Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Beast: A Day at the Beach

Last time, which was a good long while ago, the brood had learned about some mysterious creature that killed someone at Edgewater Park. They decided to go out and look around.

They arrived in late afternoon, and the place was busy. That's normal, though there was more of a police presence than usual. John noticed police hassling a young black man for no special reason, but figured that probably wasn't uncommon. Maia flirted with a cop while Miriana checked the trees by the death site, and saw gouges - apparently this thing could climb trees. The brood decided to go get dinner and come back after dark.

They did so; Maia jumped into the water to look around, while Miriana checked the beach and the woods. They found footprints leading up out of the water. And then they heard a scream coming from a pavilion.

They raced there and found the creature - an awful, bipedal, scaled fish-monster - chewing on a guy's innards. It saw them and jumped up to the top of the pavilion. Miriana slammed into the support beam and splintered it, knocking the pavilion's roof loose. The creature jumped down and slashed at Miriana. Tyler used Dragonfire to light the thing up, and Maia activated Cycoplean Strength to rip out one of the supports and crush the thing's head with it.

Just then, a survivor bolted. John teleported after him using Shadowed Soul, and brought him (terrified) back. The guy was an addict, just in the park to score, and agreed to keep his mouth shut, so the Beasts let him run. Maia also fed her Horror off the destruction she caused.

The pavilion had become a Chamber, so Miriana added it to her Lair. Maia, meanwhile, now understood what had happened in the wrecked ship (if not why), so she swam out and added that to her Lair. Miriana opened up her Lair through the pavilion and, with Tyler's help, dragged the creature's corpse in. Maia slipped into the shared Lair through the ship, and John just drove away. He saw the man they'd let go bent over a police car, under arrest, and thought of the man he'd seen earlier.

Next time - perhaps some more investigation of this mysterious lake-creature?

Night's Black Agents: Battle in the Farmhouse

Interestingly, I can think of a bunch of movies that have gunfights or otherwise violent confrontations at farmhouses. Huh.

Anyway, the characters had rescued Jens Kraut from the evil clutches of...well, they weren't sure. The Berlin Anti-Terrorism Task Force, sure, but who really? They retreated to Moritzburg, a smaller town outside of Dresden, and rented a farmhouse in the country to reconnoiter.

They had some food and debriefed Jens a bit. They tried to figure out what in his background or work would have attracted this "group" to target him, but they eventually decided that framing Jens served a dual purpose. First, it got the evidence about Hi-Klass Escorts, which was already under investigation, out in the open but redirected onto Jens. Second, it drew Fuchs and company out. But if that was the case, why were they so important?

The agents talked to Wolfgang (whose player wasn't there, but they were mostly looking for details from the previous team's experiences) about what he knew about the conspiracy. The group had ties to the Russian mafia, but also to organized crime in other parts of Eastern Europe. Wolfgang mentioned that Vilmos Hajnal's name had come up - Hajnal is a very powerful criminal overlord, wanted throughout most of Europe. In addition, this group seemed to have ties to the University of Osijek (through a scientist named Radovan Macan), a French medical supply company called Tasse Industries (through the CEO, Simon Thibault), and the BSI (although Wolfgang's original team had killed their rep there, Renate Bauer).

They talked about trying to take out Hajnal, but Gambone, himself a career criminal, laughed - that was on par with assassinating a head of state. They could do it, but it would require more information than they currently had. Hajnal moves around apparently at random, and it's impossible to know where he'll pop up next. Instead, Parker dug into Hi-Klass a little more, and found the current front man was named Abel Bartos. But he was a recent promotion - they guy before that was a man named Lazlo Orosz. Orosz was the man they were looking for, in all likelihood.

They then considered their three targets: Thibault, Macan, and Orosz, for risk vs. reward and hard vs. soft targets. They figured that all of them had advantages and disadvantages, but that Orosz was closest (probably still in Hungary) and worked outside the law, so he probably would have the most knowledge of Hajnal of any of them. They decided to get some supplies and make some plans.

That night, though, Parker was keeping watch in the second floor, while Gambone and Fuchs were in the kitchen making coffee, when both doors blew in. Armed men entered the house. Fuchs stunned one with the coffee maker (he'd made a makeshift espresso maker, and the pressured steam worked as a distraction), and Gambone killed the dude with a frying pan...but then a second man entered. No weapons, but obvious wounds on his head and neck.

Gambone, not taking any chances, pulled a quick pipe bomb out of his pocket and set it under the guy's chin, blowing his head half off.

Parker climbed out a window and entered the back door, just as one of the people from the front door tossed an explosive into the kitchen. It went off, but Parker and Gambone managed to duck and cover in time to avoid serious injury. Fuchs, meanwhile, had taken off town the hall toward Jens' room, and one of the assailants shot at him, but again, no major injury (you know, for all the talk of how lethal guns are in this system, I gotta disagree).

Benbow emerged from her room, but took cover - she's not a fighter, she's a medic. Another of those wounded, silent guys approached, and charged Jens (who'd emerged from his room in a panic), but Wolfgang stepped out into the hall and shot him in the head (Shooting is his MOS, I figured he'd use it). That didn't stop him, though. He closed on Wolfgang and punched him, knocking him down, and slung him over his shoulder.

Parker had stepped out of the kitchen and shot the dude with the shotgun. Gambone picked up said shotgun and kneecapped the guy carrying Wolfgang, and Benbow shot him in the head, finally dropping him.

And now the agents are in the farmhouse with four dead bodies, some injury, and a lot of questions. Most notably...how did these folks find them?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Some Game Prep

I'm running Night's Black Agents in a couple of hours, which I'd completely forgotten about, so I need to figure a few things out. First thing, of course, is to waste a little space so that no spoilers show up in the feeds of my players on G+. I'm a little teapot, short and stout.


Night's Black Agents

Last time, the characters rescued Jens Kraut from where he was being held and tortured, and took him away to Dresden. I could roll to turn a character, but the only one I'm very likely to succeed on is Benbow's mule buddy, and I don't remember much about him, so I think maybe we'll wait a while on that.

Jens, recall, is still turned, but I think we'll take that to me he's got a tracking device implanted in his body. The conspiracy doesn't bother turning it on until the characters get away (the tracker was plan B; plan A was actually catching them). So I think we'll pick up in Dresden, pretty much as the characters are getting in. No one had a chance to do any through medical checking-out of Jens during the chase, so there was no real chance to catch the device (implanted under his left arm). It'll show up on an X-ray and a careful manual palpation, but not a metal detector. Electronic Surveillance will also catch it, if they're pay attention.

So what if they're made? What resources can the conspiracy bring to bear, here?

The Berlin Task Force is pretty much the best equipped group in the area, unless the want to hire outside talent, which they don't. So let's assume they bring those guys, plus Jones (who needed some time to recover after Lockwood severed his tentacles back here). That'll potentially give the characters a look at what they're fighting, although Jones is gunshy about getting too close. If he sees Wolfgang, though, he attacks him to exclusion of all else; they want Wolfgang alive to be converted into a puppeteer.

So, the squad is: Jones (puppeteer), three vampires (the dead Berliners from the black site) and three Renfields (including Engel).

Best case scenario for today: Jens dead, Wolfgang captured (since his player might be out next month anyway), everyone else on the run or injured.

Beast: The Primordial

It's been a while since we've played, due to illness and travel and so on. But the good news is, we left off with a clear plan of action, so that's kinda rare and cool. 

Last time, Miriana got to watch as a body apparently chewed up by...some kind of marine monster was examined at the zoo. The brood decided to head to Edgewater Park and check it out. 

Now, we could go a couple of ways on this. One is to assume the park is kinda empty and run the fight with the Mawspawn, but eh. That's not really in-theme. So I think the better thing to do is assume the park is busy, just maybe a different kind of busy. That also means the hunter crew that they've been tracking can be here, if need be, plus a heavier police presence, which means that things can theoretically get really out of hand if the Mawspawn shows up and some stupid cop starts shooting at it. 

I like that, that's a nice dramatic set-up. Now, of course, if the PCs wait until after dark and the park has largely emptied out, they get drug dealers and folks looking to get laid rather than beachgoers and families, but that's also potentially fun. I think the Mawspawn in Werewolf 2nd works as written; it's pretty badass on the beach, so if it gets wounded further into the park it'll run for the beach and try and fight there. 

Sounds good. A few converging plotlines, and the Bridge Pack can intervene things go really bad (though I trust this group to cut and run rather than fight to the death). 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Character Creation: Fortune's Fool

I was in a production of Romeo & Juliet in college. It was really terrible. The guy playing Romeo delivered that line like "O I AM FORTUNE'S FOOOOOOOOOOL!"

Anyway. I'm running this game tonight, and I think I have time to make a character. Let's find out!

The Game: Fortune's Fool
The Publisher: Pantheon Press
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at GenCon a few years back, and it was a good time
Books Required: Just the one, though there are apparently a few sourcebooks.

So, Fortune's Fool is a Renaissance fantasy game, played with a Tarot deck. There's a lot to like about it, and a couple of things that are a bit problematic. Let's get to it.

Step One: Race. That'd be human, dwarf, orc, goblin, elf, or halfling. I'm sure humans are "diverse" and "adaptable", because they always are. Yawn. (This is why fantasy games annoy me.) I'm gonna play a halfling, I think. No, wait! I'll play a goblin. Yeah. I have the beginnings of a concept.

Oh, but hang on. Goblins are not native to Europe, and they have restrictions on their religion, which is fucking stupid. Hrm. And the religion section explicitly says that not every race can choose every religion. Mental note, address that in my review.

Well, anyway. I guess I'll go back to halfling, then. As a halfling, I start with:

Agility 6, Body 4, Heart 6, Perception 7, Status 4, Martial 0

Fortune Smiles on Cups and Swords, and Frowns on Pentacles and Wands. I also get -1 Movement for foot-speed purposes, since I'm short.

Step Two: Do a thing that most modern games have figured out is stupid, but that is still important here for some fucking reason Choose gender. 

Yeah, seriously. Well, I like playing male characters, so I'll do that. That gives me +1 Status (picking female would give me a penalty to Body and Martial. No, I'm not kidding), and I can choose one of four Skills. I'll pick Running.

Step Three: Choose Size. It's all relative, of course; even if I'm huge, I'm still just huge for a halfling. I think I'd rather be small (for a halfling). That gives me a -1 to Body, but a +1 to Agility, and gives me the Star and High Priestess as Fortune Shines cards.

Step Four: Age. Hmm. How old do I want to be? I had been thinking youth, a kind of scrappy halfling teen. I think that's fine. I'll take Youth. That gives me yet another +1 to Agility, a -1 to Heart, and a +1 to Perception. Also I get Lovers and Star as Fortune Shines (but I already had Star, so pbbt). I get one Skill Expertise Point.

Step Five: Birthright. This is, like, birth order. I want my character to be out on his own at a young age, and to have no real family, so Orphan seems my best bet. I get...holy shit. Another +1 to Perception and Agility, and another -1 to Body and Heart. I get Judgement and Hanged Man as Fortune Shines, and I get to pick some Skills. I pick Stealth Expert, Survival, Climbing, and Escape Artist.

Step Six: Native Environment. Well, that's easy. City. I get another bump to Agility, and Hierophant, Chariot, and Justice as Fortune Shines. I also get a Skill choice, and I want Art.

Step Seven: Social Class. Peasantry, please, which has the side effect of a +1 to Body, which I need. I also get Strength and Sun as Fortune Shines, and Construction, Driver, Lockpick, and Vocal Control as Skills.

Step Eight: Religion. See, if I were a goblin, I could be Muslim, "Occult," or Jewish, but not Catholic, because...I guess the Church doesn't admit goblins? I dunno. Anyway, I want Catholicism, so here we are. I get two Fate Twists, I get a choice of Latin or Arcane Sense, and a +1 to Martial Training...because...um. I have no idea. I'll take Arcane Sense, I don't see my little halfling as knowing or understanding much Latin.

Step Nine: Add One to a Selected Statistic. OK, so I need to total up my modifiers. 'Scuse me a sec. My stats now look like this:

Agility 10, Body 3, Heart 4, Perception 9, Status 5, Martial 1

Hmm. I think maybe Body, which I'm sure figures in to hit points.

Step Ten: Derived Traits. A bunch of quick math, done and done.

Step Eleven: Calculate Skills Draws and Spend Skill Expertise. OK, need to figure how to do this. Actually it's pretty easy. All Skills have a starting draw value (well, most do, some just modify other traits). Skill Expertise can just add directly to that; if I were older I'd get more. I'll add my lonely point to my Art Skill, making it 5 instead of 4. Oh, and there weren't nearly enough slots on the Skill section of the character sheet. Booo.

Step Twelve: Determine Wealth Level. I kind of want to be poor, honestly. I have to draw a card and see what I get. Wheel of Fortune, which is a special card and not on my sheet. Does that mean anything for purposes of this draw? No. And then I draw the Star, which is a Fortune Shines. It adds an effective 3 to my Status for determining my Wealth, which makes me Middle Class. Bah. Well, that's what happens with these lifepath-like chargen systems, I guess. I'll make it work.

Step Thirteen: Select Martial Skills. You know, if everybody has to be a little fighty, I'm glad that combat skills are on a separate track. Heh, this'll be quick. I have 1 Martial Training so I get 1 Martial Skill. I also get basic training in one weapon for free. So I'll assume I'm trained in a short bow, and I'll take Double Nock. Any fight this guy's in is going to be ranged, or else I'm stupid (and probably fucked).

Step Fourteen: Determine Fate Twists and Starting Fate Pool. Fate Twists are neat little things you can do with Fortune Counters to screw with the Fate Deck. I only get so many, though (just two, actually, because I'm Catholic; pagans get 1, but they can also use magic). I draw two cards, and get the 10 of Cups and the 7 of Discs (Pentacles). That means I get...Borrowed Trouble and High Roller. Which means what? Ooh, neat. Borrowed Trouble means that any time someone discards a Fortune Weeps that's a Fortune Shines for me, I can take it. High Roller means that I can make it so the next draw has to be resolved with a Major Arcanum (which means it's either going to be very good or not so good).

Step Fifteen: Tedious Shopping. Actually, it isn't that bad. I can have any gear equal to or lower than my Wealth rating (Middle Class). So some simple clothes, a short bow and some arrows, that'll be fine.

Step Sixteen: Change Shit. I can circle new Fortune Shines or buy other things by reducing my Fate Pool, but it's only 2 as it is. I think I'm good.

OK, my character's name is Calondrucio. Calo, as he's called, grew up poor on the streets of Venice, and lived in a disused room in a rectory off one of the cathedrals (he sneaked in and took over). He hangs around the workshops where stained glass windows are made, and fell in love with the process - he steals bits of discarded projects or broken windows and tries to make his own, but of course the best he can do is some sculpture. Since I'm Middle Class, not Poor or Destitute, let's say that a glazier - a gruff old dwarf named Stephano took him in and is teaching him the ropes. Stephano isn't in the best of health, though, and Calo wonders how much longer he'll really have.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Character Creation: Starchildren

Well, since we watched Labyrinth the other night, and got to see David Bowie as the Codpiece King, it seems fitting I should finally get around to make this character today.

The Game: Starchildren: The Velvet Generation
The Publisher: XIG Games
Degree of Familiarity: None, really. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Starchildren is a game in which rock n' roll was outlawed; people need permits just to own instruments and play music. This is about the time that the Starchildren - aliens who were sent to Earth because we know how to rock - arrived, to find out that we'd pissed away all our rockin' proclivities to be boring. So you're trying to become famous, subvert the Man, fun stuff like that.

The first thing I'm asked to choose is Descent, which is basically "am I a Starchild or an earthling?" Well, gee, that's not a tough choice.

Next I choose Backgrounds. They're basically packages for Skills (much like in Night's Black Agents). I get three, because I haven't been on Earth all that long. Guess I should think about concept a little. I find it a little sad that "DJ" isn't on the list of Backgrounds, 'cause I could totally play a Jam Master Jay kind of character. Hmm. There's plenty of room for other Skills, though...

Well, let's assume "Turntables" would be a Skill in the same vein as Keyboards, meaning it would key off of Speed. I'll build my own damn Background, with blackjack, and hookers. Backgrounds have five Skills attached, so my DJ Background will have:


Sounds good. I get two more Backgrounds. I want my guy to be pretty tech savvy, so as to be able to drop the bass at maximum efficiency. I'll take Technician. And then...hmm. I'd love the free skills that Freelancer would give me, but I like the idea that this guy is the frontman of the band, even if he rarely says anything; he writes the lyrics, he rigs the light show, he produces the sounds. Yeah, I think I'll take Frontman.

For each Background, I get five Skills: One at 9, two at 7 and two at 5. So between my three Backgrounds, I get a bunch of Skills, a few of which come up twice. If I double up on a Skill, it goes up one rank (5 to 6). I can also save points to take Edges later, or to take Mojos (alien magic), and I know I want some of that.

Well, obviously Turntables is a 9. I'll put another 9 into Computer (from Technician) and another into Lyrics (from Frontman). For my six 7s, I'll put them into Vocals, Impress, Compose, and Repair, and save two for later. For my six 5s, I'll put them into Fashion, Drive, and Knowledge, and put two of the remaining ones into Impress and Repair (knocking them up to 8). That leaves me with two 7s and one 5 to spend on Edges.

Now we do Attributes. There are eight of them, and I get Jack,10, 8, 7, 7, 7, 6, 5 to assign to them (this game uses cards).

Well, I guess the immediate question is where I want to put my low score. I think I'll put it in Body. I'll put the six into Agility; this guy is dexterous, but not graceful. I'll put my 7s into Appearance (he's homely for a Starchild), Wit and Will. That leaves 8, 10, and Jack. Hmm. I'll put the 8 into Speed, the 10 into Presence, and the Jack into Perception; hopefully that all combines to make a DJ who can scratch a record and mix in a sample in lightning-quick real time.

Now, some secondary traits. I get three action cards, which I'd get from the Man (assigned, not drawn), so I'll skip that. My Walk is 4, and my Run is 8. I get some Damage Thresholds, too, but I don't know what they mean, really, so I just write them down and move on with my life.

OK, finally, Edges and Flaws. They work like in any other game; I take Flaws, I get more points to spend. Let's see, now. I'll take Usual Suspect; my guy has a criminal record (making music is a crime, after all), and he's not shy about his beliefs. I'll take Obvious for the same reason. Finally, I'll take Vice at 5. Starchildren react in weird ways to human drugs, and my character has a fondness - but not an outright addiction - to something mind-altering. Some future mild hallucinogen, I think.

Well, that gives me four 7s and two 5s to buy Edges and so on with. First thing, though, I want Mojo. I'll take Sparkle, which allows me to see into non-visible spectra of light, and to create dazzling light if I need to. I'll put that at 7. I think I do want Alertness, too, so I'll put a 7 there.

OK, two 7s and two 5s left. Let's look at Edges. Oh, hang on, maybe I should take one combat skill? Fine, I'll put a 5 in Shoot.

Now, Edges. I guess I better take Contraband so I can have my turntables. I'll put a 7 and both my 5s there, so I can have a sweet (and rare) setup. That leaves me one 7. I'll put it in Fans. My guy has a following.

Next thing would be shopping, but you know I hate that, so I'm gonna skip it. A bit of history, though. My character joined the rock scene, but had a fondness of technology and computers, and for the written and spoken word. Joining those proclivities, he became a mixer and a DJ, and joined a band that was lacking some oomph. The reviews the next day (in the, like, underground newspapers?) were that the band "brought the walls down like Jericho." My alien DJ liked that, so he calls himself Jericho. The rest of that band got arrested, incidentally, and he doesn't know what happened to them.

Jericho is lean and wispy, like most Starchildren. He dresses in heavy clothes and isn't as flashy as a lot of his ilk, until the party gets going and he takes off the hoodie to reveal the colorful tattoos over his arms and chest. His hair changes color depending on the day, but it always has some blue in it. He wears a Hulk t-shirt a lot of the time.

Movie #329: Labyrinth

Labyrinth is an 80s modern fantasy movie starring Jennifer Connolly, David Bowie, and a lot of muppets.

Young Sarah (Connolly) is a teenager, but is having trouble growing up. Her father (Christopher Malcolm) and stepmother (Shelly Thompson) are trying to be reasonable with her, but she insists on treating them like they're imposing huge burdens on her by asking her to be home on time and babysit her little brother (Toby Froud). Sarah's biological mother is or was an actress (it's never stated what happened to her in the film, though apparently in the novelization it's revealed that she left Sarah's father for another actor), and Sarah is obviously enamored of the theater and all things fantasy.

While trying unsuccessfully to get Toby to sleep, she summons up Jareth, the Goblin King (Bowie) to take Toby away. She immediately regrets it, and asks to have him back. Jareth generously gives her 13 hours to solve the Labyrinth and reclaim the baby, but he doesn't make it easy. Along the way he tries to dupe her into going back, drug her into forgetting all about it, and imprison her to keep her away. Sarah eventually does reclaim Toby, of course, with help from a goblin called Hoggle, a huge, stone-controlling beast called Ludo, and a stalwart fox knight named Didymus.

The movie is a lot of fun just on the face of it. Cael pointed out that the Bog of Eternal Stench has fart noises, and that was good enough to tickle his funny bone. The scene with the Fierys (you know, those weird red things that take their bodies apart) adds nothing to the movie, but beyond that it flows pretty well. The real craft of the movie, though, is in realizing that everything in the story is present in Sarah's room - Hoggle's a bookend, Didymus is a stuffed toy, the Labyrinth itself is a board game (and the title of the play she's reading from at the beginning of the movie), and so on. It's not hard to think of all this as Sarah coming to grips with the fact that, like it or not, she is getting older, and while she doesn't have to abandon fantasy and make-believe, she can't live there full time.

But the movie ends on the perfect note - Sarah realizes she can choose to party with her fantasy friends, and Jareth, in owl-form, flies off.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Ladyhawke

Epyllion: The Bearded Dragon

Yesterday, after some trial and tribulation, we played Epyllion. If you don't remember this game is a thing, that's no surprise, as it's been a while since we last played.

So! Last time, the drakes were headed south to White Falls, and stopped in a pine forest for the night. Azrael was uneasy; the ground felt weird to her, not hot and not cold, just sharp. Veris had a vision of a tree moving in the wind, its branches waving like a living thing, so he couldn't sleep. Freja had seen a brilliantly colored bird rolling sap from the trees into balls and carrying it away, but she hadn't been able to see where it went. Nova felt nervous; she kept seeing movement out of the corners of her eyes.

But, it was night, and drakes slept...except Veris. He picked up some of the grass and needles from the forest floor and tried to examine an object. The player failed the roll, so I took the opportunity to introduce an elder dragon. Veris saw flickers of movement, and realized it was a huge, serpentine dragon weaving through the trees.

He called out to the dragon to show himself, and the dragon did - it slithered out of the trees and wound around Veris, dwarfing him. Veris asked his name, and tried to stand up to an older dragon. The dragon introduced himself as the Bearded Dragon (more a title than a name), and indeed, he had a long, wispy white beard on his chin. The dragon also asked Veris and his friends to climb to the tallest treetops and get some of the nests of the birds that lived there, but to be back before sunrise. Veris studied the dragon, and learned that he wanted the nests, but that he was also having fun with the young drakes.

Veris headed back to camp and woke the others. He explained the situation. Nova wasn't thrilled (she didn't sign on for bird nest collection), but Freja was interested. She used scent of a place to get the lay of the land, and learned that there was magic here, and also danger. The dragons climbed up the tallest trees, and wound up getting sap on their hands.

Azrael licked the sap off, and immediately felt dizzy and euphoric. She stared at her hands, but didn't realize that her hands weren't on the tree, and fell. Nova tried to act despite danger and catch her, but missed, and Azrael landed in the branches and took some Harm. Veris went down to check on her, and Nova, having broken the treeline, flew up towards the highest treetops. She found that the winds were brutal up here.

Freja continued to climb, making good use of her prehensile tail, and acted despite danger to gather nests. She saw that the nests were made of pine needles and sap, and stuck to the sides of the trees. Some had sleeping birds in them, while others were vacant, old abandoned nests. Freja grabbed those and put them into her sling pouch.

Meanwhile, though, Azrael was enjoying her high and wanting to intensify it. She examined an object (the tree) looking for more sap...and saw the nests. She realized, too, that the sap intensified magic. She flew up toward the nests. Veris tried to hinder her, but failed. He looked to the east and saw sunlight creeping over the horizon...and the Bearded Dragon had warned them to be back on the ground before down.

Azrael grabbed a nest with a bird still in it, and ate it. She was rewarded with a suddenly explosion of awareness - the greens of the pile needles, the crisp morning air, everything just intensified. She flew back to get more, but Nova grabbed her and pulled her away. She tried to call on the storm moon, but Nova hindered her and she failed. The birds woke up, though, and dive-bombed Nova, pecking her wings, which started to go numb.

Freja, meanwhile, used wild speech to convince the birds to break off the attack. The birds agreed...if she would give back the nests. Not wishing to get into a fight or gain a Shadow Point, Freja agreed, and stuck the nests back on the tree.

Meanwhile, Nova was still falling toward the ground with Azrael, and her wings were too numb to fly properly. She acted despite danger, but didn't quite stick the landing, and let Azrael go so she could land safely. Azrael landed in a tree...face to face with the Bearded Dragon.

The Bearded Dragon slithered around until it found Freja, and asked where the nests were. Freja stood up to an older dragon to explain what had happened, and wound up throwing Azrael under the bus. The Bearded Dragon told them that they could maybe try again on their way back from White Falls (once the birds had calmed down), and that Azrael could look forward to a really awful hangover tomorrow. He also recommended they wash off the sap in the ocean. Nova, of course, was already licking the sap off her hands, and enjoying the buzz.

Next time: Perhaps we'll finally meet our fifth dragon!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie #328: L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential is a noir drama starring (deep breath) Russel Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Matt McCoy, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin, and lots of lots of other people.

The plot is dense and involved, but in brief: The cops of LA in the 1950s are, like the cops of today, corrupt, racist, and insular. After the arrest of Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle), LA has a power vacuum in its organized crime, and a police captain named Smith (Cromwell) steps up to assume control. In doing so, he kicks off a cascade of murder, which eventually leads to three cops in different departments with radically different beliefs and approaches - and who are pretty corrupt in their own ways - to try and unravel it.

Edmund Exley (Pearce) is the son of a corrupt detective who wants to make a name for himself. He tries to play everything by the book, and ultimately his integrity wins out, but he's a political opportunist and kind of a dick. Bud White (Crowe) is a tough cop who has no patience for little things like "procedure" or "not murdering people and setting it up to look like self-defense," but he focuses his rage on people who beat women (he watched his own father beat his mother to death). Jack Vicennes (Spacey) works narcotics and loves it, but his real passion is working in Hollywood as a technical adviser.

The three of them become embroiled in the larger conspiracy, but they spend much of the movie moving around each other, furthering their own agendas, until finally they spot the convergence points (by which point Smith has already murdered Vincennes).

I enjoy this movie quite a bit; I love neo-noir and I love detective stories, and this is a pretty great example of genre. There are more than 80 named characters, meaning it can get difficult to keep everyone straight, but that's actually good - it helps explain why the cops missed details that seem pretty obvious if you're viewing them as the audience. And, as befits the genre, no one's clean. Even the "good guys" are dicks in their own way, and the final resolution isn't pretty, clean, or just. The truth never comes out. About the best we can hope for is that Exley eventually takes charge and cleans things up...but it's pretty unlikely.

The movie doesn't do much with women; most of them are victims. Basinger plays a prostitute made up to look like Veronica Lake, and does a good job of portraying a woman still trying to cling to her desire for glamour and fame and Hollywood, even amidst her rather tarnished reality.

It'd be interesting to write a GUMSHOE game that took inspiration from this movie, actually.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Labyrinth

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Monsterhearts: Lonesome Doves

No doves, really. Not sure what that means.

Anyway, last time, the characters realized that they were seeing three different ephemeral, silent beings - hooded people with white eyes staring at fire, bald people with black eyes getting off to people in pain, and sentient reflections in mirrors with silvered eyes.

This time, they all got together after school to see a movie (they picked The Imitation Game). Rook wasn't there; he had a family thing he couldn't get out of (IRL, his player was tending to a babby). Miguel used she's not there to become visible and thus share his snacks. They watched the movie, and as the credits rolled, the lights in the theater went out.

The emergency lights came on and people started moving toward the exists. The characters noticed some of those weird people with the black eyes, staring at an older man moving slowly down the stairs. He lost his footing, but Briar sprang into action and took the blow, catching him before he fell but wrenching her shoulder in the process.

The characters went out to the parking lot. Briar's sex move, of course, is that she heals, so she told Austin it was time to turn in for the night. Cassi got Skylar and Romy into her car to give them a lift, and Miguel decided to walk.

Back at Briar's house, though, the things were still there, and still watching creepily. Briar gazed into the abyss to talk to them and tell them to go away, but they said they just wanted to watch (and told her to flex her shoulder, which she refused). She tried to shut them down, and they just faded into the background, but were still visible. She had Austin blindfold her for sex, but she knew they were still there and failed to hold steady, so had to stop. She talked with Austin a bit and tried to turn him on, but failed, and they finally gave up and went to sleep (she lost the drained condition she'd pick up, but kept the Harm).

Meanwhile, Miguel saw a backyard bonfire. He wandered over and saw some of the figures with white eyes staring at the fire. He waited around until folks put out the fire (not like anyone notices him anyway), and then gazed into the abyss while the robed figures faded away. He failed...so he faded with them.

He found himself someplace cold and completely white. He could hear them talking around him, and he learned that they were called quietkin. He asked how to get out, and they said someone had to light a fire. Then they could get warm. Miguel tried to manipulate an NPC to get more information out of them, and gained the cold condition, but there wasn't much else he could do.

Cassi decided to invite Skylar to stay; Romy tried to get herself invited, too, since Mikaela still wants to bang Skylar, but Cassi decided to throw a party at the pool house this weekend instead. Mikaela let slip that it was the creatures with black eyes that were called hexmutes. She also said that the ones near the fire weren't necessarily dangerous, but wouldn't say any more until Romy got Skylar naked.

She dropped Romy off at home, and went back to the house with Skylar to watch The Little Mermaid. They talked about Rook a bit, and how Skylar didn't want to go back to Rook's house without Rook there. Skylar wound up turning Cassi on, and they had sex. Cassi asked Skylar if she knew where Rook went when he was "dead"; Skylar said she wasn't sure, but since his life was in the lighthouse he probably didn't go where most people go. Skylar asked Cassi which creature that they'd seen creeped her out the most; she responded "Dora."

Of course, sex with Cassi triggered Skylar's Darkest Self, so when Cassi got back from the bathroom, Skylar was gone. From Skylar's perspective, he was just asleep, but Cassi went to sleep "alone," feeling sad.

Next morning, Cassi's mom woke her up to tell her that school was cancelled due to a power outage. Cassi got up and had breakfast, and discovered a photo on her phone, from an unknown number (the same number that had called her at the pool house!)...of her, asleep. It said, "Don't worry. You're not alone."

Skylar woke up and realized he'd faded, and took the opportunity to creep on Cassi as she texted Rook. He then manipulated things in the kitchen until Cassi acknowledged him and he reappeared. She showed him the picture, and they wondered who the mysterious person in the burning house was.

Austin and Briar woke up, and Briar turned him on (successfully, this time) and healed her Harm. She discovered that school was cancelled, and everyone met up for breakfast and talked about this strangeness. The news was reporting rolling blackouts, but they all suspected something else was going on. They decided to head to Briar's and hit the books. They felt like someone was missing, but then Cassi reminded them that Rook was away (of course they completely forgot about Miguel).

At Briar's, they learned that hexmutes soaked up pain, and placed a secret weakness on them. At that point the lights went out. Miguel, stuck in limbo, spent a String on Cassi using his voyeur move, and she thought of lighting a candle. They did, and Miguel appeared, but silent and intangible, like a quietkin. Skylar used dissipate to grab him, and then held steady and pulled him out of limbo, and he related what he'd learned.

The characters figured that the hexmutes and quietkin, while creepy, weren't actually dangerous - they didn't actually hurt people or light fires, they just hung around, and most people couldn't even see them. The reflections, though...those might be more dangerous (and were, according to Mikaela).

At this point, Rook texted Cassi that he was on his way, so we'll pick it up next time, when he arrives.

End credits: "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," Johnny Cash.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

DragonCon 2015: The Last Dragon(con)

Bet you thought I forgot to do this write-up, huh! Well...yeah, I totally did. Ahem. Let's go.

So, I haven't been to DragonCon in a lot of years. The last year I went, I think, was 2003, so that was a good long while ago. This year, I went with +Michelle and +Cheyenne, and there were a whole bunch of people at the con that I knew, but did not see.

We flew down, and my brother had originally planned on picking us up, but we were running late, so we took the train instead. That was a good decision, because the train is exempt from the fucking horrendous Atlanta traffic. Also, we made some train-buddies!

Pictured here.
We had dinner with my brother and sister-in-law and my nephew, and then wandered down the block to get our badges. All in all it was a lot of walking, and then standing in line.

Which would become a theme.
But on the way back, we saw a Ferris wheel!

So there's that.

Then the next day, we had a game in the morning! Which...kinda began one of my first frustrations. Gaming is the unwanted stepchild of DragonCon, you see, so the game slots start at 9AM, but the bus doesn't start running until 9 or 10, meaning if you're staying offsite (which we were, even if only by about a half mile) you're walking. So we walked.

We did make the game on time, though. It was a Savage Worlds conversion of Conspiracy X. I played a priest with former ties to the Mafia, and we were investigating alien activity in this little town in the Grand Canyon.

Let's fight some reptoids!
It was a good time. The conversion was solid, and the scenario was arranged such that characters who weren't overtly fighty (like the one I was playing) had some investigation/face kinds of things to do before the combat sections. The GM paced it well, too. My Grade: A

From there, we decided to go get lunch, and then hit the dealer's room(s).

When you've got 70,000 people in your town spending money, you welcome them.
Michelle ponders her options. 
Getting into the dealer's room required standing in another damn line, down the block. Yay. But once inside, we found lots of interesting costumes, and some storefronts that Michelle and Chey enjoyed. No one was selling RPGs, so I wasn't really so interested (I have enough t-shirts, and I don't want a corset).

This does not do the dealer's room justice. 
After shopping, we headed back to the hotel. I saw some kids playing in the fountain in Olympic park, which is always cool.

I almost joined them; it was hot as balls.
That night, I had a game to run for some Chill backers! They'd made up their characters and given me an HQ to work with in Mobile, Alabama. I used Siris, the ancient ghost (it's in Chill, go look it up), and they all almost died at the end, but made good use of the "flip the tokens to live" thing.

Saturday! I had to get up and run Chill again, actually. I ran Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, and had a decent group; they had fun, seemed to enjoy the characters and the scenario. I forgot to take their pictures, but hey.

Meanwhile, Michelle was running her Clue version of A Tragedy in Five Acts. Three of her players were dressed as Hell's Grannies, which is pretty awesome by itself.

Make tea, not love. 

Directly after that game, I played in a Games on Demand game. Now, GoD works very differently at DragonCon than at other cons, because the Games-of-Thrones-esque leadership of the con is afraid of GoD and doesn't understand it. So we signed up for a session, sat down, and the GM gave us a menu of games. We whittled it down to a couple of choices, and wound up picking Little Fears.

Now, I like Little Fears. We talked a little about similar games, and I mentioned World of Darkness: Innocents, and the GM said (before I finished my sentence), "Yeah, that was really derivative of Little Fears," so I got to say, "I developed it. And no, it's not derivative, it's using a similar premise, which is not the same thing." And then he admitted he hadn't actually read it, so yeah.

Anyway, we wound up with eight players in the game. Two of them got up and left, with no preamble or explanation, about 3/4 of the way through, which sucked. The game itself was...OK. We were in a cul-de-sac, then all appeared in Closetland, but wound up wandering from house to house getting nasty things done to us, until finally one of us (Cheyenne's character) escaped just in time to get hit by a bus.

Honestly, it was a little uncomfortable. The game was presented as "little kids being afraid," which is fine, but at no point was Closetland or the Boogeyman ever mentioned, and certainly not the possibility of real harm coming to the characters. I have a thing about kids being harmed, and I misread the GM on the subject, or else I'd have asked that we play something else. Also, there was no way that we could have gotten the scenario "right." There were no clues as to how we should proceed, no leading questions, and the hints we did get were blatantly false. So, it was fun at the beginning, but by the end it was less "horror game" and more "character abuse," and I wasn't feeling it. My Grade: C-

This was after the other two players fucked off.
And then on the way out, I saw a Deadpool dance party.

All those red things are Deadpool.
And then I went back to the hotel, and saw some Warboys waiting for the bus.

If there's a more perfect metaphor for DragonCon, I don't know it.
And then dinner, after which we saw a thundering herd of football fans coming down the hill toward us.

We fled.
And then Michelle and I hunkered down in the room and bought Inside Out on pay-per-view, and stayed in, and it was glorious.

Finally, Sunday. We had decided that DragonCon had very little else to offer us, so we went to the aquarium instead.

Anybody know what kind of fish this is?
The severed heads of Bertie and Bippy, or something. 
Michelle, Cheyenne, and the Starfish Woman.

And then we flew home. What I have determined about DragonCon is that it was fun when I was 10 years younger and easily able to walk miles, tolerate the heat, and stay up late. Now, I much prefer Origins and GenCon, which have much less of all of those things. But it was a good time, and I'm glad I went at least this once more.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Movie #327: Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda is an animated movie starring the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Ian McShane, Randall Duk Kim, and James Hong. It was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar but lost (deservedly) to Wall*E.

Po (Black) is a panda who lives with his adoptive father (Hong, playing a goose who proudly makes noodle soup), and is fanboyishly obsessed with kung fu. In particular, he's agog over the Furious Five, a team of kung fu warriors comprised of Monkey (Chan), Viper (Liu), Tigress (Jolie), Crane (Cross), and Mantis (Rogen), all trained by a red panda called Shifu (Hoffman).

Po crosses paths with these masters when he is chosen as the mythical "Dragon Warrior" by Oogway (Kim), the ancient tortoise who discovered kung fu. He is, of course, something of a scrub; he's too fat and out of shape to learn kung fu the way the others have been taught. But time is a problem - the evil Tai Lung (McShane) is returning to the Valley with the intent of destroying it and becoming the Dragon Warrior by force.

From there it's a pretty standard "Chosen One" story; of course Po learns kung fu, becomes the Dragon Warrior, and learns it's not about a secret magical scroll, it's about being willing to do the work. I can get behind that. If anything about the movie annoys me, it's that the Furious Five kinda disappear from the back half of the movie while Po battles Tai Lung. I do appreciate, however, that there is something that makes Po specifically useful against Tai Lung (he's immune to Tai Lung's pressure point attack), and I think it's cool that Po develops his own lumbering fighting style as he trains.

Anyway, it's a cute movie. I don't remember enjoying the sequel as much; I think it felt busy.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: L.A. Confidential

Friday, September 11, 2015

Character Creation: Werewolf: The Forsaken (2nd Edition)

I waffled a bit, at the beginning of this project, about whether a new edition of a game would count as a "game" for purposes of chargen, but I ultimately err, as usual, on the side of what will keep this project going in perpetuity.

Well, I'm being flip, but really, I'm interested in how games change between editions. Sometimes the differences are minor, but sometimes they're subtle but important, as has been the case in the New World of Darkness lines. The system changes aren't so huge, really - you're adding Conditions, and that's the single more important thing. But looking at the difference the first and second editions of Requiem, we see added mechanics that focus on a the living world a vampire leaves behind, Disciplines that have gotten some serious conceptual rethinking for the first time since, like, 1992, and slimming down of concepts that are interesting but ultimately kind of weak. And yeah, we lost bloodlines, which was stupid, but you can't have everything.

So tonight, I'm making a character for Werewolf: The Forsaken 2nd Edition, partially because I wanted an excuse to get my brain around the system changes because of upcoming events in my Beast chronicle, and partially because I have a theme song in mind and I thought it would be interesting to apply it to an Uratha character. Here's the song:

The Game: Werewolf: The Forsaken 2nd Edition
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Quite a bit. I wrote the auspices section, but I haven't actually run this version.
Books Required: Just the one, ostensibly. It's handy to have the World of Darkness Rulebook to actually play the game.

As before, character creation proceeds in eight steps.

Step One is Concept. I want to play a werewolf who Changed late in life. Like, he's in his 70s. Assuming a contemporary game (2015), he was born in 1941. He fought in Viet Nam, came home to his wife and kid, got divorced, took work as a mechanic (let's say that was job in the Army, too), grew older, transitioned to office work and management, grew older, developed cataracts, retired, saw his children get married, buried his ex-wife, and was waiting to die. His life had been...if not happy, exactly, then at least interesting and fulfilling. His body grew frail, and he was ready to check out.

And then Luna visited him under the moon, and he found himself out in the woods, blood on his lips and the songs of spirits echoing in his ears.

The next morning, he could see clearly. He could walk without pain. He doesn't need the vast number of medications he used to. He can taste food again, stay up late again, and feel passion he barely remembered. He's got a pack, now, and a tribe, a new, young family, and for the most part they don't judge him for his age because he can keep up.

But he wonders...is this good? Does he deserve it? Hell, does he want it? He thinks of starting over and it all just seems...exhausting. His body can handle it. Can his soul?

I'll name this guy Robert McTeague. For Concept, I'll phrase it as "Tired Old Man".

I need three Aspirations, two short-term and one long-term. For the short-terms, I'll choose "Swim in the ocean" (something Robert always wanted to do and never got around to) and "learn to cook" (he's going to be very sad if he manages to raise his Primal Urge high enough that he's an obligate carnivore). For the long-term, I'll choose "find a cure for lycanthropy." Robert doesn't want this life, not really, but the pack instinct is strong, and he does like having family again.

OK, now Step Two, which is Attributes. Well, I think Physical probably shouldn't be primary. Tertiary? Hmm. I don't know. I'm thinking the ravages of age are most obvious in Robert's body, not his mind (though that's getting out there, too). I'll make Social secondary, Mental primary, Physical tertiary. I'll put three dots into Resolve (he didn't go completely mad when he became a werewolf at his age) and one each into Intelligence and Wits. I'll put two into Strength, one into Dexterity and nothing into Stamina; his pretty tough, but that's mostly because he doesn't know his limits anymore. And then for Social I'll put one into each and the extra into Presence; Robert's got a quiet dignity and command to him.

Step Three, Skills, ahoy! Hmm. I'm thinking breadth over depth; Robert knows a lot, but he's forgotten a lot, too. Let's make Social primary, Physical second and Mental tertiary.

I get four dots in Mental Skills. I'll put two into Crafts (he was a mechanic), one into Academics and one into Medicine.

For Physical, I'll put one into Athletics (always put a dot in Athletics), one each into Brawl, Drive, Firearms, and Survival (Army training) and two into Stealth (people ignore the old man).

Finally, for Social, I'll put one each in Animal Ken, Socialize, and Subterfuge, and then two into Empathy, Expression, Intimidation, and Persuasion. Robert's always been a quietly sociable type. I see him as pretty introverted, but good in social settings (that is, he can do it well but it takes a lot out of him).

On to Step Four, Skill Specialties. Hmm. I think I want "Mechanic" as a Crafts Specialty. I'll take "Easily Ignored" as a Stealth Specialty, and "Quiet Authority" as a Persuasion Specialty.

Now, Step Five, I get to be all werewolfy. I want him to be a Bone Shadow; I like the idea that Luna tapped him because there's some spirit out there, maybe something that came back to the States from Viet Nam, that maybe he can help hunt down. But what auspice? I kinda want him to be to be Rahu. I think that works, actually; it's part of why he hasn't just dropped out and ignored his werewolf side, and why he's not a Ghost Wolf. Purity is important to him.

So, as a Rahu, I get a free dot in Brawl, Intimidation, or Survival. Hmm. I think I'll take it in Brawl, making Robert a more effective combatant. I also get a dot of Purity. And then as a Bone Shadow, I get a dot of Wisdom. I get a third dot of Renown wherever I want it (the book says I can't take a third dot in a single Renown, but that would only matter if my Renown from tribe and auspice were the same, which they aren't). I think I'll wait and look at Gifts first, since which Renown I take will influence what Facets of Gifts I get.

Let's do Blood & Bone first. Blood and Bone are this game's analog of Virtue and Vice. Blood is when I'm on the hunt, whereas Bone is my comfort zone. One of the examples of Blood is Soldier, and actually I think that fits Robert nicely. When he's on the hunt, Robert is back at war, training that he thought he'd lost decades ago merging with animal instinct. Bone, though, I'll take Elder. Robert is old, and even if his bones don't ache anymore, he feels like they should. He's wise and experienced, and people should listen to his war stories.

Now, Touchstones. These are kinda like for Vampire, except I've got a flesh Touchstone and a spirit one. One keeps Robert grounded in the physical world, one draws him to the Shadow. For the flesh one, I choose Lizzie, his granddaughter. She's 12 now, his oldest (and favorite, not that he'd admit it) grandkid. His absolute favorite thing about being a werewolf is that it's given him the energy to spend more time with her. Of course, he worries about succumbing to Rage, too. For the spiritual Touchstone, I'll choose The Dead. Robert saw a lot of people he knew die in battle and from illness and from age, and he doesn't fear Death. Hell, he was almost ready to join them in the hereafter when Luna came calling.

Gifts and rites! I get two dots in rites, and then I get the first dot of a Moon Gift from my auspice, and a Facet of two Shadow Gifts from my tribe or auspice, and then if I have two dots in my auspice Renown, I get the second Facet from Moon Gifts, or if I don't, I get a Facet of a Wolf Gift? Which means I wind up with four Facets? (This, by the way, is why it's really helpful to have an example of character creation, folks.)

Well, let's try and suss this out. I know I start with the first Facet of Full Moon's Gift, which is Killer Instinct. I get 8-again on Brawl and Weaponry for a scene if I spend a point of Essence. And then I can pick two Facets from Dominance, Strength, Death, Elemental or Insight. Hokay.

Each Facet corresponds with a Renown type, so I can take Wisdom or Purity (and then I get one more dot of Renown that I haven't chosen yet). Well, I kinda like the Wisdom Facet of Insight, which lets me tell where my prey is likely to go. The Purity Facet of Strength is fun, too, and I think having a second dot of Purity (thus adding my Purity to my Strength for a scene) would be cool. That does make Robert pretty combat-focused, though. Oh, holy cats, the Purity Facet of Death lets me gnaw bones to gain information about the person who's dead. That's pretty cool. I think I'll do that.

And then I'd get a Wolf Gift. I don't like very many of them. Rather, I do, but a lot of the ones I like are Purity, and if I take a second dot of Purity, I don't get one (seriously, this could be explained better in the book, guys, with examples). If I do take a second dot of Purity, I get the second Moon Gift, but then I miss out on a Shadow Gift Facet, whereas if I bought up Purity in play, I would get both, which is kinda weak. What I don't know is if I can take a dot in, say, Glory, but take a Purity Facet in a Wolf Gift. It doesn't say I can't, just that I can't take a Facet for a Renown category in which I have no dots. OK, well, then I'll take a dot of Glory, but I'll take The Father's Form, letting me take Gauru form without going into Death Rage.

For my free two dots in Rites, I'll take Bottle Spirit. Except I have no Occult. Blah. Ah, fuck it. Means I'm gonna be bottle very small spirits at first, but in play Occult is the first thing I'd buy anyway.

Whew, that was fun. Now Step Six, Merits. Of course there's a larger list of Merits in God-Machine Chronicle, and instead of being smart and keeping the core rules in a separate book, we half-assed them into the core 2nd ed books, meaning things are spread out. Blah. Well, anyway.

I'll take a dot of Resources. Robert has a pension and his apartment is cheap. Holy shit. Totally taking Embodiment of the Firstborn. Robert, in Urhan form, is a dead ringer for Death Wolf (who's usually depicted as female, but whatever). I get a free dot of an Attribute. I'll take Resolve, pushing me to five dots. That eats a bunch of my Merit dots, but it explains a lot about the character, I think. I would take Totem if this were a real game, but since it's just me I won't bother. I could take Indomitable, but which Resolve 5 it's almost redundant. I don't have the pre-reqs for most of the fighting Merits, so they're out. Let's check GMC.

I'll take Patient; it seems to make sense. This is weird, but I'll take Choke. I think with the ability to enter Gauru and not immediately go for the kill, it might be interesting, plus I like the idea of the old man being able to choke someone out by being patient about it. For the last dot, I'll take Contacts (Military); not everyone from his old unit is dead, and some of them only retired recently. And then I get First Tongue for free.

Finally, Step Seven, is just derived traits. Easy enough. Oh, wait, gotta do Kuruth triggers, too. Apparently I pick a set (this isn't in the chargen section, it's just listed on the chart). Hmm. I'll take the Wounds set; plays into the idea that Robert is Death Wolf incarnate, and that he has some crazy destiny that he knows not of.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Movie #326: Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle is a weird little martial arts/comedy movie starring (and directed by) Stephen Chow, and co-starring Wah Yuen, Zhi Hua Dong, Siu-Lung Leung, Qiu Yuen, Chi Ling Chiu, and Xing Yu.

Most of the action takes place in Pig Sty Alley, a poor neighborhood ruled by a loudmouth, chain-smoking, fast-running landlady (Qiu Yuen) and her hapless husband (Wah Yuen). The bloodthirsty Ax Gang rules the streets, and Sing (Chow) desperately wants to be a member, to the point that he impersonates them. This leads to a fight in which the gang does battle with the residents of Pig Sty Alley, including three incognito kung fu masters - Coolie (Xing Yu), Donut (Dong) and Tailor (Chiu).

The Gang retaliates by hiring outside talent to kill them, and then by freeing the Beast (Leung), a badass so powerful that he voluntarily went to prison to try and find someone to challenge him. Turns out the Ladylady and her Husband are masters, too, but even they can't defeat the Beast - it requires Sing, who is himself an untapped talent, to win the final battle.

This movie references lots of other films and properties, everything from Looney Tunes to The Shining to a direct quote (in English!) from The Untouchables. It's weird, fast, frenetic, and very much an ensemble movie (despite the Chosen One who takes up the fight at the end); it feels very much like a game of Feng Shui might, right down to the magical realism.

I have not seen Shaolin Soccer, Chow's previous film, but I'm thinking it might be a good idea.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium-high

Next up: Kung Fu Panda

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Positions & Should've

I am, at present very frustrated with DriveThru RPG. If you don't know why, there are a number of good posts discussing what happened, but the relevant thing right now is this.

Let's play "should've" for a minute. DTRPG should've pulled the product the instant it was brought to someone's attention. I'm not saying that they should do that whenever someone finds something offensive; that's a ridiculous, pearl-clutching oversimplification. I'm saying that when a game comes along that literally has the word "rapists" in the title, that's a pretty damn good indication that it deserves a second look. This is not a school district banning Fahrenheit 451 or a church flipping out because they think Harry Potter will cause Satanism. It certainly isn't comparable to Jim Crow laws or the CCA (both of which are comparisons that folks have made; disappointingly, the latter is one that Steve Wieck of DTRPG makes in that post). This is more like my local Family Video declining to shelve A Serbian Film or Human Centipede II among the "action" movies.

So, DriveThru should have removed the product (note that I'm not even getting into whether the product should have been made to begin with; it shouldn't, but there are always people willing to produce horrible things, regardless of the impact on others. I don't want to focus on them, because fuck 'em. They're not the professional adults, here.

Anyway, continuing the should'ves. Steve should've not (shouldn't have, if you like) engaged in a Twitter discussion about the subject at all. He should have left it well enough alone, or responded with a "thanks for bringing this to our attention, it's a weekend, people are at cons, we'll get on this ASAP" (and, of course, pulled the product, but we covered that). He definitely shouldn't have gotten into weak-ass slippery slope arguments, but at that point I think we're just hyperfocusing; no good comes of arguing on Twitter while tensions are running high.

And then there's the response, which I linked up there. It's missing a clear apology from Steve for being dismissive on Twitter. It's missing an acknowledgement that products like this can cause real harm to trauma survivors, and there are a lot of those. It's missing the understanding that while championing free speech is a very fine thing indeed, that's not - has never been - what is happening here. It's adding, unnecessarily, a large amount of personal justification and (as Charles' little sister might have said, if you're a Tick fan) 'splaining about his position and about how the game isn't actually this or that.

DriveThru also didn't add in a real policy about all this, you'll notice. They just said, "we're going to continue to err on the side of inclusion, and add a report button to let people let us know when they find content offensive." I'm OK with that part; sure, it's not sufficiently strident about the product in question, but I think that ship has sailed anyway - if the author puts it back on the site, it'll be subjected to more scrutiny than most other products get. Following the post, we immediately got a lot of hand-wringing from what some folks call the "freeze peach" crowd (I'm not a fan of dismissive nicknames, regardless of who's using them, but I have to admit that "freeze peach" sounds funny), including a publisher sending out a message to previous customers gravely stating that his products were probably not long for the world and y'all should totally back them up right away (I agree with +David Hill; it sounded a lot like the familiar NRA "better buy your guns quick, the liberals are coming to steal them!" rhetoric). 

So what does all this mean? I've seen people on both "sides" of this debate (to be reductive, the people who are upset that DT is censoring at all in any way, and the people who feel they aren't censoring enough and fast enough) threaten to boycott DriveThru, or actually pull products off. I've also seen more moderate folks be very dismissive of both concerns. Where do I stand, both as a consumer and creator? I don't like to rush to judgment, partially because that's a good way to fall off a cliff and partially because I know I'm a suck for a narrative; I find myself agreeing with whatever I'm reading at the time, so it's doubly important for me to think critically later.

I don't want to see things on DT that are harmful to people. You might think that a book or a game can't be harmful (feel free to insert "it's just a game" or whatever, here, if you like). I don't agree. I do kind of feel that if you're susceptible to certain language or images to the point that you can sink into PTSD upon seeing them, then really you need to be responsible for your own safety...

...but then, it's really damn easy for me to say that, isn't it? I have things that trigger me, but not nearly to that extent, and not generally online. When something is far removed from own experience, I try to be a little more open to understanding it, because I know that human beings are really bad at grokking perspectives not their own. As a white man, especially, empathy is not something that's asked of me, but it's important to me, so I try to cultivate it.

It's important to me that people not be harmed, in general. If the cost of not doing harm is that someone doesn't get to upload a roleplaying game that's explicitly about sexual violence to a given marketplace, I really don't think that's too high a cost. Slippery slope arguments are, I think, specious.

So how should (back to "should") DriveThru proceed? Some folks have suggested that they hire people to read books, or at least blurbs. Some folks have opined that a community-focused approach is better. Some folks, of course, feel that "letting the market decide" is the best course of action; something that is offensive to the community at large just won't sell. This may or may not be true (I lean towards "not"), but it also doesn't address the whole "harm" thing.

What I think is that DriveThru's proposed approach - pay attention to the community, let them report problematic or offensive content, and err on the side of inclusive - is not going to do much to alleviate a situation very much like the one that just happened. I think that we'll get our first real test of that the next time someone tries to make a buck off being a martyr for some ill-conceived notion of "free speech" or "mature content," but until then I don't know the particulars.

I think DriveThru's approach has some holes, but I think it's something, it's (at least incremental) progress, and while I have reservations and I'm disappointed in their handling of all this, neither of those things are intense enough for me to want to stop buying product there, or to remove Growling Door's products from that marketplace.

So for the time being, I will continue to make games that strive to be inclusive, representative, non-exploitative, and non-harmful. I will continue to pay attention to people and consider what they're saying. And I will continue to sell my products on DriveThru.

If something happens to make me change that position, then I'll change it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Night's Black Agents: Monte Carlo, We Hardly Knew Ye

Don't worry, they didn't blow it up or anything.

So, the agents fled to Monte Carlo at the end of the last op. They did some gambling (mostly Fuchs), lounged on the beach (Parker and Benbow), and engaged in a little loan-sharking (Gambone). Hanover did some work as a restoration/art expert, as well. Things were looking up a bit.

And then, a couple of weeks after they go to Monte Carlo, Hanover and Fuchs caught a news report about a man who worked for the German IRS-equivalent, named Jens Kraut, who had been arrested in connection with a human trafficking ring. Jens, of course, is a friend and colleague of Fuchs.

The agents got together and started looking into this. Jens had been arrested by a Berlin anti-terrorism task force. Hanover did some digging and found he'd not been formally processed; he was in a black site somewhere in Berlin. Fuchs talked to the other agents and made it clear that this was a trap; they were trying to set him up. But Parker, in particular, was not OK with the idea of leaving an innocent man in the grasp of the conspiracy. Hanover verified that Jens' record had been doctored to make it look like he had started laundering money for some shady individuals, including a money trail leading back to Hi-Klass Escorts (which the characters had seen before). They decided to head to Berlin and try and rescue him, hopefully without dying.

Research and hacking indicated that they weren't going to find the black site through a computer; they needed to get boots on the ground, as it were. Gambone contacted Ava Kingsilver, his usual arms dealer, and had various instruments of death shipped to Parker's friend Marta in Berlin. They took the train up, collected their stuff, and got to work.

Fuchs contacted a Berlin agent named Kolt Engel, presenting himself as a German intelligence agent with some information about all of this. He arranged a meeting between himself, Engel, and another agent named Klara Schmidt (actually Benbow, using a connected cover). They set the meeting place, and had Parker on the nearby roof with a sniper rifle, Hanover in the van taking pictures, and Gambone in the room hiding.

As Engel arrived, two men in suits came to the roof. Parker rolled and hid in time, and noted that they were setting up a sniper's perch. She considered trying to take them out, but wasn't sure she could do it quietly and didn't want to blow the meeting. She hid instead.

Engel arrived and was quite affable. He talked about Jens and what he knew (which was that Jens would crack eventually). The "German agents" offered their services (and Fuchs used his MOS in Disguise to sell it). Engel agreed, and said he'd drive them.

The other agents followed Benbow and Fuchs (riding in Engel's car) to a nondescript site. The two undercovers took a freight elevator down into a big, dark, open room. Jens was cuffed to a chair, beaten and bloody, and said that he knew nothing about what he was accused of, he just wanted to go home.

Benbow (using her MOS in Preparedness) had a device to jam the surveillance stuff in the room. Fuchs revealed himself to Jens, opened his cuffs, and immobilized Engel with a flashbang. They started up the elevator. Fortunately, the flashbangs were custom made by Gambone and they sent him a text when they went off. Tipped that shit was going down, Parker shot at the guards to distract them, and Gambone snuck in. He saw three dudes with guns trained on the elevator, and tossed in an explosive.

The elevator arrived, and Benbow, Fuchs, and Jens saw three dead people and the aftermath of an explosion. They ran out and got in the van, and Benbow switched seats with Hanover (since she's the better driver). They took off through the streets of Berlin, but managed to lose their pursuers.

They decided to head to Dresden to lay low for a while. This op is most certainly not over.

And while I'm at it...


We had a quick session last night; I was really tired and having trouble focusing. 

Memorial Day came. Maia went out with Ryan, but failed to convince him to take the next day off work. Miriana worked at the zoo, John hung out with Tyler.

The next day, Miriana went to work and found the police had corralled some of the head honchos about something. She happened to be standing there totally not eavesdropping when they came out, and asked her to fetch Janos, a keeper who worked with reptiles. She followed him into the room and saw pictures of a dead and dismembered body; they wanted Janos to identify the bite marks. 

Looking green, Janos said they weren't reptilian - maybe an eel, but they were too big. The body was found in Edgewater Park, though, and not a lot of marine eels in Lake Erie (or sharks, for that matter). 

Meanwhile, Tyler had put up wanted posters showing Dillon's picture and asking for more information. During that day, Carlos (one of the hunters they'd seen  practicing with bats) along with the female hunter whose name they hadn't caught came into his shop. They talked about Dillon a bit; Tyler said the guy was vandalizing his story, but wasn't sure why. Carlos seemed to buy that, and said he'd keep an eye out. 

The characters got together and Miriana told them about her day. They decided to head to Edgewater Park - perhaps they has something to do with the Chamber Maia found in the sunken boat. We shall find out next time.