Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Movie #263: House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill is a 1959 horror movie starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook Jr., and Julie Mitchum. It's...not quite as exciting as the last Price movie I watched.

Starting off with a couple of floating heads (Cook and Price) giving us some exposition about how this house has a bunch of ghosts and OMG SCARY, we discover that Frederick Loren (Price) has invited six people to the house. If they can spend the whole night, he'll give them $10,000 each. His wife (Ohmart) is the one who had the idea, but she wanted a real party, not this weird experiment.

But it turns out that husband and wife hate each other (she's his fourth wife, and the others all died young). She wants his money, he wants her gone. So the whole evening is a big game of double-cross. The two young guests, a pilot and a secretary (Long and Craig, respectively) pair off and flirt, but then she starts seeing ghosts. Meanwhile the psychiatrist (Marshal) just wants to prove this is all about hysteria...but he, in fact, is Mrs. Loren's lover, and is gaslighting the secretary with the Mrs.' help to get her to shoot Loren, but in the end, both he and the Mrs. wind up taking an acid bath.

It's all very contrived, and the scares, such as they are, are few and far between. Price is good, and the chemistry with Ohmart isn't terrible, but the rest of the cast is pretty forgettable and the ending of the movie is just weird.

My grade: C
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Movie #262: House of Wax

House of Wax is a slasher flick and a remake-in-name-only of the previous House of Wax film. It stars Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Chad Michael Murray, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri'chard, and Brian Van Holt.

Carly (Cuthbert) is taking a road trip with her boyfriend Wade (Padalecki), twin brother Nick (Murray), and his buddies Dalton (Abrahams) and Blake (Ri'chard), and Blake's girlfriend Paige (Hilton). There's a bit of friction between the siblings; Nick is just out of jail and Dalton and Blake are kind of in awe of his badass image, and he treats Wade like shit in an attempt to poke at Carly. They're headed to a football game, but stop to camp for the night after getting lost taking a shortcut.

Next day, Wade's fan belt is busted, and they wind up catching a ride into Ambrose with a creepy-ass dude who throws roadkill into a ditch for a living (Damon Herriman). They discover the town is largely empty, but find a man who claims to be the town mechanic (Brian Van Holt). While snooping around his house, Wade is attacked and killed by a dude wearing a wax mask (also Van Holt), and mummified alive in wax.

From there, it's a slasher movie - the town is entirely empty, people by wax-covered corpses. The twins are in fact the sons of the Sinclairs; their father was the a surgeon who separated them as babies (they were born conjoined), while their mother was a skillful artist who created the House of Wax, but then lost her mind due to an illness. They've been killing ever since.

Obviously Cuthbert survives, and since her boyfriend dies first and her bad-boy brother softens up, he lives, too. Everyone else is toast. The movie ends with the house of wax (which is literally made of wax) catching fire and melting, and the (good) twins smooshing their way out with nary a burn, which is silly.

I actually like this movie; yes, it's a slasher movie, but it's a good one as these things go. There's some attention paid to cinematography - mostly hands poking through things (the tent flap, wax) and smoosy, gooey textures. The story holds up about as well as these things do, and the characters all have enough to do and say that you remember which one's which.

There's a scene that's a little torture porn-y (Bo tying Carly to a chair and supergluing her mouth shut), but that's not really the genre; it's a pretty pure slasher flick. Like a lot of Dark Castle films, there's a good movie in here, trying to get out.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: House on Haunted Hill (1958)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Character Creation: Edge

Haven't done a character in a while. In a way, that's this game's fault.

The Game: Edge
The Publisher: Outrider Studios
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

I picked up this game and another from the same company (Remnants) at GenCon or Origins some time back. I think I read Remnants, but I don't remember. I picked up Edge to read for my next character back in late June and I've been trying to get through it ever since.

Now, some of this is me. I don't really care for fantasy as a gaming genre, and I should probably stop pretending I do. But some of it is that the writing just doesn't grab me. There's a lot of history, a lot of weird, non-English terms that my eyes just *bleep* right over, and I find that the book doesn't make for good, light reading (which, man. I hope - I think - my game material is pretty readable).

With that said, the cover is pretty boss, and that's not nothing. The game has three character classes, Edgemaster, Chosen, and Dreamweavers. Discounting that one of the classes makes me think of Wayne's World (we'll get to the Ws), the cover has one of each, looking badass. There's no cheesecake art that I've found, and everyone I've ever interacted with from Outrider has been very professional. And their pitch was really good.

So, y'know. If I found someone running Edge, I might want to play it. Let's see how chargen goes.

We start off talking about concept and how you start with a calling (what I referred to as "class" above) and build out from there. The concepts that they list are actually pretty good - "poet looking for lost songs," particularly, is kind of nice.

So let's see. Edgemasters are warriors, but there's a lot of breadth to that - sneaky assassin and honorable knight fit. Chosen are priests and healers. Dreamweavers are mages, but what you hang your hat on is more "making things" - they can conjure things out of the Weave, which is a kind of collective dreams of humanity sort of thing.

Well, when I make fantasy characters I tend to like to do magic users, so yeah, let's do a Dreamweaver. In keeping with my policy of making characters with theme songs, I turn to the most recent mix CD that +Michelle Lyons-McFarland made me, and if I go in order, the first song is:

This song is pretty clearly about doing drugs and avoiding police notice. No one ever thinks about drugs in a fantasy context; narcotics have a pretty clear cultural context for us, and there are all kinds of financial reasons for the "war on drugs" to continue. So: If I want to make a character for whom this song applies, I need to consider either the literal context (narcotics) or the cultural (rebellion against oppressive government). Hang on.

OK, got it. There's a country in the lands of Deomeidh (the setting of Edge) called Braile Corsa. It's a theocracy, and the dominant church worships demons rather than angels (I'll need to read up on the religion in Edge). They're on the verge of waging expansionist war on a pacifist, representative democracy to the south, and I've gotta figure that there are people in Braile Corsa that think that sucks. So I think my character is a revolutionary of sorts - if war breaks out, he might rise to become a hero...or be considered a blasphemous traitor.

So, once thing I do like. Each section on the different nations gives you some instruction on making a character from that country, complete with some questions to consider. Also it tells you a size comparison to a real-world country, which is groovy (Braile Corsa is roughly comparable to Panama, BTW). Mostly it's my relationship to the church. I think my character is nominally a member of the Demonic Church. Reading up a little on the churches, they both kind of suck, but the Demonic one is more "do what we say or we kill you" sort of thing. So again, my guy is nominally Demonic, but is mostly, naw, fuck that. I get a free point in either Lore (Demons) or Medicine. I think I'll take the former.

The book is kind enough to give us example names. I name my guy Daman. The next step is Build a Background. OK, then.

  • Where and when were you born? Let's say he's native to Braile Corsa, 29 years ago. 
  • Who are your parents? Where are they now? We'll say dad is a soldier - not someone on the front lines anymore, but a tactician and scout (he rides well). Mom died a few years ago. 
  • Do you have brothers or sisters? Where are they now? Daman's older brother (Ferelith) is in the army and is ready to go invadin'. His younger sister (Seren) is a Chosen, a priestess of the Demonic Church. Daman doesn't see much of his family anymore. 
  • What was your childhood like? Daman has always been the black sheep. He went to church with his family, but for whatever reason, it never really took, and he preferred to spend time on his uncle's (Jost) farm. He loved working with animals, and rather dreaded going home to his strict, militaristic parent.s
  • What is your most vivid childhood memory? His father beat his sister for some infraction against the church. Daman tried to intervene, but Ferelith stopped him. 
  • Who are your family, friends, or other support system now? If I were playing this game, I'd want them to be the other PCs. Other folks in Braile Corsa how know war is coming, and want to stop the war before it begins. 
  • How did you come by your power? Daman finds his peace and his inspiration out in nature. Deomeidh has the same sorts of wildlife as the real world (with dragons and orcs and shit), and I think Daman spent his time in the fields watching bugs and birds and other animals, and that inspired his art. There are paths to Dreamweaving, and one of them is creating life, but another is augment or creating weapons, which might be the way his power goes. Not because he's really interested in that, but because that's what he's needed to do. 
  • Did you have a teacher? What was s/he like? Dreamweavers have to have teachers, if I'm reading this right. Daman was instructed by a friend of his uncle, a woman named Jana. Jana was taken off by the government some time ago, and Daman assumes she's been executed. Jana was all about the cause, and had an engineer's mind, rather than an artist's, so there was a bit of a personality clash. 
  • Why did your teacher take you on as an apprentice? Recruiting for the cause, obviously. 
  • What is your teacher up to now? Probably dead, but it'd be interesting to see her come back as a brainwashed convert. 
  • What motivates you to take action? Indignation at the idea that his country would go to war and attack peaceful folks. Sure, animals do that kind of thing - nasty, brutish, and short. People can be better. 
  • Why did you become a Dreamweaver? Daman doesn't feel he had any choice. The beauty and poetry of the world is right there, visible in the Weave. The kinds of dreams he's Weaving, however, are mostly political and military, and he's not happy about that. 
  • Where do you call home? Daman is living on the road in Braile Corsa, but would like to immigrate to Allain. 
  • What do you do when you're not trying to change the world? Observe animals and nature, draw pictures. 
Woof. OK, that's done, then. (I like chargen systems that include these questions, though, especially when they're specific.) Now I assign stats. We've got three stats: Body, Mind, Spirit. They start at -2, and can go as high as +2, and I get 8 points to spend. Let's see what's going to be most useful to me. Oh, actually, it says right there: Mind.

You know, this is actually some decent game design. Three classes, three stats, each stat mapping to a class nicely. I'll go Body -1, Mind +2, Spirit +1. Hopefully having a low Body doesn't utterly fuck me. 

Now Skills. Same scale, but we start at 0 and can go as high as 6. Oh, and they relisted the free point you get from your country of origins. Nice job, guys. I also get Weave at 1 for free and a combat skill at 1 for free, plus 12 more points. But which Combat skill? Hmm. I think I'll go for Dodge. Oh, and we've got a max of 2 in Skills to start with, which actually makes it easier to buy them. 

I'll start by pumping 3 into the free Skills, putting them up to 2. That gives me 9 points left. 

Well, going back to the song, there's talk of guns hidden under petticoats. While there's some speculation that this refers to needles loaded with heroin, in Daman's case, I think that concealed weaponry ought to be a thing he does. So I shall take Larceny at 2, and spend 2 on a specialization for sleight of hand. That takes me down to 5. 

Better take Lore (Natural History) at 2. Also Sciences (Biology and Engineering). Wait, crap, that's 13. I'll drop Lore to 1. 

Now, secondary stats. Derived traits, nothing fancy. Except there are Path modifiers, and path is the next step. Guys. Derived traits go at the end

OK, so skipping that for now. Path and Powers. So my path is Augment, which lets me create little augmentations to objects and creatures. I can have a maximum of 3 creations in play at once, at there are a bazillion little rules for Weaving that I'm not going to parse. Basically as a starting character I can make things louder, larger, smaller, and better. I also get a level one power. 

Huh. All three of the level-one Weave powers are offensive (by which I mean "useful for offense," not "I take offense at them"). I'll take Nightmare, which allows me to make a mental attack by hurling scary bits of the Weave at enemies. I don't seem to have any path modifiers to my derived traits - it actually looks like just Edgemasters do.

Well, doing that, that just leaves advantages and disadvantages. Taking disadvantages only allows you to take advantages, so I don't have to go back and add skill points or anything, so that's nice. I can take a major and three minor of each, but the sheet only gives me three lines. Boo. 

Major: I'll take Friends in Low Places. Might as well do this rebel thing all the way. And I'll take Good Luck and Beauty as minor advantages. I don't like any of the other ones. 

So I need a major disadvantage and two minor. I shall take Infamy and Hunted as minor (he hasn't quite gotten infamous on a Robin Hood level yet), and Poor as the major (yes, he's a Weaver, but he's uncomfortable using his power to gain wealth and comfort in Braile Corsa).

That also means I basically start with the clothes on my back (plus anything I've Woven), so I'm basically done. Nice!

Oh, quick description. Daman is a young 29, with black hair that he refuses to comb, a full beard, and pale blue eyes. His clothes are held together by faith and an occasional Weaving of needle and thread, and he wears his sleeves long so he can pull things out of them.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Board Game: Forbidden Desert

The Game: Forbidden Desert
The Publisher: Gamewright
Time: 20 minutes or so
Players: Me, +Dirty Heart+Rob L+Michael Taylor+Jessica Paull

Game Play: Very much like Forbidden Island, this version has adventurers crashing their weird steampunk ship in the desert. There's an ancient, buried civilization here, and by excavating the dunes, you can find odd devices. Bad news: There's a massive sandstorm shifting everything around, and water is an issue. Get the pieces of your busted-ass ship back together and find the launchpad, or die.

Any crash you can walk away from...
 The board, as you can see in that picture, is a 5x5 grid of tiles with one tile missing. That missing tile is the storm, which shifts every turn based on what storm cards you draw. Storm cards can also increasing the storms intensity (you draw more cards) or indicate that the sun beats down (everyone loses water). You can find more water on the board, but only the Water Bearer (that was me) can retrieve it once it's excavated. The positions of everything on the board can change with the storm.

Sarah fears for her life.
Tiles get buried in sand as the storm shifts, and you have to un-bury them to excavate or use them. So there are multiple points of danger in the game, plus the usual thing that this kind of game carries; it's a co-op game, meaning if one person runs out of water, everyone loses.

Opinions: This game is kinda what you play when you've gotten used to Forbidden Island but you don't want to play Pandemic; it's nicely in the middle. It's challenging, and you have to think ahead - we lost because Mike ran out of water and I couldn't get to him in time to save him, but we had one piece of the ship and we knew where another one was. The movement of the storm takes some getting used to, but once you've figured it out it goes pretty smoothly.

Mike dies in agony for the second time that night.
Keep? Yep.

Better Angels: Back to Hell

Very quick end to the Better Angels game yesterday. Some thoughts first.

I like the premise of the game: You're possessed by a demon and you can make concessions to it by being a supervillain, doing stupid evil things rather than actually evil things, and wind up either fighting against your demon without doing so overtly, living the life of a supervillain without really wanting to.

My players kinda didn't do that. Three of them whole-heartedly embraced the notion of being evil, and didn't so much act like supervillains as people possessed by demons reveling in doing evil things. There was some token resistance early on to what their demons wanted, but they pretty quickly got over that and starting killing and manipulating people in terrible ways. The fourth player was playing a little kid who was possessed, and gradually figured out that the monster in her head was asking her to do bad things.

All in all, I think if I were going to do this game again, I'd do a lot of things differently:

  • Establish the goddamn setting. The book doesn't really do that very well (and owns up to that, so that's not a negative), but I really needed to firmly establish that it's a four-color setting with a specific genesis for supers. We should have had colorful costumes and nicknames and so forth. 
  • Disallow the kid. Children having bad things happen to them in RPGs make me super uncomfortable. Being possessed by a demon is a bad thing. I liked the concept in theory, I was less than happy about it in execution (but see below).
  • Use one of the pre-written scenarios. There are a whole bunch of them, and I think that had I read one and used it, it would have gotten closer to the game as intended. 
Learning the system was helpful, but I tend to learn systems best by using them, and that takes a few sessions, so I can't really complain about that. All in all, I like the game and I was happy with the way it went, and I think it was fun. I'll be glad, however, to move on to something else. 

Anyway, last time, we ended with Keys, the angel-bearer, walking into the police station where Willa had just played the golden fiddle and shunted Mammon out of Gary and into a cop. Arvo followed the angel, carefully, not wanting to get hurt. 

The cop, now demonized (claws and wings out, thanks to Mammon) wheeled on Gary and shot him down with his own Dominator Strike. Gary fell dead, his chest caving in. (Yeah, that's how this game started.) 

Willa tried to sneak out of the evidence room unnoticed, but the angel was there. He ordered the cops to run, but the possessed cop stayed, horrified. The angel ordered Willa to send Mammon back to Hell. She refused, so he punched her in the head a couple of times, and then ordered her again. She played the fiddle and sent Mammon upstairs into a prisoner, which the angel seemed not to notice. 

The angel-bearer and Willa argued a bit; the angel wanted her to play the fiddle and exile Baal, and Willa was trying to stall for time, knowing that she couldn't beat the angel physically. Eventually they went back upstairs, with cops watching, and Willa told Baal to save her once he could. She sent Baal into a cop, and the angel took the fiddle and gave it to one of the nearby cops. I rolled a die to see if it was the one possessed by Baal...but it wasn't.

The cop played the fiddle, and sent Baal, Mammon, and Nidhogg (Arvo was sitting outside) back to Hell. Willa and Arvo were arrested for multiple counts of murder. We figured that Arvo would eventually be deported back to Iceland (since making the charges stick would be hard, since he was invisible most of the time) and Willa's would be a very interesting trial - most of her crimes were committed using Dead Ringer, but there was also an angel-bearer willing to testify against her. 

But that night, the cop showed up at Livi's house, and played her demon out. Livi's parents ran over and hugged her - they'd known what was happening, since Stella told them, but they didn't let on too much, for fear of upsetting the demon. 

"But now I'm just like everyone else," complained Livi.

"Never," her mother replied. And that's about as close to a happy ending as I think we're getting. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Movie #261: House of Wax

House of Wax is a 1953 horror movie starring Vincent Goddamn Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, and Charles Bronson before he was Bronson (he was going by Buchinski at the time).

Henry Jarrod (Price) is a master sculptor who runs a house of wax, but won't go in for the "chamber of horrors" kind of thing that his contemporaries do. His business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) just wants to cash out, and Jarrod has found a business man Sidney Wallace (Paul Cavanagh) who might be willing...in three months. This isn't good enough for Burke, and he suggests torching the place. Jarrod, who thinks of his statues as real, would rather die, so Burke just lights the place up, beats Jarrod and leaves him for dead.

Now fast forward a while, and a killer is stalking the streets of New York, deformed and dressed in black. He knocks off Burke in his office, and then kills his girlfriend (Jones) and steals their bodies. Obviously, it's Jarrod, driven mad and starting up a new house of wax with a chamber of horrors made from real corpses, yo. He even has pupils (Bronson and Nedrick Young) who assist him, and he takes on a young friend of Wallace (who has become his new partner) to help him. This man, Scott (Picerni) just happens to be the boyfriend of Sue Allen (Kirk), roommate of the girl he murdered and witness to his crime, and the perfect model for his new Marie Antoinette!

The movie has some melodrama, but it's a lot of fun to watch Price act in his prime. House of Wax is also an early 3D movie, and though the copy I have isn't in 3D, it's obvious where the 3D bits would be (there's a barker who works with paddle-balls, and a scene set in a can-can dance theater just so the girls' kickers would be in 3D). The movie is a good study in 50s horror, and it's held up surprisingly well.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: House of Wax (2006)

Board Game: Red Dragon Inn

The Game: Red Dragon Inn 2 and 4
The Publisher: Slugfest Games
Time: 20 minutes or so
Players: Me, +Dirty Heart+Matthew Karafa+Amanda Slanker+Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Matthew Homentosky

Monday we switched our Warehouse 13 characters over from Unisystem to Savage Worlds, which didn't take long, so we decided a board game was in order.

Game Play: The idea here is that you're a bunch of adventurers (murderhobos) who have just come off the job, and now you're drinking and gambling. Everyone has a deck representing a character, and a meter representing Fortitude and Alcohol Content. Should the two meet, you're drunk under the table and out. Likewise, if you run out of gold (you start with 10), you're broke and have to sleep in the table. Decks of cards have various ways to damage other players, force them to drink (everyone also drinks at the end of their turn), and start gambling.

I'm the only one actually drinking, however.

Now, there are actually 4 iterations of the game, and they have unique characters with various niftyness in their decks. I have 2 and 4, and 4 (which was Kickstarted last year) is the "Crimson Drake," which is a ship, and you can play with Sea Event cards. Stuff like "get attacked by a giant squid, everyone loses Fortitude," that sort of thing.

Opinions: I quite enjoy this game, and I like that all the versions are modular so you can play with a mix of characters. We did use the Sea Event cards, and that added a wrinkle, but it doesn't seem to make or break the game.

The Captain, before she got sloshed. 

Keep? Yep, and I might even buy the other versions if I find them.