Monday, May 2, 2016

Non-Participatory

"No way."

She was the worst kind of parent. Absolutely my least favorite. She wasn't undereducated or slow or poor or rich; those parents all came with their own challenges, but there was always an approach that tended to work.

No, this lady was well-informed, and that was a lot harder to work with. Lots of times it involved telling them the truth, but I wasn't quite ready to do that, yet.

"Mrs. Green, I can't guarantee your son's safety." I took a sip of water. "I can't guarantee anyone's. That's the whole problem." I swiveled my computer screen around. It was open to an article in the Globe. The headline read 124, 32 ABDUCTED DEAD IN LATEST ATTACK. "This is what's happening."

She didn't move. She didn't nod. She didn't respond. Damn it.

"It's actually worse that this," I said, lowering my voice. "These are the visible attacks, the ones that happen when they feel secure enough to go loud. The worst ones, there aren't any headlines about those, because the numbers are more like 'zero dead, hundreds abducted.'"

This time she nodded. Her pursed lips softened, the wall cracked a little. Good. She still didn't say anything, though.

"We've had a lot of successes with this program, but we can't publicize it. For one thing, due to the nature of the tech involved, the more people who know it exists, the more variables we have to account for in the calculations. If that gets out of control, we honestly don't know what happens." I shuddered. It wasn't an act. Dr. Al-Oakdi had run those numbers our first day, and his left eye hadn't stopped twitching since.

"And this is all supposed to make me feel better about giving you my 8-year-old son, so you can take his brain and-"

I didn't let her finish. It was rude, I know. "No, no, no. We're not doing anything with his brain, nothing his brain can't already do. We're going to train him in using his brain. And it only works because he's so young."

She dropped her eyes. I don't pray, but I found myself thinking please don't make me tell her the truth. Not because I didn't think it would work, but because the more people who knew the truth, the more likely it was that someone who screw that truth up.

"Well," she said. "What if he's an analyst? Like, what if he learns something he can do here? You need people with those skills, right?" Damn. Very smart.

"Sure," I said. "And we can ask that of him. But you have to remember - it's his head. Ultimately, there is literally no way we can force him to learn communications tech, or the invaders' language, or computer sims, or targeting systems, or any number of things he could do from here rather than out in the field." I took another drink. It gets dry in here; biohazard protocols and all. "But if he wants to learn sniping, or lockpicking, or driving, or stealth, or anything else than an 8-year-old boy might find cool...then that's what he'll learned." What he will have learned, as Dr. Ramirez would say, but I'm not as much of a stickler for the grammar. "We had one kid - Mei - who went forward and learned to make candy. Like, she's amazing at it." I nodded at the dish of hard candies on my desk. "Those have lavender and lemon in them, they're fantastic. But it's not much of a help against the invaders."

Mrs. Green is quiet for a minute. "What if I give Marius the choice?"

"You mean, explain it to him and ask if he wants to do it? Sure, that's fine. I'd just suggest we let one of our recruits explain it."

"Why?"

Because the kids make it sound awesome, I thought. "Kids relate to other kids better, and the kids who have actually gone through it can explain it in experiential terms. I can't do that, all I can do is explain it in theory, and then it seems too abstract."

She nods. "OK. I'll bring him in tomorrow, if that's all right."

"That's fine. I'll make sure someone's free to talk to him. There's a playroom we use for this kind of thing. No video games, just space to run around, some toys, basketball hoop, that kind of thing."

"He likes superheroes," she whispers. She's tearing up. I don't blame her, but I need her son. His scores on the NPAT were 87th percentile, highest I've seen in weeks.

"OK. I'll get Tim up here, he's Marius' age and I've never seen him without a Batman t-shirt." Except when he's in uniform.

Mrs. Green leaves. She doesn't know the truth, which is just as well. I breathe, and pop one of Mei's candies in my mouth.

They really are fantastic.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Post #2: Character Creation: Beyond

So, I was planning on doing a character that required a bit more work today, and then I got wrapped up in updating my list and printing some errant character sheets and stuff, so I need to do a low-work character today. I did think about Feng Shui 2nd Ed, but eh, I'll do that sometime this week when I have a few minutes (my resolution this week is to spend less time playing X-Com).

But I have another game I can do.

The Game: Beyond
The Publisher: Zero Point Information
Degree of Familiarity: None with this game, but the game is 2 pages long and it's not terribly complicated.
Books Required: Just the PDF.

I think I got this game in a bundle, either that or I bought it when +Stew posted about it originally. In any case, it's Pay What You Want, so give it a look.

In Beyond, you're playing a ghost, but the experience is pretty distilled (as opposed to some other games). One player in a given scene controls Entropy, the force that pulls all the ghosts down into nothingness. Ghosts work to resolve the questions they're face with (which double as character creation, as we'll seen in a minute).

The system uses color-coded d6s; you get successes on low rolls but Pathos on high ones. Entropy can use Pathos to damage ghosts, crossing out questions.

All in all it looks pretty simple; as usual I think an example of play would not go amiss. But let's make a dead guy.

What Was Your Name? Let's call him Jeff Tylinski.

What Did You Do? Jeff was a FedEx driver. He had a degree in psychology and just hadn't figured out what to do with it.

How Did You Die? Jeff was making a delivery to a kiosk at a mall (some materials that the owners sent out to the franchisees; Jeff doesn't know what was in the box) when some 20-something, pissed off at the world, pulled an AR-15 out of his coat and started firing. Jeff was dead before he heard the first shots. 12 other people died that day, but Jeff hasn't seen any of them around.

Who Remembers You? Jeff's roommate was his best friend from college. Lynch was in basically the same position as Jeff; educated but underemployed. They were close. Jeff was actually kind of happy when Lynch got turned down for a well-paying job that would have taken him out of state.

Why Did You Not Pass On? What Emotion Held You Back? Jeff supposes his should be pissed at how he died, but he didn't really have time to get angry about it. I think Jeff didn't pass on because he felt frustrated - like he was dumped into adulthood with no clear picture of what he was supposed to be doing and afraid of what that meant for the future. That's not exactly traditional ghost story stuff, but I think I'm OK with that. I think if we confronted this question in a scene it would be Jeff dealing with a kid very much like the one who shot him; frustrated at the world and unable to express it or cope.

What Does Your Darkness Want? What Emotion Drives It? Ooh. Well, I think his Darkness is the guy who shot him, or someone very much like him. It's driven by entitlement, the notion that because Jeff played by the rules and got a degree and so forth, he deserves something, that the promise of a comfortable life was in some way a promise. His Darkness is the ugly, sticky rage of the guy who started shooting. Jeff wasn't like that...but then, the voice says otherwise.

What Was the First Gift that Death Brought? The Second? These are ghosty powers. I'll take Wisp (making a little glowy ball that can flummox electronics) and Haunter (making walls bleed and form messages).

And that's it, actually. Interesting little game, this.


Sunday Post #1: Unwritten

So, last night we did character creation for Unwritten, and we were going to play it, but time got away from us and we decided we'd rather have a second date to play it rather than either play until 2AM or rush through a scene or two.

Unwritten, if you don't know, is an RPG based on the old Myst video games (you can get the PDF here, pay what you want). Now, I played the first one waaaaaay back in the day, liked it, and never really got into the others, but there's like a whole huge fandom around the games and the novels and the MMO. I really like Unwritten (I'm gonna be writing a review for RPG.net, I just haven't decided if I'm going to write it before or after we play the session).

Anyway, we used one of the preexisting frameworks, but then went on to do much of the rest of the game creation-work. Everyone created an Age, which might or might not get visited when we play. Folks all added a detail about the setting, which wound up focusing on the underground city of D'ni.

Specifically, there's an unexplored section of the city where the weather is backwards. Rain pools on the ground and then falls up, and occasionally it gets cold enough to snow (also in reverse). Electrical devices don't work there, either. Also, D'ni has an organized crime ring, and they're very interested in the unexplored section...

Characters, then:


  • Sarah plays Eleni, daughter of a minor magistrate in the Guild of Maintainers. The mafia has him under their thumb, and she'd like to get him out. She's curious and has a knack for finding Books in weird places. 
  • Mike plays Nick Boydelatour, a veteran explorer. He was going to be an astronaut, but a minor heart murmur kept him out. He found his way to D'ni, and he's been exploring new worlds ever since. 
  • John plays Terra, who Linked into D'ni as a child, carrying a grapple gun, and having no idea what kind of Age she's from. She's been searching for her home Age ever since. She was adopted by the head of the local "mafia," which puts her at odds with her friend, Eleni; Terra refuses to believe what Eleni tells her about her dad.
  • Travis plays Principessa, a young orphan who acts as a gopher for the mafia. She's overconfident, daring, and skilled at reading art and making judgements about the people who made it.
  • Michelle plays Saron, a junior member of the Guild of Archivists. She's heavily book-smart, but has very little real-world experience. She's also the secret daughter of the mafia head (Terra's adopted father); she's been told her father died in an accident. 
So, next time, we'll actually get into this. Unwritten doesn't really do much with combat (there are, in fact, no combat skills), so all of this mafia stuff is going to be more an omnipresent threat/family issue than a source of physical conflict. I'm looking forward to it. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Movie #358: Life of Brian

Life of Brian is a Monty Python movie, and as such stars Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin. Various other folks, like Carol Cleveland, Sue Jones-Davies, and John Young also drop by.

Brian Cohen (Chapman) is born at the same time as Jesus of Nazareth, and is briefly mistaken for the Messiah at birth. His mother (Jones) gets to receive the gifts meant for Jesus, if briefly.

Grown up, Brian falls in with the People's Front of Judea, a Jewish resistance group led by Reg (Cleese) that spends most of its time griping about the Romans (and other resistance groups). Captured by the Romans during a terrorist attack that fails due to a fight with another of said groups, Brian escapes from the ineffectual forces of Pilate (Palin) and accidentally draws a crowd while preaching to avoid notice. Said crowd thinks he's the Messiah, chase him all over God's creation (lol) and wind up drawing the Romans' notice, which gets him crucified.

In the midst of all this, we get lots of funny bits and vignettes. Palin plays an ex-leper, cured by Jesus, who's pissed off that he's lost his livelihood, but not quite enough to go ask Jesus to change him back. Jones-Davies plays Judith, another member of the PFJ, who winds up becoming Brian's lover (briefly).

As Monty Python movies go, this is probably the tightest, script-wise. Holy Grail is probably funnier and more accessible; this is a little smarter, but we see which one get made into a musical. Chapman (a bit ironically) plays straight man most of the movie, only getting to do comedy himself when he plays Biggus Dickus, who "wanks as high as any in Wome!" as Pilate says. Cleese is perfect as Reg, but also as the harried Centurion trying to make sense of Pilate's ramblings.

I like this movie, of course, because it takes a shot at organized religion, and the Pythons got some major shit for that back in the day. It kinda feels tame now, but I rather suspect that a similar movie would be met with similar shock, especially if it was done well. And given the current rash of religious shit like God's Not Dead and so forth, we desperately need someone with this kind of courage.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Lilo & Stitch

Feng Schweeee

Finally got to play Feng Shui last night. Let's get to the fight!

The characters, heading back to the building holding Johnny Zhu's comatose body after fighting a bunch of apes last time, pulled up at the building and were greeted by a hail of gunfire! Troops from the roof and the street, led by a man in a uniform, a woman in loose, flowing clothes, and a dude dressed all in black, attacked!

They got out of the car and Do leaped over it, cutting two of the thugs down. Leon got out and flew straight at the guy in black, collided...and they both vanished.

(Context: Leon's player had a fucking meltdown during a game a couple of weeks ago and dropped out, so that was me disposing of his character quickly. I have plans.)

In the building next door to the characters', a young man named Johnny Archer saw the action and heard gunfire from the roof. He raced up the stairs, grabbing a folding chair on his way, and leaped forward, smacking one of the gun-toting thugs off the roof! As he got there, the woman in the loose clothing jumped off the roof and slid down the side, kicked off, flew through the air, and booted Do right in the head! He recognized her style of fighting, and remembered her name: Spider Feng.

(That'd be our new character, the Everyday Hero, played by Alisdair.)

The battle raged down below. Tang noticed a dude in a car, drawing a bead on him...and then he got shot. He lurched forward and stove in the car with a parking meter, and then smacked the dude in the uniform with it, knocking him offscreen. A big huge dude carrying a club, Big Ban Wei, stomped into battle, but Celeste jumped up and shot his club out of his hands. Bai kicked him in the knees and clonked him with his staves, but Ban Wei is tough. Bai knocked him back into a lamp shop window, where he settled with a lampshade on his head.

On the roof, the other two gunmen opened fire at Johnny, but he deflected the bullets with the chair, and dispatched them handily. Knocking the second off the roof, thunder clapped, and everyone turned to look up at him! (He rolled boxcars and then rolled a great big Swerve, so.)

The guy in the uniform - Captain Ping - came back and ordered the dude in the car to drive off. He cheesed it, shooting Tang on the way. Tang, annoyed, smacked him with his parking meter and knocked him into the store window. He emerged, and Johnny, on the roof, flung tiles at him...but Ping just tossed a grenade. It exploded, knocking Johnny to the street below. Tang realized that this kid looked a lot like his dead partner in the future...perhaps Johnny was his partner's ancestor?

Spider Feng had taken a few slices from Do, and had enough. She Cheesed It, vanishing in a swirl of silk ribbons. In the lamp shop, Ping emerged again, but Johnny jumped forward with a chunk of wood he'd found and knocked him right out!

Johnny introduced himself, and the characters went into the building to check on Zhu. Johnny realized that Zhu was his neighbor, and had been for many years! Everyone's phone rang; it was Sylvan Master. He told them that this place was a chi site, and they needed to attune it to control its power. They all sat and meditated, and had visions....


  • Bai had a vision of his sister, meditating with him in a garden in his own time, the chi war over. 
  • Celeste saw her sister, surrounded by glowing, magical mandalas.
  • Do saw Leon attacking him, just before he lost his memory!
  • Tang saw himself driving with his partner in the future, before said partner had died, and looking at a sketchbook detailing the chi war - had his partner been a Dragon?
  • Johnny saw his mother in the future, a survivor of the C-Bomb, fighting in the chi war.
The characters now get to awesome up. Next time, we'll see where all this takes us.

No Problem

Tina tapped on the door.

"What are you doing?" Rey hissed. His accent got stronger when he was scared. Tina thought it was cute, but she figured she'd tell him later. Maybe.

"I want to see if anyone's in there." She tapped again.

"But if they hear us-"

"They won't." Leah shook her head, braids slapping against her cheeks. "Their auditory system don't work like ours. Ours works by transduction of sound into electrochemical impulses, but theirs-"

The other two nine-year-olds stared at her.

"They don't hear like we do. They kinda hear with smell. That's why the bug spray."

Rey and Tina nodded, but they didn't really get it. Leah was going to be an ear-doctor after the War, but that meant she had to have gone to medical school, and that meant there wasn't as much Time in her head.

Tina tapped again. Rey still wasn't sure what she was doing. Maybe after the War she would have learned how to hear if someone was in a room by tapping a door, but Rey thought maybe that was BS. She seemed pretty sure, though. She nodded back at Rey. "No one there. Open it."

Rey pulled a slim, black case from his pocket and started pulling out lockpicks, but then he saw the keyhole. It wasn't a keyhole. It was a trap. It had an electronic lock, rigged to look like a mechanical. He knew how it worked, more or less, but...

"I can't pick this," he said. "I didn't...won't...learn how."

Tina checked her watch. "We're almost out of time, Rey-Rey."

Only his mom still called him 'Rey-Rey.' He wondered if that would still be true when he learned to pick locks. He wondered if his mom lived through the War. Checking on people in the future was super Against the Rules, but everyone did it sometimes.

"OK," he said. "Just watch out for me." He closed his eyes.

...the color of the wire doesn't matter...

...always know what the wire leads to...

...grounding...

...back before the War we used to...

...remember how Mom was...

His eyes snapped open. Tina was squeezing his hand. "Rey. Reynaldo." 

"Sí. Yo puedo hacerlo."

"Huh?" Tina saw tears in his eyes. He saw something. He looked at the Future.

Leah stiffened. "Hey. I hear something."

Rey ran his hand down the wall, then pulled a heavy steel pick from his pocket. "Here," he said, and started digging out the wires. 

Movie #357: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle is a steampunk-ish anime directed by Hayao Miazaki and starring (in the English dub) Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacell, Blythe Danner, and Billy Crystal.

Sophie (Mortimer) makes hats in a hat shop, but outside, a war rages. Out in the "wastes," wizards and witches dwell, one of whom, Howl (Bale) is rumored to eat pretty girls' hearts. One day a massive with simply called the Witch of the Wastes (Bacall) comes calling, and curses Sophie, turning her elderly (and giving her Simmons' voice). She flees, and winds up taking up with Howl in his immense, moving castle, powered by a fire demon called Calcifer (Crystal).

Much of the movie involved Howl running from his responsibilities as a wizard, and eventually returning to accept his oaths. The war ends, Sophie falls in love with Howl and regains her true age, the castle falls apart after a rival witch curses Calcifer...

So, I have to say, I have yet to find a Miazaki movie that tops Spirited Away (we'll get to the S's). This, Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky are all good, but they kind of ramble, there are a lot of characters, a lot of subplots, and a lot going on. With all of that said, the high magic and fantasy are amazing, the animation is, as always, top-notch, and the English voice performances are fun.

Truthfully, I bought this movie because Teagan is a huge Miazaki fangirl and she hasn't seen it. She liked it, I'm glad, I'll keep it around.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Life of Brian