Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oscar's O, Aight?

I don't know, I have to find something clever to title this post. If you're looking for the food post, I'll do that one Monday.

For many years now, I've been doing an Oscar prediction/analysis post. Some years it's more fun than others. Some years we get really good movies, some years we get movies that are good, but I don't necessarily want to see them again, and some years we get crap.

This year, the Best Picture noms don't have any crap. In fact, of the 8 nominees, there's only one that I'm putting in the "this was good, but I don't feel like seeing it twice" column (that'd be Brooklyn). The rest of them, even the heavier ones, I'd be willing to rewatch (and in one case, actively eager). The nominees got a few things right this year, so let's start by talking about what they did wrong.

First, as we know, for the second year in a row, the acting categories are all white. All five directors are white (other than maybe Inarritu; I've heard him described both as a POC and not, and I'm not touching it). All of the directors are male. We've got a cis man playing a transwoman, again. I have to point out that this isn't really a trend for the Academy; TMK it's happened twice now (though we also got a cis woman playing a transwoman back in 2005).

The nominees themselves have responded to this with a pretty wide variety of bullshit. Meryl Streep (who isn't nominated this year, for a change) gave her "we're all Africans, really" thing. Charlotte Rampling actually used the phrased "racist to white people." And so forth. A couple of folks planned to stay home on Oscar night, some have changed their minds. One of the arguments (and I'm sure someone famous has made it, but I can't think who offhand) is the "well, I guess there weren't any deserving POC this year."

Bullshit, and to my shame, I can't name any other than Will Smith (who I think should have gotten the Best Actor nom over Matt Damon) and Idris Elba (I haven't seen Beasts of No Nation, but I'm reliably informed it's good and he got robbed). I also wouldn't have been sad to see Michael B. Jordan get a Best Actor nod, or for Ryan Coogler to get a Best Director nom, for that matter.

The point is, though, that Oscar nominations often bring movies I wouldn't otherwise have seen to my attention. Sure, I'd have seen The Revenant either way, but I doubt very much I'd have known about Room or bothered to see Spotlight. If the Oscars are going to remain at all relevant, they have to get to the point that they're rewarding and recognizing the interesting stuff, not just the establishment.

And you can sneer at that if you want, but look at the Best Picture nominees this year versus last year. Never mind the lack of POC among the acting or directing noms; that's a known issue. But the movies themselves? Last year, not a single movie starred a woman. Not one. And if you look at the Best Actress race last year, only one of those actresses was from a Best Picture Nominee. The rest were from movies actually starring a woman.

This year? Of the eight nominees, three of them unquestionably star woman. That's still not enough, granted, but it's a hell of a lot better than none. The movies don't end on complete downers, either; while the subject matter for most of them is heavy (comedies don't get nominated often), none of the stories is purely tragic. If the movies end with forward movement, with progress, with hope, then I think that's something to take some comfort in.

Anyway, enough blather. Let's start off with an easy one.

Best Actor: This is a lock for Leonardo DiCaprio, but let's talk about why. The movie is all him, and it's a long, brutal, demanding movie. It demanded a lot of him physically and emotionally, and you can tell (never mind the whole "he's a vegetarian who ate raw bison liver for the role" thing, that's just icing on the cake). Also, he doesn't have a heck of a lot of dialog, but still manages to convey everything he needs to convey, and that's always impressive for me.

Now, for the other four fellas. I kinda feel like Matt Damon shouldn't have been nominated here, for two reasons. First, it's one more slot given up for a white guy. Second, while his performance in The Martian was good, the movie's strength is in the ensemble cast, and I really wish they'd just add a category for that.

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo was pretty awesome, I have to say. It's a man standing on his principles even though doing so really kind of fucks him, and I think he really brought that role to life. Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, I could kind of take or leave, but I wasn't fond of the movie. I felt like the titular character was kind of a prick, and it was all so very Sorkiny.

Eddie Redmayne, well, here we're in kind of a pickle. I personally feel like he did a great job playing Lilli Elbe, but I also agree that it would be nice to see an actual trans person get to play trans characters. Fortunately, since he just won last year for The Theory of Everything, we don't have to worry about him winning here and really pissing people off.

My choice & prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress: Well, let's discount Jennifer Lawrence (she won a couple of years ago for Silver Linings Playbook and Joy is, apart from her performance, not especially interesting). And let's likewise discount Charlotte Rampling. 45 Years was, as I described it to Teagan, an "old people having feelings" movie. We got fewer of those than in previous years, which is good, but we still got this one. This is her first Oscar nom, and I understand that she's feeling protective, but her "racist against white people" thing was pretty awful.

Could Cate Blanchett take it for Carol? I just watched Carol today, and I liked it well enough. I thought it was pretty slow paced, and honestly pretty by the numbers, but I did appreciate that the movie didn't end with anyone dying or committing suicide or something awful. It ends with hope, and like I said, that's refreshing. But I don't think the role is interesting enough to take home an Oscar, not when the other two contenders are also Best Picture nominees.

Saoirse Ryan is up for Brooklyn, and Brie Larson is up for Room. Now, Ryan really carries Brooklyn, and Larson has a lot of help from the boy who plays her son in Room (Jacob Tremblay, who I'm kind of sad didn't get a Best Supporting Actor nom), but I feel like Larson has the more challenging role. Brooklyn is a pretty standard love story, while Room is brutal and really skillfully made. Plus I think the subject matter might be more topical, since it hasn't been so very long since the Ariel Castro story broke? (Maybe that's just me, since I live in Cleveland.)

My choice & prediction: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actor: I forgot Tom Hardy was nominated, actually. His role in The Revenant was really impressive; I like villains that at least make some attempt at being OK people, even if briefly. I don't think he's taking it...although I don't know, he's pretty popular and the movie is one of the big contenders. Hmm.

Well, I kind of doubt that Christian Bale is taking it for The Big Short (he's won not too terribly long ago for The Fighter, and The Big Short is more an ensemble piece anyway). I don't think Mark Ruffalo is taking it for Spotlight, though I'm happy he got the nom. That leaves Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, which was easily the best performance in that movie (no offense to Tom Hanks) and Sylvester Stallone in Creed.

I think Rylance's reward is the nomination. The role was really good, but pretty subtle, and I think the Academy is going to go with Sly. He's playing a role that got him an Oscar nom back in 1976. And, in fairness, he kills it; he plays Rocky with a familiar and warm touch, nicely sliding over the silliness of the middle Rocky movies. So I dunno. I think the Academy will like that better than the others. Of the existing nominees, I'm a little torn. I'd like Creed to get something, but I also think I liked Rylance better.

My choice: Mark Rylance
My prediction: Sylvester Stallone

Best Supporting Actress: Nobody from Mad Max, huh? Ah, well. We've got Rachel McAdams playing one of the team of reporters in Spotlight, which was, again, more an ensemble thing. We've got Rooney Mara in Carol. I actually really like her performance there as a woman falling in love with another woman; she's a bit tentative, but she's not afraid of her feelings and the relationship feels like a real relationship, rather than dwelling (more than it needs to) on the fact that they're both women. Alicia Vikander was fucking amazing in The Danish Girl and in Ex Machina, which might actually win it for her since she'd effectively be getting votes for both roles. Kate Winslet was perfect in a supporting role in Steve Jobs, and while I'm not crazy about the idea of Fassbender winning (he won't), I'd be OK if Winslet won here, I guess.

That leaves Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight. I have to say, I wasn't a fan of that movie. Rather, I love the concept, I love the cast. I didn't care for the execution. It was overlong, relied a bit too much on Quentin Tarantino trying to shock us (the rape in particular was not fucking necessary), and of Leigh's performance, I kind of felt like there wasn't all that much to the character. Like, she's this wanted criminal and people are legitimately afraid of her, but the character that gets the respect in the movie is Kurt Russell's bounty hunter. Doesn't help she spends the whole movie in chains getting punched.

So what's the Academy going to do? I think that they're going to go with Vikander, and I think that's how I feel, too.

My choice & prediction: Alicia Vikander

Best Animated Film: Man, weird slate this year. OK, so, Inside Out is going to win. Pixar rarely loses this category, and this is one of their strongest films. Shaun the Sheep...OK, seriously, why the fuck was this nominated over (off the top of my head) Home? Say what you want about Jim Parsons, but the other star of the movie was a little black girl from Barbados, and that's pretty cool. Shaun the Sheep was a 12 minute short blown up into a full movie, and the only reason I can think of for nominating it is that it's stop-motion, so it's got some technical chops. But it didn't do anything that Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit didn't do a fucking decade ago. Argh.

Anyway, aside from those, we've got Boy and the World, which is this weird Brazilian film that started out as a documentary and wound up being this artistic, kaleidoscope of a movie. My kids and I actually had a discussion about the symbolism in the movie and whether the little kid was literally there or if he was just a memory of older characters, so that was successful, I think. And then When Marnie Was There, a Studio Ghibli film about a girl who goes to the country for the summer and meets up with the ghost of her grandmother as a little girl. It's really sweet and really well done, and not as draggy in the middle as some Ghibli films get.

And then there's fucking Anomalisa. It's a movie about a man who sees everyone as having the same face and voice, but finally meets a woman who has her own, hooks up with her, is prepared to leave his wife and son for her, but then she loses it (from his perspective) and becomes like everyone else. It's a little wanky (Charlie Kauffman, same guy who wrote Adaptation, so he knows wanky). It's interesting, but really awkward and sad.

I think, though, that Inside Out will win it and that's fine.

My choice & prediction: Inside Out

Visual Effects: Holy cats. Here we get three Best Picture Nominees, and that's not always the case! Since Best Picture nominees are often slower dramas, at least in recent years, finding movies that have enough visual effects to get both noms isn't so common. And yet here's Mad Max, The Revenant, and The Martian in this category, alongside Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I should mention, too, that both Mad Max and Star Wars made it a point to use more practical effects, which for Star Wars in particular is a big deal. (Check out this Cracked article.)

So what's gonna win? I think it's gonna be Mad Max, because the effects in The Martian and The Revenant aren't as showy, and I think that the full extent of what Star Wars did might not be obvious. But I don't know, since that's one of Star Wars' only noms, maybe it'll get rewarded here.

My choice & prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

Adapted Screenplay: Some year I'll read the books. Anyway, we've got four Best Picture noms plus Carol. Of them, I think Room and The Big Short are the strongest, script-wise. Big Short takes a topic that isn't terribly interesting or sexy and makes it accessible, and even manages to break the fourth wall a bit, which is fun. (Side note: Think Deadpool will get a nom here next year?) Room, as I've said, is a fantastic movie, but I kind of feel like the strength is in the directing and the acting, rather than the script itself. I don't think The Martian is going to take it here, although the strength of that movie is very much in the script as much as anything else. Carol and Brooklyn are both pretty simple stories.

My choice: The Martian
My prediction: The Big Short

Original Screenplay: So here we get Bridge of Spies, which is a Coen brothers script but directed by Stephen Spielberg, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, and a lonely little nomination for Straight Outta Compton.

Let me just say that I think it's crap that Straight Outta Compton wasn't nominated for anything else. Honestly I think it should have been a Best Picture nominee. It should have gotten that Best Ensemble Cast nom I keep asking for, or failing that, someone should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod (not Paul Giamatti, either). I think it's because the Academy is a) old, b) white, and c) completely unversed in why NWA was so important.

But, of the other noms, I think this is a pretty strong list. I like it when not-biopics/dramas get nominated, and this is the category where weird stuff like Ex Machina shows up. And I think Spotlight is probably going to win it, because it isn't going to win Best Picture, or maybe Straight Outta Compton because folks might feel obliged after the backlash for how white everything is? (Nah.) Spotlight is actually a really strong script, so I'd be OK with that.

My choice: Straight Outta Compton
My prediction: Spotlight

Best Director: Well, here we have George Miller kicking all kinds of ass for Fury Road, Alejandro Inarritu for The Revenant (mind, he just won last year for Birdman), Adam McKay for The Big Short, Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, and Lenny Abrahamson for Room.

So, this race is really between Inarritu and Miller. It's not unprecedented for a director to win two years in a row, and Inarritu won the DGA, so that might mean he's getting this, too. But Mad Max was really phenomenally successful, which means more of the voters will have seen it, and Miller's been around a long time and been nominated (and won!) in other categories, but never for directing. So I'm not sure.

My choice: George Miller
My prediction: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Best Picture: Most of the buzz I've seen says The Big Short is going to win, largely because the voting system rewards consensus votes and The Big Short is on everyone's, well, short list. But I want to talk about the nominees.

Unlike previous years, I don't think any of these shouldn't have been nominated. There are movies I would like to have seen in the mix as well, including Straight Outta Compton and Concussion (some of the better work I've seen from Will Smith). Hell, if Ex Machina had gotten on the board, I'd have been happy. But of the eight nominees, the only one I'm truly "meh" about is Brooklyn, and it's not that it's bad, it's just that it's the only one that's really standard Oscar fare (though you could make an argument for Spotlight).

My favorite movies this year were The Revenant (I love the scenery, I love the grueling feeling of the movie, I love the harsh "man-against-everything"), Room (I could gush forever about how the movie depicts trauma and what it does to people, and about how Tremblay played a little boy bouncing back from his experience - also, like Mad Max, rape is a part of the story but never depicted on screen), and Mad Max (because of literally everything about it).

I enjoyed Spotlight a lot. Depictions of journalists actually looking for the truth rather than just pandering to ratings is nice, and hell, you know me. I'm a big fan of movies where people are decent and stand up for what they believe and for other people, and Spotlight has a lot of that. Likewise, while I don't think The Big Short deserves the win, I did appreciate Brad Pitt's character calling out the two newly-rich younger folks and reminding them that the crash of the housing market might have meant that they were wealthy, but it was going to utterly fuck the country.

Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn both fall into the same brainspace for me - they were good movies, but so what? Bridge of Spies had some nice, tense spy-story moments, and Mark Rylance's performance was amazing, but at the end of the day it didn't stick with me like the others.

All in all, though, this was a good crop of nominees. It could have been better, yes, but there's no movie up there that made me want to throw things at the wall. Maybe next year we can make things a shade more diverse, yes?

My choice: Mad Max: Fury Road
My prediction: The Big Short

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Changeling: Stabbing Diseases With Knives

Last time, our fearless fae found foul fblood fsmeared on fwalls. Ahem.

The characters were going to go to Parliament tomorrow, but today they figured they'd investigate some of the other sites with rat-blood graffiti. They plotted out all the sites they'd heard about from Bexley and so forth, and Thaia checked it on a map and realized that plotting the points, it could form one of two characters in the Thallain alphabet: either "snow/winter" or "nothing/void." They weren't sure which, though.

They headed out to one of the sites; an abandoned building (actually one that Ambrose had stripped wiring in some months back). They found the graffiti on the wall. The words weren't fully decipherable, but some of it translated to "fester" or "disease." Krysa spoke to a rat, and it told her that the person who did this had a rat skull around his wrist, and had called the rats to him (so hadn't used bait like the last one had). It also told her that there were things in the walls that couldn't hurt rats.

Krysa warned the others. Ambrose used Veiled Eyes to vanish, just as three Plagues (nervosa chimera born of fear of disease) dropped through the ceiling. Thaia stabbed one, but it flung green gook in her eyes. Zulkis punched one and it smacked him, but to little effect. Ambrose activated his Treasure, speeding him up, and gave me a really good reminder as to why the CWoD extra action system is fucking annoying. Um, sorry. Sliced the hell out the Plagues, turning them all to ash.

The characters cleaned up (mostly Thaia), and then headed to the next site - in a subway tunnel. Someone had wiped it away, but Krysa used Primal to talk to the wall. It helped her reform the message, and a couple of the characters recognized it. It wasn't Thallain, just a mundane tag - a declaration of turf war.

A sluagh wandered up to them and introduced himself as Matthias. He said he'd wiped away the blood; these tunnels were frequented by ugly-ass vampires, and a declaration of war would go badly for the Kithain. These vampires also commanded rats, interestingly. Matthias said he hoped to see Ambrose at tea, and the characters went back to the surface and headed to a bar run by an Enchanted friend of Sander to talk this out.

Sander's friend told him that she'd heard of changelings getting into brawls today, and some other fae leaving town - these messages were stirring up trouble. That seemed to be the point, in fact: Chaos. Thaia suspected that the "nothing" sigil was the correct one. Someone just wanted to plunge the city into chaos. But who? Not Count Maldiset; this would hurt him as much as anyone.

Zulkis called up Duke Kelodin and asked that their motley be given time to speak at Parliament tomorrow; they had information about the graffiti, after all. He agreed, and the characters settled down for a beer.

The bartender asked Thaia if she felt OK. Thaia noted, perhaps, that she was feeling a little flushed...

Night's Black Agents - Party Prep!

We played Night's Black Agents on Saturday. It wasn't a terrible long session, because my players did that thing where they came up with something that was better than what I was planning, but I needed some time to prep. More specifically:

The characters were in Geneva, you'll recall, looking into the Reineger Clinic and trying to figure out where the vampires fit in. The agents settled in, figuring it was better to be patient. Hanover took a job at the local art museum, using his Dr. Brandt cover. Gambone spent his days tailing Dr. Sedillo, both to make sure she wasn't secretly a vampire and to make sure she didn't get eaten by one. Esse took a job at the clinic as an orderly to listen in on gossip and learn the patterns of the place. Parker hung around at the UN using her journalist cover and looked into the IFEA.

They learned things! Esse discovered that the staff talked about "the room" a bit, but they mostly assumed it was for rich patients, dignitaries from unpopular regimes, war criminals, that kind of thing. Gambone followed Sedillo and listened in on her conversations, but didn't see anything that made him think she was a "master." Hanover wasn't really looking into conspiracy-related things, but establishing a cover and cementing it, which would come in handy in a few paragraphs. Parker learned that the IFEA came under scrutiny after its last conference in Bonn; a decapitated dude in a parking garage and the disappearance of an international convention coordinator weren't small things. The next IFEA conference had been scheduled for France, but after that scrutiny it was moved to Bratislava.

The agents looked into the IFEA a bit more, and found that the higher-ups in the company were Ioan Koltay, M.D., Simon Thibault (CEO of Tasse), Dierk Essert (a German industrialist), and Nikita Utkin (high-level exec working for Rus-Bel Air, a small airline operating in eastern Europe).

That was a new face, so they started digging. Rus-Bel was based in Minsk, Belarus, and flew mainly to that part of the world. Parker dug in a little and learned that Rus-Bel occasionally had flights that were "cancelled," but still left airports. Maybe Vilmos Hajnal was using the airline to get around, at least in those countries?

The agents decided that they might be able to lure some of these people to Switzerland and gain intel or advantage under the guise of a gala at the museum, which Hanover was in a position to do. They decided to set up an art showing and use the proceeds for energy research, so they had an excuse to invite these folks. They decided to invite Thibault and Essert to the party, along with a few uninvolved people to round out the guest list and create plausible deniability.

They bought weapons, going through Gambone's arms dealer friend. They set up weapons caches at the museum, and Hanover got Gambone and Esse covers as security. Parker is going as Jessie Stevens, her American rich-girl cover.

Next time, it's that scene in every spy movie where everyone's dressed to the nines and lookin' hot. And then violence ensues, one hopes.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Board Game: Munchkin

Forget I played this a while back with the kiddos.

The Game: Munchkin
The Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Time: 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how many people are playing
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Kick in the door!

Munchkin has been out for a long time and has approximately eleventy billion expansions, which, to my knowledge, are pretty much just revisions/rewordings/reskins of the core game. Said core game has players building a hand of characters around a character; you start as a level 1 human nothing (no class), and you can pull race cards (that sounds wrong) and class cards to make yourself more interesting and badass in combat.

Game play consists of kicking in a door (drawing a card from the "door" deck) and, if it's a monster, either fighting it or running away. Fighting said monster involves totaling up all the bonuses your get from your various cards and weapons and so on, and seeing if you can beat the monster's level. If you can, kudos, you gain a level and can draw treasure from the treasure deck. If not, you get whatever Bad Stuff comes from losing to the monster (which can range from "nothing" to "you're dead and all your stuff falls into a volcano," probably).

Here's my character. I had a really big club, I know that.
Getting to level 10 first means you win, but other players can play cards to screw with you. They can play buffs on monsters to make them too big to handle, they can play cards on you to steal your stuff or weaken bonuses. You can ask for helping beating a monster, but the terms of the negotiation are up to you (I usually say, "sure, I get all the treasure," because a) a level is a sure thing and gets you closer to the win and b) there's a non-zero chance of getting a You Go Up a Level treasure, so it kinda evens out).

Cael ponders his move.
Opinions: Munchkin is entertaining enough, but it can become interminable if people take the "screw the other players" philosophy too seriously. It also tests your ability to keep multiple things in your head at once, which I'm pretty good at but other people are better. The kids liked it and I think they'll like Super Munchkin (which is the same game just reskinned for superheroes), too, and I'll play it if it's what's on the table, but there are games I like better.

Keep? Sure.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Atomic Robo 1st Session - Meet Boris

Which actually happened a week ago, but this week has been nucking futz, you guys.

Well, first thing to note, we added a player. +Matthew Homentoasty is playing Otto von Faust, a robot assigned to make sure everyone stays in their budget and that Tesladyne's interests are represented (his concept aspect is Company Robot).

So! I went around the table and asked everybody for a threat, something that's been dangerous on the island of late. We got monsoons, a volcano, time rifts that sometimes disgorge dangerous beasts, and, of course, the Dauphin off the coast. Also occasional earthquakes.

With that in mind, the characters got a distress call from an outpost close to the interior of the island. They rushed out there in the Dinambulance (well, Otto flew with his jetpack), and found that a big portion of the front of the building had been smashed in. Most of the staff had made it to the panic room, but the circuits had fried and they couldn't get out. The characters worked on that, and then we tried out these Brainstorming rules.

I like these very much - you present the group with a situation, and they all make rolls to see who gets to establish a fact about the situation. With some Notice and Biology rolls, they realized it was a Really Big Dinosaur that Fell Through a Time Rift, and went about tracking it.

Oh, they found it.
The creature was a gigantic carnivore. They found it munching on some unfortunate local fauna. Reggie jumped on it and got it into a headlock, using his sick moves as the South Seas Southpaw. Otto blasted it with his lightning gun, and the Marsha jumped on Otto's shoulders to make use of the lightning gun more effectively. Effy used her patented Bio-Flage to conceal everyone, and a pheromone bomb to confuse the poor monster.

Soon enough, they had downed it. Effy, though, given her whole Bring 'em Back Alive philosophy, was of the opinion that the creature could live on the island. They'd just tag it and make sure it didn't get too close to the facilities. They decided to name it "Boris."

Epilogue: A shadowy cetacean figure looks into a viewscreen. "Perfect," he says in a Parisian accent. "They have given it a name."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Board Game: Eldritch Horror

I have this problem with board game posts: I play the games and take the pictures, and then completely forget to do the blog post for the list.


The Game: Eldritch Horror
The Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Time: Oh, hell. Upwards of 4-5 hours?
Players: Me, +Michelle+Rob, Mike, Sarah

Countdown to extinction.
Game Play: Eldritch Horror works a lot like Arkham Horror, and in some ways it's less involved, but it's not really fair to call it an "easier" or "lite" version, because it's neither. Every play controls a character with a distinct set of starting equipment and a couple of special abilities, and you romp around the world collecting clues and trying to solve Mysteries. Before playing, you pick an Elder to be your special friend for the game; the game advised that, for our first game, we use Azathoth, who's fairly straightforward. Naturally, we instead chose Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods.

Winning the game requires solving three Mysteries. Mysteries come in a deck, shuffled, and then flipped one at a time (so you have to solve them in a sequence; each Elder has its own Mystery deck). Mysteries involve gather clues, killing monsters, shutting gates, which involve moving around the board to various cities and having encounters. Encounters involve, ultimately, rolling some dice against one of your scores and trying to hit 5 or 6.

Setup still takes freaking forever, though.

Now, much of this is ported over from Arkham, but there are some important differences. Monsters stick around if you don't kill them, but you can wound them, meaning when you go back they're still wounded, meaning you can tag team them. You can rest anywhere, recovering health and sanity, rather than having to schlep all the way to a hospital. Turn order doesn't go clockwise, but passes from one player to a player of their choice, meaning you can strategize a little that way.

Probably my favorite change is that when a character is defeated (dies in battle or goes mad), they don't just vanish. Your body stays where it was, so other players can get some of your stuff and have a neat little encounter to finish up your story. This became relevant in our session, since Michelle "inadvertently" murdered three people.

"Oops. I seem to have sacrificed you to a Dark God. Again."
Ultimately, we lost. There's a Mythos deck, and at the end of every turn, you draw a card. Sometimes these Mythos phases are fairly benign (a gate opens somewhere, a monster appears, yeah), and sometimes they herald events that make everything very inconvenient until you fix them. But if you run out of Mythos cards, you lose. We lost not just because we ran out of cards, but also because the Black Goat woke up because our Doom Track filled, so we suddenly had to contend with getting to South America and fighting the Goat and Her Followers.

The important thing is, we tried.
Opinions: Look, if it seems like this is complex as I'm explaining it, you know nothing. Like Arkham, this game has so many moving parts that trying to explain it from memory is impossible. If you're committing to an evening of Eldritch Horror, you need to start at 3PM and plan to finish around 8PM. It might not take that long (especially if you suck at the game, because you'll die quickly), but ours did.

Now, with that said, I will say that the game is a lot of fun. It feels like it progresses more than Arkham does, and the addition of the Mythos phase of things and the depleting deck of cards adds an urgency that wasn't always there before. Like I said earlier, it's not any easier than Arkham, just some of the rough edges have been filed down and the players have some options that weren't there before - the game feels, perhaps deceptively, more forgiving.

As with similar games, you must be patient if you're going to play Eldritch Horror. It's kind of like reading Lovecraft, in that way.

Keep? Yes.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Character Creation: Atomic Robo

So, y'know, I like to make characters for games before I run them, when possible. Since I'm running Atomic Robo tomorrow, I figure I should make a character real quick. So heeeere weeeee goooooo!

The Game: Atomic Robo
The Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
Degree of Familiarity: Not much with this particular game, but it runs on Fate Core, which I'm pretty well versed in.
Books Required: Just the one.

Atomic Robo is a comic, and it's one I haven't really read, but it's very much up my alley - Tesla creating robots, crazy sentient dinosaurs, very pulpy and action-sciencey. +Michelle has been wanting to play it for a while, so when the group that was Monsterhearts morphed into its current form, we wound up choosing it as our next game.

Creating a character for this game works a lot like other Fate games. I need a concept to start out. I've overseen chargen for this before, so I know I want to play a weird character, but I don't know that I want to be as weird as +Travis and his gentleman octopus. There are a number of sample weird modes in the book; nothing says I couldn't make up my own, of course, but I kinda want to play a psychokinetic. I don't know that I ever have played a character with some stripe of telekinesis, but it's far and away one of my favorite super powers, and I think it'd be kind of cool. Ooh, and I have an interesting concept, with a little inspiration from Stranger in a Strange Land. Actually, as I'm thinking about it, maybe I do want to make up my own mode.

So, Adriago Valetti is my character. His parents worked for a branch of Tesladyne investigating "parallel harmonic alternate dimensional entities," or PHADEs. The equipment worked by vibrating the participants' molecules at precise frequencies, such that they moved out of synch with the world around them. The eight original PHADEnauts vanished into a parallel dimension, and came out two years later, each having aged almost a quarter-century. With them was Adriago, born in-PHADE to two of the PHADEnauts.

Adriago, once the vibrations stopped, was stable, and ages at normal human rate here (time passes different in his phase; about one year of time per one month of normal Earth time). Adriago is trying to adjust to life here, but it's so weird - people here have so very little control over their lives. They're at the mercy of things like "gravity." My concept aspect is "Stranger to this Frequency."

Now I need to buy modes. I get 30 points, and each mode costs a number of points based on the Skills it includes. Action, Banter, and Intrigue each cost 9, and Science costs 3.

Well, I know want Action, which includes Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Provoke, and Vehicles. Hmm. I picture Adriago as being pretty stoic and naive, so Intrigue doesn't seem to fit. Banter, however, is just as "off." I'll go with Science as my other one (which is just Will and Notice, which is why it's cheaper). That's only 12 points, so I have 15 to build my weird mode.

So, my weird mode is going to be called "PHADE". It's about how Adriago is a denizen of another dimension, basically. Hmm. Well, obviously I'm drawing heavy inspiration from Valentine Michael Smith, here, but I don't want to just play that character. So I think Adriago is going to keep Mike's largely gentle, kind of childlike demeanor, but be more physical - this is an ACTION! game, after all. Being from a different dimension, his senses don't work quite the way ours do - not sight, smell, etc., but more his more subtle social senses. So I'll add Rapport and Provoke to this mode. Also Will, too, definitely. And then I think PHADE is going to allow Adriago to use some psychic type powers (maybe TK, maybe not), but it grants him a fluidity of movement, so I'll add Athletics. Ooh, hell, I need Empathy, too. That gives me 8 points spend, here. I'll Notice and Physique, too, for an even 10.

Now I need to rate my modes. I think PHADE should be first (Good), and then Science, and then Action. That was easy.

Now I reinforce Skills. Basically, if they show up in more than one mode, they get a boost. Right now I get:

Rapport, Provoke, Will, Athletics, Empathy, Notice, and Physique under PHADE.
Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Provoke, and Vehicles under Action.
Notice and Will under Science.

So Notice shows up three times; Physique, Will, Athletics, Provoke show up twice. That means Notice starts at Trained in Good, but moves up twice to Specialized (Superb). Will starts Trained in Good and moves up to Focused (Great), as do the others, actually. Holy cats, I really stacked this well.

The book says to figure out Stress Boxes, but since I could in theory improve Skills yet, I'll let this wait. Game designers - derived traits always go last.

I should fill in some aspects, though, before I do stunts. I need an aspect for each mode, and then an Omega aspect that's just kind of quirky or troublesome. For my PHADE aspect, I'll take Harmonic Manipulation - Adriago can shift harmonies around at will. This qualifies him for some weird mega-stunts, which I'll get to. For his Science aspect, I take Everything is Different Here - his approach to science involves learning about the underlying principles of his strange new land. And for Action, I'll take Didn't Know I'd Do It Till It Was Done - Adriago is a man of action and is somewhat impulsive.

That leaves an Omega stunt. Ooh, drawing on another of my favorite novels, kind of, I'll take So It Goes. Adriago is, philosophically, inclined to see people from their own perspective, which is great, except it means that he sometimes loses the thread of the whole "good/evil" thing, because evil never thinks of itself as evil. He knows that nothing ever really stops, and so he has a hard time grieving something just because it changed form. This can make him seem insensitive or even naive.

Neat! Now stunts. Hrm. Mega-stunts are the super-power kinds of things, and I know I want a couple. I had been thinking TK, but eh. I think instead, we'll start with one based off of Adriago's temperament - he doesn't get afraid. We'll call this stunt Perspective, and it's kind of based on his ability to see things long-term, big-picture. It makes him immune to fear-causing attacks, but also gives it a cost or weakness. I think he'll be weak against social attacks that use sincerely held belief (so you're not going to get anywhere lying to him, but if you really believe what you're saying, he'll go along with it).

I also want a short-range teleport, called Harmonic Slip. This allows an absolute action; he can overcome physical barriers by slipping over or through them. I'll take a cost, there, allowing the GM to compel my concept aspect (or my PHADE aspect, for that matter) once a session.

I get three more stunts. I can take more mega-stunts, if I want, but I dunno. I can take a stunt to let me attack with Empathy, that might be fun (remember that "attack" means "causes stress"). So I think I'll take a stunt called I See You, meaning that I can use Empathy in an attack action after a successful Provoke or Rapport attack action.

Likewise, it'd be nice to use Notice, my best Skill, to defend against physical attack. I think it makes sense; Adriago can sense vibrations all around. So I think I'll take another mega-stunt called Tuned In: I can use Notice to defend against physical attacks and I get Armor:2 after the first round of combat (giving me time to get tuned in).

One more. Hmm. Oh, something I totally missed before is that because I have Science as a mode, I get all the science Skills ever at Fair. I think I should use some of my points to increase Harmonics, though. I have 5 points left, so I'll spend three points to bump it up to Specialized (Great). And then for my last stunt, I'll take Everything Has a Frequency - I get +2 to Create an Advantage with Harmonics, provided I can touch my target first.

OK, I have two points left. I can focus a Trained Skill for for 1 point or Specialize a Focused Skill for two. Hmm. I'll spend one to bump Empathy from Trained to Focused. And then I have one lonely little point left. Can I buy another Skill? Oh, I could bump another Science Skill to Focused under my Science mode, couldn't I? I'll do that. Let's say Anthropology.

And now I do stress boxes! My Good mode has both Will and Physique, so two more boxes, and then my Fair mode has Will, which adds one more mental. I'm ready to rock!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

No Fighting! This is a Hospital!

Feng Shui was Monday, you see. Last session is here.

So, the characters had beaten up a bunch of thugs in suits, carrying guns and machetes (the thugs, not the suits). Celeste was tending to the wounded dude they'd found in the armored truck, and saw a badge on his belt - she recognized him as Johnny Zhu, and he had been around when she was trying to help the cops find her missing sister. So she really didn't want him to die, and got him on gurney for the hospital.

Meanwhile, the other characters (mostly Tang) dragged one of the toughs around the corner for some questions. He was quite willing to talk, threats of violence aside: He belongs to a group called the SLA (though he didn't say what it stood for), and they were trying to kill "the Dragons." When told that Zhu was alive, he seemed disappointed, but said that "Ape Mask" would finish him off soon enough.

Tang recognized the name "Ape Mask" - she was a soldier for hire from his time. Realizing that Zhu might still be in danger, the characters piled into Celeste's SUV and headed to Sacred Heart Hospital.

The IC floor was hopping, with a bunch of cops, doctors, patients, and so on. They walked in (and everyone except Celeste gets stares, because she's the only one from this juncture) and looked around, but no enemies yet. Celeste talked to Chief Ban, and warned him that the SLA would try to kill Zhu again, but he chortled and said, "not with this many officers up here."

At that moment, the elevators doors open, and Ape Mask and her cohorts stormed the place.

Ape Mask was accompanied by some other toughs from the future juncture that Tang recognized, including Hammer Head, who'd been there when his partner was killed. The battle was joined! Some highlights:

  • Chung Do deflecting bullets with his sword. 
  • Bai Lin taking on Buzz Smite-Yer, a crazy thug with a buzz-saw hand, and fighting him to a standstill. 
  • An Austrian soldier (turned out he was named Otmar Schlenk) carefully taking shots at Tang and Leon and nearly putting them both down. 
  • Hammer Head required three of the characters to take him out - Tang kicked him in the chest, Celeste wrapped her whip around his neck, and Leon fried him with a Chi Blast. 
  • Ape Mask threw a grenade at Zhu's room. Tang picked it up, intended to throw it back, but miscounted. Leon, thinking quickly, hit him with a Magnetic Blast and propelled the grenade out of his hand and into the elevator, where it exploded safely off-camera. 
  • Celeste and Do taking on Titanium Tu, a man with iron fists! (And Celeste felling him with a kick to his decidedly non-titanium nuts.)
  • Leon Chi-blasting a mook out the window of Johnny's room, whereupon Johnny looked at Leon and called him by his real name.
  • A nurse jabbing a mook in the leg with a sedative, whereupon he shot another mook (I rolled boxcars and then like a -10 for the mook's attack). 
When the battle was over, the character's checked out Zhu. He seemed to know Leon (as "Li"), and told the characters that they were "Dragons." He could explain more, but they had to get him out of here. He told them, quickly, that Otmar was the "face" of the SLA, and that he had arranged to buy out a medical company called Genomic Solutions. Celeste checked Otmar's body (Leon had felled him with a Chi Blast to the face), and found a keycard for this company. 

They spirited Zhu out of the hospital and to a nondescript-looking building that Leon felt was a place of power, awash with Chi. Zhu punched in a number on the keypad...and was immediately electrocuted! The door unlocked, though, so they brought him inside and Leon kept him alive, but he was unconscious. The characters looked around the room, and found a map of the world with multiple sites (mostly in China) marked, and then a corkboard with some photos - one of which was of Celeste's sister! Another was of a collapsed building that Chung Do recognized as his dojo. 

In the corner, the characters found a computer with a note saying "Do not turn on." Tang, never one for following the rules, switched it on, and a voice greeted them! This "Sylvan Master" said he had once been human, but had become a computer program for reasons he couldn't remember. He wanted to be connected to the Internet; Celeste, sensing trouble, refused. Tang, however, was curious, so he allowed Sylvan to connect via Zhu's phone, and Sylvan started assimilating data. He also told the characters about the Chi War, raging across the four main junctures, and how they had to pick up the slack now that the other Dragons were dead. But then he zoomed off to comb through Tumblr. 

Unsure at what to do next, the characters decided to check out Genomic Solutions. So next time, we'll see where that leads.