Sunday, June 25, 2017

Character Creation: Vampire 20th

I'm going to work tomorrow (yeah, summer, but I need the money so I took some work at the summer clinic), so I figure I should make a character again while I have time, spoons, and...time-spoons.

So! Vampire! There's a new edition coming, this one kinda disconnected from previous editions in terms of mechanics. There's a "pre-alpha" playtest version link floating around, which is fucking dumb because "alpha" literally means "first," but whatever. I'm not involved, and neither is anyone else on the Onyx Path side of things, as far as I know. All I know is: It's going to be a shitshow, even if nuWW manages to make an awesome game, because they kinda already started off with one foot in the shitshow.

But never mind that.

The Game: Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition
The Publisher: White Wolf by way of CCP, with maybe some Onyx Path, I don't remember the timing and I can't be fucked to look it up right now
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I worked on this edition a little (bloodlines) and I worked on the line quite a bit
Books Required: Just the one.

I made a character for the 2nd edition of the game some time ago. "Some time ago." That was back in 2008. Remember 2008? Obama was about to be elected, we knew Bush was on the way out. There was hope.

And here we are now, in a World of Darkness. Ah, well. (We just watched the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale, so you'll pardon me if I'm a little bleak.)

So, since my last character was a Camarilla vampire, let's go a little different this time and make a Sabbat one.

Step One: Character Concept. Leon "Franco" Franchetti was a college dropout and a bouncer. Franco was also really smart; he didn't drop out because he couldn't make the grades, but because his father died of a stroke and the money that had been supplementing his income to help with his tuition had to go to the service and then to keep the household running. Franco figured he'd get back into it at some point, but he decided he'd drop out for a while and get a job to pay the bills, and he had a cousin who ran a bar.

Franco was working one night when a group of people rolled up, cut the line, and tried to get in. Franco stepped in front of them, and one of them - a little skinny guy - tossed him out of the way. Franco rounded up the other fellas and went after these pricks, but the woman with them stared all the tough guys down and Franco was left standing there by himself.

The little skinny guy looked Franco up and down and said something in a language Franco didn't understand, and then a third guy got up, handed Franco some folded hundred-dollar-bills, and said "Sorry, man. We'll be more polite." And that was it.

Three nights later, this same group ambush Franco outside his car, and the skinny guy bit him on the neck, drained his blood, and then brought him back. He took the time to educate him, too - humanity was a joke. People were a joke. Death was an afterthought.

Franco's sire wanted him to follow him down the Path of Cathari, and Franco probably would have, but he came to the attention of another local Sabbat vampire with different ideas. Sure, sex and abandon and so on is great, but there's a higher purpose to it all...if you're strong enough to look. Franco's on the Path of Lilith now.

So: Franco's a Lasombra. His Nature is Eye of the Storm; Franco is good at staying focused when everything goes nuts. His Demeanor is Soldier. The Path of Lilith is considered heretical, so he keeps it under wraps.

Good start. So, Step Two is Attributes. I want Physical to be primary, I think. I'll put three into Strength and two each into Dexterity and Stamina (because this stupid system still uses Dex as the "to-hit" stat).

Mental secondary. Three into Intelligence, once into Wits and Perception.

And then one each into the three Social Attributes.

Step Three: Abilities. 13/9/5. SO MANY POINTS. I'll make Talents primary, and put two each into Alertness, Athletics, Awareness, Brawl, Intimidation, and Streetwise. Last point goes into Subterfuge.

Knowledges are secondary. God, these are stupid. "Finance" and "Law" really need to be separate Abilities? Yawn. Anyway, three into Academics and Occult, two into Computer, one into Investigation.

Then Skills. One each into Drive, Etiquette, and Melee, and two into Stealth. Boom.

Step Four: Advantages. I get three dots in Disciplines and five in Backgrounds, but because I'm on a Path, not Humanity, I don't get any free dots in Virtues, except Courage. So I have to spend two of my 7 for a dot in Conviction and Instincts, and then I'll put two more into Instincts and Courage and one more into Conviction.

For Disciplines, I get Obtenebration, Potence, and Dominate. Hrm. Well, I like the shadow-things, but they're all useful, so I'll take one of each.

Then Backgrounds. I'll put one into Herd (folks at the club), two into Generation, and two into Mentor (not my sire, the one who's instructing me in my Path).

I get 5 in my Path (which is as high as it gets as a starting character), three in Willpower (which I have to raise), and roll a virtual d10 for blood pool (4). And of course I get 15 freebies, and I can take Flaws, which I will. I'll take Permanent Fangs (which my mentor sees as a blessing from Lilith, and who I am to argue?). I'll take Sire's Resentment, too; Michele (my sire) kinda takes offense that I think he's a schmuck and a hedonist. And I'll take Repelled by Crosses; Franco's family is Catholic and that respect and fear runs deep.

So that gives me 22 freebies. I have to spend two to raise my Willpower to 5. I'll burn 7 to buy a second dot of Obtenebration. I'll dump some into Backgrounds: Raise Herd to 2, Mentor to 3, and pick up Status 1 and Domain 1 (his cousin's club). That's 13 spent total. I want the Iron Will Merit, so that takes me to 16. I'll blow 5 more on a dot of Manipulation, and my last one I'll put into Retainers (my cousin Paul; he owns the club).

I'll specialize Strength and Intelligence, since I can. For Strength I'll take "Buff" (Franco was something of a weightlifting enthusiast pre-Embrace), and for Intelligence I'll take "Methodical".

And that's me done. Let's go eat some babies!*

*I do not actually advocate eating babies, even when playing Sabbat.

Night's Black Agents: Gotcha!

Yesterday we began a new op in Night's Black Agents. Join us, won't you?

The agents decided they'd take on Dierk Essert, probably the softest target they had as far as known vampires. To do that, they found his getaway in the Alps, and lured his staff away. Then they took the place over.

The place had a panic room, so they painstakingly broke in (figuring, correctly, that getting in roughly would trigger an alarm that would alert Essert. Inside, they found a gun, some cash, and some preserved blood, which seemed to put to rest any question of whether or not he was in fact a vampire. They rigged the room so that they could open it from the outside, and so that they could raise the ambient temperature up to 110 degrees. They also constructed a chair that they felt could hold a vampire. Finally, the put explosive charges up that would cause an avalanche to bury the house (if they needed to wipe out evidence) or make the road impassable.

Having done that, Parker called upon an MI-6 contact in London to help smuggle Drs. Koltay and Sedillo out of England and into Germany, which involved Hanover forging passports, but that's kinda what he does. Finally, they figured they were ready.

MacAteer, still in Berlin, caused a distraction (which we kind of abstracted because his player was absent), which sent Essert running for the hills. A helicopter landed and three guys with assault rifles got out. Realizing that any sign of trouble would make Essert rabbit, Gambone snuck up and planted a small charge on the tail of the chopper. Blowing that, the chopper was disabled, and Hanover and Parker popped out and shot the three security guys.

Essert and the pilot got out of the chopper and Ess shot the pilot in the leg. Essert ran into the snow, running faster than he should have been able to, and the others tried to chase him down. Gambone uncovered a snowmobile (yay Preparedness!) but couldn't really use it effectively (boo no Driving!). Ess shot at Essert, but wasn't able to do enough damage. Preparedness saves the day again, though; the agents had rigged up another charge on the mountain and sent snow after Essert. Even vampires aren't that fast.

They dug him out and shot him a few times, immobilized him, and carted him back up to the house. They gave him some blood so he wouldn't die, and strapped him into the chair so that they could take samples.

Hanover found his phone and saw he'd sent panic-codes to Budapest, Belarus, and Lithuania (that last one's new). The agents figure they don't have long before someone tries to check in with this guy...but they might not need much time.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Character Creation: ScreenPlay

Three chargen posts in a row, whaaaaaaat the fuck?

Well, I mean, normally I post movie reviews, game write-ups, and character creation, right? I haven't watched any of the movies on my list in a while (I just bought a bunch of movies and Get Out is the next one; we're gonna watch it tonight). I've been traveling so I haven't run any games. I want to do a post about Origins but I haven't got round to it yet, so here we are.

The Game: ScreenPlay
The Publisher: Broken Ruler Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I wrote a review (which I'm submitting today) and I've run a one-shot.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, ScreenPlay is a setting-less game that focuses on the metanarrative of "people creating a story" and uses details of that story (among other things) as in-game currency. It's a really interesting game, actually, but like a lot of setting-agnostic games (like GURPS or Savage Worlds), I do need a setting (or "treatment") in order to make a character. There's one available for PWYW download (here) but my eyes glazed over when I tried to read it (don't feel bad about that, +Todd, that always happens to me with fantasy settings) so instead I'm gonna use the setting we came up with when I ran it a few weeks ago.

By "we" I mean +Matthew Homentosky+Amanda Slanker, and +Alisdair Lyons. The setting was very World of Darkness-esque; societies of supernatural forces all working at cross-purposes and so forth. We established that wererats exist and are outcasts from the larger society of the Clandestine (the blanket term for supernatural creatures), that vampires exist and there's a secret society trying to take over the world, and that hunters called Nephilim exist and try to steal power from the Clandestine. The players all made leading characters (a wererat, a vampire, and a former Nephilim, respectively), and so if I were going to play this game, I might like to play a warlock or something. Hmm.

Well, tell you what. I'll make the werewolf that the characters wound up fighting in our one-shot (think of it as a pilot for a TV show).

Step One: Mark Character Type. My werewolf is a supporting character; I don't think he'd show up every episode. There's no place to write that on the sheet, though.

Step Two: Choose Your Role. It's not "choose" so much as "create," but sure. His Role is "werewolf enforcer." He works for the Clandestine to keep things quiet, keep the wererats out, and generally keep the peace. His name is Keenrick.

Step Three: Create Your Potentials. Kinda like Aspects, in a way. I'm a supporting character so I only get two. If I'm making this guy as a Writer (i.e., player) rather than as the Director (GM), I have one at d8 and one at d6. I need to take "werewolf" in there somewhere, so I'll make my first one "Werewolf Hunter" and my other one "Grizzled." I fill in the die type and difficulties and details as appropriate.

Step Four: Set Resource Slots. These things allow for shifting die types or doing more damage. I'll put Hybrid Form as one, and Clandestine Status as another. Keenrick enjoy some autonomy to enforce the collective laws of the Clandestine.

Step Five: Motivations and Hindrances. Motivation is just that. A Hindrance grants me another Motivation, and I can use those to get XP. So. I think Keenrick's Motivation is "Protect Humanity From Knowing Too Much." He's a stickler for the law, but that's to protect people, not monsters. I'll take "Feral Rage" as a Hindrance (he's a werewolf, after all), hang on. Feral Hunger. That's better. And then I'll take "Atone for Killing My Friend" as a second Motivation. That'll make for a nice mid-season reveal.

Step Six: Set Maximum Stamina. I can spend Stamina in play to do all kinds of things; remove complications, flip Resources between their functions, make milkshakes. I get 7 Stamina as a supporting character.

And that's it, yo. Character creation is actually pretty quick once you understand all the terms.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Character Creation: Trials of the Magi

Weirdly, I took the little "haven't made a character for this" sticker off this book, but I haven't made a character for it. It's possible that I decided not to, since you're not so much making a character as making yourself as a "candidate" for the "wizard trials," but eh. It's still on the list, so I might as well.

The Game: Trials of the Magi
The Publisher: Sproutli Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran it and wrote a review.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Trials of the Magi asks you to apply a magical style to yourself, so as to play yourself as a wizard being tested in a dream. Playing oneself in an RPG is something I've seen done many, many times and I generally find it a little wanky, but what the hell.

If, therefore, I'm apply a magical style to myself, what would that look like? Well, the first step here is to Choose Three Arcana Cards. Now, it sounds like maybe a Tarot deck should be involved, but sadly, no. Instead, we've got a specialized deck that's nothing but cards of four suits (no value to individual cards): Swords, Wands, Cups, and Coins. In play, these cards let you use magic, and they also have suit-dependent benefits, so by choosing which cards you start with, you're really choosing which of those benefits you want. I want a Sword (which lets me lower the difficulty of certain challenges), a Cup, and a Coin (both of which have "healing" kinds of effects).

I then assign a style of magic to those cards by associating each card with something personal to me. For Swords, I can name something that made me yell, laugh, or cry. Hrm.

Well, I cry at movies all the damn time. I think it'd be interesting to use Movies as a style of magic, and since "music" is listed as one of the examples, I think that's not too broad. Using that style to make, like, Clive Owen from Children of Men show up and help out might be fun (I cried like a baby at that movie).

For Cups, I can name something I've card for, protected, or were a part of. Wow, that covers a lot of ground. I have cared for children, but what would that magic look like if I were using it in-game? I don't want to summon little children-minions to do my magical bidding, that's totally counter to the vibe I'm going for. Instead, I'll go for something I was a part of and say "Communication," since it's my job. That would allow for magic like telepathy and translation and so on, I think.

Finally, I get Coins, which means I name something I've worked hard to obtain, collected, or created. Well, shit, I collect RPGs, and having magic based on that opens the door to all kinds of meta-cognitive stuff, and that's before you get into summoning dragons out of nowhere. Pretty cool.

And that's it! That's all you need to do. Not even a character sheet to scan in.

(More involved character coming soon, I promise.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Character Creation: Becoming

Haven't done a character in a while. A while. Hell, the last one I did was nearly two months ago. NICE JOB ON YOUR NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION, MATTHEW.

Anyway. I'm here now, so let's do this!

The Game: Becoming: A Game of Heroism and Sacrifice
The Publisher: Dangerous Games/Galileo Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

Becoming is weird. It's a multi-GM, single player game. The GMs (kinda) play the Fates, whose job it is to make the Hero's life hard, and then one player plays the Hero. For my purposes, I'm going to make a Hero character (which is a very different proposition than doing so in Beast, innit?). Becoming doesn't have a character sheet (like a lot of dirty hippie indie games, it uses index cards).

Creating a Hero means picking a Quest, and then choosing from Assets for the Hero. There are four sample Quests in the book, so I'll pick one at random. I get Long Live the King, which is a story about a kingdom ruled by a cruel despot. I'm the Hero who's gonna stop him and replace him, I suppose.

So, in a real game of Becoming, myself and the three other players would take turns picking Assets, but since it's just me, I'll do the picking. There are nine Assets (three Strengths, three Virtues, and three Allies). I pick these from a list, even.

I'm a peasant from a small village, but that's as much backstory as I have. For my Virtues, I'll take "The people need a hero", Protect those who need it, and Do what's right. I think this guy is the child of someone who likes telling stories about the Heroes of Old, and he very much thinks he's gonna be the one to rise up and take down villainy. That makes him kind of young and naive, I'm thinking.

For Strengths, I'll take Good shot with a bow (I have a fondness for distance weapons), Fearless (which is another word for "dumb"), and People trust me. It occurs to me that I'm on the verge of making Se, my character in +Michelle's Song of Ice and Fire game, but fuck it.

Finally, Allies. I'll take Caleb, a grizzled veteran (I figure he sees potential in me, even if it's "the potential to get killed"), Regar, my brother (older, and a squire to...), and Marc, a devoted knight (...this guy).

So, what we've got here is Jackton, a peasant, tagging along with a grizzled veteran, a knight, and his squire on a quest to unseat the king, depend on how the game would go. I dig it. I also think that all three of these guys are gonna die before the end of the second act, leaving Jackton to face the evil king alone. Brutal.

And that's done, actually!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Movie #409: Men in Black

Men in Black is sci-fi/comedy flick directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (who also gave us Get Shorty and The Adams Family) and starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Linda Fiorentino, and Rip Torn. It's very much part of Smith's "oh, hell naw" era.

K (Jones) is a Man in Black, a member of a shadowy psuedo-governmental organization that polices alien activity on Earth and has since the 60s. He runs across a New York cop named James Edwards (Smith) and recruits him following an altercation with a physically adept alien. Meanwhile, a giant cockroach-monster skins and impersonate a farmer (D'onofrio) and tools into town to steal an entire galaxy from yet another alien (Mike Nussbaum). In the end, they triumph, with the help of a medical examiner (Fiorentino) that they pick up along the way.

It's a fun movie. Much of the humor is Smith coping with the insanity of his new life and how deadpan Jones is about the whole thing, but it's important to remember the sheer amount of acting talent in this movie. Joke about Smith all you want, but the man has two Oscar noms and he deserved them, and you can see glimmers of that talent here. Likewise, Jones has certainly done his share of shit work (Batman Forever, anyone?) but here you can see him, like, act a little when he tries to cover up how he still feels about his long-lost love. And, of course, D'onofrio is gross and fun as a giant bug in an Edgar-suit.

But you know what I'm gonna say: I wish they'd given Fiorentino more to do. She's fun, she's sexy, and she manages to do indicate a lot with a smile or a turn of the head. I really love that she's sexually aggressive and just a little creepy with Smith, and then she wasn't in the sequel, and that was annoying (because Men in Black II was fucking terrible, though I thought the third one was pretty good).

Anyway, it's a good 90s comedy, and those are kinda thin on the ground.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Mexican

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Movie #408: Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Memoirs of an Invisible Man is an action/sci-fi/drama directed by John Carpenter and starring Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, Sam Neil, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Michael McKean.

Nick Halloway (Chase) is a broker who winds up at a scientific lecture when a device malfunctions and turns parts of the building - and him - transparent. He almost immediately winds up on the run from a crazy government spook named Jenkins (Neil), who wants him as an asset. Nick is the bad kind of invisible; he's invisible, his clothes are invisible, but if he so much as eats something non-transparent it shows through until he digests it.

Nick tries to turn the tables on his pursuers, but he doesn't know what he's doing and nearly gets caught. He flees to his friend George's (McKean) beach house, but nearly gets caught when George shows up with his wife and family friend Alice Monroe (Hannah), the woman that Nick was just getting smitten with when the invisibility happens. He reveals himself to Alice and enlists her help in fleeing the government, they fall in love, Jenkins falls off a damn roof, they move to Switzerland and she gets pregnant. The end!

This is not a bad movie. The effects are actually really impressive and have held up well, and I like the romance between Nick and Alice. Alice is careful and soft-spoken, but she's also smart and capable without being that weird hyper-competent that women in sci-fi/action sometimes wind up being. Sam Neil is nicely menacing as Jenkins, moving from kinda patriotic to amoral to outwardly crazy in the last act.

Chase...well, it's interesting casting. He manages to tone down his laconic goofiness and he seems to know he's not in a comedy. His interactions with Alice are also mostly sweet; he's flirty, sure, but she responds well (at one point, when they're kissing, she says she doesn't want to do anything cheap and meaningless and he responds "OK, what do I owe you?", which could have been really scuzzy, but she laughs and tells him he couldn't afford it, so it comes off like two people with good chemistry bantering). What Chase does have trouble with is expressing anger or desperation without seeming just weird (doesn't help that he actually has to deliver the line "I want my molecules back!" which makes no goddamn sense).

All in all, though, it's a perfectly serviceable movie, but it's nowhere near Carpenter at his best.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Men in Black

Chill: Take Me to Church

Today we began a new case in my Chill game set in Boise. Hoorah!

Auntie Dee had received an email from a pastor from Coeur d'Alene saying that there was "evil" in his church. She passed this along to the envoys and sent them up to check it out, figuring she'd be along if they found something significant (IRL, her player was on vacation and couldn't make the game).

The envoys arrived in Coeur d'Alene and drove by the church, Falls Baptist. It had been shuttered for a long time, but someone had obviously trimmed the grass and done some basic maintenance on the outside. They peeked in and saw dust, but no damage, and they noted there was no graffiti (but figured that was as much the part of town as anything). Dylan was taking some pictures when a cop car pulled up and the officer asked them what they were doing. He told the cop that they were interested in the property, but the cop clearly did not give a fuck and told them to leave.

They then headed to the pastor's house, and knocked on the door. A woman in her 30s answered, and introduced herself as Joy Taylor. She recognized Dee's name (everyone knows Auntie Dee), and told them that Pastor John was in the hospital; he'd had a heart attack a few days ago and had asked Joy's help in sending the email (for her part, Joy had been a parishioner a long time ago and had remained friends with John). She told them that John was convinced that there was something wrong with the church, and he'd gotten up in the morning every day for the last 20 years to walk down to the church and say a prayer at the door. Now, he was anxious that he wasn't able to do it.

She agreed to take them to the hospital to meet him. John was in relatively good spirits; he was weak, but happy to see them. He told them that when he was actually in charge of the church, something had started to go wrong. A church secretary named Anne Labelle had lost her cat (John remembered the cat perked up and ran into another room, and then no one had ever seen it again but they'd found the cat's collar torn in two). And then Anne herself had died shortly thereafter; she'd apparently tipped over in her chair and jostled a shelf, and a big geode bookend had fallen from the shelf and cracked her skull. It was then that John knew something was really wrong, and had had the church shut down. He even talked to SAVE in 1998 in Seattle (but as Jeannie pointed out, that was a weird time for SAVE).

John said that he went to the church every morning to say a quick prayer and make the sign of the cross on the door, so as to keep the "evil" in. He asked the envoys to please be careful - he didn't want anyone else being hurt. He told them they could find a key at his house.

The envoys headed out, and stopped by the church on the way home so that Edward could use his Clairvoyance discipline. He looked into the church, and smelled dust. He also saw tiny footprints on the ground, but couldn't tell what kind; they looked about cat or raccoon sized. The envoys decided they were better off going back in the morning, and went to a resort (Edward's treat) for the night.

Next morning, they headed to the hall of records to look into some, well, records. They learned that the land had been a Dairy Queen, and then a residence, but it had no particular unsavory history attached. Whatever was happening, it was happening incidentally to the location. They also dug up the blueprints so they had an idea of the floor plan.

From there, they went to Father John's house to look for the keys, and BB found a box upstairs containing a treasure trove of old church records. They found the keys, but also photos and sign-up sheets. They learned that the church had hosted a lock-in for the kids, but the last year they'd done it was 1996 (the church closed in 1998). They found the photo from that year, and saw that one boy had a bandage on his hand. Joy was also in that photo (about 12 at the time). They called Joy up and met her for lunch, and she said that the boy (Logan) had hurt himself in the basement. She'd heard he got his hand caught in something or burned it on the boiler, but had never gotten a straight story. The envoys headed over to the hospital to asked Father John, and noted that he looked weaker today and hadn't eaten.

He was willing to talk, though. He told them that the boy had said he reached into a box and something hurt his hand. John had always assumed it was a rat trap (Logan's fingers were broken and he had stitches), but it was odd that no one ever found the trap. John himself had never stayed for the lock-ins (the very first year he was there, a mother had raised the question of inappropriate relations between the pastor and children, and John had been too gun shy afterwards to stay), but he'd met the chaperone and the mom at the hospital and never gotten a good answer as to what happened. Logan had recovered, though, and still lived in town (Joy had pinged him on Facebook, so we'll see if he answers).

The envoys figured they had enough information to look around in the church (also keys), so they headed there next. BB went in first, felt his leg contact something, and ducked just as a blade nailed to an organ pipe swung down from the ceiling at his head. Jeannie looked at the workmanship - crude, forced, but deadly. Realizing they needed to be careful, the envoys investigated.

They found that the floor by the organ was also trapped; the boards had been weakened so a person standing on them would crash through to the basement (Edward noted this with Premonition). BB dropped the lectern on the spot to set off the trap (why not do it now so they don't do it by accident later?), and they looked down into the hole. It wasn't much of a drop and there were no spikes or anything, but the envoys noticed the basement was trashed and cluttered. Edward noticed a dead dog, split open and dismembered. The kill was fresh. Something was definitely here.

They headed to the offices to rig the stairs with surveillance gear, and then figured they'd come back later. Dylan noted that a widow in this room, though boarded up, had been altered so the board could be moved. He also found little nicks in the walls - claw marks.

Edward, meanwhile, found a false panel on the wall and pulled it out. He heard a paff kind of noise and then got a face-full of black gunk. He turned around, retching and eyes burning...and that's where we left it for now.

Misspent Youth: Preverts

Yesterday was Misspent Youth. Later today is Chill and then my son's birthday party and then I need to write and clean the house and OH GOD AAAAAAAA EGG

Ahem. Authority Figures.

  • Orbu, the for-profit transportation service that takes people around Bardo (the inmates don't generally get to use it because they don't have money). 
  • Tartarus, the prison that they put people found unsuitable for use as meat-suits. 
  • Hugin & Munin, two god-tech ravens sent here to watch folks for the off-planet gods.
  • Thoth, the god of education and wisdom, here to fill the inmates brains with what they need to know to be meat-suits.
  • Vesta, the goddess of purity, here to restore virginity to those inmates who have lost it. 
And then our friendship questions:
  • Kshanta asked Yasha: "Do you want to stop Billy because of your feelings for your friends or your feelings for Billy?" Yasha's response: "Those feelings aren't in conflict."
  • Jacqui asked Kshanti: "Who did you contact in the Resistance when it looked like we might be Chosen?" Her response: "Hanumen, the Monkey God, imprisoned in a rock on Bardo for the last few millennia."
  • Yasha asked Eli: What are you not telling us about the Mojo you supply?" Eli's response: "It's the bad stuff, the cast-off that the gods won't touch."
  • Eli asked Alaska: "What happened to make you so insecure?" Alaska's response: "Ask your dad."
  • Alaska asked Jacqui: "Why were you stealing my panties and scarves?" Jacqui's response: "For a textile art project about sex." 
As a side note, it's always interesting to me which of these things wind up driving most of the story. 

Scene One: What's Up

Eli's player reluctantly starts us off, and chooses Vesta, goddess of purity. We're in the Cone again, but this time it's a presentation on sex and the importance of "respecting yourself" (that is, keeping your body "unsullied" for its eventual divine usurper). Vesta is giving the lecture, but the YOs, predictably, aren't feeling it (Alaska especially). Jacqui reveals her art project - the scarves tumble down from the "roof" (on guide wires, since the Cone doesn't actually have a roof) and each ends with a pair of undies. A big banner says "DROP YOUR DRAWERS."

Vesta is, of course, displeases. She quickly susses out that there's no way someone could have done this without help from Billy, Master of Revels (whom, you'll recall, the YOs compromised last episode), and summons him up to her floating disc. She bursts into purifying fire and grabs his hand, searing him, trying to force him to talk. Alaska yells and tries to distract her while Kshanti causes a feedback loop, and then Eli's player rolls and loses. Not wanting to lose this, she sells out Bad to Perverse, loops the feedback stronger (remember Eli's Mojo-power is to control the Empathy), and Vesta winds up burning herself, looking incompetent in the process. The YOs win this scene.

Kickoff: This episode is about perversion. 

Scene Two: Fighting Back

I set us up and chose the question from Alaska to Jacqui about the missing panties (seemed a logical progression). The YOs are on the underground train back to the dorm. Alaska confronts Jacqui about her missing clothes, and while she's initially annoyed, she concedes the point that her underwear is fabulous and made the statement well. She further agrees to never wear underwear again as a matter of principle. 

The YOs notice that some of the other inmates are sniggering at them, mostly Alaska. And then the train breaks down and the lights go out, and they feel pinches and people grabbing at them. Alaska and Eli loudly confront the people doing this, while Yasha goes to the front of the train to get it started again. She finds no sign of the conductor, so she starts it up. Meanwhile, Alaska has faced off with some twerp named Chad and, becoming angry, turned into him. Eli, curious as to how deep this connection is, punches real-Chad in the face to see if Alaska feels it (she doesn't) and a brawl starts. 

The train eventually pulls into the station, and the brawl spills out on the platform. The security gods are there and tap a bell-like device that paralyzes everyone with hyper-loud sound, and then demand an explanation. Eli taps Wrathful and angrily calls out Chad and his buds, Yasha taps Trusted to back Eli up and call out the conductor (who immediately lies; he was in a back room with an inmate named Thaddeus when the train stopped), and Kshanti stands up and loses. She sells out Orphan to Helpless, and mutters, in the chaos, "there are security cameras on the train." Reviewing the footage, the conductor and Thaddeus are taken away. Alaska realizes, for the first time, how strict and unforgiving this system is. 

Beat: Discovery: Things are much stricter than they were. 
Question: How far is too far?

Scene Three: Heating Up

Jacqui's player sets us up, and chooses the question from Kshanti to Yasha about Billy and her feelings thereof. We're back at the dorm, and the YOs each have something waiting for them. Alaska has a red rose, Yasha has a bit of halva, but the others just have work orders. Kshanti starts doing her chores, but Yasha and Alaska start fighting. The crux of this seems to be that Alaska feels that she's entitled to fuck anyone she wants, but she wants Yasha to stay exclusive to her, which Yasha isn't having. The argument escalates, till Alaska grabs the entire portion of halva and eats it in one bite. 

Shortly after, her eyes start glowing and she floats off the ground. She finds herself able to change into another person entirely, not just superficially (and she does, changing into Theo and being horrified). She realizes that she is capable of using this energy to reach out into the stars, to hear the voices of the gods, to learn the truth...and she really doesn't want to. 

Eli taps Perverse to help keep her grounded, but then Jacqui stands up and loses. Alaska learns the truth. She sees what happens when someone is overtaken by a god. They are entirely annihilated, their soul and self gone and replaced by the invading god's persona. She is horrified - she never realized before exactly what the stakes were, here. "We have to stop this." (And of course, the others were responding, "yeah, that's what we've been saying".)

Scene Four: We Won

Yasha's player sets this one up and chooses Jacqui's question to Kshanti about the Monkey God. Following immediately on the previous scene, Yasha asks Kshanti if, as the resident expert on Bardo, she knows anyone outside the confines of the dorm who could help. Kshanti tells the clique about the Monkey God, but warns that his first love is himself (and chaos). They think that sounds workable, and take one of the Cerebus (remember they still have access) zipping through the tunnels to the Monkey God's domain. 

Here on the dark side of Bardo, they hear laughter from the shadows. Jacqui demands that Hanumen show himself, and he appears in a jump-scare as a zombified monkey creature. But then he brings more light and sits on the floor with the YOs, in a simple disguise as a normal man. Hanumen reveals that the stuff that Alaska ate was meant to be consumed slowly (it's a spread, after all), and eaten that way, it would make someone more susceptible for being overtaken. This makes Yasha a little uncomfortable. Hanumen agrees to send the YOs to the source of this Mojo, but asks Alaska for a kiss to trace it. While kissing, he turns into Theo, because it's funny to watch her react. (The Monkey God is something of a dick.)

But the YOs do win the struggle; Kshanti wins on Yasha's Liberation Theology Conviction. Hanumen sends them on...

Scene Five: We're Fucked

Alaska's player sets us up, and picks the question from Eli to Alaska ("ask your dad"). We wind up in the liminal space between the light and dark sides of Bardo, at a small white house near a waterfall. A man is sitting on the porch. Alaska greets him. "Hi, Bruce." Eli greets him. "Hi, Dad."

Bruce is surprised to see the YOs, but provides them dinner and talks with them about the Mojo. He says that the Mojo is brought in from off-world, and the only stuff he gets (and provides to Eli) is the stuff that isn't good enough for the gods. That implies that the Mojo could be tainted, and Jacqui, the sangromancer, gets a brilliant idea - menstrual blood would "taint" the Mojo, at least to the god's, as hung up as they are on purity. 

Bruce provides them information on when the next shipment is coming in. They sneak aboard the train taking it to the hub, where Veris, the spider-like god of bureaucracy, will divide it up. Before that, though, Eli knocks out the guards, and Jacqui wins on Eli's Perverse Conviction. The YOs bleed on/in the Mojo drams, which Veris then throws out. They save one dram, figuring that with the same amount of power that Alaska wielded, they could really kick some shit off. 

Alaska is hesitant. She knows too much already. 

Beat: Reversal (dram of mojo)

Scene Six: Who Wins 

Kshanti's player sets us up and chooses Thoth, the god of education and wisdom. The YOs are back that the dorm with their Mojo. They discuss, at first, consuming it one at a time, but then "fuck it" wins out and they divide it into fourths (Alaska, having been through this already, agrees to babysit). They go to class with Thoth as the Mojo starts to kick in.

Jacqui realizes that she has control over every platelet in the room. She could kill everyone here if she wanted to. And maybe...cause a small brain bleed, not enough to kill or harm, but enough to prevent use as a meat-suit? 

Yasha touches her stylus and it disintegrates. Her power to destroy god-teach makes her hand shake, and she's afraid to touch anything lest she destroy it...but what if her power let her reshape matter as well?

Eli feels everything...including the thoughts and feelings of the gods off-planet. Eli is connected to everyone on a level they've never considered, and tries to nudge their classmates towards rebellion. 

Kshanti, for her part, can feel the currents of Mojo everywhere, and focuses on Thoth. He knows everything. Can she access that vast knowledge? 

The YOs decide to take this public. Yasha starts shaking the room, bringing down the braziers. Jacqui stands up and yells "The time has come!" but Thoth silences her immediately. Eli stands up and loses. Chaos reigns and the revolution starts, but the YOs vanish. They reappear at Bruce's house, with Hanumen. Their powers are still unstable, and the god-like power from their Mojo consumption is fading. 

"I gave you the best source of chaos I could: Freedom. You're free! Go!" (maniacal laughter)

The YOs have lost the episode, and Eli feels the connection to Interstellar Empathy close off. If they YOs separate, if they go off-planet, they'll lose their connection to each other. The gods have sealed Bardo. 

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

Back to Eli's player, who chooses Orbu, the for-profit transportation service. The YOs decide to head in to the market (Bardo has a civilization beyond the prison, it's just that the YOs haven't really seen it). They call a driver and Bruce gives Eli some money (Eli is Rich, after all). On the way in, their driver realizes that these kids are inmates (probably something to do with that big kerfuffle at the dorm), and drops a dime on them. The consequences of that are something we'll deal with next time, perhaps, but the YOs are out of prison and ready to cause some real trouble. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Movie #407: Memento

Memento is a neo-noir crime drama directed by Christopher Nolan in his pre-Inception days, and starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Stephen Tobolowsky.

The movie is told backwards, starting with the murder of Teddy (Pantoliano) by Leonard Shelby (Pearce), and moving back, revealing what happened to lead up to it. Shelby suffers from a condition called short-term memory loss, which makes him unable to form new memories. As such, he forgets people, places, and events, and carries an instant camera around to help; he'll take a picture of someone and then write their name and whatever important information he might need on it for reference later. The trouble with that, of course, is that he's at the mercy of his own mind - his note about Teddy at the beginning of the movie says "HE IS THE ONE - KILL HIM," so he does...but is Teddy the one?

("The one" in this context means "the dude that raped and murdered Leonard's wife and left him with brain damage.")

As the movie progresses, we learn the sad truth: Leonard killed the guy responsible years ago. His wife didn't die in the attack, she died of insulin poisoning trying to get Leonard to snap out of his condition (a story that Leonard has displaced onto a man he once investigated during his days as an insurance adjustor). In the meanwhile, we find that Leonard has immersed himself in a world of drugs and low-grade crime, but is slowly redacting elements of the crime that "killed" his wife so that he can continue his quest. He can't ever actually finish it, after all, since he won't remember it, and if you take the premise that his story about Sammy Jankis (Tobolowsky) is really about him, he's not physically incapable of forming new memories, so he trains himself by rote to do things (this also explains how he can remember his own condition, by the way).

I really like this movie; like Nolan's first film, Following, it's bleak and noir and shady and a lot of fun. Unlike a lot of his later work, this movie also includes a female character (Moss' quasi-femme fatale Natalie) who's not there just as a foil to the lead, but who has an agenda and is capable of being sympathetic or sinister depending on which segment of memory we're in. It's definitely a movie that requires a rewatch to fully appreciate, but it's short enough that that's not an unattractive prospect.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Memoirs of an Invisible Man

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.


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

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.

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.

Chill Y'all Nice

There was story arc in Doonesbury a long time ago involving Mr. Butts, a sentient cigarette meant to be a mascot for cig companies. Anyway, at one point there was an ad campaign within the comic (or maybe a nightmare about one? I never read the comic consistently) in which Butts, as "Mr. B" did a rap shilling cigarettes called "Uptown Smokes" alongside "Baby Tar." It was written...about like you'd expect a white guy in Canada to write a rap in the 80s. It included the line "Uptown smokes gon' chill y'all nice."

Now, casual racism aside (Bloom County did this kind of thing, too, and as a fan of hip-hop all throughout the mid/late 80s and early 90s, it kind of horrified me), that line doesn't even make sense, because when "chill" is used as a verb, it's almost invariably used to mean "relax or kick back and hang out," as in "just chillin'" or "chill out." If used as an adjective, it could mean roughly the same thing as "cool" or "fresh." I have never seen the word used as a verb to mean "make someone or something else relaxed," though I suppose that's not too far off the standard meanings. Anyway, it's a play on the word "chill," and I ran Chill on Saturday, so here we are.

Last time, the envoys investigated the strange goings-on at St. Paul Hospital, recently purchased by the Glorian Health Group, and discovered that it was haunted by a creature called the "Eye Biter." They waited until dark, gathered up their gear, and headed for the hospital.

They entered the tunnel leading from the construction site to the hospital, and picked their way along carefully. They eventually got to the hospital proper, and found an opening that had been drywalled over and then punched in from the tunnel side. They climbed through (after BB used Feat of Strength to make the hole bigger) and discovered that there had been a big filing cabinet blocking it, but that had been moved. Also they found some cigarette butts on the floor - apparently this little disused room made for a handy smoke break room.

They crept down the hall and to the morgue, and found a morgue attendant sitting up at his desk...dead. His back had been snapped just above the waist, and his eyes melted. After some Resolve checks (and some attendant Trauma), the envoys moved the body onto a table and covered it with a sheet. They were looking around when they heard footsteps - another orderly appeared. Everyone hid except BB, who pulled on a lab coat and pretended to be a new hire, a resident from Brisbane. The orderly (John) asked after Ryan (the morgue attendant) and wasn't really buying BB's story (BB is a terrible liar); he peeked into the other room and saw the other characters. Thinking quickly, Dee yelled "SURPRISE...oh, wait, you're not Ryan," and played it off like they were waiting to surprise Ryan for his birthday. John fell for this one (Dee is a good liar), and agreed to go back up and text BB if Ryan came around.

This led to some quick discussion - they'd been seen, Ryan was dead, and that was probably going to be a problem. In the meanwhile, though, they still had work to do. They started opening the drawers, figuring that the creature might have crawled into one...and indeed, when Jeanie opened one, it sprang out.

Her Quicken discipline kept her from being injured, but the creature - a horrible centipede thing with a baby-like head and composed of little doll-like arms - hissed, and suddenly the envoys couldn't see it anymore. Jeanie tossed her device, but it made a short screech and fizzled (her player botched when making it, remember).

Edward ran to the other room to try and head it off, but it jumped on him and twisted, and he felt ribs crack. BB ran in after him, brandishing his pistol and smacked it on the head, but it reversed itself and landed on BB, giving him the same treatment. Dee ran in banging a tray with a metal implement and it let go of BB and twitched, whereupon Jeanie pulled the fire alarm. The klaxons seemed to confuse it, and Dylan drew a Line of Defense around it, trapped it. The envoys retrieved their guns (which they'd left in this room) and blew the thing to a milky white smear.

Knowing they only had a few minutes, they retrieved some chemicals from the morgue and lit the thing's body up. They also put Ryan's body in this room, hoping it might look like he'd killed the thing before he died. They fled, realizing that Dee's dog Sweet Baby Jesus had disappeared, but having no time to find him.

The next day, the pound call; the dog had been picked up in the hospital. Dee gave them a story about visiting a friend there and the dog getting loose, and they bought that. The characters healed and started exercising (everyone felt they needed more STA), and decided maybe their next case would be this closed-down church in Coeur d'Alene.

Of course, the hospital situation isn't clean. The CEO that Glorian put in charge was made to resign after it became clear she'd covered up some eyeless corpse issues in the morgue, but that didn't explain the two murdered bodies (Ryan and the construction worked) the folks found on site. The characters' prints were also all over the morgue, but that only matters if the characters were ever printed...or if they get printed after this.

For now, though, case closed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Board Game: Super Munchkin

I can basically just cut-n-paste the header from the last time I played Munchkin, huh? 

The Game: Munchkin
The Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Time: 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how many people are playing
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Kick in the door...heroically!
Game Play: Super Munchkin is just Munchkin reskinned. So: you start out level 1 and no class or race, and then every turn you kick in a door. If you get a monster (sorry, villain) you can fight it. If you win (meaning your level is higher than its level) you go up a level. You can also find treasures (which mostly just give you bonuses to levels), backgrounds (which are like races and give you some special abilities), and traps (which do bad things to you). 

Behold, I am a mutant.
First one to level 10 wins. Much of the strategy of the game, such as it is, is to hit your opponents with modifier cards to make it impossible for them to win fights, or end fights before they can win them, and so on. You can ask for help from people (and they've specified now that you can only accept help from one person at a time), and I usually agreed to help when the kids would ask, but if I were serious there's no way I would because no matter what they give you, the person you help always winds up closer to winning. 

Opinions: I dunno. Munchkin is cute and all, but I find the endless reskins a little boring. There's usually some attempt at shifting the rules a little, but not so you'd notice. Plus, a lot of the humor relies a little too much on gender stereotypes (fun fact: Your character starts off the same gender as you, and then there are references to cards making you "switch" genders). It never quite crosses over into offensive, but it's more than a little sophomoric. 

Cael handily won this game.
Keep? Probably not. I have Munchkin classic, and that skin suits the game better.

Feng Shui: Penultimate

As the story winds down, we find the Dragons approaching the Mountain of Storms, which the Ladies of Jade & Ivory have told them is the stronghold of the Eternal Chameleon.

They climb into the foothills with their contingent of soldiers, staring up into the rain-slicked mountains. And then, in a flash of lightning, arrows! Soldiers and sorcerers appear and fire, accompanied by four lieutenants: A sorcerer, a martial artist, a dude in a huge suit of armor crackling with electricity, and their general, the man known as the Demon River.

Lord Smoke fires before the enemies can attack, however, felling two of the soldiers. Celeste shoots, Melody tries (and fails) to use magic (dice were not cooperating), and Bai leaps up into the foothills to engage directly. The martial artist leaps down and engages, but Bai sets them on fire. Demon River fires at Lord Smoke, declaring him to be most dangerous, but never quite hits well enough.

The dude in the armor, though...when Celeste shoots (and spends Fortune), he calls to the heavens and lightning lances down at her! She employs her counter-ritual and prevents the lightning from hitting, at least accurately, and the fight rages on. The soldiers the Dragons brought fire a volley and mostly miss (because that's what mooks do), but they do manage to take out a couple of the opponents.

Lord Smoke fires arrows at Demon River, felling him. Bai throws the martial artist down the mountain, and Chrys coldly dispatches them with a headshot ("Dodge this" counts as Blam! Blam! Epigram! because the bad guys haven't seen The Matrix). Celeste fires on the Lightning Eater and he explodes in a blast of electricity. The last one, a sorceress named Ghost Tears, knows she's beat and vanishes.

The characters enter the cave, and written on the wall is a warning: Continuing on faces four tests.

The Blade's Embrace: The Dragons and their five surviving soldiers press on through a tight, tiny hallway...and then the blades start popping out. Bai and Celeste survive unscathed, but Chrys and Smoke bleed...and behind them, they hear the screams of their soldiers. Only one survives.

The Demon's Mouth: They emerge into a rounded room, and encounter a stench of monstrous proportions. Bai and Smoke double over, retching, but Chrs and Celeste hold it together (as do Melody and the surviving soldier). The Dragons stumble forward into the next trap...

The Deluge of Pain: They stand in a huge, featureless plain and in the distance hear the distinct twip of multiple arrows. The Dragons dodge, but Smoke and...someone else (I think Celeste?) are struck. The soldier, however, manages to dodge the arrows, and Smoke acknowledges him as "Fang" (you survive all this as a mook, you get a name).

The Endless Road: Past the featureless plain is a corridor that just continues forever. The Dragons walk, and find themselves lulled into zombie-like shambling...all except Smoke, who manages to find the light within and keep his focus. The Dragons emerge into an endless cemetery.

Each of the headstones in the cemetery bears a name, but, Celeste notes, also a character meaning "Vengeful Dead." She warns them about this, and in the distance they see a mausoleum. As they approach, they see a monstrous spirit rise up...Wildfire, the spirit of vengeance. As it springs forward, the dead rise around them.

The Dragons fight valiantly, though, Smoke felling ghosts with his arrows and Chrys shooting at Wildfire (but not doing much damage to his ectoplasmic form). Melody threw magic at him and stunned him, and Celeste counter-ritual'd his "eat people for health" power (she wasn't sure if this version of him had it, but that's not the kind of luck you test).

Wildfire leaped at Melody and bit her open. Celeste jumped to her aid and Bai healed her, and Smoke shot and Chrys shot him until his form vanished. Bai patched up Melody with his Healing Petals, and the Dragons listened and heard voices from the sepulcher. Inside, they found a casket with the void inside, and heard the Eternal Chameleon's rants.

They climbed in, onward toward destiny and, perhaps, the end of the Chi War.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Movie #404: Maverick

Maverick is a Western/comedy starring Mel Gibson, James Garner, Jodie Foster, Alfred Molina, and James Coburn. It's one of those "this movie is really funny and it's Mel Gibson before he went publicly crazy" movies.

Brett Maverick (Gibson) is a gambler trying to get his hands on the last $3000 he needs to enter a high-stakes poker championship. He keeps getting stymied, though; people who owe him money stiff him, and he runs afoul of a hired gun and fellow gambler named Angel (Molina), who attempts to hang him. However, he also makes the acquaintance of a thief named Annabelle (Foster) and a Marshall named Cooper (Garner) who help him get where he's going, and of course he wins the championship and it's revealed that Cooper is actually his father. Good times had by all!

Maverick was a TV show in the late 50s, also starring James Garner, but I've never watched it and I don't know how closely it relates. The movie is a good time: It's basically a road movie, culminating in a poker game, which is hard to film with any real tension for any protracted amount of time. I think they could have milked the early stages of the poker game a little more, but that's mostly because I think it would have been nice to see Foster's character winning a bit.

I think my favorite bits of this movie are with Graham Greene (playing Maverick's Native buddy Joseph), scamming the Russian Archduke (Paul L. Smith) out of a bunch of money. Joseph kinda flips the Magical Indian stereotype; he's clever but he's not magical, and he's not shy about telling Maverick what assholes white people are. Plus, of course, the Archduke was the loose inspiration for my Deadlands character Nikolai, so there's that.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Meaning of Life, The

Feng Shui Prep

Once again into the breach, dear friends.

Last session of Feng Shui was good, though everyone (me included) was pretty tired. I used a tool called the Destiny Deck and wound up writing the scenario out of that. I'm tempted to do it again, but I dunno. We're coming to the end of this game, and I've got an idea of where I want to go with it.

But, for that, you'd need to read on, unless you're playing in the game, in which case sod off.