Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie #294: Iron Man

Iron Man is the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, and Terence Howard, getting the role warmed up for Don Cheadle.

Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is a billionaire weapons designer, playboy, and engineer/scientist. He's pretty much completely self-absorbed and largely alone, except for his AI butler JARVIS (Bettany) and his assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow). While in the Middle East shilling his new Jericho missile, he's kidnapped and injured. Shrapnel digging its way into his heart is kept in place with a magnet and a car battery (courtesy of his newfound mentor figure Yinsen, played by Shaun Toub). He rigs up a new power source, builds a suit of armor, and escapes.

Back in the US, acting on the knowledge that his weapons are being sold with impunity to terrorists, he builds a new suit and goes on the warpath, trying to destroy his weapons in criminal hands. He runs afoul of the Air Force (and his friend and fellow designer Rhodes, played by Howard), and reveals his new power source to his lifelong friend and partner Obadiah Stane (Bridges). Of course, Stane was the one behind his kidnapping (it was supposed to be a hit, not a kidnapping), and rigs up a suit of his own - bigger and better armed, but ultimately not as advanced as Stark's, and he blows up.

Watching this movie in theaters at the time was a trip. People cheered when the Mark I armor took off and flew, and the whole theater was pumped. We hadn't seen a superhero movie this good in a while, and while the Raimi Spider-Man films were good, they weren't fun like this. Marvel apparently really caught lightning in a bottle, because much of this movie was ad-libbed. They didn't know it was going to be the thing it became.

Watching it now, it's neat to see the Marvel Universe take shape, and see Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson before that became a household name. It's interesting to imagine this assignment in the context of his later work, especially as he hands Stark a cover alibi and says "this isn't my first rodeo." And we wonder, what was?

But why did it? The effects are awesome and they hold up just fine six years later. The supporting cast is good; Howard was fine in the role but apparently creative differences got him ousted and Cheadle took over in the sequel, which is fine. But I think the important thing was Downey Jr. He was perfect to play Stark - he knows how substance abuse works, he knows what it's like to be famous and maligned and under a microscope and perhaps a little weird. And meanwhile, Bridges brought a callous life to Stane that I thought was pretty compelling.

If I have a complaint, it's that Stane's plan doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean, killing Stark does, but after he's found out, why jump in the suit and start wrecking shit? He's made at the point; he'd have to kill a bunch of SHIELD agents and flee, and either way he's screwed. Potts mentions he's gone insane, but that's thin. It doesn't matter in the moment, because you get swept along, but in hindsight it'd have been nice to have some better context for the final fight.

But really, that's minor. And it's a lot of fun watching the stinger and seeing Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury for the first time.

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: Iron Man 2

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Character Creation: Blue Rose

Baby, it's cold outside. Before we hare off to go Lazer-tagging, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland and I are making Blue Rose characters. Her son Al is tagging along.

The Game: Blue Rose
The Publisher: Green Ronin
Degree of Familiarity: None. I think I may have played it once at a con, but I honestly don't remember.
Books Required: Just the one, though I have a Companion book that I may open, too.

Blue Rose bills itself as "romantic fantasy," taking inspiration from Duane, Lackey, Pierce, and other fantasy authors I've not read (seriously, though, you could put the fantasy fiction I've read in a matchbook and still have room to do jumping jacks). But the book states that while high-fantasy tends to focus on loners and single heroes, romantic fantasy focuses more on groups and community. That right there is appealing to me. This game is also True20, so while it's not as good as some systems, it's a sight better than others.

First we get explanation of how the game works, and then a history complete with gods and creation and so forth. After you've read a couple of these, you start to know the lyrics. Exarchs, Primordials, and Shadow Wars. But lo! Some interesting stuff.

The land of Aldis (the country in which a young girl has just ascended to the throne, being chosen by a magic stag) has intelligent magical animals called Rhydan, also sea-folk and vata (which are kind of like elves). I wonder if these are playable? Ooh, they are!

The World of Aldis chapter is actually pretty readable, which considering the people writing the book (some of whom have actually worked on books I've developed - oh, and vice versa, since John Snead developed Intruders). I don't have time to read it all right now.

Well, skipping ahead to character creation, we're told to start with abilities (the standard d20 spread, only like Mutants and Masterminds we only concern ourselves with bonuses, not scores). But we also need to consider Background (which includes race). Al is going to play a sea-folk. Michelle is going to play a human (islander). Well, heck, I'll be a frickin' dolphin, then.

No, really. One of the types of Rhydan you can play is a dolphin. Eek-eek!

I'll take a -1 in Strength, but I'll put +1 into Dexterity and Constitution, +1 into Intelligence and Wisdom, and +0 in Charisma. I may rejigger that if I need to. I only get 4 points, not 6 like humans, but I get a bunch of other things to make up. To wit: I get low-light vision, Psychic Talent, and I have a bunch limitations related to the fact that I haven't got hands or human speech. I get +3 Dexterity and +1 Constitution, +8 to Swim, +4 to Notice, and I have Dance as a favored Skill. OK, then.

Moving on, I pick a Role. Animist appeals, but my mental abilities are kind of weak. I think I'll go with Expert. I note my saves and bonuses and numbers of skills I get, and move along.

Now, before I go doing Skills, I need to do alignment. Far from the annoying "Lawful Good" shit that classic D&D does, Blue Rose has Light and Shadow natures (not too far off from the Virtue and Vice of later WoD games, really) and a Twilight for the characters that shift between them. Calling, your character's overarching, long-term goal, is based on a Major Arcana, and the Natures are based on the minors. I pick Star as my Calling (artistic mastery - not sure how that works for a dolphin, but I'll figure it out). We all choose to be Light-aligned. For the Natures, we grab a Tarot deck and draw for some Minor Arcana. I draw the Knight of Swords for Light, which makes me Bold, and the Seven of Rods, which makes me Reckless. Well, that dovetails nicely, don't it?

Now Skills. As an Expert, I get 12 freaking Favored Skills, and 7 Known skills. I won't bother taking Swim as a Known Skill because I get a freaking +8 anyway, but I will take Notice (which gives me +9; I am one perceptive dolphin). I'll take Survival and Perform (Dance) as Known Skills, but I'll skip Craft because it's hard to imagine what I'd be crafting that wouldn't fall foul of the -20 that I'd take. I'll take Acrobatics and Jump for all that leaping out of the water stuff I'll need to do, Concentration since I'm sure it'll help, and Knowledge (Sea Lore). And that's my Skills.

Now Feats, I suppose. I have Psychic Talent for free, but here's a thing. I get Armor Training from my role, but because I'm a freaking dolphin, I don't get armor. Do I consider Psychic Talent to have replaced that? Or do I have dolphin armor? Hrm. I guess I'll just take Feat and not worry about it. I get 3 more, in any case. I'll take Canny Defense (I add to my dodge when I'm not wearing armor, and since I can't wear armor that makes sense), Fascinate (I dance, you stare. Flippers don't lie), and Improved Initiative  (I'm bold!).

I don't get points to put into my Arcana, because I'm not an Adept, so I think that's me done. Apart from a name, anyway. I'll call my dolphin Aminipha.

So, our little trio, here: Gaian, the sea-folk warrior; Ceta, the islander shaper; and me, the dolphin dancer, we live in the southern isles, grew up together, and go on adventures! Our Light/Shadow Natures actually work pretty nicely together.



Movie #293: The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant is an animated movie based on a novel by Ted Hughes and directed by Brad Bird, starring Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston, Christopher McDonald, and Vin Diesel. It's also one of those "you don't have a soul if you don't cry" movies.

Hogarth Hughes (Marienthal) is a smart, kind of nerdy kid with an active imagination. His mom (Aniston) works at a diner, and tries to cope with the loss of her husband (he was a pilot in WWII, though this isn't ever stated directly; it's called out with some nicely subtle details) and her hyper young son. And the one day, a huge robot crash-lands in the ocean near their coastal Maine town, stomps up on land, and nearly electrocutes itself trying to eat the power station. Hogarth saves it, and later befriends it and teaches it to talk (and it's voiced by Vin Diesel, so).

Of course, this being the paranoid-ass 50s, the government sends an agent to check this out. Said agent, Kent (McDonald) is looking to make his bones and justify his job, and chases after Hogarth and his beatnik buddy who owns a scrap yard (Connick Jr.). The Giant finally exposes itself (not like that) when it tromps into town and saves a couple of young boys, and the army rolls in to destroy it.

Trouble is, the robot is a weapon of war, and it responds to threat. It manages to keep its impulses mostly under control until Hogarth is injured. Thinking him dead, it flips out and starts laying waste, and the army calls in a nuclear strike (well, really, Kent does because he's an idiot). The Giant, realizing that it can stop the bomb, flies off to do that, Hogarth's and Dean's lesson about humanity ("You are who you choose to be") echoing in his head. His final word before hitting the bomb, and, presumably, being blown to hell, is his choice: "Superman."

I literally get teary during that part of the movie (and writing about it GODDAMMIT) because for the Giant, he is making a choice (one that Superman doesn't actually have to make because a nuke for him would be "yah whatever yawn LOL"). The Giant might be able to reform after the blast, but he has no way to know that. He chooses, after things like "good guys" and "bad guys" and "guns" and "souls" are explained to him, in beautifully childlike language (from Hogarth), to be the good guy, regardless of what it will cost him.

I love that the Giant's origins are never explained in the movie. He doesn't remember them. There was a dream sequence (cut for funding, sadly) that hinted at his origins more directly, but even then no one ever comes out and says "he was sent here to conquer!" It doesn't matter why (or if) he was sent here; he wakes up with no understanding of who or what he is, only basic urges, but also a yearning to belong and understand.

I also like that, with the exception of Kent (who is an idiot, not a patriot), the adults in the movie are willing to learn and listen. Yeah, the army's first response is to shoot, but given the paranoia of the time (space race, Red Scare) it's understandable. But when Hogarth and Dean talk to them, they listen like educated, empathetic human beings, rather than goons, and that just serves to highlight the Giant's sacrifice (and Kent's stupidity).

All in all, this is a really wonderful movie and perfect Promethean inspiration in a lot of ways.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Iron Man

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie #292: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1978 horror film starring Donald Sutherland, Veronica Cartwright, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.

Plant-spore, blown on the "solar wind," lands on Earth and attaches to plants. Those then infect people, duplicating them while they sleep. The story follows Elizabeth (Adams) and Matthew (Sutherland), two health department employees, as they come into contact with the aliens. Elizabeth, first, realizes that her husband (Art Hindle) has been duplicated, but of course no one believes her because it's ludicrous. Matthew takes her to see his famous shrink friend (Nimoy) and they run across their hippie mud-bath owning buddies (Goldblum and Cartwright), and they all figure it out. But by the time they start calling people and calling attention to the problem, it's too late; the aliens have duplicated enough people that there's nothing they can do but run. The movie ends with Cartwright's character approaching Sutherlands, and that famous scene of him pointing and giving the alarm scream.

Invasion jumps right in; Hindle's character is duplicated right away and most of the meat of the movie makes it clear (to the audience) what's happening. The conflict comes down to making other characters understand what's happening, and then the creeping horror as more and more people become "snatched." Also creepy is how benign the duplicates are; they aren't hateful or violent, and they don't want to eat people. They just want to survive, and this is how they do it.

The background business is also amazing; garbage bins are full up with gray gunk - which is the remains of people. Plants are everywhere in shots, and if you watch you can see people glance at each other, knowingly, getting less subtle as the movie goes on.

Invasion is a good exercise in paranoia and the fear of one's neighbors; the novel it's based on has a happier ending, in which the aliens leave. I kind of like the creepy, almost silent (except for that god-awful scream) ending in this film. I haven't seen the other adaptations, though.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Iron Giant

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movie #291: Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire is a horror movie based on the boring-ass book by Anne Rice (yeah, I said it, what) starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, and Christian Slater.

The movie is framed by the titular interview, in which a young man named Malloy (Slater, though he took over the role after River Phoenix died) interviews a 200-year-old vampire named Louis (Pitt). Louis tells us how he was "born to darkness" in the late 18th century, courtesy of another vampire named Lestat (Cruise).

The central issue of the movie is Louis' refusal to let go of humanity...kind of. That sounds kind of noble, but the truth of the matter is that humanity had, for him, becoming suffering - he'd lost his family and was just wallowing in grief when Lestat found him. Post-Embrace born-to-darkness, he continues doing that, stopping only briefly when Lestat talks him into vampirizing a young girl dying of plague (Dunst, in her film debut). Eventually they attempt to kill Lestat because he's a manipulative fucker, and flee to Europe, where they meet more vampires, all of whom are stuck wallowing the decadence they've known for years.

Their leader, Armand (Banderas at his yummiest) wants to connect to the modern era using Louis as a bridge, but to do that he has his vampires kill Claudia, knowing Louis will kill them in turn. Louis, of course, leaves Armand behind, returns to the US, and continues wallowing.

The movie takes me back, let me tell ya. It came out in 1994, when I was in college, and I had a serious vampire thing going on. It was right when Wraith came out, I was playing a lot of horror games, and I was totally into the whole "shadowy predator of the night" thing.

And I'm finding now, as I'm running Vampire: The Requiem, that I got something out of the genre then that I don't now. I think it might be that I've grown up, and I don't groove on the "oh fuck it, kill them and drink their blood, woe is me I'm a tortured" thing like I used to. But I do enjoy the movie, because I can see those themes in it, and I still like them. There's a freedom from morality and life that Lestat enjoys and Louis can't quite bring himself to experience and Claudia never really understands because she never had a chance to be an adult for real.

I read the book some years after I saw the movie, and it bored the hell out of me. I'm told the books improve with The Vampire Lestat, but I never really had the patience. I will say that I enjoyed this movie, casting including; people flipped out about Cruise being cast as Lestat, but I think he pulled it off nicely. Dunst is really the standout, managing to portray a much older character than she has any right to. And, of course, this was the movie that put Antonio Banderas on my radar, so that alone is worth the price of admission.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next up: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Movie #290: Innocent Blood

Innocent Blood is a horror/crime/comedy, and with that lineup of genres, it shouldn't be any surprise to learn it's a John Landis film. It stars Anthony Lapaglia, Anne Parillaud, Robert Loggia, David Proval, Chazz Palminteri, Don Rickles, and a whole bunch of horror movie directors in cameos.

Marie (Parillaud) is a vampire who feeds on criminals; it's her little attempt to stay on the right side of moral. One night she takes out Tony (Palminteri), soldata in the Macelli crime family, run by the vicious Sal "The Shark" Macelli (Loggia). He also happened to be a buddy of Joey Gennaro (Lapaglia), a cop infiltrating said crime family. Marie feeds on Sal himself the next night, but he proves a little too much for her, and she is forced to flee before "finishing the food" by taking his head off with a shotgun. He rises as a vampire, and wacky hijinx ensue as he tries to turn the rest of his crew as Marie and Joey race to take them out (taking some time to bang in a hotel, because it ain't like you can vampire-hunt during the day if you're a vampire).

The vampires here are fragile as hell. Sure, they're strong and fast, but one bullet to the head finishes them off (some mumbo-jumbo about the central nervous system), and they feed rather messily. No gentle bites to the next; these fuckers rip you open and smear blood everywhere, all with eyes glowing various colors.

Gennaro and Marie manage to track down Macelli and finish him off - one shot to the head after he monologues a bit. Not entirely unlike An American Werewolf in London, which has a similarly anticlimactic ending, this movie alternates between gore (not really horror) and slapstick.

Loggia looks like he's having fun as the ruthless-mob-boss-turned-vampire, and Parillaud is nicely tortured as a vampire just trying to get by (in Pittsburgh; filmed on location). I enjoy Anthoy Lapaglia anyway, and this is one of his few starring roles. I have to wonder if the movie wouldn't be improved by taking a longer view; Macelli is obviously able to act decisively and patiently, so watching him start to build up an empire of vampires (a vempire?) might have been more interesting than the frantic chase with a kind of tepid action sequence, but it's also possible I've played too much Vampire: The Masquerade over the years.

As with many Landis movies, the cameos are fun; Dario Argento, Sam Raimi, Frank Oz, and Tom Savini all stop by, and Don Rickles plays the crooked mob lawyer turned (briefly) into a vampire to fry in the sun.

All in all, it's very watchable, if not amazing.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-High

Next up: Interview with the Vampire

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Board Game: Nanobots

And here's the other game from the list we played at the party!

The Game: Nanobot Battle Arena
The Publisher: Derpy Games
Time: Depends how many players, but 15 minutes or so.
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Stentor Danielson+John Mathys+Cheyenne Rae Grimes+Fredrick Martin-Shultz+Misha Broughton

You can play this with up to 8 players. Everyone gets a set of tiles; a different "strain" of nanobots, if you will. On your turn, you place one, trying to build the longest unbroken chain. But it's never that simple.

Setup.

But then you get to play cards, which do things like move nanobots around the board, change their facing (which screws up the chains), "petrifies" them (making them immune to further fuckery), infects other people's bots (turning them into yours), and just blowing them up entirely.

I'm...not entirely sure what card just got played on Fredrick's bots.

The game ends when one player runs out of bots, but that ends the game right there. You don't get to play a card on the turn you place your last bot, so it's possible for someone with the right cards to play a bunch of bots quickly and end the game. It is likewise possible for someone to Burn or Infect a bunch of someone else's bots.

BOT MADNESS.
Opinions: I backed this game's initial Kickstarter, which they cancelled due to some numbers concerns (good on 'em), and then couldn't back the second KS because I didn't have the money at the time. So I was happy to see them at Con on the Cob this year and purchase this game. And they backed Chill, so that was groovy. :)

But, the game itself. I really enjoy it. It's fast and simple, and the different combination of cards are interesting enjoy to make me want to play multiple times.

Keep? Definitely.

Board Game: Ghost Stories

We knocked a couple of board games off the list at the holiday party, so let's do those posts, since I have a slow-paced day today.

The Game: Ghost Stories
The Publisher: Asmodee
Time: An hour, give or take
Players: Me, +Misha Broughton+Fredrick Martin-Shultz+Stentor Danielson

Unboxing.
 In Ghost Stories, four heroes are trying to beat back the forces of spectral doom. Every turn, a ghost comes out and appears in one of the four characters' play areas (you can play with only one person, but all four heroes are represented either way). They're color coded; each hero has a special power. I was playing the red dude, and I could fly, moving around the board quickly.

Misha being worshiped by the dead.

When ghosts appear, they can haunt locations. There are nine locations on the board; if one is haunted, though, it flips over and you can't use its special power. But the larger problem is that if three locations get haunted, you lose.

Fredrick puzzling over the rules, which are not especially clear.

You fight the ghosts by rolling some dice and matching the colors that come up with the ghosts. You can also use special powers on the village locations and on the hero cards to get rid of them. Basically, the game has a lot of moving parts.

Behold: Moving parts.
Opinions: I like this kind of game, but I gotta say, this one's tough. If we were playing it right, it looks like to win, you need to destroy all the ghosts in the stack, and that stack is big. Plus there's one nasty ghost in there that we never even saw - the Wu Feng ghost is kind of the boss, but killing it doesn't end the game. Fredrick said he'd never seen this game won; my friend Rob is a fan, and I'm interested to play it with him and see how it works with someone who is more experienced.

The game is really pretty, though, and once you get going it seems to make sense.

Keep? Sure.

Movie #289: Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade is the third movie in the series, and stars Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot, John Rhys-Davies, Alison Doody, and Julian Glover.

We open in 1912, where a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) is working to get an artifact away from the clutches of some grave-robbers. Fast forward to 1938, and Indy (Ford) is going after the same piece, which he manages to steal back and give to his university, to the delight of his friend Marcus (Elliot).

Indy is then approached by a rich philanthropist named Donovan (Glover) who enlists him to continue his quest for the Holy Grail - originally spearheaded by his father (Connery), who has made the Grail his lifelong pursuit. He hooks up (in both senses of the word) with Dr. Schneider, an Austrian historian (Doody), and discovers his father being held prisoner by the Nazis - and that both Schneider and Donovan are working with them.

Of course Indy escapes, and of course he finds the Grail by getting past some traps, and then they escape and ride off into the sunset. Unlike the Ark of the Covenant, the Grail is lost forever, but Indy reconnects with his father.

It would easy to see this as a carbon copy of Raiders, in some ways; the villains are Nazis, they're after a Judeo-Christian magic item, there are booby traps, but the themes are different and so is the tone. Indy is better realized as a character by now, and with the addition of Connery as his father, his "sidekick" becomes not just a lover or a kid he picked up along the way, but someone he has a real connection to. You got that somewhat with Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, but the interplay between father and son, especially since they're both archaeologists, makes for some good scenes (a lot of which were written uncredited by Tom Stoppard, by the way).

Connery is Connery; they gave him a more "old man" look, as he's actually not that much older than Ford. Elliot as Brody has more to do this time around, but it's fun to see both him and Rhys-Davies as Sallah fall back into their Raiders roles after being snubbed in the awful that was Temple of Doom. Alison Doody is also fun as Schneider, Indy's only love interest turn villain. So she's a lot like a Bond girl, and he's Indy being the spiritual "son" of Bond, because Bond plays his father. Pretty neat.

Teagan said she liked Raiders better; she enjoyed the more scholarly approach they take in that movie, I think. Or maybe it's just there's more kissing in Last Crusade, I dunno.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Innocent Blood

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vampire: The Penultimate

Last night was Vampire. So, here we go!

Last time, Mordecai, Heath, and Delphine found themselves at the door to the suite, looking in on Myra in a blood-stupor next to the body of a security guard. Heath considered his options; killing isn't forbidden, but he knew that since it was at his place, he'd be held responsible for any Masquerade breaches. He was contemplating what to do when Morgan, his head of security, told him about another situation.

In another room, they'd found a butchered body. The victim was the dude Myra had fed on earlier in the evening. Heath told Morgan to bring the big SUV around and load up shovels and bags and so on, and made a somewhat flippant comment about paying Morgan is bonus. Morgan walked off, a little aghast, and Heath felt his Beast rise (he had a breaking point, but didn't lose Humanity).

Delphine went down the hall to put the blood they'd taken into storage. In the cool, she saw the silhouette of an owl. This chilled her - she knew owls to be omens of death.

He went back to the room and questioned Myra. She said she hadn't killed the other guy; he'd been alive and happy when she left. The characters helped clean up the bodies and headed out to the desert. Mordecai, meanwhile, put a call in to his sire, Thomas Pilate. He told him about the incident with Myra's sire, and Pilate noted that. He didn't, however, have any idea how to find a Night Doctor - that might be a better question for Annabelle Fry. Mordecai put a call in to her, too. He also got a call from the museum - a reporter had stopped by. Apparently the baby, Ben, had vanished from foster care. The characters were shocked and a bit appalled, but they had other fish to fry in the short term.

Out in the desert, they started digging. Heath, going on autopilot, had taken them a spot in the desert he knew. Myra uncovered the body of a young boy and froze; they looked, but didn't feel like digging further. They dumped the bodies (well, the body and the bags with the bits) into the hole, and when they turned to go back to the car, they saw a woman leaning on it - Dawn Waiting Snake, the most respected and powerful Crone in the area.

Dawn asked Heath why he didn't come out here - she figured that would be an area of interest. He said he'd been busy with city stuff; she said he'd always been a shitty Dragon anyway. She recognized Delphine and asked about her family, saying they were a strange lot. And she recognized Mordecai - "family resemblance?" she said.

Dawn walked off, and they started to head back. As they did, Delphine heard an owl call, and heard it say "Rachel." She told Heath to drop her at home so she could be with Rachel. The others went to the casino. Annabelle called Mordecai back and listened to his problem. She said she'd think about it. Heath went to his office and started doing business things.

Myra activated blood sympathy to see if she could find her sire. She did - he was still in the hotel. He claimed he hadn't been there long, but had to find her and see her. They wound up "playing" a bit, and Myra lost control a bit and took some blood from him (and regained Willpower through her Sadist Dirge).

Next night, everyone woke up. Delphine texted Rachel and heard her phone go off in the apartment. Freaked out for a minute that something might have happened, she grabbed the phone and headed to the coffee bar where Rachel was just getting off work.

Heath got up, still somewhat dazed and pensive, and took a call from Morgan - there was a vampire ("looks like one of your type of people, sir") looking for the poker game. The vampire introduced himself as Richard...Delphine's father (both her biological father and her sire).

Mordecai did some tours at the museum, and then went to a casino to take a meeting with the fellow who had supposedly worked on the "mob vault." The man introduced himself as "Charlie," and asked Mordecai some questions about himself and his origins. He wasn't willing to provide much detail about the vault, but did ask what was in it for him if he showed Mordecai (after all, it's a mob vault). Mordecai made some vague references to have resources, but Charlie figured that meant he didn't have much in the way of money. He said he'd think about it.

Delphine told Rachel that they'd take the night and have a date. Rachel said a friend of hers was an assistant in a new magic show that was opening up. Meanwhile, Mordecai contacted a friend who got him show tickets and asked what he had - he felt like seeing a show to take his mind off things. By curious coincidence, his friend had a ticket to a new magic act.

Heath, meanwhile, talked with Richard and verified via birth and Embrace dates (which Heath knew) that he was who he said he was. He told Heath he was trying to find Delphine, and said that time was a factor - she was in danger.

Meanwhile, at the show, the magician was making use of mirrors and illusions. At the end, he called Rachel up on stage, made her "disappear" using a series of mirrors, and then smashed them.

Delphine heard a voice from behind her, telling her not to turn around. She did anyway...and came face to face with her grandfather (also her grandsire). But his eyes were yellow and sickly. She used Auspex and realized that he wasn't in control of himself, and he was unafraid.

"This is what you do with your gift?" he said, nodding toward the stage.

"Where is she?" asked Delphine.

"She's going to die," he said, and then vanished in a flutter of wings. Rachel reappeared, unharmed.

Delphine ran up to her, and introduced her to Mordecai. They went to get a table at a bar, and Delphine called Heath to tell him what was going on. He mentioned that her father had been to see him, and then she came to the table, and saw her father, laughing with Rachel.

Delphine, displaying all the subterfuge of a brick, introduced him as her father (the age is a stretch, but it's plausible). As they talked, Richard (her father) warned her that her grandfather was out to get them, and that they weren't save. Delphine decided to head back to Binion's.

They regrouped in the safe room, and she revealed to Rachel that she was a vampire. Richard demonstrated Celerity, just to stave off the inevitable "you're crazy" discussion, and Delphine revealed that her grandfather was dangerous. She called Maeve Blackwell for help, but the second Maeve heard "yellow eyes" and "owls," she hung up.

Rachel, furious and confused, left, saying she needed a walk.

Heath, meanwhile, was in his office. Prince Martin called him up, and told him that Maeve had spoken to him - something was going on that had her terrified, and this mystical BS wasn't really his thing. His solution to such issues was just to burn things.

Heath asked, "what's the insurance like on Binion's?"

Martin responded, "If you want to be nice, you give people time to get out. You want to be realistic, you keep it as much as surprise as possible."

Heath nodded, looking around his office. "Realistic."

Next time, the finale.

Movie #288: Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom is, of course, the second (and worst) movie in the series. Starring Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri, and Roshan Seth, it manages to completely lose all of the charm and fun of the original.

We start off in Shanghai, in a musical number (a largely Chinese version of "Anything Goes") sung by nightclub singer Willie Scott (Capshaw). Indy (Ford) is selling an artifact (which seems out of character for him) in a sequence that's more Bond than Jones, but then there's a fight, and his little Chinese sidekick Short Round (Quan, who is actually Vietnamese) saves them. Scott gets dragged along for the ride, the plane crash-lands in India, there's a village whose mystic rock (and children) has good missing, and Indy goes to the palace where there's been a coup or something and a Thuggee cult is ripping hearts out but first they eat monkey brains and oh god why do I own this movie.

The latter half of the movie is just Jones, Willie, and Short Round romping through underground caverns getting chased by cultists. Indy gets forced to drink magic blood that makes him a slave, but he snaps out of it when Short Round says "I love you, Indy! You my best flend!" and hits him with a torch. Willie is completely fucking useless the entire time; she literally does nothing but scream and complain.

The movie has no sense of the time in which it's set; it's nominally 1936, but if you look at any given still you'd think it was set in 1983 (especially given Capshaw's hair). It's also racist as shit; the dinner scene alone is nothing but a long exercise in "look how funny the brown people are, with their eating of bugs and lives snakes!"

Reading the story of how this movie got made, it was pretty much a clusterfuck from start to finish, and it shows. Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, later commented that the movie was mean-spirited and lacking in fun, and it totally is. Indy doesn't feel at all like the dour but capable scientist we saw in Raiders. He feels like Han Solo on an acid trip.

Put it this way: Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for all its (very apparent) flaws, is a better movie than this by far.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade

Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie #287: Indiana Jones & The Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones & The Raiders of the Lost Ark (as it's known on the DVD case; in real life it's just Raiders of the Lost Ark, but again, I ain't waiting until 2018 when we hit "R" to watch it when I have the next two queued up now) is a 1981 pulp adventure starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Paul Freeman, and Ronald Lacey. If you didn't know any of that, I don't know what to tell you.

Ford stars as Henry "Indiana" Jones (Jr., but that's not relevant yet), an action archaeologist that we meet tramping through the jungles of Peru with a not-so-faithful sidekick (Alfred Molina in his film debut). He recovers a gold ingot, but promptly loses it to evil competitor Rene Belloc (Freeman) and runs for it. Back in the states, he and his museum curator Marcus Brody (Elliot) get a visit from the government: Hitler is romping around sucking up occult artifacts, and thinks he may have found a line on the Ark of the Covenant.

Indy, figuring he's on the cusp of a major and not really caring about the religious implications (he's a scientist, man), leaves to find his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood. Instead, he finds his daughter Marion (Allen), Indy's old flame, who isn't happy that Indy ran off 10 years ago (there are some creepy implications; Marion can't be more than 25, which means that Indy was indulging in a not-quite-legit relationship. No wonder Ravenwood was pissed). Anyway, Nazis in the personage of the evil stammery torture-guy Toht (Lacey) show up, bad shit ensues, they chase each other all over the Middle East until they wind up on an island where Belloc opens the Ark and holy shit everyone melts.

The story is pretty much pure pulp - not-terribly-challenging dialog bookended with nifty fight sequences. It rides the ragged edge between harmless action and "holy shit, that guy just got cut to pieces by a damn propeller), but as many folks have pointed out, it's not terribly responsible to make movies more appropriate to younger audiences by removing the messy consequences of violence.

For is perfect as Indy, and his sidekicks (Brody and later Rhys-Davies as Sallah) are loyal and display appropriate gravitas in talking about the Ark and its dangers (look, the Hebrew god did not fuck around). The traps and danger situations don't make whole lot of sense (how did the light-sensor trap work? What did all those snakes eat? How did a python get to Cairo - is it on holiday?), but that's not why you watch pulp.

I saw this movie when was six, when it came out in theaters, and I was utterly fucking terrified by the ending. Teagan watched it with me this time, and she liked it, though she doesn't know her history enough to appreciate some of the references and the adult dialog goes over her head a bit. And, she mentioned, she's not a fan of lots of people getting shot. But she did like the fight scenes and the intricate traps, and - and this amuses me, because I'm the same way - she loved watching Indy be competent and solve things and be all sciencey. The head-melting thing didn't bother her, but she also knew it was coming.

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: Medium-high

Next up: Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom

Vampire Notes

Running Vampire tonight. Need to take some notes. Players don't click.

This line's mostly filler.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Promethean: Meet Max (and also Max)

Last night was Promethean!

The characters were at Enoch's apartment, in the evening, planning their next move. Most of that involved rest - some of the characters were getting low on Pyros, too. Feather decided she would go into the subway and sleep there (in the earth, as it were). Grimm, likewise, was low on Pyros and had a bit of damage leftover from poison, so he went for a walk and found a substation, grabbed on, and recharged. Avalon curled up with Fluffy and had Fluffy click his tongue all night, making a rhythm, so she could regenerate Pyros.

Matt decided he'd meditate and try and force a Pyros vision (first one's not dangerous). He tapped into Azothic memory (which, mind, isn't always possible for Extempore, but the thing about Extempore is that you can't really draw parallels between them). He asked about upcoming milestones and who would play an important role (not Role) in said milestone. He saw a vision of Andrew White's throng, and saw someone in the shadows shoot at them. Legion flowed in front of the bullet and absorbed it, and Andrew reached out to Matt and asked for his help...and he knew that choice would be important.

Grimm, too, was wondering about his Pilgrimage, so meditated and asked his own question. He saw himself standing in a morgue, surrounded by bodies already conveniently dismembered. He grabbed a hand replaced his, tossing the original down into a pit...and felt a growing emptiness in his stomach. He replaced a leg and felt it again. Finally, he looked in a mirror, and realized he had no idea who he was or what he should do.

The next morning, Feather came back, bearing donuts, and told them about her experience the subway.

She'd been asleep, but had awoken to someone pawing through her stuff. She realized it was a little gargoyle thing. It grabbed her backpack and held it up, saying "Max." Feather managed to get through to it; it identified her as "Promethean." But when she tried to get the backpack back, it bolted and ran into the walls. She followed it, charging up Zephyrus to make herself faster, and caught it easily...but then Max appeared behind her.

Max was deformed, ugly, and had snaggly, sharp teeth. He talked with Feather and asked if she was like the last one like her, who had come to the Undercity to find himself. She didn't know, but appreciated the offer, and they got talking. Calogero came up in conversation, and she revealed that he'd died. Max asked if it had been natural causes, and Feather said she wasn't sure - and that made him angry. He asked her to deliver a message to Prince Maxwell Clarke, and ask what, if anything, he planned to do about this. He said he could conduct his own investigation, but people would die, and he didn't figure Calogero would have wanted that. He told her that Clarke could be found at the aquarium.

Feather went back to the tunnels and went to sleep, and woke up in the morning refreshed (but grabbed the third rail to top off). And then back to the others, after getting donuts.

The characters figured they would hit the library first; they had some research to do. Grimm called up Justine Berry, his friend in Philly who hunts vampires on occasion (thus fulfilling a milestone; call Justine for help). She told him that the vampire she'd seen (here) hadn't had much in the way of cognitive faculties, certainly not enough to exhibit the kind of planning they'd seen.

Matt called up Sebastian Licavoli, whom he'd met at a synod in Denver, and asked about the situation and vampires. Father Sebastian mentioned that his brother had told him about a deformed, vicious vampire that had appeared in Boston some time back (here). He also asked if this was something that Matt (and his friends) needed to get involved with? In the meanwhile, though, he mentioned that the Zen saying "wash the dishes to wash the dishes" might be appropriate. Focus on one thing at a time, do it well, do it completely.

Matt discovered that the actor who had once had his body had once been in a SyFy movie called Nyteflyers, about vampires. It had been wisely forgotten.

Avalon got to work memorizing books that might have been in Rivers' library, looking for the cipher to break his code. Feather did a bit of digging into weird Chicago and the Undercity, and learned that the cops didn't go there - the place is, as many such places, a haven for the homeless, lots of drugs and human trafficking, but also a story that indicates that the gargoyles of the city sneak off there at night.

Enoch and Matt got to work looking at ChiTech, and after some digging (with Feather's help) figured it to be a shell company. Grimm noted that there aren't a lot of good, legal reasons to set those up, and digging might get the characters into trouble.

From there, they headed to the aquarium. It was still daytime, though, so Feather wound up talking to a manager. When she mentioned Maxwell Clarke, she was told to come back that night (but the whole experience was strangely tense).

To kill some time, the characters went to the art museum. Grimm looked at pictures of hunters and hunting dogs, while Avalon found an exhibit by a local modern artist named Emil Handley. She asked one of the docents about him, and learned he'd be doing signings there the next day.

As it grew dark, the characters headed back to the aquarium. There were no night events scheduled there that night, but there were several cars out front, drivers waiting. They tried the doors, and were met by a striking young woman in an elegant dress. They mentioned the name Maxwell Clarke, and the woman (having been informed they were coming, apparently), let them in.

Grimm, after some grousing, left his gun with a valet, and they were taken to see Prince Maxwell. Maxwell was cordial with them, and revealed that he'd known Calogero since before he became human, and had helped him set up a human identity. He knew Devon Parker by reputation - he was a benefactor of the aquarium and a very, very rich individual, but Maxwell knew nothing of alchemy and so couldn't speak to that. Upon hearing Max Maury's message, he grew thoughtful - Calogero had specifically asked that, if someone bad happened to him, no one go revenging in his name. Maury, however, was unlikely to respect that, and his brand of "justice" would leave a lot of people dead. Maxwell noted that since the Prometheans seemed to be investigating this anyway, maybe they could, like, solve this murder? They agreed, and Maxwell gave them a smartphone so they could get hold of him as necessary. They also asked about the coded documents, and why Maury's name would be attached to them. Maxwell said he didn't know, but he'd be happy to look at the documents for them.

Of note during that conversation: Feather used her alias (Robin Schwartz), but Matt referred to her as "Feather." Maxwell didn't comment; he may not have noticed.

After the visit, they were shown out by the woman (whose name was Persephone Moore, if you're interested). They walked off, and discussed this. They understand that Maxwell is using them, but they aren't opposed to the errand, at least not at the moment.

Epilogue: Maxwell Clarke on the phone. "Yes. They have it."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie #286: Independence Day

Independence Day is an alien invasion flick (and pretty much a remake of War of the Worlds) directed by Roland Emmerich and starring freaking everybody - Jeff Goldblum, Robert Loggia, Will Smith, Vivica Fox, Bill Pullman, James Rebhorn, Randy Quaid, and Adam "Gamergate" Baldwin.

(Seriously, I knew he was a conservative dickbag, but him revealing himself as a misogynist dickbag kinda spoils his performances for me.)

Anyway, aliens invade. They kill us a lot. As Eddie Izzard points out, the movie built itself up with the disaster porn angle; the White House, the Empire State Building, and so forth being lasered all to shit. The movie's perspective jumps around a lot, giving us glimpses of the principal characters: David (Goldblum) is an engineer working for a cable company who figures out that the aliens are gong to fuck us over, and who used to be married to Connie (Margaret Colin) who is now chief of staff or something to President Whitmore (Pullman). Captain Hiller (Smith) is a Marine pilot who wants to be an astronaut, about to propose to Jasmine (Fox) who is a stripper for some fucking reason. Russell Case (Quaid) is a crop duster who used to be a fighter pilot in 'Nam and was later abducted by aliens. And so on and on.

Converging plotlines put these characters together at Area 51, where David comes up with the idea (with some help from his father, played with aplomb by Judd Hirsch) of introducing a computer virus into the alien's mothership, nuking it, and then attacking the city-sized ships on Earth with a ragtag team of fighter pilots from around he world coordinated by Morse code.

The movie is absurd on the face of it. It's an action popcorn flick in a way that only the 90s could produce, and if you're too young or too cool to remember, this movie was in theaters forever. It was hugely popular and profitable.

I...actually really like this movie. I mean, yes, millions if not billions of people die, but the disaster porn is presented in a way that makes that clear but keeps the focus on the destruction of buildings (whereas Spielberg's more recent War of the Worlds focused on individual people getting disintegrated, with the result that the movie wasn't any fun.

It's also a nice window into its time; Emmerich still makes movies where cities get leveled, but it's different when buildings in New York are being blown up, y'know? (The Twin Towers are visible in a couple of shots, and it's a little bit of a gut punch.) Will Smith is trim and young, Goldblum is doing his best "aggressively nerdy science Jewish guy" bit, and Pullman is just believable as a young president elected after being a war hero in the first Gulf War (you might not remember, but for a time, people wore buttons saying "Schwarzkopf for President: Let's Just Get It Over With."

Now, it's got its problems. Wholesale death and destruction, and the prevailing feeling after the initial wave of attacks is basically "eh." The threat never really feels too real, but then, you don't want the gravity to sink in, because then it wouldn't be fun anymore. There is no reason for Fox' character to be a stripper - not to suggest there's anything wrong with it, but it doesn't remotely mean anything in the movie and it seems to be there just to allow a couple of cheap laughs and a scene where she dances. But in general, I still like the takeaway and the conclusion I reached in my earlier review of the movie (which I linked above): Humans fight about a lot of stupid shit, and we should get it together before something really bad happens.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: (Indiana Jones in) Raiders of the Lost Ark*

*Yes, I know the official title is Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I'm damned if I'm gonna watch Temple of Doom and Last Crusade and then wait two years to get to R.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Movie #285: The Incredibles

The Incredibles is a Pixar film starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, and Elizabeth Pena.

The story takes place in a world where superheroes (and villains) are common, and the government has an agency that manages them. Mr. Incredible (Nelson), super-strong but also a canny combatant and decent with espionage, is about to marry Elastigirl (Hunter). But on the night of their wedding, as they're out doing some last-minute hero work (like you do), Mr. Incredible runs afoul of young Buddy (Lee), a boy who wants nothing more than to be his sidekick. Through a series of mishaps, Incredible winds up derailing a train, and the resulting fallout of that and an opportunistic lawsuit by a man attempting suicide forces the heroes to withdraw from public life entirely.

Years later, Mr. Incredible, now just Bob Parr, is working as an insurance agent, and thoroughly miserable. He has three kids; super-fast Dash (Fox); shy Violent (Vowell), who basically has the Invisible Woman's powers; and Jack-Jack, the baby, seemingly powerless. He spends his time fighting crime vigilante style with his buddy Lucius, once the ice-hero Frozone (Jackson). One day, just after getting fired for throwing his boss through a wall (dude deserved it), he receives a job offer from a mysterious woman (Pena). And suddenly, he gets to be a hero again.

Turns out, however, that his employer is none other than Buddy, now grown up and calling himself Syndrome. Thoroughly bitter over never getting to be a hero, he plans to unleash his robot on the world and then "stop" it, becoming a new and well-respected super. This, of course, does not work.

The movie is really amazing. In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, it was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay award, and deservedly so. It's a movie about superheroes, yes, but it gleefully takes for granted what we already know about superheroes (they wear masks, they fight crime, bad guys monologue) and focuses the story on Bob and his family, and how the trials of everyday life are much harder to get around than anything he's used to.

The voice performances are amazing, Holly Hunter in particular. The scene where she's trying to avoid missiles while flying the plane was supposed to involved her buddy Snug (who would die in the ensuing crash), and it's a shame to lose that beat, but it allows Hunter's character to show some real fear and to reveal herself to be a highly capable hero.

And, that's another thing - the heroes are badass. Bob and Helen (and later Lucius) work together seamlessly, and the kids come into their powers awkwardly but effectively. Their awe at seeing their parents as heroes, not just as their parents, is also really nicely done.

If I have a complaint, it's that the "if everyone's super, no one is" motif never really goes anywhere. It's a repeated line, but it doesn't really mean much in the context of the movie - the larger point is that if people are really exceptional, they should be allowed to show that and shine, but even that kind of gets lost, and by the end, the whole family realizes it's not really about the recognition so much as the work. But the stronger thematic focus is on the family and what that means, and that's really where the movie shines.

NO CAPES!

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: Independence Day

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Character Creation: Toypocalypse

I got this game in a bundle, and never really thought much about it, but then earlier today I asked folks on my G+ feed what game I should do, and +Jonathan Lavallee suggested this one. And I gave it a look, and y'know, it's interesting.

The Game: Toypocalpyse
The Publisher: Top Rope Games
Degree of Familiarity: Reading it now, kinda like it. It's only 18 pages long.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Toypocalypse bills itself as like Toy Story meets Roanoke Colony meets Lord of the Flies. There's been some sort of Armageddon and the toys have come to life. The game can involve war between toys as they try and set up a society, fighting off feral dogs, and worship of the Great Crafter.

Creating a character starts with picking a type of toy, which can be just about any plaything. I have one in mind. In my closet, in fact.

Ta-da.
I have no idea what this purple snake guy is all about. I got rid of my (really extensive) collection of action figures when I was about 13 and going into high school, because I didn't think that older kids played with such toys. I wasn't wrong, but that's beside the point, I should have boxed them up. Anyway, this guy was part of a collection of such monsters, pretty obviously He-Man knockoffs, but they made for good villains. I think I kept the first of any collection that I'd bought (the fact that I remember which was the first in any given collection says something about my brain), so I kept the snake dude. Also he stood up consistently because of the tail.

Anyway. My four Attributes are Will, Cognition, Versatility, and Intensity. I start at Normal (1d12) for each, and I get 4 points to bump them. So I could bump them all to Good (1d10+2), or I could specialize.

I want a high Intensity, so I'll use three to bump that to 1d6+6. And then for the last one, I'll bump Versatility to 1d10+2. He's a villain at heart, he doesn't have much in the way of Will.

Now I figure my Defense, which is 7 + half my Versatility or Will modifier. Since I don't have a Will modifier, it's 8 (half my Versatility modifier, with is 2). My Intuition, likewise, is 7 + the higher of my Intensity or Cognition modifier, or 10.

My Pneuma, kind of the strength of the animating force that drives me, is 7 + the lower modifier or Will or Cognition, so for me it's 7. Morale does the same thing but with the other two Attributes, so for me it starts at 8. At start of play, I'm beaten down, demoralized, and brutalized - 3 Pneuma and 4 Morale.

Now, Characteristics. I get one from each category.

Condition: I'll take Cracked. I've been out in the sun and my plastic has cracked.

Facets: I'll take Lost. The snake-man knows he should be somewhere, but he can't remember where or why.

Movement: I'll take Legs, since the toy has...legs.

Cognition: Apparently we choose a sense. Are these enhanced sense, or am I deaf if I don't take Hearing? Hmm. Well, I'll be weird and take smell, since I'm a snake-man.

And now, a Power, if I want one. I might as well. I'll take Super-Strength. He's got those rippling muscles, after all.

Now, a Social Role. I think I'll be a Contrarian. It's the closest I can get to being a villain. Basically I want to accomplish my goals using weird and subversive methods.

Finally, Goals. I have a Public Goal and a Private Goal. I think Snake-Man's Public Goal is to secure a base of operations, preferably someplace dark and moist. His Private Goal is to recover his friends, the other "villains" of his team. What then? He doesn't know, but he knows that they always followed his lead.

Personality-wise, Snake-Man is confused. He doesn't talk much, because he's not used to having to say much; he was a villain, and not one from a popular franchise. But he had a team, and now they're gone, and he knows he's missing something, something that helped define him.

It'd be interesting to see this guy - tagging along with a group because he doesn't know what else to do - reconnect with his villainous "heritage" and then either choose to reject it or redefine it. Might depend on how invested the other PCs are in being "heroes."


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vampire: Fire, blood, and breaking points

Yay Vampire!

So, recall that last time, Myra got munched (not in the good way) by a Larva (ew), but escaped with minimal damage. The coterie piled into one of Heath's SUVs and headed back to the under-construction building, and crept in, being all sneaky-like.

They didn't get far in when the Larva attacked, tackling Myra (mostly by virtue of positioning) and pulling her to the ground, trying to bite her. Note, too, that the other three characters had Obfuscate and were therefore harder to notice.

Mordecai, thinking (or at least acting) quickly, lit up a Molotov cocktail and dropped it on the Larva. Now engulfed in flames, it ran, but collapsed into dust shortly thereafter. Myra wasn't far behind, but Mordecai pulled off his jacket and put her out...but she was very nearly dead (she had one box of damage that wasn't aggravated).

The characters helped Myra to the car, and headed back to Binion's. They knew how to help Myra - blood and time - but they also had heard that fire scars vampires permanently. Heath told Mordecai that as long as Myra was out of commission, he was going to cover her salary from Binion's (since she couldn't work).

The got back to Binion's, and Heath and Delphine decided to head to the hospital and find someone to pay off for a large quantity of blood. Mordecai stayed behind to watch over Myra, and to make some calls - he'd heard of a group called the Night Doctors, an offshoot of the Carthian Movement. He called up Dex, the Hound (who is Carthian-affiliated), and Dex asked if this was about the building that was burning. Mordecai confirmed it was, but said they'd destroyed a Larva and things got out of hand; Dex seemed to sympathize.

A bit later, there was a knock at the door. A well-dressed vampire stood there, and introduced himself as "Robert." He asked Mordecai what had happened, and Mordecai let him in to see Myra. Robert shut the door, and knelt down to Myra - and she recognized him as Roberto Aiza, her sire. She told him what had happened, and he got up, and walked back out into the office where Mordecai was waiting. Mordecai noticed he was furious, just on the edge of frenzy, and tried to head for the door. Roberto attacked.

They scuffled a bit; Roberto managed to throw him down and bite him, but Mordecai got free and escaped the room. Roberto went back into Myra's room and said he'd tracked down Mordecai, but Myra ordered him not to take revenge, and he agreed. He asked what he could do; she said to bring her blood. Moments later, he came back with one of the security guards. Myra drained him dry, and wound up losing two points of Humanity (one from the breaking point, one because, as a Ventrue, she lost her only Touchstone with that seventh dot, and now she has a month to find a new one before she gets Languid). She also, for the record, lost her Striking Looks Merit, but picked up Acute Senses (yay Sanctity of Merits!).

Meanwhile, at the hospital, Heath bribed and convinced a young orderly to steal him a bunch of blood. It took a couple of hours, but they left with a cooler.

Mordecai grabbed a lost tourist, fed on him (but did not kill him) and left him in an alley. He met up with Heath and Delphine and explained what was happening, and then they went upstairs and found Myra, blissed out and blood-drunk, with the dead guard next to her.

"Why is it that you can't seem to hold on to a coterie, Heath?" Mordecai asked.

Two sessions remain in this story.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monsterhearts: The Lighthouse

Last time, you may recall, the characters all went to Psychology class following the news that their teacher had died of a stroke, and met the new teacher, Mr. Baron. But Mr. Baron was...Rook, aged 20 years.

Everyone held steady (except Ash, since he never met Rook). Erica failed and started hyperventilating, and ran out. Mr. Baron asked after her, and Skylar left to go check on her. Cassi, for her part, saw recognition in Mr. Baron's eyes - he apparently knew them. Cassi and Genesis both wound up with terrified condition.

Briar questioned Mr. Baron a bit, but he didn't betray any knowledge of her or the other characters. He talked with some of the other students, all of whom, except perhaps Ash, were suitably creeped out.

Speaking of creeping, Skyler followed Erica into the bathroom to creep on her. She sat there and gazed into the abyss, looking for information on Rook. (I'm completely blanking on the vision she had, but it left her drained.) Skylar talked with her and comforted her, and used hungry ghost to eat her drained condition.

Back in the classroom, Cassi confronted Baron, but if he knew anything, he wasn't admitting it. She shut him down, and gave him the shaken condition...but he gave her hopeful.

Baron gave the class the period free to use as study hall, since, y'know, their teacher for this class had just died. Ash asked him if the syllabus would change, and he gave a reasonable and lucid answer. Class ended, and Baron caught Genesis on the way out and asked if she'd found what she was looking for in the lost and found. She said she hadn't...but that, of course, raised her suspicion (she's missing her pelt, after all).

Lunchtime! The characters talked about this strangeness, and caught Ash up on what had happened over the last couple of years. Ash said that who or whatever Baron really was, he'd never died (Ash can, apparently, recognize death - Skylar asked if he could tell her how she'd died; he said he could, but it would require some effort). The characters talked a bit about previous years, and Austin mentioned that they'd already faced one creature that could wear the faces of people they knew - the Black Tanamous. Briar gazed into the abyss to see if the Black Tamanous was still dead, but she saw the vineyard, with water filling up the holes, and the bodies of her friends around her, and felt a premonition that she would soon be standing next to the body of a dead friend. She left and went for a run.

The characters headed back to class (Lit), where they were discussing A Separate Peace. Cassi, during class, got upset and left, and went back to Baron's room and started poking through his stuff, but didn't find anything. She gazed into the abyss to learn about Baron, but saw nothing (and Baron gained a String on her, though she didn't know it). Erica called Dora and left a message for her; the group hadn't heard from her of late.

Lit class ended, and the characters split; Cassi, Erica, and Genesis went to Anatomy & Physiology, while the rest should have gone to study hall. Briar, though, caught Austin and turned him on, taking him into the girls' locker room for sex. Mr. Patrick, the A&P teacher, chatted with Genesis about the origins of the phrase "catgut" (they were dissecting cats). Mr. Patrick tried to get Cassi to name some organs, and she flipped out a bit, manipulating an NPC and getting sent to the nurse.

Meanwhile, Briar and Austin were coming (heh) out of the locker room, and who should catch them but...Mr. Baron. He was all set to write them up, but Briar manipulated an NPC to get him to let her off the hook. He agreed, but said she owed him one (and took a String on her).

Cassi, meanwhile, headed to the nurse's office, and recalled that Dora's sanctum was in the supply closet. When the nurse left to take a call, Cassi snuck in and found a few votive candles, all that remained of the sanctum. She heard a voice on her left whisper "light one", and she did, gazing into the abyss to see if Rook was still alive. She sees Rook standing in front of a mirror, and his reflection whispered that he could make it so Rook never died. Rook (real Rook) agreed, and the reflection reached into his chest and pulled out a silver/blue ball of light - his life. Cassi felt the presence to her left offer help, but she refused. The presence, by the way, called itself Chantico.

Meanwhile, Genesis had learned that Bryan Munch, one of the basketball players, had stolen the janitor's keys on a bet. She asked him, and he revealed that he and some of the basketball players had opened a few lockers looking for drugs and had seen her pelt, but hadn't moved it. During Phys Ed class, Genesis asked to use the pool (the gym teacher let her; it's a weird day), and she gazed into the abyss to see what happened, and saw Mr. Clark catch the boys and leave the keys on his desk before leaving for the night...the night he died. Mr. Baron, it seemed, had her pelt.

After school ended, Genesis tracked down Mr. Baron and found him in the nurse's office. She entered the office, and found the nurse frozen in place. Baron, dropped at least a little pretense, talked with her and admitted he had the pelt, but said he wouldn't make her do anything worse that anything she'd already done ("That's not comforting."). Genesis shut him down, and he lost a String on her (but he still has one).

Erica, Skylar, Ash, and Cassi went to Rook's house to get something belonging to Rook. Cassi, it seems, was feeling better about things - there's hope. Skylar went inside and grabbed one of Rook's hats. Erica called on her dark power and mimicked the watching hex to look at Rook. She saw from his eyes, floating submerged in cold, dark water, but alive(?). She also got the feeling that something had noticed her.

From there, the four of them headed to Cassi's house - for the first time in a while, Cassi was OK being around people. Ash used his casting the bones Move to help Cassi (gazing into the abyss to advise her). They saw a lighthouse on the water, locked, and surrounded by sharp rocks and frigid waters.

The four of them talked about the weirdness, and Erica asked if Ash was a ghost. He said he wasn't; he was more like a skeleton. He demonstrated by using his skin and bones Move to take the flesh off his hand. Erica held steady and stayed cool, but Cassi held steady and failed. She threw up, and then realized that her mother was standing outside the window.

Her mother walked in, horrified, and Ash manipulated an NPC and claimed it's a clever magic trick. She seemed to accept that, but asked for a home number for him so maybe she can verify who he is. Ash pitched a fit, got offended, and moved to leave. Cassi tried to manipulate an NPC (her mom) and failed, and she sent her to the house. Erica manipulated an NPC (mom again) and showed her a draft of the yearbook with Ash's picture, which calmed her down, but Ash was already leaving. Cassi attempted to turn him on, but only managed to get a String on him. He left, and Erica left with Skylar .

Briar and Austin, meanwhile, decided they should do a little digging on Baron. They couldn't find any record of him at Berkley (his supposed alma mater), so Briar called the others to meet up and research. Skylar, Erica, and Genesis met her, and they went to the books. They wound up finding the name Oberon, and they knew Rook had dealings with the Fae. They put the secret weakness on Baron, and Briar found some cold iron nails for them to carry (Skylar, meanwhile, used mimicry to copy to the books).

Ash got "home" to his cemetery, and found Mr. Baron waiting for him. They talked a bit - Ash pointed out that this was perhaps a bit threatening, and Baron clarified that he didn't mean to threaten; he was just curious. He asked how invested Ash is in all of this, and also Erica, since they didn't know Rook well. Ash said that the others might not want play his game; Baron seemed pleased that Ash regards it as a game at all.

Meanwhile, at home, Cassi took a call from Briar and thanked her for the invite, but she wasn't not able to leave (mom wants her to stay home). She gazed into the abyss and used her newly acquired metamorphosis Move. She saw the lighthouse again, and realized that it was too far away to reach, too dark and cold for the way she was now. But she could change herself.

Back at Briar's house, a storm had started. They stared at the lightning, and talked about what they were seeing - they didn't know if Baron was evil, if he meant them harm, or indeed, what they could do about any of this. "I wish Rook was here," Briar said. Genesis heard a haunting song on the rain, but couldn't place it.

Genesis went to the beach and sat there, staring out at the water, and used ocean's breath.

Next day, at school, the custodian brought in a desk. "Well, we have a new student," said Ms. Freese, "middle of the year, I know, it's weird."

A young man walked in, with a backpack that looked like he'd stuffed a blanket into it. Genesis gasped. "Hi," said Genesis' brother. "I'm Bastion."

End credits music: "Down By the Water," The Decemberists.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why I Try Not To Laugh at People

Short form? I want everyone to be warm, safe, well-fed, and happy.

That's why, despite any snark that I throw around online (and I do, I admit; it's hard not to some days), really, I want people to be OK.

Now, me wanting you to be OK doesn't absolve anyone from not being abusive or hurtful. It doesn't mean I won't tell you to check your privilege (and if that phrase makes you immediately roll your eyes and start grousing about "SJWs," well, you probably need to check your privilege). It doesn't mean I won't make fun of you or be sarcastic at you.

But you know what? I will never doxx you. I will never encourage other people to hunt you down and say hurtful things. I will never stalk you, and I will never, ever, knowingly lie about you. I might be wrong about something, and if I am (and if it's brought to my attention in a factual and respectful way, obviously), I'll retract it and make steps to correct it.

'Cause you know what? I was an angry young man for a long, long time. I was pissed off at women and...well, pretty much everyone. I didn't like people, and I didn't care who knew it. I was confused and scared and not a little depressed, and that makes for a really shitty cocktail. Add into the mix that I was privileged as all fuck (I grew up male, white, and well-off; I'm a bisexual atheist, so the points at which I lose my privilege are only as visible as I make them) and you've got the recipe that, had things gone a different way, I might have been out there today championing some very unsavory hashtags. And I'd probably be just as vociferous as anyone, and I'd have plenty of reassurance that I was right. And like a lot of folks, I feed on that kind of feedback.

So, despite accusations to the contrary, I don't live in an echo chamber. I pay attention to what I hear and where I hear it. I consider sources. So if you see me saying something and you think I've been taken in by "the other side," may spare 30 seconds and think that maybe, just maybe, I might know what the hell I'm talking about.

Or not, who the hell knows. Maybe I've been thoroughly corrupted by the "SJW" movement. Tell you what: Here's my ethical framework. I'll let you be the judge:

1) People have the right to say what they want...but no one owes you a platform on which to say it.

2) People have the right to sell what they want...but no one owes them customers or a storefront.

3) People have the right to believe what they want...but no one owes those beliefs anything other than acknowledgement.

4) People have the right to exist without being attacked or threatened or silenced...but pointing out problems with someone's statements isn't silencing. Disagreeing isn't, by itself, attacking.

We could get into finer points, of course. I think it's reasonable to ask for greater representation in games, for example. I'm not interested in supporting games, video or otherwise, that make no attempt to include and accept women, POC, trans, queer, etc. people. Do those folks have a "right" to be represented? Let's say it this way: They have as much right to be represented as anyone else. Do game devs have a responsibility to strive for that kind of equal representation? I don't know about responsibility, but I certainly have a right to make their decisions affect my buying habits. And that's not silencing or censorship. I owe any given game company exactly nothing.

I also believe that people can grow up. They can change. They can learn empathy. I did it. My methods might not work for everyone; for me it took having kids, getting a job that required some humility and some service, and losing people in my life that I truly loved. It require perspective, and you can't exactly bottle that. So maybe the folks who are up in arms now about "ethics in games journalism" - the ones who really believe that that's actually a thing, that the harassment and the threats, like, didn't happen or something, that believe that their favorite video games are actually under some kind of threat, maybe what they need is a little time and a little exposure to the biomass and a little perspective.

I'll say this: I wade into threads and Twitter fests and hastags and I read, not because I'm expecting to agree with what I find, but because I want to understand. What I find makes me sad, sometimes, but that's life, and I have plenty of reasons to be happy. I type and delete a lot more comments than I post, but I fuck it up sometimes and say things that are mean or sarcastic. But I do try and learn. And I hope that folks on the other "side" do the same thing - go looking for other perspectives not with the intent of making themselves angry or finding a place to lash out, but just to learn.

The world is an interesting place. It has awesome people in it. But you lose so much if you go looking for people to hate, and you gain so much if you remember that even the people who hurt you have some humanity.

Now, that's easy for me to say. I'm not being hounded out of my home or threatened with murder or rape, and don't think for a minute that I don't recognize that. I am privileged that I can be so calm about things. That's really all I mean when I say to check one's privilege - acknowledge it. See how it might inform your position. And move on.

It's late, and I'm done rambling. Next post will probably be a character or a movie or something more typical of this blog. But maybe not...maybe I'm gonna start using it for this kind of thing.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Movie #284: An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband is a comedy based on the play of the same name by Oscar Wilde, and starring Rupert Everett, Jeremy Northam, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, and Minnie Driver.

Lord Arthur Goring (Everett) is a self-described idlest man in England. His friend Sir Robert Chiltern (Northam) is, by contrast, a dedicated and earnest public servant, and his wife Gertrude (Blanchett) adores and idolizes him. But then the sinister Mrs. Chevely (Moore) blows into town, the former lover of Goring and schoolmate of Gertrude (neither of whom trust her much).

She immediately blackmails Chiltern into supporting a canal concern in which she's heavily invested, threatening to expose the shady deal by which he made his fortune. She ups the ante by revealing the truth to his wife. Meanwhile, Goring does his best to help out, and finally succeeds, with the help of Chiltern's sister, Mabel (Driver).

In the meanwhile, of course, there are lots of missed connections, misunderstandings, and sexual innuendo. It's a Wilde play, and Goring is pretty clearly Wilde's self-insert. He gets some of the best lines, but no one goes hungry for good dialog. The cast also has great chemistry; you completely buy Northam and Blanchett as a couple that worships each other, and Driver and Everett as a couple that thinks they're just snarky friends, but actually suit each other nicely. Julianne Moore turns in a nicely paced performance; she goes from manipulative to vulnerable to still evil without any jarring shifts.

Overall, it's a fun, light, and very watchable movie.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high, especially if Michelle's around

Next up: The Incredibles

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Abiding by the Standards of the Community

OK. So, I don't think this sounds crazy, but I'm no one in particular.

You have the right to create whatever kinds of games you'd like. Want to make games with racist, sexist, or homophobic content? You can. Want to sell them? You can. Obviously you need to check local laws, because I don't know if all other countries have quite the same love of free speech that we have here in the USA (some restrictions do apply, even here), but whatever. You can sell it.

You can even create a game that champions a hate group. You can create a game that "takes the piss" out of people responding to serial harassment, slut-shaming, and ongoing misogyny. You can take the side of the people who have lined up with actual factual Nazis. That's a thing you can do. No one can tell you that you can't do it.

But if you make use of a marketplace that someone else owns, the folks that own this marketplace can tell you to fuck off with that. And it's nothing to do with "complaint bombing," and it sure as shit isn't because they're afraid of your raw, edgy, truth-saying. It's that you did something offensive, and they don't want to be part of it. Or, maybe, it's because the other folks who use the marketplace said, "uh, if that's what you're selling next to me on this virtual shelf, I'll fuck off and take my chances elsewhere." Those are things that can happen. Those are things people have the right to do.

(Context: James Desborough put a GamerGate inspired card game on DriveThruRPG today. People, including me, complained to DTRPG. It was taken down in minutes. Now you have context.)

So, there's that. And I don't think any of that is especially controversial. I mean, if you're a GG supporter, then maybe, but beyond that, I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that someone who runs a marketplace gets to dictate what's sold there, yeah? So I want to hit two other points.

Today, when the complaints started flying, people got pretty strident. I was among them. I said, to DriveThru's Twitter feed, that I thought it was disgusting, and I stand by that. But some other folks posted Matt McElroy's personal info on Twitter, and said some really horrible things about him and his company.

Folks, that's fucking unacceptable. That's the kind of short-sighted, ignorant, vicious tactic I'd expect from people whining about "ethics in journalism" while they're trading naked pictures, illegally obtained, of the object of their misplaced ire. Don't do that shit. Express your anger, but do it smartly. FTR, selling something on DTRPG is as easy as uploading and hitting a button, once you've got an established relationship with One Book Shelf. Should there be a vetting process?  I don't know, there are considerations there. But just because someone sells something on DTRPG doesn't mean that One Book Shelf specifically endorses or supports it, and I think the salient point about DT's response is how quickly they took the game down. They owe no one any apologies, but there are some Twitter users out there that do.

Second point: I am a DTRPG seller (you can buy our stuff here!). It therefore behooves me to release products that aren't so offensive as to cause widespread complaints. That doesn't mean I can't take risks, and it doesn't mean I can't release products that have, dare I say it, an edge. It does mean that I'm entering into a relationship with DTRPG that either of us can revoke, and if that happens, I need to be prepared to accept the consequences of my actions.

I am prepared to accept those consequences, but I doubt very much that I'll have to deal with my products being removed, because I strive to make games that include more than they exclude, that celebrate diversity and define their audience by what they do and what they encourage, not on who they make unwelcome and what they can skewer.

I won't say that method is the best. It probably isn't the most profitable. But it does allow me to sleep comfortably at night, and to be proud of my work.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Character Creation: Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Ed

I made the decision a while back to make multiple characters if I have multiple editions of a game. That cuts both ways; it does mean that I get to do a couple of versions of the World of Darkness, but it also means I'm not quite done with D&D. C'est la vie.

So today, I want to do a character and I have the beginnings of a concept, so here we are.

The Game: Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Edition
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Quite a bit; I'm running it at present, and I did a bit of consulting about the new version of the game (but didn't write for it...yet).
Books Required: Just the core, which is presently called Blood and Smoke, but is going to get rereleased with the proper title soon. I may grab some of my 1st ed books as necessary.

So, here's the thing about Requiem. It's a lot of fun, but the changes between it and Vampire: The Masquerade are, in a lot of places, too subtle. Plus, it suffers from something that a lot of the NWoD lines do; the powers are sort of boring. Maybe not boring if you were coming to Vampire as your first horror game, but they don't really break any ground; they're largely the same powers as from Masquerade, with some cleaned-up mechanics. There are some exceptions; I humbly think that the Coils of the Dragon are pretty cool (I'm biased, I wrote them), and I like the Nightmare Discipline and Theban Sorcery.

In Blood and Smoke, the writing team (which included +David Hill+Stew Wilson+Filamena Young, and +Dave Brookshaw) changed this up a bit. The Disciplines don't work the way they have since the 90s. The assumptions of the game have changed a bit. And that's good. I'm finding, as I'm running it, that I'm having to look stuff up, because it doesn't work the way it did for the last 20 years, and a lot of things just come standard for vampires these days. Not to mention that the game puts focus on vampires' relating to people, which was something that the previous versions of the game always talked about but never put into mechanics. Overall, I think it's an improvement.

I have a concept, too!


I really love this song. I think it's sexy as hell. And since I've started listening to Hozier, this song has really screamed Requiem to me (other things that do that: Fright Night, Only Lovers Left Alive). I want to make a character who is utterly and completely bound to another vampire. The focus of his affection would probably be an NPC, but I'm not choosy.

Anyway!

Step One: Character Concept. I picture this guy being relatively young, probably mid-30s, when he was Embraced. Let's make it hard on myself - he was married, had two kids, a job which I'll think about later, and was pretty much happy. Then he went out to a bar with some friends, and met her. She bewitched him (Majesty), but that was just the beginning. She must have felt something for him, too, because she showed him magic. She showed him eternal life and the sweet, red, sticky, agony of vampirism. And he's never looked back.

The scary thing about him is that he should still be conflicted. He should still remember his mortal life. He doesn't. Rather, he does, vaguely, but he doesn't much care. He loves and worships his sire with a zealous devotion, and would cheerfully laid down his unlife for her.

I should name her, huh? Let's call her Satine.

So, his concept is "Avid Worshipper." At this stage I also need three Aspirations, two short-term and one long-term. Hmm. Well, my long-term goal is "Prove my love to Satine." One short-term can be "Become injured protecting Satine." And another can be "Bring Satine a special vessel" (that is, some mortal that she'll be especially happy to feed on).

I kind of like that he's hyper-focused on Satine and pleasing her. It would make him super easy to manipulate.

OK, now Step Two: Attributes. Usual split, 5/4/3. I think we'll go Social as primary, then Physical, then Mental.

Social, I'll dump 3 into Presence and one each into Manipulation and Composure.

Physical, I'll put two into Strength and one each into Dexterity and Stamina.

And, Mental, I'll put two into Wits, one into Intelligence, leaving Resolve at 1, which is perhaps unwise for a vampire, but eh.

Step Three: Skills. Same drill, 11/7/4. Hmm. Now I have to think about who he was in life and what he was skilled at.

I think I'll put Mental last again; that'll be the remnants of his mortal-life Skills. I'll put Physical primary and Social secondary.

For Physical, I want three in Brawl (to protect Satine), three in Stealth (lurking), two in Firearms, one in Drive. I'll stick the other two in Athletics, because always take Athletics.

For Social, I'll put three in Intimidation, two in Persuasion, one in Expression, and one in Streetwise.

And Mental is pretty easy. One in Computer, two in Occult, one in Academics. He had a job involving files and archives, he thinks. It probably wasn't important. It couldn't have been, she wasn't there.

Step Four: Skill Specialties. I'll specialize Brawl in Bodyguard, so I can get between Satine and a threat. I'll specialized Firearms in Called Shots for the same reason. Finally, I suppose I should make some attempt to call back to the mortal this guy once was, so I'll specialize Academics in Psychology. Was he a clinical psych? Behavior profiler? Who cares? (The Storyteller might, but I'd leave that to her.)

Step Five: Add Kindred Template. And then, the Embrace happened. So what clan should my character, and therefore Satine, be?

The obvious choice is Daeva. So that's what I'll do, because it makes too much sense. That lets me add a dot to either Dexterity or Manipulation. Easy choice. I'll take Dexterity.

I know I want to put him in the Circle of the Crone, so that's covenant taken care of.

Now, Mask and Dirge. These replace Virtue and Vice for vampires. Mask is how you hide amongst people, Dirge is the monster you really are. Hmm. I think his Mask is Follower; publicly, he belongs to Satine and he doesn't care who knows it. He actually wants people to know it; that's part of the thrill. But his Dirge is Junkie. The dark, sticky secret is that he's addicted to Satine, fully and utterly, with all the problems that implies.

And then a Touchstone, which is a person, place, or thing that keeps me grounded and in touch with humanity. But he's forgotten most of what grounds him in humanity, and I don't want to take any of his mortal family as Touchstones. Instead, I'll take the club where he met Satine. He was still human there. That's the last place he ever drew breath. We'll call it LuAnn's Bar. He still goes there sometimes, but has to dodge his former friends. Or maybe he's just killed them, who knows.

Disciplines! Two have to be in-clan (Majesty, Celerity, Vigor) and the third can be whatever, including Cruac. Lessee now. I do want a dot of Cruac to represent what Satine has taught him. And then the question is, two Celerity or two Vigor? Hmm. Celerity has some benefits, including being able to interrupt someone else's action, but Vigor is better for doing damage. I...think I'll do one of each, actually.

As for my Cruac ritual, they don't really get good until level 2 (seriously, the level 1 rituals in Circle of the Crone are kind of meh), so I'll take Rigor Mortis, 'cause that's fun.

And, of course, 1 Blood Potency.

Step Six: Add Merits. I get 10 dots of Merits, as it should be. And there are a bunch in here.

But you know what, I'm gonna bite the bullet and spend 5 and raise my Blood Potency by 1. That'll let me activate Vigor and Celerity in the same turn, which is good. That does eat 5 Merit dots, sadly, so let's see what's left. I apparently don't get a free do in Covenant Status anymore, so I should take one. I like Acute Senses, and that's just one, so that's good. My character doesn't have Kiss of the Succubus, though clearly Satine does.

Boy, some of the Merits feel unnecessary. Unnatural Affinity, for example. Why does that need to be a Merit? If something has blood, you can feed on it. I can see a Merit allowing you to take "blood" from ghosts...except there's a whole Discipline about that (called Essentiaphagia; I know because I wrote it). Anyway.

I like Anonymity. I'll back-burner that, though, because I want to look at fighting style Merits. Ok, I want Close Quarters Combat (or Fighting Style: Burn Notice, take your pick), which requires me getting out God-Machine Chronicle, but I'm OK with that. I'll take two dots there. And for my last dot, I would take Anonymity, but it's more effective at higher levels. I'll take a dot of Mentor, though, for Satine. I choose three Skills (or two Skills and Resources); these are things she can do for me.

Now, interestingly, the lower the dot rating, the less your commitment to your Mentor, but the effect is still much the same. The Mentor has successes on the Skills in questions (if they'd make a roll for you) equal to the dot rating, but surely that's only useful at 1 dot and five dots, for the most part? Huh. Shoulda thought that through a bit more (I mean, I didn't write it, but it pops up in God-Machine Chronicle which means I vetted it). Well, it works in my favor like whoa, so I'll choose Resources, Investigation, and Subterfuge as my Skills, how 'bout. As for what she wants from me, well...probably a lot less than I'm giving her anyway (drain the whole sea, get something shiny).

Derived traits are easy; Humanity 7, Defense 5, Willpower 3 (ugh), Health 7, Size 5, Speed 11, Initiative 5. Just need a name, then. I think Satine calls him Amon. He's forgotten his mortal name.

I picture Amon as a young Antonio Banderas, actually. Wears blacks and reds, maybe some onyx jewelry. Carries a pistol in a back holster. Wishes he could get her name tattooed on him somewhere.

And that's it!