Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Feng Shui: The End

Last night was the final session of our Feng Shui 2nd Ed game that started waaaaaaay back here. Before we get to the finale, some thoughts on the game.

I have said this before, but if I had my druthers, I think I'd have ditched the metaplot and the Chi War setting of the game. Or, at the very least, I'd have kept the central conceit of the Chi War but ditched the existing factions. The best parts of this campaign were the sessions where I was improvising (the splinter juncture in the Old West, the Ladies of Jade & Ivory) and the most draggy parts were where we wound up in the Netherrealm or otherwise dealt with leftovers from the first edition of the game.

That's not a knock on the material, either. It just goes to highlight a central truth of my gaming life right now: The players don't read the book. (In this case, exactly one player read the book, and in fairness he really tried to bring the Chi War into the game for his characters.) If I'm gonna run something with a big elaborate backstory, I need to know it cold because no one else will...and I'm not interested in doing that, for the most part.

I really wish I'd read the book more thoroughly and more than once, because there's a lot of good info in there about running Feng Shui and populating fights. There's also a lot of doodads and apps and whatnot that I don't use because gaming happens at a table with dice and pencils, goddammit. But really, it's a well-written book and it knows exactly what it wants to be, and that's helpful.

I disagree pretty hard about using maps, though. Feng Shui tells us that maps are not our friends, but that's not so. Feng Shui doesn't have a tactical element as far as position minis, that's true, but it very much has tactical elements as far as using the system, using boosts, using Schticks, deciding what kinds of attacks to make, and so forth. That kind of decision is easier to make with a clear picture of the battlefield, and besides which, I tried running this game without a map and it don't fuckin' work. If you populate fights the way the book advises (one Feature Foe plus three mooks per PC), then you have, in a four-player game, 16 NPCs to keep track of, plus any allies or noncombatants or whatever.

So, it's not like you need to count squares, but just having figs on map helps the action move along quickly because I don't have to take the extra brain juice to remember who all is in the fight and where they are.

All in all, though, I had a good time running this game. I think character death is a little more brutal and random than I like, but then, a lot of the game's narrative on predicated on working backwards from your desired outcome (that is, here's the situation, make yourself into it), which also means it's putting a lot of the narrative load on the players, which I like. That maps to death, too - your character died, now make that make sense within the flow of the game. I can dig that.

Right, enough blather. And now, the finale of Feng Shui.

Last time, the Dragons pulled themselves through a crypt and emerged in a huge room done up for a ritual. Bai noticed, however, that the room's feng shui was completely wrong, better suited to invite in dark energy than anything else. The Dragons saw hordes of robed sorcerers, and at the end of the room, a tub filled with sweet-smelling liquid and a human body. They watched as a minion poured blood ("Our blood," murmured Bai) into it...

...and then a blast of magic forced them backwards. They reappeared in the Netherrealm at the foot of some mountains, rocks blocking the way. A woman appeared from the dust - the sorceress that they'd fought while infiltrating the Mountain of Storms, called Ghost Tears. She screeched a challenge, and horrible stunted crawler-people emerged from the rocks. The battle was joined!

The Dragons fought bravely, of course, driving off or killing the crawlers and destroying Ghost Tears. Melody tried to magic the rocks out of the way, but could not ("My magic doesn't seem to work here"). Chrys, knowing the history (and future?) of the Chi War as she does, found the site of a massive battle from the Future juncture that had spilled into the Netherrealm. She got a huge truck working and smashed into the rocks blocking the gate, allowing the dragons ingress.

But where to? They found themselves walking through time, unable to get anywhere. Bai leaped, trying to make it forward, and disappeared. He found himself back when the spirits had torn his sister asunder (say that five times fast) and noticed something he hadn't seen when it had really happened...the Eternal Chameleon lurking in the background.

Bai pulled time back a bit and talked with Mai, his sister. Mai said that Bai was in a place out of time, and the only way forward was to stop perceiving it, and thus to transcend it. Bai considered this wisdom, and then found himself back in the tunnel with his fellow Dragons. He shut his eyes, sat down, and meditated...and vanished.

Chrys, never one for meditation, put her gun up and charged forward, in rage, and in that rage found she was able to block everything else out. Fang (remember him? The mook that wouldn't die?) nocked an arrow and told Lord Smoke that he must be faster than the arrow, and fired. Smoke surged forward and vanished into time (with Fang, though, so that's good). Celeste and Melody practiced their katas, and that allowed them to move forward.

Now that they had escaped the tunnel, they found themselves in the ritual room again...but it was empty. Celeste popped into detective mode (and rolled BOXCARS!), and found the little shifts in time that had happened when the Chameleon and his followers had left. She guided the others through, and they wound up back in the Contemporary juncture, right outside the storefront...just as five cars zoomed by. One of them had a plate reading RED YIN. Bai recognized that name: Red Yin was a notorious mercenary from her time.

They jumped into Chrys' car, and the chase was on! Bai leaped above, from rooftop to rooftop, while Smoke rode on the roof of the car firing arrows. He took out several of the cars, while Chrys tried (and largely failed) to keep up with Yin. And then zoop, they rounded a bend and they were in the Past juncture!

Celeste, thinking quickly, shot down a banner onto Yin's car to slow him down. Bai jumped on that car and tied a rope around Yin's neck, all the while smacking a mook who came out of the wind to shoot him. Finally, Chrys caught up, and with another zoop the Dragons were in the Future juncture.

Smoke shot out the back windshield and shattered the rear-view mirror. Yin's car skidded and crashed, and time caught up with everyone. The Dragons, collectively willed the fight back to the Ancient juncture - yes, the Chameleon would be more powerful, but he would also be vulnerable (because remember, they had to prevent him from resurrecting).

They all appeared in Smoke's village. The villagers were gone or hiding, and the Chameleon pulled himself from the wreckage and floated over to the heroes. He summoned up a small army of robed sorcerers, and as the heroes fought, they realized that the Chameleon could jump into any of these bodies. Celeste counter-ritualed that, to make it more difficult, and Smoke focused on shooting down the soldiers (since they realized that when they attacked Chameleon, he just sucked a mook towards him and that mook vanished).

Slowly, they wore down his forces. Chameleon felled Melody with a ball of magic, and Chrys couldn't seem to land a shot. Finally, though, the Chameleon weakened from arrows, magic, and kung fu, Chrys cocked her pistol and fired.

"This is for Johnny."

The Chameleon staggered forward, gasped out "but...I'm eternal..." and fell, finally dead. But Celeste lay face down in the mud, next to her sister. Were they fated to die here in Ancient China?

No! They got back up, Bai used his healing magic on Melody to help her, and they looked about. Smoke wavered and coughed blood...the poison was coming due. Bai said that with the right magic and a sample of the Chameleon's blood, they might be able to prolong Smoke's life, but Smoke refused. Better to die with honor than darken his Chi. He gave his bow to Fang, naming him the new protector of the village, and then fell.

Bai stepped briefly into the future and sat to meditate with his sister's spirit. The War would, eventually, be over, but that was the nature of time in the junctures - what was "eventually" in one was "eons ago" in another. Mai promised Bai she would watch over him, and he returned. The Dragons separated, returning to their respective junctures, but understanding that they would, perhaps, need to pick up the fight once again.

Fin.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Movie #406: Megamind

Megamind is an animated superhero movie starring Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, and Brad Pitt.

As a baby, the blue-skinned, huge-headed Megamind (Ferrell) is sent to Earth in a spaceship, but so is a handsome, super-powered baby that winds up the hero of Metro City, Metroman (Pitt). Megamind, raised by convicts in a "prison for the criminally gifted", decides that since his attempts to be liked failed, he will instead be the villain they already seem to think he is. He and Metroman grow up to have a very comfortable dynamic - Megamind attacks the city, kidnaps Roxanne Ritchi (Fey), the plucky reporter who is rumored to be involved with Metroman, Metroman beats him, he goes to jail.

And then one day, he wins, killing Metroman and taking over the city. Megamind quickly grows bored and dissatisfied, but rebounds by (in disguise) romancing Roxanne and plotting to create a new hero. Unfortunately, his attempts to do that go horribly wrong when he empowers Hal (Hill), Roxanne's love-smitten cameraman, who's about one fedora away from talking about red pills and friend zones. As Titan (or Tighten, depending on who's spelling it).

Twist, of course, is that Metroman isn't dead, he just got bored, too, and wanted to live his own life. Megamind eventually winds up beating Tighten and taking on the mantle of Metro City's protector.

This movie caught some flak for being unoriginal when it opened, and yeah, we've seen all these beats before. I like it, though. Megamind's interplay with his sapient-fish Minion (Cross) is a lot of fun, as is Roxanne's boredom when she's kidnapped - everyone knows that Megamind is no real threat, including Megamind, which means that when Metroman "dies" it's a legitimate shock for everyone. Hill is uncomfortably recognizable to anyone who's been in the geek/comic/RPG/gaming scene for any length of time, completely oblivious to what's really going on and earnestly believing that the world owes him.

It does kind of bug me that Metroman just drops out, even when lives are obviously at stake; I kind of wish he'd actually shown up during the latter part of the movie and been incapacitated or something (although for all we know, he was zipping around the city at superspeed saving people and letting Megamind take on Tighten). Megamind's awesome showmanship and love of classic rock is likewise a selling point, though I did point out to my kids that if you'd told me in 1987 that an Ozzy Osbourne song would be used in a kid's cartoon about superheroes, I'd have told you to shut up.

All in all, it's well-cast and fun. It doesn't have the "right in the feels" of The Incredibles, but that's probably good; it's nice to have a superhero movie that's both good and light.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Memento

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Feng Shui: One Last (Prep) Time

And now we come to the last session of Feng Shui. Players, stop reading now.


Night's Black Agents: Road Movie To Berlin

(I actually really hate that song, but it was in my head yesterday.)

Yesterday we ended the current op in Night's Black Agents, with comparatively little fanfare and no one getting shot!

The agents, you'll recall, had captured Obrad Burarcic, Sheela Smith, and Matis Bagdonas and were keeping them prisoner in a warehouse in Dublin while they interrogated them. Figuring that they'd learned all they could from their prisoners, they went about setting them free.

The real question here was what to do after that. They figured that Sheela would be in the wind once released and Obrad would probably have the full weight of the conspiracy on his side, but maybe Matis would lead them somewhere interesting. They left the warehouse, but watched it. About a day after they left, they saw Sheela emerge, walk up the way to the harbormaster, and talk to some dock works. A bit later, the police arrived. Matis was taken away in handcuffs. Obrad was taken away in an ambulance, and Sheela was taken away in a police car, but didn't seem to be under arrest.

The agents fell back to London, and Parker called her friend in MI5, Gerard Patel, to ask about Sheela. He told her that Sheela hadn't been arrested because she didn't have any criminal warrants out (Parker had initially been concerned that Smith might be in the intelligence community, too). Patel said that Matis had warrants out in a few places, including Hungary; he was being shipped to Budapest tomorrow. Obrad was in the hospital in Dublin, but wasn't in any danger; he was just old and had been held prisoner for a week.

The agents considered: Was Matis being taken to Budapest just bait? Probably he'd wind up in the prison, and from there who knows, but hitting the prison remained something they were pretty terrified to do. They talked about their targets once again. Ava Kingsilver was discussed, since if the agents resurfaced she'd probably come for Gambone, but they decided to hit the softest target they knew about: Dierke Essert.

They did some digging; Essert, you might recall, is an industrialist and higher-up in the International Free Energy Association. He was at the party in Switzerland, and then delayed his return to Berlin for a day. Obrad had identified him as a vampire, but he hadn't exhibited the trademark lisp at the party, so the agents assumed he'd been turned shortly thereafter.

Digging into his personal accounts, Hanover and MacAteer learned that he'd given himself a raise and started moving money into offshore accounts - thus far, he wasn't doing anything illegal, but to them it looked like the kind of thing one did if one expected to have to disappear. They also noted that he had been an avid patron of the symphony and opera, but his attendance had fallen off since the night of the party.

Talking to Sedillo and Koltay, the agents realized that making weapons against the vampires would be easiest if they had a "live" specimen to work with. But how to get Essert across the continent to England? The answer was obvious: Don't. Bring the scientists to him.

But then where to set up? Essert lived in a luxury apartment, that was no help. But, upon some further investigation, they found he owned a chalet in the German Alps. It was remote and difficult to access, and didn't have a full-time staff. That could work.

The agents decided to go out there, secure the place, and then have MacAteer do something in Berlin to scare Essert and send him running for the chalet. Then they'll take care of whatever personal security is with him, and Koltay and Sedillo can do their experiments.

That's the rough idea. The plan will actually be the first stage of the next op.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Movie #405: The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life is the last feature film from the Monty Python troupe, and as such stars Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman. Carol Cleveland shows up as well.

Unlike Life of Brian and Monty Python & The Holy Grail, which had, like, plots, The Meaning of Life is just a bunch of sketches that wouldn't really have been funny enough for the TV show stitched together with the very loose premise of "the meaning of life." That is, there are title cards after after scene or two that say "THE MEANING OF LIFE PART [WHATEVER]: [A THING]".

Now, obviously Python humor is always absurdist, and I'm a big fan of the TV show (right up until Cleese left, and then it took a serious dip in quality) and the other two movies. But Meaning of Life is just...kind of sad. There are a couple of good sketches. "Every Sperm is Sacred" and the subsequent segue into a Protestant couple talking about how their religion allows for contraception, except that the man is so severe and joyless that he can't tell when his wife is asking for sex, is fun, and the scene where Death visits the chatty, vapid dinner party has the potential for humor, but it never quite arrives. Interestingly, I think the scene that works the best from a Python perspective is the Crimson Permanent Assurance sketch, in which a bunch of accountants overthrow their masters and sail their building off to attack other financial districts...and that has nothing to do with the rest of the film (except for a callback joke, which is kinda why it works?).

And then you get the sketches that are truly horrible. Basically everything in the restaurant. I forced myself to watch the sequence with Mr. Creosote this time (before I've skipped it, because watching Terry Jones in a fat suit spewing vomit on people is not any version of "funny" that I'm familiar with), and it's just ghastly.

I dunno. I think that this movie kinda signaled the death knell for Monty Python, even before Graham Chapman actually died. It feels like a bunch of sketches that weren't funny enough for TV but that they thought maybe they could string together with a flimsy pretext, and the result ranges from "mild chuckle" to "fuck, that's gross."

My grade: D-
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Megamind

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Promethean: Carnage

Last night was Promethean. I warned you last time of the horror that awaited the throng. Here we go with the horror.

They arrived back at the storefront late at night. They noticed that they didn't feel Sicky's Azoth, but that in itself wasn't concerning; Sicky had mentioned that he felt it was wise to dampen it. Skip entered the building first, and saw Sicky's hand on the counter...severed. The rest of him was behind the counter. He'd been decapitated and hacked up.

Grimm, himself a skilled investigator, examined the crime scene and realized that someone had taken Sicky out with a large hatchet. He activated Vitreous Humour to look for spirits, but just found some lingering death-spirits; no ghosts (he wasn't sure if Prometheans left ghosts, anyway). Barbara didn't know if Sicky had ever died before, and as far as the throng knew you only get one death. Grimm, pondering this, found himself in a vision: He was a cop, crouched on the floor while other cops worked the scene. Justine Berry approached and said the only way to know what happened was to ask the victim. Grimm asked how that was possible, and she said "guess you'll have to find him." Grimm awoke from the vision realizing he was close to the projectio milestone.

Grimm, Enoch, and Feather stitched his body back together, and Avalon used her Spark of Life Distillation to bring the corpse to some semblance of life (though of course she wasn't sure if she'd get Sicky, the person whose body was used to make Sicky, or something else entirely). The creature she animated was able to answer some questions; the person who'd killed Sicky was a muscular man carrying a hatchet and smelling of grease and metal.

The body answered Avalon's questions, but then grew agitated when she talked about sending him "back," saying he didn't have a "back" to go to. Feather urged her to sever the connection as thunder started to rumble outside and the sky grew yellow, but she waited, and then finally pulled out the Pyros she'd infused the body with. But then that ball of Pyros exploded.

The blast pushed the furniture around the room and warped everyone's flesh (except Avalon's). Feather grew gills and had to rush to the bathroom to run water on her neck so she could breathe. Skip's rib cage cracked backwards and formed into flesh wings. Enoch's frog-hand shed its skin and grew a mouth. Matt's tattoos started moving and constricting his arm, and Grimm's hand fell off while the arm bones grew into a hideous prong.

This all lasted just a few minutes (Enoch felt his body start to degrade toward the end), but then the effect abated and their flesh returned to normal. Everyone kind of groused at Avalon for letting her curiosity get the better of her again. Enoch noted that this effect was similar to a very localized Firestorm.

All of this didn't tell them where Sicky was, though. They decided that the best way to find him would be to go to the Underworld and look, but aside from the obvious, they weren't sure how to get there. They decided to go and ask Charon, since if anyone would know about the Underworld, it'd be him (Barbara stayed behind to wait in case Sicky returned). They found Charon and he said he could introduce them to someone who knew more about the Underworld, but he didn't know her well and made no promises. Grimm said it would easier just to go and find Sicky himself, and Charon agreed to send him. He bade Grimm turn around, then pulled out a gun and shot him in the head (using magic to mute the sound).

Grimm woke up on the banks of the River of Memory (Lethe), Sicky sitting next to him. Sicky, when he realized that Grimm had come to the Underworld (using up his one free death to do so), he wept. Sicky, for his part, had visited the Underworld before; he claimed he could do it and return, which fascinated Grimm. Sicky told him about the man who'd killed him. The body's description from earlier was accurate, but Sicky also mentioned a mechanic's shirt and a ball cap. The killer had asked "Where's the bitch?", but Sicky hadn't known, and had kind of been in shock when the man chopped off his hand. Sicky was horrified by the rage the man had shown, and felt powerless to defend himself. Sicky returned, but first told Grimm that the waters of Lethe could show him anything he wanted to know, even steps along the Pilgrimage...but there was a price.

Grimm pondered his death. He'd chosen to die because Sicky was a good guy, and anyone who'd take out that kind of anger on Sicky needed retribution. In realizing this, he achieved his projectio milestone: Visit the River of Death. He sipped from the river, and felt his mind grow numb (losing a dot of Intelligence), but he learned the identity of the killer: Red Odell, the blood bather than the characters killed in New Mexico some months back (and who Feather kicked into the River of Woe, in fact). He'd returned...with a new friend, though Grimm didn't know what that meant.

Grimm returned to his body. In the meanwhile, the Prometheans and Charon had chatted about death and the ability to return from it. Enoch got the number for the person Charon had mentioned. They bade him farewell and headed back up to the storefront, where they found Sicky chatting with Barbara. Sicky ran to give Grimm a hug, and thanked him for coming to the Underworld to find him. Sicky's hand was now twisted and useless; the price of resurrection, he said (Enoch confirmed that this was something some Osirans could do).

The Prometheans, now realizing that Red was after them and probably had been for some time, called up the people they'd met on their travels to check in. Matt contacted the folks who ran the Bed n' Breakfast and werewolf-cousin who worked there, Feather called up her rabbi friend, Avalon contacted Babi Singh (to check on him and Ollie; she wasn't going to call Ollie herself for fear of reigniting his Disquiet) and Emil, the artist. Everyone was fine, and Emil promised to trash a hotel room for Avalon.

The characters decided that they'd ask Carroll about this (and check in, though no one really expected him to be hurt). Avalon called him up and he invited her and Feather to brunch (and gamely smiled when the rest of the throng showed up, too). They talked over bloody marys, and Carroll revealed that what they were talking about sounded like one of the Bound. They were decent enough people, mostly, but then, they were people, and that meant some variance. Carroll promised he'd be careful.

The characters split up, having various things they wanted to handle (going to the camp, for one). Grimm, for his, part, pondered how to track one of these "Bound."

Board Game: Tokaido

Actually played this a few weeks back, but I don't like stacking these posts. Also I forgot.

The Game: Tokaido
The Publisher: Passport Game Studios
Time: 20-30 minutes, I think
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Setup.
Game play: The idea here is that you're a traveler along the "east sea road." It's basically a point-gathering game; you can gather points by stopping at villages and buying stuff (you get more points if you get sets), stopping at hot springs, praying at temples, and so forth. You pick a random traveler at the beginning of the game, each of which has a special power. My traveler was a messenger, meaning that I could draw event cards every time I stopped at a village (and event cards generally help you complete portraits, which help you get points).

The board.
What's interesting is that the turns aren't round-robin; you go if you're the further from the end. That means that you can block someone from landing on a particular space by landing on it first, but if you jump too far ahead, you're cutting yourself off from a lot of potential sources of points.

Teagan ponders her cards.
Everyone has to stop at inns, which serve as a way to kind of reset and equalize things a bit. The game ends when everyone reaches the destination, and then you get some achievements for, like, most items, most money, most time in hot springs, etc.

Opinions: It's a fun and deceptively simple game with some hidden strategy to it. It also plays pretty quickly once you understand it, and, I gotta point this out: The instructions are clear. That's huge for a board game; typically it seems like a bot wrote them in Icelandic and then fed them to Google translate.

Mid-travels.
There's a bunch of stuff to keep track of it, but it flows pretty well once you've played a few turns.

Keep? Yep.