Thursday, March 31, 2016

Character Creation: Beast: The Primordial

Michelle is out of town, I finished a writing assignment today, and for some stupid reason I'm still awake, so let's do this.

(Yes, I'm aware it's only 8:30. Shut up. I'm old.)

Oh, hey! Whole reason I'm doing Beast is that it was just released, so you can buy it!

The Game: Beast: The Primordial
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I, um, created it. I mean, Beast, not the larger World Chronicles of Darkness setting, obviously.
Books Required: Technically just the one, though the Chronicles of Darkness core doesn't hurt.

Well, I wish I had my hard copy yet, but I don't, so here we go.

I've actually been thinking about this off and on for a long time, now. I've never actually played Beast (which isn't so surprising; I've never played curse the darkness or Chill as a player, either, and the only reason I've played Demon was because I talked +Matthew Karafa into running a playtest), but if I did play, I'd hands-down want to play a Makara. Saying that the ocean is "evocative" is hardly an earthshattering statement, but the ocean is also fucking terrifying. It's endless and ancient and if there were anywhere on Earth that monsters would live, it'd be there.

As for a theme song, I've actually got one. It's one I've wanted to use for a long time.

The song is pretty aggressive, but if you listen to it, it's about protecting someone who would hurt themself otherwise. It's framed as someone have a seizure, but it gets weirder and kind of meta from there.

Anyway, starting at Step One: Character Concept. I know I want a Makara, but that's actually a later step. I just watched He Never Died, which is fucking fantastic Beast inspiration. I don't need someone quite as cut off as Jack (hard to play in a group, though lord knows we've seen people try), but I do want to play someone kind of socially awkward. I don't mean "socially awkward as an excuse for being creepy," I mean "largely introverted and uncomfortable around people." The monster in the undersea cave, happy to sleep and, like, occasionally reach up and grab boats.

But what does that means for him as a person? I think (drawing inspiration a little from Dexter, since I just rewatched the first season and it's not a terrible inspiration for Beast, either), I want Stan (for 'tis his name) to have a technical job. Police, though? I don't think so. County board of health? Yeah, actually.

Stan is in his mid-30s, thin, tanned, spiky black hair that never quite calms down. He shaved his head once and it got him too much attention. He likes to be in the background and avoids contact with this co-workers, but it's not that he doesn't like them, it's just that he's really an aquatic nightmare from beyond time, and he's afraid they won't have anything to talk about.

I should think about Devouring, too, even though it'll technically come up later. I think Stan was always shy and introverted. He likes swimming at night, even though he knows it's dangerous (this chronicle would really only work near an ocean). One night, he was floating along, and felt something brush beneath him. He thought it was a shark, but then another man surfaced. They got to talking, and then kissing and petting, and Stan, plucking up every bit of courage he had, asked the other man (Jaime) back to his place.

That night, Jaime's Horror Devoured Stan. Stan dreamt of the ocean, and feeling the monster below, but instead of Jaime surfacing, it was an immense sea-serpent, something with the smooth skin of a cephalopod and the body of a snake. It coiled around him, and took him down. He thrashed and the sea-serpent swelled and burst into a million tinier creatures, and they swarmed on him, eating him down to the bone.

He awoke to find Jaime curled around him. They had much to discuss. Turns out Jaime is a Predator (not sure about Stan's Hunger yet), and he can't always control it. Sometimes he feeds on tourists and swimmers. This horrifies Stan; Stan likes people, he's just not especially good with them. He loves Jaime, but he doesn't want anyone getting killed. He takes it upon himself to help talk, or pull, Jaime down when he gets too desperate.

I'm meant to do Aspirations at this point, so sure. Let's say Stan's two short-term Aspirations are "get his own lab space" (he's pressed for space, but the more important lab, downtown, has a bigger facility where everyone has their own office) and "come out to his parents" (they know he doesn't date much, and he's pretty sure they wouldn't care, but he's never had the conversation). His long-term Aspiration I think is pretty obvious; "find a way to help Jaime control himself."

Step Two is, of course, Attributes. Clearly Social is tertiary, and I think Stan is a cerebral enough guy that Physical shouldn't be primary. There ya go. I'll put two each into Intelligence and Wits, and leave Resolve at 2. I'll put two into Stamina (swimmers, man) and one into Strength and Dexterity, and for Social, fuck it, I'll put it all into Composure. You can't rattle Stan, but he's not very imposing, either.

Step Three: Skills! Mental is probably going to wind up primary here. Well, actually, I know Social is tertiary, again, so I'll just go ahead and take one each in Animal Ken, Empath, Intimidation, and Subterfuge.

Yeah, gotta got Physical secondary. So: Three into Athletics, two into Brawl, two into Stealth makes seven.

Finally, Mental. Three into Academics, two into Medicine, three into Science, and one each into Crafts (I picture him enjoying pottery, for some reason), Computer, and Investigation. And then I get a free dot in Occult, 'cause I'm a fuckin' Beast.

Step Four: Specialties! Well, first off, I want "Diseases" in Medicine and "Pottery" in Crafts. Decisions, decisions. Do I take "Sea Life" in Animal Ken, or "Swimming" in Athletics? Nah. I think I shall take "Attentive" in Empathy. What can I say, he's a good listener.

Step Five: Beast Template! Well, I already know Family (Makara). Let's think about Hunger. How would Stan feed the Horror? Certainly not Power or Prey, and I don't see him as a Ravager. That leaves Hoard or Punishment. I think Hoard; he's not keyed in to people enough for Punishment. What does he Hoard, though? I like the idea of him stealing medical records, but let's broaden it to identity. Stan takes driver's licenses, passports, birth certificates, medical records, and so forth. If he really feels like feeding the serpent(s), he'll make it impossible for someone to prove they are who they say they are, and watch them struggle with that for a while.

Legend and Life is next. For Life, I'll take Introverted. It's kind of Stan's defining feature. For Legend, I'll take Unexpected. It's an example one, but I like it; the idea of Stan just kind of appearing - or busting out an Atavism suddenly - is a fun one.

Speaking of Atavisms, I get two, one of which needs to be from my Family. I know what I want here, though. I'll take Heart of the Ocean (I can swim like Aquaman!) and Infestation (and...burst into a thousand little snake-worm things!).

Nightmares, then. All Your Teeth Are Falling Out is perfect for Stan. You Are Alone is, too, though his dice pool won't be great unless his Satiety's high. Well, that's what Willpower is for.

Step Six: Merits. I get 10 dots to throw around, and I can sacrifice five for a dot of Lair if I so choose. Which I don't, I don't think.

Well, I know I want a dot of Resources; Stan's job pays well. I know I want a dot of Mentor for Jaime; he's a Makara as well and he's been doing this longer. I think I need Contacts or Status or something to reflect his job. He's a lab tech, so probably not Status. How about Professional Training? I could do that. Let's take two dots. My Asset Skills are Science and Medicine. That means I get 9-again on those Skills, which considering I'd probably be using them for extended actions isn't bad at all. I also get two free dots of Contacts, so I'll take Medical (duh) and Police.

That's four dots of Merits; I have six more. Hmm. I kind of like Sympathetic; it gives Stan a weird edge in social interactions if he's willing to set himself back a little. I'll also take Patient. That leaves me three more. Hmm. I'll take the three-dot version of Trained Observer.

Step Seven: Mostly this is just derived traits, but I gotta do the Satiety questions, too. Hmm.

Who are your kin? I don't see Stan as having a lot of non-Beast contact yet, just because he's so introverted. Satiety 2.

Does your belly fill easily? Since it's fairly easy for Stan to feed his Hunger (steal a wallet and he's there), I'll say yes. Satiety 3.

Are you a social predator? I'm gonna say no. The only other Beast Stan hangs with is Jaime, and they don't hunt together. Satiety 3.

How frequently do you show your true self? Not often. Stan prefers to fly under the radar. Satiety 4.

How drawn to your Lair are you? My Lair is only 1 dot, so I'm at Satiety 5. That means I started Sated. Yawn. Give me some reasons to bring out the squirmies, O Storyteller!

And that's actually it.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Movie #352: Leon: The Professional

Leon: The Professional is an action/drama directed by Luc Besson and starring Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, and Danny Aiello.

Leon (Reno) is a hitman, or "cleaner," as he calls himself, living in New York and doing jobs for Tony (Aiello). While Leon is cool and professional, and damn good at his job, the relationship between him and Tony is oddly one-sided. Tony holds his money, Leon never spends anything, and his life is fairly bland - he trains, he takes care of his plant, and...that's basically it.

Leon lives down the hall from Mathilda (Portman) and her unpleasant family. Her father (Michael Badalucco) is in deep with some corrupt DEA agents, led by speed freak and psychopath Stansfield (Oldman). One day the agents roll in and slaughter her family while she's getting groceries, and thinking quickly, she goes to Leon's door. Mathilda wants revenge for her little brother (she doesn't much care about the rest of them), and begs Leon to teach her his trade.

Now, the synopses of the movie generally say that they wind up having "an unusual relationship", which is both true and a huge fucking understatement. Leon doesn't really want a protege, and certainly not a child; he actually holds his gun to her head the first night she stays there, obviously figuring it would easy to dispose of her. But he grows fond of her and teaches her how to snipe and how to handle guns. He even takes her along on assignments; he does the actual killing, but she participates. So far, so good.

But Mathilda repeatedly tells Leon she loves him, and the "love" in question wavers between familial and really not. At one point in the extended version, she flat-out asks him to have sex with her, and he refuses. The whole thing is bloody uncomfortable, and there's just no way around that. Now, digging past that discomfort, we can realize that Leon is pretty emotionally stunted himself; he can't read, he's never really gotten past his first girlfriend's murder, and he's learning from Mathilda as much as she is from him. At the same time, Mathilda is pretty obviously traumatized - she was abused even before her family died - and she's coping and trying desperately to keep hold of Leon. The whole thing is fucked up.

In the midst of all this is Oldman, playing the coked-out, over the top bad guy. It's good that he's not in the movie any more than he is; his character is so intense and so creepy that he ratchets up the tension when he's there, but it'd be easy for that shock to wear off. He gets a nice sendoff at the end, his death is satisfying, even if it's not Mathilda that kills him.

Leon is a pretty fundamentally amoral movie. The star is a contract killer who may or may not be in love with a 12-year-old girl. Said 12-year-old seems perfectly capable of committing cold-blooded murder. The movie is bleak and kind of nihilistic, but at the same time, the characters in it all want something else out of life; Stansfield notes this when he says he takes no pleasure in killing people who don't care if they live.

It's well worth watching, but if the relationship between Leon and Mathilda as I've described it squicks you out too much, stick to the theatrical version.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Les Miserables

Night's Black Agents: Shit Gets Real

Saturday was the end of an op in Night's Black Agents, and a pretty decisive victory for the agents. Check it out.

Last time, the characters decided to use Hanover's art contacts and cover to have a big party at the art museum, proceeds to benefit free energy. They made sure to invite Simon Thibault, CEO of Tasse Medical, whom they suspected was a vampire ("master", in their adopted nomenclature). They also invited Dierk Essert, one of the other higher-ups in the IFEA.

The night of the party, Gambone was working general security, Esse was acting as Hanover's bodyguard, Hanover was in cover (and in disguise) as Hans Brandt, and Parker was in cover as Jesse Stephens, Montana oil heiress. They worked the room, and noted that Thibault was there, with three security agents of his own. He was being polite and charming, and "Jesse" chatted with him a bit. She flirted, and he was polite, but nonresponsive. She also noticed, though, that he had the telltale lisp that "masters" did, the result of the tentacles under their tongues.

The agents also noted another guest they hadn't counted on - Ioan Koltay, energy researcher and sometime collaborator of the late Dr. Macan. He also had security on him, but he didn't seem to know about them. This worried the agents, and Parker crept out to the parking lot to check Koltay's limo. She found his the back seat, garrotted. Something was officially going down.

Parker traded places with Gambone (he actually had some Infiltration left), and he opened the limo and determined that, yes, the driver was dead, strangled expertly. He talked with the group of drivers and figured out who the imposter was, and noted that he was armed. The conspiracy was apparently planning on nabbing Koltay, probably after the party.

Hanover, as Brandt, pulled Koltay aside, on the premise of going over some numbers from the party. Gambone and Esse blocked his security from following until he was out of sight, and Parker and Hanover explained the situation (well, inasmuch as "your driver is dead, some bad people are trying to kidnap you") is an explanation. Koltay insisted on calling the police, and the agents figured that wasn't a terrible idea - but they needed to get him clear. Parker and Esse took Koltay out the back and spirited him away toward a safe house, while Hanover called the police to report the dead dude.

Meanwhile, watching the security team, Gambone noticed that the folks watching Thibault and the folks watching Koltay were communicating. They made Thibault aware, and he said something to them, after which they walked away - an abort code. Gambone was too far away to hear him (and he doesn't speak French anyway), but he was able to lip-read one word: "Sedillo."

Realizing, then, that Dr. Sedillo was in danger, Esse headed out to her place. He parked and waited, and then saw four men approach the house. Two went around back, and then came out the front carrying the unconscious doctor. They loaded her into a car. Esse considered intervening, but he also knew that he didn't have much chance against four armed, trained agents, even if they were all human. Instead, he tailed the car, hooked up with Parker (with Koltay in tow) and Gambone (Gambone had left the party surreptitiously, Hanover decided he'd rather not burn his Brandt cover, so stayed there). They tailed the car to the clinic.

Another car pulled up, and Thibault got out. This was bad - the agents had figured out that "the room" was used to convert people into vampires, and apparently Sedillo was the next target. They decided to hit them hard and fast, and hope that their blood thickener mixture worked.

Gambone lobbed a grenade at the lawn between the car and the clinic, as a diversion. Parker sniped Thibault in the head - the blow knocked him down, but he started to get up. Esse charged, and shot Thibault with the dart gun containing the blood thickener. The results were...dramatic.

Thibault went down and started heaving. He spat up a huge chunk of...blood? Flesh? and then went still. Two of his guards bugged out. One shot at Gambone, but his vest absorbed most of the impact (yay Preparedness). Another got in the car, reversed, and started to peel out, but Esse shot the engine block and disabled it. Parker shot the dude, and the agents pulled Sedillo out and got the hell away from the clinic.

Back at the safe house, they explained to the terrified academics what was happening - there was a conspiracy afoot, it had targeted them, and they weren't safe. They decided to recruit Sedillo and Koltay; their research and expertise could help the agents refine their methods. Sedillo revealed that some years back, she'd sold some drugs and equipment on the black market; this was the information Macan had used to blackmail her into letting the conspiracy use the "room," but she'd never seen what they did there. Koltay, likewise, had worked on the designs and problems Macan had given him, but he was an engineer at heart - he never really thought about the applications.

The agents pulled out of Switzerland and headed to Tuscany. They're on the run again and Geneva is far too hot, but they managed to take out some key resources from the conspiracy. Next time, we'll see what response that brings.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Changeling: Parliament of Dreams

So, here's a thing that's always, always bugged me about OWoD games: Why do the books say that all of these characters are sooper-ultra rare, but then the books are also written from the perspective that every decent-sized city has enough of a population to make up a court, a parliament, whatever, and not only is it a fixture but it's grand. Like, Elysium in Vampire is a high-dollar affair. Who organizes it? Ghouls, OK. Who feeds them? If it's one vampire per 10,000 humans (which is dumb as hell because it means that Cleveland has like 20 vampires, so that's what, four PC groups?), then how are all of the governmental positions filled?

Anyway, I thought of that last week when running Changeling, because the Parliament of Dreams met in an old gym. To back up a bit:

Last time, the motley got into a fight with some plague-chimera, and Thaia wound up feeling ill. Parliament was the next day, and Zulkis had put in a call to Kelodin, his mentor and the Duke, to give his motley some face-time to address people about the rat-blood graffiti. Thaia opted not to go; she was sick and didn't feel like being a Typhoid Mary.

The characters noticed, as Parliament began, that the room had pretty firmly divided itself up along Court lines, and things were generally tense. Kelodin began the proceedings with a warning: A nocker knowing for repairing Treasures and chimera had been attacked and his store robbed; he was alive but had been chimerically "murdered," so he was kind of wrapped up in the Mists right now. Kelodin advised anyone who had something in Spruce's shop to see if it had been stolen. This sent some murmurs through the crowd.

Next, he talked about the plague - yes, some folks were ill and the source seemed to be a chimerical illness, but it wasn't serious. He pointed out a piskey healer named Kara; she was Unseelie and standing there without her motley, and there was a bit of an outcry from the Seelie folks. Sander called her over to the motley so she'd be a little less alone.

Finally, he talked about the graffiti and said that Zulkis and his motley knew something about it. And at that point, a lot of folks in the room started chanting "RAT QUEEN! RAT QUEEN!" Krysa kind of shrank a little.

Zulkis, not wanting to play to the crowd, had Ambrose get up and speak for the motley, ensuring that the crowd would have to strain to listen. Ambrose shut everyone up with a glare (he's intimidating as fuck), and explained the situation as best he knew it. The room burst into squabbling again; the Seelie blamed the Unseelie for the graffiti, but the Unseelie retorted that all these attacks were taking place on their turf.

Kelodin adjourned the meeting, and the motley asked Kara to come with them and see to Thaia. They headed back to Thaia's apartment, and Kara brewed up some tea and mixed in some burnt Thaia-hair (bunk!) and cured her illness. She said that her motley wasn't there because they'd gotten into a fight (not the first time the motley had heard that!) and were nursing some injuries of their own.

The characters debated what to do next. They decided to go investigate Spruce's shop. They found the place blocked off with police tape, and Ambrose sneaked in so effectively that the chimerical centipede guarding the place didn't see him. He got the thing's attention and told it they were friends, here to help. The centipede (Sennek), told them what it knew: It had been out running an errand for Spruce when the attack happened. The attacker had used a crossbow, but the bolt had shattered Spruce's Treasure armor and left him chimerically "dead" (and thus unaware of his fae self). The attacker had also stolen everything Treasure or chimerical from the shop.

The characters found his ledger, and at least could discover what was taken, but it didn't help much. Spruce didn't work on anything super-powerful, Treasure-wise; anything like that if you needed it fixed you took it to a trusted expert and stayed while they worked! The characters did realize that breaking Treasures resulted in a burst of Glamour; maybe using all these things at once would be enough to power something really big?

They decided they needed more answers, but for that, they needed to talk to Spruce. Pulling someone out of the Mists early is tricky; too much Glamour too fast and you punt them straight into Bedlam, and no one wants that. They went to his apartment. Ambrose picked the locked and managed to dodge the chimerical darts that flew at his head, and then crept in and found Spruce tinkering with some machinery at his table. The motley jumped him and tied him up, and then got Kara over there.

She said she'd help, but the motley needed to contribute Glamour because she was tapped out (long night of curing plague). They all put some Glamour into a beer and forced Spruce to drink it, and managed to get just enough successes to wake him up without driving him nuts. They untied him, and he told them what he remembered: Someone...a woman, maybe an eshu?...had come into the shop and shot him with a crossbow. But the crossbow had no chimerical mien, so maybe it was real? His armor had been designed to convert physical damage into chimerical, but the bolt had been well-placed enough that it destroyed the armor as well (which Spruce was grumpy about, but he's a nocker, he's generally grumpy. I picture him played by J.K. Simmons, by the way).

Spruce wasn't sure why someone would steal the stuff he was working on; half of it didn't even function. Still had Glamour, though, so that was the going theory.

Next time, perhaps, they can track down this mysterious thief.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Movie #351: Left Behind

Left Behind: The Movie (no, seriously, that's the title) is based on novel-that-somehow-gullible-believe by Tim LaHaye and stars Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, Janaya Stephens, Gordon Currie, Colin Fox, and Clarence Gilyard, Jr. It's...not good.

Ace reporter Buck Williams (Cameron) is in the Middle East talking with renowned scientist Chaim Rosenzwieg (Fox), who's about to introduce a formula to, like, grow food or something. It's called the Eden formula, because that's as subtle as this movie gets. And then Iraq attacks Israel, but all their planes explode, because God or something.

Cut to Chicago, where Chip Whiteman...sorry, his name is actually Rayford Steele (Johnson) is running out on his kid's birthday party because his wife (Christie MacFayden) is all churchy. While in flight (on the same flight as Williams, in fact), the Rapture happens. It's actually the most effective scene in the movie; people are just...gone. Their clothes are LEFT BEHIND, but they're missing, and naturally people fucking panic because their children are missing (God is apparently groovy with leaving grieving mothers and fathers, because God is a titanic prick, but we'll get to that).

The world goes chaotic. Lots of world leaders are gone/dead, including the President (we're not told how), and the UN, with its new golden boy Nicholae Carpathia (Currie, and I swear there's not a 13-year-old boy running a World of Darkness game making up these names) at the helm. Williams and Steele separately investigate what's happening, and Steele, in talking to his pastor (Gilyard Jr.), who got LEFT BEHIND because...he, like, knew about God but didn't believe hard enough, I guess?...figures out what happened and immediately develops the kind of sloppy, sticky, weepy faith that makes me smile politely and look for the exits.

Eventually, it's revealed that Carpathia and his amazingly unconvincing Russian accent are the Antichrist and the Tribulation is about to begin, and we end on a pretty unfriendly shot of a church, Williams having accepted God and therefore become immune to Carpathia's Jedi mind tricks.

Fuck me, but this movie is terrible. Like, it's not even worth getting into the mentality of the "OMG a UN conspiracy!" mindset. The line that made me retch was Steele, talking to his daughter (Stephens), saying "God tried to warn us. It's not His fault." WHAT.

I've said before that when God (the Abrahamic version) shows up in comedies, the first thing witnesses do is test Him. Check out the old Oh, God! movies with George Burns or Bruce Almighty with Morgan Freeman as God - the protagonists meet Him, and then quite reasonably say "yeah right" and He does a parlor trick that convinces them. But in dramas or horror movies, Jehovah is fucking Cthulhu. He's unknowable and horrific; check out Seventh Sign, The Reaping, or, well, this movie. God is a monster, and we're powerless in His wake, but the characters in the movies behave like abused spouses. "No, it's really our fault. He loves us."

I have no use for religion or faith, as you probably know, but this movie is at least entertaining insofar as it's fun to MST3K. And then I look at the headlines from NC and see people using EXACTLY THIS BULLSHIT as a smokescreen for their bigotry, and I'm like, y'know what? Kirk Cameron can go fuck himself with a banana.

My grade: F-
Rewatch Value: IINIAIFWT

Next up: Leon: The Professional

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dragons! At last, Dragons!

Well, it was a good long time ago that we played Epyllion, but the dragons descended once again this weekend. Last time, you'll recall, the clutch was on an obsidian island that had once been an outpost of House Kebros, but had been lost to the Darkness. Hawley's player was absent, so we assumed that when he dived into the Darkness Well, he shouted a warning about it on the way back up, but spiraled away and crash-landed. Meanwhile, Veris was being pursued by an imposter - something that had been pretending to be Biscuit. 

Freja flew off after Hawley, while Azrael and Nova stayed by the well. Azrael examined is and learned it was, indeed, full of Darkness, but that it could lead to the sea, if properly traversed. 

Meanwhile, Veris stood up to the imposter dragon, acting despite danger, ordering the imposter to lead him out, using his one of them move. The imposter called him on it, but Veris convinced the Imposter, saying "I've got work to do" (this implication being Darkness-work).

The Imposter agreed, and led him back toward the Well, but burst into Darkness-goop before the others saw him. All they saw was Veris emerge from said goop. Azrael, suspicious, studied Veris to find out if he was tainted, and asked him how Darkness'd he was. He replied that he was touched by the Darkness, yes, but his clutch was still his friends.

Nova, for her part, also studied him, but failed, and saw him as a thread. She launched herself at him, battling the Darkness, and smacked him with her club-like tail (and got a Shadow Point for her trouble). 

Meantime, Freja found Hawley, apparently injured. She tried to get him up to fly, and asked for help from Oodle, her spirit guide. Oodle said that wasn't Hawley at all, and that Freja should run. Knowing that bad things happen when she doesn't follow Oodle's advice, she flew, acting despite danger, but escaping the Imposter Dragon. She returned to find the others squabbling. 

Azrael got in the middle of the fight and tried to convince Nova and Veris to knock it off, but failed, and everyone got a Shadow Point. Azrael flew off to the beach to create, Nova just kind of sulked, and Veris flew straight up, overcome by Doubt. Freja followed him and convinced him to come back; he stopped to talk to her. He told her that he was good at understanding and detecting the Darkness, but was afraid it might be taking a toll. Freja called on the liberty moon to purify him (and he helped) and lightning lanced down and struck him, burning out the impurity...and knocking him unconscious (he acted despite danger and missed). Freja saw Veris fall toward the ground, but also saw the Imposter Dragon creeping up on Azrael. She figured that Azrael could take care of herself, and caught Veris.

Azrael, meanwhile, was using dragon trade to create a seat - not a throne, just an elegant seat. The Imposter Dragon snuck up on her heard him and battled the Darkness (she missed, and he smashed the seat). Azrael, officially done taking shit, called upon the storm moon and fried the Imposter Dragon with lightning (reforming the topography of the island in the process), burning away the black goop covering him and exposing a skinny, lithe, serpentine dragon. The others arrived, and battled the Darkness. Freja gained a Shadow Point in the fight, Veris chose to protect Azrael, Azrael took a Shadow Point, and Nova, flying in, protected Biscuit from harm and smashed the Imposter Dragon's head with her tail. 

The Darkness-tainted dragon dead, Veris examined its body. It smelled like obsidian, and the features were unmistakably House Kebros. Freja used scent of a place, and realized that this island bore evidence that the Darkness was returning - something they could finally show the elders! 

Azrael, claiming the island as hers, called upon the spirit moon to see if she could change the island's features, but instead, an immense dragon with salt-crusted scales and a beard surfaced from the ocean. The Sea Dragon asked what was happening here, having felt magic and power from this place. They told him, but he was skeptical. Freja decided she'd fly down into the well and get proof. She acted despite danger, and in the Darkness Well, she realized she was truly out of her depth. Oodle protected her, told her to flee, and she flew out of the Well - just as it closed with a burst of spirit-feathers. 

The Sea Dragon chuckled, saying that it was true that these islands could seem Dark. Freja got angry and stood up to the older dragon, tell him he had no idea what they'd been through and chastising Azrael for making furniture while the Darkness returned. The Sea Dragon told them to leave by nightfall, and he'd handle it. Azrael didn't want to leave - it was her House's island, after all, but Veris convinced her, pointing out that they could come back later, and she could take some obsidian with her for the moment. She agreed, and the dragons flew back to the White Falls.

The Sea Dragon, meanwhile, surface and smashed the island, sinking it. Next time, perhaps we go inland?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Movie #350: Goldfinger

Goldfinger is the third film in the James Bond series, starring Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, Harold Sakata, Cec Linder, and Shirley Eaton.

After the unrelated credits sequence, superspy James Bond (Connery) finds himself tasked with spying on Auric Goldfinger (Frobe), who's smuggling gold around. He promptly blows his cover by forcing Goldfinger to stop cheating at cards/banging Goldfinger's girlfriend (Eaton), which results in him being knocked out by Goldfinger's superstrong manservant Oddjob (Sakata) and said girlfriend being murdered by being covered in gold paint.

The rest of the movie reveals Goldfinger's plot (irradiated the gold at Fort Knox so that his gold jumps in value), treats us a bunch of fun action sequences, introduces the least-subtly named Bond girl of all time - Pussy Galore (Blackman), and kills at least one more woman (Tania Mallet, playing Eaton's sister, trying to kill Goldfinger and getting her neck broken by a hat. How sad).

Confession time: I find a lot of the older Bond movies really slow. That's probably a product of the time in which they were made, yes, but while newer ones (by which I mean the Brosnan era; the Craig ones are in a class by themselves and I haven't seen Spectre yet) are arguably much lower in quality, I find them more watchable in a lot of ways. Goldfinger is iconic, sure, but I don't think it's aged as well as some of the (comparatively) more recent ones. But it's been a really long time since I watched Thunderball or any of the Moore movies, so I don't know.

Also, I have a really hard time with just how bad at his job Bond is. Like, he had no reason to get involved with Goldfinger in the beginning of the movie - what, because he's taking some guy to the cleaners at gin? Who gives a fuck? This guy's a spy, he murders people with detached ease, but he's outraged over a rigged card game? Just felt lazy; not sure if the book is any better.

Anyway. Bond films are fun, but I sort of prefer the later ones that veer even further into sci-fi.

My grade: B-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Left Behind

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Movie #349: Fanboys

Fanboys is road movie/comedy starring Dan Fogler, Kristen Bell, Sam Huntington, Christopher Marquette, and Jay Baruchel (plus a bunch of cameos, including Seth Rogen, Carrie Fisher, and William Shatner).

Eric (Huntington) rejoins his high school posse of Star Wars fanboys at a party, where we learn he's become estranged. He used to be a comic artist, now he's working at his father's car dealership and thinks he's "grown up." He then learns that his best friend Linus (Marquette) is dying of cancer - he's got maybe four months to live. That means, among other things, that he won't live to see the premiere of The Phantom Menace. His other buddies, the nerdy and awkward Windows (Baruchel) and the loud and obnoxious Hutch (Fogler) just want to see these two besties reconcile. Oh, and Zoe (Bell...wait, Zoe Bell? no) is there, too, playing the role of Fangirl; she actually starts off as fairly awesome, but...well, I'll get there.

The friends decide to go on a cross-country road trip, break into Skywalker Ranch, and steal a print of Episode I before it's released. They do so by way of Riverside, IA, where they get into a brawl with a bunch of Trekkies; Vegas, where they brawl the same Trekkies plus a Star Wars-loving pimp (Rogen), and, like, a hospital where they meet a doctor who gives Linus medicine and sends him on his mission (Fisher).

Finally they make it, sneak in, get caught, and Linus is allowed to see the movie. Cut to next year, where the four of them that remain (Linus has passed on) finally see the movie in theaters, and we end on Eric asking "what if it sucks?" Yeah, what if.

This movie is actually pretty funny. It's got a great cast, though I think Marquette and Huntington look a little too similar. There's some humor that really could have been jettisoned (there's a rape joke that really didn't need to be there, although it's aimed at men, which is at, I got nothing).

I have issues with Bell's character. At first, she's part of the gang - she's very much a nerd like the rest of them, she keeps up with their stupid quote-based dialog just fine, and she has no problem shutting down Hutch's sexual harassment (that it exists at all is an issue, but eh). But then her whole character arc becomes "is in love with Windows." I feel a little better in that she pursues him, but it still winds up being about him because he gets the "oh, shit, the girl of my dreams is right there!" Snore.

The movie leans a little too heavily on "nerds are horny but sexless dudes who have no idea how sex works, but nerd girls have to know everything about nerd things and about sex" tropes, but I guess it's something that they acknowledge that nerd girls exist at all? I think the movie would have greatly improved by having Bell with them from the beginning, but she makes for a nice deus ex machina moment.

Anyway, the movie definitely does capture the feel of a bunch of fanboys nerding out about their favorite media, so that's fun. And it neatly sidesteps the fact that Phantom Menace did, indeed, suck.

My grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Goldfinger

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Character Creation: Ashen Stars

Needed to take a break from redlining Changeling, and I've been reading this game as my before-bed book, so here we are.

The Game: Ashen Stars
The Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at Origins (I think) some years back. Might've been GenCon. Anyway, I remember very little about that game, which doesn't speak well of the experience. I seem to remember it was passable, but pretty lackluster. Hungover GM, maybe?
Books Required: Just the one.

Ashen Stars is a space opera game in the Gumshoe system, which isn't an immediate intuitive leap for me, but it makes sense. Characters are "lasers" - Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators - basically space cops or space Marshals. There's the usual chapter of history, but it goes by nicely (we don't get a play-by-play of the major battles of the war), and like a lot of Robin Laws games it doesn't define what it doesn't need to define.

Put another way, some aspects of the alien races' cultures are provided, but the players are invited to do a lot of that work in play, which is how I like to approach both sci-fi and fantasy. I like a bit of collaboration in my tea.

Anydangway, character creation. We start off by choosing a race. The game details "Seven Peoples," which is humans plus six alien races (though, really, everyone's an alien in space...or no one is. Deep). I think when I played this at the con I played a kch-thk, which are like big warrior mantises that eat everything (only they've agreed not to eat humanoid races anymore). So I don't want to make one of those or a human, I think. Hmm.

Well, I kinda like the balla. They're beautiful and ethereal and they feel emotions so strongly that if they don't control them (there's even a device they use to do it) they might slip into an extreme emotional state. By default, other species want to worship the balla, but the species' ethos teaches them that all species are equal and so they need to repress that "power." Yeah, this sounds fun.

Their names are two syllables and begin and end with vowels, so my laser will be named Ezha (long e, "zh" like the middle sound in "treasure," unstressed vowel like a schwa). I get boosts in three of: Botany, Geology, History (Balla) and Zoology. I think I'll wait to decide which three until it becomes relevant. I also get a bunch of cyberware and viroware that's better or worse for me, but again, that's a later step in the process.

Step Two is "assign crew packages." Everyone has a job they do dockside (while on a planet) and warpside (in space). I like that; it's nice for people to have jobs to do because it cuts down on redundancy and encourages niche protection. Anyway! What does Ezha do?

Warpside, I like Communications Officer (or "Hailer"). I'm basically responsible for receiving and routing communications with other ships, but that also lets me get into some psychological warfare with other ships and do PR. Now, you say, this might be an odd choice for a species that has to keep itself so in check, but that's exactly why Ezha likes it - in space, his species powers aren't an issue. This package gives me: Linguistics 1, Flattery 1, Reassurance 1, Decryption 1, Data Retrieval 1, Communications Intercept 6, Sense Trouble 4.

Then dockside. I think I'll play to my strengths and be the Survey Officer (or "Mapper"). Basically my job is to, well, survey, and be an explorer, cartography, species collector, and so forth. I like the idea of my character in a lab, running comms from there with a series of touchscreens, rather than in a cockpit. I need: Botany 1, Geology 1, Zoology 1, Astronomy 1, Bio Signatures 1, Chemistry 1, Energy Signatures 1, and Sense Trouble 4.

Now, all of these points come out of my totals later, so it's not like Night's Black Agents where I pay for the packages up front. That means I have to take Sense Trouble 4 and it covers both of these packages; I don't have to take 8 points.

In any case! Now I choose the rest of my Investigative Abilities. I get points based on how many players my "group" has, and since I'm sure there would be at least 5, I get a total of 21. I've already "spent" 12, which leaves me 9 left. This'll be easy.

OK, this game has a bunch of new ones, so I need to look those over. I'll take a point in Archaeology and Anthropology; seems appropriate to me as Mapper and as Hailer (predicting how people will respond). I think I should take one in History (Balla). I'll take Imaging; you figure he might set up cameras and sensors while planetside. That's 4; I have 5 left. I should take one in Negotiation. Ooh, I like this new "Respect" ability, too, and it seems very appropriate. I'll take a point each in Virology and Xenoculture, too. That leaves me 1 left; I'll put it Forensic Anthropology so I can do autopsies. I'll put my boosts in Geology, Zoology, and Botany. I don't see this guy as especially keyed in to his species' history.

Now I pick the rest of my general abilities. I get 75 points, but I've spent 10 (6 in Communications Intercept and 4 in Sense Trouble), so I have 65 left. Here we go!

Well, you're stupid if you don't take Athletics, so I'll put 4 there. Looks like I'd better take Emotion Suppression. I'll put 6 there. That takes me 55. I think I'd better know how to handle Ground Craft (5 points). Ooh, Health. I'll put 5 there. 45 points.

Preparedness! Oh, definitely. 6 points. Public Relations seems smart, given my job, so I'll 6 more there. That's 33 remaining. I'll bump Sense Trouble up to 8 (4 more points). I need something combatty, so I'll put 7 into Shooting (22 left). I'll put 5 into Shuttle Craft, 5 into Surveillance, and 7 into Viro Manipulation, but that still gives me 5 left. I'll put 3 more into Communications Intercept for a total of 9, and the remaining 2 into Emotion Suppression (8 total). Sounds good.

Now I choose my Drive, my motivation for going into adventure and being a laser. Every species has a unique one, but the balla one (Self-Exclusion) doesn't do it for me. Hmm. There are a couple that I like; Scientific Inquiry makes sense. But given Ezha's position as Hailer in addition to Mapper, I'm going with Chronicler. He's not just in it for the discovery, but he's making a travelogue of the planets he visits in addition to the people he meets. He channels emotion that way, by describing what he sees, he allows other people to feel in his place.

Step six would be to choose the ship, but that would be a group exercise. I think I'd want a ship with some range, kind of investigating shit on the "outer rim," as it were, but that's just off the top of my head. Otherwise I think I'll skip this.

Step seven is "choose tech and enhancements." In our hypothetical 5-player group, we'd get 108 credits to share. That doesn't divide evenly, which is sort of weird, but let's assume I'd have 20.

Well, I want a Dataloader, and it's a compatibility for balla, meaning it only costs 2 instead of 3. Likewise for a Headdisk, which lets me record anything I see or hear. That only costs me 1. I'll take a Headlight (useful for caves; 2 points), Nightvision (1 point), and hell yes a Pherotracker (I shoot someone and I can track them for the rest of the episode). That's 8 points of my 20.

Then I should look at viroware. It's basically special viruses that alter your DNA and let you do cool things. I'll take Thirdeye, which refigures the hairs on the back of my neck to let them transmit visual information to my brain; basically I get a bonus to Sense Trouble. I like that.

Well, that's as much money as I want to spend. Now I finish up by doing a personal arc. These are basically story hooks that affect my character and get woven into larger stories. I also give the GM open subplots, which I really like (though I have players who would struggle, I suspect).

My first one is become a famous explorer. Ezha wants to be known for his forays into the wild. My open subplot is "someone has a dangerous mission for me," basically giving me a chance to get cred while doing her dirty work.

Next up: find a place I can let go. Ezha understands the need for his people to remain in control, and he's good at it. But one of the reasons he likes the wild so much is that maybe, somewhere out there, there's a place he can succumb to the beauty of it all and be safe. My open subplot here is "smugglers spotted on remote world," which is pretty basic for this game anyway, but I think could play into this arc nicely.

Finally: reconnect with Amli. Amli was another balla, also a Hailer on a different ship. We never actually met in person but had a delightful chat while our ships were in proximity. Ezha really wants to talk with her again, but there was some unpleasantness that cut off our conversation and he's never managed to reconnect. Open subplot: "a garbled, fragmented transmission from her ship."

And that's it!

Movie #348: Black Swan

Hey, we're back into the movie project! Calloo, callay!

Black Swan is a 2010 psychodrama directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, and Winona Ryder.

Nina Sayers (Portman) is a professional ballet dancer in a company in New York. She's been with the company for a number of years, and her life is pretty much dancing; her mother (Hershey) is a former dancer herself, and infantilzes and controls Nina at every turn. Thomas, the director of the ballet (Cassel) announces that this year's opening production is going to be Swan Lake, and he's looking to cast the Black Swan and the Swan Queen with the same ballerina. Nina auditions, but doesn't have the confidence and passion to handle the Black Swan, until Thomas kisses her and she bites him. Impressed that she has some spirit, I guess, he casts her, and instructs her to get in touch with her passionate side. That is, sex, masturbation, something, just let go.

Nina, though, is losing her grip on reality. She hallucinates her reflection moving on its own, people take on her face or her mother's, and after a night of drinking and dancing and drugs with her rival/crush Lily (Kunis), she imagines the two of them having sex...but then in the morning realizes it was all in her head.

In the end, she dances the Black Swan perfectly, after stabbing Lily for trying to take the role, but then realizes that, again, she did not such thing...and she's bleeding from the stab wound. She passes out or dies as the crowd chants her name, whispering "perfect."

So, I really love this movie. It was my choice for Best Picture back in 2011, and I don't think that's changed. I definitely still feel that Portman deserved her Oscar for this, but watching it again, I was able to catch a lot of the tricks of light and face-changing that I didn't notice the first time around. I'm sure if I was a fan of ballet in general or Swan Lake in particular, I'd get even more out of it, but for a psychodrama it moves really well and it's pretty accessible. Plus, I gotta say, the scene between Kunis and Portman is really sexy. Just to get that out of the way.

Supporting performances are also really amazing. You never hear Hershey's character's backstory, but you know it. Same with Beth (Ryder), the "Dying Swan" of the company, the ballerina who's aged out and is terrified. Cassel, too, could come off as really slimy, but to me, his "seduction" of Nina feels more like an annoyance, something he has to do to get the production where he wants it. It's not until she kisses him on opening night that he seems to feel any real passion for her.

Anyway. Very weird and enjoyable movie.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Low, I think

Next up: Fanboys

Monday, March 7, 2016

Game Prep Day Post #3: Feng Shui

OK, here we go! Probably the last one for today, sadly, but I have time to do Atomic Robo before the next session (which isn't until April).

Kung fu technique: Otter Noses the Ring. 
Don't read anymore, players!

Game Prep Day Post #2: Night's Black Agents

Next up in our cavalcade of game prep, Night's Black Agents! I'm doing this one next because I have an actual plan for what's happening, and I think it shouldn't be terribly hard to do. We shall see.

Teagan looks kinda old-world vampire as Cruella, I don't know. 
Don't read, players!

Game Prep Day Post #1: C20

Here we goooo!

Picture for space-filler and to remind you how big this book is.

All the Game Prep Ever

I'm running five games right now, plus occasional one-shots. If that seems nuts, well, it is. Let's take a moment to ruminate on that.

I've always dedicated a lot of time to running games (start the clock on "always" when I was about 18 or so; I ran games occasionally in high school, but my freshman year in college was when I started to meet a lot of other roleplayers and it wasn't uncommon for me to run games four nights a week). For a while it was mostly Chill, but I'd routinely buy other games and we'd try them out. So I'd run or play Shattered Dreams, Nightlife, Paranoia, Toon, Earthdawn, and lots of others I can't even think of right now. Sometimes we'd just play a game once and then gravitate back to stuff we liked more, and once 1994 rolled around and Wraith: The Oblivion came out, then it was down the rabbit-hole that was the World of Darkness.

World of Darkness, in both incarnations ("classic" and what's now called Chronicles of Darkness), was great for the GM who likes to run multiple games because they could all take place in the same universe. That was harder with OWoD, since the cosmologies weren't really designed to mesh, but it didn't get too crazy until Demon: The Fallen by which point I had pretty much stopped running connected games. It was nice, though, if I had a random group of people one night and folks wanted to play but we didn't have a group of characters for those particular players to be able to say "OK, make Mage characters and let's pick a city." And bam, new chronicle, another entry in the binder.

Now I don't run as much WoD, though. I'm not running any CofD games at all (for now, though we'll get back around to Promethean at some point), and I'm just running Changeling: The Dreaming as a playtest for the 20th anniversary edition. Since my priorities have shifted from "be an expert in WoD" to "play lots of different games to broaden my horizons as a designer," I'm running, at present, a Fate Core game (Atomic Robo), a PbtA game (Epyllion, or rather, the Epyllion ashcan, since the main game isn't out yet), a Gumshoe game (Night's Black Agents), and a lighter, beer-n-pretzels game (Feng Shui), in addition to Changeling.

Epyllion is nice because it's zero-prep. I wing it every session, and that's the way PbtA games work. But the rest of the games require varying degrees of prep. Feng Shui is simple enough in play, but it's got a lot of backstory and since it relies on combat, I have to have opponents statted. Night's Black Agents is Gumshoe, which is a heavy-prep game (though this particular game has been going long enough that I can wing it a little) because you have to know what clues are around for the PCs to find. Changeling, sadly, is more prep than I'd like. It used to be that I knew WoD so well that I could whip up stats off the top of my head, but even if we weren't doing a playtest with some revised rules, it's been so long since I ran an OWoD game (that last one was Demon, which wrapped in...jesus, late 2004, by the look of it?) and I largely (and deliberately) put the system out of my head when I started developing/writing for NWoD that it's weird to be running it. Doesn't help that the players, by and large, aren't familiar with it and, I think, would rather be playing it in NWoD/CofD. Atomic Robo is Fate, which means that I know the system, but it has several cool little subsystems I need to get familiar with.

And all of this is on top of the fact that the groups are very different. Atomic Robo is perfectly able to improvise and buy in with no trouble. Feng Shui has a bit more trouble with that. Night's Black Agents is finding their feet in the game, but it's taken three years and some switches in players and characters. And so on.

Time was that I had no trouble keeping up with game prep, but then again, time was that I a) had more energy and b) had more time, somehow. My day job used to afford me occasional opportunities to work on not-work, but it's gotten more intense this year, and it's sapping my energy. I'm getting older, too, which doesn't help, and then there's the freelance work.

What I am saying? I think what I need to do is set aside a day a month, to do some extensive game prep for what I'm running. One day may actually not be enough, but I have a day today (yesterday, really, but I was sick yesterday which totally pissed me off, and led to me taking today off work). In the interest of not making this post any longer, and in making it easier for players of the respective games to avoid the posts in question, I'm gonna make separate posts for each of the games (less Epyllion, because again, no prep).

First up, since I'm running it today: Changeling.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Atomic Robo: The Plot Thickens, and Get Salty

We played Atomic Robo yesterday, despite our best efforts. I say that because everyone at the table was just on fire with the clever jokes, and I don't even mean that sarcastically. People were really funny (sadly, a lot of it you needed to be there for), and the giggle loop was very much in effect (I was trying to find a clip from Coupling that explains it, but I can't, so just trust me, it's very funny). Anyway, we did make some progress in the story, but this episode is likely to be kind of short, interspersed as it was with masturbation jokes and Grease references.

We open a few weeks after the team found and tagged Boris, the giant predatory dinosaur. Effy is in her lab, running some tissue samples on the big guy. She finds, though, that a bunch of them have been contaminated and are useless. Very strange.

Marsha is in the jungle, stalking Boris. She's convinced he's up to something nefarious, stomping through the trees and eating herds of animals, the big asshole. She notes, though, that he's got scratches on his flank. She sneaks up and peers closer (in no danger because she can camouflage herself), and smells antiseptic on the scrapes. It looks like someone took tissue samples...but who? She heads back to base to try and find out.

Jesse is in the motor pool, working on the Dinambulance. She realizes that someone has adjusted the seat settings, someone much smaller than her (but that's a lot of people, since she's a dilophosaurus). She realizes someone took the Dinambulance out of the motor pool, but who could even drive it?

Reggie, meanwhile, is in the ocean just off the coast, supervising a weigh-in for an upcoming boxing match (he's retired, but still part of the circuit). He hears some dolphins talking smack about him, and one of them - a muscular fellow named Batroc - challenges him to a bout. Reggie handily beats him, and the other cetaceans back off, and Reggie heads back to base.

The characters meet up in the lab, where Otto is there calibrating himself (see, this is how it starts). Jesse and Marsha report their findings, and they figure, hell, we have these cameras for security. Let's check 'em out.

The cameras show the motor pool, but then they go down. When they come back on, the Dinambulance is gone. It comes back, the door opens, and water pours out, but before they can see who or what steps out, the feed goes out again.

Effy takes some samples from the floor around the Dinambulance; Jesse's fastidious cleaning makes it hard, but she manages. She finds traces of sea salt. Very curious.

The characters head to the security room to talk to the head of surveillance, Petaluna Petals. She's infused with the DNA of a creeper vine, and if she sits anywhere for any length of time, the vines grow around her. Marsha and Reggie zip to the security room, Reggie using the series of water-filled tubes that allow him to zip around the facility. When they get there, they find Petaluna in her seat, watching monitors, the room covered in vines as usual. But Marsha notices that one section of vines - near a control panel - is brittle and weaker, as though dehydrated.

They ask her to call up the footage from the appropriate day, and they find that the outage starts at the control room and goes to the motor pool, and then back. So someone started in the control room - but who? Petaluna has an alibi, she was sunning herself in the sun-lamp room at the time. How did this person get in?

The characters realize that Reggie's tubes allow this kind of access, and Reggie, as a gentleman, doesn't allow cameras in them (modesty, people!). He checks the tubes' interior and finds traces of grease. Analysis shows it's biological, but genetically engineered - who has that kind of tech (besides Tesladyne, of course)? Meanwhile, Jesse checks the settings in the Dinambulance and realizes that who- or whatever drove it was smaller than her, but had arms even shorter, proportionally, than hers! What could that have been!

A dolphin, they realize. But then how did it work the pedals? Jesse theorizes that two dolphins together might have done. Reggie decides this mystery is involved enough that they need to consult an expert.

They head to the brain-room and hook up Sherlock Holmes' brain (which, you'll recall, taught Reggie the art of bartitsu). They sprinkle some cocaine on his lobes and he talks them through the problem. Sure, this could be multiple dolphins...but a dolphin with legs makes even more sense! Then the dolphin would worse the pedals. So there is the question...where are the dolphin's pants?

(Tune in next time, when I promise this will get even more ridiculous.)


As you may be aware, last Sunday was the Oscars, and as in years past, +Michelle and I made delicious food for a little dinner party kinda thing. Teagan was our acting sous chef this year. Here's the menu:

  • Mad Max: Fury Road: "Green place" salad
  • Brooklyn: Italian wedding soup with Irish soda bread
  • The Martian: Spice-boiled potatoes 
  • The Big Short: Popovers
  • The Revenant: Bison roast
  • Bridge of Spies: German chocolate cake
  • Room: Vanilla bean ice cream
  • Spotlight: Irish coffee with whipped cream

Dinner prep actually started on Saturday. Michelle mixed up the ice cream batter, which involved a bunch of egg yolks; the ice cream was very custardy in texture, y'see.

Michelle, have successfully egged.
The dogs were really the winners, here, by the way, because they wound up with egg whites poured over their food that night. Anyway, eggs yolks get added to milk and sugar and so on, and then looks like this:

You have no idea how delicious this is. 
And then, into the fridge! That left me to start the bison roast.

I'm gonna tell you right now: This roast was among the best things I've ever cooked. It turned out so tender and amazing. It's not hard, especially, just time consuming because it's six hours of cook time and then it's in the fridge overnight, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, the chopping.

Kind of an ominous tableau, if you're a carrot. 
And then the meat.

Had to buy two roasts, because the bison-monger didn't have one big enough.
Veggies are rendered into chunks:

Meat gets cooked in the huge dutch oven, then removed, then veggies get cooked down. Oh, meat gets tied up, too, which is probably easier with one larger roast than two medium sized ones, but we do our best.

Not nearly done. 
 And then all the veggies, herbs, meat, and a bottle o' beer go into the dutch over and cooks for four hours. And then they sit on on the counter for another two to cool, and then the dutch over goes into the fridge to sit overnight so the meat can think about what it's done.

The cooling step. 
That was it for Saturday. Sunday, then, we got up and got to work, and at some point received Teagan for assistant purposes. We poured the ice cream batter into the ice cream maker at some point in the morning and Michelle made another batch, but I didn't get a picture of that.

First thing: Clear the dog-nose smudges off the door. 
Michelle got to work on the cakes for the German chocolate cake, putting her baking wizardry to work.

Dusting the pans with cocoa...
Adjusting the...cake...alyzing machine...
Meantime, Teagan and I focused on cleaning, so as to give her the kitchen to work. When the cakes were out of the way, it was time to get our hands dirty!

And look good doing it!
We figured we could make the tiny meatballs for the Italian wedding soup and get that out of the way, so I donned my chef hat and got to work chopping parsley.

You thought I was kidding?
Meatballs are simple: pork, beef, eggs, bread crumbs, parsley, grated Parmesan, rolling into tiny meat-pellets.

She's not giving a thumb's up, that's the "my hands are covered in meat" gesture. 
The tiny, meaty fruits of our labor. 
Meatballs into the fridge and workstation cleaned up, because if you don't clean as you go you're doomed. Cakes came out of the over to cool at this point.

Michelle's like, "Yeah, I made cakes. WHAT."
At this point we realized that I had forgotten to buy soda bread. There's a lovely little Irish-food place at that market, and we figured we'd buy that component rather than making it, but I forgot entirely. So Michelle just made some! Turns out it's not terribly hard.

Like, I didn't even have time to take a picture of the process. Just, boom. Bread.
Michelle mixed up the icing for the cake, iced it, and added some chocolate drizzle because this thing wasn't already rich enough.

Drizzle, drizzle. 
And then it was time to get the bison going ahead. Oh, lordy. First step was to pull it out and scrape the excess fat off the top.

All that orange stuff is fat, and I kinda wish I'd saved it.
And then the meat gets pulled out, and the sauce gets cooked down to a "saucy glaze."

"Is it saucy yet?" "It keeps telling off-color jokes, yeah." 
The meat gets broken down into pieces, which is easy since it cooked for four hours the day before, and then arranged in a gigantic skillet.

I love my cast iron.
No point getting the bison ready to eat quite yet, though. Had to make the soup. Soup is pretty easy on one level; you boil a bunch of broth (mostly chicken, some turkey stock I made after Thanksgiving) and then add in the endive and the meatballs. Teagan was fascinated by the idea that you add the meatballs in raw and they cook in the soup.

For this particular recipe, we mixed up some Parmesan cheese and egg, and did basically and egg drop:
Egg-drop soup is comfort food for Michelle, so I've done this part plenty of times.
By this point, the table was clear, the tablecloth was on, and the special mugs brought up from the basement and washed. The cake was done!

No lie!
Michelle got to work making the placards for the dishes.

If it involves handwriting, you don't want me to do it. 
I had a few more dishes to make. I boiled some water and mixed in a bunch of Old Bay seasoning, then dumped in the taters to boil (probably the simplest damn thing we've ever made for this dinner). Teagan and I trimmed and cleaned some spinach, and then we mixed it pomegranate and sunflower seeds, and made a dressing with lemon juice and olive oil.

Note the skillet on the stove in the background, we'll get to that. 

A (mostly) green place.
Michelle mixed up the batter for the popovers, which you pretty much have to eat right out of the oven.
I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm sure it's important. 
Through all of this, our dogs were pretty chill. I only mention this because Sarah, who was acting as photographer by this point, snapped a picture of Si snoozing on the floor.

"Perhaps if I am good, they will share the bison."
And at that point, it was time to start eating! The coffee we didn't make until later, of course; it was just nice dark coffee with brown sugar and whiskey, and then I used my awesome new canister I got for Xmas to make a quick whipped cream. Here's the spread:


Correction: Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

Correction: Dir. Tom McCarthy

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Feng Shui: Why Are There Monkeys?

Monday was Feng Shui, after a bit of a hiatus. Let's get to the kung fu!

Last time, our intrepid butt-kickers had a big ol' fight in a hospital, and then regrouped in what was the Dragons' hideout. They found Genomic Solutions as a company of interest, and did a bit of research. They discovered that the company specialized in brain tissue damage - and hey, Johnny Zhu had some damaged brains. They decided to go take a meeting with Dr. Phyllis Koo, the head of research.

Celeste and Lin actually met with her, since the others are a shade too outlandish for polite society. They met Koo in a big building with glassed enclosures for the test apes - apes that had been subjected to experiments and grown smarter and more interested in puzzles.

Celeste talked to Koo about her work, and mentioned that she had a friend who had fallen victim to a terrible accident and was comatose. They eventually mentioned Zhu's name, and Koo realized that she'd met him - he'd interviewed her about a company called FutureTech, which had expressed interest in buying out Genomic Solutions. Koo had refused to sell her shares, though, so FutureTech (and therefore SLA, which Celeste figured was responsible) had not finished their sale as of yet.

Meanwhile, Leon, Tang, and Do were in the car. Leon, the Sorcerer, used his Fight Finder power to find people who wanted to kill him (useful power, that). He realized that there was danger coming from the building! He and the others got out of the car and headed inside, just as the back wall exploded and a host of Ruin Runners - post-apocalyptic troops with duct tape and metal in their bodies - stormed in, led by Ape Mask Replicant and an uplifted, dangerous ape called Thrill Kill Mandrill! The battle was joined!


  • Leon flying up to the ceiling to aim Chi Blasts. 
  • Tang ripping a door off the hinges and knocking Mask and Mandrill back out the hole in the wall. 
  • Do slicing a mook in half and tossing his top half to a buddy. (Grim, man.)
  • Celeste busting out her six-shooter when he whip just wasn't cutting it. 
  • Three mook bodies getting up after being felled, reanimating as Electro-Zombies!
  • Do losing a swordfight to Madrill, who disarmed him. A gorilla grabbed the sword, but Do got it back, much to the gorilla's displeasure. 
  • Lin smashing Mandrill's force field generator, once he realized what it was. 
  • Mandrill firing red pain at Leon and Tang, nearly killing the latter. 
  • Leon vaporizing Mandrill and Ape Mask, denying Tang the pleasure of revenge (remember Ap Mask was partially responsible for killing his partner). 
  • Tang hurling a bomb that the mooks were setting onto their car, just as several of them were fleeing (boom!). 
In the rubble and aftermath, Leon worked to heal Tang (who by rights should have had a bunch of Marks of Death, but I got the system wrong so he got a pass), and the Dragons were left with more questions - who was Thrill Kill Mandrill, and why was the future trying to kill them?