Wednesday, August 31, 2022

D&D Class Breakdown: Ranger

  For new players, it can be hard to choose your first class. For veteran players, it can be hard to choose a class and not fall into stereotypes everyone's seen a thousand times. So now I'm going to deconstruct the 5E Player's Handbook classes (Sorry Artificer, you'll come later) and talk about what works, what doesn't, and some interesting ways to play the classes. 

I won't be going into game mechanics as much as I'll be going into roleplay. 

Let's talk about Rangers! 

What Is A Ranger?

Every culture has someone who is a liaison between civilization and the wilds beyond. Sometimes that's a professional hunter who brings meat back from the woods to share with the village or it can be an expert to call in when a pack of wolves gets too close to people's houses. Today that translates to forest rangers, whose job is to keep the lines between human and wild as clear and defined as possible, no matter how many people want to try to get selfies with buffalo in Yellowstone. 

I have no idea how the Power Rangers come into any of this. 

In The Game

Rangers serve a nearly identical role as they do in reality, just substitute "animal" with "anything not human". Rangers choose an enemy, or enemies, that they are particularly angry against and get bonuses to tracking and fighting said enemy, adding bounty hunter/exterminator to their resumes, but in general are still seen as the ones who handle the owlbear that's made it's home too close to farmer Thunderstone's barn. 

A note on the difference between rangers and druids: Where rangers tend to defend humanity (or elfmanity, or dwarfmanity, or whatevermanity) from the wild, druids try to defend the wilds from humanity. The ranger is on the side of the people where the druid is on the side of the animals. This should put them at odds (Which would honestly make for interesting stories) but usually both parties will settle a problem by putting everyone back where they belong. 

Players usually play the ranger in one of two ways: Either Legolas or Drizzt. They either have a guy who shoots everything ever with arrows or a guy with two swords turning everything into an episode of Hell's Kitchen: Mincing Finals. For races they usually pick an elf, their favored enemy is usually either orcs or dragons, and their animal companions are almost always wolves or large cats. 


Breaking the Trope

The thing about this class is that it could go in so many interesting directions, and 5E has even more flavors to add to the pot that it's a shame that only the two elf boys get ripped off. Let's use some imagination and come up with some fun alternatives to Orlando Bloom and... Well Drizzt. 

Defender of Alternative Biomes
As I said with the druids, people get obsessed with landing the wild classes in the forest when we have so many more interesting places to play, especially in Dungeons and Dragons. What if the ranger was an expert in sea hunting, and yes that's a thing read Moby Dick. Or use something like the underdark, or the feywild, where they know how to track creatures where a basic forest ranger would be beyond lost. 

Half Orc Ranger
Too many people pigeonhole the half-orcs into being idiot meat heads, when while they may not win at Trivial Pursuit they can survive in a tough spot. Even more interesting, what if the ranger was defending their orc village from encroaching humans, who they saw as the same type of beast as they would any invasive species? 

At the turn of the century, expeditions were sent to Africa and South America in droves to research and discover new animals. Sometimes they'd be captured and dragged back to live sad lives in zoos, sometimes their pelts would be brought back and turned into creepy research pieces, either way, these guys had similar skills to the ranger. Arcane magic users don't have to be the only egg-heads in the party if you have a ranger looking to either stock a menagerie or fill a trophy room. 

Bounty Hunter
Rangers can take humanoids as a favored enemy with restrictions to their own race unless they are evil, so why not have a ranger that hunts members of another race that have in some way broken the law? Mean spirited and possibly racist yes but we're talking about fictional races here so let's calm down. I still want the opportunity to have a human ranger to specialize in hunting halflings...

Famous Rangers

Vex'ahlia (Critical Role)
Yup, the usual Matt Mercer darling is here. Vex is the typical bow-focused ranger who has a special taste for dragons. She also has an adorable animal companion in the form of a bear named Trinket, which aids in combat when she remembers that he exists. 

Mando (Mandalorian)
You can substitute this for Boba Fett if you want since in this context they're both the same. Both are trained in survival and how to hunt down prey, and are the bounty hunter type I mentioned above, only these guys do it in space. 

Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Gaston is an example of the historical ranger, since we see him coming in with hunting spoils and he brags about his antler collection in the tavern. The townsfolk love him, in story it's because he's the manliest man to ever man, but historically we can assume that some of his popularity comes from providing meat for the village in leaner times or during the winter, making him a lynch pin to the survival of the village. 


Monday, August 29, 2022

Strange New Worlds: My First Foray into Star Trek

I grew up the son of a Trekkie (my dad literally had dozens of VHS tapes with recorded Star Trek episodes) but I’d never watched a Star Trek series start to finish, only episodes here and there. But last month at a guys’ night, someone wanted to watch an episode of Strange New Worlds. We ended up watching two episodes that night and I was hooked.

One of my best friends described Strange New Worlds as a return to what traditional Star Trek felt like. Instead of lengthy plots and story arcs throughout the season, we got individual, one-episode stories. Sure, there are threads running through the season, but you could get by watching an episode here and there if you didn’t want to watch everything. 

That being said, we had several overarching plots throughout the season: Pike’s vision, Spock’s engagement, La’an’s past with the Gorn, Una’s homeworld, and M’Benga’s daughter, to name a few. As a father my heart broke for M’Benga and the misfit in me felt a tug toward Una’s discrimination. With only one season of Strange New Worlds so far, it’s a great place to start your adventure with the Federation. It’s short (for now) and it gives you a sampling of what to expect in other series.

If you’re like me, this only leaves you with one problem: Where do I go next now that I’m done with Strange New Worlds

Friday, August 26, 2022

Studio Ghibli and Their 5 Greatest Movies

(Guest Post by Kobe)

You’ve probably heard the name Studio Ghibli at least once in your life. The famed Japanese animation studio has many avid supporters and enthusiasts around the world. Sadly, I was never one of them. When I was little, the only thing I knew about Studio Ghibli is that commercials for some of their movies such as Ponyo and Kiki’s Delivery Service would be shown before the old VHS Disney movies I watched as a kid. These weird movies had strange looking characters and a completely different animation style than I was used to. I saw them as merely an obstacle in between me and the Disney movies I was so familiar with. As I got older, I heard more and more praise for these movies, but I had no way to watch them. With all their movies streaming on HBO Max, I finally decided to give them a try. And no, I didn’t just watch a few of their films. I watched all 23. After watching all of Studio Ghibli’s movies for the first time, here’s what I believe to be their five greatest films.

#5: Kiki’s Delivery Service

This is a movie that has grown on me tremendously the more I’ve thought about it. Kiki’s Delivery Service, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, follows a young witch named Kiki that must leave home to continue her training in magic. Settling in a coastal town, Kiki decides to start a delivery service using her ability to fly. This movie perfectly encapsulates the light and happy feeling that comes with most Ghibli movies. The stakes are low and there isn’t much action, but watching Kiki meet new people and overcome the problems that eventually arise is so wholesome. When the movie ended, I had a big smile on my face. If you’re wanting to start watching these movies, this is one I would start with.

#4: When Marnie Was There

I love When Marnie Was There. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the film is about a shy, depressed girl named Anna, who, because of her mental and physical health, leaves the city for the summer and moves in with her relatives in the countryside. There she discovers a mysterious house across a marsh and a girl named Marnie that lives there. Together they form a strong bond and unlock secrets neither of them knew. If that sounds like your kind of movie, please give it a watch. It won’t be for everyone, but I recommend giving it a try. The ending floored me emotionally and made me cry more than almost any movie has, and that’s saying something.

#3: Grave of the Fireflies

Speaking of movies that floored me emotionally, next is Grave of the Fireflies! Directed by Isao Takahata, Grave of the Fireflies takes place in Japan during World War II, as orphaned Seita and Setsuko try to survive without a home. There is a lot of suffering in this movie and so much of it is centered around children, which makes it an incredibly difficult movie to sit through. I appreciate that the director pulls no punches emotionally and doesn’t back away from what makes this movie so uncomfortable. Animation is so often viewed as something only for kids, and this movie is the antithesis to that way of thinking. As difficult as it is to watch, this movie is a haunting masterpiece and a must-watch for any animation fan.

#2: Spirited Away

Spirited Away was the first Ghibli movie I watched, and wow it blew me away. When a young girl named Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs by a witch, she must navigate a world full of spirits to save them. I’m just going to say it, this is the most visually creative movie I’ve ever seen. Miyazaki, the film’s director, does such a fantastic job crafting this world full of strange and magical creatures. The movie is a joy to look at, featuring some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen. Also, the musical score by composer Joe Hisaishi is nothing short of iconic and puts a liveliness and freshness into the movie. It’s hard to explain what makes the movie so good. Please go watch it and you’ll understand.

#1: My Neighbor Totoro

In my opinion, Studio Ghibli’s best movie is one of their simplest. When two young girls move into a new house in the Japanese countryside in order to be closer to the hospital where their sick mom is staying, they meet a lovable and magical creature named Totoro. In my opinion, this movie defines Studio Ghibli. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (again), My Neighbor Totoro is simple, magical, imaginative, happy with a tinge of nostalgic sweetness, and endlessly rewatchable. It might be less ambitious than some others, but it made me feel like a kid again. You really can’t top that feeling. 

And here's my list! Almost all the studio’s movies are great, so deciding on my favorites was difficult. What are your favorite Ghibli movies? Did they make it on my list? Watching these movies was a treat and I recommend you check them out!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

I Am Groot - Marvel's Bugs Bunny

Marvel's MCU has certainly been dipping their toes into new genres lately. Multiverse of Madness gave us horror, What If... gave us animated, and Eternals gave us absolute gibbering nonsense, so it's no surprise to see their next foray into animated shorts featuring everyone's favorite Marvel cutie-Groot.

I Am Groot

I Am Groot is currently streaming on Disney+, with each episode lasting about five minutes and leaving you wanting more. The shorts presumably take place between Guardians of the Galaxy one and two, after Groot was repotted by Rocket but before he became a foul mouthed surely teenager. But unlike everything else in this oversized franchise, canon isn't something we're really worrying about here since all the shorts feature are the antics of a tiny tree man trying to navigate the big ol' galaxy. 

I Am Groot

Plot-wise the shorts are simple: Groot is exploring when he runs into a problem and tries to explore or solve the problem in adorably funny ways. Being in baby mode Groot's combat skills aren't what they were in the first Guardians so he usually has to rely on dumb luck and perseverance to get out of his latest shannegains. The animation is top-notch, with the Disney/Marvel animators bringing their A-game to the table. It's easy to blend Groot into an animated world since he himself is animated but the artists manage to also make the world look real to us, so if in a future episode Chris Pratt were to wander in he would look just as in place as Groot himself. 

I Am Groot

The I Am Groot shorts are delightful in their sheer simplicity. In the age where every superhero movie and TV show is surrounded with casting calls, decisions, costumes, Easter eggs, canon questions, cameos, post-credit scenes and problematic actors running from the police while the press try to figure out how pronouns work, it's nice of Marvel to bring something out that says "We're going on a few delightful adventures with this cute little tree man and you're free to join us if you want" and I am here for it and I hope you are too. 


Monday, August 22, 2022

Before They Were a Community

True story: I was inspired to go back to school while watching Community with my wife. Fortunately/unfortunately, my education wasn’t as easy as one at Greendale. But what matters is where it got me. We’ve come a long way, me and Community. Now it doesn’t matter what I’m watching, if I see a Community actor, my eyes light up. Here are just some of my favorites from before they became Greendale Human Beings. 

Jim Rash (Dean Craig Pelton) - Friends

I swear he could have been the same character in Friends. During a Friends rewatch (which happens constantly in our home), he could be seen as Rachel’s plane-mate in the series finale. One mention of Phoebe’s “feelings” and this nervous passenger was out the door. In a way, he was the hero of Ross and Rachel’s love story (even though I don’t like them together); if he hadn’t freaked out Ross might not have made it to the plane on time. It’s just a good thing no one asked him about spare phalanges at Greendale.

Joel McHale (Jeff Winger) - Spider-Man 2

As they hit Netflix recently, my wife and I just watched the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy (worth watching, especially after his appearance in No Way Home). I knew it was coming, but I was still smiling to see Joel McHale as a banker in the movie. He was a bit of a sleazeball, attempting to pocket some of the bank’s cash during the attack, until Aunt May hit him. Could have been Jeff in a pre-lawyer life.

Danny Pudi (Abed Nadir) - Gilmore Girls 

Another constantly running staple in our home, we’ve always got a run of Gilmore Girls going. The first time I watched it with my wife (she’d seen it countless times by then) I was surprised to see Abed running around the Yale newspaper with Rory Gilmore. He was part of the uncomfortable episode where Lorelei and Christopher took the newspaper staff out for dinner… despite the protests. Awkward.

Alison Brie (Annie Edison) - Hannah Montana 

Once Disney Plus came out, we immediately started watching Disney Channel series, including Hannah Montana. I was surprised to see Alison Brie, but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. I’m sure more actors than I realize had appearances on Disney Channel before their break. She only appeared in one episode (as part of a scheme against Jackson), but there she was.

Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley Bennett) - That’s So Raven

Another Human Being with a history in teen dramas. She appeared in That’s So Raven and iCarly in nameless roles. But the lack of name didn’t stop the sass, as she acted as the bouncer, keeping Raven and Chelsea from tracking down their latest pop star obsession. Enter Disney Channel shenanigans.

Ken Jeong (Ben Chang) - The Office

Before he was a deranged former Spanish teacher (and after he was a medical doctor), we got to see Ken Jeong as one of the other students in Michael’s improv class. He was one of Michael’s “gunshot” victims in his ridiculous production. Back in 2020 he was a guest on the “Office Ladies” podcast, discussing his breakout role. 

It was hard to narrow down the Community cast for this blog post. I could have included Leonard being in The Pagemaster or Magnitude attending Hogwarts as Lee Jordan. But I’ll leave it with these six. And of course, whenever Gillian Jacobs appears in anything, we have only one reaction:

Friday, August 19, 2022

Why aren't you listening to Hadestown?

 You know that annoying guy who keeps trying to get you to listen to the latest album he's discovered until you finally listen to it? 

That's me. I'm that guy. 

So have you ever heard of Hadestown?

Myths Reborn

Hadestown is the latest Broadway hit that first appeared right before the pandemic and came back with a vengence once the theaters reopened. The musical retells the myths of Hades and Persephone and Orpheus and Eurydice. 

Don't know those? Haven't played the video game Hades? Okay quick recap: 

So Hades is the god of the underworld, AKA Hades (I should name my house after myself). And, for the record, as opposed to certain Disney and certain Liam Nissan movies he is NOT the devil. History and mistranslations have combined the king of the underworld with Satan over the centuries but in the original myths Hades was more of a guardian of knowledge and guide to souls than a malevolent plotting bad guy. 

Anyway, so Hades kidnaps Persephone, goddess of spring, drags her to the underworld and makes her his wife. 

...Okay that's bad in modern context but without having to go into anymore cultural detail let's just say that this was less Taken and more Fiddler on the Roof

So anyways, Persephone's mother takes issue with the whole arragement and refuses to let the earth bloom while Persephone is in the underworld, but Persephone can't leave the underworld because of her marriage to Hades (and this whole thing with a pomegranite) for forever so Persephone comes up for six months out of the year and while she's up the world blooms and we have summer. 

Meanwhile Orpheus and Eurydice is a myth about a couple who falls in love when the fairer half ends up dead causing Orpheus the bard and half-muse to go to the underworld to find her and his singing allows him to walk out with Eurydice under the contition that the entire time they're walking out he can't turn around to check if she's still following him. 

Spoiler alert on a story that's somewhere around 3000 years old: He turned around and she was trapped in the underworld forever. 

Modern Twist

Back to Hadestown the musical takes these two myths and combines them into one narrative. Hades and Persephone are currently having marital troubles since Hades keeps dragging Persephone back to the underworld early because he's jealous of her time away from him, and Persephone is sick of Hades obsession with materialism (BTW Hades was also the god of all things underground, including metals and jewels. Fun facts!). 

Meanwhile in the mortal world, the short summers has caused a famine, causing a poor girl named Eurydice to wander from place to place searching for food and shelter till she runs into Orpheus, the son of a muse who is trying to use his special gift of song to heal the world. They fall in love and are married but Orpheus becomes too obsessed with his work to notice Eurydice making a deal with Hades to work in Hadestown in exchange for food and shelter. Orpheus then goes to Hadestown to rescue his beloved and, well, see above for the results, though his song does remind Hades and Persephone why they love each other and does fix the seasons. 

Now picture all this in the Depression era south with bluesy music. 

What's So Great About Hadestown? 

Besides being a squee for us mythology nerds, the story itself is a beautiful allegory for the struggle relationships go through. This isn't a "And they lived happily ever after" story, or a "Love conquers all" story, this is a story about people who come into relationships with their own damage and how that damage needs to be worked through or it will destroy the relationship. 

We also get an even-handed Hades in the show. Hades isn't a meniacle monster plotting against the universe, he's a man in pain who doesn't know how to express it. He loves Persephone and hates that he has to lose her for six months out of the year. He's tried to fill the hole with treasure and labor, but all it does is further drive his beloved queen away. 

To me the musical is beautiful in the tragedy and the victory of it all. In the end, Orpheus brings back the spring but loses his beloved Eurydice, because he couldn't trust that she was just a few steps behind him. It's a great change from the cutesie couple stories that end in the standard "happily ever after", since not everyone gets one. 

So if you need a new bluesy musical fix, something that's along the lines of Wicked and Dear Evan Hansen then check out Hadestown. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Dealing with Quarantine Cabin Fever

What do you do when you are in Quarantine? Recently, I tested positive for COVID-19 and had to stay at home in a room for over a week (still positive while writing this post). I Usually work a lot, but the first few days I had a very high temperature and couldn’t accomplish much, but by the 5th day my fever broke, and I was functional again. My professor told me that I can’t come back to work until I tested negative for COVID two days in a row. So, I have been getting cabin fever and been trying to make my imprisonment as enjoyable as possible. In this post I am going to share what I have been doing to enjoy my isolation.

Read Books

While I have been away from school, I have been trying to get ahead of my reading goals and I have been researching what books I want to read next. I just finished the third book in The Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix Aenir. It is a scholastic book series written in the early 2000’s where a chosen named Tal must search for a sun stone to provide for his family after the disappearance of his father. I like the series because it was something I started as a child but never finished and I like how Garth Nix doesn’t go into explanations on how the world works at the beginning of the book he starts off right into the drama like Tal falling off the red tower.

I am currently reading book four of Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians: The shattered Lens. This is a fun series to read because it’s supposed to take place in our world but Librarians (Who control the hushlands [our world]) place this ‘nonfiction’ book into the fantasy section. The series is an autobiography by Alcatraz who uses Brandon Sanderson as a pen name to tell us about the freelands and his battle against the librarians who want world domination. Even though it is written for youth I get a lot of joy reading it.

I have been researching the next series of books that I want to read, and I have put the kingkiller chronicle on my radar by Patrick Rothfuss. I think this series will be very beautiful to read because of how important words are in the story and I want to get into the band wagon on theorizing on what will happen in the third book in the series. In the series it states that there are seven words to make a woman love you. I only need three, I love you. It worked on my wife.

Watching Shows

While having a high fever I rewatch Love is War again starting from season one because it was something that would make me laugh but since I have already seen it before I wasn't disappointed when I missed some important scenes. If you don’t know what Love is War is about read my previous post about the show. It is a perfect anime.

I am currently watching Ms. Marvel and It is not as bad as I thought it would be after, it is surprisingly getting better each episode. I gave a better update on why I like it in last week's post but if you are debating on seeing it watch the first 3 episodes then decide if you want to continue.

Being Creative

The next thing I have been doing is trying not to get cabin fever. “I got cabin Fever it’s been burning in my brain. I’ve got cabin fever it’s driving me insane” - Muppets Treasure Island. I have been working on developing a talent that I am not good at, drawing. I couldn’t draw anything that I would be proud of, but I have a child that loves animals and Disney characters, so I have been working on learning how to draw. So far, I learned to Draw Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and a cartoon giraffe. I can’t draw on different planes, but they are recognizable characters. I am grateful for YouTube and the internet for helping me bring joy to my child.


The days that I didn’t make my bed in the morning made me feel more uncomfortable even while being really sick because by the time I went to bed my sheets would be all over the place and I felt disordered. I read a book called Make your Bed: Little Things Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven earlier this year. The book helped me accept that we fail a lot in life but when we preserver we become better. Doing daily chores like making our bed is setting us up for success and if the day turns out to be a failure at least we succeeded in making our bed. Even though I had Covid I felt like I accomplished more throughout the day if I made my bed. Instead of being depressed and staying in bed all day making my bed helped me get out of it and stay out of it until I needed sleep.

Play Games

The last activity I have been working on is playing games, specifically Worldle. I can’t really go out an exercise how I usually do throughout the day, and I haven’t been eating much lately either, but I enjoy exercising my mind with a fun five letter word each day. My strategy for the game is for my first two guesses use two words that have all the vowels “Youth” and “Media” from there I am in a good position to get the Wordle. I did miss a couple of days while I was sick, but I am determined to surpass my Max Streak of 114 days.

I hope this is helpful for those that are experiencing COVID. It sucks and can be depressing. What did you do when you had COVID?

Check out some of our other ideas of things to do in quarantine:

Monday, August 15, 2022

Why I Loved LOST

Back in high school, I remember one Christmas where my brother came home from college raving about this new TV show. My brother has suggested many shows to me over the years. And, if I'm being honest, many of them have gone in one ear and out the other. But this show he made the point of buying himself the DVDS and watching the first episodes with me. I don’t remember which cliffhanger finally hooked me, but by the time my brother left after Christmas, we’d already binged almost the whole first season of LOST.

LOST is possibly one of the most controversial fandoms I’ve been a part of (though the toxicity of Star Wars, Marvel, and Harry Potter come to mind as well lately). The final season in particular seemed to rub people the wrong way (I still have a hard time comprehending how so many people misunderstood the series finale). Regardless as to what other people think of the series, I still love it (and probably want to rewatch it again soon) and here’s why:

With only a few exceptions, LOST did a great job of providing overall continuity with their overlapping character stories. With flashbacks, flashforwards, and present-day Island time, there are a lot of details to keep track of. And the writers did (as did the fans). It was also rare that they even recast a character (they’d more likely exclude the character than recast them). 

Theories: LOST came out at the perfect time, in the days of online message boards and fledgling social media. Online communities were buzzing after each episode trying to discern the mystery behind Adam and Eve, the Orchid Station, or the infamous Jacob. I ended up with a few online “friends” on those message boards who I was always excited to see theories from. So with the mysteries and the theories came a sense of community (which I desperately needed in high school).

Characters: With such a large cast, it would be difficult to flesh out and develop them all. But even with a beginning cast of fourteen people, it was interesting to see each of them get their own spotlight throughout the show. Sure some of them got bigger spotlights, like Jack and Kate, but besides a couple exceptions, like Libby and the Freighter gang, we got a solid backstory and character development for every major player, even recurring characters like Rose and Bernard. In the end, the show wasn’t about the Monster or DHARMA; it was about the people. 

LOST is one of those shows that has so many layers and each time I watch it I feel like I understand it better. There are some shows I can watch once and be done, but there are others that have possibly infinite rewatch potential. LOST will definitely be rewatched again.