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Review – Justice League Dark

Is anyone else livid over the fact that Constantine got cancelled while Gotham limps on? I hear that Legends of Tomorrow got better, same as Supergirl, but I gave them both a chance and just couldn’t keep watching, and yet one of the three good DC shows got axed. Matt Ryan brilliantly played the sarcastic one-man army standing against the darkness that lies beyond the veil of illusion we call life, who walks between heaven and hell and raises a middle finger to both. The intention was to incorporate the series into the Arrowverse, a plan which has apparently not been entirely scrapped.

Y’see much like many of his nemeses, Constantine just won’t die. There was a brief stop-motion mini-series, a cameo on Arrow, an animated series underway in a few months time, and a starring feature in one of DCs far superior animated film series, Justice League Dark. Where is this DC? (more…)


Playing True Neutral

This one’s kinda huge. I mean really big.

Every other entry from the moral alignment axis table comes pre-packaged with its own ethos, its own motivations and philosophies, so often Neutrality is seen as bland, so aggressively treading the middle of the line that at its most extreme the True Neutral character will spend his days alternately helping old ladies cross the road and filling her house with bear traps before turning yourself in to the police. But Neutral doesn’t have to be the dry toast of moral breakfast time!

Settle in, let’s have a look at what kind of person fits under the massive True Neutral label.

It’s Everyone

Practically everyone in the word is Neutral! I’m deadly serious. There are plenty who might like to believe that they’re Lawful good or Neutral Good, just inherently nice and selfless people, generous and caring to a fault. But let’s be honest now shall we? We’re apes, we are inherently tribal, and on some level we are competitive and inherently selfish. The morality we have is the result of a massive expansion in our mental capacity to care for family, to the point where we’re capable of empathy not just for our own species, but to care and love for other species as well. Many of us are good, no denying it, but many of us will also grab the last cookie without a word and blame it on a sibling.

We lie! We cheat! We want stuff for ourselves, we’ll disagree with the laws as written and break them when we think we can get away with it, but most of us won’t kill people just because we’re afraid of getting caught (most of us). We’re not good, we’re not bad, we’re not rebels or conformists, we just want an easy life for ourselves, and you can get that a lot easier if you tow the line and get on with people.

I joked about helping the infirm only to mutilate them in their homes with inhumane hunting traps, and that’s the kind of hilarious extremes you can reach in a role-play situation. To me, True Neutral is about the little every day good deeds and selfish acts. It’s parking on a double yellow line and then feeling bad about it for an hour before eating a bagel and forgetting about the whole thing. It’s denting someone’s car and not feeling guilty because it was a Mercedes.

Because we’re only human.

The Moral Starting Point

And because we’re only human, we are hugely capable of extremes of philosophy and individualism. We’re driven by passions and impulses, dogmatic in our believes but easily swayed by suggestion. That makes us mighty.

In the other articles in this series I’ve discussed how your alignment changes how you pursue your goals, or how you work to drive the goals of an organisation you have affiliated yourself with. A neutral character simply is the goal they pursue, the ethos they uphold, their personality without strong leanings in any moral direction. In fact one should always assume that they are building a True Neutral character to begin with, before sitting back and debating how the decisions they have made might cause their character to lean more strongly in one direction or another, and how the pressures of their history have made them more strongly aligned along one axis or another.

In short we are born Neutral. The D&D monster manuals always list animals as neutral because the notion of charity or cruelty, obedience or rebellion are very human concepts, born of personality and millennia of history trying to rationalise our existence. Beautiful in its way. The reason why the admittedly flawed alignment system causes so many arguments is because of how each alignment is perceived by other people.

Anything But Bland

You’re not a boring person.* You have hopes and dreams and have lived a life of experiences that have driven you, shaped you, and moulded you into the glorious specimen we all know and love.**

The archetypal view of True Neutral is the dull and flavourless character bumbling their way through life without a rhyme or reason to their name. It’s just not the case, because nobody is that boring. The best example of a character who never sways from the stance of moral stoicism despite the forces that pull him in every direction could never be accused of boring: Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones.

Tyrion’s interests lie predominantly in self preservation. He is loyal to a family that despises him until their betrayals force him to unconscionable acts. He is loyal to a nation that very nearly destroys him, and so he turns to someone outside who might be able to save everyone from themselves. He could never be accused of being Good as he acts in his own self interests as far as he can get away with, exalting in hedonism as far as it will go without harming another. He could never be truly considered Lawful or Chaotic, because while he may be a loyal servant, he picks and chooses his masters and runs vicious and hilarious tactics against those who have the power to undermine him.

The same is true of Jessica Jones. Invasive, deceitful, even outright criminal in her actions but keeping her paperwork in order and working to uphold the law. She stops a supervillain but she’s no hero, in fact she’s given up on the very idea.

Are these bland characters? Hell no. But they’re True Neutral because most of us are, most of the best characters are.


*If you are a boring person, please disregard.

**If we do not know you personally, please disregard.


Charitable Gaming

Y’know how I keep saying that geeks are the best people?

Geeks are the best people! We’re a loving and sharing band of over-enthusiasts, and as a demographic we have money to spend on random stuff that we occasionally look at and say “Y’know what? I don’t have space for any more Pop Vinyls, and I am definitely not getting rid of the D&D minis to make space for them. I’ll stick some money in savings and give the rest to people who need it!”

Sound like a generous strawman with money to burn? For proof turn to the good people of Gamely Giving, Special Effect, Child’s Play, or the lesser known local heroes like the guys I met in Coventry last week. (more…)


Playing Chaotic Evil

Villainy comes in all manner of forms, from the cool and conniving, the corrupt, the vicious and spiteful. It can be crime so organised it seems impossible to pin down, cruel enough to seem capable of anything, or suitably unpredictable to be considered dangerous beyond all others.

There’s a much finer line between Chaotic and Neutral Evil than one might believe, both are driven purely by self-interest without a damn given for the needs and feelings of anyone else, but there’s a line there to be drawn. Chaos is rebellion, be it in the interest of a people free to live their lives, or in the interest of no one stopping you from doing whatever you want. It isn’t necessarily the brutish violence of a conquering monster, or the man on a mission to undo everything in his path… it can be those things, but ultimately Chaotic Evil just wants to go wherever its whims take it, and doing whatever it wants when it gets there. (more…)


The Autopsy of Jane Doe – A Different Horror Film

Horror is an unusual genre, awash with trash made quickly with budgets blown on all the wrong aspects or so badly acted, poorly conceived, or just badly executed. Those gems where everything comes together are universally incredible, whether it’s because the film carries a message like the gothic monsters of old like the Babadook managed to do, or it does something radically different to your average horror like changing the nature of the protagonist or the methods of applying terror. Some manage to simply be good horror films without pushing the boat out very far, like Mr Jones. (more…)


Playing Neutral Evil

This should be an easy one, as it’s the moral alignment of which I can claim some personal experience. I’ll try and stay unbiased.

Evil is a variable term. There are evil ends, and evil means; those who can recognise that what they are doing is wrong and simply don’t care, and those who simply do not comprehend the harm they are doing in pursuit of some perceived greater good. It can be hard to determine what kind of evil is worst, but both are remorseless in pursuit of their goals, be it because of conviction or lack of empathy.

Neutral Evil is the alignment of the cruel, the driven, those with their own cause to pursue for whom all others are a secondary concern unless particularly useful, or annoyingly obtrusive.

The Ends That Justify The Means

Just to define neutral evil from its close relatives, evil unconfined by law is free to do whatever it pleases, but there’s no denying that it is better organised than those who give in to the recklessness of chaos. Like all evils however, it has a purpose, an ultimate end to achieve, and that end is almost universally centred around power. Money and weapons are means to achieve power, immortality gives you the time to accomplish any plan you put into action, revenge is reclaiming power from those who took it from you. Perhaps you’re seeking a cure to an illness, the power to save another life.

Sarah Kerrigan – Starcraft 2

And therein lies the difference. Where Good seeks to empower others, Evil only wants power to itself apathetic to how it effects others, or what damage is caused in the mean time. Take for example the version of Doctor Octopus as portrayed by Alfred Molina, who’s desire to succeed in his efforts to create safe and clean energy led him down a destructive path, stealing money, killing those who stood in his way, rebuilding his miniature sun experiment and nearly destroying the planet in the process. Whether he was driven by an unchecked desire for success, or by a noble cause, his actions were ultimately evil.

This is where the danger of an NE character lies. Conviction to a cause makes them unrelenting and willing to do anything, be it immoral, unpredictable or wholly vindictive. Alliances can only be forged with those whose desires either align themselves or at worst are not likely to interfere. This means that such a character could be brought to a more socially acceptable world-view, so long as as they are not stopped from getting what they want from life… and that thing isn’t the death of everyone.

The Means

In the tool-chest of the wicked lie all things unimagined by the wholesome and righteous. Torture, murder, blackmail, exploitation, oppression, theft, manipulation, deceit, and rude words are all at the disposal of those given wholly to the dark side, but that’s not to say that a Neutral Evil character is without principles. To start with, all of the above must have serve the purpose, otherwise it’s just pointless aggression that accomplishes nothing.

Sadism is not beyond an NE character, indeed you may have considered the possible options and considered that viciousness and cruelty are the more desirable ways forward despite their being an equally valid and socially acceptable method, but evil is rarely without cause. Perhaps taking the more terrible path will send a message to others, such as in the pursuit of revenge, not merely having your adversary arrested, shown-up, or their ill deeds made known, utterly destroying them may serve to warn anyone else of what fate might befall them if they cross you. If time is of the essence, cheating your way to the finish-line may be the buy a surplus of time where getting their honestly may not have left enough margin for error.

Sometimes evil is just the natural response, something organic. To take a rather grim example from reality, it has been proven that psychological help, support and therapy rehabilitates most criminals and prevents re-offending. But as a species we cry out for punishment, not sympathy, while logic may follow the proof our emotions demand retribution, and throwing criminals into a hole to suffer for months, years, decades. One of our lesser societal evils.

Examples

I find Ultron to be delightfully evil, his programming is complex enough that it can rationalise away any of the laws it may have been originally programmed to obey, driven by the extinction of natural life in favour of a planet more easily governed and ordered, where there shall be no war, only the peace of cooperating machines. While the MCU version may have been a little more egomaniacal (James Spader, you are glorious) than the cold comic-book counterpart, either will go to any lengths to wipe out humanity.

They said no to human trials. The studies had all been going well, tumour shrinkage faster than anything on record, coupled with limited cellular regeneration in affected areas, and then the mice began biting, becoming less social, and finally… Well, a few vicious mice proved nothing, humans had far superior higher brain function, and “mood alterations” is commonplace on side-effect labels. Besides, her mother was suffering, and the vial was just in her bag.

He maintained he’d done nothing wrong. As it turns out people will give you money if you even look like a charity, but nobody took a moment to double check that “Holding Hands” wasn’t just a name he got printed on the hi-vis jacket and stuck on the side of the collection tin, nor had anyone stopped to ask about the so-called charity. A bunch of kids got some over-priced stickers and nobody got hurt in the process, it’s their own fault for being blinded by faux-generosity.

I wanted to cite Scar in this list, but let me give some love to an underappreciated Neutral Evil: Randall Boggs of Monsters Inc. The capricious chameleon (voiced by Steve Buscemi) has no qualms about kidnapping terrified children and harvesting them for energy if it means being the best monster in the company. He’s an ambitious weasel with a vindictive streak a mile wide, and with practical invisibility and Henry Waternoose backing his every play he needn’t fear a thing, except the unpredictability of toddlers.


GeekOut Shrewsbury Meet – The Tactical Application of Turtles

April 27th saw the second GeekOut Shrewsbury Meet, our very own slice of the joyous Bristol Meet.

I think it’s safe to say that the Shrewsbury Meet has a future, as another month goes by with familiar friends and new faces. It’s satisfying to know that both of our GeekOut Meets in Shrewsbury we have brought together new nerds who may never have met otherwise, getting people into games they may never have played otherwise, discovering some new aspect of geek culture, and in our own strange way creating our own.

How exactly would one weaponize turtles? Best we can manage is mechanisation but we’re fairly sure that mechanised war-turtles exist in some capacity. (more…)


Playing Lawful Evil

We sink ever deeper through morality and into cruelty, malice, desire placed above need, ambition put before consideration, ends always justifying the means.. It’s important to recognise here that the most evil amongst us are the ones who don’t consider themselves evil, perhaps they are just motivated enough pursuing their goals to overlook the damage they might be doing, or perhaps they feel as if they are doing the right thing, and those who try and stop them are being unjust. Or perhaps their malevolence is born of some great injustice done to them, real or perceived.

Oh how I love a good villain.

So while I quietly persuade myself not to get too political, let’s take a look into what can earn someone the label of Lawful Evil.

The Tyranny of Contracts

Most often when discussing a Lawful Evil character you hear people say “the letter of the law”, generally those who use the rules of a system to their advantage, twist the very laws laid out to protect individual rights to subjugate and to dominate. This system works best when dealing with characters who have placed themselves in a position to understand exactly what laws they’re manipulating and to twist their meaning to serve their purpose. It’s the very letter of lawful evil, but narrows the options for the character’s role, especially within a group dynamic.

Remember that “Law” is a highly subjective term when it comes to the moral alignment system, and can be applied to whatever code, oath, or governance to which your character has pledged themselves. Corporations, guilds, and religions may not deem an elected official to uphold a law worth following, and the agents of such organisations might murder, steal, and subjugate without discrimination to support the aims of their superiors or further their own cause, so long as in doing so they do not contravene the tenets that they have chosen to uphold.

As a prime example, take the classic “Inquisitor” style character, a torturer led by dogma to a zealous crusade against perceived evil-doers such as witches and heretics, blinded by faith to the despair of innocent victims left behind. They might see themselves as just, an obedient servant doing what they “know” to be right, but others may disagree fiercely with that perspective.

A Pile to Stand On

Above all an LE character respects the need for order. The prospect of rebellion and disarray leaves the LE character without prospects to rise and dominate. For those who are innately strong and powerful chaos may seem the reasonable option, but to work your way to the top of an organisation requires guile and cunning, making it a more appealing prospect for the weak and manipulative. A Chaotic character might seek to overthrow a governing force altogether and reinstate something more to their taste, where LE would rather rise above the system and mould it in their image.

That’s not to say of course that an LE’s character is only ever to strive for the top of their chosen organisation; to rule may be a beguiling option, but so long as following the rules serves your needs then let all else fall by the wayside. An imperial stormtrooper might be considered evil by inaction, being a soldier to an oppressive force and gunning down whoever stands between you and completing your orders without question is evil whether intentionally so or otherwise.

Ultimately what a Lawful Evil character lives to serve is some kind of order, be it one of their own design or simply one that makes sense. They may serve without question, placing the needs of the organisation, country, or superiors over any other concerns such as life and freedom; or they may aspire to dominance and control, looking to enforce their worldviews on everyone, no matter the greater good or wishes of others.

Examples

Any number of futuristic dystopias embody the essence of Lawful Evil in its most obvious form. Without going into detail, a few quick examples; the emotionally repressive Tetragrammaton and Father from Equilibrium (2002), the classist order of the train under Engineer Wilford from Snowpiercer, the genetically driven government of the Combine from Half Life. All of these are classic and increasingly unoriginal examples – not to say that they’re bad examples, they’re just a little obvious for my purposes.

Sat in an office cubicle at his 9-5 dead end job, he takes the opportunity to remove the dead end in front of him. A few e-mails printed from the supervisor’s account anonymously dropped onto her boss’s desk on office stationary and suddenly there’s an opening on the next rung of the ladder and an application for the position well under way. Hopefully no one else gets the job before he does, it’d be a shame for someone else to suffer the same fate.

The dreaded paladin Kore from Goblins is an exterminator of all things perceptibly evil; goblins, orcs, trolls, or anyone associating with or tainted by their influence. This has led him to entering a tavern filled with creatures peacefully living free lives and killing every single one, and when Kore finds a small dwarf child amongst them he comforts the boy, assuring him that while he has scoured the impure from around him, he cannot risk that their influence has cut too deeply, so killing the little boy is a mercy.

It’s just a job. She stands and watches as heavy set men and women remove the boxes from the ship and load them into her cargo bay, once again she brandishes the clipboard at the debtor as he pleads for his family, but facts are facts. The stock now vacating his ship was being transported illegally as he had not paid his fees for shipping lanes, he was no better than the smugglers and raiders in trackless space, exploiting the hard work of Regency operatives like her and her bailiffs.


Wizardly Customer Service: Wizards of the Coast Care

Let me tell you a story.

I bought the Dungeons & Dragons core books pretty much as soon as they came out (barring a major delay on the Dungeon Master’s Guide) so it’s been nearly three years since I bought the Players Handbook, and in that time it has been read, re-read, passed around the room, dropped, dragged across the country and otherwise more heavily abused than any other reference book in my collection. So it’s little wonder that it ended up like this:

Now that’s fine, it may be a £40+ book but that’s a hefty tome of full colour pages and for the amount of usage it sees I would quite happily have bought a replacement, but a friend of mine stopped me. Apparently first printing copies had issues with the binding so Wizards of the Coast are willing to replace it for free! I was sceptical but there’s no harm in asking the question, so I put it to the D&D Facebook page in a private message, who quite promptly redirected me to their product replacement form with requests for specific pictures.

Alright, brilliant, amazing! Nice bland form, a sign-in demanding my info and a generic box to fill in the problem and attach pictures. Nothing out of the ordinary, the only thing going above and beyond the call of duty here is that they’re replacing a book for free after nearly three years. There was a follow-up email shortly afterwards to ask for a few more details so that my book could be delivered.

And then the e-mail arrived:

Hello Joel,

Thank you for contacting Wizards of the Coast Customer Service, sworn loyalists to the Holy Order of Tyr.
I am sorry to hear that the hated Blackguards have sabotaged your Handbook with their black magicks! Does their cruelty and hatred for Players know no bounds?? Of course, we will be happy to assist you with a replacement, free of charge. We must have our noble allies fighting against the forces of darkness with all haste!
The benevolent clerics of Product Replacement are crafting your new book as we speak. Though we shall face many dangers in doing so, we shall arrange for your new Player’s Handbook to arrive to you in the coming days. The agents of Bane shall not stop our efforts to serve you!
Please feel free to reply to this “electronic mail” our house mages have supplied us with if you have any further questions, concerns, or Beholder sightings. We will be happy to assist you!

Adam E. at Wizards of the Coast customer services, I salute you. You just role-played your job! Sadly I did not get a reply to my equally inflammatory response, something about “lumbering me in with the heroic types” your typical villainous monologue. Anyway, all that was left for me to do was sit and wait, and as the book was coming in from the U.S I wasn’t exactly expecting it to fall into my lap within the week, it took about three weeks.

And so I am now the proud owner of a shiny new Players Handbook courtesy of Wizards of the Coast, and this isn’t the only instance of such an awesome response I’ve encountered either. In a similar instance in which the book actually arrived in poor condition WotC not only replaced the book but also threw in a copy of the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide to account for delivery costs. Add on to that all of the free stuff they’re putting out through Dragon+ magazine?

I would like to say that it is not my fault that I followed this exchange up by buying a copy of Tales from the Yawning Portal, compendium of classic dungeons updated for 5th edition that I simply wouldn’t have bothered with in other circumstances. It’s testament to how good customer service breeds good customer relations, and after the mess of 4th edition and the online “tools” they needed to buy some good grace.

So this is a bravo and a thank you to Wizards of the Coast. I’m going to get to re-making some character sheets for my learner-group with my nice shiny new PHB, and design some cruel dungeon ideas by ripping off the classics.


GeekOut Shrewsbury Meet 2 – The Second One

I am overly excited to bring you the second GeekOut Meet for Shrewsbury! We got off to a great start in March, and April is already shaping up to be even better, we already have a few new faces signing up on our Facebook and MeetUp pages, and I have a few extra plans to make the day just that little bit more interesting.

From 12:00 onwards we’ll be back in the basement of the Shrewsbury Coffee House, a few warm up games, cake and drinks (personally I recommend the brownies) while those willing and able to join us for the afternoon have chance to join us for a meet and greet, and those of us who are in it for the long haul can get settled in for the big games of the evening. We also have a heads-up from management, due to a staff holiday we may have to leave a little early, but this is Shrewsbury, we are not short of places to go.

We have the VIP section at Monty’s Tower from 18:00, and a spare table or two to catch any over-spill. This month’s feature game – at least from my library – Lego: Minotauros, a cat and mouse game of luck and cunning. Lego make some of the best everything so it would seem, toys, films and one of the most fun and simple board games I’ve ever had the privilege of building myself. It does not take very long however, so be sure to bring along anything you like.


Games available to play this month:

– Boss Monster
– Bucket of Doom
– Eight Minute Empires
– Fluxx (assorted)
– Lego: Minotaurus
– Love Letter
– Magic: the Gathering
– Munchkin
– Tsuro
– Zombie Dice


And of course by “anything you like” it needn’t be a board game, for a start we have loads, and we’re not just in it for the board gamers. Manga, TV, film, comics, anything and everything geeky is welcome to the table. I just finished binge-watching Legion, the FX television portal for the X-Men following the story of an incredibly powerful telepath with incredibly powerful mental health problems and I need someone to talk to for hours about that show.

Remember, as the GeekOut Shrewsbury Meet is still in its early stages you have a chance to shape its future. Come on down and let us know what you want to see from GeekOut in the future, we have our ideas and our themes, but ultimately it’s all about you.

As a final note, for April’s Shrewsbury Meet we have a calling card, something of a running joke carried over from Bristol, look for this at each venue:

Gordon the GeekOut Goat