Sunday, May 31, 2015

Character Creation: Spark

I'm running this game tomorrow, so it seems an opportune time to make a character.

The Game: Spark
The Publisher: Genesis of Legend
Degree of Familiarity: Not much. We made a setting and characters a couple of weeks ago.
Books Required: Just the one.

Spark has been on my list to try since it came out. It's a create-your-own setting game, and now that I've read through the rules (which took like 20 minutes, seriously you guys), I'm inclined to compare it favorably to Misspent Youth, which, if you know me, you know that's a game I'll fanboy about.

Anyway, Spark is +Jason Pitre's game, and there's a Fate conversation out for it now, which is free. I want to try the original version, though.

So, for making a character, I'm faced with the same problem I always am with games like this (i.e., games were "making a setting with your group" is part of the game) - it's just me. There are several premade settings in the book, of course, but y'know, I like the Hellfire Empire setting we came up with, so I think I'm gonna make my own character. Consider this a "what if +Dirty Heart or +Michelle Lyons-McFarland or +Matthew Homentoasty was running this game?" kind of scenario.

OK, so the first thing I do is find an initial concept. Looking over the setting (which I linked above),

I think I want to really embrace the "superhero" part of Steampunk Superhero. My character is Franz Twain, an engineer in charge of the hellfire streetlights. But by night, he fights back the demonic hordes wearing a resplendent blue cloak, white gloves, a white and white mask, and steam-powered augmentation allowing him to leap high into the air and delivering powerful kicks and punches. The citizens of the City have taken to call him the Benedictine (after St. Benedict, Patron Saint of Exorcism).

Good start. I list "vigilante exorcist" on my sheet as concept. Now I do Beliefs. These need to be declarative statements that I'm interested in challenging in play. No problem.

Demons are evil by nature. Boom. He believes it. He hasn't even considered that it's maybe a little racist, given what demons are in this setting.

God tests us with adversity. Franz believes that the demons, the blacking out of the sun, the attempts to get Queen Mona to marry, all of this is just God giving us standards to live up to.

Mona is the rightful queen, appointed by God. Big believer in Divine Right, which would put me at odds with Michelle's character.

Now, Attributes. Obviously this guy needs a decent Body, so I'll pump three points there and give myself a d10. I'll put 2 into Heart (I see Franz as being quite passionate) for a d8, and put the other two into Mind and Spark, giving me a d6 in each. That'll work.

And now Talents. Talents work on depth; you have Broad, Common, and Deep. The deeper you go, the bigger the bonus, but the more focused the situation. I start with what I'm best at - how about "beating up demons?" So I'll take Melee as a Broad Talent, Fisticuffs as a Common, and Steam-Powered Kickboxing as a Deep.

Now I get four more Talents, of any depth. I'll take Religion as a Broad. I'll take Hellfire Engineering as a Deep. And I guess I'll take Steamtech Engineering as a Common (it's more broadly applicable). I get one more, probably Common. Hmm. How about Exorcism?

Finally, there's the step we didn't do (yet) in my other group: relationship questions and Faction questions. I'll just answer a couple of them.

I'm gonna pick "how would you suffer if another PC came to harm?" and make it about Toasty's science rebel (as yet nameless). I'll say he helped design my armor and augmentations, and I can't repair or upgrade it without him.

And then for Factions, I'll be cheap and answer "why do you hate a Faction?" Well, I hate the Queen's Demons because they're fucking demons.

And that's me done, actually.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie #309: Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is a sci-fi action movie starring Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise, Brendan Gleeson, and Bill Paxton. It really should have been titled Live Die Repeat, since that's what all the posters and the DVD box and the label at Target seem to think it's called. That's a cooler title anyway.

So: Earth is under siege by badass looking aliens called Mimics. In a shocking twist, they landed in Europe instead of in the USA, and are rolling roughshod over the continent. But! We've managed to beat them at Verdun, thanks in large part to Rita Vrataski (Blunt), a badass soldier now called the Angel of Verdun.

(Fun fact: The current head of SAVE in Chill 3rd Edition, Hayat Nejem, was called "Rita" in the outline after Blunt's character.)

Anyway, as the movie opens a PR dude named Major William Cage (Cruise) arrives in London to meet with the general in charge of the upcoming big push. When he tries to weasel out of being embedded with the troops, General Brigham (Gleeson) falsifies papers saying he's a deserted and was impersonating an officer, and he gets slotted in with the rank and file under the command of Sargent Farrell (Paxton). He makes it to the beach but dies within minutes (just like the rest of the soldiers), but manages to kill an alpha mimic in the process, becoming drenched in its blood...and then wakes up at the start of his day, in a kind of Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers scenario.

He finds out that Rita had the same thing happen to her, which is how she took Verdun, but they learn that the aliens are playing them, leading into a slaughter. They need to find the Omega alien and kill it in order to end the war.

I like this movie; it's a good action flick and it's actually a good performance from Cruise. He's not the maverick, skilled, devil-may-dude, he is well and truly out of his element and he learns to cope not by becoming a badass (though that too) but by memorizing what's happening and staying ahead of it. Rita, meanwhile, actually is a badass and doesn't have the day-reset power anymore, and nicely transitions from mentor to partner for Cage. There's some romantic stuff going on, sure, but she doesn't get fridged - of course she dies multiple times, but so does everyone, and their victory at the end is a partnership, just like the rest of their planning.

The effects and the look of the aliens are really fun to watch, too. The aliens are ropy and fast and scary, and the exo-suits the soldiers use are pretty cool-looking (though it's never explain why we don't just bomb the aliens; or maybe we tried that and since they can reset days, they can just blast the bombers before they take off).

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Jeepers Creepers

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Spark: Hellfire Empire

Last Monday we did world-building and character creation for Spark. I figure I should write this stuff down. +Jason Pitre, you might be interested in this.

We have three players (+Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Matthew Homentoasty, and +Dirty Heart) plus me as GM.

We start off picking pieces of media that we find interesting. Sarah picks Angel. Michelle picks Hozier's album. Matt picks Young Avengers, the graphic novel. I pick In Bruges.

Next we go around and say why we like those things. Sarah likes Angel's focus on making hard choices, being forced to choose between two options and take the one that sucks less. Matt likes the comic book's focus on figuring out who you are while doing big things like saving lives. Michelle likes the imagery of death, identity, and mortality. I just think Colin Farrell is hot like the ethereal, weird, old-Europe vibe of In Bruges.

Step three: We figure out our genre. We talk a bit about time period and how to translate what we like into a game, and come up with "Steampunk Superhero."

The next step is to establish facts about the setting. We go around the table a few times and come up with the following:

  • Demons hide among us. 
  • Demonic magic put out the sun. 
  • Streets are lit by green hellfire. 
  • There is life beyond death (ghosts and zombies exist). 
  • The demons are trying to take over the kingdom; there's an impending demon regime.
  • Steamtech is non-demonic; it's a purely human invention. 
  • Queen Mona clings to her Empire (the demons haven't gotten her out yet).
  • Demons are trying to take over by marriage. 
Now we need a title for our series; we come up with Hellfire Empire

Next step: Setting beliefs. Everyone contributes two, and then I pick three that I like best. 

Sarah gives us Royals rule by Divine right and No good or evil, only shades of grey.
Michelle gives us People should keep to their own and Will conquers all.
Matt gives us God is dead and The demons will vanish with the sun
I contribute The dead should stay dead and Steamtech is obsolete

Now I pick three that I want to see represented in the game. I pick Steamtech is obsolete, the demons will vanish with the sun and royals rule by divine right

Next step: I rank attributes. Four attributes, Body, Heart, Mind, and Spark, and the higher ranked one is the one that will show up the most. Since this is going to be a superhero game, I put Body high (d10), with Heart and Mind at d8 and Spark at d6. 

Back to the group: We create Factions. First we just name them: Sarah gives us "the Queen's Demons," Michelle gives us "Artificer's Guild," I give us "Backalley Runners" and Matt gives us "the Beelzebub Club." But then we go around and list a mandate for each one, and get "We just want to be free", "Control steamtech and meld it with demon magic", "information is the only currency" and "drive the demons back," respectively. 

And then Faces for the factions, with two Strengths and a Weakness. Master James Harlock is the Face of the Artificer's Guide; he's Resolute and Canny, but Prideful.

Father Liam is the Face of the Beelzebub Club. He's got Holy Relics and he's Patient, but he's Stubborn. 

Garth Zelling is the Face of the Backalley Runners. He's Personable and he's got Lots of Information, but he's Anemic. 

Agamemnon is the Face of the Queen's Demons. He Appears Wholly Human and he's the Queen's Secret Lover, but he's a Known Pacifist. 

We create ties between the Factions, and decide that the Backalley Runners have a non-aggression pact with the Queen's Demons and the Beelzebub Club. The Queen's Demons are allied with the Artificer's Guild, and the Beelzebub Club is violently opposed to the Queen's Demons. 

And finally, we create Agendas, one for each Faction. The Artificer's Guild is trying to display their new Hellfire Engine. The Beelzebub Club wants to Destroy said Engine. The Backalley Runners want to Learn the Truth About the Engine. And the Queen's Demons want to demonize Sally Graham, one of the Queen's advisers. 

Whew. With all that in mind, the players make their characters. 

  • Matt makes Nameless Yutz, a science rebel. His Beliefs are: the Divine is absent, the gold standard is still present, and the demons will leave; steam remains.
  • Sarah gives us Brigid Bardel, a sleeper demon sent to sway Sally. Her Beliefs: Human culture is more free and enlightened than demon culture; blending demonic power with steamtech melds the best of both worlds; separate but "equal"
  • Michelle's character is Amelia Marx, a techgnostic rebel. Her Beliefs are the people control the means of production, the queen cannot rule without the will of the people, God is irrelevant
There's more to do with characters, but it was getting late and we decided to leave off the personal connections until next time to help everyone get into character. Looking interesting! 

Movie #308: The Chronicles of Riddick

The Chronicles of Riddick is a sci-fi space opera movie starring Vin Diesel, Judy Dench, Keith David, Karl Urban, Thandie Newton, Colm Feore, and Alexa Davalos.

Nominally a sequel to the superb Pitch Black (we'll get to P eventually), Chronicles of Riddick follows Richard Riddick (Diesel), a criminal living in space and being pursued by a bunch of mercs led by a dude called Toombs (Nick Chinlund). Escaping them, he finds out that his whereabouts have been let slip by his friend Imam (David), so he tracks him down to find that Imam is really acting on behalf of an Elemental named Aereon (Dench) who needs him to go fight the badass warrior death-worshippers called Necromongers.

If you think this sounds like someone's D&D game, well, you're probably not far off the mark. Diesel's a known geek, and I can't imagine the writer/director David Twohy isn't.

Anyway, the Necromongers, led by the superpowered Lord Marshal (Feore) and backed up by his high commander Vaako (Urban) and his Lady MacBeth-esque wife (Newton), arrived on whatever planet Imam lived on (Helion Prime, I think) and proceed to fuck shit up. Riddick escapes, but winds up captured by Toombs and taken to a prison planet where the world is always half on fire, and which is called (not making this up) Crematorea, because subtlety can go fuck itself. There he reconnects with Jack, now calling herself Kyra (Davalos), a girl he once mentored and who got sold into slavery trying to find him. But the Necromongers show up looking for him because he's the chosen one, and he goes back to Helion Prime, kills the Lord Marshal (but not before he kills Kyra) and becomes the lord high Necromonger.

So, I am kind of conflicted about this movie. It's space opera, and it's got a fairly rich world built up, and they don't spoon-feed you. But what I find weird is the contrast in tone between Pitch Black and this movie. Pitch Black was a stark, simple horror movie, and the universe had cops, criminals, prisons, drug addiction, miners, shipping lanes, and the only religion anyone visibly followed was Islam. Now we've got this mystical race of people, not just the Necromongers (who have been to the place where death ends or something), but also the Furyans, and instead of Riddick being left to die in a dumpster as a baby, he was deliberately attacked by the Lord Marshal.

I dunno. Feels like someone wanted to do a space opera movie and bolted Riddick into it, and the result is a little strange compared to our introduction to the character. Taken on its own merits, it's a not-terrible sci-fi action flick, but pretty by the numbers, except that Riddick becomes lord of the bad guys at the end, and that raises questions about what he's going to do with this invincible army he's got at his back. At least until Karl Urban kills him and takes over.

(I haven't seen the next installment, titled simple Riddick, so I don't know if that continues this story or not.)

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Edge of Tomorrow

Monday, May 18, 2015

Board Game: Pack the Pack

The Game: Pack the Pack
The Publisher: Games by Play Date
Time: 10 minutes tops
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Game Play: Pack the Pack is a tile game designed for younger folks, which is nice. It consists of a bunch of wooden tiles with colorful designs on one side. The tiles line up to form gems; some tiles have half pieces, some have quarter pieces. The object is to pack your pack (a rectangular area on your player mat) with as many full gems as possible.

Everyone starts off with five pieces, and once you've got all five of them fit into your pack, you can grab a new one from the hoard (the big mess of tiles in that picture). You can also toss a piece back by saying "Junk!", but then you have to take two more, so that can get crazy if you're not lucky enough to grab something you can use. You can rearrange tiles in your pack as you like, but at some point someone will be happy with their pack and say "To Town!"

Cael pores over his choices.
Once the second-to-last person goes to town, play stops and you score the points. Full gems give you three points, three-quarters give you two, half give you one. You also lose points for any tiles remaining in your pack, but gain points if you're done first.

Teagan won the first game handily. 
Opinions: It's a lot like Tetris, of course, but that's cool. It presents a nifty spatial challenge, and while there is a time limit of sort, it's not rigid, it's just whoever gets done sooner setting the pace for others. Pack the Pack was quick and easy to learn, and the kids enjoyed it (I'd like to play it with adults and see how it works). Cael played a second game, Teagan wasn't interested, but that may be because she won the first game and doesn't like to break a streak. :)

Keep? Sure.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Character Creation: The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon

No, I didn't make that up.

So, as I've mentioned many times, I bought a charity bundle once, and I'm still working my way through all the games I got. I think I've run one or two, but honestly I couldn't say. It's been a lot of years. This game is one that came out of one bundle or another, and when I asked for inspiration songs on Facebook today, +Amy Veeres gave me this one:

I kinda like it, but it's definitely got a wistful teenage romance vibe to it. And what RPG does that make us think of?

That's right, Monsterhearts. But I did that already. So instead:

The Game: The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon
The Publisher: Talula Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. Just read it, it's pretty darned simple.
Books Required: Just the one.

KSMTFM (as it's called in the book) is a game about a pair of lovers (one supernatural, one not) and a pair of best friends (one supernatural, one not) and the wacky, angsty hijinks they get up to. It really is like a lighter, PG-rated version of Monsterhearts in a lot of ways, which is fine; there's ample design space for more than one game there.

To make a character, I'm asked to pick the role I want - that is, supernatural or not; best friend or lover. I think I'll go supernatural lover, because it ain't like there's anyone else for me to cede that to. The first thing I'm asked to do is decide what kind of supernatural creature I am. The song I'm taking as inspiration is warm and kind of hopeful, and so rather than going vampire or werewolf, I shall say that my character is a demigod.

Actually, this'll be fun. My character is Phaeton, the son of Helios. You know the story, it's pretty classic. Teen convinces Dad to let him drive the car, and he crashes it. Yes, in this case the car happens to be the sun, but whatevs. So somehow, instead of crashing and burning in ancient Greece, Phaeton fell to Earth in modern-day [wherever].

I'm asked to come up with the rules about my particular supernatural character. That is, if I'm playing a werewolf, can I change whenever, or only the full moon? Basically, "the rules." OK. I'll say Phaeton can make light or heat at will. His eyes glow in the dark (but he can cover that up with heavy-duty sunglasses), and he gets sick if he's out of the sun for longer than 12 hours at a time (winters are hard). Kept indoors or underground, he'd die in a few days.

That's pretty good. Now I pick a secret agenda from a choice of five. Everyone gets their own sheet of five agendas, and they're meant to inspire the kind of over-the-top emotional response that teens are prone to.

Well, this ain't even a choice. I've been warned against humans. Phaeton's dad used to warn him that getting with humans just leads to pain and misery - look at Zeus! That guy can't keep his hands (among other things) off humans, and look how much trouble he gets in! Also most of his paramours wind up dead or turned into stuff.

Now I think of an actor that could play Phaeton, and come up with adjectives that describe the character (not the actor, though it's all in the same sentence, which made me think it was all one step at first). Hmm. Let's do adjectives first. Phaeton is buff, tanned, empathetic, and hot-headed. As for an actor, cripes. I need someone who's in their teens, but that's not really my demo. Hmm. How about Sam Clafin, the guy who played Finnick in Catching Fire? I think he'd work if he tanned well.

Stats, then. There are four, and they're rated 2/4/6/8 (who do we appreciate?). 2 is bad, 8 is awesome. The stats are Coping, Pretty, Bad Ass, and Emo Quotient.

Well, I think Emo Quotient should be low. Sorry, but I don't see Phaeton moping about. He's a doer. He's out in the sunshine, because sitting in his room will literally kill him. That gets my 2. I'll put 4 in Coping; Phaeton is hot-headed and impatient. I'll put 6 in Bad Ass; he's a demigod, so he's pretty tough. That puts 8 in Pretty, which is appropriate, because he's literally the son of the sun. That's gotta make you, well, hot.

And that's actually it. If I was playing, the GM would print off and hand out some emo quotes, which the players would get rewarded (with chocolate!) for using in character, but as it's just me, no real point.

This game is cute. It's really light the system's basically an afterthought, but the writing is clean and the secret agendas and quotes are a nice touch.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Character Creation: Changeling: The Dreaming (2nd Ed)

So, I made a Changeling character a while back, but that was 1st edition. Seeing as how I've spent the better part of this week outlining the 20th Anniversary Edition of our beloved goofy/tragic game of bunny-people and fucking cannibals, I thought it fit to do second edition today, since I have some time.

The Game: Changeling: The Dreaming, 2nd Edition
The Publisher: White Wolf, now Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Lots. I ran the hell out of Dreaming back in the day. I was reading through the old books the other day and marveling at how much material there is, especially given that the line didn't actually get that many releases compared to say, Vampire.
Books Required: Just the one.

OK, by the way, before we get started, I have a character concept, but I'm putting in a trigger warning for child abuse. It's getting a little dark today. Sorry. Here's my character's theme song:

This song is really about a grown man and his partner, not a mother and child, but I'm reimagining it because that's what's in my head.

Changeling starts off like most other White Wolf properties do. Step One is Concept. I have one.

See, I work with kids. Sometimes that means I'm working kids suffering abuse. I don't normally see that front and center; really it means that over the years I've had to call CPS and then hear nothing, ever. I did wind up taking a more active role once, but that story doesn't have a happy ending. It doesn't have an ending; the boy's family starting "homeschooling" him when he was in sixth grade, and I didn't see him again. I drove by his house every day after work, and I always looked for some sign that he was OK or that anyone lived there. Nada.

Anyway, my concept is a childling who, up until recently, was raised by a single mom who beat on him. She worked long hours, and he could be stubborn, and she would lose control, especially when drinking. He never told on her, because she'd cry afterwards and make him promise he wouldn't, so he kept his mouth shut. But then one night in late August, right after school started, he came rushing home to tell his mom all about his new teacher, who was making third grader sound so awesome with all the cool projects and field trips and whatnot they were going to learn. He was just on the verge of Chrysalis then, and his mother was already drunk, having lost her job that day. He tried to share his excitement and wonder and happiness, and she lashed out.

Any other day, that might have killed the spark of Glamour in him...but that day, he lashed back. The resulting blast of magic knocked his mother over a table, blew out the windows in the house, and brought the police. They took him away and put him in foster care (both because that would give my hypothetical ST a way to involve the motley easily by making my foster parent one of them, and because I wouldn't want to make an ST play an abusive parent). He misses his mom and wants her back, but he still refuses to talk about what she did to him. He made a promise. Oh, and his name is Patrick Breyer, but other changelings call him Ronny (his True Name is Acheron, because there's no nose like on the nose).

OK, whew, that's a good start. So, my kith, if you haven't guessed, is troll (that fucks me out of my Birthright, or "Birhtright," as it's spelled in the troll write-up in Changeling 2nd, but c'est la vie). My Court is Seelie, through and through. My seeming is childling, obviously, and my Legacies...hmm. I think I'll take Orchid for my Seelie one. It isn't that Ronny had an easy or pampered life; quite the opposite. But he's delicate precisely because his sense of wonder is so fragile from the abuse. His Unseelie Legacy is Beast. His temper tantrums have the Wyrd behind them.

And now, Step Two, traits. Starting with Attributes, I get a 7/5/3 split. Hrm. Still salty that I don't get my Birthright and the extra couple of dots of Strength.

Well, I think Ronny is still just a kid, so I'll put Mental first, then Physical, then Social. Damn, that's so many points. I'll put Perception at 4 and Wits and Intelligence at 3, and then Dexterity and Stamina at 3 and Strength at 2. He's a little leaner than most trolls. Social we'll just go 2 across the board; he doesn't stand out much, which is how he got through second grade without anyone really noticing what was going on.

Abilities gives me a 13/9/5 split, but nothing over 3 at this stage of character creation. I think we gotta go Talents, Skills, Knowledges, right across the board. Hmm.

Well, I'll put two in Alertness and Athletics. I'll put one in Brawl because he's a troll, he can punch a little. I'll put three in Dodge because I figure he's good at it (BTW, yes, Dodge is going away in the next edition). Two into Empathy, and then one each in Kenning, Persuasion, and Subterfuge. Good.

Then Skills. One each in Crafts, Etiquette, Leadership, Performance, and Security (he knows how locked doors work, and it's not something he enjoyed learning). Then three in Stealth (if mom's asleep you don't want to wake her) and one in Survival.

Finally, five points in Knowledges. One in Computer, one in Enigmas, two in Gremayre, and one in Science (his favorite subject).

Right, now Advantages. First up, Backgrounds. I get five measly dots. Well, I want one dot of Dreamers (Ronny's teacher, Ms. Flynn). I'll take two dots of Remembrance because it's a fun Background, and I'll spend the other two on a Treasure, a pair of shoes that allow him to run at crazy-fast speeds because they have red strips on the sides.

Arts & Realms. You know, people bag on Changeling's magic system, but it actually works pretty well. I mean, yeah, Realms are kind of limiting and some of the combinations aren't thought through very well, and yeah, the Nature Realm intersects with Primal in a weird way, but still. The underling engine is pretty good.

Anyway, I want two dots of Legerdemain so I can go Gimmix, and then I'll take Soothsay for my other dot. For Realms, I want Fae so I can affect myself, Actor so I can affect people at school (2 dots each) and I'll take one dot of Scene.

Step Four is Tempers, which is easy, because they're set by my seeming: Glamour 5, Willpower 1 (ouch), Banality 1.

Step Five is Birthrights and Frailities. I only get Stubborness as a Birthright. I get Bond of Duty as a Frailty, which means I can't renege on a promise or I lose the Birthright I don't actually have (BAD GAME DESIGN, GUYS)

Step Six is Freebie Points. I get 15, or a few more if I want to take Flaws, so I'll look at those first.

OK, I'll take Lifesaver and Shy. That gives me 4 points. Do I wish to take three more? Oh, sure, I'll take the Child Flaw. Doy. That gives me 7 extra points, so I have 22.

Well, I'm gonna spend 5 on a dot of Wayfare, because I love that Art. I'll spend six and buy up Willpower to four. I'll buy up Persuasion, Empathy, and Kenning by a dot. That leaves me with 5. Hmm. I'll buy up Glamour by one, and then two more dots of Dreamers (other kids at school).

And that's me, done. Awesome.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Night's Black Agents: Wolf(gang) Hunt

Last night we jumped back in to Night's Black Agents, as my previous post on the subject indicated. So here we go.

The characters were invited to a suite at a hotel in Berlin, on the promise of a very lucrative job. All of them need the money for one reason or another, so they show up.

The man waiting for them introduces himself as Davor Klobucar. He calls up some data on his laptop, and tells the characters they're to find this man: Wolfgang von Hanover. Hanover has, over the past couple of years, been implicated in some very bad stuff. He was apparently involved in bombings in Bonn and Budapest, shootouts in Szeged, Paris, and Budapest (again), and runs with some very unsavory folks. One of his cohorts, a woman named Delia Lockwood, is a former IRA bomber and escaped police custody shortly after being captured in Szeged. Another, an ex-Moussad agent named Saul David, died in a Szeged hospital. Hanover is also rumored to have contacts in the CIA.

Klobucar indicates his employers want Hanover alive; dead he's only worth half as much. Gambone confirms that if they find him dead (since other parties are definitely after this guy), they still get the money. Parker questions who Klobucar is and who he's working for; she places his accent as Croatian, but spots no tattoos; maybe he's a face or a low-level moneyman. Klobucar refuses to say what his employers want with Hanover, or even who they are, but he confirms to Gambone that they need him more or less intact and able to function.

Klobucar leaves, but Parker slips a tracker devices onto his briefcase. Fuchs sits down and starts going through the data on the laptop Klobucar left, and confirms much of what Klobucar said about Hanover. The characters start trying to track his movements and learn about him, and discover that Hanover is an expert forger and hacker; he worked for the BSI and then dropped off the grid a few years back. And then one of the bombings he was connected to killed Renate Bauer, another BSI agent, but Gambone (an explosives guy himself) notes that the device used was far too powerful to kill just one person, and yet shaped in such a way that none of the surrounding buildings were harmed.

Confused, the characters keep digging. Fuchs contacted a friend named Kraut at the German version of the IRS and asks him to look into Hanover and his family. Parker contacted a friend named Gerard at MI-5 and asked him about Hanover and his friend Lockwood, and learned that their bombings and movements didn't make any sense - they weren't claiming credit, they weren't following any particular ideology. It looked more like they were on the run, but if so, they were very bad at it.

Kraut called Fuchs back and told him that Hanover's money had vanished when he went off the grid, but he found a reference to a brother named Fritz.

Gambone and Benbow broke into the Szeged hospital records, and found that Saul David had officially died of two gunshot wounds in the chest. But after a bit of Digital Intrusion, they found his actual report, and Benbow analyzed it. David had two holes in his chest, yes, but no way were they gunshots. They were from two blunt, round objects, carrying enough force to puncture the rib cage. She hadn't seen wounds like this before.

Digging into the dossier on Hanover a bit more, the characters saw some examples of his work, and learned that as a forger, he puts little details and flourishes - coffee stains on passports, chipped corners on ID cards and the like. Knowing that, they followed the trail, searching for passports bearing his "stamp" in groups of three or more. They traced his little group's movements: Croatia, Sarajevo, Hungary, Germany, France, then Switzerland, Rome, and back to Hungary (Szeged) where the latest round of mayhem had occurred. They found a passport of his leaving Hungary and going into Austria, so they decided to head down there and see if they could find any leads.

After all, they're not the only ones looking for him, so the clock is probably ticking.

Movie #307: Jaws

Jaws is, of course, a quasi-horror flick directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gray, and a big-ass shark.

Jaws is a story of serendipity. It was meant to be a creature feature, and then they couldn't get the damn shark to work right, so Spielberg wound up using the camera as the shark. This had the effect of making the movie actually kind of scary, saving the shark for some later reveals, and lo and behold, this movie blew the damn doors off. Quality sells, Hollywood, but you can't bottle it.

Anyway. Basic summary: Amity is a summer town where tourists go to beach themselves. The new police chief, Martin Brody (Scheider) is from New York and a generally competent sort. He goes out to investigate a girl (Susan Backlinie) who's gone missing while swimming, and find she's been killed by a shark. But rather than scare away tourists, the mayor of Amity (Murray Hamilton) calls it a boating accident and opens the beaches. Almost immediately, a young boy (Jeffery Vorhees) is killed in broad daylight, and the hunt is on.

Brody, being the only fucking intelligent human being on this island, brings in a shark expert named Hooper (Dreyfuss) who confirms it's probably a Great White. After a free for all shark hunt leads to a smaller tiger shark being killed, the beaches reopen, and the actual killer shark shows up and eats another dude. The town hires renegade shark hunt Quint (Shaw) to kill it, and the three of them go out to face the monster!

Jaws is routinely credited as being the first summer blockbuster, but when you see what blockbusters have become (giant robots with testicles and everything), it's a little hard to keep that in focus. The performances in this movie are really amazing, particularly Shaw's monologue describing the fate of the Indianapolis. The effects have held up pretty well; the shark humping the boat at the end is a little silly-looking (though it works perfectly well as a "not all men" picture) but there are some genuine jumps and tense moments. And it's shorter than I'd remembered - the pacing is good, and we get enough scenes on the island to get a sense of the characters without the filler that some horror movies are prone to.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Jeepers Creepers

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Night's Black Agents: The Triumphant Return (notes)

And almost a year exactly since our last session, we're back. 

So here's the deal. One of the player (Smith's) had some serious health issues that didn't get better like we hoped they would. He and Lockwood's player have, as such, decided to let us go on with the game without them, which makes me sad, but I'm glad to be getting back into this game. So we're adding two new players, and Rousseau and David's players are making new ones. Hanover is going to be the sole remaining the character.

But really, that's just filler so I can notes without my players reading.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Character Creation: Epyllion

Haven't made a character in a while, but I have a little time today (I'm off work because after the test yesterday I was generally wrecked and I didn't feel much better this morning, though now it's abating) and I want to do something quick. So!

The Game: Epyllion
The Publisher: Magpie Games, created by +Marissa Kelly
Degree of Familiarity: Not much. I haven't had the pleasure of playing it yet. The version I have is an "ashcan," a little $10 skinny book sold at GenCon last year to drum up interest for the Kickstarter. It seems to have worked.
Books Required: Just the one.

Epyllion works on the "Powered by the Apocalypse" system, much like Monsterhearts and a hack of curse the darkness. That means it's dirt simple for the players: Roll two dice and add a stat. I'm going to be running this game starting in a couple of weeks, so that's fun.

But what is it? In Epyllion you play young dragons called drakes, citizens of Dragonia. Previously a great Darkness fell over the land, the dragons drove it back...but now it's returning. The drakes know about it, and they need to investigate this coming threat.

Like most *World games, it leaves a lot to the imagination and interpretation of the DragonMaster (DM - that's catchy!). Unlike a lot of *World games, there's no sex move. Probably just as well.

OK, to create a character, I need a playbook. There are six to choose from (so far, though the Kickstarter added a buttload more): Academic, Crafter, Daredevil, Nature Adept, Seer, and Warrior. Since Magpie helpfully put them up as a download, I shall peruse. Momentito.

You know, I think I shall make a Warrior. I like the idea of a dragon that's so powerful and like a force of nature having to learn that he's not as strong as he thinks, and that his friends have their own kind of strength. Just not "knock down trees" kind.

I really like this little book. It's a few pages of history, but enough to give me the gist, not a timeline that takes me through 10,000 years in 1000 year chunks (writers of fantasy games: You are not textbook writers!). So, reading through the history section, I know that dragons divide themselves up into noble houses, one of which was lost to the Darkness in the First War.

But! To make my character, I start with a playbook. OK, check, did that. Next I pick a name. The book has a few examples, two of which are "Kimrath." One of them is Buck, and I can't really choose that; I know a Buck, and it'd be too weird. I kind of like Morning as one of the suggestions, actually.

Now I build my "look," selecting an option from several groups. I pick:

Curling horns (around in a loop, like a ram's).
Broad scales
Short snout
Club tail
Muscular Body

Then I pick a color. Now, strictly speaking, the DM would have friendship gems that determine the color, but as I do not have one of those, I'll say Morning is red (red sky in the morning, Darkness take warning).

Now I pick a House. I get a choice of two, it seems. I can be House Tessith (house of diamond) or House Brynbak (house of steel). They give me a thing I can do to erase a Condition at the end of a session. Hmm. The relevant choice here is: Do I wish to focus on defending the weak, or smiting the Darkness? I think we'll go with the latter. Morning is from House Brynbak.

Stats, then. In this game they're Heart, Charm, Courage, and Cunning. I get +1 to Heart and Courage, 0 in Charm and -1 in Cunning. I can add one more somewhere. Hmm. Most of my moves key off of Courage, but what about the basic moves?

Well, it looks like Heart is my go-to. The other ones about leadership, but I kinda see Morning as just figuring that out. So I will add my free point into Courage (for +2).

Then I pick a Virtue. This is something that I admire in others and display myself. I can pick from Bravery, Honesty, and Humor. I think Bravery is Morning's big thing.

Now I pick moves. I get True Warrior for free, and for my other pick, I'll take Act of Valor. If I take on a quest, I get certain bonuses (a voice that penetrates the Darkness, for example), and if I complete the quest, I mark XP, which is fun.

I would do a Fellowship, which examines my relationships with the other drakes in my group, but as it's just me, I skip that bit.

And that's it!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Promethean: Leaving Chicago a Bloody Ruin

Well, not all of Chicago.

Recall that last time, Grimm got lacuna'd, then got his juice back, and then Matt lacuna'd himself as a means of saving Emile and, in some way, redeeming himself for the lives he'd already taken. The events of this session, though, might put more red in his ledger, as it were.

The throng gathered and talked over their options. They wanted to go and confront Devon Parker, and one idea was to kill him and turn him into a Promethean. However, Enoch pointed out that doing that wouldn't really punish Parker so much as the Promethean he became - it wouldn't be poetic justice because the guy who did all the bad stuff would be dead, and the Promethean would have to deal with that. Enoch brought up Persephone as a Promethean who was coping with the actions of her body's previous life (which is exactly why I had her appear in the last session, so I'm glad that didn't get missed).

There was even some talk about just saying "fuck it" and getting out of town, but that didn't sit well with anyone. For one thing, they were pretty sure, but not certain, that Parker had murdered Charles Rivers and they wanted to know for sure. For another, they just didn't want this fucker to get away with everything he'd done. They found out, from the morgue, that Parker had signed for Rivers' body, and that kind of did it - Enoch figured it was possible for him to use Vitriol to raise Rivers as a Promethean. Why would Parker do that? Who knows, really?

They went back to the warehouse and found the old car that Rivers kept, and hotwired it. They stopped at the transformer Rusty had mentioned and refilled their Pyros pools, and then headed out to the immense, walled mansion. Feather used one of her Distillations to link everyone telepathically. Grimm and Enoch used Chimera to take on small, innocuous shapes (a pigeon and a squirrel, respectively) and checked the grounds. They found activity in a small gameskeeper's cottage off the main house.

Avalon, Matt, and Feather crept through the woods toward the house, being all sneaky, but in an occurrence that kind of became the norm this session, failed the roll (they teamwork'd, she was primary, she failed with like 12 dice). Obviously that's worth a dramatic failure and a Beat, so lights went on, alarms went off, guards scrambled.

Parker, who was inside that guest house, ran for the door. He got out the door, but Matt had run around and gotten in front of him. He hurled a flash at Matt, but it didn't shatter, just bounced to the grass (see? Lots of roll failing).

Enoch, still a squirrel, scampered up Parker's pant leg and poisoned him (remember, Enoch is still poisonous even if he's not human). But the injection site was small enough that he didn't fall over (wound up with the Poisoned Tilt). Enoch switched to Shape of the Barghest, exploding from Parker's pants (oh, dear). Grimm flew overhead, then changed back to human form and landed on him, knocking him down. And then Parker covered his head and said "Shoot them!"

The guards had come around the corner and opened up with machine pistols. Grimm, Enoch, and Matt took some fire, but I rolled like absolute crap and Parker got hit, too. Matt pulled him up to his feet and used him as a human shield, but he passed out. Matt pulled him back into the cottage and shut the door.

Meanwhile, Avalon and Feather had entered the cottage and found carnage - Rivers' body was on a dissection table, his organs removed. Avalon considered using her Doppelganger Alembic to take his form, but decided that while she could do it, that was a bit too monstrous for her (I told her player it would have been a potential step backwards on the Pilgrimage). Instead, she circled the cottage hoping to use Terrify to scare some guards away.

Feather stabilized Parker and yanked him up on the table, sweeping Rivers off. Outside, Avalon did use Terrify, but dramatically failed and sent him into Disquiet. He shot her, and Feather and the others, except Enoch, went out to help.

Enoch, still in Barghest form, pulled himself up to the table and took out Parker's throat (which he'd said he wouldn't do, meaning he achieved the milestone lie to the throng). Everyone was telepathically linked, everyone saw it, everyone tasted blood. Avalon, we should note, explicitly asked that everyone not be so damn kill-happy. Enoch, however, is in Torment (and gets a Beat for his action, but does not resolve the Condition). She was angry, but they still have to deal with guards.

Feather yoinked guns away from two of them. Grimm turned into a bear and mauled one, Matt shot another, and two of the others bolted (I am, as I may have mentioned, not a fan of human combatants who fight till the last man is literally dead - it makes combat drag and it's fucking stupid in modern horror games anyway).

Briefly left alone, they reconnoitered. Feather activated a Motus Distillation and ran off to get the car. Matt started searching for his Vitriol, Grimm looked for notes, and Avalon just kind of...waited. She was in no mood to help the others. Matt eventually found a safe, but had no time to open it - more guards were coming. Grimm found a bunch of handwritten notebooks, but not combination. Feather activated another Distillation and yanked the damn safe off the wall, and sure enough, Matt's Vitriol and Calogero's notes. This, by the way, gave Feather a milestone - she realized that being a Bodyguard means protecting people even when they do something stupid (protect a throng member after they ignore a warning).

Enoch loaded Rivers' body into a body bag and put it in the trunk, and the throng got the hell away, heading east.

They stopped near Gary (figuring no one would notice a Wasteland there, should it come to that), and buried Rivers on a lonely road. Matt burned his notebook, and Grimm looked through Parker's notes and found the chemical formula for the poison that had killed Rivers (which got him a milestone: solve a murder). The cell they'd been carrying rang - Prince Maxwell. He told them that their little antics had gotten them some notice, and they needed to ditch the car (there was a BOLO), and also stay the hell out of Chicago. Enoch said they had no plans to return, and pitched the phone.

They talked about their next course of action. They had enough money to get a beater, and they hadn't seen any angels lately. Feather said she needed to go to New Orleans - her visions had shown her that. So, next story, we're heading to the Big Easy.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monsterhearts: End of Season Three

Yesterday we ended the third season of Monsterhearts: Perdido. Some thoughts:

The game was so much more sexual in the first season. Three-ways were common. But then the characters got to know each other, and there were deals with demons and lack of trust. Next season we're going to introduce at least two new characters (well, one's been an NPC before), and changing Skins for a couple more, so it'll be interesting to see if some new blood gets the pants off again.

This group remains the perfect group for Monsterhearts. I can make call-outs to the first season and they remember them. Remember that we've been playing this game since August of 2013, so that's pretty impressive.

Using Strings in this game is pretty crucial. I didn't bother much during the first season, but being able to come out of nowhere with a hard move is awesome. I'm gonna miss the Infernal. :)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, last time, the characters nearly caught fire a couple of times and Briar wound up promising something to Mr. Baron in exchange for Austin's life. This time, we open on Erika, in her room surrounded by mirrors, summoning Chantico.

Erika asked Chantico to, like, quit trying to kill her friends. Chantico said she couldn't have been that concerned; she was prepared to put letting one of her friends die to a vote. Erika retorted that Chantico was the one who had made that necessary in the first place, which Chantico didn't really dispute. Finally, Chantico said she'd think about it and vanished, cracking all of the mirrors. Erika, exhausted, went to sleep.

Back at Briar's house, Briar confessed how she'd saved Austin and talked with the others about what the implications were of owing Baron "a life." Genesis, in particular, was concerned, not least because she blamed Baron for her brother's death. They talked about Erika and in what capacity they needed to deal with her; Austin, in particular, wondered if it had reached "torches and pitchforks" yet. Ash pointed out that blaming Erika for her proclivities while Briar had just indebted herself to another supernatural power was, perhaps, a little hypocritical.

Skylar, into all this, decided to bike over to Erika's and check on her. He peeked in her window to creep, and saw she was dreaming. At that point, I spent a String on Erika to put characters together and put her and Skylar her dream.

They were on a beach, but the sand was finely crushed glass and it sliced her feet (she tried to hold steady and failed, taking Harm). She tried to get to the grass, out of the razor-beach, but she failed in her attempt to run away and took more Harm...that makes four. Again, she nearly died, and again, she used numbing it out, summoning Chantico to help her.

And Chantico appeared, resplendent and beautiful. She told Erika that she'd thought about it, and she'd lay off her friends...if Erika sacrificed one of them. Heck, she'd even take one of the dead ones (Ash or Skylar). She opened a black, swirling vortex, and nodded to Skylar. Skylar told Chantico, in detail, how she died, using her ending move. She turned Chantico on, and Chantico listened, rapt. Skylar then tried to shut her down, ending the dream, but failed, and Chantico took a String on both of them.

Erika, though, had had enough. Furious at Chantico for threatening her friends and finally understanding that she would never be free, she threw herself into the pit. Chantico screamed, and Skylar woke up. Nothing was left in Erika's bed but a scorch mark.

Meanwhile, the other characters continued their discussion. Briar and Cassi left to go get supplies to clean up the house (which had flooded, remember). They contact Baron, and tell him that they'd like to discuss terms. They arrange to meet him at a park, and then return to the others.

Skylar returns, and tells them what she learned and saw. The group discusses whether Erika is really gone, and Austin asks Ash if he can tell (since it's been established that Ash can see people's deaths). He says he'd have to be directly asked, and Austin balks, but Skylar doesn't. Ash gazes into the abyss but fails, and sees a monster wearing Erika's body, burning with wrath. He decides her soul might not be entirely gone, but it's getting there.

Briar and Cassi talk with the group about Baron and what they might be able to do. No one's keen on Briar owning anyone a life, especially which such ill-defined terms. Cassi, overwhelmed by carrying this key, walks off, and Ash follows, hoping to comfort her. He casts the bones to help her, and resolves her terrified condition. She also learns that Rook is in stasis - he's dead, but he wants to come back. With that knowledge, she feels better about dealing with Baron, but tries to get Ash to take the key (spending a String to get him to do it). He refuses - it's hers, Rook gave it to her. If they want to finish this, they should go do it.

They come back and the group goes to the park. Baron appears, and they talk. He reveals that Rook's life is in an egg, and the lighthouse contains many such lives ("that's the light," says Ash). Cassi has the key because Rook gave it to her, so Baron can't just take it, and he can't promise to restore Rook if Cassi gives up the key. Briar theorizes this is because that would be bargaining for something that has to be given freely, but the truth is more disquieting. Baron says he'll reveal that, but knowing the truth might have consequences. Cassi and Genesis agree, and learn that Baron isn't the only one with a key.

Finally, the characters agree to go to the lighthouse and get Rook's life back. They head to the seaside, and Cassi jumps in to swim. She holds steady and makes it across. Ash and Skylar get across with no problem (they're dead), and Genesis initially refuses, but Ash spends a String and offers her experience to come along, and she agrees. Austin and Briar swim it, and Briar fails to hold steady and takes Harm from the freezing water, but Genesis swims out to get her.

Cassi unlocks the lighthouse, and everyone except Genesis goes in.

Inside, they find a room made of flowing silver. A great hound appears, but Cassi shows the key and it demurs. The hound indicates the stairs going up, and they start climbing. The windows on each floor show them the past - the vineyard, the dance where Rook died, Pi, the school, the basement.

Outside, Genesis sees the waters go black. Erika - but not Erika, Chantico wearing her form, eyes on fire - walks out across the water and tells Genesis to stand aside. But Genesis isn't having it. She lashes out physically, knocking Chantico into the water (and taking a String on her), and then uses ocean's breath to take her away.

The ocean drags her down, and in the depths, Genesis sees all manner of sea life - jellyfish, sharks, octopi - and her father, Tobias, waiting with a coral-tipped spear. Bastion would be avenged.

Inside, the group makes it to the top, and sees the light - a mass of life, hovering in a locked glass case. Cassi opens it, and then turns Rook on to find his life. She fails, but Briar, Skylar, and Ash all spend a String on her to pump up her roll (seriously, don't you love it when the mechanics work with you?). Rook's life-egg floats toward her, and she stores it in her bosom for the swim back.

Baron is waiting on the shore, and asks what they'd like to do. They huddle up, and note that Rook has been dead for a year - if he just comes back, that'll be traumatic for a lot of people. They raise this concern to Baron, who says there's a way a around it. Rook has to return in a way that is as reminiscent of the scene of his death as possible.

"Which means we have to go to Prom," says Briar, curling her lip.

So they do. A couple of weeks later, at junior prom, they watch as the principal opens an envelope and reads, "And the Prom King is..."

Time stops. Cassi hands Baron the egg, and he cracks it. Time starts.

"...Rook Carmichael!" Rook steps forward, confused but happy, and accepts the crown.

"And the Prom Queen is...Erika Perez."

The room goes quiet. The principal beckons Cassi up. "Would you accept this on her behalf?"

Cassi nods, and dances with Rook. On her way to the dance floor, Baron steps out of the crowd, and Cassi puts the key around his neck. "Who's that?" Rook asks.

Later, at the after-prom on the beach, everyone eats pizza and has a grand old time. And then in the wee hours, Genesis tells her friends it's time to go. "Y'all are just weird," she says. "I've learned what I came to learn."

They exchange hugs, and Genesis goes into the water, taking on her seal form, heading home forever. Ash, likewise, walks back into his crypt, lays down, and goes to sleep.

End credits.

Season four starts at the end of June.