Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Movie #264: House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill is a 1999 horror movie and remake of the 1958 Vincent Price classic. This one stars Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, and Chris Kattan. There are some legitimately talented people in the cast, and I have no idea what they're doing here.

The setup follows the original's plot in a lot of particulars. Stephen Price (Rush) is in an unhappy, vicious marriage with Evelyn (Janssen). Price is a scare impresario, and runs an amusement park of horrors, and in quite wealthy. Evelyn tells him she wants a spooky birthday party in the old abandoned mental hospital in which the evil Dr. Vanacutt (a criminally underused Jeffery Combs) once murdered a lot of his patients, and he shreds her list and makes his own, but twist! The house is really evil and haunted and it hacks the computer and makes its own own list, made of descendants of people who survived the massacre!

What?

This movie plays like someone watched the original but didn't really pay a lot of attention, then jettisoned every last bit of subtlety. It's a firm R rating, complete with tits, gore, and about 2 "fucks" per minute. The original had no ghosts (or rather, no confirmed ones), this one is gleefully, overtly supernatural. The set construction is nice and there's some legit creep, but the script is like a 16-year-old's attempt to run Ravenloft. ("That's just the ghosts playing around. Just wait till someone lets out the Darkness.")

The script also doesn't make any goddamn sense. The five characters are descendants of survivors...so what? That never really goes anywhere, and Larter's character isn't actually a descendant anyway. Evelyn, as in the original, is banging one of the guests (here it's Gallagher) and they try to gaslight the others into shooting her husband, but she stabs her lover to try and up the ante and then fucking beheads him. Everything is way over the top, the supernatural shit is completely unnecessary and overblown, and basically the whole movie is a mess.

Most Dark Castle movies have the sliver of a good horror movie in there somewhere. This one, eh. Skip it.

My grade: F
Rewatch value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: The House on the Edge of the Park

Ganakagok: The Frozen Jungle

Ganakagok! If you've been paying attention, you know I really like this game. But one of the problems we've had is that to really do it justice, you need longer than an evening. So this summer, I decided to introduce my daughter and my stepsons to the concept of storygaming (they've all done some roleplaying, but my stepsons are more familiar with traditional games like Shadowrun and Savage Worlds, and my daughter has played Mermaid Adventures and Cat) and stretch our game out to four sessions. So: First session was world and character creation.

World: The players came up with the idea of a frozen jungle. Ganakagok, rather than being the tundra that it usually is, consists of a huge jungle with creatures adapted to living amongst the frozen trees. We've got huge ice-pigs and various predators. The Nitu live on the edge and are keepers of the jungle. There's a wall surrounding the village, and the Nitu go out into the jungle when they come of age, as a kind of rite of passage sort of deal. The map includes such fun features as "Land of the Owls" and "Hot Springs."

Nitu: The village is ruled by a Triumvirate council, but a younger group is rising up, trying to assassinate the old guard. The Nitu keep husky-like dogs as pets and companions. The Nitu map includes various friends, mentors, and members of the village...including the assassins.

Characters:


  • Will plays Keromet, the Concerned Shaman-in-Training. He saw a vision in the smoke while training to be a shaman, and in fact can't always control his visions. He hopes that he can guide the Nitu through the coming changes, but fears that they will be led astray. 
  • Cheyenne plays Nanaka, the Headstrong Heir. Daughter of one of the elders, she saw a vision as part of her rite of passage in the jungle. She carries a skin scroll containing the ways of her people, but feels that her people are doomed if they keep following those ways. 
  • Michelle plays Skia, the Questing Hunter. Skia met the Old Man of the Forest while hunter, who told her of the coming Great Thaw. She hopes to learn the truth from him, and understand it, but fears to do so. She has a pet dog named Katya. 
  • Al plays Karget, the Compassionate Gatherer. He received visions from his ancestors, of all the animals killed by the village returning to slay the Nitu. He hopes to reconcile with the jungle and live in peace, but fears having to take action and make those critical choices. He is a gatherer, not a hunter, but has a pet tiger. 
  • Teagan plays Kit, the Brave Orphan. Kit was given advice about the coming change from her adopted mother and mentor, Kamupur. Her parents went missing after they ventured to the forbidden part of the forest, where nothing grows. She hopes to complete her training and survive the change, but fears to learn the truth about her parents. She has a husky puppy. 
Tomorrow, we start playing!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Movie #263: House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill is a 1959 horror movie starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook Jr., and Julie Mitchum. It's...not quite as exciting as the last Price movie I watched.

Starting off with a couple of floating heads (Cook and Price) giving us some exposition about how this house has a bunch of ghosts and OMG SCARY, we discover that Frederick Loren (Price) has invited six people to the house. If they can spend the whole night, he'll give them $10,000 each. His wife (Ohmart) is the one who had the idea, but she wanted a real party, not this weird experiment.

But it turns out that husband and wife hate each other (she's his fourth wife, and the others all died young). She wants his money, he wants her gone. So the whole evening is a big game of double-cross. The two young guests, a pilot and a secretary (Long and Craig, respectively) pair off and flirt, but then she starts seeing ghosts. Meanwhile the psychiatrist (Marshal) just wants to prove this is all about hysteria...but he, in fact, is Mrs. Loren's lover, and is gaslighting the secretary with the Mrs.' help to get her to shoot Loren, but in the end, both he and the Mrs. wind up taking an acid bath.

It's all very contrived, and the scares, such as they are, are few and far between. Price is good, and the chemistry with Ohmart isn't terrible, but the rest of the cast is pretty forgettable and the ending of the movie is just weird.

My grade: C
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Movie #262: House of Wax

House of Wax is a slasher flick and a remake-in-name-only of the previous House of Wax film. It stars Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Chad Michael Murray, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri'chard, and Brian Van Holt.

Carly (Cuthbert) is taking a road trip with her boyfriend Wade (Padalecki), twin brother Nick (Murray), and his buddies Dalton (Abrahams) and Blake (Ri'chard), and Blake's girlfriend Paige (Hilton). There's a bit of friction between the siblings; Nick is just out of jail and Dalton and Blake are kind of in awe of his badass image, and he treats Wade like shit in an attempt to poke at Carly. They're headed to a football game, but stop to camp for the night after getting lost taking a shortcut.

Next day, Wade's fan belt is busted, and they wind up catching a ride into Ambrose with a creepy-ass dude who throws roadkill into a ditch for a living (Damon Herriman). They discover the town is largely empty, but find a man who claims to be the town mechanic (Brian Van Holt). While snooping around his house, Wade is attacked and killed by a dude wearing a wax mask (also Van Holt), and mummified alive in wax.

From there, it's a slasher movie - the town is entirely empty, people by wax-covered corpses. The twins are in fact the sons of the Sinclairs; their father was the a surgeon who separated them as babies (they were born conjoined), while their mother was a skillful artist who created the House of Wax, but then lost her mind due to an illness. They've been killing ever since.

Obviously Cuthbert survives, and since her boyfriend dies first and her bad-boy brother softens up, he lives, too. Everyone else is toast. The movie ends with the house of wax (which is literally made of wax) catching fire and melting, and the (good) twins smooshing their way out with nary a burn, which is silly.

I actually like this movie; yes, it's a slasher movie, but it's a good one as these things go. There's some attention paid to cinematography - mostly hands poking through things (the tent flap, wax) and smoosy, gooey textures. The story holds up about as well as these things do, and the characters all have enough to do and say that you remember which one's which.

There's a scene that's a little torture porn-y (Bo tying Carly to a chair and supergluing her mouth shut), but that's not really the genre; it's a pretty pure slasher flick. Like a lot of Dark Castle films, there's a good movie in here, trying to get out.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: House on Haunted Hill (1958)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Character Creation: Edge

Haven't done a character in a while. In a way, that's this game's fault.

The Game: Edge
The Publisher: Outrider Studios
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

I picked up this game and another from the same company (Remnants) at GenCon or Origins some time back. I think I read Remnants, but I don't remember. I picked up Edge to read for my next character back in late June and I've been trying to get through it ever since.

Now, some of this is me. I don't really care for fantasy as a gaming genre, and I should probably stop pretending I do. But some of it is that the writing just doesn't grab me. There's a lot of history, a lot of weird, non-English terms that my eyes just *bleep* right over, and I find that the book doesn't make for good, light reading (which, man. I hope - I think - my game material is pretty readable).

With that said, the cover is pretty boss, and that's not nothing. The game has three character classes, Edgemaster, Chosen, and Dreamweavers. Discounting that one of the classes makes me think of Wayne's World (we'll get to the Ws), the cover has one of each, looking badass. There's no cheesecake art that I've found, and everyone I've ever interacted with from Outrider has been very professional. And their pitch was really good.

So, y'know. If I found someone running Edge, I might want to play it. Let's see how chargen goes.

We start off talking about concept and how you start with a calling (what I referred to as "class" above) and build out from there. The concepts that they list are actually pretty good - "poet looking for lost songs," particularly, is kind of nice.

So let's see. Edgemasters are warriors, but there's a lot of breadth to that - sneaky assassin and honorable knight fit. Chosen are priests and healers. Dreamweavers are mages, but what you hang your hat on is more "making things" - they can conjure things out of the Weave, which is a kind of collective dreams of humanity sort of thing.

Well, when I make fantasy characters I tend to like to do magic users, so yeah, let's do a Dreamweaver. In keeping with my policy of making characters with theme songs, I turn to the most recent mix CD that +Michelle Lyons-McFarland made me, and if I go in order, the first song is:


This song is pretty clearly about doing drugs and avoiding police notice. No one ever thinks about drugs in a fantasy context; narcotics have a pretty clear cultural context for us, and there are all kinds of financial reasons for the "war on drugs" to continue. So: If I want to make a character for whom this song applies, I need to consider either the literal context (narcotics) or the cultural (rebellion against oppressive government). Hang on.

OK, got it. There's a country in the lands of Deomeidh (the setting of Edge) called Braile Corsa. It's a theocracy, and the dominant church worships demons rather than angels (I'll need to read up on the religion in Edge). They're on the verge of waging expansionist war on a pacifist, representative democracy to the south, and I've gotta figure that there are people in Braile Corsa that think that sucks. So I think my character is a revolutionary of sorts - if war breaks out, he might rise to become a hero...or be considered a blasphemous traitor.

So, one thing I do like. Each section on the different nations gives you some instruction on making a character from that country, complete with some questions to consider. Also it tells you a size comparison to a real-world country, which is groovy (Braile Corsa is roughly comparable to Panama, BTW). Mostly it's my relationship to the church. I think my character is nominally a member of the Demonic Church. Reading up a little on the churches, they both kind of suck, but the Demonic one is more "do what we say or we kill you" sort of thing. So again, my guy is nominally Demonic, but is mostly, naw, fuck that. I get a free point in either Lore (Demons) or Medicine. I think I'll take the former.

The book is kind enough to give us example names. I name my guy Daman. The next step is Build a Background. OK, then.


  • Where and when were you born? Let's say he's native to Braile Corsa, 29 years ago. 
  • Who are your parents? Where are they now? We'll say dad is a soldier - not someone on the front lines anymore, but a tactician and scout (he rides well). Mom died a few years ago. 
  • Do you have brothers or sisters? Where are they now? Daman's older brother (Ferelith) is in the army and is ready to go invadin'. His younger sister (Seren) is a Chosen, a priestess of the Demonic Church. Daman doesn't see much of his family anymore. 
  • What was your childhood like? Daman has always been the black sheep. He went to church with his family, but for whatever reason, it never really took, and he preferred to spend time on his uncle's (Jost) farm. He loved working with animals, and rather dreaded going home to his strict, militaristic parents.
  • What is your most vivid childhood memory? His father beat his sister for some infraction against the church. Daman tried to intervene, but Ferelith stopped him. 
  • Who are your family, friends, or other support system now? If I were playing this game, I'd want them to be the other PCs. Other folks in Braile Corsa who know war is coming, and want to stop the war before it begins. 
  • How did you come by your power? Daman finds his peace and his inspiration out in nature. Deomeidh has the same sorts of wildlife as the real world (with dragons and orcs and shit), and I think Daman spent his time in the fields watching bugs and birds and other animals, and that inspired his art. There are paths to Dreamweaving, and one of them is creating life, but another is augment or creating weapons, which might be the way his power goes. Not because he's really interested in that, but because that's what he's needed to do. 
  • Did you have a teacher? What was s/he like? Dreamweavers have to have teachers, if I'm reading this right. Daman was instructed by a friend of his uncle, a woman named Jana. Jana was taken off by the government some time ago, and Daman assumes she's been executed. Jana was all about the cause, and had an engineer's mind, rather than an artist's, so there was a bit of a personality clash. 
  • Why did your teacher take you on as an apprentice? Recruiting for the cause, obviously. 
  • What is your teacher up to now? Probably dead, but it'd be interesting to see her come back as a brainwashed convert. 
  • What motivates you to take action? Indignation at the idea that his country would go to war and attack peaceful folks. Sure, animals do that kind of thing - nasty, brutish, and short. People can be better. 
  • Why did you become a Dreamweaver? Daman doesn't feel he had any choice. The beauty and poetry of the world is right there, visible in the Weave. The kinds of dreams he's Weaving, however, are mostly political and military, and he's not happy about that. 
  • Where do you call home? Daman is living on the road in Braile Corsa, but would like to immigrate to Allain. 
  • What do you do when you're not trying to change the world? Observe animals and nature, draw pictures. 
Woof. OK, that's done, then. (I like chargen systems that include these questions, though, especially when they're specific.) Now I assign stats. We've got three stats: Body, Mind, Spirit. They start at -2, and can go as high as +2, and I get 8 points to spend. Let's see what's going to be most useful to me. Oh, actually, it says right there: Mind.

You know, this is actually some decent game design. Three classes, three stats, each stat mapping to a class nicely. I'll go Body -1, Mind +2, Spirit +1. Hopefully having a low Body doesn't utterly fuck me. 

Now Skills. Same scale, but we start at 0 and can go as high as 6. Oh, and they relisted the free point you get from your country of origins. Nice job, guys. I also get Weave at 1 for free and a combat skill at 1 for free, plus 12 more points. But which Combat skill? Hmm. I think I'll go for Dodge. Oh, and we've got a max of 2 in Skills to start with, which actually makes it easier to buy them. 

I'll start by pumping 3 into the free Skills, putting them up to 2. That gives me 9 points left. 

Well, going back to the song, there's talk of guns hidden under petticoats. While there's some speculation that this refers to needles loaded with heroin, in Daman's case, I think that concealed weaponry ought to be a thing he does. So I shall take Larceny at 2, and spend 2 on a specialization for sleight of hand. That takes me down to 5. 

Better take Lore (Natural History) at 2. Also Sciences (Biology and Engineering). Wait, crap, that's 13. I'll drop Lore to 1. 

Now, secondary stats. Derived traits, nothing fancy. Except there are Path modifiers, and path is the next step. Guys. Derived traits go at the end

OK, so skipping that for now. Path and Powers. So my path is Augment, which lets me create little augmentations to objects and creatures. I can have a maximum of 3 creations in play at once, at there are a bazillion little rules for Weaving that I'm not going to parse. Basically as a starting character I can make things louder, larger, smaller, and better. I also get a level one power. 

Huh. All three of the level-one Weave powers are offensive (by which I mean "useful for offense," not "I take offense at them"). I'll take Nightmare, which allows me to make a mental attack by hurling scary bits of the Weave at enemies. I don't seem to have any path modifiers to my derived traits - it actually looks like just Edgemasters do.

Well, doing that, that just leaves advantages and disadvantages. Taking disadvantages only allows you to take advantages, so I don't have to go back and add skill points or anything, so that's nice. I can take a major and three minor of each, but the sheet only gives me three lines. Boo. 

Major: I'll take Friends in Low Places. Might as well do this rebel thing all the way. And I'll take Good Luck and Beauty as minor advantages. I don't like any of the other ones. 

So I need a major disadvantage and two minor. I shall take Infamy and Hunted as minor (he hasn't quite gotten infamous on a Robin Hood level yet), and Poor as the major (yes, he's a Weaver, but he's uncomfortable using his power to gain wealth and comfort in Braile Corsa).

That also means I basically start with the clothes on my back (plus anything I've Woven), so I'm basically done. Nice!

Oh, quick description. Daman is a young 29, with black hair that he refuses to comb, a full beard, and pale blue eyes. His clothes are held together by faith and an occasional Weaving of needle and thread, and he wears his sleeves long so he can pull things out of them.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Board Game: Forbidden Desert

The Game: Forbidden Desert
The Publisher: Gamewright
Time: 20 minutes or so
Players: Me, +Dirty Heart+Rob L+Michael Taylor+Jessica Paull

Game Play: Very much like Forbidden Island, this version has adventurers crashing their weird steampunk ship in the desert. There's an ancient, buried civilization here, and by excavating the dunes, you can find odd devices. Bad news: There's a massive sandstorm shifting everything around, and water is an issue. Get the pieces of your busted-ass ship back together and find the launchpad, or die.

Any crash you can walk away from...
 The board, as you can see in that picture, is a 5x5 grid of tiles with one tile missing. That missing tile is the storm, which shifts every turn based on what storm cards you draw. Storm cards can also increasing the storms intensity (you draw more cards) or indicate that the sun beats down (everyone loses water). You can find more water on the board, but only the Water Bearer (that was me) can retrieve it once it's excavated. The positions of everything on the board can change with the storm.

Sarah fears for her life.
Tiles get buried in sand as the storm shifts, and you have to un-bury them to excavate or use them. So there are multiple points of danger in the game, plus the usual thing that this kind of game carries; it's a co-op game, meaning if one person runs out of water, everyone loses.

Opinions: This game is kinda what you play when you've gotten used to Forbidden Island but you don't want to play Pandemic; it's nicely in the middle. It's challenging, and you have to think ahead - we lost because Mike ran out of water and I couldn't get to him in time to save him, but we had one piece of the ship and we knew where another one was. The movement of the storm takes some getting used to, but once you've figured it out it goes pretty smoothly.

Mike dies in agony for the second time that night.
Keep? Yep.

Better Angels: Back to Hell

Very quick end to the Better Angels game yesterday. Some thoughts first.

I like the premise of the game: You're possessed by a demon and you can make concessions to it by being a supervillain, doing stupid evil things rather than actually evil things, and wind up either fighting against your demon without doing so overtly, living the life of a supervillain without really wanting to.

My players kinda didn't do that. Three of them whole-heartedly embraced the notion of being evil, and didn't so much act like supervillains as people possessed by demons reveling in doing evil things. There was some token resistance early on to what their demons wanted, but they pretty quickly got over that and starting killing and manipulating people in terrible ways. The fourth player was playing a little kid who was possessed, and gradually figured out that the monster in her head was asking her to do bad things.

All in all, I think if I were going to do this game again, I'd do a lot of things differently:


  • Establish the goddamn setting. The book doesn't really do that very well (and owns up to that, so that's not a negative), but I really needed to firmly establish that it's a four-color setting with a specific genesis for supers. We should have had colorful costumes and nicknames and so forth. 
  • Disallow the kid. Children having bad things happen to them in RPGs make me super uncomfortable. Being possessed by a demon is a bad thing. I liked the concept in theory, I was less than happy about it in execution (but see below).
  • Use one of the pre-written scenarios. There are a whole bunch of them, and I think that had I read one and used it, it would have gotten closer to the game as intended. 
Learning the system was helpful, but I tend to learn systems best by using them, and that takes a few sessions, so I can't really complain about that. All in all, I like the game and I was happy with the way it went, and I think it was fun. I'll be glad, however, to move on to something else. 

Anyway, last time, we ended with Keys, the angel-bearer, walking into the police station where Willa had just played the golden fiddle and shunted Mammon out of Gary and into a cop. Arvo followed the angel, carefully, not wanting to get hurt. 

The cop, now demonized (claws and wings out, thanks to Mammon) wheeled on Gary and shot him down with his own Dominator Strike. Gary fell dead, his chest caving in. (Yeah, that's how this game started.) 

Willa tried to sneak out of the evidence room unnoticed, but the angel was there. He ordered the cops to run, but the possessed cop stayed, horrified. The angel ordered Willa to send Mammon back to Hell. She refused, so he punched her in the head a couple of times, and then ordered her again. She played the fiddle and sent Mammon upstairs into a prisoner, which the angel seemed not to notice. 

The angel-bearer and Willa argued a bit; the angel wanted her to play the fiddle and exile Baal, and Willa was trying to stall for time, knowing that she couldn't beat the angel physically. Eventually they went back upstairs, with cops watching, and Willa told Baal to save her once he could. She sent Baal into a cop, and the angel took the fiddle and gave it to one of the nearby cops. I rolled a die to see if it was the one possessed by Baal...but it wasn't.

The cop played the fiddle, and sent Baal, Mammon, and Nidhogg (Arvo was sitting outside) back to Hell. Willa and Arvo were arrested for multiple counts of murder. We figured that Arvo would eventually be deported back to Iceland (since making the charges stick would be hard, since he was invisible most of the time) and Willa's would be a very interesting trial - most of her crimes were committed using Dead Ringer, but there was also an angel-bearer willing to testify against her. 

But that night, the cop showed up at Livi's house, and played her demon out. Livi's parents ran over and hugged her - they'd known what was happening, since Stella told them, but they didn't let on too much, for fear of upsetting the demon. 

"But now I'm just like everyone else," complained Livi.

"Never," her mother replied. And that's about as close to a happy ending as I think we're getting. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Movie #261: House of Wax

House of Wax is a 1953 horror movie starring Vincent Goddamn Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, and Charles Bronson before he was Bronson (he was going by Buchinski at the time).

Henry Jarrod (Price) is a master sculptor who runs a house of wax, but won't go in for the "chamber of horrors" kind of thing that his contemporaries do. His business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) just wants to cash out, and Jarrod has found a business man Sidney Wallace (Paul Cavanagh) who might be willing...in three months. This isn't good enough for Burke, and he suggests torching the place. Jarrod, who thinks of his statues as real, would rather die, so Burke just lights the place up, beats Jarrod and leaves him for dead.

Now fast forward a while, and a killer is stalking the streets of New York, deformed and dressed in black. He knocks off Burke in his office, and then kills his girlfriend (Jones) and steals their bodies. Obviously, it's Jarrod, driven mad and starting up a new house of wax with a chamber of horrors made from real corpses, yo. He even has pupils (Bronson and Nedrick Young) who assist him, and he takes on a young friend of Wallace (who has become his new partner) to help him. This man, Scott (Picerni) just happens to be the boyfriend of Sue Allen (Kirk), roommate of the girl he murdered and witness to his crime, and the perfect model for his new Marie Antoinette!

The movie has some melodrama, but it's a lot of fun to watch Price act in his prime. House of Wax is also an early 3D movie, and though the copy I have isn't in 3D, it's obvious where the 3D bits would be (there's a barker who works with paddle-balls, and a scene set in a can-can dance theater just so the girls' kickers would be in 3D). The movie is a good study in 50s horror, and it's held up surprisingly well.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: House of Wax (2006)

Board Game: Red Dragon Inn

The Game: Red Dragon Inn 2 and 4
The Publisher: Slugfest Games
Time: 20 minutes or so
Players: Me, +Dirty Heart+Matthew Karafa+Amanda Slanker+Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Matthew Homentosky

Monday we switched our Warehouse 13 characters over from Unisystem to Savage Worlds, which didn't take long, so we decided a board game was in order.

Game Play: The idea here is that you're a bunch of adventurers (murderhobos) who have just come off the job, and now you're drinking and gambling. Everyone has a deck representing a character, and a meter representing Fortitude and Alcohol Content. Should the two meet, you're drunk under the table and out. Likewise, if you run out of gold (you start with 10), you're broke and have to sleep in the stable. Decks of cards have various ways to damage other players, force them to drink (everyone also drinks at the end of their turn), and start gambling.

I'm the only one actually drinking, however.

Now, there are actually 4 iterations of the game, and they have unique characters with various niftyness in their decks. I have 2 and 4, and 4 (which was Kickstarted last year) is the "Crimson Drake," which is a ship, and you can play with Sea Event cards. Stuff like "get attacked by a giant squid, everyone loses Fortitude," that sort of thing.

Yarrrrrrn.
Opinions: I quite enjoy this game, and I like that all the versions are modular so you can play with a mix of characters. We did use the Sea Event cards, and that added a wrinkle, but it doesn't seem to make or break the game.

The Captain, before she got sloshed. 

Keep? Yep, and I might even buy the other versions if I find them.

Who are your favorite Chill characters?

Something interesting happened when I posted the playtest game the other day. A couple of people commented that they remembered those characters, and it made them happy to see again. 
Doing a nostalgia product is risky in some ways. You want the game to be recognizable, but not a reprint. You want to give the players who know and love the game the feelings they had when they played it back when, but you want it to be accessible to new players and to have something fresh to offer. I'm not ready to post mechanics yet - that's coming, so watch this space - but having run some playtest combat and had some really good discussion with the other writers, I like where we're going.
So here's the thing: We're going to do a Quickstart for our edition of Chill. Right now, the plan is that if you back the Kickstarter (which I'm thinking we'll launch in September, but I will get specific the very instant I can), you get the Quickstart, free and clear, download right away as soon as you pledge. Once the Kickstarter ends, we'll put the Quickstart up on our site and DriveThru RPG for free. 
I have some cool ideas for the story of the Quickstart, but I want to include pre-generated characters and I want them to be characters from the second edition books. So, who are your favorites? Do you like Basil "BB" Bottomley, our Australian bounty hunter with a bola from the core book? Did Red Hounseen in Horrors of North America take your fancy? How about the SAVE family, the Fergusons, two of whom show up in Apparitions? Tell us who you like in the comments! Who would you want to see in our Quickstart?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

SAVE is On Your Side

In the Things sourcebook for Chill 2nd Edition, an in-character preface by Rev. Samual D. Farthings concludes with, "Remember, if all else fails, God and SAVE are on your side." That line, I think, crystallizes what Chill is about for me. 
Horror games aren't exactly thin on the ground these days. They weren't as common in the 80s when Pacesetter released the first edition of Chill, and they were gaining ground in 1990 when Mayfair released the second edition, but they're everywhere now. You can play doomed investigators in Trail of Cthulhu or Call of Cthulhu. You can play members of the occult underground in Unknown Armies. You can play monsters of many different stripes in the World of Darkness. And, of course, licensed settings like Supernatural give you the chance to jump into the worlds of your favorite horror properties. (Feel free to comment and tell me about your favorite horror game, I just listed a few here.)
So as we're redesigning Chill for our third edition, we're looking for something to hang the game on. It has the be the setting, because the system, while it's getting cleaner all the time, is just a game system, and that's never going to be what gets someone to pick up a game. And that setting means SAVE. 
In the 2nd Edition, SAVE was having some problems. It was reeling from the loss of the archives in Dublin and unprecedented levels of envoy loss (10% of their membership a year, and while recruitment was keeping pace, that's still a horrific amount of loss). As we're designing the 3rd edition and thinking about how SAVE has evolved, we have to consider advances in technology. We have to think about how SAVE is still a functional entity, if it was losing so many people. And we have to think about how it operates day to day. I've draw parallels between monster hunters and revolutionary (or even terrorist) cells before, not to disparage SAVE's motives, of course, but because that's how they have to function. SAVE is smaller than the enemy. It doesn't have access to information or resources in the amounts it needs. But SAVE soldiers on.
Why? Because they're on your side. They're on our side. The good reverend mentions God, but the Chill setting isn't an explicitly Christian or even theistic one. SAVE envoys do what they do for a variety of reasons, but at the end of the day, they do it because the thought of not doing is too horrible to contemplate. They do it because someone has to. They do it because they can. They do it because they're people, and they are unwilling to abandon others to the Unknown. 
Being a SAVE envoy is largely thankless, it's highly dangerous, and it often ends in horror and death. And the envoys open those activation letters and go out into the dark anyway, because they're on your side. 
That's a decent hook, I think. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chill 3rd. Ed. Playtest - Blood Trade

So, last night I ran a playtest session of Chill, using some of the changes we've made to the system. I'm not going to talk too much about those changes here, because they're still in flux, but I will say that we're definitely accomplishing our goals of simplifying the system and removing as much of the at-the-table math as we can without sacrificing the feel of the game.

This was a one-shot game, so the pace was pretty brisk, but I like the way it turned out. Our characters were all taken from the 2nd Ed core book:
  • Michelle played the Baroness Ilse Dumatriche, a Romanian expert in vampires.
  • Sarah played Basil "BB" Bottomley, an Australian bounty hunter. 
  • John played Jennifer Joyce, an American investigative journalist. 
  • Morgan played Dr. Thomas Simpson, a doctor and expert pugilist. 
The envoys were called to Washington, D.C., after a SAVE contact (an EMT at George Washington University Hospital) notified the regional headquarters about a Moldovan woman dumped at the ER with severe blood loss...but no visible wounds. The victim, Dana Albescu, was stable and wanted to check out, and the interpreter they'd brought in had trouble understanding her accent. Albescu was afraid of a man named Grigore, and had attempted to get up and leave as soon as she was stable, but the hospital had managed to talk her down. 

Figuring that a vampire might be at work, SAVE sent the team in to investigate the woman's story, try and gain her trust, and assess any threat. On the way there, Joyce attempted a Clairvoyant/Prescient Dream, but storms during the flight prevented her from seeing anything. 

Once there, the characters met up and formed a plan. Simpson and Dumatriche would talk to Albescu (Simpson had arranged to see Albescu as her doctor, and Dumatriche as an interpreter). Joyce decided to do a little research into Moldavan immigration and see if there was a pattern, and Bottomley hit the streets to see if he could dig up anything on Grigore.

This last was a bust - Bottomley's good at his job, but he's not terribly imposing (Personality 38) and he doesn't exactly blend in in downtown DC, not with that accent. Joyce learned that given Albescu's circumstance, she was almost certainly a sex worker, "recruited" from a smaller town in Moldova and taken first to western Europe, then to the US. Grigore was, in all likelihood, her pimp. 

Dumatriche and Simpson talked with Albescu and examined her, and sure enough, two pinprick bite marks - Dumatriche was fairly certain these were vampire bites. Albescu said that she had gone to a man's apartment (at Grigore's behest) and believed she had been drugged; next thing she remembered was waking up the ER. Simpson consulted her chart - her clothes were disheveled, but apart from the mysterious blood loss there was no injury, and her rape kit was negative. Simpson arranged for a residency condo for himself, and then arranged for Albescu to be released. The envoys wanted her as protected as possible. 

Simpson talked to Roxanne Blaisdale, the EMT who contacted SAVE about Albescu, and arranged an ambulance ride to the condo. She told him that she'd seen a man in a dark car shove Albescu out the door near the ER and then take off. 

They took her to the condo, and interviewed her a little further about the attack. She told them the address where it happened, and noted her address (not far from there), and said she needed to go back there and get some things and check in with her roommates. The envoys weren't keen to let that happen (since they didn't know where Grigore was and what he might do), so they asked her to stay put. 

She told them about the attack - she went into the apartment and remembered thinking that she hoped the man's wife didn't come home, because based on the decor she was pretty sure a woman lived there. The man - Alexandru - had her sit on the couch...and then she blacked out. No drinks were involved. Joyce used Telepathic Empathy on her during this interview, and she wasn't afraid, just confused - apparently the monster had influenced her mind before any real trauma had happened. She gave them a description of Grigore, his cell phone, and the make and model of his car. 

Simpson went back to the hospital and looked for records of similar victims, but there weren't any to be found. Wondering if that meant there weren't any surviving victims, he visited the morgue, and talked to the old coroner, who remembered a similar case in the 1960s - Soviet woman brought in bled dry, but no wounds. He assumed she had some weird disorder and moved on; she was an illegal and not exactly something he was encouraged to spend time on. Joyce, upon hearing this, dug into her own records and found that the neighborhood, which had crime problems now, was much worse in the 60s. Same vampire, maybe, just awakened from a long sleep?

Bottomley took the cell phone and ran it (bounty hunter!). It was a burner, but he was still able to get some data on where it was used - same neighborhood as Albescu, which made sense. They envoys told Albescu to stay put, and took the train to the apartment where the attack happened. Before they did, Dumatriche used her Premonition Discipline and foresaw no danger at the apartment, but did see Bottomley looking with interest out the window. 

They got to the apartment and looked around. They found that the person living her was one Cosmina Petrescu, a Romanian woman in school at GWU. She was gone, though, and the state of her apartment indicated that she hadn't packed for a trip, but that she hadn't been back in a few days. Bottomley found her wallet tossed under the couch, but no blood or evidence of attack. At Dumatriche's request, he looked out the window, and saw an Orthodox church on the corner. 

The envoys called the condo, but got no answer. Fearing that Grigore or - worse - the vampire might have found Albescu, they rushed back, but found a note from Albescu. She was going to her apartment to get some things. They envoys headed back to that area of town, and found her apartment building, with a rough-looking man out front, clearing acting as guard. Joyce distracted him with some targeted flirting and Bottomley (the only one with any stealth skill) crept past him and up to the apartment. She charmed his way in (rolled a Colossal success on Personality, which is tough for him!), and the woman there, who sported a shiner and an obvious drug habit, told him that Albescu had been here and then left...as had Grigore. Bottomley offered help, but she refused, and he told her how to find him, and then left.

The man out fronted spotted Bottomley as he left and stepped up to him, spoiling for a fight, but Bottomley didn't rise to it (and Joyce waved off Simpson, who was about to walk up and sucker-punch the guy). The envoys regrouped, and decided that Bottomley would get in a cab and see if he could catch Grigore, since he knew what the car looked like. Dumatriche would head to the church and see if the priest there knew Albescu or anything worthwhile, and Joyce and Simpson would get on the train back to the condo and see if they could catch Albescu. 

The cab driver had trouble with Bottomley's accent, so Dumatriche translated (he spoke Russian), and found he knew Grigore and was concerned about taking anyone to him. Dumatriche paid him off, and he took Bottomley there. Grigore was standing in a parking lot, near his car, alone, on a cell phone. Bottomley, not well disposed toward the creep, hit him with a damn bola, tied him up, and stuffed him in his car. 

Grigore was none too thrilled, but Bottomley was as cheerful as ever, and drove down the street to the church. Dumatriche was there and had spoken to the priest, but he didn't know Alexandru and expressed concern about Cosmina when told she was missing. 

Bottomley texted the others and they all met up in the church lot (Joyce and Simpson were still waiting for the train). It was just after dark when they arrived. They interrogated Grigore, and he said that Alexandru had approached him on the street about buying a girl for a while, but then when he'd gone to pick her up, she was sick. He also said that he remembered taking her down the stairs and then being at the hospital, but nothing in between.

At this point, the envoys saw a light in the graveyard. Figuring it was a flashlight, Dumatriche, Bottomley and Simpson headed in to check it out, while Joyce stayed with Grigore. The envoys had seen the light by one of the older crypts, but then it vanished. 

Joyce heard a noise behind her, and turned to find a slim, young man in a black suit. She used Telepathic Sending to alert Bottomley. The man seemed to sense this somehow, and backhanded her against the car - much harder than his slim frame would have indicated. 

The envoys came running, but a swarm of bats appeared out of nowhere and enveloped them. Bottomley swung his bola, knocking them away enough to get out of the graveyard, and Simpson just hunched over and ran, but it bought the vampire enough time to slam Joyce's head through the car window. Dumatriche placed a Mental Shield on Bottomley and headed for the church, hoping to get holy water. 

Joyce started limping away, knowing that one more blow would probably kill her. Simpson caught up and used his Heal Discipline to close up the wounds on her head. Bottomley flung his bola and wrapped up the vampire, and the envoys saw a wave of fog rolling up from the graveyard. Bottomley pulled out a stake, and the vampire glared at him...but he felt nothing (thanks to the Mental Shield, though he didn't know it). 

Bottomley drove the stake home, and the vampire fell paralyzed. Dumatriche came out with holy water, followed by the priest, who was at first incredulous, but then saw the vampire's fangs. The envoys beheaded it and placed a holy wafer in its mouth, and it crumbled away to dust. 

They left, and the priest call the police. The FBI took Grigore away, and they found the bodies of two women in the crypt (one of them was Cosmina Petrescu). Dumatriche was able to help Albescu get her papers to remain in the US, and of course the cops raided the building where she lived and removed the other women. The envoys debriefed the priest, as well, who agreed to act as a SAVE contact in future. 

All in all, not a bad night's work. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Movie #260: House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers is a wuxia film starring Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Saying it was kind of riding on the coattails of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon doesn't really do it justice, but as far as the acclaim it got in the US goes, I'm sure CTHD didn't hurt.

The story is pretty tight, and it's a really excellent example of a tragedy (as in A Tragedy in Five Acts, available now at DriveThru RPG). The government has gotten corrupt (yeah, "gotten"), and a rebel group of warriors known only as the House of Flying Daggers is the resistance. The police, led by a serious captain called Leo (Lau) and a smooth undercover op named Jin (Kaneshiro) killed the old leader of the House, but have been given only 10 days to find the new one.

Investigating, Jin discovers Mei (Ziyi), a blind dancer in a brothel, and reveals her to be a Flying Dagger. She's captured, and then he breaks her out, hoping to lure her to the Daggers' base, but the general (whom we never see) kinda goes nuts and sends soldiers after them, and Jin is forced to kill them to save himself and Mei, with whom he is falling in love. They do eventually find the Daggers...

...but - twist! - Mei is not blind, and is not the leader. The leader is Yee, the madam of the brothel except - twist! - it's not really, it's just a decoy. Also - twist! - Leo is a member of the House, planted there by the previous leader, but away on a mission when he was assassinated.

Leo loves Mei and tries to force the issue, but Yee shows up and knifes him in the back (non-fatally). Mei is ordered to kill Jin, but just takes him off and sets him free. He asks her to run away with him, she initially refuses, but then follows, whereupon Leo knifes her in the chest and leaves her to die. Jin returns and battles Leo, and just when they've wounded each other, Mei sits up. Leo threatens to throw his knife (the one that's been in his back the whole time), Mei threatens to throw hers (the one that's in her chest preventing her from bleeding to death). Leo pretends to throw his, and Mei does throw hers...but to save Jin, not to kill Leo. Mei dies in Jin's arms, Leo staggers away, bleeding out, and the soldiers advance on the Flying Daggers.

See? Totally Tragedy. Mei's the Daughter, Jin's the Lover, Leo's the Foil, Yee is the Parent, and the unseen general (personified onscreen by the soldiers) is the Authority.

This movie was nominated for an Oscar for Cinematography, and wow, it shows. The use of color is amazing - the green in the bamboo forests, the blue of the costumes, and the battle in the blizzard at the end are incredible. The story is simple (much more so than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which had a lot more moving parts), and the fight scenes are fun. The love scenes are weird - characters don't so much kiss as rub their open mouths on each other's faces, which is perhaps a little distracting.

I think as far as wuxia goes, it's in my top 10, but not my top five.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: House of Wax (1953)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Board Game: Scene It!

Played a game last night - using technology. Oooh.

The Game: Scene It! 2nd Edition
The Publisher: Screenlife Games
Time: Anywhere from 15-45 minutes, depending on number of players and how much they know.
Players: Me, +Michelle, and +Cheyenne

Game Play: It's a trivia game about movies, which means I often have trouble finding people to play with. Michelle, however, can give me a run for my money (which means we're normally on opposite teams), but Chey is just as good, so we actually got all play and compete! Woo!

Cheyenne, competing. 
You've got a bit bone-shaped board, and little metal figures that you hop around the board. In the RAW, you roll the 8-sider to determine what kind of question you get and the six-sider to determine how far you move, and whether you answer the question correctly determines if you go again. We had to institute a "three turns max" rule to keep...well, any of us from running the table.

See, vaguely bone-shaped.
Possible questions involve the cards (which have three different kinds of questions, ranging from "name the actor in all three of these movies" to "what movie had this tagline"), My Play, which shows you a clip and then asks a question, and All Play, which gives you a puzzle and gives the win to the one who solves it first. If you answer an All Play out of turn, you steal the turn from the player and continue on.

You can also get Buzz cards, but they suck; they're just smarmy references to movies and they end your turn, sometimes with a "move back" and sometimes with a "move forward." There's at least one that lets you play a "lose turn" on another player, but ew.

Oh, the "clips" thing - there's a DVD with the game. You've got clips, sound files (id the movie), and when you make it to the last section of the board, there's a "final cut" series - first one's hard, but miss that and you move in a circle, and the second one is easier, and so on.

Michelle, competing.


Opinions: We house ruled a little.

First, we ditched Buzz cards, because they suck. We just made it so if you roll Buzz, the other players decide what kind of challenge you face.

Second, for our second game (Michelle won the first), we made it so you answer the challenge first, then roll the die to see how far you move.

And that all worked out pretty well. I really like this game; I enjoy trivia games anyway, and movies are kind of a strong point for me. It's interesting to see what kinds of challenges we're better at; I'm great at dialog and matching actors to roles, Michelle is much better at doing the visual puzzles and, of course, her command of older movies is much greater than mine.

Technology!
Keep? Sure.