romantic, but in this movie, it bothered me that Doctor Grant and Doctor Sadler were revealed to never have gotten together. Oh, I know they weren't an item in the books, but in the movie, it was suggested that they were. 

Planet of the Apes
The remake had awesome costumes and some pretty good special effects and even some good actors (minus Markie mark, that is). It even had a pretty hot looking Estella Warren. But I still wound up not liking the film all that much, in and of itself. And the twist ending was just stupid. I imagine they would have explained what happened in the sequel, but...there was no sequel. You strip out all the time travel aspects and this would be a pretty cool Star Wars adventure, just like the original movie would  be.

28 Days Later
Not exactly sure why this was listed as a Sci-Fi movie and not a horror, but.. oh well. I liked it either way. The scenes of a desolate and deserted England were very well done and the whole 'fast zombie' thing was scary as hell. Character development was handled well, too—a rarity in most horror movies. The build up to the climax had me on the edge of my seat. I'm just glad that I saw the three endings version first. I really hate 'downer' endings. The 'rage virus' would make a very deadly Star Wars adventure—and I'm not sure if it isn't just too dark a thing to use (unless it could be cured). 

The Adventures of Pluto Nash
So maybe it wasn't one of the best movies around, but the special effects in this one surprised me. Loved the vehicles and city stuff—and it was a reasonably cool 'caper'. I think that if this had been a low-budget movie, then it might have worked. But since it wasn't, people had huge expectations of it—expectations it just couldn't live up to. It was okay (at best). 

Cowboy Bebop
I'm speaking more to the series than to the movie in this case. I don't generally like Japanimation (see 'Final Fantasy, above). But this is one of the more tolerable series, mainly because it often deals with pretty straight-forward shoot-em-up type adventures. Oh sure, they can't help but delve into overly-dramatic BS and face-distorting anime cliches, but not ALL the time, so I can handle it. Love the whole feel of the setting, with a terraformed solar system and a demolished Earth. Good stuff.

Eight Legged Freaks
This one is something of a guilty pleasure. It isn't a good movie, but it really doesn't take itself seriously, and I have to respect that. It's a nice, tongue-in-cheek throwback to the old 'giant monster attacks desert town' film. Kari Wuhrer isn't bad to look at either. Had a few interesting action set-pieces, too—the dirt-bikers versus the jumping spiders and the whole invasion of the mall are both reasonably well done and interesting. As with most monster movies, its easily translatable to Star Wars, but a bit less impactful since 'monsters' aren't all that scarce in the Star Wars galaxy.

Reign of Fire
A movie about an apocalypse brought on by dragons. How cool is that? Well, the premise is a lot cooler than this movie turned out to be. I was expecting ID4, only with dragons. Imagine, Jets dog-fighting with them. Tanks being strafed by them. Waves of infantry trying in vain to hold off the onslaught of serpentine power. Cities in flame. Hell yeah! Only, you don't get ANY of that in this movie. The only thing you get is a few newspaper headlines and a Times magazine cover showing dragons burning a city. Lame. And don't get me started on the 'tactics' that they use to kill the dragons. It involves placing radio beacons and having three people skydive out of a helicopter for.. some.. convoluted reason. All the time, I was thinking to myself—you guys have a tank. You have a freaking tank. Just lure the dragon in and shoot it. I mean, it may have even been cool if this skydiving tactic had actually WORKED, but the one time we see it in the movie, it actually fails and the divers get eaten. What is the freaking point? And then this team of professional dragon-hunters, who somehow made it all the way across the Atlantic, allow themselves to get bunched up in a straight line on a road and get strafed and killed. It just...bleh. Oh, and throw in the fact I don't much care for Christian Bale or Matthew Mcwhateverhisname and double bleh. However, this movie DID provide me with the basis for my theory that in the event of the apocalypse, Supermodels actually seem to have a good chance of survival. I think its their ability to survive on so little food. 

Resident Evil
Not a huge fan of the game or of the movies, actually, but as far as zombie films go, it wasn't too bad. The laser-dicing room was pretty scary. Felt bad for the guy who made it all the way to the grid, though. Again, this could work as a Star Wars adventure, but it is pretty dark.  I could definitely see the Empire doing horrible experiments like that—or even post Empire, some cruel mega-corp could take the lead.

Treasure Planet
I still have no idea why this movie flopped at the box office. Maybe because it didn't have a 'princess' like just about every other Disney movie. I just don't know. I thought it was a fun take on a classic story—loved Long John Silver the cyborg. Just fun and imaginative all around. It'd be a little difficult to pull this off as a Star Wars adventure, though it could be a fun 'origin' adventure for a 'kid' character. 

I don't generally like Stephen king horror movies, but this one was alright. It had a truly memorable and horrible toilet scene in it. Ugh. When it has that, and the military in the movie refers to the aliens as 'ass-weasels', you know you're in for a rough time. About the only thing I didn't like was the recklessness of the military's attack on the alien ship. Helicopter gunships can fire at targets from over a mile away. I don't see any reason for them to swoop in at point blank range—especially when the Aliens are dangerous enough to take out several of them.

The Matrix Reloaded
I think I pretty much covered my feelings about the Matrix in the earlier post about the original movie, but I'll elaborate a bit further here—I started getting bored with the special effects in this movie. They kept using the same gimmicks. They introduced all kinds of interesting possibilities via the marovingian—who talks about ghosts and vampires and werewolves as 'anomalies' in the programming. Yeah, we get to see a couple ghosts, but nothing else. And then there was the whole ending of the film, where Neo suddenly gains superpowers in the real world. WTF? The only thing that would 'save' that for me was if the 'real' world was actually just another layer of the Matrix. Actually, I thought that would be kind of a neat twist. Unfortunately...

The Matrix Revolutions
...nope. The real world is real. Neo has superpowers—and with no explanation as to how. And my god is the human defense of their city idiotic. If they KNEW where the machines were coming. Why didn't they just 'dig in' their walkers—preferably close to a huge ammo supply. Or better yet, just do away with the walkers and mount a bunch of turrets. And if they had EMP technology, why wouldn't they have layers of those around the base to set off, or at least ONE in the dock to use as a last ditch effort. And was it just me? or were there only like.. 2 infantry people in the entire human army. Why weren't there rows of people with those rockets, just waiting for the machines to  break through. And then I'm back to the inefficiency of the machines again—why don't they have any ranged weapons? Why did they just fly around in circles and get shot at. Why didn't they just drop nerve gas down on the humans? GAH. I could go on for hours on how bad this movie was, but I won't. Suffice it to say that all the loose ends and cryptic pseudo-philosophical references made in the previous movies had absolutely no payoff. Boo.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
The worst of the Terminator movies. But not a total stinker. It just felt 'flat' to me, compared to the other movies—it never captured the frantic energy of the previous two. I liked the twist with Skynet being a program rather than a computer. I even liked the whole thing with Connor not being destined to STOP the apocalypse, just to survive it. But overall? Meh.

Alien vs. Predator
Great special effects. And that's about all I can say that's good about this flick. Watching it, I started to get my hopes up that there might be something good about it, but it fell into the same 'bad habit' as most horror movies: it introduces people who might actually be interesting characters, then does nothing to develop them, then kills them all. The whole reason I got so caught up in Aliens was because I started caring about the various personalities: Hicks, Hudson,Vasquez. I got to KNOW them. They had moments to show them as people. I cared if they lived or died. But when you have one generic character sketch after another dying then it just loses the impact. In looking back at it, the whole premise seemed flawed. Previously, Predators were shown to like 'organic' hunting environments, not pre-arranged death-traps. But this was supposed to be a ritual of manhood or something, so... whatever. I would really have liked to see a more futuristic setting for this, maybe even in space or even following the plotline of the comics of the same name, but.. oh well.

The Chronicles of Riddick
Again. Not a big Vin Diesel fan. I liked pitch black better than this—mainly because Riddick wasn't superman. In this? He is. I was also thrown by the sudden shift in the look of the movie. The first one seemed gritty and realistic—like something out of aliens. This one had all kinds of 'organic' looking technology and strange, ephemeral alien beings and 'magic' of a sort. Oh, and it had a stupid name for its villains—Necromongers? whatever. Still, it wasn't all bad. In fact, other than their lame name, I kind of liked the look of the bad guys.

The Day After Tomorrow
A laughably implausible eco-horror movie. But it did have great special effects. It also had Emmy Rossum, whom I like. I was a bit perplexed by everyone's reaction to the cold, however—especially for people who lived in Northern climes, where snow isn't a complete unknown. This struck me in two spots specifically: First of all, in New York city—after the flood, the snows start up. Why in the HELL would anyone decide to go OUT into the raging blizzard rather than find some place to hole up and start a fire. Yes. I understand it is bitterly cold, but people could have lasted for DAYS through that kind of weather if they made an attempt to. The LAST thing I'd do is just march off into the cold.  And the same thing goes for the scientists in Scotland. Their generator dies, so they just give up and freeze to death. For god sakes. You had wooden furniture and paper. You could have insulated the room as best as you can, rigged up some sort of chimney and at least TRIED to stay warm. It was literally only a few days later when rescue missions headed out to help stranded people. But anyway, I digress. Could be a fun adventure to have adventurers caught in the midst of a disaster like this.

I, Robot
I loved the look of this movie—and of the robots in particular. They had a very iRobot Mac look to them. It was an interesting detective story as well as action, with some great scenes of Robots taking over the city. I couldn't help but love the heroic robot, afterall, he was voiced by 'Wash' from Serenity. As with other robot movies mentioned previously, this plotline could easily work into a greater story about a droid uprising in the Star Wars galaxy.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Though it was a pretty generic zombie-apocalypse movie, I think I actually liked this one more than I did the previous installment—if only because of the scale of the devastation. The action scenes were pretty over the top, but that wasn't really my favorite part, as it felt too 'superheroey'. I really enjoyed the scene where you had the SWAT team holed up inside of a storefront, taking out any zombies who got near. Was nice to see that someone other than the heroes was competent. That's what I would have done. And I like to see characters in a movie that do something smart. Alas, the poor team had bad luck when the evil corporation sent its monster mutant against them, but...until then, I was really rooting for those guys!

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Being a huge fan of pulp-era fiction, I was looking forward to this movie. But as it turned out, it was rather forgettable. I usually have a VERY good memory about movies and plots, but I honestly could not tell you what the main story of this movie was. And that really says something. The animation was...alright, but I think that ultimately the world was just too 'alien' for me to relate to. It was just too many steps removed from reality. It sucks that this movie flopped, though, as I understand that the director was going to go on from this to the Princess of Mars/John Carter series. Alas. No such luck.

A real stinker, but a stylish one. Another of those 'liked the look but hated the execution'. There were just so many cliches and plot holes as to render this watchable only for laughs. A reviewer I love pretty much summed up all the frustrations I had with this movie. His words can be found here.

I am a huge fan of the show and the movie. That having been said, I've only seen this movie twice. Why? Because it freaking makes me sad. Sigh. I love the characters SO much that to lose two of them actually hurt—even moreso since of all the crew, Wash was the one I could most relate to, the one closest to how I think of myself. That having been said, it frustrates me that such a superior show and movie could both flop so badly financially. Any of the Firefly episodes would likely make an awesome Star Wars adventure, especially for the crew of a tramp freighter or smuggling ship. 

War of the Worlds
I don't much care for Tom Cruise or Dakota Fanning, but that didn't stop me from enjoying this remake of the classic story. It was a truly terrifying look at an alien invasion through the eyes of a normal guy. This aspect brings the horror home more clearly than a 'top down' view of the thing would have (as in ID4, for instance). You never get the entire story of just what is going on, and that only helps intensify the fear and frustration as people just wander aimlessly, hoping to get away from death that seems to be on all sides. Even with this 'personal view', you don't entirely lose the spectacle of the destruction—there are lots of set-pieces that show the true horrific scope of the attack—and the complete ineffectiveness of the human defense. About the only criticism I have of the movie is the whole thing about the Martian ships having been buried 'millions of years ago'. Why add that extra wrinkle?

I love Nathan Fillion. Yep. I have a man-crush on him and I'm not afraid to say it. He is a great and truly funny actor. He was the main reason I watched this movie. He plays a small-town sheriff caught in the midst of an alien infestation. There really isn't a lot of originality to the overall plot, but it is well directed and often-times darkly humorous. Unfortunately for me, the gore level was just a few notches above what I can take. It was truly uncomfortable for me to watch this movie, and that makes me sad, because it has the kind of snappy dialogue that I enjoy, especially in a 'horror' movie. But GAH, way way way disgusting.

V for Vendetta
I am not an Alan Moore fan. I do not subscribe to his pessimistic (and frankly pretty messed up) world view. That being said, I was surprised that I actually enjoyed the movie. Oh, it was a bit too stylistically 'clever' for my tastes, but the overall concept was appealing. Part of this, no doubt, comes from the fact I never read the comics. And from what I have read ABOUT them, I know I would have liked the movie version better. That isn't to say I think this is a movie masterpiece. There are all kinds of problems I have with it (like why the talk-show host guy would think he could get away with mocking the bad guy openly). But none of that stopped me from liking it—or its central message that fascism is bad. Unfortunately, I think that Moor would probably come back that 'Anarchism is good', which it isn't.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
I only recently saw this movie on Cable. I am rather indifferent to it. Where I think it is a little better than the first in this sub-series, overall I wasn't impressed with the story, the character development (what character development?) or the direction. It was essentially just a string of stet pieces where people get killed in various gruesome ways by by Aliens or the Predator or the 'Predalien'. It is just the last in a long string of movies that don't live up to the originals they were based on. I especially disliked the Predalien's sudden ability to just implant eggs directly. But then, he had to be able to do that to fit the movie's plot of having hordes of aliens. I also did not understand the Predator's actions at all. He was evidently trying to contain the Alien menace, and yet for some reason, he strung up and skinned one of the deputies. But.. for what reason? They never showed him actually collecting a trophy? And then there was the scene where he strings up one of the heroes to use as bait for the Aliens. Only... there were like a half-dozen humans already in the building—in the next room. The Aliens were already coming to get them. Why would he even need to string one up? Gah. Nevermind.

28 Weeks Later
I only included this movie to contrast it with the original film—which was better in every regard. This was, to put it bluntly, a frustrating piece of crap. I didn't even have a problem with the overall story of trying to re-settle England or even with the idea of another plague breaking out (afterall, if a plague DIDN'T break out, you'd have no movie). What got me was the absolute stupidity of the military in attempting to contain an outbreak. Yes. That's right. You have an immediately contagious disease, spread by direct contact. So what do you do when it starts breaking out? You bunch ALL the civilians together in one, dark room, and then hope some stupid kid doesn't have access to the freaking DOOR to the place—and hope that same stupid kid doesn't let his obviously infected dad inside. Oops! All the military needed to do was have people lock themselves into wherever they were, individually. The zombies weren't superhumanly strong. Even if they COULD bash down doors, it would take some time. And in the meanwhile, the military could move in and kill any of the zombies that were on the loose. End of story. But no. That didn't happen. Movies are scary when you identify with the people suffering through the horrors. But when they bring it upon themselves through stupidity, it is impossible for me to be sympathetic. It's just frustrating.

I Am Legend
I wanted to like this movie more than I did. The visuals of a post-apocalypse and deserted New York were striking—stunning even. The look into the life of a lone survivor and his dog was great, too—sad and frightening. The slow realization that the Vampires were smart...or starting to regain their intelligence was scary, too. And yet, overall, I was kind of 'meh' about the film. And I don't know why. Part of it has to do with the dog dying, I think. It was too sad. Sniff.

Resident evil: Extinction
Another frustrating zombie movie! Still, I liked it a lot better than 28 Weeks Later. The post-apocalyptic convoy thing was pretty dang cool, as were the ruins and the like. But again, overall, the plot was just...bleh. At least most of the survivors were semi-intelligent in their actions. I really HATED the one black guy who got bitten, though. Selfish bastard. He KNEW he was infected. At that point, I would have just come clean and either had my friends kill me off, or I'd just head off on my own, so I wouldn't hurt any of them. But Noooooo. Jerk. 

I went into this movie with low expectations. Afterall, its based on a freaking kid's cartoon from the 80's. As far as I was concerned, if it looked cool and had explosions and car-chases and giant robot battles, I was going to be happy. And this movie delivered all of that—and Megan Fox. Not bad at all. Of course, it didn't hurt that I went to this movie with a bunch of my co-workers—most of whom were guys who grew up with the transformers cartoon like I did. It was good, mindless fun—and strangely enough, it seemed to have the same effect on me and several of my co-workers. We were so pumped-up after leaving the theatre that we all kind of 'lead-footed' it home that night. Heh.

I'll admit, I mainly watched this movie to look at Rhona Mitra. That aside, it wasn't a great movie, but it wasn't all bad, either. It reminded me a lot of Escape from New York, right down to the protagonist having only one eye. 

Star Trek
Already delved into this one in a recent post, so I won't belabor it here. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed the movie a lot, despite its glaring plot holes. It was good enough to get my hopes up for the franchise—and that's something none of the other movies have been able to do since Star Trek VI.

Terminator: Salvation
While it was much better than T3, and much better than I thought could come from a hack director like McG, it still falls short of the high standard set by Cameron in the first two movies. Particularly annoying in the plot of the movie was the stupidity and inefficiency of Skynet. I mean, if it KNEW John Connor was coming to rescue Kyle Reece, why didn't it just have a bomb waiting for him. Or a hundred terminators instead of one unarmed one. For that matter, why didn't it just kill Kyle Reece, thus retroactively aborting Connor then and there. For that matter, how the hell did Skynet know who Kyle Reece was or what he looked like? Nevermind. The action was okay. I didn't hate it.