Monthly Archives: February 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending delivers fantastic visuals, including lepidopterous attack ships, galactic palaces, refinery cities inside gas giant planets, and gothic cathedral styled battle cruisers. The last I suspect were a conscious homage to 40K, especially given that at one point the protagonists need to “break through a field of war hammers” (some sort of geometric space mine). Warning, there may be some mild spoilers below, though I do not think they would really spoil the movie.

The plot is somewhat ridiculous, though not nearly as bad as some reviews I read made it out to be. The Wachowskis retain their fixation with harvesting human resources as seen in The Matrix. The universe is apparently ruled by giant space cartel noble families that live for millenia due to youth serum harvested from subject planets after they have marinated in DNA diversification for long enough. I actually enjoyed the over the top performances of the antagonist Abrasax siblings. Eddie Redmayne’s Balem Abrasax in particular was suitably Harkonnen with his decadent rasp, though his final behavior was not really believable for a semi-immortal space magnate.

Channing Tatum, unfortunately, does not sell the space wolf character at all. Someone with more believable sense of violence and threat was required, and the primary impression I got from his performance was tranquilized. Further, he looked soft, clearly not having trained very hard for the role. Chris Evans, Henry Cavill, and Hugh Jackman as action heroes have raised the bar and Tatum just does not cut it here. This is especially clear in his shirtless farmhouse fight scene where the camera seems to recoil from ever focusing on his midsection. It does not help that he has zero chemistry with Mila Kunis, who also does not seem particularly committed to her role as Russian immigrant housekeeper turned space princess (yes, you read that correctly). Her character is not particularly competent or clever and seems to be largely carried along with little agency of her own.

The major plot arc is essentially the navigation of galactic inheritance law. The process of claiming her title requires Jupiter to proceed through a host of kafkaesque and ridiculous official requirements. The source of this bureaucracy is unclear, but the sequence itself is enjoyable enough, and it culminates with Terry Gilliam himself playing some sort of heraldic functionary, in a clear homage to Brazil. There is a capitalist exploitation theme under all the action, with the Abrasax heirs being primarily concerned with the profit from their youth serum business.

The combat, both in terms of style and power level, looked on screen like how Numenera reads, especially the gravity parkour boots and materializing energy shield. The gravity surfing is not something I think I have seen on the screen before, and it was genuinely kind of exhilarating to watch, especially since much of the action happened in my city, Chicago. I think I could even see my apartment building in a few of the scenes.

Overall, the parts are more interesting than the whole, but we do not get many big budget space operas. The vistas are probably worth it alone, though occasionally the style overwhelms the substance so much as to be distracting.

Oh, and there are dragonborn (which, surprisingly, I can not really find any good pictures of).

jupiter-ascending-005-970x646-cjupiter-ascending-0030-970x646-cjupiter-ascending-00390-970x646-c(Images from here.)

Training bonuses

dark_souls_swords_by_bringess-d7bebkw copy

Dark Souls swords by Bringess

This is an idea for weapon training that I had which is probably too fiddly for online play, but might work in person. To gain more than a +1 to attack or damage (whether from attack bonus, strength, or wherever bonuses come from in your system of choice), a combatant must train with a given weapon. Each weapon is rated with minimum stat requirements and maximum bonus potential. Mundane weapons might be, for example, min +0 and max +3/+3, meaning that anyone without a penalty can use them and they can support at most a +3 to attack and damage. Insisting on using a weapon without the minimum stat imposes some large penalty (-4 or 5E style disadvantage).

The constraints would need to be tracked for each weapon along with training level, which could default to starting scores for starting weapons initially (representing background training). For example, consider a first level Labyrinth Lord fighter with 16 strength, which grants a +2 to attack and damage. A first level fighter in this system also has the equivalent of a +1 bonus to attack. Assume further that this character starts with a battle axe and dagger. Under skills, the player would write battle axe +3/+2 and dagger +3/+2. This is the character’s initial training. If a sword is picked up, it will be wielded with +0/+0 until the character can train with it.

How does training work? As a downtime action, the character can pay for training in a weapon. This costs some set amount, maybe based on bonus to be unlocked, say 500 GP per target plus (so, moving from +1 to +2 would cost 1000 GP). This raises either the attack or the damage by one point, assuming that is supported by class attack bonus or ability scores. Thus, that example first level character above can gain no more bonus points in battle axe until ability scores or attack bonus increase.

The benefits are that it gives fighters something to do during downtime actions, somewhat restrains bonus progression, makes special weapons more valuable without needing to resort to magic weapons as treasure all the time, and allows fighters to ease in to using crazy weapons like the Berserk dragon slayer sword or the asylum demon’s great hammer which might make their use feel a bit more special (and also more fictionally justified). It would also allow weapons to be numerically defined on dimensions of finesse and brutality. For example, a big club might be +1/+4 in potential, making it a good choice for a character with low skill but high strength (assuming such is possible in the base system).

This would would particularly well with a system that has regular stat increases, such as this adventurer class or Green Ronin’s Dragon Age, but should also be functional with a regular attack bonus.