Catching up on New Worlds

Sep. 19th, 2017 03:37 pm
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My Patreon is trucking along, but I haven’t been good about linking to it here. So have a list of recent posts!

This week’s post (sneak preview!) will be on rites of passage, followed by a bonus post on the theory of worldbuilding, since that’s one of the funding goals we’ve reached. Remember, this is all funded by my lovely, lovely patrons — and if you join their ranks, you get weekly photos, plus (at higher levels) opportunities to request post topics or get feedback on your own worldbuilding!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

So. much. TV.

Sep. 13th, 2017 12:12 pm
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I watch a surprisingly large amount of TV these days, because there is so much out there, and so much of it good. But I wind up almost never posting about any of it, because I have all these thoughts and then I don’t get around to writing the big long in-depth post. In lieu of that, have scattershot thoughts about things I’ve watched in the last year.

* I didn’t like the second season of Supergirl quite as well, due in part to me having zero interest in Mon-El. But man, that show is not remotely shy about wearing its politics on its sleeve, with episode titles like “Resist” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted” and plots about protecting resident aliens from attempts to deport them. So even though they have the occasional episode where everybody is phenomenally stupid in order to give Mon-El a chance to look smart (seriously, that one was so bad), it is balm to my soul.

* Frequency has hooked me surprisingly fast, with some good dialogue and a clever twist on what might otherwise be a bog-standard serial killer investigation plot: because the SFnal conceit is that the cop heroine is in communication with her cop father twenty years in the past, when she has him follow up on a lead, half the time she winds up changing the evidence out from under her own feet, e.g. going to a suspect’s house only to find out that in the new timeline he moved away nineteen years ago. Also, it turns out to be based on a film — but among other changes, they turned the father/son setup into father/daughter instead. Woot! Sadly, because everything I like gets canceled, there’s only thirteen episodes of it. (Currently we’re seven in.)

* The Defenders was decent, but distinctly uneven, in no small part because my god Danny Rand is just. not. interesting. (As I said on Twitter a while back, Iron Fist bored me so intensely that I didn’t even get far enough in to hit the unfortunate racism.) And unfortunately, he’s kind of at the center of the plot. On the other hand, watching the script take the piss out of him at absolutely every opportunity was kind of entertaining. And you could make a fabulous montage just of the reaction shots from Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

* I have no idea what they’ll do with the second season of The Good Place, but dude, somebody made a comedy show ABOUT ETHICS. Like, actual philosophical discussions of what constitutes ethical behavior and how the various models of that differ. I am so there. Again. (I can’t believe it got a second season.)

* The Musketeers is far more entertaining than I expected it to be (though admittedly, my expectations went up when the opening credits told me it had Peter Capaldi). Of course it bears only a general relationship to the novel, being an episodic TV series, but it doesn’t have to warp the concept too far out of shape to work; the basic engine is the running political conflicts between the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards, with invented incidents to keep that rolling along. Capaldi is an excellent Richelieu, obviously scheming and ambitious without being a one-note villain (sometimes he and the Captain of the Musketeers work together). And the episodic format gives them some time to explore the individual characters. Much to my surprise, Porthos — usually my least favorite of the set — is really good here, in part because the actor is black and that is relevant to the character’s life story. A Porthos with depth, rather than just being the drunken comic relief? What is this madness??? Also, it’s doing reasonably well by its female characters, including making sure that the invented incidents have women in them, so you’re not limited to the recurring trio of Constance, Milady, and the queen. Yeah, okay, so I’m pretty sure Constance bears only the most passing resemblance to her novel incarnation — but since I like this version of her and have no particular attachment to the novel incarnation, I’m fine with that.

* Ascension was interesting, but flawed. Basic concept: A generation ship got sent out in the ’60s and is now halfway through its 100-year-journey, with tensions rising. The worldbuilding was intriguing, even as I wanted to beat characters about the head for some parts of it (seriously, who thought class stratification in a society that small and enclosed was a good idea?), but the end felt like it was a cliffhanger for a season 2 that, as near as I can tell, not only doesn’t exist but was never intended to.

* I feel like the seventh season of Game of Thrones was distinctly better than the sixth, transit time silliness notwithstanding. It registered on me as a better balance of major plot movement and the little dyadic interactions, which have always been one of the show’s strong points: the writers’ ability to put two characters together and have a fabulous scene happen, whether the flavor is hilarious banter or a flaming train wreck. Plus, Olenna Tyrell may have claimed the title of Most Badass Moment for the entire series. I mean, it was horrible. But it was also this phenomenally powerful, vicious interaction that played out as a quiet conversation between two people alone in a room, without any action spectacle whatsoever. Kudos.

* I enjoyed the first season of Lucifer, but the second took off like a rocket. Seriously, were the writers on a sugar high all season long? They just cranked everything up to eleven, and the result came to life for me in a way the earlier episodes hadn’t. I’m sad they lopped off the last couple of episodes to put them on the beginning of season three, because it meant I got less of what I was enjoying last spring, but from a narrative standpoint I can absolutely see why they did. That comes back in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to it.

* Also, more of The Librarians. One of the few things I fell in love with that hasn’t gotten canceled, even if I don’t think the third season was quite as good.

Has anybody else been watching these? Any recs for shows you’ve been enjoying? I’m primarily interested in stuff that is either SF/F or historical, and skewed more toward the “fun” end of the spectrum than gritty greasy grimdark. I am almost completely burned out on police procedurals, unless they’ve got a strong metaplot or a substantial twist from the usual model.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Today’s random gaming thought

Sep. 8th, 2017 12:12 pm
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You can tell how much an RPG system cares about a thing by how granular the rules for it are.

I’ve known this for a while, of course. RPGs evolved out of historical war-gaming, so many of them have incredibly detailed rules for combat, and much less detailed frameworks for other activities. But there’s another angle on this that I don’t think about as often, which is: when you get a bonus, how restrictive vs. broad is the application of that bonus?

In L5R, there’s a spell that gives you a boost to Perception-based rolls. All Perception-based rolls. Vision? Hearing? Scent? Reading people’s behavior? Commanding an army in battle? (For reasons of setting philosophy, that’s based on Perception.) This spell boosts all of them. Because although L5R is better at caring about non-combat stuff than some game systems, it’s really not all that interested in the finer-grained applications of Perception. Instead of having many spells that give you bonuses to different kinds of Perception, there’s one that hits them all.

Or Pathfinder. My PC has a magic item that gives a +3 to all Charisma-based skill checks, because Pathfinder, like most D&D, fundamentally doesn’t give a damn about social interaction. There is not, to my knowledge, a magic item that gives a +3 (or a +anything) to all Dexterity-based skill checks, because that would include Stealth (good for avoiding combat or taking the enemy by surprise), Acrobatics (good for avoiding attacks of opportunity in combat), Ride (good for anybody engaging in mounted combat), Disable Device (good for picking locks and disarming traps), and Escape Artist (good for escaping entangle and grapples in combat), among others. But handing out a cheap blanket bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Perform, and Use Magic Device? Eh, why not. That last is pretty much the only one that will often matter in combat, unless you’ve taken all the feats necessary to make feinting via Bluff a useful thing to do. And the game is relatively uninterested in what happens outside of combat.

And then you get players arguing that doing X isn’t very interesting. They’re right, in a way, because the rules have made it uninteresting. All you need is this single effect and you’re great at the whole shebang. But if the rules started from the assumption that X is interesting, and treated it with the same care and complexity of flavor they use for other aspects of play, it might be a different story.

(No game can do that for every single aspect, of course. If you tried, you’d wind up with something of unplayable complexity. But it would be nice to see that care and attention given to things other than combat more often.)

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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