Friday, April 17, 2015

Chill: The Black Dog Bites At Midnight

Last Monday I ran Chill. I'll skip the excuses for why I haven't done the write-up and just do the damn write-up.

We ended last time with Ian having been chomped by the Hound, and everyone deciding to sleep on it and do more research in the morning. The next morning, though, they got a call from Liam - the Hound had struck again.

This time it was in a vacant lot, and the victim was Angus Blackburn, the man that Ian had gotten into a scuffle with the day before. Liam met them at the scene, but the cops were already there - they couldn't do the up close investigation they had the day before. Agnes and Kitti asked Liam to pull a file about the Hound (since it's plagued Edinburgh before), and he said he'd meet them at HQ.

Robert, Ian, and Tori tried to check out the crime scene from across the street. Ian apparently had a good view (he got a Colossal success), and saw that the body had been pushed up against a concrete divider. Angus' wallet chain was broken - he'd been robbed as well as murdered. They saw a smear of blood where the body had been moved.

The characters went to the block of flats across the street and start knocking on doors (and realized that no one except Ian has any Interview specializations, and his is Interrogation, which isn't conducive to friendly questioning - that'll be some Development Points, then!). They chatted with a few folks before they got a decent result, but learned that somewhere around 2 to 3 AM, fog rolled in, some residents heard howling and then screaming. One resident saw a guy run in and grab Angus' wallet, but thought that Angus was still alive at the time.

Anges and Kitti went back to HQ and started looking through the file; the others joined them when they returned. The file described an encounter with the Hound in the late 1970s. The Hound killed two envoys and four civilians before the envoys managed to stab it in the throat. The civilians knew each other only peripherally; they were coming home from a concert together. One man - the driver of the van coming from that concert - was still alive, and living in an old folks' home.

Agnes went to talk with him, and learned that he'd met the other folks at the concert and together they'd walked back to his car. On the way, one of them had broken a branch from a dead tree, but the branch had a white flower at the end. They'd smelled it - it was sweet - and then forgot all about it. But after that, the Hound had come for them, and killed them all (except him; SAVE had intervened before it got to him).

And where was this concert? Why, it was in a park that's no longer used for concerts. Now people pay to camp there.

The envoys went back to the campsite and searched, and sure enough, found a broken branch with a white flower (they didn't smell it). The whole area was saturated with the Unknown. They called up Liam to figure out how they could destroy the tree without getting arrested - destroy the tree, they reckon, and prevent the release/summoning of future Hounds.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monsterhearts: Debts and Smoke

So it's been a while, but we finally managed to play Monsterhearts yesterday, and kept our brutal mojo going.

Last time, recall, Genesis' brother Bastion had died due to smoke-jaguar thing that Erika had called up. We fast-forward a couple of hours. Most of the characters are at the Midnite Diner, having food and coping, while Genesis is down the beach, brooding. Skylar goes after Genesis, and talks with her, trying to get her mind off her brother...and off revenge. Skylar turns her on, and they go into the water for sex (Skylar's dead, the cold doesn't bother him). Genesis gets a String on Briar through her sex move, and asks Skylar why he's being so nice now, as opposed to when she first came up on land. Skylar says Genesis is more human now. Skylar asks Genesis how her died; Genesis doesn't know.

At the diner, the characters discuss what happened. Erika goes into the bathroom, rips up the book that she found, lights a match and calls up Chantico. She berates the "goddess," yelling, and a waitress comes in. She inhales the smoke and Chantico possesses her, causes her eyes to burn like fire. Chantico says that Erika was the one that asked for a way to find a thief; she merely provided what was asked of her. Erika indicates that she's through with this relationship; Chantico warns against it. The waitress coughs up the smoke, but Chantico leaves her blind. Ambulances are called, and the characters leave the diner.

Cassi agrees to drive Erika home. En route, Cassi gazes into the abyss to find out who Erika's "friend" is. She sees Erika standing before a mirror, with the beautiful and resplendent Chantico in the reflection, but behind that form is a blackened, burnt thing with its hands inside the goddess' back, controlling her. Cassi realizes to free Erika, she needs to break the mirror and expose "Chantico."

They talk on the way, and Cassi tells her that she needs to stop, to not draw on Chantico's gifts anymore. And then she smells smoke. The car is on fire! Erika holds steady but fails; the car door opens and Erika is yanked out, the door slamming behind her. Cassi holds steady and fails, suffering Harm as the smoke gets thicker. Chantico talks to Erika, saying that she's not ready to "break up" yet, and make Erika promise not to try and get rid of her. Erika agrees, the door opens, and the two of them start walking to Erika's house.

Briar and Austin go back to Austin's house. Briar sleeps, and gazes into the abyss, trying to figure how to "get the smoke off their fingers," as Baron said last time. She sees herself with Erika, and smoke rising up. Briar inhales it and keeps it away from Erika. This leaves Briar drained.

Erika drives Cassi home, and then leaves. She gazes into the abyss to try and find Dora, and sees herself wandering in smoke. She fans it away and can see Dora (and others), but it rushes back to her.

Skylar walks Genesis home, and Genesis gazes into the abyss to find how to take revenge on Baron and Erika. She sees Erika drowning in a whirlpool - simple enough. She sees her storm destroy the lighthouse, but realizes that although that would harm Baron, it would also destroy Rook's soul as well.

Skylar, walking away from Genesis' house, also gazes into the abyss and asks who knows how she died. She realizes that Ash knows so she heads for the graveyard. Sure enough, Ash is there (isn't like he sleeps). Skylar spends a String on Ash and offers XP to learn how she died. Ash tells her - Skylar was about to commit suicide by jumping off the pier into the ocean, but changed her mind at the last minute. But then a great big wave came and washed her in anyway. Skylar, now remembering this, realizes that Genesis walked ashore following that wave, too. Skylar takes Ash back to Rook's house, and they stay up playing Xbox.

The next morning, Briar decides it's time for an intervention for Erika. She rounds everyone up, and they drive out to get Erika. They take her to a park, and tell her that her actions are dangerous, and she needs to get rid of "Chantico." They go to Briar's house and hit the books, and Briar realizes that this thing isn't Chantico - it's a dark power using the goddess' name. She puts the secret weakness condition on it...but then everyone smells smoke.

The doorknob is hot, but Ash, being a skeleton, can grab it (he succeeds to hold steady). Everyone leaves, but the door slams shut at the end, trapping Genesis and Erika in the library (I spent a String on Erika). Skylar dissipates and walks through the door.

Erika talks with Chantico, and Genesis, furious, tries to use ocean's breath, but fails. She and Erika take Harm from the smoke. Genesis goes to try again, and Skylar spends a String to make her hold steady. She does, though, and uses ocean's breath to have the ocean take something away.

Meanwhile, outside, Austin shudders and his eyes become flames. Briar kisses him (and spends a String to help her manipulate an NPC) and sucks out the smoke. Austin collapses.

Inside, Erika lashes out physically to smash the window. She does, but takes a point of Harm. The ocean rushes in, and knocks her back. Skylar grabs Erika to hold her down, trying to get the demon out. Erika holds steady and fails, taking her fourth Harm and drowning.

But Erika isn't ready to die. She uses numbing it out and recovers. The door explodes outward. Briar holds steady and coughs the smoke into the water, where it swirls away.

But Austin isn't breathing.

Briar starts CPR while Cassi calls for an ambulance. Ash realizes that death is here for Austin...unless some magical method is employed, he's dead. Erika realizes she could save him, but it would involve giving Chantico more leverage. She tries to put it to a vote, but Briar calls her a coward and tells her not to do it. Genesis tells her that this is on her - and so is Bastion. Erika leaves, storming away.

Briar, not knowing what else to do, calls Baron. Time stops. Baron agrees to revive Austin, but makes it clear that someone owes him a life. But he also makes it clear that if Briar does what he wants in return, they can get Rook back.

Austin revives, and holds on to Briar.

Elsewhere, Erika goes into a drugstore and comes out with two mirrors.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Love is Action, and Action is Effort

I say "love is action" a lot. It's a useful mindset, in my humble opinion, because it neatly dodges some of the issues in abusive relationships (for any value of abuse). "Oh, but she loves me." Sure, but how do you know that? What does she do that's loving? (Swap the gender, it still works, I just default to "she" because I write for Onyx Pat.)

You can extrapolate that principle out to work in relationships beyond intimate ones, though. Not to get all Carlo Summers on you, but I really do believe in thinking and acting in friendly, loving ways. I fuck it up sometimes, I admit, I get angry or frustrated and I get grouchy. But I really do try to at least empathize with other people, even - especially - people I don't and will never know, even people who would probably hate me. It's hard to do sometimes (often), but I find it helps for a few reasons:

1) I don't want to be angry all the time. There are people in the world who, whether under the banner of race, gender, "ethics in game journalism," "real talk," or whatever else, actively make the world worse. Sometimes they do that by shooting people, sometimes they do that by making anonymous death threats, sometimes they do that by just propping up other people who do the really horrible stuff by saying "not all whatevers." Those people, by their actions, are clearly not loving, and maybe they don't feel any need to be. Maybe they feel the world hasn't given them their due so they don't need to give anything back. Whatever. I can't be angry with them all the time, and my solution to that is to avoid making judgments about what they are and stick to making judgments about what they do. Hair-splitting? Maybe, but it's helpful to me.

2) I like people. I like talking to people, I like hearing people's stories. I like learning about people's viewpoints and I like it when people are interested and enthusiastic and happy. And that is one of my biggest reasons for being as gung-ho about inclusion and diversity and feminism and so on: I want all voices at the table. But if your voice is mostly defined by what you don't like, what you don't accept, what you don't want to hear, well, I'm not as interested. (Yes, there are folks who are highly feminist who mostly define themselves by what they hate. I don't like that negativity, but I'm much more inclined to listen to it, because the truth of the matter is that some voices are routinely silenced and some aren't, and as one of the "not silenced" ones, it behooves me to STFU and listen.)

3) I find the following phrases to be lazy and unpleasant: "People are stupid." "I hate people." "Nuke it from orbit." I totally get where they come from, but I have no time for misanthropy. I say "lazy" because it's so damned easy to spout platitudes and to be negative. It closes you off, so that means you don't have to make the effort to understand people. Also, if you're coming from a place of hate, then you assume everyone else is either. No need to try and understand why people act the way they do if the answer is either "because they suck" or "fuck 'em."

I have a theory that a lot of modern-day stress comes from the fact that our social circles are so much bigger than our Monkeysphere can handle, because of the advent of social media. I have 717 friends on Facebook as of this writing. I have no idea who most of them are; they're folks that friend me because of my gaming work. But even if we strip out those folks, there are probably several hundred people that I do know or did know at one point, but that are not really part of my life. Can I, from a emotional/mental bandwidth perspective, care about those people?

No, not unless they become part of my life. I had a really interesting moment yesterday; I realized, actively, that there was someone on my feed that I wanted to know better. I thought about our exchanges on Facebook, and though, "I would like this person in my Monkeysphere. I would like to know this person in real life."

I don't have that realization often, but the truth of the matter is, I'm open to it from most people. It's not the active emotional investment with individuals that I cultivate, because that way lies madness. It's the potential for that investment, for not closing myself off until I have enough data to do it.

Positive outlook? Sure. But mostly it's about remaining emotional neutral, with a slight skew toward favorable, about any given person until I have a reason not to (or to feel more strongly).

That works for me. It might not work for you, but I'm happy to hear what does.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Character Creation: World of Dew

I'm averaging about one character a month. I'd love to up that to every two weeks, but I've been busy. I'm not going to continue italicizing the last word in every sentence, I promise.

The Game: World of Dew
The Publisher: Woerner's Wunderwerks
Degree of Familiarity: None, really. I'm going to run this game sometime soon, but life, etc.
Books Required: Just the one, although there is now a Companion book, which I don't own.

World of Dew is billed as "samurai noir detective stories," and it's called a sequel to +John Wick's Blood & Honor, which I also don't own. +Benjamin Woerner wrote World of Dew to tell the stories of this era of Japan without focusing so much on the samurai, and that sounds really cool, but the minute the word "samurai" gets mentioned I'm a little out of my depth.

I'm finding, as I'm reading World of Dew, though, that it's very accessible and doesn't waste words, which is really nice. There's also a city creation mechanic, which I'm very fond of (you can see such mechanics in many Fate games, including Dresden Files, and something similar in my upcoming Chill 3rd Edition). I'm not going to make a city by myself, however, just a character.

So! I hunt myself up a character sheet and get to work.

Step 0: Concept. As in most games, I need to start with some idea of what I'd like to play. I've done a noir game or two (this is one of my favorites), and played some detectives. Again, I'm less familiar with the setting, here (my brain keeps going to wuxia, which is not the same thing). Hmm.

Well, skipping ahead to the Giri, I'm tempted by both Yakuza and Doctor. The idea of playing a kind of "mob doctor" is interesting. Also I like tattoos. I guess it cooks down to whether I want to do jobs for an oyabun or if I want to heal people in play.

I don't play healers very often, so I think I'll say that my character is a doctor whose brother is an important Yakuza. He always wanted to join the organization, protect his neighborhood, but his brother felt that his incisive mind would be better used by learning medicine. So my concept is "Neighborhood Doctor."

Step One is Giri, which is Duty. Mine's easy: Doctor. My ability is that I can heal folks, my benefit is that whatever my actual social rank, other folks can't use their rank against me in a wager because I'm a doctor. I also get a Glory reputation, so I take "Yakuza Doctor" (basically my doc is proud of his family and isn't always shy about letting people know that).

Step Two is Social Rank, Honor, and Ninjo. I can pick whatever Social Rank I want, but if my brother is a Yakuza, I might have the same status...oh, wait, they're Hinin, which is a little different. I guess we'll go Peasant? That gives me 1 Honor and 2 Ninjo.

Step Three is Name and Virtue Bonus. Well, since I'm not a samurai or a gaijin, I don't get a family name, so I take a quick look at some name sites, and find "Saburo", which apparently is a name traditionally given to the third son. I kinda like that, his name being defined by his birth order and place in the family. We know his eldest brother is Yakuza, so let's say his middle brother died in service to the Yakuza, which led his big brother to push him to other things.

For my Virtue Bonus, I'll take Courage. Wisdom would make more sense, but, y'know.

Step Four: Choose Virtue. Much like in Houses of the Blooded, I get to prioritize these, but one of them is my weakness, so I don't get a rank there. So, let's see.

I think I want Wisdom as my Rank 4; my brother was right about me. I get two at Rank 3, so I'll put one as Courage (making it Rank 4, because that's my bonus) and one as Prowess (grew up with the Yakuza, can kick ass when necessary). For my two at 2, I'll take Beauty and Strength; just OK at both. And I'll take Cunning as my Weakness; seeing the big picture was never Saburo's strong point.

Step Five is age. I'm in the Spring phase, and I roll a 6, whatever that means.

Step Six is Aspects. Unlike Fate, where you're encouraged to make up Aspects, here we have a list, but we can make them up if we'd like. I'll look through the existing ones and see if I like 'em. Aspects come with an invoke (I can use it in this circumstance) and a compel (it can be used to make me do things). I should take that represents my Giri, one that represents my past, and one that represents what I want to be.

Well, I like Dumplings Rather Than Flowers; I'm only interested in useful stuff. I think that's my past one (since I went to learn medicine rather than getting all tatt'd up and pretty).

I also like Luck Exists, which has me very pragmatic and utilitarian; I solve problems, regardless of where that takes me.

Finally, what do I want to be...hmm. How about Entering the Tiger's Cave? I want to be brave, like big brother.

Step Seven is Advantage. I pick Ally: My brother, Kenta. I can declare Three True Things about him, so let's do that. 1) He's a martial arts master. 2) Wants revenge on our brother's killer. 3) Has plans for me.

I could take a Flawed Virtue, but honestly none of them appeal under Courage, and I think I'm OK with just the one Advantage.

Step Eight is Relationships, but I don't do that because it's just me.

So I think that's me done. Neat!


Movie #305: Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder is a horror/psychodrama directing by Adrian Lynn and starring Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, and Danny Aiello. I'm hard pressed to explain why I own it.

Well, that's not entirely true. There was a video store in Toledo called Video Connection (see, folks younger than 30, it used to be that you couldn't download or stream movies and there was no Netflix, so you went to a store to rent video cassettes). They'd mark their surplus movies down to $5, and I'd buy a couple at a time, sometimes sight unseen, because, like, fuck it?

So I bought a lot of movies that I otherwise wouldn't have, and Jacob's Ladder seems to have been among them.

Anyway, the movie opens in Viet Nam, with Jacob "The Professor" Singer (Robbins) being all soldiery. Then things go crazy and he...wakes up a few years later in New York, living with a woman named Jezebel (Pena), but divorced from Sarah (Patricia Kalember) following the death of his young son Gabe (Maculay Culkin). He's seeing things - demons, faceless men, plain old weirdness - and starts unraveling a conspiracy that leads him to believe that the weed the soldiers in his unit was laced with a psychoactive chemical to make them all crazy-killer, and they slaughtered each other.

But no - really, he's back in Nam. He's been stabbed in the stomach, and is dying, and the movie ends with him (in his visions) accepting that his life is over and following Gabe upstairs, presumably to the afterlife.

Taken at face value, the movie seems jumbled. But taken as a whole and with attention to the role of Louis (Aiello) as the angelic chiropractor, who explains that the demons tearing Jacob's life apart are really just trying to help him let go of mortal existence, then the movie makes a lot more sense - it's the last moments of a dying man clinging to life so fervently that he makes up a future life, rather than just reliving a past one.

So that's kind of cool, actually, and it makes the movie improve on a second viewing because the viewer, like Jacob, can let go of the details and focus on the bigger message, which is, apparently, if you're dying of a stab wound in the jungle, fighting the inevitable only makes it more painful.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Jason X

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chill!

Last Monday was Chill, and I've been in New Orleans all week, working on Beast when I'm at the computer. So, haven't really had a chance to do this update. But I'm gonna do it now!

Last time, which was a good long while ago, the characters found the dead body of Donald McGovern and figured it was the infamous spectral hound of Edinburgh what done him in. This time, they split up to do some recon and research.

Tori and Robert went to the morgue, and consulted with Jordan McElroy, the coroner. McGovern's body had been stripped and cleaned, so now they could see what damage the dog had done. And indeed it had - McGovern had several bites, about the size that would come from a Great Dane. The one that killed him was on his thigh, pulling out a good-sized chunk of flesh and severing the femoral artery. He also had ligature marks on his wrists from where the trees had wrapped around them, holding him in place.

His blood screen came back showing THC and alcohol, but nothing more exotic. Tori and Robert sneaked into evidence and found his cell phone, and Tori used her Power Surge discipline to fry it (since her email was in it).

Meanwhile, Agnes and Ian went looking in bars for Angus Blackburn, one of the folks who'd been at the park the night before. They found him, but he wasn't much in the mood to talk. Ian tried to threaten him into talking, but Angus hit him over the head with a bottle, bloodying him up. Agnes got in the middle and calmed everyone down, and Angus told them a little more - they'd been camping, Donald had heard a noise and seen the fog creeping up, and then came the screams. Angus wasn't proud of it, but he'd run away with the rest of them.

Kitti looked up some information about the hound. She found that the hound seemed to target people and harry them until they ran into the fog, whereupon it bit them to death. She wasn't able to find much about how it chose people - some stories seemed to indicate it targeted sinners, but those stories were churchy in nature, so that seemed suspect. It did seem like once the hound has your scent, it follows you.

The others came back, and Robert pulled glass out of Ian's head (Emergency Medic!). They looked into the other folks who'd been there that night, and found that Peter Wilson and Karen Brown had gone to London. Their Facebook pages indicated that they had, in fact, left town. The envoys thought of taking a quick flight to London to track them down, but first, Tori, Ian, and Kitti decided to check out their apartment.

They found a cat with a bowl of food, some empty drawers - looked like they'd left in something of a rush, but they'd made time to make sure the cat was OK. Searching the apartment yielded nothing out of the ordinary. And then the fog started creeping in...outside the building, then out in the hall.

The characters backed up into the bedroom, and heard howling and snarling. The fog out in the hall had eyes in it. Ian flung a broomstick at the eyes, but heard no yelp. The dog jumped forward and bit Ian, but its fangs drew no blood. Tori threw a cast iron skillet at it, but it passed through the dog harmlessly. Kitti swiped at it with a knife, and caught its throat, which made it yelp. The dog faded into the mist, and they helped Ian to the car.

Back at HQ, they treated his wounds (again) and found that the flesh looked damage as though from frostbite. Now they'd seen the hound, and apparently found a weakness - its throat. But now it has their scent.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Promethean: Fires and Frying Pans

So! Last time, Avalon was flying around in bolt-fly form, and then got grabbed and tossed into a bag. Oh, dear.

Feather saw this happen from the apartment. Grimm told her to open the door, and he used Chimera to turn into a pigeon. He flew out, swooped up over their car, turned into a grizzly bear, and dropped on the hood of the car.

Let that image sink in.

The three men did exactly what you would do in such a situation - ran like fuck. Matt chased one of them and tackled him. Grimm charged after the other two in bear form (bears are fast!), but when they ran out into the lighted streets, he changed back to human form and tackled one.

And then, from beside him, heard, "Freeze! Put your hands up!" Grimm was arrested (which, silver lining, turned out getting arrested is a milestone for him), handcuffed, and tossed, naked, in the back of a police car.

Meanwhile, the others rocked up on the guy that Matt had tackled, but they weren't very scary...until Avalon, having rejoined her body, used her Terrify Alembic on the guy. Panicking, he revealed who'd sent them: Devon Parker. And then he ran away.

The Prometheans chatted a bit about what that meant, and then Feather realized that Grimm was missed and was a couple of miles away. They tracked his signal, and wound up at the police station.

Meanwhile, Grimm was booked (hoping his hands didn't belong to anyone too terrible or, like, known to be dead), and placed in a room. A detective asked him what had happened, and he claimed he'd been at home with his girlfriend, naked for a good reason, and had seen someone spying through the window. He'd given chase, naked, and tackled the guy. The cop didn't quite buy it, however. Grimm gave his girlfriend's name as Robin Schwartz (Feather's alternate ID), but couldn't provide a phone number.

Feather and Avalon went into the station (since girls go places together, Avalon noted), carrying Grimm's clothes. They weren't allowed to see him, but Robin was interviewed by the detective and gave a statement. She more or less aid what he did, except that she didn't offer up the "naked" bit initially, and said that there were multiple people staring in the window with binoculars. The detective took her statement, but said that Grimm (or rather, Craig Wizowski) would be booked in the morning, and they'd need to come to the courthouse.

Meanwhile, Avalon struck up a conversation with the cop on desk duty. She also saw a very well-dressed man come in, and say "Donald Shaw, attorney for My. Billings."

The Prometheans went back to the apartment, rather dejected and pissed. Avalon mentioned the expensive attorney she'd seen, and wondered if that had any connection. Enoch tried to call Parker, but left a message with his answering service. Without anything to do, the characters waited until morning.

In said morning, Feather called the JCC (she'd been working for them) and asked for a recommendation for an attorney. They gave her a number for Jacob Siegel, who quoted a price that made Feather cough a little (but in fairness, any lawyer's retainer would have), but Enoch remembered he'd stolen a bunch of money from Calogero's warehouse and volunteered it (making a milestone, share or donate something ill-gotten). They headed to the courthouse.

Meanwhile, at the jail, Grimm was shackled and loaded into a van. He heard mumbling outside, and kicked on Somatic Humour to listen in. He heard two men talking about him in a way that made it clear that he wasn't being taken to court.

At court, the characters met with Mr. Siegel. Feather told her story again, admitting (falsely) that she and Grimm had been having sex at the time of the altercation, which clearly made her uncomfortable. Siegel said something was weird about this whole thing - someone very powerful was applying pressure, and Billings (the guy Grimm had tackled, who was now pressing assault charges) was being represented by Shaw, a mob lawyer. Siegel said he'd work to untangle this, but for now, just settle in.

But Grimm wasn't even there. He got out of the van into bright lights, and his hands and feet were locked into an iron contraption. He tried to shapeshift to get away, but failed. A hand grabbed a big-ass syringe from the table next to him....and next time, we'll figure out why.