Seven Big Questions After Captain America: Civil War

Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War recently premiered to hugely positive reactions and a stunning box office. It’s also really, really good. We were promised a game-changer in this early “Phase 3” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Marvel certainly delivered.

So where does this leave the key characters in the film? What impact might the conflict have on the lead-up to Avengers: Infinity War (or whatever its title will be)? Might we even see this play out in the Netflix series? The Brains of Morbius take a look.

NOTE: The rest of the post will be SPOILER HEAVY. If you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet, go now! It’s excellent! We’ll be here when you’re done. Moving on….

…pause…

…pause…

…we’re running low on Vibranium – let’s get to it!

1. What’s the status of the Avengers now?

One of the best things about Captain America: Civil War is that it doesn’t neatly wrap up the conflict after they tell each other their mother’s first name. The Avengers are well and truly shattered at the film’s end, and there’s no clear path forward, especially for Team Iron Man. Sure, Steve tells Tony, “The Avengers are yours,” but what’s left? The Black Widow is on the run, War Machine is partially crippled, the Vision is wracked with guilt, Spider-Man has to go to school, and the Black Panther is back in Wakanda, where he’s hiding the Winter Soldier! So he’s out, too.

_1463152228

Ironically, Tony Stark – the man whose intense desire to retire led to Ultron’s creation and his agreement to the Accords – may have no choice but to keep wearing the suit. Sorry, Pepper.

Team Cap is in better shape in some ways. Cap busts Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man out of the Raft at the film’s end, and they’ll likely be joined by the Black Widow to do – what? Presumably, they’ll continue tackling the big threats to the world, yet they’ll constantly be on the run from the world’s governments. (That’s a bummer in particular for Hawkeye and Ant-Man, who can’t return to their families.) Hmmmm…. Secret Avengers, anyone?

2. Have relationships been irrevocably destroyed?

In the case of Steve and Tony… it’s not good. Steve’s note – in which he apologizes to Tony and admits he should’ve told the truth about the death of Tony’s parents – is a step forward. But every time Tony looks at Rhodey or thinks about his parents, he’s going to be reminded of the cost of the conflict and Steve’s role in that. Forgiveness will not come easily.

Scarlet Witch

“No, Vision… THIS is how you add paprika!”

The relationship between Scarlet Witch and the Vision, though, is salvageable. They did become a romantic item in the comics (leading to some of the weirdest plot developments in Marvel history), and the beginnings of that are evident in this film. The Vision’s “distraction” directly leads to Rhodey’s near-fatal injury. His analysis of his surprising feelings toward her undoubtedly will carry into later films.

3. What impact will the Sokovia Accords have on Marvel’s other films and TV shows?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasted no time in saying that the Accords will apply to Coulson’s team of Inhuman agents, although the alternative to signing sounded more like incarceration than forced retirement, which would be closer to the comics’ version of Civil War.

For the Netflix shows, things could get very interesting. One of the early episodes in Season 2 of Daredevil had a minor teaser for Civil War, where one character (Marci) refers to growing national and international concerns about super-powered individuals. Will government officials come knocking on Jessica Jones’ always-broken door? Expect to see Luke Cage trying to keep a low profile (and probably failing) in his series this fall.

how-jessica-jones-fixed-marvel-s-female-problem-725125

Jessica Jones has waited patiently during a less-than-stellar Daredevil Season 2.

Also in the fall is the next Marvel Studios film, Doctor Strange. While Dr. Strange’s talents will all come from magic, not science, that won’t matter much to the world’s governments – if they find out about him. Still, since Strange operates on a VERY different playing field, don’t expect more than a quick reference to the Accords in this film.

After that are movies with the Black Panther, Spider-Man, and (finally) Captain Marvel. Black Panther will likely mention the Accords quite a bit, given Wakanda’s role in their creation and the strong likelihood that the Winter Soldier will guest-star in this film. We already know that Robert Downey Jr. will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming, so repercussions from the Avengers split should feature prominently there, too. And since Carol Danvers starts off as a military officer before becoming Captain Marvel, her attitude toward the Accords could be a key plot point.

4. Where will Thanos fit into all this?

Thanos

Thanos, Marvel’s top cosmic villain whose hunt for the six Infinity Stones has been seeded throughout the films, will eventually have everything he needs to power up the reality-controlling Infinity Gauntlet. We know that the next Avengers film will be in two parts, arriving in May 2018 and May 2019. Expect Part 1 to feature more internal Avengers conflict as Thanos’ threat becomes apparent, possibly ending with an “Avengers Assemble” moment in the cliffhanger.

5. Who will be in the next Avengers film?

Probably everyone who was in Captain America: Civil War to start! Thanos’ cosmic connection (and his link to Drax) likely means that at least one of the Guardians of the Galaxy will appear, too. Also, the Russo Brothers recently let slip that Captain Marvel is in the cast, and probably Thor and the Hulk as well. What about Doctor Strange? Maybe. The Netflix heroes? Highly unlikely. Howard the Duck? Make it happen!

6. And what might their status be AFTER the next Avengers film?

When the second part of the Avengers two-parter is released in May 2019, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be 11 years old. Think about that, True Believers. Robert Downey Jr. will have been Iron Man for that whole stretch, and he’ll be 54. Although Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlet Johansson will still be in their thirties, it’ll be time for a change. Whether some of the characters die or choose to retire (along with their actors), we’ll see the old guard of Avengers making way for Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and maybe Ant-Man and the Wasp, with hopefully at least one founding Avenger continuing. That brings us to….

7. Why the hell hasn’t Marvel Studio greenlit a Black Widow movie?

_1457644968

We’re confused, too, Scarlett.

The marketing campaign for Captain America: Civil War was superb. “Choose your side!” Millions of us on social media were urged to pick #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan. After seeing the movie, though, the Brains of Morbius are squarely #TeamBlackWidow. Natasha Romanoff is a focal point of this film. She’s the audience’s guide to everything that’s going on and she’s also – ironically since she’s a trained assassin – the movie’s moral compass.

When the group privately discusses the Sokovia Accords for the first time, she immediately says yes – not because she agrees with the Accord’s objectives but because it’s the only way to keep the team together. That’s when you realize how important the Avengers are to her. It’s the first time in her life that she actually has a family. She cares about each of them, and she joins Steve at Peggy’s funeral because she doesn’t want him to be alone. During the huge airport battle, the first thing she says to Hawkeye is, “We’re still friends, right?”

It’s only when she finally accepts that Captain America isn’t going to stop fighting that she pulls back and switches sides. Let’s give plenty of credit to the writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, for giving Natasha the intelligence that a super-spy should have: The Black Widow doesn’t stick around in the airport fight for long. Black Widow emojiJust as in The Avengers, she’s aware she can’t match the raw power of her teammates. So she goes to the spot where she knows that Cap and Bucky have to end up: the Quinjet. And she waits, like a spider in the web. Terrific.

Also, this isn’t a case of the Black Widow being a double agent and playing both sides – and she rightly bites Tony’s head off when he accuses her of that. She simply wants to keep the family together, and when that becomes impossible, she does what she can to minimize the damage.

Captain America: Civil War is a great showcase for Black Panther and Spider-Man. It also shows more than ever than a Black Widow solo film would kick ass. Considering that Scarlett Johansson possesses proven box-office strength and is a fine actor to boot, there has never been a good reason for Marvel Studios to punt on this. In the year 2016 it’s flatly ridiculous that Marvel still hasn’t released a film starring one of their excellent female heroes.

Good news: Marvel Studios’ head, Kevin Feige, recently said Marvel is “committing” to a Black Widow movie… whatever that means. Make that movie, Kevin. She deserves it, and so do we.

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 4 Recap: Ferdinand’s Cooking with Gas

After the gruesome, funny events of Episode 3, it’s not surprising that Episode 4 (“From Instinct to Rational Control”) takes a bit of a breather – and gives Tatiana Maslany a few extra minutes to rest. Oh sure, she’s still all over the episode, but the star players this week are the Dream Team of Donnie and Felix – and everyone’s favorite droll assassin, Ferdinand!

Allow me to step back and convey my man-crush on actor James Frain. Whether he’s playing a feckless corporate exec (24), a supernatural hitman (Grimm), or a dual-personality crime boss (who remembers The Cape? I do!), Frain has a terrific talent: He makes amorality fun. And now that Ferdinand is relatively unfettered, Frain has been especially fun this year, showing off Ferdinand’s “happier” self while keeping his lethality intact – except for one really dumb moment. We’ll get to that.

First, let’s cover all the Maggot-Bot Mania. Cosima and Scott unwrap the gnarliest package of all: the super-slimy, super-stinky head of Dr. Leekie, which somehow continues to look like Matt Frewer. (He’s a very thin man.) They’re going to dig out his maggot-bot, which is still alive because it’s been feeding on a tumor in his face. OHHHHHHHHHHHH! The Cronenbergian amazement continues when we get to see the maggot-bot up close: It’s a friggin’ bug cyborg, complete with artificial head and stinger!

Cosima and Scott try to determine its purpose. After all, if removing it would also kill the host, its task must be something pretty big, right? They find the answer: radical gene therapy. The maggot-bot modifies its host’s DNA. That’s damn creepy – even Borg-like. In last week’s recap, Mike asked a very good question: Why would Neolution/Dyad put a maggot-bot in the head of its, um, head? We might have an answer. Was Dr. Leekie’s DNA being modified, possibly without his knowledge? And if so, to what end? More importantly, what is Sarah’s maggot-bot doing to her DNA? How many more times can I type “maggot-bot”? PLENTY.

This discovery ties in nicely with the second plot thread: Donnie and Felix going undercover as a gay couple in order to get info on the suspicious fertility clinic. Wonderfully, Donnie almost blows the whole thing, because his impression of a gay man seems heavily inspired by episodes of Three’s Company. Felix warns him, “Stop mincing.” Since both of them volunteer to donate sperm, Donnie goes into a bathroom and is given a stack of – gay men’s magazines. But how will he be able to, ah, donate? Why, phone sex with Alison, naturally! They replay their fantasy of the Passenger and the Italian Flight Attendant. “Do you need help with your buckle?” Success!

Eventually, with Alison’s help (of the non-phone-sex kind), they learn about the clinic’s secret, oh-so-successful program that works when no other artificial insemination program will: Brightborn Technologies, which has an eerie, Hanso Foundation feel to it (for you Lost fans). Their motto: “We’re making the world a better place, one baby at a time.” Ahhhhh. Can you say “radical gene therapy”?

The last key plot thread has to do with Sarah, MK, Mrs. S, and Ferdinand, and he is THRILLED when he’s brought to the Clone Club Secret Hideout down the Rabbit Hole. His first reaction: “A chef’s kitchen! Who’s hungry?” Sarah won’t tell him the identity of her Deep Throat (a.k.a. MK), but he’s willing to play along. He also has a nice chat with Mrs. S, and we learn that in his own strange way, he loves Rachel! He envisions going off with her to a tropical island for a few romantic months … before coming back to kill all his enemies. How can you not like this guy? Meanwhile, MK – who has Mad Hacking Skillz, which is seemingly a necessity in every series these days – learns that Sarah is palling around with the infamous Ferdinand, and she’s not happy about it.

In fact, she is SO NOT HAPPY about it that, while Sarah and Dizzy sneak around inside MK’s trailer, MK is hacking Sarah’s phone to send a text message to Ferdinand and lure him to a trap at Beth’s apartment.

Now here’s the really dumb thing I mentioned earlier: Ferdinand idiotically SITS DOWN IN THE BOOBY-TRAPPED CHAIR, even though his Spider-Sense should have been tingling once he realized that Sarah wasn’t the one who set up the meeting. It’s very disappointing when writers make smart characters do dumb things solely for the sake of advancing the plot. This syndrome is otherwise known as The Walking Dead. But I digress.

We learn that MK actually has solid reasons for wanting Ferdinand dead. He had killed MK’s best friend (and sestra) Niki and started the fire that badly scarred one side of MK’s face. “You killed six of my sisters and 32 of my friends!” Yeahhhhh, that’s going to get someone mad. Before she can immolate Ferdinand, however, Sarah pops up and pleads for his life: He’s a dirtbag, but he’s a dirtbag we need right now. MK still has the advantage, though, and she forces Ferdinand to transfer $3.7 million from his offshore accounts (his Tryst With Rachel fund) to her, before she leaves him still in the booby-trapped chair, but alive. Mrs. S is able to get him out, and Rachel tells him they’re even now; she doesn’t owe him anything. Ferdinand is now in need of a new suit.

Overall, a satisfactory episode, largely redeemed by Donnie, Felix, and Ferdinand. The rest of the characters were kind of in a holding pattern, although that may change now that we know the maggot-bots’ purpose, if not the goal.

The Great:

“That’s the head of Dyad.” Yes. Yes, it is.

“Ferdinand’s frittatas” would be a great band name.

Everything about Donnie & Alison’s phone sex. “Is that your Leaning Tower?”

Helena deciding to leave House Hendrix because Alison is freaky over her pregnancy. It’s a sad moment, but from a character standpoint, it’s good. But what about Boyfriend?!

The Not-So-Great:

Every scene with Wednesday Charlotte, Rachel, and Mommy Dearest. It’s no longer interesting, and having another friggin’ Castor Clone in the mix doesn’t help.

Ferdinand’s convenient stupidity, as described above.

The WTF:

The close-up of the maggot-bot with its biomechanical parts! Holy Brundlefly, Batman!

Beth has been dead – or at least known dead – for nearly three years. And her apartment STILL doesn’t have a new tenant? Boy, her neighborhood must suck. Someone call the Property Brothers!

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 3 Recap: Oh, Cheeky Leeky

Now this is getting to the Orphan Black that we know and love. Great turns by all the clones? Check. Weird mysteries that move along from episode to episode, where we actually get some answers to what’s going on? Weirdness and grossness? Check. Some genuine laugh-out-loud moments? Double check. There’s a lot of awesomeness in this episode to savor … just don’t stop to think about things too much, though, since some of it doesn’t make much sense.

“The Stigmata of Progress” – the third episode of Orphan Black’s fourth season – opens with … hey, Rachel! Good to see you and your eyepatch! Looks like you’re being examined by … aw, fudge, as Alison might say. It’s a Castor. His name is Ira, and while he seems to be a bit more scholarly than his testosterone-laden brothers, he’s no less creepy and annoying. Rachel doesn’t seem to be a big fan, either. She’s also not a fan of still undergoing therapy from her pencil lobotomy, or by still being essentially a prisoner of Susan Duncan. Her only ally, it seems, is sorta-daughter clone Wednesday Addams Charlotte, who despite being a child, has really good insight into what’s going on.

Anyway, Rachel’s figured out that the search for Kendall/Sarah/Kira’s not going well. She’s also figured out that she’s not leaving her therapy sessions anytime soon, so she makes sure that Wednesday Charlotte – who, thanks to online homeschooling, has access to a computer – can send some messages for her to the outside world. Specifically, to Topside.

Cut to Sarah, who’s reacting to her implanted maggot-bot the same way most normal people would – how the hell can she get it out, and how fast? She goes to the Comic Cave, where Cosima and Scott can make some guesses as to what it might or might not be, but can’t figure out anything definitive. Cosima says she’d need to examine an intact maggot-bot from a Prolethean to really get a good handle on it. This tidbit of information gets over to Alison and Donnie, who look at each other and realize they already have a conveniently dead Prolethean buried under six feet of concrete in their garage. “Now go rent a jackhammer, Donnie!”

Sarah and Mrs. S, meanwhile, care far less about the nefarious purpose of the maggot-bot, and stay focused on just getting the damn thing removed. Sarah initially goes to Felix to get some back-up, but finds her stepbrother suddenly bonding with Adele, his related-by-blood long lost sister who’s conveniently just arrived in town! Surprise! And it turns out that while she’s blonde and Southern (unlike Felix), she’s also something of a freespirited casual-sex-and-drug-and-drinker (very much like Felix). Um, okay. We went from “I want to find my real family” to “bonding with my sister, who’s now my new BFF” in record time.

Even Sarah thinks this is too bizarre to be believable, and points out what everyone in the audience is already thinking – hey, Felix, maybe your new Sister Dearest is a Neolution spy. This understandably pisses off Felix, who tells Sarah to make like a tree and get lost.

Back to Alison and Donnie. Turns out decomposing bodies don’t smell good when you unbury them. And while they’re busy unburying Leekie in the garage, two police officers stop by the Hendrix household, wanting to know about the election signs they found with a bunch of dead drug dealers. Helena, pregnant professional assassin who knows a lot about those dead drug dealers, answers the door. Realizing what’s going on, she switches into her atrocious impersonation of Alison and lets the police in. Donnie tries to come to her rescue, but Helena manages to steer her way through the questioning of the police without too many problems. (Although she answers a couple of questions to which she really shouldn’t know the answers – either Helena has an eidetic memory for detail, or maybe there’s some sort of subconscious telepathic link to Alison and her other sestras. Given how this episode’s going, I’m betting on the latter.)

ob-403-6

With that crisis averted, Donnie and Alison touch base with Cosima, and tell her that they have a maggot-bot sample. From Dr. Leekie. And oh, by the way, Donnie killed Dr. Leekie. Oopsies. Cosima rolls with this as best she can.

Working solo, Sarah tracks down Dizzy, the drug dealer who mistook Sarah for MK. He gives her the name of the guy in his gruesome maggot-bot video – Alonzo Martinez – and with Art’s help, Sarah learns that Mr. Martinez recently visited a local dental clinic. When Sarah sneaks into the clinic later that day, one of the dental assistants there hisses at “Beth” to chill out and cut out the spy act. Sarah realizes that she’s found one of Beth’s Neolution informants, and asks the dental assistant to help remove her own maggot-bot after hours.

Except after hours, our not-so-friendly assistant start poking around Sarah’s cheek, and cheerfully tells her that if she makes any sudden moves, the bot gets punctured and she dies. Oh, and Neolution high-muckety-mucks are on their way. Fortunately for Sarah, help comes in the form of Ferdinand, who slits Not So Friendly’s throat. Turns out the combination of Rachel’s SOS notes from Wednesday Charlotte – and Mrs. S’s inquires for black market surgeons – tipped off Topside as to what was going on.

Really good episode. Not sure we’ve gotten a lot in terms of explanations – yet – but this season’s rolling, and off to a strong start. We also have all of Clone Club roughly on the same page and working together, which is great (unlike last season, where Alison’s storyline often seemed adrift and unconnected to everything else). Felix’s “find my family” thread is the only weak story strand so far, but we’ll give it time.

The Great:

Rachel and Wednesday Charlotte, communicating via painted messages to avoid anyone “listening” in on them. Fantastic stuff.

Just about every scene containing Alison and Donnie. Seriously, I would watch a sitcom just about them (and their wacky homicidally pregnant roommate/sestra Helena) if Orphan Black ever gets cancelled. “It smells like garbage juice.” “She’s a scientist and a lesbian. She’s not going to let it slide.” “Well, we’ll have time to discuss the do’s and don’t’s of certain decisions later.”

And Cosima’s reaction to Alison and Donnie’s matter-of-fact confession of manslaughtering Dr. Leekie is priceless.

The Not-So-Great:

While it’s played for humor … really? The police actually bought Helena posing as Alison? She didn’t even give the lame “I have cold” excuse this time. And Donnie didn’t come into the house reeking (literally) of death? That whole sequence – while hilarious – was kind of a stretch.

If Kira starts rubbing her fingers together and talking to her imaginary friend Tony, I’m going to repeatedly bang a meat tenderizer into my head. Orphan Black does so many fun, clever, original ideas really, really well; wandering into the Stephen King School of Creepy Kids is not one of them. Let’s hope this goes somewhere better than OMG KIRA IS A TELEPATH. (And Wednesday Charlotte appears to be heading down the same path.)

Shit. Ken spoke too soon. We have a Castor Clone sighting! Ira’s sort of … meh. Not terribly annoying yet, unlike his brothers, but I expect with time he will be.

The WTF:

Wednesday Charlotte coughing up blood. Uh-oh.

So, exactly why did Dr. Leekie have a maggot-bot in his cheek? He’s the leader of Neolution. Why would he want something that could kill him instantly imbedded inside his body? That seems like the sort of things you implant in people you don’t like. (And why did it even occur to Alison and Donnie that Leekie might even have one in the first place?)

Art’s obsession with the Beth surveillance videos is edging into super-creepy stalker territory.

–Mike

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 2 Recap: Lair of the White Worm

The gang’s all here after last week’s Beth-bonanza, and our main characters are relaxing in their top-secret retreat in Iceland where NO ONE will… oh, what’s that? They’ve been found? Well, time for Sarah, Mrs. S, Kira, and super-duper-cheery Kendall to head back to Canada.

But home isn’t safe these days, and that’s one of the interesting dichotomies that Orphan Black has set up in Season 4’s second episode, “Transgressive Border Crossing.” Even though the Clone Club scored major victories against enemies big (the Proletheans) and small (Alison’s vengeful drug suppliers), they may now be less safe than ever. Sarah & Family are forced to go into hiding because they know too much and because every enemy wants a piece (literally) of Kendall, a.k.a., Leda Prime, the Charm School Dropout. (Oddly missing in the family dynamic is Cal, since that probably exceeded budget constraints for this episode. Filming in the frozen wasteland costs money, people!)

In the past, Sarah, Cosima, and Mrs. S were good at buying time by playing one bad guy against another. That’s not an option now. There’s one bad guy left – Season 1’s gene-splicing, body-modding Neolution – and it’s a much bigger conspiracy of Cronenbergian craziness than the clones (and we) ever realized. Fortunately, our new sestra, the sheep-mask-wearing MK, is a big-time paranoid and Chloe O’Brien-ish hacker, and she’s able to alert everyone.

Note: By “Cronenbergian,” I mean like David Cronenberg, the Canadian horror director whose bizarre films often blur the line between technology and the organic. Among his best known films are Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986), but Shivers (1975) may be more apropos to what’s going on here. Specifically…

Orphan Black has danced around with science fiction and espionage themes over the past three years. When the somewhat-sleazy Dizzy mistakes Sarah for MK and shows her the video of the “maggot bot” (!!!) being removed from a man’s check, the series dives full on into horror. Gone are concerns about people-as-property or corporate assassins. We’re talking about the terrifying unknown and an invasion of self that is far worse than anything the Proletheans did.

BN-NQ492_0422or_J_20160420121946

It’s an effective and very disturbing sequence – on which they double down in the final scene! OHHHHH! This season seems poised to take us on a wild trip down the Rabbit Hole, which not coincidentally is the name of the comic book store that Cosima and Scott have turned into the Clone Club’s secret lair.

There were times during Season 3 where I frankly didn’t look forward to the next episode. That might not be the case this year.

The Great:

The continuing absence of Castor clones. Thank goodness that plot is done.

The interweaving of the Beth flashbacks with current events was masterfully handled.

Alison on spotting Felix’s, er, exposed flank: “Shiitake mushrooms, Felix!!”

Donnie taking Helena (posing as Alison) to get a sonogram. Not only has this duo turned out to be a) heartwarming and b) guaranteed comedy gold, it also requires an effort of will to remember that Helena is played by the same actress who plays Alison and Sarah and OHMYGOD WHY DOES SHE NOT HAVE AN EMMY YET?

The revelation last season that Sarah has a genetic connection to Mrs. S wasn’t satisfying. Felix’s reaction to that in this episode is.

“That’s different. Helena’s trained to kill people. We’re manslaughterers.”

The Not-So-Great:

No, Scott, don’t agree to keep secrets! Keeping secrets NEVER works out on Arrow!

Still not sold on the character of Kendall. It’s as though the writers hadn’t really planned on her surviving the third-season finale.

The WTF:

SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS THAT ENDING!

“What is it…?” “I don’t know!”

–Ken

Review: Mistfall

One of the major appeals for Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio release is the line’s ability to revisit lesser-known parts of the show’s past. Much as long-time Who viewers would love to see an appearance by the Rani, for example, or perhaps even Sil, it’s unlikely to happen. And it’s unlikely that the TARDIS would ever land on Metebelis Three so that the Twelfth Doctor could face off with the Queen of Spiders once more. However, with the Big Finish releases, such scenarios are not only possible, they’re likely. Nostalgia is one of the driving forces of the Doctor Who line, particularly for the “classic” Doctors appearing in them.

The real test for these nostalgic stories, though, is if they simply wallow in the past, or if they also manage to bring something new to the table as well. Is there a more modern take on a past character? Is there a new angle for an old storyline? If there isn’t something new, then that nostalgic element can get boring fairly quickly, as it becomes an old friend who’s good to see, but unfortunately doesn’t have much to say.

Fortunately, that’s not the case with Mistfall, the opening adventure of a trilogy of Fifth Doctor adventures set in E-Space – the same place where a trio of televised Doctor Who adventures (“Full Circle”, “State of Decay”, and “Warrior’s Gate”) featuring the Fourth Doctor took place. And not only does Mistfall rely on that bit of nostalgia, it’s also a sequel to “Full Circle”. Written by Andrew Smith, who also penned “Circle”, Mistfall hits a lot of the same themes and beats as its predecessor. But there’s enough new ideas injected into the story – and, in particular, one new character – that keeps it feeling fresh, and not just a retread of an old but good televised adventure.

Mistfall begins with the crew of the TARDIS – the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, and an older Nyssa (brought onboard once more after twenty-odd years on Terminus) – rediscovering some of Adric’s old calculations for negative E-Space coordinates. Adric had stated before his untimely demise in “Earthshock” that he’d been able to figure out a way back to E-Space … and, as it turns out, he was correct, as the calculations lead the TARDIS back through a CVE to that other universe, and lead the Doctor and his companions to a new set of adventures there.

Much like the original “Full Circle”, the first planet that the TARDIS lands on is the planet Alzarius, home to the Sleestak Marshmen. There, the Doctor and his companions encounter explorers from the world of New Alzarius – the descendants of the original inhabitants who left in the Starliner, many generations before – who are there ostensibly to study the homeworld of their ancestors, and to learn more about the Marshmen. Of course, nothing’s that simple, and it’s up to the Doctor and the rest of the TARDIS crew to figure out exactly what’s going on, and to put a stop to some rather nefarious activities before it’s too late.

In terms of story, Mistfall follows the outline of its source material from “Full Circle” closely – perhaps a bit too closely at times. The titular mist appears conveniently just when the TARDIS arrives. Evil experiments on the Marshmen. Yet more mistaken beliefs that the Marshmen are evil and must be destroyed. But what makes things interesting is that unlike “Full Circle”, Mistfall gets to explore some of these ideas in depth. There’s real debate about the good that comes from the Marshmen experiments, for example, and the downside of stopping them – it’s not just a five-second good/evil debate. Mistfall gets the luxury of taking “Full Circle” and looking at the source material with a more nuanced eye, and that’s a very good thing.

Mistfall also follows some of the ideas first presented in “Full Circle” to some logical extensions. For example, in that original story, the Alzarians are revealed to be the descendants of the Marshmen. But were there any evolutionary steps in between? What were they like? The answer to that comes in Mistfall in the form of the character Fem … and it’s interesting to see which characters treat her as Alzarian, while others give her the disdain they give a Marshman. Again, it’s a level of complexity rarely seen in the original story, and it’s wonderful to see here.

In terms of performance, there’s some marvelous ones in this story. Peter Davison is great as the Fifth Doctor, professing his indignation and outrage at what’s happening on Alzarius as only he can. I particularly enjoyed Janet Fielding as Tegan in Mistfall as well – the Big Finish adventures (such as this one) do a great job of showing that she’s more than a “mouth with legs”, but clever, compassionate … and yes, easily outraged. Also of particular note is the appearance of Jemma Redgrave (U.N.I.T.’s Kate Stewart, in the modern Who series) as Decider Merrion. She gets a great role in this story as someone who trying’s to balance what’s best for the New Alzarians versus what’s best for the planet Alzarius – and that’s no simple task. She gives a great performance of someone who’s often conflicted, but still trying to do the right thing.

In fairness, if you’ve never seen “Full Circle”, I do wonder how much you might enjoy this story. There is a certain amount of assumption that the listener is familiar with that original televised story, enough so that I could understand how someone who’d never seen it might be a little lost listening to Mistfall at times. But for such a listener, I still think this would be an enjoyable story … and for Who fans familiar with “Full Circle”, this one would definitely be a treat. The story’s available now on the Big Finish website.

-Mike

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 1 Recap: Beth, I Hear You Calling

OB-401-16

The Season 4 premiere of Orphan Black – “The Collapse of Nature” – is something of a brave gamble. Following the events of last season, the show was really ready for all sorts of jumping points forward. So it’s an interesting choice that it jumps backwards instead, with the episode focusing almost entirely on a clone we’ve mostly only heard about – Beth Childs. Our only real prior glimpse of the actual Beth came in the series premiere, and that was when she jumped in front of a train to kick off Sarah Manning’s journey in the Clone Club world. Everything else about her has come second-hand, either through characters like Art and Paul and the other clones relating what they knew about Beth, or through Sarah’s impersonations of Beth, and the reactions to that.

But the actual Beth? We didn’t know that much about her. And, as it turns out, much of what we thought we knew might’ve been wrong.

Beth (TATIANA MASLANY)

Beth (TATIANA MASLANY)

We find ourselves watching a Beth who sure was keeping a lot of secrets. She loved her sestras-to-be, and was fiercely protective of them. She didn’t trust her boyfriend-and-monitor Paul. She was having a friends-with-benefits (!) relationship with her partner Art. She was seriously self-medicating. And she worried about her abilities as a cop.

Beth also knew a lot more about Neolution than anyone might’ve guessed – and she wasn’t exactly sharing much of what she knew with anyone. As it turns out, everyone’s favorite body-modders were up to Tons of Bad Shit, even back when Beth was still alive. But there’s not much Beth can do about it – as she begins to uncover more and more things, she accidentally shoots someone, and is suspended from the police force. Everything’s looking hopeless, and Beth doesn’t have anywhere to run as the episode winds to a conclusion …

… and it’s heartbreaking, because her fate is already sealed.

But it’s also a reminder of the fierce bond between the clone sisters. Beth was willing to do anything for them. And as the episode wraps up by cutting to the present, with MK finding Sarah and telling her “you need to run” – it’s clear that sentiment remains with Sarah and her sestras, even the ones she doesn’t know yet.

Was this episode a home run? I’m not quite sure yet. But I think it potentially sets up the rest of the season in spectacular fashion.

Quick thoughts:

The Great:

Beth: “Yeah, I’m, uh, looking to have my breasts surgically modified into, like, corkscrews.”

Beth: “Everything else okay?”
Cosima: “Not really. You ever heard the one about the lesbian and the U-Haul?”

The almost-meeting of Felix and Beth at the police station.

Dr. Leekie!

Alison with the gun. And of course Alison was supplying Beth with drugs.

ob-s4-allison-with-gun

And a lot of callbacks to previous episodes. Turns out the surveillance equipment in Beth’s apartment was put there so Beth could spy on Paul, not the other way around.

The Not-So-Great:

Beth’s awfully similar to Sarah, personality-wise. And MK (the new sheep-mask wearing clone) seems like a timid, non-homicidal version of Helena. I don’t blame the always-awesome Tatiana Maslany for this; I just think the show writers could’ve worked to find ways to make them more their own characters. (In Beth’s case, maybe it doesn’t matter; time will tell with MK.)

Hope you’ve been paying close attention to The Story So Far. “The Collapse of Nature” made reference to plenty of details coming from prior episodes in prior seasons, and assumed that the viewer knew them all well. I knew some of them, but some references whizzed straight over my head during my first viewing. It made for a fun-but-somewhat-confusing watch.

No Helena appearances. Or Donnie. Boo!

The WTF:

Wait, Beth was sleeping with Art?

And I think I’ll be quite happy if I never hear the phrase “bifurcated penis” on a television show ever again.

-Mike

“What is it, Doctor?” The 10 Best Companions in Doctor Who

With a long wait ahead of us until new Doctor Who arrives (next Christmas? Aaaargh!!!), and while waiting for the announcement of a new Companion for the Doctor’s upcoming episodes, we thought it’d be a good time to look back at the best of the previous Companions on Who. Rather than drive ourselves completely crazy, we’ve limited our choices of Companions to those who actually traveled in the TARDIS with the Doctor at some point, and those who only appeared on TV series (both “Classic” and “New” iterations).

So, without further adieu …

10. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) recurring, 1968-1989

“Chap with wings – five rounds rapid!”

drwho_brigadier

The superb, never-ruffled Brigadier has traveled with the Doctor on several occasions, so yeah, he counts as a Companion! Classically British in the best sense of the word, the Brig would often pooh-pooh the Doctor’s scientific solutions to a crisis and look for something to shoot. This eventually became something of an in-joke, but it paid off in the 7th Doctor story, “Battlefield,” when the Brigadier returned to the show after a long absence and pretty much saved the day by firing silver bullets into a demon. It was the last Who appearance for the Brig, but he returned in The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2008. It’s a sign of the character’s strength (and the actor’s talent) that the Brig’s influence continues into New Who, with his daughter Kate now appearing in tales with the 11th and 12th Doctors.

9. Leela (Louise Jameson), 1977-1978

“These ‘taxes’… they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?”

Leela_close-upDon’t mess with the fierce warrior of the Sevateem and her skimpy leather hunting outfit. She certainly was unlike any previous Companion up to that point, having little compunction about killing enemies, although the Eliza Doolittle-Henry Higgins relationship between her and the Doctor created enough comedy to brighten up the dark spots. Her clash with Victorian England dining habits in the excellent “Talons of Weng-Chiang” is a moment of sheer joy. The fact that “Weng-Chiang,” like most of Leela’s stories, occurred during the great, dark, gothic Philip Hinchcliffe era didn’t hurt. Also, while Leela is best known for her savagery and fighting, she was surprisingly good at inspiring others to find bravery inside themselves.

8. Jo Grant, 1971-1973, 2010

JoGrant“One minute you’re condemning the Doctor to death, and the next minute you’re proposing to me!”

Television in the Seventies (and Eighties and Nineties…) wasn’t renowned for character development. And yet here’s Jo Grant! In the course of three years, she goes from being an earnest but vapid assistant to the Doctor to being a bold, spirited adventurer who could face down the Master one on one, armed with nothing but good, old-fashioned pluck. Her departure in 1973’s “The Green Death” was deservedly treated as a big moment. She wouldn’t meet the Doctor again until the “Death of the Doctor” episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

7. Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (William Russell and Jacqueline Hill), 1963-1965

“I’m lending her a book on the French Revolution.” “What’s she going to do? Re-write it?”

Ian-and-BarbaraDWHow can you separate these two? The schoolteachers introduced us to the Doctor in the series’ very first episode, “An Unearthly Child,” and they left together two years later. Not only did they give us, the viewers, a reference point in those early days, Ian and Barbara helped to “humanize” the Doctor, forcing him to confront his own stubborn beliefs and eventually compelling him to view the people around him as more than just pieces of history data. They also set the bar high for all the Companions to come. Barbara, in particular, was remarkably feisty for an early Sixties woman on TV, a credit to both Hill and producer Verity Lambert. Barbara’s argument with William Hartnell’s Doctor in “The Aztecs,” where she attempts to violate history and persuade the Aztecs to follow a more peaceful path over his near-panicked objections, remains a favorite Who moment. And for a skinny science teacher, Ian could kick ass.

6. Ace (Sophie Aldred), 1987-1989

“Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers 9 on the Richter scale?”

ace doctor whoSpeaking of kicking ass, there’s Ace. A juvenile delinquent with a knack for explosives, Ace was bold, reckless, completely devoted to “the Professor,” emotionally damaged, and fearless. She could shoot anti-tank missiles at Daleks and take on Cybermen with only a slingshot and a bag of gold coins — and she could fall to pieces if anybody dredged up memories of her mother. She was the culmination of then-producer John Nathan-Turner’s desire to feature “interesting” Companions, and while her backstory – such as it is – seems weak compared to what’s happening in the series now, Ace did blow up a path for these current Companions to follow.

5. Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), 2012-2015

“Run. Run, you clever boy … and remember.”

clara strong 1From the Impossible Girl’s first appearance in “Asylum of the Daleks,” Clara’s tenure aboard the TARDIS has certainly been anything but dull. Although the mystery surrounding her arrival often overshadowed her actual character at first – somewhat understandable, since she died twice in her first two appearances! – she began coming into her own during “The Name of the Doctor” … and by the time “The Day of the Doctor” rolled around, she was more than holding her own with three Doctors! It was with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, though, that Clara really found her voice, and could often take charge of a, well, impossible situation as well as the Doctor. Could she be bossy? Sure. Abrasive? Yes. But much like the Doctor himself, everything she did was in the name of finding adventure – and more importantly, helping others.

4. Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), 2010-2012

“Raggedy Man, I remember you, and you are late for my wedding!”

amy pond

An attractive Scottish redhead with an attitude? What’s not to like? But even beyond the looks and the sass, there’s a lot about Amy Pond that makes her such a great Companion. Amy possesses a determination and confidence that rarely has been seen in the series. In her own way, she’s more intimidating than Leela, more tenacious than Donna, more resilient than Rose and Ace, and sexier than the whole lot of them. And it’s her fierce, passionate love for her friends – her love for Rory, and especially her love for the Doctor – that drives her to often do the impossible.

3. Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), 2006, 2008

“Oi! Watch it, spaceman!”

Donna-2From her beginnings as a bad-tempered, about-to-be married ‘temp from Chiswick’, Donna Noble arguably had the most complete evolution as a Companion in the whole of the series. A departure from her predecessors, Donna had no romantic interest in the Doctor – she simply wanted adventure. And as she found adventure with the Time Lord, she managed to discover so, so many good things about herself as well. She also helped keep the Doctor grounded, such as in “The Fires of Pompeii,” when the Doctor horrifically realizes that HE is responsible for triggering Mount Vesuvius and killing thousands of people in ancient Pompeii. In that moment, she stands beside him and won’t let him face that decision alone.

Sniff. Oi, you were brilliant, Donna. And Bonus points for the epic tragedy of her departure. Double sniff.

2. Romana II (Lalla Ward), 1979-1981

“Do you know what I don’t understand, Romana?” “I expect so.”

RomanaLallaWardRomana’s second incarnation went from being a novice Time Lord who often was unsure about herself (and played wonderfully by the late Mary Tamm) to being one of the few Companions ever to stand on equal ground with the Doctor himself. Smart, funny, and extremely charismatic, Lalla Ward as Romana was a genuine joy to watch. At times, she was a powerful force to be reckoned with – watch her performance in the otherwise forgettable “Horns of Nimon,” it’s outstanding – and by the time Romana leaves the Doctor’s side in “Warriors’ Gate,” it’s quite clear that the character is more than ready to face the universe (or E-Space) on her own. (It also didn’t hurt that the evident off-screen chemistry between her and Tom Baker carried over to their televised stories, and brought a smile to every viewer’s face.)

1. Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), 1973-1976, recurring and ongoing through 2011

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”

sarah jane

It’s more than nostalgia – and longevity – that makes Sarah Jane the best companion of all.  But that would be excluding the fact that she’s returned to Who in recent years — even starring in her own series — and is just as awesome! Originally cast as a nod to the changing times in the Seventies (“women’s lib”!), Sarah is smart, inquisitive, feisty, and a whole lot of fun. Sarah was always ready to stand up for herself – and her friends – in trying to do the right thing, but with Sarah, you could also see that, underneath, what was happening terrified the ever-loving crap out of her at times. But nonetheless, she always stood her ground. Marvelous acting by the late Liz Sladen, always – both during her classic appearances with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, and during her most recent stints on the modern iteration of the show with David Tennant. (Not to mention how terrific she was on her own spinoff show, The Sarah Jane Adventures!) For longtime followers of the show, she’s still quite deservedly the most popular Companion. And the best.

So … who’d we leave out? Who should’ve been ranked higher or lower? Or who did we include that you can’t stand? Give us a shout in the comments!

-Ken & Mike

Playing KATANAS AND TRENCHCOATS

A few days ago, at an annual meetup of longtime friends and superb gamers, I ran a short session of Katanas and Trenchcoats, the game of “retromodern roleplaying.” It’s a terrific RPG largely inspired by the glory days of syndicated TV, movies, and RPGs in the Nineties, when Immortals, vampires, and Apocalypse-heralding fallen angels left an angst-fueled mark on pop culture. Dynamic, doomed, and cursed to wear amazing leather clothes, these heroes and antiheroes posed in misty alleyways as “power goth” chords or anthemic Queen tracks played behind them. You know which shows I’m talking about.

Game designer Ryan Macklin and others created the original PDF rulebook of Katanas and Trenchcoats last year as half-pun/half-homage. But the PDF did have an actual (if thin) set of rules, and people began playing it! The game attracted enough interest that Ryan last week launched a Kickstarter campaign for a full-blown, honest-to-Adrian-Paul Katanas and Trenchcoats rulebook – and it hit its funding goal on the second day! That’s pretty damn impressive. I’m psyched to see this come out.

For the time being, though, we have the PDF’s original rules, so that’s what I used for Saturday’s demonstration. And one of the quickest ways to demonstrate the rules is to get the characters to fight each other! I pulled in some characters from ’90s TV (Duncan Macleod & Richie Ryan from Highlander, and Nick Knight, Lucien Lacroix, and Janette DuCharme from Forever Knight) and created two “Technomages” as the main pains-in-the-asses who pitted the Immortals and vampires against each other.

In-progress K&T character sheets

They all looked fabulous. Technomage Helena (based on model Helena Christensen) coldly operated death traps while wearing a floral-print hat and a forcefield corset. Her partner, Japeth (think Oded Fehr), was a smooth talker with a thick accent and leather pants.

And that sense of fashion is important in this game! Kickass Wardrobe is one of your character’s five main Traits, along with Raging Passion, Mystical Talents, Ancient Memories, and of course Ancient Sword. You have scores from 1 through 5 in each, and you combine that number with the number of an appropriate skill (e.g., Awareness, Influence, Move) to determine how many d10s you roll. If your roll is better than your opponent’s, your action succeeds! Better still, the player who lost the opposed roll has to describe how awesomely you succeed – and how good you looked while doing it! That sense of fun is a key part of the game’s charm. It simultaneously applauds and gently mocks the emotional excesses of the source material.

Here was my quick-and-dirty plot: Helena and Japeth kidnapped Duncan’s friend (and fellow Immortal) Amanda, and threatened to permanently kill her unless Duncan and Richie subdued the three vampires that the technomages had lured into their abandoned-factory lair. (The technomages are fascinated by the vampires’ necromantic nature, so they want to see them in action before they, um, dissect them.)

One challenge I faced in running the game was that the PDF doesn’t spell out the changes that you, as a Story Master, need to make if a PC is something other than an Immortal. Sure, vampires can use fangs instead of swords, but what about technomages and magic? Technomages’ primary skill is Make, as opposed to Immortals’ Fight, but how do you make that work? Magic shouldn’t look anything like swordfighting. I ultimately decided to treat the technomages’ magic as a cross between Tony Stark’s holotech and Wile E. Coyote’s protean weaponry.

For instance, when the player running the technomage Helena said she was sending a hearse at full speed toward the three vampires on the factory’s third floor, I thought… why not? Who’s to say that this isn’t a car but rather a collection of robotics, holograms, and force fields? Also… conjuring a hearse to attack vampires? That’s AWESOME. Perfectly in line with the sense of style the game encourages.

But probably my favorite callback to the original shows is the game’s use of flashbacks. On the TV shows, the lead character would come across a situation in modern day that inevitably triggered a gut-wrenching flashback to a similar event centuries earlier. Likewise, in Katanas and Trenchcoats, if one of your Traits is “broken” because of something you did, you can only regain that Trait by going through an emotional flashback described by the Story Master!

For instance, in our game, Richie Ryan used his Spanish longsword to break the arcane runes powering the mystical restraints around Amanda. Richie’s player rolled his dice and succeeded, but only just, which meant in game terms that Richie’s success came at a price. His sword was destroyed! His Awesome Sword trait was broken, and Richie won’t get it back until I provide him with a flashback sequence about a similar sacrifice that he made.

The two technomages didn’t like that their Immortal pawns were freeing their friend instead of following the script, so technomage Japeth set fire to Amanda with his fire whip (think Whiplash from Iron Man 2). Duncan Macleod quickly jumped in with maximum emotions and his flowing trenchcoat to smother the flames, leading to this instant classic from the player: “I put out the flames with my love!” Cue the dramatic music!

Ultimately, once the Immortals and vampires teamed up (well, of course they did!), the situation changed badly for the two technomages. Helena escaped by fooling them all with a Blade Runner-type replicant decoy, while Japeth – in the difficult spot of grappling with both Nick Knight and Lacroix – decided to flee the combat via a teleportation effect, but not without breaking a Trait of his own, his Kickass Wardrobe. Goodbye, Displacement Vest!

The players had a good time, and they certainly embraced the campier aspects without playing it for camp. A couple of players were iffy on the combination of Traits and Skills, feeling that there wasn’t enough versatility in the Traits to accurately describe their actions. For me, that’s actually a benefit, not a flaw. I understand the reaction, though. As gamers, we’ve long been conditioned (mostly from D&D) to look at our sheets before deciding what our characters are going to do in a fight. “Do I have Acrobatics? Nope. I can’t do that cool swing on the chandelier.” But there’s a growing trend in game design – evidenced beautifully in the Cortex/Marvel Heroic/Leverage rules – that pushes players to first describe what their characters intend to do and then look at their character sheets and decide which combination of powers or skills will let them achieve that. “I’m resisting the vampire’s attempt to hypnotize me! Let’s see… I’m combining my Will score with my Kickass Wardrobe trait because my Vivienne Westwood punk bonnet distracts the vampire.” Again, that’s very different from many classic RPGs.

In fact, Katanas and Trenchcoats encourages this sort of thinking by reducing your successes if you use the same combination of Trait + Skill on consecutive rolls! So you help yourself – and help create a more interesting story – by thinking of new, fun combinations.

I definitely recommend giving Katanas and Trenchcoats a try. It’s an easy system with a built-in sense of humor. Sure, some rules aren’t as spelled out as you might like – magic rules for the technomages would be handy ­– but that won’t get in the way of a good time. Please support the Kickstarter, too, and use the #YOLF hashtag (You Only Live Forever) when discussing it on social media, as that may unlock more features.

Now excuse me, please, while I step forlornly into the rain of the Vancouver night….

Update: Ryan Macklin discusses the future form of the Traits + Skills combo – and mentions this blog post! ­– in today’s Kickstarter update.

Seeing Blood: The Vryloka in D&D 5e

The vampire chuckled as he crept toward his lovely prey, who now lay sobbing in the Dragoneyes alley. The woman had just fallen, face down, in her panicked attempt to escape. Eager to feed, he roughly flipped her onto her back.

Scarlet hair spilled out of the young woman’s hood, and she had pale skin the color of the moon Zarantyr itself. The vampire gazed hungrily at her smooth neck—then stopped. She was smiling at him. Why?  He hadn’t beguiled her. “What–?”

The woman said, “You’re a difficult target to find, Ludvig Krez….” A rune-inscribed silver blade snapped forward from a sheath on the woman’s arm, which she thrust toward the vampire’s throat. “But an easy one to kill.”

The chilling agony that Krez felt was matched only by the intensity of his final thought: shock, as the vampire sensed his OWN life being drained by the woman!

Vrylokas are a race originally created for Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, in the book Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow. Reminiscent of certain nobles in the Ravenloft setting (and owing much of their look to Hammer Films), vrylokas are an aristocratic, aggressive, red-haired race that walk the gray line between life and undeath. And after talking to James Introcaso and Jester David on Twitter about vampiric races in D&D, I simply had to update the vryloka for D&D 5th edition  (Be sure to read Jester David’s 5e treatment of the dhamphir.)

Crimson Origins
Vrylokas are the result of a dark ritual generations ago that transformed human nobles into living vampires. The identity and goals of the ritual’s creator, a wizard known only as the Red Witch, have remained a mystery. The ritual provided the nobles with inhuman vitality and a literal thirst for life without the curse of true undeath. Many years later, these powerful, emotional beings walk the halls of power throughout the land, secretly posing as eccentric human aristocrats from distant kingdoms. To stave off the occasional boredom of their long lives, many vrylokas meet in the shadows to plot for power, while others become adventurers. A bold few – simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by their occult origins – even become vampire hunters.

Alluring and Passionate
Vrylokas have dark gray or blue eyes that turn red when they are angered or excited. Their skin is uniformly pale, ranging from pinkish flesh to chalky white. Most vrylokas have hair in shades of red, from deep scarlet to strawberry blond. They possess a beguiling charm, with the females shapely and statuesque and the males tall and imposing. They tend to feel all emotions strongly, whether they’re possessively pursuing a romantic interest or reacting with fury to a perceived slight.

A Life of Secrets
Key to a vryloka’s longevity is concealment of their vampiric heritage. They take great care to pass as human whenever possible, and they may change residences and identities to avoid questions about their lack of aging. In addition to keeping secrets, they’ve uncovered many secrets of others, thanks to their long lives and access to the halls of power. Many vrylokas possess historical knowledge denied to all but the most learned sages.

Vryloka Names

Male Names: Anton, Burkhard, Edric, Karl, Lukas, Markos, Mihai, Viktor, Wilhelm, Wolf.
Female Names: Adelaide, Bettina, Camilla, Elsa, Marianne, Sabina, Silke, Tanya, Treinella, Zorica.
Family Names: Bittersdorf, Durwood, Eysen, Graltzen, Hemalt, Kärg, Karnstein, Maltz, Ravna, Stoy.

Vryloka Traits
Your vryloka character has a variety of traits, initially from the arcane experimentation on your forebears and now intrinsic to all vrylokas.

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2, and your Dexterity score increases by 1.

Age. Vrylokas mature at the same rate as humans, but the aging process slowly considerably once they reach adulthood, and they retain their vitality until their dying days. A vryloka can typically live to be 350 years old.

Alignment. Most vrylokas are lawful, with a strong sense of tradition and rules, which are necessary to preserve a vryloka’s secrets and continued existence. They show no predilection for good or evil, although a vryloka commonly displays a superior attitude regardless of alignment.

Size. Vrylokas range in height from 5½ feet to slightly more than 6 feet. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Darkvision. The taint of vampirism provides superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Human Heritage: You have advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks to pass as human.

Lifeblood. When you kill an enemy within arm’s reach, you gain temporary hit points equal to one-half your level plus your Charisma modifier.

Living Dead. Because your soul is tainted by undeath, you are both living and undead. If an ability or spell has different effects on living creatures and undead creatures, you choose which effect applies to you.

Necrotic Resistance. You have resistance against necrotic damage.

Red Ledger. You have proficiency in the History skill.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice. Vrylokas who seek to leverage their arcane ancestry learn Draconic, while the more martially inclined often learn the language of an hostile race or group.

Thoughts? Feel free to offer feedback in the comments. No saving throw required.

(The vryloka and the image in this post are the trademarked property of Wizards of the Coast.)

Ninth Season, Twelfth Doctor, One Prologue, Four Quick Thoughts

The latest season of Doctor Who is nearly here. I haven’t had time to reflect upon the first incarnation of the Twelfth Doctor’s first season as much as I’d like, at least not in blog post form … suffice it to say that I found Peter Capaldi brilliant as the Doctor, and I truly enjoyed Clara coming into her own as a character, and not just as “The Impossible Girl” plot device. I thought the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara was wonderful as well – they had some truly terrific character moments throughout the season. As for the stories, I found them to be hit or miss. A few were great (Listen), a few were outright terrible (Kill the Moon), and most were … okay. But considering how experimental I found the season to be at times, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I give Steven Moffat and the production team much credit for trying new ideas rather than sticking to a safe formula.

I hope to expand on those thoughts some more. But right now, it’s time to anticipate the future, rather than reflect on the past. Which leads to:

The Prologue to the new season of Who is jam-packed with a lot of goodness. Here’s my quick take on it all:

  1. The Sisterhood of Karn is back. (Still protecting the Flame of Utter Boredom!) Which suggests either a regeneration is upon us – perhaps the Doctor’s, or perhaps the Master’s/Missy’s? Unless another Time Lord is being introduced, which seems unlikely. It certainly seems like the Doctor’s referring to the Master, although the fact that he’s referring to his mysterious friend/enemy as “him” throws a wrinkle on that idea. Still, regardless of pending regenerations or not, the Sisterhood represents one of the last remaining vestiges of Gallifrey, which means …
  2. The Seal of Rassilon? Twelve hands over a metal disk to The High Priestess Ohila, and says “You know who to give this to”. (Clara, presumably?) However, the disk looks suspiciously like the Seal of Rassilon, which the Eleventh Doctor used to contact the Time Lords in “Time of the Doctor”. Given the presence of the Sisterhood of Karn, I think it’s safe to say that regardless of regeneration possibilities, Gallifrey’s going to be part of this season, and the search for Gallifrey at the end of “Day of the Doctor” may be resuming in earnest.
  3. Where’s Clara? When Ohila tells the Doctor that “Everyone can hide from an enemy, no one from a friend”, I think it’s fairly obvious she’s referring to Clara. Why is the Doctor hiding, though? To protect her from something? Or because he doesn’t want her to know something? At this point, I’d be surprised about the latter, if only because last season was a lot about Twelve and Clara learning to trust each other. I’ll be curious to see why the Doctor wouldn’t want Clara’s help at this point.
  4. “That’s different, I don’t like you.” And Twelve’s still a grumpy bastard. Some things don’t change, and that’s marvelous to see.

I’ll be recapping each episode this season. See you for “The Magician’s Apprentice”!

-Mike