Thursday, January 29, 2015

Promethean, late again, dammit

In my defense, I'm busy as hell this week.

So! Last time, the characters were leaving lunch with Devon Parker. They'd made arrangements to go to a Cubs game together, mostly at Feather's prompting (Feather is all about Community, and she wanted to show the characters what she was talking about). So they got bleacher seats, and watched people a bit.

Matt saw a woman in a boxed seat that he thought he recognized. He wandered around a bit, and she spotted him, and thought he was James Canaday (the actor who previously used his body). He wasn't, of course, so they just chatted a bit, and parted ways.

Avalon noted a drunk man having a great time; dancing and otherwise being loud and exuberant. She talked with the throng about people being drunk, and wondered if that was an option for her. Feather said it might be, but ball park beer wasn't the way to find out (it was too expensive, for one).

Grimm just missed a foul ball, but it fell down into the park, a few feet away from him.

Enoch noted Avalon and Grimm on the kiss-cam, and the throng razzed them until they smooched. The crowd cheered.

Feather did the wave, and at least some of the throng participated.

When the game let out, they shuffled out of Wrigley (Feather having regained Willpower through her Elpis of Community), and split up for the night. Matt, feeling his Torment (Uncertainty) building, decided to wander. Avalon had a date with Emil Handley, the artist, in his room at the Drake. Feather decided to go down into the subway tunnels and leave a note for Max Maury, and Enoch and Grimm joined her.

Avalon's Date: Avalon got into the suite at the Drake, and found that Emil had put sheets up and was painting, messily. He was also fairly high. He invited her to put on a smock and start painting. He looked at her work, and said that while her technique was pretty amazing (there's pointillism and then there's Avalon), he said she was painting things, not feelings or ideas. She wanted to know how to get away from that. His advice; mescaline. She wound up taking a lot, and eventually it hit her all at once (she finally failed the roll and took a Beat for a dramatic failure). Avalon didn't remember much of the following couple of hours, just that everything was colors. And then she was finished, and there was a painting there, something abstract that she didn't recognize.

Emil asked her about it, and she wasn't sure what it was...and then he turned it upside down, and there was Ysolde's face. Emil asked if she would sell that painting, and Avalon said she probably wouldn't sell it, but might gift it. Selling it would cheapen it, but giving it would be love. Emil offered her the bathtub to wash off the paint.

The Subway: Grimm, Feather, and Enoch went down into the tunnels, and found a gargoyle. Feather handed him the note for Max, and he scampered off into the dark. Grimm used the Chimera Distillation to turn into a rat and followed, stealthily keeping his distance, crawling through rooms with skeletal bodies, until they reached the entrance to the Undercity. Max peeled himself out of the wall, read the note, and then touched it and sniffed it. He hissed, and thousands of rats appeared, sitting in front of him. Grimm followed suit, and watched. Max asked the assembled rats (obviously aware that one of them wasn't a rat) if someone was there, in the Undercity looking for answers in the dark. Grimm did not reveal himself, but when Max dismissed the rats, he fled back to the others, and told them what he'd seen.

This, conveniently, fulfilled the milestone of Track a target without being seen, then report back to another party, which is also his milestone for the Stalker Role. He decided to switch to the Sage Role, and finish out Cuprum (which means I need a milestone for that before next session; mental note).

Matt's Wandering: Matt went wandering, and found an old, burned-out house. He thought about going in, then went back to the shelter, then changed his mind (when the player realized that I was only going to dangle so many hooks in front of his face before I switch over to the players that were biting). He entered the house, and realized that the place had been struck by lightning multiple times. He found a stone staircase and headed down, and found chains and shackles. He also found a man in the corner, completely unresponsive. He tried to rouse the guy, and heard people coming down the stairs. "He's in the k-hole, yo" one of them said. Matt tried to ask what that meant, and the dude punched him in the face.

Matt fought back, but these guys were flying on something and of course they had him outnumbered. He considered dropping back into Stannum (and thus getting immediate access to the Arc Alembic), but chose instead to jack his Strength up with Pyros. He grabbed a length of chain, wrapped it around his hand, and punched one, bursting his nose. One of the other guys pulled a knife and stabbed him, but he's a Promethean, so it didn't slow him. He socked that guy and dislocated his jaw, and they thugs ran off. But Matt had spent all his Pyros (which is a milestone for him)...and his fire went out.

Across the city, the other characters felt Matt's fire fail. Yes, he was still alive, but his Azoth guttered. Avalon got dressed and left Emil, explaining she had something to do. She called Feather, and Feather used her Unspoken Communication Distillation to find Avalon, and then Matt.

And we left off with the four of them standing in front of that house.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Promethean Notes

Holy cats. So busy. Very frazzle.

Space, space....

....space...

OK!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Board Game: Apples to Apples

The Game: Apples to Apples
The Publisher: Originally Out of the Box, now Mattel
Time: Depends how many players; 20 minutes to an hour
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Cheyenne Rae Grimes+Jonathan McFarland, Teagan, Cael, Morgan Lesch


Game Play: Simple enough. Everyone gets seven red cards, which have nouns on them: Charging Rhinos, JFK, Rain, Rust, Worms, My Prom (where "my" refers to the person taking the current turn). When it's your turn, you draw a green card (which has an adjective: Scary, Weird, etc.). Everyone picks a red card that exemplifies that adjective, and the judge for that turn determines which card (not knowing whose is whose) wins. The judge gives the green card to the winner, which acts as the score.

Lack of pop culture historical knowledge is somethings a hindrance to Cael. 
The judge can use whatever criteria they want to choose a card; strictly speaking you aren't supposed to pick antonyms, but whatever. Anyway, I think the official rules say you go until someone has five green cards, but that can take forever. We usually go X rounds and then highest score wins.

Teagan wins the "Cute" card. Cheyenne wins "Sno-cone."
Opinions: I like Apples to Apples well enough, but I've played with people who are just fucking tedious to play with. They either use the most slavishly literal methods of choosing cards, or they pick things based on the weirdest criteria. Weird is fine, but if you're picking "Ebola" for "Cute," something is wrong.

Fortunately, this game wasn't like that, though it was interesting how many cards Cael won by just randomly picking a red card, since he often didn't know who the people on the cards were.

It's a good game to get to know people, and a lot less likely to cause fistfights than its nasty clone, Cards Against Humanity (which I have not played and have no interest in playing), but once you do get to know people, you know their trumps. "Pigs" is one of mine.

What? Pigs are funny.

Keep? Sure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Movie #299: Attack the Block

Attack the Block is a sci-fi horror movie starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Leeon Jones, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, and Nick Frost.

On Guy Fawkes' Day, a gang of kids from "the Ends," a fictional south London block, are roaming their neighborhood making trouble. They mug a nurse named Sam (Whittaker), and shortly thereafter what seems to be a meteor flattens a car nearby. They investigate, and their leader, Moses (Boyega) is attacked by a small but vicious alien creature.

They follow it and kick it to death, and stow it in the armor "weed room" of their friend Ron (Frost) and drug dealer Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). But then more aliens land...and these aliens are gorilla-sized and full of nasty teeth.

The kids fight back as best they can, fall back into the building, and lose a couple of their number. They eventually figure it out; the first thing they killed was a female leave a scent trail for the larger males to follow.

I really enjoyed this movie. It's a well-done horror movie; there are some scenes with some nice tension, and the monsters are a nice mix between monstrous and alien. The protagonists are kids, and that's relevant to me, and the movie doesn't really pull punches with making the risk real - two of the kids die, and we don't have the "out" of having the kids that die be kids that were especially violent to Sam. Moses has a few poignant moments (he theorizes that the government sent these monsters in to kill black boys, since they weren't killing each other fast enough, which in light of current events is somewhat topical), and the Block and the surrounding area is well-realized and, by the end of the movie, familiar. Sam, also, acts as our POV character in some places, a voice of reason in others - she lives in the Block, but she's not from there, and she clearly doesn't get how it works.

But at the same time, "that's how it works here" isn't an out. Moses' friends point our that actions have consequences - Moses is arrested for mugging Sam, and he learns that it was his insistence on killing the first alien that made the rest of them attack.

All in all, good stuff, one of the better recent horror movies I've seen.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next Up: Idiocracy

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pro-freaking-methean

Upon reflection on Monday's game, two things are apparent.

First, I need to do the write-up on Tuesday. No fuckin' about. 

Second, I need to make shit happen in this story. There's a lot of cool stuff going on under the scenes, but this particular group is not the most pro-active in the world, and I know that, so it's time to have ninjas attack. 

Anyway! Last time was quite a while ago, and ended with the characters meeting up with the vampiric Prince of Chicago. They stated heading back to the apartment, but then figured that if they were being followed by vampiric agents (because they don't trust vampires, which is both a reasonable position and a change from the last time I ran Promethean), then maybe they should sleep in different areas. Enoch and Feather headed back to the apartment, while Matt hit up a church shelter and Grimm got a cheap motel room. Avalon broke into the Wrigley building and slept up in the clock tower, soaking up some sweet, sweet Pyros. 

At the apartment, Feather made use of her Autonomic Control Distillation to stay awake all night. She watched the door, and in the middle of the night heard something rattling. She lurked by the door, and it opened, but nothing happened - perhaps whatever had been trying to break in had heard her? 

In the morning, Feather informed Enoch of the events, and the throng met back up at a diner to plan their day. 

Grimm wanted to go find a garage and see if he could learn about fixing cars. Matt figured he'd head to the Pier and mingle a bit. Avalon wanted to go to the museum and meet Emil Handley, the artist. Enoch, of course, needed to make a lunch day with Devon Parker. Feather, trying to embrace her intended Role as Bodyguard, figured she'd guard one of the others, and chose Enoch. 

Matt went to the Pier and wandered amongst the teeming masses of humanity. He heard yells and saw a boy running with a purse, chased by a security guard. He tackled the kid and knocked him down, and gave the purse back to its owner. The kid was dirty and ragged, the woman clean and well-off.

Grimm found a garage that looked busy and understaffed. The owner agreed to show him some things if he could keep up. He managed, eventually, to learn a few things and buy a dot of Crafts (and fulfill an Aspiration of learning to fix a car), but it was a hard-fought battle; he failed a bunch of rolls and got a lot of oil in the face.

Avalon met Emil, the artist, and they chatted about techniques and she bought one of his prints. He revealed his inspiration - mescaline. He offered to show her later that night, and she agreed to meet him.

Enoch called Parker's secretary and both got added to the reservation at a high-end restaurant. Parker also sent a car for them. They arrived, got seated (with some looks, since Feather wasn't dressed appropriately), and talked with Parker. Once he ascertained that Feather knew something about alchemy, he proceeded to completely ignore her, but talked to Enoch about the Pristine Order, Charles Rivers, and the strange formulae that he had made.

Now, Enoch knew that this formula was to do alchemical preparations without Vitriol, but Parker didn't seem to know that term. Instead, he impressed upon Enoch the value of joining up, not just for the wealth and power that alchemy promised, but the ability to talk with other, like-minded and similarly educated folks.

During all this, Feather took note of his bodyguards, sitting at another table. At one point, a waiter took their glasses, and the bodyguard got up and followed the waiter. Feather followed him and watched as he paid off the waiter and took the glasses, presumably to run fingerprints.

The lunch ended, and Enoch said he'd think about joining - Parker invited him to join him as his club later. Feather, once they were outside, told him about the glasses. What would happen if they ran the Prometheans' prints? Neither were sure - they didn't know what these bodies had done pre-Divine Fire.

Next time, perhaps we'll find out. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Board Game: Cyclades

We were supposed to play Spark the other night, but schedules conflicted and we wound up playing a board game instead.

The Game: Cyclades
The Publisher: Asmodee
Time: An hour, more or less
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland+Cheyenne Rae Grimes+John Mathys+Matthew Karafa

Setting up Greece.
Cyclades has players trying to conquer the Greek island, currying the favor of the gods and building various structures toward making a Metropolis. First player to two Metropoli wins!

Every turn, you get some money based on how many island you own. You can then bid on how much money you want to spend sacrificing to a god of your choice, but other folks can outbid you. Money totals are kept hidden behind a screen, so you can't ever be sure how much money everyone is packing (unless, y'know, you pay close attention to what everyone spends and what they take in).

Different gods have different favors. Poseidon gives you ships and lets you move your fleet.

This Poseidon, though, just brings you shoes. 
Ares gives you troops, Athena gives you philosophers (which can be traded in for a Metropolis, if you get enough of them), Zeus gives you priests, and if you can't manage to bid on anyone else, you can make a sacrifice to Apollo, who doesn't cost anything and gives you more money back.

The Known World.
Into the mix we have monsters. Every turn, a new monster comes out, and during your turn you can "buy" them. They have various effects - some hang around and fight for you (more on that in a moment), some let you move troops or other resources. But the order of the gods changes every turn, so you've got to be aware of what the monsters are and whether you can buy them, and in what order you can act based on what god you bid on .

There's a lot that goes into this game, including battle - troops fight troops, ships fight ships, it works much like Risk. But you win by building (or conquering) Metropolis. Since what you can do on a given turn is limited by what god you can buy, though, what seems to be a forgone conclusion about victory really isn't. We thought John was going to win because he completed a Metropolis first, but then we didn't him build the second one and Matt and Michelle wound up tying for the win.

Our victors, the Thebans and the...Bingy-bangians. 
Opinions: This was actually a lot of fun. It's a game you have to pay attention to - lots of moving parts, and yet once you know the flow it goes very easily. In a less-than-five-player game, you don't get every god every turn, and it would be interesting to see how that changes the dynamic (can't just say "oh, well, I'll bid on Athena next turn" since she might not be there next turn).

The game itself is also really pretty - the troops and ships are little plastic figures, and some of the monsters (the ones that do things on the board) have plastic figures, too.

Look carefully, you'll see the Minotaur on my island in the top right.
Keep? Heck, yes. There's an expansion, too, that I might pick up.

Movie #298: The Island at the Top of the World

The Island at the Top of the World is a Disney film from the year I was born (1974, if you're interested). It's based on a novel by Ian Cameron (not Jules Verne, though it sure feels like it) and stars David Hartman, Donald Sinden, Mako, Jacques Marin, David Gwillim, and Agenta Eckemyr.

We open with Dr. Ivarsson (Hartman) being recruited by Sir Anthony Ross (Sinden) to join an expedition to find his missing son, Donald (Gwillim). Turns out Donald jumped on the chance to go on an expedition to find the titular island, but then he disappeared. Ivarsson, an archaeologist, is too intrigued to say no, so they set off in a dirigible piloted by Captain Brieux (Marin), and they're off!

They arrive in the Arctic Circle, and find a fort with a bunch of "Eskimos," including Donald's friend Oomilak (Mako), who says he was taken by evil spirits. They set off again in the airship (after tricking poor Oomilak aboard), and Oomilak, Ross, and Ivarsson get dumped into a strange paradise inhabited by Vikings.

Yeah, it's pretty weird.

So they find Donald and his lady-love, a local woman named Freya (Eckemyr), and they go about escaping, and then they drift back, and then they escape again but Ivarsson stays behind because he gets to observe history, because the Vikings haven't really progressed at all in 1200 years.

There are some good points to the movie. I like how Ross is ruthless in his quest to rescue his adult son, and the history between them is never really dwelt on, but obviously important enough to both of them that they need to hash it out. I like that Ross immediately approves of his son's girlfriend and is willing to stay in Viking-land to take his place so they can leave. In general the characters are capable and, if not entirely perfect, then relatable. There are no female characters worth talking about; Freya gets some lines and scenes, but she's mostly just Girlfriend, so that's a thing. Likewise, Oomilak is largely played for laughs, but Mako does a good job of having his fear and hurt upon being lured onto the airship come through.

The movie ends once, and then goes on for another 25 minutes, so that's kind of blah. But in general, it's a light and mostly harmless, and rather dated, kids' adventure movie. And my kids seemed to enjoy it, so that's cool.

My Grade: B
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Attack the Block

Friday, January 9, 2015

Vampire: Graves in the Desert Conclusion

Monday was the conclusion of our Vampire: The Requiem story. It was...pretty grim.

Last time, recall, Delphine, her father Richard, her girlfriend Rachel, Mordecai, and Myra were in the room at Binion's (Heath was in his office arranging things). Rachel, having just had the truth about vampires revealed to her and not quite believing it, stormed out. Delphine followed her...and saw her grandfather appear from around the corner.

She lunged forward, grabbed Rachel and shoved her behind her, and faced her grandfather...but the man vanished like smoke. Delphine turned around and saw Rachel was gone. She used Auspex to view the event from a different perspective, and realized that the "grandfather" she'd seen had been an illusion...but that the real one had sand on his arms.

Terrified, she grabbed the others and told them they needed to head to the desert again. Heath agreed (having backed up his files and prepared the casino for burning).

They drove out to the desert, and en route Richard told them a little more about what they were up against. He spoke of shadowy beings called Strix, spirits that hated the Kindred and could possess their bodies...as well as those of living people. He said that he wasn't sure how to kill them, other than burn them. Mordecai asked what exactly the plan was, and Heath said they were going to drop off Richard and Delphine and get the hell away. This wasn't their fight.

They arrived at the gravesite. The bodies they'd extracted had been dug up - plus four more, two adults and two children. Mordecai looked through the man's body, and found a wallet and an ID - his name was Edward Paternak, and he was from Orangeburg, NY - just as Mordecai was. He tried to remind the man's face, but couldn't, though it looked strangely similar to his. He noted that all four people - man, woman, two children - had been shot, and they'd been here for years.

Delphine looked at the area using Auspex, and saw her grandfather standing there, forcing Rachel to dig. Her hands were ruined and bleeding. And then he grabbed the shovel away from her and told her to run, and she did, away into the desert.

Just then, the characters saw movement at the SUV - a slight, Asian vampire. Mo Fuji. She opened the back of the SUV and lit the Molotov cocktails, and tossed one in.

Delphine ran over to her, while Heath shot at her. Mordecai disappeared with Obfuscate and started creeping up. Delphine reached Mo and grappled with her, eventually overpowering her and throwing her into the fire. The SUV burned and Mo crumbled to nothing (and Delphine lost Humanity).

And then a flow of smoke, and grandfather appeared, over near Myra. He smacked her in the head, dropping her into torpor (remember, she was pretty badly dinged up). Heath ran. Mordecai snuck over, invisibly, but grandfather apparently saw through it and snarled. Richard engaged him, and Delphine screamed for Rachel. Grandfather vanished, having beat Richard into torpor as well.

Heath, meanwhile, made it to the highway and found Rachel sitting there. He tried to comfort her, but Nosferatu aren't the best at that. A car pulled up, and Heath intended to steal it, but the driver turned out to be Roberto. Hearing that Myra was in danger, he ran to get her, taking the keys. Rachel, hearing Delphine was there, followed. Heath, figuring "fuck it," hot-wired the car and drove off, heading back to Vegas.

Back at the gravesite, Mordecai picked up Myra, probably figuring to get her out of the area, but Roberto found them and saw through the Obfuscate (probably via blood sympathy on Myra). Delphine and Rachel found each other, and Delphine, desperate, Embraced her.

Now stuck in the desert with two vampires in torpor, one with very little blood, and the sun rising soon, they decided to bury themselves in the graves and try and get home the next night.

Heath arrived in Vegas to find Binion's in flames. His cell phone rang - Delphine?

"Hello, Heath," said grandfather. "I want you to do something."

"What?" said Heath.

"Take credit for this," he said. "For these graves in the desert. Don't mention me to anyone. I was never here."

Heath agreed, and hung up.

Meanwhile, in the desert, grandfather, the Strix, sat on the fresh graves holding his son and grandaughter (also his childe, grandchilde, and great-grandchile). "What to do," he said, swirling the sand, "what to do."

Fin.

And the letter:

Dearest Bartholomew,

Two years had passed since the Week of Roses and the OK Corral Tournament, and Kindred society was normalizing. Clans resurfaced, the natural stagnation of the Kindred coming to the fore. And yet, something had changed, something that none of us truly understood.

It was November 2008 when Lori and Ben Dennis died in the parking lot of the Downtown Grand. Suspicion initially fell on Mordecai Pasternak, the Kindred owner and proprietor of the nearby Mob Museum, but the evidence and the support of Heath Newman shifted it. The deaths were not a special concern - people die in Vegas frequently - but the couple's 4-month-old son vanished, and that whipped the city into a frenzy. Tourists with children stopped going out at night, and stopped spending money, and no one, Kindred or mortal, would stand for that.

The story of that baby's disappearance is prosaic. The discoveries that it led to, however, were of a more personal nature than many of the tales I've recounted. And yet, as I watched a piece of Old Vegas burn some time later, I remember thinking that if I could see what I'd seen, know what I knew, and still feel some stirring of grief for those lost, then perhaps I would always be at least somewhat human.

It began, as I said, with the disappearance of a baby. On the night of November 21st, 2008, Martin Rossini's Sheriff, Thomas Pilate, entered Binion's, and sat down for a game of poker...

...Binion's burned on November 24, 2008. Twenty-six people died in that fire, and many more were injured. Heath Newman withdrew from his position as a Harpy thereafter, retiring to his other casino and firing the Kindred he had on staff. Rumor has it he intended to pursue his studies as one of the Ordo Dracul, and such had been his ambition for a long time.

I have heard, however, that he made a trek to the desert, to a lonely place where the sands hold mournful secrets, and when he went to the desert, he had four other Kindred with him. He returned alone. What did he bury out there in the sand? What do the graves in the desert hold? What stories untold, ambitions forever unfulfilled?

We make the mistake, Bartholomew, of believing ourselves immortal just because we do not die. But we do not have the time that we think we do, and in that respect, if no other, we are still quite human.

Yours as always,
-M"

Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie #297: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a Baz Luhrmann film, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, and Joel Edgerton. I may be one of the only people in existence who came up through the US public education system and didn't read the book, so my opinions are based solely on the film.

The story starts at a sanitarium, where Nick Carraway (Maguire) is disgustedly telling his woes to a doctor. He used to work in New York, and then something happened to sour him on all of humanity. He recounts the story of the summer he lived in a cottage across the river from the opulent home of his cousin, Daisy (Mulligan) and her loutish husband Tom (Edgerton). Carraway gets sucked into the fun of drinking and sex; Tom takes him to meet his mistress Myrtle (Fisher) and her sister Catherine (Adelaide Clemens) and they all hit it off.

But then Nick meets Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), the reclusive and immensely wealthy guy living in the freaking castle next door. He wants to meet Daisy for tea; turns out he used to date her some years back, and wants to reconnect now. And then things just spiral out of control, like they do; the truth about Gatsby slowly comes to light (he was poor but felt it was his destiny to rise; he served in the Army, left Daisy because he was broke, and eventually made his money bootlegging and running with gangsters). Daisy refuses to stand up to her husband to Gatsby's liking, tragedy ensues, Daisy runs Myrtle down by accident and her husband, assuming it was Gatsby and that he'd been having the affair with Myrtle, shoots Gatsby dead.

Ain't no party like a Gatsby party, as they say, because a Gatsby party don't stop until two people are dead and everyone's disillusioned with the Jazz Age in general.

This is a Luhrmann film, which means it's fucking gorgeous. The sets are extravagant, the costumes are amazing, and the music is anachronistic, a mix of jazz and hip hop and dance and so forth. Much as in Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann doesn't let a little thing like accuracy get in the way of the story, and it works perfectly - the music conveys the feel and the ambiance in a way that's accessible.

The performances, likewise, are good; Maguire is really awesome at being a wide-eyed everyman, and conveying Carraway's "outsider" status even when he's in the middle of everything. Mulligan is perfect as Daisy, who's fucking useless as a human being (to me, any question of her being redeemable evaporates very early in the movie when Carraway asks about her daughter and she responds with this kind of "oh, yeah, I have one of those, let's go get drunk" thing). DiCaprio as the titular Gatsby manages to be cool and suave until Daisy shows up, at which point he starts to unravel and never quite comes together again. And Edgerton as Tom Buchanan also has his moments of freak-out, but stays controlled behind his money and privilege.

And, of course, Luhrmann uses his famous sweeping shots, making you feel like you're flying through large parts of the movie. It's a pretty heady experience, and I sort of wish I'd seen it in theaters.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next Up; The Island at the Top of the World

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Monsterhearts: Brief and Brutal

That's more like it. :)

Last time, you might recall, Genesis had just zipped out of class following her brother enrolling at the same school. Her brother, Bastion, went and sat down next to Briar. Briar introduced him to the other PCs (and Austin), and he revealed he was Genesis' brother. Erika went to find Genesis (she was in the bathroom) and talked her down a bit.

Genesis, for her part, was happy to see Bastion, but afraid for him - the surface world was dangerous. She came back to class and everyone chatted a bit. Bastion was just as naive and clueless as Genesis had been during season one (Genesis: "Was this what it was like with me?" Briar: "Yes."). He'd left his pelt in his locker, and revealed to the others that if someone takes a selkie's pelt, they can make the selkie do things (which the other PCs hadn't really known).

They talked a bit out the family; Bastion mentioned that their father had been to the surface in his younger days and thus couldn't return, but that their mother never had. Genesis paused a bit, wondering what kind of shenanigans her father had gotten up to on his "semester at land."

Classes progressed. During choir, Bastion sang scales and the whole school stopped to listen. Genesis told him he'd probably need to fend people off with a stick. He seemed confused.

Psych class rolled around, and Genesis warned Bastion about Mr. Baron - he was trouble and he had her pelt. And then he walked in and greeted Bastion; apparently he'd helped Bastion get classes set up and so forth (which explained how it had happened so easily).

Cassi gazed into the abyss looking for information on the lighthouse. She saw Baron sending Genesis to the lighthouse, with a being of smoke with glowing eyes standing behind him, watching. But when Genesis got there, she couldn't get in - the door was locked.

The lesson in class that day was on split-brain surgery, and Cassi went up and asked Baron some inane question about seeing a lighthouse out of one eye and what part of the brain would perceive it. Baron said, "Oh, the lighthouse. I didn't think of that. Thanks. Extra credit." Cassi sat down, realizing that she might have fucked up.

Bastion left during class to get his pelt, but didn't come back. After class, Skylar and Genesis went to look for him. Skylar found him in the pool - in sea lion form. She told him that changing forms at school might be unwise, and he changed back and went to dry off. Skylar attempted to turn him on, but failed, and Genesis arrived to get everyone to lunch.

Meanwhile, Erika went to Dora's old sanctum, and contacted Chantico, using her strings attached move to find a way to get Genesis' pelt back. The goddess said that it would give her the means to summon Balam, a servant of hers, that night. Erika found a slim, leather book in her locker with instructions.

At the lunch table, the characters discussed their predicament. They knew that Baron had Genesis' pelt, and they knew that this lighthouse contained...something related to Rook. Cassi wanted to get it back, and drew a picture of the lighthouse from her visions. They all went to the library to go to the books, and learned where the lighthouse was - not far off the coast, and at low tide it was possible to walk there (though it was difficult). They decided to go out to the beach; Ash, Briar, and Cassi would go check out the lighthouse, while Erika would perform her spell and Austin, Genesis, Bastion, and Skylar stayed with her.

At the lighthouse, Ash used casting the bones for Cassi. They saw the key open the lighthouse door, and a blast of frigid air hit them. Inside were shelves made from ice, holding dozens of crystal eggs. Each one, as Cassi reached for it, revealed Rook trapped inside...but which one was the real Rook?

Further down the beach, Erika built a fire and cast her spells. A jaguar made of smoke appeared. She told it that someone had Genesis' pelt, and they wanted it to retrieve it. The cat pounced on Bastion and bit into his skull.

Erika tried to shut it down, but failed. The cat crushed the back of Bastion's head, mortally wounding him. Genesis used ocean's breath, and the ocean responded, exploding up from behind them and smashing a wave down on the beach. It took Balam and the fire out to sea, but Bastion was dying. Genesis tried to hold steady and failed; another wave crashed on the beach, inflicting more Harm. Erika tried to hold steady, too, but failed and was swept out to sea.

Down the beach, Briar saw the wave and ran, realizing that Austin was with them. She got there and called for him, but found him down the beach, nearly drowned. She held steady and helped him up and get back to the others.

Skylar, having seen Erika get pulled out to sea, used dissipate to fly through the water to find her. Skylar held steady, and carried Erika back to shore (and got to mark Experience for saving her, since she's the infernal).

On the way back, Briar heard someone call her name. Mr. Baron stood there on the edge of the beach, and held Bastion's backpack out to Briar. She lashed out physically and knocked him down.

On the beach, Genesis tried to comfort her dying brother. He had a pelt clasped in his hand - hers. "Traded," he gasped, before dying. Genesis knelt there on the beach, weeping over Bastion, and Ash came to comfort her.

Baron picked himself up and handed Briar the backpack. In it was Bastion's pelt. "I brought this out of respect for him," said Baron. "He traded it to me for Genesis' pelt."

"If you hadn't taken her pelt, this wouldn't have happened," Briar spat back.

"How far back shall we go?" said Baron. "If Rook hadn't stolen my key, this wouldn't have happened." Briar didn't have a good answer for that. "Before you go trying to open that lighthouse, you need to get the smoke off your fingers. That thing - you know her as 'Chantico' - has her hooks in you all." And with that, he turned and walked off.

(Fun fact: Briar bought Unholy Allies this session.)

Back on the beach, the characters stripped off Bastion's clothes and wrapped him in his pelt. A woman, clad only in a pelt, walked up out of the water - their mother. She knelt down and looked at Genesis, who said she had some things to take care of here, but then she'd be home. And then their mother picked Bastion up and carried him back into the water.

End Credits: "Time," Tori Amos (originally by Tom Waits)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Movie #296: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is the final Iron Man movie (so far, though Downey Jr. is apparently wibbly on how much more he wants to do; Marvel might decide to give someone else a shot - I'd love a War Machine movie, frankly), and stars Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ty Simpkins, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Rebecca Hall.

Stark (Downey Jr.) is more reflective this time out; the events of The Avengers kind of messed with him. Suffering from panic attacks and insomnia, he spends his nights building new suits of armor. Pepper Potts (Paltrow), now his girlfriend and living with him, is also running his company, and his friend and former bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, not directing this time) is head of security.

The world has its own problems - a terrorist called the Mandarin (Kingsley) is blowing things up all over the US, and apparently SHIELD hasn't figured out how to find him (SHIELD is in fact entirely absent from this movie, and since this is before Captain America: The Winter Soldier I kinda think that's a bit of a plot hole). Meanwhile, Aldrich Killian (Pearce), director of Advanced Idea Mechanics, is trying to get funding from Stark to finish his "hack the body" program called Extremis. And Stark's buddy Rhodes (Cheadle) has been rebranded as the Iron Patriot, and kind of takes over the "police the world" thing that Iron Man used to do.

Of course we know the big twist - Mandarin isn't Mandarin, he's a British actor and something of an idiot, hired to be the bad guy by Killian, who is actually the Mandarin (kind of). After an attack on his house, Stark winds up in Tennessee befriending a young boy (Simpkins) and investigating the "bombings," and does a Lethal Weapon-style raid on Killian's compound before a climactic showdown on a boat with lots of Iron Man suits.

I'm conflicted about this movie. On the one hand, I like it. Everyone is comfortable in their roles, and it doesn't feel like a retread of the first movies (if anything it feels like a retread of Lethal Weapon 2; same director, and we'll get to the L's). Some things - Stark's fixation on the Battle of New York, the way other characters note that in the post-Avengers world, things are different - make it feel very much like an MCU movie. But again, the problem I have is: Where is SHIELD? I'm fine with Stark not being able to call up Cap or Thor for help; they have their own shit going on. But where is Romanoff? Where's Fury? They don't need to show up, but their absence might have been explained a little better, especially in light of the Mandarin kidnapping the President. It feels like they wanted the movie centered on Stark again, but the world has gotten big enough that it's hard to arrange that without some deft maneuvering, and I think there were some missteps here.

But, the effects are good. There are some nice emotional beats, though a lot of them (Happy Hogan getting put into a coma, Potts briefly getting superpowers) get lost in the general chaos. A lot of later superhero movies make the mistake of putting in too many villains, and I don't think that's the problem here. I thin the villains make sense, but the movie is messy thematically. Of the MCU movies, I think it's the weakest. (So, still good, just not as good.)

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next Up: The Great Gatsby

Board Game: Paranormal Investigation

It's actually a card game, but why split hairs? I got this game from a Kickstarter a while back. I have to say, as Kickstarters go, it was pretty smooth, start to finish.

The Game: Paranormal Investigation
The Publisher: Touch Paper Press
Time: 10 minutes or so
Players: Me, +Michelle Lyons-McFarland, Al, and Will

Will decided to LARP this, for some reason. 
The basic idea here is that you're playing paranormal investigators, each of whom has an agenda and an affiliation. Your agenda determines your win condition; the Fraud just wants to lose all his cards, while the Skeptic wants to uncover the Rational Explanation Mystery cards. Your affiliation gives you a way to break the rules a bit. I played the Fraud and was affiliated with the Church (which seemed a bit on the nose), so I could peek at a Mystery card every time a Poltergeist card came out (I think; I don't have the cards in front of me).

Setup.
You play evidence cards on the face-down Mysteries; once they hit a certain number, they flip. At the start of the game you get to peek at one or two, so you might know which ones you need to reveal to win or which one your opponents need. You can also discredit other people's evidence, or send Poltergeists out to just wreck everything (which means "pass cards to either side").

A Mystery revealed.
Opinions: I'm actually really happy with this game. It's simple to learn, but the varying combinations of agenda and affiliation give it replayability. The artwork is nicely evocative and not overblown; reminds me a little of Lunch Money. And, again, these guys ran their Kickstarter really well - they didn't overdo it, and they shipped on time. Glad I backed.

Keep? Yep.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Movie #295: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 is, of course, the sequel to Iron Man, and stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Picking up some time after the events of Iron Man, we find that Stark (Downey Jr.) has continued his campaign of protecting America from foreign powers. He claims to have privatized world peace, and that other countries are years away from developing arc reactor tech, even though rival weapons designer Justin Hammer (Rockwell) seems to be helping them. But for all that, Stark is having trouble; he's dying from the element used to power his heart magnet, and acts reckless and carelessly. He makes his assistant Pepper (Paltrow) the CEO of his company, and jumps in a race car because what the heck. He is then attacked by a man called Ivan Vanko (Rourke) using tech similar to his, and learns that Vanko's father was a contemporary of Howard Stark.

Rockwell and Vanko go in together to try and destroy Stark, but really Stark's worst enemy is himself. Finally SHIELD shows up, in the personage of Nick Fury (Jackson) and a woman who, till now, had been acting as Stark's assistant Natalie (Johansson). They give him enough information to finish one of his father's projects, creating a new element (which isn't named, which is a missed opportunity) and Stark is back in the game! Just in time for he and his buddy Rhodes (Cheadle), now wearing a modified Iron Man armor, to trounce Vanko and his Hammer-built drones.

A couple of flimsy plot points aside (how did Vanko know that Tony would be driving at the Grand Prix?), it's a solid movie. It picks up where the first one leaves off and delves into the same themes and tones, but also takes us deeper into the MCU in general. SHIELD isn't a pervasive presence, but they're there, and we get to see Coulson (Clark Gregg) on assignment again, being nicely professional. Rourke is appropriately brutal as Vanko (although apparently his Russian sucks; I wouldn't know), and Rockwell is fun in a reimagining of Justin Hammer.

There's a lot of collateral damage in this movie, which I kind of wish would get addressed at some point; it never really does, not in this or Avengers, but then, it also never reaches the level of disaster porn that Man of Steel hits, either. All in all, it's a solid continuation of the story.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next up: Iron Man 3

Board Game: Alea Iacta Est

Michelle and I played this game the other day, so I took some pictures!

The Game: Alea Iacta Est
The Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Time: 20-30 minutes
Players: Me and +Michelle Lyons-McFarland

We were looking for a game that works with two players. There are games that are designed for that kind of play, and games that technically can be played two-player, but work better with more. This is one of the latter games.

Setup.
In this game, you're playing Roman emperors trying to amass power and fame. You can do this by taking over provinces, bribing senators, praying to the gods of fortune (this doesn't happen in a two-player game, so I'm not sure how it works), and yapping in the forum. How do you do this? Matching numbers, baby.

Michelle, preparing to take over Rome.
You roll a bunch of dice, and then arrange sets in various places. The forum requires sequences of numbers, the military requires matched sets, and the senate requires individual dice or two totaling five. You can use some or all of your dice in turn, but then you reroll them and you have to use them all every round. They just might wind up in the latrine, which grants you rerolls.

My strategy was "I'll take over the world, that makes sense."
Opinions: So, I'm not generally a huge fan of set-collection games, because they're boring. Yahztee! doesn't make any sense to me; like, couldn't you make up a program to randomly generate sets of numbers for you while you go and play a more interesting game? But this game requires you to do different things with the sets and otherwise make decisions, so it's a little better. I really want to try it with more people and see what that does.

Keep? Sure.