Spiderman: Homecoming was totally boss.

Like most Marvel movies of late, this film was fun, funny, intense and exciting. In this review, I’ll keep any spoilers under one obvious heading.

Aside: These are just my opinions. My tastes in film are quite diverse (my favorites include The Holy Mountain, 2001, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Alien, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Baraka and the Empire Strikes Back). I can laugh at Billy Madison and fully appreciate the symbolism in the Last Temptation of Christ. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has thrown at us. Now that you have that perspective, let’s move on.

I also cared about the characters. I was invested in them. I even cared about the villain. Maybe I’m just a sap, but I feel more empathy from certain films than most, it seems. I teared up during Wonder Woman (the WWI stuff was heartbreaking), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (Yondu’s scenes and that part with Drax and Mantis) and Logan (boy lots of melancholy in that one).

Tom Holland was great as Peter Parker and as the titular hero. He felt believably emotional and geeky. I’ll always have a soft spot for the Tobey Macguire films, but Holland really nailed it here.

The secondary characters (mostly Peter Parker’s school friends) were all interesting to me and I loved the casting. While I cringe at tokenism in general, I actually loved the diversity of the cast. New York, like most major Western cities, has a lot of racial diversity. That’s just a fact. Get the hell over it, Alt-Right crybabies.

Actual high school kids (at last). Great actors. I loved Michelle (second from right).

Also major props to the casting: the high school kids actually LOOK LIKE THEY’RE IN HIGH SCHOOL. That’s a nice change.

There are some genuinely heartwarming or heartbreaking scenes in this. Parts that made me want to cheer (and I would have but I didn’t want to embarrass my wife again). The comedy made me laugh out loud, the action was entertaining and the camera work and set design charmed me throughout.

Spidey’s new costume is great. The emotive eyes add SO much to the character.

Adds so much to the costume. Emotive Spidey eyes are great.

Any references to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe made sense to me and didn’t feel forced. To me, anyway.

Spoilers

The reveal of the villain as the father of the love interest really, genuinely shocked me. A fantastic idea.

M-J’s reveal was also really cool. I hadn’t expected that. I’m glad that she gave Peter a lingering look at the end to hint that there’s something there. Very, very happy with this. Again, I don’t give a crap about M-J not being a white girl with red hair.

I also loved the twist about the usual “no one believes the kids” trope: Stark DID listen to him and took steps to deal with it. Again, a nice plot choice.

End of Spoilers

Vulture’s look is fantastic and threatening.

Again, I wholeheartedly recommend this movie. It’s wonderful and cheerful but also dramatic. It’s in my mind still. Good job Sony + Marvel. You’ve won me back into Spiderman as a movie franchise.

Review of Adventure Writing like a F’ing Boss

A brief but interesting take on the subject with some great advice.

I actually think of it as a companion piece, or addendum to How to Game Master like a F’ing Boss (link to my review of that work). Much of the advice is similar: try to entertain, don’t railroad, present situations not plot lines and keep a good balance between the three pillars of RPGs: Interaction, Exploration and Action (or Combat).

A lot of the information familiar to me, but it was helpful to read it in a structured way. Venger’s conversational tone makes it an easy, approachable read. There’s always a bit of humour which is always a bonus.

The actual PDF is well presented: the watermarks are mostly unobtrusive, and anyway, there’s a print-friendly version without them. I really appreciate this!

The artwork is done by familiar artists of Venger’s line of books. A mix of monsters, fantasy, sci fi, gonzo and cheesecake.

What was also interesting was to find out where Venger draws the line in terms of poor taste. He makes it explicit, in fact. I wonder how he feels about some of the more twisted modules by Lamentations of the Flame Princess…

In the back of my mind, I wondered about the handful of modules that I’ve been working on over the past four or five years. I can see a fresh way to approach them now, so there’s that.

For the price of a fancy coffee at Starbucks you get a decent little book with good advice on adventure module writing. I recommend it, but in all honesty I think that his book on Gamemastering is even more useful when it comes to explaining what makes a good game session.

You can buy this book here at DrivethruRPG.

Review of Stairway of V’dreen

This adventure module is 19 pages long and is one of the latest of works by Venger Satanis for the Crimson Dragon Slayer RPG. You can read my review of this game here.

My review was a read through of the PDF (not a play-through, sadly).

Layout and readability

The cover and interior page backgrounds (watermarks) are in full colour. All of the illustrations are in black and white or grey-scale. The print friendly version has no watermarks and is clean, crisp and crystal clear.

Kudos once again to Glynn Seal of MonkeyBlood Design. The text is nicely readable, the headings clear and obvious, the stat blocks distinct. The watermarked backgrounds did not interfere with the text too much: occasionally the blood stains made me squint at the tables. However, Glynn and Venger have supplied a print-friendly version without any watermarks which is wonderful (for both actual printing or better readability at the table). Then again, the eerie blood vessels are gore stains on every page part of the experience.

A nice looking product that balances style with readability.

Artwork

All good stuff by familiar artists. Most of the subject matter is disturbing tentacled horrors or fantasy/post-apocalyptic scenes evocative of Heavy Metal magazine.

There is one image with some cheesecake (a masked goon with a trio of chained female prisoners) but they’re looking bored or tired rather than distressed.

The adventure

The whole thing gives me vibes of the original Star Trek series. The environmental colour scheme and the situations make me envision typical planets seen on that 60s TV show. It helps that there are a more than a few references to Star Trek as well.

The adventure kicks off with the PCs needing to seek out shelter immediately from some lethal effect of the DM’s choosing. It’s hilariously straightforward. Practically speaking, it could be used in the middle of any campaign in just about any environment.

Shortly after, the PCs voluntarily (or involuntarily) choose to enter a portal that leads to the realm of the titular V’dreen.

V’dreen is a fantasy world that is vanishing; its borders are literally fading  away to a void resembling graph paper!

There are some rules using random tables to set up the setting of V’dreen, including:

  • strange voices on the “wind”, some of which kind of break the 4th wall. Very funny.
  • a table to generate beings for random encounters. As usual, they’re a mix of gonzo weirdness and generic, so you’ll have some contrast. Example: sure you could end up with a zombie or skeleton, but they could be made of pizza or be a Ghost-Dinosaur.
  • A few random NPCs. After reading the rest of the module, I saw several opportunities to use them for unnamed extras features in a few encounters.

There are a few hooks, but this module is very loose with only a few clear goals. Not a bad thing, just that I would need to fill many gaps myself (which I don’t mind doing, personally).

There is a fiendishly powerful monster called the Arachnosaur (such an awesome name) that the party might encounter, a Demon that wants to barter with the party to help him get free (who the hell ever falls for that) and a town populated by V’Dreen’s three factions:  insect people, Klingon elves and amorphous blob creatures. Good on Venger for going beyond Tolkienisms or Barsoom… uh… isms.

Overall impressions

This module is surreal, schlock and gonzo. I actually see myself using this product (and perhaps a few other of Venger’s works) to fill out the many gaps in Carcosa (from Lamentations of the Flame Princess). Perhaps replacing some of the more horrific and disturbing elements of that setting with the more light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek material by Venger.

While I like shorter modules, I tend to prefer a more narrow focus and smaller setting. In such a small page count, I would rather use it as a one-shot. There are a lot of characters and encounters here that are open-ended and without player buy-in to be creative, goofy and fun, they could turn out a little stale. I think that a DM should heavily use the random tables in this module to add some unpredictability to every encounter.

Finally, I wish that there was a map of some kind. The module is meant to be loose, but I think that it would have benefited greatly by having some cartography. Not necessarily full-on hexes; even a simple point crawl or sketch would have been appreciated. I’d probably draw one up myself during prep. Venger’s maps are always great.

Conclusion

I’d recommend this to anyone who’s already a fan of Venger’s “Mythos”. It contains lots of tie-ins into his other products, especially the Islands of Purple Putrescence (review here). On it’s own, it has some fun ideas but I think that it is dependant on the core game (and other books by Venger for thematic random tables that really make his works sing).

You can purchase Stairway of V’dreen here.