Category Archives: reviews

Fantastic Fest 2015 – The Frustrating

Part 3 of my Fantastic Fest movie reviews. Spoilers abound, so be warned. Sadly there’s a lot of movies in this category this year. Most of them had promise and aren’t all bad, but took a wrong turn – one of several common wrong turns, interestingly enough, so rather than just skip over them I’m going to call them out in an attempt to correct some of the common cinematic sins I’m seeing.

I get it, struggling filmmakers.  You managed to get some footage out of a couple thousand dollars and you’re putting it together into a film. You can’t bring yourself to cut out that 20 minutes of pointless noodling in your third act because that footage was so hard won. But you need to. In edit, build your movie together out of what you have and then stop when it’s complete, don’t just have more for more’s sake. I wanted to fall asleep in the third act of a full 1/3 of the movies at the fest this year and that’s just plain ridiculous.

Few films at Fantastic Fest are ever just plain bad (well, except for those intended to be that way). Except for “Balada Triste,” which I hold a grudge against to this day. All of these had something good going for them, but managed to squander it somehow.

Artsiness Does Not Prevent Your Movie From Getting Boring

RUINED-HEART-1500x816Ruined Heart – a Filipino movie about a street level gangster and his girlfriend. It was ambitious – virtually no dialogue, very impressionistic. But I’m afraid its reach exceeded its grasp;  it was interesting but then as it drug on the approach started to come apart at its seams and become tiresome. It went from “impressionist” to “what’s going on now?” to “I don’t really care any more” as act 1 moved into 2 into 3.

La-GranjaLa Granja – A similar issue was to be had with La Granja, a movie about the slums of Puerto Rico and the crazy degenerate stuff its inhabitants are subjected to. It was fine and interesting, but used the technique that this Fantastic Fest taught me to dread, the “we’ll show you the movie as one series of events from 3-5 different persepectives!” technique. Apparently everyone decided this was the artsy thing to do this year, but in this case the additional tellings didn’t really add much new in terms of texture or information to the story, so once you were past a couple of them it became boring to see the same stuff retreaded. It could have had a couple perspectives removed without hurting (and therefore subsequently improving) the film. Also, the nurse’s baby-stealing seemed like it was outside of the core arc of the movie.

darlingDarling – A movie about a chick who moves in to be caretaker of a big ol’ New York mansion/apartment and then some combination of it’s haunted or she’s crazy or whatever. In black and white for artsiness.  But just not that much happened over the course of this movie. It is a short in feature length clothing. I don’t mind some moodiness but the ratio of moodiness to anything freaking happening was very poor.

Laura Ashley Carter doesn’t do a bad job, but the combination of writing and direction is not sufficient to the intended result of being a study of a descent into madness, and the hints at supernatural agency are hamhanded. Another third act sleeper (to be fair, we spend a lot of time watching her sleep, so it may be intending to make you drowsy for some reason).

Pacing, Please Learn It And Use It

baskinBaskin – a Turkish movie about a minivan full of roving Turkish cops that get called to a spooky-type village and a spooky-type house with mutated cultists in it. It starts out very interesting, with some weird experiences and dream(?) or flashback (?) sequences, to the point that I was trying to figure out if this was all really happening or if the young cop was just in Purgatory or what. And then they all just get caught, strapped to pillars, and tortured to death by mutants for the entire third act.

I was very disappointed in this – I mean, if you want to do torture porn, fine, but the pacing of a heretofore decent movie was just completely blown out by this.  Simple fix – capture one, torture him to death, have the others still running around, grab another one of them… But slamming to a stop and just doing 45 minutes of grotesque sitting in place is tiring to the point of being nap-inducing. I would love to see the first 2/3 of this movie with a completely, totally rewritten end 1/3 on it.

LUDO-620x400Ludo – an Indian (Bengali) movie about four roving Indian teens looking for a safe place to drink and screw, who after zooming around the city on their two mopeds and being turned away from every fleabag motel in town (apparently they’re serious about their morality laws there) hide out in a shopping mall till after hours. I liked all four characters and the actors, even though the montage of trying to find hotels could have had 10 minutes cut out of it. Then they meet two spooky old people also in the  mall after hours and then they all get Parcheesied to death.

OK so I get the Parcheesi thing, it can come across as a little silly here where Parcheesi is more of a kid’s game, but over there it’s the “game of kings” so one can mentally substitute playing chess or something. But again, in this movie the pace comes to a dead stop, since the game board just hypnotizes everyone into sitting around it like zombies playing till they get eaten.

They try to compensate for this, I guess, by having a long long long long long flashback to when the two old folks originally found the magic Parcheesi set back in long ago India (like, rocks and clubs level long ago). Yes, the two characters who we don’t give a shit about, unlike the four characters we’ve spent the last hour growing to know and care about. Like, it goes beyond flashback to full fledged subplot about them and some witch and other stuff it was hard to follow and/or care about.

Just like Baskin, I’d like someone to take the first 1/2 of this movie and then write an ending that a) involves the original damn characters and b) maintains some kind of momentum.

Sometimes Retro Is Just Bad

dangerousmenDangerous Men – A single guy, John S. Rad, made this movie over like 26 years. He’s director, writer, songwriter, and about everything else. It’s hilariously retro, with a bunch of “interesting” (read: psychotic) plot and casting and set and music and everything else choices. It starts out being about a chick whose boyfriend gets murdered by bikers and she gets carried off and then she kills them and goes on a serial killer spree focused on male predators. Then a cop shows up and goes on a completely unrelated biker-shooting romp (apparently the actress got fired 2/3 of the way through) and then he gets beaten into a coma and then a third character, the police chief (I guess?) tracks down the ’80’s wrestler looking bad guy Black Pepper (NB: not black) and arrests him.

So the cluelessness and bad ’80’s stuff is entertaining for about a half hour. But then it turns the corner to just “hey this is pretty bad.” Especially when the plot completely changed. I get it, Kung Fury etc. and retro making-fun are all big right now, but this is an incarnation of it only someone in full hipster mode can stand behind. Not every single-person retro junk movie is “so bad it’s good” – sometimes it is just bad. The audacity of its badness is good for a while but then it wears off.

Goddamn Germans

germanangstGerman Angst – Three nearly unrelated German shorts. Short 1 – a girl has her dad (?) strapped to a bed and castrates and kills and mutilates him.  She owns guinea pigs. Then she leaves. Maybe it didn’t happen. The end.

Short 2 – Some deaf-mute hiker lovebirds get death-stomped by a mostly German gang. But they have a necklace that might do soul-swapping in bodies, as a tale the man signs to the woman indicates, he got it from his… mom? Grandma? Who used it to get away from the Nazis in wartime Poland. (Or did she…) This is kinda interesting as a setup but it gets super annoying with just the yelling and carrying on and stuff for so long. Whoever the blond screamy gang chick is I wanted her to die of leukemia, I got so sick of hearing it. Then this winds up with the head skinhead giving a lengthy looking-at-the-camera apologia for their behavior, blaming their Polack-killing on the “granite weight of guilt” of still being identified with Nazis. This is done in such a way that it’s pretty transparently A Message To You From The Filmmakers. My response to that is “Fuck you.” You get to not get Nazi stigma once everyone who got stuck in one of those camps has passed away, and everyone that had to fight in that war has passed away.  Act right for one human lifetime (and you’re doing great so far) and then we’ll all stop using the N-word.  I think that’s fair payment in kind for millions of lives.  Till then STFU and take it. (N.B. I am of German descent myself so see no reason to beat around the bush here.)

Short 3 was better but I was still pissed off from shorts 1 and 2. A guy joins some kind of sex club but then it starts to become clear they are probably mating with some weird mandrake-based plant creature, but woot the orgasms are great, so it’s quite the dilemma of what to do. Would make a good “Twilight Zone” episode for a HBO-type Twilight Zone kind of program.

Except for a very very slight effort at relating the three stories in any way, they really are completely separate and very inconsistent in tone and nature. This is less a movie and more of a sampler pitch. And, the granite weight of guilt, my balls.

Fantastic Fest 2015 – The Best

There were four movies that I unreservedly enjoyed this festival. They are the best of the ones I saw (of course one person can only see a minority of the films at Fantastic Fest). Spoilers are included, so be warned (though not too many, since these are good I am leaving most twists and endings unstated).

jeremy-saulniers-green-roomGreen Room is a movie about a punk band playing at a skinhead-infested venue who accidentally witnesses the aftermath of a murder and things go bad. It’s written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier who also brought us the recent Blue Ruin. It’s got a great cast, including Anton Yelchin (Chekov from the Star Trek reboot and the main kid from the Fright Night reboot) and Sir Patrick Stewart as the skinhead group’s leader! Along with a bunch of other experienced folks (including Macon Blair, the lead from Blue Ruin).

It was taut and well-paced; the writing was really good and the kills were brutal. It was done in a very realistic manner – you really buy the ensemble as a punk band teetering on the edge of viability (“I wanted to buy them all a sandwich and a glass of milk,” said Chris.) All the characters were solid and well-defined and made good, realistic decisions – not overly stupid in the face of danger but also not cranked up to Maximum Riddick, you felt the danger and appreciated the protagonists’ attempts to get out of their situation. And it was definitely gory, the several women to my right were covering their eyes during several scenes – but it’s not torture porn, and the suddenness of the brutality kept the audience electrified. Little bursts of humor were well received as tension releasers. And there was an extensive punk/metal soundtrack with everything included from Dead Kennedys to Slayer. (They kick off their set in the skinhead club with the former’s punk anthem “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” just to tweak them.)

The first showing was mobbed and the buzz off it was hot; at the second showing they expanded to two screens and it was still full to capacity with folks in standby lines hoping to get in. This is the kind of movie that when I see it at FF I ask “why is this not in normal theaters?” I guess maybe Hollywood will only show us horror movies that are either super-supernatural Sinister/Insidious/etc. or torture porn like Saw 29, and any thriller or action movie has to be PG-13 related to make all the tasty money.  Anyway, this is a great movie and I strongly urge you to go see it (assuming you can deal with some bloody deaths).

februaryFebruary is a smart horror film that managed to keep me guessing what the heck was going on, no mean feat nowadays with all my horror movie experience.  Starring Emma Roberts (from America Horror Story and various movies) and Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper from Mad Men, et al.) it features two girls at an all-girl’s Catholic school who are left there over a break. Very suspenseful, it moves at a steady pace and reveals events from three perspectives, gradually unfolding the total story. This was done skillfully – I have to say, some of the other films at the festival did this in a more hamhanded way, either wasting your time extensively with scenes you’ve already seen, or just messing with the timeline to confuse you, or other poor handling of their attempt to be “artsy.” They should all watch this movie and then go back and re-edit their own movies with what they’ve learned.

I kept trying to guess what the heck was going on. “She’s a ghost!  No that other chick is a ghost!  No the parents are!  No, they all are!  The priest is a molester!” They didn’t use misdirection gimmicks, it was just using enough genre tropes but presenting them somewhat flatly and letting you run with supposition. I really liked the evolution of your understanding of the plot and thought the ending was a pleasant twist.

The acting of both of the girls was great, a lot was conveyed just through silence and micro-movements of facial features. Very different from the old school stage acting, it made me reflect on the subtlety of the newer form of HD close-up acting. And the cold, bleak mood was handled very well. In the end it wasn’t innovative, using tried and true plot and mechanisms, but it was very skillfully executed.

April and the Extraordinary WorldApril and the Extraordinary World (aka Avril et le monde truqué) was a cool animated movie that’s family appropriate, something almost unheard of with FF films. It’s based on a graphic novel by Jaqcues Tardi, set in an alternate steampunk France in 1941 where the world wars didn’t happen and oil etc. hasn’t been discovered so the entire earth has been denuded of first coal and then trees for charcoal. The government forces all scientists to work for them, and the movie starts with a raid on a scientist family where mom, dad, and grandpa all beat feet or are disappeared and the girl, April, escapes and then grows up in isolation, trying to reproduce their experiment, an elixir of health and immortality. And then there’s intelligent lizard cyborgs and a plot to save and/or destroy the earth!

The cat was a big hit as a character and the alternate timeline (double Eiffel Towers! A cowboy Statue of Liberty!) was interesting (if perhaps not bearing a lot of close inspection from a scientific realism point of view). The characters were interesting and the conflict between April’s parents was a nice touch. I do feel that a little should have been cut out in the third act – this is an animated film, you don’t have to reuse the sets, characters wandering back and forth to and from the laser-cages in the jungle got a little tiresome. So not perfect, but a fun movie.

thewaveThe Wave – a Norwegian version of a standard Hollywood big-budget action movie by Roar Uthag, though with more restraint than those usually have, making it more pleasant than 2012/The Freezening/One Or The Other Volcano Movie/etc. It’s about a geologist working to monitor a mountain near a fjord because when it drops the resultant tsunami will wipe a resort city off the map in 10 minutes. He’s a rebel and is the only one who believes it’s happening!  And his family is in danger! The usual fare, but I enjoyed the rest of the cast, especially the other geologists, not being dumbasses (including Fridtjov Såheim from Lilyhammer). And though there was a race away from the wave, it wasn’t the unrealistic “running 45 minutes with the disaster right behind you” crap they do in Hollywood. So like a Hollywood disaster movie but better. Not revolutionary but serviceable, and frankly just not actively pissing me off was enough to hit a high point with me by this point in the festival.

Fantastic Fest 2015 – Overview

I just happened upon Fantastic Fest on a lark back in 2009 – I had a bunch of vacation to use or lose, saw an ad for it, thought “a genre film festival here in Austin?  OK, done!” It was a great experience and while I haven’t been able to go every single year since, I try to get to most of them (you can find writeups from some of them on this blog). And as also sometimes happens, fellow gamer Chris attended as well.

At a high level – this was a decent Fantastic Fest.  They have finally gotten a ticket reservation procedure that’s a pleasure to use… I remember having to rack out early after being up till 2 AM to drive all the way across Austin to wait in a line to get tickets to shows you wanted to get into (while already having a festival badge), then having to go burn a couple hours before the movie starts… Now it’s a nice little Web app open the day before and it slots you in.  I’ve gotten into everything I registered for except for the specials. I went on a daytime badge (have to tend the kid in the evenings) but had a lot of success just waiting standby on evening shows on days I was free.

The volunteers always run a great event – I always like seeing Winnie at work, she makes things happen!  My one suggestion is that most movies are shown twice. But ones shown in the day tended to have both showings in the day, and those at night at night. As a daytime badge holder this sucks, because towards the end you’re looking at slots with a lot of movies you’ve already seen in them and no chance to see some.  I assume there are other people that can only come at night, and have the same problem. Need to swap second showings day<->night. The new South Lamar venue is nice though there’s heavy construction going on in the surrounding blockhouses of condos. There’s a lot of good food choices within walking or short driving distance, and parking is free if pretty full up.

The down side was – well, hate to say it, but the movies.  The programming was not at all strong this year. Some years there’s been a huge amount of great stuff. This year, while they’ve been some good ones, it’s been a lot more sparse. Big waves of Japanese and Nordic movies have come and gone, even Korea’s not making much good stuff any more – they’re farming Turkey for new blood this time and just in general it seems like a lull year for genre films.

And a lot of the films weren’t that good. A large number suffered from the “third act problem” of putting me to fricking sleep in the third act. I imagine maybe if you’re an indie filmmaker that made your film on a $9000 budget that you don’t want to “throw away” any of your hard earned celluloid but I watched so many movies that needed 20 to, honestly, 45 minutes cut out of their runtime mostly in the third act and/or brought their pacing to a grinding halt 2/3 of the way through the movie this year that it was really frustrating.

Here’s a breakdown of the movies I saw at the fest. I do spoilers in these reviews as they are not just for you the curious moviegoer but also are feedback to the filmmakers and I think precision there is important.




D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 8: Adventuring

adventureAnd now we get to the Adventure!  Welcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. This time, Chapter 8: Adventuring.

First they reiterate the D&D Decision Loop (DDDL) from earlier:

  1. The DM describes the environment
  2. The players describe what they want to do
  3. The DM narrates the result of their actions

Firmly establishing the trad playstyle.  I’m actually a little ambivalent about this, I like some player participation in limited environment narration and especially action narration but I can see they’re setting the baseline here.

Then we get the usual sections that have been in every PHB since time immemorial. Time, Movement, Vision and Light… It’s all pretty straightforward.  6 second rounds like the kids use nowadays. Crawling and swimming and stuff are simplified to just use 2 feet of movement to go 1 foot. Skill checks are described as being binary – you might make Strength (Athletics) checks to be able to climb or swim, but then the speed is invariant.

I like the “Interacting with Objects” section, instead of a big chart of substance hardness and hit points like in 3e it just says “DM will decide, and if he says you can’t cut a rope with a club, then that’s the way it is.”  I could see a DM advice book with things like the 3e hardness chart as “Here’s some guidance, if you don’t happen to personally know where bone fits vis-a-vis wood and stone in the hardness follies” but I like it being kept out of the core rules for simplicity.

But wait… Then a section on Social Interaction and Roleplaying?  What’s the world coming to? Isn’t D&D just torches and swords and orcs and Cheetos? They describe third person (“Descriptive”) roleplaying and first person (“Active”) roleplaying, and correctly note the second is more immersive. Affecting NPCs is a mix of roleplaying with the possibility of Charisma checks.  This is great, like a lot of things it moves the dial back to Basic/1e/2e times before affecting NPC attitudes was a completely rules exercise where “Diplomancers” could min-max happily enslaving anyone they could talk to with their +50 Diplomacy skills.

Next resting. Like 4e there is a “short rest” (1 hour, and you can roll up to your level in Hit Dice to heal) and a “long rest” (8 hours, and you regain all your hit points and 1/2 your Hit Dice).  This is the primary healing mechanic, which is pretty – perhaps overly – generous (on average, you can heal 2x your entire hit points in the first day). So don’t expect much in the way of lingering wounds.

Then there’s a between adventures section involving lifestyle expenses (from Chapter 5) and downtime.  This is very similar to the Pathfinder downtime system – options include making money from crafting or professions or doing research or training or recuperating from diseases or other effects.

This chapter’s a bit of a laundry list but it is a necessary laundry list of how you do what you do when you’re not murdering.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores

beholderWelcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. We are entering “Part 2: Playing the Game” with a chapter on using ability scores.

First they reprint the Ability Scores and Modifiers section from earlier, in penance for their questionable organizational skills. They explain advantage and disadvantage, one of the big new mechanics in 5e – in many cases, instead of an additional bonus or penalty to a d20 roll,  you roll twice and take the best or worst die result instead. Advantage and disadvantage cancel each other. Simpler and elegant, though they’ve retained enough bonuses/penalties and other stuff to track that it doesn’t hugely simplify the system.

Finally they kinda explain skills.  They try to keep skills on the down-low in this version, basically you generally use ability checks but you can add your proficiency bonus to skills you have. Since proficiency bonuses really only range from +2 to +6 that means that, barring other abilities, there’s not a huge difference between having a skill and not having it.

They also describe passive checks, which is just taking 10 on the die, done when you’re doing it repeatedly or the GM wants to do it in secret (different from 3e’s taking 10 and 20). And working together, which provides advantage.

Group checks have an interesting mechanic – everyone makes the check and if half or more succeed, the group succeeds.  This removes the shitty “everyone makes a roll and one person is going to fail/succeed because probability” problem in earlier editions, very elegant.

Next they just go into what you use Strength, Dexterity, etc. for.  None of this is all that new and surprising, except DEX gives you bonuses to both attack and damage with ranged and finesse weapons, 4e-style. A sidebar on hiding sweeps away hundreds of pages of rules lawyering from previous editions, just saying “you can’t hide if someone can see you – but if you’re hidden you can sneak up on someone if they’re distracted, at the DM’s discretion.” You know, like all sane people have done it. (Google “The Rules Of Hidden Club” if you want to see how pathetically insane rules lawyers have gotten on this topic.)

And then saving throws are just ability checks (plus proficiency if applicable).

So the general message is… Ability checks! Roll them!

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 6: Customization Options

customWelcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. We’ve reached the end of the Character Creation section.  Now it’s time to customize.

By customize, I guess we really mean “some more spare rules.”  We start with multiclassing. It works like 3e where you can add levels ad hoc in whatever classes.  It has the additional twist of having ability score minimums, which is an interesting and IMO satisfying middle ground between the 1e “you need this much ability to be this class” and 3e-style “minmax however you want.”

Then there are feats. Feats are optional in 5e, you take them in place of an ability score advance (every fourth level). Since you have fewer of them than in 3e, each one is pretty buff.  In fact, oddly, some give you one point of ability advance anyway. Even the “skill” ones are good – let’s take “Actor,” which would be +2 to 2 skills in 3e (yawn).  Here, it gives you +1 Charisma, advantage on deception and performance checks, and an ability to mimic someone’s speech. Many are of course combat focused, like Dual Wielder gives you +1 AC and the ability to 2-handed fight with non-light weapons, and the ability to draw or stow 2 weapons at once.  I like how many of them add those little details (like the draw/stow) that show they’ve thought through the little details. A couple are boring (Skilled – Gain proficiency in 3 skills!) but that’s the minority, and they’re designed to help you push in some character direction you can’t get by class min-maxing in the new regime. And, they’re not strictly better than the +2 to a stat (though since the limit is 20, if you put a high number in your primary stat, a couple advances probably cap you out and you are looking to diversify anyway).

There’s only 42 feats, but each one is meaty, and you’re only going to get a fistful with any character, and I’m sure more will come (whenever they decide to publish anything else…).

And we’re done with character generation!  Solid all in all. Streamlined and not as fiddly as 3e, but more consistent and customizable than 2e. And a real role-playing game and not a pure tactical boardgame like… Uh… Some editions.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 5: Equipment

tenfootpoleWelcome to the next in the series of my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. I know there’s been a little time gap, I had some bidness to attend to.

The equipment chapter kicks off with the basic monetary system and starting gold.  The electrum piece (worth 1/2 a gold piece) has returned from the sands of time. Ah, nostalgia, I remember you fondly.

Then they talk about selling treasure.  Undamaged gear is worth 50% of the list price, but monster gear is usually junk.  Then they finally breach the 3.e/Pathfinder bugbear, magic items – magic items are expensive and rare and selling anything but the most common is problematic, let alone buying them.  This is happy and leads me to believe that the “magic item economy,” which resulted in “Christmas tree syndrome,” one of the least delightful things about mid-range D&D editions, has been swept away.

Armor is somewhat simplified and has the interesting design decision that light armors allow full Dex bonus to AC, medium half, and heavy none. On the one hand that compensates nicely for different approaches, on the other hand it tends towards “everyone has AC 16-18, period.”

Weapons are simpler than in some editions, more complex than in others. They have one damage rating that is a die and type (e.g. 1d8 bludgeoning) – never any “1d4+1” or the like. Then they have some keyword-properties like the kids are into nowadays that indicate special uses – heavy, two-handed, reach, finesse, light, etc. Finesse weapons use DEX for both attack and damage in this edition, making the uber-strength fighter a less automatic choice.  There’s no such thing as a masterwork weapon but you can silver one for 100gp.

Then they have other gear. You know, cook pots, paper, and the ever-popular ten foot pole. This is mostly “like every equipment list ever.” There’s a couple points of interest, like “Basic Poison” that requires a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 points of damage. And a potion of healing – at 50 gp – that will heal 1d4+2 hit points. So they don’t conflate healing with the hit dice thing (like 4e did with healing surges). I’m not sure how I feel about that, seems like “heal a Hit Die” mechanic is pretty smoov, and it would be simple to reuse it whenever being healed from other sources, but whatever. There’s sub-tables for barrels and ships and stuff.

The Tools are interesting. They claim that tools “help you do something you couldn’t otherwise do” – but mechanically they just let you add your proficiency bonus.  So if you’re a fighter, you can try to pick a lock without a proficiency or tools and just up and make the Dex check. But if you have the skill proficiency *and* the tools, you can add your proficiency bonus. As proficiency bonuses aren’t that large overall that seems a little odd.

A final cool part is the lifestyle expenses.  I remember this from Living campaigns back in the 1990s. Basically there’s a listed cost for living at certain social levels – from Wretched to Aristocratic.  They kinda wuss out and have no mechanical hook to those except to say “Well you know if you’re po’ then nobles won’t like you but thieves might.”

Similarly to the “magic items aren’t bought and sold like cattle” dynamic, even getting spells cast for hire is noted to be difficult – you can get a common level 1 or 2 spell in a major city for 10-50 gp but past that it’s DM fiat and quests, baby.

Then there’s two semi wasted pages on “trinkets” – a new character gets one!  Roll 1d100, you have “a single caltrop made from bone.” Seems gimmicky to me but I get that they’re trying to provoke some kind of “you are a real and unique person” roleplaying using it so that’s fine. Till you’ve made a bunch of characters and it gets repetitive.

All in all I like where they’re going!  Next time, Customization Options!