How To Train Your Dragon



The party wasted little time getting the act together, and none too soon: Turns out Lady Elia had a trick up her sleeve, and that trick was turning into a silver dragon in the fortress courtyard, freaking out the animals and making uninformed citizens panic at the sight of a dragon suddenly in their midst.

Elia — her real name being Otaaryliakkarnos, in WotC’s typical alphabet soup fashion — flew the party to the meeting place high in the mountains, and along the way provided them with a dossier on each of the dragons they would be meeting with.

Protanthur: proud and distrustful of humanoids. He’d be the party’s greatest opponent.

Ileuthra: A wise dragon who spends his time walking the planes of existence and consorting with gods. He would be judging the party’s arguments most strongly.

Nymmurh: Already given over to the humanoid cause because of his relationship with Lady Dala Silmerhelve of Waterdeep, so at least the effort was starting at absolute zero.

Tazmikella: A dragon who has spent a good part of her life in human form, living among humanoids, and has gotten burned by the younger races more times than she could count.

And herself, of course, but no one asked her about her position on all of this Cult business.

True to her word, Protanthur turned out to be a tough nut to crack. By and large, the dragons were all on the same page that something needed to be done, but the dragon clans weren’t sure that there was any benefit to entering into a formal alliance with the humanoids. If their paths crossed in pursuit of some mutual goal, then so be it, but there was no point to a formal alliance. To the long-lived dragons, this subtle distinction apparently meant something.

The party presented their case to the best of their ability. A united force of humanoids and dragons could only be stronger than if either group went it alone, and the party attempted to enumerate the ways in which their contributions could benefit the dragons. They walked a fine line between obsequiousness and a show of over-confidence in the abilities they were touting, but the dragons weren’t entirely on board. The party spoke of the benefits of humanoid knowledge to a dragon who moves through the planes of existence with ease. They described war to creatures who had fought in battles than humanoids knew only as legends. Most of all, they tried to sell the “triumph of the human(oid) spirit” as their greatest asset, but that turned out to be the dragon’s — or at least Protanthur’s — sorest spot.

Each dragon had some beef with the humanoids. Taz had first-hand experience with the two-faced nature of humans, elves, and dwarves. Otaaryliakkarnos clan sought restitution from the dwarven kingdoms for their careless hunting of her ancestors (and from having made a suite of armor from the skin of one in particular). Protanthur’s ire was reserved for elves and tieflings specifically, each of which were represented in the party, but his greater issue was that humanoids, with their short lifespans, couldn’t amass the wisdom that leads them to make good decisions. Humanoids were corruptible and weak, and prone to infighting over transient elements that they’d never live long enough to enjoy. He stated the it was humanoid frailty — of life, of character — as an excuse for a “get as much as you can, while you can” attitude that had wreaked havoc across the realm for centuries. In short, humanoids were why Faerun couldn’t have nice things.

Nymmurh was Protanthur’s foil, however. The younger dragon had spent much time on both sides of the current argument, some among his clan debating the situation, and some among his confidants in Waterdeep. As the one who felt most at ease in both camps, he could only remind Protanthur that while everything he said about the humanoid races was accurate, the fact that they were still around despite centuries of strife and fallen empires spoke volumes as to their tenacity and will to survive. No, they didn’t need an alliance with them, he agreed, but that being the case, there was no good reason not to ally, and the only reason Protanthur was holding out was due to his bias against the younger races.

As the dragons disengaged from the party to discuss the matter amongst themselves, the party regrouped to consider their options at this point. It was mentioned that maybe they could sweeten the pot a bit if they offered the dragons a part of the Cult’s treasure hoard in exchange for an alliance. If the dragons returned and Protanthur’s position remained unchanged, there might be no other option. The party seemed hesitant to stoop to common tit-for-tat, though, possibly believing that doing so would offend the ancients and ruin whatever logical arguments they had spent the past hour and a half making for their case.

As the dragons reentered the grotto, most still had reservations, but were in a better mood to bargain. Although Otaaryliakkarnos figured that the suit of armor made from her ancestor was lost to history, she requested a formal apology from a representitive of the dwarves for their centuries of drunken revelry that they called the dragonmoots that usually ended with the slaughter of her kin. The party stated that they couldn’t speak for the entire dwarven nation, but Otaary seemed to be very insistent that they try in exchange for her support. Ileuthra had one contingent request: that once the dragon masks were recovered, they be given to the metallic clans for safekeeping. While he was cool on the idea of an alliance himself, he was concerned that the masks left in the well meaning but relatively weak hands of the humanoids would eventually be too much of a temptation, and if an alliance was the price they had to pay for the humanoids to agree to hand over such powerful artifacts, then so be it. In a more casual conversation with Taz, the mention of a cut of the treasure got her attention, and she suggested that Protanthur’s current internal struggle might be swayed by a promise of a portion of the spoils. Because, dragons.

In the end, Protanthur begrudgingly agreed to the alliance in exchange for 1/3 of the Cult’s hoard. It would no doubt be an uneasy alliance, with one side desperate for the help of the other side which appeared to be unengaged in the process, but the party requested that the dragons sign a written agreement that they could take to the Council as a formal declaration of the alliance.

+   +   +

I was both excited and terrified of this session going in. It’s difficult enough to RP a single character; it’s very difficult to have to RP several characters over the course of an adventure; it’s stupidly daunting to have to RP several characters simultaneously during the same session. Not only that, but to have to RP dragons, and to give them some air of ancient wisdom, aloofness, and hubris and self-centeredness, all while trying to not agree with the logical, very humanly relatable points that the players were putting forth, in the name of playing the characters.

Each of the dragons had three traits: desire, attitude, and concession, as well as a bearing such as angry, unfavorable, neutral, and favorable. Their desire is what they wanted in the context of the module, which was the cessation of the Cult’s rituals. They differed from the Council’s approach in that their dragon pride made them believe that they could and should go it alone, not because it was “a dragon problem”, but because they’ve got the “long view” of life in Faerun, and have collectively decided that the pattern of humanoid races is one of general dumbassery. They were quick to remind the party that it was a human’s perchance for corruption that started the whole Cult business in the first place.

During the negotiations, it was basically two against one: the bard and (oddly) the tiefling warlock took the initiative to argue the case. Their positions were very Star Trekish: yes, humanoids can be selfish and dickish, but there’s so much potential there…swap the party for Jean Luc Picard and the dragons for Q and I think I’d seen that episode before. But as a person I couldn’t find any fault in their argument; as dragons, I had to.

The only thing the dragons had in their favor (aside from their racism) was their long view of the world. They had seen some shit, and have noticed the patterns. They don’t feel that they could trust that humanoids were doing this for any other reason than selfishness which would eventually devolve into the usual squabbles between their nations. While humanoids were certainly good at war, one dragon asked, point blank, “how can we be sure you’re not just going to turn on one another once the Cult is defeated and go to war over the spoils?” Hopefully, no one could really answer that — they could speak on behalf of the Council, but they couldn’t really speak for the Council, after all. It wasn’t so much that the dragons were trying to be right, but they had to seem entirely uninterested and unconvinced that there was a benefit to them doing something they really didn’t want to do with people they’d rather not do it with.

That’s where the concessions were supposed to come in. Before the party left Waterdeep, Sliverhand attempted to impress upon the party that for the purpose of these negotiations, they were the Council. Part of the point of the scenario was (minor spoiler for the party members who read this, but probably not really) to put the party in a difficult position: yeah, they had the authority to wheel and deal, but after they made promises to the dragons, they would then have to convince the Council to actually make good on those promises. In this, the dragons can only be proven to be correct in their fears: humanoids aren’t as unified in their support for one another as the dragons are, no matter how dire the circumstances are that they’re staring down. I didn’t use all the concessions, because by the time all of the speechifying was done we were abutting our quitting time, and there was still the final go-ahead that needed to be nailed down. After 1.5 hours of talk, throwing in the towel because the dragons lined up to make demands would seem really stupid. Plus, the broaching of the subject of concessions was supposed to be part of the empowerment of the party. They could have outright asked “what can we do to win your support?” and I think the scenario could have been over in about 15 minutes.

But we got some good RP out of it, and hopefully everyone enjoyed themselves. True to form, though, the party’s wildcard Dimsdale Butterstick the Perpetually Scintillating — the barbarian who’s convinced he’s a wizard — almost derailed the negotiations with his unique brand of outbursts, but someone produced a whole bunch of crumpets from their adventuring rations which kept him busy throughout most of the proceedings. At the end, though, once the crumpets had been consumed, the warlock summoned some pretty lights to amuse the barbarian, which actually worked because he failed his Wisdom saving throw.

Good times.

A Little More Conversation

The party was summoned before the Council of Waterdeep upon their return to…eh…Waterdeep. They had turned Varrum the White over the Council’s “Hospitality Ambassadors”, and were on their way to their debriefing.

The Council had redecorated since last the players were there, most notably that Lord Neverember was apparently no longer in charge of the quorum. Lady Silverhand now occupied the Big Chair, but no one at the table offered to elaborate. It was obvious that Neverember was displeased and detached from the proceedings.

Lady Silverhand congratulated the party on returning with Varrum in tow, a sentiment that was echoed by Lord Brawnanvil of Mithril Hall. Brawnanvil was eager to put Varrum on trial for a laundry list of transgressions against the dwarven races. On the other side of the coin was Delaan Winterhound of the Emerald Enclave who saw Varrum’s presence as an unnecessary distraction. He cautioned the Council and the Party against Varrum’s well-known duplicity, and warned that his presence in Waterdeep could be putting the city and the Council’s operations at risk.

Still, Lady Silverhand would not overlook this opportunity to wring valuable intelligence from their prisoner, and sent the party down to Varrum’s interrogation in an act of “good faith”. Perhaps the party — having just rescued Varrum and providing him with asylum — would put the dwarf more at ease.

Varrum was eager to talk. He told the party about the goals of the Cult, the purpose of the Wyrmspeakers and the masks their carried, and about the Thayan’s involvement in the Cult’s proceedings. By and large he was cooperative, which put the party immediately on the defensive.

Once back in the council chamber, a new face had appeared, but before introductions could be made, the warlock had a request: he wanted just two minutes to question Varrum without anyone else in the room, a request that had been denied by the chief interrogator Lady Maquette. Mithril Hall was supportive, but the Emerald Enclave pointed to this diversion as proof of Varrum’s disruptive nature. Lady Silverhand granted the warlock’s request, interested in wringing any and all information from their captive before they had to resort to more painful methods.

The Council was engaged in a run-down of status reports from their kingdoms, but the stories were all the same: villagers and small cities were being emptied of their populations as people fled ahead of impending Cult attacks. Houses, barns, inns, and other personal properties were being razed by dragon fire, and precious possessions were being stolen from the wreckage. The massive movements of people along the Sword Coast was projected to overwhelm the strongholds of Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Baldur’s Gate, Luskin, and others. The Council’s reports echoed Varrum’s statements that the Cult’s attacks had two purposes: to acquire as much treasure as possible for the return of Tiamat, and to overwhelm the Council member’s resources and sow confusion in a bid to keep them occupied.

Winterhound seemed particularly vociferous after the unusually glowing report from King Melandrach of the Misty Forest. Melandrach claimed that Cult raiders had been repelled once he ordered the forest kingdom’s defenses increased, and boasted of confidence that his people were safe. Prince Alagarthas, Melandrach’s youngest son, countered the King’s claim with evidence gathered by his people in league with the Emerald Enclave. They felt that the Cult had merely been repelled but not defeated, and that they were surely biding their time until they could discern the weak points in Melandrach’s new defenses. A stern rebuke from his father through the invocation of his missing brother and rightful successor Neronvain, silenced Alagarthas, driving him from the room.

With the bickering complete, Lady Silverhand introduced their newest visitor as Lady Elia, a representitive of the metallic dragons of Faerun. The Council had been insistant with the metallics, begging for an audience in which they would plead their case for assistance in their fight against the Cult. Their diplomatic missives had been received, but no word had been received regarding their reception. Silverhand was quick to remind the Council that it was foolish to try and appeal the dragon’s sense of decency, since what was life and death for those at the table was merely a blink of a eye for dragonkind; instead, they needed to state their case to the draconic council as diplomats and, if necessary, to make concessions that would win the metallics over to their cause. Lady Elia was the first response the Council had received, and they were eager to take it. It was the Council’s decision that since the party had the most experience with the dealings of the Cult, they would be best suited to provide the dragons with answers to whatever questions they might demand answers to before making their decision. Lady Elia mentioned that she needed to return to her council as quickly as possible, as their deliberations were still ongoing in her absence. The party agreed to leave that evening.

As the Council adjourned, the party was stopped in the hallway by Alagarthas. He pleaded with the party to come to the Misty Forest to stop the impending Cult assault, warning the players that it might be a matter of hours, or a matter of days before their defenses were compromised and his people slaughtered. Winterhound supported Alagarthas’ request, but the party felt that treating with the dragons was far more important to the needs of the council. Angry beyond words, Alagarthas left the party with a confused Winterhound in tow.

+   +   +

I ended up spending more time preparing this scenario than any other, I think, and I believe it paid off. I got to cover all of the bases that I felt were needed at this point in the module, although I was worried about halfway through that it was turning into an exposition dump.

Varrum’s presence is supposed to be a boon for the Council; he fucked up, pissed off Severin, and believes his life in the Cult to be over. But Silverhand’s warnings were accurate in that Varrum is an opportunist. He knows that he has nothing to gain from lying to the Council, but his life no doubt depends on being as truthful as he feels he needs to be, for as long as possible.

Since Varrum was a member of Severin’s inner circle, he’s got a lot of information — but not ALL the information. The Cult’s structure in our version of the module has the power concentrated with Severin. He has advisors who handle the military aspects, so the current job of the Wyrmspeakers is to corral chromatic dragons of their mask’s color who might be resisting the call of the draakhorn, but also to go where Severin deems necessary, quickly, and without question. This isolates Varrum from Severin’s details, but also keeps him apart from other Wyrmspeakers. He mentioned to the party that this was a potential weakness in the cult: since the Wyrmspeakers operated independently at Severin’s sole command, cornering any one of them could lead to the Council gaining possession of one of the masks.

And if you notice that I’m ending abruptly at this point, you’re right.

How Much Is A Promise Worth?

I gave up on No Man’s Sky even before I got on my suicidal Star Citizen kick. My reasons follow closely to many other’s reasons who fit into what I’m going to call the “middle of the road quitters”: it’s a big universe, but not enough diversity of the level that we feel is necessary to maintain an ongoing interest in the game. That’s me, though. I know a lot of people are as enamoured with the game now as they were on launch day.

As the fans form one side of the road (which makes way for me to inhabit the aforementioned middle), the haters form the other, darker side. Some of these people have drifted from the middle and are quick to use their excuse for not playing as a weapon waved to keep other people away from the game. Others, however, seem to have a deep seated hatred of the game based solely on the narrative that Sean Murray and Hello Games (and I suppose Sony, to a lesser extent) have outright lied to consumers, and continue to maintain a wall of silence that, in these people’s minds, only reinforces their belief that they were hoodwinked.

I read an article on NMS today arguing that the silence of Hello Games and/or Sony cedes the field to those who even talk smack at a respectable tone. By not attempting to “control the narrative”, HG/Sony are allowing haters to “write the story of NMS“. This isn’t wrong, but it’s kind of de rigeur in the games industry, really, as the level of PR spin enacted by companies varies by company, so the effectiveness of community rancor also varies…but is always present in some amount.

The primary sticking point for many people who are angry about NMS centers on what they believe to be “broken promises” made by Hello Games, and Sean Murray specifically. I’m sure I’d be raked over some kind of coals by some people for putting “broken promises” in quotes, as if that was a point up for debate: in the minds of these particular haters, the judgement has been rendered. NMS is not just a failure, but HG has doomed itself to Peter Molyneux-like levels of damnation for their transgressions. Think that’s hyperbolic? How long have you been on the Internet, exactly?

Personally, whatever HG said via Sean Murry is water under the bridge. This was a game that I found interesting on premise, not on promise. The core of that interest was having more worlds to visit than I ever could, being able to land on them, and then seamlessly leave them for the vastness of space. Anything else, really, was theoretical gravy. Being able to catalog flora and fauna? Cool! Being able to build stuff? Awesome. Being able to meet up with other players? All right! But the scope was the thing because just on the idea of having over a quintillion places to visit, land, and leave was a technological wonderment that piqued my interest.

What I got in NMS was as much as I’d personally hoped for — and not much more. I can’t see how having multiplayer in this game would sweeten the pot. Being able to build something somewhere that no one would find or visit, or more importantly, that I would abandon in short order as I continued my journey, seems pointless. But I don’t linger on what I didn’t get because I choose to focus on what I did. In this case, what I got wasn’t as good for me as I’d hoped it would be, but that’s me and says nothing about the game itself.

I can’t be bothered to concern myself with strawman arguments over “truth in advertising” (again, how long have you been on the Internet?). The fault, as always, rests with those who feel they are victims of some “scam”. No one forced anyone to give in to hype and pre-order. No one forced anyone to buy the game on day one. The lack of personal responsibility is the biggest crime here, because it’s perfectly acceptable to sit on one’s wallet for a week or two while the hype dies down and the reality sets in. Instead, it’s easier for some people to shift blame so as to remain convinced in the infallibility of their own decisions. It’s not their inability to be patient that’s at fault, it’s that the developers were rubbing their hands together in manic glee at the thought that some rube would fall for their bait and switch schemes. Everyone wants someone to blame, except themselves.

Trending Towards Expectations

This weekend, I opted to put aside No Man’s Sky. I’m going to publicly blame the fact of having played it too often and too quickly because that seems to be a pattern with me: if I play a game a lot in a short amount of time without a break, then I tend to burn out quicker than if I play it a little bit over a longer period of time.

The reason why I play hard and fast is usually because I feel that there’s something buried in that game that I want to dig out. In the case of NMS, it was the potential realization of a promise unfulfilled since the days of Wing Commander: a large, open universe where I could fly to wherever I wanted, and do whatever I wanted, with whomever I wanted. This is kind of the holy grail of space-sims, because while getting into a cockpit of a starship and flying a combat mission is nice, we’ve all been raised on media that’s never been so narrowStar Trek. Star Wars. Even Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Books, magazines, TV, and even toys have always been about human’s expansion into unlimited space.

The problem with NMS is that you get the scope, you get the freedom, but you don’t have the purpose. I’ve written here that the purpose of a sandbox is what you make of it, and that’s still true…to a point. My realization is that while NMS has several “quadrillion” places to visit, that’s a meaningless number because one person can’t visit all of those systems. If anything, that many places serves only to ensure that everyone who wants an original discovery can have one. Beyond that, it’s an impressive marketing point because it sounds like there’s more than enough breathing room for us to realize our space-faring dreams. Of course, in order to even make a dent in this scope, you’re going to need drive, and that’s where the sandbox paradigm has traditionally been hit or miss. A good sandbox doesn’t just give you the sand and the box, but also a bunch of tools for you to make something for yourself. This is where NMS falls down for me: there’s nothing I’ve found that’s any different a week later than what I was doing in my very first hour, and it certainly doesn’t fulfill my dream of being part of a living, breathing universe.

If there’s anything else to blame, it’s this:

Yes, that’s Star Citizen, the Duke Nukem Forever of the space-sim genre, except that this video is 50 minutes of their latest in-house build which expands on what we currently have available to us who backed the project.If you have any interest in space-sims, I urge you to watch this video. It’s long, but if you’re a fan, it’ll be completely worthwhile.

I know some of you might be thinking that we’re talking apples and oranges here. For one, NMS is what it is: a stylized game of mystery that plays out across the universe, with the ultimate goal being to reach the galactic core. It has the hallmarks of a space-sim because you can buy a space ship and fly through space, but at the end of the day you’ve got a mechanical task (reach the core) punctuated with the option for exploration limited in that it’s basically its own reward. For another, SC has become so massive and so controversial that many people don’t take it seriously 364 days of the year.

The Internet being what it is, I know that there’ll be people who are going to subjectively find something negative to say about SC, but for me (a backer, who has a stake in this), this video is proof that despite rumors to the contrary, the game is moving along, and beyond that, 3.0 is starting to show the ambition that explains what their astronomical bankroll is going to, and why it’s taking so damn long to get this game finished. That the version being shown in the video is significantly different from the one I have installed at home assures me, at leastthat Roberts and Crew aren’t sunning themselves on the beach, compliments of our funding.

This all sounds like boosting one game that I’ve invested in in order to crap all over another, even when the two share only tangential similarities, but this isn’t about the quality of either game, or the availability, or the budget, or the public opinion. What it is about is getting what I have always wanted from a space-sim game, and who fulfills the promise better. EVE Online currently does the best job but comes with baggage. Elite Dangerous does OK thanks to the realistic visuals, but lacks long-term purpose, same as No Man’s Sky, which takes a more arcade-like approach in favor of giving everyone their own slice of the universe to explore. At the far end of the spectrum is Star Citizen as seen in the video for their 3.0 edition. They’ve got the visuals. They’ve got the freedom. They’ve got the purpose. They’ve got the promise of creating a living universe that you can actually live in. This is what I want. This is what I have always wanted. Having seen the progress (currently) culminating in that video above, I don’t know that my psyche will allow me to accept anything less, even though I can’t currently have more.

I am reinvigorated about Star Citizen although I am tempered by history. I pay attention to naysayers with only half an ear, but it’s still half an ear: yes, it’s possible for SC to collapse under it’s own weight, although their progress shows me that they’re not just blowing smoke up our asses. It’s possible for the project to pivot because they run into an insurmountable technological hurdle that means they can’t make good on promises, but with over $300 million dollars, time, and talent, they’ve taken what was an abysmal demo that I saw at PAX East a few years ago and have morphed it into this multi-situational scenario that contains pretty much everything they said they wanted in the game: multi-crew space flight, ground combat, and a sense of immersion that no other space-sim has been able to provide. While I would really like for CI to announce that the game is done really soon, I would rather they continue along their current trajectory and provide as much of their original vision as possible. Right now, I don’t have a PC that would run the game, so I’ve got time myself. Meanwhile, I don’t think I can accept anything less than what I’ve seen in this video. Other games are good for what they provide, and I’m not knocking them in the least because really, they’re not trying to do what Star Citizen is trying to do. For me, though, they were always stepping stones in a general direction of what SC is aiming for, although before SC (especially this latest video), I was never sure we’d ever get there in any way. In that case, “some” of what I wanted would have to have sufficed. Now, I’ll have to while away my time until SC releases with whatever I have on hand, although I know that I’ll always be thinking about what’s missing after seeing what SC is aiming for.

Ghost in the WTF

99.65% of the time, I am a live and let live kind of consumer of media. When I watch a movie or TV show, I watch it for what it presents, and I try really hard not to place preconceived notions on top of entertainment because it is entertainment: if we go in expecting something specific, we might as well have stayed home and just fantasized about our ideals in our heads and saved the time and admission fee.

But everyone has a line that must not be crossed, and I’m here today to talk about mine. Recently, there was a supposed “leak” of cast images from the live action Ghost in the Shell (GitS) movie being handled by Steven Spielberg and starring Scarlett Johansson. There were only a few supposed images that had surfaced previously of Johannson in character as Major Motoko Kusinagi, the leader of the anti-terrorist group Public Security Section 9 (or just Section 9). The casting of a Westerner — a white Westerner — in the role of a character who is supposed to be Japanese by virtue of the fact that the series originated and takes place in Japan, kind of lit a lot of people’s Bunsen burners, because the Internet. Me, I couldn’t really care less about this particular bit of drama. GitS is one of my top three all time most favorite series in all of human history, and I thought that the images of Johansson in the role looked pretty legit. I wasn’t even miffed that they were doing a live action version, except for the fact that the movies and the series have all been pretty densely packed, philosophically, which probably wouldn’t play well with a wide release in the West.

But these photos that recently found their way onto the Internet — if they are, in fact, real — made me cringe so hard I had to make an appointment with a chiropractor.


By process of elimination, this is Borma, one of Section 9’s SWAT team members. Despite what this image implies, he does NOT have googly eyes. In fact, here’s what Borma looks like from the series:

I can’t even imagine how they managed to make the leap from source to realization.

Next, Togusa. Togusa was originally a detective, and was recruited by Section 9 for his investigative skills, but stands out because he’s the only one on the team with a family which, in conjunction with the fact that he has the least amount of cybernetics, makes him the team’s “human ground wire”.


Under any other circumstances, I don’t think anyone would notice this casting, except for the fact that the original Togusa is about 15-20 years younger, and is well known in the GitS fan community as the only character in the future who still rocks a fucking mullet.

Thankfully, that’s pretty much where the WTF starts to run out of steam. Here’s Aramaki, the government official who is in charge of Section 9.


He’s got really distinctive white hair, and is so old that Batou, the Major’s right hand man, calls him “the old ape”, which might be a slur in Japan, but might also be a really weird term of endearment.

Saito is the team’s sniper. You might not get that from the fact that he’s got a friggin eyepatch, but the eyepatch is actually a covered-up cybernetic rangefinder that interfaces with his rifle. I think they did a pretty good job with this casting, and even managed to get the scar in there.


Ishikawa doesn’t get out in the field much. He’s the cyberwarfare expert, and usually spends his time tracking down information and hacking systems for the team. Again, pretty good choice here.


And now for what fans would probably consider to be the “most important casting decisions”. First up: Batou. According to the recent revisionist series GitS:Arise, Batou was a member of a rogue military unit and adversary of Kusinagi before she convinced him to sign on with the newly formed Section 9. In the series, he’s presented as particularly tall and muscular, and like Borma, has two cybernetic optical implants. See if you can spot the difference in this supposed cast picture.


I suppose under low light conditions, you might not know the difference, although the actor looks more confused than intimidating (I don’t blame him in the least). I read that someone suggested that the lack of the implants suggested that this movie takes place before Batou had the optics installed, which would put the plot somewhere outside of the normal timeline. Considering Arise screws with the timeline of the movies anyway, I’m not going to discount the possibility, but I do have to ask why do that when people know characters the way they are depicted in the movies and series?

And last but not least, the “most offensive casting choice” of them all, which turns out to actually be pretty damn spot on.


Conspicuously absent is Paz, who is usually palling around with Borma as the team’s muscle. Maybe because they chose to cast Borma they felt that Paz was redundant, and because Paz has no noticeable external cybernetics…or they couldn’t find someone else who looked as stupid in googly eyes.

Now, in trying to find reference images for this post, I learned that there’s a goddamn GitS: Arise stage play in Japan, and for those of you who are harrumphing over the movie’s choices (if these images are legit), then take a look at these characters, who look way more “authentic” and true to the manga, movies, and series, almost to a comedic fault (I’m pretty positive Ishkawa’s beard is glued on, although the actor playing Aramaki is the actor who provided the voice in the movies and series, so that’s cool).

Check out the info by clicking on the image.


A Tough Decision

One of the perks of pre-purchasing the Legion expansion was the instant 100 boost token that allows me to jump the line and make or promote a character to the current level cap. We also got one of these for Warlords of Draenor to boost one character to the then-level cap, so it seems that Blizzard’s M.O. is going to be one free FastPass per expansion when there’s a cap increase.



Amerae, Draenei Marksman Hunter of Argent Dawn and Wearer of the Pigtails of Draenor

For many of the long-time players, this is a chance to add their stable of capped characters on one of many servers. For people like me, however, these tokens are worth the gold they’re rendered as, seeing as how my play style could be considered to be “glacial” at best. Without the benefit of a player support structure, heirloom gear, or other leveling boosts, this token represents my best shot at being able to actually play content that I’m buying into. I’ve written in the past that I don’t like to buy DLC when I don’t get to use it, since it’s often aimed at the level capped players, but I’ve always bought WoW expansions either because I could start over with a new character, class, and zone (WotLK, Pandaria), because the expansion changes the experience (Cataclysm), or because it gives me one of these boost tokens (WoD, Legion).

The big question for me is this: which character and class to boost? I don’t have a stable of alts, just a few that I’ve created to more or less test drive whenever I end up subscribing to the game. My oldest character is Amarae the Hunter. She was the recipient of the WoD boost, and has since earned her way to 100, although she’s not unlocked all of the WoD content out there (still no flying in Draenor). My original Vanilla launch character, Aldort the Mage, was lost at sea during the events of Cataclysm (just kidding — I had deleted him long before that in a fit of rage). Right now I have another Mage, a Priest, and a Druid, all of whom are somewhere between levels 15 and 25.

I opted to boost my Druid, mainly because I find that the Druid is an all around OK class, allowing for some DPS, some healing, and even some light tanking should the need arise. My characters in MMOs tend to trend to towards the DPS corner of the trinity, although RIFT got me interested in the healing role. As primarily a soloist, I figured that the Druid could provide a good set of options for different play styles, without having to change the character.


Supercabra, Worgen Druid of Daleran, First of his Name, and Responder to “Who’s A Good Boy?”

Last night I tackled the Legion intro content which for me was quite the revelation; not because of the content, but because the default spec of Feral Druid is a melee character, which is usually last on my list of class mechanics that I gravitate to. I also jumped into the Invasions afterward in order get some better gear before the pending release. The freebie stuff I got from the boost is certainly usable, but now that I can use this character to prep for the expansion content, I’d best go all in. I closed him out by visiting my garrison, which is, of course, at it’s initial skeleton levels (complete with not-quite-dead-yet King Varian!) and therefore pretty much useless, although considering the hate garrisons get these days, I’m wondering if it’s even worth dealing with at this point.

I suppose the question is whether or not both of my current capped characters will get any play during Legion, or if I’ll just favor one over the other. I am most comfortable with the Ranger (on Argent Dawn), but am interested in learning about the Druid (on Dalaran). As someone who’s not a huge fan of repeating content, having two characters progressing through the Legion expansion almost side by side sounds like something I’d rather forego, but who knows…if the content is compelling enough from a presentation standpoint (I’m not up on the WoW lore so the story might be interesting, but holds no emotional resonance for me) I might be OK leapfrogging one character over another. If anything, it’ll take me twice as long to get my capped characters to the new cap, so if Legion is worth it’s salt, then I should end up playing WoW for quite some time this time around.

Bunnies of Mass Destruction

We now resume our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.

Harried by yuan-ti in the temple after having interrupted their ritual sacrifice of a particularly damaged dwarf, the party found that the mental respite was working in their favor this week. All attacks were focused on the yuan-ti abomination who was essentially blocking the door into the room, and with that much firepower he didn’t remain an obstacle for long.

Early on, the yuan-ti realized that with their enforcer down, they were dealing with some professional grade adventurers here, and started to close ranks around their polymorphed priestess who was hopping around at the back of the room in rabbit form. With the ranger’s Silence spell still in effect, the lizardfolk were limited to ranged attacks, but the barbarian had no such reservations. His Frenzy was still in effect, and he charged into the zone of silence with a suddenly truncated battle cry of pure gibberish. The party watched, stunned, as the barbarian continued to shout, and even appeared to be addressing the party from within the zone where no sound could be heard or escape.

With only two priestesses and one yuan-ti soldier left standing, the ranger dropped the Silence field and issued a call for surrender, but not before the frenzied barbarian saw his chance to do some real damage. Sprinting across the room, the halfling scooped up the priestess-turned-bunny by the ears, and began swinging the creature in wild arcs in the direction of the other yuan-ti priestess. Thankfully for both the bunny and the yuan-ti, the barbarian’s Frenzy was starting to wind down, leaving him exhausted and less than accurate. In the end, he limply threw the rabbit at his target, and the weak impact negated the Polymorph spell, allowing the original priestess to regain her form.

Once again, the ranger issued his call for surrender, and after witnessing the death of their champion, and the batshit crazy assault with a deadly rabbit, the yuan-ti were of no mind to continue this battle. The ranger demanded the dwarf.

“Take him,” the priestess said. “But we hold his soul in exchange for our freedom. He will be made whole once you leave our caverns.”

The dwarf was quite banged up, and a quick healing word from the ranger stabilized him, but he was in no state to extract himself from the caves. Guided by serpents under orders from the yuan-ti and observed by yuan-ti soldiers from the shadows, the party was lead to the crypt of Didarius, where the secret door was closed and the sounds of a violent dismantling of the door’s mechanisms could be heard from the other side of the wall.

The only other obstacle that the party had to face was the group of bearded devils that were left sitting in the commissary. Unsure of how they’d react seeing their master mostly dead and being carried by the party, they allowed the warlock to cast Dimensional Door to a further room in order to take the dwarf ahead while the rest of the party sauntered past the devils like nothing had changed.

With the tomb behind them, the party used the summoning seal that Amonfel gave them for use once they found Varrum, and they rested while they waited for extraction. During this time, the dwarf admitted that he was the White Wyrmspeaker Varrum, and that he had lost the dragon mask that he’d been entrusted with. His trip to the tomb was an effort to retrieve the mask, but he and his party were ambushed by the yuan-ti only to see in the tomb’s scrying pool that the mask he was chasing was already back in the possession of the Dragon Cult. He knew that he could never return to the Well of Dragons, as Severin would torture him and use him in the ritual to summon Tiamat. Instead, he offered his knowledge of the cult to the council in exchange for asylum.

Amonfel and the Boarskier paladins arrived several hours later and escorted the party to the the paladin’s stronghold where they and Varrum were portaled back to Waterdeep.

+   +   +

There’s not a whole lot to say about this week, I guess. We had left off in the middle of combat last session, and we hit the ground running this week. The battle itself was straightforward, thanks to our notes, although the…highlight…of the evening was the use of a rabbit as an improvised weapon. Sorry, a polymorphed yuan-ti in rabbit form as an improvised weapon. Unfortunately this action came almost right after the ranger opted to call for surrender, so I’m sure that the barbarian’s insistence on wielding a rabbit was the least expected action that could have occurred, but in hindsight I suppose that since he was in the Frenzy state and not making sound decisions at the time, there’s some kind of rational explanation in there. Maybe.

Still, I think the party needs to shore up its game plan. Had the barbarian’s assault with a deadly rabbit actually done some damage, then the possibility for surrender would have been shut down and the yuan-ti’s slaughtered. That might have lead to a more difficult time getting out of the tomb, and with Varrum in such a sorry state, he might not have made it out alive. All in all, things worked out as well as they could have, but party cohesion is something that the group has had trouble with in the past, and is compounded by a rotating lineup of players. Hopefully we won’t need to go through the hiring process again, and things can start to come together over time.

Varrum’s capture is most certainly a boon for the Council. On one hand he’s a Greek Chorus of “what’s going on with the cult”, but on the other hand it might make sense: Varrum is a morally bankrupt, self-serving dwarf, which is partly what lead him to the cult in the first place. But he’s not stupid: he knows that there’s absolutely no way he can return to Sevrin and be welcome, nevermind return to his position as White Wyrmspeaker. He’s got no other option but to spill what he knows and hope for some degree of leniency from the Council.

Next week is going to focus on the results of Varrum’s interrogation and what the Council has learned both from the dwarf and from the interleaving period between sessions. It’s also time for an accounting of the Council’s attitude towards the party per the RoT score sheet. The end of this chapter granted the players a new level, and thinkfully it seems to be a rather boring level that won’t require too much downtime for decision-making and character sheet-updating.

Mobile Tropes That Keep Me From Playing Mobile Games

The soft-brained among us would start and end with the monetization practices that mobile and tablet game developers use to, you know, pay their bills, and while a lot of the complaints are legit — these are supposed to be games, not tollbooths — there’s a lot of things that more discerning (and bored) gamers can pick apart about the mobile ecosystem.

Things such as:

Irrelevant Advertising


I got this from Google’s Play store listing of a game called Star Battleships, which is what you call your game when you want people to know your product has stars and probably battleships. If you want to know anything else about the game, well fuck you because Commander Anime here has level 9999 photobombing skills, and feels that it’s important that he be included in the promotional material. The game is free, after all, so what are you complaining about, sissy-pants?

Deal With Strangers


If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that assholes are way more prevalent than scientists believed. While the world-wide network makes it easier for us to find people who share our interests, it also brings jerks to our doorstep, and a lot of time of anyones daily Internet regimen is spent actively avoiding other people.

I get that multiplayer is a way to avoid having to code AI and to make gameplay more dynamic, but mobile games seem to have a fetish for forcing you into a menage a Internet with people in order to progress, or at least to not make your game time a living hell (beyond the fact that you’re opting to spend your time playing mobile games, of course).



If there was ever a trope that represented the salt thrown at mobile gaming, these kinds of ubiquitous images (complete with saliva-flecking tendrils to signify that they really mean it) are the lazy icons that mobile gaming deserves.

Whatever the Hell This Is Supposed to Be


This picture is the equivalent of that painting that Ted Striker was working on during his stint in the mental hospital in Airplane!, except far less amusing and with even less context. Oddly enough, it checks a whole lot of mobile game advertising boxes: Hard to see and therefore hard to understand screenshots of actual gameplay? Check. Oversized text stating the obvious? Check. Unassociated character taking up a disproportionate 3/4 of the screen? Check. Boobs taking up a disproportionate 3/4 of the unassociated character taking up a disproportionate 3/4 of the screen. Check and check.



This is a fucking war-crime. Stop it.

Tappa Tappa Tappa


I’ve seen all kinds of UI violations over the years, and I understand that with a touch screen that everything needs to be big enough for the most sausage of fingers to be able to find purchase, but nothing boils my rabbit more than games that take taping shit to stratospheric levels.

I’m not a fan of trying to get traditional controls like gamepads and buttons on the screen either, but in this screenshot from Megaopolis, and as with many other games like it since the atrocity that was Farmville started the whole despicable trend, being asked to touch each and every house, business, and person isn’t gameplay. It’s a behavior that people with (actual diagnosed, not Internet-assumed-WebMD-self-diagnosed) OCD take medication to stop doing, and yet mobile games go out of their way to encourage this kind of behavior in those of us who don’t suffer from the need to touch every doorknob in the room.

This is really the frosting on the cake (my favorite part of the cake, but my most hated part of mobile gaming): most of what we’re asked to do in a “mobile game” isn’t a game mechanic at all; it’s busy-work. And I’ve played enough MMOs at the level cap to know busy work when I see it. Using things like dailies and gear and rep grinding as a stop-gap between the last bit of content and the next expansion is one thing. Modeling your entire offering around the practice is like being proud of just being able to show up for work in the morning.

We’re getting devices that are rapidly closing the gap between what we could play on PC and console 10 years ago, and what we can play on them right now, but mobile already seems stuck in this hamster-wheel-style game rut that it shows no interest in breaking out of. Shouldn’t we have better games than what we’ve got now? And by better I mean games that make us think, reward us for actual hard work, and make us feel good, sad, or angry (and not angry because someone in the house ran up a $1200 bill buying in-game gems)? PC and console games have always tried to break molds and invent new forward-looking genres, but mobile games appear to be content with whatever mechanics can be subverted to make players pay for the privilege of more of the same.

Game developers frequently pride themselves on the creative nature of their work, and I suspect that not a few have had their souls crushed by churning out another Clash of Clans clone for the mobile market. Where’s the creative horsepower for the mobile and tablet set? I’m not even talking about ports of games awesome PC and console games like Life is Strange, but just original games that offer more than match 3, levels, and 15 minute bursts of time-wasting collection mechanics. I’ve been looking for city-building games for mobile and tablet that are on-par with my beloved Caesar III (which was released in 1998, by the way), but all I’ve been able to find are games that limit my engagement, want me to engage in terribly repetitive tapping, and reward me for the most inane and base behaviors with bright colors and flashing lights. They all feel like a Playskool version of what I’m really looking for.

What’s funny is that I seriously think there’s a legion of traditional gamers out there who’ve turned their back on mobile gaming because it’s been commandeered by companies who found that catering to the lowest common denominator can be wildly profitable, and that riding coat-tails to collect the leavings of the leader du jour can also yield some nice kickback. These companies and divisions don’t have any kind of mandate to “do better”, but rather to “earn more”, and that’s turned off a lot of people who really want games with more challenging and in-depth gameplay. The original wave of mobile games were targeted at an underserved demographic, since PC and console gamers already had service, but I think the pendulum should now start swinging the other way to attract the new underserved mobile population of traditional gamers. I don’t think these traditionalists have buried the possibility that mobile and tablet gaming is something they’d like. It’s going to take some quality product like what they’re used to on other platforms, but I think PC and console gamers would quickly and happily embrace mobile and tablet gaming if only someone would think about developing up the ladder instead of always punching down.