Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Feng Shui: The Ape Comes Due

Ooh, momma.

Well, last time, the Dragons got into a fight at the museum and learned that "Leon" was also known as "the Eternal Chameleon," a sorcerer with cults across the junctures dedicated to bringing him back to life if he died. And, it seemed that he and his contemporary cult, the White Serpents, wanted Melody, Celeste's sister, for some nefarious purpose! Spider Feng and her people agreed to lead the Dragons to the White Serpent hideout, but only if they agreed to give them the feng shui site there.

So! The Ascended Ones led them to a skyscraper, and they drove up to the top of the parking structure next to it. But apparently the sorcerers knew they were coming - a women with magical black wings swooped in and blew up the ramp under the Ascended Ones' van, taking them out of the fight (so I don't have to deal with a bunch of NPCS).

Chrys swung the car around facing the butterfy-woman, Celeste bailed and wrapped her whip around the woman's foot. But then windows on the skyscraper next to them opened, and a whole host of sorcerers appeared! Along with them, a man in a business suit with a big gun! One of the sorcerers, with a bladed braid in his hair, leaped down into the midst of the Dragons, while snake people crawled up from the parking garage. The battle was joined.

The fight was long and arduous, but the Dragons were victorious; highlights include:

  • Chrys blowing snake-people apart with Johnny (her pistol). 
  • Victor, the dude in the suit, accidentally vaporizing a bunch of mooks.
  • Bai calling down healing petals to heal up his comrades.
  • Black Butterfly utterly failing to harm Bai with magic.
  • Jun Ji, the dude with the blade-braid, coming really close to slicing off Bai's face, only to miss when he Staved Off the Monkey.
  • Black Butterfly's magic shredding Bai's staff.
  • Celeste parkour-ing her way up into the building and wrapping her whip around Victor's neck, whereupon Tang appeared behind him and shoved him out the window.
They interrogated Victor, and he (eventually) revealed that Melody was in the building, but that the Eternal Chameleon would be waiting for them. Then he uncoiled the whip and fell to his death. 

The Dragons went into the elevator to the penthouse, searching for Leon, and hoo-boy, they found him. The elevator opened, and they found a horde of armed security (including a hopping vampire and a badass with two pistols), Leon casting a spell on Melody as she lay bound in a summoning pit, and Thrill Kill Mandrill! "Kill them!" shrieked Leon, and the battle was, again, joined!

Celeste charged out, gunning down mooks, and made for Leon. Thrill Kill swung on a chandelier and fired into the elevator, wounding some of the Dragons, but they eventually made it out and started fighting. Thrill Kill focused mostly on Wu Tang, predictably, and the two pounded on each other with parking meters and huge ape-fists. Chrys suffered a bite from the vampire, but eventually blew a big hole in it with Johnny and Bai smashed his fist into it and ripped out its spine. Bai also set Leon's robes on fire (after pretty much everyone got at least one good hit in), and then Celeste shot him, downing him...but is Leon immortal? Are his methods supernatural?

NO TIME TO WORRY ABOUT THAT! Thrill Kill was still in the room, the mooks were around and occasionally dangerous, and Linda, the security op, was taking shot (and mostly missing). Tang finally teleported over the ape and dropped the hammer on him (by "hammer" I mean "parking meter"), and wounded him. Thrill Kill charged, and pounded the ground. BOXCARS.

He pounded the ground, and his missed, but he hit the summoning circle. Magic flared up, and dragged Linda (on the edge of the circle) down into the Netherrealm. He traded blows with Tang, and then turned to attack the others. Tang, behind him, used Push to throw him out of the window, and Thrill Kill fell many stories, landing on the pavement like a sack of chunk beef soup, and the parking meter landed next to him, ticking over to EXPIRED. 

Back in the room, the mooks gave up. Celeste was bloodied, but unbowed, and Melody was safe. She's joined up with these idiots because they'd promised to teach her magic. "Welcome to the Chi War," said Chrys.

Wu Tang looked out the window at his fallen foe...and then collapsed, dead, his skull crushed by Thrill Kill's relentless assault. 

The Dragons took his body back to the Future juncture for a funeral pyre, and of course Chrys had to stay in bed a few weeks eating sticky rice to clear out the contagion from the vampire. The Dragons are resting. The end of their journey is near, and with the magical knowledge they've gained from Melody about the White Serpents, they can, perhaps, find the final vision in the Ancient juncture and end this war.

We shall see.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Character Creation: Jadepunk: Tales from Kausao City

Well, I had grandiose plans for making a character for a game closer to the top of my list, but then I started reading a bunch of PDFs of D&D clones and kinda went "fuck it." So instead:

The Game: Jadepunk: Tales from Kausao City
The Publisher: Reroll Productions
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game, but I've played and run a lot of Fate.
Books Required: Just the one, as far as I can tell. I don't think you need Fate Accelerated, but I have it if I do need it.

So, I read this book on the plane back form New York. It's a cool martial-arts/wuxia/sword and sorcery kind of thing. I think you could do Man with the Irons Fists with it, but it takes itself a little more seriously than Feng Shui. It's actually kind of a cool setting; if I ever did run it, I think I'd pick up one or two of the sourcebooks, which is saying something (I almost never buy sourcebooks anymore).

Anyway, the book starts off with a foreword by +Bruce Baugh noting that many games don't ask players to consider how moral their characters are, which I kinda disagree with. My experience has been that a lot of games do ask that, but comparatively few make it part of the mechanics, and of those, few integrate mechanics and morality well.

In any case, I need to start off with a concept that will give way to Aspects. Since the characters in Jadepunk are, of necessity, rebelling against the violent government, I need to think about my character's reason for fighting back. I want to take inspiration from the three secret masters in Kung Fu Hustle, men who are expert combatants and come out of retirement only to fight on behalf of others.

My character is from Tuyang (pardon my lack of an accent mark). He served in the military and did his time out in the outskirts of nowhere, where he discovered that the "bands of marauders" were just as often nomadic Naramel tribes just looking to survive. He retired to Kausao City and opened a bakery (everyone loves cake), and for the most part, could live with just watching the world go by.

That's a good start, and it's enough to give me my Portrayal Aspect: Secretly Badass Baker. I think it also gives me a Background Aspect: Retired Tuyang Military.

Next is Inciting Incident, or why I decided to rebel. My character was a good soldier, followed orders, and so on. He was always a believer in the rule of law; yes, soldiers broke the law and violated their oaths, but there were military tribunals for that. All in all, justice will out. Except then he saw that those in power don't respect the law; The Council Forced People From their Homes. Soldiers came and evicted a whole block by force, and my character stood up in court to argue their case. The judge, clearly bribed, came down in favor of the Council.

So, with that in mind, my next Aspect is my Belief. I think I'll phrase this as Justice is Blind, and Must be Led. He used to believe that justice always found its own way, but clearly that isn't the case. Finally, I get a Trouble Aspect. I would take "Reluctant Whatever," but honestly the interesting part of that story after the hero decides "yeah, I'm in this," so I'll take Hero of the Dispossessed. His bake shop is well-known, and his reputation as someone who'll stand up for the common folk is spreading, which actually isn't good.

Now I do Professions, which are basically what this variant calls Approaches. I've got six to worry about, and I get Good, Fair, Fair, Average, Average, Mediocre to throw around.

Well, I think it's in concept to take Fighter at Good (there's no Baker Profession, after all). I'll put Scholar at Fair (he managed to make a decent showing as a lawyer), and I'll put Explorer as the other one. I'll put Scoundrel and Engineer at Average, and that leaves Aristocrat as Mediocre. Makes sense.

Next is Assets, which are like stunts, but somehow a little more narrow in scope. I can take Allies, Devices, or Techniques. Hmm. I'd like to take the bake shop as an Asset, can I do that? Doesn't seem like it (I could spin it as an Ally, but eh). I'll take a Technique, though. I want a fighting style.

Techniques have to key off one of my Assets; the obvious choice is my Background one. So let's say that my character learned the Tuyang Army Style. It focuses on protecting allies, hard strikes to take down foes, and supporting comrades. My Technique Assets can be different attacks within that style, should I be so inclined.

I'll first take on called Clear the Way. I get a +2 to Fighter when Creating an Advantage for a comrade, but one after we've already been in one fight together (have to have time to learn their style). That only costs me one refresh, because one gives me two features (Focus twice) and a flaw (Situational).

For another, I'll take Technique. I want to be able to whoop ass. Very simple, just +2 to Fighter when outnumbered. Call it Tuyang Army Style.

And then do I wish to have a Jade sword or something? I think I do not. I think that'd be good, actually; it'll leave me 5 Refresh, so I can have a bunch of Fate points at my disposal.

And that's mostly done, except I need a name. There are example names listed for each of the nations, and I like Myon (though around the way it's Myon the Baker).

Night's Black Agents: "Good Guys"

Some musings: One of the reasons I don't like D&D in its purest form is that the characters are, at best, glory-seeking killers. They invade dungeons, kill off whatever life they find, and take whatever is of value. There's an understandable paradigm there (it was good enough to power years of real-world "discovery"), and I'm not ragging on the gaming done during the 70s as the hobby was defining itself at first.

But, I started with Marvel Superheroes. My first RPG was one in which if you killed, you literally lost all your Karma (which did double-duty as XP and a roll-enhancer, so losing it kinda sucked, especially if you'd built up a lot). Killing had consequences, but moreover, it wasn't something the characters did without it being a major thing. In D&D, you killed everything in sight, because it might give you XP, and XP led to leveling up, and leveling up made you better so you could kill more things. (I'm told that in later editions of the game, you can get XP without necessarily killing, and I seem to recall that in earlier editions XP was just as tied to gold as killing monsters, but it's still what the mechanics of the game are built around.)

If you consider the morality of your characters, then no character in D&D should be "Lawful Good." Intrinsic to being "good" should be "respectful of life." Or, put another way, if you were walking home and you passed by, like, a badger den and the badger had for some stupid reason made a nest on top of a bag of money, could you kill the badger and take it? Killing is hard.

I say all this not to judge, but just to call out that old joke about PCs in RPGs being kill-crazy murderhobos. It's a joke that gets a lot of play in Dork Tower, and in games with a combat focus, it's pretty often true. But any game in which the characters commit acts of questionable morality runs the risk of desensitizing itself, which is why I think systems that at least make the players aware of what their actions might mean are good.


Last time on Night's Black Agents, the agents got out of the villa with their lives, but it was a near thing. Now hiding in Florence, they begin a new op looking for a target and a way to get out from under.

First thing: Money. MacAteer contacts a friend, formerly of the IRA, named Sean Christian, and has him wire some money (Sean owes him a favor or two). Hanover moves some money around, so the group is solvent, at least for the time being. Parker contacts her friend Patel in London and has him check on on Sedillo and Koltay; they're doing OK, but Sedillo drops a bit of a bombshell: The thing the agents killed outside the villa wasn't the same kind of master they'd seen before. It was a different, but similar, species, and the poison they'd used wouldn't kill it. It would make its muscles lock up, and thus make it more vulnerable to brute force attacks (like a van), but wouldn't kill one on its own.

The agents ponder this: Is the conspiracy escalating somehow? Is this a response to their actions? Or just something they hadn't seen up to now? Is it the same conspiracy? It must be, they're too closely linked not to be.

The agents dig into Vilmos Hajnal some more. Hanover does some hacking, starting with the ruins of Hi-Klass Escorts and the finances of Rus-Bel Air, and narrow down the areas that Hajnal's organization really wields power. They note, interestingly, that he doesn't have a lot of influence in Russia - he might well be at odds, in some places, with the Russian mob. The agents decide to use that.

Gambone activates an old cover (Ivan Kostov), and contacts an associate of his named Tick - drug mule, krokodil addict, general scumbag. With Hanover's help, he sets up a job for Tick, moving into Budapest and moving in on a human trafficking ring that Hajnal's organization runs.

The agents decide that this is a good start, but a two-pronged attack might be better. Hanover and Parker hack the gibson or whatever and go after Hajnal's finances, making it look like Russian interference. Then they get the hell out of Florence, heading to London, and setting up the safehouse so it looks like the Russians were there.

A couple of days later, in London, they learn on the news that a brothel in Budapest was burned, multiple people were dead, and Tick's head was mounted on an iron fence outside. Gambone sees this, and feels shaken. He's killed people before and Tick was a crook, but it's one thing to whack a guy. It's another to deliver him to vampires. (Ess, meanwhile, sleeps soundly that night: God has his back, he feels.)

The agents discuss their next move. The conspiracy is distracted, Budapest is hot - maybe under the cover of this chaos they can hit the prison? Hanover suggests going to Minsk and looking into Rus-Bel Air more, but no one is very keen on that. In the end, they collect some new darts from Sedillo (and Parker taps her friend Dr. Highbridge to get Sedillo some lab space), and the agents decide to check out the Isle of Man while they're in the area. Financial things keep leading back there; maybe there's something to find. MacAteer has his buddy Snug set them up with a boat and some guns, so they can get off the island quickly if they need to.

They track the trail from the capital city of Douglas to a smaller village called Laxey. They spend the day on bikes as tourists, and their trained eyes note that a house near the seashore that has some enhanced security and recent construction.

Ess and MacAteer knock on the door, MacAteer pretending he fell off his bike and got hurt. A woman answers the door, takes them in, and starts to patch him up, but Ess notes that she's armed and MacAteer realizes that she's trained and strong - plus she has a com in her ear. A flicker of recognition crosses her face...

Hanover is covering the front, Parker is up on a hill covering the back, and Gambone picks the lock at the back of the house, disables the motion detector he finds there, and hides in the kitchen. A black car starts heading down the road, and Parker signals to Ess that trouble is incoming.

Ess disarms the woman, and MacAteer socks her in the jaw, stunning her long enough for Ess to immobilize her. Two men with machine pistols get out of the car; Parker shoots one of them dead and then forces the other to drop his gun (Gambone takes him prisoner). The agents have to move quickly (people around here aren't used to gunshots, but surely someone heard). They load the woman and the surviving security man into the car, put the body in the trunk, and Hanover and Gambone search the house.

Hanover takes a laptop from the woman's downstairs room, but Gambone finds something upstairs that no one expected: Bugarcic, the curator of the Tesla museum in Belgrade. The agents had figured he went to the USA, but here he is. They take him prisoner as well, head for the seaside, get in the boat, and get the hell off the island.

Next time: Interrogation.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Movie #397: The Man with the Iron Fists

The Man with the Iron Fists is martial-arts action movie starring (and directed by) RZA, with Russel Crowe, Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, Rick Yune, Dave Bautisa, Jamie Chung, and Daniel Wu.

In ancient China, the Blacksmith (RZA) works in Jungle City, a crime-ridden district. He mostly makes weapons for the various clans that fight it out all kung-fu style there. In the meanwhile, he saves up money to buy his lover, Lady Silk (Chung) out from her contract to Madame Blossom (Liu), the owner of the local brothel.

Yeah, strap in. It gets worse.

A shipment of gold is coming through town, and the imperial forces of planet Spaceball have contracted with the Lion Clan to protect, but the second-in-command, Silver Lion (Mann) betrays his master Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen) and steals it. Word of this reaches Gold Lion's son, Zen Yi, the X-Blade (Yune, and no, I'm not making that name up), and he returns to Jungle City to avenge his father.

And into all this is Jack Knife (Crowe), a British agent and representative of the emperor, checking on the gold. The Lion Clan brings in Brass Body (Bautisa), a magical fighter-dude who can literally become living brass, and everyone fights in magical kung-fu glory. Eventually the bad guys chop off the Blacksmith's arms, but with the others' help he forges the titular iron fists, using his chi or some shit to manipulate them like normal hands.

So, I'm gonna own it right away: This movie is problematic as shit in places. It treats women terribly; sure, the ladies under Blossom's command are kind of badass, but they wind up getting killed anyway, including Lady Silk. Actually, she gets raped (by Brass Body) and killed (by Brass Body), but does wind up injuring him enough that the Blacksmith can beat him. Yeah, that's not really good enough (Blossom dies, too, for what it's worth).

The other overriding issue is that RZA can't act his way out of a wet paper bag. He's flat as old cardboard, and his narration, while it has some good lines ("these motherfuckers had a Gatling gun, and more bullets than China has rice") is so mumbly and uninspired that it kind of detracts from the movie.

But for all that? I love this movie. I have no idea if RZA ever played Feng Shui, but it sure feels like he did. It's over the top and utterly ridiculous, set to a soundtrack of Wu Tang and associated acts, and includes some really fun fight choreography. Russel Crowe is especially fun to watch, playing Jack Knife with drugged-out, oversexed bliss.

I haven't yet been brave enough to check out the sequel, which I'm reliably informed was pretty terrible, but if you can look past the acting and some of the uncomfortable bits of the script, check this out.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Mary Poppins

Friday, March 24, 2017

Character Creation: Belly of the Beast

I backed this game on Kickstarter, and it's kind of a rarity inasmuch as...OK, I'm a bit of an RPG junkie. My usual criteria for backing a game on KS or buying it at a con (which is where I do much of my RPG shopping) is "is it a table-top RPG" and "is it not D&D."

Anyway, Belly of Beast was a rarity inasmuch as the premise hooked me and got me excited, rather than just tripping me "this is an RPG and therefore might be interesting as research" reflex. I read it on my trip to New York recently, and I want to run it. So, I'm gonna make me a character.

The Game: Belly of the Beast
The Publisher: Sigil Stone Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it, looks pretty simple, system-wise.
Books Required: Just the one.

Belly of the Beast is a game in which you play folks trying to eke out a life in the belly of a monster that ate the world. It smashed into the world as an asteroid, hatched, and started gulping down cities. The monster is big enough that it has a whole ecosystem, and three generations of people have lived and died since it started its feast.

The game is basically survival horror, but it's really damn focused, which I enjoy. So let's get to it.

Step one is, of course, character concept. I want to create an explorer - or rather, a forager, but one who specializes in getting into hard-to-reach places. So he's good at climbing up fleshy mountains (and, like, normal ones that have been swallowed), diving into subterranean lakes, and otherwise dealing with harsh environments. He's not great with people and social situations, though - he mostly grew up on his own and he's lousy as a trader or negotiator. (Note that this doesn't mean he doesn't like people, because lone-wolf characters tend to be kind of boring and hard to play with, and you know how I feel about misanthropy. Here, +Kate Bullock is very smart, go see what she has to say on the subject.)

Anyway, my character's name is Speet. That's not his "real" name (he doesn't really have one), but when he was about 13 and he approached someone to offer to work for them, he froze up, and the dude kept saying "speak!" Speet finally just repeated that, but his speech is a bit underdeveloped and he fronted the velar /k/ sound at the end of the word (why he didn't simplify the /sp/ blend is a different question).

Now I pick two Instincts that drive Speet, and each one gives me a maneuver. And, +Ben had these Instincts and maneuvers printed on the character sheet, god bless 'im. I'll pick Curiosity and Fear. For my maneuvers, I think I'll be able to spend 1D to identify any potential danger in a scene, and to spend 1D to identify something immediately useful. That's gonna mean I'd spend a lot of my dice on that stuff, but that's fine, you get them back pretty quickly, it looks like.

Next up, I define a Specialty. Bileborn (I'm hardy because I was born in the Evergut) and Forager (I can, like, forage good) both make sense, but I think it's closer to concept to take Bileborn and make up the difference with Skills.

Speaking of which, Skills are next. I can pick one of several arrays that gives me a certain number of ranks in Skills. I'll stick to my usual preference and take Specialized, so I get 1 Brilliant (I succeed on a 3 or better), 3 Capable (4 or better), 1 Acceptable (5+) and 3 Rotten (only succeeds on a 6).

Well, I'll put my Rottens in Influence, Lore, and Stealth. I know, I know, Stealth? But this guy's a climber and an explorer, being stealthy isn't what he's good at. I'll put Might on my Acceptable. For my Capables, I'll take Awareness, Cunning, and Coordination, which leaves Resolve as my Brilliant. Speet can power through almost anything; it's how he's lived this long.

And then I get a Talent, which is more free-form; it's what I do that makes me awesome. Actually, one of the examples is "Terrain Master," and I really like that.

Finally, Equipment. I don't like to shop, but this is quick. Speet needs a dagger, a backpack, climbing pitons, rope, and a pouch of herbs around his neck. That'll do it.

I would do starting Bonds, but that requires a group and it's just me, so that's me done!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie #396: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an action/spy movie based on the TV show of the same name, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, and Sylvester Groth.

In the height of the Cold War, an American CIA agent named Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and a Russian KGB agent named Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) are forced to team to save the world. Wacky hijinks ensue.

More specifically, after nearly killing each other trying to obtain an asset - Gaby (Vikander), the daughter of a missing nuclear scientist (Christian Berkel) - they wind up assigned to partner up to find said scientist before he is forced to show some fascists how to enrich uranium. She does so by tracking down her uncle Rudi (Groth) and pretending she's engaged to Kuryakin, while Solo cozies up to/seduces the head of the fascist family business (Debicki).

The show has some twists and turns; it turns out Rudi's a Nazi and a torturer, and Gaby is working for British intelligence under a chap named Waverly (Grant), but in the end, the bad guys get blown up, Kuryakin and Solo don't shoot each other, and Waverly recruits them all for a new intelligence outfit: UNCLE.

I've watched a bit of the Man from UNCLE TV show, and I think this is a nice "origin story" for it. Sure, the show wasn't nearly so violent, and Kuyakin (David McCallum on TV) wasn't, like, prone to psychotic breaks, but Cavill's performance as the smooth, sophisticated Solo is perfect. I like the addition of Vikander as Gaby, and I really wish we'd get a sequel so we could a) see them as a team and b) see Gaby doing badass car things some more. (Sadly, a sequel doesn't seem in the offing.) The chemistry between the cast is present, the performances generally are good, and casting Grant as Waverly was pretty genius.

In an example of "that's awesome but arrgh," the end credits show files on each of the principles, and we learn, for instance, that Waverly was an opium addict and Gaby trained as a ballet dancer. I'm not saying they should have worked in a scene where she dances or Waverly tokes up, just that a sequel would be really cool.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: The Man with the Iron Fists

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Game Prep: Something New

Fun fact: The words "something new" conjure up either a line from the Amazing Stories episode "Family Dog" ("something new!" "What's that?" "A recipe I found in Suburban Paradise magazine! Tater pops and cheese whip!") or this song by Hozier. But anyway, I'm gonna take some game notes and you should stay out if you're playing in these games!