Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie #215: Grandma's Boy

Grandma's Boy is a Happy Madison movie, but don't hold that against it. It starts Allen Covert, Linda Cardellini, Doris Roberts, Joel Allan Moore, Shirley Knight, and Shirley Jones.

Alex (Covert) is a thirty-five year old video game tester. He loves his job; it pretty much lets him get high and play video games. Then he gets kicked out of his house because his idiot roommate spends their rent on Filipino prostitutes, and after an embarrassing incident while staying with his infantile friend Jeff (Nick Swardson), he goes to stay with his grandmother, Lily (Roberts) and her two friends, Bea (Knight) and Grace (Jones).

Alex loves his grandma (and it's hard not to; she's awesome), but the ladies screw with his routine and make it hard for him to get his work done. And that's a problem - the company Alex works for just hired a new manager, Samantha, (Cardellini) to oversee their new title, Eternal Death-Slayer 3, and get it on track. The teen genius who designed it, J.P, (Moore) is the most awkward thing on two legs, dressing out of the Matrix and referring to Samantha as "milady" and generally acting like...well, tell you what. Go over to Gamespot and read some of the comments on Carolyn Petit's review of Grand Theft Auto 5. That's about the level of maturity we're at, here (though nowhere near that level of vitriol, which is good, 'cause I'd have turned off the movie).

Meanwhile, Alex is developing his own video game, Demonik, which looks amazing and was supposed to be released but the company doing it fell through or something. Anyway, J.P. tries to steal it and take the credit, but Grandma Lily steps up and whoops his ass at the game (told you she was awesome), and all is well!

The movie is juvenile, but, in my humble opinion, it's funny as hell. Covert has a real rapport with Swardson and his other coworkers (including Jonah Hill), but especially with Roberts. The party scene (the old ladies drink Alex' weed as tea, get high as fuck, and the whole thing turns into a huge party) is awesome, yes, in part because of Cardellini's awesome performance of "Push It," but mostly because everyone's having such a great time and Roberts is right there in the middle of it, making sandwiches (you know, if you've been paying attention, that I identify with this behavior). And then in the morning, we get my favorite scene: Alex and Lily reminiscing about Alex's grandfather, and about how he'd have gotten blitzed with them all and been the life of the party. Alex and Lily make sense, their characters are established, and we can root for them because, as much as Alex is kind of an ass at times, he's well-meaning and he doesn't take advantage of his grandmother, even when she makes him do chores.

The rest of the cast is similarly sympathetic, and it's actually a little jarring when J.P. steals Alex's game, because the scene before that he comes to Alex in tears, just wanting to fit in. I think a scene in between that, where we see J.P. wrestle with taking that action, would have been nice, as would some attention to why Alex can't prove that the game he's been working on for three years is really his (seriously, sketches? backup files? no? nothing?).

In my opinion, it's well worth watching, it's a lot of fun, and I'm so glad it didn't star or even feature Adam Sandler (David Spade and Rob Schneider show up for brief cameos, and that's quite enough).

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Grease

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Board Game: Hisss

Our first board game post! Savor the moment.

The Game: Hisss
The Publisher: Gamewright
Ages: 4 and up
Time: 15 minutes with 5 people; we played three games in less than an hour
Players: Me, Michelle, Sarah, Teagan, Cael

Game Play: We've got a bunch of colorful cards depicting snake bits (head, tail, midsection). They're all shuffled and fanned out, and your turn you draw one. If you can connect it, you do, otherwise it just forms a new snake. Colors match to colors, and if you can connect two snake parts using a new card, you can. A snake is complete when it has a head, at least one midsection, and a tail, and when it's complete the player that completes it says "HISSS!" and takes it. When all the cards are out, you count the cards in your snakes, most cards winds.

Opinions: It's a kids' game, obviously. It's fun, the artwork is cool, and it's cool to watch the snakes get longer. One major problem: There's no way to cheat. When kids are playing, it's nice to have a way to throw the game in a way that isn't obvious, but with this, once you draw, your play is obvious. Cael played all three games before he got a snake - that's not because he wasn't playing "well," that's just luck of the draw. In a related matter, there is no strategy. It's just what you draw when.

Keep It?: Sure. Cael really likes it, so it's a nice game to play with the kiddos.

Board Game List

We cleaned out our game closet not long ago, and here's the board/card games we own. I'm planning on playing them all, as we have time and interested folks, and then blogging it briefly. Just because I apparently like to make lists of things then do them.

7 Wonders
Adorable Monsters
Alea Iacta Est
America's National Parks
Apples to Apples
Arcadia: The Wyld Hunt
Arkham Horror
Before There Were Stars
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Beyond Balderdash
Black Rose, The
Boggle Master
Bridge Troll
Building an Elder God
Bunny Money Gunny
Cat Lady
Channel A
Clue VCR
Code Names
Cthulhu Wars
Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter: Long Night
Deadlands: Battle for Slaughter Gulch
Disaster Looms
Don't Turn Your Back
Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
Early America Chrononauts
Eaten by Zombies
Eldritch Horror
Escape the Dark Castle
Exploding Kittens
Fantasy Frontier
Fish Eat Fish
Five Crowns
Five Tribes
Flash Point
Flip Flash
Forbidden Desert
Forbidden Island
Fury of Dracula
Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition
Get Bit
Ghost Stories
Good Dog, Bad Zombie
Gother Than Thou
Great Dalmuti
Haunting House
Hex Hex
Hirelings: The Ascent
Hobbit Tales
Hocus Focus
House of Danger
Hunter: Deadly Prey
I Spy 3D
Inner Circle
Jungle Speed
Kill the Overlord
King's Vineyard
Kodama: The Tree Spirits
Koi Pond
Last Friday
Lemonade Stand
Let's Take a Hike
Letters from Whitechapel
Little Dead Riding Hood
Living Labryinth
Locke & Key
Lunch Money
Marble Quest
Mice and Mystics
Miskatonic School for Girls
Mission: Red Planet
Monster Factory
Murder of Crows
Mystery! Motive for Murder
Nanobot Battle Arena
Once Upon a Time
Pack the Pack
Pandemic: Iberia
Paradise Fallen
Paranormal Investigation
Pixie Pairs
Pleasant Dreams
Race to Adventure
Railways of the World
Red Dragon Inn 2 & 4
Refuge, The
Ren Faire
Scandinavia & The World: A Heap of Trouble
Scene It!
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Sentinels of Multiverse: Vengeance
Settlers of Catan
Shear Panic
Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Shinobi Clans
Sleeping Queens
Smash Up!
Spirit Island
Stop, Thief!
Super Munchkin
Sushi Go!
Terra Evolution
Testimony of Jacob Hollow
Three Dragon Ante
Three Cheers for Master
Ticket to Ride: Europe
Ticket to Ride
Timeline: Music & Cinema
Trickster: Champions of Time
Trivial Pursuit Millenium
Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture 2
Ultimate Werewolf
Unspeakable Words
Walking Dead
Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Warlords of Rhaermar
Welcome to Slaughterville
Wise and Otherwise
Word Sense
Wrath of the Old Dog
You Are the Maniac!
Zombie Fluxx
Zombies (+2, 3, 5 & 8)
Zombies 4: The End

Movie #214: Gothika

Gothika is a ghost story from Dark Castle films, the same geniuses that gave us Ghost Ship and the remakes of House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, and Th13teen Ghosts. It starts Halle Berry, Robert Downey, Jr., Charles Dutton, Penelope Cruz, and John Carroll Lynch.

Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) is a psychiatrist at a mental hospital. One night, she works with a delusional patient (Cruz), smooches her boss/husband (Dutton), talks with her love-smitten co-worker (Downey Jr.) and heads home. But she runs across a woman in the middle of the road (Kathleen Mackey), and sees her burst into flames...and the next thing she knows, she wakes up in the hospital as a patient. She killed her husband with an ax, and has no memory of it.

As the movie progresses, Grey is continually haunted by the girl, and by the words "NOT ALONE." Eventually, she escapes, and figures it out - her husband and the sheriff (Lynch) were serial rapists and killers, and had been using girls in the hospital for their predations. They killed the girl on the road, and her ghost possessed Berry to kill her husband.

The end, of course, features a battle between the sheriff and Grey, and there's gunplay and a spectral visitation. At the end of it all, Grey is free, her patient Chloe is out and putting herself together...but Grey can apparently see ghosts now.

It's actually a better movie than I remembered. It's not high art, of course, and it's less fun than the other Dark Castle films, but the plot holds together, there are a couple of decent scares and creep moments, and it's always nice to see a movie starring a woman and a POC who gets through it alive.

My grade: C
Rewatch value: A lot more than I thought, which is to say, low.

Next up: Grandma's Boy

Movie #213: Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is a rather fucked-up sci-fi drama kind of thing starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, and Beth Grant. Try and follow this.

Donne Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled, confused, weird and very intelligent teenager who sleepwalks. He takes meds for some mental health issues, and he hallucinates. One morning, he wakes up on a golf course, and comes home to find that an engine from a plane has crushed his room. His family is unharmed, but he would have been killed if he'd been home. He credits a huge, freaky rabbit named Frank (James Duval, but we don't learn that until later) for saving him.

The movie progresses and Frank talks to Donnie, telling him to do things. He floods the school, and then burns down the home of the local author/cult leader whose self-help books are running rampant in the community (Swayze). This reveals that said author runs a kiddie porn ring, which gets him arrested, which means Donnie's mother (Mary McDonnell) takes over for the teacher (Beth Grant) who was going to take a dance troupe to Star Search, meaning she and Donnie's little sister (Daveigh Chase) are on a plane coming home the night of a Halloween party.

But I'm missing a few things. During this whole month (the movie takes place over October 1988), Donnie starts dating the new girl in town, Gretchen (Malone), but Frank continues to torment him, asking him about time travel. He gets a book on the subject written by a local crazy lady (Patience Cleveland), and on the night of the Halloween party, he and Gretchen go up to see her. Tragedy happens, Gretchen gets run down by a dude driving too fast on the road...who turns out to be Frank. Donnie shoots Frank, and comes to figure out that he could prevent all of this if he just stays in bed the night the chunk of the plane (which comes from the plane that his mother and sister are on, coming back) crushes his room.


I have not seen the director's cut, which might make more sense(?). As it is, the movie doesn't go out of its way to explain shit. I kinda like that, in a way; you get the sense that there is a kind of science at work here, but even Donnie, who's really intelligent, is way out of his depth. How he goes back in time and makes the choice to die rather than set this whole end-of-the-world thing in motion, I don't know, it's never explained. It just kind of happens. But the scene at the end after Donnie dies where "Mad World" plays and we pan through the other characters, jostled awake by memories of events that will never happen, is really awesome.

The movie is moody as hell, and always makes me want to run Whispering Vault. Also, it's totally a God-Machine story, and viewed in that context, the "wtf is going on" aspects are more palatable.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Gothika

Holy cats, busy Sunday.

OK. Gotta do the game write-up from last week. Gotta do two movie posts, and then a board game post. And then I gotta write this Hunter thing. Here we go!

So, way back here we played through the first session of our Warehouse 13 game, off on an exciting quest to chase some cows. Something I forgot at the end of that session: the next morning, several of the cows had shown up in the town square, wearing signs saying "MEAT IS MURDER" and "I FART METHANE" and so on. Looked like some low-grade ecoterrorism, but it gave us something to investigate.

Blue called the sheriff and he came and got the cows, and then she roused the rest of us. Raji examined the cows (Charlotte couldn't leave the hotel, it being daylight), and found they were also coma-cows; slowed heart rate, just kinda lethargic. But that didn't give us any sense of where they'd been or what they'd been doing. Prints on the signs matched a youngster in town who had a record, but we couldn't find him or his girlfriend.

Memphis had dug up that Daniel Thompson, the missing truck driver, had whomped together new identities for his wife and son and put them a couple of towns over (not a very professional job). We talked about going to see her, but ultimately, didn't. Memphis dug into some historical records and called up some artifacts that might have this effect on cows. She came up with Mrs. O'Leary's cowbell, and a brand that, surprise surprise, has a similar shape to the Lazy S ranch.

So we went out to Jimmy's ranch, and Raji and Blaine snuck into the barn (well, with Blaine it's less "sneaking" and more "walking" because he's a ghost). Raji found several brands, including one that Blaine identified as looking older. But at this point Raji got caught and made some excuses about 4-H. At this point Blue and Memphis showed up and told Raji to get in the van, looking all stern and stuff, to avoid prosecution for trespassing.

Jimmy said that the brand wasn't in use, and hadn't been in his memory. We talked about ways to get it, but since Raji got caught and Blaine can't carry material things, we decided to send Charlotte back for it after dark.

From there, we talked about the logistics. If you were stealing cattle, and not immediately selling or slaughtering them, where would you put them? Memphis did some computer-ing and came up with a few places in the area that you could keep a herd of that size. One was an abandoned tool and dye plant, so we headed out there. Blaine, as usual, walked through the place to scout ahead, but apart from some litter and footprints that indicated it had been visited recently, nothing. No cows or evidence of cows, anyway.

Nearby, there was a trailer, so we headed out there as well. In that trailer, we found Daniel Thompson, hanged with an extension cord. It looked as though he'd been tied up, hanged, then untied in a half-assed attempt to make it look like a suicide. He didn't leave a ghost behind, though.

Blue called the sheriff to come and start processing this scene, and that's where we left it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Character Creation: Cold City

Done writing for the day, not quite ready to go to bed, not exhausted (yet, though still sick), and I feel like making a character. So!

The Game: Cold City
The Publisher: Contested Grounds Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

This was one of the many games I got in the Haiti bundle waaaaaay back a few years ago. I finally got round to reading it, mostly because +Rose Bailey brought it to my attention vis a vis Demon: The Descent, and it looks really cool.

Basically, you're playing people policing post-War Berlin for supernatural craziness, but it's not just Hellboy in Germany. You're at odds with the folks in your unit, who are probably different nationalities from you, and you can't ever be sure who to trust. It's interesting to me that, in the era of 1984-like surveillance on everything (hi, NSA!), we're seeing this greater influx of spy-related games; this, Nights Black Agents, Blowback, Demon, and so on. (In related news, some of the same overarching issues inspire Daedalus, but it's not going to have quite the same spy theme or flavor.)

So! Cracking open my pdf, let's see what I need to do.

First thing, Nationality. I can play an American, a Brit, a French, or a Soviet. Hmm. It'd be interesting a play a Soviet and play up the fact that the Russians lost, what, 50 times as many people in the War as anyone else? I think we'll do that. My character's name is Ivan Nikolaevich Osinov.

Next, Occupation. Member of the RPA, yes, but what before that? Ivan served in the Red Army. He was part of the anti-tank brigade deployed at the Battle of Stalingrad, which he considers to be his finest moment. At the time, he was very young (we'll say he was only 17 then, which means he's still pretty young by RPG standards), and he wasn't really cogent of how the war was going. It wasn't until later than he found out how many of his countrymen died. Background plays into this, too. We'll say Ivan's a demolitions expert. He had a knack for electronics and he's deft and hard to rattle. Plus, the demo guy that was supposed to go into battle took a sniper round to the head the day before, so Ivan had to fill in.

Draw is what drew Ivan into the Underground War. That is, how'd I learn about supernatural shit? I think Ivan saw that bodies of dead soldiers were being cleaned up, put on ice, and sent into Berlin. If I were playing this game, I'd get a Draw scene to flesh that out, but that's good enough for me.

Attributes: Only three, Action, Influence, and Reason. I get 1 in each and then 5 more to split up. 2 is Average, 3 is Good, 5 is Badass.

Let's see. I think Action and Reason are going to be my high ones. I only get 5 points to throw around, though. Can't even put them all at 3. Hmm. I'll put Action at 4 and Reason at 3, leaving Influence at 1. Not my strong point.

Now, Traits. I get five, but two have to be negative.

"Steady under pressure" sounds good for a demolitions guy. That's positive. "Has seen too many dead Russians," I think, is negative. "Near-perfect memory" is positive (good for remembering which wire goes to what). "Electronics expert" sounds OK, obviously positive. And, finally, "keeps everything in order" is my other negative trait; Ivan's a little OCD.

Next, Hidden Agendas. One is personal, one is national. For my personal agenda, Ivan wants to get his family out of Stalingrad. He loves Mother Russia, but he's not stupid, and he knows what's going on. For his national agenda, he wants to make sure the world learns about Russia's sacrifices in WWII. It seems like folks in the West think that the USA won the war single-handedly sometimes, and that galls the hell out of Ivan.

Now, the last step would be Trust, but that only works if I have a group, which I don't. So that's actually it for my purposes!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Movie #212: Dogma

Dogma is a 1999 Kevin Smith movie starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Salma Hayek, and, obviously, Jason Mewes and Smith himself.

So: There's this church in New Jersey in which the local cardinal (George Carlin) is trying to revamp Catholicism for the new generation. In addition to retiring the crucifix and introducing the "Buddy Christ," he's going to rededicate the church and use some Catholic wiggle-rule called "plenary indulgence" - you just come in to the church, you're clean of all sin. This is nice, right?

But ah-ha. Two fallen angels (Damon and Affleck) who have been banished to Wisconsin for all of human history, learn about this via an anonymous letter, and figure they can use it get back to Heaven (see, they can cut off their wings and become human, and thus gain forgiveness via plenary indulgence - there's a huge plot hole here, which I'll go into briefly below). Trouble is, doing this would prove God fallible, and then all of reality un-creates. The Metatron (Rickman) taps an abortion clinic work named Bethany Sloane (Fiorentino), herself a lapsed Catholic, to stop them, and she picks up two "prophets" along the way (Mewes and Smith as Jay and Silent Bob), as well as the forgotten 13th apostle (Rock).

So, plot hole: Here's the thing. The reason plenary indulgence works for the angels is because Church law is treated as Divine law (Affleck quotes the last promise Christ made to Peter: whatever you hold true here on Earth I will hold true in Heaven). Catholic dogma is likewise held, in the paradigm of the movie, to be true. That in mind, what stopped the angels from becoming human and then getting re-baptized into the faith, or doing their penance, and getting back to Heaven that way? Never mind that, why didn't they just live as people? Much of their angst in the movie is bound up in the fact humans get the best treatment from God (which is a load of bullshit, but whatever), but they were always capable of being human.

Anyway, never mind that. Turns out God has been kidnapped; He likes to become human every so often and play skeeball, and while doing so he got beaten into a coma. So he's trapped in New Jersey, unable to die and thus go to Heaven, while this whole plot is going on. It's orchestrated by a very clever demon (Lee), who just wants to escape Hell once and for all - but he can't, being a demon and not an angel, he can't "transubstantiate" and become human.

In the end, the angels massacre a bunch of people, become human, Affleck kills Damon, and then is about to enter the church when Bethany finds and "kills" God, allowing Him...Her, rather, since She's played by Alanis Morrisette, to intervene. Deus ex cathedra.

It's a fun movie. Very much a Smith movie, with all the juvenile humor that goes with that, but mostly it just come from Jay, as opposed to in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back when it's from everything. The other folks raise some fairly poignant points about life and God and free will and selfishness and so on, and so if you take the movie's paradigm seriously, it works nicely. Smith is obviously a geek, because he pays attention to the rules by which God's magic works (to wit: the whole "skeeball-and-now-in-a-coma" thing).

Michelle and I talked about this movie and why I like it, because she'd have expected otherwise. But I don't need to believe in elves to enjoy Lord of the Rings. I don't take issue with the movie's quasi-message that faith is a good thing, either, because Rock in particular makes it obvious that blind faith is stupid and gets people killed. Ideas, perhaps inspired by faith, are the better metric, because they're useful and ultimately mutable. All of my usual problems with the Judeo-Christian version of God remain, in real life, but this is a movie - even if Smith might believe some of it, that doesn't affect my viewing experience.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Donnie Darko

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Monsterhearts: Episode One

Last night we played our first session of Monsterhearts (characters here). In keeping with the book's advice, I just followed the characters around on their first day and added some interesting bits that will lead to our Threats and Menaces.

The players really got into this game. They dove right into the high school plots and shenanigans, and fleshed out the world as we went. So!

It's Friday, October 13. The Homecoming game and dance is in two weeks (10/27), and of course it has a Halloween theme. The characters are all in homeroom - Cassie is on the Homecoming committee (as are her three clique members). The morning announcements happen; Genesis talks some shit about Homecoming and Rook and Cassie reach out to her, offering to take her out shopping and so on.

First period is a creative writing elective (Rook and Cassie), English (Genesis), and Geometry (Skylar and Dora). Rook and Cassie write something scary:

Rook: The man stood at the top of the stairs. How did he get into my house?

I just stood there as he started laughing. I heard the soft moans of my mother from her bedroom and the drumming of my fathers leg’s as he bled out.
The knife in the man’s hand still dripping the blood that runs through my veins, I turn and the world goes slow.
Like molasses, I move to the door, trying to escape, trying to leave, trying to break free.
I don’t ever turn around. I don’t even look back.
I can’t possibly leave the house in these shoes, but I must.

Haunted house, black cat
Seeing my Grandma naked.
All these things scare me.

In English class, Ms. Downey assigned Interview With The Vampire, and Genesis winds up in a study group with Alyssa (one of Cassie's cronies) and Omar Diaz, one of the smartest people in the sophomore class (Genesis might have a little crush; this becomes important later). They talk about the Theater of Vampires and about predators fucking with their prey just because they can, and about whether other animals do that (cats, but what else?). 

In Geometry class, though, shit gets real. 

Skylar hasn't done his homework, and Mr. Piper asks why ("Zombies ate it"). Kevin Gable, one of the football team, makes a disparaging remark when Skylar answers a question, and winds up getting called up to the board (along with Dora and Skylar) to do a problem. Dora does hers no problem (it's math, it's not like it's culturally biased), Kevin has trouble, so Skylar does her problem and then does Kevin's (shutting him down). Keven is humiliated, and goes back to his seat. 

After class, though, Keven body-checks Skylar into a locker. Skylar responds by turning him on, pushing back and giving Kevin a little peck on the cheek. Kevin escalates the violence, but Dora casts a hex (binding). She gets in the way, though, so Kevin punches her in the face (aiming for Skylar). Genesis immediately calls out Kevin (shutting him down), and winds up giving him the ashamed Condition (he yells "dyke" over his shoulder, which winds up attaching as a Condition to Genesis). Cassie pops into a classroom and rats out Kevin to a teacher; said teacher helps Dora get to the nurse's office. Skylar cleans up Dora's blood with a handkerchief, and pockets it.

Rook gives Genesis a note, asking her to Homecoming. He also notices the janitor walking into a janitorial closet, and leaving behind a black, sticky footprint, which immediately starts to evaporate. Rook takes a picture with his smartphone before it vanishes.

Next period: Cassie and Rook have Biology with Mr. Scherick. They're dissecting cats, but their cat is missing. Cassie informs the teacher of this, and turns him on to avoid having to continue the dissection. This works, and Scherick gives Cassie a note to take to the principal, Mr. Miles. She reads the note immediately - "Tell Mike to stay out of my classroom." Mike is the janitor's name. Rook has already shown Cassie the photo he took. 

Dora's in the nurse's office. She gets some ice on her nose, and the principal visits with an incident report form. She tells him what happened, and he tells her that she can file a police report, but she doesn't have to. Dora immediately figures this is because Kevin is a football player, and the Perdido High Dolphins are 10-0 this season. A bit disgusted, she heads back to art class. 

Meanwhile, in art class, Skylar, Genesis and their classmates are told to "paint Halloween." Genesis tries to gaze into the abyss, but all she gets is a vision of the classroom filling with water, everyone drowning and floating away, and her stuck on the bottom, looking up, unable to float. 

Skylar, on the other hand, gazes into the abyss successfully, and paints. His painting is a picnic table with people eating meat, and black footprints leading up to the table. Unsure of what this means, she stares at the painting. The teacher, Mr. Glick, comes over to ask about it. Skylar responds hostility - he isn't sure what means, and lashes out, breaking the canvas and using his unresolved trauma move. Glick gains the blamed Condition, but Skylar can't speak for the rest of the scene. Genesis jumps in, talking about art and passion, and Glick kicks her out (she fails to hold steady). She wanders the halls, and bumps into Cassie. She's answered Rook's note, and hands it to Cassie, who is overjoyed to discover that Genesis said yes. 

Cassie, confused, takes the note to the principal's office, and hands it to the secretary, who puts it in the principal's mailbox next to his door. Cassie heads back to biology and gives Rook the note from Genesis...only to discover she's given the wrong note to the principal. There's nothing compromising in the note she gave to Miles, of course, and Rook is happy to hear that Genesis said yes.

Between classes, Cassie goes back to the principal's office and goes to switch the notes. Miles catches her in the act, but Cassie manipulates an NPC to get him to change the notes back without a hassle, which does (she contemplates seducing him, since her sex move allows her to read his mind, but she decides to save that for another episode).

Next class: American History. All the characters are together for this class, and it's taught by Coach Davis, who's not exactly well-suited. He's the football coach, and he gathers his players together (including Austin, who is in Cassie's clique) and gives the rest of the students worksheets (Dora writes "Fuck America" for every answer). They talk a bit about what's going on and the fact that Kevin Gable, who punched Dora earlier, recall, isn't in school - suspended? Fled? No one's sure.

Cassie can read Austin's mind, and she notes that he's nervous and fearful. During the class, the coach looks up and glares at Skylar and Dora - obviously blaming them for what happened with Kevin.

Class ends, fourth period starts (one of the things that occurred to us during this game was that the high school day just goes on forever). Dora, Skylar, and Cassie have gym class, while Genesis has a study hall and Rook has algebra II. In gym, the kids go out to play soccer. Dora sits on the sidelines and watches (injured, remembered), and Cassie plays. Skylar asks to be let out of playing, and since she has the drained Condition, which works in her favor, Coach Williams agrees, but tells Skylar to collect the dirty towels from the locker rooms.

In study hall, Genesis notices two football players get a text message, and ask Ms. Downer to be excused - coach needs them for an errand. Genesis asks to take a walk shortly thereafter. Austin sends Cassie a text message - "Keep an eye on Skylar." Cassie tries to strengthen her telepathic connection with Austin (effectively gazing into the abyss) but fails and takes a soccer ball to the head. She asks to go to the nurse, and Dora accompanies her in.

Skylar, while collecting towels, hears someone come in behind him. Four football players are there. Skylar tries to shut them down, but fails and gets knocked down and beaten. Cassie and Dora come in, and Cassie immediately shuts them down, giving them the ashamed Condition (but she winds up with the untrusted Condition). Dora helps Skylar up, and Skylar gives back the blood-stained hanky (meaning that Dora now has a sympathetic token for Skylar). The PCs leave, Dora goes back outside, Cassie heads to the nurse, and Skylar dissipates, slipping back into the locker. She finds Jason Maxwell, one of the football players, alone, and lashes out physically, knocking him down. Jason sees Skylar, though, with his eyes completely blacked out and pale like a ghost (and gains a String on Skylar).

Genesis, during this time, is wandering the halls, and cruises by Mr. Scherick's room. She hears him berating Mike, the janitor, telling him to stay out of the classroom, and that "we have to keep everything normal for two more weeks." Someone in the hall sees Genesis and yells "Dyke" at her; she responds and hears one of the teachers coming. She holds steady and realizes that Mike stole the dissected cat that Rook and Cassie were working with, and this twigs her (she gains the terrified Condition).

Lunchtime! Genesis approaches Dora and tries to explain what happened and what she heard. Dora, though, is sitting with some of the other Mexican students, and Genesis coming up to her and being all flustered isn't doing anyone's rep any favors. Genesis, frustrated with the brush-off, goes over to Omar Diaz (remember him?) and turns him on, sitting on his lap and kissing on him. She then stands up and says, "Who's the dyke, bitches?" and wanders off. Rook, seeing this, is hurt. Cassie tries to reassure him.

Meanwhile, Brandon Lacefield, another football player and Cassie's date for Homecoming, walks up and gives Cassie a note cancelling on her. This is pretty clearly related to what's going on with Dora and Skylar and so forth, and Cassie bounces back, but she's bummed.

Next period is Spanish for everyone; nothing of particular import happens in Senora Gonzalez' class. Dora asks to go to the nurse; her sanctum is in a disused closet there. She meditates, and gazes into the abyss, looking for clarity. She sees Principal Miles, Mr. Scherick, and Mike the janitor walking the halls, but their teeth are pointy and shark-like. And then she sees the door to the basement boiler room open, and black footprints leading to it - that's what she must do (and she carries +1 forward to help her with that).

Seventh period is Chemistry (Rook, Skylar, Genesis, Dora) and English (Cassie). Rook and Skylar wind up partnered, and they talk, awkwardly. Genesis explains that she just wanted to prove that she wasn't a dyke, and that doing that with Omar was better than with Rook because Omar didn't mean anything in particular to her. Rook wasn't especially OK with that (he wasn't keen on being part of her little social experiment), but didn't break it off.

Cassie and her clique, meanwhile, are in English, and talk. Turns out Kevin supposedly left school earlier; no one's seen him all day, and the principal was actually looking for him before.

Last period: Dora, Rook and Skylar are in English, while Cassie and Genesis are in Alegbra. Some problems at the board and so on, but nothing huge. There's talk about the bonfire party tonight on the beach, and Alyssa, one of Cassie's clique, suggests that Genesis come along. Cassie enthusiastically agrees, and offers to pick Genesis up. She says no; she lives near the beach. After class, Alyssa catches Cassie and says, "I didn't think there were any houses near the beach." Cassie responds, "There aren't."

After school, Cassie and her clique have the Homecoming meeting. Dora goes home, but plans to come back later and sneak into the basement. Rook and Skylar go to Pi, a pizza joint owned by Mr. Piper (he gives discounts to students who come there to study). Genesis goes to the beach.

The Homecoming meeting proceeds, and then someone brings up Kevin and the fight earlier. Someone else points out that his car is here. Cassie goes out to the parking lot and finds his car open and his phone on the seat. She scrolls through his messages, finds he's sent a bunch of bitchy texts about Skylar and Dora, and that the coach texted him earlier to say that he'd fix everything. Cassie takes the phone. Dora, coming back toward school, notes the car and Cassie getting out of it, but doesn't call attention to herself.

Skylar and Rook are at the pizza place when a bunch of football players come in. They start talking shit about Skylar, Dora and Cassie - Brandon is among them. Rook shuts them down, saying that Brandon doesn't deserve her anyway. He gains the ashamed Condition, but Rook gains the Condition next.

And on the beach, Genesis goes for a swim. She can't turn into a seal - Dora has her pelt - but she can swim better than a person. Below her, out of her reach, she sees a person's body, not floating, apparently weighted down. It's wearing a letter jacket.

Next episode: It's a bonfire. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Would You Like a Sammich?

Not long ago, I had a discussion with a teacher at my school about religion vs. ethics. He knows I'm an atheist (he's not, though I don't know the particulars of his beliefs beyond "Christian"), and we did the usual round-n-round about how being an atheist does not, in itself, confer any particular ethical framework or lack thereof. He asked me, then, what my ethical philosophy was.

I said, "Summed up in one sentence? 'Would you like a sandwich?'"

He laughed, but I clarified. I love to cook for people. I like it when people are warm, safe, happy, and fed. It doesn't matter to me if they don't have my ethical outlook or, indeed, if their outlook is fundamentally different to mine. If they're in my space, I want their needs met, and then maybe we can come to some kind of consensus. But I have a really hard time turning people away, ideologically, because they're different (or even just flat-out wrong).

That doesn't mean I like them, of course. There are people who espouse really horrible things. Would I invite them to share my table and my food? Provided that there's no actual threat to me or my family, sure. I have sandwiches to spare.

We joke about the "eat, eat, eat" stereotype from folks' cultures; I've seen it most often connected to Greek and Italian families. But my family is of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction, and my mother is much the same way. There's always food.

There's an intrinsic amount of trust involved in this attitude, of course, and that burns me once in a while. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. I tend to believe them. I'm highly susceptible to a good story. I recognize this, and I try to be smart and skeptical.

But you still get your sammich.

Last week two guys came to my door selling magazines. (Go ahead, start rolling your eyes now.) I gave them a check without Googling their company; it was a mistake, the whole pitch was a scam. Fortunately, I put a stop payment on the check, so it's not actually going to cost me anything. (For the record: Midwest Circulation is a scam, and they will say anything to you that they think will get you to part with your money.)

Now, what happens if those guys show up at my house again, saying, "hey, the check bounced?"

Provided they're not threatening, I offer them a sammich (or a cup of coffee, or something. The sammich is a metaphor, much like the minotaur).

My wording choice - and my misspelling of "sandwich" - is deliberate. "Go make me a sammich" is the rallying cry of guys trying to drive women out of video games (well, it's one of them).

I appropriate that. I take it for my own. Yes, I will make you a sammich. Yes, you are welcome to ask. Yes, you might be a terrible person saying terrible things, but the strength that I have is to offer hospitality anyway. That I can do is privilege on a pretty large scale. I recognize that, too, and I attempt to use that privilege in a beneficial way.

But that's the message: You don't get to use this phrase as a way to control or to reinforce gender roles in a way that makes you feel powerful. I take that role - provider of food - and although I can only rarely provide it to people I don't know, I do it when I can. Because that feels moral to me, for reasons I cannot explain and I can only assume are rooted in my own experiences and the ongoing tapestry (meal?) of my life.

People gotta eat, even the people who behave badly. I would rather cook and teach than starve and berate. That's just me.

(And again, I realize that this preference is one afforded to me in large part because I don't wind up on the receiving end of the abuse. I get that, and I don't judge anyone else for how they choose to respond. I would just personally prefer to make sammiches.)

Much of this, by the way, was spurred by reading this site, which has a lot of thought-provoking articles.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Earthdawn: A Death in the Party

Last night was Earthdawn. And, sadly, we lost a character. Read on for the sad tale.

The characters, you'll recall if you have a fairly long memory, were in the Root Kaer, and the shadowmants were circling. They attacked - Kurita shot one with an arrow and then crushed it with her tail, Arden Dominated a couple of them and sent them to attack the others, Oolo cleft a couple in twain with his axe, and Rosanna used Earth Darts to kill another. Arden went after one and Dominated it further (the goal being to used Animal Bond and make it a mount eventually), and the others looked around the room.

There were runes carved on the roots, and the roots, too, had been worked into ladders - from the size, probably by dwarves, elves or humans. The runes were standard graffiti; love declarations, poems to the sun hoping for deliverance, but one bit stood out: A more recent carving saying "DO NOT DANCE."

Oolo called out into the darkness, "Hello! OOOOOOLOOO!" And a voice answered back, singing his name. But only he and Rosanna heard it.

The characters talked a bit, looking around at the tunnels leading off the main chamber. Some of them were blocked off deliberately, some by natural rockslides. In the course of conversation, Oolo mentioned Rosanna's name, and the voice sang that, as well. Now everyone could hear it. It was getting louder.

Oolo mentioned Cain's name, and the voice sang that, as well. Kurita told him to stop, and said, "Very well, Kurita." And, of course, the voice sang that. Rosanna realized it was singing in Elvish, and the song was basically a "come dance with me on this cold winter night" sort of thing.

A light appeared from a tunnel. The singer was getting closer. Arden's shadowmant turned and flew up, disappearing into a nest (where she wasn't stupid enough to follow). The singer was slowly walking into the room. Cain hid in an alcove above the tunnel where she was coming. Kurita nocked an arrow.

The characters heard another voice from a tunnel. A young dwarf appeared, desperately beckoning them into the tunnel, telling them, "Don't dance with her!"

The spectral elf appeared, dancing, and beckoned to Arden to dance. She did not...and the elf bared claws and fangs.

The characters felt a wave of magic come from the creature, and Cain (who, as a windling, can see astral things), saw everything go white...and Arden fell dead to the floor. The characters fell back, and the dwarf place a stone bar across the tunnel - a ward. Cain, meanwhile, took the long way round (guided by another dwarf) and wound up in the same place.

There were about 30 survivors, people who had been down here (rather, descendants of people who'd been down here) since before the Earthdawn. They revealed that most of them had escaped on an underground river, and their greatest hero, an elven archer, had stayed behind to fend off the Horrors that had broken through. Now that archer was the Songstress, walking through the kaer, killing those that danced with her slowly and killing those that refused quickly.

Cain flew up to Oolo and slashed his face with his little dagger - "That's for Arden." Oolo protested that it wasn't his fault she'd flown right up to it, but the others called him on deliberately telling it their names and goading it. He accepted this, and the characters started trying to figure a way to get these people out.

Climbing the slide was out - there were too many, and between the shadowmants and the Songstress they'd all be toast. The dwarf offered to show them where the river had been (a cave-in had blocked it off, so escape that way was out), and the runes that the escapees had left. And so off into the dark the characters went, a gently lilting song echoing in the dark.

Monday, September 9, 2013

End of Op 2: Night's Black Agents

Saturday was a rousing game of Night's Black Agents, in which we rather unexpectedly ended the second op. Half of running a good game is knowing when the credits roll, man.

So! Lockwood flew into Paris and joined the other characters, who were talking over what to do about their newly acquired information about Vasily Avilov and the human traffic ring. They decided they'd try and find Olive Parent, the woman whose picture showed up on Mikhael Gulubov's camera and who had, at one point, been arrested for solicitation. They had Smith check into a hotel (using Human Terrain and Streetwise to find one within Avilov's circle of influence, where the bellhop would offer tourist men a bit of a good time).

Indeed, the bellhop mentioned to Smith that if he was alone for the night, he could hook him up. Smith agreed, and a bit later, a black car pulled up with a woman in back, seated next to a man. The man gave her a pat on the leg (kind of a "go get 'em!"), and she went upstairs.

It wasn't Olive, though, so Smith feigned illness and sent her away. She went down to the hotel bar and struck up a conversation with David, who was there watching. She offered her services to him, and he offered to take her for a walk, and then got her alone and asked her about Olive. She revealed that Olive was on a call at a different hotel; fortunately she knew which one. David gave the girl some money and put her on a train south, while the others staked out the other hotel.

They didn't have to wait long. Olive came out of the lobby and got into a car - just one guy, the driver, and not someone the characters had seen. They followed them, Rousseau driving expertly behind, to the banks of the Seine...whereupon the man got Olive out of the car, stood behind her, and pulled a gun.

Hanover, however, shot him dead before he could harm the girl (using his MOS). They took his wallet, cell phone, and weapon, and threw him in the river, and took Olive out of the city to Euro Disney (I am not making this up) to debrief her.

From Olive, with some judicious use of Reassurance, they learned Avilov's habits and MO. He lived in a building in Little Moscow, a building with families and kids (the characters had been planning on just blowing it up, but thought better of that). The windows on his floor were blocked up, so they couldn't snipe him easily. They could assassinate him, though - they're pros, after all, but Smith brought up a point. If they kill him, doesn't someone just fill the void? And will that alert the vampires to their presence? Also, Avilov has a Paris cop on the take (DuClerc), so something would have to be done about him, too.

Rousseau came up with a brilliant plan, though. They staged a video in which DuClerc scuffles with Olive, shoots her dead, and then cleans up after. They arranged it so Olive set up her phone to record (so the video and audio sucked, which worked in their favor, since they just had to make Smith pass for DuClerc under those conditions), drew some of Olive's blood to plant to make it look real, and did all this at the hotel where Smith had check in originally, so the bellhop would see "Duclerc" leaving.

Avilov and his boys came to the hotel, and left in a hurry, and headed to DuClerc's apartment (where the characters were watching from the next building over, ready to make sure everyone that needed to get shot did). Rousseau called in a contact at the Police Nationale, so sirens were inbound - and they called Duclerc right before Avilov kicked in the door. Shots were exchanged, both DuClerc and Avilov fell dead, and the last guy got arrested on his way out.

The characters stuck around Paris to make sure everything worked out - the police dug into DuClerc and realized he'd been on the take, so rolled in to Avilov's building and arrested/shot the criminals there, returning a lot of the women there against their will to their home countries or at least putting them in the system (look, it's not perfect, but it's better than being food).

Smith called up a buddy of his, also an ex-spook, in Sarajevo, and asked him to look into Ivana Zisek, the information broker that apparently sold out Rousseau. He said he would, but had heard nothing of interest.

The characters kept an eye on the warehouse they'd noticed before, but nothing changed. Hanover, however, also made sure to watch Simon Thibault, and lo and behold, he took a meeting with a woman named Renate Bauer. Bauer, as it happens, is BSI - the Federal Office for Security in Information Technology, the same unit that Hanover worked for. And, according to Rousseau's PN contact, she also went to look at Avilov's body.

The characters figured that they should leave Paris for a while anyway, and besides, their best lead was in Germany. So for our third op, we're headed to Bonn.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Character Creation: Part-Time Gods

I acquire RPGs much faster than I make characters, of course. As such, the project will never be complete.

But at least I haven't given up.

The Game: Part-Time Gods
The Publisher: Third Eye Games
Degree of Familiarity: Not much. I've read it. Oh, and there's a Kickstarter going for a supplement.
Books Required: Just the one.

Part-Time Gods feels like a World of Darkness game that kind of said, "Whatever, Dad, you're too dark, I'm gonna go make my own supernatural urban fantasy game, with blackjack and hookers" and then stomped off to its room and played Polyphonic Spree or something. Structurally, it feels like a WoD game - you've got some splats, magic hidden from view, and a looming threat (the Source).

But, you can also be the god of whatever the heck you want, and that's really appealing to me. One of my major complaints about In Nomine, you'll recall, was that you can't actually play a Word-bound angel or demon, which sucks. I definitely like having my character be known for something.

Oh, full disclosure: The game's author, +Eloy Lasanta, did layout for several Growling Door books, and I'm gonna keep hiring him because he's awesome. He also wrote Mermaid Adventures.

So! Let's see how this works. Chargen is a seven-step process. Step One is "Mortal Concept, Occupation, and Bonds." OK, then. I'm asked to do a bit of brainstorming and come up with a concept. I think that I want my character to drive a food truck. He sells coffee and baked goods. He stays up most of the night, bakes into the early morning, sells fresh muffins and whatnot to folks going to work, then sleeps the latter part of the day.

Milo Covey went to a culinary school and had ambitions of being a big-time chef or pastry chef, but then he worked in a restaurant under a famous chef (he refuses to say who) and discovered that the level of OCD required is just a bit out of his crazy range. He went back home to Wherever This Game Is Set and tried to get his old job at the coffee shop back, but they'd been bought out by Starbucks (to their credit, Starbucks was willing to hire him, but he wasn't interested). He got a loan from his mother (inheritance from after his father passed) and bought the food truck, which he called Proving Grounds. Sometimes his little sister Brooke works with him, but mostly it's just Milo.

Milo's straight-ish (the book asks me to consider sexuality and gender identity, which I appreciate), cis, and of mixed race (mom's black, dad was white). Milo is light-skinned (his sister is darker) and takes after his father in looks and temperament - fast on his feet, good with his hands, sings when he's happy, almost never without a cup of coffee nearby. Maybe a little plump.

Occupation...OK. These actually determine bonus points and stuff. Let's see if "food truck owner" is in here. "Business Owner" seems about right, though I take issue with the Wealth rating being higher here than for a computer tech. Also: "Schedules are completely flexible, but the character IS there job." Eloy. Get an editor, man.

Well, for want of a better option, I'll do that. That gives me a skill of my choice +3, and Wealth 2. Also 8BP.

Now, Bonds. Bonds, apparently, are connections to other people, groups, or places. I get 6 points to spread out between Bonds, rated 1 to 5. Hmm. Does that mean if I take two three-point Bonds, I'm done? Seems so. I also attach a Passion to each Bond.

Well, my backstory demands I take Mom and Brooke as Bonds, and probably the truck, as well. I'll take Mom at 3, Brooke at 2 (doesn't seem high enough, but I only have so many points) and the truck at 1. Fun fact - places measure the rating by size, while with people it's intensity of connection, so that actually works. For the Passions, I'll put Love for Mom (it's not on the list, for some reason, but it should be), Protection for Brooke, and Independence for the truck.

And now, Step Two: Attributes. I get 25 points to spread out amongst six Attributes. The average rating is 3, so it's possible to fully average with this math (I approve). The Attributes are:


I approve of these, too. Only six, and they're easy to understand and don't seem to overlap. Let's see. I don't see Milo as a powerhouse (because when do I make powerhouse characters? Very rarely). I think Agility, Insight and Charm should be his higher scores, so I'll put 5 in each. That saps 15 of my points, leaving me with 10. I'll put 4 each in Vigor and Intellect, leaving 2 for Power. That was easy.

Step Three is Skills. I get 25 + IQ. I assume "IQ" means Intellect, even though there's no "Q" in the word? Yes indeed. That means I get 29 points to divvy up. Oh, plus +3 to a Skill of my choice, provided it's relevant to my Occupation. According to the chart, the 5-6 level is Expert in something. There's no maximum, but if I go over 8 it costs more.

There's a list of standard Skills. Are there non-standard ones? No, there don't seem to be. I question the need for the word "standard," then. Anyway, let's do this. These look good:

Athletics (always take Athletics)
Crafts (specifically for cooking)
Travel (includes driving)

That's 13 Skills, which gives me 2 in each. That's not enough, better trim the list. Let's lose Knowledge, and Marksmanship, and assume low ratings in some of the others. I'll put my free 3 points in Crafts (for cooking), and arrange the points like this:

Athletics 3
Crafts 7 (3 free + 4)
Discipline 2
Empathy 4
Fortitude 3
Legerdemain 5
Perception 3
Performance 2
Persuasion 4
Technology 2
Travel 4

That's 38, I'm 13 over. Hmm. Well, let's drop Fortitude, Discipline, Technology and Performance. I'm at 4 over. Damn. I really want high ratings in Crafts and Legerdemain, but I also want a decent social skill. Either Empathy or Persuasion could go, or I could drop them both to 2. Blah. Let's just drop Persuasion altogether. So my Skills are:

Athletics 3
Crafts 7 (3 free + 4)
Empathy 4
Legerdemain 5
Perception 3
Technology 2
Travel 4

That's 25. What next? Well, the book says we're now in Divine territory, though the chargen chapter continues with Gifts and Drawbacks (or Merits & Flaws, Advantages & Disadvantages, call them what you will). Ooh, I can take Drawbacks and buy Skills. But do I do that now or at the end of chargen? It says we spend BP at the end, so I guess I'll take Gifts and Drawbacks now and spend the points later. I have 8 BP going in because of my Occupation, as it happens, and I can gain up to 7 more.

I'll take Lifesaver, because I see Milo as a decent guy who'll get involved if someone needs help. Just to underline the point, I'll take Not a Fighter. I can take 1 more point. I could take Minority - Milo's of African-American descent, after all - but doing that would signal to my hypothetical GM that I want race to be an issue for this character. Since we're all playing pretend, here, let's assume my GM is the kind of person who can make race into an issue without being racist about it (besides, it's one of the only 1-point Drawbacks).

Now, that gives me 15 BP. I know I want to buy some Skills, but do I want any Gifts, as long as I'm here? Actually, yeah. I want Strong Bonds. I'll dump 4 points in, take it twice, and jack Mom to 5 and Brooke to 4. I should also take Flexible Schedule, I guess. That's 6 points I've spent on Gifts, giving me 9 more for later. OK, then! On to the fun stuff!

I need a Dominion (as in, I'm the God of ________), and I need to pick a Theology. Theologies are basically the social splat; secret societies of gods that have their own agenda and approach to dealing with the Source and the monsters that are coming to get us. Reading through the quick descriptions of the Theologies, I think Milo works best in either Drifting Kingdoms, Masks of Jana, or Phoenix Society. Looking at the longer write-ups, I ditch Drifting Kingdoms (Milo is too family focused).

Hmmm. Masks of Jana are all about keeping god-stuff secret from people, but they're kind of cut off. Phoenix are much more humanistic, but they read kinda Cult of Ecstasy to me. Is that appropriate for Milo? I think it is, actually, it's just that his drugs are caffeine and good food rather than booze and pills. He's a party animal if the "party" in question is a bit more G-rated. Not that he's incapable of throwing down, it's just that his natural inclination is a little tamer.

This Theology gives me Aegis +2 and Oracle +1, whatever that means. I have a special gift - Linked to Humanity. That gives me 6BP free to spend on various Gifts, including - hey! - Strong Bonds. That's handy. That effectively gives me back the BP I spent, plus a couple. However, if I go more than a day without close contact with people, I start to go into withdrawal.

OK, I need to pick a Dominion. Fuck it, I'm the God of Coffee.

Now I get two Entitlements. I'll take Masterful Speed (duh). There are a bunch I like, but I'm trying to figure how I want to spin this. Milo is the God of Coffee, but not Caffeine. It's more about coffee as a way to come together and learn, share food and drink, and so on. I'm tempted to take Enhanced Attribute and put it into Charm...oh, wait, here we go. Soothing Aura. Perfect.

Manifestation Skills. Oh, OK, so there are some non-standard Skills. Ah, those are Aegis and Oracle, for me, and then I get one more. So here's a thing: I get 3, 2, 1 for the ratings, but is that in addition to the +2 and +1 I already get? Oh, no, wait, those are bonuses, not levels. All makes sense now.

(As an aside, I really appreciate that each of the Theologies has a full statted character attached to it. Really helps to have a concrete example to refer to.)

So, let's look at these. Aegis and Oracle are actually really perfect. I'm having trouble picking a third. I think I'll take Puppetry - it allows some telekinetic manipulation, some possession-type power, and giving something the aspects of my Dominion. So I could make something really hot and bitter. Do homonyms count?

Anyway, Aegis 3, Oracle 2, Shaping 1. Keen. That just leaves spending the rest of my BP and then doing the derived things.

Well, for BP, I effectively have 13, since I can use my Gift from my Theology to buy Strong Bonds. Actually, I have 2 more there. I'll take Connections 1 (Police) and Connections 1 (Corporate) - folks come to my truck. And the other 13, I think I can spend on Skills.

Oh, hey, actually I was 13 over, so if I want, I can take my original spread of Skills. Neat! I'll do that! I fill in my Attributes, and now for my derived stuff. I have 12 Health, 17 Movement (because of my speed power), 4 Stamina, 1 Spark...and how the heck do I lifting and strength? Hang on. OK, no idea. Leaving it blank because don't care.

That's it! This is actually a pretty cool game, and it asks to be run (I might actually try and sell my players on it for our next intermezzo game).

Friday, September 6, 2013

Movie #211: The Goonies

The Goonies is a 1985 kid's comedy about a group of kids from the "goon docks" who set off to find pirate treasure to save their homes, pursued by some vicious thugs. Starring (deep breath): Jeff Cohen, Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Martha Plimpton, Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano, Kerri Green, Jonathan Ke Quan, and John Matuszak. Whew.

So! Mikey (Astin) and his big brother Brand (Brolin) are the kids of the museum curator. They're about to lose their home, along with a bunch of other poorer families, to an evil rich guy. While looking in the attic for "rich stuff," their klutzy friend Chunk (Cohen) breaks a framed with a map in it, and they translate it from the Spanish with the help of their buddy Mouth (Feldman). The map, supposedly, leads to the treasure of One-Eyed Willy, a famous penis pirate.

Meanwhile, the evil Mama Fratelli (Ramsey) and her son Francis (Pants) break the other son, Jake (Robert Davi) out of prison, and flee to an abandoned restaurant. The boys, meanwhile, follow the map there, and flee into the tunnels below when the criminals find them. Through perseverance and the nifty gadgets of their friend Data (Quan), they outwit them, find the treasure, lose most of it, but save enough to save their town! Oh, and rescue the other Fratelli, a deformed but good-hearted beast called Sloth (Matuszak). Yay!

The movie is very, very, 80s, and you can see Spielberg's influence pretty easily. The kids are mostly OK, and though they screw with each other, they're obviously friends. They bust on Chunk for being fat a little too much, maybe, but he saves them in the end. The Fratellis manage to make the danger feel real enough, and the elaborate traps are pretty neat.

Now, we have a whole bunch of plot holes, of course. Why, for instance, do the stanzas on the map - which are written in Spanish - rhyme in English? Is nobody going to take a speedboat out after the pirate ship sailing away with millions in gold on it? And who owns it, anyway? Are the jewels that the kids bring back really theirs, or do the rich guys have a way to claim them, as rich guys often do?

Eh, who cares? They cut out the moonwalking octopus, that should be enough. It's fun, and it's neat to see early performances of people who grow up into legitimately awesome actors.

Also, go check out Jeff Cohen nowadays. Yow.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Gothika

Warehouse 13!

The Pirates of the Spanish Main game alternates with this one. That is, we do a story of Pirates where we find an artifact, and then a story of this game where we recover it. That's the plan, anyway. Meet the characters!

  • Jason Blaine, or rather, the ghost the thereof. The other characters discovered him haunting a seaside site in Florida, mystically tied to an anchor. Now he's tied to an iron ring made from said anchor. He's trying to adjust. 
  • Clarissa "Blue" Bluemental, former agent of the Secret Service, now working for Warehouse 13.
  • Memphis, the computer and research person. Also a fairly normal mortal. 
  • Charlotte, a vampire. 
  • Raji, a 14-year-old kid possessed by a demon. 
Excuse the lack of detail; we didn't do a lot of group chargen with these folks, and I don't have the sheets handy, so I don't know a lot of their history (other than Blaine, who's my character). 

Anyway! Blue gets the briefing from our handler - out in North Dakota, in a little nothing town, someone jacked a truckload of cattle. But one animal was left there, apparently dead, but it woke up when its autopsy started. This, apparently, "pings our kind of weird," so we suited up and headed out. 

We arrived in the town after sunset (which is good for Charlotte), and found the site of the wreck. Blue talked to the local sheriff, posing as a member of the department of Agriculture, and checked out the truck. Someone had shot it up pretty good, but there was no blood. Blaine flicked through the cab and looked for the sleeping compartment (prompting surprise from Blue that he knew about it at all), but found nothing out of the ordinary. The back part of the truck was gone, of course. 

Blue talked with the local LEOs and learned that this kind of thing happens sometimes; someone jacks the truck and then sells the cattle quick before word gets out. The rancher in question (Johnny Simpson) said that he'd had something of a lean year, and needed money fast because his boy got into Harvard, which was why he'd been selling at an odd time of year. We got the named of the driver (Daniel Thompson) - he was missing. 

We checked his house (Blaine, again, making use of the fact that he's invisible and intangible, walked through it), but nothing doing. Not much stuff there at all; it looked like the guy wasn't home much, which makes sense if he's a trucker. 

Meanwhile, Memphis, Raji and Charlotte had a look at the steer. It was alive, but its heartbeat was slow (we nicknamed it "coma cow"). Nothing else doing there. 

We ended up with Charlotte and Raji wandering the town looking for more weirdness, Blue and Blaine pretty much done for the evening, and Memphis searching via computer for where the trailer might have ended up. 

NBA Notes

No, nothing to do with basketball.

Movie #210: Good Night and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck is a retelling of a bit of the career of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn in an Oscar-nominated role) during the time that he was taking on Joseph McCarthy while a journalist on CBS. Directed by George Clooney, who also co-starts along with Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, and Ray Wise.

Murrow and the rest of the news crew at CBS are all uncomfortable - outraged - by McCarthy and the hearings, but there's a strong undercurrent of "well, if we report on this, we're gonna get called before Congress or discredited or blacklisted." Murrow, himself, winds up "buying" the ability to make these reports from his boss, William Paley (Frank Langella) by doing canned "Person to Person" interviews. In the end, though, he makes the reports, McCarthy comes on and lies his face off about Murrow, and Murrow calmly smacks him down. THE END.

(Oh, and there's a subplot with Robert Downey, Jr., and Patricia Clarkson, and they're married and not supposed to be working together, but it feels really tacked on and I think they just added it for length.)

The movie is simple; there's a great deal of drama, but it's not tense - we're looking back, we know how this ends, and the real horrors of McCarthyism don't get shown because that's not what the movie is about. Murrow, in his closing speech, nails it - television can be educational as well as entertaining, but not if you just go for the cheap thrill. He says that he's pretty sure that the American public can handle a little education, a little context, instead of sports or comedy once in a while, and it'll help keep us ground and in touch with the world.

As I mentioned to Sarah and Michelle when we'd watched the movie, though, that's when there are only three channels. You will watch what's on, or you won't watch. Nowadays (and for years prior to nowadays), there is no way to force someone to watch anything, and so it's a race to see who can keep the viewers. And that means crass, loud, stupid, entertaining programming, because it's better to have five idiots watching than one thoughtful, intelligent person.

Sad state of affairs, and I appreciate the movie ending on a note that sets that up. Murrow's final comment in the movie is, like the rest of it, quiet, dignified, and poignant.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low (it's quick)

Next up: The Goonies

Monday, September 2, 2013

Movie #209: The Good The Bad The Weird

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a bizarre Korean film, obviously inspired by The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Like that movie, it stars a trio of tough guys in a desert searching for a MacGuffin.

The Weird is Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song), a thief who shoots his way into a train car containing a Japanese official (this is in Manchuria, during the 30s) and steals a map purportedly leading to treasure. Unfortunately for him, Park Chang-yi, the Bad (Byung-hun Lee) is also after the map, and cheerfully kills everyone in his way to get it. And also in pursuit is the Good, Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), a bounty hunter actually after a criminal known as Finger-Chopper - he believes Chang-yi is his man.

Tae-goo flees with the map, and heads to the Ghost Market, where he attempts to get a translation. He manages, with the help of his friend Man-gil (Seung-su Ryu), but Chang-yi and his gang show up, kill Man-gil, and drive Park and Yoon into further misadventures. They wind up captured, separated, chatting about their lives and dreams, and eventually the Japanese army (also chasing the treasure) follow them out into desert. Lots of explosions and death later, we wind up at the treasure...which seems to be a big hole in the ground with something foul-smelling in it.

The three men confront one another, and Yoon turns about to be fact, he chopped off Chang-yi's finger some time back. They all three shoot one another, but unlike The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, they all do get shot (though only Chang-yi is obviously killed). And then the "treasure" is revealed - oil erupts from the ground.

In the credits, it's revealed that Do-won and Yoon survived, and Good is now hunting Weird, but there's apparently an original version where everyone dies.

The movie feels very much like a Western, but with some Asian shifts to the tone. It feels lighter in some ways than Leone's film, but then Yoon kills dudes with spikes to the rectum, and you're left kind of going, "wha?" There's also some wirework on literal wire (rope, really), which is a nice touch.

The fashions, too, are all over the place. The Good is dressed in a manner reminiscent of Eastwood, but the Bad is in a slick, black suit and the Weird is in aviator goggles. Horses, sure, but also jeeps and motorcycles, and gattling guns as well as swords and knives. There's obviously a lot of context that I miss because I'm not Korean, but the movie feels pulp in some ways, and I appreciate that.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Good Night and Good Luck