Thursday, June 22, 2017

Character Creation: Becoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's done, actually!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Movie #409: Men in Black

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Mexican

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Movie #408: Memoirs of an Invisible Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Men in Black

Chill: Take Me to Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misspent Youth: Preverts

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

Ahem. Authority Figures.

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

Scene One: What's Up

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

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

Kickoff: This episode is about perversion. 

Scene Two: Fighting Back

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

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

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

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

Scene Three: Heating Up

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

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

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

Scene Four: We Won

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

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

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

Scene Five: We're Fucked

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

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

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

Alaska is hesitant. She knows too much already. 

Beat: Reversal (dram of mojo)

Scene Six: Who Wins 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Movie #407: Memento

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Feng Shui: The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"This is for Johnny."

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

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

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