Tag Archives: Review

Super Dungeon Tactics

Super Dungeon Tactics is the late 2016 release from Underbite Games. Created in partnership with miniatures design company Soda Pop Miniatures and board game maker Ninja Division, the game draws from the tabletop lineage of its patrons to build a vibrant, turn-based fantasy.

At first blush, Super Dungeon Tactics feels like a game for the young at heart. Calling back to the earliest of turn-based strategy titles, players are set in a world of bright colors and chibi-like sprites. The starting heroes, a dwarven warrior and an elven mage, are enthusiastic and excited about their battles.

Honestly, I did zero background on the game before booting it up. When I realized it was a turn-based strategy, I immediately began to compare it to The Banner Saga. That was unfortunate, given how different these games are. While the Banner Saga is a depressing, Viking-inspired tale of woe with roots in games like Oregon Trail, Dungeon Tactics is cut from a more upbeat, playful cloth.

The aesthetic reminded me almost immediately of early Final Fantasy games or, perhaps, the Legend of Heroes Franchise. Dialogue is often between two or more colorfully animated portraits with a shifting array of facial expressions. However, the actual game world and combat stages are nicely computer rendered.

Once you’re situated, the player gets to develop a guild as part of the broader mission to save the fantasy world of Crystalia from the forces of darkness. That mechanic includes several unlockable heroes who can be equipped, developed and deployed for your missions. While not ground-breaking, I did enjoy the ability to name my heroes. I couldn’t resist at least a slight grin whenever a character referred to my mage, KayFlay, or my dwarf, Post Malone.

Rounds of combat are punctuated with random dice rolls that do something good or bad to your heroes. For example, a dice roll may give the player +1 health, which can then be applied to the character of their choosing.

The game is technically proficient, though not perfect. The music is exactly what you would expect; though I had trouble recalling what it generally sounded like once I walked away. The extended prologue can be a bit of a slog, but does a solid job walking players through party play and environmental interactions. Both I and a friend sampled Super Dungeon Tactics, and if we had a single complaint, it was menu organization. Mission setup can feel tedious and, even within the game itself, button clicks are cumbersome. For example, the tutorial instructs you to drag your character to a location rather than click the square you want him or her to move to. After dragging, the game confirms the move. Alternatively, there is an unstated option to double click, but this causes the character to complete the move without confirmation from the game.

Dungeon Tactics also appears not to be optimized for touch screens, but players can still paw clumsily around. This is a non-gripe, as it doesn’t really take anything away from the experience, but touch controls would have opened some interesting possibilities.

Overall, Super Dungeon Tactics is a great pick. Solid gameplay and a vibrant setting make for an adventure that feels both a bit like a board game and an heir to the classic turn-based strategies of old.

Links and Extras:

Underbite Games

Soda Pop Miniatures

Super Dungeon Tactics’ Steam Page

Ninja Division

The Cool Ship was provided a copy of Super Dungeon Tactics for review purposes.

 

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7th Sea Second Edition Review

7th_sea_cover_v1When sitting around the table with an RPG, I am the game master probably 95% of the time. I don’t have any qualms about it; it feeds into my sense of self worth and importance (kidding). In the 20 years or so that I’ve been running games for people, I’ve become pretty good at reading them at the table, reacting to what they’re going to do, and doing my utmost to maximize fun.

Sometimes, though, you need a challenge.

The good folks at Gamerati and John Wick Presents were gracious enough to provide me with a review copy of 7th Sea, a role playing game set in a Europe-like land of swashbuckling and backstabbing. Here’s where the challenge comes in for me: the holidays are coming, and that means that for the next two months, it’s going to be difficult to get a group together to play. I had a play session coming up, though, and a player had to drop out of our regular D&D game, so I invited the others to play 7th Sea. The challenge: I only had 36 hours to learn the new system, be able to teach it to others, come up with a story, and run the game… Oh. And I needed everyone to have fun.

36 hours for a married guy with two kids and a job, actually becomes about five hours. Luckily, the presentation in 7th Sea is beautiful. The art is very easy for your eyes to fall upon, and the text is uncluttered and uncomplicated. I also love learning gaming rules, so flipping through the rule book was a pleasure.

That said, I’d often completely forget about learning how to actually play 7th Sea when I’d get caught up in reading about the ins and outs of the setting. I love alternate Europe scenarios, and this one combines the Renaissance with mythology in an easy-to-grasp package. This is a very fluffy game, and that’s fine by me. I’m much more of a storyteller than a dice roller; I revel in lots of world-building information.

If I’m to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how the dice mechanic works in the this game. I know, I’m a bad reviewer, but again, I had five hours. It doesn’t look complicated, but it definitely takes a backseat to building solid, believable characters and a setting that feels fresh and real.

Character creation in this game is so deep. Characters are heroes and can’t really die without good reason, and that’s okay because this game forces players to really think about their hero. There’s even a section of 20 questions to more deeply consider the role you’ll be playing at the table. Yes, there are skills and talents and attributes, but while playing the game, it didn’t really feel like they mattered very much. What matters in 7th Sea is creating a character with a soul. The attributes might say that your character is strong, but these 20 questions will tell me if your character is meek, or bombastic, or prone to boasting. Your hero will end up having defining character traits and virtues  This, to me, is so much more important than what the numbers say how many dice a player gets to roll. These characters get to drive the story in a meaningful way, and the players get to create heroes who are more than just a math problem.

I spent five hours frantically reading and learning 7th Sea, and game time finally arrived. My confidence in my ability to learn the system may have been misplaced, but I understand storytelling and had enough of the setting information under my hat that I could fake what I needed to.

I had two players that evening: people who were experienced role players ready to try out the brave new world of a brand new system. We started with character creation. We didn’t get super deep since this would be a one-off game (for now), but they created two characters: one was a soldier from a terrible war that destroyed his homeland. The other played a sailor who had made a Faustian deal to bring retribution upon his enemies.

We played the game on November 5th, and with the Gunpowder Treason fresh in my mind, our intrepid team was drafted into saving the queen of Avalon from a mysterious plot by Church loyalists who were unhappy with her stance on religion. Both the characters were imprisoned for piracy, but the Crown’s agents knew of the heroes’ competence, so they were willing to cut a deal.

This plot quickly went off the rails. The characters, as created, were  pirates, so they chose messy freedom over having to work for someone else. They picked locks, they let out terrible criminals…

And then I had the idea that maybe their tower prison wasn’t exactly what it seemed, so they began to descend an endless stairway, dotted with rooms that would confront the “heroes” with their sins. I got to play with English mythology, introducing a character based on Merlin, a giant talking baby, swamp witches, and other barely sane characters as they moved deeper into the rabbit hole.

The game basically ended up as a way to just let our imaginations run wild. There were a lot of laughs, a lot of careful moves and counter moves, and we all had a ton of fun.

I know I’m not the perfect reviewer here, but I want to say this: 7th Sea is really, really good at facilitating fun storytelling for mature role players. As my two friends and I started getting lost in the story we were telling, the dice and mechanics took a back seat to pure role playing. I actually found myself exhausted by the end of the session, but I was also exceedingly happy from having such a good time.  There are very few games where I found that to be the case.

In a world where throwing dice seems to be the main point of RPGs, 7th Sea gave me a breath of that fresh ocean air of storytelling. I cannot wait to visit it again and dig a little deeper into the rules.

 

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Obama Llama Game Review

Obama LlamaParty games have long been anathema for me. I’m just not really a huge fan of Uno or Trivial Pursuit or other games of that ilk. I guess that my idea of a party game is a rousing session of Dungeons & Dragons, but that certainly isn’t the cup of tea of some of my family and friends. So, I’m glad that I learned about Big Potato on Twitter. At Gen Con, I was introduced to Obama Llama.

Obama Llama is the combination of a memory game, a rhyming game, and charades–which sounds busy, but actually works effectively into a cohesive experience. The game is all about getting your team to guess the rhymes written on a card. If they guess, your team gets points; for every three points, your team gets to flip over two memory cards, looking for a rhyming pair. The team with the most rhyming pairs at the end is the winner.

The game includes three types of clue cards: Describe It cards work like the old game show Password, where you have to get your team to guess the rhyme without using any of the given words; Act It cards have the name of a celebrity on the back, and the team has to figure out the thing that rhymes with the celeb’s name; and Solve It cards, where you just read the sentence on the card and your team has to guess the rhyme. You’ve only has 30 seconds to guess, so the game moves quickly and can be played in about half an hour.

Here is an example of the rhymes you’ll have to try to guess (from the back of the box):

Clue: Mysterious snow monster enjoying Italian noodles.

Answer: A yeti eating spaghetti!

I fully get why a game should have teams and scoring, but honestly, the first night I played Obama Llama was with my wife, my 7-year-old son, and my mother, and we just took turns trying to get everyone else to guess the rhymes and laughing our heads off.

This game brings the chuckles in droves. The thought of Fay Wray using eBay or Tigger having a girlfriend who is a gold digger are instantly funny to me. I’m a big fan of absurdist humor, so this is right up my alley.

Honestly, if the game has any flaws, it’s that the cards really depend on pop culture. I played a session with my mother-in-law who sometimes had a hard time keeping all the newer actors and characters straight. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it might be wise to consider the group you’re playing with before you bring this one out–a more pop culture-savvy crowd will appreciate this game more.

As far as presentation goes, the box is compact and has plenty of space to neatly house all the components (which is always a sign of quality for me). The cards are easy to shuffle, but feel sturdy enough for lots of use. It even comes with a pencil!

Big Potato has created a game that is fun, funny, and quick. Obama Llama is a keeper for sure. I can’t wait to pull it off the shelf again.

Obama Llama (and other Big Potato games) can be found at Target in the US. A review copy was provided to The Cool Ship by the publisher.

 

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Halo 5 Got Bigger, but Lesser

Halo 5Halo is in a weird place right now, but let me just get this out of the way: the shooting feels great, the gameplay is solid, and some of the new moves included in the game are a lot of fun. The spectacle of Halo is still in full force, but I can’t help thinking that when 343 Industries took over the series, they assumed that “higher stakes” for the game’s protagonist meant that the galactic threat got larger. When it comes to the Halo games, though, I’m not entirely convinced that bigger is better.

Spoilers are probably ahead. Read at your own risk.

Halo 5: Guardians (a subtitle, really?) begins with new character (in the games, anyway) Spartan Locke and his crew of Spartan pals taking down the Covenant on a planet in order to rescue Spartan-and-Cortana creator Dr. Catherine Halsey. After the rescue, she informs the heroes that a new threat is about to emerge.

Meanwhile, the Master Chief and his childhood buddies are on a mission to stop some Covenant baddies from stealing some stealth ship technology on a secret space station blah blah blah, and then he gets a message from Cortana. She’s alive!

And this, for me, is immediately where the story starts to fall apart. The marketing of the game (not that you can always trust game marketing) seemed to indicate that Spartan Locke would be hunting the Master Chief because he had made a tough decision that went awry. That is far from the case, however.

In fact, the story is kind of incoherent when a little thought is put into it. Sure, Master Chief goes AWOL, but I feel like they could’ve given him a call rather then send a team after him.

And let’s talk about Cortana’s resurrection. Halo 4 was a lot of things, but it’s greatest moment was when Cortana, your AI buddy through the all the previous games starring Master Chief, manages to put off her insanity long enough to sacrifice herself to not only destroy the bad guy that is threatening earth, but also save the Chief. It’s almost a tragic love story. The two had been through a lot.

So I was interested to see how ole John-117 was going to cope without her on his latest mission. And honestly, with Cortana back and evil, the effect is ruined. Cortana has cured her insanity and has decided that the best way to save the galaxy is by enforcing a rule by fear using massive robots to kill anything that threatens the peace–a “Pax Cortana” if you will. And now we get into 343 thinking that “higher stakes” means “galactic threat.”

CortanaFor Master Chief, the stakes were already very high. For seven years or more, Cortana has been his constant companion, his protector, his confidant, his love. She may be an AI, but he had real feelings for her. She died in a moment where he was powerless to do anything to help the situation. She saved him.

Imagine a game where you’re defeating the bad guys, but the real story is about Master Chief’s survivor’s guilt. He loved that little blue robot lady, and now he has to face a universe where the constant comforting voice inside his head is gone. Sure, he still has his buddies, but they aren’t one flesh with him like Cortana was (she was, after all, attached to his brain). The Chief is basically a widower.

So, the threat didn’t have to be galactic. The story could’ve been about how self-destructive John-117 had become, with his friends trying to bring him back from the brink. Maybe Chief’s recklessness had done something bad to one of the colony worlds, and he decided to go AWOL in shame. Locke then, would actually be “hunting the truth” to find out what happened and to bring the Chief back.

I don’t hate the story that the game has. It’s interesting enough, such as it is. But I think the storytelling in Mass Effect, Bioshock, Fallout, and even Gears of War, have shown me that games that are shooters can have deep, personal stories that make you empathize with a character.

Maybe Locke and The Chief will end up saving the galaxy, but is it worth rescuing a galaxy that has no real personal stakes? The expanded universe of Halo is full of good stories about people trying to make their way through the both the chaos of war and the ultimate order of living in a massive police state. The audio series “Hunt the Truth” is a superb example of just how interesting the universe that Halo has created can be.

Maybe what Halo needs is fewer power weapons and more plot. The characters should be what drives the plot; as it is right now, the protagonists are merely slaves to the story rather than the player feeling like they are a part of it. War stories are only good when the characters are well-developed. Here’s hoping that in Halo 6 is less about spectacle and more about the characters involved.

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Dungeons & Dragons: Out of the Abyss — Review

Out of the AbyssI’ve never really been one to use published adventures; I love creating my own worlds and letting my players explore them through mutual imagination. However, recently my life has been pretty busy. My kids need help with homework or navigating the life of being tiny. Work can get overwhelming.

I’m an adult; it happens.

So for my roleplaying games that I’ve been running, I’ve been turning to alternative sources of running adventures. Whether it’s through knowledge of the Star Wars universe, or through adventures by Kobold Press or Adventure A Week, these adventures for people who have little time to prepare have been great. I’m especially impressed by the new adventure path for Dungeons & Dragons, Out of the Abyss.

Made through a partnership between Wizards of the Coast and Green Ronin publishing, Out of the Abyss takes place in the “prime” setting for D&D, The Forgotten Realms. To add to its relevance, more specifically, your group of adventurers finds itself trapped in the bowels of the Underdark by an evil drow priestess. From there, they will find that an incursion from the demon-infested Abyss is going on, and they must stop it.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Underdark setting. I’m pretty burned out on Drizz’t (the famous drow hero) and drow (dark, evil elves that live underground) in general, but some things about this adventure re-piqued my interest in the drow, their society, and the dark hellhole that they inhabit.

For one thing, I think drow society makes a little bit more sense now. Right in the first adventure, your weak, mostly helpless player characters are imprisoned by a drow priestess and her underlings. The drow seem to be enmeshed in an almost cut-throat corporate culture where Lolth, the evil spider queen/goddess is the CEO, and everyone under her is vying for a promotion. They sabotage each other; they sleep around; they scheme. Drow society is like a crazy soap opera that I really enjoy. And the PCs are basically mail room interns that can’t wait to escape from corporate meaninglessness. If you watched Mr. Robot (and you have), the drow are a lot like Evil Corp.

For another, the drow aren’t really the stars of the show, here. The Underdark as a whole is. You meet a lot of the Underdark races along the course of this adventure path (and it is a lengthy one). The good guys. The bad guys. The guys who are just out for themselves. They’re all here. As a guy that is largely sick of drow, I found this to be a very good thing.

The book looks great, too. The art is the high standard that has typified Wizards of the Coast publications over the last year or so. The binding is high quality.

So, for now, I would say that if you want to run a good published adventure, this is a good one. I don’t want to give too much away, but the profiles of all the demon lords in the appendix is worth the price of admission. Also, it’s well written and beautiful. Go out and get it at your local game store. And as we run adventures out of it, I’ll publish some reports here.

TL:DR, Wizards of the Coast and Green Ronin have knocked it out of the park. Go buy it.

 

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The Blind and the Bold: Marvel’s Daredevil

In 2003, superhero movies were already cliche… but you couldn’t tell me that. I was 20 years old and was just coming into my own as a geeky comic book fan. Spider-Man had blown me away, and I had enjoyed the two Blade movies that had released by that time. Daredevil released in February, but I went to a college that forbade me from going to the theater (long story). So, the first week I came home, I went to the local dollar place and watched Ben Affleck’s Daredevil in a dirty, leaky theater. I won’t lie; I loved it. I even had the soundtrack (thanks to a friend that burned it to a purple CD for me). I still like the film… at least, I think the director’s cut isn’t bad. After seeing it, I voraciously began to devour Daredevil comics, and he became one of my favorite superheroes–Matt Murdock is just a lawyer trying to make his neighborhood better.

Then, last week, I ecstatically watched Daredevil’s eponymous Netflix series.

MARVEL'S DAREDEVILMarvel’s Daredevil is a rare gem that, while I was watching, made me believe that superheroes could exist. It was intense. It felt real… ish. Most importantly, I believed the motivations of both the protagonist and antagonist. Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk are explicitly two sides of the same coin: powerful men (in their own respective ways) who use that power to make their city a better place, according to their own vision.

Fisk believes that in order to make the city better, he has to wipe the slate clean and start over. He accomplishes this task through a series of financial maneuvers, blackmail, bribery, mob connections, and murder. Murdock believes that the best way to save his city is to protect the people in it by using his particular set of skills to stop all the crime that Fisk is propagating.

This, of course, brings Fisk and Murdock into conflict.

FiskOne of the highlights of the series is Vincent D’Onofrio. Sure, he could’ve played Wilson Fisk the same way we all remember him from the Spider-Man animated series or like Michael Clark Duncan did in the film, but D’Onofrio’s Fisk is an introvert: a socially awkward individual who is over-extending himself by dealing with the insubordination of his partners, the incompetence of his lackeys, his conflict with The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, and, most importantly, by trying to secure the love of a beautiful woman.

Fisk’s respect and love for the women in his life is one of his defining features. We’ve seen so many villains that are willing to treat the ladies in their lives like absolute garbage. But Wilson Fisk treats the women in his life well. He listens to their advice. He pulls out chairs. He protects them the best he can, and he derives energy from them, especially Vanessa, his lady love. When Fisk finally goes public with his “philanthropic” efforts, it is Vanessa who is standing beside him. The way his relationship with Vanessa works feels tangible to me. I totally get the whole “being socially awkward, but being able to suck it up with the love and support of the woman you love” thing.

Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil is pretty standard, but that’s perfectly okay. The series is written so well that I never think that I’ve seen what Murdock is doing before, even though I know I have. He’s a standard, tortured super hero, but again, he feels tangible. Like maybe anyone with enough training could put on a black ninja outfit and beat up thugs. I know that isn’t the case, but Daredevil is convincing. I trust that Matt Murdock believes in the righteousness of his mission. When faced with the odds that he is up against, I believe that he has to put on the mask and go outside the law to bring about justice.

Foggy KarenReally, I enjoy Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock more than I enjoy him as the vigilante superhero, and that’s because of the interactions with his supporting characters “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Debra Ann Woll). Foggy is Matt’s best friend/law partner and is probably the true heart of the show. He’s often the comic relief, but you never feel like the comedy is at the expense of the character. He’s the sweet, awkward, funny guy that works with you. He’s good at his job, and he’s a loyal friend.

Karen, at least for me, was a little bit less interesting. Her story arc basically consisted of never letting go of a case. That’s pretty standard legal drama to me, but there are hints of her mysterious past that I’m sure will be addressed next season. Her interactions with both Matt and Foggy and the chemistry between all three of the characters is spot on.

The action in the show is brutal and not very flashy, but it’s well choreographed. The lack of flashiness, though, heightens the stakes. Rather than tell you all about it, I’m just going to post a video of this scene from episode two. I think it shows you exactly what I mean.

I actually wanted to cheer when he saved the little boy at the end of this scene.

All in all, I highly recommend Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. It leaves a lot of threads open for next season (or other upcoming Marvel shows), but the story of the struggle against Wilson Fisk and the fate of Hell’s Kitchen is believable, compelling, and masterfully done.

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Dungeon Master’s Guide Review

DnD_DMGThe Dungeon Master’s Guide is always my favorite book of any edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  My established role at the roleplaying game table evolved into running games a long time ago, and I like the tools that the Dungeons Master’s Guide has historically provided. Back in college, I would use the third edition DM Guide to build fantastic worlds for my players (I was a massive dork, I know.). I’m afraid that if you looked through my Psych 301 notes, you would find sketches of cities, dungeons, and continents complete with “here be dragons” style areas to entice adventurers.

The Dungeons Master’s Guide for the fifth edition of D&D is a good starting point for new DMs. About half the book is dedicated to teaching a Dungeon Master how to build a campaign setting, an adventure, and how to string them all together. This section is liberally sprinkled with tables that help you randomize everything from dungeons to villains to what buildings are in a village. Also included are tips for the actual management of the game experience: ways to keep the game moving, how to deal with difficult players, and even the best way to roll dice.

As an experienced DM, I don’t really need tips on how to create campaigns or how to keep the game enjoyable for everyone at the table, but I appreciate the randomized tables and how they can streamline things when (not if) players go off the beaten path. Gone are the days when I would have to take a lengthy break to figure out what is going to happen next while I hide in another room. Everyone will appreciate the added game time at the tabletop.

My favorite part of the book, though, is the lengthy list of treasure. The Player’s Handbook was woefully lacking in magical items, but the DM guide rectifies that with nearly 100 pages of goodies. I’m going to have so much stuff to reward and plague my players with! And the treasure tables are super useful. I love giving out randomized treasure, so having lots of tables I can roll on to determine rewards is so great.

You know, as I’m looking at the overall picture of fifth edition, I’m ecstatic that I’ll be able to play the game without a laptop or an app on my phone. I love having a large toolbox to use right out of the books. I  dislike playing from behind a computer because it creates a mental separation between the players and the DM. I want to be “in the fray” with the people who are playing the game.

For people who want to play Dungeons and Dragons, the Dungeon Master’s Guide is a must-have manual. For a new group of players who are trying out Dungeons and Dragons for the first time, this book is a good primer for how to run and play the game. For D&D and RPG fans of all kinds, this is a recommended release. You can find the Dungeon Master’s Guide at your friendly neighborhood gaming store (and other book stores) on December 9th.

 A review copy of the Dungeons Master’s Guide was provided to The Cool Ship by Wizards of the Coast.

 

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Dungeons & Dragons — Monster Manual Review

“Apprehensively excited” would be how you could describe my reaction to the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I participated in the public playtest, but it didn’t really electrify me in any way. The Player’s Handbook, though, got me wanting to play D&D again, and the new Monster Manual really has me chomping at the bit to roll some dice with friends.

The first thing I noticed when opening up the new Monster Manual was how pretty it is. Wizards of the Coast really went all out when it comes to illustrating the monsters. The art walks the fine line of keeping the monsters somewhere between realistic and cartoony, and I think it’s a perfect design aesthetic for the game. The monsters aren’t off-putting, but they aren’t adorable, either.

Monster ManualI would be remiss to not mention the great cover image of the legendary beholder attacking a group of adventurers who stumbled into its lair. That picture alone makes me want to jump into the game as soon as possible.

This is also the first Monster Manual in awhile that made me actually want to read the lore portions. Generally, I just want a bestiary with a bunch of stat blocks that I can use in my game, but I was engrossed while reading about the giants, drow, and dragons. Some story hooks emerged in my mind while reading the flavor text, so the writers really did their work well in that regard. It’s more than just a rulebook, and I appreciate that.

Each monster feels basically unique, too. There weren’t many times when I felt like a creature was basically a reskin of another creature. Most monsters have unique abilities that set them apart. Again, that’s super helpful for people who are running a game and want to keep things fresh.

The selection of monsters is pretty decent; though, I considered complaining about the 33 pages or so of dragons, but then I remembered what the name of the game was.  The system (right now) seems more heavily weighted towards early game, with most of the monsters being challenge level five or under. (Challenge level is a quick metric of how powerful a monster is. A challenge level of one means that four level one characters should have a decent challenge when encountering the creature).

I tend to think that RPGs get really interesting after level five. While there’s plenty for adventures of mid-to-high level to battle, I wish WotC would’ve dropped some of the lesser-known, low-level monsters for some more advanced creatures. That’s a minor quibble, though. A good DM shouldn’t have any problems crafting unique adventures with what’s there. (And what’s there is A LOT. There are over 400 creatures in the book.)

Speaking of high-level monsters, I love the “legendary” monster rules. Monsters like the Tarrasque have “legendary actions” that afford them extra actions that they can perform after another creature’s turn. Maybe they can attack, or stomp on your adventurer, stuff like that. It’s a great idea and kind of breaks the game in favor of “boss” creatures. I really like that for some reason. Maybe because it reminds me of the final battle in a Final Fantasy game.

If you were wondering if the new version of Dungeons & Dragons was worth playing, I think this Monster Manual could be just the thing to heighten your desire to play the game. Head to your friendly local game store and check it out; I think you’ll find that D&D is back with a vengeance. With the Monster Manual, Wizards of the Coast strove for greatness, and I think they hit their target.

The Monster Manual for Dungeons & Dragons releases on September 30th. The Cool Ship was given an early review copy of the book.

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Review — Midgard Adventures: The Raven’s Call

RavensCall-231x300It’s not often that I make my players start at level one in a Pathfinder game. I have a couple of reasons:

  • First level characters never seem to have enough options.
  • They’re so…smooshy. It takes nothing but some unlucky die rolls to take them out.

In other words, it’s hard for first level characters to feel truly heroic. But, worse than that, they often feel ineffective!

When I got a copy of Midgard Adventures: The Raven’s Call, though, I got pretty excited. Finally! A chance for first level PCs to feel a bit of agency in a dangerous and deadly world!

Most of the time, published adventures are not really my bag. I’m not a big fan of dungeon crawls, and I really hate being constrained by adventure modules that (in my experience) are pretty linear. When I create my own adventures, I try to keep them as open-ended as possible; you never know what kind of monkey wrench the players will throw in your plans, so having a less linear approach generally helps me come up with things on the fly.

That’s why I was so surprised by The Raven’s Call! It wasn’t linear. In fact, it set up a fun sandbox for the players to adventure  in and gave them multiple possible motivations to move things in the right direction.

Here’s the premise of the module: A group of nasty raiders has taken over a town, displaced the townspeople (or imprisoned them in a barn), and begun consuming all the supplies. The players are motivated in some way (there are options in the book for creativity when it comes to said motivation), and it isn’t a hard leap for the adventurers to want to right the wrong.

Saving a village from a bunch of raiders might seem like a daunting task, but Wolfgang Baur’s design in the adventure really shines. With a bit of bravery, luck, and some well placed magical items, the PCs can be the heroes they were meant to be. With multiple ways to approach the adventure, there are many opportunities for characters with different skill sets to show off.

The various elements of the module are detailed enough to help the game master if the players get off the beaten path a little bit, but they’re not so detailed that the information gets lost in a morass of text. It was also really easy to fill in small details with some of my own information, which helped set the stage for further adventures.

The art and included maps were both very well done. The sketch of a trollkin on the final page of the adventure really stood out to me. I have to admit there were a few times when I’d be scrolling to that page to get some information, and I would find my eyes drawn to the sketch rather than the info I needed. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though.

What victory looks like.

What victory looks like.

Overall, I’ve never been disappointed by the art in any Kobold Press release, and this adventure module continues that great tradition.

What’s the most rewarding thing about The Raven’s Call? The fact that my PCs really felt like they had “won.” The adventure was challenging enough that they felt a real sense of accomplishment when they rescued the village. At the end of the day, that kind of euphoria is part of the reason why we play RPGs.

Once again, Wolfgang Baur and Open Design have impressed me with what they bring to roleplaying games. If you are looking for a low-level adventure for your party, this is one I highly recommend!

You can pick up Midgard Adventures: The Raven’s Call at Paizo and DrivethruRPG

Notes from the adventure:

My session featured four players, each with varying degrees of familiarity with the Pathfinder RPG.

-An elf fighter
-An elven archer (like The Raven’s Call, the elven archer is a Kobold Press creation that I’ll review in another column)
-A gearforged wizard (gearforged are clockwork beings specific to the Midgard Campaign setting)
-A human paladin

Quotes from the players (both during the game and afterward)

“Being able to play a gearforged character let me indulge in my inner steampunkery, and that’s awesome!”

I want to ride the crab!”

I’m an elf; I’m not telling you my name.”

Let’s just set it on fire!”

I’m not eating any of their food.”

I really suck at climbing walls.”

“The D20 is a cruel and fickle mistress.”

“The setting is fun and not too terribly difficult, which is good for a core group of level one characters missing a dedicated healer. Best results with full five-member band.”

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The Walking Dead Recap/Review: “Arrow on the Doorpost”

This is a recap. There will be SPOILERS. You’re my best friend.

Glenn finally made nice with Maggie! Emphasis on the “nice.” (Bow-chicka-wow-wow!) He got to step up and be the leader he so desperately wants to be. In this world, one’s mettle is often shown in the physical realm. Having brains to back it up is a must, but sometimes it’s not until a show of force that characters taken seriously. Last week, Morgan pointed out that the weak have inherited the earth, and that is (or will be) true eventually. But, not until everyone else it dead, right?

But “Arrow on the Doorpost” really wasn’t about Glenn and Maggie, was it? They had several scenes that really stuck out, though, and I was pleased that Glenn got to “prove” himself in a manner he obviously wanted.

On to the rest!

There was a lot of measuring going on in this episode, but something that really piqued my interest was a theme of “twos.” One of the over-arching themes of this season is that you can’t survive alone (without going crazy, anyways). That larger theme was reinforced by the obvious pairs throughout “Arrow.”

(An aside: When the episode was finished, I looked at my husband and said, “Why the heck was it called ‘Arrow on the Doorpost?'” Utilizing Google-Fu, a totally legit, for-realz martial art, we discovered it to be an allusion to “Blind Willie McTell,” a song by Bob Dylan.

Go ahead. Make fun of me for not knowing!

The first part of the song is:

“Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, “This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem”

Nice. This land full of walkers and the walking dead –the “live” inhabitants– is indeed condemned.

From the last verse:

“Well, God is in His heaven
And we all want what’s His
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is”

Does The Governor (TG) fit this? I think so. And Rick? Perhaps.)

“Arrow” was another ping-pong episode, jumping back and forth between the prison and the meeting between TG and Rick. I’m going to follow the storylines as it makes sense, without necessarily keeping to how they edited the show to air.

Rick doesn't really trust The Governor. Good decision, Rick. Image courtesy of AMC.

Rick doesn’t really trust The Governor. Good decision, Rick. Image courtesy of AMC.

“Arrow” opens with Rick, Daryl, and Hershel arriving at a farm. After Rick and Daryl scope out the surroundings (Hershel stays with the vehicle until later), Rick enters a barn/storage shed, and we see a table with two chairs set up on a raised platform. TG enters, and we find out they are there to negotiate. (Ooo! I found out that they’re meeting at a feed store! Really? Huh. Looks more like a storage shed to me…)

Negotiate what? That’s to come…

TG makes a big show of taking off his gun, but we see another duct-taped to his side of the table. Rick wisely doesn’t remove his at all. Go, Rick!

The pair are the first of the “twos” theme.

Andrea has arranged the meeting, and she, Milton and TG minion Martinez arrive a bit later. Daryl and Hershel are standing guard outside the barn, and Andrea is surprised when they tell her that TG is already there. She rushes into the barn to facilitate the meeting, but, it’s already underway, and both TG and Rick make it quite clear that Andrea has no business being there. I got a very apparent “let the grown-ups talk” vibe as they dismissed her. (Teehee!)

She leaves and sits down in a huff outside.

At the prison, Glenn is leading a fortification effort; tons of guns and ammunition are on the common room tables. Merle looks on and says that they should instead go and kill TG while he is distracted at the negotiation. I totally agreed with Merle, but Glenn doesn’t know what I know about the comic books, and told the elder Dixon brother no. It was another thematic “twos” pairing and an opportunity for Glenn to prove himself as back-up leader. He argues that an attack could put Rick, Daryl, and Hershel in danger. Merle is displeased.

Later, Merle fills a bag with weapons and starts for the door, intent on killing TG at the negotiation. Again, Glenn tells him no, but this time, Merle isn’t going to listen. Glenn blocks his path and the two start fighting! Maggie and Michonne lend aid, but it’s not until Beth discharges a gun that the scuffle breaks up.

(Oh, Beth…what do you do all day? Take care of Judith? Who, by the way, is the quietest newborn EVER.)

When Glenn is in the cage (that fenced in area around one of the doors to the prison yard), Maggie comes out (“twos” theme) and they finally talk about the awkwardness that followed their time in Woodbury. Glenn apologizes for making the situation about him (THANK YOU!), and Maggie reassures him that she’s on his side. Always.

They have prison concrete floor sex (ouch!), and it’s all better.

In the common room, Merle and Michonne (more “twos” theme) discuss Merle’s wish to go kill TG. He wants her to help, but she declines. (Come on, Michonne! You know he’s right! I mean, I know he’s right…)

Back at the negotiation, the theme of “twos” resurfaces as Daryl and Martinez measure each other up and compete to take down a small batch of walkers that wander into the area. Andrea gets in on the walker clearing with the first kill, but it’s largely the two men who show off for each other (more measuring).

wdseason3ep13b

I can kill walkers better than you! Image courtesy of AMC.

It was interesting to watch their competition turn into an honest chat, though. After killing all the walkers, Daryl offers Martinez a cigarette (which he initially refuses but later accepts) and the pair bonds. But, they come to the unsettling conclusion that the two groups (another “twos” theme reference) will most likely never be able to peacefully coexist.

Milton, who introduced himself to Daryl and Hershel as TG’s advisor, is spending his waiting time by writing down historical moments. Hershel sits beside him, and we see another pair in the “twos” theme. They seem friendly and companionable…even to the point of joking around. Since Milton is writing down their history, he is interested in seeing Hershel’s leg and the site of amputation. Hershel jokes that he can’t believe Milton would even ask that without buying him a drink beforehand.

It’s obvious that without the rabble-rousing and personal vendettas between the two leaders (mostly on the side of TG), that Hershel and Milton and even Daryl and Martinez would probably get along just fine.

In the feed store, TG and Rick flop ’em out and measure, both men posturing and trying to intimidate the other. TG makes it clear that he’s not really interested in negotiation at all. He’s there to accept Rick’s surrender. Rick doesn’t take to keenly to this and the two go back and forth. But, TG’s tactics change as the meeting goes on, and he does several things designed to loosen Rick’s guard: he brings whiskey and he opens up about his wife’s fatal car accident (which happened prior to the walker apocalypse). At first, Rick refuses the whiskey, but I was disturbed to see him drink after TG’s wife story.

(Don’t fall for it, Rick!)

Finally, it comes down to what TG really wants: Michonne. In a dramatic moment, TG removes his eyepatch and tells Rick that the fighting can end if he simple surrenders Michonne. TG says Rick has two days to consider.

Outside, Andrea asks Hershel (he’s no longer sitting with Milton) what happened with Maggie, and he tells her simply that TG  is a sick man. She tearfully tells him that she can’t stay in Woodbury, and Hershel tells her that if she comes to the prison, her decision will have to (must) stick. No more waffling!  But, when TG and Rick come out of the feed store, Andrea, after giving Hershel a look, still gets in the vehicle with TG!

WHAT?! Gosh, I hate you, Andrea.

When TG, Andrea, Milton, and Martinez get back to Woodbury, TG tells Milton about the deal he offered Rick and how it’s false. Of course! TG says they’re going to have to kill Rick sooner or later, anyhow, so, if he or anyone from the prison shows up, they are to be shot on sight! Except of Michonne, that is. She is to be brought alive to TG. (So, he can do all manner of evil things to her before killing her, I guess.)

Milton seems surprised at TG’s savagery (really, Milton? Gah.), but does little in the way of protesting. The short scene was yet another powerful “twos” theme pairing.

After he’s finished with Milton, TG calls out to Andrea and thanks her for setting up the meeting. She seems skeptical, but accepts his thanks, and they part ways. Oh, and another “twos!”

Oh, Andrea. Sigh.

When Rick, Daryl, and Hershel get back to the prison, Rick tells everyone that there is no deal, and that TG wants to kill them all. (I wondered at that point if Rick was the one who wanted a war, or if he actually saw through TG’s crap.)

Later, Rick is on the fenced-in catwalk that he always seems to drift to when contemplating things. As he stares soulfully into the distance, Hershel hobbles out (“twos” theme alert!), and Rick tells him of TG’s offer. But, Rick also allows that he knows TG will likely kill them all, anyway.

But, Rick is faced with making the call on whether or not to give Michonne up. Would Hershel be willing to sacrifice the lives of his daughters for Michonne? It’s a hard question, and Rick indicates that he’s considering giving her up.

And why did he lie to the group? Rick tells Hershel it’s because they need to be scared to face what’s coming. (What? Giving up Michonne? Defending the prison? Both?)

When Hershel asks why Rick has told him the truth, Rick says, “Because I’m hoping you can talk me out of it.”

Whoa. No pressure, Hershel!

What’d you think of “Arrow?” Did I read too much into the “twos?” And how about that title and the song it references? Hit me up in the comments!

 

[Featured image courtesy of AMC and found at http://blogs.amctv.com/photo-galleries/the-walking-dead-season-3-episode-photos/episode-13-rick-governor-2.php.]

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The Walking Dead Recap/Review: “Made to Suffer”

It’s December! You know what that means…SPOILERS! (What did you think I was going to say?)

The Governor (TG) is now a pirate! ARGH, me matey! I just need him to start carrying around a sword, and I’ll be all set. Savvy? Plus, he gets extra points in my book because this is the first time I’ve actually liked him. Sure, the character is amazing and a great addition to the show, but last night was the first time I’ve really empathized with TG.

“Made to Suffer” was the mid-season finale on The Walking Dead, and I must confess to a more than average level of gasping from my wallowed-out corner of the couch!  Plot lines actually intersected, and Tyreese was finally introduced! Be still my heart!

The episode opened with Tyreese running through the forest, trying to track down the screams heard in the distance. Sasha, his sister, almost brains him with a shovel (she thought he was a walker, I guess. Also, lemme just insert right now that it wasn’t clear Sasha was his sister. She could have been a girlfriend/wife/companion of some kind. However, thanks to my keen understanding and mysterious ways, you now know for certain! You can thank me later.), before joining him. They come upon three people (a woman, a man and a teen-aged boy) surrounded by walkers, and it’s implied that they all know each other and are traveling together. (So, how did they get separated, and why in the unholy heck is the woman screaming her head off?)

They fight off the walkers and escape, but not before Donna (the screamer) gets bitten on the arm by a walker. CHOMP! They stumble out of the forest to discover a large blown-out building. Sasha wants to leave Donna behind, but the group decides to bring her along as the enter the back of THE PRISON! That’s right, there’s a HUGE hole in the back of the prison!

WHAT THE WHAT?!

In Woodbury, TG is still being creepy. (Shocking, I know) Andrea, preparing for the day by fixing her fluffy hair in a mirror, picks up TG’s family picture (FORESHADOWING). When she hears TG coming up behind her, she sets it back down and they cuddle. TG observes that Andrea is really starting to like Woodbury, and she practically purrs before tripping off to help Milton cremate Mr. Coleman.

TG stares creepily into the mirror, his eyes going a bit glassy before he turns to visit dead Penny. Yeah, that’s right. He keeps her right off the room with the walker head aquariums. And where is the walker head aquarium room? Oh, right off his main rooms. Huh. Seems terribly conspicuous  don’t you think? Can anyone tell me why Andrea hasn’t stumbled upon Penny, yet? Last time Michonne was in TG’s rooms, she definitely heard the dead girl. So, why hasn’t Andrea?

Because she’s stupid.

Quality father/daughter bonding time. Image courtesy of AMC.

TG settles down into a chair, turns on some music, and opens Penny’s cage door. Snarling, Penny rushes out but is caught short by a chain around her neck. She has a straight jacket on, and her head is covered with a bag. TG tries to spend some quality bonding time with her, but grows frustrated when she won’t look at him and pushes her back into the cage.

I mean, to be fair, she’s DEAD. Plus, TG has a bowl of disgusting flesh bits sitting beside him. Dinner, I suppose.

Elsewhere, somewhere in the bowels of Woodbury (near the left part of colon), Maggie and Glenn sit huddled against the wall. After making sure Maggie wasn’t raped by TG, Glenn seems to get a renewed sense of mad survival skills. He tears off the arm of the walker (the one Merle sicced on him and he re-killed) and rips out shards of bone, arming himself and Maggie.

Outside of Woodbury’s main wall and gate, Rick, Daryl, Oscar, and Michonne skulk about, hiding behind a conveniently placed car and LOTS of dense vegetation. (Don’t you think TG would have had that area cleared? Seems like he would want a completely clear view of the approach to Woodbury…)

Then, miraculously, Michonne leads them around to a door that opens in the back of a store on Woodbury’s main drag. (So, there’s easy, unguarded access to Woodbury? You don’t have to go through the gates? You can just walk to the side, open a door, and walk in without so much as a “Howdy do?” That’s…ridiculous.) But, someone has seen them inside the building! A man enters the front door, telling them they’d better leave. The man thinks they’re just some townsfolk in a building they’re not supposed to be in. They take him down…kinda nicely. They didn’t kill him, so that’s something, right? He’s gagged, knocked out, and left in the building.

In the confusion, Michonne slips away, intent on her own personal mission. She makes her way to TG rooms and enters, settling in a chair in front of the door, her katana on her lap.

IT’S GONNA GO DOWN, SON!

Back at the prison, Axel is macking on Beth. It’s the end of the world…why not? Gross. Carl is busy trying to shoot flames from his eyes at Axel when Carol decides to talk to the former inmate, pulling him aside and telling him to stay away from Beth. But, there are no other women, Axel whines! Maggie’s with Glenn and Carols a lesbian, the man complains.

Huh? Carol’s a lesbian? Um, no. Despite her short hair (which led to Axel’s misconception, apparently), Carol assures him that she is not playing for the other team. But, before Axel can turn his attention to her, Carol shuts him down and walks away. (Because she totally wants Daryl. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.)

Rick, Daryl, and Oscar locate Maggie and Glenn just moments after the hostages attack their captors. Maggie stabs a minion in the throat, and Glenn gets punched (poor Glenn). Merle’s there, and I was hoping that this would be the moment when Daryl discovers his brother’s still alive! Alas! It’s not to be. A smoke bomb/flash grenade/something that makes a lot of smoke is thrown, and Maggie and Glenn are rescued! Huzzah!

They escape under the cover of smoke and duck into a building. Glenn tells Daryl about Merle, and the younger Dixon is understandably shocked and, I think, a little bit excited. He wants to go talk to Merle, but Rick steps in, demanding Daryl to stay and help them escape Woodbury. Daryl agrees (but you know SOMETHING is going to happen! It always does!).

Would Daryl side with Merle? TG thinks it’s a possibility. In fact, before Maggie and Glenn escaped, TG  proposed the idea to Merle as they discussed attacking the prison. Daryl could be their “inside man,” TG said. Merle looked a little skeptical, but acted like he’d go along with the plan. Who knows how something like that would go down, though? After all  Merle isn’t always fully truthful with TG…

Rick, Daryl, Oscar, Maggie, and Glenn decide to make a run for the wall to escape and start flinging smoke bombs and laying down cover fire. In the cover of a nearby building, TG quickly organizes his minions to find the intruders and shoot back. Andrea wants to help, but TG won’t let her, telling her to check on Woodbury residents instead. Andrea is miffed, but agrees, leaving the building to carry out his orders.

But, OF COURSE, Andrea finds herself on the street when gun fire erupts afresh. She shoots back, and later tells TG she saw someone in prison coveralls. She, OF COURSE, doesn’t see anyone that she recognizes. TG tells her that the “terrorists” must be from the prison.

In TG’s rooms, Michonne waits. Suddenly, she hears something coming from the next room (you know, the oh-so-secret-that-Andrea-has-never-noticed-it-before room?). She investigates, discovers the walker head aquariums and Penny’s cage. Her disgust is plain, and we saw a new layer when she saw Penny’s small figure walk out of the cage. Michonne’s worst fears of TG were realized! He was mistreating an unfortunate child!

Michonne unchains Penny and removes her hood.

Michonne discovers that Penny takes after her father. Image courtesy of AMC.

SHE’S A WALKER! Michonne hurriedly pulls back and makes to re-kill Penny, but she’s stopped when TG enters! He’s pointing a gun at her and pleading with her not to hurt his daughter. In an effort to convince her, TG puts down his gun and removes his belt and holster. (This was the first time I ever felt bad for TG. She’s dead, but Penny’s his daughter!)

Then, something changes in Michonne’s eyes. They go from shock to disgust to heartless resolve. Michonne runs the length of her blade through Penny’s head, dropping the little body. TG loses it and charges Michonne. They ferociously battle, and he smashes her head into the aquariums. Glass goes everywhere! Michonne gets in a few good hits, but overall, TG overpowers her. It’s not looking good!

Struggling, Michonne grabs a shard of glass and rams it into TG’s right eye! OHMYGOSH! She’s about to finish him off when Andrea comes to his rescue! OHMYGOSH!

The two women lock gazes in a stand-off, Michonne ready with her katana and Andrea with a gun pointed at her former friend. Several beats pass, and Michonne realizes she’s lost…not just the fight to kill TG, but she’s lost her friend. I believe Michonne returned to Woodbury not to help save Maggie and Glenn, but to save Andrea from the monster she knew TG to be. Now, Michonne realizes that she’s the monster in Andrea’s eyes.

Her katana’s point drops, and Michonne turns and leaves. Andrea lets her go before rushing to help TG. But, he won’t be comforted; he’s holding the lifeless body of his daughter, crying around the shard of glass sticking out of his eye.

Super gross! (And sad! I will admit that I felt bad for TG at this point.)

Back on the street, Oscar, Maggie, and Glenn make for the wall and begin to climb over, with Rick and Daryl providing cover. The street is a mess of haze and smoke, but no one gets shot. Except Oscar. (He had to, right? The Walking Dead can’t have more than one black guy on there at a time, right? CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN THAT? T-Dog died and was replaced with Oscar. Now, Oscar is dead, and he’ll be replaced with Tyreese? Come on, AMC! Really? Ugh.) Maggie pauses long enough to shoot Oscar in the head to prevent his change before scurrying over the wall.

Rick takes a quick side trip back to Crazytown and sees Shane walking out of the mist shooting at him. He pauses AND DOESN’T GET SHOT. (No one can hit this guy? Really?) After he gathers his wits, Rick shoots the approaching Shane and rushes over to look at the body.

It’s not Shane, of course. What is this? Resurgent guilt? Come on, man! Pull yourself together!

Back at the prison, Carl hears screams coming from the scary depths. Walkers don’t scream, so he sets off to check it out. He soon finds Tyreese’s group being attacked by walkers and intervenes, leading them back to the cleared cell block. When they get to the common room, we see Donna has died. Carl steps up, offering to shoot her, but Tyreese stops him, saying they take care of their own. (How nice of Carl!)

Also, Carl isn’t the stupid kid that everyone has hated for the past two seasons, anymore. He leaves Tyreese’s group in the common room, locking them out of the main cell block. Sasha flips out, demanding to be let out, but Tyreese sees it differently, telling her that they’re safe for the first time in a long time.

In Woodbury’s infirmary, TG gets his head wrapped in gauze after an unnecessary gross-out, up-close shot of his nasty eye. He’s now a pirate! Arrrr!

Andrea, tactful after the re-death of Penny (snort!), questions TG about the walker head aquariums. He feeds her a line about needing to look at them to desensitize himself and to steel himself for the new world. She buys it, OF COURSE. Then, Milton comes in to check on TG followed by Merle.

HOLD ON! Didn’t Merle tell TG that Michonne was dead? Uh-oh, Merle! UH-OH! But, TG keeps his cards close to his chest and tells them he was attacked, not going into any detail. There is some SERIOUS stink-eye going on, though.

Watch your back, Merle!

Rick finally scampers over the wall to regroup after seeing the Shane ghost. As they wait for Daryl, Michonne appears, dazed and bloody from her fight with TG and stand-off with Andrea. Rick, suspicious of her disappearance and sudden reappearance, wants to kill her, but Michonne convinces him that he needs her help getting the group (Maggie, Glenn, and Daryl –when he shows up) to safety. There’s a desperation in her eyes, and it made me realize she was looking for a new human connection. Michonne had always played the loner card, but she wasn’t really alone. Up until now, she still had Andrea. Andrea was her family in a way, but Andrea just rejected her, and Michonne is reeling.

The townsfolk gather in the walker fighting arena to discuss what had just happened. TG is not his usual optimistic self, telling the people that they had been attacked by terrorists. It’s very effective; TG standing there with his gauze eye patch, looking for a scape goat…

Scape goat, you say?

TG points out Merle, saying he let the terrorists into Woodbury! (Told you, Merle!) TG whips the townspeople into a frenzy, and they begin to demand Merle’s death. Then, TG has several minions bring out a hooded figure. IT’S DARYL!

TG taunts Merle, telling him he gets to see his brother again, after all…BEFORE THEY DIE! (Now, them Dixon boys…they was in a heap o’ trouble!)

And Andrea? What does she do? Well, she sits in the stands, starring. Go, Andrea. You think she might suspect something is amiss, now? She knows Daryl! Will she just accept some tripe TG feeds her?

The Walking Dead’s mid-season break lasts until February, dang it! So, here’s where we’re at:

At the prison, Hershel, Beth, Carl, Axel, Carol, and baby Judith seem safe at the moment…kinda. Tyreese and his group are locked just outside of the cell block in the common room, also safe-ish.

Outside Woodbury, Rick, Michonne, Maggie, and Glenn are waiting for Daryl to show up. However, he’s not going to since he obviously struck out on his own to find Merle. Unfortunately, Daryl was captured, and now, TG plans to kill the Dixon brothers! Judging from the preview for the next show, I’d say Rick and co. will attempt to rescue Daryl. But, what of Merle? Will Daryl insist he come, too?

What did you think of the mid-season finale? Sound off in the comments!

 

((Featured image courtesy of AMC and found at http://blogs.amctv.com/photo-galleries/the-walking-dead-season-3-episode-photos/episode-8-michonne-andrea.php.))

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The Walking Dead Recap/Review: “Say the Word”

So, yesterday was a holiday for me, and I took a break. Here’s a nice Tuesday extra for you! Aren’t you excited? I know you are. As always, SPOILERS abound. You’ve been warned! (It DOES say recap…)

Just so you know, I’m going to follow the pieces of Sunday’s story as they make sense to me, not necessarily how they played out on the small screen. So, pay attention, will you? There’s a flow.

“Say the Word” jumped back and forth between the prison and not-so-idyllic Woodbury. It was a satisfying mix of stories that let us keep tabs on all the main plots and bits of crazy floating around.

Speaking of cray-cray, Woodbury is in the midst of some kind of celebration. Everything is dudded up like the 4th of July, only not so much. But, this was the first time I can remember seeing kids run around in Woodbury. Maybe I’m just not that observant, but I’d like to think they were trotted out for a purpose, and I think they were. More on that later, though.

Andrea’s wandering around, talking to folks, and generally falling in love with the town. Michonne, on the other hand, is not. She’s skulking about, looking for the evil she knows is there.

Hold still! Daddy loves you! Image courtesy of AMC.

Evil, huh? Take a gander at what happens next! We’re treated to a charmingly domestic scene with The Governor (TG). He’s gently brushing the hair of his…DEAD DAUGHTER! It’s all fine and dandy (Um, not really.) until he pulls a chunk of scalp and hair away from her ROTTING HEAD.

But, it’s not like he’s totally out of his mind; at least he has his walker daughter restrained. Kinda. Not enough to suit me! She, of course, tries to BITE him, but he, being the understanding daddy, puts a bag over her head, makes sure her restraints are intact and expresses his love.

It’s frighteningly similar to how I express my love to my children.

Not really!

Maybe.

Totally kidding!

Probably.

You can see the struggle in TG’s eyes even as he struggles with the monster that used to be his daughter. I almost felt sorry for him (Darn you, AMC!). He happens to look out the window, and who is looking up at him? Michonne, of course! There’s no way she could have seen anything, let along TG’s exchange with his daughter (who we later find out is named Penny), but you know TG has just about reached his limit with Michonne.

Back at the prison, we pick up right where we left off, with Maggie holding the new baby, Carl looking distraught, and Rick losing his $hit. It’s kinda already gone, though, because he’s just staring, unable to hear what’s happening around him. Finally, his eyes lite on a nearby ax, and he goes for it. We know Rick has understandably jumped off the deep end, and I was pretty sure what he was about to do.

Sure enough, Rick begins to helpfully run amok in the prison, hacking through walkers and probably being mistaken for Chloë Grace Moretz’s Carrie stand in. It’s gory, and frankly, I was turned off by it. It felt like something from the Saw franchise. Ugh. But, at least he’s using his profound grief to do some house cleaning. Half full, right guys?

Back in the prison yard, Daryl steps up and takes control. (GO DARYL!) After Hershel declares the baby healthy, the old coot says what’s been on my mind since Lori bought the farm last week: the kid’s going to die without something to eat. Soon. Formula is the answer, and Daryl readies to go scavenging. Maggie hops on the back of his motorcycle, AKA the loudest FRACKING means of transportation in the area, and they head off down the road.

They find a daycare center fairly easily (what luck!), and get creepin’. Maggie finds some baby bottles in the first cabinet she looks in (so much luck!), and they continue into the facility’s darkened hallways.

By the way the camera kept zooming in on kid-specific decorations and creepy, deserted cribs, I was sure we were about to be set upon by a pack of baby and toddler walkers. Would there be anything more terrifying? As a mother of two, I tell you there would not be!

Sure enough, a rattling sound starts coming from the kitchen. It’s in a cabinet! Oh, no! Don’t open the cabinet! There’s going to be a flesh-eating baby in there! Daryl takes point and Maggie throws open a cabinet to find…a possum (opossum?). It looks scared, and Daryl quips that they’ve just found dinner.

Yum.

Of course, there are several cans of formula in another cabinet.

Let’s talk about the luck of this, shall we? There’s so much luck. So much. Also, I’d like to point out that the little bit of formula they found will not last that long at all. I’ve had to use formula with both of my children, and they go through it like sand through the hour glass on Days of Our Lives.

Back they roar on the loud, fecking motorcycle to the prison. Glenn is keeping an eye out for them, and Oscar and Axel open and close the gate for the motorcycle.

The prisoners are slowly being accepted into the group. That afternoon, while Daryl and Maggie were out, the pair approached Glenn as he was digging a grave. Oscar and Axel definitely want to join the group; they made overtures last week, and their quest continued in this episode when they expressed their sorrow for what had happened. After a time, Glenn bends and accepts their offers of help, telling them that two more graves need to be dug.

Why was Glenn digging in the first place? For the three members of the group who supposedly died in last week’s episode. I say “supposedly” because while Lori and T-Dog are most certainly dead, Carol is still MIA. I don’t think she’s dead. Do you? Also, it’s not like they have bodies to bury. It was more symbolic than anything.

After he leaves the prisoners to dig, Glenn confides to Hershel that he wishes the group had just killed all of the prisoners when they had first discovered them. I don’t mean to insinuate that Glenn doesn’t like Oscar and Axel. After all, Glenn’s pretty easy going overall. But, he regards the people they’ve lost more than the people he’s just met.

It’s during this time that we actually get some backstory for T-Dog! Now that he’s dead, we find out a little more about him.

Nice.

Apparently, T-Dog was a pretty upstanding guy. Last week, we found out he was religious as he accepted his fate and tried to protect Carol. This week, we got a little more of that as Glenn revealed that T-Dog had driven a church van to try to help some old folks after the walker outbreak. It was a nice send-out for a great character we barely knew.

Later, Glenn goes in search of Rick. It’s not hard to find him; Glenn just follows the mangled walkers to find Rick at the end of a hallway, half in shadow and covered in blood and bits of walker. It was very Luke Skywalker battling against the Dark Side. When Glenn tries to reason with Rick, the crazed man pins him to the wall, and then throws him back, ignoring Glenn’s offers of help and assertions that Rick doesn’t have to do this alone. Rick staggers on, leaving Glenn to return to the group.

The positive here is that Rick is slowly ridding the prison of walkers. Everybody wins!

When Daryl and Maggie arrive with the formula, the baby is screaming her head off. Babies don’t wait well. After a brief discussion about what the baby’s name should be, Daryl christens the baby “Little Ass Kicker.”

I gotta say, that wouldn’t have been my first choice, but, hey, I guess I’m not in a walker apocalypse, so who am I to judge? Yeah, here’s hoping they come up with a real name, soon.

It was nice to see Daryl taking such a keen interest in the baby, though. I wanted to think it was because he felt a certain kinship with her; she’d been abandoned by her parents, rather like he was abandoned by his. We’ll see how that pans out.

In Woodbury, the celebration continues. They never come right out and say what’s being celebrated, but you get the idea it’s a party to celebrate survival. I can get behind that.

While Andrea is off drinking the Kool-Aid, Michonne decides to poke around TG’s personal quarters, recovering her katana (finally!) and finding a notebook with a list of names followed by pages and pages of odd hash marks. The last name on the list is Penny, and while Michonne doesn’t know who Penny is, she surmises it’s someone important.

You know she’s about to find the real Penny because she hears TG’s walker daughter in the next room. You just know she’s gonna hack her little head off! But, no such luck! The evil trinity (TG, Merle, and Milton) enter and set about gathering some supplies for the party, I assume. Michonne ducks in the next room to avoid detection and listens as Milton asks TG to postpone the evening’s festivities. Milton wants to save the power for an upcoming experiment. They’ve been using the generators and (one must assume) plenty of fuel all day for the celebration to cool drinks and provide various creature comforts, and Milton wants to conserve. But,  TG denies the request, saying the town needs the entertainment.

After they leave, Michonne escapes and wanders into an area we haven’t seen before that looks like a mini warehouse district. Why this is in Woodbury, I have no idea. It seems out of place, and as Michonne explores, she comes on some captive walkers. Looking pleased, Michonne releases the walkers and steps back, readying her katana.

Hack! Slash! Stomp! Splat!

Michonne takes down the walkers, but, of course, she gets caught by someone with a bucket of walker chow. You don’t see who it is, but I think it was probably Merle coming to “feed” the walkers.

You’re supposed to wonder why TG is keeping walkers, but since we’ve already seen his unhealthy obsession and curious aquarium exhibit, I just chalked it up to one of Milton’s experiments. Or, could they have something to do with the list that Michonne found? I wondered if these walkers were perhaps former Woodbury residents. Hmmm…

I was wrong.

Michonne is taken to TG for some good old fashioned scolding –jr. high. principal style. She takes it up to a point, because TG has HER point (katana). There are some tense moments of conversation, and at one point, Michonne mentions Penny, throwing the name out there to test the waters and to see if TG will reveal anything.

Penny’s obviously a secret, but from whom? Do the other members of the evil trinity even know about her? The way TG reacted has me thinking that they don’t. But, he figures out Michonne is largely fishing and pushes on.

When TG proposes Michonne join the “research team,” Michonne finally makes her move! She whips around, grabs the blade, and holds it to his throat.

(DRAMATIC INTERLUDE)

Research team? Does this have something to do with Mad Milton? Maybe. Milton’s with Merle and several others on the research team when we see them out in the field gathering more walkers from a pit. It’s obvious that they trapped them on purpose, but it’s unclear what they’re going to do with them. We do know, however, that they’re being gathered to replace the ones Michonne disposed of.

When the research team begins to pull out the walkers’ teeth, my husband mentions that the walkers Michonne just put down didn’t have any teeth, either. Huh! I hadn’t noticed that…

(END OF DRAMATIC INTERLUDE)

Michonne presses the katana to TG’s throat, making you wonder why she just doesn’t go ahead and kill him. I counseled her to do so, but she didn’t listen. Do they ever listen? Then, she backs out of the room and goes to gather her gear, intent on leaving Woodbury.

Meanwhile, TG tells Merle to bring Andrea to him. Merle obliges and stupid Andrea breezes in, wide-eyed and ready to believe whatever TG feeds her. He doesn’t go into a ton of detail, but tells Andrea that Michonne just isn’t fitting in. Andrea’s gotta talk to her, gotta get her under control, or she could be asked to leave.

Andrea, who definitely has a crush on TG, tries to reason with Michonne, but Michonne sticks to her guns and convinces Andrea to pack up as well. As they approach the town gate, Merle stops them, confirming Michonne’s complaint that they are not actually free to go. But, after a few moments, Merle opens the gate and invites them to go if they wish.

Michonne takes him up on his offer, and strides out after a terse exchange with Andrea. Andrea balks and stays behind.

Stupid, stupid Andrea.

After night falls, the town’s celebration is all set to commence. The people of Woodbury stream into the same area where Michonne killed the walkers. I had to wonder if TG was planning to kill them all! Oh, sick! There’s kids and everything! Why do I watch this?

But, the people instead sit on bleachers and wait for the entertainment to begin. The area is well-lit and music blares from unseen speakers. TG is with Andrea and guides her to sit on the bleachers. She looks puzzled, but doesn’t really question anything. Stupid Andrea.

Then, walkers are staked in a circle, and stupid Andrea finally begins to realize something is very wrong. Merle and a cohort come out and start to fight in the ring of walkers, and she finally begins to question TG about what is going on. FINALLY.

Merle and the other guy start beating the crap out of each other, and the crowd goes wild while the walkers strain against their bonds, trying to get at the fighting men. Talk about a death match! Kids are hoisted up so they can see; it’s a real family affair.

Andrea tries to leave, but TG stops her, telling her that this was a good way for the people to let off some steam. Besides, it’s really just staged because the walkers don’t have any teeth. Oooooh! So, that’s why the research team was pulling out walker teeth. Gross.

Andrea still wants to leave, but TG makes her stay, and she realizes that perhaps Michonne had been right all along.

Dun, Dun, DUUUUUUUUUN!

Of course Michonne has been right all along! Gosh! I haven’t even read all of the comics, and I knew that! You can just tell by TG’s creepy smile and voice (that reminds me of Liam Neeson) that he’s a bad egg. Plus, we’ve got some pretty good evidence: Exhibit A – Walker Head Aquarium; Exhibit B – Slaughtering Nice Military Men; etc.

Dead walker is dead. Image courtesy of AMC.

“Say the Word” wraps up with a final scene with crazy Rick. He’s finally made his way to the room where Lori died, and looks for any sign of his dead wife. He sees a trail of blood and follows it to a bloated walker, too engorged too move. The creature sits against a wall, and, at first, I thought it was walker Lori because the camera zoomed in on the big belly.

Gosh, I’m glad it wasn’t Lori.

But, apparently, it did EAT Lori, hence the large stomach. Rick figures that out, too, and takes out his rage on the walker, shooting it in the head and stabbing it repeatedly in the stomach.

I thought he was going to try to carve what was left of Lori out of the walker, but that went out the window as Rick stabbed and stabbed.

Finally, spent from his rage/grief fit, Rick drags himself away and sits against an opposite wall to stare at the walker that ate his wife. He starts to hallucinate and hears a baby cry. Strange, but understandable considering he’s basically abandoned his newborn daughter. But, stranger still is want happens next: a nearby telephone begins to ring. The sound snaps Rick out of his reverie and he moves to answer the phone. Makes sense to me! I’d probably answer a ringing phone, too.

The episode goes to black with Rick’s “Hello?” into the receiver.

So, who was on the phone? Was it even real or was Rick still hallucinating? Will “Little Ass Kicker” ever get a real name? Is Andrea the biggest moron ever?

Gah! So many questions!

What did you think of this week’s episode? Hit me up in the comments!

 

((Featured image courtesy of AMC and can be found at http://blogs.amctv.com/photo-galleries/the-walking-dead-season-3-episode-photos/episode-5-michonne.php.))

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