Saturday, July 18, 2009


(The one without James Spader, thank god.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

REVIEW: Dungeons and Dragons

Incidentally, the guy on YouTube who posts 19-minute videos of himself giving Nickelback album reviews into a webcam also has a Platinum Series line.

Dungeon Master: Welcome, mortals, to my epic fantasy adventure. Prepare for an evening of adventure. Of danger! Of tricks and traps and magic and heroism!

Bugmar the Half-Orc: Yes! Let’s get read to pound some skulls!

Titania the Elf: Our wisdom shall guide us to victory.

Me: (looks at character sheet) What exactly is the difference between the ‘Spot’ skill and the ‘Search’ skill? How is it possible that I can build a character who is incredibly talented in one and not the other?

From the people who will really hope you forget all about this movie by the time Lord of the Rings comes out...

DM: Silence! We must make final preparations for our journey. Tonight’s adventure is based on the epic 2000 film, Dungeons & Dragons, starring Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan, and Marlon Wayans.

Me: Wait, I missed some of that. Can you repeat the parts between Jeremy Irons and Marlon Wayans?

DM: The film was an epic fantasy adventure based on the epic pen-and-paper roleplaying game that we are playing right now. And now, we are honoring that glorious and revered film by translating its epic story back to the tabletop, so that we might experience the same journey that captivated audiences and made Justin Whalin a household name. First, players, you must create your characters!

"Friends, Romans, countrymen... PREPARE TO DIE, PATHETIC MORTALS!"

Titania: I am Titania, elven druid of the Neverwinter Forest. With my dire wolf companion, Barkenheart, I journey the forests, hunting those who would disrupt the balance of nature. With my magic, I can empower my allies, humanoid and animal alike, and when I must fight hand-to-hand, I can transform into a great bear and maul those who underestimate my dedication.

Bugmar: And I am Bugmar, a half-orc barbarian. My father was an orcish marauder who impregnated my mother forcibly. She abandoned me to die in the land of Rashemen, but I thrived as a nomad and savage. Now, I bear my great axe and seek to redeem my horrid life by slashing the throats of evildoers, but my dream is to one day take down my own father, who is responsible for agony I suffer every day!

Me: Wow, you guys are really into this. Sounds like a really fun game, but I’m used to playing MMORPGs, so I think I’m going to play this game that way. I am 50 Cent the… (browses through Player‘s Handbook to find the race that gives the most plusses) … Drow! And my profession is… (scours printed-out web pages to find which class most gamers think is overpowered)… cleric! Yes, I am a Drow cleric. And I’m a female Drow so that I can have boobs. Now, before we start out on our quest to find me a +12 war hammer, just give me about three hours so I can plan out the best way to level up my character. I want to make a character who has level 9 divine and arcane spells without sacrificing any attack power or defense whatsoever.

DM: Silence! This is not how Dungeons & Dragons the movie was played out! No, I will choose your characters for you. Titania, you are Marina Pretense, the human wizardess played in the film by Zoe McLellan. You are naïve and quirky, but a very promising young spell caster. Your most powerful spell is to cast a magical rope that can lasso your enemies.

Marina: Uh…

DM: Bugmar, you are Elwood Gutworthy the cantankerous, neon orange-bearded dwarven warrior, played by Lee Arenberg.

Elwood: Who?

DM: Pft! Silly question. You reveal your ignorance!

Elwood: Oh, I’m sorry. Whom?

DM: Gah! And Matt, you are Ridley Freeborn, the wise-cracking, but good-hearted thief played by Justin Whalin, who is forever accompanied by his wacky, fast-talking friend, Snails, played by Marlon Wayans.

Me: That’s wonderful. (rolls 20-sided die) Oh, look. I just failed a ‘Breathe’ skill check, and my character died. Well, I might as well head home.

DM: Sit thy ass down! I shall control the other characters, such as Snails the rogue and Norda the elven ranger. Now, the journey begins in the nation of Izmer, where Mages rule over the commoners. There, a wizard named Profion is secretly plotting to overthrow the progressive Empress Savina. How, you might ask? Why, he only needs to find a lost wand that will allow him to control red dragons. By controlling all the world’s red dragons, he can conquer all of Izmer!

Me: Well, then why don’t the red dragons just do that on their own?

Acting or Photoshop? You be the judge.

DM: Silence! Fortunately, a wizard faithful to the Empress is aware of this plot and believes that a scroll in the Mages’ library can lead them to it. He and Marina, a beautiful and promising young wizard, search for it. Marina, roll a Spellcraft check to find the scroll!

Marina: (rolls d20) 5!

DM: Oh, you failed your skill check, and were unable to find the scroll! (Waits 30 seconds) All right, try again.

Marina: (rolls d20) 7! Did I pass?

DM: Er, no, not quite. (Waits) All right, try again.

Marina: (rolls d20) 2!

DM: Excellent! You found the scroll!

Elwood: Wait a minute! I’m no master of numbers, but…

Me: Shut the hell up, Dwarf.

DM: Excellent suggestion! But while the wizards are at work, so are the thieves. Ridley gets the idea to rob the Magic School, imagining the incredible treasures that the Mages have in the high tower. Remember the film, and imagine the incredible beauty and majesty of the Magic School’s high spires!

"Yes, prepare the age-reversing potion now. Together, we shall rule the world, Governor Palin!"

Me: Yeah, I remember it. And it definitely puts me in the mood for a role-playing game, because the whole thing looked like a Quicktime cut-scene in a mid-’90s computer game. This movie clearly couldn’t afford great computer-generated special effects, but they must have at least saved money by buying in bulk, because there’s certainly a lot of them. The water looks like it’s from Lawnmower Man, the buildings look like they’re still under development in AutoCAD, and the dragons make the one in Shrek look photorealistic.

DM: Are you done?

Me: Temporarily.

DM: Good. Your friend Snails is very nervous about a daring heist like this, but he is a man of complex motivations: he is often torn between his love of money, his love of hot women that match his racial complexion (as in being black, not necessarily being human), and his love of not dying. But he is also incredibly loyal to you, Ridley, so long as he can loudly complain about everything you do with him. Now, you scale the walls of the 20-plus story building…

Elwood: Wait a minute, shouldn’t he have to roll a skill check for something like that?

DM: Well, it was treated as something very easy in the movie, so I guess I can just assume it would be easy for you to do. You begin robbing the place, but Marina hears you, and comes in to catch you with a Rope spell! However, this happens just as Profion’s chief thug, Damodar, arrives with the Crimon Guards and kills the head wizard just after he throws the scroll to Marina in a desperate attempt to keep it from Profion’s hands!

Me: Ah yes, Damodar. That terrifying minion who projects fear with the help of his blue lip gloss and a speaking pace that’s so slow, it’s easier to just read the DVD subtitle and skip forward a few seconds until the next one comes up.

"Tell me, where is Tobias Funke? He and I have some unfinished business."

DM: Marina, you are confronted by Damodar! What do you do?

Marina: I throw a Fireball spell at him! Because I’m a magic-user and Damodar and his soldiers aren’t!

DM: Perhaps, but I think you should consider just throwing a purple stunning spell at him instead, then teleporting out of there, because Damodar is much too terrifying. You escape with Ridley and Snails in tow, but Damodar and his men follow you through the portal, into the city! There, you run into the vagrant Dwarf named Elwood…

Elwood: Yarrr! I’m a Dwarf!

DM: …and escape into the sewers. But Profion has framed you for the murder of the old wizard, and accused you of stealing the scroll for your own ends, so it now rests on you alone to find the wand that controls red dragons! But beware, for Profion has given his minion, Damodar, extra incentive to find you: he has placed a magical parasite between Damodar’s ears, one that will continue to corrupt him until he retrieves the scroll!

Me: Well, based on the last few scenes, there was definitely a vacancy up there. So now that his brain has been overrun by a monster, does this mean he’s going to talk even more slowly now?

(sniff, sniff) "Wizard needs hugs badly!"

DM: Ridley, you prove yourself to have surprising magical aptitude by scrying the scroll and determining that to open the vault that contains the red dragon wand, you need a gigantic ruby that is being held by a powerful thieves’ guild. Eager to complete the mission, because of both your attraction to Marina and the promise of a gigantic ruby, you journey there, only to find that the guild master won’t give up the enormous ruby just because you ask for it!

Me: I’d like to go on record that you were the one who told me that my character expected that the guild master would give it to us for free. Can I just roll a ‘Bluff’ check for it?

DM: No, he will give you the ruby, but only if you complete an enormous, trap-filled maze!

Me: Well, Takeshi’s Castle would be a huge upgrade over this movie/game, so why not.

DM: You must pass three deadly trap rooms in order to reach the ruby! I hope you’re up for it, Ridley! Now, roll a Climb check to see if you can climb atop the swinging pendulums and cross them without being sliced apart!

Me: (rolls d20) It’s a 1! Critical failure! I’m dead, story over, anyone for Smash Bros?

DM: Dammit! Well, fortunately, there’s a cleric in the audience who’s sympathetic to your cause. He casts Raise Dead, letting you try again.

Me: Dammit! All right, here goes…

Rising young leading man in Hollywood, or a young Jennifer Coolidge?

(20 minutes later)

DM: Congratulations! You have passed all the tests and retrieved the ruby, Ridley! However, the fiend Damodar arrives! Caught in the middle of a battle between his men and the thieves, Ridley, Snails, and Elwood escape with the ruby, but Marina is taken prisoner!

Me: Isn’t she supposed to be able to cast spells and stuff?

Marina: Indeed! I cast Sleep on my captors, then Expeditious Retreat to get out of there and return to my party!

DM: Well… Profion has cast… (skims through rulebook) Spell Mantle! Yes, he cast Spell Mantle on all of his henchmen, so they’re immune. And anyways, they take her away to a fortress, and the rest of you are ambushed and taken prisoner by the elven ranger Norda. However, she’s working for Empress Savina, so you’re all on the same side. Snails in particular is very eager to get close to Norda, who enchants him by sheer virtue of being female, attractive, and African-Izmerian. However, being an elf, Norda rebukes Snails’ advances by appearing bored and irritated.

Elwood: ‘Tis a quality not limited to elf-kind, I can assure you.

"Come on, Mr. Director. Forget the PG-13 rating just for one scene! We'll make a Special Unrated DVD out of it!"

DM: Now, you decide that it’s essential to rescue Marina, so you head off to the fortress…

Me: After hiding the ruby somewhere so that Profion won’t find it if we get caught.

DM: Er, well, no. There’s no time for that! You must rescue the… um… cute wizard who almost never is able to cast valuable spells. It’s, er, essential. So you head to the keep and find that it’s heavily guarded by soldiers and Beholders, massive one-eyed, classic D&D monsters that command powerful magic.

Me: All right! We get to fight Beholders! It’s about time!

DM: Well, I wouldn’t say you’re going to fight them, or even interact with them, but you will very briefly see them. Pretty cool, huh? Now, Norda decides that it’s very important for Ridley and Snails to complete this mission on their own, so she waits outside with you, Elwood, while the thieves sneak into the fortress.

Elwood: Damn it all! Why in the hells would half our people just wait behind? And may I remind you that I am a Dwarf carrying an enormous ax, yet I haven’t killed a damn thing yet? And if we’re in a fantasy movie, why haven’t we fought anyone except generic human soldiers and a bald guy with blue lip gloss? Now we’ve finally got monsters lurking about, and we’re not even going to fight them?

DM: No, you ungrateful oaf! Ridley and Snails are going to sneak around them. (rolls d20) 18! There, you’ve passed your Hide skill check, congratulations. (rolls d20) 14! And there, Elwood, you’ve passed your Spot skill check, so you’ll be able to see what happens in the fortress. Satisfied?

Elwood: Ooh, I passed a skill check!

"Capital One??? That's what's in your wallet???"

DM: Now, while Ridley is busy freeing Marina, Snails gets to work stealing back the scroll, which is still valuable for a reason I’m not 100% sure of considering that they already have the ruby. However, Snails’ foolishness--which I believe 21st century mortals refer to as “mugging for the camera”--results in his getting captured by Damodar. Atop the keep, Damodar threatens to kill Snails if Ridley does not relinquish the ruby…

Me: I vote that we let Snails die.

Elwood: Second!

Marina: I quit if we don’t.

DM: D’oh! Well, yes he’s going to die, but it’s a very sad moment in the story, because he bravely tosses them the scroll just before he is stabbed. Marina, you pick up a fallen bag of magic powder and cast a spell to stun Damodar before you teleport yourself and Ridley away.

Me: You know, with all the times we’ve stunned Damodar, maybe we should try sometime to stab him while he’s down. I think that even Barbara Boxer would approve of that at this point.

"I like Turkish baths, but I think this will be my last visit to an Afghani bath."

DM: Recovering at an elven village, your party manages to put aside its grief, and decides to continue with the mission. But while you are resting, Profion has led the Council of Mages into open rebellion against the Empress, fortifying themselves in a tower in the center of Izmer while the Empress dispatches her gold dragons to defeat them. It is truly a massive battle, with wizards hurling fireballs at the dragons and dragons breathing fireballs upon the tower!

Me: Yeah, I liked this movie better when it was a video game called Panzer Dragoon and had better graphics.

DM: But your party, meanwhile, must retrieve the red dragon-controlling wand to prevent Profion from getting it…

Me: Or, if I’ve learned anything from all the movies I’ve ever watched, to inadvertently assure that he does get it.

Ol' Blue Lips is back.

DM: You journey to an underground dungeon, protected by a magical barrier that only Ridley can pass through for a reason that is probably in a deleted scene or something. In there, he finds incredible riches, but being a great hero now, he leaves all of that in favor of retrieving the wand, which a mural reveals as having incredible powers. Exiting the dungeon, Ridley, you find that your friends have been captured by Damodar and his men, and if you don’t give up the wand, he will kill them! He promises, however, that if you hand him the wand, he will let them all go.

Me: I don’t suppose that any number of points I have in the ‘Sense Motive’ skill will convince you to let me act with the knowledge that he’s obviously lying.

DM: Whatever your ‘Sense Motive’ skill is, I’m sure his ‘Bluff’ skill is higher. You give him the wand, and he disappears through a portal he creates, but the soldiers he leaves behind threaten to kill your friends anyway, although admittedly, they do not do so the moment Damodar gives the irrefutable order, “Kill them all,” even though the soldiers have swords at your friends’ throats. Norda and Elwood break free, and they start beating up on the soldiers! See, Elwood! You’re fighting people! With an ax! Aren’t you excited?

"Sorry Thora, but the nerdy wizard chick is much fairer than you."

Elwood: No, not really. We’re going to lose. After all this time, we must be fighting enemies of at least level 14 or 15. But we’ve done so little fighting that we can’t be more than level 2 right now. It’s over.

DM: Ah, but be not troubled, for I can assure you that the soldiers are every bit as incompetent as they have been for the past ninety minutes! This allows you, Ridley, to chase Damodar through the portal, and confront him and Profion at the wizards’ tower. Profion has summoned a swarm of red dragons and they are battling the gold dragons for the fate of the kingdom! Now, you have the initiative, Ridley, so what’s your first move? Do you attack Damodar directly, or do you use a special attack?

Me: Really? You mean you’re actually inviting me to engage in combat with a somewhat challenging enemy?

DM: Indeed I am.

"Hey, Bob. I think Sparky wants to play fetch with his auxiliary eyeball."

Me: Wow. I’m beside myself. This game based on the movie based on the game is actually involving something that sometimes happens in a real Dungeons & Dragons game! Or a real movie for that matter! All right, let’s do this! (rolls d20) I rolled an 11! Pretty good! Now, let’s see. My base attack bonus is 4, my bonus from my Strength attribute is 1, I have proficiency with a long sword, my sword has a +2 bonus, I’m smaller than Damodar so I get a +1 size bonus to hit, I’m using Power Attack +3, I’m facing west, it’s a Tuesday, humidity’s at 52%, and so my final attack bonus is… wait a minute, I have proficiency with short swords, not long swords. I have to start all over again.

DM: D’oh! All right, I’ll get the calculator. Marina, start work on figuring out Damodar’s armor class.

Marina: I’ll be done in a flash!

"Damn you, Damodar! You probably killed my father! Or you are my father! Either way, I'm going to get you!"

(80 minutes later)

DM: Congratulations! After three rounds of combat, you have defeated Damodar and thrown him off the tower! But Profion himself is much too powerful for you to defeat. However, Ridley amazes him by snatching the red dragon wand and appearing to be able to wield it. But you only overcome Profion when the Empress arrives and defeats Profion in battle, summoning a gold dragon to eat him.

Me: I know I want my epic fantasy movie to end with the villain vanquished by the emo girl from American Beauty.

Although Jennifer Connelly pulled out from the role of the elf at the last minute, there was no time to get the costume refitted for Kristen Wilson.

DM: Your party has completed its quest. You have defeated Profion and his rebellion, and the Empress can now complete her sweeping reforms and make everyone in Izmer equal, in a completely ambiguous way. You, Ridley, are made a knight, and say goodbye to your friend Snails at his grave, where you place the ruby in order to finally give Snails his “big score.”

Me: Which is really just about the most insulting thing I could have possibly done as I seek to define what he meant to me. That’s like going to Michael Jackson’s grave and resting a naked Ken doll atop it.

DM: And as for the rest of you, you’re… happy, I guess.

Marina: All right, then.

Elwood: I guess so.

"Trust me, guys. There's definitely no way that dragons are resistant to fire."

DM: So, to wrap up our story…

Me: Allow me. Dungeons & Dragons is just about the most embarrassing movie I’ve ever seen. Jeremy Irons’ performance is so ludicrous and over-the-top that I get the feeling he gave it out of sheer contempt for the production, something born out by the behind-the-scenes footage on the DVD. Marlon Wayans just does his hood version of Jar-Jar Binks the whole movie, Thora Birch looks perpetually shellshocked by her awareness of the movie she’s in, and the rest of the actors just don’t know what the hell’s going on. The special effects would have looked ridiculous in Ghostbusters. And except for the fleeting shot of Beholders, fearsome and iconic enemies from the game who are now interpreted as mere watchdogs, this film could have been nearly identical without the game license and no one would have known any better. It’s just a completely generic family fantasy movie. Ironically, this thing somehow got a sequel, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God. And despite being a Sci-Fi Channel movie of all things, it was actually a vast improvement, both as an interpretation of the game and as an exciting movie, not that I’m saying much there.

Irons froze, realizing what was behind him. It was Oscar himself, and he had come to reclaim his award.

DM: You know, I think I’ve had enough of your callous disdain for this fine film! It was a story of courage and valor, and if you disparage it one more time, you’ve got a fight coming to ya!

Me: Hey, I think it was every bit what I’d expect from an action movie directed by a man named Courtney.

DM: That’s it! Let’s fight!

Me: You got it! (rolls d20)

DM: Ha! A lowly 6! That’s probably a pitiful blow, but I’ll know for sure once I consult several chapters of the Player’s Handbook and finish compiling this spreadsheet!