Saturday, January 30, 2016

Character Creation: Witch

I'm running a one-shot of Witch in about two and half hours, and so I figure I should make a character since I'm gonna be running a group of bright-eyed gamers through this process soon (I don't have pre-gens, see). With that in mind:

The Game: Witch: Fated Souls
The Publisher: Angry Hamster Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Not a heck of a lot. I've read the book.
Books Required: Just the one.

I backed this game on Kickstarter, and the author, +Elizabeth Chaipraditkul, is a friend a fellow member of the IGDN (as such, yes, I'll be reviewing this game for I really like the premise - you're playing one of the Fated, someone who has sold their soul to a demon of one kind or another for the power of magic. The tone of the game floats between World of Darkness (secret magical society next door to ours) and Sorcerer (you do magic by means of a demonic pact which could wind up fucking you long term). However, Witch also has a notion I enjoy - you can, in theory, given magical mastery, get your soul back.

With all of that in mind, what sort of witch do I want to make? The game provides seven Fates, divided up by what kind of demon owns your soul and therefore what kind of magic you do. Character creation starts with a section called Building a Backstory, which I think is pretty cool. Let's try it.

Before my Fating... Life was idyllic. My character grew up comfortable, not rich. He put forth effort in school, but didn't struggle. He interviewed for jobs, but he always got hired.

I was Fated because... The seventh sons of seventh sons in his family are generally sacrificed to a demon, but when it came time for Brian (for 'tis his name), the sacrifice went weird. Turns out Brian's father sired a son before he was married, making Brian the eighth son of a seventh son, and making the whole ritual go whack-a-ding-hoy.

My relationship with my demon is... tense, but cordial. My demon is cooly polite, because it knows that this cluster-fuck isn't really Brian's fault. Brian, for his part, wants out of the deal, but magic is pretty cool, so he wavers sometimes. His demon has suggested, but not outright agreed, that if Brian finds the actual sacrificial target (his older brother) and completes the ritual, he can have his soul back. Said brother, Timothy, ran for the goddamn hills right after the ritual, and Brian isn't sure where he is.

Today I am... half-heartedly searching. Brian isn't sure he can actually kill his older brother, both from a "that's an evil thing to do" standpoint and from a "he has mystical power of his own" standpoint (I'd leave it to my GM what sort of power Timothy has). As such, Brian is working to build up his own magic in hopes of completing the ritual. His demon, meanwhile, bides its time, fully aware that at no point did it agree on these terms.

There, good start. What's next? Choosing a Fate, of course. Heks sounds good, as does Lich - I can see the ritual involving pulling out Brian's heart and putting it in a jar, which would start. But Seer works just as well, and for a character like Brian who's going to be doing the "wander around getting in adventures" thing as he searches for his brother, having visions works nicely. So I'll go with Seer. That gives me an Underworld taint; I have little spikes coming from my spine. Not sharp enough to hurt anyone or poke through clothing, though they do make getting massages difficult. I also get visions of the future and memories of past lives (in the family, no doubt).

I have two Spells, Oculus and Brutalis, but I have to look up what they do. Just a moment. God I wish I had a physical book.

Hmm. OK, Oculus is straightforward enough; it lets me grant my visions to other people and slow the visions down to interact with them, which is actually pretty cool, though it does require a GM who'll remember I have visions and let me use them (note that Seers can't force themselves to have visions). Brutalis, though, is weird. I have an affinity for some kind of animal, and I'll pick spiders, because a) they're everywhere and b) they're awesome. They follow me around, and the cantos (kind of the specific things you can do within a given Spell) allow me to GAAAAAAAAH either heal people, possess them, or torture them JESUS GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU LIZ.

Ahem. I'll pick Mens, because possessing people with spider-drones is pretty badass. I actually don't think I'll bother putting any points into Oculus; it's cool and all, but I think I'll get by with just the cantrip (which lets me say something true about a person the first time I meet them). I'll take canto I of Mens in Brutalis and Canto I in Animus, which lets me remove a sense from a victim by using spiders. Good lord, that's horrible.

Now I get 18 points to spend in Attributes. A rating of 2 is supposedly average, and we've got 8 attributes, so I could put 2 in each one and have two points left over. But hrm. Do I want to do that? I think I do, actually, because Brian was raised to be pretty much average across the board. So I'll put the other two points into Dexterity and Perception, making him a little better than average there.

OK, then. 20 points in Skills, plus I pick two Skills that I get a +2 bonus in once per session. I'll put those in Streetwise and Deception, I think. Otherwise, we'll do it like this:

Athletics 2 (always take Athletics)
Brawl 1
Deception 3
Dodge 2 (booooo)
Etiquette 1
Melee 1
Perform 1
Ranged 2
Spot 3
Stealth 2
Streetwise 2

And that's Skills, then. Talents are my magical abilities. I get only 4 points. I know Casting is important because you roll it to, duh, cast spells, so I'll put 2 there. And I read the potions system and I think it's pretty slick. so I'll put 2 there, too. Oh, hang on, I get to pick a Talent Focus, and then I get a free point there. Hmm. Well, if I take Casting, I can deal more efficiently with demons. If I take Potions, I can identify plants better. But hang on again. I also get a bonus based on my Fate. For Casting, that's "summon a massive swarm of spiders and shape it into stuff," while for Potions it's "put my spiders into potions and I pick the aspects." Oh, decisions, decisions. I think I'll go with Casting, but it's a tough call.

Now, Pursuits, which are like Backgrounds in OWoD. I'm not crazy with how this is split up; Funds and Property are two different things. But I'll take Prestige (I like the idea that Brian is known in Fated circles) at 2 points, Funds at 1 (walking around money) and 2 in Contacts (you meet people, y'know?).

Now I get 10 freebies. I could buy another canto, if I wanted, but that would eat them all. Hmm. I'll spend 4 and buy 2 points of the Thievery skill. And because I thought it was an Attribute and missed it before, I'll spend 4 more and buy 2 points of the Wits Skill. That leaves me 2, which is either a Pursuit or a Skill. I'll buy a point of Status, meaning I'm known in my social circle (which is to say, weirdos in the occult underground).

And then we've got some derived traits. Hit points are...based on a static number and Stamina, sure. Initiative is the higher of Dexterity and Perception, so it was actually dumb of me to make them equal, ah well. CD (Combat Difficulty) is 11 + my Dodge, which really should be Athletics because splitting "Dodge" off from Athletics is silly, but whatever. And soak is equal to some weird foreign word called "armour", which I think means love? But I haven't got any, so I guess it's zero.

OK, then! Brian Arcott is tall, thin, white, light brown hair, scruff but never anything you could legitimately call a "beard." He wears jeans and a button-down shirt, and an old pea-coat when it's cold. He lives out of his car and couch surfs occasionally, but he moves around, chasing leads on his brother. He's got a spider-web tattoo on his back, and gets it expanded every new city he's in. There aren't any tattooed spiders on it, but real spiders like to hang out there, which can be freaky. Oh, and of course he's got those spines on his back, which I'm sure is fun to explain to tattoo artists.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Changeling: Implications of the Word "Queen"

I ran Changeling: The Dreaming 20th  the other night. First session is here.

So now it's Wednesday morning (in-game, I mean). Krysa is at work, Zulkis is in the freehold, Thaia is asleep (late night with her actor friends) and Ambrose is stripping copper wiring from an abandoned building. Sander, the satyr who wasn't there last time, is working as well, scouting a location for an event (he works for a party planner).

Ambrose has a couple of buddies who are garbage men, and they're doing their rounds that morning. Sander notes the garbage truck coming down the street, and sees the two men walk down the alley by the building as if they've seen something. His interest piqued, he follows them.

Meanwhile, Bexley (one of the garage men) calls Ambrose. "Found something weird," he says. "We'll send you a picture." And indeed he does, just as Sander slips into the alley and sees what they're seeing: Corpses of rats, torn in half, and then used to write something on the alley wall. It's an alphabet that neither Ambrose nor Sander understand right away.

The garbage men see Sander and recognize him as a satyr (they're both Kinain, so they can see his fae mien). They take off, but Sander is looking at this, now, and Ambrose is already on the way, by way of Thaia's place. Sander contacts Zulkis and Krysa, and Krysa is, understandably, pissed.

The motley convenes at the alley and studies it a bit. Sander figures whatever did this was big and strong - they grabbed the rats and twisted them in half. A troll, maybe? Thaia and Zulkis look at the lettering and interpret it as a warning or a challenge, but Thaia looks a little deeper (by Unleashing Soothsay) and realizes it's more an acknowledgement of a challenge, like "you threw the gauntlet, we picked it up." This would seem to point to Rista the Rat-thing, whom the characters kind of humiliated the other night.

Krysa is pretty furious at all this. She calls up her rats (well, the rats are still following her) and talks to them. She learns that the rats were baited and lured here, and the rats smell "cat-rat" in a bolthole in the wall. A shapeshifter, maybe like Rista? Rista wasn't big enough to do this, but maybe she had help. Zulkis thinks on this, (and uses Kenning) and comes up with the feeling of death, and a flavor of Glamour he hasn't seen before.

The characters fall back to a coffee shop to think about this. Thaia reads tea leaves (using Soothsay) and sees a hammer - the symbol of House Dougal. Count Maldiset, the ranking sidhe in the city, is House Dougal, and he's not a fan of the democratic way this Duchy is run. But would he work with Thallain? And why target Krysa? The changelings figure they need someone more well-versed in Soothsay than Thaia to wrangle this, and Ambrose and Krysa know a guy - a boggan street salesman named Dosan.

They track down Dosan, and he agrees to do some casting on their behalf. He casts a Soothsay cantrip, and then explains what he's found - Krysa is the Rat-Queen. Whether she meant to or not, she got the Dreaming's attention with her Unleashing, and she now matters in a big way (lots of rats in NYC!). How that all ties in with the political situation, Dosan can't say, but he advises the motley to figure out what they know already, maybe that'll help. They thank him (and Ambrose trades him the copper wire for a pocket watch, while Thaia asks to come back and learn some Soothsay), and they fall back to the freehold to chat.

Zulkis points out that he was a noble before Maldiset ordered him to murder a man named Michael Hecton, a city councilman. Krysa's heard of this; Hecton was angling to sell off the old subway stops (like the one the characters use), and then he was run down by a car. But Zulkis says a sidhe named Ulsa was responsible for this, and Maldiset ultimately made the call. Ambrose, too, has some dirt on Maldiset.

But neither of them think Maldiset would knowingly work with the Thallain; he's Seelie, after all. There must be another player involved, and it isn't someone the characters know.

They decide that since the Parliament of Dreams is meeting tomorrow, they'll go and observe. Maybe there, they'll find some answers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Epyllion: The Black Sands

Last time, the dragons had fought the Eel-King (again) and fought against the inertia of elder dragons. Finally, they had a lead, though - the Black Sand Island. They spent some time at White Falls, and prepared to leave. Veris had haunting visions; he saw a huge black disc in the ocean at night, and realized the island was liquid. But then he saw the sun rise, and the island solidified. Veris figured he'd better look into this a bit more, and went to find an elder dragon of his house. He listened to their stories and started poking and prodding, trying to get advice. He finally got an older dragon named Draven to speak with him, and stood up to an older dragon to get some information about that island. Draven advised him that if they flew due west, they'd find the island, but if they went north slightly, there was a small island where they could rest.

That night, they set out, with Biscuit (who'd become Nova's lover) coming along, and sure enough, found the little sandbar island. They rested, and Veris kept a lookout while Nova and Freja slept and Hawley and Azrael flew on ahead. Azrael, in fact, had scored a skin of a smelly paste that acted like a powerful stimulant for dragons, so she was flying too fast, up ahead...she acted despite danger, and the black liquid rose up and swallowed.

Hawley flew back to get the others for help, and they cut short their rest and headed for the island. Azrael, meanwhile, was stuck in a black cavern, the walls covered with sticky black stuff. She rubbed some off and made a ball, and discovered it oozed, but very slowly. She figured that maybe she could harden it with some dragonfire, so she used dragon trade to try to craft it. She missed, however, and lit the whole place on fire, taking Harm.

The rest of the clutch, inbound, saw the fire erupt from the liquid island. Freja called upon the spirit moon to give them a safe place to land, and wound up with a little outcropping of earth next to the black liquid. Nova tried to call on the storm moon to hit the black stuff with lightning, but she missed, and took a Shadow Point. Hawley shared the load to take the point, and flying higher, called upon the storm moon himself, seeing what Nova had been trying to do. He succeeded, but lost control. Chain lightning lanced down and shocked some of the dragons - everyone acted despite danger. Azrael, now freed, took Harm, as did Freja. Nova flew in front of Biscuit to protect him and took Harm, while Hawley was flying high and had no problems. Veris caught Azrarel as she was blown out of the black stuff and took some Harm, but was otherwise OK.

Freja used scent of a place and realized this place could provided building materials and a way to defeat the Eel King. Veris grabbed some of the black stuff and flew upwards, acting despite danger. It solidified around his paw, trapping it. Azrael, testing the place, called on the void moon, and lost control of the magic (but it was exceptionally powerful!). The island developed topography. It had structures, stairs, meeting was worn, but expertly sculpted.

Surprised by this, the dragons started looking around at these new features. Azrael tried to find the highest point, a throne, if you will. Veries examined the island, but missed, and wandered off on his own. He found a pit or well in the center of the island, a place that swallowed light and sound. He examined the Darkness Well, and missed, found his hand turning black...and his scales...

Back with the group, Freja asked her spirit guide where Veris was, and Oodle told her he couldn't sense Veris anymore, but had lost him near the center. They started heading for the center.

Veris used a new move - touch the Darkness. He had a vision about Azarel, and about her learning to activate the obsidian and control it. Veris saw Biscuit, and followed him; Biscuit said he'd lead him back to the clutch.

Meanwhile, the rest of the clutch, including Biscuit, found the Darkness Well. Freja called upon the liberty moon, but missed - all of the buildings collapsed, stunning some of the dragons who were still in those buildings. Azrael, wanting the buildings back, called upon the void moon, and everything reformed just as before. Hawley, ever the daredevil, dove into the Darkness Well, acting despite danger, but pulled up just in time - it's a trap. The Darkness Well is deadly.

Meanwhile, Veris was following "Biscuit" and sensing something amiss, studied him. He realized that it wasn't Biscuit and tried to fly off. He acted despite danger and missed, and found himself cornered by the imposter. Veris called on the liberty moon to escape, but missed again, and the imposter became blackness, and oozed toward him...

We shall see, next time, what becomes of our heroes.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Changeling Notes

Players, don't read past the rat. I'm serious.


OK, not reading if you're playing?


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Kung Fu Fightin'

Last Monday we had our first session of Feng Shui Second Ed. Meet the characters here.

So, since Monday was a holiday, I spent all day reading the book and figuring out the system, which, I have to say, I found really intuitive. But it also meant I didn't have time to design anything game-wise, so I started running the adventure at the back of the book, which was fine, except it doesn't ever address how to include characters from different junctures, which is kinda a failure, I think.

As such, we started with the opening of the community center. Leon is there to meet an informant from his juncture. Chung Do is here doing a swordplay demonstration. Celeste is working with the foundation that built the center; they were looking into her missing sister, but they help with missing and exploited youth in general. Bai Lin just kind of wandered in, looking for spirits to bust, and Wu Tang is just here for the food.

They mingle a bit. Lin realizes the spirit world is churning - something's about to happen. Leon meets his informant, who tells him that this place is awash in magic. Leon looks at Chi, and sees that the other characters are tied into the Chi flow.

And then, SMASH! An armored truck plows through the wall, a bloodied man unconscious at the wheel. A black SUV follows, and armed figures jump out, spraying the place with bullets!

This will not stand, clearly. Do leaps into action, jumping in front of a foe with an automatic weapon and slicing it neatly in half. Lin, likewise, jumps over the pool and engages more foes with his staff. Tang puts on his mask and jumps into the fray, while Leon gets to a vantage point on a balcony and starts throwing Chi blasts at the attacks. Celeste moves in with her whip, entangling the enemies.

Highlights from the fight:

  • Tang dives into the water, surfaces, and punches the armored truck backwards, away from the pool's edge. 
  • Leon gets tackled into the water, then rises up with Flight to throw magic at foes. 
  • Lin engages the dude with the rocket launchers and winds up taking it from him, only to lose it again. It eventually winds up in the pool, and Leon fires it upwards at the ceiling just as the mooks are coming through the skylight. It is then referred to as "Chekov's Rocket Launcher."
  • Tang picks up the SUV and throws it, blocking the hole in the wall that the truck made. He later throws the truck into the pool (after Celeste gets the injured man clear). Wu Tang ain't nothing to fuck with. 
Celeste, as mentioned, drags the injured man out, and Do recognizes him...but isn't sure why. The characters come together and talk a bit, and Leon recognizes Lin (they're from the same juncture, and Lin's a known monk/exorcist, so it makes sense that he and Leon might have crossed paths). Celeste, an archaeologist, recognizes Leon from the art of the period, and asks his name (Leon gives his real name, which Celeste takes as confirmation - he's a traveler from the past!). 

An ambulance arrives and takes the bleeding man away, leaving the characters with a pile of rubble, a lot of dead or injured thugs, and a bunch of questions. Next time, we'll see where that takes them...

Thoughts so far: Getting into this system was harder for my players than I thought it would be. I think it's a lot simpler than, say, either version of WoD, because the powers all play into the same underlying systems (humblebraggingly, Chill is designed the same way). There's a bit of math, sure, but it's just simple arithmetic. I think maybe we just need a few sessions to get used to it.

I do think, with all due respect to the book's suggestion that grid-maps get in the way of imaginative play, that with a bunch of named combatants it's really helpful to have a visual representation of the fight so players can see what's going on. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Changeling: Eek! A Million Rats!

I actually ran this game two freaking weeks ago, but then a wild Midwinter appear (photos incoming!) and, well, anyway, here we go.

The motley is hanging around their freehold, deciding what to do on this frigid winter's eve, when Thaia gets a phone call from her friend Branziah. He's been cast in a new play called Lost and Won, currently going into rehearsal at a little theater nearby, and he's killing time before they get started. As they're chatting, Branziah suddenly cries out in pain, and then the line goes dead.

Thaia immediately tells her motley that something is wrong, and they head out to the theater. But they can't get in - the doors are not only locked, but magically sealed against ingress. Krysa pops into an alley and changes to rat-form, and finds a rat-sized ingress. She creeps into the basement, while the other folks go looking for another option. They find the emergency exit - it's technically not an entrance, so they figure it's worth a shot. Zulkis and Ambrose pull it open, and the changelings enter.

Downstairs, Krysa hear something moving in the dark. She returns to human form and tries to talk to it, but it apparently isn't interested in pleasantries - it hits her with a powerful, bitingly cold wind. She holds her ground, though.

Backstage, the other characters smell burning in the air, and realize that the light switch has been rigged to shock anyone that touches it. They go out to the lobby and find Branziah (hand bleeding profusely) and the other cast and crew; someone has set traps all around this place. The changelings lead the hapless victims to the back door and get them out, and then head down the stairs to the basement (noting that the railing has been sharpened - that would be how Branziah cut himself).

They enter the basement, quietly, and find a strange, rat-like changeling hiding. But it's not Krysa; this one has monstrous features. A couple of the characters recognize it as a Beastie, the twisted, nightmarish equivalent of a pooka. They startle it (her), and Kyrsa Unleashes Sovereign. The rats pour out of walls, surrounding her, proclaiming her the Rat Queen and exposing Rista the Rat-Thing.

Face with a whole motley of folks, and one of those a sidhe and another an armed knight, Rista opts to surrounding. Zulkis makes her swear to stay out of this theater and leave the people alone, and uses Contract to bind it. Rista, having sworn, cheeses it.

The characters head back to the motley, save for Krysa, who stops by a political rally to soak up some Glamour. While there, she sees rats - they're following her, doing her bidding. Apparently that Unleashing isn't dying out easily.

At the freehold, Thaia ruminates on the Thallain (using Remembrance). She realizes that the Thallain normally wriggle out the Dreaming during times of torture, misery, and pain. The appearance of a Thallain means something terrible has happened - or is about to.

More next week.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Changeling: The Dreaming - The Battle's Lost and Won

So, the Kickstarter is almost over, but the playtest has barely begun. We made characters a couple of weeks ago, but I just hadn't gotten around to doing a post about it. Now's a good time, though. My players, if you're reading this, stop reading when you see the picture of Leo.

First, the characters:

  • Thaia (childling/Autumn sidhe): Thaia is a lady of House Scathach. She was an orphan who wound up living an Oliver Twist like story; her grandparents saw her on TV on a "look how good these foster kids turned out!" show. She's lived in relative comfort ever since. She has friends in the theater biz. 
  • Krysa (wilder/pooka): Krysa is a political rabble-rouser. She writes political polls for her day job, and she's got a bunch of friends into counterculture and activism. She's also got a Retinue made up of a huge swarm of rats. 
  • Ambrose (wilder/sluagh): Ambrose, otherwise known as the Ashen Knight, is a member of House Scathach and takes on the nobility by sneaking into their holdings and exposing their secrets. He was an orphan, too, and grew up in a group home, but wasn't so lucky as Thaia, I suppose. 
  • Zulkis (grump/troll): Zulkis is a fallen noble. He escaped an oath to a nastier sidhe through his superior oathcrafting skills, and is the protege of Duke Kelodin. 
  • Sander (childling/satyr): Sander is a club kid and artist, but I don't know much about him because his player hasn't answered his email, so we'll all learn about Sander together. 

The players decided to pool some Background points and have a freehold. Their freehold is in an old subway station in New York (and I apologize in advance to any New Yorkers that read this who might be horrified to see me fuck up geography or whatever, but I'm a Clevelander and I've only been to NY once). They're all Unseelie, and most of them have some tie-in to the existing power structure.

Said power structure is thus: New York is the Duchy of the Golden Sigil, overseen by Duke Kelodin, a troll. He shows up in War in Concordia, but his House isn't specified. He must have one, though, if he's a duke. Or maybe not, since supposedly you can have Title without belong to a house. OK, so we'll let that be for the time being.

Now, the characters in general have a somewhat antagonistic relationship with nobility, but Kelodin seems to be more or less OK. Krysa is actively a rabble-rouser, Ambrose has had run-ins with nobility (though in his backstory it's Kelodin, which doesn't really work; I'll have to talk with Toasty about that), and Zulkis, of course, is a fallen noble. Thaia and Sander are the ones that are mostly removed from the political scene, but Thaia is House Scathach, as is Ambrose, so that's gonna come back on her at some point.

Themes: Political secrets, theater, rats, underground, revolution, battle cries, fighting oppression, idle rich, entertainment vs. art.

So what's going on? There's a Seelie count called Maldiset (House Dougal) who wants Kelodin out of power. There's a Nocker Underground under Manhattan called Goblin Town that I'd love to have the PCs visit at some point. There's their freehold, the Cavern of Ivory and Horn. And War in Concordia mentions roving gangs of changelings that fight each other; Kelodin has his hands full trying to keep everything in the state (not just NYC - his ducal manse is actually in Buffalo) running smoothly.

Likewise, this city was the site of 9/11, which in Changeling was accompanied by a big flood of Glamour - fear, dread, xenophobia, and so on. So I think that, in keeping with the themes of this game and with the tone of this edition (that is, powerful nobles hiding in freeholds and staying young while the changelings outside freeze), we'll say that the game takes place in winter. Kelodin is in the city at his winter home, but High King David hasn't come down to Homefires, preferring to stay in Tara-Nar. In fact, no one's seen the High King in years.

OK, players, time to stop. 

Night's Black Agents: A Vacation in Switzerland

Well, not really. Last time, you might remember, the agents stalked and killed Dr. Radovan Macan, who turned out to be one of those things with the tentacles in his mouth. The agents fell back, wounded but victorious, and laid low in London for a while, healing up. Then they got to work.

They figured that the were dealing with two different kinds of vampires: the slower, dumber, but much stronger versions (which they called "brutes"), and the physically weaker (though still badass) ones with tentacles (dubbed "masters"). They knew of one way to spot a master: A slight distortion in their speech. Since they had access to recordings of Simon Thibault, the CEO of Tasse Medical and Renate Bauer, the now-deceased BSI agent, they checked...and sure enough, both of them exhibited this distortion. They were even able to roughly pinpoint when Simon might have been "turned" based on when that distortion crept in.

They also did a little experimentation. Hanover had told them that wild roses were apparently involved - a weakness or repellent? So the agents got some and extracted the unique chemicals and tried it against a sample from Macan. The result was a slight allergic reaction; nothing major. They also tried an anti-coagulent, which didn't do anything dramatic. Then Parker had the idea to go the other way, and try to turn the fluid to sludge - maybe that would slow them down? The chemical treatment seemed to have more of an effect, but now they'd exhausted their supply of sample material. They made up some dart guns containing a blood thickener, though.

They looked at their options again. They knew that blood bags had arrived at Macan's lab from Paris (Tasse), Budapest (the prison, making them suspect Dr. Janos Sas, the prison doctor), and Geneva (the Reineger Clinic). They decided to investigate this clinic some more (no one was keen to go to prison). They learned that one of the head docs there, a nephrologist named Anna Sedillo, co-published a few things with Dr. Macan. They decided that was enough to warrant investigation.

They got a house in the suburbs of Geneva, not far from the Clinic (and, as it happened, a funeral home/crematorium, which hasn't become relevant yet). Esse and Parker attended one of Sedillo's lectures, but were unable to determine if her speech carried the same distortion - she's a native speak of Spanish, and her dialect already carries something similar to the lateral lisp that the agents were looking for, plus she was speaking accented French (this is what happens when your GM is an SLP).

While they were at the lecture, Gambone and Hanover broke into her house and looked around. It all looked normal - she lived alone, there was food in the fridge and a cat on the chair. She had her computer with her, but she'd left an external hard drive, which Hanover copied.

After the lecture, Parker, dusting off her Helene Renault cover, introduced herself as a journalist and asked for an interview. Sedillo cheerfully agreed, and they set a dinner date for the next night.

The agents regrouped and looked at her hard drive. The results were...enlightening. Sedillo and Macan did correspond, but their business emails were professional and cool. And then there were a few emails from Macan about "needing the room." One of them, she responded and said that it was impossible, there was too much booked at the clinic, but Macan responded and said, "that's not my problem. You know the arrangement."

The agents did a little digging and figured out which "room" they meant - one of the surgical rooms was in the middle of the building, yet accessible via one long hallway from a door, so it was easy to get to without being noticed. There was also a big walk-in freezer adjacent, which rang a few bells.

Digging a little more, they discovered that someone Hanover knew - the war criminal named Anton Dedopovic - had been a patient here for his kidney disease. In fact, he had been a patient here during one of the very early uses of the "the room."

Since there was nothing scheduled for "the room" tonight, the agents broke into the clinic. Parker used her Filch MOS to nab a keycard off an employee, they snuck past the guards (Hanover in the van providing intel), and broke into the room. It looked, for the most part, like a standard OR - no cameras, though (but Parker planted one). They searched the freezer, too, and came up with an unlabeled box with a single vial of a milky-looking liquid. They took it and replaced it with a vial of their blood weapon and headed out.

A little analysis showed that this stuff was a mixture of blood, lymph, and CSF - the so-called "Cocktail." But it wasn't Macan's, so who's was it?

Figuring they had enough information to get Sedillo to talk, Parker and Esse went to dinner. Using their Interpersonal Skills, they got her talking about the clinic and her work with Macan. She said she'd met him at a conference in Budapest some years back; the International Free Energy Association conference. They'd both been presenting (you might recall that the IFEA was in Bonn, Germany, when the original team of agents came to town and wound up beheading a brute). She'd worked with him a few times, but of late, she said, he'd grown stuck in his ways and not as receptive to collaboration.

They brought up Anton Dedopovic, and her eyes widened a bit. She asked if he was still alive; they feigned ignorance (but he's very dead; Hanover confirmed that). She said he'd been there for treatment for a very rare kidney disorder; it was killing him, and she'd be surprised if he'd lived this long. But she did recall that one morning, he'd started acting demented. There had been wild roses on his table, which he demanded be replaced every morning. She wasn't sure what the catalyst for that had been...

Dinner concluded, the agents decided that Sedillo wasn't a master or even directly in the know. Obviously Macan had been holding something over her, but Macan's death hadn't been reported, so she didn't know he was dead. The agents also didn't know what she was in fear of, or how the "room" was involved.

They decided to stay in Geneva for the time being and figure out what the Clinic's connection is to all this.

New Game: Feng Shui!

Last Monday, we assembled to start up a new this sounding familiar? I had a couple (three, actually) games end within a week of each other, so we've been doing a lot of chargen.

Anyway, last week the group that had been playing Beast met up, and we did our "let's all name a piece of media and pick a game based on that" thing.

  • Fredrick chose Edge of Midnight, which is a kickass noir RPG that I've run pretty extensively (he actually played in that game briefly). He likes the supernatural/horror aspect. 
  • Amanda chose Agents of SHIELD, because she likes the spy vs. spy aspects. 
  • Karafa chose Wild Wild West - the series, not the movie - for the steampunk/western mashup. 
  • Toasty chose Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the different superheroes coming together ("mashup" was a big thing with this group). 
  • Michelle chose The Man with the Iron Fists for the mashup (see?) of cultures - East and West, China and England, hip hop and wuxia, etc. 
  • I chose Predator 2 mostly for this scene. I like the idea of spirituality trying to interpret something horrific but ultimately technological, and failing utterly, but I also do think that King Willie's dying words ("His foundation lies on the holy mountain. Selah.") are pretty badass. 
So with all that, where do we go? With so much talk of "mashup," I pulled out a few potential RPGs. 

  • Rotted Capes is this nifty RPG from Paradigm Concepts; it's basically Marvel Zombies the RPG. We decided against it because the players weren't up for so dense a system (I've played it and I like it, but it's not simple). 
  • Whispering Vault was discussed, but ultimately failed to interest the players too much. 
  • Deadlands Noir was a runner-up, but ultimately it lost out to...
Feng Shui 2nd Edition

So, I've played this game, but I haven't ever run it, and having played it I was surprised that the book is as huge as it is. I mean, the game is pretty simple, or it seemed to be, but the book is huge. But in any case, chargen is dirt simple - you pick an archetype and give it a name, some customization and story hook. There's nothing mechanical involved in chargen, so most of the time for chargen was spent choosing archetypes. Here's what we wound up with: 

  • Leon Cameron Abroise (played by Fredrick), a Sorcerer. He wants to right the wrongs caused by magic, but he was trained by the Eaters of the Lotus (meaning that's probably a fake name he's using), who perpetrate a lot of those wrongs. 
  • Toasty's Nameless Yutz Wu Tang (played by Toasty, real name pending), the Gene Freak. He was a kind of freelance vigilante/cop in the Future Juncture, tooling around with his cyborg partner...until said partner was killed. Now he's out for revenge. EDIT: Put in his name.
  • Bai Lin (played by Amanda), the Exorcist Monk. He's an orphan and a sworn enemy of the evil spirits, and wants to cleanse them from the world. They possessed his sister and forced her to kill herself. 
  • Chong Do (played by Karafa), the Sword Master. He has no memory of his past, and he is seeking out who he truly is. 
  • Celeste Park (played by Michelle), the Two-Fisted Archaeologist. She's a roving academic adventurer seeking the rogues who kidnapped her sister. 
And those are our characters. Now I've just over a week to read this book and figure out how to run this game. :)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Movie #347: Ant-Man

Ant-Man is a comedy/superhero/heist movie starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder Forston. It is, of course, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Hank Pym (Douglas) used to be a superhero called "Ant-Man," using his Pym Particle to shrink down to ant size (by, like, mucking with space between atoms or something, it's not important). But over the years, he's been forced out of his company by his protege Darren Cross (Stoll) and his estranged daughter Hope (Lilly). But now Cross has figured out the whole "how to shrink shit" thing, and is ready to release the tech to the highest bidder.

Meanwhile, Scott Lang (Rudd) is released from prison for stealing from a big corporation and giving the money back to the people they fucked over, and is trying to go straight. His ex (Judy Greer) is now married to a cop (Cannavale) and has custody of Lang's daughter Cassie (Forston), and all Scott wants is to get back into her life.

Unable to hold down a normal job, even a fast food gig, Lang agrees to his roomie Luis' (Pena) suggestion to burgle old rich guy. He winds up stealing the Ant-Man costume, and therefore getting roped into Pym's scheme to take down Cross. Along the way, he has to do battle with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) in order to grab a piece of tech Pym needs and therefore comes to the attention of the larger superhero universe.

I think this movie was a gamble for Marvel, if only because most of the buzz I heard ahead of the first trailers was "seriously?" Edgar Wright was initially attached to direct, but left the project, I can only assume because he wants such tight control over his movies that Disney said, "yeah, no." (Which is good, really, because the MCU only works with some oversight, and you can't maverick directors going and screwing with things too much - that's what happened with Age of Ultron.)

Rudd is nicely goofy and out of his depth as Lang, and Douglas is fun and crotchety as Pym. I really like Lilly in this movie, though, because she so obviously wants to follow in her father's (and her mother's, as she learns) footsteps and do some actual heroics. And, we do kinda get a payoff for that - at the end, she gets the new Wasp suit, and has the appropriate response: "It's about damn time."

Personally, if that had happened during the middle of the movie and we'd have seen Scott and Hope kicking ass as Ant-Man and the Wasp, that'd be fine. But apparently we get that in the next movie, so that's good.

I also really love Michael Pena in this movie. He's fun and excitable and kind of badass when necessary and y'know, I like enthusiasm.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Black Swan

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Movie #346: Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a classic satire/black comedy directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Peter Sellers, Slim Pickens, George C. Scott, James Earl Jones, Sterling Hayden, and Peter Bull.

Mid Cold War, and nukes are on everyone's mind. General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) of the Air Force goes nuts and, trying to protect his "precious bodily fluids", initiates an attack plan designed to be unstoppable once in motion. His RAF assistant, Mandrake (Sellers) tries to talk him down, while the President (also Sellers) deals with the Russian Premier by way of his ambassador (Bull), and takes advice from his German ex-Nazi lead scientist (also Sellers). Meanwhile, General Turgidson (Scott) is mostly OK with nuking the Russians, because hey, if we're gonna do it anyway...

The planes do wind up getting called back...except one. Under the command of Major "King" Kong (Pickens), the bomber is damaged and can't received the stand down order, and doesn't have enough fuel to hit its primary target, so rather than doing the smart thing and heading for safety they just pick another one. This, in turn, activates the Russian Doomsday Device, destroying all life on Earth, as the President and Dr. Strangelove make arrangements to relocate people to mineshafts, and "We'll Meet Again" plays over the closing credits.

Dr. Strangelove has been analyzed to hell and back, so I'm not really sure what I can add to the proceedings, except to say that, as Fallout points out, war never changes. Even in the face of Armageddon, Turgidson is insisting that they have to outpace the Russians. The Russian Ambassador is taking pictures of American "secrets." And riding a nuclear bomb is somehow the ultimate expression of glory. And it's all because we were so paranoid about not being able to kill our enemies should the need arise that we wound up killing everyone because one dude went off his head.

You could draw all kinds of parallels to things going on now, but I think the takeaway is that when we see other people as these faceless monsters who just want to destroy us "because they're the enemy!", then we become those faceless monsters.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium, which is higher than I'd have thought

Next up: Ant-Man

Monday, January 4, 2016

Atomic Robo: Island Paradise, or, An Octopus, Two Dinosaurs, and Effy

Saturday the smoking wreckage of the group that was playing Monsterhearts gathered, with a couple of new faces, to play a new game. We didn't have any real idea what to play, so taking a cue from +Jason Pitre's Spark RPG, we all went around and named a piece of media we liked, and then tried to find an RPG on my shelves that hit as many of those notes as possible. Here's our media list:

  • Hamilton: Sarah likes hip hop, and the notion of the "language of revolution."
  • Dr. Who: Megan likes time travel plots, but also the emotional content. 
  • Eclipse Phase: Travis likes the wacky transhumanism. 
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: Michelle likes the world-building and the established sense of history. 
  • eVolve: I like the exploratory sci-fi, but also the "you fight as a team or you die" aspect. 
So with that in mind, I looked through my shelves and looked for some possibilities. We discussed Psi-Punk (Fudge-based cyberpunk), TimeZero (Savage Worlds-based time-cops), Misspent Youth (about which I've written quite a bit), but settled on Atomic Robo

Now, I hadn't read the RPG or the comic, but I knew a little about it from Michelle's fangirling and it looks very readable (and it's a month until we play next). So here's what we've got so far.

The players wanted to work for TeslaDyne, but not the main office, as it were. They're on an outpost on a jungle island waaaaay in the middle of nowhere. We haven't detailed the office's resources much yet (I suspect we'll do it in play), but the boss is General H. P. Cavy, an Action Scientist who transplanted his consciousness into the body of a guinea pig and who jumps into a huge suit of power armor when shit gets real. 

Weep weep weep.
The PCs, then: 

  • Jesse, the Dilophomedic. She's a dilophosaurus who can spit poison or medicine! She drives the Dinambulance, a modified jeep full of medical supplies. She washed up on an Arctic Beach and has been modified since.
  • Crocodylomorph Marsha: She's a velociraptor, but like, a real one, with feathers n' shit. She's only chicken sized, but she's a badass chicken with foot razors and near-perfect jungle camouflage. 
  • Iphegenia "Effy" Tsoukolos, the Combat Biologist. As the support, she can apply poison to other folks' claws, spray them with Bio-Flage to make them stealthy, or science the hell out of them. 
  • Reginald "South Seas Southpaw" Armstrong, the Gentleman Octopus. Reginald is, in addition to a dapper eight-armed gentlemen, a master of bartitsu, which he learned from absorbing the brain of Sherlock Holmes. The Dauphin people of the seas are his nemeses. (Nemeseas?)
That's what we've got so far. Tune in next month!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Movie #345: Clerks

As an aside, I bought a bunch of new movies recently, so it's gonna take a few weeks to get back where we actually were in the lineup.

Clerks is a mid-90s comedy written and directed by Kevin Smith, starring a bunch of people he found in a convenience store. No, actually, Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghiglotti, Lisa Spoonauer, Jason Mewes, and a bunch of folks playing multiple roles.

Dante (O'Halloran) comes in to work at the Quik-Stop on his day off because someone called in sick and he's a bit of a pushover. He spends the movie dealing with customers and bitching about his life to his friend Randal (Anderson), and waffling between Veronica, the attentive, loving girlfriend he has (Ghiglotti) and Kaitlyn, the passionate but unfaithful girlfriend he broke up with but has been chatting up (Spoonaur).

There's really not much in the way of plot: Basically it's a bunch of monologues and little vignettes with the throughline of Dante whining. He finally decides to hook up with Kaitlyn, and then she winds up having sex with a dead man in the darkened bathroom of the place and riding off, traumatized, in the ambulance. Randal tells Veronica that Dante is getting back with Kaitlyn, Veronica storms off (quite justifiably), Dante and Randal get in a fight and close up shop.

This movie is up there with High Fidelity as a movie I had different reactions to when I saw it the first time than now. I still like it, I still find it funny (mostly), but although I think he's matured since, I think 90s Kevin Smith had some real issues with women and sexuality. I mean, sure, Michelle informs me that there really are guys who freak out when they discover that their girlfriends have sexual histories, but I think the point gets a little belabored with regards to Veronica and her propensity for blowjobs (look, someone who gives and enjoys giving blowjobs is a fucking treasure, and should be given cake, not abuse).

Also, I fucking hate Randal. I admit this is kinda my own issue; Randal reminds me of any number of smarmy "YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME" fuckers that I knew in the 90s, and that I keep seeing pop up online periodically. Mostly they're 20-somethings, but it's hard to tell nowadays because anonymity extends the smarm. But I really wish that Randal would have learned something during the movie, or connected to someone, or just gotten punched in his stupid face. My favorite moment in the whole movie (as far as he's concerned) is when he tells Kaitlyn that if she breaks Dante's heart, she's dead, because it's the only time we see his flannel ass care about anything. And you know, I'm big on the whole "caring" thing.

I do appreciate, though, that Smith ditched the original ending where Dante gets shot, because jesus. The movie is already somewhat bleak, but that's over the top.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high. It's quick and snappy.

Next up: Dr. Stranglove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb