Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Sssssh, We Have a Boat

Last night was Blades! No actual blades were employed. Weird.

So, last time, the crew set up a score meant to give themselves a cover operation. This time, they carried that out.

The crew of the weird surveyor boat comes ashore to eat in Nightmarket, and the scoundrels are ready. Cage and One-Eye go aboard while Siren and Copper stand lookout. I got a critical on the engagement roll, lucky fuckers, so before anyone goes aboard, they note one crew member leave after the others and sneak into a bar for a drink.

One-Eye and Cage find a map nailed to the outside wall of the cabin. They study it briefly, and note a number of markings in the canals around Doskovol, as well as three out in the bay that seem familiar - they're roughly where the crew dropped those bells. One-Eye employs an alchemical method of duplication for the map (she spreads a thick, stretchy stuff over it that holds an image), and then they slip into the cabin to try and find the papers they need.

The cabin is something of a mess - desks and paperwork. One-Eye, though, as a creative herself, knows that you don't put papers you'll need at a moment's notice with your ongoing projects, and finds the ID papers in a box nailed to the wall. She tries to use the putty trick to duplicate them, but the papers have been treated with something that starts to react to the putty, so she pulls it off.

Cage, fortunately, has brought a different method - a lantern and flash-powder arrangement that can copy written stuff onto paper. They don't need an exact copy, after all, just something with enough detail that One-Eye can fake it.

Outside, Siren and Copper note the flashes from the cabin and figure it must be going well. They see the guy in the bar come out and make for the boat. Copper tries to intercept him and get him chatting, but he's not interested, so she coldcocks him to put him out. Problem is, Button then assumes it's time to fight, and jumps on the guy. Copper manages to pull him off before he kills the poor sucker, and Siren drags him to an alley out of sight.

Cage and One-Eye finish making the copies and are about to head out, Cage notes some drawings that catch his eye. They appear to be connections between some of the marked points in the city, drawn into Tycherosi runes. These are the kinds of the things you might use to summon something, perhaps. He makes some copies...

...which, of course, has given the rest of the crew enough time to come back from lunch. Thinking quickly, Siren gets in their way and tries to act sick, and when that doesn't work, she loses her lunch on their shoes. This gets their attention, and one of them tosses her a coin to make her go away.

Copper, meanwhile, helps the guy in the alley back to the boat, apologizes for her dog, and pays the guy a coin for his understanding. He probably wasn't supposed to be drinking on the job anyway, so he doesn't say anything.

Cage and One-Eye take the opportunity to hop off the boat, and the crew all walks away. They head back to the hideout, and One-Eye gets to work on her forgery. Cage, of course, starts doing some research, and recruits Siren and Copper to help out.

At the end of the day, though, he's not entirely sure what's happening here. It could be that this boat is looking into the desecrated hollows in the canals, the disturbance in the Void Sea, or both. He is able to determine, though, that the Church of Ecstasy seems to be behind it.

The scoundrels do some downtime stuff; training, vice indulging, and whatnot. Cage presents his theory to Lord Penderyn to try and get back into his good graces, while One-Eye anchors her new eye with bone screws. Copper trains Button to only attack on command, since this has been a problem before. The Fog Hounds push against the crew, trying to suck up some of their clients, but they push back, not wanting to cede ground.

And then the crew decides that they going to take the job they've been avoiding for months: Stealing deathseeker crow eggs from the Spirit Wardens. They contact Grull and find that the job is still open; a couple of other crews have tried and failed, though, so security might be tight. The scoundrels do some research and figure that the best way in is directly into the rookery via zipline. One-Eye mixes up some alchemical goo to hold the eggs safely (they're no good broken, and they have to be to Grull within an hour), and they figure they'll zip in from a taller building across the street, grab the eggs, anchor the line to a lower point, zip out, and meet Grull near Clerk Street.

This is the most complicated job they've taken in a while, and they're happy to be stealin' and smugglin' again. Next time, we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Character Creation: Unsung

GenCon ate the last of my summer and now I'm back at work, and I didn't get as far ahead as I'd like, but I'm caught up, so that's nice. My plan is to keep to one character a week and use holidays and days off to try and get ahead, and then maybe jump ahead during Xmas break in December.

But for now, here's a game that was in a bundle a long time ago. I've opened the PDF before but never quite managed to make the character.

The Game: Unsung
The Publisher: Ivanhoe Unbound
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

Unsung is an RPG about people who have to uphold moral codes but are put in tough moral predicaments. It references the Forge a lot and mentions other games that I enjoy, like Sorcerer, and reading it, it looks like there's some interesting stuff going on. The game doesn't have a default setting, and though it promises sample settings later in the book, those "sample settings" are more like "genres." The examples of play in the book (and thank you very much for those) focus on a SWAT team, and the game seems to have the most love for cops. One of the alternatives is criminals, though; you can play members of a crime family. I kinda like that, actually. I'm in the mood for something dark.

To wit, here's my theme song:

It's a song about loving someone even though the relationship is harsh and the world is dirty. I like that. Let's have a look at chargen!

We start with Concept. My character's name is Jimmy White. Jimmy grew up in the roughest part of the city and his older brother got wrapped up in drugs and the dealing of said drugs. Jimmy's parents tried to shield him, but he looked up to his brother and his brother didn't really do much to try and keep Jimmy from all the violence, and Jimmy's parents were killed in a home invasion from a rival gang.

That's all ancient history. Jimmy and his brother (Paul) took care of that. Paul is upstate doing 8 years for manslaughter, and Jimmy is part of the gang. They pull heists, run protection, run some drugs, stuff like that. Jimmy is making his bones and paying his dues.

Jimmy is also in love, and it's weird, because Jimmy's in love with a guy. I mean, it's not weird (Jimmy doesn't much care what kind of sex you're into), but it's weird for Jimmy because he's always thought of himself as straight. But this guy, Miles, he lives in the same neighborhood, and he's definitely at least familiar with the Life, and Jimmy knows he shoots up sometimes. Jimmy and Miles spend a lot of nights together, and they don't talk much, because Jimmy doesn't know how to be a boyfriend to a guy. He just knows that being with Miles feels right, and he's not sure what that means for him or how he's gonna tell Paul.

OK, good start. Now we do Traits & Descriptors. There are 5 traits (well, 6, but I don't have to buy the sixth one). I get 55 points to spend, but I think they start at 1. Higher is better and max is 19. Also, each one gets a descriptor (kinda like an Aspect).

Starting with Savvy, which represents education and knowledge. Jimmy hasn't been to school since 8th grade. I'll give him "Learned from his Brother" as the descriptor and put 10 points in.

Sense: Mental quickness and perception. I want this to be better. "Sharp as a Whip" is the descriptor, and I'll put 13 points in, which takes me to 14. I've spent 23.

Guts: Ability to deal with gross or stressful stuff. "In the Life Since Age 12", and I'll put 10 points in.

Meat: All the physical shit. I picture Jimmy as being quick, but not beefy. Hmm. I also have 18 points left. I think we'll put 10 here, and make the descriptor "Lean & Hungry."

Responsibility: Basically my ethical compass. I only have 8 points left, so that's where they go. "Family First" is my Descriptor.

And then there's Instinct. It starts equal to 20 - Responsibility, so since my Responsibility is 9, my Instinct is 11. Descriptors here are supposed to be what the character is like when out of control, so I'll say "Looks for a Leader." Jimmy isn't self-directed at the best of times, and if shit goes down he's a follower.

I'd start a session with one Gift Point and I don't start with any Retirement Points, so...I'm done, I guess. Wow. That was easy.

Board Game: Adorable Monsters

Hey, finally one of these.

The Game: Adorable Monsters
The Publisher: Zach Weisman, I guess? I don't see a website and there's another game with the same title taking up Google hits.
Time: 15 minutes or so
Players: Me, Michelle, Jenn, JR

Game Play: Players get a monster (draw two, pick one), and then they spend some time placing adjectives on it. Adjectives can be scary ("big," "cumbersome," "eight-legged") or cute ("bumbling," "nice"), and obviously you just want to put scary adjectives on your monsters.

Players can then either dump their hand of cards and redraw, or challenge another player to a Scare-off. During a Scare-off, everyone can play cards on either monster, but no one draws more cards, and once everyone is done the winner is the one with more scary adjectives. The winner takes the loser's monster card as victory point, the loser draws a new monster and on we go.

JR builds a monster.
Monsters have different special powers; the merman wins ties, the dragon prevents uninvolved players from interfering in a Scare-off, and so on. In general, though, it's pretty straightforward.

My beastly, swift, stealthy, big yeti.

Opinions: The game is fun to play and the art is really nice. The monsters' powers are interesting enough to warrant some replay value. I've got three main issues.

First, some editing would be good. "Bumbuling", f'rex, is on an adjective card.

Second, some of the adjectives aren't so great. Like, "blind" is a cute adjective, which strays a little far from the mission as well as being ableist.

Finally, some of the rules aren't clear. The Teenager (yes, there's a monster called the Teenager, hee hee) can redirect "attacks" to other players, but the word "attack" is never used in the instructions. I had to look up the Kickstarter and fortunately someone else had asked (she can redirect Scare-offs to other players, which makes more sense).

Generally, though, it's a fun little game and has enough depth of gameplay to be worth keeping, which isn't true of a lot of "cute" games.

Michelle and Jenn, building monsters. 

Keep? Yes.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Movie #472: The Next Karate Kid

The Next Karate Kid is the fourth movie in the series, starring Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, Hillary Swank, Michael Ironside, Chris Conrad, and Michael Calivieri. It's pretty awful.

Daniel-san has departed for...well, we don't know (and I didn't see Part III so I don't know where they left it). Mr. Miyagi (Morita) travels to Boston to receive a medal for his WWII service, and winds up staying with the widow of an Army pal (Constance Towers, the widow, not the pay). He meets her orphaned teenage granddaughter Julie (Swank), who is way angry and lashing out because her parents died. Miyagi sends Louisa back to California while he stays and takes care of the house, to give them a little time apart.

Julie's high school is run by the evil Dugan (Ironside) and his evil band of evil "teens" (seriously, exactly no one in this movie passes for a high school student), and is on the verge of getting expelled because...Dugan runs this joint, I guess? She winds up getting involved with Eric (Conrad), but then gets suspended for two weeks and Miyagi takes her to a Buddhist monastery where she learns karate, and then comes home and goes to prom with Eric, but that winds up in a fight between her and Ned (Calivieri, the head evil teen, who just straight-up assaulted her earlier in the movie). She beats him handily, but then Dugan starts going nuts, so Miyagi steps in and whups his ass.

OK, where to start. First of all, Karate Kid at least established the characters and spent time on the relationship between Daniel and Miyagi, but also gave Daniel some agency and let him fuck up a bit. Here, Julie spends a lot of time getting blackmailed by everyone, and not just Ned ("come with me to the docks or I'll have you kicked out of school"), but also Eric ("say you'll miss me or I won't feed your pet hawk") and even Miyagi ("do your homework or I won't teach you karate"). Also, Julie shifts from angry and nigh-feral to calm and contemplative by spending time at the monastery and repeating Miyagi's fortune-cookie wisdom, and that's on-brand for the series, at least, but part of that shift involves wearing skirts and becoming more feminine, and that's kind of an issue?

But the thing I find strangest is Miyagi's "final battle" against Dugan. I think it's mostly because the writers figured the audience was a-hankerin' to see Miyagi kick ass, but like, not really? The series has always been about Miyagi teaching his student karate, and the application of those lessons not just in a fight, but in life. But there's none of that here, it's just Julie beating up one dude, and then Dugan refusing to let it drop, so Miyagi has to "save" her by finishing the fight.

Possible I'm giving this more analysis than it needs, but that's kind of what I do. Anyway, the script is weak, the humor is trite, the performances are kind of overwrought (even from Swank, who's actually a good actress), and the only one who seems like he's in the right place is Ironside, who's kind of made a career of playing "scenery-chewing asshole."

My Grade: D-
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Night at the Museum

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Week Ago, We Played Blades

Dammit. I really meant to do this before we left for GenCon Ah, well.

So! Last time, the scoundrels did some stabbing with their blades in the dark. This time, they kinda took it easy; we didn't start a new score, just did a bunch of prep.

Part of the issue is that the heat is very much in Saigon Doskovol; the crew's wanted level is high and they're trying to avoid spending a year in prison. They decide to take a couple of months off, spending some coin to take some downtime action. Copper lowers the Heat level a bit, while One-Eye works on installing and calibrating her new eye. Cage works to get back in Lord Penderyn's good graces, and Siren does some training.

From there, the crew starts to look at how to expand their operation. They toy with the notion of finally dealing with Cricket and getting a luxury fence, with expanding the Ruby and getting a tavern, with expanding their turf, or with finding a cover operation. Given that their exploits of late have gotten loud, they decide to pursue the latter.

They talk about muscling in on a goat-carriage operation like the one that Copper's cousin runs. They ask Grull about it (Grull is a cabbie and he works for someone, but he's tight-lipped about whom), and he mentions that taking over such an operation isn't hard, if you're willing to be mean about it. They also hear about a strange new boat that's out on the canals, that no one is messing with.

The crew spends some time following and investigating this boat, and in their information gathering they learn that it seems to be surveying - it's taking samples and readings in places in the canals where the currents are strange. The crew discusses a few options; some of them don't want to mess with it (Cage's contact Flint says that it might be a conspiracy with powerful people above it, or it might just be basic government stuff that takes years to do its study and never pans out), while others figure that having a boat that no one messes with because it's beneath their notice might be useful.

At the end of the day, they decide it's worth a look, so they decide to forge (or steal) the papers that the boat is using. They discover that the staff disembarks to eat in Nightmarket, and choose that as their point of infiltration. Next time, we'll see how that plays out.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Chill: You Are Going to Jail, Kevin

Finally, we got to play Chill.

Last time, the envoys looked into evidence of a werewolf - possibly Dylan's brother - and its victims, the Caldwells.

Today, as they're getting ready to head out to investigate more, Darnell finds BB and tells him that a man was killed out by where they were investigating yesterday. The victim, one Kyle Brandt, was an employee of the saw mill (the envoys actually met him yesterday). They head back out there, minus Luther, who had something else to do and couldn't join them. They take firearms, and they discuss their strategy: Dylan raises a Sphere of Protection, Jeanie and BB shoot it.

They get to the mill and find lots of police and employees milling around. Dylan talks to the employees and learns that Brandt tends to work late. It looked to them like something grabbed him as he came down the stairs from the office, and dragged him between the buildings.

Jeanie and BB, meanwhile, walk around the building to see if they can find tracks - and lo, they can. They follow the tracks out into the field (well, BB does, Jeanie gets caught up by the cops and lectured about being around a crime scene). BB finds, weirdly, that there are wolf tracks, but then a pair of human shoe prints that just kind of appear, and walk with the wolf, and then fade out. Weird.

Jeanie joins BB, and they find the trail leads to the road, and they see a guy on his porch cleaning a shotgun. He tells them there's a bear or something around and a bunch of the locals are setting traps (so the envoys need to be careful). They decided to check back on the Caldwell's house, figuring the wolf might have fallen back there to lurk during the day (Dylan got some info about werewolves from SAVE, but they were nonspecific about what happens to lycanthropes during daylight hours).

They come up to the door and Jeanie sees that the police tape is broken. That's enough for her, she grabs her shotgun. They open the door and head in, and everything goes dead silent. Dylan raises the Sphere and they can hear again, and they see Darnell (or what looks like him) sitting on the steps. He tries to sell the deception at first, but it doesn't really work, so the thing changes into Loomis, the scarecrow. This is enough for Jeanie, again, and she levels the shotgun, but then everything outside of the Sphere goes dark. Now unable to see the target, the envoys fall back and step outside the kitchen door...whereupon their car smashes into the house at them. Jeanie barely manages (through use of her Quicken discipline) to shove the others back into the house, and Dylan reestablishes the Sphere.

Figuring that they need to make a statement, they decide to blow up the house. Jeanie pulls the over out and breaks open the gas line, while Dylan and BB head for the window in the dining room. Jeanie, once she's out of the Sphere, finds everything going dark and her body coordination going. BB tosses Dylan out the window, and then jumps back to grab Jeanie.

But outside, Dylan sees his brother staggering out of the trees. He's missing a finger, and beckons to Dylan, but Dylan holds fast. BB and Jeanie get out, and Alex starts to grow fur. BB shoots him (with some difficulty, as he's Reluctant to Harm), and Jeanie walks right up and shoots him in the head, killing him. She then grabs a flare from the car and tosses it in the house. Boom.

Of course, this brings the police, and all three of them are arrested. Dylan is breaking down, of course, babbling about werewolves, and the other two know to ask for a lawyer. They eventually wind up claiming self defense, which wouldn't work, except that the coroner's van carrying Alex's body crashes later that night. Both men in it are ripped apart, and Alex's body is gone.

Annie (the lawyer, remember) manages to plead them down to probation, which means that they'll be under the watchful eye of the law next time we have a case with them. I think that the next case, though, might involve Willa, Jordan, and Blake.

Movie #471: The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter

The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter is, as the entirely overwrought title suggests, the sequel to The Neverending Story. It stars Jonathan Brandis, Kenny Morrison, Clarissa Burt, John Wesley Shipp, Martin Umbach, Thomas Hill, and Alexandra Johnes. It's pretty bad.

So, we seem to have ignored the end of the first movie entirely. Bastian (Brandis) has gotten like 4 years older and is now blond and cute but scared of jumping off the diving board. He goes back to see Koreander (Hill), the bookseller, and steals The Neverending Story again, but this time when he starts reading it, he's physically transported into it. The Nothing is gone, but the Emptiness is hollowing everything out, and it's controlled by an evil queen named Xayide (Burt) who is trying to bring order to Fantasia.

Anyway, Bastian still has the Orin (a magic necklace) and it lets him make wishes, but every one loses him a memory. He makes a bunch, but he's really bad at it, and the wishes never really make a difference, nor do the lost memory. In the end...I think he wishes to go home and jumps off a waterfall? I was honestly pretty bored by that point.

The movie is a mess, the plot is full of holes and shit that just doesn't pass a sniff test (like, Bastian's father [Shipp] tracks down Koreander and asks where the hell Bastian is, and he smiles creepily and gives him a response that wasn't literally "he's in my basement" but might as well have been, and dad just fucks off and reads the book). The special effects are pretty weak, but they're not really any worse than other movies of the day. The performances are god-awful, but then, the dialog doesn't leave them much to work with.

All in all, glad it's done.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT