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Everything posted by DShomshak

  1. < Well, I wouldn't argue with anyone who said it was one of the top 10. TOS episodes were varied enough that they achieved excellence in different ways, allowing no single "best." Dean Shomshak
  2. The public radio program On the Media had a quite interesting program today (Aug. 9) about the rise of Poland's Law and Justice Party, and its use of conspiracy theory and tailored history to further its nationalist aims. A scary case study in the rise of illiberal democracy and populist nationalism -- but there is still some hope. Law and Justice looks shaky -- yes, its presidential candidate won the last election, but narrowly, despite full exploitation of captive state media, against a liberal candidate brought in only a few weeks before the election. If Fukuyama's liberal "end of history" is no longer a sure thing, neither is populist neo-fascism. Well worth hearing. Dean Shomshak
  3. Some years back, my FLGS sold novelty soap in the shape of a d20, with an actual d20 at the center of the clear soap. I bought one for a Christmas present for my niece, who counts soapmaking and Pathfinder among her hobbies. Dean Shomshak
  4. This is not necessarily relevant for names, but what is the connection between the character's magic and being a Wiccan? This can go various ways, since there are different kinds of mystics. Using some of the basic types: Scholar-Mage: The mystic gained magical powers through arcane study and practice. (Even if the potential for magic is inborn, a la Harry Potter, the character studied to learn to control it.) In this case, the character might have become interested in magic by way of Wicca, but her magic doesn't actually derive from it. Her powers are her own; she can use them and develop them any way she wants. Priest/Pacter/Servant of Higher Powers: The character's magic comes from some supernatural entity: a god, a demon, a faerie, whatever. In this case, perhaps, Danu. The character's Wiccan beliefs are central to her magic: It's how she contacted the goddess (or the goddess contacted her). The supernatural patron probably has some interest in how the magic is used, and might even be able to shut it down. (Though not necessarily. Some gifts cannot be taken back. This is up to you, as GM.) Wild Talent: The character's magic is instinctive, channeled neither through an occult system nor the aid of a spiritual patron. If there's any system or restriction on her magic, it's idiosyncratic and possibly exists only in her imagination. If she imagines her magic comes from Danu, this is news to the goddess. If she thinks there's some occult system explaining her magic, it might be one she got from a trashy pop-occult book. (Or a folk tradition, a novel, an Internet kook, a roleplaying game supplement...) There are other possibilities, but this covers the main ones. (Like, she might have magic powers because she's the child of a mortal and a supernatural creature, but that could function as a subtype of Wild Talent.) Dean Shomshak
  5. IIRC back in the '70s there was talk of "ESPionage" programs in the US, USSR and likely other places. The PCs could find threads reaching back to one such ESPionage program. That got weirder than attempts at finding Russian submarines through remote viewing. (If possible, browse through Kenneth Hite's "Suppressed Transmissions" columns for Pyramid magazine. Urban fantasy, alternate history and hidden history are specialties of his.). But leads on investigation keep getting cut off. People involved in the long-ago-project, who for some reason the PCs want to talk to about something apparently mundane, died mysteriously but in ways that could have been faked. Records that should exist, don't. Etc. Eventually the PCs' searhing for information makes someone nervous, who starts pushing back. Eventually they realize there's something genuinely supernatural and otherworldly behid the mysteries and cutouts. You might also find inspiration from the Delta Green supplements for Call of Cthulhu. Secrets, deception, hidden dangers -- espionage and the mystical go together like peanut butter and jelly. Of course the PCs can also find some "Scoobie Doo" scenarios where spies are making a hoax of supernatural events as a way to extract information, manipulate a community, or whatever. Dean Shomshak
  6. It happens. The high point of my father's journalistic career was when he exposed our country sheriff as a mobster and sent him to jail for life. Who watches the watchmen, and all that. Also, a year or two back I heard an interview with someone who d been in the racist skinhead white Power movement and got out -- Chris Somethingorother, gha, it's been too long -- who said the group's leaders started telling members to stop bearing up random minority people and become cops, lawyers or business people instead. Positions of power where they can commit their crimes under cover of law. Dean Shomshak
  7. In case anyone's interested, last Saturday (Aug. 1) All Things Considered interviewed Washington state \Secretary of State Kim Wyman on conducting elections by mail. She told of one serious attempt to defraud the system, by paid signature-gatherers who decided it would be easier if they made their own voters through fraudulent aplications. They were caught PDQ. Ms. Wyman said that in the last major election about 140 fraudulent ballots were caught -- people voting twice, for instance -- out of more than 3 million ballots cast, which statistically is microscopic. This does not mean someone might not attempt such a scheme as Archer described. I could imagine Russian trolls suggesting it to Trump zealots. But the (Russian) goal is not actually to swing elections -- it's to *be caught* and so create doubt in the election's result. Because even if the attempted saboteurs are caught quickly, some peoploe will wonder how long they managed to steal ballots, and if the ever-distrusted Authorities are "covering up" the extent of the damage. Dean Shomshak
  8. As it happens, my brother knows a few Trump fans and yes, at least these few think that way. Dean Shomshak
  9. trump is of course flailing around looking for ways to avoid losing. He is also probably trying to distract people from his abysmal mishandling of the pandemic. And he likes to make outrage just to see people scurry in response. But I thought of another possible reason: He's just jealous at John Lewis' funeral pushing him off the front page. Everybody's praising this old black guy Trump never heard of, instead of paying attention to HIM! In my local paper, though, it still didn't put Trump on the front page. Dean Shomshak
  10. Fortunately (and by design, to prevent just such shenanigans), the U. S. Constitution is extraordinarily difficult to amend. 2/3 majority in both House and Senate, or proposal by 2/3 of state legislatures, just to start the process. Then ratification by 3/4 of states. It can't be done quickly. Trump may not know this, but people around him do. Dean Shomshak
  11. As for Portland and the federalized response to protests -- including snatching peaceful protesters off the street by agents who do not identify themselves, using similarly unmarked vehicles, nowhere near the federal buildings the agents are allegedly there to protect: Last Sunday my local paper reprinted a column by Thomas Friedman on how Trump has adopted the Middle Eastern Dictator's Playbook, as exemplified most dramatically in recent years by Syria's Assad. Meet peaceful protests with brutality. This results in protests that are no longer peaceful. Which gives the excuse for even more brutality, as you tell the public that only your strong hand can protect them from the chaos and violence that you have caused. I hope Trump is only trying to lok tough for his base and does not have some more extended plan, such as suppressing the vote in the liberal cities by lockdowns or just making it too dangerous to go out. (Which wouldn't work if everyone votes by mail. Huh.) Or even using a supposed insurrection as an excuse to cancel the vote altogether. Which is getting into paranoid conspiracy theory territory, but with this regime, I can't rule it out. Dean Shomshak
  12. reading has become physically painful as my eyes get worse, so I m grateful for Librivox free audiobooks of public domain literature. This gave me a chance finally to finish William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land: A seminal work, but dear gods Hodgson's pseudo archaic language is thick... and long-sinded. The Night Land fully deserves its reputation as a tour de force of world-building. With some tweaking, it could also make a stunning game setting. Hodgson's portrayal of an inconceivably far future Earth in which the sun has gone out and the last of humanity lives in a miles-high Great Redoubt besieged by monsters is fantastic, in every sense. The protagonist's quest fo find a Lesser Redoubt is suitably harrowing. (And bonus points for the number of times he tries to be smart and avoid the monsters.) But the book is marred by lengthy digressions in which the narrator-protagonist tells about the Night Land or the Great Redoubt, speculates about the information, and spends whole paragraphs explaining why he's telling us about his speculations, and why he's telling us why he's telling us. Background information and guesses what it means, fine. The rest is waste verbiage. A little editiong could have reduced the book by, at least 10% with no loss of content. There is also a lengthy sequence in the latter half of the book in which gender attitudes are expressed that many people would now consider, hm, toxic? And, unfortunately, in which nothing much actually happens. The framing narrative of reincarnation used to set up the story also struck ne as a bit clumsy. Fortunately, it's just one chapter at the beginning. Still, despite these flaws The Night Land deserves its status as a classic. A lot of fantasy and SF traces back to The Night Land, and it's well worth going back to the source for your own inspiration. Dean Shomshak
  13. One group I wrote up but never got to use was the College of Crime, a group of teen supervillains-in-training led by the sinister Headmaster. (Who had no super-powers, just a smart guy with skills and some gadgets.) One was the kid brother of an established supervillain who had the same mutant powers, another gained powers in an accident, the usual stuff. But none are hardened villains -- yet. Make of it what you will. An idea I had for a "people with powers" campaign was based on the idea that a team of super-thieves finally struck it rich and retired. They still live near each other (maybe a block of row houses they bought). Now their teenage kids have discovered what Mom and/or Dad used to do, and have in one way or another inherited their powers: mutant power activates, finds the power ring or old battlesuit, etc. Of course they don't tell their parents at first, because, teenagers. What do they do? And then the CW did something rather like that with the new Stargirl series, with a new generation of legacy heroes and two kids (so far) who know their parents are supervillains. I am slightly miffed at being preempted. dean Shomshak
  14. Also, more master villains from outside the Western world. CV! has more master villains from other dimensions (I'll include Takofanes here, as the Turakian Age is effectively another world) than from non-Western cultures. It's just a feature of the world we live in now. It's why in my now-on-indefinite-hiatus Millennium Universe campaign, the nuclear-powered mega-menace Professor Proton comes from India, the robotic hive of the Monad first appeared in China, the Warlock is South American, etc. For an updated CU, it would not be too difficult, I think, to relocate some of the master villains and heavy hitters, or to create new characters. First on the list? A second master villain for China. As much as I like Doctor Yin Wu, there's more to China than martial arts, magic and Victorian stereotypes. Dean Shomshak
  15. Excellent point from Tjack about a hypothetical reboot being more centered on now, rather than locking in treatments of tropes as they were in past decades. Take VIPER, for instance: Sure, the CU needs a SPECTRE/HYDRA homage, but what's cool and meaningful in 2020 is not necessarily the same as it was in 1970. For reasons of parsimony (and for historical campaigns) it's best to keep one VIPER that has operated for a long time, but the organization can have undergone drastic changes. (I'd write out the giant magic snake, though. LL's idea of the Serpentine network as the true Supreme Serpent seems most suitable to me, to go with the contemporary anxieties about systems and organizations that run out of control, no longer serving even their creators and supposed masters.) Dean Shomshak
  16. Last week I saw Comet NEOWISE on a fortunately clear night. Has anyone else? Dean Shomshak
  17. ANYWAY... When I recently re-watched "Catspaw" (the "trick or treat" episode with Korob and Sylvia), I found it extra-amusing for reasons that had nothing to do with the show itself. See, the game Exalted has creatures called the Fair Folk -- their version of elves and faeries. The Fair Folk are creatures of primordial Chaos that have taken humanoid form to exist in Creation. To survive in Creation, they must feed on human souls. And one of their ways of doing this is to lure humans into acting out stories with them. Beyond such necessities, though, story roles are how they create identities. They are masks without faces behind them; they can only pretend to be real. Korob and Sylvia are surprisingly good models for Fair Folk. Sylvia has her identity all worked out as sensual villainess. Korob is shiftier. Through the episode, he keeps trying out different roles: sinister magus, tester of morals, finally repentant but doomed ally, as Kirk et al fail to play along. The pair even admit they need other people to give them form and roles to play. Even the ending fits the pattern. Gosh, all they had to do was break the magic wand? That was easy. But classic fairy tale. And then it was all just make-believe... except for crewman Jackson being dead. Korob and Sylvia seem to be dead, too... or is that just more of the role-playing? "Catspaw" was written by Robert Bloch, who got his start as a friend and disciple of H. P. Lovecraft. As an encounter with the wholly alien, the ep is a pretty fair Lovecraftian homage, even if it doesn't have the usual slime and tentacles. Dean Shomshak
  18. Incidentally, I am amused by Trump's outrage that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have not shown consistent and obedient fealty. His own world-view should have told him this: He gave them something that he can't take back, and he has nothing else that they want. Therefore he has no leverage. They don't need him anymore. So why should they give a rat's ass what he wants? Dean Shomshak
  19. I've seen a distinction made between democratic politics and despotic politics. Either way, the fundamental question is, "Who gets their way?" In democratic politics, factions seek victories on particular issues but don't try to win completely on everything and forever. In despotic politics, factions seek permanent supremacy and the destruction of rivals. (Their political destruction, at least -- a permanent irrelevance.) Thing is, it looks to me like Republicans/conservatives already chose despotic politics. Completely. Voter suppression, ultra-gerrymandering, refusing even to take a vote on Merrick Garland -- those aren't tactics to persuade or to gather a stronger coalition, those are tactics to lock out the other side. Perhaps many conservatives genuinely believe this is all righteous defense against liberals flouting the law. That doesn't make it true. And if they can't come up with any Democratic offenses worse than Hillary's emails, I am not inclined to believe their claim. OTOH, conservatives have clearly lost on various cultural issues dear to their heart, such as opposition to same-sex marriage, where the Left won by impeccably lawful means. So it looks to me like the Left can get what it wants democratically or judicially, and the Right knows it must go despotic or lose completely. So, should liberals accept the new reality and embrace despotic politics as the alternative to being crushed? That depends on how far Trump goes this fall, and how far other Republicans are willing to go along. I don't think we are at the point of supreme emergency yet, though I can see it on the horizon. If Trump loses fairly and goes -- screaming, no doubt, but goes -- I'd prefer to let most investigations drop or at least be done quietly, with the aim of preventing future mischief. Still, I hope someone points out to Trump -- and forces him to listen, as best they can -- that if he can get away with a criminal presidency and then pardon himself, a Biden presidency could say, "Screw the pardon: We're nailing Trump to the wall." Break whatever laws are necessary, then pardon itself for doing so. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Dean Shomshak
  20. I loathe The Omega Glory for the same reason I loathe Bread and Circuses and Miri. Alternate history is fun, but the idea that there's an actual other Earth out in space, or a planet whose inhabitants replicated Earth history to the point of precisely copying the Roman Empire or the exact wording of the U. S. Constitution, makes me go, "No, that's ridiculous." Exact other-humans is enough of a stretch; I will grant the effort to explain it away through hints that aliens transplanted human colonies to other worlds. At least Nazi World and Chicago Mobster World had defined points of recent interference. Whatever worth Omega Glory has as a story, for me that revelation at the ending turns it all to crap. Dean Shomshak
  21. 2001 is a great movie. A milestone in cinema. Whether it's a good movie is a more complex question. And what makes it great might also be what doesn't make it good. Mostly, that Kubrick sets out to show humanity encountering something incomprehensible, and so leaves the audience in pretty much the same position as the characters. He set out to make a movie that leaves you wondering what the hell just happened, and boy howdy, he succeeded. It was difficult for me to appreciate this on first viewing because (like Cancer) I'd already read A. C. Clarke's book, which explains everything. But Kubrick followed the rule my junior high English teacher gave for writing: Show me, don't tell me. So nobody stops to explain zero-g, or how to use centrifugal force to simulate gravity. You are supposed to figure it out for yourself. We never really know any of the characters. HAL gets more backstory than any of the humans, and that's a matter of seconds. We know some characters have families, but how did they end up doing what they do? We get nothing. Because real people rarely go around delivering exposition on their life stories. The monolith does something to start the early hominids using tools, but what or how? Dunno, it just does. When the monolith at Jupiter opens, nobody says, "It's a hyperspacial wormhole!" Actually, after enduring 7 seasons of Star Trek: the Next Generation, I find the absence of technobabble pseudo-explanations quite appealing. So, the opacity is deliberate. But it's not the usual idea of fun movie-watching. I don't blame anyone who finds it difficult to watch and impossible to enjoy. Dean Shomshak
  22. Re: Badger: I must add that this is merely a suggestion I have heard, and an implication I find plausible. I neither endorse nor condemn the interpretation. DS
  23. Re: Badger: I must add that this is merely a suggestion I have heard, and an implication I find plausible. I neither endorse nor condemn the interpretation. DS
  24. Re: Badger: I must add that this is merely a suggestion I have heard, and an implication I find plausible. I neither endorse nor condemn the interpretation. DS
  25. The Trouble with Tribbles wasn't just good farce. It also had some of the series' best ensemble writing. Scotty, Uhura and Chekov got to do more than usual, interacting with each other and with the main characters. An excellent bar fight, too. Dean Shomshak
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