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After serving for many years as my main blogging site, I've retired this LiveJournal. Find me wherever I have roamed by clicking on robindlaws.com.

LJ users still wishing to follow me through this platform can subscribe to this feed.

Attn LJ Readers: Switch Feed Reminder

Gene Ha portrait
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Ever since I switched to blogspot as my main blogging headquarters last summer, I’ve been manually mirroring posts here to LJ. In an effort to pare annoying tasks from my morning routine, I’ll no longer be doing this. If you still want to read me on LJ (as opposed to the main site, or by following me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+), I have set up an LJ feed of the blogspot content, which you can subscribe to here.

If you want me to notice your comments, please make them on any of the above platforms.

To make sure everyone who needs to see this announcement catches it, I’ll be repeating it over the next week or so. Apologies in advance for the redundancy.

Attn LJ Readers: Feed Switch Reminder

Gene Ha portrait
page hit counter

Ever since I switched to blogspot as my main blogging headquarters last summer, I’ve been manually mirroring posts here to LJ. In an effort to pare annoying tasks from my morning routine, I’ll no longer be doing this. If you still want to read me on LJ (as opposed to the main site, or by following me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+), I have set up an LJ feed of the blogspot content, which you can subscribe to here.

If you want me to notice your comments, please make them on any of the above platforms.

To make sure everyone who needs to see this announcement catches it, I’ll be repeating it periodically over the next week or so. Apologies in advance for the redundancy.

Gene Ha portrait
page hit counter

Ever since I switched to blogspot as my main blogging headquarters last summer, I’ve been manually mirroring posts here to LJ. In an effort to pare annoying tasks from my morning routine, I’ll no longer be doing this. If you still want to read me on LJ (as opposed to the main site, or by following me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+), I have set up an LJ feed of the blogspot content, which you can subscribe to here.

If you want me to notice your comments, please make them on any of the above platforms.

To make sure everyone who needs to see this announcement catches it, I’ll be repeating it over the next week or so. Apologies in advance for the redundancy.

Wu Xia

Dukes Up
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Forensics meet fu in Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s Wu Xia, my favorite martial arts film of the last year. In a premise that somewhat recalls History of Violence, modest paper maker Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) tangles with and dispatches a pair of dangerous thugs who descend on his rural village. Detective Xu Baiju (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a hyper-rationalist laden with the emotional and physical damage of a mistaken act of clemency performed early in his career, realizes that Jinxi’s story doesn't hold up. Applying his knowledge of physics and Chinese medicine to the crime scene, he comes to suspect that Jinxi is a powerful master of qi energy. And if he is that, the Imperial law enforcement system isn’t the only an organization who might want to know about him and his new family...

Set in 1917 but with nary a firearm in sight, Wu Xia executes a gorgeously-shot slow burn before escalating into a satisfyingly emotional fu epic. CGI effects appear, but only to add grace notes to physically performed stunt sequences. The CSI-style forensic recreations, based on Eastern instead of Western anatomic principles, show us what Xu Baiju is thinking as he peels the deceptions away from Jinxi’s story. Yen delivers a career highlight performance, as a man who has discovered his real identity but still has vestiges of another one moving below the surface. Kaneshiro undercuts his matinee idol status as a man with a brilliant mind trapped in a weakened body. Jimmy Wang Yu, classic star of the Shaw Brothers era (One-Armed Swordsman), makes his first film appearance in eighteen years as a climactic heavy as rife with pathos as he is with menace. And he can still fight!

Two equally generic English titles, Dragon and Swordsman, have attached themselves to the film, suggesting that someone at some point was hoping for a North American release. Snag it wherever you stock up on Hong Kong home video imports.



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Consider That Stolen, Music Fan

Gratification
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As one would hope and expect at an establishment where all the sandwiches are named after Wilco songs, the chat between counter guys and customers at Sky Blue Sky usually revolves around music.


(Come to think of it, they may actually pay the guys who hang around passing the word on cool new bands. Like the performers who wander amusement parks dressed as cartoon animals.)


The other day, as I was waiting for my Kingpin, I overheard the following revelatory exchange.


Counter guy: You’ve never heard of Jack White?

Music fan: (shaking his head, but smiling) Nah, that’s not my real flavor.

“That’s not my real flavor.” It’s what you say when you want to indicate your lack affinity for something without dissing it. A friendly acknowledgment of taste’s essential subjectivity.

The complicated die mechanic in that story game? Not my real flavor.

I tried to watch that adaptation of the classic ghost story last night, but it was not my real flavor.

It carries the same meaning as “not my cup of tea” but without the aging pedigree, and the unspoken connotation of withheld condemnation.

Now, that saying, music fan, that is my real flavor. Thank you. And consider it stolen.



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A WaRPed Character

Gratification
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To celebrate-slash-publicize Atlas Games’ release of WaRP, the underlying rules system for the Over the Edge game, under an open license, here’s a character in the WaRP stats. If you sense the presence of the Cut-Ups Method in the concept, you just might be onto something... While the WaRP license doesn’t grant the right to publish material based on the Al Amarja setting, hey, this is a blog entry and I’m a friend of the family, as it were.

Jewel Broussard

Weirdly Normal Person

Ever since she first saw the cartoon character Tiffany Trilobite on television as a young child and sensed weird depths in her, Kipton, OH native Jewel Broussard has instinctively pursued the random and offbeat. Now twenty-nine years of age, working as a substitute teacher, she has lived her entire life in this small village, never suspecting that the mundane events of her workaday existence play out in exaggerated parallel on the mysterious island nation of Al Amarja. When she spoke up at a village meeting for an increase in the firefighting levy, a new crew of violent, privatized emergency workers, the Broussard Clarions, sprang up on the island. When she caught a fellow teacher stealing money from her school’s prom fund, the dean of D’Aubainne University was arrested and executed by the government.

A few days ago, a plane ticket to Al Amarja arrived in the mail. Though usually cautious, Jewel has chosen to go to this place she’s never heard of, in hopes of discovering why someone would have sent it to her.

Mirrored Existence Events of her dull but happy life in Ohio reflect or create dramatic outcomes on the island. What happens when she gets there? 2

Substitute Teacher Knows a little about everything, but mostly how to earn the cooperation of unruly groups. 3

Inspiring Speaker Confidence and innate goodness make those who listen to her want to do as she suggests.

Sweetly naïve (flaw)

Hit Points 14



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I Have Combat Advantage, Therefore I Am

Ratiocination
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Earlier I argued that an RPG resolution system can—and should—help convey the game’s emotional message.

This raises a question: can we look at existing systems and ascribe an emotional message to their various interactions of arithmetic and die rolls?

We have no reason to believe that Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax were thinking about this stuff when they codified the “to hit” rolls. Nor was it an issue when designers of later editions expanded it into D&D’s unified core resolution mechanic. But what does a d20 roll do, emotionally?

A d20 is very swingy, offering the biggest range of results possible in the standard polyhedral toolkit. Its raw result introduces a high degree of randomness. You use the rules, in which a +2 bonus is consider mathematically significant, to try to shape its fundamental unpredictability. Stacking up bonuses from magic, items, feats, skills and situational modifiers, you try to move the needle from succeeding about half the time to instead about a 66% chance of success.

In other words, you are incrementally assembling small advantages into one big advantage, in an attempt to impose order on chaos. Through a kitbag of step-by-step accumulation you strive to dampen life’s fundamental arbitrariness. Roll well, and rationality prevails. Roll poorly, and you are reminded that disorder can never be conquered, only forestalled.

Years ago I argued that D&D is a celebration of naked capitalism, red in tooth and glaive-guisarme. Can it at the same time be our foremost existentialist roleplaying game?



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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Dukes Up
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Tsui Hark’s latest wuxia flick, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is now available wherever you buy your Hong Kong video imports. (Remember, co-continentals: Asia and America share the same Blue Ray region.)

This sequel to the 1992 classic Dragon Inn serves up a study in contrasting eras of flying-people. The original is fast, energetic and sometimes technically crude. Flying Swords drips with mammoth production values, is Hark’s first foray into 3D, and relies as heavily on CGI-animated fu fighting as on wirework.

In plot embracing full convolution of its literary sources, Jet Li plays a eunuch-busting guerrilla who, after destroying the evil East Bureau, is hunted by the bad-ass prince of the even more evil West Bureau. Their paths take them to Dragon Inn, where the white meat in the noodles is people. Add a woman warrior disguised as him as an expression of unrequited love, a pregnant girl escaping the prince, and an assorted complement of treasure-hunting bandits, and you’ve got more story than you can shake a throwing dart at. And oh yes, there’s a gigantic sandstorm headed their way.

I wish this was as complete a return to form as Hark’s previous Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. But here early reels that ought to be investing you in the characters is instead spent time throwing computer-animated objects at the 3D camera. Would I sooner see Jet Li in his athletic prime, fighting a dude in widescreen with a locked-off camera? Yes, but that was nearly twenty years ago now. If you’re a fan, lesser Hark and Li are still Hark and Li.

The trailer prominently features the opening cameo from a corrupt eunuch Gordon Liu.



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