Unreview: Captain Marvel (No Spoilers)

Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to like it,
  2. I have to pay for it,
  3. I try my best to use E-Prime (avoid using any iteration of the verb “to be”) whenever I talk about the thing.


The thing I liked most about Captain Marvel and the thing I liked least are both liked to such a huge spoiler, I can’t talk about it. That means I can’t tell you the main reason why I liked the movie so much and the one thing I felt… Well, dammit. I can’t say that without breaking Rule #3. Let me try that again.

I don’t think the thing doesn’t need to be said—I think it does need to be said—but there’s a moment where the filmmakers lay it on so thick, I think it detracts from the point. And that moment, that tiny moment, pulled me out of the movie.

Again, not because I disagree, but because…eh, I should shut up. Because I really like this movie. I like it so much, I’ve moved it up into my top 5 Marvel movies.

When the trailers started hitting the screens, I must admit, I did not feel it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see this movie. (In fact, according to my latest schedule, I’ll be seeing it two more times before Wednesday.) They just weren’t doing it for me. Trepidation crept into my heart. But once Brie Larson hit the screen, that moment died. The trailers completely failed to capture Brie Larson’s screen presence. That woman could loan you 10 points of Charisma and she’d still have 18+. She held my attention throughout the film; from the first tête-à-tête to the first post-credit scene. (There’s two. You should stay for both.)

And the way Marvel handles her throughout matches up with a few other films I’ve seen over the past year. Films like Bumblebee, Alita: Battle AngelIncredibles 2Ant-Man and the WaspOcean’s 8, and many others. Beautiful women who are not sexualized in any way. Sexy as all Hell, but not sexualized. Makes me feel happy. Makes me feel that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood has figured out how to make films women want to see. Hell, that want to see. I mean, I work in an industry where fetish and fantasy are used as synonyms and I’ve been fighting against that shit since 1995. I’m glad to see others are, too.

Funny story and a bit of a side-step, but trust me, it’ll make sense when we swing back. When I was in high school in Georgia, one of my teachers had pictures of both MLK and Malcolm X on his wall. I told him, “I know who MLK is…but who is this?” He gave me a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X to read. When I was done, he asked me what I thought. I told him, “I feel angry. And sad. And confused.”

Later, I went to see Spike Lee’s movie. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and when I went into the theater, I was the only white person there. The only one. I was frightened, but I stayed put. When the movie ended, I looked around. I was certain something was going to happen. And while I watched the film, I realized how few white people were in it. And it was at that moment I realized, “Well shit, this is what it feels like.” That moment when nobody in the theater and nobody up on the screen looks like you.

That walk from the theater to my car in the dark parking lot took a month. But nothing happened to me. Probably because everyone knew what would happen if something did happen to me. That night changed my life forever.

So, back to Captain Marvel. Watching this movie and watching Bumblebee and watching Alita: Battle Angel and watching Widows (why did you not see Widows, people?) showed me something new. All those movies showed me walking, talking examples of “the female eye.” Something I’d heard about before but didn’t understand until I actually saw it. That’s because I’m slow and I need to see things to understand them. When I sat in the theater for Bumblebee and saw young and gorgeous Jorge Lendeborg Jr. taking off his shirt, I suddenly realized: “That’s not for me.” And when the theater responded to him taking off his shirt, I was back in Los Angeles, sitting in a theater of people who didn’t look like me.


No, wait. That’s not just okay. That’s pretty awesome. Because the people who make movies can make movies that aren’t just about people like me. They can be for someone else. But I still get to enjoy them because they’re great storytelling.

Pay close attention to why Carol Danvers becomes what she is. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but trust me, you’ll want to pay attention here. She isn’t given anything, it’s because of the choices she makes. Because of who she is. This isn’t empowerment, it’s empowering. There’s a difference. Take a Mythology 101 class and learn the difference.

Loved the cat, loved the friend, loved the friend’s daughter, loved Jude Law…

I did not love the Stan Lee thing at the beginning. At the end of it, someone in the theater shouted, “Thank you Stan Lee!”

I shouted, “And Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko!”

That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Weird Weird West: A Hack of the World’s Most Popular Weird West RPG


I turn fifty this year. Wow. Five-Oh.

This weekend, as part of my birthday celebration, I had the opportunity to run Deadlands for Shane Hensley. We were chatting over the internet a couple weeks ago and I said, “I’d really like to play Deadlands.

Shane said, “You should run it. I’d drive up (from Chandler to Phoenix) for that. But it would have to be your own weird take on the system.”

Well, I like the idea of giving away things on my birthday, and I know game designers secretly love seeing what other people do with their own ideas (the good ones do), so I told him I’d run it on my birthday and sure enough, he showed up to play. I threw together a quick system that shared elements with Deadlands, but was certainly not Deadlands. I explained the system to the players and started the game.

As with all game systems, the players and I started making small changes during play. We changed when players could look at their cards. We changed what Jokers meant. I improvised a method of randomly picking characters. And ten minutes after we started playing, I added Flaws (you’ll see them below). After the game was over, we all talked about the game and even more changes we would make.

The system you’re about to read is the system that emerged from that session with a couple of minor tweaks thrown in afterward. It’s fast, efficient and deadly. Really deadly. I think its safe to say that my interpretation of Grit was Shane’s favorite element of the game. For most of the mechanics, he nodded, but when I explained Grit, his eyes lit up.

Special Thanks to the other players at the table: my faithful and awesome regulars Fabien Badilla, Jennifer Todd, and the always handsome Mr. and Mrs. Blessing, Ron and Veronica. And to Jessica, who was making a METRICK $#%@ TON of food for my birthday celebration, listening in, and chuckling.

1: Makin’ Characters

Get yerself a bunch of index cards. This is one of them hipster indie games, after all. Every player gets two: one for a name stand that you fold over and put in front of you, and another for your actual character sheet.

On the character sheet, write down your character’s name.

Then, write down three words or phrases that are important to who your character is. This could be Sheriff, Gunfighter, School Marm, Gambler, Coward of the County, whatever you like. Assign a “1,” “2,” and “3” to your three words or phrases. These are your Traits. The one that’s most important t’ya should be the 3, and then go in descendin’ order.

Next, write down yer character’s Flaw. This is something yer character does in spite o’ their best interests.

Then, get three coins or chips or tokens or whatever to represent yer Grit. This represents yer character’s toughness. Sorta. You’ll see.

Optional Rule: If you feel one of yer Traits, and just one of yer Traits, should earn you an additional Grit, you go ahead and give yerself another Grit token. The House (that’s the GM in this game) has’ta approve yer Trait as givin’ ya a Grit.

Now, write down three things that are true about yer character.

Finally, each of the other players tells you how they know your character. How they met, how they get along, anything like that. And you do that fer each of the other characters, too.

That’s when yer done and it’s time ta play.

2: Playin’ the Game

The standard rule is the House narrates the story. She says what happens.

Whenever a player wants to narrate something, she plays against the House.

First, the House deals a hand of five cards to the player and a number of cards to herself based on how hard the situation may be.

  • If the situation is Normal, she deals 5 cards.
  • If it’s Tough, she deals herself 6 cards.
  • If it’s Harder Than That, she deals 7 cards.
  • If Things Are Damn Grim, she deals 8 cards to herself.

Both the player and House try to make the best poker hand.

The player looks at his hand and can discard 1 card per point in one appropriate Trait. So, if a character wants to gun down a villain, and she has GUNSLINGER 2 on her character sheet, she can toss two cards and the House gives her two more. If she had GUNSLINGER 3 on her sheet, she could ditch three cards and the House deals her three more.

Once the player has her final hand, both the player and House compare hands. Whoever has the best hand gets to narrate the scene.


Because the House gets to narrate the scene (usually), the House can put all kinds o’ heinous hurtin’ down on the characters. The House can say, “You get a black eye,” or “You sprain your wrist,” or “You twist your ankle,” or any other kinda hurtin’.

When this happens, the player can spend a Grit and say, “It don’t matter none” or some other kinda phrase that indicates their character is too damn tough to be bothered by an insignificant consequence such as that.

Otherwise, the player has to write down the injury on their character sheet. If any such injury comes into play during drawin’ cards, the player has to draw one less card for each appropriate injury.

So, if you got a sprained wrist and you’re tryin’ to palm a card during a poker game, or maybe you’re tryin’ to draw your gun faster than the outlaw who’s about to gun you down, you draw one less card.

Now, there’s one exception to this and that’s guns. Whenever your character gets shot, she dies. That’s it. Dead, dead, dead. On her way up to Boot Hill. You done got yerself a wooden coat. The only way to avoid dyin’ from a gun is to spend Grit, but when you do, you have to describe how the gunshot hurt ya, but didn’t kill ya. And it should be bad. If it ain’t bad enough, the House will let ya know. Just make it bad and don’t put the House in the position o’ havin’ ta correct ya. That’s just rude.

Oh, and once per game, when ya invoke yer Flaw, you get one Grit. Once per game and that’s it.

Magic and Other Weird Stuff

If yer character wants t’have magic or steam powered flyin’ machines or somethin’ else Weird, ya gotta make it one o’yer Traits. When you use it, you do the same thing ya do for any other Trait: ya make a draw with the House. If you get the higher hand, you get ta say how it works. If you don’t, the House does. If the House wins, it don’t mean yer Weird stuff don’t work, it means the House gets ta say how it works. Weird stuff is weird and sometimes it does weird stuff.

Who Goes First?

If there’s ever a question about who goes first, have everybody play high card: just throw out a card to each player and they go in the order of the cards. Or, ya can have the highest hand go first. That includes NPCs, by the way.

When Do I Shuffle?

I shuffle after each draw. I also use two decks shuffled together. You may want to do that or you may not, dependin’ on how much fun countin’ cards is fer you and yer players.


If’n ya keep the Jokers in the deck, they’re wild cards.

3: Conclusion

And that’s it. That’s all ya really need. Everything else is just window dressin’. Now go get yer friends and play.

And consider this my birthday present to you. Yer welcome, pard’ner. Happy birthday.


Presuppositional Apologetics: An Apology



“So, those with depression and schizophrenia can just choose to not be depressed and schizophrenic?”

— Me, debating freewill


I suffer from depression. All my life. Actually, it’s more than depression. Recently, I was re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder because the older you get, the faster your body breaks down. And that means there are times I’m not completely in charge of my brain. (Actually, nobody is really in charge of their brain, but I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. Let’s just say that once you discover you have something wrong in your head, you start studying how the brain actually works, and you never like what you find out.) When a bout of depression hits, it doesn’t wear boxing gloves. Or, maybe it does, because you can actually hit people harder with boxing gloves, you know. Which is one of the reasons why MMA is safer than boxing. And…

…yeah. Brains. Funny things.

When I get hit with a bout of depression, I stop doing the things I love. I stop eating. I stop showering. I stop getting out of bed. I stop reading. I stop writing. And I become fixated on stupid things. I start to clean. A lot. I re-organize my comic collection. I move around the book shelves and the books on them. Then, I do those things all over again. You just can’t tell what I’ll obsess over when depression comes a’calling with its haunting siren song.

This time, it was weird. This time, it was presuppositional apologetics. From Wikipedia:


Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian.[1] Presuppositionalists claim that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue on the basis of a different set of assumptions that God may not exist and Biblical revelation may not be true.


So yeah. I got caught up in that. In fact, I watched hours of Youtube videos. And a couple people really caught my attention. Caught it and wouldn’t let go.

Matt Slick

I watched people like Matt Slick go on and on about his version of the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God and watched even more hours of people dissecting it and demonstrating its mistakes. And it has huge mistakes. Like, right in the first premise argument killing mistakes. As someone who studied philosophy in college, declared philosophy as a major, tutored philosophy and did student teaching, I took one look at Slick’s TAG and shook my head. If he had turned it in while I was a student teacher, I would have returned it with an “Incomplete” grade. It’s so wrong, it isn’t even wrong. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how to build a disjunctive syllogism. What is a disjunctive syllogism, you may ask? I’m happy to answer!

A disjunctive syllogism (modus tollendo ponens) is a valid argument form which is a syllogism having a disjunctive statement for one of its premises. It usually looks like this:

{\displaystyle {\frac {P\lor Q,\neg P}{\therefore Q}}}


P versus Q.
Not P
Therefore, Q.

A real example for illustration:

This die either has 10 sides or 20 sides
The die has 10 sides
Therefore, it does not have 20 sides

In other words, by affirming the P, you disconfirm the Q.

However, Matt’s lists his syllogism like this:


Either God, or not-God.

Not-God cannot account for the laws of logic.

Therefore God can account for the laws of logic.


Now, there are so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start by stripping away the text and go for the way he structures the argument, which may help us see the most basic problem.

In short, Slick’s argument attempts to use the following form:


P or —P

Not —P

Therefore, P


The basic problem here is Slick’s formulation is essentially just begging the question. And no, “begging the question” doesn’t mean “raising the question.” It means that you include your conclusion in one of your premises.

He’s also created a false dichotomy, which undermines his disjunctive syllogism. (He also likes to move away from evaluating the form of his argument and get to “the facts,” which demonstrates he knows there’s a problem here.) When I say “This die has 10 sides or 20 sides,” I offer two choices. There are no other choices available in the argument. But by presenting “God” and “not God,” he has not presented a dichotomy. (He likes to say “true dichotomy,” which is a lot like saying “code of bushido” or “ATM machine” or “PIN number.”) He also ignores the fact that “not-God” (which he calls atheism) also includes all world views that do not include the Christian God. That includes Buddism, Hinduism, Platonism, and any other world views we haven’t discovered yet. It also makes a category error of defining “atheism” as a world view, which it clearly is not.

This brief video covers some of the basics here as well as some other really fun objections. There are other videos, but because Rationality Rules invokes Odin and Valhalla, it’s my favorite. Take a peek.



Darth Dawkins

Darth Dawkins, aka Darwin’s Deity, aka Evolution False, aka a dozen other pseudonyms is the presupper that I could not stop watching. Not because I found any of his arguments intriguing or compelling, but because he really is a train wreck. I mean, a train wreck of highly combustable, radioactive material. Watching a video with “DD” is like watching Godzilla plow his way through a city. And not fun, cool, anti-hero Godzilla…wait. No, not like Godzilla at all. Godzilla is fun. Comparing this guy to Godzilla is an insult to Godzilla, and I must now apologize.

DD’s chief argument works like this:


Because atheists cannot justify their presuppositions, their entire world view is irrational. Therefore, they can’t even justify they exist.


This is the kind of shit philosophy professors pull on freshmen. It’s invoking the problem of hard solipsism, that nobody can be sure that anything outside their own mind is real. It’s something you learn in Philosophy 101, it freaks you out, you try to find ways around it, discover you can’t, and then, you either live with it and get on with your life, or you have an emotional breakdown and turn to magical thinking to save you. DD believes this little problem—which has been around for centuries—is “news to atheists.” The problem of solipsism has been around since before Socrates and Plato and has been addressed by philosophers ever since. Renee Decarte’s famous “I think therefore I am” directly addresses it. But for some reason, DD thinks it’s some kind of magic trick to convince people to turn to his god.

If you’re really curious, I can explain the problem. If you’re not, skip this paragraph and move on. See, when you ask someone, “How do you know that?” and keep asking them, eventually, they have to say, “That’s what I see and what I think.” Eventually, everyone hits epistemological bottom. You can’t prove Aristotle’s three logical principles (presups like to call these “logical absolutes,” but in no Philosophy class in the world will you hear a professor use this term): the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of the excluded middle. We cannot prove these to be true other than experiencing them, and since our senses can deceive us, being 100% certain about anything is impossible. That’s the problem.

Presups like DD like to use the solipsism problem in extremis. In other words, if you can’t be 100% certain about something, YOU CAN’T KNOW ANYTHING!!!11!!!!!! Which is false. While our senses can fool us, that doesn’t mean they always fool us. In fact, we can attribute degrees of certainty to propositions. If I take my glasses off, is my eyesight better or worse? Clearly it is worse, therefore, my eyesight has degrees of certainty. I can still see the eye chart, but not the lower letters. DD also uses the old Sye Ten Bruggencate trick of asking, “How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?” Well, to begin with, proving a negative is almost impossible, and it’s shifting the burden of proof. It’s also a disingenuous question. That is, asking someone to prove something that you don’t believe. Do you believe we’re all brains in vats? No? Then don’t ask me to prove something neither of us believes. And until you can prove I’m a brain in a vat, I’ll keep believing I’m not.

Presuppositions cannot be proven. They’re an accepted part of philosophy. If you walk into any philosophy department in the world and start making claims such as “You can’t know you’re a brain in a vat!” and “You can’t justify your presuppositions!”, you’ll get laughed out of the building. In philosophy, we all agree presuppositions cannot be justified. That’s what makes them presuppositions.

And so, with that in mind, if a presuppositional apologist uses God as a presupposition, doesn’t that mean they can’t justify the existence of G—





And yes, that’s the typical rhetoric tactic of presups. Screaming insults at anyone who tries to ask them questions. But there’s another tactic presups use. And it’s essentially asking you the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?”

The Presup Red Herring

See, when I was in college, in debate club, we had a rule: no red herrings. A red herring is “a seemingly plausible, though ultimately irrelevant, diversionary tactic” (wikipedia) designed to avoid answering questions. It goes like this:

Me: “If God is one of your presuppositions, how do justify it?”
Presup: “How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?”
Me: “Sorry, that doesn’t answer my question.”
Presup: “I asked you a question. How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?”
Me: “Excuse me, I…”
Presup: “If you’re not going to answer my question, we can just stop talking. See, this is a typical tactic for atheists. They refuse to answer questions.”


If you think I’m making this shit up, just watch the following video. I assure you, I am not making this shit up.



Standard tactic. Institute a tone of interrogation with you asking all the questions. Then, when someone asks you a question, ask them a diversionary question in return and get upset when they don’t answer. There are hundreds of hours of this.

And I’ve. Watched. All of it.


This morning, an old friend of mine posted something on Facebook. And like an incantation, it broke my spell.


“The primary problem faced by those attempting civil debate is that moral, rational, and scientific arguments don’t work on those with immoral, irrational, and unscientific mindsets.”
— my friend Greg

I sincerely believe both Matt Slick and DD are trolls. They’re not trolls like my friend Ken—who may be a curmudgeon, but he’s a sweet and generous curmudgeon who looks out for other people—but people who aren’t interested in having honest debate.

I debate to learn. Slick and DD debate to win. They aren’t interested in truth or convincing others. They just want to score points.

For those two weeks of depression, I wanted to find out how to contact these people and engage with them. But engaging with them won’t do anyone any good. And if I ever did engage them, I wouldn’t engage their arguments. Instead, I ask the following questions:


  1. Can you please show me a Youtube video or podcast where these arguments convinced someone to give up atheism and begin believing in your God?
  2. Have you ever submitted your arguments to a logic or philosophy journal?
  3. Do you agree using rhetorical techniques such as red herrings and other distractions do not benefit a discussion but only cause confusion and frustration?


That’s how I’d engage with them. Fortunately, I don’t have to because I don’t want to. Not anymore. Greg’s words lifted the haze off my head. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. A friend giving you a smack in the face (metaphorically, of course) that wakes you up.

And if you ever wanted to know how far my head can go down a rabbit hole, now you know. Sorry about that.

Unreview: WWE 2018 Survivor Series


Vince McMahon has committed many sins in his life (And by “sin,” I mean the original meaning of the word: “falling short.”), but this is perhaps the one sin for which a wrestling promoter can never be forgiven: he has lost control of his audience.

Everything you see in a wrestling show leads to a single purpose: to control the audience. Make them cheer, make them boo, make them laugh, make them cry. Wrestlers do this in their matches by structuring the contest in such a way that you feel what they want you to feel. The villain cheats, you shout angry epithets at the ring. The hero makes a comeback, you jump to your feet and cheer. And a wrestling show is constructed in the very same way. Just like plays, movies, books, and TV shows, promoters design their wrestling shows to manipulate the emotions of the audience.

Last night on WWE’s 2018 edition of Survivor Series, after taking a brutal and seemingly endless beating which left Ronda Rousey with a beet red chest, a broken lip, a bleeding ear, criss-cross marks on her arms, and visible open wounds, the crowd boo’d her out of the building. The problem was, the beating she took was designed to make the crowd boo her opponent…who walked out of the arena with cheers and chants of “Thank you!” It was the exact opposite result McMahon and his writers wanted.

Watching Rousey walk the ramp to the back choked me up right to the edge of tears. Yes, wrestling matches are choreographed stunt shows, but you can’t fake gravity and you can’t ignore pain. The beating Rousey went through was real. You can watch it. Just do a Google search and look at what her body looked like.

See those marks on her arm? Those aren’t make up. Those are legit marks from getting hit over and over and over again with a shinai. The woman was in pain. The attack—performed by Ric Flair’s daughter, Charlotte—was one of the cruelest and vicious things I’ve seen in years. And as a wrestling fan, I lived through the Horseman beatings in GCW. I saw the Piper-Valentine strap match. I’ve seen Bruiser Brody and Abdullah the Butcher. And I watched the Mick Foley-Undertaker Hell in a Cell match live, holding my breath the whole time. This was uncomfortable to watch because Charlotte did not pull any punches. It felt real.

And yet, when it was over, Charlotte was the one who was cheered and Rousey’s hometown crowd simply turned on her. The exact opposite effect of what the creators desired.

How could this happen?

Because Vince McMahon has lost control of his audience. And tonight was just a symptom of a much deeper problem: he thinks his fanbase is stupid.

Let me explain using an example from last night. In wrestling, there’s a long tradition of something called “the promoter’s son effect.” That is, whoever happens to be in charge of the wrestling company pushes his (or sometimes her) son above all the other talent. This creates resentment in the locker room as they watch someone without as much talent, charisma, or wrestling skill gets pushed above and beyond everyone else. It was true of the Von Erich boys in World Class, it was true of Greg Gagne in the AWA, it was true of Erik Watts in WCW…the list simply goes on and on.

Last night’s PPV was to pit the two WWE shows against each other: Raw vs Smackdown. And in the end, Raw won 6-out-of-6 matches, giving them a clean sweep. Why was the show written this way? To give Shane McMahon—Vince’s son—a reason to “turn heel.” That is, to become a villain.

That’s right. Vince threw an entire show’s roster under the bus so his son could have an excuse to become a villain. He made everyone on that show look weak and/or foolish for his son. Perhaps the ultimate example of the promoter’s son effect.

And he does this thinking the fanbase won’t notice. But there’s a problem here. Wrestling fans are a lot more media savvy than they were back in the ’70’s and ’80’s. More savvy than they were in the ’90’s, when wrestling had its Modern Golden Age. We’ve been through TV and media that have demanded a lot from us. Shows like LostAmerican Horror StoryGame of ThronesThe Sopranos, and Breaking Bad actually forced its audience to smarten up and watch with a critical eye. Websites devoted to finding easter eggs and foreshadowing in shows have made their audiences keener than they’ve ever been before.

Problem is, the WWE thinks they’re still selling their product to rubes and marks.

Used to be, when a villain cheated to win a match, the crowd would get angry at the villain. They left the sports auditorium thinking, “That dirty Ole Anderson is gonna get it when Dusty gets his hands on him!”

But a modern audience doesn’t think that way anymore. When they’re unhappy with a match’s results, they get mad at the promoter.

Case in point: two years ago was the Year of Daniel Bryan. Bryan is a wrestler with incredible skills, one of the best performers in the world. And at the time, WWE treated him like a joke because he didn’t look like Hulk Hogan, John Cena or Roman Reigns. He was a comedy act. The fans hated this and voiced their displeasure whenever they could. They’d chant his name during his matches. They’d chant his name during other peoples’ matches. And when he lost, they’d boo, even though he was a heel. The fans simply did not care how McMahon treated Bryan, they cheered. Because, at the time, the crowd felt that if they cheered loud enough, Vince would change his mind.

Well, their plan worked. Sort of. Daniel Bryan did become the WWE champion…but his reign would be short-lived. He would be played off as a fluke and lose the title to someone of McMahon’s choosing and the fans would be happy to watch it happen. Circumstances would strip Daniel Bryan of the title early: a lifetime of hard matches convinced the WWE medical staff that wrestling was no longer safe. And for two years, Bryan was a non-wrestling talent in the WWE, serving as a manager.

But Bryan was, like last night’s event, a symptom of that same problem. So were wrestlers such as Sasha Banks, Bayley, Asuka, and Finn Balor. All great talents that the fans were ready to get behind…but Vince remained unconvinced. So, he buried them in the middle of the roster while his hand-picked heroes and villains thrived, despite what the audience wanted.

The crowd believed it could change Vince’s mind. After all, it worked with Daniel Bryan. So, they continued to cheer for their favorites, regardless of what Vince was doing with them. This includes a woman named Becky Lynch.

The fans have decided they love Becky Lynch. And, as a lifetime wrestling fan, I can see why. She’s got talent. She looks fantastic in the ring. She has charisma. And she can put on a damn good show. Everyone loves Becky Lynch…

…so Vince made her a villain.

And the crowd didn’t care. They kept cheering her, no matter what the WWE tried to do.

Last night, Becky was supposed to be on the show. It was supposed to be Becky Lynch vs Ronda Rousey. Unfortunately, one of Vince’s hand picked golden tickets—the Rock’s cousin, Nia Jax—hit Becky in the face, breaking her nose and giving her a concussion. (The latest in a long string of injuries dealt by the severely undertrained Nia Jax.) That meant the WWE needed to replace Becky Lynch. They replaced her with Charlotte Flair.

As soon as the match started, the crowd started chanting Becky’s name. They didn’t want this match. They wanted Becky Lynch. Fortunately, the two women put on one of the best WWE matches I’ve seen in years. And I mean any match, put on by men or women. I was on the edge of my seat.

And then, in the middle of it, Charlotte just decided, “Screw this, I’m disqualifying myself.” In wrestling parlance, it’s called a “F—ck finish.” And when you do one of these, you have to make sure the crowd is with you, or they’ll turn on the match.

And that’s exactly what happened last night. The crowd was so pissed at the “non ending” of the match, they started booing the hero and cheering the villain.

At long last, the crowd has figured out a troubling truth: if they can’t yell at Vince, they’ll yell at the talent.

Last night’s audience turned into an angry mob, and they were going to throw their feces and fire at someone. Vince wasn’t there, so they decided to throw it at Ronda Rousey. The woman who just went through a real beating, had open wounds on her scalp, on her ear, on her arms and legs. And as she walked up the stage, and she heard those people throwing their derision at her, she started to cry.

That’s when I knew I just couldn’t watch the WWE anymore. I just can’t.

I can’t watch Vince McMahon take talent like Asuka, Bayley, Daniel Bryan, Finn Balor, and many, many others and piss their careers down the drain because he doesn’t know how to “get them over” with the crowd.

Sorry, Vince. Your failure of imagination is not my problem. And I’m tired of rewarding it.




Unreview: Suspiria


Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to pay for it,
  2. I have to like it,
  3. I do my best to use E-Prime


Go see it. I mean what I say. Go see it.

Don’t read reviews, don’t listen to anyone else. Just go see it. Sit in a dark theater—alone or with someone you trust—and sit through the whole movie, even through the credits. The whole thing, start to end, to after the end. Go see it.

Why? Because I’m sick and @#$%ing tired of Vancian magic.

What is “Vancian magic?” Well, according to TV Tropes.com:


  1. Magical effects are packaged into distinct spells; each spell has one fixed purpose. A spell that throws a ball of fire at an enemy just throws balls of fire, and generally cannot be “turned down” to light a cigarette, for instance.
  2. Spells represent a kind of magic bomb which must be prepared in advance of actual use, and each prepared spell can be used only once before needing to be prepared again. That’s why it is also known as “Fire & Forget magic.”
  3. Magicians have a finite capacity of prepared spells which is the de facto measure of their skill and/or power as magicians. A wizard using magic for combat is thus something like a living gun: he must be “loaded” with spells beforehand and can run out of magical “ammunition”.


I’m sick and @#$%ing tired of wizards being treated like Swiss Army knives. A spell for every occasion! Memorizing spells, forgetting them when cast, and having to re-memorize them again.

I’m sick of it. And I want more people to see this film and understand what I’m talking about when I talk about real magic.

Now, remember: I’m a skeptic and an agnostic atheist (an antitheist on my angrier days). When I talk about “real magic,” I’m talking about the kind of stuff we humans came up with when addressing the world. Anthropomorphic answers to difficult questions. Giving names to powers older and greater than us. I can be an atheist and still find magic fascinating. Specifically when someone does it as beautifully as its done in Suspiria.

The whole movie is about a single magical act. Yes, others happen during the course of the film, but this one important magical act is what we’re talking about here. And this isn’t a spell. It’s what Crowley called “a working.” It’s a prolonged work of art. A demanding work of art. Something that makes you…work for it. An exercise of changing the world through will.

I sat in a dark theater—as you will—and watched this working unfold. The price it demanded. The consequences. The blood. Oh, yes. There’s blood. And horror. Because magic isn’t like reading instructions from a manual. You don’t read the spell from the book and it just happens. You have to pay for it.

Wait. You don’t know the Three Rules of Magic? Here, let me line them up:


  1. It always costs too much,
  2. You never get what you want, and
  3. You can break all the rules.


Keep those in mind while you’re sitting in the theater. Consider them a compass or a guide. You’ll need them.

That’s why magic is like dance. In fact, dance is magic. It demands more than you can give. Dance until you sweat. Dance until you vomit. Dance until you fall down. Dance until you feel the ecstasy rush through you. To reach that level, you have to pay the others first. You have to pay for it.

And just like the working in the film, the film itself is a working. Art designed to transform. You will not be the same when the lights come back on. You’ll be transformed by what you see.

And that, my friends, is real magic.


Unreview: Bohemian Rhapsody

Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to like it,
  2. I have to pay for it,
  3. I do my best to use E-Prime when talking about the thing itself

I write “unreviews” to highlight the subjective nature of reviews in general, and as you’ll see, talking about this film exposes the fact that I cannot be “objective” about it. I loved Freddie Mercury and Queen remains one of the bands who continue to play my emotional heartstrings. I cannot listen to music passively. When other writers like Stephen King say he listens to music while he writes, I just don’t understand that. When you’re listening to Queen, how can you do anything but stop anything else you’re doing and pay attention? I can’t. I start to sing, I play air instruments, or, if it’s available, I get behind my drum kit. Case in point…

Back in 1985, I was a Junior in high school living in Georgia. Live Aid was going to be the biggest concert of all time. Friends of mine and I had MTV on in the background while we played D&D. I was distracted by the music, but it didn’t matter much. Most people don’t remember that before Queen arrived, the show was dull as dirt. The bands who showed up didn’t seem to want to be there. They ran through their 20 minute sets and walked off. “St. Bob” Geldof was worried. His show was going down the toilet.

Then Queen showed up. They weren’t supposed to be there. But they took the stage and, as St. Bob said it, they saved the day. The D&D game stopped dead cold and we watched as Queen showed the other bands how to capture the hearts of a billion people.

I cannot be objective about Queen or Freddie Mercury. That’s probably why I cried all the way through this film.

The plot structure resembles every other band bio pic you’ve ever seen, but Rami Malek uses the same voodoo Karl Urban used to capture the spirt of DeForest Kelly to bring Freddie Mercury to the screen. (I should also say Gwilym Lee does a similar voodoo spell when playing Brian May, the often overlooked musical heart of the band. I honestly thought to myself, “Astrophysicist Brian May of 2018 must have invented a time machine, went back to 1970 and pulled his younger self from the past.) I found myself nodding with the scenes pulled from stories I already knew but my chest heaved every time Malek’s Freddie had to be Farrokh Bulsara: an awkward, sexually confused and lonely geek with big teeth who knew he didn’t belong in the cool kid’s club.

I’ve probably ignored or overlooked a lot of the film’s flaws and I simply don’t care. Moments from the movie broke my heart, and while I wish there cold have have been more of them, I honestly do not care. For example, after watching the scene when Freddie and his beloved Mary watch footage from the first Queen in Rio concert, I will never hear Love of my Life without shamelessly weeping.

Queen made bombastic, hyper dramatic and even hyperbolic music. They threw everything they could at the audience: sound, image and even mythology. That was the whole point of Queen. When Brian May says, “I want to write a song the audience can play along with us,” he meant it. You can say a lot of things about Queen, but one thing you cannot say is they were cynical or insincere. They believed in what they were doing.

This film made me cry and more than once. I was a blubbering mess when my two favorite Queen songs ran over the credits. The first, “Don’t Stop Me Now” is Freddie in full persona: a Dionysian god. The second, “The Show Must Go On,” was written and performed when he knew he was dying. I was wrecked.

While the rest of Bohemian Rhapsody came across to me as a very high priced Behind the Music episode, I simply don’t care. The moments I wanted are there, including a breath-taking full recreation of those 20 minutes that Queen held the attention of the world. And Rami Malek deserves some sort of award for being able to invoke both Freddie Mercury and Farrokh Bulsara.

I cannot be objective about this film. But then again, that’s the whole point isn’t it? We can’t be objective about art. Saying otherwise avoids the whole point of art in the first place: to elicit an emotional response from the audience, to force us to put away our analytical mind and enjoy. Try thinking analytically about any Queen song. Go on. You can analyze the mechanics of it, the musicianship of it, the arrangements, the sound production, but when it comes to Queen, what really matters is how you feel.




Unreview: Halloween (2018)

Let’s review the Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to like it,
  2. I have to pay for it,
  3. I try my best to use E-Prime.

See that first rule? Read it again.

All right. Let’s talk about Halloween. I mean, the movie that scared me witless when I was ten years old.



See that frame right above here? See it?

That’s the first time I ever stood and screamed while watching a movie. I saw it in Ames, Iowa. That theater was in a mall and had only two screens. The one on the left was generally G and PG rated films. If there was an R rated film, it was in the theater on the right. A friend and I paid to see a movie on the left screen, but we snuck into the right screen to see Halloween. And let me tell you, that film scared the bejeezus out of me. I wasn’t right for days. Weeks. And when something scares me, I want to study it. I want to know why it scared me. Also, looking at it with a clinical eye tends to reduce the fear. 

As the years went on, I kept watching that movie whenever I could. When it came on HBO, I’d watch it. Late at night with the TV turned down real low so my parents wouldn’t hear me. Sitting in the dark, all alone, I’d study every frame of that film. I also watched the other “slasher flicks” that followed. Friday the 13th, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine…all the rest. And I’m sure it isn’t flying in the face of conventional wisdom to say that none of them matched up with Halloween. But it’s clear to me a lot of people don’t understand why. This evening comes to mind. Here, let me explain why horror works.

Let’s take a movie like Alien. You’re sitting in the dark theater and you know there’s an alien on board. You just saw it rip out of some guy’s chest. What does the crew decide to do? They split into teams, arm themselves, and have a plan for getting the alien off the ship. Sounds like a solid plan. But it doesn’t work. One of the crew gets killed (you think) and the rest of the astronauts have to figure out what to do next. They come up with a plan. They split into groups, arm themselves, and…oh well. Now the captain’s dead. Dammit. That plan didn’t work, either. Okay, new plan. Let’s get the hell off the ship. We’ll get into the escape shuttle. Screw the alien, we’re outta here! Oh, that didn’t work? Well, crap.

See a pattern here? Everything they do is smart. It’s exactly what you would do if you were in the situation. You sit in the theater and watch smart people do smart things with a smart plan…and one of them dies. And in your head, you’re saying, “If was there, I’d go along with that smart plan and…oh, crap. I’d be dead.”

And that my friends is why horror works. Because you sympathize with the people on the screen. You empathize with the people on the screen. They’re doing what you’d do…and they end up dead. Not because they did something stupid, but because they did something smart but the killer—the alien, in this case—was one step ahead. That’s why horror works.

When you watch the 1978 Halloween, you’re with Laurie Strode. She’s smart, she’s capable, and most importantly, she’s babysitting kids. You see her talk to the kid, be on the kid’s side. She talks him down from being afraid of the Boogeyman when the other kids try to terrorize him. She says, “I’m here, and I’ll protect you from the Boogeyman.”

And you know what happens? THAT. That happens. She protects him from the goddamn Boogeyman. We’re on Laurie’s side because she does smart things. Not only that, but she’s protecting a child.

Now, if you make your movie full of stupid people doing stupid things, I’m going to stop caring about them because I know they’re gonna get killed. And when I stop caring…well, my friend, you just broke one of the oldest rules of storytelling: Never lose your audience. And that’s why the subsequent slasher films just don’t work. You don’t give a single turd for any of the kids at Crystal Lake. Not one of them. In fact, you want Jason to kill them all. You hate them because they’re pretty and stupid. And the film makers go out of their way to give them qualities you’ll hate so when Jason shows up with his big goddamn bladed thing, you’re cheering for him to kill the kids.

And that’s why Halloween is different. You’re not cheering for Michael Myers. You’re terrified of Michael Myers. And you want Laurie to make it. Just survive. And protect the kids.

For example, if I was making a sequel to Halloween, the very last thing I’d do is put stupid people in the movie so the audience clearly knows ahead of time these people are doomed. Like showing a father and his son on their way to a hunting trip and they come across a prison bus with prisoners wandering around. Just wandering around. And you know what else I wouldn’t do? I wouldn’t have the father leave his son in the truck as he gets out to investigate. And to make things even dumber, after you just told the audience, “These two are on a hunting trip,” you have the father wandering around without a weapon. Then, after the son freaks out because his dad hasn’t come back to the truck, you have the 12 year old boy leave the truck and go looking for his father, shouting “Daddy!” at the top of his lungs until the killer snaps the kid’s neck. Yeah, snaps his neck. You see and hear it, right there on screen. I’d never do that. And it’s a good thing this is a hypothetical scenario and not a spoiler. Because I’d sure hate to spoil a good horror film for you, Faithful Reader.

Did I mention it was a twelve year old boy? And his neck just snaps.

Anyway, one of the small details most people miss about the original Halloween film is the lack of gore. There’s almost no blood at all in the film. The only blood you see is a gash on Laurie’s arm from a knife wound, and it’s clear its painted on. I mean, clearly painted on. The movie works not because it tries to gross you out, but because it uses mood, atmosphere, lighting and music to fill you full of dread. When the kills come (and there’s only 4 in the whole movie), they are sudden. It’s over in a moment. And the first half of the movie let you get to know the characters. Well, some of them. Some of them you don’t know, and yes, that’s a weakness in the original film. But Carpenter kept the body count low, so each death counts.

If I did a remake of Halloween, you know what I would not do? Throw in more than a dozen deaths. And make them as brutal as I could make them. Because that would be reducing Halloween to its shallow imitators who didn’t understand the original to begin with. Because each person you kill makes the audience care less. I mean, fourteen deaths would be a lot. Like a Friday the 13th movie a lot. Way, way too many. But who would do that? What kind of writer or director would throw in 14 or so murders knowing that each one has less of an impact, so by the end of the movie, the audience is so numb, they stop caring? I’ll tell you who would do that: someone who didn’t know what they were doing when they were making a Halloween sequel. That’s why wouldn’t do it.

But if someone asked me to make a Halloween sequel, you know what would be really cool? I’d do a flashback to the original with Laurie sitting in class while the teacher talks about a particular story. She’s distracted by a shape standing halfway behind a tree, watching her. The teacher asks Laurie a question and she answers it, looking back out the window to see the shape is gone.

Now flash forward to the present day. Laurie’s granddaughter sits in the same chair with the teacher talking about the same story. She looks out the window and sees Laurie standing in the same place the Shape stood, watching her from halfway behind a tree. The teacher asks a question, the granddaughter answers, and when she looks back, Laurie’s vanished.

You know what that tells me? Especially after you establish that Laurie has been preparing for Michael Myers to escape and return to Haddenfield? That she’s set up her house as a huge death trap? That tells me that the last act of the film is going to be a complete reverse of the first. It’s going to be Micheal wandering around the house while Laurie haunts and hunts him. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Wouldn’t that put so much power into Laurie’s character after she was nearly killed by this guy forty years ago? Watching Micheal become the victim as Laurie hunts the sonofabitch room by room? And there’d be a bit where he threatens the granddaughter or you could have Michael hurt Laurie so bad that the granddaughter has to pick up the plan and…

…yeah, that doesn’t happen. Don’t worry. No spoilers.

Come to think of it, this hypothetical sequel…you know what else I wouldn’t do? Have Laurie explain to her daughter and granddaughter the different qualities of each shotgun she has stashed in the house. “This one is for stopping power…this one is for accuracy…and this one is tactical.” The last example is a snub nosed shotgun, perfect for going room-to-room. You know what I wouldn’t do? After explaining that to her family, not five minutes later, she goes room-to-room…with the shotgun with the longest goddamn barrel she can find. Because that would be stupid, especially after explaining that the short barrel shotgun is the one you use for that kind of…

…yeah. I’m glad that’s only a hypothetical example. Because that would be a huge spoiler if it actually happened.

Halloween (1978) works because it’s the story of ordinary people facing off against unstoppable evil. And remember me talking about that moment I stood up and screamed? That moment right there in that picture? I stood up and screamed nobody knew it was going to happen. We thought Michael was just a lunatic. We didn’t know he was “pure evil.” Laurie just didn’t count on Michael Myers being what he is and neither did we. Who would be? The first time you watch the film, you have no idea what he is, so when he does his famous sit up, you scream. Because that’s when you realize exactly what she’s up against. It’s the Boogeyman. For real. Not a crazy guy in a mask, no. The honest to God real and walking talking goddamn Boogeyman. And that’s the moment when I was so afraid, I couldn’t sit still. I was trembling in my seat. Because this young girl who is protecting a ten year old kid—just like me—was in the same room as a real monster. A real monster. Not Frankenstein or Dracula or Wolfman. They were fake. This was a real monster. He could be in my closet, right now, waiting for me to come home. And the worst possible thing you can do when you make a horror film is fill it full of worn-out cliches from the original’s predecessor because that makes it something you never want a horror film to be: boring.

That’s why Halloween (1979) works. And that’s why…

…sorry. Rule #1.


Santa Vaca: “Fun Happens Between the Rules”

(From the introduction to the Santa Vaca Companion—coming soon.)

Photo on Foter.com

I have a lot of respect for James Ernest. We tend to hang out at conventions and spend a lot of time talking about games and everything but games. We agree, we disagree, we argue, but there’s always respect. I have never felt as if James was talking down to me and I do my best never to talk down to him.

And here’s something that everyone should say about someone else: James is a better game designer than I am. Like, way better. I can patch together some rules for a game, but James can put together ten or twelve solid games in as many hours. But there’s one caveat to this truth. James doesn’t get roleplaying games. It’s not that he doesn’t understand them, or even that he couldn’t design one, but there’s just something about RPGs that eludes him. He’s said this to me more than once. And I think it’s part of the mutual respect we have.

Just recently, at RinCon, he told me about a Pairs Deck game he made that was, in essence, an RPG. A card draft tells you who your character is and what they can do, establishing race and character class. Then, play proceeds to tell the story of your characters running through a dungeon crawl.

(“Running through a dungeon crawl.” Oh I could go on and on about the irony of that.)

James explained to me that his regular playtest crew was having fun, but there was a problem with the game. Whenever they were bantering and roleplaying their characters, they were having fun, but as soon as they engaged with the mechanic, the fun fell apart. And a little prideful part of me likes to think that he was telling me this story because he wanted my opinion about it. That one little thing that I knew, that little trick he hadn’t mastered yet. He was asking me. That’s what I like to tell myself. Anyway, he told me the story and without missing a beat, I said something that completely took me by surprise.

“In an RPG, the fun happens between the rules.”

I was shocked after I said it. But I said it with such confidence, I’m sure James thought it was some kind of profound RPG Buddha wisdom that I kept secret except for those who were truly worthy. But that isn’t the case. I just kind of said it. And after saying it, I thought about it for the rest of the weekend.

Is that really true? Does the fun really happen between the rules?

As a matter of coincidence, I ran The Name of the Game is Wrestling, a pro wrestling RPG Dan Waszkiewicz I have been playing around with for almost half a decade. The game started off as a straight RPG, then changed to a card-based RPG, then changed into something else, then something else…and we’ve given up about a dozen times trying to figure out how to do it.

Well, we figured out how to do it. We threw the damn rules out.

Oh, there are rules. It’s just none of them involve any dice or cards or conflict resolution.

The way it works: We have everyone get together and we explain for about 15 minutes why professional wrestling works as a storytelling medium. We explain how a match works, breaking it down to its five component parts, then ask everyone to come up with a character. Not everyone makes a wrestler, but that doesn’t matter because they can be part of the crowd. (In wrestling, the crowd is a character who has a role to play in the story.)

Once everyone has a character, we put together a wrestling TV show and divy everyone up into pairs, telling them how much time they have to tell the story of their match. Then, we run the show. We have only two explicit rules when telling the story of your match: no touching and no bumps (no falling down). That’s it. Just those two rules. Other than the rules of what makes a wrestling match work, those are the only two explicit rules we demand.

And you know what? It works. It works so damn good that people come in either not knowing or not caring about wrestling and leave fans. They cheer, they boo, they stomp their feet. They even make signs. They create cheers for their favorite wrestlers. It’s such a romping good time, we’re typically asked to either close the door or keep the sound down.

And there are no rules. Just two safety restrictions.

When Dan and I tried the game with rules, it all fell apart. People got too focused on rolling dice or playing cards. They weren’t telling stories, they were playing the game.

And that’s the thing that’s been bugging me most about RPGs these days. They’re too focused on the rules that they forget the goal here is to tell stories.

Combat heavy games like D&D, Shadowrun, or Vampire (yes, it’s a game about fighting; look at the list of Advantages) give you hundreds of pages of rules for mediating combat. And as soon as someone draws a sword or fires a gun, you know what happens: we all spend hours sorting things out. That’s because we’ve stopped telling stories and started playing the game.

And don’t get me started on “story games.” They’ve got the same problem. Just as combat games present you with heavy, intricate, elaborate systems for moderating fight scenes, story games give you heavy, intricate, elaborate systems for telling stories. So much so, I’m more upset about story games than I am about combat games. Combat games have the implication, “You know how to do this, so here are the rules for it.” Meanwhile, story games have the implication, “You don’t know how to do this, so let me hold your hand and show you.”

(Took me a long time to figure out why story games made me feel like I was being talked down to. I finally figured out a way to articulate it.)

Is it no wonder we talk about the game sessions when we rolled no dice as magical moments? The three hour game session of Suicide Squad that Rob Justice ran for me, Mike Curry, Eichlos and Chris Colbath comes to mind. We got a simple assignment: KILL THE BATMAN. Simple. We spent three hours talking about that. The first half was whether or not we could do it. The second half was whether or not we should do it. And that session was magic for me.

Rules in an RPG should always help us to tell stories. Not create an authentic tactical situation. And the RPGs that try to force story down our throats forget the best rule of storytelling: the best stories break the rules. It’s like someone hovering over my shoulder yelling at me, “You’re in the seventh stage of the Hero’s Journey and you haven’t met the goddess yet! And stop trying to Cross the Threshold! That isn’t until The Return!”

Maybe I’ve had a rough year. No, that isn’t a maybe. That’s a truth. I’ve had a rough year. But as I look through everything I’ve done as an RPG designer, I’m constantly asking myself the same question: “Did that help the players tell stories?”

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always, “Yes.”