Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts: Piracy through the ages

Pirates. As long as there’s been people to obsess over them, these nautical ne’er-do-wells have pillaged, shot, and sailed their way into both our hearts and our wallets. I thought I’d veer from my usual inclination today and talk a bit more in-depth about these dastardly lads. This decision sparked when a former associate of mine remarked ‘It sure would have been nice to be free like the pirates past.’
So, while he roasts over an open flame I thought I’d venture out onto the network of ignorance and make sure people know what’s what. Because I’m such a good guy. On with the show!

Nothing quite like a bit of a history delve, and what better way to start then by going all the way back to..

The Antiques

I don’t mean your grandmother’s old vase, though it may certainly apply as a pirate’s treasure by itself. No, I mean much further back then a simple purchase at some lofty old store.

While we can assume piracy has been around since man first discovered that sticking a sail on a long floating piece of wood made it float faster, the first recorded acts of piracy came from no other place than Greece.

Yes, Greece. Those freedom-loving democrat city-states that spent all day making assumptions about what sort of grape a man should eat to be at his best intellectual state were hardy pirates.

The Romans weren’t far behind, when it became time to unify the land under a single despicably organized banner. There was quite a bit of piracy going on in the Mediterranean during the rule of the various emperors, and we can only assume they had the same die-hard strategic cunning as their soldier counterparts on land.

Where did they all operate then?
The Mediterranean mostly, looting and pillaging the many coastal towns and the ships that desperately needed to transport goods from one dysfunctional city to another for the whole idea at a whole to work. They were to be found along every roman supply line however, and as far up as what was then called Britannia (Guess where it is.) was raided by Irish pirates, which I assume looked badass.

Natural predators?
Naturally, hehe. Their own people seems to have actually been their worst fears and best place of recruitment at the same time! In fact Julius Ceasar, the famous emperor himself was captured by the scurvy seadogs in 75 BC. He upheld a calm and polite attitude with his captors, and had supposedly become quite friendly with them to boot! When they set a ransom for 20 gold to release him, Ceasar himself suggested they raise it to at least 50, which the hapless pirates did. The ransom was paid, and the now released emperor raised a super-army of vengeful soldiers to destroy the pirate fleet he'd made good chums with prior to their inevitable demise. Maybe they weren't so dangerous after all.

Like this, but with more pirate.

The Vikings

Now we're talking! I know what most of you are thinking; Vikings aren't pirates, they're badass religious warriors that rape and plunder, and travel over the seas spreading fear. Oho, yes indeed, and that is exactly why they're pirates. They practically flew over the seas in well-crafted, fast and sleek ships to bring themselves over almost all of the then explored old world, and garnered a reputation for kicking ass and making killer drinks.

So where did they operate?
All over the western world. They reached as far as Africa, and they brought their skullkicking with them wherever they went. Fearless savages whom invoked the powers of long forgotten gods, and chances are their gods were pirates too, if the stories of their ventures are to be trusted.

Natural predators?
Their wives. While piracy was and likely still is a profession sorely dominated by men needing to extend their ego beyond their pants, it's likely these burly scandinavian warriors were whipped when they got back home. Women ruled just about everything in the private home, just like any man who's seeking to prolong the time he is allowed to touch his wife will argue is what is good for everyone. Imagine being a boisterous brawler of the seas, feared in every country and praised by your own, only to come home and get hit over the head because you didn't bring enough gifts for your children. Now that is scary. Other than this possibility however, Vikings did have one large predator. Christianity. The new modern thing surged up into Scandinavia and quickly became the new rage. Suddenly you didn't have to keep track of the droves of gods anymore, and all you had to do in return was put the battleaxe down and ask for forgiveness.

I would forgive this guy any day. Just look how happy he is.

Golden Age of Piracy

This is where it's at! When colonies came to the American continents, and the spaniards, dutch and british really started to settle down, a notorious rise in piracy began, and thus started the glorious reign of buccaneers and majestic pirates whom we today look up to and love, regardless of movies with Johnny Depp in them! Here come the intriguing legends of so called great pirate captains like Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts and those other guys I cannot ever be bothered to name. They were also decidedly 'free-spirited' and 'idealistic' if today's pirate-loving youth is to be trusted.

So where did they operate?
Absolutely everywhere. Pirates were now spreading freely with the rise of ever bigger and sturdier vessels. The most affected area in the world however, is said to have been the Caribbean, where there at times seems to have been more pirates than actual traders according to the stories, though such rumours are probably (sadly) hyperbole.

Natural Predators
Their diet. Now more than ever, with the coming of ever longer times at sea, came the lovely disease known as scurvy, which does nasty work to your body, including your teeth, forever ruining your chances at becoming a moviestar like every pirate secretely wants.

Other predators include carpenters, whom would reportedly hack the legs off of unwitting sleeping pirates and replace the demolished limb with a piece of wood for the laughs, every other pirate out there, and hatmakers, who put the kill in skill, at least as far as hats are involved.

Without a hat, parrot, and leg like this, you are not a proper pirate. The gun looks pretty sissy though.

Modern Piracy

So now we went past the whole phase that'd sooner or later evolve into something you'd apparently want in your bed more than when they forced their way in there. However as time went on and the Old World started getting guarded by big battlecruisers with the ability to shoot anything larger than an average-sized european swallow carrying a medium load out of the sky and/or sea at the drop of a hat. And boy did hats start dropping. So much in fact that pirates started to use other headgear like bandanas or, believe it or not, nothing at all.

So where do they operate?

Unguarded waterways, mainly, though you likely find some greedy seadog stupid enough to attack the coast of Germany, or some other super-powered meganation head on. The largely uncontrolled seas surrounding Somalia are particularly affected, and the rather frequent luxury liners seem to have a penchant for sailing straight into a heady pirate with an AK-47.

Natural Predators
Increasing oil prices. Military vessels. Tanker boats large enough to just ram them into the sea. Though personally I suggest not going there on pleasure cruises, and eventually they'll just get bored and work at McDonalds instead.

Yarr! Ye scurvy landlubbers be no match for my repeatin' blunderbuss!

Pirate Democracy

So what's all this about freedom, then? Contrary to popular belief, not even in a crew were pirates free, though they usually held to their own ways. To this day most pirate crews have their own version of democracy onboard, with both voting up a Captain, and making certain people get what they want. I can't wait for election day, right?

Pirates still had it pretty terrible, and the choices weren't many. You either voted forward the guy with the biggest smile and the quickest get-rich-scheme, or you stuck to land and got hung by the authorities for being a seadog. In fact mutiny was pretty frequent, so this democracy gig can't have worked very well.

Net Pirates

In our entry into the information age, we deal with a new type of seaborne predator, the net pirates. These former landlubbers are devious experts at their craft, and will sharply destroy anyone who gets in their way. There is no cure, though every government and corporation tries their best. There is no stopping them from stealing copyrighted material, and sharing it to their evil pirate buddies in perverse and charitable gangrape of the dubious morals the corporations are so intent to claim they have.

Where do they operate?

The Sea of Information, the Great Web of Lies, Cthulhu's abode, Internet, Lolcat domain of the Stars.

Natural Predators

They have none. In their natural, virtual habitat they are unstoppable, and just at that, will stop at nothing to destroy everything you hold dear in the name of twisted liberties associated with their ruleless internet. Protected by anonymity and terrible spelling, these scurvy dogs are a terrible presence in our lives.

However, should you stumble on one in person, just ask him what he thought about the Emperor destroying the Death Star in 'That Star Trek Movie' and punch him in the face while he huffs angrily over your provocation.

This ferocious criminal will rape your homes and burn your women if given the chance.

Future Piracy

Yes, even in the future piracy will be common as dirt. In a society where everything is readily supplied at the easiest of notions, where energy is free of charge, and where the cities are all super-powered utopias run by multi-national corporations, pirates will still find some way to thrive. It's likely that when derived of their wants to be free, and plunder the needed resources, only one thing will fuel their rage. They will think it's funny.
The future generation of sea-raider will do it all to get a laugh out of it. And there's nothing we can do to stop them.

Artists rendition of the future pirates.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Short Story: Sanguine Breath by Wee Coo Beastie

Drip. Twenty seconds left, give or take a few breaths. I know it. I can feel it in the simple, fierce heat that numbs my skin as it burns. Drip. It'll not be long. I don't know how deep that spear went, but I can't feel my ribs any more. Probably a blessing, really. I wouldn't like to feel it. Drip. That red stream several feet above me.. below me? I know that's my blood. But I'm looking at it as if I'm looking at a flickograph back home. Drip. That sound, is really getting to me. Every few seconds, I can hear my life thudding into the ground. It had begun as a steady stream, now just blobs onto the ground in spheres in a volume so loud it hurts my ears. Drip.

The leaves are covered in it. I can't move my arms any more, and I can't tell if it's loss of blood, being hung upside down, or because they cut me too deep. For a while, I'd been able to wiggle my toes too. But, that'd gone as the rope cut off circulation. I wonder where Jones and Newman are? Drip. Far away from here, I sincerely hope. It's strange. After the panic and the mind numbing fear, I'm calm. Okay, I'm talking to myself in my head, so surely I've flipped my lid, but I'm calm. Maybe I'll go to heaven. Drip.

There it is. That feeling just before passing out. Like I'm suddenly looking through a tunnel, and everything's far away. From here, my arms look like skinny trees with red ribbon trailing from them. And that noise...where's the whistling coming from? Like a kettle but much...higher pitched. I feel like I'm being picked up, though I'm numb everywhere and...i can still see the ground. There's a light, now.. it looks..warm. Inviting. It's getting closer. Am I hall...ucinating? Or is this it....? It.....-is- warm..... ..... .... Drip.

This was written by Wee Coo Beastie in a cruel attempt to cheer me up. Since it worked, it begs the question what sort of person I am. (A very nice and also generous one, my assistant will back this up, at least after a few lashes of the good old whipmachine.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Short Story: A Cold Fate (Part 1)

'Hold the blighted line!' The call runs through the quivering ranks bolstered only by fresh recruits and wounded men just as fresh off a stretcher. Coldflame and the plague wasn't what he'd expected when he signed on for yet another tour and declined further rest as his status freely supplies him with.

Another dragon made solely of bone and dark magic passes above, a searing wave of cold obliterating another newblood unlucky enough to hold his head up over the trench. Each death cut into the raven-haired man's soul with biting fury, a heckling of life. Were they not careful, they'd fight their own at sunset.

'Get your ass back down, Sergeant!' A sharp tackle of forged metal smashes into the distant man as his Captain shoulders him to the ground. A numb pain, almost a salvation in itself from the icy cold. It was the desert all over again, only now his friends lost themselves in the snow, and not the sand. Glazed eyes scan over his already rising superior, stunned to see him care for anyone but himself.

Cassian scrambles from the ground weakly, the armour offering a measly assurance of protection from the weapons of mortals only hampering him further as it had this far. The only reason to wear it was paltry shielding against the bites of the unliving, and even then you'd manage just long enough to have your face torn off instead. Chaos surrounds him entirely. They're not even truly in combat, and they're facing heavy losses. The sweep of bone dragons above, and the occassional swarm of living corpses still carrying the insignias that mark them out as Cassian's old friends and companions. Barely anyone was alive that he knew. New faces came every day, and vanished just as fast. This is hell, and we're not even close to any 'Gate'.

That he was alive was a mere stroke of luck. There was no being exceptional in these cold wastes. No heroes from the south as he and his friends had been told they were. Certainly, when they came in on the boat, the already present took to a morale boost, and you'd find the occasional soldier who asked about the legendary 7th who'd staved off the end of the world before, assumingly.

It faded just as quick however. Recruit or veteran, you fell to the cold. The unnatural breaths of the sky-kings. You too, would rise as a soldier in the army you fight to destroy, the moment you gave up. And everyone gives up. In this place, your spirit falls the first day. Cassian shudders, another breath exuded slowly. Not even a day of warmth and comfort would save him from returning to this.
Warmth. The mere word makes his stomache churn and his throat yearn for something other than water that'll freeze your veins solid. The keep they had left behind them in the safety of the mountains, a whole town built in the icy north, seemed so far away, long lost to the storming winds and the hidden glaciers trapping them ever further north. That their maps were blank didn't exactly help either.

'Incoming!' A young soldier screams at the top of his lungs, trudging through the heavy walls of snow before the trenches in an effort to cast himself back into safety. Cassian only finds him with his eyes in time for the youngling to see his call rewarded by a sweeping shape from the sky, another black monstrosity hidden in the deadly winds. Claws and bone clasp onto the helpless man, and his screams for help vanish into the howling night before anyone can truly muster some sort of defence or aid. Cassian's greatest fright comes at the notion that he'd expected it well and truly.

The warning rings true, however. Silhouettes begin to make their presence jarringly known on the closeby horizon at a steadily nearing pace, sending a wave of determination through the demoralized defenders. Cassian casts himself back down into the trench, hiding himself from view to tug at his sword. Tightens his fist around it. They usually never got this far back in the trenches. That is, until his companions in the first trench rose to unlife, and Cassian and his secondary row of defenders would be the new frontline.

Short Story: Lost and Found (Part 1)

Were there air to support it, the pathetic hyperspace enginges on the rickety old craft would leave a massive bang in the area as the engine tore a hole in time and space, finally emerging at it's new location. Heavily fallen into disrepair, laser turrets refitted on the old cruiser to work as mining tools instead, the old spaceship was nothing but a true hunk of junk. Still it seemed fit for flight.

"Report, Master Pilot Xrii." The commander gives, their native language a series of clicks and wheezes supported by the black toxin masks they wore for safety.

"We are still approximately seventeen years away from the Fleet, Commander. With no homing beacons powered, it is not even certain they're there when we-.."
Could his eyes be seen behind the jury-rigged pilot mask, they'd be narrowed, his tattered comm device picking up something on wavelengths long abandoned.

"Speak, Master Pilot. Do not disgrace yourself with silence."

"Listen for yourself, Commander."

The young pilot offered over the dated headset, a furious Commander hoisiting it to his ear.

"What is it, Master Pilot?"

"I believe it's a distress signal, Commander."

The Commander wheezed an angry sigh, discarding the headset swiftly. "Out here? Open the scanning devices."

A quick pull of a rusted lever sees the front of the ship slide away it's main hull, revealing massive, shaded windows. The two men stared out into the reaches of space before them, entirely shocked as a conviniently derelict-looking vessel sweeps before their puny ship.

"A ship! Hail them, Master Pilot!"

A rasping clear of the Pilot's throat before he records the message to be sent in broken English.

Unknown Vessel
This is the Feirz Mk V. We intercepted your distress signal. Please respond.


Screeches quickly returned into the weary old headset attached to the far too dated communications system installed on the aged rig, Xrii quickly swept the headset from his frail ears, crying out in agony.

"What are you doing, Master Pilot?!" The Commander demanded angrily, lifting the headset from the floor.
A chatter of immense magnitude bleeds into the maladjusted system, and for but a moment, a painful jolt of agonizing screams fall on frequencies the two cannot fully hear, bringing them both to their knees. A silent pop, followed by a burst of fire, the tortured headset springing into flames at the overload, the communication system fried. "What in the-.."

"I detect strange energy outputs in the region, Commander. We are no longer alone."

"I knew I should've sold this ship and stayed on Tessla Prime. Very well. Did you get an answer from the distressed ship?"

"No, Commander. Should I perform routine procedure?"

"Yes, Master Pilot. Kill all functions except the ropecannon, we'll jump over. Hopefully we'll be out of here before anyone finds us."

Soon enough, a small hookshot fires from the underside of the dented vessel, a pathetic attempt to latch their vessel together with the massive, derelict ship,the both of them acting against better judgement when faced with the possibility of treasure.


Tearing out the broken communication system from it's holder, the Master Pilot gave a wheeze of a sigh.

"It's fried, Commander. We cannot hail or recieve messages. Whatever that was, it burnt out every circuit. I have a bad feeling about this."

"Nonsense, Master Pilot! We are obligated to help the distressed, communication or no. We will make do without the translator. Is the ropeline attached?"

"Yes, Commander."

"Excellent, let us scale across."

A small hatch manually opened on the rickety old craft, sending what little air held inside out into the reaches of space, the two scavenger pilots heartily protected in their custom masks and flying gear. Fortunately seeming to have missed the frightful display before them, the Commander climbs out on top of his spaceship, attaching a small hook to the line.

"Bring the AK-56's, Master Pilot. We do not know what is beyond."

"One day, I'll buy you something else than this kinetic crap."

"Stop whining and get up here."

Xrii follows behind, another wheeze of a sigh parted over the rudimentary comm channel built into their masks. Pressing the sturdy yet ancient firearms in his Commander's grubby arms, he too attaches a hook in preparation.

"I don't know about this, Commander. I didn't even have time to get a response. What if they're all dead?"

"Then we'll sell the ship for a spot of money."

"You mean -you- will."

"Just jump already, Master Pilot. This is a waste of my time."

With that, Xrii stepped off their own little craft, protected from gliding into space only by the heavy duty rope shot out against the derelict vessel.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Shady Review: Star Wars; The Phantom Menace

The year is 1977 in your earth-time. Space gets a huge burst in interest. Several shuttles launch as part of both Russia's and America's spaceprograms, and a deep space signal is intercepted by a SETI project, aptly named the "WOW!" event. The biggest eyecatcher for modest earthlings however, may well have been the launch of Star Wars, a fresh burst into Sci Fi. A New Hope is the name, and it burst through the world, making a record for the highest grossing movie of all time. Three years after that, George Lucas gives us a sequel, and the world rejoices just like with the first one. Another three years later, and it happens -again-. Star Wars has become one of the most legendary trilogies of all time, and everyone has either seen or heard of it, even if only in passing.

The year jumps forwards to 1999. 22 years after the first movie was released. The words of a new Star Wars movie makes fourty-year-old fanboys wet their pants in surprise. People flock to the cinemas once more. And what they get... sucks.

The Phantom Menace is not super-bad, but it is certainly not Star Wars as the fans know it. In fact, none of these crappy prequels deserve to be called Star Wars, but we'll get to that. Let's get on with the movie, shall we?


Erk, where do I start? The Phantom Menace is the first of three sequels, and it foreshadows the bad movies to come with its' name, like something wrong creeping at the back of your head, but you just can't wrap your head around what. Now, everyone and their mother's dog has seen or heard of this movie, so there's not much to be said that most people do not already know.

I will talk about something that most seem to miss, however. The fact that this movie only has two characters. BEFORE you start naming all your favorite jedi, and "that badass red dude with the spikes on his face for the lols", I will explain what I mean. There are plenty of actors in this movie. Even more CGI people walking around. None of them have a personality. There are only two people in the entire movie whom exhibit some form of real characteristic, and that I can willingly say; "That there is a person. Or might be, with some strained thought and disbelief."

Whom these characters are, we'll get back to. First of all, let's look at the super-epic intro crawl! This is what we've been waiting over 15 years for!

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away....

Yes please!
The Phantom Menace

Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic.

Awesome! Turmoil is what we want!

The Taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.

Erh. Okay? Is this the turmoil? This seems more a.. day to day occurence? No? Okay, I'll let you go on!

Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy trade federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.

Wait, what? How do you resolve a taxation dispute with battleships, in a REPUBLIC? And what strategic value does Naboo hold? Hm? Is the tax especially high here? Low? Non-existant? WHY ARE THEY SENDING IN BATTLESHIPS OVER TAXES. Surely it cannot be that bad!

While the Congress endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretely dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict...

What? Really? The supposed Trade Federation brings a HOSTILE embargo on this poor planet, and they can't come to a decision in the slightest? Is this Federation that powerful? Are -they- part of the Republic? If they are, why is the Congress allowing this brutal move that could possibly lead to genocide by.. economy? And sending two jedi? The movie -does- have Ambassadors. Why doesn't he send those? Better yet, send an ambassador PROTECTED by Jedi! But alright. We have a blockade of greedy traders. We have Jedi. All these questions will be answered in the movie anyway. ...Right?

No. No they will not. If anything, you will get more questions as you go. Such as; "Am I supposed to root for these idiots?" and "Did I pay for this? Do they give refunds?".

Enough of that! The movie takes us to this super-hardy blockade, wherein we meet the first character in the movie; Qui-Gon Jinn played by Liam Neeson. A somewhat aged, wise Jedi. This would be fine if he was just that. But Qui-Gon Jinn is also reckless, a great trait to put on a wise master Jedi. To pair that off, he has no real respect for the Council he works for and believes in, making him the best rolemodel ever. Qui-Gon is accompanied by his whiny, annoying, snarky, and skeptical padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. What?

You heard me. They made the lovable Master Jedi who schools and watches over Luke into a snarky, down-to-earth sidekick to whine and provide amusing commentary to the zany situations they fall into. Oh god. It is even worse that THIS IS HIS ONLY PURPOSE. Kenobi will not say -anything- that is not either ;
  1. Obvious.
  2. Sarcastic.
  3. Whiny.
  4. Otherwise Negative.
  5. Attempted Joke.

He does not have a personality. This becomes painfully apparent when you watch the movies all in one go, and notice that in the second and third Kenobi is suddenly supposed to emulate emotion, something he does so-so.

So, they wait in this small room for the Trade Federation to join them. Here we get immense displays of wisdom from our Jedi Master and his apprentice. They think something is wrong! Oh no! Better be on your guard, guys! Oh, look, a robot serving them drinks, how nice. So you suspect something is terribly wrong, and it might be a trap, but you heedlessly drink whatever is offered. Nice going, Jedi Master Jinn.

They don't even have time to get out of the room before it's time for his next super-wisdom. Oh no! They locked the door and are now flooding the room with poisonous gas! Let's use our lightsabers to smelt through the small door and cut through the possible enemies on the other side! No wait, if I had self-preservation, I might do that. No, let's just hold our breaths until they open the doors instead. It's not like they might have scanners or anything.

Right, anyway. They escape, because the super duper army of evil droids couldn't kill anything even if it offered to kill itself for them. We get a glance at our villain, Darth Sidious. All the fans know this is the Emperor, and you get this tingle of evil in your stomache. You know this is badass. Too bad they milk it dry, and show extensive scenes of him ALL THE TIME. There is not an ounce of mystery again. It might as well be called "Palpatine's Plotting" or.. "Rise of the Empire" and feature him as the protagonist. Noone would know the difference, really.

So, they escaped, anyway, and hitched a ride to this pathetic peace-planet named Naboo. Naboo is inhabited by two main races. Idiot Humans, and Idiot Aliens called 'Gungans'. Thankfully, the Gungans are a little smarter than the humans, but they make up for it by only being in the movie for comedic value.

So we meet Character #2. His name is Jar-Jar Binks. Yes. I know everyone hates this character, and say he ruins the movie. In fact, so many people complained about this guy that George Lucas was coerced into making him mostly absent in the other two. Funny that. Anyway, suck it up. Jar-Jar Binks is a character, and a fine one. He -is- only here to be made fun of, but he has his own set of morals, a distinct personality that makes him interact with his surroundings accordingly, and a really annoying accent so you know he's not human. If you couldn't tell from his strange appearance. It is really sad that they milk him for comical purposes, because A) It does not work, and B) They could have removed him entirely and made a better movie with real characters by putting the focus elsewhere.

So anyway, Mr Binks notes that he is banned from his own home because he's a tosser, but decides to lead the very nice Jedi men there anyway. So the Jedi break out their breathing apparatuses and follow into the watery depths where he lives. Sure would've been nice if they could've used those breathing apparatuses before in the poison clouds instead of holding their breath, but The Plot had not equipped them with such gear yet. They go to the city of Comic Relief and get some help to go to the humans who are on the other side of the planet. Apparently the best way is -through the planet's core-. BY SUBMARINE. Yeah, I won't comment on that.

So they jump into this submarine, and I think it's safe to say that they could've cut this entire trip from the movie, and noone would care. Mainly because NOONE ACTS. The two Jedi sit there with listless expressions as giant fish try to eat them time and time again. Sigh. So yeah. After a quick fix of a power outage that magically does not remove the forcefield protecting the glassless windows, the heroes evade danger and pop in for a bit of a chat with the local humans and their emotionless queen. Amidala or whatnot, who's major purpose in these movies is to get attacked, get flirted at by six-year-olds and sacrifice her handmaidens.

They take Amidala's ship (with Amidala in it) to Tatooine, because pointless shoutbacks to the original movies are cool. Apparently their ship was damaged or whatever, so they want to get some part to fix it. Oh, shit, they don't take Republic credits on this planet. Suddenly we're broke. Qui-Gon displays his wisdom and good nature again by trying to force the vendor to accept his money anyway, despite repeated failure. They meet Anakin Skywalker who I dare say is a small devil child. Noone, I repeat, noone, is THAT nice.

The kid is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. When he's not busy propagating peace through holding hands and having no personality of his own, he runs around calling people angel, or singlehandedly building complex racing machines and robots. This is not a little child. This is a monster created by the Plot. Turns out he IS created by the Plot, quite literally, since he apparently has no father. I won't talk about Midi-chlorians. Just know I hate it too.

So yeah. Long waste of time. Instead of having the boy who builds advanced machines out of scrap look at their ship, or just have him steal the part, or sell something of lesser value to buy the part, or take on a week's work to earn money to get the part, Qui-Gon the wise suggests they bet on a six-year-old in a lethal race that he's never won, in a machine built out of scrap, with their ship as collateral. Great plan, idiot. Anyway, Anakin wins, and they leave. Without his mother. Never in the movie, or between movies, do the jedi ever decide to you know, go back and get her. Nooo. No, they leave her there so grown up Anakin can be a twat later on.

They bring Amidala to the homeworld of the Republic for a bit of a chat, and then they go back to Naboo. Nothing interesting happens at all. Now it's time for war. The Comic Relief Gungans will fight a large droid army for no real reason really far away from the human city, and the humans will try for an infiltration into the captured capitol, which is incidentially the only human city on Naboo. Cue 'hilarious' hijinks and srs space/landbattles. Darth Timefiller appears to fight and die, killing the 'wise' Master Jinn in the process. Naboo is liberated. They hold up some weird glowing orb that we do not know what it is, and all is well for about ten years until the next movie.

So, why is this movie crap? First of all, they ruin it by giving us -too many- shoutbacks. Everyone is in this movie. I'm surprised we didn't get someone calling himself "Jett Solo" for the randomness of it. Something I might touch on in the future also, is the fact that Kenobi WAS TRAINED BY YODA AND NOT THIS RECKLESS MORON. BOTH YODA AND HE SAY SO IN THE ORIGINAL MOVIES. Did you not watch your movies, Mr Lucas?

Anyway. This movie is mediocre and pretty boring. The intrigue and dramatic space opera we loved so much has been replaced by pretty effects and cardboard characters. It's not as bad as many say, but it's not good.

SRM Score: 53% (55% for the movie, -2% for lack of ninja.)

If you're a fan, watch it. But for god's sake, put some music on or read a newspaper while you do.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Classical: Rogues

Greetings and welcome readers, cultists, and otherwise! Today the gaming gods have decided yet another topic for us, see, and today this topic is that which you cannot see. I am of course, not talking about the Duke Nukem release that seems to elude us so, nor am I talking about that one specific point on your back that always seems to itch just slightly more than the rest of your body. No. Today, we speak of rogues. And to do so, we enter into the ruleset of D&D 4th Edition once more.

A rogue (not to be confused with rouge, although they are allowed to wear such) is a Striker in this dastardly game, which means they hit things until they die, generally acting as damage dealers. Their Martial powersource suggests they do so with weaponry rather than magic, because they are cool and practice. Now, the rogue in D&D is one of the few classes that has stayed almost exactly the same throughout editions. That said, they have been changed to usher in the era of D&D 4th, and the 'fixed' balance of wizards.

A Lone Blade in the Night.. and His Friends
Rogues are interestingly enough perhaps the biggest promoters of teamplay in the entire game, despite the usual (and still ever popular) classical concept of one being the lone ranger of conflict and/or happy-go-lucky thief. We'll get to this part soon enough. Firstly, let's look at so called weapon skills. All rogues start with proficiency in:

  1. Daggers
  2. Hand Crossbows
  3. Short Swords
  4. Shuriken
  5. Slings

Badass, right? No. Not precisely. Though most rogues can work off of this, brilliantly so, many rogues (Brutal Scoundrels in particular) may want to waste a few feats for bigger weapons.

All rogues get a +2 to reflex for being trained to evade explosions and fly the Millenium Falcon through an asteroid field. Wait what? You have the standard Striker healthpool, and you have the standard Striker healing surge pool, not too much to complain about. You also know how to wear leather for those impeccable catsuits. If you're male, well.. You can pretend you're an X-man from the movies.

All rogues have something called Rogue Tactics. This works similar to Fighter Talents, in that you can only have a single Tactic, and they give you different bonuses, so choose carefully. I'll try and help you narrow the choice further.

Brutal Scoundrel is our first tactic, and boy, you can just tell right off the bat what this is about, no? If you can't, you might need a moment to go through bandit camp again. Brutal Scoundrels have an easy bonus, they merely add their strength modifier to their Sneak Attack damage. Even muscular orcs and minotaurs can be sneaky, see? Yes, Brutal Scoundrel is the way to go if you want to be a massive damage-dealer as a rogue, or, at least if you want to deal your massive damage up close. Pumping strength alongside dexterity is a good choice. A very solid tactic for the raw scrappy rogue.
Summary: Strength Modifier damage added to sneak attack.

Artful Dodger. Try and guess what this one does. Go on. Take a moment. If you guessed dodge, you win one internet and one somewhat beaten assistant of mine. Artful dodgers merely add their Charisma Modifier to their Armor Class against opportunity attacks, meaning you will have a (much) easier time waltzing around the battlefield. This is a choice you can never go wrong with, if you can't decide what tactic to pick. If your charisma is a dump stat, don't take it, obviously.
Summary: Charisma Modifier added to AC against OA's.

Cunning Sneak. For a class of subletly and sneaking, they sure aren't subtle about these. Cunning Sneak is where the class starts getting somewhat more complicated though. Normally, if you Run during your turn, and then try to stealth, you get a whopping -10 on your attempts to stealth this round. With Cunning Sneak, you get -5. Yes, it still sucks. However, they knew this, so added more. Normally, if you move more than two squares during the round, you get more penalties to stealth. Not so with Cunning Sneak. As a last added bonus, Cunning Sneak allows you to roll stealth automatically if you move three or more squares on your turn, and end the move in cover (your allies don't count, so stop hiding behind the healer). Cunning Sneak is so-so in itself, though does get some powers to help it in the whole movement part. Sadly to use most of them, you need to pump intelligence, so you get to be a smart rogue for once! Cunning sneak is also almost entirely ranged. Attempts at melee inadvisable.

Summary: No Stealth Penalty for moving. Halved penalty for running. Auto-stealth when moving 3 or more squares in total during your turn. (if in cover)

Ruthless Ruffian. Ohoho. Somewhere down the line, we'd have to meet him. Much like the brawler style of Fighters, Ruthless Ruffian is the 'Blessed with Suck' option of Rogues. Let's get started. You, as a Ruthless Ruffian, are proficient with the club (bad) and the mace (slightly better). You can use a club or a mace for any power that normally needs a light blade (great). You can also Sneak Attack with clubs and maces (also good). On top of this, you get to add your Strength Modifier straight to damage if you attack the enemy with a Rattling* Power. This sounds great, but it really isn't. First there's the fact that your attacks still key off of Dexterity. Then there's the fact that your damage bonus comes from Strength. If you want to be a successful Ruffian, you'll need Intimidate highly trained (Charisma). And if you want to be good with those weapons, you need to invest yourself in some Constitution. That's four Attributes. You can divide in them all equally, and be sub-par. You can also neglect one or two slightly, and be sub-par because of that. We've not even gotten to the fact that both Maces and Clubs are terrible weapons for a damage focused character. Do yourself a favour, choose from the three above unless you really really want to use clubs or maces.

Summary: Proficiency with the Club and Mace Keyword weapons, and you can use them for any Rogue attack powers or rogue paragon path powers that normally requires a Light Blade (Short sword or dagger). Sneak attack with same weapons. Add strength to damage if the attack has the Rattling* Keyword.

* Rattling: Whenever a power you use has this keyword, if you are trained in Intimidate, you also impose a -2 penalty to hit on the enemy until the end of your next turn. This is one of the few redeeming features for Ruthless Ruffian. Sadly, you can work this with any type of rogue.

Talents of a Grinning Thief
More Talents? I'm having nightmares from the Fighter, still. Oh well, it's not this bad this time around. You have two to choose from, and you used to only have one. Another was added for Ranged rogues who prefer not to use daggers. Let's get into it!

  • Rogue Weapon Talent. Yes, this is what it is called. When you wield a Shuriken, your weapon damage increases by one die size, in this case from 1d4 to 1d6. Also, when you use daggers, you get a static +1 to hit. This supposedly makes both of them great, but the fact is that 1d2 extra damage does not make up for 5% hitchance. Not to mention the shuriken are ranged -only-, despite being Light Blades. If you really want to use them though, this is your thing. Also the cookie-cutter for melee rogues.

  • Sharpshooter Talent. When you grab this Talent, you get a static +1 increase forever to hit with either Slings or Crossbows. Yes, you have to choose. Still makes it great for both of them. Pure ranged rogues should see to take this, and pick the weapon they want to use.

The Best of Them All
So you've decided if you're a angry misfit or if you're a graceful escape artist, and you've also decided fairly much what sort of weapons you're into. But what makes you you? Well, I can't answer that, I'm afraid your now mysteriously dead parents and that prophecy you were strangely introduced to has to help you with that, but I can tell you what makes the rogue the best at his thing!

First Strike
Rogues like hitting first. To go back to the Star Wars reference, Han did in fact, shoot first. And do you know why? Because Rogues automatically get combat advantage against enemies that have yet to make their first round in a combat! Combat Advantage! Yay! Wait, you think. Why is +2 to hit so Yay? Well, I answer, because of my telepathic powers and clear monitoring of your mindwaves. Because rogues get to:

Sneak Attack! Sneak attack is a lovely feature. It works like this. Whenever you have combat advantage, you can add Sneak Attack damage to one attack of your own during an entire round, resetting at the start of your next turn. This damage starts out as an extra 2d6 damage at low levels, jumps to 3d6 at paragon tier, and boosts itself to 5d6 (!) at Epic tier. Since you are allowed to do this every turn you have combat advantage, you should be looking to get that -every- turn.

This is why rogues are so teamplay happy. The easiest way of getting combat advantage is to prop up your friend on the other side of an enemy, and thusly flank your opponent for easy extra damage. This is also why we get such crappy weapons to work with. Because Sneak Attack does add what they lack. Sneak Attack every round, and you'll find the barbarian and sorcerer crying at your imba killing skills, and make them question their manhood/cleavage.

Skills Are What We Live For
Rogues used to get a sick amount of skills in every edition. Had something you needed to do? Hire a rogue. From everything to toe-nail clipping to drake egg omelets, rogues could do it. They were taken down a key, and the job of skill mule was given to the Bard (owned).

Rogues still get Thievery, automatically, because taking things that aren't yours is cool. Thievery also works on traps and locks these days, and goes so far as to work for most dextrous tasks, like tying knots on ships to fasten the sails. I suppose you.. steal the problem away.

You also get Stealth as a trained skill, no questions asked. Stealthing is and has always been important both for scouting, and for hiding like a coward when the big baddie decides it's time to pick on the squishy dude sticking daggers into his thighs.

You also get to choose four skills out of:
  • Acrobatics
  • Athletics
  • Bluff
  • Dungeoneering
  • Insight
  • Intimidate
  • Perception
  • Streetwise

Take what you want, really. You -should- take either Perception or Insight, or both, because if you don't, you will be absolutely ungodly in finding anything yourself. Eventually it will punish you greatly. Humans take what they want here. Just go wild with what you want, really. Might not want to take Athletics if you don't have bonuses to strength. You might not want to take Streetwise. At all. No really.

The Powers That Be
Once again there are so many powers it's not even slightly funny. I thought I might quickly point out a couple of good ones to set you on your way. You can't -really- go wrong though. There are some trap choices, but they're usually easy to spot, unless you're my assistant and also blind.

Sly Flourish (At-Will) A simple attack. You can use it as both a melee and ranged attack, and it works with every weapon in the rogues' arsenal. The greatness of this attack comes from the fact that it adds charisma modifiers to the damage, on top of other added damage, making it a staple for any form of charisma rogue. If you boost charisma, you want this in your repertoire.

Piercing Strike (At-Will) At first glance, perhaps not that good. Standard action. Only Melee range. Standard mediocre rogue power damage. Why is it good? It attacks Reflex. This might not seem like a great thing to start with, but believe me, those big guys lumbering around are -much- easier to hit with this attack than anything that attacks armor class. Ever so much sweeter if you get Sneak Attacks in.

King's Castle (Encounter lvl1) So much to love with this power. High damage for a low-level rogue power. Attacks Reflex. Melee and Ranged compatible. Works with all weapons. As bonus topping on the delicious cake that is this power, it also lets you switch places with a willing adjacent ally. Sprint out of stealth for a sick sneak attack, and put the defender in front of you. (or funnier, the leader)

The Many Feats of a Scoundrel
Again, too many to mention. There is a single one I will mention, because most rogues will find their way to what they want, there is a veritable cherrypicking available for your leisure. The feat I -will- mention here is Backstabber. What does it do, you wonder. It increases your Sneak Attack Damage from d6's to d8's. Yes. Yes it is even sicker during gaming than it looks on paper, too. 5d8's during Epic Tier. Every turn. Even rangers will stare at you in disbelief.

I'm Not a Rascist, I Hate Everyone
The lovely subject of race. Now I'm not here to bash anyone in particular, like I would after a bad stroll through the squares. Humans especially. Damn those humans. Ahem. Either way, most races actually make pretty alright rogues. I decided to pick some out of the fold.

Half-Orc Wait what? A Half-Orc rogue? Sure! This is the 21st century pal! These brutish non-stealthy dudes make quite the show as flash lads and sneaky gits! +2 to both Strength and Dexterity make them great Brutal Scoundrels, not to mention extra damage feats and help against beatings. You want to pick a fight? Do it like a Half-Orc would.

Drow I admit, I hate Drow. I really really do. Cliché, over-the-top emo society of cruel yet 'misunderstood' elves make me wince almost as much as sparkly vampires. However, I can't deny that they make excellent cowards. Cowards? I mean rogues. They have the stats where it counts, powers to grant them combat advantage to set up that attack, and disgustingly strong racial feats for this purpose. Buy your own cliché today. Bonus points if you're an outcast.

Halfling These guys are Small, which usually hurts their choice of weapons. Not so with rogue! Because we only get shitty weapons to start with, Halflings are big enough to use most of them! You have everything where it counts, and special powers to make sure you stay alive to boot, an extra plus for the fragile scoundrels. Coupled with the fact that halflings are often seen as playful thieves, you too can play your version of an awesome stereotype today!

Deva I'm just kidding. Out of all the races, the Deva is one of the very few that makes an absolutely terrible rogue. Even with the advent of Cunning Sneak to utilize those smarts, they really have nothing in the slightest to help them in a career as a rogue. Go reincarnate as a bard and heal, noob.

That is it for today, I hope I have been able to shine some form of sickly green light on the class as a whole, time lords know it needs clarification from time to time. This is obviously a silent urging for people to play rogues. Less sorcerers. Ahem. Anyway. I shall be going to barbeque my assistant. Expect more classes soon! Well, sooner rather then later, anyway. Tara.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shady Review: Mazes & Monsters

Greetings ladies, gentlemen, and delinquients of all sizes! Not too long ago I receieved a tip of a 'movie' called Mazes & Monsters, and a suggestion to review it. Seeing how it's been a while since I last reviewed a movie, I thought it'd be a good timewaster to watch this movie whilst my assistant is brought to a nice boil on the stove. So without further ado, let's travel back in time to 1982 and the movie!

What is it all about, then?
Normally I would break a review into a few structured categories, and talk about each aspect of a movie. Sadly, Mazes & Monsters does not deserve such treatment, so we'll adress the movie here entirely. The movie revolves around a young Tom Hanks in the guide of 'Robbie Wheeling', a pretty smart kid going to college as growing kids do. We quickly find out that he flunked out of school however, because apparently he played too much Mazes & Monsters. Has anyone caught this name yet? Yes, it is indeed the most poorly veiled jab at Dungeons & Dragons ever, and the movies' working title actually went by the name of Dungeons & Dragons until they figured they might get sued to pieces. Smart decision, among a bucketload of bad ones.

That is not all that's gone wrong in Robbie's life, however. His brother Hall ran away when he was X years younger, and decided to never call or write, but it's suggested he might've gone to New York. He starts at a new school, where he makes friends with (and extremely awkwardly I might add) three supposed roleplayers who're into the same game as him. Apparently this make-believe version of D&D has carry-over characters, because they're all excited to hear his old character is conviniently the same level as they are. They press-gang Robbie into joining their group, and Robbie joins to get with the girl in the group.

He does. By way of montage. I am somewhat thankful of this fact, because every scene with Robbie and 'Kate', his new girlfriend, is super-awkward, tense in a bad way, and bumbles forward like two men who had their wives go to the bathroom in the middle of a foursome. One of their friends is suicidal, we find out, and in a particular moment of lonesome, walks to kill himself in a set of caverns that lie conviniently outside campus. He notes however, that these caves, while super dangerous, would be great to frighten your friends to shit so they won't hang out with you anymore.

So cut to another crappy make-believe session of D&D.. I mean M&M. This is the actual conversation.

"Maze Controller"(Read with feigned dramatic voice): Between you and the undead is a large chasm that stretches very wide and deep. At the very bottom there is something glittering, perhaps the magic treasure of Genarc, or MAYBE A TRAP.

Suicidal Guy: I jump into the chasm to get the treasure. What kinda treasure is it?

"Maze Controller"(Read with awkward surprise): IT'SH A TRAP. Large gem-encrusted spikes. You are impaled and die.

The writing astounds me. It's as if they copied it straight from a D&D game! Or maybe not. So the guy dies and quickly recovers from this apparently super-serious event, I mean, it's not like he can just make a new character, right? No, instead he suggests they start live action roleplaying instead, and that they do it in these mega-dangerous caves outside campus where apparently a whole bunch of kids got lost. Go figure they all instantly agree.

So, they go to their little pretend adventure, which is hilariously more great than anything else in the movie, and with only a skeleton with a flashlight in it's mouth, and a hallucination to help their cave venture on, that's saying alot. Robbie has a psychotic episode, because apparently he has schizophrenia amongst other things, and becomes deeply affirmed in the idea that he is the 'M&M Holy Man' (yellow coating) that he plays in the game. This is followed by a tunnel dream where he's told he needs to become one with the great Hall, and seek the Two Towers to fulfill his quest and gain a level. Why he can't just get xp, I don't know. So, Hall is obviously his brother and apparently his god too, and Robbie becomes more obsessed, still believing he is a character from a game. He decides the Twin Towers in New York is what it's all about, and that jumping off it is a great idea. It is, we'd not have to suffer this movie if he did.

So his friends call the cops on his ass like any nice, caring friends, and then go to visit him at his parents house to find he's still batshit crazy. Like the caring friends they are, they feed his addiction one last time by playing M&M with him.

What I haven't included in this walkthrough is the horrible and obvious anti-roleplaying propaganda, because I thought it'd be less then tactful. The entire movie is littered with lines like "Ever since you started playing that game you haven't done well for yourself." and "The worst horrors come from inside our mind's imagination." I wouldn't mind it if the characters didn't almost look at the camera while delivering them.

The acting is not even passably decent. Delivery is awkward, and had I not known who Tom Hanks was, I wouldn't have lost as much respect for the man. Acting classes obviously came later in his career. Lines are stale and boring, the plot is a festering bag of depression, and they can't even get the mockery of D&D right. What they describe doesn't make you think of a roleplaying game. It sounds more like a video game than anything, and if it was, it would suck. Did I forget anything? Oh yes. It's boring.

If you download this movie, delete it from your seedlist so you don't spread the shit around.

SRM Score: 18%

Calculation: -80% for shittyness, -2% for lack of ninja.