Monday, March 25, 2019

Movie Review: Rings

Rings: A Critical Review
(Full of spoilers because how do you actually discuss a movie without actually discussing anything pertinent to the plot?!)

This movie isn’t the movie it should have been. David Loucka and Jacob Estes conceived this movie by thinking, “Hey! Imagine if the video from The Ring were released digitally! Holy cow! It would be like a computer virus!” Ignoring that the entire premise of Kôji Suzuki’s novel is that the video is akin to a biological virus and already, technically, makes that point (I said technically because Suzuki’s virus is obviously not digital! Duh! But it’s still the same concept: technology as a virus that infects biology!), Loucka and Estes never actually make that movie anyway. Instead they simply remake The Ring but bookend it with two other films that would have been much better and more appropriate to the silly sequel title, Rings. Granted, there’s no way they could have made Kôji Suzuki’s follow-up, Spiral, into a movie. I mean, they could have if they wanted to lose millions of dollars asking viewers to believe that the video tape didn’t just kill people after seven days, but it also impregnates them so that they give birth to the nerd that died in the first book. At least I think that’s what happened. It was fucking weird and I read it over a year ago. Too bad I’ve yet to find a copy of Loop because I bet that thing is super batshit insane.

The movie begins with a guy on a plane about to time out of his seven days. He’s super scared because, I guess, nobody watches the tape and thinks, “That was fucking crazy. And a weird robocall that just said ‘Seven days’ immediately after? I’m hungry!” Apparently everybody watches it and thinks, “Oh shit! Does ‘seven days’ mean I’m going to die in seven days?! I bet it does because what else could that video have been about?!” You might be thinking, “Why would you assume everybody gets scared after seeing the video when just the one guy has freaked out so far?” Well, doubter who obviously hasn’t seen the movie yet: a woman on the plane also says, frightened, “I saw that video too!” And since the plane crashes and everybody on it probably dies, I guess they all watched the video at the same time one week prior?

I understand the flaws in my assumption, you jerk! You don’t have to “Actually!” me during my review! The guy who watched the video probably died of scared-to-death face while the other people on the plane just died from sudden impact face. Anyway, the opening scene doesn’t matter. It was probably tacked on because test audiences were all, “You know, there isn’t really any action in this movie? Maybe more high-speed action and less fighting blind guys in the dark?” Then some other audience member was probably all, “Oh! I know! What about a scene where somebody is looking through a keyhole and then — BOOM! — suddenly there’s a scary eye on the other side of the keyhole!” I’m pretending that’s how that scene wound up in the movie to help Loucka and Estes save face as writers. Maybe the third writer credited on the screenplay (but not on “story by”), Akiva Goldsman, was that audience member.

You know what? Stop actuallying me! Fine, the opening scene was needed to explain the entire premise of the death video.  The man explains that if you watch this scary videotape, you die in seven days. The woman who also saw it was there to explain that you survive the curse by making a tape and showing it to some other sucker! So, yeah, I guess the stupid first scene carried some water. It was repetitive, Scott Lobdellian water but I guess every Ring movie is somebody’s first Ring movie!

As I was saying about the opening scene before other more important things that needed to be said cropped up, it’s most important purpose was to give the VCR that Johnny Galecki buys one scene and two years later a back story. He’s all, “I’m going to buy this old technology for some reason!” Aimee Teegarden, his student (you can tell she’s his student because she’s young and hot and he’s Johnny Galecki), says, “Whatever, dude! This movie is PG-13 and was also shot in the 21st century so don’t expect me to whip my tits out even though that’s what my character would do at some point during this movie if it had been filmed in the 80s.” Johnny shrugs, takes the VCR home, hooks it up to some old ass television that still uses AV cables, and watches the tape that’s still in the VCR. That’s totally believable because when I die, somebody is going to wind up with a Laserdisc player with Heathers stuck inside of it.

By the time the next part of the story takes place (a few months, maybe?), Johnny has survived watching the video, completely researched the hell out of it, and published a book with the subtitle “the Samara Effect” (or something like that. I only watched it once and I’m not too concerned with going back to check). So he’s a quick worker, ain’t he?! I guess all that time spent not being able to fuck his students wasn’t simply wasted with masturbation.

I’m not going to get into the main character Julia (played by Matilda Lutz) yet because she’s only really important to The Ring remake that comprises the middle section of the movie. This aside was for everybody who has seen the movie who might be thinking, “When are you going to get into discussing Julia and whether it was okay to get a boner during the scene where she’s in her underwear because she’s probably portraying an eighteen year old and not a seventeen year old, right? I mean, yeah, maybe it’s creepy but you saw that butt, right? Also the actress is probably an old person! Whew! I’m not a creep at all! Suck it, mom!” Also, I hope you saw those quotation marks because that indicates that somebody else said that thing and not me. I only transcribed it!

The first third of the movie should concentrate on Galecki’s extra-curricular biology experiment. He’s taking students, showing them the film, and seeing how their lives become completely fucked up from terror over the course of seven days before finding another guinea pig to watch their copy of the film and save them from scared-to-death face. A much better movie than the one F. Javier Gutiérrez chose for audiences would have involved an ensemble cast caught up in Galecki’s experiment. Maybe everything seems to be going okay for a bit until some student dismisses the whole thing and heads back home for a long weekend before being able to get somebody to view his copy. He winds up with scared-to-death face and everybody begins freaking out. The rumors fly all over the school and now nobody can find anybody to watch their film. You now have five or six main characters all trying to find a way not to die. Maybe one of them, suddenly realizing this shit is real, understands the terrible ethical decision and refuses to find somebody to take on their curse. Maybe one of them (probably the frat guy) forces somebody to watch their video without their consent. Maybe one of them (the hot looking, muscular nerd with the glasses) hacks the on-campus televisions and spreads the video across the whole school. Maybe the camgirl creates some clickbait headline about a great video showing her butthole but links to the video and spreads Samara’s video across the entire Internet (this crosses into the other possible movie Gutiérrez might have made but, in the end, it’s what Rings should have been all about anyway, right?) thus saving her life but putting millions at risk.

But no! What you actually get is dozens of students participating in this scary ass project but, in the end, leaving only Julia’s boyfriend at risk once Teegarden dies of scared-to-death face. What could have been a meaningful reason for using the plural of ring for a title winds up being a movie about a single ring: Julia’s boyfriend. And since his time is about up, Julia watches the video to save his life. This brings us to the middle section of the movie: The RIng Redux.

Either I haven’t seen The Ring 2 or I just don’t remember it. Hell, I probably don’t rightly remember the movie, The Ring, as much as I remember Suzuki’s novel. But I feel fairly certain the first movie and the novel retain the same basic plot structure. People watch this video. They die in seven days. Some other person who watched the video realizes the curse and must research it to figure out how to break it. In doing so, they save themselves almost immediately without knowing it when they enlist the help of a friend, making a copy and showing it to them. When they survive but their friend dies, it helps them to make the logical leap needed to understand how to break the curse. In the book, the main characters figure that to break the curse, they have to put Samara’s body to rest. So they go to the cabin, enter the well, get the corpse, take it back to her hometown, and give it a proper burial. Based on Rings, I’m guessing all of that took place one of the previous films. Which is why the middle part of Rings is just a retelling of that story.

Julia and her boyfriend head to Samara’s hometown, learn more about her than even Galecki discovered, learn her terrible secret, find her corpse, and give her, not a proper burial, but a proper cremation. That should do the trick, right?!

Well, no. Because the big twist is that Samara was trying to be reborn and Julia fell for it! Ha ha! Dumb dumb! If she’d only read Suzuki’s follow-up to Ring (no article on the book title!), Spiral, she’d have learned that the big twist was the whole being reborn thing! Also since Spiral was published in 1995, the big twist at the end of that wasn’t that the video would wind up on the Internet to infect everybody in the world. The big twist was that the main character’s published work was going to be turned into a movie which was now the real infection source for Samara’s virus. Millions of movie-goers would be infected! Ha ha! Dumb dumbs!

I wonder how often Roger Ebert wrote “Ha ha! Dumb dumbs”? Probably not enough! That’s why he’s no longer successful!

In trying to be a good and faithful protagonist, Julia just winds up setting Samara loose on the world. That’s a pretty good twist, right?! What the audience realizes if they think about this movie for any amount of time after exiting the theater instead of just saying, “That was a stupid waste of ten bucks!”, is that the real protagonist was the blind ex-priest who kidnapped a young woman and impregnated her many years ago, giving birth to pure evil. This ex-priest then proceeded to murder all eleven or so people who came before Julia, also trying to free Samara. That pervert murderer was the real champion! I knew I like him for more than creepily taking Julia’s hand and doing that weird finger thing on her palm that perverted old people do. I mean, he must have done that or else he wouldn’t have been able to read Samara’s Braille message she burned into Julia’s palm!

Although, I mean, why the fuck did Samara burn “rebirth” in Braille on Julia’s palm anyway? Why would Samara know Braille? Why would she leave a clue to her ultimate goal? Maybe it’s some kind of rule from the afterlife. You have to give the people you’re manipulating a fair chance at defeating your evil plans!

The final twist of the movie is that once Samara is reborn in Julia, Julia’s electronics begin sending copies of the movie to all of her online contacts. Julia’s boyfriend sees it happening and tries to stop it by unplugging the laptop’s power cord and online connection, somehow forgetting that laptops have batteries and WiFi connections. And thus the entire world is doomed to be infected. Of course, how many die from this infection? Maybe half the population of the online world? It doesn’t seem like the best way to kill everybody if the person is infected and saved in one online session. “Hey! A weird video! Let’s watch it. Fuck, that was crazy shit. Let me send it to my friends!” I guess since once person can spread the virus to more than one person, it’ll be harder and harder for people to find a non-infected person to watch their copy of the video. And maybe the point isn’t about death anyway? I think the point in Spiral was that watching the video actually changed the person’s DNA in a way that made them part Samara, or made her more powerful, or something. Anyway, it was less about killing and more about just infecting everybody.

The problem with this ending is that it’s the fucking ending. You’d think the whole point of a movie titled Rings is that it would be about huge numbers of people being infected by the video. Instead, only one person winds up endangered in most of this movie. The real movie only begins when this one ends. Estes, and Loucka should have realized this and thrown out the first draft of the movie. But since they didn’t, audiences were treated to an uninspired remake of the first film but with even more plot holes.

Like how this movie follows the adventures of — apparently — the only two young people who don’t constantly check their phones. Julia’s boyfriend disappears for six days after watching the video because...well, I don’t know why! He just leaves his phone under his bed in his dorm and fucks off on a ski trip or something. Nobody knows where to find him. Why? I don’t know! Nobody else participating in the experiment disappears. They all just seem to hang out in the lab — or is it a rave?! — with all the other participants in a hedonistic display of, well, college youthfulness!

Julia’s boyfriend’s excuse for not talking to her is that he didn’t want her mixed up in this experiment. Although the experiment wasn’t even scary yet. Nobody had died of scared-to-death face but somehow Julia’s boyfriend was taking it seriously from the start? And he thought not being in constant contact with his girlfriend would keep her safe? He definitely wasn’t smart because he was surprised to find out that she was worried about him, enough to seek him out at his college.

But that’s just the tip of his stupid iceberg. He also never checks his phone while searching for Samara, thus missing Galecki’s warning that Julia’s hand has Braille on it (not that this message would have helped because Julia and her boyfriend were stupid jerks). Plus when Boyfriend discovers that the blind guy was the priest somehow involved with Samara, he doesn’t call Julia to warn her. He races back to their bed and breakfast to warn her. When he doesn’t find her there, he doesn’t call her to warn her. He races to the priest’s house to save Julia. Now, maybe I missed Julia leaving her phone in the room. But even if I did miss that and that was the reason Boyfriend couldn’t call her, what fucking young person leaves their phone in their room? I mean aside from Boyfriend when he disappears for six days doing fuck knows what.

In the end, this movie missed out on everything that would have made The Ring modern and updated. I can’t fathom why somebody thought The Ring should simply be revisited as another version of the same movie. Somebody actually thought the twist computer virus at the end was enough of a great idea to greenlight the rest of this turd. How do you make a huge Hollywood movie like this with nobody along the way saying, “This ending here. That’s the movie. What’s with all this other stuff that we’ve already seen before?” I guess people instead read the script and gave helpful advice like “How about a scene where a woman pulls a long strand of hair out of her throat? That’s gross, right? Do that!” and “Did you write a scene where the female lead hops around in bed in panties that go right up her ass so that you can see everything? If not, add that! I’d say show her tits too but this is the age of Maxim, not the age of Playboy! And make sure wardrobe only uses tops that keep any signs of nipples from showing! This isn’t your father’s horror movie! No sir!” and “You took the advice of test audience member Akiva Goldsman and got that keyhole jump scare in, right?! Fuck yeah!”

Ugh. You know what I need to do? Go check with Movie Madness and see if they have Rasen, the Japanese film adaptation of Spiral. That shit will probably be insane!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Dragon Magazine #179, Part Seven: "The Marvel-Phile: Building Better Mousetraps — or Better Villains"

The next article by Dale A. Donovan and Steven E. Schend is called "The Marvel-Phile: Building Better Mousetraps — or Better Villains." They decide — against the wisdom of most writing courses I've not taken — to completely throw out their credibility in the second paragraph. "Some of [Marvel's villains], however, verge on being laughable in the light of the modern day. Today, the Fantastic Four battles against Terrax and the Super Skrull, both of whom are great villains." Excuse me. Did you say Super Skrull was a great villain? Tell me again how having the ability to turn one leg invisible while the other one is on fire makes a great super villain? It's also possible that I'm completely judging Super Skrull by the lyrics to Ookla the Mok's song about him. It's possible Dale and Steven know what they're talking about and I'm the one who has no clue!

Dale and Steve have some tips for making memorable villains that your players won't laugh at. If I simply list them, you might find yourself agreeing with them and not thinking they're terrible suggestions. So instead, I'll quote them before acting like they've just written the worst suggestion or paraphrase them so that they sound fucking ridiculous.

Tip #1: "Find a gimmick that's quick, effective, and memorable. People remember Mr. Fear's fear gas." Or Mr. Fist's fist fighting. Or Mr. Murder's murder blade. Or Mr. Amnesia's amnesia bomb. No wait. Nobody remembers that one. Poor example.

Tip #2: Don't make the villain a fatty who can't fight. When Superman punches the villain, the reader shouldn't be thinking, "I hope Superman didn't just commit manslaughter!" Although when Batman does the same thing, the reader should be thinking, "Batman just fucking committed manslaughter!" But it doesn't count as Batman killing somebody if they die from their wounds later because America's healthcare system is terrible and the villain couldn't afford to have his ruptured spleen treated. Batman can't solve all of the world's problems! He's trying to keep Gotham's alleys safe so distracted rich people can walk down them without being murdered.

Tip #3: "Find a distinctive name and look for the crook that people will remember and respect." People remember and respect Mr. Fear because of his fear gas. And his name, probably! This tip is totally different from Tip #1. Don't @ me.

After completely transforming everybody's Marvel Role-playing experiences with these generous tips, Deve and Stale proceed to punch up some of the old, crappy villains from the Marvel Universe. First up is Invincible Man. How the fuck do you punch up Invincible Man?! Make him less invincible so the players don't throw their character sheets in the trash as soon as he turns up in the campaign? No, Dale and Steve are mostly just concerned with how terrible his costume looks to modern eyes. Also they figure, once you've changed the look of the costume, you might as well change the stupid name. So basically they're saying, "Just make another villain. This one is dumb." Thanks, guys!

The next villain looking to be modernized is Porcupine. Since he's dead, Steve-Dale suggest that somebody else use his armor which is a great suggestion! They also believe the name Porcupine is pretty stupid and I agree. But they think changing his name to Spike or Quill would make him more memorable. This article was written in 1992. What fucking comic books were these guys reading?! Obviously the new Porcupine would have to be named Death-Quill or Blood Spike or Genocide or Really Late Term Abortion Provider. It's also strange that Steve-Dale haven't suggested adding more pockets and belts of ammo to the costume.

Finally, Steve-Dale just design a couple new villains as a way to prove that they're better at creating new villains than all the other game referees out there. Why else would they feel they needed to suggest to Marvel Role-playing referees that they can design new villains? Isn't that the whole premise of this game?! Do they think most people purchased this game so they can have a set of canonical rules to determine if Logan's claws really could pierce Steve Rogers' shield? And just in case the players and referees reading this article are really stupid, they remind readers that "these two characters are not part of the Marvel Universe and have no place in official Marvel Comics continuity." How fucking arrogant are these guys?! They believe their creations will be on par with Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby and readers will mistake them for official creations? Not that Stan, Steve, or Jack ever created a hero or villain as exciting as any Blood-Whatever or Death-Something that came out of Image in the 90s. Fucking old school hacks! How did they not see the potential of this medium they practically created all of the rules for?! Heroes should be murder monsters! Duh!

Dragon Magazine #179, Part Six: "The Voyage of the Princess Ark, Part 26"

The next article is part 26 of another work of fiction called "The Voyage of the Princess Ark" by Bruce A. Heard. It's written as entries in a diary and is purported to be a means for providing information "to expand D&D campaigns using the Gazetteer series" but I think it's really just a way for Bruce to tell the world about his nightly D&D campaigns. Each entry bored me more than every Dungeons and Dragons Tumblr written by a thirteen year old who believes she and her friends are just the funniest Goddamned people in the world. "So, like, we were on the Princess Ark and everybody was all pouty and bored. But then I was like, 'We should have a party!' It was hilarious! We wore gnome hats and had confetti poppers and I got too tipsy to find my way back to my cabin because I failed a Constitution check! I also failed a Charisma check so I didn't get fucked in the ass.'" Dammit! I was trying to show how boring those D&D Tumblrs are and now I want to go read some because they sound awesome.

It seems the main thrust of this article was to ask Dungeon Masters this question: "Have you ever thought of getting your players' characters drunk so you could force them to role-play hangovers?! It's super hilarious! Imagine all the Wisdom and Intelligence checks they'll have to make due to loud noises! *snort*"

Dragon Magazine #179, Part Five: "Semen"

Occasionally, Dragon Magazine published short stories. This issue features "Moonlight" by Heather Lynn Sarik.

I'll be reading "moonlight" as "semen" for the entirety of this story. "Semen" by Heather Lynn Sarik.

"Lien watched the trickle of distilled semen and tried to hold her anxious breathing to slow, labored gasps. From her vantage point behind a thick shroud of black velvet curtains, she could see the bowed form of the Sky-Watcher, his eyes locked on the glimmering liquid, his hands occasionally reaching out to pat at its ornate quartz receptacle. Silver threads glittered in his black robes as he breathed; upon his tufted white hair sat a wholly ridiculous circlet bearing a stylized cresent [sic] moon as big as Lien's palm."

Come on! Heather was hardly disguising this deviant work of pornography! It's all about two thieves who steal some semen from a monastery so they can sell it. They spend the rest of the story trying to get some unsuspecting idiot to drink their semen to find out if it's magic. The big twist is that even the Sky-Watchers distilling the semen don't know what it does, even though they're practically drowning in the stuff. The sexiest part of the story is when the arrogant rich guy chugs a bunch of the semen because he ate a Periapt of Proof Against Poison. The grossest part of the story is when the thieves spike a stew with the semen and everybody in the tavern gets sick.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of selling a story where every character was obsessed with semen (so much so that the local monastery was filling their well with the stuff) to a non-semen-aficionado magazine. My first draft of that sentence began "Never would I have thought of writing a story where every character was obsessed with semen," but I realized the inaccuracy of that statement and quickly fixed it.

Dragon Magazine #179, Part Four: "7 Enlightening Lanterns"

Stephen Giles writes the next article called "7 EnLIGHTening Lanterns" and I'm beginning to wonder why Dragon Magazine thought so many people were running such boring campaigns in 1992 that they had to compile this issue full of bullshit. "Have your players begun to dread game night?! Are they falling asleep at the table when they used to be practically masturbating to your every dungeon room description? Have you heard them whispering cryptically in the kitchen as they eat your mom's snacks, saying things like 'Where are all the exciting ways to produce light?' and 'Why is the treasure always so easy to pack up and haul out of the dungeon?' If this sounds familiar, pick up Dragon Magazine #179 at your local game store! Dragon Magazine: making Dungeons & Dragons a stronger and stronger product every year! What else are you going to do with your nerdy friends on Friday night?! It's not like some card game will be introduced next year that will completely decimate the D&D customer base until TSR finally has to completely sell out to the company that created that stupid hypothetical card game! I mean, what can be more exciting than ways to light a dungeon magically?! Fuckin' hell, we're kings of the Goddamned world!"

Again, I'm not being fair. I've yet to read the article and I'm acting like it's probably the stupidest thing ever written. Just having read that previous article by Bruce Humphrey, I can be assured it's not that.

Mr. Giles gets right to the point: lanterns! Seven of them! Although too many of them (like, seven, maybe?) seem to be the life's work of some mage who couldn't be bothered to do something exciting with his life. I'm assuming mages live for several hundred years; you'd think that they'd strive for something more than a lantern that can shoot lightning bolts or cast darkness instead of light or curse a person to be attractive to the undead (although after summarizing those, I'm starting to see Mr. Giles point. Now I want a necro-aphrodisiac lantern!). Aren't there already wands that do those kinds of things? Maybe magical lanterns was just part of an overall move toward creating mundane useful items that could also do magic. Like instead of a Wand of Stoning, maybe a Backscratcher of Stoning. Instead of an Amulet of Reflection, perhaps a Belt Buckle of Reflection. Also, if you have stupid players that you're trying to punish, give them magic lanterns and candles as treasure. They'll definitely leave them behind while wondering where all the gold went.

But enough with the fucking lanterns. Egads, I can't imagine creating a more boring module than one that features magic candles, magic lanterns, and five hours of haggling with merchants over the price of a few tapestries and pewter Star Trek figurines.

Dragon Magazine #179, Part Three: "Something Completely Different"

Bruce Humphrey writes the next article, "Something Completely Different: Variety should be a treasure hoard's spice." As if putting candles in your treasure hoards wasn't already different enough. What is Mr. Humphrey going to suggest? Magic doilies? But he confuses me when he ends his opening paragraph with this statement: "The effort to recover the monetary fruits of victory should be commensurate with the victory itself." Is he suggesting that after the party kill Tiamat, obtaining Tiamat's treasure should be just as difficult as it was to kill Tiamat?! Bruce sounds like a terrible Dungeon Master!

I should at least wait until I've finished reading the article to judge Bruce's Dungeon Mastering skills but the header to his second paragraph isn't quelling my bias.

When I'm playing a fantasy role-playing game based solely in my imagination, I seldom think, "But is this realistic?"

In "the realistic route," Bruce goes on to say, "In fact, most treasures should be items that are not obviously valuable but may be of greater worth than their weight in gold or diamonds. Some items could have little intrinsic value but be beyond price to a collector or as heirlooms." Because orcs and bugbears are so well known for their sophisticated tastes and sentimental attachments! "The only thing in this Goddamn ogre's den are a bunch of frilly pillows and a stupid vase!" says the paladin who's never seen Antiques Dungeon Show. How many of Bruce's players ended a campaign grumbling "How did I spend more money on supplies than I gained back in treasure?!" while Bruce was busy filling the next dungeon with collector's plates and dung from rare outer planes creatures.

I'm only on the third paragraph and I'm fairly positive Bruce Humphrey is a sadistic jerk who hung out with the theater kids, none of whom thought he was funny (and you know the stupid shit theater kids think is funny!). When I design a dungeon, I figure my players are going to want some exciting action followed by some easily spendable treasure. But Bruce thinks his players want to be burdened with brainstorming a contraption to haul the loot from the dungeon.

Oh joy!

Here's the thing, Bruce: they'll just hire henchmen and make the henchmen carry the fucking thing and be done with it. Then when nobody will purchase it for what the players know it's worth (because they've read all of the rules supplements), the henchmen will be hauling that fucking carpet from dungeon to dungeon! What kind of idiots was Bruce playing with? Who would put up with this campaign?! "Ah! Another Saturday night spent haggling with dimwits and con-men! What a great change of pace from exploring a dungeon and risking our lives! Keep these mundane campaigns coming, Bruce! We're really gaining a new appreciation for assessing the value of treasure and researching merchants to find one who won't bilk us! Next time, can we please roleplay the six hour trip to the next flea market in real time?!"

I bet Bruce made the player's characters eat and take bathroom breaks. "Having not evacuated for some time, Signus is in real trouble. Unless he wants to shit his armor, Signus the Elf has -1 to hit and -2 to damage during this fight because he's beginning to turtle."

Earlier, I asked that question about the difficulty of obtaining Tiamat's treasure. Apparently the answer to that question was "Yes, Bruce does think dealing with Tiamat's treasure should be as difficult as dealing with Tiamat." He states it plainly: "Imagine the look on their faces when they have defeated the Ancient Worm of Khelkotha, only to find it spent those cold winter nights through the centuries smelting its hoard into a 10'-diameter sphere of gold, platinum, and gems — or, better yet, was a connoisseur of sculpture and traded its hoard for dozens of valuable but bulky and heavy statues." The most important part of that quote is "imagine the look on their faces." Bruce is telling on himself. He thinks Dungeons & Dragons is a competitive game between the Dungeon Master and the players. "Survive my Ancient Worm of Khelkotha encounter, will you?! Well guess what, motherfuckers?! You can't gather up the treasure unless you present a detailed plan of attack and designs of the contraptions used to haul this stuff out!" And then when the players decide to just hire a hundred henchmen, he'll probably draft up some rules on local unions and gig economies. "You can't just hire that many henchmen without paying exponential salaries due to the dwindling labor reserves! Plus, what are you going to pay them in? 10'-diameter spheres of gold, platinum, and gems?! Ha ha! Look at your faces! Dumbasses!"

The worst thing about this article isn't that Bruce thinks players are jerks who won't roleplay if they're just given lots of coins; the worst part is that he thinks every other Dungeon Master is an unimaginative idiot. "Hey, have you ever thought about how treasure doesn't have to be coins, gems, jewelry, or candles?! Give it a try! Maybe fill your orc lair with valuable tapestries! Or the minotaur's maze with crystal decanters and expensive china! I bet kobolds would totally be into rare and exclusive Pogs!"

Maybe I'm just being too defensive because, as a Dungeon Master and game creator, I've always parceled out odd treasures. Hell, I even wrote a book of poetry, The Chicken by the Gate, as a treasure found in the Places and Predator Module, "The Search for Renown." And my suggestion of making kobolds totally into Pogs wasn't too far off from another one of my Places and Predators treasures: cards from a card game I created as a popular form of dueling within the P&P world. But then again, maybe it's not just me! Gary Gygax included multiple tables in the Dungeon Master's Guide in the appendix for dungeon dressing that any Dungeon Master worth his probably-an-urban-legend Dungeon Master Certificate would have turned into treasure tables. Maybe Bruce thought "appendix" just meant "a vestigial chapter that doesn't need to be read."

Bruce continues to explain a bunch of treasure types that don't need explaining, like fragile treasure or hidden treasure or treasure that might only be treasure to the right buyer. He then opens his paragraph on treasure that is information with this damning statement: "Information can be invaluable, but most players ignore it." Can Bruce's players sue him for libel due to this article? Most of this article is just Bruce repeating over and over again, "My players are fucking dummies who don't know how to roleplay! So I've found a way to punish their stupidity: treasure types that they don't understand! Fucking dopes!" What Dungeon Master doesn't seed every campaign with information to try to lure players to new dungeon modules or home-brewed campaign plots?! How many Dungeon Masters read this article and were all, "Oh fuck! You mean I don't just have to reward my players with gold?! I mean, I'd like to also give them silver or platinum but nobody knows how to convert that shit."

Anyway, if you don't have the imagination to create some weird and unique treasures that your players might enjoy, or if you're looking for a way to stick it to your stupid players for being boring dumb jerks, Bruce wrote a dumb article for you. Next!

Dragon Magazine #179, Part Two: "Magic by Candlelight"

I feel slightly offended by the use of "your" in this article's title.

If your first thought wasn't "Magic candles? Tha fuck?!", you're probably more literate than I am. But I'm sure you had the same visceral reaction. Does your D&D campaign need more magic candles? Does it need any magic candles?! Mister Chamberlain decided his campaign did need magic candles and so he created a bunch of magic candles for his campaign to fuck with his players. See, apparently Gary Gygax only created one magic candle (the Candle of Invocation) which meant Mr. Chamberlain's players knew instantly what the candle did if they found it in a treasure hoard. Shit, man. You can't have that! Sure, I suppose you could tell your players to stop reading the Dungeon Master's Guide because even if they'd encountered a Candle of Invocation prior to the moment they found another candle, what would make them think there's only one type of magic candle unless they had their grubby little cheating mitts on a copy of that book?! Fucking rat bastards. So to trick his jerko players and teach them a lesson, he created new magic candles to fuck with them. You know, instead of doing what nearly every other Dungeon Master in the last forty five years has done: rerolled on the random magic item list when the Candle of Invocation came up.

Half of the articles in Dragon Magazine were written by Dungeon Masters who were sick of their players questioning every rule and needed a new rule or clarification printed in a publication with which the players couldn't argue and the other half were written by Dungeon Masters bragging about some crazy way that they fucked over their players. This is one of the latter articles. "Tired of your players thinking they know everything about every monster and magic item and skill and rule because they've read every single rule book? Try using some of the stuff I made up to fuck with my asshole players!" Oh wait. That was my quote! Here's Mr. Chamberlain's actual quote: "The party had found one of the special magical candles that I had devised to keep players on their toes when treasure-seeking in MY dungeons." Okay, so the emphasis was mine. But you can't help read it that way anyway! "Fucking players think they're going to get one over on me?! They probably expect me to bring in a beholder to keep them on their toes! But no! Just wait until they get a load of this candle!"

Just in case a reader wasn't familiar with the concept of "candles."

I didn't think I needed a history of the candle and after reading one, I was right. But it does get interesting when Mr. Chamberlain delves into the history of candle use in the Dungeons & Dragons world. Mages use wax taken from whales because mages are bad-ass motherfuckers who don't give a shit about anything. They're basically the carnivores of the candlemakers. Seriously, you can't give a shit about the environment if you're casting spells like Meteor Swarm or Time Stop or Wish or Monster Summoning VII (basically "Summon Invasive Species from Hell") or Reverse Gravity. With power like that, what kind of mage is going to blink twice at "Power Word, Kill"ing a few whales?

The cleric is the vegetarian of candlemakers. They use beeswax. Using the labor of the community to enrich yourself is a pretty good metaphor for religion.

Druids are the vegans of candlemakers. They scrape their wax off of berries. Which means for every thousand fat, girthy magic candles that cast Fireball, you'll find one shaped like a chipmunk that casts Animal Friendship.

After reading a bit about magic candles, I've done a complete 180 on them. Can you call a "180" complete when it's technically half of a 360 which is really complete? Anyway, I think campaigns should have more magic candles now! The idea that your characters might need to rely on a Candle of Globe of Invulnerability only to realize there's a stiff breeze could really keep those players on their toes! Forget about wands and scrolls! I'm only ever going to use magic candles from now on!

DM: "A large party of orcs rounds the corner and nearly bumps into you. You have a moment to act as they hesitate from the surprise encounter."
Player:: "I light my Candle of Sleep!"
DM: "You begin rooting through your backpack for your tinder box as the orcs begin reaching for their weapons."
Player:: "I hurry up and light that candle!"
DM:: "The orcs seem slightly amused that you're fumbling in your pack and begin to laugh as you pull out your flint and steel and begin trying to ignite the wick."
Player:: "Come on! Come on!"
DM:: "The biggest orc starts miming your actions and then makes a rude gesture toward his crotch as you finally get a spark that lights the candle."
Player:: "I hold the candle aloft and yell, 'Naptime, jerks!'"
DM:: "It's just as you finish your one-liner that you realize a few of the labels have fallen off your candles and you've apparently lit the wrong one. The cave begins to fill with a deadly chlorine gas."
Player:: "I light my Candle of Sweet Smell!"

At least the artist, Thomas Baxa, attempted to make candles look cool.

I hear loud guitar riffs and high-pitched scream-singing when I look at this.

Dragon Magazine #179, Part One: the Cover

“Hey, you think this floating sword is trapped?”
“I don’t know. Take off your shirt and poke it with a stick.”

The copy on the cover of this issue reads, "No risk is too great for magical treasure." If two sad and pathetic friends had been arguing with each other over the last fifteen years whether or not Dragon Magazine was for real roleplayers or fucking Munchkins, they finally received clarification on the issue (literally! Right there on the cover!). Who the fuck risks their character for a piece of treasure?! That question was rhetorical because I've spent a non-zero amount of time watching players implode during games I've been running as soon as they lost their favorite magic item.

DM: "Your Axe of Flight is knocked out of your hands by a well placed arrow, landing behind the five giant trolls of invulnerability. You tumble a safe distance away with only minor wounds. The trolls begin scanning the area looking for where you've landed."
Player: "My axe! I get up and charge the trolls!"
DM: "The trolls of invulnerability? All five of them? The ones that don't currently know you've landed a safe distance away with a clear getaway?"
Player:: "Yeah! Try to take away my axe away, will you?! I'll show you, you prick!"
DM:: "You did see the critical hit with that arrow shot, right?
Player: "Yeah but you could have had the arrow rip off my testicles. Why my axe?!"
DM:: "Okay, fine. You charge the trolls. The largest one with the spear has initiative."
Player: "Whatever."
DM: "The troll's blow smashes through your leg and into the pelvis, caving in the lower abdomen. Blood showers the troll. You collapse dying almost instantly from shock and blood loss."
Player:: "Fuck you."

I still play Fortnite with that player. She regularly throws games away by looting piles of weapons while the storm eats away at her health. She should be reading Dragon Magazine!

I made up some stuff in that mini-drama but the essence of it is true. I didn't really have creatures called trolls of invulnerability. They were some kind of Samurai Ogres that the adventurers encountered as they left the European part of the Warhammer world and traveled east over the World's Edge Mountains. It's also possible that this player didn't quite realize that the point of leaving their usual stomping grounds was because they had grown too powerful there and that, perhaps, the creatures they were about to face were more of a challenge. Or maybe some people just can't separate their character from their character's possessions.

Although maybe that copy on the cover was just to indicate this issue would have a bunch of new magic items? Sometimes I get a little heated about stuff that is instantly clarified as soon as I shut up and listen.