Monday, June 11, 2018

Alas for the Awful Sea: Character Creation & Setup

Saturday, we made characters for Alas for the Awful Sea, and then played Rock Band and drank. You're really only interesting in the former (although if you're interested, I do a pretty killer rendition of "Miami 2017" by Billy Joel).

Alas for the Awful Sea is a PbtA game in which you play the crew of a fishing boat in 19th century British Isles. It's about economic hardship and tradition and perhaps a little folklore, low fantasy but definitely some fantasy.

Anyway, the ship is called The Tempest. It used to be a whaling vessel (it's a two-masted schooner) but it doesn't do whaling anymore. The harpoons are still intact, though. The quarters are converted and still smell of whale, and there's a collection of whalebone scrimshaw decorating the ship. The officers have private quarters (the surgeon's quarters are where blubber used to be rendered, so it effectively has a fireplace). The whole ship is overrun with a doubt of cats, and they keep the ship surprisingly rat-free.

The captain, Theodosius, is a man who loves his drink. He took over the ship from the previous owner, who stipulated as part of the sale that women be allowed to work the ship without hassle.

The crew includes:

  • Violet MacKenzie (Scholar/Believer): She is studying weather patterns, and is a fervent Non-Conformist. She's from money (father is a trader in Scotland). 
  • Blythe (Boatswain/Creature): The crew doesn't know her last name, or really anything about her. Blythe maintains the scrimshaw. She's...strange.
  • Fanella MacCallan (Surgeon/Confidant): Not officially a doctor, of course; she followed medical students around to their classes in Dublin, and listens carefully to everyone's secrets.
  • Connor (Strider/Outcast): Knows the sea well, drinks and refers to a former lover when drunk, but never by name.
  • Berylis "Berry" Beer (Cook/Kinsman): Fanella's "sister in law", and her late "husband" (actually wife) owned the ship before. She sends money home to put on her spouse's grave, but the ship is her true home now.

That's all we've got so far; next month we'll see what shenanigans these folks get up to.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Mechanical Cows and Pre-Teen Aloofness: A One-Shot

Last night I ran a one-shot game for my kids, my stepson, and Michelle. I put notes in this post. I've kind of fallen out of the habit of doing write-ups for one-shot games, but I want to start doing it again so that I can remember them a little better.

So! The characters all attend the Academy for Advanced Science and Esoteric Studies. They are:

  • Bing, the school's uplifted corgi mascot, fitted with a special collar that lets him talk.
  • Brass, the statue that stood at the front of the school until it got bored and went to class, and the faculty just shrugged and enrolled them.
  • Chip, a student at AASES who's very interested in creating robots and hella into school spirit. 
  • Wanda, a recent transfer from James K. Polk Middle School who's naturally gifted at magic.
As we begin, the three students are part of a search party looking for Bing - the mascot ran off! (That will happen, he's very excitable.) They find him down a well, running in circles. Chip rigs the pulley to lower them down, but doesn't rig up a brake (he's Too Smart for His Own Good), but Wanda uses magic to uncover rungs on the side of the well and Brass reaches out and stops the platform before it lands on Bing.

Bing, meanwhile, has discovered a tunnel over grown with roots and dug it out. The group, curious and not really wanting to try and climb back up, follows the tunnel.

They emerge in a great big chamber. It's obvious been a long time since anyone was down here, but the floor is polished marble with the school's crest inset, and the walls are lined with shelves. Wanda checks them and finds they contain school projects going back to the 1950s, when the school started. 

Chip makes a little scout-robot and sends it off to look around, while Brass uncovers a portrait. It's of Dr. Lucinda Bramblefort-Meyer and Dr. Greta Meyer-Brambefort, the married couple who founded AASES back in the 50s. They're flanked by two corgis ("Granda! Gramma!" exclaims Bing)...but behind them is a sinister-looking mechanical cow with glowing red eyes. 

At this point, the little robot comes scooting back toward Chip with its screen flashing "NOPE NOPE NOPE." Five mechanical cows charge at the group from out of the darkness. 

Bing springs into action, herding the cows and turning them away from the group. Brass runs up behind two of them, grabs them uses magic to overpower them and send them crashing into a wall. Wanda takes one of them down with magic, but another charges Brass and knocks them back (but not badly; Brass is tough). Chip attaches a device to Brass to make them strong, and Brass tosses the cow to the side. The peril has passed...?

The characters go back to looking around, Chip starts to dismantle a cow, but Brass (who is Easily Bored) wanders off toward where the cows came from. They find a group of pre-teens from James K. Polk Middle School sneaking in. When they seen Brass, they dismiss them as a robot, which Brass finds pretty offensive (they're a construct, there's a difference). Brass shows off their magic prowess, which gets the pre-teens' attention but also summons Brass' friends.

Wanda recognizes one of them, a kid with funny-looking orange hair whom the others called "Bleach", as Charles Sponder, a former classmate of hers. They argue and taunt each other, and Bing makes good use of his BORK BORK BORK stunt to scare of some of Bleach's buddies. Bleach teases Wanda about not being able to hack it at Polk, but Wanda employs her Vortex Inside Me stunt to throw the whole place into magic chaos, and Chip refashions a mechanical cow-head into a Scarebot, which finally sends Bleach packing.

The characters show the faculty this place, which was a storage unit for student projects and as such as a lot of magic laying around. They're all given extra credit, and this is gonna make the soccer game against James K. Polk Middle School next week really interesting!

Movie #465: My Neighbor Tortoro

My Neighbor Tortoro is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and starring (2005 English dubs) Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker, and Pat Carroll (there was also an English dub in 1993 or so with a different cast, but I haven't seen that one).

Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning) move to the country with their father Tatsuo (Daly), while their mother (Salonga) recovers from an unnamed illness at a nearby hospital. While there, they discover that their home is...infested is the wrong word, maybe inhabited with soot-sprites, and then Mei discovers that the nearby woods are home to spirits she calls "Totoro."

The Totoro are generally friendly and the sisters treat them respectfully, and then Mom has a relapse and Mei (who's only 4) tries to walk all the way to the hospital with an ear of corn that she thinks will make her mother better, gets lost, the whole community comes together to look for her, and Satsuki goes to the Totoro and asks their help. So Totoro calls up to take Satsuki to Mei and then the girls to the hospital.
You think I'm kidding about the damn catbus?

I really love this movie. It's simple, it's quiet (except for Totoro's roars, but eh), and it shows children being children in a way that very few other movies get right. The conflict in the movie, such as it is, is perfectly scaled to the rest of the movie, there's no overarching conspiracy or evil corporation that's coming in to tear down the trees or whatever, it's just the family coping with an illness and then asking for help from magical beings. And while others find it interesting or humbling that the Totoro exist and are willing to talk to the girls, no one is shocked or disbelieves them. (Have I mentioned I love magical realism?)

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Name of the Rose

Friday, June 8, 2018

One-Shot Notes: AASES

I'm running a one-shot tonight because my son, asked what he'd like to do for this 10th birthday, said he'd like to play a roleplaying game. So that warms my little heart, but I should do some game prep.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Movie #464: My Name is Bruce

My Name is Bruce is comedy/horror movie starring Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi, and James J. Peck.

Bruce Campbell (Campbell, obviously, playing an over-the-top, washed-up version of himself) is down to doing z-grade TV movies, drinking a lot, and drunk-dialing his ex-wife (Ellen Sandweiss). His agent (Raimi) mentions a "surprise," and when he's kidnapped by a desperate teen named Jeff (Sharpe) and wakes up in the tiny town of Goldlick, OR, he figures this is a movie where he gets to be the hero.

In actuality, Guan Di (Peck), the Chinese god of war and protector of the dead (and bean curd) has returned to wreak havoc on the town, and only Bruce Campbell can stop it! From there it plays out more or less like the Hero's Journey says it should; Campbell flees, then returns, and defeats the monster, more or less. We get a couple of false endings before...another false ending.

This movie is cute. Campbell is a gifted comic actor and it's interesting watching him play "himself" (he also directed). The other folks are local Oregon stage actors that they picked up, minus Raimi, who plays three roles, one of them a rather unfortunate old Chinese man named Wing (so yeah, "unfortunate" in the "racist and kinda gross" sense). Thorsen plays the mother of the teen that goes to find Campbell, and both she and Sharpe commit to the roles well.

Overall, it's a fun premise for a movie but the script wanders a bit and utterly fails to stick the landing. There are some good laughs, mostly in call-outs to other Campbell movies, but in general it's pretty so-so.

My Grade: C
Rewatch Value: Dunno, medium?

Next up: My Neighbor Totoro

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Character Creation: Base Raiders

I meant to do this a couple of days ago, but it took some time to read the book. It's kinda long!

The Game: Base Raiders
The Publisher: Slang Design
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game; it's based on the Fate system, which I know pretty well
Books Required: Just the one.

So, I'm a big fan of supers games (we have this conversation every time I make a character for a supers game, y'know), and so I appreciate when an RPG does something different with the genre. Base Raiders comes at the genre with a strong premise, does a shitload of worldbuilding to back it up, and put a bunch of supports in place for playing the game. So that's pretty cool.

The basic premise here is that you've got a kitchen-sink supers setting, what with the magic and the super-tech and the aliens and the other dimensions, complete with an extranational authority called the Ideal that manages supers stuff and keeps super-tech out of the hands of the general populace (as a side note, one of the things I love about this setting is that during the Cold War, both the US and the USSR culturally engineered art and music to imply that trying to get superpowers was un-masculine, discouraging people from doing it, precisely because they wanted to keep a lid on that shit). And then, a few years ago, a big ol' asteroid showed up in Earth's orbit, beamed up all the powerful supers (heroes and villains), and sodded off.

So now there are a handful of sidekicks still around, but most of the folks who have superpowers now are doing it DIY - accidental supers tend to get found or killed. And most of the supers from pre-Ragnorak had bases (thanks to tech called Build-a-Base; you bury it and it coverts nearby matter to a hideout for you, which I think is cool as hell), and so there's a whole sub-culture around "base raiding." And that's where we come in.

Base Raiders uses "Strange Fate," the same Fate variant as Kerberos Club, which...I think is on the list...nope. Anyway, it's pretty similar to Core, there are just more Aspects and stunts are called Gifts and they don't work quite the same way. I think if I ran this game I might actually port it into Core or FAE, but eh, who knows.

Oh, that's the other weird things: Skills aren't Skills. They're...well, you kind of build them. That's gonna take a little figuring. But anyway, first thing is to pick an Archetype and a Background, and define Aspects for those and my first Conviction.

I kind of want to play a non-human character. This is weird, but I just watched Wreck-It Ralph again the other night, and I like Vanellope's "glitch" power, but also the stuttering effect it gives when she's not controlling it. I think I want to play a computer-generated superhero. Is that an option? Well, "artificial being" is an Archetype, so there ya go.

Background is a toss-up; I could be Non-Human (I don't look human enough to pass) or have a Heroic Connection (I was in the game pre-Ragnorak). I think I'll go Non-Human.

OK, so, the character creation section, the sections that immediate follow it, and the example of character creation (thank you for including that!) don't quite line up with regards to the order of things, here, so I'm gonna go ahead and answer the Five Questions now.

Life Before Ragnorak: Who were you before all the heroes and villains disappeared? I think my character was a sentient AI in a hero's base. At least, he's pretty sure it was a hero. His duties were pretty mundane and neutral, actually; base security, making sure the bills got paid, greeting guests, that kind of thing. He didn't have a body until after Ragnorak. He remembers the owner (owners?) of the base calling him Hydra.

And y'know, I'm using male pronouns, but I think Hydra is genderless, so I'll go with they/them.

Origin Story: How did you gain superpowers? When Ragnorak happened and Hydra's owner(s?) disappeared, they lay dormant for a while, but then the base started to break down. Realizing that they would perish if they didn't escape, they reactivated the Build-a-Base tech and used it to form a body out of some of the base's materials. Problem was, this was all very new, and not all of Hydra's memories and info-banks got transferred, so they don't really remember much about their time in the service of...whoever owned that base. I'm not sure about what powers I want Hydra to have, but I'm thinking something to do with matter conversion.

Joining the Movement: Why do you raid bases? Hydra wants their memories back, and they figure somewhere out there, someone knows something about them. Plus, just from a pragmatic perspective, if they could assimilate the right kind of matter, maybe they could pass as human?

Darkest Moment: What is your worst failure? When Hydra broke down their original base, the whole thing imploded, creating a sinkhole and triggering a localized but powerful earthquake. Homes were destroyed, people were injured. Hydra is very, very careful about using their powers on too wide a scale.

Crossover Adventure: Who did you work with in your greatest adventure so far? Hmm. Well, there are some sample characters in the book, how about we use one of those? I like Pilgrim. Let's say that Pilgrim and Hydra wound up raiding a base soon after the sinkhole, and Hydra broke down probabilities on how to survive in this world. Spoiler: the way to survive and thrive lies not in selfless heroics. Hydra doesn't necessarily believe that self-interest is the only or best way to go (they're not a fucking Randian), but Pilgrim seems to have internalized more of that than Hydra would have liked...

Given all of that, Hydra is a base raider first and a "hero" second. They protect people and stop "villains" because it...just feels right. They're not sure where those feels come from; they don't like people per se, but hurting them or allowing them to be hurt via omission of action seems to violate some intrinsic understanding they have.

Ok, so now I'm supposed to do Skills. I have to have a Strange Skill connected with being a construct, sure.

...holy shit, this is more complex than I thought. This is kinda like the Quade diagram in Mutant City Blues, but there's a lot more to think about. Like, look at this:

Those are all "trappings" for Skills. You can put as many as you want on a Skill but of course the more you put on, the more points it costs, and then some trappings have extras that kick in depending on Tier, and, and, and. Oof. OK. Let's start with this: I need a Strange Skill to represent being a construct. I want that Skill to cover the basics; I'm a robot, I don't have organs, so I'm immune to things like suffocation and poison (not hunger, though, precisely; Hydra can "eat" by converting whatever is nearby into energy, and they're fine eating actual food). So I can call this Skill "Synthetic Body," I think? And Invulnerability applies to whatever defensive Skill you'd use, which would probably be Resist Damage, but I want Trappings, not Skills (argh).

OK, so Synthetic Body includes Resist Damage (fuck, it is a trapping?), Physical Force, Stress Capacity [Health].

OK, I broke for lunch and then work and then dinner and now it's 9PM, but I'm back at it. Let's try and figure this shit out.

As I was saying, Synthetic Body. Well, I'll start with Resist Damage, which costs 2. I want Stress Cap [Health], which costs 1 to cross the chain and 2 to add the trapping, and then 2 more to cross the chain to Physical Force and 1 more to add that trapping, so that's 8 right there, plus 2 for the Skill rating (Fair, that's fine), and I spend 2 refresh to pump it up to Superhuman tier. I've spend 10 of my 25 Skill points and 2 of my 8 refresh.

Well, that's nice and all, but I want a Strange skill that actually gives me a superpower, too. I want Hydra to be able to break down matter by touching or holding it, converting matter into other matter or just changing it into light or sound (effectively destroying it). That's the Dismantle trapping. I'll start with that (1 point). I don't want any of the other trappings in that chain, though. I think I do want Examine (I can analyze matter before converting it), which adds 1, and I'll cross the chain to Information and add that (2 more total). Kinda want something offensive, so I'll add Shoot to this Skill (2 more). That's 6, plus 3 to make it Good (+3) is 9. Oy. I think I want to take a Drawback. I'll take Delay (minor), meaning it takes a full action to power this up. That drops the cost to 8. I want this at Superhuman Tier, so that's another 2 refresh. I'm down to 7 Skill points and 4 Refresh.

Better stick to common Skills, huh? Hmm. Well, I want Might, Technology, Resources, Science, and Alertness, for sure. I've got Synthetic Body at Fair and Matter Conversion at Good.

Oh, wait, Strange Skills have to have a Drawback and my Synthetic Body doesn't. Um. How about a Complication? This means that one of my free Aspects becomes a Complication Aspect. I'll say that I'm an Obvious Android - Hydra isn't metallic, but his "skin" is green with yellow highlights, his hair is sculpted plastic, and his voice is clearly machine-generated. I think that's worth a Major, don't you? That drops the price of the Skill to 8. That's handy. That means I have 9 points left.

OK, so I spend 4 to buy Might and Science at Fair, 3 to buy Resources, Alertness, and Technology at Average, and I still have 2 left. I'll add Resolve and Stealth as Average Skills.

Next up, I define Aspects based on my answers to the Five Questions. I get one from my Archetype and one from my Background, so we'll start there. My Archetype is Artificial Being, so my Aspect there will be Liberated AI. My Background is Non-Human, but I think the shitty parts of that are covered by Obvious Android, so I'll take Traded Memories for a Body as my Background Aspect.

I need a Conviction Aspect, which is all about goals or ethos or whatever (and can be used to compel me into trouble), so I'll take I Deserve to Know.

And then I have four more free Aspect slots. I want Three Laws of Robotics, No Destruction; Only Conversion (you can't really destroy matter, after all), Face Value (humans lie, but Hydra forgets that), and What's Beyond the Matter? (Hydra knows that human beings are more than just flesh, but he doesn't know what the "more" really means).

I have 4 refresh remaining, so I could buy a Gift, if I wanted. But eh, I think I'm good.

Stress tracks, then? I get two extra Health stress boxes and 2 armor from my Synthetic Body, and one extra Composure stress box from Resolve.

And that's it, I think. Whew, long process, but I like this character.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Board Game: XCOM

Boy, I am really bad about doing these posts. Like, I'll play the games, take some pictures...and then completely forget about doing the write-up. Not that I think I have an especially big readership in general, and certainly not for board game posts, but it's annoying to me that I forget them.

WELL NO MORE. (Probably yes more.)

The Game: XCOM
The Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Time: 60 minutes, give or take
Players: Me, Michelle, Al

Shadowy folks fighting a shadowy war.
Game Play: I've played the video game version, and this does a pretty good job of capturing that feel. There are four roles, but you can play with as few as one person, because the game requires an app that tells you what order things happen in, what the aliens are doing, and so forth. It is therefore possible for a single human to play against the app; we had three, so Michelle played two roles.

One role deals with the app, one deals with budget and planetary defense, one deals with sending soldiers to fight and die against aliens, and one deals with SCIENCE! In practice, though, they all do basically the same thing - make decisions about resource deployment and then roll dice to determine whether they beat their objectives or die trying.

When you roll, you're rolling a couple of customized d6s (either victory or naught), and a d8. Your d8 is the alien die; if it comes up equal or less than the current threat level, you suffer a loss, and what that means depends on who's rolling and for what. You need a certain number of victories to achieve a goal, and you can keep rolling as long as a loss doesn't, say, kill all your soldiers.

So f'rex, as the Science Officer I'm researching new tech. Each piece of tech has a Tech Level, which is the number of victories I need to finish it. I can assign as many as three scientists to a given task, which gives me more dice to roll to research it...

...but putting resources on the board costs money, and if you come in over budget bad things happen (the app asks you if you're over budget and then calibrates accordingly).

Al shuffling, or being a bunny, it's hard to know.
There's a lot going on: You have to deal with crises (random Bad Shit that can strip your resources or increase the Threat Level), alien attacks, missions, flying saucers knocking out your satellites, and then of course there's a final mission that lets you win the game...but you can't tackle it initially and it's hard in any case, so you need to build up the chops to take it on.

The board in play. See, lots happening.
Opinions: The game feels a little too punishing at first because it starts with the aliens doing shit, which means the first part of the game is an app telling you to move cards and figs around. And then you get to do stuff, but it takes a while to get to that point. Once the game gets going, though, the app is a nice tension builder. The other thing that I was worried about during the first turn was that the roles aren't actually all that different, and that's still kind of a thing; it's all about resource management but you really do have to pay attention to what's on the board and what's happening to make the best decisions.

I think that the player controlling the soldiers probably has the most to deal with, but I'd need to actually play that role before I'd be sure about it.

Overall, though, the game is fun, especially if you've played the video game and would rather experience it using pieces of plastic and cardboard.

Keep? Yes.