I’ve always wanted to do an experiment on game night where we fill a backpack with coils of rope, blankets, different bottles of beer, soda and whiskey, thousands of coins and various tools and miscellaneous items. One player gets the backpack. The rest of us get broomsticks, hockey sticks, yard sticks, flyswatters, etc. If he is playing a fighter, the player with the backpack has to wear oven mitts or thick gloves (to duplicate the effect of the diminished manual dexterity from wearing gauntlets). Then, while the players with sticks try to hit him, the player with the backpack has to try to retrieve specific items from the backpack. So the DM might shout out “Ball Peen Hammer!” or “Mini bottle of Crown Royal!” or “Can of Pork & Beans!” and the player has to retrieve that specific item while the rest of us whack at him with our sticks. We count the number of times we manage to tag him and then multiply that by 1d6 damage which is immediately applied to his character sheet. Every item he drops means that one randomly determined item from his backpack is lost. And you have to do this in a darkened basement with only the light of a tiki-torch to see unless you are playing an elf or a dwarf… if you are playing an elf or a dwarf you get to do it with the lights on (infravision) but all of the items are painted grey… so if the DM shouts “blue plastic cup” and there are multiple plastic cups of different colors in your backpack but you can’t tell them apart because they are all painted grey, you better grab and hope because everyone knows that infravision doesn’t let you see colors.
If the player is playing a dwarf, he has to kneel on his shoes like Tim Conway in Dorf on Golf. If the player is playing an elf, the guys hitting him with sticks are permitted to hit him twice as hard because elves get only a d6 of hit points per level so the elf is obviously going to feel more pain. Plus the elf guy has to wear rubber Spock ears. If the player is playing a magic-user, he also will have all sorts of tiny items like erasers, paper clips, lucky pennies, packets of Sweet-and-Low, etc., stuffed in the pockets of the bathrobe he has to wear with his pointy hat. The magic user has to retrieve these small items from his pockets at random intervals in addition to having to grab stuff from the backpack (obviously, this duplicates the effect of having to grab the right spell components from a pocket or pouch at a moments notice).
If we perform this experiment a couple of times, it should definitively prove that you can’t just casually say, “While dodging the gelatinous cube, jumping over the bear trap and avoiding the gaze of the basilisk, I’m going to dig the oil flask out of my knapsack, light a torch, make a Molotov cocktail and set fire to the troll...” without being met with guffaws of laughter.
It’s been a few years — I don’t remember exactly when ‘Tower of Jhedophar” was published, but it was a joint venture between Necromancer Games and Kenzer & Company. It was written by Casy Christopherson. I don’t think Necromancer Games’ website is still being updated, but Paizo apparently still sells this adventure. I think it was presented in a d20 and a ‘Hackmaster’ version, but I only got a copy of the d20 version.
My contribution was the black and white illustrations for the interior of the adventure… and I was looking through some old files and found a few that looked pretty good to me, so I thought I’d share. I don’t remember much of the adventure itself — I read parts of it to do the illustrations, but never had the pleasure of playing in it.
|Imbo the Dwarf|
OK, last night I watched a movie that was so unforgivably bad (The Dark Night Rises (2012)), that, like mouthwash after eating something bad, I needed another film to get the incoherent mess of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ from my brain. Netflix served up ‘Hell’ (2011); which is a good mix of movies like Frontiers and The Road served up in an understated form; the perfect antidote to that bloated Batman mess; thanks very much to Director Roland Emmerich for this one; do yourself a favor and watch it.
‘Hell’ is a German post-apocalypse film that is set in a Europe of the not-too-distant future… even though I know a bit of German, I assumed that the title, ‘Hell,’ was a reference to ‘Hell’ as in where the devil lives; as I was watching, it hadn’t occurred to me that ‘hell’ is also the German word for ‘light’ or ‘bright.’* In this dystopian future, solar flares and/or atmospheric decay have caused the sun to become so bright that the trees and grass have died, the ecosystem has collapsed and a few survivors scavenge precious commodities like gasoline, food and water. ‘Hell’ is a film with a very small scope; we see the desolation through the eyes of Maria as she accompanies her younger sister Leonie and Phillip across a desiccated and sun-drenched Europe, trying to get Phillip’s dying Volvo station wagon (armored across the windows with bits of chain link and protected from the sun with paper taped over the windows) to the mountains, where, it is rumored, there might still be water.
The interiors of the car and the buildings that the characters shelter in are dark, dry and dusty; when the actors step outside, it is so bright they have to wrap themselves like bedouins for protection from the intense sun. They can hardly see and the film image is massively overexposed. This simple narrative device is surprisingly effective; ‘Hell’ is one of those movies that works because of what it doesn’t show you rather than what it does. The film is brutal and violent but not gory; most of the violence takes place off screen. What makes the film effectively disturbing is the psychological distress that the characters are experiencing which is never stated outright, only hinted at. Young Leonie teases Maria over her sexual relationship with Phillip. Maria clearly wishes Phillip were a bit more emotionally stable, but it looks like sex is one of the few bargaining chips she has left; the car and most of the things in it obviously belong to him. Phillip, meanwhile, is clearly ready to snap and the more psychologically strong Maria is trying to get him to hold it together because his car and protection are the best hope that she and her sister have. The three stop at an abandoned gas station where they encounter another man, Tom, who is initially hostile, but Tom offers gasoline, mechanical expertise and the impression of being slightly less unbalanced than Phillip. Tom makes a deal to help keep the car running in exchange for passage, food and water. The characters are constantly at odds with one another; they look and act like they are down to their last physically and psychologically.
Our little band of survivors are attacked; the car is stolen and Leonie is abducted. Maria and Phillip manage to get the car back, but the ‘fight’ with the bandits is extremely chaotic and they lose track of Tom in the process. ‘Hell’ is an interesting film because of what it doesn’t show us… during their raid on the bandit’s camp, we spend the whole time with Maria in the car as she tries to start it. All we see are brief glimpses of action occurring outside the car’s masked windows — we are as uninformed of the status of current events as Maria is. Suddenly Phillip leaps into the back seat and shouts that she needs to start driving, NOW. As they pull away, one of the bandits attempts to drag Phillip from the car. Phillip manages to fight him off, but his ankle is broken as the car door gets slammed shut by a tree as they drive away. Maria wants to go back for Leonie and Tom; Phillip wants to just drive on, pointing out that they have no other realistic options. The strength of this film is that although as watchers we want them to go back and succeed at a daring rescue, within the realm described by the film itself, that does seem like suicide. Earlier in the film, as Tom and Phillip are a short distance away siphoning gasoline out of a crashed car, Leonie urges Maria to just get in the car and drive away. After those words are said, we can see Maria is thinking about it. The drama of Hell isn’t in choreographed fight scenes or special effects — it’s in Maria attempting to make difficult choices and all about asking things like, “What should someone in a hopeless situation do to survive?” and “When loyalty and empathy decrease your chances for survival, should you discard them?”
Maria does manage to rescue at least some of her comrades from the ‘bandits’ (who are actually another group of survivors with very different plans), but the film’s resolution is ambiguous and anything but hopeful. I think the interesting (if bleak) story that the film makers told with very limited means, especially in an age of unbelieveably expensive films that are incoherent, boring and stupid (ahem – “The Dark Night Rises” – cough), make this worth watching — and the woman who plays Maria, especially, does a great job. I give it five out of five severed heads — I know that’s a high rating, but seeing it within hours of “The Dark Knight Rises” felt like ‘Hell’ was a film maker’s lesson in the ‘right way to do it.’
*This is not the only foreign film whose name has a double meaning in English; there is also a Bollywood film involving sex, money, jealousy and murder called ‘Jism‘ leading to the obviously ribald jokes (‘Jism’ apparently means ‘the body’ in Hindi).