Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza October 15, 2014 Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Carrie Vaughn A Wild Cards story. The Girl in the High Tower October 14, 2014 The Girl in the High Tower Gennifer Albin A Crewel story. Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch October 8, 2014 Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch Kelly Barnhill An unconventional romance. Daughter of Necessity October 1, 2014 Daughter of Necessity Marie Brennan Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious heroine...
From The Blog
October 14, 2014
A Category Unto Himself: The Works of China Miéville
Jared Shurin
October 10, 2014
Don’t Touch That Dial: Fall 2014 TV
Alex Brown
October 10, 2014
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Reread: Part 1
Kate Nepveu
October 7, 2014
Shell Shock and Eldritch Horror: “Dagon”
Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth
October 3, 2014
The Bloody Books of Halloween: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist
Will Errickson
Showing posts by: Mordicai Knode click to see Mordicai Knode's profile
Oct 13 2014 11:30am

The Non-Linear Hero’s Quest: The Legend of Korra, “Korra Alone”

Legend of Korra Korra Alone

Well this episode of The Legend of Korra was a lovely treat, and not just because we saw you-know-who. You might think it strange to call an episode that focuses entirely on Korra’s painful physical rehabilitation and distressingly empathizable post-traumatic stress disorder a “treat,” but “Korra Alone” really was.

What I didn’t want was a whining, emo, “feels” episode. I’ve sort of had my fill of them for a bit, not that they don’t have their due time. I was hoping for, at best, a recovering montage. What I got was something like I was talking about when I discussed Kuvira last week: neither one option nor the other, but a new, third path. We got Korra on her own self-motivated Hero’s Quest. She’s neither sulking nor recuperating: she’s proactive.

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Oct 6 2014 2:15pm

Whatever Happened to Avatar Korra? The Legend of Korra Returns!

Avatar Legend of Korra After All These Years

For someone who happens to have a show named after her, Korra sure doesn’t get much screen time in the premiere of the new season of The Legend of Korra! Doesn’t bother me none, personally; I’ve always like the without-the-Doctor Doctor Who episodes, myself. Still, can I tell you something? I’m well ready for this depressing plot line to come to an end already. Really, I hope the whole recovery story arc runs on an accelerated track. I’ve had enough emo Korra in this series; I’m ready for no-holds-barred, cage-match, all-or-nothing Korra to come back.

I think Korra’s ready, too. She’s brawl-bending, putting her in the underdog role that Bolin and Mako were in as pro-benders in season one, and they’re the authority figures with government ties; how the tables have turned. We’ve had three years of lapsed time, so I think it is possible. Plus...perfect opportunity for Korra to be taken under Toph’s wing as a mentor, just sayin’.

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Sep 18 2014 5:00pm

Dungeon World Puts Narrative First

Dungeon World is having a very real, meaningful impact on how I look at games, and how I look at my game.

I’m a big believer in cross-product, system-neutral play, which is to say that I encourage everyone to steal from every game they own when building a campaign or creating an adventure. If the mechanical crunch doesn’t work, ignore it and take the story ideas or abstract rule concepts that you like. If flavor and genre don’t match, use the mechanical parts you like and just reskin the rest. I’ll use Pathfinder’s GameMastery Guide to roll up a random location for my World of Darkness game just as easily as I’ll repurpose the time travel rules from Transdimensional TMNT with a heaping serving of cosmic horror for my Great Race of Yith themed Call of Cthulhu mini-series.

No matter what, I’m always on the lookout for the next mechanical innovation to inspire my own homebrew campaign; last time is was Mouse Guard’s Trait system, and those are now being tempered by Dungeon World’s similar Tags and complications. I like this game enough to...already be thinking about how I could rebuild it from the ground up to suit my play style.

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Aug 29 2014 2:00pm

Descend Pathfinder’s The Emerald Spire

Pathfinder’s The Emerald Spire is a true megadungeon. Rise of the Runelords was a campaign, but Emerald Spire is an big old fashioned dungeon that just keeps on going and going. I like boutique, meticulously DM-crafted worldbuilding. I like open, sandbox games in unique homebrew settings. I also really like giant, out of the box, hardcore superdungeons. There is no need to be forced into some “new school versus old school” rivalry here. Have some cake. Eat it, too! Then throw it at opponents for d3 non-lethal damage in a giant food fight, that’s what I’m saying.

If you have talked to me at any length in the past year, you’ve probably heard me go off on a rant about defeating The Temple of Elemental Evil; one of the perks of playing one of the great classic dungeons is that you can brag about it, as well as share war stories with other survivors. The Emerald Spire belongs up there with your Tombs of Horrors and Castle Ravenlofts; PCs are going to be delving into the Spire for a long time, and I’ve no doubt it will generate its same share of shaggy dog stories.

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Aug 25 2014 1:00pm

The Legend of Korra Season Finale: “Enter the Void” and “Venom of the Red Lotus”

Avatar The Legend of Korra

So you want a big, two-part, smash ’em up finale? The Legend of Korra delivers and still leaves enough room for a bittersweet not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper capstone. I’m left thoughtful in the wake of everything that happens; in a lot of ways, this feels like the spiritual sequel to the end of Book Two in Avatar: the Last Airbender, and the preponderance of crystal and gurus makes me think that’s quite intentional. As the same time, these episodes intensely channel the series finale of “Sozin’s Comet,” but with the clever conceit of a role reversal. Here the nimble, evasive airbender is the villain, and the one soaring around on jets of flame is the Avatar.

Book Three of The Legend of Korra has been great, not just in comparison to the first two seasons but on its own, and it concludes here. It’ll all end in tears, but what kind of tears?

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Aug 18 2014 3:00pm

Is The Legend of Korra’s “The Ultimatum” the End of the Line?

Avatar Legend of Korra Ultimatum

Let’s not everyone freak out at once. Just last episode we talked about the knife edge of doubt that an “all-ages” show like The Legend of Korra has been able to walk when it comes to violence. The Earth Queen’s demise could have been the Earth Queen’s defeat until the burden of context clues pushed it over. Heck, this episode we see a number of seemingly fatal falls turn out to be misdirection, on all sides, so I guess my point is: all we can do is speculate about the ultimate fate of one of our favorite characters.

One thing I’ve said this entire season is that the stakes and the tension are high; it feels like anything can happen. I’m hoping the fallout from this recent turn of events is more of a melancholy sad, with more of an “Appa’s Lost Days” feel to the consequences than what the worst case scenario could be. Enough of all of this vague spoiler-free mummery; let’s talk brass tacks, below the cut.

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Aug 12 2014 4:00pm

No Kings, No Masters in The Legend of Korra’s “Long Live the Queen”

Avatar Legend of Korra Long Live the Queen

Well, The Legend of Korra continues to be amazing. Like, old-school, top of its game, Avatar the Last Airbender good, that’s what I’m talking about. Zaheer...ah, I’ll sing his praises as this season’s villain enough later on in the post, no need to start now. Asami, sure, I’ve been asking for more Asami and now I’ve got it. Basically at this point I’m starting to get a little cocky—can I just ask for anything and get it? Stock in Cabbage Corporation? I never got that Koh the Face-Stealer cameo I was hoping for from the Book of Air with Amon or from the Book of Spirits’...well, spirits. Maybe I’ll be in luck next week; at this point, anything seems possible. I’m very excited about this show right now, and I really hope the “digital transition” is going well. If there was ever a time to proselytize a show to show the number-crunchers and bean-counters what’s what, it’s now.

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Aug 4 2014 2:30pm

The Legend of Korra’s “Stakeout” Yields Answers to Big Questions.

Avatar the Legend of Korra Stakeout

This episode of The Legend of Korra gives us what we’ve been waiting for—a glimpse into the inner workings of Zaheer and his “Red Lotus” gang. I’m going to unpack that and sort through what we learn about our antagonists a-plenty, but that isn’t all we get, not by a long shot.

Last week I’d said we’d seen almost every kind of specialized bending, except the plantbending of the swamp folk. Well, now we’ve seen the Mos Eisley of the sandbenders, so check one more off the list. The desert seems “painted,” more brightly colored than the one where Sokka went cactus-juice crazy, but it still vibes Tattooine, right down to spirits being denied access to a saloon the way droids might be kicked out of a cantina. All this casual discrimination and political oppression! Almost makes you wish someone would do something about it, doesn’t it?

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Jul 28 2014 1:30pm

The Legend of Korra Goes Digital: “The Terror Within”

Avatar Legend of Korra

It’s sad that we have to wait to discuss “The Terror Within”—one of the tensest episodes to date, bringing back the sense of real menace that Amon had—in order to talk about how the sausage gets made, but we should. There is an elephant koi in the room: Nickelodeon has decided not to air the rest of The Legend of Korra and instead will make the remaining episodes available online. I know, I’d rather talk about how we finally get to see an all-out battle between Zaheer and his team of what fans are calling the “Red Lotus Society” versus Team Avatar and the Metal Clan, but we need to discuss the nuts and bolts of how we’re going to be able to see the stories, while we’re at it. I mentioned I was worried last week, but it was too little, too late. At least the episode we actually did get was excellent, right?

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Jul 21 2014 2:00pm

The Legend of Korra Keeps Kicking Butt and Taking Names with “Old Wounds” and “Original Airbenders”

Avatar Legend of Korra

I’m incredibly impressed with this season of The Legend of Korra. No more shaky footing, no more “well, lets see how it plays out,” none of that, no doubt, no wait-and-see, just constant high-quality action. If you have friends who drifted away from the show, or if you are that friend? Grab them (or yourself) by the scruff of the neck and drag them back. I admit, I’m a little worried about Nickelodeon’s commitment; this “let’s air two episodes at a time” doesn’t strike me as a good sign. The show is firing on all cylinders, but I’m worried it will be too late for some of the fans... so trust me, Book Three: Change is pure perfection. “Old Wounds” and “Original Airbenders” really continue the tradition at the heart of what made Avatar: The Last Airbender so great: focusing on character conflict and growth.

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Jul 14 2014 1:30pm

The Legend of Korra’s “In Harm’s Way” and “The Metal Clan” Are All About Family

Legend of Korra

This season of The Legend of Korra is really sticking to its eponymous theme of Change. At the end of “In Harm’s Way,” Team Avatar acknowledges that they’ve made new enemies, but they’ve also made new friends. In the most basic way, the story is about the way the Avatar is changing the world—just this time at a political level. The characters embrace the changes, following the path they think is best, and because of that they succeed. This is true both for our heroes and for our erstwhile villains, as each group pulls off a massive escape.

“The Metal Clan” shows the opposite: what happens when change is resisted, when the chi is blocked, so to speak. I suspect Lin’s grievances with her sister are more legitimate than they seem at first—there’s always a worm in the apple when it comes to cutting-edge utopias—but either way, the conflict is clearly tearing her apart. The Legend of Korra doesn’t give us the expected emotional beats, opting for realism and character development over tropes and trite moralizing. Finally, everyone please take note. It is an abstraction of the Harmonic Convergence.

[It is not a banana.]

Jun 30 2014 11:30am

Change is in the Air on The Legend of Korra!

The Legend of Korra Book 3 Change

When they announced that The Legend of Korra was coming back in just a few weeks, I was surprised; now that they’ve aired, I’m ecstatic. The fact that the debut of the new season was three episodes long means I’m going to leave my excitement at the door, put it aside and jump right into the thick of it, because Book Three: Change starts off strong with big ideas, nostalgia, momentum, new characters and multiple plotlines. I quite liked last season, but that doesn’t mean I can’t admit that there weren’t mistakes made. But three episodes into this newest arc, I think I can say with some authority that it seems this new story doesn’t share the same problems. Plus new airbenders, an evil airbender, and Zuko!

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Jun 24 2014 4:00pm

Iain M. Banks’ Culture Spits in the Eye of Nihilism

Iain M. Banks Culture Surface DetailIain Banks’ Culture novels are modern classics and should be required reading for anybody who likes science fiction. No, scratch that, for anybody, period. I see hand-wringing articles all the time about how science fiction has become the domain of anti-science fear-mongering and dystopian fiction. Well! Iain M. Banks writes the heck out of utopian sci-fi, and he does it with a wink in the face of nihilism, and it is wonderful.

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate The Culture, because The Culture, and Iain Banks, are fantastic.

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May 23 2014 2:00pm

WondLa Should be the Template for an All-Ages RPG Setting

WondLa Tony DiTerlizzi

After A Hero for WondLa, I was excited to see how everything in this series crashed together. The alien storylines, the clone storylines, the personal storylines; the stage was set for the final volume in the trilogy to pay off, big time. Yes, The Battle for WondLa concludes in a satisfying and epic fashion...but the single element that made me happiest about the finale of the WondLa series is the staggered series of codas, moving briskly through the centuries. It’s a fake out at first and it pays off; author Tony DiTerlizzi starts a chapter titled “Several Years Later” and I found myself thinking “alright, that’s a bit of a rough jump cut, but I’ve enjoyed the book so far, so I don’t mind.” Ah, but then! The next chapter is “100 Years Later,” then “200,” then “300”! The 80s montage “where are they now” was a false tell, lulling the reader into complacency, into thinking they know how this is all going to play out, and then suddenly hitting the zoom button till the fame is widened to the scope of history. It gives the series a sense of scope, of real impact, and I had to pause for a moment to give it a mental Orson Welles slow clap.

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May 7 2014 7:00am

Gene Wolfe: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Gene Wolfe birthdayDid you know Gene Wolfe, who turns 83 years old today, invented Pringles? Well, okay, okay, that is a smidge hyperbolic, but he did develop the machine that makes them. I like to imagine that their famously mustachioed logo is an homage to Wolfe—look at that twinkle in his eye—but that is strictly head canon.

That is just the sort of person Gene Wolfe is though; he’s not content with writing a science fiction epic, or revolutionizing the fantasy epic, or creating a science fantasy epic that bridges the subgenres. Or that Neil Gaiman called him “...possibly the finest living American writer.” Or that Michael Swanwick called him the “...greatest writer in the English language alive today[,]” or that the Washington Post called The Book of the New Sun “[t]he greatest fantasy novel written by an American.” Oh no. He has to take a detour and help invent a new kind of potato chip. Even his life has secret nooks and crannies for the wary reader.

[Gene Wolfe: Unreliable narrator?]

Apr 14 2014 5:00pm

Rat Queens Puts the “Party” in “Adventuring Party”

Did you ever form your adventuring group into an organization: a secret society, a gang, a guild? Not just random folks who met at a bar and decided to rob and murder a dragon, but a group with an identity?

We did in Earthdawn; our group was called “LOOK BEHIND YOU!” because we would shout it and then try to run away, and our battle cry was “WHISTLE!” because we famously all blew our skill checks to make and discern the code of chirps and hoots we planned out in advance. We weren’t scoundrels per se... well, okay, our Illusionist made copper coins seem like gold so we could afford inns, but we were broke! And sure, maybe my character was hiding from the police, but he was a freedom fighter! You know how it goes.

The Rat Queens know how it goes, too; they put the “party” in “adventuring party.” Kurtis J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch’s first trade paperback, Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery, is out now, and quite frankly, it’s a blast.

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Apr 9 2014 1:00pm

Dark Souls II: To Sit Upon the Throne of Want

My travels through Dark Souls II have come to an end... and a beginning, but before we dive in to that, let me spin my mythos theories. In Dark Souls, the final “big bosses” are the keepers of the Lord Souls, the divinities of the game like Gravelord Nito, a shambling horror of hundreds of skeletons or the Witch of Izalith, the mother of witches consumed by fire and chaos. Actually, you fight the Bed of Chaos, not the Witch of Izalith; the witch was destroyed, or transformed, and her Lord Soul birthed demons into the world. Similarly, Gwyn, the emperor of sun and lightning, split off pieces of his Lord Soul, giving it to kings and knights, making them into demigods which, of course, you have to fight.

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Apr 3 2014 4:30pm

Dark Souls II: To Castle Drangleic and Beyond

While playing and writing about Dark Souls II, I’ve been thinking a lot about a disagreement I had with a friend of mine who I was trying to get to play the game despite the fact that he had no interest in doing so. He said “I watched someone’s speedrun on Youtube, so I’ve got the gist.” Which... nope! The Souls series is about exploring and about problem solving. Watching someone who knows where everything is, how to fight all of the enemies, avoid all the traps and where to go next? That is the opposite of Dark Souls, I or II (or Demon Souls, for that matter).

I’ve been lost and rudderless for most of this game—in the best way—constantly seeking clues on where to go next. When I find out what to do, then I go in like a wrecking ball, as the bard said. Even then, it is a thinking person’s game; you can’t find your way through a level without looking in the nooks and crannies for treasure or secret doors, without figuring out the tactics to beat the enemies in it and the strategy needed to take out the boss. That is the game.

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Mar 25 2014 10:00am

Dark Souls II: Exploring the Cursed Kingdom

I play Dark Souls II with what I call the “Playground Rules.” That is to say, very simply, that if I could have asked a kid on the playground for help with an NES game I was stuck on, I have no problem extending that logic to a modern game, but otherwise, no spoilers. No guides, no walkthroughs, and sadly no forum browsing.

Dark Souls II (and its precursors) actually seems to be more or less built with this exact ethos in mind, as the use of “orange soapstone” signs attests. The Souls series allow you to leave “graffiti” in the game, messages formed from default sentence fragments, that show up in other people’s games. This is how you find secret doors, or hidden items, or how you (hopefully) don’t walk past the save point of a bonfire. Learn from your Uncle Mordicai’s mistakes!

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Mar 18 2014 12:00pm

Dark Souls II: I Am Ready to “Go Beyond Death”

Dark Souls II

I got Dark Souls as a present last December, and it almost immediately became my favorite game of the recent console generation. A massive third person dungeon crawl, it appealed to the core of what I find enjoyable in video games; the risk to reward ratio is just perfect, by which I mean it is a game that is as brutally hard as an old Nintendo Entertainment System game, and like an NES game, the joy of getting good at it really sticks with you. I played it till I’d unlocked every single trophy.

The sequel, Dark Souls II, just came out. Part of the genius of theses games are their cooperative mechanics and the fact that their ambient style of storytelling drives speculation and theorizing. And that there is so much of the game that is obfuscated—random treasure drops, illusory walls, hidden areas—that figuring out its secrets is a shared, community activity.

I’m going to be reviewing the game, in the guise of a playthrough report, for the next few weeks.

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