Saturday, June 28, 2014

Movie #259: Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz is an action/comedy directed Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, and Timothy Dalton. It's the second in the "Three Flavors Cornetto" trilogy (between Shaun of the Dead and The World's End), and spoofs all of the high-action cop buddy flicks in existence.

Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the best cop in London. He's absolutely dedicated to the job, and is superb not just at the application of the law, but in building trust in the community. This zeal gets him promoted to sergeant but shipped way the hell out to the country by his superiors (cameos by Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, and Bill Nighy) to the village of Sanford, a peaceful, idyllic, boring little town. Angel arrives and promptly arrests a bunch of underage drinkers and a drunk driver who turns out to be his partner, Constable Butterman (Frost) and son of the local inspector, Frank (Broadbent).

Angel attempts to settle in, but his skills are wasted chasing shoplifters and pulling over speeders. He meets the NWA (Neighborhood Watch Alliance), headed by Tom Weaver (Edward Woodward) and staffed by most of the important citizens, including the incredibly pushy and creepy owner of the local supermarket, Simon Skinner (Dalton).

When two people die in a supposed car crash, Angel recognizes right away that something is wrong, but the local cops don't want to hear it - accidents happen all the time. But the web of murder keeps going, and eventually Angel uncovers that the NWA is a cult headed by Butterman that murders anyone who threatens Sanford's perfection. Angel, horrified, starts to head back to London, but stops along the way, grabs some shades, raids the police station armory (fully stocked with guns that an old farmer "found" - this is never fully explained, but the implication is that they belong to the NWA), and goes to war. No one dies, but lots of bullets fly, and eventually Angel stays in Sanford with Danny as his partner.

Like Wright's other films, the attention to detail in this movie is amazing, and the way the second half mirrors the first, the way characters are encountered in the same order, and the snappy-ness of the dialog are incredible. Which makes it all the more weird when we get obvious mistakes like Danny's ice cream mysteriously changing sizes and levels of eaten-ness, and the fence that Frank crashes through suddenly repairing itself.

For all that, the movie is really well done, and like Shaun of the Dead, spoofs a genre while still creating relatable characters and a story that pulls the viewer in, rather than just being a series of jokes and references strung together. The violence is a little jarring (Adam Buxton's death by falling church bit is especially memorable), but that just serves to offset the fact that during the end confrontations, no one dies and it all plays out like a cop movie. Which, I suspect, was the point.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: House of Flying Daggers

Monsterhearts: Season Two!

The Monsterhearts book advises that, after a season, you take a while and play something else. I take that under advisement, but my players really wouldn't hear it. (And besides which, it's a monthly game.) So here we go!

We pick up more than a year later. Following the Homecoming Dance, the rest of sophomore year at Perdido High went pretty well. Austin and Cassi are dating, and are exclusive - Cassi insists that Austin is her one true love. She and Madison have drifted apart, but she's still close with Ashley. Cassi also visited Briar in the hospital after Homecoming, and they've been trying to resolve their differences. Briar and Austin have also been working to resolve their feelings...and they haven't quite managed it.

Dora has formed a coven with three other girls, all of Aztec descent. She's still dating Miguel Munoz (who is not of Aztec descent, and therefore thinks of the coven as a "girls night" kind of thing). One of the girls in the coven, Erika Perez (nicknamed "Tlatoani" for coven purposes) happens to be Cassi's cousin, and knows most of the family history, including how Cassi's father made his money. Skylar, being the creep he is, watched one of the coven meetings. Rook also attended Dora's church once over the ensuing year. Dora, for her part, wants to get back into Briar's armory - that's where her obsidian dagger came from.

Meanwhile, Genesis has been slowly learning about human things, often with Cassi as her go-to. Briar recruited Genesis to help take care of a supernatural shark (probably the one that ate Kevin) that was terrorizing the beach over the summer, and somewhere in there Genesis learned about the anonymous blog that Briar keeps, detailing her monster-hunting exploits. Genesis and Rook have continued their relationship; she also taught him to swim a bit.

Skylar has moved in with Rook and taken an after-school job at Pi, and otherwise has continued being the creepy ghost she is; she saw Cassi confront Erik about being a witch.

Rook and Cassi also have some tension; she's ditched him to hang with Austin.

So: We open in February, a few weeks before the Sadie Hawkins dance. The characters start out in Mr. Beck's home room, listening to announcements. They go about the rest of their day (and we hammer out their class schedule), and then the after-school stuff starts.

Cassi volunteers to be on the decorating committee for the dance, and Briar, in an ongoing attempt to be cool with Cassi, goes along. Her cousin Erika is also there, and they decide on "Let It Go" as a theme for the dance. Cassi is thrilled to be able to build a castle; she's in wood shop this year and everything!

Rook is thrift shopping after school. He finds a necklace, a black stone with a silver chain, in a jewelry case, and sees his reflection grab at it. He has the guy at the store open it, and finds it's heavier than it should be and the chain feels cool and smooth, like quicksilver. He buys it (along with a bunch of other stuff), and the man writes "Not over 60 degrees" on the inside of the box of the necklace.

Dora accompanies Miguel to Pi, where he works as a delivery driver. They go out on a job and he goes into an apartment complex...but doesn't come out. She goes in and finds him on the floor in front of the door, comatose and freezing. She calls 911, the door opens, and a gruff-looking man rolls his eyes and says, "I told him not to touch the doorknob." He presses a blue rose blossom into Miguel's hand and slams the door, whereupon Miguel wakes up. Dora helps him to the car (leaving the rose behind), and Miguel says that he heard the man say something beginning with "don't touch" but didn't understand the rest through the guy's accent. Then he closed the door and it felt like he'd been dropped in very cold water.

Genesis, meanwhile, is on the swim team, and is becoming the rising start (obviously; she can swim better than anyone else). While doing laps, she sees the pool water grow murky and feels something huge swim beneath her. She follows it...and bonks her head on the bottom of the pool. Dragged out of the water with her head bleeding slightly, she explains that she just got turned around. Her coach is concerned, so has her sit out of practice, keeping her out of the water (this does not make her happy).

At Pi, the characters arrive severally and talk about their weird experiences. Rook pulls out the necklace, and Briar grabs the chain. The both gaze into the abyss, and are both taken with a sudden chill (not Chill). They feel someone loom behind them, and a voice laced with frost whispers, "You're going to die."

The drop the necklace, and it crackles with rime.

Roll credits, probably with some gothy cover of "Let It Go" performed by CHVRCHES.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Character Creation: DC Universe RPG

I think I got a superhero in me somewhere.

The Game: DC Universe Roleplaying Game
The Publisher: West End Games, now defunct
Degree of Familiarity: None with the system. I know the major DC characters well enough.
Books Required: Just the one.

License of major comic book labels to RPGs just seems a chancy proposition, but I do find myself wondering how WEG got the DC license after declaring bankruptcy in 1998. Dunno.

Anyway, this book goes through the basics of "what is an RPG," and then takes us through a little "play as Robin" (Tim Drake) solo adventure to teach the system (popular thing to do in older RPGs; the Batman RPG does it, as does one of the older editions of Paranoia).

Creating a superhero...well. I've done this before. More than a few times. Wow.

So, our hero creation system requires that we decide what power level we're working with. Power level one gives us Robin as the upper end, while power level five gives us Superman as the apex. Hrm.

Well, I'm not opposed to a little random in my life. I roll a d5 (that's a d10 in half, son), and get 4. That gives me 80D dice pool, maximum of 10D in Disadvantages, maximum 10D in Physical, Mental, Transportation and Protection powers, with all others max'd at 2K. Not entirely sure what all that means specifically, but let's get to it. Interestingly, I'm not given an example of the high-end of this category. Oh, wait, there it is: Starman. OK. Not familiar with him.

To create a hero, I first calculate advantages and disadvantages. Let's get on that.

I can take a max of 10D from Disadvantages, and I usually like to do that because Disadvantages are fun and I like having more points.

Determining a background for my character is actually the last step, but it's hard to start without some kind of concept. Let's see. What kind of hero haven't I done already? I've done gadgeteers, I've done magic folks, and a couple of heroes with parkour-movement kind of schticks going on (it's a thing, I like it, sue me). But what I haven't done is a blaster type of character, someone who does straight-up energy manipulation. Hmm.

A while back, I asked on Facebook for song inspirations for characters (have I mentioned how much I miss Livejournal and how easy it is to log things like that? 'cause I do). A couple of people suggested this song by Avicii. I like it, and it's got me an idea.

So, my character was a twin. He had a twin sister, and they were pretty inseparable for much of their young life. And then the Origin Story happened - some major rift in time and space, and an alternate universe formed. In that universe, their parents had never had children. The universes almost merged, which would have caused widespread panic and destruction, but with the help of some superheroes and some all-around weirdness, they manage to keep that from happening. But this time, in one universe, their parents had a girl, in the other, a boy. They're the only ones that remember that they used to be twins. I want their powers to allow them to switch places briefly; they have similar power sets and stats (because I don't want to create two characters), but switching places allows for some kind of neat effect, which I'll figure out when I get to that section. In the instant that they switch, they meet up in a kind of null-space, allowing them to keep each other informed about what they're stepping into. (It gets awkward sometimes.)

So, Advantages/Disadvantages, then? I'll take Disadvantages first. I take Secret Identity (3D); seems appropriate. I take Dark Secret at 1D to reflect that fact that I switch universes with my twin sister sometimes; seems like that's inconvenient more than life-threatening if people found out. I think I'll leave it there for now, just in case I want to take more Disadvantages later.

Advantage-wise, I'll take Attractive Appearance (I picture this guy/girl as being cute). Along that vein, I'll take Charismatic (3D). I'll take Preparedness, reflecting that upon switching places, my guy has a few seconds to consider a plan (4D). And that'll do for Advantages.

And now, attributes. Basic stats; we've got Reflexes, Coordination, Physique, Knowledge, Perception, and Presence. Each die costs 2 from my pool, which is now down to 75, by the way. 5D is maximum, 2D is average.

Reflexes is balance and gross motor. I want above average here, so I'll blow 8 points for 4D.

Coordination is fine motor control. I'll put it at 3D.

Physique is strength and endurance. 3D again.

Knowledge is intelligence and information gathering. Let's go 3D, just to keep the streak up.

Perception is exactly that. I'll leave this at 2D.

Presence is force of personality; let's call it 4D. That's a total of 38 on Attributes, giving me 37 remaining.

Skills are rated 1D to 15D, with 3D being rough human average. They start with a value equal to an attribute, and can go up from there, but to a maximum of 8D at chargen (with specializations, which I can also buy). I need to save some for powers, but let's do this.

Acrobatics 5D
Martial Arts 5D
Catch 5D
Marksmanship 6D (energy blast 2D)
Sleight of Hand 4D
Flying 6D
Resistance 4D
Science 4D (quantum physics 1D)
Search 4D
Charm 6D
Disguise 5D (quick-change 2D)
Persuasion 5D
Willpower 5D

That's at total of 27 on Skills. 10 remaining for powers. Erm. May have to go back and take some Disadvantages. Powers have a base cost, and then start at 1D and go up one for one. Let's see; I may need to scale down skills a little.

OK. I want Flight, Teleportation (line of sight, to represent the dimensional switch), and some kind of energy-blast power. However, I suspect I do not have the dice available without some seriously reworking of things...unless I specialize things all to heck. Hrm. Well, I can't specialize Flight, so if I want to buy that, it'll eat my 10 remaining dice. I'd better go refigure my skills, dammit.

Actually, y'know what? Let's drop Physique, Knowledge, and Presence down one step. That gives me six back. And then I'll refigure my skills thusly:

Acrobatics 5D
Martial Arts 5D
Marksmanship 5D (energy blast 2D)
Flying 6D
Resistance 3D
Science 3D (quantum physics 1D)
Search 4D
Charm 5D
Disguise 4D (quick-change 2D)
Persuasion 4D
Willpower 4D

That means I've spent 22 on skills, meaning I now have 21D remaining. OK

So, 10 on Flight drops me to 11. If I want just the blast aspect of, say, light manipulation, I'd need to pay 5D. That leave me with 6D left. I'd love a Teleportation power to represent my switcheroo power with my sister, but I don't think the points are gonna let that happen. Oh, but wait, there are limitations. Hmm. Well, Self-Only would work for Teleportation, since it's not really teleporting anyway. That'd take me down to 1D to buy it. And then I'll call it short range, meaning at 1D I can only go about 10 feet, which is fine. That leaves me 5D left for my other two powers. Better shore things up a bit. I'll take a Weakness.

My hero is vulnerable to diamonds. The universe merging crisis that nearly destroyed everything was the product of some mad genius who used diamonds as linchpin between the two universe, and now they have enough resonance between them to weak my character by disrupting his/her position in both realities. Diamonds strike me a rare in some places, common in others (-2D), and I want them to weaken him/her, not kill (-2D) and it starts happening within a few minutes of exposure to diamonds (-3D). That's 7D back, in total. Perfect. I'm up to 12D. I'll put 4D into Flight (I can fly for 4 hours) 9D in the blast is a bit much. I think I'll put 6D into the blast for a total of 7D, leaving me with 2. I'll use that to raise my freaking Physique back to 3, which then nets me one point back (because of how my skills were arranged), so I'll buy Search up.

And then some derived traits and then background. Well, I did some background already. Now I need the name and description and stuff.

OK. So Paul and Laura Winter were at the epicenter of the crisis, at the tender age of 19. When they were separated into their respective universes, they found that they exposure to reality-warping weirdness had changed them, making them able to fly and project focused light blasts, but also to switch places (and, in the process, take advantage of certain quantum niggles to move a few feet, which is more useful than you'd think).

They both use the same superhero identity - Flicker - in reference to the glimmer of light that accompanies the switch. They're both lean and lithe, and wear the superhero spandex outfit (blues and reds with a gold mask), and they look similar enough that it's hard to tell that a switch took place at all. I think that if Flicker winds up on a team, the reveal that "he" is really two people would be a fun one. Laura is annoyed that everyone assumes - on both universes - that Flicker is male, and Paul isn't really sure what to do about changing that perception.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Board Game: Terra Evolution

Last blog post today. Maybe.

The Game: Terra Evolution
The Publisher: Mindwarrior Games
Time: Once you know the rules, probably 20 minutes
Players: Me, +Dirty Heart+Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Barbara Hilow

Game Play: Terra Evolution is a deck-building game, much like Dominion. In it, you're building a planet, then trying to get life to evolve from bacteria to fish to reptiles to birds and mammals. Your currency is population cards (all one value), and in addition to species you can buy catastrophes to fuck with your opponents' planets, which they can buy off with population. Unlike Dominion, in which you can only purchase cards with the currency in your hand on any given turn, you can build up population turn to turn, making a little bank for yourself. Also, though you spend population to buy species, you get it back when you play them.

The game's instructions aren't especially well-explained (I believe they are translated, poorly, from some other language), but once you get the game, it's pretty simple. First one to X points (depending on number of players) wins, provided that the winner also has a mammal and a bird. You can get to 10 points in a four-player game really easily, so it's mostly a race to see who can evolve fast enough.

Opinions: So, here's the issue: Look at the box art of the game:
Just took this on my phone. 
So, what the game seems to be promising is that you can evolve animals! Make weird-ass dinosaurs! The fate of the planet is in your hands!

Yeah, no. It's a deck-building game. The catastrophe cards are pretty, but the species cards are boring, and there's no evolving going on, you're just upgrading from "m" to "me" to "meh." The game mechanics aren't terrible, but the game is really quick and I can't see a lot of replay value.

I want to play it one more time now that I know how it works, and see if buying catastrophes earlier and aiming them at players makes the game more interesting. But otherwise...

Keep? Nah.

Pirates: Last Voyage of the Poseidon's Due

Last night we played our last session of Pirates of the Spanish Main (we will, in two weeks, begin our last story of our Warehouse 13 game). There are photos this time.

So last time, we captured a ship, the Archangel. We made them follow us to the island, where we found that we couldn't fit the larger ships into the cove where we needed to land. Blaine gathered the Spanish pirates on the deck of the Archangel, and had the captain explain to them that they would stay here and mind the ships (Blaine wasn't worried about them leaving; the Archangel was too badly damaged to make it anywhere).

Georgina noticed that a few of the Spaniards were apparently planning to rabbit anyway, so we took those guys with us as red shirts.

We piled into longboats and rowed through the shark-infested cove to the shore, and then packed up and headed inland. We wound up in a cave, which led to an underground lake. Blaine sent a Spanish sailor in to check it out...and a GIANT GODDAMN TENTACLE GRABBED HIM!

You think I am kidding? SIR I AM NOT.
The battle was joined! The tentacles were tough as hell, but we managed to hack a few off. And then the giant octopus grabbed two of our guys and crushed them! Georgina managed to stomp one of the tentacles off (still not sure how she managed that), Maddie led our sailors to battle, Francois cast one of his armor spells and started hacking, and Blaine, in true Blaine style, leapt through the air to stab at the main body of the cephalopod.

In the end, we killed it, and it sank into the lake, turning everything black. We maneuvered around the pool (except Francois, who fell in and had to be rescued), and then found a four-posted bed with four chests on it (lowered, apparently, into this cave by the original pirates who found it).

Inside the chests, we found money like whoa, a weird crystal skull (that the Dutchman took, as per the agreement), and letters of marque from England, France, Spain, and Portugal. The true treasure of the Dutchman, indeed.

Blaine took the six Spaniards onto the Due (fuck it, they'll learn English), and recruited the Archangel to sail under the flag of Captain Snow. Now no longer hurting for money, the crew of the Poseidon's Due set sail again, building up their reputation, passing into pirate legendry.

Georgina eventually marries a proper British navel gent, and passes away some years later after contracting a disease in her duties as a doctor.

Morgan continues drinking, fighting, and pirating, and eventually blows herself up lighting the wrong fuse.

Francois, after retiring from piracy, becomes a hougan living in a shack somewhere, and disappears one night after summoning something he can't quite put down.

Maddie buys a small island stocked with pretty men, and becomes a port of call for the Due while they still sail.

And Blaine eventually goes back to England, buys the tavern his parents owned, and dies in his bed as an old man, many years later.

Board Game: Channel A

One of the other things I got to do at Origins was play a nifty little card game. Let's watch, shall we?

The Game: Channel A
The Publisher: Yaruki Zero Games
Time: An hour or so, depending on the number of players
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Cheyenne Rae Grimes, and +Stentor Danielson

Game Play: So, you've got premise cards and...the other kind. Um. Voting cards, I think. Anyway, you're pitching anime series to each other. The Producer (which changes each round) chooses two premise cards from a hand of four, and then everyone plays three or four voting cards from their hand and pitches the show. So it's a game in the vein of Apples to Apples, but with more "Pink Creamy Boyfriend" (one of my winning pitches).

I think that says "Melty Cake Stars." Can't remember that pitch. 

Everyone votes on the best premise, that person gets some points, and the Producer hat passes to the next player. Player three rounds (that is, everyone is Producer three times), player with the most points wins!

Michelle's pitches all involved Gothic literature and pipes.
Opinions: I was resistant to this game because I don't generally care for anime, but this was actually a lot of fun, because I do very much like being ridiculous and thinking on the fly. We actually came up with a few pitches that would have worked perfectly well as game settings (Fate Accelerated, man).

Drinking during the game helps, too. 

Keep? Yep.


A little behind, here, but that's because I lost time working on work stuff to Origins, which puts me behind on blogging about cons, like Origins.

Circle of life, I guess.

I did not take a lot of pictures at Origins this year, which was silly of me, but I will show you the ones I did take, and also recount my experiences.

I spent much of Origins 2014 at the Indie Game Developer Network booth. The IGDN, if you don't know, is exactly that - a collection of folks doing games from various angles (a lot of us are writers and designers, and we're making a push to get more of the art/layout/graphics folks in). One of the big perks of the organization is that we can buy into a booth for Origins and GenCon and get the benefits without the huge cost, so here we are.

Seriously, this booth would be catnip for me if I didn't already own all these games.
So I (and +Michelle Lyons-McFarland and +Cheyenne Rae Grimes and +Stentor Danielson and +Tracy Barnett and +Mark Diaz Truman) worked the booth all weekend, ran demos, sold games, it was a good time.

I also wound up running some games. Now, last year, I ran games through Indie Games on Demand, which was fine, but I felt wibbly about not knowing which game I was going to run until I got there. This year, I signed up to run World of Darkness: Innocents and was surprised when the game filled (it was Wednesday night), but it turned out that they were friends who kind of ambushed me, which was fun. I ran curse the darkness using the Apocalypse World hack that +David Hill wrote for Infinite Shadows (on sale now here and at the IGDN booth at GenCon!), and that was pretty cool - lots of in-character conflict. I had one scheduled use the Fate Accelerated hack that +Rob Wieland wrote for the same book, but that didn't get players, which is weird because Fate games generally fill.

(I also ran a pickup space opera game using Fate Accelerated for +Branden Webb+Rachel Steiner and +Shane Allen, and that was fun, but I didn't take pictures because I'm dumb. However, Rachel played a drunk alien, Shane played a mustachio'd boxer and Branden played a prince-in-hiding, and there was combat against Tzimisce-like aliens, so that's cool.)

Anyway, I was also scheduled to run A Tragedy in Five Acts, but that didn't fill and it's not the kind of game you can run with one player. So instead, I went over to Indie Games on Demand and borrowed a couple of generics, and wound up playing Dream Askew.

Dream Askew is a post-apocalyptic game using (appropriately) the Apocalypse World engine. Unlike AW, it's GMless, and it deliberately takes the genre in the direction talking about marginalization, gender, sexuality, and the queer experience. With the right group, it's awesome. We had the right group. (Dream Askew is a game from +Avery Mcdaldno, the genius who also gave us Monsterhearts, and you should support the Patreon for the game.)

Anyway, we had our queer enclave in the ruins of Seattle. I played the Iris (psychic and kind of fucked up), a blind trans man named Brace, who experienced the psychic maelstrom as an inferno, and acted as a kind of angel of death for members of our enclave who were wounded beyond our ability to fix them. It was pretty badass.

See the chips? It's GMless, so unlike other AW games, you make your moves on your own. Weak move (which tends to hurt or at least complicate things for you), take a chip. Strong movie (you get to be badass and the focus of attention), spend a chip. It was a lot of fun.

Normally I'd give a GM grade, but since there wasn't one - or rather, we were all GMing! - I give us an A.

Oh, and there were some shifty characters wandering around that day.

Wanna know how I got these goggles?
Sunday, I ran my traditional game of Clay-o-Rama. This year they put me in the kids' room, which was awesome. Since it was explicitly labeled as a Kids Track game, I didn't have to worry about adults coming in and fucking it up (I mean, some adults played, but they were parents of other players).

The building phase. 
Look at the horrible monster! The Claydonian, I mean, not the kid; he's delightful. 
Tentacles: Always a solid strategy. 
But making a flat monster is also viable. 
Combat and carnage!
As usual, all the adults died off (but one did survive into the last four). As usual, a little girl won. I don't think her Claydonian is pictured, though.

So following the Clay-o-Rama battle, I headed back into the dealer's room to work the booth a bit more and do some shopping with Michelle. Another successful Origins completed!
My haul. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Better Angels!

Saturday was Better Angels, so I'd better do the write-up. Ha-ha!

Heh. Yeah.

Anyway, last time, the characters were at the hospital, and the three adults had decided to try and swipe Livi away from her parents because they're horrible people (the PCs, not her parents). Willa used Dead Ringer to impersonate Stella, the social worker, while Avro and Gary distracted the real Stella and Livi's mother (Sandy). Impersonating Stella took a Master Die from Baal, who only agreed to it after Willa agreed to go into the maternity ward and switch some bracelets on new babies (told you, they're awful people).

Willa went to talk to Livi's dad (Bob) and Livi, but Livi saw through the disguise and refused to go off with Stella. Instead, she went here Willa and her dad to the lobby, whereupon Willa, seeing real-Stella, turned into a security guard while they weren't looking and vanished into the crowd.

Avro and Gary, meanwhile, had tried to convince Sandy and Stella that Livi had been hanging out with some demented old lady (giving credence to a story Livi had told a few sessions ago), and Stella got on her phone, ostensibly to report or check up on that. Once they saw Bob and Livi coming, though, the Hellbinders faded back. Livi, they realized, was kind of lost to them, at least for the moment. Her family was taking her home.

They decided to keep looking for the fiddle. They looked at the various addresses on their list, and came up with a police station in Decatur. Figuring that would be a good place to keep something under lock and key, they decided to steal an ambulance. Willa went into the locker room and found a paramedic just getting off shift. She pretty much blew the doors off her Insightful Corruption roll to know what made him tick, and was able to call up Cloven Hooves (after convincing Baal to let her do it). She swore a pact with the guy, and sent him to steal an ambulance, take it downtown, and call in a bomb threat. Then the characters stole another ambulance, and headed to the police station.

Avro found a nearby transformer substation and blew the power in the area, while Gary and Willa, disguised as paramedics, went in just as the chaos started. Some clever rolls later, and they were searching the place, looking for an area that made them queasy. They found it - the evidence locked.

Gary tried to get closer, but the old cop in the locker waved him off and told him to follow procedure. Willa used Dead Ringer on one of the cops in the station and went back down, and the old cop seemed to buy it...but then touched Willa's hand and her flesh burned. He slammed the shutters to the evidence room, and realizing they were made, Gary woke up Mammon to get his Claws going. He ripped the shutters off and get a shotgun blast for his trouble. Mammon opened up his Wings, too, just for the fun of it.

Meanwhile, outside, Avro stole a police car and moved it over by the ambulance, hoping to find some cool shit in the trunk. Listening to the scanner, he heard about a bomb threat downtown...and that a bomb squad was en route for another suspicious ambulance in Decatur. He got out of the immediate area...and the police scanner started talking about a guy with wings.

In the basement, the cop shot Gary a couple more times, and Mammon agreed to give him Master Dice if he maimed the guy. The dice finally started falling against me, and Gary killed the old cop with his claws. Willa distracted the rest of the police and frantically searched the evidence room...and found the fiddle.

Outside, an angel arrived. Avro recognized the angelic man - a black man with a mask, but wearing a ring of gold keys on his hip - as Peter, the locksmith who'd nearly killed him earlier. Avro tried to steal a gun from a cop, but Peter intercepted, and knocked Avro back. He told Avro that he still had a choice, and that he wasn't beyond help, and Avro backed down. Peter turned, and walked into the building.

Willa picked the fiddle, grabbed the bow (which she was still carrying), and played it. Her demon and Mammon responded, and she pulled Mammon out of Gary and sent him into one of the cops, who immediately grew claws and wings.

And there's an angel on the way down to them.

Meanwhile, Livi and her family and Stella sit down to talk about exorcism. Stella pitches it as best she can, but Livi doesn't want to hurt anyone, including her demon. She goes to the bathroom and calls up Glasya-Labolas, and asks if he's ever been hurt. He says that he fell once, and that hurt.

Livi decides she's OK with the "praying" part, but doesn't want to fight her demon or have anyone fight it on her behalf. We end with her mom reading her a book, while Stella reads quietly from a different book, focused on Livi.

Next month: The exciting conclusion!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Better Angels Prep

I need to clean my freaking table, too, which also counts as Better Angels prep, but I can't do that by typing. Wait, I should try. Um. And then the jars of dry-roasted peanuts were suddenly IN THE PANTRY!


Nope. Ah, well.

Character Creation: Ninja Burger!

The plan over the summer is do a character every other day, which means I spend a day reading a game, and then make a character. That might be too lofty a goal, but I shall do my best. I want to make a dent in my list so that I have a chance of coming out of the summer without losing ground.

The Game: Ninja Burger (2nd Ed)
The Publisher: aethereal Forge, though their main site seems down
Degree of Familiarity: None. Read the book, it's nice and simple.
Books Required: Just the one.

So! This game is built on the PDQ system, same as Truth & Justice. You're playing ninjas delivering burgers for the titular burger chain, and the game offers a handy grid to determine both level of violence and level of realism. The game can be played Beer n' Pretzels, or you could do a longer-running but still silly game. One thing I find interesting is that the authors did take the time to mention that most of what pop culture says about ninjas is nonsense, and the skills you get just for being a ninja are actually more in keeping with the "reality" of the ninja, rather than the pop culture...but the implementation is still very much in the pop culture venue. Anyway, the book takes a lot of inspiration from sources I like, including Snow Crash.

Making a character, then, means I'm making a young ninja doing deliveries for Ninja Burger (delivery in 30 minutes, or we commit seppuku!).

First thing I need is a name. Now, ninja get ninja names, which are Japanese, and there's a handy random table, so I'll roll on that. I get Inaba Toshiro (family name first). I'll say his real name is Bill Wu - since Ninja Burger is located in Chinatown in San Fran (last place anyone would look!) he just saw a "now hiring" poster, and he's fine being a ninja.

Now I need a Job Title. It's very tempting to make a Ninja Chef, but I've made cooks before. I think I'll make a Ninja Spotter. Basically I watch, invisibly, for trouble. I haven't made a wall-climbing throw-things character in a while, after all.

And then, Qualities. I get Ninja at Average (because I just started), and then I can pick from a few packages. I could take three Goods, or a Good and an Expert. Hmm.

Well, in keeping with my concept of Bill/Toshiro as a new, green, and not especially focused ninja, I'll take three Goods (I also get a Poor, but that's true no matter what I take). So I'll take Hiding, Throw Things, and Chinatown (since he grew up here) as Goods. For my Weakness, I'll take Easily Bored.

Now, some background. I need an Element, and a Clan, and a Matter of Honor. There are random tables for this kind of thing. I'm fine with doing it random. Bill's pretty random in general.

My Element is Fire, and my Clan is (hang on) Silver Soaring Tiger. My Matter of Honor is that I will never remove my mask if others can see.

And that's actually it. Bill probably has a nickname, but I'd let the other players come up with that. I like the idea of him becoming more engaged in his job and have some (very light) conflict with his family over this silly "ninja" thing.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Movie #258: Hoodwinked!

Hoodwinked! is a 2005 animated movie starring Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, Jim Belushi, Andy Dick, David Ogden Stiers, Anthony Anderson, and Xzibit. It's basically the story of Little Red Riding Hood and Rashomon, in a blender.

The woods are full of anthropomorphic animals, and they all seem to eat nothing but "goodies" (cakes and pies and other sweets), to the point that everyone sells them. But now a "goody bandit" is breaking into these places and stealing the recipes, making certain that...the critters can't make the goodies, that they sell to other critters. It's a very weird economy.

So anyway, as the movie opens, we've got police activity at Granny's house. Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) is interrogating four suspects after a break-in. Red (Hathaway), Granny (Close), the Wolf (Warburton), and the Woodsman (Belushi) all tell their sides of the story, Rashomon style, and Detective Flippers (Stiers) pastes it all together - the true villain is the bunny, Boingo (Dick).

The movie is cute, and there are some funny moments. The voice acting is good (hell, look at the cast), though it falls very much into that mid-naughties po-mo kind of space, where everything is a pop culture reference, and one of the animals is a man dressed in a tiger outfit what the hell. The Wolf is basically Fletch, right down to assuming disguises to get his story (he's a reporter). Granny is an extreme sports fanatic (and they lift lines from xXx - we'll get to the Xs eventually - to underline that).

The world isn't especially well-established. Like I said, it's strange to think that there's such a thriving trade in snack cakes that that's the cornerstone of the economy, but everybody seems to sell them, so what are people buying? It's a premise that works if you're, like, five, but then why is the humor in the movie so sophisticated and making reference to things that a five-year-old wouldn't get? And what the hell is up with the animation? Everyone looks like they're melting and plasticky.

Andy Dick does well as Boingo, but I hate him, so it's nice he's playing the villain. My favorite character is definitely Japeth (Benjy Gaither), a mountain goat who, due to a curse, sings everything he says (but of course, it's a musical - kind of. Red and Boingo both have songs, but that's it).

Basically, it's a movie with a solid core premise (what really happened at that house? Everybody has a story!), but it watches like a producer pissed in the soup.

My grade: C-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Hot Fuzz

Board Game: Fish Eat Fish

Hopefully, this summer I'll burn through a few more of these.

The Game: Fish Eat Fish
The Publisher: Out of the Box (though I don't see this game on their site, so it may be out of print)
Time: 20 minutes, maybe.
Players: Me, Cael, Teagan, +Cheyenne Rae Grimes

Game Play: The game supports up to five players. Everyone gets a color, and with fewer than five, the purple fish fill in any open slots on the five by five grid as "neutral" fish. Then you put the little starfish token between your fish and the fish you want to eat, and you both pick a card (secretly) from your hand.

The hand include numbers 0 to 5, two octopus and one shark. Shark trumps everything except another shark, octopus nullifies the play (even a shark), and otherwise it's the numbers, but you also add your fish in the stack you're using, and if you want, you stack your fish on what you just beat. So the game is really about a) getting a good stack and using it to eat the others and b) keeping track of who's played their sharks and octopi.

Oh, and if you tie, all fish involved get removed from play. If you run out of cards, you take any fish you still control off; they're safe, but that's your catch and you can't get any more.

Opinions: It's fun and it's cute, and it's quick. Cael won largely by luck; he came out strong with his shark, played defensively to keep his fish from being eaten, and then just romped around with a big stack of fish that no one could overcome because we'd played our sharks. It's a decent kid game, and I may take it to work next year to work on thinking ahead, possibly some pragmatic skills.

Keep? Sure.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Movie #257: Honeymoon in Vegas

Honeymoon in Vegas is a 1987 rom-com starring Nicholas Cage, James Caan, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Fun fact: It's actually set in 1991 (because it starts in 1987, and then we get a FOUR YEARS LATER card), but nothing about the movie says 90s to me. It's pure 80s.

So: Jack Singer (Cage) is a private investigator who spends most of his time chasing cheating spouses. His mother, on her deathbed, made him promise never to marry because no woman could love him like she did (yes, it's intended to be that creepy). Now, though, he's in a relationship with a teacher named Betsy (Parker), and they love each other, and she's nominally willing to wait for him to work through his issues.

Until things kind of go sour. She's tired of waiting, he's not making any progress and won't go to a therapist, but he figures out that he doesn't want to lose her, so he suggests going to Vegas and getting married. There, she catches the eye of gangster/gambler Tommy Corman (Caan), who is immediately smitten by her resemblance to his late wife. He sets up a card game and immediately buries Singer in debt, but then suggests a weekend with Betsy to clear it.

Betsy agrees (she realistically assesses that there's no way Jack can raise the money), but Tommy sweeps her off to Hawai'i and romances her, ultimately lying to her about the amount of money Jack owes him and saying that Jack offered her up, and then proposing to her. And then it's back to Vegas, Jack following, and tearful reconciliation and so forth.

This is an odd movie, and I'm not sure how exactly I feel about it. For one thing, I'll get one complaint out of the way: It leans very heavily on the notion that marriage = lifetime commitment = kids and there's no other way to do it. But, given the era, I can kind of get behind that. It's just hard to imagine this situation now, where one partner says "but I want kids" and the other doesn't say "sure, we can have kids right now, but I just have a hangup about marriage."

Caan's character is creepy as shit in a lot of ways, but they also did a really good job of making it clear that his regard for Betsy is genuine and he really does miss his wife terribly. He, like Jack, is kind of broken because of the death of the most important women in his life. That's why it's jarring when, at the end when Betsy asks to postpone marrying him (she does agree to it, but I'll get to that), he turns violent and abusive. There have been hints that he's capable of violence previously, but not in that context, and it feels abrupt.

Meanwhile, Besty. Now, I refer to women in these kinds of roles as "Girlfriend" a lot, because they don't often get a lot more characterization than that. And that's kinda the case here. Betsy has some personality, but it's mostly playing off Tommy and Jack. To her credit, even when she goes along with the men's stupid suggestions ("Go spend a weekend with this stranger," "Marry me") she's obviously reluctant and unsure of how she feels.

In general, the movie seems to want us to like all three main characters, but then decides suddenly that Tommy needs to be genuinely, objectively unlikable so Betsy can go back to Jack with no hard feelings on our part, which I think is a little lazy. But then again, Tommy's a sleazeball from minute one, because he does set up the game specifically to "win" Betsy, so yeah, fuck that guy.

The movie is funny, but not laugh-out-loud. It's best enjoyed to watch Nic Cage chew scenery and being loud and wild, and Burton Gilliam shows up at the end as a skydiving Elvis, so that's fun.

My grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Hoodwinked

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Movie #256: Hollow Man

Hollow Man is a 2000 horror flick directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, and Josh Brolin.

A team of scientists are working on making living things invisible (there's some waffle about "phase shifts" and they use the word "quantum" a lot, which is how you can tell it's post 1999). The lead scientist, Sebastian Caine (Bacon) drives a Porsche and is reckless, brash, and arrogant. He's also formerly the lover of one of the other leads, Lynn McKay (Shue) who is now involved with the other lead scientist, Matt Something or Other (Brolin). And it's easy to see why; Matt is a decent guy and apparently the sex is great, because Shue and Brolin have, like, four or five sex or pre-sex or post-sex scenes. Caine, meanwhile, outright says he's God, and he doesn't seem to be kidding.

So they figure out how to reverse the invisibility process without killing their subject (a badly mistreated gorilla), but when the time comes to present this to the Pentagon science guys, Caine lies and says they still haven't figured it out. And rather than fucking contradict him and say "Um, I don't know what he's on about, but we totally did this with a gorilla," McKay and Matt play along. This proves to be a mistake.

Caine goes on to test the process on himself, and become the Invisible Rapist, and finally discovers that McKay is banging Matt, and then graduates to Invisible Slasher and murders everyone except the lovers, who manage to escape the underground research facility in a storm of fire.

OK, so let's discuss the good stuff. The special effects are pretty awesome (got a nom for a Best Visual Effect Oscar, in fact). You can see the stirrings of greatness in Brolin, and Bacon is always fun to watch. He makes a great villain. I like Elisabeth Shue, but I agree with +Dirty Heart; she can seem pretty one-note (her performance in Mysterious Skin was a lot better, but then, so was the movie). I like slasher movies, and within the context of a slasher movie I think this is a decent one in terms of murders and letting you spend some time with the characters before they die. Oh, and people act really stupidly all the way through (see earlier comment about not calling out Caine when he outright lies and falsifies research; that kind of thing continues).

Now the bad: Holy shit, this movie is rapey as shit. Caine literally sexually harasses McKay in every scene they're in, and once he's invisible it gets worse. The proper response to him post-invisibility should have been to lock him in a room, because he's obviously incapable of remaining objective. He sneaks up on the lab veterinarian (Kim Dickens), opens her shirt and sucks her nipple, and she's pretty obviously aware of what happened, but she doesn't call him on it. And you could make all kinds of arguments for why this kind of thing happens, but the way it reads is just weirdly, creepily complicit. Caine is a douchebag, and everyone knows it, so if this was more skillfully handled you could see it as metacommentary on tactic acceptance of alpha-male fuckheads, but I don't give this movie any credit for that kind of nuance. It's a slasher flick with a side order of rape (the scene where Caine murders the aforementioned vet is the only one where he murders a woman and you get to see it; the other two times it's a jump-scare and then cut away), and she begs for her life before he tranquilizes her, strokes her face rapily and then breaks her neck. Oh, and all that happens in a puddle of blood.

The sad thing is that you can see that most of these people are capable of more. Verhoeven gave us Robocop and Basic Instinct (and also Showgirls, but y'know). Brolin, Bacon, and Shue are all good actors. This movie has some good scares and some potentially pleasant creep, but it always gets sexual in a not-fun way, but it doesn't have the gravitas to actually say anything about sexual violence.

My grade: D
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Honeymoon in Vegas