Mortal Engines. A movie review.

No spoilers!

Mortal Engines is enjoyable, with nice ideas, great design and big effects, but ultimately is overly reliant on cliched plot points.

London is a futuristic steampunk city on wheels that travels the countryside consuming smaller towns for resources. Tom (Robert Sheehan) is a Londoner historian who gets mixed up in an assassination attempt on bad guy Valentine (Hugo Weaving) by Hester (Hera Hilmar). Valentine is plotting bad stuff and it’s up to Tom and Hester to save the day, travelling across the post-apocalyptic countryside and finding friends and foes as they do.

Mortal Engines is based on the young adult book series by Phillip Reeve. The script is by Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens, the husband and wife team that brought us The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and while they stay true to some of the first book, they diverge significantly in other areas—probably more than most fans would like. A few story elements appear to have been dumbed-down and some overtly political subtext injected. There’s a number of plot cliches we’ve seen before and they stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. This doesn’t benefit the movie.

Whilst I enjoyed most of Mortal Engines, what I liked the most was Weta Workshop’s amazing design work and the prolific use of real sets. There’s lots of lovely CGI on display, of course, but aside from some poor compositing in two scenes, it’s of a high standard.

Mortal Engines is not the best adaption of a YA book I’ve seen (the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies remain the gold standard), but it’s enjoyable enough, if you can ignore some of the ham-fisted cliches that pepper the plot.

Rating: C

Upstart Photographer – The Abandoned House

Photo, Poem—two of a kind in the best of minds. Or the worst. You tell me.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

The House. A poem (Abandoned, part 2)

This shell lingers like the aftertaste
of a charcoal-flavoured entree,
partially consumed like an afterthought
of vagrant afternoons
and post-sunset tribulations.

The book resting on your pane,
to be discovered like a subtle artefact,
woven with memory and gentle discord,
its pages read by the illiterate mountain breeze.
A page turner, nonetheless.

Throughout the halls the remnants lay,
waiting upon the rust and decay
that would make them less than useful.
Much like the old couple
who lived here before the passing storm,
when the rafters choked on smoke
and carbon monoxide was the drug of choice
(even if choice was a forced confession).

Here and there Mother Nature speaks,
disdainfully mocking the carpenter’s achievements
and bricklayer’s sandstone mastery.
She paints a vivid green commentary,
owing nothing to architectural remonstrance,
but building a memorial

that will linger like the aftertaste
of a charcoal-flavoured entree.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Lost Before Last. A poem.

I’ve been lost many times before
Each time I wandered out your door
Full of ample needs and wants, for sure
Unaware of the trials I had, in store

I was lost sometime, just like before
Last time I thought I knew the score
Philandering man, in an endless war
Vague and rich, yet always poor

I’m lost just like I was before
Aimless midnights on the moors
An anxious man, so full of flaws
A lonely man who’s lost in thought

I’m lost before and last for sure
Always wanting less but needing more
I’ve found that life is just forlorn
So, again, I’m knocking on your door

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Trust-less Daze (Gambling Daze, part 4). A poem.

I trusted you to pay the bills,
until I received those pointed calls;
found them hidden, of course,
in out of the way places,
away from prying eyes
and your surreptitious faces.

I listened to the constant stream
Of lies and excuses and deceit
All the time asking why me? Why me?
How could you say you loved
Then steal from me (in oh, so many ways),
your heart lost to the next win
and a poker machine glaze.

You had open access to all of me.
You screwed it up, threw it all away
as if it were nothing more
than crumpled newspaper:
yesterday’s news and leftover food,
eviscerated heart and dreams,
your doormat fool.

Now, you choose to forget
the things you did (conveniently)
casting a veil as far as you can see,
pretending it was always happy families.

I could put up with stealing,
heartbreak, pain, lies, contempt.
But once the trust was gone,
there was nothing left.

Nothing left.

My first wife was a compulsive gambler. It was not a pleasant time in my life, and is not fondly remembered. But it is remembered, by me, at least.
Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM: New Approaches to Inspiration Rewards

D&D fifth edition (or 5e) has this lovely little bonus for players called ‘inspiration’. It’s an extra d20 that is awarded to the player for doing something cool, great role playing, etc. They can use it to re-roll a d20 roll they’ve failed. It’s a groovy concept, but it is a bit limiting (they can only have one at a time), and I’m one of those DMs who often forgets to give it out. Doh!

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com
I was ‘inspired’ to take this photo. Yeah, I know. Sorry.

This is complicated by the fact that some players are more extraverted or better role players than others, which can make it a bit harder for others to shine. As DM, it’s our job to ensure everyone gets their time in the sun, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to award inspiration!

If you’re like me, maybe you need a new approach to inspiration awards. Here’s a few ways you can up the ante with inspiration:

1.Inspiration Pool – each time the party does something great as a team—like working together to cross a tricky ravine or solving a puzzle collectively—award the party an inspiration d20, added to a pool in the centre. This can be drawn on by anyone in the party (as agreed by the team). The pool can be carried over from game to game and has no limit.

2.Multiple Player Inspiration Awards – each player starts the game with an inspiration d20. During the game they can award their inspiration die to any other player, but not themselves. A player can be awarded multiple d20s.

3.End of Adventure Inspiration Awards – everyone receives a d20 inspiration at the end of each game session—the contribution and inclusion award. It has to be used before the end of the next session (yes, this is a lazy way of doing it, but it does make your job easier).

4.Fate Points – the Fate Core game has ‘Fate points’, allowing players to invoke or compel aspects during the game. The DMG includes a system called ‘hero points’. Fate Points in D&D would not be limited by the hero point rules. Each player would have 5 Fate Points per game to spend on d20 re-rolls, no matter what type of d20 roll it is—including an NPC’s roll. This gives players a LOT of heroic leeway, but is fun nonetheless (especially when multiple rolls fail, lol).

5.Inspiration Fails – the player is awarded an inspiration die when they fail a skill roll. Sort of a reward for screwing up—“better luck next time”. The normal inspiration rules apply i.e. one die per player until used, but means they should get more inspiration dice on average per game.

I hope you were inspired by these ideas, if not the bad pun.

Keep on gaming!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Truth-less Daze (Gambling Daze, part 3). A poem.

She liked responsibility—
it gave her credibility,
a way to cover erstwhile tracks,
unpaid bills and missing goods;
her lies falling on naive ears,
infallible fallibility.

The pawnshop, her best friend
(other than the pokies, that is),
until she learned that dud cheques
worked just as well
except they caught up in the end.
So, taking out loans and
subverting more trust
became her way of life.
Gamblers Anonymous was not enough.
And all the while she sank deeper
into the hole she dug,
until it was too far and too deep
to get out of.

Isn’t that the way it always goes?
Destroy another
for your own needs and hopes?
No, it’s not.
But that’s how she thought.
That’s how she lost it all.

How her fallout covered the land
and toxic ash became her brand.

My first wife was a compulsive gambler. It was not a pleasant time in my life, and is not fondly remembered. But it is remembered, by me, at least.

Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Writer Interrupted: The next poetry book

It has been about a year since ‘The All or the Nothing’, my first book of poetry, was published as an e-book. It’s now available in print, as well.

I guess it’s time for the follow up. I’ve been working hard, compiling and editing, designing and laying out the book in Adobe Indesign and Photoshop, and it’s only a few weeks away from release. This will be a book release to start, with an e-book to follow.

It’s called ‘Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelessly Endangered‘, and it’s a collection of poems for readers in various states of mind: happy, sad, mildly infuriated, dogmatic, dramatic, fizzled, cranky, spanky, smiley, wily, overwrought, overworked and dizzy.

If you like my poetry, you’ll like this book, because it’s…more of my poetry.

Out soon.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Wayward Daze (Gambling Daze, part 2). A poem.

I remember carrying my son
Two months old and sleeping
Into wayward pubs and clubs
In search of a wayward mother
Bewitched by poker machines
And the scent of an easy win.

I remember the humiliation
Of asking doormen and barmen
If they had seen her
Sitting zombie-like at machines
feeding her constancy
and poor self-esteem.

I remember her excuses
Which she chose to pass from memory
As easily as passing wind,
Each lie another flatulent thought
Already forgotten in the coverup.

I remember all my tears
and my son sleeping quietly
unaware of the storm
that surrounded him
as dreams of happy families
were sundered from within.

My first wife was a compulsive gambler. It was not a pleasant time in my life, and is not fondly remembered. But it is remembered, by me, at least.

Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Comics: All-Time Personal Faves

I looooove comic books. I’ve been reading them since I was a kid, and in my currently bereft and almost moneyless state I don’t get as many opportunities to buy them as I used to.

A loooong time ago, I said I was going to talk about some of my favourite comic book stories. Sorry it took so long. Here they are, in no particular order.

Watchmen

Watchmen – arguably the greatest comic book story ever written, and often included in all-time best novel lists. In the 80’s, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons produced this seminal piece of adult literature that works on so many levels. If you never read any other comics, read this one. I have a first edition collected volume and a re-released hardcover, and bought the original issues when they came out. This comic book is the altar I pray at.

The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns – This comic sits in front of that altar. Frank Miller brought an older Batman out of retirement and made this one of the greatest and most influential comics ever created.

Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One – …and then Frank and David Mazzuchelli redefined the Dark Knight’s origin in a gritty tale that has inspired TV shows and comics everywhere. And made my altar very crowded.

Superman: Red Son

Superman: Red Son – Mark Millar made his mark on the Superman canon with this incredible Elseworlds story of a man of steel raised in Soviet Russia. The ending is one of the coolest ever.

Swamp Thing

Saga of the Swamp Thing – Alan Moore is my favourite writer. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s 70’s Swamp Thing is my all-time fave character, but Moore’s take took it, and his career, into the stratosphere during the 80’s and brought on a flurry of astounding work, including the aforementioned Watchmen.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern – Geoff Johns is one of the most amazing creators in comics today. He has an understanding of the characters and the medium that raises the bar with every book he takes on. This is his ground-breaking run on titular character Hal Jordan.

Marvels

Marvels – Marvel’s superheroes and seminal founding events, seen through the eyes of conventional people, by Kurt Busiek and with art by the incredible Alex Ross. If you haven’t seen Mr Ross’s lifelike painted artworks, you don’t know what you’re missing. Awesome.

Justice League

JLA – Grant Morison has written some unbelievable comics, including this superb and influential run on the Justice League in the 90’s. Big moments. Big characters. Big stories. Big creativity.

Y the last man

Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn is a brilliant writer. This is a brilliant story. It also contains the saddest scene I’ve ever read in a comic. No contender.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina – Brian K. Vaughn (there’s that name again) puts the politics in superhero, with this amazing work with artist Tony Harris.

Sandman

Sandman – The work that made Neil Gaiman BIG. Yep, even before the novel writing. Eerily good. And Dave McKean does the best covers EVER. Hands down.

That’s not all of them, of course. The list goes on and on. But that’s enough, for now…

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Poker Machine Daze (Gambling Daze, part 1). A poem.

She played the pokies in her day,
her singular gaze unflinching
and intractably admiring.
The stars and bells, her friends;
a gentle, constant riot of affection
and affectation, pleading to stay
and coaxing her with opium overtures
of digitised ecstasy.

The hours flew by until the credit expired
and she was begging for more,
cashing nameless cheques
and selling recently acquired
electrical and white goods
(no questions asked)
in a whirlpool of hypocrisy.

The pokies called to her,
like sirens on a cold and callous sea,
the daughters of Achelous
pleading for her return,
tempting her with short-term solutions
and promises of fools’ good.

How could she resist?
Just one more spin of the wheels
and fabled misfortune awaited.
How many more lines would she cross,
how many more lies would she tell
to ensure the opulent beasts
remained her constant companions?

These friends were never-lasting,
because the all too-plentiful machines,
as sensual as they might seem,
gave far less love
than they received
and in the end
discarded her
for the next
easy
win.

My first wife was a compulsive gambler. It was not a pleasant time in my life, and is not fondly remembered. But it is remembered, by me, at least.

Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Stealthy. A poem.

You sneak into my world

past locks, alarms, sigils, wards 

down corridors of fatalistic compromise

through rooms of idealistic circumspection

and find me waiting earnestly

wanting, more or less

what you want

no need to be so stealthy 

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM: The Virtues of the Mini-Campaign

I like short role playing game (RPG) campaigns. That’s not to say I don’t like the occasional long-termer, but mini-campaigns (say, around 3-4 months) are my current preference.

For those not in the know, a campaign is a series of adventures linked by a common thread or goal—a bit like a season of a modern TV or cable show. Some RPG campaigns can last for years, representing long term investment in player character stories and plot development. Some campaigns might last only a few months, representing a tangible milestone completed—for example, a huge Orc Boss whose ongoing machinations to take over the valley the heroes call home is finally brought to his knees. It’s these shorter campaigns I’m talking about.

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com
Short or Long Campaign? Either way, I’m ready!

I enjoy long campaigns, however I don’t like them going any longer than a year. This is due to time restraints, but also because any longer can sometimes lead to burnout—mine, specifically. I found this the case playing Tomb of Annihilation with one of my groups. All up it took about nine months to play, and I was glad when it finished. We stuck to mini-campaigns after that (DM’ing Curse of Strahd was a different matter—that’s one I would have enjoyed even if we played for longer than the seven months it took).

Long campaigns are great because players see their characters, the game world and the story they are contributing to, evolve like a living thing. But mini-campaigns have many attractions, too:

1. Generally less preparation is required

2. The goal is tighter and more specific, so players don’t lose focus on what they’re trying to achieve

3. It’s easier for players and DMs with busy lives to commit to a shorter campaign

4. Mini-campaigns don’t tend to drag because they have a short end date, so there’s less chance of DM and/or player fatigue

5. The goal can easily lead into another mini-campaign—remember that Orc Boss? Turns out he had an even bigger boss manipulating him behind the scenes…

So give some thought to the mini-campaign. You can still have a long endgame goal, but break it into smaller, more manageable chunks. It could save you a few headaches.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Hurricane Heart. A poem.

Transfixed by you,
statuesque in the hurricane,
riding tempestuous
slipstream currents—
a goddess of hail
and happenstance.

You’re a lightning rod,
attracting joules
and fools like me,
incontrovertibly
shattering stratospheric records
like a pheromone cyclone.

After your storm has passed,
and the sun breaks
the clotted clouds,
I’m the only windswept survivor:
shaken, stirred, shocked,
and praying for yet more rain,

to turn this aching, burnished desert
into fields of dew-swept gold.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Widows. A movie review.

Widows is a remake of a British TV series from some years ago, based on the book by Lynda la Plante. It’s stylishly directed, well written, brilliantly acted, but leaves you feeling somewhat flat by the end as a consequence of its dark tone and focus.

Widows is a heist movie featuring moments of great melancholy (Viola Davis’s character Veronica is mourning the loss of her son and her husband; the other widows are grieving their respective partners), incredible selfishness and greed (the local gang, alderman and pastor are corrupt and criminal) and stark contrasts (rich vs. poor, black vs. white). It doesn’t pull its punches.

Veronica’s husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), is a career criminal who is killed, along with his crew, after robbing a local Chicago gang of $2million. The gang leader (Brian Tyree Henry) and local alderman-to-be (Colin Farrell) are at loggerheads as they are both running for election and there’s more than a little corruption behind the scenes. The gang leader knows Harry stole the money and wants Veronica to pay it back. Veronica uses Harry’s notes to plan a heist, but needs the widows of Harry’s crew to help her.

The script is excellent, with enough twists to keep you hooked; the direction by Steve McQueen is superbly fluid; the acting is great – Viola Davis steals every scene she’s in, of course, although she’s becoming somewhat stereotyped as the ‘hard nosed b$&@$ with a soft side’.

It’s not perfect: there are a few too many coincidences holding the plot together; having so many characters sometimes detracts from the titular widows’ stories, downplayed in favour of the political and gangland dramas; the widows’ individual arcs seem a bit rushed, a consequence of editing to reduce running time, I suspect; overall, most of the characters are largely unsympathetic and don’t really grow as people by the end of the movie. This doesn’t make for a bad film, more a slightly unsatisfying one. I think it might have worked better as a mini-series.

There are few uplifting moments in this film – it mirrors the inherent darkness of modern society, at times dragging on you like an anchor. By the end you’re almost glad it’s over, but you’re still impressed by the quality of the journey.

Widows is a well-made, well-acted drama that deserves your time. Just don’t expect it to be a wholly pleasant one.

Rating: B

Upstart Photographer – The Book

I recently found a house in the mountains, burnt out and abandoned. Resting on a window pane, its tenuous pages teased by the wind, was a partially charred book. The page settled in the breeze. As I took a photo I noticed how tragically ironic the words were.

I had to write a poem about it, of course.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

The Book. A poem (Abandoned, part 1)

Resting now, tales upended,
curled from flames at war,
your words not quite as meaningless
as others may have thought.
Each blackened leaf an anecdote
of irony, for naught.
Naked walls surround you;
a Dali canvas, all distraught.

You remain the lost reminder
of all the lonely souls before,
who paced this frame and residence
before the firestorm burned it raw.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM: Avoiding The TPK

As DMs, we’ve all done it at some time or other: we’ve killed the entire party and drained the fun out of the D&D session. Sometimes it’s unintentional, sometimes it’s mean spirited, sometimes it’s to punish players for being complete d$&@s.

But no matter how you look at it, the Total Party Kill (TPK) is a bummer for your campaign. No one wants to go out that way, unless it just happens to be the final battle of the campaign and a TPK means the big bad gets it as well.

Most players get attached to their characters. Having them all die at once can lead to losses from your gaming group, or players giving up playing the game altogether (a bit extreme, but it does happen).

Total Party Kill
Odds are, they’re not getting out of this one alive.

Here’s some ways to avoid the TPK:

1.Have a contingency prepared – perhaps the PCs were all knocked unconscious and saved as they proved useful to the villain’s plan. They awaken chained up and breaking rocks. Now you have a cool prison escape scenario instead of multiple funerals and habitual moaning and mourning.

2.Fluff your dice – I’m not a fan of this option, but you’re the DM. Just don’t make it too obvious.

3.The Deus Ex Machina – something amazing happens that saves the party: A company of Dwarven Commandos intervenes; the ground cracks open, swallowing the bad guy before he can deliver the coup de grace; an even bigger bad guy appears and fights the villains, giving the party time to escape. Just make sure the rescuer/event is relevant and part of the ongoing story, not something that just happened “because” (even if it did).

4.The alternate universe/another plane save – the PCs are dead, but now they find themselves in the afterlife or a screwed up version of their world (come on, you always wanted to run one of those Star Trek Mirror Universe episodes, didn’t you?). Now, they just have to find their way back home. A quest to return to life!

5.It was all a dream – This is another one of those options I don’t like much, but it could work if used the right way and if it makes for a better story. Perhaps the real big bad is a dream deity manipulating things behind the scenes and wants the players to suffer both mentally as well as physically to harvest their energy on the way to achieving ultimate power?

In the end, if the PCs are just being stupid, then maybe they need to die to teach them a lesson. As always, it’s up to you, the DM, to decide. Just remember this: killing everyone almost always kills the fun.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Old Friend. A poem.

I’m spiralling again:
an anxious emptiness,
a long bitter refrain,
that repeats over

and over
and over
and over
and over

in my angry, lonely brain.

Old friend,
you’ve never let me go,
though you always
let me down/
bring me down:
the crown upon my brow
that weighs so heavily
on my doubts.

I’ve accepted you
and held you tight;
a reliable lover
who’s always wrong
and always right.
I wallow with you each time
until I’m bereft and maimed,
every day
and every night
until I let you go again.

Until you return to me
now and then,

Old friend.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback Movie Reviews: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

* Claire Foy is great in everything (witness her dramatic turns in First Man and The Crown), including this. A shame the script leaves her little to work with.
* Abundant cliches and criminally poor use of the Millenium series’ usually prominent supporting characters makes this movie more pedestrian than it should have been. If I have to see another movie with an all powerful device that controls all nuclear missiles (or alternatively, some other ridiculous deus ex machina device, like something that controls all of the internet or every cappuccino machine in the world), I’ll scream.
* There are a few good action sequences—the “sniping through walls” scene was tense and well done.
* The trailer gave away the main villain, something I really hate. The “family member assumed long dead is the bad guy” cliche is really overused. Any attempt to explore the more subtle and hard hitting character issues are quickly pushed aside to drive forward the average plot.

Rating: C-

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

* J K Rowling demonstrates she’s a wonderful author who’s still learning how to write screenplays. Better pacing, editing and less exposition would be nice; movies are a different medium to books and need to engage the audience in other ways. This film is more world building and set up for the rest of the series, rather than a movie in itself.
* Nice to see Hogwarts again.
* Great special effects and action set pieces. Some welcome character development for Newt and the supporting characters.
* Paradoxically, I enjoyed this one more than the first Fantastic Beasts movie. It makes me want to see the next in the series, so I guess it succeeded in what it set out to do.

Rating: C+

Laidback DM: Free Map – Duergar Stronghold

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: Duergar Stronghold

Down into the Underdark we go, to a Duergar Stronghold protecting the only bridge connecting north and south for 300 miles!

What are the mysterious stone-carven columns over the bottomless chasm’s north side, and why do strange lights flicker and move amongst them, barely perceived out of the corner of one’s eye? Any who linger amongst the columns are never heard from again…

The Drow Outpost on the north side supplies local Duergar addicts with Faerie Dust, the latest magical hallucinogenic drug. What’s their true purpose here?  

And what is the mysterious mist that rises from the Stronghold’s streets, bringing madness in its wake? 

Duergar Stronghold - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

Above: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve

P.S. I’m writing a book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Avoidance. A poem.

I avoid you when I see you, now.
Not ships passing in the night
but rather garbage scows,
no more trashy encounters or the like.

No potential head-ons or man overboard,
now endlesss drunken shanties to help me smile
While in my mind I sing long of discord,
blue notes to accompany my alibi.

And all the while
trying to forget I knew you.

A quick two step and I’m a private dancer,
skirting the alleyway to miss your eyes.
Ultimately, I’ll hold myself together
as I always have, or so I’d like.

The weight of my regret—two tonnes—
It pulls me down when you’re around.
And so, under the carpet, swept,
the bitter thoughts and all I’ve left.

I’m trying to forget I knew you.

And that’s been unsuccessful, too.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Half-Life/Half-Light. poem.

Of this lingering

half-life,

only the iceberg tip exposed.

Beware what lies beneath:
cut glass, mirrored edges
and radical toxicity.

Splinters and elements
better left submerged;
its palpitating heart,
decaying in the

half-light.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Symbaroum – a tabletop fantasy RPG that reeks of deep darkness, blighted evil and drawn out death. Fun!

One of my favourite Tabletop Role Playing Games, ever! Here’s a post many may have missed when I posted it back in early 2017. I must be feeling nostalgic 🙂

Steve Still Standing

(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”

“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”

“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.

“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.

“I guess so-”

“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)

I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to…

View original post 600 more words

Laidback DM: D&D 5e Rules Summaries

Hi All!

I’ve been DM’ing and playing D&D 5e since the new version premiered (and AD&D – or 1e – previously), and like many people I occasionally forget rules. So, I created a few placemats your players can use as reminders.

Starter Placemat – Laidback DM – stevestillstanding (just click on this link)

  • This one is for beginners – those who have never played the game before – it has pictures of the various polyhedral dice on it as well as the rules summary.   

Rules Summary Placemat – Laidback DM – stevestillstanding (just click on this link)

  • This one is for more experienced players – those who just need a reminder about the rules every now and then – and doesn’t have the dice on it.

They look lovely when they’re printed and laminated (I’m a bit of a laminating junkie).

Free to use and enjoy!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM posts, including free maps, CLICK HERE! 

Upstart Photographer: Wreck

Photo, Poem – mix and match. Hopefully match.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Car wreck

Wreck. A poem.
Like some Greek tragedy
played out upon a silver screen,
the bullies and the demons
had their way with you, you see.
Left you naked and abused,
charred and anaesthetised,
just a step away from paradise
and a world away from prying eyes.
Another roadside nightmare
come to life; without life
your struggle epitomised
in every passing headlight.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Absent. A poem.

You who remain absent
Don’t celebrate your hypocrisy
Sliding on a sheen of contrariness
Recognise the source of their upheaval
You think time will make a fool of all
But it seems your veneer is wearing thin
And justice awaits your feeble excuses
To grasp what lies within

This poem is for all the abusers who think they got away with what they did. Justice comes to all.

Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Save the Poet!

via Save the Poet!

Like my poetry? For poems you haven’t seen before, try The All or the Nothing, my first book. It’s available now, in print and e-book formats.

Click on the link above to find out how to get your copy, and help save this poor poet from extinction.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Discontentment. A poem.

Too plain, too pretty
Too full, too empty.
Too big, too small.
Too short, too tall.
Too rich, too poor.
Too fine, too sore.

A constant interchange of
histrionic and catatonic,
a test and trial of long-held resentment.
Find a balance and make your point
before you exceed your quota
of angst-filled discontentment.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Anvil. Part 20.

The Anvil stares down at Johnston, who unflinchingly returns the look. “You have a problem?” says Johnston.

“Why am I not with Violet?” says the Anvil.

“You’re too close to her. Might impede your judgement in combat.” Johnston raises his flechette carbine. “Now you better back off, friend. I like my personal space.”

Olsin steps between the two. “He’s fine, sugar—aren’t you?” She raises an eyebrow at the Anvil, who nods and backs away.

Johnston frowns. “You better keep the synthetic in line, Olsin.” He walks over to where Sarain leans against the corridor wall. Glancing back at the ex-Triad guard: “And Lady Chao is still keen to have a chat with you when this is all over.”

Olsin tries hard not to, but swallows anyway. “That’s a conversation I so look forward to,” she says under her breath. She moves over to where the Anvil stands, gazing out a transteel port at the clusters of ships surrounding the station. The glowglobe lights above are still red, giving the corridor and its occupants a crimson hue. Distant, muffled sounds of shots and explosions are background white noise—Bester’s mercenaries are advancing into the station from the end docks.

“You okay, sugar?” Olsin says, before lowering her voice. “Those memjets kicked in yet?”

The Anvil glances down at her, shakes its head, then eyes Johnston and Sarain standing opposite them, speaking in hushed tones with each other.

Johnston looks at the Anvil. “That one’s going to be trouble,” he says. Sarain looks and nods. She pats her arm-mounted EMP cannon, her glowing neural fibre hair highlighting the barrel. “Don’t worry, boss—first sign of a problem and I take him out,” she says.

* * *

Jayle and Kanji lead Chun, Jimmy and Violet through the stark scarlet-illumined corridors of Flotsam station. Kanji’s ruby visual receptors highlight her frown, framed by her burgeoning dreadlocks. “The boss is upset with me again, isn’t he?” she says. “He didn’t even mention I was on your team.”

Jayle rolls her eyes. “I’ll never understand why you need his approval so much, Kanji.” She winks at the big African woman. “Maybe you’ve got the hots for him.”

Kanji starts and almost blushes. “He’s a fine-looking black man,” she says. “But I don’t mix business and pleasure.”

“Must be daddy issues, then.” Jayle ribs the big woman, laughs and winks. Kanji grimaces and giggles, her girlish titter at odds with her hulking presence and the barbed metal appendage that masquerades for a right arm.

Granny Chun holds one of Violet’s hands, the obligatory teddy bear glued to the little girl’s other. “You okay, sweetie?” says Chun. Violet looks up and nods, sucking her thumb. Chun smiles.

Big Jimmy moves up beside them, his fingers hovering reflexively over the auto-pistol in his leg holster. He looks up at Chun and whispers. “I assume you have a plan to get us out of this?”

Chun raises an eyebrow and whispers back. “Of course, what would that be? We’re on a Triad-owned space station about to be assaulted by the private army of richest man in the solar system, all in an effort to get back his little girl. What sort of plan did you expect me to come up with?”

Jimmy scowls. “Well, you always seem to know what you’re doing.”

Chun shrugs. “Of course, this time I’m just going with the flow. Let’s see where Lady Chao’s plan gets us.”

“As long as it doesn’t get us dead.”

* * *

Lu Chi has been an electrician on Flotsam for five years. It’s not a bad life, repairing faulty conduits and replacing broken glowglobes. The pay’s reasonable, the hours great. His wife and son share quarters with him (it’s not often that’s allowed on small stations); a quiet, unassuming life. At least, it was. The attack on the station threw him a curve ball. As soon as this sensor is replaced, I’ll get Lee and Xi and we’ll find an escape pod, Lu thinks. Get out of this place and never look back.

The red lights dim a moment. Lu glances up, curious, then returns to his work. There’s a strange metallic tapping sound on the floor behind him. He turns. The raptor tilts its head, a long strand of saliva dripping from its razor-sharp jaws as its silvery artificial eyes scan the technician. Lu drops his soldering iron and screams.

* * *

Shi Cho turns away. It isn’t often that he’s turned off by violence, but he never imagined the ferocity of the creatures. Bester smiles as he observes. “The perfect predators,” he says. “They didn’t deserve to stay extinct, so I brought them back—improved, of course.” A moment more and it’s over, the last of the technician consumed by the three beasts. Blood trails and spatter covered the surrounding walls.

Bester brings up a hologram display above his watch face: a three-dimensional schematic view of the Flotsam; a red dot indicator, about 500 metres away.

“You can track her?” says Shi-Cho.

“Only at short range,” says Bester. He whistles for his pets and the raptors scramble to his side. “Listen up, my beauties. You can kill anything you like, but not Violet.” The raptors nod, recognising his command syntax and pre-programmed vis-cues. “Now let’s see if we can find my daughter.”

* * *

The Anvil grabs its head, collapses to the floor. Johnston raises his pistol, steadying it with his other hand. “Olsin! What’s the matter with him?”

Olsin crouches beside the armature. “He’s taken memjets. He’s accessing lost memories.”

Johnston lowers his sidearm. “Just great. How long will he be out for?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, sugar.”

Sarain eyes the unconscious form on the floor. “And just what memories would those be?”

* * *

A rush of images, scents and sounds, blurred and wavering in and out, topped with strange popping sounds, as if from an antiquated speaker. The Anvil sees a man, the same its seen before, on the roof garden of Bester’s building. He’s dressed in a suit, with an ear piece. A tall, good looking fellow, stern faced and lean. A beautiful woman is talking to him, but the Anvil is too far away to hear.

The scene comes into focus, and the Anvil pushes his consciousness forward. The woman is Angelique Bester. The man is Dominic Casheur, one of Bester’s many security agents.

“I want to save Violet from him”, she says. “You’re the only one I trust to help me, Dominic.” Her hand on his face, a gesture of intimacy and closeness. “I have access to funds and a doctor. I’ll fit you out in one of the newest armatures. You’ll be Violet’s protector. I’ve hidden her away in the waveruins, but it’s only a matter of time before Bester tracks her down. You need to get her to the Loop. Promise me you’ll do it.”

They kiss, long and lovingly. Casheur says nothing, just nods.

The images spiral away and the light hits the Anvil’s eyes like a sledgehammer.

* * *

Olsin gasps as the armature’s eyes flick open. “Are you okay, sugar? You had me worried.”

The Anvil rises, rubbing his head. “Call me Dominic,” he says.

“You know who you are?”

“I know the who and the how. But not why I was brainwashed into thinking I was Violet’s mother.”

Johnston hovers over them. “What kind of messed up crap are you talking about?” he says.

The Anvil rises to his feet. “I think someone’s playing me. I just don’t know who, yet.” He turns to Johnston. “More than likely they’re playing you as well.”

* * *

Lady Koga’s interceptor hovers several hundred kilometres away from Flotsam, scanning and observing the surrounding mercenary flotilla and the massive Hyperion hanging over all. Her craft has the latest black horizon dead space tech, allowing it to be undetectable to the cruiser at this distance. She’s still cautious about getting too close, though—Bester is renowned for all sorts of off-the-grid experimental technology. The man is a scientific genius, after all.

Koga’s readouts indicate Bester is actually aboard the tiny cylindrical station, courtesy of a high-powered and undetectable nano-tracker the Triad sneaks into all their business associates. She frowns and runs her hand over her bald pate.

The spherical and limbless black robot strapped into the acceleration couch next to her rotates its single green eye to her. “Mission impact?”

“Let’s wait and see how this develops,” says Koga. “Patience is a virtue, and some lessons take time to teach.”

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Winding Down Yet Winding On

I’ve been blogging every day for a little over one and a half years. I’m never short of material and I’m not one of those writers who suffer from writer’s block.

No, this is not a ‘brag’ blog. This is my way of saying it’s time to wind back so I can focus more on the other important things in my life.

When I started blogging, my main purpose was to use the web as a place to exercise my creative muscles, to force myself to write everyday. More importantly, it was cathartic, enabling me to address my various inner demons and hang ups—depression, anxiety, unrequited love, anger, pain, heartbreak—the whole box of dice.

Over time I’ve explored many of my other interests on this blog: role playing games, music, photography, short stories, movies, poetry. In fact, my first published poem was written and posted on this blog back in March 2017, what seems like a lifetime ago.

But life catches up to everyone, and the inevitability of uni, work, relationships, socialising (wow, hard to believe there was a time when I never thought I’d ever leave the house) and writing, mean something has to go. Or at least, reduce.

So, I’ll only be posting once every two days in future. That might not seem like much of a change, but it’s a big thing for me. For some of you it will be a relief—less emails from WordPress, for one.

Thanks for continuing to support me, and I hope to catch up with many of you in comments sections and future posts.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

The All or the Nothing

For my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM – Free Map! Dungeon A La Carte

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: Dungeon A La Carte

A simple dungeon map I drew with a 1st-level party in mind. Some easy monsters, a few traps: the north-east room fills with water while the PCs solve the puzzle; the south-east room has two teleporting pools that shift stuff back and forth while gargoyle heads spew poisonous gas; the central chamber is a floor tile puzzle that, when solved, reveals the secret door behind the statue (an easier way to the main treasure room); several trapped and impossibly locked doors; pit traps; triggered floors; undead guardians. Phew!

Dungeon A La Carte - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

Above: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve

P.S. I’m writing a 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Fell For You. A poem.

I don’t know why I fell for this—
it was obvious you were oblivious,
and my dreams were cloaked
in pointlessness.

I don’t know why you caught my eye,
why I invested all my precious time
creating a melodious portfolio,
that you alone inspired.

Who did I want you to be
when you looked on me so distantly,
you were just a narcissistic,
attention-seeking tragedy.

You didn’t realise the truth:
we were meant to be as one, you see,
and be like living poetry.

But, then again, you never knew.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Bohemian Rhapsody. A movie review.

Rami Malek of Mr Robot fame playing Freddy Mercury? Lots of Queen hits with amazing sound? Bring it on!

I’m a Queen fan from way back. I have all their albums, and Brian May continues to be my all-time favourite rock guitarist. So as soon as I heard word Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of Freddy and the band, was being filmed I was as good as in a seat. They had my money, no matter what.

Now I’ve seen it I can honestly say I enjoyed it. However…

I guess the biggest letdowns were the missed opportunities to see not only some of the major issues the band faced early in its career (the stoush with their first manager, for instance), the other band members getting short shrift in terms of screen time, and Freddy’s character seeming a little two dimensional, given the amount of story devoted to him. Some of the scenes dragged, especially the ones with Freddy and Mary. But a movie can only be so long, and for the benefit of story a few things needed to be cut, a few liberties taken. Rami Malek makes up for it with a wonderful performance as Freddy, capturing the essence of the man, if not always the presence.

Bohemian Rhapsody is an enjoyable ride, even if it’s not destined to be the best Queen movie ever made. I’m sure that’s yet to come.

Rating: B-

Upstart Photographer: Flowers

Photo. Poem. Yep, it’s happening.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Flowers. A poem.

Delicate, handled by one
as ham-fisted and indelicate as I
Effulgent petals and tapered stems
A majesty denied but gained again
The vase a minor price to pay
For a life ensconced in beauty
(As short-lived as it may be)

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Reach. A poem.

I reach
And ellipses of time
and motion
Quixotic
Remote-controlled emotion
The loving
contentment
of the
discontented
Repeated over and over
Masticated and
Manipulated
in my head
Like daffodil moments
and chloroformed thoughts
Venting in subspace
A dream prison
Of complexity
and indecision
From finish to start
and ending with
a question:
Where
Are
You
And
Why
Are
We
Apart?

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.
Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM – Free Map! The City State of Ranisvlad

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: Ranisvlad, City State of Thieves

Anything goes in Ranisvlad, a murky, muddy and depraved city state in the outlands, ruled by Ranislov, so-called Lord of Thieves. Humans, humanoids and otherworldly creatures mingle and mix, fight and trade. Dangerous job offers and shady deals can be found all along Skull and Dagger Way. Disputes are settled in the Lord’s Arena, the only real justice in town. In Ranisvlad, you can find fame, fortune or a quick death, if you choose.

Beware the dark secrets of Barislev Tower, where vampires and wizards collude to raise the Demon King of Bats. Lone travellers are often waylaid by cannibal brigands on the Bridge of Thieves. The necropolis of Death’s Throne is the repository for Ranisvlad’s dead, who rise from their graves at night to claw at the cemetery gates…

Ranisvlad City State of Thieves - Laidback DM - stevestillstandingAbove: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve 😊

P.S. I’m writing a 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

The Pantomime. A poem.

The tears keep me awake at

night;

they burn my eyes and ducts,
sodden flames licking,
smoke broiling,
consuming the room of my

head

until I’m fit to choke
on all the pointless

condescension,

spluttering, unkempt,
raw and misbegotten.

Soaked in a pantomime
of longing and rejection
until the show is

over.

Those tears remain,
salty dew trails
that scar my cheeks,
a tattooed reminder that

never

leaves my side.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Rehasher. A poem.

Don’t you tire of the same old thing?
A less-than-subtle rehashing,
a troublesome re-treading,
a more meagre repetition
of what’s come and gone before.

Finally time to
Uproot all those
Common thoughts and
Kill them dead.

Your groove has become a rut
that gets deeper every
overwrought time.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Beginnings and Endings

Life should not be about hellos and goodbyes.
It should be the sum of everything in between.
Stephen Thompson

My life is punctuated with hellos and goodbyes. And like most tragedies, they’re played out upon a stage, with an audience looking on—sometimes cheering, sometimes gloating.

I wish things could be simpler, but that’s not what my life was meant to be. I’m hamstrung by the beginnings and the endings, rather than enjoying what lies in between.

I’m at a new beginning, again. A fresh start? I live in hope.

Cheers

Steve

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