Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Movie #420: Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror is a retelling/reimagining of the Snow White myth, starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer, Martin Klebber, Danny Woodburn, and Lisa Robert Gillan.

The movie focuses more on the Queen (Roberts) than on Snow White (Collins) as far as POV goes, but it's really the same story: The evil queen wants to remain the fairest in the land, but as her stepdaughter grows up it becomes obvious that she's going to get outstripped. Meanwhile, she taxes her people into poverty, relying on vague attacks from a "beast" to keep people afraid. Snow White, meanwhile, is kept to her room, until one day she goes walkabout and gets ambushed by seven bandits, who turn out to be dwarves, led by Butcher (Klebber) and Grimm (Woodburn).

Said dwarves have previously ambushed and trussed an adventure-seeking prince (Hammer), who the queen promptly drugs with a love potion, attempts to marry, loses to Snow White (who frees him with a kiss, in a nice little subversion). The dwarves teach Snow to fight, and she eventually does confront the beast, who, it turns out, is her father (Sean Bean), enslaved by the queen.

There's a lot going on here, I realize as I write this up, and most of it works. There are other assorted bits - Nathan Lane plays the queen's scummy little assistant, the prince's love potion makes him think he's a puppy (serious props to Armie Hammer for committing to that), but the best part of this movie is Roberts as the queen. She's evil, no question - she's quite willing to have people killed and she's utterly remorseless - but she's not detached about it, either. She's excited on her wedding day to the prince, she's angry when Snow bests her, and she inhabits the role in a way that's a lot more visceral than such villains often get played.

A really interesting bit: When the queen uses the titular mirror, she enters a little pocket realm inhabited by her reflection, which you'd think would be played by Roberts. Instead, though, they cast her sister (Gillan), who looks really similar, but just different enough that she takes on this ethereal otherness next to the queen. Nice effect.

Also, the whole thing ends with a Bollywood number (it's directed by Tarsem Singh), which was a fun touch. If I have a complaint, it's that the beast doesn't show up until the very end, and up until then it's kind of an afterthought. Generally, though, it's funny and light and enjoyable.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Misery

Night's Black Agents! Whoa!

I ran this game on Saturday, and then GenCon prep got geared up and I completely forgot to do the write-up. Blah.

So! Last time, the agents ended an op and decided they'd head out Lithuania and see just what the conspiracy was hiding (part of the reasoning was that the last time they did this, it led them to the Isle of Man and they got some pretty useful intel, so). They set themselves up with a safehouse, and then MacAteer started taking low-level thug jobs using a connected cover, someone who knows Matis Bagdones (who, remember, was a merc/driver in the Isle of Man and is now in Budapest prison).

His first gig was just taking a bunch of stolen stuff out of a warehouse. Bringing his impressive array of skills to bear, he noted that one of the guys, Soulis, was being taciturn - he was deflecting questions and just generally not saying anything. They toughs all went out drinking after the job, and Soulis was using the same kinds of tricks MacAteer was to avoid getting drunk.

MacAteer contacted the others, managed to finagle a moment alone with Soulis, and punched him in the head, dazing him long enough to get him to a second site. There, he and Ess got to work on interrogation...

...and realized he was an undercover cop. Shit.

They salvaged the situation, though, with some quick use of Cover and some other skills. They claimed to be Interpol, looking into human trafficking out of Vilinus, and paid for Soulis' emergency dental work. He was glad to have the help, and was apparently reporting to just one CO (probably to avoid leaks getting him killed). That gave the agents an in, and potentially some backup.

Meanwhile, Parker wrote Sedillo a letter and asked about reproduction - the agents had learned that Hajnal supposedly had a son, which they thought gave them a timeline for when he was turned. But if Sedillo was right, if these vampires could reproduce, that didn't necessarily mean anything - he could be hundreds of years old. She wrote back and said that it might very well be possible for a vampire to have a child with a human, but she wasn't sure, genetically, what that would look like. Likewise, the child of two vampires would probably be a vampire from birth, but it was hard to know without experiments that she wasn't equipped to do.

The agents also noticed a lot of interference in wireless communication in Vilinus, which is weird because it's usually really good in Europe. They took a few days to build a device that could analyze and track the disturbance, and then drove around the city following the boops. This led them north, into a state park, and eventually down a disused dirt road. They concealed their van and waited. Hours later, a Hummer emerged and left.

They decided to check it out. Gambone and Ess posed as hikers (backpack to conceal the device) and sneaked through the woods. They saw a jeep with a couple of guards armed with assault rifles, but they weren't sure what was beyond that. We'll find that out next time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Promethean in the Distant Mists of Monday

It's Friday, you see, and I kept meaning to do this write-up but I've been sick and at work.

Anydangway, last time, we had a bunch milestones. This time, we were missing Feather (because Michelle was sicker than me so she stayed home).

Skip is still at the hospital and Parris had whispered "Nergal" in her sleep. When she wakes up, Skip tries to ask her about it, just to see if she remembered something from a dream, but Skip is not the most socially adept of Prometheans at the best of time and winds up putting her into Disquiet. Parris kinda smiles and nods, asks for a nurse, and Skip gets the distinct feeling he's no longer welcome. He heads for home, calling ahead to have Enoch send Feather out to watch over Parris.

Meanwhile, Avalon, Matt, and Grimm are headed across the river with Charon to get some juice back. They ask about the meeting coming up with the various supernatural folks in the city, but Charon still doesn't know where it's going to be (lots of political nuance there he isn't privy to). They get to the power station and juice up, and then feel Azoth call to Azoth. They followed it back and meet an Osiran, also there for a top-off. Matt uses Heed the Call to take his Measure, and the man introduces himself as Paul DeVries.

The throng chats with him; he's been in New Orleans for a while and he's acquainted with Sicky, Barbara, and (formerly) Papillion. He owns a big house outside of the French Quarter and is a venture capitalist, which surprises the characters (they're used to Prometheans being poor). He talks with them, asking some rather probing questions, including asking Grimm which of the throng he finds the most troublesome (Skip, of course), but then points out that if the problem was really Nergal, and Nergal is gone, what's the trouble?

He gives them a lift in his boat and offers to take them back to his place for dessert. Avalon is game (she sees in him a direction for her Pilgrimage), but Matt wants to head back to the town to check on Parris. He puts it to Grimm to break the tie, and Grimm, uncomfortable, agrees with Matt. DeVries shrugs and drives them back. The Prometheans head back to the storefront (after Matt checks in with Feather).

Skip and Enoch are at the storefront with Sicky (Sicky is bouncing a ball against the wall like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape; turns out Sicky used to hole up in a Blockbuster store at night and watch movies). They talk and Skip reveals that he doesn't really know all that much about Nergal - where he came from, what he wanted, where he went, even what he was. They call Barbara to come over and she says that based on the description Skip gave, Nergal sounds like a spirit of chaos or mischief, but without seeing him it was hard to know. He might not have been able to follow Skip into the Hedge when he flew off the mountain, but again, who can say?

The others arrive in the midst of this, and Grimm wonders if Nergal might be the spirit that was now driving Red, but isn't sure if that was the kind of spirit that worked with "the Bound." It's late, so the Prometheans bed down for the night.

In the morning, Avalon calls DeVries to hang out, and he comes to get her and takes her out on his boat. They head out into the gulf to go swimming, and Avalon notes that DeVris is missing his genitals (it's traditional for some forms of the Osiran creation ritual; DeVries doesn't seem bothered). They swim and talk for a bit, and then DeVries gets a call. At first he refuses whatever it is the caller asks, but then something changes his mind. He informs Avalon that tonight, he'll be hosting a meeting, and she can just come back to the house with him and get ready. He's sure he has something she can wear.

The others spend the day doing...things. Enoch continues work on his Athanor, while Grimm pesters. Grimm also reflects that his choice not to go with DeVries was counter to his Refinement, and falters a bit on his Pilgrimage; he sticks with it, but is a little unsteady. Skip heads to the library to research spirit summoning and occult stuff, but isn't able to find much of real use. He calls Charon, who recommends he talk to Jesse Cartwright at the meeting - Jesse's a ghost and spirit hunter and a decent sort.

Sicky and Matt spend the day walking around the city noting any remaining Pilgrim Marks for Matt's atlas, and get back in time to learn that the meeting is tonight at DeVries' house. Sicky kind of blanches a little; last time it was there a werewolf kinda went nuts and ripped the place up a bit. His name was Jesse. "Cartwright?" asks Skip. "I don't know," says Sicky. "I just knew him as Jesse Burning-Bones." "Great."

(Sicky also mentions that while werewolves don't succumb to Disquiet the way human beings do, it does make them more edgy and angry.)

So with all of that mind, when we reconvene, we'll have this big meeting at the DeVries house.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Board Game: Evolution

Finished the Chill game a little early yesterday, so tried this game out.

The Game: Evolution
The Publisher: North Star Games
Time: About an hour
Players: Me, +Michelle+Dirty Heart+Jessica

Time for the fittest to do a little survivin'.
Game Play: The idea here is to guide your various species to dominance. This involves making sure they get enough to eat, and have the right combination of traits to survive whatever predators might be out there.

Players start off rounds playing one trait card into the middle (the watering hole). Then, they play trait cards on their species, taking them from nondescript lizards or whatever to, for instance, long-necked, hard-shelled, tree-climbing herbivores. Then the cards you played to the middle get flipped, and food gets added to the watering hole. Herbivores eat from that, while carnivores...well.

Sarah is not a carnivore but she's way too happy about punching out those tokens.
All species have Body Size and Population. Carnivores can only attack animals that are smaller than they are, and various traits also preclude being attacked (if you're Burrowing, for instance, you can't be attacked if you have food equal to your Population, while only a Climbing carnivore can attack a Climbing whatever). Population falls if you get attacked or if there's not enough food, and if a species' population falls to zero, it's extinct.

At the end of the game, you get points for surviving species (as measured by population), food that your animals ate (you keep all said food in a bag), and trait cards (diversity FTW).

Dinosaurs!
Opinions: This game is really pretty. The production values are off the charts, the rules were really easy to follow, and while they game does take some table space, it's a lot of fun (as compared to another game on the same subject, which was just meh).

Plus it's fun to imagine how exactly an animal with the various traits might have evolved and what cute sounds it makes.

My little menagerie. 
Keep? Yep.

Chill: Phantom Hitchhikers

Yesterday we played Chill. We were down a couple of players, but I wanted to play, and it was a good place for it.

Dylan, Edward, and Jeannie were recuperating from their last case, and BB went out to LA on business, so that leaves Dee and two heretofore unseen envoys to investigate this case. The envoys are Willa Lane (a woman from an abusive family who accidentally killed her father when he went after her mother) and Jordan Ramsey (a former EMT and now part time massage therapist who was attacked by a ghoul while on the job).

Dee had heard through her usual grapevine that a man down in Bruneau, ID (a town of about 550 people south of Boise) had had a paranormal experience, so the three of them hop in the car with Sweet Baby Jesus (the dog, remember) and head down there. They stop at the diner, run by Stewart Myers, the guy they're there to interview.

He tells them that he was on his way into town at night when a man ran out from the woods and flagged him down. The man - who said his name was Bryan - was black, mid-30s, and didn't seem injured, but was obviously scared. He told the envoys that Bryan got in the car and told him to drive, and then asked to use his phone. Stewart didn't hear what Bryan said on the phone, but when they broke the treeline and could see the town, he glanced over and Bryan was gone. His phone was on the seat, with some kind of milky gunk on it.

Stewart wasn't aware of any local legends about a phantom hitchhiker. Willa, pretty well-versed in ghost matters, notes that normally in these stories, the hitchhiker is a girl, and the fact that "Bryan" was frantic and scared might indicate something else. Stewart reports no after-effects; no harm came to him.

The envoys decide to head out to where Stewart picked Bryan up. They stop the car and wander in the woods a bit; Willa finds some stuff on a tree she identifies as ectoplasm, indicating they're on the right track. They have to be careful, though; the ground has multiple little crevasses, very easily to trip and break an ankle. Jordan senses the Unknown and follows the scent (that's how she perceives the Unknown, as a foul smell) back to a deep crevasse. They toss a road flare down, but can't see anything of interest. It looks about 25 feet deep; they'll need gear to get down there and out again.

They head back into town, and Jordan stars to feel ill. She uses Disrupt and feels better for a moment, indicating that something Unknown has touched her. They arrange with Stewart to stay overnight (there's no hotel in town and Stewart has a spare room), but Jordan is really under the weather, so Willa drops Dee at the diner to try and talk up some of the locals while she goes to buy supplies.

Dee talks with some unfriendly old-timers and the local pastor, but isn't able to learn anything about the hitchhiker. Apparently, it's not a local legend, suggesting it may be something more recent.

When Willa and Dee get back to the house, they see that Stewart is sick, too, though he's still ambulatory, just fluish. Jordan, though, is in bad shape. She's dehydrated and only barely conscious, and guess what, she's the medic. Willa calls Darnell at the bunker and has him head down, and bring whoever's handy.

Next session, we'll see who's handy.

Movie #419: Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street is a remake of the 1947 movie of the same name. This version stars Richard Attenborough, Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, James Remar, and Robert Prosky.

It's Christmas! And Macy's Cole's is on the verge of bankruptcy, but has managed to stave off doom for the time being. They're getting their annual parade going, and Dorey (Perkins) their...marketing person, I think fires their Santa because he's a drunk asshole. A bystander who believes he is Santa (Attenborough) steps in and kicks ass, and is subsequently hired as the Cole's department store Santa. He winds up driving a lot of consumer loyalty by telling customers that if they want a particular toy cheaper, they can find it elsewhere, which has the effect of breeding loyalty to Cole's. Which, like, that's glurgy because it's nonsense (the real response would be "OK, suckers, guess I'll buy everything at Shopper Express because I can get literally the same thing cheaper there"), but it's like the 100th most glurgy thing in the movie, so let's move on.

Dorey is an overworked single mom, but her neighbor and...boyfriend? Bryan (McDermott) is clearly in love with her and basically helps raise Dorey's precocious daughter Susan (Wilson). Much of the initial plot revolves are whether Susan believes in Santa; Dorey very reasonably tells her Santa isn't real, while Bryan insists that he is and hey, maybe that kindly old gent playing Santa at Cole's really is Santa, like he says!

Eventually, the eeeeeeevil representatives of Shopper Express (James Remar and Jane Leeves) conspire to get Santa arrested and then committed, and he winds up trial with the judge (Prosky) not really wanting say the old guy is nuts and sending him away, but not having a lot of choice (except that this being post-Reagan, if you're mentally ill but not an active threat they kick your ass straight out, so WHY IS THIS EVEN AN ISSUE), and then, I'm not kidding, he decides that since the words "in God we trust" are on money, that means the Federal Treasury recognizes the existence of God, even though there's no proof, and by that logic, the court can recognize the existence of Santa.

Fuck. You.

This movie is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the nuts. The CEO of Shopper Express is played by Joss Ackland, whom you know as Arjen Rudd, the evil bad guy from Lethal Weapon II. That's how on the nose this movie is. And while it's never explicitly proven that "Kris Kringle" is Santa for purposes of the movie's fiction, the ambiguity is never really addressed, either. Like, if he's Santa, why does he live in an old folks' home and his reindeer(?) are at a local petting zoo? Why the reference to him needing to make Susan and Dorey believe? If he's not, then where does he get his amazing Santa suit (that he's a polyglot is taken as evidence by Susan, but like, she's six)?

Add this to the weird romantic subplot where Bryan comes this close to saying he's entitled to Dorey marrying him for being such a Nice Guy when he fucking proposes out of nowhere, and the fact that "names by which I'm known" in other cultures that Kringle lists off are mostly wrong, and then there's the biggest Santa issue, which is: If Santa is real, does everyone get presents that no one bought? If so, why is believing in Santa an issue? There's proof. If not, why doesn't Santa delivery to poor kids?

I dunno. I know it's a holiday classic, I know it was fairly well-reviewed when it came out, but it just kinda leaves me rolling my eyes. I did, however, love Attenborough in the role. I love how his enthusiasm for dealing with children never dims, and of course the scene where he signs with a deaf girl (Samantha Krieger) is really sweet. I just could do without the clunky-ass faith themes, I guess.

My Grade: D+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Mirror, Mirror

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Chill notes!

So, last time when I ran Chill, the characters kinda got their asses kicked. They headed back to the Boise HQ knowing that while no one died and they did save a man's life, they also inadvertently unleashed some Unknown beasties into the surrounding area, with no way to easily track them down.

Unfortunately, the Unknown is at work in other quarters as well...

(here's where players stop reading)


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Character Creation: Sins of the Father

I'm running a one-shot of this game on Friday, and y'know, I like to play with systems before I play with them.

The Game: Sins of the Father
The Publisher: Third Eye Games
Degree of Familiarity: None yet!
Books Required: Just the one, plus a deck of cards

So! Chargen in this game is mostly random, which I like (as I may have mentioned, I like random in my chargen as long as it's not randoms stats). We're making a character who has sold their soul to a Dark Lord (or whose ancestors did; I might not have had anything to do with it).

Step One: Primary Sin. Something of a misnomer because there's no secondary sin, but eh.

So I pick two cards, each of which indicates a sin, or I can default to Sloth because fuck it. King of diamonds and ace of hearts lets me choose between...oh, wait, ace means I pick. Um, OK. I guess I'll take Envy. Sounds like it'd be fun. I jot down my starting Sinful Gift (I get a bonus to take something from someone else).

Step Two: Traits & Attachments

Traits, like, personality traits. I draw four cards and pick two. 4 of clubs, 7 of hearts, ace of diamonds, 8 of hearts. Those translate to Breezy, Dramatic, Punctual (you kidding me?) and Familial, respectively.

Well, "punctual" is hella dumb, so no. I think Breezy and Dramatic sound fun. I'm starting to see this guy as kinda like Titus Abrasax in Jupiter Ascending; playboy looking to outdo his siblings (if any). That gives me ratings of 1 in Chaos and Passion. Sounds perfect.

Step Three: Relationships

Now, here I'd require a group, normally. You get four relationships, two of which have to be with other characters, but either way, you determine the type of relationship by drawing cards. So I'll just draw four cards and make up four relationships. Three of hearts (intimate friend of a friend), king of spades (devious mentor), 9 of spades (devious enemy) and 8 of clubs (hostile family).

Hang, I need a name, first. This guy feels like a Smythe. Oh, but I did a "Vaughn-Smythe" here. Hrm. OK, about how Slingham? (I want an s-blend.) Sure, Taylor Slingham.

OK, so, my intimate friend of a friend is Toni Shaw. Toni and Taylor hook up occasionally, but they've barely spoken. They know each other through some mutual acquaintance and wind up making out in the bathroom at the bar sometimes, but Taylor's hard-press to remember her last name.

My devious mentor is Danielle Aguilar. Danni is instructing Taylor in the fine art of taking what you want and leaving nothing behind. She's a professional trophy wife and sometime grifter. Presently she's widowed, but Taylor had nothing to do with that.

My devious enemy is Randal Richards. Richards also frequents the bar (where Toni works), and probably hooks up with Toni, too. I think Randal and Taylor are cordial to each other because they'd both lose if they lost their shit, but that's the game - pushing the other one far enough that he snaps without losing face. Randal's a dick.

Finally, my hostile family is Alexandra Slingham. Alex is Taylor's older sister, and Alex loves Taylor, but Taylor hates Alex - she got everything. She's got the best cars, the best job, and so forth (I think she's a Hellborn and her sin is Avarice).

Step Four: Skills. These are simple; I get one at 3, two at 2, and everything else at 1. Well, obviously my 3 should be Convince. My 2s can be Notice and Know, and that leaves everything else at 1. That was easy.

Step Five: Debt & Sinful Gifts. Well, I have one Sinful Gift already, but if I want another it adds 2 to my Debt (which measures how in deep to the Dark Lord I am). I've already got 2 Debt and I can't start over 5. I like Re-Gifting; it means I can mimic other folks' Sinful Gifts. I'll take on 2 more Debt to get it, and then I'll take one on more to raise my Occult to 2.

Step Six: Dark Lord. This is normally a full-group/GM thing, but since I'm my own grandpa GM, I'll just do it.

So first thing, I pick four cards and use them to pick the Dark Lord's traits. Maybe he's punctual (no, because I can't draw the same card twice). Well, the Lord could be Glamorous, Sentimental, Secretive, or Nihilistic. Oooh, Glamorous and Nihilistic, please.

Next, how does he communicate? He sends a minion. Cool.

What does he want for sacrifices? Contracts for more souls!

And what, ultimately, does he want? Conquering of a location. Hrm. I keep talking about this bar. I like it, actually. The bar is built over the remnants of a much more powerful demon, one our current Dark Lord can't enter (demon politics, darling, just forget it). He wants to take over the bar probably so he can raze it (nihilistic). The Dark Lord's name is...probably unknowable, but he goes by Demetrius. He's thin and dark and beautiful and just does not care, but normally he'll send someone into the bar to deliver messages to Taylor, Alex, and whoever else happens to be there.

And that's it! Kinda looking forward to running this on Friday, seems cool.


Movie #418: Mimic

Mimic is a horror film directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Charles S. Dutton, Giancarlo Giannini, Josh Brolin, Alix Koromzay, F. Murray Abraham, and Alexander Goodwin. It has the distinction of being a pretty decent Chill movie, actually.

So: A terrible disease is killing off the children of Manhattan. A CDC doctor named Peter (Northam) recruits Susan (Sorvino), an entymologist, to help him create a "Judas breed" of insects to kill off the disease's vector: the common cockroach. Fast forward three years, and the bugs have evolved into man-sized monsters that have flaps of skin mimicking a human face.

The bulk of the movie is Susan and Peter realizing what's happening, and then investigating the sewers and subways lines where the bugs have taken up residence with the help of Leonard, a cop they recruit (Dutton); Manny, a shoe-shiner (Giannini) who is looking for his son Chuy (Goodwin); and Josh (Brolin), Peter's doomed assistant.

Plot-wise, this is pretty standard horror - characters create monster, characters realize monster exist and must investigate and go destroy it. I like it on its face because it hits the beats of a Chill game so perfectly (investigation, research, confrontation, blood), but even apart from the fact that I'm a big nerd, there's a lot going for it. A lot of times, when the central conceit of where the monster came from is "humans made it," it was made for money or pure scientific curiosity. Here, they made the creature because there was a terrible disease killing children and they wanted to stop it spreading, and killing cockroaches is nearly impossible. This is actually called out in the film when Susan talks her mentor (Abraham) about it, and he points out that he has grandchildren who might not be there if not for the Judas breed.

Also, del Toro, as usual, doesn't grant plot immunity the way other directors would and isn't afraid to kill off kids, which then leads the audience to wonder if Chuy is for it. To that point, Chuy is a decent portrayal of a kid with autism, given the time period. The bug effects are also pretty good - the scene where Susan gets carried off was really effective.

Probably my favorite character is Leonard, though; he's tough and salty, but he's also knowledgeable about the subway and the city's history and he doesn't take any shit from Peter. And his last stand is sad and pretty badass. Sadly, de Toro has disowned this film, but I think it's pretty solid.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium-high

Next up: Miracle on 34th Street

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Character Creation: Ten Candles

RPGaDay2017 is underway!


Unlike last year, I don't think I'm gonna do it here; August is just too crazy to blog every day between GenCon and going back to school. So what I'll do instead is do it over on my Facebook profile and then I'll collect it all when I'm done, at the end of the month.

For now, however:

The Game: Ten Candles
The Publisher: Cavalry Games
Degree of Familiarity: None; I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, I admit to some mild salt, here, because Ten Candles bears more than a passing resemblance to curse the darkness. I don't say that to suggest that Stephen Dewey cribbed from me; I don't even know that he even knew about curse the darkness, necessarily. The similarities aren't so blatant as to make me think "there's no way that's not influenced by!"

No, the reason I'm salty is because Ten Candles is so much damn better realized than curse the darkness, both in terms of production values and marketing. I mean, look at this damn page. That's a lot more people there giving positive blurbs than I think have ever played my game if I'm not there to run it.

Anyway, I'd be really interested to play Ten Candles at some point, but for now I'm just gonna make a character. No character sheets (the game uses index cards).

So, 10 days ago the world went dark, and there are creatures out in the darkness. The creatures don't have names, survivors just refer to Them. (See what I mean?) We start out making characters by creating a Virtue and a Vice. Normally what would happen is that all the players would make up one of each and write them on index cards, then we'd pass them on so you wind up with traits you didn't choose. I like that, but since it's just me I'm gonna choose my own traits.

OK, sure. So, for Virtue I'm gonna choose Level-headed. I want someone who can stay calm in a crisis. For Vice, I'll take Injured. (A note: "vice" is kind of misnomer, because all it means in game terms is that it's going to cause more problems that it solves.)

Next step is to read the module, which is just the scenario that you're playing through. Since Ten Candles is, of necessity, a one-shot (and everyone dies at the end), modules are pretty ground-level. The module isn't dreadfully important as far as this character creation goes, though.

So, step three is concept. Here's where I'd take the traits I got and synthesize them. I'll say my character is man in his early 50s. He's not a soldier or a doctor or anything cool; he's a parent (kids are grown and he dearly hopes they're OK, but rather suspects they aren't) and he's just generally decent at keeping his shit together. Yesterday he was walking into a destroyed storefront and he slipped and tore a muscle. Nothing heroic, nothing dramatic, just missed his footing, and it's probably going to kill him. His name is Albert Drusinski, but his friends call him "Droos."

Next step is my Moment. This is a scene or a beat in which the character finds hope. I think for Albert, it'll be "I will find hope in the pool hall where I hung out with my friends." I like the notion that Droos shoots pool with his buddies every night.

Next up is Brink. Now, again, normally I wouldn't write my own Brink, but since it's just me I'll go ahead and do it. Brink is what a character is pushed to or capable of because of the trauma of the world crumbling around them. So, I'll pretend someone wrote one for Albert that goes: "I've seen you hit yourself. You stood there crying silently and then you slapped yourself really hard three times and whispered 'get it together.'"

And that's really it. If we were really playing, we'd assemble these cards into a stack, top card is the active card (huh, that's another curse the darkness similarity, actually), and then suss out inventory, which is just what you as player have in your pockets.

Again, though, no character sheet, so that's about it!


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Movie #417: Milo & Otis

Milo & Otis is, weirdly, an English re-dub of a Japanese movie. Dudley Moore narrated the English version, which otherwise has no people in it.

It's the story of a kitten (Milo) and a pug pup (Otis) who live on a farm, and then one day Milo gets swept away by a river, Otis chase after him, they have various misadventures including Otis fighting a goddamn bear and Milo falling off a goddamn cliff until finally they meet up again, both find mates (who knew there was another pug randomly wandering the wastes?), hole up in caves for the winter and both have babies, and then all go back to the farm together. Hurray!

The movie is cute and everything, except...there was apparently a lot of controversy when it was released because there were rumors of a lot of animal cruelty (one rumor said that as many as 20 kittens died filming the movie), but no one could verify it because it was all filmed in Japan and there were no records of the animals being treated well, or not. But like, that's clearly a cat falling from a cliff. That's clearly a pug wrestling with a bear. That can't be safe.

Anyway, I think we picked it up on VHS when Teagan was small for like a buck fifty at Half-Price Books and I just never bothered watching it before. Teagan liked it when she was younger; now it's just kinda uncomfortable. On top of all that, it's boring. It just kind of rambles and has this sprawling, not very interesting narrative where the animals keep running, then they see a fox, and the fox jumps around, and then...nothing happens. And then there's a deer, and the deer teaches the cat to frolic, and...nothing happens. Teagan and I joked that they just put the animals out in the woods, filmed it, and then added the narration later, which, horribly, may not have been inaccurate.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Mimic

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Chill: The Envoys Take a Poundin'

So! Today was Chill. We closed a case. The envoys all lived, but it was a near thing.

Last time, the envoys investigated an abandoned church and Edward got spurted in the face by some black gunk. The envoys decided to nail up the exit in the window they found (which BB did handily), and then sod off and regroup. Jeannie used Schematic on a component of the trap that had nearly killed BB and saw that the whole place was trapped, but the highest concentration of Unknown was in the basement. Armed with that knowledge, they headed for the door. They were on their way out when they heard a cat crying.

BB found said cat in the corner in a trap. He decided to take it out of the church, but Jeannie Sensed the Unknown (and got a Colossal success, which of course means the Unknown senses her right back) and realized the cat wasn't a cat. She yelled this to BB, and the trap opened. The cat turned into a little green humanoid armed with a blade, and tried to stab BB, but BB was too fast and kicked the little beast into the wall. It hissed at them, and they heard chittering from the ceiling.

Edward and Dylan ran out to the truck to get Edward's rifle. Meanwhile, objects started falling from the ceiling. BB dodged one, but one caught Jeannie in the back and sliced her open pretty good. Edward came back in with the rifle and shot the monster, apparently killing it. The envoys fell back - they weren't sure how many there were and they couldn't see them.

Dylan noted a woman across the street staring at the church, so he called out to her and told her that there were rabid cats in the church and that they'd had to shoot on. She said she'd already called the police (rifle shots are loud); the envoys told her that one of them had been injured and they need to go to the hospital, which they did.

The doctors put some cream on Edward's face, but were unable to identify the stuff he'd been sprayed with. They were concerned that his skin was so inflamed (he was losing STA every scene, too). Jeannie, meanwhile, got stitched up, tetanus'd, and rabies shot'd. The cop they'd talked to earlier came in to interview them and said he'd get animal control on the case, but it might take a day.

They went up and talked to Father John, who was weak, but still said he should get up and go do his prayer over the place (they didn't let him). They headed back to the resort to debrief (and so that Dylan could use Crisis Counselor to remove some Trauma).

They talked about what had happened and did a little research. Dylan found reports of little humanoid creatures variously called "trolls," "imps," or "bogeys" (also "gremlins," but those like to screw with more advanced tech; these didn't fit the profile). Literature said that they were malicious and carnivorous, and they were vulnerable to sunlight, though how vulnerable was a point of contention.

BB suggested they level the place, or set it on fire. The others pointed out that doing that would bring a lot of attention that they weren't prepared to deal with. Instead, they decided to go and tool up - coveralls, steel-toed boots, crowbars, hard hats, and UV lights - and head in the next day. They checked the footage of the little cameras they'd set up, but it mostly just caught the trolls right before they broke the cameras.

They arrived at the church to find the animal control van already there. They entered, and BB set off a different trap (but his boots protected his feet from it). They walked in and found booted footprints leading back - the animal control guy? Edward used Clairvoyance to scope the bottom of the stairs, and noted that the stairs were rigged to collapse if you walked on the left side, and that the railing was rigged with razor blades. Likewise, there was a big pool of blood at the bottom. BB (whom you'll recall is Reluctant to Harm, which includes by omission of action, just ask any robot) headed to the back of the church and started heading downstairs.

He got to the bottom and found a blood trail leading in; it looked like someone was dragging themselves along the floor. He called up to the others to report it (the others were prying the boards off the windows to let in more light). Jeannie headed to the top of the stairs, while Edward and Dylan watched from the hole in the floor.

BB kept heading back, through the patch of sunlight from the hole in the floor. Jeannie started heading down, but forgot which side to walk on and fell (but landed safely). BB saw the animal control guy leaning against the far wall, covered in blood, holding his hand over his left eye.

Dylan and Edward lowered themselves down through the hole - but now no one was upstairs.

The guy started crawling towards BB, but a troll jumped out of nowhere and landed on his back, raising up a sharpened trowel. BB rushed forward and smacked it with his bat, knocking the creature out into the dark. Two more trolls rushed Jeannie with sharpened wire, trying to trip or maim her, but her Quicken discipline stood her in good stead and she caught the wire with her staff and flipped the trolls into the light. Edward stood on one, holding it down as it sizzled, and Dylan just bashed in the other's head with his crowbar.

BB grabbed the guy and carried him back to the light...but then their UV lights went out. The trolls started throwing things at the envoys; Jeannie and Edward dodged, but Dylan got smacked full-on. He looked down at the animal control guy and saw the ruined remnants of his eyes, and kind of lost his shit (and all of his WPR, making him overwhelmed). He ran for the stairs, but forgot which side to run up and collapsed into the basement again.

The trolls attacked him and stabbed him in the shoulder. Jeannie dragged him toward the light. BB realized that they needed a way to get out, so he activated Feat of Strength and jumped up out of the hole with the animal control guy. He took the guy out to his truck, gave him his phone, and told him to call 911. Then he grabbed rope and broke off all the mirrors from the trucks, and headed back in.

The envoys weren't doing well. Dylan was badly injured. Jeannie had lost her staff (it just shattered in her hands), and had gone into shock after a chunk of debris hit her. BB dropped the mirrors into the hole so the others could reflect sunlight back at the little fuckers, but it was obvious that they weren't going to win this fight - they were outnumbered and had no Protective disciplines without Dylan.

As if to underline the point, a stray chunk of debris cracked Dylan across the head, and he fell unconscious (the player turned all the tokens dark to save his life). BB fashioned the rope into a sling and lowered it down to haul Dylan up, and then hauled the others up one at a time. They headed the hell out, just in time for the police to arrive.

The aftermath was sticky. The animal control officer didn't remember much, but he was very clear that BB had saved his life. The wounds the envoys had weren't from animals, so the police treated the church like there was a hostile person inside, but by the time they actually went in (after dark), they found nothing really conclusive. The trolls, it seemed, had taken the opportunity to escape their longtime prison.

Jeannie was treated for a mild concussion. Dylan's shoulder was more serious; severed muscles and bone damage required surgery and physical therapy. BB was annoyed that they hadn't come up with a better plan, but had rejected "burn it" (which was frankly the best they could have done, though it still would have been messy).

The envoys got in touch with Joy Taylor and Father John. Father John was too old and sick to join SAVE officially, though he asked to help as he could. Joy headed back to the compound for some training and induction into the Society. The envoys needed some rest before their next case.

Movie #416: Milk Money

Milk Money is a 90s rom-com starring Melanie Griffith, Ed Harris, Malcom McDowell, Michael Patrick Carter, Anne Heche, Brian Christopher, and Adam Lavorgna. It was one of my father's favorite movies, which explains why I own a copy. I'd never watched it until the other day.

So: In the misty yore of the late 90s, pre-Internet (this movie does not work in a modern era), young Frank (Carter) and his pals Kevin (Christopher) and Brad (Lavorgna) really, really want to see a naked woman (their age is unclear, but Frank looks about 9 and the other boys maybe 11, so I'm not sure why they're all in the same grade, but maybe Frank is just small). Instead of conspiring with an older classmate to buy them a copy of Penthouse or whatever, they bike to "the city" (Pittsburgh was where they filmed it, though it was supposedly set in Ohio) and try to hire a prostitute to get nekkid for them.

They immediately get assaulted and nearly robbed, but are accidentally saved by V (Griffith), a sex worker who, after some hesitation, take them home and shows them her breasts. Their bikes have been stolen, however, and V, tired of getting slapped around by her asshole pimp (Casey Siemaszko), steals his car and drives them home. Said car breaks down, and V winds up crash in Frank's tree house while Frank tries to hook her up with his widower father (Harris).

Now, granted, all of that makes perfect sense, but then the movie just kind of goes in four or five different directions. We've got a subplot with a crazed English gangster (McDowell) coming after V because he stashed a lot of money in the car. We've got Kevin's father (I cannot figure out who played him) recognizing V because he's a client. We've got Dad trying to save the wetlands. We've got Kevin, who was a neat freak, suddenly deciding to...stop bathing and smear food on his face? We've got Brad (Lavorga) losing his prized leather jacket to Frank on a bet, and both boys crushing on girls in their class. It's a hot mess.

Look, ignore for a moment that in 1999, even people in small-town Ohio had cable and could therefore see tits. Ignore for a moment that V in this movie wears a gold heart locket around her neck so she's literally a hooker with a heart of gold. Ignore for a moment that exposing herself to minors is a sex crime (it doesn't count because they're boys and she's a hot woman, right?).

Actually, no, don't ignore any of that. This movie is really pretty awful. About the best I can say for it is that Griffith and Harris are talented enough actors to make their scenes work. (I also feel the need to point out that when my dad saw and loved this movie, he was suffering from Alzheimer's, so don't judge him.)

My Grade: D
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Milo & Otis

Friday, July 28, 2017

Character Creation: Golden Sky Stories

A little later in the day that I normally make characters, sure, but why not.

The Game: Golden Sky Stories
The Publisher: Starline Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

I grabbed this book off the shelf yesterday to read while Cael was at occupational therapy, and it's a really fun-looking and well-written game. In Golden Sky Stories, you play henge; animals that turn into people sometimes. They're kinda-sorta animal spirits, but maybe not in the way we'd think of that in the US (the game is Japanese, and influenced by, among other things, Miyazaki's movies).

The stories here are deliberately non-violent, which I think is cool; the stakes are low in general but important to the people in question. It might seem childish, but on the other hand, the stakes in a lot of RPGs are pretty silly if you think about them. At least here, where you might be called upon to reconcile two friends who are fighting over a pretty rock one of them found, the stakes are understandable.

Anyway! First thing we do is choose what kind of animal. There are six possibilities; I think I want to be a dog (bork! bork!). Since I am a dog, I get six powers: Doggie, Sticking Close, Petting, It's All Right, Substitution, and Howl. Honestly, it'd be worth playing this game just to have a power called "Doggie."

Now I divide up Attributes. I get 8 points, and they have to at least have 1, except for Adult, which I can put at zero if I want to be all like "WHAT'S THAT JANGLING THING! A PHONE?! WHAAAT?" I should think about my doggie a bit.

Well, nothing says he has to be a Japanese breed, but Akitas are adorable, so he can be an Akita. I kinda want him to be a pet, so he's got a little girl who loves him and named his Acorn. Akita is three, but when he turns human his human form is 16 - a little older than some other henge, but Acorn (or Shu, as he's called when he's human) is tall, lanky, and has big feet that he hasn't grown into yet. His owner's name is Michiru, and she likes to put her arms around Acorn and hug him. He doesn't mind.

So: I think I'll put three into Child (helps me play and wheedle), two into Henge (my magic), and three into Animal (run, hide, sniff). That leaves Adult at zero, but eh. It'd be fun to play.

I have to take a Weakness, which gives me an additional power, and I can take up to three. I'll take Collar (I have an owner that I can't go against, but I also have a Home); Clumsy (my Adult is 0 and I'm kinda clueless, but I can also Persevere); and Naive (I never think badly of people even when I should, but I Love Everyone).

Normally I wouldn't start with any Connections (not without a group), but because of my Weaknesses I start with a Connection to Michiru and one to Everyone, and that finishes me up.

Neat! I'm a doggie! Bork bork!


Board Game: Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill

Bark! Bark!

The Game: Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill
The Publisher: Stratamax Games
Time: 30-40 minutes, depending
Players: Teagan, Cael, Al, Michelle, me

Michelle explaining shepherding.
Game Play: The board is arranged into pastures with paths between them, each of which is worth some points (1 for the bottom-level pastures, then 3, 5, and then one lofty 7-point pasture). Players place a few shepherds in various pastures (but can't place two of their own shepherds in the same pasture), and then play cards to make moves, including adding sheep to a pen, moving a flock pasture to pasture, placing more shepherds, and moving the wolf.

Teagan made the best wolf-noise, so she went first.
What's interesting is that you can move other people's sheep along with your flock, and in fact it's better to have mixed flocks because that means you can move them more easily (some cards only allow you to make moves for other people, which includes moving mixed flocks). You can also place other people's shepherds. Sheep automatically score when they reach a shepherd, so if you want to prevent someone's sheep from reaching the high-scoring pastures you can plop a shepherd of their color down. You can also move the wolf to intercept, as he scares off a sheep.

This is during setup, so there are no sheep yet.
Opinions: I like this game and I wanted to play it again, but Michelle had a migraine and Teagan was feeling unfocused, so we just played once. I feel like it could be a fun little strategy game without a million little pieces or phases or whatever, but I want to play it again to try and think about the strategy a bit. That's a good recommendation, of course.

Keep? Yep.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Movie #415: A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a screen adaptation of will.i.am Shakespeare's play, directed by Michael Hoffman and starring (deep breath) Stanley Tucci, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline, David Straithairn, Calista Flockhart, Christian Bale, Dominic West, Sophie Marceau, and Anna Friel (that's most of the principal cast).

Right, so, you probably know the story: Theseus (Straithairn) is going to marry Hippolyta (Marceau), but meanwhile, Demetrius (Bale) is forcibly betrothed to Hermia (Friel) even though she loves Lysander (West) and Helena (Flockhart) is head-over-heels for Demetrius. Meanwhile-meanwhile, the faerie monarchs Oberon (Everett) and Titania (Pfeiffer) have their own little squabble over a changeling child, and a troupe of workers who are working to put on a play, including Bottom the Weaver (Kline) are trying to rehearse their little opus, and all of these folks (except Theseus and Hippolyta) wind up in the woods on the very same night. And Oberon's little helper Puck (Tucci) kinda screws things up by making Lysander fall for Helena, and then really makes things fun by turning Bottom into a weird half-donkey and making Titania fall for him.

Whew. It's a Shakespeare comedy, meaning at the end everybody gets married and all is well. So let's think about this particular version.

It's set in the 19th century and people ride around on bicycles. There's a lot of focus on human things (often things with wheels or that spin) being brought into faerie-land (gramophones, bicycles), and a lot of the humor is done with closeups of Oberon or Puck rolling their eyes at folks. Nudity is also used as a fun little plot device (Lysander surprising Hermia by betting butt-ass nekkid, but the best bit is all four lovers waking up nude as Theseus and his people ride up).

The nice thing about movies made out of Shakespeare is that because they're not on stage, folks can whisper or murmur sexfully (that's two Futurama references in the same post, Matt, you're on a roll) rather than having to project, and that's nice. We get to see Oberon and Titania actually share some intimacy, and you get the sense that this screwing about with love potions is kinda the way faeries interact with one another normally.

One thing I didn't think worked so well was adding scenes with Bottom's wife; she refers to him (in Italian) as a dreamer, and he kind of dodges her, but it never really goes anywhere and of course it's not really part of the play. One gets the sense that Kevin Kline, in an interesting instance of life imitating art, insisted on more screen time and development for his character. It has the effect of making Bottom seem sad rather than just foolish, which is a shame.

Oh, something I forgot when I saw this before: Sam Rockwell playing Flute playing Thisbe deciding to ditch the stupid high-pitched voice and just act and actually moving the audience. It works perfectly, since doing that voice for laughs wouldn't have carried the whole scene.

On the whole, it's a nicely light and well put-together version of the story.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Probably medium-low, but good as Shakespeare adaptations go

Next up: Milk Money

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Character Creation: Venture City

Been thinking about superheroes of late. Let's do this.

The Game: Venture City
The Publisher: Evil Hat
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game, but a great deal with Fate.
Books Required: The Venture City book and Fate Core.

OK, so this is a superhero setting for Fate Core. It's a lot more sparse than I was expecting, really; mostly it's "here's a way to do superpowers in Fate, plus some pregens and some mini-adventures. But that's fine, that's really all I need.

I'm feeling a little mellow today, so I kinda want to make someone whose powers revolve around telepathy or empathy. The Venture City book says to make a character as described in Fate Core and then add the "powers" step, so we start with high concept and trouble aspects.

Well, I want my character to be restricted by his powers - he can feel what others are feeling but he can't really turn it off. Actually, Can't Switch it Off is a good trouble aspect; he feels what everyone around him feels and that means that if he's with teammates who are just having fun pummeling mooks, he gets overwhelmed because he feels the pain, anger, and fear of said mooks. High concept, though. Let's call it Troubled Empath.

And then I should give him a name. I like alliteration for superheroes, so I'll call him Oliver Owen.

OK, now I get into the Phase Trio. This is the "your first three adventures and each one gets me an Aspect" thing. Since I don't have a Venture City of my very own and I don't feel like parsing out the one in the book (it's just an example anyway), we'll just assume this is a basic four-color comic, maybe drifting a little closer to Iron Age but not quite Watchmen level of violence and so on. I also can't really do Phases Two and Three as they're intended, so I'll just wing it.

So, for my first phase, Oliver gets his powers. I think I want how he got his powers to be kind of a mystery. He's always been an intuitive person, but then one day he was attending a friend's wedding. He got their early and saw a woman in the church praying, and he was struck with this overwhelming wave of grief from her. Turned out her husband had been murdered, and she had no recourse - the police weren't taking it seriously. Oliver kind of bumbled his way through investigating it, mostly going on the fact that no one could really lie to him, and eventually dug up evidence that led to the killer's arrest. First Aspect: Don't Even Try to Lie to Me.

Second phase: Oliver tries to use his powers to continue to solve crimes, but the justice system makes that hard. He offered his services to the police (he's a perfect lie detector), and one detective even took him up on it, but the problem is that Oliver can read feelings, not thoughts. He knows when someone is lying, but not necessarily why. The detective brought him along to question a witness, but pushed her a little too hard and Oliver experienced her panic attack right along with her. After that he stopped working with the cops. Second Aspect: Stay Outside the System.

Third phase: Oliver, now angry, started going out looking for trouble. He found that just tailing people who were up to no good could prevent crime, which was more than a lot of superheroes can manage. One night, though, he wandered into a mugging in progress. The woman getting mugged was hurt, bloody, and terrified, and the guy might not have stopped there. Oliver, not the most fit or combat-capable guy, tried to step in, and the guy slugged him. Oliver glared at him and grabbed his hand, and caused an emotional "loop" that wound up shutting the guy down (he survived, but it was close). Third Aspect: Emotion is a Weapon.

Next step: The Skill ladder. One Great, two Good, three Fair, four Average.

Well, I think Empathy at Great makes a whole lot of sense, don't you? Then I'll put Rapport and Provoke at Good. I'll put Investigate, Deceive, and Will at Fair, and then Athletics, Burglary, Stealth, and Notice at Average.

And now, stunts and refresh, but that also means powers. Basically I get three extra stunts, but the three extras have to spent on powers. I think I'd like to do that first, because I can use my basic three stunts as powers, I just don't know if I'll need to.

Well, there's a Telepathy power that does more or less what I want. Let's start there. That's "read people's emotions." That costs 1 stunt.

Enhancements make the power more better. I'll take Master Telepathy (gives me a +2 when using it). I want something like Mental Blasts, but I don't need to use it at a distance. I'll call it Emotion Feedback (works on touch, Attack action, resist with Will). That's all three of my stunts for powers.

Next thing is Theme, and I get one for free, but I don't like any of them, so I'm gonna skip it.

Special Effects! I get two. These are things that I can activate with a Fate point when I succeed with style. I like Mental Recover (I recover all mental stress; basically I'm using someone else's feelings to recenter my own), and I kinda want to be able to stun people. I guess Inflict Condition; I can put the Overwhelmed Aspect on folks.

Now a Drawback, which is basically a trouble Aspect for my power. I think I want Easily Overwhelmed; I'm prone to emotional overload.

And finally, a Collateral Damage Effect. This is basically me letting go of my power and bad things happen. I like Psychic Maelstrom a whole lot; basically I open my mind up and share everyone's emotions among them, and everyone in my zone takes two mental stress. I think at the beginning of the game, Oliver doesn't know he can do that.

That still leaves me three stunts, fer cryin' out loud. You know, what, I'll use two to jack my Telepathy up to Master 3 (so I get a +6 when I use it). That means I only have one stunt left (plus more if I want to use refresh).

I'll make a stunt called Reality Check; I can Defend against a physical attack with Empathy (but it doesn't work on robots or other beings without emotions). And then I'll use a point of refresh to grab the Nose for Trouble stunt (lets me use Empathy as initiative; I'll substitute the usual caveat of "observe for a few minutes" with "if opponents have emotions," because if they don't I can't read 'em).

That makes my refresh 2. Sounds good. Last thing I need is a superhero name. I think Oliver wears grey cargo pants, a black or grey hoodie, boots, and dark glasses when super-heroing. He's known to try and defuse things rather than jump in and start punching (he's actually pretty punch-averse), and so he goes by Pax.

Promethean: Roles upon Roles

Monday night was Promethean. So!

Last time was a while ago, but we rejoin our throng taking a couple of days to focus on their own projects.

Skip spends the time working on the building and sparring with Grimm.

Grimm, for his part, is trying to pursue the fermentatio milestone. He believes that he can accomplish it by forcing himself to become more human using the Vitriol he's earned, but the trick is that he hasn't earned any in a while. He talks with Enoch about this, and Enoch notes that a lot of times, coming to understand why you were created and the circumstances under which it happens is important. Grimm considers this, and calls up Rosa (the demiurge who created him) and they talk a little about her reasons, but nothing Grimm didn't already know. Grimm does a little research on his own, and learns that the five guys whom Rosa used to create him were a group of criminals who were trying to blow their way into a bank vault. They overestimated the explosive charge, though, and the wall collapsed on them, killing them. Grimm forces an Elpis vision (yeah, normally it's once a story, but fuck it) and feels what those men felt. He learns, too, that Skip will be important on the next stage of his Pilgrimage - he sees himself charging through an open portal into he-knows-not-where, and Skip warning him off. He jumps anyway. When his vision clears, he's Shaken (side-effect of Residual Memory) and he's achieved a milestone: use an Elpis vision to learn about his component bodies.

Enoch gets to working on the obsidian butterfly, the one that was formerly an Athanor created by Papillion and that is now in pieces, thanks to Red (you've been following the story so far and so that makes sense, right?). He figures he can make it work again, but he's going to use his knowledge of electronics and metallurgy to bind it together. He makes some progress, but it's slow (because +Matthew Karafa has this amazing thing going where if he's rolling more than 7 dice, he only ever gets 1 success, which is weird). Grimm pestering him about milestones probably doesn't help.

Matt, likewise, is working on his dictionary of Pilgrim Marks. He gets as far as he can (in game terms, he runs out of rolls for the extended action), but it still doesn't feel done. He needs to find a different approach if he's going to finish this Role.

Feather, on the other hand, hits her new typewriter, jacks up her Manipulation with Pyros, spends a shitload of Willpower, buys a dot of Expression, and rocks out on her Ramble. She types up the history of the camp and finishes it up with her own Ramble (to this point). It's a parable about the Pilgrimage, that being strong and carrying on is the best way to approach it, because it takes you in places you didn't know you could go. She talks about Papillion/Parris Mick, Cassius, Sicky, and herself, and completes her Chronicler Role with the milestone create a parable including the Rambles of a Redeemed, dead, and active Promethean. She switches over to Pilgrim, not really knowing where else to go right now.

Finally, Avalon takes a whole bunch of drugs and gets back to work, finishing up her painting with just enough successes. She delivers it to Carroll, who asks why Ysolde's face is kept to the shadows, and Avalon says that it's because she can't quite let Ysolde go...but she needs to find a way. Carroll suggests tracking her down and telling her, but Avalon isn't sure where she is. In doing all this, Avalon completes her Craftsman Role, with the milestone complete a work on commission. She figures next, she'll try and learn about sin and deviance, but that requires a way to learn Cobalus.

The characters met up in the evening and talk about their days and their plans, and they decide to go out and get po' boys (Avalon's treat, since Carroll paid for the painting). They head to a food truck and sit on the curb eating, and Matt points out that they had planned on letting Sicky into the throng officially. Matt, having recently learned the Prime the Vessel Alembic (remember he achieved the Ascetic Role last session) does so, and Sicky hugs everyone.

The Prometheans head for home, and Grimm smells smoke down the block. He calls for the others, and they discover Parris' building on fire - smoke coming out the top floor. Grimm shoots the lock and rushes upstairs with Avalon and Matt. He kicks in the door and gets caught in the backblast, but manages to get Parris and hand her off to Matt. Grimm uses his Ignis Aspiratus Alembic to quell the fire, and looks around a bit. The point of origin seems to be the bedroom; something blew in the windows and then everything caught fire.

The cops and fire department are on scene, including Peter, the detective who was flirting with Feather a few nights ago (and who looks familiar to Grimm, too). He takes her statement and then asks her out, and Feather agrees (with encouragement from Avalon). Grim and Matt are taken to the hospital; Grimm heads back, but Matt decides to stay with Parris in case she wakes up.

Back at the storefront, Grimm remembers where he saw Peter - he was the vampire he saw feeding in the alley the night of the blackout. Feather isn't convinced, but is willing to go on the date, in any case (just maybe stay somewhere public).

At the hospital, Parris wakes up and Matt talks with her. She remembers seeing her bedroom windows burst inwards and tendrils like heat shimmers reach in, and then burst into flames. She has no idea what happened and she didn't see anyone. Matt leaves and heads back to the others, but learns en route that they're going to Charon, so he joins them there.

At said storefront, the throng decides that some of them need some juice. Grimm, Avalon, and Matt are going to see Charon and go across the river. Skip heads to the hospital to look after Parris, while Feather, Sicky, and Enoch stay at the house (letting Enoch work on his Athanor project some more).

Charon is waiting for them, and tells them that his own sources have revealed that it was Red who burned Parris' flat. He's also been implicated in several local cases of ectophagia, and that's upsetting the supernatural community. Several folks want to have a sit-down with the throng, which will probably take a night or two to arrange. So the throng has that to look forward to.

At the hospital, Parris shifts in her sleep as Skip watches over her. "Nergal?" she whispers.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Promethean Notes

Notes, notes, notes. I actually haven't taken notes on this game for a while, largely because the players have been keeping things going just fine without me introducing new stuff. But, I think a quick break to keep things in perspective is good. So, players, don't read any more.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Character Creation: PreppiePunk

Just on a roll today.

The Game: PreppiePunk
The Publisher: Density Media
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

One thing I love: RPGs that have a strong perspective, even (especially?) a political one, and don't compromise it. I find it hard to write that way (closest I've gotten is curse the darkness), but every now and then you find an RPG that is what it is and doesn't even try to be anything else. PreppiePunk is exactly that.

I love this kind of passion, but man, it's not always a good thing. We get a strong vision, sure, but we also get hostile bullshit like this:


Like, I've got no time for D&D, either, but for a lot people, that is roleplaying. I don't think it's helpful to start your book out with "go fuck yourself," but what do I know.

Anyway, much of the book is in-character (autobiographical? The game's authors are listed as "Brock" and "Biz," and those are the folks writing in the book). The setting is a prep school after Trump's election, and the characters are in distress about that (meaning they're, like, right). The majority of the book is just that, a series of letters, diary entries, that kind of thing from these folks' perspective. And it's good fiction, it's raw, and it's genuine. Make for a good RPG? I dunno. I'd have a hard time selling it to my players, but that's as much because there doesn't seem to be much in the way of genre stuff - no super powers, no magic, etc., and that's kinda important to us, I think.

Well, so, character creation. So, first thing I'm choosing is age. Characters in PreppiePunk are 13-19, because "post graduate" year at prep school is apparently a thing (I work in public schools in Cleveland, it's...not so much a thing here). I'll be 16 (side note: I would not relive being 16 for all the bourbon in Kentucky).

Three stats: Sport, Smarts, and Spirit. And...sigh.


Hostility is boring, and hostility of the "don't let your players buffalo you" variety is as old as the fucking hills in this hobby. (I'm picking on this because I think it's counterproductive and annoying.)

Anyway, I get 4 points to divide up, and they go 0 to 3. Let's see. Interesting to contemplate what sort of person I might have been had I gone to a prep school rather than a downtown-Toledo-Catholic-school, but I'm not making me as a teen. I'll put 0 into Sport and 2 each into Smarts and Spirit.

I'm now asked to choose name and school. Presumably if I were in a group we'd all pick the same school, but here we are. I want it to be a Catholic school, though. A quick online search doesn't reveal a patron saint of rebels or freedom, surprise surprise, so we'll go with Jeanne de Chantal Preparatory Academy (de Chantal is the patron saint of forgotten people, according to one source). My character's name is Matthias Barbary (call him "Matt," thanks. Yes, I know that's my name, but piss off).

So, then we get a few pages of rules explanations. The rules are interesting; you're rolling 4d6 and trying to hit a difficulty based on an age. Try to rent a car, the difficulty is 24, because that's the age at which you can rent one. Even numbers are positive, odds are negative, and you want within a margin of error of 3. I have no idea how well this would work in play, but it's definitely an interesting approach. Stats give you the ability to reroll. Oh, also:

JFC, indeed.
Good good, get over yourself. I gotta explain why describing what "failure" means in the context of this particular game is important? Really? I was under the impression you were a game writer with some modicum of understanding of pedagogy. Well, on we go.

Bonds are the next thing. Bonds aren't necessarily social connections, they're more about who you are societally and who your family is. (Side note: This game doesn't name any actual place names, it'll just say "Y---" instead of "Yale," and I get why they're doing it, but at the same time it's distracting.)

So. I need six Bonds for Matthias. I'll say:

1) Cousin Jack is a movie star's assistant.
2) Mom sits on the board of the Met.
3) Dad was in a powerful Ivy League frat.
4) The Barbary family helped found this school.
5) Uncle Stephen plays golf with the Bishop.
6) My godfather owns a gallery in New York.

And then, Social Capital. Oh, wait, no. Social Capital happens in play. When an NPC is introduced, you can invest some Social Capital to have an existing relationship with that person. Doesn't apply to chargen, though.

And then chargen would conclude with five "I never" statements (like the drinking game), but since that really only applies if you have a group, I think I'll skip that bit.

Look, I'm hard on some bits of this game because they tickle particular pet peeves, but overall this is a very thoughtfully constructed RPG, and I think it deserves some love.


Board Game: Last Friday

I own a bunch of board and card games, and many of them are full-evening activities. We never wind up playing those games, though, because sussing out the rules takes a while on its own. So yesterday we scheduled such a game, and here we are!

The Game: The Last Friday
The Publisher: Ares Games
Time: About 2-3 hours, though I'm sure it would go faster now that we know how it works
Players: Me, +Michelle+John+Dirty Heart, Al, Kathy

Game Play: The Last Friday is a hidden movement game, much like Fury of Dracula or Letters from Whitechapel. As such, it's already a winner in my book. In it, one player (me, in this case) is the "maniac," unnamed but a pretty obvious Jason Vorhees homage. Everyone else is a camper. Five campers need to be represented, whether or not you have six players, so if you have fewer than that someone's controlling a few extras.

"I'll be right back."
The game consists of four chapters, each of which have (at most) 15 rounds, which sounds like a lot, but it moves pretty quickly. In Chapter One, the maniac is hunting down the campers and trying to kill them while the campers are trying to get into cabins safely (the cabins are locked at first, and you have to find keys and open them; the maniac can also use an ax to bust in and claim a cabin). If the maniac manages to kill all five, he wins, if not, then anyone who dies gets to bring in a new camper next chapter.

In Chapter Two, the campers are trying to find the slasher and kill him, while the slasher is trying to get away. Once the camper kills the maniac, that camper becomes the "Predestined".

In Chapter Three, the killer tries to find and kill the Predestined (which, again, wins the game for the maniac).

In Chapter Four, the campers try to surround and block the maniac so the Predestined can kill him. The maniac can win by just staying ahead of the campers and waiting it out.

SLAUGHTER.
The bigger white circles on that map are numbered; that's where the maniac moves, one at a time. The campers move on the dots between them. They can kill each other (depending on the chapter) by passing over one another. For example, in the first chapter the maniac kills campers by passing over them or letting them pass over him.

Both sides also have tokens that can be used for various effects. The campers' tokens let them light up an area (forcing the maniac to reveal himself if he comes into that area), run a bit further, listen for the maniac, and so on. The maniac's let him smash into unlocked cabins, trick the campers into thinking he's somewhere else, or extend the chapter a bit longer. During the first chapter, the maniac has almost all of his powers, but during subsequent chapters, it's based on how many people he killed in the previous chapter vs. how many surviving campers there are.

The maniac moves every round, but reveals his previous position (first and third chapters) or current position (second and fourth chapters) every third turn. It's therefore hard for the maniac to get truly lost.

Opinions: I'll say one thing for this game: The instructions were easy to follow. If you play a lot of board games, you know that's huge, especially when the company isn't American. We had a couple of rules hiccups in play, but I was able to find answers for them, and that's a big deal.

I generally like the game. I love this genre of movie, and there are a bunch of things that work to evoke the feel of a slasher movie. Unfortunately, one is that the campers are not the most diverse group of people. There is exactly one POC in 15 camper cards, and one of the others is wearing a faux Native American thing (headdress, paint, etc. I killed her first, with her player's help).  With that said, it's not like the campers' names or personalities impact the game much.

The tokens were kind of a sticking point. Players get clue tokens (which then get revealed to be one of the several types of useful thing) by following the trail that the maniac leaves, which is fine, but there aren't many of them and when you die, you lose any you've accumulated. Likewise, the slasher begins with four of his powers, but then getting more is difficult. The game is weighted to favor the slasher having powers in chapters 2 and 4, when he really needs them because he can't kill, and so I suppose that's good.

All in all, I like it. I enjoy this style of game anyway, but this is nicely uncomplicated in comparison to, say, Fury of Dracula.

A camper is about to meet the business end of a machete.
Keep? Yep.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Movie #414: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a movie directed by Clint Eastwood before he went utterly 'round the bend, and starring John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Allison Eastwood, The Lady Chablis, Jack Thompson, Jude Law, and Irma P. Hall.

John Kelso (Cusack) comes to Savannah, GA to cover the Christmas party of local socialite Jim Williams (Spacey) for Town & Country. He's kind of taken aback by the culture shock ("Everyone here is drunk and heavily armed. New York is boring."), but the night of the party, Williams shoots and kills his lover, Billy Hanson (Law). Williams is arrested for first degree murder, despite claiming self-defense, and the film follows Kelso as he investigates and tries to drum up support for Williams, all the while writing a book on the ensuing trial. At the end, Williams is acquitted on evidence that Kelso helps uncover, but privately confesses to Kelso that he lied in his initial statement: He shot first and staged Hanson's shots at him.

The strength of the movie is the visuals (Savannah is goddamn beautiful), the rather subtle way that people show their prejudices, fears, and jealousies, and of course, in The Lady Chablis being divine (she's playing herself). John Cusack is fine as our leading man, and Eastwood apparently cast him after seeing him in Grosse Point Blank, which is a good decision. The love subplot with Mandy Nichols (Allison Eastwood, Clint's daughter) is fine but felt kind of unnecessary, and really it's her friend Joe Odom (Paul Hipp) who's the more interesting character, but there are so many interesting people in this story that it's hard to give them all screen time and fit in the murder trial. The book, of course, can afford to take its time a little, and puts a lot of what you see on screen in greater context, but it's quite enjoyable enough without that.

This movie does Southern Gothic really well, and has served as inspiration for some of the stuff I've written set in Savannah.

One complaint: The sound mixing is a little off. Some of the dialog is hard to hear, especially in the party scenes.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium-low

Next up: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Character Creation: Strike!

Nope, it's not about bowling.

The Game: Strike!
The Publisher: Jim McGarva
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I've read, facilitated a chargen session, and ran a one-shot (in preparation for writing a review).
Books Required: Just the one.

So! Strike! is billed as "tactical combat and heedless adventure." Having run it, I'll say that it's got a lot of moving parts, and I think it's a game that would take a little time to get the hang of, but I don't mind a bit of tactical in my RPGs (I have more thoughts but I'll save them for the review). On its own, Strike! doesn't have a setting or genre; it's got some suggested settings in the book but they're not terribly interesting (on is Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off, the other one might be Avatar: The Last Airbender but it's hard to know because I haven't watched it). Anyway, for my character I'm gonna make someone who could fit into the crew that my players ran in the game last night - sci-fi, space travel, bandits lootin' shit and sellin' it to collectors.

So, the group had a robot, an appraiser with a cybernetic eye, an accountant with a big gun, and a former professor. We sorely needed a wacky pilot, so I think that's where I'll go with this.

We start with Background, which is what the character is doing now, professional. I'm a Space Pilot. This progresses with some questions that wind up giving me Skills. The first question is how I get what I need, but the question is badly phrased, because it's basically "do you buy it or not?" If you buy it, you get a point in Wealth, if you don't (like you're in a hunter-gatherer kind of situation) you get a Skill. My pilot (his name is "Squeak") is quite happy to partake in capitalism, thanks, so I'll take the Wealth.

Next question: Who can your character call on when times are tough? Again, badly phrased, because there's a whole other Relationship section, but this one gives me either more Wealth (if I buy my way out of trouble) or a Connections skill. I'll take Space Bandit Alliance as a Connection Skill.

Right. Now, "what primary skill do you need to perform the tasks necessary to your Background?" See, that should have been first. Pilot, obviously.

What Skill supports your primary Skill? Navigation, I guess?

What social or business Skill do you need to get ahead? Hmm. I think "Meditation." I picture Squeak as being the one who smoothes things over.

And finally, what Skill do you have from your Background that hasn't been mentioned? How about Spacecraft Repair?

Finally, I get a Trick, something I can always do (though I have to spend an Action Point). I'm gonna say I can always out-maneuver a single enemy in a dogfight (keyed off of Pilot).

So now we move on to Origin, which can be race, but can also be upbringing or a demographic. I think Squeak was "Raised on a Colony Ship", so he grew up on a spaceship and learned to fly by watching. That gives me two Skills and a Complication. The Complication is going to be "Unsteady Planetside;" things like "real air" and "real gravity" fuck with Squeak a bit. Skills, though. Hmm.

Well, I'll take Security Systems (it sucks being a teenager with cameras and trackers everywhere) and Robotics (kinda the same issue).

Now there's a section on gear, but you know I don't care and the system isn't very robust; it's pretty much "what does your character have." Well, he's a pilot. He has a flight suit, a laser pistol, and some of those cool foot-jets like Star-Lord uses. There, done.

Relationships! I get one friend, one enemy, and one somewhere-in-between. Sure thing.

So my ally is Bubble, my best friend (get it? Bubble & Squeak?). Bubble and I grew up on the same ship, but then we both took jobs on different vessels. We keep in contact, and we're willing to do stupid favors for each other, even if that means catching hell from our captains.

My enemy is Frint X2. Frint was a security/nanny-bot on my home ship, and since that ship has landed and the population been broken up into society, Frint has taken other gigs in security. Frint bears a grudge, though, because Squeak disabled his sensors and left him bumbling around in the cargo hold for a while.

My "frenemy" is Lady Xing. Oh, man. Xing and Squeak have this on-again, off-again, will-they-won't-they thing going on (so far they've come down on the side of "won't"). Xing has her own ship and really wants Squeak to fly for her, but Squeak is more than a little intimidated and besides, it's not wise to crush on your captain.

OK, then there are these "kits." Kits are optional, and they're mostly (but not entirely) combat-focused, which is weird because Strike! has this entire subsystem devoted to combat, as well. I think I'm gonna take the Protagonist Kit, because it's interesting to me; I get Hero's Journey (every time I completed a step on the Journey I get an Action Point) and Bumbling (I can get Oaf Tokens when I fuck up and then trade them in for a successful roll).

So that's the first half of chargen. Now we do the "tactical combat" half.

First we pick a Class, which is the "primary way of interacting with the combat system." The titles are kinda aspected toward fantasy, but they're easy enough to reskin. I see Squeak as a support-type character, I think, maybe a long-ranger fighting, definitely not up-close. Warlord actually looks pretty cool; Squeak could totally be the "man in the chair," as Spider-Man puts it. Hmm. I kinda like that. I'll take Warlord as my Class.

I get a Class Feature from that. I can give allies Buffer Points (which come off ahead of Hit Points), I can get folks extra movement, or I can give them extra damage. I think I'll take Incisive; I can spend Support tokens (which I get in various ways) to give folks extra damage, plus I get Support tokens when I assess, which would play to my tactical style, I think.

And then I get three at-will powers and one encounter power. For my at-wills, I'll take Morale-Boosting Punching Bag (I attack someone; it does not damage, but the next ally to attack that target gets HP back), Knock Him Off Balance (I attack; next ally to ally that target gains Advantage), and Come Help Me Over Here (I can shift an ally one square and then attack an adjacent target).

For my encounter power, I'll take Don't Give Up (triggered when an ally drops below 0 HP; they stay standing at 1).

Neat! Now I pick a Role, which is "place on the team and goals in combat." Which, like...OK. I like the intersection of Class and Role in practice, but it's kinda redundant if you just read it.

Anyway, for Squeak, I think his Role is Striker. It's a little more offense-based, but it also helps with mobility and that'd be helpful. So I gain Damage Boost and Quick Shift, which are both pretty meh at first level (oh, yeah, this game has levels, too) but Damage Boost is nice in place.

Now, Feats (oh, yeah, Feats, too). I get a Feat. I just get one to start. I'm gonna take Flying (those boots I mentioned); lets me avoid Melee attacks on the ground and call out plays with a bird's eye view.

And that's it, actually! I think Squeak is tall, lean, favors open shirts and tight pants, wears his black hair bleached pink and spiked, and speaks with a pretty deep voice. If asked about his nickname, he says either "my mom was a lion, my dad was a mouse" or "IT'S PERSONAL" (a la Strong Mad). Really, there's nothing to it - his best friend was nicknamed Bubble, so they were Bubble and Squeak.