Gotta Catch this *One*

Lj and I ran errands today, and ended with lunch at Godfather’s Pizza in Federal Way. They are apparently a major Weekend Birthday Party stop, and it was fun to see so many very different families having fun together.

About halfway through our meal a new family came in with birthday decorations including a very large Pikachu balloon. Just as they came in, the string on that one balloon broke, and it escaped upwards to an elevated corner of the ceiling.

A few minutes later, the mom borrowed a broom and was trying to bat the balloon down to get it within reach. After she had tried for a bit, i could see she simply lacked the height and arm length to pull it off.

I went over and asked if she would like help from someone taller. I have been told I can be imposing, so I stayed out of her personal space and kept my arms to my sides as I asked. She enthusiastically agreed she’d love help, and passed me the broom.

I almost got the balloon twice, but couldn’t quite keep the balance long enough. I asked the very helpful Godfathers employee who was assisting if they happened to have a *second* broom. Lj asked if I planed to use them like forceps, and I confirmed that was the case. We got a second broom, I managed to use the two as enormous tongs, and recovered the balloon into the mother’s hands. She thanked us profusely.

This is a VERY different kind of work that I have been doing lately, and it felt really good to help out with a random child’s birthday decorations.

Also, I caught a pikachu.

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Make Iceball Interesting

Rules and supplements that present alternate spells for GMs and players normally don’t take any space for iceball, the cold-damage dealing version of fireball. That’s because it’s extremely obvious, and doesn’t really add much to a game. For a variant spell to be worth any space, you need to change how it works more than just swapping out the damage type.

But it IS often useful to be able to alter existing spells when trying to build thematic characters. Having iceblade instead of flameblade makes for a great iconic spell for a Druid of Winter. Giving a Siege Sorcerer forcebolt makes for great cinematics when he uses it against the city gate.

So for GMs looking to have quick and easy rules to alter every acid, cold, electricity, fire, force, and sonic spell out there, here is a simple system for making iceball interesting.

Swap dice down by one die size. So the d6s of fireball become d4s, and so on. For the most part, it is assumed the iconic damage types of classic spells are most common because they are most efficient, so people pick fireball over acidball because it does more damage. But you then also add a new effect based on the damage type you switch the spell to deal.

Acid: On failed saves damaged targets get fumes in their eyes and suffer painful corrosion, taking a penalty to all Perception checks, concentration checks, and ranged attack rolls equal to the spell’s level for 1 round.

Cold: On failed saves damaged targets have their movement rates halved for a number of rounds equal to the spell’s level.

Electricity: On failed saves damaged targets jerk and move unevenly, taking a penalty to all Acrobatics, Climb, and Swim checks and melee attack rolls equal to the spell’s level for 1 round.

Fire: On failed saves damaged targets catches on fire and burns for hp equal to the spell’s level each round until extinguished.

Force: On failed saves damaged targets are impacted by a bull rush combat maneuver with a CMB equal to quadruple the spell’s level.

Sonic: On failed saves damaged targets are deafened for a number of rounds equal to the spell’s level.

Of course you can also use this for metamagic feats, magic item special powers, new domains, bloodlines, mysteries and so on, wild magic zones, and so on. Perhaps the Arena of Flames is altered to ALL spells become fire spells, orroc rage-shamans mostly use scream-magic and deal sonic damage, or the cloak of the winter queen makes three spells of the wearer’s choice per day cold spells.

You can apply these effects to things other than spells, of course. Maybe the fire drake is exactly the CR you need, but the encounter takes place in the Storm Tombs? Just swap fire breath for electricity breath and apply the effects above. In such cases, instead of basing effects on spell level, base it on half the level or CR of the source.

Have fun with it. 🙂

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Cinematics: Transforming Boss Villains

Boss villains in adventure fiction sometimes have multiple forms in their final fight. Perhaps the apparently frail mastermind of the heroes ills becomes a towering mass of rage and muscle after being stabbed a few times. Maybe the disgusting mass of dead flesh is more cocoon than fat ghoul and attacking it just helps birth the true undead within. Maybe the psycho killer is a werewolf, who is about to become a werewinterwolf. Or maybe the villain just hasn’t let you see his Final Form yet.

The point is, sometimes you want a way for a villain to change their game stats after taking a certain amount of damage, so the fight keeps going but the paradigm changes, giving the PCs a more complex experience.

The simple way to do this is to pick a series of pre-existing creatures and reskin them as the various stages of your main villain. In most cases I recommend keeping them of the same type and subtype, though you can just change all the monsters you select to act as the same type and subtype. There can be exceptions to this for story reasons—perhaps the Fourfold Guardian specifically goes from air to earth to fire to water—but for the most part it makes the most sense if a monstrous humanoid remains a monstrous humanoid, even if you use the stat blocks for a hobgoblin, ape, and winter wolf to represent three evolving forms.

I recommend keeping all the forms picked with the easy-to-challenging CR spread of the PCs, and honestly within 2 CR of one another.

Once you have picked your forms and made any needed adjustments, just have the PCs face them in turn. When one “form” is knocked unconscious, killed, or destroyed, the boss villain moves to a new form. You can have it appear to fall dead and then stand again on its next turn, which is good for villains with just two forms, especially if the first is a typical mortal and the second is undead or outsider. Or you can not tell the PCs they’ve “killed” the first form, and just have the villain assume the second form as a free action at the beginning of its next turn. Or, you can have the villain enter a “transformation sequence” when it is killed, and take a full round action to assume the new form on its next turn, being immune to all effects and attacks until that time since it’s in metamorphosis. Which makes the most sense depends on your monster’s background and reason for being multi-formed.

Once it is in the new form it is no longer affected by any old conditions, effects, or penalties, and the fight continues.

When determining treasure for the encounter, add the treasure values of all the things the PCs killed and use that for your loot pool. When determining the XP reward, add the XP gained from the highest CR form you used, plus 50% of the XP of each form after the highest CR, to get the total XP gained by the encounter. Don’t just add all the XP together like you would if the PCs had to face all these monsters at once, because the monsters can’t team up, all act at the same time, flank, spread out, and so on. Treat the encounter as having a CR equal to a CR closest to this XP total.

For example, Scraggle is an unpleasant fey creature that lives at the edge of town and terrorizes local children. When attacked, Scraggle fights using the stat block of a derro, When killed, Scraggle lies dead until its next round… and then stand again having become Scragifulous as a result of his weird fey magic. Scragifulous uses the stat block for a drow noble, it’s “Intermediate Form.” When THAT form is killed, you describe the screams of rage and constantly growing bulk, and make it clear not new attacks seem to have any effect until the fey’s next turn, when it becomes Scragulon, filled with rage and Strength and now using the stat block of an ogre. The scraggle encounter is 800 XP for the ogre, +400 XP for half the drow noble, +400 XP for the derro, or 1600 XP, or CR 5.

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Stupid but Useful: Really Limited Wish

It almost writes itself

Really Limited Wish
School universal; Level sorcerer/wizard 5
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (diamond worth 100 gp)
Range see text
Target, Effect, Area see text
Duration see text
Saving Throw none, see text; Spell Resistance yes

A really limited wish lets you create nearly any type of really limited effect. For example, a really limited wish can do any of the following things.

Duplicate any sorcerer/wizard spell of 4th level or lower, provided the spell does not belong to one of your opposition schools.
Duplicate any non-sorcerer/wizard spell of 3rd level or lower, provided the spell does not belong to one of your opposition schools.
Duplicate any sorcerer/wizard spell of 3rd level or lower, even if it belongs to one of your opposition schools.
Duplicate any non-sorcerer/wizard spell of 2nd level or lower, even if it belongs to one of your opposition schools.
Undo the harmful effects of many spells, such as bestow curse.
Produce any other effect whose power level is in line with the above effects, such as a single creature gaining a +10 on its next attack roll or taking a -5 penalty on its next saving throw.
A duplicated spell allows saving throws and spell resistance as normal, but the save DC is for a 5th-level spell. When a really limited wish spell duplicates a spell with a material component that costs more than 50 gp, you must provide that component (in addition to the 100 gp diamond component for this spell).

And while we’re at it, might as well finish the regression

Pseduo-Wish
School universal; Level sorcerer/wizard 3
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (diamond worth 10 gp)
Range see text
Target, Effect, Area see text
Duration see text
Saving Throw none, see text; Spell Resistance yes

A pseudo-wish lets you create nearly any type of really limited effect. For example, a pseudo-wish can do any of the following things.

Duplicate any sorcerer/wizard spell of 2nd level or lower, provided the spell does not belong to one of your opposition schools.
Duplicate any non-sorcerer/wizard spell of 1st level or lower, provided the spell does not belong to one of your opposition schools.
Duplicate any sorcerer/wizard spell of 1st level or lower, even if it belongs to one of your opposition schools.
Duplicate any 0-level non-sorcerer/wizard, even if it belongs to one of your opposition schools.
Produce any other effect whose power level is in line with the above effects, such as a single creature gaining a +5 on its next attack roll or taking a -3 penalty on its next saving throw.
A duplicated spell allows saving throws and spell resistance as normal, but the save DC is for a 3rd-level spell. When a pseudo-wish spell duplicates a spell with a material component that costs more than 5 gp, you must provide that component (in addition to the 10 gp diamond component for this spell).

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Genre: DieselDada

I’ve never been particularly happy with the term “DieselPunk,” because it often seems to be missing any “punk.” You perfectly well CAN add the punk philosophy to a superscience 1920s-1950s setting, but most people who make a run at it don’t seem to. Mostly, they are just doing flavors of pulp.

Now, I like pulp. A lot. I have mostly squared that circle by calling my own setting Diesel Pulp, which I feel helps convey more of what I am going for. But I have always wondered what a real effort to inject punk into a diesel-driven superscience setting would look like. And, personally, I think it would be more interesting to look to the movements of the era, and inject a big dose of Dada into a diesel-drvien superscience setting.

DiselDada

Imagine a world where calculating machines, broadcast power, personal flight, giant robots, teleportation, selective breeding, talking animals, and all sorts of other marvels and terrors of science and knowledge exist… because of a war. where the world has all the tools to build paradise, but they were just used to slaughter millions as retaliation for a single assassination. Where some individuals have spent years as super-powered solo operatives, given permission to do anything for victory, and are no being told to take 9-to-5 jobs to make toasters.
In response to that insane circumstance, many of them rebel not just against the establishment, but against the very ideas of logic, money, society as a whole, and even rationality. Some wish to help in their own way, others use their vast sea of options to create nonsense acts even if that hurts others.
That diesel-driven super-science post-war setting of individuals rejecting modern society’s ideals and rules because following them lead to the Great War, which they see as the Great Horror, is DieselDada.

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Cinematics: Iron Dragon Archetype

Iron Dragon

Inspired by nothing in particular, here is the Iron Dragon, an archetype for the brawler.

Bend Like A Reed in the Wind (Ex): At 1st level, gain the monk’s AC bonus, as a monk with a class level equal to your brawler level.
This replaces proficiency with light armor and shields and the brawler’s AC bonus.

Iron Dragon Heart (Su): You gain a ki pool with 1 ki. By spending 1 point from his ki pool,  you can increase your speed by 20 feet for 1 round, or give yourself a +4 dodge bonus to AC for 1 round.

Each of these powers is activated as a swift action.

The ki pool is replenished each morning after 8 hours of rest or meditation; these hours do not need to be consecutive.

This replaces martial flexibility.

Iron Dragon Fist (Ex): At 2nd level, and every 3 levels thereafter, you gain a bonus feat. You must meet its prerequisites, and must select a ki feat or a style feat. Alternatively, you may select a feat which can be used a limited number of times per day and can be used more often by monks, such as Elemental Fist, Perfect Strike, Punishing Kick, or Stunning Fist, or a feat with such a feat as a prerequisite. If selecting a feat that can be used more often by a monk, you can ignore any BAB or level prerequisites.

This replaces brawlers bonus combat feats.

Iron Dragon Sense (SU): At 3rd level you gain brawler maneuver training, but it applies only to your CMD, not your CMB.

This modifies brawler maneuver training.

Iron Dragon Soul (Su): at 4th level your ki pool from iron dragon heart becomes a full ki pool, as the monk class feature, of a monk with a level equal to your brawler level.

This replaces knockout.

At 5th and higher level, you may select a ki power as a monk with the qinggong monk archetype of a level equal to your brawler level. Each power replaces a bonus feat, awesome blow, close weapon mastery, or improved awesome blow. You also gain one such power at 6th, 10th, 12th, and 20th level (because you already gave up martial flexibility).

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The “No Worries” Expertise Feat

Pathfinder has a lot of hidden math. Mostly, that’s intentional. You don’t need to know how skill DCs scale to make a character.

But sometimes it means a player thinks they have a character that’s good at something… and they don’t. And that becomes sad, and frustrating.

And in many cases, neither the player nor the GM want to examine all the math to find out what went wrong, when they just want to know a PC is good at something.

So: The “No Worries” Expertise Feat

“No Worries” Expertise

Don’t worry, you really are pretty good at that thing.

Prerequisites: GM permission, no one else in the group is taking this feat with the same skill as you unless everyone has agreed that’s cool.

Benefit: Select one skill. You have a 75% chance to succeed at any use of that skill when not taking 10 or taking 20. You must keep max ranks in the skill. If the GM says something is unusually hard, you only have a 65% chance of success. If the GM says it’s unusually easy, you have an 85% chance of success. If the GM says it’s impossible, it’s still impossible.

You only get to use this feat once per attempt to use a skill, after that you are at the mercy of normal skill rules. You’re an expert, not infallible.

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Fixing the 15 Minute Adventuring Day

The Issue

For people who haven’t run into the term, the “15 minute adventuring day” is a phenomenon where players in RPGs with strong resource-management element (such as spell casters in Pathfinder and similar games) that reset daily, often use some of their most powerful options, then decide not to go forward with any more encounters until they have regained everything.

How often a group of adventurers gets to rest is hugely variable to play style, and a huge part of the question of balance between casting classes and nowcasting or limited-casting classes.

But… there’s no reason restoration of what are after all MAGIC abilities needs to be tied to sleep., Maybe you get spells back once per week. maybe you recharge your mystic powers only when the right conjunctions occur. Maybe you need to see your holy powers thwart evil before you have the righteousness built up to restore those abilities.

In short we make these things “per day” because that is how games do it, and because it’s easy, not because there is any internal logic to it.

So if it’s an issue… change it.

The Metaphysics

Some players want to have an in-world justification for any rule, especially any rule that restricts their existing power curve and tactics. So, give them one.

Magic does not follow a set schedule. Holy power isn’t tracked on a punch clock. Even your amazing extraordinary powers require the circumstances for them be JUST right, and that doesn’t happen just because the sun went down and came up again.

These things are tied to fate, destiny, and the ebb and flow of eldritch powers that are unseen and barely understood.

You only recover your daily abilities and spells if you have properly slept, as per the normal rules, because you need to be rested and ready when the Right Moment comes. And if you prepare spells, you still need to take an hour to do so once the Cosmic Well of Mystic Might refills.

But instead of happening every day? That happens when Cosmic Conjunctions and the Destiny of Living things has come to a Juncture.

The Rules

Cosmic Conjunctions? Also known as every 3d3 encounters. On average between 3 and 9 major things happen to characters between recharges, and they don’t know exactly when the Big Recharge is coming.

Encounters 2 more more above your APL count as two. Encounters 1 under your APL count as 1/2, and those 2 or more under your APL don’t count at all. The GM determines how many encounters it’ll take in secret once you hit a reset, and tracks how many encounters you have had since then.

Groups with strong ties track this as a group, but the GM may choose to track individuals separately as the GM prefers.

No wizard knows the hour of the Grand Conjunction that refills HER spells. No cleric can say exactly when the will of the gods renews them. It happens when it happens.

Until then, you just need to husband your resources, and no there’s no point in going home and resting up. If you don’t seek your destiny? Then destiny won’t reward you with power.

So you might as well keep seeking well past 15 minutes into your day.

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Professional PCs: About My Character (Part 3)

Okay, as outlined to About My Character Part One and Part Two, my new PC now has a name, race, class, history, and through line.

So, Now I can actually make a character. In a lot of ways this is the boring part. 🙂

Ability Scores
Because it’s going to affect so many other choices, I like to do ability scores first when making a Pathfinder character. I often adjust those choices from time to time during the process (when the character creation rules allow that), but knowing what my character’s natural abilities are helps me know what he or she can do, and what the character is likely to focus on in the training that leads up to 1st level.

So, I know Krokar is a half orc who plans to kill a god, and who embraces tactics but it better known for being a fanged killer. I can work with that.

With a 25 point buy and a character is hits things first, soak up damage second, and casts spells third, I want a big Strength and Constitution, and a fair Wisdom. I also like the idea of being quite intimidating.

I drop 16s in Strength and Constitution, eating 20 of my 25 points. I wrestled with that for a good long time. There are lots of ways to boost hit points – the Toughness feat, favored class bonuses, and so on. So do I really want a 16 Constitution? Would a 14 not be just as good, and much cheaper at 5 points?

On the other hand, inquisitors have a d8, so I don’t have as many hit points as a fighter with the same Constitution score. And for hp calculations after 1st level, I don’t know if we are doing maximum, or rolling the hit dice, or some formula. If we roll and I get a 1, I’m going to want to use those other hp addition methods even if I already have a 16. So, that stays.

That leaves mw with 5 points to spread out among my Dex, Int, Wis, and Cha. I need at least an 11 Wisdom if I want to cast spells. Of course, I COULD sell off something I don’t need as much. For example, with 6 skill points/level as an inquisitor, I could go down to an 8 Int and still have more skill points/level than a typical fighter. That’d let me buy my Dexterity up to a 12, for example, which would be an etra point of AC and Reflex saves, even in very heavy armor.

But I don’t see Krokar as dumb, even if he’s not a genius either. Similarly he’s not clumsy and not unstriking. No matter how much it might make sense from a pure effectiveness point of view, it doesn’t match my character concept to sell an ability down below 10.

I decide to go with a 14 Wisdom, thinking I’ll put my +2 racial bonus to any one ability score from being an Orc in, and end up with three 16s, ensuring I can cast 5th and 6th level inquisitor spells when I am much higher level.

But I don’t.

As I go to make that note, it just doesn’t feel right. Krokar is a massive brute in my mind, and he just isn’t equally strong and wise. He may get there. I kinda hope he does. But right now he’s too brash, and too dedicated to the patently insane idea that he’ll kill his own god. One could certainly argue that praying to the god of war for the power to challenge the god of war is not wise. even if it worked in this case.

Instead, I put my racial +2 into Strength, ending with Strength 18, Dexterity 10, Constitution 16, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 14, and Charisma 10. I’m not 1005 convinced about that Charisma, but certainly there are physically imposing individuals who just don’t know how to make the most out of their visual look. I decide to ponder at as character design goes forward. I can always adjust, later.

Traits

First, since the Advanced Player’s Guide is available, I want to look at alternate racial traits. I decide right off the bat I’m not willing to sacrifice the “intimidating” feature for anything. Getting +2 on Intimidate checks ties into my character concept too well.

But then I spot “Toothy,” which gives me a bite attack. My character history calls out his noteworthily large tusks, so this seems a perfect fit. Since I’m using a greatsword the natural attack would be a secondary attack most of the time – low chance of hitting, low damage, but I like the idea and it means Krokar has options if he’s disarmed or captured. I decide to take it.

Next, there are the standard 2 traits many campaigns allow, and the GM confirms we can pick 2 from the APG. Looking through those, I immediately liked the sound of “History of Heresy,”

“You were raised with heretical views that have made it difficult for you to accept most religious beliefs and often caused you or those you love to be treated as pariahs. As a result, you have turned your back on religious teachings. As long as you do not possess any levels in a class that grants divine spellcasting power, you gain a +1 trait bonus on all saving throws against divine spells.”

This trait would literally do me no good since my first level is in a divine spellcasting lass. And Krokar hasn’t exactly turned his back on religious teachings, he’s just taken a different message than expected from it. I still note it down, in consideration. It’d be a strong roleplaying touch to support my character history with a trait that’s useless to me, though it might also make the GM feel like I was asking for something to be done with that choice, and I don’t want to add any pressure in a light and fun campaign.

Then I run into Indomitable Faith.

“You were born in a region where your faith was not popular, but you still have never abandoned it. Your constant struggle to maintain your own faith has bolstered your drive. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Will saves.”

I suspect telling your religious teachers you plan to kill their god WOULD be unpopular, so this actually seems a closer match to my character history, if not quite as a weird-fun choice.

In combat traits, I find Courageous.
“Your childhood was brutal, but you persevered through force of will and faith. No matter how hard things got, you knew you’d make it through as long as you kept a level head. You gain a +2 trait bonus on saving throws against fear effects.”
Krokar’s entire childhood wasn’t brutal, but the part where the lost his whole family and came to hate his chosen god is. And, I like the idea that opposing your own deity takes courage.

I go with Indomitable faith and Courageous, because I like what they say about Krokar’s mental state, and how he got there.

Skills

As I noted, inquisitors get a lot of skill points. I put a rank each in Intimidate, Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (religion), Perception, Sense Motive, and Spellcraft. The Intimidate is supposed to be his natural (and growing) ability to be menacing. The rest is his formal religious training in Absalom.

Class Features

About the only class feature choices I need to make as a 1st level inquisitor are my domain and my spells known. Domain is easy – the tactics subdomain of war. It’s one of the things that drew me to Forum as a god, and it fits nicely into Krokar’s character history. I don’t get a lot of spells know. 0-level I take detect magic, light, stabilize, and virtue, in an effort to get a mix of utility and tactical options. I wouldn’t give a half orc light normally at 1st level, but Krokar sees the benefit of making allies able to see.

For my first level spells, I take cure light wounds (because I don’t know if we’ll have a cleric and, anyway, it should help keep Krokar in the fight if things go south), and magic weapon. That last is another effort at a tactical choice. If we run into ghost rats, for example, being able to make a weapon magical will have a big upside. Also, it’s less likely to step on the toes of a cleric, if we have one. I can pick up more standard options, like bless, divine favor, and protection from (alignment) later after I see who else is in the group.

Though I don;t have to select it, it’s also worth noting that stern gaze works nicely with my desire to be intimidating. I pretty well decide to stick with my 10 Charisma. Krokar will get scary just fine, and leave diplomacy and deception to charisma-focused members of the team.

Feats 

I get a single feat. I’ve played a fair number of human fighters in my time, so this feels light, but them’s the rules, and honestly there’s no feed I need to make this character feel right, which is nice. I can explore some other options.

I suspect Power Attack is a must-have eventually, and lots of feats will come with that as a prerequisite, but I don’t qualify for it right now since my base attack bonus is +0.

I could do Weapon Focus (greatsword) to represent Krokar’s training, but it doesn’t feel right. Krokar is a monster in combat, but he focused on tactics in his training. Later, the inquisitor’s teamwork feats will represent that nicely, but for the moment even if I took a teamwork feat it’s unlikely anyone else will.

Other than “hit it harder,” most of Krokar’s current tactical options involve spells. He doesn’t have a LOT of those at 1st level, but using them judiciously in combat may be the best way to get the feel of someone who does more than slice at targets. And if I am casting in combat, with my non-maximized Wisdom, casting defensively is far from a sure thing.

So, despite not being interested in a major spellcasting focus, I take Combat Casting. It’s a solid feat with high use throughout my career, and right now it represents Krokar having studied when martial magic can tip the scales in a conflict.

Equipment

We have a LOT of money for 1st level characters, 300 gp each, but we still can’t go crazy. I pick a greatsword, and decide I like the idea of a long suit of chainmail for his main protection. That’ll likely change to a breastplate later on, but the 50 gp savings is worth it to me right now. I also get a light crossbow for ranged fights, and a morningstar as a back-up weapon.

That leaves me plenty of money for a backpack, rope, blanket, food, and so on. Since I have darkvision and light, I skip torches or lanterns.

 

And that’s it, my 1st level character is basically done! I hope you found the explanation of my process interesting (and if not, why are you still reading this?). Assuming the campaign lasts long enough for me to level up Krokar, I may revisit this idea and go over the choices I make at each level.

 

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Geek Movie MiniReview: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island was, for me, a delight. It knows it’s a giant monster movie with roots in grindhouse and pulp, and it isn’t embarrassed about that at all. But it also sees the benefit in things like characterization, story, pacing, and development.

I clapped with childhood glee, laughed, cried, and gasped. I am exactly the target audience for this.

In my binary digit-based review system, it gets a thumbs up.