Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Board Game: Monolith

Last night we did a little character jiggery for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and fought a giant mechanical hippo (to remind everyone how the system worked). I really wish I had cheat sheets for that game; mayhaps I'll make one.

But that didn't take all night, so we played a board game. Mostly.

The Game: Monolith
The Publisher: Goblin Army Games, which seems to have gone under
Time: The box says 30 minutes and if you know how to play it, I can believe that. That wasn't our experience.
Players: Me, +Michelle+Dirty Heart+John

Game play: So, the big problem with this game is that the rulebook ain't real clear, and neither are the cards. The basic gist is to move your little square around a maze and to the victory square; you do that by getting Victory Points. But there are a few squares on the track that have a cost; you pay that cost with gems. You also have Skills and Powers (represented by cards) that let you screw with other players, get extra points, spend like gems, and so forth.

Every turn, you roll some dice, and then slot them on cards (going round-robin, starting with the player with Primus token). Then, after everyone's done that, you resolve the cards left-to-right, top-to-bottom. The cards themselves are dealt randomly, so it's a different "monolith" every time.

Sarah doing setup. 
That seems simple, but it's really not. Some of the cards allow any die to be slotted in, some required dice that show specific numbers. Some slots give you VP, some give you gems, some give you Power or Skill, some do weirder stuff. Going first gives you first pick of where to slot your first die. You need VP to advance, but you need gems to buy your way past the tolls. And then cards mess everything up, so there's definitely some strategy.

John, strategizing.
The problem is that the gameplay isn't explained very well. All of the resolution of dice placement happens at the end of a round (except when it's not) and the cards have weird symbols on them that seem like they should mean something, but there's a lot of introducing terms before they're defined and otherwise making things unclear.

Opinions: Basically what I said. Michelle and I played this at a con a few years back, bought it, and haven't opened it up until now (which is a not-uncommon thing for us). I think that this game would be fun once you learned it. As it was, we only got about halfway through before John had to leave for work (30 minutes, my butt) and we didn't feel like starting over.

Keep? Yeah, I want to give it at least one more go.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Movie #367: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is the debut film from Guy Ritchie and stars Nick Moran, Dexter Fletcher, Jason Flemyng, Jason Steakumms Statham, Vinne Jones, Lenny McLean, P. H. Moriarty, Frank Harper, and you know what, I'm just gonna stop there because this movie has a fucking huge cast of people you probably don't know.

So: Eddie (Moran) is a card sharp who's a bit of a fuckup in general. He collects 100,000 pounds, back when that was worth something (sorry, too soon?) from his friends Bacon (Statham), Soap (Fletcher) and Tom (Flemying) and enters into a card game with known criminal and murderer "Hatchet" Harry (Moriarty). He loses (because Harry cheats with the help of his monstrous enforcer, Barry "the Baptist" (McLean)), and finds himself with a week to pay back half a million pounds.

Meanwhile, Barry hires two bumblefuckers (Jake Abraham and Victor McGuire) to steal two antique shotguns from a stately home on behalf of Harry (who likes guns). Meanwhile, the four lads' next-door neighbors are a gang of vicious thugs run by Dog (Harper) who do home invasions and robberies of drug dealers. Meanwhile-meanwhile, a group of pot farmers led by Winston (Steven Mackintosh) and answering to Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), another crazy gangster, are...happily farming pot.

Add into this mix Harry's other leg-breaker, Big Chris (Jones), who acts as a kind of mediating influence. If Vinnie fucking Jones is your voice of reason, things have gone off the rails.

This movie is kind of a heist movie, kind of a farce, kind of a comedy of errors. It's a little Tarantino-esque as far as its violence and the scenes of dialog (and the music), but it doesn't get up its own ass with pop culture references, and it's thoroughly British, and male (only two female characters in the whole movie and they're both incidental), and white (there's exactly one black character of any notice and that's Rory).

I really enjoy this movie, though. The characters aren't exactly good or likable, but the only characters to really get off with no serious consequences are the pot dealers (there are some wounds, but Winston gets away with the drugs after both Rory and Dog's gangs die), and while the lads don't come out with any money (OR DO THEY) they at least have each other and have their lives. The movie is just too funny and light in tone to be noir, but it shares some DNA, and the color palette is washed out and bleak enough that I always forget it's shot in color at all.

All in all, it's pretty damn stylish. Ritchie has gone on to bigger and louder things, but I still think this is kinda his best work from a filmmaking standpoint (and I think Snatch, which is conceptually similar but has a much larger budget, isn't really that great).

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Power of Blankets Compels You

So today, we made characters for +Travis's game of Nobilis. We're playing the 2nd Edition - that is, the Great White Book - which made some interesting moments during character creation as we worked to understand the prose.

But we're playing this game for a reason: We've got a table full of people who do the weird stuff, as it were. We didn't actually play today, just did chargen, but here's the characters:

  • +Michelle is Woolaroo, the Power of Blankets. She (it?) started life as a blanket, made by a grandmother for a grandchild, and was passed down through the family...but then was used to smother someone and was Ennobled shortly thereafter. 
  • +Dirty Heart (Sarah) is Isabel, the Power of Lavender. She was a goat. Yep, a goat. She lived near a little patch of lavender, and liked to eat it, roll in it, nestle in it, etc. That was enough to get her Ennobled. 
  • +Megan is The Countess, the Power of Cephalopods. She actually started human, and was doing research and discovered the last of the sentient cephalopods. It died, and she became the new Power.
  • I'm playing Tommy Edward Barry, Jr., the Power of Independent Film. He was a movie snob, watching a movie during a film festival at 3AM when he was Ennobled. 
We have our Chancel, it's called Erewhon Island, and it's off the Washington coast. It was once home to a Utopian commune, but that kind of fell apart. The people who live there now do have a kind of commune thing going on; they produce lavender and goat's milk products, and there's a burgeoning independent film movement in Seattle that likes to come out to the island and film (it's not crowded, but it's very picturesque). There's a coral reef off the shore; yes, it's too far north for that, but that's not the weirdest thing.

I don't know who our Imperator is yet (Travis is making that up), but we've got a gateway on the island that leads we know not where, so that'll be interesting. And we've got connections to a few other Powers - Woolaroo has a Bond with the Power of Homelessness, and my character's "brother" is the Power of Indie Film (he's the more successful of the two of us, if you count money as success rather than artistic integrity). 

This'll be a monthly game, so it'll be a while before we pick this up, but I'm excited! 

Movie #366: Live & Let Die

Live & Let Die is the eight James Bond film, and stars Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Geoffrey Holder, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, and Clifton James. I've seen this movie before, but it's been a while, and I had never really realized how nuts this movie is.

Bond (Moore) is assigned to go to the US to look into the deaths of MI6 agents, and discovers that today's special friend is Kananga (Kotto), the dictator of the small island nation of San Monique and also a Harlem gangster planning to flood the heroin market and then monopolize it. This in itself isn't too out of the ordinary for Bond villains, but the focus on black characters (well, supporting cast) and drug trafficking is, and very much a nod to the blaxpoitation films of the day.

Anyway, the movie's a pretty good bridge between the Connery era and the later, more wah-hoo Moore era; the villain's plot is somewhat topical, sure, but the villain also kills people with snakes and sharks, and stabs people (well, has people stabbed) on the streets of New Orleans and then sucked up in magic coffins. And, of course, we've got our colorful henchmen in the former of a maniacal dude with a claw-hand (Julius Harris), and Baron freakin' Samedi (Holder). And we have the first black Bond girl (Hendry), but of course she's the "aperitif" who dies shortly after introduction.

The actual Bond girl is Kanaga's hench-women and seeress Solitaire (Seymour) who seems to actually have the power of precognition/clairvoyance...until Bond bangs her, and then her powers depart with her virginity, which probably isn't the most problematic thing in a Bond film, but it's noteworthy. And then there's a speedboat chase that introduces a redneck sheriff (James) who winds up showing up in a later Bond movie as a comic bit...

Live & Let Die probably isn't the goofiest Bond movie, but it's just weird. It's also overlong and a little racially uncomfortable, sorry to say. Also Bond doesn't come out looking all that competent; he kind of bumblefucks his way through most of it. I hate to say it, but I actually kind of prefer the Brosnan era - sure, the movies were dumb, but they're all kind of dumb, and at least Brosnan's were a little snappier.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Character Creation: Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies

Back at it! Boo-ya!

The Game: Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies
The Publisher: Evil Hat and Atomic Sock Monkey
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one, though the PDQ system has a free download somewhere.

So, this game is a bit of a heartbreaker for me, for much the same reason as Ehdrigor is. It's got a really awesome premise, a compelling story and a richly detailed world...which means if I ran it, I'd spend 75% of the time info-dumping to my players.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have really, really awesome players in general. Sure, there are a couple of people I'd like to throw their cell phones in a sink, but on the whole, they're great players and they can roleplay the shit out of a game. Predilections vary; my Monday group is not the group I'd want to play Questlandia with, but my monthly group (which was playing Better Angels for a while, and then Epyllion, and is now between games, though I suspect we'll just go back to Dragonia when the book comes out) is totally down with the weird indie stuff. My other monthly group went from Atomic Robo and now is going to start playing no-bullshit-Great-White-Book Nobilis. And then my last monthly group (yes, I game a lot, cope) has been playing Night's Black Agents for a couple of years now.

But you know what almost none of my players are willing to do? Read a gaming book. Like, I regularly game with (hang on, math) 13 different people. Of those, maybe four would read a book (that I know of).

Now, I don't begrudge anybody this, I want to make that perfectly clear. A lot of gaming books are boring as shit to read, and not everyone's a reader. I'm not, actually. I love reading, but it's time-consuming and I don't get hooked in easily, so finding games like Swashbucklers that actually read well is a treat. All this means is that when I'm choosing games, I need to pick games that either have collaboratively built settings (which is why Fate is popular), games that are based on properties that everyone at the table knows (rare, but it happens), or have modern and easily-explained settings. I can just about get away with World of Darkness games, but I definitely feel the lack of familiarity that the players have with the source material, and it limits what kinds of stories I can tell. But games with deep, complex settings where you need to know terminology or, heavens forfend, history? Fugeddaboudit.

Ah, well. On we go. Swashbucklers posits a world that's mostly clouds and cloud-islands, with an immense expanse of Blue down below. You can be a pirate, an alchemist, a fencer, a musketeer, a koldun, a ruq-rider (ruqs are giant birds)...holy shit, the list is endless, and I seriously am not sure what I'd want to do if I were actually going to play this game because there's a lot of stuff that appeals. Faced with fantasy games, I usually make a magic-user, but do I wish to do that here? I mean, there are folks called "wingmen" who can flap around in special wing-suits. Maybe I like that?

Well, let's just go through chargen and see what happens. I start with Name. My character's name is Bomani. His mother was from the Zultanate of Colrona, and his father was a native of the city of Crail, which is also where he grew up. His mother died in an accident when he was a boy, and his father fell back into some bad habits - Bomani grew up learning the streets, learning crime and grift, and eventually led a gang a cargo ship while it sat in harbor. His father took the fall for him, telling him that Bomani's life to that point had been his fault, but he would own that and let Bomani make his own way going forward.

So that's a pretty good start. Now I pick a Foible. I think Bomani's big conflict is the guilt he feels over his father's imprisonment, but I don't want him to be a straight-arrow, either, he's just not an active criminal anymore. So I think is Foible is Honor My Father's Sacrifice; since it's a Foible and not a Motivation, it's something Bomani struggles with.

Speaking of Motivation, that's my next one (now we're into Fortes, which are basically just my traits). You can go really basic like "Freedom" or "Wealth." I think we'll take Freedom for my Father; so it's tied into my Foible and would figure heavily in Bomani's story.

Next is Nationality. This is easy, I'm from Crail.

Next up, Past. Also pretty easy; Bomani is a Petty Crook.

Now the fun bit! I get a Swasbuckling Forte. This is the one I'm super-good at; when I buy Techniques (which are kinda like feats or stunts), they're cheaper if I chain them off this. Hmm. So now I have to make a decision about what Bomani is doing to get his father out.

Well, I want him to still be a criminal, I think. He's fairly sure he's never going to be able to buy his dad out, so he needs to break him out. But for that he needs a crew. I don't want him to be a pirate; he's not motivated by wealth as pirates generally are. I could take Rogue or something, but actually, I think I'm gonna take Spy. Bomani works as a freelance intelligence gatherer - there are a lot of different factions in the 7 Skies and not all of them like each other. Bomani will gather secrets for you, if you pay him. Really, he's just looking for contacts and information himself.

Now I get three more Fortes, which I can also use to pump up existing Fortes. I'll take Alchemist, which sounds fun. I'll also take Wingman (couldn't resist, it's too cool) and Skysailor.

Now I get five Techniques, which are cheaper if they're "chained" to my Swashbuckling Forte. I gotta figure out how these work, 'scuse me. OK, got it. If they're chained, they have to be used with a given Forte. So, I get 5 points, but if a Technique is chained to another Forte (other than Spy) it's 2 points, and if it's unchained it's 3 points. Sod that.

I'll take Clandestine (an Idiom, chained to Spy); Poisons (Tool, likewise), Convince (Maneuver), Dagger (Tool) and Eavesdropping (Maneuver). And y'know what, I'll also drop Alchemist as a Forte (it was cool but my concept didn't go that way) and chain an Escape Maneuver to my Wingman Forte.

I don't start with any Ephemera because I'd get that in play, so I'll skip to Miscellany.

Bomani is olive skinned, with black hair and green eyes. He can't pass as any nationality, but he can do OK in the Zultanate, in Crail, and in any mix of Skysailors. He's just building up a network of contacts, so he doesn't know a lot of people yet, but he knows how to handle a wingsuit and he knows how to get away when things go wrong. His ultimate goal is to find a way to break his Dad out of prison...but of course, that assumes his Dad will want to go.

Hey, that's funny, the last time I made a ship-based character, I made one that could fly, too.

Anyway, I'm done!

Movie #365: Little Women

Little Women is a period drama based on the novel(s) by Louia May Alcott and starring (deep breath) Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Samantha Mathis, Trini Alvarado, Christian Bale, Gabriel Byrne, and Mary Wickes.

So, to preface, I haven't read the books, so I have no idea how close the source material this movie is (you can basically assume that's the case until we get to Shawshank Redemption, honestly). The movie tells the story of the March family. Mrs. March (Sarandon) is bringing up four very lovely girls; her husband (Matthew Walker) is away at war, and her family is a little weird in general - they're transcendentalists, a little more egalitarian than the other folks, and Mrs. March holds with newfangled ideas like "teachers shouldn't hit their students" and "women should be educated."

The movie is narrated by her second-eldest daughter, Jo (Ryder), who writes schlocky Gothic stories. Her older sister, Meg (Alvarado) is probably the most proper and reserved of the bunch. Third daughter Beth (Danes) is...well, we don't actually learn all that much about her personally; her role in the story is to get very ill and provide a way to bring arguing people together and then, later, to die in order to get family back together. Youngest daughter Amy (Dunst, and then Mathis as an adult) wants to grow up and marry a rich dude, and she's kind of a brat in general.

The story doesn't have one consistent throughline; it's basically the story of the family told over the space of about a decade. They meet Teddy, the strange lad next door (Bale) who immediately becomes like a brother to them and eventually proposes to Jo, but winds up marrying Amy; Beth (as mentioned) gets sick with scarlet fever and eventually dies because of the damage it does to her; Meg marries Teddy's tutor (Eric Stoltz), and Jo goes off to New York to be a teacher for the children of an innkeeper and winds up meeting and marrying a German philosopher (Byrne, who's in like 20 minutes of the movie and so I don't know why he got second billing after Ryder).

For as long of a movie as it is and as much ground as it covers, it feels pretty light and is paced really well. It also does a really good job of portraying the March family as weird - sometimes that's good and sometimes it's embarrassing (for the girls), but they have a strong sense of family loyalty that gets challenged and strengthened. The story also at least addresses the idea that women are nothing but decorative or wife/mother material (though of course the three surviving March sisters do marry; on the gripping hand, they all marry on their own terms, so yay?).

I dunno. All in all it's a good movie, but it's not the kind of thing I'm interested in watching over and over again.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Live & Let Die

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Feng Shui: OMG A BEAR

Well, that last post kinda blew up. Um. For anyone who's now looking through my blog to see if I always post long diatribes about conventions, normally I post reviews of movies and board games, and write-ups for the RPGs I run. A-like so.

Recall that last time, the Dragons were in a saloon in Myer's Gulch, drinking in the midst of the same gang that had killed their swordsman compatriot. They were determined not to start fights...but then one of the gang (Russell the Joker, the dude what throws knives) stood up and proposed a highly insulting toast to "that Chinaman." That's about all the others could take.

Tang stood and started for him, but Russell threw a knife and hit him in the arm, and violence erupted! Celeste waded into the fray with her whip, Johnny grabbed a bar stool and started whaling on mooks, and Bai leaped across the bar at the gangs' lieutenants, only to get a rope around her neck courtesy of Lasso Daniels (which stayed there for almost two full sequences).

Tang blink-shifted across the room to help Bai, unwilling to abandon a friend to be hurt, but Daniels disarmed him. Doc Norris, the bespectacled marksman that they'd seen shooting between train cars, ran for it, but Tang stopped him and he raised his hands. Meanwhile, Celeste entangled Russell in her whip and effectively took him out of the fight (seriously, he tried like hell to get free, but she's badass in historical settings).

But as Alicia the Apostle closed in on Bai, a growl from the shadows: Leave the wise man alone. A hulking monster emerged, faced her down, and clawed her. She drew a pistol and shot it, and the whole tone of the place changed. Doc drew a pistol and shot at the "bear", and Tang tried to clobber him, but missed and took out a mook. Rawhide Harrison, the grizzled old member of the gang, stabbed at the bear and it grabbed him and tried to rend him, but he stood his ground.

The bear, however, did tear out Alicia's throat, and that made Harrison go a little nuts.

The characters mopped up the mooks, Daniels fled (Russell tried, but Celeste stopped him and then kicked him in the face, taking him out), and the sheriff showed up and demanded to know what was going on. The consensus was that it was a harmless brawl (this is what passes for "harmless" in Myer's Gulch), but that a bear had somehow gotten into the bar and killed Alicia.

The "bear," of course, was our new PC, "Wildfire" Griffin, formerly of the Blue Spurs. Back in human form, he followed the gang back into the bar. Bai recognized him and stopped to talk to him, but he denied it and Bai let it go. Doc Norris chatted with Johnny, too, and said that he was sorry about their fallen friend - but the characters had interfered with the train robbery and that had complications. He did promise not to shoot Johnny as long as Johnny didn't shoot him.

The characters went to the doctor to get patched up, and then found a boarding house run by one Kitty Carlisle. She told them a little about the town - Ronnie Myer, the mayor, owned a big ugly house just outside of town, and he had invited the local business owners out to see it a few months back. She'd seen a map on his wall, with multiple sites marked along the railroad, places that he wanted to build "Myertowns." She wasn't sure why.

The characters heard howls in the desert, and went out to investigate. They found Wildfire walking in from the wastes (he'd gone out there to change shape and heal some damage). He confessed to what he was; a spirit of vengeance placed into the body of a dead bandit. He agreed to help the characters in their mission, since he had no particular loyalty to the gang anymore. The characters went out to the house that Kitty mentioned and saw Ronnie playing cards with four other men. They didn't recognize three of them, but one they knew...Leon, the sorcerer.

They went back to the house to talk about a plan. They decided to have Johnny infiltrate the gang, since all the gang knew about him was that he could fight well, and besides, he'd made friends with Doc. They went back to the saloon (just the two of them) and Johnny was made a Blue Spur, and then the gang got word on where the rest of the characters were. The characters also got word that the gang was coming for them, and Kitty said that she didn't want any fighting in her house.

The characters met up with the gang and Kitty talked them out of fighting. Harrison, the presumed leader, decided instead to take Wildfire and Johnny to meet with Mayor Myer for a bit. He led them up to the big ol' house, and Wildfire stayed outside, figuring that Leon (as a sorcerer) would probably recognize him for what he was. Johnny went into the house, though, Myer came out to see him, greeting him warmly and explaining his vision - it turns out, he said, that there were veins of magic running through the earth and people with the proper knowhow could tap them. People like his friend, Mr. Leon, here...

Leon shook Johnny's hand and then stared at his palm, and then whispered something to Myer. Myer said that what he needed in order to tap into this power was "the blood of a Dragon." Leon raised his hands, which started to glow...and Johnny felt dizzy.

(Next time, Johnny's player is out, so it was necessary to sideline him. This worked out really well, though - one of the gang's Featured Foes dead, Johnny in dire straits, and the characters all ready to throw down! Likewise, they managed to succeed on the advancement roll so they all get to awesome up before next time.)

Ongoing Fuckery: The Origins Story

I just got back from Origins Game Fair on Sunday. It was a good time - I got to hang out with folks I don't see often (disclaimer: if we talked this weekend and I don't mention you here, I'm sorry), I ran a couple of games, I played in a few as well, and I came home with a respectable pile of games.

That said, when folks asked me during the con how it was going, I would reply "fine, despite Origins' best efforts." Origins, it seems, doesn't really much care about RPGs, especially if they're not run by clubs. In years past, it was common to see individual GMs running their favorite games, or mashups or hacks thereof - hell, last year, Teagan and I played in a Thundarr the Barbarian hack of Barbarians of Lemuria. I've seen people running obscure games like It Came from the Late, Late, Late Show and Street-Fighter at Origins over the years, but this year, RPGs were mostly run by clubs or companies: Lots of Shadowrun, lots of Pathfinder and various other D&D-related things, and a few offerings from Rogue Cthulhu. And Games on Demand, of course, but we'll get to that.

Why the lack of individual GMs? I assume some of it is just dwindling membership; while my contacts at Origins tell me attendance was slightly up this year, the place still felt pretty empty in comparison to previous years. Also, I think the tide of interest at Origins is moving towards board games (which Origins certainly does a lot to encourage). A lot of the folks who are interested in playing new or unique games, rather than the traditional standbys I mentioned above, hit up Games on Demand - if you want new or indie games, or, like anything involving Fate, that's where you go. I wound up in and out of that room a lot over the weekend, and it was usually full or full-ish (though I had this nagging feeling that I was seeing the same people playing all the time, so I don't know what that means).

Then there's the fact that we (the IGDN) submitted a whole bunch of events that Origins just...didn't include in their online reg system like they said they would. They claimed that they ran out of space, but that was blatantly false; the events that got added back in (too late to be useful; I'll get to that) were scheduled for the Harrison-Hayes-etc room block on the 1st floor of the Hyatt, and those rooms were consistently empty or nearly so. The whole situation smacks less of "we didn't have room" and more of "we don't actually give a single fuck."

On the "too late to be useful" subject: Origins claimed (falsely) that they would include our events in their online reg system, and then did not bother to inform us that they hadn't until the system went live. Because Origins outsources their (shitty) reg system, they couldn't make alterations to it, meaning our events went into the onsite book, but (get this) even onsite, people couldn't register for them! That means that the two intrepid souls who showed up for my Friday Chill game had to pay with generics; Origins could not sell them tickets for an event in their book because they don't have access to their own system.

IGDN will be back at Origins next year, but one of the things we're discussing is how much effort we really want to put into this con, since they seem wholly uninterested in meeting us halfway or, indeed, living up to agreements they've made with us. Which is sad, because I remember Origins of years past, when it was a big, national convention for business and gaming, not a medium-sized, regional con with delusions of grandeur.

Anyway, with all of that in mind, here's my Origins 2016 report, which, again, was very positive, despite the aforementioned fuckery.

Wednesday: The Day of Sweat

Wednesday we loaded up the van and drove to Columbus, so not much to report, there. We set up the booth, which always results in exhaustion and copious perspiration, followed by dinner (this time at Bare Burger, which I highly recommend). 

Ripe with potential! And...just ripe in general. 
Can we talk about this forklift having a goddamn harpoon on it?
After dinner, I returned to the convention center to stand in line and get my daughter's badge and my second badge. Why second badge? Well. 

I have an exhibitor's badge, which I need, because I run the IGDN booth. However, I'm also at this gaming convention to play games, which Origins apparently feels is some kind of wacky-ass happenstance, because their (shitty) badge reg system is set up so that if you have an exhibitor's badge, you can't buy event tickets. So I had to buy a badge (which fortunately I get at a discount because I'm a teacher; in previous years I've argued with them until they refunded it, but it's such a hassle that this year I said fuck it) so I could get event tickets so I could play games. I'm actually something of a chump, because I could just buy a bunch of generics and play at Games on Demand, which is where the games I like are anyway, but that didn't occur to me until later. 

Anyway, the first time I looked at the line, it was immense, because an extra 2000 people showed up on Wednesday (perhaps because of a Magic tournament). They had it sorted by the time I got back from dinner, though, and actually getting my badges was the most painless it's been in years (probably because I was asking the bare minimum of Origins). 

You maybe can't tell but that line is hella huge.

Games: None.

Thursday: The Day of Booth

Thursday I spent most of the day in the IGDN booth, sellin' books. Michelle was with me for a lot of it. 

The booth, and Michelle in her Dracula shirt.
The hordes.

I had a Chill game scheduled, but due to Origins' scheduling shenanigans, I had no players and it didn't happen. So I went back up to the booth for a while, wandered around for a bit, and just generally tried to be useful. 

Teagan came and found us during the day, too, before zipping off to play Big Eyes, Small Mouth, which she really enjoyed (we didn't play in any games together this con, which was a little sad because I like playing with her, but it was cool that she was playing new stuff on her own). She was dressed as a water spirit, too, which is fun. 

A water spirit.
We went to dinner at Kooma, which was lovely, and talked about games and so forth. 

Games: None.
Awesome People: See above, plus +Derrick Kapchinsky+Andy Hopp, and probably others I'm forgetting. 

Friday: The Day of Games, Finally

Friday we actually got to play some stuff. Holy cats. First off, we had to get Teagan up and out the door because she was running Cat at Games on Demand. Once again, the fact that Origins hemmed and hawed and ultimately tried to say that minors couldn't run games (wtf) worked against us; the "Kids' Games on Demand" idea didn't get publicized and she wound up running for adults. That said, she said it went well (if quickly) and she had fun being a GM.

Behold her commanding presence.

Meanwhile, Michelle and I had signed up to play Baker Street. Now, we'd backed this game on Kickstarter and Michelle's actually in the book as a hack driver (it was a birthday present), but we kept missing out on being able to play it at GenCon, so it was nice to finally get to experience it. 

Shy GM aside.
The scenario involved a dead child supposedly killed by the nanny - a vampire! Ha. We were investigators, here. The system for figuring out clues is done in rounds, where first you find evidence, then you narrow leads, and finally you figure out what the truth is. I'd run this game, I think; it's an interesting take on a Holmes-style mystery and (as you probably know) I love investigative games. 

My one complaint about the game (and it's minor): You ever have a guy at your table who gets a dumb idea into his head and just will not let it go, even if it's actively derailing things and is objectively a stupid thing to do? The conflict here centered in part on a poisoned dart, and one guy at the table got the idea into his head that he was going to lick it. Now, we'd already suspected it was poisoned, but this guy persisted and the GM wound up making another player roll against him to get the damn arrow away from him before he licked it. I dunno, I think there's a time for the GM to say "this is dumb, you know it's dumb, let's move on." Like I said, though, that was minor. My grade: A. 

Right, so, following Baker Street I had a Chill game to run. I was expecting not to run it, because, well, see above. But because I'd worked the booth the day before, I'd had time to tell folks about the game, and yep, a couple of awesome people showed up to play. 

I wound up running Big Sky (which will be written up for the site this month or next), because the other scenario I had prepared (Black Diamond) really isn't suitable for just two players. The game went well - they wound up bugging out and calling in more help rather than confronting the main menace, because they didn't wish to be eaten by a werewolf, which is reasonable. 

So then dinner, and then I had an off-the-books game to run: Promethean: The Created 2nd Edition+Meredith Anne had asked me to run it, in what's become an Origins tradition of "find an awesome person and run a game for them" (last year it was +Monica Valentinelli). So we found a room downstairs and got into it...only to discover that the room was going to be used for the Kobolds At My Baby Midnight Massacre. (ALL HAIL KING TORG!)

This does not make for a quiet room.
So we moved to a different room, and played through the game. It was a lot of fun - the players very easily dropped into their characters but also the notion that their characters had some history together; probably helped that the players knew each other. More to the point, the game played really well, which is gratifying to me as the developer. 

And then I forgot to take a group picture. Balls. Ah, well. 

Games: Baker Street, Chill, Promethean
Awesome People: Michelle, Ryan, Meredith, +Scott Holden, Nathan

Saturday: The Day of Even More Games

Saturday I was barely in the booth at all (Friday I was there a little, but I didn't mention it because it wasn't really relevant). But Saturday, man, lots of games. I got up early to go and play The One Ring

Now, I'm gonna lose a lot of you here, but I don't like Tolkein's writing. I find it overwrought and boring and hard to read. I started reading Fellowship before the movie came out, figuring it would be useful to know the story to better appreciate the cinematic version, but I got as far as Tom Bombadil and went "wtf even is this" and stopped. But with that said, I really love the movies. I'd just rather spend four hours watching all of it than 80 zillion hours reading it and getting a shitload of unnecessary backstory. 

So imagine my delight when the GM for this game quietly confessed to basically what I just said, including getting up to Bombadil frolicking through the woods before stopping. Also, the game was set in Rohan (we were riders thereof), and we had to do some diplomacy and matchmaking to prevent civil war among the horse-lords. My character was very much a straight-up warrior, but I managed to get some good use out of Awe and Song, too, so I felt useful even when we weren't stabbing people (stabbing was pretty minimal, actually). I wound up buying the game, and I think if Michelle wanted to pick up her "family politics" game The One Ring would be a decent set-up for it. My grade: A

Family trees are an essential part of the process.
From there, I had a brief break and we were going to go to North Market, but then a giant rainbow blocked our path. 

Pride was this weekend, and I knew that, but it meant that getting across the street to the Market required more finagling than we had time for, so we ate at the food court in and admired people in rainbow garb instead. And then off to the next game!

Turns out the next game was an alpha playtest of Pillar of Fire, a new game by +Cam Banks and run (in this case) by +Renee Knipe

The game was described as "Exalted in space," but I didn't feel like it played much like Exalted, which is a good thing (I love Exalted, but the system is not for the impatient). Pillar of Fire plays more like a stripped-down WoD game - it's a dice pool, sure, but actions are based on ability and intent, and non-successful dice pump up your other abilities. For example, the character I played could manipulate gravity, but had to roll a few 6s on dice to "prime the pump," so to speak, and get access to his more impressive powers. 

If you think about it, this is a change from games where you start out with your pool of points full and then spend them throughout the game - here, you start empty, have to build up your pool, so you're full by the time things are coming to a head. I didn't realize until now just how much I like that idea. 

Anyway, the game is intriguing and I very much want to see it from the GM's side. This particular session was fun - two conflicting invasive beings (an AI gone rogue and a malignant fungus monster), and we wound up dealing more with the AI and just nuking the fungus from orbit, which is the only way to be sure. Apart from one player with a habit of interrupting people (which he stopped when I called him on, in fairness) it was a really fun table, too. My grade: A

That put us up to dinner time, and so we (me, Michelle, and Teagan) walked down the street to the Happy Greek to get flaming cheese and then to Jeni's for delicious ice cream. All was well until Michelle walked through a crowd of smokers on her way back, triggering her bronchitis that she's been fighting for weeks and making her struggle all the way back to the hotel, and then putting her on bedrest for the rest of the night. Fuck smokers. Smoking is gross. If you have to do it, do it somewhere private, like the bottom of a well. 

Anyway, so Michelle was toast, and Teagan went off to play Are You a Werewolf, so I went up to Games on Demand because they'd emailed earlier and said they might need GMs. Turns out they needed players, and I'm there for that! I wound up playing Iron Edda with +Tracy Barnett

For Goldheim!

Now, I'd backed this game on Kickstarter but then kind of missed it, because I somehow didn't ever realized it was Fate-based. But man, it's pretty badass. It combines Fate Core and FAE, which at first made me think "...why?", but it made perfect sense in context - Fate Core for the characters, FAE for the giants, which need to work on a different scale. Also, there's a really fun "create your stronghold" system, and I love collaborative world-building, so that was awesome. I wound up playing a seer and teacher of the jarl's rowdy children, and giving a dwarf-piloted destroyed mech a serious case of head-ravens. My grade: A+. I fully intend to run this for some of my players at some point. 

Then, sleep. 

Games: The One Ring, Pillar of Fire, Iron Edda
Awesome folks: Everyone mentioned above plus +Hamish Cameron and probably other folks whose names I don't know, +Joel Sparks+Steve Wallace 

Sunday: The Final Hours 

Traditionally, I run Clay-o-Rama on Sunday morning...but you know how that worked out. This added in the bonus of the dudes in the main gaming hall not even knowing where the table was that I was supposed to use, but I eventually found it with literally no help from them. I sat there for a little while and then said "fuck this" and went shopping with Teagan and Michelle. 

Ain't this the saddest damn thing?
So we wandered the dealer's hall and bought things. Teagan got some dice earrings and some art for her wall, and of course I bought games because I somehow don't have enough

Not sure what Teagan's friend is dressed as today.
I did, however, find a game that looked interesting at first blush, but then I read the back. 

Anyone care to guess how to make me quickly put a book down and wash my hands?
Also did some time in the booth, after shopping, and chatted with +Matthew Karafa and some of his buds. Sunday is the day for people to drop by and chat, too, so we saw +Jaym Gates and lots of other folks I'm forgetting. 

Not sure what Matt's looking at here, but it concerns me.
So then it was time to break things down, and we got the booth struck and the van loaded in slightly over an hour, which is reasonable, and home we went!


Guys, I really love Origins, and I'm coming back, whether it's as a rep for IGDN or just on my own. But I would really love for Origins to bounce back, to absorb the spillover from GenCon (which is getting far too big), and for GAMA to pay attention to some of the other facets of the hobby they're ignoring. Here's hoping! 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Movie #364: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a spy-action film based on a (I'm sure far-inferior) comic by Marc Millar and David Gibbons. It's directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookeson, and Sofia Boutella.

Harry Hart, aka Galahad (Firth) is a member of the super-secret Kingsman agents, English spies answering to no government and dedicated to keeping the world safe. When a fellow Kingsman (Jack Davenport) dies, all the remaining Kingsman get to put forth a replacement candidate. Hart chooses Eggsy (Egerton), the delinquent son of his previous candidate, who died saving Hart's life. Eggsy does well at the training (amongst much more upper-class candidates).

All the while, billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson) is scheming a doomsday plan to wipe out much of the world's population, keeping the rich and powerful, in hopes of combatting climate change. In the end, he winds up killing Hart, meaning that Eggsy, fellow recruit Roxy (Cookeson), and their tech master Merlin (Mark Strong) have to go save the world.

I really enjoy this movie, and I think it holds up on a second viewing pretty well. The storyline isn't anything new - it's an action/spy movie in the vein of the Roger Moore Bond era - but it adds in a Pretty Woman/Trading Places subplot and a lot of crazily well-choreographed fight scenes. The church scene in which Hart, under the influence of Valentine's "make everybody go crazy and kill each other" weapon, is a really impressive fight scene (and it doesn't hurt, on a cathartic level, that the victims are basically the Westboro Baptists).

Sure, there's gratuity involved, both in terms of sex and violence, but there's also quite a bit of meta-commentary about both and about the genre in general. And, unlike Bond, who generally bangs his way through 3-6 women in a given movie, Eggsy only beds one woman, and she enthusiastically invites him (yes, the context is "save the world and we can do butt stuff," but she's very clearly up for it, and tells him "good luck!" as he goes off to fight the bad guys).

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Little Women. For reals this time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Promethean! (One-shot notes)

I'm running a Promethean one-shot at Origins, so probably I should take notes. Let's talk a little.

It's been a hard week to be a humanist. People did terrible things to other people. That's every week. People also stood up and helped, and that's every week, too.

I did the first proof of Promethean last week, and it struck me again how much I love this game. Because as with people in general, the journey of the Created is our journey, except ours doesn't end. And like Prometheans, we can be subject to horrors that are just too grotesque to linger on (but some of us have to). And like Prometheans, we reach a state of grace, maybe, a state of acceptance of our humanity, and the journey does not end just because we decide we hate it.

So here I am, a few days after a profoundly broken person murdered 50 of his fellow human beings, a few days after a man gunned down a young singer, while any number of other violent crimes are happening, and I'm listening to "Glory" by John Legend and Common, and thinking about what kind of Promethean game I can run for my friends at Origins. The group includes someone who I really love and respect, who goes out of her way to be a light in a way that I wish I could be.

So. Let's do this. If you happen to be playing on Friday, don't read on.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Night's Black Agents: New Agent, New Night

Oh, yeah. Back at it.

Last time, the characters visited Belgrade and talked to Dr Bugarcic, the director the Tesla Museum, and realized he was connected to the conspiracy. They decided to bug his house, but in so doing, Gambone realized he'd taken a bug-out bag and, well, bugged out. Hanover did some hacking but couldn't find any reservations on trains or planes under his name, but the characters figured he was traveling under an assumed name anyway. He did find, though, that Rus-Bel Air, the Belarusian airline owned by Nikita Utkin (who is also connected to the conspiracy) had a flight leaving in a few hours bound for Bucharest. They decided to stake out that flight.

Parker noted that they didn't have anyone skilled at driving, since Benbow's death. She called in a friend of hers, a former IRA member turned transported named MacAteer (aka "Meat Wagon"). He showed up in a moving van fitted with seats in the back, and with some creative forgery from Hanover, got onto the tarmac and watched people boarding the plane. Ess and Gambone jacked some handler's uniforms to get closer, while Parker took up a sniper's post (but without an actual rifle) at the top of a moving stairway.

They saw Bugarcic, walking to the plane and carrying a duffel. Ess and Gambone found a similar bag, and Ess bumped into Bugarcic, distracting him long enough for Gambone to switch them (and slip a tracker into the new bag). The agents bugged out, and talked over how to get to Bucharest quickly. MacAteer had a buddy who could lend them a plane, but not quickly enough, so they decided to drive it.

Meantime, they checked out the bag - nothing of interest, just clothes and cash. The agents' assessment was that Bugarcic wasn't skilled in tradecraft, but was being coached by someone who was.

They go on the road. They get about halfway there, cross over from Serbia into Romania, and MacAteer realized they're being followed by cop cars. Lights flash, he pulls over, and four guys with distinctly military (and threatening) bearing get out. MacAteer floors it, and the second police car gives chase.

The chase begins, with the other agents helping as best they can, but the van isn't really designed for the passengers to help (MacAteer usually transports injured people). Gambone rigs an explosive device and tries to disable a car, but just manages to slow it down. MacAteer spots a black SUV running dark and headed straight for them, and swerves around it at the last second.

Ess rigs up a harness, opens the back door, and shoots the engine block of one of the cars, disabling it. Gambone drops another bomb, spinning out the second car, and the agents get away.

They stop off for breakfast, and the agents explain to MacAteer exactly what they're up against - vampires. MacAteer isn't sure what to make of all this, but he's generally a good guy, and agrees to stay in (especially after examining Ess' scars and realizing that whatever made them was biological and weird).

The agents head in to Bucharest and hole up in a disused garage; they want to make some mods to the van, and they want to find Bugarcic. His tracker is still active; it's at a hotel downtown. Gambone, meanwhile, calls up Ava Kingsilver, his arms dealer, to get some gear; she contacts him back a while later and says she'll need to deliver the exotic stuff (explosives and the like) later, but the guns she can deliver now. MacAteer and Gambone take the van to pick up the shipment, while Ess and Parker head to the hotel and Hanover stays behind to work on the van and run comms.

At the hotel, Parker goes up to the room and breaks in. She finds the bag - empty, but the tracker is still there. Ess waits in the bar and Parker stakes out the lobby, and soon, they see someone arrive clearly cheating so his face isn't visible. Parker repositions and sees his face - Frank, the ex-CIA vampire.

Meanwhile, at the shipping yard that Gambone picked to meet Ava, they pull up. Ava opens her truck and says "Sorry"...with a slight lisp. Three guys with assault rifles.

The agents appear to be in trouble.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Character Creation: Filthy Greed

That's not the name of the game, just the theme.

But first, whaaaaat, three chargen posts in a row? There's a reason for that. I ran a game yesterday but I don't know that I'm gonna do a write-up, I haven't watched any movies on the list lately, and I haven't had anything worth blathering about (I mean, yes, there's this god-awful election cycle going on and now today there's a mass shooting, but frankly I've said everything I have to say on the subject the last forty-twelve fucking times it happened, so I think I'll save my breath this time).


The Game: Scavengers
The Publisher: Metal Weave Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran it yesterday in preparation to write a review.
Books Required: Just the one.

Scavengers is a beer-n-pretzels RPG in which there's a five-way galactic civil war going on. You play members of a faction that hasn't taken a side in the war; they're just there for the money. You go and loop derelict ships, sell the good shit you find, and blackmail survivors into paying you to send them home (or else you leave them on a moon with some oxygen and say "lots o' luck!").

The faction you belong to? The Randians. Who live on planet Ayn 1. And were founded by someone called Dominic Golt. Really, everything about this game is someone about as subtle as a bus poking you and yelling "GET IT?" but I know from experience that some folks need that lack of subtlety, and besides, I'm happy to see a beer-n-pretzels game that fully owns what it is.

Anyway, I'll get into my opinions in the review a bit more. For now, my first step is to choose a position on the ship. These are actually important; the different positions have various jobs. Well, thinking about Futurama, as I often do, I like the idea of playing someone like Hermes - a bureaucrat who has an established place in the fiction. I'll play the Efficiency Consultant.

My assignment is Advisor; whenever there's a crew failure (we hit a threat that we can't beat in one round), everyone gets an extra dice next try because I tell them what they did wrong. Sounds good. I also get my choice of one of three Talents, so I'll pick... Management Author. Whenever there's a crew failure, I get a personal acquisition (that is, when we all fuck up, I can write about it and make money off the tale).

Neat! I get to detail one contact and one rival. This doesn't have any real game effect, it's just to flesh out the universe and get a better sense of where my character fits in. OK, his contact is Beja, an insurance claims adjustor (she approves, or more commonly denies, insurance claims). She and my character like to swap stories of scavengers being idiots. For my rival, I'll pick Efficiency Consultant Brick. He's a former Security Op who lost a hand and switched to Consulting. He's just so cheerful, and he makes those stupid "hey, can I get a hand here?" jokes.

OK, I get 16 points to divvy up amongst Skills. Neither of my Talents require a particular Skill roll. I'll put three into Diplomacy, three into Relief, four into Insight, two into Space Operations, two into Technology, and two into Science. I am not a fighty character.

Appearance: Hmm. My character (let's name him Fritz) is in his late 30s, rather pot-bellied but trying to hide it with loose shirts, always carries a clipboard and a light pen, great big bushy mustache, thinning hair. He's proud of his mustache.

Finally, gear. Normally I skip this step, but how much money you have on you is actually relevant in this game, so I'll go ahead. I have 10 credits to start. I'll buy a plasma grenade (good for +3 in Combat, but I just have the one, so I've got one good Combat roll in me), and a Voice Pitch Modifier (I can reroll a 1 on a Diplomacy roll). I have 3 credits remaining, which is enough to start a run.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Character Creation: MADS, Also Musing

A brief moment of reflection/navel-gazing, if you will.

I started this character creation project in June of 2008. In a couple of weeks, we'll hit the eight year anniversary of this project starting. I think, actually, that I'll try and do a character for Mage: The Awakening 2nd Ed on that day. I don't know that I'll make it (I really, really like to have physical books to read and I don't think I'll have one by then), but I'll do my best. My players would like me to read through Mage so I can run it, anyway.

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, my project was very nearly complete and then I bought the Haiti bundle, which gave me a whole shitload of new RPGs in PDF form. And then came another bundle (or two), and then Michelle and I got married and merged out collections, and somewhere in there I gave in to my urges - I'm an RPG collector. At the time, that was resignation; "I'm never going to run these games, but I want to collect and read them." And now...I'm actually running some diverse stuff, rather than all-WoD, all the time. I'm running Scavengers in a few hours, and I'm really looking forward to it.

But I still have this project. I've made more characters in the past week than in the past couple of months, but that's summer for you. I've got more than 200 games on the list yet to do, and I know I'll have more next weekend because like I'm going to go to Origins and not buy games.

The Game: MADS
The Publisher: Point of Insanity Game Studio
Degree of Familiarity: None
Books Required: Just the one, technically, but read on.

So, MADS (Mental-Attack-Defense-Skill) is designed to be a kind of Esperanto - a universal system that you can convert characters from other systems into. Want to take a supervillain from Champions and have her mix it up with your dungeon delving party from D&D? OK, then.

I actually had an idea kind of like this many years ago, but it was focused less on making a universal system and more about the idea of mashing up disparate genres (that idea is M0arpigz, and I do plan to finish one day, Kif). Anyway, MADS has a character creation system as well as a character conversion system, and I was kind of noodling which one I wanted to try out, but I think it's more in keeping with the point of this project if I create rather than convert.

That brings up another point - does this thing even have a setting? Let's find out.

OK, so reading through this, this game is a neat idea that could really use some more love. The system isn't bad, but it's a pretty simple D&D-esque physics emulator (yawn). The "building a campaign" section, though, is focused on getting characters from different genres together, without losing those genres. So ronin samurai can port directly into the sci-fi setting, without having to change the character to a masterless android or whatever. That's pretty interesting.

Anyway, there are several example campaign settings, so I think I'll choose one of those, and then figure out a way to choose a character to fit into (or not) that setting. Reading over the sample campaigns, they're actually pretty neat, some of them. I like Trouble on Sunset Mountain, a Western setting in which a new gang of outlaws with super-powers has just stumbled into town. I've made Western characters in various games (Deadlands, notably), but this one has a more superhero than supernatural kind of flavor, so that's fun. The conceit of the game is that the sheriff has tapped the PCs for help with the new gang. Sure, why not.

OK, step one in character creation is Choose Race. The book lists some sample races, including fantasy ones (dwarves, elves) and sci-fi ones (androids, grays) but I think I'll stay human.

Now I Generate Statistics. There are a few methods here; I can roll randomly or I can point-buy or I can make a character in a different system and then convert. I think I'll roll randomly. I get 10, 10, 6, 5, 4, 5, 5, 3.

10 is Peak (it's the best I can be!), while 3 is pretty weak and 5 is average. OK, then. I'm pretty baller in a couple of areas. So tempting to put a 10 in Mysticism.

Actually, yeah. I'm thinking of characters like Sing in Kung Fu Hustle, who have vast magical (or kung fu, but whatever) potential. Yeah, yeah, Chosen One, bite me. I'll arrange my stats thusly:

Strength 4
Agility 5
Endurance 6
Willpower 10
Intellect 5
Mysticism 10
Charisma 5
Perception 3

There, so my character is magically really powerful, but also pretty clueless - he misses obvious stuff and he's physically unimpressive. He's also utterly unflappable and fearless, though (Willpower 10!), so there's that.

OK, now I figure Profession. Annoyingly, these are very much D&D-esque character classes; they're all arranged around what they do in a fight. Yawn. Anyway, I'm faced with a dilemma, here; my magical cowboy really should be an "untapped potential" or something, but that's not a Profession. And you can "dabble" in skills that your Profession wouldn't normally have, but doing that requires a higher experience level (so it's basically multi-classing, god this is boring). OK. Well, fuck it, I'll take Mystic as my profession. I don't really want Mystic, but it's too hard to figure out how the concept I have would translate into this "universal" (but really D&D) system.

Have I mentioned how much it annoys me that D&D has its grubby fingerprints all over this hobby? 'Cause it's a lot.

Anydangway. So, I'm a mystic. That tells me nothing except "I cast spells." The next step is Skills, which, surprise surprise, gives you a choice of how your skills are arranged vis-a-vis combat. Yawn. Well, I don't want to be a Supporter, I want to be a Frontliner. I want this guy's magic to come out in big, flashy, boomy ways that surprise everyone. That gives me 4CP in Fighting Style, 6CP in Knack, 2CP in Weapon Point and 4CP in Skill Point, whatever the fuck any of that means.

OMG. I'm looking through the Professions now. It's just D&D. It's the same old, "you know this many spells, you can't cast while wearing armor, you're weak and skinny because you do magic" played-out, tired, boring bullshit that RPGs have been doing since 1974 and what the actual fuck. This looks like it actually had some promise, and then it just falls back on D&D. And now I have to finish this. Ugh.

OK, so I really have no idea what all those CP numbers were for, since I have one place in the book telling me that at Novice I get 10 "points" (12, actually, since the write-up for the human "race" tells me they can get extra because they're "versatile" GEE NEVER HEARD THAT BEFORE).

The spell chart assumes spells have "levels," but no spells are listed. The skills and knacks system is entirely based around combat. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

OK, deep breath. Let's get back into this. Reading a little more carefully, those "CP" numbers I mentioned earlier are costs, not points I get to play with. There's also a profession called "War Caster," which is probably closer to what I want, so I'll change my professional appropriately. The character creation system jumps straight from skills to social status, which requires a d100 roll. Hang on. 21 makes me Lower Class, which is fine, I'm a poor cowboy.

Looking under war caster, it's arranged just like a D&D class, telling me what I get at each "level" (so, great, I can take my characters from far-superior system and convert them into a level-based system that's somehow less intuitive than d20 WHOOPTY-DOODLE-DO).

OK, I got lunch, maybe I'll be a little less grouchy. So, it looks like what I need to do is dip back into Chapter One to finish this up. I had figured Body Points before, but I actually get more than I think; I'm at 42 rather than 30. I have to jigger with dice placement, but it looks like as a Novice I get 8 points to throw around, so I'll just go even split (Mental-Attack-Defense-Skill).

Skills, though. I honestly have no idea. The system is mostly geared around "convert it," there's more detail given to combat skills, but the skills are and knacks and whatever-the-fuck-all aren't really spelled out. It's like this system wants to be a universal conversion point, but doesn't want to do the hard work of acknowledging that some systems don't treat combat as the be-all-end-all. Argh.

Knacks are non-combat skills that characters have based on their concepts or pre-conversion-to-MADS systems. My guy is a cowboy, so I'll give him Riding as a knack. Presumably he'd have Pistol as a...fighting style, I guess?

And you know what? Fuck it. This is a mess and I'm bored. This is too badly explained to waste any more time on, except with some conceptualizin'.

OK, "Spooky" Daniels is a cowhand. He's decent enough at that job - he can ride forever and he barely needs to sleep (high Willpower), and he can sense trouble coming (high Mysticism). He's kind of clueless and gormless in general, which is what I mean by "decent enough." Thing is, though, when these super-powered bandits came to town, everyone figured Spooky should have known about it ahead of time - he always does. And he did, he'd been having dreams, but he figured they were just dreams, since it's not like people can really teleport and fly and mind-control good God fearin' folks...right?

Spooky is about to get in over his head, but if he can learn to wield magic, he could drive these bastards back.

That's me done. Fuck this game.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Character Creation: In Flames

I made a character yesterday, too. I have a streak going.

The Game: In Flames
The Publisher: Cubicle 7, but listed as currently unavailable. It's by Greg Saunders.
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one, I think; it uses the d6 System, and apparently it's not fully explained, but the chargen system seems intact.

So, the premise of the game is actually pretty compelling. It's a sci-fi setting with spaceships and all (looks closer in feel to Firefly, specifically "Bushwhacked", than Star Wars), but there's a strong spiritual component. Characters are spirits that used to live in their own dimension, and come to people to possess them and act out their passionate, violent, or libidinous desires. But your PCs are spirits who committed some kind crime in spirit-land (it's actually called the Understar) and were banished. They permanently possess a person, meaning that these folks just wake up with no memory of who or what they are, but it's possible to figure out what your crime was and therefore rejoin the spirits. There's even a guide sort of being that helps you do that.

So far, so good, right? Here's the weird thing: The spirits are called loa, and the guide thing is called Ghede. Now, beyond that (and the whole "possession" thing, I guess), there are no other call-outs that I've seen to vodoun, santeria, or any other similar religion. Which is just weird and vaguely appropriative, I think? But I admit I haven't read all the way through the book.

Anyway, this would be a game I'd considered running, maybe, if I had players that got the itch for weird sci-fi.

The book advises me to think of concepty things first, so I do what I usually do with games like this and flip to the setting chapter for inspiration. And there it is!

My character is newly 30, with a young face, thick black hair (worn long; he's proud of it), and a beefy, muscular build. Up until pretty recently he was an indentured servant on Sapphire. The only way out of indentured servitude is to buy your way out, and my character (his name is Drez Ma) managed to form a consortium with a few other folks, hoarding a very particular sea snake's venom (Sapphire has undersea cities, which I think is cool) which is used recreationally. It's illegal to buy or sell it on Sapphire, but not on other worlds, so Drez made deals with some smugglers to get it off-planet, sell it (legally!) and get the money. He was free!

And then he got possessed by a loa called Gaius Sael. Ah, well.

Now, Attributes. I get 10D (dice) to split amongst four Attributes, which are divided into two qualities, Mind and Body. Body is supposed to represent my host (Drez), while Mind represents the Exile (Gaius).

I can also split dice up into pips, so if I have one Attribute at 3D+2 and one at 1D+1, that's 5D I've used (so, same as Men in Black, actually. Incidentally, it's a testament to how infrequently I do this that I thought I made that character recently, when in fact it was almost a year ago).

So! I want Drez' body to be muscular; his work involved a lot of swimming. I'll put 3D+1 into Might. I'll put 1D+2 into Agility, which means I've spent 5D. Over on the Mind side, I get Wit and Charm. I'll put 3D into Wit and 2D into Charm, how about?

Now I get 7D to put into Skills. Skills start equal to their controlling Attribute, so I have 3D+1 in all my Might Skills already. Once again, Might/Agility is Drez' muscle memory, while Charm/Wit is Gaius.

Well, Swimming, duh. I'll put 1D there. I'll put 1D into Lift, too, and +2 into Stamina. I've spent 2D+2 so far.

I'll put that lingering +1 into Pilot, giving me 2D. I guess I'll put 1D+1 into Athletics (which is misspelled as "Atheletics" on the character sheet), for a total of 3D there. I guess some combat would be useful, so I'll throw 1D into Melee. I've spent 5D+1. I'll put +1 into Stealth and Pistol (putting me at 2D in each and taking my spent total to 6D, I have 1D more).

I'll actually save that and take Good Looking as a Perk. I could take Complications but they don't seem to matter during chargen, so I'll skip it (none of them make me happy anyway).

Now I define my Exile's crime, for a very skimpy value of "define." Really I just pick a verb, because part of the game is discovering what exactly you did. In Gaius' case, I'll say "I pretended." I see him as lazy.

Static defenses, done, they just follow formulae. Likewise guilt and dislocation (if my dislocation hits 0, Exile and host break up and I'm basically dead).

Gear, for this game, is a little more interesting than "you have a zillion credits, buy shit." You get a piece of gear for each of your relevant Skills. In my case, I'd want a diver's knife (useful when I was a servant), some kind of device to extract the venom, and probably a vial or two of said venom (useful for bribery or just drugging people).

And I think that's good!

Feng Shui: Tragedy Strikes!

Good session of Feng Shui last night. I realized, too, that when I take notes for games I've been running for a while, I've gotten pretty good at figuring out how they're going to go. So when something happens that's completely off the rails (pun intended, as you'll see) it's fun and exciting for me and (hopefully) the players.

Anyway, last time the characters appeared out of the Netherworld and into the Ol' West, just in time to see a group of bandits robbing a train. Celeste slid down the mountainside and kicked a bandit off his horse, starting the whole thing off. Johnny did likewise, flinging a cow skull that he found and de-horsing another dude, and wound up riding backwards, looking at a woman in a duster (one of the gang's leaders). Do tried to unhorse one, but failed, and wound up in the path of oncoming horses (but he recovered and landed on the train). Bai vaulted down and smacked the woman with his Palm of Fire, setting her clothes ablaze, but failing to unhorse her, and pulled himself onto the train instead.

Do, squaring off against the bandits on the train, suddenly found a knife in his shoulder with a playing card (the joker) wrapped around the handle. One of the still-riding bandits grinned, and fanned out a handful of knives. Another bandit tossed a lariat around Johnny's neck and yanked, while another bandit shot between the train cars at Johnny. Johnny rallied and yanked on the rope (the bandit wisely let it go).

Tang (whole rolled poorly on initiative) blinkshifed in front of Do and smashed a dude off the train with parking meter. Do flipped over his back and cut another one down...and then the hail of gunfire come.

A bunch of mooks shot the characters, wounding all of them, but Do got the worst of it. He flew from the train and landed in a heap at the base of the mountain. Bai jumped off to run and help him. Tang drew his meter back to throw it, but the grizzled old bandit in front of him shot the meter off center, and the weight pulled Tang off. Johnny, meanwhile, jumped at the burning lady with the rope in his hand, but missed and wound up landing in the dirt.

Seeing that the Dragons were badly outnumbered and apparently outmatched, Celeste decided to Cheese It. The bandits weren't interested in chasing them; they had a train to rob.

Tang ran over and found Do dying of his wounds. He managed to gasp out "stop the wizard" before expiring.

Tang wailed in grief and pounded his fists against the mountain walls, but there was nothing to be done. Do had fallen in battle.

Celeste remembered that there was a worker's camp not far from where they were, so they loaded up Do's body (and found some of the horses they'd liberated from the gang) and rode out. When they got there, they made for quite a spectacle, but Celeste talked to one of the workers and she led them to "Hei."

Hei was an old, old, old Chinese man. When they showed him the body, he grew quiet and touched Do's face. "I hoped I'd see my nephew again," he said, "but not like this."

The characters helped arrange the funeral, and afterwards Hei told them to rest and meditate, and he would see them in the morning. They found him on a hilltop, facing the sunrise. "So," he asked, "why you let my nephew die?"

Tang took responsibility. "I was focused on the enemy, not on my friends."

Hei told him to carry that lesson forward. Celeste said they would avenge Do, but Hei said that vengeance was poor motivation. Peace was better. He told Tang that he knew him; Tang was the former partner of Si Borg (yeah, I know), himself one of the Dragons. Hei said he knew of their visions, and could help put them in order, so that they could reach Bai's vision of an end to the Chi War. If they approached it out of order, the War would never end. They, Hei said, were the Last Dragons.

Hei told the characters to go to Myer's Gulch. The mayor/owner of the town, Ronnie Myer, was ambitious and evil, and by ousting him and bringing peace, they could honor Do's memory. The Dragons agreed, got some fresh clothes (some of them) and headed out.

They arrived in Myer's Gulch and headed for the local saloon (call The Devil & The Cat). They found, when they walked in, that the gang - all with blue-painted spurs on their boots - were there. The five leaders, including the man who'd stabbed Do (Russell the Joker), the man who'd tried to hang Johnny (Lasso Daniels), the woman who Bai set on fire (Alicia the Apostle), the grizzled old fella that shot Tang off the train (Rawhide Harrison), and the nerdy looking guy with glasses and deadshot aim (Doc Norris) were there playing poker. Russell grinned and balanced a knife on his finger. Tang started for them, but got himself under control.

Celeste bought a round of beer for her friends, and the sheriff (also in the bar) asked if they were going to be any trouble. "We're here for beer, not trouble," she said, and headed to the table.

Next time: Beer & trouble!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Character Creation: Feng Shui 2nd Ed

OK, I've got about 30 minutes before the game tonight, but the last thing on my to-do listed today was "make a character," so I'm gonna do one real quick. And that means I need a quick-ass game that I know well.

The Game: Feng Shui 2nd Ed
The Publisher: Atlas Games
Degree of Familiarity: Quite a bit, now, at least with the system (the metaplot continues to elude me)
Books Required: Just the one.

OK, so I made a character for the first edition this game back in 2009 (JESUS), but my policy is to make new characters for new editions, so here we are. The game didn't change all that much in terms of tone and backstory (the backstory got updated, hence my "metaplot" comment). But, it's still down to the same process: Pick an archetype, apply a coat of paint, good to go. No numbers required. Literally the most time-consuming part of this process is going to be scanning in the sheet.

But what would I like to play?

Well, if you've been keeping up, you know I like jumpy-flippy characters, but I also enjoy stealthy characters. And so I choose the Ninja. All I need is a name, a concept, and a melodramatic hook.

I think I want my character to be from the contemporary juncture, just because it'd be easier to play. I don't have to be a literal ninja, I'm just a stealthy-assassiny type of person. So I'm gonna say my character was a famous actor. He wasn't famous for acting; he was a martial arts badass and had kind of a Jet Li thing going in the States (more famous in China). He learned, however, that the studio to which he was under contract was doing hella shady things (this is going to be his melodramatic hook). He's already rich, but he's under tight contract and he's well known as a good guy - does charity work, shows up at hospitals and all that. He knows that if he were to just cut ties, the studio would discredit him (or worse; see "hella shady" earlier).

So instead, he wears all black, breaks into their subsidiaries, steals damning documents, photographs their execs in compromising positions, and otherwise works against the studio (and their subsidiaries). He doesn't even rise to the level of "Masked Avenger" because he doesn't want anyone to see him; he knows that even his fighting style would be a giveaway. So he is a phantom, a shadow...a ninja.

His real name is Wo Dan (or "Dan Wo," in America), and the concept and hook, I've covered. There, that's me done. Easy-peasy.