Game of Groans: It’s Finally Over

If you’re anything like me you’re probably still reeling (and perhaps even retching) from last night’s series finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Yet none of it came as any surprise to me, because after seeing episode five of season eight I decided that nothing else matters–to quote Jaime Lannister and Metallica–and I went on reddit to peruse the leaked text spoilers. Unlike many who did so, however, I decided not to boycott the series finale, but rather to give it the benefit of the doubt. I chose to wait and see.

Sweet summer child that I was, I knew nothing. And before you think that I mean the spoilers were wrong, let me just groan: Oh how I wish that that were so.

SPOILER ALERT:

I’m glad I read the spoilers, but I wish I hadn’t watched the last episode. It was agonizing to see. I think I would’ve preferred getting my eyeballs pushed into my frontal lobe by the Mountain than to watch this utter shitfest of a finale. But I mean, how could I not watch it? Friends and foes, we traversed seven seasons and then waited two whole years for this. Many of us have been fans of this show for eight years or more. And I admit there was still one feeble glimmer of hope left in my heart that the leaked ending was just HBO and/or the show’s creators trolling us.

Nope.

How I feel about the finale to Game of Thrones

Early in the season I agreed with many in the fandom that it felt rushed, and that most of the main characters seemed increasingly out of character. I could even agree with most of what those who were moaning and groaning about the “Long” Night were saying, and I knew that I would soon join in the Game of Groans once Daenerys went all Mad Queen as we all guessed long ago–and many of us feared–would happen (so much for subverting our expectations). But I didn’t agree with all of the complaints about that episode.

Don’t hate me, but I liked that the Night King was taken out not by Jon, as expected, but by Arya. I get why many took issue with it, but in my humble opinion it made plenty of narrative sense, despite the alleged build-up to Jon/Aegon being Azor Ahai or some such poppycock. But even if you disagree, I hope you can understand and appreciate my view that nothing on this show has stunk higher than the turning of Daenerys into the villain in literally a few minutes of a single episode. Even Dark Willow got almost an entire season of gradual moral degradation before she went all Thanos. So this was the last straw for me, and I know what some of you will say, but the reason isn’t that Dany is my favourite character. Show Dany hasn’t been my fave for quite some time now. That honour belongs to Arya.

I’ve enjoyed watching young Arya Stark slowly transform into a kick-ass assassin, and having her defeat the Night King with a rogue’s sneak attack using the Valyrian steel dagger her brother Bran the Three-Eyed Raven gave her in season seven–the same weapon a would-be assassin tried to kill him with in season one–seemed to me not only perfectly reasonable but apropos and poetic. I think I only didn’t see it coming because I never would’ve thought the writers would snatch away their great white male hero Jon/Aegon’s epic swordfight, which in my opinion realistically would’ve ended in Jon’s death (even if it also resulted in the Night King’s demise). And of course, with no cleric left alive to cast a raise dead or resurrection spell on the cuddliest Targaryen, that would’ve been it for our dear Lord Know Nothing along with his claim to the Iron Throne. And yes, I have always been behind Daenerys #ForTheThrone. But even so I would’ve said of that conveniently shelved matter of succession: “Not like this.”

There is a difference between subverting our expectations and just tossing them along with an entire character arc out the window. The Big Bad being defeated by his own ignorance of the fact that there was a stealthy, highly trained assassin in his midst, and his underestimation of her resulting in him being tricked with virtually the same move we saw her use on Brienne back in season seven makes good sense to me, and also makes for good storytelling in my opinion. But more importantly, we didn’t get there in just one episode or even just one season. Arya’s badass character arc began early in season one and hasn’t wavered for the entirety of the series. She may have wandered around aimlessly for much of the time, but her character progression was as straight and narrow as her sword, Needle, and pointed like a laser toward her becoming the “no one”–and perhaps the only one–who could defeat the Night King. If you think otherwise, we can of course agree to disagree.

But when it comes to Dany flipping a switch and suddenly morphing into the Mad Queen… to me it’s as if Galadriel gave her speech about how the One Ring would corrupt her and then in the same breath said, “Wait a minute… you know what? Give me that Ring, small fry!” as energy beams shot out of her eyes and Frodo evaporated. Well maybe not that bad, but still. This wasn’t just subverting our expectations. This was the random coin toss so unsubtly referred to by Varys in literally the preceding episode. It was all like “Oh, don’t forget, silly audience. Even the kindest, most just, and consistently heroic Targaryens can suddenly flip their braided white wig and massacre thousands of innocents without cause or provocation because, you know… inbreeding.”

It’s as if the showrunners tossed a coin when they were deciding how to end this series, and it came up stupid. I would’ve been fine with Daenerys razing the Red Keep even after the bells tolled signalling the city’s surrender. After all, her mortal enemies were holed up in there, and she was honour bound to avenge Missandei, whose last word before being beheaded on Cersei’s orders was “Dracarys”. And I would’ve been fine with the scenes depicting innocent people within the bailey of the Red Keep ending up as collateral damage. This would’ve been in keeping with the overall theme of the show in the past, with all of its moral greyness, hard decisions, and necessary ruthlessness. And maddeningly, at first–ostensibly to “subvert our expectations” I suppose–it actually does seem as if Dany is going to do just that.

She really does appear to make a beeline for the Red Keep initially. The shadow of Drogon swooping over King’s Landing, even the ensuing shot of him from the ground as he glides over the fleeing populace seem to be in line with this. One could almost say that this is what was originally intended by the showrunners, but if so they must have changed their minds at some point (tossed a coin?) because in what are probably scenes added later, we see Drogon destroy the bell tower (it seems like he destroys it again a bit later in the sequence, too, which I also found odd, but perhaps there were more than one), thence to systematically begin burning down the entire city. This and subsequent shots can only be explained by Dany having at first darted toward the keep, only for whatever reason to wheel Drogon around (though this is not shown) in order to wreak havoc for a while along the outskirts of King’s Landing instead of just heading straight for the keep, which makes no sense at all to me.

Believe me when I say that I’ve watched these scenes over and over again, and I just don’t buy her sudden inexplicable decision to delay sweet, sweet vengeance in order to willfully burn up fleeing non-combatants, including women and children, for no reason other than to strike fear into the hearts of her would-be subjects. The magnificent destruction of the Red Keep would have been more than enough to accomplish that. So we’re to believe that instead of going straight for Cersei, the one truly responsible for Missandei’s death (and, by proxy, Rhaegal’s as well), the Mother of Dragons “goes mad” and decides to take a little detour in order to reduce the surrounding city to rubble first, leaving ample time for her enemies to escape (the fact that they don’t escape is beside the point; only Bran could’ve foreseen that).

The sole reason that I can think of for the showrunners to have done this was in order to have shining white knight Jon freaking Snow come out all squeaky clean and smelling of roses in the end after having basely shanked his queen. And that’s a load of dragonshite.

Daenerys Stormborn and Emilia Clarke deserved better.

Critical Hit!

Matt Mercer and friends have taken the multiverse by storm, tearing gigantic rifts in the very fabric of reality

Hey everybody, in case you haven’t heard there’s this phenomenal show streaming on Twitch called Critical Role which features a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors sitting around playing Dungeons and Dragons, and they just launched a Kickstarter to create a half-hour animated special based on the exploits of Vox Machina, the legendary adventuring party they played as during their first campaign. All they needed, they said, was $750,000. Well, they met that goal in the first forty-five minutes of their launch and as of this writing the pledges from their fans, known as Critters, have surpassed an astonishing $5.8 million! Because of this, the animated special will now become an entire series!

All right, now for those of you who didn’t just crawl out from under a rock, HOLY SHIT IS THIS A WAKING DREAM? Seriously, did I wander into a fairy ring or follow the will-o’-the-wisps into some illusory pocket dimension in which nerds rule the universe and everybody loves each other? If so then please don’t rescue me.

The Cast of Critical Role, tl to br: Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, Matthew Mercer, Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham

I’ll never forget when I first discovered Critical Role and Vox Machina. I was thrilled that a show like this even existed, so imagine how I felt once it dawned on me how successful it was. And it didn’t take me long to start fantasizing about an animated series based on these characters, though at the time I didn’t think it was likely to happen anytime soon.

Funnily enough, I was led to this uncanny web series by another strange phenomenon which I’d once considered an unlikely success, the television show Supernatural, when Felicia Day made an appearance on it as Charlie Bradbury, a lovable nerd who instantly became my favourite recurring character. I also recognized that actor from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and when I learned that she had a web series called The Guild I had to go check it out. It was then that I was introduced to Geek & Sundry, and thereby the Vox Machina campaign of Critical Role, which Day also guest-starred in.

I was a latecomer though. By the time I started watching the first campaign the second one, featuring a new adventuring group called the Mighty Nein, was already beginning. So when I joined the ever-growing online community of Critters on Tumblr and Twitter, I kept seeing spoilers everywhere. This eventually prompted me to just jump right in and start watching the live stream of the second campaign every Thursday while I struggled to catch up on past episodes the rest of the week. Now that I’m all caught up with the second campaign, I’ve gone back to catching up with the first one. But I’ve still got a long way to go.

The great thing about the upcoming animated special SERIES!!! though is that it will deal with events from before the campaign started streaming, so I can take my time and not feel pressured to neglect my real life in order to get up to speed. But then, another great thing about this show is that once you get a feel for each of the characters, it doesn’t really matter where you start watching. I mean, I tuned into the live special The Search for Grog when the VOD became available in February despite having only seen episodes 1 -18 of Campaign 1 at that point, and I was still able to thoroughly enjoy it.

Travis Willingham plays Grog the Goliath Barbarian in Campaign One of Critical Role

Needless to say, I’m very, very, VERY excited about the upcoming animated series The Legend of Vox Machina and I hope we’ll eventually get to see one featuring the Mighty Nein as well! Huzzah!

Yet Another Half-orc Hero

Character sheet (screenshot from Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition)

Shortly after I blogged about My Big Dumb Ugly Half-orc Hero from the Neverwinter Nights video game I waxed nostalgic and decided to try playing Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition as a Half-orc Barbarian. In that short amount of time I’ve gotten pretty far in the game with this character, but I have to say it’s not all just him. Well, a lot of it is, and it’s not merely due to brute strength. But damn if I didn’t assemble a strong party as well.

His merry band of mercenaries currently consists of Viconia, the Drow Cleric, Kagain the Dwarven Fighter, Imoen the Human Thief, Garrick the Human Bard, and Neera the Half-elven Wild Mage. This is not my first time playing the enhanced version of this game, but I gotta say it’s the first time I could really appreciate the advanced AI. Sometimes when these guys encounter hostiles all I have to do is sit back and watch them go to work.


The Friendly Arm (screenshot from Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition)

****** SPOILERS AHEAD ******

>

>

>

Since my Bhaalspawn is chaotic neutral, he didn’t spend too much time with Khalid and Jaheira. In fact, he left them at the Jovial Juggler in Beregost and went off to do his own thing. They wanted to get to Nashkel as soon as possible, but I preferred to hold off on that for a bit while I finished some side quests. Then, even when we did finally get to Nashkel, we went to the carnival first. After all, who cares about some silly old mines?

Anyway, by now I had the party I thought I might finish the game with, but there was one more thing I had to do before looking into the iron shortage and that was to help Minsc and Boo save Dynaheir. I love Minsc, and the only reason I would end up removing him from the party after helping him complete his quest was to make room for a tougher fighter, namely Kagain.

But for now I left the Dwarf in Nashkel and the rest of us journeyed to the Gnoll Stronghold. Then, in what I must say was a mission of near surgical precision, we rescued Dynaheir from the pit she was imprisoned in and said our farewells to both her and Minsc, leaving him only a two-handed sword and of course, his beloved miniature giant space hamster. This of course meant we were only five as we headed back, but I wasn’t worried.

It wasn’t even having done this quest before with a different party that made it so easy this time around, except for the fact that I now knew enough to skirt around the Xvart village (time enough for that quagmire later on). But this meant I was taking a different route; one I wasn’t familiar with. To be honest, the real reason I wasn’t worried was that for once I didn’t have Khalid as a party member. In my opinion he’s practically useless as a Fighter. He might’ve made a better Bard. Also, Viconia taking Jaheira’s place as the party’s healer turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in this game. With the Ankheg Plate Mail and Stupefier Mace she’s practically invincible, and she has a much wider range of spells, not to mention the Turn Undead ability which Jaheira lacks as a Fighter/Druid. The only thing I miss is the often witty banter the Half-elven couple brought to the party. But Viconia has a few of her own quirky interactions with some of the other NPCs, and Neera has personality enough for them all.

Once safely back in Nashkel I picked up Kagain where I’d left him by the barracks, and we all went to the inn. If you’ve gotten this far in the game (and honestly if you haven’t you shouldn’t be reading this), then you know what happens next. A hapless bounty hunter messed with the wrong mercenary group. We tore her apart in mere seconds. It was epic.

By now the party had a reputation of 9 (due to Viconia’s inclusion in the group), so after my Bhaalspawn’s first nightmare he woke up the following morning with the Larloch’s Minor Drain ability. I purposely avoided getting the rep up to 10 so that that would be the case, but now at last my reluctant hero could begin his long redemptive arc, starting with sorting out the mines and the rotting metal situation.

I was astonished at how quickly we blew through those underground passages which had proved so deadly to parties I’d gone into them with in the past. Before I knew it Mulahey was dead at my feet and we were off to collect our reward. Now that’s all sorted, Tranzig is dead as well, and we’re bandit hunting in the Peldvale. The party’s rep is back up to 10 again, and my Half-orc Hero has had his second nightmare and gained the Cure Light Wounds ability.

In conclusion I’d just like to also mention that the Enhanced Edition appears to have made Bards much more useful. In most encounters, Garrick just stands there singing, and yet I consider him one of the most valuable members of this mercenary group. He’s also cheerful and fun to have around, like Imoen and Neera, especially in contrast with the other three party members. Also, the voice I chose for my Bhaalspawn (MALE6) is perfect. It’s one of the newer ones, and I’m absolutely in love with it.


My Big Dumb Ugly Half-orc Hero

Neverwinter Nights by BioWare

I play Neverwinter Nights a lot, and sometimes I come up with player characters for that game that I end up really wanting to play in a tabletop session of D&D. I never thought one of them would be a stereotypical big dumb ugly half-orc, but there you go.

Normally I would never create a PC with an Intelligence lower than 10, but this time on a whim I played through the first chapter of the NWN Original Campaign as a Half-Orc Barbarian named Gulash with an intelligence of 8. It was hilarious! I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, a little more about the character.

While I know that good-looking intelligent, articulate half-orcs are all the rage now (here’s looking at you, Fjord), Neverwinter Nights already has a supporting character who’s an articulate half-orc barbarian, the NPC Daelan, whom you can hire as a henchman, so keeping that in mind you might understand why I preferred to go the other way with this character.

But don’t get me wrong. Gulash is in no way a mindless, unthinking brute. In fact, he has a kind heart and he’s also pretty savvy with a wisdom score of 12. That’s actually one of the things that make me think he’d be great as a PC that I could develop more freely in a real D&D roleplaying scenario. I think a lot of his enemies would underestimate him, calculating only his strength in their assessment of the threat he could potentially pose to them. He’d also be fun to roleplay.

Anyway, for Gulash’s voice I chose from the included voice sets one called Dumb Hero which has some funny lines such as “I’m gonna rip your head off and make it my puppet!” Then, after reading the warning during character creation that lets you know an intelligence lower than 9 means your character can’t speak properly, I proceeded to play, only to be pleasantly surprised when I discovered just what that meant.

As I said, I’d played the game many times before with all sorts of different characters, so I was familiar with nearly all of the dialogue interactions, but now instead of saying, for example “I need to speak to you,” my character would say something like “Me want talk at you”. But funniest of all were the reactions from many of the NPCs when my character spoke to them. They might say something like, “Oh, I see you are a bit slow, friend.” I love that the game’s creators took the time to do this. Unfortunately, this is not true of all modules, including Shadows of Undrentide. It’s understandable though, having to write two versions of all the dialogue in the game would no doubt add considerably to the overhead.

Another thing that made game play a bit different for me this time around was Gulash’s low charisma score. In NWN, half-orcs take a -1 penalty to charisma and I was unwilling to spend any extra points to mitigate that because I wanted him to be a tank. So any extra points I had went into strength, constitution, and dexterity (and the aforementioned wisdom score, of course, to help protect him from mind-affecting spells).

A charisma score of only 9 has some pretty significant consequences in NWN, as I was soon to learn.

Take Persuasion, for example. This skill is charisma-based and very important to game play, particularly insofar as it can be used to open up side quests that would normally be closed to all but a very few specific types of character (such as those belonging to a particular class; though most of the time it appears to have more to do with the PC’s alignment). Less side quests mean less experience points, so it makes sense that you’d want to take on odd jobs, especially if they paid well.

***** SPOILERS AHEAD *****

One such side quest is offered by Judge Oleff in the Halls of Justice. If you’re a lawful good cleric you probably don’t need a high charisma or persuade skill to get the quest, which involves finding the lost tombs of Halueth Never and his adventuring companions. And while it certainly makes a lot of sense that stuffy old Oleff wouldn’t entrust such a sacred task to a chaotic, brutish half-orc barbarian who can’t even speak properly, it’s a great side quest featuring some pretty powerful undead and I really wanted to see how Gulash fared in it. So I gave persuasion a shot, and naturally failed.

In NWN once you fail a persuasion check with a particular character you can’t succeed with them if you try again until you’ve increased your persuasion skill, which, barring the use of a magical item, means after you’ve leveled up again. But when your character is a dumbass barbarian, you don’t get many skill points to waste on things like persuasion, especially when 1 point in persuasion would cost you 2 skill points. Makes sense in terms of roleplaying though. Barbarians tend to persuade with their fists. Still, a few levels later I did finally add an extra point in persuasion, and with a nymph cloak I bought at the auction in the Seedy Tavern, I was finally able to convince Judge Oleff I was the right man–er, half-orc for the job.

Another consequence I wasn’t expecting from having such a low charisma score was actually kind of more sad than funny. After successfully retrieving his first Waterdhavian creature, Gulash decided to celebrate at the Moonstone Mask. After getting a writ from Oleff that declared him plague-free, and buying his Pass Coin to get upstairs, he chose a pretty halfling lass as his companion for the night. But all he could get out of her was a quest… she refused to even consider bedding him because he was so damned ugly.

*****END SPOILERS*****

Overall it’s been a fun (and often funny) experience playing Gulash. It was sort of refreshing to not be squishy, to hack and slash my way through the Neverwinter Nights Original Campaign instead of relying on stealth and magic. I think the only thing I’ll do differently if I play this character in a tabletop D&D game is to make my big dumb ugly half-orc hero a female. Hulking musclebound brutish female half-orc barbarians are apparently in short supply these days. Everyone wants to be sexy, I guess. But this one will rip your head off and make it her puppet, and that’s sexy enough for me.