The Alexandrian

Gencon 2014 - The Best Four Days in Gaming

I mentioned a couple days ago that I’d just returned from Gencon and a few people asked me to talk a little bit about my experiences there. As I mentioned, I ran 5 games and played in 4:

  • Numenera: Into the Violet Vale (ran 3 sessions)
  • The Strange: Eschatology Code (ran 2 sessions)
  • Cthulhu Masters Tournament (played in 2 rounds)
  • Eclipse Phase: Detente
  • Eclipse Phase: Overrun

This was more intense but considerably less varied than last year, when I played in 6 games (including Call of Cthulhu, Lady Blackbird, Eclipse Phase, Shab-al-Hiri Roach, and Numenera).

The sessions of Numenera and The Strange I ran were actually the very first con games I’ve ever run. And I made a very conscious decision to jump in with both feet by signing up to run two sessions of each. What I wasn’t anticipating was that this would, in turn, lead to a very intense pre-con experience, too: I didn’t receive the scenarios I was running from Monte Cook Games until August 2nd, which meant I had less than two weeks to read them, prep them, and playtest them. (I ended up running two playtest sessions of The Strange: Eschatology Code and one session of Numenera: Into the Violet Vale with various assortments of my local players.) The core rulebook for The Strange was also just released and so I found myself having to run the game without actually having read the core rulebook yet. (I actually still haven’t finished the core rulebook.)

The Strange - Bruce Cordell and Monte CookTHURSDAY MORNING SURPRISE: I was supposed to launch my Gencon experience by playing in an 8 AM game of Numenera run by an independent GM unassociated with the official MCG events. I haven’t had much of a chance to actually play the game since last Gencon and I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the GM was a no-show. That meant that I was sitting at a table in the Marriott with four players who were all desperate to try out this awesome game. Meanwhile, right next door at the JW Marriott, I had all my supplies for running Into the Violet Vale.

Well… you can guess what happened next. We headed over to the JW Marriott’s bar, sat in comfy chairs, and I inaugurated my experience of GMing at con twelve hours earlier than I was anticipating. The session, albeit somewhat abbreviated on time, proceeded fabulously. (This was followed by a desperate scramble to print out new character sheets for the scenario so that I would have enough for my official games. Fortunately, the JW Marriott has a FedEx store on the second floor.)

THE STRANGE: Since Gencon last year, Numenera has rapidly dominated my roleplaying, displacing D&D 3.5 as my most played game. I am just as excited about The Strange. I talked more about it over here, but the short version is this: If you’ve dismissed this as just a simple “dimension hopping” game, take the time to give it a second look. It’s doing some really interesting and unqiue stuff within the genre.

I will also say that Eschatology Code, the scenario Bruce Cordell wrote for Gencon, is simply fantastic. It has certain limitations as a scenario for home play (although it would be a strong way to kick off a campaign), but it’s one of the tightest and most effective convention scenarios I’ve had the pleasure to see. No spoilers, but if you get a chance to play it, I recommend seizing the opportunity.

ECLIPSE PHASE: I’m a huge fan of Eclipse Phase and my experiences with their games this year were great. I had some confusion with my schedule (Google Calendars shifted the times of all my events when I switched time zones heading into Indianapolis) and I ended up being an hour late for the first scenario. After apologizing profusely for being an unintentional jackass, however, I settled into a really nifty scenario involving multiple factions fighting over control of one of the Pandora Gates. Midway through the scenario I had a Crowning Moment of Awesome(TM) and actually got a round of applause at the end of the session for it. Woot!

(During the convention I also got two rounds of applause while GMing, one after pulling a back-to-back doubleheader of Numenera and ThStrange that lasted until midnight on Friday.

CTHULHU MASTERS TOURNAMENT: This was my second year participating in the Cthulhu Masters Tournament and this year (after fleeing a Hound of Tindalos during the Fall of Saigon in a very memorable scenario where they actually built a helicopter for use to roleplay in) I advanced to the second round. This tournament is really fabulous and the caliber of players it attracts is simply marvelous.

THE LOOT: The two Gencon acquisitions I’m most excited about are Run, Fight, or Die and Level 7: Invasion. (The Strange would also be on the list, but I kickstarted it and received the rulebook a couple weeks earlier.)

Run, Fight, or Die - Richard Launius

Run, Fight, or Die was designed by Richard Launius (of Arkham Horror fame). I first glanced at it many moons ago when it was being kickstarted, but the pitch for the game was basically “King of Tokyo with zombies” and my response to that was, “Meh.” (As it is with pretty much all “it’s X plus zombies!” pitches.) But I slid into a demo game on the con floor and really, really enjoyed the game: The central keep-and-roll mechanic is similar to King of Tokyo, but that’s where the similarity ends: Run, Fight, or Die features immediate punishment for pushing your luck, which adds an extra dynamic of risk to the standard procedure or looking for the most favorable combination. The combinations themselves are actually progressive in interestingly discontinuous ways, which means that you can actually end up shooting past your desired result. Finally, the central conflict of the game — in which hordes of zombies move closer and closer towards you — creates a rich tactical environment in which you have to balance and choose between short-term and long-term consequences.

The whole package is just fabulous. I’ve played it a dozen times since getting home from Gencon and I’m pretty firmly convinced that it’s going to be a huge hit at my Game Night parties.

Level 7: Invasion - Privateer Press

I haven’t actually had a chance to play Level 7: Invasion yet, so I really can’t pass any kind of judgment or provide any kind of insight about it. But I’m a huge fan of Level 7: Escape and Level 7: Omega Protocol. The progressive storytelling in the series evolving through radically different types of games (Level 7: Escape is a co-op ‘crawler, Level 7: Omega Protocol is a players-vs-masters tactical combat game, and Level 7: Invasion is a geopolitical wargame) is really fascinating to me.

 

The Strange - System Cheat Sheet

(click for PDF)

The Strange is the new RPG from Monte Cook Games. The basic concept of the game looks something like this:

You may be familiar with the Fermi Paradox, the mysterious paradox which exists between the fact that conditions for intelligent life appear to be plentiful while intelligent life itself appears to be extremely rare. What we’ve discovered is that another scientific mystery — the existence and source of dark energy — is not so much a mystery as it is a smoking gun. We now know several key things about dark energy:

  • It forms a vast network which exists as a fractal substrate beneath the surface of reality as we understand it.
  • This network is, in fact, artificial. We don’t actually know why it was built, but we can tell that it’s the result of alien technology we can’t even begin to understand. This network is commonly referred to as the Strange.
  • The dark energy within this network is drawn to sentient life. When large populations of sentient life are present (like, say, a world with 7 billion people living on it) the concentration of dark energy rises precipitously.
  • Large concentrations of dark energy within the network cause the spontaneous creation of alternate realities based on the collective subconscious of the population. These realities are recursive instantiations of the “prime world” and have become referred to as “recursions”.
  • Unfortunately, large concentrations of dark energy also attract the attention of beings we refer to as “planetovores”. We refer to them by that name because the first time we encountered one, it attempted to eat the planet.

Other threats to humanity also exist in the Strange or emanate from recursions. For example, one of the many recursions in the shoals of Earth is the world of Ruk. It turns out, however, that Ruk is not a recursion of Earth: It was actually spawned from an alien world and then cast adrift through the Strange. Many people on Ruk, however, don’t like being stuck in Earth’s “gravitational pull” within the Strange and want to escape. Unfortunately, the only way they know of accomplishing that is to blow up the planet.

I’m still processing all the awesome material that’s been coming out for The Strange since the beginning of August, but I’ve also been running demo scenarios for Monte Cook Games. (I’ve run those scenarios for 20+ people now.) As a result, I’ve prepped one of my system cheat sheets for the game. This actually proved relatively simply, since the mechanics of The Strange are virtually identical to the mechanics in Numenera. (Somewhere on the order of 99.99% identical.) Where the system differentiates itself are the character creation mechanics (which use the same structure, but with a completely different set of content) and the incredibly clever mechanics by which you “translate” from one recursion to another. (The short version is that all characters in the system are summarized by their type, descriptor, and focus. For example, you might be a graceful paradox who solves mysteries. When you translate from one recursion to another, the core of your character — your type and your descriptor — remains the same. But as you are translated into the symbolic reality of the recursion, your focus changes. So the graceful paradox who solves mysteries on Earth becomes a graceful paradox who embraces Qephilim ancestry on Ardeyn and a graceful paradox who metamorphosizes on Ruk. It looks simple, but in actual play this simple mechanic — and the clever character sheet that makes implementing it a breeze — is addictively awesome.)

HOW I USE THE CHEAT SHEET

As with my other system cheat sheets, this one is designed to summarize all the rules of the game — from basic resolution to advanced combat options. I’ll make stapled copies of these sheets available to the players and also keep a copy behind my screen for quick reference: Serving as a comprehensive system reference, the sheets cut down on the amount of time required for rulebook references. The organization of information onto the cheat sheets should, hopefully, be intuitive. The actual sequencing of the pages is mostly arbitrary:

Page 1: For The Strange, the difficulty terrible is the heart of everything. Once you understand that, the special rolls, GM intrusion, and the concept of advantage/disadvantage 90% of the rest of the system actually becomes irrelevant. This page is likely to become superfluous quickly. You’ll note that I included examples of GM intrusion: This is unusual for my cheat sheets, but so much of the Cypher System is designed to empower strong, flexible rulings by the GM that providing this kind of idea fodder feels right to me and has proven useful during play.

Page 2: The core of the combat mechanics. If you’re teaching new players the game, you really only need to walk them through these first two pages. (I’ve been adding another column or so of additional material at the beginning of each subsequent section, slowly adding more tools to the players’ toolboxes.)

Page 3: The extended combat actions and options. The rules for “Trading Damage for Effect” are technically an optional rule, but I’ve found them too invaluable not to include here. (Compared to the draft version of the sheet, you may also notice that I’ve pulled out the guidelines for simplifying multiple enemies and the boss package you can use to buff NPCs. Very useful stuff for the GM that’s buried deep in the rulebook.)

Page 4: A collection of miscellanea. Optional rules are off on the right, but I haven’t used them yet in my own game. (You’ll also note a couple of house rules tucked down in the corner. These are still being playtested, but I think they’re useful.)

Page 5: Everything that you need to know about cyphers and the Strange. The big thing here are the translation mechanics, which you can use to really emphasize the important difference between translating through the recursions of the Strange and the kind of “teleportation” effect that players might be imagining from shows like Sliders or Stargate SG-1.

Page 6: Hazards & Combat modifiers. ‘Nuff said.

MAKING A GM SCREEN

These cheat sheets can also be used in conjunction iwth a modular, landscape-oriented GM screen (like the ones you can buy here or here).

Personally, I use a four-panel screen and use reverse-duplex printing in order to create sheets that I can tape together and “flip up” to reveal additional information behind them. For The Strange this is pretty straightforward. My screen looks like this:

  • Page 1: Basic Mechanics (nothing behind it)
  • Page 2: Combat (nothing behind it)
  • Page 3: Combat Actions (nothing behind it)
  • Page 4: Miscellaneous Rules, with The Strange printed on the opposite side and Hazards & Combat Modifiers behind it.

PLAY THE STRANGE

My only regret right now is that I’ve got enough gaming projects on my plate right now that I don’t know when I’ll be able to prep anything for The Strange beyond the introductory scenario and the demo scenario I’ve been running. But, like Numenera before it, this game already has my official “I Had a Ton of Fun Running That” seal of approval. So I recommend grabbing a copy ASAP and digging in.

The Strange - Monte Cook Games

JDJarvis at Aeons & Augauries has the really interesting idea of randomly determining the source of your PC’s starting wealth. Click through for a full table that gives you everything from petty theft to rich uncles to grave robbing.

I’ve seen a lot of “random background tables”, but what caught my eye about this one is that it leverages a common mechanic and seeds the mechanic with interesting narrative hooks. Any of y’all have interesting answers to the, “Where did you get that money from?” question?

In other news, I’m back from Gencon! I ran 5 games and played in 4:

  • Numenera: Into the Violet Vale (ran 3 sessions)
  • The Strange: Eschatology Code (ran 2 sessions)
  • Cthulhu Masters Tournament (played in 2 rounds)
  • Eclipse Phase: Detente
  • Eclipse Phase: Overrun

This was more intense but considerably less varied than last year, when I played in 6 games (including Call of Cthulhu, Lady Blackbird, Eclipse Phase, Shab-al-Hiri Roach, and Numenera). The lack of variety was not so much by design as accident: Reaching the second round of the Cthulhu Masters Tournament knocked out two other games that were originally on my schedule. (Although the decision to run 4 games for Monte Cook Games prevented me from participating in Games on Demand this year, which is a variety killer.)

Dungeons & Dragons - 5th Edition

As some my readers here may be aware, a hotly burning controversy has broken out around the list of people credited as “Consultants” in the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically, two people on that list — RPGPundit and Zak S. — have been accused of harassment and misogyny and all sorts of other hateful behavior.

The problem?

There’s no evidence than any of it is true.

The witch hunt began, the way so many witch hunts do, with people claiming that they’d heard from other people that RPGPundit and Zak S. had done horrible things to them. When people started pointing out that a hate campaign based entirely on hearsay was problematic, the tactics of the witch hunt escalated by claiming that the people affected were unable to come forward because RPGPundit and Zak S. would harass them if they did.

A good example of where this tactic led can be found in Tom Hatfield’s “How Dungeons and Dragons is endorsing the darkest parts of the RPG community”. According to Hatfield, Mearls responded to the controversy by asking people who had any evidence or first-hand reports of wrongdoing by RPGPundit or Zak S. to send it to him. (This is true.) According to Hatfield, “almost every woman, person of colour or LGTBQ individual seems to have had a run in with Zak or Pundit” and they “leapt” at the opportunity Mearls had given them, sharing with him “names, links, screenshots, and other traceable information I [Hatfield] removed to protect my sources.”

But several days later Mearls reported that no such evidence had been sent to him. So what happened? According to Hatfield, Mearls had deluded himself into believing that “this can’t really be happening.”

So let’s take a moment, strip away the dog-and-pony show of outrage, and review what we know: Unidentified people are reportedly claiming that non-specific things happened.

Why should we take that seriously?

The answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t.

The proof that these people engaged in a massive, misogynistic harassment campaign cannot be provided because of their proven track record of harassment? That’s a remarkable piece of doublethink. When you’re reduced to claiming that the best proof of the conspiracy’s existence is that there’s no evidence the conspiracy exists, you’ve left the land of rationality and entered the land of fake Apollo moon landings and flat-earthers.

THE DEEPER PROBLEM

The deeper problem here, however, is that this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in the RPG community. In fact, a lot of the same people who are driving this fact-free witch hunt of the 5E Consultants routinely engage in this behavior.

For example, the origins of the current witch hunt lie with an earlier one: A couple years ago, Ben Lehman accused James Desborough of threatening to rape people who criticized him. Zak S. called him out and demanded that Lehman provide proof that this had happened. Lehman refused and a line-up of the usual suspects appeared to support him. Another guy, by the name of John Stavropolous, spent 10 months researching the claim and eventually posted his conclusion that Lehman had simply lied. (UPDATE: Mr. Stavropolous clarifies the exact wording of his refutation of Lehman in the comments below.) Zak S. linked to Stavropolous’ research and also copy-pasted the list of people who had publicly supported Lehman’s lie asking them to rescind it. People were outraged that Zak S. had called people out for lying. One notable example was Paul Ettin, an RPGNet moderator, who said that people should both support and spread Lehman’s original lie “for solidarity” and “also, giggles!”

But the Lehman lie can be traced back to an even earlier controversy. James Desborough wrote a blog post supporting the thesis statement, “Rape or attempted rape is a fucking awesome plot element, one of many.” RPGNet poster MalaDicta attacked Desborough by misquoting him out of context as saying, “Rape is fucking awesome.” Based on this blatant lie and the outrage it sparked, she later started a petition to boycott Mongoose for publishing Desborough’s books. RPGNet moderator Ettin actually sought and received special permission from RPGNet’s administrators in order to start a thread supporting the petition.

You see the pattern there? They tell a lie about a specific quote that someone supposedly said at a specific time and place. People check it out and call them on the lie. A few months later, they tell a different lie claiming that someone supposedly said something… but refuse to name the time or place that it happened. This makes it harder for people to check it out, but they do and eventually they call them on the lie. So they come back a few months later, and this time they tell a lie with no specific details whatsoever and we’re supposed to believe it because there are no details that can be checked out.

You may have noticed how often RPGNet gets mentioned here. There are a couple reasons for that. First, members of their moderation team (particularly Ettin) are neck-deep in perpetuating these witch hunts. (Ettin says he does it for “giggles”, but that doesn’t negate the real people who are hurt by his antics.) Second, RPGNet has made itself a perfect incubator for these witch hunts: By policy, posters at RPGNet are banned when they “deny the experience” of people making accusations of sexism. In practice, this means that people can say things that are blatant lies, but anyone questioning them (or even demonstrating that it’s a proven lie) is immediately banned. By both discouraging and weeding out rational discourse, RPGNet becomes the perfect incubator for fact-free witch hunts.

But here’s the real problem: When you cry wolf about threats of rape or violent harassment or even just problematic art in RPGs, you’re not just hurting the people you’re making the false accusations against. You’re also hurting the people who have real complaints and who have real problems, whose experiences will be delegitimized because you’ve created a culture which inherently distrusts such accusations.

And that’s not even taking into account the disturbing behavior pattern demonstrated by the usual suspects of villainizing and slut-shaming women who come forward to support the people being falsely accused of vile behavior. The two most notable examples of this, at least in my first-hand experience, are Mandy Morbid (who has vociferously defended Zak S.’s demonstrable record of standing up for women’s rights and the rights of the LGTBQ community) and Shanna Germain (who took point when Monte Cook was accused of misogyny for including a succubus-like SF creature in Numenera‘s bestiary).

CONCLUSION

If you believe that Desborough’s defense of rape as a plot point is the same thing as saying “rape is fucking awesome”. If you believe that using succubi in your RPG campaign is “creeper rape play bullshit”. If you believe that accusations without proof should be believed because they have no proof. If you believe that this picture

is a misogynistic “money shot” that is hostile to women and makes them not want to be part of the roleplaying community, then most of what I’ve said here probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you. But if you don’t agree with that sort of nonsense, then I ask you to recognize that the RPG industry does have a problem with sexism. And the people crying wolf are a part of that problem.

So why are they doing it? Well, some of them are just trolls who think it’s funny or who enjoy the feeling of power it gives them. (Like Ettin, the RPGNet moderator who does it for “giggles”.) Others, I think, are doing it primarily for the attention. Which is why I haven’t been providing links to their misbehavior in this post. Unfortunately, this also puts me in the position of saying things without backing them up. So I’ve included a “Links You Shouldn’t Follow” section at the bottom of the post if you want to verify what I’ve said here, but I really do urge you not to feed the trolls here.

What can be done about this problem? Well, you can start by being aware of it. And you can follow up by calling it out whenever you see it happening. This type of slanderous whisper campaign thrives on people silently tolerating it. You don’t have to get mean. You don’t have to insult. But when you see a proven lie, call it what it is. (Even if RPGNet will ban you for it.)

It is in that spirit of solidarity that I’m posting this.

In the same spirit, however, I’ll close by pointing out that this type of fact-free nonsense is not the exclusive purlieu of those slandering RPGPundit and Zak S. over the past few weeks. In fact, RPGPundit himself has spent years espousing a crazy conspiracy theory of “Swine” who are secretly collaborating to destroy traditional roleplaying (which he seems to largely define as “any roleplaying game that I like”) through a multitude of techniques that, historically speaking, were primarily about designing storytelling games and, more recently, have included “social justice swine” or “pseudo-activist swine”. It really kinda goes without saying that RPGPundit has absolutely no evidence that this vast “conspiracy” actually exists and, much like the cry-wolfers, his incoherent tirades are damaging to any position he chooses to attach himself to.

And that’s the bottom line: Don’t tolerate it from him. Don’t tolerate it from them. Don’t tolerate hate. Don’t tolerate lies. And call them on it when you see it happening.

(But if you want to send some kind and warm thoughts towards Zak S. and Mandy Morbid right now, it seems like they need them: Ms. Morbid is very, very ill.)

UPDATE – A LINK YOU SHOULD TOTALLY FOLLOW: I strongly endorse Seebs’ exhaustively researched summary of this conflict if you’re looking to delve deeper.

LINKS YOU SHOULDN’T FOLLOW

“How Dungeons and Dragons is endorsing the darkest parts of the RPG community”

2012 Consultant’s Thread at RPGNet

RPGNet moderator Ettin suggests that people show “solidarity” for slanderous lies for “giggles”

RPGNet moderator Ettin supports MalaDicta’s lies about James Desborough

RPGNet anti-Numenera thread

Aleena’s depiction is a problem references (the original G+ discussion was deleted)

Go to Part 1

Today I’m making the leap from the literary categories, starting with what is essentially the television category. It’s interesting to me the way in which this category is systematically dominated by a particular geek show: Twenty years ago it was Babylon 5. Ten years ago it was Buffy. The Retro 1939 Hugo nominations are dominated by Mercury Theater broadcasts. And today it’s basically a loud huzzah for all things Doctor Who.

7. Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffatt, directed by Saul Metzstein.

I honestly don’t understand how this absolutely dreadful hour of television got nominated. Beyond the fan service, there’s absolutely nothing to like about this episode. Moffat rips himself off to create the Whisper Men. When faced with the fact that the entire hook of the episode was complete and utter nonsense, Moffat responded by making a Blu-Ray special in an effort to explain it (but actually just ended up contradicting the episode itself). The bulk of the episode serves mainly to remind us that the Great Intelligence was never actually established as a coherent villain during series 7 (and does nothing to grant him coherency now).

The Name of the DoctorThe end of the episode, of course, culminates in yet another “alternate universe created by an assassination attempt on the Doctor that threatens to destroy the universe, but is averted because… deus ex machina”. Which marks the third straight season finale in a row that Moffat used that plot. (Although, to be fair, the season 5 finale’s alternate universe created by an assassination attempt on the Doctor that threatened to destroy the universe did not require a deus ex machina in order to be averted.)

Bonus points to this episode, however, for hinging the deus ex machina on the stakes of Clara being totally dead if she jumps into the scar… and then just saying “fuck it” 30 seconds later and using another deus ex machina in order to save her. Extra bonus points for the deus ex machina used to save her having been established as being impossible, but then simply ignoring that with another deus ex machina. Moffat apparently can’t be satisfied until he’s got deus ex mahcina in his deus ex machina in his deus ex machina.

(The fact that it took two whole episodes before Moffat retconned this entire episode out of existence — with another deus ex machina, ‘natch — really makes the whole package extra impressive.)

To be fair, I suppose it can be said that “Name of the Doctor” is an admirable representation of just how utterly terrible the seventh series of Doctor Who was.

6. NO AWARD

5. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, written & directed by Peter Davison.

The Five(ish) Doctors RebootThis is a remarkable tribute of love for Doctor Who and I was ecstatic to see its release as part of the 50th Anniversary festivities. If you’re a fan of Doctor Who and you haven’t seen it yet, please seek it out with the greatest possible alacrity.

With that being said, this is not a piece which, IMO, transcends its immediate fandom. I’m not even sure it significantly transcends this particular moment in time. So while I’ve watched it multiple times myself and giggled with glee each time, I still think ranking it here is the right place for it.

4. An Adventure in Time and Space, written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough.

An Adventure in Time and SpaceQuite possibly the best thing Mark Gatiss has ever written: An Adventure in Time and Space dramatizes the creation of Doctor Who and focuses a particularly fascinating lens on the life of William Hartness (as portrayed impeccably by David Bradley).

Its only real flaw, IMO, is the moment of gratuitous fan service which mars its finale. I’ve seen several historical dramas lately which have provided “happy” endings for their protagonists by suggesting that they had some sort of non-historical catharsis often featuring some sort of prescience that their legacy would endure. I find it vaguely cheap and rather disrespectful to the actual person.

I would be placing this 1-2 ranks higher if the ending was stronger, but don’t get me wrong: This is a nice little film. And if you’re a fan of Doctor Who then it’s a must-watch title.

3. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter.

I’m actually not a huge fan of the Game of Thrones TV series.

I don’t hate it or anything (and the books are quite wonderful); I just haven’t gotten into it.

The Red Wedding, however, is such a memetically powerful event that the importance and effectiveness of this episode really can’t be questioned.

It is very award worthy.

2. Orphan Black: “Variations Under Domestication”, written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett.

Orphan BlackI really wish that Orphan Black was just a little bit more intelligent. The main characters all seem to have been hit over the head a few too many times with the idiot ball. (If you want to protect your daughter at all costs, why the fuck are you needlessly carrying her address with you when you decide to break into the bad guys’ home base? And what the fuck? You just got done saying that your apartment isn’t safe, why the fuck are you sending her there as if it were a safe house? … to cite just a couple of the show’s many, many examples.)

With that being said, Tatiana Maslany’s ability to just completely transform herself into different characters is simply unbelievable. (And it becomes even more unbelievable when she plays one of her characters pretending to be another of her character’s and somehow both characters simultaneously shine through.) And the series as a whole is totally addictive while just being one notch away from achieving true mind-blowing proportions (which is why I so desperately want it to be a little smarter). “Variations Under Domestication” is a particularly clever example of what the show is capable of achieving: Farcical techniques of mistaken identity are escalated in a beautiful spiral of comedy and drama.

1. Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran.

Doctor Who: The Day of the DoctorAs absolutely dreadful as “The Name of the Doctor” and the rest Doctor Who‘s seventh series was, “The Day of the Doctor” was simply magnificent: Clever and compelling and endlessly fun, with healthy doses of fan service expertly deployed in order to improve the story rather than distract from it. It was a completely joyous reminder of the greatness that Moffat is capable of achieving as a writer. (Even if that only leaves you scratching your head when you consider the absolutely dreadful dreck it was surrounded by in “The Name of the Doctor” and “The Time of the Doctor”.)

My only quibble with “The Day of the Doctor” is Moffat’s rather anemic understanding and portrayal of the Time War, but that’s not enough to detract from everything else that makes this my #1 pick for science fiction drama in the last year.

 

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