Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Promethean Game: Raise a Glass

'Cause there was a bachelor party.

We open with the characters chilling out and talking about the events of last time. They shared what they'd learned about Leslie and the cave-in and so forth, and decided more information was necessary. They figured that someone should talk to Mike, since he apparently knew what had happened, and maybe someone should talk to Madison. Matt also wanted to get back on the mountain and find the wolves before anything bad happened.

Enoch thought about the issue a bit (using Occult from his Residual Memory) and noted that a werewolf about to Change exhibits some of the same symptoms. It was usually accompanied by increased spirit activity, and so were the wolves in the forest spirits? Skip would have known, but he wasn't around anymore. The characters examined this theory and figured there actually wasn't much evidence for it, but maybe it bore some searching. Avalon used Tainted Azoth to try and make herself more like Leslie, figuring if he was something other than human they could figure that out. But her Azoth looked mostly the same...except that something was ever so slightly off. Her rhythms had changed, but not in a way that the characters could identify or even really pinpoint (only Grimm and Feather noticed the difference at all). Feather, Enoch and Matt consulted Elpis.

Feather, thinking about whether or not Leslie was a werewolf, saw him standing on a precipice or a balcony or something. He threw back his head to howl, but just made the "modem connecting" noise. Wolves down below saw him and howled properly, and then crawled up over each other to get at him. He reached out for an unseen figure, but not for help - he was trying to throw the figure over the ledge. The wolves were trying to stop him.

Matt wandered in the woods, thinking about the wolves and where they were. He saw the wolves in the trees, but they were shadows, puppeted by something bigger. He knew if he reached the top of the mountain, he could find it, but he would be drained from the effort.

Enoch saw Leslie as a puppet, hollow and controlled by wires (like a Muppet). He reached out with a tool and clipped the wires, and Leslie collapsed, able to move under his own power again. Enoch looked at the tool and realized that Avalon would know what it was.

Meanwhile, Avalon watched some Youtube videos on bartending and hairstyling. Grimm went downstairs to talk to Mike, and heard he and Babhi talking. Babhi mentioned that he and Stephanie (Serena's sister) had a fling while Serena and Babhi were on a "break," and Mike advised Babhi not to tell Serena - it would just hurt her, and there was no reason to do that for something that wasn't going to happen again or have any other bearing on their lives. Grimm entered and waited until Babhi left, and then asked Mike casually about Leslie. A couple of good Social rolls later, Mike revealed that he and Leslie had been skiing in Wyoming and been caught in a cave-in. They'd been stuck in a cave, and Mike had panicked, but Leslie had held it together pretty well. He'd walked back into the cave, looking for a way out. But since then, he'd become withdrawn, strange, and restless.

Grimm brought this news back to the others. Enoch drew a sketch of the tool to Avalon, and she confirmed it was a tool for building clocks - for doing fine manipulation of inner workings of delicate machinery. She did not have anything comparable with her, though she could make one using Transformation if necessary.

Avalon talked to Olly again, and he told her what to expect at the bachelor party (that is, porn on the big screen, Mike and Babhi shooting pool, and Damien trying to get her into bed). Avalon asked Olly why he wouldn't be trying to get her into bed, and he got all flustered (and slipped deeper into Disquiet).

Matt talked to the women about to go their bachelorette party, trying to ingratiate himself and get information from Madison, but the Social dice weren't as kind and he came off as creepy (and Disquieting).

The hour of the bachelor party drew near. Avalon went downstairs to tend bar. The others got together in their room to continue discussions. Feather and Grimm went upstairs, got into Madison and Leslie's room and took a bit of his hair from his comb. They gave it to Fluffy to analyze, who stressed (repeatedly) that he couldn't do an in-depth analysis, but some of the matter looked inorganic. Feather, interested, gave him some of her hair, and he said that was organic - the "alive yet not living" organic of a Promethean, but organic. Realizing that Avalon could perform this kind of analysis, Grimm went downstairs to cover for her for a minute.

Downstairs, Olly talked to Grimm while he tended bar, and asked if he was "man made" too. Grimm covered nicely, reminding Olly that Avalon was a burner, but Olly said that he was well familiar with the effects of weed and it doesn't make you hallucinate what he had seen. Grimm steered the conversation away, and Damien (drunk) kind of jumped in and derailed things.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Avalon used Identification on the hair, and realized that there were traces of aluminum in the root. It was as though the hair was partially metal and partially flesh, and the characters had not seen anything like it. Enoch and Avalon talked briefly about Isolde, her creator, and Enoch realized he knew her by contact, but she'd always been more interested in clockworks. He asked Fluffy about attempts to create inorganic Prometheans, and Fluffy mentioned Ganon BioMimetics in Cincinnati, but there was some unpleasantness and that creation vanished some time back. (What? Doesn't everyone do callbacks to games they ran seven years ago?)

The characters figured that something was pulled Leslie's strings, but they didn't know what or why. Avalon went back to the party. Olly sat at her bar and talked with her, and then Damien came over, drunk, and started flirting (badly) with Avalon and pushing Olly (verbally). She told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to go away, and earned a milestone (confront a human being over an inappropriate action). She gained the In Vino Veritas Transmutation, and decided to wait out the party and use it on Leslie.

Serena came downstairs and got Babhi, reminding him that she needed him to be fresh-faced for the wedding tomorrow. The other folks headed upstairs, and Leslie was one of the last (Olly was hanging out and waiting for Avalon). He expressed an interest in her coming upstairs with him, but she told him she needed to tend to Leslie, and he seemed to understand. She helped Leslie up, and used the Transmutation on him. He told her that he'd seen something in the cave, and something was telling him to do things. Sometimes he went away, and he did things he didn't mean to. Things echoed around in his head, like in a cave, and he couldn't get them out. And then he slumped, and his voice changed, becoming deeper and more even. The voice told Avalon that the program would be completed.

And upstairs, in the characters' room, Avalon's clock started ticking louder.

Next time, the characters are going out into the snow, looking for the wolves.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mall Adventures!

Back in March 2012, I wanted something to do with my kids that didn't cost much and wasn't outdoors (because it was rainy and then became cold and rainy). I started thinking that we'd go to the zoo, but again, cold and rainy. And besides which, my daughter didn't get out of school at 3:30 and the zoo was only open until five.

I like playing with my kids, so I figured we'd have a little game. I knew Teagan wanted to go to Wendy's for dinner, so I had Michelle call my cell and leave a message using her awesome German accent as the evil Dr. Twistybread, claiming to have kidnapped Wendy in order to obtain the secret of delicious Frostys. Teagan was appropriately horrified. Cael decided he could use his super punching power on the evil Dr. Twistybread.

We talked about where to start looking for clues, and I told Teagan to think about "twisty bread." That suggested pretzels, so we headed to the mall, since that's where you can get big pretzels (Auntie Anne's, y'see). I slipped my GameStop card into the pretzel bag when Teagan wasn't looking, and from there just kind of winged clues, sometimes with the help of mall store staff, until we wound up at the arcade. We needed at least 20 tickets to free Wendy from Dr. Twistybread's clutches, but we managed it, and then headed to Wendy's for a celebratory dinner.

Since then, I've made up a number of these "Mall Adventures" for the kids. They've gotten more elaborate every time, but it's always just been a matter of making up a narrative - some mission that they have to complete. The puzzles have gotten harder as they've gotten older and better able to think abstractly. I want to share the most recent one that we did.

I picked the kids up from school and handed them a note made with an online ransom note generator. It was from a character called "Patchwork." He promised a prize if Teagan and Cael could solve his puzzle (which involved finding a series of objects or other things at the mall, five each). If they failed, he promised something unspeakable, but was non-specific as to what (but assured them it was scary!).

Needless to say, the kids got to work. We got their capes (from Amazing Capes!) and headed over to our local mall.

Teagan needed to find "a place to buy a hot drink," which was easy enough.

One down. 
Cael, likewise, needed to find "a woman drinking coffee." As it happens, Teagan's success spurred his.
Don't worry, he always smiles like that. 

From there, Teagan needed to find "where she would go if she were lost." This was one I was interested to see how she'd approach - the mall has a security office, of course, but one of the other things on her list was "a security guard or police officer." She initially said that if she were lost, she'd find the security guard or police officer, but I reminded her that "where" indicates a place. She used the directory and found the security office, and somewhere in there found a cop as well (but I don't have a picture handy).

Cael needed to find a "candle that smells sweet," but wasn't sure where to look. He went into Teavana, which is (as the name suggests) a store that sells tea, but they don't sell candles. He asked the ladies who worked there, though, where he might find such a thing (explaining that he was on a mission), and they were very helpful.

Social interaction, you see.
From there, we headed to Yankee Candle, and Cael found what he needed.

See? Smiling.
The next thing was "a dark store for dark teens," which I thought would be harder than it turned out to be:
They showed no interest in going in. 
And that just left a couple for Teagan: "A movie about a horse" and "a place to buy a furry friend."

The movie theater had no horse movies at present, so we wandered a bit, looking for a store that sold DVDs. We found one, and Teagan looked around for a moment and found War Horse.

Not my favorite Oscar nom that year, but it's about a horse, all right.
She puzzled over the "furry friend" a bit, and Cael went in search of his last challenge: "The name of an employee at Earthbound Trading Company." This challenge is twofold; he had to find the place, and then talk to someone and ask their name. He used the directory to find it (with some help), and then approached a very nice lady there and explained his mission.


His mission completed, Teagan realized that one could buy a furry friend at Build-a-Bear.

Of course!
We weren't buying together, but the kids knew that going in. And with that, their mission was completed and they learned their prize - tobogganing the next day!

This is how Mall Adventures works, more or less - craft the narrative, design the puzzles, and then sit back and let the sleuths solve the problems, helping as necessary. We're going to be running a Kickstarter to publish Mall Adventures so that parents, babysitters, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and big brothers and sisters can make up awesome missions for the kids in their lives.

More details to follow!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pirates: The Great Navigator, Found

Last time, we were in a room with a magic helmet covered by a bunch of snakes. The helmet was payday. Time to get the helmet. 

We took the stick that Blaine had liberated from the spike pit and tied a rope to each end, and used that as a drag to move the helmet. Then we had the helmet clear of most of the snakes. Blaine held a torch to the helmet, making it too hot for the serpents nesting in it (a couple struck, but didn't bite). And then Jameson took a little medal thing off the helmet, claiming that was what he wanted - the golden helmet, itself, was ours. 

But we were still without egress. We looked around a bit, checking the bottom of the snake pit, but no dice. And suddenly we realized Jameson was gone. 

Francois and Morgan heard a whoosh where he'd been, and we found a secret door with a trigger. We opened it, and saw a light at the end of a hall. Blaine, always impetuous, rushed it, and burst out into the light on a beach. There was Jameson, running toward a longboat, with a ship moored offshore. The ship had cannons, and the longboat had pirate thugs. Fortunately, we are pirate thugs. 

Blaine chased down Jameson, caught him next to the lifeboat, grabbed by his head, and bounced his head off the boat's edge (I seriously rolled like 5 raises on damage). Jameson was not dead, but was down. The rest of the pirates came out. Morgan shot one of the thugs down, and Georgina made good use of her "get near me and I get an automatic attempt to stab your ass). Francois used a stun charm to freeze several of them, and Maddie jumped in with her cutlass. Blaine, meanwhile, yanked one with a musket off the boat and dropped him with a punch, and then stomped on Jameson's neck and pushed his face into the sand.

The last thug surrendered. Wise pirate, that. 

Blaine had Georgina check Jameson - he wanted the bastard to walk the plank. But Jameson was not only still breathing, his wounds were visibly healing. We hog-tied him, and Blaine tried questioning him, but wasn't able to get anything useful out of him on the subject of "why you chose to betray us when everyone was gonna make out fine on this deal." Since Jameson did truly seem to be a rat bastard, Blaine had Morgan shoot him, and we buried him and the dead thugs on the beach with Francois saying a little prayer over their bodies. The survivors we assimilated, taking Jameson's ship back with us to Tortuga.

Blaine, on the ship and now wearing the medal of the Great Navigator, noted that he was seeing the tells of navigation and direction that were usually Francois' job. Francois asked for the medal, seeing as how he was the navigator. Blaine gave it up (after burning a bennie to succeed on a Spirit roll; I don't want that nasty thing!), and Francois became an even more formidable navigator. 

And now we flash forward to our Warehouse 13 segment. Or rather, we do that next time. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Movie #240: Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 is, of course, the sequel to Despicable Me. It stars Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, and Dana Gaier.

Gru (Carell) has retired from supervillainy), and is just trying to be a more or less normal single dad to his three adopted daughters. This all gets interrupted, however, when he's kidnapped by Lucy (Wiig), the hyper-enthusiastic agent of the Anti-Villain League, for recruitment to stop distribution of a crazy chemical that turns any creature injected with it into a purple, indestructible killing machine. Gru, however, can't be arsed, and goes back to trying to make a line of jellies. His scientist, Dr. Nefario (Brand) quits, however, wanting to go back to being evil.

Gru relents, for reasons that aren't entirely clear (mostly out of boredom, I think) and goes with Lucy to a mall, where the chemical has supposedly been spotted. There, he recognizes the owner of a Mexican restaurant as El Macho (Bratt), a former supervillain who supposedly died some years back. There's some sidetracking with a dude who makes toupees and El Macho's son hitting on Gru's daughter, but it turns out the real plot is to steal Gru's little yellow minions and turn them into an unstoppable army.

So, this movie is nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar. It's cute, and it's funny, but I have some issues. First, the subplot with Antonio (Moises Arias), El Machio's son, is never resolved. Gru freezes him when he breaks Margot's (Cosgrove) heart, but then El Macho gets captured at the end - where does that leave Antonio? And why did El Macho fake his death in the first place? It might have been for his son, but where was that subplot (and holy shit, what an awesome bit of synchronicity for El Macho and Gru to bond - or disagree - over)?

Also, Lucy, while she's funny and manic and cute and all, still winds up getting damsel'd and rescue. She doesn't really manage to do much in her own defense. So is this movie about Gru?

Kind of...but he doesn't have a character arc like he did in the first movie. He has a plot arc (he falls in love with Lucy), but mostly the movie is just a lot of minion jokes interspersed with shit to move the plot forward.

Don't get me wrong - it's entertaining. But it's up against The Croods and Frozen (and two other movies I haven't seen), which both did interesting things with their stories, and it doesn't stack up well against other recent animated movies. Kinda disappointing, since the characters are pretty interesting. And I still like that Gru knows all his minions by name.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Technically Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, but that's if I don't buy The Croods first

Monsterhearts: New Student!

Yay, Monsterhearts!

So, last time the characters were in trouble - chased by a monstrous, four-armed demon-thing that they thought was their janitor. They were split up, in the school. Genesis ran to the pool and jumped in, and rested a minute. She had no harm to lose, but she did remove her trusting condition. She tried to call on ocean's breath to help her, but failed.

Skylar made it to the art room, and grabbed a rolling pin (for clay) to use as a weapon, and then went back up in the halls and went looking for Mike (Skylar, as he's already dead, isn't worried about dying, even though we know Mike can hurt him somehow).

Rook ran to the home ec room and grabbed some chopping knives, and also went looking for the monster.

Dora was in her sanctum, and gazed into the abyss, looking for information on what they were dealing with. She saw a dark, formless room, with people outside pushing their way, grabbing her, and strapping her to a post. Her priest leaned in to light the fire, and said, "of course, you know we'll eat you after."

Cassi ran to the front office and tried to get in the use the phone, but the door was locked. She ran into the girl's bathroom and hid (she rolled to hold steady, but succeeded in keeping her cool). She heard footsteps, and saw the principal arrive outside. He walked in, and Mike walked up. Mike told him that there were students here, and they started walking away.

Rook rounded the corner and saw them, and ran away, choosing to make a big scene. They ran after him, and Skylar swung on them from around a corner (lashing out physically), but failed. Mike caught the weapon, and Skylar backed up and walked through part of the wall...to the astonishment of Principal Miles. Rook hid around the corner and Genesis emerged from the pool, walking out toward him.

Skylar, taking advantage of the situation, said, "If I know, then we all know" and dissipated into the wall. She heard the principal and Mike start to argue.

Up front, Coach Davis and two football players arrived. The coach stationed one at the door and took the other with him to look for Mike.

Rook called out to Mike, telling him that he'd called the sheriff. Principal Miles was getting more freaked, and then just...stopped. Up front, Cassi saw Mike walk in front of her hiding place, and saw Mike's hand was covered in blood. As she watched, he licked his hand (she rolled to hold steady again, but stayed hidden).

Skylar came out of the wall and saw Principal Miles, dead, a fist-sized hole in his abdomen. He started walking down the hall, rattling his club on the wall. Cassi texted Rook to let him know where Mike was, and then Mike pulled the fire alarm.

Everyone got out - the characters wound up back by the pool and used that exit to get out. Cassi called her clique (she was worried they might be on their way) and told them to stay away, go home, and wait. Cassi's mom called her shortly thereafter, just to check in and ask her to get some groceries - which never happens, they have a maid for that. Worried that Cassi's mother might be in on this, they headed to the shack that Genesis was staying in with the crazy old lady (Agnes).

Rook asked for a mirror, and went to Agnes' room to gaze into the abyss. The first time he did it, he saw a pigpen, but the pigs were sort of bipedal. Then the "farmer" threw the body of a pig into the pen, and the pigs ate it. Then the farmer grabbed one of the living pigs and dragged it off for the slaughter. This was, of course, disturbing, but Rook now could contact the Faery King, and gazed into the abyss again. The Faery King appeared in the mirror, and Rook asked who was in the cult. The King replied that it wasn't so important - destroy the leader and the cult would fall apart. Rook asked who they couldn't trust, and the King told him that he would show them someone they could trust - a girl at their school, who was wearing his emblem (a white rose). But the King demanded a favor - at the upcoming Homecoming dance, Rook had to dedicate one dance to the King. (Skylar, during all of this, watched Rook, using creep). Rook also verified that Cassi's mother was not part of this.

Downstairs, Rook, Skylar and Cassi all rubbed on each other a bit, letting Rook heal some harm. Realizing that Dora was injured, still, they took her to an urgent care out of town, where she saw a doctor who patched her up. The doctor did ask her some uncomfortable questions, but she shut him down before it could go too far.

From there, they decided to go get some food at a Mexican restaurant Dora knew. Figuring that they were in danger, they decided that Skylar and Rook would go home with Cassi and crash in the pool house, and Genesis would stay with Dora. Cassi did the shopping her mother asked her to, and wound up back at home, helping mom cook dinner (turns out the maid was sick). Cassi's mother reminded her that her father was coming home, and she'd promised to talk to him about going to this dinner party at the Diaz Winery Tuesday night.

(And here we broke for dinner, and to have Michelle make up her character, whom you'll meet in the next paragraph.)

Monday morning at school! Cassi stopped into the office and asked to the see the principal, but the secretary said that he was backed up with meetings all day and that he could see her first thing tomorrow. And then the characters were all there in Ms. Pinell's home room. Sitting in Kevin Gable's seat (Kevin, remember, wound up dead and eaten by a shark) was a redhaired girl wearing a sweater with a white rose ribbon pattern. Ms. Pinell made a joke about Kevin having turned into a redhaired girl (she doesn't know Kevin is dead, of course, really just the PCs know that) and Genesis, flashing back to the shark incident, has to hold steady. She did, and lost her submissive condition.

Rook turned around and talked to the girl - the characters know her, her name is Briar Stevens. Cassi, meanwhile, turned to Austin, and talked to him a bit about yesterday - he was up late, and slept through the badness at school (so didn't feel Cassi's fear like he normally does). But when Briar came into the room, he felt (and Cassi felt from him) a sense of two worlds colliding. She gazed into the abyss to read his thoughts, but cannot.

Rook told Briar that there was bad shit happening and they needed to talk with her, but not here. Briar asked if Rook was hitting on her, and Cassi clarified that he wasn't, but Briar still turned him on, making Rook get all flustered (and taking a String on him). She agreed to meet with the characters after school, and then the bell rang.

Cassi caught up with Austin at lunch, and Austin revealed that Briar did know something about the supernatural, but told Cassi it was too long of a story to explain. They got separated, and everyone met up at Pi after school.

They laid everything on the table for Briar, including the craziness about the cannibals and the horror of Mike the janitor. Briar took it more or less in stride, and revealed that she and Austin had been looking into something - there had been a body found on the Diaz winery grounds, probably adult, with lots of the muscles cut away. In fact they had gone out the night before to look around, but there was no sign of anything and all the reports had vanished. Cassi was fairly shocked to realize that Austin had known this girl for some time and never told her what was going on. Briar suggested they check the basement again; the others were hesitant, and wanted to have a look at the winery. Austin suggested they split up, but that wasn't well-received at first.

(Somewhere in here, Genesis asked Skylar how long it had taken to realize she was dead. Skylar activated unresolved trauma, but failed, and Genesis wound up taking a String on Skylar.)

Dora showed Briar the page she'd taken from Mike's notebook, and Briar looked over it, slowly, her lips moving as though reading in it. She used to the books, and used it to put the secret weakness condition on Mike - she read that his "hunger grows quickly." She also gazed into the abyss, but didn't get anything except the feeling that splitting up was a good idea.

In the end, they agreed that Dora, Genesis and Austin would go to the vineyard, sending a message ahead to Omar to meet them. Briar, Cassi, Rook, and Skylar would go to the school. Briar had gymnastics practice, but she planned to fake a leg cramp so they could see the basement again - Mike hadn't been seen all day, so they were thinking he wasn't there. The football players were practicing (Austin revealed he'd been cut from the team), so at least they'd know where the guys were.

Before that, though, they went to Briar's house, and she opened a mini dojo in her shed to revealed a huge stash of weapons. She told folks to take what they were comfortable with. Rook, having studied fencing, grabbed an epee. Genesis, not knowing anything about weapons, was initially hesitant, but Briar gave her a can of hairspray and a lighter. Dora sensed that some of the things in this room were magical, and found an obsidian ceremonial knife. Austin grabbed a baseball bat with practiced ease, and Cassi realized that he'd done this before.

Feeling the tension, he walked out to start the car. Cassi followed and wanted to know why he'd never said anything about this. He mumbled that he didn't know, but Cassi gazed into the abyss and read his mind - he'd never said anything because Cassi was his safe place, and if he told her, she wouldn't be safe. Touched, she hugged him, and the group split up to go investigate.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Movie #239: Gattaca

Gattaca is a late-90s sci-fi movie starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Loren Dean, Alan Arkin, and a bunch of other people in small roles.

It's the near future, and anybody can genetically engineer their kids. You just take the reproductive matter and edit out the shit you don't want. In addition, genetically sequencing a person is as simple as having a hair or a drop of blood or spit, and it's done at birth - all the percentages for ADHD, heart defects, and so on are immediately calculated. People who aren't genetically engineered are relegated to a second-class citizens; they just don't have the chops to compete with people who are designed to be without genetic flaws.

Vincent Freeman (Hawke, and oh what a giveaway!) is what's called a god-baby. That is, left up to god. As such, he's got a heart defect that's supposed to have killed him by age 30, but he's been striving all his life to make up for being born, well, normal (he wears glasses, which is a dead giveaway that he's not engineered). As such, he drops off the grid and arranges with a crippled, suicidal former Olympic swimmer Jerome Morrow (Law) to take his genetic identity to get a job at Gattaca, which apparently does space exploration.

Freeman, posing as Morrow, does his job brilliantly. He has to scrub any excess skin flakes off every day, he wears a bag of urine and (one supposes) a fake dick to get around drug screenings, and he wears a sachet on his fingertip to fool the blood scanner at the door to Gattaca. But then one of his directors is murdered, and one of Vincent's real eyelashes is found at the scene. The cops looking into it (Arkin, obviously not engineered, and Dean, who turns out to be Vincent's younger, engineered brother) suspect the owner of the eyelash because he's an "in-valid", but it turns out that, nope, engineered folks can commit murder just fine.

In the midst of all this, Vincent starts up a romance with co-worker Irine (Thurman), also a god-baby, and has a friend in a lab tech (Xander Berkely), who it turns out figured it out a long time ago and says nothing because fuck these dystopian pricks anyway.

I like this movie, but it's so severe. No one smiles, the world is cold and sterile, and the folks who are genetically engineered seem to have had all joy and humor bred out of them (I can't imagine that's an accident). It reminds me of Equilibrium in a lot of ways, except that the focus is very much on Vincent just getting by long enough to get on a spaceship and go to Titan, rather than bringing it all crashing down.

Indeed, no one in the movie, except Vincent, ever really seems to take the attitude that, "Hey, this sucks." It's just kind of the way things are - yeah, you can kiss a guy, pay some money, and get his whole genetic map. Yeah, if your parents decided (or couldn't afford not) to leave you up to chance, you're probably screwed, because if your profile says you might have a defect, you do (this is completely in keeping with our stupid brains and how we process probability - if something can happen it will, so let's all play the lottery!). I actually like that, because it makes the stakes personal rather than world-shattering, and I find sci-fi easier to swallow when the tech is presented as just a part of life.

Oh, and you can tell it's a late-90s movie, because everyone's still smoking. They've apparently cracked the human genome, but not figured out that smoking in a restaurant makes you an asshole. Dates the movie a bit.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Promethean: Skiing and Wedding Prep

Last time, which was a good long while ago, the characters fought some wolves and got chewed up pretty badly. They went to sleep in the lodge, Feather in her room, Enoch and Matt in the boys' room, and Grimm and Avalon in the main room by the fire.

Grimm and Avalon woke up hearing Ferdinand chewing someone out about having sex with a guest. The unseen employee (turned out to be Peter) was admonished that if this happened again, he'd be out on his ass. Ferdinand then woke up the characters and told them to get to the kitchen, and then headed to the staff rooms to wake the others.

Matt went out to shovel the walks, and Feather slipped out to visit the garage and use the snowmobile battery. She siphoned a bit of electricity, and Matt fired up a generator, hoping to use it, but Feather saw Miguel coming. He tried to get by her (he'd heard the generator), but she used Fixed Stare to freeze him in place. Matt healed his last remaining bit of wolf-wound, and then drained a bit of Pyros, before Miguel went in and asked him why he was there; Matt covered well, however.

The kitchen had an oatmeal bar set up for the employees, and Miguel ribbed Peter about the lack of bacon. Peter revealed that he hadn't slept especially well, and there was some chortling over that. Miguel told the characters that he needed three people for help on the ski slopes today, and Feather, Matt, and Grimm volunteered. Miguel also old them that tonight there would separate bachelor and bachelorette parties, and asked if anyone could tend bar. Avalon said she could (she doesn't have any particular expertise, but she does have an eidetic memory and a book of drink recipes). Miguel told Avalon and Enoch they'd be helping set up for the parties and doing whatever other work was required. At present, they stayed in the kitchen and helped Peter get ready for breakfast for the guests.

Peter ranted a bit about how Ferdinand's attitude toward him banging guests was, perhaps, racially motivated. He mentioned a former employee who had been a much more prolific dirtier of sheets than he, and to illustrate the differences grabbed for Enoch's hand to do a side-by-side. Enoch, fortunately, was quicker than Peter, and jerked his hand away before the cook could accidentally poison himself.

After this, knowing that skiing was in the offing, Feather went to find Leslie and make sure he was OK. She found him outside his room, staring out a window. She talked to him a bit, but then Madison (his wife) came out of the room and made it clear that he hadn't been back to the room. Feather stood there and listened rather awkwardly, but it was clear from their conversation that something was amiss. She was not, however, able to convince Leslie to talk about it.

Avalon came up shortly thereafter, carrying a muffin, going to talk to Olly (whom, you'll recall, had seen her disfigurements the night before). She knocked on his door, and Feather used Soothe Disquiet before going downstairs. He invited her into his room, and he revealed what he had seen - Avalon, as some kind of waxy-looking robot. She revealed that she was, in fact, made of gears, that she had been created rather than born. Olly, predictably, didn't buy it, and she took a piece of paper and a pencil and used her Device to produce a picture of him. That's not obvious, though, but the discussion didn't continue because Damien knocked on his door and took him down to breakfast (with some good-natured ribbing about Avalon being there).

As the guests ate breakfast, Miguel took Feather, Matt, and Grimm outside and told them that one of them would be up on the top of the mountain, one at a shack halfway down, and one at the bottom. They'd be spotting, making sure that no one fell and got hurt. Grimm started in the middle, Matt at the top, and Feather at the bottom. Feather mentioned to Miguel that Leslie hadn't slept and it might be good to watch him; Miguel said that everyone had to fill out a form indicating how much experience they had skiing. Leslie's had something crossed out, and he thought he'd made out the word "accident."

Back in the lodge, the characters noted Madison was absent. Stephanie gave Babhi a kiss and told him she'd "be right there, brother-in-law". The guests bundled up and headed out - Babhi, Serena, Leslie, Damien, Mike, Freddie, Brooke, and eventually Stephanie.

People started riding the lifts up, and then skiiing down. While they were doing so, Enoch went out to the shed and used the battery to heal up a bit (he was still pretty badly injured), and then found Ferdinand trying to fix the hot tub that he'd fried last session. Enoch managed to sound like he knew what he was doing, and then took over for Ferdinand. He managed to fix it, and made a milestone (Fix an electronic device).

Lunch rolled around, but Leslie kept going up the lift and Mike kept going with him. They finally skiied down, and Miguel called a break for lunch.

Inside, Leslie went upstairs, came back down, made two lunches, and went back up, presumably to eat with Madison. The other folks hung around and ate, and Miguel talked with Ella and Ferdinand - Avalon overheard. The hairstylist who was going to come up to do the girls' hair was probably not going to make it due to the weather. Miguel said maybe he could go down on a snowmobile and get her, but Avalon volunteered - she figured if she could watch it done on Youtube, she could figure it out. Ella agreed to let her try it out on Denise (one of the waitstaff/maids).

Matt caught Miguel and asked for a quick skiing lesson. Miguel agreed, took him up the mountain, and showed him the basics.

After lunch, skiing recommenced. The characters rotated positions, and once again, everyone got cold and went in before Leslie and Mike. Now with Grimm at the top, they argued again, and Miguel said that maybe they'd close up for the day, give people a chance to rest. At the top, Grimm saw them arguing and activated Sensitive Ears to eavesdrop. He heard Mike tell Leslie that he needed to get help, that his wife was spending too much time with Damien and that wasn't good. Mike went down first, and Leslie followed a moment later.

Grimm noticed that Leslie was drifting west, to an area of the mountain that was dangerous. Miguel jumped on a board to go get him back, but then Grimm realized there were wolves in the trees. Grimm strapped on a snowboard and followed, while Matt grabbed the towline and started going up (Feather was in the middle). Grimm failed in his attempt to stay standing, though, and took the dramatic failure and went ass-over-tea-kettle into the trees. He found a wolf standing over him, and it said "the hunt continues." Grimm grew claws and smacked the wolf. The wolf did not make an issue of it, but left him alone.

Back at the lodge, Leslie walked in and Feather used Aura Sight on him. She saw that he was...distant, preoccupied, but there was something else in his aura, some mechanical and regular, like a ticking clock. And then she saw Mike walking up, balling up a fist, and got in between them, saying that maybe they should go have coffee and get warm. She made a milestone (prevent a fight), and bought a dot of Humanity. The other characters saw her disfigurements mute somewhat, and were duly humbled by that. Feather noticed Brooke staring at her, sort of confused.

Avalon finished with Denise's hair, and it looked lovely. Ella told Serena that Avalon could do the bridal party's hair and makeup tomorrow, and she reluctantly agreed. The wedding party settled in to relax before the party...which is what we're doing next session.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Promethean Notes


Night's Black Agents: BOOM!

Finally had a decent explosion!

So, last time, the agents took a shot on Renate Bauer, but failed to kill her, so fled to Munich for a few days. While there, they did a bit of analysis using police databases and so on, and found that the near-nightly disappearances they'd found in Osijek tapered off about a week after they left. It seemed that either Dr. Macan had found a way to feed his bodyguards without having them hunt, or he'd gotten rid of them (and they'd overheard a conversation with him, recall, saying that he couldn't sustain three "of them" for long).

David dug into the computer they'd stolen waaaay back in the first op and, now that they had some data from the lab in Osijek and the lab in Paris, started putting some notes together. The notes had schematics and formulae for both the blood additives and the weird x-ray collar that dated back to the 1950s, many of which were in Russian (which David reads, fortunately). The older collar was useless as a diagnostic tool (it would microwave and kill anyone wearing it) and as a torture/murder tool (highly inefficient). But the work had apparently been going for decades. He also found a reference to "the Cocktail," which apparently was some intersection of the two projects.

Hanover also called up Klaus Hinckel, successfully this time, and learned that Renate Bauer had come to see their section head and he'd come out of the meeting white as a sheet. Renate was apparently on some important undercover assignment, but Klaus suspected she was still in the city. When she'd come in for that meeting, two men had been with her (security footage confirmed they were the missing Italian tourists; as the agents suspected, these men had apparently become Renate's bodyguards), and Klaus had later seen one of these men go to Renate's favorite baker and get a bag of pastry.

It was a long shot, but it was all the characters had. They went back to Bonn and set up more surveillance. On the first day, David went into the baker's, had breakfast, and waited around - nothing. On the second day, David went into the shop, and Lockwood entered a couple hours later, disguised, pretending to be his wife. They talked to the owner (Lockwood has Interpersonal Skills, see, while David really doesn't) and learned that the man who came in to be pastries a couple of days ago did so on behalf of a regular customer, one that hasn't been in. But that man was silent, rude, and his breath smelled terrible - and he was there before dawn.

Meanwhile, Rousseau took a bike and went around to some of the other places Renate had visited when the characters had tailed her. She found a police investigation underway - a woman had been found murdered in a dumpster. She quickly called on a cover as an Interpol officer and approached, talking to the lead investigator. Inspector Weiss told her that the woman was a bartender, and they had security footage of her walking from work to an alley, and then stepping out into the parking lot where her car was, but then the footage went squibbly. She was in the dumpster, throat slit, but there was no blood spray anywhere. It was like the blood just vanished.

Rousseau fiddled with the footage a bit (Data Recovery and the like) and restored it - someone grabbed the woman and yanked her back, biting her throat. They couldn't see the assailant closely, though. Rousseau got a copy of the footage to show the others. Weiss also told her that a man had tried to break into a storefront elsewhere in the city, and been tackled by an unknown man whom he said had tried to bite him.

Rousseau took all this back to the others. Hanover noted that the area of town that the attempted burglary had happened in had a number of for-rent townhouses for the convention crowd - good spot for a safe house. The agents went to the area and set up surveillance, and waited.

Sure enough, that night, Renate and the two men left the house. Renate and one man went one way, the other man went off alone and got on a bus. Rousseau, Lockwood, and David followed the lone man, while Hanover and Smith watched the monitors. The man got off the bus near the convention center, and walked into a parking garage. Lockwood got out and followed him on foot, while David and Rousseau followed in the car.

The man hid behind a pillar, near a particular car, and Lockwood kept watch. David ran the guy's plate - Mike Nadel, a convention coordinator. A man with a briefcase came from the convention center - apparently Nadel - and the vampire crept up to him, reaching for his neck.

Lockwood stepped out and yelled at him. The vampire turned and bared its fangs, and Lockwood shot it. Rousseau came around the corner, David leaned out the window and shot it again, and Rousseau hit it with the car and knocked it down. David got out, and shot it again, and the Lockwood grabbed a fire ax, took its head, and put it in a cooler (this they managed to do after they got the nigh-hysterical Nadel into the car). Lockwood also grabbed a wallet and a cell phone from the body. And then they got the hell out.

Nadel, under questioning, revealed he was a coordinator for various conventions, including an upcoming International Free Energy Association convention (Hanover did some quick digging; past attendees included Dr. Radovan Macan and Dr. Janos Sas). He also revealed that he was occasionally responsible for providing "entertainment" to convention folks; men, women, drugs, whatever. The agents did some quick analysis and noted that the murder/disappearance rate had always risen slightly during this convention until about three years ago - which was when Nadel got the account. They told Nadel to get out of town, dropped him at the train station, stole a new car from long-term parking, and got back to the safe house.

Meanwhile, Smith had visited the house they'd seen Renate exit. He set up an incendiary bomb at the door, hid it well, and left. The agents regrouped, and headed out for Frankfurt.

The next day, Inspector Weiss called up Rousseau (as her Interpol cover) and told her that last night, several strange things had happened. A BSI agent had gotten the would-be burglar out of jail, but it had all been very hush-hush. Then, one of the missing Italian tourists had been found shot, run over, and decapitated in a parking garage near the convention center...but he'd already been dead when all of that happened. And then a townhouse had exploded, killing two people the door and a third in the trunk of a car...but the guy in the trunk was the would-be burglar.

Hanover got in touch with Hinckel, who confirmed that Renate had been killed, though most of her body had been destroyed. No one was sure exactly what was going on, but the BSI was kind of in an uproar.

So the agents are in Frankfurt, for now. We'll see what the next op holds.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Irate Pi-rates

Monday was Pirates of the Spanish Main. So yeah!

Last time was a while ago. We'd finished up a battle, and we now headed into the falls. We wound up in a temple. We found the body of a Spaniard, holding a Bible. A note fell out of it, containing a number of cryptic clues, including references to three cats, and then several aphorisms. You make your bed, you must lie in it. A rolling stone gathers no moss. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Anachronism aside, in the next room we found a casket. Cracking it open, we found it was empty, and water started rushing into the room. We tied rope around our waists and let the water fill the room, making the casket float, and carrying us to the hole in the ceiling. One by one, we lifted ourselves through, and found ourselves in a room with a floor much like a chessboard.

Blaine, a sort of impetuous type, started across the floor, and heard a click. The gigantic boulder started rolling down a track, and we realized it would come through the door we'd entered, and block the only other exit. We ran for it, Blaine and Francois picking up Morgan (since she doesn't run fast).

Next room had a bunch of snakes in a pit. Francois used a skull to cast a Detect Arcana kind of charm, and saw a glow beneath the snakes. We drove them away and he found a helmet. He grabbed it and we moved on.

In the next room was a raised platform and a scale. We took this one a little more carefully, and looked at the markings around the edge, which seemed to indicate that giving life granted eternal life. Checking the scale, we figured that human hearts might have at one time been place in the bowl, but "life" in this context - an island surrounded by salt water - probably just meant water. So we filled the bowl with water, and low and behold, the platform rose up, leaving behind a circular staircase...which then started to fall.

Blaine tied off a rope and rappelled down, and saw the mechanism that was causing the collapse. He jammed it, and everyone lowered themselves down into the pit (which contained sharpened spikes). Blaine broke a spike to use as a spear, and led the crew onward, to riches and glory.

We hope.

Movie #238: Easy A

Easy A is a high school comedy starring Emma Stone, Aly Michalka, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Penn Badgley, Thomas Haden Church, and Lisa Kudrow.

Olive (Stone) lies to her best friend Rhiannon (Michalka), saying she has a date so as to avoid going camping with Rhiannon's hippy parents. The lie snowballs, and thanks to horrifying Jesus-freak Mary Ann (Bynes), people start looking at previously unimpressive Olive as a tramp. She compounds the problem when she pretends to bang her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) at a party, and later begins accepting payment (in the form of gift cards) so that nerdy guys can say they've slept with her. Olive is still a virgin, and comes from a very stable, loving, supportive home - her parents (Tucci and Clarkson) are perhaps not quite as involved as they should be, but they're quite willing to let Olive sort out her problems.

I mention that because it's obvious that Olive's quirkiness is a trait she comes by honestly; her home is sex-positive and her parents trust her, and she, in turn, trusts herself. It works for the character, but it also means she gets in over her head - she gains a reputation as the school slut, sews a scarlet A onto her clothes (her class is reading The Scarlet Letter), and plays the role. But then her favorite teacher (Church) has her talk to his wife, the guidance counselor (Kudrow) and it comes out that she (the counselor) slept with the 21-year-old boyfriend of Mary Ann, and gave him an STD. Not wanting to break up her teacher's marriage, she agrees to take that bullet and say she did it, but when she finally has enough and tries to pull the plug on the whole charade, no one will vouch for her.

The stakes in the movie are pretty low. We get to see the kids who might not survive high school, either because of being bullied (like Brandon) or just having a crappy time of it. Stone's character kind of drifts between them; she's not a nerd, she's not popular, she's just kind of there - good student, but not much clique identity. She narrates the story, though, through a webcast, which turns out to be her telling the truth to everyone, and eventually riding off on a lawn mower with her longtime crush, Todd (Badgley).

Easy A owes a lot of 80s high school movies, and it's entirely up front about that - Olive laments that her life isn't directed by John Hughes, and the movie features a lot of callbacks to Ferris Beuller's Day Off and other such films. The movie also owes a lot to The Scarlet Letter, obviously, but it doesn't have nearly the same gravity - Olive hasn't slept with anyone, and so regardless of what she's telling people and what angst she's going through, she hasn't actually taken that plunge.

The strength of the movie is in the acting and the dialog. The banter is witty, the cast seems to be having a great time, and Stone manages to make Olive appropriately teen-angsty within getting whiny or emo. I have a hard time with a couple of things, though.

First is that Olive was ever not noticed. Emma Stone is freaking beautiful, and it's highly unlikely that, in high school, hanging out with Rhiannon (also beautiful), she'd have been missed. Second is that the school is so entirely non-threatening. The scary clique are a bunch of Jesus-junkies, and Brandon talks about being bullied, but we don't see it and we don't see anyone who's even remotely trying to do it (we see that he's been in a fight early in the movie, but it's quick and we barely see the other guy). The principal (a cameo by Malcolm McDowell) talks about "keeping the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe," but really? In Ojai, California?

Pretty minor complaints, though. All in all, it's a fun movie. I wish the studio had let the writer and director get away with making it R-rated, because it sometimes feels like it wants to be.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Gattaca

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Character Creation: @ctiv8

So, I want to make a character today, and I figured maybe I'd make one from the long-ago Haiti bundle.

It's not Crap Game Friday, but man, it sorta feels like it. I may actually make a character from a better game, later, just to cleanse the palate.

The Game: @ctiv8
The Publisher: Portmortem Studios, but I'm not linking them
Degree of Familiarity: None, thank god. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one, and apparently a massive sense of self-satisfaction.

So, @ctiv8 is written by James Desborough, who made headlines in the RPG world some time back when he wrote a blog post called "In Defence of Rape" in which he opined "rape is fucking awesome" and then added "as a plot device," because being inflammatory is super cool, yo. He's responsible for some really terrible additions to the world of RPGs, and has pretty much made it clear that if a woman expresses a desire to not have rape staring her in the goddamn face from games everywhere, well, tough shit, but that he as someone who suffers from depression should be given special consideration.

Let's say I'm not a fan. But I'm gonna make a character for his game, anyway, because I follow my own rules.

This game (I'm not gonna type the name anymore because whenever I do, Blogger assumes I'm typing in someone's Twitter) assumes you're playing members of a titular organization, fighting for freedom against an oppressive government. Much about the game is left unspecified, but the game seems to assume a high degree of physical danger (we're told, over and over again, that characters die easily and players shouldn't get attached to them) and extreme politics. Which is all well and good - I'm fine with games that kill characters easily (obviously), and I'm happy to play games that pit the characters against the forces of oppression (see also: Misspent Youth). But I have two major complaints.

One is that the game doesn't seem like it would support quick chargen and multiple fatalities, but I freely admit that without having played it, that's just a gut feeling. But you'll see what I mean when I dig into chargen.

The other is, like I said, the author is so smug and self-satisfied. Like, check it out:

The World of Darkness and the New World of Darkness: Previously a fan of White Wolf’s work I have been turned off from their more recent work by a combination of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Nonetheless, the World of Darkness and the New World of Darkness present some inspiration for the Xpress system used to power @ctiv8, largely due to the perceived flaws in Storyteller system as well as appreciation for what can be done right with relatively simplistic dice pool systems. 

That's from the "Inspirations" section. Here's another, when he's talking about playing/running the game:

Characters are less ‘precious’ than they are in other systems. Character deaths and total group kills are not the end of the world as far as an @ctiv8 campaign is concerned. There are always more.

It's the use of the word "precious" that gets me. I can't imagine that was accidental. The contempt for everything just drips off the writing, and it's not even especially compelling writing.

Now, in all fairness, this game came out in 2005, which was nearly a decade ago, so perhaps the author's writing has improved. I don't know, I won't give him money. Oh, one other thing. The cover of the book is a collage of images taken (without permission or credit) from many, many different sources, most of them Livejournal avatars. He then goes on to say that he knows people get "pissy" when people take their work without credit (can't imagine why) and that he thinks he's legally in the clear because [reasons]. He also makes a point of saying that he's clear under US law because "US Citizens and companies being the most litigious and US copyright and IP law being the most stringent."

Yeah.

OK, so, I'm actually making a character. Let's do this.

Making a character is actually just a matter of dividing up some points. We're told that characters fall into one of four categories, but those categories don't actually mean anything in game terms, so I'm ignoring that.

Statistics. We used to talk about "statting" characters or a character's "stats" when I was in high school/college, but I can't think of another game that actually refers to game traits as "statistics." There must be some, though.

Anyway, we've got 10, and they're paired. Stats in a pair have to be within two points of each other, and I have sixty points to divvy up between them. But you don't buy them one-for-one (which is why I balk at this "make characters quickly" thing).

OK, so I guess I should think a little about concept. It's hard, because the game doesn't really have a "hook" - it's basically "be vigilantes in a world that's maybe like our world." Well, since it's an annoying game, let's make an annoying character. My guy is in his 20s, a college dropout, fairly smart but unable to focus, and the epitome of selective cognition. He believes that the government really is poisoning us with chemtrails, that vaccines are really harmful, and that school shootings are often false flags (god, I hate this guy already). He keeps himself fit, is a strict vegetarian (though he consistently claims he'd eat an animal if he could raise it himself). I hate this guy already. Let's call him Martin McAllister.

Well, I want Martin to be relatively fit, but strongly mentally. Not at all strong socially. Let's see. 3 is average, supposedly. So let's do this. I want his Strength fairly high, and his Resilience can be, too (he's healthy for day-to-day things, though his immune system might cop out quick if he gets TB or something, since he's an idiot and doesn't vaccinate). Dexterity and Speed can both be average. Intelligence and Perception...I think I want his Perception higher than his Intelligence, so let's splurge and put Perception to 5 and Intelligence to 3. Charm and Control can both be below average (2). And Resolve, which is strangely out of alphabetical order in the game, can be high; it's what you'd use to reach into a fire to get a marshmallow, and I see Martin as being dumb like that.

Strength 4/Resilience 3
Dexterity 3/Speed 3
Intelligence 3/Perception 5
Charm 2/Control 2
Resolve 4/Resistance 3

So, given that and looking at the wonky-ass costs for these things, I've spent 71 out of 60 points. I'm a shade over. The book points out that I can use my Skill points to spend over here, but maybe I'll bust Perception down to 4? Save myself 5 points? Sure, why not. That puts me at 66 points. I'll put Charm at 1 and Strength at 3, which puts me at an even 60.

Now, Skills. Skills operate on a sort of shrinking scale. A lot of games offer specialties or focus areas of skills, but this game does a second tier of that, meaning you can have Athletics specialized in Running and further Specialized in 100 metre dash, whatever the fuck a "metre" is. That seems like a level of hyper-specialization that is unnecessary for a game in which I'm supposed to die easily and often, but whatevs.

I get 70 points for Skills on the same scale. There's a whole list of them, but it includes things like "Comedy" and I'm supposed to make my own Skills if I want, so I'll do that.

Athletics 2
Gardening/Home Grown 4
Research/Online/Dubious Sites 4
Hacking 3
Chemistry 1
Architecture 1
Firearms/Pistol 2
Notice/Paranoid 3
Intimidation/Crazy 4
Writing/Blog Posts 3

Sounds good for a start. I'm at 80 points, though. That's maybe a little high, I don't know how viable taking 10 points of Flaws would be. Let's trim. It's actually pretty easy; I'll just knock Research down to 3 (which takes me to 76 points) and get rid of Chemistry and Architecture; like most conspiracy theorists, Martin only thinks he understands those things. That takes me to 74. I guess I'll bump Intimidation down to 3. That puts me even.

So now I can do Merits and Flaws, because why not wear your influences on your sleeves? Oh, christ, there's a list of suggested ones, but mostly it's guidelines for making your own. Mind, I'm generally fine with this, but I don't want this to take any longer than necessary. Ok. So basically it's just points based on how much of a bonus/drawback the merit/flaw gives you, modified by how often it comes into play. Which is silly, if characters die easily. Hmph.

Well, I figured Martin is annoying as shit. He's one of those trolls that says "what everyone's thinking," which really means "what he's thinking," and then tries to put it on everyone else (I work with a guy like this). That's probably worth 1 point.

Martin, however, doesn't sleep much, and he can go on only a few hours of rest a night. If he has stimulants, he can stay up for a day or two without slowing down too much. That's probably worth a point.

So there. Oh, hey, there's a fillable character sheet, so we got one thing right at least. Oh, wait, except the Skills are fucked up so when I type into one, it immediately copes that to all the other ones. Fuck it, just putting Skills into psychological profile. It does the same thing for Merits and Flaws, but I can fit that one on line, so fine, I'm done.

Ugh.


Oh, wait, one other thing, also from the Inspirations section:

Internet Community Sites: Tribe.net, Friendster, Hi5, Livejournal, MySpace, forums, MMORPGs, Usenet, blogs of all stripes, you name it. All of them, even with all their bickering, flaming, spam and awfulness are still, collectively, an inspiration. The net may be full of pig ignorant, homophobic, shockingly tactless morons but the miracle is that you can now talk to these people, all around the world and realise just how many of them exist.

Yep. It just may be.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Board Game: Forbidden Island

The Game: Forbidden Island
The Publisher: Gamewright
Time: 20 minutes or so
Players: Me, Teagan, +Stentor, and +Cheyenne


Game Play: The idea is that we're adventurers, here on Forbidden Island to obtain four treasures. If we get all four and get back to our helicopter, we can escape. But the island is slowly sinking - if any of the treasures, the helicopter, or any player sinks, we all lose.

Obviously, it's a lot like Pandemic, but much more forgiving. Each character has a special power, be it more freedom of movement or a way to hand out cards more easily (to get a treasure, you need four matching cards). This game, I played the diver, who can swim through tiles that have sunk. Here's a better look at the play area.


Note that we've already lost some tiles; they flip when they're flooded, but players can shore them up, fixing them.

It's a cooperative game, and mostly it's not too challenging - you can make it harder by setting the water level higher (so you draw more cards from the flood deck to see what floods/sinks each turn). In our game, we got the treasures and got out in fairly short order; no major threats.

And we escaped!

Opinions: This isn't anyone's idea of a challenging game, but it's a great game for kids of about 8 and up. I play it with my students at work a lot; it's very pretty, it contains a lot of challenging words, and it asks them to think about strategy in a cooperative way, which is something they've seldom encountered. As such, I've played it a lot more than I probably would have otherwise; it's fun, but the replay value is pretty low unless you have kids (which I do).

You could also whack together a pretty good Fate RPG using Forbidden Island as a setting, too.

Keep? Yep.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Character Creation: Dragon Warriors

I'd really planned to do a lot more characters while on Xmas break, but time makes fools of us all. This weather keeps up, I'll have plenty of time next week, too.

The Game: Dragon Warriors
The Publisher: Serpent King Games (formerly published by Magnum Opus Press)
Degree of Familiarity: None. I read it on a trip some time ago, but even after I read it I didn't remember anything about it.
Books Required: Just the one.

I bought Dragon Warriors at a con. It's a very pretty, solid book. Chapter One is just a basic "here's what 'RPG' means" kind of thing, and Chapter Two jumps straight into making a character. Is there any world information? Sure is, whole chapters full. Oh, but wait, there are tables I can roll on to create background? Fuck yes.

OK, so, Step One is Characteristics, and they're randomly rolled. 'Scuse me a moment.

Rolling, here's what I get:

Strength 9
Reflexes 11
Intelligence 13
Psychic Talent 7
Looks 13

Not terrific. I'll keep it for now, though, since although these scores would suck in D&D terms, I don't know how they do here.

Step Two: Choosing a Profession. We have Knights and Barbarians, which the book tells me are the most common and you can have a whole campaign with just those (yawn). Other options include Assassins, Sorcerers, Mystics, Elementalists, and Warlocks. Well, do they have minimum Characteristic requirements?

No, but this is interesting. You can be whatever profession you want, but if you choose something out of step with your Characteristics (a Knight or Barbarian with low Strength, f'rex), you're not playing to your strengths. By which I mean, anyone with a low Strength does fewer attacks, but that's likely to matter more to a fighty character. That in mind, my high points are Looks and Intelligence, which seems to indicate I'd favor magic. Oh, no, wait, shit, my Psychic Talent is less than 9, so I can't use magic. Well, ass. Let's go with Barbarian, just because it's not a Profession I'd normally pick.

Step Three: Health points. You could call them "snotsacks," they're still hit points (call-out!). I start with 1d6 +9 HP, I rolled a fucking 1 because of course I did, so that's 10.

Step Four: Combat Factors. My attack score is 14, and my defence (it's misspelled that way in the book) is 6. However, because my Strength is ass, I lose 1 off attack. My reflexes of 11 does nothing for my defence.

Step Five: Magical Combat Factors. My Magical Defence is 3. I don't get a Magical Attack because I can't cast spells.

Step Six: Dodging. You can't deny, it's a riveting process. Thank christ for Fate. Anyway, my base Evasion is 5, but it goes up by 1 because my Reflexes is decent.

Step Seven: Stealth and Perception. My Stealth is 13, Perception is 5. Moving on.

Step Eight: Boring-Ass Shopping. Skipping this.

Step Nine: Rank. Lemme guess: 1? Yup!

Step 10: Background. Now I skip ahead 25 pages. Hang on. Oh, wait. I have a few special abilities. I can Track, I can go Berserk (this temporarily adds 1 to Attack for every 3 points I subtract from Defence, which basically means a max of +2), and I can ride a Warhorse.

Right, so now we go on to the "designing your background" chapter. In fairness, it is a chapter. And there are fucking footnotes. Anyway, I don't roll for social class because I'm a barbarian. Instead I'll roll for my origins. I get the Kaikuhuru Desert. This tells me I have aquiline features, I'm a desert nomad, my people herd camels, and we're proud, honorable and have an elaborate code of hospitality. OK, sure.

And that's it, actually. OK. I shall name my barbarian Bahadur.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

House of Cards: The King of Cats

I ran House of Cards once before, and since I had a Monday free for a one-shot and +Sarah wanted to played it again, here we are.


  • Toasty played Jasper Reed, the Tower-Bearer. Jasper is a motivational speaker who tries to get his listeners to change things up, regardless of what that means for them. Correspondences: chaos, revelation, elements, fear, transformation. 
  • Glen played Everett Robar, the Judgement-Bearer. Everett is a judge in the fair town of Providence. Correspondences: final word, law, strong arm, fair, brass. 
  • Sarah played Allyson Dietrich, the Star-Bearer. Allyson is trying to become a published novelist, but hasn't quite broken through yet. Correspondences: fantasy, idolatry, totems, writer, "don't stop believing."
  • Cheyenne played Meredith, the Strength-Bearer. She's a corporate lawyer. Correspondences: persuasiveness, might, forte, backbone, monster. 
  • Matt played Sam, the Justice-Bearer. He's an ADA in the same courthouse as Everett. Correspondences: balance, truth, reckoning, cops, law. 

We start out at the end of the day in October. Allyson is in a coffee shop across from the courthouse (it's called the Black Cat, has the famous picture on the wall). Sam, Everett and Meredith are in the courthouse, and Jasper is finishing up his gig in town and heading to get a bite to eat and perhaps a cup of coffee. 

The game is set in Providence, Rhode Island. There have been cat problems lately - the feral cat population has just exploded, and even house cats are getting aggressive. Also in the news, a zookeeper at the Roger Williams Zoo (which does not actually have tigers, but go with me, here) recently mauled a keeper named Rhea Higgins. So when Sam sees a cat in the courthouse, as he's packing up his papers and everyone else has left, he feels a twinge of nervousness. 

He looks for the cat, but hears another one behind him. He looks behind the judge's bench, but nearly trips over a large black cat. He picks it up, but it lunges at him. He jerks out of the way and nearly wangs his head, but manages to avoid any real damage. Everett, in his chambers, hears this and comes to investigate.

The two Bearers see lots of cats in the courthouse. Sam activates Dream-Sense, and sees that many of the cats are creatures of eir (magic). The characters back up into the judge's chambers and lock the door, but the cats have appeared behind them. The cats leap, claws out, toward Sam, but Everett uses Evocation to summon a sword and cuts several of them into raw eir. They decide to call Meredith and meet over at the coffee shop - something is obviously up. 

They enter the coffee shop and spot Allyson, and inform her and Meredith of the action. Allyson uses Dream-Sense and sees that the Beyond of this area has become a deep, dark cave...and something is lurking under her chair, something with a big, lion-like tail. She uses Evocation (seriously, how did I miss this power last time I ran this? Because it's hella useful) to summon up some sparkly lights and sprinkles them by the chair, and a paw appears, starting at housecat size, then growing to lion, and then "holy shit, what is that?" size before disappearing under the chair again.

Outside, Jasper stops his car just in time to avoid hitting a cat. He notes he's near a coffee shop, parks and goes in. Since Allyson has Dream-Sense active, she recognizes him as the Tower-Bearer, and points this out to the others. Allyson decides to engage this cat directly, goes into the bathroom, and uses Mirror Walk to step across. 

Meredith, meanwhile, figures maybe a mundane cat would be safer. She buys a tuna sandwich, goes outside with Sam, and puts a bit of tuna on the ground. It doesn't take long before a kitty scampers up, and starts nibbling. And then the other cats slip up behind Sam and jump him. The characters notice, however, and Meredith grabs the sandwich board from outside and smashes the leaping cats with it, using her Mighty Feat power, and shatters the board, dispersing the cats.

Allyson steps across, along with Everett and Jasper, and finds the big cat. It acts threatening at first, but Jasper summons up rain and lightning with Evocation and pushes it back a bit. They talk with it, but the cat is maddeningly vague (as cats are wont to be), but does say that when the Justice-Bearer falls, the cats will enjoy a meal sweeter than they have known in a long time. Pressed, it reveals its master as "a duelist, a duelist." Everett thinks for a moment, and then remembers that this is the way Mercutio describes Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet - and he also calls Tybalt the King of Cats. 

They all go back into the coffee shop, and figure that they're looking for a Comte or some other nightmare-court creature. But where to start? They figure the woman who was mauled has something to do with this, so they go to the hospital and Allyson talks her way in. They speak to Rhea, who's pretty hopped up on pain meds. They also check the local Beyond, which has become a huge, overgrown jungle, complete with snarling beasts in the underbrush. 

Rhea tells them that the tiger had never shown any inclination toward hurting people before, but this time it laid in wait for her and bit her hand and face. They asked if she'd been dreaming of jungles, and she said she had, and described the jungle. That pretty much explained the transformation of the Beyond into that - she was dreaming in fear and her mind was altered by the drugs. But the characters figured they needed to see that tiger. 

They headed to the zoo and bullshitted their way in (lawyers can bullshit like no one else). The guard let them in to look at the tiger's enclosure (no tiger there now), but there was nothing special, just some lingering bloodstains in the Beyond. They went and saw the actual tiger, now in a cage in the zoo's clinic, and Jasper stepped into the Beyond to see if the tiger was chatty there. As it happened, it was, but at that point Jasper provoked a Shuffle. 

The zoo guard passed out. The lights went out. The tiger, in the Beyond, changed into a slender man in a grey cloak - the King of Cats. The King revealed that what it wanted was to Reverse the Justice-Bearer, so that it could break the Oath of Breath. The previous King of Cats, it seems, had sworn that cats would not drink the breath of people, but this King wanted that power back. Sam, thinking quickly, said that perhaps a new agreement could be reached, and he'd be happy to adjudicate that. That would, obviously, be the easier path (and the King being a cat, he agreed to that). 

They all trooped back to the hospital; to make this work, a human being needed to be present, and they liked the symmetry of having Rhea be the human. In the Beyond, they agreed on the terms - cats would be allowed to drink the last breath of a given person, but they would not be allowed to harm people in order to drink it. The King also agreed to get rid of toxoplasmosis gondii, since no one liked that. Jasper agreed, too, to become a cat and live out the rest of his days as the Tower-Bearer in cat form (this was all negotiated with Jasper as the advocate for humanity and Meredith as counsel for the King of Cats). 

In the end, it was agreed. Jasper became a black cat identical to the one that Sam had seen in the courthouse, and the King vanished into the Beyond, presumably to spread the good news to his subjects.