Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pirates: Story 2

Last night was the first session in our second Pirates story. Look at me, not waiting 10 days to do the writeup!

We join our pirates, as the ships are delivered to Captain (now Admiral) Jack Snow. He immediately promotes Jason "Bloody" Blaine to captain of the Poseidon's Due and takes the Red Treasure (or the Gato del Mar, can't remember) for himself. They haggle over terms, and Blaine agrees to sail to Colombia; a small village called Isabella, founded by the "Great Navigator", is said to be in need of an insane crew to find some lost treasure.

Blaine chooses the other PCs as his crew (obviously) and they hit the tavern in Tortuga. The next morning, they sail to Isabella, make port, and pay the docking fee. The helpful fellow at the dock tells them that Jameson, the man that wants a crew, can be found most nights at the Golden Gull, so we head there. In town, we find a statue of Christopher Columbus, the "Great Navigator," wearing an oddly viking-looking hat. Morgan recalls her grandfather tell her tales of Erik the Red, the man who really found the Americas, years before Columbus. Blaine recalls stories of the Columbus taking "heathen routes" to reach America.

The crew hits the tavern, and hear stories from folks who went sailing around the "Cliffs of Blood", were beset by curses, and escaped to swim to rescue and rededicated themselves to the Church. The pirates drank wine and waited for Jameson. When he finally arrived, he explained that the Cliffs of Blood led to the fabled El Dorado - the city of gold. Blaine agreed to be his crew, keeping 30% of the take (Blaine, BTW, isn't entirely convinced that we shouldn't just drop the guy in the ocean after we find the city, but we'll see).

That night, Francois (who has recently begun practicing voudoun; his patron loa is Aguye, the loa of the sea and sailors) went down into the catacombs under the city - someone in the bar had mentioned it. There, he received a vision of Columbus, who told him the that the world was an illusion, and something about faith (I didn't write it down, but it was very cryptic). He'd also found half a map in a crypt, but wasn't sure what it led to. He passed out, and stumbled home the next morning.

And that morning at dawn, Jameson arrived, and the ship left port! It looked to be a days' sail, or so, but our navigator was having an off night (kept rolling 1s). We wound up going south instead of north, and finally figuring out where we wanted to go...but then spotted a ship. It was the HMS Seahawk, and was a five-mast ship. Much bigger than us, and we were running low on water. Blaine told Maddie Mae to fly colors that would keep them off our backs, and she (Trouble Magnet) ran up the white flag...indicating distress.

The Seahawk fired a shot to indicate she'd seen us, and started moving toward us. We had no wind to flee and no chance of fighting, and Francois and Maddie are both wanted for piracy. "Quick," said Georgina. "We need to get the plague."

"I don't want the plague!" she replied.

"It's all right," said Blaine. "I think I know what she has in mind."

Board Game: Ticket to Ride - Europe

We were going to play Monsterhearts on Sunday, but then there was a death in a player's family, so we chose to do board gaming instead.

The Game: Ticket to Ride - Europe
The Publisher: Days of Wonder
Time: An hour, roughly
Players: Me, +Cheyenne Rae Grimes+Sarah Dyer+Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Stentor Danielson


Game Play: Everyone starts with a bunch of little trains, and some destination cards indicating which cities to connect. One route is long (spanning much of the continent) and the others are shorter; long ones are worth more points but are harder to connect. You get several train cards, which come in six different colors plus multicolored locomotives, and you need to collect them to lay down routes. A route might have four black sections, so you'd need four black cards.

That's a really disturbing smile. 

On your turn, you can pick up train cards or lay down routes, but not both. You can also take more destination cards, but that's risky later in the game, because any destination cards in your hand at the end of the game represent points lost.

Further wrinkles: You can build stations on cities, which allow you to use one train in or out of the city (but not both) not in your color. Also, some routes require you to draw three cards and, should any of them match the color you're using, play additional cards, which takes some planning. End of the game, you get points for completed routes and having the longest continuous route.

A few turns in. 
Cheyenne makes silly faces. 
Opinions: I've play this game, and its predecessor, pretty extensively, and I really enjoy it. It's definitely got a big strategic component, but it doesn't require you to think lots of moves ahead. And it's fun speaking in bad European accents when you play this version (no idea if Europeans do the same when playing the American version).

I actually managed to win this one, too, by one freaking point, so that was pretty cool.

If I have a complaint...um. I guess there are a lot of fiddly bits to the game, and if someone sneezes, you'd better hope you can remember where everything was. But that's pretty much it. It's easy to understand and play, and pretty addictive, IMO.

Finished board. Note my black marker, just ahead of Sarah's yellow.
Keep? Hell, yeah.

Movie #220: Gremlins

Gremlins is a 1984 horror/comedy film directed by Joe Dante, written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg. I list them first because the cast hasn't exactly gone on to amazing heights of stardom; Gremlins starred Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Terry Carmichael and Polly Holliday. So some long and storied careers, but no one that casual moviegoers today immediately recognize.

Gremlins, though, is one of those "you had to be there" 80s moments. Quite apart from the content of the movie itself, like Ghostbusters, which opened the same year, Gremlins merchandise was freakin' everywhere during the mid-80s. Toys, books, comics, cereal, toys, etc. Everything had a freakin' mogwai. Let me back up.

Rand Peltzer (Axton) is in Chinatown (we're never told what city, though the sequel is set in New York) searching for a gift for his 20something son. He finds an old curio shoppe run by an even older Chinese fellow (Keye Luke), and, doing a deal with the old man's grandson, buys a small furry creature called a mogwai, which he names "Gizmo."

He gives Gizmo to his son, and relays the rules: Keep him out of bright light, never get him wet, and never feed him after midnight.

Now, I saw this movie when I was 10, and the fact that "midnight" is an artificial construct never occurred to me. But in the context of the movie, if you feed a mogwai after midnight, it enters a cocoon, and then emerges several hours later as a horrible, slimy, reptilian monster. Billy (Galligan) finds this out after he accidentally gets Gizmo wet, resulting in him budding and producing five more mogwai. Those mogwai are nasty little things, and they trick Billy into feeding them after midnight - and now we've got gremlins.

And at that point, the heretofore cute and mostly funny movie takes a sharp left into horror-movie territory. Billy and his bad-ass mom kill several of them, but the last one takes a dunk in a swimming pool, which results in a thousand more, and that's when the shit really hits the fan. The gremlins cheerfully kill the old lady who runs the town's finances with an iron fist (Holliday; she actually manages to get somewhat sympathetic in her final moments as she wails, "They've come for me"), Billy's science teacher (Glynn Turman), and attempt to kill the kindly old plow driver, Mr. Futterman (veteran horror movie dying guy Dick Miller). Billy and his girlfriend, Kate (Cates) blow them up in a movie theater, and then track Stripe (who escapes again) to a nearby department store, where Gizmo exposes him to sunlight and melts his sorry ass.

It's not high art, but it's a formative movie - most people credit this and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with leading to the creation of the PG-13 rating. The puppetry is pretty impressive, and the gremlins manage to look pretty creepy. The scene in the bar is really out of place, though - like I said, the movie changes to a horror movie once the gremlins appear. Why, then, the flashdancing gremlin? Why the film noir gremlin who then shoots the gremlin doing the puppet show? What, as they say, the fuck?

I can only assume that, as with some of Columbus' other projects, he's not really sure what movie he's making, and the bar scene was an attempt to continue making a comedy even after it had clearly become a horror movie with comic overtones. I think that, but for that scene, which is just kind of weird, the movie holds up pretty well. I do not think, however, that my daughter is ready to see it.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Movie #219: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet is a superhero movie based on the character of the same name, from old radio shows. It stars (and was written by, and executively produced by) Seth Rogen, and co-stars Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christolph Walz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, and David Harbour.

Britt Reid (Rogen) is the son of wealthy newspaper owner James Reid (Wilkinson). The first scene, Britt as a child getting in trouble for coming to another child's aid, establishes the elder Reid as a complete dick. He has some journalistic integrity, sure, but the language he uses with his son ("It doesn't matter if you try when you always fail," "You're taking up too much of my time") is the kind of language that screenwriters use when they want to establish a character as a bad guy or set him up for a redemption plot. Neither of these things happen.

Fast forward; Britt is an adult, at least technically. Really he's a spoiled man-child (and who better to play that than Rogen?) trashing hotel rooms, bringing home bimbos, and generally being an ass, all the while LA is in the midst of a crime wave perpetrated by mob boss Benjamin Chudnofsky (Waltz). The Reids fight, and shortly thereafter James dies of a bee sting. Britt fires the whole staff (off screen, which is really jarring), but then recalls Kato, his father's personal mechanic and...um...barista.

Now, here's where things get weird. Turns out that Kato is, among other things, an expert weapons designer, and James had been asking him to build and armored car with spikey extending hubcaps and beanbag guns. This might be because of the aforementioned crime wave, but it's never mentioned again. Kato and Britt go out to vandalize a statue of Reid (turns out Kato hated him, too), and wind up foiling a robbery. They decide to pose as criminals, try and "take over" organized crime in LA, and work to clean it up. That's not a very well thought-out plan, but Britt hires a secretary (Diaz) who, in addition to knowing publishing, is decent with criminology, so becomes their mastermind.

This all has the makings of a fairly standard origin story, and it could have been really good or it could have been really mediocre. Instead it's sort of weird. Here's why: Rogen obviously wrote the dialog, and as a result, Britt is completely unlikable. He's brash, stupid, misogynist (the way he treats Diaz is horrible, and he gets called on it - even maced - but that doesn't make it better because he never learns a thing). He has no appreciation for the danger he places people in. And, even after Chudnofsky kills a bunch of people for no better reason than they were wearing green, even after his editor (Olmos) tells him that this is the consequence for recklessness in reporting, that moment isn't earned because it doesn't go anywhere.

There are some potential premises here, but they don't really pan out. The chemistry between Rogen and Chou is nice, but Rogen is so terrible a person that it's hard to root for him at any point. The standout performance, actually, is Waltz' careful, considered portrayal of Chudnofsky, an aging but brutal crime boss who just wants to be feared and respected. As he watches the young, dumb, and loud new "criminal (the Hornet) tear his city apart, he tries to ape the new kid - gets a cape, calls himself "Bloodnofsky", comes up with a catch phrase - but like most of the rest of the movie, it never really goes anywhere.

Kudos to the writers for never putting Diaz in danger, fridging her or damseling her, or for making her a romantic subplot (both men try to woo her and fail spectacularly), but her supposed role as mastermind is wasted because she never actually tells them much of anything.

Basically, the movie has some fun moments, and it's a Michel Gondry movie so it's shot interestingly, making it a visually appealing movie. But it's uneven in tone, not especially well written, and kind of a disappointment for the character. I think the same basic movie with the same cast would have worked much better with a more competent screenwriter.

My grade: D
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Gremlins

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Earthdawn: And We End with More Death

Earthdawn was meant to be an "intermezzo" between Promethean stories, and it wasn't meant to last this long. That isn't to say we played a lot of sessions, because we didn't; we just missed several weeks between one thing and another. But last Monday we played our final session.

My thoughts on the game: It's crunchy as hell. By that I mean that the game is really system-heavy. That isn't to say the setting isn't compelling, because it is - I get the feeling that the players liked the races, liked the world, and liked doing a dungeon delve. But the system is hard to wrap your brain around if you're used to more story-focused games, which this group, for the most part, is. I think that the damage/death system is really unforgiving is something else they aren't used to. Rather, they're not used to it in a traditional RPG, because the RPG that we play that's more traditional is WoD, and it's hard to kill characters in WoD.

I think that if we were going to do a similar game, I'd either port Earthdawn into Fate Core, or I'd run Dungeon World (I haven't actually read it yet, but I hear great things and I like the *World system, obviously). The magic system was a bit confusing, for one, and I think that my group benefits from having a system that's a bit more on the narrative side.

With that said, it was a fun time, and +Michelle in particular was happy to get to play it.

So! Last time the characters found their way into the library of the Root Kaer. There, they took some time to heal. The obsidman librarian showed them a spring that helped them heal faster (and got them high as kites), and then they split off and performed their respective Karma rituals (since we'd just figured out how Karma works, maybe. Seriously, the rules aren't especially well organized).

From there, they asked the librarian about the dancer. He didn't know anything about her specifically, but Oolo asked about a bow (since she was an archer in life). The librarian showed them stories about a bow, carved as the Root Kaer was being sealed and dropped into the Kaer as the Horrors closed in on the bow-maker. That seemed promising. The characters also asked about the cave-in and the river, and learned where the archer had made her final stand. Drea, since she had grown up down here, knew that the stories said that the archer had sent the other people off and stayed behind to hold off the Horrors. The librarian showed them a tunnel that led to the riverbed.

There was nothing in the riverbed, of course; the cave-in had blocked up the river. They started searching, and found arrows punched into the rock - this was where she had fought off the Horrors. Kurita did a little ballistics analysis and figured out where the archer had been standing when she'd loosed her arrows, and Oolo walked down the riverbed, and found runes in the walls. These told the sad story of the archer.

She'd fought off the Horrors, but been trapped by the cave-in. Lonely and still beset by waves of monsters, she kept walking, kept fighting, and when she had a lull carved her woes on the rock. By the end, she was lost to despair, and her final carving read, "I would give anything to hear a voice not my own."

The characters found a cave with a tiny entrance - it had once been bigger, but the rocks had shifted. Cain was still small enough to wiggle in, and he found the archer's bones, and her bow still in her hands.

And at that moment, the song began.

The spectral dancer advanced down the hallway, beckoning the characters to dance. Kurita fired, using True Shot, and the arrow stuck, but it wasn't enough. Oolo jumped forward and swung his axe, and the dancer beckoned. He ignored her and attacked again - and she responded in kind.

Oolo turned around, his flesh turning to loose, wrinkled paper and his beard going shock-white. He fell dead, and the characters backed up, horrified...but there was nowhere to go.

Cain dragged the bow out so that Kurita could grab it. Rosanna stepped forward and joined the dance.

Now dancing, Rosanna could see the archer's mind, slightly. But the magic was slowly damaging the elf, so she tried to reach her, tried to take her grief. And finally, she managed it.

She saw the last few moments of the dancer's life, when she was still Shaberra, the elf archer. She saw the Horrors closing in, and her desire not to be so alone. And Shaberra stopped, and Kurita fired an arrow.

The arrow struck, and Shaberra started to bleed. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "and thank you." And then she faded away.

The characters picked up Oolo and carried him back to the library, and the obsidiman carried him the rest of the way, back to the survivors' cave. They climbed the slide (carving steps into it), and emerged into the sun, out of the Root Kaer. And they laid Oolo rest in a cairn of stones, his axe across his chest.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Warehouse 13: All the cows come home to roost

Monday was the exciting conclusion of our first Warehouse 13 story. The tagline is "Moo."

OK, maybe not.

Anyway, recall that last time, Charlotte was blood hunting the hospital, while the rest of us were taking the young idiot man we'd found with the brand on his shoulder to the ER. Charlotte got hungry and wound up stealing a bag of blood and drinking it, but then had blood all over her face. She grabbed some gauze and wrapped herself up to look like a patient, and tried to get out.

Meanwhile, Blaine and Memphis took the lad in. Blaine coached Memphis through the act of being a social worker, displaying a knowledge of both grifting and modern culture impressive for a ghost of his age (he watches a lot of TV). The attending doctor bought it, took off the goo-bandage (which I didn't mention last time, but it happened), and treated the wound.

Charlotte got herself caught by doctors, and then hooked up to machines and folks exclaiming she had no pulse. Blue told Raji to get her out, and Raji, true to form, pulled the fire alarms. In the confusion, Charlotte slipped out, and Blue, Raji and Charlotte went to one of the other boys' houses to find the coal pan.

They showed up and knocked on the door, and the boy's mother answered. She called her son to the door, who was rubbing his shoulder. Blue got him to show them the shoulder, and low and behold, a fresh brand...which was glowing red.

The characters sprang into action, got the boy out to the van and got him doused in goo to neutralize the brand before he caught fight. Then they took him to the hospital...but left Raji behind. He sneaked into the kid's room, found and pinched the coal pan, and got it to the van and into a bucket of goo (where the characters saw the characteristic spark shower - they'd found the target artifact).

After passing along the other branded kid's name to the sheriff (the brands stopped glowing after the pan was neutralized, so we didn't see the need to hang around), we headed back to base. Our boss showed us Mrs. O'Leary's Cow Bell, another artifact associated with cattle comas and other soporific effects. "What's that, then?" asked Blaine.

Next time, we're back on the ship!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie #218: Greedy

Greedy is a 1994 comedy starring Kirk Douglas, Michael J. Fox, Nancy Travis, Phil Hartman, and a whole bunch of other people.

Joe McTeague (Dougls) is old, cantankerous, filthy rich, and surrounded by people looking to get their hands on his money. His niece and nephews (Colleen Camp, Ed Bagley, Jr., Phil Hartman, and Jere Burns) and their respective spouses have long ago abandoned any facade of decency or self-respect. Now they're down to hiring private detectives to dig up dirt on each other and tearing the others down in front of the old man, all in some blind hope that he'll die and leave them his money. And yet, they meet behind closed doors to try and figure out how to make the best of the situation - they want the money to stay in the family.

When Joe gets a "nurse" (Olivia d'Abo), they all figure that she's going to marry him and, to quote Burns, "screw him six feet into the ground." They decide to find their youngest cousin, Danny (Fox), whom Joe loved the most, and see if he can help in some way.

Danny, meanwhile, is going through his own issues - he's a pro bowler, but not an especially good one, and his career is winding down. He wants to marry his successful career-driven girlfriend (Travis), but is intimidated by the notion that she'll always make more money than he would. When his cousins approach him, he goes back, meets Joe, and immediately gets sucked in to the same round-and-round of manipulation and lies that Joe puts on everyone.

Michelle hated this movie because everyone's horrible. I disagree. I think that no one is horrible for the sake of it, but all of the characters (except Travis, and even she wibbles a little) gets sucked in by the promise of easy money. Bob Balaban plays one of the cousins' spouses (Camp's, obviously, since this movie was before gay people existed in mainstream movies), and points out that Joe tempts people into betraying their ethics little by little. That's more or less what happens with Danny - his father, recognizing what was happening, left the family and its squabbles, and Danny initially (and eventually) has the character to stay above it, too.

But I think the performances are pretty nuanced, actually. There's a scene where the four cousins confront d'Abo, and Hartman (who brilliantly plays the worst cousin, Frank) basically threatens her. It's clear that the cousins hadn't discussed this ahead of time, and the three others each exhibit reactions that are subtle, but distinct. Likewise, watching Douglas' performance after you've seen the movie once, you can pick out which scenes Joe is acting for his family, and which ones he's genuinely touched or afraid.

I think it's an underrated movie, actually.

My grade:B+
Rewatch value: Medium, if I upgrade it to DVD

Next up: The Green Hornet

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Character Creation: Lashings of Ginger Beer

No, it's not an S&M RPG where you serve under the harsh ministrations of a redhead called Mistress Beer. Though I think I'd play that.

The Game: Lashings of Ginger Beer
The Publisher: Beyond Belief Games
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one, collected in Kids & Critters.

So, "lashings" of something means "an abundance" of it. I've only ever heard it in the context of drinks (and in fact, the only other time I remember hearing it at all was on Fawlty Towers). In this game, you're playing kids in Idyllic England, a kind of Pleasantville/Leave It To Beaver sort of thing in which Nasty People get their comeuppance, and the PCs are basically good kids who never really get in trouble with the law.

Frankly, the setting creeps me the hell out. It's so very white-bread. Like, it evokes the 50s sitcoms I mentioned, as well as a bunch of British inspirations that I don't recognize, but you can smell the privilege coming off the setting. And I don't necessarily fault the author for it; it's focused, and I appreciate that. Plus, you could certainly subvert those tropes a little, if you wanted to. But...I don't know. When I read that all of the Good Girls ("Good Kid" is a character type) grow up to get married and become housewives, I just kind of go "GAAAAAH." Maybe it hews a little close to the mythical lost Republican Utopia, or it might be that I'm approaching a British game through an American lens.

Anyway, the first thing I do is choose an age, or roll one. Well, heck. Let's roll it. I roll a '1', which means my little nipper is 10. Slightly older than Teagan, fourth grade...of course, I rather suspect "grade" work differently.

Anyway, my age determines my stats. I've got 1 in Tough and Clever, and 3 in Deft and Charm. So I'm cute and fast, but I'm only 10, so I'm not especially tough or well-read. Makes sense, I guess.

Well, playing to my strengths, I'll make the younger brother of the most popular kid in the neighborhood. My older brother, Nathan, is now 16, so he really can't be bothered with the little kids anymore. But his gang has now accepted my character, Witch (his name is Richard, but he glided /r/ when he was younger so it sounded like "Wichard" and here we are).

Anyway, I get one point to add to one of my Attributes, so I'll add it to Clever so I'm not a total numpty, and on we go.

For Kid Type, I can be a Good Kid, a Swot (brainy type) or a Truant (juvenile delinquent). I think Good Kid makes the most sense.

Now Skills. The book, in keeping with the fine editing tradition of It's a Dog's Life, tells me that Hide and Snoop are written on the character sheet, but they aren't. Anyway, I get those both at 2. I'll put 3 into Act Innocently (little brothers all have this), 1 into Sports, and 2 each into Ride Bicycle and Spot Nasty People.

There's a "pick gear" bit, but it consists of picking a free item off a list and then rolling for any others you might want. I want a bicycle, which we'll assume was a birthday present. If I were going to play Witch, I'd roll for a penknife and some sweets, but since I'm not I'll not bother.

If I were playing this kid, I think I'd want him to be the youngest in the group. He's not quite aware of the things the other kids are, but he's not above going all puppy-dog eyes at authority figures or older teens to get the gang out of trouble. Not in a manipulative way, of course, it's just what works. He really still wants to be hanging around his brother, but his brother moved out of the age range of the gang (got a girlfriend, etc.) just as Witch got into it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Earthdawn: The Return!

Inasmuch as we haven't played in a while, you see.

So, last time, which was a freaking month ago, we lost Arden, the windling Beastmaster, to some kind of spectral dancey thing. The players spent some XP (and went up a Circle, which officially takes lots of training and money but fuck it), and talked to the folks down here in the caverns. They asked about a library or anything else of use, and about the river bed. They were answered by Drea, a human Beastaster (because +Sarah Dyer really wants a mount), who informed them that the river is useless. It was blocked off in a cave-in, and digging it out is impossible because sustained work draws the dancer.

Library, though? Sure, there was one. But it's across the Gorge of Tears.

Cut to the Gorge of Tears. Drea explains that following the escape down the river and the cave-in, some of the folks here, now trapped, threw themselves into the gorge in despair. The area was reputedly cursed. "Are they still down there?" Kurita asked. Unearthly moans were her reply.

Cain zipped across the gorge to see whether the rope bridge was attached to anything sturdy. At that point, several zombie-like things dropped from the ceiling and attacked! The characters, Drea included, fought them off, though they discovered that the zombies went crazy and attacker harder and stronger if hit too hard. One of them chewed Rosanna up pretty badly, but the characters won, tossing a few into the gorge and just beheading the others. They went across the bridge, one at a time, and found three tunnels.

Each was marked with a rune meaning "safety," but they realized that these runes had been altered. One actually said "safety," the other two warned of hazards ahead, but the characters figured that out and took the middle passage. Cain saw a wall of astral force, and the characters heard a gravely voice ask (in the language of the Obsidmen) if they were dead.

They said they weren't, and the Obsidiman told them to come forward. They crossed the barrier, and it led them into a huge cavern, every inch of which was carved with runes. "Welcome," he said, "the Library of the Root Kaer."

Next time: The exciting conclusion, in all probability!

Movie #217: The Great Escape

The Great Escape is a 1963 movie telling the true story (though the way in which it is told is not entirely true) of an escape from a German POW camp in World War II. Starring, as I'm sure you know, Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and a lot of other people.

A group of POWs, mostly English, arrive at a camp in Poland. Their ranking officer (James Donald) is told by the camp's commander (Hannes Messemer) that they're not to try and escape; the officer replies that it's their duty to try, and to fuck with the Reich in the process. The commander acknowledges this (he doesn't seem a hugely patriotic Nazi). Shortly after, Bartlett (Attenborough), a veteran camp-escaper, arrives with the SS, and is told that if he escapes again, he'll be shot upon recapture. So naturally he immediately sets about organizing a huge escape attempt, trying to get 250 men out.

The movie details their escape pretty faithfully, from what I'm reading, aside from the fact that their were more Dutchmen and Canadians and not quite so many Americans. McQueen plays an American officer and engineer who isn't immediately interested in helping the Brits with their tunnels, but after his buddy Ives (Angus Lennie) is shot, he agrees to escape, map the area, and be recaptured. The night of the escape, the POWs realize they're twenty feet short of the woods they wanted to use as cover, but 76 get out before one of them gets impatient and fucks it all up.

Now, the only exposure I'd had to this movie before I saw it, other than Chicken Run, was Eddie Izzard's routine where he talks about it (I think it's in Glorious, but I'm not sure offhand; I know it's a gig he did in San Francisco). Anyway, he implies that Steve McQueen rides to safety on his motorcycle, while all the Brits get shot. This is not really what happens; McQueen's character does zoom off on a motorcycle (McQueen's idea), but gets recaptured and returned to the camp. Two POWs (Charles Bronson and John Leyton) escape using a boat, and James Coburn gets to France and then into Spain. Everyone else gets caught, and then the Gestapo flat-out murder 50 of them, Bartlett among them, apparently on Hitler's direct orders.

The movie is entertaining, and the famous score makes it jauntier than it would ordinarily be. It highlights some of the assumptions that different factions within the war make about each other (i.e., the Lufftwaffe vs. the Gestapo). The performances are good, though you don't get to see much of any one character; Bronson and Attenborough are probably the best realized, though I greatly enjoy James Garner's character (Garner, incidentally, was, like his character, a scrounger, but in the Korean War. My dad was in Korea, too, though I have no idea if he ever met Garner). The movie is really long, though. I won't say it drags, but like a lot of movies of its day, it takes its sweet time. But it's classic and iconic, and, if not fun to watch, necessarily, at least entertaining.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Greedy

Monday, October 7, 2013

Character Creation: Apocalypse Prevention, Inc.

The Game: Apocalypse Prevention, Inc
The Publisher: Third Eye Games
Degree of Familiarity: None
Books Required: Just the one, though there do seem to be quite a lot of sourcebooks.

I got this game, like many others, in the Haiti bundle, long ago. I don't think I shall ever see the end of it, but I shall persevere.

I'm more familiar with Third Eye's more recent offerings, including Mermaid Adventures and Part-Time Gods. This one...well. +Stew Wilson made a character a while back (a while? sweet jesus, 2 years!), and wasn't especially complimentary, but I happen to know +Eloy Lasanta (the author) and I know his writing has improved considerably since this game was published (five years? JESUS. TIME.).

Anyway, mostly I felt like doing some werewolf-related today, so here we are.

In this game you're a member of the titular organization, fighting against the demons ("demon" here is a blanket term that includes vampires, mutants, and so forth). The game promises "action horror with a slice of humor," though one of the examples of humor given is that scepter might be shaped like a dong. I...don't find that especially funny, as presented, but let's soldier on. I'll come back to the topic of humor in gaming later, maybe.

The list of playable races includes "Wolf People: Werewolves of unknown origins." OK, then. I want to be one of those.

Moving on. We have a letter from employee services telling us that we cannot contact former friends and family (though since my origins are unknown I don't know if that affects me), and that I can contact Hazel about my 401K. See, that's funny.

OK, we start off with Step One: Concept, Passion and Race. I know my Race already (Wolf People), so I'll write that in. Well, reading the write-up for the Race, it says that other agents kind of regard them as children with behavioral problems, and there are some lingering issues because a Wolf Person "went rogue" not long ago. While it's clumsily phrased, I like that notion - I work with a lot of kids with behavioral problems, and a lot of it is not really under their control. I want my Wolf Person to be crazy smart. Like, turning into a werewolf was the worst thing that ever happen to him, because not only did he become a monster, but he started becoming a jock. But before that: very smart, but uncontrollable in class. After the Change hit (puberty, so pre high-school) his parents and the school tried to keep him under control with meds and an IEP and all, but by his junior year he was about fed up with this bullshit. He graduated early and started trying to get into college, but API found him first.

So there's some background. Now what? Passion. Passion isn't especially well explained (and there are some subject-verb agreement issues in the first sentence that make me twitch), but it's a lot like Nature/Demeanor. Actually, I think a more relevant comparison would be Drive from any of the more recent Gumshoe games. Anyway, I'm torn between Questions and Rebellion. Questions is often fun to play, but I see this guy as young and kind of stupid (with regards to how the world really works). I think we'll do Rebellion, with the understanding that if I was actually going to play this character, his Passion would change to Questions later).

Right, now Step Two: Attributes. 30 points to split among Power, Agility, Vigor, Intellect, Insight and Charm, with an even split putting me at average (5). I actually like that; Stew's reasoning is that it should be a number that doesn't divide easily and forces me to make a hard choice, but I like the option to create someone who's just generally competent and then use other facets of chargen to make myself stand out.

Anyway, I know I want a high Intellect, probably a low Insight and Charm, and decent physicals. Let's do this:

Power 6
Agility 5
Vigor 5
Intellect 8
Insight 3
Charm 3

Anything over 8 costs an extra point, so I'll leave it like that for the moment. Now, I'm on to Step Three: Skills. I get 30+IQ points, or 38, for Skills. Same point costs. Also pick a Specialty for Standard Skills at 4, 7, and 10 and some other fiddly bits that I'll deal with as necessary. I suppose there's a Skill list. Is it on the sheet? NOPE. Balls. Oh, but it's on the chargen quick reference page, which I printed, so that's good. OK, Skills I want:

Arts
Athletics
Beast Handling
Computers
Fortitude
Intimidation
Knowledge
Perception (WHY IS THIS A SKILL)
Stealth

Nice thing about making a younger character is that I don't have as many skills to care about. Although...oh, Combat is separate. Argh. Oh, and, levels of fighting styles add to things like Initiative and Dodge, but are otherwise unremarkable, until you add the Techniques. So it's kinda like the combat system from Fireborn, maybe? Eh. I can't do anything without Fighting Style: Basic, anyway, so let's just add that in to the mix, and we come up with:

Athletics 5 (Running)
Beast Handling 3
Computers 6 (Research)
Fortitude 4 (Pain)
Intimidation 4 (Intense)
Knowledge 4 (Occult)
Perception 4 (Smells)
Stealth 4 (Hunting)
Fighting Style: Basic 4

Next up, Step Four: Bonus Points. I get 10 because I'm not human. And of course I can take Drawbacks to get more points, so I shall. I can take up to 10 points (I already have two, Lunacy and Silver, but they don't give me points). So let's see. Is "20-year-know-it-all" a Drawback? No, but Big Mouth is. I'll take that. Also Curious.

Man, there's some stuff in here that makes me wince. A gay character in San Francisco doesn't get to take the Minority Drawback, because being gay doesn't hurt you there? Tell that to Harvey Milk.

Anyway, moving on. I don't see a lot of other Drawbacks I like. How about Poor Hygiene? I'll take that at 3. It's not that he doesn't bathe, it's just that he smells kind of gamey no matter what he does. That's 8 extra BP, hopefully that's enough.

So what do I want to buy? Well, I could buy cybernetic implants, but I think they're kind of dumb for werewolves (how would I shapeshift?). I'll spend some on Attributes and Skills, how about? I'll boost my Insight to 4 (costs 2, leaves me with 16) and my Fighting Style to 7 (costs 3, leaves me with 13). I could buy a more advanced Fighting Style, but eh. I want to look at magic.

Yi. Magic is...involved. It looks interesting, but it's a spell list, and from there you can upgrade multiple elements of a given spell. Which is cool and lets you customize your spells, but boy, you'd need players that want to keep up with that level of number crunching (read: not mine).

As it is, because my guy is a Wolf Person he gets Animalia magic and that doesn't count against the number of Paths he can know, which doesn't really help me learn it. But there is a spell I want off that path, so...how do I do that? Oh, it's pretty simple. I can learn up to five different Paths (counting Animalia) because my IQ is high. I pay 1 BP for first circle spells, 2 for second, 3 for third. I have 13 BP left, but I don't want to burn them all on spells. Let's see. I know I want Beast Senses, which lets me make my sense all animal-y. That's one BP (12 remain). I like some of the spells from the Path of Augmentation, so I'll take Hyper-Jump, Iron Fist (for claws in human form) and Nightvision. Those are all level 1 spells, so I have 9 left. Let's look at Gifts.

Oh, whoops, I need to take Open Inner Circle so I can have those spells. Blargh. OK, that's 3 points. 6 remain. None of the other Gifts really excite me, so I'll dump the other six points in Attributes and Skills. I'll boost my Insight up to 5 (4 left), my Agility up to 6 (2 left), and my Vigor up to 6.

Now, derived traits! Um. I total them all up. Yep! Note that doing the Fighting Style ones would drive me nuts if I'd decided to make a real combat character.

I could do gear, but eh. That always bores me, so I'll skip it. I just need a name, then. Since I love making my names refer to other werewolf properties (did you read the Moon-Cursed section of the Forsaken Chronicler's Guide?), I'll call him Jack Talbot. Wait, have I seriously never named a character in this project Jack before? Wow.

I think "Jack" is actually his given name; it's not short for John. He hates it. To him, "Jack" sounds like a redneck name. He prefers to go by his last name.

And that's me done!

Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill

Saturday night game night! Cleared off my table and everything.

The Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill
The Publisher: Avalon Hill, by way of Wizards of the Coast
Time: 1 hour, give or take
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Sarah Dyer, and +Cheyenne Rae Grimes


Bottle of red wine optional.

Game Play: The set-up is this: You're explorers making your way through a haunted house. On your turn, you decide where you're going (each explorer has four stats: Speed, Might, Sanity, and Knowledge; your Speed determines how far you can move). You start with just the Foyer, but as you go through doors, you draw cards off a stack and build the house. Different rooms have different challenges; some require a roll to get through, others have Events, Items, or Omens waiting for you.

Events might do damage, give you allies, or require a roll to conquer. Items are generally helpful thingies that increase your stats. Omens are often helpful, but sometimes not, always supernatural, and after every omen you make the Haunt roll. When the Haunt roll comes up less than the total number of Omens that have been found, the Haunt begins.

Digression - rolling dice. The game uses custom six-sided dice with 0, 1, or 2 dots on them. So if you roll 4 dice, you can come up with an number between 0 and 8.

Anyway, once the Haunt begins, you use a handy chart in the rulebook to find which room you were in when the Haunt was revealed, and which Omen did it. So for instance, I revealed the Haunt in our game (after the house had been built up for a good long while, actually), and I did so after I drew the Dog Omen card. That cross-references on the chart to Haunt #19, so we look that up, and discover our traitor.

Our traitor. She can't wait to kill us.

See, Betrayal starts off co-op, and then gets competitive. One player becomes the traitor (in this case Michelle, who, as the picture above shows, was way too gleeful about it). The traitor has a win condition, and the other players ("heroes") have a win condition. In our case, Michelle's character was a kind of Dorian Grey creature, and we were trying to find paint cans and alter the painting so she'd age and wither. She was trying to destroy the paint cans, at which point she kills or enslaves us or something. We had some setbacks - I had by far the best Speed, so I was figuring I could zip around and find the paint, but then I drew a bad Event card and lost my flashlight and wound up only moving one space per turn. But it all worked out; we got the paint cans to the Gallery, and Michelle got to do her best Wicked Witch impression.

See? Dramatic tension.

Opinions: I really enjoy this game. I love that it's not purely co-op or competitive, and that the players are more or less autonomous until the Haunt starts. I love that it's different every time, and that it's just involved enough that you can't play it back-to-back, but it's simple enough to get new players into it quickly. Oh, and it's not as interminably long as Arkham Horror.

Now, the bad news. The rules have been errata'd pretty heavily, which if you have an Internet connection while you play isn't a huge deal. Also, the little sliders that fit on the sides of the character cards to indicate where your stats are is fucking useless, but because the characters don't progress linearly (a card might give you +1 to your Speed, but your Speed might progress 4, 4, 5, 6, 6) it's not easy to just use dice or something instead. Also, there are a lot of little fiddly bits that you don't always use, which can be annoying.

Overall, though, it's an awesome little game.

Keep It? Yes.

Board Game: Checkers

Yes, really.

The Game: Checkers
The Publisher: Multiple, though my particular checker-board comes in a set with lots of other games.
Time: Varies, probably about 20 minutes.
Players: Myself and Teagan.


Game Play: You probably know already, but if you don't: 12 pieces on each side. Each piece moves one space, diagonally, and can capture the same way. Capturing is compulsory, so you can force your opponent into an unpleasant situation by sacrificing a piece or two. If you reach the end of the board, your piece gets "king'd", and can move backwards as well as forwards. Play progresses until one person has no pieces left.

Opinions: Well...it's a swan, innit? (It's a Hot Fuzz reference, y'all!) Most of us learn to play checkers as a precursor to chess, and it's a good game for learning to think a few moves ahead without getting bogged down in a bunch of different pieces and how they move. Teagan did OK with it (she's played before but not recently), and initially had trouble seeing if a piece was about to get captured. Interestingly, I taught her to play chess a while back and she kept referring to checkers pieces as being "in check," so she internalized at least some of that lesson.

Keep It? Well, sure. It's checkers. Gotta have that.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Warehouse, session three

So, last time, we found this dead guy. This time, we figured we'd wait until dark, go get the brand out of Jimmy's barn, stick it in the purple goo, and get on with our lives. Waiting for dark, Memphis and Blue went and talked to the girlfriend of the boy whose prints we found on the signs on the cows. She didn't know where she was, but claimed he'd go to the tool and dye factory (that we'd investigated last time) to hide out.

Night fell. Charlotte, Blaine and Raji went to the barn. Blaine, as usual, went ahead, and heard a snort from a bull. The animal didn't seem to see him, so he shrugged it off and called the others up. They went toward the barn...and the bull started to glow, ass-first.

Not just glow, but catch fire. The rest of the herd charged toward the barn (and the others). Blaine manifested, scaring some away, and Raji changed to his demonic form and pounded a hole in the barn, trying to escape. Charlotte dodged the herd, and the fiery bull smashed into the barn. Blaine teleported in, telekinesis'd the brand out to Raji, and then we all got the hell out right before the barn exploded.

We explained all this to Blue, who wasn't pleased, but at least we got the brand and could neutralize it. Memphis contacted Artie, and told him we had the brand. He said, "Did you get the coal-pan?" Yeah. This artifact is a two-parter.

Since the only lead we had was the tool and dye factory, we headed out there again, and started looking around. We found the boy, in a sleeping bag. Blue, rather than take any chances, hit him with a Tesla to stun him.

He immediately caught fire, and started melting the sleeping bag around him. We managed to get it off him and calm him down. Turns out that he and some of his mates all got branded as a dare, but apparently it works on people like it does on cows. We took him to the hospital, since he has, y'know, a fucking brand on his shoulder.

While there, Charlotte went off by herself, sniffing the air. "Blood."

Movie #216: Grease

Grease is, of course, the 1978 film version of the stage musical. It stars John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conway, Eve Arden, and Didi Conn, among others.

So. Danny (Travolta) and Sandy (Newton-John) meet over summer vacation and fall in teenage love. Danny, apparently, takes this opportunity to ditch the "greaser" side of himself and act a bit more vulnerable, and Sandy digs that. But Danny also assumes she's going back to Australia. Then she goes to the same school as he does, and Sandy falls in with the Pink Ladies, led by Rizzo (Channing), who gleefully introduces Sandy to Danny, hanging with his buddies, the T-Birds. And Danny acts like a dick, and Sandy runs off, and they spend the rest of the movie singing songs to each other, engaging in whacky teenage hijinks, and eventually she decides the only way she'll be able to be happy is to make him happy by changing everything about herself and adopting a greaser-chick persona.

(There are numerous subplots. About the only really interesting one is Rizzo and Kenickie (Conway) hooking up, because Rizzo so obviously still carries a torch for Danny. Really, Rizzo's the most interesting character in the show.)

But I want to touch on this whole "self-transformation" thing. It's actually kind of a theme, because Danny tries it, too - he wants Sandy, so he tries to be a jock, trying out for every sport that the eternally patient coach (Sid Caeser - fun fact, porn star and all around questionable human being Harry Reems was actually cast in this role until someone came to their senses) will let him attempt. They settle on cross-country, because that way he can't hit anybody. But what's interesting is, while Danny is shown losing at most other sports, it's because he's never tried them and he's too aggressive. But he's potentially good at any of them. Meanwhile, when Sandy wants to change to suit Danny, she changes her clothes and hair, and seems to drop her accent (which is a shame), and bam, insta-slut. It's weird, and I don't like the message it sends.

Also, this show apparently started off really vulgar and got cleaner over the years, but the boomers, as they are wont to do, nostal-gize it, so we get lines like "the chicks'll cream" which had to be sanitized to "the chicks'll scream" in the school version. They also tossed the "Rizzo think she's pregnant" subplot, which is, of course, never relevant to high school students.

The music catchy sometimes, fun sometimes, cringe sometimes. The opening song ("Grease") is terrible and anachronistic and disco-y, but "Summer Nights" remains fun. "Hopelessly Devoted" remains a little creepy, as does "Sandy." "We Go Together" really sums up the show, though. It's about a bunch of idiots in high school thinking this will never change.

My grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Great Escape