Tuesday, April 12, 2022

DOGTOWN

I visited Dogtown with some friends the other day. It is an interesting site in Massachusetts, a ghost town known for its strange boulders and witches. Now it is basically a nature trail.   

Dogtown was an inland settlement established in 1692 between Gloucester and Rockport, away from the bay so the inhabitants could be safe from attack. It was named after the dogs kept by the wives during wartime, and in its decline became a haven for widows, vagrants and outcasts. Some accounts also say these dogs became feral and roamed freely in the woods. 

Many of its later residents were believed to be witches, including a notable woman named Thomazine Younger. Supposedly she demanded offerings of corn or fish from people who wished to pass through in peace. It became something of a safe haven for people on the fringes of society. The last resident of Dogtown was a freed slave named Cornelius Finson (when they found him he was sick and his feet were frozen, so he was brought to Gloucester). 

In the depression a millionaire named Roger Babson hired stone cutters to engrave inspirational sayings into the boulders in the woods (these are now known as Babson's Boulders). Babson was the founder of Babson College, an engineer, a descendent of the original founders of Dogtown, and had a thing about gravity (attributing its power to moving the stock market and starting an institute to help shield people from its effects: the institute later turned towards the study of gravity). 

The engraved boulders are part of a system of giant stones left behind by the last glacial retreat (the whole area is famous for large and unusual stones). There are trails leading through the network of engravings. The stones are engraved with phrases like "Spiritual Power" and "If Work Stops Values Decay". Some are a little more harsh. 

There are a lot of paranormal legends associated with Dogtown, including stories of a werewolf. There was also highly publicized murder her in the mid-1980s (there is a book about this by Elyssa East called Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town). 

Our main goal was to see the boulders (which we were not terribly successful with). We found cellar holes (boulders with numbers engraved on them). Here are some of my thoughts and below are some photos). 










TOP THREE MICHELLE YEOH FILMS

With the release of Everything Everywhere All at Once, which I haven't yet seen, I thought I would put together my own top 3 list of Michelle Yeoh movies. I saw other blogs and websites making these sorts of lists and just wanted to put down my own recommendations. Originally I was going to do a top 5, but I think limiting myself to three will force me to make tougher choices. I really wanted to narrow it down to the three I consistently go back to again and again. This list is just based on my own enjoyment of a movie, not whether it should have a 100% freshness rating. Often I prioritize the action performance and the charisma of the lead in these kinds of movies (Michelle Yeoh brings both but in each of these three movies, I think she brings them in different ways). Because I am an action fan, I am going to stick with what I know and just do a list of Michelle Yeoh action films. 

1. Wing Chun (1994)

This is definitely my top pick. It is a great movie, with wonderful fight choreography and a perfect blend of action, humor and romance. Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, it stars Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen but also has a nice cameo of Cheng Pei-Pei. The supporting cast is also excellent (I particularly like Kingdom Yuen as Abacus Fong). Plus it has Norman Chu as the villain. Yeoh plays the founder of Wing Chun, Yim Wing Chun, who runs a tofu shop and helps protect the community from local bandits. There is a lot more to the plot than this simple break down. It is a charming story, with a very precise and athletic performance from Yeoh. The final fight is outstanding, and is crammed with subtext. There is also a classic fight sequence in the middle involving a platter of tofu that is simply amazing to watch. I have found this one to be hard to find on physical media in good quality (many of the versions i have picked up have less than perfect image quality). It may be easier to find a decent copy now. 


2. Yes, Madame (1985)

This is one of my favorite physical performances by Michelle Yeoh. There is so much energy in this movie and she is paired up with Cynthia Rothrock as well (they make an excellent duo). The plot is pretty simple and mostly serves the action of the movie, but it has a lot of outstanding characters and one of my favorite one-note villains (I don't mean that as a negative, I like one note villains when they are done well and performed well and in this movie the bad guy always makes me smile: and what a note!). Directed by Corey Yuen this movie kicked off the Girls with Guns subgenre. Like a lot of movies from this era, it is very efficient in the best way. At 93 minutes, I am always surprised how much it manages to pack in without confusing me as a viewer. It has tons of action, plenty of humorous moments and juggles its characters well. It is part of the In the Line of Duty series. She is in the sequel, Royal Warriors, which is also enjoyable (but the first one is what I always keep going back to).


3. Reign of Assassins (2010)

This is a stellar movie. I find it to be her most moving action movie. Reign of Assassins is a wuxia story in the style of Gu Long. My understanding is it isn't based on any particular Gu Long novel but was meant to capture the feel of Gu Long. On that front it succeeds, but it also manages to get very deep and touch on profound religious themes. It is the kind of film where you will notice so many little details the more you watch it (for instance how characters mirror each other in different scenes). This one is very dark with well-drawn characters and a good story with a lot of heart. It is a little involved but the gist is she is a member of a gang called Dark Stone, and flees with a relic she was meant to bring to their leader, has an encounter with a monk that changes her, then goes into hiding and tries to live a normal life. There is much more to the story than this, but I don't want to give anything away. 

Obviously this list is based just on my own set of preferences. Many of her other films would make it to the 1 or 2 slot in most other peoples list so do take mine with the appropriate grain of salt as I don't want anyone to miss out on her better movies. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS 

Michelle Yeoh has so many great movies. Magnificent Warriors is one of the ones I enjoy rewatching. Her performance is great and it is a terrific action movie. Police Story 3 (also called Supercop) is wonderful as well. This movie is notable because she is going toe-to-toe with Jackie Chan as his new partner. Her stunts in it are unbelievable. I think for a lot of people this would be their number 1 or 2. I love the police story films. And part three really stands out. 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is also another significant one. I remember seeing it in the theater when it came out in the US. It definitely made an impact on me. The only reason I don't include it here is the pacing of that film is a bit slow so I rewatch it less than some of her other movies (it isn't bad that it is slow, it is meant to be a languid and graceful cinematic experience, but that often is a deterrent to me watching it if I am tired). 

One of my favorites, and I know this isn't one everyone likes, is the Heroic Trio (I love the sequel, Executioners, as well). It is basically a martial arts superhero movie (and I am not usually a superhero fan). It is a great cast with Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui. I think some people might describe this as a somewhat corny movie, but I thoroughly enjoy it. 

There are plenty of other good ones. Butterfly and Sword (I quite like this one but the middle drags a bit). Tai Chi Master is more of a Jet Li movie but I love her character in that film. 

While it isn't a film a regularly rewatch, Holy Weapon is an interesting one and worth seeing. Definitely check this one out if you can find it simply because it is rather unusual. She is part of a very large cast in it and I don't want to spoil any of the details. Suffice to say this is something of a gonzo wuxia film. 



Friday, April 8, 2022

THE WITCH

The Witch is a movie I have avoided watching, for reasons I get into in the podcast below. Last night I decided to see it for the first time and I enjoyed it a lot. I am often very late coming to more recent films. Hear my take six years after the fact: 


Friday, April 1, 2022

TOTAL PARTY KILL THE RPG

This summer Bedrock Games releases its most daring and ambitious roleplaying game yet: Total Party Kill. 

No Time for Stories When you're Dead!

In Total Party Kill the GM gains experience and levels up, as players run for their lives. The gamemaster advances by sending his armies of monsters, NPCs, traps and world ending relics against the player characters. His goal is to slaughter them to the last. Each PC he kills earns the GM Experience and increases the power at his fingertips. In this world, the dungeon comes to you!

Player characters do not advance in level or power in Total Party Kill, but they have one slender, ray of hope: become the GM. The first player to survive 10 sessions, gets to be the next Gamemaster, casting the prior GM back into the hell pit of player characters. And if more than one PC should make it to 10 sessions alive, the GM seat is determined by death match! 

Comes complete with: 

-Loaded dice 

-Complete progression tables for the GM, from newb to that than which nothing greater can be conceived 

-A rich setting, replete with detailed locations and fully fleshed out NPCs that the players will be too dead to explore 

-The hobby's first universal game system made entirely from all the most popular RPGs with the serial numbers filed off: compatible with EVERYTHING! 

-Roaming dungeon rules! 

-Death and dying rules, with an entire Five Stages of Grief mechanic  

-Unified Field Theory   

-Not one, but two, dirge composition tool-kits 

-Two complete adventures: "Big Foot is Angry Kills Everyone!" and "The Entire Party Gets Eaten by a Dragon!"

-More exclamation marks than a silent film!  

-Even more exclamation marks!!!!!  

The Perfect System  

The system for Total Party Kill has been gruelingly playtested by the hobby's 13 most ruthless  GMs. We hired a team of over 100 mathematicians, scientists and engineers to serve as design consultants. Our outer space rules were reviewed by 8 astronauts from NASA. Doctors, nurses, bus drivers, day care providers, deep cover CIA operatives and big foot were all paid to provide valuable insight so we could make the most authentic and believable RPG imagined. 

The result was a system so perfect it shattered our understanding of physics (and cryptozoology). Each rule was painstakingly crafted to grant the GM as much power as possible that he might veto any unforeseen player successes. In order to survive, the player's choices and dice rolls must be unambiguously decisive. 

Total Party Kill was also skillfully worded to maximize marketing potential. We put SEO first and foremost. From book to webpage this is a game designed for blatant self promotion and profit. The index is a massive list of search engine key words and the foreword takes pains to thank all of the most prominent RPG influencers in the hobby. Our sidebars are all inflammatory remarks meant to go viral.  

And it has something for everyone. Whether you like rules light, rules heavy, old-school, new school, narrative mechanics, pure dungeon crawls, hyper-realistic play, cinematic genre emulation, functional systems, linear railroads, sandboxes, broken systems, hex crawls, settings that appeal to your particular religious and political views or settings that attack those views relentlessly, TPK is your game in every situation. We got you covered! 

And it is flame resistant too! There are lines of text in the rules to support arguments for any playstyle or RPG worldview, so no matter what gaming perspective you bring, the rules support your position, whatever that position is, in any flame war you choose to engage in on gaming forums. This game puts an end to RPG forum butt-hurt once and for all. We've even included a handy list of topics to get those flame wars started! 

Coming this summer 2022. We broke reality to make you a better game!



Monday, March 7, 2022

THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK: FIRST IMPRESSION

I finally had a chance to watch The Many Saints of Newark. Based on what I heard, my expectations were low, but it was a pleasant surprise. I am sure I will need to watch it many more times to really settle on an opinion about it. On the first viewing, I quite enjoyed it. I found it more cohesive than I had heard. I also liked some of the unexpected turns, and enjoyed the new characters they introduced. While the early announcements, posters and trailers were a little misleading (making it seem that Tony Soprano was more central), I think it was a good choice to make him an important side character rather than center the film on him (and it will make an sequel where he does take center stage feel more believable (because we've had a solid introduction to young Tony). 

Overall I thought they did a much better job than I had anticipated. This is the kind of movie that could have easily failed on multiple levels (especially being a television show brought to the big screen). But I think they made a lot of good choices. 

I had a lot more thoughts about it (it took me nearly 40 minutes to express them all in the podcast below). Listen to find out what I thought of the movie. Hopefully in the coming days or weeks I will watch it again and give more thoughts. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

STRANGE NEW ENGLAND RPG

For the past several months I have been working on a variation of Strange Tales of Songling set in New England. It will use the same basic system (and there should be cross-compatibility between the two games) but offer a very different type of setting. It draws on a broad range of influences, local paranormal accounts and history, psychological horror, religious horror and local legends. 

It is also influenced by a ton of classic horror movies. There is always a lot of horror in my other RPGs and that is because I mainly GM'd horror campaigns and was a huge horror fanatic growing up. That was one of the reasons I started the horror express discussions on the podcast (hopefully we will start doing those again soon). This will be influenced by a range of movies, everything from the Exorcist and the Howling to Jacob's Ladder and Carnival of Lost Souls. And there is a lot of old silent horror movie influence as well. Nosferatu was one of the fist horror movies I saw as a kid, and I like movies like the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera. I think the one common thread of the film influences is they are for the most part, films made prior to 2000. I am not as interested in recent horror movies and that is pretty clear I think in the setting material (nothing wrong with more recent movies, there are some I like, I just have less interest in new films in general).  

There is also an X-Files and cryptic element to the setting (a lot of it is structured around local anomaly and paranormal accounts: things like the Dover Demon, the Bridgewater Triangle and the story of Doc Benton). I like to read books about weird local accounts and urban legends, so a lot of that is going to be in here. 

Like Strange Tales, Strange New England has four paths (tailored to the setting), but it takes a slightly different approach to magic. Presently the paths are: Exorcist, Spirit Medium, Charlatan and Combatant (will get more into those in future posts). It also includes a corruption mechanic similar to powers checks from the old Ravenloft line (it is influenced a lot by Ravenloft but also by the game The Esoterrorists, and the Orrorsh material for TORG). The campaign structure is similar to Strange Tales of Songling, with an adventure for each level, but it is more a blend of sandbox and monster of the week: where the players get to pick what they want to investigate that adventure. 

I have been play testing since October as I develop the setting and the mechanics. There are some key concepts I am trying to hash out and refine (and I will talk more about those As the weeks and months unfold after they crystalize more). 

In terms of tone, this is a genuine horror game, where the stakes are pretty high (I think about as high as you can make them). But it is a nice blend because I think one of the reasons people sometimes have difficulty with horror in RPGs is they feel the need to always hit that horror note. My approach is, when you can, definitely go for that, but you also need to allow for fun and other moods (both for contrast but also to allow for the horror t even work). This is a topic I will hopefully be blogging more about as well. 

There isn't any concrete timeline on this one. I have other projects working their way through the pipeline before this one comes out. But my plan is to take a slow-brew development approach to this one like I have for the past several projects. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

DIRTY HARRY CONVERSATIONS

I hope to have more updates on Sons of Lady 87 and to start posting the remaining chapters of Profound Masters of Ogre Gate soon (and post some thoughts in general in the near future). Right now I am busy editing so want to post some stuff we've been doing on the podcast. 

Adam and I talked about Dirty Harry movies the past couple of months (these are the first four---will add The Dead Pool to this post when we get to that one). I love the  Dirty Harry movies. The first one remains a truly great film: well crafted and stunning to this day. For me the others are fun movies (all vary in degree of how well they are made but they all are films I enjoy watching). These were always on TV when I was a kid so they were something most people were familiar with. Recently I did a re-watch over the summer in order of release date and that led to my conversation with Adam. 

Listen to the episodes below to hear our opinions on each entry in the series: