Sunday, July 24, 2016

Nobilis: Head Squids

I took a bunch of notes on my character sheet, but then +Travis collected them, so let's see how far I get on memory alone! Here are the characters, BTW.

Beginning on Erehwon Island: Woolaroo is with the weavers as they make new blankets. Isabel is teaching baby goats parkour. Tommy is at the local coffee shop, chatting with folks about movies. The Countess is out in the water, doing politics. Seems that the squids, which give up ink for squid-ink pasta, are tired of being milked like cattle, and the crabs have been encouraging them. The Countess is looking at a crustacean uprising, here, and that's unlikely to end well. She encourages her Anchor, Bon-bon the Nautilus, to lure the crabs towards traps, seeking to drive a wedge between the cephalopods and the crustaceans (it's always about the sea life with this group).

The characters are interrupted in their dealings by a knock - someone from Epicura, the Chancel next door, as it were, is wanting to come in. The Powers assemble by the door (in an old shed), and find the Power of Rejuvenation, Dr. Indra, asking permission to enter. She's here to make the milk sweeter and the lavender fresher, and the Powers happily allow her in. She goes about her business.

But just then, the lighthouse flicks on. Norton, the one-time Emperor of the United States and now the lighthouse-keeper on Erehwon, was signaling trouble. The Powers zip up to the lighthouse (Tommy complaining that they couldn't just cut away to them all being at the top, but no, they had to take the stairs). Norton indicates that a ship off the coast was laying in crab traps, which was going to screw with the delicate political situation. The Powers decide to drive away the ship, so Woolaroo (as Realm's Heart) calls up a storm, to which the others contribute. The boat flees, but the rain continues, driving down upon the town and stranding folks. The Powers figure that's fine; people will stay at the B&Bs on the island and spend some more money.

Woolaroo takes it upon herself to visit Epicura, and specifically the Power of Complementarity, named Pedro. They visit a bit, she invites him to drop by Erehwon, and she moves to leave.

Tommy, meanwhile, is back in the coffee shop, setting up a movie night. He notices a young man looking at some footage on his laptop, and strikes up a conversation. Turns out the man, LaTwon, is a military vet seeking to assemble footage he's been shooting across the country into a documentary about "real America." Tommy encourages him, and reminds him that perfect is the enemy of done. LaTwon agrees, and mentions that he met a man named Wes Williams out in L.A. who might be able to help him out.

Tommy grits his teeth; Wes Williams is the Power of Indie Film. There's a difference between "indie" and "independent," and the difference is artistic integrity.

Isabel and the Countess, after some time, decide they should check in on Dr. Indra, just to see if she's still on the island. They track down her Spark, but realize it's...gone. They follow the trail of fresh lavender and find her body splayed out in a field, alive, bleeding but un-Enobled. And that's not possible, because the only way to lose one's Power is to die. They rush her to the clinic, and try and contact Woolaroo and Tommy.

Woolaroo, though, has troubles of her own. As she's headed back toward the portal, she finds the ground becoming thorny and moths surrounding her. The Powers of Epicura - The Pack, the Power of Dogs; Louis, the Power of Confection; the Dude, the Power of Neglect; and Pedro surround her. It seems that Indra has vanished, her Spark seemingly gone, and the Powers of Epicura hold Erehwon responsible. "One of yours for one of ours," Louis says Frenchly.

Woolaroo pulls loose and flutters in the wind, not willing to be anyone's prisoner.

Meanwhile, back at the clinic, Isabel and Countess ask about what happened, but Indra doesn't really remember. She just knows she can't feel her Spark anywhere. Tommy arrives with a sprig of lavender, and waves it under her nose to induce a flashback scene (common trope in independent film), but bumps up against magical defense (big long word, begins with an A, can't be fucked to get up and grab my book). Countess asks if he can just turn on the TV and get info that way (Tommy has a Gift that lets him take advantage of the "TV is showing exactly what we need to know" trope), but Tommy refuses; he can't just do that with no reason to turn on the TV, it needs to happen organically. Remember, he has artistic integrity. He heads for the coffee shop.

Woolaroo, meanwhile, sends the others a message by rearranging threads on a blanket, which appears on the hospital blanket covering Indra. They explain the situation to the blanket (which Woolaroo relates), and Woolaroo digs into the Realm for information. Meanwhile, Tommy arrives at the coffee shop and talks with LaTwon. He buys the young filmmaker a sandwich and turns his computer away ("you gotta remember to eat, man"), but hits play and watches his footage. And low and behold, there's something useful there.

The footage shows Indra walking in a field. She collapses, and the last thing she sees is...Norton.

Next time, we'll perhaps find out why our emperor buddy has betrayed us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

New Pal

Tim pulled his shirt up and wiped his face with it. The shirt was black, and the sweat left a shiny smear just under the Batman symbol. His mom would've yelled at him if she's seen it, but they never let parents in during recruitment.
Marius sat down against the wall. He was sweating, too. The basketball rolled into a corner and rested there, waiting. The boys had been playing one-on-one for an hour. They hadn't talked much; Marius was nervous and Tim knew to wait for the recruit to make the first move. 
"What are they? The invaders, I mean." Marius was still panting a little, but he got the question out. 
Tim was a little surprised. Normally the first question was "can I learn kung fu" or something like that. "They're aliens," he said. 
"I know that," said Marius. "But like, I saw one. When they hit that music show-"
"Bonaroo," muttered Tim. 
"Right. I saw video online, and the invaders were just people, and they were just pointed at other people and-"
"They ain't people," said Tim. This wasn't what he was good at. He was good at making using Time sound cool. He was good at the kung fu questions. Leah was better at invader questions. "They''s hard to explain."
Marius looked over at the cooler. "What's in that?"
"Water, drinks. No soda, though."
"I don't like soda anyway," said Marius. He got up and opened the cooler. Marius pulled a sports drink out; his mom didn't let him drink it, normally. Tim followed him and pulled out a bottle of water.
"OK," said Tim. "So, the invaders didn't come in ships, right?"
Marius nodded. "Right, because they'd have to move faster than the speed of light and you can't do that."
Tim shrugged. "I guess. Anyway, they got here as information. They got here as a signal. And some scientist guys in China put the signal together and, like, put it in a body."
"I don't know." Tim flushed a little. He hated not knowing stuff when recruits asked. "But anyway, once they had bodies, the invaders started making their own bodies. Like, people can use 3D printers to make organs, right? Like if you need a new heart or liver or whatever? The invaders used that tech and made bodies for themselves. That's why most of them look like people, because it lets them walk around and no one knows."
Marius nodded. "OK. But my friend at school said he saw one that had, like, extra arms."
Tim scoffed. "Probably he's full of crap." Marius smirked. "But the invaders make new bodies. They just arrange the brain so it already knows things. They can do things with their brains that we can't do, they can make a brain that already knows something so it starts out adult and has all the skill it needs."
"But we can't do that?"
Tim finished off his water and pitched the bottle into a recycling bin. "No. We have to do something else. We can't build a working brain from nothing, there's too many little things we don't know how to do. We have to take a working brain and then change it." Tim picked up the ball out of the corner and tossed it over his shoulder. It fell through the hoop with a fwip. Tim didn't even turned around. 
Marius gaped a little. "Can I learn that?"
"I don't know what you can learn," said Tim. "But you can learn something cool."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Headspace: Vancouver Aftermath

Yesterday, I ran a session of Headspace, a new cyberpunk PbtA RPG by +Mark Richardson. I ran it in preparation to write a review, like I do. Most of the time, when I run game for review purposes, they wind up being one-shots, but I'm always interested to see which ones will make the players say "let's play this some more." Unwritten would have, I'm sure, but the group that we assembled was disparate enough schedule-wise that it wasn't tenable. This group, though, is an established one; we were played Epyllion for a while, but then hit the end of a story arc and were waiting until the full game is released to pick it up again.

Anyway, the point is, we played a session yesterday, and the players decided they'd like to continue the story next month. That, Mark, is the best response you can get from players. As such, I need to do the write-up (which is not the same as the review, which I'll work on this week and try and get it up before GenCon), but first:

We made characters first. Since we have four players, we wound up with two Ghost Operators (the Handler and the Whitecoat, as it happened). The remaining Operators are:
  • Grease, the Runner (played by Mike). Grease got used by Aescupalian labs to deliver drugs to (he thought) folks in need, but it turned out to be a bunch of execs and their hired goons. He and his family emigrated from the US, and were investigated as possible terrorists (Americans are dangerous, you know, they're violent and gun-obsessed; we also joked that Grease might be a descendant of Jethro, Mike's character from Misspent Youth).
  • Spider, the Tech (played by Rob). Spider was the one hired to investigate and then smear Grease's family. He's hacked into a lot of people's lives and ruined them, but wants to make amends for what he's done. 
  • Willis, the Ronin (played by Sarah). Willis is expert in blowing stuff up, and made their bones (Willis doesn't like pronouns) taking on dirty jobs for Pacific Security Systems. 
  • Arrow, the Infiltrator (played by Michelle). Arrow, too, used to work for PSS, and burned down a food warehouse as part of PSS' plant to start food riots in 'Couver. 
I read over the Vancouver setting for the players and introduced them to the five corps that are relevant, and asked which one they would like to take on, figuring that since a couple of them have tied to PSS, they'd pick that or Aesculpian (Mark, a note: I hate that name, it's hard to pronounce and spell). So obviously they picked Applied Optimism, the least overtly evil and most subtle of the corps to work against.

So Applied Optimism wants to turn the unwashed masses against the other corps, and use the masses as a weapon (they're said to be involved with the Occupy movements, some 60 years ago in-setting). I decided to go with their corporate project listed in the book: Leak corporate involvement to the wage slaves. To that end, their three Objectives were: Find proof of 3H involvement in the quake (Cost), start riots in the reclamation zones (Quality), and broadcast proof of 3H involvement (Time). Since this is the first session, they've already achieved one; I decided it made most sense if they'd achieved the Cost Milestone already. The Operators chose the Quality milestone as the one they were working against (after some deliberation). 

The broke their approach down into three milestones: First, rescue Kevin Mitnick, a civilian resident advocate whose popularity and notoriety made him a voice of the people. AO had kidnapped him and reported him dead; they were using that as a way to whip people up. Second, they planned to make sure a critical food delivery arrived safely. And finally, they planned to take out a group of paid agitators out on the streets. 

We start in medias res, and the Operators were working on rescuing Kevin. They'd made some progress - Grease had found Kevin in the upper floors of a high-rise and had called in Angel (their Whitecoat) to help treat Kevin's injuries (we justified that by saying that AO employed some tech that disrupted the Headspace enough that Grease couldn't just treat Kevin himself). Meanwhile, Spider was outside the building observing through drones, Arrow was on the upper floors being sneaky, and Willis was downstairs with Keaton (the Handler). Turns out AO had rigged the building to collapse via several explosive charges. 

Grease jumped off the building, lugging Kevin, and yelled for Angel to follow...but she froze, and Grease heard gunfire. Angel disappeared from the Headspace, but Grease landed and rolled, keeping Kevin safe. One of the charges exploded in the bottom of the building, vaporizing Keaton. Willis reset the other charges, figuring if the building went down, AO would think Kevin was dead and the Operators could use that to their advantage. 

Spider provided backup on drones, but wound up taking a couple of Grief complications and fleeing. Grease jabbed Kevin in the leg with a hypo to dull his pain, but hit a nerve and Kevin screamed, altering guards. Arrow saw he needed help and looked for a way (using Observation, which isn't her skill), and wound up revealing her Regret, triggering a flashback for all of the Operators. She spotted a fire escape, zipped down, and landed on the guards all martial-arts style. 

Willis blew the building and everyone fled. The Operators had achieved their first milestone, and created an Event: AO thinks Kevin is dead and he's getting ready to hold a press conference.

Next up: The food delivery. Grease contacted the Dodge, his gang of car thieves, and got himself a hoverbike with a faulty altimeter (take it too high and it doesn't know how high up it is, which can lead to problems). Spider did some hacking using his AI, Diane, and learned that the food was being delivered via aerodyne and then split up into multiple shipments and taken throughout the zone. If AO was going to hit the shipment, it needed to it before that point. 

Arrow did her infiltrator thing and got on board the aerodyne, wearing the appropriate uniform. Spider, as always, hung back and watched through his drones. Willis rode on Spider's predator drone (it's loud and hot, but Willis has a pain editor, so Willis don't care), and Grease swooped in behind on his new bike.

As they approached the landing site, the aerodyne pilot reported that something was taking control of the ship and throwing off the gyros. Spider tracked the signal and found a dude on a rooftop with a rig. He sent the predator drone over, and Willis, not one to fuck around, shot the dude in the face. Crisis averted?

Maybe not. Grease noted someone on another rooftop with what he thought was a rocket launcher (he may also have picked up a couple of Fear complications and overestimated the danger). Willis flew over and shot that guy, too, and then realized the "rocket launcher" was a really high-tech camera; the dude was just filming everything, probably for AO. Willis hopped off the drone and picked up the camera, keeping an eye on the the ship, making sure it all went smooth.

Not so much. As the aero came in for a landing, Arrow recognized one of the dudes on the landing strip from her time freelancing for PSS. She had Spider run facial recognition - they all were PSS goons. Spider sent in his wolf drone as the ship landed to take out one of the PSS guys, and everything kind of went chaotic - the PSS guys hadn't threatened the delivery guys, so no one knew of the danger. Grease started heading toward them on his bike, Spider had the predator drone fire a missile near the strip, and Willis shot the dude Arrow had ID'd. The remaining goons opened fire on Grease (the only target they could see), and he crashed his bike into a wall, Taken Out. 

The pilot of the aero, deciding "fuck this" was the better part of valor, took off. Arrow, still on board, managed to coax him into touching down a small distance away, after which he got out and ran. Arrow contacted the folks waiting for the delivery and they showed up to unload and distribute. Success.

Mostly success. The collateral damage had made this a qualified victory. The food is distributed successfully, but collateral damage has the populace spooked

The Operators dragged Grease out of the wreckage and treated him, and then they got to work on their last objective - the agitators. 

Willis, of course, was of the opinion that "find 'em and shoot 'em" was effective, but the others noted that AO could just as easily use that to get what they wanted. Instead, the Operators decide to find the agitators and dox them, revealing their real professions and allegiance. They went to work using Hacking and Sprawl to find these dudes, and somewhere in here Willis reveal their Regret to gain Sync - when Willis set off a bomb to start riots, a young girl wound up half blind after taking shrapnel to the face. That stayed with Willis...and now with the other Operators, too. 

Anyway, the Operators spread out through the city, finding the agitators, ID'ing them, and putting names and profiles up on the great big digital screens on the sides of buildings. They also had to convince the volatile populace not to kill them, since violence would lead to riots just as surely as agitation. For the most part, they were successful - no riots, no big explosions. At the end of the day: The agitators have been disowned, but the wage slaves are out for blood

It's a dangerous city the Operators find themselves in, and we'll see what that means next time.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Movie #370: Looper

Looper is a sci-fi/neo noir movie about time travel and contract killing. Fun for the whole family! It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, and Pierce Gagnon.

Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a "looper," a low-rent hitman who waits in a cornfield until his target appears, sent from the future by the crime syndicates that are big news in about 30 years. He shoots the poor fucker with a low-range shotgun called a blunderbuss, and then collects his fee (taped to the victim), disposes of the body, and goes to get high. Eventually, all loopers wind up shooting their future selves, after which they retire and look forward to their eventual fate of being stuffed in a box and sent back in time to get shot. It's a kind of fucked up world.

Joe realizes that lots of "loops" seemed to be getting closed in short order, but then his buddy Seth (Dano) fails to close his own loop. His future self (Frank Brennan) told him that a powerful crime boss in the future, called the Rainmaker, is closing all the loops. Joe, however, doesn't take much notice; he gives Seth up rather than give up his hoard of money when his boss (Daniels) lays that option out, and goes on about his business.

And then his loop (Willis) shows up. Turns out in the future, he meets a woman (Qing Xu) who gets him off the drugs and out of the business of crime...but then when the Rainmaker's people arrives to close his loop, they shoot her. Old Joe, therefore, armed with a single piece of information about the Rainmaker, narrows it down to three suspects, all of whom are about four at this time. And then he goes Terminator on them.

So, a part of this movie is watching Old Joe trying to work up the nerve to shoot some children. We never actually see any of them get shot, but he does kill one innocent kid (because he doesn't really know who his target is). Meanwhile, young Joe finds the last kid's (Gagnon) house and cozies up to his mother (Blunt), after some initial violence, and waits for Joe.

Time travel movies have a habit of either getting really wibbly with their timelines, or otherwise not talking about it and deliberately telling you they're not going to talk about it. Looper does a little of that (Old Joe describes it as a "precise description of a fuzzy mechanism"), but you also come away with enough understanding of how it's supposed to work that it doesn't feel like a total kludge.

Likewise, all of the performances in this movie are amazing, including Gagnon, playing the little boy destined to the be Rainmaker. Everyone has a backstory, even bit characters like Jesse (Garret Dillahunt), the Gat-man who comes to find Joe at Sarah's farm, and even when you don't hear those stories, they're presented in a way that makes for texture. We never learn how Kid Blue (Noah Segan) lost his foot or why Abe was the boss sent back in time to run things, but any of those stories would be really interesting to know, which to me is a good sign in any movie but is crucial in noir.

I am interested to know, however, if Joe dying at the end alters what Old Joe did earlier in the film; it doesn't seem to, because the money is still spilled on the road. And it's very in keeping with the aesthetic of the film if what happened is immutable, and only the "from this point" changes. Lots of people are dead, but the Rainmaker isn't necessarily coming.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Marvel: No More Heroes

Last night we played the first session of our Marvel Heroic event, No More Heroes. Let's watch, shall we?

It's the Taste of St. Louis cookoff, and several blocks have been closed to traffic so that restaurants and so on can set up stands. Harmony is wandering around in a business capacity, checking for dishes and so on that her club might choose to serve. Arcanix, disguised as a human, is hanging around with Pink (in her normal everyday guise as Jolisa Anderson) and her family, sampling foods.

But not everyone is off today. A truck from Lindquist Industries, carrying the revolutionary prototype of the Earnhardt Radar System, is moving through the city, followed by a limo carrying Lucas Lindquist (the young CEO of the company) and Steven Maxwell Lewis III (whose company helped to construct the electronics for the device). Spore is in a nondescript car with his government handler, watching - the government has an interest in this device, it seems.

Suddenly, a man crosses the street against the light, right in front of the truck! The truck screeches to a halt and the driver blares the airhorn - and the man turns, cocks a greasy smile, and screams. The truck's front end is immediately crushed by the shear sonic force. Spore, seeing this, gets out of the car, zips over to the dude, and slams him to the asphalt. The villain stands up and screams even louder, shattering windows for blocks, panicking the crowds (and increasing the doom pool).

Harmony, who's pretty well-versed in sound herself, charges in, grumbling about having to do this shit on her day off. She tries to absorb the sound and target the villain's sonic attack, but fails - he's too strong for her. Pink, though, takes a much more direct approach - tying her hair up and pulling up her hoodie to disguise herself, she leaps into the air and slams into the dude's back.

But the villain - Decibel - is not alone. From out of nowhere, the insane super-villainess known as Innocence appears, dropping down onto Harmony, her old foe. Harmony's heart sinks - Innocence brings collateral damage with her wherever she goes. A crew of thugs with blasters also appears. One shoots at Pink, but she deftly reflects the blast with a manhole cover.

And then, in the sky, a man in demonic-looking powered armor...the Krampus is early this year. He releases a swarm of drones that shear open the truck, and the thugs rush in to secure the device.

Arcanix teleports over to the fray and tries to yank Innocence into the sky, but fails - she's too quick for him. Back in the limo, Steven Lewis III makes a weak excuse and runs for an alley, but then takes to the sky as the fiery hero Inferno! He swoops in, intending to separate the thugs from the truck with a wall of fire, but gets there too late (he doesn't want to burn anyone alive!).

Innocence pulls out twin machine pistols and sprays the area hitting Spore, Pink, Harmony, and Arcanix. Spore doesn't care, of course (he's effectively immune to such things), but the rest take some damage. Lindquist, meanwhile, shaking his head at Lewis' cowardice, also makes for an alley and emerges as Rookie! He swings in over the truck, intending to pepper it with smoke bombs, but in his haste he's anchored his swingline incorrectly and has to let go (at this point the doom pool was absurd, so the players were finding it hard to create assets or complications).

Harmony, not wanting to get smacked around or see anyone else get hurt, summons up all the light she can and flings it at Innocence and Decibel, blinding them both. They both reel, but can't see to target anyone.

Arcanix decides to fight magitech with magitech. Loudly declaring his position as the Sorcerer Supeme, he uses his powers to possess Krampus' armor, forcing him to fly down and smack Decibel and Innocence together. Innocence, invulnerable to physical attack, doesn't flinch, but Decibel can't take another hit and collapses. Still keyed in to Krampus' armor, Arcanix hears the mad German say, "all right, enough of this. Grimoire, now."

Meanwhile, in the truck, Rookie enters and attacks the mooks with his electric staff. He knocks a few of them down, but then a mystic portal opens under the device, swallowing it.

Out on the street, Innocence runs. Pink tenses to tackle her, but she's too near Pink's family - they would get hurt. She reluctantly lets Innocence go. Krampus flies off, too fast for the characters to follow. The device is gone.

Inferno lands to join the others, but Rookie vanishes into the city - as Lindquist, he's got some people to answer to. Spore's handler demands a report, and berates Pink for letting Innocence go. He also recognizes (and is recognized by) Harmony; she's been doing this a while.

Inferno acknowledges the others, but flies off to attend to business as Lewis. He changes back and returns to the scene, as does Lindquist. The government spook asks them if they have a way to detect the device; Lindquist says he does not (but realizes he could make on; he decides to keep that to himself).

Pink returns to her family and heads home to patch herself up. She fields questions from her mother, who's obviously concerned, but Pink notes that bullets aren't really much of a problem for her. Spore, Arcanix, and Harmony go back to Harmony's club. Arcanix runs his self-repair routine to fix the bullet holes, while Harmony just drinks the stress away.

And then a special bulletin on the TV - the Gateway Arch seems to be overrun by...demons.

The heroes in the bar sigh, and note that the Arch seems to get attacked a lot. Pink quickly finishes her bowl of spaghetti as her little brother delightedly shows her the footage. Lewis, alone in his office, heads for a high window. And Lindquist, getting the notification as he's addressing the press to talk about the theft, says "This press conference is over."

Next time: Demonic hijinks!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Marvel Heroic: [Event Title Here]

I meant to do all of the game prep yesterday, but Night's Black Agents took several hours, and then I tried to start working on Marvel but I was tired so I knocked off and made nachos and watched Shaun of the Dead instead. So here we are.

Super heroes! 
That's a very old picture of the kiddos. Anyway, if you're playing this game, don't look, don't look, the shadows cry.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Game Notes: Night's Black Agents

I did the writeup for yesterday's game, and then Michelle and Al and I walked around in the park for a while chasing little cartoon monsters (and there's a fun new people watching game called "is that person also Poke-monning"), and now we're home and I want to take some notes.

I'm gonna share this picture again because it's awesome and because it'll eat some space.

OK, now, on we go. You've been warned. Stay out, players.