Sunday, December 4, 2016

Character Creation: Storytime Chimera

Got to about 3PM today before all my energy just...went away. Whee! Anyway, this is easy and I can keep my streak going.

The Game: Storytime Chimera
The Publisher: OJO Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran a session the other night in preparation to write a review.
Books Required: Just the one.

Storytime Chimera is a game designed to tell fable-like bedtime story adventures for kids. I, as you can imagine, am a fan of this concept. Let's make a character!

First up, I create a name and a story. My story is basically my character's concept and role; in player, it lowers my difficulty on rolls if I act within it. Hmm.

I kinda think it'd be fun to play a mute character, mostly because when I ran this one of the characters summoned a water spirit and I played it mute, doing charades to pass along information. But I want to play a person. My character is a monk, a member of the Order of the First Raindrop. They believe in communing with nature and stilling the outer voice to find the inner one. My character's name is Brother Amber (he wears an amber stone around his neck, so he can point to it to introduce himself). His story is "Monk trying to achieve communion with all life, and teach others the value of listening."

Now I choose a flaw. I think Amber is easily entranced. He'll sit for hours staring at marching ants or counting the strands in a spider-web.

Now I get a hobby. This is just something Amber likes to do. I think he collects rocks. Maybe he's building a stone Tarot.

Stats! There are only 3, and I get 6 points to split up (the book actually lists out all the different possible combinations, which seems unnecessary to me). It's just Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence (which I think could have been titled better, because they're much broader than those terms would indicate). I think I'll put Strength at 1, Dexterity at 2, and Intelligence at 3.

Skills! Again, I get three points, though the book talks about Generalist/Expert/Specialist, but the math is the same. The relevant question is, do I wish to put a point in Magicking, which would allow me to cast spells? I think not. I'll take Making, Knowing, and Sneaking as my Skills.

Gear and Wealth. Ugh, my least favorite part of chargen: shopping. I get 12 supplies (which are things that get consumed in play) and 6 gear (helpful equipment). I'll take 3 food, 3 water, 2 match bundles, 2 units of oil, and 2 healing potions for supplies. For gear, I'll take a pocket knife, a staff, a lantern, a spyglass, some rope, and a rock hammer (for shaping and polishing rocks, also handy for escaping Shawshank prison).

And that's it, really!

Misspent Youth: The Celestial Bureaucracy

Yesterday the group that was playing Nobilis met to figure out a new game. We decided to do our Spark-inspired method of choosing a game.

  • Meghan chose Star Wars: The Force Awakens (but really the franchise in general) because she wanted something in SPAAAAAACE.
  • Sarah chose the Lucifer TV show because of the discussions on Divinity. 
  • Melissa chose Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit; she liked the clear ethical argument and position it takes.
  • Michelle chose Kubo & The Two Strings for its elements of storytelling and how storytelling is power and resolution.
  • I picked the music of Devil Makes Three; I like the dark themes but the light expression. 
  • Travis chose the Dark Matter TV show; he likes how it's got elements of hard sci-fi but is ultimately about the characters.
With all of that in mind, we discuss a few options. We came close to playing In Flames, but it seemed a little darker than we wanted to go, so we opted instead for +Robert Bohl's Misspent Youth

Now, I ran a game of Misspent Youth some time ago, as you might have heard. I really like this game and I'm happy to be playing it again with a different group of people (mostly; Michelle played in the last one). 

We set to work defining our Authority. The players decided that the gods are real - most or all of the gods of human pantheons were real, but actually alien intelligences, and they've been using humanity as skin-suits for eons. Turns out human bodies are actually pretty resilient, and while gods are powerful, they need those skin-suits to really thrive. Gods need a substance they call Quintessence (but the YOs just call Mojo) to survive and empower themselves - if a human ingests Mojo, they become similarly empowered and cannot be possessed. 

The overarching body of gods is the Celestial Bureaucracy. When humanity got off of Earth and ascended to the stars, the gods scoured the Earth of all life. Now, humanity is a scattered race, and the ones that offend the gods get imprisoned on a world called Bardo. Which is where this is all gonna start. 

The gods have some Systems of Control at their disposal:
  • They limit access to Quintessence. Humanity can't really fight back without it. 
  • They tailor humanity's genetics; they want their skinsuits pretty, fit, and healthy.
  • They divide themselves into Houses. A god of a given House needs a particular kind of human to possess. This also gives humans (who are naturally tribal) something to fight over, which keeps them busy. 
  • They have planet-destroying nano-tech, which is how they razed the Earth. 
  • And, of course, they maintain a prison-world called Bardo, where they keep dissidents and let them burn off Mojo. 
The Youthful Offenders are all stranded on Bardo. They have one Exploit they can use: They've all used Mojo and can therefore communicate with each other in real time regardless of distance (this is called Interstellar Mojo Empathy). Human beings generally can display empathy, which is alien to the gods. 

And now, the YOs.
  • Sarah is playing Eli, the non-binary felonious monk. Eli provides Mojo to the others (no word yet where they get it). Their Disorder is "We Are All Created Equal." They're a member of the House of Stone.
  • Michelle is playing Jaquard (or Jaqui), the sigil graffiti artist. She sees herself as a spiritual alarm clock, waking people up to the shit they're in. Her Disorder is "Listen to Me." She's from the House of Wings and Wind.
  • Megan is playing Yasha, the reluctant god-slayer. She's kind of Buffy-like, tapped for greatness and violence. Her Disorder is "Liberation Theology." She belongs to the House of the Hollow Crown.
  • Travis is playing Ksanti Unvicious, the punk rock bodhisattva. Ksanti was born on Bardo, and she's the youngest of the YOs at 12. Her Disorder is "We have everything we need in us already." She's a member of the House of Hungry Ghosts. 
  • Melissa is playing Alaska, the underestimated slut. Alaska is a light-bringer, showing the world uncomfortable truth and beauty. Her Disorder is that she "wants to be loved." She belongs to the House of Gaga. 
That's what we've got so far. Very much looking forward to seeing this world evolve. 

Movie #381: Magic Mike

Magic Mike is a dramedy directed by Steven Sodebergh, and starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Munn, Adam Rodriguez, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Kevin Nash, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and Gabriel Iglesias.

Mike (Tatum) is a very busy stripper living in Tampa. In addition to stripping, he own four or five side businesses, but what he really wants to do is make custom furniture. One day on a construction job, he meets Adam (Pettyfer), and winds up getting him a job stripping with the "Kings of Tampa," the stripping troupe managed by the somewhat narcissistic Dallas (McConaughey).

Adam (nicknamed "the Kid") gets immediately sucked into the life and winds up selling drugs for Tobias (Iglesias), the group's DJ. When he loses a bunch of drugs, Mike, who's falling for Adam's sister Brooke (Horn), steps up and bails him out, at the cost of most of his savings. The movie ends with Mike stepping away from the troupe and trying to figure out a more reasonable plan of action. Also snogging Brooke.

So, I saw this movie in theaters, and apart from the woman sitting near me who brought a four-year-old who was clearly not thrilled, what I remember was that I was expecting it to be light and funny about with beefcake. One for three ain't bad. Most of the stripper dudes perform some pretty impressive feats of male entertainment, but holy shit Channing Tatum. Whatever you think of his acting, the boy can dance.

But quite apart from that, the storyline is more Boogie Nights if it focused on Reed Rothchild instead of Dirk Diggler (and, like, involved way less people getting shot). It's not so much "light and funny" as "young person getting seduced by the glamour of a new life with drugs and so forth," and seeing that through the eyes of someone who's already done it and is trying to make his own way. The plot is thin - not bad, just thin - but the performances from Tatum, Horn, and Pettyfer (nicely underpinned by McConaughey) are what make it. Tatum absolutely sells the fast-talking and ultimately earnest Magic Mike, and Pettyfer and Horn have a perfect sibling relationship; Horn is more responsible, but you can see her rough edges and they get rougher around Mike.

It's a Sodebergh movie, which is what I always forget about it, but that means the ensemble cast works and you get at least a sense of some of the other performers. It's worth a watch, especially if you'd find any of these folks attractive.

My grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Magic Mike XXL

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What Not to Do

Man, this fucking week. Month. Year.

OK, I'm not going to get into all of the ways that 2016 has sucked, because I have shit to do today. What I do want to talk about, a little, is this little shitshow.

That image is taken from the press release wherein Modiphius announced the writers for their new Star Trek game. I know a bunch of the guys up there, and that's a pretty impressive group of talent. You know what's not there? Any women. At all.

(Now, I'm pointing out that specific fact because I don't know all of the guys in that list, and I'm sure that some of them are LGBTQA+ and some of them might be POC; I literally don't know. So I'm sticking the what I do know, for now.)

That is, frankly, unacceptable. But I understand how it happened.

Why White Dudes Hire White Dudes

It happened because whoever was in charge of making that decision was a guy, and he went with the people he knew. He went with names he recognized, and while I'm sure he talked to some women, he didn't talk to enough. He didn't make hiring diversely a priority, and I'm here to tell ya, if it's not a priority you won't do it.

I've been in the position of hiring writers for RPG products, a bunch - dozens of projects going back to 2001 (when I had my first development gig after getting hired at White Wolf). It's hard when you have only X slots to fill, and you know X people who would be good for the gig, and all of them happen to be white dudes. That means that you know you're hiring qualified, talented people - people with whom you have a history - and that'll make the product solid, right? So hiring someone different means bumping someone you know will be good, on, what, some kind of quota?

There's a very big tendency in this hobby to knee-jerk rebel against authority, to say "You're Not the Boss of Me" to anyone trying to moderate the conversation (evidence: spend any amount of time on a heavily moderated message board or forum, especially if bannings and suspensions are public. Yes, like RPG.Net. No, I'm not interested in fighting about this). Any suggestion that hiring practices are in any way suspect gets met a lot of resistance, often using words like "quota," "merit," and "SJW." And all of that is bullshit.

No, you don't hire on a quota. You hire with an eye toward diversity. No, you don't hire someone whose writing is weak just because they're not a cishetwhitedude, but you might hire someone less experienced because of their diverse background. Ultimately it's a good choice.

Why I Hire Diversely 

Here are my reasons for hiring people not like me:

1) They're not like me. I'm a middle-class cis white man from Ohio. I was raised not rich, but certainly comfortable. I've made a lot of attempts to broaden my horizons as I've gotten older, but I'm limited by time, money, and health (social media helps!). I need diverse voices on my books because they say things I can't say because I don't know to say them.

2) The books benefit. Games written entirely by dudes like me wind up derivative and safe. Games with a diverse group of writers wind up interesting and unexpected. I can avoid being derivative and safe, but it's a conscious effort - much less work, really, to hire people who can bring change and variety easily.

3) It's fair. You can talk about "hiring on merit" all you want, but that's not how our brains work. We look for people like us and trust them more, and moreover, we avoid people we perceive as a threat (this is just an article I found on a quick Google search, but there's a lot more). Hiring diversely is a way to break down our own internal biases, and that's good for us as people, and it's good for the hobby.

How Did Modiphius Handle This

Badly. For one thing, they've kinda hung their freelancers out to dry. The guys on that list didn't make hiring decisions, and they're not accountable for the decisions Modiphius made. Instead of issuing a statement saying "we're aware of the problem, please direct questions and comments here" (where "here" is an email address or comment form so as to give people a place to direct feedback, rather than slather it over Facebook), one of their head dudes is hopping around on people's FB feeds, posting the same bunch of excuses. Basically, it cooks down to "we did talk to women, but they didn't get back to us, so we had to hire all dudes." 

Politely put, I don't believe that for a hot second. 

The press release includes this little coda at the end:

That's nice, guys, that you're looking for "diverse writers" but that's not enough. You need to approach people. You need to track down the people you want to work with. You need to make your team diverse, not whisper into the Internet "we want diverse people!" and then expect them to come to you. You're talking about populations that sci-fi, fantasy, RPGs, and gaming in general have marginalized, abused, and run out of the hobby for years. You want 'em, you need to find them. 

And hey, I get it. I've seen developers track down diverse voices and hire them, just to have them flake out on projects, and it would very easy to say "Hey, I hired a WOC on this project, she bailed or disappeared, if they don't want the jobs why should I bust my back hiring them?" 

My response to that is, I've had so many white dudes flake on projects. Just so many. And I've had women do it. It happens on every book. It's not a problem with any particular demo; if it's common in RPGs, it's because writers aren't paid enough to make the writing a priority and therefore when health, real life, or other things conflict, the little writing gig that you're being paid 4 cents a word for but asked to do playtesting, game design, writing, and world-building on is the thing that has to go. Sorry, little bonus rant for you. 

Anyway, the point is that yes, you need to make the effort. You need to build your team. You need to think about the voices you want to amplify.

There's more to this, but it's already getting long, so I think I'll post this and see what happens. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Movie #380: Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters is a remake of the 1984 film, and stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, and cameos from a lot of the original cast.

Erin Gilman (Wiig) is a physicist who reconnects with her estranged friend Abby (McCarthy) after discovering the book they wrote about ghosts is still extant (and costing Gilman her chance at tenure). Roped into an investigation along with Abby's new partner Holtzmann (McKinnon), they discover a real ghost, and dedicate themselves to studying and proving the existence of said creatures. Along the way they pick up a pretty but not especially bright receptionist (Hemsworth) and an uneducated but well-read and knowledgeable MTA worker (Jones).

Turns out, however, that the increased supernatural activity is due to an embittered MRA scientist named Rowan (Casey) who wants to unleash the unquiet dead and then rule the world post-cataclysm. And into all of this, the mayor of New York (Garcia) and his obsequious assistant (Strong) are telling the Ghostbusters to keep up the good work, but y'know, don't actually expect any support or acknowledgement.

This movie had a somewhat problematic reception, he said understatedly. It's a remake of a classic comedy movie starring women, which means that all of the shitheads ever crawled out of reddit and chan sites to shit on it every chance they got. They drove Leslie Jones off Twitter with harassment, and basically made it impossible to judge the movie on its own merits - if you're a misogynist shitbag, of course you're gonna hate it. It's "stealing your childhood" or some such nonsense. If you're into movies that star women, then you kind of feel obligated to like it.

I've now seen it three times (twice in theaters, once at home), and here's what I think: It follows a similar plotline to the original, but there are important differences, and not just the gender swap. First off, the characters are scientists. In the original, only Egon was really interested in science for its own sake (well, kinda Ray, too), but the driving force behind the work was to make money. Here, the women aren't charging for their services; their motive is entirely scientific (and then, like, save the world).

The humor is more front-and-center; the original is a comedy, but it includes horror and sci-fi aspects just as strongly. This one is much more a comedy; almost everything is a joke. Much of it is letting the four leads do their particular act, which might be why McKinnon comes off so well; she's acting and playing a character more than doing a schtick. That said, I think the chemistry between the cast is pretty awesome.

There are some questions about the how the metaphysics of the world work (the fight scene at the end - what are those balloons? Can you whip a ghost to death? What happens to ghosts hit with grenades?) that don't really get resolved, but the movie is pretty clearly meant to set up a franchise...which it's not gonna do, because it disappointed at the box office. I'm bummed about that. I thought, frankly, it was more accessible and, in a lot of ways, funnier than the original. I like that the leads interact with the secondary characters (imagine Venkman giving half a shit about Janine the way that the ladies do about Kevin - not just Erin's creepy crush on him, but how the others protect him and obviously care about thim?) and, of course, I like that the fact that the leads are women is important to the movie but not the entire plot.

Overall, I think this movie came out really well, and I'm sad that it didn't get the support it deserved.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Magic Mike

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

East Texas: Beer Pong and Punching

So, last time, the characters saw a bunch of birds, chatted, kvetched, and tackled a thief breaking into a prof's office. This time, there was even more excitement!

The characters had their usual day of classes (nothing especial to focus on there, except that Josh's theater prof had his sketchbook back). And then that evening, as they hung out in the dorm doing study-things, and Josh's roommate texted all of them.

Josh, you see, has a kind of annoying roommate named Donnie Gayle. Donnie manages to trip headfirst into stupid situations, and he usually texts everyone first. But this time, he texted photos of the folks from Low Shoulder - they were at a party in Greek Row. Lula was down (and let her friend Kelly know, since Kelly was very much looking forward to bedding Nikolai). Dante, likewise, was always up for drunken shenanigans, and Doug and Josh kind of figured "ah, hell, sure" and tagged along.

They got there and found the party was already going nuts - lots of drinking, beer pong, and people trying to get close to Nikolai and his drummer. Donnie showed up and acted drunk and stupid, but the real excitement was when Doug noticed a bunch of frat guys eyeing him in an angry sort of way. And then one of them stomped over, made a slurred accusation about Doug banging his girlfriend, and slugged him ineffectually.

Doug lit out for safety (he is not a fighter), and Dante launched himself over the pool table like Batman at the dudes. He wound knocking one down, as did Josh, but got a beer bottle to the head for his trouble and wound up Wounded. Lula crept around the throng with Kelly, but bounced a quarter off a frat dude's head and made him trip over a table, taking him out. Doug, meanwhile, had made his way over to Nikolai and told him that if he helped out, Doug would make sure he met Kelly, who was entirely willing to do depraved things with him.

Nikolai let Doug hide behind him, and then the sheriff showed up and everyone got quite a talking to! And also tickets for disorderly conduct and so on. Lula's cop buddy, Peter Lopez, showed up and pretended to write her a ticket, but actually gave her his number. Dante got a towel with ice to put on his head, and everyone started walking back toward Whitehall (the dorm they live in).

Donnie, meanwhile, had put a bunch of photos of the party up online, and Dante noticed that Peter had been there before the violence started. He excused himself and went to campus police, and talked Peter into rescinding his ticket (it's not really illegal for Peter to be there but it doesn't look good). He rejoined the others, who were in the midst of obtaining pizza, and they looked at the photos some more. They realized that the thief they'd tackled the day before had been there, too, handing what looked like a book to a dude that Doug recognized from the business center, who was then photographed getting all up in Nikolai Wolfe's face.

Some drama was going down, the characters just weren't sure what. They headed back to the dorm, ate pizza and hung out a bit. Tomorrow's the concert, after all. Gotta rest up.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Night's Black Agents: Planning & Entrapment

Yesterday was Night's Black Agents. Back to Belgrade!

The agents all entered Serbia using various covers (Gambone made one just for the occasion); their preliminary research showed them that their faces and names were out in the open, probably due to the snafu in Paris. MacAteer entered the country separately, a few days later, and although they let him through, he got the distinct impression he was being tailed. 

Meanwhile, the agents had set up surveillance near the hospital. Ess, using his cover as an orderly (with a little doctoring of records and licensure from Hanover) took a job there, and snuck a bug into their computer system. Hanover looked through records and found a work order for a drawer in the morgue that hadn't been fixed in years, but kept getting bumped to the bottom of the queue. Ess put a camera on the wall facing it, just to see if someone was using it as a bed, but the agents never saw anyone open it. Storage, maybe?

MacAteer contacted the others and told them he was probably made. Gambone got in touch with Janos Strayovich, a cop who'd busted Gambone once (and then let him off after a bribe). Strayovich agreed to help out, but he warned Gambone that someone was gunning for him. 

They set up the fake bust - the cops pulled MacAteer over, MacAteer ran, Strayovich pretended to lose him, and Parker, wearing a disguise and a new cover as a cop, took the van with the guns "to impound" (really to a safehouse to remove the guns, then to impound). Meanwhile, Ess, in the crowd, spotted Ava Kingsilver. He snuck up close to her and listened to her conversation (which Gambone had to translate, since Ess doesn't speak Russian); she was watching for the agents and told someone listening to "check perches." Ess debated stabbing her, but he didn't have any serum and wasn't sure he could take her in a fight. Instead he slipped a tiny tracking device into her hair. Hanover tracked her, and saw that she was staying in a building near the hospital - she was watching for the agents.

Having obtained their gear, the agents moved houses and debated their options. They hadn't been made yet; if they were they'd be dead. Gambone suggested blowing up Kingsilver's building, but a little research revealed it was an apartment building that rented to hospital employees and families of long-term patients - not a safe target, even to take Ava off the board. The agents talked about it; Ess was strenuously in favor of taking her out, but the other argued that Kingsilver was ultimately a pawn - she was dangerous, but low-level, and if they took her out the conspiracy would just replace her. And it would tip the agents' hand. No, better for now to investigate the hospital and the museum.

Gambone and Ess broke into the museum and found that the office of Ograd Bugarcic (the curator) had been left in kind of a hurry; consistent with what they'd seen before. They searched it and found nothing untoward. He'd been running the museum pretty much legit. They did find travel records, and he'd traveled mostly within the Continent, except for one overseas journey a few years back to Shoreham, New York. Looking into that little town, they found it was the site of Wardenclyffe. Maybe a trip to the States is in the offing? Dangerous, though. 

They also found a storeroom protected with a much more serious alarm system and lock. Breaking in, they found an empty filing cabinet, a folded-up bed, a desk, and a chair. Very Spartan and obviously not in use. A safe house for a vampire, perhaps?

Figuring they'd seen all they would see at the museum, they moved on the hospital. Ess pushed Gambone in, covered on a gurney (as a corpse, you see). Parker waited in the lobby with flowers, while MacAteer and Hanover waited in the van and watched the front of Kingsilver's building. Ess opened the drawer and found a "corpse" in a body bag, but it turned out to be a dummy with the torso missing. In its place was a box. Inside, they found six vials of blood, labeled with an alphanumeric code.

And then Parker saw security massing at the elevator. Hanover saw armed men leaving Kingsilver's building. The agents were made.

Next time, we'll see how that ends.