Saturday, January 18, 2020

Resident Evil 2 (Remake) review

    I am a huge Resident Evil fan. It is something that dominates my gaming love even though I am terrible at playing them. Seriously, I'm both a fraidy cat as well as terrible at puzzles as well as zombie hunting. I somehow managed to screw up playing Resident Evil 4 by not realizing you were supposed to fight all the enemies versus running away. Thus, I ended up running out of ammo and weapons due to so much being from loot drops. Yes, that has to be a special achievement for video game players.
Oh Claire, if only you existed. *ahem* Uh, ignore that.

    Resident Evil 7 is the apex of my love of the series due to the fact that it managed to be incredibly scary but also easy enough for me to play it through. Despite this, I actually am really late to the party in playing this. Why? Because Resident Evil 2 was such a classic I wasn't sure I could return to it even with the fact it would be using the RE7 style of gaming. Also, despite the fact I have an unwholesome and weird teenage dork's lust for Claire Redfield despite the fact I turned 39 last year. Our love may be fictional but will never die.

    Given this game was a massive success on every conceivable level and has helped usher in the RE franchise to the second decade of the 21st century. There's nothing I can possibly say which will probably make fans of the franchise pick this game up (as they already have). If you're not a fan of the series then I suggest you start with either the Resident Evil remake or Resident Evil 7, which are both great starting points.

Love Mr. X. He's the gumshoe that Umbrella needs.
    So, really, this is just my impressions on the game rather than a proper review-review. It's a great game, you should probably get it (albeit after the other two). Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy are the two most lovable characters in the RE franchise even more so than Jill Valentine (I'm not even counting Chris here). I actually wish Claire showed up more than she has and she got her own movie, Resident Evil Revelations 2, plus Code: Veronica.

    The premise if you've somehow missed the entire series is that Racoon City is the suburban town on the Canadian border where Umbrella conducts the majority of its unnatural experiments. It is, unfortunately, overrun with tens of thousands of zombies. The Umbrella Corporation has lost control over the G-Virus (separate from the T-Virus) and everyone is going to die. As bad as this is, it's even worse for Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy. Claire is looking for her missing brother Chris and Leon is joining the Racoon Police force on the worst day possible.

Getting tired of Claire pictures? I'm not.
    The plot is mostly an excuse to get you to the Racoon City Police Department that is an amazingly effective set piece. While it's a little strange that the place looks more like a art museum than a police station, full of secret passages and puzzles, I still had a lot of fun with the place. They've also changed it enough that there's at least bathrooms this time around. There are also a few more offices and holding cells to give the impression this actually could be a place where police work is done of the non-zombie hunting variety.

    The tension in Resident Evil 2's remake is impressive as you have to deal with zombies coming in through the doors, mutant Lickers who are far more terrifying than the actual undead, and a sense that no place is truly safe throughout. In the original RE2, the character of Mister X was a minor presence and ultimately forgettable. Here, he's now a character that stalks you throughout the police station once he appears and he's terrifying. Well, kind of terrifying. He looks like an enormous blue-skinned private detective that could star in his own anime. He's actually kind of adorable.

I still ship Leon and Claire even if Ada is his OTL in canon.
    Eventually, you'll escape from Raccoon City's Police Department and go on a journey to other locations like the Raccoon City Orphanage and either try to save the precocious Sherry Birkin (Claire) or deal with the beautiful Ada Wong (Leon) that is basically a woman that escaped from a Bond movie into a George Romero one. Generally, the game is structured so that you play one of the heroes before playing the other's adventures with a few continuity errors between. Indeed, the changes of what you have to do is part of the game's charm and replay value.

    But for me, the game's appeal is the fact both Leon and Claire are incredibly charming characters on a surprisingly "realistic" set of reactions. Unlike characters in later games, this is all overwhelming and insane to them. They try and do what little they can to help their fellow survivors but it's as close to being trapped in hell as you're going to get. It's very different from Frank West who, even in the original Dead Rising, didn't have much reaction to events. It's also a matter of escape rather than day to day survival ala the Telltale Walking Dead games. Yes, these games drew from Resident Evil than the reverse but that's part of the fun.
Now the scariest villain in Resident Evil.

    I also think the Umbrella Corporation's ridiculousness is at just the right level of Bondian supervillain here. William and Annette Birkin didn't meant to create the apocalypse, so it actually has an appropriate level of horror. I also think the addition of the Raccoon Orphanage is appropriately horrifying as Sherry is a woman who struggles to escape the appropriately menacing Chief Irons in a stealth sequence that is some of the most hair raising in the game. We also find some truly twisted things they were up to with the city's lost and unwanted children inside. It's a big conspiracy but not quite as ludicrous as it would become with Resident Evil 5 and 6 or even Code: Veronica where they have their own secret island.

    Speaking of Chief Irons, they actually made the character more terrifying this time around than the ertswhile Norman Bates analog from the original game. While he has inappropriately absconded with the Mayor's daughter's corpse, he's actually much scarier this time around due to the fact he seems to have kept most of his faculties. He's interested in escaping the city and making a fortune from what he presumes will be Umbrella bribe money. That's a much nastier and more disturbing villain than a Hollywood serial killer with a badge.

Claire has taken to the artful smudges of Lara Croft's reboot.
   This plays like Resident Evil 7 for the most part but there's a lot of subtle changes that make it even tougher than the original version. Zombies aren't taken down by headshots anymore, even on Normal Mode. Instead, you have to put three or four headshots at the easiest to take them down permanently and it's just not worth it for the most part. Instead, you want to just disable a zombie whenever possible and dodge out of the way. It's a simple change but effective for making the helplessness of your situation all the greater.

    The game has a wonderful set of unlockables for each of your accomplishments in-game with mini-games and campaigns available just like in the original. In addition to playing Hunk and Tofu, there's the option of playing four additional "survivors" from characters killed in the main campaign like the Mayor's daughter, the Reporter, the Sheriff, and a Umbrella mercenary. I've been enjoying these but kind of wish they'd went with canon stories.

Once a man! Once a man!
    Is the game scary though? I think it actually is probably scarier than Resident Evil 7. A game will never be scarier than when it is tense and this game is very tense. I don't think it can quite pull off the tension of Alien: Isolation or Outlast where you're utterly helpeless. The only section like that is Sherry Birkin's. However, I think they did a fantastic job in making zombies intimidating again as well as giving you a sense of dread as to what you're going to encounter next. There's just enough humanity to the characters that you care about them as well.

    The big difference between Resident Evil and, say, Dead Island or Dead Rising is that there's a decent amount of effort to make at least some of the characters feel like they were formerly people. The designs of the zombies in RE2 Remake really make it clear every zombie was formerly a person. The story of William Birkin may be that he was an enormous pile of crap but he was still a person and that humanity makes his transformation into a monster all the scarier. The zombies here are not just a bunch of targets waiting to get shot. That's the real biggest appeal of the story and part of what made the Baker family so good as antagonists.

    In conclusion, this is not only a solid game but it's a magnificent game and I had an amazing amount of fun playing it. I'm looking forward to playing a similar experience with Resident Evil 3 this year with Jill Valentine having her adventures updated for 2020. Am I unhappy this is distracting from Resident Evil 8? Not in the slightest. This feels like a new game and it doesn't need all the baggage from the somewhat ridiculous timeline that has since emerged in Resident Evil canon, as much as I love it.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

V-Wars review

    I am a huge fan of vampires. This is something that anyone who knows can confirm. This isn't just because I've written vampire fiction but because I just can't get enough of the hungry undead monsters no matter what their form. I'm not a big fan of romantic vampires, though I make a few exceptions, but prefer the horribly cannibal kind that are genuinely terrifying. So when I heard Ian Somerhalder was going to be doing a horror vampire show, I was stoked. I liked him in Lost, Vampire Diaries (one of my exceptions to disliking romantic vampires), and was eager to see what he would do with this show adapted from the Jonathan Mayberry comic book.

The two actors here are carrying the show.
    The premise is Doctor Luther Swan (Somerhalder) and his best friend Michael Fayne (Adrian Holmes) are visiting a spot suffering from climate change that defrosts a virus from early in humanity's history. The virus affects the half of humanity that possess the "Predator Gene" that turns them into vampires once they have contact with the virus. Luther is immune to the virus but Michael soon finds himself transforming into a vampire that feeds upon multiple people despite his desire not to kill. The virus rapidly spreads from Michael to dozens of other people and invokes a rapid but heavy-handed government response.

    Much of the story is following Luther as he struggles to keep to his pacifistic doctor ideals while the situation continues to deteriorate. The vampires have very little control over their hunger but are, otherwise, innocent victims. The government is eager to round up all of the infected and exterminate them without even bothering to try to find a cure. Meanwhile, several of the infected find a greater community among the "Bloods" than they ever felt among regular humans.

    Despite the fact that Michael Fayne is leader of a growing band of undead soldiers, the central antagonist is the US government who is portrayed as only slightly less evil than the bad guys of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. The fictional Department of Homeland Security analog is staffed with people who routinely violate human rights and plan to murder Doctor Swan well before his antics deserve it. This is also supplemented with a group of human redneck hunters who are slaughtering their way through newly turned vampires with the reluctant help of a Native American tracker.
Laura Vanderoot gives a nicely subdued performance.
    I think quite a few of the comparisons to real-life racism and government oppression are silly. I mean, really-really silly. Undocumented immigrants are not blood-drinking creatures of the night. Racism against the undead is a very different thing than prejudice against people whose only crime is being a minority. True Blood used these parallels a lot and I've done it sometime in my Straight Outta Fangton books but that's with full knowledge it's a silly as hell parallel.

    Part of what I like about this show is the fact that it is a veritible whose who of people involved in supernatural genre shows before. In addition to Ian Somerhalder, we have Laura Vanderoot (Supergirl, Bitten, Smallville) and Somerhalder's real life wife Nikki Reed (Twilight). I hope they continue to do this and maybe somehow get other ex-supernatural show actors to show up. See if Mischa Collins has a week off from Supernatural or something.

    The various types of vampires on display is intriguing but underdeveloped with the typical vampire being a savage, wild beast until he feeds only to regain a sense of their former humanity after they are satiated. There are less violent vampires, however, notably that tend to be attractive women but that's genre fiction for you. I understand the comic book develops these into werewolves and other creatures that I hope we get to see more of.

No romantic vampires here.
    The first season spends almost its entirety setting up the titular "V Wars" and I kind of wonder if they shouldn't have just started with the apocalypse already in full swing because its clear the only reason it happens is because everyone is an idiot.

    Quarantining carriers for a cannibalism plague seems like a reasonable assumption as would be getting the entirety of the CDC working on this rather than one pacifist single father. As stated, even if they bombed the vampires, it'd probably be a bit more justified than the show depicts where even isolating the infected is shown as a gross violation of civil liberties. You know, when they're ripping the throats out of people.

Well, maybe one.
    My favorite plot of the show is Michael Fayne as he is unwillingly set up as the vampire messiah despite the fact he's probably the most humane of the undead. He's still a killer but that's because his instincts are apparently completely warped by the infection. He's also one of the few who actively fights against it. I can actually believe he and Luther were good friends, even as the show contrives numerous reasons to keep them apart despite their shared desire for a peaceful solution. My least favorite plot is anything to do with Doctor Swann's son who manages to make the story even more ridiculous as he becomes the Chosen One who can save or doom everyone.

    I'll be honest, this is a very silly show. Not because it's trying to be silly but because it attempts to be serious and believes its making edgy social commentary despite being a overacted vampire show. This is why I'm recommending it, actually. Too often people think you have to watch good programs that they miss the appeal of a really bad one. The fact Somerhalder is acting his ass off as is everyone else to such a ludicrous premise only adds to the entertainment value. This is definitely a show I recommend but in the context of being cheesy as hell.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Feminist Grimdark recommendations

One of the things I love is grimdark fantasy. I write for Grimdark Magazine, I love numerous grimdark series, and I occasionally dip my toe in the genre even if I'm probably way too light-hearted a soul to really touch base with it despite my many grimdark protagonists. One of the things I recently had a conversation regarding, though, was about feminist grimdark.

For the sake of avoiding miscommunication, what do I define as feminist grimdark? Both feminist and grimdark? Feminist fiction for me being fiction that that deals with the problems and perspectives of women through the lens of oppression or acknowledgement of their struggles. It covers everything from The Handmaid's Tale just to Buffy's kickass adventures. Grimdark, for the purposes of this article, is a description of dark and gritty adult science fiction or fantasy. It's not meant as a pejorative but as a way of saying, "This stuff gets dark, yo. Keep the kiddies away."

I thought I would share some recommendations for books both by women and about female adventures with a particularly dark as well as twisted bent. I welcome anyone who wants to contribute their own recommendations to the story and why.

For the sake of avoiding miscommunication, I'm going with the criteria.
  • It's by a woman.
  • It's about at least one female main character.
  • At least one of their struggles in particular is related to womanhood.
  • It's grim and dark
  • It must be science fiction, fantasy, or urban fantasy. It can edge on horror but must include one of those other three. I'm going to try to also draw some attention to some lesser known works as well because, why not?

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

For me, the most fascinating story about this grimdark book would have to be the tale of Thalia the High Priestess. A woman who has spent her life committing abominable sacrifices in the name of a (probably) nonexistent god wants to live a normal life for herself. Well, normal is a complete failure when she hooks up with the psychotic yet charismatic warlord Marith. Anna Smith Spark has rightfully earned her mantle as Lady Grimdark with this dark and twisted tale.

The Rhenwars Saga is actually based around the characters of Darren and Quin but my favorite of her creations is undoubtedly Merris in the first book. A young street urchin who is adopted as a sorceress, she's a character who goes in entirely new directions than is normally expected from such a formula. The women of the Rhenwars Saga are expected to be the support and love interests of the men but oftentimes find themselves out of such roles, pursuing agendas that would never be accepted under rules of "traditional" fantasy.

When I first was coming up with this article, I was actually just going to talk about her because her books are a fascinating glimpse into some genuinely twisted grimdark that has a definite feminist bend. The Peqkyrian people are a brutal imperialist slaver culture. They're also a race of matriarchal women warriors. The corruption of their ruler, the Melokai, makes up the first book and is a fascinating glimpse into someone who is as flawed as well as outright corrupt as anything you'd find in George R.R. Martin. The Peqkyrian are the protagonists but not necessarily the heroes and how they impact other women in other nations makes some fascinating twists as well as turns.

The story of Vic is an interesting tale of a typical fantasy heroine's desire to go out "there" and learn more only for it to go horribly wrong when she's kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave to a man interested in breaking her mentally. She escapes, becomes a warrior, learns magic, and then struggles to continue deal with the gaslighting that continues to effect her decades later. I really liked this book for its continuing ability to zig whenever I expected it to zag. Others struggle with the fact the heroine isn't automatically going to make the right decision.

The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

Really, I love all of Devin Madson's work and there's nothing I wouldn't recommend by her. A friend of mine says that I should be recommending We Ride the Storm but I just happen to like this installment by her slightly more. Princess Hana was a character that spoke to me and I liked her more, what can I say. The fact it's not automatically set in a Medieval Fantasy world was a good benefit to it as well.

I would be extremely remiss if I didn't put this one on the list as it's rightfully earned its place as one of the stand-out books of the genre. Taking the Young Adult formula of other books and putting it through the ringer, it uses a fantasy version of the Second Sino-Japanese War (a.k.a WW2 for many of us laymen) to show the sheer stark brutality of it as well as how it can corrupt even the kindset souls. This is probably my no. 1# "you must read this.

Godblind is the hard-hitting debut by Anna Stephens and the first volume in the Godblind Trilogy. The novel is a medieval epic fantasy set in the small land-locked kingdom of Rilpor and its antagonistic western neighbours, the Mireces. The geography is small, but the cast is large, with ten point-of-view characters. All are variously traumatized, and none escape with clean hands. The rigorous pace and savage fight scenes make it compelling reading. Women play a fantastic role in both the religion as well as the narrative with it being among my all-time favorite grimdark stories.
The world is dying and everyone in a nomadic desert people and its neighboring China-like empire knows it. However, the two races are meeting the conflict differently with questions of heritage, lore, and family playing a central role in the story. It may not be the darkest fantasy to get the grimdark label but I learned about it through Grimdark Readers and Writers so I'm going to count it anyway. I absolutely love these books.

Given the predominance of urban fantasy and paranormal stories by women, this is a strange one to pick out of all of them to put up here but I think it deserves that spot. Before Laurel K. Hamilton's signature series went, uh, into a different genre she created it with the idea of making a feminist heroine who was as prone to drinking, violence, sex, and brutality as any male noir hero. She also added vampires. I remember picking this up due to its descriptor as an "R-rated Buffy" and I still have an affection for the first ten or so books about a Necromancer vampire executioner.

This is another cheat but it's my love of morally ambiguous anti-heroines and Worlds of Darkness that brought me into grimdark. Really, I could go all day with my recommendations but I'll choose this one here. Sonja Blue is just a character I love and as a amoral vampire is one of my favorite. I especially like this volume because its villain is a Tammy Faye Baker-esque religious con woman who manipulated her circumstances to become powerful while betraying every virtue she claims to possess.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Interview with Matthew Dawkins about CULTS OF THE BLOOD GODS

Hey folks,

We have Matthew Dawkins here, line developer for VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE at Onyx Path Publishing, and prolific game writer for multiple series. He is also author of new game series THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, which is a humorous tabletop roleplaying game line about adapting cheesy 1950s sci-fi ocean monster stories and Red Scare-era fiction.
Today we're here to talk about CULTS OF THE BLOOD GODS, which is a product presently on Kickstarter for the aforementioned Vampire: The Masquerade. After the successful funding of a 5th Edition of Chicago By Night last year, this is a supplement that deals with the cults and weird religions of vampire society. Perfect for Christmas if you're a aging Goth like me. I've already backed for multiple copies to distribute to my friends.
1. What is Cults of the Blood Gods?
Cults of the Blood Gods is the first ever religious compendium for Vampire: The Masquerade. It breaks down the biographies, centers of powers, Disciplines, rituals, and all kinds of fun content for a multitude of Kindred faiths. It also acts as the introduction to Clan Hecata, the Clan of Death once known as the Giovanni and previous to that, known as the Cappadocians.
2. Why did you feel that Kindred religion was something to tackle so early in the V5 product line?
It’s one of the building blocks of any society, especially one that’s lasted for millennia and still containing millennia-old members. Theology has always been a source of fascination for me, and as a big fan of Deities & Demigods and Faiths & Avatars for D&D, I felt it high time Vampire: The Masquerade received a similar book.
3. The Giovanni clan and several death related bloodlines are being merged into something called the Hecata. Why is this?
Because times change, and as independence from the Camarill and the Anarchs becomes increasingly fraught with peril, the various clans and bloodlines of death flock together for safety and to achieve a higher purpose. One could even surmise that the Clan of Death were known as the Hecata before they were the Cappadocians.
4. What sort of religions and cults will we find in this book?
So many! Big profiles on the Church of Set, the Church of Caine, the Mithraists, the Bahari, Ashfinders, Nephilim, and Cult of Shalim, and smaller bios for cults such as the Meneleans, the Eyes of Malakai, Gorgo’s Nest, and more! There’s also big sections on mortal cults (and how mortals might follow and worship Kindred, and how those vampires can treat their worshipers), and lots of sample religious with less broad impact on the World of Darkness.
5. Will there be any crunch to be found for our rules-hungry friends?
Definitely. You’ll see new powers for the Mithraists, the Church of Set, the Church of Caine, Bahari, Cult of Shalim, the Hecata of course, and more besides. There’s also new coterie types, predator types, and a way to start using bloodlines in V5.
Image result for Matthew Dawkins
6. Do you have a favorite religion among the various Cainite faiths?
Probably the Hecata, because I love the ancestor worship, the incestuous nature of the cult, and the structure as a highly functioning yet incredibly dysfunctional family. It’s a cult within a cult. I love the many faces of death and how they interact with each other.
7. Will there be any information for fans of the Ministry (Followers of Set)?
This book presents the Church of Set, which is very much the orthodox arm of the Ministry. Ministers can follow any religion in service of their clan’s goals, but only the Church of Set establishes doctrine and holds any kind of formal rank within the clan. Notably, vampires of other clans can become members of the Church of Set.
8. How about the fans of the Sabbat?
They’ll probably enjoy the Church of Caine, who aren’t Noddists (followers of the Path of Caine from previous editions), but are Gnostics. They’re a different strain of Christianity and Caine worship, in many ways, like real world Gnostics to Catholics, or Protestants to Catholics at the time of the Reformation. You can gain some insight into how faith works in the Sabbat by examining them, though they hate the Sabbat and specifically the Lasombra for what the Keepers did to the Cainite Heresy many years ago.
9. Banu Haqim?
Cults of the Blood Gods doesn’t contain any Banu Haqim exclusive cults, but don’t worry if you’re a fan of the clan: something is bound to show up in one of the upcoming stretch goals that we’ve already hit.
10. Will this be useful for any fans who want to keep using or bring back Roads and Paths of Enlightenment in their games?
Very much so. Paths of Enlightenment are easily constructed using Convictions and Chronicle Tenets in V5, and each major cult in this book has a long list of Convictions provided.
11. Any news on fan favorite NPCs in this book like Isabel Giovanni or the sinister Doctor Mortius (Da Dum!)?
Isabel gets a mention, but she may be going by a different name these nights. Mortius is the silent partner behind the Ashfinder cult, happily letting thin-bloods dabble in undead narcotics while he analyzes the results.
12. One of the stretch goals (already reached) was a supplement called Trail of Bone and Ashes. Can you tell us what that will be for fans backing the Kickstarter?
Four full playable stories with a lot of depth, touching different themes central to Vampire and Cults of the Blood Gods. Just as Let the Streets Run Red covered humanity, the herd, hierarchy, and politics, the Trail of Bone and Ashes will contain stories encompassing faith, perversion, deception, and all sorts of fun stuff.
A second supplement called Forbidden Faiths has also been reached too as I understand it. Let's hope you hit at least as much as Chicago by Night's Kickstarter.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Witcher (2019) review

    The Witcher is a series that I learned about from CD_Projekt Red the same as many other Western fans. We played the games that were non-canonical Expanded Universe sequels to the books well before the books became available in the English language. I've read those as well and was excited about the Witcher series being based on the original Andzej Sapkoski stories.

    However, after Game of Thrones, I had the worry that the series would be as schizophrenic as the latter seasons. Very often, television programs invent new stories to fill time for actors and these are often the weakest parts of the story. So is The Witcher any good? Yes, as long as it's following Sapkowski's material. It goes off the rails every time it deviates.

Great action scenes.
    The premise of the series is that Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) is a mutant monster-hunter. Witchers are pariahs in society despite their usefulness and must wander from town-to-town, killing for coin. Geralt is an apparent cynic who is actually a frustrated romantic. He hates the cruel, corrupt, and venal Medieval society he lives in. Accompanying him on his adventures is Jaskier (Joey Batey) who is a bard that has decided to latch onto Geralt in order to make his legend (as well as Geralt's).

    In addition to Geralt's adventures with Jaskier, there is the story of Yennefer of Vengerburg (Anya Chalotra) who is a deformed young woman who discovers immortality and power at the mere cost of the life she could have had before. Rounding out the protagonists is Ciri of Cintra (Freya Allan), a young princess who witnesses the extermination of her kingdom and finds that her family was hated as tyrants.

The best witch is the coldest.
    The first season is a rough approximation of the first two Witcher short story collections, The Last Witch and The Sword of Destiny. The parts that star Geralt are the best parts of the series and the most faithful to the original stories. They adapt "The Lesser Evil", "The Edge of the World", "The Witcher", "A Question of Price", "The Last Wish", "The Bounds of Reason", and "Something More" quite well. The only story that gets mutilated is "The Sword of Destiny" (the story not the collection) where Geralt was a major player but doesn't even show up.

    The biggest alterations are expanding on Yennefer's backstory and giving a completely new series of adventures for Ciri to engage in. In the Witcher short stories, it's mentioned that Yennefer was a deformed young girl that had her body repaired by the Brotherhood of Sorcerers only for her to be sterialized by her mentor Tissaia (MyAnna Buring). She spends decades after mourning the lack of a chance to be a mother and working to discover a way to achieve it.

    Here, we see her sterialization is a result of her magical plastic surgery and it undermines the character of Tissaia a bit. In the books, she believes in the supremacy of magic above all things and that women should not be distracted by mundane concerns like family (showing her internalized misogyny and callousness).

Yennefer is gorgeous and enchanting - as she should be.
    Tissaia is also shown to be leading the resistance against Nilfgaard, which is the opposite of her book persona where she believes mortal governments are another distraction from the brotherhood of mages (that no other mage subscribes to). Yennefer also seems more ambiguous about her desire to be a mother, which seems like it's an attempt to not make her seem weak but actually achieves the opposite of making her not know her own mind. Yennefer is many things but indecisive is never one of them.

    There's also a weird attempt to grimdark up some of the stories. The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny are somewhat humorous collections despite seriously dark moments. The show adds some horrible villainy to characters like Calanthe (Jodhi May). She's inexplicably shown to be engaging in pogroms of elves for no reason. We also have the Brotherhood of Sorcerers turning failed candidates into eels.

    Ciri's adventures are the weakest part of the narrative as she basically wanders from tent to forest to tent to forest on a pointless joirney that tells us very little about either her character or her relationship with her mother. We see none of the snarky young badass-in-training that we'll see in the later books. Basically, she's an obnoxious child and that makes her much more entertaining than the mostly silent one we meet here.

Cavill can sometimes channel Geralt VERY well.
    Henry Cavill does a surprisingly good job as Geralt and I admit this is probably my favorite role of his. He seems to basically go between channeling Clint Eastwood and Doug Cockle (the game's Witcher) but the Man with No Name was the inspiration for Geralt anyway while the other is well-beloved by gamers. I never quite completely bought him as the character but he did at least achieve the "famous actor I recognize doing the character I like" that Tom Cruise and Lestat did. I was entertained and enjoyed his work greatly.

    Anya Chalotra's Yennefer was exceptional and despite the fact her original material was weaker than Geralt's stories, I felt she did an excellent job. So much so that I felt that were this an original series, I'd still be watching it for her. She's also a great beauty and while the sheer amount of nudity on display is gratuitous (she seems like to casting spells topless for some reason), its a small distraction from serious acting chops. I've seen some people complain about the fact a biracial woman was cast in the role but phooey on them.

    The action is good, the special effects are excellent, and the writing (the original writing that is) is great. It's just when they color outside of the lines of Sapkowski's original work that I think the show suffers.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Fall of London (Vampire: The Masquerade) review

    THE FALL OF LONDON for Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition is a chronicle that details one of the most important events of the latest edition of the tabletop game: the destruction of every vampire in London at the hands of the Second Inquisition. London has always been one of the pillars of the Camarilla and while very little was actually written up for the city, it was long considered a fan favorite due to its stature in the real world as well as its rulership by 4th generation Methuselah Mithras (the in-universe inspiration for Roman mystery cult god).

    The premise is the player characters awaken in London (either pregens or the player characters of the Chronicle) and are forcibly recruited by Mithras to help him regain his former power. Decades ago, Mithras was diablerized (eaten) by a much-weaker vampire and while he was able to possess said vampire due to his titanic strength of will, he lost most of his strength. His loyal toady and lover, Roger de Camden, has prepared a ritual to restore Mithras to his former glory. This ritual requires numerous objects of power and it is up to the player characters to acquire them.

    If this plotline sounds familiar, it should as the idea of evil rituals designed to resurrect or restore Dark Lords are a fairly common fantasy plotline. Voldemort is the most famous of contemporary examples but we also have Dracula in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Thanos' attempts to gather the Infinity Stones, and the Masks of Nyarlathotep. The big twist here is that the player characters are the Death Eaters than Harry Potter and his crew. London will gradually fall to the Second Inquisition as they work to restore their master, whether they're working for him willingly or not, until the final ritual climax when they might betray or aid the ancient vampire god.

    If the players do not choose to use the pre-gens, you're going to have to explain why they should care about serving the interests of a ancient evil vampire. The game doesn't really give too much insight but if their player characters aren't saints, it shouldn't be too hard to convince them. As Benny said in the Mummy, "Better to be at the Devil's side than in his path." Players can be offered power, wealth, and the gratitude of an evil god. They can also have their loved one's threatened or be Dominated into it (which should encourage them on a path of betrayal). Really, you should just make sure everyone is ready to go along with this because otherwise there's no game.

    The Second Inquisition has been a controversial topic among fans due to the fact that it moved vampires on the defensive after decades of being treated as the unquestioned secret masters of the world. The fact that mortal hunters, worse, mortal hunters working for the government were able to take out many fan-favorite characters as well as resist vampire subversion rubbed a lot of players the wrong way. It didn't help that real life human conspiracies rarely maintain the level of secrecy or effectiveness that the Second Inquisition was shown to operate under.

    The book gives an example of how the Second Inquisition operates and gives examples of characters, equipment, standard operating procedure, plus ways of using them. The Second Inquisition is not invincible or all-knowing. They're also being used by Mithras as a catspaw against his enemies, though even he wildly underestimates just how much damage a well-trained well-funded paramilitary organization can do in the Modern Era.

    The book isn't like Diablerie: Mexico or Dialberie: Britain. The scenarios it contrives for the PCs to eventually get all of the nick-nacks they need to restore Mithras are well-designed for a serious Gothic Punk story. There's no raiding tombs here. I also appreciated the fact that the ending allows the player characters to choose to side with Mithras, Queen Anne, betray both to the Second Inquisition, or betray the Second Inquisition to the others after betraying them. You can also just leave the city or try to rule the ashes. It reminds me of the endings of Bloodlines and how those benefited from you being a treacherous monster.

    The book retcons the death of Queen Anne Bowesley, so that she actually is able to stay ahead of the hunters even with Mithras helping them. That is, unless the PCs help bring about her end. Really, the book dials back a lot of the flaws of the Second Inquisition as while they're a formidable foe, it's made clear that London wasn't so much "purged" as quite a lot of vampires just left for Birmingham, Edinburgh, or Cardiff until the SI decided to move on. Lots of weaker vampires died but they were never standing there to have a throw down with the hunters in the first place. What do take them for, Sabbat?

    The Fall of London is extremely well-done and provides a lot of information for those who are unfamiliar with Mithras or the characters involved. While no substitute for a London sourcebook, it gives enough information on the various power players that you could easily run a campaign set before the Fall. It's also possible to use the book to set a game after the Fall when the vampires start trickling in again after the Newburgh Group (The Knights of Saint George, Arcanum, London police, and MI5) thinks they've won.

    The book contains numerous NPCs that help fill out London's vampire rank and file. I was especially fond of Sri Sansa, a former Victorian con man turned Tremere "master of the mystic arts" and Ayse Dhanial who struggles for women's rights while not losing her Muslim faith. The latter was an interesting addition to House Carna. There's also plenty of previously established characters like Mithras, Anne Bowesley, Regina Blake, and Roger Camden. Having them updated makes the book all the more useful for Storytellers.

    The book is not presently available but you can read the PDF if you pre-order the hardback copy. Sadly, a PDF copy of the book is not yet available separately. I expect one will become available but probably not for a few months. You have to shell out the big bucks to Modiphus if you want to read about resurrecting Lord Voldemort or not. While I prefer my games to feel a little less arcane, I think it was a really solid work overall and goes a long way to making the Second Inquisition make sense as an antagonist. Now all they need to do is a Chronicle about the Fall of Vienna.

Available for purchase here

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Blackest Spells available on Kindle and in paperback form

Hey folks,

I have a great announcement for you. My second and final fantasy anthology, BLACKEST SPELLS, has been released in paperback and ebook form for your purusal. It is a collection of over dozen short stories from some of the best indie fantasy writers today.

Magic to make the sanest man go mad.

Dark wizardry. Witchcraft. Curses. Hexes. Evil Sorcerers. Fantasy has a long history of people wielding the forces of darkness for nefarious ends. Blackest Spells is a collection of eighteen short stories and novelettes detailing stories of shadowy figures wielding unholy power. The sequel to the Blackest Knights anthology contains stories ranging from the machinations of the fae to wishes gone wrong to wicked plots in space.

Contains fiction by: Michael R. Baker, Allan Batchelder, C. H. Baum, Matthew P. Gilbert, S. D. Howarth, Matthew Johnson, Christopher Keene, Paul Lavender, Ulff Lehmann, Frank Martin, Richard Nell, Martin Owton, C. T. Phipps, Michael Pogach, Jesse Teller, Damien Wilder, and David Niall Wilson

I hope everyone will pick up a copy and enjoy it. There's a couple of my stories in there as well.

Available for purchase here