As the world celebrates a proudly black superhero getting his own film, you may hear some fans quietly muttering, “Wait, didn’t Blade do that like 20 years before Black Panther?” And then there’s an even smaller, weirder group of people saying, “And what about Meteor Man?” But this is about Blade, and what it says about where the world is now versus 1998. (Spoiler: What it says is mostly bad.)
First, remember the context. Back in 1998, we still didn’t know if superhero movies truly worked. Sure, we’d seen success with Batman and Superman, but both of those series had fallen into fatigue before they could get through even three entries. We still hadn’t gotten the boom period that started with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. (Yes, I know that X-Men came before it, but I always felt like Spider-Man unapologetically embraced the comic book aesthetic, whileX-Men was still apologizing for it.)
And then along came Blade. It was a bloody, R-rated superhero movie (long before Deadpool and Logan would be celebrated as trailblazers) featuring a black lead, not to mention a black woman costar (the movie signals this is leading to a romance, but the pair wind up in a partnership of strong, mutual respect). And Blade, under its layers of rad trench coats and vampire raves, has way more to say on the subject of race than you’d think.
Blade is a black vampire in a world dominated by pasty white bloodsuckers who sit around a big table and secretly control everything. But the movie doesn’t do that thing where they use supernatural creatures as a metaphor for some minority (hello, Bright). Blade isn’t symbolically anything; in that universe, he’s actually a vampire and he’s actually black. The latter means the same thing in that world as it does in ours. He is fighting a power structure that fears him, hates him, and has forced him into the life he lives. Yet he’s supremely confident. The first time he shows up in a club of EDM Nosferatus, the entire crowd crouches and slithers and sneaks, while Blade does none of those things. He is direct and he is awesome, and that is terrifying to them.
At one point, Karen Jenson (played N’Bushe Wright), is attacked by a cop who, guess what, turns out to be a dupe for the vampire power structure. Blade proceeds to smack the guy around and demand information — a scene that, if included in a blockbuster today, would probably draw two-dozen enraged tweets from the president. Does Blade say that all police are corrupt? No, the script is smarter than that. That individual bad cop is portrayed as a cog, someone almost pathetically caught up in a larger system. These are themes you would not expect to come up in a Wesley Snipes movie about a kung-fu vampire.
The franchise never backs down from it, either. In Blade II, he’s partnered with the Blood Pack, a group of assassins who have spent years training to hunt Blade, but who now must reluctantly work with him. Within seconds of meeting them, Ron Perlman’s bald, tattooed character Reinhardt asks, “Can you blush?” If that sounds like a nonsense question to you, congratulations on not being intimately familiar with racist pseudoscience (white people, they say, are the only race capable of blushing, and therefore are the only race capable of feeling shame).
Blade responds by smacking Reinhardt twice in the face, then attaching an explosive to the back of his head and telling him that he’ll use it if Reinhardt acts up again. That’s the two-act structure to every Blade scene: 1) Some motherfucker tries to ice skate uphill. 2) Blade handles it.
When Blade does gain more allies in (the thoroughly mediocre) Blade: Trinity, he’s quick to point out that his struggle is not a joke. Ryan Reynolds, showing up here long before Hollywood thought of him as superhero movie material, wears a “Hello, My Name Is” sticker with the words “FUCK YOU” written on it. To that, Blade responds, “You think this is a fucking sitcom?” First of all, I’d really like to know what sitcoms Blade watches. Second, it illustrates that if you want to be an ally, you have to be ready to take it seriously. Approaching it with ironic detachment is a slap in the face.
Yet despite all of this, you didn’t see the mainstream press heralding Blade as some kind of bold risk. Even the positive reviews were based around statements like “What is unusual about the film is the way it combines high-tech violence with the more up-close-and-personal violence of vampires” (yep, you really nailed it, Gene Siskel, and may God rest your soul). The negative reviews spouted shit like “Filter out the gloss, the gore and the insistent techno score, and all you’re left with are the gleaming pecs and bulging biceps of Wesley Snipes as Buff The Vampire Slayer.” You get the sense that 20 years ago, an R-rated, wide-release movie in which a black Marvel superhero beats the shit out of a white cop was considered boring.
Which would almost imply that we’ve gone backward since then, that Black Panther feels like a trailblazer because it does indeed have to re-blaze the trail. Blade came along at the tail end of the Clinton years, a year before the box office would be dominated by parables about mediocre white males having a crisis of identity (American Beauty, Fight Club, The Matrix). Since then we’ve seen regression, not just in terms of race relations but also in what kind of risks movies like this were willing to take. Twenty years later, a movie like Black Panther (and a show like Luke Cage, while we’re at it) feels like a bold slap in the face to the Trump Era.
I’m not trying to take anything away from either of those. I’m just saying that two decades earlier, there was a Marvel superhero movie that featured goddamned Mobb Deep on the soundtrack.
Daniel has a Twitter. Go to it. Enjoy yourself. Kick your boots off and stay for a while.
Welcome to the Shirk Report where you will find 20 funny images, 10 interesting articles and 5 entertaining videos from the last 7 days of sifting. Most images found on Reddit; articles from Facebook, Twitter, and email; videos come from everywhere. Any suggestions? Send a note to email@example.com
We’re guessing this isn’t actually canon, but we don’t care, we’re going to assume it is and no one can tell us not to.
Alexander Skarsgård is expected to return for the second season of Big Little Lies. No other cast members are locked in at this time – though it seems a safe bet Zoë Kravitz will be back, seeing as the second season is expected to introduce Bonnie’s parents.
Big Little Lies Season 2 will run seven episodes. Series creator David E. Kelley has written all seven episodes, just as he did for the last season. Liane Moriarty, who penned the novel that the first season was based on, helped craft the story.
Andrea Arnold is directing the entire season. She replaces Jean-Marc Vallée, who helmed the last season.
There’s no word yet on when Big Little Lies Season 2 will air – but you can bet we’ll be parked in front of our TVs watching when it does, especially now that they’ve gone and gotten Streep in the mix.
Hollywood pay gap: Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for reshooting his scenes in ‘All the Money in the World’ while Michelle Williams was paid less than $1,000.
Mark Wahlberg, who’s come under fire in recent days for being paid 1,000 times more than his female co-star, Michelle Williams, for movie reshoots, announced that he would donate his $1.5 million paycheck to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in Williams’ name.
“Over the last few days my reshoot fee for ‘All the Money in the World’ has become an important topic of conversation,” Wahlberg tweeted Saturday. “I 100% support the fight for fair pay and I’m donating the $1.5M to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in Michelle Williams’ name.”
It was reported Tuesday by USA Today that Wahlberg received the hefty paycheck for having to reshoot his scenes in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” after Kevin Spacey was ousted from his leading role in December – just weeks before the film premiered. Spacey was removed amid a welter of misconduct allegations.
Williams, who also had to reshoot her scenes, was reportedly paid $80 per day for her work, totaling less than $1,000 total.
William Morris Endeavor (WME), the agency which reportedly negotiated the $1.5 million for Wahlberg, and also represents Williams, said in a statement it will donate $500,000 to the Time’s Up fund.
Mark Wahlberg tweeted Saturday he would donate his $1.5 million reshoot paycheck from his role in “All the Money in the World” to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in costar Michelle Williams’ name.
“The current conversation is a reminder that those of us in a position of influence have a responsibility to challenge inequities, including the gender wage gap,” WME stated.
“In recognition of the pay discrepancy on the ‘All the Money in the World’ reshoots, WME is donating an additional $500,000 to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in Michelle Williams’ name, following our $1 million pledge to the organization earlier this month. It’s crucial that this conversation continues within our community and we are committed to being part of the solution.”
This image released by Sony Pictures shows Michelle Williams, left, and Mark Wahlberg in TriStar Pictures’ “All The Money in the World.” (Fabio Lovino/Sony-TriStar Pictures via AP)
Williams later Saturday said in a statement that “today isn’t about me. My fellow actresses stood by me and stood up for me, my activist friends taught me to use my voice, and the most powerful men in charge, they listened and they acted.”
“If we truly envision an equal world, it takes equal effort and sacrifice,” Williams stated. “Today is one of the most indelible days of my life because of Mark Wahlberg, WME and a community of women and men who share in this accomplishment.”
“Anthony Rapp, for all the shoulders you stood on, now we stand on yours,” Williams said, referencing the actor’s allegations against Kevin Spacey, which were published in October and sparked a wave of sexual misconduct accusations that ultimately led to Spacey’s recasting in “All the Money in the World.”
The pay gap sparked backlash from Hollywood, with stars such as Jessica Chastain, who said Williams “deserves more than 1% of her male costar’s salary” and Busy Phillips, tweeted the move was “SHAMEFUL,” speaking out.
While Scott initially told USA Today that the movie’s cast “came in for free” to reshoot the film, it was later reported Wahlberg refused to refilm his scenes or approve Spacey’s replacement, Christopher Plummer, unless he was paid.
“What he said was, ‘I will not approve Christopher Plummer unless you pay me.’ And that’s how he (expletive) them,” a source told USA Today.
Nicole Darrah covers breaking and trending news for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @nicoledarrah.
We don’t commit now. We don’t see the point. They’ve always said there are so many fish in the sea, but never before has that sea of fish been right at our fingertips on OkCupid, Tinder, Grindr, Dattch, take your pick. We can order up a human being in the same way we can order up pad thai on Seamless. We think intimacy lies in a perfectly-executed string of emoji. We think effort is a “good morning” text. We say romance is dead, because maybe it is, but maybe we just need to reinvent it. Maybe romance in our modern age is putting the phone down long enough to look in each other’s eyes at dinner. Maybe romance is deleting Tinder off your phone after an incredible first date with someone. Maybe romance is still there, we just don’t know what it looks like now.
When we choose—if we commit—we are still one eye wandering at the options. We want the beautiful cut of filet mignon, but we’re too busy eyeing the mediocre buffet, because choice. Because choice. Our choices are killing us. We think choice means something. We think opportunity is good. We think the more chances we have, the better. But, it makes everything watered-down. Never mind actually feeling satisfied, we don’t even understand what satisfaction looks like, sounds like, feels like. We’re one foot out the door, because outside that door is more, more, more. We don’t see who’s right in front of our eyes asking to be loved, because no one is asking to be loved. We long for something that we still want to believe exists. Yet, we are looking for the next thrill, the next jolt of excitement, the next instant gratification.
We soothe ourselves and distract ourselves and, if we can’t even face the demons inside our own brain, how can we be expected to stick something out, to love someone even when it’s not easy to love them? We bail. We leave. We see a limitless world in a way that no generation before us has seen. We can open up a new tab, look at pictures of Portugal, pull out a Visa, and book a plane ticket. We don’t do this, but we can. The point is that we know we can, even if we don’t have the resources to do so. There are always other tantalizing options. Open up Instagram and see the lives of others, the life we could have. See the places we’re not traveling to. See the lives we’re not living. See the people we’re not dating. We bombard ourselves with stimuli, input, input, input, and we wonder why we’re miserable. We wonder why we’re dissatisfied. We wonder why nothing lasts and everything feels a little hopeless. Because, we have no idea how to see our lives for what they are, instead of what they aren’t.
And, even if we find it. Say we find that person we love who loves us. Commitment. Intimacy. “I love you.” We do it. We find it. Then, quickly, we live it for others. We tell people we’re in a relationship on Facebook. We throw our pictures up on Instagram. We become a “we.” We make it seem shiny and perfect because what we choose to share is the highlight reel. We don’t share the 3am fights, the reddened eyes, the tear-stained bedsheets. We don’t write status updates about how their love for us shines a light on where we don’t love ourselves. We don’t tweet 140 characters of sadness when we’re having the kinds of conversations that can make or break the future of our love. This is not what we share. Shiny picture. Happy couple. Love is perfect.
Then, we see these other happy, shiny couples and we compare. We are The Emoji Generation. Choice Culture. The Comparison Generation. Measuring up. Good enough. The best. Never before have we had such an incredible cornucopia of markers for what it looks like to live the Best Life Possible. We input, input, input and soon find ourselves in despair. We’ll never be good enough, because what we’re trying to measure up to just does not fucking exist. These lives do not exist. These relationships do not exist. Yet, we can’t believe it. We see it with our own eyes. And, we want it. And, we will make ourselves miserable until we get it.
So, we break up. We break up because we’re not good enough, our lives aren’t good enough, our relationship isn’t good enough. We swipe, swipe, swipe, just a bit more on Tinder. We order someone up to our door just like a pizza. And, the cycle starts again. Emoji. “Good morning” text. Intimacy. Put down the phone. Couple selfie. Shiny, happy couple. Compare. Compare. Compare. The inevitable creeping in of latent, subtle dissatisfaction. The fights. “Something is wrong, but I don’t know what it is.” “This isn’t working.” “I need something more.” And, we break up. Another love lost. Another graveyard of shiny, happy couple selfies.
On to the next. Searching for the elusive more. The next fix. The next gratification. The next quick hit. Living our lives in 140 characters, 5 second snaps, frozen filtered images, four minute movies, attention here, attention there. More as an illusion. We worry about settling, all the while making ourselves suffer thinking that anything less than the shiny, happy filtered life we’ve been accustomed to is settling. What is settling? We don’t know, but we fucking don’t want it. If it’s not perfect, it’s settling. If it’s not glittery filtered love, settling. If it’s not Pinterest-worthy, settling.
We realize that this more we want is a lie. We want phone calls. We want to see a face we love absent of the blue dim of a phone screen. We want slowness. We want simplicity. We want a life that does not need the validation of likes, favorites, comments, upvotes. We may not know yet that we want this, but we do. We want connection, true connection. We want a love that builds, not a love that gets discarded for the next hit. We want to come home to people. We want to lay down our heads at the end of our lives and know we lived well, we lived the fuck out of our lives. This is what we want even if we don’t know it yet.
Yet, this is not how we date now. This is not how we love now.
One of the most iconic characters from “The Lord of The Rings” (LOTR) is Gollum, or Sméagol, everyone’s favorite ring-hungry, Hobbit-hating, fish-eating creature who would die happy if he could just have his “precious.”
Some of the things that make the former Hobbit so great are his distinct voice, bizarre mannerisms and split personality — all of which make for seriously entertaining impressions. That’s why we all get such a kick out of people who impersonate him for non-LOTR purposes. Take Ian James Walters, who loves singing popular songs as Gollum. A few years back, he decided to record mock auditions for a number of classic films while embodying the creepy character. The resulting video was priceless.
Watch below as Gollum tries his hand at landing major roles for movies we all know and love.
He may not have gotten any callbacks, but I’m sure the real Gollum would be proud. Be sure to check out more of Walters’ hilarious impersonations on YouTube.
Walt Disney’s agreement to buy most of 21st Century Fox’s business for $52.4bn (£39bn) has raised further questions about the Sky News channel’s future.
Before news of the deal, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox had been trying to buy the 61% of satellite broadcaster Sky that it does not yet own.
That attempt attracted the scrutiny of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is investigating it.
But of all the channels that Sky has in its portfolio, including sports and movies, it is the ownership of its news channel that raises the most difficulties.
Last month, Sky sent shivers down the spines of Sky News journalists by threatening to close the channel if it proved to be an obstacle in Mr Murdoch’s takeover bid.
Now it seems that Sky News could fall into Disney’s hands as a result of this latest piece of corporate wheeler-dealing.
After all, Fox’s efforts to take over Sky become less politically sensitive if the Murdoch family’s existing 39% stake in Sky has been sold to Disney, making it more likely that the takeover will go ahead.
So now the question is: will Disney want to keep pumping money into a loss-making news channel that serves only the relatively small UK market?
Claire Enders, founder of research firm Enders Analysis, points out that we may not know the answer to that for another 18 months, since the Disney-Fox deal will itself have to clear regulatory hurdles and is likely to come under close scrutiny from EU competition authorities.
However, she is sceptical about Sky News’s ultimate fate.
She told the BBC: “Inherently, Disney is not a company that engages in political investment. It runs businesses that make profits and that’s one of the reasons why it’s thought of as one of the best companies in the world.
“Sky News loses £40m a year and has absorbed $1bn of investment. It’s very hard to make money out of news in a small market like the UK.”
Former ITN chief executive Stewart Purvis, who is also a former senior executive at regulator Ofcom, is less pessimistic about the channel’s future.
He points out that there are a number of issues to consider, including the possibility that Disney might not wish to go ahead with acquiring the remaining 61% of Sky, even if the CMA approved it.
In fact, the UK’s Takeover Panel says Disney has told it that if Mr Murdoch fails to buy the rest of Sky before the Fox takeover deal goes through, it will not feel obliged to make a full bid for the satellite broadcaster.
Mr Purvis adds that it would be “slightly perverse” if Sky News were closed down over concerns that the various deals would lead to an unreasonable concentration of media power, because its absence “would actually reduce media plurality”.
After all, the outcome would be to leave the BBC News channel unchallenged as the only dedicated UK television news service.
However, he adds: “I’ve never found Disney to be very interested in news. It’s an entertainment company and maybe being in news is more trouble than it’s worth.”
Disney owns the ABC television network in the US, which includes its news service.
But as Mr Purvis says, ABC News is safe because it makes money.
“The way that networks look at their news programmes is that they look at the cost compared with advertising revenues within those programmes,” he says.
“By that measure, ABC News is profitable. Good Morning America is the leading breakfast programme in the US. There’s no way Disney would shut that down.”
Sky News, of course, does not enjoy that kind of status. But Mr Purvis says Disney would have to balance that against other factors, including the “political kudos” that owning Sky News would give it in the UK.
“We don’t know the outcome of that kind of consideration,” he says.
In the US, analysts are concerned that Disney’s existing news interests might suffer from the merger, let alone Sky News.
“I would not look to the Disney-Fox merger to bolster the fourth estate,” Ben Gomes-Casseres of the Brandeis International Business School told the Washington Post.
“Whether ABC News will be affected in this way, as a side-effect, is also anyone’s guess, but there is no doubt that ABC as a TV channel will decrease in importance in the Disney group.”
For the moment, Disney is taking a positive attitude towards Sky News.
Disney chairman and chief executive Bob Iger was asked on Bloomberg TV whether the channel had a future after his company completed the Fox deal.
He replied: “Absolutely. All of Sky has a future.”
Cynics might reply that at this stage in the proceedings, he could hardly say he was going to close the channel. But if he does so once the deal has gone through, he may find that his assurance will come back to haunt him.
One of Timm Woods’ most precious possessions looks like something you’d find in the basement of a derelict castle, or maybe at a back-of-the-mall magic shop: It’s a notebook bound in leatherlike skin, covered with an upside-down, faux-gold keyhole and filled with handwritten, eraser-dusted passages featuring titles like “Ravenloft” and “Attack on Myth Drannor.”
Before he goes to work, Woods might spend an hour or more consulting the book, poring over its various charts and calculations, readying himself for another night as one of New York City’s leading for-hire Dungeons & Dragons dungeon master, or DM. “The book is how I psych myself up,” he says. “I tried to make it look like what you’d imagine is going on inside a DM's head. And if somebody finds it, it’ll be very clear that it’s something I care a great deal about.”
Tonight, a cool Friday in August, the book rests on a cluttered table in Woods’ Brooklyn apartment, not far from an assortment of gaming figurines and a half-demolished bag of Oreo Mega Stuf cookies. The five players gathered around Woods—including a teacher, a fashion-company copywriter, a corporate car-service dispatcher, and a publishing-house editorial assistant—have spent the evening progressing through a D&D campaign mega-stuffed with skirmishes and creatures, including Valkyries and a plant monster known as a Tree Blight. As the three-hour session nears its climax, the team members find themselves facing down a tower on wheels that’s rolling their way, filled with skeletal beasties called Gnolls.
Clearly, it’s time to send in the giant dinosaurs.
“All you need to roll for the ankylosaurus to hit the wheels is a measly 12,” Woods says. There’s a scattered chop-clunk as the die hit the table; soon a 12 comes up, and the dinosaurs are attacking with their whiplike tails. “Wha-chee!” Woods riffs in a playful falsetto. “You’re going to hamstring these towers.”
Woods, a 30-year-old with neatly floppy hair, is dressed tonight in a black button-down shirt and jeans. His DM performances—and being a dungeon master is a kind of performance—are often marked by excitable narration and winkingly melodramatic theatrics; at one point during tonight’s game, he gleefully pounds a hand into a fist, mimicking an arrow’s impact on an opponent.
He’s spent nearly three months preparing for this showdown, even hand-building a few model towers out of scrap wood and dowels. It’s one of the most elaborate adventures he’s crafted in his four-year career as a professional DM at schools and homes in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Sometimes, like tonight, the games are run in his apartment, where the bookshelves reach high with graphic novels and board games, and where the walls are decorated with full-color maps from D&D classics like Greyhawk and Isle of Dread.
Woods discovered the world of role-playing games, or RPGs, when he was about 10 years old, after finding a free Dungeons & Dragons demo game online. He cast himself as the DM, even though he wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed. He soon realized that the DM could function as a sort of semi-benevolent story-deity—the one who ignites the adventures, emcees the action, and ultimately oversees a fantasy world where new thrills or terrors can be unearthed with a roll of the die. After a few rounds, “I realized, ‘Oh, shit. You can do anything with this,’ ” Woods says.
He was hardly the first to have that realization. First introduced in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons soon become standard-issue equipment for geeks everywhere—not that they had a monopoly on the game. In its Reagan-era heyday, D&D was like convenience-store Schnapps or Jim Morrison lyrics: Everyone indulged at least once, usually late on a weekend night, and either become an instant devotee or spent the rest of their lives denying it ever happened.
Now, though, D&D is in the midst of a striking comeback. In 1999, Hasbro purchased Wizards of the Coast, which itself had acquired the rights to the game in 1997*, giving D&D's marketing and distribution a major proficiency bonus. Yet the game has also been around long enough to become a multi-generational pursuit. In recent years, older players have begun dusting off their Starter Sets, while curious younglings who’ve endured marathon binges of Stranger Things or Minecraft (or who caught 2011’s infamous D&D-centric episode of Community) were inspired to seek out the game that all but redefined how a collaborative, hands-on narrative could work. “People are either rediscovering or discovering for the first time how wonderful the experience is to create a story with people together at the table,” says Matthew Mercer, a voice actor and D&D whiz who serves as DM on Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role series on Twitch. “We’d kind of moved away from that, thanks to digital media and videogames. But now there’s a resurgence and appreciation for a more personal experience.”
Which is one of the reasons Woods is so busy these days. He’s currently overseeing nine games a week, all of them focusing on either Dungeons & Dragons, or the kid-friendlier, D&D-influenced game Dungeon World. His clientele is made up of an assortment of armchair-adventuring adults, students, and families (including one with a few Oscar wins, though he’d prefer to keep their identity a secret). He’s spent the past few years doing all of this while also working to earn an RPG-related doctorate (his dissertation title: “Anything Can Be Attempted: Table-Top Role Playing Games as Learning and Pedagogy”).
For the generation of kids who were raised on D&D in the ’70s and ’80s, finding a good DM often meant asking around the neighborhood cul-de-sac, hoping someone you knew had a wild imagination, an appreciation for swordplay, and a halfway-decent head for math. Decades later, the growth of RPG games, as well as the task-rabid demands of the online gig economy, make it much easier for players to bring in someone like Woods, who will show up at your place, notebook in hand, ready to start your campaign.
But while Woods is one of several DMs-for-hire out there, this isn’t his hobby or a side gig; it’s a living, and a pretty good one at that, with Woods charging anywhere from $250 to $350 for a one-off three-hour session (though he works on a sliding scale). For that price, Woods will not only research and plan out your game but also, if you become a regular, answer your occasional random text queries about wizard spells. “He’s worth the money,” says Kevin Papa, a New York City educator (and occasional DM) who’s been part of this Friday-night game for more than a year. “Being a DM requires a lot of brainshare. I don’t know how Timm absorbs it all.”
As it turns out, the very attributes that help form the core of every Dungeons & Dragons character—strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma—are the same ones needed to be a stellar Dungeon Master. Woods describes himself as “100 percent an introvert,” but the kind of introvert who doesn’t mind being the center of attention under the right circumstances. Which explains why he has been known to crack jokes in an elf’s voice or dramatically narrate castle-yard battles with cacophonous verve. When he was younger, Woods preferred to be alone, living inside his imaginary worlds; now he has a job in which, night after night, he must share those worlds with others. “Being a DM is very intimate,” he says. “In many ways, the people who watch me run a game have a more authentic sense of what's going on in my head than many other people in my life.”
Woods grew up in New Hyde Park, Long Island, a suburb about 15 miles east of Manhattan. Like a lot of other intensely smart kids, he was drawn to fiction, especially the works of Lord of the Rings creator J. R. R. Tolkien. For a while, he thought about becoming a fantasy writer himself. “He’d always been interested in telling stories, and he always had a really vivid imagination,” his older brother, Brendan, says. The siblings discovered D&D together—they have long-running games to this day—and even in their earliest sessions it was clear to Brendan that his brother was best suited to play the role of DM. “It gave him a framework to build on: ‘Hey, here’s this guideline, but make it your own.’ And he liked the idea of having control over the story.”
But, as is also often the case with the intensely smart, Timm Woods preferred to go solo, spending hours designing D&D games, memorizing the famous conflicts and campaigns, poring over articles in Dungeon magazine, and learning hundreds of character names and powers. All that work was necessary for him to master a game that, for many, can be offputtingly complex. The bare-bones setup of D&D seems at least semi-easy enough: You create a character using a series of predetermined traits and skills, and then set off on a DM-guided and -designed adventure in which the outcome of each new interaction, from battles to conversations, is determined by multiple rolls of the dice. (There are seven different dies, from four-sided to 20-sided.)
Players work together—be they dwarf, elf, halfing, or human—and the DM serves as a sort of all-powerful cheerleader-slash-enabler. But the amount of institutional knowledge required to keep a game running smoothly is voluminous, as evidenced by the players' version of “Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons,”, which runs more than 80,000 words and includes such subheadings as “Gods of the Multiverse” and “Ability Scores & Modifiers.” It’s not unusual for a group of rookie D&D players to spend their first night staring at a manual, lost in orc-induced confusion.
As a kid, Woods spent more time thinking about D&D than actually playing with others. This was partly because he didn’t feel comfortable approaching his peers about D&D. “I would do all the DMing craft, but I used to get almost depressed: ‘What’s it all for? I’m never even in the remote future actually gonna run games like this, because no one’s gonna play with me.’ ”
By the time he was in his teens, Woods was attending an all-boys high school that required each student to give a speech every semester—something Woods dreaded. So he responded by coming up with the most ridiculously showy presentations possible, at one point jumping up on a teacher’s desk while reenacting the iconic Gollum-Sméagol speech from The Lord of the Rings. “It was my way of getting a reputation as a class clown,” he says. “I was putting on a very self-conscious performance to make sure people would like me.”
This was in the early ’00s, by which point Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film adaptations had helped that series evolve from back-of-the-classroom classic to pop-culture-conquering sacred text. The success of those films—as well as a new wave of superhero movies, Star Wars stories, and lore-locked games like Magic: The Gathering—proved that nerdiness was now (and had perhaps always been) a wide-scale epidemic, and a joyous one at that.
It was only a matter of time before Dungeons & Dragons became part of that reappraisal-slash-reawakening. Woods noticed it happening around 2009, when he was studying writing and English at Loyola University in Maryland. By then he’d begun playing again regularly and saw that some of the people who would have once made fun of D&D were suddenly curious about it. At a time when it’s possible to mount a months-long Words With Friends battle on your phone—or play a days-long videogame with someone who’s not even in the same country, let alone the same room—RPGs are a sort of analog anomaly: They require you to put down your devices, pick up the die, and create a sort of IRL group magic.
After watching Woods DM one particularly intense session, a friend’s roommate approached him, wide-eyed. “He watched the whole game, and afterward he came up to me and said, ‘How do you do that?’ That’s when I realized that the people who’d always had a problem playing the game—the people who said, ‘In a million years, I could never do this’—could be my future customers.”
When Woods runs a game, his style is part dorm-room hangout and part one-man show. “I need to be cracking jokes,” he says. “I need to be acting as though we’re just a group of friends playing D&D, because that’s the experience everybody wants.” During the sessions, it’s not unusual for him to rise from his seat to readjust some figurines or plot out a distance on the map, only to remain standing for the next few turns, regaling players with details on the latest grotesque creature or mystic weapon. His voice rises giddily whenever someone comes up with a novel way to vanquish a foe, breaking into the occasional Oooooh! or Yess! Here, for example, is how he narrates the action after a wizard named Victor shoots a magic missile at a demonic hyena-like creature called a Shoosuva:
The Shoosuva starts flailing about a little bit, then gets back up, sits back down, and … AA-BOOM! It hits the ground for good, and its eyes slowly start to shut. Victor is very excited, and he says “ ‘Demonslayer’: I’m putting it on the résumé.”
It’s a highly entertaining way to spend three hours, especially if someone brings pizza. (Full disclosure: I met Woods last year, when I joined one of his D&D games; I had to drop out for scheduling reasons, meaning the further adventures of one Gnome Peterson remain temporarily on hold).
There were no beginner’s guides to being a for-hire, for-profit dungeon master when Woods started his career, four years ago. Back then he was working at Forbidden Planet NYC, a famed Manhattan comic book and collectibles store, where he was helping sell RPG merchandise. “Once a day, someone would come in and say, ‘D&D? I’ve always wanted to play that, but I don’t have a friend who will teach it to me.’” Inspired, Woods printed up business cards (“Timm Woods: Professional Game Mastery”), and within a week or so a frazzled parent approached him at work, asking if he knew someone who could run a game for her son and his friends. “That was my first gig: An 11-year-old’s D&D-themed birthday party,” Woods says.
He still shows up once a year for that game, but for the most part those early days “were a mess,” he says. “I did not have any clients.” To make things worse, he found out he had competition. One day in the store, Woods heard about another NYC-based dungeon master—one so successful that he’d supposedly been flown out to California to run a game for a group of lawyers. “I thought, through gritted teeth, ‘Really? That's great,’ ” he says. “I was so jealous.”
There was another, more unexpected obstacle: When Woods would mention his new job online, he’d often get harangued by other D&D players who were put off by the very notion of for-profit DMing. “They seem to view it as akin to someone sitting down to play Magic and saying, ‘I'm so good, you’ve gotta give me $20 if you even want to play with me.’ I’d make the argument that paid DMing helps the hobby at large by bringing people into the game.”
Mercer, the Geek & Sundry host, says there's a respectable place for professional dungeon masters like Woods. “There's an old-school gatekeeper mentality to some of the RPG community: ‘It's unfair that somebody out there can make money on something that I worked so hard to make for free for my friends.’" he says. "But Timm's able to make a living doing something he loves, and gets to bring joy to people who are excited to spend some of their disposable income for this experience.”
Woods did his best to ignore the trolls and kept his business cards handy. After several months of hustle, he picked up more clients. Many of them were kids—parties and after-school sessions being a staple of the for-hire DM economy—but each birthday or one-off adult game allowed him to hone his skills. An eight-hour session in Connecticut, for example, taught him that he needed to impose some time limits. “When you run a game for that long, you’re invariably straying off the map,” he says. And he realized the differences between kid players and their adult counterparts. “The kids will be very honest with each other,” he says. “They’ll say something like, ‘Well, if you do that, I’m just gonna kill your character. And I know it’s gonna ruin the game, but I’ll ruin the game. Watch me.’ With the adult groups, everybody knows that they’re there to have fun.”
Woods also learned, over the years, how to balance his DM duties with the expectations of the players. It’s a tricky dynamic: The people at the table are paying him to have a good time, but it’s hard to get repeat business if your customers are constantly in danger of being torn up by hyena-demons—or even if they’re simply nonplussed at their last few turns.
Papa remembers a game in which his character was up against a squad of hungry monsters, yet Woods eventually steered them away before they could finish Papa off. “It didn’t make sense, and I think it comes from an attitude of, ‘Well, he’s paying money, so I don’t want to upset him.’ But I’m a realistic kind of guy, and I couldn’t care less if my character dies. And the great thing about Timm is that if there’s something that’s not working, you can email or call him and be like, ‘Can we maybe change something?’ It’s more fun for us, and it helps him grow.”
“I’ve had people say they want me to be harsher as a DM, and I don’t always take that advice,” Woods says. “If I’m too much of a hardass, then they’re really gonna start questioning what they are paying me for.” So he adapts the game's difficulty levels to his players' wishes and skill levels. And while it is possible to be revived in D&D, it can slow the game down. In D&D, Woods says, "death and unconsciousness are relatively boring."
Yet there’s another reason Woods might want to keep everyone at the table happy. When he was younger, Woods couldn’t find enough people to play with him, and wasn’t even sure how to find them; now he has enough D&D pals to fill out that ridiculously detailed notebook of his. “Before I start a game, I think, ‘I am not their friend, I am their Dungeon Master,’ ” he says. “And then, within 30 seconds of me walking in and someone saying, ‘Hey, Timm!’ I’m already like, ‘Oh, fuck it, I love these people.’”
One weekend early last month, Woods was standing in Manhattan’s jumbo-sized Javits Center. He’d bought a last-minute pass for the New York Comic Con—“a sea of introverts,” he says—where he was hoping to check out some booths and, if he got the chance, plug his DM business. While walking the floor, he was distracted by the sight of a giant dragon that had been equipped with a saddle. Earlier in the day, visitors had been able to pose for photos atop the beast, but by the time Woods arrived the dragon was closed.
“And I say out loud, ‘Are you kidding me? I wanna ride on a friggin’ dragon!’ ” Woods recalls. “And this guy who had been standing next to me starts talking to me about it, and I just jumped wholeheartedly into this conversation with him, in a way that I couldn’t have in high school or college. The thing that would have made me hesitate back then is dead now. I’ve murdered it through hours and hours of D&D.”
A few weeks before the con, Woods finished his dissertation—the latest, most seemingly grown-up victory in a decades-long campaign he’d begun when he was barely a teen. He was soon to be Dr. Woods, but he wasn’t yet ready to leave D&D for the far dicier world of academia. “This all started as me trying to figure out how I could get paid to run these games and survive on it,” he says. The plan, for now, is to keep adding more games, keep finding more clients, maybe even get some corporate gigs. To help his clients undertake their next battle-scarring campaigns, even if a few of them die along the way. To keep riding the friggin’ dragon as far and high as it’ll go.
*This article has been updated to correct an error. Wizards of the Coast did not create Dungeons & Dragons.
Game of Thrones: Dragon Effects Exclusive
Daenerys Targaryen's dragons on HBO's Games of Thrones are fan favorites, and WIRED has an incredible, exclusive look at how they were brought to life with feature film quality by the visual effects artists at Pixmondo. Virtual wind tunnels, water simulations and real world references all played a part in constructing their realistic behaviors.
If all goes as Pai plans, the FCC will meet and vote on the repeal on Dec. 14. It’s expected to pass 3-2, along party lines.
The move, long sought by internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon (which owns Oath, HuffPost’s parent company), would give the already monopolistic companies even more power over how its customers access content online.
Under the new plan, for instance, Comcast could theoretically throttle or block access to content it doesn’t like, or it could incentivize other content by offering it for free or at faster speeds. Netflix, for example, which competes directly with Comcast’s cable TV offerings, could see itself on the losing end of the new rules.
Netflix joined with tech giants like Google parent company Alphabet, Facebook and hundreds of other websites earlier this year to protest Pai’s plan and encourage members of the public to submit their comments to the FCC.
According to an analysis by the data analytics company Gravwell, more than 80 percent of the comments were sent by bots. The remaining 17.4 percent that were found to be authentic were “overwhelmingly in support of net neutrality regulations.”
“The job of the FCC is to represent the consumer,” he explained. “If you like your cable company, you’ll love what this does for the Internet, because it gives Internet service providers the same kind of control over content and price as cable operators have today.”
If you like your cable company, you’ll love what this does for the Internet.
“Since its formation, we’ve seen a free and open internet grow our economy and our imaginations,” U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, said in a statement Tuesday.
“But today the FCC has threatened to end the internet as we know it,” he continued. “If adopted, the FCC’s plan will change the way every American gets information, watches movies, listens to music, conducts business, and talks to their families. By repealing basic net neutrality protections, the FCC is handing over full control of the internet to providers, leaving the American people with fewer choices and less access.”
Twitter on Tuesday said it strongly opposed the FCC’s plans. ”[We will] continue the fight for an open Internet, which is indispensable to free expression, consumer choice and innovation,” the social media company said.
Proponents of the FCC rollback argue the current rules, which classify internet access as a utility on par with electricity and phone access, hinder investment and innovation.
Daniel Lyons, a Boston College Law School associate professor and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy, told HuffPost in an email he thinks the average consumer is unlikely to notice any difference in the short term.
“Net neutrality is much more a battle between broadband companies and Internet content providers (like Netflix and YouTube) about who pays whom for Internet traffic,” he said. “We have to leave room for innovation and experimentation in the Internet ecosystem, and my sense is that deregulation is more likely to promote that.”
As BBC Radio 1 celebrated some of the country’s most exceptional young people at Sunday’s Teen Awards, we asked the stars on the red carpet what their own teenage years had been like.
Their stories weren’t quite as inspirational as this year’s winners – who have influenced government policy on foster care and set up a charity for young people looking after parents with mental illness, among other achievements.
But the stars’ stories certainly illustrate that the turmoil and trauma of teen-hood is common to us all.
So which pop star got expelled from school? And who used to work in a sweet factory? Read on to find out…
What sort of teenager were you?
I wasn’t grumpy, I was quite chilled. Just trying to get school over with as quickly as possible.
Did you ever call a teacher “mum”?
No. No, that’s weird.
How did you celebrate your last ever day of school?
Me and all of my mates, scribbling on our T-shirts, then going out and getting drunk.
Acne: Squeeze it or leave it?
I squeeze it. You have to.
LOVE ISLAND WINNERS KEM AND AMBER
What are your teenage horror stories?
Amber: Probably getting told off in school for wearing too much make-up.
Kem: I never had a girlfriend. That was my horror story.
What was the soundtrack to your teenage years?
Kem: High School Musical! I can’t help it, I know all the lyrics. The limited edition ones and everything.
Amber: It’s true. He sings them all in the shower at home.
Did you ever try see an 18-rated film at the cinema?
Kem: Yeah! It was American Pie. I used my brother’s ID and sneaked in. It said I was 25 and I was 14. They were looking at me weird because I was wearing, like, a full-blown suit to the cinema.
What was your first-ever date like?
Amber: Someone picked me up in the car and took me to McDonald’s. What’s the most romantic menu item at McDonald’s? Probably a Crunchie McFlurry.
What sort of teenager were you?
Um, I might have been a grumpy teenager.
Did you ever try see an 18-rated film at the cinema?
I never really snuck into many movies. But my first favourite movie was Jurassic Park.
Acne: Squeeze it or leave it?
Squeeze it at the opportune moment. You have to wait for the right time so you don’t leave a mark on your face.
I was awful! I was just moody and I used to hit my sister a lot. Like, hard. She used to have red marks and stuff. It was bad… but I’m not that person any more. I was a pretty awful teenager.
Did you ever call a teacher “mum”?
I always did that! It’s so embarrassing.
How did you celebrate your last ever day of school?
Oh my God. We got drunk in someone’s garden. We had a little party. Spent £5 on wine and drank it through a straw. Classy.
THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX STAR GEMMA COLLINS
What sort of teenager were you?
I was always very studious at school, if I’m being honest. I never messed about. For any teenagers out there, you just need to follow yourself. Don’t look at magazines, don’t think it’s OK to go and have plastic surgery. Just be yourself and embrace who you are.
How did you celebrate your last ever day at school?
I think I rocked up, jumped on the school desk, did a bit of Madonna, singing and dancing. I always told everyone at school I was going to be famous. And look!
Acne: Squeeze it or leave it?
Leave it! Go to your doctor. I used to have really, really bad skin but I got this amazing roll-on from my doctor, and now I have lovely skin.
What sort of teenager were you?
I was easy-going. I had a big old group of friends, and we were out all the time being sociable. I loved being a teenager.
Did you ever call a teacher “mum”?
Yes! Especially as both my parents were teachers. You just want the earth to swallow you up.
What was your worst holiday job?
I worked in a sweet factory. People picture me as an Oompa-Loompa but actually you had to wear a lab coat and a hat and put Jelly Babies into boxes all day.
Did I eat some? Well, I seem to remember them fitting a CCTV camera while I was working there. And my skin got the worst it’s ever been.
What sort of teenager were you?
I was pretty naughty – but my mum always said I was just curious. I wanted to find out how much I could push the boundaries.
Did you get into trouble at school?
I got unofficially expelled on the very last day. I went to boarding school and we had classes on Saturday. But I’d finished all my exams and me and my friends were like, “Why are we here?” So we skipped school and went into town and had a few drinks. We were definitely underage.
The school was like, “If you were staying, you definitely would have been expelled.”
What was your first date like?
Do you know what? I’ve never really been taken on a first date because I’ve always been friends with people before dating them. So the actual first date I ever went on was three years ago, when I was 20. It was ice skating and I was terrible at it.
It’s not romantic when they’re really good and you just look like a muppet. So ice skating’s not for me.