TAZ: Podcast — Amnesty arc

Aside from Critical Role, The Adventure Zone is the one actual play D&D series I’ve been able to get into. Maybe I enjoyed it so much from the beginning because I was already a huge fan of the McElroys. I enjoy Griffin & Justin’s work at Polygon and I’ve been listening to the three of them on MBMBAM for a long time now. They started sort of at the right place, right time for me.

I’d been watching Tabletop on Geek & Sundry for a couple seasons, I’d started getting into Critical Role and looking into story-like podcasts that were something other than Welcome to Nightvale. And then the McEl-bros started The Adventure Zone.
And as I mentioned in yesterday’s post… they just sort of started. There was no long lengthy introduction to their characters, there was no overly detailed explanation of anything. Griffin just started narrating and they just ran with it. As much as I love Critical Role (and that’s a lot) something about the tight time of the TAZ podcast and the extreme humor they pack into those hour-ish long episodes really connected with me. Plus, Griffin’s storytelling is pretty amazing. He started with that first Phandalin adventure that a lot of D&D 5th edition groups start with and then… he made the whole thing his own. Which is EXACTLY what you should do as a DM. Just start. And then figure out the story you want to tell. That doesn’t always come before the players are around the table for the first time. At least, not the whole thing.
Anyhow. I say all that to say this, TAZ is one of my favorite things going. It’s one of my favorite podcasts and fans of McEl-content, TAZ specifically are really, pretty great. The McElroy brothers have gone out of their way to try and make listeners comfortable with the stories their telling in the best way they know how. They don’t always get it right, but the effort is always apparent.
With the ending of the TAZ: Balance arc, they guys have been working on shorter story arcs. Clint, their dad, ran one recently using the FATE system. Griffin is picking up a short arc using the Monster of the Week rules. Travis is working on his currently and cards are in the air on what if anything Justin will run before they pick up with a longer arc again. 
The first mini-story arc, Commitment, wasn’t my favorite. The 100 years arc in Balance that solidified how the end of the bigger story would play out was a low point for me as a listener. I’m not crazy about monster-of-the-week shows in general but I bided my time for the story to finally come full-circle. It did and when the whole story paid off, I bawled my eyes out in the final episode.
Commitment though, I felt disconnected from almost completely. I didn’t listen to all of their set-up episode, I gave introductions about 15 minutes and moved on. The story was alright, the humor was present but really, I got through those episodes because the brothers are still themselves at the end of the day and know how to make jokes deliver. While it didn’t resonate with me on a story or rpg level completely, it was worth it to listen to Clint stretch his storytelling abilities and Griffin take a turn as a player. 
Now in our second arc, with Amnesty, I did make it through all of the setup episode although it was a near thing. The episode released Friday 1/12 though, that was something. And honestly, I wish this is the episode they used as their “set-up” episode. I didn’t need to listen to them describe the game play and their characters for an hour. This hour long episode where each character Duck, Lady Flame & Edmund get a tiny adventure for themselves that we can assume is building to all three characters getting off on their adventure together. 
So, yes, one of the things that helps ties things together better here is that Griffin’s had three years of GM experience with the Balance arc. Whether or not all of the pieces in that story were successful is up to listener interpretation, but most fans can agree that the story pays off in the end.
For this first real episode of Amnesty, Griffin spoke into existence a story… and everyone just yes and-ed the hell out of what he provided them with. I really wish the previous episode had just been skipped. We’ll get just as much knowledge of your character from context clues and in-game interaction through the course of this arc as you gave us in that one set-up episode. I find that makes that build up unnecessary. 
This is a bit of a rambling through process about how games and stories begin and what I think is successful. Sorry about that. But I wanted to post about TAZ today because I really did enjoy this episode. It was a good salve for being strangely…. caught up… on Critical Role. 
I’m looking forward to what this new arc brings us (Bigfoot? *fingers crossed*), aside from the banging new intro Griffin wrote for it. But two days, two good beginnings on stories for my two favorite actual play games? 
Yeah, I’m good here.

Critical Role Season 2

Maker bless these nerdy-ass voice actors. Season 2 is off to a fantastic start… well, after some technical difficulties that kept the Alpha stream down for a little bit.

Although even before that, I thought that I might miss it given that the weather is bad here and we went without internet for a few different hours earlier in the evening. But, it came back on and stayed on for the entirety of the new episode. I switched back and forth between YouTube and twitch to watch a steady stream until the Alpha stream was back up. Alpha has people’s names and character portraits and they were slowly being updated throughout the evening as we learned who was playing what.

Here’s the biggest thing I enjoyed about tonight. And it’s one of the things I like about Matt’s storytelling, about the way Critical Role began in general and one of the things I like most about new games I DM. There was no extended discussion at the forefront of who was playing what and which classes they were or what their abilities would be. There was no awkward discussion introducing each individual. We got these characters as if we were picking up with new friends. As observers we’re coming across the characters in medias res. As players, they’ve talked to the DM, they’ve talked to one or two other people in the group and they have things already in place.

It’s like a new television show. You get contextual clues about characters as the first episode progresses. Most shows do not sit you down like an episode of the fucking Bachelor and give you every person’s backstory. It’s one of the things I think SO MANY actual play shows and podcasts get wrong. [The Adventure Zone’s Balance arc did this really well. The boys didn’t know what they were doing the first time around and their first episode gave us brief intros and then they just jumped into the first adventure at Phandalin. I feel like in these more subsequent stories where they’ve spend a whole episode on character introductions, I’ve enjoyed those less.]

And as I mentioned, it’s one of the things I like as a DM also. I want characters that come to me sort of half-formed. I want players (and observers) to come to the story with little expectations. Learning through play is one of the best and most exciting things. You don’t know how a character (including your own most times) will react to certain situations until you come across them. So while you might plan to play a trickster (and be still my heart about Vex’s new character, Jester) until you get to stretch your legs with that character you still don’t know how they’re react in each situation.

As an aside about RP characters in general — this is why as a DM (and a player) I highly advocate for rolled stats and randomization tables upon creation. As a player, if I can completely randomize character creation, I will. I love rolling up a character that might not make much sense and then having to play and find out what I can do with them, and what they might grow up to be. I’ve played some really interesting characters through the years as a result.

When the first season launched, we got the characters and the game sort of already in progress just by fact that there was already a game happening. They just moved it in front of the cameras and stuck to a schedule. But they didn’t spend the first episode just explaining anything… Matt just jumped them right into the game with a minimal recap. I really appreciate that they kept that mystery for Season 2. The slow reveals of what people were playing, how they would speak, what they’d be good at and what exactly their roles would be, were fantastic. It wasn’t forced and it wasn’t over-explained. Over what might be another 100 episodes, we’ll figure these characters out pretty thoroughly, if experience with Season 1 has taught us anything.

I’ve got more specific character thoughts I want to put down, but I’ll save those for another post.

GCF: Podcast — I am a C. I am a C.H.

A little while back I discovered the podcast, Good Christian Fun.

According to their website:

Good Christian Fun is a podcast delving into the strange upside-down world of Christian pop culture. Hosts Kevin T. Porter and Caroline Ely are your tour guides through the weird and hilarious world of faith-based entertainment. GCF is a show for skeptics and believers alike, all are welcome. 

Don’t worry, we won’t make you go to church 😉 

Let’s have some good Christian fun!

Typically, I tend to stay away from all things church-based, but I’m also a bit of a masochist, so I thought it might be worth a try, given their description. Plus, while I didn’t listen to the Gilmore Guys podcast Kevin Porter previously hosted, I never heard anything but good things about it.

Cue: Me laughing out loud at work, dying at the memories this podcast has dredged up that I would’ve previously been loathe to relive. Instead, Kevin and Caroline do hold up their end of the bargain. What they provide is a good time and lots of laughs about the weird and often absurd world of Christian entertainment. Even for me, who went to a church too strict to enjoy many of the things they address in the current 18 episodes, there’s been something in everything I can relate to in all of them.

In fact, I spent the better part of last week remembering the awful, but catchy, kiddie Christian songs that they taught us little kids in Sunday School. The absurdity of them is laughable now, but what’s even more hilarious (and perhaps troubling from an atheist’s perspective) is how universal and resilient these songs are. They’re the eternal earworm. Not only did I remember them, but I remembered all the words and often the hand movements or “dances” (we didn’t dance, but the few movements could barely be called a dance) that went with them.

I brought up one of them at work and all but one person on my team was able to remember the song word for word. (The last one gets a pass because she didn’t grow up in the States.) And it wasn’t just one song it was more than a handful of songs that we memorized at Sunday School or V.B.S or Church Camp.

It only took me an episode to realize that this was a podcast I was going to turn to every week for an hour an a half or more of laughs and maybe a more fun spin on subjects that aren’t particularly happy memories for me. It definitely puts them in a different light, and lets me enjoy them in some way. For that, I’m grateful.

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A Little Madness is Key

Cleaning this place out and starting over. I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the old world of LiveJournal and while I’ve owned a permanent account over there for the better part of a decade, I feel more comfortable letting Google host my thoughts than I do god knows who in the RU. So here we are. This place used to be a host to all my old Sim legacy stories. Well, it took me about two seconds to hit delete on those, so we know they were super important to keep around after seven or eight years.

Anyway. As I said, I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the old journaling platform, mostly in having a place to engage in a way that’s not the reblog mentality of tumblr or even facebook. Or heaven forfend, the micro-interest of the twitter platform, which for me at least, is just as bad in the reblog/repost weird timeline issues of the other two. I get it, it’s a way to share info, but one of the things I miss about LJ and even the early days of tumblr is getting to know people. Actually know them. So here’s my attempt at something sort of like that once more.

A woman can dream.

Mortal Kombat Movie Party at the Alamo Drafthouse Kansas City

mortal kombat vs.My best friend and I attended a screening of Mortal Kombat this week at the Kansas City Alamo Drafthouse. If you don’t know about the Alamo Drafthouse you should definitely check to see if there’s one in your city, because they’re a lot of fun. The Alamo is a movie theater like few other. There’s a bar, movies, plus food and drink (including alcohol) service inside the theater during the movie. It’s lowkey and in addition to hosting regular and recent films, they also host a lot of events.

There’s always some kind of event upcoming at the Alamo, like this week’s screening of Mortal Kombat. It was round one of their Vs. series. When we entered the theater we were given a glow-in-the-dark necklace (blue) to use whenever Rayden came on screen. We were given a pair of sunglasses to wear whenever Johnny Cage was wearing his – and the crush later in the movie when Goro does the same. Then we had three confetti poppers each to set off when our favorite characters entered “Mortal Kombat”… or as the case was in our theater, whenever people felt there was a good moment in a fight.

Before the movie there was also a Super Nintendo Mortal Kombat tournament going on and everyone in attendance could watch the matches on the big screen. As the movie time drew closer and more people were arriving and watching, people cheered and booed during the fights, enjoying the scene no matter who was playing. During the movie, people are encouraged to quote along with their favorite lines – and we did! – and then we sang with the song during the credit sequence. My friend and I enjoyed “grown-up” Grilled Cheese with fries during the meal. We didn’t drink but often during one of these movies they offer special themed drinks with collector glasses. That wasn’t the case this night which was too bad.

Overall everytime I go to one of these events, I’m impressed with how it’s presented. Highly recommend.

Best Damn Beauty Cleanser

best damn beauty cleanserI’m in love. I’d been looking for a cleanser that would do everything my favorite by waaaaay more expensive face wash would do, and I’ve found it. I have been using the Arbonne Fresh & Clean face cleanser for about a year and a half and it does everything I want it to do. But when I started to get low, I looked for something new that would work the same for a less expensive price. Everything Arbonne is pricy and I don’t like feeling pressured to buy from them, or having to join their club for discounts or whatever. It’s a pain.

Enter the perfect timing from Best Damn Beauty. If you don’t know them, Best Damn Beauty is the brainchild of Nicole Guerriero, a YouTube beauty vlogger. When it first launched, there were two products, the lip mask and the facial mask. I ordered them (they’re pricey but worth it) and loved them. Since then, I’ve tried everything from the line so far and while it takes a little faith to order consider how new the products are – I’ve been pleased with everything so far. The new cleanser is no exception.

It’s not a liquid kind of consistency, it’s a foam but I can wash off a full-faced of make up in one wash (2 pumps). When I’ve washed it off my face still feels moisturized after, it doesn’t irritate my sensitive eyes and there’s no residue left over. The foam actually starts to fade really quickly after you apply it to your face, which is the only thing I’m not crazy about because I feel like I have to wash quickly. But when I’m done I get a clean, fresh face. There is a rosey, floral scent but it fades gracefully and isn’t super strong. I pair this with a pump of the firming serum and a few of the facial spray and it feels like a treat.

Everything in the Best Damn Beauty line has a rose/floral scent and settles on the skin with a sweet floral, less rosey scent. If you don’t like floral scents, it might not be for you. I have a really sensitive sense of smell – strong scents give me horrible migraines – and I love the smell of these products because they’re sweeter and don’t settle too floral or musky. Perfect for me.


The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of itE
In 2013 when everyone online seemed to be listening to or talking about The 1975, I gave them a try. “They’re okay,” I said. They were a rock band and I didn’t really feel anything special about the album or the music. It wasn’t for me, that’s okay.

When I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it came out last week I thought I’d give The 1975 another chance. One of the best things that’s come out of my Google Music membership in the last two years is that on New Music Fridays (previously Tuesdays) I can look at what’s new and give it a listen. I’m an album girl at heart, I like to start at the beginning and listen straight through to get a feel for the music and Google Music/YouTube Red lets me do that without commercials and without any pressure to buy an album for a single song if I decide I like something. So even though I didn’t much care for their first album, since I’m a big believer in sophomore albums, I decided to give them another try.

Man am I glad I did because I haven’t been able to get enough of this album in the last week. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it gives me a little something I’ve been craving in music recently. There’s a strong rock vibe but with a bit of a Bowie edge. There’s something still a little pop in their sound, but their not afraid to reach outside that sound and pull in other influences. I love that occasionally we just get an electronic song without low key repetitive vocals, reminiscent perhaps of M83, like in the titular track “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” but on the same album we have “She’s American” which is my least favorite track and probably the most pop/top 40 sounding track on the album (two things that are not necessarily related).

The band is catching a few comments about how different the album can feel from one song to the next, but it’s music reviewers and old school music lovers and your hardcore fans that consume albums by the album. Most modern music consumers are doing so by the song either by way of radio play, things like Pandora or Spotify (or my favorite Google Music/YouTube Red). They’re getting their music by the song or by the video and the concept of the album while interesting is perhaps the least important thing about popular music these days. I think this album holds up just fine to listen to it straight through but no, from song to song, it’s not going to sound the same. I think that shows the band’s versatility in this case, their creative range and ability to hold your attention from start to finish.

If you’re already a fan of The 1975, maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but I think this a sophomore album worth the listen. I’m obsessed for sure. If you’re not a fan yet but you like David Bowie, Ray LaMontange, M83, Tom Petty, One Direction… give them a chance. And if you don’t see what all those musicians might have in common, well The 1975 is where you’ll find out.


Dinner Is My Design 02×04 – It’s Like Nabisco Introducing The Red Velvet Oreo

Dinner Is My Design Is a podcast by Elizabeth and Summer. Mostly, we just laugh really hard at the supremely shit TV shows we watch during the week (True Blood, we’re talking about you). The podcast was renamed as a tribute to NBC’s Hannibal and we don’t plan on changing it. You can visit the website for #DinnerIsMyDesign at http://www.dinnerismydesign.com/ or tweet at @Cherithe or @UziSuzuki to talk to us about the podcast.

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Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons

I know I’m behind the curve on the game Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons by Starbreeze Studios, but I just couldn’t not write about it after finishing it the other night. This game reminds me so deeply of one of my favorite video games of all time, The Path by Tale of Tales games. The Path came out almost 7 years ago but it’s got one of the most compelling retellings of Little Red Riding Hood I’ve ever played. There’s something about the way Brothers is played, the music and the imagery that is really reminiscent of what Tale of Tales did with The Path.

In Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons, you play the two sons of a man just fallen ill. The titular brothers work together to get their father to a healer at the start of the game, but it’s not enough and the healer points them in the direction of a cure. Nothing I’ve described is told to the player in words either written or spoken by the characters. There’s no subtitles, and while the characters are voiced the words are more akin to Simlish than anything else. You’re given very brief instructions on the screen on how to control the brothers – interacting with the space bar and the right cntl button, and the WASL and arrow keys. The right cntl button isn’t one much used in gaming on the PC and I was skeptical of first of how it would play but after a few minutes in, I found it was pretty easy.

screenshot from brothers a tale of two sonsThe unique mechanic in Brothers is that instead of moving between characters to accomplish both tasks, you’re essentially operating both characters at once. Both characters must walk in the same direction, you can’t move further if one of the characters is too far in the other direction. So that space bar and right cntl are used as the interactions which are sometimes done simultaneously and sometimes down in conjunction, in some cases holding both. The game is a platformer, so the boys must jump and catch and move to solve puzzles. Since both brothers sometimes need to be working towards their goal, it can feel like a real brain stretch to figure out the timing on certain aspects. There are some things that make this a little easier — you’re unlikely to fall off tree limbs or narrow walkways for one, which can allow you to smash one brother into a wall while the other finishing moving where you need him.

At my best, I found myself moving and jumping with the brothers simultaneously not letting their forward momentum be slowed down by my inability to function for both of them simultaneously. At my worst, I repeatedly lost one brother off a cliff when I let up on the wrong button over and over again. There’s no puzzles it took me too long to figure out and while the story is pretty much a linear journey from start to finish, there are some interesting little things the brothers can accomplish if you let them off the path where the game lets you explore. These are few and far between moments, but you’re often rewarded either by the story or an achievement for the extra effort.

screenshot from brothers a tale of two sonsFor a game where the main characters are so young, it does cover some grim subjects – starting the game with the death of the boys mother and their father’s illness and continuing into troll caves and a forest of giants slain in battle. The music and the artwork are both gorgeous and a large part of what reminds me of The Path so much, emotion often portrayed just as much by the sound or the look of an area as it is by the characters.

If you haven’t checked out this game before now, it’s $14.99 on Steam but it goes on sale often. It’s maybe four hours long, longer if you search for some of the more hidden bits, but more than worth the small impact to your wallet.


Educating Emma by Kira Devlin

educating emma book coverI recently spent a few hours with the new novel by a friend of mine, Kira Devlin. She’s written a short novella length erotic romance novel titled Educating Emma. It’s got a “Happily for Now” kind of ending, and the majority of the novel gives us a glimpse into the BDSM lifestyle of a university professor named Grant Morgan and his recently graduated assistant, Emma. After a year of working together in close quarters, attracted to each other but hiding it as well as they can manage, Grant and Emma both find themselves at a party looking to hook up with partners to distract them and let out a little pent up tension. What they don’t expect is to run into each other.

What follows is a look at the sort of lifestyle Professor Morgan leads behind closed doors, one that Emma is very intrigued by. There’s a good bit of character development with these two characters as we meet them on Emma’s last day in the Professor’s office and we see the thoughts of both of them leading up to the party, including their desires for each other, leading them to need the kind of night that’s at the crux of the story. The Dominant/Submissive relationship is handled patiently and intimately between the characters, and the reader is along for each moment Emma has to check in with herself to make sure she knows what she’s getting into.

The book is up on Amazon for $0.99 and if erom novels are your thing, it’s a small price to pay for admission. I gave it 5 stars over on Goodreads.

She may be graduating, but her education is just beginning …

For Emma, working for Professor Morgan has been pure torture. His commanding presence gives her the kind of ideas that no grad student should entertain about her boss. So when a friend offers her a chance to live out her forbidden fantasies, she jumps at the chance. Maybe if she can find a man to give her the dominance she needs, she’ll forget all about the thrill she gets in her professor’s presence …

Grant Morgan needs an outlet for his desire, one with lush curves and a taste for submission – one that isn’t relying on him to write a professional recommendation. He’s kept a tight leash on his instincts around Emma, but now that she’s leaving, he’s in desperate need of release. A private party should be exactly what he’s looking for.

But when that party brings him face to face with Emma, Grant finds that he has a lot more to teach her than he ever dared to dream …