Wednesday, November 30, 2016

East Texas: Beer Pong and Punching

So, last time, the characters saw a bunch of birds, chatted, kvetched, and tackled a thief breaking into a prof's office. This time, there was even more excitement!

The characters had their usual day of classes (nothing especial to focus on there, except that Josh's theater prof had his sketchbook back). And then that evening, as they hung out in the dorm doing study-things, and Josh's roommate texted all of them.

Josh, you see, has a kind of annoying roommate named Donnie Gayle. Donnie manages to trip headfirst into stupid situations, and he usually texts everyone first. But this time, he texted photos of the folks from Low Shoulder - they were at a party in Greek Row. Lula was down (and let her friend Kelly know, since Kelly was very much looking forward to bedding Nikolai). Dante, likewise, was always up for drunken shenanigans, and Doug and Josh kind of figured "ah, hell, sure" and tagged along.

They got there and found the party was already going nuts - lots of drinking, beer pong, and people trying to get close to Nikolai and his drummer. Donnie showed up and acted drunk and stupid, but the real excitement was when Doug noticed a bunch of frat guys eyeing him in an angry sort of way. And then one of them stomped over, made a slurred accusation about Doug banging his girlfriend, and slugged him ineffectually.

Doug lit out for safety (he is not a fighter), and Dante launched himself over the pool table like Batman at the dudes. He wound knocking one down, as did Josh, but got a beer bottle to the head for his trouble and wound up Wounded. Lula crept around the throng with Kelly, but bounced a quarter off a frat dude's head and made him trip over a table, taking him out. Doug, meanwhile, had made his way over to Nikolai and told him that if he helped out, Doug would make sure he met Kelly, who was entirely willing to do depraved things with him.

Nikolai let Doug hide behind him, and then the sheriff showed up and everyone got quite a talking to! And also tickets for disorderly conduct and so on. Lula's cop buddy, Peter Lopez, showed up and pretended to write her a ticket, but actually gave her his number. Dante got a towel with ice to put on his head, and everyone started walking back toward Whitehall (the dorm they live in).

Donnie, meanwhile, had put a bunch of photos of the party up online, and Dante noticed that Peter had been there before the violence started. He excused himself and went to campus police, and talked Peter into rescinding his ticket (it's not really illegal for Peter to be there but it doesn't look good). He rejoined the others, who were in the midst of obtaining pizza, and they looked at the photos some more. They realized that the thief they'd tackled the day before had been there, too, handing what looked like a book to a dude that Doug recognized from the business center, who was then photographed getting all up in Nikolai Wolfe's face.

Some drama was going down, the characters just weren't sure what. They headed back to the dorm, ate pizza and hung out a bit. Tomorrow's the concert, after all. Gotta rest up.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Night's Black Agents: Planning & Entrapment

Yesterday was Night's Black Agents. Back to Belgrade!

The agents all entered Serbia using various covers (Gambone made one just for the occasion); their preliminary research showed them that their faces and names were out in the open, probably due to the snafu in Paris. MacAteer entered the country separately, a few days later, and although they let him through, he got the distinct impression he was being tailed. 

Meanwhile, the agents had set up surveillance near the hospital. Ess, using his cover as an orderly (with a little doctoring of records and licensure from Hanover) took a job there, and snuck a bug into their computer system. Hanover looked through records and found a work order for a drawer in the morgue that hadn't been fixed in years, but kept getting bumped to the bottom of the queue. Ess put a camera on the wall facing it, just to see if someone was using it as a bed, but the agents never saw anyone open it. Storage, maybe?

MacAteer contacted the others and told them he was probably made. Gambone got in touch with Janos Strayovich, a cop who'd busted Gambone once (and then let him off after a bribe). Strayovich agreed to help out, but he warned Gambone that someone was gunning for him. 

They set up the fake bust - the cops pulled MacAteer over, MacAteer ran, Strayovich pretended to lose him, and Parker, wearing a disguise and a new cover as a cop, took the van with the guns "to impound" (really to a safehouse to remove the guns, then to impound). Meanwhile, Ess, in the crowd, spotted Ava Kingsilver. He snuck up close to her and listened to her conversation (which Gambone had to translate, since Ess doesn't speak Russian); she was watching for the agents and told someone listening to "check perches." Ess debated stabbing her, but he didn't have any serum and wasn't sure he could take her in a fight. Instead he slipped a tiny tracking device into her hair. Hanover tracked her, and saw that she was staying in a building near the hospital - she was watching for the agents.

Having obtained their gear, the agents moved houses and debated their options. They hadn't been made yet; if they were they'd be dead. Gambone suggested blowing up Kingsilver's building, but a little research revealed it was an apartment building that rented to hospital employees and families of long-term patients - not a safe target, even to take Ava off the board. The agents talked about it; Ess was strenuously in favor of taking her out, but the other argued that Kingsilver was ultimately a pawn - she was dangerous, but low-level, and if they took her out the conspiracy would just replace her. And it would tip the agents' hand. No, better for now to investigate the hospital and the museum.

Gambone and Ess broke into the museum and found that the office of Ograd Bugarcic (the curator) had been left in kind of a hurry; consistent with what they'd seen before. They searched it and found nothing untoward. He'd been running the museum pretty much legit. They did find travel records, and he'd traveled mostly within the Continent, except for one overseas journey a few years back to Shoreham, New York. Looking into that little town, they found it was the site of Wardenclyffe. Maybe a trip to the States is in the offing? Dangerous, though. 

They also found a storeroom protected with a much more serious alarm system and lock. Breaking in, they found an empty filing cabinet, a folded-up bed, a desk, and a chair. Very Spartan and obviously not in use. A safe house for a vampire, perhaps?

Figuring they'd seen all they would see at the museum, they moved on the hospital. Ess pushed Gambone in, covered on a gurney (as a corpse, you see). Parker waited in the lobby with flowers, while MacAteer and Hanover waited in the van and watched the front of Kingsilver's building. Ess opened the drawer and found a "corpse" in a body bag, but it turned out to be a dummy with the torso missing. In its place was a box. Inside, they found six vials of blood, labeled with an alphanumeric code.

And then Parker saw security massing at the elevator. Hanover saw armed men leaving Kingsilver's building. The agents were made.

Next time, we'll see how that ends.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Character Creation: Byron Falls

I have a few minutes, sure, let's do a quick character.

The Game: Byron Falls
The Publisher: John Wick Presents
Degree of Familiarity: None, but it ain't like it's complicated.
Books Required: Just the one.

Byron Falls hits a lot of the same notes as Monsterhearts, but it's much tamer and much less fully realized. It's apparently the result of a dare, and it's kind of thrown together; the rules are being revised or change in the text of the game, which doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence (like, if it's worth publishing, it's worth firming up, just IMO, but then again my Kickstarter didn't make a million bucks so what do I know?).

Anydangway, Byron Falls is a small town with a lot of supernatural creatures, and also clever, pretty, witty girls, who are supposed to be the PCs, except that the rule about everyone playing girls was apparently dropped.

Starting off, we need a name, which has a secret symbolic meaning that only a few people will figure out. I think I want my character to be the bored scion, latest issue in a long line of Byron Falls-ians. In fact, hell, his family name is Byron (what, you thought it was named after the poet? Ha. It's named after my great-great-great-grandfather). His first name is Perry.

Now I get Interests. These are stats, basically. I get 3 points, but there are five Interests, so most of them are gonna be zero. I'll put one into Sports, one into Drama and one into Detention (which gives me like a 50/50 in anything I'm doing, which is meh, but whatever, I see Perry as kind of smirky and half-hearted in general).

Now, Friends. I get 10 points, and I can have at most 5 friends. No one friend can have more than 5 points. These can be NPCs or PCs, but since it's just me they'll all be PCs.

OK, so, my sister, Liz Byron, gets four points. She's a year older than Perry. They used to be closer than they are now, but she's drifting away now she's getting older and on the swim team and so on.

Bailey Bonner gets three points. He's a delinquent - in detention all the time. He also sells Perry pills sometimes. He has deep, soulful eyes, which Perry swears he's never noticed.

Finally, for three points, we've got Sera Raist. The Raist family has been close to the Byron family forever, and Sera and Perry were childhood friends. Sera spent last year studying abroad, but she's back in Byron Falls for high school.

Now I need an Enemy. The book tells me this should be another PC (anything else would be "wimpy") but a) I disagree and b) I don't have any other PCs anyway. Perry's enemy is Trisha Geistmann. Trish and Perry were friends in grade school, but Perry finds her clingy and coarse.

I list my Grade as freshman (it says "class" on the sheet, but whatevs) and that's actually it! Oh, I get 10 Soul Points, which I can use to succeed on rolls, but if I lose them all I die. Maybe. Maybe become a monster. It's all very loosey-goosey.

Anyway, that's me done!

Game prep! Oh, myyyy!

Back at the table and high on life. Let's prep some games!

I don't have a lot of philosophical blather this time, so I will instead link this poem I recorded over on Soundcloud. It's "The Hangman" by Maurice Ogden, it's one of my favorite poems, and I felt it was kinda topical. I linked it before, but I'm just filling space now so that my players don't click on this and see something they shouldn't.

Good? Good. On we go.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Feng Shui: Dimly Hazily Recollected Memories of Monday

Monday was Feng Shui and I really, really did intend to do the write-up on Tuesday, but then I flew to Oklahoma and spent much of my free time redlining a Beast book, so it didn't get done. So here we are.

The Dragons, having bested Errol and his Cheerful Chimps and battle, decided to join forces with them and head into the trees to take on Thrill Kill Mandrill and his peeps. Errol warns them that fortress is well-guarded, but that he and his Chimps will help. They come upon a suspicious-looking clearing and Johnny, ever the master of stealth, strides in confidently and declares his presences.

Whereupon a hail of arrows, bullets, and rocks come flying at Johnny. He isn't harmed (because mooks), but the battle is joined.

This battle is mostly mook-monkeys, but since they're all attacking at a distance, whenever they attack, they attack in a volley and someone gets hurt. Tang and Wildfire take some shots to the torso from arrows, Bai leaps up into trees and starts kicking monkeys out - and also mixes it up with Albrect, a huge gibbon with a swatch of white fur, who swings around on vines and mimics the style of who he's fighting (monkey see, monkey do!).

The characters, aided by some off-screen arrows from Errol, defeat the monkeys (though Albrecht escapes). Regrouping, Errol tells them that once they pass the second marker, the Cheerful Chimps can no longer help. He shows them a Simian Army tattoo and claims that an explosive underneath it will detonate if he crosses the second marker. Tang doesn't necessarily buy it, but they part ways (and he gives Johnny a bow and some arrows).

The Dragons approach the second marker, and now they're in the ruins of Hong Kong - they recognize this block. They're near Genomic Solutions, where they fought Thrill Kill Mandrill way back here. The Dragons, in the trees, look across to see monkeys on buildings, monkeys in the streets - man, so many monkeys. They note, in particular, a huge silverback gorilla who looks like a badass...and Drunky Monkey (Bai's lip curls with hatred).

Celeste, figuring that it's better to get the drop on them, shoots one, misses, and everything goes whack-a-ding-hoy.

The monkeys attack, launching arrows and bullets at the Dragons, and Wildfire is the only one who's healed up. The Dragons also don't have much in the way of distance attacks (Celeste has her gun, sure, but that's about it). Bai leaps into the fray and engages with Drunky Monkey, leading to this delightful back-and-forth where he stabbed Bai, Bai pulls the knife out of his own shoulder and stabs Drunky, who screeches, pulls out the knife, and stabs Bai back.

Wildfire jumps down from the tree and engages Silverback, only to take a whack to the knee from Slugger-angutan and his huge club. Meanwhile, Sneaky Monkey, a tiny colobus with a sharp sword, creeps down and stabs Wildfire, but Johnny enters the fray and locks up with monkey (and Sneaky just can't get a shot in on Johnny to save his life).

Tang teleports in to help Wildfire with the gorilla, but then the other major player in this fight show himself: Bab-BOOM! Bab-boom is a baboon with a grenade launcher and a total lack of regard for his friends, and he damages a lot of the Dragons throwing explosives around. In particular, he blows Tang through a wall and straight out of the fight (the player, playing the odds for once in his life, elected to stay down rather than risk multiple Marks of Death).

Noting that the Dragons were slowly whittling through the mooks and damaging the leaders, though, the monkeys elected to run. Silverback, Sneaky, Drunky, and Bab-boom fled successfully, but Wildfire caught Slugger and tore out his throat. The Dragons helped Tang to his feet; he was stunned, but alive.

But in the distance, over the main building, they saw a storming brewing up, and Bai sensed evil sorcery. What business are those monkeys doing!?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feng Shui Prep

So, here's where I blather a bit I get into the meat of things. I don't honestly have much to say because I basically burned myself out making that character for that bloody awful game. Is that enough blather? I think perhaps it is.

(Seriously, I would normally talk about why the level of granularity that would lead one to make a skill called "Well-Digging" is a bad thing, but a) I think it's kind of obvious and b) I don't have the wherewithal.)

Character Creation: Tales of WynD'mere

Once more into the breach, dear friends. If I can get one character a week done, assuming I don't buy any more RPGs (ha), I'll be done with this project in just shy of five years. (That's actually less than I'd have thought, though of course I've only done 21 characters this year, which is pretty pathetic. Maybe I can make up the difference over Xmas break. LOL.)

The Game: Tales of WynD'mere
The Publisher: Shield of Faith Studios
Degree of Familiarity: None. I'm reading it as I go, but it's not showing me anything new.
Books Required: Just the one.

Tales of WynD'mere is a high fantasy game, but it suffers from the same problem a lot of fantasy games do: It doesn't have a reason to exist beyond "D&D doesn't quite scratch the designer's itch anymore."

The game talks about...well, have a look (I can't c/p because they fucking disabled that in the PDF):'s an RPG? Like, none of that speaks to theme or interesting setting or anything. It's just "you've got options, man!" Well, yeah, this is true of literally every other RPG ever.

Anyway, this game came out in 2001, which was the same year I got hired by White Wolf, so I guess I can't be upset that it reads like an old game. I have this weird blind spot where if a game's on PDF I keep thinking it's current. Obviously this is not the case.

So, character creation proceeds in six steps. What I find interesting, though, is this:

Basically instead of defining a starting character by level, we're defining the character by heritage or formative events. I mean, sure, this is how Fate works, so it's not exactly groundbreaking now, but again, 2001 game. Plus I like lifepaths, so maybe this won't be terrible.

Well, Step One is primary stats. There are (good lord) 12 of them, and I get (holy cats) 200 points to divvy up. Of note: This is a percentile system, which means that anything below 50 is going to suck in play, no matter what the book says is "average."

But on we go! And since we're putting stats before lifepaths (Life Aspects, I guess), it's hard to do concept. I really like playing magic users in fantasy settings, so probably that's what I'll wind up doing.

Will Power (why two words? Dunno!)

A lot of overlap there, I think. Reflexes is "instinctive reaction speed" while Coordination is "hand-eye coordination." I dunno. Seems redundant. Anyway, I've been watching Voltron of late and I enjoy how Hunk is big and beefy but isn't dumb, he's actually very technically adept. I'm interested to know if I can make a slow, strong, steady magic-user. Dividing my points evenly puts them at 16 each with 8 left over, just for reference.

So let's say:
Strength 20, Reflexes 10, Coordination 10, Endurance 18, Health 17, Judgement 19, Perception 15, Empathy 21 (it includes supernatural perception), Will Power 20, Memory 12, Presence 18, Grace 20. Sounds good.

Now Life Aspects. I get one Background, two Major, and three Minor, but they're drawn from some of the same pools (it's not well presented, so this may take me a minute).

OK, so the aspects have different benefits depending on whether you take them as major or minor, and Background (which is where you spent your youth/adolescence) counts a major. Got it. I see my dude as being a man of the land, so I'll take Rural Upbringing as his Background aspect. That means I get 100 Skills Points to the Domestic, Rural skill list (I am already dreading Skills), 15 to the Huntsman skill list, and 80 to any mix of Domestic, Rural, Laborer, Smithing, and Woodworking. Okies.

Now for the Majors. Feels like I should do magic here. Oh, actually, before I do that I'll take Guild Training as a Major Aspect. I think it makes sense that my dude did some work with his hands back on the farm, and then got into an apprenticeship to better his fortunes. So that gives me 150 skill points to one of: Apothecary, Artisan, Laborer, Performance, Physician, Smithing, or Woodworking. And then 30 more points in one of those lists, and then 15 points in General Education.

Magical Studies has several sub-paths to choose from. I think Enchantment makes the most sense, though I'm also intrigued by Summoning (maybe for a Minor Aspect). I get 30 Skill Points to Mana Gathering, 10 to Magical Conflict Reaction, 25 to Read/Write Magical Glyphs, 130 to Animation, Boons, Curses or Ensorcellment, and then 65 to spend on any of those or Alchemy, Artificer, or Sage. I'll say one thing, you can't say this game doesn't give you options.

Right, now three Minor Paths. I think I do want Summoning. That gives me 15 to Mana Gathering, 25 to Read/Write Magical Glyphs, 50 to Object, Creature, or Demonic, and 30 to those or Artificer, Alchemy, or Sage.

I feel like I should have something combat-related, here. I'll take Hunter/Gatherer as a Minor Aspect. That gives me 15 to Melee Conflict Reaction, 50 to Huntsman, and 30 to Huntsman, Scout, Weapons (Commoner) or Wilderness Survival.

Last one. How about Combat Sorcery? That gives me 15 to Mana Gathering, 25 to Read/Write Magical Glyphs, 50 to Elemental Combat, Warcraft, or Psychic Combat, and 30 to those or Artificer, Alchemy, or Sage.

Oof. OK, now what? Secondary Stats. I assume there's nothing in other traits that'll change these (ha). I do all the math (and holy shit, there is no consistency to these formulae), and the only one I'm missing is base damage because it's a class, not a number, and I have to look it up. Blearhg.

OK, now Skills & Spells! I am really hoping this is going to be easier than I think. LOL NOPE. We've got this stupid "spend X to buy the base skill, then spend Y to raise it" going on. WHY WHY WHY ok let's do this. Some of the things I get from Life Aspects are Skills (like Read/Write Magic Glyphs) and some are Skill lists (most of them). So I'll fill in the skills first and then figure out the paths.

Not as many as I'd have liked. Let's figure out one Skill, then I've gotta go shopping. Right now I've got 75 in Read/Write Magical Glyphs. Assuming I won't put any more points into it (I won't), I spend 30 to buy it at the base level (Memory x 3, or 36) and then it's 6 more per 1 point I raise it. JESUS CHRIST. I can raise it another 7.5 points; assuming fractions fall away, that puts my score at 37. That's pathetic.

Anyway. I've been gone for a few hours shopping, but you didn't notice because that's how text works. Why do I always seem to pick these long-ass chargen systems when I have other things to do? Probably because I always have other things to do. Ah, well.

So Mana Gathering. I have 60 points right now to dump in. I get base for 25 (which is 20) plus another 7. 27. Ugh. Well, I have a shitload of other points I could dump in there. Or I could just say fuck it and speed this up. Yeah, that one.

Melee Conflict Reaction: Same drill. Ha! I can't even buy it, the base cost is 20 and I only have 15. Nice going, guys. Moving on. Domestic, Rural. I have 100 points and then possibly 80 more that I could use.

THERE IS A SKILL FOR WELL-DIGGING. WHAT. IS. NO. Fuck it, I'm taking it. I take Butchery, Cooking, Agriculture, and Animal Handling, too. I bump my skill in Animal Handing up to 59 because I think it'll be what I'd actually roll, but really who the fuck knows.

You know what? Let's list what I have left to do:

Huntsman 65
Domestic, Rural, Laborer, Smithing, or Woodworking: 80
Apothecary, Artisan, Laborer, Performance, Physician, Smithing, or Woodworking: 180
Gen Ed: 15
30 to Huntsman, Scout, Weapons (Commoner) or Wilderness Survival

JFC. OK. I seriously need to finish this and do my game prep for tomorrow.

So, Huntsman: Skinning Lore costs 10, Tracking costs 20 and I'll dump the rest of my points into that, plus one from the other thing, and put it up to 32. Let's check Woodworking. The only one that makes sense is Carpentry, so I'll just put all my points there, which puts me to 55, making me a fairly skilled carpenter.

I regret ever doing this character. I regret buying this game. It came with the Haiti bundle. Next time, may the earthquake strike WynD'mere instead.

Ahem. Moving on. I have OH FUCK ME 180 points in various things. Fine, let's get this over with. I know there's nothing else in Woodworking I want, so how about Laborer? No, not really. Apothecary? Eh. Artisan? Oh, here we go. Tanner fits in with my other skills, as does Tailor. I'll take those two and split the other 150 points among them. I'm a pretty skilled tanner, too.

Gen Ed: I only have 15, which is enough to buy a base but not increase the score. Fine, I speak a language. I'll leave it blank; if I had a group, I'd pick whatever language was most useful but then, if I had a group that wanted to play this I'd kill them out of mercy and put their bodies in my crawl space.

Finally, I have 29 more points for that last group. I'll take Bola because I need a weapon, and up it by 5 whole points with the remainder. Yay.

Oh, fuck me, I need to do magic. OMG I hate everything. 130 to Animation, Boons, Curses or Ensorcellment, and then 65 to spend on any of those or Alchemy, Artificer, or Sage. 50 to Object, Creature, or Demonic, and 30 to those or Artificer, Alchemy, or Sage. 50 to Elemental Combat, Warcraft, or Psychic Combat, and 30 to those or Artificer, Alchemy, or Sage. Let's see how this works!

Spoiler: Same way as for skills, basically. I think I want Animation to be my main focus for magic. I'll take Chaotic Movement (a 20-lb thing flies about randomly) and Directed Movement (a 20-lb thing flies where I tell it). The bases cost me 35 from my 130, giving me a base score of 27, which sucks. Let's see. 47 points into Chaotic ups my score by 15, and 48 into Directed ups the score by 12. FINE. Oh, wait, got 50 more. I'll take Autonomous Movement, just because the math is easy. That's Enchantment, then.

Summoning! I can't decide if it makes more sense for him to conjure objects or animals. I'm good with both. I think I'll go with objects; I think he feels weird about summoning animals and then skinning them. So Conjure Crafted Materials costs 25 for the base, and then 55 more points translates to a score of 38.

Finally, Combat Sorcery. Elemental Combat seems like my jam, here. I'll take Elemental Blast and Elemental Wall (and say it's Stone for both of them). 50 buys me the bases, and then 15 each buys me up to an even 30 for each score.

Now I do Fortes and Failings. I get 5 Goody Points to buy Fortes. I am not making this up and I hate everything about it. Normally I take flaws for more points, but I am not doing that here. I'll take Robust Physique (more Body Points and a higher Wound Threshold) and Minimalist (I get by with minimal sleep and food).

Last step is a history and a name. Normally at this point I would read a bit about the setting and tie my character in, but I just don't care. Seriously, I have made characters for some shitty games, but very few suck the fun out of chargen like this one.

OK, but I approach chargen as earnestly as I can. So. This guy's name is Hrundle. Hrundle was the son of a farmer - his family raised cattle and sold meat, hide, and milk. But Hrundle had a clever mind for carpentry, too, and after he redesigned the barns to fit more cows during milking season, a nearby family suggested he go and become an apprentice carpenter. Hrundle learned how to build things and got an offer to join a caravan traveling to a city, and figuring he could send money home to his family, he joined up.

One of the other folks traveling with him was a very powerful mage, and recognized some potential in Hrundle. He started teaching Hrundle how to infuse magic into the world, and Hrundle feels pretty good about his learning so far; eventually he wants to learn how to make magical items, but so far his infusing is pretty basic (just making things move or appear).

Sounds good. Fun character to play in a better game.

Nobilis: The Conclusion

Yesterday was the final session of our Nobilis game! First, some thoughts (and I want to make clear that my problems with this game aren't problems with +Travis as a GM; he's lovely).

So, anyone who's played it or read it knows that Nobilis is weird (and to be clear, we're talking Great White Book here). It's diceless, but there's still a system and it's actually pretty intricate. Not a single word in that book is wasted, and is so different in structure from most RPGs that it takes a bit to get your brain around.

With all of that said, I was expecting it to be a little more like some of the other narrative games I've played, where players take on a bit more of the heavy lifting as far as guiding the action. And that happened, but it did feel like when push came to shove, the characters, despite being gods, weren't as effective or impressive or awesome (in the literal sense) as I was expecting.

Now, that may have been a function of what we were gods of. It's not like we had storms, war, love, and alcohol going on, here. We were the Powers of Blankets, Cephalopods, Independent Film, and Lavender, so it was always going to be subtle. Even so, I kind of felt like the action was a little understated given the game's premise.

That isn't to say it wasn't fun; especially this last session I enjoyed gaming on a more philosophical level. I'm happy, however, to be running Feng Shui on Monday because I do feel like punching some monkeys might be a nice palate cleanser.

Now then! Last time, having split open a goat and discover that we'd smothered a man and a butterfly with a blanket (this game is so goddamn weird), we split up, searching amidst the World Tree for a clue as to where the missing Shard of Rejuvenation might have gotten to.

Woolaroo went to Hell. No, seriously, she went to the Chancel of Indus, and wound up talking to Benjamin Brisco, Power of...Arms Dealers, I think? He wasn't immediately interested in helping (he made her an offer involving blankets and refugees, but she wasn't interested in killing a lot of people), and he suggested she talk with Radix, the Power of Greed.

She found Radix on the roof of the building. He was an immense gold dragon on a pile of riches. Of course, being Greed he wasn't going to do anything for free, but Woolaroo stretched out and covered him, but then retracted so a bit of him was always cold. He agreed to share information in order to have comfort, and told her that the Shard of Rejuvenation was in Ananda's realm.

Countess, meanwhile, swam into the dark, deep places, where the crawling things that predate humanity dwelled. She found a ship swarming with things eating the dead, and inside talked with Captain Barren, with emptiness for eyes and a lamprey's mouth. He directed her to the Power of Regret, who could tell her exactly where the Shard was, though she'd regret asking. The old lady told her, but Countess immediately felt bad for knowing - knowing it would come to naught.

Tommy figured they needed data, so he rode the information streams up to a sea of information, and spoke with the Power of Honesty. Tommy reflected on whether allowing existence to continue would really be the most satisfying conclusion to all of this, but decided that having everything peter out and become nothing was a little Von Triers for his taste. The Power of Honesty then directed him to Cody McAllister, the Power of Big Data, who knew almost everything. Cody told Tommy that the Shard was in the possession of Quisome, the Deceiver, an Excrucian. "Thought we killed that guy," Tommy mused. Cody told him to follow that doubt, it would lead to the Shard.

Isabel, meanwhile, sought out the most lush regions she could and found Sunflower, the Power of Radical Acceptance. She stayed there for a time, being a goat more than anything, realized that there was something the Quisome hadn't thought of in his plan. She couldn't focus on what that was, though, so she just remembered it, and the Familia met back up in Erewhon.

They first checked the realm where they'd killed the man and the butterfly; Tommy felt that the "note in the goat's liver" thing had been a bit too pat to be true. But the Imperator was, in fact, dead - the Familia realized that they killed the Imperator but not the Excrucian (which made Woolaroo feel a little bad). They knew from Radix that the Shard was in the Cityback, so they traveled there through a dressed room at the Gap in Seattle, made their way past roving hordes of shopping carts and mannequins, until they found Quisome himself, sitting outside a 7-11, sipping a cherry Slushee and holding the Shard of Rejuvenation like it was a basketball.

Tommy asked what the budget was like - was this going to be a Matrix-like final battle or more "talk the bad guy down" kind of thing? The bureaucrats of Cityback informed him that it was very much the latter, so they started talking. Quisome figured that by holding this Shard, he could run out the clock; either Lord Entropy would stick to his nature and refuse to concede, and everything would wind down and not rejuvenate, or Entropy would concede, thus going against his nature, and Quisome could destroy him. The Familia tried to talk him out of this, but his hatred for existence was just as endemic to him as, like, being pretentious was to Tommy.

Stuck for ideas, Tommy went into the 7-11 to get a Slushee and wound up talking to Martwon, the young filmmaker he'd met on Erewhon back when all this started. They talked about Ghost Dog and how Forrest Whitaker had gone from taking easy roles as thugs and cops to the much more challenging and nuanced role in Ghost Dog, and talked about how it was sometimes hard to the see the big picture.

Tommy went back out and pursued this line of thought a bit, and then Isabel figured it - and stopped thinking. She went full-on goat. Quisome become disturbed; without thought there was no doubt. Isabel, meanwhile, ate the Shard, and Quisome realized it and hurled his Slushee.

Tommy got in the way and the Slushee started to freeze him, but Woolaroo wrapped herself around him and warmed him up again. Countess grabbed Isabel up in her tentacles and started heading back to Erewhon, and Quisome stomped off into Cityback, confused and annoyed.

The Powers took the Shard into Zhuangzi's Realm and rejuvenated him (and his butterfly), and his Familia headed home, which is just as well, as Hugh tends to attract bears. They returned the Shard to Indra, and she retook her position as the Power of Rejuvenation.

So creation is saved! You're welcome.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Movie #379: Madagascar

Madagascar is an animated film from Dreamworks starring Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, and Andy Richter.

Marty the Zebra (Rock) lives in the New York City Zoo with his friends Gloria the Hippo (Pinkett Smith), Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer) and Alex the Lion (Stiller). Though he's spoiled and pampered, he dreams of being able to run free in the wild. Through a series of wacky events, he and his friends wind up getting shipped from the zoo to a wildlife preserve in Kenya, but en route four highly capable penguins hijack the boat and they wind up getting dumped in Madagascar.

Surrounded by lemurs (led by the bombastic King Julien, voiced by Baron Cohen), they try to get back to civilization, but they run into problems when the realized that Alex, who is used to getting steak for dinner, still needs to eat...and zebra looks mighty tasty.

This movie falls into the same problem that a lot of DreamWorks movies do, and it's what makes them less successful (from a storytelling perspective) than Pixar: They rely on other movies to make a lot of their jokes. For example: Inside Out contains a few references to other properties ("Forget it, Jake. It's Cloudtown"), but even if you have no idea what they are (as most of the audience doesn't), the movie stands up on its own because the characters are strong, the concept works, and the story gets you invested. Madagascar, meanwhile, while it's not a bad movie, doesn't have the same hooks. It has far too many characters, it relies too much on allusion (Planet of the Apes, Chariots of Fire, for crying out loud).

Now, with that said, the cast has nice chemistry, and they do a good job of conveying that these are city animals, naive and unversed in the ways of Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. The dialog contains a lot of little understated jokes, if you listen (a lot of them from Baron Cohen), and the penguins are a lot of fun to watch.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high, it's pretty mindless, though it does tend to get "I Like to Move It" stuck in your head

Next up: Magic Mike

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Movie #378: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth installment in the Mad Max series, but don't let that fool you. It starts Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keogh, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton. And it's completely fucking amazing.

So, we're in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and following Max (Hardy), a wanderer grappling with visions of people he failed to protect. He's captured by the Warboys, the cult-like servants of Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne), who rules his own scrap of wasteland by controlling access to water. Max is promptly plopped on the front of the car belonging to a Warboy named Nux (Hoult) as they go chasing across the desert after Imperator Furiosa (Theron), who has taken Joe's wives with her in order to free them.

The movie is effectively one long car chase. The action scenes are phenomenal, and mostly done with practical effects. The acting is amazing and minimalist; I've mentioned before how much it impresses me when actors have to convey a character with very little dialog, and just about everybody here, because especially Hardy and Theron, do exactly that.

And then there's the world-building, oh my goodness gracious. How often do you get a sci-fi movie that trusts the audience, doesn't bury you in exposition, and just shows rather than tells? The effect of that is that the world seems rich and real, but the secondary effect is that upon repeated viewing you see just how layered everything really is.

And then there's the fact that Max is our POV character, but it's really Furiosa's story; she gets the character arc (so does Nux, but he doesn't survive), she gets to be badass onscreen, and she's unquestionably going to be the leader at the end when all is said and done. And we've got the five wives of Immortan Joe who each have their own personality, look, and moment of being amazing, all while they're insisting "no unnecessary killing."

I have literally nothing negative to say about this movie. It's one of my favorites of all time and one of the best to come out in years.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Madagascar

East Texas University: The Beginning Commences

Monday was our first session of East Texas University. Meet the characters!

  • Josh Jacobs (played by Glen): Josh is a theater major, most interested in tech. He's also got an annoying roommate who hasn't shown up yet; note for next time.
  • Dante Cervantes (played by Toasty): Dante isn't even supposed to be here today is a military science major, and is therefore in ROTC. He's spending more time than is probably wise partying just now. 
  • Tallulah "Lula" Rae Sawyer (played by Sarah): Lula is a "nontraditional" student; in her late 20s, she was an accountant and then decided to go back to school for fashion design. She's in the dorms because she missed the deadline to fill out the "I'm too old for this shit" form.
  • Doug Olson (played by Matt): Doug is a computer science major and skilled hacker. He's also calm in the face of danger, but that didn't come up much (nor did his Trouble Magnet Hindrance, because I forgot about it). 
So! We open on a Wednesday afternoon. The students know that this Friday, there's a concert out at Lake Kestrall starring Low Shoulder. Doug is going because what the heck, it's a social thing, and he wants to be better at that. Lula is working the merch table (a friend of hers wants to bang the lead singer and she got volun-told). Josh is going for the fun of it, and Dante is going because his crush Christy asked him. 

This Wednesday, though, the students are in class, except for Dante, who has managed to arrange his schedule to be free in the middle of the week (which is perhaps the most unrealistic thing about this game). He hears from a classmate that one of the campus Christian organizations tried to get Low Shoulder's concert campus, but that they'd already gotten a permit and all was above-board. Lula is in Color Theory, and chats with her classmate. She hears that the lead singer of Low Shoulder, Nikolai Wolfe, is on campus hanging out, probably trying to get laid (said classmate makes it clear that she is d, as they say, tf). Doug is in a programming class, but it's being taught by the TA instead of the prof. He later learns that the prof's office was broken into, and the prof sent the TA to deal with the class while he cleaned up and talked to campus security.

Josh is in a theater tech class, and gets asked where a couple of lights are - they weren't signed out properly. He doesn't know, and asks his classmate Andy, who reacts suspiciously but denies knowledge.

Later on, the characters find themselves in the lounge on the fifth floor of the dorm (their common area). Doug is clicking away on his computer, working on his homework. Josh, likewise, is fixing a fog machine, and Lula is working on her homework. Dante is asleep on the couch (and taking up the whole damn thing, thanks). A student walks by playing "Through the Trees" on his phone, which annoys the characters and wakes Dante. They wind up chatting about life, sniping at each other, and basically being college kids. 

Josh finishes his fog machine and turns it on to test it. It works...but then the power goes out in the building. The characters are stunned, and then hear a wear noise from outside. Looking out the window, they see that the sky is full of birds, all flocking east, blocking out the setting sun. 

Creeped out a bit, they decide that sitting in the dark is no fun. Dante goes to take a shower (he's been doing gardening work on campus), but the others decide to walk with Josh as he goes to return the fog machine to the theater department. They find the Low Shoulder van in the parking lot, and the drummer talking to Andy. They stop talking as the characters approach, and Andy is again skittish. Going inside, Josh drops off the fog machine, and sees a teacher rummaging around in his office. He asks what's up, and the teacher asks if he's seen his sketchbook. Josh hasn't, but reflects on the teacher's offices being broken into. The three of them (Lula, Josh, and Doug) go to grab tacos.

Meanwhile, Dante showers in the dark. As he finishes, his candle goes out, and he hears someone enter and go into the next stall. He hears half a whispered conversation, and the person speaking says that he'll "hit the sociology building tonight." Figuring that he might have just heard the person who's been ransacking teacher offices planning, he gets dressed and meets up with the others. They decide to stake out the building - what the heck, right?

They arrive and Dante goes in, while the others wait outside. He catches someone jimmying the door to a prof's office with a crowbar and smacks him. The dude runs, but Josh tackles him outside and the others call campus security. The security guard shows up (and flirts with Lula a bit), and then zip-ties the offender and drives off with him, turning up the radio, which is playing "Through the Trees." 

Next time, we shall meet Josh's roommate and perhaps magnetize some trouble for Doug!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Movie #377: Machete

Machete is an action/exploitation movie directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, and Robert DeNiro. It came out of a fake trailer created for Grindhouse, and we're all richer for it.

Machete Cortez (Trejo) is a Mexican federal agent who is betrayed by his government, who are in cahoots with a drug lord named Torrez (Seagal). He escapes to the US, where he works as a day laborer until he is tapped by middleman Booth (Fahey) to assassinate the incumbent senator McLaughlin (DeNiro). This turns out to be a false flag, and Machete is hunted by Booth's minions. He eventually teams up with immigration officer Sartana (Alba), undocumented ally Luz (Rodriguez), his priest brother (Marin), and a whole bunch of pissed-off Mexicans and allies to take on a hoard of vigilante nationalists led by Von (Johnson).

I really like this movie. It's absurdly violent and over the top, and you can just see Rodriguez (the director, that is) wondering "OK, how can we make this even crazier?" Trejo is nicely subdued and even funny as Machete; he has probably a dozen lines in the movie but he brings some gravitas to the role (and, of course, looks menacing and badass because he's Danny fuckin' Trejo). Lindsay Lohan gets to show up and be naked and drug-addled, which is fun, and DeNiro's corrupt senator talks about building a fence along the Southern US border, which is...actually a little too real right now.

The movie is filmed like a grindhouse flick, so it's got visual trash and crunch sound and all the hallmarks of a low-budget movie, plus vagina-phones and decapitations and disemboweling. It's gloriously simple and laden with stupid catchphrases, and yet it shows people willing to stand up and fight for each other, which of course is always something I enjoy.

Oh, and, one of my favorite moments in the movie: The security guard who, upon seeing Machete, promptly decides to quit, hand over his gun, and fuck off. More mooks should be so smart.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High, unless you're squeamish about intestine ropes

Next up: Mad Max: Fury Road

Movie #376: Love Potion #9

Love Potion #9 is a rom-com starring Tate Donovan, Sandra Bullock, Dale Midkiff, Adrian Paul, Mary Mara, and Dylan Baker. It's written and directed by Dale Launer, who also wrote My Cousin Vinny and a bunch of other comedies that are really good. It's also problematic as hell.

Paul (Donovan) is a scientist who has something of a crush on his co-worker, Diane (Bullock). He generally doesn't have a lot of luck with women, because he's something of a nerd (and nerds, as we know, are incapable of talking to women but are really nice guys). He visits a "gypsy" fortune teller (Anne Bancroft) who gives him a thick, red potion and tells him to dilute it, swallow some, and then women will find him fascinating.

Paul treats this like a scientist; he ropes Diane into the experiment and they discover that, yes, while using the potion, speaking forces members of the opposite sex to fall in love with them because [scientific mumbo jumbo]. Diane uses the potion to get out of a traffic ticket, fix her insurance, and then kind of winds up falling into relationships with a rich car magnate (Paul) and the Prince of England (Baker). Paul, for his part, uses the potion to, not to put too fine a point on it, rape a lot of women.

Like I said, this movie is problematic as shit. Let's talk about that.

The potion forces someone to fall in love (it only works on people of the opposite sex, including on people who are not normally attracted to people of the user's gender; Diane uses it on a gay man during the movie and it works on him, which is weird and gross, but actually the least of our problems here). While under the effects of the potion, the victim believes the best about the user and will do anything for them. The limits of this aren't tested, but victims are shown to be willing to end relationships, give away prized possessions, and otherwise obey orders even if they're in committed relationships elsewhere.

Now, Paul, when he first gets access to the potion, goes on a fucking spree (as in, a spree of fucking). He uses the potion on any woman he fancies, and then, we're led to believe, bangs them and leaves them. The potion only lasts four hours, but we're not shown the state of mind of any of his victims after it wears off. This is relevant, because Paul and Diane fall in love, but then Diane gets back together with her old fuck-buddy (Midkiff), who is turns out is using the potion to control her. Paul somehow misses that this might be happening until the potion is used on him by a prostitute (Mara), and then he figures it out, goes back to the gypsy, gets his hands on love potion #9 (the rape-potion is actually #8), and uses it to counteract #8 and live happy ever etc with Diane.

But here are my problems: First, Paul is never shown sparing a thought to any of the women he victimized. Sure, while under the potion they don't know anything's wrong, but especially after he realizes how powerful the potion is, he should have had a moment of "holy shit, I'm a monster" and done something to atone. Second, Diane never has a similar realization and takes Paul to task, or feels any kind of guilt for the men she's manipulated (though it's very much in keeping with the tone of this movie that female-on-male rape isn't even considered as a possibility, and the men on the potion are used for money and favors rather than sex. As an aside, I did like the Diane had a fuck-buddy, though I wish she'd been OK with that relationship being what it was rather than being under the thumb of a dickhead). Third, why does Gary (the aforementioned dickhead, Midkiff's character) care so much about marrying Diane? What can she offer him that he's willing to tie his life to hers, even in just a legal sense, and keep her functionally enslaved for the rest of her life? Sure, you might argue he just wants a slave, but he could literally have any woman. Doing it to Diane seems like a weird choice on further reflection.

Anyway. That's not even touching on why both leads look kind of dorky and disheveled, but clean up and become beautiful after using the potion to manipulate/rape people for a while.

Launer does some really good work, but this one, he kind of needs a bucket of cold water in the face for.

My grade: F
Rewatch value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Machete

Friday, November 11, 2016

Game Prep: East Texas University

Today was day one of Con on the Cob, but we didn't stay past booth-closing time. We'll be there this weekend, but we were tired and Michelle had dissertation momentum, and I really wanted to clean off my table.

You know, spoon conservation sucks. I can look forward to POTS hitting me once a day, give or take. Sometimes it's bad enough that it knocks me flat for the rest of the night (like, if I do something stupid like eat fast food). Sometimes I just need a Gatorade and a little rest. Sometimes I'm smart enough to get up and walk around and curtail it, but then sometimes something stresses me out (hint: this week has been somewhat stressful) and there's not much to be done, there. All this to say that last week, when I was scheduled to run Feng Shui the Monday after getting home from Metatopia, a large part of why I decided I didn't have the spoons was because the table wasn't cleared off. I could have run the game, cleared the table, prepped the game, made dinner...but not all four.

As such, I have to do things when I have the spoons to do them. Tonight, I could have stayed at the con, but I have to stay later on Saturday, I'm likely to be tired on Sunday, and I'd like to stay later tomorrow. And so here we are: using my spoons tonight to clear the table off and do game prep for Monday, because I'm buggered if I'm canceling again.

Probably that's enough filler so that my players won't casually see big secrets as they're browsing G+, if any of them do that.