Updates: A New Gig, Stargate, Three Worlds, and More

I’m sorry for not posting more lately. I’ve been very busy. There are a lot of things going on at the moment I would have in the past done deep dive posts on, but I don’t have the time or energy these days. I didn’t want to leave this blog to rot, though, so I’ll do a quick rundown of all that’s new.

The official logo for Dungeons and Dragons, fifth editionFirstly, part of the reason I’m so busy is that I’ve picked up another new writing gig. I’m not sure how much I’m contractually allowed to say in public right now, but I can say that it’s writing Dungeons and Dragons adventures. It’s not for Wizards of the Coast; it’s a third party producing adventures under the Open Gaming License. It’s a fairly well-established company, though. I already knew them before I even applied for the job.

It’s also not clear to me if this is a short-term thing or something that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. I think it depends on how happy they are with my work.

Professional game design is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m glad to have the opportunity, but the workload is more than I’m used to, so it’s taking a lot out of me. Someone without my disabilities would probably be fine, but for me it’s taking a lot of energy. To their credit, my new employers have been pretty patient and even made accommodations to work with my unpredictable schedule.

This has delayed work on my own tabletop game, Wyrd Street. I’m unsure if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I do plan to talk about it at some point. For now the short version for those who haven’t already been told about it is that it’s a D20-based RPG about ordinary heroes in a fantastical world. It draws a lot of inspiration from the earlier sections of Dragon Age II.

The idea at the heart of it is that anyone can be the hero, no matter what the rest of the world thinks of you or what struggles you might have in your life. You might not be a hero of legend, but you can be a hero to the people who depend on you. You might not save the world, but you can still save someone’s world.

That’s on the backburner while I focus on the new job, but I hope to get back to it at some point. Early play-tests were going well. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Several people have said they enjoy combat in Wyrd Street more than in 5E.

The Stormfall palace in Wolcen: Lords of MayhemOn the video game front, those who follow my column on Massively Overpowered may have noticed I got sucked into Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem. I just finished the campaign, and I definitely want to play more, but I also have a lot of other stuff in my backlog I want to get to, and while I think Wolcen’s polish issues have been exaggerated, waiting for a few more patches to smooth out some of the rougher edges doesn’t seem like the worst idea. We’ll see how I feel; the combat and the build system in that game are just so addictive.

I did finally break down and pick up Nier: Automata on a Steam flash sale recently, so I hope to get to that soon, as well. Still a lot left to do in Star Trek Online, too.

Speaking of sci-fi, now that I finally have a library card, I discovered they have the entire series of Stargate: SG-1 on DVD, so I’ve been binge watching through that.

Despite the fact I’ve seen every episode of Atlantis and Universe, I’d only seen bits and pieces of SG-1 prior to now. I got interested in it pretty late in the game, and it was never on TV at times that were convenient to me. Then I didn’t have a TV. DVDs are too expensive, and there’s never been a convenient way to stream it.

But now I’m finally getting to watch it all in order. I just started on season four, and the show finally seems to be find its footing.

I won’t lie; if I didn’t know for a fact the series gets better, I might have given up on SG-1 in the first few seasons. It’s not that it’s terrible or anything, but it’s not enormously compelling either, and some aspects of it really haven’t aged well. It does feel like it’s starting to find more of a voice now, though, and I know the best is yet to come.

I’m also binging Welcome to Night Vale pretty hard right now. I got tickets to a live show in my area for later this month, and while I know it isn’t strictly necessary, I want to be fully caught up before I go. I’ve “only” got about twenty episodes left now, though I also want to listen to the recordings of all the previous live shows, and I haven’t touched those yet.

Official art for the audio drama Welcome to Night ValeI also finally tried one of the other shows by that company, Alice Isn’t Dead. Only listened to a few episodes so far, but my first impression is it’s really damn good. A bit Secret World-esque, and I adore Jasika Nicole’s voice. Wish I could get her to narrate my life.

Finally, when it comes to books, I just got done reading a collection of short fiction set in Ian Irvine’s Three Worlds setting, A Wizard’s War and Other Stories. It was fine and all, but I definitely expected more. None of the stories really jumped out as being super memorable. Don’t regret reading it, but it’s definitely not essential, even if you’re a serious Three Worlds fan.

Star Trek Musings: Picard’s Premiere, Discovery Season Two, and STO

Despite years of feeling like my Trek fandom has been left behind, I find myself quite steeped in Star Trek lately. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it.

Picard:

The official logo for Star Trek: Picard.Let’s start with what everyone is talking about: Picard.

As someone who grew up with TNG, it’s hard to remember the last time any piece of media felt as much like an event as this does. I’ve been filled with enormous hope, but also great worry that they’ll screw it up. Truthfully, I just didn’t know what to expect.

The first episode hasn’t done a whole lot to clarify my feelings, honestly.

There is a lot to love. There absolutely is. It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart is absolutely flawless. He always has been, and even if everything else was bad, the show could possibly be worth it for him alone.

Thankfully, he’s not the only thing Picard has going for it.

For one thing, this is quite possibly the most beautiful, aesthetically masterful piece of television I’ve ever seen. Picard has the sumptuous production values of Discovery, but rather than being flashy and extravagant, it feels lived in and homey. Every shot feels like a work of art, and the soundtrack is stunningly beautiful.

Picard is amazingly rooted in what’s come before. As a fan of Nemesis, I feared it might be somewhat swept under the rug, being an unpopular film, but Picard is almost entirely a direct sequel to it. Even beyond that, this series is a love-letter to the fans through and through. Subtle callbacks and easter eggs abound, but even the major plot points are the sort of things that you need to have watched a lot of Star Trek to understand.

Jean-Luc Picard and Dahj in Star Trek: Picard.This could be a double-edged sword. Right now I’d rate the appeal of Picard for anyone who’s not a hardcore Trekkie to be pretty much zero. But on the other hand, it’s wonderful from the perspective of someone who does know and love that source material.

One small thing that maybe shouldn’t matter but which I really appreciated is that every single alien we’ve seen so far, even extras, are from pre-established species. Romulan, Tellarite, Xahean. It makes the Trek universe feel more like a real place, something Picard is already doing an excellent job across the board.

It’s not all good news, though. I do still see some cause for concern.

The first half or so of Picard’s premiere is pretty much perfect, but after that things start to slip a bit. It slides a bit more towards the kind of cheap shocks and sensationalism that have dogged Discovery. It’s nowhere near as bad as Discovery yet, but it does leave me worried.

Ultimately, this is a show that’s clearly playing the long game with its story. You can’t really rate the first episode individually. It’s just the first part of a much bigger picture. Future developments could justify what seem like missteps now… or just make them worse.

All things considered, Picard’s first episode does an admirable job of living up to the mountainous expectations placed on it, but my worries are not entirely erased. There’s still lots of room for this to go badly wrong, and modern Star Trek doesn’t have a great track record for quality.

Agnes in Star Trek: Picard.Speaking of modern Star Trek…

Discovery: Season two

I pretty much gave up on Discovery after what I will generously call a rough first season. However, I heard from enough people that season two was better that I eventually caved and decided to give it another shot. I finished up just in time for Picard to start.

In some ways, season two of Discovery is a lot like the first. But in other ways — in just enough ways — it’s quite different.

The main thing that Discovery’s second season shares with the first is that they are both — to put it bluntly — really, really stupid. Season two’s meta plot is crushingly convoluted and riddled with enormous plot holes, and it completely falls apart under any kind of inspection.

Season one was dumb, too, and worse still it wasn’t even an enjoyable story. It was a dull, lifeless slog full of cheap shock value and terrible, occasionally offensive story choices.

At times, season two slips back into that. The most egregious example is what they’ve done with the character of Saru. Once a highlight of the show, season two manages to nullify pretty much everything that made him compelling as a character.

Doug Jones as Commander Saru in Star Trek: DiscoverySaru was introduced as a member of a prey species who live in constant, instinctual fear. It was a really unique concept for an alien race, and as someone who suffers from chronic anxiety, I identified with Saru in a way I rarely can with fictional characters.

Season two reveals that Saru’s species are not the prey but in fact apex predators once they reach a certain age. Firstly, this completely sabotages what made his race different. Now they’re just Klingons with better manners.

Secondly, the idea that chronic anxiety is something you can just grow out of is breathtakingly tone-deaf and downright offensive. It’s akin to writing a story where a gay person realizes they were straight all along once they meet the “right” person. It’s awful.

However, offensive stupid like that is thankfully the exception in Discovery’s second season. The whole arc is dumb, but most of the time it’s fun dumb. There are worse sins for a story to commit than to be dumb. Discovery’s first season was stupid and boring. Its second season is stupid and entertaining.

As always, Discovery knocks it out of the park visually, with state of the art special effects, spectacular art design, and lots of battle scenes filled with eye candy.

But what really makes the second season work where the first didn’t is that it has heart. There are many moments where the characters risk life and limb to do the right thing, with no real motivation beyond the fact that it is the right thing. That’s what Star Trek is all about, and though Discovery gets so much else wrong, that’s the one thing it really needs to get right. The first season didn’t, but the second does.

Michael Burnham in Star Trek: DiscoveryAs of now, I would consider myself converted to Discovery. It’s still a long, long way from my favourite Trek series, and there’s still a lot wrong with it, but it does now feel at least worth my time, with occasional flashes of true greatness.

STO update

And while I’m rambling about Star Trek, I might as well give an update on my continued adventures in Star Trek Online (beyond what was already said in my recent column).

I continue to mostly enjoy my time there, somewhat to my own surprise. I’ve said before it’s a very rough game, and it’s not getting any less rough the farther into it I get.

I played through the starter stories for both other major factions — oddly, the Starfleet content is shockingly brief, and Klingons don’t fare much better — and returned to playing my Rommie full time. She’s now at level cap and delving into the faction-agnostic story arcs.

Turns out this game has a pretty sharp difficulty spike at max level. I’ve gone from waltzing over enemies to struggling to stay alive on nearly every fight. This might bother me more, except there doesn’t seem to be an real death penalty in this game (as it should be, IMO). That makes the difficulty less frustrating and more a problem to be solved.

I am hoping to upgrade my gear some. To my dismay, the main source of endgame progression in STO seems to be reputation grinds, which I consider the very lowest form of MMO content, but on the plus side the lower tiers of reputation aren’t too hard to unlock. It could be far worse.

Space station Deep Space Nine in Star Trek Online.I’m also still playing my Starfleet character, an Andorian science officer, here and there. I switch over to her for story arcs that feel more appropriate for a Starfleet officer, like helping out the Bajorans. One thing that’s really nice about STO is that you can play through the missions in any order, and everything has level-scaling, so I can hop between the two characters at will without repeating any story or worrying about falling behind. This is an extremely alt-friendly game.

I still half expect myself to drop this game at any moment, but for now it’s still keeping my attention, if only because I’ve got Trek on the brain these days.

On top of everything else, one of my friends is now forming plans for a Star Trek tabletop RPG one-shot…