Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Feng Shui: Drunk, Edible Apes

Monday was Feng Shui. As usual, there was combat. Hi-ya!

As an amusing side note, the Feng Shui book suggests three fight scenes per session. I mentioned that to my players (we average one, maybe two if we really stay focused), and they all laughed and asked if the fights as written are lighter. I said nope, they suggest three mooks and one Featured Foe per PC. If we're supposed to get through three fights in a session, we are most definitely Doing It Wrong.

Anyway, last time the characters completed their little foray into the Wild Wild West, and now, after tromping through the Netherworld in a sequence I didn't bother to run, emerge in the dark future past the detonation of the C-bomb. Following Wu Tang, they headed for the site of the battle that claimed the life of his partner, Si Borg.

They emerged from the tall grass of the blasted plains to find a bunch of people being rounded up by apes, one of which was an orangutan driving a big truck. Tang noticed that some of the apes wore the insignia of the New Simian Army, while others wore that of the Jammers, but all of the symbols were scratched out. New faction, then? Deserters? Didn't matter - Tang yelled "Get those monkeys!" and the battle was joined.

Some of the apes opened fire with guns, while the ape in the truck (his name is Clyde) tried to run the Dragons over. Wildfire jumped on top of the cab and smashed in windshield, and meanwhile, a horrific monkey (Freak the Gibbon) with a cybernetic clawed hand jumped at Tang and slashed at him. Bai Ling faced off against a monkey with a flask of liquor (Drunky the Monkey), while a gorilla with a big freakin' gun (Smilin' Bill) shouted encouragement and took shots at the Dragons.

The monkeys got some good licks in - Freak the Gibbon quite nearly killed Wu Tang with his clawed hand, and Bill landed some solid shots on Bai and Tang. Drunky the Monkey disarmed Bai and smacked him with his own weapon, but Bai set him on fire and Drunky went screaming into the trees. Celeste threw monkeys into other monkeys with her whip, and Archer leaped on the front of the truck, trying to stop it, and then grabbed a wrench and flung it at Freak the Gibbon, stunning him.

The turning point, though, was when Wildfire finally grabbed Clyde, yanked him out of the cab of the truck, and ate him. Bill, horrified, called for the other monkeys to fire on the monster, but they kept missing. Wildfire also clawed Freak to pieces (and took really minimal damage from his Last Rally attack), and Tang grabbed Smilin' Bill and ordered him to surrender, which he did, because Bill is smart.

The Dragons locked Bill in the truck (and Bai took his gun). The humans immediately gathered around Wu Tang; one of them recognized him from a scrap of leather with artwork depicting him and Si Borg. They started chanting his name (forming a kind of clan around him, you might say). A couple of them asked Bai to teach them how to create fire. One braided red fabric into Celeste's hair, calling her "ape-slayer" (and mentioning that the apes probably would try to shoot her first, but really it's a mark of honor!).

Archer and Tang talked to Bill, and he (cheerfully) revealed his employers: The dreaded Ape Mask Replicant and Thrill Kill Mandrill. This was odd, because the Dragons had seen those folks die way back here.

The citizens asked Tang and the others to help them get to safety. They could go around the forest, which was a good six day hike, or through, which only took hours...but those woods were full of monkeys. Wu Tang chose discretion, and they set off on their walk.

They arrived at a decaying, abandoned factory of some sort, and set up camp; Tang, Bai, and Celeste slept, as they were injured. Others kept watch. And in the trees...monkey eyes glittered.

Next time: Eek ook!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Game Prep II: Return of the Squiggles

Still got a couple of games to prep.

"You running Pugmire yet?"
So! Iron Edda and Feng Shui left to go. Don't peak, players.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Night's Black Agents: The Quickest Op

Quick game of Night's Black Agents today. I had been planning on stretching this op out for two sessions, rather than just one, but we're not playing again until the end of November so I figured it might be better to have some closure.

Last time, the agents were headed to Paris to look into the remains of Tasse Medical. They arrived and set up their safe house and all, and then looked into the warehouse where Tasse had been storing shit. Hanover and MacAteer looked around, chatted with the security guards, and realized it was all cleaned out. All the good stuff had been loaded into a van and taken away, a load at a time, by a young man over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, Parker tailed Luc Lemarque, and noted that he had a new job, very much like his old one (lab tech). Ess broke into his flat and saw that he'd been laid off from Tasse's subsidiary, but given a very generous severance.

Parker decided to bump into Lemarque on the train home and make friends. They went and got shwarma and Luc told her that he'd been kept on to empty out a warehouse, since he was familiar with the research and the materials and knew how to handle stuff. He drove everything to a hangar north of Paris, and it was all getting shipped out of the country together sometime soon.

The boys, hearing this, headed out to said hangar (that'd be Hanover, Ess, Gambone, and MacAteer). Hanover talked to the staff about renting a hangar, and was told that there would one free in a couple of days. The staff took Hanover out to a hangar to show him the space, while Ess set up a sniper's perch on a building next to the hangar being rented by Tasse. Hanover glanced at some paperwork - there was a plane in that hangar bound for Budapest...tomorrow morning.

Gambone crawled into the electrical ducts and shimmied out underneath the hangar in question. He had two grates that opened into it, and from one he could see the plane, some boxes, and a couple of dudes talking in French (which Gambone understands, fortunately). The guards talked about "them" and how they were creepy, but might be necessary, and in any case tomorrow "they" were getting put on the plane. From the other grate, Gambone saw a very large industrial AC unit and a guard walked endlessly back and forth. "They," it seemed, referred to brutes.

Parker, having finished her date, came out and joined the boys and got on the roof with Ess. They all talked about their approach; the data they wanted was in that hangar, so perhaps they could hijack the plane? MacAteer could fly it, after all, and they could disable the transponder and get to Monaco. They decided to give it a whirl.

Gambone planted a bomb to disable the AC unit, and set it off as a distraction. The two guards out front ran to the doors, but Parker shot one. Ess ran into the side door and shot at two oncoming guards, but just grazed them. Gambone shot one as he came running over the grate, killing him, but the other one shot Ess, and then a third shot at him on his flank.

And then the brutes. One jumped onto the plane, the other ran under it. Seeing he was screwed, Ess ran out the door, hitting the button that raised the hangar door on the way.

One guard tossed a grenade into the grate, blowing shrapnel down into Gambone (but not killing him, fortunately). The damage disabled the electricity and the door stopped halfway up. One brute ran outside, the other followed Ess and threw him against a wall.

MacAteer came zipping around the corner in the van and missed a brute, but Hanover shot the other one in the face as he rolled by. The other one leaped at Ess, but Parker shot him out of the air and disabled him. MacAteer stopped and reversed into the surviving brute, and Parker came downstairs and shot them both in the head, but now the agents had no idea what was going on in the hangar. (Gambone was in the tunnel, headed for a getaway car, too hurt to be of assistance.)

Parker and Hanover, uninjured, went in the back door and found three surviving guards (one was by the hangar control doors, bleeding; he was the one that Parker had shot earlier). The gunned down the two uninjured ones as they were burning evidence, but the third dropped his gun and surrendered. They found some unburnt stuff on the plane and, not knowing if they could get out of France before someone shot them down, decided to load up what would fit in the van and vamoose.

They regrouped in Monaco, and discovered the stuff they had stolen was mostly blood samples, some from Budapest Prison (including a sample from Abel Vartos, whom Parker recognized as a fall guy from Hi-Klass Escorts) and some from Belgrade Hospital. Some researched from Dr. Sedillo revealed that this new nutrient-rich blood might facilitate vampires healing faster or getting stronger, and it was now a simple enough formula that a pill or a drink might convert a person's blood for a few days. Clearly the agents had to destroy or cripple this operation, and they felt a lot better about their chances of taking on a hospital than a prison.

So the next op is back in Belgrade...and it hasn't been so terrible long since they were there.

Headspace: Double Duty

The way Headspace works is that the Operators are working against corporate projects. One of the things I really like about it is that it asks the players to come up with concrete goals - like, here's what we're doing this session to thwart this project, which does wonders for keeping people focused.

Yesterday, we started session 2 by defining some Anchors. Their Anchors are:

  • Victoria, an older woman who mentored Willis and acts as an arms broker. She thinks Willis is sloppy, whereas Willis think she's old-fashioned. Arrow doesn't trust Victoria; she suspects the old lady is Corp. And Spider has a very special (and sometimes naked) relationship with Victoria. 
  • Johnson Taylor, a producer/report at Applied Optimism. He's Corp, yes, but his relationship with the Operators is more cordial. Willis was once hired to kill him, but didn't because he actually got mad rather than weepy. Grease dislikes him because Taylor used Grease as a scapegoat in a story once. Arrow has a good working relationship; she got dirt on a rival for him once. 
  • Michael, the younger brother of Keaton, the group's (now Ghost) Handler. Michael and Grease are friends; Grease showed him how to start a car with a cell phone. He has a rivalrous relationship with Spider; there was a drone race, which they both claim they won. 
Officially we should have done corporate Anchors, too, but eh. Wasn't feeling it. 

So the Operators had two Projects to deal with, the Applied Optimism one (which had one Objective left - AO was going to broadcast the evidence they had of 3H's involvement with the tsunami), and PSS' new Project to remove civilian authority from the police and take over. They decided to take both of these on. They decided they'd start by getting some intel on exactly what PSS planned to do. 

Arrow and Grease took on that job. Grease called on his Dodge folks and got himself a delivery truck with some janitorial supplies, and rocked up to a PSS facility. Arrow hacked in, and wound up triggering a Regret. The rest of the group saw the flashback of her having sex with one Trenton Kelly, another PSS soldier...who's now in charge of his facility. But, be that as it may, they got in and Arrow donned her camouflage cloak and went looking for data while Grease watched the security feed and kept lookout.

She found what she was looking for, but someone in the security office noted the logon and folks started looking for her. She dodged them, but needed a diversion, so Grease released the wolf-drone he'd borrowed from Spider and just had it run around the loading dock like a crazed puppy. That gave Arrow enough time to get back to the car and slip in, but there had been a lock put on their vehicle. Arrow hacked it, and they took off, in the midst of a hail of gunfire - they got what they wanted, but PSS had seen them. 

Reviewing the data, they realized that PSS' plan was to take out a community center on the edge of the quarantine zone by gassing it. That wasn't going to stand, but they had other fish to fry in the meanwhile. 

Specifically, Willis and Spider were at an Applied Optimism building, enacting that part of the plan. They were first going to take out AO's broadcast capability for a few minutes, then "neutralize" a high-level producer named Knowlton who had put together the presentation on 3H, and then steal or corrupt the evidence. No problem.

Willis sneaked into the basement and set a bunch of charges, while Spider rode the elevator up to find Knowlton. Willis, in creeping around the basement and wishing she could just take the whole building down, found a tech working on one of the generators. She incapacitated him (and in the process revealed a Regret; she'd blown up a building that had destroyed a fortunately empty playground across the street) and dragged him up to the surface, but in the process missed her cue to blow the gennies. Spider had his predator drone fire, but since the building's power wasn't down the missile didn't do much damage. Knowlton had time to dive cover, but Spider just shot him (berating Willis all the while). And now the building was in pandemonium. 

Arrow and Grease arrived at this point, and headed upstairs. Arrow and Willis headed for the vault to get the physical evidence, while Grease and Spider went for the server room to delete the data (Grease bringing Spider's wolf-drone to serve as a portable power supply, since the power was out). Both locales were guarded, but Spider sent in the wolf-drone to make short, messy work of the guards and then started downloading the data.

Arrow and Willis, meanwhile, took out their guards with a combination of Martial Arts and Guns, and Willis blew the vault open. They grabbed the evidence, but now there were guards everywhere, shooting. Willis' armor held up for a while, but in the end Willis collapsed, unconscious and bleeding. Arrow ran out, scooped up Willis, and ran for the exit, shooting all the while. She got out, but with some injury.

Spider and Grease weren't doing much better. Spider tried to run to help the others, but got pinned down by gunfire. Finally they made a break for it, Grease riding the predator drone down and Spider rappelling with his wolf-drone as an anchor. It worked for Grease, but Spider was Taken Out, and landed in a heap. Grease pulled the van around and grabbed Spider, but left the disabled wolf-drone. The Operators had failed at this final Objective, but succeeded on the first two, meaning they had won out on the Project overall.

But they had another couple of fish to fry. To wit, they needed to do a preemptive strike on the folks coming to nerve has the community center and then get all this data to Johnson Taylor. They waited a while to heal, though, so they started one pie-slice in the hole when they got things moving again.

Digging into the intel they'd gathered, they learned that the folks doing the gassing weren't PSS, but rather a team of Operators like them. Spider talked to Victoria, and she was willing to share particulars if she got the gas canister back and if all this didn't come back on her. The Operators agreed, and she told them that the team was going to pick up an aerodyne off a particular roof, then landed on the center's roof and hook the canister into the ventilation system. The Operators decided to do this quietly - switch the gas canister for something benign, take the deadly stuff back to Victoria, and avoided blowing up too many things (Willis wasn't thrilled).

They found the rooftop and staked it out. There was a protest going on down below on the street, so when the other team arrived (which included a man called Jeremy, whom Arrow recognized as her brother Craig's lover), Willis set off a bomb in a storefront as a distraction. The team looked over the edge, and Arrow crept up near the aerodyne. Willis tossed a firebomb to the roof, Jeremy dropped the canister, and Arrow swapped it and ran, tuck-and-rolling into Grease's vehicle. The team shot at her, but didn't realize the switch, and then got in their aerodyne and went on their way.

Final Objective: Give this data to Taylor Johnson. They set up a dead drop and waited, but the one who showed up was one of the members of the other team (a woman in a black catsuit). She collected the data and ran, and since the Operators didn't know who she was working for, they let it go, failing the last Objective (but completing the first two and earning one overall victory on this project).

After all was said and done, there was a permanent event: Applied Optimism has lost much of its credibility with the masses, but maintains pull with the corporations. The struggle with PSS is ongoing, of course, and we'll pick it up next time.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Game Prep: Squiggles

OK, I'm running three games in the next three days (counting today) and then another one next Monday and aAAAAHAHAhahahahaAAHAAH I need to do some prep.

Got my game face on.
Anyway. Running Headspace today, Night's Black Agents tomorrow, Feng Shui Monday and finishing up Iron Edda next week. Plus I have a bunch of writing to do on Monsters, since the Kickstarter is launching on 10/4 (I don't need to have the book written by then, which is good, because that's not going to happen, but I want more of it written), and eventually I might get the outstanding drafts of the Beast books I'm working on and be able to redline.

Oh, and I need to bash out enough of Np that I can take it to Metatopia.

Today, however, is game prep day.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Character Creation: Iron Edda

Call me crazy, but I like making sure I've made characters for games I'm running.

The Game: Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone
The Publisher: Exploding Rogue
Degree of Familiarity: A goodly amount. It's Fate Core/Accelerated, which I know pretty well, and I've run a session.
Books Required: Just the one to make characters, though having Fate Core to hand is helpful.

So! You can see the game I'm running here, so I'm not gonna summarize the game. The issue that I run into, as is often true in this project, is that the game would like it if I had a group, but I don't. No matter, the book includes several sample settings, which is nice, so I will pick one. I like "A Tale of Blood and Darkness" by +Lillian Cohen-Moore, so I'll assume that my hypothetical GM is gonna run that. When the Group Aspect comes up in chargen, I'll instead do an Aspect about how I fit into this situation.

In brief: The community of Selah is having a celebration for spring, but there are weird shadow-spirits that killed the Jarl's son recently. There's a very cool murder-mystery vibe going on.

Ooh, so, what do I want to play? When I played this game with +Tracy at Origins, I played a Seer and used a bunch of raven-based magic, which was cool. I kinda want to play a Bonebonded, though, a hero who's been bonded to the bones of a slain giant. I also want my character to have heard rumors of the shadow-spirits. I'll tie that in to my giant somehow, I think.

OK, so as is often true of Fate games, I must start with a High Concept. Grim-Faced Bonebonded Warrior about covers it, I think. This guy may have had humor at some point, but he lost it when he took up the bones. He's dour, never smiles, and he's old but sturdy. He might even be older than he looks, and be kept healthy by his giant.

Now I need a Trouble Aspect. I kind of don't want his dour demeanor to be the problem here; that's just kind of how he is. But I think we can relate it; I want him to be marked by Hel somehow. I'll call this Aspect Hel's Gaze Follows Me; the specter of death is always over his shoulder, and doesn't fear it, but it makes him fatalistic and untrusting.

Next I would do a Clan Aspect, but if you're Bonebonded you give up your Clan. I think this guy was Sparrow Clan before, real chatty and gregarious, and then the bones came.

My giant is called Runa the Riverbane. Years ago she blocked the Gjoll River, and fell in battle to Odin. Her bones lay at the bottom of the river until my character dove in to retrieve them, and rose up Bonebonded. Problem is, I think maybe Odin took offense. My Aspect here is This Bond Cost Me My Soul (this may or may not be true, but my character thinks it is, and Runa is strangely silent on the matter). I think that Runa is largely pretty helpful, for a giant. She's just glad to be off the riverbed.

Next I get a Sacred Item Aspect. I kinda like the idea that Odin killed Runa with Gungnir (his spear; no mention of a magic helmet), but Runa was tough enough to do some damage. When my character dove into the river, he came up with a splinter from Gungnir as well. I'll take Splinter of Gungir as my Aspect here.

Finally, the Group Aspect is going to relate to why I'm coming to Selah. I want to say he's heard rumors of the shadow-spirits, maybe even from Runa. Yeah, I'll take Runa Recognizes the Shadows as my Aspect here; she's clear enough that they're bad news, but she's either choosing not to tell me everything or can't for some reason.

Neat! Now stunts & skills & shit. I'll start by making my Bonebonded. This costs me two refresh, and I have to use one of my three stunts on my giant. I get six Approaches: Forceful, Clever, Quick, Careful, Flashy, and one more to make up. I think Runa's Approach is going to be Immoveable. She's damned hard to hurt or even move once she plants herself.

I'll put Immoveable at Good, Careful and Forceful at Fair, Clever and Flashy at Average, and Quick at Mediocre.

While I'm here, may as well do the stunt. I think I'll call it Force of the Raging River. Because Runa remembers the force of the river, she can Forcefully Attack at +2 when standing in a river.

Right, now I get two more stunts for me, not my giant. I'll take one stunt called Visions of Death. I can creep people out by talking about how they're going to die (I can't necessarily tell, though I think it'd be cool if my visions came true more often than not). +2 to Attack with Provoke if I talk about the target's death. And then I think Runa's unrelenting influence bleeds over. I get +2 to Overcome with Physique if I'm Overcoming natural phenomena (pushing through wind, snow, raging river, etc).

And now, Skills! I'll take Physique as my Great, Fight and Will as my Good, Provoke, Athletics, and Notice as my Fair, and Lore, Sail, Empathy, and Stealth as my Average.

I think that's it, actually. All I need's a name. We'll call him Einar Vatnsson. He looks like he's in his 50s (but is probably older). Muscular, built like a wall, long beard, long braids, all grey. His arms is blackened and rusted in places, but it works. He prefers big, heavy, weapons like maces (or, when in bone-form, rocks).

Chariot: The Rain of Fish

Yesterday, I ran Chariot in preparation to write a review (if you're gonna review RPGs, you should play or run them first, IMO). It was a lot of fun, and I definitely had the right group. I'm bummed that +Travis couldn't make it because I think he'd have really gotten into it, but that's the way the bear eats you sometimes, or whatever the saying is.

Anydangway, you can read up on the game at that link I shared, and see chargen in action here. So let's meet the characters:

  • Megan played Nonix, an Atlantean minor bureaucratic functionary. She's Fated to be the Fool, and went through the whole game never really know she was Fated at all. 
  • Sarah played Narayan, a Tlavatli priestess who shipped out with a crew going out to find food (pickings have been slim in the Five Islands of late) and got blown in to Keriophis by storms. She's also Fated to be the Healer, and could stave off the effects of starvation, but it comes back.
  • John played Kosh, a Rmoahal escaped slave and mystic. He's hiding out in the slums of Keriophis, among his people, performing magical feats for money and out of the kindness of his heart. He's Fated to be the Lover, meaning he can see not only the pain of his people but the casual indifference of those who victimize them. 
  • Amanda played Lyra, a Lemurian nomad who traveled with her tribe...until she was Fated to be the Trickster. Now no one trusts her, and she wanders alone. 
We start in the coastal city of Keriophis. Lyra is heading for a small community of Lemurians living near the water (we affectionately called it "Little Lemuria") looking for Tae, her mentor, who for unstated reasons also left the wilds and now lives in the city. She finds Tae and talks with her about how she's cast out, now, because no one can trust what she says. They look up and see a larger sky-chariot and a few smaller ones zipping over Little Lemuria and into the slums. "They're going to rout slaves," says Tae. "Happens often. They recapture them and give them back to their owners, or take them out to sea, attached stones to their collars, and toss them in if their former owners don't want them back."

Meanwhile, Narayan's ship is putting in to the Keriophis harbor. A sky-chariot swoops in and asks their business, and Narayan responds that they've been damaged in the storm and separated from their fellows, and new to restock and repair. The soldier gives them permission and they move toward the dock. Someone notifies Nonix, whose job it is to make sure that ships arriving have their paperwork in order. 

Kosh, meanwhile, is hiding among his people when the sky-chariots arrive. They start rounding up Rmoahals, so we make this a Conflict. Kosh and Lyra (who follows the sky-chariots, uncomfortable with this whole "drown people" thing) want to keep the Rmoahals free, while I want to have the Atlanteans recapture them. 

Kosh runs, waving his arms, making himself a distraction, trying to lead the soldiers away. One of them, an Atlantean named Kwt, is an acquaintance of Kosh - Kosh used magic to heal Kwt's son once. Kwt chases him, fully intending on letting him escape. 

Meanwhile, Lyra calls the Rmoahals to her, and hides him (she's the Trickster, and if she wants something hidden, it's hidden). Unfortunately, the slavemaster (hovering on a person sky-chariot, with prosthetic eyes that zoom in like telescopes) shouts to the Rmoahals that if they don't give themselves up, they'll start bombing the buildings, where the old and infirm are probably hiding. This works; the Rmoahals push away from Lyra and surrender. Kosh escapes because Kwt doesn't chase him.

Lyra slumps to the ground, despondent at having failed, and Kosh, sending what she's feeling moves to comfort her.

At the docks, the ship arrives, and Nonix interrogates Narayan about their intentions. This becomes a Conflict as well (Nonix wants Narayan to fill out the forms and follow the rules, while Narayan just wants to go on shore without all this hassle), but it's quick because Narayan's player slaps down the Hanged Man and wins. Nonix is flustered and a little dazzled by Narayan (she's a Tlavatli priestess, so she's pretty fancy), and finally decides it's quicker if she does the paperwork herself.

Narayan, who isn't even the captain, goes into the city looking for people who might need healing. She comes across Lyra and Kosh, and recognizes them as Fated. She soothes Lyra, and listens to their story of what happened.

Nonix, meanwhile, realized that Narayan took her pen with her, and she wants it back (this is the kind of ridiculous thing that gets the Fool into trouble). She finds Narayan and the others as they've decided to go get something to eat. Nonix, a little intimidated (she's out of her element and with a Rmoahal and a Lemurian), goes along at Narayan's invitation. 

They find the Lemurian equivalent of a restaurant (I was figuring lots of shellfish that you can just crack open and eat, since we're by the sea). The characters talk a bit, and the others laugh at Nonix a bit for not knowing how the shellfish work (she's used to cooked food), but Kosh can relate to her, whether he wants to or not (he's the Lover, he relates to everyone). As they're eating, they hear rain - the storm has finally reached Keriophis. Lyra realized the rain is heavy - those aren't raindrops, they're large objects hitting the ground. Hail?

No. The characters finish eating and go outside and discover that marine animals are falling to the ground. Kosh, never quite knowing where his next meal will come from, picks one up, and the fish immediately pops its scales and slices his hands to ribbons. He drops it into his sack, and Narayan bandages his hands, healing him. 

They decide to get further inland, and Nonix, feeling perhaps a little caught up in all this, says they can go to her home. The Atlanteans ignore Kosh (thanks to Lyra), and they wind up in her apartment, overlooking the city. 

The rain of fish is moving further inland, but there's worse than that. The rain of fish is accompanied by torrential normal-rain. As the characters watch, a sky-chariot hums overhead. Nonix recognizes it. It's full of slaves. They'll take them to the levee and force them to shore it up; many of them will drown in the process, but the city will be saved. Nonix relates this, and the others decide that this isn't fucking acceptable. 

Nonix tries to explain that if the levees aren't shored up, the waters might flood into the city, killing many more people than the slaves that would die. Kosh argues with her, saying that maybe that's true, but that's no reason to force people in bondage to kill themselves in the process (it's a Conflict, and both Lyra and Narayan aid Kosh). In the end, Nonix agrees (Kosh plays the Lovers and wins), and the characters head down to the levees to help. 

They arrive as a line of Rmoahal slaves are working to fix the levee, but the flood-waters are already rising. We made it a Conflict; Kosh and Lyra working to free the slaves, with Nonix attempting to get the levees strengthened and Narayan just trying to make sure no one dies. I used the world (the storm) as a supporting character, and also the slave master. 

Lyra runs down the line, trying to open the slaves chains, but a slave of Kosh's acquaintance, Soqi, who has become throughly assimilated, yells for help. The slave-drivers pull Lyra back, and, angry, she calls down magic, opening all the clasps on the slaves' collars. 

Nonix finds Yima, her ex (but still friendly), and explains that they needed a large amount of stone to brace the levee. They start moving it in by crane, but one of the guide-ropes snapes. Narayan sees her captain, Leonadis, and he and the crew start helping with the crane (if the city floods, the Tlavatlis aren't going anywhere). 

Kosh throws a rock at a slave-driver, Ctusk, whom he's had run-ins with before, trying to distract him and free the slaves. When the collars open, though, the slave-drivers rush in and attack Lyra, and the slaves attack them, everything devolving into a brawl. Nonix, meanwhile, uses her own magic and just creates a bunch of stone on the levee to brace it. Narayan, simultaneously, uses magic to push back the flood waters, and the storm starts to recede. 

The slave-drivers beat Lyra, but then she hides, and the brawl just continues. The slaves are recaptured and put back into bondage, but the levee is secure. Kosh disappears into the city, as does Lyra. Nonix goes back to her job. Narayan and the crew of the ship steal an Atlantean vessel and head for home in the confusion (what the heck, it's already full of fish, and the Five Islands need food). 

I really enjoy this game, though I have some concerns about the Conflict system that I'll get into in the review. Basically, large-scale conflict seem almost completely impossible for the players to win (but it may have been the hand I was dealt, too). 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Iron Edda: The Bees Are to Blame

Monday was Iron Edda. I think I'm going to have to start instituting "phone breaks" for folks, so they can get their social media fix. These two things are only tangentially related.

We begin our story in Byheim. Aegir is by his still, perfecting a new mead. Helga and Rune are walking the perimeter of the holdfast. Ragnar is praying by the guardian stone, and Solvi is outside the holdfast, near the Snake Hall, where the Snake Clan folks are quarantined. As she approaches, she sees enemy horsemen emerge - the Snake Clan is attacking. Solvi summons up her magic and makes the land in front of them swampy, to slow them down.

Helga notices, too, and summons up her bones; Rune follows. Aegir intercepts Ragnar and, realizing what Solvi did, gives Ragnar a draught that lets him walk on swamp-terrain more easily. He drinks it, and then charges, climbing onto Helga's bone-giant head. She tries to flick him off, but he dodges.

Rune leaps into the fray and slams the ground, stunning the Snake Clans. The Snakes attack, but don't manage to hurt anyone (lots of boosts getting through around, but not much stress). Aegir arrives and conks one on the head with his drinking horn, and Helga tries to intimidate them into giving up. Between Rune attacking with his staff, and then Ragnar landing in the middle of them with his magic hammer, some are unhorsed and some just flee. Rune, in the midst of this, notes that some of them are carrying curved weapons that they must have bought from the Jgol traders.

Ragnar picks one up and demands to know what's going on. The Snake responds by showing his boils, and saying that the Jarl isn't doing anything to help. Ragnar looks worried; he might have caught the plague. He goes with Solvi and Aegir to Solvi's hovel so she can make a poultice for him to stave off infection.

Meanwhile, Rune goes off to the Jgol, and Helga, entranced by his sexy swagger, follows. They talk to the Jgol traders some, and learn that the Snake Clan bought the heart of a Dwarven Mech along with their weapons. Helga buys an immense Dwarven weapon from them (on IOU), but just then, the giant in Rune's head starts screaming. It can hear a terrible, high-pitched noise...and it's coming from the Snake Hall.

Up at the hovel, Solvi tosses some henbane into the fire and gives herself a bit of a hallucination. She sees the bees swarming the Snake Clan, and realizes that the plague isn't caused by a disease, it's a reaction to bee stings. Now, everybody gets bee stings in Byheim, but the bees have been getting more aggressive lately, so maybe it's a particular hive near the Snake Hall?

Rune calls up bones, and so does Helga. They smash their way into the Snake Hall, and see up the Dwarven Heart. Helga picks it up and stabs it with her new weapon, which causes both the weapon and the heart to explode and blows her bones away. She falls, but Rune deftly catches her.

In the distance, the characters hear thunder and see lightning. The Dwarves have heard the heart, and they have responded. They are only a few days out.

They go back into the village, and the villagers argue over how to use the guardian stone and what to do. Ragnar decides that he will quest for the Rune-Bag, and try and best Odin's Wolves. We'll see if he can manage that next time.

Movie #372: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is the third Captain America movie, and as such stars Chris Evans and Sebastien Stan. However, it's also basically another Avengers movie, and as such also stars Robert Downey, Jr., Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and then adds in Tom Holland, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl, and Chadwick Boseman.

Set some time after Avengers: Age of Ulton, the Avengers, led by Cap (Evans) is doing Avengers stuff. In Lagos, Nigeria, they confront Crossbones (Frank Grillo), who winds up trying to blow himself and Cap up with a suicide vest. Scarlet Witch (Olsen) tries to redirect the explosion, but it hits a building, killing a bunch of people.

Meanwhile, Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) is reliving some old hurtful moments and trying to buy his way out of his guilt for the Ultron incident. He winds up coming face to face with that guilt, and then Secretary of State and former Hulk-chasing-guy General Ross (Hurt) decides that the Avengers are kinda running amok with no real supervision. The Sokovia Accords, then, propose that they're answer to the UN, which will tell them what they can and can't get involved with. It also involves "registration" of enhanced people, although that doesn't get as much screen time as it does in Agents of SHIELD (where it's more relevant).

Tony is all for it; Cap is not, and the team is likewise split. Cap has to zip off to London to attend Peggy Carter's funeral, and while there he reconnects with Sharon Carter (Emily Van Camp), former SHIELD agent and, as it turns out, Peggy's niece.

Now, I want to make an aside here. Cap and Sharon wind up kissing later in the movie, and I've seen some folks deride that choice as creepy, I guess because of Cap's age or that he was once romantically linked with her aunt? Watching it again, I think that in context there's nothing remotely creepy about it. Sharon and Steve didn't meet until Sharon was a grown woman, and they met in a context that had nothing to do with Peggy. Steve and Peggy had a close relationship, but he got frozen before they had anything that could legitimately be described as a romantic relationship, and by the time she died, he'd had a few years to get to know her - but she was an old woman who had actually lived through the ensuing decades and Steve, despite being technically over 100, is still actually a young man. So, in context, we have a young man striking up a relationship with a woman that he met who turned out to be related to a woman he was once involved with, after she died, and with mutual attraction. I think it's fine, people (and this from the crowd that will happily "ship" random characters as the whim strikes them).

Whew, sorry. Anyway, it looks for a moment like Steve might retire from being Cap, but then Zemo (Bruhl) blows up the UN, killing King T'Chaka (John Kani) and framing the Winter Soldier (Stan) for it. This, of course, winds up making his son T'Challa (Boseman) hella pissed at Bucky, Bucky gets captured, and Zemo lures the Avengers toward Bucky's old Hydra base in Russia. A big brawl ensues as Stark tries to recapture Bucky (and Steve); Stark even recruits a young Spider-Man (Holland) to even the odds. But in the end, only Cap and Bucky make it to the base (with Stark following after he figures out what's really going on), and it turns out this was all a plot by Zemo to show Stark that Bucky killed Stark's parents, and thus fragment the Avengers.

So, the Captain America movies have consistently been the best of the MCU, and Civil War continues that. It's such a busy movie, but unlike Age of Ultron, which languishes under too much Whedon, this not only keeps everything nicely balanced, gives all the supporting characters a bit of cool screen time, and raises the stakes without killing any major character (alas poor Quicksilver), but it manages to retroactively improve both Age of Ultron and Iron Man III by putting some of their events into context and showing the fallout. When I heard that the Russo brothers were in charge of the next Avengers movie, I breathed a sigh of relief - they can handle the massive cast, clearly.

The performances here are good. I kind of wish that Crossbones hadn't died, because it'd be nice to have some villains that hang around, but Zemo lives, so maybe he can show up again someday. Boseman is amazing as Black Panther, and I'm very much looking forward to his movie now. I'm hopeful that some of the other MCU directors remember the Russo's attention to detail and what has come before; especially Peyton Reed when he does Ant-Man & the Wasp. I want to see Scott Lang (Rudd) at least dealing with being an international fugitive during the first act of that movie.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next Up: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Games Notes: Viking, Ho!

Tomorrow I'm running Iron Edda. I should, therefore, figure out what the heck I'm gonna do to these poor folks. I have two sessions to bring out something to resolve.

Ride on, Norse Riders!
You can find the characters and the setup back here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Character Creation: Chariot

Well, today was supposed to involve running this game, but I was feeling rather under the weather, so that didn't happen, and then there was drama the likes of which just makes you do a double-take (no, I'm not elaborating publicly), and so now I'm going to make a character instead and run it next week. So.

The Game: Chariot
The Publisher: Room 207 Press
Degree of Familiarity: None; I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Chariot is based on stories of Atlantis, which I've never read. But really, the game is about altruism - you're playing characters who are effectively indestructible, so the stakes are never "or else your character dies." Misspent Youth does this, too, and I like it, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing (and you might find this massively hypocritical because of curse the darkness, but hear me out) character death is never that big a threat anyway. Players who enjoy the moment of drama that the death of a character causes will enjoy it regardless, and players who get uncomfortable when their character dies will get uncomfortable. The threat in a game isn't "we could die" unless there's been a lot of investment in a character and in the game itself, 'cause otherwise you just make a new character and carry on.

But in Chariot, you're playing one of a handful of people who are Fated to die in the Catastrophe - like, the "Atlantis sinks beneath the waves" kind of thing. Until that happens, you don't die. The game does advise playing through that point, but it would take at least a few sessions to do right and I'm just gonna run a one-shot. In any case, though, it looks fascinating and I'm hoping that my lack of familiarity with the subject matter doesn't make me miss too much.

Anyway, making a character is pretty straightforward. Just requires a Tarot deck (oh, right, the game uses Tarot as the resolution mechanic and is therefore my catnip).

I first pick a Culture. I can be Lemurian, Muvian, Atlantean, Rmoahal, or Tlavatli. Of those, I like Muvians and the Tlavatlis the most. I think we'll go with Muvian, just because their approach to love and sex appeals (basically, obviously you have sex with your friends, there's no such thing as exclusivity, and when children happen everyone raises them). I add 3 points to Will for being a Muvian.

Now I pick Social Station. I kind of want to be a Noble. This game asks players to examine privilege and attitudes toward entrenched bias and acceptance of societal evil in a collapsing society, and I think it'd be interesting to play someone who has benefited greatly from Things Being How They Are, and in the face of knowing that it's all gonna end...what? Muvian Nobles were officers in the military and know how to use sky-chariots, which is awesome. I can see my character looking down upon armies clashing and directing troop movements, but just seeing dots. I add 2 to People, 2 to Will, and 2 to Machines.

Next I pick a Fate. This tells me which of the 20 Fated Witnesses I am, my special power (all the Fated are superlative in some way) and how I'll eventually die. I'll pick this randomly, but that means I have to pull the Major Arcana from the deck (less the Emperor, Empress, Tower, and Death). Just a moment. OK, I draw the World, which means I'm the Lover (and means that if I draw the Lovers or the World in a conflict, I automatically win).

The Lover is all about understanding people, spiritual joining, empathy. I die when I meet my true soulmate, and then we join into a Rebis and pass into the collective unconscious forever. That sounds nice. My Boon is that I can sway people's hearts, which in game terms means I can swap Relationships around. I can change friends to enemies and so forth. It's an interesting direction for this character, actually. Kinda like it. I get to add 3 to Hands, People, and Psychic.

Now I do Suits; Cups, Pentacles, Wands, and Swords, just like you'd expect. I get 20 points to divide between them (minimum 2, max 10). Let's see. If we figured that this game is starting off when my character is still a soldier or an officer, which I like, then Wands (violence and conflict) should be high. But as the Lover, I feel like Cups (fixing things, feelings) should be decent, too. I'll put 7 into Wands, 4 into Pentacles, 5 into Cups, and 4 into Swords.

Attributes, then. There are 9 of these. I start off with +5 in Will, +5 in People, +2 in Machines, +3 in Hands, and +3 in Psychic. And then I get 3 more points to put anywhere. Hmm. Well, I feel like I should be better physically, so I'll put them into Body.

I know magic, too, since I have points in Psychic. Magic is divided into 10 Techniques, but I can only take two of them (Vril and Qlippoth) if I know all the others, which I won't (I only get three since I have Psychic 3). Hmm. Well, because of how magic works, I want to pick Techniques that resonate with Suits I have good scores in, so that's Wands and Cups again. My four choices there are Harnessing (moving, controlling, contain elements); Withering (hurting living things); Nurturing (healing living things) or Unleashing (BOOM!).

I'll take Harnessing, Unleashing, and Nurturing. He doesn't have Withering because hurting people directly isn't his thing. Military action is all about making people dead, not killing people.

Finally, Relationships. This is neat: You've got 16 Relationship slots, and during the game, if you've got an open slot, when the GM introduces an NPC you can say "he's my Knight of Cups" or whatever and establish a preexisting relationship. I, as the Lover, can shuffle them around more than most characters, but I still start with three open Relationships. I have Page of Cups, Knight of Wands, and Knight of Pentacles open (which are a younger friend, a contemporary comrade, and a contemporary rival).

Neat! So now I just need a name. There's a handy list, and I like "Aumec."

So: Aumec is descended from a famous Muvian general named Myne. He was given his first command fairly young, and befriended the troops, inspiring (manipulating?) loyalty. His campaigns have been successful, large because his troops feel like they know him. His own cohort, as far as the love/sex/friendship thing that Muvians have going on, though, is with other officers. He's not opposed to fraternizing with the rank and file, but he needs to be able to send them to their deaths.

But now he's caught a glimpse of the future, and the future, for everyone, is death, fear, and pain. And he's not going to be riding the chariot when that happens, he'll be down among the troops, naked and bleeding, just like everyone else. And the thing he can't figure out is why that doesn't scare him, but rather, feels right.

That's me done, then!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Iron Edda: Bees, Runes, and Disease

Last night we made characters and a holdfast for Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone. I had the pleasure of playing this game at Origins this year, and what really hooked me (aside from the Bonebonded, which are just a fantastic concept) was the holdfast creation. I love collaborative world-building, but I like it when there's a framework, and Iron Edda delivers.

Anyway, we're playing a two-session game (not counting last night's) while +Michelle is out of the country. The holdfast that the players created is called Byheim (Bee's Home), and I figure it's in the Midlands, north of the River Vid.

So here's what Byheim has going on:

  • There's a bag of runes on a pedestal north of the holdfast. The runes can foretell the future and the battle plans of the enemy, but they're guarded by Odin's Wolves. The runes are meant for the gods, not for mortals, and so a mortal better be able to roll with the gods before they can get the runes. 
  • Tensions are high in Byheim. There's an ancient guardian stone in the center of the holdfast, placed there (so says legend) by Balder. Since Balder was a peaceful god, debate rages about whether it's appropriate to use the power of the guardian stone offensively. Duels have been fought on this subject, which is kind of ironic if you think about it.
  • The Snake Clan, which maintains a covered hall south of the holdfast, is dying from a disease that causes paralysis and boils. The method of transmission hasn't been determined, no medicine works, and so the Jarl - Ingvar Ubbesson - has simply ordered quarantine. 
  • About the same time the disease hit, traders from the land of Jgol arrived bearing furs. Folks from Byheim don't trust (and even be blocking them from moving north), so they've set up a camp.
  • Byheim, as the name suggests, is famous for its bees, which also means it does a brisk business in honey and mead. There's a huge still in town. Of late, though, the bees are getting aggressive and ranging further to find flowers. Locals know how to avoid them, most of the time.

And now, the characters:

  • Alisdair is playing Ragnar Giantsbane. He's the descendant of an olden warrior who slew Waerferth the Giant, and now has taken up the great Hammer to protect the holdfast. He's Bear Clan. His Trouble is Heroism Is Its Own Reward.
  • Sarah is playing Helga Kalfsdottir. She's Waerferth. Byheim has a tradition, that the bones of Waerferth are passed along from the current holder to a successor she (always she) finds worthy. If the holder dies before naming a successor, the eligible women have a little contest to determine the winner. That wasn't necessary for Helga, though; she's been training as a Shieldmaiden since she was young. She was Ox Clan before the Bonding. Her relationship with Waerferth is...interesting (the Aspect is Big Love). Her Trouble is Straight Path to Valhalla
  • Matt plays Aegir Brimeson. He's the meadmaster, the venerated old sot who makes the fantastic honey-wine of Byheim. One drink from his horn and you'll have...well, some kind of Aspect. He's of the Raven Clan. He's also Runescribed with Eihwaz, and his associated Approach is Drunk. His Trouble is My Drinking Horn is Never Empty.
  • Amanda plays Solvi Bergfalk. She's a Seer, and she's cursed. She's dedicated to the holdfast and its people, but she never gets close to individuals. Her Sight has driven her a little mad over the years, and she wields Earth magic. Her Trouble is Sees the Deaths of Those She Touches.
  • Toasty is playing Rune Thorvald, an outsider, newcomer, and Bonebonded. He took up the Bones to avenge his family, village, and pretty much everything he knew. His Trouble is Untrusted, Untested, Outsider. He used to be of the Horse Clan, before the Bones. 
So, some fun stuff to work with. I'll be doing a game prep post sometime soon. Meantime, I'll thank +Tracy Barnett for this awesome game.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Movie #371: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the first movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the encyclopedias novels by J. R. R. Tolkien. It's directed by Peter Jackson and stars (deep breath) Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving (holy god, are we done yet?), Ian Holm, and Andy Serkis. The theatrical release topped three hours, the extended version (the one we watched) is over four. You have to take breaks.

So: In Middle Earth, the basis for all D&D, thousands of years ago the Dark Lord Sauron forges magical rings that apparently grant some kind of magical rulership power, included the One Ring that rules all the other rings. Sauron takes over, the humans and elves rise up against him, the One Ring gets cut from his finger, Isildur (Harry Sinclair) slices it of his hand but doesn't destroy it, even though Elrond the Elf (Weaving) is right there and totally could have stabbed him and thrown him into the lava. Now it's thousands of years later, the One Ring is in the Shire after being brought home by Bilbo Baggins (Holm), a humble hobbit, and his nephew Frodo (Wood) and his buddies Sam (Astin), Pippin (Boyd) and Merry (Monaghan) get tapped by Gandalf (McKellan) to bring it to Elrond. That, of course, is a stopgap; really it needs to go to Mount Doom and be destroyed.

The races of Middle Earth have a little powwow and Frodo volunteers to take the ring to Mount Doom, accompanied by his hobbit posse, Gandalf, Aragorn the true king of Gondor (Mortensen), Boromir, son of the steward of Gondor (Bean), Legolas the elf (Bloom) and Gimli the dwarf (Rhys-Davies). They go traipsing off through the mines of Moria, Gandalf seemingly dies fighting a demon, they make to the elf-woods, then the monstrous orc servants of the evil wizard Saruman (Lee) attack, kill Boromir (spoilers!) and the Fellowship splits, with Merry and Pippin captured, Frodo and Sam going on to Mount Doom by themselves, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli going after the captured hobbits.

Good. Gravy. That is a cursory summary of the plot and doesn't touch on a half-dozen other significant events, and that is a drop in the bucket compared to what's in the goddamn novels. (I am about to commit nerd heresy here: I think Tolkien's writing is boring as shit. I couldn't make it past Tom Bombadil when I tried to read this novel. It's like swimming through treacle.)

So, good stuff: The movie is beautiful. The CGI is there, but sparing (as opposed to the more recent Hobbit trilogy, which kinda broke my heart a little), the battles are epic and gorgeously choreographed, and the scenery is fantastic. The Shire, in particular, is so amazingly well-realized that you want to move it.

The performances are good. The actors bring gravitas that subject matter that sounds overwrought and silly if you don't treat it with respect. One of the things that always bugged me about Gandalf, for instance, is that his magic as described in the books is pretty low-key, but the movie makes him (and Saruman) look badass and impressive. The rest of the Fellowship are presented as competent warriors in their own right; the hobbits really shouldn't be, but they manage to come off as equal parts lucky and skilled without leaving the audience wondering who made them overnight badasses.

I like that the movies take their time; yes, it makes for looooong movies, but you feel like they earned it (again, contrast with the Hobbit movies, which unnecessarily spread the story out over three overlong movies and then added a bunch of shit in).

And the bad, not that this is Jackson's fault: Almost no women. We have two worth discussing, Arwen (Tyler) who at least gets to save Frodo and be kind of badass for a minute, and Galadriel the elf-queen (Blanchett), who gets to look impressively mystical and intimidating in her brief screen time. They both turn in good performances, but the story in general is a sausage fest, and it's somewhat tiresome.

For all that, though, it's awesome in the literal definition of the word. Shame it's the best of the three, but they're none of them bad, just the next two don't hold together as well as this one, as I recall (but it's been a while).

My Grade: A-
Next up: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (unless I buy Civil War first)