Thursday, April 27, 2017

Feng Shui: Ladies of Jade & Ivory

Monday was Feng Shui and now it's Thursday and arrrgh. Doin' the write-up.

The Dragons fought off a bunch of Lotus Eaters at Lord Smoke's village last time, but then Smoke got poisoned and they realized their paths had converged - they needed to find the White Serpent and their Eternal Chameleon master to prevent his resurrection and find an antidote for Smoke. They traveled hard on horseback for days, until they came up on the home of the Ladies of Jade & Ivory, two noblewomen who maintained an opulent household.

They got there and the archers pointed arrows at them, but Smoke explained who they were. A young archer leapt down to talk with them, and Bai Lin recognized him at as Tao Lin, a young man from his home village. Tao seemed concerned, but before he could explain, the Lady Ivory appeared, gliding out to meet the Dragons. She welcomed them in and offered them space to wash up, care for their horses, clean clothes, and dinner.

The Dragons came together for dinner, along with the members of the household and the Ladies themselves. Chrys, herself a student of the Chi Way, knew the Lady Jade from her studies and remembered that she was a fierce and noble warrior, happy to take the field alongside her soldiers. But tonight, Lady Jade was reserved and almost subdued. As she pondered this, Chrys noticed one of the soldiers in the corner raise a dart gun to his lip and fire!).

Chrys reached forward and caught the dart handily, but she wasn't sure who the dude had fired at, and no one else had seen what happened - all the guards saw was a stranger with a dart. Chaos broke out, with some of the guards attacking each other, some attacking the Dragons, and some just trying to guard the Ladies. The Dragons were unarmed, of course, meaning that they were at something of a disadvantage.

Smoke jumped over to one of the guards, disarmed him, and started firing arrows (but sliding the arrowheads off as he did, so he didn't kill anyone, which is a real thing that totally works). One of the guards stood back to back with him. Bai jumped over next to Tao Lin, who said he could explain what was happening, but then the Lady Ivory reached into her robes and flung daggers everywhere (and missed spectacularly, but it did mean there were daggers in the walls for folks to grab).

Celeste started punching out people shooting arrows, but a door opened and a big dude with a club lumbered in. He mixed it up with Smoke, but Smoke stepped back and put an arrow in his foot to keep him in place. The Lady Ivory stood up and entered the fight, but Melody cast a spell and wrapped her up in magic bonds. The big dude saw this, yanked the arrow out of his foot, jumped at Melody and stabbed her in the stomach. Celeste charged the dude, knocking him under a table.

Meanwhile, another lieutenant with a hooked sword arrived and fought with Bai Lin, but neither of them did much damage. Chrys moved from guard to guard, punching them out, and finally Lord Smoke managed to get to the front of the room grab the Ladies, and tell everyone to put a sock in it - no one was here to hurt them (at least, none of the Dragons).

Bai went to ask Tao Lin what was happening, but he'd caught a dagger to the throat, tragically. The dude who'd actually spit the dart plunged two darts into his neck and died rather than talk. Celeste crouched down and listened to Lady Jade, who told her "find the garden."

The characters spoke to the guards, who acknowledged that something was wrong with the Ladies of late, but they weren't sure what. Melody, whom Bai had worked healing magic on, was kept in the infirmary with some of the other wounded. The Dragons decided to search the place.

Celeste did her detective routine, looking for hallways that didn't align and so on. She found one near the Ladies' room, and opened it to find a garden with a huge spiral leading to a corpse-flower in the center...but this corpse-flower was green and white.

Meanwhile, Bai and Smoke did their own searching. Bai felt the presence of the magic in the garden, and they found it soon after Celeste and Chrys did. Bai used his healing petals, but they turned black as they fell from the sky. Something was evil and powerful here.

As they thought about this, the Gardener appeared, brandishing a tool, and scattered petals on the ground. The petals sprang up into warriors, and they attacked! The Dragons made pretty short work of the Gardener, though, between Smoke putting arrows into him and Chrys firing her big gun; he exploded and the warriors with him.

But now...Bai and Smoke looked, and saw a horrible monster with a tentacle coming from its hand, and a zombie-like creature brandishing a weapon of metal and fire! They attacked these monstrosities, which, of course, turned out to be Celeste and Chrys. Celeste managed to use her ritual disruption to free Bai, but then Smoke turned around and shot all three of them with arrows. Bai managed to leap over to him and realign his energies to free him, but now the Dragons were wounded and newly aware of the threat this garden posed.

Celeste used her knowledge of ritual magic and Bai called down healing petals, and between them, they cleansed the site of its poisoned Chi. The Ladies arrived both now invigorated, and thanked them for their help. They gave Smoke a pouched of special tea that would stave off the worst effects of the poison, but warned him that the Creeping Black poison would kill him eventually if he couldn't find the antidote. They sent a contingent of soldiers with the Dragons to find and stop the Eternal Chameleon, and the Dragons left the House of Jade and Ivory to move along in their journey.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Promethean: 22 Short Films

Not really, but it was one of those games where people split up and did stuff.

First, we had a rousing game of "do you know what your goddamn Merits do?", wherein everyone listed off their Merits and told me what they did, and I gave them a Beat for getting most of them right. This is useful, because sometimes you forget that, say, Vivid Dreams gets you two points of Willpower back for sleeping, which is important to know.

Then, into character! The throng woke up, newly refreshed, and went their separate ways for the day. Enoch went to the house where they had encountered the metal angel. Grimm went looking for Charon (what he really wanted was a dead body, but figured Charon could help). Avalon had a lunch date with Carroll, after which she was meeting Matt and Feather at Carroll's studio so that she could peek under the paint and see what the pentimento was all about. Skip stayed behind at the storefront with Sicky.

Enoch got to the building and headed downstairs, and found the carbon on the floor. Some of it was sparkling, and so he picked it up, but the floor crumbled beneath him and he fell into darkness. He landed in what looked to be a library, but all of the books were written in script he didn't understand or Pilgrim Marks that he couldn't decipher. He'd need help to understand these truths.

He stepped out of a door, and felt the ground squish under his feet as though he was in wetlands. The sun grew brighter and brighter, until he was again staring at the Bright Light, which asked him the question again - "what are the angels?" Reflecting on what he'd learned in the library-vision, he said "our predecessors," and then was back in the basement having achieved his fermentatio milestone: revise his answer to the angel.

Avalon, meanwhile, was lunching with Carroll. She told him a little about her art and that she'd started reproducing what she'd seen in nature, but that she was interested in pursuing something unique. She told him about Ysolde and how her creator had abandoned her due to Disquiet. She mentioned she was always interested in feeling things she hadn't felt before, and Carroll smiled...and suddenly Avalon felt guilt. Maybe it was her fault that Ysolde had crumbled to Disquiet. After all, there were ways to mitigate it. Feeling a bit more reserved than usual, Avalon went with Carroll back to the studio, where Matt and Feather were waiting.

Parris arrived with her painting, and Avalon used Stone to peek under the first layer of paint (we'll leave the specifics of how this worked murky). She saw Parris' Ramble, from when she was the Promethean known as Papillion. Remembering the obsidian butterfly that the characters found smashed in the garden, Avalon told Parris that it was a painting of a butterfly, and that seemed to make sense to her. Matt, meanwhile, asked her questions about her life and her art (playing his role as an art reporter), and learned that she couldn't really answer questions about her life before she arrived on the New Orleans art scene (recall, too, that Carroll described her as "broken" at that point in her life).

Parris left with her painting, and Avalon starting writing out copies of her Ramble. The Prometheans realized that Parris had attempted the New Dawn too soon - though she had succeeded, she had an incomplete understanding of it when she did, and that might account for how thin her human "life" was. They also noted her descriptions of the Promethean refugee camp, and how she claimed that though it had led to good things for the Created who stopped there, it had also led to death when the Firestorm came, so maybe she was wrong for ever trying it. Matt wondered if the guilt of this might be something that she carried even now, as Parris, and whether there might be a way to take that burden from her.

Meanwhile, Grimm was looking for Charon and not doing very well. He asked around, but the crowds and the contrast between day-New Orleans and night-New Orleans just got him confused, so he headed back to the storefront, figuring he'd find Charon at night.

Skip had been working on repairing the damage from the blackout and chatting with Sicky. Sicky talked about the camp a bit, and specifically the gator-thing in the swamp. Not the little one that Skip had fought - there was a bigger one, a man-sized one with a gator's mouth, that had also been an accidental creation of Barbara. The gator, Sicky said, ate people (though it preferred Prometheans) and it was dangerous. Skip felt a stirring of Vitriol, and a word came to his mind unbidden from the Azothic Memory: sublimatus.

The others got back, and Skip excitedly told them about what Sicky had said. The others figured that they should track this thing down. For one thing, both Enoch and Feather wanted to investigate the camp wreckage further. For another, Skip and Grimm figured that killing the gator-monster would be a public service (and an interesting challenge to boot). Avalon worried that she wasn't a skilled combatant, but the others pointed out that with her mastery of Stone, she could play an important support role, strengthening their clothes and effectively giving them armor, or making their weapons inflict extra damage.

All of this in mind, they headed back toward the camp, back toward where Skip emerged from the Hedge. They stopped off at a power line that Sicky knew of to regenerate Pyros and heal a bit, and then into the swamps, in the dark, looking for a gator-sublimatus.

Next time, they'll find out what those eyes shimmering in the dark belong to.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Promethean Notes

Ok, gotta make this quickish.

Stop reading, players.

Movie #401: The Mask of Zorro

The Mask of Zorro is a swashbuckler/action film starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, and Matt Letscher.

Zorro, a swashbuckling, mask-wearing, champion of the people, is really Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins). Having helped to drive the evil governor Don Rafael (Wilson) out of California and back to Spain, he looks forward to retiring with his wife (Julieta Rosen), but Rafeal shows up, Wife dies, and Diego is put in prison while Rafael leaves the country with Diego's infant daughter.

Fast forward 20 years. A young man, Alejandro Murietta who helped Zorro out on his last ride has grown up into a thief and scoundrel (Banderas). Rafael returns to California in triumph, with "his" adult daughter Elena (Zeta-Jones), and Diego promptly escapes. He finds Murietta about to pick a fight with a soldier named Love (Letscher) who killed his brother Joaquin (Victor Rivers), stops him, and trains him as the new Zorro. Along the way, of course, Murietta falls for Elena, Elena learns of her true father, Diego dies, Rafael dies, Love dies, and Murietta marries Elena and becomes a noble and the new Zorro. Yay!

So, this movie is fun. I love Banderas for any number of impure reasons, and seeing him swashbuckle is good. Hopkins, likewise, applies his mastery of being measured and slightly intimidating to Don Diego. The villains are OK, though I much prefer Love's "dedicated psycho" to Wilson's "suddenly turn gun on adopted daughter" schtick. The filmmakers went out of their way to give Elena something to do in the last battle (rescue the trapped workers,, how did they get all those people into the cages? there's hundreds of them), but since it'd been established that she's a baller swordfighter, how about having the duels between Rafael/Diego and Zorro/Love involve her for a few passes? On the other hand, she doesn't spend the last few action scenes tied to something, so I suppose that's a win.

We could talk about the fact that they cast Hopkins (British, white) and Wilson (British, white) as Spaniards, though I guess maybe that's better than casting them as Mexicans? I don't know. As a side note, I thought I'd seen the sequel to this movie, but I haven't, so I might give that a look.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Matrix

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Night's Black Agents: Interrogation

Yesterday was Night's Black Agents. So!

Last time, the characters captured three people: Obrad Bugarcic, curator of the Tesla Museum in Belgrade; a woman acting as his bodyguard; and a security op who came driving up to get him. They hopped in their boat and headed away from the Isle of Man into port at Dublin (which MacAteer is familiar with).

They found a disused, though not abandoned, warehouse, and set up shop, reinforcing the offices to act as cells. They set up surveillance outside to (hopefully) avoid anyone finding them without them noticing first, and then got to work on interrogation.

Their first hurdle was that the driver, Matis Bogdonas, didn't speak English; the only language they really had in common was Russian, and his grasp of that wasn't great (he's Lithuanian). Their second was that the bodyguard had obviously been trained in resisting interrogation.

Obrad, though, only held out for a day before he started talking to Parker. He acknowledged the existence of vampires, and said that Hajnal was the first, but that he'd only been like that since the 1950s. Indeed, he didn't even like to think of these people as "vampires;" they could eat, drink, and reproduce. Hajnal even had a son.

(Ess and Hanover tried to run that lead down, but it didn't go anywhere and they had to admit there was no way to verify it.)

Obrad talked at length about his work with the Tesla museum, and clearly was a fan - he said that Tesla's work was largely theoretical, but if it could just be explored or funded better! Parker asked why he was so willing to throw in his lot with literal monsters, and Obrad gently reminded her that he was Serbian. He'd seen what people did to other people, and these "monsters" were no worse to humanity than humanity was to itself. He believed that the vampires could lead humanity into a new age...but that got Parker and Ess wondering why Hajnal, a criminal overlord, was interested in any of that? What was the connection?

Obrad confirmed that Hajnal, Sas, and Essert were vampires, but Utkin wasn't. He mentioned that he'd gone to London and Blackpool every so often to Skype in with his people in Belgrade, but that mostly he was just biding his time out there on the Isle. Obrad also mentioned that the collars that Macan had been working on were meant to strengthen the tentacles of new vampires; immediately after creation they were weak. He confirmed how vampires were made: A person had to be specially prepared with a "cocktail" of blood, lymph, CSF, and fluid from another vampire's tentacles. A "brute", though, could be created with just a corpse and the fluid, though brutes didn't last long.

Parker took a sample of his blood (which he gave willingly) and sent it to Sedillo, who confirmed that Obrad was just human. Koltay said that he might be able to use the point of reference about the collar to make a weapon, but getting radioactive material would be hard.

Meanwhile, Matis cracked after a few days. He said that he'd gotten this job from Davor Klobucar, and that he'd almost been sent to Lithuanian (to an assignment he guessed to be kind of a shit gig) before getting sent to the Isle of Man last-minute. He didn't know much otherwise; he did mentioned he'd been briefed on the agents and told to shoot to kill.

The woman was the last to break and start talking. Her name was Sheela Smith, and she said she'd served in the army (Hanover and Ess confirmed it; she was British Special Forces, honorably discharged). She said that Klobucor had given this job, probably because she was actually from the Isle of Man. She didn't know much else, other than there was someone living in the house before her, someone she only knew as "Adam."

The agents discussed all this. Was "Adam" Hajnal's son? Or, as Gambone theorized, was Obrad his son (if Hajnal doesn't age, after all)? Parker wondered about all this; she'd had a distinct feeling she was missing something when Obrad was talking about the first vampires and Hajnal, but she wasn't sure what. And then there was the other question - what to do with these people?

The agents figured that Matis and Sheela would be in the wind if they let them go, but Obrad would call in help. Could they put him on a plane? Sure, maybe, but if they did, the situation was out of their control immediately. They could kill him, of course, but MacAteer objected (cold-blooded murder bothers him, and probably Ess, too).

The agents were six days into their stay in Dublin, with a Lead of 8 against their conspiracy, and more questions than answers. We'll see what they decide to do.

Movie #400: The Mask

The Mask is a mid-90s superhero/comedy starring Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz (in her film debut), Peter Riegert, Amy Yasbeck, Peter Greene, and Richard Jeni.

Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) is a shy, repressed, but generally good-hearted banker who has a run of shit luck, until he finds a mask that channels Loki (identified in the movie as being cast out of Valhalla, because research is super hard, you guys). Putting it on, he becomes a cartoon-come-to-life imaginatively called "the Mask." He toys with the notion of being a superhero, but would rather shove muffler pipes up the asses of the mechanics who cheated him. He also uses his new powers to hit on the girlfriend (Diaz) of mob underboss Dorian Tyrell (Greene), who winds up stealing the mask for his own purposes. He does that, by the way, because a news reporter named Peggy (Yasbeck) betrays Ipkiss to him. And then of course Ipkiss manages to become the Mask once again, kill Dorian, and get away scot free because it was illegal in the mid-90s for comedies to challenge you in any way.

I'm being flip, of course, but it's not a terrible movie. Sure, the Mask is just a tad too willing to violate consent with Tina, and sure, Diaz gets captured, smacked, and tied up (though in fairness she does outsmart Tyrell). We get Carrey's usual brand of 90s zany, but it's tempered somewhat by the fact that he plays Ipkiss so low-key to highlight the Mask's lack of inhibitions (which saves us from having to stomach one of his really hyper-annoying characters, like Ace Ventura, for a whole movie). I've also always been annoyed that Peggy just betrays Ipkiss and gets away with it - after Tyrell dons the mask, there's no further mention of her character (there's a deleted scene where he kills her, but it's clumsy and stupid).

We get to see Carrey and Diaz doing some really impressive dancing, and there are some truly funny bits (Peter Greene fixing his hair when the Mask does the Academy Award speech bit always tickles me), and of course Milo the dog is adorable. As 90s comedy goes, it's not bad.

My Grade: B
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next up: The Mask of Zorro

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Notes Right Quick For Night's Blick. Er, Black. Agents.

Yowza! Exciting session coming up, I'm sure!

(This is where players stop reading.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Feng Shui: Snoring Dog

Nothing to do with the game, but Leo is sacked out on the floor and snoring loudly, like he does.

Anyway! The Dragons, having attended Wu Tang's funeral, headed back to the modern juncture to regroup and rest. They gathered in their little storefront to plan their next move.

They knew that the Eternal Chameleon could reincarnate, but Melody told them that he couldn't incarnate in the same juncture twice in a row. He had to skip around, completing a "cycle" before incarnating again. He'd already reincarnated in the Past Juncture (it was a splinter, but it counts), the Contemporary (just last time!) and the Future Juncture (apes, etc.). That meant he'd head for the Ancient next. Melody also mentioned that he was able to keep doing this by keeping a living person in stasis through magic; in a sense, that person was possessed by unclean powers. They needed an Bai Lin.

They still needed a reference point, though, but that's where Celeste is a viking! She hit the books, and came up with a reference to a battle in a village in China many centuries ago. A painting of the events there came up with a face that looked quite similar to Chrys. Well, that was probably a good place to start. ("But why don't we remember the battle?" "Because we haven't fought it yet.")

The Dragons headed out into the Netherrealm and then out into the Ancient juncture, and found their way to a village where all the people were hiding in their homes. A lone archer stood facing the west, with riders bearing down on him in the distance. The Dragons introduced themselves, and told the archer - Master Smoke - that they'd protect the village with him. He thanked then, and shot a rider off his horse. The Dragons realized the riders were wearing robes with sigils that they recognized, and that their leader seemed to be...flying.

The riders surrounded the village and attacked with sorcery. Crys unhorsed one and grabbed his mount. Smoke rolled and dipped, firing arrows and skewering dudes. The sorceress fired magic at Chrys, nearly knocking her off her horse. Celeste whipped one into the mud, and then Melody turned to see a rider charging at her. She waved her arms and mandalas appeared.... BOXCARS.

The rider charged into the magic, and it closed around him and his horse and flew them both up into the air, where it remained. "Way to go, Sis!" called Celeste.

The battle continued! Bai leaped into the fray and cast about with a garden implement, but didn't make contact (he missed his staff). Melody tried to magic another one, but the spell fizzled and she got blasted in the back by the one of the sorcerers. "Don't get cocky," Chrys scolded her, blowing another one off his horse with her shotgun.

The sorcerers were getting picked off, though. Chrys blew the leader back into the river, and she rose up, flying, magic, and started to cackle evil things...and then Smoke put two arrows in her and dropped back into the water.

One lone sorcerer, screaming in protest, lobbed a black gob of something at Smoke. He fired an arrow at it and it burst...covering him in spores. He started to choke, but it was too late. He was poisoned. He recognized the poison. It was fatal, but slow. An antidote, if any, would rest with the White Serpents.

Melody lowered the magical cage down and they interrogated the sorcerer. He refused to talk, and then Chrys shot the ground in front of him, and he cried out "west! They're to the west!" That was easy. Smoke told the Dragons that the master of the village was Alabaster, an Ascended dragon (not dragon), but he was traveling and should be back soon. The sorcerer laughed, claiming that they had found and killed him, and soon the Eternal Chameleon would-

(At this point, Smoke put an arrow in his throat.)

The Dragons buried or burned the dead, and Smoke packed up his gear. He needed the antidote, and the Dragons needed to stop the Chameleon. The road leads west.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Movie #399: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins is musical based (loosely) on the books by P.L. Travers and starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Jones, Ed Wynn, Karen Dotrice, and Matthew Garber.

London, 1910. The Banks family, headed by George (Tomlinson), a banker, is experiencing some stress. They can't seem to keep a nanny, because the children, Jane (Dotrice) and Michael (Garber) keep...running off to fly kites? Anyway, George composes a new ad for a nanny, as do the children, and the next Mary Poppins (Andrews) flies down from the clouds and takes the job. She agrees to stay "until the wind changes" and proceeds to throw magic around, taking the children into a chalk drawing with the local lovable camp Bert (Van Dyke). Finally, George takes the kids to work with him, where his ancient boss (also Van Dyke) tries to get Michael to invest his money, and then there's a riot, and George gets fired but learns What's Really Important, and Poppins sods off into the sky again. In the midst of all of this, there are songs and animated penguins.

So, this movie is cute. I haven't read the books, though Michelle has and says they're not quite so much about George's feels, which, like, that's kinda typical, yeah? I admit I've never been much of a fan of how his wife Winifred (Jones) is a hardcore suffragette but completely kowtows to him at him, nor of how Mary denies all of the magic stuff after the kids get home. But, regardless, the absolute worst thing about this movie is Van Dyke's god-awful cockney accent. Like, his dialect coach needs a stern talking-to.

Andrews is, of course, charming as Poppins, and the kids are cute. There are some funny bits, and the songs are nice, though the dance sequences go on a little long. My daughter used to really like this movie when she was little, and I think it wouldn't be the worst thing to see a remake, maybe hewn a little closer to the books?

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Mask

Monday, April 10, 2017

Watch Out for the Missing Stair

Go read the link (yes, it's a blog that's about BDSM and sex parties and suchlike, but that's not relevant to the point, I just want the term "missing stair" in your vocab).

Then, consider that you might well have a friend who's a missing stair. You might be inclined to discount what other people say about them, because you *trust* your friends (as well you should!). You might be inclined to find excuses when people bring up issues. "He's not like that anymore." "You're jealous/bitter/etc." "He would never do that." "You're being racist."

Well, sure. I mean, sometimes people get falsely accused. Sometimes people repeat a story that's not *quite* true so often they believe it. Sometimes there's just such a monumental misunderstanding that two otherwise reasonable people wind up hating each other for something that's no one's fault.

But it's in these shadows that the missing stair exists. It's that kind of doubt and goodwill that allows other people to break their metaphorical ankles. And the guys that are the missing stairs, they're smart. They know not to alienate everyone. They know to choose their battles, to avoid saying things in public or in print (or, now, online) that will prove people accusing them of harassment (or whatever) right.

This is why it's so important to listen to people when they say "he sexually harassed me" (or whatever). I'm not saying you should uncritically believe everything you hear. I'm saying you should listen. Very, very rarely do people accuse others for no reason, and if you hear multiple people saying the same thing, it's probably worth your attention, especially if by, say, hiring someone as a developer, you're potentially putting others at risk of the same treatment.

This is hard. I know it is. It sucks when someone you trust gets accused of doing something shitty, something that, if a friend said happened to her, you'd believe her and have her back and be ready to go after the fucker who did it (or at least, like, never hire him). But if your commitments really are to making the hobby and the industry a better place, then you have to be willing to examine your own biases.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Character Creation: Remember Tomorrow

Two characters in two days, whaaaat? I know, crazy.

No political agenda today, just straight to the game. Feel free to go back one entry, though.

The Game: Remember Tomorrow
The Publisher: Box Ninja
Degree of Familiarity: None, but it's real short and easy to follow.
Books Required: Just the one.

Remember Tomorrow is by the same company and author as 3:16, and is similarly simple, mechanics-wise. It's also GMless, or rather, control of the game passes from player to player. I admit that I just kinda read through the character creation section, but I'm totally gonna read this in more detail, because it looks like fun.

Also, as an aside, it's kind of an oddity for me because I own a physical copy but I know I didn't Kickstart it (it predates Kickstarter) and I don't have any memory of buying it. It's position in the list indicates I've had it for a while, so maybe GenCon 2010 or so? Dunno.

Anyway! Remember Tomorrow is billed as "Near Future Roleplaying," set in a fast-paced world of travel, money, sex, and cyberware (kind of). You make up characters, Factions, and Goals, and end an episode when three characters or Factions are Written Out. Sounds like my kind of thing, actually.

So, we start with an Identity. I could pick, but I'd rather roll. I roll Torpedo, which is a hired killer. I'm OK with that, mostly because I like the notion of them being called "torpedoes."

Next, Motivation. I roll Freedom. Ooh. I'm an enslaved Torpedo. Jet Li in Unleashed comes to mind.

Oh, I'm supposed to have a Handle already. Um. Going with the torpedo metaphor, my guy is named (rather, called), /sub. Pick your wordplay, here. He's "subscribed" (whether he wants it or not). He's subservient, submissive, sub rosa. Subterranean, sometimes.

Next, Gear. All cyberware, because someone else holds /sub's leash. I'll take jacked reflexes, jacked senses, and a throat snake, which is a really disturbing mod that has a thing with teeth pop out of my throat and kill people. Bleah! I roll for...I guess the companies that make these? It's not clear yet what effect that has.

Parameters are Ready, Willing, and Able. I get 12 points to divvy up, and I have to put 1 into each, but if anything goes to zero than I'm Written Out. I think that Willing and Able are /sub's strong points. I'll put 2 into Ready (he never plans), 4 into Willing and the remaining 6 into Able.

Next I get one Positive Condition (PCon) and one Negative Condition (NCon). So. For positive, I think I want Dangerous. /sub is ready to kill. He's not used to questioning why or whether, he just waits to be "launched." His NCon is "Trapped." Someone owns him. He doesn't know who. He doesn't care (right now). He might even change owners frequently (which plays into the "subscribed" idea).

And then a Goal, which has to be tied into my Motivation. I'm Ready, Willing, and Able to achieve it, and those notions play into the scenes. Neat!

OK, so, /sub's goal is to get free. He wants to find his Kill Code, which will delete the software running in his brain that controls the Throat Snake (which would kill him if he goes off mission). He calls the snake Silas. He doesn't remember why.

And that', actually! If I were actually playing I'd have to make up a Faction, but since it's just me and I need to go cook dinner, I think we'll call it good.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Character Creation: A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying

So, you might have heard that Green Ronin is running a talent search to find a writer for a new RPG line. The catch is: They're looking for a woman or non-binary person. Dudes like me need not apply.

Know what? GOOD.

I frequently have occasion to hire new writers, usually for Onyx Path but sometimes for Growling Door, too (my company publishes one book a year, so my need for writers is sadly minimal, so I totally use OPP as a way to get new people into the industry). And when I'm reviewing submissions, I read the ones from women first (where possible, I read the ones from POC and trans/nonbinary folks first, too, but it's not always easy to tell that).

The reason is not because I want to make a political statement or exclude white men or whatever. The reason is because when you have a diverse group of voices in a project, it makes the project better. It's because I am really good at writing about the experience of growing up in the Midwest in the middle class, and I have a little bit of skill at writing from some other perspectives, but even if we're generous there's still most of the goddamn planet that I'm better off asking for someone else's brain on.

So, hats off to +Nicole and +Chris and the other GR folks. And now, I'm gonna make a character for one of their games.

ETA: Actually, upon further reflection, I have some concerns about the talent search, but it has nothing to do with how it's being run or the fact that they're not accepting submissions from men. If you want to know more or you're thinking about applying, PM me or email me and I'll be happy to give you more context, but it's not something I feel like getting into publicly. Again, this has nothing to do with the way the talent search is set up.

The Game: A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying
The Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Some. +Michelle ran a game of it some time ago. I have neither read the books nor seen the show that the game is based on, nor do I have any particular desire to.
Books Required: Just the one. I have a copy of Night's Watch because Michelle worked on it; dunno if it'll be helpful, but what the heck.

So! I have not read any of the Game of Thrones books. I started to, got as far as Bran getting through out of a window, tossed the book across the room and went "nah." Likewise, we watched the first ep of the show in preparation for this game (which, coincidentally, ends in the same place) and I don't feel a strong urge to continue.

Like, no judgement. Fantasy is not my favorite genre in general, and so it's a hard sell. But, with that said, I remember really liking the game and the system, and of course the nigh-Shakesperean family drama we came up with for our game was fun. So, with that in mind, let's kick this pig.

Well, if I had a group, the first thing I'd do is create a noble house (we did this for our game, it was lots of fun). I do not have a group, however, and the process is pretty involved, so I'm gonna go ahead and do what I often do in these situations: Use the example in the book (and kudos to +Joseph and company for showing the process in action). So my character is a member of House Orlych.

So, back to the actual chargen section, we're at Character Concept. Um. Oh, wait, thank god, there are random tables to determine some things. Scuse me, gotta get dice. Or...wait, it's all d6s. Entropy it is!

Rolling for age makes me an adult, 18-30. That means my character might have found in the War of the Usurper (which my House has some history with, I think). Interesting. Let's move on to Status. Rolling for that, too, I get ranking member of the household, Status 4, Position 16, whatever that means.

The book asks me to think about a role; it's not an official part of character creation, just something to work for. My last character for this game was somewhere between Fighter and Expert. Hmm. I was just thinking yesterday it might be interesting to apply this song to a character in a fantasy game:

To me it suggests a hired gun or an outlaw, which is a little at odds with my status. But then again, the house was formed by people who told the truth and stood up for it, and were rewarded. So that's a place to start - maybe this guy married into the house? I think I'll use Rogue as a basis, but without the sneaky moral flexibility that usually comes with that.

OK, Background! More random stuff! I should come up with three background events, so I'll start by rolling one and see if I want to keep doing that.

First one I roll is "present at a significant tournament," which, eh. No, you know what, I can roll with that. My guy was present at a tournament where he watched nobles fighting with swords, and was taken with how a big, strong guy could just crush the smaller men. If you're small, you rely on speed and taking opportunity. Good lesson.

Roll again? Nah. We'll say that during the way, my character made himself useful and excelled at sneaking up behind people, knocking them off of ledges, setting traps, making diversions, that kind of thing. In particular, he assassinated an enemy leader, but did so in such a way that the guy wasn't even discovered to be missing for a full day, giving the opposing forces time to regroup and set their position.

One more. "Involved in a villainous scandal." My character was involved in a scheme to steal a bunch of equipment and sell it off. He (correctly) guessed, however, as he walked into the sale that it was a sting. Before the other side could yell "halt in the name of Robert" or whatever, he did the same thing, claiming to have been leading the thieves into the trap himself. Of course it took some fancy social maneuvering to get out of that, but he managed. His neck had never been that close to the noose before, and he swore that after that he was going to stick to the truth. And here I'd like to have him marry into House Orlych, simply on virtue of their motto and reputation, but I'll wait and see if that's really doable.

Well, we need a Goal. I think his Goal is Security. He wants to die happy and warm. His fixation on truth is a way to get to that, because he's seen what happens if the webs get too tangled.

His Motivation is Stability, for the same reason. His Virtue is that he's Honest (though he has his reasons for it), and his Vice is that he's Amoral. Truth really does conquer all, he feels, so might as well stay on that team.

Oof, good Concept stage. Now on to Step Three: Assign Abilities. I get 210 Experience to build the character, but I have to buy Status first. I'll stick to Status 4, making me a landed knight. I'll say that I did marry into the house, marrying one of the daughters of Brandon Orlych. My wife died of a fever three months after we were married, though, which leaves my character in a kind of awkward position; he's never going to really be an heir unless a lot of people die, which he's got the skill to engineer, but he doesn't do that kind of thing anymore.

Well, Status 4 costs me 40. Let's look at other stuff I need.

Animal Handling 3 (10)
Athletics 3 (10)
Awareness 3 (10)
Cunning 3 (10)
Deception 4 (40)
Fighting 3 (10)
Knowledge 3 (10)
Marksmanship 3 (10)
Persuasion 4 (40)
Stealth 4 (40)
Thievery 3 (10)
Warfare 3 (10)

That'll work. Now on to Specialties. I get 80 points here. Each bonus die in a Specialty costs 10. So, I think I want 2 in Notice (20), 2 in Bluff (20), 1 in Short Blades (10), 1 in Crossbows (10), and 2 in Sneak (20).

Cool. Step Five: Destiny Points and Benefit. I get 4 Destiny Points and I can take up to three Benefits. Let's check it out. OK, so I can invest Destiny Points in these. Ooh, I want Adept Negotiator. Seems appropriate. Likewise, I think Treacherous is just too cool. And I think that's good.

Step Six: Flaws & Drawbacks. Unlike most games, you get more of these as you get older, but they don't give points back (well, except you get more points if you're older, so they kinda do). I just need to take one, so I'll take Nemesis. The thief that was planning on taken stolen weapons and selling them with me is still alive (bribed his way out, maybe?) and has been looking for me ever since.

Step Seven: All the derived stuff. At the end, as it should be. I note that my Will is perhaps too low; maybe should have raised that. Ah, well. Inner turmoil caused by being honest as a matter of policy, not inclination.

I'm not gonna worry about gear, because it's generally boring. I will, however, get myself a name. Hmm. Ser Remlin Orlych (of course he took his wife's name, she's the one with the title. Also, he really wanted in on this house).

And I think that about does it!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Movie #398: Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire is, you might recall (if you've been here a long time), the only one of the Harry Potter movies that I didn't own. There was a reason for that, but a friend of mine decided he couldn't abide the hole in the collection, so here we are. Movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, David Tennant, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Pattinson, and Brendan Gleeson. And that's not remotely all.

So, picking up after the events of Prisoner of Azkaban, we find Harry (Radcliffe) having nightmares, and then whoosh, we're off to the World Cup of Quidditch, and then whoosh, Death-Eaters show up and nuke the place, and then whoosh, back to Hogwarts and there's this Tri-Wizard thing and OMG THERE ARE OTHER MAGIC SCHOOLS! But no time for that! Also a new Defense Against Dark Arts teacher, "Mad-Eye Moody" (Gleeson), but whoosh, Harry has to compete even thought it's like obviously a trap for him to do so, and then there's a dance, and a seriously 10-minute-long bath sequence, and then a maze, and Cedric Diggory (Pattinson) who's actually kind of cool in the book dies, and Voldemort (Fiennes) is alive again, and "Moody" was really an evil Death-Eater named Barty Crouch (Tennant), and whoosh year is over and...Harry and pals are all smiles.

Fuck. This. Movie.

OK, where to start? This movie jumps around like a cricket on a hot plate. It never gives you any time to establish...anything. The Quidditch match should have been fucking fantastic, instead we get a dancing CGI leprechaun and then bam, it's over. The Death-Eaters invading the World Cup should have been fucking scary, but it happens too fast and mostly we just hear what happens from Harry's perspective in a tent (not the only time in the movie that happens). The Tri-Wizard Tournament...I'm sure there was some reason given in the books why Harry couldn't just be like "lol no" and not compete, but it never gets mentioned here, just this grave assurance that it's totes a magical contract. And then we get the Yule Ball, which could have been played for better laughs, but the movie is already overstuffed and so it's just a distraction from the main plot.

Alas poor Cedric; he seems cool in the few scenes we get for him (likewise Fleur (Clemence Posey) and Krum (Stanislva Ianevski)), but not only do we never get a good establishment of who these people are, the scenes they're in are so trite and thin that it's hard to care about them. Indeed, the ones we do care about (kinda) are Moody and Crouch Jr.

As usual, the casting is spot-on. Gleeson is fantastic playing not-Moody, and Tennant looks very happy to be a bad guy for a while. Likewise, Matthew Lewis is coming into his own as Neville Longbottom, looking fucking shell-shocked at the realization of what his parents really went through.

All in all, though, this movie is one huge miss. It would have been possible in the hands of a deft screenwriter and director to cover the ground it needed to, but really, it might have been better to split it into two movies, especially since it's really the point at which the series transitions from "kids stories that are kinda dark in places" to "holy shit a beloved character dies every book."


My Grade: D
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Mary Poppins

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Promethean: Lights Out!

Last time, the lights went out in New Orleans. But let's rewind.

That morning, Grimm saw Justine, who asked for his help in tracking down some vampires. She led him to an abandoned house, lured him downstairs, and there he saw a huge, weird, intricate machine. He barely had time to register that when she shoved him into it and it immobilized his arms. Her human form melted away, and she revealed herself to be a metallic being on a track.

Her hand flipped open to reveal a small sawblade, and she said she needed to look through his memories a bit. He resisted, but he was also immobile, so she sawed into his head and had a look. She looked at the events of Tuscon and the Bad Angel, and when the memory of the angel's prophecy "played", it looked choppy, like a glitchy DVD. She told him, by the way, that she was looking for someone (a thin, Middle Eastern fellow), but Grimm didn't know him and the woman (an angel, she said, but she didn't have a name) didn't expect her to.

Grimm activated his Morning Star Alembic and melted through the metal holding him (burning his hand in the process) and punched the angel, knocking part of her metal face off. She sighed and, apparently, prepared to re-restrain him...but then the power went off, and she slumped over. Grimm burned his way out, and headed for his throng.

Meanwhile, said throng reconvened by Cafe Dumonde. They could already hear breaking glass in the Quarter, and worried about their storefront. They decided to head there. On the way they saw a bodega getting looting; Feather tried to talk one of the thieves, but he just threw a bag of chips at her head. He tried push past Avalon, but she stood firm, and he finally gave up and left. Another guy tried to run out with money, but Skip clotheslined him, and he wound up crawling out. The shopkeeper tossed Skip a candy bar in thanks.

Grimm, running back, saw what looked like a couple of guys making out in an alley...but Grimm knew a vampire feeding when he saw one. He interrupted, and the victim ran off. The vampire, however, pulled out a badge - he was a cop. Grimm wasn't impressed by this, and the vampire wasn't impressed by Grimm's gun, so they just kind of glowered at each other until Grimm left.

Everyone got back to the storefront around the same time, but there was a problem. Two cops were standing near the storefront, back to back, surrounded by an angry mob. There was a woman on the ground, bleeding from a head wound, and a nightstick nearby. Didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened.

Feather ran over to help the woman. Grimm, realizing that Phosphorum has some great tools for this, activated Morning Star and became the de facto leader of the mob (taking the Reckless Condition for doing it without flaring disfigurements). He had the mob put the woman in the cop car (along with Feather), and had the rest of the mob disperse to go make sure no one else was getting brutalized. Avalon told the cops to sod off and not hurt people, and the Prometheans holed up in their storefront.

Feather, meanwhile, went to the hospital with the injured woman, and while there wound up talking with a cop named Peter LeBeau. Peter took her name ("Robin Schwartz") and info, and told her that he wasn't going to make an issue of the whole "stolen cop car" thing, given the circumstances. She mentioned she was in town on vacation; he said he was a lifelong resident and asked if he could show her the nightlife. She agreed and took his card, and headed back to the store.

Grimm told the throng about what he'd seen, and showed Avalon the piece of the angel he'd punched off. She analyzed it with Stone, and realized that it was metal that simply didn't exist - there were no current processes that would produce it, though in the future there might be. The metal then melted right through Avalon's wax skin and unfurled, linking in with her gears, and she gained an HUD.

The angel appeared and talked with her, and explained that she was looking for someone. She also explained that not all of the angels the throng had seen were properly angels. As this was happening, though, Avalon was losing Pyros; the characters decided to take this back to the basement and see if they could get the whole apparatus (or...Infrastructure?) working. They stole a car battery or two on the way.

Once there, Enoch tried to route it so that the battery would grant a steady supply of power rather than quickly shorting out, but he fucked up (dramatic failure for a Beat!) and when the battery went on, it sucked all of Avalon's Pyros out. The angel woke up, though, and talked with the characters. She flipped through Avalon's memories, seeing the interactions with angels and the trip to Chicago, and then said she'd figured out where the person she was looking for might be. She also revealed that the Bad Angel was an angel like her, but the others (the Seraph, the Bright Light, and Wolfpack) were qashmallim. She was unclear on the difference, except that angels like her had missions that she understood, but she wasn't sure what the deal was with the others.

And then she folded up into a cube and collapsed in on herself, becoming simple carbon. Avalon grabbed some, planning to make some art. The characters headed home - they all have plans for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Misspent Yutes, Episode Two

What is "yute?"

Anyway! Last session is here, this session below!

Authority Figures:

  • The Kennel Master, who controls the Cereboi
  • Charybdis, the Ongoing Storm, that disrupts communications not sanctioned by the gods
  • ArachneTech Clothing, a clothing manufacturer that makes all the YOs uniforms, run by an incestuous brother and sister
  • Tea, Theo's brother, the cafeteria monitor and nutritionist
  • Quan Yin, the god-like force that surrounds Bardo and "helps" the YOs come to terms with their crimes
Friendship Questions:
  • Khsanti asks Alaska: "How do you feel about me being so young?" Answer: "It worries me but I'll never let on."
  • Alaska asks Yasha: "What happened when you were brought here?" Answer: "I was brought in fighting and kicking, and thrown on the floor; Kshanti came to comfort me and tend my injuries."
  • Yasha asks Jacqui: "Where were you when I was brought in?" Answer: "In solitary for drawing sigils all over my room."
  • Jacqui asks Eli: "Who did I overhear you have a crush on?" Answer: "Theo."
  • Eli asks Kshanti: "What secret of yours did I discover?" Answer: "There was a piece of my birthright in my mother's knife."
Scene One: What's Up 

Eli's player handles this one. She chooses the Kennel Master. 

We start off the day after the last session, after morning working. The YOs notice that the Kennel Master is nearby on a floating chariot, and two more Cereboi are swooping through the air. They realize they're looking for the one that the YOs destroyed last time. Figuring that letting the Kennel Master actually find the black box would be bad, they set out to distract him. 

Yasha approaches the Kennel Master and talks with him; they met once at a party that Odin threw (events of which led to Yasha coming to Bardo). The Kennel Master remembers her, and they chat amiably enough for a moment. 

Meanwhile, Kshanti climbs up a hill and tries to seize control of a Cerebus with her new Mojo powers. It stops, but the gears start to grind; her control is still imperfect. Alaska and Jacqui sneak into the barn where they destroyed the other Cerebus and try to find the recording device, but despite Alaska nearly electrocuting herself reaching into the now-sparking parts, their efforts are in vain. Yasha's player rolls and fails, and the Kennel Master recognizes the distraction. A Cerebus smashes through the wall ("OH YEAH!") and catches Alaska and Jacqui red-handed. The YOs also note that bits of their outfits get ArachneTech feature they didn't know about.

Kickoff: This episode is about being punished.

Scene Two: Fighting Back

I set this up. I chose Yasha's question to Jacqui about being in solitary. 

And, indeed, the YOs are in solitary. Kshanti is meditating. Alaska is a little panicky; she hates being alone. Yasha is pissed, and Jacqui pulls out her paints; she knows the drills. Eli, though, isn't there; they didn't do anything to break the rules last scene. Eli, therefore, wanders out to the free-standing solitary building and sneaks in. They use their Mojo power to knock out the guards...meanwhile, though, the other YOs can review footage of what they did and get computerized voices asking them to contemplate. That footage was from shoulder-level cameras sewn into their collars. Are they to have no privacy? Needless to say they aren't much interested in their rehab. 

Alaska strips off her clothes, stomps on them screaming "VAGINA VAGINA, ME ME ME" and then shorts a wire, setting the clothes ablaze (and her player rolls and wins on Eli's Disorder We Are All Created Equal). The YOs are released from solitary as the building is evacuated, and they start heading back to the main building. 

Beat: Reversal (getting released) Question: What can the YOs get away with?

Scene Three: Heating Up

Jacqui's player set this up, and chose ArachneTeach. We pick up back at the main building, in Alaska's room. Jacqui asks Alaska for help accessorizing, preferably to block out the camera's feed a bit. Alaska, not surprisingly, is all about this, and the YOs get to work on fixing their clothes. They decide not only to screw with the cameras, but to use their Mojo powers to muck with the footage and frame the Kennel Master for their crimes, making him look complicit or like he was framing them. Yasha's player rolls and wins on Alaska's Disorder (Wants to be Loved), and they footage is altered. 

Scene Four: We Won

Yasha's player set this up, and chose Quan Yin.

The framing took, so now the YOs get the participate in a trial for the Kennel Master. They each give testimony (standing on nifty light-up platforms) while Quan Yin, or rather, a three-story hologram thereof, runs the show. The Kennel Master, naturally, tells the truth, and everyone enters a kind of dreamscape/trial by fire sort of thing. Dogs charge at them (hologram dogs), but they dismantle that illusion and reveal it to be fake. Yasha's player rolls and wins on Kshanti's MO (If You're Gonna Do Wrong, Buddy, Do Wrong Right) and the YOs convince Quan Yin that Kennel Master lied and framed them. He is taken away, and the YOs are returned to their dorm via nifty pneumatic tubes.

Scene Five: We're Fucked

Alaska's player set this up, and chose Tea, the nutritionist.

The YOs wind up back at the dorm after dinner, so they go to the cafe in time for a plate of flax seeds an unsweet honey...yuck. Tea's nutritional program is meant to keep the husks supple and beautiful until such time as they're needed for a god. The YOs, Alaska especially, are having none of it - Alaska wants chocolate. It comes out (well, Jacqui gleefully reveals) that Eli has a big crush on Theo, which horrifies and disgusts Alaska in particular, but Eli points out that as a member of the House of Stone, they appreciate finely sculpted bods.

This is all very well, but it gets the YOs no closer to chocolate. In keeping with the episode's question, they decide that Eli will distract Tea and the others will sneak into the kitchen and steal ambrosia, the food of the gods. Eli chats with Tea about her brother and a potential intense exercise program, while the others creep into the kitchen and try to fast-talk the kitchen gnomes working there. Kshanti rolls and fails, but sells out Altruism to Unctuous, and shorts out the gnomes with her Mojo powers. The YOs steal some ambrosia and sneak back to the rooms. The stuff takes the form of the food they want, and enhances their powers temporarily - Jacqui finds she can manipulate her blood and create bruise-art, for instance.

The next day, the YOs are taken out to the kennels. The skeletal dogs are there, but they're sad and listless. Jacqui forms some of the ambrosia into biscuits, but they just kind of sniff at them.

Beat: Discovery (the Cereboi love their master)

Scene Six: Who Wins

Kshanti's player sets this up, and chooses the question between her and Eli about the birthright.

They're at the kennels, and Kshanti mentally contacts Quan Yin, revealing the YO's presence, their magic, and Kshanti's regret at lying. Eli, however, with their particular master of Empathy, shuts that down, and calls Kshanti out on nearly getting them pinched. They argue about this a bit, and they start manipulating Mojo again (I'll be honest, I'm having trouble remembering the stakes in this scene, which is weird). They wind up losing, but Eli sells out Outrage to Wrathful and win - their powers stay secret and Quan Yin appoints them to help care for the dogs in the Kennel Master's absence.

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

Back around to Eli's player, and she chooses her question to from Jacqui about the crush on Theo.

It's pool day, and the YOs are in the swimming pool, nekkid, getting their laps on. The pool is huge and bottomless, and the strange creatures lurk beneath. Theo is there, as well, helping facilitate swimming exercise, which everyone but Eli just finds really funny.

Jacqui decides that because she manipulate blood, it might be amusing to make Theo, erm, a bit tumescent in places. Gods aren't supposed to fraternize with people (though of course it happens), and certainly not with inmates. Eli asks for help getting the stroke right, and Jacqui starts activating her sangromancy. Alaska's player rolls and wins on Pride, so Theo gets a bit too into it, then swims away awkwardly and heads for the showers.


The YOs have won the episode, and they choose Theo as their new Exploit (he's compromised, and they can use that).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Character Creation: Helix

As I'm looking over the top-most games in my list, I'm interested to note that most of them are games I want nothing to do with. Mostly, that's because they're D&D clones that came in bundles I bought, and as I'm looking through the PDFs, trying to decide which game to focus on today (since I have nothing else pressing on my time and I can do a character that's a little more involved, system-wise), I just find myself going "ugh."

Like, OK. I know you're sick of hearing this, but I didn't start with D&D, I started with Marvel. As such, I have never been a part of D&D gaming, but I'm learning that it's completely different than other sectors of gaming. It is, like Hamilton, a host unto itself, and it's pretty insular. So it's amazing to me that there are RPGs (and so many of them) that start off with the assumption that you're going to dungeon-delve...and that's it!

Anyway, I'm not doing one of those games today.

The Game: Helix: The Post-Apocalyptic, High Tech, Fantasy, Western Roleplaying Game
The Publisher: Adam J. Weber (game seems defunct, can't find any online support anywhere)
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

Well, the title of the game kinda tells you what you're in for. And I have to say, while the opening section is badly in need of an editor, I do appreciate that it sets up the games, gives us the relevant history, and lays out the stakes for the PCs (lots of war, city-states are starting to gear up for more war, the Umbrea Corporation is the bad guy, what are you gonna do about it?) all in a few pages. And then we get right into character creation.

So, we start off with Archetype. I've got five choices, here: Average Joe (just...a dude), Cyber Mystic, Code Slinger (both magic-types, and reading it I don't get a strong sense of what they mean), Mutant (with a picture of a faun, which is weird) and Gun Jack (smartlinked firearms! woo!).

Well, I like magical characters. Code Slinger seems to be "alter the source code of reality," which is hard a new concept, magic-wise, whereas Cyber Mystic is more "teach other people to magic." I think I'll go with Code Slinger, because I don't really have a strong preference.

Not crazy about the artwork.
That gives me Mental of 8, Para-coding quality, and a free Standard Comp Deck, whatever all of that means. My stigma is that I'm hunted by Umbrea, though interestingly, Cyber Mystics are hunted and feared.

Next, there's a list of Concepts, which are more like occupations, but there's no mechanics associated, so I don't now if I have to choose one or what. There's a slot for it on the sheet. I dunno. I guess I'll pick one and let it guide me. Without knowing much about the magic system so far...oh, wait, this is weird. Gun slinger is on the list of Concepts, but like, Gun Jack/Jill is  Some of these Concepts also don't seem very PC-friendly, but who knows. I think I'll skip it for now.

Attributes. I roll 2d6 four times and take the highest three to assign to Physical, Mental, and Social. Well, that's nicely simple. Scuse me a minute. 8, 7, 7, 5. Dropping the 5, I'll put the 8 into Mental...oh, wait, hang on. I have a Mental of 8 from my Archetype. What does that mean here? Hang on. Oh, that's a prereq. Doy. OK, well, that means 8 in Mental, 7 in the other two, which is where I was leaning anyway.

Qualities, which are basically Skills, I think. You've either got standard (can go up to 6 or half the level of the controlling Attribute) or capped (level 1 or level 2). The book recommends that if this is my first time making a Helix character, I start with Physical. OK, then.

You know, this would be easer if I understood the mechanics. This is why they're up front in Chill. Hang on.

Ok, I've looked it up and I rather wish I hadn't. When you do a Quality check, you roll 1d6 and try to roll under your Quality level. That means that Qualities lower than 4 have a less-than-50% check of succeeding, which is ass. Also ass: This skill list (sorry, Quality) is huge and is granular enough to include Erotic Dancing. But my Physical is 7, which is an average roll, and means that I can't put more than 3 points into a Quality. If I spread the points out, I can have 7 Qualities that I'll succeed on if I roll a 1. Whee. FUN.

Well, anyway. This'll be quick, at least. Fuck it. I'll put 2 in Erotic Dancing, 1 in Gun (Hand), and 3 in Acrobatics. Oh, 1 more. I'll put it in Dodge.

Oh, hey. Gotta show you something.

Also, "Dancing" is a different skill, so my character can dance suggestively with a 30% success rate, but cannot do the hokey-pokey.

Anyway, on to Mental. I'll put 4 (the max) in Para-Coding, 2 in Psychology, and 2 in Computer Hacking. Other Mental Qualities include Cooking, Data Analysis, Listen,, that's the level we're at, here.

An aside: Let's say I'd rolled a 12. I would then have 3 skills out of that list that I could succeed on, unmodified, 50% of the time. PLAYTEST YOUR GAMES, PEOPLE.

Anyway. Now Social. I have 7 points. I'll put 2 each in Know a Guy, Innuendo, Seduction (WHY ARE THEY SEPARATE SKILLS) and one into Smooth Operator.

And then Flaws. Oh, wait. This is weird. Remember those rolls from before? You don't ditch the low number, it becomes your Flaw Attributes. Mine is 5. I'll take Kleptomaniac 2 (I have to try and steal something twice per week), Reckless 2 (I have to do something stupid and reckless twice per week), and Talentless 1 (I can't ever get the hang of...let's matter how hard I try. How fucking dumb is this.)

Oh, wait. And then I get 5 free points. I'll buy the Attractive Quality for 2 and then put the other 3 into Carousing.

I get 21 hit points (Physical x 3)...and there's a bunch of other derived stuff that I've done on the sheet but I'm not gonna type because it's boring.

Magic! Here we go! I get 40 Magic Points, which I'm sure isn't enough to do anything cool, because that's the minimum I could have. I start with 2 spells (yep) though my deck can hold more.

OK, so, looking at this, it looks like you have to write your own spells (there's a list of examples, but it's short), and then when you actually cast a spell, it disappears from your Deck. Which is dumb, but it does mean that you can code your own spells in every day or whatever. And then you spend magic points to cast them.

I think I'll make up one spell to test out the system a little, because as badly realized as this game is, I'm a sucker for DIY in RPGs.

So, clearly my character is an exotic dancer. I picture him as working in a Magic Mike kind of situation; working for tips in one a bar for people who like to watch nubile men dance. And then he took up with a grizzled fella who came in for a lap dance, and wound up offering to teach him the ways of the Code Slinger. My dancer agreed; he still dances, but he's also learning to sling Code around.

I want a spell that lets him throw out a dazzling, hypnotic lights display. Possible? Let's see.

Duration: Instant (0)
Range: 1 yard (0)
Radius: 6-yard radius (-2)
Targets: area (0)
Damage: 0(0)
Effects: Lights flicking from caster's body, disorienting any onlookers (-1)
Limitations: Spell cost 5
Total: -2 (1 hour to code)

Well, that's actually not hard. I could, if I wished, design one more spell, but I do not wish.

The last section of this is to spend Credits, but you know how I feel about shopping. I shall instead simply do a little description.

My character's stage name is (now) Binary (yes, it's a pun). He's slim, tanned, half his head shaved and the other half dyed blue, and he tends to wear clothes that are colored on one side and black (or white) on the other. He carries a gun when out and about, but he's not a good shot and would rather throw magic at people...except he's not great at that, either. He knows the sort of people who come to the club looking for a lap dance from a pretty young man like himself (which is where I'd use the Know a Guy Quality).

I kinda like the character, shame the system seems weak.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Feng Shui: The Ape Comes Due

Ooh, momma.

Well, last time, the Dragons got into a fight at the museum and learned that "Leon" was also known as "the Eternal Chameleon," a sorcerer with cults across the junctures dedicated to bringing him back to life if he died. And, it seemed that he and his contemporary cult, the White Serpents, wanted Melody, Celeste's sister, for some nefarious purpose! Spider Feng and her people agreed to lead the Dragons to the White Serpent hideout, but only if they agreed to give them the feng shui site there.

So! The Ascended Ones led them to a skyscraper, and they drove up to the top of the parking structure next to it. But apparently the sorcerers knew they were coming - a women with magical black wings swooped in and blew up the ramp under the Ascended Ones' van, taking them out of the fight (so I don't have to deal with a bunch of NPCS).

Chrys swung the car around facing the butterfy-woman, Celeste bailed and wrapped her whip around the woman's foot. But then windows on the skyscraper next to them opened, and a whole host of sorcerers appeared! Along with them, a man in a business suit with a big gun! One of the sorcerers, with a bladed braid in his hair, leaped down into the midst of the Dragons, while snake people crawled up from the parking garage. The battle was joined.

The fight was long and arduous, but the Dragons were victorious; highlights include:

  • Chrys blowing snake-people apart with Johnny (her pistol). 
  • Victor, the dude in the suit, accidentally vaporizing a bunch of mooks.
  • Bai calling down healing petals to heal up his comrades.
  • Black Butterfly utterly failing to harm Bai with magic.
  • Jun Ji, the dude with the blade-braid, coming really close to slicing off Bai's face, only to miss when he Staved Off the Monkey.
  • Black Butterfly's magic shredding Bai's staff.
  • Celeste parkour-ing her way up into the building and wrapping her whip around Victor's neck, whereupon Tang appeared behind him and shoved him out the window.
They interrogated Victor, and he (eventually) revealed that Melody was in the building, but that the Eternal Chameleon would be waiting for them. Then he uncoiled the whip and fell to his death. 

The Dragons went into the elevator to the penthouse, searching for Leon, and hoo-boy, they found him. The elevator opened, and they found a horde of armed security (including a hopping vampire and a badass with two pistols), Leon casting a spell on Melody as she lay bound in a summoning pit, and Thrill Kill Mandrill! "Kill them!" shrieked Leon, and the battle was, again, joined!

Celeste charged out, gunning down mooks, and made for Leon. Thrill Kill swung on a chandelier and fired into the elevator, wounding some of the Dragons, but they eventually made it out and started fighting. Thrill Kill focused mostly on Wu Tang, predictably, and the two pounded on each other with parking meters and huge ape-fists. Chrys suffered a bite from the vampire, but eventually blew a big hole in it with Johnny and Bai smashed his fist into it and ripped out its spine. Bai also set Leon's robes on fire (after pretty much everyone got at least one good hit in), and then Celeste shot him, downing him...but is Leon immortal? Are his methods supernatural?

NO TIME TO WORRY ABOUT THAT! Thrill Kill was still in the room, the mooks were around and occasionally dangerous, and Linda, the security op, was taking shot (and mostly missing). Tang finally teleported over the ape and dropped the hammer on him (by "hammer" I mean "parking meter"), and wounded him. Thrill Kill charged, and pounded the ground. BOXCARS.

He pounded the ground, and his missed, but he hit the summoning circle. Magic flared up, and dragged Linda (on the edge of the circle) down into the Netherrealm. He traded blows with Tang, and then turned to attack the others. Tang, behind him, used Push to throw him out of the window, and Thrill Kill fell many stories, landing on the pavement like a sack of chunk beef soup, and the parking meter landed next to him, ticking over to EXPIRED. 

Back in the room, the mooks gave up. Celeste was bloodied, but unbowed, and Melody was safe. She's joined up with these idiots because they'd promised to teach her magic. "Welcome to the Chi War," said Chrys.

Wu Tang looked out the window at his fallen foe...and then collapsed, dead, his skull crushed by Thrill Kill's relentless assault. 

The Dragons took his body back to the Future juncture for a funeral pyre, and of course Chrys had to stay in bed a few weeks eating sticky rice to clear out the contagion from the vampire. The Dragons are resting. The end of their journey is near, and with the magical knowledge they've gained from Melody about the White Serpents, they can, perhaps, find the final vision in the Ancient juncture and end this war.

We shall see.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Character Creation: Jadepunk: Tales from Kausao City

Well, I had grandiose plans for making a character for a game closer to the top of my list, but then I started reading a bunch of PDFs of D&D clones and kinda went "fuck it." So instead:

The Game: Jadepunk: Tales from Kausao City
The Publisher: Reroll Productions
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game, but I've played and run a lot of Fate.
Books Required: Just the one, as far as I can tell. I don't think you need Fate Accelerated, but I have it if I do need it.

So, I read this book on the plane back form New York. It's a cool martial-arts/wuxia/sword and sorcery kind of thing. I think you could do Man with the Irons Fists with it, but it takes itself a little more seriously than Feng Shui. It's actually kind of a cool setting; if I ever did run it, I think I'd pick up one or two of the sourcebooks, which is saying something (I almost never buy sourcebooks anymore).

Anyway, the book starts off with a foreword by +Bruce Baugh noting that many games don't ask players to consider how moral their characters are, which I kinda disagree with. My experience has been that a lot of games do ask that, but comparatively few make it part of the mechanics, and of those, few integrate mechanics and morality well.

In any case, I need to start off with a concept that will give way to Aspects. Since the characters in Jadepunk are, of necessity, rebelling against the violent government, I need to think about my character's reason for fighting back. I want to take inspiration from the three secret masters in Kung Fu Hustle, men who are expert combatants and come out of retirement only to fight on behalf of others.

My character is from Tuyang (pardon my lack of an accent mark). He served in the military and did his time out in the outskirts of nowhere, where he discovered that the "bands of marauders" were just as often nomadic Naramel tribes just looking to survive. He retired to Kausao City and opened a bakery (everyone loves cake), and for the most part, could live with just watching the world go by.

That's a good start, and it's enough to give me my Portrayal Aspect: Secretly Badass Baker. I think it also gives me a Background Aspect: Retired Tuyang Military.

Next is Inciting Incident, or why I decided to rebel. My character was a good soldier, followed orders, and so on. He was always a believer in the rule of law; yes, soldiers broke the law and violated their oaths, but there were military tribunals for that. All in all, justice will out. Except then he saw that those in power don't respect the law; The Council Forced People From their Homes. Soldiers came and evicted a whole block by force, and my character stood up in court to argue their case. The judge, clearly bribed, came down in favor of the Council.

So, with that in mind, my next Aspect is my Belief. I think I'll phrase this as Justice is Blind, and Must be Led. He used to believe that justice always found its own way, but clearly that isn't the case. Finally, I get a Trouble Aspect. I would take "Reluctant Whatever," but honestly the interesting part of that story after the hero decides "yeah, I'm in this," so I'll take Hero of the Dispossessed. His bake shop is well-known, and his reputation as someone who'll stand up for the common folk is spreading, which actually isn't good.

Now I do Professions, which are basically what this variant calls Approaches. I've got six to worry about, and I get Good, Fair, Fair, Average, Average, Mediocre to throw around.

Well, I think it's in concept to take Fighter at Good (there's no Baker Profession, after all). I'll put Scholar at Fair (he managed to make a decent showing as a lawyer), and I'll put Explorer as the other one. I'll put Scoundrel and Engineer at Average, and that leaves Aristocrat as Mediocre. Makes sense.

Next is Assets, which are like stunts, but somehow a little more narrow in scope. I can take Allies, Devices, or Techniques. Hmm. I'd like to take the bake shop as an Asset, can I do that? Doesn't seem like it (I could spin it as an Ally, but eh). I'll take a Technique, though. I want a fighting style.

Techniques have to key off one of my Assets; the obvious choice is my Background one. So let's say that my character learned the Tuyang Army Style. It focuses on protecting allies, hard strikes to take down foes, and supporting comrades. My Technique Assets can be different attacks within that style, should I be so inclined.

I'll first take on called Clear the Way. I get a +2 to Fighter when Creating an Advantage for a comrade, but one after we've already been in one fight together (have to have time to learn their style). That only costs me one refresh, because one gives me two features (Focus twice) and a flaw (Situational).

For another, I'll take Technique. I want to be able to whoop ass. Very simple, just +2 to Fighter when outnumbered. Call it Tuyang Army Style.

And then do I wish to have a Jade sword or something? I think I do not. I think that'd be good, actually; it'll leave me 5 Refresh, so I can have a bunch of Fate points at my disposal.

And that's mostly done, except I need a name. There are example names listed for each of the nations, and I like Myon (though around the way it's Myon the Baker).

Night's Black Agents: "Good Guys"

Some musings: One of the reasons I don't like D&D in its purest form is that the characters are, at best, glory-seeking killers. They invade dungeons, kill off whatever life they find, and take whatever is of value. There's an understandable paradigm there (it was good enough to power years of real-world "discovery"), and I'm not ragging on the gaming done during the 70s as the hobby was defining itself at first.

But, I started with Marvel Superheroes. My first RPG was one in which if you killed, you literally lost all your Karma (which did double-duty as XP and a roll-enhancer, so losing it kinda sucked, especially if you'd built up a lot). Killing had consequences, but moreover, it wasn't something the characters did without it being a major thing. In D&D, you killed everything in sight, because it might give you XP, and XP led to leveling up, and leveling up made you better so you could kill more things. (I'm told that in later editions of the game, you can get XP without necessarily killing, and I seem to recall that in earlier editions XP was just as tied to gold as killing monsters, but it's still what the mechanics of the game are built around.)

If you consider the morality of your characters, then no character in D&D should be "Lawful Good." Intrinsic to being "good" should be "respectful of life." Or, put another way, if you were walking home and you passed by, like, a badger den and the badger had for some stupid reason made a nest on top of a bag of money, could you kill the badger and take it? Killing is hard.

I say all this not to judge, but just to call out that old joke about PCs in RPGs being kill-crazy murderhobos. It's a joke that gets a lot of play in Dork Tower, and in games with a combat focus, it's pretty often true. But any game in which the characters commit acts of questionable morality runs the risk of desensitizing itself, which is why I think systems that at least make the players aware of what their actions might mean are good.


Last time on Night's Black Agents, the agents got out of the villa with their lives, but it was a near thing. Now hiding in Florence, they begin a new op looking for a target and a way to get out from under.

First thing: Money. MacAteer contacts a friend, formerly of the IRA, named Sean Christian, and has him wire some money (Sean owes him a favor or two). Hanover moves some money around, so the group is solvent, at least for the time being. Parker contacts her friend Patel in London and has him check on on Sedillo and Koltay; they're doing OK, but Sedillo drops a bit of a bombshell: The thing the agents killed outside the villa wasn't the same kind of master they'd seen before. It was a different, but similar, species, and the poison they'd used wouldn't kill it. It would make its muscles lock up, and thus make it more vulnerable to brute force attacks (like a van), but wouldn't kill one on its own.

The agents ponder this: Is the conspiracy escalating somehow? Is this a response to their actions? Or just something they hadn't seen up to now? Is it the same conspiracy? It must be, they're too closely linked not to be.

The agents dig into Vilmos Hajnal some more. Hanover does some hacking, starting with the ruins of Hi-Klass Escorts and the finances of Rus-Bel Air, and narrow down the areas that Hajnal's organization really wields power. They note, interestingly, that he doesn't have a lot of influence in Russia - he might well be at odds, in some places, with the Russian mob. The agents decide to use that.

Gambone activates an old cover (Ivan Kostov), and contacts an associate of his named Tick - drug mule, krokodil addict, general scumbag. With Hanover's help, he sets up a job for Tick, moving into Budapest and moving in on a human trafficking ring that Hajnal's organization runs.

The agents decide that this is a good start, but a two-pronged attack might be better. Hanover and Parker hack the gibson or whatever and go after Hajnal's finances, making it look like Russian interference. Then they get the hell out of Florence, heading to London, and setting up the safehouse so it looks like the Russians were there.

A couple of days later, in London, they learn on the news that a brothel in Budapest was burned, multiple people were dead, and Tick's head was mounted on an iron fence outside. Gambone sees this, and feels shaken. He's killed people before and Tick was a crook, but it's one thing to whack a guy. It's another to deliver him to vampires. (Ess, meanwhile, sleeps soundly that night: God has his back, he feels.)

The agents discuss their next move. The conspiracy is distracted, Budapest is hot - maybe under the cover of this chaos they can hit the prison? Hanover suggests going to Minsk and looking into Rus-Bel Air more, but no one is very keen on that. In the end, they collect some new darts from Sedillo (and Parker taps her friend Dr. Highbridge to get Sedillo some lab space), and the agents decide to check out the Isle of Man while they're in the area. Financial things keep leading back there; maybe there's something to find. MacAteer has his buddy Snug set them up with a boat and some guns, so they can get off the island quickly if they need to.

They track the trail from the capital city of Douglas to a smaller village called Laxey. They spend the day on bikes as tourists, and their trained eyes note that a house near the seashore that has some enhanced security and recent construction.

Ess and MacAteer knock on the door, MacAteer pretending he fell off his bike and got hurt. A woman answers the door, takes them in, and starts to patch him up, but Ess notes that she's armed and MacAteer realizes that she's trained and strong - plus she has a com in her ear. A flicker of recognition crosses her face...

Hanover is covering the front, Parker is up on a hill covering the back, and Gambone picks the lock at the back of the house, disables the motion detector he finds there, and hides in the kitchen. A black car starts heading down the road, and Parker signals to Ess that trouble is incoming.

Ess disarms the woman, and MacAteer socks her in the jaw, stunning her long enough for Ess to immobilize her. Two men with machine pistols get out of the car; Parker shoots one of them dead and then forces the other to drop his gun (Gambone takes him prisoner). The agents have to move quickly (people around here aren't used to gunshots, but surely someone heard). They load the woman and the surviving security man into the car, put the body in the trunk, and Hanover and Gambone search the house.

Hanover takes a laptop from the woman's downstairs room, but Gambone finds something upstairs that no one expected: Bugarcic, the curator of the Tesla museum in Belgrade. The agents had figured he went to the USA, but here he is. They take him prisoner as well, head for the seaside, get in the boat, and get the hell off the island.

Next time: Interrogation.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Movie #397: The Man with the Iron Fists

The Man with the Iron Fists is martial-arts action movie starring (and directed by) RZA, with Russel Crowe, Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, Rick Yune, Dave Bautisa, Jamie Chung, and Daniel Wu.

In ancient China, the Blacksmith (RZA) works in Jungle City, a crime-ridden district. He mostly makes weapons for the various clans that fight it out all kung-fu style there. In the meanwhile, he saves up money to buy his lover, Lady Silk (Chung) out from her contract to Madame Blossom (Liu), the owner of the local brothel.

Yeah, strap in. It gets worse.

A shipment of gold is coming through town, and the imperial forces of planet Spaceball have contracted with the Lion Clan to protect, but the second-in-command, Silver Lion (Mann) betrays his master Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen) and steals it. Word of this reaches Gold Lion's son, Zen Yi, the X-Blade (Yune, and no, I'm not making that name up), and he returns to Jungle City to avenge his father.

And into all this is Jack Knife (Crowe), a British agent and representative of the emperor, checking on the gold. The Lion Clan brings in Brass Body (Bautisa), a magical fighter-dude who can literally become living brass, and everyone fights in magical kung-fu glory. Eventually the bad guys chop off the Blacksmith's arms, but with the others' help he forges the titular iron fists, using his chi or some shit to manipulate them like normal hands.

So, I'm gonna own it right away: This movie is problematic as shit in places. It treats women terribly; sure, the ladies under Blossom's command are kind of badass, but they wind up getting killed anyway, including Lady Silk. Actually, she gets raped (by Brass Body) and killed (by Brass Body), but does wind up injuring him enough that the Blacksmith can beat him. Yeah, that's not really good enough (Blossom dies, too, for what it's worth).

The other overriding issue is that RZA can't act his way out of a wet paper bag. He's flat as old cardboard, and his narration, while it has some good lines ("these motherfuckers had a Gatling gun, and more bullets than China has rice") is so mumbly and uninspired that it kind of detracts from the movie.

But for all that? I love this movie. I have no idea if RZA ever played Feng Shui, but it sure feels like he did. It's over the top and utterly ridiculous, set to a soundtrack of Wu Tang and associated acts, and includes some really fun fight choreography. Russel Crowe is especially fun to watch, playing Jack Knife with drugged-out, oversexed bliss.

I haven't yet been brave enough to check out the sequel, which I'm reliably informed was pretty terrible, but if you can look past the acting and some of the uncomfortable bits of the script, check this out.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Mary Poppins