DM’ing an adventure with Finn and Quinn

A couple of months ago I started playing Dungeons & Dragons for the first time in a group at Accidentally Cool Games. Since I started doing that, Millie has become interested in D&D as well — she has her own set of dice and I’ve helped her make a Dragonborn warlock named Finn.

Tonight I started running a small adventure for her and Helen — who rolled up an Elf sorcerer named Quinn — that was specifically created for young players that I found on a blog called Hack & Slash. The adventure calls for our heroes to meet with a representative of a small town’s mayor, who bestows each of them with a magic item and sends them off to the ruins on the eastern hills to vanquish a terrible evil before it could do harm to the town.

After selecting their items, the girls were forced to choose one of two paths — a shorter, more dangerous path or potentially safer path that would take longer. They unanimously selected the shorter, more dangerous path and soon encountered a rock troll named Phil. Phil began to insult them, and after a few minutes Helen decided to fight. When Phil was hit with attacks, he divided into two; when one of the sub-Phils was attacked it would also divide into two. They never got to see this second division, though, because the two Phils quickly rendered them both unconscious, and they found themselves fully recovered back at the beginning of the path after what felt like a short rest.

This time they selected neither path and instead chose to cut through the grasslands, where they soon encountered a long-abandoned farm. They decided to investigate the farmhouse. After Mille (Finn) failed to break the door down with her hand axes, Helen (Quinn) used a small tinderbox to start a well-controlled fire and burn the door down. They entered and found a dust-filled room that had been abandoned for years. Helen attempted to investigate a painting above the fireplace but didn’t notice anything, and for Millie’s investigation she decided to start speaking Celestial to see if there were any ghosts in the farmhouse — which I thought was amazing for her to come up with.

I had her roll an Arcana check; she got a very low number, so I told her “you start speaking Celestial and hear a faint noise in response, but you can’t make out any words. You get the feeling that if you try again you might be able to do this.”

So she rolled a 22 on her next check and began speaking with a ghost who lived in the farmhouse. After a short conversation, he told Millie that he wished he could join the adventure, but instead would have to settle for sharing a small treasure that might help. He told her to check behind the portrait Helen failed to successfully investigate earlier; inside was a hidden compartment that contained a pouch that held 10 gp, an eagle feather, and a dagger that despite being locked away for years looked brand new and glowed with a faint pink light. I made that entire scenario up on the fly as a way to reward her for coming up with the idea to try and talk to ghosts in the first place.

They left the farmhouse and continued on their way; they encountered a well that would’ve led to more treasure had they climbed into it, but they skipped it after determining it didn’t have any water in it. They took another fork in the road and chose to ignore a field of flowers that would’ve let them meet some pixies and discovered a lake. Before Helen could convince Millie to ignore the lake and move on, Millie explored and found a hidden cave behind a waterfall — she was trying to be nimble and sneaky, so rather than have her investigate and discover it, I had her be clumsy and just fall into it when she failed a check. Inside was an egg; she tried to pick it up and dropped it, and out came a baby dragon — which she now has as a pet.

That’s where we quit for the night. I’m going to have to come up with some ways to catch Helen up in the “find cool stuff” department since Millie has been the most successful adventurer so far. I’ll figure out some way to get something to her when they get into the woods. In all it was really fun and I’m looking forward to finishing this up with them later this weekend.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” has been on my summer movie radar (and Helen’s) since we first saw the trailers for it. And, given that “The Fifth Element” is one of my favorite movies of all time, I had pretty high expectations for Valerian.

I had a chance to see it this evening with Helen — and while it’s not a bad movie, overall, it’s really, really not good. It reminds me a lot of Avatar — a movie that I very much enjoyed looking at but couldn’t stand listening to.

The world Luc Besson has realized for Valerian is fantastic. The titular “City of a Thousand Planets” (also called Alpha) is essentially Babylon 5 blown out to the nth degree — a spaceborn utopia where all the universe’s races can come together and coexist (unlike Babylon 5, though, Alpha actually works). Visually the whole thing is stunningly beautiful. And, like The Fifth Element, I spent this entire film wishing there was a Star Wars-worthy line of toys that included all of the various aliens and vehicles and locations. Nobody does sci-fi set and character design like Besson.

But then people start talking. Dane Dehaan plays Valerian — and since he’s in the movie’s title he talks a lot — and he is so bad he brings the entire movie crashing down. He has terrible dialogue to work with (legitimately terrible dialogue), but he brings absolutely nothing to the role. He’s a dead fish on the screen and spends the entire film with essentially a single facial expression that screams “I’m confused.”

Cara Delevingne gets worse dialogue than Dehaan does, which hardly seems possible, but she seemed to be making an effort to do something with it. Her relationship with Dehaan is completely unbelievable and, since he’s a lieutenant and she’s a sergeant, would probably get Valerian court martialed. The completely nonexistent chemistry between them (due in large part to Dehaan constantly appearing confused) doesn’t help matters any.

Ultimately, what Valerian is missing that Fifth Element had is humanity and heart. Valerian has nothing remotely resembling a “Leeloo Dallas multipass” or “Negative, I am a meat popsicle” moment, or a Ruby Rodd character for comic relief (although Valerian tries with the trio of Shingouz), and it’s worse off for it.

It’s well worth seeing in theaters for the pure visual spectacle. And there are plenty of redeeming qualities — the alien residents of the planet Mül, for instance, who we meet in the first scene after the intro to set up Alpha, are legitimately good characters. But unfortunately the good stuff is overshadowed by how bad the movie is when the two main characters have to talk to each other.