Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Show Must Go On - Season Four (notes)

So last night we made characters for a new Vampire: The Requiem story, in this chronicle. Said chronicle predates this blog, meaning if you want to read about it you either go to RPG.net or you poke around in my Livejournal, which is labyrinthine.

I've run three stories in this game, all with a different cast, but always with some overlap (usually +Matthew Karafa). I read through the previous stories, and holy cats, they're dense. There are a lot of names flying around, lots of vampires in Vegas, which only makes sense.

So, the first story ("The Extras Union") was pretty unfocused. I know what I was going for, but I should have adjusted the story to fit the new players and characters. As a result, it was good, but it wasn't as tight as the ones that followed.

Second story ("The Week of Roses") was directed by Robert Rodriguez, I think. Lots of death and people speaking Spanish. It ended with the characters in a locus in Corpus Christi where they managed to remove clans entirely, changing the face of Kindred society.

Third story ("Six Cards, Six Shots") was directed by Quentin Tarantino. That is, just as much violence and murder, but with a kind of more po-mo/organized crime slant, and entirely in Las Vegas (plus, poker tournament and lots of important characters).

So, just for the goddamn hell of it, here are the PCs through this chronicle:

  • Heath Newman (Nosferatu, Ordo Dracul): Owner of Binion's and now a new, Japanese-themed casino off-Strip. Appeared as a PC in "The Extras Union" and "Six Cards, Six Shots" and made a cameo in "The Week of Roses" playing the PCs in poker for their blood. 
  • Padma Gupta (Daeva, Ordo Dracul): Clubber and drug addict. Appeared as a PC in "The Extras Union" and hasn't been seen since. I rather suspect she's still in town and has drugged herself into draugr status somehow. 
  • John Marconi (Ventrue, Ordo Dracul): Fixer and problem-solver, probably should have been Invictus. Appeared as a PC in "The Extras Union" and cameo'd in the next two stories. I think he's probably grown in City Status and become a fixer full-time, working directly under Courant (the Koagion). 
  • Lindsey Sandford (Mekhet, Ordo Dracul): Scholar and sociologist, appeared as a PC in "The Extras Union" and cameo'd in "The Week of Roses" to tell Aaron McCaskill about banes. She was fairly well-appointed within the Ordo, so I think she's still in town studying the Kindred condition. 
  • Aaron McCaskill (Mekhet/Jones, Ordo Dracul): WWI soldier and utter nutbag, not especially well-regarded in Vegas, but somewhat infamous. PC in "The Week of Roses" and referenced in "Six Cards, Six Shots." He owned a pawn shop in Vegas, so I think he's probably still around. 
  • Alice Storms (Daeva/Carthian): Embraced in the 70s along with her boyfriend, generally doing the "lusty vampire" thing. PC in "The Week of Roses". Stayed in Vegas, but who may have moved on by now. 
  • John Taylor (Mekhet/Carthian): Ex-CIA spook, Embraced in Afghanistan in the 80s. Acted as a kind of voice of reason (as a PC) during "The Week of Roses", and left Vegas thereafter. 
  • Adele Bergeron (Daeva/Circle of the Crone): Embraced in the 30s while traveling to see family, doing the unlife of a bon-vivant in Vegas. Wound up becoming the somewhat unwilling protege of Dawn Waiting Snake during "The Week of Roses," and left Vegas thereafter. I imagine she's still learning Cruac somewhere. 
  • Louis Duquesne (Nosferatu/Carthian): Was a cop in New Orleans until his Embrace, then wound up in Vegas. Shares a sire with Maeve Blackwell and Granjera (now dead). Was a PC in "The Week of Roses," and hasn't been seen since; might have gone home to New Orleans. 
  • Edric Simons (no clan, but sort of Mekhet-ish/Carthian): Sent from Chicago to accompany Bella Dravanzie. PC during "Six Cards, Six Shots." Went home to Chicago thereafter. 
  • Christian Geist (no clan, but very Daeva-ish/unaligned): Club kid and dancer. PC during "Six Cards, Six Shots." May have gone walkabout afterwards, possibly to Bone Valley. 
  • Miranda Walker (Mekhet/Carthian): Gambler/math expert in Vegas to beat the house. PC in "The Week of Roses" and "Six Cards, Six Shots." Now runs Newman's Japanese-themed casino. 
  • Marena Calia (no clan, but feels Daeva/unaligned): Lounge singer, former thief, embezzler. PC during "Six Cards, Six Shots." Now a dancer and singer at the Japanese-themed casino. 
  • Reverend Morris Jensen (no clan, but Gangrel-ish/Lancea et Sanctum): Lancea et Sanctum enforcer, killer, and confessor. Was a PC during "Six Cards, Six Shots" until Christian diablerized him in frenzy. 
Now, for this story, our PCs are:
  • Heath Newman (see above). Known issues: Humanity is 5, which means no Touchstone unless he buys the Merit. A bunch of XP, but under the old system. The current Coils system leaves me a little cold.
  • +Matthew Homentosky's nameless yutz: Mekhet/Invictus. Runs a nostalgia museum in Vegas, stays at Binion's. Embraced in the 60s and once shook Sinatra's hand. Looking to increase his standing in the covenant. Known issues: Needs Aspirations and a name.
  • Myra Siegel (Ventrue/Invictus): Embraced only recently, leaving behind a young son (Tyler) whom she gave up for adoption. Worked as a pro-domme and was Embraced by a client. Still does the work, out of Binion's. Known issues: Her Touchstone should be on 7, since she's Ventrue. Needs 1 more Merit dot. 
  • Delphine (Mekhet/Circle of the Crone): Her (mortal) family has a weird, magical history involving vampires; her father, who was supposed to kill her for not being a boy, instead Embraced her at 18. She's a cocktail waitress at Binion's, and wants to Embrace her girlfriend. Known issues: Needs to spend 3 more Merit dots, needs a last name.
Now some notes that players shouldn't read:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Character Creation: Of Gods and Heroes

I wanted to do two characters this weekend, but then I got busy yesterday and had to run Chill (which became an object lesson in "why it's important to do the investigation before the combat"). So I might still do two, if I find the time, but for now:

The Game: Of Gods & Heroes
The Publisher: Green Fairy Games
Degree of Familiarity: Not much. I've read it, and I've got a one-shot scheduled.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Of Gods & Heroes is an RPG inspired by the big, larger-than-life, heroes of myth. The tagline for the game includes the phrase "punch monsters in the face," which, I discovered, is a good way to sell people on the game. The author, my fellow IGDN member +Justin Bow, was selling it at GenCon (not to me, because I backed the Kickstarter), and his pitch involved asking people their favorite mythological hero and helping them make a character based on that. I tried to stump him by giving him Orpheus, but that didn't work. Turns out you can make a character like Orpheus in this game just fine. I'm not going to, however.

There's a certain degree of player-involved setup that goes into the game; you need to decide the influences on your culture and what kinds of gods you've got going on and so on. The default assumes a sea-faring, iron age culture, and that's fine with me.

Step One: Conceptualize All Over the Place. Sounds messy. Anyway, as there's not a default setting for this game (rather, the default setting is "mythology"), I don't have anything in particular in mind, so I'll go for a kind of stealthy, night-hunting, Artemis-only-male-and-not-quite-so-angry thing. I'll call him Ardhem. Just sounds good to me.

Step Two: Fatal Flaw. Every myth-sized hero needs a fatal flaw, of course. Ardhem's, I think, should be tied to being hesitant...oh, wait, "Merciful" is one of the examples. I kind of like that. I get a Legend Point when I let someone live and they try to kill me later (which, holy shit, that would require the right group).

Step Three: What Makes You a Hero? I need a Prowess and an Epithet (much like another mythology-inspired game, this asks for a cool-sounding title, which I like).

There's a list of Prowesses, and I'm having trouble deciding. I want "Stealthy," but that's not a choice...oh, wait, "Dextrous" works on stealth. OK, fine, I'll make another jumpy-flippy-sneaky-throwy charcter. Twist my arm. I'll take "the Silent" as my epithet.

Step Four: What Are Your Skills? What, indeed? I have 25 points to divvy up. Everything's 1-for-1 except Rhyme, which is 2-for-1, and I can't go over 4 in anything.

Well, the Skill chapter tells me that some combat skill is a good thing, that the Resistances should get 2 each, and that Perception is a good choice in general. You know what I think; If it's important enough that everyone should have it, then either fold it into the rules so you don't have to fuck with it at chargen or give it to everyone by default. But whatevs. I have 25 points. I want:

Intimidation (being all scary while hiding)
Throwing Weapons
Mental Resistance
Physical Resistance
Social Resistance

I would take Rhyme (which allows for magic) but I can't figure out the system. The Rhyme Skill seems to indicate that I can only take points in Rhyme if my Prowess allows it, and then I have to take Specializations in magic before I can use it...eh. I can't grok it; I'll have to get Justin to explain it before I run this game. I could take Rituals, I suppose, but screw it, I'll just assume Ardhem makes do without magic (how sad).

So, plugging some points into these Skills, I wind up with:

Intimidation 3
Throwing Weapons 3
Mental Resistance 2
Physical Resistance 2
Social Resistance 2
Athletics 3
Sneaking 4
Tumbling 2
Perception 2
Hunting 2

Step Five: What Is Your Fate? I actually tinkered with an idea like this a long time ago, but never really made it work - you know your character's Fate going in. It's "fate" in a very broad sense; "betrayed and murdered" is good, but specifying who is doing the betraying and murdering isn't.

Well, Ardhem's Fatal Flaw is that he's Merciful, so obviously that should get him killed. I think he intervenes in a fight without understanding what's happening, misunderstanding the situation in such a serious way that the aftermath gets him killed (like maybe the guy he saves is a blasphemer and the God of "Mind Your Fucking Business" takes it out on Ardhem later.

And that's it. Well, I'll say this, chargen is nice and simple. Gotta get this magic thing sorted, though.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Movie #274: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a dystopian sci-fi film, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Huthcerson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, and a bunch of other people. I have not yet read the book, so I can't comment on similarities and differences, so this is just about the movie.

The country - now called Panem - is divided up into 12 districts, each of which produces something. Katniss (Lawrence) lives in District 12, the poorest district, which is analogous to Appalachia and produces coal. Katniss is bitter, but driven to help her family (mother and sister; her father died in a mining accident) survive, which she does by hunting game with her bow and selling the kills.

Every year, the government puts on a show called the Hunger Games, in which two children (ages 12 to 17) from each district are chosen at random, put in an arena, given weapons and made to fight until only one remains alive what the actual hell, Panem. The richer districts dress in crazy fashions and treat this like spectacle, whereas the outlying districts are more realistic about what the purpose of the Games is (that is, to remind you stupid fuckers of your place and make sure no one rebels). Katniss' sister, Primrose (Willow Shields) is chosen as tribute, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. She then gets a whirlwind tour of how crazy things are in the capitol, goes into the games with her District-mate Peeta (Hutcherson), who's had a crush on her since childhood, and tries to survive. She succeeds, but also winds up thumbing her nose at the government, to the point that her mentor (Harrelson), a previous Games winner, warns her that she'd better stay in line.

The movie is really good, IMO. One of the potential problems with dystopian sci-fi is when they over-explain or dumb down the world, but I think this film does a nice job of explaining what it needs to and implying the rest. The Capitol and the garish, shallow culture it engenders is well-realized, and I like that we never quite lose that sense of "wtf seriously?" when people congratulate Katniss on being the tribute, as though being brutally murdered is some kind of honor.

The fact that the movie deals with children murdering each other - with hand weapons, even - makes it a difficult sell. The death scenes are pretty effective, though I kind of feel like the scene where Katniss' friend Rue (Amandla Stenberg) dies, and Katniss kills her killer, were a little too clean. But, make it too bloody and you head for an R rating, and this is ostensibly a young adult story.

The most effective scene in the movie, for me, is one that happens on the first night of the Games. Katniss climbs a tree and sleeps there, knowing that sleeping on the ground can be fatal if the pack of "Careers" (kids trained from early childhood to compete in the Games) find her. But another tribute makes a fire, the Careers step out of the woods, cut away to Katniss, and we hear a scream. It's chilling because we just saw this pretty young girl at fire, and the next thing that happens is that another person her age murders her with a sword. (My DVD skipped that scene, but I remember it from the theater.)

It's not a happy movie, but it's a well-made one, and it's just entertaining enough to be watchable without being too heavy. I'm keen to see the finale of the trilogy this year.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next Up: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Movie #273: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is an animated movie very loosely based on the children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett, and starring Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, and Mr. T.

Flint Lockwood (Hader) lives in a tiny island town called Swallow Falls, famous for its sardine fishing and precisely nothing else. Flint is a brilliant inventor, but his inventions never quite work the way he wants, and his slow, steady, fisherman dad (Caan) doesn't quite get him. His mom does, but this being an animated movie, she dies after one scene (she's never named or given any other traits besides "understands Flint", which is typical of moms in these movies), and Flint grows up with his dad, never quite fitting in.

And then one day, Flint tries to get his latest invention, which will make food from water using scientific garbledegook, on the same day that the ambitious mayor (Campbell) tries to turn Swallow Falls into a sardine-based tourist destination. A weather intern named Sam Sparks (Faris) arrives from the mainland to cover it, and Flint destroys Sardineland with his invention...which, upon rocketing into the clouds, makes it rain cheeseburgers. From there, Flint gets seduced by the power of being a new celebrity, but the machine runs wild (with some help from the increasingly Hutt-like mayor), until he, Sam, Sam's Renaissance-man camera operator (Benjamin Bratt), and the reformed bully Brent (Andy Samberg) have to fly up into the clouds of superfood and stop it.

Oh, and there's a monkey that, with the help of Flint's Monkey Translator, can speak in one-word phrases, voiced by Neil Patrick Harris. "STEVE!"

So, I have some issues with this movie, but they're mostly the mom thing. Generally, I think it's really funny. I like that the secondary cast is pretty well realized (I mean, they're not deep or anything, but most of them have at least some attempt at backstory and a couple of them even have character arcs, which is nice). It holds up pretty well to repeat viewing, and Steve the Monkey stays funny. I think that Sam's dilemma of being a nerdy but still conventionally attractive girl who wants to be a scientist rings somewhat true (as women in STEM are often reminded). If I wanted to overanalyze, I'd say that the "dead mom" thing is more noticeable because there's such a strong theme of "dads showing love and appreciation for their sons," as exemplified by the local cop's (Mr. T) love of his little boy, as compared to Flint's father, who doesn't have the language to express what he feels.

There are a lot of little background jokes, too, that make the movie more interesting, and help it hold up to repeated viewing. Steve is far and away my favorite, though.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next Up: The Hunger Games

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Movie #272: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, of course, a Marvel Cinematic Universe film acting as a sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. That said, it's just as much a sequel to Avengers. It stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johanssen, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, and Anthony Mackie.

So: Following the Battle of New York, Sam Rogers/Cap (Evans), not knowing quite what else to do, has enlisted as a SHIELD agent. He's living in DC, doing missions with Black Widow (Johansson). In the opening scene, he meets a pararescue trooper named Sam Wilson (Mackie), and they bond over their shared experiences in the service. Rogers goes on mission to a hijacked SHIELD ship in which Black Widow, following her own agenda, recovers some data from the ship's computers, which director Nick Fury (Jackson) can't crack.

Turns out SHIELD is about to launch three helicarriers armed with state of the arm weaponry and the ability to kill targets from low orbit. Rogers doesn't approve, but follows orders. Fury is then attacked and seemingly killed by a strange assassin with a metal arm - the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Rogers does some digging, is declared an outlaw and fugitive by SHIELD's acting director Alexander Pierce (Redford), goes on the lam with Widow, and discovers that SHIELD, since the 70s, has been infiltrated by Hydra.

With Wilson's help, Widow and Cap kidnap SHIELD agent Sitwell (Maximillio Hernandez), and learn that he's Hydra and that the helicarriers are going to kill everyone that Hydra deems a threat (Bruce Banner and Stephen Strange are both mentioned). The Winter Soldier attacks, Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) intervenes, Fury's alive, and the Winter Soldier turns out to be Bucky Barnes, the comrade that Cap thought died in 1944. The small group of them assault the helicarriers and manage to down them. The Winter Soldier recovers his mind enough to save Cap, Fury shoots Pierce, Wilson beats up Agent Rumlo (Grillo, setting him up to become Crossbones later), and Cap and Wilson go after Barnes.

This movie is really awesome and dense. There's a lot going on, and yeah, the action sequences are good, but I am continually amazed at how tight the MCU movies are and how the tone of them changed after Avengers. I need to re-watch Iron Man 3 and Thor: Dark World before Age of Utron opens in May, because I want to get those events in mind, too.

But anyway, the cast here does a great job at portraying the ambiguity of doing intelligence and military work in the Marvel world, and the movie brings out the destruction of SHIELD with appropriate gravitas. One of the nice things about the MCU is that big, game-changing shit like Hyrda's infiltration can work, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it show up in the other characters' movies (this movie hit after the Iron Man and Thor movies, so Hydra wasn't mentioned). It feels like a spy movie with superheros, rather than a comic book movie, and I appreciate that.

And I really want a Black Widow movie. Hawkeye, no Hawkeye, whatever.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high, it's long

Next up: Hunger Games

Monsterhearts (rar)

Third session in our second season! Let's go!

Last time, Briar, Genesis, and Skylar were at Briar's house when they heard the growl from outside. The others (Cassi, Austin, Rook, and Dora) were approaching from outside and saw the paw prints. Briar gave Genesis a big club, gave Skylar a hairspray can and lighter, and grabbed some fire pots and headed out to battle.

But outside, the Shade Tiger had attacked! Rook shut it down, and gave it the tamed condition, so it kind of flopped over and waited. But then the others rounded the corner and Skylar yelled, "Look out!" The tiger jumped up and ran to attack Skylar. Briar tried to take the blow, but failed, and it just wound up clawing both of them (Skylar did use mimicry, though).

Dora ran over and tried to use a binding hex on the tiger, but failed. The hex inverted itself and Dora sat there shivering. Genesis lashed out physically with the club, but failed, and the tiger clawed her. Skylar tried to use the hairspray can to burn it (lashing out physically), but failed, and the can exploded, doing a bit of Harm to almost everyone.

Briar lashed out physically with her fire pots, and did some Harm to the tiger, but also triggered her Darkest Self. Rook, again, shut it down, and gave the tiger the passive condition, but picked up feral for himself.

Briar told everyone to leave, and stormed back to her armory to gear up for a hunt. Rook refused, and stayed with the cat (as did Dora, who was treating it more like a pet at this point; she held steady to clip a bit of the cat's fur). Cassi followed Briar, hoping to talk her down, and Austin followed Cassi.

Briar, in her armory, heard a noise behind her and saw a spectral, icy woman - the White Lady. She flung a knife at it...

Cassi arrived at the armory and saw the door ajar. She opened it, and saw the White Lady there. She gazed into the abyss but failed, and the White Lady reached up and stroked her cheek. And then she looked down and saw a knife sticking out of her chest - Briar had successfully lashed out physically.

Austin, a second behind Cassi, saw her fall, caught her, and berated Briar. He called out for help and the others loaded Cassi into her car. There was some talk about taking Genesis to the hospital as well (she was pretty badly injured, too), but they talked too long and Austin left.

Skylar took Briar's car (Briar tossed him the keys) to get Genesis to the hospital. Genesis held steady, but wound up with the terrified condition and didn't want to go - she was afraid she'd dry out or be dissected. Skylar instead took her to the beach.

Meanwhile, at the house, Rook, still feral, turned Briar on. Briar, in the throes of her Darkest Self and ready to go after anything - the Emissary, the White Lady - gave in, and the two of them went back to the armory. Dora, meanwhile, called Miguel for a ride.

Post-sex, Rook asked Briar to promise that she'd never go running off by herself after danger again. Briar promised, which is awesome, because she's one Darkest Self away from breaking that promise.

Dora, waiting for a ride, was approached by the White Lady. Keeping her cool, Dora asked to have the tiger remain, pet-like. She manipulated an NPC, and the White Lady agreed, if she got to mark Dora. Dora agreesd, and the White Lady stroked her face, much like she did to Cassi.

Skylar took Genesis to the beach. Genesis soaked in the water, and gazed into the abyss, wondering how they can get out of this alive. She realized that she could just swim home, but she didn't want to do that yet. She saw the book that they found, the one that keeps adding pages, and saw sketches of her and her friends. But only Rook's was finished; everyone else was just rough sketches. She got out of the water and talked with Skylar, and they decided that going to the hospital was unwise - Genesis didn't have a legal ID, and they weren't sure if they could make all this work. They decided to head back to Briar's.

Rook left Briar's house and walked through the woods. He gazed into the abyss, looking for answers about what was going on, and saw Dora with the chilled mark on her face. He got the sense, though, that someone else was happening, something larger and more important than the White Lady and her mark. He emerged from the woods at a 7-11, and went in to buy an Icy, as police cars zoomed by.

At the hospital, Cassi was taken into surgery and the knife removed from her chest. After it was out, the police - in the personage of Detective MacKenzie - came in to talk to her. She told MacKenzie that they'd been at Briar's, they'd heard something outside, gone to investigate, and she'd gotten stabbed by accident. The detective thanked her and left, and when the door opened she saw Austin talking to the cops. She used her gaze into the abyss (of Austin's mind) and saw that he was still angry and scared, and worried what he might be saying.

The cops arrived at Briar's. She'd remained behind, knowing that the cops were probably on the way. The arrived and arrested her, and took her in to Perdido jail. She told them more or less what happened, omitting the bit about the ghost. Her father's lawyer, Jonathan Schmaltz, arrived and told her to stay quiet; he was doing what he could.

Skylar and Genesis, seeing cops at Briar's, turned around and saw Rook walking down the street. They picked him up and headed back to his place, and Rook, still feral, wound up having sex with both Genesis and Skylar. Rook asked Skylar for a promise never to fade away, and from Genesis to take him to the ocean someday.

Next day, the only one in school was Dora. She gathered her coven and tried to explain what was happening, but just managed to sound crazier and crazier.

Cassi's father arrived at the hospital and was clearly angry about what had happened, but Cassi manipulated an NPC to get him to let Briar off. He agreed, and left. Cassi gazed into Austin again, and saw him at the police station.

Austin was there visiting Briar, as it happened. They talked - Austin, recall, was one of Briar's fellow monster-hunters, but he said that she wasn't thinking clearly and had nearly killed someone. Briar claimed that these folks shouldn't be following her, but Austin said after Homecoming, we were all in this together. And she needed to check her backdrop. Briar agreed, and Austin forgave her, and Briar got released.

The characters got together at Briar's house again after school to talk this through. Briar had an epiphany talking to Austin - she'd been looking for a fight, and she found one. Maybe they needed to not look for fights, but to try and swing the story in some more positive way? Genesis figured this was all down to semantics, then. Dora gazed into the abyss, trying to find her title, and saw her picture in the book, with a blank spot - could she write her own title, then? Genesis grabbed the book to look; Cassi tried to shut her down, but failed. They found Rook's entry - helpfully titled "The Rook" (well, in German), and it said that the Rook was one of "the Chosen Seven," the people who could put the Winter-Heart back to sleep and prevent the onset of Endless Winter. The Rook, though, was easily distracted and wasn't to be trusted - and it warned against making promises to him.

They flipped through and found the rest of their titles. Briar was The Rose, Skylar was the Lost, Genesis was the Stranger, Dora was the Witch, Cassi was the Chosen, and Austin was the Blind. Their descriptions made it clear that the Heart could start beating, and they could prevent it, but the Rook would die, the Chosen ran the risk of being subsumed, the Stranger might vanish forever, and the Witch might be seduced by its power. And so on.

They decided to go out to visit the Emissary. He talked to them, as usual, and was just as enigmatic as he generally was. Briar repeated her theory that they could write their own story - could they write in the book? Suppose they just burned it, or the Heart? Wouldn't that be easier? Genesis asked, "Who says the story can't be easy?"

The Emissary responded, "if you ask that again, I'll have to tell you."

Rook tried to ask, but Briar shut him down but failed (and the Emissary took a String on him). Cassi actually did shut him down; he took the unsure condition, while she took quiet. They talked with the Emissary a bit more, and decided to close the book for a bit. There was a dance coming, after all. Briar asked Rook to go, and he accepted.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Warehouse 13 Finale

Can't believe I forgot about this all week. Argh.

Well, anyway, last time, the characters learned that there were apparently two Blaines, a big ghostly pirate ship romping around killing people to recruit them, and we decided to grab the magic "make all the dead things alive" gem and take it to the ship, and then burn it.

Memphis and Blue drove the van into the ship, while Charlotte and Raji bailed before that. The ship immediately became solid (trapping the van in the hold), and some of the pirates - Blaine included - also had bodies. Fake-Blaine (the one that the characters had been romping around with to date) teleported up to the crow's nest, still ghostly, looking for his chance.

Pirates attacked! Raji set the ship on fire, but the captain (Jack Snow, recall), called down ice to extinguish it. Blaine did what he does best, beating the snot out of pirates, and Charlotte jumped up on the boat and joined in the fray.

Down in the hold, Memphis rigged up a weapon using the gem and a flashlight, weaponizing it. She shot a couple of pirates and saw them age to nothingness.

Fake-Blaine teleported to her and assumed his real form - a young, blond, American man wearing a Dolphins shirt, with a bullet hole in his chest. "I'm Steve," he said. "No time to explain. Just fire that thing where I show you!"

Blue wasn't thrilled, but Memphis, curious as to what would happen, fired it. It put a hole in the ship. Steve jumped up into the beam...and fell to the deck, alive, but barely (the bullet wound became real as well).

Captain Snow jumped down into the hole, followed by Blaine, but Blaine was now out of the gem's radius and wasn't solid, so couldn't attack. Steve moved off to the side and Blue went to stabilize him. Blaine told Snow to stand down - he was the captain of the Poseidon's Due.

"Blaine?" said Snow, slowly figuring out what was happening. "But...we were doing this to avenge you. Because you were betrayed."

"No, mate," said Blaine. "I died in London, warm and safe and surrounded by my grandkids, in my inn."

We turned around and saw Shore/Jameson digging up the ground. He unearthed an object, which he handed to Blue, and thanked us for breaking the cycle. Now he could rest, and now Blue was Regent.

Steve, still bleeding, revealed the truth about himself - he'd been a con artist and drug running in Miami and had been shot and dumped in the ocean. He'd come back as a ghost and impersonated Blaine when the Warehouse crew came calling. The characters decided he'd make a good intern for Memphis, and Steve (not really having a lot of say in the matter), agreed, provided he got a visit to a hospital first.

The ship disappeared, leaving the characters in a burnt-out cornfield, and they saddled up and headed for town.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Board Game: Mimic

The Game: Mimic: Safari Edition
The Publisher: Funmaker Games
Time: 20-30 minutes
Players: Teagan and me

Game Play: Mimic has a bunch of "mimic cards," which have kaleidoscope-esque pictures of jungle animals in three different colors, "start cards" (just black with a star design), and "power cards" (cartoony, out-of-place monkeys drawings). The idea is to lay your cards down, two at a time, so as to form sets - a set is four cards, all the same color, with two different designs. But, you can only build out from a start card (you start with one in the center), and you can only build out three cards from the initial start card in any direction. When you form a set, you put a "score cube" down on the last card in your set.

Teagan is nonplussed.
Object is to lose all your score cubes. Power cards can be used to move cards, eliminate them, play a third one, and so forth, but you only get to use each one once.

Opinions: I think this game is actually pretty decent, but it's hard to know, because I'm still not sure if I was playing it right. The instruction booklet is composed of a series of lists, explaining the rules for each type of cards, but there's never an especially well-composed "order of play," and the instructions are unfriendly and hard to parse. That said, we started one game, decided we were doing it wrong, started again, and Teagan figured it out and won, so there's that.

Now she's plussed.
There's an "advanced" version of play that we haven't tried, and it supposedly works with three people. I need someone smarter than me to read the rules, apparently, because I still feel like I'm missing something.

Game designers, if you can't explain things well, get someone who can to write your rulebook.

Keep? Yeah. If I can figure it out, I think it'd be a good time-killer.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Character Creation: Little Wizards

As you may have noticed, I was having something of a rough day earlier. I have a little time before bed, so I'm going to make a quick character.

The Game: Little Wizards
The Publisher: Crafty Games
Degree of Familiarity: None, really. I've read and I helped my kids make characters the other day. We might play it this weekend.
Books Required: Just the one.

Little Wizards is an RPG for kids, wherein you play (yep) young wizards. Said wizards inhabit Coinworld, which has two halves (Heads and Tails), each with a bunch of archipelagos. Teagan and Cael made characters the other day, and that went pretty well, so let's get to this.

My first choice is whether I'm a Mage or a Sorcerer. Sorcerers are born with their magic; Mages learn it at school. Since my kids made Sorcerers, I'll make a Mage.

Now I get into details. I can make these up, roll on some charts, or do a combination. I like rolling, so I'll do that for now. I get: Hair that is wild and unruly, eyes that are bright green, and ears that are pointy, like a cat's. Sure.

For my Signature Feature, I roll "shoes that squeak." Eh. I think I shall reroll. Rain boots. Much better. I think they're bright red.

Personality: I get to determine my best quality, general nature, and worst quality. Hokay. I'm friendly, I'm generally fidgety, and I'm stubborn. Actually, I don't like stubborn. I'll be impulsive instead.

Now, my tastes. I get a like, something I enjoy, a dislike, and something I fear. Sure. I like shoes - actually, why not? He's already wearing rain boots. Let's say he's got a thing for boots. I enjoy camping; all right, that works. I fear spiders (...am I making Ron Weasley?). And I dislike doing chores. Well, duh.

Motivations: I dream of brewing a new kind of potion. It's not the first thing I'd have chosen for this guy, but I'm OK with him enjoying potions. Maybe his dad was a Snape sort of person and it's not that he's got any great talent for potions, but he knows how much Dad loves them. He seeks to complete a rock collection. Now, see, that sounds much more like what my character would actually want to do.

OK, I'm off the charts and high on life. Gotta figure out which archipelago I'm from. I kinda like the Shivers Archipelago in Tails. Vampires, werewolves, and other such critters live there, and the inhabitants wind up having to discourage visitors from panicking. I think his family is from there, but he went to school in the Whispers Archipelago - where family is really important. That's maybe where he got the idea that he has to make potions like dad.

So now, stats. I've got three, Body, Heart, and Brain. One's Good, one's Better, one's Best. I think I'll be Best at Heart, Better at Body, and Good at Brain.

Ok, now magic. Hmm. Turns out Alchemy is a sorcerer thing. OK, so dad was a sorcerer, but I'm not (it skipped a generation). I get a Better and two Goods, here, so I'll put the Better in Broom Riding and the Goods into Shapechanging and Spellcasting.

Now, wizard gear! I get a broom, a hat, a wand, and a familiar.

Well, my broom was given to me by the werewolf family down the lane, but their youngest liked to chew on it, so it's got gnaw-marks all over it. My wand was my father's first wand, and it sometimes forgets that I'm not a sorcerer and gets impatient, spitting out sparks or waving by itself. My hat is an official Whispers Academy of Magic hat that I've embroidered with some personal touches (including the design of a boot). And my familiar...well, now I need the dice again.

The book says all familiars are black. I roll a hawk, vulture, kestrel, or condor. Hmm. I like "vulture," actually, given where I'm from. He calls his vulture "Loopy" (because he flies in circles, like they do), and doesn't quite get why other wizards get so creepy out by the bird.

And now some other belongings! My Li'l Wizard has a cloth sack that he uses to collect rocks, a rock hammer, and some polishing clothes. He generally wears the rain boots, but he'll swap out for formal boots at fancy occasions or sturdy boots for hiking.

And then I just need a name. Let's called him Surki (full name is Surkavius, but only his mom calls him that).

Why Depression Sucks (for me)

Depression sucks in general, but here's why it's hard for me personally. Do note that, as I'm typing this, I'm not actually "low" yet. I'm feeling the black dog a little more heavily today, but I'm hoping to shake him off.

If you don't know the black dog metaphor, I'll see if I can embed the video.

Depression, for me, was something I grappled with through most of my teen years, and a large chunk of my 20s. I attempted suicide when I was 16, and for years I thought it was because of the relationship I was in (rather, that I had just gotten out of) and a bunch of other stressors in my life. It wasn't. Looking back, I can see how a confluence of factors - including those stressors, but also including how our society tells teens that their problems don't matter, that they're stupid, that they're in the midst of the best time of their lives (oh my god, what a horrible destructive lie), that I just wanted attention, and so on and on. And all of that fed the dog.

It got better for me when Heather and I got married, but the dog came back hard as our marriage was winding down. It really didn't have much to do with Heather or our relationship. It was, again, a confluence of things. I was happy in a lot of ways, or I should have been, but here's the thing about the black dog, and why I find it so scary - the black dog doesn't care. It hears all of the "but you have all these good things going for you." It hears that, nods, and stares. It doesn't care for the good things, because it knows that the good things are an attempt to distract you, and that dog is fucking implacable.

In 2009 I very nearly ended it all. And, again, it wasn't that I was sad. Sadness is just one little part of depression. It was mostly that I was terrified. Sadness has a cause. I was sad when my father died. I was sad when I didn't get into grad school for writing (though that was probably for the best). Depression isn't traceable to any one thing, as much as my traitorous brain tries to make it about one thing or another. But at the end of the day, it's this swirling, horrible, chaotic hole that threatens to swallow me, and the only way I could see to make that feeling of terrible, unchecked freefall was to stop.

I didn't want to die. I wanted to stop.

I got better. I realized that day, after I'd been standing in my driveway in the freezing cold wondering how long it would take hypothermia to set in if I walked into the woods, stripped down and got in the creek, that I really needed help. So, encouraged by the people who loved me, I went back into therapy. I considered medication, but I wanted to try to get past the black dog without it, and that worked out. If I hadn't been able to drive the dog off by just realigning my own thoughts, you can bet I'd have started on meds. I used to be anti-meds. I'm not anymore. I'm anti-feeling-like-death-would-be-sweet-release.

Depression sucks (for me) because it's scary and because it's unpredictable. Sure, when things get overwhelming it's hard to cope, but that's not the same thing. I can get past "overwhelmed" by taking some time with my kids or my friends, or watching Super Troopers for the 100th time, or whatever. The black dog doesn't care about any of that. It's patient, it's tenacious, and it's happy - rather, willing - to wait until I'm alone and then barge in. The black dog doesn't bite. That I could cope with; pain's easy. The black dog just acts like this fucking echo of all the shit in my head that I hate.

Scariest thing?

Sometimes that black dog wins.

Sometimes people fall into that hole he makes in them, and they can't get out. Some people alter themselves chemically to try and fix the problem, some people compensate in other ways. And eventually, some folks just...give up. They fall in, and they stop struggling. I know that feeling. But I don't want it.

The black dog, however, does not care what I want. So I have to. I have to care harder and louder and more passionately because if I do, I can eventually send the dog away.

Like I said at the beginning, I'm not depressed right now. I'm just...having a hard time. Being sick took something out of me, ongoing health issues are worrying me, I have a lot to do, and going to work every day has become harder because so much of my job is slowly getting replaced by mind-numbing bullshit.

The dog isn't here yet. But I can hear its little toenails, and I really, really don't want it to find me.

Movie #271: A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda is a crime comedy starring John Cleese, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline. You might notice that's the same cast as Fierce Creatures...wait, deja vu.

Anyway. Wanda (Curtis) is a jewel thief, partnered up with a London gangster named George (Tom Georgeson) and his flunky/materials procurer Ken (Palin). She brings in her "brother" (actually lover), Otto, an ex-CIA spook and complete numbskull (Kline, in an Oscar-winning performance) to handle the violent stuff.

But she has her own plans - she and Otto set George up after the robbery, whereupon she plans to grab the diamonds they stole and skip town...only George, not being a complete idiot, moved them and she doesn't know where. So she keeps Otto on, and moves to seduce George's lawyer, Archie, (Cleese), figuring if George cops a please he'll tell Archie where the jewels are first.

Archie is trapped in a marriage to a sarcastic, privileged wife (Maria Aitken), and stuck with his spoiled, shallow daughter (Cynthia Cleese, credited as Caylor), and is generally unhappy. Wanda's charms work on him, a few ethical niggles aside (interestingly, it's about the fact that she's a defense witness; he never so much as puts up a fight on the "I'm already married" front) and they fall in love. In the end, it all goes haywire, Archie, exposed, cuts his losses and helps Wanda steal the diamonds, and they flee to South American and start a leper colony.

I'm not saying much about Kline's character, but he really makes the movie. He's kind of Archer before Archer was a thing; he's highly skilled but a complete idiot, with a nasty sadistic streak to boot (he tortures Ken into telling him where the diamonds are by eating his entire tank of fish in front of him, including the titular Wanda). Palin, too, has a nicely understated performance, using a severe stutter (Palin himself has a stutter, and even has a fluency center named for him) and behaving mostly nicely - except when he kills an old lady by killing her dogs one by one (accidentally, though killing the old lady was always the plan). So nobody's really an upright moral human being here.

With that said, it's fun to watch Wanda's seduction of Archie evolve from purely self-serving to something she's enjoying to something she's conflicted about, to when she realizes she's really hot for him and if only he's rich! (But he's not.) Archie, similarly, gets a character arc, but it's less pronounced.

It's fun, but it's British, and you need to be prepared for some violence to people and animals. But given that, it's a classic comedy and worthy of the praise it gets.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Hunger Games

Monday, September 8, 2014

Movie #270: Fierce Creatures

Fierce Creatures is a comedy starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin - which, you might know, are the four leads from A Fish Called Wanda. Sequel? Not so much, it's what Kline called an "equal" (which it isn't), whatever that means.

So: A zoo in England is purchase by New Zealand-born media magnate Rod McCain (Kline). He installs former Hong Kong police officer Rollo Lee (Cleese) to run it, on the understanding that it, like all his acquisitions, turn a hefty profit (which it won't, because it's a zoo). Willa Weston (Curits), hired to run a TV network that Rod sold off, gets herself installed as the head of said zoo, with McCain's idiot son Vince (also Kline, in his main role) tagging along.

Lee, in his brief period as director of the zoo, institutes a policy that all animals must be (as the title suggests) fierce. This leads to some amusing scenes with the small mammals keeper (Robert Linsday) trying to convince Lee that animals like anteaters and meerkats are vicious monsters, while the loquacious insect keeper Bugsy Malone (Palin, and no, I didn't make that name up) points out that while a tarantula is harmless, it's perceived as dangerous, and if what we want is the perception of risk...

...blah. The fierce creatures initiative gets put by the wayside almost immediately, as Vince and Willa arrive to take over, and they don't care if things are fierce, so it's never mentioned again. Vince sets about selling sponsorships on the animals, while Lee is busted down to middle management and falls in love with Willa, all the while kah-razy happenstance seems to indicate that Lee is bangin' all the tail in the zoo, and we ain't just talking about the keepers.

The movie feels like a sitcom, frankly. The plot works well enough if you don't squint, the jokes are funny (and Cleese and Curtis have some fun chemistry), and the animals are cute. But there's no sense of time - events that should take weeks happen in a day, and the ending is contrived as hell. Interestingly, the ending was reshot long after the original cut debuted (and was found unsatisfying, but I have no idea what the content was), which is why Carey Lowell just kind of vanishes from the movie.

All in all, it's not bad, but A Fish Called Wanda is worlds better.

My Grade: B-
Rewatch Value: Medium-high (look, watchable isn't the same as good)

Next up: A Fish Called Wanda

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Character Creation: Anathema

The Game: Anathema
The Publisher: End Transmission
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

Anathema is a game that came out of the same Game Chef competition that produced They Became Flesh. It's billed as "a roleplaying game of death deferred," which I'm not sure is quite accurate, but of course I haven't played it. The cover is simple and sexy, though some of the font choices are a little strange and hard to read (but I'm a White Wolf vet, so I'm pretty inured).

The idea is that you're someone who's died, and been recruited by The Balance (have I mentioned it annoys me when games capitalize articles? just me?) to "kill as many people in as short a time as possible."

Yep. That's the game. You kill people. You're not given much guidance on who to kill or how, you just kill people.

I have some issues with this, not least of which is that the book gives you stats for people that you should be killing. It's mentioned that low-level Shrouds (your character is called a "Shroud") kill people one at a time, while more powerful Shrouds arrange plane crashes and plagues and so forth.

The idea is an intriguing one. And I don't necessary mean that in a good way. I'm not necessarily opposed to going to dark places in my roleplaying, obviously (curse the darkness is hardly a walk in the park, and I've played and enjoyed Poison'd, which is hardly light and fluffy). But this...I dunno. It reads (and again, haven't played it) like a mostly traditional RPG; roll a dice pool, anything above a 3 is a success, and considering that the designer is also working on Shadowrun 5th I guess that's not a huge surprise. But the tone of the game feels like it should be an indie game, like the killing and the death and everything should be abstracted. Put another way, there are stats in the back of the book for the people you'll be killing, arranged by how much of a fight they can put up. So children/old people are first.

That makes me profoundly uncomfortable, not (just) because the game is suggested wholesale murder might be fun to roleplay, but because it's presently people in the same way that other games present orcs.

Oh, another peeve: There's no character sheet. I asked one of the designers, but never got a response, and I can't find it. Said designer also mentioned, by the way, that this game hasn't exactly been extensively playtested, which makes me wonder why it's been published. I mean, why rush?

Anyway, I'm also informed that the game sells, so I dunno, maybe it works in play. I'm in no hurry to try.

OK. Chargen.

Before we construct a Shroud, the book says, we must decide on an identity for our Husk. I should pick name, profession, personality, history, age, appearance, family, and all the other little details (quoting here) that make someone human. Next sentence: "None of these factors will have any mechanical impact on game play, but they should be recorded in as much detail as possible."


If it doesn't impact gameplay, why the hell is it there? Or maybe it just doesn't have mechanical impact, in which case I have the same question, really, because if you want the players to care about something, you make it important to the game. But whatevs. I need a Husk.

Method of death is important. Most common cause of death in the US is heart disease. Accidents are fifth on the list. I'll split the difference and say my Husk died of a stroke. He was in his 40s, in otherwise decent health, but had a brain bleed that got out of control. One day he just keeled over, and his last thought, quite apart from being profound or poignant, was "I'm going to be late for the movie."

His name was Harold Duncan, and he was a high school math teacher. He covered one wall of his classroom with whiteboard paper because he hated the feel of chalk. He was married, but he and his wife grew distant within a few years of their wedding. They liked each other well enough, and they were comfortable, but there wasn't much fiery passion there. Harold liked his work, coached soccer, and was just beginning to wonder if maybe he might be missing something when his brain caught up with him.

It seems character creation takes place during the first session of play (that is, chargen is part of the game, of which I approve). I do think, however, that the actual steps could be called out a little more clearly. I get 10 points to split up between Combat, Perception, Manipulation, and Resistance. Max is five, min is 1. OK.

Well, let's assume that I'm not going to be a bruiser, because I rarely play those. I'll put 4 points into Perception, 2 into Combat, and 3 each into Manipulation and Resistance.

Well, looking ahead, my Husk died due to illness, which means my primary Dominion is Pestilence (makes sense). I start with 3 in said Dominion. Then I get 5 points to buy up other Dominions, but I can't put them higher than my primary -1, which is 2. Right? Weird. Why not just say I get 2/2/1? Oh, well, I guess there are six Dominions total, so I could take the other five at 1 point, but eh.

OK, let's see. War is boring combat stuff with really no flavor to it (1st dot, extra damage, 2nd dot, extra attack, third dot, ladies' lingerie). Misfortune is more interesting, though the first power is called "Accident Freak." WTF?

Anyway, I'll take 2 points there. Atrophy allows me to give humans "points of Age," which I assume means I can...age them. The dot rating just determines range. Famine Dominion lets me destroy food and then dehydrate people, and Despair lets me sap people's Will.

Huh. Well, I'll take Despair 2 and then Atrophy 1, how about.

So, now I get more points to put into Abilities (oh, the points before were for the Husk, these are the Shroud's influence, kinda like the two-step process in Mummy: The Resurrection). Sure. I can go over 5 now, but every point over 5 costs 2 points. Well, I'll boost Perception to 5. Most of my powers rely on Manipulation, so I'll spend two points to put that to 5, and then two more to put it to 6. And then I'll put the last point into Resistance.

Now I decide why the (sorry, "The") Balance chose me. I can be Violent ("I KILLLL YOOOUUU"), Lost ("Huh?") or Kindly ("I AM ANGST!"). Well, clearly Violent doesn't work. Kindly makes some sense, but I think I'll go Lost. When I get closer to understanding who I was in life and why I was chosen, I gain Will. Sure. I lose Will by not trying to do that.

And then I get a Victim Preference and a Victim Avoidance. OH GOD. These are people that I prefer to kill and that I prefer not to kill. One of the examples is "haughty blonde cheerleader". That's uncomfortable, given the amount of blithe misogyny that gets slung around in this hobby (the other example of Victim Preference is "KKK Members").

Well, I think I'll take "incompetent bureaucrats" as my Victim Preference, and "teenage athletes" as my Avoidance, why not.

Almost done. I have to determine how much time elapsed between death and Shroud-hood. It's very vague, though. Rolling a d6, I get "days." OK. It only took days for Harold to become a Shroud.

And now I get (hang on; it's a d6) five random memory fragments. I'm gonna get get some entropy. Oh, wait, it's actually a d6-2 because I'm Lost. So just three.

I get 3, which is a sibling or close friend. Sure. Let's say Harold had a younger sister named Olivia, training for the Olympics when Harold died (Harold doesn't remember which event).

A roll of 4 gives me an important lover or lack thereof. Sure. Let's say his wife, Jackie. He remembers her in a vague, abstract sort of way. I think that in play, the sad lesson here would be that's pretty much how their marriage was.

And finally, 8 means an enemy. Harold's principal, Mr. Aiken, is old as dirt and has no time for any approach to teaching that doesn't involve the way he used to do it...40 years ago. Harold had to get the union involved when he put that white board stuff up in his room. Aiken's first on the block when the Harold-Shroud comes around, man.

"In terms of their formidable supernatural powers, Shrouds that have newly returned are as weak as kittens." FUCK THAT. If I'm going to be weak as a kitten, I want to actually be playing a kitten. (And there are lots of games for that.) But I think that puts me done.

Name: Bleed
Husk: Harold Duncan
Abilities: Combat 2, Perception 5, Manipulation 6, Resistance 4
Dominions: Pestilence 3, Atrophy 1, Despair 2, Misfortune 2
Trait That Doesn't Have a Name: Lost
Memory Fragments: Olivia (sister), Jackie (wife), Mr. Aiken (dickbag principal)
Will: 10
Anathema: 0

There ya have it!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Movie #269: Hudson Hawk

Hudson Hawk is a weird caper/comedy starring Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello, Andie MacDowell, James Coburn, Richard E. Grant, and Sandra Bernhard.

Eddie "the Hudson Hawk" (Willis) is a great cat burglar who, upon being released from prison, is immediately blackmailed into robbing an auction house with his partner Tommy (Aiello). They steal a statuette of a horse created by Da Vinci, but it turns out the people who wanted it (his PO...no, an Italian crime family called the Mario Brothers! No, an English butler with retractable blades in his hands!) really want this nifty crystal inside it.

Hawk meets up with a scholar from the Vatican (MacDowell), but barely has time to flirt before being drugged by an evil CIA agent (Coburn) and whisked off to Rome to rob said Vatican of Da Vinci's Codex (which contains another crystal). Turns out the real masterminds are a pair of industrialists (Grant and Bernhard, chewing scenery so hard you'd think they were starving) who want to recreate Da Vinci's gold machine and flood the market with gold to destroy the world's economy.

The movie is light on plot, but dense on characters. There are a lot of people flitting it, doing things, and then dying, and it can be hard to keep track of the layers, but it's actually pretty comic-booky at the end of the day. And the movie gets sillier and more ridiculous as it goes, to the point where Bernhard flicks Willis' nose and there's a boing sound effect.

This movie bombed at the box office, and it's routinely held up as an example of a crappy movie, but I dunno. I like it. Willis hasn't gotten all dour yet, the supporting cast looks like their having fun, Coburn gets to be badass and threatening (it was remarked, while we watched this movie, that there's no shame in having your ass kicked by James Coburn). I kinda feel like Andie MacDowell is the weak spot, but then I usually do (she was third choice for this role and the other two were European, which would have made a lot more sense). But even so, she gets a few good moments, so overall I think it's fun.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Fierce Creatures

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Warehouse 13: When Pirates Collide

Our Warehouse 13 Savage Worlds game nears conclusion. Check it.

Last time, you might recall, Memphis, Raji, and Charlotte were searching the warehouse for a strange blip on Memphis' homemade EMF detector. She kept looking, but realized that the blip led outside the warehouse. Another blip, probably Blaine, was also visible, so after some discussion Blue and Blaine got in the van and headed out to follow the "line" that Memphis was tracking.

They got out to the cornfield, and Blaine saw the ghostly pirate ship (but Blue did not). As they got closer, Blaine vanished...

...and then in the warehouse, Memphis tracked down a reading, and saw Blaine. But he looked different; his clothes were slightly altered, and when he spoke, his accent wasn't quite as posh or refined. He (carefully) agreed that he'd been with Blue, by the ship, and he teleported back. Blue, seeing the differences, made a reference to an earlier conversation they'd had, but Blaine had no idea. Everyone regrouped at the warehouse - this was too strange.

"Blaine" had no recollection of ever being an agent of the warehouse, and indeed didn't seem to know which century he was in. Through some questioning, they learned that this Blaine had been dead up until about two weeks ago, when he'd awakened on the ship, busted back down to first mate, under the command of Jack Snow. He told them that he'd died a tavern owner in England, having given up the sea years ago, and that he wasn't really enjoying being a pirate again - really, he was tired. But that didn't explain who had been hanging out with the crew these last few months, calling himself "Blaine."

Memphis theorized that this Blaine might be manifestation of the ship's ghost, and not really a "ghost" in the usual sense. Blaine took offense, claiming that he might be dead and might be displaced, but he was still Bloody Blaine, and the whole Caribbean once knew that name. (But the agents had never heard it.)

They showed Blaine the ring that was supposedly made of the anchor to his ship, but he'd never seen it before and didn't seem especially attached. Memphis hit it with some goo, but nothing happened. Blaine claimed he did have an anchor and knew where it was, if not what - it was with the ship, in the cornfield, probably not visible to the living until nightfall.

Raji, annoyed at being called "lad" and wanting to feel like he was more than just a firestarter, did some digging into the past, specifically Shore. He dug up a picture of him, just as Blaine was explaining a "dream" he'd had, of when he beat a man named Jameson to death on a beach. Raji showed him the picture - sure enough, Shore and Jameson were the same person. They showed Blaine the gem (which, even in goo, started to make him solid), and he identified as the artifact he'd once retrieved for Jamseon before being betrayed.

Just then Blaine heard the call to quarters. He resisted it, but told the others that "recruitment" was about to begin. They hatched a plan - bring the gem to the ship, let it become solid, and then destroy it. Raji lamented that he was, again, being asked to do nothing but set things on fire. Blaine said that he, as a pirate, had been exceptionally skilled at combat, but took no pleasure in harming people. It wasn't until later in life that he discovered he made a good mutton stew, too. Maybe Raji just had to grow up a bit. (Blaine has no idea of Raji's true age.)

Blaine snapped back to the ship, and the others got ready to roll. Next time - we end as we began, with combat on a pirate ship. But this time, in a cornfield!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Movie #268: Dark City

Dark City is a neo-noir sci-fi film starring Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Richard O'Brien, and Kiefer Sutherland. It's directed by Alex Proyas, the genius behind The Crow, and is one of the best examples of producers pissing in the soup I can think of.

So: John Murdoch (Sewell) wakes up in a bathtub in a place he doesn't recognize, no memory of who he is or what's going on, with a dead prostitute nearby. He runs out into the city - perpetually dark - trying to figure out what's going on. He quickly realizes that he's wanted in connected with a number of street-walker killings, and the inspector in charge, Bumstead (Hurt) is closing in. The picture in his wallet seems to be his wife (Connelly), but he can't remember her, either.

Into the mix is a man claiming to be his doctor, Schreber (Sutherland, getting his Shatner on), and these horrific bald people in black coats with weird powers who seem to want to kill him. And as Murdoch runs for his life, trying to figure out what's going on, Bumstead, Emma, and the rest of the inhabitants of the city treat this like a homicide investigation...but is that really what's happening?

At midnight, everything stops, everyone falls asleep, and the black-clad Strangers change the city to suit their whim. And then it comes out - the Strangers built the city. They abducted people and they've made their own little society, and they play with memories to figure out what makes humanity...human. They keep it dark because they can't stand the light. But Murdoch resists their programming, and with the help of the other PCs Schreber, Emma, and Bumstead, destroys their machines and brings back the sun.

Like all Proyas films, Dark City is moody as hell. It waffles a little between being a noir movie or a sci-fi movie, and I think it could have handled the transition a little more gracefully. The other complaint I have is at the end, the TK-fight between Murdoch and Mr. Book (Ian Richardson) looks absurd, because Murdoch just kind of leans forward and screams with waves of power coming out of his head. But generally, the performances are good. We get to see Jennifer Connolley sing in a slinky dress, William Hurt as a noir-cop, and Richard O'Brian as the Stranger who chooses to end his life by taking on Murdoch's memories, becoming an individual for a few brief hours.

Here's the thing: When Dark City opened in theaters (in 1998), there was a voice-over in the beginning from Sutherland's characters where he literally explains the whole plot of the movie - the Strangers, their plot, their memory manipulation, and so forth. It complete fucks the movie not because it's a big twist, but because there's nothing to discover. You get no sense of Murdoch's confusion or his helplessness when he's running around at night while everyone is asleep and unresponsive, because you know what's happening.

I, however, bought the director's cut, which excises that stupid monologue, and the whole thing works better. Makes for a much more interesting movie, very much a gamer flick (and the RPG Edge of Midnight is largely based on it). I do wish Connelly had been given a little more to do, but she doesn't get killed or kidnapped (threatened a bit), so that's nice.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Technically Fierce Creatures, but we already have Hudson Hawk on the schedule