Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, a fantastic noir, is a symbolic story of a man traversing the 4 stages of enlightenment. “Why do we fall?” is posed to Bruce Wayne over and over along with the response, “So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.“ The answer sometimes varies in verbiage, but the message is consistent—through trials a person can learn. Bruce encounters his trials through the antagonists around him. Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, Two Face and Bane each represent a different stage in Bruce’s path to enlightenment.
The first stage, Sotapanna, requires a man to abandon the first three of the lower fetters: personality view, doubt regarding Buddha and his teachings, and misapprehension of precepts and vows. When we first see Bruce as an adult we learn that he has been kicked out of college. After trying to avenge his parents and failing, he leaves his life of wealth behind in a search for a new persona. He is on his way to the first stage of enlightenment. He continues to remove himself from the socialite persona until he is nothing more than a nameless prisoner in a jail in the middle of nowhere.
Bruce releases himself of the second fetter, doubt regarding Buddha and his teachings, when he refuses to kill a prisoner being held by the League of Shadows. Buddha is represented in the movie by Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s Father). Thomas is a doctor who has built his life around peaceful philanthropy. When he is killed, Bruce is driven down a path of hate and vengeance that comes to a head when he is told that to become a full member of the League of Shadows, he must kill a thief. Instead, Bruce turns on the League, burning down their headquarters. Symbolically he has turned away from a false Buddha—Ra’s al Ghul and accepted the teaching of the true Buddha—his father.
When Bruce becomes Batman, he helps Gotham in the most peaceful way he can. Batman holds strong to the code of not killing, but Buddha teaches that clinging to rituals is not enough to reach enlightenment. A man has to walk the Noble_Eightfold_Path in order to reach enlightenment. The Eightfold Path requires a man to reach for wisdom, to conduct himself ethically and to continue to strive to remain on this path. Batman embodies the Noble Eightfold Path throughout the trilogy, but in Batman Begins we have the first symbolic representation of him walking the path.
The final confrontation in Batman Begins is on the train against Ra’s al Ghul. Ra’s al Ghul is a character foil for Batman, as are most of the villains in Gotham. Ra’s is Batman consumed with vengeance and hatred due to the loss of his beloved (we learn why in Dark Knight Rises). Ra’s is Batman turned away from the Eightfold Path. When Batman defeats him and flies out of the train the movie gives us a vivid symbol that Batman has risen above Ra’s. Symbolically, Ba tman is shown to be on a noble path at this point in the trilogy.
The second movie, The Dark Knight, deals with the next two stages of enlightenment, Sakadagami and Anagami. These two stages deal with ridding one’s self of ill will and sensual desire. Bruce’s ill will and sensual desire are interconnected in this story. He wishes to rekindle his life with Rachel, but cannot because he has chosen to walk the path of Batman. His sensual desire for a more normal life causes ill will against his persona of Batman, but he finds hope in Harvey Dent who he believes to be on an enlightened path too.
The Joker enters Gotham as Batman’s truest foil. Wher eas Batman is shown to walk the Noble Eightfold Path, the Joker can be said to walk the anti-Noble Eightfold Path. The Joker becomes a test for Batman and Harvey Dent when he kidnaps Rachel and Harvey and makes Batman choose who he rushes to save. Both Harvey and Batman fail the test initially. Batman chooses Rachel, because he is not able to see beyond his sensual desire for her and consider Joker’s true motives. Harvey fails when he becomes so consumed with vengeance that he falls from his path to enlightenment.
In the final confrontations with the Joker and Two Face, Batman steps back on the path of enlightenment. He chooses to save the Joker from his fall; once again affirming his code and reinforcing his “as peaceful as possible” path. More importantly, by saving the Joker, he sho ws that he has not been consumed by vengeance or ill will.
Unfortunately, Batman couldn’t save Harvey Dent. While fighting with Two Face, Batman and he fall. Two Face dies, but Batman survives and decides to take the blame for Harvey Dent’s death to preserve his legacy. Unlike Ra’s al Ghul, the Joker, and Harvey Dent, when Batman falls he picks himself up and continues on the path to enlightenment. By taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death, he releases himself symbolically from his sensual desire—shedding his desire for a normal life.
The final stage of enlightenment, Arhat, is dealt with in the Dark Knight Rises, the final movie. Dark Knight Rises begins with Bruce Wayne secluding himself from the world. He has given up both his identities, his sensual desires and everything else that made him who he was. His sacrifices have taken a considerable toll on him.
When Batman and Bane first meet in confrontation, Bane defeats Batman easily. Bane professes wisdom received from his time in prison as he cripples him. Choosing to throw Batman in Blackgate Prison, Bane leaves Batman to find the same enlightenment. Bruce can do nothing but lie in bed watching a TV set showing how Bane is turning Gotham into a prison of anarchy. Bane literally removes law and law enforcement from Gotham—the very code that Batman has walked alongside since the beginning.
Unlike Bane, when Batman fell into Blackgate prison, he did not ac cept his position. Bane was unable to escape Blackgate on his own. Once again we see an antagonist that cannot pick himself up after a fall. Bruce climbs out of Blackgate and returns to Gotham as a stronger Batman. In fact the Batman that returns to Gotham is almost completely enlightened.
Defeating Bane is no longer a hindrance to becoming enlightened. Even thought Batman doesn’t know it at this point, when he climbed out of the hole at Blackgate, he proved himself better than Bane. And like the antagonists before him, Bane is shown to be nothing more than a false Buddha. In the final confrontation with Talia al Ghul (Miranda) as Batman realizes the whole truth of his path, he becomes fully enlightened. When he pulls the knife out, he has fallen for the last time and arisen as an Arhat.
Bruce Wayne becomes fully enlightened at the end of the Trilogy and leaves Gotham, Batman and Bruce Wayne behind him. Unlike his foils, he didn’t become trapped when he fell. He picked himself up and learned from his fall. His accepted his pain and moved beyond it leaving behind the false Buddhas to become a true Buddha himself.
Campaign Mastery is a great blog for roleplayers. I have subscribed to John Four for years and recently have really found this blog to be an invaluable source. This post is long, but if you have been looking for a way to add flavor to your combat, check it out. I have included both parts.
How many times have you wished you could switch characters during a dungeon crawl only to have the DM tell you that “finding your character chained to the dungeon wall with his +5 battle axe laying at his feet” just isn’t reasonable? Remember the last time you played Cosmic Encounters and had to play the Pacifist? You should have played Smallworld. Another terrific game from Days of Wonder, Smallworld takes place in an overpopulated and too small world; forcing players to battle for control over a limited area. A relatively quick game (90 minutes or so) and an extremely dynamic experience, Smallworld offers a broad choice of characters and powers that will keep you from getting bored.
Smallworld utilizes an elegant rules system. Each player has an active race that can conquer and defend land in Smallworld. To conquer an area, the attacking race has to have 2 more units than the defending race. A single unit is killed in each combat and the rest are returned to the losing player to be redistributed at the end of the attacking players turn. The objective of Smallworld is to have the most victory points at the end of the game. After each turn, the current player counts up the territory currently under their control and collects that many victory points.
The races in Smallworld are designed to not have enough pieces to allow a player to keep a single race active during an entire game—forcing you to play as many as 4 or 5 races during a session. In our games, we’ve used an average of 3 races. After a player has taken as much territory as they believe possible with a race, they can choose to spend a turn moving that race into decline. Choosing to go into decline carries some risk as races in decline are easier to conquer, but the territories held by a declining race continue to give a player victory points until overpowered. On the next turn, the player chooses a new active race and begins to conquer territory with them. A player may only have a single active and a single declining race at any one time.
Playing multiple races is definitely a unique factor in Smallworld, but not the only separating factor. The best decision that Days of Wonder made regarding Smallworld is to assign a different size gameboard depending on the number of players. Smallworld offers optimal game play at 2, 3, 4, and 5 players. Days of Wonder understands that players need to be in combat quickly in this game. In order to allow similar feeling play for different numbers of players, they created a board for each games size. If there are 2 players in a game, the board is smaller and the game takes more turns to finish the game. As the number of players increases the board size that is used is increased and the number of turns decreases. This keeps every game lasting about the same amount of time and offers a similar feel for every game.
Smallworld is a tactical game requiring players to adjust tactics on a turn by turn basis in order to keep a running average of victory points incoming. Each player is tasked with controlling as much of the map as possible at the end of their turn, but the map is too small to allow any player to have free reign. Players are on top of each other within 2 rounds and must fight to gain control of territories.
Each player has to be aware of the current list of races and powers that are available. Some of the powers are more suited to early game and some more suited to late game. Learning to choose the best power at the right moment in the game is a crucial concern in the game.
Linking powers with races also takes some work. Consider that linking Commando and the White Ladies will give on 6 total units. Commando offers 4 units, while the white ladies only start with 2. Such a small population means that this race is only viable for 1 round- not necessarily a deathnail, but definitely needing consideration.
Deciding when to send your currently active race in to decline is another crucial decision that needs some discussion. First you have to be able to make a determination of how long your current race will exist in decline. If the other players are concerned with other regions on the board or tied up fighting one another, going into decline can be advantageous. Your opponents may continue to war amongst themselves for a round or two, giving you time to establish your new race and keep their attention off your declining race. If you are actively involved in a fight for the same region as another player and go into decline, you may lose your occupied areas before your new race becomes active.
Before going into decline it is also helpful to examine how many other races are currently or likely to go into decline. If you can go into decline directly in front of each other player then you will get first attack on their declining races-- giving you a profitable move. If you go into decline directly behind other players you will be at the disadvantage of having to choose from the remaining and probably least desirable areas to conquer on the board.
Zombie Dice is a fun game that can be played anywhere. You only need the tube that packages the game, the 13 dice inside, a few counters, and a place to roll 3 6-sided dice. On a player’s turn they choose 3 dice from the 13 inside the tube. The 3 dice are rolled and brains and shotguns are kept out in front of the player. A player continues to choose dice from the tube and roll until they choose to keep the brains in front of them or until they are shot 3 times. The objective of the game is to collect 13 brains before anyone else.
If you need/want a more thorough description of the game see the Table Top video. It’s both instructional and entertaining. I want to focus more a strategy for playing Zombie Dice.
The key to Zombie Dice is realizing how many options are available to you as a player. Each phase of a turn has two distinct actions: 1. drawing dice from the cup and 2. rolling them. The former being more important because once drawn the dice have to be rolled. So the question each player must keep at the forefront when playing Zombie Dice is “Do I pick more dice from the cup?”
The two variables to consider when choosing whether to draw from the cup are: the number of shots you have already taken; and the number of each color in front of you. The more shots and green dice in front of you the worse your odds of choosing a good set of dice from the cup.
The game starts with 6 green dice, 4 yellow dice, and 3 red dice in the cup. The best possible pick from the cup is 3 green dice with 0 shots in front of you. This means you only have a 1 in 216 chance of rolling 3 shotguns. The worst possible pick from the cup is 3 red dice with 2 shots already taken. That leaves about an 80% chance of reaching 3 shots. The key to the game is being able to quickly figure the odds of choosing a certain combination of dice.
Figuring out the perfect probability of likely choices without a computer program running during the game, requires more mathematical aptitude then I have. So I created a quick reference to help me decide whether or not to pick another set of dice from the cup. I assigned each color a numerical value: green=5; yellow= 3; and red=1. With 6 green, 4 yellow, and 3 red dice a full cup of dice has a value of 45—the sum of 6(5) +4(3) +1(3). Next I assigned a value to any shotgun and any feet in play. Shotguns are worth 10 and feet and worth 5. When I am about to roll I take the sum of the dice in front of me and if I don’t exceed 25, I roll again.
The reason for placing a value on each die and each shotgun is so that a ratio can be easily created between the values in and out of the cup. The higher the number outside the cup the higher the chances of choosing 3 dice from the cup that will complete 3 shots when rolled. The number I chose as a breaking point is 25, but it could be adjusted depending on your risk level.
Give this a try and let me know what you think.
I didn’t feel enthused to discuss Paul Revere and Recovery, but I just caught the traitor Tess. Mission 7 really made me want to run hard. I didn’t even run has hard when Runner5 saved a lost girl. I can’t help but wonder what it says about me that revenge is more motivating for me then saving a kid! I hope the story continues to add a few episodes like Tess to really push me.
Tess was also my first run since an update that the Zombies Run guys put out and it is great (remember I am on the Android version). They are counting calories now. I just did the run today so I haven’t had time to see this feature in action, but I am excited they are attempting it.
I’ll keep running.
Whatever your day has been like up to this point, it is now a great day with great things to look forward to.
Mayfair Games Unveils Star Trek: Catan.
Roman Zimojic, the Guardian and current HVIC (head vampire in charge) in True Blood, and Chief Ten Bears, the Sioux chief in Dances with Wolves both fear the barbarian horde surrounding them. Roman and Ten Bears take decisively different routes in order to survive the eminent danger their cultures face. The Guardian decides to “mainstream” his people and make them acceptable to humanity, but Ten Bears hides his tribe, hoping to outlast the white-man as his people have done in the past. Ten Bears was unsuccessful in his effort to protect his tribe and Roman’s effort may be no more effective.
Dances with Wolves (DWW) shows us the Sioux culture through John Dunbar, a union soldier assigned to an abandoned outpost. John becomes friends with a nearby Sioux tribe and is eventually adopted into the tribe. He becomes friends with Kinking Bird (the tribe’s medicine man) and marries his adopted daughter, Stands with a Fist. John is given the name Dances with Wolves by the tribe and essentially forgoes is own culture for theirs. At one decisive point in the story he turns to Stands with a Fist and states that nothing is left for him at his fort, proving that he has completely dismissed the white man’s culture.
John opened a dialogue with the Sioux in order to understand them so that he could better serve the union army. We know this because he keeps a journal at the fort with his thoughts that are offered as a monologue throughout the story. In a climactic moment of the story, John hunts buffalo with the tribe. The tribe tracks the buffalo for days, before coming on a group that have been killed by the white man. The carcasses of hundreds of buffalo are left to rot on the ground-only killed for their skin. The buffalo are at the center of Sioux life and in this scene, we see the impossibility of merging the Sioux and white-man’s cultures.
Consider the importance of buffalo in 19th century America. Bison skins were used for rugs, clothing, and industrial belts. They were exported to Europe. The business was so lucrative that a Bison hunter could kill 20,000 in a career. Compare this to the importance that the Sioux in DWW placed on the buffalo. They were a key to the Sioux culture- used for food, clothing, shelter, but also at the root of Sioux life.
True Blood, synthetic blood that allows vampires to exist without drinking human blood, is at the center of mainstreaming. True Blood lacks in taste compared to real blood and judging from how much Tara drank in Sam’s bar it takes more of the synthetic stuff to cure a vampire’s thirst. For marketing the Mainstreaming movement, it is the key to convincing humans that vampires have no need to kill humans for food- allowing vampires and humans to coexist.
Human blood is as important to vampires as the buffalo was to the Sioux. Russell Edgington dismisses mainstreaming because he cannot conceive how predator and prey could ever coexist peacefully. Russell knows what Ten Bears and John Dunbar have discovered during a buffalo hunt-some cultures cannot coexist.
Drinking True Blood is no less palatable for vampires like Russell Edgington, than riding amongst the carcasses of slain buffalo is for the Sioux. True Blood (the show) does not give as much detail about vampire culture as DWW did about the Sioux, but we do know that Roman has been trying to mainstream vampires for a long time. I think his difficulties are reasonable considering his plan requires vampires to accept an eventual demise at the hands of their food or give up the key component of their culture. Ten Bears chose to hide his people so that his culture could survive as long as possible. Will Roman’s decision add to the longevity of vampire culture or shorten it due to strife from within?
Prometheus forces the audience to ask a lot of questions during the story of the Prometheus crew and bravely, refuses to give a complete answer to many of the questions. Science fiction works best when used as a reflecting mirror of our current day issues. The original Star Trek took on the then current practices of racial inequality in the U.S., while Robocop took on the growth and power of corporations. These two examples are part of an almost inexhaustible list of how science fiction allows us to explore our current societal problems free of the filter of propinquity.
The question most prominent in Prometheus concerns the definition of humanity. Everything in the movie is essentially created by; derived from; or related to humanity. Elizabeth, Meredith, Charlie, and the rest of the crew juxtaposed to David (the android) give us the first division of human vs. non-human. As we get to know David the hard line of human/non-human is blurred. We watch him eat and enjoy TV. We learn he identifies with T.E. Lawrence from Lawrence of Arabia, showing the audience that he understands that he is separate from humanity. One of the major themes in Lawrence of Arabia is a man out of place. David becomes even more interesting when we see him react to being told that he lacks a soul by his creator Peter Weyland. The more we know about David the more human he appears.
As our understandings of the aliens grow they become more humanly identifiable too. Prometheus leaves no questions that the crew finds the ones they refer as the “Engineers” and these aliens are the genetic constructors of human race. A big revelation about the Engineers is that they are humanoid with a very similar looking muscular pattern to human. We know little about the Engineers, but we are shown a lot of human qualities. Emotionally, the Engineers clearly despise humans and fear us as a threat that needs to be eradicated—perhaps the greatest of human emotions, but clearly a relatable concept. In another scene we are shown a room that has a giant head similar to a religious idol. From physical structure to emotions to cultural symbols the Engineers are relatable to humans.
Finally we know the Engineers used their own DNA to seed our world and perhaps others. The opening scene shows an Engineer giving up his life in order to spread his DNA throughout a world. We are not privy as to whether this scene occurs on Earth or not, but the implication is that seeding other worlds would be as easy as finding them. Thematically, this scene proves that humans and Engineers are similar at the most basic level of biology-DNA.
Even the alien that we all know and fear from the original Alien movies is born of humanity. Elizabeth Shaw is impregnated with an easily mutable biochemical found at the Engineers’ base. Dr. Shaw is forced to go through a horrible C-section birth in a mechanized surgical apparatus. The creature inside her lives however and becomes the mother of the Alien we are familiar with from past movies. Mother may be a bad choose of words. What happens is that the creature infects the one remaining Engineer and the Alien pops out of the stomach in true Ridley Scott fashion.
In the end we are left with an uncomfortable question that everything appears to be human or perhaps everything appears to be Engineer. This is an answer that Star Trek would not have liked. Star Trek always held the human values of individualism and curiosity as stalwart attributes that separated us from the races we encountered. Robocop separated humanity from machine, by not allowing Alex Murphy to ever be fully erased. Prometheus takes us one step further stating that humanity can be fully constructed—mechanically as David has been or as bionic constructions such as the other aliens and even the humans.