Saturday, December 31, 2016

Movie #385: The Conjuring

The Conjuring is a 2013 horror flick directed by James Wan (Saw) and starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Rob Livingston, Lily Taylor, Shanley Casewell, Hayley McFarland (no relation), Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver.

The movie concerns the Perron family; they've bought an old farmhouse in Rhode Island, but immediately upon moving in, they start having problems. They smell rotting meat in various places, they see things, weird noises, clocks stop every night at the same time, and Carolyn, the mother of the family (Taylor) starts developing strange bruises. After things get so terrifying that the family (Carolyn, her husband Roger (Livingston) and their five daughters (Casewell, McFarland, King, Foy, and Deaver)) start all sleeping in the living room, they call in SAVE.

Wait, no, not really. They actually make contact with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga, respectively), who are professional demonologists and paranormal investigators. They roll up, do a very professional investigation, and wind up performing an exorcism on Carolyn just before she's about to kill one of her daughters. Bam!

Now, there's actually a lot more to this, plot-wise. Into this mix, we also have the Warrens' daughter, Judy (Sterling Jerins), being targeted by a demon - maybe the same one living in the creepy-ass Annabelle doll (which would become the focus of a spin-off)? Likewise, the demon possessing Carolyn isn't the only thing in the house; the demon's been killing people for decades, so there are a bunch of ghosts (whom, it's implied, all go away after the demon is banished). Also, Lorraine is dealing with fallout from a previous exorcism, and her husband wants her kept away from them because he's afraid for her sanity and/or soul.

Let's talk about the good, first. This movie is really effectively shot. It's not found footage, so the camera work is steady, but you have to watch the corners of the frame and behind the characters. Horrible shit shows up in shadows and in corners and in mirrors, and it doesn't stay long. The sound, likewise, is really effectively used, and I wish I'd seen this in theaters to get the effect. The house is a character unto itself, and you see characters running all over the place tripping over each other trying to get into different rooms.

The performances, likewise, are really good, particularly from Livingston and Taylor and the actresses playing their daughters. Livingston plays a man who's out of his depth and knows it, but doesn't go all alpha male when another dude shows up to help him. Taylor goes from sweet, loving, and terrified to full-out possessed and vicious, and that's fun to watch. The girls each establish themselves (which is crucial, because otherwise they'd read as very samey), and bring across the terror of having their home invaded but having nowhere to go.

Now, the bad news: These are all real people. These events "happened." The Warrens are actually demon-hunters (well, they were; Ed died in 2006), and Lorraine obviously had some input into this film because some of the elements they include are jumbled and just make things confused. The movie spends entirely too much time on the Warrens and paints them as martyrs in a war between god and Satan, and as the film goes on it becomes less about the Perrons and more about the Warrens (the demon even follows the Warrens home and goes after their daughter, but then the demon in the Annabelle doll gets involved, which never goes anywhere). The scripting feels like someone who had creative control wanted very specific events played out, without considering that they don't really make for a tight movie.

And then there's the "based on real events" thing. Obviously, the Perrons and the Warrens are real, and clearly, something happened up in Rhode Island. However, a quick look over the Warrens' wiki page casts a lot of doubt on their claims (which are obviously false, since demons, god, and ghosts do not exist), and banging on the "THIS IS TOTES REAL" drum so hard actually makes for a weaker horror movie, at least for a skeptic (I had the same problem with Deliver Us From Evil, in fact; effective horror movie, but stop telling me it really happened).

Anyway, that's ultimately a minor quibble, because I liked the movie, and I want to see the sequel. Plus, it's a Chill movie, and those are kind of rare.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium. GET IT?

Next up: A Good Day to Die Hard

Character Creation: Our Last Best Hope

This is the last chargen post of the year. I wanted to do it last night, but I wasn't sure what game to do and I was tired. Today, I should be writing, but I like the symmetry of doing a last character of the year/first character of the year, and I already know what I want as my first character creation post of the year (tune in tomorrow!).

The Game: Our Last Best Hope
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at...Origins? GenCon? a few years back, and I keep meaning to run it with my players.
Books Required: Just the one.

I was looking over my bookshelves trying to choose a game to be the "last game of 2016." I was thinking something horror- or post-apoc related would be good, but I've already done a lot of the games in those genres that I know well, and I didn't have time to read a big thick book (which is why I put Dystopia Rising down for now). And then today, I saw Our Last Best Hope on the shelf, and that clicked.

Our Last Best Hope was Kickstarting at the same time as curse the darkness, and indeed, +Mark and I ran a cross-promotion for the campaigns (there's a curse the darkness mission playset in Infinite Shadows). Our companies have gone on to bigger and better things; Magpie has Epyllion and Masks and Bluebeard's Bride, and we have Chill and A Tragedy in Five Acts (and, like, other things in the works, but mostly it's been Chill for the past few years). But Our Last Best Hope resonates with me - like curse the darkness, it's a weird little indie game. Like curse the darkness, the rules are maybe just a bit obtuse. And like curse the darkness, it's fundamentally about people pushing back against extinction.

I had actually taken Our Last Best Hope off the list because character creation is so tied in to the group collaboration (same reason Tragedy isn't on my list). But in reading over it again, I think it'll work. No character sheet, though.

So, the first step would be picking the Crisis. There are three mission playsets in the book; I'll go with the Snow Mission. Normally we'd pick a specific Crisis, here, but since it's just me, I'll say that a freak superstorm has frozen most of the northern hemisphere. There's a device at a Canadian research lab that could (somehow) reverse the process, but only our team has the proximity and the know-how to get to it and activate it in time; if we miss our window, the process is irreversible (like my raincoat!).

Now, in making a character, I first choose a Role: Engineer, Scientist, Soldier, or Doctor. I think I played a Doctor when I played this before, but I honestly don't remember. Today, I think I'm more interested in playing a Soldier, though I'm not literally going to make him military ("Soldier" is an archetype).

Amos Bracken is an outdoorsman. Never served in the military, but has done more than a lot of guys. He's worked as a crab fisherman, a trucker, a bounty hunter, a mechanic, a hunting/fishing guide, and finally he came into some money (he won't say how) and fucked off to live in the woods in Alaska somewhere. When this all went down, the team used his home as the base camp before setting off into the storm. Sounds good.

I need to define what I'm bringing with me and what I'm leaving behind. I'll say Amos is bringing his knife belt. He made a harness that holds five hunting knives, made it out of leather from some animal he killed and skinned. He's leaving behind his money. He's got a floor safe full of cash. It's not much good now.

Now I'd do story cards. Two of these rely on other characters (one character keeps me sane, the other drives me crazy), but I don't have a group, so I'll skip that. I can, however, do the Secret and Fear cards - one is a Secret that Amos keeps and one is a Fear he harbors. His Secret is that he and a buddy stole and armored car - that's where he got his money. He left the armored car and his buddy's body out in the middle of nowhere (it'd be cool to have the team take refuge in it during the mission). His Fear is becoming paralyzed or trapped. He's active and mobile, and being unable to move on his own scares the hell out of him.

Next, I create and Asset; this is something that the team has to benefit them. I'll say we have a speedboat modified for over-snow travel, kinda like a big snowmobile. I also need to create a Threat, something that we could face and maybe have to kill during the mission. Since as the Soldier I do better against Threats I can shoot (or stab), I'll make a starving, crazed grizzly bear as a Threat.

Finally, I draw a Death card. This isn't necessarily how Amos will die, but if the dice say I die during Act I of the game, I can play the card and cheat death (or confirm it, if it works with the card). I don't actually have cards, but there are eight deaths, so I just roll a d8 and call it a day. I get to prove you care, which is, um, not the first way I'd have seen ol' Amos going out, but I kinda like it.

And that's it! Like I said, no sheet, so no picture of a sheet. Amos is ready to accompany his team into the frozen wastelands to reverse the new Ice Age and, hopefully, save the world. I, likewise, am going to go make tea for myself and +Michelle. Probably that won't save the world, but it's a start.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Marvel Heroic: Krampusnacht

Last night we played the one-shot! And had cocoa!

First, meet some characters:

  • Arcanix, played by Toasty, the mechanical Sorcerer Supreme of this world. He's now removed himself from human society entirely.
  • Psion, played by Al. Lucas Lindquist, having been cut off from his family, has retreated to Arcanix' sanctum to learn the ways of magic. 
  • Kata, played by Will. Max Bignns learned the magic of the elements from Master Tau, and is now wandering the world searching for his surname's missing vowel, I guess.
  • Juno, played by Sarah. Juno Garrett is a public defender from New York, who inherited a magic bracelet that lets her heal people's wounds and create force fields. She's still figuring out this whole "hero" thing.
  • Rift, played by Michelle. Laura Kensington is the best small-animal vet in Detroit. She's also able to reach into the infinite multiverse and pull out anything she needs...including multiple versions of herself. 
  • Visioncat, played by Amanda. Cora Price is a museum curator who accidentally cut her hand and bled on a statue of Bast. Now Bast visits her and grants her visits, but also the ability to put terrifying illusions into others' heads. 
Arcanix collects these magical heroes on the afternoon of December 5th, and explains - he's detected a powerful surge of magical energy coming from the Black Forest in Germany, miles (or kilometers, I guess) from where anyone lives. He's not sanguine about checking it out himself; his visions have shown dire portents should he try, or some such mystical talk. That's where the heroes come in. 

Rift views the multiverse for clues and sees demonic fire, hears wicked laughter and smells brimstone. Something's up, but she's created Echoes d6 for her trouble. Kata, likewise, asks about what might be out there and learns that tonight is Krampusnacht...and Psion and Arcanix know a fellow who calls himself Krampus (History Lesson d6). 

Arcanix opens a portal, and the heroes step out into the cold German night...into chaos. They find several buildings, all burning or destroyed, and mystical fire blazes. Juno rushes in to see if anyone needs help, and Psion follows. The other four, though, notice eyes glittering from the trees, and then robotic demon-monsters attack! 

Arcanix punches one, while Rift brings in multiple versions of herself from other timelines to fight them. Visioncat tries to instill visions in the demons, but fails (apparently this doesn't work on robots). Kata uses the Way of Earth to throw rocks at them.

Meanwhile, Psion and Juno reach a destroyed building...just in time for Krampus himself to erupt from the rubble. Psion, who knows Krampus to be a man of principle, yells at him to ask what's going on, and Krampus responds by mocking him (without his usual German accent) and blasting him with mystical fire. This rolls right off Psion, who is largely invulnerable, but makes the situation worse.

Juno, who doesn't use her powers to harm, searches the rubble and hears a cry for help. She creates a wedge with her force field and frees an old man, trapped under the debris. 

The others kind of switch places and drift over to fight Krampus, while Psion wreaks havoc amidst the robo-demons. Arcanix imprisons him with magical energy, while Rift peers into his soul and realizes that the armor is possessed. Vision cat strikes with a vision to calm him, but she sees that vision herself - what would calm him is the fiery destruction of earth. 

Rift turns her attention to the fire and tries to bring water through her portals, but fails and makes it worse, and her World Gate power fails her. Arcanix brandishes his might as the Sorcerer Supreme, frightening the demon, and the Krampus-armor's empty!

Kata switches to Way of Water to help put out the fires, and the heroes talk to the man in the debris. He introduces himself as Jurgen von Drescher...but some know him as Krampus! He tells the heroes that Grimoire, the mystical vigilante that Arcanix and Psion battled in St. Louis some months back, showed up with a horde of demons at his back. He was clearly possessed, but much more powerful for it. He'd planned on scouring the world in fire, but Jurgen wasn't sure where they'd gone. 

Deciding that they'd need all the help they could get, Arcanix, Psion, and Rift work together to quickly build a set of Krampus-armor that Jurgen could use, made from spare magitech lying around and pieces that Rift pulled from other realities. Kata consults with the air, and felt the cold north wind, while Visioncat consults with Bast. She confirms that the demons were at the north pole, but tells Visioncat that she needs to help to confront these foes...but when the vision fades, Visioncat noted she is standing with her comrades. Perfect!

Arcanix opens a portal again, and the heroes stepp out at the north pole (Rift pulls a coat from nowhere for Juno, who isn't dressed for this). They see demonic fire up ahead, and decide to split up. Psion, heedless of his master's warnings, charges ahead, and sees Grimoire hovering above rents in the permafrost, watching as demons crawl from the earth. He leaps at him and punches him into a crevasse, but Grimoire hovers out and the demons grab Psion and hold him. Grimoire shows him the world on fire (inflicting emotional stress) and asks where the "Sorcerer Supreme" is. 

Good entrance spot! The other heroes appear. Rift tries to close the rents in the earth, but fails. Kata calls on the Way of Water to use snowmelt to wash the demons away, and Visioncat uses her power to force them to fight each other. Juno throws up a huge force field for people to hide behind; Grimoire rains down fire upon the heroes and the demons swarm over them, but Arcanix weakens Grimoire's magic and Rift causes the demons to become vulnerable by weakening their connection to the world. Kata closes the rents in the earth, preventing more demons from coming through, and Arcanix manacles Grimoire to the ground. 

Visioncat makes the demons see Grimoire as their enemy, and they swarm him, dragging him down, but the heroes are unwilling to let him die thus. Juno, breaking her rule about using her bracelet offensively, blasts demons away from Grimoire, and Psion leaps in to finish the job. The rents seal themselves, and Grimoire lies unconscious...and Krampus lands, pointing his weapons at Grimoire.

Juno intercedes and tells Krampus that while Grimoire did wrong, this isn't his fault; he was possessed. Rift pulls exorcism materials from nowhere, and Arcanix, taking a very efficient robotic approach, just disables the armor that Krampus is wearing. 

The heroes complete the exorcism, and Grimoire, now with his left eye pure white, awakens, wondering where he is and what happened. Arcanix opens a portal to take everyone back to civilization, and the world is saved! 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Character Creation: Laser Kittens

What the heck, this is quick and I've got a little time before I need to start dinner.

The Game: Laser Kittens
The Publisher: Glittercats Fine Amusements
Degree of Familiarity: Almost none. I've read it and I knew the people involved in making it.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Laser Kittens is by no means the only RPG in which you play cats; I've made characters for a couple of them already. But it is the only one with a really strong, original concept. Cat and Call of Catthulhu play on existing mythologies, kinda-sorta, but Laser Kittens introduces a weird, interesting framework for the kitties: You're playing kittens at the Knoll Street School for Wayward Kittens, learning how to cat from older cats. Part of that includes controlling your laser.

I've only read the book; I haven't played the game and I'm not sure how the game would work at the table, but the people who have played it (my kids included) have really liked it. Plus it uses cards, which of course I find compelling. So what the heck, should I have the chance, I might give it a whirl.

For now, however, let's check out chargen.

Laser Kittens is very much collaborative (it's actually GM-less), and character creation isn't specifically called out as such in the game; it's all part of game set-up. Unless I'm missing something here, you're basically naming the kitten, picking a laser, deciding on classes and picking a grade in that class. Normally the players would decide on classes as a group (everyone picks one), but, as always, it's just me.

Well, since it is just me, I'm gonna say that my kitten came to the KSSWK as part of a litter found in a box on Christmas Day. The box had shreds of wrapping paper on it and a half-mangled bow, and there's probably a really sad story there but the kittens don't know it. Anyway, the kittens all have Christmas-themed nicknames, and my kitten, this orange tabby with weird spots on his tail, is nicknamed Boxing Day (it being Boxing Day today OOH HOW META).

If I were in a group, we'd make up NPCs, some details about the house, an adult cat professor, a human and so forth. Since it's just me, I'm just gonna choose classes. There's a list in the book, along with associated cards. Actually, I think I'm fine picking these randomly. I can zip over to the handy-dandy card dealer here, even. Picking five cards, I get Film Studies, Chemistry, Interior Design, Music, and Culinary Arts. Huh, very liberal arts, this school.

Now I pick a laser. Here's where I'd get dealt a hand of cards of my very own and use one card to choose a laser. Sure, sounds good. Well, with the hand I have, I can pick control over the litter box (loo loo loo, though I might have chosen "ew ew ew" as that laser...oh, wait, there is a laser with that name and it just grants power over messes in general); dew dew dew (power over water); clue clue clue (information and hints from nowhere); shoo shoo shoo (sends things away); or two two two (duplicates things). Huh, tough choice. I think I'll go with two two two, and I'll say that Boxing Day is crossed-eyed.

Next, I give myself grades in my classes. I get two As, two Bs, and a C (the classes, while they sound academic in an official sort of way, are pretty broad; one example in the book has a kitten use Film Studies to jump on the strength of watching a lot of kung fu movies).

Well, I'll say my As are in Film Studies (lots of Xmas movies) and music (carols!), my Bs are in Chemistry and Culinary Arts (those seem kinda related) and my C is in Interior Design (I was raised in a cardboard box, whaddya want).

And the other thing on the sheet, lessons, happen in play, so I guess that's me done!

Board Game: Mysterium

No, not the order from Mage: The Awakening!

The Game: Mysterium
The Publisher: Asmodee
Players: Me, +Jonathan+Michelle, Al, Morgan
Time: 30 minutes, once you know how to play

Who's ready for spooooooky fun?

Game Play:
 Mysterium is a cooperative board game in which one player, the ghost, tries to guide the other players, the psychics, into figuring out the murderer. The game progresses in three rounds; first you try and figure out who the murderer is, then where they committed murder, then with what. If this sounds like Clue, well, my brother noted that this game is like Clue if someone put the effort in to making it fun.

See the clock? That's important.
The ghost chooses one set of options (person, place, thing) for each psychic, and then tries to guide the individual psychics toward the correct answers. It does this by playing "vision cards" to try and lead the psychic on; the vision cards are weird and surreal, and the conflict in the game really stems from trying to synch the vision cards up with the cards showing the correct choices.

In the above picture, you can see five character cards. One of them is the one my psychic is trying to finger (ew) as the murderer. If the ghost plays a card with a sword, it might legitimately lead me to the one on the bottom right, but the card probably has more in it than just a sword, so it's a matter of narrowing down the vision cards. When I was ghost, I found it useful to play cards one at a time, and to pay attention to how people were choosing so I could play more cards on subsequent rounds.

After every round, the clock moves ahead an hour, and you only get eight. During that time, you have to choose your person, place, and thing, and then once all the psychics have done that, you wind up with one set per player. The ghost chooses one set as the correct one, and then chooses three vision cards to represent the elements of the set...but the players might not get to see all of them, depending on how fast they figured out their sets and how accurately they gauged other folks' guesses. If a majority vote on the correct set, yay! The murder is solved. If not, some very awkward breakfast conversation, I guess.
The backs of the cards. Boring picture, sorry.

Opinions: I like this game. Unlike a lot of such games, it's fast; once you know it, it flows pretty quickly and it's timed in any case so I can't imagine it taking more than an hour. The art on the cards is beautiful and it's layered enough that multiple vision cards can lead you to multiple character/location/item cards, depending on the combinations and other factors. It's also interesting to see people's logic in choosing; I, for instance, am never going to pick vision cards based on "color profile" because that wouldn't even occur to me, I'm more about themes of items and such.

Keep? Yep.

Marvel Heroic Notey Things

I'm running Marvel Heroic today. It's a one-shot, because Michelle's younger son is in town and wanted to play a supers game, and it's Marvel because it meant that since Toasty and Michelle's older son already have characters that provide a handy framework for an event, in theory, I wouldn't have to do as much work on game prep.

The truth of the matter, of course, is that between finishing up end-of-year work-stuff (which was minimal but inflexible as far as time went), finishing up Beast Player's Guide redlines, and the Xmas, I didn't wind up having a lot of that time. We were gonna make it a two-session game, but last week I just hadn't had time and I was under the weather (stupid POTS). So here we are.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie #384: Major League

Major League is a sports comedy about baseball, which is the only good way to watch baseball. It starts Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bensen, Rene Russo, Dennis Haysbert, James Gammon, and Margaret Whitton.

The movie opens with a montage of 1980s Cleveland, highlighting that the Cleveland Indians suck. The owner of he team has died and left it to his widow, former Vegas showgirl Rachel Phelps (Whitton), who really, really wants to get the fuck out of Cleveland and move to Miami, which has offered to buy the franchise. In order to do that, attendance has to fallen to a certain point, so she assembles a team of has-beens and never-weres to come in dead last.

Said ragtag team of baseball players includes Jake Taylor (Berenger), who was good until his knees went, Cerrano (Haysbert), who immigrated from Cuba to practice voodoo, and Vaughn (Sheen), a car thief and crazy-inaccurate pitcher. Their coach is Lou (Gammon), whom I only note because he's consistently funny in the movie and because his character is mentioned to have managed the Toledo Mud Hens, which is a nice touch.

Over the course of the movie, the team improves and eventually winds up winning the Big Game at the end (which I always thought was the World Series, but is in fact some kind of league thing; I don't really grok sports). Most of the comedy comes from the team being largely inept, dealing with each others' foibles, and so forth. And that's all well and good; Haysbert's Spanish is pretty piss-poor (like, it's technically correct but it doesn't sound at all Cuban, but I might be nit-picking), Snipes is funny as the cocksure and yet still unsteady Hayes, and Berenger nicely grounds the whole thing.

Except into this whole thing we have to inject a love story between Taylor and his ex, Lynn (Russo). Lynn has moved on and gotten engaged, and Taylor, upon seeing her randomly in a restaurant, immediately rushes over to bully her into giving him her number, then follows her to her fiancee's house, and then continues to stalk her. It's pretty gross, and it's presented (as such things often are) as playful and romantic. It's perhaps worse because in such situations, the "other man" (in this case Richard Pickren) has some kind of character flaw, he's a jerk, he's abusive, whatever. Here, her fiancee seems a decent guy, he's obviously successful and mature, and sure, he busts Jake's chops a little, but remember, he's Lynn's immature ex who is now stalking her. Fuckin' 80s comedy, man.

Anyway, cut or improve that love story and the whole movie would be better for it.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Mallrats

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Board Game: Code Names

Another holiday party, another game to add to the list!

The Game: Code Names
The Publisher: Czech Games
Players: Me, +Michelle+Dirty+Jonathan, Melissa, Megan, +Julia+Misha+Aaron
Time: About 10 minutes per round

Game Play: Code Names requires teams; we had enough for two teams of four, which is about right. One team is red, one's blue, and each team requires a "spymaster." The game board is a 5x5 grid of cards (in the picture), each of which has a single word on it. The two spymasters (and no one else) can see a square card that indicates which of the cards correspond to which colors (some red, some blue, some beige, and one black).

The them of the party this year was "attractive people in hats."

The spymaster then says one word and a number, indicating "there are (number) cards on the board relating to (word)." The other teammates then guess words corresponding to the words in the grid, one at a time, and the spymaster puts a card on the word they guess. If you can pick up what the spymaster is puttin' down, as it were, you guess the right words. It's also possible to guess the other team's words, the beige cards (which are just neutral) or the black card (insta-loss for the team that does it).
Contemplation 2. 
Opinions: This is a really simple, awesome party game. It doesn't rely on being horrible like Cards Against Humanity and it doesn't ask a lot of creative thought like Channel A, which means you can play it while drinking. Like a lot of similar games, it draws on you familiarity with the people on your team and how they think, but it also requires that you think about what other cards are on the board ("mallort 2" might be great to get people to guess "alcohol" and "regret," but what if "poison" is on the board but isn't your team's word?).

A tied game.
Keep? Yep!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Movie #383: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven is a classic Western starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Horst Bucholz, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Brad Dexter. It's based on Seven Samurai, which I haven't seen but I presently have out from Netflix. I'm sure everyone thinks it's superior; maybe it is.

Anyway! A bandit named Calvera (Wallach) is terrorizing a tiny Mexican farming village, so a delegation from said village goes looking to buy guns. They run into Chris (Brynner), a gun-for-hire who tells them it's probably cheaper to hire men than buy guns. They agreed and hire him, and he rounds up six other dudes who range in badassery from the "just met him but his heart is in the right place" Vin (McQueen) to the "green and untested firebrand" Chico (Bucholz) to the "holy shit this guy is a badass" Britt (Coburn). They repel Calvera's initial attack, but then the villagers get cold feet when they realize that it's not just gonna take one battle; Calvera's men are starving so they can't just roll on to the next village.

Calvera, not entirely bloodthirsty and fearing reprisals from the Seven's friends, lets them go, and they decide to do the right thing and turn back, killing Calvera and scattering his dudes. In the end, though, only three of the Seven survive (Vin, Chris, and Chico).

I enjoyed this movie right from the beginning. We meet Chris and Vin because they agree to escort the body of a dead man up the hill to a cemetery, which the locals are guarding because the dead man is an Indian. But the only reason he got a coffin at all is because a traveling salesman (Val Avery) paid for it out of the goodness of his heart. So right away this isn't some dirty, corrupt, noir-ish world; there are decent people here. Things are still, kindly put, layered, though - Calvera would probably love to leave the village in peace and cut his losses, but he can't; his men haven't eaten in three days. Many of the Seven would probably love to be able to turn down this gig, because it pays for shit, but they can't, either because they feel moved by the villagers' plight (like Chris) or because while it might not pay much, it pays some (as Bronson's character O'Reilly points out, right now $20 is a lot).

The movie also spends enough time on each of the Seven that they have at least some story arc, and I like casting Coburn (young, lanky, kinda gangly) as the deadly Britt because he's not a square-jawed badass. The discussions of a stable life vs. the life of a gunman is also a pretty stirring bit of acting from Vaughn and Brynner.

All in all, easy to see why this is a classic. I'm kinda interested in seeing the remake.

My grade: A
Rewatch Value: Medium-low

Next up: Major League

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Actual Play Double-Whammy: Night's Black Agents/East Texas University

Sunday we played Night's Black Agents, yesterday we finished up our story arc in East Texas University. Today I am home a bit early following POTS flaring up at work because the insurance company randomly decided to refuse to fill my script, so I've been without meds for nearly a week.

Anyway! First one, then t'other.

You're no fun anymore.
Well, actually, this game's still a lot of fun.

So! Last time the agents were in Belgrade, having a spot of bother. They were in the hospital; Parker in the waiting room as lookout, MacAteer and Hanover in the van across the street, and Gambone and Ess coming up the elevator. And four dudes with large rifles came out of the building across the street, while security starting rushing the elevator.

Ess and Gambone rigged the elevator to go up one floor, then tossed a flashbang down the stairs to disorient the security guards and made for another stairwell out. Parker headed for a side exit, but one of the dudes saw her and gave chase. She flung a knife at him and hit him in the chest (non-fatally, but certainly enough to slow him down) and she kept moving.

Meanwhile, outside, MacAteer started the van up to go meet the others...and then it lurched and died, with a bullet hole in the engine block. The two of them piled out and noted the sniper in the window of a building across the street, while the dudes with the guns took up positions in front of the parking lot, forming a kill box. Hanover snapped his own rifle together and took out the sniper (tell you what, every group should have one agent with Shooting as their MOS), but the other folks were still boxing them in. MacAteer snuck away and jacked a car, and Hanover piled in. They left out the back of the parking lot and started heading around to the back of the hospital, using the labyrinthine streets to best advantage.

At the back of said hospital, though, bad things were happening. Ess and Gambone came out one door to find Kingsilver and a flunky taking cover behind a car; as soon as the agents clear the door, the started shooting. Gambone dove forward and got clear, but Ess took a hit. Parker came out a side door, took aim, and shot Kingsilver in the head. Gambone, lying prone, shot her again after she collapsed. Parker approached and took a shot from the flunky, but nothing major. She stepped out to deliver a coup de grace...

...and then Kingsilver stood up and tentacle'd her in the chest. Parker collapsed, unconscious, and Ess approached, brandishing his dart gun, containing the very last of their anti-vampire coagulant serum. He shot her in the neck and her face swelled up, her left eye exploded, and she looked very much on the verge of death.

The flunky, seeing this, gunned Ess down, nearly killing him. Gambone shot the flunky and downed him, but Kingsilver wasn't dead. With both Ess and Parker down, Kingsilver pointing her gun at them and told Gambone to back off. He agreed, if she'd get in the car and go. She shot her flunky dead and lit out, leaving Gambone to tend the wounded.

MacAteer brought the car around and they loaded Parker and Ess in and took off. They made it to their safe house and stabilized Ess (Parker was mostly just stunned), who would need some major medical care. Gambone, who had no wounds and no medical training, kept an eye on the criminal underworld and the news, and found that the agents' pictures were all over the place as terrorists, and that rumor on the grapevine was that Vilmos Hajnal had put word out that he'd cover legal fees and extraction for anyone who shot the agents on sight.

Nothing to do, though; Ess was wounded and wasn't going anywhere for a week, so the agents went dark. During the downtime they did some analysis of the blood vials they'd stolen, and found the blood to be human but contaminated. Obviously Kingsilver had baited them; the op was for naught.

Figuring that they needed to get the hell out of Belgrade, they got their boat ready (yay Preparedness!) and had MacAteer cause a distraction a few miles away, using his Disguise MOS. They got on board and headed up the river, then disembarked and headed into Croatia to Zagreb. From there they caught a flight to Tuscany; they want to get back to the villa and regroup, and maybe see if there's anything in the blood that they can use.

One more session in this op, I think, and it won't be pretty.

And now...

East Texas University!

We pick up on Friday at the concert. Lula is running the merch table with her friend Kelly (who so desperately wants to bang the lead singer of Low Shoulder), and Doug is hanging out with them. Dante is in the crowd dancing with his date, Chrissey, and Josh is in a different part of the crowd with his frat buds.

Chrissey mentions to Dante that she promised a friend she'd give them a ride home, but perhaps she could come by later? Dante is down for that, naturally. Josh glances over into the trees and sees people moving, which strikes him as odd; why skulk? There's a concert going on. Perhaps making out?

Over at the merch table, on the other side of the crowd, Lula and Doug notice folks in the trees, too. In fact, Doug recognizes one as Peter Lopez, the campus cop that Lula was all smitten with...but he's with the dude that Dante tackled in the Sociology building Wednesday night, and a third dude that Doug thinks is familiar but can't place. How odd.

The concert winds up and Dante asks Chrissey if, perhaps before she leaves, they might find a tree under which to neck? And then his player rolled like four raises on the Persuasion check, so Chrissey does him one better - there's a pier jutting out into the lake.

Josh, meanwhile, crosses over to his friends and tells them about the people in the woods. Lula leaves the merch table with Kelly and Doug and goes into the trees herself, and finds the dude that Doug kinda-sorta recognized. She asks him about Peter, and he claims not to know him (but is clearly lying, because Doug saw them together).

The line continues to die down. The band disassembles the stage, and Kelly takes the cash box over to Nikolai and gets invited into the van. (Don't worry, she's fine. Low Shoulder isn't booked to hit Devil's Kettle, Minnesota for a few months yet.) The other characters finish up and head to the parking lot, and find more cars there than they'd have expected...including one that Dante recognizes as Chrissey's. Doug, too, notes a campus security parking pass in one of the cars - perhaps Peter's? Josh takes the opportunity to grab his gun out of his car; this is getting weird.

The group quietly heads toward the lake, and sees a campfire burning on the water's edge with people milling around it. They sneak into the woods (and all made their Stealth rolls, amazingly), and see something horrific. A group of people is standing around the fire, and two big strong guys are holding a woman (that Dante and Doug recognize as a Sociology prof) and dunking her. They're apparently doing this on the say-so of the dude that Doug recognized; he's holding up a book bound in leather. A half-dozen other folks are standing around looking on...including Chrissey.

Lula flings a rock at one of the guys holding the prof, and he drops her - she runs. The dude with the book screams at them to get her, and they give chase. Josh tries to tackle one, but misses and gets punched (though not hurt). Dante sprints out and intercepts the guys, letting the woman run, but the guy with the book raises his hand and shouts something unintelligible, and a horde of mosquitos appears and swarms around Dante, the prof, and the two cultists.

Doug runs out, grabs Josh's gun, and holds it on the book-guy, ordering him to stop. The book guy laughs and points his hand at Doug, firing some horrible bolt of energy. Doug turns away, vomiting up mosquitos.

Lula, meanwhile, keeps to her plan of throwing rocks from the forest. She downed Peter with a shot to the eye, and downed one of the other cultists with a rock to the face. Josh took a punch to the face and a broken nose, and Dante tackled a cultist but got kicked (ineffectively) in the shoulder for his trouble. But during all this kerfuffle, the prof made it to the parking lot, and the dude with the book, apparently thwarted, dove into the water and swam away. Shortly thereafter the sheriff arrived, and everybody got hauled in for questioning.

Doug and Josh needed some medical attention, and Dante, who had been bitten by a shitload of mosquitos, needed a bucket of calamine lotion, but no one was seriously injured (well, Peter lost an eye, but fuck that guy. Also I decided that gave him enough character to be a Wild Card going forward). The prof told the cops that Dante and his friends had saved her, and Dante told the cops that Chrissey hadn't been part of the cultists, so she got off with no real trouble. Everybody else got arrested and, where applicable, expelled.

The guy with the book, whose name was Michael "Mikey" Suez, was never found, but Kestrall Lake is 70 feet deep, so the police assumed he'd drowned and become catfish food. We'll never see him again.

And for now, we're taking our leave of East Texas University, but we might well revisit at some point. Go Ravens!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Feng Shui: Did It for Johnny

Last night we finished a story arc in Feng Shui. It was pretty intense. 

We begin as the characters enter the main building, what used to be Genomic Solutions in the Contemporary Juncture. The building is, of course, huge, and the big enclosures are still along the sides (though the glass has been broken out), but now there are big rocks all over the place, and a dais with a broken statue of Furious George next to it. At the other end of this huge structure is the dreaded Thrill Kill Mandrill, and an orangutan in a lab coat, standing near a big steel device, kinda like the thing they used to make Captain America. 

The Dragons enter, and Thrill Kill screams to kill them! And then came the monkeys. A bunch of soldier-apes, sure, but also foes that the Dragons had fought already: Ba-boom, holding his grenade launcher! Smilin' Bill, aiming a rifle! Silverback, roaring in rage! Albrecht, carefully choosing his strike! Sneaky Monkey, drawing her serrated sword! Drunky Monkey, swilling from his flask and screeching at Bai! And, worst of all, Ape Mask Replicant, staring down Wu Tang. 

(Cue this song for full effect.)

The battle is joined! Bai leaps into the fray (well, into a cluster of mooks) to get closer to Drunky, his nemesis. Celeste cracks her whip and yanks Ape Mask Replicant's submachine gun away, and Replicant shrugs and pulled her rifle, shooting Tang. Ba-boom fires a grenade, but Tang ducks and it flies out the door harmlessly. Tang teleports over to Ba-boom and yanks the grenade launcher away, and then teleports further into the room to confront Thrill Kill Mandrill.

This would prove to be a mistake. 

Johnny finds a silver push-cart and skateboards into the fray, knocking over monkeys (and waving to Bill). Bai sets Drunky on fire with his Fire Palm, and continues blocking the shots of the monkeys all around (they're mooks, so they miss a lot). Sneaky creeps around and attacks Celeste, but Celeste unloads on him and then kicks him across the room. 

Wildfire (who tends to suffer from low initiative) jumps up and bites into Ape Mask Replicant; she jumps away and shoots him. Ba-boom runs away for another grenade launcher, and scampers back in time to see Bai finish off Drunky with a kick to the head. Silverback punches the crap out of Johnny and Bai, and Albrecht creeps up and strikes Dragons in the head as necessary. 

Meanwhile, Tang, as mentioned, faces off against Thrill Kill. He snaps the grenade launcher two and flings it at Thrill Kill, but misses. Thrill Kill, for his part, hits a button and two machine guns pop up. They fire on Tang, wounding him, and then Thrill Kill beckons him down to fight. Tang does his best, but Thrill Kill jumps up and pile-drives him, dropping him. He holds Tang's motionless body up and howls in triumph.

Wildfire follows Ape Mask, lands on her and rends her to shreds (Tang clings to consciousness just long enough to see his friend kill his mortal enemy, and then passes the heck out). Ba-boom, horrified, fires a grenade and damages Silverback and Albrecht...but blows Johnny underneath the dais, unconscious. The three remaining Dragons know they have no chance against Bill, Ba-boom, Silverback, Albrecht, and Thrill Kill (who hasn't been touched!) and so they Cheese It. 

But they are not leaving their friends to die. Oh, no.

Celeste and Bai heal each other up a bit (neither have the Medicine skill, but they can fake it; we did joke that in a game of Monsterhearts that healing scene would have been very different). Wildfire, of course, heals on his own. They decide to climb the building and drop down near the weird regeneration-chamber thing; maybe they can get the others back.

The others, meanwhile, are alive - they've been healed a little (I had them roll for a Death Check, but instead of dying it was to see if they keep their Mark of Death from the fight; Johnny did, Tang didn't). 

They lower themselves in on Celeste's rope, and see Johnny and Tang strapped to turned-upright beds with IVs draining their blood into the regeneration chamber. Thrill Kill screams to the assembled monkeys that their Master will awaken soon!

And Bai swings on the rope and lands next to him, striking the ape in the lab coat. Celeste and Wildfire land behind the beds and untie Tang and Johnny, respectively, and Tang picks up the bed, jumps off the pedestal, and breaks the bed over Thrill Kill's head. 

(Cue this song for full effect.) 

Silverback leaps up on the pedestal to mix it up with Wildfire. Smilin' Bill jumps up on a rock and shoots Bai, and Celeste levels the gun she stole from Ape Mask and fires back. "Smile at this." 

BOXCARS. Bill goes flying off the rock, his lifeless gorilla body crashing against the dais. 

Bai strikes the ape in the lab coat and sets him on fire, but he quickly pats himself out. He then grabs the ape by the throat and demands to know how to stop the process; Dr. Zabbity says that there is no way! So Bai slams his head against the machine. 

Ba-boom fires a grenade and does some damage, but damages the chamber as well. Thrill Kill snarls at him, but Tang (having teleported clear) picks up a rock brains the Mandrill with it, and then...picks it up and hits him again. 

Meanwhile, Wildfire and Silverback are trading blows. Wildfire goes for the bite. BOXCARS. They fall off the pedestal and roll behind a rock, and Wildfire emerges, victorious, covering in gorilla blood. 

Ba-boom, seeing the writing on the wall, Cheese It. 

Thrill Kill yells to Albrecht to open the chamber, and he starts fiddling with knobs and dials, but Celeste shoots the panel and he Cheeses It, unable to complete his task and seeing Thrill Kill bleeding. 

Johnny picks up a piece of rebar and wangs Thrill Kill on the head, and Thrill Kill takes the blow and punches him back. He then jumps back to the chamber and rips off the door, just as Celeste yells "Fire in the hole!" and shoots something volatile. She sees a slim Chinese man step out, and Thrill Kill kneel before him, just before the whole thing explodes.

The dust settles, and Johnny staggers up to Tang and hands him a notebook...before collapsing dead. Tang kneels down and closes his eyes. "Shimmy ya, Johnny."

The notebook (which Johnny found in the rubble) contains a detailed account of the Chi War by Si Borg. The last page is a letter addressed to Tang, telling him that if he's reading this, Si is dead, but that he'd dedicated himself to protecting a site of power (near here, across the bridge, in fact). He also asks Tang to look in on his boy, if he ever manages to get to the Contemporary Juncture. It's signed Si "Borg" Archer. 

Johnny's mother, it seems, was from the Contemporary Juncture but wound up here, and Si Borg was his father. No wonder Thrill Kill wanted his blood for his foul science-sorcery. 

The characters bury Johnny, and strike out toward the bridge. What new adventures away in the world of...Feng Shui?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Movie #382: Magic Mike XXL

Magic Mike XXL is, of course, the sequel to Magic Mike. It stars Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Jada Pinkett Smith, Amber Heard, Donald Glover, and Kevin Nash. It's directed by Gregory Jacobs, but Sodebergh stayed on to do cinematography.

Three years after the first movie, Mike Lane (Tatum) is making furniture, but doesn't have a storefront and is barely making ends meet. He gets a called from Tarzan (Nash), one of his old stripping buddies, and learns that his former boss Dallas took "the Kid" and fucked off to Macau to start an act there, ditching the others. Said others have all moved on to various degrees; Ken (Bomer) is trying to have a go at an acting career, Tito (Rodriguez) and Tobias (Iglesias) have a fro-yo truck. Richie (Manganiello) and Tarzan are at a bit of a loss, but the guys decide to drive up to Myrtle Beach for a stripper's convention, as a send-off to their stint as the Kings of Tampa.

The movie from there is a road trip movie; the guys bond, fight, take drugs, and revamp their act. They wind up needing a new emcee and Mike visits Rome (Pinkett Smith), living like an empress in a Savannah mansion that caters to women who want to watch beautiful men strip and perform, eventually convincing her to help them. They ditch their old routines and perform new ones, reflecting who they really are and what they love.

This movie wasn't terribly well-reviewed, but I dunno, I like it. It's a good sequel, and those are rare - mostly sequels just rehash the original (or, nowadays, movies are built to be franchises so the story is designed as one long piece, which is a different thing), but in this one, the characters and world are the same, but the narrative refocuses. Nothing gets retconned, and it makes perfect sense that Dallas and Adam aren't there (IRL, they couldn't afford McConaughey and apparently Pettyfer didn't get along with Tatum, but whatever serendipity). The end of the movie isn't a joyful "let's get back to Tampa, guys!" but the acknowledgement that yeah, this was great, this was fun, we went out on a high note. It's a happy ending without being a Shakespearean happy ending (bad become good, good become saintly, everyone gets married), and it has a pretty contemplative feel for a movie about strippers.

Once again, the performances make the movie, but what's interesting to me is how much Manganiello carries it, considering he has like three lines in the first movie. Tatum is there to be the framing device and he gets the lion's share of the story (though I kinda feel like his budding romance with Amber Heard's character is much less interesting than Manganiello's with Andie MacDowell's), but the other guys and their stories are brought into focus and woven into the movie pretty deftly.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: The Magnificent Seven

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Character Creation: Storytime Chimera

Got to about 3PM today before all my energy just...went away. Whee! Anyway, this is easy and I can keep my streak going.

The Game: Storytime Chimera
The Publisher: OJO Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran a session the other night in preparation to write a review.
Books Required: Just the one.

Storytime Chimera is a game designed to tell fable-like bedtime story adventures for kids. I, as you can imagine, am a fan of this concept. Let's make a character!

First up, I create a name and a story. My story is basically my character's concept and role; in player, it lowers my difficulty on rolls if I act within it. Hmm.

I kinda think it'd be fun to play a mute character, mostly because when I ran this one of the characters summoned a water spirit and I played it mute, doing charades to pass along information. But I want to play a person. My character is a monk, a member of the Order of the First Raindrop. They believe in communing with nature and stilling the outer voice to find the inner one. My character's name is Brother Amber (he wears an amber stone around his neck, so he can point to it to introduce himself). His story is "Monk trying to achieve communion with all life, and teach others the value of listening."

Now I choose a flaw. I think Amber is easily entranced. He'll sit for hours staring at marching ants or counting the strands in a spider-web.

Now I get a hobby. This is just something Amber likes to do. I think he collects rocks. Maybe he's building a stone Tarot.

Stats! There are only 3, and I get 6 points to split up (the book actually lists out all the different possible combinations, which seems unnecessary to me). It's just Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence (which I think could have been titled better, because they're much broader than those terms would indicate). I think I'll put Strength at 1, Dexterity at 2, and Intelligence at 3.

Skills! Again, I get three points, though the book talks about Generalist/Expert/Specialist, but the math is the same. The relevant question is, do I wish to put a point in Magicking, which would allow me to cast spells? I think not. I'll take Making, Knowing, and Sneaking as my Skills.

Gear and Wealth. Ugh, my least favorite part of chargen: shopping. I get 12 supplies (which are things that get consumed in play) and 6 gear (helpful equipment). I'll take 3 food, 3 water, 2 match bundles, 2 units of oil, and 2 healing potions for supplies. For gear, I'll take a pocket knife, a staff, a lantern, a spyglass, some rope, and a rock hammer (for shaping and polishing rocks, also handy for escaping Shawshank prison).

And that's it, really!

Misspent Youth: The Celestial Bureaucracy

Yesterday the group that was playing Nobilis met to figure out a new game. We decided to do our Spark-inspired method of choosing a game.

  • Meghan chose Star Wars: The Force Awakens (but really the franchise in general) because she wanted something in SPAAAAAACE.
  • Sarah chose the Lucifer TV show because of the discussions on Divinity. 
  • Melissa chose Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit; she liked the clear ethical argument and position it takes.
  • Michelle chose Kubo & The Two Strings for its elements of storytelling and how storytelling is power and resolution.
  • I picked the music of Devil Makes Three; I like the dark themes but the light expression. 
  • Travis chose the Dark Matter TV show; he likes how it's got elements of hard sci-fi but is ultimately about the characters.
With all of that in mind, we discuss a few options. We came close to playing In Flames, but it seemed a little darker than we wanted to go, so we opted instead for +Robert Bohl's Misspent Youth

Now, I ran a game of Misspent Youth some time ago, as you might have heard. I really like this game and I'm happy to be playing it again with a different group of people (mostly; Michelle played in the last one). 

We set to work defining our Authority. The players decided that the gods are real - most or all of the gods of human pantheons were real, but actually alien intelligences, and they've been using humanity as skin-suits for eons. Turns out human bodies are actually pretty resilient, and while gods are powerful, they need those skin-suits to really thrive. Gods need a substance they call Quintessence (but the YOs just call Mojo) to survive and empower themselves - if a human ingests Mojo, they become similarly empowered and cannot be possessed. 

The overarching body of gods is the Celestial Bureaucracy. When humanity got off of Earth and ascended to the stars, the gods scoured the Earth of all life. Now, humanity is a scattered race, and the ones that offend the gods get imprisoned on a world called Bardo. Which is where this is all gonna start. 

The gods have some Systems of Control at their disposal:
  • They limit access to Quintessence. Humanity can't really fight back without it. 
  • They tailor humanity's genetics; they want their skinsuits pretty, fit, and healthy.
  • They divide themselves into Houses. A god of a given House needs a particular kind of human to possess. This also gives humans (who are naturally tribal) something to fight over, which keeps them busy. 
  • They have planet-destroying nano-tech, which is how they razed the Earth. 
  • And, of course, they maintain a prison-world called Bardo, where they keep dissidents and let them burn off Mojo. 
The Youthful Offenders are all stranded on Bardo. They have one Exploit they can use: They've all used Mojo and can therefore communicate with each other in real time regardless of distance (this is called Interstellar Mojo Empathy). Human beings generally can display empathy, which is alien to the gods. 

And now, the YOs.
  • Sarah is playing Eli, the non-binary felonious monk. Eli provides Mojo to the others (no word yet where they get it). Their Disorder is "We Are All Created Equal." They're a member of the House of Stone.
  • Michelle is playing Jaquard (or Jaqui), the sigil graffiti artist. She sees herself as a spiritual alarm clock, waking people up to the shit they're in. Her Disorder is "Listen to Me." She's from the House of Wings and Wind.
  • Megan is playing Yasha, the reluctant god-slayer. She's kind of Buffy-like, tapped for greatness and violence. Her Disorder is "Liberation Theology." She belongs to the House of the Hollow Crown.
  • Travis is playing Ksanti Unvicious, the punk rock bodhisattva. Ksanti was born on Bardo, and she's the youngest of the YOs at 12. Her Disorder is "We have everything we need in us already." She's a member of the House of Hungry Ghosts. 
  • Melissa is playing Alaska, the underestimated slut. Alaska is a light-bringer, showing the world uncomfortable truth and beauty. Her Disorder is that she "wants to be loved." She belongs to the House of Gaga. 
That's what we've got so far. Very much looking forward to seeing this world evolve. 

Movie #381: Magic Mike

Magic Mike is a dramedy directed by Steven Sodebergh, and starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Munn, Adam Rodriguez, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Kevin Nash, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and Gabriel Iglesias.

Mike (Tatum) is a very busy stripper living in Tampa. In addition to stripping, he own four or five side businesses, but what he really wants to do is make custom furniture. One day on a construction job, he meets Adam (Pettyfer), and winds up getting him a job stripping with the "Kings of Tampa," the stripping troupe managed by the somewhat narcissistic Dallas (McConaughey).

Adam (nicknamed "the Kid") gets immediately sucked into the life and winds up selling drugs for Tobias (Iglesias), the group's DJ. When he loses a bunch of drugs, Mike, who's falling for Adam's sister Brooke (Horn), steps up and bails him out, at the cost of most of his savings. The movie ends with Mike stepping away from the troupe and trying to figure out a more reasonable plan of action. Also snogging Brooke.

So, I saw this movie in theaters, and apart from the woman sitting near me who brought a four-year-old who was clearly not thrilled, what I remember was that I was expecting it to be light and funny about with beefcake. One for three ain't bad. Most of the stripper dudes perform some pretty impressive feats of male entertainment, but holy shit Channing Tatum. Whatever you think of his acting, the boy can dance.

But quite apart from that, the storyline is more Boogie Nights if it focused on Reed Rothchild instead of Dirk Diggler (and, like, involved way less people getting shot). It's not so much "light and funny" as "young person getting seduced by the glamour of a new life with drugs and so forth," and seeing that through the eyes of someone who's already done it and is trying to make his own way. The plot is thin - not bad, just thin - but the performances from Tatum, Horn, and Pettyfer (nicely underpinned by McConaughey) are what make it. Tatum absolutely sells the fast-talking and ultimately earnest Magic Mike, and Pettyfer and Horn have a perfect sibling relationship; Horn is more responsible, but you can see her rough edges and they get rougher around Mike.

It's a Sodebergh movie, which is what I always forget about it, but that means the ensemble cast works and you get at least a sense of some of the other performers. It's worth a watch, especially if you'd find any of these folks attractive.

My grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Magic Mike XXL

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What Not to Do

Man, this fucking week. Month. Year.

OK, I'm not going to get into all of the ways that 2016 has sucked, because I have shit to do today. What I do want to talk about, a little, is this little shitshow.

That image is taken from the press release wherein Modiphius announced the writers for their new Star Trek game. I know a bunch of the guys up there, and that's a pretty impressive group of talent. You know what's not there? Any women. At all.

(Now, I'm pointing out that specific fact because I don't know all of the guys in that list, and I'm sure that some of them are LGBTQA+ and some of them might be POC; I literally don't know. So I'm sticking the what I do know, for now.)

That is, frankly, unacceptable. But I understand how it happened.

Why White Dudes Hire White Dudes

It happened because whoever was in charge of making that decision was a guy, and he went with the people he knew. He went with names he recognized, and while I'm sure he talked to some women, he didn't talk to enough. He didn't make hiring diversely a priority, and I'm here to tell ya, if it's not a priority you won't do it.

I've been in the position of hiring writers for RPG products, a bunch - dozens of projects going back to 2001 (when I had my first development gig after getting hired at White Wolf). It's hard when you have only X slots to fill, and you know X people who would be good for the gig, and all of them happen to be white dudes. That means that you know you're hiring qualified, talented people - people with whom you have a history - and that'll make the product solid, right? So hiring someone different means bumping someone you know will be good, on, what, some kind of quota?

There's a very big tendency in this hobby to knee-jerk rebel against authority, to say "You're Not the Boss of Me" to anyone trying to moderate the conversation (evidence: spend any amount of time on a heavily moderated message board or forum, especially if bannings and suspensions are public. Yes, like RPG.Net. No, I'm not interested in fighting about this). Any suggestion that hiring practices are in any way suspect gets met a lot of resistance, often using words like "quota," "merit," and "SJW." And all of that is bullshit.

No, you don't hire on a quota. You hire with an eye toward diversity. No, you don't hire someone whose writing is weak just because they're not a cishetwhitedude, but you might hire someone less experienced because of their diverse background. Ultimately it's a good choice.

Why I Hire Diversely 

Here are my reasons for hiring people not like me:

1) They're not like me. I'm a middle-class cis white man from Ohio. I was raised not rich, but certainly comfortable. I've made a lot of attempts to broaden my horizons as I've gotten older, but I'm limited by time, money, and health (social media helps!). I need diverse voices on my books because they say things I can't say because I don't know to say them.

2) The books benefit. Games written entirely by dudes like me wind up derivative and safe. Games with a diverse group of writers wind up interesting and unexpected. I can avoid being derivative and safe, but it's a conscious effort - much less work, really, to hire people who can bring change and variety easily.

3) It's fair. You can talk about "hiring on merit" all you want, but that's not how our brains work. We look for people like us and trust them more, and moreover, we avoid people we perceive as a threat (this is just an article I found on a quick Google search, but there's a lot more). Hiring diversely is a way to break down our own internal biases, and that's good for us as people, and it's good for the hobby.

How Did Modiphius Handle This

Badly. For one thing, they've kinda hung their freelancers out to dry. The guys on that list didn't make hiring decisions, and they're not accountable for the decisions Modiphius made. Instead of issuing a statement saying "we're aware of the problem, please direct questions and comments here" (where "here" is an email address or comment form so as to give people a place to direct feedback, rather than slather it over Facebook), one of their head dudes is hopping around on people's FB feeds, posting the same bunch of excuses. Basically, it cooks down to "we did talk to women, but they didn't get back to us, so we had to hire all dudes." 

Politely put, I don't believe that for a hot second. 

The press release includes this little coda at the end:

That's nice, guys, that you're looking for "diverse writers" but that's not enough. You need to approach people. You need to track down the people you want to work with. You need to make your team diverse, not whisper into the Internet "we want diverse people!" and then expect them to come to you. You're talking about populations that sci-fi, fantasy, RPGs, and gaming in general have marginalized, abused, and run out of the hobby for years. You want 'em, you need to find them. 

And hey, I get it. I've seen developers track down diverse voices and hire them, just to have them flake out on projects, and it would very easy to say "Hey, I hired a WOC on this project, she bailed or disappeared, if they don't want the jobs why should I bust my back hiring them?" 

My response to that is, I've had so many white dudes flake on projects. Just so many. And I've had women do it. It happens on every book. It's not a problem with any particular demo; if it's common in RPGs, it's because writers aren't paid enough to make the writing a priority and therefore when health, real life, or other things conflict, the little writing gig that you're being paid 4 cents a word for but asked to do playtesting, game design, writing, and world-building on is the thing that has to go. Sorry, little bonus rant for you. 

Anyway, the point is that yes, you need to make the effort. You need to build your team. You need to think about the voices you want to amplify.

There's more to this, but it's already getting long, so I think I'll post this and see what happens. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Movie #380: Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters is a remake of the 1984 film, and stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, and cameos from a lot of the original cast.

Erin Gilman (Wiig) is a physicist who reconnects with her estranged friend Abby (McCarthy) after discovering the book they wrote about ghosts is still extant (and costing Gilman her chance at tenure). Roped into an investigation along with Abby's new partner Holtzmann (McKinnon), they discover a real ghost, and dedicate themselves to studying and proving the existence of said creatures. Along the way they pick up a pretty but not especially bright receptionist (Hemsworth) and an uneducated but well-read and knowledgeable MTA worker (Jones).

Turns out, however, that the increased supernatural activity is due to an embittered MRA scientist named Rowan (Casey) who wants to unleash the unquiet dead and then rule the world post-cataclysm. And into all of this, the mayor of New York (Garcia) and his obsequious assistant (Strong) are telling the Ghostbusters to keep up the good work, but y'know, don't actually expect any support or acknowledgement.

This movie had a somewhat problematic reception, he said understatedly. It's a remake of a classic comedy movie starring women, which means that all of the shitheads ever crawled out of reddit and chan sites to shit on it every chance they got. They drove Leslie Jones off Twitter with harassment, and basically made it impossible to judge the movie on its own merits - if you're a misogynist shitbag, of course you're gonna hate it. It's "stealing your childhood" or some such nonsense. If you're into movies that star women, then you kind of feel obligated to like it.

I've now seen it three times (twice in theaters, once at home), and here's what I think: It follows a similar plotline to the original, but there are important differences, and not just the gender swap. First off, the characters are scientists. In the original, only Egon was really interested in science for its own sake (well, kinda Ray, too), but the driving force behind the work was to make money. Here, the women aren't charging for their services; their motive is entirely scientific (and then, like, save the world).

The humor is more front-and-center; the original is a comedy, but it includes horror and sci-fi aspects just as strongly. This one is much more a comedy; almost everything is a joke. Much of it is letting the four leads do their particular act, which might be why McKinnon comes off so well; she's acting and playing a character more than doing a schtick. That said, I think the chemistry between the cast is pretty awesome.

There are some questions about the how the metaphysics of the world work (the fight scene at the end - what are those balloons? Can you whip a ghost to death? What happens to ghosts hit with grenades?) that don't really get resolved, but the movie is pretty clearly meant to set up a franchise...which it's not gonna do, because it disappointed at the box office. I'm bummed about that. I thought, frankly, it was more accessible and, in a lot of ways, funnier than the original. I like that the leads interact with the secondary characters (imagine Venkman giving half a shit about Janine the way that the ladies do about Kevin - not just Erin's creepy crush on him, but how the others protect him and obviously care about thim?) and, of course, I like that the fact that the leads are women is important to the movie but not the entire plot.

Overall, I think this movie came out really well, and I'm sad that it didn't get the support it deserved.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Magic Mike

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

East Texas: Beer Pong and Punching

So, last time, the characters saw a bunch of birds, chatted, kvetched, and tackled a thief breaking into a prof's office. This time, there was even more excitement!

The characters had their usual day of classes (nothing especial to focus on there, except that Josh's theater prof had his sketchbook back). And then that evening, as they hung out in the dorm doing study-things, and Josh's roommate texted all of them.

Josh, you see, has a kind of annoying roommate named Donnie Gayle. Donnie manages to trip headfirst into stupid situations, and he usually texts everyone first. But this time, he texted photos of the folks from Low Shoulder - they were at a party in Greek Row. Lula was down (and let her friend Kelly know, since Kelly was very much looking forward to bedding Nikolai). Dante, likewise, was always up for drunken shenanigans, and Doug and Josh kind of figured "ah, hell, sure" and tagged along.

They got there and found the party was already going nuts - lots of drinking, beer pong, and people trying to get close to Nikolai and his drummer. Donnie showed up and acted drunk and stupid, but the real excitement was when Doug noticed a bunch of frat guys eyeing him in an angry sort of way. And then one of them stomped over, made a slurred accusation about Doug banging his girlfriend, and slugged him ineffectually.

Doug lit out for safety (he is not a fighter), and Dante launched himself over the pool table like Batman at the dudes. He wound knocking one down, as did Josh, but got a beer bottle to the head for his trouble and wound up Wounded. Lula crept around the throng with Kelly, but bounced a quarter off a frat dude's head and made him trip over a table, taking him out. Doug, meanwhile, had made his way over to Nikolai and told him that if he helped out, Doug would make sure he met Kelly, who was entirely willing to do depraved things with him.

Nikolai let Doug hide behind him, and then the sheriff showed up and everyone got quite a talking to! And also tickets for disorderly conduct and so on. Lula's cop buddy, Peter Lopez, showed up and pretended to write her a ticket, but actually gave her his number. Dante got a towel with ice to put on his head, and everyone started walking back toward Whitehall (the dorm they live in).

Donnie, meanwhile, had put a bunch of photos of the party up online, and Dante noticed that Peter had been there before the violence started. He excused himself and went to campus police, and talked Peter into rescinding his ticket (it's not really illegal for Peter to be there but it doesn't look good). He rejoined the others, who were in the midst of obtaining pizza, and they looked at the photos some more. They realized that the thief they'd tackled the day before had been there, too, handing what looked like a book to a dude that Doug recognized from the business center, who was then photographed getting all up in Nikolai Wolfe's face.

Some drama was going down, the characters just weren't sure what. They headed back to the dorm, ate pizza and hung out a bit. Tomorrow's the concert, after all. Gotta rest up.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Night's Black Agents: Planning & Entrapment

Yesterday was Night's Black Agents. Back to Belgrade!

The agents all entered Serbia using various covers (Gambone made one just for the occasion); their preliminary research showed them that their faces and names were out in the open, probably due to the snafu in Paris. MacAteer entered the country separately, a few days later, and although they let him through, he got the distinct impression he was being tailed. 

Meanwhile, the agents had set up surveillance near the hospital. Ess, using his cover as an orderly (with a little doctoring of records and licensure from Hanover) took a job there, and snuck a bug into their computer system. Hanover looked through records and found a work order for a drawer in the morgue that hadn't been fixed in years, but kept getting bumped to the bottom of the queue. Ess put a camera on the wall facing it, just to see if someone was using it as a bed, but the agents never saw anyone open it. Storage, maybe?

MacAteer contacted the others and told them he was probably made. Gambone got in touch with Janos Strayovich, a cop who'd busted Gambone once (and then let him off after a bribe). Strayovich agreed to help out, but he warned Gambone that someone was gunning for him. 

They set up the fake bust - the cops pulled MacAteer over, MacAteer ran, Strayovich pretended to lose him, and Parker, wearing a disguise and a new cover as a cop, took the van with the guns "to impound" (really to a safehouse to remove the guns, then to impound). Meanwhile, Ess, in the crowd, spotted Ava Kingsilver. He snuck up close to her and listened to her conversation (which Gambone had to translate, since Ess doesn't speak Russian); she was watching for the agents and told someone listening to "check perches." Ess debated stabbing her, but he didn't have any serum and wasn't sure he could take her in a fight. Instead he slipped a tiny tracking device into her hair. Hanover tracked her, and saw that she was staying in a building near the hospital - she was watching for the agents.

Having obtained their gear, the agents moved houses and debated their options. They hadn't been made yet; if they were they'd be dead. Gambone suggested blowing up Kingsilver's building, but a little research revealed it was an apartment building that rented to hospital employees and families of long-term patients - not a safe target, even to take Ava off the board. The agents talked about it; Ess was strenuously in favor of taking her out, but the other argued that Kingsilver was ultimately a pawn - she was dangerous, but low-level, and if they took her out the conspiracy would just replace her. And it would tip the agents' hand. No, better for now to investigate the hospital and the museum.

Gambone and Ess broke into the museum and found that the office of Ograd Bugarcic (the curator) had been left in kind of a hurry; consistent with what they'd seen before. They searched it and found nothing untoward. He'd been running the museum pretty much legit. They did find travel records, and he'd traveled mostly within the Continent, except for one overseas journey a few years back to Shoreham, New York. Looking into that little town, they found it was the site of Wardenclyffe. Maybe a trip to the States is in the offing? Dangerous, though. 

They also found a storeroom protected with a much more serious alarm system and lock. Breaking in, they found an empty filing cabinet, a folded-up bed, a desk, and a chair. Very Spartan and obviously not in use. A safe house for a vampire, perhaps?

Figuring they'd seen all they would see at the museum, they moved on the hospital. Ess pushed Gambone in, covered on a gurney (as a corpse, you see). Parker waited in the lobby with flowers, while MacAteer and Hanover waited in the van and watched the front of Kingsilver's building. Ess opened the drawer and found a "corpse" in a body bag, but it turned out to be a dummy with the torso missing. In its place was a box. Inside, they found six vials of blood, labeled with an alphanumeric code.

And then Parker saw security massing at the elevator. Hanover saw armed men leaving Kingsilver's building. The agents were made.

Next time, we'll see how that ends.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Character Creation: Byron Falls

I have a few minutes, sure, let's do a quick character.

The Game: Byron Falls
The Publisher: John Wick Presents
Degree of Familiarity: None, but it ain't like it's complicated.
Books Required: Just the one.

Byron Falls hits a lot of the same notes as Monsterhearts, but it's much tamer and much less fully realized. It's apparently the result of a dare, and it's kind of thrown together; the rules are being revised or change in the text of the game, which doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence (like, if it's worth publishing, it's worth firming up, just IMO, but then again my Kickstarter didn't make a million bucks so what do I know?).

Anydangway, Byron Falls is a small town with a lot of supernatural creatures, and also clever, pretty, witty girls, who are supposed to be the PCs, except that the rule about everyone playing girls was apparently dropped.

Starting off, we need a name, which has a secret symbolic meaning that only a few people will figure out. I think I want my character to be the bored scion, latest issue in a long line of Byron Falls-ians. In fact, hell, his family name is Byron (what, you thought it was named after the poet? Ha. It's named after my great-great-great-grandfather). His first name is Perry.

Now I get Interests. These are stats, basically. I get 3 points, but there are five Interests, so most of them are gonna be zero. I'll put one into Sports, one into Drama and one into Detention (which gives me like a 50/50 in anything I'm doing, which is meh, but whatever, I see Perry as kind of smirky and half-hearted in general).

Now, Friends. I get 10 points, and I can have at most 5 friends. No one friend can have more than 5 points. These can be NPCs or PCs, but since it's just me they'll all be PCs.

OK, so, my sister, Liz Byron, gets four points. She's a year older than Perry. They used to be closer than they are now, but she's drifting away now she's getting older and on the swim team and so on.

Bailey Bonner gets three points. He's a delinquent - in detention all the time. He also sells Perry pills sometimes. He has deep, soulful eyes, which Perry swears he's never noticed.

Finally, for three points, we've got Sera Raist. The Raist family has been close to the Byron family forever, and Sera and Perry were childhood friends. Sera spent last year studying abroad, but she's back in Byron Falls for high school.

Now I need an Enemy. The book tells me this should be another PC (anything else would be "wimpy") but a) I disagree and b) I don't have any other PCs anyway. Perry's enemy is Trisha Geistmann. Trish and Perry were friends in grade school, but Perry finds her clingy and coarse.

I list my Grade as freshman (it says "class" on the sheet, but whatevs) and that's actually it! Oh, I get 10 Soul Points, which I can use to succeed on rolls, but if I lose them all I die. Maybe. Maybe become a monster. It's all very loosey-goosey.

Anyway, that's me done!

Game prep! Oh, myyyy!

Back at the table and high on life. Let's prep some games!

I don't have a lot of philosophical blather this time, so I will instead link this poem I recorded over on Soundcloud. It's "The Hangman" by Maurice Ogden, it's one of my favorite poems, and I felt it was kinda topical. I linked it before, but I'm just filling space now so that my players don't click on this and see something they shouldn't.

Good? Good. On we go.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Feng Shui: Dimly Hazily Recollected Memories of Monday

Monday was Feng Shui and I really, really did intend to do the write-up on Tuesday, but then I flew to Oklahoma and spent much of my free time redlining a Beast book, so it didn't get done. So here we are.

The Dragons, having bested Errol and his Cheerful Chimps and battle, decided to join forces with them and head into the trees to take on Thrill Kill Mandrill and his peeps. Errol warns them that fortress is well-guarded, but that he and his Chimps will help. They come upon a suspicious-looking clearing and Johnny, ever the master of stealth, strides in confidently and declares his presences.

Whereupon a hail of arrows, bullets, and rocks come flying at Johnny. He isn't harmed (because mooks), but the battle is joined.

This battle is mostly mook-monkeys, but since they're all attacking at a distance, whenever they attack, they attack in a volley and someone gets hurt. Tang and Wildfire take some shots to the torso from arrows, Bai leaps up into trees and starts kicking monkeys out - and also mixes it up with Albrect, a huge gibbon with a swatch of white fur, who swings around on vines and mimics the style of who he's fighting (monkey see, monkey do!).

The characters, aided by some off-screen arrows from Errol, defeat the monkeys (though Albrecht escapes). Regrouping, Errol tells them that once they pass the second marker, the Cheerful Chimps can no longer help. He shows them a Simian Army tattoo and claims that an explosive underneath it will detonate if he crosses the second marker. Tang doesn't necessarily buy it, but they part ways (and he gives Johnny a bow and some arrows).

The Dragons approach the second marker, and now they're in the ruins of Hong Kong - they recognize this block. They're near Genomic Solutions, where they fought Thrill Kill Mandrill way back here. The Dragons, in the trees, look across to see monkeys on buildings, monkeys in the streets - man, so many monkeys. They note, in particular, a huge silverback gorilla who looks like a badass...and Drunky Monkey (Bai's lip curls with hatred).

Celeste, figuring that it's better to get the drop on them, shoots one, misses, and everything goes whack-a-ding-hoy.

The monkeys attack, launching arrows and bullets at the Dragons, and Wildfire is the only one who's healed up. The Dragons also don't have much in the way of distance attacks (Celeste has her gun, sure, but that's about it). Bai leaps into the fray and engages with Drunky Monkey, leading to this delightful back-and-forth where he stabbed Bai, Bai pulls the knife out of his own shoulder and stabs Drunky, who screeches, pulls out the knife, and stabs Bai back.

Wildfire jumps down from the tree and engages Silverback, only to take a whack to the knee from Slugger-angutan and his huge club. Meanwhile, Sneaky Monkey, a tiny colobus with a sharp sword, creeps down and stabs Wildfire, but Johnny enters the fray and locks up with monkey (and Sneaky just can't get a shot in on Johnny to save his life).

Tang teleports in to help Wildfire with the gorilla, but then the other major player in this fight show himself: Bab-BOOM! Bab-boom is a baboon with a grenade launcher and a total lack of regard for his friends, and he damages a lot of the Dragons throwing explosives around. In particular, he blows Tang through a wall and straight out of the fight (the player, playing the odds for once in his life, elected to stay down rather than risk multiple Marks of Death).

Noting that the Dragons were slowly whittling through the mooks and damaging the leaders, though, the monkeys elected to run. Silverback, Sneaky, Drunky, and Bab-boom fled successfully, but Wildfire caught Slugger and tore out his throat. The Dragons helped Tang to his feet; he was stunned, but alive.

But in the distance, over the main building, they saw a storming brewing up, and Bai sensed evil sorcery. What business are those monkeys doing!?