Sunday, December 29, 2013

Better Angels, episode one

Yesterday was our first session of Better Angels; we made characters back here.

So, mostly we just talked about the game and the system. I finally read through the rest of the game, and I'm getting a handle on it. We also got out some M&Ms and used them to shift dots around, because it happens often. Check it out:


After I explained sets and width and height and all, we talked about the characters' demons and what they wanted. We decided to set the game in Atlanta, and then someone mentioned "The Devil Came Down to Georgia," and I had my game idea.

We opened in Olympic Park, in the summer, fountains going. Livi is splashing in the fountain, and Arvo is walking around with the socks off, too, enjoying the water. Gary is getting a hot dog at a street vendor (and scoping the parking lot for cars to steal), and Willa is sitting on a park bench reading a book. As of now, Baal (Willa's demon) cannot see what's going on because her Open is higher than her Sly, but the rest of the demons are at least able to see what's going on, and they recognize each other.

And then, from atop a nearby building, a BOOM! Something comes hurtling toward the park, and a man's body smashes into the ground. The demons realize he's a Hellbinder (or at least, he was). Gary invokes his demon, Mammon. Livi, afraid, asks for help from her demon (Glasya-Labolas), and he activates her Giant Aspect. Willa invokes Baal, and he recognizes the demons...and then notes an angel incoming.

The superhero flying in toward them is The Radiant, a strong, beautiful being with a sword of light. Gary zips over to the body to loot it, and finds a golden fiddle underneath it. He tries to pick it up, but it burns his flesh. The Radiant sees this and tells him to unhand it, and swoops down...and realizes that he's a Hellbinder. Gary, now in his alter ego as The Jock, shows his claws and roars in defiance.

Baal, meanwhile, unleashes Willa's wings, and she takes to the air to get a better view. She flails as the Radiant goes by and damages him.

Arvo wakes up Nidhogg, and asks for help. Nidhogg agrees (Master Die), if Arvo scares a little boy on the way over. Arvo, assuming his villain persona of The Ice-Man, destroys a tree with Wither and points at the boy, who wets himself and flees.

Livi sees the fiddle, grabs it and tries to run. This upsets the Radiant, but the Radiant has other problems. He strikes the Jock, but the Jock hits back with claws and Ice-Man grapples the hero, using Wither on him. This destroys the hero, his body crumbling into nothing (Jock notes that the Radiant had existing wounds, so whoever the Hellbinder was that had the fiddle must have hurt him). But with his last bit of energy, the Radiant points at the fiddle...and it vanishes.

Willa swoops into the crowd and drops, using Dead Ringer to assume the form of a random stranger. Jock sprints across the street and grabs a guy out of his sports car, zooming off. Ice-Man asks Nidhogg for invisibility, and vanishes.

Livi, though, has trouble. She's afraid and confused. Glasya-Labolas cuts her Giant power, but she isn't sure what to do. She tries to assume her komodo dragon form, but fails, and finally just cries as people close in (she weeps and wails and convinces them that she's not really a villain, and runs off to find her mother).

But the demons inform their humans - that fiddle is just banished. It's somewhere in the city. And someone playing it can command a demon to do anything, including abandon a host.

The characters aren't the only ones who are going to be looking for it, of course.

Game Write-Up: Marvel Heroic - And To All a Good Night

So! A while back, I ran a game of Marvel Heroic called Greenspace. This Xmas break, +Michelle's boys were in town, and we normally play Deadlands, but we just had one night to game, so we opted for some super-heroics.

We had four heroes:


  • Pink, the super-strong, bouncy, perky, hero from the first story, still in the "closet" to her family (played by Michelle). 
  • Harmony, a veteran hero and trainer of young supers. Owns a nightclub called The Rabbit Hole, and starting to feel her age. She can absorb light and sound and blast it back at enemies. Played by +Sarah
  • Lightning, a teenager whose parents gave him up for adoption. He bounced from foster home to foster home, too energetic and hyper and difficult to manage...and then he manifested his super powers (flight and superspeed). He hooked up with Rookie, and has been crashing at his mansion. 
  • Rookie, a rich idealistic teen who trained himself to physical near-perfection and invented various crime-fighting gadgets. 
The game opens on Xmas Eve, with a big lights display in St. Louis by the Arch (I have no idea if they do that, but they should). Rookie and Lightning are in Rookie's limo, cruising the area. Pink is down by the arch with her family, and Harmony is getting ready to open her club...and then they all hear gunfire. 

Racing to the scene, they see a woman standing in front of the big Xmas tree, dressed in pink and red and white stripes, holding two unpleasant-looking firearms. She's already blown away the transformer powering the tree lights. Harmony recognizes her as Candy Caine, a rich heiress with a split personality - in her "Innocence" guise, she's nearly invulnerable and deadly. But Harmony notices she's not shooting people, just firing above them. 

Lighting, easily the fastest, swoops in and slams into Candy...and bounces right off. She fires at him, but misses, but the shots panic the crowd (I put her effect die into the doom pool). Pink slips away from her family, yelling that she'll call 911, and changes in an alley. She picks up a big lights display with plexiglass sides, and uses it to create some cover. Rookie arrives and sneaks up on Candy using his wall-crawling static gloves. 

Harmony fires a sonic blast at Candy, trying to disorient her. Candy drops her guns and jumps at Harmony, but misses. Lightning tries again, but can't penetrate Candy's invulnerability power, but Harmony controls light, blinding Candy. Rookie rushes in and wangs her with an electrified iron rod, and Harmony screws with sound around her to stress her out mentally. This ends the scene. 

Candy "wakes up," and sighs in exasperation, and asks for her lawyer (this has happened before...but again, no one died). Pink trades information with Harmony, and runs off to find her family. Harmony asks Candy what she remembers, and Candy says she was at a party at the Ritz, when the nutcracker figures in the corners started moving...and that's all she remembers. 

The characters note that similar figures are here at the display, so after the police come and take Candy away, the three of them check them out. They are surprised to discover that the figures are robots, and upon the poking and prodding, they start moving, raising their rifles and sparking with lightning. In the distance, the characters see a bloom of light and energy...about the right height to be the roof of the Ritz. Lightning, ever impulsive, zooms off, and the robots ignite boot-rockets and follow. Rookie hits one with a grapple and follows, and Harmony grabs him around the waist. 

Meanwhile, Pink has rejoined her family and made excuses for rushing off ("You realize everyone has a cell phone, right, Jolisa?"). And then she sees the burst of light as they're approaching the Ritz, and asks if perhaps they could get dinner in the rooftop restaurant? ("Probably too expensive." "Well, let's just look at the menu.")

They ride up the elevator. But again, Lightning is fast. He smashes through the window and finds that the diners - the richest folks in St. Louis - are gathered up in a circle and bordered by more of those robots. He smashes into one and knocks it against the wall, destroying it. He tries it again on another, but misses, gaining some emotional stress (embarrassed). 

Pink arrives and slips out, leaving her father in the elevator. She rushes and destroys one, just as the others arrive with Harmony and Rookie in tow. Harmony tries to use her sonic blast, but it doesn't seem to help. Rookie uses his various gadgets and Pink upends the buffet table to propel herself at two of them, but then starts to crash (activating her Limit). They destroy the remaining robots. 

The elevators finally let Pink's father out, and, not being a complete idiot, he recognizes her. He's a little shocked, but admits it makes sense. He agrees to help her "come out" to her mother, but she still has work to do tonight. 

Lightning, embarrassed by what happened, zips away to the roof. Harmony looks over the wreckage, and Pink contacts Duplex (another techie hero; you can meet him in the link to the first game). She sends him photos, and he says that they're magitech - much like their mutual friend Arcanix is made of (he's off-planet at the moment). Rookie leaves and goes to his workshop, hoping to work up something to protect the heroes, but is out of Plot Points.

Meanwhile, Harmony finds that someone here took cell phone video of what happened when all this started. There was an immense man-like creature with iron claws, roaring about how tonight would be "judgement" - and he also said he'd be returning. Duplex, when Pink sent him the video, said he looked like the Krampus, the horrible German "Santa Claus" who carries a bag of whips and carries naughty children to Hell. 

The heroes set up, gaining a "Ready" resource to use. And sure enough, the Krampus arrives. 

He comes riding a rocket-powered sleigh, and is clearly a man in an immense powered suit. He fires his guns at the heroes, and destroys Rookie's limo (Rookie and his driver are thrown clear). Lightning jumps off the roof and attacks, but bounces off the dude's armor (Will was having trouble understanding that he had other options than "punch the villain", and in fact when I can spend a d6 from the doom pool to ignore physical attacks, he should use those options). Rookie attached a grapple to the sleigh, and Lightning flew up as high as he could, zooming down trying to down the sleigh. But the Krampus dodged, and Lightning slammed into Rookie, pushing them both downwards. 

Pink jumped onto the sleigh, damaging it, and the Krampus jumped off and dug his claws into the side of the roof. Harmony hits him with sonics, confusing him and doing some mental stress, and Rookie calls his attention to the fact that he's injured an innocent man. This gives the man pause, and he points at Rookie, telling him to make sure the man is given care - the Krampus is done for this Xmas. He jumps off the building and flies away using rockets in his armor, calling out a warning - or a farewell - in German. 

Superheroes

So: I really love superheroes. I have since I was little. I used to make up my own superheroes, as early as age 5 or so (there's even a picture floating around Facebook of me dressed up for Halloween as Debious, one such creation). I had a DC Comics dictionary as a kid, I had a bunch of records that told the adventures of various superheroes, and I liked watching Superfriends and suchlike.

But what I wasn't really into was reading comic books.

Now, that changed a little as I got older. I got into limited series like Secret Wars and Squadron Supreme, and titles like Who's Who (DC) and What If... (Marvel). I'd read comics as I found them, but I rarely bought them, and if I did it was generally a new book, from the first issue (sometimes that worked out, sometimes you get the first six issues of NFL Superpro).

I started playing RPGs at age 11, and my first game was TSR's Marvel Superheroes. I ran the hell out of that game, and since then I've played and run a bunch of others - Batman, Mutants and Masterminds, Marvel Heroic, ICONS, and most recently Better Angels. And I'm finding that my tastes are changing. I like four-color, but it's hard to get into the conventions and tropes of that four-color setting now. That is, it's hard for me to play or run a supers game without at least some attention to the larger context in which these supers exist. In my recent Marvel game, Greenspace, we had all the usual Marvel tropes: mutants, high-tech, a sorcerer supreme, and so forth. But there was still the SHIELD-like government agency looking out for everything. It's not just "put on a cape and punch dudes," I need to pay some attention to what kind of world allows that kind of derring-do. But it wasn't always thus, and I blame (or credit) movies.

Various comic-book character movies came and went; Punisher (Dolph Lundgren), Burton's Batman, and so on, and then X-Men came out. And X-Men, flawed though it was, really drove home for me that you could make a movie about superpowered people and have it make sense within its own world, and have a larger connection to the world that the source material set up. Movies since then refined that, of course; Avengers did it best, and that movie really nailed it - that's what the four-color superhero genre has always looked like in my head.

But it was long about X-Men when it clicked for me. I like superheroes. I don't like comic books.

Comic books go on forever. Characters don't age. Or they do. They die, but they come back. You can't ever really change anything. You're always at the mercy of the folks making the decisions, and often those folks are idiots who figure the best way to make comics is sexify all the girls and give pouches to all the boys. And it's not like this isn't a problem in movies, but in a movie, it's over in two hours. In comics, it all becomes canon, and even after how many crises, the very concept of "canon" is meaningless. It makes about as much sense as the backstory to Mortal Kombat.

And that's why I always liked the limited series and the graphic novels that took a few characters, told their stories, and then let them the hell go. I want the stories to make sense and then end. That's probably why I'm fine with the end of The Dark Knight Rises, because it the trilogy tells a complete story.

Anyway, I have no idea what all this means, but it's late and I can't sleep, and it was in my head, so I typed it out. Really I think I just wanted to use this space to blog a little bit. :)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Movie #237: Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is, of course, the second in the series, and the last one unequivocally for kids (the third one is mostly kid-friendly, after that it gets more serious). It stars everyone from the first one, and adds Kenneth Branagh, Jason Isaacs, and Miriam Margoyles.

Harry hasn't heard from his buddies all summer, and his evil uncle won't let his bird out, so he can't get letters to them. And then a house elf called Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones) appears and warns him he can't go back to Hogwarts, but won't say why. He escapes his adopted home by means of the Weasley brothers and their flying car, and winds up back at Hogwarts. But then people start turning up petrified, and a sinister message referencing the Chamber of Secrets shows up. Harry has to once again venture, alone, into the bowels of the school and confront another version of Voldemort in order to save the day.

This movie suffers from some of the same problems as the first one - Chris Columbus not knowing what to cut and what to leave in, for instance - but overall it's a lot smoother. Branagh is perfectly cast as the foppish Gilderoy Lockhart, and the movie seeds many of the events of the coming stories (Snape sticking up for Harry and company, the horcruxes, and so forth). Jason Isaacs is suitably slimy as Lucius Malfoy - also, anybody else notice that he was casting a fucking killing curse on Harry at the end there when Dobby stopped him? That's... a bit un-subtle, ain't it?

In any case, while the book version of Chamber of Secrets, in my opinion, comes off like a retread of the first movie, the movie version builds fairly well on what we've seen and broadens the mythology of the world nicely. And, of course, the third movie is among the best, so there's that to look forward to.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Easy A

Movie #236: Dredd

Dredd is a hyper-violent action movie based on the Judge Dredd comics, starring Karl Urban's chin, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, and Wood Harris.

In the future, America is an irradiated wasteland, except for MegaCity One, a huge sprawl housing 800 million people in gigantic apartment complexes. There's a lot of violence, crime, and drug use, and cops have been replaced by judges - dour, faceless folks with big guns who are empowered to dispense justice (including death sentences) on the spot. The movie opens with Judge Dredd (Urban) killing a bunch of druggies, and then getting a rookie (Thrilby), who failed her judge exam...but she's psychic, so they've let her stay.

They take a call from Peach Trees, where three skinned bodies have just plummeted to the ground. They find where the bodies came from, kill some thugs, and take one guy into custody (Harris). But it turns out he works for the head gangster/dealer, MaMa (Headey), and she figures he'll talk under interrogation, so she locks the place down and has all her dudes go judge-hunting.

Now, I can't speak to how well this emulates the comics, 'cause I've never read them. I do think, though, that this movie gets a lot right. For one thing, Anderson, the psychic, is not a slave to her powers. She can control them, and when a Harris' character tries to out-mindfuck her, she turns it right around. The villain of the piece is a woman, but she's not an oversexed seductress. She's vicious and evil and utterly fucked up, but also lethally efficient. She knows that if the judges get to her, she's dead - she can't hide behind a legal system, and so everything she does has a hint of nihilism.

As for Dredd himself, we never learn a damn thing about him. Anderson says in the beginning that she senses anger and control and...something else, but that something else is never defined. Dredd has an obvious regard for the law (he won't shoot Kay because all they have him on is drug possession, and even though Anderson is 99% sure he's a killer, that's not good enough). Urban brings an intensity to him that's appropriate, and even when he's in trouble, he's serious - not making stupid jokes, not out of control, just doing his job.

I also like that Dredd never has to save Anderson, and I like the way the movie treats its women. It doesn't treat them well, but no one gets treated well, and everyone gets the same level of shit. There's a threat of rape against Anderson, but it never moves beyond threat. Sure, she gets caught, but she saves herself, and then saves Dredd. MaMa gets the same kind of brutality a man would in her position, and Dredd never comments on her sex or her origins. She's just a criminal to him.

Oh, and the cinematography is awesome. Michelle feels they went for a comic-book panel feel, and that makes sense. The slo-mo drug scenes are also really awesome. I'm rather looking forward to the sequel, actually.

My grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium-high

Next up: Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets

Board Game: Hirelings: The Ascent

The Game: Hirelings: The Ascent
The Publisher: Prolific Games
Time: 20-30 minutes
Players: Me, Will, Al, +Sarah Dyer+Michelle Lyons-McFarland


So, the premise of the game is promising enough. The players are the henchman/hirelings of dungeon delvers, and we all made it to the lair of the dragon Rovert (which is "Trevor" spelled backwards, but if there's a reference I don't get it). The heroes got torched, so now we're all in a mad scramble back out of the dungeon. There are monsters in the way, and, in an interesting twist, a fireball chasing us.

Game Play: In practice, every turn you choose to draw a card (in game context, pull something out of your backpack). It'll either add to your move or help you evade a monster. You don't have to draw cards, though. Then you roll a d6 for your movement, and if you land on a space with a player, you steal something from their backpack. If you come across a monster square, you have to roll a d8 against a target number (listed on the board) to evade it, otherwise you stop and go again next turn. If you land on the monster square and evade it, you get to move again.

There are a few special areas on the board with some cute flavor text, but mostly it boils down to "make the d8 roll or stay here an extra turn or two."

...thrilling.
Now, the fireball I mentioned. It starts after you four turns into the game, and moves a d6 per turn. If it catches you, you can spend a card to stay ahead of you, but that won't help long-term. If you get caught by the fireball and you can't spend a card, you're out. First one out of the dungeon wins!

All that extra stuff is the drawing and arty stuff Sarah and Will do while gaming.
Opinions: So, this is a kid's game, meant for ages 7 and up. Thing is, it's entirely random. You could argue that there's some strategy in when to spend cards, but not really, because you can't ever predict if the card is going to help you move or help you evade monsters, and that's all the cards do. Also, if the fireball catches you, you're done. In our game, Will made it out alive, but everyone else got torched.

This might be a kid's game, but it's on the same game strata as Candyland. That is, you don't really need any other players, because with one exception (landing on someone else), nothing you do affects other players, you have no control over what happens to you in game, and there's no strategy involved. The flavor text is cute, the artwork is neat, and the premise is awesome, but the execution really falls down.

Keep? I might play it with Teagan and Cael once, but after that, no.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Movie #235: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is the final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and stars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Gary Oldman.

We pick up 8 years from the events of The Dark Knight. Batman hasn't been seen since the night Harvey Dent died, but the city used his death and the manhunt for Batman (Bale) to pass the Dent Act. The parameters of the Act are never explained, but it's insinuated that it's a kind of Patriot Act sort of thing and was used to destroy organized crime. Commissioner Gordon (Oldman), still acting like a cop, is looking for absolution, feeling guilty for allowing the city to demonize Batman.

At a charity ball, a thief named Selena Kyle (Hathaway) breaks into Bruce Wayne's house, steals his mother's pearls, and her real target, his fingerprints. She also kidnaps a Congressman, and takes him along when she delivers the prints to Stryver (Burn Gorman), the evil assistant of evil business man Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) who's trying to take over Wayne Enterprises. But then things go horribly pear-shaped, Gordon chases the bad guys into the sewer and finds Bane (Hardy) and his secret army doing evil things.

Batman gets back into the game, but manages to fuck everything up - he drives away Alfred (Caine) who tries to convince him he could do so much more for the city as Bruce Wayne than Batman. He has some support from a uniform named Blake (Gordon-Levitt), who susses out his real identity through Magic Orphan Senses, but winds up biting off more than he can chew chasing down Bane, and winds up broken and thrown into a prison in some other country.

Bane, meanwhile, takes over Gotham, and plans to nuke it, because he's following up Ras Al Ghul's work. Batman manages to escape, returns to Gotham, discovers that the woman he trusted with his company is actually Ras' daughter Talia (Cotillard), and escapes in the Batwing with the bomb, seemingly to die. Even gets a statue in his honor, except he totally didn't die, because autopilot.

Whew. Long summary. It's a long, dense movie, with a lot of characters. It's also a lot less busy than it seems to be. Like, it seems like there's a lot going on, but really you don't see a lot of the behind the scenes stuff, and Bane must occupy Gotham for months (and in fact, the Russian scientist who arms the bomb says it'll take 5 months to decay to the point of explosions). This makes Batman's recovery and return to Gotham a bit more believable, but how did he get back into Gotham, much less get access to his stuff? Why did Bane bother bankrupting Batman at all? He didn't need the money by that point. Was it all to get access to Daggett's stuff, or just to break him? Weird.

There's a lot to like about the movie. I like the reimagining of Bane as the leader of the League of Assassins, and I like Hardy's portrayal. I think the movie is generally very well cast, actually. I like how the theme of pain (same way Batman Begins was about fear and The Dark Knight was about chaos). And I'm actually fine with the end; yes, escaping Gotham is something most portrayals of Batman would never do, but this has never been the usual portrayal of Batman.

I think, though, that this one is dour and grim from start to finish, to the point that when it tries to be funny, it's just awkward. The first movie had a few moments that felt comic-booky, the second one less so, but this one is pretty relentless.

Beyond that, I think it's a good end of the trilogy. It's not the most watchable thing in the world, but Nolan definitely made the movie he wanted to, and I think it gives Bruce Wayne, if not an entirely happy ending, an ending. And I'm OK with that.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Dredd

Board Game: Sentinels of the Multiverse

We were gonna play Marvel Heroic the other night, but I needed more prep time, so keeping with the theme, we played this instead.

The Game: Sentinels of the Multiverse
The Publisher: Greater Than Games
Time: An hour or so
Players: Me, Will, Al, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Sarah Dyer

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a deck-based game in which the players (all with their own hero) face off against a common villain. In our case, I played the Wraith (not the Wraith), Sarah played Nightmist, Michelle played the Scholar, Will played Omnitron X, and Al played Chrono-Ranger. We faced off against Miss Information, because Sarah thought she looked cool, in the Silver Gulch.

First thing: split out all the decks, since we hadn't played this.
Game Play: The game progresses fairly simply. Everyone has hit points, heroes and villains. Villains go first, and they tend to have their own special set-ups and parameters. Then each hero takes their turn, followed by the environment.

Early in the game, not much going on.
Everyone can put out standing effects, and you need to check whether you've got things that happen at the start or end of a turn. Fortunately we have these neat tiles to put under a card if it's got such an effect, as well as things like "+1 damage dealt" or "-1 damage suffered," and so on.

A-like so. 
The heroes win when they beat the villain, the villain wins when all the heroes die, I guess? It didn't come up because we kicked her ass.

See, she's terrified. 
Opinions: Like a lot of games with a lot of moving parts, you'll have some situations where the rules seem to contradict or raise questions, but it's usually pretty easy to figure out. And, there are active forums on the company's site, so that generally helps. Beyond that, the game seems like a lot of fun and the flavor text on the cards is always fun to read.

Keep? Yep.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monsterhearts, Episode 3 - Forewarned is Four-Armed

Last time, there was lots of sex, a waterlogged corpse, and shopping for a dress. This time...less of all of that.

We open in the mall, and the four characters there (Cassi, Rook, Skylar and Genesis) a little shaken by their encounter with Mrs. Gable. They get some coffee and calm down, and then head to another (much more expensive) store. Genesis finds a dress she likes, which Cassi happily purchases with Daddy's credit card.

Meanwhile, Dora gets a phone call from Mrs. Diaz. Omar Diaz is a classmate (and one-time lover) of Dora, and the Diaz family owns a winery outside of Perdido; they're pretty rich. Mrs. Diaz is calling for Dora's mother, which surprises Dora - they don't exactly run in the same circles. She takes the message, and then calls Omar directly. He tells her that his parents are having a party on Tuesday night (it's now Saturday) and inviting folks they don't normally invite. "Poor people," says Dora, and Omar uncomfortably agrees.

The others, having purchased Genesis' dress and gotten Skylar a tux, head back to Cassi's house to use the pool. Cassi finds an invitation to her parents from the Diaz winery; apparently her folks are invited to the party as well. She lends Genesis a swimsuit and they head for the pool. This rapidly becomes a pool party as more people show up.

Cassi's mom is around, kind of facilitating the party. Cassi gives her mother the invitation, and she opens it - it's a dinner party. Her mother seems interested in going, while Cassi is just curious about the whole thing. Meanwhile, in the pool, Skylar flirts with Genesis in a teenage sort of way.

Dora's mother comes home, and Dora doesn't mention the incident with the police (she doesn't want her mother to freak out), but does tell her about the phone call. Genesis calls Dora and asks her to come over; Dora clears this with her mother ("Just be back for church tomorrow"), and Dora bikes out to Cassi's.

The characters talk to each other about the upcoming party. Omar is there, and they ask him about it. He says it's weird; his parents are being very tight-lipped about, inviting people they don't normally associate with, and that they sent their regular chef back home to Mexico on vacation and brought in a new chef for the party, which is odd. The characters, already suspicious of weird goings-on because of previous events, decide this bears further consideration, and four of them (all but Dora) decide to gaze into the abyss. Genesis floats on the water, and wonders about a connection between the events at the school and the party. She sees a meat truck leaving from the school, driven by Mike the janitor, and knows she must get into the basement at school.

Skylar drops to the bottom of the pool, and considers the party. He sees Cassi, grabbed, held down, and butchered, chunks of muscle cut off and fried. He realizes, though, that he must go to the party.

Cassi walks around the pool house and looks in the window, into the dining room. She sees people eating there, drinking red wine, and then sees the kitchen door open. There's a carcass on the table, of something she can't identify...but there are men's running shoes under the butcher block.

Rook goes into the bathroom and stares into the mirror. He hears a dinner party - clinking of glass, knives on plates. He hears someone ask about the meal, and someone answers that it's a proprietary recipe of the chef's...but that everyone will be invited back. He winds up drained.

Meanwhile, Dora talks to Omar, and tries to turn him on. She fails, and winds up getting led off into the house for sex, but doesn't get anything out of it (other than the obvious). Her sex move does apply, though, and she takes the condom wrapper as a sympathetic token. Cassi notes them walking out through the dining room, but doesn't say anything.

Skylar, following his vision, surfaces, and yanks Genesis down. She flails, lashing out physically, and fails - her hand goes right through Skylar's chest. A bit terrified, she swims to the edge and freaks out, asking Skylar what the hell he is and so on. She keeps an eye on Skylar as Cassi and Rook find each other and creep off to talk; Genesis sees Skylar slip through the wall to watch (Skylar is attempting to creep on her friends). This pretty much confirms it to Genesis - Skylar's a ghost.

Cassi decides to get rid of everyone else, and goes and finds her mother. She manipulates an NPC to get mom to get rid of her guests (her mom agrees, but the condition is that she help get Daddy to take her to the party at the winery, which Cassi's dad is probably otherwise not inclined to attend). She agrees, and her mother gets rid of the NPCs, leaving just the five characters.

Genesis rather publicly confronts Skylar, and Skylar agrees to tell the truth. She walks through the door, and then knocks. Everyone else (except for Genesis, who already knew) holds steady, and Cassi fails. A moment later, Austin shows up, banging on the door, concerned for Cassi. Cassi reveals that ever since childhood, she, Austin, Alyssa and Madison have had a link - when Cassi is afraid or hurt, the others know it (and indeed, she calls Madison and finds that the other two are on the way; she dissuades them).

They talk with Austin a bit, and he reveals that he's been removed from the football team's group email, but he isn't sure why and he's planning to ask the coach on Monday. He leaves, and the characters go back to their discussion.

Over the course of said discussion, Genesis reveals that she's a selkie (and her lack of knowledge of pop culture comes into focus for the others), Rook tells the story of how he found the silver key and stole the power of the fae, and Dora reveals herself as a witch. The conversation, though, is very well done - I've seen these kinds of things in RPGs, and they tend to be "OK, what are your powers?" This one, the revelations felt very personal (Rook's especially), and no one really gave up everything. Very Monsterhearts.

Anyway, the characters decide that they should totally check out the basement at school, but not tonight. They decide to go tomorrow morning when Dora is done with church. She and Genesis head back to her place (but do not engage in further sexin's), and in the morning, they head to church. Skylar, curious, joins them.

The sermon goes OK until the whole "blood and body given up for the everlasting covenant" thing, at which point Genesis, already sensitive to questions of eating people and not really grokking metaphor, freaks out. She's asked to leave by a younger priest, and Dora tries to shut her down, and gives her the submissive condition. The group of them leaves the church and meets Cassi and Rook at school.

They break in (well, really, Skylar goes through the door and opens it), and sneak downstairs. The smell alone makes Cassi hold steady; she fails and vomits. They make it downstairs and find a body on a huge butcher table. Skylar is relieved to see that the body isn't his, but the shirt on the chair is a uniform and has the word "Mike" stitched into it. They also find some notebooks, with notes in a language none of them know. Dora grabs a blank page to use as a token, and they started heading upstairs.

As they near the top of the stairs, they hear footsteps. Skylar tries to slip through the wall and manipulate an NPC, hoping to distract whoever it is...but it's Mike, the janitor. As Skylar appears, Mike points his hand at Skylar, and his hand turns white and corpse-like, with long, black nails. Skylar freezes, and feels pain shoot through her.

The others burst out of the room. Rook tries to lash out physically and fails; Mike tosses him back downstairs. Cassi tries to manipulate an NPC just to distract Mike, and this works; she makes some noise and Mike glances over. Dora tries to hex the janitor, but he rips off his shirt and reveals an extra set of arms. His whole body becomes that horrible corpse-flesh, and he stabs Dora in the stomach with his claws.

At this point, Skylar lashes out physically and tries to tackle, him, but flies right through Mike and lands on Cassi. Everyone decides that "fuck this" is the better part of valor, and runs away. And everyone succeeds, running to different parts of the school, except Genesis (though she does manage to run). Dora makes it to her sanctum and starts patching herself up.

Mike, meanwhile, reabsorbs his extra arms, and calls someone on his cell. "Just get here," he says, "bring everyone you can find."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Board Game: Ultimate Werewolf

Rarr.

The Game: Ultimate Werewolf
The Publisher: Bezier Games
Time: 45 minutes or more
Players: Me, +Sarah Dyer+Ray Tomlin, Russell, Glen, Sarah Wise, John, Will, Alisdair, +Matthew Homentoasty


So, this game can be played with a deck of cards, and it's sometimes called "Mafia" and other things. The basic idea is: There are two werewolves, but no one knows who they are. Every night (round) everyone closes their eyes, and the werewolves wake up, choose someone to kill, and then shut their eyes. Everyone who isn't a werewolf is a Villager, though there are a number of other people to add in (common ones are a Seer, who can investigate one person per round and determine if they're a werewolf, and a Bodyguard, who can protect one person per round from death).

Intense discussion.
Each day, the moderator (me) announces who died, and then the Villagers discuss who did it and who they should lynch. If the Villagers kill both werewolves, they win! If the werewolves outnumber or achieve parity with the villagers, they win!

There are a number of different variations of this game; the most famous is probably the one from Looney Labs, which I've played. That's fine, but it's become a kind of weird gamer-culture thing, and it's played very differently than I'm used to. For instance, apparently listening for movement during the night is considered cheating, but it's very much been the way we've played (and honestly, if you're not doing that, then what are you basing arguments for who to lynch on?).

This version of the game also includes a lot of other roles, including Lycan (a Villager, but reads as a werewolf if the Seer investigates), Hunter (if killed, shoots someone of his choice), Troublemaker (once per game can choose to have a day have two lynchings) and Ghost (dies the first round, but thereafter can write one letter per round).

Opinions: I personally enjoy this game, but I like being the Moderator. If I play, I find I get lynched quickly because I talk, and talkers get viewed with suspicion. Being able to lie well doesn't help you if everyone always thinks you're lying regardless. It's a good party game, but it's a game that you have to help people learn, especially when they're drinking, otherwise they give themselves away.

"I'm totally a werewolf. Ssh."
Keep? Yep.

Board Game: Tsuro

We always do some board gaming at the Holiday Party, so here we go!

The Game: Tsuro
The Publisher: Calliope Games
Time: 20 minutes, if that
Players: Me, +Cheyenne Rae Grimes+John Mathys+Stentor Danielson, Jeff, +Ray Tomlin, Kathy



Game Play: Tsuro is a pleasantly simple tile-based game. You've got these little pebble-like markers, and on your turn you lay down a tile with a bunch of squiggly paths. When you set down a tile, you follow your current path all the way to the end; if that takes you off the board, you're out. Last man standing wins.

Everyone pretty much starts out in their own little spaces...

...but that changes.

If someone else is on the same tile as you or positioned such that your tile would add to their track, they advance, too. If you collide, you're both out. As such, you need to be careful how close to other people you get, because they will send you out if they can.

Opinions: This game has a lot to recommend it. It's really simple, it's fast (games really take closer to 15 minutes), and it takes up to 8 people but works just fine with 2 or 3. It's also really pretty.

And so is Ray!
Keep? Yep.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Movie #234: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is, of course, the first movie based on the absurdly possible series of fantasy novels by J.K. Rowling, just in case you live under a rock. It stars Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and Ian Hart, and introduces Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe as the titular character (Harry, not the stone).

It's basically every Chosen One trope ever - Harry is orphaned as a baby because an evil wizard murdered his parents. At age 11, living as a neglected and abused child with his uncle (Richard Griffiths) and his aunt (Fiona Shaw), he gets a letter delivered by owl (which they don't let him read). And then he gets a visit from a huge fellow named Hagrid (Coltrane, perfectly cast), who reveals to him the larger wizarding world, of which he is a part by birthright. Oh, and his parents left him rich (in wizard money), but he doesn't really spend it, because it makes him feel weird.

Going to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he meets slacker comic relief Ron Weasley (Grint) and mousy know-it-all Hermione (Watson), and we basically watch Harry gawking at all the awesome magic. He learns charms and potions (the latter from the obviously evil Professor Snape, played by Rickman) and defense against the Dark Arts, taught by the actually evil Professor Quirrel (Hart).

The evil wizard Voldemort, y'see, didn't die so much as merge with Quirrel, and tries to kill Harry and get to the titular stone. There's a lot more to it, of course - even with everything they cut out, the story is is dense, and introduces the Forbidden Forest and the centaurs therein, the magical sport of Quidditch, the propensity for Headmaster Dumbledore (Harris, for now) to let little kids do his dirty work, and so forth.

If it sounds like I'm down on the story, I'm really not. The first couple of movies are disappointing, I think because Chris Columbus didn't know (or wasn't allowed to choose) what to cut and what to simplify. As such, the movies are very much like the books, but they feel overstuffed and overlong. It improves at part 3, but we'll get there. As it is, my kids enjoyed this one, and they're about the right age.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Dark Knight Rises

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie #233: Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude is a weird black comedy starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort. I have literally no idea why I own it. Like, I'd never seen it, it was still in the wrapper, and no one I've talked to can remember giving it to me.

So, Harold (Cort) is a rich guy in his 20s, living with his mother (Vivian Pickles), who is utterly self-absorbed. Harold is obsessed with death - the first thing we see him do is hang himself. His mother, unfazed, just tells him to get down; turns out he stages these elaborate suicides for himself (it's never explained how he does it).

Harold also goes to funerals for fun, and at one he meets Maude (Gordon), a woman nearing her 80th birthday who loves life in all its forms. She and Harold become friends and lovers, and Harold proposes on her birthday. Maude, however, is adamant that 80 is the proper age to die, and has already taken the drugs to ensure it. She dies in the emergency room, and Harold drives his car off a cliff...but is then seen on the cliff's edge, playing his banjo and walking away, seemingly happy.

This is a bizarre freaking movie. It's a black comedy without being horrible, and Maude is really the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl, except that unlike the young, fluffy MPDGs of modern cinema, she's earned it. She's fought for justice, she's been arrested many times, and she's a fucking concentration camp survivor (this is indicated with a shot of the tattoo on her arm, but it's never mentioned, and I appreciate the movie trusting us with that).

This movie is a study in juxtaposition. You've got the obvious stuff - the ages of the characters, their views on life and death, but also things like the lively parade happening simultaneously with a funeral and Harold's uncle (Charles Tyner) only coming to life and becoming passionate when talking about killing people in battle. It's very artfully done, and definitely an original script. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low, I think

Next up: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Promethean: Hot Tubbin' and Fightin' Wolves

Recall that last time, the characters were joining the staff for a friendly card game. And so they did - the PCs plus Peter, the cook (not Peter Cook) started out. Peter is a pretty skilled poker player, but once the game was explained to Avalon she picked it up and handily won.

During the game, Miguel came in and whispered something to Peter. Avalon and Feather were close enough to hear: "She's on the balcony." Peter excused himself and Miguel took his place, but didn't fare any better against Avalon. Feather excused herself to get some beers, and went into the dining room to peer out the window at the balcony. There she saw Peter chatting up Brooke.

Cards went on for a while, and then Denise, the server, poked her head in and said folks were hot-tubbing. Avalon decided to join in, while the others declined - they wanted to sneak out and go wolf hunting.

Avalon wound up in the hot tub with Olly, Miguel, Denise, and Freddie. Olly flirted a bit, and then brought out a big bag of weed and rolled a joint. Avalon, of course, couldn't really get high (Prometheans aren't exactly immune to chemicals, but pretty close), but she enjoyed watched the rest of them giggle.

Meanwhile, in the woods, Grimm tracked down the wolf pack using Sense Flux. The wolves, when they found them, registered as being highly Flux-tainted. Grimm figured they weren't werewolves, and Enoch thought maybe they were created by a sublimatus. The characters approached the wolves, and the wolves spoke with them.

The wolves admitted they were hunting someone, someone who "will be married on Saturday, January 5th." They identified their prey as male, but wouldn't (or couldn't) say who - the characters initially figured it might be Babi, but the wolves didn't seem to know.

One of the wolves made a dash for the building. Feather, boosting her speed with Pyros, sprinting after and caught it. Grimm shot it and nearly dropped it, but the wolf turned around and bit Feather. The other three wolves attacked, doing varying amounts of damage (the one that got Enoch very nearly killed him). Feather punched the wolf with which she was wrestling, and it crumbled to black dust...but then one of the other wolves split in half and became two wolves. This gave the characters pause.

In the hot tub, Ferdinand had joined the younger folks. He disapproved of the weed, but didn't make them get out. He talked with them about his marriage (28 years), and did his best to answer Avalon's odd questions about love and marriage. And then Avalon heard something and asked if the others did. Ferdinand turned off the hot tub, and they listened in eerie silence...and heard the growling and snarling from the wolves.

Avalon got everyone out, into the building, and used Transformation on the door to fuse it with the wall. Olly, unfortunately, saw this (though did not immediately suffer from Disquiet).

Outside, the wolves told the Prometheans that the hunt was still happening, and ran into the forest. Grimm shot one, and Matt shot another (making a milestone: Pick a fight). After Matt's shot, the wolf turned around and snarled, draining some of Matt's Pyros.

The Prometheans split up, figuring they'd better get inside before the cold became a problem (Matt is weatherproof, but the rest aren't). Enoch and Feather found the hot tub and Enoch shorted it draining the motor, healing a little. Matt and Grimm found a shed, but Matt failed to pick the lock (extended action and he failed, taking the Shaken Condition, and then resolved that on the next roll to take the Beat). They circled around to the front, and went in the front door. Ferdinand, there with his rifle, saw them come in, and saw that Matt was wounded (bitten on the arm). He called for assistance, and Matt, not knowing what else to do, passed out. Grimm stayed quiet while Miguel came and looked at the gruesome wound on Matt's arm (making a milestone: Be present and silent for an entire conversation).

Enoch and Feather stayed by the hot tub long enough for Feather to bind their wounds, and then went in a back door. They rejoined the characters just as Ferdinand was talking about getting an ambulance; the characters weren't thrilled by this idea, for a variety of reasons. Just then they all felt a blast of Pyros from up the mountain, and a violent snowstorm started.

Enoch went to find supplies, and stole a defibrillator. While looking, he overheard a man and a woman talking: Madison, talking to Damien. Madison was saying, "He's just been different lately. Distant, preoccupied. Depressed. Drinking, not sleeping." Enoch filed that away for future reference and went back to the others. He applied this to Matt when no one was looking, and the battery was enough to heal the wound a bit. Then, when Miguel came to treat the wound, it wasn't as bad as he'd thought. This, combined with the weather, convinced the resort folks that getting help wasn't necessary at the moment.

The Prometheans regrouped and talked about their options. Avalon was convinced that they needed to fortify the resort somehow, that the wolves might return, and she was determined to protect the people. The others agreed that the folks needed protecting, but weren't sure that barricading the doors was the way to go. Avalon also pointed that several of the men "will be married on Saturday," including Leslie and Ferdinand. The others hadn't considered this; maybe Babi wasn't the target.

Avalon wound up using Transformation to seal the doors (only lasts a scene), and then sleeping by the fire with her clock. Grimm slept nearby, too. The others retired to their rooms, and each called on Elpis, with varying degrees of success. But no dreams came to Avalon, and as she fell asleep, she reflected that Leslie and Madison, Naresh and Anjali, Babi and Serena, Ferdinand and Ella...all these people got to sleep next to the ones they loved, and she, created to be a companion, was alone.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Promethean, further notes

OK, I need to actually figure out what's going on here. Players stay out.

Night's Black Agents: Not Allergic to Bullets

Last night was Night's Black Agents, wherein the characters attempted the most aggressive, direct action they've undertaken to date and it...didn't go quite as planned.

Recall that they were in Bonn, hunting Renate Bauer, a BSI agent they realized was laundering money for the conspiracy. They decide to follow her for a few days, make note of her routine, and decide on an approach.

She took the bus to work, but her routine wasn't ironclad; one morning, she stopped and got a pastry to go and ate while walking from the bus stop to work, the next she stayed at the shop to eat. One day she stayed in through the day, the next she got lunch with her co-workers. Obviously, she was much better at this than Dr. Macan, who never varied his routine.

On Saturday, Rousseau and Smith were in the van, following her. She went to the library, then to do some shopping, and was walking through a park when she got a call. Rousseau quickly grabbed a shotgun mic and heard Bauer speaking in Serbian (of course she could only hear her half of the conversation): "No, I haven't seen anyone. I'll watch out. No, I don't think we need to recruit yet."

The agents decided that now that she was on her guard, they'd better just take the advantage. Rousseau pulled the van around a corner and Smith set up a rifle and shot Bauer in the head.

The bullet stunned her...and then she jumped forward and landed across the street.

Since she landed parallel to the van (and hadn't seen where the shot had come from), Rousseau took her picture. Bauer opened the door to a shop hard enough to shatter the glass, and Rousseau, figuring that now was not a good time to hang around, drove off. No one had noticed the shot, though, and since there was no body, the police response wasn't as bad as it could have been (though passers-by had still seen Bauer do her mighty leap thing).

Back at the agents' safe house, Lockwood had hacked into Bonn's traffic/security camera system and the agents had seen the action. They looked at Rousseau's picture, and saw something creepy - Bauer had what looked like tentacles under her tongue, jutting out. They looked almost like lampreys. She left the shop after a while, wearing a thin disguise, walked to a cafe, and disappeared again, but at that point Lockwood noticed someone else hacking in. She tried to trace the signal back, but the hacker was apparently better than her, and locked her out - and erased the footage of Bauer leaping over the street.

The agents realized they were probably made, and packed up and went to Munich. While there, they kept an eye on the news. They learned that the night they left, two Italian tourists went missing in Bonn (they figured that Bauer needed to feed and replenish). And, they learned that Father Michel Dumas had fallen to his death in Paris.

Rousseau, disturbed by this news, finally followed up on the lead that Dumas had given her and called up Father Diego de Calderon of the Knights of Malta. The agents met with him, and, when asked who Vasily Avilov might have answered to, he gave them the name Vilmos Hajnal.

The agents all knew Hajnal - he was one of the most powerful men in Eastern Europe, an fixture in organized crime and human traffic. Hajnal was the son of a career criminal, a mobster and racketeer whom the KGB had killed in the 60s. But the younger Hajnal was more into slave trafficking and (it seemed) working for the vampires. The agents showed Calderon the photo of Bauer, and that was enough to convince him that something was amiss. He said he'd look into Dumas' death on behalf of the Church and see what he could find.

The characters called some of their contacts, but both Hanover and David failed their Network rolls, so Klaus Hinkel of the BSI and Ivan Tovarisch, formerly of the KGB were unavailable (strangely, folks weren't willing to spend their Network points to up the rolls - I don't blame them, these folks tend to wind up dead). Rousseau did get through to Celeste Sarabonde, her contact at the Police Nacionale. Celeste told her that Father Dumas' death was officially an accident, but she didn't buy it - there had been signs of a struggle and his neck break wasn't consistent with a fall. But the police had brought in someone named Helene Caron to do the exam - and her last job was with Tasse Medical Supplies.

The characters had set up camera surveillance outside of Bauer's home. Watching that, they saw her arrive there with the two "missing" Italians, go inside, and come out with a duffel bag. But there was no record of her leaving the city, so maybe she was just going to ground there? The characters decided to wait in Munich a couple of days, and then return to Bonn to try and finish her off. It would, apparently, take something bigger than a bullet.

End scene: Smith, walking in Munich on a bridge, and calls his contract Frank Jones, whom he'd asked to look into Ivana Zisek (Rousseau's contact in Sarajevo). Frank answers, "Hello?"

"Hey, it's me."

"Hey, Smith. Listen, I'm not feeling so hot. I think I may have caught something."

This, of course, is code - he's been made. "OK, well, you get better." Smith hangs up, and drops the phone into the river. "Fuck."

Board Game: Kill the Overlord

Yes, I know, it's a card game, not a board game. You'll never get anywhere with that attitude, mister.

The Game: Kill the Overlord
The Publisher: APE Games
Time: 30-45 minutes, depending on how many players
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Lori Karpinecz+glen gilmore+John Mathys+Matthew Karafa

Game Play: Kill the Overlord is basically an elaborate game of hot potato. You've got X roles, one of which is always the Overlord, and the rest all have various titles (Knight, Squire, Peasant, Captain, and then there are more that I believe were exclusive to the Kickstarter; I was a backer). The Overlord gives the execution order to someone, and they play a card to pass it elsewhere. If you can't pass it, you're executed and out of the round. If the Overlord is executed, the round ends; if everyone but the Overlord is executed, the game is over and the Overlord wins (I have never seen this happen). After a round ends, roles are reconfigured based on the highest rank still alive and who died in what order.

Playing this game on a table the size of mine requires a deft hand throwing cards.

You also have gold to keep track of; every round you get an income, and certain cards let you take gold from the Treasury or other players. If you begin the round as the Overlord and with 30 gold, you win! (Which is the only way I've ever seen anyone claim victory.)

Opinions: I like this game, and I'm glad I backed it because the extra cards are fun. I really love the artwork; if you go to the Kickstarter page, you can see it. Each of the role cards has a male and female version on either side, which is kinda cool.

The game can go on a bit long with more players, but I find that just about the time you start to think it's getting too long, people tend to have enough gold to be able to win. I have yet to find a workable strategy for the game; mostly I just try and stay alive the longest, but there's definitely an art to knowing when to die (and several cards that allow it). It's a fun, light, party game, and can be played while drinking as long as someone is sober enough to suss out who gets what role at the end of a round.

Keep? Yep.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Game Prep: Night's Black Agents

Running Night's Black Agents later today, so probably I should take some notes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Movie #232: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is a stoner flick starring Kal Penn, John Cho, and a whole bunch of cameos. But mostly it's about them.

Harold (Cho) is an investment banker who has just had any plans he had for the weekend crushed by his asshole coworkers (Ethan Embry and Robert Tinkler) dumping their work on him. His buddy and roommate, Kumar (Penn) gets him to come home and get high anyway, and they decide, after smoking up, to head to White Castle - those little burgers would really hit the spot.

And thus begins an epic adventure sees them ride a cheetah, steal a car, get their car stolen by Neil Patrick Harris (playing a drug-addled, horny, straight version of himself), get propositioned by Ryan Reynolds and Malik Akerman, get arrested, and finally wind up hang-gliding down a cliff to reach White Castle.

The movie is really funny, in my humble opinion. The chemistry between Cho and Penn is amazing, and the Job-like shit that piles on Harold is nicely balanced by the way that Kumar just kind of coasts through life. But at the same time, they both wind up with their own epiphanies: Kumar realizes that he does want to be a doctor, it's just that he doesn't want to become his father. Harold realizes that he can stand up for himself and take the initiative to talk to his crush, Maria (Paula Garces), which he manages to do without being creepy.

It's also full of cameos; besides the folks I mentioned, we get Christopher Meloni as the deformed, Christian swinger Freakshow; Anthony Anderson as a deranged Burger Shack employee; Jamie Kennedy as a...dude taking a piss in the middle of nowhere; and Jordan Prentice as a giant bag of weed. Um. Anyway, one of my favorite bits is that the guys' neighbors, fellow stoners Goldstein and Rosenberg (David Krumholtz and Eddie Kay Finch, respectively) are having their own crazy night trying to get to Hot Dog Heaven. There was, apparently, a side project involving that epic quest, and the "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern" parallels are obvious.

Not the most female-friendly movie in the world, sorry to say; the girls in the movie are pretty much just sex objects, and although Harold treats his crush well and respectfully, we don't really know much about her. The women in the movie aren't abused or trashed, though, and I guess that's something.

I have not seen the sequels, and I'm just kind of happy that way. This is a good movie, why fuck it up?

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: High (get it?)

Next up: Harold and Maude

Monday, December 9, 2013

Movie #231: The Hard Way

The Hard Way is an early 90s buddy-cop flick starring James Woods, Michael J. Fox, Delroy Lindo, Stephen Lang, LL Cool J, Mary Mara, Annabella Sciorra, and a very young Christina Ricci.

John Moss (Woods) is on the trail of a serial killer known only as the Party Crasher (Lang), who phones the police before shooting a seemingly random victim. Despite this not being the best MO for remaining undetected, he's still on the loose. Moss chases him down, but gets injured in the process. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, bubble-gum action star Nick Lang (Fox) has set his sights on a dramatic role in a police flick, and, seeing Moss on TV, decides that if he can spend the week with Moss and learn about being a cop, he can nail the part.

Moss, of course, refuses, but his starstruck boss (Lindo) insists, and soon Nick is moving in with Moss, tagging along on busts and dates with John's would-be girlfriend, Susan (Sciorra) and her daughter (Ricci), and generally making an ass of himself. Eventually, Moss tricks Lang into thinking he's killed an innocent man. Lang, initially getting on a plane, has an attack of conscience, returns to discover it was a ruse, confronts John, and eventually ends up helping him catch the Party Crasher and save Susan.

I actually really like this movie. Yes, it's a by-the-numbers 90s cop movie action-comedy. Yes, Sciorra plays Girlfriend, and the movie flunks the Bechdel with flying colors. Yes, it's violent and utterly unrealistic, and there are plot holes you could drive a Mac truck through (the stakeout to catch the Party Crasher, for instance - they controlled the meet, so why meet in a garage near gas pumps? Why not put an officer in the van? And most important, why hand the killer a loaded gun?). But Fox, Woods, and even Sciorra bring some nuance to their characters that make them, if not believable, then likable. Plus, the two principals have a character arc (Sciorra really doesn't, but again, Girlfriend - she also gets damseled in the last scene and does almost nothing useful), and that's nice to see. The dialog is snappy and often funny, and there are some nice little jabs at Hollywood and the cop genre. Now, they could have made the movie more realistic and taken even more jabs, but honestly, I like it like it is.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Movie #230: Happy Feet

Happy Feet is a weird animated film about a dancing penguin, starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and a bunch of other people.

So! Emperor penguins, in this movie, mate by finding the penguin with a compatible "heartsong." Memphis (Jackman), for instance, sings "Heartbreak Hotel," and hooks up with Norma Jean (Kidman), who sings "Kiss." Their egg, after a harsh winter, hatches to produce Mumble (E. G. Daily as a baby, and then Wood), a little penguin who doesn't sing, just tap-dances. This, as his father says, "just ain't penguin."

And being penguin is important. The penguin leader Noah (Weaving) enforces penguin morality, which involves raising one's voice against the cold storm and giving fervent thanks to Great Guin, their penguin-god. Of course, Guin, like all gods, doesn't exist, but that doesn't stop Noah from assuming that Guin has removed the fish because of some transgression on the part of the penguin community.

As he grows up, little Mumble gets ostracized because he can't sing for shit, while his intended, Gloria (Murphy), has a gorgeous voice. After an incident with a leopard seal, Mumble meets a bunch of adelie penguins (who all speak with a Hispanic dialect; their leader is voiced by Robin Williams). He meets their guru, Lovelace (also Williams), a huge rockhopper penguin with a mystic talisman around his neck, bestowed by mystic beings (it's the plastic top to a six-pack). This makes Mumble think of a skua he met as a chick, with a plastic tag on his foot, who claimed to have been abducted by aliens.

Gaining some confidence from his friends, Mumble returns and finds that his "heartsong" (dancing) meshes with Gloria's ("Boogie Wonderland"). But then Noah shows up and blames the fish-scarcity on him (which would seem far-fetched if we didn't have similar idiots trying to blame earthquakes on gays IRL) and banishes him. Mumble resolves to find out what's going on with the fish, and embarks on a long, third-act journey that takes him to a zoo and back again.

I like this movie, but it has a weird break in the middle. The first half feels like this bright, dancing, musical, "be yourself" kind of movie with penguins, and then when Mumble leaves and dives into the ocean after the fishing boat, it takes on this dramatic, almost over-serious tone for a while (really, the rest of the movie). The voice acting is really good, even Williams (probably the most overrated voice actor ever), and the animation of all the different animals is amazing (and, in the case of the seal, kind of terrifying).

The messages of the movie - environmental conservation, acceptance of those different, not being afraid of other cultures, religion is the opiate of the penguins - are all good ones, but there are quite a few, and it's actually a little sophisticated for young kids (the appeal for the under-8s wanes at about the halfway point). That said, I like this movie, and it makes me sad to recall that two of the actors (Brittany Murphy and Steve Irwin, who plays an elephant seal) died after it was completed.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Hard Way

Character Creation: Full Light, Full Steam

Two characters in a week? I'm on a roll.

The Game: Full Light, Full Steam
The Publisher: Josh Roby
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

Full Light, Full Steam is a steampunk RPG that I picked up in the Haiti Bundle a million years ago. I've never gotten past the cover before; just gone, "Oh, it's that Steampunk one with a system I don't know," but today I have a little time and I started reading it.

It actually looks really cool. The fiction captures the premise well, and it's pretty good. I think the Analytical Engineering referred to as "beekeeping" was what hooked me enough to keep reading.

So, in this world, various nations have colonized the solar system and are off fighting pirates, colonizing the stars, and generally wearing gears. The character creation chapter opens with talking about comfort zones and expectations, which I greatly appreciate. So let's see how chargen works.

Our first step, really, is to decide on how many points we get (this would probably be a GM decision). Let's do 125, since that's the lower end of Competent. We'd also decide on a spoils exchange rate, which indicates how fast characters progress. Since I'm just doing this as a chargen exercise, that's probably moot, but I do like that it's in there.

Step Two is concept. The book gives us a set of questions to consider, but none of them are mandatory; it's just to get us started. I have "cartographer" in my head, for some reason. I think that my character was a stargazer from the time he was a youth back in England. He peered through telescopes and made star charts, and when he tired of that, he pored through old maps of London, noting the differences between "then" and "now." He joined the RAN (Royal Astronomical Navy) to find new things to map. So, "starry-eyed cartographer" is good for concept, for now.

Step Three is thematic batteries. These look a lot like Aspects in Fate, except that to use them to your advantage, you have to "charge" them (by taking a handicap related to one). That's kind of cool.

So, I think "Bright-Eyed" is good for my guy. He's a little naive but he's very enthused. I see him as kind of a perfectionist, too, so I'll take "Always Correct" as a thematic battery. And finally I'll take "No Boundaries" as his final one - not socially, but literally. He's in space, which never ends, so he'll never map it all.

Step Four: Attributes. I start with a free rank in each one, and it costs more to buy higher ranks. But the cool thing is, on the character sheet, you pay 1 point per square, and you just fill up the squares in a row to buy a rank (there's more of them for higher ranks). Handy for non-mathy people like me! And I don't see any disadvantages that can be used to buy points later, so this 125 points is what I've got. Neat.

OK, so what do these mean? Acumen is used to size up a situation quickly, and Intellect is, well, smart-making stuff. I want those to be my focus. But Coordination seems to represent fine-motor control, which I also need. OK, I'll do it like this:

Acumen 3
Brawn 2
Coordination 3
Intellect 3
Leadership 2
Savoir-Faire 2

That puts me at 60 points spent. I'm going to do Skills, but if I find myself with 10 spare points, I may raise Savoir-Faire (I see my guy as enthusiastic, but polite).

Step Five, as you may have guessed, is Skills. I want:

Athletics (always take Athletics)
Marksmanship
Motoring
Shiphandling
Tactics
Weightless
Classics
Empathy
Language
Astrogation
Beekeeping
Theory
Cartography (an Exotic Skill, meaning I just made it up)

That's a lot, but I don't have to take high scores in all of them. I am going to spend 10 and take all four points in Cartography. That leaves me with 55 points. Putting one of the other Skills I want would cost 12. Hell, putting 2 in each would cost me 36. I can do that. That leaves me with 19 points. Well, I want more Theory, so I'll spend 7 and buy that up. I have 12 left. I'll spend 7 more and buy Astrogation up to 4, because that's perfect for my character (who seems to be well-suited to be a navigator). Now I have five points, so I guess I'm not going back to Attributes. No matter. I shall spend three to raise Weightless (just figure it's something I have a knack for) and then buy one point each in Etiquette and Ether.

At this point in the process, the group would decide on a ship name and some thematic batteries for said ship, but I think we'll call it a day, since that'd be a group thing and I haven't got one. I do need a name, though. His name is Lieutenant Trevor Vaughn-Smythe, and he's maybe not the head navigator (too young), but probably serves directly under him.

And that's it! Boy, that was easy. Might have to run this sometime.



Friday, December 6, 2013

Character Creation: Demon: The Descent

If you're just joining us, it was just shy of five and half fucking years ago when I started doing this character creation project. The idea was simple: Make a character, using the book rules, for every game I own.

The problem was that I kept accumulating more games. And then, two events occurred that basically ensured I'd never be finished. First was the emergence of bundles for charity, which let me spend $25 or so and get upwards of $1000 worth of RPGs. And then came Kickstarter.

So if you clicked that link, you know I've got a bazillion games left to do. I might never finish. But I seem to enjoy such projects, so what the heck. Figure it might be fun to do this game before the Kickstarter ends.

The Game: Demon: The Descent
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I wrote about a quarter of the book (my lord, really?) and I co-developed it with +Rose Bailey.
Books Required: The Demon core (the text of which is on the Kickstarter page because we love you, but I have the pdf of the game in its proof state) and the World of Darkness Rulebook.

So! In Demon, you play an angel of the God-Machine that decided, for whatever reason, to abandon its mission and Fall. I came up with the phrase "defected to the human race" in writing the script for the Kickstarter video, and I really wish I'd thought of that earlier, because it's a good way to describe what demons do and to encapsulate the feel of the game. It's a spy story with biomechanical angels. You can go full-on Night's Black Agents with it and run with the spy story (Blowback is also good inspiration on the RPG side of things), or you can be more classical demon and have the characters making pacts and collecting souls.

It's been a good long while since I made a character for any White Wolf game. The last one was (hold on) Hunter: The Reckoning. I have a couple to do; I could make a Ghouls character and I need to do Mummy: The Curse at some point.

Anyway, Step One, as anyone experience in these games knows, is Concept. For a demon, I could start off by thinking about the Fall and what kind of angel I was, or I could start off by thinking of my demon circumstances and do history later. I think I shall do the latter.

My character wants to make sure he never gets caught without a Cover again. It isn't that he doesn't like being in his demonic form; he does, in the same way that a person might like to skinny-dip. It feels nice, even natural, but it makes him feel exposed. (This could bring up all kinds of erotic subtext to the whole "share Aether with another demon in demonic form" thing, but let's save that.) I say "again," which implies it happened once.

He was sent down to the Earth as an angel with a simple enough mission - escort a truck from Toledo to Florida. His Cover was a drug courier (fun fact: I75, which runs all the way from Detroit to the coast, is nicknamed "Cocaine Lane"). Now, whether this was the result of demonic interference or just bad luck, the truck got stopped in Tennessee and raided. In case of police interference, he was supposed to cut and run. Instead, he went loud.

The press still isn't sure what to say about the "Highway Holocaust" that claimed 44 lives, many of the police officers. There are reports that it rained fire, but no one really believes that. He fled, and eventually wound up in the fair city of Wherever This Game is Set.

(Now, do note: Angels don't go loud. That means he was already a demon when the shit hit the fan. I'll get to that).

Anyway, somewhere along the way he bought a Cover from another demon, in the form of a soul pact. He claimed the guy's soul and existence; turns out it was a pretty good one. The guy was an adjunct professor of film with very little family, so not much to trip him up.

OK, good start. Now numbers. Step Two: Attributes.

Well, this guy seems pretty Mental to me. I'll put one of my five points into each, and then the rest into Wits.

Secondary...hrm. If he's gonna convince people to sign pacts, he'd better have some chops socially. But y'know, actually, I think I'll go Physical, here, because I think all of his social stuff will be done through Skills. So, yeah, two points into Strength, one each into Dex and Stamina.

So that's social tertiary, so I'll one each, for 2 across the board.

Step Three: Skillz. I want Social first. I'll put four into Persuasion, two into Socialize and Subterfuge, and one each into Empathy, Intimidation and Streetwise.

Hrm, Mental or Physical secondary? He needs some Mental for his Cover, but nothing says he has to be especially good at it (that's what Legend is for). I'll make Physical secondary. Two each into Athletics and Firearms, and one each into Drive, Larceny and Stealth. I want more points.

Mental, finally. Two Academics, one Computer, one Occult.

Step Four: Specialties. Demons get an extra Specialty that's out of place for their Cover. I'll take a Streetwise Specialty in Drug Dealing to represent that. And then I'll take Specialties in Academics (Film), Long Con (Persuasion) and Academia (Socialize).

Step Five: Apply Demon Template. Now's the fun stuff. I know my Incarnation (Psychopomp) and Agenda (Tempter, but with Inquisitor leanings). And I have to address his real catalyst.

So, this guy was driving his truck full o' drugs (still an angel), and he was thinking about the drugs. He knew, on one level, what they were and on a chemical level what they did, and wondered what it was about humans that made them self-destruct. And the conclusion he came to was not so dissimilar to the point Don Marquis makes in "The Lesson of the Moth" - it's better to burn up and be happy than live long and be bored. And he's not sure at what point he Fell, but he knows it was sometime between realizing there was beauty in self-destruction and setting a big section of the road ablaze.

OK, now Embeds and Exploits, which is the bit I wrote. Let's see. As a Psychopomp, I have to take a Mundane Embed, so let's do that first.

Cuckoo's Egg appeals, given my character's history as a smuggler, but I think Meaningless is better for what he does not (good to use on people to show his subtle power over the mind). I'll take Merciless Gunman and hope that my ST is cool enough to use the Down and Dirty Combat rules. I think Find the Leak is also useful for what he wants to accomplish (Heart's Desire would also make sense, but I have a sense of this guy's tactics and he'd rather go the Ricky Roma route and talk people down until they sign).

And I think I'd like an Exploit, yeah? I think I'll take Possession, by way of Find the Leak - getting someone talking is getting into their head, Possession is just a more literal way to do that.

I need to decide which Embed is my first Key. I think I'll make it Merciless Gunman. Why? Not sure. I like the idea that everything about this guy that is all social and convincing is what he's made of himself - but the God-Machine had a much more brutal purpose in mind for him.

Demonic form! I get three Modifications, two Technologies, one Process and one Propulsion. I know I want to take Rain of Fire, which I believe is a Process, but let's see. Yep. OK, that's my Process down. I'll take EMP Field as a Modification. I'm feeling like this guy's demonic form is lean, slithery, and covered in coruscating lightning, but otherwise black. I'll take Inhuman Reflexes and Electrical Sight as my other Modifications. For my Technologies, I'll take Mind Reading (wisps of black ick that come from his head and attach to his target's) and Frost Aura (not sure why, just kind of sounds cool - HAW!).

Ahem. That leaves a Propulsion. I think Phasing would be fun.

Step Six: Merits. And now, a conundrum. I would sort of like to have a backup Cover for this guy; it's very much in-theme. But practically, doing that means spending six of my 10 Merit dots (5 to raise Primum and one to buy the Cover). Buying just the Primum is a better deal, slightly. But I think I'm gonna leave it, for now. My demon wants to have a bunch of Covers built up, but he's not powerful enough to use them. Yet.

That gives me 10 dots to spend on Merits. Lessee now. I'd like to take Quick Draw, but that would require a Specialty in Firearms. Hrm. Ah, crap, can't take Fast Talking, either. Should've thought that through when I did Attributes. Hrm. Well, I'll take Pusher, anyway. And definitely Sympathetic; that's just too perfect. I'll take Multiple Agendas (Tempter-Inquisitor), what the heck. If I were making this character in a group with a Storyteller, I'd ask about any local Agencies and whether taking Status or Contacts would be appropriate, but since I'm not, I'll assume he's new to the area. I will take Status (University) at one dot (basically I've got a shared office and a parking pass).

Four more dots. Well, I've never gone wrong with Fast Reflexes, so since I can't take Quick Draw, I'll take that at 2 dots. And then for my last two, I'll take take Efficient Dealer. I know, I know, it's in the Player's Guide and you haven't read it yet, and technically it requires an Academics Specialty in Law, but I think I'll have +David Hill change that to an appropriate Specialty in any Skill (so my Specialty in Long Con would apply).

Step Seven: Advantages. Mostly these are easy; Size 5, Willpower 4, Cover 7, Primum 1, Defense 4, Speed 10, Initiative 6 (including Fast Reflexes). His Vice is Exposed - it feels good to be naked in public, but it's a bad idea. His Virtue is Self-Reliant. He's not a social creature by nature, but he's got a clear idea of what he wants to be.

I need Aspirations, two short-term, one long. For the short, I take "Become full-time faculty" (this would be long-term for a human, but he plans to cheat) and "Secure a soul-pact" so he has somewhere to go if he has to go loud again. For the long-time, I take "Become a renowned pact-dealer." He wants to be the guy that demons come to when they need pacts written or traded.

Oh, and I need a name. Hrm. He thinks of himself as "the Courier." His initial Cover wasn't given a name (which he's never really stopped to think about - what was his mission, really?). The name of the guy whose identity he stole is Jacob Grettinger.

Steps Eight and Nine are prelude related, which I'd do with a Storyteller if I had one. But for our purposes, I think we're good!