Monday, May 18, 2015

Board Game: Pack the Pack

The Game: Pack the Pack
The Publisher: Games by Play Date
Time: 10 minutes tops
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Game Play: Pack the Pack is a tile game designed for younger folks, which is nice. It consists of a bunch of wooden tiles with colorful designs on one side. The tiles line up to form gems; some tiles have half pieces, some have quarter pieces. The object is to pack your pack (a rectangular area on your player mat) with as many full gems as possible.

Everyone starts off with five pieces, and once you've got all five of them fit into your pack, you can grab a new one from the hoard (the big mess of tiles in that picture). You can also toss a piece back by saying "Junk!", but then you have to take two more, so that can get crazy if you're not lucky enough to grab something you can use. You can rearrange tiles in your pack as you like, but at some point someone will be happy with their pack and say "To Town!"

Cael pores over his choices.
Once the second-to-last person goes to town, play stops and you score the points. Full gems give you three points, three-quarters give you two, half give you one. You also lose points for any tiles remaining in your pack, but gain points if you're done first.

Teagan won the first game handily. 
Opinions: It's a lot like Tetris, of course, but that's cool. It presents a nifty spatial challenge, and while there is a time limit of sort, it's not rigid, it's just whoever gets done sooner setting the pace for others. Pack the Pack was quick and easy to learn, and the kids enjoyed it (I'd like to play it with adults and see how it works). Cael played a second game, Teagan wasn't interested, but that may be because she won the first game and doesn't like to break a streak. :)

Keep? Sure.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Character Creation: The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon

No, I didn't make that up.

So, as I've mentioned many times, I bought a charity bundle once, and I'm still working my way through all the games I got. I think I've run one or two, but honestly I couldn't say. It's been a lot of years. This game is one that came out of one bundle or another, and when I asked for inspiration songs on Facebook today, +Amy Veeres gave me this one:

I kinda like it, but it's definitely got a wistful teenage romance vibe to it. And what RPG does that make us think of?

That's right, Monsterhearts. But I did that already. So instead:

The Game: The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon
The Publisher: Talula Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. Just read it, it's pretty darned simple.
Books Required: Just the one.

KSMTFM (as it's called in the book) is a game about a pair of lovers (one supernatural, one not) and a pair of best friends (one supernatural, one not) and the wacky, angsty hijinks they get up to. It really is like a lighter, PG-rated version of Monsterhearts in a lot of ways, which is fine; there's ample design space for more than one game there.

To make a character, I'm asked to pick the role I want - that is, supernatural or not; best friend or lover. I think I'll go supernatural lover, because it ain't like there's anyone else for me to cede that to. The first thing I'm asked to do is decide what kind of supernatural creature I am. The song I'm taking as inspiration is warm and kind of hopeful, and so rather than going vampire or werewolf, I shall say that my character is a demigod.

Actually, this'll be fun. My character is Phaeton, the son of Helios. You know the story, it's pretty classic. Teen convinces Dad to let him drive the car, and he crashes it. Yes, in this case the car happens to be the sun, but whatevs. So somehow, instead of crashing and burning in ancient Greece, Phaeton fell to Earth in modern-day [wherever].

I'm asked to come up with the rules about my particular supernatural character. That is, if I'm playing a werewolf, can I change whenever, or only the full moon? Basically, "the rules." OK. I'll say Phaeton can make light or heat at will. His eyes glow in the dark (but he can cover that up with heavy-duty sunglasses), and he gets sick if he's out of the sun for longer than 12 hours at a time (winters are hard). Kept indoors or underground, he'd die in a few days.

That's pretty good. Now I pick a secret agenda from a choice of five. Everyone gets their own sheet of five agendas, and they're meant to inspire the kind of over-the-top emotional response that teens are prone to.

Well, this ain't even a choice. I've been warned against humans. Phaeton's dad used to warn him that getting with humans just leads to pain and misery - look at Zeus! That guy can't keep his hands (among other things) off humans, and look how much trouble he gets in! Also most of his paramours wind up dead or turned into stuff.

Now I think of an actor that could play Phaeton, and come up with adjectives that describe the character (not the actor, though it's all in the same sentence, which made me think it was all one step at first). Hmm. Let's do adjectives first. Phaeton is buff, tanned, empathetic, and hot-headed. As for an actor, cripes. I need someone who's in their teens, but that's not really my demo. Hmm. How about Sam Clafin, the guy who played Finnick in Catching Fire? I think he'd work if he tanned well.

Stats, then. There are four, and they're rated 2/4/6/8 (who do we appreciate?). 2 is bad, 8 is awesome. The stats are Coping, Pretty, Bad Ass, and Emo Quotient.

Well, I think Emo Quotient should be low. Sorry, but I don't see Phaeton moping about. He's a doer. He's out in the sunshine, because sitting in his room will literally kill him. That gets my 2. I'll put 4 in Coping; Phaeton is hot-headed and impatient. I'll put 6 in Bad Ass; he's a demigod, so he's pretty tough. That puts 8 in Pretty, which is appropriate, because he's literally the son of the sun. That's gotta make you, well, hot.

And that's actually it. If I was playing, the GM would print off and hand out some emo quotes, which the players would get rewarded (with chocolate!) for using in character, but as it's just me, no real point.

This game is cute. It's really light the system's basically an afterthought, but the writing is clean and the secret agendas and quotes are a nice touch.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Character Creation: Changeling: The Dreaming (2nd Ed)

So, I made a Changeling character a while back, but that was 1st edition. Seeing as how I've spent the better part of this week outlining the 20th Anniversary Edition of our beloved goofy/tragic game of bunny-people and fucking cannibals, I thought it fit to do second edition today, since I have some time.

The Game: Changeling: The Dreaming, 2nd Edition
The Publisher: White Wolf, now Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Lots. I ran the hell out of Dreaming back in the day. I was reading through the old books the other day and marveling at how much material there is, especially given that the line didn't actually get that many releases compared to say, Vampire.
Books Required: Just the one.

OK, by the way, before we get started, I have a character concept, but I'm putting in a trigger warning for child abuse. It's getting a little dark today. Sorry. Here's my character's theme song:

This song is really about a grown man and his partner, not a mother and child, but I'm reimagining it because that's what's in my head.

Changeling starts off like most other White Wolf properties do. Step One is Concept. I have one.

See, I work with kids. Sometimes that means I'm working kids suffering abuse. I don't normally see that front and center; really it means that over the years I've had to call CPS and then hear nothing, ever. I did wind up taking a more active role once, but that story doesn't have a happy ending. It doesn't have an ending; the boy's family starting "homeschooling" him when he was in sixth grade, and I didn't see him again. I drove by his house every day after work, and I always looked for some sign that he was OK or that anyone lived there. Nada.

Anyway, my concept is a childling who, up until recently, was raised by a single mom who beat on him. She worked long hours, and he could be stubborn, and she would lose control, especially when drinking. He never told on her, because she'd cry afterwards and make him promise he wouldn't, so he kept his mouth shut. But then one night in late August, right after school started, he came rushing home to tell his mom all about his new teacher, who was making third grader sound so awesome with all the cool projects and field trips and whatnot they were going to learn. He was just on the verge of Chrysalis then, and his mother was already drunk, having lost her job that day. He tried to share his excitement and wonder and happiness, and she lashed out.

Any other day, that might have killed the spark of Glamour in him...but that day, he lashed back. The resulting blast of magic knocked his mother over a table, blew out the windows in the house, and brought the police. They took him away and put him in foster care (both because that would give my hypothetical ST a way to involve the motley easily by making my foster parent one of them, and because I wouldn't want to make an ST play an abusive parent). He misses his mom and wants her back, but he still refuses to talk about what she did to him. He made a promise. Oh, and his name is Patrick Breyer, but other changelings call him Ronny (his True Name is Acheron, because there's no nose like on the nose).

OK, whew, that's a good start. So, my kith, if you haven't guessed, is troll (that fucks me out of my Birthright, or "Birhtright," as it's spelled in the troll write-up in Changeling 2nd, but c'est la vie). My Court is Seelie, through and through. My seeming is childling, obviously, and my Legacies...hmm. I think I'll take Orchid for my Seelie one. It isn't that Ronny had an easy or pampered life; quite the opposite. But he's delicate precisely because his sense of wonder is so fragile from the abuse. His Unseelie Legacy is Beast. His temper tantrums have the Wyrd behind them.

And now, Step Two, traits. Starting with Attributes, I get a 7/5/3 split. Hrm. Still salty that I don't get my Birthright and the extra couple of dots of Strength.

Well, I think Ronny is still just a kid, so I'll put Mental first, then Physical, then Social. Damn, that's so many points. I'll put Perception at 4 and Wits and Intelligence at 3, and then Dexterity and Stamina at 3 and Strength at 2. He's a little leaner than most trolls. Social we'll just go 2 across the board; he doesn't stand out much, which is how he got through second grade without anyone really noticing what was going on.

Abilities gives me a 13/9/5 split, but nothing over 3 at this stage of character creation. I think we gotta go Talents, Skills, Knowledges, right across the board. Hmm.

Well, I'll put two in Alertness and Athletics. I'll put one in Brawl because he's a troll, he can punch a little. I'll put three in Dodge because I figure he's good at it (BTW, yes, Dodge is going away in the next edition). Two into Empathy, and then one each in Kenning, Persuasion, and Subterfuge. Good.

Then Skills. One each in Crafts, Etiquette, Leadership, Performance, and Security (he knows how locked doors work, and it's not something he enjoyed learning). Then three in Stealth (if mom's asleep you don't want to wake her) and one in Survival.

Finally, five points in Knowledges. One in Computer, one in Enigmas, two in Gremayre, and one in Science (his favorite subject).

Right, now Advantages. First up, Backgrounds. I get five measly dots. Well, I want one dot of Dreamers (Ronny's teacher, Ms. Flynn). I'll take two dots of Remembrance because it's a fun Background, and I'll spend the other two on a Treasure, a pair of shoes that allow him to run at crazy-fast speeds because they have red strips on the sides.

Arts & Realms. You know, people bag on Changeling's magic system, but it actually works pretty well. I mean, yeah, Realms are kind of limiting and some of the combinations aren't thought through very well, and yeah, the Nature Realm intersects with Primal in a weird way, but still. The underling engine is pretty good.

Anyway, I want two dots of Legerdemain so I can go Gimmix, and then I'll take Soothsay for my other dot. For Realms, I want Fae so I can affect myself, Actor so I can affect people at school (2 dots each) and I'll take one dot of Scene.

Step Four is Tempers, which is easy, because they're set by my seeming: Glamour 5, Willpower 1 (ouch), Banality 1.

Step Five is Birthrights and Frailities. I only get Stubborness as a Birthright. I get Bond of Duty as a Frailty, which means I can't renege on a promise or I lose the Birthright I don't actually have (BAD GAME DESIGN, GUYS)

Step Six is Freebie Points. I get 15, or a few more if I want to take Flaws, so I'll look at those first.

OK, I'll take Lifesaver and Shy. That gives me 4 points. Do I wish to take three more? Oh, sure, I'll take the Child Flaw. Doy. That gives me 7 extra points, so I have 22.

Well, I'm gonna spend 5 on a dot of Wayfare, because I love that Art. I'll spend six and buy up Willpower to four. I'll buy up Persuasion, Empathy, and Kenning by a dot. That leaves me with 5. Hmm. I'll buy up Glamour by one, and then two more dots of Dreamers (other kids at school).

And that's me, done. Awesome.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Night's Black Agents: Wolf(gang) Hunt

Last night we jumped back in to Night's Black Agents, as my previous post on the subject indicated. So here we go.

The characters were invited to a suite at a hotel in Berlin, on the promise of a very lucrative job. All of them need the money for one reason or another, so they show up.

The man waiting for them introduces himself as Davor Klobucar. He calls up some data on his laptop, and tells the characters they're to find this man: Wolfgang von Hanover. Hanover has, over the past couple of years, been implicated in some very bad stuff. He was apparently involved in bombings in Bonn and Budapest, shootouts in Szeged, Paris, and Budapest (again), and runs with some very unsavory folks. One of his cohorts, a woman named Delia Lockwood, is a former IRA bomber and escaped police custody shortly after being captured in Szeged. Another, an ex-Moussad agent named Saul David, died in a Szeged hospital. Hanover is also rumored to have contacts in the CIA.

Klobucar indicates his employers want Hanover alive; dead he's only worth half as much. Gambone confirms that if they find him dead (since other parties are definitely after this guy), they still get the money. Parker questions who Klobucar is and who he's working for; she places his accent as Croatian, but spots no tattoos; maybe he's a face or a low-level moneyman. Klobucar refuses to say what his employers want with Hanover, or even who they are, but he confirms to Gambone that they need him more or less intact and able to function.

Klobucar leaves, but Parker slips a tracker devices onto his briefcase. Fuchs sits down and starts going through the data on the laptop Klobucar left, and confirms much of what Klobucar said about Hanover. The characters start trying to track his movements and learn about him, and discover that Hanover is an expert forger and hacker; he worked for the BSI and then dropped off the grid a few years back. And then one of the bombings he was connected to killed Renate Bauer, another BSI agent, but Gambone (an explosives guy himself) notes that the device used was far too powerful to kill just one person, and yet shaped in such a way that none of the surrounding buildings were harmed.

Confused, the characters keep digging. Fuchs contacted a friend named Kraut at the German version of the IRS and asks him to look into Hanover and his family. Parker contacted a friend named Gerard at MI-5 and asked him about Hanover and his friend Lockwood, and learned that their bombings and movements didn't make any sense - they weren't claiming credit, they weren't following any particular ideology. It looked more like they were on the run, but if so, they were very bad at it.

Kraut called Fuchs back and told him that Hanover's money had vanished when he went off the grid, but he found a reference to a brother named Fritz.

Gambone and Benbow broke into the Szeged hospital records, and found that Saul David had officially died of two gunshot wounds in the chest. But after a bit of Digital Intrusion, they found his actual report, and Benbow analyzed it. David had two holes in his chest, yes, but no way were they gunshots. They were from two blunt, round objects, carrying enough force to puncture the rib cage. She hadn't seen wounds like this before.

Digging into the dossier on Hanover a bit more, the characters saw some examples of his work, and learned that as a forger, he puts little details and flourishes - coffee stains on passports, chipped corners on ID cards and the like. Knowing that, they followed the trail, searching for passports bearing his "stamp" in groups of three or more. They traced his little group's movements: Croatia, Sarajevo, Hungary, Germany, France, then Switzerland, Rome, and back to Hungary (Szeged) where the latest round of mayhem had occurred. They found a passport of his leaving Hungary and going into Austria, so they decided to head down there and see if they could find any leads.

After all, they're not the only ones looking for him, so the clock is probably ticking.

Movie #307: Jaws

Jaws is, of course, a quasi-horror flick directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gray, and a big-ass shark.

Jaws is a story of serendipity. It was meant to be a creature feature, and then they couldn't get the damn shark to work right, so Spielberg wound up using the camera as the shark. This had the effect of making the movie actually kind of scary, saving the shark for some later reveals, and lo and behold, this movie blew the damn doors off. Quality sells, Hollywood, but you can't bottle it.

Anyway. Basic summary: Amity is a summer town where tourists go to beach themselves. The new police chief, Martin Brody (Scheider) is from New York and a generally competent sort. He goes out to investigate a girl (Susan Backlinie) who's gone missing while swimming, and find she's been killed by a shark. But rather than scare away tourists, the mayor of Amity (Murray Hamilton) calls it a boating accident and opens the beaches. Almost immediately, a young boy (Jeffery Vorhees) is killed in broad daylight, and the hunt is on.

Brody, being the only fucking intelligent human being on this island, brings in a shark expert named Hooper (Dreyfuss) who confirms it's probably a Great White. After a free for all shark hunt leads to a smaller tiger shark being killed, the beaches reopen, and the actual killer shark shows up and eats another dude. The town hires renegade shark hunt Quint (Shaw) to kill it, and the three of them go out to face the monster!

Jaws is routinely credited as being the first summer blockbuster, but when you see what blockbusters have become (giant robots with testicles and everything), it's a little hard to keep that in focus. The performances in this movie are really amazing, particularly Shaw's monologue describing the fate of the Indianapolis. The effects have held up pretty well; the shark humping the boat at the end is a little silly-looking (though it works perfectly well as a "not all men" picture) but there are some genuine jumps and tense moments. And it's shorter than I'd remembered - the pacing is good, and we get enough scenes on the island to get a sense of the characters without the filler that some horror movies are prone to.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Jeepers Creepers

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Night's Black Agents: The Triumphant Return (notes)

And almost a year exactly since our last session, we're back. 

So here's the deal. One of the player (Smith's) had some serious health issues that didn't get better like we hoped they would. He and Lockwood's player have, as such, decided to let us go on with the game without them, which makes me sad, but I'm glad to be getting back into this game. So we're adding two new players, and Rousseau and David's players are making new ones. Hanover is going to be the sole remaining the character.

But really, that's just filler so I can notes without my players reading.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Character Creation: Epyllion

Haven't made a character in a while, but I have a little time today (I'm off work because after the test yesterday I was generally wrecked and I didn't feel much better this morning, though now it's abating) and I want to do something quick. So!

The Game: Epyllion
The Publisher: Magpie Games, created by +Marissa Kelly
Degree of Familiarity: Not much. I haven't had the pleasure of playing it yet. The version I have is an "ashcan," a little $10 skinny book sold at GenCon last year to drum up interest for the Kickstarter. It seems to have worked.
Books Required: Just the one.

Epyllion works on the "Powered by the Apocalypse" system, much like Monsterhearts and a hack of curse the darkness. That means it's dirt simple for the players: Roll two dice and add a stat. I'm going to be running this game starting in a couple of weeks, so that's fun.

But what is it? In Epyllion you play young dragons called drakes, citizens of Dragonia. Previously a great Darkness fell over the land, the dragons drove it back...but now it's returning. The drakes know about it, and they need to investigate this coming threat.

Like most *World games, it leaves a lot to the imagination and interpretation of the DragonMaster (DM - that's catchy!). Unlike a lot of *World games, there's no sex move. Probably just as well.

OK, to create a character, I need a playbook. There are six to choose from (so far, though the Kickstarter added a buttload more): Academic, Crafter, Daredevil, Nature Adept, Seer, and Warrior. Since Magpie helpfully put them up as a download, I shall peruse. Momentito.

You know, I think I shall make a Warrior. I like the idea of a dragon that's so powerful and like a force of nature having to learn that he's not as strong as he thinks, and that his friends have their own kind of strength. Just not "knock down trees" kind.

I really like this little book. It's a few pages of history, but enough to give me the gist, not a timeline that takes me through 10,000 years in 1000 year chunks (writers of fantasy games: You are not textbook writers!). So, reading through the history section, I know that dragons divide themselves up into noble houses, one of which was lost to the Darkness in the First War.

But! To make my character, I start with a playbook. OK, check, did that. Next I pick a name. The book has a few examples, two of which are "Kimrath." One of them is Buck, and I can't really choose that; I know a Buck, and it'd be too weird. I kind of like Morning as one of the suggestions, actually.

Now I build my "look," selecting an option from several groups. I pick:

Curling horns (around in a loop, like a ram's).
Broad scales
Short snout
Club tail
Muscular Body

Then I pick a color. Now, strictly speaking, the DM would have friendship gems that determine the color, but as I do not have one of those, I'll say Morning is red (red sky in the morning, Darkness take warning).

Now I pick a House. I get a choice of two, it seems. I can be House Tessith (house of diamond) or House Brynbak (house of steel). They give me a thing I can do to erase a Condition at the end of a session. Hmm. The relevant choice here is: Do I wish to focus on defending the weak, or smiting the Darkness? I think we'll go with the latter. Morning is from House Brynbak.

Stats, then. In this game they're Heart, Charm, Courage, and Cunning. I get +1 to Heart and Courage, 0 in Charm and -1 in Cunning. I can add one more somewhere. Hmm. Most of my moves key off of Courage, but what about the basic moves?

Well, it looks like Heart is my go-to. The other ones about leadership, but I kinda see Morning as just figuring that out. So I will add my free point into Courage (for +2).

Then I pick a Virtue. This is something that I admire in others and display myself. I can pick from Bravery, Honesty, and Humor. I think Bravery is Morning's big thing.

Now I pick moves. I get True Warrior for free, and for my other pick, I'll take Act of Valor. If I take on a quest, I get certain bonuses (a voice that penetrates the Darkness, for example), and if I complete the quest, I mark XP, which is fun.

I would do a Fellowship, which examines my relationships with the other drakes in my group, but as it's just me, I skip that bit.

And that's it!