Thursday, December 31, 2015

Character Creation: Supers!

This'll be my 18th character this year, which is like 1.5 a month, which is pretty sad. I did slightly better in 2015 (20 characters). Let's see if, in 2016, I can manage two a month?

Anyway. I actually started to make an Ashen Stars character yesterday, then I decided I wanted to read more of the book. So instead:

The Game: Supers!
The Publisher: Beyond Belief Games, I guess, but it's not mentioned on their site. There's a supers game called Triumphant (which is a better title anyway), but I don't see this one anywhere. It's a few years old, though, so maybe it's out of print?
Degree of Familiarity: None. I picked it out to do today because it looks like it's four-color and I don't think it'll have a complex setting to parse.
Books Required: Just the one.

I love superheroes, and I've talked about why in previous chargen posts. Marvel Superheroes was my first RPG ever, and I own a whooooole bunch of supers games. So here's another!

Supers! starts off telling us what kind of game this is: To wit, four-color supers. You either know what that means or you're kinda SOL, but I do, so that's fine. And then we get into creating a character, which is why I'm here.

We told to start with concept, but that having a strong concept is fine, as is looking at powers and going "ooh, that." I don't have a specific concept, and I don't have a theme song, even.

Well, we start with Resistances. They start at 1D each and I have 5D to split up between them, maximum is 3D. OK. I guess I do need some kind of concept.

I've had this song in my head for a while now:

I can kinda get behind this for a superhero. I like the idea of a guy who winds up with superpowers and thinks it's his ticket to awesomeness, but discovers it's not only work but dangerous work. There's no provision for origin or anything, so I guess that's up to me. This guy should definitely be an "altered human" sort of person, but the incident in question should probably depend on the powers, yeah?

I like the flow of that song, and I like the continuous shot. Makes me think of time powers. Anything like that here? Not really. But Astral Projection is kind of interesting, as is Duplicate Form. Hmm. OK, I have some thoughts.

Resistances! My guy is pretty socially adept, I think. Fortitude is going to be where he's weak. I'll leave that at 1D, put 1D into Composure, and put 2D each into Reaction and Will for 3D. Sounds good, moving on.

Now Aptitudes. I actually have 1D in all of them, but then I get 3D to split up between them. So I can have three at 2D or one at 2D and one at 3D, since the max is 3D right now. OK, then. I'll put 1D into Animal Handling, Presence, and Streetwise. My guy used to be a dog walker.

And then after Aptitudes but before Powers, there's this little note about "oh, you really have 20D to build your character in total, so if you want to just to do that, g'head on." Which is fine, but why isn't that stated up front? Anyway. Powers.

I want Astral Projection, Duplicate Self, and then some kind of mental power. I'll put 4D into Astral Projection, 5D into Duplicate Self, and my other 3D into....ooh, actually. What if I shave a couple of dice off those other powers (2D Astral, 3D Duplicate) and then take other powers, but say that only one duplicate at a time can use them? Maybe there's a disadvantage or something that covers that. So how about 2D each in Mental Blast, Mind Control, Telekinesis, and Vampiric Powers? That'd be fun.

Complications don't cover having one power linked to another, but the rules are pretty simple; you get 1D added to the power if it's limited. So I'll say that all of the powers except Astral Projection only work when he can astrally project, and I'll put Delayed Use on Astral Projection, too (have to get into a trance).

Now, ads and disads (I've never seen a game actually abbreviate those words thusly). These you balance out, so if I take ads I need disads, too. I'll take Charismatic as and ad and Poor as a disad.

And that's all the mechanical stuff, actually. OK, then.

Tyrone Amal Douglas, Jr., dropped out of college after three weeks. His father is still disappointed, but his father also think it's because Tyrone was having trouble keeping up academically. Secretly, his dad ("Big T" to his friends) is glad, because he doesn't want his son ("Little T") to be in debt for the rest of his life.

Little T (who goes by "Ty" or just "T") dropped out because of the accident. Ty worked as a dog walker on weekends; he's always been good with animals. One day he was out with a few of his charges at the dog park, and one of them, a little nosy-ass corgi, found a box half buried under an old oak. Ty pulled out the box and opened it, and found a black gem inside. He touched it...and that was it.

Ty learned he could project his soul from his body, and when he does, split that soul into pieces. He can invade people's minds and control them, he can drain the life from them, he can move things around with his ghostly soul, and he can knock people right the hell out. Ty dropped out of school because, despite his powers, he can't be everywhere at once. He keeps waiting for the payoff - not money, necessarily, but something, fame, notoriety, maybe just recognition, but so far, people are just terrified when they see the four hooded figures materialize. Maybe that's good. Some people need to be scared.

The weird thing is, Ty knows, somehow, that there's something else in that gem. It whispers to him sometimes, with a warm, friendly, feminine voice. He can't quite understand it, but it sounds sad. He's afraid to find out why.

Ty leaves his body on the subway when he has to go be a hero. Criminals and the press have dubbed his alter ego "the Haunt" or "the Four Horsemen,"but Ty thinks that's a bit corny. His aunt (who's very religious) talked about the Lord's judgement as a reckoning, and Ty thinks that sounds pretty cool, so he calls himself "The Reckoning."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Board Game: Scrabble

Once in a while I have to do an old standby because it's on the list, so.

The Game: Scrabble
The Publisher: Hasbro (now)
Time: Depends heavily on the players, but an hour is safe.
Players: Me and +Michelle

Michelle and I went to Starbucks the other day whilst out running errands to hang out, do a little work, and play Scrabble. I actually used to play Scrabble really frequently with Heather back in the day, so it was fun to play again. I play Words with Friends all the time, but that's different; you can't fondle the letters.

Michelle, fondling.
The Game: You get 7 letters to start, and you have to spell words on a big crossword board. Letters are weighted by frequency in English; as such, there are a bunch of S, but they're only worth 1 point, whereas there's only one J but it's worth 8 points. You can spell any real word that isn't a proper noun - no abbreviations, and neologisms are tricky because they don't usually show up in dictionaries.

This is not a great opening hand, but it could be worse.

It's worth learning the possible 2-letter words if you're a serious player; likewise, knowing that "QI," "QINTAR" and "QWERTY" are legal plays is useful. If you can't play, or everything you could play sucks, you can swap letters. Play goes until one player has no letters left, and then the other player(s) subtracts the value of their remaining letters from their score.

No profanity this time, I'm slipping.
Opinions: This is a game I refer to as a "swan," in that if you're at all board game savvy, you're probably familiar with it, so why am I describing it? But that's fine; it's a good game if you're good with spelling, and it's no fun if you're not (but don't conflate them; I knew someone who opined the game "sucked" because it required spelling, which he was bad at - no, you suck at this game).

Keep? Sure.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Movie #344: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is a (mostly) animated film starring Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, and Liam Neeson. It's probably one of my favorite movies of the last year.

The movie opens with Lord Business (Ferrell) blinding and defeating the hippie/wizard Vitruvius, but not before the latter proclaims a prophecy about the Special, an individual who will defeat Lord Business with the Piece of Resistance. This mystical object is the only thing that can defeat Business' ultimate weapon, the Kragle.

8 1/2 years later, Emmett (Pratt) an ordinary construction worker and dedicated conformist, follows a mysterious woman (Banks) into a strange tunnel and wakes up after a vision quest with the Piece strapped to his back. Dodging the pursuit of Bad Cop (Neeson), he meets up with Vitruvius and the other Master Builders, including lots of DC Superheroes, NBA all-stars, and various other characters that have been made into Legos, and forms a plan to infiltrate Business' lair and destroy the Kragle. He almost makes it, too...and then he gets captured and tossed into the abyss, whereupon he sees the Man Upstairs (Ferrell in real life) and his (presumably) 8 1/2 year old son, Finn (Jadon Sand). And then it all gets completely meta.

Ferrell is a Lego collector, and his son just wants to play with the bricks and make his own crazy stuff. All of the story is Finn's vision of the citizens of the Lego universe coming together to stop Lord Business' plans to freeze them all in place, achieving his (rather banal) version of perfection. And then it falls completely into place; Lord Business, with his office on the Infinity-ith floor, the simplistic, rhyming prophecy, and, of course, Batman (Arnett) being a Master Builder and Lucy's boyfriend...all of this is Finn's story.

I really love this movie, and every time I watch it I'm blown away by the scripting. It seems really light and simple until you learn what's really going on, and then all of the little details make perfect sense. But the resolution of the story - Finn tell his dad (through Emmett telling Lord Business) that it's not just that everyone is special, but anyone can be the Special. It's not that there's a single Chosen One, it's that you - you - could be chosen to do the right thing, to make a difference, and to shine. And when he's called upon, Dad (and therefore Lord Business) rise up and do the right thing. (Is it any wonder I love this movie?)

Watching this movie for the first time, I was a little bummed that Lucy, a capable and fervent character and freedom fighter, wasn't the star, but then they actually address that. She wanted to be the Special, but Emmett lucked into it. But that's the point - the only reason Emmett is the Special is because he fell down the right hole. It could've been Lucy, and she gets her own chance to kick ass, but she's not the one who gets the final confrontation with Lord Business because that's not what she's called upon to do (and because Finn picked Emmett as his self-insert, which is fair).

Anyway, I really don't have anything negative to say about this movie, and I assume the only reason it wasn't nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar was because the live-action sequences disqualified it. It should have been nominated for Best Picture, frankly.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Clerks

Friday, December 25, 2015

Board Game: Letters from Whitechapel

I forgot to do this write-up after it happened, so here we go!

The Game: Letters from Whitechapel
The Publisher: Fantasy Flight
Time: A couple of hours, or much less, depending
Players: Me, +Michelle+Travis, Jerry, +Amanda, Rachel


Game Play: Letters from Whitechapel is very similar to Fury of Dracula; one player takes the role of Jack the Ripper, while the others are the police folks trying to catch him. I, of course, was Saucy Jack.

The game has four nights. Jack kills one woman on nights one and two, two on night three (the "double event") and one on night four. After killing, he flees back to his hideout, but he only has so many moves in which to make it. If he gets blocked in, arrested, or runs out of moves, he loses. If he escapes on all four nights, he wins.

So the first part of the game is putting out women tokens, some of which are potential victims and some of which are decoys. The head of the investigation (which passes night by night) gets to choose where policemen are; this can also be decoy'd. Then the women are revealed, and the coppers get to move them. Jack can stall for a few rounds, letting the women move while he reveals where the cops are, but then he has to kill.

At that point, the cops know where he is, and can search streets in London for clues. Jack, meanwhile, tries to get home, and has a limited number of carriages (which can take him past cops) and alleys (which can move him through areas with no streets) to get there.

The 'unt is on!
So, obviously part of the strategy here is positioning one's hideout so that it's easy to get to, but not too easy to surround. Part of it, from the cop's perspective, is figuring out where the hideout is so that they can surround it (they were off by one street for me). And then there's choosing a victim's location; it depends on where the cops are in relation to the hideout.

We drank a bunch of wine during this game.
Opinions: I like this game, but then I like games where I get to try and outfox people (I haven't played as not-Jack yet). We did screw up one bit; the cops stay in the same position at the end of each night, meaning that they're (probably) always close to the hideout, and that would have made things harder for ol' Jackie. So next time we'll, like, play it right, and maybe I won't get away?


Keep? Oh, yes.

Movie #343: Legend of Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole is a fantasy/adventure movie about a bunch of owls. It's based on a series of books, and it's interesting to me that the movie got made. It's got a great deal of history and vocabulary, which isn't really explained (though it comes across just fine). Anyway, directed by Zack Snyder and starring Emily Barcay, Ryan Kwanten, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Miriam Margoyles, Anthony LaPaglia and lots of others.

Three owlets, Kludd (Kwanten), Soren (Sturgiss) and Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria) grow up here stories about the Guardians of Ga'hoole, basically owl superheroes. Then the two brothers fall out of the tree and get kidnapped by slaver owls, in service to the evil Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his mate Nyra (Helen Mirren). Soren escapes with the help of an elf owl named Gylfie (Barclay), they go and find the Guardians, and massive owl battle happens! But Kludd has well and truly joined the other side, and seemingly dies in the combat.

It's a fun movie. It's very pretty; say what you want about Snyder's prowess or lack thereof as a director, but his movies tend to look pretty slick. Owl combat isn't something I'd initially thought of as being something screenworthy, but the movie makes it look impressive. The movie does condense several books into one, and it feels rushed and overstuffed because of it, but eh. It does have rather an epic feel to it, and it would have been interesting if the movie had been set up more gradually and carefully, rather than stuffing several books' worth into a single film.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Dunno, medium-ish.

Next up: The Lego Movie

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Movie #342: Basic Instinct 2

Basic Instinct 2 is a sequel, of course, to Basic Instinct. I own it now because +Matthew Karafa is something of a sadist (in fairness, I did throw down the gauntlet). Anyway, the movie stars Sharon Stone, David Morrissey, David Thewlis, Indira Varma, and Charlotte Rampling.

Catherine Tramell (Stone) has left San Fransisco behind for London, and in the opening sequence, drives off the road while her footballer boyfriend, stoned to the gills on ketamine, is getting her off. He dies, she's arrested, and is given a psych evaluation by Dr. Glass (Morrissey). He diagnoses her as "risk addicted," and she starts therapy with him after being cleared of charges.

Glass is kinda fucked up, in his way. A former patient of his went nuts and murdered his girlfriend, and he tortures himself, thinking he should have known it was going to happen. Others seem to agree, including his ex-wife (Varma) and a sleazy reporter (Hugh Dancy), but then Catherine gets into the mix, he starts getting obsessed, having random sex with co-workers and a barista, people die, and eventually he shoots a police detective (Thewlis) who may or may not be dirty...

So, this movie is exactly as terrible as you think it is. What's interesting about it, apart from how they secured Stone's participation, is that it follows the action of the first movie almost beat-for-beat. But based on the dialog, a 19-year-old with some pretty serious gamergate leanings must have written it, because Tramell comes off as purely manipulative and evil just because. I'm honestly surprised she didn't steal some of Glass' sperm or something.

Anyway, not really sophisticated enough to be a thriller, too nasty to be sexy, and too derivative to be fun.

My grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beast: End of the Story

Monday night was that last session in the story for Beast: The Primordial. We might come back to this game at some point, but I was kinda feeling the itch to do something non-WoD (or, rather, non-CofD now).

So, anyway, last time, the brood met some werewolves, and then learned that Tyler's shop was being broken into (again). So they all got together and rolled out there. They found that the front door had been smashed in ("boy, lot less subtle than before"). They went in, and a horde of Mawspawn jumped out from behind shelves and whatnot...and Dillon was with them. But something was wrong. He had a set of clawed fingers extending from his knuckles, and just looked a lot more fishy than before.

Not one to back down from a fight, Maia jumped at the biggest one, but wasn't able to hurt it initially. It threw her through the window, followed, and she activated Cyclopean Strength and started beating back. Tyler zipped behind a shelf and tipped it over on top of two the creatures, and Miriana started beating on one (but she's really not a fighter, more of a stalker). John, who is really not a fighter, used Run Away on one of them and sent it fleeing out into the night. That seemed to work pretty well!

Dillon attacked Tyler, who slashed at him with a blade and missed, and the fled behind a shelf. Dillon, not above a little turnabout, tipped it over on him. Tyler popped up through the shelf and used You Deserve This on Dillon, and dropped him into a fugue state. Miriana got cut up pretty badly, but she can spend Satiety to heal all lethal damage, so she was OK. Maia beat the big one's head in, and John had driven the others away. But now...sirens coming.

Realizing that killing Dillon might still be impossible, the Beasts entered Tyler's Lair and dragged Dillon with him. Tyler, angry, used Dragonfire and set the fucker ablaze, spending Satiety to make it hurt...but after he burned, he started healing.

They healed up (Beasts can spend Satiety in their Lairs to heal, remember), and then left through Miriana's Lair back to her yard. Maia called Neal, and told him what was up. He wasn't really up on how and why Dillon was immortal, but said that he needed to see him and maybe he could help. Plus, he and his pack were headed to Parma because...monsters?

Neal met up with the brood and looked at Dillon, and said that he'd been altered spiritually. He said that the good news was that he seemed to have a bane, the way a spirit would, but wasn't sure what. It wasn't fire, obviously. Neal suggested it might be something related to how all this started, and Tyler thought it might be the spyglass that he'd stolen (or rather, received).

John and Miriana went to go and get the spyglass from the store. Maia went off with Neal to hunt with the werewolves (she has Family Ties on him, so she can do that whole Family Dinner thing, and all of the Beasts were mighty hungry). Tyler stayed at Miriana's house with Dillon.

Which was great, until Dillon woke up. He attacked Tyler, and Tyler, injured, managed to avoid him for a while, but then he got clawed. When John and Miriana arrived, Dillon was crouched over Tyler's unconscious body, about to strike the killing blow. John crept up behind him and whacked him on the head with the spyglass, knocking him down. Miriana dragged Tyler into her Lair, and then into his, and he spent his last point of Satiety to heal some damage and wake up. Now Ravenous, he left the Lair, woke Dillon up, and told him that he didn't deserve the time Doctor Bones had given him, so he was taking it back. Then he based his head in with the spyglass, killing him and gaining a dot of Satiety.

Meanwhile, Maia was hunting with Neal and his pack. They tracked down and killed two of the three Mawspawn, but the trail of the third ended with signs of a fight - human blood, gun shells, and a strange, hospital-like scent. Someone had taken the Mawspawn, but at least it was off the streets.

Epilogue: A secret basement below the Clinic. The Mawspawn in a huge tank, and the doors close, bearing a strange symbol: A half-circle bisected by a straight line...

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie #341: Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde is a comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge, Ali Larter, Matthew Davis, and Selma Blair.

Elle Woods (Witherspoon) is a fashion major in LA, getting ready to (she thinks) accept a proposal from her longtime boyfriend, Hunter (Davis). Instead, he dumps her, stating that since he's going to Harvard Law and intends to become a senator, he needs to be serious and marry someone serious. Elle, crushed, decides to apply to Harvard and go to law school long enough to win him back, then (presumably) come home.

She gets in because the room full of old white men find her jiggalicious, but also because she gets a good score on her LSAT. Elle, it seems, is actually extremely intelligent, but she's grown up rich and privileged, and chosen a field that she loves but that doesn't ask much of her intellectually. She's LA-sheltered, extremely naive, but ultimately kind and big-hearted. This, of course, proves to be her salvation.

She heads to Harvard and is immediately overwhelmed by being asked to do work that challenges her for the first time in ever, but she buckles down when Hunter doesn't immediately take her back. She runs afoul of Hunter's new fiancee Vivian (Blair), but continues to make good impressions by being charming and pleasant, as well as clever in the right circumstances. This all culminates when she's chosen to intern with a prestigious law prof (Garber), who ultimately just wants to bang her, but she winds up defending a former sorority sister accused (Larter) accused of murder.

So, the movie is over the top and silly, but that's fine. We get a great performance from Witherspoon, who takes a character who could be really grating and makes her likable. It's not that Elle is flawless; she's privileged and clueless a lot of the time, but she learns. She's driven when she wants to be, and she has an actual character arc as she goes from being focused on winning back her man to realizing that she's capable of doing some good for the world.

Sure, the good she does is to defend another rich woman who only refuses to save herself by revealing where she was when her husband was shot because she was getting liposuction, but she does successfully defend an innocent woman. Oh, and she helps her manicurist (Coolidge) get her dog back from her jackass ex-husband, so that's nice. It would have been good to see Elle have some kind of moment of awakening where she realizes how amazingly lucky she is to have grown up with the comfort that she did, but I dunno. That might be a little out of the scope of this movie (maybe in the sequel, which I haven't seen).

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole

Beast Notes!

I'll be taking notes for different games soon, I guess. Monsterhearts is over, Dresden is over for now. We'll be starting up a new monthly game (that I may or may not be running), and next Monday we're making characters for our Changeling: The Dreaming playtest, so that'll be fun. Night's Black Agents is still going, as is Epyllion.

I think this is going to be the last Beast session for a while. I like this game, but I've got other stuff I want to run, and this would be fun to come back to occasionally.

Players should stop reading now.

Anyway, what happened was that Dillon followed the characters to the meet, got nabbed down by the beached, and the Mouth of the Deeps, amazed to see a human being that couldn't die, turned him into a Mawspawn. Dillon is now not only immortal, but really dangerous. The [I]idigam[/I] gave him a few Mawspawn to take with him and then sent some spirits along with him, so it could watch.

Dillon, being Dillon, headed for the store. It wants to destroy Tyler's store, lure him out, and kill him. This would be doable, of course, but in taking on the Mouth's power, Dillon also took on a bane. Making it fire would be a bit too easy, since obviously Tyler is going to breathe fire on him. I think probably the sextant that Bianca stole in the first place would make for a decent bane. Maybe he can be injured, but the sextant can be used to kill him.

And, I think that the hunter cell might be fun to bring in during all this. Wild, chaotic gunfire. Ooh, shit. And also cops. Make it a big clusterfuck, see what the Beasts do, if they try to calm it down or make it hella worse.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Movie #340: A League of their Own

A League of their Own is a historical comedy/sports film directed by Penny Marshall and starring Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Tom Hanks (who inexplicably receives top billing), and Rose O'Donnell.

World War II is on, and a lot of the major league baseball players have been drafted or enlisted. In an effort to turn a profit during the war, rich-dude Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) gets his marketing wiz-kid Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) to come up with something. And oh Nelly! Girls playing baseball!

They recruit women from church leagues and employee leagues and the like, two of whom are sisters Dottie (Davis) and Kit (Petty). Dottie is married, her husband (Bill Pullman) is overseas, and though she's a fabulous ball player, she doesn't really seem to care one way or another. Kit, on the other hand, is also a good player but mostly is tired of living in his sister's shadow, frustrated that Dottie has no greater ambition, and wants (understandably) to get the fuck out of Oregon.

So they join up and play baseball. The thrust of the movie is their team, the Peaches, and the trials and tribulations of being woman ballplayers while much of the country isn't down with that. Dottie and Kit also have their conflicts, the manager of the team (Hanks) is drunk and sexist, and eventually Dottie's husband comes home and she quits, only to return for the final game and lose.

It's a cute movie and there are some funny bits, but I sort of wish I hadn't watch the deleted scenes. See, it always bugged me that I couldn't read Dottie very well - does she really enjoy playing ball, or is she just biding time until her husband gets back? Or is she a fricking genius bored to tears by her life but unsure of what else to do (Geena Davis is actually really smart, so I wonder if she poured a little of herself into Dottie)? In the deleted scenes, though, there's this weird bit where Hanks gets her to admit that she really does love baseball, and then kisses her, which sets off this weird bit between them. Likewise, the deleted scenes slut-shame the fuck out of Madonna's character, in a really embarrassing, pearl-clutching, "you mean women like sex?!" kind of way, and I'm happy they were cut, but they put some of what's left into a weird context.

Michelle's thought was that this movie could have been really interested in the hands of a better director, and I kinda have to agree. I like it well enough, and it actually manages to make baseball look interesting (in real life, it's like watching paint dry), but I liked it better before I knew how it was made.

My Grade: B-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Legally Blonde

Night's Black Agents: The Agents Strike Back!

Sunday was Night's Black Agents. Better do the write-up before any more brain cells get eaten by piranha.

Last time, the characters basically got their asses kicked. I've retconned that last bit to indicate the Benbow did not make it out alive, since her player has officially dropped the game, but beyond that, the characters spend a few weeks in hospital recovering and then head to Osijek to hunt down Dr. Radovan Macan.

They get the same flat across the street from his that they had used last time they were in Osijek, and split up the duties. Esse develops a cover as a track coach in the university and watches him while he's on campus, Parker watches him while he's at home, and Gambone follows him on the commute and takes pictures. Hanover, meanwhile, does some digging into his computer and finds communication about his projects. He's still working on the "blood nutrients" thing, and has made some progress in the year or so since the original team was here.

They find that his routine is just as boring as it was, but this time he doesn't have three bodyguards with him all the time. The agents speculate on why that might be the case - maybe he's been turned only recently, maybe Macan's work is done and he doesn't need the protection?

The characters do a bit of research and find that Macan's office is windowless and has that huge fridge in the back. They figure that place will be a good spot to stage an interrogation; nice thick walls, no windows, and he'll be off guard because it's his space.

Gambone and Esse break in, and discover that the collar project he was working on (the thing that inexplicably bombards the lymph nodes with radiation) is still there, and has been made sleeker and lighter. Esse holes up in the fridge and waits, while Gambone takes up position outside the building. He also rigs the door so that once it's closed, it can only be opened from the outside without hitting a hidden kill switch.

Macan arrives on campus the next day as usual. Hanover waits in the van, while Parker tails Macan into the building. He enters the office and Esse puts a gun to his head and forces him to sit down for a chat.

Their first problem is that Macan doesn't speak Swedish or Italian, and Esse doesn't speak Croatian or Serbian. They settle on English, and Esse puts Hanover (who does speak Serbian) on speaker. Hanover doesn't identify himself, and they start to talk. Macan isn't cooperative, however, and when it becomes clear that he isn't going to answer questions willingly, Esse goes to work him over. This proves problematic.

Macan deflects Esse's strike and hits him in the chest, knocking him back far harder than a thin old man should be able to. Esse draw his gun and calls for backup. Gambone enters and shoots Macan in the heart from behind...and Macan opens his mouth and tentacles Esse right in the chest.

Esse shoots Macan multiple times, and Parker heads in. Gambone grabs the tentacles and slices them off (using his MOS). Macan grabs his hand and breaks his wrist, but Parker arrives and shoots the dude again. He collapses, bleeding but alive, and Parker tends to the wounded. They decided to take the tentacles with them, and cut through Macan's jaw to see what the hell these tentacles are. They discover that they're part of his body, attached to sacs that, in turn, lead to tubes that attach to the circulatory system. Macan is decidedly not human.

They do a quick autopsy. They realize that the tentacles curl up under the tongue when not in use, and Hanover notes that when Macan was speaking, his speech was somewhat distorted. This could be a tell. They clean up, dismember the body, and take it with them for disposal. The tentacles and sacs they keep for future analysis, and Parker learns that the fluid inside is a mixture of blood, lymph, and CSF. It makes them think of a "cocktail" that earlier research referred to.

They also find a bottle of nutrient-laced blood in Macan's home, and a bunch of blood bags in the fridge at school. Some are from Paris (Tasse Medical Supplies), some from Budapest Prison, some from Belgrade Hospital, and some from a clinic in Switzerland called the Reineger Clinic. Things to check out!

The agents figure it's just a matter of time before Macan misses a check-in with someone, so they retreat to London, and Parker contacts an old friend of hers who can lend her some lab space. Next time: They continue their investigations.

Friday, December 11, 2015


I probably won't blog much over the weekend (got a party tomorrow and a game to run on Sunday), but I wanted to talk about Changeling: The Dreaming a bit more, since there's this Kickstarter on.

Changeling got a reputation early on as being kind of light and fluffy. Some of that is inappropriate; I actually think that in a lot of ways it's the most tragic of the classic World of Darkness games, but that's a discussion for another day. I think the "light" attitude comes mostly from the artwork (the infamous "bears with balloons" picture springs to mind), but let's not forget that the Black Dog Game Studio meta-equivalent of Changeling was initially Human: The Protagonist and it was created by Günter Haagen•Daas (Autumn People, p. 41). Changeling had an inconsistent tone. Sometimes it was silly, sometimes it was adventurous, and sometimes it was truly tragic. Hell, it would switch between those tones in the same book. One of my favorite fiction pieces from the line is "Butterfly," by +Brian Campbell, and it's in the same book as Günter up there, but it's heart-rending and captures the inherent tragedy of Changeling perfectly.

Which I said I was going to talk about. Ahem. Moving on.

In first edition, Changeling used cantrip cards. When you cast a cantrip, you drew a bunk at random. Second edition changed that to a much more reasonable "you can make up your own bunk" system, but there's something to be said for a stuffy sidhe noble needing to ensorcell someone and having to do a silly dance to manage it.

One of my favorite bunks from first edition, just because it was easy but so ridiculous, was "Moo." Much like it sounds; you had to let out a loud "MOOOOOO" to activate the bunk.

I mentioned in my last post that the first Changeling game I ran was set at an abandoned summer camp. That place was real; it was a summer camp I attended as a boy, and man, I've really milked that goat in my games over the years (I should actually do a post about that place; maybe next week). Anyway, the characters arrived there to find a natural freehold, tucked away from Banal eyes. I'm pretty sure there was a purple cow chimera. But there was also a dragon chimera lurking nearby, and so the characters went a-questing to...kill it? Beat it in riddles? Something traditional.

Anyway, my brother (who is working on 20th Anniversary Edition, revising the magic system alongside Holden Shearer) was playing a ferret pooka, and at one point was hiding in the hair of one of the other characters (a troll childling). He went to cast a cantrip, drew that bunk card, and the result was a ferret leaping out of a troll's hair going "MOOOOOOOOO!"

You know, call it silly if you want, but that was a moment that made Changeling sing for me. Yeah, it's weird, it's surreal, it doesn't always link up. Dreams are like that. You can make it make more sense if you want, but you lose some of the purity in the process.

I've always felt that Changeling was a big enough game to accommodate both the bear with balloons, and the Undone changeling sitting on her bed, weeping over the remains of her butterfly wings. You can be silly and then serious. You can moo like a cow to activate a cantrip, but you can also slice your hand and swear on your life's blood. Childlings can - should - have snowball fights, and use Legerdemain to throw flurries of snowballs at once.

One of the advantages to roleplaying is that it gives us, as adults, a way to experience, or at least glimpse, the kind of free play that we knew as children. We could talk about the loss of innocence that comes with growing up in the World of Darkness, or how Banality increases as characters age even as their activities become more sophisticated, but none of that decreases the value of play.

So, some folks have asked if the new edition of Changeling is going to include the sort of "bear with balloons" style of play. And to that, I can only reply: MOOOOOOOO.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Changeling: Slowly Turning Grey

Guess what! The Kickstarter for Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Edition went live today. It funded in 67 minutes, so expect stretch goals to start making the rounds pretty soon. I'm developing the book for Onyx Path, which means I get to reap all of the rewards of a Kickstarter (watching fan excitement, watching the numbers go up) without freaking out every time someone cancels a pledge. My wife is thrilled about that.

Expect some Changeling-related content on this blog this month, then. I loved Changeling, and like the rest of CWoD, I kinda put it out of sight, out of mind when NWoD came around; I wanted to keep them separate in my brain and I'd run the hell out of most of the CWoD games. But now with the benefit of years, I can see Changeling with fresh eyes again. And I gotta say, I'm excited.

Today, I want to talk about the last Changeling chronicle I ran. It was called Slowly Turning Grey; the title is a reference to this poem by Robyn Hitchcock :

It's a Raymond Chandler evening
At the end of someone's day
And I'm standing in my pocket
And I'm slowly turning grey
I remember what I told you
But I can't remember why
And the yellow leaves are falling
In a spiral from the sky
There's a body on the railings
That I can't identify
And I'd like to reassure you
But I'm not that kind of guy
It's a Raymond Chandler evening
And the pavements are all wet
And I'm lurking in the shadows
Because it hasn't happened...

I first saw the poem in The Crow (the graphic novel), and it resonated. It's noir as fuck, but the "yellow leaves" was just this weird splash of color in an otherwise grey world.

When I started to put together a Changeling game (one of many), I fell back on the poem for inspiration. I set the game in Detroit, gave the characters an extra five freebies and an extra dot of Banality, and split the group: Seelie would play on one day, Unseelie on a different day, same world, occupying the same time, and one group's actions affected the others. The plan was to keep them separate until the finale, only knowing each other through reputation. I know the Unseelie group had a childling pooka (raven, maybe?), a sidhe, and a goblin; the Seelie had a grump satyr, a childling troll, and (I think) a sluagh. I'm sorry I'm fuzzy on the details. This was close to 20 years ago. 

The game never reached a conclusion. A lot of really awesome stuff happened, but then drama happened in the Seelie group and the game fell apart. That happens sometimes, and it sucks, but it was particularly painful for this game because we'd invested a lot of time and energy into it. 

The chronicle was building toward a new Grand Trod opening, but what would come through? More Seelie fae, or Unseelie? It depended on which group opened the trod points, and when the game ended, Unseelie (more ruthless) had opened two, while Seelie (kept getting distracted by doing good deeds) had opened one, but were on the verge of opening a second. 

The game was about dreaming in the face of crushing Banality. I think, if I were to run this game today, I could do better with it. I've traveled a little more, I've lived in different places, I work in an inner-city school district, I've had to pay bills and do all the banal shit that comes with being an adult. But more than that, I've come to realize that Banality isn't really something you do or choose. It's the grinding, inexorable march of time. It's the ache in the shoulders. It's the realization that I can't quite make it to 11PM on a school night anymore. It's staying home not just because it's comfy, but because going out is cold and requires effort. 

Don't go thinking it's about age, either. One of the worst moments of my life as a father was watching my daughter realize that homework was never going to stop. It was like watching that dot of Banality get bubbled in, seeing her figure out that it was only going to get harder in school. 

Slowly turning grey, indeed. 

But I like how the poem ends. It ends with hope, or at least anticipation. It ends with the understanding that something's waiting, and that something might scary and dangerous. but at least it's new, at least it's different, at least it's a surprise.

Banality is waves on the beach, slowly and endlessly wearing the land away. OK, fine. Then Glamour is the gulls overheard, the crabs on the sand, the fish in the sea, and the little girl building an awesome sandcastle. Banality is inevitable, but Glamour is life

More tomorrow. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Movie #339: Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing is a noir/action film starring Bruce Willis, David Patrick Kelly, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Ned Eisenberg, Michael Imperioli, Christopher Walken, Karina Lombard, and Alexandra Powers. It's a remake of Yojimbo, and heavily inspired by A Fistful of Dollars, neither of which I've seen.

1932, Texas, Prohibition, cool suits. A nameless drifter (Willis) calling himself "John Smith" finds himself in the tiny, nearly abandoned town of Jericho. He discovers that the town has a handful of locals (including an undertaker), a sherriff (Dern), a saloon/hotel, and two rival gangs warring over control of the liquor trade from Mexico. Smith, himself a career gun-for-hire, immediately starts playing both ends against the middle to make some cash, and that works pretty well at first. The Irish gang, led by Doyle (Kelly) has more money, but the Italian gang, led by Strozzi (Eisenberg) and Carmonte (Imperioli) make the first offer. So Smith brokers deals, shoots dudes, and otherwise makes himself useful.

Of course, what trips him up is women. Strozzi has a kept woman from Chicago named Lucy (Powers), who Smith beds and pumps (lol) for information, while Doyle "keeps" a Mexican woman (Lombard) as, effectively, a sex slave. Smith gives the money he earns to them to get them out of town, and winds up killing basically everybody along the way.

I saw this movie a long time ago, and I enjoyed it more this time, probably because I'm older and smarter and I can appreciate the influences from noir, Westerns, and chambara. Bruce Willis is perfect as Smith, speaking quietly and not being wry so much as inscrutable. We do get some comic relief from Sanderson, but mostly this movie is men yelling at and shooting each other, and everything is futile and bleak. The gangs are living as high on the hog as they can out here in the middle of nowhere, and there's always this sense that the real world is real, but it's so far away that it might as well not exist.

If anything bugs me, it's that Hickey (Walken), Doyle's scary-ass hitman, doesn't just drive away after he's the last gang member standing. I think it would have been just as effective if he'd been telling the truth when he said he didn't want to die in Texas, and not tried to outshoot Smith, but hey. All it all, it's a pretty cool movie.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: A League of Their Own

Epyllion: The Eel King Attacks

Better do this Epyllion update!

As an aside, we're playing with the ashcan version. The full version (funded on Kickstarter) is going to have a lot more stuff to work with, and I don't know offhand when it's supposed to come out, but I hope we're still playing when it does because I'm looking forward to more robust rules. This is a really cool game and I want more of it!

Anyway: Last time, the clutch had escape the caves of the Eel Dragon. They decided to rest before heading back to the White Falls, so Azrael made a nest in the wild so they could heal up. They bedded down on the beach. Veris kept a lookout, but failed, and dozed off. When he woke up, there were dead fish washing up on shore, far too many...and they had black stuff coming out of their gills. Veris examined one, and realized that it was the same stuff the Eel Dragon was giving off. He was near. Looking out over the water, Veris saw what might be some driftwood...or might be the eyes and head of a massive dragon. He flew out over the water, acting despite danger, but failed (and took a Shadow Point) as the Eel Dragon lurched up and tried to eat him!

It missed, and he shrieked, waking the others. The clutch decided they'd better fly down to the beach and warn the other drakes hanging out before something terrible happened. They arrived to find young dragons flying around, playing tag, and so on, and Freja tried to convince them that a massive evil dragon was in the water. She failed, however, and got a lot of "yeah whatever" for her trouble. A young dragon splashed into the water, and Freja acted despite danger to follow and protect him. She dove in an saw the Eel Dragon approaching the shore, but swam after the other drake, since he didn't see it.

On shore, Hawley acted despite danger to follow, and saw the Eel Dragon coming straight at him! He acted despite danger to fly up and out, but failed and got bit on the tail and dragged back into the water.

Nova, flying overhead, came up with a battle plan - the Eel Dragon's chin and throat were soft and vulnerable. Veris swooped in and freed Hawley, acting despite danger, but wound up covered in that black gunk from the Eel Dragon's mouth.

Azrael, inspired, used dragon trade to make a mace out of clay from the beach and the obsidian she'd taken from the caves. Freja convinced some of the drakes to fly off and tell the elders, and Nova called on the stone moon to grant herself armor and strength. She then dive-bombed the Eel Dragon, battling the Darkness. She missed at first (heavier than she's used to, due to the magic), but Azrael helped with her new mace and Nova slammed into the Eel Dragon's throat. Nova took a Shadow Point, but Hawley shared the load and took it instead. The Eel Dragon spit up a bunch of black gunk and submerged, just as a massive blue dragon landed and called down lightning into the water.

The huge blue dragon - Vastron - chortled at the drakes for being afraid of a giant eel-fish. Freja stood up to him and tried to tell him what was really going on, but missed, and he blew them off and flew away. The younger dragons, though, had seen the creature, and landed, asking for help. The promised they would, and told them to stay out of the water for now. Freja used wild speech and asked the fish if the dragon was dead; they said they'd seen it swimming away. Damn.

Freja called upon the stone moon to protect the beach from the Eel Dragon's corruption. Veris took a small piece of obsidian and examined it. He realized it would liquefy under the right conditions, and that whatever made the throne was a master crafter - probably a member of House Kebros (like Azrael). Veris and Azrael went off into the spires near the cliffs to find the oldest dragon they could. They found an ancient dragon of House Kebros lounging in a mountain lake the way my dog does in a puddle. They brought it a bushel of star apples (which it knocked back like a shot), and they talked to the Lake Dragon about what had happened, and it told them about the history of the First War, and how House Kebros became the "lost house." It was pretty firm, though, that the Darkness had been banished and everything was good now. Azrael stood up to the Lake Dragon, but failed, and it dismissed them, going back to sleep.

Veris returned, woke it up, and flattered it, asking about the obsidian chunk. He studied the dragon, and it told him that the obsidian stuff was "active obsidian." He balanced it on his massive claw, and it liquefied, and then resolidified into a spiral. Veris stood up to the Lake Dragon, asking where he could learn more. The Lake Dragon mentioned that Black Sand Island was lost during the First War, an outpost of House Kebros, but overwhelmed by the Darkness. He asked, though, that Veris not scare the young drakes with all this.

Veris flew back to the clutch and told them what he'd learned. Freja asked her spirit guide what they should do, and Oodle recommended going out to Black Sand and investigating.

So that's next time.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Movie #338: The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon is...well, it lives somewhere between chop-socky, blaxploitation, and concentrated 80s. It stars Taimak, Vanity, Julius J. Carry III, Chris Murney, Faith Prince, and Leo O'Brien.

We open with Leroy Green (Taimak), known to the residents of Chinatown as "Bruce Leroy" finishing his martial arts training and leaving his master (Thomas Ikeda) to find "the Glow," a mystical martial arts woogie power. Here's the thing: Leroy is black, lives in Harlem, and his family doesn't understand his obsession with meditation and martial arts, nor why he talks like a mentally challenged white dude.

But never mind that. The evil Sho'Nuff (Carry III), the self-styled Shogun of Harlem, who romps around with a gang wearing weird costumes, wants to fight Leroy to establish himself as the master. And, elsewhere, slimy producer Eddie Arkadian (Murney) wants to blackmail lovely Lisa Charles (Vanity) into broadcasting his girlfriend Angela's (Prince) tacky-ass video on her dance show.

Of course this all comes down to a fight between Sho'Nuff and Leroy, and...well, look, I can't possibly explain this.

OK, straight up, this movie is terrible. It's very watchable, of course, and it's funny as hell, in a "what the actual fuck" kind of way. But it's terrible. It's got too many characters, everything is way over the top, the music is god-awful (seriously, the best song in it is "Rhythm of the Night"), and there's a sea monster in a tank that violates the Chekov's Gun rule. Sho'Nuff is the most memorable thing in the movie, and the best moment is Angela walking out on Eddie.

The martial arts aren't terrible (Taimak is actually a martial artist), fight scenes are OK, and watch for cameo roles from young William H. Macy and Chazz Palminteri.

My grade: D
Rewatch value: Medium-high, I think

Next up: Last Man Standing

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Monsterhearts: The Finale

Today (moments ago, in fact) we finished up our Monsterhearts game. It's been running since August 2013, monthly, making this our 24th session (so I think we missed a couple here and there).

I've waxed poetic about this game before, so I'm not gonna do it too much now. I'll only say that this is a really fantastic game, and I really thank +Avery Mcdaldno for making it.

Anyway! Last time, the characters were kinda split up around Cassi's house. Miguel was in Cassi's mom's bedroom, and mirror-Skylar had just come through the door with a glass shard. Romy, Rook, Skylar, Austin, and Mikaela (who had a body!) were in the mirror-verse, down by the front door. Briar had been out in the pool house where she'd destroyed her mirror self. Cassi had elected to stay behind with her brothers (her player left the game after last session).

Briar was wandering back to the main house, but between the poolhouse and the main house was a long, gray slog. She held steady to keep going, and gained terrified but carried one forward to keep going. Meanwhile, Mikaela pointed out there was a shape out in the distance, and Rook and Skylar headed out to find out if it was Briar (Austin, Romy, and Mikaela stayed behind).

Briar heard a howling noise on the wind, held steady again to head toward it. She saw figures in the distance and ran toward them, and ran into Rook and Romy. They said that the house was "this way" and started heading off into the distance with her...

...but actual Rook and Skylar saw this and held steady to catch up with them. They did and claimed to be the real Rook and Skylar (which they were, but Briar didn't know that). Mirror-Rook and mirror-Romy claimed to be real, too, and they kind of went round and round (and noted that no one had silvered eyes, but this might be because they were in the mirror) until Skylar turned Briar on and gave her the morbid condition (uses his ending move). This convinced Briar, and the mirror folks got all silver-eyed. They got in the way, but Briar shut them down, taking Strings on them. Briar started heading back toward the house, and Rook and Skylar followed.

Meanwhile, up in the bedroom, mirror-Skylar was looking pretty menacing. Miguel shut her down, taking the scared condition while the mirrorskin got confused. Mirror-Skylar complained that their Briar had been shattered and they didn't have a Miguel, so if Miguel would come into the mirror-verse, she would let Cassi's mom go back to her body (though the others would have to get out on their own). Miguel agreed.

Downstairs, Briar, Rook, and Skylar joined the rest of the folks. They talked about going through the mirror and whether that would grant Mikaela a body or put her in Romy's mind again or vice versa. Rook ranted a bit - Skylar was a ghost, Rook had died and come back, they were all in a mirror, who really knew anymore? Skylar took that opportunity to use hungry ghost and strip Rook's conditions away.

Briar suggested they go back upstairs and check on Cassi's mom (lighting the way). They went up just as mirror-Skylar and Miguel came out of the room (though the others didn't notice Miguel). There were some harsh words; mirror-Skylar pointed out that they'd destroyed mirror-Briar, and actual Skylar responded flippantly, to which mirror-Skylar tried to shove actual Skylar over the banister.

Briar intervened against an act of violence and blocked mirror-Skylar, at which point she kind of deflated. She told the others where Cassi's mom was (up in the attic), and then went and got her. They led her downstairs and everyone started to file out of the mirror-verse. When Cassi's mom left, she vanished, and the mirrored eyes on actual-Cassi's mom returned to normal (and she passed out). When Mikaela left, holding hands with Romy, she vanished, and returned to Romy's head. Miguel was the last one, and mirror-Skylar reminded him that he'd said he'd stay. She also said that here, in the mirror-verse, everyone could see him and talk to him. Miguel considered it, and gazed into the abyss to see how that would pan out, but failed and instead saw the mirror-verse fading. Miguel then thought "screw that" and ran away, smashing through the mirror and landing on the floor.

The characters figured maybe now they could have a seance for Emmett, but Austin suggested maybe not here. They decided to hit Briar's house and decide what to do. Rook went to find Cassi and found her asleep in her brother's room. He woke up her to tell her they were leaving, and Cassi stayed behind with her family. She'd had a hard day, after all.

Everyone else went to Briar's house, and then to the books. Briar realized that trying to contact Emmett with the hexmutes and the quietkin still in the way might be difficult, but since she blocked the mirrorskin from violence, it faded - might there be a way to accomplish this with the others? Calling up the hexmutes was easy; Briar just lashed out physically and punched Rook in the nose. Hexmutes appeared, and Rook approached two and started making out with them, using horny reward. Problem as, all that did was call up more of them, and give them they happy condition.

Watching all this (because Rook was blissed out), Briar went to the books real quick, and realized that for the hexmutes, pain was just something they wanted - they needed it put in some kind of context to learn anything. Skylar, therefore, called them on their shit, and explained that pain without any understanding of what caused it and why was useless, just sensation. The hexmutes faded away, one by one, and the last one reached out and tenderly wiped the blood from Rook's lip.

Briar went to the books again to learn about the quietkin, and the characters realized that the quietkin weren't just after physical warmth, but also belonging. They figured they could help the quietkin with that, but many of the characters were dealing with unpleasant conditions.

Rook had a solution for that: he turned everyone on. Everyone retreated to a bedroom together, and I'd like to think that we got some loving, lingering shots of Rook and Austin making out (since Austin has, I think, gone this whole series without making out with a guy). Anyway, of course Rook used horny reward, so Skylar ditched his conditions and everyone else took a String on Rook. And then the Sex Moves, oh lordy. (I think this is the song that plays, by the way.)

(In retrospect, while I'm sorry that Cassi's player wasn't present, it's probably just as well Cassi wasn't present for this bit, because it would have triggered everyone's Darkest Self. But anyway.)

So: Briar lost all her conditions and felt better. She felt a little uncomfortable getting with Romy (Briar thinks of herself as straight and she's never been with a cis woman, though she did get with Skylar at one point), so Romy got a String on her. Romy's Sex Move meant everyone got shadowed, and Skylar, who already was, got drained. Miguel's meant everyone can see him and gained three Strings on him.

And then Skylar's freaking Sex Move means everyone gets asked questions. Rook asked what gender Skylar considers herself (Skylar is genderfluid, hence the alternating pronouns). Briar asked Skylar who she loves (Skylar says that she's not in love with anyone, but loves herself). Austin asked why Skylar is still here (Skylar simply says that she wants to be). Miguel asked if he wants to have dinner on Saturday (yes). Romy asked if being with two people in one body wigs Skylar out (Skylar answers with an immediate and emphatic no).

Skylar asked Rook what it feels like to have so much physical love all the time (Rook answers that helps him fill the need for the emotional love that isn't there). Skylar asked Briar what she'll do
when high school is over (she says she'll go to college). Skylar asked Austin if he's always wanted to bang Rook (Austin says he was surprised to find he was sad he'd missed his window back when he split with Cassi and got with Briar). Skylar asked Mikaela if she's happy (she says she's happy enough). Skylar asked Romy what would make her happy (she says she doesn't know, maybe find a way to give Mikaela a bit more freedom). Finally, Skylar asked Miguel if he'd want everyone to see him again (he says he doesn't think so).

Whew. Cut to commercial.

Back, with Austin tying his shoe with a sheepish glance at Rook, and Briar coming in with bags of burgers from In n' Out (product placement!). They decided to build a bonfire out at the old house where Emmett died, and call the quietkin there.

They headed out there and built the fire as the sun was rising. The quietkin appeared, staring into the fire, and the characters walked around, lifted their hoods, and greeted them. Skylar made them feel beautiful, and they sat, silently, warming themselves by the fire. The characters sat around as well, and Miguel gazed into the abyss to call Emmett (which marked the first time ever that Miguel has managed to do that).

Emmett appeared, and they talked, and Briar shared her pain. They all talked, and they discussed their lives and what it was like kinda being them. Briar said that hunting monsters was lonely work, but that with her friends she'd found a way to make it work. Skylar, likewise, talked about the pain she'd felt in being so depressed she'd tried to commit suicide, and then coping with changing her mind and dying anyway. Emmett said that his last thought as the smoke overtook him as wishing he had someone to miss, since he really didn't. He asked about Cassi, since she wasn't there, but Rook said she was hurt and tired and needed to rest. They were all together, even if they weren't literally together.

Emmett asked them what they would do next. Rook said they would probably go get pizza. Emmett said he meant, like, next, after graduation, but they weren't sure. College, maybe, but Skylar mentioned going to Europe, and the other folks thought that sounded fun. They talked about that, about the possibility of going to a hostel and having sex on the Eiffel Tower and whether they could afford to chip in and get a vacation home, and the fire slowly died out. Emmett put his head down on Miguel's shoulder, and faded away, surrounded by friends.

They sat there a while longer, and then got up and headed for Pi. There was a new breakfast pizza, which Rook regarded as an abomination, but Austin pointed out that pizza for breakfast is a long and glorious tradition. So they walked off in to the sunrise, another day in Perdido.

Closing credits:

(And thanks to +Dirty Heart+Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Stentor Danielson+Tom Trent+Jeffrey W, and +Cheyenne Wall-Grimes for making this an awesome game. I'll get to work on the soundtrack.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Movie #337: Land of the Dead

Land of the Dead is the fourth "of the dead" movie from George Romero, and stars Simon Baker, Robert Joy, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, and Eugene Clark.

Set an unspecified amount of time after the rise depicted in Night of the Living Dead, survivors are living in a walled, fence city (Pittsburgh, obviously). A rich white dude named Kauffman (Hopper) has established an oligarchy of rich folks, and a working underclass, all protected by an engineer named Riley (Baker), his sharpshooting but slow-witted friend Charlie (Joy), and his ambitious enforcer/body dumper Cholo (Leguizamo). Getting into Fiddler's Green (the high-class place) is a matter not only of money, but space and, apparently, being the right sort (white), so Cholo gets frozen out. Riley, too, just wants to get gone and head north where there aren't so many people (he's something of a misanthrope).

But then Cholo steals Dead Reckoning, a heavily armored vehicle capable of reducing Fiddler's Green to rubble, and demands money from Kauffman. Riley heads out to find him, and into all this we have a zombie who's got Bub-level intelligence (Clark) leading the other "stenches" in an attack on Fiddler's Green.

And from there it's your basic zombie movie; zombies slowly shamble after people, knock them down, and eat them. Special effects have improved, so we do things like show a zombie with its whole hand in a dude's mouth pulling out...bits...but mostly it's what we saw in Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. Plot-wise, we introduce this kind of interesting feudal thing, but the problem I have with it is a) people are using paper money, and it's crisp, meaning these are either new bills (from where?) or someone's ironing them. And when Cholo demands money...where the fuck is he going to spend it? I mean, sure, I can buy that Kauffman instituted a policy of trading currency for goods/services; he's got the population to support that. But Cholo mentions an outpost in Cleveland that hasn't been heard from for a while (probably they just didn't want to talk to Pittsburgh), and...would they take his money? Or would they say, "Hey, dude, you know society collapsed, right? Have a pierogi."

Anyway. It's kind of a fun zombie movie, it moves faster than Dawn, and there's some cool deaths, but overall, it's nothing we haven't seen already.

My grade: C
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Last Dragon

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Movie #336: Inside Out

Inside Out is the latest slice of brilliance from Pixar, and stars Amy Poehler, Mindy Kahling, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane, Lewis Black, and Kaitlyn Dias.

We see the birth and early childhood of Riley (Dias) through the eyes of Joy (Poehler), one of the five emotions that drive her. The others, Fear (Hader); Anger (Black, because who the hell else would you cast?); Disgust (Kahling); and Sadness (Smith) all have their own roles to fulfill, but Joy doesn't really understand what Sadness does. In any event, Joy is very much the leader - her goal is keep Riley happy (interestingly, the other emotions seem to have the same goal; Fear doesn't want her scared, he just responds when she should be), and sees Sadness in particular as a roadblock to that goal.

Riley and her family move cross-country, and things are stressful and sucky. On the first day of school, Riley generates a new "core memory" (formative moments that power the islands of her personality), but this one is sad, rather than happy. Joy flips out and tries to prevent it from joining the others, and winds up disconnecting the other five and getting her, the core memories, and Sadness all sucked down into long term memory, leaving Fear, Disgust, and Anger as the only emotions Riley can feel.

The bulk of the movie concerns Joy and Sadness trying to get back into headquarters, and Joy finally realizing Sadness' role - she needs to be there so Riley can express her grief, work through it, and signal for help from her loving parents (MacLachlan and Lane). Along the way, they get help from Riley's old imaginary friend, Bing-Bong (Kind), who, in one of the movie's most touching moments, sacrifices himself to being forgotten so that Joy can keep going.

At the end of the movie, Riley pulls herself together, cries, and bonds with her parents, creating a new core memory that's both happy and sad. Riley is growing up, and her feelings and memories become more nuanced.

This movie is really amazing, and it's layered like whoa. What does it say, for instance, that Riley's mother is being driven by Sadness? Is that always the case, or just now during a very stressful period in her life? Same question about dad (driven by Anger and Fear)? And considered that we watch Riley's control panel evolve from a single button when she's a newborn to a much bigger spread as she grows up - more than one emotion can drive at once.

What I really like is that it's obvious that, however painful it is watching Goofball Island tumble into the abyss, personality islands are meant to crumble and be replaced. Riley isn't going to have a Boy Band Island forever (probably), but right now it's important to her...and "right now" is all she knows, because she's a kid. The movie captures the experience of being young and making stupid, impulsive decisions not because Riley is actually stupid or impulsive (we get the feeling she's neither, but actually pretty well put together) but because she's stressed, overwhelmed, and (though they don't realize it) her parents are putting her under immense pressure to "stay happy."

Riley reminds me a lot of my daughter (also 11), actually, and this movie is a good one for parents, I think. It's important to remember that we're all of us a work in progress, each of us the sum of our emotions and memories, and time erases parts of those, reshapes others, and blends it all up

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Land of the Dead


I ran this game on Monday, and then a wild Thanksgiving appeared, so here we are.

Last time, the characters had set up a meet with a pack of werewolves to learn a bit about the monster in the lake. This time, that meeting happened.

The characters met up near Edgewater Park, and were shortly approached by a man calling himself Chuck (Miriana recognized him as a werewolf). He chatted with them briefly, and then whistled, and a wolf walked out from the woods and changed up into man; he called himself Neal.

Neal told them, in brief, about how spirit ecology worked, and what they were up against. Specifically, "if the legends are true," he said, there was a very powerful creature called Gagh-Azur (or "the Mouth of the Deeps") that mostly lived in the ocean but made its way around to the Great Lakes every few years. It created creatures like the fish-monster and the giant squid out of raw materials (Neal called them "Mawspawn") and while he wasn't sure of its specific abilities, he did know that a similar creature out in Denver had required multiple packs of werewolves to kill.

The brood, sobered by this thought, chatted with the werewolves a bit more. Neal gave them a little info about the werewolf situation; basically, there was a pack in East Cleveland that didn't get along with other werewolves (they were old money, 1%er types), but the city proper and the spirit-scape was really the Bridge Pack's area. Maia flirted with Neal and eventually he asked her if she was doing anything tonight, and they left together (and she picked up the Family Ties Condition for him). The others headed back to Parma.

Neal and Maia wound up making out in Lakeview Cemetery, when suddenly Neal perked up and sniffed. He smelled something like death, he said, and wasn't sure what. And then the Beasts realized that the Apex in the area had changed, and instead of Wailing, their Lairs were Flooded (not a huge problem for Maia, but not a welcome change for the others). Had Gagh-Azur ventured on land? Was it now the Apex?

And just then, the security company called Tyler and told him his alarm was going off at his store. Neal apologized to Maia, but said he had to go find his pack, and she said that was fine; she was going to find her folks. The brood went to get Maia, then head for the store. Something was up.

Next time, we find out what.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Game as Art: Participation

I ran Monsterhearts yesterday, and as I was drifting off to sleep, I was thinking about why I love the game so much. I mean, sure, "messy lives of teenage monsters" is a cool hook, and the writing is tight, and it's probably the best implementation I've seen so far of the *World system (though Bluebeard's Bride gives it a run for its money). But on top of all of that, it feels like art.

We talk about whether RPGs (or video games, but that's a discussion I'm not really qualified to have because my interest in and exposure to video games is a pretty narrow slice) are art, but it tends to be hard to come up with a good definition of "art" as it relates to RPGs. When I think of RPGs as art, then, I realized, as I thought about Monsterhearts, that to me a game that's art is challenging.

I would argue that most RPGs actually attempt not to be challenging. What's one of the common sales pitches I hear when I'm walking the dealer's room at GenCon or Origins and talking to folks about their games? "The system gets out of the way." Well, that's cool and all, but that's not really what I want if I'm looking for art. I'm looking for something that makes me engage with the game. Games that prioritize breadth - your GURPS, your d20, even (I hate to say it, because I love the system) Fate, don't challenge so much as shoot for inclusivity.

Now, that's funny, of course, because a lot of those games have labyrinthine rules rabbit holes, such that only someone who is willing to engage and put in the time to learn the rules actually gets the full experience of the game. I talk about this with regards to NWoD a lot; it's a good system (2nd edition especially), but it gets better if you learn it and use it. Hell, that's true of Chill, too - there are a lot of fun things the game does, but you have to know how they work.

That's not the kind of challenge I'm talking about, though. That's mechanical challenge; it'll be harder if you're pressed for time or if reading comprehension (or math, in some cases) isn't your thing, but it's not art. It's not an aesthetic challenge, it's not challenging attitudes or viewpoints. It's more like a puzzle.

No, when I'm thinking about challenge, I'm thinking Monsterhearts. I'm thinking Bluebeard's Bride, or Misspent Youth. Hell, without meaning to toot my own horn, Promethean works precisely because it's assumptions and challenges are so different than the rest of the World of Darkness - you're on a journey with a specific ending, and that ending is that you leave the WoD behind and become "normal." That's 180 degrees from every other WoD game, and consequently a lot of folks label it "unplayable." It's not, though (as two long-running chronicles will attest), it just requires different engagement than other games in the same world.

A challenging game should do more than make you try and remember what kind of dice to roll and what numbers that generates. It should make clear the relationship between system and narrative. Bringing that back to Monsterhearts, I have a player in my group who is highly system-impaired. Like, actively hates "systems". But even he is aware of what it means when I tell him to bubble in "cold" at the beginning of a session; he's gonna mark experience when he rolls on cold, but he's more likely to fail. That means if he plays to his character's strengths, he'll succeed more often, but he won't get as much out of it in the long run. Character development is therefore tied directly in to what that character does within the fiction of the game, which is a hell of a lot more artistic and elegant than "you killed 80 goblins? OK, at 4 XP each, that's...".

As I was talking about this with +Michelle, she pointed out that A Tragedy in Five Acts might not be art so much as it encourages players to make art. Players don't tend to remember the system (which is a pretty simple bidding mechanic, really), but they remember the play they created. That's actually something I was trying to do with my contribution to Game Chef this year, Unstuckand those it's very much in the preliminary stage, I'd like to flesh it out at some point. That does leave me wondering where curse the darkness falls, but since it's mine, I don't think I'm qualified to judge.

One more thought: I've played with a lot of first-time RPG players over the years, and the notion that "you create, control, and speak for a character within this world" is a pretty radical one for some of them. I think it's therefore important to remember that art, even as I'm considering it here, is a pretty subjective measure; what's challenging and new for one person might be familiar or even banal to me. In that kind of case, I think it's important for those of us with more experience to a) remember that there's always someone out there doing edgier shit than we are and b) remember that no one likes snooty, scoffy people who crap on other folks' fun.

Anyway: Tell me more challenging/artistic games! Offhand, my (incomplete) list:

  • Monsterhearts (duh)
  • Misspent Youth
  • Bluebeard's Bride
  • Ganakagok
  • Geasa 
  • Spark (although this might fall into the same category as Tragedy; a game that helps you make art as opposed to being art)
  • Dread
  • With Great Power...
  • Dog Eat Dog
  • Magicians (maybe, I haven't played it)
  • Poison'd (yeah, I know it's problematic as shit in places, but it's definitely challenging)
  • Dogs in the Vineyard

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Monsterhearts: Broken

Today was Monsterhearts! In the interest of not forgetting everything that happened, since next week is Thanksgiving and tomorrow I want to spend the day working on Dark Eras, let's do this now.

Last time, you'll recall, the characters were at Cassi's house. Cassi's mom had seen something terrible in the mirror, and Cassi herself had reached her Darkest Self. Briar had research Emmett, the ghost who'd been talking to them, but Emmett had apparently researched them right back.

The characters talked about what to do. They brought up the notion of a wake or a party, and Rook noted that Cassi could plan parties like whoa, but Cassi wanted no part of it. Briar brought up that the wake should perhaps happen in Oregon, where Emmett was from, but Cassi wanted no part of that, either (Darkest Self Cassi is difficult). Cassi said she was done with parties; people were over tonight and it had endangered her family and smashed her pool house door.

Miguel, who had faded again, gazed into the abyss to learn more about Emmett, but failed. He appeared, cut and bleeding. Cassi took him to the bathroom to get him some supplies, and pulled the cover off the mirror. Miguel tried to put it back, and she shut him down, putting her hand up to the glass, where it disappeared into the mirror. Cassi wasn't willing to let go, but Miguel shut her down, pull her hand back. He gained the chilled condition, she gained loved. She therefore calmed down a bit and got out the first aid stuff and bandages. Skyalr and Romy went upstairs to get PopTarts.

Meanwhile, Briar gazed into the abyss and saw everything around her fade away, until only Emmett was left. She said that they just wanted to help him, and he said he was fucking everything up. He said that they needed to find some way to speak to him other than this (where "this" is gazing into the abyss, it seems). Briar shared this information, with a renewed sense of purpose.

Cassi went to check on her mother. Her mother was dazed, but unhurt, and asked Cassi to help her to bed. After she did, she asked Cassi to look in on her brothers. Cassi did, and saw that they were gone. And then she realized, with a horrified feeling, that the hand that had gripped hers in the mirror was small...

She approached the mirror in their room (which she'd deliberately left uncovered, remember) and stared down her reflection, which obligingly talked back to her. It said that her brothers were gone. She told mirror-Cassi to give them back; it refused. It said that she didn't care about them anyway. She lashed out physically and shattered the mirror (taking Harm in the process).

The others came running, and helped Cassi bandage her hand. She haltingly told the others what had happened, between sobs. Briar shut Cassi down to get her calm; she failed, but Miguel spent a String on Briar to boost the roll and so Cassi wound up with the annoyed condition, while Briar got done. Briar asked if mirror-Cassi had the silvered eyes, and Cassi said no. Briar said, "So, again, it's all about you, huh?" Cassi stormed off, upset. Rook followed.

Briar vented to Skylar, and Skylar used hungry ghost and took away her conditions. Rook, meanwhile, found Cassi and talked her down. Cassi said that she wished the mirrorskins had taken her instead of her brothers, and Rook said, "I'd die again if it took you." Cassi collapsed in tears, her Darkest Self resolved.

Skylar went to find them, and creeped on them, and then revealed herself. They went back into the room to figure this out. Miguel gazed into the abyss, and missed; he felt himself fading and realized that getting information meant fading out again. He chose to do it anyway; all the attention was weird for him, he found. He saw himself in the boys' room, the brothers on their beds, terrified, Elijah's hand bleeding.

Cassi picked up a shard of the mirror and gazed into the abyss, too (since she couldn't see Miguel anymore anyway). She saw much what he had, but the room was weird and kaleidoscopic - probably because the mirror was broken. She came back to herself and talked with the others.

They figured they needed to get into the mirror-room and get the boys. Cassi noted that there was an armoire with a big mirror in the attic. Briar told Rook and Austin to go and get it (light the way, which gave them 1 forward), and they went to the attic pull-down staircase to find it was already pulled down.

They ascended and found Cassi's mother sitting on the armoire, very much solid, but with silvered eyes. She made overtures to them, but Rook declined ("I can't sex my way out of this one") and texted the others. He also shut her down, gaining the tempted condition and giving her regretful. The others came up, and her mother smashed the mirror with her elbow. Cassi arrived and told her to give her family back, but she refused. Cassi manipulated an NPC to try and figure out how to get them back, and realized that it would require going into the mirror-verse.

Rook, meanwhile, looked at the bit of the mirror still hanging on the armoire and gazed into the abyss, hoping to contact the Fairy King. He succeeded; the King climbed out of the mirror and talked with Rook. He told him that the mirrorskins were nothing to do with him - to the Fairy King, mirrors were just a door. The mirrorskins lived in unvoiced desire, impulsive spite, trauma, the broken parts of a person.

They decided Briar should knock out Cassi's mom so they could incapacitate her. Briar approached and lashed out physically. She failed, but Miguel and Rook spent Strings. Cassi's mom grabbed a shared of glass and went to jam it into her throat, but Miguel grabbed the shard and Rook yelled a distraction, and Briar sucker-punched her. They took her downstairs and tied her up on the bed, and then brought the big mirror from the hallway into the boys' room.

They decided that Romy, Austin, and Briar would wait (they weren't sure how Mikaela would react to the mirror-verse). The others entered and all held steady. Cassi gained the terrified condition and 1 forward, but everyone else just stayed cool. Briar played "Happy" by Pharrell Williams on her phone, to guide them back. They found the boys and helped them back out of the room slowly, but mirror-Cassi appeared and looked at Rook, asking him if they planned to get Cassi's mother, too. They exited the mirror, but Miguel (unseen) ran into the hallway in the mirror-verse, trying to find Cassi's mother. He found mirror versions of Skylar and Rook lurking there.

Back in the real world, the others covered the mirror. Rook shared with them what mirror-Cassi had said, and they realized that just as Cassi's mom was bodily here but possessed, some part of her was still in the mirror-verse.

Meanwhile, Miguel found everything get darker. The mirrorskins saw him. "He's the one without a reflection," said mirror-Cassi. Mirror-Rook whacked his hand against the wall, shattering his fingers into sharp shards, and lunged. Miguel lashed out physically and punched mirror-Rook, but took Harm in the process. He tried to run away, but missed, and mirror-Skylar shoved him back, cutting him up further. Finally, he reached out, using the voyeur move. He spent a String on Romy and Mikaela realized he was in trouble (he still had the shadowed condition). Mikaela told Romy she could help him, and Romy agreed. Miguel appeared, bleeding, and Mikaela was...gone.

The characters patched up Miguel and he told them what he'd seen. They decided they'd need to go back in, and this time, Miguel would stay out and keep an eye on Cassi's mom. They all walked into the mirror, and Romy and Briar held steady. Romy succeeded, but Briar did not, and found herself wondering if the others could handle a mirror-Briar. She found herself in the pool house, with mirror-Briar pulling herself out of the pool. She smiled with a mouthful of broken-mirror teeth, and attacked. Briar lashed out physically three times, shattering her double. She wasn't sure, though, how to get back without wandering through the mirror-verse.

Meanwhile, the others heard Mikaela call out from downstairs. They found her by the door, with a body (that looked much like Romy's). She said she was afraid she'd fucked everything up. "They're out there, now," she said.

In the bedroom, Cassi's mom called out for help. Miguel identified himself, and she asked him to untie her. He refused, telling her that she was possessed by a mirror-demon, and manipulated an NPC to try and get her to accept it and calm down. He realized this would require him going over and sitting down with her, which he did, and patted her on the shoulder. She smiled, her mirror-eyes returning, and Miguel felt a weird, spiritual reverberation. Mirror-Skylar stepped into the room, holding a knife...

Closing credits song: