Sunday, May 27, 2018

Character Creation: Undiscovered

Ah, here I am on summer break. Sadly I do have to work the summer sessions, but they don't start until later in June, so I am, for now, free of work-like obligation. I celebrated this first day of summer break by fucking up my back, so I am now sitting at my table with a heating pad braced between me and the chair.

Ain't no party like a gettin' old party 'cause a gettin' old party stops when you die.

Anyway, I'm running Night's Black Agents later, but I have a bit of time now.

The Game: Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure
The Publisher: Eilfin Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: More than I'd like with fantasy heartbreakers, none with this particular one
Books Required: Just the one.

There are really a lot of games like this, games that assume you've only played D&D, but you have played D&D, and set themselves up to compare to D&D. I'll show you what I mean.

See that? It's a skill-based game, not a class based. That sets it apart from other games. It sets it apart from class-based games, which really means, in this context, "Look, we're not D&D." But like, what if I told you that even in (hang on) 2001 when this game came out, there were plenty of games on the market that didn't "base" characters on their capabilities, but rather on their role in the story? Yeah, mind blown. And besides, it's still level-based, which is much bigger indicator (IMO) of how the game works than class vs. skill.

Anydangway. This game takes place in Arkhas, but all I know about it before we get into system stuff is that "monsters lurk there." Um, OK. There's a chapter on the history of Arkhas at the very end of the book, but it starts out in prehistory, I think. I can't imagine there's a lot of compelling setting info; if the setting was interesting they'd lead with it. Presumably this is just another D&D clone (though, of course, it's "skill-based" rather than "class-based."

OK, well, the first thing I do is choose race. One thing I will give this game, the races are kind of interesting. Sure, there are humans (who aren't described as "diverse" or "adaptable" in the initial blurb! Huzzah!) and elves and dwarves, but the dwarves all have a random earth-based superpower and some of the elves are "start elves." That's pretty exciting.

I think, though, that I want to be a duster. Dusters are these weird reptile-people that live in the desert and can turn into a big ol' snake and (depending on subspecies) a drake or an amphiptere (like a winged serpent). That sounds fun, actually, so I'll do that, making me a plains duster.

Wow, there's a lot of shit here. I can turn into a brown grass snake or an amphiptere (see below), I can fly in amphiptere form, though not for very long, I can camouflage myself with a turn of concentration, I can see in the dark, and my eyes are this cool gold color.

So that's all kinda cool. Moving on, I see that races have minimum and maximum values, and that Luck tends to be high for dusters, but Charm is low, so we tend to get charged more for goods and services. That's...weird.

Oh, wait, lemme do height and weight real quick. These folks are pretty short; my character is 4'8". In snake form he's...good lord, height + 2d4 inches? At minimum he's 58" long, which is a pretty big snake. Well, I'll say he's 60", or 5'. That's large. I'm my usual "humanoid" size in amphiptere form, which means I'm pretty small as dragon-things go. Seriously, picture that thing in the illustration but it's not even 5 feet nose to tail. SCREEEK. Aw. So cute.

Anywho. The book tells me I have to roll for age and money randomly, so sure, lemme dice out my dice. My age is 25 +2d10. I roll 10, so I'm 35. Old age is 250 + d100; not sure why I'd need that, but sure. Oof, 8. I guess I'm old at 258? I get 6d6 gold pieces. 17. Yeah, that's my usual dice luck.

OK, so on to Attributes, I guess. Two methods for distributing scores - I can spend 400 points or I can roll 5d10 for each of them. I think, lord help me, I'll do the point distribution thing today rather than trusting luck.

There are 8 Attributes (Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, Spirit, Agility, Dexterity, Charm, and Luck). If I were to split my 400 points evenly I'd get a 50 in each of them, but the mins and maxes probably play into this. Oh, wait, that would be fine, because the mins are down around 20 at the highest and the maxes are 60 at the lowest. But let's say I don't want to do that.

See, one thing about class-less systems that I don't like - they don't give you a sense of how to build characters in a setting with no...real setting. Well, let's assume my little duster guy is somewhat roguish and might want to steal some shit (seems about right for lucky-but-not-charming guy that turn into a snake). I figure that means I want high AGL and DEX, but the rest of it isn't as important.

Let's arrange Attributes this way:

STR 40
END 40
INT 55
SPR 45
AGL 70
DEX 70
CHM 30
LCK 50

That's 400. Now, I get to roll a d10 for each one add a modifier (can be a bonus or a subtraction). OK, then. This ends up with...

STR 41
END 38
INT 56
SPR 42
AGL 74
DEX 75
CHM 27
LCK 45

Well, definitely played to my strengths, there. I'm not real lucky as dusters go, though. I copy my scores onto the sheet and note all the little derived traits (including Life Points, which is half my END plus a d8, which sucks). My Luck score isn't high enough that I get random bonuses, but it's also not low enough that I get random penalties, either, so that's nice.

Some other character bits: I decide I'm left-handed (why not, I'm a snake, seems kinda ssssssinisssster), I become middle-aged at 140, which, like, would never happen in a real game so why bother, I'll take an alignment of -1. That's kinda on the "evil" side, but like, I'm a thief, so I figure I'd err more towards selfish.

Charm ratings guide your personality, with higher ratings leaning more friendly and gregarious and lower ratings leaning more dour. I...have some issues with this, not least of which "that's not how any of this works," but I do think it's nice to have a this rating translate to RPing in some way. Anyway my Charm rating is pretty low, so I'll say my duster is sullen and quiet and...not grouchy, but wary. I think he gets a lot more outgoing in amphiptere form.

I speak Duster, and if I have skill points to cover it, I should learn Common. Grumble grumble stupid language systems in RPGs.

OK, now I get 100 points for Skills. Skills are divided into three groups. Group A (Power Skills) include combat skills but also spells and psionics; I can spend a maximum of 80 points here. Group B (Percentile Skills) are more general Skills, while group C (Enhancers) look more like proficiencies from D&D, I guess? I gotta dig into this a little more.

All right. There are charts, and they're actually pretty easy to follow. Thank goodness for that. I'll just list the shit I want.

Circle Knife (Small weapon) 3: 7 points
Dagger (Throwing Weapon) 3: 7 points
Blind-siding 1: 4 points
Buckler Fighting 2: 3 points
Parrying 2: 4 points
Rolling 2: 2 points
Common 5: 5 points
Balance 3: 3 points
Concealing 4: 4 points
Quick Hands 3: 6 points
Picking Locks 3: 6 points
Shadow Walking 3: 4 points
Hiding 3: 4 points
Stealth 4: 10 points
Scaling Walls 3: 6 points
Information Gathering 4: 4 points
Direction Knowledge 4: 4 points
Observation 4: 4 points
Weapons Training 3 points
Dodging 3 points
Poison 1: 7 points

OK, and normally I would figure out scores for all these things, but like...I don't wanna. I also don't want to shop. I know I want a circle knife and a couple of throwing daggers, a buckler and some loose-fitting robes and a pack (I have to get nekkid to take on snake form, so I need clothes that I can shuck easily).

I need a name. No idea about how the duster language works (see, this is the kind of thing I'd include in a fantasy game). Without delving too deep into phonology, I'll name him Sayth (that last sound is voiced; the /th/ is the sound from "the" not "breath").

Sayth is smart, but not smart for a duster. He's pretty gifted at stealing shit, though, and he's developing his ability to gather info and choose targets. He hooked up with another duster (a desert duster) for a while who taught him poisons, but he hasn't made a lot of study of it because he thinks he'd rather be a thief than an assassin. Of course, you go where the money is, right?

When Sayth takes his amphiptere form, he's bright and beautiful and loud and cheerful, and flies and swoops and glides. In duster and snake form, he's quiet and paranoid and grouchy. He's not sure what makes the difference and he isn't sure how to do that introspection.

And I think that does it, because I don't feel like doing the boring bits.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Game Prep: Promethean, Blades, maybe NBA?

I am now done with school for the year and I can focus on what's really important: To wit, gaming.

As always, players stay out, all others pay cash, or something.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Movie #461: My Cousin Vinny

My Cousin Vinny is a courtroom comedy starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne, Austin Pendleton, Lane Smith, and Bruce McGill. It's written by Dale Launer, the same guy who wrote Love Potion No. 9, which is a little surprising given how awful that movie is.

Billy and Stan (Macchio and Whitfield, respectively) are driving through Alabama on their way to California when they get arrested for murder. Billy, as it turns out, has a lawyer in the family - Vinny (Pesci), who zips down south with his fiancee Lisa (Tomei).

Vinny is a decent investigator, but he's kind of a lousy lawyer; he's never been in court, he's only been practicing for six weeks, and he knows next to nothing about courtroom procedure. He's street smart and quick on his feet when he needs to be, but doesn't make an especially good showing right away. With Lisa's help, though, he manages to discover holes in the prosecution's case and actually solve it himself (which was really the only way to ensure a dismissal; if the case had gone to verdict who knows what the jury would do).

This is one of my favorite comedies; it's funny without being mean. Lisa and Vinny have a passionate, believable relationship (I mean, the age difference is notable but not Sean Connery/Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment), and the supporting cast is fantastic. Standouts include Fred Gwynne as the towering, no-nonsense judge and Lane Smith as the zealous but ethical DA.

Really, though, this movie belongs to Tomei. Her courtroom scene at the end is fantastic, and it won her an Oscar (and an urban legend!). The movie is also apparently touted as being a pretty realistic depiction of the trial process. All in all, it's light and it's fun and in general I'm a fan of R-rated comedy.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: My Fair Lady

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Character Creation: Magicians

This makes 300 characters on the project! As of this writing, I've got about 250 more to go, but of course, that's only until I get more RPGs. Like I've said, I'll probably never finish, but what the heck, it's fun.

The Game: Magicians
The Publisher: Samjoko Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: None, I've read the book
Books Required: Just the one.

Magicians is a really interesting game. It's a "you're pupils at a magic academy" game, but the academy is in Korea, and the conceit of the game is that learning to cast magic goes along with learning a new language. As such, you're playing characters who don't speak Korean and learning the language along with the magic. This ain't just whistling Dixie - as part of the game, you speak Korean and use an app on your phone or computer to judge pronunciation, and that's part of the success of the spell. Magic is even arranged into three tiers depending on your level of proficiency, going from "verb + noun" up to learning grammar.

(I was actually a cross-promotion for Magicians; it was running on Kickstarter at the same time as A Tragedy in Five Acts, so backers of both got a Tempest-inspired set of plot cards. That doesn't mean anything as far as making a character today, just a data point.)

So! I need to come up with a teenage protagonist who's learning to use magic and attending Hwang-Gun College of Magical Pedagogy. I think it'd be fun to play a character who grew up in a school district like the one I work in (that is, underfunded and inner city), so we'll say my character is from Detroit. His name is Kennath ("Ken" is fine). Ken is brash, clumsy, and homesick.

There's no slot on the sheet for it, but I have a Mentor. Ken's Mentor is Dr. Ee, who teaches Illusion magic. Dr. Ee performed the ritual that reveals Ken's True Name, which I could make up or use a formula. I think I'll do the latter. Eem Hyo-Su it is!

Next I do my "conflict character." This is an NPC (well, except that another player does play them, but then I'd play someone else's, so) that exists to make my character's life hard. I think Ken's conflict character is Chad. Chad is an incoming student, same age as Ken, who doesn't believe that Ken should be there. Ken's grades weren't great, after all, and he speaks in vernacular, and well, should people "like Ken" really be doing magic?

(I have no idea if this dynamic would actually work at the table, mind, but for purposes of the chargen project I think it's OK).

There's a "conflict card" I'd fill out for Chad, but I think that's probably fine.

And then I have to decide why I'm unhappy, what Ken's "wound" is. I think I'll say that the education system in the USA failed him, he knows it, and he's not as strong in language in general as many of his classmates, so he wonders how that's going to impact him learning magic.

Ken feels that things would be better if one of his friends from his old neighborhood were here, just so he'd know that someone like him had a chance of succeeding.

Normally at this point I'd write a sentence or two about how Ken feels about the other characters, and I'd spend Drama Points equal to the number of players into the categories on the sheet, but since it's just me that's basically all I need to do. I do wonder about favorite spells, though - the example characters don't have them filled out, so I guess I'll skip them, but it'd be interesting. I get the feel that Ken thinks he'd be good at flashy magic like fire or flying or telekinesis, but Dr. Ee sees some potential for subtlety and finesse in the lad.

Movie #460: My Best Friend's Wedding

My Best Friend's Wedding is a rom-com starring Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, and Rupert Everett. It's also weirdly half a musical? I dunno.

Anyway, food critic and author Julianne (Roberts) finally realizes that she's in love with her best friend and former lover Michael (Mulroney) when he calls her and tells her he's getting married to Kimmy (Diaz), a woman he's just met. Julianne decides that she's going to steal him, and spends the rest of the movie trying to subtly (and not-so-subtly) nudge him into choosing her, sometimes with help or reluctant advice from her other buddy, George (Everett). She nearly succeeds by forging an email from Kimmy's father (Philip Bosco) to Michael's boss asking him to fire Michael, which almost breaks them up, but they work through it and Julianne finally confesses and then there's a chase and the wedding goes on as planned, huzzah, and Julianne sees her friend off and dances with George.

So, I mentioned earlier that it's half a musical. I say that because there are several instances in the movie where characters break into song, and wind up creating music for a scene that's diagetic; there's a rollicking rendition of "Say a Little Prayer for You" in a restaurant, and a harmonic version of John Denver's "Annie's Song" by some guys on helium. It's very weird. I don't know what if anything that means but it struck me while watching it that the whole "character sings" happens too often to be a coincidence.

Beyond that, I have a couple of issues with this movie. I think it's interesting in the lead character is the antagonist, but they never quite have Roberts abandon her morals altogether (she doesn't send her forged email deliberately, for instance - look, I know it's a fine hair to split, but the movie wants us to think it's important). It's hard to feel too sympathetic for her, but I don't know that we're supposed to? But then, too, it's hard to feel too good for the married couple, because all of the problems that Julianne points out in an attempt to break them up are totally legit (she's too young, he's on the road a lot, he expects her to drop out of college for her, they've only just met, she's a fucking billionaire heiress and he's a sports writer) and none of them really get resolved.

And maybe that's OK? Like, maybe the idea here is, yes, Michael might be fucking up but he loves this woman, she loves him, and Jules had her shot. That kind of quasi-nihilism would be interesting if the movie were played that way, but it's played very much as a standard rom-com, down to Roberts being made a klutz (this happens to women in rom-coms strangely often), so I dunno.

Anyway, there's also a nice moment with a very young Paul Giamatti as a bellhop who comforts Julianne, and that's a nice scene.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: My Cousin Vinny

Chill: Good Dogs

So, a week after losing my dog, I decide to run a Chill case partially set at a dog kennel. I might be something of a twit.

Anyway, Sunday was Chill, so here we go.

Dylan is teaching a class and gets a visit from two detectives. He dismisses his students and the cops show him a class ring - it belonged to his brother, Alex. Alex and Dylan (and a group of students) were attacked by a monstrous wolf some years back while Alex was a student at the university; Dylan fled and Alex was never seen again. It's the incident that got Dylan into SAVE. And now here's some evidence that Alex might still be out there.

Dylan, shaken, asks where this was found. The detectives tell him it was found in a field near a dog boarding facility south of town; they found the ring near a coyote trap. Some blood, but no body. Dylan Senses the Unknown and feels it on the ring.

Dylan cancels his classes for the week and calls up the other envoys, and folks meet at the ranch - BB, Luther, and Jeanie (still injured from their last case) are in attendance. Dee has an appointment in town today and so can't help out, but approves the investigation. The envoys head out to D&D Kennels to see what they can find out.

When they get there, they meet David Vetnor, one of the owners, sitting on his porch with an old bloodhound, who gives the envoys a perfunctory "woof" as they walk up and then goes back to sleep. They explain the situation, and Dylan is pretty much directly honest with him - that and a Colossal success on an Interview check leads David to come clean. David had the traps set too close to the house, which is violation of local law, and when he checked the trap this morning he found not only the ring but a finger. He panicked and threw the finger into the trash, and moved the trap further out. Jeanie goes with him to find the finger amidst the garbage (ew) while Luther looks at the "crime scene" where the trap was actually found.

There they find some unsettling clues. There are wolf tracks, a bit of blood, and then tracks moving away from the area. Those tracks, though, are human - a man's bare feet. Jeanie, meaning, finds the find and gives it to Luther, who confirms it's a man's ring finger.

The envoys talk amongst themselves a bit. They need to be careful - they aren't sure what they're dealing with (though all signs seem to point to "werewolf"), but Dylan is understandably insistent that they keep moving. They check up the road a ways - there's a sod farm there, and they wonder if the "wolf" might have wound up near there. They meet a guy named Roman Johnson, who tells them that he's heard wolf howls lately (not coyote, he says, he can tell the difference), but only one. That's odd, normally wolves travel in packs. He hasn't seen anything, though. He doesn't mind wolves; they leave people alone, and besides, they were here first.

This leaves the envoys at something of a dead end. Jeanie notes that David has a bloodhound - maybe he's scent-trained? The envoys go back to David to ask, and he says that Digby isn't trained (and he's too old to be romping through the countryside anyway), but as it happens, there's a scent-trained dog being boarded her. David, still feeling guilty for screwing up the crime scene, goes along, bringing a German shepherd named Tammy.

The group follows the scent through the field, and out to the road, where they meet a guy in a truck. David knows this guy (Kyle); he works at the Reclaimed Lumber plant down the road to the south, and apparently has a habit of sleeping at his desk. They exchange pleasantries and Kyle heads on down the road, and the group keeps moving.

They find a hay field and some tracks, but now the tracks are wolf tracks...and one paw is missing a toe, and Tammy's lost the scent. The envoys send David and Tammy back; they're in danger here and the envoys don't want anyone getting killed. Jeanie and BB push to fall back to the ranch and do a little planning, but Dylan wants to press on. The compromise; BB and Jeanie go back to the kennel to get the car and Luther and Dylan are supposed to wait.

They don't.

Dylan, still wanting to press on, follows the tracks with Luther, and they come to a farmhouse. They note that the door is open, and they hear an animal crying from inside. Luther goes in first...and rather wishes he hadn't. There's a woman lying dead on the floor, her throat torn out and her stomach savaged. Next to her is a dog, alive but badly hurt. Luther checks the rest of the house and finds a man in the living room, also dead, his neck broken and bitten.

Jeanie and BB arrive, and Jeanie sees the carnage and is pretty bad shaken by the whole thing. They call David, figuring he'll know what to do with the dog, and he comes over, muzzles her, and puts a tourniquet on her leg. Luther calls the police, and the whole thing turns into something of a circus - the bodies of the unfortunate couple are taken out, this is all chalked up to an "animal attack" which doesn't make a lot of sense, and the dog is taken away to an emergency vet. The envoys contact Blake (fellow envoy and animal control officer) to tell him that if the dog survives and needs a home, they'll take her.

The envoys head back to the ranch - they're rattled and horrified and definitely don't want to keep poking around after dark. Dylan leads a group counseling session (he has the Crisis Counselor Edge), and they talk about what they've seen, but also about the fact that Dylan them all in danger by refusing to stay put. He won't apologize - he's looking for his brother and that's why he joined SAVE, and that's something of a sore point, but the envoys at least come out of it with a little less Trauma.

Dylan gets on the SAVE archives and winds up talking to a fella named Gabe out at the Den (SAVE's lycanthropy research center in Maine), who breaks down the basic types of werewolf for him. Inherents, he says, are only active on the full moon, so that's not it (it's a crescent moon right now). Infectives are active all the time, but it's very rare to just see one. He makes Dylan aware, though, that dealing with infectives means killing them - right away, no hesitation - because one scratch or bite is enough to infect. Dylan acknowledges that, but holds onto hope that maybe that's not what happened to his brother.

Dylan talks to the others and runs down what he's learned, and they pose a difficult question - if it comes down to it, can Dylan shoot his brother? Or watch as someone else does it? Dylan thinks he can.

Guess we'll see.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Character Creation: Argyle & Crew

Meant to do this yesterday, then got caught up in the whirlwind of Michelle getting her PhD woooooo!

Anyway, today, socks. No, really.

The Game: Argyle & Crew - Adventure in the Land of Skcos
The Publisher: Troll in the Corner
Degree of Familiarity: None, just read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, in Argyle & Crew, you're playing a sock puppet (or "Soppet"). The game is designed for kids, but of course adults can play it, and the book actually devotes some time to discussing how the game would look different for a group of children vs. a group of "old people."

In any event, there's no character sheet per se; you're making a sock puppet, so you make a damn sock puppet (you can also make a puppet out of a paper bag or just draw it, whatever works). I have a mateless sock handy, in fact. It's pretty worn out, but I can roll with that.

A Soppet waiting to be born.
OK, so the book says that all Soppets have eyes (drawn on with marker or stuck on with googly eyes) and a mouth (formed by the player's hand). I don't have any googly eyes handy, so I'll use a marker to make eyes.

Cool, OK. Now I get two Extras. Extras can things I draw on or literal objects that my Soppet carries around or has access to. Well, my Soppet has a shield that he can use to deflect incoming unpleasantness, and I'll draw eyebrows on so he's very expressive, which helps him talk with other Soppets.

There's an "advanced variant" for adding a Fact and a Flaw, so, sure, why not. My Fact is that I Always Listen to Other Soppets. My Flaw is that I Trust Everybody. (Yes, kinda Captain America-ish, but what do you want, I have this shield.)

My Soppet's name is Bub, and that's pretty much it!