Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie #250: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero movie starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary and Emma Stone. It tells the origins story of our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler.

Wait, again?

Yes, this is a reboot of Sam Raimi's trilogy (we'll get to 'S' eventually), but it's actually better than his movies. And I don't say that lightly with any disrespect; I really liked those films (well, maybe not 3), and I thought Tobey Maguire did fine as Peter Parker. But this one's better.

So, you know the story in basic, but in this version, Peter Parker (Garfield) is more hipster/awkward outcast than nerd. He's not completely dorky, he's just got no game and stands up to bullies, which results in ass-kicking. He is, however, a rather brilliant scientist, which he comes by honestly, because his parents were apparently brilliant scientists who worked for OsCorp.

That's actually the first thing we see - Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) packing everything up in the middle of the night and leaving young Peter with Ben and May (Sheen and Field, respectively) because there was a break-in. We're never told exactly what's going on, here, though the rest of the movie has some clues. Anyway, teenage Peter finds a briefcase belonging to his father, which contains a photo of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans) with Dad, which leads Peter to sneak into OsCorp, where he discovers that his kinda-crush Gwen Stacy (Stone) is research assistant to Connors, who is doing some cross-species genetics weirdness, largely in an attempt to regrow his lost arm.

Peter sneaks off and gets bitten by a spider, OK, we know this part. He goes to visit Connors and helps him solve the Magical Math MacGuffin, which pushes his research forward.

Meanwhile, Peter gets in a fight with Uncle Ben, leaves, Ben follows, Ben gets shot, dies, and Peter learns an important lesson...oh, wait, not so much. What Peter does do is go chasing off after criminals to take revenge, but it isn't until Connors, chasing after the corrupt lackey (Irrfan Khan) to Norman Osborn (Michael Massee - well, we don't know that, but it's kind of implied) to prevent him from trying out drugs on veterans, starts smashing shit up as the Lizard, that Spidey actually deliberately helps people. And in that act, he figures it out - he can help, so he has to. Great power, great responsibility.

So then there's the cat-and-mouse between Lizard and Spidey, culminating in Connors attempting to Lizard-ize New York, Spidey and Gwen's police-chief father (Leary) stopping him, Gwen being badass and making the antidote and not getting kidnapped, and the mid-credits scene with a mysterious man in the shadows.

OK, so, the action sequences, and the superhero stuff in this movie is pretty standard. It's good, but it didn't break ground that Spider-Man didn't break. But the plot and scripting sure does.

First of all, the origin is tight. We're not seeing the full scope of it yet, but it's heavily implied that Richard Parker's research led, in some way, to Peter reacting to the spider-bite the way he did. Peter has a reason to get involved with this beyond his uncle's lesson - but that doesn't invalidate the lesson. Peter only figures out what a big deal this is when he saves lives, and he sees that kindness repaid, not with gifts or anything, but with trust and assistance to save more lives. Meanwhile, Gwen's father is a hardass about Spidey, but that's when Spidey is just beating up thugs and being an arrogant ass about it. When he realizes that Spidey is Peter, and Peter is doing what he's doing out of a sense of altruism, he helps. And Gwen doesn't get kidnapped. Lizard has no interest in luring Spider-Man to a fight; he has his own agenda. He doesn't obsess over Spidey, he just tries to keep him out of the way, and Gwen is, therefore, not damsel'd.

Like I said, lots to like. I think the problem is that the action/webslinging sequences are kind of similar to Raimi's movies, and the more nuanced stuff gets missed. But I'm very much looking forward to the next movie, because I want to see where the story goes.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Argo

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Character Creation: Ghouls

I have only a few "White Wolf" games remaining on my project, so given the day of solidarity with White Wolf and Onyx Path, I'll do one of them today.

The Game: Ghouls supplement, for Vampire: The Requiem
The Publisher: White Wolf Game Studio, which has shifted to The Onyx Path
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I worked on Vampire and developed the Ghouls book. It may, in fact, have been the last assignment I had while still on salary?
Books Required: Ghouls, Vampire, and the World of Darkness Rulebook

A ghoul, in World of Darkness parlance, is a human being who has ingested the blood of a vampire, willingly or not, and become its servant. The blood has a strong emotional effect, twisting into a codependent need or an unhealthy hero worship or a sick version of love or lust. Ghouls are some debased fuckin' people, is what I'm saying, and the Ghouls book does a pretty good job of bringing that home. There were a few author issues on this book, as I recall, but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out and I enjoy the NPC characters I wrote for it (a few of which have showed up in my own WoD games).

But, be that as it may, I'm gonna make my own ghoul. Blood and Smoke I'm sure has ghoul-applicable systems, but I'm gonna use the edition for which Ghouls was written (that is, pre-GMC).

Step One: Concept. The obvious question is, how much does my ghoul know? I've made characters before who know more about the occult than they think they do, and a few who think they know a lot more than they do. I think I want to make a character who's very much in the know. I was flipping through the book and there's a Merit I want, so I'm gonna build out from there. The Merit is Inherited Ghoul.

So, my character's name is Rodney Abrams. Rodney stopped aging in 1985 (fortunately he's got a haircut that isn't terrible). He was a financier, and was made into a ghoul as part of a Ventrue vampire's attempt to ride the 80s finance craziness. It worked - Rodney made his master a lot of money.

And then Rodney...wasn't useful anymore. The vampire didn't need to keep accumulating money and Rodney's tactics were reckless (also: cocaine). So his regnant pulled him off active duty, stuck him in a huge mansion somewhere with instructions to "mind" the place, and basically put him under house arrest. Fast forward 25 years. The regnant's childe unseated him (read: killed) and in going over his books, found the house and Rodney. Rodney begged for his life, and the childe, a much more modern type of guy (Embraced in 1965 and spent most his unlife abroad) figured Rodney might be useful. So he enforced the Vinculum on himself, and allowed Rodney out into the world for the first time in decades.

Step Two: Attributes. Standard 5/4/3 spread. Hrm, Mental or Social? Based on what I know about 80s high-pressure Wall Street (mostly from sources like Wolf of Wall Street and "Future Stock"), we'll go with Social. Two each into Presence and Manipulation, one into Composure. Mental's second, then. One each, and then the extra into Wits. Finally, Physical. One each across the board? Yeah, I think so.

Step Three: Skills. 11/7/4. Mental's first, then Social, then Physical.

Well, 3 into Academics, to cover math and finance and so on. Two into Computer (since being reintroduced to the world he's worked hard to get current). One into Investigation, why not. Two into Occult (lots of time, lots of books), two into Politics, one into Science.

For Social, I'll put three into Persuasion, one into Intimidation, two into Socialize (coke parties), and one into Subterfuge.

Physical: One into Athletics (you're dumb if you don't), two into Firearms (lots of time on his hands), and one into Stealth.

Step Four: Specialties. These should be easy. I want one in Academics for Finance. One in Persuasion for High-Pressure, and one in Stealth for Hiding (the mansion taught him to find hiding places quickly).

Step Five: I've already decided on my regnant's clan and covenant (Ventrue and Invictus, respectively). I get two dots of Disciplines, one of which has to be Resilience. I can take Dominate, Animalism, or a second dot of Resilience. Hmm. Well, Animalism is right out. I actually think that Resilience makes more sense than Dominate; all his interactions were over the phone.

Step Six: Merits. I get seven dots, because again, pre-GMC rules. I want Inherited Ghoul, which is two. I'll take a dot each in Regnant Favor and Regnant Trust; my regnant likes me well enough. I'll put the other three dots into Resources. I figure Rodney had some accounts that just went untouched for a while, and now he's accessed a few and has some liquid cash on hand.

Step Seven: Advantages. Willpower is 4, Health is 7, Morality starts at 6 rather than 7. Virtue and Vice, since we're going with the older rules, get chosen from the lists. I think his Vice is pretty freaking obviously Greed. But Virtue, hmm. I don't see Rodney as a good person, really. He's the embodiment of the 80s greed culture, a fiscal vampire, so hungry that even an actual vampire said, "yeah, that's enough." So what's his Virtue? Not Charity, obviously, and not Justice or Temperance. I think it's between Fortitude and Prudence, and I don't think someone who's prudent would ingest quite so much cocaine, so Fortitude it is.

Step Eight: Spark of Not-Quite-Life. So, we already figured out that Rodney's new regnant came back to the house. Did he kick him out? I think no, I figure the job hasn't really changed much, Rodney's just allowed to leave. He's doing some financial stuff for his new boss, but shit has changed in the ensuing years - if anything, the culture is more forgiving of some horrible shit that rich people do to get richer. Rodney is ready to sleaze his way to the top, 80s style.

Problem is, his regnant (Mr. Lupin) doesn't have any other ghouls, but Lupin's in the local vampire scene up to his eyeballs and needs an errand boy. So Rodney gets sent on all kinds of wacky errands (read: he's a PC), and doesn't really have time for all the blow and bimbos that he used to. That's life.

Pirates: The Devil's Skull

Sounds like a cool title, huh? New story in our Pirates of the Spanish Main game! I've been played Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, so I'm totally down for piracy. We even bought the sea shanty album!

So anyway! We open in Tortuga, with the officers from the Poseidon's Due going over the books and Maddie trying (vainly) to explain to Blaine how an abacus works. And then there's a ruckus - some of the local militia are trying to roust a fellow named One-Armed Jack (who actually does have both arms - pirate nicknames are weird and bawdy). We overhear them referring to a "proclamation" that he supposedly stole.

We have a quick conference. A "proclamation" could refer letters of marque or legal piracy, or some other valuable endeavor. Blaine makes the motion to get the proclamation and see if it's valuable; the others assent (Georgina, ever cautious, abstains). Blaine stands up and tells the guards that One-Armed Jack is under the protection of the Poseidon's Due, and if he's committed some crime he'll answer for it like a crewman. Blaine's intimidating manner (and the rounds of rum he's been buying; see earlier "abacus" issue) convince the crowd to be on his side, and the guards withdraw.

Jack joins us, and explains that he has a wanted poster for a fellow called "the Dutchman," wanted for crimes against the crown. Seems his ship, the Archangel, set upon a British ship and raided it, but some of the things he took were important to the Crown and now Jack is looking for him. He supposedly had a line on the Dutchman being here in Tortuga, but it seems he was wrong - the man is actually in Port Royal.

Blaine instructs Maddie to make whatever preparations we need to get to Port Royal. On the way out, a drunk guy draws on Morgan and challenges her to a drinking contest. She wins handily and robs him; Blaine grabs his flintlock.

We set sail at dawn, Maddie pointing out to Blaine that we're down to our last few coppers. Port Royal needs to lead to something. The Governor of Port Royal, Sir Kenneth, is happy to let pirates do more or less what they will, as long as they pay the docking tax. But Maddie is an old "friend" of his, and knows a secret way in to the city...but it involves swimming. We decide instead to have Maddie charm the pants off him (literally; this is referred to as Maddie "titting her way in"), and she talks her way to the governor and convinces him to waive the landing tax. He wants us, however, to come to dinner tonight.

We scrape together some clothes that are fit to be seen in and join Sir Kenneth at his home. There are a few awkward remarks as he assumes Francois is a servant, but this calms down and he tells us about the Dutchman. There are rumors about what was on that ship - notably a piece of the Devil's own skull that can only be retrieved by a good Christian man ("That's us out, then"), but mostly it's just about the treasure he nicked. But yes, he's supposedly in Port Royal, and Kenneth tells the crew that he's rumored to favor a tavern called the Bucket o' Blood.

Blaine stumbles a bit on the name of the place, but he's not afraid of a tavern with the word "blood" in it. No, by thunder! Next time, we go clubbing!

Tavern-ing, I guess! Yarr!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Character Creation: Psi-Run

Now that I'm done with my first draft of Idigam Chronicle and I'm on spring break, I'd like to try and do a character for my project every day. Today, however, I'm feeling weirdly tired and out of sorts (I think it's still adjustment to my new glasses as much as anything else), so I'm gonna do an easy one today. With that in mind:

The Game: Psi-Run
The Company: Night Sky Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at Origins (I think?), really liked it, and then then bought a copy and ran it at one point.
Books Required: Just the one.

The basic premise here is that you're psychic, and you're imprisoned. There's a crash, now you're free along with some other runners, but you need to escape before the Chasers catch up with you. The game is very fast-paced and relies heavily on improvisation, and you make your character as you go by answer questions (regaining your memories). There's a lot here to like.

Assuming that I don't know my runner's name right off the bat, I'll just go for the easy stuff. I need to fill in my power. This is psychic in a broad sense; if I know I can tell what people are feeling, I should just write that down rather than speculate on the limits of the power. I think I want my character to be in his 30s, obviously a body-builder, because that's different than what I usually do. We'll say he's very muscular, got tattoos on both arms, bald head with a few days of stubble, one green eye and one blue. He's wearing an orange jumpsuit with the number "33421" on it (just made that up).

For powers, I'll avoid the obvious "super strength" route and go for Clairvoyance instead. 33421 can "see" things that aren't happening in front of him.

Sounds good. Now into the questions. You finish this game by answering all of your questions. I have to write down a question dealing with my powers. OK, that's no problem. I'll say "What triggers my visions?"

Then I write down questions dealing with my strengths and weaknesses. I'll write down "Why can't I catch my breath?" (implying some kind of pulmonary problem) and "How did I get so strong?" (implying that I'm...really strong).

I need at least one question about my current circumstances. I'll say that my character just had a vision about a family sitting down to dinner. His family? No idea. Actually, I'll make that the question: "Were the people in the vision my family?" And then I have two more question slots, but I don't necessarily need to fill them in. Kinda want to, though.

Well, I always enjoy the implication that the Chasers put some kind of controls to us. So how about "Why does the bass from that car make me sick?" And finally, I'll say my guy has a tattoo of a heart on his wrist, with the letters "JF." So "Who is JF?" is my last question?

And that's it. Simple game. Like it a lot.

Post #249: Hellboy

Hellboy is a movie based on the comic of the same name (created by Mike Mignola), directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Doug Jones, Karl Roden, and some bland boring nondescript POV guy (Rupert Evans).

Our story begins in the 40s, in which Grigori Rasputin (Roden) tries to unleash tentacled apocalypse upon the world for Hitler, but fails - all he manages to do is bring a little red monkey-looking baby through. Years later, that baby has grown up into Hellboy (Perlman), hugely strong and dedicated to fighting monsters that attack normal people. His adoptive father, Professor Broom (Hurt) runs the show at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (overseen by agent Manning, played by Jeffery Tambor), and he's assisted by fish-man Abe Sapien (Jones, voiced by David Hyde Pierce) and his occasional girlfriend and pyrokinetic Liz (Blair).

Into this mix, we throw POV character John Myers (Evans), and therein lies my only real problem with this movie. But I'll come back to that. Rasputin is back, and wants to use Hellboy to open a gate to Hell and bring through Cthulhu the Seven Gods of Chaos. He tricks Hellboy into coming to the appropriate Darkened Temple, killing Broom along the way, and then takes Liz' soul to force Hellboy's hand. But Hellboy rebels, chooses humanity, kills Rasputin, scares the crap out of whatever's on the other side into letting Liz go, and the movie ends with fire and kisses.

OK, so you see how all of that had almost no mention of Myers? We could have lost him entirely. He's only there to give us a POV character, and we don't need one. Del Toro could have thrown us into this weird-ass world with no exposition. Hell, give us training day for a new group of agents, show them getting the ropes from Hellboy's handler and friend, Clay (Corey Johnson), and then take the focus off them and let us just have the relationships between Hellboy, Broom, Manning, Liz and Abe, and that would have been fine. Myers is boring, and we have to spend too much screen time with him.

Beyond that, though, I like this movie a lot. Hellboy is a weird character, and from what little I've read of the comics, Del Toro and Perlman did a great job bringing him to life (reportedly Perlman was both Mignola's and Del Toro's only choice for Hellboy). The FX haven't aged especially well, but the practical effects (including Hellboy) work just fine, and I really wish the sequel had been more interesting than it was.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Amazing Spider-Man

Vampires! Vampires with Tentacles!

Night's Black Agents Saturday night. Had kind of a big reveal.

After their rescue of Imre Szabo, the bookseller, last session, the characters holed up in a safehouse. They stashed the van they stole in the garage downstairs, ensconced their protectee in a bedroom and gave him food and a shower, and called David in.

They wanted to do some tests on Szabo, but none of them have any Medic or Diagnosis (that's David). So Lockwood called upon Eli Sippos, an EMT she knows in the area who freelances doing some body disposal. He came out and drew some blood for them. Lockwood also talked with Szabo and learned that his captors had dragged another captive through the room, an American woman named Jessica.

Meanwhile, Smith set up a flashbang to go off if anyone messed with the window off the fire escape, and Rousseau set up cameras on the external walls and doors. And then they waited.

David arrived in the wee hours of the morning. Hanover opened the door for him, and David notice a red dot appeared on his chest. David pushed him into the house just the shot went off. The others woke, and Hanover checked the monitors - four guys with automatic rifles coming up the back, two guys in front splitting up to hit two doors. They heard the bang as the flashbang went, and then the first guy kicked in the door. David shot him, he shot back. Smith hit him with a shotgun, and Lockwood finished him off - but he took too many bullets to be human. Rousseau, meanwhile, shot the one on the landing off the fire escape, and everyone headed downstairs to the van.

They piled into the van (and, in the course of fleeing, realized they hadn't swept the van for bugs or trackers). Rousseau drove the van through the garage door (OH YEAH!) and knocked the guys out of the way. The guy she'd shot off the balcony followed, on foot, keeping up with the van, but Lockwood found a grenade and lobbed it, and it was next to the guy's face when it blew.

They fled, and were about to leave town, but Szabo reminded them about the girl. Figuring they'd better get her out trouble, if they could, they stopped off in a parking garage and then headed for a hospital to analyze the blood and use the wi-fi.

At the hospital, Hanover, Rousseau, and Smith sat with Szabo in the cafeteria and did some research. Jessica was, apparently, Jessica Brown, here on a vacation visa, but she has a criminal record - art forgery, especially books. Their theory was that she was called here to make a copy of the diary, maybe to throw the characters off the trail. Szabo remembered another detail, too - she'd smelled like coffee.

Meanwhile, Lockwood and David broke into a lab (with help from Lockwood's EMT buddy) and ran some tests. Szabo had been given injections of the blood nutrients, and the effect was that was more resistant to dehydration. But why? Just to see what the chemical was capable of? Or to keep him alive long enough for the characters to find him - bait? As they mused on this, a man entered the room. He acted very deferential, and showed them a CIA ID - he said his name was Jones, and he was a friend of Smith. They talked a little, and he agreed to go with them to the others so Smith could confirm his identity and they should share info. And then he attacked.

He knocked them both across the room. David shot at him, but he didn't seem to mind. He punched Lockwood almost hard enough to take her down, and then turned his head toward David. Two tentacles shot out from under his tongue and stabbed David right in the chest. David felt his blood draining away, and passed out.

Lockwood, thinking quickly (and using Preparedness), grabbed the fire ax she snagged on the way in and severed the tentacles. Jones howled in pain, spraying blood and fluids all over Lockwood, and then ran.

The others, hearing the screams, came to their aid. Smith and Lockwood worked to stabilize David, while Hanover and Rousseau chased Jones. He had almost made it to the door when Rousseau made a Cop Talk spend to mobilize the security staff, and blocked the door. Jones surrendered, but identified himself as CIA and told the guards not to let Rousseau take him anywhere. So they locked him in a room in the hospital. Lockwood and David are under medical care, Szabo is probably likewise under surveillance, the others are free (and Smith remembered that Jones was probably turned a while back), and they still don't know where Jessica Brown is.

Next time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Notes for the NBA

Keep sportsin', guys!

No, seriously, have to keep this quick, since gamers are here fairly soon and I have to cook.