Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Board Game: Monolith

Last night we did a little character jiggery for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and fought a giant mechanical hippo (to remind everyone how the system worked). I really wish I had cheat sheets for that game; mayhaps I'll make one.

But that didn't take all night, so we played a board game. Mostly.

The Game: Monolith
The Publisher: Goblin Army Games, which seems to have gone under
Time: The box says 30 minutes and if you know how to play it, I can believe that. That wasn't our experience.
Players: Me, +Michelle+Dirty Heart+John

Game play: So, the big problem with this game is that the rulebook ain't real clear, and neither are the cards. The basic gist is to move your little square around a maze and to the victory square; you do that by getting Victory Points. But there are a few squares on the track that have a cost; you pay that cost with gems. You also have Skills and Powers (represented by cards) that let you screw with other players, get extra points, spend like gems, and so forth.

Every turn, you roll some dice, and then slot them on cards (going round-robin, starting with the player with Primus token). Then, after everyone's done that, you resolve the cards left-to-right, top-to-bottom. The cards themselves are dealt randomly, so it's a different "monolith" every time.

Sarah doing setup. 
That seems simple, but it's really not. Some of the cards allow any die to be slotted in, some required dice that show specific numbers. Some slots give you VP, some give you gems, some give you Power or Skill, some do weirder stuff. Going first gives you first pick of where to slot your first die. You need VP to advance, but you need gems to buy your way past the tolls. And then cards mess everything up, so there's definitely some strategy.

John, strategizing.
The problem is that the gameplay isn't explained very well. All of the resolution of dice placement happens at the end of a round (except when it's not) and the cards have weird symbols on them that seem like they should mean something, but there's a lot of introducing terms before they're defined and otherwise making things unclear.

Opinions: Basically what I said. Michelle and I played this at a con a few years back, bought it, and haven't opened it up until now (which is a not-uncommon thing for us). I think that this game would be fun once you learned it. As it was, we only got about halfway through before John had to leave for work (30 minutes, my butt) and we didn't feel like starting over.

Keep? Yeah, I want to give it at least one more go.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Movie #367: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is the debut film from Guy Ritchie and stars Nick Moran, Dexter Fletcher, Jason Flemyng, Jason Steakumms Statham, Vinne Jones, Lenny McLean, P. H. Moriarty, Frank Harper, and you know what, I'm just gonna stop there because this movie has a fucking huge cast of people you probably don't know.

So: Eddie (Moran) is a card sharp who's a bit of a fuckup in general. He collects 100,000 pounds, back when that was worth something (sorry, too soon?) from his friends Bacon (Statham), Soap (Fletcher) and Tom (Flemying) and enters into a card game with known criminal and murderer "Hatchet" Harry (Moriarty). He loses (because Harry cheats with the help of his monstrous enforcer, Barry "the Baptist" (McLean)), and finds himself with a week to pay back half a million pounds.

Meanwhile, Barry hires two bumblefuckers (Jake Abraham and Victor McGuire) to steal two antique shotguns from a stately home on behalf of Harry (who likes guns). Meanwhile, the four lads' next-door neighbors are a gang of vicious thugs run by Dog (Harper) who do home invasions and robberies of drug dealers. Meanwhile-meanwhile, a group of pot farmers led by Winston (Steven Mackintosh) and answering to Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), another crazy gangster, are...happily farming pot.

Add into this mix Harry's other leg-breaker, Big Chris (Jones), who acts as a kind of mediating influence. If Vinnie fucking Jones is your voice of reason, things have gone off the rails.

This movie is kind of a heist movie, kind of a farce, kind of a comedy of errors. It's a little Tarantino-esque as far as its violence and the scenes of dialog (and the music), but it doesn't get up its own ass with pop culture references, and it's thoroughly British, and male (only two female characters in the whole movie and they're both incidental), and white (there's exactly one black character of any notice and that's Rory).

I really enjoy this movie, though. The characters aren't exactly good or likable, but the only characters to really get off with no serious consequences are the pot dealers (there are some wounds, but Winston gets away with the drugs after both Rory and Dog's gangs die), and while the lads don't come out with any money (OR DO THEY) they at least have each other and have their lives. The movie is just too funny and light in tone to be noir, but it shares some DNA, and the color palette is washed out and bleak enough that I always forget it's shot in color at all.

All in all, it's pretty damn stylish. Ritchie has gone on to bigger and louder things, but I still think this is kinda his best work from a filmmaking standpoint (and I think Snatch, which is conceptually similar but has a much larger budget, isn't really that great).

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Power of Blankets Compels You

So today, we made characters for +Travis's game of Nobilis. We're playing the 2nd Edition - that is, the Great White Book - which made some interesting moments during character creation as we worked to understand the prose.

But we're playing this game for a reason: We've got a table full of people who do the weird stuff, as it were. We didn't actually play today, just did chargen, but here's the characters:

  • +Michelle is Woolaroo, the Power of Blankets. She (it?) started life as a blanket, made by a grandmother for a grandchild, and was passed down through the family...but then was used to smother someone and was Ennobled shortly thereafter. 
  • +Dirty Heart (Sarah) is Isabel, the Power of Lavender. She was a goat. Yep, a goat. She lived near a little patch of lavender, and liked to eat it, roll in it, nestle in it, etc. That was enough to get her Ennobled. 
  • +Megan is The Countess, the Power of Cephalopods. She actually started human, and was doing research and discovered the last of the sentient cephalopods. It died, and she became the new Power.
  • I'm playing Tommy Edward Barry, Jr., the Power of Independent Film. He was a movie snob, watching a movie during a film festival at 3AM when he was Ennobled. 
We have our Chancel, it's called Erewhon Island, and it's off the Washington coast. It was once home to a Utopian commune, but that kind of fell apart. The people who live there now do have a kind of commune thing going on; they produce lavender and goat's milk products, and there's a burgeoning independent film movement in Seattle that likes to come out to the island and film (it's not crowded, but it's very picturesque). There's a coral reef off the shore; yes, it's too far north for that, but that's not the weirdest thing.

I don't know who our Imperator is yet (Travis is making that up), but we've got a gateway on the island that leads we know not where, so that'll be interesting. And we've got connections to a few other Powers - Woolaroo has a Bond with the Power of Homelessness, and my character's "brother" is the Power of Indie Film (he's the more successful of the two of us, if you count money as success rather than artistic integrity). 

This'll be a monthly game, so it'll be a while before we pick this up, but I'm excited! 

Movie #366: Live & Let Die

Live & Let Die is the eight James Bond film, and stars Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Geoffrey Holder, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, and Clifton James. I've seen this movie before, but it's been a while, and I had never really how nuts this movie really is.

Bond (Moore) is assigned to go to the US to look into the deaths of MI6 agents, and discovers that today's special friend is Kananga (Kotto), the dictator of the small island nation of San Monique and also a Harlem gangster planning to flood the heroin market and then monopolize it. This in itself isn't too out of the ordinary for Bond villains, but the focus on black characters (well, supporting cast) and drug trafficking is, and very much a nod to the blaxpoitation films of the day.

Anyway, the movie's a pretty good bridge between the Connery era and the later, more wah-hoo Moore era; the villain's plot is somewhat topical, sure, but the villain also kills people with snakes and sharks, and stabs people (well, has people stabbed) on the streets of New Orleans and then sucked up in magic coffins. And, of course, we've got our colorful henchmen in the former of a maniacal dude with a claw-hand (Julius Harris), and Baron freakin' Samedi (Holder). And we have the first black Bond girl (Hendry), but of course she's the "aperitif" who dies shortly after introduction.

The actual Bond girl is Kanaga's hench-women and seeress Solitaire (Seymour) who seems to actually have the power of precognition/clairvoyance...until Bond bangs her, and then her powers depart with her virginity, which probably isn't the most problematic thing in a Bond film, but it's noteworthy. And then there's a speedboat chase that introduces a redneck sheriff (James) who winds up showing up in a later Bond movie as a comic bit...

Live & Let Die probably isn't the goofiest Bond movie, but it's just weird. It's also overlong and a little racially uncomfortable, sorry to say. Also Bond doesn't come out looking all that competent; he kind of bumblefucks his way through most of it. I hate to say it, but I actually kind of prefer the Brosnan era - sure, the movies were dumb, but they're all kind of dumb, and at least Brosnan's were a little snappier.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Character Creation: Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies

Back at it! Boo-ya!

The Game: Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies
The Publisher: Evil Hat and Atomic Sock Monkey
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one, though the PDQ system has a free download somewhere.

So, this game is a bit of a heartbreaker for me, for much the same reason as Ehdrigor is. It's got a really awesome premise, a compelling story and a richly detailed world...which means if I ran it, I'd spend 75% of the time info-dumping to my players.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have really, really awesome players in general. Sure, there are a couple of people I'd like to throw their cell phones in a sink, but on the whole, they're great players and they can roleplay the shit out of a game. Predilections vary; my Monday group is not the group I'd want to play Questlandia with, but my monthly group (which was playing Better Angels for a while, and then Epyllion, and is now between games, though I suspect we'll just go back to Dragonia when the book comes out) is totally down with the weird indie stuff. My other monthly group went from Atomic Robo and now is going to start playing no-bullshit-Great-White-Book Nobilis. And then my last monthly group (yes, I game a lot, cope) has been playing Night's Black Agents for a couple of years now.

But you know what almost none of my players are willing to do? Read a gaming book. Like, I regularly game with (hang on, math) 13 different people. Of those, maybe four would read a book (that I know of).

Now, I don't begrudge anybody this, I want to make that perfectly clear. A lot of gaming books are boring as shit to read, and not everyone's a reader. I'm not, actually. I love reading, but it's time-consuming and I don't get hooked in easily, so finding games like Swashbucklers that actually read well is a treat. All this means is that when I'm choosing games, I need to pick games that either have collaboratively built settings (which is why Fate is popular), games that are based on properties that everyone at the table knows (rare, but it happens), or have modern and easily-explained settings. I can just about get away with World of Darkness games, but I definitely feel the lack of familiarity that the players have with the source material, and it limits what kinds of stories I can tell. But games with deep, complex settings where you need to know terminology or, heavens forfend, history? Fugeddaboudit.

Ah, well. On we go. Swashbucklers posits a world that's mostly clouds and cloud-islands, with an immense expanse of Blue down below. You can be a pirate, an alchemist, a fencer, a musketeer, a koldun, a ruq-rider (ruqs are giant birds)...holy shit, the list is endless, and I seriously am not sure what I'd want to do if I were actually going to play this game because there's a lot of stuff that appeals. Faced with fantasy games, I usually make a magic-user, but do I wish to do that here? I mean, there are folks called "wingmen" who can flap around in special wing-suits. Maybe I like that?

Well, let's just go through chargen and see what happens. I start with Name. My character's name is Bomani. His mother was from the Zultanate of Colrona, and his father was a native of the city of Crail, which is also where he grew up. His mother died in an accident when he was a boy, and his father fell back into some bad habits - Bomani grew up learning the streets, learning crime and grift, and eventually led a gang a cargo ship while it sat in harbor. His father took the fall for him, telling him that Bomani's life to that point had been his fault, but he would own that and let Bomani make his own way going forward.

So that's a pretty good start. Now I pick a Foible. I think Bomani's big conflict is the guilt he feels over his father's imprisonment, but I don't want him to be a straight-arrow, either, he's just not an active criminal anymore. So I think is Foible is Honor My Father's Sacrifice; since it's a Foible and not a Motivation, it's something Bomani struggles with.

Speaking of Motivation, that's my next one (now we're into Fortes, which are basically just my traits). You can go really basic like "Freedom" or "Wealth." I think we'll take Freedom for my Father; so it's tied into my Foible and would figure heavily in Bomani's story.

Next is Nationality. This is easy, I'm from Crail.

Next up, Past. Also pretty easy; Bomani is a Petty Crook.

Now the fun bit! I get a Swasbuckling Forte. This is the one I'm super-good at; when I buy Techniques (which are kinda like feats or stunts), they're cheaper if I chain them off this. Hmm. So now I have to make a decision about what Bomani is doing to get his father out.

Well, I want him to still be a criminal, I think. He's fairly sure he's never going to be able to buy his dad out, so he needs to break him out. But for that he needs a crew. I don't want him to be a pirate; he's not motivated by wealth as pirates generally are. I could take Rogue or something, but actually, I think I'm gonna take Spy. Bomani works as a freelance intelligence gatherer - there are a lot of different factions in the 7 Skies and not all of them like each other. Bomani will gather secrets for you, if you pay him. Really, he's just looking for contacts and information himself.

Now I get three more Fortes, which I can also use to pump up existing Fortes. I'll take Alchemist, which sounds fun. I'll also take Wingman (couldn't resist, it's too cool) and Skysailor.

Now I get five Techniques, which are cheaper if they're "chained" to my Swashbuckling Forte. I gotta figure out how these work, 'scuse me. OK, got it. If they're chained, they have to be used with a given Forte. So, I get 5 points, but if a Technique is chained to another Forte (other than Spy) it's 2 points, and if it's unchained it's 3 points. Sod that.

I'll take Clandestine (an Idiom, chained to Spy); Poisons (Tool, likewise), Convince (Maneuver), Dagger (Tool) and Eavesdropping (Maneuver). And y'know what, I'll also drop Alchemist as a Forte (it was cool but my concept didn't go that way) and chain an Escape Maneuver to my Wingman Forte.

I don't start with any Ephemera because I'd get that in play, so I'll skip to Miscellany.

Bomani is olive skinned, with black hair and green eyes. He can't pass as any nationality, but he can do OK in the Zultanate, in Crail, and in any mix of Skysailors. He's just building up a network of contacts, so he doesn't know a lot of people yet, but he knows how to handle a wingsuit and he knows how to get away when things go wrong. His ultimate goal is to find a way to break his Dad out of prison...but of course, that assumes his Dad will want to go.

Hey, that's funny, the last time I made a ship-based character, I made one that could fly, too.

Anyway, I'm done!

Movie #365: Little Women

Little Women is a period drama based on the novel(s) by Louia May Alcott and starring (deep breath) Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Samantha Mathis, Trini Alvarado, Christian Bale, Gabriel Byrne, and Mary Wickes.

So, to preface, I haven't read the books, so I have no idea how close the source material this movie is (you can basically assume that's the case until we get to Shawshank Redemption, honestly). The movie tells the story of the March family. Mrs. March (Sarandon) is bringing up four very lovely girls; her husband (Matthew Walker) is away at war, and her family is a little weird in general - they're transcendentalists, a little more egalitarian than the other folks, and Mrs. March holds with newfangled ideas like "teachers shouldn't hit their students" and "women should be educated."

The movie is narrated by her second-eldest daughter, Jo (Ryder), who writes schlocky Gothic stories. Her older sister, Meg (Alvarado) is probably the most proper and reserved of the bunch. Third daughter Beth (Danes) is...well, we don't actually learn all that much about her personally; her role in the story is to get very ill and provide a way to bring arguing people together and then, later, to die in order to get family back together. Youngest daughter Amy (Dunst, and then Mathis as an adult) wants to grow up and marry a rich dude, and she's kind of a brat in general.

The story doesn't have one consistent throughline; it's basically the story of the family told over the space of about a decade. They meet Teddy, the strange lad next door (Bale) who immediately becomes like a brother to them and eventually proposes to Jo, but winds up marrying Amy; Beth (as mentioned) gets sick with scarlet fever and eventually dies because of the damage it does to her; Meg marries Teddy's tutor (Eric Stoltz), and Jo goes off to New York to be a teacher for the children of an innkeeper and winds up meeting and marrying a German philosopher (Byrne, who's in like 20 minutes of the movie and so I don't know why he got second billing after Ryder).

For as long of a movie as it is and as much ground as it covers, it feels pretty light and is paced really well. It also does a really good job of portraying the March family as weird - sometimes that's good and sometimes it's embarrassing (for the girls), but they have a strong sense of family loyalty that gets challenged and strengthened. The story also at least addresses the idea that women are nothing but decorative or wife/mother material (though of course the three surviving March sisters do marry; on the gripping hand, they all marry on their own terms, so yay?).

I dunno. All in all it's a good movie, but it's not the kind of thing I'm interested in watching over and over again.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Live & Let Die

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Feng Shui: OMG A BEAR

Well, that last post kinda blew up. Um. For anyone who's now looking through my blog to see if I always post long diatribes about conventions, normally I post reviews of movies and board games, and write-ups for the RPGs I run. A-like so.

Recall that last time, the Dragons were in a saloon in Myer's Gulch, drinking in the midst of the same gang that had killed their swordsman compatriot. They were determined not to start fights...but then one of the gang (Russell the Joker, the dude what throws knives) stood up and proposed a highly insulting toast to "that Chinaman." That's about all the others could take.

Tang stood and started for him, but Russell threw a knife and hit him in the arm, and violence erupted! Celeste waded into the fray with her whip, Johnny grabbed a bar stool and started whaling on mooks, and Bai leaped across the bar at the gangs' lieutenants, only to get a rope around her neck courtesy of Lasso Daniels (which stayed there for almost two full sequences).

Tang blink-shifted across the room to help Bai, unwilling to abandon a friend to be hurt, but Daniels disarmed him. Doc Norris, the bespectacled marksman that they'd seen shooting between train cars, ran for it, but Tang stopped him and he raised his hands. Meanwhile, Celeste entangled Russell in her whip and effectively took him out of the fight (seriously, he tried like hell to get free, but she's badass in historical settings).

But as Alicia the Apostle closed in on Bai, a growl from the shadows: Leave the wise man alone. A hulking monster emerged, faced her down, and clawed her. She drew a pistol and shot it, and the whole tone of the place changed. Doc drew a pistol and shot at the "bear", and Tang tried to clobber him, but missed and took out a mook. Rawhide Harrison, the grizzled old member of the gang, stabbed at the bear and it grabbed him and tried to rend him, but he stood his ground.

The bear, however, did tear out Alicia's throat, and that made Harrison go a little nuts.

The characters mopped up the mooks, Daniels fled (Russell tried, but Celeste stopped him and then kicked him in the face, taking him out), and the sheriff showed up and demanded to know what was going on. The consensus was that it was a harmless brawl (this is what passes for "harmless" in Myer's Gulch), but that a bear had somehow gotten into the bar and killed Alicia.

The "bear," of course, was our new PC, "Wildfire" Griffin, formerly of the Blue Spurs. Back in human form, he followed the gang back into the bar. Bai recognized him and stopped to talk to him, but he denied it and Bai let it go. Doc Norris chatted with Johnny, too, and said that he was sorry about their fallen friend - but the characters had interfered with the train robbery and that had complications. He did promise not to shoot Johnny as long as Johnny didn't shoot him.

The characters went to the doctor to get patched up, and then found a boarding house run by one Kitty Carlisle. She told them a little about the town - Ronnie Myer, the mayor, owned a big ugly house just outside of town, and he had invited the local business owners out to see it a few months back. She'd seen a map on his wall, with multiple sites marked along the railroad, places that he wanted to build "Myertowns." She wasn't sure why.

The characters heard howls in the desert, and went out to investigate. They found Wildfire walking in from the wastes (he'd gone out there to change shape and heal some damage). He confessed to what he was; a spirit of vengeance placed into the body of a dead bandit. He agreed to help the characters in their mission, since he had no particular loyalty to the gang anymore. The characters went out to the house that Kitty mentioned and saw Ronnie playing cards with four other men. They didn't recognize three of them, but one they knew...Leon, the sorcerer.

They went back to the house to talk about a plan. They decided to have Johnny infiltrate the gang, since all the gang knew about him was that he could fight well, and besides, he'd made friends with Doc. They went back to the saloon (just the two of them) and Johnny was made a Blue Spur, and then the gang got word on where the rest of the characters were. The characters also got word that the gang was coming for them, and Kitty said that she didn't want any fighting in her house.

The characters met up with the gang and Kitty talked them out of fighting. Harrison, the presumed leader, decided instead to take Wildfire and Johnny to meet with Mayor Myer for a bit. He led them up to the big ol' house, and Wildfire stayed outside, figuring that Leon (as a sorcerer) would probably recognize him for what he was. Johnny went into the house, though, Myer came out to see him, greeting him warmly and explaining his vision - it turns out, he said, that there were veins of magic running through the earth and people with the proper knowhow could tap them. People like his friend, Mr. Leon, here...

Leon shook Johnny's hand and then stared at his palm, and then whispered something to Myer. Myer said that what he needed in order to tap into this power was "the blood of a Dragon." Leon raised his hands, which started to glow...and Johnny felt dizzy.

(Next time, Johnny's player is out, so it was necessary to sideline him. This worked out really well, though - one of the gang's Featured Foes dead, Johnny in dire straits, and the characters all ready to throw down! Likewise, they managed to succeed on the advancement roll so they all get to awesome up before next time.)