Too Small A Word. A poem.

Love is far too small a word

to express all the things

I need
and want
and say
and believe
and feel
and do

when I’m with you.

But then maybe that’s the point.

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!

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Aquaman. A movie review.

No spoilers!

A fun, vibrant and visually spectacular superhero movie.

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the son of a lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean queen. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) currently rules the hidden underwater kingdom of Atlantis and plans to bring war to the surface world. Mera (Amber Heard) and Vulko (Willem Dafoe) conspire against their leader to bring Arthur to Atlantis to claim his crown and bring peace. Trouble is, Arthur doesn’t want to rule.

Aquaman is a hugely bombastic superhero movie, full of wild and extravagant designs and visuals. It’s also hugely popular with audiences, so there’s not much I can say, other than its storytelling drives the narrative forward in a straightforward way that appeals to a broad base of moviegoers. It’s not deep, there’s not much in the way of character development, but it’s a fun experience, nonetheless.

I enjoyed Aquaman a lot, despite the fact I prefer more complex superhero movies. Go see it. You’ll enjoy it, too.

Rating: B

Laidback DM: Free Map – Entombed!

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: Entombed!

This partly collapsed tomb features magic guardian statues in the reception antechamber, a number of sarcophagi with undead occupants, treasure rooms and narrow tunnels, home to infected, undead underdwellers. Enjoy!

Entombed - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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 😊

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Submission. A poem.

Not beaten or blighted,
wracked with loss or pain,
I stand before you in judgement,
my purpose, as yet, undecided.

You have my submission,
having bowed to your requests,
but not for reasons you suspect,
or to prevent ongoing friction.

Although my head is bowed,
mirroring your condescension;
I’m now a sitter on the fence,
absolved of underlying tension.

I did not give up, per your plan;
I decided the time was right
to end this protracted, bitter fight
and be the better man.

My property settlement is finished. Whilst I could have gotten more, I chose not to. Time will tell whether that makes me a prince or a fool.

Cheers

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!

Wagyu heuristics. A poem.

The meat is the thing
A burger existence
That never led to much
I have tasted gristle
And found it wanting
Perhaps this time
I will find the iron
That will make the man
And change the way
I feel about myself
But until that day
I will be content
With wagyu
And a taste for
Natural self-hate

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!

Merry Christmas to all!

My favourite Christmas carol (okay, it’s only part of it, but I still love it!)

Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin, mother and child,
holy infant, so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

Merry Christmas, one and all. May we find grace, joy, love and lasting peace in the coming year.

God bless

Steve:)

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. A movie review.

The best superhero movie I’ve seen. Ever.

Miles Morales is a school student trying to fit in at a new prep school. He is bitten by a radioactive spider while practising his graffiti art one night (one of the same experimental spiders that bit Peter Parker), and stumbles upon Spider-Man battling Kingpin. We’re entering spoiler territory to say more. Suffice to say there is a parallel universe motif and lots of Spider-Men/Women.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is the Spider-Man movie that fans have been waiting for. Not only does it have amazing, ground breaking animation and visuals, it has a fun and engaging story with an endearing emotional core, cool characters and more comic book references than you can poke a stick at. In fact, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is the closest thing you’ll get to a living, breathing comic book—not only does the animation reflect this stylistically, with shading, onscreen sound effects, panels and narrative boxes, but it also features comic book covers, references to real comic book writers/artists and origin stories and costumes dragged straight from the source. It demonstrates how Spider-Man can be done right, and makes you wonder why Sony has continually dropped the ball with so many of its previous attempts. It also references the Sam Raimi movies very nicely, making this a spiritual successor to the original Spider-Man movie trilogy.

I only had one issue with the film: during some of the action scenes the mix of music and sound effects made some of the dialogue difficult to hear. No problem, really, as I’ll be seeing this again and buying the blu-ray.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is a fantastic superhero movie—a must-see for comic book fans and eminently watchable for those who aren’t.

Rating: A

For more movie reviews, click here.

Upstart Photographer – Row Boat

I take photos. I write poems. Here, I have a chance to marry them in wedded bliss.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Upstart Photographer - Row Boats - stevestillstanding.com

Row Boat. A poem.

Sun baking,
back to the bright skies.
Perhaps a tan will disguise
the smile lines and withered cracks
of your tempered existence.

Still, you long
for the lake’s gentle caress
upon your creaking bones,
the wafting of water
and the carefree momentum
of each oar’s insistence.

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!

Whimsy. A poem.

Sometimes, I get lost in your whimsy
and my elation at the thought of you
leaves every lowbrow, thoughtless convolution,
standing at the wayside, thumbing for a ride.
I choose to leave them all behind,
because I’ve found a better travelling partner.

Let’s lose ourselves in whimsy,

together.

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: Free Maps – Four Encounter Settings

Time for some free maps! 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: Four Encounter Settings

Here are four maps that I’d call basic encounter settings: a small mansion, a country farm, a tiny temple and a mountain pass. It wouldn’t be too hard to combine all of these into a single adventure – come on, DMs! You can do it!  

 Basic Setting Maps - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

Above: Just right click and save.

These maps are free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use them 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.

Fealty. A poem.

My fealty to you
remains unchallenged
by stray thoughts,

unlike alley cats
on the prowl,
sidling and voracious,
with impropriety
in mind.

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!

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 are 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, which, aside from some poor compositing in two scenes, is 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 good looking and fun. Just 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 🙂

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