Sunday, April 28, 2013

Game Design: Savage Worlds/curse the darkness mashup

So, as you may or may not know, we're doing a companion book for curse the darkness. As part of that, I'm doing a Savage World version of the game. And that, of course, requires I examine the rules a bit.

Scenario Creation

I think we keep scenario creation the same, with the five questions and everything. I kinda want to make the "what just happened?" question into a "what is the crisis", because it'll encourage a more in medias res feel to things, which is appropriate for Savage Worlds.

Character creation: 

  1. Attributes (no change, everything at d4 and then 5 points to play with)
  2. Skills (no change, I'll just make sure they're all listed on the sheet so there's no book-flipping)
  3. Hindrances. Now, here's a change. Players familiar with the rules can use the standard Savage Worlds hindrances, if they want. But Hindrances generally fall into three categories: Psychological (compulsions, obsessions, prohibitions on behavior); Physical (-2 on a given kind of physical action or under a given circumstance); Aptitude (-2 to all uses of a given Skill, and you have to have at least a d4 in the Skill). 
  4. Edges. Again, if you know them, use the ones in the book. People get two Edges. Hindrances don't give you anything else (speeding up chargen, here). Opener is an Edge. I'm thinking of breaking Edges down along the same lines as Hindrances - Aptitude and Physical is easy enough, but Psychological doesn't easily map. I think dropping the Novice/Seasoned/Veteran thing is probably wise, since characters aren't going to live that long. 
  5. No Arcane Backgrounds other than Opener. 
  6. Derived traits. As usual, but here at the end, where they belong.

Rules Changes

  • Bennies allow you to reroll a roll, as usual. They also allow you to escalate a removal challenge or roll to try and remove a Between Card. 
  • No soak. 
  • Every time someone Opens or violates the rules (basically anything that would make you give the GM a Between Point in the original system), put a card in the Between Track. When that track hits 5 cards, He notices and a Removal Challenge begins. A given combat can also become a Removal Challenge if the number of cards his the target number during the combat. 
  • Players can spend a bennie to roll Spirit, difficulty +1 for each card past 1. 
  • Dead is dead, make a new character. 

Removal Challenge vs. Combat

So, combat is combat. You're fighting people or animals, use normal rules. A Removal Challenge is when you're fighting Them. Any combat in the Between is a Removal Challenge. Any combat can become a Removal Challenge if the Between Track hits 5 cards. 

In a Removal Challenge, you take your actions as usual, and determine whether that action lights a candle or curses the darkness. But after every action, you roll d6 + Wild die vs. a d6 + Wild die from the GM. GM wins, you're dead. You win, you live, and you gain a section of Wick (if your action lit a candle). You gain Wick as usual. If you hit the requisite Wick for the story, you can make the essential choice to light a candle. You cannot spend a benny to reroll a live or die roll, but you can spend a benny to escalate, take a new action, and try again. If you succeed after escalation, you get an additional point of Wick (cumulative), but the GM gains a die type for every time you try it.

You can choose to die in place of another character as long as you're not already dead. 


Memory conversations start at a d4 + Wild and go up one die type for every pertinent fact (that would generate a Memory Point). When the conversation ends, everyone rolls that die. You get either 1 Wick + 1 benny/raise or 1 benny + 1 benny/raise. 

Movie #190: Explorers

Explorers is a 80s movie in the vein of Goonies, Adventures in Babysitting and suchlike - kids going off on adventures to fantastic places. This one stars Ethan Hawke, the late River Phoenix, and Jason Presson as the titular explorers, Dick Miller as the cop who almost catches them (because it's a Joe Dante movie and Miller has to show up somewhere), and Robert Picardo as the waaaaaaAAAaaaacky alien.

We start off with Ben (Hawke) dreaming of a vast, 80s-era CGI circuitboard. He draws it, and takes it to his genius, nerdy friend Wolfgang (Phoenix) to build, and along the way picks up tough kid Darren (Presson) when Darren saves Ben from a bully. They discover the circuitboard allows their computer to create a completely indestructible, immune-to-inertia sphere. They quickly the get the idea to build a ship, put it in the sphere, and go flying around. That works OK (one destroyed concession stand later), but then they start getting signals from...somewhere else...and pull the plug. Ben is the only one advocating for continued exploration, while Wolfgang and Darren more reasonably say, "screw that, we want to live."

But then the next night they all share the circuitboard dream, and catch the exploration bug. They go up again (using the newly-dreamed board to make a device that creates air, which was a problem on the first trip), and the aliens hijack control, and take them to their immense ship. And then they (eventually) meet the aliens, who turn out to be kids like them, who just want to know why it is that all these TV shows they keep picking up involve humans meeting outer-space travelers and shooting them.

It's a good movie, and my dad really loved it. It's 80s as hell, though. It struck me that the treatment of bullying in these movies tends to be "eh, boys will be boys." I mean, Ben gets punched in the face. Repeatedly. On school ground. Wolfgang (in a deleted scene) gets confronted by half-a-dozen dudes that threaten him. It really goes to show that thinking of the time that not only do the boys not think to do anything about it, but it never gets resolved. The bullying scenes are only there to give Darren a reason to join the group.

Also, Ben's crush, Lori (Amanda Peterson), is treated in a kind of creepy way. I mean, yes, she's lovely and blond and all, and he worships her from afar...but then he uses the sphere to peep in her window. Darren says "she's not going to start undressing this early," and Ben, while he doesn't immediately latch onto that idea, doesn't refute it, either. Yes, these are 12-year-old boys, and having once been a 12-year-old boy, I can't say that it's entirely unrealistic, but "realism" is not my main concern in movies like this. Lori does show the sliiiiightest glimmer of agency at the end, because she witnesses the explorers crash into the river...but she just watches. She doesn't help them, or confront them, or ask to be part of their trip. And indeed, every male in the movie, even the alien, responds to Lori as nothing but a sex object ("I'd like to get my cups on her!").

The only other women in the movie are moms (Ben's and Wolfgang's, and Wolfgang's family, including Dana Ivey and a very young James Cromwell, are probably the best-realized thing in any of the boy's lives), a know-it-all girl named Tricia who sits behind Ben in class, and Neek, the female alien who crushes on Wolfgang (and has very few lines that don't relate to crushing on him). Gremlins is coming up, and it'll be interesting to see if women are presented any better (I rather doubt it). I think if Explorers were made today, one of the explorers would be - definitely should be - a girl.

Anyway, so, it's a good movie, it's nicely non-offensive in terms of violence and language, which means my kids can watch it, but it's also pretty non-inclusive in terms of POC and women, which is kind of a shame, but pretty typical of the era.

My Grade: B
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next up: The Big Sleep

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Promethean: Fightin' Ghosts

Monday was Promethean, so here we are.

The characters were walking into the desert, guided by Grimm's Sense Pyros. They split up into pairs and spread out a bit.

Avalon and Enoch talked about Pandorans and where they came from. Avalon asked where the person's body had gone, and Enoch told her that it had become the sludge of the Pandorans. This took some processing for the Unfleshed to understand.

Skip and Feather talked about Skip and his relationship with Nergal. Feather opined that maybe Nergal wasn't as "under control" as Skip assumed, and Skip said that he knew Nergal was under control...because Nergal had told him so. He then rethought this position.

Matt and Grimm talked about Matt's little shooting lesson from the day before, and Matt said he was over it, but that he hadn't appreciated being made to shoot at his friend. Grimm said he understood. Matt saw a star growing brighter and brighter, and started to avert his eyes, but then heard Lurch (his unintentional creator) say "Be not afraid." He kept looking until the light faded.

At this point, Skip sent Nergal on ahead a half-mile, told him to scout, then come right back and do nothing else. Nergal did so, and then Skip heard him screaming, and started running. Feather took off after him, and the others (while they can't hear the spirit), heard the other two running and followed.

Matt and Skip were the fastest, and as they approached, Skip saw a spectral woman holding Nergal in the air, siphoning energy from him via her fingertips. Skip rushed toward her, and Matt held back. This made a milestone for Skip (Finish First in a Running/Climbing Contest), and fulfilled his Virtue of Fearless. The woman gestured at him and he felt his vision fade, but nothing happened. He punched her, and she dropped Nergal.

The others arrived, but none of them could see the target. Avalon used Aura Sight and saw swirls of color - rage, hate, betrayal and hunger (this fulfilled her milestone of Identify a Non-Human Via Aura Sight). Feather tried to do likewise, but failed and chose to dramatically fail, so she saw Skip's aura catch fire and turned away, momentarily blind. Her head started throbbing - especially a bit on her scalp.

The ghost reached down and called up the sand, and hit Skip with it. It flayed the shirt from this body, as well as a lot of the flesh, and knocked him back. Matt stepped in to try and help, but nonviolently, and tried to talk the unseen force down. It seemed to work (an Avalon confirmed the emotion changing, the rage subsiding). Nergal ran over and crawled into Skip's chest. Other Prometheans (Enoch, Grimm) stepped forward to try and talk to the presence, but she didn't respond. Finally she shimmered and became visible, and Skip noted that she was staring intently at people's mouths when they were speaking.

Matt got the brilliant idea to write in the sand, and she responded verbally. She told Matt that he looked familiar, that he looked like a guy who'd been on a TV show she used to watch - set in Pennsylvania and his character's name was Michael? But she didn't remember the actor (Matt has the Famous Face Merit, y'see). She said her name was Abigail Torres (at which point Enoch gained a milestone: Learn the Name of the Woman Whose Body was Used to Make Pandorans). She said that she had been out here camping, and someone - a very dark-skinned woman with an accent, maybe African - he murdered her. She said she remembered being cut to pieces, and she blew back some sand and showed the Prometheans a box. Inside it was her severed left ear.

On the box lid, though, was a Pilgrim Mark - meaning "guilt." Enoch asked her if she wanted to know the truth (Grimm was in favor of just telling her), and she said she was. Enoch told her approximately what had happened, and then the characters figured that she had probably already been dead when the mysterious demiurge (or Promethean, hard to know) had cut her up. Knowing this, Abigail told them that, if they ever found the woman, to tell her that she wished it had worked. Asked why, she shrugged and said, "it would have at least meant something." And then she collapsed into sand.

The characters looked around a bit, and Feather found a hot spring, buried in the sand. She used her camp shovel to dig it up, and then washed her face off and found something, aching, under her hair - like a scar. She pulled back her hair and had Avalon look at it - there was a Hebrew word carved into her forehead. It wasn't the usual "EMET" for golems, though; none of the characters recognized it. She did gain a milestone, though (Discover the Word in Her Hair).

Realizing that this was a good spot to camp and regain Pyros, the Prometheans bedded down for the night. Feather buried herself in sand, Skip camped near where Abigail had been haunting, Grimm near the campfire and Enoch in the spring (Avalon and Matt are kinda out of luck on this subject).

And we'll pick up tomorrow morning with them going to back to the trailer park.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Movie #189: Get Shorty

Get Shorty is a crime/comedy movie based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, and starring John Travolta, Rene Russo, Gene Hackman, Dennis Farina, and Danny DeVito. Oh, shit, and Delroy Lindo and James Gandolfini and John Gries. And Bette Midler. Shit, man.

So, Get Shorty begins with Chili Palmer (Travolta) not really enjoying his life as a loan shark. His higher-up in the organization, Ray Bones (Farina) hates him and rides his ass, and then he learns that a dude he lent money to and was supposed to have died in a plane crash (David Paymer) is alive and well and living in Vegas. In tracking him down, Palmer agrees to lean on a movie producer named Harry Zimm (Hackman), and gets caught up in Zimm's world of buying scripts he doesn't really own and trying build a name for himself.

The movie's plot is really damned tight, especially for as many characters as there are. The dudes who loaned Harry money are after him to collect, and Palmer tries to help out, but Harry is a complete fuck-up. And into the mix there's this script for a movie that major star Martin Weir (DeVito) is interested in. Maybe. When he's paying attention and not completely smitten with his ex, B-movie star Karen Flores (Russo) or himself.

There's some violence, but it's never over the top. Tarantino was the first choice to direct this movie, and it's disquieting to think how much less funny and how much more violent it would have been had that happened. Instead, even with murder, mayhem, drugs and gunplay, it feels pretty light. Travolta effortlessly plays Palmer as a guy who's good at a job he doesn't really like and really loves movies (which is one of the reasons the sequel, Be Cool, doesn't really work for me - he seems to have lost that love. And Russo). There's very much a theme of "real people have cred, Hollywood people are pretentious twats" and only Palmer really manages to navigate both because he finds the places of intersection. Zimm and Weir are too phony, and the criminals (Farina and Lindo) are too desperate and self-assured to realize that their numbers are up. Humility and self-realization are what save folks like Palmer, Flories, Bear (Gandolfini) and even Zimm.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Ghost

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lettin' it ride (Dresden)

So! Yesterday we played us some Dresden.

Recall that the last session ended with Rusty getting a call from Clive's phone. And now we flash back.

Clive left Rusty at the Horse & Barrel because Phobos, the fear-spirit that lives in him, wouldn't stop hounding him about that car wreck he saw. So Clive went and investigated. There was a dead guy in the back seat, bitten open on his neck, leg and wrist. Clive goes around to the trunk and opens it, thinking maybe someone's inside. No one is, but he hears the vampires sneak up on him.

He whirls around and finds himself face-to-face with two crazed-looking vampires, and Ian Blake. The young vampires jump at him. He throws some punches, and Ian tries to put the Overwhelmed Aspect on him but fails. But Clive is outnumbered, and unlike Rusty he's not willing to take this all the way to conclusion. His player decided to concede, and said that a large amount of the herb that makes Phobos weak (we decided it was a wild onion, like a ramp) was growing nearby. The vampires defeated Clive, stuffed his mouth with ramps, and manacle him in the silo. The herb saps his strength so he can't break free. During the day, he sees the door open and Rusty's head appear, then the vampires yank Rusty in and kick his ass (this all happened last time).

So back to the barbecue. Rusty's phone rings; it's Clive's number. A voice - decidedly not Clive - rasps, Help me.

The characters gathered round and listen (amid some Cabin in the Woods "am I on speaker?" jokes). The voice says it tastes "the bane" and it smells "wolf blood." And then the connection is lost. This, combined with Clive's conspicuous absence, makes them think Clive is in trouble. Lou asks Clarence, the Warden, to listen, but someone mentions that Clive is prone to playing pranks to scare people and the White Council officially gets less interested.

Lou turns the party over to the Valentines, and he, Alice, Bo, Rusty and Opal get in his car. They start to head to the Horse & Barrel, since that's where Clive was last seen (and they figure Cyrus might know something), but a closed exit (as luck would have it) forces them to take a different route...which takes them right by the accident scene.

By this time, the car has been cleared away, and all that remains is the damaged tree. But Alice (who swapped out This is My Blessing, Not My Curse for "I've got a bad feeling about this" at the beginning of this session) has Lou stop. They get out and look around, but Alice sees a ghost.

The ghost is a young man with bite marks on him (probably the same guy whose body Clive found). He jumps up, looks at Alice, and grows fangs. He charges at her, hissing for blood, and she screams and hides behind Bo. Lou draws a circle to keep him out, but it becomes obvious that he's not going to hurt the characters (personally, I find the idea of a ghost that thinks it's a vampire pretty darned Dresden-riffic). Rusty starts getting twitchy (and I compelled Blood Thirsty to make it worse), and he Changes and runs off toward the Horse & Barrel.

The characters leave (during which Alice felt the ghost bite her, which pleased her none too much). No one thinks to pick up Rusty's clothes.

They get to Horse and Barrel and find Rusty sitting by the parking lot in wolf form. Lou gives him a blanket, but berates him for running off. The characters (less Rusty, who goes trotting back to get his clothes) go inside and sit down with Cyrus.

Cyrus mentions that Phobos was haranguing Clive all night about the car wreck, and figures it might have been Phobos that made the call. Since he mentioned "wolf blood," and he called Rusty, maybe he's somewhere that Rusty bled a lot recently? That clicks for Lou - the vampires have Clive at the silo. They discuss options, and Opal decides that she'll just claim Clive as an assistant for the race so Billy Ray can't hurt him.

They leave Bo and Alice at the restaurant, and Alice takes this opportunity to tell Bo that she's pregnant. Bo is not entirely thrilled, but Alice makes it very clear that she's keeping this baby and she wants him to be involved. Bo eventually relents (a little bit of social combat, here), but does raise the point: When was the child conceived? Before or after Bo became a horse?

Lou and Opal arrive at the silo and knock. Billy Ray answers, and initially refuses to give up Clive, but when Opal claims him, he goes and releases the big dude. Lou also asks that Billy Ray not go after Rusty until after the race; Billy Ray agrees not to go looking for him. Rusty is sitting nearby, watching this.

The characters reconvene at the Horse & Barrel, and head back to Lou's house so Bo and Alice can get their car. Lou decides he's going to head up to Churchill Downs and cast a spell of prophecy to make the card. Opal goes out to the Kentucky Horse Park to scout it as a location. Clive goes with Lou as backup. Alice and Bo head home. Rusty goes the hell to bed.

Opal decides that this place will work nicely and she has enough pull with folks on the board (including Arthur Bingham). She decides to wait to hear from Lou to set a date.

Lou, meanwhile, goes out to Churchill Downs, bribes a guard to get in, goes out to the middle of the track and casts his spell (in which might be the first use of Thaumaturgy in any Dresden game I've been involved with). Based on that, he makes the card:

  • Waters of the River Styx (Winter Court): 2:1
  • Inferno from the Embers (Summer Court): 3:1
  • Fireball (Billy Ray): 4:1
  • Warden's Wings (White Council): 10:1
  • Veni Vidi Vici (White Court): 10:1
  • Bo (Leroy Francis): 12:1
  • Sleipnir (Albert Market): 25:1
  • April Showers (Arthur Bingham): 25:1
  • Derek's Fall (Jeannine Kemper): 100:1
The next day, Lou has breakfast with Opal and discusses the card. Opal approves, and decides that the race is tomorrow night. No sense giving folks a chance to plan and plot. 

Next time: The exciting conclusion to Let It Ride

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Game Prep-a-go-go

Of course. I start posting more on Blogger because I can get to it from work and update when I have a minute, and what happens? They update their firewall and I can't anymore. Blargh. So that's why you haven't seen me around as much. Ah, well.

Well, I'm running Dresden today, Night's Black Agents tomorrow and Promethean on Monday, so I'd best get started.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Demon: Tautology Forecast, part 2

Part one here.

So, the demons got together and realized that we have a Burned demon and a soul pact. Well, that's a match made in Hell, right there. Lucia Sparks, it seems, dies tonight (or rather, has her marker called in).

Krispie and Harriet do a little research and find that Lucia Sparks lives in Cleveland, near the Flats, in a section of town marked by some very expensive apartments. We pile into the RV and head over there, park in a vacant area (there are lots of those). Then we form a basic plan.

Lee takes demonic form and, carrying Tamar, flies up and lands on the roof. The others will enter the building, get up to the roof door, and let him in, and then we'll all go down and get entry to Lucia's place and let Tamar call in the pact. No problem.

I failed the compromise roll for Lee, though, and decided I'd take the Hunted Condition (which, if we were going to play these characters again, might come back to bite me, but it didn't tonight). But Lee assumes demonic form: He's better than 12 feet tall, with big, sheet-metal like wings. His beard gets longer and is made of thin, copper wiring that sparks like a Tesla coil, and his tattoos fade to acid-etchings on metallic skin. He takes to the air with Tamar and, as planned, lands on the roof.

The other folks enter and make their way to Lucia's place. Lee comes down with Tamar (turns out the stairway door is unlocked from the outside). They knock, she answers but doesn't undo the chain. There's a couple of minutes of trying to con our way in (which she's really too smart for, and Krispie's use of Authorized failed), and then Anton decides, screw it, we're here for her soul anyway. He kicks in the door.

Lee uses Hesitation on the poor woman, and Yuri jumps in and uses Knockout Punch. Krispie calls up her EMP Field form power, and Harriet jams the elevator so we don't get surprised from behind. And then the dog wakes up.

There's a little dog sleeping on a doggie bed, but its eyes are huge and black, like a grey alien's. It stands up...and then without moving, it's next to Yuri. Its tail brushes him, and he's across the room, full of bashing damage, feeling like he's been through a wringer.

Lee braces himself, summoning up his Blade Hand (actually a giant stone hammer), but the dog doesn't stand a chance. Yuri takes demonic form, teleports over the "dog," and drops down on it, digging his claws into it. That does aggravated damage, folks. He tears the dog in half.

We let Tamar into the room, and she touches Lucia's unconscious body and holds up the soul pact. And then the soul pact kind of does Lucia. And then that digitization reforms around Tamar, and now she's Lucia.

Anton uses Break to Heal to fix Yuri up (the TV shatters). The rest of us calm down a bit. We talk a little about how Lucia's memories will come back to her a bit (and she marvels in the knowledge that she has work in the morning), but this does make us wonder where the dog came from. Lee looks at it and tries to figure out if it's a Hellhound, but it doesn't seem to be. It might be just a cryptid that's been trained somehow. But then we realized that it's still got some magic in it, because when Yuri pokes it with a stick, the stick disintegrates.

We gather the body up in a blanket, take it to the roof, and Lee nods to Anton. Anton uses Hellfire on his pistol, and Lee throws the blanket out into the night. "Pull!"

Anton shoots it, and it explodes into a fireball. If that doesn't kill it, man...

Since we basically just set off a beacon, though, we decide that going out for drinks and now being here might be wise. So we hit one of the bars (Flat Iron, maybe? I don't remember) and have mojitos, and try and figure out where that dog came from.

Lucia finds some of her business cards, and hands Harriet one. There's an equation on the back. When solved, it yields a phone number and the word "Reese." Harriet calls it, and a mechanized voice answers. She asks about the dog, and "Reese" seems confused, but then says, "oh, we're in that reality?" He indicates he'd be willing to get together and explain that, but the general consensus is that that's a bit more angelic than we're comfortable with. Anyway, Lucia's a demon now, we can all help her get established (Anton especially), so that's all good, right?

Some Demon: The Malachi games end with explosions, some end with mojitos.

Movie #188: Get Carter

Get Carter is a remake of a 1971 Michael Caine action/grindhouse movie (I say that based on the trailer). This version stars Sylvester Stallone, Rhona Mitra, Rachael Leigh Cook, Mickey Rourke, Alan Cumming, Miranda Richardson and Sir Michael Caine himself.

Carter (Stallone) is a Vegas legbreaker who returns home to Seattle for his brother's funeral. Supposedly, little brother died in a drunk driving accident, but Carter is uncertain and suspects foul play. He discovers that his brother had a mistress (Mitra) and that his boss (Caine) was involved with a porn tycoon (Rourke) who was using a millionaire computer mogul (Cumming) for tech and support...oy...

This movie is really, really busy. It turns out what actually happened was that Carter's niece (Cook) was drugged and raped, all on camera, by...some guy that worked for Caine's character, I think? And everyone's trying to get the disc with the footage back, but Mitra gives it to Carter's brother, who then threatens to go the police, so they kill him. And Carter exacts bloody revenge!

I was less than thrilled with this movie. It's so 90s it hurts. Jump cuts, slow-mo, sped-up footage, really dated clothes and music. The plot isn't dense, it's just tangled, and then it turns out to be really simplistic and bleak. You can do that with some skill (see also Chinatown and LA Confidential), but this wasn't it.

And it's not Stallone's fault, or indeed any of the cast. The movie is actually really well-acted. Stallone manages to convey a tough guy with a sense of loyalty that he's still figuring out, but without much of a sense of morality. Cook is nicely distant, then disarmed, as Carter's niece, and the scene where she talks about the rape and Carter comforts her is actually pretty amazing, acting-wise, because it's nicely understated but believable. Mitra doesn't have much to do, but what she does, she does well. Caine is pleasantly hammy.

Cumming is playing a rich guy who's trying to be a tough guy and getting out of his depth, and his character felt a little inconsistent to me. Rourke is a badass, and he works as a badass.

But really, what ruins this movie is the direction. All the weird camera tricks, the dialog that we don't quite hear or understand, and the bizarre stops and starts that the plot takes. The movie gears up like we're going to see a Man on Fire-style bloodbath at the end, but then there's a car chase and a good fight scene, but it's all done with too much pondering in between. I dunno, it looks like it was better than the original (which looked fucking terrible, from the trailer), but I'm in no hurry to see this one again.

My Grade: C-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Get Shorty

Demon Playtest: How An Angel Dies, part 2

Part one is here. All rules and conditions (not Conditions) still apply.

Before we started, I told the players something that their characters would have noticed last time, but that I hadn't mentioned: the George Washington Bridge is Infrastructure. All of it. That must have been a recent thing (existing structures can become Infrastructure, and in some ways the God-Machine prefers to do that because it's more efficient), but unless you're walking on the bridge, not driving across it, you wouldn't notice. But it is, and the smashed phone is a linchpin. Curious.

So, last time, you'll recall, Luke, Amy and Saskia were down by the Fremont Troll with Saskia's new addict. They decided to open a gate to the Underworld, because they'd heard that Regina (the woman who broke the phone up on the bridge, and whom they'd bailed out of jail) had a family member jump off that bridge to his death, so maybe his ghost is around?


Anyway, Luke uses Rip the Gates to open up a gate to the Underworld, but could only keep it open for a turn (low Primum), so they all had to rush in. Saskia leaves her addict outside a lookout. In the caverns, they find a young man with a guitar over his shoulder. He introduces himself as Isaac Donahue, Regina's brother.

In talking to him, it becomes clear that he killed himself after losing a lifelong battle with depression. He's been hanging around the bridge ever since, but just recently he just appeared in the Underworld and can't get back to the surface. The characters talk with him a little about what he's seen, and he talks about a guy named Simon (who's "like you, whatever 'you' is", he's informs the demons) who comes down here sometimes at night, crawls through the window of the VW Beetle that the  Troll is holding, and disappears. He returns up to a few days later, but when he does his clothes are different - outdated.

At this point, the addict that Saskia brought with them appears next to them, looking mighty confused. He's got an exit wound in the back of his head; clearly he's been shot. This unnerves the demons to no end (but they are nice enough to inform him to keep walking into the Underworld and pass on). A guardian angel for the bridge, maybe? Isaac writes them a note to give to Regina, and Luke rips another gate, and out they jolly well go.

The addict's body is lying nearby. Saskia, investigating, realizes that someone lean over the bridge and shot him in the forehead, killing him instantly. They decide to call the police and claim to have found the body, rather than risk someone seeing them leave.

Meanwhile, back in the bar, Jamie, Will and Edgar talk with Regina. She's keen to accept whatever the characters want to do for her, including buying her dinner and beer, and she talks about Isaac and the phones (after a little social greasing from Jamie). She says that she was just pissed - the phones are an afterthought. There's no real help for people with mental health issues when they need it, which in Isaac's case would have been in his teens or earlier. She confirms that although Isaac has been dead for a couple of years, she only started smashing the phone a few months ago. She also says that she's seen Isaac on and under the bridge (and is in general not horribly upset by the notion of supernatural stuff), but not recently.

The other characters get back, and Luke uses Idle Conversation so they can talk without freaking Regina or anyone else out. A few of the characters notice that Regina's hair, done up in dreadlocks, has a few strands of what seems at first to be grey, but is actually shiny silver wire. So Regina is stigmatic, but is she in the same group as the cultists from before?

The demons talk with her a bit more, and learn that she's never heard of Gordon Reardon (who, remember, was the demon that the cultists killed, and who indirectly sent the characters to Regina). So why would Gordon care about her? The demons realize that they left that apartment pretty quickly and didn't really give it a good going-over, so they decide to go back. First, though, they give Regina the note from her brother. She breaks down crying, distraught but not terribly confused or disbelieving. Figuring that they'd better keep her here for her own protection, Edgar uses Ellipses on her to keep her rereading the note and drinking a beer until they get back.

They walk down to the apartment building and claim to be residents to the cops watching the place. They get out at Gordon's floor, and there's a cop on the floor as well. Will claims to be dating the guy across the hall, and sells it with some good Manipulation rolls (it helps that demons lie like nobody's business). They walk down to that apartment, Will knocks, and then uses Authorized to gain entry to the guy's flat. Edgar uses Ellipses on the original cop, and they walk across the hall to Gordon's place.

The demons investigate, with Will (and his Trained Observer Merit) taking lead. Jamie, as she has no Investigation, watches the door. Saskia finds a DVD in the player - It Happened at the World's Fair, starring Elvis Presley. Interesting.

Amy finds a police scanner on the floor next to the couch; Will probably knocked it over in the fight.

Edgar finds a copy of the Lesser Key of Solomon on his shelf. They know Gordon had an interest in demonology and cults, so that's maybe not so surprising, but he grabs it to look through it.

(An aside: Demons don't have any particular need to keep notes, since they don't forget. This makes investigation stories a little harder to write. Moving on.)

Luke finds a set of photographs in the bedroom, all of the Troll. Some are day shots; they have an X drawn over them. Three are night shots, one with a street person in the background (that one has an X), and the other two with the window of the Beetle circled. This would seem to tie in to what Luke and the others learned earlier.

Will finds an envelope stuck to the wall, and then painted over. In it is a name: "Priscilla Benedict", along with an address off Aurora Avenue. A contact? A safe house? Only one way to find out.

Jamie manifests her Sense the Angelic power (no need to go full demonic form, here). She senses that, yes, angelic Numina were used her recently, probably from the icy guy that melted her during the fight. But if he's an angel, did the God-Machine want Gordon dead? Where's that angel now? And why didn't Gordon change to demonic form and defend himself?

The characters head back to the bar and free Regina from her loop (she's surprised by how much time has passed). Knowing that the bridge is Infrastructure and having access to a linchpin, they decide to go look around there a bit. The other thing is, too, Luke is out of Aether, and he knows he can siphon some from active Infrastructure. That's risky, but you do what you must.

The characters head onto the bridge and Will, Jamie and Amy work on taking apart the phone. This is an extended action and it very nearly fails because they run out of rolls (by the end, it's just Will because the girls run through their dice pools). But he discovers that the phone isn't a phone, and never was. It's got weird blue wires that go straight back into the concrete - that's Infrastructure, for sure. If the phone isn't broken, it forms a circuit that builds up power until a switch flips in the receiver. Since it doesn't have power at the moment, Will flips the switch just to see what will happen. He hears a voice from the speaker say, "Connected. The Lambent has been dispatched."

Initially this is worrisome because it's obviously and angel summoning, but they realize there was no aetheric burst of energy, so this is just what will happen when the Infrastructure does what it's meant to. Luke picks up a phone and puts it to his ear, sucking up Aether, and then hangs up again, no problem. Saskia does as well. Edgar does, but stays on too long and those blue wires shoot out and lodges his head and ear. Fortunately, Luke is a surgeon, and removes them deftly.

But then poor Jamie tries it. She gets the Aether, sure, but when she tries to disengage she fails the compromise roll (the others were making them, but just taking minor glitches for successful rolls, and actually I think Luke's player got an exceptional success and got a Beat out of it). She takes the Flagged Compromise, loses a dot of Cover, and those needles are in tight. And then all the phones start ringing. Angels incoming.

Edgar uses Interference and gets something like seven successes, so any incoming angels will take a -7 to find the characters. Saskia tackles Jamie, ripping the wires out of her head and doing some lethal damage, but she's free. Luke bandages her up, and they flee back to the bar to talk this over.

They theorize that Isaac was banished to the Underworld when the bridge became Infrastructure. They also now know that the bridge is meant to summon an angel called "the Lambent," but they don't know why. And they know that the Beetle's window is a gateway to somewhere

They decide to split up, because that's the best way for exciting things to happen. Will, Edgar and Luke will go to the Troll and see if this window leads anywhere (Luke initially states it leads to the Underworld, but then realizes that he's just guessing about that). Amy, Jamie and Saskia will go to Priscilla Benedict's apartment and investigate who she is.

The boys go back down under the bridge, and one after another, they wriggle through the window. The world goes weird, and they wriggle out again...but the neighborhood is different. There's no Troll, and this car is just a burned-out husk. And on the hood, a woman is currently shooting up heroin (and so is too out of it to notice that three men just appeared from nowhere).

Based on her clothes, though, something's off - her fashions are 50 years out of date. Will finds a newspaper machine and buys one. It's August 31, 1962.

Meanwhile, back present-day Seattle, the girls take a drive up Aurora Avenue into what amounts to the red light district. They pull into the Sterling Apartments, which does appear to be something of a shithole. They walk in, and see a guy on the staircase, holding a bag with a big glass bottle, blocking their path. They say they're going up to see Priscilla. The man says she isn't here.

"These are Sterling Apartments, right?" says Jamie...and uses Play on Words.

Reality shudders a bit. Jamie's hair turns fluorescent (glitch). But now instead of being a shitty apartment building called "Sterling," these are really sterling apartments, at least for a few hours. The building gets cleaner, the doors are now freshly painted, and the man on the stairs stands up, is wearing a suit, and carrying a bottle of good vodka rather than cheap malt liquor. He still doesn't think Priscilla is home, however, but he doesn't stop them from going upstairs.

The door is locked, and none of them have especially high Larceny scores. Saskia, however, manifests her Spatial Distortion form power (we redid demonic forms, and OMG they're so much more balanced now, as unclean as I feel typing that) and slips under the door. She opens up for the others, and they get searching.

They find the same painting on the wall as they found in Gordon's place. Amy finds a dead, disemboweled dog in the fridge - apparently Priscilla had done some entrail-reading. They found an envelope on the wall, same as in Gordon's place, but this one with "Gordon Reardon" on it and his address. They found a map with routes from both apartments, routes to and from the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project...but all avoiding the bridge. And they found a book.

The book was Cults in America: The Harmless, The Hoax and the Horrors by Eric Rasoletti, PhD (anyone get that reference?). There was a section in the "Harmless" section with notes in the margins. The section was about a cult called the Fellowship of the Final Awakening, an apocalyptic cult active in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1960s. According to the book, they were largely just wealthy white guys pretending to occult significance, but the really weird thing was, according to the margin notes, this section used to be just a paragraph. Now it was five pages. Is this cult becoming retroactively more significant?

At this point, a man walks into the apartment. He asks if the girls are looking for Priscilla, and then adds "Me, too," in Serbian. Jamie follows up in Swahili, and when he responds, they know they're talking to a demon. He calls himself Comrade West, and he runs the Demon's Republic of Seattle, a kind of communistic Agency - everyone gives, everyone gets. He confirms what the characters suspected; Priscilla and Gordon are (were) the same demon, just different Covers. He's sorry to hear that she's dead (West refers to the demon as Priscilla, but pronouns are a bitch), and doesn't know who the cultists are or why. He does note, though, that stigmatics with matching marks are often created in the same incident...or by the same demon.

They tell him the rest of their story, including the bit about the Lambent. He points out something they hadn't considered.

If they know where and when an angel is going to appear (or, as in this case, they can control it)...they can jack it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Demon: Tautology Forecast, part 1

Last Monday, we played a playtest game of Demon: The Champaggin (didn't know you were such a coin-assuer). I didn't get the write-up done before now because I've been busy writing Demon. So yeah.

I actually got to play in this one, which is a rarity. The game is set in Cleveland, and our characters are all aware of each other and more or less friendly, but largely unaffiliated. Our characters:

  • Lee Colvin (Messenger/Integrator): Lee is a big, burly, bearded preacher. He was sent to build up a following as a kind of guerrilla minister, doing sermons out of the back of his RV. He was then told to deliver a sermon of apocalyptic portents, and Fell rather than (as he saw it) end the world. It never occurred to him that his portents might not be true. (My character, so I might wax long-winded a bit.)
  • Yuri Ivanov (Destroyer/Saboteur): After the Fall (he Fell for love, or at least appreciation of human beauty), Yuri was a hitman for the Russian mob. He cashed in a soul pact to take on the identity of a tattoo artist in Cleveland. 
  • Anton Gaspar (Guardian/Tempter): Anton is our other "connected" guy, but he's rich and trades in favors and pacts. (I don't know much about his backstory, 'cause I'm not running this game.)
  • Mnemosyne (Messenger/Inquisitor): She goes by Harriet now, and she works at a library in a lousy part of Cleveland. As I recall, her library was supposed to be destroyed (it was part of her angelic mission), and she Fell to preserve it. 
  • Shawn King/Krispie (Psychopomp/Tempter): Krispie had been a demon once before. She Fell, was recaptured, recycled, and some part of her remembered the freedom. Her catalyst for Falling on her character sheet is listed as "No Disassemble/Fuck This!".
So, we begin our story in Cleveland one evening. Anton, in his office, gets a phone call. The caller ID doesn't register it, and his secretary (when asked) didn't hear the phone ring or route the call to him. The caller just says a series of numbers (which Anton memorizes, being a demon) and hangs up. 

The numbers don't mean anything to him, and he can't figure out where the call came from, so he calls Harriet. She checks the numbers and, sure enough, she finds that they correspond to two books in her system. One is Cyberbullying by Lucia Raatma, and the other Wanted: Alive or Undead by Kerrelyn Sparks. Harriet had no idea whether they had any demon-related relevance. Anton, still wondering, called up Krispie (who is a hacker and information junkie). Krispie drives an RTA bus and her line stops right in front of Harriet's library, so she decided they'd get together once her shift was over. Anton played with the numbers some more, and figured out that they also worked as a coordinate: in Lakeview Cemetery.

Anton let Krispie and Harriet know, and then called up Lee and Yuri (in case he need muscle or, like, someone preached to, since Lee is no great shakes in a fight. Unless he goes making Hellhounds, but that's another story). They all arrived in a lot across from the cemetery entrance, and wandered across to look for the site. And indeed, they found the coordinates - a gravestone. The name on it was Lucia Sparks (note the authors of the books). The grave was also obviously Infrastructure.

Now worried that they might be intruding on some angelic operation, the demons decided to dig a little further. Literally. Yuri and Lee grabbed shovels out of the back of Lee's RV and started digging, figuring that it was in keeping with the God-Machine to bury a Lynchpin. The others looked around a little further, and felt Aether coming from the ruins of a building that had been recently torn down. Looking in, they found a demonic form. She was very short, almost child-sized, and obviously frightened.

She told the characters that she'd been sent to seduce a minister at a nearby Baptist church, but when she'd gotten there, she had been unable. She felt nothing for him, just a revulsion for the situation, and Fell. But she didn't have a Cover, which was strange - most of the time, when an angel Falls, the keep whatever Cover they had (which is why Lee is still a street preacher, Harriet is still a librarian, etc.). Exposed like this, the demon was a liability for all of them - demons in demonic form attract angels, and no one was in a hurry to fight angels tonight.

Meanwhile, Yuri and Lee dug to the grave until the shovels went clunk. They opened the coffin and found no body, but a scroll. Unrolling it (because if there's one thing you should always do in a horror game, it's unroll scrolls you find in graves), it turned out to be a soul pact. Yikes. But actually, this turns out to be a bit of serendipity, because the Cover-less demon could use this soul pact to get herself a Cover...if we can find whoever signed this pact.

The characters all got back together and the demon rode in the RV with Lee. She asked some questions about Falling and what this all meant, and the other players reflected that maybe this wasn't the smartest idea, letting her ride with the Integrator (Lee just wanted to go home). Lee asked her name; she said she didn't have one. Lee named her "Tamar."

The demons all got together at Yuri's Safe Place (his studio, I believe) and talked this out. They decided that they should go talk to the minister she was supposed to seduce and try and figure out what was going on. Lee and Harriet went (they're kind of the most socially adept of the characters). They talked to the minister, who was an older, and kind of obese, fellow. Trying to get information on this required some finesse ("Say, anybody try and seduce you lately?"), and neither of us have any of the powers that make people talk, but eventually Lee got an exceptional success on a Persuasion roll and I put the Trusting Condition on him. So he opened up.

The minister told us that he'd been outside one evening recently, and had seen a beautiful light, and an angelic vision in it. It had come toward him, but then it vanished.

This made some sense; if that was Tamar, and if she was sent to seduce him as an angel, then she wouldn't have a Cover per se. It's still a strange set of circumstances, and we still have a demon with no Cover.

Next time (which is a week from tomorrow) we'll finish this up. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Movie #187: The Game

The Game is a late-90s thriller film starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn and Deborah Kara Unger, directed by David Fincher.

Douglas stars as Nicholas van Orton, an obscenely rich investment banker who is, if not bored, then unfulfilled. He's coming up on his 48th birthday, the age at which his father jump from the roof of the mansion he now inhabits. His brother, Conrad (Penn) takes him to dinner and gives him his present: A "game," designed by a company called Consumer Recreation Services, tailored to him. More to keep up appearances than anything else, he goes through their lengthy "application" process...and then finds himself entrenched in something weird.

At first, it's just impressive weirdness. They give him a key, tell him others will follow, manipulate the nightly news so that the anchor is talking to him. But then it's chases and vandalism to his house, a hotel room with pictures of the waitress (Unger) that he was running from police with the night before (maybe), but now it turns out she's in on it and they're shooting at him! Holy shit!

In the end, they really are just running the game he paid for. They trick him into thinking that he shoots and kills Conrad, whereupon he jumps off a building into a giant landing pad just in time for his birthday party. All is well, but maybe now he's a little wiser.

It's definitely a Fincher film, with all of the dark, dingy beauty that implies. Douglas gives van Orton just enough vulnerability to make him feel like a person, and Penn is appropriately troubled as Conrad. The game is plausible as a con, but when they pull back the curtain and it is just a game, it doesn't feel like too much of a cheat.

My biggest problem with the movie, though, is that I don't give a shit about van Orton. He's a rich, spoiled, ass, and he never actually loses a damn thing. The game could be about redemption, except it's not, because he's free to go back to being the same ass he always was. Yes, he's got some issues with the suicide of his father, but the end of the movie doesn't give you the sense that he's really come to terms with anything, just that the game showed him that he was fragile and vulnerable, but not that most other people are far more so.

This movie is about a member of the 1% before that was a thing, and I don't think it's aged especially well.

My grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Get Carter

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Deadlands: Lynched

So, last night I ran a one-shot. I gave my players an option for five different games, most of which were pretty indie (hollowpoint, Geasa, stuff like that) and then Deadlands. They chose Deadlands.

I hunted around a bit and found the whole page of Deadlands stuff, including the one-sheets, which are self-contained encounters and scenarios. Perfect. There were a bunch I could have used, but I wound up going with Lynched, so here's the result.

First, our characters:

  • Suzi Love, who you might know from regular installments of my Deadlands game. She's traveling back to Louisiana on family business. 
  • Jack Vance, huckster, gambler, and all around shady customer. He's traveling west from Baton Rouge after some unpleasant business involving poker.
  • Clement Brown, mad scientist, physicist and man of knowledge. Traveling west trying to get to the Great Maze and get some more ghost rock (and hoping the warmer climate will help his condition; he's a sick man). Traveling with...
  • Pearl Hart, gunslinger, gambler and muscle for hire. Work's been kinda slow, but she's hoping it'll pick up as she and Clement get west. 
  • Olaf Dunbar, tinker and tradesman. He's headed south, working his way down to New Orleans, selling his services as he goes. He's traveling with Bobby, his young ward. 
The characters all roll into the small town of Eastman's Creek. It's mostly a hub for the homesteaders around it, but as Pearl and Clement hitched their horses, the saloon is deserted. No lights lit, no one behind the bar. They look around a little, and Pearl goes behind the bar to pour a drink. 

Olaf rolls in shortly after, and Bobby goes scampering in. Olaf looks around and notes that the place doesn't seem abandoned - it's clean and maintained. He sniffs and smells dinner cooking, and goes in the back and finds a man cutting vegetables. The man turns out to be Eli, the owner, who is surprised to have any business. And there's more coming - Jack rides up just then, looking for a room. 

Eli scrambles to get dinner going (Olaf insists on helping), and asks Pearl to light the lamps. Olaf notes that Eli is nervous about something, but doesn't indicate what. Suzi arrives just then, as the sun sets, and Olaf and Clement wind up carting her immense trunk up to her room (she travels in style, financed by Nikolai). 

Dinner (gumbo) happens, and folks head off to bed. Suzi asks if there's a tub; Eli says there is, but it's in his room because he wanted to clean it. Suzi uses the tub (her ritual bath), and Eli sits with Jack, drinking whiskey and talking. Jack asks him what's really going on here, and Eli explains.

Some nights ago, a man and his wife were dragged out of their home and hanged from an old oak tree. The townsfolk were unable to find any evidence of who did it, but they cut the people down and buried them. Then, the next night, another man was dragged from his bed and hanged from the same tree. The townspeople are scared - there's no law in this own, just a marshall that comes through every so often. 

The night passes uneventfully, and in the morning Eli says that he needs to go check the tree. Pearl, Clement, Suzi and Jack volunteer to go with him, while Olaf (who is not only taking care of Bobby but has the Yellow Hindrance) stays behind. After the group leaves, Eli's wife shows up, and profusely thanks Olaf for all his help. 

At the tree, the characters see no new bodies. The oak is old and dead. Suzi casts Dispel, but nothing seems to happen. Jack casts Detect Arcana (and deals with the Devil, unnecessarily), showing off his magic to the others. He confirms the presence of dark, pervasive magic, here. The characters decide that tree's gotta go. 

Pearl and Clement stop off at the house of the first people to die on the way back. Something big smashed through that door, and there are fingernail marks on the floor from where the people were dragged out, but no footprints. This would have taken several men to smash through the heavy door, but no evidence suggests that's what happened. Clearly, we're dealing with something worse. 

Everyone regroups at the inn, and Olaf offers to rig up an accordion saw. Then they figure they can cut the tree down and burn it. That takes much of the afternoon, and as evening falls, everyone heads out to the tree.

When they get there, they see bodies...four bodies, hung from the branches. As they approach, the "nooses" pinch off and the bodies land, and advance on the characters. 

Clement fires off a Burst from his ghost-rock cannon, and Shakes three of the zombies. Jack casts Entangle, but deals with the Devil (again, unnecessarily), doesn't get the hand he needs, and winds up Entangling Suzi, Olaf and Clement instead. Pearl shoots at the zombies, but it doesn't seem to help much. 

The tree whips a noose out and catches Clement around the neck, yanking him to the tree. He fires his gun and severs the noose, but the tree cracks him across the face, nearly killing him. Olaf, freeing himself from the Entangle, drives the carriage over to help, and Suzi calls up a windstorm to blind the zombies. Olaf grabs Clement puts him in the carriage, and starts riding away, but the tree whips Jack and Olaf with its nooses. Olaf has a tool in his pocket and slices the noose, and Jack casts Trinkets and conjures one, so they drop to the ground.

Suzi casts Elemental Manipulation and lights a zombie on fire. She whips it with Mina Devlin's whip, and it goes quiet, staring at her. She orders it to hug the tree, and it does...the tree immediately starts to burn. Clement, deciding to let the horses take him where they may, turns around and fires his cannon at the tree, severing its nooses and some of its branches. The tree goes up in flames, burning to ash in instants, and blowing away on the wind. 

The characters head back to the saloon, where Eli and Olaf tend the wound (read: Clement), and Olaf thanks them all heartily. The townsfolk pay the characters what they can, and everyone continues on their journey. Who knows, maybe we'll all meet up again. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Movie #186: Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest is a comedy starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shaloub, Sam Rockwell, Dayrl Mitchell and Alan Rickman.

Back in the 70s or 80s, the TV show Galaxy Quest was popular, if cheesy. Now, years after it's been cancelled, the cast are doing appearances at cons and openings of stores, wearing their uniforms and spouting their catchphrases, and generally loathing it. Only Jason Nesmith (Allen), who played the dashing Captain Peter Taggart, seems to be really enjoying it, but that's only because he's soaking up the adulation and not realizing how much the rest of the cast can't stand him.

And then he gets a visit from Mathasar (Enrico Colantoni), an alien from planet Thermia, who asks for the heroic captain of the NSEA Protector to come help negotiate a peace treaty with a lionfish-like monster called Sarris (Robin Sachs). Thinking it's gig at first (he's hung over and kind of oblivious), he screws it up, but then brings the rest of the cast with him to help. They get in far over their heads, but of course, they manage to pull it out at the end, destroy Sarris, save the Thermians, and return to Earth in time to start a reboot of their show.

OK, now, obviously this is all based on Star Trek. The obsessive fans, the hokey effects, the tradition of killing off an extra to show that the situation is serious (said "extra" is Guy Fleegman, played by Rockwell, in a brilliant bit of meta-humor - he knows exactly what genre he's in and it terrifies him), the boobtastic token woman (Weaver), and so forth. I've seen people saying that maybe it would have been better to get the actual cast, but I don't think so.

For one thing, they're old. They wouldn't have the same ability to do the physical stuff that this younger cast did. For another, then it wouldn't be parody. Then it would making actual comment on the actual Star Trek community, and while there might be a certain charm in seeing Shatner and Nichols and Nimoy and so on battling "real" aliens, then you couldn't just pick the bits of the series that needed to get lampooned. You'd have to make real callouts to real episodes, and then when Taggart says "I think we all know what happened to that [whatever] in episode [whatever]," half the audience would laugh and the other half would feel like they'd missed the joke. But here, the joke is that the fans do have that connection, and we all get that part, so we don't need to know the particulars (this is also why I enjoy Abrams' remake of Star Trek, but we'll get to S eventually).

The cast is amazing. I'm not a fan of Allen particularly, but he's awesome in this role. Could've done without the tacked-on romance between him and Weaver, but eh. Rickman is far and away the best part of the movie. He never loses his "alien" makeup, so we never quite see him, but his portrayal of Alexander Dane as Dr. Lazarus, a sophisticated, skilled actor dealing with the fannish nature of sci-fi and almost losing it, is amazing, especially as he shows some real love and regard for the people around him.

Teagan and Cael watched this movie with us, and it was really awesome to see Teagan getting excited by it - she's never seen these tropes, and so she doesn't know what to expect. So when she sees the ship for the first time, it's impressive and exciting and she feels the same "whoa" the characters do. That made it better, I gotta say.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Game

Movie #185: The Fugitive

The Fugitive is a 1993 movie based on a TV show of the same name (which I've never seen), starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. It's a pretty awesome movie in a lot of ways (though, let's just get this out of the way up front, there are three women in the movie - Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, and L. Scott Caldwell, and none of them get much screen time. Wait, four, because a very young Jane Lynch shows up, too).

Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford) comes home and finds his wife (Ward) dying and a one-armed man fleeing the scene. He fights the man, but loses, and his wife dies. The police, showing incompetence that would be completely beyond the pale if it weren't so believable, book him for the murder (no forensic evidence indicates anyone else was there, and the 911 call his wife made kinda-sorta makes it sound like she's identifying him as the killer, if you squint and are dumb). So he's convicted and sentenced to death.

One train wreck later, he escapes and goes on the run, trying to find the one-armed man's identity. Meanwhile, he's pursued doggedly by a skilled US Marshal (Jones) and his team (including Campbell, and Joey Pants). Now, they do all the work that the police didn't do, recognize right away that the real killer (Andreas Katsulas) is dirty (he's an ex-cop, which might be why the police didn't look too hard at him when they investigated him the first time). Kimble, however, managed to stay one step ahead of everyone and confronts both the killer and the dude who set the whole thing up, and is exonerated.

Ford's performance is really awesome. He's obviously hurting and infuriated by the whole thing, and he never, ever, acts cool. He's not a cool dude who's too cool for anything uncool (I have this issue with a lot of action movies, and a lot of RPG players who make cool characters). He manages to keep his cool under some pretty unpleasant situation (I chalk that up to his profession and, somewhat, the year+ he must have spent in jail before the escape), but he never looks unaffected by what's happening.

Jones, of course, is the real standout here. He won an Oscar for this role and it spawned a spinoff (the far-inferior US Marshalls). His Sam Gerard is unrelenting and all business, but he's dedicated to his job in a not-stupid way. That is, he doesn't let the fact that Kimble is innocent (which he suspects fairly early on) get in the way of catching him, but he also puts the puzzle together and doesn't go for blood after that.

So. Flunks the Bechdel nice and hard. We have good scenes with Julianne Moore and Jane Lynch, Sela Ward gets fridged as the impetus for the whole thing. But it's well-scripted and well-acted and well-directed, and it makes Chicago look grey, unforgiving and dingy, so there's that.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Galaxy Quest

Monday, April 1, 2013

Movie #184: From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is a vampire movie directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Harvey Keitel, Ernest Liu and Quentin Tarantino (who also wrote the screenplay).

Seth and Richie Gecko (Clooney and Tarantino, respectively) are armed robbers and killers trying like hell to get across the border to Mexico, away from the police. But they've killed so many people that the whole southwest is looking for them, so they wind up jacking an RV along with the Fuller family. Jacob Fuller (Keitel) is a preacher who has lost his faith after the death of his wife, and he's taking his kids (Kate and Scott; Lewis and Liu, respectively) on a cross-country trip.

Now, Seth is professional, if violent. Richie, on the other hand, is a hot mess. He's utterly psycho, and a rapist to boot. Jacob recognizes what he is, and Seth, while he loves his brother, is obviously in pain over how horrible the dude actually is. The group of them makes it over the border to Mexico and winds up at the Titty Twister, a rowdy biker/trucker bar with nekkid dancers, a truly slimy barker at the door (Cheech Marin, in one of three roles in this movie), a friendly bartender (Danny Trejo), and a creepy if truly sexy dancer (Salma Hayek).

In the midst of a barfight in which Richie's already-wounded hand starts bleeding like crazy, Hayek flips out and grows fangs. And then the rest of the bar employees do likewise, and holy shit, we're in the midst of vampire freakout. When the dust settles, Richie is dead. Only Seth, the Fullers, a crazy Nam vet named Frost (Fred Williamson) and a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini) remain alive... but they still have to make it to dawn in order to have any hope of living.

The first hour of the movie has some horrific elements, but nothing supernatural and nothing that really say "horror movie" rather than "Tarantino flick." The Gecko brothers shoot people, and Richie does something horrible to their hostage (we never see what, exactly but it's obvious that he's raped and shot her). This gives us time to learn about the characters before the vampires come out, and that's effective. There are also some really cool shots with doorways, and, of course, the closing shot where we see that the Titty Twister is actually a fucking step-temple.

All in all, like Fright Night, it's a vampire movie that squarely paints vampires as monsters, and gives us characters with interesting backstories and personal histories. Like a lot of Rodriguez films, it fails the Bechdel nice and hard (the only non-victim character is Kate, and she loses her family), but you can't have everything.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Fugitive

Character Creation: Farewell to Fear

I know, last week on Facebook I said I was reading Roma Imperious, but it's on my laptop and I didn't have time (I spent most of last week prepping for MarCon - there's a post about that coming soon, too) and doing proofing for A Tragedy in Five Acts, which is now on sale at DriveThru RPG and you should totally go buy it, unless you're waiting for a print copy, in which case fair enough).

Anyway, so I'm planing on reading Roma Imperious this week and doing a character this weekend, but for today, I just finished reading Farewell to Fear (it's been bedside reading for a while), and so I figured I'd do that one.

The Game: Farewell to Fear
The Publisher: Machine Age Productions
Degree of Familiarity: Not much. Just read it, haven't had a chance to play it.
Books Required: Just the one, plus a class sheet from the website.

So, Farewell to Fear is billed as a progressive fantasy game. The group collectively decides, at the beginning of play, what their revolution is going to be (cultural, scientific, etc.). And then you pick a class, and decide on a personal revolution as well. I'm getting shades of Apocalypse World, here, which is never a bad place to draw on.

So I need to pick a class. There are six on the website. Priest-Hunter is interesting to me, as is Chef, and of course Wizard. Anthropologist I could make work, but I'm not feeling it today. Chevalier, eh. I'm happy it's not "fighter," because yawn. Operative looks cool, but I've been doing a lot of spy-related stuff lately. Hmm. I'm torn between Chef and Wizard. What the hell, I almost always make magic-using characters first time out of the gate in fantasy games. We'll try it.

OK, since I don't have a group, there's not a group to collectively decide upon a revolution. If I were playing, I would probably push for either fantastical change or scientific advancement. Let's go scientific advancement. It says I'm supposed to circle "d6" under team revolution, but the Wizard class sheet has numbers instead (I assume this is a misprint).

The different class sheets are laid out differently. That's...sort of annoying. I play with a lot of people that don't assimilate new games real well, and consistency on the character sheets is a good thing.

Anyway, now I pick a personal revolution and a need. I think, if I'm reading this right, that one of those two gets a +2 and one gets a -2, but it's not real clear, and there's no example of character creation (game designers, I beg you, always an example of chargen). Assuming I've got this right, I look at the Needs and the personal Revolutions. Hmm. I like Cultural Revolution (people can have magic to help them, whether they think they need it or not). The Needs are a little harder for me. I think, tying it in with the Cultural Revolution, I'll take the one about building a community. I want to be not the aloof wizard on the tower, but the well-respected, kind of quirky wizard in the town. I think the Revolution is more important to me, so I'll put that at +2 and the Need at -2.

Now, Skill Tree. So here's a thing: The word "skill" does not appear on the character sheet. Hrm. I think that, based on the "tree," that we start with the Core Ability (again, the word "skill" is never used). And then we get four points, so that's four circles filled in? I guess? There are numbers on the sheet, and the bits on the right and left have bonuses that are explained, but I'm buggered if I can figure out the ones in the middle. I guess I'll fill in the bottom three circles, and then I can take a bonus to Research (on the left) or a Magical Tool (on the right). I'll go with the Magical Tool; the shit on the left is destructive, and I don't see that for this character.

OK, now Background. This is another not-very-well-explained thing. I can take a single rank of a Background. It says to fill in the first rank of background, and pick a location and profession. So I could be a warlock of Kenuuise, I suppose (the world of Farewell to Fear is really well fleshed-out, with lots of letters and in-character correspondence that gives you the feeling that people here have their own history and bias and so on). Well, sure. So I'll take "Magister of Waarhuise." Waarhuise is the home of magic-user types, and "magister" means "teacher." That's nicely presumptuous.

Abilities! Instead of the usual Strength, Dexterity, etc. we get Analysis, Conjecture, Experimentation, Probability and Research. All very scientific. As a Wizard I get +2 to Research, and then if I'm reading the Skill Tree right I get another +2. So let's assume that's +4 to Research and I get another +2 to throw around.

I think Probability is not this guy's strong point, nor is Conjecture. I think Analysis and Experimentation are the better fits for a somewhat arrogant idealist, so I'll split the points there.

Equipment! I get a a specialized +2 staff, orb, or whatever from my Magical Tool Skill (again, if I read this right). It only applies when I use my Ultimate Tool Skill (huh-huh) but it's not tied to a particular Ability. OK. I want a staff, so I can look really imperious. I'll go really on the nose here and name the staff Noblesse Oblige.

And then I get two more pieces of equipment that do have to be tied to an Ability. Let's say a book - History of Arduise, a volume somewhat older and more, um, edited than Professor Anderssen's (+1 to Conjecture). And then I'll take a crystal pendulum (+2 to Probability).

I get 3 Vigor to start, and then I need a description and a name. Sure thing. His name is Micah. He's hale and healthy, wears his pendulum on a silver chain around his fingers (and twirls it when he's nervous), and quotes the History of Arduise like it's gospel or something.

Looks good. I'd like to play this game, but I'd really like to read an example of play or chargen. Gotta download a module at some point and see how those work.