Now Playing: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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Look here: I got something to say and I am going to say it. This is the kind of thing that makes a man, I mean really makes a man. Without it, the world would be chaos – glim, glum, no glamour. With it, man has the power to rewrite it all. He can kiss the dame and he can win any fight. Money is nothing in comparison. And love? Well, we already got that, precious.

And just what is that “thing” that “really makes a man”, you ask?

Watching “The Maltese Falcon” from 1941, of course!

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There’s nothing manlier than dressing like this. Sadly, fedoras (and hats) have been ruined by men who say “M’lady.”

To me, nothing says classic Hollywood dialogue like film noir. It has that perfect blend of slang, speed, and philosophy. At any moment, a line can dip into the most sexist thing you have ever heard or wax romantic at the next pair of legs that walks by. Style over substance, etc.

Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” is no exception. He plays your archetypical private eye, a man by the name of Sam Spade, who spends the entire plot knowing nothing and everything at the same time. He’s a variation of the “smartest man in the room” who uses his street smarts more than his intellect to read his way in and out of any room. With charm and moxey, nothing stops him.

I have long wanted to watch “The Maltese Falcon” and other movies like it. I didn’t grow up with any want to be a detective or private eye, but this is a classic distillation of a male power fantasy for those of us who don’t want to be Achilles or some other kind of muscle-bound man-strosity. It is incredibly sexist, of course.

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This guy’s eyes creeped me out every time he was on screen. I would’ve sworn he must’ve played Igor in a Frankenstein movie at some point.

The women in “The Maltese Falcon” are varied but undeveloped. The wife of Sam’s murdered partner reveals her and Sam’s affair early on. She barely factors into the rest of plot give or take a few sad-eyed shots of her looking onto the rest of the story. Sam’s secretary busts her ass the entire movie and she doesn’t even get kidnapped once for more screen time. She’s the most positive female character, but she is entirely limited to doing what Sam orders. The love interest, Brigid (Mary Astor), spends the entire movie “being afraid” despite being one of the principle villains!

That’s not to say I disliked the movie, it is just dated by default. I am sure there is an alternate universe incel version of me that worships Humphrey Bogart in this role. I know this universe’s me wishes I could wear a suit and hat half as well. But I’d prefer a version without women if they are only going to serve as accessories to a plot that would hardly change without them.

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Surprise! Women can get arrested too. Progressive.

I will say that Brigid’s turn as being an actual villain and Sam’s refusal to protect her since she murdered his partner was refreshingly modern. Even if I cared little for what happened to her and we had to suffer a scene about how Sam and Bridgid were “in love” after a few days of making eyes at one another, seeing the romantic interest get arrested was great. Diane and I both loved that they didn’t end up together.

Beyond that, it is a beautiful film. Unlike “Citizen Kane” where parodies spoil the plot, parodies of “The Maltese Falcon” tend to ape the style and not the story. Despite always knowing of the movie, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time wondering what might happen next. Like “Citizen Kane”, there are some really cool camera angles and shots that really heighten the intensity at times or focus in on the actors.

I doubt either of us ever revisit “The Maltese Falcon”. It feels like a product of its time, albeit in a less harmful way than some of the racist or even more sexist movies we’ve seen in this series. There’s a lot to love and I still want to explore the film noir sub-genre further, but this is a one and done for us both.

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Don’t be this guy. Never be this guy.

Now Playing: Citizen Kane (1941)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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Now arriving in 1941 to see the ‘greatest film of all time’: Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane”. It is my second time seeing the film and Diane’s first though pop culture has long since spoiled the mystery. Does the movie live up to its hype? Will I hate it arbitrarily solely because of its popularity? What will Diane think of it?

Yes and no.

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I am more familiar with Orson’s voice rather than the charming young man he briefly plays in this movie. It’s like seeing an alternate reality where someone like Vincent Price leads a romantic comedy.

If you are otherwise unaware, “Citizen Kane” is the answer to the trivia question, “What film did Orson Welles write, direct, and star in?” It is a fictional biopic following the life of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, a character loosely based off the real life William Randolph Hearst.

I have been fascinated with Hearst ever since learning about him and his war with his rival, Joseph Pulitzer, in a high school journalism class. Welles’s version of Hearst in his character Kane is over-the-top but not nearly as sensational as his real world counterpart.

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It’s a shame Orson never played Lex Luthor.

Its to “Citizen Kane”’s benefit that it is a loose resemblance rather than a movie about the wild exploits of Hearst or the more interesting bits of the invention of ‘yellow journalism’. The “model” of Hearst is more than enough to give us a compelling character in Kane. He’s over-the-top, rich, and has a great need to be loved. He’s a man who has everything anyone could ever want, but not the one thing he wanted: his childhood.

At the film’s outset, Kane’s mother has come into wealth and wants her son to escape their life and his abusive father. She has young Kane shipped off with the banker who will oversee his wealth until he comes of age. The banker makes sure Kane goes to the best schools and gets a proper education though it does little to reign in Kane’s personality or ego.

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Everything in this scenes does an incredible job of capturing a poor, dreary place without spending too much time there. It is incredible really.

The entire story of Kane’s life is told after his passing by the people who knew him best to a magazine journalist trying to understand his final words: “rosebud”. Of all the movies we’ve seen that follow the entire life of a great person, this is easily the best. The after-the-fact storytelling focuses only on the highlights in stark contrast to something like “Cimarron” or “The Great Ziegfeld” that dragged at times. “Citizen Kane”‘s pacing is great and even with the mystery of “rosebud” solved, viewing the movie over and over again is still worth it.

The story still resonates in a way that makes me believe it timeless. While other movies on this list thus far have been watchable, none have honed in on the psychology of their leads like this one’s. Combined with Orson Welles’ outstanding performance and Charles Foster Kane feels imminently understandable. Despite his speeches, he never feels like a leading man playing a hero like so many other films of the era. He feels like a flesh-and-blood human with heart-and-soul problems.

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I loved this scene so much. Orson’s body-acting is incredible here. The way he stiffly moves about really makes him appear much, much older. It’s worth watching this scene again if you don’t remember how he moved.

The cinematography of “Citizen Kane” also stands the test of time. The shots and transitions in this film feel wholly different from other films we’ve watched thus far. Some of them work great – I loved the pan into the window in the pouring ran. Others are odd but unforgettable. For example, as we quickly see all the ways Kane has disappointed his foster father banker, the banker looks directly into the camera similar to a sitcom character like Zack Morris wanting to wink to the audience about the absurdity of the situation. The “screaming bird” transition before Kane destroys the bedroom of the woman who has just left him also stands out more than was likely intended.

I hate to call a movie like “Citizen Kane” overrated. In truth, it gets a lot of things right but not everything perfect. I think the movie’s lasting appeal comes from its intelligence, both actual and perceived, as it feels like the kind of film smart people should love. That, along with its story, acting, and composition, make it memorable and infinitely rewatchable. I think everyone should see it, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for not calling it the greatest of all time.

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I do think this is one of the greatest uses of set to deepen a character that I have witnessed. The vast maze of packed antiquities when combined with the earlier shots of Xanadu that are massively open rooms with little to no decoration really sell the lonely emptiness of Charles Foster Kane.

Let’s Talk About Ni No Kuni II

It is rare I finish a game I am so mixed on. Released earlier this year on PC and Playstation 4, Ni No Kuni II is a solid roleplaying game that will likely be loved by many. It has a young protagonist out to make the world a better place. It has stats, gear, and all the other bells and whistles of a typical Japanese roleplaying game. It also manages to perfectly capture what I have enjoyed more recently about JRPGs: their relaxing and familiar gameplay loops. But, for me, Ni No Kuni II was only just okay.

Ni No Kuni II is not a direct sequel to the first game released on Playstation 3 by Level-5 (Dark Cloud, Professor Layton, Yo-Kai Watch, etc.). It also lacks the involvement of Studio Ghibli though the aesthetic is similar. That helps because I never played the first game so I have no reason or ability to compare this Ni No Kuni to the original.

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Nothing like a furry page boy!

First and foremost, Ni No Kuni II is an almost too saccharine game. The game’s lead, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, is the child king of Ding Dong Dell, a kingdom divided by animosity from its ruling class (cat-people called Grimalkin) and Mousekin (obviously mice-people). After he is ousted in a coup, he sets out to unite all of the world’s kingdoms in peace under the banner of his brand new kingdom. He does so with kindness, generosity, and the understanding that most bad rulers are not evil.

I do not think there is a better JRPG to use to introduce younger gamers to the genre or to play as a family. At least not one that isn’t far older. Ni No Kuni II looks great (especially on the Playstation 4 Pro) and I never got tired of the character or enemy design, even if it frequently repeated itself.

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The game’s biggest boss battles are varied and interesting but there’s only four of them.

Even better for younger gamers, this is not a particularly difficult game. Battles focus on a single character with a limited array of combos and other abilities. Controls are responsive and animations are crisp. Enemies explode into a variety of items (mostly materials for crafting) when defeated. The combat never stopped being fun for me despite its simplicity. You can switch characters at will and each has a different weapon type they can use which further differentiates them when you need a change of pace.

While I failed to get into Persona 5, an obviously superior and deeper experience, Ni No Kuni II does better what I like JRPGs to do. I love being able to fire it up for some brief farming or to complete a few side-quests. Ni No Kuni II also has a limited city building element that reminded me of Bravely Default which kept me engaged as well. I loved how all of the loops feed into it. Farm enemies for resources to complete side-quests to recruit new citizens of your kingdom who then help you build up that kingdom or produce better weapons/armor/spells.

 

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Yes, this game has Facebook and, much like my own profile, I never used it.

I wasn’t achieving much nor was I overcoming any challenges. If anything, Ni No Kuni II had more in common with mobile clicker RPGs which satisfy players much the same way a slot machine satisfies grandma. That isn’t a bad thing though I wish the game was harder or had harder challenges.

Beyond the simplicity of its gameplay and characters, I did appreciate the games story even if it got to be a bit silly. It was a nice change of pace being the one who wanted to conquer world (though in peace rather for my own personal gain). In the opening, it is revealed that the secondary main character is essentially the President of the United States transported into a fantasy land moments before witnessing the presumed beginning of a nuclear holocaust. It is easily the most unique opening in any JRPG I have ever played.

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The President has a handgun, of course.

I won’t spoil it here, but I also enjoyed the main villains backstory once it was revealed in the game’s final act. Like all of the villains in Ni No Kuni II, he starts out twirling his mustache and ends with pulling your heart strings. That seems to be a story trope of sorts often used by Japanese writers (villain of the week becomes best friend for the remainder of the series) and it works perfectly in this game’s narrative.

Overall, I think I recommend Ni No Kuni II though maybe not at full price. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone that wants a hard game to play, but it’s perfect for those of us who need something to relax while playing or something that’ll allow our brains time to rest between more narrative-intense video games or dense television like Westworld. If you haven’t yet, you may want to give Ni No Kuni II a shot.

Now Playing: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Returning to movies neither of us have seen, we have 1940’s “The Philadelphia Story”, a romantic comedy starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. Despite the star power, this one was a total flop. I loved the idea and found the first half to be funny, but the movie’s second half derailed the humor with a contrived romantic subplot. It also had one of the worst endings of any of the movies we have watched thus far and also managed to be one of the most sexist.

“The Philadelphia Story” focuses on Tracy Lord, a rich socialite from Philadelphia, soon to marry for her second time to a man from new money named George. Her previous marriage to C. K. Dexter Haven (played by Cary Grant) ended prematurely because of his alcoholism and possible physical abuse. On the eve of her wedding, she is visited by a tabloid journalist (James Stewart) and photographer (Ruth Hussey, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance). They pose as friends of the family through the assistance of C. K. Dexter Haven who is helping them work on behalf of the magazine Spy to cover the wedding even though the family would never consent to having reporters on the property.

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It’s never 100% clear that C. K. Dexter Haven ever beat Tracy Lord. The one bit of physical abuse is played for laughs.

This plot quickly leads to humor. James Stewart’s writer-turned-journalist is an intellectual snob who is turned off by the world of the richest Americans. He thumbs his nose at their excess. Tracy is made aware of the reporters’ identities almost immediately. C. K. Dexter Haven reveals he was only in on the plot because the magazine’s editor has a story that will damage the family’s reputation (the family’s patriarch recently had an affair with a dancer in New York).

Things take a turn when everyone finds out everyone else’s secret with the exception of George who, despite being the story’s nicest person, no one likes, especially the Lord family who much prefer Tracy’s ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven. The movie keeps up some humor, but focuses more on Tracy’s remaining love (and contempt) for her ex, her lack of connection with her soon-to-be-husband, and a potential new romance with James Stewart’s character.

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Yet another movie where a female side character is far more attractive than the female lead (though not necessarily a better actress).

I read that at the time this kind of plot was a way to allow for extramarital affairs which were taboo. The basic idea is two lovers who need time apart to seek out other romances before realizing their love for one another. For me, there was nothing but confusion as Cary Grant’s character charmed his way through the rest of the film with little obvious motivation and James Stewart chewed on his dialogue.

It’s a shame “The Philadelphia Story” ended up being so flat. It clearly had the star power and neither of us had any issue with any of the performances. If the plot had been able to keep my interest, this might’ve been an okay movie. Instead, it is one of the worst of the bunch so far despite being our first introduction in this series to James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant, all of whom I had looked forward to seeing.

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This scene where the Lords play up their upbringing at the expense of the two characters who come from more humble backgrounds was crazy but enjoyable. I wish more of the movie was like this.

Worse, the final 15 minutes or so of this movie was not just bad but demeaning to the audience. The movie directly mentioned that C. K. Dexter Harvey had abused Tracy during their marriage, but they decided to remarry after George walked out on the wedding after accusing Tracy of doing more than just kissing the night before with the drunken James Stewart. Stewart’s character who was in a relationship with Ruth Hussey’s photographer asks Tracy to marry him in George’s stead, directly in front of his supposed girlfriend, only to be refused. Everyone seems to do a complete 180° and nothing feels earned.

Most offensive of all, Tracy’s father gives her a speech of how he is proud of her for going back to C. K. Dexter Harvey. This comes after a speech earlier in the film where he blames his oldest daughter for his infidelity. He told her that when a man gets older they look for ways to feel young and if they have a horrible daughter who doesn’t dote upon them, then they are likely to look for that love elsewhere. It is a horrifying, repugnant speech made all the worse by giving the character no fallout or comeuppance for its utterance.

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Seriously, this is the most sexist character we’ve seen yet. He blames his daughter for why he cheats? Fuck him. He deserved a real kick in the ass.

Despite the star power and performances, we cannot recommend this movie to anyone. Its views have not aged well. Try as it might to portray a strong female, Katharine Hepburn is saddled with a script written by men and for men. For all its potential, “The Philadelphia Story” was a real bummer.

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I don’t care what Cary Grant is doing here, the man is dreamy!

Now Playing: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


1939 was a packed year when it comes to movies. Perhaps none of the movies released that year remains as famous or as popular as this week’s movie, “The Wizard of Oz”. And since both Diane and I hate this movie, we decided to pair it with a second movie: 1985’s “Return to Oz”. Thankfully, we left out “Oz the Great and the Powerful from 2013 or this post would be overkill.

As you know, “The Wizard of Oz” is a musical about a dog, Toto, and his owner, Dorothy, who are whisked away to a far away land called Oz after a cyclone strikes their farm in Kansas. Toto gets top billing in my retelling because he is the single best thing about this movie. That and the music.

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/r/MovieDetails, “The farmhands at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz are really the companions.” ZOMGbestMOVever

“The Wizard of Oz” is something most everyone sees at least once here in the United States. Channels frequently play it each year, often as a marathon, and it is the kind of movie that parents pass down to their children and subsequent generations. I watched it as a kid. Diane watched it as a kid. For both of us, it didn’t take.

In rewatching the film, I can appreciate its technical beauty and fantasy charm. It is overflowing with rich imagination and the color to match. Even in its cheapness, it is timeless. The songs also soar above the rest as they are, in my opinion, the most important thing “The Wizard of Oz” brings to the table. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is an objectively perfect song and is most likely the greatest original song for a movie ever. Judy Garland’s performance of it is all you ever really need to see in “The Wizard of Oz” to get your money’s worth, especially as Toto watches on from a tractor.

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Toto literally being held back by the rest of this film.

The rest of “The Wizard of Oz” is just okay. Frankly, neither of us really get the appeal. We didn’t as kids and we don’t now as kid-adults. The movie lacks in plot and plays out more like a string of interconnected music videos making about as much sense as anything you would see on YouTube. I am not directly familiar with the books on which the movie is based, but there’s no digging into any rich mythos either. “The Wizard of Oz” seems like an early blueprint for all live action children’s movies, but its so prototypical that it is hard for me to sit through and enjoy. I think it is better experienced by listening to the soundtrack and not much else.

Fast forward from 1939 to 1985 and you get a much different kind of movie. “Return to Oz” was not something that either of us saw as kids. This was Diane’s first watching and my second after chasing it down years ago out of shock that it existed.

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Thankfully, Glinda the Good Witch is not in “Return to Oz” where she can instigate everything and never help anyone.

“Return to Oz” picks up immediately after “The Wizard of Oz” and it functions as a sequel/spiritual successor, only it is completely different. Based more on the books, “Return to Oz” is a darker, richer story that abandons music and dancing for abject horror. Even with its age, the scene introducing Mombi, a woman who treats her 31 severed heads as accessories to be worn as her mood demands, is terrifying. Similarly, all of the claymation work done to bring the Nome King to life is equally horrifying and memorable.

Neither of us will try to argue that “Return to Oz” is an objectively better movie. It is certainly the lesser of the two and not nearly as important, at least in the span of film history. It exists as a relic of a dark era for the Walt Disney company. After struggling to make use of the Oz property they had purchased, “Return to Oz” was a failure in the box office.

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I forgot this was in “The Wizard of Oz”. This looks good. I like this.

I find it hard to imagine that “The Wizard of Oz” was not similarly revered in the mid-80’s, so the fact that anyone greenlit a movie that could only be perceived as a sequel is beyond me. “Return to Oz” is set in a post-apocalyptic Oz where everything anyone ever loved about “The Wizard of Oz” is frozen in time, standing lifeless in the ruins of an emerald-less Emerald City. There’s no music. There’s less color. Dorothy only manages to return to Oz after escaping from electroshock therapy intended to treat her delusions from the first time she visited. It is a dark, 80’s fantasy film for kids and I love it for that, but it is the worst way possible to follow up “The Wizard of Oz” even with a four decade gap.

It’s also not a particularly good dark, 80’s fantasy film for kids. You are better off crying at “The Neverending Story” or eye-fucking David Bowie in “Labyrinth”. It has its moments, but “Return to Oz” only works as much as it does because it starts off by taking something iconic from everyone’s childhood and subverting into a desolate hellscape. I love it for that very reason even if I will forever question its very existence.

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St. Patrick’s Day in America, everyone.

When comparing the two films, we found the side characters more entertaining in “Return to Oz”. While the three in “The Wizard of Oz” all have their classic song and dance routines to introduce themselves and what they are missing, the characters in “Return to Oz” all serve actual purposes and advance the plot without spending the entire runtime bitching about something they learn they already have in the end. One’s a chicken, which is unfortunate, but Tick-Tock is cool. He’s a wind-up soldier. Diane was partial to Gump, the resurrected head of a moose attached to some antique furniture.

I will give “The Wizard of Oz” the nod on the designs for Scarecrow, Tin Man, and even the Cowardly Lion (the lesser of the three). “Return to Oz” goes for a much more stylistic interpretation which I hated, but the makeup and costume work for the 1939 film still hold up to this day. Even more impressive, it holds up while the performers are doing some great singing and dancing. Ray Bolger, previously seen in our review for “The Great Ziegfeld” is fantastic and has no equal in either film, besides Toto, of course.

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You had it all along, you dumb fucks, now stop wasting everyone’s time, including your own.

“Return to Oz” also has the superior Oz, even if it is a rundown dump. Why? No munchkinland. That place still creeps me out.

Sometimes there is no place like home. Sometimes the life lesson is to bury yourself in the familiar and never leave your farm. Other times, life calls for taking a chance even if it means replacing the excellent dog lead with a subpar chicken character. For us, “The Wizard of Oz” has its place and that is firmly in 1939 when it was fresh and original. I hope to never see it again unless I am only watching Judy Garland win over the rest of human history with a truly remarkable song.

Oh and I doubt I watch “Return to Oz” again unless I find someone else who can’t believe it existed. Seriously, Disney, why?

My Wrestlemania 34 Review

This is the third year in a row that we’ve watched Wrestlemania live. Like many, I tend to resubscribe for the Royal Rumble and let my subscription run until Wrestlemania. Of all the Wrestlemania’s we have watched live, this was by far the best, but I still went to bed late last night feeling kind of empty and let down.

Continue reading “My Wrestlemania 34 Review”

Backstory: Dwarf Forge Cleric #DND

I haven’t committed to my next character yet, but one (of many) in the running is a Dwarf Cleric with the Forge domain. I’ve loved dwarfs and clerics for as long as I have been aware of D&D (mostly through reading the Dragonlance books), but I’ve never really put the two together. The Forge domain is thematically perfect for a Dwarf and a great excuse to build a dwarf tank steeped in his race’s culture and lore.

When working on this background, I wanted to get away from some of the more typical tropes, especially since Forge domain Dwarf Cleric isn’t exactly a unique idea. I’ve always loved the idea of ekphrasis which, borrowed from the Greek, typically means an overly dramatic description of a piece of art. I associate the term most with the Shield of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad where the god-made shield (Hephaestus) is described in elaborate, poetic language. Here, I wanted my character’s adventuring goal to be the gathering of materials (most dangerous) and crafting of a set of armor worthy of being described ekphrasticly.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Continue reading “Backstory: Dwarf Forge Cleric #DND”

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