Movies & TV Shows

Strange Sunday – Animals!

“corgi rogue” by reiley

My love for furry, little critters knows no bounds. I grew up with dogs, owned a guinea pig and even a group of adorable rats. If it’s a mammal and has big eyes, odds are high that I want to hug it and hold it close. Not really manly, I know, but that’s just the way it is. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who things animals are awesome, as their important role in fiction shows. Many authors and game designers go even so far to have four-legged mammals walk on two feet and have them act rather…well, human. Those strange people known as “furries” even go out of their way to make costumes to look like such a anthropomorphized version of a critter. Our love for animals and how we give them a place in our “art” seems strange to many, and that’s why I’m highlighting it in this week’s Strange Sunday, to discuss with you the stranger ways of using “anthros”

Heil Lassie
Alternate history is a popular sub-genre of fantasy, and it’s actually a genre where humanised animals haven’t been spotted all that often. A shame, if you ask me, because replacing humans with furry counterparts is a way of teaching people about history in an interesting way. As a kid, I rarely watched Alfred J. Kwak, a children’s cartoon that I absolutely didn’t care for back then. Years later, when I was in high school, I stumbled upon a few episodes and checked them out. And what do you know: there’s a crow in that show who turns out to be the feathered version of Adolf Hitler. It’s an interesting approach to show children such a villlain, and most adults will recognise him immediately.

Why not take this a step further? How about a Victorian era setting, in which the British Empire is run by two-legged collies, who struggle with the rebellions of the Persian cats? Or a game about a planet of highly advanced monkeys who...oh wait. Anyway, combining alternative paths of history with furry protagonists might turn out rather interesting.

My furry friend
Animals don’t have to be the main characters, of course, and their intelligent versions could just co-exist with humans. This is something that is explored in Exalted, where tribes of intelligent animals live besides or wage war with their two-legged neighbours. It’s also a core theme of the Ghibli highlight Mononoke Hime, where gigantic wolves and boars fight for the survival of their forest, while humans encroach on it.

Imagine a game where animals work together or against humans, and you’ll imagine a game with additional possibilities. Themes of racism and cross-species friendship become interesting plot hooks, and trying to place the intelligent animals in the setting becomes a writing challenge of its own. See if you can find out where a tribe of telepathic and magical mantis-people fit in…

That’s it for this weeks Strange Sunday. Now, if you excuse me, I have to look up that write-up to play a Corgi in a D&D campaign…

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My top 3 favourite portrayals of martial arts in fiction

“Martial Arts in the Sunset” by MINORITYmaN

Ah, martial arts. These two words alone conjure a myriad of images. From the old, wise sensei teaching his students secret techniques, to the tough practitioners who turn their bodies into lethal weapons through rigorous training: everyone has his own image of the martial traditions in his mind. Martial arts are a by now a staple of fantasy fiction, and have been portrayed in different ways in the media. I grew up with mutant turtles trained in ninjitsu, and cartoons these days teach kids that martial arts give you the power to bend the four classic elements.

Of course, most of these portrayals have almost nothing to do with the real deal. The martial arts of our world, while often steeped in tradition, are anything but supernatural. Yes, to master them, one most devote much time to them, but seldom do they involve spiritual journeys and fighting demons from beyond. Two years ago, I started to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and so far, it hasn’t given me any superpowers (unless you consider a healthy lifestyle one). However, I’m a sucker for supernatural martial arts, and in this post, I want to share my top 3 portrayals of martial arts in fiction with you. So don your gi, sit down in the lotus position, and read this countdown patiently, grasshopper!

Number 3: Jade Empire
BioWare has this special touch when it comes to making great RPG’s. While recent titles received quite some critique, the older games are true pieces of art. One of these is Jade Empire, an epic RPG set in a medieval Chinese setting, where the fist and wicked sorcery rule the land. Characters in this game learn supernatural martial arts, to fight against the evil that threatens the land.

While the premise is identical to the hundred of Chinese action movies you can find in the discount bin of your favourite DVD shop, what made this game stand out was its fluent and impressive combat system. Shifting from one style to another was fluent and easy, giving combat a really dynamic twist. Additionally, the styles your character could acquire were really distinctive and creative. Each style had their own cool animations, and all of them really fitted into the setting. It was delightful to simply see your character pulling off those moves, and I will forever remember it as the single RPG that made martial arts look rad!

Number 2: Tekken 3
Back when I was a little Chindividual, Tekken 3 was one of my favourite PS1 games. While I never mastered the depth of it, it was good enough to vent your aggressions and to beat up your big brother in some way. Each character had his own distinct style, and they all played different. From the half-demonic Jin to the kung-fu cop Law, Tekken 3 even offered you a chance to play a fighting wooden puppet. Most of the martial arts portrayed in this game was actually pretty down-to-earth, except for some subtle lightning animations and special glows. Though I’m not a big fan of fighting games, Tekken 3 still knows how to knock me out with its fighting swagger!

Number 1: Avatar
No, I’m not talking about that boring movie. I’m talking about the cartoons The Last Airbender (please forget the horrible movie adaptation) and Legend of Korra. In both cartoons, martial arts are ways to bend the natural elements of fire, water, air and earth. People who have a knack for it can learn one of these styles, and are then able to manipulate their chosen element through sweet-looking moves.

While many people wouldn’t call the bending of the shows actual martial arts, their movements are clearly inspired by styles from our world. It makes me happy to see a bunch of creative people turning these into a something so spectacular. While the fists of the characters seldom meet, they use their martial arts to force their will upon the world around them, directing it as if their bodies were divine instruments. It’s epic, cool and simply entertaining to see, and that’s why it’s my number one on this list.

So there you have it, my three favourite portrayals of martial arts in fiction. Do you think I missed any? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Our thing for evil

“The Joker” by jossielara

Humans are bizarre creatures. Through the ages, we have established a set of rules regarding “good” and “bad”. No matter how abstractthose ideas are, we have done our best to come to an agreement of what is okay, and what just doesn’t fly. Love is great, but loving someone so much that you follow them everywhere they go is considered rather creepy. Being ambitious is also something our society considers good, but once you go over corpses it’s a completely different story. We do our best to enforce these ideas on every member of our society, and yet the people from fiction who defy these ideas are the ones that fascinate us the most.

Take exhibit A, Heath Ledger’s potrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises. Actually, just take any portrayal of the Joker. One of Batman’s most famous enemies is everything we as a society despise: he is chaos incarnate, and a sociopath to boot. He blows up hospitals just because he wants to lure out a single caped crusader, and burns mountains of money just to “send a message”. He even treats his greatest fan like shit, caring nothing for her emotions. The Joker does steps and spits on our moral and ethic codes, and then sets them on fire. And still, we deem him to be one of the greatest fictional characters ever.

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How Jaime Lannister got on my good side

Before you read any further: spoiler alert. This text contains massive spoilers about the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and especially the events in A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. If you still want to enjoy those books, better read something else on this blog. Please, stay on this blog. It will be worth your time.

With that out of the way, let me tell you something about Jaime Lannister. Ah, what hasn’t been said about this smug-faced sisterlover already. With his good looks and his charming ways, he conquers many Westerosi hearts, but his own only beats for his twin sister. While being the father of a bunch of incest children, he still does his best to be the awesome member of the Kingsguard everybody thinks he is, despite the fact that he already killed a King he had sworn to protect. He has so much to hate, and many viewers of the HBO show and readers of the first two books really hate this arrogant tool. Until a few days ago, I was one of them.

You see, if you make it to the third book of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga, you will discover an entirely new side of Jaime. While trying to make his way to King’s Landing with Brienne, the two get caught by the rather brutish and primitive Brave Companions, and in a sadistic turn of events, Jaime Lannister loses his sword-hand. That’s right: this great knight loses what makes him so feared and famous, and he sure has a serious internal crisis about it. However, instead of turning into a wimpy idiot who just complains about how cruel the world is, Jaime makes up plans to get the most out of the situation, and even starts to appreciate the companionship and bravery of the female knight Brienne. When he gets a safe escort back to King’s Landing without Brienne, he decides that he can’t just leave her behind, rides back to Harrenhal and saves her from a bear, which she had to fight with a blunt tournament sword. Of course, he keeps his cool through all of this, almost never complaining about his lost hand, while risking his life and safety for a woman he could just as easily hate.

Ladies and gentleman, Jaime Lannister is, officially, my new favourite character of the entire saga.

Seriously, it’s impressive how Jaime goes from charming jerk to handicapped good guy in just a few chapters. Even better, the entire transformation feels plausible and is well-written. It’s great to see a tough, badass character like Jaime developing soft spots, and that almost makes you forget that he is the father of several incestuous children and the member of the family responsible for Eddard Stark’s death (though you could write that one up to Joffrey’s sheer madness). It also makes him believable, and that was just the thing he needed after being my favourite character to hate (next to Joffrey. God, I hate that brat).

So, next time you meet a fictional character that seems to be a prick, don’t judge him too fast. Snape turned out okay, and Jaime Lannister seems to be a semi-good guy as well. Hate and despise them while you can, but respect them as soon as they find redemption for their douchery.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I got books to read.

Why I hate Elves

Unlike many nitpicky party poopers out there, I really love Peter Jackson’s big-screen rendition of The Hobbit. It’s fun, action-packed and just great to see, even though it doesn’t stick entirely to the source and is spread out across three movies. However, just a few minutes into the movie, we meet Legolas’ daddy, the king of the wood-dwelling pointy ears: Thranduil. When he came riding in on his elk-moose thingy, I was reminded of one of my favourite aversions: Elves.

From the day I fell in love with fantasy fiction and role-playing games, I have always despised Elves. Something about them just really, really irritates me. Over the years, I have found out what it is about these often immortal, fair beings of the mystical places, and it saddens me every time an author or game designer portrays the pointy-ears in a way that incorporates those features. Wanna know what they are? Well, I have the urge to share my hate with you, so read on and bask in my animosity!

First of all, Elves are perfect. Everything you can do, an Elf can do better. Think you’re the greatest archer in the world? Sorry, but that Elf over there just shot a penny from a distance of five miles while fighting off a group of Orcs. Thought you were the greatest wizard to ever roam these lands? Think again, because that smug-faced treehugger over there has been channeling cosmic powers since first grade! I just can’t stand this perfection most Elvish races in the fantasy genre have, because it makes all other races in a setting look kinda dumb. Yeah yeah, Dwarves have their blacksmithing and humans are somehow always the heroes, but that’s probably just because the Elves are too busy being utterly majestic.

Second, Elves are always pretty. Legolas is pretty, his father pretends to be pretty (he would be without that dumb crown), Drizzt would never say he’s pretty, but according to the fan girls he is, and the list goes on! Beauty is nice and well, but it’s just lame that all Elves are handsome. I’ll give a digital high-five to the person who writes a book with a really, really, really ugly Elf as the main protagonist. I’ll buy that book the moment it hits stores, no matter how retarded the plot is.

Finally, Elves always have some mystical power. They are either immortal, naturally magical or both at the same time. In the German tabletop RPG Das Schwarze Auge, Elves are so damn magical they sometimes craft items and enchant them without noticing. How stupid is that? Could you imagine an Elf making a beautiful necklace for her husband, but it turns out she wove a barkskin spell into it, turning her hubby into some kind of treant? That would at least explain why a large part of the Elvish population lives in forests, and why they care so much about their damn trees.

Really, the only setting that has made Elves interesting for me is Dragon Age. In the world described and shown in the BioWare games, Elves are a kind of gypsy-like race, who have to live in ghettos and who are almost extinct. They have to face persecution and hate every day, but they don’t surrender. They fight for their place in the world, and ally themselves with the forces of nature. They are an interesting race with many problems, but also with enormous reserves of hope and positivity. They’re not perfect, they’re not always magical and surely not always pretty. I salute BioWare, for showing the world how Elves should be.

Now, please excuse me, I have to get that image of Thranduil out of my head. Damn goldilocks with his pathetic crown…

Three reason why you should give the Song of Ice and Fire RPG a spin

A month ago, I did two things for the first time in my tabletop role-playing career. The first thing was to organise a campaign that will be played entirely online (well, except for our next session). The other thing was to start playing the Song of Ice and Fire RPG (SIFRP) by Green Ronin. I can say that both of these ideas were good ones, and I am especially surprised by the system presented in SIFRP. Today, I want to share my enthusiasm with you and give you three reasons for trying a game in Westeros.

Reason #1 – You don’t create characters, you create a house

Alright, that is a lie. Sure, every player still creates a character, but before you get to that, the entire group creates a House. Anyone familiar with Martin’s world knows that the Houses of Westeros play an important role in the daily life and politics, and it was a great idea to give players the chance to create their own. Through a series of dice rolls and choices, the group will give birth to a minor House, loyal to one of the famous major Houses. During their adventures, the player characters will influence the destiny of their House, and will hopefully uplift it.

The House system includes rules for the management of the House and “House Fortunes”, which can be positive or negative. Players and their characters will have to decide where to take their House, and what role it will play in the Game of Thrones. It is intriguing and a nice distraction from the regular adventures and politics, and that can never be a bad thing!

Reason #2 – Combat is fast and deadly

I love Exalted. I do. I think that Exalted is one of the best games that I have ever played. But you know what I seriously hate about it? Goddamn combat. Why? Because it takes ages, and since every competent fighter is some demi-godly superhero, combat drags on and on until someone has run out of their supernatural fuel and is brutally murdered by the equivalent of a human nuclear bomb. Gosh, I hate it.

In SIFRP, combat is the exact opposite. It is fast and deadly, often done in just a few rounds. As long as a character has some competence, fights will be dramatic and exciting, yet short because of the high damage and low health points. The only problem it has is shown when two equal fighters meet each other. Then it can become the boring back-and-forth I despise so much about Exalted. However, as long as you as a GM know your PC’s, and throw the right enemies in them, combat is just a delight in SIFRP.

Reason #3 – It’s Westeros, damn it

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two years, you will know that the HBO show of Martin’s books has caused his fan base to grow by a gazillion percent. Everyone loves or hates Game of Thrones, but every geek on the planet now has an opinion about it.

I am not trying to say that you should play SIFRP because Westeros is all cool and mainstream now. No, what I am trying to say is that you should give the setting a spin because there is more source material now than ever before. Next to the books and source books by Green Ronin, you have two seasons of a marvelous TV show to refer to and use for your players to learn the setting. It is easier than ever before to discover the thrilling world of Westeros, and to create your own tales in it.

So, if you are still looking for a Christmas present for a fellow gamer, you could do worse than to buy him or her a copy of this game. Tell them that winter is coming, and what better to do during the Long Night than to roll some six-sided dice and pretend you are a knight?