Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Last Shout Before GenCon: Monsterhearts

Had hoped to do a chargen post, but I don't think it's happening. Instead, the Monsterhearts session from the other day.

Recall that last time, we started off Season Four with a class schedule, and at the end of the day, everyone decided to go and see The Book of Life. After the movie, they decided to head out to Scoop, this little ice cream place. They sat there eating their ice cream and chatting; Miguel used she's not there to be able to order and interact a little. And then they saw smoke from across the street - something big was on fire.

Briar, being Briar, started heading over and asked the others if they were coming. Rook called 911 and got the fire department on the way. When the students got across the street, they found that it was an abandoned house in flames, but there were people standing around watching it burn. They were hairless - no eyebrows, even - and pale and utterly silent. Their eyes were pure white. ("See," said Rook to Romy, "this is what you get into if you hang out with us.")

Skylar decided to check the house, and used dissipate to walk through the fire. She found a corpse in the middle of the house, singed but not burned, surrounded by some bottles that smelled of gasoline. Had this person started the fire? Skylar saw something move out of the corner of her eye and followed it - and found clothes matching the ones the corpse was wearing, walking around like someone invisible was inside. It reached out for her, and she tried to run away, but failed. The creature touched her, and she became her Darkest Self.

Meanwhile, outside, Briar tried to talk with the strange, silent people. They looked over her shoulder and "spoke" to each other, but made no sound. She manipulated an NPC to figure out how to communicate, and touched one - and everything went white, like a photo negative. She could see them more clearly, and hear them. It told her that they didn't start the fire (go ahead, make the joke, we did), they were just watching it. She asked why, and it said she'd know soon. She realized her hair was starting to fall out, and she let go, popping back into visibility.

The fire department arrived and, apparently not able to see the strange beings, hosed the building. When the firelight died, the beings vanished. Skylar was invisible and unable to communicate, so she wrote her name in the grass in soot, revealing to Romy what she really was. She reappeared, and told Romy how she died (giving her the morbid condition). She also tried to turn her on, but failed...Mikaela, Romy's head-voice, was immediately smitten and pressed Romy to get with Skylar.

Cassi invited everyone back to the pool house to talk about this. When they arrived, Cassi's mom was waiting for them and told her to have everyone out by 11:45; this was new, but after the year that Cassi had last year, it wasn't unexpected. They talked, and Miguel used she's not there to whisper to Romy (who successfully holds steady). No one was sure exactly what they'd seen - was the invisible person a ghost? What were the hairless things? All they knew for sure was that something was going on and Romy seemed to be taking it more in stride than would be expected.

The phone in the pool house rang, and a voice asked for Skylar. It said it wanted to be with her, and that it had seen her at the house. Why Skylar, they wondered? And how did it get the number?

Next day, Romy, Rook, and Cassi went out to the ecology class field trip. They did their worksheets, and Cassi and Rook laid down on the dunes to snog a bit. One of their classmates, Becky Thompson, saw them, turned to leave, and fell and broke her leg. Rook went down to help her, and Cassi went back to get the teacher. Becky pointed out people standing around her, also hairless, but with black eyes. They watched as Becky cried in pain, held hands and breathed heavy. Rook called Cassi and told her to hurry.

Cassi brought Mr. Patrick out, and he called for help. Rook manipulated an NPC and convinced him to get a Life-Flight; he was convinced Becky was going to die without help. Worth nothing; Mr. Patrick couldn't see the strange, mute people, and walked right through them.

Back at school, Briar went into the bathroom between classes and heard a fight between two girls. She exited and saw that their reflections were watching them, and the reflections eyes were silver. Briar shut them down (giving them the cowed condition) and they left; the reflections stared at Briar a bit, and then reached out for her reflection. Briar ran away.

Romy went to the bathroom, and Skylar followed to creep. She said Romy's reflection with the silvered eyes, and it looked at Skylar and said, "kiss her." Skylar, creeped out, left.

The characters regrouped in drama class, where Mrs. Law told them to get audition pieces ready for Monday. At lunch, they went to the library to hit the books, and learned that these creatures were lonesome spirits from the Void. Miguel used she's not there to talk them, but always managed to get distracted before he could answer any questions about why he was normally unnoticed. They could see them because they'd touched death in some way, or were otherwise apart from the world. This, again, left the question of Romy - and Mikaela wouldn't shut up about banging Skylar. She said that if Romy had sex with Skylar, she'd tell Romy all about those creatures - some of which she called "hexmutes."

When told about the incident in the bathroom, Romy asked Mikaela, but Mikaela (who also insists that the others not know the truth about her) said that she'd kind of lost some time, there. So was it really Mikaela who'd stared back Skylar? Something riding Mikaela's mind? And how many different lonesome spirits are there, anyway?

End credits: "Country Death Song," Violent Femmes.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Character Creation: Men in Black

Man, I was doing so well, too. I had like four in a row, and then I got busy with Demon stuff and it just slipped off the damn radar.

Well, anyway, I'm gonna try and do one more character before GenCon, and then do a few after I get back in between finishing development of Promethean, and then maybe try and do one a week after school starts.

Anyway, today's selection is:

The Game: Men in Black: The Roleplaying Game
The Publisher: West End Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: I thought you needed the Masterbook core, but apparently not, so just the one.

I asked for song suggestions a while back over on Facebook and got a bunch of good ones, but holy shit listen to this.

That's a mashup of "Peter Gunn" and "Every Breath You Take," and it's freaking slick. I like it, and it seems appropriate to a Man in Black, someone who's left behind his life but, like K in the movie, hasn't quite given it up.

Well, this game is meant to be light and funny, so I won't get too deep into character backstory, but that's a decent starting point. I get 24D (dice) to build the character, starting with Attributes. Each die can be broken up into "pips," totally 0, 1, or two. I've got eight Attributes, and they're basically the standard spread: Reflexes, Coordination, Endurance, Strength, Knowledge, Perception, Confidence, and Charisma (seems weird to split those last two, but whatever).

Oh, wait, I get 24D to do Attributes, but then I get more for Skills. So I could split these up evenly and wind up with 3D - about human average - in everything. I like that, but I'm not gonna do it.

I do need a basic concept, here. Let's take witness protection and really freaking run with it. My character was an average guy living in Chinatown, second generation American, making a living doing deliveries for his uncle's store while he worked his way through college. He had a girlfriend, and things were going pretty well. And then he witnessed a triple murder (Triad related) and his girlfriend (who isn't Chinese) pressured him into testifying. He was put into protective custody, and his WitSec handler, as it happened, is from Neptune (well, one of the moons). Recognizing the guy's untapped potential, he pulled some strings and got him the black suit. Now he's just Y, but he wants to go back to his old life. It's just not safe.

OK, that's not bad. I can split things up pretty close to evenly, since Y is a fairly normal guy. I'll put 3D+2 into Reflexes, 3D into Coordination, 3D+1 into Endurance, 2D into Strength, 3D+0 into Knowledge, 3D into Perception, 2D into Confidence, and 4D into Charm (Y is personable and a good talker, plus he can play the "I don't really speak English" card to great effect; he's actually fluent in several languages, some of them extraterrestrial).

Now I get 7D to split up among Skills. I can break these up into pips, too, and given that there are a lot of Skills I guess that's what I'm meant to do.

This is interesting. "Linguistics," which lets you figure someone's general intent in communicating with you, is Knowledge Skill, while actually knowing Languages (which you have to buy individually ugh) is a Perception Skill. I think I'd have reversed those.

Anyway, I have to have 2D in a language to speak it fluently, which is fucking stupid, but OK, fine. I'll take 2D in English (since Y's native language is Cantonese), and since that's basically a third of my points, I'll put 2D into Linguistics so I can at least fake it. Better put something into Marksmanship; I'll break up a die and put +2 there. I'll put my +0 into Dodge (another stupid Skill), and my +1 into Streetwise. I've got 2D left. Ugh. I'll put 1D into Disguise and then split the last one; +2 into Charm, +1 into Scholar, and +0 into Running (worked for J).

I start with 5 Character Points and 1 Fate Point, so that's easy. Because this game is pre-1999, I roll to get my hit points (Body Points), so hang on, need entropy. I roll my Endurance and add 20. I roll 10, add my +1, and that gives me 31 Body Points. My Speed is 30.

I can have two Useless Skills at the whim of the Director, but since I don't have one let's assume I can take those, because they're fun. I'll say that Y can fold paper cranes expertly, and can make good dumplings.

And that's pretty much it, because I've already done the backstory stuff.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Board Game: VCR Clue

The Game: VCR Clue
The Publisher: Parker Brothers
Time: An hour or so
Players: Me, Al, Will, Teagan, and +Michelle

I played this game pretty frequently as a lad with my parents and sometimes my brother. In fact, some of the detective sheets still have our old notes on them. Kinda nostalgic.

Anyway, The Game: This game includes a VHS tape, but we found the videos on YouTube because the tape is old and probably would have skipped. The movie introduces all of the characters and runs you through an introduction game, hosted by the butler, Didit. The tape then has three chapters, with five scenes each. You watch them one at a time, pausing between each one to play a round of cards.

The object is to figure out all of the murders in that particular act (so who killed whom, where, and with what), and to figure out the identities of the other players (everyone draws a card at the beginning of the game). Once you've figured all that out, you can make an accusation and win, verifying your accusation with a nifty red filter to red in the clue book.

Playing the cards involved drawing a clue card (and learning a fact about the round's murders), playing investigation card (doing things like forcing another player to read a clue card, burying a clue card where others can't get at it), or getting a personal identity fact (forcing someone to reveal something about the character card they drew).

The clue cards tell you facts about the murders, but you need to pay attention during the movies and note what the characters are doing. Of course they get more involved and more intricate as you play through the harder murders.

Opinions: I kinda like this game, but it requires patience, deductive reasoning, and memory, and I'm good at those things. There are a lot of details to remember, and so a crucial part of the game is sifting through the shit you don't need to remember. Also, the game has lots of replayability (three chapters with six games each), but if you aren't playing with the same people you'd have trouble ever advancing past the first chapter.

All in all, I like it, but I rather doubt I'll get to play it again. Which is kinda sad, but hey.

Keep? Sure, what else would I do with it?

Movie #321: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is a sci-fi movie starring Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Stephen Spielberg!

John Hammond (Attenborough) is a rich dude who's created cloned dinosaurs on an island, and plans to open the place as a theme park so people can come see them. However, when a worker is killed, he needs some experts to endorse the park, so he recruits paleontologist Alan Grant (Neill), paleo-botanist Ellie Satler (Dern), and mathematician Ian Malcolm (Goldblum). They take one look and say, "are you fucking crazy?" but it's not until a disgruntled programmer tries to sell out some embryonic dinosaurs (Wayne Knight - the programmer, not the dinosaurs) that everything goes haywire, the fences go down, and people start getting eaten.

It's a pretty standard "technology goes nuts and kills us" kind of setup, except holy shit the dinosaurs. I mean, sure, dilophosaurus isn't really venomous and velociraptor isn't really that big and they all probably had feathers, but whatever. This movie came out in 1993, before the general public knew that, and nobody had seen effects like these. Some of it CGI, sure, but some of it is practical, and it holds up pretty damn well for a 20-year-old movie.

The script is pretty tight, the dialog is fun. It annoys me that Arnold (Jackson) gets to smoke the whole time, because characters that smoke around other, more sensible people annoy me because ew, and because smoking is so uncommon now that it looks weird that he's smoking indoors around others, but that's just a relic of the time. I love Attenborough's wide-eyed enthusiasm, and I love that Grant gets over his discomfort around kids as he takes them through the park. (By the way, I just now caught that parallel between this movie and the recently Jurassic World, and holy shit, that's just another way that movie is a clumsy clone of this one.)

Ellie is one of the high points for me. Teagan loves this movie, and she notices when there are women characters in movies who, like, do things. Ellie stands up and is an active, equal part in the proceedings, and when someone sexistly mentions that, she calls him on it. More than that, though, I enjoy how the tough game warden Muldoon (Bob Peck) never even comments or tries to stop Ellie from being helpful, he just gratefully accepts the help (and, later, sacrifices himself for her, though not intentionally).

It's a fun movie, just scary enough to be kid-appropriate without being grim (which is another place Jurassic World falls down).

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Kill Bill vol. 1

Friday, July 24, 2015

Movie #320: Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending is an entirely underrated space opera directed by the Wachowskis and starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, and Tuppence Middleton.

In this world, human beings originated on a faraway planet, and "seed" other worlds with human DNA mixed with the genetic material of similar species. When the planet reaches a certain population, it is "harvested" - everyone there is killed and the resulting material is rendered to a jizz-like substance that keeps people alive and young. The most important family doing all this, the Abrasax house, sees a three-way power struggle between siblings Balem (Redmayne), Kalique (Middleton), and Titus (Booth).

Meanwhile, a girl born to a Russian woman and a murdered Englishman grows up in Chicago, cleaning toilets and generally hating her life. This girl, named Jupiter (Kunis) is the "recurrence" of the mother of the Abrasax siblings, and is being pursued by everyone, including a former space-soldier named Caine (Tatum), who's basically half wolf. He gets help from a former comrade (Bean) who's half bee, and...

...this movie is fucking insane.

When it came out, there was a lot of waffle about how stupid it was. Roller-skating space werewolves? Reincarnation on a genetic scale? Dense family-drama on a Shakespearean level? But here's the thing: It's space opera. It's not more dense and ridiculous than Star Wars, and it's got a female lead who doesn't "win" by murdering everyone (still plenty of fun action, though). The world is beautifully realized and rendered, the characters all have understandable and even somewhat relateable motives.

What I find interesting is Jupiter deciding, at the end, to return to her life but to own it. She still loves the stars and still wants something more, but she can have it. She literally owns the world. She has the power to change everything, but she takes some time to live the life she knows (while, y'know, snogging her space-werewolf boyfriend and hover-skating through the skies of Chicago, because holy shit why wouldn't you) and figure out what it all means. It feels like the ending is earned.

And then there's other stuff I like, like the fact that the Aegis (space-cops) aren't entirely stupid and once they figure out what's going on, they act like decent, intelligent people. I like that Jupiter doesn't become a magical fighty badass over the course of the movie; she does fight, but badly, and she relies on Caine for the heavy stuff. She's the heroine of the movie, but that isn't demonstrated by martial prowess.

Michelle calls this "sci-fi for girls," and after seeing Teagan's reaction to it, I kinda agree. I don't think we'll get a sequel, since it kinda bombed at the box office, but I'm glad we have it.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next Up: Jurassic Park

Part-Time Gods: All Things in Moderation

The other night I ran a quick game of Part-Time Gods, in preparation for a review I'll be writing for RPG.net (I'm running the Fate version tomorrow). I figured I'd better do the write-up before I forget. I had been planning to do it before I went to Chicago, but then I was gone an extra day, so anyway.

The game was set in Nashville, TN. Our characters:

  • Laquetta Johnson, Goddess of Doors: She runs a no-kill shelter and helps the local homeless get back on their feet ("doors" as in "transitions to new places/lives"). Phoenix Society. 
  • Jasper Stone, Goddess of Sound: She's a sound engineer. She used to be in a band called Violet Crush, but she left when she realized her real interest and talent was behind the scenes. Phoenix Society. 
  • Maxwell Black, God of Wandering Performers: Performs as a porn star under the name "Morgan Snow." Travels around a lot doing shoots. Drifting Kingdoms. 
  • Melody Spires, Goddess of Wine: She owns a vineyard outside of Nashville, called "Devotion." Phoenix Society. 
Our characters are a concert at a club. Violet Crush is performing, and Jasper is running sound. Maxwell is there with some of his fellow performers. Laquetta is there because the bassist in Violet Crush is a girl she helped get back on her feet, and Melody is there because the club is selling Devotion's wines as a promo. 

Jasper notes that the stage manager is drunk - like, missing cues drunk. Maxwell notices that some of his friends are getting inebriated more quickly than he'd think, and Melody, likewise, notices that people are sipping her wine and coming away drunk-er. The gods note this and take stock as best they can, but then the curtains on the stage catch fire. 

Maxwell teleports the band outside using Banish, and Laquetta uses Aegis to make the curtains invulnerable to keep the fire from spread. The show is over, though; everyone evacuates. Jasper checks, and realizes that the fire started because the curtains weren't raised properly; they were situated over a light that got too hot. In other words, the drunk stage manage missed a cue. 

Melody uses Oracle to try and narrow this down, and realizes that this is due to Divine influence, but not hers. There's a new god around, but not someone they've met. 

They set about tracking down the power they're feeling. Laquetta finds a dog (she has the Beast Tongue Entitlement) and asks it about seeing drunk people. The dog says he's seen people coming out of that building over there acting drunk. The gods expect this to be a bar...but it's a center where AA meetings happen. Too weird. 

They approach the place and find someone still in residence. They knock and find that he's a) one of the counselors and b) drunk. Melody can tell, however, that he hasn't actually had anything to drink. They question him a bit, and learn that at a meeting last week, a guy came into the building, very ill, and died, apparently of alcohol poisoning. Since gods can pass on their Spark when they die, the characters figure that must be what happened. Jasper uses Oracle to listen back in time to the meeting in question, and hears the drunk guy come in, the shock and consternation from the folks there, and someone say, "Galen, you've got medical training, right?" Galen agrees...and now Jasper has heard his voice.

She uses her mastery of sound to track him to a bar. The characters enter, though first Melody uses her Aegis to shield them from becoming drunk. They see Galen in the bar, and everyone, including him, is soused (except the bartender, how strange). They talk to him, and realize that he's become the god of drunkeness.

Through judicious use of Soothing Aura and creating a bubble that no sound can escape from (so that the other folks in the room can't hear them), the gods talk to him and help him realize that his influence is getting out of control and he needs to tone it down, or people might get hurt. As a former alcoholic himself (it's hard to think of the god of drunkenness as an addict; he kind of gets a pass?), he can understand that. The characters pledge to help him figure out how to control his powers, and they all decide to go out for a drink.

Of coffee, perhaps.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Matt's GenCon 2015 Schedule

Just in case you want to find me at GenCon and, like, hug me. Or talk about gaming. Whichever.

Matt’s Schedule

Wednesday: Running a game of Chill for our Indianapolis Regional Coordinator backers.
Thursday: From 3PM to 6PM I’ll be at the Indie Game Developer Network booth. That’s booth 734, it’s right near Indie Press Revolution. I’ll be happy to talk about Chill, sell you books, sign books, and hear about your characters. From 8PM to Midnight, I’ll be running Beast: The Primordial in the Downtown Marriott, ballroom 9. The game is full, but you never know. Show up with tokens and see if a slot opens!
Friday: From 10AM to 2PM I’ll be running Chill at the Indie Game Developer Network’s game HQ (Downtown Marriott ballroom 7, which is a really good place to stop and see a bunch of awesome games in action). Again, it’s sold out, but that doesn’t always mean anything. At 3PM, I’m on the What’s Up with the New World of Darkness? panel for Onyx Path Publishing, in Crowne Plaza Central Ballroom D. From 5PM to 6PM, I’ll be at booth #1103 (Onyx Path) to sign books and talk about World of Darkness stuff (but I’ll probably talk about Chill if you ask me, too). From 6PM to 8PM, I’ll be at the IGDN Game HQ (Marriott Ballroom 7, remember) to sign books and talk about Chill (but if you ask me about World of Darkness stuff, I’ll probably talk about it, too).
Saturday: From 2PM to 6PM, I’ll be running curse the darkness at the IGDN Game HQ. Again, game’s sold out, but show up if you want to play and we’ll see what we can do.
Sunday: From 10AM to Noon-ish, I’m running Clay-o-Rama. Yeah, the one where you make monsters out of Play-Doh and make them fight. Sold out, might still have slots, etc. That’s in the ICC Family Fun Pavilion. And then from noon to 2PM, I’m in the IGDN booth (#734) doing Chill demos.
If I haven’t said where I’m going to be during a time, it’s because I’m a) playing in a game somewhere or b) unaccounted for and will probably be eating. Downtown Marriott Ballroom 7 is a pretty good place to look for me.