Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Notes While Reading/Watching Various Things

Keep On The Borderlands:

Third person view meant either to put you in the position of one of the adventurers or show you their butts. Monster stands on egg, shot with arrow. Apparently simultaneously with some guy in red Bowie pants shooting someone off the canvas to the left. Blue nosed baboon in armor fighting my mom's ex-boyfriend. Pretty purple tree by Bob Ross in foreground. None of its roots are in the ground. What the fuck?

If I knew nothing else about this module, I would never ever buy it. "Keep" is not as exciting as "Evil maze" and "Borderlands" is not as exciting as, well, any other word, pretty much, except "Shadowfell" which word it is way more exciting than and which word WOTC replaced it with when they redid this module because "Shadowfell", like 80% of all post TSR D&D neologisms sounds like a band that some girl you went out with dated the keyboard player of before she decided the fit-of-alcoholic-rage-to-orgasms-provided ratio was too high to justify keeping it up. Also all the people on the cover look like they're made of Gummi.

Let us, however, not judge books by covers. Even if it does say "It has been specifically designed for use by beginning Dungeon Masters so that they may begin play with a minimum of preparations" concerning which claim: Really? Really?

Now there's a map. It looks like a big blue dungeon map with a plesiosaur swimming up under it.

Now a picture of some guys who don't seem to be taking their job very seriously fighting an owlbear. That's...that's fine. I guess. Sure. Let's not bait the owlbear fans just yet. Journalistic integrity does force me to point out that his thing looks more like a fat ostrich in a gorilla suit with a tail.

The guy on the left is like "Hey I'm a halfling but this owlbear doesn't see my glaive-guisarme and I'm as tall or taller than all these humans. Fuck yeah." That's what his smile says to me.

Publishing information, typos...

" You are about to begin a journey into worlds where...adventure and heroism are the meat and drink of all who would seek their fortunes in uncommon pursuits."

Wow that's some special gibberish. And only two sentences in.

The old clustery TSR typesetting has a oozing quality I expect some enterprising graphic designer to build an ap to ape any day now. Every OSR blogger will use it. Unless their name is "Clint", because then if they wrote it in all caps it would look like it said...something else.

Certainly there are stout fighters, mighty magic-users, wily thieves, and courageous clerics who will make their mark in the magical lands of D&D@ adventure. You, however, are above even the greatest of these, for as DM you are to become the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow


Page 5, picture: Elric turning man in bellbottoms and birkenstocks upside down while hydrocephalic child and homosexual wearing a codpiece and a wingy-helmet backwards watch. Inexplicable.

Yet again, Gary purposely opens a section with a total linguistic fuckwreck
"The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures."

If they're metaphorically "raping" the riches then why...forget it, this can't end anywhere good.

And, this is, technically, meant to be read aloud to players. On their first adventure. So yeah, rape already. No wonder the Jesus Moms threw a fit.

Me myself personally I would be throwing a fit because holy hell five paragraphs of read-aloud text. "Farms and towns have become less frequent and travelers few. The road has climbed higher as you..." This intro would be two pages 12-point double-spaced and it's longer than every single entry in this blog.

It's funny how they always capitalize KEEP ("information from inhabitants of the KEEP might be gained by player characters.") Try talking like that.

There is a table of rumors. The interesting ones--there's a wizard, there's a princess, there's awesome treasure, bugbears fear dwarves, and a translation of a goblin phrase--aren't true. All the ones that say "standard D&D monster x is in y part of the caves" are true.

Now some Gygaxian descripto-blocks. There are always 5-8 (d4 + 4) lackeys inside tending to horses and gear. Each is unarmored (AC 9) but can fight with various available weapons (pitch forks and thezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz While painfully inefficient, these can maybe be excused by the need to lay things out in a beginners module "see, nothing in this tower is surprising or hard to invent or very creative, a 12 year old could do this--you're 12, go make your own!" and they're practically haiku compared to the let's-pad-swatting-a-fly-into-a-12-page-mini-sandbox lunacy you got later.

On page 9, you get the first awesome thing in the KEEP. The priest...he's a jovial talkative 18 hp fuck laden with magic items with two creepy silent assistants "He is outspoken in his hatred of evil, and if approached by a party of adventurers seeking the Caves of Chaos, he will certainly accompany them. " And then betray them.

Thus teaching the PCs several valuable lessons about bringing along henchmen whose stats are listed in the book, religious people who are "outspoken in their hatred of evil" and trusting the thief when he suggests backstabbing anyone with magic items as soon as they have the chance. Gary doesn't say the priest in his "well-appointed and comfortably furnished" chambers with his "cozy fire" and his "robust" young acolytes is likewise outspoken in his hatred of gay buttsex but I think we can consider it implied. Dude, it's ok, I can ask, you can tell, times have changed, step into the goddamn 10th century, evil priest.

Now back to the standard descriptibricks. The rooms have normal furnishings, but a jar hidden in the smith’s bedroom holds 27 electrum pieces. Thanks for that. Thanks so much for that.

Many people have pointed out the following incongruity: despite the fact that the module is so handholdy it re-explains everything about how to DM from the original books--going so far as to generously waste a few pages re-printing the rules--and tells the PCs they're heroes and they're going to explore the caves and fight bad evil and what-all, it doesn't at all mention the fact that the KEEP itself is fucking loaded with treasure and described in numismatic and fortificatory detail nobody would need to know unless they were breaking into it. Everybody has all kindsa theories about why it's there--like it's just because Gary gave everything stats and potions or he was expecting the DM to run a bandits-attack-and-PCs-defend adventure (suggested in the module) or because the KEEP itself is the secret objective of the module or some other thing. It's the Hath not a Jew hands speech of D&D lore. At any rate, planning and pulling a heist on the KEEP has always seemed like a lot more stylish of an adventure to DM than watching people killing a lot of stacks of hit points with slightly different heads.

Then we have the section with the stuff-between-the-KEEP-and-the-Caves in the wilderness. As everybody always points out, his is all very good and right because it makes the KEEP into a proper mini-sandbox, but I just keep thinking there is so much goddamn empty space on the map where you could've written in all this information so I wouldn't have to turn back here.
"10 Lizard men AC 5, HD 2 +1, hp 12,10,9, 8,7, 5, #AT 1, D 2-7, MV (20’)" then a little arrow. How hard is that? But that's probably just me.

Another minor mystery: "One by one, males will come out of the marked opening and attack the party." What is this, Missile Command? How did lizard men not die 3 months into the Hyborian Age with this grasp of tactics?

Picture: bloated tree with weird retro-Tiki Saul Steinberg-looking guy hiding behind it.

Now the caves themselves. After 287 words of read-aloud text we have the best things about the caves: notes on monsters ransoming players, learning from the PCs' tactics, etc.

HOBGOBLIN LAIR: Skulls are lined along the walls, and several are affixed to the oaken door to highlight a warning written in common runes: “Come in - we’d like to have you for dinner!” Only the gods of the Hindus have enough faces and enough hands with enough palms on them to put together an appropriate response to this. Welcome to a magical land of pure imagination.

The Debt (american version of Israeli spy movie)(spoilers!)

-Mission: 1. Disguise yourself. 2. Get into enemy territory. 3. Kidnap foe. 4. Return him/her/ it to home.

-Practice remembering your stupid cover story.

-Returning is by far the hardest part.

-Guards here at this time, do this, hide here, chew away fence slowly during these intervals, then hop on this mode of transportation at exactly this time.

-The target needs to be kept alive for a long time and doesn't want to be.

-The cover story arranged by the NPCs is embarrassing but arranged so's it's easier than anything else.

-Failure to perform mission will bring the shit down on PCs, but patrons have no way of knowing they failed. Are PCs willing to falsely accept credit? Probably. However, there may be consequences down the line.

-Lie PCs tell about their exploits is inspiring tale of heroism to their friends and family.

-Old army pal shows up with a "Hey, remember that job we did back in the day? Well..."

-Innocent NPCs wander in while PCs are sneaking around.

-Magic candle detects when things have been recently touched.

The Brotherhood of the Wolf (french 18th-century kung fu movie)(spoilers!)

-Locals unable to describe target of monster-hunt properly

-Toughs hired to sort out same problem as PCs terrorize locals

-Naturalist and bodyguard as core of party

-Classical statues with boar heads and goat heads

-Fancies ask PCs about their previous adventures (over dinner?). Think descriptions of owlbears, giant beavers, etc. are high-larious.

-Locals subject PCs to boxing/wrestling/pankration contest, 2-on-1, then 3-on-1.

-Everybody has an animal totem, though they don't know it. Someone can read them. Some are funny.

-Twisting animal horn used as stock/stabiliser on crossbow or firearm.

-Handheld "Wolverine claw" as melee weapon

-Church service interrupted by hysterical villager reporting monster attack.

-PCs are taken off the job and replaced. However, the fruits of success are too good to give up.

-Person poisons someone with slow-acting poison every morning, then gives them antidote every night. Keeps them around.

(-Love interest turns out to be hot, scantily-clad witch? Like you hadn't already thought of that.)

-Local holymen suspicious/jealous of party cleric.

-Jerk NPC tries to bribe/blackmail/threaten PCs into pretending they successfully completed their mission, even though they didn't.

-Same NPC shows up regularly--after every delve/day of searching, etc.

-Creepy flesh-golem-armor sheathes mundane trained war animal.

-Villains' secret lair detectable via detective-style "where on the map is the center of this mayhem?" inductive reasoning.

-Fast, simple, but difficult-to-execute ritual will buff PCs for final battle.

-Feign death potion.

-Woman's fan with blades attached.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail

It takes place in 932 ad. I did not remember that.

God looks like a terrorist.

I can't tell if this movie is no longer making me laugh because I've seen it so many times and heard every line in it a million times or because it's just old.

Ok, Tim is still funny. As are mooses.

Your Highness:

-How busy are we? So busy we didn't see this. Or Sucker Punch. Maybe you can imagine me not seeing Sucker Punch. But Mandy not seeing Sucker Punch? That's crazy...

-Mandy: unrated version? Z: it probably has tits. Mandy: Let's watch the unrated version...

-halfling jokes never get old. they're short!

-The tracker henchmen's Amadeus hair is always funny

--dude, he's dating belladonna?

-Seth Rogen's (NO WAIT THAT'S DANNY MCBRIDE) expressions are like half the movie

-"Magic...motherfuckers!" Please don't ruin that one for me, internet...

-"This is Fabius's 28th quest, how many have you performed?" that's so 4e

-"I hope this adventure is not too dangerous or boring"

-The part where the princess is like locked up and then the guy's all "It's Fabius, I'm here to save you!" and then is all "No! Its' me! your still a prisoner! I couldn;t keep it up, it was too mean" That's great, I don't care what you say, that's great.

-This quest sucks

-Wait was that Powerball:blind. That was d4 rounds per foe.

-that thing where the henchman betrayed him--that totally never happens to me but i always worry it will. In reality, my henchmen just show up and fight a little and die. Every time. I really hope those guys don't have a union.

-Evil wizard's feast room rocks and i want it

-This whole Martiti Sequence is noteworthy for any number of reasons:

*I realize Martiti himself--the effete, overweight, overlord of the barbarians--is supposed to be kind of So-Wrong-It's-Funny but the casting just came out Holy Hell So Off And Awkward in a weird side drawer level rarely reached by movies with budgets this big. I can barely look at the guy.

*The whole bowl-you-put-your-hand-in-and-it-comes-out-a-giant-salamander-spotted-hydra-thing-in-the-arena thing is awesome and I wouldn't be surprised if this part of the script started life as someone's way cool D&D campaign idea that they always wanted to have in a movie and then they were like, hey, let's just stick it in this stoner movie, otherwise my genius will never see the light of day. In the alternate universe where Stalin never existed and "Creep" was Radiohead's last song, this thing is in a whole other, better movie with Benicio Del Toro in it.

*Jesus hot amazon chicks everywhere. Scratch that thing I said about Benicio Del Toro--there's no good reason to put guys in any movie ever.

-"Maybe some other plan, with...nets or something?" Nets are underrated. They're not even on the Type I equipment list and in Type IV--well let's not even talk about all the ways you can't use a net in Type Iv.

-Courtney rocks.

-...and he can pick pockets...

-if they were smart they woulda brought a grappling hoook so they can stand on top of the labyrinth. Seriously it's a good thing minotaurs don't know about ladders.

-And it would be awesome if jennifer connelly suddenly came around the corner.

-i see they're coming down on the side of "furry darwinistic minotaur" rather than "man-chest with nipples" greek minotaur. Perhaps for the best. If you can't beat Time Bandits don't try.

-I had a whole bunch of notes here, but they all basically boil down to: my actual D&D game where KK's character actually shoved a unicorn horn into Satine's PC's corpses' ass because she actually thought maybe that would bring her back to life is way better than the string of unicorn horn/dick jokes that start here and run til the end of the movie because someone in Hollywood thought they were actually funny.

-Dead henchmen dies roughly the same way kk's last dog did

-it's much less funny once the guy gets the unicorn sword

-ok, having 3 mothers is pretty disturbing

-smacking them into each other so they turn into one is a tactic from a video game called Disgaea

-seriously are all stoners this obsessed with dicks in their ass? ok, the ones I know are, but it's their job.

-the story necessities made it worse--waiting for whatshername to fall in love w/ whatshisname, and for whathisname to learn to be a hero and to love his brother...blah blah. Nobody cares about your goddamn predestined character arc.


  1. Rape means to seize and carry off by force. As in loot, rape and pillage, which are all synonyms, or as in rapine, which is the noun form. Same root word, I believe, as raptor. So there's one of your three dozen complaints assuaged.

  2. @john

    Like I said: "this can't end anywhere good"

  3. I had much the same response to Your Highness as you did. The whole magic-hand-and-unsettling-fat-bloke thing seemed like it had wandered in from another, better film.

  4. Agreed with both you and kelvingreen. The barbarian's hand-hydra was way too amazing for Your Highness.

  5. Thanks for reminding me of one of the best fight scenes in movie history - The Minotaur in Time-Bandits.

  6. I've always wondered if KEEP was secretly an anagram.

  7. @blizack

    all white people look the same to me.

    Thanks, changed.

  8. B/X Blackrazor had a great suggestion in one of his blog posts for breathing life into old modules. Take the rumor list. All of the ones it says are false - those are now true. All of the ones it says are true - those are now false.


  9. My main reaction after watching Your Highness was sadness that Natalie Portman was in it. What happened? Maybe she was stoned. Course, I never watched that sixth Star Wars movie, and mostly remember her from the Professional:

    Natalie: Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?
    Léon: Always like this.

  10. Natalie Portman apparently chooses film roles the way Michael Caine does: whoever pays. ("No Strings Attached"? Aston Kutcher? Really?)

    BTW, the Minotaur from last weeks Doctor Who wasn't bad either. Praise him.

  11. God in Holy Grail was W.G.Grace, who was apparently like the Babe Ruth of cricket in the UK.