Dragon Quest 9 Utilities

My apologies to all of you out there who might have been using my D&D Item list, I've just fallen way behind and haven't had time to get it back up to date. 

In the meantime, though, I've gotten sucked into the world of Dragon Quest IX on my DS Lite, and one thing that bugged the crap out of me was having all this stuff in my inventory, but no really quick and easy way to know what I could make with it, or what else I might need to make something really cool.

So, I built the utilities that I'm hosting on my HolyElvis site that allow you to do just that - either see what you can make with your inventory, or search for the recipe for a specific item.

It let me exercise some newfound jquery muscles, and uses a lot of in-page callbacks rather than postbacks, and I'm pretty happy with the final product.  The usage is really simple - just start typing something that exists in the game in one of the fields, and the AutoComplete will search the database for that item.  From the drop-down list, click the item you want and it will either be added to your virtual inventory, or it will be search for a known recipe.

I would give great credit to the database of items, but I honestly can't recall where I pulled the data from exactly, so my apologies to whomever created it.  My google-fu fails me, since I can't find the exact page from which the data was originally pulled.  There was a good amount of SQL magic used in transforming it into lookup data, though.

Feel free to take a look at it, and let me know if you like it...or hate it.

Update: D&D 4E Magic Item List (v1.03)

Sorry for the delay - I noticed people were searching for this again, and that I hadn't updated it in awhile, so I spent some time adding content from the remainder of the Dungeon and Dragon magazines that have been published in the meantime.  The next update will focus on sourcebooks, but I'm not certain when that will be posted, as there's a lot of content to go through for that.

The Item List is here...right-click and "Save Target".

Music Review: Chris Isaak - Mr. Lucky (2009)

Mr. Lucky is Chris Isaak's first general studio album since Always Got Tonight was released in 2002 (excluding his Christmas album from 2004).  I've been a big fan of his for a long time, and waiting 7 years for another album (and presumably, a newly-updated tour) was excruciting.  Overall it's a great album, and covers a lot of the different styles of music that Chris Isaak has been known for across his career.  However, it does have a minor drawback -- it's very obviously compiled from seven years of off-and-on studio work.  Unlike Always Got Tonight, Speak of the Devil, or even Forever Blue, the styles on Mr. Lucky are a bit more scattered across all of these sounds.  It's definitley not a bad thing, but it's very much less consistent in style than his previous albums.  There's really no way to review this as an entire album - the sounds and styles of so many songs here are very different from the others.  Instead, I thought I'd take them on one song at a time:

Cheater's Town
I think this is perhaps once of his best songs yet - it's definitely right up there on my list with Wicked Game and Somebody's Crying, and shares a style with both of these.  This song would definitely fit right in on Forever Blue or maybe even Always Got Tonight.  It starts nice and slow, and builds to a crescendo that leverages all of Isaak's unique vocal and instrumental abilities.  Plus, it has a catchy-as-hell chorus, as most of his best songs do.

We Let Her Down
The first single released from the album, it's a fairly strong outing - definitely has an Always Got Tonight vibe to it.  Not quite the blockbuster that Cheater's Town definitely is, but it's good for a radio single.  Very simple in arrangement, light on the backup vocals, but overall a very listenable tune.

You Don't Cry Like I Do
This one sounds like it could have come off of Speak of the Devil, which honestly isn't my favorite of his albums.  It's a mellow, plaintive song about lost love (yes, I'm sure you're as shocked as I am!).  Not the strongest of the songs on the album - it has a very acoustic sound to it, however, that's always good for a listen.

We've Got Tomorrow
Three downbeat songs usually signal a switch in tone on a Chris Isaak album, and this one is no different.  We've Got Tomorrow has an almost bluegrass tune to it, and is very catchy - it sticks in your head for awhile after it's over.  The horns in the middle of the song almost lend a little dixieland feel to the song, which makes it a nice change in pace.  This is perhaps the one song here that doesn't clearly "feel" like it comes from another album.

Breaking Apart (Duet w/ Trisha Yearwood)
I was hesitant on this one - I love the original song, and am not a huge fan of Trisha Yearwood.  It actually took a couple turns through my iPod for me to fully appreciate this version, and after some reflection, I think it's a pretty strong outing.  The interplay of the two singers, when taken as a "conversation" really makes the song even more heart-rending than the original.  At least with the original, it's just one side of the story, torn apart by being tossed aside.  Here, with a female voice echoing the feelings back, it makes you wonder whether there's any good that comes out of this relationship.  It's the opposite of "star-crossed" lovers - and that makes it even more of a tragedy than it was in the original.

Baby Baby
I think this song is perhaps my least favorite on the album.  It's not that it's "bad", but it's just missing something for me.  It's a perfectly serviceable song, and flows well.  It has decent lyrics, able orchestration, and a nice beat.  But it's missing the "oomph" that I like in most of Isaak's music.

Mr. Lonely Man
Echoes of "American Boy" was my first thought when I heard this one, and it's stuck with me ever since.  It's a great almost-rockabilly song that has an up-tempo beat and instrumentation that contrasts with the downbeat lyrics and self-deprecation...two things that combine as my favorite aspects of his music.  If Cheater's Town is my favorite song from this album, Mr. Lonely Man comes in a very close second.  This is one song I'm really looking forward to seeing him perform in person someday soon.

I Lose My Heart (w/ Michelle Branch)
When I first saw this song on the back of the CD, I thought it was another duet.  That's definitely not the case - Michelle Branch is relegated here to a simple back-up singer, which I think is somewhat a waste of her talents.  She sounds great, but having someone like her on this album would have been better used as a second duet, letting her use her talents to their fullest potential.  That said, this is a good song overall, but every time I listen to it I find myself wondering if it could have been better as a duet (or just a solo tune, without an additional name attached).  Almost makes you wonder if this wasn't something the studio insisted on?

Summer Holiday
Summer Holiday has  a nice, light, almost acoustic sound to it.  The song is a reminiscence of a time long ago, and reminds me of the many times I've wondered about past loves, what they're doing now, and if they ever think about the times that come to my mind.  It's a great, light tune that manages that perfect balance of upbeat and melancholy that is his forte.

Best I Ever Had
I don't know why, but something about this song brought to mind John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen.  It's nothing I can really nail down, but the song is all about the reminiscence of times gone by, of days spent long ago with your one true love.   It's all about looking back, and very little about accepting change, which is I suppose a common theme to much of his music, but the high-energy orchestration brings to mind other artists who have explored the same territory, often with less effective results (compare and contrast this song to Bryan Adams' Summer of '69, for example).

We Lost Our Way
VERY much a song with a Speak of the Devil feel, using some of the same instrumental cues (the deep reverb...haunting, almost off-key guitar) that were prevalent on that album.  I can't say it's my favorite song on the album, but at the same time it's not bad, either.  I think on an album that was more consistent in sound and/or style, this might have been more of a stand-out success.  Here, though, while it's a good listen, it doesn't really stick with me or strike me as particularly memorable.

Very Pretty Girl
The sound of this one harkens back to early Chris Issak (Silvertone or San Francisco Days, perhaps).  Particularly the intro, which sounds like it could have easily been lifted from either of those albums - heavy on drums, light haunting guitar chords in the background.  I like this song as a taste of that sound in and of itself, but as a part of the album as a whole, it's a little distracting, since it has such a unique sound/style when compared to the other songs here.  As a single, this would be a great addition to his repertoire, and this is another song I can almost picture seeing live.

Take My Heart
This song could all but be a lost track from Baja Sessions - it's got a ukelele feel to it - light, airy, and very island-influenced.  What I wouldn't give to have another CD that's nothing but bongos, ukeleles, steel drums, and Chris Isaak reworking some of his classic songs.  Baja Sessions, Part II - where are you?  If only this were the sound of the whole album, this might be a runaway hit...as it is, it's distractingly different from the other songs here, and that detracts from it in a broader view.  Individually, this is just a GREAT song.

Big Wide Wonderful World
I never really thought of Chris Isaak as a "lounge singer", but this song really makes you wonder.  It's got the slow beat and big horns that I usually equate more with that style than with the majority of his other work.  In fact, it reminds me a little bit of the difference in sound between Brian Setzer as part of the Stray Cats and part of his big-band orchestra.  This song really makes me wonder what Chris' music might sound like with a full complement of strings, horns, and winds.  THAT would be a concert worth traveling cross-country to see!

Updated: D&D 4E Magic Item List (1.02)

Just finished an update to the Magic Item List, now at v1.02.

Added items from:
- Dragon Magazine 368 & 369
- Dungeon Magazine 159 & 160
- Draconomicon (Prismatic Dragons)

The Item List is here...right-click and "Save Target".

Updated: D&D 4E Magic Item List

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Just a quick note that I've updated the Item List/Index that I put together awhile back.  Am now considering creating another index for Powers/Rituals as well.

The Item List is here...right-click and "Save Target".

D&D 4E Magic Item List

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So, my group of friends is still playing D&D 4E, and we're getting into the swing of things - last session I had to double the challenge to keep them from walking through a dungeon without so much as a scratch.  They're finally thinking tactically and not pretending to be playing their 3E characters anymore.

With the release of the Adventurer's Vault supplement, I wanted to have a quick reference for magic items by level and type.  So I put together an Excel file that lists all of the items in both the PHB and Adventurer's Vault supplement, with level and type information, and a reference to the specific page of the book their details are listed on.  Not sure if anyone else would find it handy, but I decided to link it to this entry, just in case.

Download the Excel file here...

What I'm Playing: Warhammer Online (First Impressions)

At one point in the recent past, I made the decision that I simply wasn't going to start in on any more MMORPGs - I just don't really have the spare time to invest in such an endeavor, and am usually only able to play for a few hours each night, plus a little more time on the weekends.

But, of course, I'm a sucker for beta testing these games - given the usually more-rapid advancement process, not to mention the fun of getting to see something before the general public.  And I bought into Warhammer Online after sitting through their half-hour presentation at PAX this year.  Also, I happened to find the pre-order package (with a free entry into the Open Beta, plus a head-start on the actual launch) at Target for 99 cents one day.  Since the pre-order also comes with a $5 coupon, it seemed like a pretty good deal - get into Open Beta, play the game for a week, and if I liked it, I could save $5 by spending $1.  Net savings = $4!

So...yes, I bought into the Open Beta, and had some fun wandering around, mostly with a High Elf Shadow Warrior.  Unfortunately, some other things came up during the week of Open Beta, so I was really only able to log in about 10 hours or so of actual play time.  And while I wasn't horribly impressed by the game overall, I figured it was worth $50 to play for a month or so, then decide whether I wanted to continue.

Plus, I had the head-start, which meant that I got to create ongoing characters three days before the actual launch date.  Since the Open Beta characters were all wiped, I restarted with an Empire Witch Hunter on the Wasteland server, and have been playing him pretty much since then.  I did also create a Chaos Chosen character on Bretonnia, but I haven't had much time to wander around with him.

But enough about me - you probably want to know what I think about the game as a whole.  It's always difficult to get a bead on an MMORPG immediately at launch, but the one thing I'm impressed with overall is the manner in which the folks at Mythic are handling the game in general.  They haven't been afraid to make major changes in the design and scope of the game (dropping four classes and several capital cities from the game because they "weren't exceptional").  In fact, in the past few days, they've actually pulled off a first in the support for an MMORPG - they "cloned" several servers so that people could re-balance the load at their own leisure.  I haven't heard anything about the results here yet (Mythic doesn't have an official forum for the game, another thing I applaud them for), but in concept it's an exceptionally brilliant plan.

As for the game itself, it really is a lot of fun, and is relatively quick and easy to get into.  The quests are fun, they draw you all around the map, and you get to see some pretty amazing sights.  The "Realm versus Realm" (RvR) concept is at full swing here, and if you don't like PvP playing, then I'm afraid you really won't get to enjoy all that Warhammer Online has to offer - even many solo quests send you into RvR areas of the game, essentially forcing you into interacting with other players.  Of course, there are drawbacks to that concept, as I ran into several "griefers" who were hanging out around the entrance to some of these RvR areas, waiting to pick off individuals who were trying to pull off the solo quests.  I found, though, that this just made these quests a bit more of a challenge, and sneaking around them was actually kind of fun.

The "Public Quest" concept is a fun one as well - in each area there are roughly 10 of these scripted events to uncover, and they're in some ways similar to short "instanced" dungeons that you find in other MMOs.  However, you don't really need to have a formal group in the area, and the requirements are straightforward and laid out at the top of your screen.  The PQs that I've done have had multiple stages (typically 3 stages), where the first is usually collect X items or kill X creatures, followed by a second stage where you have to fight off X Champions (harder than your typical level X creature), and finally taking down a Hero of some form (I've fought a Giant, a Hydra, and a Warlock in a couple of the early PQs).  It gives the almost-casual player a feeling that they're contributing to an overall story, and you are given a bonus to the overall loot "roll" based on your contribution - the more damage you do, the more items you find, etc. all affect the likelihood of you getting "loot".

The only real drawback for me is the fact that I'm trying to play it on a computer that's almost three years old.  Needless to say, this isn't really an option for a modern game, and the game that I play has almost ZERO resemblance to that shown at PAX.  But, it's still a lot of fun, and if you're looking for a good combination of the same-old "what works" from the MMO world, with some additional zip and nifty features (such as your bag expanding every 10 levels!), I would definitely recommend that you pick up Warhammer Online and give it a chance.

Mulberry Street (2006)

D: Jim Mickle
S: Nick Damici, Antone Pagan, Tim House, Larry Fleischman, Bo Corre, Ron Brict, John Hoyt, Kim Blair
If a movie about were-rats infesting New York City sounds like something you'd be interested in watching, then this is definitely the movie for you.  Assuming, of course, that plot, characters, and cinematography aren't all that important to you.
Yes, the idea of an infestation of were-rats starting riots in the streets of New York definitely has promise.  And there's clearly an attempt to put an over-arching storyline in place - an Iraq War vet comes home on the night that all hell breaks loose, and attempts to make her way home to her neighborhood to see her father again.  And to be fair, the movie starts off on a pretty good note...the characters are decently established, relationships are explained, and the neighborhood in general is laid out for the future insanity.
Then the infections begin, and the movie moves from a slow-paced character study into the realm of bad lighting and music-video cuts.  Now, don't get me wrong - I'm very much in the camp of the less you show in a horror movie, the scarier it is (check out Session 9 for this - very little is shown throughout the whole movie and it's the creepiest film I've seen in a long time).  But, I also think that if you're going to show something, you need to show it, and not hide it with horrible lighting and bad camera tricks.  Which, unfortunately, is what shows up here.
It's not the worst movie ever, and definitely not the worst of the Horrorfest outings for 2007.  But it just takes too much time to build up to a delivery that's really not as good a payoff as you'd want it to be.  Really, it's just a poor knock-off of 28 Days Later or 28 Weeks Later, replacing zombies with rat-people.  It's fun, I suppose, but very slow to build and pretty difficult to track once things start falling apart.

Review: Session 9 (2001)

D: Brad Anderson
S: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan, Brendan Sexton, III

Session 9 is one of the most ambiguous horror movies I think I've ever seen.  And I mean that in a good way - the ambiguity isn't present in what happens, but why, and it's between two equally frightening possibilities...the spiritual posession of a normal, working-class guy by a murderous demon; or the slow descent into madness of a normal, working-class guy.

The film works on many levels - the writing is great, the characters and acting are spot-on, and the setting...you couldn't ask for a better location for this type of film than the former Danvers State Hospital in Virginia.  Just the setting alone is creepy enough, and it's this feeling of dread, despair, and disrepair - not only in the building, but in the men working on it - that drives the plot of this movie.

Gordon (Peter Mullan) is an Irish immigrant who has found his lot in life as the owner of an Asbestos removal service.  Unfortunately, times are rough, and he's forced to commit to cleaning the Danvers State Hospital in a week's time, just in order to secure the money that he needs to support his wife and their new baby.  His partner in the company, Phil (David Caruso) watches closely as he sees Gordon making stretch after stretch to keep his life in order.

Rounding out the cleanup crew are: Hank (Josh Lucas), a man who seems to enjoy two things in life - gambling and making others' lives miserable; Mike (Stephen Gevedon), a law school graduate and scion of a legal eagle who feels as though he's "slumming it" in such a manual, menial job; and finally Jeff (Brendan Sexton, III), Gordon's nephew who's new to the whole experience, and just happy to have a job.

The relationships seem straightforward between these men at first, but you find out that Hank has stolen Phil's girlfriend (though when we see him at home, he's paying more attention to the television than her), Mike is considering that it may be time to hang up the protective suits and return to more intellectual pursuits, and Phil is coping with what he thinks may be his last job - not because he wants it to be, but because it's clear to him that the business is failing.

All of this human drama is underscored by the slowly-unveiling story of Mary Hobbes, a former inmate of the asylum.  Mike discovers her records while wandering through the administration offices, and opens up the box (clearly marked EVIDENCE) to discover audio tapes of the interviews (unsurprisingly, nine tracks marked "SESSION 1" through "SESSION 9"). 

As Mike delves into the mystery of Mary Hobbes, the other men are seen to succomb to their own demons.  Hank discovers a cache of silver coins, jewelry, and other items that fall out of a stone wall attached to the crematorium.  Phil copes with what he feels is increasingly erratic behavior on the part of Gordon (while at the same time smoking pot whenever he has the opportunity).  And Gordon finds the strength to admit to Phil that he slapped his wife the night that their contract for the Danvers Hospital was approved.

With a movie like this, it's hard to discuss the details of the plot, because to do so really spoils a lot of very good storyline, excellent characterizations, and ultimately the entire point of the film itself.  This film delivers on its very slow burn, and constantly has you wondering just how it will all end.  Regardless of how you view the events - did Mike unleash some form of demonic evil by opening Mary Hobbes' files...or was the entire audiotape more of a coincidental metaphor for events that were already being unleashed without any supernatural intervention?

This truly is a thinking-man's horror movie, and while opinions vary (and are strongly held on either side of the coin), it's absolutely a movie worth spending some time to experience.

Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

D: Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

S: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Roni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson, Britt Leach

First and foremost, I admit that I went into this movie with perhaps the lowest expectations that I've had for any of the classic horror films that I've been finally catching up on.  I expected so very, very little from a movie that's all about a guy dressed as Santa going on a killing spree on Christmas Eve.

And this movie quite simply blew me away.  I would add this to my must-see list of horror movies for anyone who wants to enjoy the classic feel of an 80s slasher film.  Granted, the acting in general isn't exactly the best, but for the time and budget, what can you really expect?  The real genius in this film is, quite simply, the main character.  You know who the killer is from the very beginning - there are no pretensions, there are no Red Herrings.  You watch as the poor little boy gets to be subjected to perhaps the most horrible vision he can see - his parents are viciously murdered by a guy in a Santa suit.  "Where ARE you, you little bastard!?" he screams into the bushes as poor little Billy hides.

Fast forward a few years, and Billy and his brother are now in the care of a stereotypical Catholic orphanage, complete with a caring Sister of the order and an overbearing, mean-as-nails Mother Superior.  Billy behaves himself well enough, but every year around Christmas, he suddenly gets worse...drawing horrible pictures of Santa and refusing to sit on Santa's lap (even punching a visiting "Santa" at the orphanage).  For each of these acts, Billy is punished for being naughty.  When he catches two teenagers in the orphanage in an act that's frowned on by the Bible (undoubtedly, they weren't attempting to procreate), he finds out that is naughty too...and worthy of punishment.

All of this is in place merely to set Billy up for the inevitable...and really the setup is economical, taking only 20 minutes or so.  Then you see Billy as an 18-year old, strapping, hunk of a boy, who the caring, compassionate Sister sets up with a job at a toy store.  Yes, let's ignore the inevitable question of whether it's smart to do so, knowing what happens at EVERY toy store around Christmas...but if not for this small lapse of judgment, the movie would be very boring indeed.

Let me tangentialize for just a moment here - in addition to the story and the gore and the nudity, another little fun part of this (for me, at least) was seeing all the old toys in the store - you have the Jabba the Hutt playset in one scene, Mousetrap in another, even a giant Castle Greyskull playset in another.  Seeing all these great 80s toys in their original packaging made an aging toy geek like me giddy with excitement.

So...as you can probably guess, Christmas rolls around.  Billy's making eyes at a female co-worker, and getting under the skin of his supervisor, a gaudy Lothario-wanna-be.  The boss, however, seems to like him, and when the regular Santa is injured, who does he turn to to take his place?  Why, Billy-boy, of course...who uses his knowledge of Santa as a punisher of the naughty to tame the wildest of children who cry and scream on his lap.

Of course, scaring little kids into complacency isn't what a slasher film is all about...so we have to have something trigger little ol' Billy-boy into a homicidal rage...and what better than some alcohol?  Yep, that's right - after all the little buggers have left the store, Mr. Simms breaks out the booze and everyone starts to celebrate.  Everyone in the store has way too much to drink, and Billy watches his Lothario and female interest sneak back into the back of the store.  Needless to say, he catches Lothario being "naughty" and this is the trigger that causes Billy to begin hunting down and punishing those who are on the Naughty List.

I don't want to spoil everything for you - suffice it to say that the movie is a great watch from beginning to end.  There's no suspense about who's doing the killing, but who and how are always up for grabs.  Hearing Billy grumble "NAUGHTY!!" and "PUNISH!!" in a voice that's not quite his own is just awesome (though I will admit that without context it sounds horribly cheesy!), and seeing everyone else put the pieces together is a pretty good use of dramatic irony.

Overall, this movie is HIGHLY recommended for anyone who is looking for the thrill that only a good 80s slasher flick can bring!