Monday, October 15, 2018

Movie #482: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is, obviously, the third movie in the franchise and stars Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, and a bunch of less famous people (Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Ira Heiden, Priscilla Pointer). Fun fact: Directed by Charles Russell, who would go on to direct The Mask.

Anyway, Kristen (Arquette) is our Final Girl this time, and she's dreaming of Freddy (Englund) and Freddy's old house. Freddy eventually slashes her wrist open to make it look like she's attempted suicide and gets her shut up in a mental hospital with a bunch of other teens who are also getting stalked by Freddy. Turns out, of course, that they're the last of the "Elm Street Kids" whose parents burned Freddy to death.

An aside, here: Let's assume that the people that Freddy kills in Part 2 aren't necessarily Elm Street Kids, because they're never mentioned as such and the metaphysics get really whack-a-ding-hoy in that movie anyway. That means that as of this movie, Freddy's killed three Elm Street Kids in the first movie (Tina, Rod, and Glen) and in this movie we meet seven more, and there's a reference to two other kids committing suicide before we even meet them. That means that Freddy was murdered by at least 11 different families, which, given that he racked up a body count of over 20, is about right, but it also means that shouldn't some of these kids, like, know that they had siblings that died? Anyway, plot hole over, just thought I'd mention it.

Nancy (Langenkamp) is now a therapist or, like, an intern or something, and comes to work with Dr. Gordon (Wasson), the psych working with these traumatized, suicidal kids, alongside the stern and useless Dr. Simms (Pointer) and the cool orderly Max (Fishburne). Freddy does his thing, but his kills are much more magical and elaborate; where before he killed like a ghost, now he's turning into a snake or smashing people into TVs.

Into all of this there's a ghost nun, which turns out to be Freddy's biological mother (Nan Martin). Freddy's bones need to be laid to rest, but the kids are already asleep, so they have to use their dream powers to fight him.

Oh, right, didn't mention that. Turns out all these kids have a super-power in their dreams. Kristen's is the only one that's actually a power, because she can pull other people into her dreams. Everyone else can just do weird shit while dreaming, and like, so can literally everyone ever. But nerdy D&D (sorry, "Wizard Master") player Will (Heiden) can throw green lightning around, Kincaid (Sagoes) is vaguely super-strong, etc.

Sadly, these powers do exactly nothing to Freddy, and he happily slaughters the kids until Dr. Gordon manages to splash some holy water on Freddy's bones, at which point he's destroy, but not really, because there are several more movies in the franchise.

I remember this movie being better than it actually is. The concept of using some kind of lucid dreaming against Freddy is cool, but it doesn't go anywhere and the kids die just the same. Freddy's backstory is kind of cool, but he comes back, so it's kinda all for naught? The idea that he grows stronger because he's absorbing souls is fun, but again, it doesn't really matter. There are a lot of cool concepts in this movie, but the script is weak, the acting is pretty awful (Arquette has become a good actress, but this isn't her best work), and Freddy's transformation from brutal, scary monster-ghost into wisecracking shapeshifting murder-prankster is pretty much complete here.

One more to go!

My Grade: D
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Character Creation: Flatpack

Well, I was supposed to be running my new All Flesh Must Be Eaten game today, but illness laid one of the players low and I don't like starting without everyone present, so here we are. I thought about doing something a little closer to the top of the list, but a bunch of them are D&D clones and I just don't have that in me today.

The Game: Flatpack: Fix the Future
The Publisher: Machine Age Productions
Degree of Familiarity: None
Books Required: Just the one.

Flatpack is billed as "optimistic apocalyptic roleplaying," and I can get behind that. The early parts of the book talk about civilization being, well, largely destroyed, but the characters (WRENCHs) being the ones with the smarts and the gumption to fix it. There are also these things called Flatpacks, which are basically machines or buildings or complexes packed into a small, rectangular box, that our WRENCHs can find and put together.

The emphasis in the game is very much on solving riddles and puzzles rather than on combat (fighting is, in fact, not part of the game, and I don't see many RPGs like that, so that's cool). So how do we make a WRENCH?

Hrm, character creation seems to be written in-character. Not always a fan of that, but let's see. We start off with some questions and multiple choice answers. Check it out.

So, the first question is "you were a shoo-in for class president, when you heard rumors that your opponent has a plan to cheat the election. In order to out-cheat him, you..." And then six options. I want to look ahead and see if these answers tie into mechanics at all, hang on. Yes, they do. Groovy. OK, then I pick... d, turn to the school's bylaws. I'm thinking my WRENCH is research-focused, and/or likes to have his i's dotted and t's crossed.

Next question: Do you feel, right now, that your parents would say they are proud of you? Oof, that's hard. I'll pick f. maybe someday. Aw.

Third question: This is long so I'll summarize. You're dating the perfect guy, but he's a writer, and not necessarily a successful one. How's that gonna work out? I'll pick e., which, again, is long, but basically cooks down "you don't seem to understand him, so talk with him and try to get a glimpse into his world."

Final question: Um...

That's weird. The answers are similarly odd. I'll pick d., explain how things were so much better back in my father's day.

I was wrong, the final question is asking if my work environment were a bowl of fruit, what sort of fruit would I be. I will choose c., an apple, both because it's fall in Ohio so apples are in season, and because apples are nicely versatile.

So where does all this get me? Well, actually, the idea isn't necessarily to pick one answer to the questions, but to consider what answers give you strong reactions, which give you no real reaction, and which you can't ever see yourself choosing, and pick traits as positive, neutral, or negative (two of each) based on that. OK, then.

The traits are Wiles, Resourcefulness, Ego, Nostalgia, Curiosity, and Hope (WRENCH). I'm gonna take Ego and Wiles as negative traits (meaning that my character is kind of easily led), Hope and Resourcefulness as neutral, and Curiosity and Nostalgia as positive. Neat!

So, the rest of the character creation process is just doing group dynamics and playing a round of Two Truths & a Lie, where another player determines the truth or the lie. There's a slot on the sheet that says "Claim to Fame," but those words literally do not appear anywhere else in the book (grr), and there's no example of character creation (also grr). That's a little disappointing.

Well, let's do this: I'll do the two truths etc thing and then randomly pick one to be true. I'll say that my three statements are:

  1. I've seen over 100 movies from before the Collapse.
  2. I can dislocate my shoulder anytime I want.
  3. I'm afraid of bugs. 
(If these seem kind of simplistic, it's because there's not really much attempt at setting, here, so it's hard to have anything to work with in the absence of a group.)

OK, so my hypothetical other player chooses the first statement to be the lie. I...actually want that to be true, because I think it ties in with my love of Nostalgia, so I'm going to reject that and say that the last one is the lie. That means I don't get to start with a Spirit point, but c'est la vie.

That's it for the structure bit of chargen, the rest is just making shit up. So I'll say that my WRENCH is named Bell. Bell grew up in what used to be Los Angeles, now flooded and destroyed in earthquakes. There were a lot of spare DVDs lying around, though, and it wasn't hard to have power sometimes, so he wound up killing a lot of time watching movies. Of course, that leaves him with a sort of skewed perspective on what the Time Before was like, but it also means he knows a bit more about history than most folks. 

I think Bell is fresh-faced and blond. He's got scars up and down his left arm (from the same accident that left him able to dislocate his shoulder). He has brown eyes and wears a blue knitted cap that his mom made him a long time ago.

And that's it, I think!

Movie #481: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is, of course, the first sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street and stars no one from the first movie except Robert Englund. Instead, we get Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Marshall Bell, Clu Gulager, and Hope Lange. It' interesting movie.

Five years after...whatever the hell happened in the first movie (it ends ambiguously, recall), the Thompsons' house has been sold to a new family, the Walshes. Their teenage son Jesse (Patton) is having nightmares that leave him screaming and sweating, and his father (Gulager), who is something of a dick, can't quite seem to get the AC working, so the house is always hot (I mention this both because it becomes something of a plot point and because it's why Jesse is always sweaty).

Jesse is having nightmares about Freddy Krueger (Englund), but he's also coping with being the new boy in school, crushing on Lisa (Myers), and his complicated feelings for his fellow baseball teammate Grady (Rusler).

Wait, what? Surely there's no obvious homoerotic plotline in an 80s horror movie?

Well, yeah, there kinda is, and smarter people than me have talked a lot about it. Evidently at the time, the screenwriter denied it and blamed Patton for playing the part too gay (Patton actually is gay, but was closeted at the time), but later admitted that he was totally going for Jesse to be gay and for a large part of the conflict here to be him coping with that.

But back to the horror: Freddy doesn't just possess Jesse, he physically bursts out of his body to kill people and then disappears, leaving Jesse covered in blood. It's Jesse's love for Lisa, though, that allows him to burn out Freddy's influence and regain himself, which, considering that two of the people Jesse kills "as" Freddy are gay men (you can't tell me Grady isn't gay, and Marshall Bell's Schneider is pretty obviously written that way, too), that's a pretty troubling implication.

In any case, though, there are some nice throughlines involving heat and fire, and the continuity from the first movie is actually pretty well respected, considering that none of the original cast shows up. All in all it's not as bad a movie as I was expecting.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Character Creation: BRP

I am hella behind on characters for the project, mostly because I've had a pretty awful couple of weeks, but never mind that. As of this coming Sunday, I should be up to 41 characters to keep my "once a week" thing going. As of right now, I've done 36 this year, so I'm what, five weeks behind. If I can manage to do a couple extra before the school breaks (Thanksgiving and Xmas), I can get caught up.

Not that anyone really cares, but I care about my silly little lists.

Anydangway, today's thing is:

The Game: Basic RolePlaying
The Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Degree of Familiarity: Almost none. I don't think I've ever played this edition, but I know I played some Call of Cthulhu back in the day.
Books Required: Just the one, but read on.

So, I want to say first that I'm doing this game today because Greg Stafford, the game designer behind Pendragon, RuneQuest and a lot of others, passed away yesterday. I never met Greg and I'm actually not terribly familiar with his work, at least firsthand - I've played Pendragon but never RuneQuest, and I think that the only game I own that he worked on is BRP, which sounds like an oversight on my part.

But in any case, this tribute by John Wick kind of puts into perspective the influence that Stafford had on the hobby. Again, I don't know, I never met the man and I have only limited experience with his work, but watching all of the outpouring of love from folks I do know over the last couple of days makes me think he's someone whose work I should know.

In any case: BRP. BRP is, like GURPS, a system that can be applied to a variety of games. (Incidentally, as I'm reading the book, I note that it was used in Nephilim, which Stafford also worked on.) As such, before I make a character I really need to have a setting. There's a chapter in this book about settings, and looking through it, it's got a lot of bare-bones ideas for settings (mostly, but not entirely, framed as historical eras). I think I'll make a character for a Western setting, just because apart from Deadlands I haven't really done that.

Step One: Name and Characteristics. Never sure how I feel about naming characters right off the bat. Well, I kinda want to make a cowboy, and I was interested to learn that the word "buckaroo" is an alteration of the Spanish word vaquero. Turns out a lot of cowboys were of Mexican or mestizo extraction (or black, which is something you don't tend to see in Westerns, dammit). I think I want my character to be mixed race, originally from Louisiana and then moved to Kansas after the Civil War (figure on this being 1880 or so, so figure my character was born in 1858, roughly, a few years before the War broke out). His name is Levi Matthews.

For Characteristics, I roll 3d6 for Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Power, and Appearance. One of the suggested optional rules for Western is to choose what value goes to what Characteristic (rather than just assigning them in order), so I think I shall do that.

My rolls are 6 (ugh), 13, 16, 11, 9. Well, something's getting a dump. Hmm. Well, the life of a cowboy isn't really conducive to having a low CON or STR or DEX, so I'm thinking that the 6 is gonna go in APP. I'll put the 9 in POW, the 11 in STR, the 16 in DEX, and the 13 in CON.

Now I roll 2d6+6 for Intelligence and Size. I get 12 for INT and 16 for Size. I have an option for an Education roll, but I'm think Levi's education would be pretty spare (or rather, his formal education would be), so I'll skip that.

Step Two is Powers, and if I was running this game, I might include some magic or something, but for now let's assume we're playing a pretty straight Western and skip it.

Step Three: Age. Oh, wait. I'm meant to roll for this (17 + 1d6). OK, sure. I roll a 5, which means I'm 22.

Step Four: Characteristic Rolls. Derived traits. Well, some, and there are more in the next step. Effort is STR x 5 (55), Stamina is CON x 5 (65), Idea is INT x 5 (60), Luck is POW x 5 (45), Agility is DEX x 5 (80), and Charisma is APP x 5 (30).

Step Five: Derived Characteristics. Like it says. Damage bonus is STR + SIZ and then look it up on a chart, so +1d4. Hit points is the average of CON and Size, or 15 in my case. Major wound is half that, or 8. Power Points I'll skip because I'm not using powers. EXP bonus is half my INT, or 6 (but I don't see a place on the sheet for it). MOV is 10 units per round, so that's easy enough.

Step Six: Personality. Oh, this is interesting. It's less about personality and more about how the character approaches problems - physically, with technique, outsmarting, or persuading. I think that Levi is pretty clearly most comfortable being physical, so I'll take that option. That gives me 20 points each in Brawl, Climb, Dodge, Grapple, Insight, Jump, Ride, Sense, Stealth, Swim, Throw, and any two Combat skills. I'll fill these in later, when I do the rest of my skills.

Step Seven: Skills. Well, hey. So, I pick a profession, and then I allocate points into professional skills. Let's assume we're playing a "normal" game in which the characters are mostly normal people, and I get 250 points for said professional skills. Is "cowboy" an option for profession? Hot diggity, it is.

My professional skills are Craft, Firearm (Rifle), Knowledge (Natural History), Knowledge (Region), Listen, Navigate, Ride, Spot, Throw, and Track. Neat. I can't start higher than 75%, but I already have 20 in some of these, so.

Brawl 20
Climb 20
Dodge 20
Grapple 20
Insight 20
Jump 20
Knowledge (Natural History)
Knowledge (Region)
*Ride 20
Sense 20
Stealth 20
Swim 20
*Throw 20
*Firearms (Rifle) 20
Firearms (Pistol) 20

That's where I start. Let's add 55 to Ride (boosting it to max), which takes me down to 195. I'll put 35 into Spot (160), 40 into Track (120), 30 into Rifle (90), 25 into Knowledge: Region (65), 30 into Listen (35) and the other 35 into Craft.

Step Eight: Distinctive Features. I'll say that Levi has a slight cleft palate that (of course) is uncorrected. As such, his speech is often unclear, and so he doesn't talk much and he eats very slowly and carefully (it's one reason he's thin). I'll say, too, that he wears a length of cloth around his face when he rides, to keep himself from inhaling too much dust.

Step Nine: Profession. Hang on, I thought I did this. Oh, wait, I did, this is just the stuff I get based on my profession. Rope, rifle, horse, etc.

Step Ten: Name & Finish. I did the name already, so that's basically it.

That was actually really painless, all things considered. I worry that the numbers are too low (you know how I feel about systems where starting characters are useless), but I'd have to play it to know; it's been too many years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Movie #480: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a supernatural slasher flick directed by the late, great Wes Craven and starring Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia (credited as Nick Corri), Ronee Blakely, and of course, Robert Englund.

The kids living on Elm Street - Nancy (Langenkamp), her buddy Tina (Wyss), Tina's rough boyfriend Rod (Garcia), and Nancy's boyfriend Glen (Depp, in his film debut) are having nightmares about a dude in a sweater with finger-knives. And then said dream-monster actually murders Tina while she's sleeping, and it all gets weird - Rod is initially blamed, but he dies in a cell. Nancy sees the killer in her dreams, too, and then grabs his hat and brings it into the real world, and there's the name: Freddy Krueger (Englund).

Turns out Krueger was a serial killer who murdered 20 kids (!) in the neighborhood, was caught, walked on a technicality, and was burned alive by the parents. Now he's back to murder the teens of Elm Street in their dreams. Eventually Nancy figures out that she can pull Freddy into the real world and, perhaps, kill him, but Glen dies before she can figure out how, so she booby-traps the shit out of her house and takes on Freddy alone.

I think that it's important to note that while subsequent films in the franchise got sequentially stupider (Part 2 is considered especially bad, as I recall, but I'm not sure I've seen it), the original Nightmare is a goddamn horror masterpiece. Freddy isn't campy or silly, he's purely evil and violent. He's never shown well-lit, but his burnt face is always in shadow. The effects of the violence are still there in the morning, and there's no explanation or apology - sure, maybe Rod hanged himself, but Glen was liquified and no one has a good way to explain that. And the end of the movie, where we're apparently all alive and Freddy's dreams have been vanquished...but no, we're back in the dream, is perfect, as we question how much of what we saw really happened.

One of my favorite horror movies, and continuing proof that you don't need the huge body count or the "carnage candy" (as Randy says in Scream 2) to make a good one.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

Blades in the Dark: Dissension in the Ranks

Last night was Blades, after a bit of a hiatus.

Last time, the scoundrels rather grudgingly took a job that Cage brought them via Lord Penderyn to retrieve a mysterious artifact from the Deathlands. This turned out to be the Eye of Kotar, but Cage wasn't able to tell the others that until they were already out in the soup. And then Spirit Wardens showed up, and things went to hell.

The Spirit Wardens fire their rifles at the scoundrels, and they scatter. Siren disappears entirely (she maxed out her stress and took Trauma, which put her out of the action for a while), Cage and One-Eye drop back into a structure with the Deathlands Scavengers. Copper puts up her hands and yells at the Wardens to cease fire; they do, but keep their weapons trained on her. They tell her to approach, slowly; Copper tells Button to go find One-Eye, worried that the Wardens will shoot him if he gets too close.

They strip Copper of her armor and weapons, and she tries to talk them into coming to some arrangement. The Wardens, though, aren't much interested, and point out that they don't have a lot of incentive not to just shoot the crew and leave them here in the ash.

Meanwhile, in the hut, One-Eye tries to talk Lady Thorn into giving them the Eye so they can make a deal. Thorn isn't having it, though; she was more inclined to give the Eye to the Wardens anyway, and this little incident isn't making her predisposed to trust the Widdershins. One-Eye, never the most patient of people, throws down a smoke bomb, tackles Lady Thorn, and snatches the Eye away. She, Cage and Button leave the hut, back to the back, watching and holding out weapons.

Of course, when they get out, they see Copper has been captured. One-Eye asks if pulling out the Eye, or threatening to destroy it, might motivate the Wardens to give up Copper, but Cage isn't sure. The Wardens, indeed, threaten to shoot Copper, but One-Eye says she'll give them the Eye for Copper. They tell Copper and One-Eye to both start walking, but Copper, true to form as a Cutter, decides she'll start a ruckus.

She snatches the mask off a Warden, and smashes the protective glyph holding the horror pulling their carriage in place. The horror knocks her out of the way and pounces on the Wardens, mauling them, and the crew gets the hell out of the area, fading into the desert.

As they walk back, they talk - argue, really - about this job. One-Eye is pissed, and of the opinion that this is Cage's fault for not telling them about the job. Cage points out that he couldn't, but One-Eye notes that she probably could have deactivated the ring preventing him, and anyway now they've lost Siren. Cage tries to find her by attuning, but can't get a fix - it's like she's not even around anymore, which is odd (even if she's dead, she should be somewhere). One-Eye argues that they should get double for this job, and that Cage ought to give up his share, or maybe they should just find another buyer. Cage points out that Penderyn is probably able to find Siren, but that letting the world know they have the Eye would put them in the crosshairs.

They eventually get back to the train, and then to Gaddoc Station, and then to Duskwall. They head for the lair (still no Siren), and Cage goes to visit Penderyn. Penderyn is unsympathetic as to Cage's problems with his crew, but says that if he has the Eye, he can find Siren. He points out, though, that there are any number of interested parties, many of whom won't be interested in buying the Eye so much as taking it, and that includes the crew's buddy Lord Scurlock. Cage reports this back to One-Eye and Copper, and they agree that selling to Penderyn is probably the best course of action.

Penderyn takes the Eye and looks palpably relieved. "You idiots just saved the city, and you don't even know it," he murmurs, and then holds it up and it starts to glow. He tells them that Siren is in Gaddoc Station, but then notes that she's walking into town. She's in Nightmarket, anyway. He pays them, suffering some pretty constant abuse from One-Eye, and shoos them out.

The crew catches up with Siren, who asks about the Eye. When she hears that Penderyn has it, she starts walking toward Charterhall, and One-Eye, concerned about this obsession, tranqs her. She wakes up, a little more clear-headed, in the lair, and the scoundrels start coping with the fallout. They inadvertently killed four Spirit Wardens, and that means the Wardens have finally had enough - they go to war. Not only that, but the Bluecoats show up to arrest the crew, and they all scatter, avoiding the arrest but worsening their relationship with the Bluecoats.

Cage visits Penderyn, hoping to learn what he meant by "saved the city," but Penderyn is being tight-lipped. Perhaps next time we'll learn the truth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Movie #479: The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stop-motion animated movie directed by Henry Selick, but from the mind of Tim Burton, starring Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, Glen Shadix, Ken Page, Ed Ivory, Paul Reubens, and William Hickey.

The opening narration informs us that every holiday is the product of special holiday realms, and then dumps us into Halloween-town, which has a two-faced Mayor (Shadix) but really answers to its most prominent citizen, Jack Skellington (Sarandon, sung by Elfman). Jack is renowned as the creative force behind Halloween, but he's bored, and goes wandering until he finds the magic grove that leads to other holidays. He falls into Christmas-town, and feels inspired again - but he wants to understand the nature of Christmas. He winds up, instead, stealing it, sending three little trick-or-treaters (Lock, Shock, and Barrel, voiced by Reubens, O'Hara, and Elfman, respectively) to kidnap "Sandy Claws" (Ivory) so that the Halloween-ers can take over Xmas.

In the midst of all this is the kinda-sorta subplot of Sally (O'hara's main role), the ragdoll creature made by Dr. Finklestein (Hickey), who is in love with Jack but also trying to escape her creator. She is, as Santa notes, the only one that makes sense around here.

So, this movie has a following, and there's a lot I like about it. I like the characters, I like the music, and I love the look - it's very Burton, but it's more colorful than a lot of his stuff. But let's be real honest: This movie is thin. The plot is weak, the characters are fun and clever, but the world isn't fleshed out. I'm not even talking about the fact that we're apparently in world that treats Santa as a real, common-knowledge fact and what the hell that implies about the shenanigans that the Halloween-folk pull on their holiday. Just the dialog alone is weak, basic and boring, and the lyrics are simple at best and flat-out dumb at worst.

And then there's Oogie Boogie (Page), who's nominally the villain, but he literally has no reason to be in this movie except to give Jack a reason to rescue Santa (and Sally) in the third act. He's planning Santa? "Take the whole thing over" as his minions say? Gamble with Santa's life? It's not at all clear.

I have to assume that this movie had a much more first draft that wasn't filmed because it was expensive and time-consuming.

My Grade: C
Rewatch Value: Medium-high (look, I said it wasn't great, but it's still watchable)

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street