Tuesday, May 30, 2017

POTC: Dead Men Tell No Tales - A Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales opened this past weekend to a massive $324 million opening. So it's a real pity that the movie is such a clunker. None of the performances are particularly good, the story is a rehash of the same old, same old and the villain of the piece is completely two-dimensional.
Johnny Depp returns to familiar territory with Captain Jack Sparrow, but his performance in DMTNT is completely lacking in interest or the zest that the character had in previous installments.
Javier Bardem's Captain Salazar had the potential to be genuinely creepy, but his performance was so ham-fisted and blunt that any menace was removed by the slightly constipated expression the character maintained throughout the production.  And honestly, considering what he had to work with, constipation may have been preferable to other reactions.
Brenton Thwaites is one of the newcomers to the franchise. He plays Henry Turner, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann.  He's certainly good looking, but he brings absolutely nothing to the role besides pouty lips and puppy-dog eyes. The role of Henry could have been played by any other vaguely hot blonde actor working in Hollywood. Yes, his character is that bland.
The other newcomer to the cast is Kaya Scodelario, who plays Carina Smyth. There's actually some interesting things about her character, and she does play a linchpin role in the movie. However, the character is never really utilized as anything more than a nag and a piece of set dressing.
And finally, we have the return and exit of Geoffrey Rush as Captain Hector Barbossa. I'll admit, I have an enormous affection for Barbossa's character. I was secretly hoping that he might get a spin-off movie, but chances seem slim that it will happen now.  Rush does what he can with the character, but even Barbossa feels stilted and ineffectual in this movie. Mores the pity, considering it's probably his last appearance in the franchise.
As for the plot? Its a paint-by-numbers plot that feels squashed, as if they were trying to cram three movies worth of ideas into a single film.  It doesn't drag. Quiet the opposite. DMTNT rushes from one scene to the next with a sort of spiritless energy that's more tiring than exhilarating.
There were some nice special effects, but the movie didn't even have the benefit of gorgeous scenery. If you're filming in Australia and New Zealand, why not take advantage of the scenery?
So, is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales worth seeing?
In my humble opinion, I would say 'No.' I would skip going to see this in the movie, and maybe catch it on DVD or on-demand.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd probably give this film a 2.
And, in all honesty, at this point they should either kill the franchise (unlikely given the cash it's made so far), or spin it in a new direction.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Computer Woes

Hello, gentle readers.
Well, I was wondering if I should continue writing up more stuff for Lux Tenebris and then, this afternoon my computer decides to die on me.
The stupid fucking piece of shit.
Thank God I backed up most everything on a flashdrive. Take this as friendly advice, ladies and gentlemen: always back up your stuff. Always.
The only thing I lost that I'm sort of pissed about is a short story I was working on. I was a few pages in and really hitting my stride. Now, alas, that story has sailed off to the Land of Ghosts & Winds.
I think I can reproduce most of it, from memory, but it won't have the same flavor. Thinking about it, though, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.
If I sound calm and chill about this, I'm really not.
I'm actually kind of pissed this happened. That computer was barely a year old and now it's kaput and I had to go out and get a new one. Which means loading all my software on yet another system and hoping its backwards compatible.
I miss my old computer. :(

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lux Tenebris: Grey Volesor


STR     20
DEX    18
CON   20
INT     12
WIS     14
CHA   09
HP       213
AC      19 (Mithril Plat + FS: Defense)

Size. Gray Volesor is eighteen feet tall. His size is Huge.
Speed. Gray Volesor’s base walking speed is 45 feet.
Fey Ancestry.
Mask of the Wild.
Languages: Common, Elvish, Sylvan, Giant, Draconic

Proficiencies: +6
Armor: All armor, shields
Weapons: Simple, Martial
Tools: Herbalism kit
Saves: Strength, Constitution
Skills: Athletics, Medicine, Religion, Stealth, Survival

* * *
FS: Defense  (+1 AC in Armor)
Second Wind
Action Surge
Martial Archetype: Champion
- Improved Critial
- Remarkable Athlete
Extra Attack (+2)
* * *
Favored Enemy: Giants, Dragons
Natural Explorer: Mountain, Forest
FS: Archery (+2 Attack w/Ranged Weapons)
Ranger Archetype: Hunter
- Hunter’s Prey: Giant Killer
- Defensive Tactics: Steel Will
Primeval Awareness

# of Spells: 5
Spell DC: 16
Atk Mod: +8
L1(4): Detect Magic, Hail of Thorns, Hunter’s Mark
L2(3): Lesser Restoration, Pass Without a Trace

Sharpshooter’s Bow.  Magic Longbow, very rare, gives +3 to attack rolls. Ranged, 150/600 ft. +9 to hit; deals 1d8 +4 piercing; heavy, 2-handed.

Giant-slayer. Magic longsword, rare, gives +1 to attack and damage rolls. When it strikes a giant, the giant takes an extra 2d6 slashing and must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or fall prone. The longsword affects all creatures of the giant type, including etins and trolls. +12 to hit; deals 1d8 +6 slashing; versatiles (1d10).

Mace of Smiting. Magic mage, rare. You gain +1 to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. The bonus increases to +3 when you use the mace to attack a construct. When you roll a 20 on an attack made with the mace, the target takes an extra 7 bludgeoning damage, or an extra 14 bludgeoning damage if it’s a construct. If a construct has 25 hit points or less after taking this damage, it is destroyed. +12 to hit; deals 1d6 + 6 bludgeoning.

Mithril Plate. Magic armor. Uncommon. AC 18.

An explorer’s pack, a scroll case stuffed full of notes from your observations, a winter blanket, a set of common clothes, an herbalism kit.

There is a rugged path that zigzags through the Goblinteats, a path only the nimblest of mountain goats could traverse. Nevertheless, it is the one accessible path into Arinshrae from the east and set to guard it is Grey Volesor.
Eighteen feet tall with ebon hair and gray-white skin, Grey Volesor bears a superficial resemblance to a stone giant. However, despite his size, his features are elven, almost delicate. All except for his eyes. Grey Volesor’s eyes are like two pits of shadow, black upon black, with neither white nor iris to mark that ebon perfection.
Known as the Guardian of the Eastern Gate, Grey Volesor has protected his path for centuries. None pass him and live, without his queen’s approval.  He is a formidable opponent. Strong and tough, armored from neck to feet in mithril plate and armed with magic weapons. He is a deadly shot with his bow, and a true dragonslayer, having slain the blue dragon, Behirta, in single combat with that same bow.
No one knows how long Grey Volesor has manned his post. Some say he was exiled here for some sin or crime beyond the pale. Others say he vollunteered, seeking an escape from the queen’s court, and the lonely solace of mountain and sky. Nothing is known for certain about Grey Volesor’s past except for one thing: he is one of the Nightshade Queen’s children. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

In The End There Was Light

There was noise and light.
Thunderous. Confusing.
Then gentle silence.

A hand lifted you
out of your bloody body,
out of this poor world.

You wept for your friend,
your family, all those things
which would not happen.

The world wept with you,
even as you drifted away,
and your tears soon stopped.

The world turns to light,
your fears and tears fade away,
and you are at peace.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lux Tenebris: Alinshrae

Ah! Alinshrae! ‘The Land of Shadows.’ A knife-like region running along the western borders of Alindor, Alindema and Hylondek. Rising above Alinshrae are the mountains known commonly as the Goblinteats. Between the mountains, the dense forest canopies and the almost perpetual cloud cover affecting the region, Alinshrae is well named. Sunny days are rare in Alinshrae, which is just fine with the residents.
Alinshrae has always been an independent region. Even when the Kings of the South ruled from Goldcastle, Alinshrae never fell under the power of the Phoenix Throne. The woodlands were flooded with fayblood creatures, there were hags and giants in the mountains and far too many goblins to ever accurately count. And as frightening as these creatures were, standing head and shoulders above them all was the ruler of Alinshrae, the Nightshade Queen.

Artists Interpretation of the Nightshade Queen 

Rumors abound about the Nightshade Queen. Some say she’s an immortal sorceress of vast power, who survived the Dissolution of Vorfel and found sanctuary in Nur. Others say that she’s one of the archfey, exiled from both the Summer and Winter Courts for her excesses. No one knows for sure and Her Majesty isn’t inclined to answer questions regarding her origins.
Everyone who has seen her, however, agrees that she is breathtakingly beautiful. Described as having chalk-white skin, ruby red lips, hair like ebony and eyes like dark green glass, more than one admirer has lost his heart and his sanity for love of the queen.  Infamy and glamor cling to the Nightshade Queen the way flower sticks to a baker’s fingers.
They say she was there when King Rochard, the last King of the South, was struck down by his bastard half-brother, Athen Blackmantle, at the Battle of Gray Hill.  They say she flung the poison dart that killed Blackmantle and ended the Phoenix Kingdom. That was four hundred years ago. Her reputation has only grown.
Is it any wonder that her neighbors regard Alinshrae and its queen with a wary gaze. Most of the other nations gave up trying to annex parts of Alinshrae centuries ago. The only one that has persisted has been Alindema, so that a bitter enmity exists between the two countries. Or, at least, it exists on the part of Alindema and its High Magisters.
Although Alinshrae has little contact with the outside world, there is some trade across the borders. And the Nightshade Queen has been known to extend invitations to scholars, sages and entertainers to visit her court. 
When the Draconic Empire turned its legions toward the south, there was some concern over how Alinshrae would react. However, when a company of Draconic soldiers marched into Alinshrae, they vanished and have not been seen since.  Intelligence acquired from the Draconic Legions suggest that their armies were ordered to avoid Alinshrae after similar disappearances began to undermine morale.
Today, Alinshrae remains complete unto itself. In the aftermath of the war, Alindema has repositioned its troops along the border they share with the Land of Shadows, but whether this is a precursor to an attack or saber-rattling on their part remains unknown. If Alindema were to attack Alinshrae, it is doubtful they would find allies among their neighbors. Indeed, certain factions in Hylondek might actually ally with the Nightshade Queen to further their own goals.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Comic Recs for 5/17/2017

Astro City #44
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Kurt Busiek's Astro City.  Part of its appeal is the fact that is an uncomplicated universe, not bogged down by longwinded stories that have no longterm effects. Another reason is that even after twentysomething years, Astro City still manages to charm and surprise. This issue is a perfect example of that. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Mirror Broken #1
Okay, who doesn't love an Evil Universe? Star Trek set up the premise for the Mirror Universe, where the good guys are bad and the bad guys good, way back in the original series.  We saw more of it, strangely enough, during Deep Space 9's run, but we've never really gotten a look at the setting using the Next Generation cast.  So, ST: TNG Broken Mirror is an interesting little book. The story pulls you in pretty quickly and the art is surprisingly lovely.  Also, there is humor in this book, which surprised me. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Re Lux Tenebris

I just realized that with the writeup of Countess Leona Tierce I have written one hundred pages of background data for the Lux Tenebris campaign world.
How did that happen?
Lux Tenebris started as a one-off, a riff off of Critical Role's Vox Machina. Somehow, it grew into something bigger and stranger.
I don't know. You be the judge.
I'm just shocked it's gotten this big!

Lux Tenebris: Countess Leona Tierce

COUNTESS LEONA TRIECE, L8 Noble Human Mastermind

STR     14 (+2)
DEX    16 (+3)
CON   14 (+2)
INT     20 (+5)
WIS     15 (+2)
CHA   16 (+3)
HP       59
AC      14 (Leather armor)

Languages: Common, Dwarvish, Elvish, Halfling, Sylvan, Thieves’ Cant,

Proficiencies: +3
Armor: Light
Weapons: Simple, Hand x-bows, Longswords, Rapiers, Shortswords
Tools: Cards, Chess, Thieves’ tools, Disguise kit, Forgery kit
Saves: Dexterity +6, Intelligence +8
Skills: Deception +9, History +11, Insight +7, Intimidation +6, Investigation +8, Persuasion +9

Position of Privilege
* * *
Sneak Attack
Cunning Action
Roguish Archetype: Mastermind
- Master of Intrigue
- Master of Tactics
Uncanny Dodge

Rapier. Melee. +6 to hit; deals 1d6 +3 slashing. Finesse.
Shortsword. Melee. +6 to hit; deals 1d6 +3 piercing. Finesse, Light.
Daggers (2). Melee. +6 to hit; deals 1d4 +3 piercing. Ranged, 20/60. Finesse, Light, Thrown.
Leather armor. Light armor. AC 11 + Dex Mod.
An explorer’s pack, thieves tools, a set of fine clothes, a scroll of pedigree, a signet ring and a purse with 25 gp.

Countess Leona Tierce has not had an easy life. The youngest of four children, her father was killed during the Crucible Regime. Her mother went mad and her idiot brothers got themselves killed in the most appalling manners possible, leaving Leona with the title and the obligation to recover Hylondek. It’s not a responsibility that she ever wanted, but it turns out that Leona is quite good at ruling. She’s created a stable region within the country, and has established a network of spies and assassins that she uses with care and precision. Although she has her own personal guard, the countess has also employed reputable mercenary companies to protect and expand her interests.
There are rumors the countess has extended feelers to the neighboring countries, to Alindema and Alindrast and even sent an emissary to Alinshrae, looking to forge alliances. She doesn’t bother reaching out to any of the petty warlords who have torn Hylondek apart, she knows they can’t be trusted.  It is said that the countess has even met with agents of the Veils and the Black Glove, drawing them into the byzantine politics of the region.
Her detractors claim that Tierce has met, clandestinely, with ambassadors from the Draconic Empire, that she would ally with them in exchange for their military support. Whether this is true or not remains unclear.
More alarming to many are the whispers that the Countess Tierce has sought an alliance with Alinshrae’s Nightshade Queen. Although this could be a ploy, to draw the High Magister of Alindema into her camp, any sort of diplomacy with Alinshrae is frought with danger.
Of course, most of these stories are just rumors. There’s no proof to any of them. However, if even one of them was true, it could tilt the balance of power throughout the Southern Palatines. Which, in the end, may be just what the countess is after.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lux Tenebris: Orax Half-Blood

ORAX HALF-BLOOD, L9 Half-Orc Barbarin Soldier

STR     18 (+4)
DEX    10 (+0)
CON   14 (+2)
INT     12 (+1)
WIS     11 (+0)
CHA   08 (-1)
HP       79
AC      12 (Unarmored Defense)

Relentless Endurance
Savage Attacks
Languages: Common, Orc

Proficiencies: +4
Armor: Light, Medium, Shields
Weapons: Simple, Martial
Tools: Dice, Vehicles: Land
Saves: Strength +8, Constitution +6
Skills: Athletics +8, Intimidation +3, Perception +4, Survival +4

Military rank
* * *
Rage (4/+3)
Unarmored Defense
Reckless Attack
Danger Sense
Primal Path: Path of the Berserker
- Frenzy
- Mindless Rage
Extra Attack
Fast Movement (40 ft)
Feral Instinct
Brutal Critical

Greataxe. Melee; +8 to hit; deals 1d12 +4 slashing. Heavy, 2-handed.
Handaxes(2). Melee; +8 to hit; deals 1d6 +4 slashing. Ranged, 20/60 ft. +4 to hit.
Javelins(4). Ranged, 30/120. +4 to hit; deals 1d6 piercing.
An explorer’s pack, a rank insignia, a polished silver spoon, a set of bone dice, a set of common clothes, a belt pouch w/10 gp.

Hylondek’s turbulent history has attracted all manner of people to the small country. Some come to help, others come to take advantage of the chaos, and some come to fight. Orax Half-Blood came to Hylondek as part of a mercenary troup contracted by one of the local factions. The rest of the troup is pretty much dead and/or scattered now, but Orax remains.  Actually, the half-orc has thrived in Hylondek’s tumultuous atmosphere.  In fact, he is now the commander of his own mercenary team, a group called Rax’s Wreckers. When the Draconic Empire attempted to invade the South, Orax traveled north to fight them, under the command of Alexander Iltorwen III. He didn’t do it for free, of course, but he didn’t charge as much as he could have either.
Orax has since returned to Hylondek, where he has begun to consider carving out his own patch. He’s currently working for the Countess Leona Triece, the last surviving heir to the county. The half-orc thinks that if he were to marry the countess, then he could have a legitimate claim to Hylondek.  Orax hasn’t acted on his thoughts, but they are foremost in his mind.

Comic Recs for 5/10/2017

This is the final issue of Future Quest and it's been a helluva ride. Part of the appeal of this series has been nostalgia, at least for me, but the book should be easily accessible to most people. Even if your only exposure to Space Ghost is reruns of his 'talk show' on Cartoon Network.  The characters are nicely developed, the story is engaging and this final issue ties things up nicely. There's even talk of more FutureQuest, down the road.  If that happens, I'll definitely be there.

Being a fan of D&D, I feel a bit guilty saying that the Dragon Age comics put out by Dark Horse have been blowing their D&D counterparts out of the freakin' water.  Truth hurts.
Dragon Age: Knight Errant is no exception to that experience. In this first issue, we are introduced to an itinerant knight and his elf squire, as they arrive in the city of Kirkwall. And while Ser Hawthorne regales a dinner party with tales of daring do, unknown to him, his elf squire, Vaea, slips out to pursue her sideline as a thief.
This first issue sets things up quite nicely. We get a good intro to Ser Hawthorne and Vaea, as well as their motivations for what they do, and it ends with enough of a cliffhanger that I'll probably pick up the second issue.

Honorable mentions this week go to Scooby Apocalypse #13, where the Mystery Machine gang has an unpleasant encounter with Velma's brother, Rufus, and someone new joins them on their quest to save the world. Also, the monsters hold their own version of the Burning Man Festival.

Also getting a mention this week is Rock Candy Mountain #2. Things remain intriguing. We meet some new characters: FBI Agent Babs Bardoux, the Black Orchid, a fighter called Hundred Cats and the King of Humblebrechdt County, who just happens to be a chicken. Our protagonist, Jackson, kicks ass in an underground fight club, while the Devil remains hot on his heels and Slim just tries to make sense of everything.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lux Tenebris: Rose & Thorn

Rose and her brother, Thorn, are twins, although this is not obvious to the casual observer. Rose is a beautiful human girl, with flowing red-gold hair, dark eyes and a peaches-n-cream complexion. Thorn is a red-skinned tiefling, with ebon goat’s horns emerging from his brow, black eyes, pronounced canine teeth and ears that taper to knife-points.
The twins were born in Hylondek to a ragtag family of merchants, bards and adventurers. Their early childhood was idyllic and the twins were inseperable. But their fortunes took a harsh turn after their thirteenth birthday, when revolution swept Hylondek and the Crucible, a brutal, human-centric regime, took over the country. The twins’ family tried to flee to Alindrast but were stopped and imprisoned by the new regime. Rose and Thorn watched as their parents were crucified. Afterwards, the twins were separated. Rose was sent to a Crucible convent-school where the sisters attempted to scourge her family’s sins with frequent beatings. Thorn was sold into slavery, forced to fight in the arena for the amusement of the regime’s leaders.
After a year in the convent, Rose was approached by a devil with a bargain. She accepted, agreeing to perform a certain number of services for him, in exchange for power. Using her new abilities, she fled the convent and found Thorn. Rescuing him from the arena, the two joined a resistance movement and were instrumental in bringing down the Crucible regime.
Afterwards, the twins left Hylondek, to hunt down and execute the Crucible leaders who had managed to escape. When the Draconic Invasion threatened the Southern Palatines, Rose and Thorn offered their services to Count Orziri as assassins and spies. The count accepted their offer and it was Rose and Thorn who brought him news of the tarrasque summoning ceremony.
Since the Draconic Legions have retreated from the South, the twins have resumed hunting for the Crucible leaders. They have received reliable information that some have fled to Shrike, which is now held by the Draconic Empire. The twins are making plans to infiltrate Shrike, and have made tentative contact with the resistance movement within the city. Their experiences liberating Hylondek would be a boon to the Shrike resistance, and the resources of the resistance would assist the twins enormously in hunting down their targets.

* * * * *

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Lux Tenebris: Starblood

ELZAR STARBLOOD, L16 High Elf Hermit (L3 Fighter/L13 Paladin)

STR     16 (+3)
DEX    10 (+0)
CON   13 (+1)
INT     10 (+0)
WIS     15 (+2)
CHA   18 (+4)
HP       116
AC      20 (Plate armor w/shield)

Fey Ancestry
Languages: Common, Elvish, +2

Proficiencies: +5
Armor: All armor, shields
Weapons: Simple, Martial
Tools: Herbalism kit
Saves: Strength +8, Constitution +6
Skills: Arcana +5, Athletics +5, Intimidation +9, Medicine +5, Persuasion +9, Religion +5

* * *
Fighting Style: Protection
Second Wind
Action Surge
Martial Archetype: Champion
- Improved Critical
* * *
Divine Sense
Lay on Hands
Fighting Style: Dueling
Divine Smite
Divine Health
Sacred Oath: Oath of Devotion
- Oath Spells
- Channel Divinity: Sacred Weapon, Turn the Unholy
- Aura of Devotion
Extra Attack
Aura of Protection
Aura of Courage
Improved Divine Smite

# of Spells: 10
L1(4): protection from good and evil, sanctuary, bless, command, detect magic, divine favor
L2(3): lesser restoration, zone of truth, find steed, magic weapon
L3(3): beacon of hope, dispel magic, crusader’s mantle, dispel magic, remove curse
L4(1): freedom of movement, guardian of faith, death ward

Longsword. Melee. +8 to hit; deals 1d8 +5 slashing. Versatile (1d10).
Handaxes (2). Melee; +8 to hit; deals 1d6 +3 slashing. Ranged; 20/60 ft. +5 to hit; deals 1d6 slashing.
Plate Armor. Heavy armor. AC 18. Min STR 15. Disadvantage on Stealth.
Shield. AC +2.
An explorer’s pack, a scroll case, a winter blanket, a set of common clothes, an herbalism kit, 5gp

Elzar Starblood, Paladin-General of the Iornean Church, is something of a mystery. He arrived at the House of Wonders years ago, answering the call of the Goddess of Magic herself. Since his investiture as Paladin-General, Starblood has served well and faithfully, defending the faith and Alindema from various aggressors. Still, rumors about Starblood’s history abound. Some say he lived as a hermit or monk or mercenary. Some say he’s one of the Nightshade Queen’s sons. Others, that he’s the exiled bastard of a Goldsun noble elf and a forgotten daughter of the Mornae family.
A taciturn man, Starblood isn’t the sort to invite questions or waist breath on idle chit-chat. Since the Draconic invasion, he has been busy, ensuring the safety and security of Alindema. He was part of the group that infiltrated the Draconic lines and disrupted the tarrasque summoning. Afterwards, he slaughtered the Draconic mages and returned to Alindema.

Recently, the High Magister dispatched Starblood westward, to Alinshrae, on a secret mission. No one knows why but previous rumors and current circumstances have led many to speculate that Alindema may be going to war with Alinshrae.