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Thoughts, opinions and observations from Todd

Deja View Review #2: 1st Level Dungeons of old and NeMoren’s Vault

by @Todd Secord and @1jamesbell and the Fiery Dragon Crew

What with the ongoing play testing of D&D Next the past few years, the most recent incarnation of the venerable Dungeons & Dragons Tabletop Roleplaying Game, and now the result of that play testing – the impending release of new 5th edition set of rules – I have to say I’m feeling pretty excited and nostalgic about my favourite game.

D&D 5th Releases

D&D 5th Releases

As fans of D&D, we at Fiery Dragon have never experienced the snag of the “Edition Wars”, having enjoyed each version of the game for what it was trying to do in its own way. We have the luxury of being veteran players (and designers) and with that experience the understanding that things change. D&D has ALWAYS been a game about what you make it, not what you’re told it should be. Yes, we enjoyed 4th edition muchly, but I think it’s fair to say that the 3rd edition will forever be our home. I can assure you, if we ever get inducted into gamer Valhalla 3rd edition will be the team jersey we’ll chose to wear. Mostly, because it was 3rd edition and the promise of the Open Gaming Licence that inspired the inception of Fiery Dragon Productions. We were nothing more than a group of hot shot hobbyists back then, a bunch of gamers from the old school 70’s that had wives and families and responsibilities and a love for a game that never quite left our systems. As word of the OGL became solidified we quickly made plans to throw our hat in the ring, and that hat turned out to be our inaugural adventure product NeMoren’s Vault.

042_1339430505Designed to launch a RPG gaming company, NeMoren’s Vault turned out to be far more successful than we ever hoped for. From the fact that it was one of the earliest published adventures available to buy for the D20 System (right behind Atlas Games’ “Three Days to Kill” and Green Ronin’s “Death in Freeport”), to its two Ennie nominations (Best Adventure and Best Writing for @1jamesbell), to it being the platform that essentially launched our long line of counter products, it had garnered us a lot of attention. It paved the way for us to establish connections with highly recognized talent throughout the industry and propelled us forward as a creative force in our own right.  And all of this was achieved because at the heart of NeMoren’s Vault is a rather innocently crafted introductory adventure; a blend of the great 1st level dungeons that we grew up on, with a healthy dose of Fiery Dragon know how. (more…)

Kickstarter Update from Green Ronin

Kickstarter Update From Green Ronin…


The following is from Chris Pramas of Green Ronin…

Hello all,

Update time!

Fiery Dragon has turned over files to us, so the lion’s share of their work is done. Huge thanks to James Bell, Scott Holden, Todd Secord, and John Wilson for all the hard work they’ve put in on this project over the past year. We could not have done this book without Fiery Dragon so buy them beers if you see them at GenCon!

Right now GR’s graphic guru Hal Mangold is tightening up the files and working on art direction. Very soon now (likely next week), we’ll have a PDF with all the book’s content…

Further information can be found here!

Movie Inspiration #4: The Matrix: Haters still Hate?

The Matrix: Haters still Hate?

By @Todd Secord

My history with The Matrix has always been a weird one. Back in 1999 I didn’t find the original particularly inspiring. I even remember being mad when it took best special effects at the Oscars. That year was also the Phantom Menace, and although you had a very shitty movie, the 2000 special effects shots it mustered, at the time, was an outstanding feat of movie making.

matrix vs star wars

Right after this moment is when the hope for an awesome Star Wars Prequel began to fade…

I mean, The Matrix’s slow-mo thingy was interesting, and later paved the way for Zach Snyder to use it and never give it back, but the Wachowskis’ film left me wondering what all the fuss was about.  Later, when the sequels came out I was indifferent to see them, somehow dismissing their merits because all of sudden so was everyone else. In fact, so complete was my disdain that I was verbally writing the films off to other people without actually having seen them. A big no-no for my personal nerd code, or maybe that was a dark time for me…maybe not a great year personally…and thus I was sufficiently distracted and pissy as to forget the wonder of nerdery for a time…

Matrix, Morpheus, Sword

Who needs a light saber when you have a katana? So friggin’ badass.


Fantasy Illustrator, David A. Trampier 1954-2014

David Trampier: A little bit of ‘dis and DAT…

By @ToddSecord

Fantasy Illustrator, David A. Trampier 1954-2014

I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons for over 35 years now and it would be an understatement to say that every facet of the game has influenced my life in some way shape or form. Of this, the chief influence would likely be the fantasy art and artists that, in the early days of D&D, did much in the way of establishing the phenomenon of role-playing games as a whole.  So, given the recent passing of David A. Trampier (DAT, Tramp, “Wormy”), I can’t help but feel saddened and nostalgic.



Happy Holidays from the Fiery Dragon Family – 2013 Edition

Happy Holidays from the Fiery Dragon Family – 2013 Edition

WOW! Is it that time already? So be it…


SALUTATIONS FRIENDS, from all of us at Fiery Dragon – JK, James and Todd.  At this special time of year we always enjoy extending a Happy Holidays to all our friends, family and fans – which, all 3 don’t really need to be categorized but this is the internet and the internet enjoys lists, so read on!


Fiery Dragon: Gen Con Update!

Fiery Dragon: Gen Con Update!

By Todd Secord

Hello everyone!

Fiery Dragon has survived another Gen Con! As is always the case, it was great to see all the amazing people that we have the honour to call friends every year. A special thank you for an awesome time from our buds at Green Ronin Publishing, Drive ThruRpg, Onyx Path Publishing, and Monte Cook Games, as well as to each and every other friend that we shared a handshake and a laugh with. You all never let us crazy gaming Canucks down! First off, it was great to see Chris, Nicole and Hal from Green Ronin to discuss the progress of Freeport: City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG. It’s pretty exciting to be working with them to be sure. And just as exciting was to see the cover art for the project at Wayne Reynolds‘ booth. It’s hard not to be a fan of Wayne. His dynamic style and tremendous sense of detail has become the face of fantasy art as we presently know it. Just a fantastic image and very inspiring. Cheers to Green Ronin and Wayne!

Sushi, me hearties?


The Green Ronin Kickstarter: Freeport for the Pathfinder RPG has been officially backed!

Well, it’s funded! The Green Ronin Kickstarter: Freeport for the Pathfinder RPG has been officially backed! This is great news to be sure, both at Green Ronin and for us here at Fiery Dragon.  We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the fans out there that participated in the funding. Furthermore, we would like to give a shout out to all the great designers and products that have come aboard since the beginning of the campaign. Cheers to all!


Fiery Dragon to help with Green Ronin Kickstarter: Freeport for the Pathfinder RPG!

Fiery Dragon to help with Green Ronin Kickstarter: Freeport for the Pathfinder RPG!

We here at Fiery Dragon Productions are very pleased to announce that we will be working, in part, with Green Ronin’s latest Kickstarter project “Freeport: City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG”:


Movie Inspiration #3: Skyfall; Mission Derivative

Movie Inspiration #3: Skyfall, Mission Derivative

by Todd Secord.   Follow me on Twitter @ToddSecord

2012 was a really odd year for movies for me. Potentially, it should have been a bumper crop of never ending cinematic organisms but luckily I’ve trained myself not to get my expectations up tooooo high. For instance, Dark Knight Rises. Though flawed, it is still very entertaining, and could be forgiven since it was following arguably the best comic book movie thus far in its predecessor, Batman: Let’s remind Burton and Schumacher how much they can suck 2. I also loved the Avengers.

Unfortunately, after those two, Hollywood started to make it real easy to be cynical…

This is not a Wizard. Nor a dwarf. It’s a big rubber head.

Prometheus…beautiful, stylish and an absolute mess. Not a great year for Ridley so I’ll stop there. Then there was the Hobbit…wanted to love it, hoped to love it, but got really annoyed with it…and expectedly so. And lastly, and just as frustratingly, there was Skyfall.


Deja Vu Gaming Review: Top Secret Adventure: Lady in Distress

Deja Vu Gaming Review: Top Secret Adventure Lady in Distress

By Todd Secord      Follow me on Twitter @ToddSecord

In case you weren’t aware, The Crew’s very own James has a website called Nerd Tangent. Lately, aside from the regular posts about all things Nerd, James has us guest hosting on what we would like to think as the greatest recordings since the Peel Sessions. That is, we’re helping to contribute to James’ very own Podcast, aptly named the Nerd Tangent, which you can try out here (which presently consists of us talking to our buddy Monte Cook).

A podcast that was recently recorded with James, John, and I got me thinking about a particular Christmas memory that is about as nerd gaming as you can get…and culminated into this gaming review…








Happy Holidays from the Fiery Dragon Family!

Happy Holidays from the Fiery Dragon Family!

Salutations from JK, James, and Todd! A special nod to John, Claudio, Scott, and all our phenomenal friends that we have been blessed to know and share a laugh with in our time as FDP. You have overwhelmed us with your generosity and good will.  Also, we cannot forget our families and loved ones, not only for their support but for their well timed rolling of eyes every time we say or do something nerdy. In this we know we’re doing something right. None of this would be any fun without you!

We’re going to leave you with a little bit of holiday cheer that not only makes us here at Fiery Dragon feel good, we’re hoping it does the same for you too…

Movie Inspiration: Are you excited to see The Hobbit? Why not?

Movie Inspiration:  Are you excited to see The Hobbit? Why not? The Star Wars Effect and other Stuff.

By @ToddSecord

The Hobbit soon come.  It’s bizarre to me to think that within the week a film is opening, called The Hobbit, about The Hobbit, that really I know very little about.  Given all the fanfare and anticipation of the Lord of the Rings in the time leading up to that film, in comparison to The Hobbit you couldn’t tear me away from anything that had a picture or blurb on the subject.  And even after the initial relief of its success, the mania continued into the hope of the next two films.  For 4 to 5 years it was LotR awesomeness.  Time has passed since then, roughly 9 years in fact, and now The Hobbit is about to release and my attitude is pretty subdued, almost apathetic. Why then, in God’s green middle earth, is this?

Who the hell cares? is my first thought.  And then, upon further reflection, I guess it does matter as to why I could be so jaded as to not really be that interested.  I mean, for me.  You can continue reading if you like, but really, I need to sort this out here and now. But I don’t think I’m alone in this either.  Seriously, aside from the occasional TV commercial, there doesn’t seem to be that almost frightening level of intrusive buzz that is normally associated with this kind of thing.  Around Christmas even!  Some reasons as to why?


Gaming Night in Canada #6: No Hockey? WTF! Baseball? Can’t Wait!

Gaming Night in Canada #6:  No Hockey? WTF! Table top sports games – baseball, hockey.

By @ToddSecord

I’m going to assume that the world outside of the True North is completely unaware of the fact that Canada has been living without its most cherished thing in the whole wide world right now. That is, we are presently without the NHL, or to the uninitiated, the National Hockey League, and to the severely uninitiated what that means is no hockey. In Canada. No hockey in Canada.

Perspective: No morning sex; no shopping for shoes; no gaming with friends; no milk with your cookies; no salt or pepper; no shots with beer; no mustard with your hotdog; no hotdogs; no baseball in the summer; no anything good, etc. and so forth.

I’m fully aware that this list is completely 1st world savvy and does not reflect the whole of a glass being half full. Nor is it particular in what makes one happy. Just know that in Canada, this is one massively disappointing start to a period of our yearly calendar where we are reminded why it’s awesome to be Canadian. And without the comfort of hockey for us to rally around, supply us with the default plan on a Saturday night, and bolster all the business and industry that benefits from the passion of our most beloved sport, and that fcuking apocalyptic Mayan calendar thing might as well be real. This sucks.

The comparison is a little too scary…


Gaming Night in Canada #5: Bringing Back Dorky – Dice Towers

Gaming Night in Canada #5:  Bringing Back Dorky – Dice Towers; Game Review “Conquest of Nerath”

By @ToddSecord

Where to begin, where to begin…

Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a sec…

To start, I think that it’s fair to say that the hobby of table top gaming needs new blood.  Not that it doesn’t have new players getting interested at a decent rate already, but it could always use more, and we at Fiery Dragon do our best to influence those around us to either start table top gaming, or game even more. “Our influence” in so far as that we, as The Crew, exude a level of coolness that is so overwhelming that those that wish to be like us have a tough time deciding whether it’s us that make the games we play cool, or, and more likely, that we are cool because of the games we play.


The rest of this blog will likely do little, if anything, to improve that thought.


Top 10 Illustrations of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Top 10 Illustrations of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons

By @ToddSecord

#10: Erol Otus’ Basic D&D Box Set Cover

There was a time when two different editions of the same game were out at the same time. In the beginning, Basic D&D was not basic at all, but plenty advanced to those of us embracing this new and strangely addictive pen-and-paper “role-playing” game. A short time later the three core rule books were published, and suddenly, the version we had been playing with the last year or two was basic. While my friends and I were quickly mastering the advanced game, TSR re-packaged and re-published a much more organized version of Basic D&D. This edition — the red box with the now classic Erol Otus cover — was the set that hundreds of thousands found themselves playing for the first time.

Those were simpler times (video games were just emerging), and Erol’s style, although reminiscent of the old pulp adventure comics, carried an exciting and almost modern take on a subject that was supposed to evoke a medieval flavour. Even though I had my old set and was combining the rules of the advanced game as they were available, I just had to have this newer version fueled by the power of the cover illustration. It does a great job of combining dragon, dungeon, and adventure — with a little sex to boot. However, the real strength of this painting is its dramatic colour scheme.

#9: D.C. Sutherland’s “A Paladin In Hell”

Flipping through the original Player’s Handbook, you couldn’t help but stop and stare at this full page illustration of a paladin — on the brink — fighting valiantly with his holy avenger against this party of devils. There are many different stories one could attach to this image, but I always figured that he was a on a suicidal crusade attempting to vanquish as much evil as possible before he himself met his maker. Notice his aura of protection from evil and the comparable scale of each of the devils.


Gaming Night in Canada: Halloween Game Night!

Gaming Night in Canada:  Halloween Game Night!

By Todd Secord

So, on my birthday in September, after a few bevies, apparently I suggested that we should do a Halloween themed game night.  Y’know, like when we were plenty younger and doing that kind of thing was way cooler than, let’s say, being at Halloween parties with girls.  As it would work out, we always reserved Halloween night for a game night.  If it wasn’t a horror filled theme of D&D, than we would let our buddy Lee take us through some Call of Cthulhu.  Sitting around his family’s dining room table, in a house built specifically to play Cthulhu in, with fully stocked bookshelves all around us (his father was a professor) and lit candles adding to the creepy atmosphere, we did our best not to go insane, which, other than death, is the game’s primary no-no. On the radio in the background was CFNY’s Chris Sheppard’s Club 102, hitting up the likes of Skinny Puppy’s “Smothered Hope”, Ministry’s “Every Day is Halloween”, and of course, the Halloween classic of all Halloween classics, the Bauhaus tune “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”.

Snapping out of that trip down memory lane, and a group e-mail later, and James agreed to run D&D this Halloween.  As the e-mails shot back and forth, the ante began to up as the idea of having a costume party was thrown in, and then my nephew called me up and finally gave the word that he wanted to learn to play D&D.

The plans had been set.  Bring on the hunt for Halloween costumes…


The Top 5 Horror Films That Have a Nasty Case of the Creeps

The Top 5 Horror Films That Have a Nasty Case of the Creeps

By Todd Secord

There’s no doubt, there does appear to be a glut of truly horrific horror films out there.  Personally, I don’t think horror films are really horrific anyway. Their subject matter can be very disturbing and every now and then the imagery they invoke can be very compelling however, is one truly scared by watching SAW?  Or do they just feel squeamish, the same way it’s tough to watch a linebacker’s leg go the other way when it shatters from an awkward tackle, or the results of a very nasty trampoline accident?

Of course there is plenty to be scared about. What is truly scary though, is a very subjective thing, personal to every individual and in the context of their experiences.  I still don’t get the “clown” thing, but if a clown came after me with a knife, that I would classify as a scary event.  I’m totally frightened of flesh eating creatures roaming around the ocean – unlike my girlfriend who’ll jump at a picture of a spider – I always look forward to watching Shark Week.  “Know thy enemy, destroy thy enemy” and Shark Week is a festival of information to arm myself with should I indeed end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Still, in the case of dealing with a homicidal maniac, it’s a tough call, but to guarantee success it’s probably best not to have sex in a cemetery during the 13th anniversary of his very public execution for which it took several throws of the switch just as his mother suddenly stands up and frantically admits that it was really his illegitimate step bother that did all the torture killings.  Or, just don’t have sex in a cemetery because it’s super creepy…I imagine.

It’s the creepy part that usually impresses me with horror films; more psychological than hell bent.  And this list reflects all the times that I sorta stopped myself and realized that it was suddenly way more comfortable to have the lights on than off, and it was best to make sure that there was nothing menacingly swimming around in the toilet before I sat on it.

I would also like to say that there are several films that I purposely left off this list, like the Exorcist (the Star Wars of horror films in my opinion), because if you haven’t seen those movies yet, chances are you wouldn’t be interested in this bunch…



Gaming Night in Canada: The Gen Con Thing

By Todd Secord

Ah, Gen Con!  Fabulous time of the year for all things gaming and geeky, my friends.  In past years, Gen Con was a working vacation for all of us here at Fiery Dragon.  Not long ago we’d truck down from Canada with smiles on our faces and a song in our hearts, as evident from the picture below…

From the start of the D20 OGL, and our first product NeMoren’s Vault, we’ve been using Gen Con as an excuse to have a good time.   Whether in those final years in Milwaukee, or the last 10 years in Indianapolis, we’ve broken bread, ate, drank, laughed, and drunkenly stumbled into some pretty cool stuff.  BUT more importantly, somewhere between the Hyatt, the convention hall,  jumbo shrimp dipped in crazy sinus-raping horseradish, and a whole lotta Tequila and Gin, we somehow made some pretty cool friends as well.

As you first look at the following picture, the label “Elite Fighting Force” likely comes to mind…

Although they may look like trained killers, what we’re really doing here is gearing up for some Rock Bottom, Chicken Fried Chicken.  At the far left is our main man, Claudio Pozas,  artist extraordinaire for our counter products, and on the other end, our other main man, and an actual trained killer, black belt and game design guru, Scott.  Back in the day this would be an example of us making friends.




By Todd Secord

Holy smokes!  What a couple of weeks!  Easily the most GEEKED out vacation we’ve had in a very long time.  First, The Crew headed down to Indianapolis to hit Gen Con, and then back to Toronto for FanExpo the following weekend.  We drank too much, gamed too much and spent gobs and gobs of cash in the pursuit of having good times with good friends*.

Have you ever been to Gen Con my gaming fellows?  If not, than you may place your freshly beating heart on a plate and consume it accordingly, because it is, as the kids may say, “the shit.”  We got a lot of games, all of which will be featured in future entries in one way, shape or form.   In the meantime, as our hangovers fade into the last days of summer and the reality of life comes crashing through like Grond on a bad day, we find ourselves prepping for some of our favourite times of the year – and the really great excuses they give to get together and game.

Unfortunately, we’re adults.  We have obligations, and families and bills to pay.  And because we’re such responsible people – yes, likely ‘cause we’re geeks – gaming does take a back seat.  And because gaming starts to take a back seat, the tension of not gaming begins to build, like a demonic boil, or a little tea-pot, short and stout.  But really, closer to the demon boil idea.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, for us, the gaming thing happens in seasons.  And as of right now, ‘Tis the Season…




By Todd Secord

Oh, fun times on Game Night.  Here, in the Great White North, “Game Night” could have a number of different meanings and associations.  First and foremost, it means hockey.  We Canadians have our sacred and culturally defining “Hockey Night in Canada,” televised on Saturdays, and generally the highlight of many a cold weekend night.  It’s a pretty rare thing indeed if you go through a Saturday night in Canada without coming across Hockey Night in Canada in some way, shape or form.  After the holiest of holies, believe it or not, at least in Toronto, the next big thing would be American Football.  Football is a Game Night (or day), usually meaning Sundays but also the occasional Monday night – because sometimes the Leafs games are televised Monday nights and there is a metronome-like action of flipping back and forth between sports.   After that, “Game Night” could mean a case of beer and video games, or a case of beer and a poker game,  OR, and rather happily so, a family gathering to play a board game of some kind, like Scrabble, or Monopoly, or hopefully something a little more interesting like Ticket to Ride. When you have a country that spends 6 to 8 months of the year in cool to downright bitchy cold weather, the concept of spending the night in with a game and friends becomes pretty important.


Me Geek, You Geek, Y’all Geek

Me Geek, You Geek, Y’all Geek
By Todd Secord

OK, so I still read the occasional comic book, play video games, watch cartoons, love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, huge fan of movies and music, and to top it all off, I’m a part owner of gaming company (for which I prepared for by gaming since the age of 6). Does this make me a geek?


Counter Culture 2009 Part 3

The Counter Culture 2009 Part 3: Counter Workshop By Todd Secord


This is the third of 3 articles that delve into Fiery Dragon Production’s long line of Gaming Counter products. Part 1 “The Culture of Counters” talks of the company’s long standing history of producing counters for the gaming industry and many of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that we have encountered over the years. Part 2 talks of the Philosophy of counters; how counters can help to improve one’s game beyond their obvious use, and lastly, Part 3 “Counter Workshop” gets into the construction and care of counters. Let’s begin!

Counter Culture 2009 Part 2

The Counter Culture 2009
Part 2: The Philosophy of Counters
By Todd Secord

This is the second of 3 articles that delve into Fiery Dragon Production’s long line of Gaming Counter products. Part 1 “The Culture of Counters” talks of the company’s long standing history of producing counters for the gaming industry and many of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that we have encountered over the years. Part 2 talks of the Philosophy of counters; how counters can help to improve one’s game beyond their obvious use, and lastly, Part 3 “Counter Workshop” gets into the construction and care of counters. Let’s begin!

Counter Culture 2009 Part 1

The Counter Culture 2009 Part 1: The Culture of Counters

 What are counters? Well, if you’ve ever played, still play, or wish to play a table-top Role-Playing Game (RPG) then chances are you are familiar with miniatures, as well as other kinds of markers/playing pieces to represent characters, monsters, or villains. The term “Counter” refers to a graphic image that can be used as a playing piece in any genre of RPG. Generally, Fiery Dragon has focused on counters for fantasy related games such as Dungeons & Dragons, but given the format with which we present the counters, and the many different themed packages that we offer, our entire counter line can cross over and be used for just about any RPG out there. Generally speaking, to an experienced gamer, counters are an alternative to miniatures, which for many years has been the playing piece of choice. Understandably, miniatures are great fun, but we at Fiery Dragon think that while miniatures have their place, our counters are a must-have for any table-top RPG…


Top 10 (New) Perspectives on Star Wars

TODD MAN OUT – thoughts rattling around inside the head of Todd

Top 10 (New ) Perspectives on Star Wars

The 30th anniversary of Star Wars just happened and from a fan of 30 years, here are some observations about the series as a whole.  I must note that I do not consider myself a scholar of Star Wars.  That is, the movies are my primary source of official content.  The huge line of novels, which have become the Dead Sea Scrolls of Star Wars lore, do not play a part in my interpretations of what is happening on film. Really, this list is about my 2 cents on setting the record straight with regard to number of criticisms and misconceptions about the Star Wars saga…

10.  The Special Editions, WTF?: Older fans of Star Wars, such as myself, just have to assume that a great part of their continued fandom of the movies has to derive from a heavy dose of nostalgia.  Star Wars represents a time of better tomorrows, where anything is now possible; a far cry from today’s more jaded and dour outlook.  So to think that their creator, George himself, would think that a do-over includes having Greedo shoot first is mildly betraying to say the least.  Now, Greedo shooting first has caused a very public fan cry on the internet, but the Greedo modification is the least of these transgressions in my mind…

What other WTFs? The fact that the most ruthless crime boss on Tatooine, Jabba the Hutt, would allow Han Solo to live after stepping on him is puzzling.  Furthermore, Jabba’s animation doesn’t even come close to matching with Jedi, let alone his lame locomotion.  And we just had to tack Boba Fett in there? In Empire, the subtraction of Vader’s terse line of “Bring my shuttle” after Luke slips through his fingers is small on screen, but large in character. However, the biggest head scratcher is the overblown, overdone music scene in Jedi.  Talk about a tension killer.
Overall, the Special Editions have a number of improvements that genuinely update the films, but where they are altered to the point of sheer inconsistency is patronizing to all fans. If they worked then, why wouldn’t they work now?

9. Where Star Wars Comes From:  Keep in mind, outside of 2001:  A Space Odyssey,  special effects in movies where extremely hit or miss.  Before Star Wars, the expectations of special effects was not great, and thus, the viewer would still have to bring a lot of their imagination into special effects films.  When Star Wars hit, visually, there was absolutely nothing like it what-so-ever; it was mind numbingly overwhelming.  From this derived a deep sense of “how’d they do that?!”  For me, I was just as interested in how George came up with the story and design as anything else.  Since the 30 years that Star Wars has been out,  George has openly talked about how Star Wars was an homage to the Saturday Morning Serials of the 40’s and 50’s; a cross between Flash Gordon and Western flicks.  On top of this, Star Wars is an experiment in mixing classic story archetypes, Greek and Arthurian legends, and mystic/magical mantras from a variety of cultures.  And then, of course, George’s imagination.  However, another source for which George has championed, is Akira Kurosawa films.  Kurosawa was a very prolific Japanese film maker that has made some of the most innovative and influential films of all time.  One Kurosawa film in particular, Hidden Fortress, has been sited as being a major influence on the story of Star Wars.  Now, I’ve seen all the Kurosawa classics, but seeing Hidden Fortress for the first time turned out to be a sad event in some respects.  Star Wars wasn’t just influenced by Hidden Fortress, Star Wars is Hidden Fortress.  The droids, the princess and her quest, the death star (to a certain degree), Obi-wan, and the samurai/jedi ethic are just some of the parallels between the source and the product.  It dashed any thoughts that Star Wars derived from an extensive course of research.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch Hidden Fortress since.

8.  Palpatine/Darth Sidious Vs. Mace:  One of my favourite sequences from the newer films, it continually amazes me how many people miss what’s really going on in this scene.  First, there have been some very interesting theories that the Emperor purposely looses to Mace to position himself as a helpless victim in the eyes of Anakin.  I can see this, but I don’t think that’s exactly what’s happening.  We do have to give a Master Jedi such as Mace Windu credit.  No, I think the Emperor lost to Mace, and with the arrival of Anakin, used his future apprentice as leverage to turn the tide.  With Mace bearing down on the Emperor, the villain unleashes a last ditch force blast, but Mace appears to be more then capable of repelling the attack.  It is at this point that the Emperor’s feint begins, as the backlash of his force blast appears to be draining him, giving him his emaciated visage.  To Anakin and Mace, it looks like he’s dying, but in actual fact, he is unveiling his true form.  Mace, now thinking he has the upper hand hesitates long enough for the Anakin to make his fatal decision.  With the Emperor’s coup de grace of Mace he brazenly shouts “unlimited power!” revealing that he was playing the dying quail all along.  All that was missing from the scene, after Anakin is turned, is that last moment where Darth Sidious wipes his brow and says, “Phew!”

7.  Return of the Jedi is Still the Worst Film:  Whenever someone says that Return of the Jedi is the best of the films, I just bite my tongue.  True fan aficionados know that Empire is the best, Star Wars a very close second, whichever you prefer after that, and then Jedi, even after the Jar-Jar fiasco, totally last.  And not just because of the ewok thing.  I’m actually one of the few that don’t mind the ewok’s victory over the emperor’s “best” troops because military history has proven that stranger things have happened.  It was the portrayal of the battle that let me down, but then, showing teddy-bears dying en masse is far more shocking then showing robots/clone troopers dying en masse.  No, Jedi annoys me for lots and lots of other reasons – everything from robot torture (robots feel pain?), Boba Fett’s silly demise, and all the uninspired acting and dialogue.  Execution wise, it didn’t measure up to the other films.  BUT, surprisingly, it’s a fan favourite.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the Star Wars films in their own way, but Jedi is noticeably lacking.  Then why do so many love it so?  Took me a while to figure out this very simple answer:  It was the very first one they saw.  And if that’s the reason, then they can have it, because that’s as good a reason as any.  So, when I run into that individual that says Phantom is the best of all the films, I’ll smile and play along, because I know why.

6.  The Twins:  From the perspective that you’ve seen the originals first…In Star Wars, Obi-wan talks to Luke of knowing his father, and giving him the gift of a light saber that his father wanted him to have.  At the end of Star Wars, when Vader unknowingly has his son in his sites, but complains, “The Force is strong with this one”, the seed that his son existed had must been planted.  In Empire, before the truth about the connection is revealed, Vader and the Emperor openly talk of sensing the “Son of Skywalker”.  In Jedi, Vader learns of the existence of Leia through Luke’s feelings, suggesting that he was never aware that there were twins.  Couple that with Obi-wan’s “Certain point of view…” conversation and Leia’s “Memories of my mother…” a basic scenario unfolds…For 16+ years, the implication to fans was that there was an affair that Anakin had with who is now known as Padme, but she must have left him almost immediately after this affair.  She lived after child birth, given Leia’s memories, but Luke had been taken from her before Leia could have any memory of him.  She then died mysteriously when Leia was still basically a baby.
Here’s where I get terribly confused.  Given how the newer films interpreted these events, why didn’t Anakin sense there were twins immediately?  There were many instances where Jedi sense things and events without having to be noticeably focused.  Obi-wan sensed that she was pregnant, and that Anakin was the father.  Why then couldn’t Anakin sense his own children while in the womb?  Why then was it such a revelation to Vader to sense a twin daughter?  Did he know all along and was playing on Luke’s fears as a means to turn him? I don’t think so.
And where’s all the doctors with their Star Wars ultrasound?

5.  Poor C3-PO:
  In the original films, 3PO as a character is an active participant.  There are a number of instances where the protocol droid’s skills are required.  He may not have been saving lives the same way R2 does throughout ALL the films, but 3PO was never regarded as a non-character.  In the newer films, his participation is absolutely useless.  Not once are his skills or presence required – does he even interpret anything for anyone?  Clones might have ranked up there with Empire/Star Wars if it wasn’t for all that 3PO lameness throughout the robot factory.  In fact, his history is reduced to being the hapless witness to the trials and tribulations of Anakin and Padme, let alone the boyhood creation of a future Sith lord.

I guess the biggest question is why did they choose to erase 3PO’s mind and not R2’s?  Got me.  Here’s the real stupid part…the droids were allowed to witness the birth of the children.  If the secret of the children were kept from the droids, as they were from everyone else, then R2 could have been trusted enough with what he had witnessed to that point, and 3PO’s mind would still have to be wiped due to his direct connection with Anakin.  Solved.
Although R2 proved time and time again he could be trusted, he is still just a droid, and with a secret as important as the twins, prudence would still require his memory to be wiped as well.  It may have happened if wasn’t for a bit of dialogue bolstering his memory of things in a New Hope.

4.  Why, By the Second Film, Jar-Jar is suddenly an Essential Character:
  The much maligned Jar-Jar Binks.  This is one perspective that I did not catch on my own.  It took a friend, who absolutely despises Jar-Jar, to point the following out, and prove that George just ain’t throwing things to the wall and hoping they stick.  My friend still hates Jar-Jar though.

Many fans can’t stand Jar-Jar.  Again, like the ewoks, there’s something in me that allows me to see the method; it’s the madness that gets to me.  Jar-Jar is meant to be annoying – not only to the audience, but to the characters as well.  He’s meant to test our patience.  He’s a terrible fool, an obvious klutz, and a coward.  Jar-Jar is in over his head in every scene.  But despite all this, he is a necessary character vehicle that leads the Jedi through Naboo and is the plot connection for setting up the 3rd act in Phantom.  His character arch is actually quite ingenious, in that he represents the fool that succeeds in spite of himself.  If I remember correctly, this is another Hidden Fortress theme.  Where Jar-Jar is completely unsuccessful is the voice characterization, which was seriously underdeveloped.

At any rate, it’s in Clones that we see the true destiny of Jar-Jar.  He only has a minute or two of total screen time, but again, he is the vehicle for which is likely one of the most important plot points in the newer trilogy.  Without Padme around, Jar-Jar is vulnerable to Palpatine’s lament for a senator with the conviction to come forward and grant emergency powers.  It is the master stroke for which Palpatine can assume full control of the Senate.  Now, given all the set-up in the first film, only Jar-Jar Binks would fall prey to go forward with such a foolish act.  Thinking that he is doing the right thing, but in actual fact looking for acceptance and creditability, Jar-Jar gives Palpatine what he wants.  The real irony here is that it’s all Padme’s fault for even putting Jar-Jar in charge. The one thing she doesn’t want to occur happens with a terrible error in judgment.  All of a sudden, Jar-Jar’s nature makes perfect sense to the narrative.  Who knew?

3.  Why Darth Vader Didn’t Kill Admiral Piett:  It’s Empire where we get to see Darth Vader in all his evil glory.  Black mailing Lando into betraying his friends, attempting to seduce his own son to the dark side – then maims him, and then killing off admirals and captains wholesale for errors in judgment.  It’s this last string of events that leads to a very subtle clue into the complicated psyche of Vader.  Although the rebels were alerted to the Imperial’s impending attack by the presence of the probe droid – Vader mistakenly assumes Admiral Ozzel is at fault, and coldly kills him for the perceived failure.  Then, Captain Needa, who “assumes full responsibility” for loosing the Falcon, is also murdered by Vader. I remember the audience laughing nervously when Vader accepts his apology.  As Needa’s body is being carted away, Vader warns Admiral Piett not to fail him again.  However, at the end of the film, as Piett directs his men to ready the tractor beam, R2 reactivates the Falcon’s sabotaged hyperdrive, allowing them to suddenly escape Vader’s clutches.  Given the pattern of him slaying those who failed him, Piett awaits his fate…only to have Vader sullenly walk off the bridge, paying no heed to his earlier threat.  In fact, by Jedi, we learn Piett is alive and well.  Why, then, didn’t Vader kill Piett?

I remember that this was a source of discussion amongst my friends right after seeing the movie.  It was one of those questions that stayed with me for many years till one day, while watching Empire for the 50th millionth time, it finally came to me.  It begins with Vader’s conversation with the Emperor.  He attempts to downplay the threat of Luke by calling him “just a boy”.  Later, he attempts to convince Luke to turn to the dark side by joining him in destroying the Emperor.  At the time, that speech felt more like a ruse then a literal intent, but in light of the newer films, the offer now seems more legit.  As the Executioner closes in on the Falcon, Vader almost seems to be pleading with Luke through the Force.  And then the Falcon, unexpectedly to Vader, suddenly makes its escape.  How did Piett survive?  Simply put, given the fact that a direct connection with his son had now been established, he softened, confused by his new found feelings for his son.  At that moment, he grew tired of killing.

2.  Star Wars is a Video Game:  “Star Wars is nothing but a video game” has to be one of the silliest criticisms of the movies; more so a direct shot at the newer films I’m sure.  I’ve read it in tons of reviews, and argued with a number of non-believers as they bash away with this sentiment.  Star Wars is a video game?

Of course it’s a video game!

It’s likely the single most important source of inspiration for video games.  I’d even say that future game designers likely got into designing video games because of their need to actually play Star Wars out.  When the newer films came out, and the capabilities of video games had vastly improved, the connection between the movies and video games would be such a natural fit that George would have been an idiot not to proceed.  If wasn’t for George’s business savvy in locking in the merchandising rights early, he would have never amassed the money he needed to feel comfortable in making the rest of the films.  But, it’s the overbearing, super slick CG animation that makes the texture of the films look like a video game?  That may be true, but when you think that the films now find themselves actually competing with video game CG animation, comparatively, the films better leave video games in their dust.  The irony is, Star Wars video games, over the years, have generally sucked.

1. Luke’s Attempted Suicide:
  So, Luke finds out that Vader is his father, and rather then being captured, Luke let’s himself fall off of the platform.  As he tumbles down the abyss like shaft, he is suddenly sucked into an exhaust tube.  As a kid, and I think many fans since, believed that he used the Force to steer himself into the tube.  When I got older, the act of letting go became crystal clear – Luke is actually attempting suicide.  Now, this may not be a huge revelation to some, but when you put it into the context that Star Wars is meant to be kid’s film, and its leading hero would choose to kill himself instead of facing the firing squad so-to-speak, that’s pretty deep.  Modern story telling usually has the hero keeping a brave face till the better end, but in legends and lore, of which Star Wars is partly based, this kind of solution happens with greater frequency.  The reality is, Luke had no idea that he be would sucked in by the exhaust tube, let alone attempt to manipulate his body into one.  It’s apparent he didn’t have that kind of control over the force anyway.  It’s fate that he survived, pure and simple.

*Pics obtained from the internet from reliable sources in case the lawyer machine senses a mild disturbance in the force

The Modern Destruction of Myth

TODD MAN OUT – thoughts rattling around in the brain of Todd

The Modern Destruction of Myth

About 30 years ago, before I officially developed my addiction to D&D and role-playing games, I was always strongly attracted to anything that related to ghosts, supernatural phenomenon, UFOs, Bigfoot, Loch Ness, historical legends and so forth.  In those days, such things were not considered real by any stretch, but there was definitely enough “what if” that should you have any modicum of an open mind, you couldn’t completely dismiss them.  Now-a-days, generally speaking, I have found that this not the case.  With the advent of technology and its powerful amplification on fields of research it would seem that such things, one-by-one, are being debunked quite easily.  The skeptics, who always seem to be the villains in these discussions, now appear to be wining.  This is fine in my opinion, they can have it because in light of these new arguments and revelations, I seem to be joining them – something I couldn’t have imagined many years ago.

Here’s my primary thought on all things supernatural and strange:  “If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?”  The standard trick answer to this is “no”, unless there is someone there to hear it.  That’s the literal answer.  However, this is not what the question is trying to infer.  It’s actually making a comment on cause and effect.  In other words, the event is only truly real if there’s something present to interpret it.  Simply put, a ghost is only a ghost because there was someone there to witness it and interpret it as such.  So, obviously, the biggest obstacle is proof.  You don’t even have to see the tree to hear it fall, but if you where to head in the direction of the sound it made one would expect to find a fallen tree.  But what if you didn’t?  Then you suddenly have a mystery on your hands.

In light of this, seeing as the majority of proof falls (pun intended) on eye witness accounts, one now becomes skeptical of the witness’s interpretation of what they actually experienced.  In the quest of proof for the supernatural, single witness accounts mean very little to me.  I only pause at the stories that have several witnesses – the more, the better.  A skeptic may cry “mass hysteria” in his best Bill Murray voice, but it’s difficult to dispute a number of people, especially if they’re all strangers, who separately convey that what they thought they saw was something akin to a Bigfoot.

And then, there’s visually recorded proof.  Given that special effects are at an all time high for expressing events realistically, the chances of a hoax are equally real.  In fact, only an extremely few and highly unique examples of recorded proof actually pull it off.  Our natural sense of what’s real and what’s not is very sophisticated.  Even then, when we’re at a loss to interpret such phenomenon as being something less then real, our natural reaction is to still leave room for a hoax.

So, unless a Bigfoot is captured alive, or even its remains freshly recovered for scientists to examine and prove it to be so – they’ll still only classify it as an anomaly of nature, while skeptics will still cry hoax.  And this is the frustrating part when trying to interpret modern myth as fact; it isn’t that the idea of it is believable, but that no one can believe it.

To this, I only have to site the coelacanth.  Yes, it’s become a bit of joke in popular culture, but the proof of existence of the coelacanth is a strong precedent that life will not allow us to assume anything.  If you’re not familiar, the coelacanth was a fish thought long extinct until one was amazingly caught back in 1938.  Since then, there have been several instances of the fish surfacing in fishermen’s nets as recently as May of this year.  Here’s an example of something we thought never existed, and yet, it’s still alive and kicking 65 million years later.  Even though we never actually saw it, we assumed it was dead and gone, but, boy were we wrong.  Now, if someone said they only saw the coelacanth, they would have been written off as delusional, however, because we actually got one, we only have to believe it to be true, no matter how crazy it is to think how it came to be.  The Coelacanth proves that anything can happen on this huge and mysterious planet we live on.

So, without further ado, here’s a list on my recent conclusions on the present state of various modern myths.  Witness!

Loch Ness:  Totally fake.  The whole Loch Ness mystique evaporated for me when the following iconic picture was finally proven to be fake. Still, there really haven’t been any definitive photos or footage of a creature that has had thousands of eye witnesses…

The reality is, Loch Ness the location is a very inhospitable body of water for anything that is said to be the size of Nessie, no matter what theory you subscribe too; And if you go by the original reported sighting back in 1933, it’s pretty much dead now, if it ever existed at all.  However, like Roswell, the site of Loch Ness is very dependent on “it” as a tourist attraction, which means, “it” will never actually die.  The other thing that you have to consider about Loch Ness is that if you’re walking by a random body of water and see something cresting along its surface, it’s a mild point of interest, but the shadow of bird along the surface of Loch Ness is the stuff of legends.  The coelacanth rule doesn’t apply to Nessie either because the coelacanth was found in its natural habitat, while the Nessie dinosaur theory doesn’t hold the very cold water of Loch Ness.

Bigfoot:  The thing about Bigfoot, unlike Nessie, is that “it” seems to be just about everywhere where there are trees – or snow. Sasquatch and Yeti are part of an ancient people’s culture.  The sighting of these creatures has existed for thousands of years, but nothing has defined Big Foot the way the 1967 Patterson film has.  To be truthful, I’m still a big fan of the film.  I’m not saying that it is completely conclusive – most footage of big foot, and 99.9% are clearly fake, either happens from several to lots and lots of yards away, or obscured by some thick foliage – but at the very least, the Patterson film is easily the most realistic of anything to date.

Assuming it’s a hoax, it should be considered the best hoax film of all; shot out in the open in brilliant daylight conditions?  Balls.  Despite skeptics, I do subscribe to what many experts point out in the film, and likely the most compelling aspect of the subject, is that muscle structure is plainly actuating through a very confident stride.  Furthermore, the creature looks heavy, beyond a fat guy in a homemade gorilla suit. On the flip side, why some Hollywood professional hasn’t stepped forward and made an honest attempt at simulating this film is baffling. And yes, some guy has come forward to say he was the guy in the Bigfoot suit, but whose to say that he isn’t the hoax?  Having said this, if it wasn’t for this perplexing footage, I don’t think I would give Bigfoot a chance.  Explain this to me, Patterson film included, but of all of the footage out there, you would think that at least one of these visually recorded sightings would prompt the recorder to actually chase the thing.  They’re not cheetahs y’know, and this has always been my problem with big foot footage, up and above the quality of the film/video, the quality of the sighting, or how realistic the thing actually looks – not once does someone run after it.  Why?  So, for me, large, hairy, Neanderthal like creatures roaming the deep, unexplored forests of our vast world does seem possible in light of the coelacanth rule.  And given the Patterson film, my mind is still open on this one, but barely.

JFK Assassination and Modern Conspiracy Theories: So, for “laughs”, look at the Patterson film, and then the Zapruder film.  Unlike the Patterson film though, Zapruder’s is of a real event but still, when I watch it, it feels just as surreal. However, if I’m going to talk about modern myth, then the modern myth of conspiracies has to be included, starting with the assassination of JFK and the Zapruder film.  One has to ask that if it wasn’t for the Zapruder film, would the JFK conspiracy theory exist the way it does.  It’s no secret that the recreation of events surrounding the assassination is disjointed, and at times illogical (magic bullet theories and such), but it’s the Zapruder film that gives credence to the suggestion of a second shooter.  And if you’ve got a second shooter, you’ve got a conspiracy.  Unfortunately, after that, trying to reconstruct the conspiracy and the specific motivations behind it becomes circumstantial and suspect.  Given the Zapruder film, its clear to me that there’s a second shooter, and yes, I believe that certainly some kind of conspiracy had occurred, but I’ve given up on trying to figure out anything beyond that.  If I was a betting man, I’d say it was the mob.  The point is, is that since this mystery, conspiracy theories of all kinds now dot the modern myth landscape, whether they’re founded or not.  And no, Bigfoot was not the second shooter.

UFOs/Roswell/Area 51/Crop Circles:  So, from conspiracy theories, to Roswell – likely the most famous non-conspiracy.  I say non-conspiracy, because most conspiracies have to have fact and motive to suggest that they exist.  Roswell is based strictly on eye-witness accounts, but none of their testimony really points in any discernable direction, nor is it very consistent.

Furthermore, the so called proof is pretty weak – even Mac Brazel, the fella that found the crash site, initially described the debris in very mundane terms.  All we really know is that something fell from the sky on farmland in New Mexico.  Period.  I suppose what has people second guessing the incident is the Military’s apparent reaction to it all, which appears to be a high level one.  To me this sounds like an over zealous American military behaving so during the height of the Cold War.  None of this matters though, real or not, because Roswell is now a cheesy tourist town that depends on the story.  So much for credibility.

Moving on to Area 51…let me see, a super secret military installation that will kill ya if you try to get in…which means that the stuff they test there must be pretty, pretty secret…which means that the technology their using must be super cutting edge…which means if you saw it floating around at night you’d probably have no idea what you were looking at and consequently, you’d think it’s a UFO.  But, since it’s super cutting edge, it’s not.  I like the theorists who suggest that Area 51 is housing a fallen UFO and therefore, the reason we have all this quick advancement in technology.  So, what they’re saying is that aliens were using cell phones with Snoop Dogg ringtones?

Here’s the funny part, aside from my disdain for Roswell and Area 51 exaggerations, I don’t completely discount the idea of UFO’s.  Ninety-nine percent of the sightings are complete crap, but on the other hand, there are a number of incidents that are interestingly credible.  A couple of my favourites in this department are the 1996 Yukon sighting and Rendlesham Forest.  Both are an excellent examples of what I mean by credible evidence. You can look them up yourself, of course, and there’s actually a few more worth noting.  The Yukon one is exceptional given what I was talking about with respect to witnesses.  A chain of witnesses, 22 in all, spotted an obvious UFO heading down the Yukon highway.  There were even moments where the witnesses encountered one another and stopped to talk about what it was they were seeing.  To top it all off, all their stories were extremely consistent.  No matter what is to be believed here, these people truly saw something unexplainable.  Rendlesham is cool because is makes Roswell look like the cheese it is.  For me personally, I think you’d be kidding yourself that you were to assume that we’re the only possibility of life in this unimaginably huge universe of ours, but in the same vein, I can’t imagine them visiting us.  Despite this thought, there does seem to be enough incidences to make one wonder.

As for crop circles…completely man made.

Ghosts/Hauntings:  This one…is a tough one – for me at least. First, you have the more famous accounts of ghosts and hauntings.  Second, you have the advent of a number of ghost sighting documentaries and shows, based mostly on the fact that everyone owns a video camera to fill them with content.  But lastly, and more importantly, there are a number of people I know personally, with whom I respect completely, who have extremely interesting stories of their own personal experiences with supernatural happenings.  Of all the topics that I’m talking about here, this is the one where I keep a definitive open mind on.  Speaking of the mind though, the power of suggestion and the hyper-sensitivity of one’s imagination can be extremely self-manipulative.  And as we all know, things that go bump in the night are open for a wide level of interpretation because, well, they’re happening in the dark.  But again, even though I haven’t personally experienced something that I couldn’t explain, I know enough people who have, and many of these stories are very compelling.  The ones that I would tell have the criteria that I like to look for in all of these kinds of things – multiple witnesses, different points of view from these witnesses, and what is generally unique to ghost stories – several coincidences.  It is difficult to discount these stories, because the people that tell them are even perplexed by what they have seen, but they know they experienced something, and it wasn’t to be easily explained away.

There are some patterns to modern sightings that I would like to just bring to light however.  First would have to be this globular light/mild light tracer thing that never existed before night vision digital cameras.  So, like, the air around us is full of teeny-tiny debris that we don’t readily see in the light, but contrast it with night vision, and its gonna reflect.  Somehow, these little globular light things have turned into the cat’s meow of ghost footage.  Why?  I wear contacts, and there have been tons of times when something microscopic will be caught on the lens that looks like something floating just out of site.  Looks just like these objects.

Second, why do all hauntings have to happen at night?  What makes the night so special?  Of course, there’s stories that happen during the day, but 99.999999% happen at night.  Again, I think much of this has to do with things being much more fuzzy at night, and thus, makes us much more susceptible to our imaginations.  Plus, night vision looks waaaay more cooler capturing creepy footage then conventional lighting.

Lastly, I’m done with “cold spots”.  It really should be called “poor circulation”, whether it is in the rooms of a house or in one’s nervous system.  In a large percentage of hauntings there’s always someone suddenly feeling cold.  This, somehow, is equated to the presence of ghosts.  Next time you happen to be doing something mundane, like driving in your car and you get a sudden chill, whatever you do, don’t look in your rear view mirror…

Ancient History:  Erich von Däniken partly in mind, the idea that some of the remarkable engineering achievements that the ancients managed are somehow related to extraterrestrial influence is ridiculous.  I remember when the construction of Stonehenge was portrayed as being such a mystery that it would never be solved, unless you wanted to play the alien card.  In the same vein, Easter Island was so perplexing that even news related specials would mention the theory of alien application.  And the patronizing continued with the lines of Nazca; that they were so spectacularly hard to do that they must have been inspired to be UFO landing strips.  Well, in these cases, and of all the ancient monuments, they’ve all been fully theorized and explained.  Sorry, no aliens.

What really, really annoys me of late is this Royal Blood Line thing.  Where as the hows and whys behind Stonehenge went from fluff to scientific fact, and much of ancient history is beginning to be revealed for what it truly is, it pains me that they are now turning around and trying to staple “facts” to something like, for example, the Bible. Whether you believe in religion or not, it is the dynamic of faith that fuels one’s beliefs. So, attempting to attach historic fact to the life of Jesus is sorta missing the point.  It’s what it’s teaching that matters, not whether it’s specifically real.  So, as much as we are slowly beginning to see modern myth begin to wane in the wake of scientific and technological revelation, having to prove that Jesus was just some dude who was actually married and had kids, or explaining the 7 Plagues as environmental happenings, or that the remains of Noah’s Ark is on Mount Ararat is completely unnecessary.  In many respects, such theories have become the new Chariots of the Gods, ironically enough.

Top 10 Action Movies of All Time

TODD MAN OUT – thoughts rattling around inside the head of Todd

Top 10 Action Movies of All TimeOk, I just saw 300, and I really, really liked it.  I did.  And since the gang at Fiery Dragon are more then just fans of RPGs, the genre of action films plays a big part in whatever kinds of influences that we draw from when designing games in general.  Plus, we just like movies.  As for the contents of this list I can’t speak for the other fiery dragons, but here are the best action movies of all time.*

*Quick note about the guidelines of this particular list; does not include war films because the “action” in war films is not meant to titillate like the action in regular action films do; the more the action propels the narrative forward, the better; the movie actually has to be good; and real stunts over special effects/CGI – Although, like any good action film, I break these rules throughout.

10. The Killer:
  Make no mistake, overall, this is not a great film.  Its acting is stilted, the story is contrived, and any time it tries to go in the opposite direction of all the muzzle flashes, it fails laughably.  However, The Killer is on this list for a reason, and one reason only; that despite all its faults, its no-holds barred, extremely imaginative, deliciously violent, exceedingly stylized action sequences have to be seen to be believed.  This film is to action what porn is to sex.  In fact, the narrative becomes so secondary that you start not to care about the motivation behind all the violence but just how compellingly naughty it all is.  It is so dense with action, that you actually start to experience action overload. That’s because it’s a John Woo film, and like all John Woo films, the story is nothing more then a thin excuse to hammer bolt his incredible action sequences too.  Really, there are several John Woo films you could swap through this spot, but I think The Killer is the best.  Plus, Chow Yun-Fat is one cool dude.

9. Rumble in the Bronx:
  Off setting John Woo in the Hong Kong action parade is the greatest action star of all time, Jackie Chan.  Unlike Woo’s relentless quest for bloodthirsty elegance, Jackie Chan is determined to deliver on the edge-of-your seat fun.  There is no merit of excellence to be attached to the story, acting, or anything else technically related, but Jackie is so compelling, so completely charismatic and precise through the beats of his action sequences that nothing else matters.  And right when you think that he has reached the peak of his physical capabilities, he takes you over the edge by suddenly risking his life in something as silly as a movie stunt.  It is this formula that makes Jackie so great…it is not the fictional situations of the movie that cause tension in the viewer, but the fact that you’re watching your action hero performing death defying acts of bravery for real.  Sometimes, these action sequences are so fast you have to slow down the film just to see how dangerous any given move might have been.  Like the slot for The Killer, really, you could choose a number of Jackie Chan movies to place here, but again, I’ve decided to go with the film that brought him to the North American mainstream.  But I still think it’s the best.

8. Runaway Train:  So, finally an action film where the force of its acting propels the excitement.  Both John Voight and Eric Roberts were oscar nominated for their performances, but really, it is the train in the movie’s title that becomes the real star.  Basically, Voight and Roberts are 2 escaped convicts that find their way on a train whose engineer dies of a heart attack; with the train unchecked, it juggernauts its way through the Alaskan wilderness at high speeds, destined to derail.

The entire movie then becomes a 4 way chess match between the convicts, the train, the dispatchers monitoring the train, and the prison warden obsessively eager to get the convicts back.  Mix in an unforgiving environment, an innocent bystander stuck with the convicts, and an unprepared system of checks and balances and the mayhem is wickedly belligerent.  The brutality encountered in this movie is realistic and raw as our anti-heroes are battered and smashed rentlentlessly in their attempts to stop the train safely.  In fact, the characterizations of self preservation, whether by life or reputation, are so manipulative throughout that it gets to a point where you’re not sure who you would like to see succeed.  Cap off an ending that is not only action filled, but emotionally riveting and you got one primo action film.

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark:
          A classic.  Producer and writer George Lucas harkens back to the day of the “Saturday serials” – episodic action stories showed at movie theaters on Saturday mornings in the 40’s/50’s; sometimes westerns, sometimes science fiction, that always ended in a cliffhanger.  Although Star Wars carries a level of influence from Lucas’s love for this style of action story, Raiders is the ultimate homage to them.  Combine this with story and designs drawing completely from pulp comics/novels such as Allan Quartermain, Tarzan, and Zorro, and Raiders takes you on a ride that is difficult not to love.  Although it may not be as action laden as some of the other films on this list, it is a perfect example where the stuff that happens in between the action sequences is just as interesting as the action sequences themselves.  But when director Steven Spielberg hits you with the action, he proves yet again why he is one of the great masters of film making.  Utilizing the cliffhanger style of action to its maximum, there is never a moment where our hero, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, does not face certain death only to turn it into a desperate act of survival.  Whether it’s matching wits with ancient traps, dastardly Nazis, or acts of God, Indy quite satisfyingly manages to find a way to get on top at every turn.  Raiders went on to reinvigorate the pulp genre and influence just about every action film made since, not to mention the fully loaded franchise the movie launched.

6. Kill Bill, Part 1:
  To a moviephile such as myself, there are stretches where you begin to think that you’ve seen it all, then a movie like Kill Bill comes along.  And Quentin was interested to see if he could direct action…and the answer is a brilliant, arm-hacking, yes.  It’s no secret that Quentin Taratino is a media ambassador for all things 70’s, but Kill Bill is a send up of all things action Orientated in general.  Easily the bloodiest of any other film on this list, the entire movie is an action acid trip, surreal and close to silly at times.  Like Scoriesse, Tarratino manages to make seriously brutal acts of violence almost…funny.  Maybe it’s because the movie does a great job of not taking itself seriously without reducing the tension.  Aside from the obvious reason why this film makes the list – the single handed slaughter of the Crazy 88s – it is really the wide panoramic of film techniques and styles the movie adopts and features throughout.  Black and White, silhouette, and anime are just a few of the many ways Taratino brings the action; not to mention his trademark of chopping the narrative’s timeline into a series of chapters that are mix and matched out of their original timeline.  Uma Thurman, as The Bride, is one of two strong female action heroes on this list that takes on a testosterone soaked picture, hoists it up on her shoulders, and not once do you believe that she is any less tough or capable as any other action hero ever portrayed.  The only reason why this isn’t higher on the list is that Vol. 2 flat out sucked.

5. Aliens:
  At the time this movie came out in 1986, never before had something like Aliens been attempted earlier.  Of course, since then, this movie has been aped time and time again, but has yet to be duplicated to the same effect.  And likely never will.  First off, very few movies can claim to be a science fiction/action/horror/thriller.  In fact, for the first chunk of this movie, there is very little action at all, starting off as a mystery/horror, then building into a thriller, and then exploding into a sequence of action that is relentless and intense.  For the marines, highly trained and full of bravado, they are cut down in numbers almost immediately by the aliens, and then things just keep getting worse and worse for the survivours.  And this is what makes the action so great – the good guys are never actually surviving, let alone wining, they’re seemingly holding on just long enough for the honour of a horrific death.  Yes, there is the unstoppable threat of the aliens, but then they must consider the deadline of a nuclear reactor going critical, party dissention, a traitor in their midst, and contacting their mother ship to send a remote aircraft.  But even the best laid plans go awry, calling upon improvisation and blind courage to make it through.  Sigourney Weaver received an Oscar nomination for reprising the role of Ripley, the no-nonsense, quick thinking, tough-as-nails heroine that takes over the lead of the marines.  James Cameron’s script is impeccable, only exceeded by his direction that brings you in and out of the action through the various perspectives of the marines, unbelievable special effects that still hold up today, and an unforgiving willingness to put his characters through hell at every opportunity.  James Horner’s score helps to accentuate the mayhem, which also received a nomination, and has been used in several other movies and movie trailers since.

 4. Matrix Trilogy:  I’ve included all three here because 2 and 3 are basically one big movie, and 1 is a stand out for taking special effects/CGI and action into a whole different direction.  Well, what can ya say? These movies rule.  The fight scenes get progressively better and better, accented by the manipulation of the matrix, till it evolves into a movie of battling super beings – complete with aerial combat.

In fact, all forms of combat are explored here whether it be fist-to-fist, hand-to-hand, weapon-to-weapon, gun-to-gun, mind-to-mind, or will-to-will; Man vs. Machine, Machine vs. Machine, Machine vs. Environment; One against self, one against one, one against many, many against many; Mind over reality, Mind over surrealism,  Mind over matter; foot chases, car chases, flying ships, exo-skeletal battle gear; etc, etc, etc…oh, and a lot of leather.  On top of everything else, this movie is downright sexy; gorgeously choreographed, gorgeously shot, and gorgeous to look at. It’s pretty much perfect as far as action adventure goes.  The Wachowski Brothers have created a masterpiece in these films, and have immortalized a number of action images that have become iconic in today’s pop culture.

3. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: Yes, one of the Star Wars films HAS to be on this list, and it has to be Empire.  You don’t get cheated on this one, and in the context of when it first came out, it was absolutely mind blowing.  And that is why it scores so high on the list.  Never before and never since has a there been a movie where so much was riding on the outcome of its action scenes.  There’s action and then there’s epic action – Ben Hur chariot race styles – and Empire in the wake of Star Wars was the ultimate definition of it.  Here you have a morality tale of good vs. evil, where good looses every single confrontation.  Badly.  OK, the wampa didn’t fair too well, but aside from that, good gets an ass whooping ever time.  Good manages to survive it all mind you, or else there isn’t a third movie, but by the end of Empire, evil totally deserves a cold one.  The cool thing about epic action is emotional pay-off.  Somehow, despite all the crushing defeats, not once are you any less exhilarated by the outcome.  The movie is so uniquely special for this quality that I doubt very highly that George Lucas, writers Lawrence Kasdan/Leigh Brackett, and the director Irvin Kershner even realized what they were concocting till way after the fact – “Jeez, y’know George, the good guys sure do loose a lot”, “Don’t worry, I’ll cheese it up for good in the next one”.  That aside, the movie is on the list for the snow-walkers alone.  No, actually, it’s on here for the chase scene through the asteroid field.  No, no, let’s go with the light saber duel between Luke and Vader culminating into one of the most famous exchanges in cinema history.

2. Die Hard:  Like a lot of movies on this list, Die Hard ended up influencing the pop culture as a whole after its success.  Indeed, as far as simply-plotted, reality based action films go, this is likely the best of all time.  Ironically, director John Mctiernan has done some of the best action films of all time (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) but also some of the worst (Last Action Hero, Rollerball 2002 – a travesty).  Needless to say, this is his crowning jewel.  Die Hard contains all the elements that usually define most action films; a charismatic hero facing superior odds, a charismatic villain that is not to be taken lightly, and lots of gun fire and explosions.  Some how, though, Die Hard manages to make all these obvious elements seem new again.  Unfortunately, it is for this reason that the movie is not number one – since its release in 1988, this movie has been copied so many times, to its credit of course, that it doesn’t seem so new now.  However, at the time of its release, this picture kicked total ass.  The focal point of this movie’s greatness is the performance of Bruce Willis as John McClane, a cop who finds himself in the middle of a hostage situation at the top of an office high-rise.  Managing to elude the kidnappers, the movie becomes a clever game of cat and mouse as McClane attempts to take on the entire cadre of baddies.  But McClane is no average action hero, in that, as far as action heroes go, he’s extremely average.  Somehow though, through wits, courage, and the fact that one of the hostages is his estranged wife (whom he wishes wasn’t so estranged), McClane navigates, with much difficulty, the never ending, death defying situations that are constantly thrown at him.  This movie takes many cues from Raiders as cliffhanger after cliffhanger is solved by McClane, often with sloppy results, which is yet another reason why this movie is so great; when McClane reacts to survive one obstacle, he inadvertently causes another problem for himself that is just as deadly.  This movie lives off of the motto of “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.


1. Mad Max:  Road Warrior:  Surprised?  Confused?  Maybe, but the reality is that any number of the top 5 could be rotated through the number 1 spot.  Plus, the other 4 are the obvious choices in my opinion, but Road Warrior genuinely deserves to be at the top of the list. On a list where the film budgets are more then adequate, if not downright massive, Road Warrior easily wins for the most bang for its limited buck.  However, its budget does not reflect in the design of the picture, that is, it doesn’t look cheap.  Yes, it’s set in a post apocalyptic future where everything is broken, but that doesn’t mean that its action scenes appear to be any less conservative.  But coping with a smaller budget is no where near the reason why great films are great.  The thing about Road Warrior is that although it utilizes all the usual action film conventions, and the story is extremely simple, it is basically a composite of ALL the films on this list.  Yes, it may be slightly dated, even for a science fiction film, but at the time this movie came out, it was so extreme, that it carried a cult status much like its predecessor.  Like the Hong Kong films, it is totally and completely geared for nothing but action.  Not only that, much of its stunts happen in full shots which are as dangerous as they are spectacular.

But there’s more, of course…

Played by Mel Gibson, Max is the epitome of the anti-hero.  Max is self-sufficient and determined to keep it that way.  Everything is a deal with Max, an exchange for services rendered.  This exchange is so absolute that in one sequence he saves the life of the feral kid (an unwanted sidekick), and then puts the child back into danger literally moments later.  The Villians are raping, pillaging, torturous savages that are relentlessly brutal and uncaring.  Humungus, their leader, pre-dates the look of Jason (from the Friday the 13th films) and ironically, is the most intelligent of the bunch even though he’s the most physically menacing.  However, what sets this group of baddies apart from the other films is that each individual “minion” is designed to have his own identity.  Comparatively, they become more then just cannon fodder against the usual action fare, which amplifies their menace.  Between hero and villain, the post-apocalyptic environment provides an interesting angle – limited resources. It would be easy to characterize Road Warrior as a series of car chases, but in a world were guns and ammunition are very sparse, the vehicles themselves become the weapons.  Rocket darts, crossbows, and bladed boomerangs are the extent of the weaponry so hand-to-hand combat is mostly improvised and vicious.  Opponents are dealt with by any means necessary, which again, adds to the tension.  Practically every death in the film is horrific or just plain ol’ nasty.  Generally, film action is well choreographed, almost beautiful to look at.  Not in Road Warrior.  Like all battle, it is chaotic and sloppy, but the film almost takes this to the max (hee hee!) – most of the time, nothing goes right for both sides.  When Max needs his shotgun to fire true, it misfires.  During the climatic chase, the baddies make a tactical error that leads to a series of collisions that take many of their number out.  A Molotov cocktail sets its owner on fire.  Even Humungus, in his blood lust, makes a terrible boo-boo.  And this is just a few incidents of backfire.  In fact, most of the time, the action is about the miscalculations of its participants then the end result of lighting quick decision making.  AND this is the real reason why Road Warrior is such a great action movie.  Not only did it utilize all the usual action elements, it modified them, and invented a whole new bunch of takes along the way.

The future that Road Warrior portrays is actually not far off from reality.  The end result of a world that has consumed itself in order to feed its industrial machine is prophetic in light of what we see in today’s age.  For a “cult” film, its influence on the pop culture of today is just as real and prevalent as it was when it had no equal.  The term “road warrior” is part of everyday vernacular and it invented the modern post-apocalyptic genre.  Of the 3 movies in the series, all done by Director George Miller, it is Road Warrior that is the heavy weight champion of action of films.







The Music from Lord of the Rings… sucks.

TODD MAN OUT: Rants, Monologues and Opinions from Todd

The Music from Lord of the Rings… Sucks.

K’now, I’m as big a fan as anyone might be of the Lord of the Rings movies, but I gotta say, I’m not a big fan of the music.  Sure, the sound track won an oscar, and sure, it really is great in the first movie, however it’s more of the same throughout the second movie, and consequently, when you hit the third, it becomes a serious case of bin’ there – done that.

I guess my problem comes in the third movie, which I found thrilling throughout, but not for the same reasons that REALLY got me emotionally in the book.  Obviously, the movie soundtrack are one of the many elements a director considers in order to accentuate an emotional response from the viewer.  Imagine Jaws or Star Wars without their respective musical themes.  In fact, in a lot of ways, the music made those films.  In Return of the King, there are number of moments where the story builds to a heroic pay-off.  You know what I’m talking about – The Witch King vs. Gandalf and the sudden appearance of the Rohirrium; Eowyn vs. the Witch King; the arrival of the Black Sails; and of course, the final run of Frodo and Sam, and the destruction of the ring.  Although my favourite moments in the books, they are not my favourite moments in the film.  Why?  Mostly because of the music.  Case in point:  The charge of the Rohirrium.  To me it seems that somewhere along the way, PJ forgot that LotR is essentially a film about war, because not once throughout this raging, bloodthirsty charge of the desperate Rohirrium did we hear a war drum – instead, we hear flutes.  I don’t know about you, but when the heroes of Rohan are very well facing their last moments on middle-earth, and willingly throw themselves against the vast hordes of Mordor, I want to hear something comparable to Wagner, Taichovsky’s “1812” or Holst’s “God of War”.  I want thunderous drums, crashing symbols, and screaming trumpets when all the heroic slashing and hacking in the name of good starts up…NOT this never ending stream of celtic/piccalo flute/Enya hodge-podge.   Listen, you’ll see what I’m saying.

Lord of the Rings: Is the Bakshi film really that bad?

TODD MAN OUT: Ideas, Opinions and Observations from Todd

Lord of the Rings: Is the Bakshi film really that Bad?

The late 70’s was fantasy film heaven for kids.  Obviously there was Star Wars, Fantasia had been re-released, and then there was Bakshi’s version of Lord of the Rings.  Having just read the Hobbit, the size of the LotR books was a little daunting at that point, but the movie was more then enough to satisfy my curiosity.  I loved it.  But, as one got older it seems, the movie seems to loose its luster – as evident from the hammering the movie gets every time it’s mentioned.  Childhood perspective aside, the movie STILL got hammered by many of the adult critics at the time and to this day is not remembered well.  I myself never actually developed a hatred for the film, and even in light of the recent, albeit far, far more superior films, could still appreciate its attempt.  I think to pick on the film now-a-days is about as fair as picking on the original King Kong for its outdated special effects or the fact that it isn’t in colour.

The primary obstacle that faced Bakshi was funding.  And considering the technology and techniques that he had to work with, I simply think that he did the best that anyone could.  I mean, I doubt very highly that even Disney, who dominated feature animation at the time, could have done any better – proven later by their attempt of The Black Cauldron.   And animation was the only way to go, because despite what Star Wars had suddenly done with special effects, there was no way that the demands of the story could be captured any other way.  Nevertheless, the animation is generally slagged due in large part to its use of rotoscoping, a technique were live action actors are filmed and then the “animation” is drawn over top.  In many respects, rotoscoping is no different then today’s use of actors in front of “green screen”.  Yes, there are moments where the character rendering is weak, and the rotoscoping is far too shaky for the backgrounds it’s placed against, and most frustrating of all is that in many cases the live action is not animated at all, but over all, the film was marked as an achievement for its use of the technique.

But I guess where the real assault against the film is its narrative choices.  These criticisms are all but nullified now due to the fact that PJ’s version pretty much makes the exact same choices.  In fact, I would have to say that any book to film version was pretty much predestined to loose Tom Bombadil and so forth.  It’s also no secret that PJ is a big fan of the film and borrows from it several times.

Sadly, and most crippling, is the fact that the movie simply ends after the victory of Helm’s Deep.  To me, this is where the film seems to receive this inherent blacklash.  The original intention was that the story was to be presented in two parts, but the studio pulled out once the reaction to the “first half” was so poor.  I would have loved to have seen what Bakshi’s interpretation of the second half might have been.
However, with the PJ films, everyone now has a frame of reference in the fulfillment of the possibilities; LotR presented to the mainstream in such a way that not only are the “original” fans satisfied, but those who may never have been interested are now drawn in.  That for me is where PJ’s version is at its weakest – when he attempts to accommodate those in the audience who may not be familiar with fantasy as a whole, let alone the books.  And this is where the Bakshi film has its charm.  It makes no attempts to satisfy this segment of the audience, but rather aims its self directly at those who already know what they’re getting into.  It’s just that the fans at the time simply didn’t understand how hard it is to put a book to film.  “The book is always better then film” hadn’t become a mantra till much later.  Filmgoers now expect the film versions of books to be exactly what they can only be – adaptations – and thus, are far more forgiving.

Why is the Bakshi film not so bad?  Well, here are the major points that I think set it apart:

  1. The overall tenor of the film – its acting, scene design, and above all, its speech – is so much closer to the books then PJ ever allowed his version to be.
  2. The principal characters are portrayed just as successfully, and in some cases, more so.  After seeing PJ’s version hundreds of times, it’s pretty refreshing to go back and see Gimili not having to be the yuckster every time he’s on the screen.  John Hurt as the voice of Aragorn is perfect.  Gollum is what we expect him to be.
  3. As I’ve already stated in this forum, the soundtrack is simply better suited and used more effectively.
  4. And for what it’s worth, the film goes more for atmosphere and emotion then razor sharp detail and/or obvious, visual clichés.  Dramatic pauses and interludes, realistic interpretation of action, and mixed pacing of scene transition give the film a level of sophistication that I think is missing from the more “modern” Hollywood approach.
  5. Some scene interpretations were so well designed that in order to top them, PJ would simply have to copy them.  He did in several cases, specifically with the Nazgul in Bree.  There were a number of moments for which I wish he copied more.  I much rather prefer the last stand of Boromir in the Bakshi version then PJ’s.

Love it or leave it, it does have the distinction of being the first real endeavor, and although it was likely made far before the time it should have been, it did the best it could.  It has carried influence, not only in the newer version, but it helped to reinvigorate the popularity of the tale at the time it came out – despite its overall lack of success.  If it has proven to do that, how bad can it be?

The GM and Game Balance

TODD MAN OUT: A Guest Blog from Scott Holden

The GM and Game Balance

I’ve just finished reading yet another online forum thread about “why the paladin should be balanced with other classes.”

Balance. This concept seems to dominate discussion in and around RPGs these days. Everyone wants to be entirely sure that new classes, spells, items, and so on are balanced. The more I see people touting balance as the be-all and end-all of game design, though, the more I’m beginning to question the necessity (and even the value) of this concept. For one thing, the very idea that a designer can balance even just two core classes perfectly against one another is a white elephant of the first order. Simply look at the ubiquitous posts out there about “this class sucks” or “that class got the shaft” to see what I mean. You’ll simply never make everyone happy. (more…)

Lord of the Rings: The Circle is Complete


LORD OF THE RINGS: The Circle is Complete

     It is no secret that the media, given its super huge vastness, is comparatively controlled by a small number of individuals.  Now, to the conspiracy theorists out there, this rant is not about them.  In fact, I’m not even going to presume that these people are evil, or uncaring, or anything that may cast them in a negative light.  However, I think it is safe to assume that they have an extremist orientation for big business and an obligation to equally minded individuals that have ocean-like investments in their respective media companies.  Seeing as there is no true method of right or wrong in making piles and piles and piles of money, being evil, uncaring or any other negatives that may derive from this goal probably never actually enters into it.  Anything that gets in the way of making more or losing little is an obstacle that is either avoided or destroyed.  (more…)