Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pirates Bein' Pirates

Monday we played Pirates of the Spanish Main...and we took a ship! Yaarrr!

We were on the Poseidon's Due headed for the location of the piece of the Devil's Skull, and the journey was fraught with countless perils!

Well, two perils. The first was a storm that kind of blew up out of nowhere. Blaine asked Francois if they should try and wait it out, or go through it. Francois was game, and so Blaine ordered the ship onward, lashed himself to the bow and laughed maniacally in the face of oblivion. But with a bunch of good group rolls and some brilliance from Francois, we made it through.

But then...then came the ship. We saw a frigate coming up on our stern. Blaine, looking through the spyglass, realized it was the Archangel, captained by Don Ramirez, a sailor for Spain. The prudent thing to do would have been to outrun it; we had a good enough head start and a good enough navigator. Blaine asked Morgan, the gunnery master, if she thought they could take the ship.

"Just give me something to shoot," she responded, and Blaine ordered everyone below decks that wasn't going to fight (the Dutchman was first to respond to that).

We slowed the ship, then turned, "crossing the T" and firing our cannons to soften it up a bit. Then we pulled up alongside it and attached a bunch of grapples. Blaine swung over, shot one of their crew, and engaged the rest, and the others soon followed. Maddie swung over and cut a swath through their sailors, while Francois cast a spell and sent several fleeing overboard in terror.

Blaine grabbed the captain off the poop deck (lol), and faced off against him, when Georgina, screaming "RULE BRITANNIA!" swung over and landed on the pool fool (Ramirez, not Blaine). Now injured and surrounded, he took a bullet from Morgan before taking a headbutt from Blaine and dropping over.

Meanwhile, the Archangel had caught fire, and it was spreading. Maddie managed to rally the sailors (on both ships) to put out the blaze, and we routed the Spaniards below while Blaine and Georgina took the captain into his quarters. Georgina mended his wounds, and Blaine informed him that the Due had taken his ship.

"Yes, I suppose you have," he said. We offered him quarter to communicate our orders to his crew, since no of us spoke Spanish (which seems like an oversight on our part). But that still leaves us with two ships to get to our next destination.

We'll deal with that next time, however.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Better Angels: Steps to Redemption

So what kind of game do you have when three of the four characters turn out to be the bad guys, and one of them has a chance to redeem her little self? Hmm.

Last time, three of the characters wound up crashing in a currently-uninhabited mansion. Livi, however, had gone home.

Next morning, the three in the mansion starting poring over the list of coded locations they'd stolen from the church. Gary took the mansion owner's Escalade and went driving around, photographing these locations. Most were churches, but there was a locksmith, an antique shop, and a couple of private residences as well. Gary stopped by one of the houses and posed as a gas man. He poked around a little, but the women wouldn't let him in, and his Psychic Object generated ID wasn't enough. He left.

Livi woke up and found the social worker, Stella, making breakfast. They talked, and Stella coaxed a little more goodness back into Livi (shifting a dot from Devious to Insightful). Livi started to feel bad about the people she'd hurt, and less interested in seeing the other Hellbinders again. Stella promised to take her for lunch and then to see her parents.

The other Hellbinders, however, had their own plans. They showed up at Livi's house, and Avro turned Invisible and sneaked up to the house. He tapped on the window and lured Stella out to get next to Livi, and told her to come with them. She wasn't interested, but also wasn't very adept at concealing her conversation with an invisible dude from Stella, who seemed to suspect something. She made a phone call (Avro heard her say "we'll be right there"), and they got into her car. Avro sneaked into the back seat.

They arrived at a hot dog place which was, surprisingly, across the street from the locksmith place on the list. Livi was, again, having conversations with both Avro and Glasya-Labolas, her demon, and Stella waved to someone across the way. A man started walking over, and Willa approached and tried to offer assistance, but Stella brushed her off. The man, Peter, arrived, and talked to Livi, who was wary of him. They talked a bit, but Livi was weirded out by now and wanted to see her parents. Stella agreed to take her; Willa offered to go along (claiming that she knew Livi from around the neighborhood) but Stella wasn't buying it and told Willa she could follow them if she wanted.

Avro, meanwhile, had gone across the street to check out the shop. He Withered the lock, which set off a very loud alarm. He cased the place, quickly, and found a safe behind a key rack, which held two shotguns, two pistols, and slots for a third pistol, a rectangular object, and a round object.

Peter, hearing the alarm, went running across the street to his shop. Avro's demon, Nidhogg, activated Flame-Wreathed and torched the place, and then went out the back. Peter intercepted, holding a pistol and a round, golden disc that made Avro very uncomfortable, and said, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to...get behind me." (Not really what he meant, but it was a tense situation.)

Avro started moving, and Peter shot him. Avro charged, grappled, and Withered him, but Peter pulled free and trained the gun on him. Avro told him, "Just leave it alone. Walk away."

Peter replied, "You leave her alone. Stay away from her." Avro laughed, and Peter shot him, badly enough to strip a dot of Open. Badly wound, Avro slunk away. Nidhogg was not happy.

Willa and Gary had followed Livi and Stella to the hospital. Willa used Dead Ringer to turn into a reporter she'd seen at the park (way back when this started), and asked a doctor for help finding the Stevens; he refused. Gary made himself a janitor's badge and started snooping. Livi went to her parents' room, and found them patched up and ready to go home. She went with her father to the cafeteria while Stella talked with her mother.

Avro stole antibiotics from the pharmacy, to treat his gunshot wound (healing in Better Angels is kinda hand-wavy; basically you're hurt until you manage to slide enough dots around to be healed, which means you have to sin to get better) and then rejoined Gary and Willa.

They saw Stella and Livi's mom exit the elevator, talking about Livi. Listening in, Avro (still Invisible) realized they were talking about an exorcism. It wouldn't hurt, they said. They just needed to get the demon out.

This, the Hellbinders decided, was unacceptable. They'd need to get Livi first.

My Father Loved Women

When we had my father's memorial service back in 2009, one of the things that I heard more than one person say was that he loved women. The unspoken subtext, which everyone understood, was "not like that." Dad wasn't a womanizer and he never made advances on women. He just enjoyed their company, apparently more than that of other men.

Dad was a deep pool. I learned something new about him every time we talked about his life, even right up to the end, and he was much less transparent about himself and his feelings and thoughts than my mother (or me). I suppose it's also possible that he was simply what he appeared to be: good, quiet, calm, and kind. Maybe both.

But back to women. I'm a product of my own generation, and I have my own hangups about sex and women and the intersection thereof that I have been trying, over the last few years, to recognize and, where necessary, correct. I'm starting from a better place than some men. I never believed women owed me sex. I always knew that sex was important for me in a relationship, and if a romantic relationship didn't include sex, that was a problem for me, but that doesn't make it anyone's problem but mine. It certainly doesn't make it anyone's responsibility to provide it. My needs are my needs, but it's not all about me.

It's not all about me. Could that be a mantra that we instill into our young men? Could that be something we teach boys as they get old enough to realize that sex is a thing that they want (regardless of who they want it with)? I mean, it's a useful message for anyone, regardless of gender, but I don't see a lot of women gunning down men because they felt they were owed sex.

The link above, by the way, is a quick and incisive examination of what Elliot Rodger, the man who murdered six people the other night, is and isn't. I fully agree with the writer; calling him crazy or mentally ill assumes facts not in evidence, and is horribly dismissive and othering to people who do have mental illnesses (most people with mental illnesses are not predisposed to violence).

I don't pretend to have a firm enough grip on the human psyche to explain what drove Rodger to this, and I don't believe in "evil" as an outside concept. That is, I think evil is what we do, not what we are (if that's too fine a hair to split, I apologize). So what he did was evil.

What a lot of men are doing now, on social media, congratulating him, is also evil.

I don't have any solutions, except great big grandiose statements about changing the culture, and I don't know the best way to approach that. At this point, I'm just wishing for a little more of my father's insight, love, and patience in the world, coupled with a great big dose of it's not all about you.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Monsterhearts: End of Season One

So, last Sunday was the final session in Season One of our Monsterhearts game. Let's discuss a little.

This group is freakishly perfect for Monsterhearts. If you don't know, the game is tricky to play because it requires a lot of trust between players. You can make a roll to turn another character on, and, as written, there's no allowance for "no, I'm straight" or "no, I'm gay" or "no, I'm asexual" or whatever. You get turned on if the other player makes the roll. Now, you are never actually forced into sex (rather, your character is not), but the whole situation can and does make some players uncomfortable. Which is fine; if it makes you uncomfy you don't play.

These players, however, are very comfortable with the whole thing, and wove a really neat narrative and messy relationship map and so forth with their characters. We didn't quite get to the point that the season would officially end, under the rules, but I have some ideas so we're going to tweak those rules just a little.

Anyway, before we start, here's an awesome map that +Stentor Danielson drew of Perdido, California, our fictiona little seaside town.


Moving along. Last time, we ended on Wednesday evening. The dance is Friday night, meaning we had Thursday to consider. We kind of glossed over Thursday because we wanted to get to dance day; Dora confirmed that Miguel was going to be her date, Brandon was absent, Rook stayed home, Genesis freaked out because Rook was home.

Friday, the students went to school. Brandon came in with cuts on his lip and looking utterly wiped out, so when art class rolled around, Genesis tried to get him to talk about it (and give her back her skin). She tried to manipulate an NPC, but failed, and Brandon's stitches popped open and he started bleeding from the mouth, and finally collapsed.

The teacher sent Dora to the nurse. She got the nurse, but lingered behind in her sanctum to cast a watching hex on the Black Tamanous (using the condom wrapper as a sympathetic token, since she and Genesis had sex with it while it was possessing Omar). She succeeded, and saw through the eyes of the creature (currently possessing Anna Diaz, Omar's mother). She was chopping up some meat, probably human. Omar's father entered the room, with a cut on his lip similar to the one Brandon had. She told him that Brandon would be going to the hospital soon, and to make sure he didn't talk.

Dora came back to her body...she thought. She stood up and texted everyone, but the digits on the phone were backwards. She wandered through the school, trying to find the art room, but students walked through her. She held steady, and headed back to her body.

Back in her body, she sent the text messages she'd meant to. The students figured someone had better go to the hospital and keep an eye on Brandon. There were also rumors flying around the school that Austin had beat up Brandon, and perhaps the football players were gunning for him. Cassi told Austin he should stay at school and stay safe. Briar argued that Austin should go, thus getting away from the people who wanted to hurt him, but Cassi shut her down (and Briar lost a String on Cassi). So in the end, Briar, Skylar, Dora, and Genesis headed for the hospital.

They entered, and Genesis tried to manipulate an NPC to get Brandon's room. She did, and they headed back into the hospital, into ICU. Skylar used dissipate to sneak into the curtained-off area where Brandon was being kept, and watched Mr. Diaz entered. He pulled something out of his pocket, but Skylar didn't wait around to see what it was, she just tazed him.

Rather, she tried. She failed her roll to lash out physically and hit Brandon instead. Brandon thrashed about and fell off the bed, Mr. Diaz bolted, and Skylar faded through the walls. Security picked up Diaz running from the room, and while he's unlikely to be actually charged with tazing Brandon, he'll be tied up for the rest of the day. Brandon seems safe.

Back at school, Rook, Austin, and Cassi wind up in history class with the football players. The football players were being unpleasant, and Rook tried to shut one down, but failed, and the coach kicked him out of class.

Austin didn't show up for lunch, but sent Cassi a text saying Mr. Scherick, the biology teacher, needed him for something. Cassi got suspicious and gazed into the abyss of Austin's mind and felt punches and beatings. Horrified, she tried again, looking for more clarity, gazing into the abyss, and everyone felt a punch. They left the cafeteria and went looking for Mr. Scherick. They found him in his room, and Rook manipulated an NPC to ask him. Scherick claimed that Austin had walked away in the direction of the stairwell. They investigated, and found Austin at the bottom of the stairs, bleeding. He'd been thrown down the steps.

They ran down (with Mr. Scherick) and asked what had happened. He claimed he didn't remember who'd done it. Briar gazed into the abyss to find out, and saw Scherick pointing him to the stairwell and a football player grabbing him and throwing him down the steps, whereupon others jumped him. When Scherick left to go get help, Austin revealed that he very much remember what had happened, he just hadn't wanted to tip his hand in front of Scherick. Clearly their bio teacher was in on it.

The students got together after school to make up their plan. The problem, they realized, is that they need to lure Diaz to the basement and bind her with the grapevines without killing her, since if they kill her the Black Tanamous will simply jump to another host. That means getting her away from the dance with no one noticing and, as Rook pointed out, no one pointing that later than the characters were the last ones to be seen with her. Austin noted that if they attempt this earlier in the dance, the football players won't be there yet, and the dance won't be as populated. That might be the best time to strike, since she won't have her muscle on her.

They ultimately decided to spread the rumor that kids are drinking in the basement. That should get Anna downstairs quickly, since she knows what's really down there (namely, the evidence of the fire, the blood-stained butcher block, etc). Once she leaves, the others will follow her, confront her in the basement, tied her up with vines and imprison her somehow. If need be, they can go back later and move her.

Briar outlined this plan, and used her light the way move to give everyone bonuses to following it later. Skylar used mimcry on this move, just in case a new plan is needed later.

From there, they split up to go get dressed. Skylar wore a tux, but his eyes were made up, plus he wore his hoodie. Briar wore a girl-cut tux with green accents and a rose in her hair. Rook rocked a vintage tailored tux, silver-tipped cane, top hat. Cassi wore a strapless hot pink dress, short in front, long train in back, and a tiara. Dora wore her church dress, navy blue. And Genesis bought a sparkly dress, ocean blue/aqua/green, with a boat neck. They all went out and to the restaurant (and meet Miguel, Dora's date), and talked, perhaps a bit awkwardly.

Genesis got up to use the bathroom. When she got there, a woman handed her a phone and then walked out.

On the other end was Anna. "I have something of yours," she said. "I wonder what will happen if I burn it."

Genesis felt heat on her back.

"I will give it back to you," said the monster, "just tell me what you people are planning."

Genesis thought for a moment...then dropped the phone into the toilet. She was immediately rewarded with a burning sensation down her spine. She came out of the bathroom and explained what happened to the others; there was some brief concern about this requiring changing the plan, but they decided that if the monster wanted to know the plan that badly, it was probably in the dark enough that this would still work. Dora wondered if she could use Genesis' wound as a sympathetic token on the monster; doing so would undoubtedly hurt Genesis. Genesis decided it was worth it, and Dora ran her finger down Genesis' spine, using watching hex (and doing Harm to Genesis). Dora saw the pelt locked in a filing cabinet at the gym; apparently the monster wanted to keep it close. Genesis held steady, and kept her cool, but the monster gained a String on Dora and Genesis.

The group headed out to the dance. Once they got there, Briar, still wounded and needing some sweet, sweet contact (her sex move allows her to heal all Harm), turned Skylar on. They spent some time snogging in the car, enough to fog the windows and count as sex for game purposes. Skylar asked Briar if she was in love with anyone, to which she responded, "not yet." Briar turned the question back on Skylar, and got the same answer.

They all entered the dance, and Skylar and Briar went to the coach's office, where the pelt was stored. Briar lashed out physically to get it open, but failed, and the tool she was using (a hole puncher) slipped from her hand and broke the window. Fortunately no one notice - the music was loud - but they had to work faster. She remembered her come prepared move and picked the lock, and she and Skylar ran away with the pelt.

Meanwhile, Dora and Miguel were dancing, and Rook and Genesis were dancing, and Austin and Cassi were at the door taking tickets. Rook had already walked up to the DJ, slipped him some money, and made a special request, but now he was cheerfully dancing with his date. Skylar and Briar approached them, with the pelt, but Diaz saw them and moved to intercept...and Genesis saw this.

Her hair started floating up as though submerged. Her eyes went black as stormy seas, and though none of the characters could see it, the waters out in the ocean were growing restless (I spent a String and triggered her Darkest Self.)

Rook, though, came up behind her and whispered to her that she had family here, that they were her family, and they wouldn't let her lose her pelt. And then he turned her on, no so much in a sexual way, but in a comforting "oh god please don't flood the place" way.

Genesis held steady, and failed, but one of the things my players remembered this session was that they could spend Strings on each other to alter each other's rolls. Rook spent a String to help Genesis, which was appropriate given the context, and she held it together.

Meanwhile, Dora manipulated an NPC to get the rumors spreading. The rumor reached Anna just as she confronted Briar and Skylar, and she left them alone. Skylar gave Genesis back her pelt, and the characters left and followed the monster to the basement.

They opened the door, and started moving downstairs, and saw Diaz. She turned and burst up into her monstrous form, grabbed a tarp on the stairs, and yanked it. Briar, Rook, and Austin fell and wound up at the bottom of the stairs (I made a Hard Move to separate them). Dora cast the binding hex on the monster, and found her mouth bleeding, but she was able to keep it immobile.

From there, everyone - Briar, Skylar, Rook, Cassi - all lashed out physically with vines, spending Strings on each other and making use of the bonus from light the way to succeed. The monster was bound, but then started to swallow its own tongue. Genesis lashed out physically and gagged it with vines, stopping it.

The tied it up, and Genesis taunted it, telling it that it had lost, that everyone it had killed and everything it had worked for, what was that all for?

Its stomach growled, but it said nothing. It couldn't.

They lifted the butcher block and slipped it into the hollow beneath, under more grapevines, and left. Briar put yellow tape over the door, and they went back to the party, just in time to hear the DJ dedicated the next dance to Oberon, fulfilling Rook's promise to the Faerie King.

Roll credits. End of season one.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie #255: History of the World, Part 1

History of the World, Part 1 is a Mel Brooks film with a huge ensemble cast, including Madeline Kahn, Shecky Greene, Gregory Hines, John Hurt, Sid Caeser, Dom Deluise, Pamela Stephenson, Cloris Leachman, Mary-Margaret Humes, Bea Arthur, and of course Brooks himself.

The movie progresses through human history in short segments, starting off in the days of cavemen inventing fire, music, and forced marriage (there's a bit of problematic material here), and progressing through the Old Testament, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution.

You get the feeling that that this was basically Brooks coming up with some sketches about various points in history and hanging a movie on it to hold them together. And that's fine; it's a Brooks film, and as such it runs the gamut between physical comedy (my favorite: the Roman soldiers marching in a bobby sort of way, smashing into each other, and then reversing direction), lame puns ("You can't Torquemada anything!"), lame plays-on-words ("You made some...big decisions."), and some pretty darned clever bits (To Oedipus: "Hey, motherfucker.").

Brooks looks like he's having fun playing multiple roles, though I rather prefer his later movies where he sticks to bit parts, just for diversity's sake. The supporting cast is, predictably, fantastic, and it pained us to see how many of them (Kahn, Deluise, Hines, Leachman, Caeser, Harvey Korman, etc.) are no longer with us. The movie light and extremely fast paced, at the expense of any kind of character development or investment.

The ending is weak. Anachronisms abound (having Leonardo da Vinci actually arrive at the Last Supper to paint it, and so forth), but the end pulls characters from one segment into another, which raises the question of where the characters from the first segment went (perhaps Jacques is the reincarnation of Comicus?). Don't know if that was a joke that didn't work or if someone ran out of money, but fortunately there's the "coming attractions" to tie it together a little better.

It's good, and it's watchable, but it's not nearly as quotable, edgy, or interesting as Blazing Saddles or as tight as Spaceballs. Probably outdoes Men in Tights, though, and I know I like it better than Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium High

Next up: Hollow Man

Friday, May 16, 2014

Movie #254: Highlander

Highlander is a 1986 modern fantasy movie starring Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, and Sean Connery. Chances are if you're reading this blog, you have seen Highlander and are already mentally making the "there can be only one...good movie" joke. Don't worry, I don't own any of the sequels.

Lambert plays Connor MacCleod, a Scot born in the 16th century who discovers, after being rudely stabbed in the stomach during one of those delightful clan skirmishes that my ancestral countrymen were apparently so fond of, that he can't die. He is quickly driven out of his village for being demonic, because it never occurs to his family that "holy shit, it's a miracle! Praise God!" as an acceptable response to someone quickly recovering from a wound, and hooks up with Ramirez (Connery), a Spanish Egyptian metallurgist and fellow immortal. Turns out immortals can die, if beheaded, and when two immortals meet, they either make friends or attempt to kill each other. And someday in the future, the few of us who remain will gather in some far-off place and fight until the last. Last man standing gets the Prize!

Intercut with all this, we get Connor's life in modern-day New York, where (as of the beginning of the movie) only four immortals remain, and Connor whacks one in the first scene. One of them is the Kurgan (Brown), a massive, evil immortal who killed Ramirez, raped Connor's wife, and has just generally been a shit all the way down.

So. The movie's premise is kinda ludicrous, but also pretty original. The mythology of the immortals is developed to the extent that it needs to be, and while the metaphysics and "rules" are never really explored, they're hinted at (immortals seem to "freeze" at the age where they first died, though it's hard to know if Ramirez has gradually aged over the centuries). The acting is generally pretty good. Brown plays Kurgan with evil glee, and Connery falls effortlessly into "kickass mentor" role (which he'd do again in Untouchables). Lambert is suitably brooding as Connor, but the flashback scenes make it obvious that he hasn't always been quite so serious, and it helps put him in context.

Roxanne Hart plays Brenda, a forensic investigator who figures out what's going on and, naturally, bangs Connor. She's our POV character, and I kind of feel like she's unnecessary, especially since there's this weirdly creepy vibe from Connor about her. That said, the movie spends a not-inconsiderable amount of time on her and her perspective, she takes some action and some agency for herself, and she clearly has non-man-related interests (she's serious about her academics), so I can't bring myself to call her Girlfriend.

I think this movie works pretty well for a number of reasons. The POV isn't limited; we get the cops, the city, the ongoing investigation of the "Head Hunter" (actually just the Gathering happening in NYC), as well as Connor's story. The supporting cast is pretty well realized, with the exception of Kurgan. He's fun to hate, and Brown plays him well, but I don't have any sense of why he's such a bastard (apart from a throwaway line from Ramirez about how the Kurgans used to torture their children). Some depth for the villain is nice. Also, I have no idea why they cast Connery apart from "holy shit, Sean Connery." For one thing, he can't pass as Egyptian or Spanish, and listening to him say anything in Spanish ("Now, pen-day-ho...") is painful. He plays the role well, but the role doesn't suit him, and it would have been a good place to get a non-white-guy into the cast.

Oh, shit, almost forgot the music! Queen did the soundtrack, meaning we get such gems as "Who Wants to Live Forever," "Princes of the Universe," "Gimme the Prize," and "Hammer to Fall" in the movie. The music is amazing and so 80s it hurts, but it's a good hurt.

They're remaking Highlander, of course, and I have the same opinion of remakes as I always do: Nothing is sacred, so go ahead, but understand that it's highly unlikely to catch lightning in a bottle twice. That said, if they cast Oded Fehr as Ramirez, I'd be in, no questions asked.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: History of the World, Part 1

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Movie #253: High School High

High School High is a 1996 spoof of movies like Dangerous Minds, Lean On Me, and basically any movie with a white person trying to educate poor kids. It stars Jon Lovitz, Tia Carrere, Louise Fletcher, Mekhi Phifer, Malinda Williams, Guillermo Diaz, and it's completely fucking terrible.

Richard Clark (Lovitz) is the son of a famous educator at Wellington Academy (where the operator asks "Are you white?" when folks call before she connects them). All he wants, though, is to make a difference in the lives of young folks, so he takes a job at Marion Barry High School. It's in the inner city. You know because it's labeled "INNER CITY" and all the radio stations change to gangsta rap as soon as he drives in.

He does his best to teach, but the kids aren't having it. He tries to make friends with a popular former gang member named Griff (Phifer) and his dark, poetic paramour Natalie (Williams), but the principal of the school (Fletcher) sees these kids as a lost cause, and there's a former student-turned-gang-leader (Diaz) trying to sell drugs and stuff.

So eventually he manages to turn things around with Griff's help (turns out Griff's dream is to go to college) and with the support of the principal's secretary (Carrere). But augh! The principal is really the drug dealer in charge, and works to make sure all the kids fail the proficiency test because...then they'll do more drugs? I don't know. Of the reasons why this movie is terrible, the nonsensical plot is pretty low on the list.

OK, the one and only think I can say in this movie's defense is that at least, for the most part, it keeps its sources focused. One of the reasons I hate the "Movie" genre of spoofs is that they just ape everything, even if it has no bearing on the genre they're spoofing. This movie injects a bit from Deerhunter for some stupid reason, but otherwise it stays pretty true to its sources.

But really. This movie isn't a satire of inner city education, or even of the "white people swoop in and solve the problem," which is a subject ripe for satire. This movie is racist and misogynist to the nines. All of the jokes are fish-out-of-water jokes about Lovitz, but all within the context of "sheltered white guy reacting in horror at how things are in the inner city." The fashion and culture of urban black youth (of the 90s) as seen through Hollywood white-guy lens make up the rest of the jokes. You've got dudes hopping up stairs and falling because their pants are too low (get it?). You've got two black kids dancing in a manner that is suggestive of fucking (get it?). You've got kids with funny names like "Anferny" (get it?). And then Tia Carrere gets repeatedly beat up and threatened with rape. Because that's funny somehow.

I have no idea why this movie is on my shelf, but it's not there anymore.

My grade: F
Rewatch value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Highlander

Saturday, May 10, 2014

One-Shot: Ganakagok - The Sacrifice of Grandfather Whale

So, last night I ran Ganakagok with +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+John Mathys+Cheyenne Rae Grimes, Dylan, and Morgan.

Now, I've run this game before. I greatly enjoy it. However, something I've decided is that next time I run it, we're not going to try to do a one-shot. It works as a one-shot, but it takes a long time if you do the world-building aspect right (which is a lot of fun), and then you wind up rushing the game to finish the myth. Next time, I'll figure on four sessions: One for chargen, one for Night to Twilight, Twilight to Dawn, Dawn to Morning.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, read up here. The game is awesome and well worth the purchase price.)

So, last night, we started building our world. For the world, we draw the Ancient of Storms and the 7 of Storms. We decided that the Nitu are a whaling people, but they're in the middle of a famine. It's been storming on the coastline for decades, and there have been no whales. They've made do finding the occasional seal to club, but beyond that, nothing. But now, there's a gigantic whale out there in the surf, and the famine might be coming to an end. The players added the whale to the map, as well as the Chief's Longhouse.

The cards for the Nitu were the Man of Stars and Ancient of Stars. Here, we decided this famine is generational. It's been going on for longer than the characters have been alive, and the knowledge of how to hunt whales is fading from the culture.

Now, characters!


  • Michelle played Inuk, the determined spear-keeper. She is grandaughter of the chieftain and the last born of the Whale Clan (which spurred the discussions of clans, which I'll pick up in a minute). There's a great big ceremonial harpoon that hasn't been used in years, and which is considered property of the Nitu in general. She claimed it, gaining her a reputation for covetousness. Her truth-vision came from a dream of the Shining Ones and the spear striking the ground and erupting in hot blood, leading to plenty and awesomeness (her change-hope). She is afraid (change-fear) that the storms will return during the hunt and swallow the Nitu. 
  • Morgan played BarckDor, the lone keeper of the hunt. He, too, is the last of his clan (the Bear Clan), but because he banished them. He lives up on the mountain, and wears a mystical vestment of the bear, which protects him from harm. He rescued Felkirk after his tragic hunting accident (see below), but refuses to take a protege. He finds hope (change-hope) in the notion of childbirth, and we decide that there hasn't been a new baby born in years. He is afraid that violence will come to the Nitu (change-fear). 
  • Dylan played Felkirk, the worrisome warrior. Felkirk's grandfather died at sea while hunting, and Felkirk floated back to the Cliffs of Sorrow on his shield (whereupon BarckDor rescued him, but that isn't common knowledge). He carries the giant whale-bone club and shield from his grandfather, and while on a vision quest saw light and felt not cold. He hopes that the Nitu are ready to act when action is required, and that they don't argue and hesitate. He fears that the warmth he saw will melt the ice, and there will be nothing underneath it. 
  • John played Dotik, the swift scout. Dotik is one of the Fox Clan, but refuses to take a protege because of the terrible secret he learned. He fell into a cave and discovered a kind of Rosetta stone that taught him that the cannibal ghouls, the monsters stalking the wastes, are actually the Forgotten Ones, the civilization that came before the Nitu. He doesn't want that knowledge passed on, and in fact fears (change-fear) that the elders of the Nitu will follow in their footsteps. He is the one who saw the whale (truth-vision), and so knows (well, believes) that plenty is coming. 
  • Cheyenne played Utta, the gentle priestess. The youngest of the Owl Clan, her mentor sacrificed himself to the cannibal ghouls to keep them at bay. She believes in the whale, but she believes that the whale must be protected and preserved, that it is a sign that is going to lead the Nitu to prosperity. She is afraid (change-fear) that the whale's death will doom the Nitu. She is also pregnant, the first woman to conceive in years. 
From all that, the players added stuff to the map and the Nitu village. They added Grandfather Whale as a character (and I added a Hate from the whale to the village, while Utta Loves the whale). We fleshed out the Clans a bit more - they're not based on family, but on vocation. Whales are hunters, Foxes are scouts, Owls are priests, and Bears are warriors and knowledge-keepers. But the Whale clan is all but depopulated, and BarckDor banished his clan out of pride. There are also clanless folks, who haven't been initiated into clans, but three of the four clans don't have the interest or the numbers to adopt them. (Families are matrilineal, because sex is a means to keep warm, so women rarely know the identity of a baby's father, and it's not considered important. That makes Felkirk's situation somewhat of an anomaly.) 

The players add features to the map, like the ice-henge, seat of the Owl Clan, that acts as an astrological marker, the mountain where BarckDor lives, the hunting grounds of the ghouls, the ancient mines where the Forgotten Ones dug for copper, and the coastline and ocean. 

And then it's time for the scenes! 

Utta's Scene: Utta, the gentle priestess, goes to the sick-hut to consult with Orlik, the midwife. Well, she's a "midwife" insofar as she's seen a birth, but it was a long time ago. Utta doesn't tell her she's pregnant, not right off, but Orlik figures it out from Utta's symptoms and exclaimed it, and the news quickly spreads around the village. This is generally seen as great news, but Utta feels uneasy. 

Felkirk's Scene: Felkirk, returning from a patrol, sees the commotion and goes to find Utta after someone excitedly tells him the news. He shoves his way to her and scatters the admirers, and they go for a walk together, and wind up meeting Dotik, who mentions that he saw the whale. Utta is overjoyed and asks to be taken to where he saw it, so they head for the coastline. They hear what they think is whale-song, but it is in fact a cannibal ghoul trying to lure them. Felkirk attacks, and fights off the ghouls with Dotik's help. They fall back to the village, where the village raises alarms and shores up their defenses against the ghouls.

Inuk's Scene: Inuk, the determined spear-keeper, finds Dotik, and asks him to take a small hunting party and head out with her to hunt whales. She hopeful that they can bring back food for the village. They decide to get Felkirk and Maruk (the keen navigator). Maruk doubts his own prowess, but agrees. Felkirk suggests they find BarckDor, since he is the keeper of the knowledge of the hunt anyway. BarckDor is, supposedly, on his way down the mountain (because of the commotion from the ghoul attack, presumably). In the end, Dotik races up the mountain to meet him, and BarckDor reveals that two boats isn't enough - he puts together a slightly larger hunting party, and the group gets on the boats and goes hunting. 

Dotik's Scene: Dotik and Felkirk are in the scout boat, looking ahead. They find a pod of whales, and rejoice at their good fortune, but then an immense one, Grandfather Whale, swims under them and toward the hunters just as the storms rage again. They eventually turn and signal the hunters, and Inuk strikes with the ceremonial harpoon. On land, Utta watches the great whale breach, stabbed with multiple spears, and the hunters bring it back amidst plenty. 


At this point, it's Twilight. Utta takes the Owl Clan and leaves, disgusted at the Nitu for killing the whale. They walk off as the stars begin to fade. 


BarckDor's Scene: BarckDor is showing the hunters how to flense blubber from the carcass. He confronts Felkirk, finally, about the death of Felkirk's grandfather and how he rescued Felkirk from the ocean. The flensing knife, adorned with copper, starts to glow. BarckDor drops it, and it melts the ice. Felkirk, afraid (remember his change-fear) raises his club, someone shoves BarckDor, and Felkirk strikes. Because of his vestment, BarckDor is unharmed, but he is driven away from the village, and the Bear Clan are now considered no better than cannibal ghouls.

Utta's Scene: Utta takes the Owl Clan to the ice-henge and they all sit in prayer, and then she has them rise up and go back to the village. She wants the Nitu to know that they're all going to die, because they killed Grandfather Whale. There's nothing to be done, as the stars fade and the eastern sky through the Great Crevasse grows pale, but she wants them to know. They take their weapons and march on the Nitu village. BarckDor, walking in disgrace back to his mountain, finds himself between the village and the owls, and the Nita rouse their defenses to repel what appear (from their backlit silhouettes) to be cannibal ghouls. But Dotik runs forward, and meets Utta, and explains to her that Grandfather Whale sacrificed himself so that the Nitu could survive - it was a benediction, not murder (this is not remotely born out by the fact that Grandfather Whale hated the Nitu, but that's OK, when someone's dead you can ascribe whatever motives you want to them). Utta accepts this, and the Owls rejoin the Nitu. 

At this point, we'd jumped past Dawn straight into morning, so we did some final fates. Ganakagok melted, the ice reduced to slush in the morning light, and it faded away entirely (you know I don't think I've ever seen the land have a good ending?). The Nitu people loaded up their possessions into the boats and took to the sea, thankful for Grandfather Whale's sacrifice and looking to a new life. 

Dotik's people, the Fox Clan, becomes the Dolphin Clan, swift and clever scouts on the water. 

BarckDor reconciles with Felkirk and gives him the Bear vestment...and dies of the many injuries the vestment prevented (but he dies happy, having finally overcome his pride and passing along his mantle). 

Felkirk goes on to protect the Nitu from threats great and small, finally assuming his true role as a Bear. 

Inuk takes over for her grandfather as the head of the Whale Clan.

And Utta has her baby, happy and healthy. 

Board Game: Ticket to Ride

So, a while ago we had a game day at +Heather McMillin and +Aaron McMillin's house, and played Ticket to Ride. I forgot to the do the write-up, but I did take pictures, so I should do this.

The Game: Ticket to Ride
The Publisher: Days of Wonder
Time to Play: 45 minutes, give or take.
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland, Heather, Teagan, Aaron? (Now I can't remember if Aaron played and the pictures aren't helping.)

But look at the cute baby.

Game Play: Very much like Ticket To Ride - Europe, except the map is USA (and parts of Canada), and there are no tunnels or train stations. This is the version that came first, so it doesn't have the same degree of complexity. That does make it bit more kid-friendly.

Cael did not play, though he probably could if he had the attention span. 
Opinions: I love this game, and I like Europe better because I enjoy the degree of strategy and complexity that the extra rules add. But this version is light enough to be played quickly, and easy enough for new players to pick up fairly easily.

Teagan's got a pretty good sense of it, in fact.
Keep? Yup.

Movie #252: High Fidelity

High Fidelity is comedy starring John Cusack, Jack Black, Tim Robbins, Iben Hjejle, and Todd Louiso. It's one of Michelle's favorite movies; she refers to it as her Empire Records.

Rob Gordon (Cusack), as the movie opens, has just split with his longtime girlfriend, Laura (Hjejle). He think informs us (directly talking to the camera) of his all-time five worst breakups, and says that Laura doesn't even make the cut. He is, of course, lying. He's devastated.

Rob owns a record store, and wrangles two snobbish, misfit employees, the meek, borderline Aspie Dick (Louiso) and brash, loud, asshole Barry (Black). The three of them fetishize vinyl and music in general, and act like the worst comic-book store employees you've ever seen, only about records.

Rob takes us through his history in romance, how he met his four other momentous breakups (stretching as far back as 7th grade), and we see how he operates - he falls in love, moves in, but then relationships get hard (like they do) and he goes looking for the dopamine hit. In the midst of all this, he copes with the fact that Laura has a new beau (Robbins) and he's insanely jealous, and he tracks down his exes and tries to find out why they rejected him.

And it turns out - there's not a simple answer. He's really looking for a way for it all not to be his fault, but when he talks to a girl whom he rejected in high school because she wouldn't sleep with him, and who was then date-raped by her next boyfriend because she just didn't have the energy to keep saying no, Rob (watching her storm out from the very pleasant date they were having) is cheered - if he rejected her, then this is no reflection on his viability as a partner.

Rob, you see, is a complete douchebag.

High Fidelity has the potential to be a redemption story, and it kinda is. Rob, by the end of the movie, realizes how selfish and dickish he is, and he's making an active attempt to break out of that cycle, trust the people around him, engage the world a little, and be a better person. He's not there yet, bu that's actually nice, because that's a process, and it would really feel too pat and out of sync with the rest of the movie if he suddenly woke up and was a good person. But he can see "good" from where he is, he's back with Laura (he proposes, she says no, but thanks him for asking), and things seem on an upward slope.

I like this movie. It's funny, and Cusack is always fun to watch. The interplay between him and his employees is my favorite part, because it reminds me so much of chats I used to have with gamer friends ("used to have," yeah). But for me the most poignant part is that when I saw this movie in 2000, in theaters (when I was 26), I really identified with Rob. Now, 14 years later, I think he's a total ass, and I'm happy when he starts to grow up. I think that speaks well of me. :)

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: High School High, for some fuckin' reason

Monday, May 5, 2014

Pie...rats?

Man, I'm behind on this. Kept putting it off this week, and, well...obviously I've had shit going on because I haven't done any characters, watched any movies, or done a post about Amazing Spider-Man 2, all of which I want to do.

I've got things in the works. Wheels are turning.

Anyway, last week we played Pirates (we're doing so again tonight, rather than flipping back to Dresden, because Michelle is writing a paper and hasn't had brain to prep for running a game). You'll recall, perhaps, that the pirates were headed to a pub called the Bucket o' Blood to search for the elusive Dutchman.

We got to the bar and split up. Francois went gambling. Morgan inserted herself into a group of lads drinking and proceeded to drink them under the table (it tickles me to no end that our elderly lady gunnery master is getting famous for her booze-fu). Blaine chatted with the bartender, Georgina went collected skin conditions (everybody's got a hobby), and Maddie used the power of her shapely bust to sprunge some information.

The Dutchman, you see, was the alias of Sir Thomas Moldyfort. Asking for the Dutchman got us nowhere, but asking for Sir Thomas eventually got Maddie pointed to a gent drinking alone in the back of the bar. She approached him, chatted him up, and convinced him that we were the crew to help him find his Devil's Skull.

We hung around a while longer, drinking and generally shooting the breeze, and then headed back to the ship. Sir Thomas joined us, and Blaine rather drunkenly introduced the crew, and asked which bit of the "good Christian man" (since that's apparently what the Dutchman required to retrieve his treasure) was most important - Blaine was a Christian and man but not good, Francois was good and man but not Christian, Georgina was good and Christian but not a man, and Maddie was...probably none of the above. Maybe Christian.

We decided that Georgina was probably closest to what he needed, and we resolved to set sail on the morrow! Blaine, however, keeps his new pistol close. Last guy who commissioned the Poseidon's Due to find cursed treasure turned on us...