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Now it’s time to enter your work in the 2020 INKWELL AWARDS!

First Comics News - Wed, 11/18/2020 - 00:26
Where did the year go? Oh yeah…BUT on the good side, it’s time to be recognized for your incredible ink work again! Your published work is eligible for consideration in any of our five inking categories–SEE BELOW.

(Unlike some other awards, we do not charge a fee.)
While our volunteer nomination committee (“NomCom”) can still submit their choices, they just can’t see all the wonderful work during the year from all publishers large and small. So it’s up to YOU! Important details:

WHAT TO SEND:
1. Examples of TWO to THREE (max) interior pages—sorry, NO covers—of published & printed comic-book ink work you’ve done from any USA-published comic book (per categories below)COVER-DATED 2020 (sorry, no webcomics unless also printed.). Send either links to your specific samples (not general site links), or low-res image files. (Do not send large files–we’re not a printer!) DO NOT SEND PHYSICAL COPIES–they will not be eligible.

2. NAMES of the inker and penciller, your preferred EMAIL ADDRESS, the TITLE/ISSUE #(s) and PUBLISHER.

3. The CATEGORY(-IES) for each sample. You may submit the same or different work to different categories, EXCEPT “Favorite Inker” and “Props”–pick one or the other. Categories are:
1.    Favorite Inker: favorite ink artist over the pencils of another artist. (Can’t be nominated for “Props.”)
2.    Most-adaptable: showing exceptional ink style versatility over other pencil artists. (Minimum TWO pages per penciller, up to three.)
3.    Props award: ink artist deserving of more attention for work over other pencillers.
 (Can’t be past winner or nom. for “Favorite Inker.”)
4.    The S.P.A.M.I: for favorite Small Press And Mainstream-Independent comic book ink work over another pencil artist (Non-Marvel or DC).
4.    All-in-one award: for favorite artist inking his/her own pencils.
(Make sure you read and understand the BIG RULES below before sending.)

WHERE TO SEND: Email samples back here to inkwellawards@yahoo.com, with the Subject “2018 Inkwell Awards.” (Questions? Same email or ask us on Facebook or Twitter @inkwellawards.) WHEN TO SEND: The deadline is DECEMBER 31st, 2020 (we’ll post reminders, but earlier is better).
PLEASE help us help you by following the directions and rules specifically. If not, your work cannot be considered. We are merely a few working professionals who volunteer when time allows so we don’t have the time/manpower to micro-manage.

THE BIG RULES (Please read):
-Inks can be with traditional or digital tools (e.g., brush, pen, marker, stylus, Apple Pen, Wacom, etc., but NOT just pencils darkened/manipulated via Photoshop/software–must be drawn by HAND).
-Work must have been printed in the USA with a 2019 cover date. No Web-only comics.
-Our volunteer NomCom may also submit their choices. All entries will be considered equally and tallied.
-The core committee is not permitted to nominate, nor vote, for anyone (so save your bribes).
-All links sent must be to the specific pages being considered. Any general site links (“JohnDoe.com,” DeviantArt portfolios, etc.) will be ignored. No physical copies.
-If work does not meet the criteria above or is not submitted in accordance with these rules, it will not be considered. Fraudulent entries will be voided and will result in your not being considered for any future awards (and any awards won will be forfeited and given to the runner-up).
-The Inkwell Awards is not responsible for any power outages, server issues, software or hardware malfunctions, human error, acts of God, zombie apocalypses and any other stuff beyond our control.
Again, if you have questions or need more info, send an email to either inkwellawards@yahoo.com, or to me directly at the address below.

Thank you and good luck!
Sincerely,
Bob Almond (and The Inkwell Awards Committee)
The Inkwell Awards
inkwellawards@yahoo.com
Site: inkwellawards.com
Facebook.com/groups/TheInkwellAwards
Twitter: @inkwellawards

WHO WE ARE:
In case you still haven’t heard, The Inkwell Awards (inkwellawards.com) is an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public and promote the art form of comic-book inking, as well as annually recognize and award the best ink artists and their work. Founded in 2008, the organization is overseen by a volunteer committee of industry professionals and assisted by various pro ambassadors, numerous contributors and supporters. We sponsor the Dave Simons Inkwell Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Kubert School and host the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

THE AVENGERS GEAR UP IN ALL-NEW ARMOR IN AVENGERS MECH STRIKE

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 22:29

Writer Jed MacKay and artist Carlos Magno take the Avengers into uncharted territory in a new comic series this February!

New York, NY— November 17, 2020 — A brand-new enemy has emerged in the Marvel Universe and even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are no match against it. But the Avengers aren’t so easily beaten, and when new threats arise, powerful new tools must be brought to bear! Suiting up in high-tech individualized armor, the Avengers stand ready for one of their greatest battles yet in the extraordinary new comic series, AVENGERS MECH STRIKE!

Written by Jed MacKay (Black Cat) with art by Carlos Magno (Fantastic Four, Empyre: Avengers), AVENGERS MECH STRIKE will kick off a bold new age of action-packed Avengers battles that will send shockwaves throughout the comic book industry and beyond! Uniting against an unstoppable enemy, AVENGERS MECH STRIKE #1 is just the beginning of this epic story that will unfold throughout next year!

“Heavy metal! When the Avengers come up against something that defies their usual methods, new tools are needed for the job: giant robot suits,” said MacKay. “It’s been a blast to take on the Avengers and really put them in the thick of it. When you’re dealing with the Avengers, everything is big. Big action. Big stakes. And now, big robots!

“We’re going for non-stop, full-bore action, with a lineup of Avengers favorites going up against an unexpected new foe…that might end up being quite familiar! Aliens, robots, dinosaurs, Martians…it’s going to get worse before it gets better for our heroes.”

Behold your first glimpse at these instantly iconic new suits on Kei Zama’s cover below and stay alert for news about the AVENGERS MECH STRIKE program, featuring comics, digital content, and more exciting products to be announced in the coming weeks and months! For more information, including a special teaser video, visit Marvel.com.


AVENGERS MECH STRIKE #1 (OF 5)
Written by JED MACKAY
Art by CARLOS MAGNO
Cover by KEI ZAMA

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

David Finch’s First-Ever Red Sonja Cover Debuts Soon!

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 20:16


November 17, Mt. Laurel, NJ:
Dynamite is soon to unveil a stunning new exclusive Red Sonja collectible comic featuring a brand new cover by superstar artist David Finch. Fans can sign up here to get updates for the Indiegogo campaign’s upcoming launch.

The new comic will feature a never before seen take on the She-Devil With a Sword (and this time she’s got an axe too!), as only the talents of Finch can capture her in all her post-fight ferocity. Finch’s almost criminally great depiction of the heroine is aided and abetted by frequent collaborator colorist Frank D’Armata. Fans may or may not believe it, but Finch has never before drawn an official Red Sonja cover! Though one may find some gorgeous one-of-a-kind commissions out there on the web, this is the first opportunity for sword and sorcery fans to add this all-star artist to their collection.

Though David Finch is no stranger to Dynamite and the publisher’s library as a whole. In addition to some breathtaking Vampirella covers toward the turn of the century, Dynamite has called on the master for such blockbuster titles as The Shadow/Batman and Charlie’s Angels. In addition, he produced some truly heroic covers for his wife and creative partner Meredith Finch’s critically acclaimed run on Xena.

This Monday night Dynamite CEO and Publisher Nick Barrucci joined David on his YouTube channel for an hour to chat all things comics and more. With over 70 thousand followers on the platform, David’s fans turned out and those who missed it can catch up by clicking here.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

The Study in Scarlet - Meeting Kane - Further Mediations on The Stormbringer rpg & OSR Campaign Memories

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 19:49
After last session we needed a plan & to somehow regroup from our latest assignment. 'The Great Beast' had literally left & we were on our way to our PC's rooms. But a knock on our door got us involved with a bigger issue & NPC. A stranger came to call, a  man with hooded eyes,reddish hair, & the stare of a killer from beyond recorded time. He introduced himself as simply as 'General Kane' an 'Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Top Comments – Pages 1451 – 1452

Looking For Group - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 19:25

Tuesday, YOU are the star! We curate our favourite comments from the previous week’s comments on lfg.co and Facebook and remind you how clever you are. Here are your top comments for Looking For Group pages 1451 – 1452 Looking […]

The post Top Comments – Pages 1451 – 1452 appeared first on Looking For Group.

Categories: Web Comics

Amazon Studios and Simon Kinberg’s Genre Films Have Optioned DNA, A Novella by Writer Julian Meiojas and Artist Mad Dog Jones

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 18:58

The Neon-Noir Dystopian Thriller from NeoText Will Be Adapted as a Feature Film

(November 17) Amazon Studios and Simon Kinberg’s Genre Films have optioned DNA, a neon-noir dystopian novella by writer Julian Meiojas and artist Mad Dog Jones. Set in a twisted future America, DNA follows anti-hero protagonist Ram, a low-level, irreverent “process server” at the Death Notification Agency, who goes on the run after receiving his own death notice and stumbles into a larger conspiracy. Meiojas, an established television writer and producer for series such as Jack Ryan and Ridley Scott’s Raised by Wolves, will adapt the script based on his own series in his first foray into film.

DNA introduces Ramsay Carnes. Known to his friends as “Ram,” he’s a process server – a reaper – for the Death Notification Agency, which is now the biggest government organization in the world thanks to a mysterious and highly-guarded technology that can determine the time of anyone’s demise, right down to the minute. And it’s Ram’s job as a reaper to deliver death notices to soon-to-be-deceased citizens 24 hours before they give up the ghost. Ram floats through his days letting folks know when their lives are about to go belly up, then heads to Nasty Nate’s Tavern in his aloha shirt to wash down the days with a well-earned drink or ten. But Ram’s simple life is about to get a lot more complicated when one night he receives his own death notice. DNA follows Ram as he now has to outrun his own death, travelling from sweat-drenched Florida down elevated sky roads to New York City, where the DNA’s skyscraper headquarters hides a secret that—if Ram digs deep enough—could unravel the truth behind not just his own death notice but the life and death business as he knows it.

The recently released novella series comes from NeoText, a new digital publishing company dedicated to publishing short-form prose ranging from science fiction and noir novellas to investigative journalism and narrative nonfiction. NeoText execs John Schoenfelder, Russell Ackerman, and Jay Schuminsky will serve as producers alongside Genre’s Kinberg and Audrey Chon.

“Death Notification Agency by Julian Meiojas is a laser-powered sci-fi noir action of the highest order,” said the NeoText execs. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to keep building the DNA book series and brand with Amazon, Simon Kinberg and Audrey Chon as Julian adapts Ram’s saga for film.”

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

Mad Cave Studios Inks Exclusive Distribution Deal with Diamond

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 18:53

(Hunt Valley, MD) — (November 17, 2020) — Diamond Comic Distributors, the world’s largest distributor of English-language comic books, graphic novels, and pop culture merchandise, is pleased to announce that it has signed a distribution agreement with Mad Cave Studios to exclusively distribute their products to comic book specialty markets worldwide. Diamond was also awarded the rights to exclusively distribute Mad Cave’s new releases to the North American book market under the banner of Diamond Book Distributors.

Mad Cave Studios is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded by Mark London in 2014, driven by madness and committed to providing quality entertainment with a fresh take in an array of genres. Mad Cave focuses on uplifting the comic community by supporting the underrepresented and writing stories that resonate with unapologetically authentic audiences. From horror and fantasy to sci-fi and adventure, Mad Cave Studios has a comic for every kind of reader. An unquestionable passion for creating comics and an undeniable commitment towards maddening creativity underscores Mad Cave’s drive to provide high-quality entertainment for today’s comic book reading audience.

“Mad Cave is truly excited to be partnering up with Diamond Books in an effort to establish ourselves in the book market and continue expanding in the direct market,” said Mad Cave Studios Publisher, Chris Fernandez.

CEO & CCO, Mark London adds, “Our true goal here is to offer graphic novels and comics that thrill and excite; for the youth that thinks differently today. We are publishing for those not afraid to be independent, who find freedom in the unexpected, and who will always fight to be the true versions of themselves.”

Mad Cave Studios boasts an ever-growing library of work, with comic books and graphic novels ranging from horror to fantasy to sci-fi and everything in between. Honor and Curse, written by Mark London with art from Nicolás Salamanca and colors from Tekino, tells the tale of a skilled and ambitious shinobi with dreams of leading his warrior clan, when an evil mountain spirit from his past inhabits his body and turns him into an unstoppable force of nature incapable of remorse. Knights of the Golden Sun, written by Mark London with art from Mauricio Villarreal, is a biblical epic set during the four hundred years that separate the Old Testament from the New Testament. In this period, neither man nor angel can hear God’s divine message, and a power struggle erupts among the Archangels and the Fallen over who will control the Father’s throne. Battlecats, also from Mark London, is a medieval fantasy comic set in Valderia – a majestic world shaped by its rich history and diverse feline cultures – which is protected by the Battlecats, an elite team of warriors sworn to protect the throne against the forces of evil.

“We are excited to begin a partnership with Mad Cave Studios and see great market potential in their books,” said Geppi Family Enterprises’ Chief Purchasing Officer, Tim Lenaghan. “Their continued effort to provide top-quality products that are both timely and relatable is an asset we value. We’re greatly looking forward to working with them to promote and sell their line of books.”

 

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

TOM & JERRY – Official Trailer

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 18:51

Tom and Jerry take their cat-and-mouse game to the big screen. Watch the trailer for the new #TomAndJerryMovie now – coming to theaters 2021.

One of the most beloved rivalries in history is reignited when Jerry moves into New York City’s finest hotel on the eve of “the wedding of the century,” forcing the event’s desperate planner to hire Tom to get rid of him, in director Tim Story’s “Tom & Jerry.” The ensuing cat and mouse battle threatens to destroy her career, the wedding and possibly the hotel itself. But soon, an even bigger problem arises: a diabolically ambitious staffer conspiring against all three of them.

An eye-popping blend of classic animation and live action, Tom and Jerry’s new big-screen adventure stakes new ground for the iconic characters and forces them to do the unthinkable… work together to save the day.

“Tom & Jerry” stars Chloë Grace Moretz (“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” “The Addams Family”), Michael Peña (“Cesar Chavez,” “American Hustle,” “Ant-Man”), Rob Delaney (“Deadpool 2,” “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”), Colin Jost (“How to be Single,” “Saturday Night Live”), and Ken Jeong (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Hangover,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”).
The film is directed by Tim Story (“Fantastic Four,” “Think Like a Man,” “Barbershop”) and produced by Chris DeFaria (“The LEGO Movie 2,” “Ready Player One,” “Gravity”).

It is written by Kevin Costello, based on characters created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Serving as executive producers are Tim Story, Adam Goodman, Steven Harding, Sam Register, Jesse Ehrman, and Allison Abbate. The creative filmmaking team includes director of photography Alan Stewart, production designer James Hambidge, editor Peter S. Elliot, and costume designer Alison McCosh. The music is composed by Christopher Lennertz.
A Warner Bros. Pictures and Warner Animation Group presentation, a Tim Story Film, “Tom & Jerry” will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

The film is rated PG for cartoon violence, rude humor and brief language.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

WebNavigator Chromium browser published by search hijackers

Malwarebytes - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 17:05

A mystery Chromium browser recently made a sudden appearance, and is certainly proving popular. But what is it, and where did it come from?

Malwarebytes detects the browser as PUP.Optional.WebNavigator, and we found several clues that this browser was brought to you by a notorious family of search hijackers.

That family isn’t new to us—we reported about them before when they changed a Chrome policy to remote administration, and lied about the permissions they asked of their users.

Search hijackers in general

We have written before about the interests of shady developers in the billion-dollar search industry and reported on the different tactics these developers resort to in order to get users to install their extensions or use their search sites.

Every time someone clicks on a sponsored advertisement, the requisite search engine earns money on a pay-per-click basis. They are paid by advertisers, who shell out for beneficial placement in the search results for keyword phrases of their choice.

As a result of the popularity of these search engines—Google in particular—US companies spend an estimated $80 billion on search engine optimization (SEO) alone. And the leading search engines are owned by some of the most valuable technology companies around.

What is WebNavigator?

The WebNavigator Browser is a Chromium-based web-browser that promises to simplify your browsing experience.


Note the pre-ticked checkboxes

The simplification is done by keeping the browser running in the background. I fail to see the advantage of that method over minimizing your normal browser, but at least the authors made an effort to explain why the process remains running even after you closed the browser.

I did not have that many tabs open

Another checkbox that is ticked by default is the “Set as default browser” which is pretty cheeky.

Where do people find WebNavigator?

The websites that promote the WebNavigator browser show up in advertisements and get visitors from redirectors. I found them when I was searching for new variants of the family of search hijackers that have become my “special friends” over the past years. That was my first clue that they might be related.

But using the same advertising networks is no definite proof whatsoever. As many shady website owners, they switch domains a lot so they don’t end up on every blocklist. Another detail they have in common.

What was your second clue?

The second clue was the layout and makeup of their website.

This type of layout is typically used to tell users how to install a Chrome extension, and the hijackers just changed the text in the boxes to make it fit them. Also note the line about Yahoo and other third-party search providers, that reminded me of a few search hijack extensions that were removed from the Webstore a while ago.

So, how is WebNavigator a search hijacker?

That was actually my third and most definitive clue. The WebNavigator Browser adds graphic search recommendations to the user’s search results, labelled “Search Recommendations”.

WebNavigator search recommendations

This ties them to the family of search hijackers which we have written about in detail before. For example, I found this set of search recommendations when I installed an extension called “IStreamingSearch”:

IStreamingSearch search recommendations

The difference in results could be caused by my use of a fresh Virtual Machine and a rotation of the VPN  servers I use in Malwarebytes Privacy. But they sure look similar.

How can I stop and remove WebNavigator Browser?

Malwarebytes Premium users are protected against this PUP, and Malwarebytes will warn them when they try to install the WebNavigator Browser.

Malwarebytes Browser Guard, Premium, and EDR will block the domains promoting WebNavigator Browser.

If you’ve already installed the browser but now want to remove it, I have posted full removal instructions for the WebNavigator Browser on our forums.

IOCs

Domains:

  • webnavigator.co
  • fileleauncher.co
  • tvlauncher.co
  • digitalfileconverter.com
  • fastmaps.net
  • gamelauncher.co
  • officelauncher.com
  • streaminglauncher.com

Filenames:

  • webnavigatorbrowser.exe
  • CLICK HERE TO START THE WEBNAVIGATOR BROWSER INSTALLER_********_.EXE (where ******** are random letters and numbers)

Stay safe, everyone!

The post WebNavigator Chromium browser published by search hijackers appeared first on Malwarebytes Labs.

Categories: Techie Feeds

The Philosophy of Spider-Man

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 15:18

Swing into the marvellous mayhem of Spider-Man’s thoughts, wise-cracks, and web-fuelled wisdom! A lavish collection of everything that makes Spidey tick.

Is your spider-sense tingling? This wonderful little book reveals all the quirks and quick-wittedness that the scarlet spider revels in and dispels it for your pleasure

How funny is Peter Parker really? How does he cope with J. Jonah Jameson’s incessant barking? Is an upside-down kiss as easy as it looks? All this and more as the mind of the most popular superhero of recent history is unwebbed!

With great power comes a great number of jokes, jibes and jovial wordplay as you delve into some of Spider-Man’s most comedic comic book moments, laudable cover art, and pure Spidey-(non)sense.

 

Creator: Titan Comics

Softcover, 128pp, $14.99

On sale December 2020

ISBN: 9781787735361

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

Comic Book Cats, number 121: Sensation Comics #7

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 15:05
Comic Book Cats, number 121: Sensation Comics starring Wonder Woman #7, drawn by H.G. Peter and written by William Moulton Marston, published by DC Comics in July 1942. This early Wonder Woman story features a plot by Nazi spies to take over the International Milk Company in order to deprive America’s children of the milk they need to grow up strong & healthy. Diana Prince investigates International Milk but is captured by their thugs and tossed into the back of a milk truck to drown. Transforming into Wonder Woman, she breaks out of the truck. A flood of milk spills out into the streets, which attracts a horde of hungry stray cats. Harry George Peter was born in San Rafael, California in March 1880. He had already been working as a newspaper illustrator for four decades when William Moulton Marston asked him to design the visual appearance of Wonder Woman in 1941. Peter was the primary Wonder Woman artist for 17 years, from the character’s debut in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941 until his death in 1958 at the age of 78. https://inkslingers.ink/…/h-g-peter-from-judge-to-wonder/
Categories: Comic Book Blogs

Exploring the Potential of Comic Book Video Games

First Comics News - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 14:53

As long as video games have been in the public consciousness, licensed titles have played their part. Comic book adaptions have been one of the longer-standing examples of this, where players have been exposed to decades of successful and unsuccessful translations. In general terms, these games have run the middle of the pack. There have been some, however, that have been major standouts and industry super-hits. Taking a look at some of these, we want to explore what it is about comics that made this success possible.

An Abundance of Choice

Ever since the arrival of Famous Funnies in 1933, comics have been a constant evolving hit. With so many themes and stories over the years, there has pretty much always been something to appeal to everyone. This means that developers and publishers who want to license a property always have something to draw from, able to select whatever they feel fits their game best.

Such variety doesn’t just benefit video games either, as it has also shown to be immensely successful in related interactive entertainment experiences such as online slots. Titles like Wonder Woman Gold lean on long-standing interest, giving instant recognisability. Indirectly, games like Thor: Hammer Time, while being based on Norse mythology, found success through obviously referencing the more culturally relevant Marvel property.



For traditional video games, the advantages of licensed comic properties depend on the skill of the developer. Created with the right amount of respect and reverence, this combination can be an enormously positive one. One of the most popular examples of this has been the Batman Arkham series of games.

Originating in 2009, this series was the best example seen until that point of illustrating the Batman mythos. In this game, no one man was a threat to Batman, with his special form of free-flow combat adding difficulty in the number of enemies fought at once. With a little skill, Batman could be played just as he is in the comics, a near-unstoppable punching machine. So successful was the combat, that it effectively created a new subgenre.

The same concepts also applied to Batman’s gadgets, where the developer Rocksteady Studios has decades of examples to draw from. These would expand over the length of the games, with Batman using his trademark adaptability to overcome each new obstacle as it appeared.

Contemporary Context

As a more modern example, at least until Rocksteady releases its new Suicide Squad game, there are the Spider-Man titles from Insomniac Games. With the first one released in 2018, these pursued the difficult idea of allowing a more realistic active world in which a superhero could play.

Set in Spider-Man’s home of New York, this game borrowed from the framework created by Arkham, raising it to new web-slinging heights. This was taken a step further with the re-release and expansion developed as a launch title for the PS5. Adopting ray-tracing technology, and higher frame-rates, the new game again raised the ceiling on what comic-book games could accomplish.



Taking a look at the big picture, and the pattern seems to be one of gaming tech constantly pushing the envelope of comic book settings and stories. With decades of examples to draw from, each tech upgrade lets developers stretch their legs more, and create games ever-closer to comic book ideals.

It might have started with 2D Spider-Men trying and failing to climb single buildings, but each new year pushed further and accomplished more. With modern systems having come so far, we can finally explore these worlds in a way that comic writers could formerly only dream of. Whether using the Batmobile to pull down walls or Spidey’s web-shooters to stick enemies to also walls, we can become active parts of the comic stories, and it’s only going to get better.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

You Can Play These Supreme D&D Characters, But Should You?

DM David - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 12:35

When I drafted my list of supreme character builds for Dungeons & Dragons, I originally included a section that asked, “You can play this, but should you?” The answer became this post, but why even ask?

In a comment, designer Teos “Alphastream” Abadia identified the supreme builds as enjoyable concepts, but “generally horrible at the table.” Although any character can fit the right game, some optimized builds reduce the fun at most tables. Teos writes, “For me, the biggest social contract item for players is to contain whatever optimization they cook up to reasonable and fun levels.”

D&D’s design aims to create a game where all a party’s characters get to contribute to the group’s success. When a single member of the group starts battles by one-shotting the monster with a huge burst of damage, or one character learns every skill to meet all challenges, then that character idles or overshadows the rest and makes the other players wonder why they showed up.

Most skilled

DM’s guild designer Andrew Bishkinskyi singles out one optimization to skip. “The most skilled character is made to do everything, and exists by design to exclude others from play, which I don’t want.”

Early editions of D&D embraced this kind of specialization. Thieves started as the only class with any capabilities resembling skills, but rated as nearly useless in a fight. Nowadays, D&D’s class designs aim give every class ways to contribute through all the game’s three pillars of exploration, combat, and roleplaying interaction.

Most damaging

Combat makes a big part of most D&D games, so characters optimized for extreme damage tend to prove troublesome. I’ve run public tables where newer players dealing single-digit damage would follow turns where optimized characters routinely dealt 50-some points. I saw the new folks trade discouraged looks as they realized their contributions hardly mattered. DM Thomas Christy has hosted as many online D&D games for strangers as anyone. He says, “I have actually had players complain in game and out about how it seemed like they did not need to be there.” In a Todd Talks episode, Jen Kretchmer tells about asking a player to rebuild a combat-optimized character. “The character was a nightmare of doing way more damage off the top, and no one else could get a hit in.” See Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D.

D&D’s strongest high-damage builds make ranged attacks from a distance. Such builds can leave the rest of the party to bear the monsters’ attacks. Teos Abadia writes, “Even if we don’t have character deaths or a TPK, a ranged character can create a frustrating situation for the other characters, who find themselves relentlessly beaten up, constantly targeted by saving throws, and harried by environmental and terrain damage. Over the course of a campaign, this can be tough for the party. Players may not even realize the cause. They simply find play frustrating and feel picked on. If the ranged player keeps saying, ‘hey, I didn’t even take any damage—again!’ the rest of the party might start to realize why.”

If you, like everyone, enjoy dealing maximum damage, I recommend a character powered by the Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master feats. See How to Build a D&D Polearm Master That Might Be Better Than a Sharpshooter. If you favor a ranged attacker, the strongest builds combine Sharpshooter, Crossbow Expert, and an Extra Attack feature. In a typical game, pick two.

Biggest damage novas

A few D&D players welcome characters capable of starting a fight with a huge burst of damage for an unexpected reason: These gamers find D&D’s combat pillar tiresome. By bringing a fight to an immediate end, a nova just brings the session back to their fun. Perhaps these games need a better approach to combat, or even a switch to a different game.

In groups more interested in roleplaying and exploration, players might not mind letting an optimized character showboat during the battles. Or perhaps others in the group feel content in roles other than damage dealing. Perhaps the bard and wizard both enjoy their versatility, the druid likes turning into a bat and scouting, and nobody minds letting you finish encounters at the top of round 1.

But most gamers enjoy a mix of the D&D’s three pillars. For these players, characters designed to start fights with maximum damage prove problematic because when they work, no one else participates. “The issue is that even if those characters don’t completely trivialize an encounter, they can reduce the fun of other players by taking a disproportionate amount of the spotlight,” writes @UncannyPally.

You can’t blame the players aiming for these builds. The occasional nova can create memorable moments.

“It’s only fun the first few times a character charges in and essentially one-shots the boss before you get to do anything,” writes @pocketfell. “And of course, upping the hp of the monsters just means that when the mega-damage PC doesn’t get lucky, it’s a slog through four times the usual number of hp.”

I suspect that D&D class features that power damage spikes steer the game in the wrong direction. However, I respect D&D’s designers and they seem to welcome such features. For example, paladins can smite multiple times per turn. In more recent designs, rangers with the Gloom Stalker archetype begin fights with an extra attack plus extra damage. The grave domain cleric’s Path to the Grave feature sets up one shots by making creatures vulnerable to the next attack.

Surely, the designers defending such features would cite 2 points:

  • Players relish the occasional nova. They can feel like an exploit that breaks the game, delivering a quick win.
  • Some spells shut down an encounter as well as massive weapon damage. Fair’s fair.

I argue that encounter-breaking spells rate as problematic too, but D&D traditionally limits such spells to a few spellcasting classes, often at higher levels and only once per day.

Highest AC

I accept that as a DM controlling the monsters, I will almost always lose. A defeat for my team evil counts as a win for the table, so I welcome the loss. But I must confess something:  For my fun, I like the monsters to get some licks in. Is that so wrong? Under suggestion and zone of truth, I suspect other DMs would echo the same admission. Some gamers even float the courageous suggestion that DMs deserve fun like the players.

A character with an untouchable AC doesn’t rob the spotlight from other players, but for DMs, such characters become tiresome. If you back up a maximum AC with, say, a class able to cast shield and block those rare hits, then your DM might not show disappointment when you miss game night.

To be fair, players who sell out for maximum defense wind up with few other strengths. These players enjoy their chance to shine at the end of every fight when they crow about not taking damage—again! I’ve learned to accept their source of bliss and welcome their characters. They may soak attacks, turning claw, claw, bite into useless flailing, but I can always add more attacks to go around.

Toughest

In theory, tough characters should trigger the same annoyance as untouchable characters, but the barbarians and Circle of the Moon druids actually suffer hits, so their durability feels different.

In tactically-minded parties, tough characters and characters with high AC fill a role by preventing monsters from reaching more fragile characters. If your group favors that play style, your DM surely dials up the opposition past very strong and also pairs smart foes with clever strategies. Optimized characters of all sorts often fit that style of play.

Fastest

Nobody minds a fast character. I love playing monks who speed around the battlefield stunning everything in their path. However, those stun attacks certainly bring less acclaim. See How to Build a D&D Monk So Good That DMs Want to Cheat.

Most healing

If you play the healer and miss game night, everyone feels disappointed. ’Nuff said.

Related:
If D&D Play Styles Could Talk, the One I Hate Would Say, “I Won D&D for You. You’re Welcome.”
10 Ways to Build a Character That Will Earn the Love of Your Party

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Re-post: God of the Storms

Just Call Me Pastor - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 04:08

I remember how abruptly storms came up during hot summer days on the prairies of Saskatchewan. 

It might be an oppressively steamy hot, sunny day. The air would be still. Then, to the west, a menacing dark cloud would form on the horizon. In a very short time it would expand and ascend to fill the sky.

Streetlights came on prematurely. In the semi-darkness the rain came in a torrent. Lightning flashed like a giant’s welding torch, followed by thunderclaps that shook the earth.  

After drenching the fields the storm moved on and the sun filled the sky again. Our world had been refreshed.

As a child, it was one thing to be caught running for home in terror during such a pyrotechnical display. It was another thing to be safe inside, looking out the window with a parent at one’s side. Nature’s fireworks were both terrifying and awe-inspiring.  

Psalm 29 is built on such a description. During his fugitive days the psalmist David must have watched many times from the mouth of a cave as the amazing drama in the heavens displayed this wonder. 

In his case, the storm would be coming in from the Mediterranean Sea — hence his statement that “the voice of the LORD is over the [mighty] waters…” (v. 3a).

It would have moved inland over Lebanon where it exerted its enormous strength on the mighty cedars of that region, snapping some of them as though they were spindly saplings (v. 5).

And as the wind drove sheets of rain across the forest, the trees bending back and forth in unison reminded him of a playful, skipping calf (v. 6a). The storm then drove further inland and toward the south where it showed its force over towering Mount Hermon (Sirion). Again it appeared to skip playfully, but here like a young wild ox (v. 6b).

Driving southward it washed over the desert in the southern regions of Kadesh, where it seemed without effort to twist the oaks and strip the forests bare (v. 9).

How should a devout observer consider such a demonstration of nature’s power? As the nasty work of some malevolent force? As nothing more than the unfeeling tricks of nature? As an act of Baal, whom the Canaanites worshiped as the storm god?

No, none of the above. Rather, the sight should fill us, as it did the psalmist, with an impulse to call all the unseen heavenly beings to praise the Almighty (vv. 1,2):

Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

        worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.

His closing words are no less exultant (vv. 10,11): 

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;

        the LORD is enthroned as King forever. 

The LORD gives strength to his people; 

        the LORD blesses his people with peace.

To enter the spirit of Psalm 29 is to enlarge our vision of our God. We worship him even while the wind blows and the thunder rumbles. He is God, not only over the storms, but over all.  

And we always remember that he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Threshold Jr – Nov 16th – Kahoot!

Mark Hughes (Church of the Rock) - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 22:26


***ANNOUNCEMENT***
Dear students and parents! We are introducing a new way for our students to connect during the lockdown! We will have spontaneous and scheduled meetings prompted over Discord.

Here’s what you need to know:
First, create a Discord user by downloading the application here.
Second, sign on to our Threshold Jr Discord server by clicking here.
You’ll be up to speed throughout the week!

This week!

Kahoot!
November 18th – Wednesday 7-9 pm
Just because we can’t move around for games doesn’t mean we can’t have fun! Everyone can join us on a couple of rounds of Kahoot for fast-food prizes! We will be talking about how to share your faith!
To join our Zoom service CLICK HERE.

&


Tuesday – Nov 17 – 3:30pm-4:15pm
Join us on Discord! Click here!

Next week!

Find Baby Yoda
November 25th – Wednesday 7-9 pm

Whoever can Find Baby Yoda the fastest will win a fast-food prize! Join us as we meet online and talk about what Christian myths are wrong about Jesus and walking with Him!
To join our Zoom service CLICK HERE.

The post Threshold Jr – Nov 16th – Kahoot! appeared first on Church of The Rock.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

High School Ministry – Nov 16th – Meet Whenever!

Mark Hughes (Church of the Rock) - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 20:21

***ANNOUNCEMENT***
Dear Parents & Students,
We will have multiple meetings as we hunker down in 2nd lockdown.
We will be hosting times to hang out with our students through Zoom Small Groups, gaming opportunities, Watch Parties, and our normal Online Youth Service.

Here’s what you need to know!
First, please download Discord for your device! You can do this by downloading the application here.
Second, add yourself to our High School Ministry Discord Server by clicking THIS LINK.

We will keep you informed on what’s coming up AND spontaneous hangouts!

This week’s events!



Among Us

Monday (Nov 16th) & Tuesday (Nov 17th) @ 2:00pm-2:45pm
JOIN on Discord HERE



Zoom Small Group
Monday – Nov 16thth – 7:30pm – 8:30 pm
Join our Zoom Small Group Study happening Monday nights for the lockdown! Anyone can join!
Join us by clicking here!

Kahoot!
Friday – Nov 20th – 7:30pm-8:30pm
Win a Kahoot round to win a free Fast Food Meal!
Join us on Zoom by clicking here.

The post High School Ministry – Nov 16th – Meet Whenever! appeared first on Church of The Rock.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Malsmoke operators abandon exploit kits in favor of social engineering scheme

Malwarebytes - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 18:00

Exploit kits continue to be used as a malware delivery platform. In 2020, we’ve observed a number of different malvertising campaigns leading to RIG, Fallout, Spelevo and Purple Fox, among others.

And, in September, we put out a blog post detailing a surge in malvertising via adult websites. One of those campaigns we dubbed ‘malsmoke’ had been active since the beginning of the year. What made it stand out was the fact it was going after top adult portals and had been continuing unabated for months.

Starting mid-October, the threat actors behind malsmoke appear to have phased out the exploit kit delivery chains in favor of a social engineering scheme instead. The new campaign is tricking visitors to adult websites with a fake Java update.

This change is significant because it drastically increases the target audience, no longer limiting it to Internet Explorer users running outdated software.

Top malvertiser for months

The malsmoke campaign derives its name from the most frequent payload it dropped via the Fallout exploit kit, namely Smoke Loader.

While we see a number of malvertising chains, the majority of them come from low quality traffic and shady ad networks. Malsmoke goes for high traffic adult portals, hoping to yield the maximum number of infections. For example, malsmoke has been present on xhamster[.]com, a site with 974 million monthly visits, on and off for months.

#Malsmoke malvertising campaign continues on xhamster and other top sites.

Also, #FalloutEK seems to have added a new anti-vm check that returns a 404 on the payload session. If your sandbox looks good, that last session should return a 200 and contain the binary. pic.twitter.com/qPaF6z9PKt

— MB Threat Intel (@MBThreatIntel) September 21, 2020 Figure 1: Tweet about continued malvertising attacks on popular adult site

Despite this successful run, malsmoke fell off our radar and we recorded its last activity on October 18. A couple of days prior (October 16), our telemetry registered a new malvertising campaign that uses a decoy page filled with adult images purporting to be movies.

  • Adult site: bravoporn[.]com/v/pop.php
  • Ad network: tsyndicate[.]com
  • BeMob Ad: d8z1u.bemobtrcks[.]com/
  • Decoy adult site: pornguru[.]online/B87F22462FDB2928564CED

A couple of weeks later, this campaign added a new domain as part of its redirect chain, but we can see that they are related (including the. same identifier marker in the URL)

  • Adult site: xhamster[.]com
  • Ad network: tsyndicate[.]com
  • Redirect: landingmonster[.]online
  • Decoy adult site: pornislife[.]online/B87F22462FDB2928564CED

That portal is used as a lure to get people to play adult videos that do not actually exist. Instead, users will be asked to download a fake Java update that is malicious.

Figure 2: Decoy adult template luring users with fake videos

A closer look at the template used and network indicators revealed that this latest malvertising campaign actually belongs to the same malsmoke threat actors that had previously used exploit kits.

Figure 3: Comparing template and traffic sequences between exploit kit and soc. engineering

We notice the same adult movie page template, with one minor fix (the typo in the page title which could have been due to the Russian keyboard layout).

Additionally, the latest domain name pornislife[.]online was registered with the same email address mikami9722@hxqmail[.]com tied to a number of other web properties previously related to malsmoke gates.

Figure 4: Same registrant email address used by malsmoke actors

The malsmoke operators ran successful exploit kit campaigns for several months but in October decided to switch them over to a new social engineering scheme. However, the malvertising chains remained similar as they kept abusing high traffic adult portals and the Traffic Stars ad network.

New social engineering trick

The new scheme works across all browsers, including the one with the largest market share, Google Chrome. Here’s how it works: when clicking to play an adult video clip, a new browser window pops up with what looks a grainy video (black bars are ours):

Figure 5: Adult video clip used as lure

The movies plays for a few seconds with audible sound in the background until an overlay message is displayed telling users that the “Java Plug-in 8.0 was not found”.

The movie file is a 28 second MPEG-4 clip that has been rendered with a pixelated view on purpose. It is meant to let users believe they need to download a missing piece of software even though this will not help in any way at all.

Figure 6: Video clip was customized by the threat actor

The threat actors could have designed this fake plugin update in any shape or form. The choice of Java is a bit odd, though, considering it is not typically associated with video streaming. However, those who click and download the so-called update may not be aware of that, and that’s really all that matters.

Figure 7: Fake Java update dialog

This fake dialog is reminiscent of the missing ‘HoeflerText font’ campaign used in the EITest traffic redirection schemes. EITest was also known for using exploit kits to distribute malware and at some point switched to a similar social engineering trick to target more users, especially those running the Chrome browser.

Payload analysis

The threat actors essentially developed their own utility to download a remote payload that had the advantage of not being easily detected. If you recall, malsmoke previously relied on Smoke Loader to distribute its payloads, whereas now it has its very own loader, thanks a new evasive MSI installer.

Figure 8: Payload installation flow, leading to ZLoader

The fake Java update (JavaPlug-in.msi) is a digitally signed Microsoft installer that contains a number of libraries and executables, most of which are legitimate.

Figure 9: Contents of MSI installer

On installation, lic_service.exe loads HelperDll.dll which is the most important module responsible for deploying the final payload.

Figure 10: Code invoking HelperRun DLL

HelperDll.dll uses the curl library that is present in the MSI archive to download an encrypted payload from moviehunters[.]site.

Figure 11: Request to backend server for actual payload

This is the ZLoader malware, which is then written to disk and ran as:

%AppData%\Roaming\microsoft_shared.tmp

ZLoader injects itself into a new msiexec.exe process to contact its command and control server using a Domain Generation Algorith (DGA). Once it identifies a domain that responds, it starts downloading different modules and optionally an update to ZLoader itself.

Figure 12: Post infection traffic, showing ZLoader gate

On the left of Figure 12, we can see the traffic generated by ZLoader implants injected into msiexec.exe. On the right, we can see those implants dumped from the same process. You can find more information on ZLoader and its implants in our paper The “Silent Night” Zloader/Zbot.

Evolving web threats

Malsmoke was one of the most noticeable distributors of malvertising and exploit kits striking on high profile websites.

While we thought the threat actor had gone silent, they simply changed tactics in order to further grow their operations. Instead of targeting a small fraction of visitors to adult sites that were still running Internet Explorer, they’ve now extended their reach to all browsers.

In the absence of high value software vulnerabilities and exploits, social engineering is an excellent option as it is cost effective and reliable. As far as web threats go, such schemes are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Malwarebytes Browser Guard already protected users from this malvertising campaign. Additionally, we detect the MSI installer and ZLoader payloads via our Malwarebytes for Windows.

Figure 13: Malwarebytes Browser Guard blocking redirector Indicators of Compromise

Redirector:

landingmonster[.]online

Decoy adult portal:

pornislife[.]online

MSI installer:

87bfbbc345b4f3a59cf90f46b47fc063adcd415614afe4af7afc950a0dfcacc2

First C2:

moviehunters[.]site

ZLoader:

4a30275f14f80c6e11d5a253d7d004eda98651010e0aa47f744cf4105d1676ab

ZLoader C2s:

iqowijsdakm[.]ru
wiewjdmkfjn[.]ru
dksaoidiakjd[.]su
iweuiqjdakjd[.]su
yuidskadjna[.]su
olksmadnbdj[.]su
odsakmdfnbs[.]com
odsakjmdnhsaj[.]com
odjdnhsaj[.]com
odoishsaj[.]com

The post Malsmoke operators abandon exploit kits in favor of social engineering scheme appeared first on Malwarebytes Labs.

Categories: Techie Feeds

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