Fabletop Review: Critical Role

Like the difference between watching a streamer play a game for its campaign mode, and watching a streamer play the Legend Rank multiplayer build.

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Even with video. Even with the internet. Even with game streaming. Who would have EVER thought to put Dungeons & Dragons online? I mean, who would want to watch people roll dice, play at acting, and discuss rules instead of playing online card games and gladiatorial shooting grounds?

Turns out, quite a lot of people, if Critical Role’s 115+ episodes of their first season are anything to go by.

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Mentors: Meet De Mentors

Why not take the easy way out and make them your usual can of exposition and training?

Very few characters actually make it on their own. Even as loners, they had to learn from somewhere. They had to have a teacher, someone to actually teach them to acquire the skills and traits the author arbitrarily assigned to them.

Someone like a magical talking animal. Or a grizzled washed out wizard. Or the city streets themselves.

Or some weirdo on the internet giving introductions and tips to writing.

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Anti-Heroes: On A Razor’s Edgelord

They’re the guys who’ll decisively travel back in time and kill baby Hitler.

Stories, sides, life. Things tend to be seen in black and white, evil and good, dark and light. It’s a distinction that lies in our most primal archetypes, a desire for epic scales and stakes, for the world to make sense.

And then there’s the reality of everything in-between. Those who aren’t wholly good, nor wholly bad. Those defined by the codes they reject as much as by the codes they hold. The grey. Fifty shades of…what do you mean I already used that title gag? That was a completely different topic!

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Hope: An Audience’s Odyssey

After all, Charming Orphan Annie singing her way to a family is more optimistic than Malnourished Orphan Annie decrying the wealth gap created by the capitalist system.

Last week, I expressed the heretical opinion that Logan is excellent but miserable, a one-view-only masterpiece that is bereft of hope. This week, I thought I’d elaborate a bit more on just what hope means.

That’s a tall order, of course, just like it’s hard to express something that’s so subjective, as well as being a fundamental word, like trying to describe “hot” or “soft” without using those words. But perhaps there’s a way to narrow it down. Perhaps by grasping to explain, I can clear up the picture and feelings behind it for others. Just what IS hope in stories?

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Logan: Les Miserables Masterpiece

I don’t feel hopeful that they’ll beat the odds and succeed; I feel resigned to their deaths, and think it’d be nice if they met it with dignity.

Logan does a lot right. Well-paced, good balance of action and emotion, very elegant conservation of information that is transmitted smoothly in a plot-relevant way, all of which are difficult to achieve in any film, let alone an action-fantasy. Does a lot for the comic book movie genre to bring more mature storylines to light, along with all the other ‘serious fan’ pontifications. Proves that good writing can transcend genres and categories, surpassing supposed restrictions with creative execution.

In fact, there’s only one thing it fails to do: Make me happy.

…WHAT? How can I be UNHAPPY with Logan? That’s like saying I enjoyed the Star Wars prequels! …Except wait, I DID enjoy the Star Wars prequels…

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Hogwarts’ Superschool Of Settings

What can we learn from barely competent teaching staff and poor hiring standards?

Class is once again in session! Yes, that idiom was to be expected. Yes,  you are fully allowed to cringe at me. Just as planned!

Today, I’ll be talking about a staple of fantastic settings and what we can learn from it: The SUPERSCHOOL! One highly popular example of a very involved setting.

Whether it’s an academy, the school, a magical order, or an alien police force, these are institutions built around the idea of collecting what we’d consider “special” and training it to perfection. From Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters to the Hogwarts School For Witchcraft And Wizardry, these have been a rich source for potential stories.

The main purpose of these, of course, is to teach superpowered individuals how to responsibly control and use their powers. Otherwise you’ll end up with all sorts of tragedy and collateral damage. Though the mission statement and end goals can vary, ultimately they’re about getting all that power in one place and getting it under control or awarded after rigorous training.

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Ah, yes. That old nugget.

But what’s the deal with these schools? When’s something normal or not, and what’s the nuts and bolts behind it? What can we learn from barely competent teaching staff and poor hiring standards?

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Everyman For Himself

Where other heroes treat things as a matter of course, they are the ones who’ll laugh off their insecurities and point out just how insane it is that there is an actual place called Gorilla City.

A hero. A shining paragon of might, intellect, charisma, and willpower. The great champion who will rise to the challenge, armed with a mighty advantage to turn the tide. The ones who ride off to defy fate and forge their own destiny, riding upon the tide of their allies.

And then there’s the other guy. Ladies and gentlemen of the net, meet the Everyman. As the name describes, they are like every man or woman.

They are not chosen by fate. They are not fiery, warping reality with their sheer passion. They are not brilliant, staying 500 steps ahead of the opposition. They are not divinely awe-inspiring in personality or looks, eliciting worship and adoration. No superpowers, no super training. Just enough to get by in the world.

But when stories can vastly vary what makes up ‘normal’, what marks an Everyman when one universe’s Average Josephine is another’s demigod?

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