Monday, November 12, 2018

Character Creation: Bedlam Hall

I'm so close to being caught up! I think I can actually get ahead of schedule over Thanksgiving break.

I have now jinxed myself, which is appropriate, given today's game.

The Game: Bedlam Hall
The Publisher: Monkeyfun Studios
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at Origins this past summer. It wasn't a great time, but that wasn't the game's fault.
Books Required: Just the one.

Bedlam Hall is a PbtA game in which you're playing the staff at the titular estate, in service to the Blackwood family. The tone is black humor, but it's not meant to be as silly as it was when I played at Origins, I don't think. In any event, it's a mix of an Upstairs, Downstairs kind of situation and, like, Addams Family with the creepy cranked up a little.

As a PbtA game, it uses playbooks, so that's my first step. I played the Cook at Origins, so I want to do something different today. I shall play the Chauffeur, I think.

Next up, Attributes. I can pick between four arrays, depending on how focused I wish to be. Hmm. I think I shall go with 2, 1, 1, -1. I'll put my 2 in Composure, my -1 in Etiquette, and of course Persuasion and Fortitude get the 1s. This guy has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth when he talks, so he tries not to.

Now, moves. I get Access to the Bentley and Better Footwear automatically, and then I get to pick two more. What should my strong & silent driver have?

Well, I'm thinking Don't Make This Physical makes sense (I can cause Trauma if I Direct the Staff and they refuse). And then I think Outsider's Perspective plays to my strengths (it's a Composure roll), so that's fine.

I get a Secret and a Cruel Move. For my secret, I'll say it's a connection with unsavory criminals I've had to dodge for a fresh start. More specifically, my chauffeur was part of a criminal gang that would infiltrate stately homes, get the lay of the land, and then rob them blind. He, however, went to the wrong house, got the chauffeur job, and his gang hasn't seen him since. For his part, he's thinking maybe this is a good enough gig that he doesn't need to go back to a life of crime. Sure, the house is cursed and the lord of the manor summons demons in his parlor, but the pay's not terrible and it beats the Front, anyway.

For my Cruel Move, I think An Expensive Theft makes the most sense. Once a session I can steal shit, and everyone loses Prestige (but I get something valuable).

And then I get 1 Prestige. Interestingly, at no point am I told to do any background, look, or personality-type decision-making, or indeed even name the character (THIS IS WHY AN EXAMPLE OF CHARGEN). But I know to do that stuff, so I shall.

There's a listed of suggested names, and I like "Graves," so I'll pick that. For Appearance, I pick "burly" and for Behavior I pick "gruff." I picture Graves as being strong, dour, short greying hair and weathered hands. Took a bullet in the War, but his background was on the rough streets of London anyway, so the violence didn't affect him like it did some folks. Indeed, choosing not to return to his violent life was highly out of character for him. Maybe this house is having an effect...

And that's me done!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Character Creation: Timewatch

Two chargen posts in a row? Well, sure. I haven't run anything since Blades, I've been at a con all weekend so I haven't watched any movies or played any board games. I don't have anything in particular to say about the industry at the moment (rather, I have opinions, but no interest in sharing them), and my Kickstarter ends tomorrow...


Yeah, I'm running a mini-Kickstarter for Jack's Trick, my card-based spooky micro-RPG. It's well-funded, it's only $5 to get the PDF (which is really the only reward I'm offering), so give it a look/share/pledge if you would?
Cover art by Miguel Santos.
Anyway, all of that in mind:

The Game: Timewatch
The Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Degree of Familiarity: Quite a bit with the underlying system, and Michelle just started running a game of it
Books Required: Just the one.

I actually considered doing a "liveblog" version of this when we all made characters for Michelle's game, but I didn't want to fuss with that at the time. So I'm gonna make a character for it now, how about that.

In Timewatch, you play members of the titular organization, smoothing out paradoxes and other temporal issues. There are other ways to play the game, too, but let's assume that's what we're doing. So, Step One: Concept.

I need to pick where/when I'm from. Timewatch agents can be basically from anywhen, but as always we're limited by somewhat narrow knowledge of history. You know, for once I want to get out of the 20th century. How far back would I like to go? Well, I find the Reign of Terror in France interesting. I think I shall play a character who was a minor noble - or maybe just a supporter - who wound up being sentenced to death. Before the sentence was carried out, Timewatch plucked him from his fate (the official rolls have him being guillotined, though). Good start. I need a French name, though. I'll call him Henri Cloutier.

I could pick up a Profession package at this point, but eh. I think I'll be OK. Henri made nails (family business) and did carpentry, and was often employed by nobility. He made the mistake of opining that maybe the nobles were mostly OK and wound up being imprisoned and nearly beheaded for his trouble.

Step Two: Investigative Abilities. If I were playing this (and I am!) I'm sure we'd have at least 5 players, so I'll say I get 16 points. I get one free one in Timecraft.

So, I figure that after Henri was taken in by Timewatch, he studied up on history to see how this whole "cut off everyone's fucking head" idea went (spoiler: not great), so I'll take a point in History (Ancient) and History (Contemporary). I'll take Military Tactics and Research as well.

Down under Interpersonal, I'll pick up Bureaucracy, Charm, High Society, and Streetwise.

And then under Technical, for my last 8 points, I'll take Forgery, Medical Expertise, Notice (2 points), Outdoor Survival, Paradox Prevention (2 points) and Spying.

Step Three: General Abilities. I get 50 points to throw around here, and there are fewer of them than in a lot of Gumshoe goes.

Well, right off I'll put 4 points into Health and Chronal Stability, boosting them to 10. That puts me down to 42. I'll put 6 into Athletics (36), 5 into Burglary (31), 6 into Disguise (25), 4 into Medic (21), 8 into Preparedness (13), 5 into Scuffling (8) and the last 8 into Tinkering.

Step Four: Background, Appearance, Drive, etc. Let's do Drive first. Much like in Chill, Drive is basically "why you do this." In Henri's case, it kind falls under Duty, in a way, and is expressed as "I Know What People Are Capable Of."

Henri disappeared when he was 18, and it's been a couple of "years". He's slim, he's got shiny white teeth (because they were awful so Timewatch fixed them), black hair, and cautious blue eyes. He's got a generally pleasant but fidgety demeanor, and he's finding that he's comfortable in eras that have a more monarchy-style thing going on; democracy makes him nervous as hell.

And I think that's it!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Character Creation: Eldritch High

Today I find myself not only with some free time, but some alone free time as Michelle is off at Con on the Cob selling our stuff (come visit! We'll be there all weekend!) and Al isn't home yet. I'm not quite ready to start working on Timepeekers in earnest yet, so I think I shall fill the time by making a character.

You will be witnesses.

The Game: Eldritch High, collected in The Big Book of Little Games
The Publisher: John Wick Presents
Degree of Familiarity: None, but I've read Harry Potter
Books Required: Just the one.

So, the beginning of this game feels very Harry Potter, but then we get into a discussion about the Shadowrealm, which includes a secret war between demons and angels and other magical beings. So far, so good.

Holy shit. So, in this game you're playing children (that is, someone younger than 18, which encompasses a pretty goddamn wide range of ages and developmental levels but never mind that for the moment), who are recruited into this war. These folks develop "the Sight", which does pretty much what it does in every similar RPG, and so the kids get drafted and go to "the Academy." They rarely see their parents again.

Side note: The game I'm now working on, Timepeekers, was originally envisioned as a game in which you played kids fighting back an alien invasion by using their powers of learning skills from their future selves. One of the aspects that I ditched was the idea that the government was behind this, because if you're a kid fighting on behalf of a government or another ideological body, what you're called is a "child soldier." It shouldn't be hard to figure out why I ditched that notion.

Anyway, let's move on. After some description of the grounds of the school (during which we're told that people try to escape from their training, but then some people get expelled, too - arrgh), we come to character creation.

Step One: Who Are You? "First, nearly all students admitted to Circe's are 14 years old, but there are a few details that make your character distinct from the rest."

Is the implication here that most 14-year-olds are interchangeable, or is that just a kind of badly phrased sentence? Anyway, sure, we'll say my character is 14. The same age as my oldest child. Twitch.

Where are you from? The school recruits from everywhere. I don't much feel like doing a lot of research into how children from not-USA are raised, though, so I'll say my young lad grew up in Nebraska. I've been through Nebraska - it's Omaha, which is kind of a cool city, and then nothing. My character, Dominic Brussels, grew up in the "nothing" part.

When did you gain Sight? Nic (he prefers "Nic" to "Dom") was out in the field hitching a chain to a stump to pull it free when he spotted something shiny under the roots. He touched it, and saw the Shadowrealm for the first time. He was also blown back 30 feet by the magical energy, and when his head cleared, the thing under the stump had gone. Did someone grab it? Had he opened a prison? He's not sure.

What do you look like? I'm supposed to just say three things that make me distinct from the other kids at the Academy. Sure. Well, Nic is a corn-fed farm boy (muscular, blond, handsome). He's missing two fingers on his right hand (accident in shop class). And he's always hungry. Boy's got a hollow leg, as his dad used to say.

What is your stereotype? You know, what type of kid are you. I think Nic is the hick (this actually is a stereotype in Tales from the Loop, because it just now occurred to me I played a character like that at Breakout last year).

Step 2: Willpower: We use Willpower to do magic, and we start with 3 Willpower. OK, then.

Step 3: Fumbles: We start with 3 Fumbles, which I guess are mistakes you make casting magic, but then it says "I'll explain later in the book," which, argh, give me a fucking page number, at least. Hang on. Oooooookay...Fumbles are, in fact, not mentioned again, that I can see. I don't have a PDF of this book, so I can't search to make sure, but I don't see the word "fumble" anywhere in the magic system.

(See, this is the problem with cutesy shit like "I'll tell you about this later!" - if you forget to do that, you think you've already done it. It's a mistake I've made, too.)

Step Four: Required Courses: OK, so I take six courses per semester. Now, there are slots on the character sheet for each year in high school, but each slot has eight sections for courses, not 12, so...good work?

Anyway, what courses should Nic take? Wait, hang on. There are seven courses listed. Do electives count? They're not listed separately on the sheet, but they're in a separate step. (Jesus, this is so badly organized.)

Ah, OK. This is...check it out. Step Four of character creation is "Required Courses," and implies that you must take six. The section starts off with "Now it's time to consider your course schedule at the Academy." But you don't actually pick six courses here, because Step Five is Electives, which begins with "Your student may also take elective classes," and then lists a bunch, but does not explain what to do with them.

And then Step Six is "Your Freshman Schedule" which tells us how scheduling actually works, and that I must take three required classes and one elective for the first semester, and then in second semester, I'd take three more required's and one more elective (meaning that the setup on the sheet actually does make sense, but the sentence in Step Four saying that we take six courses per semester is wrong).

Editors. Use them.

Right, so, three Required Courses and one Elective. Got it. For my Required Courses, I'll take Crafts (Nic is used to working with his hands), Conjuration, and Alchemy. For my Elective, I'll take Public Speaking (Nic is a little shy and he figures this would be good for him).

That puts me right over to Step 7: Prodigy. Everyone is a "prodigy" in one class, which gives me a bonus to cast in that class. Neat. I'll pick Crafts.

Step 8: Gifts. Special advantage type thingie. I could have a Familiar, which is odd - the sentence just cuts off. Maybe there was meant to be more.

Oh, what the hell. "French" is a Gift. It means you're cultured and smooth. I just...

Anyway, I'll say Nic has Giant Blood. He's not abnormally large, but he's very strong.

And that's it! There's a lot of space on this sheet that we don't use right away, apparently.

I looked ahead at spellcasting; it's all card based. Fumbles are mentioned again, but at the very end, and it doesn't actually tell you how they work, but they seem to involve discarding a card.

Anyway, I suppose that's it! This game actually looks pretty cool, I'd just have to patch the holes if I were going to run it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Blades in the Dark: When in Doubt, Punch

Last night was Blades in the Dark. Check it.

In our previous session, the scoundrels got involved in a fairly convoluted scheme to take control of a Hive-run tavern. They'd made a deal with Captain Vale of the Bluecoats to raid the place, as the Hive was involved in smuggling of leviathan blood, but Vale wanted to know which of the Leviathan Hunter ship captains was involved. They figured out it was Lady Ankhayat, Siren's former captain, so the question was whether or not Siren wanted to sell the Lady out.

Copper and Siren decide to pay a visit to Lady Ankhayat - maybe she can give them someone to frame, or maybe she'll be willing to pay to avoid this little issue? Siren, it turns out, left the high seas because she didn't want to die out there, and so when they turn up at the Sea Rover, she endures a bit of ribbing from her former crewmates. They get admitted to see Ankhayat, and she is, in a word, unreceptive to Siren's veiled threat of turning her over. The scoundrels decide to leave before it gets ugly - Ankhayat is an Iruvian noble, and the crew is already not exactly on great terms with the Iruvian consulate.

They fall back to the lair and talk to the others. Cage favors just turning Ankhayat in and taking whatever happens afterwards, but One-Eye is a little more circumspect. After all, this is just about a tavern, it's probably not worth pissing off the Leviathan Hunters (who are presently well-disposed to the characters), the Iruvians, and whoever else might be allied with these folks. They decide to abandon this job and come up with something better.

They sell off the leviathan blood they stole for far less than it's worth, but they want to get rid of it quickly and quietly. Then they figure, screw it, let's just go into the tavern, beat everybody up, and say "OURS NOW." Cage first goes there and figures that there's a device inside that's driving ghosts away. One-Eye does some asking around and finds out that a device like that is probably in a room without much foot traffic (since proximity to it would irritate living people, not just ghosts), and it'd be about the size of a briefcase. The crew figures they'll break that first, then with the punching. They bring Marlene, a pugilist and buddy of Copper, with them.

Cut to the action! They're in the back storeroom with the device, and they throw things at it until it sparks and starts making bad noises. One-Eye figures it's about to blow, so they toss it out the door into the bar before it explodes, and then all jump out and start punching (except Cage, who calls any ghosts in the area). Siren points at Karth Orris, the bartender, and claims the bar, but Orris just punches her in the nose. One-Eye drops him with a dart, and reasserts their claim as ghosts start possessing patrons.

The crew punches ghosts out of people, and things calm down...but then Captain Vale and the Bluecoats show up to arrest everyone. The crew bribes their way out of the situation, and sets to cleaning out and redecorating their new tavern.

See? You can do it all manipulate-and-skullduggery, or you can just punch things until they're yours.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Chill: Happy Halloween!

Sunday we finished a Chill case. Read on!

Last time, the envoys were at the Bliss' house, taking on a very spooky ghost. This time (with a slight retcon to have Blake back at the hospital with the family, since his player couldn't make it), we start off with everyone dealing with the spiders and other supernatural horror.

Jordan, thinking quickly, uses her Line of Defense discipline to ward the room, driving June (the ghost) out. This allows the envoys to talk things over a bit, and has the effect of letting their electronics work (June had shut them off). They decide that they need to lure her away from the house - she doesn't want Giles anymore, now that she's remember her own son's name, and that'll prevent further damage to the house. The envoys do a little research, and Jennifer figures out that there's an address in downtown Boise where June got arrested - it's a vacant building. It's a place she knows, and no one should be there. That's the best they've got.

They decide to try and lure her there and show her footage of kids trick-or-treating; maybe that'll be enough? They talk it over some more and realize that while they probably don't have a shot at talking to June's widower, they might be able to get information out of the grandparents. Barry (that is, June's husband) has family that live just out of town, so Mohammed and Jennifer decide to head out there.

They leave the house, and June slams Mohammed up against the wall. Willa comes out as well (since she can see the ghost), and explains that they have a possible line on Joey, but they need to go check it out. June agrees; Mohammed and Jennifer can go, but if they aren't back by sundown (about 90 minutes), she'll kill everyone in the house.

Mohammed and Jennifer get out to the grandparents' place and talk their way in. They decide on the very risky move of telling them the truth, and Mohammed makes use of his Telepathic Empathy discipline. The grandparents aren't quite sure what to make of the envoys' claims that June's spirit isn't resting, but the envoys are very clear that they don't want money, and they claim that Joey (June's son) might be in danger. Finally, the grandparents allow them to borrow a photograph taken last year - Joey trick-or-treating in a Spider-Man costume.

Meanwhile, Beth Anne and Jordan leave the house, and Jordan gets likewise slammed against a wall. They manage to talk their way past June and leave the house, going to buy a wall projector (still going with the idea of "trap June at the abandoned building and make her watch trick-or-treating videos"). That leaves Willa alone at the house, in the warded room.

The others get out to the building and case it; it's empty. They buy the projector and Jordan draws a circle, ready to close it and trap June. Willa, as the sun sets, tells June where they're going, and June disappears...just as Janet, Wendy, and Giles pull in.

Janet screams at Willa to leave, and basically refuses to listen to anything she says. Willa doesn't do this for kudos, though, and says that she hopes that Janet never knows why all this was necessary. Wendy, who does not, silently thanks Willa as Willa walks up the driveway and calls an Uber.

The envoys arrive at the building, and June appears, furious, but Jordan manages to close the circle and trap her. June starts wrecking the ceiling and the floor, which would eventually shatter the circle, but Jennifer shows her the photo of Joey, and she stops.

"I bought him that costume," she says. "I bought it at the thrift store. I wanted to get the newer one, but I spent the money on pills."

The envoys assure her that her son is safe, and that she can go. She fades away, disappearing into nothing, and the envoys get the hell out before they get arrested again. Apart from some injury, they're doing pretty well, and Jennifer heads back to Chicago - but says she'll fly back if she's needed.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Character Creation: Epyllion

But wait, you might be thinking, didn't you do an Epyllion character already? Like, three years ago?

Well, the truth is, hypothetical extremely observant reader, that I did, but that was for the ashcan version of the game and I like to do characters for any edition(s) I have. And I wanted to do a game today that would be quick, because I'm running Chill in a few hours but I figured I could try and get caught up a little. So here we go.

The Game: Epyllion: A Dragon Epic
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran a game of Epyllion using the ashcan rules, and I played it at New Mexicon (I think) a couple of years back
Books Required: Just the one.

For those that don't know, Epyllion is a PbtA game in which you play baby dragons ("drakes") who are fighting against the coming Darkness using the power of friendship. And that all sounds very cutesy, but in play it doesn't need to be. Your dragon has a virtue that they admire, and when another character exhibits that virtue, you give them a friendship gem, which you can then use to power your magic.

I actually had a lot of fun running this game and I'd totally be up for doing it again sometime. For now, however, let's make a drake.

First thing, I pick a playbook. There are six in the core book, and then a few more in supplemental material. I actually like one of the ones from the latter, the Elementalist. I feel like doing something a little overtly magical today.

So, I start off with the stuff on the first page (name, look, and colors). There's a choice of names (though nothing says you couldn't make one up). I'm picturing a low-voiced, gruff kind of earthy dragon. I'll name them Froghar.

For look, I pick one adjective from each line. I'll take wooden antlers, moss-covered, muddy snout, club tail, hooves, and large body. Froghar is a dragon of the deep woods and forests. For colors, I'll pick dark green.

Now I pick stats. I start with Charm 0, Courage -1, and Cunning +1, and then I add one to one of them. Hmm. My special move keys off of Cunning, but the miss is actually pretty cool, so I think I'm gonna put my bonus in Courage so I'm not negative there.

For house, I have a choice between Myndoth and Kebros. Pardon me while I read up on these real quick. OK, so Kebros is a house with some redemption issues (a lot of them went bad during the war), while Myndoth is all about preserving and learning secrets. I think I'll go Kebros. Froghar sees the truth - House Kebros never really betrayed Dragonia, even if individual dragons did. The heart of the house is in Dragonia, always has been, and sure, it can be uncaring or elemental, but everything in context.

For virtue, then, I'll pick Confidence. Froghar doesn't see the value in dithering around. Dre would rather just make a decision and stick by it.

Now I pick a move. I get From Chaos, Purpose automatically, and then I can choose one more. I think I want Channel Dragonia's Spirit; it lets my clutch get a quest from the elements and clear Shadow, which is pretty cool.

Normally at this point I would do fellowship, but since it's just me there's no point (sadly).

I picture Froghar as this big, moss-covered, dirty thing, uses to burrowing into hills and bogs and so on. Dris elemental constructs are going to be very wood- and earth-based, and wind up with moss growing on things and little grubs and bugs everywhere.

That's me done, then!

Movie #484: North by Northwest

North by Northwest is a spy thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, Leo G. Carroll, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, and Martin Landau.

Roger Thornhill (Grant) is an ad exec just living his life when he gets mistaken for "George Kaplan," a government agent being hunted by an enemy of state named Vandamm (Mason). He winds up falsely but credibly accused of murdering a diplomat, going on the run, hopping a train, bedding a beautiful woman named Eve (Saint) who happens to be in Vandamm's employ, and getting chased by a crop duster (that's the scene everyone knows).

As it happens, Kaplan doesn't exist - he's a decoy created by the US government to lead Vandamm astray while their actual agent, Eve, gathers intel on him. Since rescuing Thornhill would compromise their operation, their chief, "the Professor" (Carroll) just kinda says "screw it, let him twist," but Thornhill is clever and lucky enough to stay alive until it becomes more useful to use him to pretend to be Kaplan to cement Eve's cover.

So, that right there is a very succinct summary of the movie, and it doesn't touch on the last third of the film (which involves the climactic fight on Mount Rushmore, the MacGuffin, the gun loaded with blanks, or the film's famous ending shot symboling, um, bonin'). It's safe to say, though, that like most Hitchcock films, this movie is tight, not a shot is wasted, and it paved the way for the James Bond franchise in a lot of ways.

The chemistry between Grant and Saint is pretty amazing, but the performance that kinda stood out to me was Martin Landau as Leonard, Vandamm's henchman who makes Eve as a plant. He's loyal and clever, and is obviously not enjoying delivering bad news to his boss. It's a small thing, but I enjoyed that scene very much.

Also of note is Thornhill's weird relationship with his mother (Landis); he takes her along in his initial investigation of "Kaplan" (after he's been kidnapped, forcibly intoxicated, and then manages to escape his assailants), but bribes her to go get a key from Kaplan's hotel. Their relationship is oddly familiar and adversarial, and hints to Thornhill having a kind of roguish side (as does the mention that he can drink with the best of them).

All in all, there's a lot to see here even in what more or less amounts to an action movie, and honestly it kind of puts later spy movies to shame in a lot of ways. I don't want to be one of those "oh, movies were better back in the day" because that's not really what happens (what happens is that good movies stand the test of time no matter when they're made), but it's nice to see a spy thriller that takes its time and is still playful.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Now & Then