Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Can You Paint With All the Colors of the Wind? Because I Can't!

All right, now that my bout with the intestinal plague is over, time to tackle a question. Hit it Movie Tavern Mug.

"What is the best color?"

Really? Well, I haven't exactly had a favorite color for many years, but...


What do you mean that's not what the question is? What else could it be? Unless...

Oh no. Oh Sweet Mother of Pookong no. Please tell me you aren't serious. Do you ACTUALLY want me to some how come up with a reason that one color is superior to all others? Do you KNOW how many angles this could be attacked from?

First off, different colors can have vastly different connotations in different cultures. Let's start with white, simply because I find this one funny. Western cultures, we associate white with brides, purity, good guys, yaaaaaaaaaay! White is awesome! EASTERN cultures, on the other hand, see white as cold, clinical, sterile, and a representation of death. Or take Green. We in the Western world think of growth, plants, and the Irish when we see Green. However, in China, give a man a green hat, and it means you slept with his wife when he wasn't looking. Red has a wide range of meanings all over the world, from a bridal symbol, to a symbol of warning, to an emblem of luck, to passion. In Japan, you may see yellow associated with courage while over hear, it is a symbol of cowardice. So, as you can see, whatever culture you're from has a large impact on how you see different colors, and thus impact how you value them.

We can tackle it from a mix of biology and anthropology. Turns out there's one pigment that's REALLY difficult and energetically expensive to produce in biological systems. As a result of this, anthropologists actually mark the ability of a society to produce an ink or dye of this color as a major cultural milestone. What color is that, you ask? Turns out blue is a bitch to create. Now I know what you're thinking: you probably see bluebirds and blue jays all the time. Well, it turns out they're cheaters. Take one of their feathers. Go on, grab one. I'll wait.

Got it? Okay, now grind it up into powder. It's not blue, is it? It turns out that the blue coloration in most bird feathers that you see is not based on some pigment they produce. Their feathers are actually structured in such a way that the light that hits them is refracted to blue. Think about how light bends when it passes through the atmosphere, and you've got the basic idea.

Of course, if you really want to talk biological systems, nourishment is one of your primary concerns. Most creatures, directly or indirectly, end up getting their nutrients from plants. And as most of us know, plants utilize solar energy to convert water and CO2 into glucose to store as energy. And most of us know that the little biological mechanism they use to absorb that light is chlorophyll. And chlorophyll is green. Ergo, green is the most important, right?

BZZZZT. Wrong. Actually, the fact that we see the chlorophyll as green means that green is the one section of the visible light spectrum that the plant is NOT using; it's simply bouncing off into the photoreceptors in our eyes. In other words, green is utterly useless to a plant. However, it turns out that one part of the visible light spectrum tends to get absorbed a little better than the others: if I'm remembering correctly, somewhere within the wavelengths that tend to be in the "purple" range, we get maximum absorption. So you could make a case for purple being the most important color for plant life.

We can look at mineralogy, but even then things get murky. For a long time there were five stones that were considered precious: Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, and Amethyst. Well, in the past couple decades, huge deposits of amethyst were discovered down in Brazil, so they're sort of out of that arbitrary classification. So that leaves us with Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald: Clear, Red, Blue, and Green, right?

Not so fast Jose. First of all, rubies and sapphires are actually composed of the same mineral (Corundum, so they're aluminum oxide crystals), just with some different elements along for the ride. It's classified as a ruby if the color is red (caused by chromium), and it's classified as a sapphire if the color is...NOT red! That's right, while we commonly think of Sapphires as blue, they can be yellow, pink, orange, purple, or green as well!

Well, at least Emeralds should be nice and simple, right? WRONG! Like rubies and sapphires, they are simply a subtype of a mineral, beryl, which can come in a wide range of colors. At least one of these types is as rare, if not rarer, than your standard green emerald. This version of it? Red beryl, which is only found in a few places in the Southwestern United States.

So what about the King of Precious stones, the Diamond? Well, while we most often think of them as colorless, they can potentially be pretty much any color in the spectrum, and are known for their refractive properties (translation: they make pretty rainbows!).

Hell, we can even go into ridiculously stupid territory. In Pokemon, as most of you are probably aware, the versions ain't exactly created equal: different versions get different monsters. Well, in the Red and Blue versions at least (and possibly by extension the remakes Fire Red and Leaf Green), I'm pretty sure that if you take the base and max statistics of the version exclusive monsters, it turns out that Red has higher stat values. In this case, you could make the statement that, in the battle of colors, Red wins over Blue and Green, at least until someone goes through, does the math, and finds out I'm mistaken (as I am just basing this off the top of my head). Or you can look at it from the angle of the gyms from the first game, since the cities were based on color names. Since Viridian is the final and highest level gym, that makes the best green. Wait. Crap.

You want dumber? We can go even dumber! So, you know about the DC Comics hero the Green Lantern, right? He has a ring, it makes stuff out of green energy, he flies through space, yada yada. And you might be familiar with how the Silver Age Green Lantern's arch enemy, a villain named Sinestro, had a yellow ring, since yellow was, at the time, arbitrarily picked by the writers to be GL's weakness (this is no longer the case). Well, in the most recent storyline, they decided that TWO colors just isn't enough, so we've now got Lanterns in several shades. And what's more, with a few notable exceptions, we're going to make their powers based on emotions! And hey, since there's an even number of colors on each side of Green (ROY G. BIV), let's make it so that each step away from that central green you get, the more your color based power takes control of you (rather than the other way around). And let's try to make them opposites! So, what have we got?

Green-Willpower, an absence of emotion almost

And as if that wasn't enough, we also get Black (as the absence of Light) Lanterns being embodiments of death, and the singular White Lantern (as ALL the colors put together) as the embodiment of life. Yep. I'm not making that up. So, that BIV end of the spectrum seems pretty nice, doesn't it? Well, not in the DC universe: the Violet Lanterns are better known as the Star Sapphires, based on a recurring Green Lantern villain. Yep, turns out you CAN get carried away with love and go just a bit axe crazy.

This is just a small smattering of ways we can tackle this question. Is any one color really any better than the others?

Screw it. Cerulean is best. So says me.

This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blinded me with SCIENCE! And Fantasy. Wow, this is a lame title.

All right, time to dive into my Movie Tavern Mug and see what sort of mystery I am to address today.

"J.K., can you tell us about some of your favorite Sci-Fi and Fantasy universes?"


We all love speculative fiction, whether it's because they show us the world as we think it should be, because they show us the infinite possibilities of imagination, or because we as a species like swords and lasers. And as different settings become lucrative for the author, they have a tendency to expand into an entire mythos. So, here are some of my favorites.

1. Bas-Lag

And right off the bat I start with one you've probably never heard of. Does this mean I get some sort of Indie Cred?


Nerts. All right, so one of the setting that seems to be en vogue among most of my friends is the steampunk setting. You know, those settings where you get ridiculous technology based on the steam engine, and Victorian Era clothing reigns supreme. Well, take some steam punk technology, enough different monsters to make the Monstrous Manual jealous, a little dystopia, and you've got the Bas-Lag setting. Thus far there are three books in this setting, Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and The Iron Council.

So, two of the three books take place in the city-state of New Crobuzon, a sprawling steampunk metropolis built around the bones of a giant dead monster. No one is entirely sure what it was, or how the city got there; it's just there. And what resides in this city?

If you said humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs, you are incorrect. Go sit in the corner.

Instead of your standard assortment of fantasy races, China Mieville set about to create his own. Such as seven foot tall cactus people. Or fish men with the power to manipulate water into shapes, which they use to control shipping. Or women who look perfectly normal, aside from the red skin and the fact that they have a complete scarab for a head. And no, they don't have a scarab's head. They have a scarab FOR a head. And that's just a small sampling. The author admits that he pretty much created this setting just so he could design monsters, and has been working on a sourcebook of races and creatures that exist in the Bas Lag setting for the past few years.

And you know how some settings have the occasional intrusion by some sort of mysterious, nigh omnipotent, extradimensional being that is supposedly beyond our understanding? This series features the time I've seen that concept best handled, in the form of a group of beings called the Weavers. Like all of the creatures in these books, they're pretty imaginatively designed. My description doesn't NEARLY do them justice, but they look like spider/human hybrids, in which a couple of their legs end in pincers and a couple end in human hands. But more importantly, unlike other so-called omnipotent beings beyond our ken, you can't even BEGIN to figure out what makes these things tick. They're shown collecting random things such as scissors, or playing a game of tic-tac-toe with a corpse, or just killing people at apparently random intervals. Why? They see the universe from a different angle than we do, and are doing things that, apparently, make it more aesthetically pleasing. To further emphasize how different these things are from us, when the Weavers attempt to speak to the more mortal denizens of Bas-Lag, they have speech patterns that are, at best, difficult to follow. And why shouldn't they be? They're half in this universe, half in another.

And it's not all just the flash from the creatures and their descriptions: the stories are gripping and well written (unlike the showings from a couple other settings on this list), and well worth a look.

Finally, I know a bunch of you are fans of the webcomic Questionable Content. Well, Dora's cat is named for the author of this setting. That's right, Jeph Jacques is telling you to go read these books. Isn't that worth something?

2. The Protomen's Take on the Mega Man Universe

Okay, when I first heard of this band, I thought the EXACT same thing you are probably thinking now. "A band that does rock operas based on the Mega Man video games? Oh God, this is gonna be terrible. It has to be a bunch of nerds with keyboards and guitars operating out of a basement somewhere with really badly written music and..."

"Holy BALLS that's awesome."

In fact, if I hadn't told you that this was designed as a Mega Man song, you probably would have thought it was an epic rock bit about mankind sucking. But if you listen to the albums as a whole (both their self titled debut and the prequel, Father of Death), you see how they took a relatively bright and plotless set of awesome games (Oh noes! Scientist has robots and is attempting to take over world!) and made it into something dark and thought provoking (Doctor Wily has taken over this city, and is watching you, for good and for bad). It addresses the question of whether a society should wait for a hero to come and save it, whether the world can be saved by just one man, and it rocks out while doing it. The members of the band further add to the atmosphere by performing the shows and writing their newsletters in character, as a bunch of freedom fighters who have been inspired by the examples of Doctor Light, Megaman, and a few others who I'm not going to spoil here, and are attempting to wrest their freedom from the power hungry grasp of Doctor Wily.

Like all rock operas, sometimes parts of the story are hard to grasp without checking the liner notes, but compared to a lot of the ones I've listened to, the Protomen stories are pretty coherent and not too hard to figure out once you get going (although you might miss one or two crowning moments of awesome if you don't read the liner notes).

All in all, it's definitely something worth checking out.

3. Mobile Suit Gundam, the Universal Century Timeline

As you've probably figured out, I have a certain fondness for BIG GODDAMN ROBOTS. So, you probably find it only natural that I stick some Gundam on this list. I'm going to restrain myself, however, from putting timeline after timeline of Gundam on this list, and stick with the original Universal Century Timeline. Sorry, all you Wing fans. And for all you G Gundam fans, take solace that I love that timeline for largely different reasons than I like the Universal Century and After Colony Universes.

So, back in the 60s and 70s, most anime robot shows involved everyone having a unique, customized robot, the heroes were well defined as such, and the robots would combine and transform in utterly ridiculous ways. Well, in 1979, Yoshiyuki Tomino decided to take the giant robot genre in a slightly different direction, and spawned a franchise that has lasted for thirty years. In the Gundam settings, with a few exceptions, most of the giant robots are either Mass Produced designs for an army, or prototypes for an eventual less powerful, more practical mass produced design. In many series, a character's machine is simply a version of the mass produced machine that is either a slightly improved, more expensive factory variant, or something cobbled together with spare parts. And while usually the series tend to follow the elite members of the various factions, in whatever prototype units they happen to fall into, we get the occasional bit where we follow the life and times of the grunts (such as in possibly my favorite Gundam Series, the 08th MS Team).

And while the Gundam series is certainly known for its plethora of robots, perhaps what it's even more well known for are the internal politics within the show, and the grey and grey morality. For example, the hero from the Original MS Gundam series, fought a good chunk of the war and kicked a good amount of ass by himself, is kept under house arrest in a later series because the side he fought for thinks he could be dangerous. And in 0083 Stardust Memory, we see some people from the losing side of the original war steal a weapon of mass destruction to try to restart the war, only to find out that the Federation, the ostensibly good guys, let them do this for their own sinister purposes. And again, 08th MS team: it explores the humanity of the characters on both sides, in the form of a love story from opposite sides of the battlefield.

While yes, the robots still seem a little sleek for a realistic take, and yes, the show can be filled with hilariously awesome narm at times, all in all it's still a setting I really enjoy. Now, if only we could find a setting in which the robots felt even more clunky and realistic...Sniff I smell a segue?

4. Battletech

Oh look. More BIG GODDAMN ROBOTS! Waaaaaait. Those look WAAAAAAAAY different from the last set of BGRs.

Well, back in the Mid 80s, a couple game designers saw some of the more "realistic" anime robot shows and wondered, "What would a Western version of this genre look like?" So, they set about designing a game, which spun off into some novels, a TV show, the Mechwarrior video games, and a mediocre card game that would inspire a love of giant robots in a ten year old boy.

The universe is set in the thirty first century. Mankind has gone into space, colonized hundreds of planets, formed different nations (IN SPACE!) and then went to war with each other. But it's okay, because they make the Space UN (Oh, I'm sorry, I mean STAR LEAGUE) and there's a golden age of prosperity.

Until the family that headed up the Star League gets assassinated. Cue a few centuries of intense warfare, and massive technological destruction. Now most of the robots being built are much crappier than the robots built in the Golden Age, a lot of the armies are made up of salvaged parts held together with chewing gum and a lot of prayer, and a changing flag on a border world is just an average day. Of course, the setting gets more complex and the technology advances further back to where it was as time passes, but you still have that clunky, inefficient, overheating robot feel to the setting that's really enjoyable.

Another big thing that draws me to this setting is that, any type of faction you could possibly want to play as, you can find a match somewhere in Battletech. Want to be a space samurai in a giant robot? Got a faction for that. Want to be the Roman Legions IN SPACE? Got a faction for that. Want to be a drugged out Indiana Jones from an oppressive warrior culture in a giant robot? Got a faction for that. Want to be a part of some giant religious conspiracy that could threaten to wipe out the rest of mankind? Here you go! Want to be a pirate? Got you covered! Want to be a member of a small, paranoid nation? Do you want that in Chinese/Russian, Frontier, or Aggressive Warrior Society?

Of course, not all the novels are well written, and the main protagonist of a lot of the books eats more than his share of stupid pills, but all in all, it's a very enjoyable mecha setting, with at least one group for you to be able to get behind.

(Note: Okay, some of you are probably grumpy that I only stuck faction logos behind the links rather than information about the factions. If I did that, you'd be here all day.)

5. The Dresden Files

And now for something completely different: no robots of any kind. Basically, take one part Harry Potter, two parts detective novel, add a dash of Spider-Man, and you've got the Dresden Files. This series of novels by Jim Butcher follows the life and adventures of Harry Dresden, Wizard and Private Eye. It mixes a little bit of that hard boiled, first person atmosphere with plenty of humor and a little bit of magic. For example, where else but the Dresden Files would you see a Wizard hijack a 24 hour cycle bad luck murder curse to use against a vampire, resulting in an plane flying overhead accidentally dropping its cargo of frozen turkeys so that poultry falling at terminal velocity takes out the offending nosferatu?

The writing is clever, the characters are imaginative, and the stories are filled with action, and some running intrigue (who is the traitor on the White Council? What's so special about Harry anyway?). It'll definitely bring you back for more.

6. Warhammer 40,000

What happens when you take a standard fantasy setting, and throw it a few thousand years into the future? And what happens if that setting was already a pretty dark setting to begin with? WARHAMMER 40K, that's what! If you've ever played Starcraft, it was originally supposed to be a computerized game for this setting, but legal troubles ensued. So, we got Starcraft, the lighter, happier version of Warhammer 40k.

Yes. You read that correctly. Starcraft is the LIGHTER, HAPPIER version of Warhammer 40k. What do I mean?

1. The Imperium of Man is corrupt, vast, fascistic, and under attack on all sides from aliens.
2. The Tyranids, insectoid monsters, are running through known space like a plague of locusts. And all indications seem to show that this is just a precursor hive before the REAL swarm comes.
3. Unstoppable undead cyborgs are attempting to assimilate or destroy everything.
4. Space Orks. Oh God, the Space Orks.

The universe is brutal, hopeless...and fun. While the setting is dark and depressing, the creators slip moments of hilarity in, such as the recruitment posters comparing the Space Marines (power armored, well equipped titans of men) to the Imperial Guard ("Your faith is your armor").

And as you'd probably guess, the Orks are a hilarious hodgepodge of crappy technology that somehow works, despite it not making sense. For instance, in the table top game, there's a rule that red painted units do, in fact, go faster, despite not having any other differences.

Dark, disturbing, and strangely hilarious: Warhammer 40K.

7. Doctor Who

For such a long running series, I'm an extreme newcomer to it, but it's quickly jumped up into my favorites. And not just for the new series, either. While the old show was made on a shoestring budget, and some of the effects haven't aged particularly well, many of the old stories are well thought out.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this gem of British programming, it basically follows the adventures over many lifetimes of a time traveling alien known only as "The Doctor." He hops about in his Phone Booth Space/Time Machine looking for fun, and to help people out, bringing along with him people he meets on the way. While the bulk of the show was filmed with rubber suit aliens, that's some of the charm. And many of the stories are still well thought out, and make you think. Probably the most frequent question the show poses, in both the old and new, are whether humans are something wonderful to be treasured, or whether they're bastard coated bastards with bastard filling.

And whoever you are, there's a Doctor for you, whether it's the clever and geeky David Tennant, the insane Tom Baker, the chessmaster Sylvester McCoy, or any of the other incarnations.

And just try watching "The Girl in the Fireplace" and not get paranoid whenever you hear a ticking sound.

8. Neil Gaiman's corner of the DC/Vertigo Universe

I felt like it would be a cop out to pick an entire comic book universe. I mean, after all, there are good portions of both the DC and Marvel universes that I don't like. However, I thought that this little corner was worth mentioning. Most of you by now are at least familiar with Gaiman's mythpunk series the Sandman. If you're not, it follows the life (if you can really call it that) of an immortal being which is dreams incarnate. It deals with his relationships with humans, gods, devils, and everything in between.

Fewer of you have probably looked into Mike Carey's spinoff series, Lucifer, which follows the exploits of the eponymous embodiment of evil as he tries to find freedom from a God he feels is oppressive and totalitarian. Much like Paradise Lost, in this series the Devil is cast in a fairly sympathetic light: he's a manipulative prick, but you can't help but root for him, as he's charismatic (when Gaiman first wrote him into the Sandman series, he had the artist base him on David Bowie) and he's motivated by a desire to find his own path. While it's not quite as good as Gaiman's work, it's definitely worth a read.

9. Bill Willingham's Fables

If Gaiman's work is Mythpunk, Willingham's Fables is folkpunk. Imagine, if you will, that every fairy tale, every story, actually existed in some other world. Now, imagine, if you would, that something big, something evil, had driven all these immortal creatures to our world, where they live in hiding. This is the setting of the comic book series Fables.

As you can probably guess, there's a rich cast of characters, like the Big Bad Wolf (the chief detective in Fabletown), Snow White (the overworked Deputy Mayor of Fabletown), Jack Horner (con man), Beauty and the Beast (stressed married couple), and the Frog Prince (janitor). The series follows the people of Fabletown as they try to stay in hiding from the mundane world, as they try to prepare for possible invasion from the evil things that have driven them from their previous homes. And of course, even fairy tale characters aren't immune to the lures of ambition and greed. This series is engrossing, and probably the closest thing in comics to come to Gaiman's Sandman or Alan Moore's Swamp Thing since those series ended.

10. Discworld

What Douglas Adams did to science fiction, Sir Terry Pratchett continues to do to fantasy. In a world held up by four elephants which walk in a circle on the back of a giant turtle, who travels in some unknown direction, we have a wizzard (sic) who knows no magic and whose primary talent is running away, a possible heir to a long abandoned throne who is perfectly content to serve as a night watchman (did I mention he was raised by dwarves and is easily taller than me?), a magical computer which features cheese as an integral part for reasons we don't quite understand, the most badass, machiavellian ruler I've ever seen, know what? Just read some of the Discworld books. If you investigate nothing else on this list, and you enjoyed the Hitchhiker's Guide books, read the Discworld books. You'll be glad you did.

This is by no means an exhaustive list on all my favorite universes. After all, plenty of awesome fictional realms out there. But these ten are some that I felt were worth mentioning, and that I hope you enjoy some of as well.

This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

DND: Dynamite!

All right, Movie Tavern Mug. What question am I to answer today?

"What are your favorite Dungeons and Dragons spells?"

All right, before I get started, I'm going to say, for the four of my eleven and a half readers who haven't done some form of RPGing with me: I am by no means a smart player. In one campaign setting, with two different characters, I found a way to unintentionally break the space-time continuum. If the big boss of this particular section is standing near a pit, I WILL be that guy who makes the strength check to see if I can just push them over the edge. If you give my character an endless bag of popcorn or an endless bag of divine blessing, I WILL offer the popcorn to anyone we meet, regardless of whether they're trying to kill us or not, and I WILL use the bag of divine blessing on pretty much everything that's not nailed down for my own amusement. And I'm even worse when I'm playing a spellcaster.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's move on with the list.

1. Wish/Miracle

Okay, so the ones of you who know the game are probably confused that I started off with what are considered the two most powerful spells in the game. Well, I used to play the game with a serious metagamer/power gamer. And while it was interesting to see what new way his character would be given some new ridiculous power (such as finding out he was the Son of Ra, being allowed to multiclass as Paladin without having to stop taking levels in Paladin, etc), every now and then I REALLY wanted the DM to smite his character.

What does all this have to do with these spells?

Well, for those of you not familiar with these games, Wish and Miracle are two vaguely defined spells that can have a wide range of effects. As such, these spells can become gamebreakers and a major headache to the DM...unless the DM is pure evil. In fact, the Wizard's Handbook from ADD second edition actively encourages the DM to be a dick about this spell. Did the player wish for vast wealth? Have it get teleported from the local King's vault and have him send his entire army after the thieving PC! Did the player wish for a castle? Have it appear twenty feet in the air and fall to the ground! Did the player wish for some level of invulnerability? Turn the player into a statue!

While not every use of these spells necessarily warrant a smiting, it is a great way to remind the PCs that just because they have somehow reached godlike power, that doesn't mean they get whatever they want. Because really, that's no fun for anybody.

2. Grease

In contrast, this is an extremely basic, low level spell that I have a fondness for. Pretty much, the player conjures up a slippery gunk over an area, and Three Stooges-esque hilarity ensues. A great way to ensure that your Half-Orc barbarian is successful in pushing that evil priestess into the flaming abyss (and possibly falling in after her).

Of course, my favorite time we've used this spell was in flagrant violation of the rules of the game. The party was fighting a giant spider. Our wizard cast this spell on the spider itself (rather than on the floor). The monk then did some ninja flips in, and used the materials in his backpack to ignite the grease, taking out the spider. Even though the spell specifically states that you CAN'T light the grease on fire, our DM thought it was so cool he let us get away with it.

And now the people from that Cthulhu campaign I was involved in are saying, "Ooooooooh, THAT explains a bit..."

3. Puffball

This is probably not a spell most of my DND playing friends are familiar with. It's a first level spell from the ADD 2nd edition Druid's handbook. Basically, you cast it on a mushroom, pick up the enchanted mushroom, and lob it into an offending crowd. It then bursts and everyone within a five foot radius is engulfed in a cloud of spores, resulting into an acute case of coughing.

That's right, there's a Druid Spell designed to fight enemies by using allergy attacks. It's things like that which make me enjoy the Druid class, even though, again, I'm not a smart player.

4. Animate Dead

Once upon a time, I was tapped to play the party's cleric. I was expected to heal whenever the other party members asked, and to be viciously mocked during combat by the drow fighter/planar champion with the Warhammer 40k power armor (it was an interesting campaign setting), and to not do much else.

Then I learned Animate Dead. And started using it liberally.

Pretty soon, I had about a dozen skeletons following me around and doing my bidding. And not just human skeletons. There were skelechickens, skeledogs, a veritable skelemenagerie. And pretty soon, any time there was something which looked risky, it was time to send in the skeletons. For example, that sketchy portal? Send in a skeleton to investigate! Oops, forgot to tell that skeleton to come back. Better send in another one to try to fetch him!

After this, I was never asked to play the Cleric ever again.

5. Summon Monster


No, not you Psyduck.

The Summon Monster series of spells is the other spell I used to dubious success while playing as a Cleric. Suck at combat? Well, nothing quite like sending in a divine badger to do your dirty work. And the assortment of monsters you can bring in grows as you become a better spellcaster.

While it doesn't have quite the direct "BOOM" effect of an Evocation spell, it is useful in combat and can be versatile outside of combat with a little thought. After all, when all you have is a hammer, you might as well toss in a few Fire Elemental to go with it.

6. Shillelagh

So at one point, some friends of mine were in a DND campaign, still at very low levels, wandering around a sewer trying to track down a rust monster. Well, the big night in which this first dungeon would FINALLY be completed after far too long arrived...and one of the players had a date. So I was asked to step up and sub for him, resulting in the only time I've successfully played as a druid.

Because the Monstrous Manual was one of my favorite things to check out from the Library when I was much younger, as soon as the party told me what was going on I had a pretty good idea about what we were up against, and had us drop off all our metal objects in one room. Well, the monster no longer cared about us, and the weapons we had on hand were kind of crappy.

Cue this spell. Pretty much, what it does is, if you have some wooden bludgeoning weapon, it makes it hit much harder.

So, the evening consisted of us trying to chase down the rust monster, a couple people lassoing it while it was in the sewer water, and me beating it with a giant enchanted stick. I repeat: this is the ONLY time I've used a druid successfully.

7. Shades

This spell, and its lower level versions, makes this list for really, really nerdy reasons. Let's say that, for some strange reason, you decided to play a wizard who is specializing in Illusion. And let's just say that you decided that Conjuration/Summoning, considered one of the better combat wizard specialties, would be one of your forbidden schools. The spell Shades (and its lower level equivalents) let you mimic ANY Conjuration/Summoning spell of a certain level or lower by creating an illusionary shadow version of whatever it is you wanted to create. If the person believes the illusion, you get the full effect of the spell. If not, you get a fraction of the effect.

But there's more to this spell that I like than just compensating the Illusionist for weak combat abilities. I'll probably end up addressing this in a later post, knowing some of my readers, but suffice it to say for now, this spell reminds me of one of my favorite comic book characters...

8. Earthmaw

Problem: You're being chased by an angry mob, and need a way to slow them down.
Solution: Have ground eat some of mob.

Another spell from the Druid's Handbook, you cast it on the ground. That patch of enchanted ground springs up like a gigantic, enchanted earth snake, and attacks once in the direction the caster indicates. Yes, it does damage, but more awesomely, on a critical it swallows the target whole. Then it shuts its mouth and retracts back into the ground. NOM!

9. Tree Spirit

Problem: You're tired of playing your Druid and would like to play something more bizarre, but are too attached to the Druid to roll something else up.
Solution: Link soul with tree. Then get killed off and become a tree monster!

Anyone who has watched the Lord of the Rings movies with me knows of my fondness for giant, angry, sentient trees, so it's only natural that I'd like this spell. If your character gets killed, a year of game time later, the tree they enchanted becomes animated, complete with the character's memories. It doesn't keep any of their spells or other abilities, but who cares? You're a friggin' tree!

10. Conjure Cabinet

Problem: For some reason you've been tapped to play bard.
Solution: Be a pain in the ass about it.

Okay, so Bard isn't necessarily a worthless class, and even though it's sort of a "jack-of-all trades, master of none" type situation, there are uses for the bard. And the Bard Handbook from second edition ADD gives all sorts of variants of the bard, so you don't just have to be that obnoxious guy in the back of the party who sings or plays the bagpipes.

Of course, the more stuff you have on hand to perform with, the better. But how do you carry it around? Well, you COULD get a bag of holding, but that's not NEARLY as cool as having a custom made cabinet that can ONLY hold stuff that you perform with able to be summoned to your location at your beck and call. Becoming a one man band bard suddenly becomes a lot less of a practicality issue. Plus, with the proper introduction, you can make it an impressive part of the show! Because if you're going to be a large ham of a class, go all out!

So, there you have it, my favorite DND spells. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an Orc Mob I'm trying to teach to battle on skates.

This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mothers of Invention

All right, let's go into my giant Movie Tavern Tankard of Questions and see what you people would like me to talk about today.

"J.K., if you could make any invention for the betterment of mankind, what would you make?"

Knowing the people who asked this question, they are expecting something either destructive for my own amusement (BIG GODDAMN ROBOTS!), something completely nonsensical (a Device that changes the noises of burps and farts into the jumping noise from Mario games), or, if at all possible, both (a death ray that destroys bamboo so I can take control of the global economy and cause the global panda population to rapidly evolve into a carnivorous species that I will use as an army on my quest for world domination).

Well, hate to disappoint you guys once again, but my answer is a lot more mundane than that. Based on my various travel experiences, I'm going to have to go with personal long range teleportation. Seriously, think of how awesome that would be. Want to check out Europe for a day? *Snap* *TELEPROT!* "Welcome to Paris!" Feel like kidnapping a Penguin? *Snap* *TELEPROT!* "Note to self, Antarctica doesn't have shorts weather this time of year." Want to deliver a long distance kick to the nuts? *Snap* *TELEPROT* "That's for not enjoying my TV show, you asshole on the internet!"

Not only would you be able to get to your destination in a snap, you'd be able to bypass all those little pain in the butt hassles of travel. For instance, you'd never again have to put up with that guy who decides it would be a good idea to drink a whole two liter bottle of Vanilla Coke and then complain about needing to use the bathroom the entire van ride. You'll never have to worry about your friends getting you lost in a sketchy part of Chinatown in New York without a way back to the hotel ever again. And say goodbye to being stuck in an airport in Chicago for two days because the entire midwest is closed.

And most importantly, if you really miss somebody, you could just pop in and see them for a bit. Think of it. Less birthdays missed because of distance. More Christmas Dinners as a family. Wouldn't that make the world just a little bit warmer, a little bit happier?

Of course, there would be all sorts of political and military ramifications from the use (and misuse) of this sort of technology, but this is not that kind of blog. But yes, there are downsides to this sort of technology. Take this scenario:

JKL's Best Friend (because they totally talk like this): Ho hum. I'm here with my cat, and I'm in my pajamas, and I'm feeling sad for some reason.
JKL: Be not sad! For I, JKLantern, am now here to save the day!
JKL's Best Friend: Eeeeeeek! How'd you get into my house?
JKL: I'm Santa Claus! And I'm here to make you CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS!
JKL's Best Friend: You're not Santa! You're built like a twig and there's no fireplace in here! AND SANTA DOESN'T MAKE CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS!
JKL: Oh. Well, umm...Magic Pequot Powers.
JKL's Best Friend: You don't HAVE Magic Pequot Powers! Implying that the Pequot have special powers simply because they're Native American is very racist! And you're not even all that Pequot! Aren't you more German than Pequot?
JKL's Best Friend's Cat: Maow!
JKL: Don't you denigrate my rich and varied heritage!
JKL's Best Friend: Your varied white heritage.
JKL: It's an assortment of white! A veritable rainbow of paleness!
JKL's Best Friend: [sighs] So how'd you get in here?
JKL: ...I'm a ninja?
JKL's Best Friend: YOU ARE NOT A NINJA! You're the opposite of a ninja! You're an anti-ninja! You plus ninja equals zero!

And then the cops come in and arrest my bony ass for being a sketchball. But hey, I'd have a story to tell about my adventures visiting my best friend. And I'm much less likely to level a city with a Personal Teleportation Device than I am with a BIG GODDAMN ROBOT.

Well that's all for now. This is J.K. Lantern, signing off!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Aqualung, My Friend

All right, let's see what topic someone wants me to waste your time with this post...

"J.K., if you were a sea creature, what would you be?"

Okay, there are a million and one topics I could be asked to cover (to varying degrees of "success"), and to apply my own off beat brand of alleged humor to, and you ask me a question about animals. You ask the Bio Major who took the "Evolution of Marine Life" class this question, and expect the answer to be funny.

Well, I suppose we should be glad it's not the "Which Disney character would you sleep with" question, and we should most definitely be glad that the answer to these to questions is not the same.

What's more, this isn't the first time I've been asked this question. I've been asked it for several classes, possibly during a Mystic Theatre rehearsal, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'd been asked it in a game of Kings at some point. What's the deal? Does revealing what rare sea creature I would be reveal something deep and intricate about my soul? Is there something inherently funny about our aquatic friends? Seriously, what's the attraction?

Well, I suppose the customer is always right. Here goes. The rare sea creature I would be is--


No, not you Psyduck, you magnificent bastard. You don't count. You're not real.


I know it's not fair. I'll make it up to you later, okay?


So, right. I'd put something here to make fun of that little break from reality, but I feel like I took all the challenge right out from it. Moving right along, what sea creature would I be? Get out your pillows and blankets, folks, this could get downright painful.

Most of you probably wouldn't be surprised to hear of my fondness for Phylum Mollusca. These include classes such as gastropoda (snails and slugs), bivalvia (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops and the like), and cephalopoda (squids, octopi, and cuttlefish). The primary characteristic that unites these diverse species into an identifiable taxonomic group is the fleshy mantle, that big empty fleshy part used for respiration (and depending on the particular mollusc, locomotion or feeding).

In particular, I like the cephalopods, your tentacley kraken of the deep. For starters, as a group they possess a complex nervous system and a great deal of intelligence (in test octopi, they've been shown to have fairly advanced problem solving capabilities). Their eyesight is, at the very least, comparable to our own, if not better due to the way the optic nerve innervates they retina. And, lest we forget, some of our favorite Eldritch Abominations appear to have a cephalopod for a face.

But what cephalopod in particular would I pick? Probably something from the genus Sepia, better known to you as the cuttlefish.

"But Lantern, cuttlefish are relatively small and unthreatening compared to the the Giant Squid or that Octopus we watched break a shark in half on National Geographic!"

Yes, I am well aware of that. However, the malleability of their bodies is nearly unparalleled, even among their fellow cephalopods. Additionally, their tri-compartment (rather than dual-compartment) and nerve controlled (rather than hormonally controlled) chromatophores allow for exceedingly rapid and complex changes in color. Add in some iridiphores that can be manipulated to reflect varying wavelengths of light, and you have perhaps the greatest system for crypsis in existence. The cuttlefish is capable of manipulating a wide variety of strata, both natural and man-made, and furthermore, when a particular region of their body is chemically "frozen" in one color, they are able to shift the rest of their coloration to compensate without having to see themselves: they can tell that something isn't working right.

But this advanced ability to morph their shape and color is not a unitasker. Some studies seem to indicate that their ability to manipulate the wavelengths of light they reflect is not just used to hide, but perhaps to communicate with other members of their species. Think of it: an elegant, simple form of non-verbal language that, with the proper use, doesn't give your position away to things which look at you as the next item on the menu.

Man, this is supremely unfunny, and all too educational. You were expecting me to pick something weird because it's slimy, tentacly, or just supremely badass, weren't you? Well, okay. I've got one.


It's a sea snail. That fires poisonous harpoons. And eats fish.

Don't believe me? Here you go! Instant Nightmare Fuel Unleaded! Screw you Nemo! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

...I'm going to Hell now, aren't I?

-J.K. Lantern

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Top Ten Video Game Bosses

We all love a good hero; the way they rush in to save the day, their immaculate good looks, their ability to romance the opposite gendered lead five minutes after meeting them, the way they develop improbable abilities out of nowhere in order to combat evil, the way their IQ yo-yos as the plot demands, their shocking ability to overcome all obstacles in order to beat the odds and save mankind, their impeccable fashion sense, their iron hard abs, their love of all nature's children, their tendllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

Wow. Bored myself to sleep with that cliched set up for a reversal opening. Hell with it. Bosses. Video Games. Favorites. And why.

So, in no particular order:

#1 Guardian Gaist, from Breath of Fire 3

If you're not familiar with the Breath of Fire series, it's an RPG series in which the gimmick is the main character gains the ability to turn into a variety of dragons. You meet a mess of other characters of varying species and walks of life, go around, save the world, you get the idea. In the third game, the second half of the plot involves your plucky group of heroes trying to talk to "God." Of course, arranging a meeting with the alleged almighty isn't exactly easy: there are all sorts of hoops to jump through, plot coupons to exchange (including, I shit you not, a part of the game in which you're required to make sushi for someone to find out where to go next).

So, in one of these steps to find find religion and beat an answer out of it, your Gigantic Ancient Bruiser of Doom and Destruction, Guardian Garr, has you track down a contemporary of his, and proceeds to mention how incredibly badass this guy was waaaaaaaay back when.

Gee, this clearly isn't going to lead into a boss fight of some sort.

So, you travel around, go to this out of the way little cave town, expecting to find Garr the sequel and run into...a geriatric shriveled version of Garr. Gee, maybe this won't be so bad. I mean, how badass could he OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?

While far from the hardest or most important fight in the game, it's always been a favorite of mine simply because, the first time I played, I was impressed by the transformation, and by the characterization of Gaist. He's not evil by any means: he was a guy who didn't like what he was doing, and unlike Garr, rather than keep on doing it, he decided to pack his things and wait for justice to track him down. Every time I play through since that first time, I can't help thinking, "Screw Garr, I want GAIST in my party!"

#2 Blaine from the Pokemon Franchise

Okay, so in the games he's not really a villain by any means. In fact, aside from the Gym Battles, we don't really see him do much, especially compared to Gym Leaders in the later Pokemon games. Heck, Fire isn't even my favorite type in the games. Still, there was something I always loved about this trainer that few trainers, even in the later games, even come close to. Maybe it's the fact that he locks his gym and keeps the key in a torched, monster filled mansion. Maybe it's the locked doors with easy quiz questions. Maybe it's the simple fact that he's a mad scientist, maybe it's just the sunglasses. But even with all the other games, and all the other trainers you meet who are higher than him, with all their disparate personalities, he remains a favorite of mine.

#3 Lemmy Koopa from Super Mario Bros. 3
Okay, so most of you probably at least vaguely remember this game from your youth. It was always a favorite in my cousin's household, and we'd play it all the damn time when we went up to visit him. And if you were anything like me, you would heroically play through the first world, besting Goomba, Koopa, Hammer Bro, and Piranha Plant, to make it to the first ship...only to get your ass handed to you by the first one of those goddamn Koopa Kids, so you never got to see if any of the other ones fought any differently.

In my defense, I didn't have a console gaming system until well into the Playstation's Life Span, so I didn't know what the Hell I was doing. I can totally play Mario n-GODDAMN BOTTOMLESS PITS!

Anyway, as you play through the game, most of the Koopa Kids battle the same way, jumping around, shooting magic laser rings of lasery laserness.

Not this guy.

Rather than jump around, he rides around on a big rubber ball. And why shoot laser rings when you can magically shoot rubber bouncy balls that somehow kill? Why does he do this? HE'S BATSHIT CRAZY, and we love him for it!

#4 Dalton from Chrono Trigger
Everyone is familiar with that sort of fantasy villain that's especially badass. They summon the legions of Hell to do their bidding, they crack open space and let the void try to take you, they drink the blood of virgin schoolmarms who go to church every Sunday and are currently teaching some blind boy how to play an instrument. They're cool, they're calculating, they get shit done, and you damn well better give them respect or they might reach through the screen and get you! If they aren't already a king, they're in a position where they're about to take over.

Dalton thinks he's one of these. He isn't. Not even a little. Every time you meet him in game, you beat him pretty easily. At least once he tries to summon a monster that not only did you defeat earlier, it didn't even put up a fight because it was afraid of heights. Hell, not even the GAME respects him. At one point, when he's actually somehow succeeding at being evil, the main hero's theme starts playing. He has to yell at the game to get it to play the right music.

Let me repeat that.

HE HAS TO YELL AT THE GAME TO GET IT TO PLAY THE RIGHT MUSIC. THAT is how pathetic he is. And you can't help but laugh at how sad he is. And that gets him a spot on the list.

#5 Ripper Roo from Crash Bandicoot 2
Originally, this was going to be a different boss from the Crash Bandicoot series, but then I remembered this one. He's the first boss of the game, and fairly simple. He makes turns the floor into a variety of explosive blocks, you wait for him to blow himself up, you hit him, wash, rinse, repeat.

Oh, did I mention he's jumping around and cackling madly, and is also a college professor?

People who have been around me enough and have heard me laugh will probably be able to tell JUST how much I like this boss.

#6 Dark Matter from Kirby's Dream Land 2

So you get through Kirby's Dream Land 2, you kick Dedede's Fat Penguin Ass, he falls over, and the game ends. Except you didn't get all the Rainbow Drops, so you get one of those "The End?" type sequences.

Well, it took us forever to get all the damn things (SCREW YOU WORLD 4 RAINBOW DROP FOR APPARENTLY HAVING AN EASIER WAY OF GOING ABOUT IT!), but I was the first one to do it. Kick Dedede's ass again after a harrowing fight and...hey, what are the Rainbow drops doing? Why do I have a sword?

What's coming out of Dedede!?!

The two Kirby's Dreamland games for Gameboy, and this boss fight in particular, always stick with me because I was the first one in my family to beat the damn things, despite the fact that they aren't hugely hard.

#7 Booster from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

I'm not sure how many of you have played this game, since it came at the end of the SNES lifespan (I was only able to play through the whole thing via emulator), but it is one of my favorites. It's plot is simple, but memorable, with some old favorite baddies, some new heroes, and memorable locations across the Mushroom Kingdom.

Then there's Booster's Tower. A giant madhouse filled with Thwomps, Bullet Shooting Monsters, and Evil Clowns. And if that weren't enough, every now and then Booster, who has by cosmic accident ended up with Princess Peach as a captive, rides through on a train every now and then and pelts you with bombs. His plan? Marry the Princess. Why? He's never had a wedding before, and it sounds like fun.

Wait, what?

You heard me. He's no villainous conqueror. He's a psychopathic man child who takes you on a giant roller coaster ride of WTF that ends with you going to a chapel and fighting a giant cake, which he then proceeds to eat.

Even within the context of the game, it only barely makes sense. And my GOD it's hilarious!

#8 Giant Fire Breathing Mike Tyson from I Want to Be The Guy: The Movie: The Game

I'm a decent player of platformer games. Not phenomenal, but I can play through most just fine once I figure out what's going on. More than once a girl in my freshman hall had me come down and beat levels of Mario and Kirby for her.

That said, I SUCK at I Want to Be the Guy. I have died SO many times on the FIRST SCREEN. In fact, I could almost put the game itself down as a favorite boss, as everything in that game is trying to kill you. The Moon comes down from the sky and tries to crush you repeatedly. At one point, a spike pit gets up and chases you down. Delicious fruit falls in every direction, gibbing your unstoppably optimistic character. And while all the bosses are memorable and hilarious (and slightly easier than the rest of the game), Mike Tyson gets the nod here for virtue of being GIANT MIKE TYSON who BREATHES FIRE, and being the only boss I've actually gotten to.

#9 Dozle Zabi in the Big Zam from Gundam Battle Assault
If you've hung out with me enough, you probably have at least a vague notion that I'm fond of Giant Robots. The Two Gundam Battle Assault games for the Original Playstation were particular favorites of mine, in fact being the first two fighting games I owned for the system. So why is the Big Zam notable? In the first game, it's the first boss character you come across. It is the biggest character in the game. It is more than twice the size of ANY robot you've come across at that point. So naturally, you're a little frightened. Then you learn it can do damage to you buy walking into you. And it shoots lasers instead of punching. And it's mega special is probably the most damaging you've seen. But as you fight it, you come to another realization.

It can't block. Or turn around. Suddenly, the fight is a HELL of a lot easier.

While the other bosses are much harder, this one was always a favorite of mine and my brother's when we played. Once we unlocked it, at least one round of our playing would include the Big Zam, as we tried to crush each other.

#10 Facade from Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening

So you get through the Sixth Dungeon on Koholint Island, the Face Shrine, and you're about to open the door to the Nightmare in there. You enter the room's empty. Okay, something will break out of the floor shortly, right? Right?

No. A pair of eyes open up. And you realize it.

The boss isn't in the room. The boss IS the room. Holy shit.

And while it's not a particularly hard boss fight (with Facade simply throwing objects from around the room at you and opening the occasional pit), I always thought that it was a clever boss, and always enjoyed it.

So there you go, my top ten video game baddies. Are they the most villainous, the most evil? No. Hell, only one of them is a final boss. But they've all done something to stick out in this Nincompoop's memory.

This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!