Monday, April 28, 2014

Movie #251: Argo

Argo won Best Picture last year, and stars (and is directed by) Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Rory Cochrane, Clea Duvall, Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, and more!

The movie starts off by helpfully providing the context for the shit that Iran finds itself in during the late 70s and early 80s (much of which was helpfully engineered by us and the British, because we're idiots who still haven't learned that you can't get in bed with religious nutbars without some blowback). Followers of the Ayatollah (Khomeini, not Rock-n-Rolla) storm the American Embassy, take a bunch of people hostage, and generally throw down. Six people escape and wind up at the home of the Canadian Ambassador (Garber), but four months later, things are getting tense. The CIA calls in an exfiltration expert named Tony Mendez (Affleck) to get them out.

Thinking way outside the box, he creates cover stories for the six "Houseguests" as a movie crew scouting a location for a B-grade sci-fi flick called Argo, and enlists a makeup artist contact (Goodman) and a producer (Arkin), creates a fake movie company, does a public script-read for the press, and then flies into Tehran with fake passports and trains the Houseguests in their new roles. Shit is getting real, though, as the Iranians are close to figuring out who was in the building and that they're missing six Americans, but in the end, Mendez manages to get these folks out and keep the ruse intact just long enough for their plane to leave.

Naturally, liberties were taken, real people were omitted, and the ending was made more tense than it was in real life for the sake of drama. And that's fine. The movie is really skillfully done, splicing in real footage of the storming of the Embassy and news footage about the crisis (I was about 6 when all this was going on, so I don't remember it at all). Affleck, as always, is a superb director, and a better actor than he's usually given credit for. The script keeps things fairly light, for the subject matter. It's a heavy situation, but everyone involved recognizes that this idea is sort of crazy ("I assure you, sir, this is the best bad idea we have," says Cranston's character).

An observation: When the Iranians are storming the Embassy, I was reminded, more than once, of movies like Day of the Dead. Now, obviously I don't think Argo borrowed from those films as much as those films borrowed from similar footage at the time (Dawn of the Dead was 1978, I think, and we've seen many zombie films since). Deliberate? Or is the scene of "crowd rushing toward you with hostile intent" just that iconic?

Anyway, it's a good movie, and "Argofuckyourself" makes me giggle every time.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: High Fidelity

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Apple-ogies

So, my girlfriend posted this on her FB feed earlier:


(Note: I only mention that she posted it for context; it's not especially relevant for the rest of this.)

I take some issue with the sentiment here. I don't entirely disagree, but my initial reaction is "hmph," and I thought it might be worth unpacking that a little bit. So here we go.

I have a weird, long, and somewhat complicated relationship with apologies. Some of it may be cultural; my wife is from Oklahoma, and doesn't see quite the same need to say "I'm sorry" to act as a sort of gateway to successful communication. But I don't really know how to brain the cultural aspects, so for me personally:

1) I grew up in a household in which "Matt is selfish and egocentric" was a fucking meme. I mean, I'm not saying it was never true (hands up if you've never done anything selfish). I'm not even saying that it wasn't a problem at points. But I am saying the meme long outlasted its applicability and became something that I actually take direct offense to, and I'll get shouty and unpleasant when family members try and apply it these days. The point is, I think, that there was often the assumption that I should apologize, but wouldn't, if that makes any sense. And the truth of the matter is that I've always wanted the people around me to be happy, but I never really knew how to get there. Is it possible that I occasionally played to the perception of egocentrism because I knew that laughing about it seemed to make my family happy? Maybe, seems possible.

2) I actually have done some really unpleasant and mean things to people I loved, and I've given some pretty heartfelt, painful apologies for it. Compared to that, saying "I'm sorry" because I said something offhandedly that was interpreted wrong seems kind of trite. Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that as a way to minimize anyone else's experience, just to unpack my own.

3) I give people benefit of the doubt all the damn time. I actively try to live a philosophy that places my perspective not as unimportant, but not as especially important, either. My perspective is just mine, other people have reasons for doing what they do and in the spirit of honest communication, I owe it to them to try and understand it, etc. As such, if someone says or does something that I find offensive, either personally or on a larger level, I don't necessarily require an apology. That seems weirdly egotistical and personal to me. The point of the exercise isn't to assuage my feelings, it's to enable communication and, hopefully, educate so as to avoid future problems.

By getting hung up on the formality of the apology, it seems to me that, one way or another, someone's ego is getting massaged. Refusing to give an apology serves the ego of the would-be apologizer, refusing to proceed without one serves the ego of the apologizee.

For my own part, I don't want an apology unless it's genuine. I don't want someone to say the words unless they really understand what's happening, which is why I think the apology serves better coming at the end of a discussion. And frankly, "I'm sorry" doesn't help me anyway, because I want people to be happy and for them to understand me. I don't want you to be sorry. I want you to get it. "I understand why you were hurt" is sometimes used as a cop-out to avoid a "real" apology, but I think it's what I'd rather hear.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Character Creation: Piledrivers & Powerbombs

As I may have mentioned before, there are a surprising number of wrestling-themed RPGs (that is to say, any). A few of them (including this one, and the one I'm doing today) showed up in a bundle I bought once upon a time. Now, I'm not a wrestling enthusiast, but I can see how one could have an appreciation for the art form. As +Eddy Webb (I believe) has mentioned, it's kind of like ballet and just as punishing to the participants.

Piledrivers & Powerbombs, however, is flashy, loud, and simple, and assumes passing the GM hat around and doing color commentary on PCs fights. I can get behind that in concept.

The Game: Piledrivers & Powerbombs
The Publisher: Prince of Darkness Games
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one (pdf, really).

The other day I asked folks to give me songs as inspiration for characters. +Justin Achilli gave me this one:


Now, joking aside about not knowing the lead singer's name, I enjoy Wham!, and I like a challenge. But this particular song (as opposed to the sober, serious, haunting work that Wham! did later, I guess), if you just listen to it casually, is a fun, party, "hey let's go shag in a dancey sort of way." But if you really listen to the lyrics, there's this quasi-clandestine vibe to it, and I hasten to note that George Michael wasn't out when this song was big, so he's really obviously talking about a guy, here, but never actually says that. So.

Over analyzing 80s pop music is something serial killers do, however, so I'm going to make my wrestler character and assume that he uses this song as his entrance music. I toyed with the notion of having his sexuality tie into his persona, but I honestly can't think of a way to do that that isn't really problematic. I think, instead, that the persona will be based around glam, 80s fashion, feathered hair, and basically everything that made New Wave Requiem and The Wolf of Wall Street great. But without the cocaine and homophobia and Reaganomics and the other horrible shit from the era. Basically like dressing up like a pirate - it's all about the swashbuckling, not about the pillaging and murder.

So the game recommends making a Federation with the group, but since it's just me I shall use the Wrestling Time Federation (or WTF) presented in the book. To make my superstar, however, there are three steps: Concept, Attributes, and Nemesis.

Concept asks me to (duh) conceptualize my superstar. I'll say that my guy is named George Glam, because there's no "on" like "on the nose." He's 6'5'', muscular but not humongous, high, feathered hair, sparkly earring which he carefully takes out before each match, colorful wrestling shorts, and wears t-shirts with beloved 80s properties (Care Bears, Smurfs, G.I. Joe, He-Man, ALF, etc.). He enters to, duh, "I'm Your Man."

I'm asked to think of a Finisher here, but I'm hamstrung by my lack of knowledge about wrestling moves. A quick trip to Wiki shows me the Shooting Star Press (which sounds like a legitimately dumb idea, and seems to have been banned for exactly that reason). Glam's Finisher is the WHAM!, which is a shooting star press accompanied by handfuls of glitter, confetti, or something else showy and sparkly.

I'm also meant to come up with a Gimmick, but Glam's is obvious - the 80s were GRRRRREAT!

Now, Attributes. Four of them: Popularity, Infamy, Testicular Fortitude (ugh, really?) and Mad Skillz (yep). I'm...not very ok with that third one, but whatever. I start with 1 in each Attribute, plus more to divvy up based on how experienced I am (which is a group decision, but since I have no group, let's assume Mid-Carder, which gives me 6 points).

Well, I know I want Popularity, so I'll sink 2 of my points there. I don't care to be Infamous, so I'll leave that at 1. Testicular...ugh...Fortitude...erm. It does take some confidence to wear hair like that nowadays. Let's put one point there. The other three I'll put into Mad Skillz; Glam is actually a fair deft wrestler. I think he started in modern dance.

And now, Nemesis. I have an arch-enemy. Hrm. It's very tempting to make my Nemesis the embodiment of the 90s. Flannel, long hair, grungey, enters to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or something by Alice in Chains. His name is Courtney Hate (yeah, whatever, it's a unisex name).

Courtney and Glam need a "Connection," and saying that they're both spirits of the zeitgeist of their respective decades is probably too cerebral a concept for professional wrestling. But on the other than, it opens the door for other decades to "tag in" at some point. Actually, let's make it simpler - they're both time travelers, plucked from their respective moments in history and brought out to battle to see which bit of nostalgia is supreme!

Courtney's stats are like Glam's, except Popularity and Infamy are reversed (meaning he's a heel and I'm a face). His Finisher is called "Man in a Box," and probably involves a really uncomfortable looking hold.

And that's it, actually. Lookin' good!


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Character Creation: Ghost Dog: The RPG

Felt like making a character today, so I took to Facebook to ask for songs to inspire me. A couple of interesting songs resulted, but the one that's sticking with me is this one:


I had to think for a moment about what game would be appropriate, though. The song is about remembering where you're from, paying attention, and a generally positive philosophy. I peruse the list to find a game, and lo and behold, I have one that I think will be fun. 

The Game: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
The Publisher: Guardians of Order, now dead
Degree of Familiarity: Some with the underlying system, none with this particular game.
Books Required: Just the one.

Ghost Dog has got to be one of the weirdest movie-based RPG choices I've ever seen, at least at face value. If you don't know, Ghost Dog is a Jim Jarmusch movie starring Forrest Whitaker (actually you can read my little mini-review here), and the opening of the book talks about how the dynamic of RPGs is changing, people who were teens when they started playing are getting older, and there needs to be more of a focus on single-player RPGs (this book was published in 2000, for reference). Now, I'm not really a fan of single-player RPGs; they kind of feel creepy and weirdly intimate to me when I've played them, and especially as shared narrative is more of a thing now, they feel unnecessary. But since I'm not going to play this game anyway, no problem.

Ghost Dog is a Tri-Stat game, so it's very much a trad, skill-list sort of game, though the movie lends itself more to an indie, micro-game sort of thing, or Fate at the very least. But, it is what it is.

Step One: GM Discussion. Here, me and my hypothetical GM would discuss what kind of game we're playing, what the violence level is, whether I'm playing Ghost Dog or someone else from that universe, and so on. Let's assume, since I don't have a GM, that I'm playing in the same world as Ghost Dog, but after the events of the movie. Louise Vargo has assumed control of the Vargo crime family, but let's also assume there's some pushback from other folks who, like Ghost Dog, operate by their own code (the RZA cameos as "Samurai in Camouflage," so clearly there's not just one samurai around).

Let's assume, too, that I have an average-level character to work with, giving me 30 points.

Step 2: Character Outline. I want to play a citizen, rather than a criminal or a cop. I want my guy to be a panhandler, a man who sleeps outside or in shelters, but who looks after Pearline and people like her. He has a past - he just doesn't remember much of it. He remembers gunfire, blood, pain, and death, and sometimes he'll perform tasks methodically and by rote, suggesting he has some military training, but he doesn't (or refuses to) remember it. Actually, I think it's a better character arc if he's well aware that he used to be something he's not, and he's actively turning his back on that part of himself. He wants to be someone kind, honest, and forthright, implying that he wasn't (or thinks he wasn't). (I feel dirty admitting this, but I'm taking some inspiration from Jim Cavezial's character in Angel Eyes, too.)

Step 3: Assign Stats. Tri-Stat, as the name would imply, has three stats: Mind, Body, and Soul. 4 is "adult human average," and they're 1 for 1. I have 30 points, so average across the board would cost me 12, less than half. Meh. I want to be better than average. I think I'll put Body at 5, Mind at 4, and Soul at 8. That's 17 points.

Step 4: Character Attributes. These are Merit-like things. I think it's interesting they're here, before Defects and Skills, but whateves. Looking at the list, I like:

Art of Distraction (allows me to distract people at a critical moment): 3 points
Combat Mastery (training, y'see): 3 (6 points)
Divine Relationship (I've worked with Tri-Stat enough to know you're silly if you don't take this): 3
Gun Master (each level gets you an ability, and there's one I want: Weapons Encyclopedia): 1
Highly Skilled (again, silly if you don't, but I don't know how much I'll need yet)

That's all I want, actually.

Step 5: Defects. It would actually make more sense to do these last, after I know how many I need. How many do I need? Well, tallying up what I've done so far, I'm at...exactly 30, not counting anything I'd need from Highly Skilled. Oy. OK, well, I'll take what Defects I think are appropriate and then add the points in somewhere.

Attack Restriction (he won't attack anyone who's not actively threatening him or someone he cares about who can't defend himself) 2BP
Recurring Nightmares (PTSD, yo) 1BP
Skeleton in the Closet (military service, probably, but I'd leave it to the GM) 2BP

I'm now up by 5 points.

Step 6: Skills. Skills cost different amounts depending on how useful they are. I have 20 points, plus I could take as many as 50 more if I wanted to dump all 5 of my remaining BP into Highly Skilled. I want:

Burglary 2 (6 BP)
Demolitions 1 (3 BP)
Gun Combat 3 (18 BP)
Interrogation 2 (6 BP)
Military Science 1 (2 BP)
Intimidation 2 (8 BP)
Stealth 3 (12 BP)
Unarmed Attack 3 (12 BP)
Urban Tracking 2 (8 BP)

That's 75 points...which means I'd need all of my extra BP plus another one. BALLS. Well, I think I'll drop Unarmed Attack down to 2 (71 points) and Interrogation down to 1 (68 points). I'd need to lose another 8, though. OK, fine, we'll drop Gun Combat to 2 (62 points) and Military Science entirely (60 points). That means I need to spend four of my points on Highly Skilled, leaving me with one lonely little BP. I'll put it into Gun Mastery and take Lightning Draw.

Step 7: Derived Values. Where they belong. At the end of chargen.

Attack Combat Value is the average of my stats, which is 17/3 round down...round down? Crap. Here, you know what, let's bump up Recurring Nightmares to 2, and then take another point in Body, which makes that total 18, which makes my ACV 6, plus the three from Combat Mastery is 9. My Defense Combat Value is therefore 7. My Health is (Body + Soul) x 5 or 50. My Energy (which I can use to bump up Stats when necessary) is (Mind + Soul) x 5, or 60. My Shock Value, which is the amount of damage it takes in one attack to stun me, is Health/10, or 5.

Step 8: Background Points. This is basically me writing up my character's history and getting a biscuit from the GM, but I've pretty much explained this guy. I haven't named him, though. He's forgotten his real name, but he goes by Jay (he wears a Blue Jays cap year-round). He's dirty, sleeps where he can, but he takes hobo showers to try and avoid being too scary to people. He panhandles and does odd jobs, but mostly he watches out for the younger folks around the park and chats with Raymond (not that he speaks French, but he listens well).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Monsterhearts: Do You Really Want to Hurt Me

We talk in Monsterhearts about the song playing over the closing credits (the song playing over the opening credits, for the record, is probably this one). Last time, when they spent all that time getting grapevines and then discovering they didn't work, it was probably "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," though I think I'd want some weird cover. Maybe this one.

Anyway, this session we start off with everyone waking up at Briar's house. Rook and Skylar have sex in the shower, and Skylar promises Rook to save a dance for him...if Rook is there.

Dora, Skylar and Genesis walk to school, while Cassi drives Rook and Austin, and Briar drives her own self. En route, Skylar talks to Genesis: Skylar is still mad about Genesis calling down the ocean and washing Omar away during the fight yesterday, and Genesis is upset by that. During the conversation, Genesis brings up Skylar's death (asking her, I believe, if she drowned), and Skylar activates unresolved trauma. Genesis picks up the blamed condition, but Skylar picks up delusional and sees Genesis' hair floating and wet, water streaming from her, and then Dora walks up and puts her arm around Genesis and she starts exuding ocean while the sky grows dark...

Skylar, panicking a bit, grabs a street light and tries to hold steady, but fails. He sees a vision of himself in a normal-looking living room, surrounded by knicknacks he recognizes and photos of himself - and then a tidal wave crashes through the window and he starts to drown. Before he does, he sees Genesis floating there, the same "oh, shit" look on her face as yesterday.

Skylar calms down, but is drenched and the water doesn't seem to be going anyway. She does use hungry ghost and consume Genesis' conditions before they get to school.

The kids get to home room. Cassi and Rook are both depressed and wiped out from the events of yesterday. The homeroom teacher asks Dora where Omar is - this doesn't help matters. Miguel Munoz, another student, leans over and asks Dora if she knows where Omar is (maybe she was just lying to the teacher). Dora first says it's complicated, but then says he was killed by a monster to shut Miguel up. She gazes into the abyss to try and figure out which students they can trust, but fails. She zones out a bit, and when she comes to she's drawn a grid like the seating chart. Two students' squares - Kevin Gable and Omar Diaz - are crossed off, and she's in the process of crossing off a third: Rook's.

Cassi talks to Madison and Ashley and says she'd like to hang out with them again - it's been a while. They're both busy tonight, but perhaps tomorrow?

The students go about their day. Cassi grabs Austin in Biology class and tells him that she can't handle the possibility of him dying while doing monster-hunting things. He says he understands, and he's afraid, too, but he doesn't see how he can back out now - he doesn't see how any of them can. Dora, Skylar and Genesis are in art class, and Skylar does a water color (she's still drenched; the water isn't drying) of her flooded living room, signs it, and gives it to Genesis. Genesis feels a strange sense of deja vu - has she been to this house before?

They all get together in History class and, as usual, get a handful of worksheets because the teacher is the coach, and the coach is prepping for the big football game this Friday. They talk a bit - rather, Genesis talks, mostly about staying focused and getting this done before anyone else gets killed. Rook and Cassi are present, but still muted, and Skylar is still drenched. Briar goes to the books to get a bit more information; everyone helps except Cassi, who can't be fucked at this point. They research the best place to imprison the Black Tamanous, and talk about the options. The boiler room at school is good; since it burned no one goes down there. The pits at the vineyard are also good; they're isolated and surrounded by grapevines.

In gym class, Dora finds Cassi and expresses concern. Cassi bursts into tears, just wanting all of this to be over and to be able to go back to the way things were. Dora turns her on, not in a sexual way, but just to get her focused and offer support, which works - Cassi refocuses and agrees to help the group.

They all get together at lunch again, a bit more together, and try and answer a question that's been nagging at them - if they tie the Tamanous up with grapevines, what stops it hopping to a new body? They all gaze into the abyss to answer this question. Skylar sees the fight in the vineyard, the skies open, the ocean carries Omar away and drowns him, but then a black mist rises up from the water and flows up to the house and into Mrs. Diaz. Genesis sees someone - Rook? Briar? - behead the monster, but then the black mist flows up and infects the executioner. Rook sees the monster flow from Mike into the dying Principal Miles. Briar sees nothing, just blackness and hunger, and realizes that hunger is inside her. Dora sees arms trying to push their way out of Briar's clothes (they both failed the roll, by the way).

The consensus from all of this is that the monster can find a new host when its current host dies (though Rook is still concerned that if the monster kills someone, it can take their body, too). That's easy enough, then, they just won't kill Mrs. Diaz. They'll just tie her up with grapevines and let her starve to death in a pit.

They decide that Dora, Briar, Skylar, Rook, and Genesis will go out to the vineyard and gather some vines. Cassi has gym decorating to do, and Austin stays with her.

Skylar and Briar stay with the car while the other three creep down into the vineyard and gather vines. As they do, a car approaches - van with a Perdido High Football bumper sticker. The van is going too fast, but it rounds the corner and heads into the vineyard, up toward the restaurant. Apparently the Black Tamanous is calling football players to it?

At the gym, Austin finds Cassi and shows her the list of chaperones: Anna Diaz is one of them. The creature is going to be at the dance. Cassi texts a photo of this to the group, and they decide that the gym might be a better option than jumping her at the vineyard. Briar texts Cassi back and tells her that they'll need to decorate the gym with the grapevines; Austin suggests using fake cobwebs (the dance has a Halloween theme anyway). The kids grab the grapevines and go. Cassi dismisses the rest of the decoration staff and she and Austin wait for the others.

While they do, Cassi asks Austin to go to the dance with her. Austin balks, initially, saying that he thought Cassi was going with Skylar. Cassi had asked Skylar, but he'd never answered. Cassi turns Austin on, and they're snogging when the others walk in - Briar first, obviously.

Riding right past all of that, the characters talk about Homecoming. They decide to build a big effigy out of the grapevines and put a Cowboys jersey on it (that's the rival team they're playing at the football game), and then they can use the grapevines to bind the Tamanous. Dora calls up Miguel and turns him on to try and get him to go, and he's interested, but requires more convincing (she has a String on him, which she's planning to use tomorrow). Skylar asks Briar to the dance, and Briar initially balks (she wasn't planning on going to the "dance" part, just the "kill monster" part), but Skylar spends a String on Briar to offer experience if she goes. She agrees.

The characters split up for the night. Dora goes home to her family, Austin likewise. Cassi wants to go home tonight, and Genesis asks to tag along, since she wants to retrieve her pelt. Briar goes home by herself, while Rook and Skylar go back to Rook's house.

Rook and Skylar have sex, and Skylar asks Rook what he had to promise to get Omar's body cleared away. Rook holds steady and fails, and Skylar sees Rook's reflection turn around and shush him (Rook does not see that). Rook answers truthfully - he didn't promise anything for that - but makes Skylar promise never to ask him about that ever again. Rook gets up and goes to the bathroom and stand there with hands on either side of the mirror, gently tapping his head against it. Skylar lies in bed, sheet over her, and then fades away to nothing, like she does at night.

Genesis and Cassi go out to Cassi's house and search for the pelt, but can't find it. Cassi asks her mother, and her mother says that Brandon (Cassi's one-time date for Homecoming) had stopped by to get something he'd left in the pool house after her last party. Genesis holds steady - does someone on the football team have her pelt? Whoever holds her pelt can make her do things, but more to the point, without it she can't go home. Cassi reassures her, and they wind up watching The Little Mermaid together.

Dora goes home and has dinner with her family. Her parents were at the party, and she watches them as they eat...and open a bottle of wine from the vineyard. They offer her a little. She refuses, and goes upstairs, a little sick.

Briar goes home alone, picks out a dress for Homecoming, tries it on, and dances, slowly, all by herself, as the credits roll.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie #250: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero movie starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary and Emma Stone. It tells the origins story of our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler.

Wait, again?

Yes, this is a reboot of Sam Raimi's trilogy (we'll get to 'S' eventually), but it's actually better than his movies. And I don't say that lightly with any disrespect; I really liked those films (well, maybe not 3), and I thought Tobey Maguire did fine as Peter Parker. But this one's better.

So, you know the story in basic, but in this version, Peter Parker (Garfield) is more hipster/awkward outcast than nerd. He's not completely dorky, he's just got no game and stands up to bullies, which results in ass-kicking. He is, however, a rather brilliant scientist, which he comes by honestly, because his parents were apparently brilliant scientists who worked for OsCorp.

That's actually the first thing we see - Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) packing everything up in the middle of the night and leaving young Peter with Ben and May (Sheen and Field, respectively) because there was a break-in. We're never told exactly what's going on, here, though the rest of the movie has some clues. Anyway, teenage Peter finds a briefcase belonging to his father, which contains a photo of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans) with Dad, which leads Peter to sneak into OsCorp, where he discovers that his kinda-crush Gwen Stacy (Stone) is research assistant to Connors, who is doing some cross-species genetics weirdness, largely in an attempt to regrow his lost arm.

Peter sneaks off and gets bitten by a spider, OK, we know this part. He goes to visit Connors and helps him solve the Magical Math MacGuffin, which pushes his research forward.

Meanwhile, Peter gets in a fight with Uncle Ben, leaves, Ben follows, Ben gets shot, dies, and Peter learns an important lesson...oh, wait, not so much. What Peter does do is go chasing off after criminals to take revenge, but it isn't until Connors, chasing after the corrupt lackey (Irrfan Khan) to Norman Osborn (Michael Massee - well, we don't know that, but it's kind of implied) to prevent him from trying out drugs on veterans, starts smashing shit up as the Lizard, that Spidey actually deliberately helps people. And in that act, he figures it out - he can help, so he has to. Great power, great responsibility.

So then there's the cat-and-mouse between Lizard and Spidey, culminating in Connors attempting to Lizard-ize New York, Spidey and Gwen's police-chief father (Leary) stopping him, Gwen being badass and making the antidote and not getting kidnapped, and the mid-credits scene with a mysterious man in the shadows.

OK, so, the action sequences, and the superhero stuff in this movie is pretty standard. It's good, but it didn't break ground that Spider-Man didn't break. But the plot and scripting sure does.

First of all, the origin is tight. We're not seeing the full scope of it yet, but it's heavily implied that Richard Parker's research led, in some way, to Peter reacting to the spider-bite the way he did. Peter has a reason to get involved with this beyond his uncle's lesson - but that doesn't invalidate the lesson. Peter only figures out what a big deal this is when he saves lives, and he sees that kindness repaid, not with gifts or anything, but with trust and assistance to save more lives. Meanwhile, Gwen's father is a hardass about Spidey, but that's when Spidey is just beating up thugs and being an arrogant ass about it. When he realizes that Spidey is Peter, and Peter is doing what he's doing out of a sense of altruism, he helps. And Gwen doesn't get kidnapped. Lizard has no interest in luring Spider-Man to a fight; he has his own agenda. He doesn't obsess over Spidey, he just tries to keep him out of the way, and Gwen is, therefore, not damsel'd.

Like I said, lots to like. I think the problem is that the action/webslinging sequences are kind of similar to Raimi's movies, and the more nuanced stuff gets missed. But I'm very much looking forward to the next movie, because I want to see where the story goes.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Argo

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Character Creation: Ghouls

I have only a few "White Wolf" games remaining on my project, so given the day of solidarity with White Wolf and Onyx Path, I'll do one of them today.

The Game: Ghouls supplement, for Vampire: The Requiem
The Publisher: White Wolf Game Studio, which has shifted to The Onyx Path
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I worked on Vampire and developed the Ghouls book. It may, in fact, have been the last assignment I had while still on salary?
Books Required: Ghouls, Vampire, and the World of Darkness Rulebook

A ghoul, in World of Darkness parlance, is a human being who has ingested the blood of a vampire, willingly or not, and become its servant. The blood has a strong emotional effect, twisting into a codependent need or an unhealthy hero worship or a sick version of love or lust. Ghouls are some debased fuckin' people, is what I'm saying, and the Ghouls book does a pretty good job of bringing that home. There were a few author issues on this book, as I recall, but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out and I enjoy the NPC characters I wrote for it (a few of which have showed up in my own WoD games).

But, be that as it may, I'm gonna make my own ghoul. Blood and Smoke I'm sure has ghoul-applicable systems, but I'm gonna use the edition for which Ghouls was written (that is, pre-GMC).

Step One: Concept. The obvious question is, how much does my ghoul know? I've made characters before who know more about the occult than they think they do, and a few who think they know a lot more than they do. I think I want to make a character who's very much in the know. I was flipping through the book and there's a Merit I want, so I'm gonna build out from there. The Merit is Inherited Ghoul.

So, my character's name is Rodney Abrams. Rodney stopped aging in 1985 (fortunately he's got a haircut that isn't terrible). He was a financier, and was made into a ghoul as part of a Ventrue vampire's attempt to ride the 80s finance craziness. It worked - Rodney made his master a lot of money.

And then Rodney...wasn't useful anymore. The vampire didn't need to keep accumulating money and Rodney's tactics were reckless (also: cocaine). So his regnant pulled him off active duty, stuck him in a huge mansion somewhere with instructions to "mind" the place, and basically put him under house arrest. Fast forward 25 years. The regnant's childe unseated him (read: killed) and in going over his books, found the house and Rodney. Rodney begged for his life, and the childe, a much more modern type of guy (Embraced in 1965 and spent most his unlife abroad) figured Rodney might be useful. So he enforced the Vinculum on himself, and allowed Rodney out into the world for the first time in decades.

Step Two: Attributes. Standard 5/4/3 spread. Hrm, Mental or Social? Based on what I know about 80s high-pressure Wall Street (mostly from sources like Wolf of Wall Street and "Future Stock"), we'll go with Social. Two each into Presence and Manipulation, one into Composure. Mental's second, then. One each, and then the extra into Wits. Finally, Physical. One each across the board? Yeah, I think so.

Step Three: Skills. 11/7/4. Mental's first, then Social, then Physical.

Well, 3 into Academics, to cover math and finance and so on. Two into Computer (since being reintroduced to the world he's worked hard to get current). One into Investigation, why not. Two into Occult (lots of time, lots of books), two into Politics, one into Science.

For Social, I'll put three into Persuasion, one into Intimidation, two into Socialize (coke parties), and one into Subterfuge.

Physical: One into Athletics (you're dumb if you don't), two into Firearms (lots of time on his hands), and one into Stealth.

Step Four: Specialties. These should be easy. I want one in Academics for Finance. One in Persuasion for High-Pressure, and one in Stealth for Hiding (the mansion taught him to find hiding places quickly).

Step Five: I've already decided on my regnant's clan and covenant (Ventrue and Invictus, respectively). I get two dots of Disciplines, one of which has to be Resilience. I can take Dominate, Animalism, or a second dot of Resilience. Hmm. Well, Animalism is right out. I actually think that Resilience makes more sense than Dominate; all his interactions were over the phone.

Step Six: Merits. I get seven dots, because again, pre-GMC rules. I want Inherited Ghoul, which is two. I'll take a dot each in Regnant Favor and Regnant Trust; my regnant likes me well enough. I'll put the other three dots into Resources. I figure Rodney had some accounts that just went untouched for a while, and now he's accessed a few and has some liquid cash on hand.

Step Seven: Advantages. Willpower is 4, Health is 7, Morality starts at 6 rather than 7. Virtue and Vice, since we're going with the older rules, get chosen from the lists. I think his Vice is pretty freaking obviously Greed. But Virtue, hmm. I don't see Rodney as a good person, really. He's the embodiment of the 80s greed culture, a fiscal vampire, so hungry that even an actual vampire said, "yeah, that's enough." So what's his Virtue? Not Charity, obviously, and not Justice or Temperance. I think it's between Fortitude and Prudence, and I don't think someone who's prudent would ingest quite so much cocaine, so Fortitude it is.

Step Eight: Spark of Not-Quite-Life. So, we already figured out that Rodney's new regnant came back to the house. Did he kick him out? I think no, I figure the job hasn't really changed much, Rodney's just allowed to leave. He's doing some financial stuff for his new boss, but shit has changed in the ensuing years - if anything, the culture is more forgiving of some horrible shit that rich people do to get richer. Rodney is ready to sleaze his way to the top, 80s style.

Problem is, his regnant (Mr. Lupin) doesn't have any other ghouls, but Lupin's in the local vampire scene up to his eyeballs and needs an errand boy. So Rodney gets sent on all kinds of wacky errands (read: he's a PC), and doesn't really have time for all the blow and bimbos that he used to. That's life.


Pirates: The Devil's Skull

Sounds like a cool title, huh? New story in our Pirates of the Spanish Main game! I've been played Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, so I'm totally down for piracy. We even bought the sea shanty album!

So anyway! We open in Tortuga, with the officers from the Poseidon's Due going over the books and Maddie trying (vainly) to explain to Blaine how an abacus works. And then there's a ruckus - some of the local militia are trying to roust a fellow named One-Armed Jack (who actually does have both arms - pirate nicknames are weird and bawdy). We overhear them referring to a "proclamation" that he supposedly stole.

We have a quick conference. A "proclamation" could refer letters of marque or legal piracy, or some other valuable endeavor. Blaine makes the motion to get the proclamation and see if it's valuable; the others assent (Georgina, ever cautious, abstains). Blaine stands up and tells the guards that One-Armed Jack is under the protection of the Poseidon's Due, and if he's committed some crime he'll answer for it like a crewman. Blaine's intimidating manner (and the rounds of rum he's been buying; see earlier "abacus" issue) convince the crowd to be on his side, and the guards withdraw.

Jack joins us, and explains that he has a wanted poster for a fellow called "the Dutchman," wanted for crimes against the crown. Seems his ship, the Archangel, set upon a British ship and raided it, but some of the things he took were important to the Crown and now Jack is looking for him. He supposedly had a line on the Dutchman being here in Tortuga, but it seems he was wrong - the man is actually in Port Royal.

Blaine instructs Maddie to make whatever preparations we need to get to Port Royal. On the way out, a drunk guy draws on Morgan and challenges her to a drinking contest. She wins handily and robs him; Blaine grabs his flintlock.

We set sail at dawn, Maddie pointing out to Blaine that we're down to our last few coppers. Port Royal needs to lead to something. The Governor of Port Royal, Sir Kenneth, is happy to let pirates do more or less what they will, as long as they pay the docking tax. But Maddie is an old "friend" of his, and knows a secret way in to the city...but it involves swimming. We decide instead to have Maddie charm the pants off him (literally; this is referred to as Maddie "titting her way in"), and she talks her way to the governor and convinces him to waive the landing tax. He wants us, however, to come to dinner tonight.

We scrape together some clothes that are fit to be seen in and join Sir Kenneth at his home. There are a few awkward remarks as he assumes Francois is a servant, but this calms down and he tells us about the Dutchman. There are rumors about what was on that ship - notably a piece of the Devil's own skull that can only be retrieved by a good Christian man ("That's us out, then"), but mostly it's just about the treasure he nicked. But yes, he's supposedly in Port Royal, and Kenneth tells the crew that he's rumored to favor a tavern called the Bucket o' Blood.

Blaine stumbles a bit on the name of the place, but he's not afraid of a tavern with the word "blood" in it. No, by thunder! Next time, we go clubbing!

Tavern-ing, I guess! Yarr!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Character Creation: Psi-Run

Now that I'm done with my first draft of Idigam Chronicle and I'm on spring break, I'd like to try and do a character for my project every day. Today, however, I'm feeling weirdly tired and out of sorts (I think it's still adjustment to my new glasses as much as anything else), so I'm gonna do an easy one today. With that in mind:

The Game: Psi-Run
The Company: Night Sky Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at Origins (I think?), really liked it, and then then bought a copy and ran it at one point.
Books Required: Just the one.

The basic premise here is that you're psychic, and you're imprisoned. There's a crash, now you're free along with some other runners, but you need to escape before the Chasers catch up with you. The game is very fast-paced and relies heavily on improvisation, and you make your character as you go by answer questions (regaining your memories). There's a lot here to like.

Assuming that I don't know my runner's name right off the bat, I'll just go for the easy stuff. I need to fill in my power. This is psychic in a broad sense; if I know I can tell what people are feeling, I should just write that down rather than speculate on the limits of the power. I think I want my character to be in his 30s, obviously a body-builder, because that's different than what I usually do. We'll say he's very muscular, got tattoos on both arms, bald head with a few days of stubble, one green eye and one blue. He's wearing an orange jumpsuit with the number "33421" on it (just made that up).

For powers, I'll avoid the obvious "super strength" route and go for Clairvoyance instead. 33421 can "see" things that aren't happening in front of him.

Sounds good. Now into the questions. You finish this game by answering all of your questions. I have to write down a question dealing with my powers. OK, that's no problem. I'll say "What triggers my visions?"

Then I write down questions dealing with my strengths and weaknesses. I'll write down "Why can't I catch my breath?" (implying some kind of pulmonary problem) and "How did I get so strong?" (implying that I'm...really strong).

I need at least one question about my current circumstances. I'll say that my character just had a vision about a family sitting down to dinner. His family? No idea. Actually, I'll make that the question: "Were the people in the vision my family?" And then I have two more question slots, but I don't necessarily need to fill them in. Kinda want to, though.

Well, I always enjoy the implication that the Chasers put some kind of controls to us. So how about "Why does the bass from that car make me sick?" And finally, I'll say my guy has a tattoo of a heart on his wrist, with the letters "JF." So "Who is JF?" is my last question?

And that's it. Simple game. Like it a lot.


Post #249: Hellboy

Hellboy is a movie based on the comic of the same name (created by Mike Mignola), directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Doug Jones, Karl Roden, and some bland boring nondescript POV guy (Rupert Evans).

Our story begins in the 40s, in which Grigori Rasputin (Roden) tries to unleash tentacled apocalypse upon the world for Hitler, but fails - all he manages to do is bring a little red monkey-looking baby through. Years later, that baby has grown up into Hellboy (Perlman), hugely strong and dedicated to fighting monsters that attack normal people. His adoptive father, Professor Broom (Hurt) runs the show at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (overseen by agent Manning, played by Jeffery Tambor), and he's assisted by fish-man Abe Sapien (Jones, voiced by David Hyde Pierce) and his occasional girlfriend and pyrokinetic Liz (Blair).

Into this mix, we throw POV character John Myers (Evans), and therein lies my only real problem with this movie. But I'll come back to that. Rasputin is back, and wants to use Hellboy to open a gate to Hell and bring through Cthulhu the Seven Gods of Chaos. He tricks Hellboy into coming to the appropriate Darkened Temple, killing Broom along the way, and then takes Liz' soul to force Hellboy's hand. But Hellboy rebels, chooses humanity, kills Rasputin, scares the crap out of whatever's on the other side into letting Liz go, and the movie ends with fire and kisses.

OK, so you see how all of that had almost no mention of Myers? We could have lost him entirely. He's only there to give us a POV character, and we don't need one. Del Toro could have thrown us into this weird-ass world with no exposition. Hell, give us training day for a new group of agents, show them getting the ropes from Hellboy's handler and friend, Clay (Corey Johnson), and then take the focus off them and let us just have the relationships between Hellboy, Broom, Manning, Liz and Abe, and that would have been fine. Myers is boring, and we have to spend too much screen time with him.

Beyond that, though, I like this movie a lot. Hellboy is a weird character, and from what little I've read of the comics, Del Toro and Perlman did a great job bringing him to life (reportedly Perlman was both Mignola's and Del Toro's only choice for Hellboy). The FX haven't aged especially well, but the practical effects (including Hellboy) work just fine, and I really wish the sequel had been more interesting than it was.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Amazing Spider-Man

Vampires! Vampires with Tentacles!

Night's Black Agents Saturday night. Had kind of a big reveal.

After their rescue of Imre Szabo, the bookseller, last session, the characters holed up in a safehouse. They stashed the van they stole in the garage downstairs, ensconced their protectee in a bedroom and gave him food and a shower, and called David in.

They wanted to do some tests on Szabo, but none of them have any Medic or Diagnosis (that's David). So Lockwood called upon Eli Sippos, an EMT she knows in the area who freelances doing some body disposal. He came out and drew some blood for them. Lockwood also talked with Szabo and learned that his captors had dragged another captive through the room, an American woman named Jessica.

Meanwhile, Smith set up a flashbang to go off if anyone messed with the window off the fire escape, and Rousseau set up cameras on the external walls and doors. And then they waited.

David arrived in the wee hours of the morning. Hanover opened the door for him, and David notice a red dot appeared on his chest. David pushed him into the house just the shot went off. The others woke, and Hanover checked the monitors - four guys with automatic rifles coming up the back, two guys in front splitting up to hit two doors. They heard the bang as the flashbang went, and then the first guy kicked in the door. David shot him, he shot back. Smith hit him with a shotgun, and Lockwood finished him off - but he took too many bullets to be human. Rousseau, meanwhile, shot the one on the landing off the fire escape, and everyone headed downstairs to the van.

They piled into the van (and, in the course of fleeing, realized they hadn't swept the van for bugs or trackers). Rousseau drove the van through the garage door (OH YEAH!) and knocked the guys out of the way. The guy she'd shot off the balcony followed, on foot, keeping up with the van, but Lockwood found a grenade and lobbed it, and it was next to the guy's face when it blew.

They fled, and were about to leave town, but Szabo reminded them about the girl. Figuring they'd better get her out trouble, if they could, they stopped off in a parking garage and then headed for a hospital to analyze the blood and use the wi-fi.

At the hospital, Hanover, Rousseau, and Smith sat with Szabo in the cafeteria and did some research. Jessica was, apparently, Jessica Brown, here on a vacation visa, but she has a criminal record - art forgery, especially books. Their theory was that she was called here to make a copy of the diary, maybe to throw the characters off the trail. Szabo remembered another detail, too - she'd smelled like coffee.

Meanwhile, Lockwood and David broke into a lab (with help from Lockwood's EMT buddy) and ran some tests. Szabo had been given injections of the blood nutrients, and the effect was that was more resistant to dehydration. But why? Just to see what the chemical was capable of? Or to keep him alive long enough for the characters to find him - bait? As they mused on this, a man entered the room. He acted very deferential, and showed them a CIA ID - he said his name was Jones, and he was a friend of Smith. They talked a little, and he agreed to go with them to the others so Smith could confirm his identity and they should share info. And then he attacked.

He knocked them both across the room. David shot at him, but he didn't seem to mind. He punched Lockwood almost hard enough to take her down, and then turned his head toward David. Two tentacles shot out from under his tongue and stabbed David right in the chest. David felt his blood draining away, and passed out.

Lockwood, thinking quickly (and using Preparedness), grabbed the fire ax she snagged on the way in and severed the tentacles. Jones howled in pain, spraying blood and fluids all over Lockwood, and then ran.

The others, hearing the screams, came to their aid. Smith and Lockwood worked to stabilize David, while Hanover and Rousseau chased Jones. He had almost made it to the door when Rousseau made a Cop Talk spend to mobilize the security staff, and blocked the door. Jones surrendered, but identified himself as CIA and told the guards not to let Rousseau take him anywhere. So they locked him in a room in the hospital. Lockwood and David are under medical care, Szabo is probably likewise under surveillance, the others are free (and Smith remembered that Jones was probably turned a while back), and they still don't know where Jessica Brown is.

Next time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Notes for the NBA

Keep sportsin', guys!

No, seriously, have to keep this quick, since gamers are here fairly soon and I have to cook.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Character Creation: Valherjar

Home sick again, taking a little break from Demon redlines. And I've had this song in my head all day:


So I wanted to find a game that would allow a character inspired by that song, and I think this one, from the long-ago Haiti bundle, is a good fit.

The Game: Valherjar: The Chosen Slain
The Publisher: Game Monkey Press
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one. There's some errata on that linked page, so I'll keep it handy.

The premise of Valherjar seems pretty cool, actually. You're playing elite warriors taken at the moment of death and given new life in Valhalla, trained against the coming Ragnorak and sent back to Midgard for occasional missions. You can die as many times as necessary, can speak all mortal languages, and can use Rune magic as well as various ass-kicking techniques.

The execution is somewhat less successful. First of all, the system is a pretty eye-glazing 3d6 affair called the AOR system (I can't easily find what that stands for). The book, to its credit, has a lot of examples of play and shows the system in action, and I'm pretty sure I could puzzle it out given sufficient incentive. But it doesn't say "run me." It says "hack me into Fate and then run me."

The artwork in the book is pretty nice; a lot of it is Ron Spencer, and I'm a fan of his stuff. The writing is thorough, at least, but they need an editor and someone with some sharp knives, because it's really overwritten in places.

As an aside, I'm a fan of game fiction inserts and in-character breaks and so forth, but you've got to be pithy with it, otherwise you run the risk of losing the reader. And the fiction has to be good, and good fiction is hard to write. Valherjar's fiction didn't really grab me, and I wound up skimming a lot.

But, anyway, let's get to work!

Step One: Concept. So, characters in this game are meant to be warriors, but that doesn't necessarily mean soldiers. I'm actually having trouble finding anything that tells me if I should make a modern-day character or if I can make a warrior from any period in history. Oh, wait, found it. I can totally be a historical warrior. Hmm.

Well, I like the idea of a watchful, contemplative sort of character. I like the image of him on a tower, looking down over a valley, and eventually seeing fire as everything below him burns. Doing a bit of quick Wiki-research, I find the Peel towers, basically watchtowers constructed in England in the 15th century to watch out for Scottish invaders. I think my character was the son of a laird, and their lands were invaded. Everyone died, and my guy was the last survivor, keeping the watch-fire burning as everyone was pulled out of the tower and killed. (That's bleak.) We'll call him John Forster.

John's last words before the raiders got him were an oath that he'd die before he let the fire go out. And he did, so that's good. But when the Valkyrie took him, she asked "Was it enough?" and he replied, "No," because he knew that all his death had done was hold back that dark for a moment. Hence, Valherjar.

John's brooding and contemplative now. He can party and drink with his compatriots, but he's introverted, and prefers to be alone, high up, so he can watch. He's tall, thin, and has red-blond hair and bright blue eyes. He laments that cloaks aren't in fashion anymore, but makes do with hoodies and long coats.

There, that's enough for concept, I think. What's next?

Step Two: Choose an Aett. "Aett" is basically which Norse god is my patron. The splat pages look decidedly White-Wolfy, so that's a point of familiarity, anyway. Gjall, the Chosen of Heimdall, are very much what I picture for John.

Step Three: Assign Priority Points. Ooh, this looks mathy. The game tells me this system is "innovative." C'mon, guys. That's like assuring me the urban legend you're about to relate is "true." Don't tell me it's innovative, show me with its innovation.

Anyway. I get 12 Priority Points, which I then split up between Attributes, Skills, Rune Magic and Prestige. The suggested split for Gjall is 3/4/3/2, but I'm going to look at this a bit more closely and make sure that fits.

Well, I think I want to put 3 into Prestige, which makes me respected, but not very well known (and gives me an extra Luck point). That leaves me 9 points. Could just spread them out, I guess. I think that I'll put 2 into Skills and 4 into Rune Magic, because I enjoy playing magic-y people.

So that gives me 3 in Attributes. That gives me three packages to choose from; I choose to have two Attributes at 3, three at 2, and three at 1. I'll do my 1s first.

Well, Charisma isn't my guy's strong point. Neither is Intelligence, I think. But the third one, hmm. I'll put it in Strength; I see John as a distance-attack kind of person.

For my 2s, I put them in Dexterity, Agility, and Will. John's not bad here, but his real strength lies in...

...Perception and Endurance, just what every good sentry needs.

OK, then. Now Skill points. I have 2 Priority Points here, which gives me more packages to choose from. The question here is how much I want to specialize. I tend to spread my points out a lot, normally. I think we'll do two Skills at 3, two at 2, and eleven at 1. The book tells me I actually pick Skills in the next step, so we'll move on to Magic.

Again, packages. I don't know what the hell these mean, though. Hrm. Guess maybe I'll come back to this, and move on to the next step for now?

Step Four: Select Skills. For every Skill with a rating of 3 or better, I get a Specialization. OK, then. Let's, again, spend the 1s first, since I have 11 of them. I take 1s in Animal Ken, Concealment, Crafting, Demolition, Diplomacy, Gambling, Larceny, Law, Leadership, Streetwise, and Pistol.

Now I have two Skills at 2 and two at 3. For my 2s, I take Athletics (always take Athletics) and Resolve. For my 3s, I take Observation (kind of John's strong point; I take a Specialization in Scouting) and Hurled (which covers bows, and I'll take Drawn Bow as the Specialization).

Step Five: Rune Magic. Here we are. OK, now, there are primary magics, and then Foci within them. I get that. But then my Aett can grant me Boons...but it doesn't say if I get them, how many I get, and where those points come from, and since there's no freaking example of chargen, I'm not sure how that works. Let me dig a little more. Oh, I see now. I don't get Boons unless I dump at least 4 points into Prestige. That...could be stated a little more clearly.

Well, whatever. I have 4 points in Rune Magic, so I can take bunch of Primaries, or Primaries with Foci. I think I'll do the latter. That gives me four Magics with rating 3 and two with rating 2, plus 5 Foci among the rating 3 Magics. Oy.

Ooh, well, I kinda like Blade-Kenning, which would allow me to summon a weapon. Since John likes to use a bow, that's probably useful. I don't really want the Foci, though, so I'll make that a rating 2.

Fallacious Senses lets me screw with a target's mind and senses, and I like that. I'll take the Hush Focus, too, letting me silence someone.

Flying Hammer is pretty cool, but it's a little overt for my guy. Gangrad's Cloak, though, lets me hide my supernatural status, and I can see that being useful. I'll just take it at 2 (and it keys off of Charisma, dammit; that's the danger of using Charisma as the dump stat).

Anyway, nerdity aside, next up is Maiden's Blessing. Now, the magic itself isn't especially interesting, but the first Focus allows you to use a power that normally only works on Touch at Line of Sight. I kinda dig that.

I get two more Magics and three more Foci. There are a few more magics I like, actually. I think going with the theme of the character, though, I'll take Runic Eye and Windspeak, which allow me to draw a rune and then see through, and communicate with everyone in the area, respectively.

Runic Eye first. I like the Sound From Sight Focus, which lets me hear from the Rune as well as see. Then for Windspeak, I'll take Knowing Gaze (which enables two-way communication with eye contact) and Lullaby (which allows me to put people to sleep).

The last step in chargen is to request equipment and weapons, because when you get transported to Earth you're "effectively naked." (No word on whether that means you're actually naked.) But as usual, I shall skip that step because I find it boring.

I actually like this character, and I like the premise of this game. I just think it's overwritten like whoa, and I'd need someone to teach me the system because it's very numbery and makes my eyes twitch to read it.

Movie #248: Heathers

Heathers is an 80s black comedy starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Lisanne Falk, Shannen Doherty, and Kim Walker. It's one of those 80s movies that dates itself because of the its subject matter.

Veronica (Ryder) is in with the most popular clique in school. Said clique consists of the titular Heathers: Heather Chandler (Walker), the vicious, vapid leader; Heather McNamara (Falk), the cheerleader; and Heather Duke (Doherty), the timid, Moby Dick-reading suck-up. Veronica pretty much hates them and misses her nerdy friends, but partakes in their bullying and ridicule of other students kind of aimlessly. And then she meets JD (Slater), the trenchcoat-wearing bad boy transfer student, who pulls out a revolver and fires blanks at the football players who bully him...wait, what?

(This is what I mean about the subject matter. School shootings are kind of a different thing, now, and while Heathers raised some eyebrows at the time, I can't imagine it would get made today.)

Anyway, after a humiliation at a college kegger, Veronica tries to trick Heather Chandler into drinking something that will make her throw up...only JD has switched the cup with a mug of liquid drainer, which kills her. They make it look like a suicide, and suddenly Heather is more popular than ever. Following nasty rumors spread by two football players (Lance Fenton and Patrick Labyorteaux), they set them up in a gay suicide pact (JD lying about bullets that act as tranquilizers). Veronica finally realizes that murdering people isn't cool, leaves JD, but winds up having to shoot him when he tries to blow up the school and make it look like a mass suicide pact.

The movie feels like an early Burton movie, even though it isn't. The color palette, the satire of suburbia and high school life, it does feel a little like someone taking the piss out of a John Hughes movie. Ryder and Slater make it work, and Slater channels Jack Nicholson really effectively. The movie is set in Ohio, and it could pretty easily be Strongsville.

The movie is a pretty good example of a black comedy, I think. It doesn't get so unrelentingly dark and nasty that there's no humor anywhere, and even though there's a body count, the deaths are performed with a minimum of gore or lingering on the suffering. The dialog is snappy and the characters that remain alive have some redeeming value, so it's not entirely bleak (which is a dangerous in black comedy).

The DVD contains the script for the unshot original ending, which is entirely too bleak. I'm glad they went with the version they did.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Hellboy

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Better Angels, Torture and Regret

More one than the other.

So, last time, the adult characters left Livi's house with Creature in the trunk. They stopped at Rally's to get burgers and discuss their options. They decided to take her to Arvo's garage and interrogate her there.

They dragged her to the garage, and decided that Livi would be the scariest thing they could put in front of Creature. So Arvo went back to get the little girl out of her house, and did so by turning invisible and waking her up (and promising her more pop and a pair of pink sunglasses). Meanwhile, Creature tried to bargain with Willa into letting her go, but it wasn't happening.

Creature managed, however, to get Livi to soften by apologizing for what she'd done to Livi's parents, basically blaming her demon. Livi wasn't thrilled, but understood, and the characters agreed to let Creature take them to the fiddle. Mammon, meanwhile, convinced Gary to try and steal one of Arvo's trophies. He tried, but Arvo noticed. Mammon kicked on Claws and Nidhogg kicked on Flame-Wreathed, but they both backed down with no violence.

Arvo chained up Creature's legs, and they took a car (not Willa's, which had blood in it) to the same church where Livi had seen guys taking the fiddle before.

Willa went inside and broke into the office. She discovered a filing cabinet with some scrapes in front of it, so she pulled it out and discovered a hollow behind it. The hollow contained a fiddle case that burned her flesh when she touched it (there was angelic script on it, which Baal identified). She opened it using her hoodie as a hot pad, and found a bow with a gold string and a folded piece of paper. The paper turned out to be a list of Bible verses, in no particular order, and with no particular theme - probably a code. The bow, though, was made of what Baal called "Stygian steel," forged in Hell. It made Baal very happy, but made Willa slightly uncomfortable.

Someone's coming! Willa hid under the desk a couple of men looked in. They discovered the missing case, but also mentioned the list - clearly it was a code for locations. They went outside to look for the thief (one of them carrying a gun), and found the car. Livi asked to use the bathroom, and Gary went with her, while Arvo stayed with Creature.

Creature asked to be let go, since she had no further information to give them. Arvo agreed, and warned her to stay out of their way. She left on foot.

Meanwhile, inside, Livi used the bathroom and Gary made awkward small talk. Willa, now that the guys were distracted, left the office, but was spotted. She tried to sneak by them, but at that point the men had apparently recognized them or realized what they were. Livi's demon, Glasya-Labolas, decided to remove ambiguity and turned on Flame-Wreathed.

The men fell back toward the office, and the demons, in a rare show of "let's not fucking murder everyone," left.

They went back to the garage and tried to figure out the cipher. Livi realized that the numbers in the first verse corresponded to the address of the church. Gary did some computer-ing and figured out that a few more were churches, but not all of them. And then the adults' phones went off - Amber Alert. For Livi.

Arvo drove her home (but got her ice cream first), and dropped her in her neighborhood. She was picked up almost immediately and taken to the hospital, where police asked her questions about where she got the ice cream. She was eventually taken to her parents, but she lied to them, too, claiming it was an old lady (her demon, of course, coached her). She made some reference to biting people, too, and that got some attention. By the end of the interrogation, her Deceit was down to nothing and her Honesty was up. One more roll and Strategies would have been at risk, but she decided she was tired and that got the cops off her.

Meanwhile, the others realized they were probably made. Gary went for a walk and saw cops at the nearby gas station where Arvo had bought the ice cream. He went back and they took the car they'd use earlier to a chop shop, and then went up into the ritzy area of town and broke into the mansion of a well-known urbanite kid who was in rehab.

Now living high on the hog, they're planning their next move. Willa, thus far, has told no one about the bow. But why would a golden fiddle of God have an Infernal bow? And where is the fiddle, indeed?

Character Creation: School Daze

I'm sick. I should be writing Werewolf stuff, but I think I'm gonna make a character, maybe do the write-up from yesterday's Better Angels game, and then go play Assassin's Creed for a while.

The Game: School Daze
The Publisher: Sand & Steam
Degree of Familiarity: Not much, see below.
Books Required: Just the one.

School Daze is an RPG in which you play high school students, written by my compatriot in the IGDN +Tracy Barnett. Since it's a game that deals with kids, and since I have a Kickstarter running that deals with kids (go back it, only a few days left!), and since the game looks simple and has nicely sized type, I'm doin' this one today.

School Daze takes Buffy as an inspiration, along with pretty much every John Hughes movie ever. Pretty simple system; roll a d6, add applicable skills, try and beat 4. The book does make it a point to say, however, that a failed roll should keep the narrative moving rather than simply be a failure, which I whole-heartedly endorse. Also, you can get Gold Stars by doing cool things in-game, which allow you to take a bonus on a roll, remove a negative consequence, or tweak something in-narrative.

As an aside, I appreciate that. Some players (like me) are happiest when we can tweak the narrative, but some folks just don't think that way, and so having a way to use a Gold Star that's purely mechanical is useful.

So anyway, my Permanent Record is awaiting being filled in. This is actually really, really simple. Normally the GM (Administrator) would give me some info about our setting High School and what kind of game (Group Project) we were doing, but in the absence of that, let's assume that I assume that it's a normal high school going in (genre stuff can happen later).

Name: Isaac Williams
Favorite Subject: Hmm. Let's think about Isaac a little. I think I see him as someone who's smarter than he appears. Like, his primary identifier isn't "jock," but that's totally how most people see him. So I'm gonna take "History" as his Favorite Subject, but use Ranks to build up the Jock image.
Ranks: I get three, and they all rhyme (I'm sort of impressed). I'll take Tank (I'm big and imposing, but kind of clumsy), Thank (I'm in good with the teachers) and Flank (I'm a good wingman and I know dirt on people).
Motivation: This is why Isaac gets out of the bed in the morning. They generally change with any given Group Project. The one in the book is Prom-focused, and isn't terribly interesting to me. Let's set Isaac's general motivation as "Impress People with his Brain".
People: I make up three people that I know. These aren't necessarily people that like me, they're just people with whom I have relationships that the Administrator can screw with.

So I'll take Coach Fussell (my soccer coach; Isaac's a goalie), Mr. Corey, the history teacher (who totally thinks I shouldn't be wasting my time with soccer), and Willie (Wilhelmina is the little girl who lives in the big house right down the street from the school; she's 7 and she thinks Isaac is awesome).

And that's it, actually. Very simple indeed.


Board Game: Claymania

Cael's been wanting to play this for a while, so last night we finally managed it.


The Game: Claymania
The Publisher: Gamewright (not linking because I hate their site)
Time: 30-45 minutes, depending on who's playing
Players: Me, +Cheyenne Rae Grimes, Teagan, Cael

Game Play: Divide up into two teams, both teams get a marker on the board. You roll a d6, move your pawn vertically or horizontally, and wind up on a colored square. Then you pick a card with six color-coded things on it (I don't think the colors correspond to categories or anything), and sculpt the thing indicated while your team tries to guess it, with a minute on the timer.


If you get it right, you get a chip. The team that gets all six chips first wins. If you land on a square that corresponds to a color you already have, you have to defend it - unless you get it right, you lose your chips. Likewise, some of the squares are "All Clay," in which both teams sculpt and the one that gets it first wins.

Opinions: It's basically Pictionary with Play-Doh. Played with adults, it would take on a different feel, mostly because the cards have things like "car port" and "bottleneck." +Michelle Lyons-McFarland was not playing and she made herself available to explain weird items to the kids, which helped. We stopped using the "defend" rules midway through because otherwise it would have taken all night, but the kids really enjoyed the game and laughed a lot, so we'll call that a success.

Keep? Yep.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Gaming With Magical Thinkers

(Oh, since people are reading this post: Go check out my Kickstarter, in it final week!)

So, I posted this on Facebook the other day:

No, sweetheart, you didn't piss me off because you tried to use "real world" occult stuff in a Mage game. You pissed me off because you accused me of casting spells on my apartment that made you unable to question me. If I knew spells like that, I'd use them on the bureaucrats running my school district.

(You want further context, PM me.)

A lot of people asked for further context. So here we are. Before I start, though, I want to be clear that a) I'm not naming names, ever, on the Internet, and b) I do not harbor any real ill will toward people for what happened more than a decade ago. I'm a very different person than I was then, and I, as an optimist, hope that they are, too. Progress is good. With all of that said:

When I moved to Atlanta in 2001, I didn't know anyone in the city. I got on the White Wolf forums, and posted, "Hey, new in Atlanta, want to run a game, ping me." I got some hits, some of whom turned out to be fun people and others not so much, but this one guy contacted me, we talked on the phone, and he seemed cool. I set up a time to have a meet-n-greet and maybe make characters (since I'd collected about four people), and he said, "My girlfriend is interested in gaming, can I bring her along?" Well, I'm always keen to get new people into the hobby, and (not knowing this guy), I thought, "if he's functional enough to be in a relationship, that speaks well of them both, right?"

I was younger, then, and not as wise.

We decided on Mage: The Ascension, and the woman in question was a practitioner of Kabbala (she said). I should note, here, that at the time I was a practicing Wiccan, rather than the rabid (ribald?) atheist I am today. Anyway, that was fine, I pointed her at the Order of Hermes, because I figured their magical style would be something she could get her head around; Mage, as we know, can be an intimidating game to start with.  And then she asked if I wasn't concerned that, if he character did something magical, that something might actually happened in the real world.

Now, today, this would be a huge red flag. But back then, I believed in magic, too, and while her question seemed silly ("No, you're just rolling dice"), there was also a side of it that seemed reasonable. She'd never played before, after all, so she didn't have any context for what a game looked like. So we got passed that, made characters, and all was more or less well for a few months.

I had a habit, at the time, of going around the table after games and asking people what their characters had learned during the course of the session. It was meant as a character development thing, but also something I could do to help me see what players felt was important during the session (hell, maybe I should reinstate that practice). She and her boyfriend could never think of something. That's not altogether uncommon; after a long night of gaming, being put on the spot like that isn't easy for some folks.

And then, somewhere along the way, I got an email from her that was utterly fucking incomprehensible. As best as I could piece together (and remember, this was...13 years ago now?), she thought that I was casting spells on my apartment to make it so no one could question me, and that was contributing to her and her boyfriend's difficulty with answering the "what have you learned" question. There were other accusations, too, but they're not germane to the point and they're not something I'm going to get into here. Point is, casting spells.

This, mind, was the same woman who confidently claimed that, should she ever get pregnant, she would not quit smoking, because smoking wasn't as harmful as "they" said. So, there are maybe some issues at work here.  The point in all this, and the reason I made this a blog post rather than just posting it on Facebook, is that most of us have a story like this, some player in our groups or at a con who made us go, "Wow, you're kind of nuts." 

But I've gamed with literally hundreds of people, and that's one of, like, two stories I have like that. The rate of "crazy" is a lot higher, in my experience, in the non-gaming population, and the magical thinking rate even more so. I don't begrudge this woman her beliefs, and I only kicked her out of my games when she a) made false accusations against me and b) was obviously delusional. 

I hope, really and truly, that the ensuing decade has been as kind to her as it has to me. The story was funny, in a "GAH" sort of way, but y'know, shit happens. I do hope she finally quit smoking, though.

(Oh, the reason this came up was that she made a post on a mutual friend's FB feed, and it made me think of it. It's not something in any of my current games.)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pirates! Pirates and also zombies!

Monday was, actually, the Warehouse 13 game rather than the Pirates of the Spanish Main game, but pirates were involved, so.

Last time, the characters were out on the Isla del Rio de Muerte, and Blaine had met Zapata, the weird sorceress lady holding the gem we were after. We decided to head towards said lady, as promised, and let Memphis and Blue do some negotiating.

Well, sure. But as we got closer, Blaine started to solidify. Rather than risk coming under the full power of whatever this was, he elected to hang back. Charlotte wound up joining him when she realized her heart was beating (which is an uncomfortable sensation for a vampire).

The others, inside the temple, spoke with Zapata, and she revealed that she was trapped there. The characters offered to shut down the gem on her headdress, and she eventually agreed. She also showed them a locket with a picture of her (as a young girl) and her father...but her father was Shore, the man who'd sent us here.

Memphis goo'd the gem, and they started walking out...but Zapata got younger, and the radius of undead weirdness went with her. It envelope Blaine and Charlotte and they started to come to life again, but they backed up out of the circle. Along the way, the others decided they ought to goo the locket as well. When Memphis goo'd the locket, it sent off sparks and reacted the way artifacts do when you defuse them.

At this, Zapata faded away, passing along like ghosts do when they finally rest in peace. It became pretty clear that this was probably what Shore had wanted with the artifact. We got back to Miami and figured that Shore might have faded and passed on as well. Memphis called him...but nope, he was there, and invited her out for Greek food. She was keen to go, but we decided (after some deliberation, and by no means unanimously) that we would just head back to base and let Walt smooth over any friction with Shore.

Heading back, Raji asked Blaine why he hadn't allowed the gem to make him solid. Blaine replied that doing so might have placed him under Zapata's control, or done something else he didn't like. And besides, now the gem and the locket were in the warehouse...so now he knew where they were.

Movie #247: The Haunting

The Haunting is a 1963 film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, directed by Robert Wise and starring Russ Tambly, Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, and Richard Johnson.

Dr. Markway (Johnson) is an anthropologist and paranormal investigator who starts us off with a monologue about the various misfortunes of the inhabitants of Hill House, the Crain family. Basically, a lot of death, both accidental and deliberate (by way of suicide). He rounds up two people with paranormal experiences, Theodora (Bloom), who has psychic powers, and Eleanor (Harris), who was present at a poltergeist-like disturbance when she was young.

Eleanor has spent the last 11 years caring for her dying mother, and the experience has left her, in a word, fucked up. She views this trip to Hill House as a vacation, and never wants to go back to living with her sister and brother-in-law. Theo, meanwhile, is a lesbian, and is attracted immediately to Eleanor, which makes for all kinds of awesome tension when Eleanor and Markway show chemistry. And into the mix is Luke (Tamblyn), the probable heir to Hill House, who just wants to chop the place up and sell it.

Various haunt-related things happen, but the real tension is between Eleanor and everyone else. She's fragile and unstable, and obviously catnip both to Theo and Markway. Finally, Markway's wife (Lois Maxwell) shows up, and then promptly vanishes after sleeping in the nursery (where Old Lady Crain died). Everything unravels, Eleanor becomes convinced the house wants her to stay, and she winds up crashing her car into a tree and dying.

The movie routinely gets billed as one of the best horror movies of all time. I don't find it especially scary, but that's only because I wasn't born in the 50s. The camera work, the acting and the pacing of the movie are spot-on, and with some more modern effects, this could be a perfectly workable modern film (avoid, however, the god-awful 1999 remake starring Liam Neeson and Lily Taylor. The only good part is Owen Wilson's head being snipped off by a big stone lion).

My favorite bit is Theo and how obviously playful she is. She isn't predatory, but she can read people (remember, psychic) and she struggles with her attraction to Eleanor and her very wise intuition to not lick the crazy. The censors of the time wouldn't let Bloom touch Harris (because OMG can't admit that lesbians exist!), but she occasionally reaches for her only to get distracted or called away, which is just as effective.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Heathers

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Movie #246: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 is the last in the Harry Potter series, and wraps everything up in a neat little bow. No, not really, though it does come close. Same cast.

So, we left off with Dobby dying and the kids figuring they needed to find the other horcruxes. They do that by getting a goblin (Warwick Davis) to get them into Gringotts, the wizard bank, and into Bellatrix' vault. There, they find a dragon guarding it, and a horcrux among her possessions, which they nick and escape on dragon-back. The goblin takes the Sword of Griffyndor as payment, but LOL, Voldemort shows up and slaughters everyone, and the sword vanishes.

The kids figure out that the next horcrux is in Hogwarts, so with the help of Dumbledore's brother, Alberforth (Ciaran Hinds), they get in, and discover the whole place has gone to fascist hell under the headmastery of Snape (a point: why on Earth are wizard parents sending their kids? Surely they've gotta know what's going on?). The kids get in, and after a confrontation with Draco and Goyle and not-Crabbe (since the actor playing Crabbe, Jamie Waylett, was imprisoned for violent conduct), Goyle dies in a fire, and the kids destroy the next horcrux. That leaves the snake...

...but in the meanwhile, Voldemort, now feeling his mortality and realizing he can't control the Elder Wand, figures that it's not responding to him because Snape is its real master, because Snape killed Dumbledore. So he kills Snape, and Harry, finding Snape dying, collects his tears and views his memories in the pensieve and holy shit, Snape was a good guy all along! He was in love with Harry's mother Lily from a young age, kind of lost his shit when Harry's father bullied him, became a Death-Eater, and then renounced that when the prophecy indicated that Lily's son was the Chosen One and Voldemort killed the Potter family. He killed Dumbledore at Dumbledore's own request, since he was dying of a curse anyway.

But here's the kicker...Harry's a horcrux. To defeat Voldemort, Harry has to die. So he agrees to meet Voldemort in the woods, where the latter strikes him down, and we get an afterlife-y kind of thing where Harry chooses to go back after a conversation with Dumbledore.

So back at Hogwarts, Neville Fucking Longbottom gets to be badass, and pulls the Sword of Griffyndor out of the Sorting Hat and kills the snake, which of course is the final horcrux. Voldemort dies, Harry lives, everyone's happy...

Fast forward 19 years, and Harry is married to Ginny, Ron to Hermione, and they're sending their own kids to Hogwarts. Aw.

Honestly, what can you say about a series that so defined literature for so long? I mean, that sounds like an exaggeration, and it was very chic for a while (probably still is) to decry Rowling's writing as simplistic and derivative, and yeah, there are things I quibble with. But honestly? The story is fucking intricate, some of the characters are really well-realized, and Alan Rickman's performance of Snape through the movies should earn him a Lifetime Achievement award somewhere (if it hasn't).

It's hard to judge the last two movies on their own, because without the rest of the series they're pretty worthless. But judged as part of that series, it felt like a good ending, and I like the epilogue because we get the VE-Day ending at the school, and then the happy ending two decades later.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Haunting

Movie #244: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1, is, of course, the beginning of the end of the series. We've got the same cast as before, plus Bill Nighy has the new Minister for Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, if briefly.

So, shit has gotten real. Voldemort has a puppet in the Ministry, and the Order of the Phoenix, now down two members since Snape kills Dumbeldore, sets out to get him safely away from his home. Hermione, meanwhile, wipes her parents' memories of her entirely, which is a great scene and made me wish her relationship with her parents had come up a bit more previously.

Anyway, they're betrayed, Mad-Eye Moody dies offscreen (which happens a lot these last two movies), and the crew winds up at the wedding of Bill Weasley (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fleur Delacouer (Clemence Posey). Harry, Ron and Hermione inherit some widgets from Dumbledore, and then BAM, Death-Eater attack, the kids are separated, and they wind up wandering in the woods for most of the rest of the movie.

I say that flippantly, but it actually works. We get some good scenes with the trio, some nice Lord of the Rings-esque stuff going on with them trading the horcrux around, Ron storms off, they find the sword of Godric Griffyndor, destroy the horcrux, go and visit Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans), who betrays them. They get captured and taken to the Malfoys' house, where they escape with Dobby's help, but Bellatrix Lestrange kills him, and we ended with Voldemort finding the Elder Wand, one of the titular Deathly Hallows...and supposedly the object that can kill Harry.

The mythology gets thick, and if you don't know what's going on at this point you're utterly fucked. I think the filmmakers put as much in from the novel as they possibly could, but I'm really glad they split this one in two, because if they hadn't everything in this movie would have been cut in favor of the exciting stuff (which largely comes in the next movie), and that would have been a shame. The chemistry between the three principals is amazing (should be, after this many years), and, somehow, they all grew up to be good actors. Standout supporting role: Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, who's the kind of villain you can just hate unreservedly (unlike Tom Felton's Draco, who engenders sympathy now that he realizes that all his bluster over the years means he has to actually be evil).

My grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows pt. 2