Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Cheat Sheets

Did your gongfarmer just become a wizard? Is your elven chandler now a 1st level elf? Want to know what you need to do to make the transition in an easy-to-use format? Enter the DCC RPG 1st level Cheat Sheets, hosted here, and made available to you, Gentle Reader, with the knowledge and blessing of the Dark Master himself!

Includes sheets for all of the core DCC classes.


Cheers!

Monday, 5 November 2018

Some Thoughts on the New Series (Season) of Doctor Who

I have been a fan of Doctor Who for a long time. I have watched every episode known to still exist, and have watched reconstructions of those no longer available…including the BBC animations. Small tributes to Doctor Who show up in my game writing. Some are obvious. Others are buried under layers of personal and literary reference. I have watched all of Torchwood, all of Class, all of The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9 and Company, and even the K-9 spin-off TV series. I have read a large number of Doctor Who novels, and have listened to many Big Finish audio adventures, although I am nowhere near as much of a completist in that regard.

All of the above is to indicate my default positon: I love the program, for all its warts and protuberances. That’s where I’m coming from.

Also, obviously, Spoilers Sweetie.

The Female Doctor

First off, let’s deal with the gender change.

I’m going to hope that this isn’t an issue for the Gentle Reader, but if it is, it should be noted that the possibility was first brought up during Tom Baker’s run as the Doctor. In The Hand of Fear, Eldrad uses Sarah Jane Smith to pattern his body, and then regenerates into his more typical male form. When the Doctor expresses surprise, Eldrad tells him that, as a Time Lord, the Doctor should have known that this is possible.

The first named Time Lord that we know switches gender is the Corsair, who is mentioned in The Doctor’s Wife. The Corsair seems unusual in that they changed gender regularly. While this might be going on in the background more that it appears to be, the few Time Lords whose regenerations we have followed do not seem to follow this pattern: Romana, Borusa, Rassilon, Morbius, and River Song have not changed gender within the program. The Master and the Doctor did so once, and the reaction of the John Simm version of the Master seems to imply that it was not a welcome change. Similarly, in Hell Bent, the General clearly finds the change in gender an annoyance, albeit a minor one.

Gender changes in Time Lords are therefore not common, but also not unheard of. Moreover, the variance of change may be unlikely (the Doctor did not change gender during his first cycle of regenerations, and it is implied that the Master did not either) to highly likely (the Corsair).

The Doctor changing gender is therefore very much supported by the program’s continuity, and may well be a subconscious reaction on the part of the Doctor to the events in Twice Upon a Time. That seems to be the implication to me.

The Doctor Herself

I think that Jodie Whittaker has a lot of potential as the Doctor, but I don’t think that she has hit her full stride yet. That’s okay – it isn’t unusual for a new Doctor to need a few stories before they discover themselves.

I like that she has quiet moments – watching Ryan trying to learn to ride a bike in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and being in the background at Grace’s funeral in the same story, are welcome. Life is not all frantic running about. Some of the best bits in the original series were actually fairly quiet.

I like that they have kept the Doctor’s selfishness and ego, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it as the character progresses. Unlike previous Doctors, the 13th seems to face some opposition to taking charge that she can’t just shout down. That isn’t necessarily a problem – there really are gender biases that the Doctor should be encountering – but she should be at least as capable as River Song or Romana in this regard. Or Yaz for that matter.  We see a little of that in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and in The Ghost Monument, but the writing seems to be going more for “nurturing” than “strong”, and that is also a gender bias.

There are lots of nods to previous Doctors, going right back to the beginning of the classic series – four companions, humans kidnapped (albeit accidentally in this case), and the Hartnell-like appearance of the Capaldi outfit on Whittaker in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Its rough appearance, having fallen from orbit, seems like a nod to Troughton to me. We’ve seen Venusian Akido from the Pertwee era, and the outfit seems rather Colin Baker-esque. The relationship to the companions seems to draw from Davison’s 5th Doctor, but without the exasperation and friction.

Jodie Whittaker is not a virtuoso of looking like she is running from explosions or laser fire. This looks a bit unbelievable in The Ghost Monument, for instance, where the robots would have to be worse shots than Imperial Stormtroopers to have missed her. It was also not convincing in The Tsuranga Conundrum. I can live with that, but I also think that the writers should take it into account. The Gentle Reader may feel differently, of course.

So far, the Doctor seems to be stepping back, perhaps to find herself, except when she needs to deliver a lesson or give a team inspirational meeting. That is not the fault of the actor. I hope that this will change as the series continues. More on this below.

Otherwise, I am very happy with the 13th Doctor. Jodie Whittaker is an accomplished actor, and, given opportunity, shines in the role.

The Companions

Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are all good. Let’s look at them individually, and then together as a group.

Doctor Who's Mandip Gill on Yaz's past & future | Den of Geek
Graham: I wasn’t sure that I would like Graham, given the way the actor was presented at the San Diego Comic Con panel, but I find that he is fantastic to have on the TARDIS. He is an older man, with a sense of humor, who is open to new experiences. He misses his wife, Grace, and this is very well played out in particular in Arachnids in the UK.

Yaz: Rookie police officer who knows that she could do more. And she could. Her family drives her crazy, but is well-intentioned and likeable. The idea that she wants to do more, but is being held back, would have been stronger had she not been a rookie. The implication is that she should have been allowed to just jump the “gaining experience on the job” part of being a police officer, and that sorting domestic disputes isn’t actually valuable. The dispute we first see her resolving is a real dispute, and people with the ability to resolve conflicts of this nature are important.

Ryan: Quiet young man, largely defined so far by his unwillingness to call Graham “Grandfather”, his own father’s unreliability, and his dyspraxia. Although this makes Ryan the first Doctor Who companion with a known disability, it isn’t a known disability, and while it has made some things difficult for him, it hasn’t really prevented him from doing anything other than riding a bike. In many ways, it is treated like Sarah Jane Smith’s fear of heights or enclosed spaces – something for someone else to encourage him through successfully every time.

Together: The group functions well together, and there are great moments of support and humor among them, but there is very little tension between them, or between them and the Doctor. And there are actually some obvious ways to bring this tension about:

Graham demands that the Doctor use the TARDIS to go back and save Grace. If Krasko could make minor alterations to try to prevent the Civil Rights Movement in Rosa, why can’t the Doctor do something similar, but for good? We viewers may know that it won’t work, but Graham shouldn’t be so accepting until he learns it the hard way.

When Yaz goes back, eventually, she is still just a rookie cop. If she doesn’t go back, she misses her family. She gave them up a little too easily at the ending of Arachnids in the UK; that should come back to haunt her. Her wanting to do more, but sometimes having to do the menial things, should also be a point of tension, because sometimes the small things are what we have to do. I could see the Doctor getting quite angry about this when Yaz tells her that she came aboard the TARDIS to do more. The growth arc for Yaz should include realizing how important her job was, even if she never returns to it.

Ryan is on a 67th Century medical ship, and not once does he ask whether or not they can cure his dyspraxia? Another obvious source of tension: Ryan blames himself after his dyspraxia prevents him from succeeding in something more important than riding a bike! What if someone dies as a result? What is someone is critically injured and might die? And when are we going to learn why he refuses to bond with Graham?

Those great moments of support between the characters would be more powerful if we first saw those characters divided by their own conflicts. The Tardis crew under Peter Davison or William Hartnell offer plenty of examples to draw from.

The Adversaries

The Woman Who Fell to Earth:  Tzim-Sha of the Stenza has an imposing first appearance, and a certain “ick” factor, but the Stenza themselves are not nearly as menacing as, say, the original Sontarans, the Cybermen, or the Daleks. They would need a lot of development to be a serious threat to the Doctor.

The DNA bombs, on the other hand, and the data-gathering coils, were excellent.

One benefit of Tzim-Sha was that it allowed the full sarcasm of the Doctor to shine through when she kept referring to him as “Tim Shaw”. OTOH, when she moralized about Karl kicking him off the crane? (1) There was nothing stopping Tzim-Shaw from grabbing Karl and teleporting away otherwise. (2) If Tzim-Shaw could teleport away (as he did), then Karl wasn’t actually necessarily harming him in any way.

That the Stenza keep their victim-trophies in stasis between life and death, and that this is the condition of a specific human girl in the plot of the episode, doesn’t even seem to register with the Doctor. I hope that we see some resolution to this in the future.

The Ghost Monument: We learn a little more about the Stenza in passing, suggesting that they may be the main baddies of this season.

The planet Desolation is said to have been made “cruel”, and the weapons developers on that world have tried to make it inimical to life. They really haven’t succeeded very well. In terms of a deadly environment, Desolation is put to shame by places the Doctor has encountered going back to Skaro…or even primitive Earth in An Unearthly Child. At least on Desolation, the problems nicely compartmentalize themselves, and are pretty easily defeated. Facing Remnants? Here is a handy pocket of gas to defeat them with!

Ilin is the guy who set up this version of The Amazing (Intergalactic) Race. Well acted, but compromises too quickly when the Doctor suggests a solution from The Hunger Games. The story would have been made far stronger had he refused to compromise. Nonetheless, he is a “villain” who is worthy of reprising his role.

The Desolation robots have the worst aim and tracking skills of any science fiction robots I have ever seen. Because they recover quickly from the Doctor’s EMP, her solution is only marginally better than Ryan’s.

The Remnants were a great idea, but I wish that they had been used to do more than provide exposition. This episode could really have used some “red shirts” to demonstrate how dangerous the threats really are. They seem to be location-specific, so unless Team TARDIS returns to Desolation, we are unlikely to see them again. The set-up for this monster, where it is seen on-screen several times before it is revealed to be an adversary, was effective.

Rosa: The main villain, Krasko, is pretty two-dimensional, and racist bus driver James Blake is like a character from the Mirror Universe version of The Andy Griffith Show. For actual menace, police officer Mason steals the show.

Arachnids in the UK: If the data coil from The Woman Who Fell to Earth is the best visual in the new series (and I think it is), the CGI spiders here come a close and creepy second. Sadly, there is no mention of Metebelis III (“I’ve met bigger”) and how the Doctor intended to kill them humanely isn’t explicated.

The queen spider dying at the end is a wasted opportunity. Imagine if the Doctor wanted to trap the spiders in the Panic Room so that she could materialize the TARDIS around them (in a holding cell of some sort) to transport to a world where they could survive. (Note: Not Metebelis III!) Then, when the queen is dying due to respiratory failure, she can realize that she cannot get the TARDIS there in time to save her. Robertson’s solution of shooting the spider becomes, in fact, the most humane thing she can do.

Robertson himself is smarter cartoon Trump.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: The P'Ting was kind of silly to look at, and, although people died as a result of its actions, it was cute enough that kids were happy it survived at the end, its tummy glowing from the energy of a bomb it absorbed. Because of that bomb, The Tsuranga itself was a kind of an adversary, and one with far more dramatic potential than we got to see on-screen.

Direction, Filming, and Sound

Visually, the new series is a real treat. Compared to the effects of, say, the Colin Baker years, we have come a long, long way in telling stories visually.

The sound is mostly good. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor got to deal with the worst sound problems in the program’s long run, but there are bits of dialogue and exposition in The Tsuranga Conundrum that I found hard to make out.

The Writing

Here is where the new series really falls down, as far as I am concerned. Most of the stories fail to have the rising tension required to keep them from falling flat. The inter-companion dialogue is great, for what it is, but also lacks interpersonal tension.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth: As a regeneration story, this was pretty solid. The Doctor and companions had plenty to do. There was some actual light conflict between them. There were some excellent quiet moments. The Doctor uses what is at hand to solve the problems she faces – this was very, very welcome. Looking back at the series so far, this may be the best episode.

The Ghost Monument: The Doctor and companions have to seek out the TARDIS on a planet making lackluster attempts to kill them. They are in the company of fierce competitors who are actually only making lackluster attempts at competing with each other. One has a legendary ability to nap that is only used to introduce a monster.

This is easily the worst writing in the series to date. Sadly, it would have been very easy to fix:


  • First off, make it two episodes, because you should be fitting a lot in here.
  • Companions have just been kidnapped from Earth. There should be some conflict/tension as a result.
  • Competitors are either going to get rich or die. There should be some real tension as a result. We should never be allowed to forget how this ends.
  • Cigar-guy has more than one cigar. Almost kills them all in an acetylene field. This makes the resolution to the Remnants more believable.
  • Someone almost dips into the water before the Doctor realizes it would kill them.
  • Robots start as slow/poor shots, but get better over time. Never give up pursuit. The area requires more debris, things to hide behind, turns, etc., to make the characters’ survival believable.
  • Ilin refuses to accept that both contestants win. One must believe that the other will share the prize. This gives cigar guy an opportunity to grow. When Ilin disappears with the winner, leaving cigar guy and Team TARDIS, the Remnants and robots are closing in. The TARDIS appears the run, and only then does the Doctor remember that she has no key. After a panicked moment, she clicks her fingers and the TARDIS door opens.
  • The Doctor uses the TARDIS to trace back the teleporter, confronting Ilin and demanding that the other contestant keep her word. She does….if cigar guy will help her rescue her family from the Stenza-ruined world they are on.
  • The Doctor admits to Graham that she got the sunglasses from the charity shop where she got her clothes. “My pockets were empty when I fell into your life, remember? Where else could they have come from?”

Rosa: Mostly positive. I am glad that the Doctor didn’t turn out to be the cause of history. Although it may seem like a wasted opportunity that the Doctor wasn’t the white woman Rosa Parks was supposed to give up her seat to, I am glad that wasn’t the case. The villain was one-dimensional, and the least effective part of the story. Ryan making coffee is a good parallel to early Doctor Who stories where Polly did the same.

This would have been a better story if it had been done as a true historical. The TARDIS breaks down, and the Doctor must seek repairs. Team TARDIS’s actions set up the potential break with history. The Doctor is devastated when she realizes that they have to set history back on track by increasing local suffering. Is there another way?

Arachnids in the UK: Mostly positive, although why the hell Yaz isn’t worried about her family in the apartment complex is beyond me. She gives up her established life at the end far too easily. That needs to come back to bite her. The companions accepting that they would have to interact with these creepy, creepy, and altogether creepy things was far too easily come by.

I’ve already mentioned, earlier, how the answer was too pat. Were all of the spiders in the hotel when the panic room was filled? Or were some of them ranging afield? How was the Doctor going to deal with them humanely? There was some indication (sealing them into the hotel, for instance) that the spiders had a form of intelligence. Exploring that would have been cool.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: Mostly positive. I liked Yoss. Again, the Doctor uses what is at hand (yes!) to solve the problem, but it is surprising that magnetic containment fields as a means of holding the P’ting didn’t even come up. The story would have been helped had the Tsuranga had more patients, even if we didn’t get to know them, or even if they were just implied – see Smith and Jones, The Empty Child, New Earth, or The Invisible Enemy for examples.

Also, if you can stun the P’Ting, wrap it up, and then punt it down the corridor, can’t you simply repeat these actions all the way to the airlock?

Conclusions

Very much looking forward to more Jodie Whittaker.

Very much liking the companions filling out the TARDIS crew.

Love the nods to earlier Doctors.

The visuals have been awesome; make sure that the sound is clear.

Hoping for improvements in the writing, especially tensions in Team TARDIS itself. Remember that resolving these tensions is the heart of the best episodes in Doctor Who, and that they have existed in the program since An Unearthly Child.


Glad to see new worlds, new adversaries, and things that the Doctor doesn’t know. The universe is a big place!

Friday, 2 November 2018

Riot: Narita

On the flip side of all these cool heavy metal/hard rock album covers I've been turning into DCC and MCC content, there are the albums whose covers just don't rock. In fact, they kind of suck.

And those can be fun to work with, too.

What happens when you give a red sumo wrestler the head of a giant lemming, a big axe, and a taste for human prey?

Enter the atiran, a species of crimson humanoids looking for some folks to snack on. They are impossible to trip, throw, push, or knock backwards due to their sumo stances. Otherwise, like the album cover, they are not very impressive.

Atiran: Init +1; Atk battleaxe +1 melee (1d10+1) or bite +0 melee (1d4+1) or unarmed strike +1 melee (1d3+1); AC 9; HD 1d8+2; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP sumo stance; SV Fort +4, Ref +0, Will +0; AL C.

What about that airplane in the background? A bit of overkill considering what it is facing. You can find statistics for air vehicles in The Umerican Survival Guide or Crawling Under a Broken Moon #7. We can build some usable statistics from the ultralight entry in the zine.

Fighter plane: Init +5; Atk machine guns +3 missile (1d12, up to five targets); AC 20; HD d14; Speed Level cruise 4/ max 8/; Height cruise 4/ max 8; Act 1d20; SV Fort +3, Ref +4, Will NA; Fuel Tank 1d20; Guzzle 1.
Basic Traits: Bomb Rack, Bombing Sights, Good Instruments.

Machine guns have ranges of 120/240/360, and each comes with a clip of 100 rounds. Automatic fire does 3d12 damage to a single target (Reflex DC 10 for half; uses 10 rounds).

Just because the cover isn't the best, it doesn't mean that the album isn't good. You can listen to it here.