Merry Christmas from Geek at Arms! In this episode we welcome Bex from the Redeemed Otaku Podcast! As is customary with our guests Bex starts off Geek Out by describing the highs (and lows) of playing Word of Warcraft Classic. She also tunes us in to her current favorite anime’s: Land of the Lustrous and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Next Bryan shares his experience playing a Lawful Neutral character in a recent D&D game and his thoughts on the deep, but disturbing, movie Joker. James also shares his a recent gaming experience where he played a dwarf in a friends one-shot campaign and also how much he and his wife enjoyed the recent film Ford v Ferrari. Mike keeps the racing theme going by describing how his family has come together in triumph to defeat difficult levels on Mario Kart 8. Mike also head’s a discussion on the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and the divisiveness in the fanbase and how toxic fandom had risen as a result. Finally, Bex and the guys take a look at the works of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. They explore the characters and themes found within them and which of these animated classics are their favorites.
Welcome to another new episode with the Geek at Arms crew! In this episode Mike kicks off Geek Out by sharing all the new anime’s he’s been catching up on. From Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood to Your Lie in April and many more. Plus, he gives a review of the book African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan. Next, Bryan describes how much he’s enjoyed the new action rpg from Obsidian The Outer Worlds and James joins in as well. Next, James talks about recent adventures with his family at the Texas State Fair and the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. Finally, the guys discuss the next film in the Animated Film Club series, the 2001 Studio Ghibli classic from legendary writer/director Hayao Miyazaki Spirited Away.
In most of my years roleplaying, initiative usually works the same way. We roll dice, whoever rolls higher goes sooner. If you wanted to cut the rope on the chandelier and crash it on your enemy before the party’s combat monkey blasts the baddie back five feet, then you need to roll high. If you want to talk things down before it all goes downhill, the dice had better cooperate. That kind of play changed a while back when I found the Doctor Who RPG.
I have a number of great things to say about the game, but where it really shines is the initiative system. Instead of a traditional initiative system, what actions you want your character to perform determines turn order. Talkers go first, Movers (usually Runners) go second, Doers go next, and Fighters go last.
Talkers going first is a brilliant emulation of the series, providing an opportunity for players to try to talk their way out of combat. They can rely on skills of persuasion, deception, or de-escalation as a first-order resolution. You can also get your enemy monologing to reveal information. Your character can surrender to henchmen in order to see the head honcho directly. You still have the make a successful skill roll, but you get to use your words before anyone else – including your enemy – comes out swinging.
Movers are up next. While that might apply to sneaking, it usually means running. The game is full of Cybermen, Daleks, Ice Warriors that can take you handily in a straightforward fight. If you’re confronted with overwhelming danger, run or sneak away so you can set up a plan and do something really clever later on. By the time the fighters are up, you have a head start for your chase scene.
The Doers category covers a large spectrum of actions. Do you want to deadlock a door behind you? Reverse the polarity on the artificial gravity? Making an escape hole with your squareness gun? All of these actions and more are Doing. It’s an opportunity for players to get creative, change the scene, create a hazard for your opponent, or accomplish something to their advantage.
Now the Fighters, with their fists or guns at the ready, get their turn. Except the Talkers may have talked you down, the Movers are already down the hallway, and the Doers have set the ship’s drive to overload before you can pull the trigger.
Emphasis on talking and roleplay
This change of operations massively impacts not only the tone, but the entire style of gameplay. First (and unsurprisingly), it emphasizes verbal problem-solving. Players who want to solve problems in-character through roleplay always have first crack. Never do you walk away from a combat encounter thinking, “Dang. I really wanted to question that guy. Now it’s too late.”
It also allows quick-witted players have a chance to use their creativity to change the situation, shift the focus, or cast doubt in the minds of their enemies. This is not to say that it defaults to roleplay over roll-play. Players still must make high enough skill rolls to convince, intimidate, or use diplomacy. But the resolution is more rooted to the character’s personality attributes than it is their combat prowess.
Allows for asymmetrical encounters
If you look at the Doctor Who television show The Doctor is always facing enemies that are far more physically powerful. In a straight fight between The Doctor and a Dalek, Cyberman, or Ice Warrior, The Doctor would lose every time. The Doctor is outgunned and outnumbered. The adventures modules in the game are very similar. If you played in a standard “who rolls highest goes first” initiative system, the PCs would probably be vaporized.
If your GMing style is anything like mine, you ask yourself the question “Is this enemy too tough for my players?” This question fades away in this initiative system. You never worry about if they are too physically imposing or too powerful in combat. The enemies are supposed to be too powerful to fight, because usually you are not fighting them.
Instead of fighting, players have the opportunity to get creative and use other means to success. The characters can turn their adversary’s own weapon or plan against them (i.e. a “Superman 2 switcharoo”). The party might jury-rig the enemy hyper-spatial field generator (or other fun technobable) to suck an enemy horde into a pocket dimension. In other words, the Doers can use their skills, equipment and creativity to foil an enemy plot without ever firing a shot.
If the scene looks too overwhelming, the PCs have the chance to run away, regroup (usually after a chase scene), and come up with a new plan.
Changes what challenge looks like
A good nine months into playing our Doctor Who RPG, our GM said, “I feel like I’m not challenging you guys.” And we replied, “Oh, you challenging us. We have to stretch ourselves!” In a stereotypical D&D encounter, challenge equates to using your feats, talents, and skills in synergy to beat back a powerful foe. In Doctor Who it is using your skills, creativity, and problem solving to change the scenario to foil the enemy plot. It might well result in your enemy’s downfall or death, but the PCs are not the ones delivering a coup de gras.
The challenge for the players is to look at the assets they have on hand, their unique abilities, and get creative to affect their enemy’s weakness. The challenge is in problem solving and creativity. Though it looks very different from a typical RPG session, it still is very much a challenge for the players.
Applying this to your game
The beautiful thing about this method is that it isn’t system specific. There is nothing stopping a GM from importing it into a D&D, Star Wars, Numenera, Pathfinder, or most other games. Gamemasters often suggest to their players that a particular session is designed to be “combat light.” Applying the Doctor Who RPG initiative system allows the GM to incentivize diplomacy and problem solving over combat. It also offers a change of pace for a group that is growing weary of a “smash the monster and take its stuff” style of play.
This is not to say that combat disappears. It is always an option. And even in my group’s Doctor Who games, we have combat. The difference is the other options come first, but fighting is always there if we want it.
It also facilitates a story telling element that players of all systems and genres like to talk about. Gamers love to tell stories from amazing moments in their games. And while you do have the occasional, “I critted, and one-shotted the big bad,” I more often hear the amazing and improbable stories of a clever idea gong amazingly well in game. The stories people love to tell about the moment, “And then I bluffed the Stormtroopers into believing my officer disguise and ordered them to escort me through the checkpoint!” Or maybe a scenario of, “We got in by opening a portal above the enemy guards and dropping a boulder through the other end.” Such options make for memorable and enjoyable sessions.
In short, Cubicle 7 has done an amazing job with facilitation stories based on a media where the hero is clever. It supports the players by rewarding clever ideas before facilitating combat prowess. It is a unique, but highly transplantable format of play. Whether for a change of pace, an experiment in a one-shot, or just an alternate mode of play, Who can change initiative in your game.
Bryan, Mike, & James return with a special episode of Geek at Arms. From Innroads Ministries and the Bard & Bible podcast, we’re joined by Mike Perna! His Grace tells us what he’s been up to with these fantastic ministries and his work at various conventions. Kicking off Geek Out, Perna shares his enjoyment of getting the new Cypher System Core Rulebook and the unique board game Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr. Next, Bryan describes what it’s like fighting rancors in Star Wars: Vader Immortal – Episode II on the Oculus Rift, and his upcoming D&D session with members of Saving the Game. James talks about how different Skyrim looks and feels now that he’s begun downloading various mods for it and how impressed he was by the Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Our Mike then details his love/hate relationship with the platforming game Hollow Knight and we all chime in with our enjoyment of the delightful animated series Hilda. Finally, James debuts a new segment on the show, Pop Quiz!
Once more into the Geek with Bryan, Mike, and James! In this episode James begins Geek Out by relating how a recent episode of The Min/Max Podcast led to jumping right back into the game Skyrim, and his recent journey to an SCA event to see a good friend become a knight. Next Mike tells us about the weird and wonderful world of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and how he shared a great day at the Boston Fan Expo with his youngest daughter! Bryan continues the game talk with his enjoyment of Limbo, his recent work with The Christian Gamers Guild, and how happy he is that we live in a world where a geophysicist can gain a following on Twitter. Finally, the guys discuss the 1982 Don Bluth creation The Secret of NIMH in the first film of the Animated Film Club!
Although it released late in August, this episode was recorded on July 28, 2019, prior to the shootings that took place in El Paso and Dayton a few days later, which have prompted more conversation on the topic of violence in video games. We want to make it clear that we do not necessarily believe that video games are a root cause of the violence we currently see in our society. However, we do feel it is important to stress that the violence portrayed in some games should absolutely not be viewed as an effective or acceptable method of enacting change. We stand with the victims of these tragedies and affirm the ongoing value of all human life, celebrating our diversity and shared human experience.
Coming back with another Super-Sized episode, Geek at Arms returns! Bryan, Mike, and James start off with an impromptu To The Future discussing the recent trailer for Picard and a teaser for the upcoming Lord of The Rings show from Amazon. James starts Geek Out with his thoughts on the final season of the Revolutionary War spy drama Turn: Washington’s Spies and how it led him to dig deeper in the subject by reading Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose. Next Bryan answers a listener question about the Oculus Rift and shares how much he loved Spider-Man: Far From Home. He also describes how things went with his first Primetime Adventures session, Shadows in the Toybox! Mike tells us about his recent vacation and the abundant amount of reading he did on it: from Civil War battleship history to biographies of JRR Tolkien to medieval fencing treatises by Ken Mondschein! Finally, the guys have a long discussion on ethical situations and moral dilemmas found in video games like Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic, and more.
Bryan’s Middle Earth lore failed him. Beleriand was destroyed at the beginning of the Second Age, a result of the War of Wrath. The fall of Númenor was accompanied by the bending of the seas and removal of Aman and Tol Eressëa from Arda.
Meet our Fellowship. pic.twitter.com/Npouu6ZlRt
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) July 27, 2019
The boys of Geek at Arms return for another brand new episode! In Geek Out Mike describes much fun he and Bryan had as guests on the fantastic podcast Saving the Game, and how much he’s enjoyed the recent Amazon series (or was it Netflix) Good Omens. Next, James cannot say enough good things about Godzilla: King of the Monsters. He also talks about taking his family to a local fan convention ArlingCon and how much he’s enjoyed watching My Hero Academia. Bryan relates how much he’s enjoyed the return of JL8, a webcomic by Yale Stewart, fighting Darth Vader and evil cubes with a lightsaber on the Oculus Rift, and the start of a new RPG session of the game Primetime Adventures! Finally, the Fantasy Film Club comes to a close with a review of the 1985 medieval fantasy Ladyhawke, starring Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Matthew Broderick.
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.
Discussed in this episode:
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!