Sunday, July 24, 2016

Nobilis: Head Squids

I took a bunch of notes on my character sheet, but then +Travis collected them, so let's see how far I get on memory alone! Here are the characters, BTW.

Beginning on Erehwon Island: Woolaroo is with the weavers as they make new blankets. Isabel is teaching baby goats parkour. Tommy is at the local coffee shop, chatting with folks about movies. The Countess is out in the water, doing politics. Seems that the squids, which give up ink for squid-ink pasta, are tired of being milked like cattle, and the crabs have been encouraging them. The Countess is looking at a crustacean uprising, here, and that's unlikely to end well. She encourages her Anchor, Bon-bon the Nautilus, to lure the crabs towards traps, seeking to drive a wedge between the cephalopods and the crustaceans (it's always about the sea life with this group).

The characters are interrupted in their dealings by a knock - someone from Epicura, the Chancel next door, as it were, is wanting to come in. The Powers assemble by the door (in an old shed), and find the Power of Rejuvenation, Dr. Indra, asking permission to enter. She's here to make the milk sweeter and the lavender fresher, and the Powers happily allow her in. She goes about her business.

But just then, the lighthouse flicks on. Norton, the one-time Emperor of the United States and now the lighthouse-keeper on Erehwon, was signaling trouble. The Powers zip up to the lighthouse (Tommy complaining that they couldn't just cut away to them all being at the top, but no, they had to take the stairs). Norton indicates that a ship off the coast was laying in crab traps, which was going to screw with the delicate political situation. The Powers decide to drive away the ship, so Woolaroo (as Realm's Heart) calls up a storm, to which the others contribute. The boat flees, but the rain continues, driving down upon the town and stranding folks. The Powers figure that's fine; people will stay at the B&Bs on the island and spend some more money.

Woolaroo takes it upon herself to visit Epicura, and specifically the Power of Complementarity, named Pedro. They visit a bit, she invites him to drop by Erehwon, and she moves to leave.

Tommy, meanwhile, is back in the coffee shop, setting up a movie night. He notices a young man looking at some footage on his laptop, and strikes up a conversation. Turns out the man, LaTwon, is a military vet seeking to assemble footage he's been shooting across the country into a documentary about "real America." Tommy encourages him, and reminds him that perfect is the enemy of done. LaTwon agrees, and mentions that he met a man named Wes Williams out in L.A. who might be able to help him out.

Tommy grits his teeth; Wes Williams is the Power of Indie Film. There's a difference between "indie" and "independent," and the difference is artistic integrity.

Isabel and the Countess, after some time, decide they should check in on Dr. Indra, just to see if she's still on the island. They track down her Spark, but realize it's...gone. They follow the trail of fresh lavender and find her body splayed out in a field, alive, bleeding but un-Enobled. And that's not possible, because the only way to lose one's Power is to die. They rush her to the clinic, and try and contact Woolaroo and Tommy.

Woolaroo, though, has troubles of her own. As she's headed back toward the portal, she finds the ground becoming thorny and moths surrounding her. The Powers of Epicura - The Pack, the Power of Dogs; Louis, the Power of Confection; the Dude, the Power of Neglect; and Pedro surround her. It seems that Indra has vanished, her Spark seemingly gone, and the Powers of Epicura hold Erehwon responsible. "One of yours for one of ours," Louis says Frenchly.

Woolaroo pulls loose and flutters in the wind, not willing to be anyone's prisoner.

Meanwhile, back at the clinic, Isabel and Countess ask about what happened, but Indra doesn't really remember. She just knows she can't feel her Spark anywhere. Tommy arrives with a sprig of lavender, and waves it under her nose to induce a flashback scene (common trope in independent film), but bumps up against magical defense (big long word, begins with an A, can't be fucked to get up and grab my book). Countess asks if he can just turn on the TV and get info that way (Tommy has a Gift that lets him take advantage of the "TV is showing exactly what we need to know" trope), but Tommy refuses; he can't just do that with no reason to turn on the TV, it needs to happen organically. Remember, he has artistic integrity. He heads for the coffee shop.

Woolaroo, meanwhile, sends the others a message by rearranging threads on a blanket, which appears on the hospital blanket covering Indra. They explain the situation to the blanket (which Woolaroo relates), and Woolaroo digs into the Realm for information. Meanwhile, Tommy arrives at the coffee shop and talks with LaTwon. He buys the young filmmaker a sandwich and turns his computer away ("you gotta remember to eat, man"), but hits play and watches his footage. And low and behold, there's something useful there.

The footage shows Indra walking in a field. She collapses, and the last thing she sees is...Norton.

Next time, we'll perhaps find out why our emperor buddy has betrayed us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

New Pal

Tim pulled his shirt up and wiped his face with it. The shirt was black, and the sweat left a shiny smear just under the Batman symbol. His mom would've yelled at him if she's seen it, but they never let parents in during recruitment.
Marius sat down against the wall. He was sweating, too. The basketball rolled into a corner and rested there, waiting. The boys had been playing one-on-one for an hour. They hadn't talked much; Marius was nervous and Tim knew to wait for the recruit to make the first move. 
"What are they? The invaders, I mean." Marius was still panting a little, but he got the question out. 
Tim was a little surprised. Normally the first question was "can I learn kung fu" or something like that. "They're aliens," he said. 
"I know that," said Marius. "But like, I saw one. When they hit that music show-"
"Bonaroo," muttered Tim. 
"Right. I saw video online, and the invaders were just people, and they were just pointed at other people and-"
"They ain't people," said Tim. This wasn't what he was good at. He was good at making using Time sound cool. He was good at the kung fu questions. Leah was better at invader questions. "They''s hard to explain."
Marius looked over at the cooler. "What's in that?"
"Water, drinks. No soda, though."
"I don't like soda anyway," said Marius. He got up and opened the cooler. Marius pulled a sports drink out; his mom didn't let him drink it, normally. Tim followed him and pulled out a bottle of water.
"OK," said Tim. "So, the invaders didn't come in ships, right?"
Marius nodded. "Right, because they'd have to move faster than the speed of light and you can't do that."
Tim shrugged. "I guess. Anyway, they got here as information. They got here as a signal. And some scientist guys in China put the signal together and, like, put it in a body."
"I don't know." Tim flushed a little. He hated not knowing stuff when recruits asked. "But anyway, once they had bodies, the invaders started making their own bodies. Like, people can use 3D printers to make organs, right? Like if you need a new heart or liver or whatever? The invaders used that tech and made bodies for themselves. That's why most of them look like people, because it lets them walk around and no one knows."
Marius nodded. "OK. But my friend at school said he saw one that had, like, extra arms."
Tim scoffed. "Probably he's full of crap." Marius smirked. "But the invaders make new bodies. They just arrange the brain so it already knows things. They can do things with their brains that we can't do, they can make a brain that already knows something so it starts out adult and has all the skill it needs."
"But we can't do that?"
Tim finished off his water and pitched the bottle into a recycling bin. "No. We have to do something else. We can't build a working brain from nothing, there's too many little things we don't know how to do. We have to take a working brain and then change it." Tim picked up the ball out of the corner and tossed it over his shoulder. It fell through the hoop with a fwip. Tim didn't even turned around. 
Marius gaped a little. "Can I learn that?"
"I don't know what you can learn," said Tim. "But you can learn something cool."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Headspace: Vancouver Aftermath

Yesterday, I ran a session of Headspace, a new cyberpunk PbtA RPG by +Mark Richardson. I ran it in preparation to write a review, like I do. Most of the time, when I run game for review purposes, they wind up being one-shots, but I'm always interested to see which ones will make the players say "let's play this some more." Unwritten would have, I'm sure, but the group that we assembled was disparate enough schedule-wise that it wasn't tenable. This group, though, is an established one; we were played Epyllion for a while, but then hit the end of a story arc and were waiting until the full game is released to pick it up again.

Anyway, the point is, we played a session yesterday, and the players decided they'd like to continue the story next month. That, Mark, is the best response you can get from players. As such, I need to do the write-up (which is not the same as the review, which I'll work on this week and try and get it up before GenCon), but first:

We made characters first. Since we have four players, we wound up with two Ghost Operators (the Handler and the Whitecoat, as it happened). The remaining Operators are:
  • Grease, the Runner (played by Mike). Grease got used by Aescupalian labs to deliver drugs to (he thought) folks in need, but it turned out to be a bunch of execs and their hired goons. He and his family emigrated from the US, and were investigated as possible terrorists (Americans are dangerous, you know, they're violent and gun-obsessed; we also joked that Grease might be a descendant of Jethro, Mike's character from Misspent Youth).
  • Spider, the Tech (played by Rob). Spider was the one hired to investigate and then smear Grease's family. He's hacked into a lot of people's lives and ruined them, but wants to make amends for what he's done. 
  • Willis, the Ronin (played by Sarah). Willis is expert in blowing stuff up, and made their bones (Willis doesn't like pronouns) taking on dirty jobs for Pacific Security Systems. 
  • Arrow, the Infiltrator (played by Michelle). Arrow, too, used to work for PSS, and burned down a food warehouse as part of PSS' plant to start food riots in 'Couver. 
I read over the Vancouver setting for the players and introduced them to the five corps that are relevant, and asked which one they would like to take on, figuring that since a couple of them have tied to PSS, they'd pick that or Aesculpian (Mark, a note: I hate that name, it's hard to pronounce and spell). So obviously they picked Applied Optimism, the least overtly evil and most subtle of the corps to work against.

So Applied Optimism wants to turn the unwashed masses against the other corps, and use the masses as a weapon (they're said to be involved with the Occupy movements, some 60 years ago in-setting). I decided to go with their corporate project listed in the book: Leak corporate involvement to the wage slaves. To that end, their three Objectives were: Find proof of 3H involvement in the quake (Cost), start riots in the reclamation zones (Quality), and broadcast proof of 3H involvement (Time). Since this is the first session, they've already achieved one; I decided it made most sense if they'd achieved the Cost Milestone already. The Operators chose the Quality milestone as the one they were working against (after some deliberation). 

The broke their approach down into three milestones: First, rescue Kevin Mitnick, a civilian resident advocate whose popularity and notoriety made him a voice of the people. AO had kidnapped him and reported him dead; they were using that as a way to whip people up. Second, they planned to make sure a critical food delivery arrived safely. And finally, they planned to take out a group of paid agitators out on the streets. 

We start in medias res, and the Operators were working on rescuing Kevin. They'd made some progress - Grease had found Kevin in the upper floors of a high-rise and had called in Angel (their Whitecoat) to help treat Kevin's injuries (we justified that by saying that AO employed some tech that disrupted the Headspace enough that Grease couldn't just treat Kevin himself). Meanwhile, Spider was outside the building observing through drones, Arrow was on the upper floors being sneaky, and Willis was downstairs with Keaton (the Handler). Turns out AO had rigged the building to collapse via several explosive charges. 

Grease jumped off the building, lugging Kevin, and yelled for Angel to follow...but she froze, and Grease heard gunfire. Angel disappeared from the Headspace, but Grease landed and rolled, keeping Kevin safe. One of the charges exploded in the bottom of the building, vaporizing Keaton. Willis reset the other charges, figuring if the building went down, AO would think Kevin was dead and the Operators could use that to their advantage. 

Spider provided backup on drones, but wound up taking a couple of Grief complications and fleeing. Grease jabbed Kevin in the leg with a hypo to dull his pain, but hit a nerve and Kevin screamed, altering guards. Arrow saw he needed help and looked for a way (using Observation, which isn't her skill), and wound up revealing her Regret, triggering a flashback for all of the Operators. She spotted a fire escape, zipped down, and landed on the guards all martial-arts style. 

Willis blew the building and everyone fled. The Operators had achieved their first milestone, and created an Event: AO thinks Kevin is dead and he's getting ready to hold a press conference.

Next up: The food delivery. Grease contacted the Dodge, his gang of car thieves, and got himself a hoverbike with a faulty altimeter (take it too high and it doesn't know how high up it is, which can lead to problems). Spider did some hacking using his AI, Diane, and learned that the food was being delivered via aerodyne and then split up into multiple shipments and taken throughout the zone. If AO was going to hit the shipment, it needed to it before that point. 

Arrow did her infiltrator thing and got on board the aerodyne, wearing the appropriate uniform. Spider, as always, hung back and watched through his drones. Willis rode on Spider's predator drone (it's loud and hot, but Willis has a pain editor, so Willis don't care), and Grease swooped in behind on his new bike.

As they approached the landing site, the aerodyne pilot reported that something was taking control of the ship and throwing off the gyros. Spider tracked the signal and found a dude on a rooftop with a rig. He sent the predator drone over, and Willis, not one to fuck around, shot the dude in the face. Crisis averted?

Maybe not. Grease noted someone on another rooftop with what he thought was a rocket launcher (he may also have picked up a couple of Fear complications and overestimated the danger). Willis flew over and shot that guy, too, and then realized the "rocket launcher" was a really high-tech camera; the dude was just filming everything, probably for AO. Willis hopped off the drone and picked up the camera, keeping an eye on the the ship, making sure it all went smooth.

Not so much. As the aero came in for a landing, Arrow recognized one of the dudes on the landing strip from her time freelancing for PSS. She had Spider run facial recognition - they all were PSS goons. Spider sent in his wolf drone as the ship landed to take out one of the PSS guys, and everything kind of went chaotic - the PSS guys hadn't threatened the delivery guys, so no one knew of the danger. Grease started heading toward them on his bike, Spider had the predator drone fire a missile near the strip, and Willis shot the dude Arrow had ID'd. The remaining goons opened fire on Grease (the only target they could see), and he crashed his bike into a wall, Taken Out. 

The pilot of the aero, deciding "fuck this" was the better part of valor, took off. Arrow, still on board, managed to coax him into touching down a small distance away, after which he got out and ran. Arrow contacted the folks waiting for the delivery and they showed up to unload and distribute. Success.

Mostly success. The collateral damage had made this a qualified victory. The food is distributed successfully, but collateral damage has the populace spooked

The Operators dragged Grease out of the wreckage and treated him, and then they got to work on their last objective - the agitators. 

Willis, of course, was of the opinion that "find 'em and shoot 'em" was effective, but the others noted that AO could just as easily use that to get what they wanted. Instead, the Operators decide to find the agitators and dox them, revealing their real professions and allegiance. They went to work using Hacking and Sprawl to find these dudes, and somewhere in here Willis reveal their Regret to gain Sync - when Willis set off a bomb to start riots, a young girl wound up half blind after taking shrapnel to the face. That stayed with Willis...and now with the other Operators, too. 

Anyway, the Operators spread out through the city, finding the agitators, ID'ing them, and putting names and profiles up on the great big digital screens on the sides of buildings. They also had to convince the volatile populace not to kill them, since violence would lead to riots just as surely as agitation. For the most part, they were successful - no riots, no big explosions. At the end of the day: The agitators have been disowned, but the wage slaves are out for blood

It's a dangerous city the Operators find themselves in, and we'll see what that means next time.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Movie #370: Looper

Looper is a sci-fi/neo noir movie about time travel and contract killing. Fun for the whole family! It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, and Pierce Gagnon.

Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a "looper," a low-rent hitman who waits in a cornfield until his target appears, sent from the future by the crime syndicates that are big news in about 30 years. He shoots the poor fucker with a low-range shotgun called a blunderbuss, and then collects his fee (taped to the victim), disposes of the body, and goes to get high. Eventually, all loopers wind up shooting their future selves, after which they retire and look forward to their eventual fate of being stuffed in a box and sent back in time to get shot. It's a kind of fucked up world.

Joe realizes that lots of "loops" seemed to be getting closed in short order, but then his buddy Seth (Dano) fails to close his own loop. His future self (Frank Brennan) told him that a powerful crime boss in the future, called the Rainmaker, is closing all the loops. Joe, however, doesn't take much notice; he gives Seth up rather than give up his hoard of money when his boss (Daniels) lays that option out, and goes on about his business.

And then his loop (Willis) shows up. Turns out in the future, he meets a woman (Qing Xu) who gets him off the drugs and out of the business of crime...but then when the Rainmaker's people arrives to close his loop, they shoot her. Old Joe, therefore, armed with a single piece of information about the Rainmaker, narrows it down to three suspects, all of whom are about four at this time. And then he goes Terminator on them.

So, a part of this movie is watching Old Joe trying to work up the nerve to shoot some children. We never actually see any of them get shot, but he does kill one innocent kid (because he doesn't really know who his target is). Meanwhile, young Joe finds the last kid's (Gagnon) house and cozies up to his mother (Blunt), after some initial violence, and waits for Joe.

Time travel movies have a habit of either getting really wibbly with their timelines, or otherwise not talking about it and deliberately telling you they're not going to talk about it. Looper does a little of that (Old Joe describes it as a "precise description of a fuzzy mechanism"), but you also come away with enough understanding of how it's supposed to work that it doesn't feel like a total kludge.

Likewise, all of the performances in this movie are amazing, including Gagnon, playing the little boy destined to the be Rainmaker. Everyone has a backstory, even bit characters like Jesse (Garret Dillahunt), the Gat-man who comes to find Joe at Sarah's farm, and even when you don't hear those stories, they're presented in a way that makes for texture. We never learn how Kid Blue (Noah Segan) lost his foot or why Abe was the boss sent back in time to run things, but any of those stories would be really interesting to know, which to me is a good sign in any movie but is crucial in noir.

I am interested to know, however, if Joe dying at the end alters what Old Joe did earlier in the film; it doesn't seem to, because the money is still spilled on the road. And it's very in keeping with the aesthetic of the film if what happened is immutable, and only the "from this point" changes. Lots of people are dead, but the Rainmaker isn't necessarily coming.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Marvel: No More Heroes

Last night we played the first session of our Marvel Heroic event, No More Heroes. Let's watch, shall we?

It's the Taste of St. Louis cookoff, and several blocks have been closed to traffic so that restaurants and so on can set up stands. Harmony is wandering around in a business capacity, checking for dishes and so on that her club might choose to serve. Arcanix, disguised as a human, is hanging around with Pink (in her normal everyday guise as Jolisa Anderson) and her family, sampling foods.

But not everyone is off today. A truck from Lindquist Industries, carrying the revolutionary prototype of the Earnhardt Radar System, is moving through the city, followed by a limo carrying Lucas Lindquist (the young CEO of the company) and Steven Maxwell Lewis III (whose company helped to construct the electronics for the device). Spore is in a nondescript car with his government handler, watching - the government has an interest in this device, it seems.

Suddenly, a man crosses the street against the light, right in front of the truck! The truck screeches to a halt and the driver blares the airhorn - and the man turns, cocks a greasy smile, and screams. The truck's front end is immediately crushed by the shear sonic force. Spore, seeing this, gets out of the car, zips over to the dude, and slams him to the asphalt. The villain stands up and screams even louder, shattering windows for blocks, panicking the crowds (and increasing the doom pool).

Harmony, who's pretty well-versed in sound herself, charges in, grumbling about having to do this shit on her day off. She tries to absorb the sound and target the villain's sonic attack, but fails - he's too strong for her. Pink, though, takes a much more direct approach - tying her hair up and pulling up her hoodie to disguise herself, she leaps into the air and slams into the dude's back.

But the villain - Decibel - is not alone. From out of nowhere, the insane super-villainess known as Innocence appears, dropping down onto Harmony, her old foe. Harmony's heart sinks - Innocence brings collateral damage with her wherever she goes. A crew of thugs with blasters also appears. One shoots at Pink, but she deftly reflects the blast with a manhole cover.

And then, in the sky, a man in demonic-looking powered armor...the Krampus is early this year. He releases a swarm of drones that shear open the truck, and the thugs rush in to secure the device.

Arcanix teleports over to the fray and tries to yank Innocence into the sky, but fails - she's too quick for him. Back in the limo, Steven Lewis III makes a weak excuse and runs for an alley, but then takes to the sky as the fiery hero Inferno! He swoops in, intending to separate the thugs from the truck with a wall of fire, but gets there too late (he doesn't want to burn anyone alive!).

Innocence pulls out twin machine pistols and sprays the area hitting Spore, Pink, Harmony, and Arcanix. Spore doesn't care, of course (he's effectively immune to such things), but the rest take some damage. Lindquist, meanwhile, shaking his head at Lewis' cowardice, also makes for an alley and emerges as Rookie! He swings in over the truck, intending to pepper it with smoke bombs, but in his haste he's anchored his swingline incorrectly and has to let go (at this point the doom pool was absurd, so the players were finding it hard to create assets or complications).

Harmony, not wanting to get smacked around or see anyone else get hurt, summons up all the light she can and flings it at Innocence and Decibel, blinding them both. They both reel, but can't see to target anyone.

Arcanix decides to fight magitech with magitech. Loudly declaring his position as the Sorcerer Supeme, he uses his powers to possess Krampus' armor, forcing him to fly down and smack Decibel and Innocence together. Innocence, invulnerable to physical attack, doesn't flinch, but Decibel can't take another hit and collapses. Still keyed in to Krampus' armor, Arcanix hears the mad German say, "all right, enough of this. Grimoire, now."

Meanwhile, in the truck, Rookie enters and attacks the mooks with his electric staff. He knocks a few of them down, but then a mystic portal opens under the device, swallowing it.

Out on the street, Innocence runs. Pink tenses to tackle her, but she's too near Pink's family - they would get hurt. She reluctantly lets Innocence go. Krampus flies off, too fast for the characters to follow. The device is gone.

Inferno lands to join the others, but Rookie vanishes into the city - as Lindquist, he's got some people to answer to. Spore's handler demands a report, and berates Pink for letting Innocence go. He also recognizes (and is recognized by) Harmony; she's been doing this a while.

Inferno acknowledges the others, but flies off to attend to business as Lewis. He changes back and returns to the scene, as does Lindquist. The government spook asks them if they have a way to detect the device; Lindquist says he does not (but realizes he could make on; he decides to keep that to himself).

Pink returns to her family and heads home to patch herself up. She fields questions from her mother, who's obviously concerned, but Pink notes that bullets aren't really much of a problem for her. Spore, Arcanix, and Harmony go back to Harmony's club. Arcanix runs his self-repair routine to fix the bullet holes, while Harmony just drinks the stress away.

And then a special bulletin on the TV - the Gateway Arch seems to be overrun by...demons.

The heroes in the bar sigh, and note that the Arch seems to get attacked a lot. Pink quickly finishes her bowl of spaghetti as her little brother delightedly shows her the footage. Lewis, alone in his office, heads for a high window. And Lindquist, getting the notification as he's addressing the press to talk about the theft, says "This press conference is over."

Next time: Demonic hijinks!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Marvel Heroic: [Event Title Here]

I meant to do all of the game prep yesterday, but Night's Black Agents took several hours, and then I tried to start working on Marvel but I was tired so I knocked off and made nachos and watched Shaun of the Dead instead. So here we are.

Super heroes! 
That's a very old picture of the kiddos. Anyway, if you're playing this game, don't look, don't look, the shadows cry.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Game Notes: Night's Black Agents

I did the writeup for yesterday's game, and then Michelle and Al and I walked around in the park for a while chasing little cartoon monsters (and there's a fun new people watching game called "is that person also Poke-monning"), and now we're home and I want to take some notes.

I'm gonna share this picture again because it's awesome and because it'll eat some space.

OK, now, on we go. You've been warned. Stay out, players.

Night's Black Agents: Out of the Frying Pan

And that's it. No fire, really.

So, last time, the characters were in a tight spot. MacAteer and Gambone were at gunpoint, while Parker and Ess were in a hotel lobby and had just noticed Frank.

MacAteer sprang into action, grabbed one of the dudes and yanked him in front of him (using the Meat Shield rule). The other ones fired, but wound up shooting their companion and just doing minor damage to MacAteer.

Gambone ducked around the side of the truck and found himself face-to-face with Ava, his (former) friend and arms dealer. She opened her mouth and the tentacles sprang out, striking Gambone in the chest. Gambone, keeping his wits about him, drew his gun and shot her in the face, blowing her backwards and yanking the tentacles out without causing more damage. He found a syringe of the blood thickener in his pocket and lunged at her...

...whereupon she shot him.

MacAteer sprinted away to a nearby car and jacked it (using his Grand Theft Auto cherry), and sped round to Ava's van, smashing into her and yanking Gambone into the car. He peeled out, knowing he had to stop and tend to Gambone or he was assuredly gonna die.

Meanwhile, the other agents were doing better. They had a brief discussion on coms, and decided that Frank was never going to be in a more vulnerable place. Parker drew her dart gun and shot him. His blood reacted, and she heard popping noises from his clothes as his skin boiled up, but he turned to her, still alive, and reached into his jacket.

And then Ess shot him in the neck with his dart. He gasped, his tentacles popped out and inflated like horrible balloons, and then burst. The agents ran. (Ess' player: "Could I pick up any of the blood for a sample?" Me: "It'd be like picking up Jello.").

They radioed Hanoever, who picked him up. MacAteer made contact ("Man down!") and they met up and drove out to the country and found an empty house to hole up. They stabilized Gambone, but realized they needed to get the hell out of Romania. Gambone advised against trusting any previous contacts - clearly the conspiracy was adept at getting to people - but they needed a way out. MacAteer made contact with his buddy Snug to arrange air transit from a smaller, private airfield, while Hanover contacted his old buddy Janos to have boat waiting at Constanta.

They got to the airport, but were warned that private flights were being subjected to extra scrutiny. So they figured "screw that" and drove overland to the coast, got on a boat, and headed the hell south to Mykonos. That's a hell of a long trip; they had to go down through the Bosphorus and stop off in Istanbul for supplies. Parker made contact with a merchant named Bakir, and got her hands on some rose oil and rosewood, and asked him to keep an eye out for "parasitic tentacles." Meanwhile, Ess made contact with a fellow SMOM operative, Father Alberto, who provided them with weapons. And then they were off again.

They arrived in Mykonos and got set up with a beach house, someplace they could work and still bug out quickly if need be. And then they got to discussing things.

Now, this game has been going for more than 3 years at this point; there was a long break, yes, but there's still a shitload of information and names out there. So my players actually did something they've been talking about doing: They made a conspiracy board.

After discussing it, they realized that the two organizations with the most connections to everything else were the Russian mafia (which they hadn't talked about for a while but which was funneling money from everywhere) and the IFEA (which connects to pretty much the whole board). They decided that they needed to take some time and dig into their potential targets before making a hard decision on where to go next. Which is actually good, because I want one more session in this op.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Board Game: Guillotine

It's actually a card game, just roll with it.

The Game: Guillotine
The Publisher: Wizards of the Coast, originally, but who knows anymore
Time: 20 minutes
Players: Me, +Michelle+John+Jonathan, Morgan, Donovan

Someone's for the chop.
Game Play: You can't see it easily in that photo, but the thingie standing up on the right-hand side is a little cardboard guillotine, and the cards lined up next to it are nobles. In the game, the players are rival executioners going for the best basket of heads.

Ooh, I love chops.
You've got a hand of action cards, which alter the order of the line. They do things like make a noble trip and skip up a few steps, give you points for getting nobles of a given type (military, clergy, aristocracy), and so forth. So on your turn you play a card if you like, and then collect the nearest noble to the front. You play in three "days," of 12 nobles each, and at the end of the third day you total up the points for each noble and see who has the best heads!

Jon contemplates revolution and what it means for folks like him. 
Opinions: I like this game; it's a fun little time-waster, but the art is funny and the rules are just interesting enough that it doesn't get boring to play twice in a row. The action cards mean that there's some applicable strategy, though it needs to be applied pretty quickly; Mme. Guillotine chews through the nobles quickly.

Keep? Yep.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Movie #369: The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Long Kiss Goodnight is an action movie starring Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Craig Bierko, Brian Cox, Yvonne Zima, and Tom Amandes. I didn't realize until we watched it last night that it's a Shane Black script, but in retrospect that's pretty obvious; it follows a lot of the same beats as Lethal Weapon.

Samantha Caine (Davis) is a small-town schoolteacher who doesn't remember anything before 8 years ago, when she washed up on a beach with a bullet wound in her head and pregnant with her daughter, Caitlyn (Zima). She's seeing a local man (Amandes) and has largely given up on finding out who she was...until her low-rent PI, Mitch (Jackson) digs up a lead just as she gets into a car accident and dreams of a woman named Charly...the woman she used to be.

Turns out "Samantha" was just a cover ID created by Charly Baltimore, a CIA assassin who was nearly killed by an arms dealer (David Morse) and a terrorist (Bierko) she was ordered to kill. Back in her own mind, she discovers that her old department is now doing business with said terrorist and plans to blow up a small town in New Jersey as a false flag to raise funding for the CIA. For further details, please see anyone who thinks of themselves as a "truther."

I enjoy this movie for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it's an action film starring a badass woman (and Davis is legit a badass), and having Jackson as the wisecracking sidekick-ish character is fun because he's a good and cool enough actor to make all the right beats work. Likewise, Brian Cox as Charly's mentor is a nice touch, as he plays "aging badass" really well. I also enjoy that Samantha isn't just a fabrication, but a person and role that Charly invented, so she chooses to reclaim at the end (but stays blond, indicating that she's also still Charly).

I'm not especially crazy about the treatment of Caitlyn during the movie; she's mostly a prop and a damsel. Likewise, although Craig Bierko does his crazy-eyed best with Timothy, the terrorist leader, I kind of feel like someone with a little more personality could have made the role more interesting. David Morse is nicely creepy for the few minutes he's oncreen, too. The plot falls victim to a classic action movie issue, which is "why in the world do you not just put two bullets in her head while you can?", and I don't think they dodged that question very well, but at the end of the day, it's fun watching Davis change from schoolteacher to acting on pure instinct to cooly efficient killer and back again.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Looper

Board Game: 7 Wonders

More games, yep!

The Game: 7 Wonders
The Publisher: Reops Production/Asmodee
Time: 30 minutes, give or take
Players: Me, +Jonathan, Morgan, Donovan, +John

Blurry Donovan is the 8th Wonder.
Game Play: 7 Wonders is what's called a "drafting" game. Everyone picks a wonder (randomly), and then play proceeds in three rounds. Everyone gets a handful of cards, you pick one to play, and then pass the rest.

Cards can give you resources (first and second round), or let you build up your army, build structures that get you victory points, or have other neat little effects. You can also build your wonder, which is actually optional for winning or scoring, but it's pretty helpful.

Olympia at the beginning of the game.
Some structures just give you straight-up victory points. Some are scientific advancements, which give you exponential points. You can also build up military and compare it to your neighbors; if you've got a bigger defense dick than them, they lose points and you get them.

Round two about to begin.
Opinions: I'd played this game once before and forgotten how much fun it is. It's actually pretty quick, given the complexity, and I like that there are a number of viable strategies you can take to win. Building up science seems to be legitimately the best one, though.

End of the game; I wasn't science enough to win.
Keep? Yes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Board Game: Kodama: The Tree Spirits

Yay! Games!

The Game: Kodama: The Tree Spirits
The Publisher: Action Phase Games
Time: The box says 10 minutes per player, which seems about right; took us about an hour, but we were learning it, too.
Players: Me, +Michelle+Morgan+Jonathan

Morgan, freeing tree spirits.

Game Play: In Kodama, you're building a tree, and then seeing if it pleases the tree spirits. The better your tree, the more points you get. In context, this means everyone has a trunk, and each turn everyone goes around and plays branches. Branches have various features on them (worms, mushrooms, stars, etc.), and features that match previous cards get your more points - but you can't score more than 10 points on a branch, meaning the game encourages you to branch out (lol) and make your tree at least somewhat diverse.

The scoreboard.
You also track seasons (the game has three seasons, with four rounds of adding branches each), and there's a special randomized rule for each season. Our Spring season counted clouds as stars, for instance.

Michelle, shuffling.
At the end of a season, you pick a Kodama from your hand - the Kodama give you bonus points based on certain criteria on your tree. So one Kodama might let you pick a feature and then score points for every time it appears, or every time it appears on an end branch, etc.

My tree, early in the game. Note the flowers and worms.
At the end of the game, whoever has the most points, wins. Pretty simple, that.

Opinions: So, for a start, this game is gorgeous. It's by Daniel Solis, so I really wouldn't expect anything else, but we all remarked many times how damn pretty the game is. What's more, because of the way building your tree and scoring points works, it kind of encourages aesthetic appeal, or at least consideration, within game play.

The scoring system took us a minute to figure out, but we were tired, and really once your get it, it's pretty easy. What I found interesting was that it's really easy to stack your branches so that you get lots of points, but you really can't do that and hope to win because the minute you crest 10 points, that branch is pretty useless (unless you start again with different features).

Morgan and her tree. Not pictured: Rum.
The game play isn't necessarily quick, but it could be. It feels like a game you don't really want to rush through, though.

Keep? Definitely.

Oh, and, the game instructions ask that when you finish a game, you put the little cardboard Kodama in the winning tree and post a picture, so, since Jon won because he always wins games, here's his tree:

Happy Kodama!

Movie #368: Arsenic & Old Lace

Arsenic & Old Lace is a dark comedy/farce based on the stage play that high schools like to perform and directed Frank Capra. It stars Carey Grant, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, Priscilla Lane, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and John Alexander.

Mortimer Brewster (Grant), a well-known writer and critic, is about to get married to his girlfriend (Lane). This is, in the movie, presented as a big deal because he's a well-known detractor of marriage in general, but that subplot was apparently added for the film and never really goes anywhere. Anyway, he goes home to tell his two spinster aunts, Abby (Hull) and Martha (Adair) the good news - but then he learns their little secret.

His aunts, who rent rooms in their enormous house, have many charitable endeavors. One of them is poisoning solitary old men who come to stay with them and burying them in the basement, with the help of their youngest nephew, Teddy (Alexander), who is firmly convinced he's Teddy Roosevelt. Mortimer, upon finding the body of their latest victim, flips out and tries to shift the blame to Teddy, knowing he can pull strings and get him committed to a sanitarium, but that takes some doing and he also tries to keep all this from Girlfriend (sorry, her name is actually Elaine, but she doesn't have a lot to do in this movie except get shoved around).

Further complicating the issue: Mortimer's evil older brother, Jonathan (Massey, filling in for Boris Karloff, who played the role onstage but was too busy doing so to be in the movie, which is a bit of a mindfuck) arrives with his accomplice/plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein (Lorre) in tow, looking for a place to hide out. And then all hell kinda breaks loose, in the manner of farce, and we end up with Teddy and the aunts going to the sanitarium, Jonathan being arrested, Dr. Einstein sneaking out the door, and Mortimer and Elaine smooching.

So, I haven't actually seen the stage play (only scenes in acting classes), so other than the weird "I hate marriage but am getting married" subplot for Mortimer, I'm not sure what changed. That said, I think this is pretty funny and light for a movie about murder; it drags a little in the final act, IMO, because it's a movie, and not a play, and I think the way to avoid that would have been to cut the stuff in the beginning where Mortimer and Elaine are getting a marriage license. But in the moment, everything is very snappy. Alexander and Lorre, in particular, are perfect in their roles, Massey channels Karloff appropriately, and Grant, while he apparently hated this performance for being too over the top, works nicely carrying the load of reacting to all the craziness around him.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Character Creation: Infestation

I love games that I can read in 20 minutes. They make this project easier.

The Game: Infestation: An RPG of Bugs And Heroes
The Publisher: Third Eye Games
Degree of Familiarity: Haven't played this particular game, but it works on the same system as Mermaid Adventures, which I've run a few times.
Books Required: Just the one.

Infestation is a cute but gross game in which you're playing bugs, recently elevated to sapience by a strange event called the Awakening. Possible goals might include taking over the House, fighting off other bugs, and determining the source of said Awakening. Like Mermaid Adventures, it's a simple premise with a lot of potential if you want to unpack it, and it's a simple enough system that kids can play it pretty easily.

Making a character, then, involves picking one of a dozen types of bugs. I pick spider, because spiders are objectively the best. I get The Above (Attic) or Crawly Spaces (between the walls) as Favored Lands. My Gross-out starts at 3, but since I might raise it with a Quality, I won't write that in yet. I get Body 1, Mind 2, Charm 2, and Instinct 1, and then I get 5 more points to raise Attributes.

I also get Blood Sucker, Web Spinner, and Alluring as Qualities for free. I picture my spider as kind of Scar-talking-to-Simba, kind of charming and oily all at the same time.

I'll spend my Attribute points thusly: I want at least one more in Body, so I'll pump that to 2. I want to be charming as hell, so I'll put 2 into Charm, making that 4. I'll put one into Instinct, and then my last one I'll put into Mind, so I'm pretty even across the board.

Now I get five Qualities. Three have to be Attribute Qualities (tied to particular Attributes), while two are Item Qualities (things I own that help me). I can take Magic Qualities instead of either of those, which I might for Item because I'm not super into gear.

Well, for Attribute Qualities, I'll take Eek! A Bug!, which adds 1 to my Gross-Out. I want Electrician, so that my spider knows where the shocking wires in the Crawly Spaces are and can avoid them (or make them into traps). I'll take Path-Finding; I get a bonus to find my way in tunnels.

Now I get two more Qualities. They can be Item Qualities, but I can't think of anything I want my charming, creepy spider to have. So I'll go with Magic.

Magic comes in two flavors: Rituals and Concoctions. Concoctions are just spells you prepare (once you've prepared it you have to use it before you can make it again), whereas Rituals are things you do once and they change your character. However, the book also says that you don't take Rituals at chargen, but I can't tell if that means you can have them but haven't performed them, or if you just flat-out can't take them. I'll assume the latter.

Instead, I'll take the Reflection Concoction (I can make myself look big and scary) and Fungal Charm (mind-control paste!).

Were we actually playing, the HM (Hive Master) would roll some dice to make the House, but since it's just me, I just need a name. My character's name is Panther (after Pink Panther insulation, which the Giants spread all over the place in The Above). He's a big, black wolf-spider (which don't usually spin webs, but y'know, Awakening), and he has a deep, soothing voice.