Pathfinder 2nd Edition: The Devil is in the Details

Paizo announced the playtest for Pathfinder 2nd edition today.  For those who don’t know, Pathfinder is an adaption of D&D 3.5 made to be backwards compatible with its rules and have the same flavor in a time when many in the RPG community were unhappy with the radical changes made by 4e.  Pathfinder, often referred to as 3.75 or 3.X for its similarity, initially enjoyed great success at the expense of 4e but over a 10 year publishing cycle developed the same problem 3.5 had with proliferation of splat books, rules addons that were poorly thought out, imbalanced, or simply not well integrated into the game or supported, resulting in a multitude of confusing trap options.  Many of 3.5’s structural issues remained as well, with a magical item treadmill of + something weapons and armor that ultimately was negated by enemy scaling, and a power gap between casters and martial classes that often rendered the latter spectators and/or broke encounters.  In one campaign I played the DM quietly asked our shapechange wizard to reroll after he trivialized an encounter by casting Fly on my barbarian and ferrying the other party members over to the enemy ship by turning into a giant bat.

Pathfinder is also one of the first systems I played- I have fond memories of my Aztec barbarian Necalluah, and less fond memories of remaking the character because I tried to sub-specialize him into guns and effectively neutered him through poor choice of feats.  Ditto my Words of Power Sorcerer Acke- while a fun character I eventually realized after a string of defeats for our party that the Words of Power system was strictly worse than normal spellcasting in most instances and appeared to have been crudely bolted onto the system in an addon and then forgotten.  Still, though I haven’t touched the system in years, I like the breadth options Pathfinder has to offer- I particularly found myself missing templates when trying to design interesting encounters while running 5e.

In recent years Pathfinder seems to have faded as 5e’s star has risen, at least according to roll20 statistics; neither WoTC or Paizo are releasing their sales publicly so we are left with educated guesses.

Pathfinder “dying” is by no means a foregone conclusion but having experienced the system it makes sense to me that it is having trouble attracting new players given its complexity and the clunkiness inherited from 3.5- Paizo has been trying to move away from this framework with the Unchained rules but past a certain point it’s too much for one system to hold.  There is certainly room for improvement.

So will 2nd edition improve on the first?

The proficiency bonus and backgrounds, while not terribly original given that 5e did both, along with their emphasis on streamlining, make me think that Paizo has learned some lessons from how difficult Pathfinder could be to use.

Their reference to continued use of feat trees in the opening announcement makes me think they haven’t learned all the lessons they should, and how while complexity is a selling point for them too much of a good thing can strangle a system.

Pathfinder’s generous policy of allowing a wiki with most of its rules– while appreciated by me- in some ways exacerbates the issue with its complex rules, making them all available at once with little context, and while convenient for new players who don’t want to buy the books doesn’t change the fact that 5e is simpler, and sharing books within gaming groups seems to be the norm anyway.

Honestly, this will live or die on the spell and feat list.  Shifting to a 3 action economy changes how everything scales but the specific wording of spells and the sheer number of feats are the root of both Pathfinder’s caster supremacy and difficult complexity.  Pathfinder 2.0 can sink on this iceberg even if the rest of the rules are solid, and re-releasing Pathfinder with only the spells and feats streamlined and improved could fix most of what is wrong.

Personally?  I don’t think they can pull it off- Starfinder , Paizo’s recently released system, seems to have- admittedly based on anecdotes I’ve heard, though its not making many bestseller lists- gotten a lukewarm response, and Pathfinder has walked in 3.5’s footsteps including its problems despite 3.5 being well-explored by the time Pathfinder was released.  There is room for a good system that marries the ease of use of 5e with a wider variety of options but I don’t think Paizo will make that system.  They had the examples of 3.5 and 4e the first time around and didn’t learn anything from the Tome of Battle, feat taxes, or the proliferation of splats.  Paizo has a limited window or as 5e releases more source books Pathfinder 2e won’t even have more options, its main selling point.

I would be glad to be wrong- I think the success of Pathfinder forced WoTC to do better on the next edition, making 5e as strong as it is, but even if the balance issues are initially fixed Paizo has a strong incentive to pump out splat books for sales in the short term if they are selling complexity, even if it hurts the system.

I don’t think Paizo will go out of business or Pathfinder will go out of print- DnD has survived its share of business failures and buyouts- but I doubt it can recapture its status as the de facto RPG that Pathfinder managed to hold for some of DnD 4e.


One Page RPG Review: Newtype

Newtype  by \u\DeathMcGunz  is a one page rpg about anime-style mech combat- see the featured picture or follow one of the links for the rules.

The Good

The system of creating characters by picking words and syllables is interesting and flexible- my players enjoyed setting up their characters and the rules made it quick and easy.  I also had an easy time rolling up mooks and we got started in a few minutes.

Newtype was mechanically flexible and broad without being complex- Eldritch moth monsters and giant robots fit into the same system snugly and assigning dice to vaguer words created some interesting effects and helped make character creation fast, and the tradeoff between attack and defense felt meaningful.

Loading up on defensive dice in place of health let me recreate the minion system from 4e easily, allowing me to throw out a lot of enemies without having to do much bookkeeping.

The interludes out of combat were satisfying in their contrast when they worked; I wish I had planned more for them- you need to be very genre savvy or have players who are comfortable roleplaying to make this work well

The Bad

The simplicity can become a downside; even with improvised maneuvers the combat got stale within a 3 hour session, with one strongly encouraged option each for defense and offense providing little variety, and no mechanical support for out of combat like skills and such.  The group was left in an odd place where, unlike The Witch is Dead, there wasn’t any framework to determine success for anything besides fighting, and it made it harder to both vary the content while providing a challenge that had a clear mechanism to resolve.

The Ugly

Some of this is my fault- outside of one Evangelion marathon I haven’t watched much in this genre and I probably didn’t focus enough on the interaction between the pilots.  I treated this as something DnD-esque and designed encounters with the possibility of escaping serious injury- making something that was more of a meatgrinder would have suited the shorter play time implied by a one play rpg, used more the mechanics around trading off life for power and would have been more in theme with something partially based on Evangelion.  I liked the session I ran overall and so did my players but making these changes might have made things more enjoyable.


This is a fun little system but like many one page rpgs the system shows some cracks by the end of the session- I would strongly recommend it for a one shot but I wouldn’t build a campaign around it.


Something as simple as just allowing 3 or 4 general devices could be a lot more effective, allowing each to be applied to attack, defense, and utility purposes as appropriate in the fiction- possibly by splitting dice between mechs and pilots.

A simple out of conflict resolution system, maybe 1d6 based plus 1d6 for a related pilot trait, would really flesh the system out and would give it some staying power, at least enough for a 3-5 session campaign.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi, An Abandoned Hope

Spoilers for The Last Jedi below

Let me start by saying I really liked this movie- Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher put on amazing performances and I liked the double twist with Kylo Ren.  The catdog racing sequence felt a little out of place but it wasn’t bad- The Last Jedi had some rough edges but it felt fresh while still being Star Wars.

What I do not like is that everything achieved in episodes 4, 5, and 6 has been turned to ash.  Luke’s sole surviving student is someone he knew for a few days,  the Republic and Resistance Leia worked so hard for have been crushed, and both the Solo and Skywalker families will likely be extinguished with Ben Solo’s death since I don’t see him getting a 3rd shot at redemption.

Everything was not going to be ok after the original trilogy, or what would the plot of the new trilogy be?  But I find it harder to like Star Wars when all the characters I cared about have been purged from the universe.  It’s too much to the point of being grimdark when you stop and think about it.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and while I will stick it out for the rest of the trilogy it has really dampened my enthusiasm for the whole expanded movie universe.

Disney and Rian Johnson have succeeded in making that universe their own, and some very good movies, but they have done this by killing what I, and judging by the very polarized audience ratings, many of the fans were anchored to the franchise by.  I like Finn, Rey, and Poe, but I don’t care about them the way I did about the original trio.  I went into Episode 8 wanting to know what Luke was going to do, not whether Finn would recover from his wounds.  This isn’t a fair comparison, the new leads have had to share the spotlight with the previous cast.  We haven’t had the same chance to get attached.  It doesn’t change the fact that I won’t go see a new trilogy to find out what happened to them unless Episode 9 really steps it up.

Kylo Ren is probably the character with the most development, and I’ll go see Episode 9 to see how his arc turns out.  But I’m less sure about episode 10.  Maybe he’ll live through this trilogy and go on to be the villain of the next as well, betrayed by his own children in turn.  That might keep me around but I don’t think it will happen.  It wouldn’t have been hard to let the original characters pass something on, maybe just a montage scene of Luke and Rey training for more than a few hours so that he would have some connection with the new Jedi going forward; but that isn’t what happened, they went for the clean break intentionally.

Feeling dissatisfied, I started looking into some of the original expanded universe books.  The Thrawn Trilogy was nothing special in my opinion, I read it over a weekend on a library app- Thrawn himself was interesting and there were some good moments, especially in the 3rd book, but it was a continuation of the story that was not as well executed as Episode 7 and not as interesting as Episode 8.  Yet Han, Leia, and Luke hadn’t had their lives ruined off screen.  So while it’s not as will written I’m planning on reading the next trilogy of books as well.  Disney may have kept up the quality of the Star Wars movies but the original Star Wars was something special, a hopeful movie in a time of bleak sci-fi, a hit that everyone saw, the kind of shared cultural moment that is happening less and less frequently in the United States as media fragments.  Luke, Leia, and Han were a connection to that moment, and I fear in losing them we have lost what made Star Wars special.

Two Handed Weapons: An Analysis for 5e DnD

Which two-handed weapon is best for a character to wield in 5e Dungeon & Dragons?  Many nominally have the same or similar max damage but the dice used in rolling them.

Specifically this will be an analysis of heavy two handed weapons.  A longsword wielded in two hands has a damage die of d10, the same a a glaive, but it can’t be used with Great Weapon Master (GWM) so it is harder to force higher concentration checks with it; not all of this will apply.  I’m going to focus on expected damage per hit- a whole series of articles could be written on the trade offs between damage types and interactions with various feats.

Average Weapon Damage:

All die have a uniform distribution, assuming they are fair, their average being the median of possible rolls.  3.5 for a d6, 5.5 for a d10, and 6.5 for a d12, with E[] being the expected value or average of a successful hit with a weapon, not including attributes and other bonuses.

EX: E[1d6] = (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6)/6 = 21/6 = 7/2 = 3.5 or

(1/2)*[6+1] = 3.5

Greatsword & Maul: E[2d6] = 3.5 + 3.5 = 7

Greataxe = E[1d12] = 6.5

Glaive, Pike & Halberd = E[1d10] = 5.5

Greatclub = E[1d8] = 4.5

The 2d6 weapons narrowly pull ahead of the Greataxe, though the axe offers a stronger interaction with the Half-Orc racial ability and a greater weight to the higher end of damage results, which can be useful for inflicting higher concentration checks on spellcasters.  Polearms noticeably fall behind though they offer potential damage increases and battlefield control through the Polearm Master and Sentinel Feats, especially when combined with Tunnel Fighter Unearthed Arcana fighting style or the Knight UA fighter archetype.

The different damage types are relevant, notably skeletons are resistant to piercing damage, but again these are determined by the DM so I won’t try to quantify them.  Also encumbrance is generous enough in this addition that a strength based character should be able to carry a backup weapon with a different damage type.

Averages with Great Weapon Fighting Style

The Great Weapon Fighting Style allows  a 1 or 2 on the die to be rerolled- I will model the impact by replacing 1s and 2s in all distributions with the averages calculated above.  All results will be rounded to the 10s place.

E[1d6|GWF] = (3.5+3.5+3+4+5+6)/6 = 25/6 = 4.2, so:

Greatsword & Maul = E[2d6|GWF]= 4.2 + 4.2 = 8.4, gain of 1.4

Greataxe = E[1d12|GWF]= (6.5+6.5+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12)/12 = 88/12 = 7.3, gain of .8

Polearms = E[1d10|GWF]= (5.5+5.5+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10)/10 = 63/10 = 6.3, a gain of .8

Greatclub = E[1d8|GWF]=(4.5+4.5+3+4+5+6+7+8)/8 = 42/8 = 5.3, a gain of .8

The 2d6 weapons not only have a higher average but disproportionately benefit from GWF since they have a much higher probability of rolling a 1 or a 2 with 2 smaller dice.  On average they deal at least 1.1 more damage than a Greataxe, the equivalent of a +1 to every roll in a system that does not offer many damage increases.  Absent other factors the Greatsword and Maul are a better choice for characters looking to wield two handed weapons.

Notably the Greatclub is outperformed by the 1d8 one handed weapons(E[]=6.5) such as the rapier, or even short sword(E[]=5.5) with the Duelist fighting style which also allows the wielder to have a shield or other utility item in the offhand, such as a spell focus.  It objectively the worse than a 1 handed weapon for a character that gets to pick a fighting style and will not be considered further.

Polearm Master’s hilt attack also has an expected increase of .5 damage, but this conflicts with GWM bonus action attacks as well as with class features such as the Frenzy Barbarian’s extra attack or some Battlemaster maneuvers- the action economy is complex and I won’t try to quantify it.

Notably paladins with an extra 2d8(E[2d8] = 9) smite damage even with a level 1 slot will likely get less than 50% of their damage from their actual weapon- in these cases it may be better to take the Armored fighting style to conserve resources and help keep them up to use all their smites.  Again the Tunnel Fighter style combined with the Sentinel feat in theory allows unlimited attacks per round against an enemy who isn’t careful in their movements.  Depending on your campaign and DM it may be a better pick.

From here on out I will focus on the trade off of greataxe versus the 2d6 weapons in the case of critical hits.

Critical Hits with Savage Attacks (or Brutal Critical 1)

The Greataxe is better in the event it scores a critical hit and is wielded by a Half-Orc who may roll and additional weapon die in the event of a crit, from their Savage Attacks feature.  In this case another d12 is rolled instead of only 1d6 for the Maul of Greatsword, offering an expected damage increase of:

E[1d12] – E[1d6] = 7.3 – 4.2 = 3.1  or 3 if GWF is not selected, with an increase of only about 2 if a pole arm is used.

My first instinct was simply to treat crits as a 1/20 chance but we are considering only the pool of hits- in which case the proportion of critical hits rises substantially.

For example, at level 1 an optimized strength based martial character using the stat array should have a +5 to hit modifier, +3 from strength and +2 from proficiency.  A goblin has an AC of 15.  You must roll at least a 10 to hit the goblin, an 11/20 chance- so the probability of hitting is 11/20 with one of those hits being a crit.

Therefore the expected increased damage from a crit with, which occurs in one of 11 hits while fighting a goblin, is E[crit]/11, or in the case of a Half-Orc wielding a Greataxe, 3/11 = .3,  compared to an expected increase of 1.1 damage from rolling the greatsword damage again compared to a greataxe.

Even with only a 55% chance to hit the extra critical damage is much less than the roughly +1 bonus to damage from wielding a maul or greatsword.  For the greataxe/half orc combo to be worth while we need:

1 = 3/(21 – x)  

with x being the minimum roll d20 roll to hit a given enemy, and rounding the 2d6 advantage down to 1 for simplicity.  The less likely you are to hit the more valuable crits become.  However, we can solve this equation to find the minimum to hit roll needed to make the greataxe better than the maul or greatsword on average.  We multiply both sides by the denominator:

21-x = 3 => x = 18

The crit combo give less expected damage unless you hit only on an 18 or higher; an armor class of 23 for an optimized level 1 character.  For context the Tarrasque, a CR 30 creature, has an AC of 25.  It seems the greatsword or maul is a better choice even for half orcs unless all the enemies you fight have Shield prepared.  For martial characters of other races the 2d6 weapons have more expected damage per hit, including for crits, and as such are optimal even for crit fishing builds.

Expanded Crit Range with Savage Attacks

What if our half orc is a champion fighter with an expanded crit range?  For the 19-20, we have two crits in our pool of hits, or an expected gain of 6 over the greatsword, and an expected gain of 9 for a 15th level champion fighter who crits on a 18-20.  The minimum to-hit rolls needed to make them viable are:

1 = 6/(21-x) => 21-x = 6 => x = 15

1 = 9/(21-x) => 21-x = 9 => x = 12

With Champion Fighter we start to get some plausible to-hit rolls to make the half-orc greataxe build outperform the 2d6 weapons.  For a level 3 fighter the AC that makes this perform better is a 20, plausible if you are fighting an enemy with the Shield spell or an actual shield.  For the 15th level champion with a +10 to hit, enemies with buff spells and magic armor are quite likely to have an AC of 22 with magic equipment, but it’s a long time for this to pay off and stop being situational.

Brutal Critical (Barbarian)

Barbarian has a class feature, Brutal Critical, similar to the half-orc racial except that it adds up to 3 weapon die.  We have effectively examined up to the 3 die case with a tripled chance of critical, with a trippling of the crit chance being equivalent to rolling 3 die instead of one on a crit, at least from the standpoint of averages.  So a 17th level Barbarian will find it worthwhile to wield a greataxe in the same circumstances as a 15th level half-orc champion fighter, the loss of expected damage per swing being offset by the extra crit damage against heavily armored enemies.

However this class feature stacks with the half-orc racial, the better to encourage that classic race/class combination, allowing up to 4 extra weapon die to be rolled in the event of a crit, in addition to the usual doubling of damage dice.

A critical with 4 extra weapon die (A 17th-level half-orc barbarian):

1 = 12(21 -x) => 12 = 21 -x => x = 9

or at least a minimum target AC of 19 for a barbarian capable of rolling this many dice, assuming maximized strength.

Expanded Crit Range and Brutal Critical

A character with two extra weapon die on a crit and an expanded crit range of 19-20, say a half-orc champion fighter 3/barbarian 9 is statistically identical to a level 17 half orc barbarian with 4 extra weapon die on a crit, with the greataxe being superior with a minimum roll to hit of 9 or more without advantage.  Bonuses acrue quickly from here, for 3 weapon die from 17 levels in barbarian or 13 levels and the half orc racial:

1 = 18(21-x) => x = 3  

so that the greataxe deals more damage per hit against almost any enemy except those not wearing any armor.  A 20th level half-orc with Champion Fighter 3/ Barbarian 17 will always have a higher damage per hit, the cutoff to-hit roll for the greataxe being negative.

1 = 24(21 -x) => 24 = 21 -x => x = -3

However this is unlikely to be worth giving up the increased to hit chance, damage, AC, and hp from the barbarian capstone.

Critical Hits with Advantage and Savage Attacks

Adding advantage makes things complicated- crits become more likely but a hit in general is also more likely.  We are going to have to get into higher statistics for this- the Cumulative Distribution Function of a uniform distribution is:

CDF: (x – a – 1)/(b – a) with a being the start of the distribution and b being the highest draw possible.  The CDF is the probability of drawing a number of x or less from the distribution, or in this case rolling x or less. For a d20 a=1 and b=20, and we subtract an additional 1 from x as we hit on a tie, so we have:

CDFd20: (x- 2)/(19) for  0 < x < 20  

So our probability of hitting on a given roll is 1 – CDFd20, again with x being our number needed to hit.  Our probability of hitting with advantage is our miss chance squared as we must roll under with both rolls, or:

Chance to hit = 1 – CDFd20^2 = 1 – [(x-2)/(19)]^2

assuming away an AC of 1 as no such creature exists in the Monster Manual and it breaks the math.  Our expected gain from a crit with a half orc wielding a great axe is:

3*(probability of a critical hit given a hit) = 3*[(crit chance)/(hit chance)]

The probability of a critical hit given advantage is:

1- (19/20)^2 = 1- .9025 = .0975

So the cutoff to hit roll for a non-champion fighter half orc wielding a greataxe to outperform a 2d6 weapon is:

1 = 3*[.0975/(1 – [(x-2)/(19)]^2)]

The solution to which is x = slightly less than 18 according to Wolfram Alpha, barely a budge from the attack without advantage.  So even with advantage, say from barbarian’s Reckless Attack, this math doesn’t work out with 1 die.

However, gains are larger with two extra weapon die on a crit:

1 = 6*[.0975/(1 – [(x-2)/(19)]^2)]

with a solution of about 14 for Wolfram Alpha, compared to 15 without advantage.  The gap widens significantly for 3 weapon die, with a minimum to hit roll of 9 or higher needed to make the greataxe have a higher average per hit, compared to a 12 without advantage, a condition quite likely to be met at any level.

With Brutal Critical a half orc barbarian can add up to 4 weapon die on a crit, giving us:

1 = 12*[.0975/(1-[(x-2)/19]^2)]

Which has an imaginary result for x- meaning it is always better for a 17th level Half-Orc barbarian to wield the greataxe and Reckless attack regardless of the minimum AC to hit, at least for the purposes of maximizing damage.

Expanded Crit Range with Advantage & Savage Attacks

Unlike the barbarian weapon die, the champion fighter expanded crit range interacts differently with advantage than it does with normal hit probabilities- we must recalculate the crit probability in each instance.  Notably this only applies to half-orc champion fighters or those multiclassed into barbarian, or both, and an unmulticlassed champion fighter will need their allies to give them advantage.

Probability of Crit on 19-20:  1 – (9/10)^2 = .19

Probability of a Crit on 18-20: 1-(17/20)^2 = .2775

So the minimum to-hit roll needed to make greataxe superior for a Champion Fighter/Half orc with advantage or a Chamption Fighter 3/Barbarian 9 is:

1 = 3*[.19/(1 – [(x-2)/(19)]^2)]

or x = 15 since rolling a 14.4 is not possible.  The result for a Barbarian 3/Champion Fighter 15 or Half-Orc Chamption fighter 15 is:

1 = 3*[.2775/(1 – [(x-2)/(19)]^2)]

or x = 10, a plausible requirement; an AC of 20 on enemies will not be uncommon at this level.

Expanded Crit Range with Advantage and Brutal Critical

For two weapon die and an expanded crit range the cutoff is:

1 = 6*[.19/(1 – [(x-2)/(19)]^2)]

which again gives an imaginary result so with at least two extra weapon die on a crit, expanded crit range, and advantage, the greataxe is the two-handed weapon with the highest expected damage per hit for any possible minimum roll to hit.  This can be achieved by a half orc Champion Fighter 3/Barbarian 9.

With a 17th level barbarian and 3rd level champion fighter half-orc 4 weapon die on a crit with expanded crit range is possible, but the greataxe is already proven superior without the expanded crit range in this case so it will not be considered.

15th level Champion Fighters will need to be at least level 24 to benefit from Brutal Critical, so multiple weapon die and a triple crit range will not be considered.

TL,DR: The greatsword and maul almost always have a higher expected damage per hit, the greataxe being superior only for high level half-orc barbarians or champion fighters, or characters with levels in both, going up against heavily armored enemies.  Most campaigns will not reach the point where the greataxe is superior, the crit damage just doesn’t scale fast enough, and the fall off is worse for polearms.


Given that a character with disadvantage has a 1/400 chance of critting I will not consider damage trade offs when attacking with advantage, it seems unlikely a greataxe crit build will ever perform well in that case.


I wanted to look at how the increased weight of polearms and the greataxe at the upper tail of their damage distribution increases the likelihood of forcing a failure on a concentration check but the topic is extensive enough that it deserves its own article.

Review: The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower is the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s epic fantasy/western/weird horror series of the same name.  It fits a plot converted to fit an action movie’s run time into King’s flavorful setting for a quick & fun action/fantasy movie, but some of the magic of the books is lost given the relatively small budget and short run time.

I went in with low expectations despite being a fan of the books after looking at the reviews.  It didn’t blow my mind but the movie is much better than the currently 18% on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest and is a good fantasy/action movie in its own right. It is a complete story on its own and feels like the movie could have happened in the same universe as the books.

Matthew McConaughey captured the menace of the Man in Black beautifully, stepping up into the villain’s role that was a great expansion over his often behind the scenes approach in the books.  His was the best performance of the film, transforming a secondary antagonist into a charismatic villain who dominated the movie, giving it clear direction.

Idris Elba feels a little stiff at first as a kinder version of Roland but won me over before the end of The Dark Tower.  Ultimately Roland takes a backseat to the Man in Black and Jake despite being the main character in the books, there just isn’t enough screen time for him.  I enjoyed the addition of the supernatural to his gun play- it fits with the setting and there are no clumsy attempts to explain it or the other strange occurrences in what is obviously a world alive with magic.

Tom Taylor does a good job as Jake, whose role like that of the sorcerous Man in Black is greatly expanded over that of the books, absorbing several side characters.  He is relatable without being annoying and has a good character arc, growing to the point that it makes sense for him to accompany Roland on his quest.

For the most part exposition is handled well; it is obvious that Jake is harried by his dreams, The Man in Black is evil and that Roland is exhausted by their actions rather than because they say so.  The rules of the setting are well established before the finale; no deus ex machina resolution.  Things do slow down in the middle, with the consequences of the Dark Tower falling being told rather than shown.  The action was very well done- Roland’s final gunfight was what Deadshot should have been in Suicide Squad.  His clever use of ricochets and the environment made him seem like a seasoned and intelligent warrior.  The sets are well done, beautifully capturing the post-apocalyptic nature of Midworld without being overly dim.  The Dark Tower works well as a stand alone action movie, hitting the points it needs to and giving us an interesting taste of Stephen King’s world without burying the audience in exposition.

There will be more meaning for long time readers- bits are borrowed freely from throughout the 8 book series and I enjoyed nods like the 13 Bends of the Rainbow in the Man in Black’s office, which would look like crystal balls to a non-reader.  The Dark Tower is loaded with similar references to all of King’s books, so keep an eye out.  It felt comprehensible to me but I know the background well, and it appears based on the movie’s poor box office that people didn’t feel invested even if they did understand.  I enjoyed the new story line which took inspiration from but was not a copy of any of the books, the more positive tone, and seeing elements from the books used in new ways, but I can see why other fans might be upset at the extensive edits and hopeful ending which contrasts sharply with the darkness of the books.

At 1 hour and 35 minutes the movie is tiny compared to the series it is adapting which dwarfs the Lord of the Rings with double the number of books and triple the word count.  In contrast the first Harry Potter movie had double the budget and an extra hour of run time.  The movie was as good as it could have been in the time allotted, and I think it was a good movie, but it didn’t have time to develop Roland fully as a character or dig into the weirdness that makes the Dark Tower so distinctive as an epic fantasy series.

The failure here is a lack of ambition; a lot of love clearly went into some parts of this movie and the acting is good but the script meanders a little while the movie wasn’t given the time to recapture the full glory of The Dark Tower book series.  I’m a little disappointed but I can see why they cut back some- the scene where Roland visits Maine and criticizes Stephen King for the way he wrote him was probably a bit much, and after what happened to Eragon I’ll take what I can get.

TL,DR: A decent fantasy action movie that’s worth a viewing.  If you aren’t a huge fan of the books or genre give it a look once it hits streaming.

Review: Castlevania Season 1

Netflix’s Castlevania is an anime style dark fantasy TV show based on the universe of Konami’s Castlevania games.  While short Season 1 is an interesting start that paints a beautiful picture of a lurid fantasy Wallachia.

The plot is solid, focusing more on the characters and their motivations than any complicated schemes.  Castlevania’s portrayal of the Catholic church as an antagonist is rather heavy handed but I felt invested enough in the protagonist that the conflict was satisfying.

Trevor Belmont and Dracula himself  are both charismatic and easy to sympathize with; the high quality voice acting helps here.  The other characters are not particularly memorable but they are likable and I cared about the fate of the supporting cast.

Castlevania’s animation is high quality, and the world seems alive and colorful despite the gothic setting.   There are some stills used but nothing egregious and the key scenes are beautiful and detailed.

The show is very gory in the pulpy anime style- limbs are casually severed,  deaths number in the hundreds if not thousands and at one point demons festoon an open air market with entrails.  It fits with the gritty and dark nature of the setting but if you strongly dislike gore I would not recommend this show.

Despite the darkness Castlevania never feels overly intense or like a downer.  The characters are funny which provides a nice foil to the darker moments.

The fight choreography is great- the characters feel like they have a real weight to them  and the environment is both well established and incorporated into the fights.  Things are well paced and I never felt bored or like Castlevania was trying to fill time.

My only real complaint is the length.  “Season 1” is four episodes of what feels like at least an 8 or 12 episode season.  It ends at a natural stopping point but similarly to Under the Dog it feels almost deceptive in its shortness, the difference being Castlevania is already getting a 2nd season.  If there had been more episodes I would have kept watching and I look forward to the next season, but you might want to wait for more of the series to be released before getting invested.

TL,DR: A colorful and entertaining dark fantasy TV show well worth keeping an eye on.