Saturday, September 22, 2018

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

Occasionally I get asked by a well meaning friend "Hay do you want to get together sometime and we can play Dungeons and Dragons?"

I try to keep the smile on my face while I cringe just a little inside.

I realized recently that with all the different media depictions, misunderstandings, accusations of witchcraft and so fourth that a majority of people don't know what Dungeons and Dragons is exactly, so here is my attempt to set the record straight.

A Different Beast

In most board games, a group of people can sit down one evening, open the box, set up the components, play, then put everything back in the box. Dungeons and Dragons though, is a whole different beast.

Let's say we're playing a basic pre-written campaign that one can buy in the store or pick up online. To start a group would need the book that explains how to make and use a character, a book that explains how to run a campaign and a book that features the creatures the adventurers may run into during the campaign and need to make sure all these components are of the same set. Usually this costs between $60 to $100.

Next each player will need to build their character. Some characters can be found online but the point of Dungeons and Dragons is to create a custom character that you want to play, unlike a video game where you slip into Mario or Geralt's shoes.

Lastly and most importantly, you need a dungeon master. This is a person who will run the game. The players each play one character in the world, the dungeon master's role is to play everything else. The creatures, the other characters the players may run into, even the cosmetology the game exists in.

So already you can see that this is levels beyond a game of Monopoly, so this alone makes it all but impossible to start a game on the fly. Usually character creation alone can be at least an hour long process for new players. Some of the more experienced players can streamline the process, but for the uninitiated a lot may need to be explained.

Oh and dice. You need all the dice. Like ever. If you think you have too many dice you don't, you're still short.

The Art Of Roleplay

Dungeons and Dragons is a pure roleplaying game. It goes far beyond moving a piece across a board then rolling dice to determine success or failure. Say a player encounters a merchant. In a mainstream board game the options for interaction may be little more than buy or sell items. In Dungeons and Dragons though, the player could buy from the merchant, sell to the merchant, attempt to rob the merchant, attempt to fight the merchant, attempt to seduce the merchant, attempt to befriend the merchant, try to capture the merchant to use as a slave, try to buy the merchant's entire store from him and set it up as a franchise, or burn the merchant's store to the ground then use the ashes in a dark unholy ritual.

These are just a few options I could think of on the fly. Honestly a player could do whatever they can imagine to varying degrees of success. The player needs to know that all options are available and what they can and need to do based on who their character is, what their motivation is, what the quest is and where their morals lie. A degree of acting, improvisation and imagination are all required for this exercise, which can be a major departure for most new players who aren't used to getting to be people.

Length and Sessions

So let's say you've got everything together. You've got your friends, someone's a Dungeon Master, character sheets are made, and snacks are within arm's reach. An average campaign of Dungeons and Dragons takes about 5 or 6 hours. Now that's if the players go from one objective to the next completely focused on the task at hand. Add in the players banter, the in-jokes, the references, the side talk, and the discussion as to what to do next the short 5 hours can stretch out to a good 20+. Now of course few have the constitution to sit for 20 hours straight playing a game, so this means the game usually takes place in sessions over months and even years. Some games have been rumored to have been going on for decades, as new players are added and others retire, move or even pass away. Being in a campaign isn't a casual game night, it's also a commitment to help your buddies take down the bad guys and save the world.

Still Want to Play?

This may all seem intimidating, but if you still want to give it a try know that they're are people who are happy to teach newcomers to the game. If we didn't the game would probably be dead. Some Dungeon Masters are even informally tutored by veteran players eager to pass on their skills. THe point is that if you want in you're welcome to join but just know what you're in for.

Also, never split the party.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Salt Lake FanX, gender normativity, and the awesomeness of geekdom

Another FanX has come and gone, leaving behind some very poor geeks and a downtown covered in discarded costumes. As a massive FanX fan, I was excited to attend this year's events.

And even more excited (And scared) to premier my latest cosplay.

Some background: at my first FanX (Then called Salt Lake Comic Con) I cosplayed as a gender bent Harley Quinn, who I named Harvey Quinn. It was my first time cosplaying anywhere, and I was a bit nervous to try one that wasn't only labor intensive but a little unusual. My favorite character in all of fiction is the Joker's favorite hench-girl, so I definitely wanted to make sure I got it right. Long story short: Few people could tell who I was and my wife's Invader Zim tee shirt got more compliments than my outfit.

...Okay kind of a fail...

Right before my wedding I went as Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with my buddy who was a dead ringer for Neil Patrick Harris's character. I spent most of the time getting pictures of him with other people who loved his cosplay but once again kept having to ask who I was.

Okay a major fail.

Next I tried the world of onesies. Full sized fur outfits with hoods that resembled characters. I went through Stitch, Baymax and Sully, all with various degrees of recognition. Most people at least knew who I was which was a step, and I since refined my Harvey Quinn costume to the point where I was recognized.


This year though, call me egotistical, I wanted people to not only know who I was cosplaying as but would want pics with me because of how good my cosplay was. After some careful planning and throwing my last few inhibitions out the window, I put together this year's costume: The Bearded Lady.

I found a winner.

Now it wasn't EXACTLY the Bearded Lady from the film The Greatest Showman, it was more of a Bearded Lady along the lines of Spaceballs or American Horror Story: Freak Show, but I had a beard, I had a wig, I was in a dress, and off I went.

I got my results.

The intial terror was the standard fear of leaving the safe gender normative world and entering briefly into the world of cross dressing. We're still in an age where even an homage can be seen with intolerance and misunderstanding, plus I'm always a bit shy about showing any skin in public. Temple worthy Bearded Lady dresses are just not found at DI so bare shoulders it was.

I wasn't stopped by everyone, certainly there were far better cosplays than mine (Even of the Bearded Lady) but what was awesome was that as far as I saw I was the only man as the Bearded Lady. After getting a picture with another cosplayer, my niece whispered to me "Yours is better Uncle Joe" which made my heart soar.

To me this is the heart of FanX, comic con, and other geek events. Since The Greatest Showman came out I have been in love with the Bearded Ladie's character and the message her story both in and out of the movie portrayed, one of acceptance and being who you really are despite adversity. Cosplay is about expressing the characters we love, what they mean to us, and celebrating them with the world. To have a good cosplay for me means that I did it right, I celebrated my character not only in how I dressed but in how I did it.

What are your cosplay stories? Is there something you've always been afraid of dressing as?


Monday, September 10, 2018

15 Obscure Cosplays that Deserve a Shout-Out

One of my favorite parts of any Con (whether we call it "Salt Lake Comic Con" or "FanX"... that's another rant for another time) is checking out people's cosplays. Of course you'll see a million Doctors and a few dozen Deadpools, but my favorites are the iconic, notable characters who aren't so common. So those are the ones that get a shout-out today, the obscure, memorable characters.

Magician's Valkyria and Dark Paladin from "Yu-Gi-Oh!"
Sora, Donald, and Goofy from "Kingdom Hearts"

Darla from "Finding Nemo"

Gadget from "Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers"

Teen Girl Squad from "Strongbad"

Shego from "Kim Possible"

Cosmo and Wanda from "Fairly Odd Parents"

Miss Piggy from "Muppets"

Team Aqua from "Pokemon"

Flight Attendant Genie from "Aladdin"

Pacha and Chicha from "Emperor's New Groove"

Moss, Jen, and Roy from "IT Crowd"

The Seventh Doctor from "Doctor Who"

Killer Frost from "The Flash"

Miss Frizzle from "The Magic School Bus"

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

4 Power Rangers "Ships" That Should Have Sailed

Today was deemed Power Ranger Day as it's the 25th Anniversary of the franchise. It's probably one of the longest running children's franchises and it still lasts today.

Tommy and Kimberly (Mighty Morphin)
How many fans were shipping Tommy and Kimberly as kids? Even before shipping was a term. Kimberly had an interest in Tommy from the start and was heart broken when she learned he was the evil Green Ranger. Then broken anew when he lost his powers. She even fainted when he reappeared as the White Ranger. They were meant to be and even dated for a bit, but then Kimberly left for the Pan Global Games. Unfortunately, after she left, Kimberly met someone while training in Florida. There was no mention of this during her appearance in the Turbo Movie, but in the meantime Kat and Tommy got together for a bit (they even appeared married in a possibel future in "A Season to Remember"). But by the time of "Forever Red" and Dino Thunder, Tommy still appeared single.

Zhane and Karone (Space)
It was short lived, but while Karone was Astronema, she had a thing for Zhane, the Silver Space Ranger. She was later revealed to be Andros's sister and (after some brainwashing) she was returned to the side of good. The unfortunate thing is that after Andros, Zhane, and Karone returned to KO-35, we never saw what happened to their relationship. Karone later appeared as the Pink Galaxy Ranger in Lost Galaxy and Super Megaforce and there was no mention of Zhane... so we can only suppose it never worked out.

Wes and Jen (Time Force)
This one was almost like a weird Oedipus Complex. Jen was engaged to Alex, who appeared to be a distant descendant of Wes, while still in the year 3000, but then when Jen wen to 2001 and met Wes... well, it wasn't love at first sight. It was more like shock at first sight. She actually had a hard time taking down her walls with him, because of how similar he looked. But after all the time in 2001, her walls were down enough and she'd become level-headed enough that she was obviously feeling for Wes. But of course to protect the timeline she had to return to 3000.

Blake and Tori (Ninja Storm)
After the Thunder Rangers joined the Wind Rangers, they became a tight knit team. Around half-way through the series though, Blake and Tori seemed to have a little bit of a spark. A few episodes in the last quarter of the season had to do specifically with some jealousy going back and forth for a little bit. After Lothor was defeated, Blake and his brother returned to the Thunder Ninja academy and nothing seemed to happen with Tori. At the very least, nothing significant was referenced in the Dino Thunder crossover or "Once a Ranger".

Who would you have wanted together? Personally, I'd even be satisfied if there's even a reference to an off-screen relationship between any of these. Maybe Tommy or Wes will mention one on the anniversary special tonight? Doubtful, but I can wish.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sorting the Avengers into Hogwarts Houses

As if Harry Potter isn't everywhere already, I had the thought recently to (as many geeks have done before me) sort some of my favorite characters from other fandoms into Hogwarts house. Please tell me what you think. First up, The Avengers!

Tony Stark/Iron Man - Slytherin
This is maybe a controversial one to start out with. Between his genius and his ambition, it's hard to place him between Ravenclaw and Slytherin. However, in the end it's his overwhelming ambition and pride that do it for me. It seems like every Avengers movie he's overwhelmed by ambition (manifesting as pride): he made himself the leader in "The Avengers", he created Ultron in "Age of Ultron", and he tried to take control on Titan in "Infinity War". As a result, I'm classifying him as Slytherin. A good-guy Slytherin, of course.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow - Ravenclaw
I debated between Slytherin and Ravenclaw here, as she's very intelligent but she also used to be an enemy spy. Even though she's ambitious and cunning, I think intellect and analytical mind trumps that. She speaks multiple languages, she's a strategist, and a super intelligent overall. Even as I write this I'm tossing between Ravenclaw and Slytherin. I'm going to go with Ravenclaw, because as a reformed spy she isn't as focused on ambition as she is what's right.

Bruce Banner/The Hulk - Ravenclaw
The Hulk is a tricky one to place, specifically on the Hulk-side. Banner is easy. He's all about the textbooks and the analytical. Sure, his physical strength comes from the Hulk (I'd probably classify him as Gryffindor Slytherin... it's hard to tell since he doesn't have much personality in most of his movies), but the man behind the Hulk is a hardcore Ravenclaw, valuing knowledge before all else.

Thor Odinson - Gryffindor
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. Before his arrival on Earth, I might say Slytherin, because he was all about honor and power, but as an Avenger he tends to do the courageous thing, even if it's stupid. During "Ragnarok", he was willing to risk everything in order to save Asgard from Hela, even if it meant fighting off the whole of the Grandmaster's Sakaar. This bravery in risking himself for others is why I put in him Gryffindor.

Clint Barton/Hawkeye - Hufflepuff
There had to be a Hufflepuff on here. Especially since I started owning my own Puff-ness, I had to include someone. And who better than Hawkeye. In many ways he's the stereotypical Hufflepuff, quiet and loyal. But inaddition to his loyalty to the Avengers, and to making amends after breaking Loki's mind control, his fierceness and preciseness also match Hufflepuffs I've seen in my life. But in the end the biggest thing I've put him here for is his loyalty to his team and his family.

Steve Rogers/Captain America - Gryffindor
It's the easy answer, but it also makes sense. Cap is known for standing up to bullies and showing courage, whether as a scrawny kid in "The First Avenger", against corrupt SHIELD agents in "The Winter Soldier", or against his friends in "Civil War". My second choice was Hufflepuff, due to his loyalty to Bucky and Peggy, but his bravery in regards to ALL the odds leaves me with Gryffindor.

Which sorting do you disagree with? Would you put Tony as a Ravenclaw? Or Black Widow as a Slytherin? Is Cap the real Hufflepuff? Let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

5 Things in Pokemon that Make No Sense

Being a 20+ year franchise, it's inevitable that there are some inconsistencies in the Pokemon world (games, anime, etc). But some of them are funnier than others.

Slow on the Uptake
So it's relatively normal on Pokemon Go for the average Pokemon to run away after failed capture attempts. What doesn't make sense is the super slow ones: Slowpoke and Slakoth. Slowpoke are notoriously slow (hence the name). Blue Version even states that it takes Slowpoke 5 seconds to feel pain. Other Pokedex entries state that it doesn't feel pain when bitten. So if Slowpoke is that slow to respond to pain, how does he run away from a Pokeball? Similarly with Slakoth. The Pokemon can't even attack 50% of the time because it's so slow... so how is this Pokemon able to run away when someone tries to catch it?

Fish Out of Water
This isn't such a big deal in the anime (we even have explicit lines about it) but throughout all the games we get fish Pokemon fight on land. Magikarp, Goldeen, Feebas, etc. Any and all of them fight on land in the games. How is Goldeen supposed to fight any Pokemon when all it can do is bounce and flop?

More Zords than Power Rangers
Late in the Johto series, it's explicit that our Team Rocket trio doesn't have any money. In fact, they are very in debt to to Giovanni (so Delibird comes swooping around every few episodes). So if Team Rocket has so little money, how are they buying brand new Meowth balloons every episodes (sometimes more than once per episode) and new digging/stealing machines every other episode. Those things aren't cheap and yet they never have money to pay back Giovanni or to buy food.

Going on a Walk-ish
In HeartGold/SoulSilver and Pokemon Go you get the chance to walk around with your Pokemon. Funny thing is that you can choose fish Pokemon and chrysalis Pokemon to walk with you. I love the concept, but how exactly does it make sense to drag a Metapod or a Magikarp behind you and call it a "walk"?

The Ultimate Retcon
In the Pokemon anime we have often have glimpses of the next Generation, especially towards the end of a region. In Kanto/Orange Islands, we saw Togepi, Ho-Oh, Lugia, etc. In Johto, we saw Latias, Latios, and Wynaut. In Hoenn, we got Lucario and Manaphy. In Sinnoh, we saw Zoroark. Unova region saw Genesect. And Kalos had Magearna.
Besides these special circumstances, we don't often see newer Pokemon in older regions. However, we often see older Pokemon in newer generations. For example, May caught a Bulbasaur in Hoenn and Dawn had Cyndaquil/Quilava. To a large extent, we see this in the games too. Even in the remakes, we mostly only see the original Pokemon from that game and the generations before... nothing new. Just seems kind of odd that we'd have so many more Pokemon available in Kalos and Alola than Kanto ever had back in the day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

7 Top Disney/Once Adaptations

With "Once Upon a Time" over (finally) we got closure to the seven years of Disney remixes. So in honor of the show that should have ended three years ago, I've got a few of my favorite adaptations of Disney characters that "Once Upon a Time" did.

Evil Queen/Regina Mills
The original Evil Queen from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was very flat. Her sole motives were about vanity and power. Now there's definitely evil in the world that appears so petty, but it's pretty one-dimensional. In constrast with our wanna-be beauty queen, Regina Mills spent seven seasons developing into a complex character. Season 1 revealed her backstory and why she had some much anger. Season 2 and Season 3 began her redemption as she fought for Henry's forgiveness. Season 4 and 5 she actively fought her dark side to find love and acceptance. Season 6 and 7 she flourished as a hero, maybe even surpassing Snow White in how she clung to hope.

Peter Pan
Disney's "Peter Pan" featured an immature little boy, who had a heart full of goodness, but also full of mischief. He brought his friends together and fought Captain Hook, mostly because he was a little boy craving buddies, but he was good. "Once Upon a Time" twisted that around 180 degrees. Instead of a fun-loving boy, we got a greedy old man (masquerading as a boy) who held more darkness in his heart than most of the villains the show featured. Each return of the Pied Piper was a chilling moment, right through until the end. All of his actions leading to power and selfishness.

Tiana was a Disney Princess that I was not introduced to until years later. Her strength and bravery in "The Princess and the Frog" changed her life and Naveen's life. She had to learn to chill out a bit, but she clung to hope of something better. During Season 7, while many of the new characters left me underwhelmed, Tiana/Sabine was a faithful adaptation of the New Orleans princess. I would have liked if she was fleshed out more and more complex, but I liked the role-reversal of Tiana being royal and Naveen not. While keeping the basic traits of the character the same, the original Tiana was still flipped around, both in the Enchanted Forest and Hyperion Heights, to be a new Tiana.

The backstory of the "real boy" didn't really change from the Disney version, so there was no actual adaptation of his backstory. Instead, we got an interpretation of what happened after. I'm not aware of any other Pinocchio that got tested after becoming a real boy. Does he remain selfless, brave, and true or not? Well, in this case we got to see both. August was a "real boy" in more ways than one; he was a good Pinocchio, but he was also a real person with real reactions to real problems.

(I really liked "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" so I had to include one of their characters. I thought about Jafar... but his Season 6 appearances left me wanting) I grew up watching "Alice in Wonderland" (my brother likes to remind me about how I watched it on repeat) so I can clearly picture the immature Alice traveling Wonderland and reacting to the fantastical world kind of naively. This new version of Alice was tough and willing to fight for her life and her love. She became a proficient swordswoman and she fought against the most evil sorcerer. In contrast, all the cartoon Alice could do was call the Queen of Hearts names.

Mad Hatter/Jefferson
Not much was seen of the silly Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland" and even less substance to the character. So as much as I enjoy "Alice in Wonderland", I loved seeing the Mad Hatter brought to life as Jefferson. Even just the backstory as to why he's crazy was a nice addition. The only thing I would have changed is letting us see Jefferson more... but I also like Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, so I guess that kind of makes it okay.

Cruella De Vil
Cruella was a beastly character in Disney's "101 Dalmatians". I mean, in many ways she's probably one of the freakier and scarier Disney villains, even without any sort of power and influence, besides money and henchmen (Jasper and Horace). "Once Upon a Time" took that same darkness and evil into a character with some devious powers. Her backstory episode threw me for a loop. As they intended, I was guessing she had some tragic backstory about her mother, when instead we just a straight up sociopath.