Category Archives: Character Classes

Processing Endgame VIIa: The Avengers (2012) (continued…)

Please note that this is one of a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Date re-watched: 2019-09-06

(Note also that this I liked Avengers (2012) so much, that I had to write more about it. #filmateleven)

In an effort to make this not just a laundry list of ramblings, I want to organize my thoughts into a few themes. Remember that a lot of this is about processing my feelings from Infinity War & especially Endgame, and really about the finality of the character arcs that ended there. There’s something about character death, similar to the death of a famous painter or sculptor. It puts all of their other actions into relief, and each moment becomes more poignant, as you see how each moment led them to their now inevitable end. Your mind tries to piece together their story, and make each bit make sense, now that you know the ending.

As far as characters, Tony is of course at the top of the list for me, probably because he’s the intended stand-in for the cis white male viewer, and perhaps also because he tickles my nerd/maker side (in a very cinematic way). In Avengers, a lot of the interesting interactions with Tony happen with Cap. As Jack Saint[1] argues, they are representatives of the two main sides of the heroic ideology in the MCU[2], Tony being the ‘pragmatist’ and Steve being the ‘idealist’, but still both representatives of the fundamental ‘great man‘ ideology of the MCU.

That being said, Tony & Steve, though they have philosophical differences, respect each other, well enough that Tony, who never takes orders from anyone, says at the height of the battle for New York (his home): “Call it, Cap.”. In the other direction, Cap asks everyone about Loki, to better understand his tactics. (Especially since Cap is the only one who has physically traded blows with Loki, and understands and appreciates his strength.) Thor is too embarrassed about being Loki’s brother, Banner dismisses him as having a brain with ‘a bag full of cats’, and Cap ends up understanding that only Tony can understand the way that Loki is a “full-tilt diva“. They also agree on other fundamentals, very distinctly that SHIELD should not be developing super weapons[3], and on defending the Earth from external threats…such as Loki.

Speaking of Loki, like Gamora, he is reborn (in a way) after Endgame, effectively re-setting his character development to the end of Avengers, so it’s worthwhile talking about where he is as a character here.

Physically, he’s the Asgardian/god/high-level ‘rogue’ of the party, able to hold his own in combat against ‘lesser beings’, even a ‘super-soldier’ human like Cap. With an artifact weapon (the staff), he is fought to a standstill by his warrior brother (Thor, who is likely pulling his punches), and falls twice to Tony’s repulsor blasts, and is taken out by the Hulk.

Loki wants attention and adulation ‘Full-tilt diva'[4], and is happy to bully lesser beings to get it, or to talk when he perceives that he has the upper hand, instead of using it. Tony is able to read this, perhaps because he sees it in himself, and has had to confront some of those demons in himself[5]. Perhaps more importantly, Tony is able to use this against Loki, using Loki’s distaste at being reminded of his brother Thor to distract him while he puts on the Mark 7 ‘bracelets’. Out-tricking the ‘trickster god'[6]. How much must that sting?

So, where is Loki sitting at the end of this? He had been cast out by his family and home, was taken in by an interstellar villain, given power (but always reminded that he was subordinate to them)[7]. He knows that he is being taken back to Asgard, to face some sort of punishment. He likely knows it will be some sort of imprisonment or exile. Like ‘a bag full of cats'[8], Loki is at war with himself. Thor is able to convince him briefly that they can work together to undo things, but he is unable to help himself from stabbing Thor and running away[9]. Throw the influence of the mind stone/scepter, and it’s difficult to come up with a consistent characterization. If anything, he might have learned something about being more effective, and perhaps how he is unsuited to command in a combat situation.[10] Or is he still ‘burdened by terrible privilege’?

Speaking of alternate timelines, the scene where Tony is thrown out the window in Stark tower has always been super-harrowing for me. Think of how many timelines there are where Tony didn’t survive[10], where Loki thought to shoot his suit with the scepter, all the times he almost died, both before and after this.

Moving on to the Natasha, she is easy to overlook, as she rarely gets a lot of screentime, and she is not the flashiest character, but we really have to give her credit for being the bravest character in the movie. (Also each scene she’s in makes sense, and there’s a reason for her being there.) She’s a (well trained) normal human being who decides to take it upon herself to leap onto a flying Chitauri chariot, knowing that one misstep would be her death. (And how did she even grab it? Was it her suit locking her hands?) We also get to see her unique ‘interrogation’ technique, allowing herself to get captured[11] earlier in the film, and again tricking the trickster god to get his plan for the Hulk out of him. Her ploy/way of understanding people and making them talk is not really played up in the other movies, and I hope that they explore it more in her solo movie. Avengers also brings out her relationship with Barton, and perhaps explains some of her bravery, as S puts it, the self-sacrifice might be a way to wipe the ‘red in her ledger’ clean.

There was also a nice gentle non-toxic masculinity scene with Tony & Banner (about 3:10), where Banner talks about being ‘exposed, like a nerve’. ‘A terrible privilege’ ‘but you can control it’ ‘because I learned how’ (Note that this scene also includes blueberries that RDJ hid on set.)[12] This is perhaps Tony trying to do for Banner what Yinsen did for him, trying to remind Banner that he can be a force for good. Tony is proven correct, when Banner shows up to the Battle of New York, after perhaps making a difficult decision while talking to a security guard who seems curiously well informed, and pushing him towards helping out… “I know where I can do the most good, but it’s also where I can do the most harm.” “Your mind’s already made up, son. The rest of you will follow”

A few last random comments, so this doesn’t become three posts:
I really enjoyed the ‘Metal Man’ comment by Thor, and the idea of Thor charging up Iron Man’s suit (which would not be fully realized until Endgame). I also wonder if the ‘Shwarma’ scene was part of Tony’s journey to deal with his PTSD and accepting the good things that the Middle East has to offer. I thought the ‘Hulk yelling at Tony’ to save him was silly, but it had the desired filmmaking effect to break the mood, even if it was outside the film’s general scientific basis (unless the Hulk has special ‘jumpstart’ powers in his yell).

Cap is also understated and seemingly hurt all through the helicarrier section, perhaps because the mind stone/staff is getting to him, perhaps by bringing out his PTSD and his feeling of being ‘out of time’. Eventually, perhaps Cap and Tony bond over their shared pain, but in a subconscious way (as opposed to the conscious way that Tony & Banner, or Natasha & Hawkeye bond over shared pain).

We also see the first installment of Thor vs. The Hulk, where they seem to be evenly matched, although Thor’s dodging prowess seems to be vitally important.

Lastly, we see the Tesseract acting with inconsistent characterization, with it ‘telling things’ to Selvig, although that could easily have been the Mind Stone (or the other stones have powers beyond what is normally assumed by their expected bailiwicks).

Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Next time, we’ll continue with Iron Man 3, where we follow Tony’s reaction to the Chitauri invasion and almost dying carrying a nuke through the portal into space. Stay tuned!

[1] S showed me this video this week. I recommend it very highly. 🙂

[2] And this conflict will spiral into ‘Civil War’.

[3] This leads to the great scene where Tony is trying to break in and comb through SHIELD files on the helicarrier, to figure out what Fury and SHIELD are up to (‘Phase II’, energy weapons similar to ‘Hydra weapons’, as Cap puts it), while Cap simply breaks into the armory and brings one to the lab. “Sorry, the computer was moving a little slow for me.“[3a]

[3a] At 2:36, that video shows one of multiple occasions where Hawkeye enjoys posing with his bow slightly too much for non-sequential-art.

[4] Funnily, this just seems to add to the Shakespearean feel of the Asgardians, almost like they understand that they are but players on a stage.

[5] There are interesting questions here about whether humans, because of their mortality, are more likely to see it necessary to learn and grow.

[6] We never really get to see Loki’s illusions in ‘Avengers’. The closest we see is a few costume changes, and one image projection to trap Thor in the ‘Hulk Hotel Room’ on the Helicarrier (and to get around behind Coulson). So, we never really get to see how Tony would have dealt with them. There seems to be a ‘Mirror Image‘ quality to Loki’s illusions, where sometimes (like Ragnarok), he seems to leave an image behind while he walks away, while in Stuttgart, he seems to almost be able to teleport between them. (Although, upon watching it again, they seem to be only images…but this disagrees with what we saw in Dark World…) So, how would Tony deal with have dealt with these? Are they only visual illusions? We know that the Soul Stone was able to dispel Dr. Strange’s images in Infinity War, so we know that it is possible to tell them apart, but can it be done using only things like heat signature detection?

[7] Thanos’ herald: “You would question me, him?”

[8] As per Banner.

[9] Similar to the ‘snake story’ in Ragnarok.

[10] In Dark World, we see Loki only being truly effective in combat when paired with Thor. In Ragnarok, Loki will learn that he is not the most effective at command in the rulership sense, but eventually learns some of how to do this by the end of the movie (while still fighting alongside Thor). There’s also questions as to how much Loki was being influenced by the mind stone/scepter, and how much that impaired his judgement and abilities…but he seemed perfectly willing to cause chaos and destruction after being separated from the scepter during the ‘final battle’. However, Loki perhaps learns very different lessons when he escapes from ‘Avengers’ at in the middle of ‘Endgame’, perhaps having learned how to be a little more effective, but perhaps thinking that he just needs to find people more suitable for his ‘rule’, similar to how he pretends to be Odin later in the series, or perhaps he will just go around messing with people, taking the opportunity to be actually free of constraints.

[10] Although, we see in Endgame how the Ancient One is busy fighting off Chitauri during the Battle of New York, so one would expect that she would have used the Time Stone’s powers to set things so that New York would not be nuked. This also brings up general questions of fate, and how much the events were controlled by various types of puppetmasters, but that is perhaps more appropriately a better conversation for a later post about Dr. Strange’s plan(s).

[11] Perhaps by some of the arms dealers that Tony refers to in Age of Ultron.

[12] Perhaps the best foreshadowing of ‘Professor Hulk’ from Endgame.

Weather Only a Druid Could Love

It was raining. It almost felt like it had always been raining. And yet, here he was, outside. Today, it was almost a gentle mist, the most delicate of rains. The kind where you wanted to turn your face up to the sky.

He did so, looking up at the space between the buildings, always such an interesting shade of blue-gray, in the mist.

He looked back down at the ground in front of him, partially to avoid puddles, partially to deke around an umbrella. The umbrella wielder had a determined expression, as if they were willing the raindrops to move out of the way with the force of their mind.

He knew that this was foolishness, but let the person go past without comment. It was too perfect a day to be outside, to want to spoil with such conflict.

Unfortunately, such conflict was what he oft experienced when he suggested going for a walk in the rain. For some reason, he seemed to enjoy walks in the rain more than most people. The exact reason was unclear. It might have been his naturally sunny disposition, or perhaps that he felt more of a connection to nature than most[1].

But he knew that a large part of it was something far more quotidian. In the tradition of ‘Fortune favours the bold‘, or ‘Haley drinks a potion of bluff'[2], or ‘use thermal underwear to be able to walk barefoot through snow'[3], he knew that the best way to enjoy the rain was to be fully prepared.

The rain coat was essential, but the extra warm sweater and long johns were perhaps not as obvious. Perhaps based on research that baby ducks stay warm until they get wet[5], perhaps based on long years of experience with rain, cold weather, and low blood circulation in the legs.

Either way, he was enjoying the day, dodging around puddles, people watching as was his wont, perhaps lunch would be had at some point. Only time would tell.

[1]Some referred to him as ‘feral’, because of his frequent needs to be outside, he more enjoyed the term ‘kinda like a druid’.

[2]From the webcomic Order of the Stick, from the episode where Haley (who has already maxed out her ‘bluff’ skill) drinks a magic potion which greatly enhances her bluff skill to apparently epic[4] levels.

[3]Terry Pratchett’s ‘Thief of Time’, pp176-177. ‘Sweeper’, a magical time-monk, who is able to withstand walking barefoot/sandalfoot through snow uses thermal underwear to great effect to help him use less magic.

[4]Yes, in this context, ‘epic’ has a very specific meaning, and it does seem to apply.

[5]From a conference paper I saw presented in I think 2003. Basically, the conclusion was that ‘baby ducks can survive in the cold, as long as they don’t get wet’. Apparently, the natural insulation makes all the difference, as long as the air pockets in the down are still there.

Picard: Is Truth More Lawful or Good?

So, I was reading some internet forums associated with one of my favourite webcomics, and an argument came up about Captain Picard’s ‘alignment’.

“That’s a really good one. (Although I don’t watch enough star trek to recognize the LN guy)It’s Captain Picard. You could make a case for him being Lawful Good, just not that friendly, but LN suits him just as well.”

(A brief aside. ‘Alignment’ in this context is from Dungeons & Dragons, where each character is considered to be aligned along two axes, ‘lawful-neutral-chaotic’ (respect for the rule of law) and ‘good-neutral-evil’ (good of the many vs. good of the few). This gives 9 ‘alignments’, from ‘lawful-good’ to ‘chaotic-evil.)

Some had him as ‘lawful-good’, or trying to do the best for the many while respecting laws. some had him as ‘lawful-neutral’, where adherence to laws is more important than the good of the many. I can see the ‘lawful-neutral’ interpretation, just from listening to one of his quotes:

“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy… and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.”

It seems at first blush that here the law (the Prime Directive) is more important than any group of pre-warp civilizations[1].

Another famous quote:

“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based, and if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform.”[2]

So we have two questions here:

1) Is adherence to the Prime Directive more ‘lawful’ or ‘good’?

2) Is Truth more ‘lawful’ or ‘good’?

1) The Prime Directive ostensibly has the interests of the many (the inhabitants of a pre-warp planet) outweighing the interests of the few (those few people who would exploit them).

And indeed, when the Prime Directive does not have their best interests in mind, Picard tends to look for exceptions.

Although there are times when he seems perfectly willing to let a planet’s culture perish to avoid interference.

So, I would count this as the Prime Directive is a ‘law’ that is mostly ‘good’, and Picard usually tries to move it towards ‘good’ when there is wiggle room. At the same time, when the ‘law’ conflicts with the ‘good’, sometimes (but seldom) he chooses ‘law’, so ‘lawful-good’ seems appropriate.

2) Now, let’s look at truth. Another quote seems to be in order here:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”[3]

This would suggest that barring violating the Prime Directive above, truth should be ‘good’, specifically the speaking of truth to power. (I think that’s what actually necessitates the Prime Directive, else if truth was pre-eminent, interference to tell people the error of their ways would be a very convenient excuse.)

So, truth is probably ‘good’. Is it ‘lawful’? You could make the argument that adherence to truth is equivalent to a code of honour[4], and it’s just as important (or more important) to do things the right way as to reach your objective. So, truth can be either or both of ‘lawful’ and ‘good’. The quote above from ‘The First Duty‘ is speaking about the good of the many (Starfleet, the reputation of his dead friend, and the trust between Starfleet officers) outweighs the good of the few (Wesley’s year of school, his reputation), so I’d call this a meeting of ‘lawful’ and ‘good’.

I’d say Picard is pretty firmly ‘lawful-good’, with some ‘neutral-good’ leanings (bending the rules to help people) and some ‘lawful-neutral’ leanings (sometime rules are absolute).

Thoughts? Comment below!

[1]Leaving out the non-interference in the Klingon civil war as out of scope.

[2]That quote also appears here:

[3]Note that George Orwell is most frequently associated with this quote, as is William Randolph Hearst. The actual source seems unclear. I enjoyed a number of the humorous takes on the quote in that article.

[4]No, not the episode. And I’m not linking to it.


They thought she was crazy. She would hide in trees, then wait for the correct moment, then leap down, drop acorns and nuts on unsuspecting passers-by, then run away giggling.

But somehow, they could never find her. There would always be some obstacle in the path, perhaps a horse-drawn carriage, perhaps one of the Central Park dog walkers, perhaps a squirrel that would chitter at you, distracting you just long enough for her to get away.

Sometimes she would sit outside and just watch the rainbow, the rainbow of brightly coloured birds and people’s clothing. Sometimes the rainbow of fruit flavours. Rainbows were tricky like that. Variegated by definition. The fruit of rainbow flavours sounded like it would also be delicious, but no one ever talked about that. Why was that?

Oh! More unsuspecting passers-by! Time to go!

An Elemental of Surprise


Elementals are incarnations of the elements that compose existence.

Surprise Elementals

Surprise Elementals inhabit the demiplane of Surprise, a mildly chaotic-aligned[1] plane loosely connected to the Prime Material plane. They embody the plane’s ethos of “always be surprising, especially when you are not”. This ethos separates the demiplane of Surprise and the Surprise Elementals from beings of pure chaos, as it acknowledges the refractory period between surprises which exists in most species.

Stealth-related skills are very common among denizens of the demiplane of Surprise, and Surprise Elementals are no exception. As surprise is a key component of their makeup, there are actually many exceptions. There are few things more surprising than a Surprise Elemental walking down a hallway towards you, sword in hand, yelling about bees[2].

The demiplane of Surprise is loosely connected to the Prime Material plane in a manner similar to that of the Ethereal plane. Any Surprise Elemental summoned will likely have been observing the actions of the summoner for some time.

When summoned to the Prime Material plane, Surprise Elementals are (usually) composed of the least likely substance nearby (DM’s discretion).

Relations with other Elementals:

Surprise Elementals are standoffish towards the four standard types of elementals. Surprise Elementals consider them excessively regular, that even the chaos of Fire Elementals is of an expected kind.

Relations with other Planes and Demiplanes:

Surprise Elementals have more in common with beings from the positive energy plane, who are some of the few beings who can be quicker and more energetic.

As Surprise Elementals are mildly chaotic-aligned, they tend to get along best with beings from planes that support changes of all forms. Beings from lawful-aligned planes tend to try to destroy or banish Surprise Elementals whenever they see them. Beings from the strongly lawful-aligned demiplane of Expectation are in direct opposition to beings from the demiplane of Surprise.


Surprise Elementals always act in every surprise round, and can take full round actions, even though most beings can only take one action during a surprise round. Note that this means that they can use their ‘Surprise!’ special ability (see below) during a surprise round.

The actions and abilities of Surprise Elementals can vary from encounter, even from round to round, depending on their whim. Some ideas for skills, feats, and special abilities are below.

Surprise Elementals are often described as ‘going faster than one might expect’. They can travel as fast as is required to be surprising, up to a normal maximum of 120′. It is not fully known what method of transport they use. It may be somewhat dependent on the materials from which they are formed.

                     Surprise Elemental, Medium   Surprise Elemental, Large
Size/Type:           Medium                       Large
Type:                Elemental (Extraplanar)      Elemental (Extraplanar)
Hit Dice:            4d8+8 (26 hp) 	          8d8+24 (60 hp)
Initiative:          +8 (+see above)              +8 (+see above)
Speed:               Up to 120' (see above)       Up to 120' (see above)
Armor Class:         4d8+8 (26 hp) 	          8d8+24 (60 hp)
Base Attack/Grapple: +3/+4                        +6/+12
Attack: 	     Surprise. (see below)        Surprise. (see below)
Full Attack: 	     Surprise! (see below)        Surprise! (see below)
Space/Reach: 	     5ft./20ft. (see below)       5ft./20ft. (see below)
Special Attacks:     Surprise. and Surprise!      Surprise. and Surprise!	
Special Qualities:   Varies (see below)           Varies (see below)
Saves: 	             Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +9 	  Fort +2, Ref +5, Will +13
Abilities: 	     Varies (see below)           Varies (see below)
Skills: 	     Any (see below)              Any (see below)
Feats: 	             Any (see below)              Any (see below)
Environment: 	     Demiplane of Surprise        Demiplane of Surprise
Organization: 	     Solitary or groups           Solitary or groups
Challenge Rating:    5 or varies                  7 or varies
Treasure: 	     Varies (see below)           Varies (see below)   	
Alignment: 	     Mildly Chaotic               Mildly Chaotic
Advancement: 	     5-7 HD (Medium)              9-15 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment:    —                            —

Surprise.: As a move- or attack-equivalent action, a Surprise Elemental can attempt a ‘Surprise.’ This is based on any skill that the Surprise Elemental chooses, although they may not choose the same skill in two consecutive rounds, unless they do. The damage done is all subdual, and is equal to the DC achieved minus 20. The damage may be avoided by the target spending an action on an opposed skill check.

Surprise!: As a full-round action, a Surprise Elemental can attempt a ‘Surprise!’ This is a similar attack to ‘Surprise.’ above, but with a +5 to the roll, and if the attack is successful, the target is confused for one round. Note that this ability can be used during a surprise round, as Surprise Elementals are able to perform full-round actions during a surprise round.

Space/Reach: Normally, medium and large Surprise Elementals take up a 5′ square. If it is surprising enough (DM’s discretion), they can reach up to 20′ away to perform an action.

Special Qualities: Most Surprise Elementals have Sense Darkvision, 60′, so that they can better understand what the beings around them can perceive. Surprise Elementals have the following general traits of Surprise races:

– +1 bonus to Surprise lawful creatures, +2 to those associated with the demiplane of Expectation
– -2 penalty to saving throws against spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities with the Expectation subtype or used by creatures of the Expectation subtype
– Any one of the special abilities of any elemental subtype (does not breathe, stability, fire resistance, or natural swimmer)

Saves: Surprise Elementals depend on mental flexibility, and therefore are not as physically flexible (except for when these are reversed).

Abilities: Typically, Surprise Elementals will have the following abilites:

Medium: Str 11, Dex 14, Con 4, Int 21, Wis 11, Cha 11 	
Large:  Str 11, Dex 16, Con 6, Int 25, Wis 11, Cha 11

Note that Surprise Elementals are typically very intelligent, and will plan their surprises, skills, and feats to be the most surprising.

These abilities may vary wildly with no warning from one Surprise Elemental to another.

Skills: Surprise Elementals receive (6 + Int modifier)*4 skill points at first level, and 6 + Int modifier per hit die above that. All skills are class skills. The skill points may be allocated any way the DM wishes. a random generation may yield the best results. Remember that the Surprise Elementals will be working to optimize their ‘Surprise.’ and ‘Surprise!’ attacks, and so will tend to specialize and diversify, except when they don’t.

Feats: Any. Choose the most surprising. Horseback riding for an elemental that commonly takes the shape of a horse is a good example.


Surprise Elementals cannot generally bring items from the demiplane of Surprise when summoned, but will pick up any surprising items as they go past them when moving on the Prime Material plane. Treat this as version of ‘Kender Pockets’.

When encountered on the demiplane of Surprise, Surprise Elementals can be carrying literally anything, even things one might not expect them to be carrying, or they should not be able to carry (DM’s discretion). It is rumored that some Surprise Elementals incorporate dimensional rifts into themselves (similar to a portable hole) so as to be able to carry arbitrary objects.

Player Characters as Surprise Elementals:

This should not be allowed, unless you are running a very unusual campaign, and all characters are elementals or similar creatures. Any player character playing a Surprise Elemental should be expected to roleplay all surprises.

[1]The demiplane of Surprise is mildly chaotic, while Delight is mildly chaotic good and Prank is mildly chaotic evil. Expectation is strongly lawful, while Hope is strongly lawful good and Presumption is mildly lawful evil.


Class Divisions

There are many computer games out there which have or purport to give the player the fighter/mage/thief* experience. The canonical examples for me are ‘Quest for Glory’ (Sierra) and ‘Keef the Thief’, probably because they were the first ones I played in the genre.

Most of these games will have different skills you can use to overcome the various obstacles the games throw your way. I’m interested in looking at these skills, and seeing how much each of the games actually lets you play a fighter, mage, or thief, and also how much each of the skills falls under one or more of these categories. But for this, well need some definitions…

The mage/non-mage division is probably the easiest to define, good canonical examples are ‘Ars Magica’ and the ‘Might and Magic’ series, where there are various types of magic users various types of non-magic users.

– Basically, a mage is someone who can do things that are outside of what a human could do at a medieval tech. level**.
– They also have some sort of internal power reserve which they use to perform these feats, a power reserve which recharges over time or when they rest. This power reserve is sometimes the same as ‘stamina’ (GURPS), ans sometimes not (D&D, TES, etc…)

‘Fighters’ and ‘Thieves’ have skills that one could conceivably acquire as a very well-trained human. The main difference is in the techniques used to solve problems.

– Tend to use very straight-forward methods to solve problems, often involving combat.
– Fighters will tend to have more combat skills and options than others

– Thieves tend to use more stealth, trying to find an adversary’s weak points, and using more non-combat skills, many of which have less than legal uses.
– Thieves will tend to have a wider variety of skills than others

There are also various skills which any ‘adventurer’ would require to get by in a fantasy world. Depending on the particular game and its game balance, these skills may fall under any one of the ‘classes’ above.

*I’m stepping somewhat away from the D&D Fighter/Mage/Cleric/Thief paradigm, but may revisit this in the future. There are a large number of games which merge all magic users into one, and that’s what I want to explore. Also, the idea of a separate class of ‘healers’ is an interesting concept/conceit, and it may be interesting to see how this is reflective of a society where people damage themselves all the time, and rely on one member of the group to heal them, rather than doing things in a more sustainable/mindful manner…

**’Tech. levels’ were first codified (that I saw) by GURPS: Most fantasy-type games feel like between 2 and 3 on this scale. Game balance wrt different ‘magic spells’ and their resepective tech. levels is a whole different interesting topic.

Personal Character Classes

Around the internet, you will find many quizzes which purport to tell you which archetypical ‘character class’ you most belong to. As you would expect, many of these quizzes are clickbait, and even if they weren’t, it’s relatively unlikely that the authors would have taken the time to poll some ‘gold standard*’ group of people to a statistically significant degree.

I’ve been (very slowly) taking a different tack. The plan was to write a story written from the perspective of a character falling into each each of each of the archetypes, to see which one(s) spoke to me the most**,***.

The first installment, ‘Druid’ currently has two parts available here:



*It does seem somewhat absurd to have a ‘gold standard’ of correctness for which fictional archetype one best fits into, but what can you do?

**The best analogy for this for me comes from the struggles of the protagonists in the Modesitt books ‘The Magic of Recluce’ and ‘The Magic Engineer’, where they say things out loud and see how their internal mental map/conscience twinges to see how true they are. Another analogy is presented by Paul Graham here: where he talks about ‘essays’ being trying out ideas in written form to see how well they work.

***Note that this does not get into issues of differences between what you feel as a person vs. what type of character you would play in a game.

BOF V: “A Wolf in the Forest”

(This was my first experiment in creating a communal story, from Jan 5 to Jan 22/2013.)

(It’s interesting to look back on it, thinking “I thought of that?”.)

“You walk up to a wolf in the forest. It sits up on its haunches and looks at you. What do you do?”

I: “Good dog.”
Me: “The wolf looks at you askance, somehow implying with a glance that comparing it to a dog is somewhat similar to comparing a rocking horse to a racing stallion. What do you do?”
S: “Misunderstanding the somehow-implied metaphor, I draw a small saddle from my pack and hold it out to the wolf, awaiting further instruction.”
A: “I take Fat Neil’s cloak and sword and run into the forest.”
JW: “Can I make a diplomacy check?”
Me: “A: You reach the wolf, who now has two other people standing around it. You are carrying a wooden sword and a towel. What do you do?”
JS: “Run to grandma’s house.”
A: “I wrap the towel around myself and commence eating fish.”
Me: “JW: The wolf seems pleased to see you. It points its nose West, deeper into the forest. What do you do?”
Me: S: The wolf motions for you to turn around. What do you do?
Me: JS: You are now wearing a red cap. You approach a small forest cottage. What do you do?
JW: I pack up my equipment, leave a ration of venison on the ground in thanks to the wolf, and walk of to the west cautiously.
S: Saddle still in hand, I turn around, grumbling slightly about how good Alex’s lunch smells.
Me: A: You finish chewing your wooden sword in two. You now have two sticks, suitable for framing a two-dimensional picture, or perhaps propping up a small tent. What do you do?
Me: S: The wolf reaches around, deftly takes the saddle from your hands, and places it on your back. It then ties the buckle. It seems to want to get on. What do you do?
Me: JW: The wolf breaks the venison in two, eats half, and puts the other half in its pouch. It takes a piece of paper from its pouch, limps over to you, and hands it to as you walk away. As you are walking, you see paths off to the right and left. What do you do?
S: I glance around and declare, “Nay,” scuffing the ground with my boot to emphasize my lack of interest in this plan.
Me: S: The wolf limps over and looks at you sideways, in a pleading fashion. You also smell the delicious taste of venison. What do you do?
JW: I stop and look at both sides of the piece of paper.
PSL: I call out the game master for taking taste as subject to the olfactory sense.
Me: JW: One side has what appear to be coffee stains in the shape of a dolphin. The other side has what appears to be a map of the forest, with paths marked in two different colours. From your memory, you discern that you walked along one of the light green paths to reach the wolf. The path to your right leads to what looks like a cloud of warm colours, the path to the left leads to what appears to be jagged steel slashes. There are numerous dark green lines crisscrossing the paths. What do you do?
Me: PSL: Your character walks up to the nearest tree and smells the bark with his tongue. What do you do?
S: I crouch with a sigh and point at the saddle.
JW: I try to remember why I came to this forest in the first place.
Me: S: The wolf climbs on, straps itself in, and somehow conveys that it wants to go East. What do you do?
Me: J: You’re not sure. Sometimes you go into the forest to try to find the fabled contemplation glade, sometimes you go to hunt for food, sometimes to visit your friend the druid, sometimes just to explore. What do you do?
S: Again misunderstanding the wolf’s attempt at communication, I run in a circle and jump over a downed tree, then wait for my venison reward.
Me: S: The wolf softly nips at your left ear while at the same time tapping its left leg on your left side. What do you do?
S: I shriek, complain a little about unjust desserts, and start running in the direction the wolf indicated.
JW: I follow the path to the right, thanking the druid again.
Me: S: You find that as you start to run, your stride begins to lengthen, and your rum starts to feel more like a gallop. You move through the undergrowth, which seems to part for you, and come upon a large tree. The wolf motions for you to stop. What do you do?
Me: JW: You walk through the forest for a while, until you come to a small cottage. There is smoke coming out of the chimney, and delicious smells wafting from the open door. What do you do?
Jamie Wells I try to figure out what it I am smelling.
Me: JW: It smells like delicious baked cookies, along with a hint of mint. You catch a glimpse of red through the window. What do you do?
PSL: I gallop after S, because that seems to be where a narrative is beginning to develop.
JW: With baked cookies with a hint of mint being one of my favorite things, I can’t help but get drawn to the open foor, peak my head in, and say “Hello? May I please have some cookies?” (in whatever the common language happens to be in this forest).
Me: PSL: You crash through the underbrush and end up in a meadow. You see a woman with a wolf on her back looking at a large tree. What do you do?
Me: JW: Peering around the doorjamb, you see an older woman taking a baking pan out of the oven, and a younger woman wearing a red cap sitting at the table chopping mint. The older woman says “Of course!” The younger woman in the red cap says: “Would you like some fresh mint sprinkled on top? It’ll probably be the last for a while, so make sure you savour it!” What do you do?
PSL: I instagram.
Me: PSL: You focus your will, and a small weight appears out of thin air into your hand. What do you do?
S: I pull over, feeling strangely exposed, as if a bit of my soul has been stolen. I peer up at the tree, then back at the wolf.
PSL: I toss the weight at the thick of the tree overhead (or rather the next one over, I’m not *that* hopeless) and wait expectantly.
Me: S: Up the tree, you see a small human dwelling, wedged between the branches. The wolf motions to you and then up the tree with its snout. What do you do?
JS: Part of my brain questions the sanity of taking food from a stranger, however it is overridden by the “COOKIES!!!” portion of by brain. I gobble up three of them (with mint sprinkled on them).
Me: PSL: The weight transforms into a small rabbit and a watch in the air. They gently graze the next tree over and fall lightly to the ground. What do you do?
PSL: I tie the chain on the pocket watch to the rabbit and hold the watch as the leash handle. Then I enter the forest.
Me: JW: This is the MOST DELICIOUS MINT that you have ever tasted. The younger woman in the red says “I know, I’m never able to savour them, either.” “It’s too bad that with the forest going dark, we can’t get any more of that mint.” “Say, you wouldn’t be willing to do something for us, would you?” What do you do?
Me: PSL: You walk into the forest, with the rabbit happily hopping behind you. You feel a faint ticking in your hand each time the rabbit hops. You come to a clearing. There is a circle of mushrooms in the center, and numerous holes in the ground around the perimeter. What do you do?
PSL: I hurriedly pack my belongings and wonder why my office atop Robarts Library closes at five when Christmas seems weeks ago. Then I shrug and eat the first mushroom.
JW: I say “How may I help you?”.
Me: PSL: You successfully escape Robarts Library just before it wakes from its slumber. Huge stony concrete wings unfurl from behind, and two red circles of light appear near the top of the central tower. They seem to be intensifying. The mushroom tastes odd, as if it had been sprinkled with something. You feel the ground getting closer. You have a great desire to eat another one of the mushrooms. What do you do?
Me: JW: The older woman intones: “In the days before humans came to these woods, there was a great darkness that covered the land. It was fought off only through the great valour and sacrifice of a group of noble animals. A wolf, a bear, a rabbit, and a hawk. Their story fills many volumes, and we do not have time for it now. It has been said that the darkness can not encroach as long as they stand vigilant, but they are injured and scattered. We have not heard from any save the wolf in weeks. If you can clear a small path to the mint, and retrieve some, along with the fireweed that grows there, we can perform a divination to figure out the next task.” What do you do?
PSL: I eat another mushroom.
KMV: Suggest it might look good as a grandmother.
CH: Thinks you all have made too many assumptions. *YOU* are obviously a bitch, and a HOT one at that. You and the wolf make passionate love under the full moon, howling in paroxysmal, delight, tearing into one another as clumps of fur lay strewn across the freshly fallen snow. . . [excerpt from Fifty shades of the Grey Wolf]
RG: I cast Animal friendship or Charm animal depending on the edition we playing.
MC: don’t walk up to a wolf in the forest unless you are a wolf. If you are a wolf then smell the wolf’s butt.
Me: PSL: You see the ground come up at you *really* quickly. You feel the rabbit pulling you away from the mushroom ring towards one of the holes around the clearing. What do you do?
Me: KMV: You see the wolf make the ASL for ‘red’, somehow. It points with its snout down one of the forest paths. What do you do?
Me: CH: You wake up from a very strange dream and find yourself on a strangely computer science-based Jeopardy show. You hear the words: “50 shaders of grey for 100, Alex.” What do you do?
JW: I say “Just show me where to go, and I shall complete this task”.
Me: RG: You cast ‘charm animal’ on the wolf. The wolf seems to shimmer as if something passed through it. Its tongue lolls out as if it is sharing a joke with you. What do you do?
Me: MC: The wolf speaks to you in Wolf: “Praytell, would you join me in a quest to push back the darkness? We must first find my companions, to assist us in the many tasks ahead.” What do you do?
Me: CE: The wolf looks at you as if it was sitting at home, drinking an import. What do you do?
Me: JW: The woman asks you to open your map, and points out one of the dark green lines which ends in a circle of green wavy lines with flames in the center. “You must follow this path to the mint grove. We do not know how far the darkness has spread. You must focus sunlight to clear a path. Take these two sugar crystals. They should focus the light enough to clear a path.” What do you do?
JW: I take the sugar crystals and take the path the woman indicated on the map down to the mint grove. On the way out, I snag a couple of more cookies and leave 5 silver coins in payment.
PSL I stick my arm up the first hole up to the shoulder.
Me: JW: On your way out, the woman runs after you and hands you back your silver coins. “You’ll want these to help reflect and focus the sunlight!” “Enjoy the cookies! If you need a brief insight later, try eating them!” You wonder why she always speaks with exclamation marks, but you continue on. Going down the path, you reach the point where the path goes from light green to dark green. The Dark green path seems to be a small path through the underbrush. You crawl along the path. After going a short ways into the underbrush, you sense more than see a dark cloud up ahead. What do you do?
Me: PSL: As you reach down to the hole, you realize that the hole has gotten bigger, and is about the same size as you. At approximately the same time, you realize that the rabbit has gotten much larger and is pulling you into the hole. You fall over, and are rolling down the hole after the rabbit. What do you do?
JW: I set up the sugar crystals in a resonating cavity, reflect sunlight into the cavity using a silver coin, and aim the output beam into the cloud (ie. I shoot the beam of light into the darkness).
WYC: You deal them a hand of cards, and play go fish with them.
Me: JW: The sun shines into the cavity, and is somehow focused and *changed*. The beam slashes into the dark cloud, exploding it into shards in a straight line in front of you. You can now see a brightly lit path to a meadow. What do you do?
Me: WYC: The wolf motions you over to a magical pond with fish frolicking inside. There are slots on the side of the lake for cards. Looking at your cards, you see that they now each have a number of fish on them. The wolf asks if you have any kipper. Looking at your cards, you do not. What do you do?
GW: I sit down and look back at it
PSL: I reach out for a protruding root and manage to bring my descent to a halt.
YG: I cast Magic Missile into the darkness.
EG: Smile and say hello.
JW: Into the meadow I go!
LMH: Sounds like time for a makeout session…
PSL:Also, I throw up my mushrooms.
Me: GW: The wolf looks back at you. You see it motion towards the ground. You see something glinting there. What do you do?
Me: PSL: You successfully slow your descent, but the rabbit is too large and pulling you too fast for you to fully stop until you reach the end of the hole. It opens into a large underground room. There are four exits: the way you came in, which looks like a daunting climb, a passageway to the left, which seems to have a flickering light, a passageway straightforward, which the rabbit seems to be pulling you towards, and a passageway to the right, which smells faintly swampy. What do you do?
PSL: Go right.
Me: YG: You make a small temporary hole in the dark cloud, and a few shards break off and fall to the ground. You feel like you might need something larger. There are dark shards on the ground. What do you do?
DL: I call the midwife who tells me to chill out. I look at facebook. I double check the snack bag. I look at facebook again.
GW: I walk over and examine what is glinting on the ground.
Me: EG: The wolf swishes its tail as if to say hello. It points its nose towards a tree. You see something sparkling in a hole in the tree about 10 feet up. What do you do?
Me: JW: You enter the meadow. Bursting out of the brush, you see that the brightly lit path extends into the meadow. You see a large cluster of herbs growing in the center of the clearing. The green cluster seems to be moving. You feel more than see the dark cloud around you starting to fluctuate. What do you do?
Me: LMH: The wolf licks your face repeatedly. It seems to like you. What do you do?
Me: PSL: You throw the extra mushrooms you were carrying up in the air and catch them. Nothing seems to happen. You start down the right passageway. The rabbit seems to be pulling you back the way you came, and eventually pulls away from you and waits at the end of the tunnel, back at the four-way room. The tunnel starts to glow green as you continue. A miasma starts to fill the air. You reach an underground grotto with glowing green moss covering the walls, and a small pond. What do you do?
Me: DL: The Wolf pads over and sits down, trying to distract you to help you relax. It pulls a vole out of your snack bag and chews contentedly in companionable silence. What do you do?
Me: GW: It seems to be a ring. Picking it up, it has a picture of a wolf on it. What do you do?
PSL: Eat moss.
LMH: Begin excreting toxins through my sebaceous glands…
GW: I look the ring over and try it on. Unfortunately it is too big to fit on any of my fingers, so I offer it to the wolf.
EG: I attempt to climb the tree but the first branch is too high for me to reach. After a few painful jumps, I collapse against the tree and fall asleep.
JW: I pick some of the mint, then eat one of the cookies to get some insight on where I might find the fireweed.
BSG: I wander into the mint meadow and am surprised to find someone already there picking mint.

Poolrad Savegames

This is an .ods of my knowledge of Pool of Radiance Savegames when I started playing this iteration. This knowledge may evolve as I get further into the game and my characters gain more experience:


This is the .html for those of you for whom a .ods is…well…odious. 😀


Interesting notes:
– There are a bunch of parts of this file I have no idea what they are. Hopefully as I play, differences will show up and be obvious.
– The game designers seem to have included more races and classes than originally thought, though not fully implemented. Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Bard all seem to be present. Half-orc also makes a brief appearance
– Many of the attributes (think saving throws) were implemented up to level 10.
– There seems to be a hard limit of 21 memorized spells
– Casting seems to be based on what the character had memorized. Memorization seems to be based on class levels, not stated classes
– Many other smaller comments are included in the spreadsheet. Take a look!

Also, I just learned the Ctrl-F5 DosBox Auto-screenshot! This is the last piece I needed (aside from a good WordPress photo gallery)!

Let me know what you think.


Pool of Radiance. The name conjures up that magical time, when you opened your first ever PC game as a christmas present. That magical time when you were still figuring out how games worked, and min/maxing was not something you did as easily as breathing.

My parents were kind enough to get me Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds as a Christmas present probably in 1990 (when the third game in the series, Secret of the Silver Blades came out), and I immediately set out to play probably for the rest of the holidays. I remember making my first journey with a lead character with the same name as myself. It was incredibly jarring to have the game tell you that you have died when it’s using your name. I quickly restarted with my name reversed. (This has been my online handle ever since.)

My first party was FFFCMT, all human, complete with names out of legend: Arnold, Conan, Merlin, some names not quite so famous: Keef, and some you have probably never heard of: Nayrb, Bogarth. (Zigomar was a late arrival to the party, probably in Curse or Secret.)

We ran through the game, confused by the pyramid, missing all kinds of things, and eventually meeting and conquering the big bad after the big reveal.

I have so many nostalgic memories of this. Figuring out how the Manual of bodily health worked, mostly by accident, maybe thinking that waiting would work if my character was ‘reading’. Then also accidentally discovering that regeneration was possible for my characters, stumbling around Valjevo castle with only that character at close to full health.

Being endlessly confused by the pyramid, possibly until I prevailed on my dad to take me shopping at the computer store where I chanced upon the Clue Book! (I still have it on my shelf, with some of the same notes in it.)

Pool of Radiance was the first game I cracked. (I think I couldn’t find the code wheel, although I still remember the codes for ‘BEWARE’ and ‘TEMPLE’, with the ..- and strange Leo-constellation-like figure.) I did it by the simple expedient of hexediting zeroes over the part directly after where the game asked for the code. I have no idea why this worked.

It was also the first game where I hex-edited characters (I think). This will be important later.

All this is as a long-winded way to say that this is the final playthrough, to finally make right by the Forgotten Realms, to complete the original Gold Box four once and for all with the same characters.

Some rules I set for myself:

Since the point of this runthrough is to make it through all 4 of the original gold box games (Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Pools of Darkness), and most importantly the final battle in PoD…

The characters can be edited for attributes and class.

The plan is to have them edited to 25/25/25/25/19*/25. I don’t think all of these work properly (the spell immunities for Int/Wis >19 for sure don’t), but the large amount of fighting in the game is much more bearable this way.

*This is so I can copy Manuals of Bodily Health, and gain regeneration for each of them. My experience is that regeneration, at least in PoolRad is not exactly correctly handled, but science will have to be done.

I’m currently only planning to copy the Manual of Bodily Health, as well as spell scrolls. (The first because regeneration is so much easier (and cooler!) than healing, especially in PoolRad, before FIX, the second is because it makes more game sense to be able to copy scrolls between characters.)

I won’t be using cheats like “give all your gems and jewlery to an NPC, then kill them”, or “restart to get lots of gold” or “restart to make the initial quests easier again”. I’ll also try not to copy the dust of disappearance in Curse. (I discovered the item copy cheat first in Curse by accident when removing and adding characters to my party. I think I had been restarting to get a LS+3, Frostbrand for each of my characters when I discovered it.)

(I also tried ‘long sword + 100’ while doing Death knights of Krynn, just because the half-damage-from-swords skeletal knights were so annoying. A fun reversal of this was ‘The Summoning’, which had weapons break if they did too much damage, so that if you hex edited the damage of one of your weapons, it would just break.)

Other than that, I’m not planning to copy items. I may or may not cheat to bring my items through Limbo. We’ll see how the large bits of Moander are.

One last thing. I always found it constraining that you couldn’t be more classes at once, or that you had to have such low levels. I’ve done some experimentation, and it seems that race and class are saved separately in the savegames for all four games.

(Interestingly, the PoolRad savegame (which I will cover fully next post) has one hex for class, and 4+ others for level in each class. So, you can be a Fighter/Mage/Thief with Cleric levels. I’m not sure exactly which skills are dictated by each of these. Again, science. The other games seem to have these totally independent, probably because it was easier than dictating all of the many options with Ranger being added to the mix.)