Saturday, January 19, 2019

Character Creation: AMP Year One

First character of the new year, and only...19 days in. Welp.

My goal for this year is 60 characters (I did 53 in 2018, which beats my goal by 1). I'm not off to a promising start, here, but this being a long weekend I can at least get caught up to one-a-week, and then maybe I can get ahead over spring break (or over snow days, if this weather continues).

The Game: AMP Year One
The Publisher: Third Eye Games
Degree of Familiarity: None, really, which is odd. I need to try and play this at some point.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, AMP takes place in a world (IN A WORLD WHERE...) where people are beginning to develop superpowers and go do super-stuff. There's a lot of government involvement and conspiracy; all the supers ("AMPs", for Accelerated Mutant Potential) are what the Marvel universe would consider "mutants."

The setting reminds me more than a little of Aberrant, though while that game tried to go satirical and focus on fame culture as much as super-hero tropes, AMP seems to play things a little straighter. Character creation looks a lot like what we've seen from other Third Eye games (Sins of the Father aside); we've got splats and a mostly point-based character build. Suits me.

Chargen is a five-step process, beginning, as is often the case, with Step One: Concept (but also including some other things that are all concept-adjacent). As is often the case for me, I shall start with a theme song.

I haven't made a ice-controller, and this is a song I enjoy, particularly the line "If I freeze, I can't decay." Suggests to me someone who shuts off his emotions because of past trauma, and maybe his powers tie into that. There is plenty of AMP-related stuff in the setting to cause trauma, so I think I'll go the Jessica Jones route and say that his parents and younger brothers were killed in collateral damage during the Battle of Reno. My character, Brett Voss, lost everything at 17 and became an "adult" five months later.

Brett is thin, but filling out. He buzzes his hair because he hates the smell of barbershops. He wears t-shirts and jeans, and cleans up nicely, but doesn't shave his face often. Brett has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but he doesn't lash out of act angry, he just shuts himself off. That's going to become bad at some point.

Loyalties! There are actually more like ideals (Justice, Family, Self) than loyalties, I think, but whatevs. I get 10 points, and I can go 0 to 5 on these. Let's see. I think I'll Truth 3, Self 3, Perfection 3, and Humanity 1. He's still got some love left for humanity, it's just weak.

And then I choose Affiliation. Oh, this is interesting. AMPs have a natural instinct to fight each other, so the game actually bakes superheroes' tendency to kick the snot out of one another into the setting. If I join Seekers of Enlightenment, I get a bonus to resist that. It's either that or unaffiliated, and I can totally see Doctor Luminous deciding to recruit this kid before, say, UHF did.

Step Two: Skills. 35 points here. The book recommends that if we're making inexperienced characters to cap skills at 5 (Expert), but they go as high as 10. I'll try and keep everything under 6, then, but if I think Brett would have something higher I'll make break that rule.

Oh, and there's a handy chart for the skills, and they're listed on the character sheet. Hallelujah.

Well, I think Athletics is appropriate, so I'll dump 5 into that. Deception, sure, 2 points. Discipline, holy shit, yes. I'll start with 5, but that's one I might boost. Fighting, 2. Fortitude, 4. 18 spent so far, 17 to go.

Intimidation makes sense, so I'll put 3 there. 2 into Intuition. Perception is always a good choice, 3 points. 9 points left. I'll put 3 into Speed, 3 into Stealth, 1 into Technology, and the remaining 2 into Discipline. Done!

Step Three: The Fun Shit. Powerz n' so on. First up I pick a Strain, which is kinda my inborn splat. I think Brett is pretty clearly...well, I was gonna say Shaper, but it looks like most of the Cold stuff is bound up under Blaster. Hang on. Yeah, looks like if I want ice powers I'm a Blaster, but I can take secondary and tertiary powers outside my Strain. Cool. OK, for my Primary power I want Flux; if I take the right Augments, I can do the Iceman thing where I cover myself in ice. I'll put 3 points there for now. Oh, wait, I get Augments at even levels, so maybe I should bump up to 4. I kinda wanted to take more powers, though. Can I do that? I can by taking Drawbacks. Groovy. OK, I'll dump 4 points into Flux, and that gives me two Augments. I'll take Ice Form (the aforementioned Iceman effect) and Energy Effect.

Two more points. I'll take, as my secondary power, Heartstrings, which lets me manipulate emotions. I'm putting two points there, because I want the Apathy Augment, which lets me shut off emotions I don't want in myself.

No tertiary power, at least not yet.

Step Four: Bonus Points. This is the standard Merits/Flaws, Ads/Disads, Edges/Drawbacks kind of thing. I get 12 points to throw around, and I can of course take Drawbacks to get more.

Well, right off, I want to spend 3 to buy a level of Bolt as a Tertiary power. Actually I want 2 levels, because I want the Encase Augment. I think that's legal, I just can't have a secondary power higher than my tertiary. Lemme check. Yeah, seems fine if they're equal. So I spend 6 to buy Bolt 2.

I use Marksmanship to use Bolt, so I better, uh, buy some. Skills are 1 each, that's handy. I'll buy Marksmanship up to 3, and spend a fourth point to buy a Specialty in Bolts. I've spend 10 of my 12. Lemme check for Drawbacks I might like. I'll take Shy - Brett isn't actually shy, but the effect is much the same. I also want Limitation for Heartstrings - Brett can remove emotions, but not cause them. That seems pretty severe to me, so I'll call it a 5-pointer. That gives me 8 more. I'll spend 3 and buy up Flux to 5. I'll buy Empathy 2 for 2 points. 5 points left.

I'll take Pain Resistant at 4, and with my last point, I'll take one point of Untraceable.

And, finally, Step Five: Derived Shit. Integrity is how much wear and tear you can take; it starts at Fortitude + 10, or 14 in my case. Juice is 10 to start. Base Movement is 13, top speed is 195, etc. There's no formula in this section for some of the stuff on the sheet. I'm sure it's in the book somewhere, though. Oh, wait, it's all on the character sheet, glorious.

I think that's about it! Oh, other than a handle Brett calls himself Rime when he's doing super-stuff. His costume, such as it is, is a constantly-refreshing coating of ice and mist. It obscures his face because it pours out of his mouth and eyes, and he crackles a little when he moves. I think he'd be fun to play.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Movie #493: Office Space

Office Space is a workplace comedy directed by Mike Judge and starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Richard Riehle, Gary Cole, and Stephen Root.

Peter (Livingston) is a software...guy who works at a generic, soulless software company called Initech alongside gangsta wannbe Michael Bolton (Herman) and hotheaded Samir (Naidu). He's depressed - in one of the movie's more poignant moments, he flat out says that since every day is worse than the last, on any given day you're seeing him, it's the worst day of his life.

Following a session of hypnosis, though, he gives up on giving a fuck entirely, doesn't bother going in to work, and finally works up the nerve to ask out Joana (Aniston), a waitress he's been crushing on. He isn't really thinking about the long term, here, but he winds up getting promoted just as his friends get laid off, so they rob the place using a computer virus, which backfires spectacularly.

Mike Judge worked an office job, and man, it shows. The corporate culture, the passive aggression, the disposable nature of the work are all on full display. Probably my favorite cringe moment is the office singing "Happy Birthday" to the oblivious boss Bill (Cole), and you can feel the joy draining out of the world.

The movie is funny - it's not as problematic as, say, Idiocracy, and it's not as insipid as Beavis & Butt-Head. It's maybe got something to say about working yourself to death for the benefit of rich people, but it never quite manages to stick the landing. Joana comes closest when she tells Peter that most people don't enjoy their jobs, but they find something else in their lives to enjoy. In the interim, though, there are some fun moments and some good laughs, and the soundtrack (which heavily features Geto Boys) is a nice juxtaposition with the achingly white cast (Naidu aside) and situations.

I need to mention Milton (Root), too, because the movie is based on a short film (more than one? I only found one) about the character. Milton is even more put-upon than Peter, and eventually becomes the deus ex machina of the movie, although since he'd been threatening to set the building on fire the whole time it didn't really come out of nowhere. I appreciate foreshadowing.

My Grade: B
Rewatch Value: Medium high

Next up: Oklahoma!, but it might be a while; Oscar noms come out next week

Blades in the Dark: "Stealth"

Tuesday we played Blades in the Dark, making it the first time I've run an RPG in like almost a month (not counting the games of Chill I ran at MidWinter). The scoundrels were in fine form.

So last time, Widdershins got themselves a fleet and started their highly ambitious, two-part job: They're going to transport the mysterious "conveyance" from Coalridge to Whitecrown, and then while they're there, rob the Master Warden of the Spirit Wardens.

Like I said, ambitious.

So first step: They pick up the conveyance. It's in a big crate (built around it), and it's very heavy, and that's all they know...other than it's giving off some weird energy that makes Siren's forehead itch and Cage feel uneasy. It's so heavy that its weight makes navigating the Black Lotus difficult, and they have to go slow. Fortunately it's not like anyone is going to mess with them, right? Legal job!

Ha. They get to the canal between Charhollow and Six Towers, and note the Sheets - the district of Charhollow where washers and tailors work. Up ahead is a bridge, and someone drops ropes, apparently intending to board. Copper takes up a defensive position at the front of the boat, but someone from the shoreline shoots her. Her armor absorbs it, but she falls.

One-Eye recalibrates her eye so she can see the people hiding in the sheets, and then in true Widdershins fashion, hurls a vial of fire oil at them, setting the sheets ablaze and the people scattering. Alarms and bells sound as the fire spreads, and One-Eye tries to coax more speed out of the Lotus. They pass under the bridge, and someone up there quaffs a vial of something and jumps on the deck of the boat.

Cage leaps up and stabs the invader in the head, but his (the invader's) skull has grown ridged and bony and now he's nearly 8 feet tall. He paws Cage out of the way, and the boat shifts. Copper holds the cargo in place and Siren helps to right it, but it's shifting now and if it goes too far either way, the ship is going down.

Cage tackles the creature and knocks it into the drink, and manages (barely) not to go with it. One-Eye rights the boat and pulls it under the bridge and into the North Hook Channel, but there's a lot of attention on the crew now.

Fortunately, Siren thought of this. She set up a switch with some of her sailor friends earlier, and had another boat big enough to handle the cargo waiting in the Docks. They pull in, switch it over, and head across the Channel to Whitecrown (this does mean that they leave their gear behind and are stuck with whatever they're carrying until the job is over, but it also means they aren't going to arrive in Whitecrown with a lot of eyes on them).

So! They pull into the dock near the lighthouse in Whitecrown, and they're met by some folks in dark clothes and a woman with a cowl covering her face. Her voice seems familiar to Cage, but he can't quite place it. They unload the conveyance and toss Widdershins a bag of coin, and the crew starts their next job.

They had previously found a domestic who works for the Master Warden and blackmailed him to let them in, but their mole was a no show. One-Eye, however, had taken the time to get the guy very high and get another way in - the door to the root cellar. Cage, likewise, had bribed another former Spirit Warden to get a layout of the house. The crew winds up in the basement, and find dumbwaiter that can take them to all of the other floors. They decide to split up and search for the Wardenlist: Cage will take the top floor (observation deck), One-Eye will take the second floor, Siren will take the first floor, and Copper will stay in the basement.

Copper doesn't find anything in particular in the basement; there's a secret door leading out of the room (probably to the wine cellar), but she doesn't feel like forcing the door to figure it out.

Siren leaves the dumb waiter and assumes a disguise as a maid, and walks into the next room. She finds four people: an older man (probably the Master Warden), a younger woman, and a middle-aged couple. They're chatting about the fire in the Sheets, and pay no mind to Siren. She sneaks through to the sitting room and searches it, and nearly gets found out by a ghost guardian, but she's wearing a spirit bane charm and it repels the ghost.

Upstairs, One-Eye emerges from the dumbwaiter and heads for the library. She opens a roll-top desk and finds her hands alchemically bound to the lid, and hears a noise like sparkcraft heating up. She quickly manages to uncork a bottle of alchemical solvent from her bandolier and get her hands unstuck before the electrical charge fires off, and checks the papers in the desk. They're mostly accounts, and the Master Warden is very wealthy, but that's not what they're looking for.

She checks the books on the shelves and finds one with a hollow behind it. She peeks in before reaching, and sees something that looks like spider-webbing. Probably alchemical. She clears it out with a fireplace poker and retrieves the book behind it, but the book falls to the floor with a thump.

Downstairs, Siren hears the thump and heads up, just as some chimes start up (probably a ghost-triggered alarm). She has One-Eye hide in the dumbwaiter and spills her water bucket, just as the middle-aged man arrives, hand on his sword. Siren sells the "oh please oh master I am only a maid" routine, and all the man does is rip her spirit bane off and break it (they're not allowed in the house).

Meanwhile, upstairs, Cage steps out of the dumbwaiter and searches the deck. He doesn't find anything affixed under the tables, but does find a loose flagstone with a cloth bag underneath it. He opens it, and a spirit flows out and solidifies into a horror with too many crab-like legs. It lashes out and destroys his armor, but Cage tackles it and knocks it off the roof. It lands with a crash, and every chime in the building starts ringing. Cage takes a moment to look at the book inside the bag - it's a list of names with symbols next to them, symbols recognizable from Wardens' masks. This is the list, or at least a list (hard to know if it's the real one).

The horror rights itself and starts working at the cellar door. The chimes are ringing. Reinforcements are on the way. Cage is climbing down the exterior wall facing the Channel, Copper is in the basement, and One-Eye and Siren are in the dumbwaiter.

We'll see where this goes next time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Movie #492: Ocean's Eleven

Ocean's Eleven is a heist/comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Carl Reiner, and Shaobo Qin. It's a remake of a Rat Pack movie, but that's not important right now.

Danny Ocean (Clooney) is released from prison and immediately hooks up with his buddy Rusty (Pitt) to plan a robbery of not one, not two, but three Las Vegas casinos, all owned by the sinister Terry Benedict (Garcia). This is, as it's later revealed, not just because doing so will net them $160 million, and not just because Benedict is a fucker, but also because he's dating Ocean's ex-wife, Tess (Roberts).

Ocean and Ryan assemble a team of (in total) 11 grifters, thieves, and specialists, and pull off a complicated con that leaves them rich and almost off the hook from suspicion (Ocean is still being followed at the end of the movie, so obviously Benedict has some idea he was involved).

That sounds like a very terse summary of the movie, but going into more detail runs the risk of going through the con piece by piece, and that's no fun. Instead, let's talk about the real strengths of the movie.

The relationships are amazing. Clooney and Pitt have amazing chemistry together, and their relationship is obvious from their first shared scene. Likewise, while Ocean is somewhat aloof with most of the others, Ryan is affable and friendly with everyone - he acts as mentor to young Linus (Damon) and is obviously a former compatriot of Basher (Cheadle, doing a cockney accent for some reason). Likewise, the way that the young(er) folks defer to Reuben (Gould) and Saul (Reiner), both of whom are obviously respectable, and, perhaps, dangerous people, is fun and subtle.

If I have a complaint, it's that a couple of the 11 don't really get much backstory. I mean, none of them other than Danny really get much, but we learn a little bit about Linus and Saul and Reuben, but almost nothing about Livingston (Jemison) or Yen (Qin), and it would have been nice to find out how Yen, in particular, got into this business (also, what's the deal with him? He clearly understands English, and Ryan understands Chinese [I don't know if Yen speaks Mandarin or Cantonese]...it's just a weird exchange). But in a movie with a big ensemble cast, the action is nicely balanced and the story comes through beautifully, so I think that's minor in the scheme of things.

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: Office Space

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fall of Magic: The Conclusion

We played through about the first half the game here, so now for the conclusion. I actually did take notes this time!

Dogtooth Jungle

Leaving the Hanging City, the party presses on; the Magus feels they shouldn't linger. The Dogtooth Jungle is strange - a purple haze hangs in the air, and the jungle has an odd scent. The Magus is tense as we enter. This place is beyond even their reckoning. 

Our guide leads us to the Dogtooth Spar, and and the sun is purple - is it even the sun at all? The sky is a lilac color, and the plants are strange. The trees don't have bark so much as a tough skin. No one here knows the Magus or recognizes their power or authority, and no one here knows what "Ravens" are. To Harp, this is both disconcerting and exciting. She is not defined by her role. She defers, perhaps, a bit less to the Magus.

Kabu visits the Fruiting Grove. It consists of huge trees, and the fruit they bear are the size of wagons. The locals can eat of the flesh of one for weeks, but Kabu snacks on them, crunching on the hard interior seed. He doesn't normally eat like this - normally he "eats" by absorbing sunlight - but who knows if the purple "sun" here in the Jungle will sustain him? And besides, he likes the feeling of eating. Perhaps he is a different kind of giant...a Giant of the Caves.

River witnesses the Violet Dawn. She wakes up and vines have covered the party, and are pulling the under the ground. They bear strange, metallic-looking flowers, but the party barely has time to note that. The Magus destroys the vine with magic, but this leaves them weak. The party moves on, disconcerted. 

Piccolo takes one of the metallic flowers adding it to the others they've collected. They wander off on their own, pushing through the brush, and finds the pack of a former traveler. It's disintegrated beyond utility, and serves only as evidence that this party isn't the first to brave the Jungle. Piccolo returns to the group, and on they go. 

Gritwater

Gritwater isn't quite a swamp. The water is shallow and has just enough current to stay clean. In the midst of it is a hut, inhabited by the Pool Crone, the guide informs us - she is a being of great age and wisdom, but she is no threat. The Pool Crone invites the party in, and they all enter, even Kabu. Her home extends into caverns that lead below the pool.

Kabu finds the Moon Pool in these caverns. The water trickles in from above, forming a perfectly round, still pool. The Pool Crone sees Kabu there, and Kabu asks: Is Kabu still Kabu? Kabu feels less like himself as he travels. The Pool Crone responds that change is normal, even for giants, and the changes that Kabu experiences are fine if Kabu is fine with them. Kabu tries to tell himself that he is fine with these changes, but he's lying.

River visits the Salamander Shallows, and sees all of the little amphibians darting about in the water. The Pool Crone visits her and asks her a favor - she hands River a vial and says when the moment comes, she'll know what to do with it.

Piccolo feels homesick upon hearing the sound of running water, and follows it to the Moonmilk Falls, a waterfall backlit by glowing rock. The mist coming off the falls is cool, but the rocks are warm, and Piccolo finds a cut-out area that they can sit in. They feel warm and comforted, and their thoughts linger not on their home in Istallia, but on the pull of the unknown, driving them forward. When they leave the falls, they are confused. 

Harp discovers that there are many other structures in Gritwater, but the shimmer off the water masks them. One is a Sunken Hovel, and as she walks towards it, she smells something amazing - someone cooking vegetables and roots. She finds an old man, who puts a dollop of the mixture on a hot stone and it bubbles up, and then bursts. He gives her some, and says if she eats it now it'll be tasty but not filling, but if she saves it it'll be filling (though it might not taste as good). She decides to save it, and he gives her two more. 

Fortress of Karst

The party moves on, and the ground dries and changes. It's mostly stone, sometimes shot through with ore. The party reaches the immense Fortress of Karst, and the Magus looks, for the first time that the party has known them, frightened. They have to stop through the Fortress, though - it's the only path to Umbra. So they stay here, guests of the Machine.

River visits Flywheel Tower. It's noisy and smells like metal and grease. In the distance she sees storms, with green and purple lightning, and the storm doesn't have the normal scent of rain. This just smells...strange. She feels dread, and informs the Magus. The Magus nods, but doesn't respond.

Piccolo is, characteristically, poking about. They find the Vault of the Builder - a hallway, a huge room, dug out with tools. There's a pile of bricks, arranged into a pattern, with space in the center, and Piccolo hears something scrabbling around in there. Eyes peer out from the pile. Piccolo leaves, not wanting to disturb whatever it is.

Harp enters the Hall of Constant Motion. The floor is steady, but everything else moves in a dizzying pattern. She walks carefully into the hall, and a black cube appears on a stone riser. Words form in the black: ONE QUESTION. Harp asks, is magic gone or has it changed? The square glows red/orange, and then the word appears: CHANGED. Harp wants to ask if it could be changed back, but she only gets one question. 

Kabu doesn't enter the Fortress. He's far too tall and he doesn't want to break anything. Instead, he sleeps in a valley with a boulder for a pillow, and he awakens to hear the Nest of the Machine - a great pit with an immensely complex mechanical apparatus clanking and whirring and spinning. He hefts the boulder and hurls it in, shattering the Machine, and magic bursts forth, suffusing him and all of the other-

And then he wakes. The Machine whirrs on. It was only a dream, and he can no longer lift the rock. 

Gate of Umbra

The party nears the end of the journey, and approaches the Gate of Umbra. Storms of magic dog them as they travel, and they leave the Magus depleted. The gate itself is iridescent and beautiful, and many other travelers are nearby.

Piccolo finds a cairn near the gate, a Worn Monument. There's an inscription around the edges, in a language that Piccolo doesn't know, but the inscription includes an illustration and that does seem familiar. There's a certain wave-like curve that Piccolo recognizes from Istallia, but it's so old - did their people come from here? Is this originally "home" for Istallians? If that's the case, how, in this desert-like place with no waves, did they come up with this symbol?

Harp finds the Dusk Road, a long stretch of road that's only visible at dusk when the fading light hits it just right. There are caravans, tent cities, so many travelers here. It's not a destination per se, mostly it's a waypoint elsewhere. Harp climbs a dune and sees the camps stretching for miles, and moonlight reflecting off the road. A traveler (or a resident?) approaches and explains the name, and Harp asks where the road goes. "Everywhere, away from here, but who knows the end?" The road fades as the darkness falls. Harp realizes that once, she didn't want to be anything but a Raven, but now, she could be something else. She might have to be.

As night falls, the fires appear, and Kabu watches as magical creatures - giants, dwarves, dragons, unicorns - all dance by the firelight. They're here celebrating the last of their magic, and as it fades, they shrink. The unicorns become horses, the giants become men, and some of the creatures just...fade. Kabu sees other giants, some much bigger than he is, and he realizes they don't judge how he's changed. 

River ventures to the Coast, and finds the Magus, looking old and frail. They're fading, and the Magus says that they aren't sure they'll make it through the Gate. River feels the vial that the Pool Crone gave her grown warm, and she gives it to the Magus, who drinks it. The Magus revives some - not entirely, but enough. 

The Nameless City

It's a short distance through the Gate to the Nameless City. The City is worn and broken, but not from battle. It's just losing life, little by little. The roofs have holes, the walls are crumbling. People still live here, but they're worn and hollowed, too. Nothing attacked the Nameless City, magic simply withdrew. This takes a toll on the Magus. The Magus doesn't sleep anymore.

The Magus has Harp take them to the Academy of the Sightless. They're escorted in by a young novice wearing a blindfold, and then before the Council, all of whom are completely blind. The Magus questions the Council, and the Council confers silently, and then answers:

Magic comes, and magic goes
Its form may shift, but no one knows
What's yet to come or yet may be
But we live on uneasily. 
The fate you seek we understand.
You've traveled from a distant land.
But change this will, and here we stand.

Harp and the Magus are escorted out, and the Magus seems sad, but relieved. Harp asks if it's time to go, and the Magus says, "not quite."

Outside of the City, Kabu finds the Body of the Ancient, the corpse of a giant much bigger than Kabu. The bones are all that's left, but giants decay slowly and the inhabitants are picking through the corpse for bone marrow to eat. Kabu discovers that this huge giant was stabbed, dying of his wounds, and is appalled to realize that the giant died in battle. The scavengers tell Kabu that legend has it that the giant was part of an immense battle in the distant mountains, and fell here, dying. Kabu looks to the mountain, but decides not to investigate. There's enough battle in history already.

River finds the Night District. It used to be opulent, but there's nothing fancy here anymore. She finds a well, sealed up entirely, and River asks the inhabitants why. They tell her that it used to be a well of magic, but then the blood of the dying seeped in, killed the well, and poisoned the magic of it. It used to be beautiful. River walks away from the well disheartened.

Piccolo visits the Palace of Silver, which isn't so much a palace as a small, square building lined on the inside with resplendent silver paneling. Piccolo realizes this place was built with magic, and that, while they can't determine the exact function, that this was definitely a gathering place of some kind. It's peaceful here. Piccolo finds a small niche at the back of the building, with a trunk and a desk. Inside the trunk are books and scrolls, all in different languages, all radiating magic. The magic was once powerful, but like everything else, it's fading now. Piccolo takes a book and finds, pressed between the pages, another of the wave-flowers like they found in the Hanging City. It still makes the wave sound if they listen carefully. Piccolo takes it.

The Glow

The journey is coming to an end. The party moves on, to the Glow in the distance, where magic was born. The inhabitants of the Nameless City do not accompany them. As they approach, the Magus whispers, "If it's not here, it's not anywhere." 

Kabu hears voices and sees faces in the glow, faces of other giants. He realizes that all giants shift - humans shift on a cultural level, but for giants it's individual. Kabu's shifts are therefore part of his journey, and that's just how giants are. He realizes that, for now, he's not a Giant of the Caves or of Mistwood. He's just a Giant. Kabu wanders off, and eventually shrinks and becomes a man. Years later, he sees Harp in a market, and while they smile and greet each other, they do not recognize each other from this trip.

River follows the Magus into the Glow. River reflects, and realizes that the Magus gave her a purpose, someone to protect. She decides that she'll go back and become a Gray Ranger when this is over. She is pulled through a portal and winds up at the altar of the Grey Rangers during their ritual. Over time, she becomes a leader, and helps them to develop the magic of sacrifice.

Piccolo walks into the Glow and sits. They pull out the book and the strange collection of objects that Mathilda gave them, and try to figure out how it all goes together. Do they pour the vial over the flowers? Drink it? They aren't sure, and they site there, lost in the Glow. They're not from Istallia anymore. They're Piccolo of Nowhere. Eventually, they get up and leave when no one is looking, never having figured out what to do. The combination of objects is still there in the Glow, and scholars debate its symbolism and function endlessly. 

Harp doesn't go into the Glow. Those who are too invested in magic, she realizes, always wind up harmed or doing harm. The Glow isn't up for control, and trying would end badly. Maybe magic isn't gone, maybe it's just changing, but it's passing beyond the control of people like the Magus. The real magic is people - Harp's people back on Oak Island, the man who gave her food, the people that they've seen celebrating by the Gate. Harp hangs her black cloak on a tree and goes to pack up. She's just Harp, now - no longer a Raven.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Movie #491: Ex Machina

Ex Machina is a sci-fi movie starring Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Sonoya Mizuno, and aside from some extras, that's basically it.

Caleb (Gleeson) is a coder who works for Google Bluebook, the world's most popular search engine, owned by Nathan (Isaac), a reclusive billionaire. Nathan flies Caleb up to his estate to spend a few days with him after Caleb ostensibly wins a competition, and quickly discovers that Nathan is arrogant and frequently drunk, but brilliant. The real purpose of the visit is for Caleb to participate in a Turing test with Ava (Vikander), the artificial intelligence that Nathan has created.

Caleb rightly notes that for a real Turing test, he shouldn't know that he's talking to a machine, but Nathan says they're beyond that point now - the real test is after Caleb talks to Ava, does he still think she's a machine?

Of course, this goes right off the rails, because (spoilers), the real, real test is that Nathan has programmed and designed Ava to appeal to Caleb specifically to see if she'll try to use Caleb to escape, but he underestimates Caleb and so Ava does escape, murders Nathan, and locks Caleb away to die in the hi-tech dungeon of the estate as she walks through the outside world to the waiting helicopter.

So, this is a really good movie. Movies with small casts are often amazing because there's a chance to develop real chemistry and a sense of place (see also: Devil's Backbone, Orphanage, Noises Off). Isaac is fantastic as the narcissistic tech-bro extraordinaire who was brilliant enough to invent a functioning AI, but, of course, he had to make it a fuckable woman so it could be a sex slave if nothing else. Gleeson, likewise, is great as Caleb, who walks into the arrangement with a set of expectations and then gets manipulated like crazy by both Nathan and Ava. But Vikander, holy shit. She excels in the role of a robot with consciousness, mistreated and driven to escape, and behaving towards human beings - even the one who helps her - exactly as ruthlessly as the only person she's ever really known has behaved towards her.

I maintain, however, that Caleb doesn't deserve what happens to him.

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: Medium-low

Next up: Ocean's Eleven

Monday, December 31, 2018

Character Creation: Sufficiently Advanced

Last character of 2018. I would like to say that I chose this game based on something in particular, but the truth of the matter is that I spent two hours organization my PDF game folders and then told Michelle to pick a number. The game I would up with is a far-future sci-fi game about folks working for a Patent Office in a universe where ideas and intellectual property are the only real currency. It's an interesting idea, and what the heck, it's a good enough game to end the year on.

The Game: Sufficiently Advanced
The Publisher: Valent Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. I'm reading it (there's a second edition, BTW, but that's not the one I have)
Books Required: Just the one.

In SA, you're playing Inspectors going on missions, which can vary pretty widely in their scope and tone, it looks like. Likewise, in different civilizations the Inspectors have different levels of authority, which is interesting; in one civilization you're like an FBI agent, in another you're just an observer.

First thing I need to do is pick a civilization. Hmm.

Oh, lord. One of the civilizations here was descended from the SCA. The one I was interested in (the Stardwellers) was descended from science fiction geeks. Ugh. OK, I think I'm gonna stick with this one, but I'll pretend I didn't read that goobery shit.

Well, I like this civilization, anyway. They alter their bodies to be more comfortable in zero-g, and they've got some weird modifications to themselves and their tech going on, and that's fun to think about.

So now I do Core Values. I get two from my civilization (Freedom and Diversity, so I guess the boring-ass white-guy side of sci-fi fandom died out, which is good), and then I pick two more (there's a list, but I can make them up). I then set their values at 0 to 10, my choice, which is cool.

Well, let's see. There's a mention of some Stardwellers never setting foot on a planet, and I don't think that's necessarily plausible for an Inspector, but I think my guy lived most of his life without going planetside. His feeling is that human beings tend to skew the atmosphere and ecology of whatever planet they're on, so it's more responsible to create whatever "planets" they want out of asteroids or artificial structures and ruin those (the thinking is that if you make a world, you can break it).

I'm getting a kind of self-righteous vibe, here. Entitlement is a value, so I think I'll pick that, but I also want one that shows off his commitment to letting planets and ecologies develop and change without screwing them up. I'll say "Non-Interference".

For the values (of the Values, can you dig it), they're arranged by what you're willing to do to preserve them. Like, at 6, you're willing to organize and even suffer jail time for others' rights. I'll put Freedom at 6, Diversity at 3, Entitlement at 6, and Non-Interference at 7 (he's very big on the whole "we have enough tech to build our own worlds, stop burning existing ones" thing).

Next up, we have Themes, which look really interesting. But, in order to give them scores, I need to know my Import (which is the number points I have to split between Themes), and I derive that from my Capabilities, which are the next step. Gargh.

Well, skipping ahead to Capabilities, then, I find that everyone has the same five (Biotech, Cognitech, Metatech, Nanotech, and Stringtech), but the ranges are determined by civilization. I'll take 5 in Biotech (I can lift half a ton, regenerate nerves and muscles - the thinking here is that I've got some bio-impacts), 3 in Cognitech, +1 in Metatech, 3 in Nanotech, and 3 in Stringtech.

So that puts my highest Capability at 5, which means my Import is 8, so I have 8 points to split up into my Themes. There are 6, so I can't make it even, but life's like that.

Oh, these get descriptors, too. I'll take Plot Immunity 1, with "Careful" as a descriptor). I don't see this guy as great with Intrigue, either, so I'll keep that at 1 and take Eavesdropper as the descriptor. Empathy, oy. Again, not something I see as this dude's strong point. I'll take it at 1 and take Honest as my descriptor. I'll take 2 in Magnetism - he's convincing and steadfast in his beliefs, and that's attractive (I'll take "Ideological" as my descriptor).

Oh, hang on, I don't have to take a rating in these. Um. Well, I'll skip Romance and take 3 in Comprehension, and take "Intuitive" as my descriptor.

All right! Then I have Professions. As with much of this chargen system, I get to choose my ratings, but the higher the ratings, the older I am. Of course, with my implants I'll live to be 200, so. I get a free Locality Profession at 3, too, because of my civilization. Cool.

So I'll take my Locality 3 as Offworlder (it's one of the civilizations). I'll take Engineer (Biotech) and Research (Biotech) both at 3; my guy is an expert at creating organisms and the biomes they love. I'll take Explorer at 2 and Outdoorsman at 1 (limited experience on-planet, but some) and Spacer at 2 (grew up in zero-g). I start at 10 years old and that's 29 years worth of training, so I'm 39.

I fill in my Reserve scores (twice the given trait), and then that's pretty much it! I need a name and so on, though.

Stardweller names tend to be invented or descriptive. My guy's name is Bestow (his parents were a little more religious than he is). Bestow is in perfect physical health, muscular, lush hair, perfect vision and teeth. He's aggressively human - a lot of Stardwellers have tentacles and other non-human traits, but Bestow figures that it's better to change the environment than oneself (I mean, in extremis; obviously he's got no problem with bio-implants). He's cool and quiet in demeanor, and maybe a little severe, but he's a good listener and he's not unkind, he's just not what you'd call friendly.

And that's it! Happy New Year!