Thursday, February 22, 2018

Movie #448: Multiplicity

Multiplicity is a mid-90s comedy starring a seriously overworked Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Harris Yulin, Richard Masur, Eugene Levy, Ann Cusack, and John de Lancie.

Doug Kinney (Keaton) is a contractor and construction supervisor who works too much, has no time for his loving wife Laura (MacDowell) or his kids (Zack Duhame and Katie Schossberg), or to complete the projects he's started on his house. On a job, he meets a fellow named Dr. Leeds (Yulin) who promises him a miracle, but what Leeds does is make clones.

I want to detour here and talk about the cloning as depicted in this movie. The clones Leeds produces are exact duplicates of a person at the time of cloning, meaning that cloning a 35-year-old Doug means you don't get an embryonic Doug, you get another 35-year-old Doug with the same memories up to the point of cloning. That means that the cloning process is so exact that it's created perfect replicas of the subjects brain cells, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Say Doug injured his knee playing football in college. Does the clone still feel the ache when it rains? If it does, it's that because of stress on the knee or just the memory of the pain? The mind boggles.

(Or I could be overthinking this and screenwriter, Chris Miller, who also wrote Animal House, may have just taken a very Saturday morning cartoon approach to cloning. Either/or.)

Anyway, Doug's clone takes over the work, leaving Doug to help with the kids, but he finds that overwhelming because he hasn't been doing it for years so it's basically like having a totally new job, so he gets another clone to do that, but then discovers that not only is managing three clones (because the clones make a clone to do chores at home, more on that later) impossible, but now he's getting frozen out of his own life. Eventually Laura leaves him, he pulls his head out of his ass, fixes up his house, and the clones hit the trails.

OK. I am about to give this movie more analysis than it deserves. Ignore the science for a moment. Ignore the fact that not only do the clones' personalities diverge from Doug-prime, but they do so immediately and radically (Three, f'rex, is made to help with home and family stuff and becomes not only good at it, where Doug was terrible, but weirdly effeminate). Even ignore the quasi-offensive Four (he's "special", you see, because he's the clone of a clone, which makes literally no goddamn sense). Let's talk about some other shit.

Laura has sex with all three clones in the same night. She has sex with all three clones in the same night thinking they're all Doug. Now, we've established at this point in the movie that Laura has noticed that Doug is acting strange (because she's interacting with three different Dougs; not so much Four, but we'll get to that), but she apparently gets kinda caught up here. To put it extremely fucking mildly, this plays a bit fast and loose with the topic of consent, dunnit, but that's never addressed, and in fact Laura closes out the movie seeing a car full of Dougs and not acknowledging it (not that "my husband cloned himself" is a reasonable position to have come to, granted).

And then there's minor logistical stuff, like how is their family's budget coping with suddenly feeding three extra people, one of whom eats literally nonstop? Does Laura not notice this? Either she doesn't notice that the food bills have gone through the roof, that Doug is suddenly going through three times as many pairs of underwear, and that there's a charge to the local mini-mart every day (Two says he gets his dinner there every night), or Doug's been doing the finances all along and is find this money somewhere. Sure, the movie starts with Laura going back to work and she's doing well, but still.

Anyway, plot weirdness and uncomfortable stuff aside, the movie has funny moments. Keaton is a gifted comic actor, and he does well imbuing the clones with their own personality (though it's better when it's more subtle, like the play between Doug-prime and Two, than with the over-the-top Three and Four). MadDowell, as Daniel O'Brien points out here, got tricked by magic a lot in the 90s and that's really her only function here, although he's at least a well-enough realized character that you remember she's there, unlike basically every other supporting character in this movie. In general, though, it's not one of Ramis' better ones.

My Grade: C-
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: The Mummy

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Character Creation: The Whispering Road

Home sick today, figured I'd make a character and get caught up.

The Game: The Whispering Road
The Publisher: Brent P. Newhall's Musaeum
Degree of Familiarity: None, but it's like 30 pages long.
Books Required: Just the one.

The Whispering Road is a storytelling game inspired by the works of Miyazaki, so it's drawing on some of the same thematic elements as Golden Sky Stories. In this game, though, you don't play as animal spirits (characters are ordinary people). I like the principles of the game (taking the focus off combat, rewarding selfless action and community), and I like the idea of gentle roleplaying with a softer focus (I've been rolling an idea for a game kinda like that in my head for a while, now, I'm just not sure what to do with it).

Anyway! There's no character sheet for this game, so I won't have anything to upload. Life's like that.

Whispering Road is GM-less, but has a Driver (to keep the story moving forward) and a Narrator (who keeps the story on track and progressing more or less according to the outline). I'm here for it.

Normally we'd pick a setting ("dirty steampunk city") and set some parameters ("no sex," "dragons live in the hills," "children will never be in mortal danger", etc.) but since it's just me I think I'll skip that and get to work on my character. A character is built from an Archetype, a Need, and 5 Traits.

Well, starting with Archetype, if I were actually going to play this game I'd almost certainly make an Ordinary Hero, but it might be fun to make a Special One (the character with the magic or the destiny). So, sure, let's go with that. My character's name is Wax. He's the son of the local candlestick maker, and the other kids in the area call him "Wax" because he's always got wax on his fingers and clothes and shoes. But he knows more than just how to make candles: he can lock things (a promise, a memory, a whisper) inside a candle so it's released when the candle burns.

Next up, I do a Need. The Need is structured as "I need [thing], but [other character works against that]." I want Wax's need to be bound up in candle-making, obviously, but a need to prove myself seems a little on the nose. Taking a little inspiration from Kubo & The Two Strings, I think I'll say that Wax's mom had her memory bound into a candle, and Ty, the Rascal, took that candle and sold it, but he can't remember who to. Wax doesn't hold a grudge (much), but he does want his mother back.

Finally, I get five Traits. Oh, hang on, I get 4, because Candle-Maker is one of mine. Cool. I can double up on these, so I think I'll take Candle-Maker twice, and then three more. I'll take Bag of Wonders, Everyone Likes Me (Relational), and Thoughtful (Intellectual).

And that's it, actually. I should play this with Cael.

Wax

Archetype: Special One
Need: I need to get my mom back, but Ty forgot who he sold her memory-candle to.
Traits: Candle-Maker x2, Bag of Wonders, Everyone Likes Me, Thoughtful

Movie #447: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is a movie based on the play by will.i.am Shakespeare, directed by Joss Whedon, and stars Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Sean Maher, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Spencer Treat Clark, and Riki Lindhome.

So, it's the play with some minor edits, but in case you don't know: Leonato (Gregg) is a politician welcoming Don Pedro, the prince (Diamond) back from war, along with young Claudio (Kranz) and the witty and bitter Benedick (Denisof). Claudio is in love with Leonato's daughter Hero (Morgese), and Benedick has feelings for her cousin Beatrice (Acker), though both Beatrice and Benedick are vocal in their criticism of love and marriage. Meanwhile, Don Juan (Maher), the prince's bastard brother, is just here to make trouble.

So Claudio is set to marry Hero while everyone sets up Benedick and Beatrice, which totally works, but then Don Juan's cronies (Lindhome and Clark) make it seem like Hero was totally getting it on with some guy the night before her wedding, and that makes everyone go nuts, but then the city watch captures the aforementioned cronies while they're confessing their crimes out loud (like you do), Claudio marries Hero, Benedick marries Beatrice, Don Juan flees the country but is caught, there's dancing, all is well.

I have to say, I give Whedon some shit for some of the more problematic stuff he's done, but it's hard to hate him because he does really quality work when he doesn't get too far up his own ass. Watching Shakespeare in an intimate setting (this was filmed in Whedon's house, basically because he needed to decompress after The Avengers) performed by skilled actors is awesome enough, but the movie is filmed in black-and-white, giving a weird comedy/noir sensibility to it all.

Acker and Denisof are standouts, as is Diamond (took me half the movie to remember that he played Daniel Whitehall in Agents of SHIELD) but really everyone in the movie is on their game. Watching the behind-the-scenes footage, it's clear that everyone did this as a labor of love, which might be why it turned out so well.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Multiplicity

Monday, February 19, 2018

Happy President's Day! Game Prep!

Those things are unrelated, except inasmuch as I'm off work today due to the holiday so I have time to do game prep. I'm gonna let Blades go, though, as I don't have spoons to finish.

You know the drill, if you're a player, don't read. I don't actually think any of my players read my blog except maybe Michelle, anyway, so.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Double Whammy Game Write-Up: Chill in the Dark

So it's Chill and then Blades in the Dark, but what the heck.

Chill

Sunday we finished up the Chill case that began here and continued here

Last time, the envoys had sent the frat brothers from Delta Tau Delta back to their ranch. Darnell, in coming down with the van to drive the lads back, also brought Edward (the elusive envoy who'd been out for a few months, because his player was...out for a few months). 

The envoys headed for the steam plant, but stopped outside to talk this through. They knew that the steam plant was probably significant, but weren't sure what was waiting for them. Edward used the Premonition discipline and saw them rounding a corner in the plant, seeing the incinerators, and then a man stepped out and shot BB. Edward warned them that someone was in there and he was armed, which changed the game plan a little. Edward used the Clairvoyance discipline to scout the area he'd just seen in the vision, and saw an older man (not Doug, the frat-boy arsonist) waiting back the incinerators with a gun in his pocket. He also saw, between the incinerators, blackness, darkness that just seemed to stop all of the light. That was new.

Dylan, fearing for BB's life, used Blessing on him...and botched. Dylan felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach (sudden WPR loss can be unpleasant), and felt run over by a truck. He warned the others that he wasn't sure how much strength he had left.

They decided to go in the front door and set a trap of sorts. They slipped in the front, unnoticed (it was getting dark), and Jordan drew part of a circle (Line of Defense). Then they activated the PA and started making noise, and waited. 

Sure enough, the older fellow they'd seen entered the room. BB tried to tackle him, but felt uncoordinated and drunk, and could barely make his body work. Jordan used Disrupt on the old guy, which snapped him out of whatever he was under. Dee took his gun and then handed it off to Edward (who knows how to use a firearm), but then Doug appeared in the doorway...literally just appeared. He wasn't armed with a gun, fortunately, but was carrying a big chunk of wood, which he liberally applied to the side of Dylan's head. Dylan fell back, and Jordan completed the circle. 

This, of course, stuck a still-afflicted BB, the old fella, and Doug inside the circle. Jordan reached in and Disrupted BB, allowing him to get out of the circle without damaging it. Meanwhile, Edward and Dee stepped out of the room and saw someone down the hall take a shot at them. They ducked back in and Edward reported another armed assailant. 

At this point Doug was still violent and Influenced. Dylan used Mental Shield to protect himself and the old guy, so the old guy was free...but then Doug raised his chunk of wood and bashed the old guy's head in. The envoys all wound up with some Trauma (Dylan especially, and he was now very much overwhelmed and fell back into the corner, shaking). Doug lashed out with the club, but couldn't cross the barrier. Dee, figuring that this wasn't going to get any better unless they could incapacitate Doug, stabbed him in the back of the knee with a letter opener

Doug collapsed, and Jordon got the hell to work stabilizing the old guy. She also called 911, knowing it was the only way to save him. Edward peeked out into the hall and saw a woman's head with entrails dangling from it float across the hall (Edward, you might remember if you've got a really good memory, is hunted by such a creature).

The police arrived and everybody got arrested for trespassing. BB, Jordan, and Dee kept their stories straight and didn't seem suspicious, and were released that evening. Dee called her lawyer and sent her down to take care of Dylan and Edward. Edward had done pretty well staying cool, but Dylan, traumatized and tired, was on the verge of signing whatever the police put in front of him before Annie Crawford, attorney at law, showed up. She managed to get them out, but the charge was going to stick and they were going to wind up paying a fine. Nothing too serious. 

Except, of course, that this creature, whatever it was, was still in the steam plant, and the envoys weren't sure about that "blackness" thing. They did some research and found that it was unlikely to actually be a penanggalan - that creature more closely resembled a vampire, not whatever the hell this was. The envoys knew it could speak to people from a distance, apparently possess or influence them, perhaps change form or create illusions, and then there was the blackness. Research indicated it might be a ghost, but it might also be some creature that just wanted to create havoc (the word "rakshasa" came up in studies). 

The next day, Dee talked to Joey (one of the frat boys) and learned that he'd heard the voice whispering to him, but had never lost time or been controlled. Dee also talked to Greg Abless, the older fellow who worked at the plant, and learned that the creature had moved in only recently and had mind-controlled him. He still heard its voice sometimes, telling him that was useless and he should just die. He'd also heard a name: xaxog

The envoys regrouped, armed themselves, and conned their way into the steam plant during the day...but the blackness was gone. They checked the burned-out frat house, the Gym Tower, and (after BB pointed out that it might have followed them back to the ranch), their own HQ. Nothing. They'd lost the xaxog, or driven it away, which might be considered a victory. Dylan ended the session with Trauma, meaning he'll be working off a Drawback next time. 

Being a SAVE envoy is hard work, y'all. 

Blades in the Dark

And then last night, we played Blades for the first time in a goddamn month, and we were still down a player because Michelle was sick. 

So last time, the scoundrels expanded their turf, taking control of a brothel called Ruby. This time, with Copper off doing training with her doggie, they decided to start looking into the Red Sashes and how they might make this assassination dealie work. 

Cage went into Crow's Foot and looked for some ghosts, and found the echoes of a gang fight between the Red Sashes, the Lampblacks, and the Crows. He talked to one ghost who said that since the death of Roric, leader of the Crows, things had been pretty chaotic. With regards to Gargoyle, he said that the scout never came below a certain altitude and received and sent messages to folks on the ground. 

Siren and One-Eye, meanwhile, headed for the Docks and into a higher-end drug den (One-Eye, you'll recall, is what Hunter S. Thompson would have called a "drug person"). They got high and tried to look important, but someone recognized Siren and asked what she was doing there with a Skovlander. Since that approach wasn't working, they started fighting to get taken before whoever was in charge, and that worked. They got dragged (while very, very high) before Sethla, and parlayed a bit. Turns out Sethla was willing to set up some distribution outside the Red Sashes' usual channels, and that was what One-Eye was hoping for - a way to bring in some money as well as find a wedge into the Sashes (surely someone else wants Mylera Klev dead). Sethla gave them a little sampler box of drugs to get people at Ruby interested, and sent them on their way.

Back at Ruby, they handed some drugs around, and Siren met Lash, an artist working on a canvas with some charcoal. He asked her if Widdershins could transport him to Charterhall - he needed a quick ride but wouldn't travel over water (water terrifies him). Siren agreed, and One-Eye traded some drugs to a carriage driver for his services for a while. 

This was the score, then, getting Lash across town. We pick up on a bridge between Nightmarket and Charterhall, when two plumes of red smoke erupted and stunned the goats pulling the carriage, and two guys crawled up from the bridge and advanced on the rear of the carriage. Cage went to shoot on, but a dagger thunked into the carriage next to him. He grabbed it and threw it back at the guy, burying it in his stomach. Meanwhile, Lash panicked and tried to run, and Siren grabbed him before he fell in the water. One-Eye threw some trance powder at the goats to calm them, but wound up getting the driver too stoned to drive, so she took the reins and got the goats moving. 

The other assailant grappled with Cage. He ducked and Siren fell off trying to get at him, but then shot the guy off the carriage. A Bluecoat carriage rolled up behind her and ran over her foot, breaking her ankle, but fortunately One-Eye had papers showing who the carriage belonged to and the Bluecoats didn't bother them. They took Lash to the university (he swore that he didn't know the people who'd attacked them, but did make vague references to "things being strange" for him right now). He was greeted there at the university by none other than Lord Penderyn. 

The scoundrels fell back to their hideout with their winnings, and did their downtime. Siren spent the whole time resting her ankle, One-Eye did some drugs and trained, and Cage visited Lord Penderyn and started a project to find more information about Gargoyle's comings and goings. 

Just another exciting day in Doskovol. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Character Creation: The Secrets of Cats

It's Sunday, so it's time to make a character!

The Game: The Secrets of Cats
The Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I've played it once (a friend ran a one-shot), and of course I'm pretty well-versed in Fate core.
Books Required: The Cats book and I think the Fate Core book.

So, Secrets of Cats is one of several RPGs in which you play cats protecting people from supernatural evil. It's also probably the best-realized one just in terms of a solid system, a solid backstory, and some good support, but then again, that would all fall apart if you don't like Fate.

Anyway, in this game, cats refer to their humans as "Burdens," and they have to protect them from the kind of standard array of supernatural badness (ghosts, monsters, etc.). There's also quite a bit of detail given to cat magic. When I played this before, my cat was basically the Cat Who Walks By Himself (from the Kipling story of the same name), so this time, I think I'd like to play a pussycat who's a little bit more friendly to people. I also want to use Naming magic, which allows for said pussycat to animate dolls and other such objects. My cat is a burnt orange color with black spots on his back and tail, and black on the tips of his ears. His Burdens call him Freckles, but other cats know him as Cinders.

I happen to know that one of the stunts I can take allows me to be a reincarnated cat, so I'm gonna say that Cinders has been with this particular household for more than a century, in one form or another. The house he lives in used to be a farmhouse, and his then-incarnation was a mouser. Over time, the house expanded but the land got sold off, families came and went, but they always had a cat (whether they knew it or not). Now, the family living there has a little girl who's five years old and a tiny baby Burden, and "Freckles" just showed up one day while the girl (then only two) was outside playing. The family let him stay, and here we are.

So, we start off with High Concept. I have to use "Namer" if I want to be a master of Naming magic, which I do, so let's say his is Old Soul Namer.

Next up we have his Trouble Aspect. And...ooh, this'll be sad and fun.

Cinders' soul is tied to the house and the farmland (which is mostly developed now), and in previous lives that hasn't been a problem. He liked his Burdens well enough, but if the choice was between letting some silly human brush or pet him and taking care of business outside, well, he could groom his own self, thanks. But he loves the little girl, and he loves the little baby, and he even loves their parents. If the time came to leave the house to protect the territory, or if they had to move away...would he go with them? And would that mean he wouldn't reincarnate? His Trouble Aspect is I Love My Family.

Next Aspect is Burdens, which is where the conflict comes in. His Burden Aspect is The People Who Live in the Old Farmhouse.

And then we get True Name, which is an Aspect that really shows what Cinders is all about. I kinda already refer to the reincarnation thing in his High Concept, so I think I want to drift from that a little and call this one Quiet Protector.

Finally, I get a free Aspect. This time I do want to refer back to the past-lives thing. I'll call this Aspect Secrets of 99 Lives (that's 11 cats, 9 lives each).

Now, Skills. I get the standard Fate Core Skill ladder (one Great, two Good, three Fair, and four Average), but I add Territory and the four magic Skills into the mix.

OK, I know I want my Great Skill to be Naming magic, so that's easy. My Goods, I'll take Athletics and Investigation. Fairs, I'll take Stealth, Territory, and Warding (more magic, but it fits with my Protector concept). And then for Average, we'll take Fight, Empathy, Will, and Rapport.

Now I get three magic stunts and three normal stunts. We'll do magic first. I want Animate, and I'll take Multitasking, too (so I can animate two things at once). I'll also take Invisibility (which is a Warding stunt).

Right, now I get three non-magical stunts. Hmm. Many Lives, which I want, actually keys off of Lore. No matter. I'll take a version of it that keys off of Territory, and say that it only works within the old farmland (which is actually most of the neighborhood/suburb now).

I'll take Stalk, off of Stealth (+2 to Stealth when hearing is the most likely way to detect me). And finally, I'll take Pounce, giving me +2 to Fight when I attack from concealment (which plays into Cinders' proclivity to be stealthy and careful).

Now, I could spend refresh for more stunts, but eh. I think we're in pretty good shape, actually.


Promethean: House Invasion

Hell, I just remembered I hadn't done the Promethean write-up from this past Monday. I'm losing it, I think.

Anyway, last time, the throng figured out a potential way to track where Virgil was being held - by looking for signs of an incipient Wasteland. They found a storm front moving in not far from their current location (on the west side of Lexington), and started looking around for houses with FOR SALE or RENT signs, and that looked likely candidates (this kind of investigation is what Grimm is good at, so he led the attempt).

They found what they believed was the right house, and Matt verified some Pyros in the area, but it was weak. They already knew that these "Task Force VALKYRIE" folks had a way to mimic or suppress Azothic radiance. Grimm activated Vitreous Humour and looked through the walls, and saw people in the basement, but not in the rest of the house. He therefore gave the throng their orders - mass at the side entrance (where the door led to the basement stairs), Skip would kick in the door, and Grimm would go down first. Incapacitate, but don't kill.

Skip kicked in the door, but the enemy was ready. Someone at the bottom of the stairs unloaded an assault rifle at him, blowing some very large holes in him and nearly killing him (at this point I should point out that all of the characters except Matt have visited the River of Death, so if they die, they die). Grimm had stolen a grenade from these folks before, though, and tossed it down the stairs. He heard someone yell "grenade!" and then the boom.

Feather, meanwhile, went around through the front door and stomped a hole in the floor, and dropped down into the basement. She saw the TFV folks, but also Virgil, stuck and apparently unconscious in a plastic tube kind of thing. She saw an Indian man in scrubs carrying a syringe with silvery liquid, and grappled him, but one of the TFV folks snapped open a baton and whacked her in the head.

Grimm came down the stairs, followed by Enoch (in barghest form) and Matt, and found three TFV folks - the guy who'd shot Skip, the woman in charge of the op, and another guy - all armed but stunned. Enoch tackled the woman, but she let loose a barrage from her gun and wounded him pretty grievously. Matt went past them all into the other room to help Feather, while Avalon went rough to the hole in the ceiling where Feather had come through (Avalon has no great skill in combat and so prefers to stay out of the way). She called to distract a soldier, and Grimm shot the soldier and dropped her.

In the room with the tube, one of the soldiers - the guy with the baton - ran for the wall. He hit a button, and a device activated itself, and all of the Prometheans felt their Azoth turning in on itself. Several of them fell over, incapacitated, but the others were still up, including Skip, who got close to the device and used his newly acquired Oscillatus Alembic to disable it.

The Prometheans were up, most of the TFV folks were down. They took the syringe away from the doctor and freed Virgil. Matt and Grimm, having been subject to the lacuna, understood what was happening, and injected his Vitriol back into him.

One of the still-unhurt soldiers told Grimm to let him stabilize his people, and Grimm let him. The throng pointed out that this guy pulling stuff out of Prometheans wasn't good, and the soldier said that the doctor (Dr. Bahl) wasn't one of their unit, he was brought in from "Cheiron" just today. The Prometheans seemed to have a new enemy...

But for now, they were lucky to be alive. They bugged the hell out, leaving behind several wounded but no dead soldiers, and Grimm's strategy had worked. Lay out a strategy that the throng follows is his milestone for the Soldier Role, so he completed that and move on to Exemplar. Meanwhile, Skip remains on Stannum, but is considering going back to Ferrum to make an Athanor.

The throng found a substation and electrocuted the hell out of themselves to heal up. Now, they figure, they'd better find Lurch and get the hell out of the town. They're pretty sure TFV has more resources.