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Unlike a few of my Weekly Geek cohorts, I grew out of Magic: The Gathering in my early teen years. For whatever reason, the game simply couldn't hold my interest in the same way it kept my friends captivated for years. However, in spite of having no real use for them, my cards safely tucked away in their plastic sleeves, subsequent cardboard boxes, and redundant boxes for boxes of cards. At some point during the period spanning then and now, my boxes of boxes of sleeved Magic cards made their way into the hands of cardsharp magii who would make better use of them.
It is only now I have realized the grave error of my ways.
SomethingAwful forums member, TheYellowAnt, demonstrates a particularly clever use of Magic cards which serve only to take up the space of former Magic: The Gathering players that have yet to part with their monstrous menagerie of cardstock creatures. With a craft knife and a little patience, the sleeves upon sleeves of cards become artwork any geek could be proud to hang on their wall.
For those still locked in card combat, TheYellowAnt's crafty ingenuity serves as the smartest life-counter I've seen, which you can see in the video below.
It's always amazed me how similar horror is to comedy. For example, attempting to present horror on television is an incredibly difficult thing to pass by the network Standards and Practices, since horror is based on shocks, exploiting existing social mores, and imagery that some might consider to be offensive. Horror makes us uncomfortable, because horror shows us what it is we DON'T like. To work successfully, horror needs to be a reaction to what the majority of society rejects.
Vampires, for instance, have ceased to be horrifying to us. Originally, Dracula was a horrifyng example of what people in the 1890s West found scary: backwards and corrupt aristocracy, the liberated woman, the fear of sexually transmitted diseases, and the breakdown of the established post-Enlightenment social order. Dracula was scary because he was all the things the 1890s gentleman might find repellent. Frankenstein's monster, similarly, was a manifestation of early 19th century's worries about the amorality of the inevitable extensions of the Age of Reason's search for progress, and there is a very good reason why it took the wife of the second most prominent British Romantic to write it. The monster represents authority gone wrong, authority that translates into fear, because we have to deal with it.
Like monsters, comedy requires a working knowledge of what it is the majority of the audience finds valuable. Comedians and monsters both rely upon the knowledge of communal truths to operate successfully. The comedian is a living monster, only one we want to know, instead of one we don't. We invite the comedian to make us laugh by pointing out the things we know to be true. Jon Stewart and the kids from South Park are characters that ask questions and speak to authority, questioning it. In the circus, clowns are divided into White Face and Auguste (Red Nose), the two primary characters of the circus clown system. White Face represents the character who makes us laugh because he's smarter than the system, Auguste represents the character who rebels against that system. White Face usually takes the pie to the face, and Auguste usually throws it.
The interesting interplay between Batman and his nemesis, The Joker, reflects this weird dichotomy. Batman is a force of authority outside of the control of mundane confines, and The Joker is a reaction in the opposite extreme, the ultimate avatar of chaos. Horror and comedy meet, and because they are so thinly delineated, they become compelling. The 1960s Batman show was an example of taming the horror... the 1960s culture was no longer afraid of authority, and so Batman became a source of comedy. It wasn't until the Reaganite/Thatcher era that authority became something to be scared of again, and Batman took on new relevance, and The Joker returned to his psychotic roots.
The worst thing in the world is when attempts at comedy don't even try to question authority. Circus clowns have ceased to be funny because they are now a cultural institution, completely unresponsive to the desires of the audience, and have mutated into a common childhood phobia. Whereas generations ago, the clown might have been a visual grotesque, it has now become an uncomfortable form of stasis. The clown hasn't had innovation in nearly a century, and ceases to be amusing.
Comedy Central's Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire is a bit like the circus clown. It's a painfully enormous, overwrought and too desperate exercise in nerd-fan-wankery, of the kind that usually happens in bad sprite comics. I can only assume that Comedy Central assumed they were going to get a Blackadder-esque romp through High Fantasy, but what they got was... something else entirely.
The concept is that Krod Mandoon is the Mary Sue of somebody, and the story is about his team of D&D adventurers of various offensive cultural stereotypes trying to take down the evil and cackling Chancellor Dongolor, played by Matt Lucas, the tedious half-star of Little Britain. Yes, "Krod" is "dork" spelled backwards, and "Dongolor" is a name that basically represents the high-water level of comedy you're going to expect here. Like every good D&D party, there's the dumbfoundingly black wizard, the teenage sex fantasy rogue, a wacky half-human sidekick and, yes, the gay cleric.
Little Britain, by the way, is basically an exercise in which two Oxbridge graduates mock those who need the least mockery: the poor, the gay, and the mentally challenged. The show is utterly puerile trash of the highest order, and yet Krod Mandoon seems to top it. It's really quite amazing if examined from a purely humorless, ironic level. It's basically the Hoover Dam of Unfunny, a gigantic structure built solely to restrain funny from bursting forth.
The whole of Krod Mandoon consists in playing up various high fantasy/D&D tropes, while not doing any of them very well. Krod Mandoon, played by Sean Maguire, is a very well acted source of physical buffoonery, but because Sean Maguire is so damningly attractive, the comedy is short lived. Half the first episode consists of Krod, shirtless to expose the admittedly splendid torso of Mr. Maguire, berating his astoundingly attractive girlfriend for wearing a skimpy costume. If Krod was a little less attractive, and his girlfriend a little less sexy, the conceit would work. Instead, we get an episode of The OC in the middle of what is essentially a parody of Xena:Warrior Princess.
The villain, Dongolor, sits in his palace most of the show and much of his "comedy" revolves around him killing various henchmen non-chalantly as he explains, ad nauseum, how he was more popular than Krod in school. Dongolor would be an interesting character if he wasn't so fucking annoying and plagiaristic. He's basically a word-for-word rip-off of Mike Myers' Doctor Evil, and Matt Lucas' horrendously unlikable sort of comic whinginess is so stupidly painful to watch that it just comes off as agonizing.
The whole show is like this... we're supposed to identify with Krod, who is clearly the Mary Sue character of a fairly interesting, yet unseen, 17 year old nerd. His friends are the characters that a particularly unimaginative group of tabletop gamers would roll up in 20 minutes, and the villains are so ridiculously ugly and sociopathic (yet played for laughs) that they're just as, if not more so, unfunny.
The offensiveness of the supporting cast is at a level unseen. For example, the black wizard is so urban that every word he says is in a Chris Rock impression. The gay character, named Bruce (of fucking course), is mincing and limp-wristed, and so annoying that it becomes even worse when Krod displays obvious homophobic behavior around him. Even Reno 911, which thrives on the consistent mincing behavior of the outrageously funny Lieutenant Dangle, justifies this transgressive comedy by making Dangle the most intelligent and relatable character in the cast. Not so here. Krod seems utterly broken that Bruce is the prison boyfriend of his beloved mentor, and makes repeated pointed remarks about not wanting him around. If these are the characters of unseen D&D players, they're all very young, very shielded, and likely living in Orem, Utah.
The crux of this litany is this: comedy, in the case of Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire, has been flipped on its ass and has turned into horror. Authority isn't questioned in this show. The whole show sneers down, as if through the monocle of a 17th century fop, at those who society has mocked for so long and so hard. Racism, homophobia and sexism isn't questioned, it's encouraged by the character of Krod, who has no problem whatsoever engaging in all three at once while the writers try to cast him as a sensitive character. For a network that has some of the most progressive and thought-provoking shows in current rotation, this is just unbelievably painful, not even hitting the level of transgression that it thinks it's aiming for. Staring at this brutally and unrelentingly anti-comedy "comedy" is an instance in staring straight into the face of Hannibal Lector, who is juggling and telling knock-knock jokes, or possibly a jaw-droppingly bizarre re-edit of the Masters of the Universe movie.
Alright, it's been awhile since I typed in here. I notice that in my absence Chris has re-papered the green room, the snacks are a little better and there's a weird little Vietnamese man in the bathroom who keeps handing me towels. Odd... in my absence, things seem to have gotten better.
I am unnerved by this.
Anyway, what have I been doing while I was away? Well, I have been writing for a certain tabletop gaming company with a particularly angsty reputation and creepy fan base. It may possibly rhyme with "Bright Brolf". Or "Blight Blolf". Or "Gravewight Gravewolf". Yes, I've been writing away at vampires. Like you, Iiiiiiii wasssss oooooonce a maaaaan. Oh well. I'll just go on ahead and sadly admit that unlike the rest of the Weekly Geeks, I am more interested in tabletop than video games. I'm like the Spiritomb on the team of Pikachus.
Be warned: you're about to read some of the geekiest words ever written. I hope you enjoy them.
5. The Vampire Clanbooks
Technically, this should be higher on the list, but I can't in all good conscience put it higher because I assisted in making them. Apparently I'm told this is "Journalistic Integrity" but the truth is that I'm just incredibly embarrassed. Saying you work on Vampire: The Requiem is almost like admitting you write the letters for Penthouse Forum.
There's one thing you need to know about the Vampire: The Requiem series: you should never be seen reading them in public, ever. I made the mistake of reading one on the bus once, and this weird, creepy guy dressed in black with all these strange buckles all over the place sat next to me and started talking. The worst part was he had a teardrop tattoo under his eye. I hadn't the nerve to tell him that I doubted he actually killed a man in prison, but I figured that I might be wrong, and the worst sort of thing you want to say to somebody with a teardrop eye tattoo is that you doubt they killed somebody. What if I'm wrong? He could have shanked me right there with a sharpened spoon or something.
Anyway, creepy guy just started talking. Endlessly. He started telling me about his character and how awesome it was and then he started telling me he was a poet and he just went on to his hopes and dreams right there. Oh, and to make matters worse, he told me that The Temple of the Vampire was always looking for recruits. Then he left.
Anyway, turns out my hometown of Olympia is the home of the "Temple of the Vampire," and now I'm just kind of weirded out about the whole thing. They could be watching me type this right now with a Palantir. Don't they know that's a bad idea? Sauron could be watching!
So, yes, the clanbooks. White Wolf's experiment in awesome. These puppies are slick: full color, 90% artifact text, no tedious rules-crunch to get in the way, and while you're reading them you forget they're gaming books. They are really clever, well written vampire novels. The gimmick is that these are supposed to be the "dossiers" of various young vampires trying to unravel the secrets of their clans, which are basically a White Wolf specific trope that divides "vampires" into "five different kinds of vampires," each with a separate history and origin story. I think it's neat.
These books are gorgeous. I cannot stress that enough. They shine as something really special from across the gaming store. If you like vampires but have never played Requiem, these are still readable alone. That's how weird and awesome they are.
4. Legend of the Five Rings 3.0
L5R is a unique case in the history of tabletop. It started out as a collectible card game, a bit like Magic: The Gathering, but M:tG is based on Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop game. L5R flipped that. The L5R tabletop is exquisite, full of tons of elegant and simple maneuvers that make a really special game. L5R 2.0 was owned by Wizards of the Coast, and the idea was that they'd take the L5R universe and turn it into a d20 showcase project, revamping the Gygax-written "Oriental Adventures" module for the 90s.
Unfortunately, New Oriental Adventures turned out to be a disaster. They combined the d10 "Roll and Keep" rules of the first edition with the new d20 rules, printing them side by side, in possibly the most confusing corebook ever devised. So confusing, in fact, that I refused to play, despite loving the setting and the player-driven background. It was just too confusing.
Thankfully, somehow, Wizards of the Coast let L5R go, and shortly thereafter 3.0 was written. The Samurais-and-Sorcery genre was reborn. I cannot stress how much I love this game, it's seriously the most beautiful and well-designed game I have ever played. The rules are whip-snap-quick to learn, and feature a unique "Raise" system, where players can wager points in exchange for doing something really cool/epic (like kung fu moves, summoning kami, etc.). It is really amazing and I suggest it to any new tabletop player. It works splendidly.
3. Dungeons and Dragons 4.0
Again, a persnickety spot to place this one, but this is a really special entry. The oldest rpg in existence got it's 4th iteration this year, and it has basically become the most contentious thing in non-video gaming history ever.
Basically, blame it on World of Warcraft. For the first time, Wizards of the Coast was facing the first real threat from video gaming, something that hasn't ever really been a problem. Traditionally, video gamers and tabletop players are the same people, so what happens in one doesn't necessarily affect the other, but WoW really did bite into Dungeons and Dragons' player base. I, personally, noticed it pretty early on. My players were calling in, saying they couldn't play, they were raiding. I had no problem with it, since I can always play a game even if it's with one player. That said, weird situations started to creep in, and it seems that Wizards of the Coast noticed it fast. White Wolf responded by buying the rights to the World of Warcraft tabletop, which is sort of lamebrained when you think about it. Who wants to play a tabletop of a video game (and vice versa, they're just not really popular)?
Wooza wuzza, the end result of D&D 4.0 turned out to be a bit odd. Things were a little bit more archetypical, and a little less full of Gygax-isms. The Bard was gone, the most notable change, my favorite class.
I like Bards, and I need to digress here while I explain why I do. If you don't know what a Bard is, a Bard is a D&D class that completely, utterly and absolutely destroys the concept of the Rogue. They cancel each other out. The Rogue is a sneaky, silent but deadly killer that specializes in scouting and stabbing other people in the back. The Bard is loud, obnoxious and largely incapable of doing anything with any degree of subtlety whatsoever. Players of Bards and players of Rogues generally have diametrically opposed gaming styles and, to be honest, both of us are completely annoying to the more "normal" players who like to play Fighters or Wizards. We're the "flavor" classes.
The Bards of 3.5 were a sort of cuddlefied version of the Epic Bard, a prestige class from the original AD&D, which required a character to have 15 levels in both Fighter and Wizard. Generally, that's at least a 6 year long campaign character. The theory behind the Epic Bard was that he'd old and has seen everything there is to see, so the character steps back a bit and leads other characters to glory. Fair enough. The 3.5 Bards, however, were generally loutish, deliberately zany characters that had the advantage of the Bardic Knowledge skill, which basically turned the character into a walking encyclopedia. Every single time I played one I ended up leading the party, but basically just because I was the only one who had the faintest idea where we were supposed to go in the first place, and 99% of the fun I had was in keeping the Rogues from doing their jobs. Oh, they hated me. And I loved that they hated me.
I'm not against 4.0, in fact, I hold the weird belief that just because the publisher has moved on doesn't mean the books need to be taken off the shelf and burned. I look forward to playing 4.0 and maybe trying something new. Still, I miss you, Bardy McBarderson. May Valhalla treat you well.
2. The "New" and "Improved" Settlers of Catan Miniatures
They can't all be gold, folks, and this one just boggles my mind. I saw these the other day at the gaming shop and my head hurt. Basically, imagine the simple, brilliant grace of Settlers of Catan, that quirky and Germanic board (or is it tile?) game, only mixed with the idiotic "Cranked to 11" aesthetic of Warhammer 40k. It's a set of miniatures for your Catan game that look vaguely like all those little bits and pieces of metal and plastic that are glued to the model of the Millennium Falcon. Nobody really knows what they are supposed to be, they don't contribute anything to the game, and you're supposed to take time out of your precious day playing video games, smoking illegal stimulants and fucking to put them together.
Well, maybe not the last one, since the sort of people who would enjoy this aren't likely to get much at all. Funnily enough though, every guy I've ever met who likes Settlers of Catan is in a relationship, since it's common knowledge that women like this game. That's a certifiable fact that you can take to the bank. You know the fastest way to remove that demographic from the game?
Mix it with a miniatures game.
Miniatures = virgins. Proven. Women hate miniatures, you will never see a woman anywhere within 500 feet of a Games Workshop unless there's a Bath and Body Works immediately adjacent, and introducing miniatures into your cross-demographic game is only dooming it. Seriously.
God damn do I hate miniatures players.
1. The Death of Gary Gygax and the Retirement of Monte Cook
Really, both are sad but when slammed together they make a supernova of depressing news that is unheard of in the whole of gaming history. I don't know what I can really write about it except both are really sad and we can only hope somebody jumps in and takes the mantle for themselves. That sad, likely not.
I'm admittedly a huge fan of ultra-nerdy board and card games. We try to have a board game night at least once a month which really ends up just being an excuse to get together, drink a bunch and throw salted cashews at each other when things aren't going our way. This group play seems an awkward fit for the Xbox Live Arcade (mainly due to the lack of cashews, salted or otherwise), but in this reviewer's opinion the majority of XBLA games in this genre are gems. Uno, Catan and Carcassonne are some of the best games available, period, for the XBLA, while games like Word Puzzle and Sotrilo Solitaire flop. This week we see the newest in the board/card game genre, Lost Cities.
At first glance this game is super complicated, but like with any good game in this genre you spend the first couple rounds incredibly confused until all the pieces fall into place and it clicks. This process, at least for me, is pretty darn satisfying. It took only two rounds of demo play before I purchased Lost Cities, and I've spent all afternoon with it since. It is a fairly unique yet instantly familiar game, straight from the first menu which displays random semi-literary looking characters. I like the grey-haired bespectacled professor the best, who incredulously lifts his eyebrows and grimaces as you scroll through the different options. I heard him in my mind saying things like "huzzah! achievements!" or "what what leaderboards pish posh!"
Steven is an experienced writer in the fields of comic books and tabletop gaming, and he is probably the nerdiest person on The Weekly Geek staff. That is a compliment. Please welcome Steven to The Weekly Geek! --Chris
Hey, folks! Great to be here. I’ll be updating you at least a couple times a week with things I find of interest from the wild, untamed weird lands of comic books and tabletop games (war, board, roleplay). If you know of anything you think I should check out or yap about, please drop me a line.
There are a couple announcements today which are Warhammer related; and since I’m a huge Warhammer fanboy, I figured mentioning these would make for a good first post.
Recently, the gaming world found out that Black Library (a division of Games Workshop) was dropping Black Industries, their boardgaming and roleplaying publishing arm. People freaked out, naturally, wailing about the horror of a world without Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition, the Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy RPG, and the excellent Talisman 4th Edition boardgame. I should know-- I was one of them! Anyway, good news fellow nerdlings: Fantasy Flight Games picked up the licence to produce Warhammer RPGs, boardgames, and collectible card games. Read what they have to say here. Though welcome news, it comes as no surprise to me. I suspected before that FFG would be in the running for this simply because they seem to be trying to take over the world (I'm kidding FFG! No need to send Da Boyz to put me in line... 'kay?). I’ve always been satisfied with their products, so I’m thinking these properties are safe in their hands. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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