Friday, May 7, 2021

Friday Creature Feature - Dementors

“[Dementors] infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.” --Remus Lupin (Prisoner of Azkaban)

Gliding into the Harry Potter universe part of the way into Prisoner of Azkaban, we learned a lot about the foul dementors as the book progressed and throughout the remaining installments of the series. Still so much is unknown, but let’s take a peek at what we do know (the non-book details gleamed from the Harry Potter wiki).

We don’t know where dementors come from. They were first found in Britain on the island of Azkaban, before it was eventually used as the wizard prison. As they sucked the joy and hope out of their victims, they were the wardens of choice for Azkaban prison for centuries. The Ministry of Magic just kept them fed with weary souls and they were “happy”. Unfortunately, their dark nature also led them to Voldemort’s side of the Second Wizarding War.


Hogwarts was a temporary “home” for them, as they searched for the escaped Sirius Black. After Dumbledore banished them from the school grounds, we didn’t see them again until a year later, the Dementor’s Kiss was used to suck out the soul of Barty Crouch Jr. After Umbridge secretly sent a couple after Harry Potter and his cousin, it was suspected they’d joined Voldemort’s army. 

After joining Voldemort’s army for real, the dementors were known to patrol the Ministry courtrooms, as Muggleborns were persecuted, and Hogsmeade. During the final Battle of Hogwarts, they fought for Lord Voldemort and nearly took Harry and his friends. Finally after the war ended, newly-appointed Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt removed them from Azkaban. We can only hope that after that the numbers of dementors started to dissipate as they “died” off.


Behind the scenes, it’s pretty well known that the dementors were based on JK Rowling’s depression (and I found a source for it this time). “It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different,” she said. For those of us who’ve dealt with depression, the analogy to dementors is amazingly accurate. 

So as this month is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to reach out to any of you dealing with depression. There is hope. Don’t let the dementors win. Hold onto your happy, patronus memories. Focus on the positives. See a professional. We all need help and (speaking for all of us here at Latter-day Saint Geeks) we’re here for you.

For more on dementors and depression, check out this post from a couple years back.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Leverage: The Top 10 Job


(Guest Post by TJ)

From 2008 – 2012, TNT aired a gem of a show known as…Leverage. With notice that we’ll be getting Leverage: Redemption on IMDB.TV beginning July 9th, I’m really excited about the excuse to talk about this classic. Before that, let me speak quickly on two of my all-time favorite movies: The Italian Job and Ocean’s 11. They’re both heist films. What I love about these films is despite the fact that you have a lot of thieves gather together to get back at somebody (or get back something), it’s how they are able to outwit their opponents that make them so satisfying to watch.

In Leverage, you have a great team of five: hacker, hitter, grifter, thief, and mastermind. This ragtag team of the best in their fields takes on a Robin Hood mindset. They take back what was stolen to help out the little people it was stolen from. (Yes, with some exception.) If you haven’t watched it, Leverage is currently on IMDB.TV for free with ads. And if you think “it can’t be that great of a show,” take a trip to IMDB’s site and see its user ratings. The lowest episode rating, as of this writing, is at 8.0 out of 10, with ten episodes rated at 9.0 or higher.  

Something important to note is how many classic geek references as well as actors are used in the series, especially Star Trek. Jonathan Frakes has a few cameos, but directed a good number of episodes. Jeri Ryan held a recurring role throughout season 2 with a reprise in season 4. Wil Wheaton, Brent Spiner, and Armin Shimmerman all appeared at various times through the show. 

And now, for those familiar with this show (or looking for some good episodes to watch and introduce the show) my personal top 10 episodes.


10. The Long Good-bye Job – S5 E15

There are some good episodes in season 5. But our final farewell of the Leverage team (until the reboot) is very poetic. Season 4 had a “just in case” ending since it wasn’t assured that season 5 would occur. But season 5 gives us a great farewell. We see our five favorite good thieves do one last hurrah before Nate and Sophie close up shop.

Nate accomplishes one final con (and an important proposal). It’s not a happily ever after ending, but it does give the happily ever after feelings that I want from a series finale. You get a wrap up of everyone’s story and a reminder of how the five have all grown over the last few years. 


9. The Bottle Job – S2 E11

I wanted to make sure that at least one Tara Cole (portrayed by Jeri Ryan) episode. While her first episode was a fun introduction to her grifting abilities, The Bottle Job has a lot of heart and emotion in it. The bar under Nate’s apartment is in danger of being taken over by an Irish mob family. 

So, while the name of the episode aims at the idea of the bar, it also serves as a hint as the idea that this whole episode takes place in the bar (and a small amount in Nate’s apartment), making this the closest thing to a bottle episode that Leverage was going to get. 

This episode shows why Nate does what he does. He cares about righting injustices, conning the cons. And this one is personal for him. Nobody messes with his friends. You’ve got Tara flirting with an Irish mobster, Nate conning his way through a basketball game and a poker game. You’ve got Hardison doing his best to run the tech side of things, Parker being the great thief that she is, and Eliot in a good fight, this episode showcases everyone’s skillset really well.


8. The San Lorenzo Job – S3 E16

I had to debate if this belonged on the list or not. How did I really feel about this episode? And the more I look at it, the more I realize that this episode is very important for the Leverage team. 

Up to this point, Nate has had a great time saying, “Let’s go steal a (fill in the blank).” But this time, he says, “Let’s go steal a country.” Not something you would really expect from a crew of people taking down corrupt businesses. In the penultimate episode of season 3, it looks like all is lost for the team until they go to San Lorenzo to take down Damian Moreau, completing the over-arching storyline for season 3. 

Something that the team does here is that they give a whole small nation real hope. Most episodes, the Leverage team are helping a few people here and there. But no, this is thousands of people that they are saving from a corrupt government. This episode includes a fake death, a new romance, and a reminder that hope can be found in some of the darkest corners of the world. It’s tough not to realize just how good this episode is.


7. The Two Live Crew Job – S2 E7

I love seeing Wil Wheaton play a jerk. Whether its “Evil Wil Wheaton” on The Big Bang Theory or Dr. Isaac Parrish in Eureka, Wil Wheaton makes a good antagonist to beloved protagonists. And here we get hacker Colin “Chaos” Mason verses Hardison’s skills. When Sophie is forced to fake her death, the rest of the Leverage team are forced to go to battle with their another crew full of equals.

The second crew is fascinating to watch. Eliot and Mikel playing out their fights in their minds is a genius way to show a lot of fighting with little action. And Apollo the thief verses Parker the thief…well, if you’ve watched the show, watch Apollo carefully. He was a consultant for the show and former pickpocket master. Of course, neither team can really use the greatest asset at their disposal: Sophie Devereaux. 

This episode is great as it sets up the second half of season 2 somewhat with Sophie’s departure making room for Tara as well as Nate learning that he really can’t do this without Sophie around, admitting that he needs her. But this episode leaves you with the idea that Sophie is still trying to figure out who she is. 


6. The Juror #6 Job – S1 E11

Season one has some good moments for Parker, the resident crazy thief. But the Juror #6 Job is where Parker shines, accidentally. Parker is given jury duty as one of her aliases created by Hardison. And even though Hardison could probably get her out of it, Nate makes her go so she’s forced to work with 11 other “normal” people. 

But Parker takes on her persona, learning how to grift (since the last time she pretended to be somebody else, she stabbed a man), and even using her thieving abilities to cause some necessary ruckus to the jury. 

This episode is great because of the humor you get to see in the way that the team is able to come up with a last-minute con to get the jury to vote their way. While most of the episodes are pro-active, this reactionary way in which the team takes over for a win maintains a special place, partially because Parker has to be crazy in a non-Parker way.

The Juror #6 Job is notable also for its Star Trek connections. While Jonathan Frakes directed this episode, one of the main antagonists is played by Brent Spiner (Data from TNG). And there’s a scene with Armin Shimmerman (Quark from DS9) in a—well—if Quark was a human, he’d probably be somewhat like this character.


5. The Nigerian Job – S1 E1

For the premier of any given TV series, as a viewer, I want to see something that makes me want to keep watching. There are many shows with great first episodes that set up what the show is going to be about. Some have to tell a longer story. While others, just want to give you a proper taste for the ride you’re about to embark on. 

Leverage’s first episode does just that. Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton) is an alcoholic. You learn his former employer (an insurance agency) refused to pay for a treatment that would’ve saved his son’s life. He is convinced by Victor Dubenich (played by Warehouse 13’s Saul Rubinek) to lead a team of the top Hardison, Eliot, and Parker who are each a top rate thief who always works alone, but strong in their own fields. You learn a little about each character, enough to make them interesting. When the four of them are deceived, Nate finds a way to rally the three lone wolves to working with Sophie, one of the greatest actresses of all time (off the stage). 

Watching them all work together in this first job is fun the first time when you’re still learning the characters. A re-watch of this episode is awesome because you get to enjoy seeing them in their early stages of working together. You learn that Nate has chased down all four of his team members in his insurance investigator life. And as much as these are all thieves with varying skills who work alone, they each admit that they trust Nate.


4.  The First David Job/The Second David Job – S1 E12 / S1 E13

Now this is kind of cheating, but the two “David” episodes really are one longer combined episode with many twists and turns that are just so enjoyable. First, we learn that the team is trying to help Nate get revenge on his old company and the man responsible for denying the claim that prevented his son from being able to receive treatment for his condition, leading to his son’s death. 

Second, we meet Nate’s ex-wife, Maggie who is somewhat of an unintentional thorn in the side for the team at first. We have the return of Sterling (Mark Sheppard, who is known for so many roles, including Crowley to Supernatural fans). On top of that, we see that Sophie had her own selfish intentions with the plan from the get-go. We also see the end of the Leverage Los Angeles office thanks to a failsafe plan that Nate comes up with. In The Nigerian Job, we see how Sophie is scared of jumping down a stairwell with Parker. Here, she has to rescue Parker, using Parker’s methods, a complete character circle for the team’s grifter.

But one of the things that is always hard for me to watch is when Nate tells Maggie that, while Ian Blackpoole is partially responsible for their son’s death, Nate has taken on the blame of it. This scene is one of the only ones in the show to make me cry. It’s heart wrenching to see Nate go through the pain that he’s been avoiding for a while now. Being a dad, watching Nate go through that loss and its pain makes for one of the best scenes in the show. It’s also uplifting to see Maggie show her own remorse in Sam’s death and helping Nate finally move on.

The final con inside the museum is one of the funniest and most fascinating that the show put together. Watching Sterling go from being anti-Nate and team to helping himself and, at the same time, the team, is an interesting tone in the character. It shows Sterling’s just side. And then the promise that they’re done after the one season and all go their different ways would be extremely disappointing if there wasn’t a season two. 


3. The Girls’ Night Out Job/The Boys’ Night Out Job – S4 E13 / S4 E14

If the previous entry was cheating a little, this one is really cheating a lot. Technically, you can cut the two episodes properly to have just two stories in one long episode. So really, not sure it’s exactly cheating. 

But, like the titles hint, these episodes follow the girls of the group and the boys of the group with some returning guest stars. The girls bring back Tara as well as Peggy, who was Parker’s jury friend from season 1. The boys have another good use of Detective Benanno as well as the return of Jack Hurley, another season 1 returnee. 

While these stories do not mesh into one, they do hint at the other story throughout each episode. And that’s just one of the humorous aspects of these episodes. These teams have to run partial cons in order to find out what’s happening. You get to see the characters in their roots a little bit as Parker steals her way into an event and Sophie and Tara grift their way in. But once in, they discover that if they fail at their plans, there will be explosive consequences.

The boys, however, have to figure out how to save Jack, who thinks he’s doing a good thing, but in reality, is a pawn (just like the last time he was around). While they may have more manpower, the boys are just as in trouble without the girls here. 

Season 4 is pretty much an echo to previous season, especially season 1 with a good number of characters returning for at least an episode throughout the season. And this was a great way to get 2 one-time characters to return. 


2. The Last Dam Job – S4 E18

You can see how season 4 looked like the final season. With all the characters brought back already, it’s been a lot of fun. While this episode is just a few weeks removed from the two “Night Out” episodes, we bring back even more old favorites.

In the previous episode, Latimer (this season’s main villain) has done something to Nate’s father, preventing Nate and team from really being able to get involved in what they want. But, like the first episode and the first season finale, this job is personal. With the crew realizing they’re not just up against Latimer, but also a returning Victor Dubenich, from the first episode out for his own personal revenge, they decide to repeat how they were able to defeat Victor the first time: people he doesn’t know.

Joining the team are Colin “Chaos” Mason (the second return of Wil Wheaton) as the team’s proxy hacker. Of course, he makes an awesome Star Trek: The Next Generation joke that should not be overlooked for its cleverness. Eliot brings in someone who’s close to his equal, Mr. Quinn, who fought Eliot in “The First David Job.” Parker asks Archie Leach for his help, who is her “adoptive” father that we met in season 3’s The Inside Job. And Sophie enlists the help of Maggie Collins, Nate’s ex-wife. This time, though, Sophie and Nate are dating. The “ex-wife and the new girlfriend gimmick” adds a nice comedic touch to the episode. 

If there weren’t a fifth season, The Last Dam Job would be a great series finale. It echoes back to everything from the previous few years and definitely gives a satisfying conclusion to the team’s escapades as well as an understanding of Nate’s changes in his own life.


1. The Rashomon Job – S3 E11

I have read and heard a few times that if you want to understand Doctor Who in one episode, then Blink would be a great place to just get a feel for what is occurring in the episode. With that concept, The Rashomon Job would be a great way to get a feel Leverage’s hitter, hacker, grifter, thief, and mastermind. 

Technically, The Rashomon Job occurs before the five of them began their Robin Hood crusade. And you see the team shining in their methodologies as they each tell the story of what happened to an antique. The thing that makes this so interesting is that none of them knew that they were all vying against one another for the dagger, minus Nate who was still an insurance investigator at the time. Of course, Nate does show up in the story, despite the fact that none of them realize he was there.

For a Leverage fan, this episode is more a comedy of errors with a little drama (as opposed to the opposite that Leverage usually is). You know that none of their lives are in jeopardy and if anyone got caught long enough to be arrested, they wouldn’t have remained there for long. One thing that this episode helps prove though is that even back then, they really would’ve been better off working together than against one another. And they still needed Nate to lead the team.

Well, that’s it for me this time. I will keep my eye on Leverage: Redemption and hopefully write some more about this classic that definitely deserved a longer run than it was given. Of course, poor ratings didn’t help, but for IMDB to be bringing it back, I’d have to guess it’s done really well in the streaming world.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Watch Leverage: Redemption on IMDB.TV on July 9th.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Five Tips for New Dungeon Masters

You've agreed to DM your first game of Dungeons and Dragons (or Pathfinder, or Star Wars, or whatever) and now you look at the stack of books in front of you and wonder where to even begin. How do you fashion an entire world and story interesting enough to keep your players engaged? What if they do something you didn't plan for? Where are the stats for how hard a table is? 

Take a deep breath. You've got this. Here's five easy tips for new dungeon masters to make their games amazing. 


5: "Yes, And"
Remember that you and the players are telling a story together. When a player does something unexpected, don't have a swarm of high level knights suddenly spawn to take the player away, and don't tell the player they can't do something if they're perfectly capable of trying. Let them try whatever they want to try and make it part of the story. If they want to climb up on a roof to scout for enemies let them roll a athletics check, and if they roll low tell them how they fell on their butts. If they want to rob the magic weapon store owner let them try it, maybe roll for some fun treasure they can find or have them try to deal with a guard dog they didn't know about. The point is don't hinder your players, encourage them to think outside the box. It's one of the things that makes Dungeons and Dragons fun in the first place. 


4: No Hollow NPCs
Remember in the OG Final Fantasy game where town guards would just say "Welcome to Cornaria!" or whatever? You don't want NPCs like that, so give them a little personality. They don't all need to have fully written backstories with a family chart (Unless you want to, but calm down George RR Martin). Have a list of random character traits on hand that you can sprinkle onto the barmaid or the enemy cultist, make the players feel like they're in an actual world rather than inside a game. 


3: Not All Fights Are Fights To The Death
Nothing is worse than a fight taking forever against some low level scrubs just there to give out XP. This follows from tip 4 by making your world feel more real. When the monsters or enemies see that they're losing the fight or that their commander has fallen, let them run away from the adventurers. If a magic user in the party creates an illusion of Tiamat on the field, have some enemies flee in terror. Don't let your battles drag on just because you feel they can only end with everyone's hit points completely eliminated. 


2: Rule of Fun
You may be going for an ultra-realistic gritty style of game, or a dreary gothic atmosphere, but realize that at the end of the day you're a bunch of people sitting around a table imagining that halflings are real. So calm down, goofy stuff is inevitable, and someone's going to crack a joke somewhere. Let the game be fun for your players. It's okay to have something that isn't totally realistic if it means that the game can be more entertaining. Let the half-orc barbarian dress up as a lady in waiting to infiltrate the castle. Allow the fighter to have the blacksmith emblazon the Nike symbol onto his armor. It's fun so why not?

1: Communicate With Your Players
Just because you're the Dungeon Master doesn't mean you have to be the lone leader of the land. It's okay to let your players know what's going on behind the DM screen and ask for their help. Say "Okay I have no idea how to roll that properly so I'm just going to say that you succeed since it sounds like you would" or "You know what I didn't design that part of town that thoroughly so let's say you found the place fine." It's okay to even say "Okay this scenario is really stressing me out can I get everyone to take a 10 minute break while I figure this out and get my head back together?" then take 15, because you're the Dungeon Master and they can't play without you anyway. Dungeons and Dragons is a co-op experience, and that includes with the DM. If you're not having fun then that needs to be addressed the same as if a player wasn't having fun. 

-JOE

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