Saturday, October 31, 2015

Character Creation: Chill 3rd Edition

It's Halloween! Tonight, I shall walk around with kiddos begging for candy. One year ago today, I was at work, I think, because Halloween was on a Friday, but I was obsessively watching a Kickstarter. That would be the Kickstarter for Chill Third Edition which, now, a year later, is available in hardcover, PDF, and a special Boxed Set (while they last!).

But I'm also watching a Kickstarter, this time for our first Chill sourcebook, SAVE: The Eternal Society. I ran Chill like crazy in college, and it always bugged me that there was no sourcebook on SAVE. It sort of felt like a missed opportunity, especially since this was the 90s, which wasn't exactly a booming time for Spartan game design; everything tended to be defined and given its own system and so on.

So now, 25 years later, I get to be part of a sourcebook that shows what kind of people SAVE envoys are, why they do what they do, and what the impact of working for SAVE really is. It's shaping up to be a lot of fun, and I hope you'll consider giving us some money.

But that's only kinda why we're here.

The Game: Chill 3rd Edition
The Publisher: Growling Door Games, Inc.
Degree of Familiarity: Um. Very yes. I developed it.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, I've made and played a few Chill characters over the years. I did one for 2nd Edition here, and since I'm considering each new edition of a game separately for purposes of this project, I guess I should add in the 1st Edition somewhere. But in any case! This is 3rd Edition, so let's get crackin'. Let's see how long I can go without getting the book out.

I know that character creation is presented as having three options: you either pick a pre-gen, you pick a template and tweak it, or you take 80 Character Points (CPs) and build from scratch. I think I'd prefer option #3, thanks. (OK, I'll get the book.) As a point of interest, we don't have a specific step in which to do "concept;" I think because it's assumed that your concept will take shape over the course of character creation. I have a pool of 80 points, a cup of coffee, and about an hour and a half. Let's do this.

Step One! Attributes. 1 CP gives you a score of five, but my minimum is 20, so I have to spend at least four CP on each Attribute. I suppose I should think a little about what kind of character I want to make.

Well, my amigo +Bryce Perry gave me a suggestion for a theme song over on Twitter, which was this:


It's an interesting choice for a Chill character, but the lyrics themselves are intriguing, too; the singer is in love, but resists? Or are we hearing from two different people? It's hard to know. But I think it'd be interesting to play a character who was in thrall to a creature of the Unknown - not a minion per se, but maybe had a brain worm or was possessed or something? Yeah, that's fun.

So, my character is Clark Randolph. Clark was a sociology major at the University of Wherever This Game Is Set, and he got into urban exploration. He and some of his buddies went out to take pictures at an abandoned elementary school, and somewhere along the way, the ghost of a kid possessed him. He ran off into the dark and hunted/haunted his friends, preventing them from leaving, keeping them trapped in the building, until finally one escaped and wound up talking to a SAVE envoy. SAVE hastily put a team together, rescued the other college students (with one fatality) and managed to drive the ghost out of Clark and banish it. SAVE has never told Clark that he killed one of his friends, because strictly speaking, he didn't.

For Clark's part, he remembers very little of the experience, but what he does remember is terrifying. He knows that the thing that possessed him was once human, and it had some recognizable human emotions - fear, love, desire for succor and rest. But that was just the skin. Under all that, it had a rich, primal hate for humanity. It was that feeling that drove Clark to join SAVE.

OK, good start (I'll work in more detail as I go). So let's think about Clark's attributes. Clark is a reasonably fit guy. I picture him as in his late 20s, so probably in grad school. I think I want his AGL and STR to be at least 50; let's set his AGL at 55 and his STR at 50 even. His FOC can be a little lower; Clark is smart, but he doesn't memorize well. Let's set that at 45. I'll put his PSY at 60 because I like playing personable characters, and put his DEX at 40 because his hands still shake sometimes. His PCN is at 65, because if I suspect I may want to give him Sensing disciplines later.

So how does that look points-wise?

AGL 55
STR 50
FOC 45
PSY 60
DEX 40
PCN 65

Total all that up and divide by five and we get 63. I can live with that.

On to Step Two: Skills. Skills can either be untrained (in which case their target number is half the controlling attribute) or trained (in which case the target number is equal to the controlling attribute). Chill only uses nine skills; why we did that is explained here, if you're interested. Characters are automatically trained in Prowess, Communication, and Movement, I don't suspect I'll change that (you can take a Drawback to make any of those skills untrained for three extra CPs). So anyway, what do I want to be trained in?

Well, I want to be trained in Interview, because I see Clark as pretty good with that, especially with Unknown survivors. That's three CPs. I think I actually want to add a Specialization there, in "Unknown Survivors;" that is, people like Clark who have had traumatic experiences with the Unknown. I'll take that at Beginner, so that's one more CP. I've spent 67.

Now, I don't have to be trained in a skill to take a Specialization. So, for example, if Clark has done some skeet shooting so he knows how to handle a shotgun, but wouldn't know what to do with a bow or a pistol, I could take "Shotgun" as a Specialization in Ranged Weapons but not trained the skill. Hmm. Well, I know I don't want to be trained in Close Quarters Combat or Ranged Weapons, so I'll go ahead fill in the target numbers there (half the controlling attribute, rounded up). I do want to be trained in Research because I'm a grad student, so I'll burn the three points for that. I don't see any reason to be trained in Fieldcraft or Investigation; Clark's still new at this.

That means I've spent 70 points, so I'm still fine. I could take another couple of Specializations if I wanted. The obvious question is if I want a Specialization to reflect my academic background. I think it makes some sense, so I'll take Academic as a Specialization in Research. That costs 2 points; I've spent 72. I'll leave it for now, because I want points left for the Art and Edges.

And, hey, Step Three: The Art. I want to be attuned to the Sensing school of the Art. That costs me four right there. That also means that my Sensing the Unknown score is 33, rather than 13. I want a discipline, too. I like Postcognition; I'll buy that at Beginner level for now. Actually, eh, let's do Expert. I have the points.

Step Four: Edges and Drawbacks. Edges are fun little bonuses, Drawbacks give you points back. Usual drill. So I've now spent 78 points, meaning I have two points to spend yet before I even have to consider Drawbacks. Hmm. Well, I want Crisis Counselor. Seems appropriate. I'll take it at 3 points, since I'm doing OK on points. I can basically run group therapy for envoys mid-case and help them integrate Trauma which, let me tell you, can be useful. I'm now one point over.

Hopeful kinds seems appropriate, for some reason. I'll take 1 point there.

I also like Lucky. I think it's appropriate for Clark. I really like Natural Leader, but I don't know if it's a good fit for him. I think probably one or the other, though. Let's do Natural Leader, actually. Since the incident, Clark likes to be front and center and visible, partially because he's got some firsthand experience that a lot of envoys don't, and partially because if he gets possessed again he wants people to know it. I'll take the 2-point version. That puts me at 84 points, so I must take 4 points in Drawbacks. No problem.

A few different ways to go with this. I could take Mental Disorder, and have that be lingering trauma from his experience, but I don't think the system does the right thing for what it would mean for Clark. I like Burned Out better. Clark is a little damaged, and the effect of that is that he doesn't recover from mental stress quickly. That means I need one more.

Well, I could take a one-point phobia, I suppose, or I could take Marked. Oh, I like that better. Marked means every case starts with "my" token turned dark, which I think is appropriate. That puts me even.

Step Five: Drive and Envoy History. I've really done this already. Clark's Drive is "The Unknown hates us." I think this is actually why Clark doesn't have the Reluctant to Harm Drawback. Clark is very friendly and personable and kind, but this is war. Most people, even SAVE envoys, can't imagine the depth of hatred the Unknown has for humanity.

For my history, I get one takeaway, which in Clark's case is pretty obviously "possessed by a ghost for a week." That's an arcane takeaway, obviously, so I can use it to activate the Art without turning a token, once per session.

Step Six: Background and Finalizing. Again, I've done most of this. Clark is 27, he's trim, tall, and lean. He's started working out since joining SAVE, and has put on some muscle. He's got brown hair and brown eyes, and wears his hair long (the "man bun" has occurred to him).

Clark recently started dating a woman in one of his classes, another grad student name Caroline Adamsky. He hasn't told her about SAVE and the Unknown yet, because he isn't sure she'll believe it, and he isn't sure if telling her exposes her to any kind of risk. At the moment, he's trying to keep the relationship light on commitment, and playing the "well we're both so busy" card pretty heavily, but he's falling for her, and that's going to be a problem sooner or later.

And I think that's me done, actually!


Friday, October 30, 2015

Character Creation: Bulldogs!

I wrote a review of Bulldogs! that you can totally go check out, but in brief: It's a Fate-based game in spaaaaaace in which you play folks delivering cargo for the TransGalaxy Corp. That's right, it's Futurama, the RPG.

"Delivering cargo" may sound kinda dull by itself, but c'mon. It's high-action space sci-fi, with weird aliens and ship-to-ship intimacy. It's pretty awesome, very light-hearted. And I'm gonna make a character.

The Game: Bulldogs!
The Publisher: Galileo Games
Degree of Familiarity: Not bad. I've run it once, and I'm pretty familiar with the underlying mechanics.
Books Required: Just the one for the version I have, though the newer one I assume requires Fate Core.

So! In the character creation section, the first thing we'd do, as a group, is create the ship and the captain. I think, though, that since I don't have a group, I'll use the example captain and ship. That would make my character part of the crew of the Black Watch, under the command of Jocaar Laf't, who's a real hardass and a mean drunk.

And now I pick species, which means I need to actually think about my character. I actually don't have a strong feeling one way or another, so I think I'll roll for it. There are 10 species in the game, so let's just roll a d10. First roll gives me a Tetsuashan, but it occurs to me that the last time I made a space opera character, I made something slug-like. Let's re-roll.

The re-roll gets me a robot. Hmm. I'm actually OK with that. Robots (or "robuts", as Dr. Zoidberg would say) in Bulldogs! can be humanoid or not at the player's discretion. This also allows me to play Bender if I wanted to, but I don't know that I do. I think it'd be interesting to play someone like (god help me) Lisa Ryder's character in Jason X, a robot built for...who knows, really...and upgraded to ass-kickin'. Yeah, that's fun. I'll do that.

That means I get two Heritage Aspects. Hmm. I'll take Slave to Programming; my character started off as basically a heavy lifting tool; strong enough and tough enough to handle hostile environments, but human enough to pass. And then following a nasty scrape on Stakes, they reprogrammed him to be an ass-kicking bot. He's programmed to defend the crew, and dammit, that's what he does.

I'll also take Never Eat, Never Sleep, Never Stop. Sounds fairly badass.

Next I need an Aspect for my Homeworld. Now, robots don't have a homeworld (Chapek 9 notwithstanding), so this probably refers more to my construction or original programming. I'll take Uncanny Valley Citizen. He's (?) just human-looking enough to be creepy (well, there aren't really humans in this setting - Arsubaran, I guess).

Now I get a Personal Strength and a Personal Weakness. Well, for Personal Strength, I'll take Battle Droid; he's great in a fight! For Personal Weakness, I'll take I Am Not a Gun (y'know, I could have made a funny, drunken robot, but nooooo, gotta go to Iron Giant for inspiration). He is a badass, but he aspires for more.

Former Associates is weird; presumably I was just purchased by/for this crew...or was I? I think maybe they won him in a game of chance, and it was his former owners that jumped the crew of the Black Watch on Stakes. I'll say this Aspect is What Did They Syndicate Make Me Do? He only has bits of code to remind him of his life before being reprogrammed as a manual laborer, but reprogramming him again as a battle droid unlocked some old "memories."

OK, now I have four Aspects about my current berth. The first is Desperate Situation, which I've actually kinda somewhat defined. I'll call that one Won In a Game of Chance. The Job on the ship is easy enough; Synthetic Muscle.

Shipmates...hmm. I'd need to know more about them. It says that one of them is a woman named Annabelle Quinn "with secrets to keep," so I'll say that Quinn Knows the Truth. Finally, I need an Aspect that reflects my relationship with the captain. I'll say that my robot isn't afraid of Laf't; what's he gonna do, sell me? But on the other hand, I can't disobey him. I'll call that Aspect Yes, Captain Laf't.

Now Skills. Clearly I should be Dual Focus. Unfortunately the Skills aren't listed on the sheet, so I need to look them up. I get two at Great, two at Good, three at Fair, and five at Average. Too many bloody Skills.

Well, one of my Greats is clearly Fists, and I think the other should be Guns. And, hell, I'll put Weapons at Good. I'll put Might as my other Good Skill.

Seems like I should know criminal stuff, right? Or, no, wait, Endurance. I'll put that, Academics (memory banks!), and Systems at Fair.

And then for Average, I'll take Artillery, Athletics, Gambling, Intimidation, and Pilot.

Now I deal with Stunts and Special Abilities. Since we're starting at the "Trouble" power level, I have 7 Refresh, but I'll bet some of that is going to get eaten up by my racial abilities. Let's see!

So, the way this works is that I get a number of racial abilities and drawbacks, some of which are optional, some aren't. I get Reprogrammable (I can reconfigure my Skills if I put the time into it), Never Sleep (duh), Don't Breathe, Machine Resistance (I'm artificial, so heat and cold have less of an affect), and Immortal (I don't naturally die). But on the minus side, I also get a vulnerability to EMPs, I don't heal naturally, and I get some bigotry from folks who don't like robots.

Now the optional stuff (right now I'm at 6 refresh). I don't want extra limbs, so that's out. I don't need extra senses. I do kinda want Extra Speed, so I'll take that. I don't need Hover. And then I can take Programmed, which lets the GM compel my programming since I can't act against it, but I've got something like that with the Slave to Programming aspect anyway, right? So I think I'll skip that. I have 5 refresh left.

So, Stunts, then. Stunts work like they usually do; I get a bonus to a certain type of action in certain circumstances. Actually, there are a few in the book I like. I'll buy Army of One (I can spend a Fate point to negate a bonus a group gets against me). I'll also take Crippling Blow (letting me place consequences in a fight) and Stay on Target (letting me place aspects by aiming with a gun). That take me to two refresh left, and I think I'm good there.

I could shop for gear, but you know how I feel about that. I think all I need is a name.

My robot is a Valetron Model 85S, designed to be a personal labor assistance - lift heavy things, push things, carry things. He's been reprogrammed to kick ass, and one of the wags on the ship struck out the "Va" and wrote "Ki", so he's a "Kiletron", which is silly because "Kill" should have an extra "l." Anyway, everyone calls him Killy, anyway, except Quinn, who always calls him "Ven." He isn't sure why, and she never elaborates.

And I think that'll do. Groovy!


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Beast: There Must Be Something in the Water

("Two Heads" is such a weird song.)

Monday we played Beast, and I'm just now getting around to doing the write-up because, see, I'm running a Kickstarter and that's a bigger time-sink than you'd think. Go back it!

Anyway. Last time, the brood killed a fish-monster in Edgewater Park. This time, we begin with them all in the shared Lair, looking at its corpse.

Maia knows a bit about marine biology, so she pokes at it a bit and finds, strangely, that its teeth are weird hybrid of wolf and shark, it's got gills and lungs (though the latter are underdeveloped so it likely wouldn't survive long outside the water), and it looks like it's been swimming around the lake for a while. Miriana, also savvy with animals, notes that its legs look a bit like a werewolf's when they're in mid-shift. Might this thing be a shapeshifter? Or otherwise related to the werewolves? Miriana makes a note to ask her Uratha friends.

Maia wants to get the things stuffed. She drags it back to her Lair to preserve in saltwater for the moment, and makes a note to go visit her vampiric friend Mikhail; he might know someone crazy enough to taxidermy this thing. Meanwhile, the others decide that they'll go in search of Dillon Markway, the temporarily-immortal dude who's troubling Tyler. They can't kill him (like, they literally can't), but maybe they can stash him away for a while. And who's good at that? Why, John, the Ugallu kidnapper!

They all four head out to his house, and see that someone's up and watching TV. Tyler and Miriana hide in the backyard while John lurks in the shadows and Maia knocks on the door. A guy answers, and Maia claims to be out of gas, and could he drive her up the road? He agrees, somewhat sleepily (but hey, he was up), and Tyler and Miriana sneak into the house. John assumes shadow form and rides with Maia and the guy, who introduces himself as "Mike."

Tyler sees that the living room is being lived in - blankets, pizza boxes, etc. The upstairs has a room full of boxes, and another bedroom that looks more orderly. The downstairs has a workbench and some scraps of metal and leather, and obviously marked with tools that aren't present. Someone made something and took it with.

Meanwhile, Mike and Maia chat, and he mentions that he's housesitting. Realizing he's not Dillon, she relays this to Tyler, who is annoyed that Dillion isn't there. Maia offers Mike a couple of bucks as they get back to the house, but Mike just tells her to pay it forward, and Maia quickly asks him to get a cup of coffee (not wanting to send him into the house with two Beasts). They chat, and he reveals he did time for car theft, and sometimes does some work under the table for a local guy who collects vintage cars (who happens to be Tyler's annoying neighbor).

Tyler, irritated that Dillon isn't home, notes that it is his house, and torches the place with Dragonfire, reaping the delicious Satiety that brings. Maia is contemplating inviting Mike home with her, but he gets a call from someone and rushes back to the house, just in time to see the windows explode outwards. The fire department is on the scene, and Maia thanks him and leaves in John's car (with John still in the back).

The Beasts head to Tyler's shop, and realize that both doors have been booby-trapped. The back door has an electric current rigged to the knob, and the front has a contraption made of leather and metal that would hit neck level if anyone entered. Tyler, feeling a little exposed, asks to crash at Miriana's house. Maia meets them at the house on her way to go talk with Mikhail.

Talking with her undead friend, she learns that he does in fact know someone who might be interested in stuffing the weird fish-thing, but they're from Philly. He says he'll make inquiries. The Beasts, meanwhile, head for bed.

In the morning, they decide to go to Put-In-Bay. That way Maia can swim around the lake and look for evidence of the fish-monster. Miriana hunts by scaring frat boys in the lake, and John feeds by getting kids lost at Cedar Point and feeding on the guilt and fear of the parents (hey, the kids don't get hurt).

Next time, we'll see what's out there in the water, and perhaps see more of Dillon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Movie #331: Contagion

Contagion is a medical drama/thriller directed by Stephen Soderbergh and starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Chin Han, Marion Cotillard, and Jennifer Ehle. I bought it in a two-pack with Outbreak (we'll get to the O's eventually), and it strikes me that they're much the same movie, only this one is the grown-up version.

The movie tracks the outbreak, spread, and eventual cure of a flu strain called MEV-1. It originates with a businesswoman named Beth (Paltrow) who spreads it to the people in the casino around her in China, who then go to their respective homes and spread it, until it goes worldwide and, over the course of the movie, kills millions.

We meet a bunch of different characters all doing their thing to cure or fight the disease: CDC doctors, the head of the CDC (Fishburne), a WHO rep (Cotillard) who gets kidnapped by a Chinese national (Han) until his small village is supplied with a vaccine, patient zero's husband (Damon) who is naturally immune to the disease, and then there's Jude Law.

Law plays a blogger and conspiracy nut who, in his mind, is working to expose the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry. What he does, however, is work to convince people that "natural" remedies will prevent or cure the disease, and then when there is a vaccine, tells people not to take it. He does get arrested at the end, but is promptly released on bail from donations from his many followers, and smugly struts out, secure in the knowledge that he's going to make bank.

It's Law's character that really makes the movie, though. The other characters are all real and flawed in their way - Fishburne's character breaks protocol to protect his family. Ehle's doctor injects herself with an experimental vaccine, Paltrow's character spread the disease while having an affair, and of course there's the whole kidnapping thing. But Law's character actively harms the effort cure the disease out of arrogance and greed, and frankly he should been drowned. (Best burn in the movie: An actual scientist, played by Elliot Gould, tells him "Blogging isn't writing, it's graffiti with punctuation.")

The movie is probably a pretty accurate representation of how it would all go down if we had a flu strain with a mortality rate in the high 30s; yes, we'd probably find a vaccine, and yes, there'd be some asshole spouting off about "homeopathic remedies" who cost more lives by convincing people not to take it. I appreciate, too, that movie is patient and takes its time; the disease doesn't kill in 24 hours, it's not a hemorrhagic fever, it's just a flu strain. So people get sick and they don't worry, until they die, and then panic sets in. And then a few weeks later, the streets are full of trash because no one's picking it up, food is scarce, and social order has broken down a bit. People get desperate and crazy to protect their own. It's dramatic, and my friend +Matthew Karafa tells me the science as far as epidemiology is pretty sound.

Sleep tight.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Halloween

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Monsterhearts!

Dammit. Been meaning to do this all week and it got away from me. Anyway, last time is here.

So, last time, we wound up at Briar's, and then Rook texted that he was back in town, so everyone decided to head to Pi and get some food. They talked a bit about plans for the weekend (party at the pool house!) and about what was going on, and Miguel gazed into the abyss. He failed, and saw everyone around him fading away...his own flesh, in fact, disappearing into the void.

With that rather sobering thought, the characters broke for the day, and reconvened at Cassi's the next night. They swam in the pool, ate pizza, and put a big projector up to show a movie on the side of the house. During that, Mikayla kept pressuring Romy to do something about Skylar. People finally paired off - Cassi snuggled up with Rook, Briar with Austin, Miguel was by himself but no one noticed anyway. Romy turned Skylar on, and they started kissing, much to the delight of Mikayla. Skylar notice Romy's...not discomfort, but odd expressions, and asked her about, but she assured Skylar she was fine and they moved into the pool house for sex.

This activates sex moves, of course. Skylar gained the shadowed condition, and could hear faint echos of Mikayla. Skylar asked Romy who she's been talking to, and Mikayla answered, explaining who she was to Skylar. Romy asked Skylar how she could tell the others about Mikayla (since it tends to make people think she's crazy); Skylar said it would ultimately be better if she did, and this crowd could handle it.

Miguel, during all this, listened in, and gained the shadowed condition as well.

Meanwhile, on the lawn, Briar saw a man's silhouette in one of the upstairs windows of the house. Knowing that Cassi's dad was out of town (as he often his), she and Austin when in to check it out. They didn't find anything, but decided to take advantage of the alone time. (Briar's sex move doesn't apply, however, since she had no Harm or conditions.)

Miguel, still alone, sends a sext to Dora (trying to turn her on), but fails, and gets a "don't contact me again, whoever this is" back.

Cassi and Rook, meanwhile, realize they're the only ones left on the lawn, and decide to take a walk around the property, just to make sure. Rook gazes into the abyss, and the experience leaves him drained, but he sees everything fading into the void, and endless nothing around him. Cassi yanks him back as they walk.

Miguel...at this point began a conversation with the weird stranger than had been texting Cassi and so on, but I'm buggered if I remember how that started. I do know, though, he wound up seeing everything fade out, and the voice told him its name was Emmett. But as they conversed, Miguel realized everything was fading...the house, the grounds, his own body. He held steady, and wound up terrified, but realized he needed to get out of this, immediately. He ran away, and smashed through the plate glass door of the pool house.

The others (well, except for Briar and Austin, who hadn't heard), came running. Miguel was in the pool, miraculously not cut up. Cassi's mom wasn't thrilled, but she told them all to take the party downstairs into the rec room so that no one got hurt. Briar and Austin came down and joined them (with some knowing winks), and they all reconvened. Miguel told them about Emmett, and they figure he must be in some way related to the quietkin and the hexmutes, but they weren't sure how. Briar gazed into the abyss, but failed, and saw everyone fall into the void, everything fading and vanishing.

And then Cassi's two little brothers came barreling downstairs: "Something's wrong with Mom!"

The characters ran upstairs, and found Cassi's mother crouched on the floor in the bathroom staring straight ahead, rocking. Skylar manipulated an NPC to snap her out of it, and got her out of the room. She said that she'd seen something in the mirror....

Rook glanced into the mirror, and his reflection moved independently. Miguel reached out and touched the glass, and the glass grabbed him back. He held steady (successfully) and removed the terrified condition. Rook grabbed Miguel and pulled him back, shutting down the mirror-Miguel. Miguel was annoyed (he felt he could handle it), but the others were pretty sure that going into the mirror was a bad idea.

Skylar, meanwhile, uses hungry ghost on Cassi's mom and eats her conditions, waking her up. Skylar gazed into the abyss and wound up talking to Mikayla. She told Skylar that the hexmutes, the quietkin, and the mirrorskins were (respectively) numb, cold, and broken, called up through extreme loneliness. She also asked him to Homecoming, if Romy was OK with it, of course.

Cassi, meanwhile, took Briar around the house to start covering mirrors. They found her brothers in the bathroom, staring at the mirror. Maybe doing some kind of Bloody Mary thing? Who knows. She lashed out physically to grab them, and in the process, triggered her Darkest Self. She sent her brothers to bed (kind of roughly) and didn't bother covering the big mirror in their room. Let them deal with it.

The characters went back down to the basement and tried to figure this out. They looked into recent records and learned that the dude who died in the house was named Emmett Dyson - that's be Emmett, then. He was only 18 when he died, and was from McIver, OR, but had no family or kin listed there. He died alone. Briar and the others went to the books to try and figure out how to put him to rest, and decided that having a wake might be a good idea - he was lonely, and being acknowledged might help.

As she was looking, though, a window opened - her arrest record. And then another - Skylar's obit. And another - Cassi in the paper on the decorating committee. They were researching Emmett, but evidently he was researching them.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bulldogs! One-Shot: The Night Kiss

Last night I ran Bulldogs! for +Michelle and some friends in Toledo who aren't on G+ to my knowledge. It was pretty cool.

Bulldogs! is a Fate game, billed as "sci-fi that kicks ass!" The basic setup is that you're working an intergalactic freighter. The game presents a bunch of different alien species to choose from, plus instructions on making up new ones. I'll be doing a more thorough review for RPG.Net soon, and making a character for the project. For now, though, the characters:


  • Talame: The ship's cook. She's a Dolom (they're big, strong, stoic, and tough). Talame is also allergic to everything, highly goal-oriented, and loyal to the captain. Just a bit naive. 
  • Mrawr: The ship's pilot and navagatrix. She's a Ryjyllian (they're lion-people). Mrawr is a warrior and comes from her race's icy home planet. She's also a sensualist and wants nothing more than a cuddle pile. 
  • Flarn: The ship's medic. Flarn is an Urseminite; they're basically Ewoks crossed with Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Flarn is no exception - he's got a shady criminal past, and not so much a drug "problem" as an ongoing relationship with all the drugs ever. 
  • Barb: The ship's delivery person and muscle. She's a Hacragorkan; they're green, tattooed, and spoiling for a fight. She did some time in space juvie as a young 'un, and is now out on parole, trying to keep her nose clean. 
The ship is called The Fool (its shuttle is called His Money). The captain is a Ken Reeg (also green, but flashy and showy) named Henny Razzle. Captain Razz, as the crew calls him, has delusions of competency, but his crew always seems to pull through on his schemes and make some money into the bargain. The ship is a short-range delivery service, so yeah, we're basically playing Futurama

Today, Captain Razz gathers the crew and informs them that they're taking six crates to Apollonia, the pleasure satellite orbiting planet Arsubar. The ship takes off, and Flarn can't resist trying to open one to take a peek (if it's going to Arsubar, it's gotta be good). The electronic locks keep foiling him, though, but he finally gets one open, and finds flowers in pots. He recognizes them as "night kiss," a potent narcotic and "pleasure enhancer," brewed as a tea in the morning so it kicks in later at night. He immediately swipes a blossom and has Talame brew it into a tea. 

Talame, of course, isn't careful as she does so, and so the flower's pollen winds up not only in the tea, but on her hands (all three of them) and in the sandwiches she makes for Mrawr, Barb, and Razz. 

The ship docks on Apollonia, and the crew disembarks. Barb intimidates the warehouse crew into taking it easy with the crates, and Flarn discovers he knows the warehouse manager, another Urseminite named Snarg. The crews is able to procure short-term invites to the interior of Apollonia, but told to meet back in one cycle when their "visas" expire. Barb, as she is on probation, has to stick closer to the crew at all times. 

The crew splits up. Talame, Barb, and Flarn go to produce Venusian saffron for the kitchen, but have to track down the captain first, as he has the money for such supplies. He lets Flarn in on a gambling tip he received, but it'll require gambling with the ship's money. Flarn, who never met a vice he didn't like, agrees, and Razz tells him where the races are happening later. 

Mrawr, meanwhile, goes to a big padded room and cuddles up with folks, but as she does, the drug kick in. She barely hears someone talking about the night flower and "blaming the delivery crew." She forces herself to focus, and finds that she's snuggling up with a Templari who's scheming to steal the flowers and blame the Fool's crew; Mrawr doesn't like this, but makes friends with him and points out that it would make no sense to blame the crew - why would they steal the flowers after delivering them? Better to blame the warehouse worker. The Templari agrees, and asks if she'd mind delivering a message to a Saldrallan named Sssk about the change in plans.

Meanwhile, the others have met up at the races - the animals racing are little lizards, native to Saldralla. Razz' tip seems to be...not quite on the level, but Flarn is a shrewd gambler and manages to get it all handled. Mrawr arrives, tells the others what's going on, and Flarn works the room until he finds Sssk. Barb spends the time stroking Mrawr's fur (the drugs are kicking in for everyone else, too)!

The characters (not the captain, who's busy drinking) tell Sssk more or less what's doing, and he tell them to just get the crates switched from one platform to another, and all will be well (they'll be off scott free and get paid a little extra!). 

They find where the crates are being moved, but they're being guarded by two Dolome thugs. Barb, not one to stand on ceremony, charges in and slugs one, and is shortly joined by Mrawr. Talame lifts the whole palette of crates and moves it to a new platform, with Flarn helping to secure it, and the Dolom thugs surrender under an onslaught of claws and fists. The characters amuse themselves until morning, and meet up with Captain Razz back on the ship, collect their payment, and zip off into space, nursing night flower hangovers.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Movie #330: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is, of course, the sequel to The Avengers and continues the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Paul Bettany, plus a bunch of other people.

So. The Avengers are out busting heads, and take down a Hydra outpost run by Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). There, they find Loki's scepter...but also two superpowered individuals, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Taylor-Johnson and Olsen, respectively), who fuck them up a bit. They take the scepter back to New York, where Thor (Hemsworth) gives Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) three days to play with it before taking it back to Asgard.

They use it to create an artificial intelligence called Ultron (Spader) that quickly decides that life on Earth needs to "evolve" and the Avengers need to die, so it takes the scepter and runs off, leaving the Avengers to scramble. They track Ultron to Wakanda, where he's buying vibranium from a scuzzy arms dealer named Klaue (Andy Serkis, setting up to be the big bad in Black Panther), but Wanda hypnotizes all of them, including Hulk, sending him into a frenzy in a civilian area.

They retreat to Clint Barton's (Renner) farm and meet his wife Laura (Linda Cardellini), and try to regroup, but Ultron is out doing terrible things. They eventually wind up stealing the next-gen android body he was going to upload himself into, and throwing a bunch of Thor-power into it via the mind gem (the thing in Loki's scepter) and creating the Vision (Bettany). Then they all go and fight Ultron and his many clones. Pietro dies saving Hawkeye.

Holy shit. This movie is busy as hell. It improves on a second viewing because you know enough of what's going on to appreciate the characters and their interactions a bit more, but I honestly think...a couple of things, really.

I think this is, to date, the weakest Marvel movie, in part because it aimed so high and just bit off more than it could chew. Sure, Dark World (we'll get to the Ts eventually) wasn't terrific, but it was more focused and more consistent. I also think that there were some scenes that were cut that should have been left in, not least was the extended version of the vision in the cave. Sure, it would have added running time, but the movie is already hella long, and it would have a) given Stellan Skasgaard more to do and b) let Hemsworth act a little more, plus set up the coming conflicts a bit more.

And that's really the big issue: The whole movie is a stepping stone for future Marvel movies. Unlike its predecessor, it's not really about very much on its own, and I'm sure that once more MCU movies come out we'll see more context for what happened here, but that's an awful gamble on a movie with so much to keep straight.

I think Black Widow (Johansson) should have had more to do, but that's true of literally everyone. Even the people with stuff to do didn't get to do that much. The big stink about Widow was that she referred to herself as a "monster" because she can't have kids, but honestly I think that's only one possible interpretation of what she says, and in context it makes more sense. I dunno. Maybe I'm too forgiving.

Final thought: Someone other than Joss Whedon should have directed this. Holy shit, if they could have gotten Sodeburgh (good with large casts), maybe? But Whedon was getting bored and frustrated with Marvel pulling the leash, and the result is that the dialog is still snappy and Whedony, but the movie overall feels spread too thin.

(I still like it, see. Just pales in comparison to the first one. And I'm still pumped for Civil War.)

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Contagion