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Gaming, life, and growing

Hansel & Gretel – 4 Ways From Sunday

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Earlier this weekend I saw that there were not one, two, but four different version of the Hansel & Gretel story on Netflix. Deciding that a nice long Christmas weekend would be the perfect time to fill up on my yearly allotment of fairy tales, I resolved to watch all of them before the weekend was over.

Mission accomplished! I finished the final story this morning and I’m here to report the results. Most of these reviews won’t surprise anyone, but I might just save a couple of people some time and/or introduce them to a new favorite. Check out the trailers (included) below. Ultimately you will have to decide which one’s for you.

Let’s start with the worst of the bunch. From 2013 and the notorious director David Decoteau comes Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft. Eric Roberts and Vanessa Angel are the only real names in this show and I would hazard a guess that they are either personal friends of the director or just needed to keep their skills sharp as to why they appeared in this boring adaptation of the classic story.

The story is that twin teens are shunted off to an elite prep school for L.A.’s richest and soon discover they are at the center of secret war begin secret factions of magical enemies. That last sentence is more interesting than this entire movie.

Boring acting, tedious script, and inept directing doom this movie to be forgotten, as it should be. Special FX were rubbish along with almost every other aspect of this film. The only reason to watch this is if you need to see all four of these films for some reason, otherwise skip it and spend your time cleaning the house or painting the walls.

The next is also from 2013, but this time it is from the people who brought you Sharknado and Z-Nation, The Asylum! Dee Wallace tries her hand at being the wicked witch in Hansel & Gretel. A brother and sister get trapped by Mrs. Wallace and her gargantuan cannibal children. While they try to escape the charnel house they are trapped in, the rest of the cast ends up getting stabbed, bludgeoned, and sliced.

There is nothing new in this movie that would make me recommend it to anyone, but I enjoyed it. There is more than a bit of gore and scares, but the script is predictable and most of the acting is just passable. This is a by the numbers horror movie that will disappear into the background soon after you watch it.

This movie won’t change anyone’s life, but if you’re hankering to see Dee Wallace I can say I’d recommend this one.

Now we’re on to the better movies on the list. Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (2013) is yet another modern retelling. This time, Gretel is a bit of a pothead. When her boyfriend disappears while she is baking Black Forest cake, she tracks him down to the wicked witches lair. The wicked witch is none other than Lara Flynn Boyle who does her best to protect her precious stash of magical pot. That’s not enough to keep the brother and sister duo from defeating the evil witch.

The story is good, even if it slows down a bit at some points, and manages to keep everything interesting. It was good to see Lara Flynn Boyle on screen again and the rest of the cast does a good job. Filled with gore, laughs, drug references and just plain weirdness, this is a decent movie and I’d recommend it.

Finally, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters from 2012. This big budget ($50M) anachronistic steampunk version has Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton tearing up the Black Forest in search of Famke Janssen and her band of black metal band wannabes. Seriously, her two assistant witches look like they escaped from a Dimmu Borgir video.

The story takes some twists and turns that are pretty easy to predict but don’t detract too much from the enjoyment of the movie. The acting and SFX are all top notch for the most part. All in good fun, it’s hard to take this movie seriously for any length of time. If you tend more towards mainstream fare, this is probably the movie (on this list) for you.

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Written by Paul Franklin

December 28, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Life

The Third Gamemaster

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I’ve been a roleplayer for almost 30 years now (I started around September of 1984). Currently I am running three different campaigns for groups of players ranging from 1-5 people in entirely separate genres and systems. I’ve learned some new things about gaming in this recent blizzard of activity.

 

– System doesn’t matter. In addition to all of my recent GMing, I also listen to a lot of podcasts. These keep my mind busy while I am at work or running. One thing I’ve heard more than a few times is “I would like/love to run system X, but it’s too complicated/takes too much time/too rules heavy/too rules light” or some variation on that theme.

 

I’m here to tell you that most systems aren’t all that different in terms of complexity. We’re not dealing with string theory and particle physics here (although they can certainly make an appearance in some adventures). If you can suss out basic algebra, you can play and/or run all of the RPGs I’ve ever encountered.

 

Poorly written systems are a different topic altogether, one which I’ll touch on later.

 

– The rules don’t matter. I mean it, the rules really don’t matter. A recent example from my Pathfinder game was the Treasure Tables for monsters. My brother Ken (the player) and I both agreed that the tables were out of whack with the level of danger. We adjusted them downward because the rewards were much greater than the risk being taken.

 

The common truism is to not let the rules get in the way of fun. That is the ultimate goal. There are times when you will want to track down the rules and get them right for whatever reason, but my general rule of thumb is that if I can’t track down and assimilate the rule in 1-2 minutes, I let it go and circle back on the next try. Spending 10 minutes looking up a rule in an RPG does not spell fun for most people.

 

– GM prep doesn’t matter. There are a couple of different schools of thought on this, but there are a couple of undeniable truths. As a GM, you generally create in a vacuum. All of your ideas, schemes, and conspiracies originate in your own head. As soon as you introduce those ideas to other brains, they are bound to get twisted, mangled, broken, and reformed into something not of your own creation.

 

It’s important to be ready for your game session, but don’t try too hard to force your players into a pre-determined route of your own choosing. This kind of dovetails into my next point.

 

– Cater to your players. Want to have fun being a GM and at the gaming table? Listen to what your players want to do. Yes, you’re there to have fun also, but if everyone is working towards a common goal (ostensibly, having fun), figuring out what your players want to do will go a long way towards helping with this goal.

 

It might seem easy at first. We’re playing D&D (this was about as close as I could find to the original Basic D&D rules), so the players obviously want to go out and slay monsters and conquer the world. Or do they? As I was playing Pathfinder with my brother I was able to see where he wanted to go with the story and I catered it to his ideas. Since it’s a sandbox environment, we are able to both get what we want out of the game.

 

Sometimes this may not work out the way you want. You’ve started up a Vampire game, but the players really just want to fly all over the city and save people from bad guys. So, it should be a superhero game, but with tweaks, you can make Vampire work for that too.

 

– Listen to your players, they are probably your best source of material. This is a little different from the previous point. This is about gathering ideas for your use as a GM. As players are yapping away about the campaign, they will more than likely drop great ideas that you can use in modified or unmodified form. Whether it’s a bad guy who is secretly one of their relatives to a super villain who isn’t evil, but insane from the experiments performed on him/her. This is all material that you could and should use. Not only are the players interested in these plot lines, it relieves some of the creative burden from you.

 

These are just a couple of the things that I’ve been trying to put into use with my recent gaming activity. Sometimes I don’t start out using all of this advice, but eventually I end up coming back to most of it.

For those who are curious, these are the games I’m currently running:
Paizo Pathfinder Beginner Box – Sandbox environment. My brother and I took turns drawing up a map around his home village and now he’s exploring the local area to hopefully prepare the way for a local Adventurer’s Guild outpost. It’s fun to dive back into D&D, even if the game system is not the same as when we were young. This will gradually morph into the full Pathfinder rules as we both become accustomed to the Pathfinder ruleset.

Hero Games Hero System – Twin Cities Defenders. My regular roleplaying group. We’re using Sixth Edition Hero System rules and loving it. This is a fantastic system for super heroes. Too many people dismiss this as a difficult system to learn, but like anything, if you apply yourself, you realize there isn’t really all that much to learn. Any good GM will add and remove rules as needed from their game until they reach the type of game they want to run.

White Wolf Werewolf 2nd Edition – My new group is playing a game centered around Hunter, ND. This has been a great game so far as the players get to explore their new home territory and being werewolves. There are lots of surprises in store for everyone in this game.

I figured out how long I have been playing role playing games by identifying some of my earliest Dragon magazines. Here is one of the stories I read in Dragon magazine that stayed with me since I first read it:

http://henrysstories.blogspot.com/2011/03/catacomb-part-1-of-5.html

 

And, because it’s fun:

Written by Paul Franklin

September 29, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Life

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RPG Gaming – A Renaissance

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I’ve been in and out of the RPG scene for a couple of years now. I haven’t been following it that closely and only occasionally noticed the newest trends. Lately, that’s changed.

One of my groups has really started to come to grips with the substantial Hero System Champions game. Our super hero campaign is set in a slightly futuristic Minneapolis, with some noticeable additions. The most prominent of said additions is a super hero team. The Twin Cities Defenders. The group has been off to a good start and now that we have a handle on the Hero System rules, it’s really starting to run like clockwork. Despite the rumors you might have heard, Hero System is not the monster that it appears to be at first. There is a fair bit for the GM to do on the front end, mostly by being familiar with the rules, but after that, it really does run nicely and produces very interesting results. If you’re looking to make the leap to one more super hero game, I really recommend checking out Champions Complete. It has everything you need for Hero System including a setting and it’s definitely worth the effort.

In other fronts, I’m prepping an old World of Darkness game. More specifically, I’m prepping two of them. One is a Werewolf: The Apocalypse game and the other will be a Mage: The Ascension game. One of the ways I plan to accommodate both games is by using some of the same protagonists in both campaigns.

My initial idea is to use the Lucifer Hawks from the Silent Mobius anime. I was hankering for something to quench my taste for a Mage-themed anime or cartoon the other night when I remembered this series. It’s not a favorite of mine and in fact, I had planned on selling it in the near future. That might change as I start to get back into it and mine it for ideas in my World of Darkness. The first few episodes have enough material for me to introduce these “big bads” into the campaigns without having to do too much beyond statting them and adapting their drives to the Gothic-Punk setting of the old World of Darkness.

I’m looking forward to diving back into the world of role-playing. There are a lot of cool games out there, from the very complex (Hero System) to the ultra-simple (Fiasco), and while I won’t be able to visit each one of them, I do plan to get some serious gaming done over the next several months.

You can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned game of Fiasco.

Written by Paul Franklin

August 5, 2013 at 7:12 am

Posted in RPG

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Saturday Morning Cartoons – 3

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King Arthur and the Knights of Justice (1992) – Plowing through another series, I do enjoy this show way more than I probably should. I’m not sure if I know anyone who watched this show when it was on, and I doubt they’d remember it if they did. One of the things that does strike me about it is the character and creature design aimed at toy sales. There were some toys made for the series, along with a video game and a comic book series. Kind of amazing when you consider it only lasted 26 episodes and is mostly forgotten nowadays. I wonder if it’s standard to order all of that when you start a series and then hope that one of the product lines will bolster and/or support the others? I can see why the toy line didn’t do well after seeing this.

Wind in the Willows (1984) – A much beloved stop motion animated British show, Wind in the Willows is definitely a different breed than American cartoons that were it’s contemporary. The last episode I watched had Rat calling Mole an “ass”, rescuing a field mouse from a flood, and a very annoying song. The series is based on the books by Kenneth Grahame and has been adapted to several different formats including movies, stage, and cartoons.

Click here for the music. I warned you.

Defenders of the Earth (1986) – I’m almost halfway through this series. I frequently watch it when I’m doing my exercises or mucking about with something else. Some of the episodes are still good, but too many of them are the same or just not very well written. In the episode “The Lost Jewels of Tibet“, Rick’s character ignores a computer simulation and almost hurts Jedda. He claims “this is the computer age, I’ll never have to worry about lava”. Which, of course, later in the episode he has to do precisely that. It’s bad writing, poor editing, and bad form. Rick’s character isn’t usually that arrogant, the team has faced innumerable dangers up to this point including illusory anti-heroes and long-forgotten alien megabombs. What do lava and the computer age have to do with each other? I know I’m poking holes in an almost 30 year old cartoon, but writing for kids doesn’t have to be dumb, I just think too many people were lazy about writing. It’s certainly a lot more difficult to come up with good scripts and cohesive stories if you have to do more than just hang a few names and settings on a pre-built framework.

Written by Paul Franklin

July 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Saturday Morning Cartoons – 2

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This Saturday morning cartoon session actually took place on a Monday morning. I had the day off after returning from Convergence 2013 and caught up on my cartoon watching. Plus I added two bonus cartoons that I took in while exercising later in the day. From this point forward, I will try to wrap up most of my non-anime cartoon watching into my Saturday morning post. On to the cartoons!

I started out with Plastic Man (1979). A recent acquisition from Half-Price Books in Minneapolis. I don’t want to pass judgement on this series quite yet, but it wasn’t a promising start. Budget grade animation combined with poor scripts and lackluster action make for a very boring cartoon. I guess some kids might have grown up on this, but I think this is definitely destined to be a nostalgia title. If you’re a completist, I would recommend trying to pick this one up on the cheap. Whew. I’ll make it through the series someday, but I think it will be more of a chore than anything else.

I think you’re better off watching this:

A classic, George of the Jungle (1967), is an example of a cartoon that holds up. The cartoon is actually composed of three separate segments. The first is George of the Jungle, followed by the Wacky Races style Tom Slick, and finally the somewhat strange Super Chicken. Super Chicken also has a catchy theme song, much like George of the Jungles. All three parts are done in the same animation style with the many of the same voices, etc. They are all worth watching surprisingly enough. There are only 17 episodes to the entire George of the Jungle run, but I am looking forward to more of this series. If it’s good enough for Weird Al Yankovic, it’s good enough for me!

I wish I could say that the session ended on a high note with Defenders of the Earth (1986), but that’s just not true. This series definitely took a downward slide after the first couple of episodes. It’s becoming very episodic, the animation is all over the map, mostly in the lower end of the quality spectrum. The stories are becoming formulaic and none of the characters is really developing at all. I had high hopes for this series, but those are quickly being dashed.

The out and out surprise series was definitely Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (1972). This relic from the heyday of Hanna Barbera seems like a progenitor for King of the Hill. The very first episode had quotes from Helen Gurley Brown and tackles the topics of anti-Semitism and infidelity. After the first episode I have to say that I am eager to watch more. I hope they keep up the writing quality and having Tom Bosley as the voice of the father in the show helps. The one downside would be the laugh track. Ugh.

The trailer for Wait Till Your Father Gets Home:

Most might consider this a throwaway series, but I’m beginning to really enjoy King Arthur and the Knights of Justice (1992). A bizarre series where a group of football players from the 20th century are brought through time to replace King Arthur and his knights (the real King Arthur is trapped by Morgana). The character designs and technological advances, albeit in medieval fashion, are outlandish, but I still enjoy this series. It’s possible that it will become repetitive, but for now, I’m going to enjoy the ride while I can. Watch at your own discretion.

Written by Paul Franklin

July 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Sunday Morning Anime – 2

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This post is a bit late, but I’m trying to catch up after all of the craziness that was Convergence 2013.

So, for Sunday, June 30, I decided to waver a bit and dive into a different anime for the weekend. I did watch an episode of The Rose of Versailles, but I also marathoned three episodes of Beast King Go Lion (1981).

Beast King GoLion (hereafter referred to as BKGL) was one of the anime series used to create the American Voltron series. After watching the first three episodes of BKGL, I can see why they edited it for American audiences. It is violent and brutal with themes of mass execution, consumption of humans, dark magic, and other nasty bits that would not sit well with the American public, even nowadays.

The animation is about what you’d expect for the time period. Of course, I love the hand drawn style, so I had no problem immersing myself into the series. The adult nature of the series was a bit unexpected, but also a nice change. I don’t know if I would even necessarily call it a shonen series (although I’m sure it’s classified as such) as much as something like Saint Seiya. There are some elements of giant robot combat in it too, but that doesn’t feel like the main theme. Of course, I’ve only watched the first three episodes so far. I have 69 left to watch, things could change.

I’d say this series is worth watching if you’re interested in the origin of Voltron, enjoy older animation styles, or just want something that is not the latest and greatest. It’s extremely violent and brutal, but it also has a lot of good themes like familial devotion, friendship, and bravery. This is earning a spot in my collection and will probably be the next series I finish after The Rose of Versailles.

On to The Rose of Versailles. Oscar’s identification with the common man’s plight in revolutionary France is becoming more pronounced. More wheels are turning as a new player comes to the stage. I enjoy this series for it’s story depth and character development. At this time, though, I am seeing a dropped storyline, that of Rosalie’s sister. We spent a couple of episodes on her after the initial story arc, but we haven’t seen or heard from her since. I keep expecting to see her pop up after her murderous social climbing. There is still plenty of the series left to watch, so she might make more appearances in the future.

I keep scouring websites and news feeds for new series. I attended a panel at Convergence over the weekend that profiled a handful of new anime series that premiered this last year. I’m looking forward to checking some of them out. Although I did notice that I still haven’t seen any DVD or licensing announcements for Polar Bear’s Cafe. And that’s just a tragedy. Fortunately it’s still available for free on Crunchy Roll, although I am really surprised that it hasn’t been released in North America yet. In fact, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t even been licensed for release in North America except for the streaming episodes.

Written by Paul Franklin

July 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Posted in Anime

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Saturday Morning Cartoons – 1

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My selections for this Saturday morning were a mixed bunch.

First out of the chute is my continuing effort to finish watching the entire Defenders of the Earth series from 1985/1986. My opinion of this series varies depending on the episode and my mood. It’s a neat flashback to the mid-80s style of animation. The storytelling is not especially good, but it does have the merit of being a quasi-serial. That is, there is a continuing story, but it’s not entirely consistent and it doesn’t dominate every episode. The animation in this varies greatly from episode to episode but never really rises above average. Its contemporaries occasionally rose above this, but most of the Saturday morning cartoon fare from this era looked pretty similar.

The episode “Cold War” didn’t stand out in any significant way other than the crazy helicopters employed by the Phantom. Strangely enough, I couldn’t find an image of the helicopter, so I had to make one myself. Unfortunately, this was probably the best thing about this entire episode.

The Phantom's Skull Copter

The Phantom’s Skull helicopters from Defenders of the Earth

Kong (2000) was the surprise of the this morning’s picks. An unlicensed take-off on the King Kong movies, this intriguing series is off to a good start. The basic premise is completely implausible, but the rest of the story telling is quite good. Voice acting and animation are also better than I expected. The main character and the main villain have acquired devices which allow them to merge mentally and physically with normal animals. The mental absorption principle was a bit of a stretch, but within the realm of normal sci-fi possibilities. The physical absorption is completely insane, as you’ll see understand in a moment.

I watched the second part of the series premiere, “The Return Part II”. I watched the previous episode some time ago, but I remembered the important details and soldiered on. My believability factor was decimated when the protagonist (Jason Jenkins) absorbs the Kong mentally and physically in order to fly a pterodactyl across a prehistoric island. It was more than a stretch, but I went with it, and as I said, I think this series has a lot of potential. There are some really positive aspects about the show including the strong family message and the concern for animal welfare. I was pleasantly surprised to see these elements included in what could have been a throwaway series. I’m looking forward to it, despite the completely absurd premise.

I threw myself back to the year of my birth (1972) with The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. This is Hanna Barbera and really, that’s all that needs to be said. Episodic, low budget animation, songs, amusing animals, solving crimes, this one ticks all the boxes (except talking animals). The Hanna Barbera shows from this era evoke a certain nostalgia for some people. I don’t recall ever seeing The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan when I was a youngster, but it’s entirely possible I saw it in reruns.

“To Catch A Pitcher” was a standard episode in almost every respect except for one sad exception. In the episode, one of the young girls of the Chan clan laments about not being invited to the World Series and later on is shown to be not very good at baseball, despite her avowed love of the game. No one, not even the girl herself, stands up for her rights or her love of the game. I thought this would be an ideal time to demonstrate to young girls that they could do anything the boys could, but I fear that 1972 might still have been too early for the full development of that idea. So, I would avoid showing this one as a demonstration of Hanna Barbera’s writing acumen and instead find another episode to demonstrate the series to people.

Finally, a preview from the Warner Brothers Archive for The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan.

Written by Paul Franklin

June 29, 2013 at 10:28 am