Saturday, November 29, 2014

Character Creation: Edara

I actually had a one-shot of this game scheduled today, but life intruded and we had to postpone. Figure I can at least make a character, though.

The Game: Edara, A Steampunk Renaissance
The Publisher: Caelestis Designs
Degree of Familiarity: None, beyond reading the book.
Books Required: Just the one.

Edara is a fantasy setting, and as you may know, I'm not the world's biggest fantasy fan. I've tried for years to figure out why exactly that is - I have nothing against the genre in particular, but it never quite seems to turn my gears (heh, see, gears, because steampunk). I think a steampunk setting might make me happier, for some reason.

I think the reason I don't particularly care for fantasy is because it feels bland to me. Political intrigue doesn't hook me. Magic hooks me. Give me something interesting about the world and the magic or creatures, and I'll get into that. That might be why while D&D doesn't really interest me (it's too broad and too generic on its own), Earthdawn does things I like.

Anyway, I bring that up to say that Edara has something I don't usually like in RPGs: A long history section. It goes on a little longer than necessary, IMO, but it also paints a pretty interesting picture of the mythology (rather, cosmology) of the world. It's telling that I remember some of the history after reading it; I couldn't tell you the history of the world in a lot of the fantasy RPGs I've done for this little project if you put a gun to my face.

So, checking out the character creation section, we're told that characters start at level 1 and can get up to level 20. GMs can start characters are higher levels if they want more powerful PCs, but let's assume my hypothetical GM wants us to start off at 1. I don't see any context for what a "level 1" character is, which is kind of a shame; it'd be nice to know if "level 1" equates "green-faced squire just off the farm" or whatever.

I usually like to start off with some kind of concept. The book tells me that step one is to choose Background, but that's socio-economic background. Hmm. Well, I usually like to start with a song, and +Michelle Lyons-McFarland is nice enough to make me mixes with music I like. So let's use this one:

The song is about letting go of a grudge that's been kept far too long, and not letting a bad event define your relationship. As such, I think that if I were playing this character in a real game, I'd ask someone to make a character who shares this history, but since it's just me, I'll make up NPCs as needed.

OK. I think for Background I'll go Lower Class. I want the event, whatever it was, to have fucked my character's prospects long-term. That means I get:
• Trait Points: 8
• Skill Points: 6
• Currency: 1000
• Proficiency Points: 6
• Band Points: 1
• 1 Bonus Language
• Choose 1: +1 Agility or +1 Brains Attribute maximum

I'll deal with all that when it becomes relevant; I think "spend points" is a later step.

Step Two is "choose race." The races are the basic fantasy spread; humans, elves, orc, ogres, dwarves, gnomes. Are the humans "adaptable?" No, they're "diverse and well-rounded," which is close enough.

Let's see. I don't have any particular ideas about race, honestly. Fuck it, there are six of them, let's roll for it. 3 gives me the gnomes. OK, sure, I don't think I've ever played a gnome character.

Ooh, actually, this works. Gnomes are the only race that don't have their own homeland; they wander across the land, play music and sing, and sometimes run cons on taller folk. They look like a cross between elves and dwarves (short, but slender, and pretty with pointy ears). Being a gnome gets me:

Size: Small (4’0’’ – 4’5)
Lifespan: Around 150 years
Health Pips: Vigor + 5
Sub-race: Earthen, Sylvan
Speed: 30 feet
Base Language: Either Earthen or Sylvan
Attribute Points: 27
• Sharp Vision: Gnomes suffer no penalties for any vision or attacks in low or failing light.
• Skill Bonus: +3 to Trickery Skill
• Arcane Gift: All offensive spells against gnomes automatically fail and deal 1 damage to the caster
if the result of the Auramancy roll is a 1
• Gnomes are considered to be small creatures and cannot use Heavy melee weapons or Medium
size 2-handed melee weapons

Wait, what does "sub-race" mean? Oh, OK, it lets me choose different Racial Traits later.

Step Three is Band. This is where things get interesting. Edara has five Bands, kind of like class in a very broad sense. The Bands trace back to different deities in the history, but while they're associated with races there, any race can belong to any Band. So now I have to think about my little gnome and why all this bad blood.

Bands have multiple trees of spell-like powers; basically think of the skill trees in Borderlands or the Diablo games. I kinda like it; it's a way of approaching magic in an RPG that I haven't see. It does mean I have to think about my character's ultimate prowess right off the bat, because there's not a lot of advantage, it doesn't seem, in splitting my focus. I generally like to play spellcasters, but do I want to screw with it tonight?

I kind of want to make a Black Band character, actually. There's a tree called Bloodcraft, and it might fun if he's the one not letting the bad blood dry, as it were. So, sure, let's do this.

Step Four is spendin' points! Woo! Well, going by my Background and Race, I get 8 Trait Points, 6 Skill Points, 6 Proficiency Points, 1 Band Point, and 27 Attribute Points. Hokay. I also have some racial Attribute Maximums, but I can add one to either my Brains or Agility maximum.

Well, let's do Attributes. They all start at 1. My Vigor and Prowess maximums suck balls, so I'm assuming those are things that gnomes just aren't great at. So I'll put Vigor at 4 and Prowess at 2 (21 points left). Since my Bloodcraft magic adds to attacks (and Auramancy, but I don't think I start with any spells), I'll put Agility at 8. Brawn is stuck at 6, so I'll put that at max (7 points left). Brains and Wits, hmm. Both traditionally areas of strength for a gnome. I note that the race chapter says that I don't have the highest possible score for a given attack, I'll never be as effective as someone who does. Well...duh. But, as I say all the time, if a character that doesn't have [trait] is ineffective, give me [trait] standard. Start me from a position of competence and let me build out.

But, I have no idea if 1st level Edara characters are ineffective, because I haven't run the game yet. So. I'll split my 7 points between Brains and Wits thusly: 5 Wits, 2 Brains. That makes my little gnome not the brightest of folks in this new steampunky world, but we can't all be Da Vinci.

Now, Band Points. I only have one, and by spending it I choose my Primary Tree. We're going Bloodcraft, so that's easy.

As an aside, the chargen section of the book goes into the fact that you can have secondary Tree. Why? I mean, why put it there? No one gets a second Band Point at chargen, it doesn't look like, so the only way that would be relevant is if I were making a higher-level character.

Right. Skills, then. I have a number of Skill Points to spend on Skills linked to a given Attribute equal to that Attribute (so, 8 points to spend on Agility-linked Skills), plus 6 more that I can spend anywhere. I kind of like that, actually, it means I have to spread out my Skills a bit. Hopefully it doesn't fuck me in play. Right off, I get +3 to Trickery because I am a gnome, and +1 each to Stealth, Knowledge (Religion) and Trickery (again) because I am Black Band.

And then! Gee, it'd be helpful if the linked Attribute were listed on the character sheet. Ah, well. I can only have a number of points in a Skill equal to its linked Attribute, so I can only put one more point into Trickery, f'rex. On we go!

Well, for Agility, I get 8 points. I already have 1 in Stealth. I'll put four into Thievery (4 left), 2 more into Stealth (2 left) and the last two into Acrobatics.

And then Brawn (oh, I see, not all Attributes have linked Skills). Well, I have six points here. Let's do three each into Stamina and Athletics.

Brains...hell, only two points. So let's do this. Let's put 1 point into Navigation, and then take a Facet in Urban.

Finally, Wits Skills. I have 5 Wits. Let's put 2 into Survival, 2 into Perception, and 1 into Hunting.

Now I have 6 more Skill Points for use anywhere. Hokay. I want another point in Hunting, and then two into the Manhunting Facet. That's 4. And then I want 2 in a Stealth Facet for Tailing. My character is starting to take shape a little.

OK, now Traits. I can take up to 5 points in Negative Traits, which then give me more points to take Positive Traits. I get 8 Trait Points to start.

Well, I want to be Aware, which means I can't be Surprised. That's 1 point (7 left).

(OK, this is annoying. Some of these traits affect a Companion, but they're not offset from the other Traits. Seems like "Companion Traits" should be its own category.)

I'll take Elusive, giving me +2 to Physical Defense when moving away from an enemy without Safely Disengaging (the words "attack of opportunity" pop to mind for some reason). Anyway, that's 1 point, so I have 6 left.

I like Quick on the Draw; I can ready weapons for free. 1 point, 5 left.

I'll take City Slicker. I get a bunch bonuses to Skills used in a city or large town. Ooh, is there a Parkour Trait? I could be an assassin and have a creed. :) Anyway, 3 points left.

As a gnome, I can take Sylvan Racial Traits, so I'll take Keen-Eyed (+2 to Perception rolls; it says all, not just sight-based). 1 point, 2 points left.

How about some negatives? Sure. I'll take Nemesis for 3 points, and Paranoid for 2 points. Ooh, Paranoid's unpleasant; if someone touches me when I'm not expecting it and I have a weapon ready, I attack them - but I'm also Quick on the Draw. Ouch.

Anyway, I now have 7 points remaining. Yowza. I'll take Striker (the first attack I make costs 1 less action point), and then Conditioned (I get +1 Physical Defense because I don't hurt easily). That's all my Trait Points.

Now Proficiencies. Good gravy. I get 6 points here. This is skill with weapons and armor, kinda like in D&D. You have to take these in order, and every given Proficiency has 5 levels. Hokay.

Well, I'll take Novice in Armor Layering, Light Weapons, and Ballistic Weapons, and Apprentice in Combat Tactics. Actually, wait, Ballistic Weapons use Brains as their Attribute, so I'll change that to Ranged Weapons (which use Agility).

Step Five is to pick Spells, but I don't get any.

Step Six is to Buy Equipment. Blearh. I hate this part. Well, I get 1000 Currency, let's see. I want 2 daggers (100 CR), a light crossbow (600 CR), 20 bolts (40 CR), and padded clothing (200 CR). That's 940 spent altogether. Oh, dammit, they want you to buy basic mundane shit, too. Bleah. Fine. Let's skip the padded clothing (260), buy a night cloak for 150 (110), simple clothing for 25 (85), and probably some other shit that I can't be bothered with god I hate shopping in RPGs.

Step Seven is Add Everything Up. I appreciate that the "make the derived traits" step is at the end, where it belongs.

I don't have armor, so that's easy.

My Physical Defense is 13, plus 1 for Conditioned is 14. My Spiritual Defense is 6. My Health is Vigor + 5, 'cause I'm a gnome (which means it's 9). Now how the heck do I fill these in? OK, I shade in all but 9. My Initiative is the result of a d12 + half my Agility, but I don't have a d12 handy so I'm gonna leave this blank.

OK, well, that's a fairly involved chargen process, though it's not worse than any given WoD game, honestly. However, I haven't fleshed out the history bits, so.

Luten Miletan lived with his family, traveling from place to place and singing for their supper. They were never good enough to be called a "troupe," but they would sometimes hook up with other performance groups and everyone split the profits.

And then Luten met Rhys, another gnome, and the two of them fell in love. Rhys was higher class than Luten; Luten's family was barely scraping by, but Rhys was a musician and a fencer and who knows what else. They struck off on their own, Rhys singing, Luten providing backup and building sets and whatever else he could do.

Into all this, though, Rhys was learning White Band stuff. And Luten was right along with him, ready to follow him and be all about purity and light and stuff...and then Luten overheard Rhys talking with his mentor. Rhys said that he wished he could get get shed of Luten, that he wasn't interested in carrying Luten around forever. Luten was dead weight.

Luten left, heartbroken, and pledged the Black Band, promising to learn Bloodcraft. He's learning to be stealthy, fast, and deadly. And when he's good enough, when he can bleed fire and fling steel and death, he'll find Rhys again. He's already taken and fulfilled a contract on one of Rhys' other lovers (hence the Nemesis).

He doesn't actually want to kill Rhys, though. He just wants to show him that he's just as competent as Rhys ever was.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Movie #282: The 13th Warrior

The 13th Warrior is an action/fantasy movie based on a Michael Crichton novel, and starring Antonio Banderas, Vladimir Kulich, Dennis Storhoi, and Omar Sharif. Reportedly Sharif was so disappointed with this movie that he retired from acting for a period after its release. I dunno, I didn't think it was that bad.

The movie follows the travels of Ahmed ibn Fahdlan (Banderas), an Arab courtier made ambassador to the savage northlands after he, liked, looked at a woman wrong. He and his mentor (Sharif) meet up with some Norseman, just before Bulyif (Kulich) becomes king. Ahmed gets roped into going with 12 other warriors, deeper into the northlands, to combat a terrifying race of monsters called the Wendol. They all have some personality, but the one that he bonds with is Herger (Storhoi).

Eventually, they find the monsters - actually a primitive race of people that live in caves. There are several bloody battles, but eventually the warriors tromp into said caves, kill the Wendol's "mother" (actually a young woman, because they filmed it with an old woman and it didn't test well), and then fall back to their encampment, where Bulyif, dying of poison from the woman's claw, manages to live long enough to kill their war-chief. Bad guys flee, movie ends with Fahdlan writing the story.

This movie was a huge flop, apparently. It was originally going to be released as Eaters of the Dead (after the title of the novel), but test audiences hated it, so Crichton got involved and rejiggered it, and then it was better, but it was still not especially well-reviewed. And I have to say, there are issues. It kind of plods along at this weird pace, the action scenes are OK but jumpy, and it completely wastes Sharif.

But that said: It does spend a little time addressing the language barrier and showing us Fahdlan learning the warriors' language. We do see some camaraderie born. There's no magic montage showing us Fahdlan becoming a warrior; he apparently has some training, but not with the huge heavy weapons that the warriors use. Oh, and, most importantly, he doesn't save them. Their king is the one that goes into the hole to kill the monsters, gets poisoned in the process, and then takes on the war chief. Fahdlan is the POV character and the narrator, but not the central figure. And he's Muslim, and keeps and practices his faith the whole way through. Now, he's played by a Spaniard, not an actual Arab actor, but you can't have everything, I guess (and at least he's not white).

Also, Michelle informs me that the Latin dialog actually parses fairly well, but I wouldn't know.

My Grade: B-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: The Dark Crystal

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Movie #281: The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk is the second movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tyler Blake Nelson, and Tim Roth.

Rather than being an origin story, this one picks up with Bruce Banner (Norton) having already become the Hulk, and smashed up his lab, leaving his girlfriend Betty Ross (Tyler) and her father General Thaddeus Ross (Hurt) injured. He's been on the run for a while, and settled in Brazil, working at a bottling factory and corresponding with a mysterious benefactor named Mr. Blue. When he accidentally gives away his position, General Ross sends a team in, led by Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Roth). They find Banner...but of course the Hulk kicks their collective ass.

From there it's a game of cat and mouse, if by "cat and mouse" we mean "elephant and slightly smaller, louder, elephants." Banner goes home and finds Betty, now shacked up with a shrink named Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell, hoping desperately to play him as Doc Samson at some point). But the army finds them again, the Hulk comes out again, and then it's on to New York, where they meet up with Mr. Blue - actually a scientist named Samuel Sterns (Nelson).

Sterns attempts to cure the Hulk, but then winds up creating the Abomination as Blonsky, already flying high on a super-soldier serum that Ross gave him, forces (well, asks, because Sterns cheerfully agrees) to give him some of Banner's blood. And then it's a showdown in Harlem!

This is probably the weakest of the MCU movies, but that doesn't mean it's bad. It's actually a pretty good movie, but it doesn't feel as tight as some of the others, and y'know, I have to assume that's because they let Norton run rampant all over it. But it was only the second one in the series, before they really found their footing. I have to say that, now having seen Avengers, I rather wish we'd gotten a Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo instead, because I prefer his take on the character. Norton feels...kind of conciliatory and milquetoast, and while you buy the history of his relationship with Betty, the chemistry isn't quite there. But Roth is awesome as Blonsky, desperate and jealous of the Hulk's raw power, and Nelson is a lot of fun as Sterns; you can see the super-villain origin plain as day. I actually really hope they have him back at some point.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: 13th Warrior, The

Vampire: Chomp

Last night was Vampire. Let's get to it!

The characters split for the day last time, and woke up the following evening. Delphine resolved her Lethargic Condition, and Mordecai his Competitive. Thus unburdened, the characters decided to feed. Delphine set up her Tarot stand and cold-read someone into following her into an alley for a more "thorough" reading. Myra seduced a guy at Binion's and took him upstairs. Heath set up one of his famous poker games, and left some poor sod mostly drained (but alive). His security chief, Morgan, asked him, "hospital or morgue, sir?"

Delphine went to work, waiting tables as usual. She met another vampire sitting at a table, and approached him. He introduced himself as "Bob," and said that he'd been in Vegas before, but wanted to make sure he didn't step on any toes. He asked who claimed domain here, and Delphine told him. Then he asked after Myra, and Delphine that she came in her, too. Bob then locked eyes with her and Dominated her, telling her not to tell Myra that he'd asked about her, and dropped a $100 on the table and walked off.

Mordecai was at work, running his museum. He did some digging into a pet project of his - a rumored earthquake proof vault constructed by the mob. He got a call from Gus, the bus driver who'd tipped him to the house holding the baby a few sessions ago. Gus said that he'd met an older man who claimed to know someone who'd helped build it. His knowledge of dirty Vegas was otherwise sound, so Gus was hopeful. Mordecai told him to set up a meet.

Myra walked down to the artists' row where Mo Fuji used to sell her photos. She talked to a couple of folks, and learned that Mo had been there the night before, but then a man on a motorcycle had chased her out (probably Dex), and she'd run off. Myra followed her trail to a construction site, where she found blood.

She followed the blood inside; it was enough for her to think someone had bled out. But then something jumped on her back and bit her, ripping out a chunk of her neck. She fought it off, thinking it was Mo, but it was a man in construction worker gear, looking dead and grey. She Dominated it and asked it why it attacked her, and it rasped, "hungry." She fled.

Back at Binion's, Myra burst into Heath's office, bloodied, and told him about what had happened. Heath called and left a message for his sire, Courant, the Koagion. She rounded up Delphine and Heath called Mordecai, and on the way back to the place, Myra told them what had happened. Mordecai asked why she'd been to see the Prince, Myra told him it was none of his business and lashed out with the Seductive Beast to distract him...but they wound up just distracting each other.

En route, Heath stopped at a red light, and a man got into the car. It was Courant. He confirmed the character's suspicions that what Myra saw might be a larvae. Mordecai noted that he'd heard of Kindred actually controlling these things, and Delphine recalled lessons from her Crone schooling talking about the First Descent (the Embrace) and how some folks never made it all the way back. Courant posited that a Larva was "half an Embrace," and the characters guessed that maybe Mo had tried to Embrace someone but been interrupted.

They arrived, and Courant wished them luck. They shut off their phones (for stealthy!) and went in.

Meanwhile, back at Binion's, Morgan surveys carnage. "I know she took someone up here," he says to the other employees, "but why'd she cut him open?" He calls Heath's number, but gets not answer. "Clean it up, I guess."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Movie #280: Inception

Inception is a 2010 sci-fi drama, nominated for Best Picture, among others, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy. So basically the cast of The Dark Knight Rises with a couple of substitutions.

Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) and his partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) work as extractors, going into people's dreams and stealing information. They get hired by a billionaire named Saito (Watanabe) to perform "inception," the act of planting an idea in someone's head so deeply that the subject figures it for true inspiration. The subject in question is the son of an energy magnate, Fischer (Murphy). At first declining the job, Cobb agrees when Saito promises to fix his criminal record and allow him to go home to his children.

See, Cobb's wife Mal (Cotillard) was doing dream-research, too, and they wound up trapped in "limbo," a subconscious null-space. Cobb eventually wound up planting an idea in her head: that this world wasn't real and that by killing herself, she could wake up. Trouble was, that idea didn't fade when they woke up, and Mal winds up not only killing herself, but framing Cobb in hopes that he'll join her in death.

The job doesn't go as planned; Cobb and his team wind up in a dream from which they can't just wake up. Because their bodies are sedated, they need to be woken up by their support in the waking world, or they wind up in limbo for decades of subjective time. They wind up going down through levels of dreams until Cobb finally hits limbo, reconciles with "Mal" (whose been running roughshod through his mind, fucking up his missions, the whole time), and returns to his children.

Maybe. The last shot is Cobb's totem, a top that never stops spinning in a dream. It seems to wobble, but doesn't fall, leaving the viewer to wonder if this has all been a dream or if Cobb has really come home. According to Nolan, it really doesn't matter; that ambiguity is deliberate.

This is a really well-made movie on a lot of levels. The dialog is tight and is sports a bunch of repeated lines, nailing home the story and the themes of uncertainty and unreality. The filming jumps around, making it hard to determine clean transitions from place to place (which is also dreamlike). And of course the cast is spot-on. Ellen Page plays Ariadne (oh, what a giveaway!) the student that Cobb hires to build the dream-mazes.

Inception suffers from some of the same problems that a lot of Nolan's movies do. The plot doesn't always hold up to scrutiny, and he makes use of that noxious "we only use 10% of our brains" BS, though thankfully it's a throwaway line, not the basis for the movie. Plus, gotta say, Nolan doesn't know what the hell to do with women a lot of the time. Ariadne is at least not damseled or fridged (which is more than you can say for Cotillard, though she also acts as a good antagonist), but her character isn't especially well fleshed out. Now, we don't learn much about anyone except Cobb and Mal, granted, but considering that Ariadne winds up being the secondary character with the most screen time, it would have been nice if she weren't just a foil for Cobb.

With that said, though, the movie nicely straddles action/sci-fi and drama, and provides some decent emotional impact in with all the mind-fuckery.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high (good but long)

Next up: Incredible Hulk, The

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monsterhearts: Season Three

Woof. After the tragedy that was the finale of season two, we picked up to being season three. We just made characters and firmed up the class schedule, with a bit of light roleplaying.

Made characters? Well, yes.

Season three picks up in late April, senior year. The students from the first two seasons have...undergone some changes.

  • Briar is still the Chosen. She's been dating Austin after Austin and Cassi split, and she spent the summer in Copenhagen. She's been monster hunting with Austin and Skylar since she's been back. 
  • Cassi...oh, dear. After Rook's death, she grew more and more withdrawn and depressed, eventually even withdrawing from Austin, but obsessively trying to use her telepathic link on him. Finally, the link broke...and so did she. She's changed from the Queen to the Hollow. 
  • Genesis focused more on her art over the summer. Her class track is strange; she wants to go to college and keep painting, but she isn't sure she can, since she has no legal identity. She also lost her skin again; she heard it was in the lost and found at school, but then she went to get it and its gone.
  • Skylar is still "living" at Rook's house, haunting it, you might say. She's also thrown herself into the "life" that she's made - since she can apparently be part of the living world, even as a ghost, she's trying to get prepared for the future and for college. Maybe he can be a real person?
  • Dora has dropped out of school, and is working towards her GED. The other students don't see much of her anymore, even her friends (Miguel, Julia, etc.). 
  • Rook is, of course, dead. He gave his key to Cassi with his dying breath, and she's never taken it of. 
Now, into the mix, we add a couple of new folks:

  • Ash Morton, the Calaca. Ash awoke in the cemetery the same day Rook died, pulled on a skin, and came to school. He seems to know a lot about the other students and tries to cover for them when necessary. He's happy, but kind of clueless about live-people things. 
  • Erica Perez, the Infernal. Erica was a member of Dora's coven, and is Cassi's cousin (on Cassi's mother's side). Erica is an overachiever - 2nd chair alto sax, straight As, college bound. So when she joined the coven and just couldn't do the magic like the others could, she kind of snapped, and made a deal with a dark power. She knows it as Chantico, the Aztec goddess of the hearth fire. It...might not actually be that. 
We start off on a Monday in April. The students are in Ms. Freese's homeroom. Austin and Briar chat about the upcoming prom, and Briar has the idea of having their own event that night, since bad things tend to happen at Perdido High dances. Austin agrees, and asks the others what they think; Genesis coins the term "un-Prom." Ash enthusiastically agrees, and suggests the amusement park as the venue. It isn't open yet, of course. Briar, Ash, and Austin decide to go out there after school and check it out. 

The announcements reveal that there's an assembly today before lunch. At the front of the room. Damon Richter (another overachiever) turns to Erica and says that the assembly was added last-minute, but he doesn't know what it's about. They lament losing the review time in AP Calc, but agree to get together after school to study. 

During Programming class, Austin approaches Cassi and tells her about the "un-Prom," and asks her to go. She says she'll think about it, which Austin reasonably figures is a polite way to say "no," but he asks her to consider it. 

The assembly happens. The teachers are all dour, and the principal announces that one of the teachers (Mr. Clark, who teaches Psychology to the seniors, including all the PCs), died of a stroke over the weekend. The students are appropriately shocked, and there's some talk about counseling and so forth...and then the characters head to Psych.

Their new teacher walks in and up to the board, his back to the students. He writes his name on the board - "MR. BARON" - and then turns around.

It's Rook. He's aged 20 years or so, but it's him. 

Next time, I suspect we'll be doing a lot of holding steady. :)

End credits song: "I'm Going Slightly Mad," by Queen. A slower cover would be good.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Promethean: Blast From the Past

Last night was Promethean. I seriously need to do some more game prep for this game. But I improvise well.

So! Last time, the characters were at the Shedd Aquarium and saw someone - an older man named Charles Rivers - die. They determined he'd been murdered (someone poisoned his inhaler), and, got shed of another throng of Prometheans. Grimm didn't trust them; Legion's talk about "neutralizing threats" worried them (and made Enoch think of Skip), but Feather pointed out that if Legion was following the Refinement of Bronze, he might be simply in protector mode.

The throng decided they'd go to Charles Rivers' apartment; it was nearby, and they wanted to know more about this mysterious man with a Pilgrim Mark tattooed on his hand. They took the El and Matt picked the lock on his door, and they stepped into an apartment full of books. Most of the books were old, many of them metallurgical or medical texts. They also found a full alchemy lab, too. Avalon looked at the materials (and Enoch at his notes), and realized that this guy was making various alchemical preparations, many of them to stave off aging or help him medically. They didn't find anything especially toxic, and nothing as deadly as the poison he'd died from.

Grimm found a strongbox, with a bit of black powder in the lid's groove. Avalon analyzed it, and realized it was rigged to incinerate the contents. She used Transformation to render the dust inert, and inside they found his important papers - lease agreement, car title, deed to a warehouse, and a handwritten diary. The diary detailed Mr. Rivers' Ramble. He was a Redeemed Promethean.

In addition to the details of several complex Refinement (Aes and Mercurius, which the characters knew about, plus one dedicated to "boiling away impurity" called Cobalus, which intrigued Enoch and worried Avalon). The diary said that Rivers had been created in Canada, and then worked his way through the US and into Chicago. He fell in love with the city, met many of the supernatural inhabitants and they knew him as...Calogero. Enoch was floored; he wasn't aware that it was possible to achieve the New Dawn and remember one's life as a Promethean.

Matt looked around for correspondence, and found Rivers' outgoing mail. There were several letters with "RTS" written on them, and the return address was from "POAC." Enoch recognized that as the Pristine Order of the Auric Chalice, a very rich and very exclusive group of alchemists.

The throng decided that they needed to figure out who killed Rivers, and what else they could learn. They decided to go to the morgue and talk to his corpse. Matt bluffed his way in, using his new ID as Matthew Paul Anderson, and let the others in the back. They found Rivers' body, and Enoch used Corpse Tongue to ask some questions. They learned that no one in Andrew White's throng had murdered Rivers, which was a relief.

Then they headed to the warehouse. Getting in took some doing; Matt picked the lock, but Grimm noticed cameras. Avalon used Soul in the Software, spat out a little boltfly, and disabled them. They went in, and Grimm realized a silent alarm had been tripped. Avalon disabled it using Transformation (just make the wires non-conductive!), but they weren't sure if it was too late.

They split up and, bolstered by Feather's Control Transmutation, searched the place. Enoch found close to a million bucks in large bills in a valise, but he kept it hidden from the others (though he did take the valise). Grimm found a Dodge Charger under a tarp, and wanted to take it, but Feather, Enoch, and Avalon dissented; the car wasn't his, and it'd be noticed anyway. Grimm also found an old record box with files written in some kind of cipher. One of the had a big X on the front, and the name "Max Maurey."

Feather, meanwhile, found a big marble chest, almost like a small casket. She heard something moving inside and called the others. Grimm charged Piercing Sight and looked in, and saw something lizard-shaped thrashing about. Avalon used Transformation ("running low, guys") and turned the marble to glass (it was thick enough that it wasn't brittle).

The thing inside looked like a human spinal column with part of a rib cage, a shrunken head, and fleshy, flipper-like arms. Enoch identified it as a Pandoran, and figured it had become active because of their Azoth - once they left, it would go dormant. Avalon opined that it would be kinder to put the thing out of its misery; it had to be in pain, hungry all the time. The others weren't interested in lifting the lid and fighting it, so Enoch Firebranded the pilgrim mark for "Pandoran" into the chest, and they left. As they did, they teamwork'd a Stealth roll (Many Hands Make Light Work), and left so stealthily they might as well have been invisible (seriously, it was like 11 successes).

They headed back to Enoch's apartment to look over their finds and try and crack the cipher. So we'll see where that takes them next time.

Movie #279: In Bruges

In Bruges is a crime dramedy, I guess, starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Posey, and Jordan Prentice. It was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar in 2008, which was why I saw it originally.

Ken (Gleeson) and Ray (Farrell) are two Irish hit men who, after assassinating a priest, are sent to Bruges by their hot-tempered boss (Fiennes) to lay low. Ray is anguished; when carrying out the hit, his first, he accidentally killed a little boy at prayer (for extra gut-punch, the boy had a list of "sins" in his hand when he died, one of which was "being too sad"). Ray attempts to cope with both the guilt he's feeling and with absolutely detesting Bruges - he has no interest in sight-seeing, and while Ken drags him around the city looking at Medieval architecture, he sulks and manages to be saltier than my stepson at a winery (which seems oddly specific, but let me tell you, it's saying something).

The first night there, they stumble across a film crew and meet Jimmy (Prentice) a dwarf (his preference on the term) actor, and Chloe (Posey), who, as she cheerfully tells Ray, sells cocaine and heroin to actors. Ray winds up snogging with her until her boyfriend/accomplice Erik (Jeremie Renier) comes to rob him, at which point Ray disarms him, blinds him in one eye, and after Chloe takes Erik to the hospital, takes her drugs, hooks up with Ken and Jimmy, and get very high.

The next day, Ken hears from Harry, who learns that he's to kill Ray in retribution for the little boy (Harry is a thug, but he has principles, and he's a devoted father himself). Ken goes to carry out that job, but sees Ray about to shoot himself, and intervenes. Feeling guilty for his own life of crime, Ken decides to try and save Ray, and puts him on train. Harry arrives in Bruges, and the climactic final night, in which everyone, basically, loses, plays out with bullets and beatings and blood on the street.

This movie is really well done. The shots of Bruges are amazing, and the script is tight and a lot funnier than the subject matter would indicate (my favorite line: "I was on a very powerful horse tranquilizer yesterday. Wasn't waving hello to anyone. Except maybe a horse."). The cast is small, which means we get to know them, which makes their fates a bit more heartbreaking. Even Harry, who's a dick, it's hard to watch him die because he dies tragically. You could compare In Bruges to Pulp Fiction, except that the dialog isn't so disaffected. Ray and Ken are both tortured by what they've done and what they have to do, but Ray, especially, tries everything to keep his mind off it. I think it's one of Farrell's best roles.

Oh, and: It's a game of A Tragedy in Five Acts. Maps fucking perfectly. Ray is the Son, Ken is the Parent, Chloe is the Lover, Jimmy is the Foil, Harry is the Authority.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Inception

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Show Must Go On: The Plot Thickens

Monday we played Vampire, and it's Thursday, and I'm just now getting around to the write-up. I'm a baaaaaaaaaaad GM.

So! Last time, the characters rescued a baby from the clutches of a vampire who'd clearly gone 'round the bend. Delphine discovered her girlfriend had been fed upon, and the hungry vampire in question was someone of her line - that'd be either her grandfather or her father. Delphine spent the day in the hospital with Rachel, while the others crashed at Binion's. They woke up that evening to discover Myra had left early.

Delphine, meanwhile, talked with Rachel's doctor. The official verdict was "looks like blood loss, but who the hell knows anymore". Delphine talked with Rachel, and failed (dramatically) a roll to keep her poker face when Rachel asked what was going on - Rachel knows that Delphine knows more than she's saying. Delphine took Rachel home, and then contacted Maeve Blackwell and asked for someone to watch the apartment. Maeve agreed, but told Delphine she owed her a favor.

Meanwhile, Mordecai decided to step out and feed. He tried to get somewhere with charm, but bombed that (seriously, there's someone in every Vampire game that just can't get it together for feeding). Finally he got frustrated, went outside, found someone in an alley and bit him. As he was walking about, he saw Myra get out of a limo. He felt another vampire's presence inside that limo, but didn't get a look at who it was. He approached Myra, and they went into Binion's to talk with Heath and figure out their next move. Delphine arrived about the same time.

They figured they needed to track down Mo, and Heath has the best way to get anything, including information: SCADS OF MONEY. He started downstairs at the casino, spreading money around, getting the word out that he was looking for Mo. It took a few hours, but word came back; a guy remembered seeing her at an abandoned building near the Downtown Grand. Heath had the guy keep looking, and sure enough, in a bit longer someone was down in a security room who could help. A guard took Heath downstairs, and he found a woman obviously in the deep throes of meth addiction; lost teeth, scratching at herself. She identified Mo, and said she'd been at a McDonald's near the highway (and also near the Downtown Grand), scaring truckers. Heath gave her money and sent her on her way, and rounded up the others.

They checked out the abandoned building. They saw flashlights inside. They went in (they can see in the dark just fine, yay Kindred Senses!) and found a couple of folks, one of whom had a camera. They were urban explorers, they said. The characters asked them some questions; neither of them had seen Mo lately, but the photographer knew her. They showed them some found-object art that Mo had done (complete with chair legs bent with strength no human could muster). Myra kicked on Majesty to get some more information, and learned that sometimes Mo turned tricks at the McDonald's up the road (a lot of truckers through there). Dazed, he snapped a picture of her. "Hope that turns out," she said.

They went up the street to the McD's, and Heath immediately got approached by a sex worker (who pushed past her instinctive distaste for him; he's a Nosferatu). He paid her off for information, and she said that she'd seen Mo last night, getting into the truck of a delivery truck. Said truck was still there, so the vampires went over. Heath used Touch of Shadow cloak it, and they checked - the driver was in it, dead, throat ripped open. They opened the bad, and found that the bread had been piled up into a kind of nest, but it was empty.

Heath figured now it was pretty much untenable to try and protect Mo, so he called Thomas Pilate and revealed what he knew. A moment later, the prince called him back. Martin revealed that he'd tried summoning Mo (fun fact: the "summon" power doesn't appear as standard issue in Vampire 2nd Edition, so we have to assume that Martin has a Devotion that allows it), but it hadn't worked. Now, that was hardly foolproof - there might just be someone physically holding her back - but Martin told Heath he needed to get this figured out. Delphine called Maeve and asked for thoughts on how to resist summoning; Delphine thought it might be possible magically, but just as possible physically. Delphine decided to knock off and head home to Rachel. Dex, the city's Hound, arrived to take the truck and the corpse away.

Myra and Heath headed for Binion's. Mordecai, meanwhile, decided to try and figure out if all this chaos from Mo was due to someone deliberately messing with Prince Martin. He decided he'd cozy up to Chloe Requi, a Mekhet and Harpy. He tried digging into who owned the limo that Myra had gotten out of earlier (to use as bargaining chips), but no luck. He found Chloe at the blackjack table at Bellaggio, and started chatting with her (using Social Maneuvering). He eventually managed to open all her Doors, and she said that if this was someone trying to weaken the prince (which was possible, but roundabout), the best suspect was...Heath Newman. After all, he'd vouched for Mo but had been unable to find her, didn't catch her when he had the chance, and he had been involved with no fewer than two different coteries over the last few years, all of whom had been involved in some weird goings on. And, one of his employees - Myra, right? - had been to see the prince that very night.

Mordecai noted all this, and won a bit of money at blackjack.

Meanwhile, Delphine had gone home. Her landlord said there was a package in the office for her, and tossed her a key. She was a vampire with a stake in his heart. She raced upstairs and checked on Rachel - she was fine, but she'd heard a thud earlier. She went down and removed the stake from the guy's heart. The vampire (a Circle of the Crone named Rod) had been watching Rachel's place on assignment from Maeve, and had only seen a blur before the stake went in.

Delphine went back upstairs, and curled up with Rachel.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Movie #278: Casablanca

Casablanca, in case you're completely oblivious to cinematic history, is a wartime noir drama starring Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Conrad Veidt. It's probably one of the greatest movies ever made.

So: It's WWII, and the Nazis are kicking all kinds of French ass. Casablanca, in Northern Morocco, is not considered occupied France, and so folks from Europe trying to get the hell out and go to Lisbon or the US come through the city. But getting out is the tricky bit; there's just one plane that leaves every day, and getting papers is hard. The thoroughly corrupt police captain Renault (Rains) sells them for money and sex, while Signor Ferrari (Greenstreet) manages the black market. But the real draw is Rick's Cafe Americain, run by the displaced New Yorker Rick Blaine (Bogart). As Renault says, "Everybody comes to Rick's."

As the movie opens, a Czech freedom fighter named Victor Lazlo (Henreid) and his wife Isla (Bergman) arrive in Casablanca, followed by a Nazi captain (Veidt). A slimy scavenger named Ugarte (Lorre), having probably murdered two German couriers for traveling papers, entrusts them to Rick, and then is promptly arrested. That's all well and good - Renault suspects that Rick has the papers, but knows he won't sell them or use them - but it turns out Isla is Rick's lover from pre-occupation Paris, who left him standing in the rain at a train station. Rick holds something of a grudge.

The Nazis make no secret of their desire to arrest or kill Lazlo, and finally shut Rick's on a trumped-up charge so they can force Rick's hand and get Lazlo. Rick, after an emotional night with Ilsa, agrees to double-cross Lazlo and flee Casablanca with Ilsa, but then double-crosses Renault, puts Ilsa and Lazlo on the plane, shoots the Nazi captain because fuck that guy, and walks off with Renault, them both intent on joining the French resistance and taking a side.

This movie is really amazing. The performances are all spot-on, and the chemistry between Bogart and Bergman - but even moreso Bogart and Rains - is incredible. The dialog is snappy and clever (although both stars apparently hated it; shows what actors know), and I can only imagine what it was like for many of the folks in the famous "Marseilles" scene, as a lot of them had in fact escaped Nazi Germany. The movie is quotable (and mis-quotable; everyone says "Play it again, Sam," but the line is "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'") as heck, and the movie jumps to minor characters, showing the city as a living, breathing place, full of people who just want to get out and go somewhere they can call home. The sets, even, were largely recycled, as Warner Brothers was under the same wartime rationing as everyone else.

The movie is great on its own steam, but it's well worth remembering that it came out in 1942, when the events depicted were pretty much current.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: In Bruges

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Promethean: We Played On Monday

I forgot to do this yesterday, and I know from experience that if I want too long, it fades from my brain like a...brain fadey thing.

So! We begin the story on April 25, 2008. The characters have decided to visit the Shedd Aquarium, and, as groups do, they drift apart. Avalon goes to pet stringrays, while Grimm catches a movie. Matt, Enoch, and Feather walk through the shark tunnel, and Matt puts his hand up to the glass to see if the sharks can feel electrical impulses. The others notice an older gent look at Matt's tattoos.

They greet him, and Feather notices he looks frail and sickly. They also notice he has a pilgrim mark tattooed on his hand, which they interpret as "leave me in peace." Feather asks if he knows what it means, and he says he does, and they part company.

Later, Grimm is wandering through Amazon rising, and sees the man take a hit off his inhaler...and then collapse. He runs over to try and help, and sees that the inhaler has blood on it. Paramedics rush in, and Grimm is nudged out, as the other characters walk up to the crowd. And then Azoth calls to Azoth...four other Prometheans are nearby.

Matt recognizes one of them; Andrew Write, one of the Prometheans created by Lurch. They were separated after a fire. Matt greets Andrew warmly, and Andrew introduces his throng: an Ulgan named Persephone (who speaks infrequently and is preoccupied with the spiritscape around her); an Unfleshed named Legion (composed of nanites in some kind of suspension gel); and a Frankenstein named Rusty Nail. Grimm charges his Vitreous Humour Alembic so he can see infrared as well as spirits, but only notes that Persephone has minor spirits crawling in and out of the rents in her flesh, called her "Mama." He also takes the Synesthesia Condition rather than flare disfigurements.

The other characters keep watching - the man dies, and is closed up in a bag. Grimm realizes he pocketed the inhaler (he just got these arms, he's not used to them), but keeps that to himself. The nine Prometheans decide to go grab a bite and talk.

Avalon, fascinated to meet another Unfleshed, talks with Legion about his components. Legion, for his part, seems to identify more with Feather. Andrew tells the group his philosophy - after he died and went to the River, he decided to stop living as though his fire might go out at any time. Instead, he tries to live his life to the fullest, to keep himself burning brightly, and perhaps he can meet the New Dawn.

Speaking of that: Enoch mentions that the old man who died might have been a redeemed Promethean. He was old; he might have died of old age. Andrew seems disappointed by that, but then Persephone notes a murder-spirit hanging around in the cafeteria (Grimm confirms). She says that spirits eat spirits of the same type, growing more powerful, but this one is weak - probably just attracted by the murder. The idea that the old man was murdered seems to excite Andrew, which is of course disturbing. Legion, too, upsets the characters a bit when he mentions deliberately creating a Firestorm, but Enoch calms somewhat when Legion mentions it was a painful lesson.

The murder spirit goes on the move, heading toward the kitchen. Worried it might try to kill someone, Feather charges her Control Alembic (to use Many Hands Make Light Work), and Avalon and Grimm sneak into the kitchen. They see the spirit slip into an office, and they listen, but Grimm blows a Stealth roll. They're ejected before they hear much, but they do learn that that man in the office is talking to a big-time donor to the aquarium, and that the name of the deceased was "Mr. Rivers."

Grimm still doesn't trust these people, so when they split up again to go back into the aquarium, he gets Enoch alone and shows him the inhaler. Grimm sniffs it (and takes damage for his trouble) - there's a powerful poison in there. Enoch isn't able to tell him much, but recommends he talk to Avalon.

The Prometheans part ways after a while, but Andrew gives Matt a number and says to keep in touch. Grimm mentions that he travels and meets other Prometheans, so if they have messages they wish to have delivered, he'll do it. Persephone asks if he knows Marty Black, but she doesn't have a message for him - they parted on bad terms.

Grimm then shows his throng the inhaler. Avalon analyzes it, and discovers that the man's full name was Charles Rivers, that the inhaler contained mercury cyanide (enough to kill a person in three or four hits), and that it was tampered with. Charles Rivers was murdered...but who is Charles Rivers?

Sunday, November 2, 2014