Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Feng Shui: The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"This is for Johnny."

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

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

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

Fin.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Movie #406: Megamind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Memento

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Feng Shui: One Last (Prep) Time

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


Night's Black Agents: Road Movie To Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Movie #405: The Meaning of Life

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

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

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

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

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

My grade: D-
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Megamind

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Promethean: Carnage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board Game: Tokaido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep? Yep.

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.

Misspent Youth Episode Three: Sellin' Out Like Whoa

Yesterday's session of Misspent Youth was brutal; the characters lost six of seven episodes on the dice, but only wound up actually losing one because they decided winning was more important than their Convictions. Let's watch.

First, our Authority Figures for the day.

  • The Overseer, maintaining a list of people who needed to be punished, which the YOs could handle because of their new responsibilities with the Kennels (this really didn't get touched on at all, but hopefully it gets brought up next time). 
  • Billy, the Master of Revels, a god in charge of getting the parties together and boosting morale. 
  • The Four Winds, four gods coming to claim new bodies. 
  • Veris, the spider-like god of inventory.
  • Narcissus, a newly-appointed Prefect and member of the House of Gaga, like Alaska
And then our Friendship Questions:
  • Jacqui asked Alaska: "Who did you sneak out to see the other night?" Answer: "Yasha."
  • Alaska asked Eli: "Why Theo?" Answer: "Have you seen his butt?"
  • Eli asked Yasha: "Who were you talking to that you don't want Alaska to know about?" Answer: "Tea, to get more ambrosia."
  • Yasha asked Kshanti: "What aren't you telling us about why you're in this facility?" Answer: "I volunteered."
  • Kshanti asked Jacqui: "What have you been mixing into your inks?" Answer: "Carbon dust and ambrosia."
Scene One: What's Up

Yasha's player sets the scene and chooses Billy as the Authority Figure. 

The YOs are out in the middle of nowhere on a butte doing trust falls, but because we're talking about gods, here, they're falling off the butte. Alaska, on her turn, refuses, saying that she does not, in fact, trust these people. Billy offers to fall into her arms to show trust, and flies up to the top of the butte. He falls, and Alaska deliberately lets him fall (Yasha's play wins on Alaska's Thrills Conviction), but Billy is convinced it was an accident and agrees to let the YOs come out later and blow off some steam. 

Kickoff: This episode is about trust.

Scene Two: Fighting Back

Alaska's player sets this up, and chooses Eli's question to Yasha ("Who were you talking to that you don't want Alaska to know about?"). The YOs are back in their room and Yasha, claiming to be hungry, heads to the kitchen to talk to Tea. Alaska and Kshanti follow quietly. Eli and Jacqui run interference around Theo, who's in the hallway, and Eli and Theo flirt awkwardly. 

Meanwhile, Yasha talks with Tea as the kitchen-goblins scamper around. She tries to set up some conflict between Theo and Tea and Billy, but before she can really get into it, Alaska sees her and starts yelling at her for talking to Tea. Tea pushes them all out of the kitchen, and Alaska and Yasha have a really fun argument in which Yasha explains what she's doing: Trying to manipulate Tea into giving up more ambrosia and making things rocky enough that maybe the YOs won't be used as meat puppets to the gods. Alaska eventually relents, and Kshanti notices a goblin watching them. It scampers off and the YOs chase it, realizing it'll parrot everything they just said to Tea. Alaska hits it with a shoe and nearly knocks it down, but Jacqui runs smack into Eli and the goblin escapes into a vent (the YOs lose). Tea now knows Yasha's plans.

First Beat - Complication: What will Tea do?

Scene Three: Heating Up

Kshanti's player sets us up, using the Four Winds. They've arrived early, and now the Choosing begins. The YOs and the other inmates are in the bottom of a huge upside-down cone, with all the gods (or holographic representations thereof) seated on the sides. The Winds, in their old, decrepit, used-up bodies, are on a floating disc above the crowd. Billy act as master of ceremonies. 

The Winds assume their wind form and fly down among the people. Some of the inmates are hoping to be chosen, but most, including the YOs, are terrified. The West Wind flows around them and Jacqui's scarf goes fluttering up - the Wind seems to be considering her. The Winds finally decide that they will wait to make their decision until later, and the inmates are released. 

The YOs talk amongst themselves, trying to find a way out of this. They don't want to be meat-puppets, but they don't want the others to fall to that fate, either. Maybe it would be better if, at least, someone willing was taken by the Wind? They decide that their best bet is to compromise Billy the way they did Theo. Alaska suggests using her sexuality, seducing Billy, though the thought disgusts her. 

The YOs wind up going with Billy to a forest biome, and given special gloves to punch down diseased trees. Alaska again refuses, and Billy confronts her. Alaska turns on the charm, and Kshanti sneaks up behind him and puts her fingers in his head to manipulate his Mojo...but Billy is far, far more powerful than any of them thought. The really interesting bit comes when Kshanti is plugged into Billy and being spread across the Empathy between the YOs by Eli...but Billy is aware of this, on some level, meaning that Alaska is looking at herself as Billy sees her...with the potential to be a goddess. Jacqui uses her power over blood to arouse Billy like she did Theo, so that's in the mix, too. Yasha's player rolls and fails, but sells out Optimism to Cynical. She explains the whole plan to Billy, and Billy looks at her and realizes the attraction and history between Yasha and Alaska. But that does mean the YOs win, and Kshanti can exert some control over Billy. 

Scene Four: We Won

Eli's player sets us up, and chooses Alaska's question to Eli ("Why Theo?"). 

We're back at the dorm, after dinner, and the YOs are in a hot tub (which is heated by a small sleeping salamander). They talk about the day and what they've accomplished, and about Theo and Eli's weird lust. Alaska, though, understands now, since she's seen into Billy's head and seen how powerful and grand he really is. 

They see Jacqui's scarf blow in and get caught up in a tree. Jacqui, refusing to take part in this, leaves and asks Alaska to come with her so she can paint her. Kshanti decides to go find Billy, and Eli and Yasha go with her. 

They find Billy in his ship watching everything on innumerable screens...including Alaska getting painted. They give him the scarf, and Yasha again tries to play Billy against Tea and Theo. Billy isn't really having it (he's secure in his position, as are the siblings), but he's still taken with Alaska and notes, again, that maybe if he were to take Yasha's body, Alaska would be a better consort for him. 

Back in the room, Alaska, sensing what's happening through the bond, gets up to dance. Kshanti amplifies Billy's desire, and Eli's player rolls and loses...but sells out their MO to Empathy Gatekeeper, letting Billy into their web. Billy agrees to intervene if the West Wind chooses Jacqui, and the YOs leave. 

Scene Five: We're Fucked

I set this up, choosing Jacqui's question to Alaska ("who did you sneak out to see?"). At the Choosing. Billy, again MCing, has told the YOs that three of the Winds have chosen willing inmates, and the fourth might choose Jacqui, but if it does Billy will intervene. The North Wind flows down and chooses Phyllis, and they see her eyes go white as the god claims her body. The East Wind flows down and chooses someone that the YOs don't see. The South Wind flies down and claims Satin, a young man who screams in resistance. He collapses and Jacqui runs to him, trying to force the wind out. Kshanti bolsters Satin's own Mojo to help him resist. Satin spins around as the Wind tries to pull the breath from his body, and Jacqui tosses up a handful of inks. They sparkle and illuminate the Mojo within. Meanwhile, Yasha talks to Billy, but he says he can't interfere twice - it'll be this kid or Jacqui, not both. Alaska's player stands up and fails, but sells out her MO to It's All About Me! She screams and points to Kelly, another member of the House of Gaga, and someone who wants to be a god. The South Wind relinquishes Satin and flows into Kelly, who gives a weird "thanks?" look to Alaska before she is subsumed. 

The West Wind then flows down and tries to claim Jacqui, but Billy, true to his word, intervenes. He claims that Jacqui and her friends are marked by higher gods, gods not in attendance. (Murmurs begin among the gods - "Death gods?") The West Wind chooses another inmate, and the Choosing ends. 

Second Beat - Complication: Billy protects the clique. 

Scene Six: Who Wins

Jacqui's player sets this up. She chooses Kshanti's question to Jacqui ("What have you been mixing with the inks?"). 

After dinner, the characters are back in their dorm. Billy shows up and waves everyone else out, and talks with the YOs. He revealed that by protecting the YOs, he may have marked them even worse - because they are supposedly marked by gods unknown, everyone is going to want to know why. He leaves, and the YOs talk a bit...and then they realize that they are being gassed. 

Yasha punches the door and dents it, and Eli tries to force it open. Kshanti summons one of the Cerberoi to help, but it sniffs as though distracted. Alaska stands up and loses, but sells out Cool to Trendy. She jams the door open with a high heel, and the YOs win the episode. They follow the Cerberoi as it runs away towards what it was sniffing, and they find a tray of treats outside the cafeteria. Tea, apparently, tried to gas them, but for what purpose they don't know. 

Scene Seven: Aftermath

Yasha's player sets this scene up, and chooses Veris, the spider-like god of inventory. 

Veris appears as the YOs vent their anger at the cafeteria doors. Veris frisks Yasha for mouthing off to him, and then notes that the sparkly ink that Jacqui threw earlier was laced with ambrosia, which the YOs shouldn't have access to. They take the opportunity to cast aspersions on Tea (making it seem like her security is lax). Jacqui stands up and loses, but sells out Pride to Arrogant, and trash-talks Tea, saying that she tried to gas them. Veris agrees to look into this, and the YOs have driven a wedge between Veris and Tea. They've also added Billy as an Exploit, since he's compromised. 

Movie #403: The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Reloaded is the sequel to The Matrix, and stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ian Bliss, Gloria Foster, and really just a lot of people.

Some time after the events of The Matrix, Zion, the human city, is facing unprecedented aggression from the machines. Their military leader, Lock (Harry Lennix) orders all ships back to Zion, Morpheus (Fishburne) requests that one stay handy to see if the Oracle (Foster) tries to contact them. She does, but a crazed, self-replicating Agent Smith (Weaving) manages to infect a real live person called Bane (Bliss), and upload himself into the real world.

Neo (Reeves) meets with the Oracle and gets today's quest (go find the Keymaker and he can lead you to the Source), fights a horde of Smiths, then he and Morpheus and Trinity (Moss) go confront the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) because he's holding the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) prisoner, so more big fights, and then Neo finally gets into the Source and meets the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) who tells him that he's actually the sixth "One," the result of a compounding anomaly that blah blah lots of words Zion is about to be destroyed so he has to reboot the Matrix and pick out some survivors but he fucks off to save Trinity instead, and then leaves the Matrix, and disables a bunch of robots with real-world magic, falls unconscious, to be concluded in Matrix Revolutions which I don't own.

Woof. I remember seeing this movie in theaters and being really, really confused, and it hasn't gotten better. The whole movie is infodump followed by huge action set pieces, and those set pieces generally look really cool (the Neo vs. a Million Smiths fight hasn't aged very well, but the freeway chase is still awesome), but then we're back to "introduce a new character, let said character monologue, now another fight." It's like a game of Feng Shui if all of the wacky fun was stripped out.

The obvious conclusion to draw when Neo fries the Sentinels at the end is that the "real world" is in fact another layer of the Matrix, and there's some more evidence for that if you want to be a nerd and really analyze it (and these fine folks did). I kind of feel like the movie doesn't quite do a good enough job of explaining itself clearly, but it sure tries to explain itself. Repeatedly. The only thing that really comes across is that everyone thinks this universe is deterministic as fuck, which maybe plays into the idea that the "real world" isn't real, but unfolds as it must? I dunno. I think it might make more sense if you topped it off with the third movie, but I've had enough Christian imagery to last a lifetime and I'm not interested in watching it just to see if it makes this movie make more sense. Frankly, I'd have been happy if they'd left it at one Matrix movie.

My Grade: C
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Maverick

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Promethean: Stompy in the Swampy

Last time, you might recall, we ended with the throng heading out to the swamp to search for the camp, Barbara the Ulgan, or the gator-sublimatus. And indeed, they found all three.

They were walking into the swamp and noticed a human figure running about in the brush (Grimm, using his Vitreous Humour Alembic, realized it was a woman and a Promethean, and therefore probably Barbara). Feather called out to her, and she emerged and talked with them. This immediately tripped some milestones. For Skip, it was meet another Ulgan. For Enoch, it was much more significant: seek out a Promethean from the camp, which completed his Explorer Role. This, in turn, allowed him unlock a new Alembic (Mutatus Aspiratus), which turned out to be handy.

Barbara told the characters that the Gator was her creation, and she'd been trying to kill it for years but every time she got close, something would happen - people would be in danger, it would escape, whatever. Enoch took her aside and told her that he'd been in a similar position, and not to worry - the generative act was hard. Barbara said that the Gator probably wouldn't attack a big group like this, and they should split off.

Feather found the remains of a structure from the camp, and a Pilgrim Mark reading "knowledge." Underneath some boards, she found books. Skip and Matt walked to the water's edge to look for spirits (using Skip's Bestowment). Avalon kind of hung back; she'd used her Stone Alembic to change Skip and Grimm's shirts to armor, but she wasn't sanguine about her chances in a fight. Of course, that meant the Gator hit her first.

It exploded out of nowhere and landed on Avalon, ripping away a chunk of her shoulder and draining all of her Pyros. Grimm drew his pistol and fired one well-placed shot into the thing's head, nearly dropping it (seriously, he did like 10 damage). The Gator fell back and Avalon backed off, not wanting to get eaten completely. Barbara called down lightning and threw it at Avalon, healing her up.

And then the baby-gator Pandoran burst from the water, grabbed Skip, and pulled him in! Enoch activated his new Alembic and tried to drive them into Dormancy, but they were too angry and powerful. The Gator charged at Feather and bit her up pretty badly. Grimm shot it again, and it charged for the water. Barbara hit it with lightning, Matt shot it, and Feather blasted it with the Externalize Alembic, but its armor was strong enough that it kept going.

It charged into the water and grappled Skip, biting more of the flesh off his leg. He broke free and started to swim for shore, but then he realized that running from this fight would just endanger others, and turned around to punch it. The Gator bit him again, pulling him closer to death (and remember, Skip has seen the River already so if he dies, it's real), but he held on and punched it, cracking its skull.

Feather and Matt waded in to help. The smaller on snapped at Matt, but missed. Barbara yelled to get the Gator's head up, and Feather dove in to do that. They held up the monster and Barbara hit it with lightning, and blew its head right off.

Enoch tried his new Distillation again and dropped the baby gator into Dormancy. Matt grabbed it by the tail and threw it onto the bank, where Grimm and Matt made short work of it.

Skip waded out of the water, wounded, bleeding, but enlightened. This fight wasn't really his, but he'd risked his life to finish it. In doing so, he'd completed a milestone: win a fight while wounded with aggravated damage, and mastered the Soldier Role.

Barbara hit Skip with her healing-lightning and fixed some of the damage, and the throng threw some Pyros at Avalon to help her feel better. The Prometheans talked. Barbara felt that she was finally free of the Gator - the beast she'd been chasing for years. Now she was ready to move along. Matt asked her how she was able to command lightning like that, and she told him (and the others) that it was a matter of embracing Torment rather than pushing it away, and letting the lightning follow. She took the throng to her little hovel in the swamp, and gave Avalon a shirt. Matt found a Pilgrim Mark on the shack that said "BEWARE," which Barbara said was a warning about the Gator.

Matt, figuring that there was more here than he was realizing, used his Plumb the Fathoms Alembic. He realized as they walked back to town that Barbara could help him achieve a milestone, but he wasn't sure which one. He reflected on the nature of the Ascetic Role, and asked if he and Barbara could return to the shack later to talk in more depth. She agreed, but wasn't sure what she had to teach - she was feeling pretty directionless at the moment.

The Prometheans also asked her about Papillon and the Athanor. She remembered Papillon making it, and was horrified that someone had broken it. She said that no Promethean had a reason to do that, but New Orleans had plenty of other supernatural entities in it and she wasn't sure about their proclivities. Enoch mused that repairing the Athanor might be possible...and he was leaning toward completing Mercurius by adopting the Craftsman Role anyway.

The characters wound their way back to the storefront to find Sicky, give Barbara a little company, and plan their next move. Little do they know the horror that awaits them.