Sunday, August 24, 2014

Memes and Water

Earlier, I posted on FB: "I hate memes. Everybody stop posting them."

I expected, of course, for my friends to post a barrage of memes. I wasn't disappointed. My favorite was a picture of me from my birthday party, with the same text I'd posted. That's funny. 

Why? It's funny because it's a) topical, b) original, and c) in context. 

And that is why I tend to dislike memes. They're lazy, they' re general, and they typically don't have any respect for context. 

(I'm speaking in generalities here, obviously. I find some memes very funny. And there's something to be said for shared experience and knowledge and using that as shorthand for quick humor - I like referential humor, provided you don't wind up beating a particular reference into the ground as geeks are so wont to do.) 

I wound up deleting the post entirely, because I can't just say "no more comments" on a FB post and the memes and comments were starting to make me uncomfortable. Obviously I didn't literally mean that other people should stop posting memes; I don't have any right to demand that and it would be a stupid thing to ask even if I did. 

But, if you're interested, the genesis of my comment was that I just saw one too many people posting memes saying, in effect, "this ice water thing is bad and you should feel bad." (See what I did there?)

I was all set to post and explain why I get annoyed by people talking smack about the ice water challenge, but Forbes went and did a very nice article that covers the basics. Mostly, I was very moved by the video posted by a young man who was recently diagnosed with ALS, and that he, too, was moved to see someone paying attention to the disease, which is rare. 

Yes, there are other causes that affect more people. Yes, the ice water challenge might waste some water, so maybe use dust (like a chinchilla!) if you're in California or something. Yes, it's a stupid gimmick. You don't like the method? Fine, there are valid reasons not to.

But don't simplify down to a picture of Morpheus or something. Think about the topic and say something. 

Or, y'know, don't. TL;DR Cool story, bro. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Movie #267: How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon is an animated adaptation of the novel of the same name by Cressida Cowell, and stars Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, and a whole bunch of other people.

The village of Berk, inhabited by "Vikings" who speak with weirdly Scottish accents, is plagued by dragons. They swoop in and kill people, burn buildings, and make off with livestock. The Vikings, in turn, have developed their whole culture around killing them. Young Hiccup (Baruchel), son of the village leader Stoick (Butler), desperately wants to kill dragons, but he's weak, clumsy, and not terribly Viking-like. What he is good at is engineering, something that neither his father nor his mentor Gobber (Ferguson) seem to value. 

On the night of a raid, Hiccup uses a device to down a Night Fury, a breed of dragon so mysterious it has never been seen. The Night Fury turns out to be small, lithe, somewhat cat-like, and terrified. Hiccup is unable to kill it, but spends his free time with it learning about dragons and helping build it a prosthetic tail-wing so it can fly again. He uses the knowledge he gains to rise to the top of his dragon-killing class (no dragons are actually killed, captives are simply used for practice). His father returns from a disastrous attempt to find the dragon's nest to find his son a celebrity, but Hiccup has learned that the dragons don't really want to hurt anyone. They're controlled by a massive "queen bee" dragon, which forces them to bring it food. 

The Night Fury, which Hiccup names Toothless, comes to Hiccup's aid in full view of the village and his father captures the dragon and forces it to lead the Vikings to the nest. Hiccup and his friends, including the previous head-of-the-class (and his crush), Astrid (Ferrera), mount dragons and swoop in to help, Hiccup eventually winning the day at the cost of his own foot. The village embraces dragons as pets. Yay! 

I like this movie a lot. Hiccup undergoes a good transformation; he starts of wanting not necessarily to kill dragons but to be useful, and in Berk, killing dragons is how you prove your worth. But he comes to identify with Toothless and realizes almost immediately that he isn't a killer, and puts his scientific mind to use. Butler is likewise good as Stoick, who so desperately wants to connect with his son but doesn't have the common ground to do it, and the support cast of young dragon-fighters (later riders), including Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and T.J. Miller, provide fun bits of characterization and humor. 

If I have a complaint, it's that Hiccup has this whiny, sarcastic American accent. But then, so do all the younger Vikings, so maybe these Vikings become Scottish as they mature, I don't know.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium-high

Next up: Hudson Hawk

Movie #266: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a film adaptation of the book by Dr. Seuss, and, of course, the classic Chuck Jones animated special. It stars Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffery Tambor, and Christine Baranski.

So, obviously, we have to have a bit more story because the book doesn't stretch to fill two hours. I accept that. What we get, then, is that the Whos down in Whoville are nuts about Xmas. Their Xmas celebration, however, is very much the white, secular, upper-middle-class celebration - it's entirely centered around decoration, buying everything in sight, and making merry.

Which...OK. I mean, I see the point they're clumsily trying to make. But one of the big problems with that version of Xmas is that it only works if you've got the money to make it work. But money is no problem in Whoville - there are no poor Whos, apparently, and most of the Whos find Xmas works just fine for them. Only Cindy Lou Who (Momsen), a lovely little blond Who-girl, finds herself unfulfilled by all the schmaltz.

Meanwhile, up on Mt. Crumpit (which serves as the trash dump for the whole civilization - it's just the one city, apparently) lives the Grinch (Carrey and several pounds of makeup). The Grinch hates the Whos, hates Xmas, and hates himself in equal measure. He sneaks down to the village and causes general mayhem, and in the process meets Cindy Lou, who views him as a weird kindred spirit - he's the only other being around here that doesn't like Xmas. So she has him named Holiday Cheermeister, he accepts and all goes well until the Mayor (Tambor) trolls him with painful childhood memories-

Oh, yeah. We get to see the Grinch's childhood. He was always green and hairy, and suffered for it, eventually running away to Crumpit.

Anyway, after the Cheermeister incident, he does his famous "dress up as Santa and steal Xmas" routine, has his change of heart, and returns everything, but by this point the movie has dragged on for so long and we know that part so well that it just puts you to sleep.

The movie is pretty terrible. It spends way too long letting Carrey just vamp like it's 1992 and we still liked him. He doesn't show a moment of genuine emotion; even the transformation at the end feels forced. And the story elements that were added feel like they might have somewhere to go, but the only real effect is that everyone is kind of horrible. The Whos, far from the joyous, selfless people they are in the cartoon, have a greedy, avaristic society that the white Americans among us might recognize, but there's no moment of redemption for them, really. In the book/cartoon, the Grinch brings back their presents not because the presents themselves have value, but because it's the right thing to do (the Whos don't really care about the things, they care about the love). In this movie, the Whos are devastated that the Grinch took their shit, which means the Grinch's plan worked, which means that the Whos have to undergo the same moment of epiphany...bleah. It's muddled, it's boring, and it paved the way for more terrible Seuss adaptations.

My grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: How to Train Your Dragon

Ganakagok: Dawn to Morning

Thursday we finished out Ganakagok story, The Frozen Jungle. All in all, the tone was very different than the last few times I've run this game. It still had the underpinnings of mytho-poetry, but it felt more like a roleplaying game than it usually does - the actions were more immediate, scene followed scene more tightly. I suspect that's because three of the five people playing were younger and less experienced, and so there was less of a chance to get weird with our interpretations of the cards. But for all that, it was a cool story, and a good introduction for my daughter into more narrative games. This was also the first time I've run Ganakagok where no one had a bad ending, but that was mostly down to me forgetting that there are only supposed to be two reaction rounds.

Last session here, if you want a refresher.

Cheyenne's Turn: The group walked through the forest to get to the Forbidden Tree and meet with the Old Man of the Forest, guided by Kit's magic necklace. But then Nanaka saw movement in the trees. The group came to an expanse of rushing water - a river that hadn't been there before, but remember that the jungle was thawing. Keromet tested it with his staff, and a spear flew down from the tree and lodged in the ground. The group turned and saw Kotolikituk, one of the assassins that had split off from the group after Keromet talked them all down from murder, up in a tree and wearing a mask that looked like the Old Man of the Forest. He wasn't interested in letting them go on. Nanaka and the others talked him own (Skia using her Hare's Leap to jump up into the tree and face him), and he finally agreed to come with them and see this through.

Will's Turn: But the river remained. Keromet tried to vault over it using his staff, but he missed his footing and the current swept him away. As the cold water gripped him, he saw the last few stars remaining, and tried to stay awake. The others tried to help him, but the ice beasts of the forest resisted, wanting Kit to move on. Kotolikituk, too, didn't help, because he hates Keromet anyway. Finally, though, Karget tossed him a vine and Keromet chose to come back to his people rather than floating away and becoming lost in the stars.

Al's Turn: They arrived, at last, at the entrance to the Man's lair. He came to greet them, but then Kotolikituk drew back his spear to kill the Old Man of the Forest. They kind of dogpiled him, and Kit's necklace let out a blast of energy that knocked him back, and finally they overpowered him.

Michelle's Turn: Skia turned to Kit, and showed her the geode. Kit told the Old Man that she was willing to give the necklace and the stone knife to him, but they were all she had to remember her parents by and she wanted to know what happened to them. The Old Man nodded, took the items and place them in the geode, which bloomed like an immense stone flower, saturating the area with light. The skulls fixed to the trees fell, and beings made of light stood up. The Old Man's horns fell off, too, and he looked more human. He pointed to the light and said, "Answers."

Skia walked into the light. The others tried to follow, but the Man blocked the way. In the light, Skia found a vast plain, and a barely-seen creature moving toward her. She resisted her instincts as a hunter and didn't shoot it, and it turned out to be a man - the First Man of Ganakagok, the founder of the Nitu. But now, the Man said, it was Morning, the Thaw was happening, and the Nitu would have to change.

Morning: With that, all the Stars were gone. Morning came, and we assigned Final Fates.

Ganakagok experienced a massive flood as the ice in the jungle melted. The waters rushed toward the Nitu village (more on that later), but in the aftermath, new and vibrant species arose, plants bloomed with color, and the owl from the Land of Owls flew to the trees.

The Nitu banded together to survived the flood, putting aside their stupid questions of leadership and succession and treason to the People. They learned to live in the jungle, eventually, becoming a tree-dwelling and owl-riding people.

Skia went on to marry Kotolikituk, and became a hunter and leader of the People (7 of Stars).

Karget put his understanding of gathering and plants to good use, cataloging and study the new flora of the jungle and becoming a wise man and herbologist (Woman of Flames).

Keromet left the Nitu to wander the Spirit Plain, becoming a true shaman and spirit explorer (4 of Storms).

Nanaka reconciled with her father and helped the Nitu work toward a better, more functional government - the Triumvirate Council was dissolved.

Kit talked with the Man of the Forest, and he led her to the Oldest Tree. At the top was a hut, and inside were her parents, alive and well. They eventually taught the Nitu to build their tree-homes (Child of Flames).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to the Warehouse

Sure, I have a minute.

So, last time, there was this ghost ship, and we ended with a guy committing "suicide." As Blue and Blaine discovered, though, not so much. Blue talked to the coroner, and something held the poor guy underwater and then chucked in the radio after the fact. The bruising on his chest indicated an oval shape, and it didn't quite map to handprints, but Blaine opined that a ghost using telekinesis could accomplish much the same thing.

Back at HQ, Raji and Memphis did research in their own way. Figuring that the Poseidon's Due turning up in the middle of nowhere (landlocked middle of nowhere, even) probably had something to do with Blaine, Memphis rigged up a meter to link Blaine's signature to the ship. Meanwhile, Raji did some digging into actual books and found legends of a ghostly pirate crew that drowned people as a way of recruiting. This seemed a promising line of inquiry.

Blue and Blaine returned, and using a rotating dispenser of rooms (this is apparently something on Warehouse 13 that I haven't seen yet) to find a room with a bathtub. Blue got in it, with putty on her chest to hold an imprint of the TK force, and Blaine held her down (no water, obviously). Blaine was strong enough to keep her down, and the imprint on her chest looked much like the bruising on the victim's - this seemed to lend credence to the story. Memphis' device recorded Blaine's activity, and linked to an object off her scope (but her range on the gizmo was limited).

Figuring that might be the ship, we headed to the van, but then Memphis noticed her blips doing something strange - there was still a blip in the warehouse. She and Raji went back to check, while Blue and Blaine stayed by the van. Memphis found the blip by the rotating rooms, but it wasn't moving. Blue told Blaine to punch her, which he did (reluctantly), but the needle didn't move. Blaine teleported back to the room, and the blip there merged with him, which made Memphis think that she'd just been reading residue. Blaine teleported back, and Blue shot him with a Tesla, just to see if it caused any activity. It didn't - Blaine was now separate from the line.

But Blaine did mention that the Tesla had caused sensation, which prompted Memphis to ask when the last time he'd felt anything had been. Blaine mentioned the gem that made him solid, and then there was activity on Memphis' scope again. She tracked it to the gem, and Raji thought he saw something there, but then it vanished.

"I think," said Memphis, "we may have a ghost."

Monday, August 18, 2014

GenCon: Wow.

Holy cats. GenCon.

This was seriously one of the best years I've had at GenCon, both personally and professionally. I got to talk to a lot of really awesome people, I made some connections for projects that I'm really excited about, and of course, Onyx Path announced the second editions of the World of Darkness lines and that the next WoD game is going to be Beast: The Primordial, which I am, of course, developing.

Good stuff. Also we sold all the books we brought with us, which is pretty baller.

But I know, you're just here for the pictures and the GM's Report Card.

Picture first:

Seconds later, she was on the roof.
I spotted this young lady in the convention center and kind of squeed a bit, because Mirror's Edge is one of my favorite games and her cosplay is awesome. But I did want to say: It's polite to ask if you can photograph someone, even if they're in costume. Don't assume that because someone is out and about that it's OK to take their picture. I mean, it's probably not illegal in any case, so you can, but that isn't the issue. There are lots of things that you can do that it's still unpleasant to do, so have a little decorum (for the record, I asked).

Anyway, Thursday I had a game of Daedalus to run, which went pretty well. I think I want a more dynamic scenario for when next I run it, but I also have some rules tweaking to do - it's not quite as exciting as I'd like. For all that, the players enjoyed it, and I felt bad telling them the game wasn't actually out yet (but they could go to the IGDN booth and find awesome games that were!).

Cardhalla, always impressive.

And then I had a game of Dime Stories to play, after a quick stopoff for dinner at a food truck. Dime Stories is an RPG that plays a lot like Dogs in the Vineyard, insofar as you have traits and gear that add dice to your pool, though the underlying moral element isn't there. It feels a lot like Firefly with the "space" part perhaps ramped up a little, and the game revolved around us surveying for a mine and stumbling into a corrupt little town held hostage by a cruel thug. In the end, we wound up basically trying to broker a deal between the "native" folks who actually owned the land the corporation we worked for, but the nuance was a little hard to get to that late in the evening (plus one player was kind of a dick close to the end of the game, which kind of soured the mood).

I'm not terribly impressed with the game itself. Like, I don't dislike it, but it felt kind of derivative, and I didn't feel like the mechanics did anything new or special, they just kind of worked. That said, my buddy Jonathan is a good GM and kept things humming along, and didn't let us get away with the easy ending, so that was nice. My grade: B+

It's Spanish for "Tell me stories."
And then, sleep.

Friday I ran some curse the darkness demos at the booth, and then sat on a panel about Kids and Gaming, which was pretty cool and reminded me I needed to pick up Little Wizards. And then I had to zip over to a game of Outbreak: Deep Space. Which turned out to be...not so great.

So, part of this is my fault. There are two zombie RPGs whose titles sound kind of similar. One is called Outlive Outdead, and I backed its Kickstarter and even have a picture of myself in the book. I've never gotten to play the game, though. The other game is called Outbreak Undead, it's a huge, pretty book, and I often pick it up at cons and then put it down after I flip through it, because it looks boring. I thought I was playing the former; turned out I was playing an offshoot of the latter.

The setup for the game was OK; we were on a prison ship, woke out of cryo-sleep early, there are zombies, argh. Simple enough. The problem was twofold.

First, the GM had never run a con game before, and was quite unfamiliar with this game in particular and this scenario for it. He understood the rules, but he was having trouble applying them in context. He called for rolls to do things like open our cryo-tubes, which would have been more silly than anything else, except that the characters in this game suck. It's a percentile system, but my character - who is a corrections officer - had nothing over a 40%. There are some modifiers that raise your target number, but not by much, and as a result I think I succeeded about...well, about 30% of the time. Which is boring and sucks and is not fun to play. (We could get into a big discussion about whether failure is fun to play and can lead to character development - I talk a little about it here - but this was pretty much a standard "roll and you miss and on we go" kind of thing.)

Plus, we didn't do any roleplaying. Not one scene. It was a minis game, except we abstracted most of the combat as well. My Grade: D

So then...well. Turns out Friday was my 40th birthday!

You know, I don't like parties much, unless they're mine. I know how that sounds, and it's not that I have to be the center of attention, but I like knowing the people (at least most of them) at a party, I like having a little bit of say about what's going on around me. Anyway, this was pretty awesome. There was this cake:
Don't be fooled, it's actually full of vibranium.
The cake was awesome, but I swear it weighed more than Cael. But I got it to the space, and people arrived.



Hey, it's me and Michelle!
One of the comments I made was "it's amazing how closely my 40th birthday resembles my 9th," by which I meant all the superhero stuff we use as decoration. But it was great - a lot of people, some of whom I don't see very much, coming to join me for my birthday. I didn't feel older at all. I felt loved.

And then, sleep.

Saturday I stumbled downstairs for the Onyx Path panel, where the aforementioned announcements took place. And then following that, I had a game of A Tragedy in Five Acts to run, for which I did not snap any pictures. That was, however, one of the most absurd games of Tragedy I've seen. A giant octopus named Calamara attacked San Francisco. One of the characters became a ghost in the first act, another a squid-mutant. And in the the, there was a nuclear blast set off at the Hostess factory, and everyone died, the ghost standing there in confusion. The winner (the Parent, playing the aforementioned squid-mutant) titled it The Squid's the Thing.

Something I did note: We had one female player. When she bid on scenes, one of the things she almost always changed was her character getting kidnapped or otherwise damsel'd. Food for thought.

From there, I wandered a bit, and caught some fellow freelancers in a bar (because where else would they be).

And also some of Batman's villains:

Either Batman has a plan to escape or they've prenegotiated. 

So then a spot of dinner, and then on to Fate of the Norns with Michelle! Now, this was another game I backed on Kickstarter and never played, but it's a pretty cool game. It doesn't use dice. Instead, you have a bag of runes from which you draw, and different colors mean different actions. The characters are neck-deep in Ragnorak (which, as the author/GM pointed out, isn't a one-night deal, it lasts generations) and we wound up fighting horrible death-bears. Two of us died, but in death, you have the chance to go to Valhalla and have the whole group (of players) "level up." I don't generally hold with levels, but I do like that death has a purpose and a mechanic. I would totally run this game for my players. My grade: A-

My character was a skald. I sang "Immigrant Song" in battle. 
And then, sleep.

Finally, Sunday! Sunday, of course, means Clay-o-Rama!

Now, strangely, I had 8 people signed up but only 3 showed, and then another joined us. So the match was quick.

Construction phase.
The battle is joined!
We had some pretty cool looking monsters. One guy - the oldest combatant - zipped off to the end of the table and waited for the other three younger boys to duke it out. He won, of course, but I do want to note that just before the killing blow was struck, his last remaining opponent used Bowl and threw his doughy butt down the table, whereupon his scorpion monster fell right apart. It was pretty satisfying.

Also, this game involves hedgehogs. 
From there, shopping. Michelle and I walked around, schmoozed a bit, bought a bunch of stuff, and killed time until it was time to tear down the booth.

Also a comp. 
And then onward, home!

I'm not experiencing con drop yet, though I might; it was a really good time, and I met some new awesome people and spent time with pre-existing awesome people. Next year, of course, should be the debut of both Beast and Chill, so I'm greatly looking forward to that, as well as seeing all my con-buddies.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ganakagok: The Frozen Jungle (Twilight to Dawn)

First session here.

Al's Turn: Karget decides to venture into the jungle to investigate why the jungle is changing. Skia, the questing hunter, and Keromet, the concerned shaman-in-training accompany him, along with some of the other hunters and gatherers. Kit, the brave orphan, sneaks out of the village and follows. As they leave the village, part of the wall collapses. Karget asks some of the party to stay behind and fix it. They enter the jungle, and Karget finds what he suspects to be the spoor of a great beast. They follow, but then Katya, Skia's husky, spots something and tears off after it. Skia and Keromet follow, but Karget spots Kit sneaking along and confronts her. He picks her up to take her back (over her protests), but they look up and see an ice jaguar stalking them.

The beast attacks, but the others hear the commotion and return. Keromet sees the Man of the Forest approaching, and his hand reaching down toward Kit. Between the huskies, Skia's arrows, Karget's knife (largely ceremonial, as he doesn't hunt animals), and Karget's own pet tiger, they fell the beast. He grants the skin to Skia upon their return to the village. Kit is punished for her indiscretion.

Michelle's Turn: Skia dons her new leopard cloak and finds Karget, Keromet, and their friend Tergk. She wants to return to the jungle - she suspects that the beast they were tracking is, in fact, the Man of the Forest; she's seen the Man in her dreams and believes him to be as much beast as man. They set out and follow the tracks deep into the forest, until the reach the forbidden area. Tergk is afraid to enter, and Keromet gives cryptic advice, but finally Skia plucks up her courage and enters.

Inside, they find skulls of various beasts adorning the trees, each marked with a sigil. Keromet touches one and it starts to rattle, and then speaks to the shaman. It says they tell the story of Ganakagok, and asks if he would like to "contribute" (the implication being with his own skull). He says he would, but only if he can clear his family's name. The skull responds that this is possible. Skia says that she wishes to speak with the Man of the Forest, and all the skulls rattle.

The Man appears, and sits down to parlay with them. He reveals a massive geode gnarled in the roots of the Oldest Tree, with crystals red and black. Skia recognizes them - Kit wears one on a necklace, and her new knife is made of the black crystal. The Man agrees to help the Nitu survive the coming Thaw...if his goods are returned to him.

Teagan's Turn: Kit is doing chores as punishment, and meditating on her actions, when her necklace starts to glow and tug her toward the forest. Feeling that her destiny is at hand, she sneaks out again, but this time is observed by Nanaka, the headstrong heir. Nanaka follows her into the forest and calls her name, but Kit refuses to come back and scampers ahead. Nanaka catches up with her and tries to convince her to return, but Kit refuses - and the necklace glows.

The beasts of the forest approach and bow to Kit (or maybe the necklace). The rest of the group finds them and tries, first, to talk Kit into giving up her necklace, but the Skia says that Kit has earned her right to be here and it is her destiny to continue. The group moves deeper into the forest, toward the forbidden area, surrounded by all the beasts of the jungle.

The sky grows lighter in the east, and an eerie calm overtakes the forest. The Man awaits...but we haven't heard the last of the assassins from the village.

Next week, the exciting conclusion!