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2021 is in the rear view, now onto 2022

So another year has come and gone and I am glad. While 2021 was not as bad as the year that shall not be named, it wasn’t the easiest. There are still some challenges in this world that I really hope that our society can come together to get past. I’m still trying to focus on the positives of the past year.

==Role Playing Games==

2021 started out with the first #CharacterCreationChallenge. Amazingly enough I was able to knock out 31 characters in 31 days. I loved reading all of the different responses that the other participants and even made a few new friends along the way. I’m looking forward to the 2022 Character Creation Challenge.

There was also the #RPGaDAY2021 Challenge during the month of August. I really had a struggle with this one, but I was glad that I had participated in it.

I also had a chance to finally play an online Star Trek Adventures game. We have a second session in our “one-shot” planned very soon. The kewl thing is, the game was announced with less than a 24 hour start time. I was able to use my Star Trek Adventures entry in the Character Creation Challenge to quickly drop into the game. Playing on just Zoom is difficult, but doable.

I also had some friends get me into an online Starfinder game that lasted several months (with 1-2 sessions per month). It was interesting, but it really turned me off using Fantasy Grounds as an online platform. It’s an app instead of a browser based system and it is a resource hog like nothing else. Even the players with high end computers were having issues. Unfortunately real life caused the game to end after a few months. The Starfinder system is ok, but a bit crunchy to what I’m use to. The Pathfinder in space mentality didn’t really appeal to me either. I know I was gaming more for the company than I was for the system and universe.

I still want to get into a D&D 5th edition game or a regular Star Trek Adventure game. I’d also prefer to get back together with gaming in person, but with the way the variants are running wild, I’m not certain that will happen any time soon. I’m open to an online game if the schedules can be worked out (the same old problems).

There were several new additions to my role-playing game collection. Between purchases and donations from friends I’ve been able to add to my gaming shelf. I also took advantage of several PDF sales. Instead of listing them all here, I’m planning to save them for my Character Creation Challenge entries. I also added to my dice collection including a special die.

==Video Games==

I’m still playing my old standbys of No One Lives Forever and Tron 2.0. However thanks to a gift card for GameStop (actually ThinkGeek) I was able to pick up a few other video games that I’m looking forward to trying out. I’ve been playing Balder’s Gate and it’s been… interesting. I think I might be playing it wrong.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order has been good so far, but I think my daughter is enjoying it more than I am.

==Movies==

Even though it came out the year before, I had the chance to see Wonder Woman 1984 and I enjoyed it. I wished I could have seen it in the theater. 2021 was also the 25th Anniversary of the Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.

Through streaming I was able to enjoy Black Widow and Godzilla vs Kong (wish I could have seen this in the theater).

Finally getting back into the theater I was able to enjoy watching the latest James Bond movie. We finally saw the sci-fi epic Dune and loved watching the new Ghostbusters film. I still want to watch the latest Matrix movie, Spiderman movie and The King’s Man while they are in the theaters.

I’ve also watched a ton of cheesy sci-fi, fantasy and horror films on streaming services. Some were good, some were not so good.

==Television==

Creature Features held it’s 50th Anniversary. During the summer I had my photo aired on a segment of Svengoolie and my kid’s artwork promoted on Creature Features.

Netflix’s Army of the Dead was a good adventure. Amazon’s The Tomorrow War was interesting to watch. Ice Road was also interesting, but probably not a repeat watch. The Wheel of Time didn’t catch my attention at first, but slowly got a little better. I never read the books so I don’t know how it compares. I really enjoyed Foundation after I was worried how the books were going to translate to the screen. Invasion was an interesting concept, but starts out really slow. I’m glad I stuck with it. I need to finish Y: The Last Man and I’m really disappointed that we will only get one season of Cowboy Bebop.

Thank you What We Do In The Shadows, Archer and South Park for being funny. Crossed Swords was a challenge, but I was able to get into it. I’ve really enjoyed the animated Disenchantment series on Netflix. It was also good to see Animaniacs again.

On the Star Trek front, Star Trek: Prodigy has been interesting. I’ve also been enjoying Star Trek: Discovery as well. I really think that Star Trek: Lower Decks has knocked it out of the park. I am really looking forward to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I wish there was more Short Treks. Wil Wheaton’s after show “The Ready Room” has been very enjoyable and informative.

Disney+ brought us several good entries for 2021. The Muppet’s Haunted Mansion was really, really good. I really wish that they would give us more Muppets Now. WandaVision and Loki were really good from the Marvel entries. Falcon and the Winter Soldier was ok. I haven’t seen the Hawkeye series yet but plan to sit down and watch it. I really liked the What If!?! series. On the Star Wars side, The Mandalorian continued to be great. Visions was ok, but I wish I hadn’t binged it since it probably would have been better in smaller doses. The Bad Batch was also enjoyable. There has only been one episode of The Book of Boba Fett so I’ll be watching to see where this goes.

Because I missed a lot of Doctor Who episodes while I was studying for college, I spent part of the year catching up. Not only was I able to complete this task, I was able to watch the latest season as it aired. I’m looking forward to the New Years Day special.

2022 will finally get us the third season of The Orville and I’m really looking forward to the next season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

==Books and Comics==

I really enjoyed the Star Trek: Picard novel, Last Best Hope. There are several other books that I’ve been reading on my kindle and in dead tree format. I’ve been trying to read The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance as well but I haven’t completed them.

The War of the Bounty Hunters in the Star Wars comic series was good, but frustrating. I really wish that they had a better system to follow the flow of the story that spans across several publications. I felt like a few times I was re-treading over the same ground.

The Mirror Universe stories and Star Trek Year Five was really good from IDW Publishing. I’m looking forward to reading more of these stories.

Doctor Who, James Bond and The Orville was other comics I had been pulling from my local store.

==Cosplay and Conventions==

I was able to add the Admiral Picard uniform to my collection. I had a chance to wear this at FanX: The Salt Lake Comic Convention. It was the only con I attended in the year. Hopefully 2022 will be better convention wise. I’d love to get an Admiral Vance uniform from Star Trek: Discovery or a Monster Maroon from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However those are long term goals.

==Live Events==

Thanks to 103.1 The Wave, we were able to take the family to Lagoon. With the vaccines helping out, we’ve been able to attend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra performance and the live Mystery Science Theater 3000: Time Bubble Tour. I’ve already got several concerts and events planned for 2022. The Beyond Van Gogh experience was probably the closest I’ll ever get to a holodeck experience. The Egyptian exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah was very enjoyable.

I was also interviewed on the radio for the Star Trek Day 2021. That was an interesting experience. But also not the first time I’ve been interviewed on the TV, Radio or even print.

Our Seventh Fleet and USS Ticonderoga meetings and events have been able to get back in person. This was a very good thing as we are a close knit Star Trek family. We’ve been able to grow and succeed because we get together and see each other’s smiling faces.

==Website==

I was able to get some photo albums online and I’ve added to them as I’ve found more photos. I’ve been able to keep to a regular schedule of several blog posts per week (counting the Star Trek Quotes listings). I should do more gaming articles and reviews of things I’ve watched/read/enjoyed. However, I still need to get some of the other sections of my website filled out. I’m a little upset with myself that I haven’t gotten more of the website completed. This will be a goal for 2022.

It’s good to have goals. I think I’m going to spend 2022 trying to achieve more of them.

Posted in: Dungeons and Dragons, James Bond, No One Lives Forever, Role Playing Games, Spy-Fi

The secret is out… on secret tunnels

I’m sure that no one will talk about this project outside of work.

So I love watching YouTube videos. Primarily because they can cover a wide variety of interesting subjects that you won’t usually find in regular educational (or semi-educational) channels. I’ve been able to find interesting looks at how common people lived and ate not only in medieval times, but in the 1920’s and 30’s (which make for interesting game fodder for gangster type role playing games). We all have a general idea how Mob leaders and the royalty lived by the various movies and glamorous stories. But informative videos talking about the other side of the coin for various eras can help when adding atmosphere to different RPGs in different eras.

YouTube has an interesting algorithm on suggesting other possible videos that may be of interest. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t (I won’t go into details but I wish that the YT apps on my TV had a way to give a “not interested” without having to go to the video itself).

One recent suggestion from YouTube was “Digging a Secret Tunnel” by a British content provider using the handle “colinfurze”. Apparently he’s been digging a secret tunnel that connects his house to his workshop and then to a backyard underground bunker for the past three years. Note: The video linked above is part six of the series, but it was the first one I had watched and inspired me to create this blog post. Also a warning, Colin comes across a little like a used car salesman in his enthusiasm. But don’t let that bug you, the video was quite interesting despite his almost game show host like quality.

The first reason that I clicked on the video was because I was one of the many young boys growing up who had the idea of making a secret tunnel in his basement as a means to covertly get out of the house. Luckily my parents never found out about me trying to cut through the walls in our home. And I didn’t get very far because the house was very well built. Colin’s video showed the amount of preparation and effort that was being put into the tunnel project. It was being built under his house, driveway and workshop before it made it to the bunker. You don’t want the ground sinking underneath those items. So it had to be re-enforced to hold the weight above them. They had to get the large amount of dirt and rocks hauled out through a 5×5 hatch that was built into the workshop. Colin claimed in the video that he is making the tunnel without the knowledge of his neighbors. Reading the comments was interesting (avoid the spambots) with posts from mining engineers and other interested parties.

The second thing that caught my attention wasn’t with the tunnel itself, but my thoughts that came up while watching the video. How many times have we seen a villain’s secret tunnel in an espionage movie? The image I used at the top of this blog came from the spy-fi video game “No One Lives Forever” and I remember seeing this scene thinking “who built this?” and “How did they keep it a secret?” As a gamer, I also thought about the various dungeons that our Dungeons and Dragons characters have crawled through. Quite a few times they were 10×10 tunnels underground occupied by various Orcs, Gelatinous Cubes and other dangerous creatures. While someone may have drawn the straight line on grid paper, in the game world someone would have had to dig it out, build supports and haul away the rock. Why was this built this way?

I eventually had a bunch of thoughts in my head that I knew I had to put it down as a blog post. I watched a really good video about creating a dungeon for D&D which went briefly into the whys and hows (and I learned quite a bit from the video). But it didn’t really get to the nitty gritty for me.

So why would a tunnel (secret or not) be built with the cost and effort involved? I think it comes down to several reasons. The first one that comes to mind is wealth. The tunnels are built as part of a mine trying to extract various ores and precious gems. While these may not be secret at the start (unless the digger wanted to keep others from getting to his prize) they could easily become forgotten. Just finding out which mine a highly prized gem used in an ancient crown came from could be the start of a quest all on it’s own. These mines could have been built by dwarves or other subterranean races. Mines were featured quite a bit in several westerns. Every once in a while the news reports about another soul lost while trying to explore a closed up mine or a murder victim being thrown down a mine shaft.

Another reason that a tunnel could be built is for transportation. Going over a mountain or across the English Channel represents a physical barrier. If you could tunnel under that barrier, you can make transportation much easier. Again, most of these would be known (at the start). However there have been smuggling tunnels built to avoid border patrols. The movie “The Great Escape” detailed the efforts of prisoners attempting to tunnel their way to freedom from a Nazi POW camp. This movie would also be inspirational about how to hide the tunnel and dispose of the debris needing to be dispersed all while trying to keep the tunnel from collapsing on them. When I visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in 2019, I learned about the railways and water tunnels and how they were built. They were built in a time before OSHA and safety guidelines. So corporations could hire workers to quickly dig, and if a worker was injured, they would hire the next guy to step up and replace them. This allowed them to build these tunnels quickly at the cost of human lives.

Housing and storage is another reason to build tunnels. I recall watching documentaries about World War II and how residents of some towns escaped into tunnels under the city to escape bombing raids. Repurposing tunnels from another use has allowed underground survival dwellings to be built. In Utah, the LDS Church stores massive amounts of genealogical records in an underground vault in the Wasatch mountains. In Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault preserves over a million seed samples underground in a former coal mine. Both locations could make for interesting modern day missions in an RPG. On the fantasy side, how many times have we heard about massive underground cities used by the Dwarves and the Drow. Tunnels would connect them all to each other and to the surface.

The last reason may sound weird, but I think is valid. Tunnels could be built for a sense of vanity. A cult, probably using cultists or slaves to dig, could build secret tunnels in order to hide their temples of worship. The image that I used above is a tunnel under a Swiss Alp chalet as seen in the video game No One Lives Forever. In the second video game of this series a very interesting quote came up. “Why do you think we have our headquarters in underground caverns? It’d be a lot cheaper and more convenient to lease an office building, but then you get potential clients who don’t think you’re evil enough for the really high profile operations.” If you look at movies like the various James Bond entries, the Flint and the Matt Helm movies all the way up to the Austin Powers series, they all made the secret underground lair look cool.

So Game Masters, think about the tunnels that you use in your games. Sure they are easy to draw on graph paper, but how did they get there? What was the cost to build these tunnels? How did they become secret? A king killing the slaves that built the secret tunnels may become the avenging undead monsters encountered by the players. A missing handyman may lead to the clue that the agents are needing to find the bad guy’s underground lair. Those lines on the map may look cool, but they hide much more than the treasure the adventurers are trying to find. They hide a possible story.

(looking at the wall on the side of my office) “I wonder if the wife would notice if I put in a secret tunnel?”

Posted in: James Bond, Movies, Reviews

My first movie viewing at the theater in years: No Time To Die

We’ve asked The Doctor to use is TARDIS to bring you all together to deal with this situation.

NOTE: This discussion will be spoiler free as ordered by Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

On Monday my wife and I had an opportunity to go do something that we hadn’t done since the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in 2019, see a movie in the theater. Complete with popcorn and drinks. Oh how we have missed this. We felt safe going because it was a matinee show in the middle of a weekday. There was not a lot of people in the theater.

I enjoy watching movies in my home. I’ve got a good TV setup that allows me to watch a variety of movies from DVDs/Blue-Rays and streaming services. I even have a tablet set up so I can watch streaming videos while I work on my computer (currently I’m watching a surprisingly good fantasy movie that I’m thinking about writing a review for). This has it’s advantages as well as it’s disadvantages. At home I can turn on subtitles, pause the movie when it’s time to grab more snacks or use the facilities. However if the movie is dull I may find myself distracted by my phone or other shiny things that may take away my attention. Dwarves of Dragon Mountain falls into this later category. Several months later I barely remember any of the details of the movie.

In the theater, my cell phone is put on silent as to not disturb the other attendees. There is great surround sound and a very large screen. My attention is fully focused on the screen. In 2020 I saw several movies on TV that I wish I could have seen in the theater. These were Scoob! and Bill & Ted Face The Music. I also don’t know why, but the buttered popcorn taste better coming out of the bucket.

When I suggested that we go see No Time to Die at the spur of the moment, my wife jumped at the opportunity. I think she missed going to the theater as well.

I had wondered if I should have re-watched some of the other Daniel Craig entries into the James Bond franchises? While it may have helped since several of the movies are linked together, you shouldn’t have to watch the previous ones to pick up where the story is going. As a James Bond fan I noticed several Easter eggs that had been dropped throughout No Time to Die. There were several audio tracks from past Bond movies. Callbacks to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Never Say Never and others. They had paintings of the past M’s at MI-6 headquarters (a nice touch). Q had his moment to shine in several scenes, including the standard tech briefing. We see past allies and new friends. The bad guy didn’t impress me as much as past foils. But he did the job that was set before him. Bond had his “wonderful toys” which he was able to use to get out of several situations. We get to see dazzling women (who do quite a bit of butt kicking) and Bond in his tuxedo. A look I wish I could pull off. Scenes of intense action, car chases and death defying stunts. James Bond gets to drop a sarcastic remark at the right time and (as you have probably guessed) he saves the world. There were a few “oh” moments for both me and my wife and not once did I feel the need to heckle anything. This was a James Bond movie that checked off all of the boxes.

I was curious about a few things that happened and how it will affect the future of the franchise. These aren’t bad things, just questions I had in my mind when the film was over. There is no after credits scene, but the last words posted was “James Bond Will Return”. I just hope it doesn’t take a long time before the next James Bond movie comes out.

One thing I do know is that it won’t take very long for me to get back into the theater. The Sci-Fi epic, Dune, and the sequel movies, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Matrix Resurrections and the prequel The King’s Man will be released very soon. I will be watching those movies in the theater as well with a bucket of popcorn ready to share. Until then I will bask in the glory that is Bond. James Bond.

Posted in: Character Creation Challenge, James Bond, No One Lives Forever, Role Playing Games, Spy-Fi

Character Creation Challenge Day 16: James Bond 007

Character Creation Challenge Day 16

I have been a huge fan of the James Bond franchise ever since I saw my first movie in the 80’s. Besides the movies I’ve read the books and the comics. Roger Moore was the first Bond I saw in the theater, but I love all of the actors who have played the part. So when Victory Games released the James Bond 007: Role Playing In Her Majesty’s Secret Service Basic Game, I as immediately interested. Unfortunately I never found a group to play with when this game was widely available. So in order to get a taste of the game, I decided to use this game as one of my entries for the Character Creation Challenge. While the original game is no longer being printed, Expeditious Retreat Press did release a retro-clone game called Classified.

As I did with Top Secret and Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes, the character that will be created for the James Bond 007 RPG will be another new UNITY field agent. This is to replace the depleted ranks in UNITY after the events of the video game series No One Lives Forever. And in keeping with the common source for names, today I will be creating Steven Prince (has anyone guessed the movie I’m taking the names from?)

Agents in the James Bond RPG have Characteristics (primary attributes) with scores ranging from 1-15. At a minimum, agents need a score in 5 for each category. The five Characteristics are Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Willpower (WIL), Perception (PER) and Intelligence (INT). Characters are created by Generation Points. The higher the rank of the character (Rookie, Agent or “00”) the more Generation Points are needed at the time of creation. As Agent Prince is a new agent, I will be going with the Rookie rank with 3,000 GP. One of the first things that the RAW has you spending your points on is your character’s height and weight. The more common the size, the higher the GP, but you also start out with less Fame Points. Fame Points is the likelihood that someone may have heard of your character (or did some digging on your character’s background and history). As much as I didn’t want to spend too much on just the Height, I didn’t feel like the character would be greatly known. So I ended up going with a height 6’2” which cost me 120 GP and earned 10 FP. For the weight I spent 160 GP for a weight of 200 and 5 more Fame Points. For Appearance, I selected Attractive (I wanted the agent to look good, but not too good) for a cost of 120 GP and 20 more Fame Points.

Now we can finally start spending Generation Points on the Characteristics. I wanted Agent Prince to be a driver. So I spent the points and selected the following stats. STR: 7, DEX: 11, WIL: 7, PER: 10, INT: 6. After determining these, they also gave the results to some secondary characteristics which I then wrote down on the character sheet.

Agent Prince was a person who grew up getting in trouble with the law before he turned straight, so he was aware of how the law worked and forensics. His cover story is that he is a race car driver. I selected the appropriate Fields of Experience and Skills and calculated their statistics. For his primary weapon, I selected the HK VP-70 and wrote down the stats. Here is the charcter sheet.

Character sheet for Steven Prince.

Afterthoughts:

Usually the characteristics of appearance, weight an height come at the end of a character creation process. It was interesting seeing it at the start. But in the world of James Bond you’ve got a lot of attractive people running around saving the world. So it makes a little bit of sense that you would want to get that out of the way before all of the GP was spent.

I think that if this was a regular game I could create characters more easily. But the walk through for character creation was mostly straight forward.

Additional Notes:

Thanks to a Facebook post in one of the many gaming groups, I’ve found another participant in the Character Creation Challenge. I have added a link to the blog on the CCC page.

Coming Up Next:

The Last Unicorn Games entry into the Star Trek universe.

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