Oculus is one part inspiration, and one part a convoluted mess

"You see what it wants you to see."
“You see what it wants you to see.”

Oculus is worth seeing, but at the same time it is not.

Half of the cast is excellent, while the other half was horrible (and two of the horrible half are excellent actors in other work, so I don’t know what went wrong here). Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) brought a real range of emotion to the role, and I feel she has transitioned well from her television performances to the silver screen. She really captured the personae of the tortured survivor quite well, and she is the rudder that guides this tale through its better portions. Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories) and Garrett Ryan (Insidious: Chapter 2) brought their characters to life, and rarely do I feel so tormented about watching child characters suffer through the events of a horror film. I wanted to jump into the film to save them, and I attribute that drive to their talents. On the flip side of the coin, Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Riddick), as much as I love her, continues to demonstrate she has a certain range she excels at, and this role was beyond her range. Rory Cochrane (Argo, Dazed and Confused) was much better, but never really developed a character that had much impact on me. I am not convinced it was Rory, so much as it was the script he was working with, and possibly the directions he was receiving on the set. Brenton Thwaites (nothing worth noting) was just awful. It is obvious he was cast as a beautiful face to draw in the teen ladies, but the casting director should have checked to make sure he could act first.

The writing was clever in places, and convoluted in others. It is so hard to critique this portion of the film without spoiling the film for you. There is a mechanic they used to tell the story, and honestly, I think it was a very interesting choice. That said, I think the production team got a little ahead of themselves, and the final product gets mired down in too much of a good thing. What worked quite well for the first three quarters of the film, caused confusion in the finale because it was used too heavily. I understand what they were trying to do. I just don’t think it worked out so well in the end.

There are one or two mildly decent scares, but what suspense the movie manages to scrape up is lost in the convolution of how the movie plays out. Ultimately, this is where the film falls apart the most. This is supposed to be a scary movie, and most of it just isn’t. That is what disappointed me the most.

There are things worth seeing in this movie, while there are also things that made me wish I skipped it. Tread carefully.

An Overview of ‘Demon the Descent Quickstart’

Demon the DescentDemon the Descent¬†is the ninth major expansion to the World of Darkness, and the first since the introduction of the revised core rules in The God-Machine Chronicle. In fact, Demon the Descent is an extension of The God-Machine Chronicle’s setting, another facet of the twisted mechanical machinations of the God Machine and its servants. The Quickstart was written and developed by Matt McFarland and it provides an excellent introduction into the new game as well as the new rules.

Players adopt the roles of the Unchained, former angelic minions of the God-Machine who have forsaken their functions and fallen. These newly formed demons must cope with their new existence, not wholly angel or human, while at the same time hiding from the God-Machine and/or finding ways to oppose it.¬†Angels are organized into one of four broad categories called Incarnations, and after the fall the demon retains these features. These include the Destroyers, Guardians, Messengers and Psychopomps. Angels are creatures of divine purpose but demons find themselves stripped of their purpose. This creates a void within the demon, and each adopts an Agenda to fill that void; the Inquisitor, Integrator, Saboteur or Tempter. Although the demon can perceive the gears of the God-Machine and the ancient laws that govern reality, it no longer possesses the intuitive understanding of those laws. Instead, it uses the few memories it retains of those laws, called Embeds and Exploits, to change reality in subtle ways. Each demon hides themselves behind a Cover, their ‘human’ mask, but they can reflexively reveal their demonic form, shaped by seven form aspects, at the risk of drawing the attention of the God Machine.

The Quickstart includes four demonic characters and all the rules you need to portray them as well as a complete scenario to play through called “Honey & Vinegar.” This scenario can be a standalone story or it can easily fit into an ongoing chronicle. Demons utilize the ‘waste heat’ of the God-Machine, called Aether, to fuel their powers. The God-Machine has created an Infrastructure to reclaim Aether for its own purposes, but it requires demons through which to filter the power source. The project is nearly complete and it is time to find those demons. Oh look! PCs coming this way.

Although the Quickstart Rules provide everything you need to start playing, it is but a glimpse into the countless goodies Onyx Path Publishing has packed into the full game. Demon the Descent is tentatively scheduled for release sometime this month. Notice the bold word in the previous sentence. OPP’s new business structure includes a strong dedication to the highest standards of quality, and while they always try to hit their marks, sometimes a product slips in order to maintain that level of quality.

If this product looks interesting to you, drop by DriveThruRPG and pick up a copy for yourself. It is available in both PDF (free) and Print on Demand (for a small printing and shipping fee). Stop back by and let me know what you think of it.

Why I am a Game Master


While cruising the White Wolf forums this morning I noticed a discussion titled “Why do you GM?” As I was reading through the responses to the question, I realized a lot of the answers I was reading applied to me as well. Despite the commonalities of the feedback, I also noticed a lot of individuality as well. I began to ponder what my own answer to that question would be.

“Because someone has to do it.”

I think a lot of us are familiar with this scenario. While my friend Andrew introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons, he was a busy kid and was not always around to play when I wanted to slay monsters. I recruited my younger brother and sister to play with me, but I couldn’t expect them to run the game. So if I wanted to scratch that itch I had to climb behind the Dungeon Master’s screen myself. My first experiences as a GM sprung from the reality that there just wasn’t anyone else to do it.

For a lot of GMs who came into the hobby at a young age I imagine their circumstances were very similar. We discover that dog eared copy of a core book or a boxed set in a library, a bookstore, or any number of other locations. Something about the game draws us in and we decide we just have to play it. So we pitch it to our friends, we become the face of the game and we convince them to give it a try. What we have also done is set ourselves up to be the person running the game because, after all, we were the ones who brought it to everyone’s attention. Although my first experience with D&D was as a player on a picnic table behind Andrew’s apartment building, my second was describing the dungeon locale being explored by my sibling’s first characters. I was bit by the GM bug.

Later on, as I began to explore a much larger world of gaming I found similar situations kept me behind the GM screen. While I enjoy being a GM, I also enjoy taking on the role of the player as well, but not everyone feels the same way. In fact, I think most players enjoy just being players for a myriad of reasons we could discuss from now until D&D Next’s official street date without running out of things to talk about. Someone has to sit behind the screen, and I often find any player who openly admits they wouldn’t mind handling the GM role inevitably ends up doing just that. That isn’t a bad thing. It just is what it is. If we want to play the game, we need someone to run the game.

“Because I am an introvert and an extrovert.”

Actually, is that even possible? I don’t know, but that is how I feel a lot of the time when it comes to gaming. Most of the time I am not a big crowd person (except at gaming conventions, I love those crowds). I prefer spending time with my books, my research materials, and my encyclopedic websites. In the past I would fill spiral notebook upon spiral notebook with notes about every subject you could think of, and how I want to use them at the game table. Now I fill up hard drives with Word documents and PDFs, build 3D terrain, or paint miniatures but it is the same thing. I am building worlds, and that recharges my batteries if you know what I mean.

Eventually there comes a moment, an urge builds inside me and I want to show off the things I have been building to the world. For a guy who enjoys spending most of his time alone I confess this is a really strange sensation. The extrovert in me takes over and I find a way to deliver my creations to the public whether it be at the game table, posting pictures of my work, or writing for public consumption. I find myself unsatisfied until I find a way to inject my insanity into someone else’s space. Okay, I know that sounds a little creepy, but bear with me.

“Because I love being a GM.”

At the end of the day, I am and will continue to throw myself behind the GM screen because I love being a GM. I love telling stories with my players, and bringing a positive play experience to the table that leaves everyone happy. Oh, I may kill a character or two along the way, but I will do everything in my power to make sure you are having fun when your character goes BOOM! Or SPLAT! Or loses their sanity. Or… No, that idea is far too evil. Well, maybe not. Please excuse me, I have an idea I need to flesh out.