Tag Archives: dragon

Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Okay, I had a piece of strawberry shortcake to recover from the feels. I can write this review now.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 picks up a few years after the original film. The people of Berk have welcomed dragons into their lives, mostly with the help of Hiccup… who is now struggling to figure out who he is, especially as his father is in a big rush to shove him into the role of chieftain. He escapes by exploring the world around Berk, which is now much more open to them because of the dragons. In the process, he stumbles into a conflict between two opposing sides: Drago, who is attempting to conquer the world with an army of dragons and has past history with the people of Berk…and his mother, who has spent the last twenty years traveling the world, rescuing dragon species from Drago and giving them a safe place. The role of the peacemaker is familiar for Hiccup, but he’s about to discover that he has more growing to do to become who he is supposed to be.

As far as sequel movies go, this is how you do it. It expanded upon the world, yet didn’t contradict itself. We saw several of the dragon species that were mentioned in the first movie, but we didn’t get a chance to see, as well as ones that Berk had no knowledge of. We met the counterpart species for the Queen from the first movie (the Alphas), and considering their sizes and powers, it makes a lot of sense for them to be off on their own. The answer of why we’ve only seen Toothless for a Night Fury is answered, while at the same time the species itself sees some growth. My only concern with world building and even larger plot is I don’t know what else they can do, and I know there’s a third film in the works.

The plot was very typical coming of age story, just with dragons and a missing parent reunion and stuff I mentioned in world building. It still hits you right in the emotions (obviously), since I was laughing and then crying. I did like that our three primary female characters weren’t considered lesser to the men. In fact, Astrid is at almost equal levels with Hiccup in some ways, just more down to earth and steady to help counter balance his flightiness. (Okay, yes, we do the captured female-rescued-by-male thing. She reverses it first, so I forgive it.) And there is a moment where Valka says, word for word, something that Stoic had previously told Hiccup, showing how similar they are and of equal if just very different standing.

I had two nitpicky details. I didn’t like Ruffnut and the trio of male’s subplot. At first and in trailers, it was really funny. But it just weighed kinda heavy. I mean, it did turn funny when Ruff got rejected by all the males period after the royal brat she was. But her behavior just made me cringe once I had long enough to think about it. Because manipulating men to her advantage was okay? No, just no. I’d have been more comfortable if she kept up with her shoving them away and being like, “Dudes, NO!” rather than use them to win races and such.

My other nitpick was Valka herself. I mean, I love her. But she didn’t entirely jive with what we knew about her from the first movie. It was implied she was exactly like the other women around the village, who are female models of the males and the exact opposite of Hiccup and some of the scrawnier teenagers. Wider and taller. But instead, she is sort of the same build as Hiccup, Astrid, and the twins are growing into (which is the minority on Berk). I can’t decide if they just don’t think a heavy female protagonist won’t fly or if it was to explain why Hiccup is so scrawny. So consider me a little irked, speaking as someone who has pretty much always been tall and thick. I’m also not sure how I feel about her being this voice who tried to stop the Vikings back during the war with the dragons. It also wasn’t quite right with what we established in the first film–I feel like if this was some trait of his wife’s, Stoic would have reacted differently and at least mentioned her. And the helmet made of her breastplate (ew) wouldn’t be a thing, I don’t think.

But that’s me being extremely nitpicky. Overall, the film was full of laughs and tears, excitement and wonder. It’s also completely different from the books, but I can see flashes of the influence (I think the twins are meant as a tribute to the original series, honestly). It is definitely high on my recommended film list,and I hope Dreamworks does just as well with the third and ends this series on a high note.

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Tabletop RP: Gender and DnD

So. I play DnD. With a bunch of guys. No other girls in the group, and all attempts to add girls to the group have not been met well (one for other reasons, but yeah, hasn’t worked out). Now, I know other girls who play, and have groups that are much more mixed gendered. I just didn’t fall into those groups, and my schedule doesn’t mesh with them. Leaving me stuck with the guys.

And let me tell you, this gets uncomfortable for very quickly.

Now, it doesn’t get uncomfortable for these guys. Because I don’t talk about girly things with them and I work very hard to keep topics away from subjects that while I might enjoy them, I know will bore or make them uncomfortable. Because that’s what our society encourages in female behavior.

Now, if only I could get the same respect.

Frequently, things take a turn for the disgusting, the over-sexed, or sometimes a weird mix of both that really makes me uncomfortable. Especially when they start making references to certain animes and video games, which are notorious for being for the male gaze. And speaking up doesn’t get me any favors, not really, since nothing will actually change. Now, I could be overly sensitive, but I think my experiences and the conversations I have with other female players reveal some serious differences in how the genders play DnD.

For one thing, I’ve noticed that guys tend to go out of their way to make crazy characters. And by crazy, I mean mixing, matching, and combining races, classes, and feats in order to get the most over-powered character possible. Now, if I make something overpowered, it’s by pure accident (the wu jinja gestalt class comes to mind, though I haven’t had enough chances to play it to be sure). I tend to pick a class that fits with the kind of character I’m playing, sticking to classes I know I’ll enjoy playing rather than ones I know will irk me (…like the wu jin, not a good pick in hindsight). The more complicated it is, the more I have to keep up with which distracts me from the game.

So with these crazy characters, you would think the guys were just as invested in the games we play as I am, right? Well, sorta. Some of the group is just wanting to push to see how much they can get away with by terms of the rules. They don’t really do back stories or character investments, and are pretty blase about their characters dying. Even the others who do care about story are always ready to move on to the next thing. Which is pretty contra to Ginny’s understanding of other groups, which treat the characters as investments (which is how i would prefer to play). I create complex back stories for my characters for a reason, and to see it go to waste just frustrates me, so one DM has even lost the privilage for me to do that anymore.

More than anything, I’m noticing, at least in my group, that it comes down to differences in what they play for. Now, these are huge generalizations, but it seems to me that boys play for the laughs and the oh my gods. They want to see how outrageous they can get and the more crazy, the better. But for us girls, it’s about the story, it’s about the characters and the actual RPing.

I’m not saying that boys don’t enjoy the characters and story. They can, and do. But get a group of them together, and they are going to be forgotten in favor of seeing how much damage a fireball spell can do. I’m not saying girls don’t enjoy battles. I love blowing things up and getting critical hits too, but if you put me with a group of other girls, we’re probably going to focus almost entirely on the story and the rest of the system will be an afterthought. Groups need either balance or focus, depending on the set up. So in my case, I have one DM who understands my need for story, the others needs to blow things up. The other…can’t seem to figure this out.

And as a DM myself, I need to learn to read what a group needs. Obviously, I’m going to want to lean towards the story angle myself, but that isn’t going to work with this group of guys. I need to figure out how to feed their need for chaos and my own for story at the same time.


Tabletop RP: Alignment Woes

Okay, I give up on my local libraries and am trying to find a friend who owns a copy of Cold Days that I can borrow. Cross your fingers! (It’s trickier than you think, most of my friends prefer audio books…) And since nothing comes to mind for forum RP, I thought I would discuss an element of tabletop that is a lot murkier and troublesome than people give it credit for: alignment.

For those who haven’t dabbled in the DnD waters, Paizo is the wonderful company who gave us the two axis alignment system. What that means is that a character can be Good, Evil, or in between at Neutral, but they are also Lawful, Chaotic, or again, possibly Neutral between the two. This gives nine different alignments to play with, and some have multiple interpretations to go off of. Here are my very brief descriptions, but for more in depth ones, I suggest wiki walking through TV Tropes.Org. I am barely touching on them here. So, by the law-chaos line…

Lawful types are rigid and rule bound. Despite the name, the actual laws of the kingdom may not be the rules a lawful character follows. It could be vows made to a religious order, or a strict personal code. Good characters usually incorporate the more common laws into their personal code if they go that route, while Evil types tend to enjoy exploiting their own loopholes.

Chaotic types re the polar opposites of Lawful, and yet, they can be close cousins. For these characters, either the Id of their psyches or their pride makes them scorn rules (and sometimes morals). To some, the law is the enemy while to others, they just want the freedom of choice. Good characters are more willing to accept or take frowned-upon actions, such as sniping and thievery, while Evil types usually take every opportunity they can to flout the rules. Unlike Lawful, who can’t break their code, Chaos types can obey rules…if it suits their own purposes at the time.

The Neutrals are where everything gets fuzzy. At what point do you cross the line and become straight evil or good? How often do you follow the rules before you are considered lawful? What are your motivations for not being one extreme or the other?

Because things get so fuzzy, Paizo introduced a numeric scale within their two axis system in Pathfinder. 1-3 is Good and Lawful, respectively, with 1 being supremely good/lawful. Neutrals are 4-6, and Evil and Chaos are 7-9, with 0 being supremely evil/chaotic.. It is meant to help DMs judge where their players are at in alignments. For example, if a character is Chaotic Good, but only has a 3 in Good and a 9 in Chaos, they know that the character isn’t always going to take the good action if the chaotic one makes more sense.

Now that I’m done rambling about the basics, here’s the part that I think causes problems. Some DMs consider general tone of actions. For example, when I was playing my Half-Elven Deep Wood Sniper, Bevan,who was Chaotic Good, I was allowed to snipe and shoot an unarmed, asleep man. Why? Because most of the time I wasn’t that chaotic in my choices and I tended to side with the Lawful Good knight. The occasional act of mayhem helped me keep my alignment because it fit the overall tone. I feel the same way when I DM, not worried about each individual action, but about the overall playing style.

But recently, my group had a huge blow up. Part of it was because of a very frustrating dungeon that was accidentally set at Death Trap levels and our DM didn’t check to see if we could survive it (answer: we couldn’t with our party set up), trusting the generator. He ended up nerfing multiple monsters and all the traps, since we were level 1 and it was impossible for us to make them or defeat the monsters. And then afterward the dungeon when dealing with the one who created it, it became a discussion of what did and did not constitute good when he tried to push an alignment shift on another character because of one, singular action. Two didn’t care, but three other players, including myself and the player who was being forced to take the shift, were rather incensed.

Now, neither side was in the right here. The DM should have cut the discussion off and talked to us privately about it rather than let it continue to escalate. I think not getting us set up to have mounting feelings of frustration by throwing us in that dungeon at level 1 goes without saying. But this is where the players should have shut up–it was the DM’s decision. Once he makes his ruling, we should have respected it and talked privately about it later. His style is very much by the book, you break the alignment once, you take a hit, and now that we know that, we as players are really going to have to adjust how we play to reflect that.

So my suggestion? Before you start a campaign, make sure as DM and players that you understand how strict the alignment is going to be and make sure that any hits are intentional hits rather than punishments (as much as the idea of the DM doing any punishing irks the tar out of me).


Tabletop RP: The Importance of Player Consent

Obviously, no Dresden yet. BUT I literally have a copy in my purse now. I just can’t read it in one night and then turn around and review it in that same night (sorry, not that fast). So I’m skipping to this and you’ll get several posts of Dresden in a row, how about that?

To begin, let me say that I am in one of THOSE moods involving this topic, so I might get a little touchy throughout this post. Normally I try to curb this, post about stuff LONG after it has happened, but this was planned months ago and now current events are interfering. I’m editing myself, but something might slip through.

As DMs, we are effectively playing God with our worlds. Our word is the last word, the story goes in the direction we say it goes, and if you piss us off, we can end the world and be done with it. That means all the power is in our court, right? Ehhhh, not really. Don’t get me wrong, you have the reins for a lot of stuff, including the lives of the players’ characters. But with that power, as the cliched Spiderman quote goes, comes responsibility to your players. Remember, D&D is all about having fun as a group. Going all Wrath-of-God isn’t fun for any of them, and really if you get to that point, it isn’t fun for you either.

In my opinion, a big way to avoid it all is for there to be open communication between the DM and the players. It both seems really obvious and yet really infringing at the same time, so let me explain further before you hit the back button. I’m not saying to tell your players what their campaign’s plot is going to be, what monsters they are going to be facing, ask what they want to happen, anything like that. I’m saying that you should find out what they as players want out of a campaign. Do they want to really get to use this underused class feature? Is there something in their backstory they would like to see come up? Things like that. You want to know what would really make your players excited and invested in the game, and while you may not do it exactly as they want (in fact, I encourage you not to for the surprise factor), it will help them feel like they are having fun and they will stay invested in the story that you are telling.

On the player side of it, you have to let your DM know if something bugs you. My DMs know I’m arachnophobic, so they keep spider-like monsters to a minimum and don’t show me the pictures. They know I don’t like character mods being forced on me, so they try and make it to where either it’s a plot thing that I willingly agree to in some way (though one is pushing it, so I’m feeding him enough rope to either save or hang himself) or avoid them at all. Otherwise, I’ve learned to keep my hands out of the situation and let them try and tell me the story they created. I like it when my character’s backstory is involved, I like battles where we manage to kick butt. Those are things the DMs try to provide to our group, balancing it with the others’ desire for chaos and destruction.

Reasons why this is important are nights like tonight. The DM taking over our newest campaign (which is going to be Pathfinder, new system, joy) is the same one who ran Lucine’s (see the post about plot rails). This is his first campaign since, and to be honest, I don’t trust him not to screw me over just to prove some arbitrary point. Again. So when I decided to play the Falconer archetype, I thought it was a chance to try to take a better bird that would be harder for him to kill…only I have gotten turned down at every path I’ve tried to take today. I can’t trust him as a DM with a bird that only has 2 HP (yeah, that’s the situation without a better bird), and it’s part of the class. So now I have to rebuild my character. From scratch. And I’ve gone from pissy to frustrated to nearly in tears. This isn’t fun for me anymore, and sadly, all the campaigns are starting to feel this way.

Well, now that I’ve depressed myself thoroughly… Anyone have any stories about a DM either helping make a session great or sinking it to the darkest pits of Hades?


Dragon’s Keep Review

This isn’t the first time I’ve read Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey, and I can’t say for certain if it will be the last. I don’t know what it is about this book that keeps drawing me back in, but I keep going back to it when I crave a high fantasy adventure…and coming away disappointed. So this time, I really looked at what had me going, “Eh…” about it, and what I actually liked about it.

The characters are a mixed batch of royalty, knights, and then commoners. I’ve managed to keep the royalty straight in each read, but every time the knights and the commoners bite me in the butt and I can’t keep people straight outside of their scene. I always have to have a moment of going, “Okay, who is this?” which isn’t what any writer wants. What’s worse is that there are several characters we don’t even meet, and I’m able to remember who they are and how they are important, but not the characters Rose actually deals with. They are cookie-cutters that never got filled out, but are acting in fairly important parts like actual cookies.

With the main characters, it’s a pretty evenly split. Sir Magnus and the king and queen, I knew and I liked. They were fleshed out, they had fairly clear motivations, everything was pretty hunky dory. But I am still confused about our witch character, as far as any of her motivations beyond being an evil witch, boo hiss. Our protagonist and her savior knight? Flat. Flat, flat, flat, flat. There is literally nothing about them I can dig my teeth into as far as real character traits are concerned. I think Snow White, Cinderella, and Princess Aurora have more personality, and those are my least favorite Disney princesses for the very reason that they are nothing beyond the pretty princess! And seriously, we get one little snippet of the hero, but otherwise, he just shows up at the end of this and they are in love, and just… Put down the Twilight and get into the real world, please.

Speaking of worlds, the world of Wilde Island…I like it. It has a King Arthur link with the story of the Pendragon queen of Wilde Island and Merlin’s prophecy about them. There’s a layer of serious authenticity to it, and I would know due to my work with the Arthurian Order of Avalon these last couple of years. I love how the dragons are, and yes, I’m okay that they talk. It’s her dragons, I’m not going to judge. (Wait till you meet my “dragons” in Eresith, you’ll understand.) There are a couple of loose ends, though. Tess’s connection with the witch seems sort of  tossed in. I’m told there’s another book, but I shouldn’t need a second book to understand what’s going on in this book. And Opal, God, OPAL. I swear, there was a subplot that was supposed to explain why she’s different from the others, but it never made it in. Or I hope so, or else I will be ready to throw things.

Plot wise, it was…okay. I mean, about the time we hear of the second prophecy that Merlin made to the dragons, we’ve vaguely figured out where it is going to end. The witch trial took me a little by surprise, but it worked with what we knew of the world, and on a second read it made more sense to me. I think the biggest thing I had with her plot was the amount of TIME she took to tell it. The book is a fast read, but it’s hard to realize that it takes years for all of this to play out. I think if it had been considerably condensed, it would have been much stronger for it. And I’ve already said how there was very little character, but if there had been more of Rose’s motivation, I would have known her as a character better. If condensed, the relationship with her future king would also have made sense.

The subplot with Kat was just an unnecessary mess. I really wish it had been cut, and more depth added to the main plot, especially with Rose and her would-be rescuer. Or modified to fit into the main story better. As it is now, it’s this awkward…thing that sort of sits heavy in the middle of the plot. It also seemed like there was a serious lack of conflict going on with Rose/Briar and her time with the dragons. I understood they were supposed to have this love/hate relationship, but it really didn’t come across well, mostly because we were told a lot more than we were shown about her interactions with them. Okay, we get, Lord what-his-name is being mean to you. But what about the dragonlings? We just aren’t shown enough of them.

Upon more reflection of this book, I’ve kinda realized what it’s a knock-off of. Here me out. At least with the dragons, I’m being REALLY strongly reminded of the first book in the Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher, Dragon’s Milk. If you think about it, they have fairly similar plots if you compare the first half of Dragon’s Milk and the last half of Dragon’s Keep. They are enough alike that I have to wonder if maybe Carey read Fletcher’s and just tried to add her own twist to it, or if it’s just a coincidence. I don’t know. But I guess I keep coming back to Carey’s book because I love the Dragon Chronicles so much, and I keep wanting it to be just as good as them. Which isn’t really fair to anybody, including Carey and myself. So maybe I need to put Dragon’s Keep faraway until I forget I own it.