Me — The Most Important Piece of Media

I want you to think about all the media you’ve consumed over the course of your life. All the TV you’ve watched, the books you’ve read, and the games you’ve played. If you had to pick one thing, what one thing had the most impact on who you grew up to be? Now, I’m not asking you what your favorite piece of media is, although they might actually be the same thing.

I’m sure a lot of people from an older generation would pick a movie. Maybe a classic TV show. Somebody very young might pick a game like Fortnite (although, to be fair, they might not have experienced their “Most Impactful Thing™”). I would be willing to bet that a lot of people my age would pick Harry Potter, given that we got to grow up with the books and it touched so many millions of lives. It’s certainly not what I would pick, but I don’t think my answer would be all that surprising to anyone, either.

My favorite game is Dragon Quest VIII. My favorite movie is Dumas’ The Counte of Monte Cristo (2002). My favorite book is, well, a hard choice, but anything by Brandon Sanderson will be up there.

But I would say that of if you took one piece of media out of my life so that I would never have experienced, the Kollin that would be the most different from any other Kollin would be the one that hadn’t watched Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I’ve reviewed Avatar before, but that post is mostly just me gushing (poorly) about why it’s so great. (Side note: That post is already almost three years old… Next week is the show’s 14th birthday… oh boy.) I didn’t analyze why the show is great then, and I won’t do it now. You can look up YouTube videos (or even series) on that premise that explain it better than I can.

I will explain why it’s so important to me, though. First, it has a magic system that is so simple and easy to understand, yet involves interesting complications. Once you understand waterbending, you can follow the train of logic that leads to bending the water in plants, or blood, or the very air itself. The magic system is so simple, yet so robust. I love magic systems, and while I don’t quite have the fanaticism that Brandon Sanderson has, magic is my favorite tool to employ in the fantasy wheelhouse.

But more than that, Avatar has amazing characters and plot. Every major character is incredibly well fleshed out, has important character arcs, and they each have long journeys to take. The show has a level of storytelling that is compelling in the same way the magic is: it’s easy to follow (especially in it’s episodic nature), but the overarching implications are more complex and interesting. You don’t have to watch Zuko and Iroh’s separation at the end of Book Two to feel the emotions in their reunion at the end of Book Three, but it is far more emotionally rewarding and cathartic if you do.

I had a dream less than a month ago in which I knew I was dreaming, and I had full control. So far, that is the only time that’s ever happened to me. So what did I do? I fought off a bunch of dudes with earthbending. I often have mental images of characters in my stories that I like to imagine myself embodying. (The one that’s been on my mind the last few months is a large, perhaps elven character carrying a staff.) Regardless of day or time, though (and especially in the shower,) I still find myself enjoying the image of lifting and launching rocks with what is basically just martial arts.

Am I embarrassed to admit that? Yeah, a little, but I think retaining a piece of the kid inside you is very important. And the little kid inside me loves to shoot rocks at people.

Me/D&D — A Love Letter to Critical Role

Dungeons and Dragons can be played a myriad of ways. I’ve read someone describe it as “being the main characters in a fantasy novel”, but it’s even more open-ended than that. It can literally be anything you and your friends want it to be, it just so happens that most people value simplicity over anything else, and so they more or less stick to the rulebook (which, as Barbossa would say, are more like guidelines—especially the Dungeon Master’s Guide). I came to a realization about Critical Role today, and I thought I would share that realization with all of you in the form of a love letter… Buckle up, this one is going to be a long one.

268x0wCritical Role, a weekly livestream of D&D I’ve already dedicated one full post to, does just that. They play with the rules that they’re given, and only on rare occasion does the dungeon master, Matthew Mercer, ever cook up a new monster or a new character class/subclass. I would go so far as to say that they play a very vanilla version of D&D, and the only thing crazy about it is how gifted the players are at pacing out story beats and telling the tale of a group of people rather than getting from Point A to Point B. Of all the D&D streams I’ve watched in the past, that’s the #2 reason to watch the show.

What’s #1 you ask? Well, before I get to that, I want to step back and talk about why I personally love it so much. Not as the critical observer as I often am whenever I’m consuming media, but as the fan. As Kollin.

I’ve been watching the show since it aired 3 years ago now, and this only dawned on me today. Critical Role encompasses every aspect of my personality, and encapsulates everything I want to have and be. (If you’re lazy, just skim the paragraphs ahead—the bullet points are in bold.)

For starters: storytelling. Obviously, I love stories. I’ve fancied myself a writer for nearly a decade now, and I specifically love epic fantasy. I grew up with World of WarcraftLord of the RingsDragon QuestOblivion, etc. The romanticism of picking up your sword and shield and going on an epic quest is something so inexplicably baked into my being that I literally cannot describe why I love it so much. It’s simple, easy to understand, yet its breadth is endless. In order to tell a complex story in such a world, you first have to start simple and show the audience this new world—explain its rules—and seeing a world where our impossible becomes their mundane is always fascinating to me.

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That ties into the concept of what Dungeons & Dragons is. It is a literal, mechanical fulfillment of the Hero’s Journey. You kill monsters, you level up, you achieve goals, and so on. I love watching or being somebody who has nothing inevitably challenge literal embodiments of evil. By then, you’ve really learned about and grown with the character, and in many ways you’ve watched their life go by. What I like about D&D is that victory is not guaranteed. If I had my way, I would even go so so far as to say that it is less likely than defeat, for how can victory feel empowering if you feel it was given away? (Now, a Hero’s Journey and storytelling clearly go hand in hand here, but I think the distinction is important. Not all D&D needs to be a journey, and not all storytelling is D&D.)

116curiousbeginningsAs for aspects specific to Critical Role, and to explain why it holds a special place in my heart over any other D&D show, the first component to this is the cast of the show itself. Every player in the game is a notable and respected voice actor, and I knew over half of them when I first tuned in (by the sound of their voice if not their name and appearance itself). These people have all had a hand in creating the games and shows I’ve dedicated so much of my life to (the aforementioned World of Warcraft is certainly pretty high on that list). So because I recognized their voices, I was already familiar with them. I already know these people, and this is an opportunity to know them better.

But even more than that, they’re all actors. I’ve been a part of the theatre world for six years now (which is crazy to me), and it literally changed my life. I tell people I was the kid that sat in the back of class reading and hoping nobody would talk to me. They’re always surprised to hear that because I’m so outspoken (they don’t realize that all that’s changed is that I now sit in the front of the class hoping somebody will talk to me). It didn’t necessarily make me more confident—I’m lucky enough to have pretty much always had that—but it did teach me to have fun by not caring about looking cool, stoic, and professional. I’ve found that people will hold a lot of respect for those than can throw caution to the wind. It’s a skill not many have. So watching the cast put on silly voices and make dumb jokes really speaks to me. Not because I’m an audience member admiring their skills, but because I’m a fellow performer that appreciates their techniques and the obscure theatre-related jokes they sometimes toss out at each other.

Lastly, and by far the most important reason that this show is the best—these people are all best friends. It’s really heartwarming to watch a group of people have a blast with each other. To share in the absurd humor as well as the very real tears that have happened over the years. You see people who so overtly love each other and the community they’ve created, and watch as they empower each other every week, and it maxresdefaultreally has an effect on you. It’s really difficult not to feel like part of the reason that they do this show is for you—and not in that “we do this for the fans” sort of way, but in a genuine way. They show fanart on stream and have hired fans to be part of the tech and have quite literally built a community founded on love and respect for one another as much as D&D. Sure, not everyone is as loving or respectable as the cast, but the vast majority of voices I’ve seen in the YouTube comments or on Reddit have been supportive and, in general, awesome.

I have a lot of dreams for the future. Some of them I know I will never achieve, simply because it’s not what life has in store for me. But if I have one goal, it’s to be happy. And every week when I get home from work or school to watch Critical Role while relaxing with a cup of tea, I can’t help but think.

One day I’ll have that sort of life. I don’t envy them for having it, because I’m grateful that they’re willing to share it with the world. And one day I’ll surround myself with people who bring me nothing but joy and we’ll share tears of both joy and pain. I may not be there yet, but if they can do it, I can do.

D&D Dialogues 7: Fuddled and Muddled

It’s been a while since I told an actual D&D story, for a number of reasons. In fact, my group of friends has since started two new campaigns since my last story: with the old one petering out and a new DM taking over a new story, as well as the addition of the campaign I’m DMing in a new world called Aleor. I plan on writing the full Aleor story in broader strokes on this blog at some point rather than the detailed dialogues of these stories, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

So, onto the story.

This new campaign is a little crazy—fun overlaps realism a bit when the two are at odds. Not my favorite style of play, but it isn’t bad, either. We have a party of 6 level 10 heroes, and in this specific scene we have three NPC’s following us (however, none of them are important in this instance, so they’ll be left in shadows today).

We’ve recently acquired the deed to a keep by magical means, and while we’ve had the deed for a while, we haven’t been in this area until now. So we’re investigating only to find that the keep is abandoned, yet occupied. The people there are something of a cult, and they explain that they have friends that went down into the dungeons to fetch something and haven’t come back. Obvious red flags there, but they seem like chumps compared to us so whoever went down probably isn’t much stronger. Plus, if we’re going to claim this keep and restore it, we should make sure there’s no murder monsters in our house.

We go down inside and find a cave bored into the cellar, and following down the path we see umber hulk corpses. My character, (an orc mystic named Ki) is the only one that knows anything about them, and he just knows that looking at them makes you feel weird, so we don’t really worry about it. We kill some bugs and end up at this pool of water with an aboleth inside. The aboleth mind controls one of our party members, unbeknownst the the rest of us, and tries to control another before teleporting away. As we are searching for him, four umber hulks jump out on us, and this is where things start to get dicey.

My character is the only one that is effective at a range, and being near an umber hulk can confuse or paralyze you unless you avert your gaze. These corridors are pretty small, and one of us is mind controlled. As soon as combat happens, the traitor runs away, saying there’s more on the other side of the tunnel. One of us follows her to help while the rest of us fight the four.

Problem: one of our monks is wearing the Cloak of Eyes, meaning he cannot avert his gaze. He spends basically every round paralyzed as the umber hulks close in. I try to mind control one of the umber hulks but fail, and the tunnel is cramped so it’s difficult to get any good angles.

The monk that ran after the traitor almost dies instantly when the traitor turns against her (the traitor is a barbarian). I spend two turns building our psychic defenses back up after losing that turn, and so far, we have only landed one hit against these things. It looks really bad. The “words” (acronym?) TPK starts coming up in conversation.

This combat is one of those examples where things really could have gone either way. We really might have died. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at it), we had to speed things up due to time constraints, so I feel as though the DM loosened his grip on us to be able to finish the scene. One of our NPC’s cast Hold Monster, and he ruled that its weird eyes didn’t work when it was held, one of our party members shot the ceiling and caused a small cave in that instantly killed another umber hulk, and I made another one flee (for one round, though in the narrative, it made a tunnel and was literally never brought up again for some reason).

Now, if the DM had just decided that we live or die by the dice rolls, I still think we would have came out on top… eventually. It would have taken another three rounds at least—three rounds we didn’t have, so his method for speeding up the combat was totally fine. But I do wonder if we were all destined to die in that cave, because… maybe we should have.

 

Prompt — The Return of the Silence

“I’m not paying two odes for this,” I said. These merchants were getting bolder and bolder by the day.

“Two odes or you put it all back,” he shrugged, not batting an eye.

“Two months ago I could buy all this for half that!”

“Two months ago there was no tariff on raftheads. You want your damn Kitsuyan vegetables you can get on the next boat headed there.”

Ruder by the day, too. I forked over the two gold coins and stalked off, groceries in one hand and staff in the other.

The causeway through the main streets of Kalisport was as busy as it always was this time of day, and even with the oceanic breeze it was still hot out. People were amply coated in sweat as they heaved carts and goods through the market, going about their day with a smile on their face.

I never understood how people could be so… happy.

Feeling the warmth on my pale skin, I remembered why I was in such a hurry. Being in the sun too long always gave me horrendous burns. I learned very quickly why Kitsuyans don’t often leave the isles: we melt.

I stepped into a shady alleyway to catch my breath and cool off a bit. I set my things down to examine the damage. “By the Mist and Tides,” I cursed. “I’m already burnt. I’ve barely been out twenty minutes!”

Glancing down the alley, I was hit with a sudden sense of…

Quiet.

All the commotion of the thoroughfare nearby was suddenly gone. It was just me. Here. Alone.

An impossible gale of wind flooded through the narrow path, tossing up papers and refuse and anything else. As it rushed towards me, I thrust my hand out to combat it, but no magic came. What could I do against wind? Against the Silence, my old enemy?

It crashed into me, pushing me against the wall with the force of a freight golem. Before I knew it, the Silence had passed, the sound of the nearby street was back, and I was huddled right where I had stopped, weeping speechless tears.

It had been years since I had had one of these attacks. I still lived with my aunt back then. I thought it was gone for good. This one, as minor as it had been, was an ill omen.

Well, I wasn’t the powerless little girl anymore.

With a huff to gather my composure, I stood and grabbed my staff. I wasn’t about to let the Silence once again wreak havoc over my life.

 

After a conspicuous but determined jog back to my little apartment, I threw all the windows and doors open and stepped out onto the balcony. Heat and burning be damned, I couldn’t risk another attack, I needed noise.

I was met with the full view of Kalisport, rows upon rows of buildings, the floating spires in the distance one direction, the tranquil Xal Deer Sea the other. I focused on the sound of the people below as I watched, picking out as many strings of words as I could.

Then, two quick knocks on my front door, and my heart skipped a beat. Had I been followed? I recalled every footstep I made between going to buy groceries and coming home. I hadn’t noticed anyone tailing me, but then, I hadn’t been in the most stable of mindsets. I didn’t have any friends here, and the people I worked with wouldn’t knock. I clenched my staff tighter. Whoever it was, they knew I was here.

I thought about the soft thumps of my boots as I walked across the floor to the door. The Silence could still come back if I wasn’t careful. I had to focus on the sound.

“Who is it?” I called through.

“An old friend,” a male voice responded. I recognized it, but the memory was faint. Old.

“How old?”

“Older than I’d like to admit.”

I opened the door to see Khuros. The imaginary friend that saved me from the Silence.

“You left these in the alleyway,” he said, holding up my basket of groceries.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Everyone has imaginary friends when they’re kids, don’t they? I struggled to come up with a greeting but instead…

“You’re not real,” I muttered, out loud I realized too late.

He shrugged. “Neither is the Silence, and yet here we are. We need to talk.”

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/totorrl/art/Loc-Ppj-V50-Fin-582309207

D&D — The Commoner Campaign

I’m setting up a short campaign I plan to run over the summer, and it’s going to be somewhat different than anything I’ve ever done before. I plan on it being longer than a one shot, but it won’t have some “big bad” that you never get to even after playing for several months.

This campaign is based on a very simple homebrew class: The Commoner. This picture is all you need to know about what this class is.

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Short story even shorter: you’re just a normal dude that is average in every way. All your abilities are +0, you get no armor, and all you start out with is a dagger. With 8 HP and only 10 AC, this means you’re very vulnerable.

Let’s put that into perspective. A singular goblin, basically fodder, has +4 to his attack, and deals 1d6 + 2 damage. He only needs to roll a 6 to hit you with his attack, and when he does hit you, if he rolls a 6 on his damage roll, you’re instantly unconscious and making death saves.

I actually did a test run of this. One goblin versus one commoner with +1 Strength. Not only did the goblin win 9 times out of 10, but the goblin went first and just one-shot the guy three of those times. Now, admittedly that’s abnormally lucky for the goblin, but the point stands. A simple commoner has no chance, which makes sense.

I love the idea of my players being scared of what would otherwise be trivial creatures. I mean, an everyday spider (challenge rating 0) is now a real threat. I want to make everything my party faces scary. A goblin party raiding the town? Well you can’t just run out there and fight them off, you’re just going to get killed. You have to stick together and rely on the element of surprise if you’re going to have any hope of wining. Still, though, you’re much safer just running away.

I want the party to use their wits in this campaign, using their environment and real strategy rather than stats and rolls to succeed. It’ll be a challenge for everyone involved. For me, I’m going to have to make a compelling story and combat using only weak little baby threats, because if I get too bold I can end up taking out players with single attacks. Plus, commoners don’t have hit dice. Every point of damage will be critical for everyone involved.

But the cool thing about this is that I know this campaign will bring fun stories about amazing rolls. Rolls will be key in this campaign, and I know there will be several points in time where both players and enemies have only one health and manage to Do The Thing.

So, should be fun.

 

 

*Spoilers for people that personally know me and may be in this campaign*

Also, I have the best antagonist for this campaign. It is going to be two or three kobolds in a trench coat (or something of that nature). It’ll be hilarious when the party meets them and mistakes them for a dragonborn simply because they’ve never seen anything even remotely draconic. It’ll be fun for the party when they find out what’s really going on, and fun to balance because, for three or four commoners, fighting three kobolds is no joke.

Review — The Rithmatist

Finally jumping back into consistently listening to audiobooks, second on my list of things to catch up on was Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist. If you know anything about the author, you’ll know that he loves inventing magic systems. This book is no different, but instead of taking place in his universe of the Cosmere, this one is a stand alone, alternate (steampunk) universe of our own. I would hesitate to call it an alternate history novel, because really the world is so different that it didn’t diverge at one point so much as being set on a planet similar in geography to earth. It’s a short book, at least as far as Sanderson novels go. It also doesn’t have a sequel, and to my knowledge the next one barely even has a title. It’s scheduled to release in 2017, but I see very little chance of that happening. I have no idea how many books he plans on putting into this series, but if its like any of his other series, it’ll be at least a decade before he finishes a third book.

In this book, the magic is chalk drawings. It’s easiest to imagine them as “summoning circles”, i.e. pentagrams or what have you, but that’s not their purpose. You draw a circle around you, and, if you’re fighting another rithmatist, you attack the opponent’s circle using chalk monsters called “chalklings”. Very few people in this world are rithmatists, in fact, and that culture seems to be very secretive and exclusive to non-rithmatists. Joel, the main character, is a normal student that loves the study of rithmatics, but isn’t a rithmatist himself. This, as you can probably guess, leads to some interesting conversations as he all but tries to be somebody he knows he can’t.

In regards to Brandon Sanderson’s works specifically, there isn’t really anything special about this book. The strangest thing about it is that it’s set in an alternate universe to our own, but the plot, characters, magic, etc., are all pretty typical of his work. that isn’t to say it’s not a good book, it simply didn’t have any awesome, inspiring, or impactful moments that I look for. (I’ve blogged about moments like this!) It doesn’t really have any huge plot twists, and the ending isn’t surprising. Not predictable, exactly, but not surprising either.

The interesting thing is, while this book didn’t knock my metaphorical socks off, I definitely want to read the next book. Pieces fell into place that I want to see to fruition, and the ending left me with questions I want answers to. Again, no huge plot twist (like the ending to every Mistborn book ever, the scale of which always makes me question my understanding of that entire world), but still. I like these characters, and if their personalities aren’t unique, their position and relationships to each other is something I want to see expanded on. Joel reminds me a lot of Tavi from The Codex Alera, since they have a lot of similarities, and I’d be interested to see if his story ends the same way Codex Alera does.

So while this definitely isn’t the first Brandon Sanderson novel I would recommend to somebody, it’s a strong book in its own right, and provides a good taste for Sanderson’s style without throwing somebody into the full force of the Cosmere.

Review — Dr. Strange

Being the newest release I’ve recently been introduced to, I’m going to try something new here and review Dr. Strange without spoiling it. Typically I don’t have to worry because I’ll review books or movies fifty (or more) years old, but I’ll have to make an exception here.

Simply put, I would say Dr. Strange is one of the best movies Marvel has released yet. As always, it has its issues, but there is so much that makes this movie awesome. And the best part? It’s a movie that stands apart from the rest of the MCU, so it won’t matter if you haven’t seen any of the other movies. With how many sequels are coming out these days (in the Marvel universe specifically), it’s a nice refresher to see entirely new characters this time.

I love everything Benedict Cumberbatch has done. I’d say the weakest role I’ve seen him in was in a newer Star Trek movie, but even that wasn’t bad. That said, this was a weird experience, because his accent is a little off-putting. I did get used to it as the movie went on, but for the first ten minutes his voice simply didn’t sound right. His character is very well done, though. I admittedly know little to nothing about Dr. Strange as he appears in the comics, but I liked what Benedict did with it in the movie.

This movie is also, without a doubt, the most heavily intensive special effects movie I have ever seen. My brother made a good (and accurate) point when he said that some parts of the movie were like they took the movie Inception and put it through a kaleidoscope. It ties a bit into a point I’ll elaborate on that it can make the movie difficult to follow, but as I’m well aware, there are parts that aren’t supposed to make sense to the audience. Also, seeing people fight with magic is awesome. The way magic is expressed in the movie is similar in some respects to how some styles of magic work in my own universe, so it’s interesting to see how it adapts to film.

Dr. Strange is full of awesome moments, great lines, and epic scenes. Pretty much every moment I wanted to see happen did (except for one that I can’t mention because spoilers), and while the plot is very predictable (it follows the Hero’s Journey very closely), it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

There are two (three) problems I had with the movie, though. The biggest one is that it can be hard to tell what’s going on. You never get any real idea on how much time is passing between any two scenes, which is a bit frustrating but not a huge deal. That also ties into what magic is happening. Now, the whole point with the magic is that its supposed to be difficult to follow (only masters of these arts can even comprehend), but it’s kind of evil to make me want to watch the movie a second time just so I can follow along more easily. It’s tough to tell the difference between the astral dimension, the mirror dimension, and the time dimension (is that a thing?) and I’m never fully clear on what rules apply where.

My last point (and this is really grasping for straws here, but I think the point is valid), this movie is too “easy”. There’s never any question as to what a character is going to do next because the only person that is dynamic is Strange, and because its his story you still know what he’s going to do. Perhaps the movie never tries to make you second guess your predictions because its too hard to follow to make any solid predictions. Maybe I’m just writing sentences that sound thought provoking and are completely wrong, but there could have been more character interactions that add more dynamic rather than everyone always having the same exact relationship to each other throughout the movie.

Overall, great movie. His accent is weird, but you get used to it. Also the magic is really hard to follow, but the plot is stable enough for you not to have to understand what’s going on. Go watch it.