Geek at Arms returns with our 20th episode. Bryan kicks off Geek Out by sharing his excitement about interviews with the Retro Rewind and Min/Max podcasts. James and Mike promptly die of envy. James then shares his likes and dislikes about the book Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View and how much he’s looking forward to reading JRR Tolkien: A Biography. Mike continues the trip into Middle Earth in his review of the biopic Tolkien and describes how much he’s enjoyed Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. Finally, he leads a discussion about how geeks are portrayed in media: from Steve Urkel to The Big Bang Theory to The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and more!
Errata: Bryan said “Lone Star” when he clearly meant Bravestarr. Come on, Bryan, get it together!
Welcome back to another new episode of Geek at Arms! James kicks off Geek Out with details on his families latest trip to the Scarborough Renaissance Festival. He then shares his recent interest and research into what languages Jesus might have spoken during the time of His ministry. Next, Bryan kindly shares a spoiler-free review of Endgame and discusses his re-watch of the fantastic anime series Cowboy Bebop. Mike talks about how much he enjoyed the cartoon Steven Universe and his experience with the game Batman: The Animated Series – Gotham Under Siege. Then, it’s back to the Film Club as the guys review the 1958 Ray Harryhausen film that helped launch a whole new era of special effects, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (beginning at 00:51:00).
A brief linguistic note: Over the course of Ptolemaic rule, the Egyptian language had evolved into Demotic, which was itself not widely used by the time of Christ, having been replaced by Latin and Greek. Demotic, as you know, was one of the three languages on the Rosetta Stone, the other two being Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphs. Demotic itself continued to evolve, becoming Coptic, which was in turn supplanted in common use by Arabic dialects, but has held on as the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church, much as Latin has done among Roman Catholics. So there is a chance that Jesus might have picked up a smattering of Demotic, but it’s equally likely that the only languages he heard in Egypt were Greek and Latin.
I’ve been a Shazam! fan for quite a long time, and I’m more than happy to talk about him, as anyone who listened to episodes 16 and 12 knows. I was thoroughly delighted by the film, and I’m more than happy to talk about that, as well. But there’s something about it that hit me harder than probably most of the audience, and it made me realize that there is a pair of quiet, powerful heroes lurking almost in the background of this film. Yes, Billy Batson has tremendous power, and Freddy Freeman knows how a hero is supposed to behave, but in both of their cases, becoming a hero means freeing themselves from the shackles of their everyday lives. What makes a film in the superhero genre most compelling, though, is when being a hero costs something. It’s the willingness to make a sacrifice for the sake of righteousness and justice that makes someone a hero. And that brings me to two people who I view as the real heroes of this film:
Rosa and Victor Vasquez are the foster parents of the Shazam family. Without getting into any spoilers, they know before taking him in that Billy’s had trouble in previous homes. They already have five other children in their household, each with their own unique issues and histories, each presenting challenges that they deal with on a daily basis. And yet when they learn that there is a boy who needs a family, they step up and open their home to him. Not as a waypoint, not as a temporary measure. They’re all-in, ready to love him as unconditionally as any of their other children. And these are their children! It’s clear from the very beginning that this is a real, functioning family, although it certainly doesn’t look like what many of us are used to calling a family.
You may be wondering at this point why this is so personal to me. No, I wasn’t fostered or adopted. I had just about the most ordinary and ‘traditional’ family experience one could have. The reason Shazam! hit me so hard is because there are a pair of superheroes just like Victor and Rosa in my own life. My sister and her husband are foster parents. In addition to their two biological children, they fostered and eventually adopted two more kids, and they’re currently caring for a fifth, becoming attached to him and loving him, even though they know they probably will not be his permanent family. Every time I think about what they’re doing, the sacrifices they make and the emotional battering they take from having those children in their lives, I genuinely well up. My sister is, truly, the most heroic person I know, and this film drove that home to me all the more. I knew that fosterage was going to be an element of the movie going in—like I said, I’m a fan of the character, and the Vasquez fosterage has been a part of his back-story for several years. Plus it was referred to in the trailers. But I don’t think I appreciated how seeing this family on the screen would affect me.
In addition to serving as foster parents, my sister and her husband are also missionaries to the foster care system in Kansas, operating a non-profit called Hope Fostered. I don’t think I can do better than to let them describe their work themselves, so this is how they describe their mission:
Our focus with Hope Fostered is to bring hope to the foster care community by encouraging or promoting the development of churches in wraparound outreach to the four main areas of Foster Care: Foster Kids, Foster Homes, Foster Care Workers, and Vulnerable Families.
It is crucial for the church to learn how to help vulnerable families in the ways they need, rather than the perceived needs from outside. Understanding poverty as well as generational trauma is important in order to approach families with humility. The church is full of compassionate people who desire to make change in their community, but not all churches are equipped with the knowledge and tools to approach families in crisis in order to work together to assess needs.
Our motivation for ministry is to bring the people of the church along with us as we implement the values of James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Since the government was given the charge of caring for vulnerable children through the foster care system, it has become clear they can intervene, but they cannot stop the continuation of abuse and neglect over multiple generations. We want to see the church enter into the foster care arena in all areas in order to not only care for the many children affected, but also to affect real and lasting change for multiple generations through practical assistance as well as the changing power of Jesus Christ.
I hope that Shazam! can serve as a vehicle for Hope Fostered and other similar organizations to raise awareness of the needs of the foster care system. There are thousands of children who have suffered unspeakable trials, some from simple, cruel chance, and others at the hands of family members who should have given love and instead meted out abuse. My skin crawled at the way Sivana was treated by his father in the film, but that was sunshine and puppies in comparison to the horrifying circumstances that some real children are suffering under even now.
I have to shamefully admit that I simply don’t have the strength to do what my sister does. There is an urgent, urgent need for people to step up and help the most vulnerable among us: the lost and abandoned, the abused and neglected. I can’t even bring myself to think too much about what some of these kids have gone through, and are going through right now. I am not able… I have to be honest: I am not willing to make the sacrifices that would be necessary to be a foster parent. But it’s a burden on my heart, so I have to do something. Part of that something is writing this article, in the hopes that you might take a further step. Part of it is making what financial contributions I can to Hope Fostered. I admit that it’s a little self-serving since my own family directly benefits from my donation. It’s not going to stop me from offering up a link, though: Give to Hope Fostered
As a missionary organization for the Assemblies of God, Hope Fostered is supported through the AG’s giving system. This provides accountability for the way they spend the money and ensures that donations are properly reported to the IRS for tax deduction purposes. If you want to donate to a foster care cause but have issues with giving to a church or religious organization, I recommend using Charity Navigator to find an organization that matches your values.
My sister isn’t perfect. I see how she struggles, and she’s very honest that she makes mistakes. But that’s part of being a hero, too: knowing that you aren’t adequate to the job ahead of you but doing it anyway. In the film, Rosa and Victor occasionally doubt themselves. They wonder if they’re up to the task of helping Billy. If you’re watching closely, you’ll see glimpses of frustration with all of their kids. But when one of them falters, the other is there with encouragement, and they never, ever show any signs of wanting to give up. It’s hard, and they know it. But they do it anyway.
So go see Shazam! Even laying aside the family message, it’s just a rocking good movie!
James and I were recently delighted to play a short session for the City on a Hill actual play podcast. They run a 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game, and we were adventuring in a corner well away from the main storyline. The DM, Ryan, instructed us that the only available races were Gnomes, Halflings and Warforged (sort of a cross between a golem and cyborg—a constructed being with a full personality). I’ve played my share of halflings in the past (alas, poor brain-damaged Willem Baggins), and a Warforged didn’t sound interesting to me, so I decided to try a gnome. Since gnomes are among the smallest and weakest of typical D&D races, I naturally decided he should be a Fighter—the mightiest gnome of Clan Spitlk! (That’s pronounced “Spittle Lick,” and yes, it is a Superman reference.) I present Feddernik Singsangsung Thrubmorton:
As the eldest son of the Thrubmorton family of Clan Spitlk, Feddernik stands to eventually inherit his grandfather’s responsibilities as governor of the Thrubmorton Fens. In addition to his own quite large family, Fed is on good terms with the other gnomes in and around the Fens, as well as a few tribes of other races. He strongly believes that a governor’s purpose is to protect and improve the people, not to enrich himself. He tends to be contemptuous and disrespectful of rulers who do not measure up to this ideal, which gets him in hot water when dealing with typical nobles.
Fed left the Fens in order to gain a broader experience of the world and make contacts among the people with whom he would one day need to negotiate. That plan has gone somewhat off the rails since he really doesn’t get along with the leadership of most other races. He’s gone haring off into a life of adventure instead of performing his duties (which, given his idealistic views of governance, is a bit hypocritical, but it doesn’t seem like he’s twigged to that yet).
Standing over 4 feet tall, Feddernik is massive for a gnome. If not for his slender build, he might be mistaken for a dwarf. If there were any dwarves in… Injornu? (Ryan never typed that name, and although he said it quite a few times, I am not quite sure I have it correct.)
Fed is a fashion plate. He delights in fine clothing and is typically the best dressed person in a given room, especially by gnomish standards. He keeps his beard closely trimmed to an elegant point on his chin. He’d like to grow it longer, but it’s not such a good idea to give an enemy something to grab.
Although as a rule, gnomes tend to immerse themselves in thoughtful pursuits, Feddernik’s brash personality and unusual stature have led him down a different path. He is a skilled with sword and shield, and he prefers to be heavily armored if there is any risk of battle. Even if he doesn’t style himself an intellectual, though, he is still wickedly clever and is likely to find an unconventional solution to most problems. But when it comes time to hit something with his sword, he never shirks.
He has a big personality, and when he’s fired up, he is prone to give self-aggrandizing speeches. Ideally, his enemies would throw down their weapons rather than facing a gnome of such power, but more often than not, the speech merely serves to give his comrades time to get into position and to draw the first volley of attacks to himself rather than to anyone less capable of taking a hard blow.
Feddernik Singsangsung Thrubmorton
Level 2 Rock Gnome Fighter
Max HP: 20 Hit Dice: 2d10 Armor Class: 18 (chainmail), 11 (unarmored) Proficiency Bonus: +2
Saving Throws: Strength +4 (Proficiency)
Constitution +4 (Proficiency)
Wisdom and Charisma: +0 Gnome Cunning: Gets Advantage on Int, Wis, and Cha throws against magic
Skill Proficiencies: History (Int) +4, Insight (Wis) +2, Intimidation (Cha) +2, Persuasion (Cha) +2 Artificer’s Lore: Adds his Proficiency Bonus twice on History rolls related to magic items, alchemical objects, or technological devices.
Armor: Chainmail, Armor Class 16. Shield, +2 to AC.
Other Equipment of Note: Bag of Holding, fine clothing, signet ring, scroll of pedigree
Other Abilities: Tinker (gnome): Proficiency with Tinker’s Tools. Can spend 1 hour and 10 gp worth of materials to make small clockwork devices, such as toys and music boxes, that will function for 24 hours.
Protection Fighting Style (fighter): If he is using a shield, when a creature attacks a target other than Feddernik within 5 feet of him, he can use his Reaction to impose Disadvantage on the attack roll.
Second Wind (fighter): Can use a Bonus Action to regain 1d10 + 2 Hit Points. Feddernik must take a short rest before he can use this ability again,.
Action Surge (fighter): Feddernik can take an additional standard action on his turn. He must take a short rest before he can use this ability again.
Thanks to Redrobes of the Cartographers Guild for providing the Thrubmorton Fens, from which Feddernik hails. The Thrubmorton Fens and all related materials are licensed CC BY-NC-SA.
I don’t remember where the portrait came from. Likely it was in one of the Dundjinni community collections. If whoever created it sees it and objects to my use here, please do let me know. I’d be happy to provide attribution.
Geek at Arms is back again! Mike kicks things off with his report on PAX East, and then describes the new love of his life, Betrayal: Legacy. James explains how his new game Kingdom Come: Deliverance feels like stepping into 15th century Bohemia and how much he and his wife enjoyed Captain Marvel. Next, Bryan deep dives us into his latest math interest with the Mandelbrot Set and math comedian Matt Parker. He and James also share how their latest rpg session with City on A Hill Gaming podcast went with fellow players Kyle from the Min/Max podcast and Mike from Innroads Ministries. The guys then have a discussion about all the upcoming film and TV adaptations that will hit the screens in the days to come: from the Lord of The Rings to Discworld to The Wheel of Time and many more!
Errata: Bryan said Good Omens was either already out or coming within the next week (of the recording). He was wrong. It becomes available beginning May 31. Bryan also attributed the Wheel of Time television movie to a company called Red Sky, but it was actually Red Eagle. And the Lord of the Rings TV Series may, in fact, not follow Aragorn, but be set instead in the Second Age. Bryan obviously needs a fact-checker. But to be fair, that LotR stuff is still largely conjecture!
You’ve just scored tickets to your first PAX East. Congrats! So, now what? You’re going to find over 500,000 square feet of the Disney World of gaming cons. A lot of first-time PAX goers want a little advice as to what to see and how to see it. Below is an aggregation of my own experience and advice left on the PAX East forums from the last several years.
Pick your pleasure
One of the many reasons why PAX East is often compared to Disney World is you can’t see it all in one day. If you have a single day pass (especially a Saturday pass), you’re going to want to prioritize what you want to see.
Download the guidebook, and get a sense of what is out there. See what exhibitors have releases that you want to see, or what independent game companies you want to have a little time to talk to. The guidebooks are out plenty ahead of time, so you can make decisions on what is most important to you. Take a look at the events schedule and see if there are any time-sensitive areas of interest. Bioware is going to have their booth open all day, but the author signing you have your heart set on will only be there a limited time. Make a plan from there.
Bring cash for the coat check
Take it from a local, Boston is cold. PAX East can be anywhere from early March to early April. In Boston, mid-March is usually when winter reminds you that though the end is near, it’s willing to give you a good thrashing to remember it by. So, check the weather, and be prepared, If you decide to pass on my next bit of advice, you can expect a long line outside while security checks your bag.
PAX East provides a coat check, and they only accept cash. Usually it’s only a few dollars, so you won’t break the bank. You can also fill your pockets and sleeves with your hat, gloves, scarf, etc. and hand it over to the coat check. They’ll give you a ticket, and it will be a real hassle if it gets lost. So, take a picture of your ticket number, and that works just fine for the attendants.
Get there early… especially for Saturday
Though the expo hall doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m., the doors open at 8:00, and the masses are already gathering by 8:30. Showing up early lets you settle in, use the restroom, fill your water bottle, check your coat, and make your way to the queue hall. The queue hall packs out early, and spills into the corridors. And if you love that energy of tens of thousands of other geeks crackling with excitement, you’ll want to be in the queue hall. On Saturday, participants bring inflatable balls, inner tubes, small animals, and periodically large animal-shaped rafts to bounce around while they wait. For me, that’s part of the experience, even if it’s an hour and a half just standing there.
Also, if you only have a Saturday pass, and there’s something you have your heart set on, you’re going to want to be up front when the exhibition hall opens. Lines form fast, and the big-name exhibitors stay busy all day. The VR exhibitors especially have long lines. So, if there’s something you want to see, know where it is on the map and make a beeline for it.
Food and water
You’re going to be walking or standing most of the day. You burn a surprising number of calories, and your body has needs. I always bring a large Nalgene, and refill it at least twice during the day. Also, bring snacks that can support your activity. It’s a good idea to bring granola bars with some protein or a good trail mix in addition to your meals.
Speaking of meals, pack them if you can. Being local, I have the advantage of being able to prepare a lunch and dinner before I leave. Convention hall food is expensive, and it’s super easy to have a $9 hotdog for dinner and regret for dessert. If you can plan easy-to-carry non-perishable food to have a good lunch and a good dinner straight from your pack, you’ll save yourself money (and time standing in line) at the food court.
With so much activity and excitement, you also need to to find an ebb and flow in your day. So, sit down and take breaks. Occasionally just get on the escalator to “come up for air” and take the footbridge over expo hall floor. It’s a great way to get a good view of the below and chat with fellow con goers without having to compete with the din on the floor.
And if too many people is too much, there is always the AFK lounge, where you can take a break. The AFK lounge has a quiet hall of bean bag chairs for you to step back and center yourself. There are even mental health counselors on hand if that’s what you need.
If you are into the panels, plan on no more than three per day. Panels tend to fill up, and you may have to get there as much as 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time to snag a place in the queue. Following @PAX_Lines on Twitter can help with making it to your panel line on time.
Hang out and make friends
One of the best thing about PAX is camaraderie. It has an amazing positive energy of a multitude coming together for a shared passion. Take the time to chat with people in line, and get to know others who share your interest.
There’s also plenty to do off the Expo hall grounds. You can find meetups and parties all week before and during the con. Check out the PAX East forums or the Unofficial @PaxParties Twitter feed to find out where your niche is getting together.
Lastly, there’s an army of volunteers who make PAX East what it is. Enforcers are red-clad guides, roaming help desks, and all around good people. They are the volunteer staff that keeps the whole operation running smoothly. Veteran PAX goers love and appreciate the people who make this happen.
Need your bearings? Ask an Enforcer. Is there a con-goer making the environment unsafe and unfun for others? Tell an Enforcer. Is an Enforcer asking you to please do something, or stand aside somewhere? Listen to the Enforcer.
Be flexible and have fun
Sometimes the best plan is to set your plan aside. If you have a schedule and you see something else that really catches your eye, have fun and roll with your weekend. And if there’s anything else that this guide didn’t cover, head over to the PAX East forums. There are plenty of PAX-loving people happy to answer your questions.
Bryan, Mike and James return for yet another super-sized episode! Mike shares his enjoyment at reading The Fellowship of the Ring to his children for the first time and how he barely contained his Geekiness at meeting author and fencing master Ken Mondschein. Next, Bryan talks about how much he’s been enjoying the new Voltron: Legendary Defender and My Hero Academia. Both he and James express how much they’re looking forward to actually gaming in an upcoming RPG session with the City on a Hill Gaming Podcast. James keeps the gaming talk going by detailing a hopeful upcoming Monster of The Week campaign, and how happy he was at finally finishing The Last Duel and playing Biblios. Finally, we see the return of the Geek at Arms Film Club! Shifting from sci-fi to fantasy, the guys delve into the George Lucas written, Ron Howard directed 1988 epic Willow.
Special caution: During the show I recommended the series Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Although the first book, Midnight Riot, was fairly tame, book 2, Body Work, has some rather explicit naughty parts.
Discussed in this episode:
content warning: there’s some explicit naughty stuff in book 2
We welcome a new year with a brand new episode of Geek at Arms! Having just come out of the holidays, the guys share what geeky gifts they received for Christmas. From bow ties to board games it was a very merry geekmas for them all. Next, in “To The Future”, they each describe what they’re looking forward to in the months to come. Mike proudly declares his PAX East ticket is already bought, Shazam! can’t get here fast enough for Bryan, and James lists the movies they all can’t wait to see. Add in some anticipated books, TV shows, and video games and 2019 is shaping up to be awesome!
Welcome to another new episode of Geek at Arms! First off, Mike explains how a pastor’s retreat turned into a board game extravaganza! Then, Bryan shares his thoughts on the Gormenghast book series and his continued enjoyment of Civilization 6. James describes his latest woodworking project and his renewed interest in the card game Magic: The Gathering. Finally, the guys delve into the third movie of their “Film Club” series, the Ridley Scott classic Blade Runner.
The guys are back with a new episode! In Geek Out, James describes his family trip to Silver Dollar City and how much he and his wife have enjoyed the shows The Librarians and The Dragon Prince. Bryan expresses his continued delight in having a new computer and how much he’s enjoyed playing Civilization 6. He also shares his thoughts on his first viewing of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Next Mike tells us all about the various board games he and his family have recently played: from Machi Koro to Forbidden Sky and more. Finally, Bryan leads a discussion on the subject of time travel. From how it’s used as a plot device in movies and TV shows to story elements in RPG’s, they delve into the time vortex for answers!
Bryan refers to M.J. Young’s Temporal Anomalies articles for The Examiner. Those articles can be found here.
Erratum: Turtles in Time was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game. The title of the sourcebook Bryan refers to for the TMNT RPG is Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.