A Hero Twice a Month
I am not normally someone who gets bent out of shape by movie adaptions. I understand that movies and novels are different mediums and that sometime changes need to be made to the way the story gets told. I also don’t sweat it too much if the movie sucks. After all, the book will always be there regardless of what sins against cinema the movie commits. So the fact that the first thing I though when I heard that they were making a movie out of Andy Weir’s The Martian was, “I hope they don’t screw this up”, is a sign of how much I love this book.
The Martian has an incredibly simple premise. Astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left behind on Mars when he is injured and believed killed during a dust storm that causes the Ares 3 mission to be scrubbed. With no way to contact Earth, and no hope of rescue before his supplies run out, Mark Watney must find a way to survive on a planet that cannot support human life. It is basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars.
So if the premise is so simple, why do I like it so much? Well, first off the science is exceptionally good. No work of fiction will every be 100% scientifically accurate, but Andy Weir obviously worked very hard to make everything as plausible as possible. In an interview he had with Adam Savage (worth a view BTW), he talked about how he had even worked out the launch date where the distance between Mars and Earth would be favorable for a mission where the astronauts would be on Mars over the Thanksgiving holiday for plot reasons. Please note that Andy Weir never actually mentions the launch date in the novel, he just wanted the novel to be as accurate as possible.
When you are calculating orbital mechanics and trajectories for interplanetary travel just to make your novel more accurate, well you sir are a steely-eyed missile man.
With all of this focus on scientific accuracy, you might figure that it is a dry read. That is where you are wrong. Knowing that we would be alone with our protagonist for the majority of the novel, Andy Weir makes sure Mark Watney is an enjoyable person to spend time with. Smart, inventive, and possessing a sarcastic wit, there would be no one I would rather be trapped on Mars with. OK, maybe a sexy starlet, but I am sure I would survive longer with Watney to work through problems as they arose.
As for the challenges Watney has to overcome, Andy Weir does a great job of making them appear insurmountable before showing us how the protagonist overcomes them. In the interview with Adam Savage linked to above, he mentions how he wanted all of Watney’s problems to be a “cascade failure”. In other words, almost every issue Watney faces is either a result of the initial dust storm that stranded him there or the result of something he had to do since then to survive. This is not the story of someone with incredibly bad luck; it is the story of someone forced to overcome incredible odds.
I know this review is a bit of a love fest, but I can’t help it. The Martian is easily my favorite book of the century so far.
Now I just hope they don’t screw up the movie.
While I am not the video game fanatic that my wife is (few people are), I do enjoy playing them from time to time. One of my favorite video game franchises at the moment is the Dragon Age series. So I have been curious about the pen and paper incarnation of the franchise for awhile, but only bit the bullet with the recently released Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook, which combines and expands the rules from the previous three sets that Green Ronin has produced.
The basic mechanic of the system will be familiar to anyone who plays RPGs. Roll some dice (in this case 3d6 instead of a d20), add the appropriate ability modifier, and then compare it to a target number. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
The most innovative concept introduced in the Dragon Age RPG is the stunt system. You are rolling 3d6 for most rolls in this system, and whenever you roll doubles, you generate stunt points. How many stunt points depends on your dragon die (one die of a different color). You can then use those stunt points immediately to do something cool, like get an extra attack, push an opponent back, or even perform multiple stunts together if you have enough points.
I was intrigued by the stunt system and was curious how it would function in actual play. I also wondered what gamers who were unfamiliar with the Dragon Age video games would think of the system and the world.
So I gathered together some of my fellow Lords of Tyr and decided to run Duty Unto Death, the introductory adventure featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop. Only one of my players was at all familiar with the Dragon Age video games, so I figured they would be a good group to evaluate the game on its merits without affection for the franchise seeping in.
The group quickly divvyed up the pregens, a Ferelden Freeman warrior, a Dalish Elf rogue, and a Human Circle Mage. Because they were new to Dragon Age, I spent some time discussing the world and how they fit into it. Luckily, the introductory adventure made this easy, as the characters were all new recruits to the Grey Wardens, and it begins with Duncan explaining key concepts like darkspawn and the Blight to the characters.
The first combat was very interesting. Stunts came up a lot more frequently then I expected and really added a bit of variety to the “I hit it with my axe” rut that fighter heavy games can fall into. It also forced the group to think tactically, especially as it was discovered how squishy the non-armored circle mage could be when darkspawn closed in on him.
(The circle mage also learned the importance of the rock armor spell from this combat, and he became a bit obsessed about keeping it up as much as possible since it is not a spell that can really be cast once combat has begun because of its long casting time.)
Because the game started a bit late, we only were able to fit in one more combat encounter in the session. By this time the group was pretty acclimated to the rules, and were really looking forward to stunts when they came up.
After the session, feedback was pretty positive. Stephanie, still the newest gamer in this particular group despite having years of experience at this point, gave the most positive review. She liked the stunt system, but seemed even more intrigued by the setting, which she thought had a lot of depth. So I guess that is more of a thumbs up to Bioware, which created the Dragon Age setting for their video games.
All and all, it proved to be a very fun session. It probably won’t become our regular game, as the group is pretty invested in the two long-term campaigns we currently are running, but I can definitely see us returning to it as time permits.
So a lot has been going on in my personal life. Most significantly, my wife and I have moved halfway across the country from the Windy City to the Valley of the Sun. We moved because of my work, which has been pretty hectic since I arrived here. Things have calmed down a bit now though, which is why I am going to try my hand at blogging again.
I am still gaming with the Lords of Tyr using the various amazing digital tools which are available nowadays. Currently I am running Princes of the Apocalypse (Dungeons & Dragons 5e) and playing through Rise of the Runelords (Pathfinder). I also recently ran Duty Unto Death (Dragon Age) for my old group when a few of them were in town visiting.
Over the next few weeks I plan to post about virtual table tops, my experience running the Dragon Age RPG, a couple of book and TV show reviews, and possibly a major model building project I am thinking of undertaking.
So if you have been waiting for my triumphant return, here I am! If you have stumbled across this page by accident (more likely), then I hope you like what you see.