Monday, May 30, 2016

Character Creation: Unwritten

Got a little time before my players get here to play Chill, chili's in the crock pot, why not?

The Game: Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of MYST and Beyond
The Publisher: Inkworks Productions
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I've run it once, and it uses Fate, which I'm pretty familiar with.
Books Required: Just the one.

I played MYST once years ago, but there's a whole expanded universe that I'm now, like, slightly more familiar with. I just wrote a review of the game for RPG.net, and it'll be up in a couple of days, but it's pretty favorable - I like this game a lot.

Now, if we were actually playing a game of Unwritten, I would be creating a whole framework with my other players. Since it's just me, however, I'll just assume the same framework that we used when we played the game recently (though not necessarily the stuff specific to what we did). In order to make a character, I start, as usual, with a concept.

Well, if I were playing this game, I'd want to spend my time going through different Ages and chronicling things. Rather than playing an naturalist, though, I think I want to play someone who's obsessed with Yeesha (one of the important figures of the setting; she could do things with Writing that no one else could). My character is writing The Chronicle of Yeesha, and is convinced that by following her journey through a particular set of Ages, he can unlock her messianic message for the world. He's also superstitious about learning any Writing - he's happy to use Linking Books, but he doesn't believe he's worthy to go making Descriptive Books himself (that, I think, would be a fun character arc).

So my High Concept is "Chronicler of Yeesha." His name is Leslie Ruck.

Now I do my Journey. This would involve picking two prompts from a "steps along your path" list (formative experiences) and two from a "crossing paths" list (dealing with other PCs), but given that I have no PCs, I'll just have to make up other characters, I s'pose. And then there's an Aspect attached to each one.

Well, for the my steps bits, the obvious one is that he believes, above all else, that Yeesha can save the world. He believes that Yeesha's journey throughout the Ages was a pilgrimage, but he also believes that figuring out where she ended up won't help - the journey is just as important. I think this all came about the first time he went adventuring in an Age. He Linked into an Age called Hystek; it was dark and underground and at first he thought he was still in D'ni somewhere. And then he found it - a huge mural, carved (and signed!) by Yeesha. He copied it into his book, and that's what he references whenever he gets stuck. I think that book makes for a decent Aspect, so I'll take "My Magnum Opus, the Chronicle" as my first Journey Aspect.

Since I want Leslie to be experienced and enthused about jumping from Age to Age, I'll describe another Age he visited and what happened there. He visited an Age called Plateau, which, when he got there, was just a featureless expanse - no puzzles, no life, no nothing. And then he kept walking, for days and days, and reached the edge. The bit that he Linked to was the dead center of an immense plateau (hence the name), and over the edge was a pulley and lift that lowered him down into a lush jungle with amazing, vibrant plant life and plentiful food. This taught Leslie that if someone went to the trouble of making a Linking Book, there's something there to see. The Aspect is "Every Age Has Wonders."

Now I need a couple more Aspects. I could make up other characters to have Leslie have crossed paths with, but eh. I have a pretty good sense of his personality.

Well, he's definitely fit and clever, because he goes traipsing off into Ages alone. And he was willing to walk for days rather than Linking home, so he's dedicated as heck. I'll take Just A Little Further to represent his stamina and perseverance. Finally, I picture Leslie as being rootless. He owns very little, seldom stays in one place for long, and though he returns to D'ni often, it's mostly just to plot his next move. I'll make that Aspect You Own Nothing You Can't Carry.

Now, Skills! I get one at Great, two at Good, three at Fair, and four at Adequate. Well, Surveying is unquestionably my Great Skill. My Goods are Athletics and...hmm. My gut says Survival. That's probably wise.

My Fairs are Research (gotta learn about those Ages first!), Rapport (he's personable) and Craft. His Adequates are Empathy, Engineering, Will, and Notice.

Now, stunts. I get three, unless I want to lower my Refresh, which I don't.

Well, I know I want a stunt to boost my Research with regards to Yeesha's journey. So I'll call it Endless Search: I get +2 to Research using a Discovery action about an Age that shows up in the Chronicle.

I'll make one up called Trust the Journey: If I spend a Fate point to declare a Yeesha-related detail about a scene, I get a +1 to Create an Advantage based on it.

And finally, I am Extremely Dedicated: I get a +2 to oppose with Will if someone is trying to talk me out of going to an Age or something else related to my quest.

And I think that's it, actually.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Notes Black Agents

As usual, don't go readin' this if you're playin' this. Otherwise the cicadas will get you.

Look closer.
Last time, the characters made to Belgrade and the Tesla museum, which is exciting. And now, the jump break.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Unwritten, now written

Last night we played Unwritten. I think it went pretty well, and since I'm too restless and bored to do the work I should be doing, I'm-a do the write-up.

The characters start out doing their usual things: Principessa is skipping stones in the upside-down water in the unexplored area. Nick is taking readings on his equipment near the border, while Terra is sneaking around in places she oughtn't be. Eleni is following a mafia tough, while Saron is delivering a book (not a Book) to a patron.

And then a huge, powerful wind kicks up out of the unexplored version. Everyone manages to take cover except Saron; the wind blows the book right out of her hands. Principessa, thinking quickly, grabs a cable and flies up like a kite, catching the book. She returns it, and Saron gives her a pair of gloves in thanks. She also notices that the wind kicked up some residue that isn't native to the cavern - in fact, it looks like the dirt from Vilette, an Age marked by high winds and a cyclical 400-year destruction of civilization. She brings this to Nick, who analyzes the dirt and concurs. Nick, of course, is fascinated - weather systems from other Ages don't just pop up. He moves to cordon off the area and go exploring, but then Walleye, Principessa's mafia handler, warns him that he should just stay away.

Nick, however, is too experienced and dedicated an explorer to be dissuaded, so he decides he'll just go in anyway. Principessa tags along, concerned for his safety, and Saron goes, too, to take notes.

Meanwhile, Terra and Eleni, in the unexplored area from the other direction, meet up. The two groups eventually meet up with a tunnel opening up in a deep pit between them. Terra, after a quick compel to Leap Before You Look, tries to jump the pit, and fails...but she inverts and "falls" up, landing on the ceiling.

A little experimentation later, the characters realize that gravity inverts itself in the pit. Nick sinks pitons and starts climbing "up" into the pit (down?), and Terra uses her grapple gun and just zooms by him. At the bottom, the characters realize a couple of things. First, there are five tunnels, roughly equidistant from each other, leading back into the wall. Second, dozens of Linking Books are set into the floor, Linking Pages up.

With some trials and tribulations, the other characters make it to the bottom (top?) of the pit. Nick climbs down a tunnel and finds a lever, which he pulls. Half the books disappear. Eleni climbs into another tunnel, finds another lever, and gets a similar result (but with the other books). Saron notes that the books seem roughly divided into Ages with running water and ages with deserts or otherwise high heat. The other tunnels contain levers, but when flipped individually they cause hideous grinding sounds, as though immense gears were about to strip.

When those three levers are flipped together, though, the gravity rights itself (OOF). Now able to walk on the bottom of the pit, the characters check out the books. Saron recognizes some of the Ages depicted - Vilette, the Pearlescent Aeon, and others that the players came up with originally (and some that they didn't, of course).

At this point we used the deduction system to figure out the answer to the big question: "What is the purpose of this mechanism?" After a few rounds of deduction, they realized that this place was a D'ni cleansing apparatus; it could activate water and heat. As a side effect, many of the places the books link to were good for dumping bodies, which might be why the mafia was so interested...

At this point, Nick started trying to chisel out a Book. Saron objected, strenuously - the Archivists needed to document this and make sure that they weren't destroying some expensive bit of history. Nick agreed, but Terra didn't, and popped one out with a crowbar. She touched the screen, and pop, she disappeared. She was in Vilette.

Nick, concerned for her safety, Linked after her. The others looked at each other, shrugged, and followed. If nothing else, they were pretty sure Nick had a Linking Book to get back.

Noodles, Please

Lucy reached for the glass of water. Her hand stopped about halfway there. Dammit. She felt her breath catch in her throat, and she tried to breathe deep so that she wouldn't cry again. She hated it when her son saw her cry.

Bam-Bam was in the kitchen making dinner. She still thought of him as "Bam-Bam," but he'd stopped letting her call him that. He wanted to go by "Abe", which Lucy hated. To her it sounded like an old man's name. It made her think of Abraham Lincoln. What didn't help was that her brother had started calling her son "Honest Abe," which Bam-Bam loved for some stupid reason.

She reached for the water, and her hand stopped. She told her hand what to do, trying to imagine nerves firing and electricity jumping through her muscles. Nothing. "Goddammit," she whispered, more to test to see if she could speak than anything.

Bam-Bam came out of the kitchen. He was wearing the apron his uncle had bought him for his birthday. His uncle was a chef, and Bam-Bam thought that was the most amazing thing. "How you feeling, Mama?"

"Good," she said.

"You need more water or anything?"

Lucy shook her head. "I'm OK."

Bam-Bam looked back into the kitchen to check the sauce; it was simmering, but he could leave it a minute. He walked across the apartment to the table and sat down with his mother. The chair was too high and his feet didn't touch the floor, but he didn't mind. "Mama, you haven't drank any. You sure you're doing good?"

Lucy took another deep breath. "Yeah, baby. I just...I'm tired. My muscles are doing the weird thing again."

Bam-Bam nodded carefully. "I could help you." The sentence was quiet, matter-of-fact, and heavy.

"Oh, baby." She took his hand. It was small, but already had scars and burns like her brother's. Perils of cooking. "Baby, I don't want you to do that. What if the Agency-"

"They told me I could use my discretion." Bam-Bam stood up. "They told me, if it's an emergency, like if the invaders are about to kill someone or take someone or hurt someone, and I can stop them if I go forward, then I'm allowed to."

Lucy nearly started to cry, but stifled it enough that it just sounded like a cough. "But baby, they already hurt me. You can't help me now, they hurt my brain, and sometimes it's just like this now."

Bam-Bam sat back down. He knew she was right. The damage was done, and it wasn't bad, but it was bad enough. Sometimes Mama can't talk. Sometimes she can't move. His friend Leah said it was like when you streamed a video and the connection was bad. Sometimes it got jumbled, sometimes it stopped altogether until the system picked up again. All you could do was wait it out.

"Hey," she said. "You know what you could do? You could finish making us dinner, because I'm real hungry."

He smiled. "Ok. You want noodles or rice? This sauce is good on either."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Game Prep: Unwritten

I'm running Unwritten tonight. This was something I was running to review (I run games written/produced other other IGDN members and then review them), and normally that's just a one-shot, but we kinda ran out of time after chargen and I didn't want to rush. So!

If you're playing tonight, of course, don't read this.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feng Shui: Into the Nethers!

So! Last night was Feng Shui. Kind of a truncated session, since Michelle wasn't feeling well, but still good. Yeah, still good. #stitch

Last time, the characters had meditated and claimed a feng shui site, and therefore got their first advancement. This led to Awesomeing Up, and discovering that the Feng Shui rulebook has a bunch of errors with regards to schticks, in the Gene Freak particularly. But having figured that out, on we went!

The characters were roused by their phones (well, three of them: Johnny, Tang, and Celeste). They got a message from Sylvan Master that read HHHEEEELLLLLPPPP!!!! Tang got on the computer and backtraced the message (that's totally a thing), and they all jumped in the van and followed the signal. It led to an old, dilapidated building. Johnny, being Johnny, charged in...and vanished with a blue crackle.

The others followed, and found themselves in a series of stone tunnels. They discovered they had wifi service, on a network called "IKTV," so they followed the bars, and came across a tall building that looked like a giant cable modem, surrounded by giant screens played cat videos. They walked around it and saw a door, and Celeste tried to sneak up to it, cop-style. But then the lights went on and people on top of it started shooting rockets at them.

They fought off the guards, but then the screens changed and showed two women, twins, who introduced themselves as Laurel and Columbia Towson. They had come to this place - the Netherworld - and started their own broadcasting station, IKTV. The Dragons found this a little weird, but whatever.

The twins invited them up ("just don't kill any more of our ickies") and talked to them about some of the various factions in the Chi War, and explained the junctures. They said that Sylvan Master had tried to get into the servers, and they trapped him on a floppy disk, but as long as he wasn't trying to censor them, it was all good. As they talked, one of the screens in the office showed footage of what looked like a work camp staffed mostly with Chinese folks; Celeste identified it as Utah in 1860-some, near the completion of the trans-continental railroad.

And then Do saw someone in the crowd that he recognized - the sorcerer they knew as Leon. The group figured that Leon might be there doing some Chi War related badness, but the twins told them that these "pop-up junctures" were unstable, sometimes only staying open for a short time. They offered to show the Dragons to a portal to take them there, however, and the Dragons agreed.

Some ickies led them to the portal, and they emerged from a cave up the side of a mountain. Down in the valley, they saw a stagecoach racing along, as masked men on horses approached. It seems their skills are needed...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Game Prep: Feng Shui

Meant to do this yesterday and then got completely sidetracked by life and so forth, so I'ma do this now.

RARRR SCARY MONSTER.

Last time, there was a fight (duh), the characters lost one PC but gained a new one, and then had visions. Said visions:

  • Bai had a vision of his sister, meditating with him in a garden in his own time, the chi war over. 
  • Celeste saw her sister, surrounded by glowing, magical mandalas.
  • Do saw Leon attacking him, just before he lost his memory!
  • Tang saw himself driving with his partner in the future, before said partner had died, and looking at a sketchbook detailing the chi war - had his partner been a Dragon?
  • Johnny saw his mother in the future, a survivor of the C-Bomb, fighting in the chi war.
And now, the notes you shouldn't read.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Movie #362: Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors is a comedy/horror musical based on the stage play by Howard Ashman, which was in turn based on a b-movie by Roger Corman. It stars Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, Levi Stubbs, and has a boatload of other famous folks in cameos.

Seymour (Moranis) is a schlub living in Skid Row, working at a decrepit flower shop for Mushnik (Gardenia), and alongside his crush, Audrey (Greene). About to close forever, Mushnik allows Seymour to put his strange unusual flytrap in the window, resulting in immediate business. Turns out said flytrap is an alien plant that feeds on blood, and, as it grows, becomes able to talk (voiced by Stubbs). Its hunger ever growing, it demands Seymour kill people to feed it. He starts with Audrey's abusive dentist boyfriend (Martin), and things just degenerate from there.

Now, at the end of the movie something interesting happens. I own the director's cut on DVD, but I'd never actually watched it; before that I owned the theatrical release on VHS and that was the one I was familiar with. I've seen the stage show a bunch of times, though. There are three different endings, and they all do different things:

1) In the stage show, the plant mortally wound Audrey. She asks that Seymour feed her to the plant, so that she can be with him forever in some small way. Seymour complies, but then when he discovers that the plant intends to conquer the world, climbs in with a machete to try and kill it (it eats him and spits out the machete). The plant goes on to conquer the world, as the chorus pleads with the audience "Don't Feed the Plants."

2) In the theatrical release, the plant tries to eat Audrey, but Seymour saves her, and then confronts the plant when he learns about the plan for conquest. The plant sings "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space" (written for the movie) and demolishes the shop, but Seymour electrocutes it and it explodes. Seymour and Audrey live happily ever after.

3) In the director's cut, we get a weird combination. Audrey dies, Seymour feeds her to the plant, he confronts it after the "oh hey we're going to breed and sell these" bit, "Mean Green Mother," building demolished, but then the plant picks him up, swallows him (in a horrifically lingering manner) and spits out his glasses. He dies like a completely useless wuss. And then we get what must be 10 full minutes of the giant plants destroying cities across the world, ending with one bursting through the screen.

Now, in the stage show, the tragic ending works because a) it doesn't drag on forever and b) the tone is pretty consistent throughout and c) everyone comes on and takes a bow, effectively resurrecting them before the audience. In the theatrical cut, the happy ending feels a little tacked on, but it's tight and quick, at least. It doesn't quite match the rest of the movie, but it's not completely out of step, either. In the director's cut, the ending just drones. It's self-indulgent and unnecessarily sadistic, and the addition of the song (which helps the theatrical cut) only serves to bloat the whole thing.

So: I think what I need to do is get rid of this DVD and pick up the theatrical version.

My Grade: B+ (theatrical version), C+ (director's cut)
Rewatch Value: Medium high (theatrical version), IINSIAIFWT (director's cut)

Next up: Little Women

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Character Creation: Call of Catthulhu

I have a little time, and this process is hella quick.

The Game: Call of Catthulhu
The Publisher: Call of Catthulhu, I guess
Degree of Familiarity: None really, but it's dirt simple.
Books Required: Just the one, for chargen.

So, I'm writing a review of this game, which will probably be up in a week or so (you are reading my reviews, right?), and as part of that process, I (usually) make a character before I run the game. So here we go.

Call of Catthulhu combines two things that geeks go completely bonkers over: Lovecraft's Mythos and cats. The game is split into three books; you really only need Book I (The Nekonomicon) to play, but it's Book II (I'm not even going to try) that has setting info and advice on actually running the game. You're playing cats who, as in the olde RPG Cat, seem to be able to enter dreams and protect people from monsters, but Call of Catthulhu has both a more robust mythology and is less internally consistent and engaging.

Anyway, I haven't done a jumpy-flippy character in a while, and a cat seems pretty able to fill that niche. The first thing I do is choose a Role, basically my "class" as a cat. I'll choose Catcrobat. They're fast, dextrous, and lithe. Sounds good.

Next, I pick Lifestyle (Feral, House Cat, or Show Cat). I think I want my cat to be a House Cat, but I want him to have lived on a farm for a while and gotten good at hunting and climbing, meaning he's kind of going out of his skin here in an apartment. He's of Mixed breed, shorthaired, and is a gray tabby. He's got a streak of black down his back, and his tummy is bright white.

I enjoy the three-name construct that we get from Eliot, so: His human name is Altair (yes, his new own is a gamer). His cat name is Merthus, and his secret name he left behind in that barn.

And then I do Story and Experiences. Ok. Merthus was born in a little of barn cats, and spent his kittenhood catching bugs and then mice on a farm. And then the youngest son of the owner went to college in a city, and took Merthus with him; said son's new roommate was the one who named him (the farm kid never bothered naming cats; it's not like they come when you call anyway).

Merthus is going a little stir crazy, and he sneaks out sometimes to hunt and climb trees in the neighborhood. Sooner or later, he's going to go into that old shed on the apartment complex grounds, even though it's dark and it smells like DOOOOOM.

And I think that's it. No numbers in chargen, see, since cats can't do math.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Movie #361: Deadpool

Deadpool is a superhero movie starring Ryan Reynolds as titular "merc with the mouth," and also Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, Stefan Kapacic, Giana Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, and T.J. Miller. It's not the first R-rated superhero movie, and it might not even be the first R-rated comedy superhero movie, but it's definitely one of the best.

At the guts, it's a fairly standard story - love, revenge, superpowers, taking on the bad guy, explosions. But the devil's in the details. Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is an ex-Special-Forces dude now doing odd mercenary work, and falls in love with a prostitute named Vanessa (Baccarin), but then discovers he's dying of late-stage cancer of the everything. He signs up for what he thinks is a government funded "give you superpowers" program, but as the head scientist Francis (Skrein) explains, that ain't it - they're just making superpowered slaves. The powers he receives let him heal from virtually anything, but also scar his flesh like whoa, so he spends a few years tracking down Francis, whom he thinks can fix his body, before teaming up with Colossus (Kapacic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Hildebrand) to take on Francis and his superstrong buddy, Angel Dust (Carano).

Through it all, Deadpool wisecracks and blows holes in the fourth wall. I'm not even a fan of the comics (remember, I like superheroes, not comics), but I know they got the character right, and all it took was a decade plus of Reynolds working at this, and finally leaking test footage, and it's going to result in a spate of R-rated superhero movies because Hollywood still hasn't figure out that there's no magic formula to follow to make good movies.

But let's talk about what Deadpool gets right. They don't insult our intelligence, and they know we know who these people are. We don't need an explanation of who the X-Men are; Colossus just shows up and we know his role. We don't need our characters to be morally pure; Wade is a merc and he's not a good guy and never claims to be, but at the same time, he loves Vanessa and the movie spends time establishing their relationship (mostly through sex, but whatever).

There are a couple of beats I'm not crazy about; Deadpool has a couple of lines that you could call transphobic (both aimed at Angel Dust), and I think I would have liked the International Women's Day gag a little more if Wade had been into it, but those are comparatively minor in the scheme of things. I'm a fan of the superhero films that do things outside the established genre, get their characters right, and give me someone to root for.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High, I think

Next up: Little Shop of Horrors, unless Crimson Peak arrives in the mail first

Atomic Robo: Love Finds a Way

Wednesday we finished up our Atomic Robo story. We'll probably return to this game at some point; I'd like to run a story focusing more on the dinosaur characters and/or Effy. But for now!

Last time, the team refitted the Dinambulance for undersea travel. This time, they loaded up to go under the sea and see what precisely the Dauphin was up to.

They approached his palace and decided to look for Cosette's room; she was in love (supposedly) with Franklin, one of TeslaDyne's technicians, so maybe she'd help them. Effy and Jesse stayed in the sub while Reggie, Otto, and Marsha disembarked and slipped in through her balcony. They engaged in a bit of social conflict, but quickly wore her down and got her to agree to betray her brother, the Dauphin, provided that the team wouldn't kill him or destroy the Cetacean Empire, and would take her to the surface to be with Franklin.

She showed them her computer, which the Dauphin had used to send messages to Franklin. Mostly what he'd wanted Franklin to do was disable the outer defenses of the lab, presumably to allow the dolphins' massive amphibious tank to crush it. But why? They had Cosette call for her brother; Marsha hid outside the room on the outer wall...basically in plain sight, because she thought she'd blend in, Otto hid under the bed, and Reggie grabbed a bunch of light bulbs and hid on the ceiling pretending to be a chandelier.

The Dauphin came to the room and Cosette played her part well; the Dauphin revealed his plan - the idea was to capture Boris and fit him with gills, making him an unstoppable amphibious kaiju able to smash the cities of man HAHAHAHAHA!

At this point, Reggie had had enough. He dropped on the Dauphin, setting off battle. Marsha, outside, jumped on some guards, all feathers and fury, and Jesse smashed the Dinambulance/sub into the wall (OH YEAH!) creating an escape route. Otto grabbed Cosette to get her to safety, and Reggie wrapped up the Dauphin and took him along as well.

The sub slowly started for the surface, but remember it's Slow as a Sea Turtle. Effy readied a powerful pheromone bomb, and released it behind them as the dolphin army was closing in. The dolphin army...degenerated into synchronized leaping and other activities (Reggie slowly covered Cosette's eyes with his tentacle; "some things can't be unseen"), and the team escaped to the surface.

The Dauphin was transferred to a holding tank until TeslaDyne could figure out what to do with him. Cosette and Franklin are very happy together (Franklin asked for some kind of dolphin suit, so he could finally be with his beloved, which is all very weird so I suggest you don't think about it too much), and General Cavy gave everyone a promotion and told them to get back to work!

We're gonna take a break from this game, and +Travis is gonna run Nobilis. Like, Big White Book Nobilis. Pray for us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sick Day Post #2: Holy Shit, We're Actually Going to Freak Out About the GenCon Industry Insider Thing?

Context: GenCon has a Guest of Honor track called the Industry Insider. I have very little experience with it; Michelle was on it a few years back and we weren't thrilled with how the Guests were treated (no budget for badges or rooms, no water for their panels), and I've since heard from other Guests who were kinda shorted - some guests were tapped for nine panels, some for only two. There have also been some questions raised about how the Guests were selected.

However! This year, there's been a great improvement: This year the list has gender parity (52% women). The representation of POC is still a little light (he said understatingly), and it seems to be hard to get across the notion that "well, if they don't apply, we can't accept them" isn't really the best way to go in an industry that is notoriously unwelcoming of POC and women at the best of times, plus GenCon is hella expensive and there's no money for these folks, even to cover hotels, but again, it's a good start.

So what has the Internet response been? Overall it's been pretty good, in the circles I run in. But, of course, the usual contingent of misogynists are annoyed by it. They don't (usually) come right out and say "we don't consider women to be actual game designers, because, for whatever reason, we hate and fear women" (though that's pretty clearly what's happening). Instead, they tend to say "why are these women on the list? They've done nothing in the industry!"

OK, look at the list. I'll name a few of the folks on it, just some of the ones I actually know (I don't know everyone, and we'll come back to that).

+Emily runs her own game company. It may not produce the kind of games that more traditionally-mind gamers think of when they think RPGs, but let's not be fucking essentialist, yes? Running a company is hella hard work. You do it, especially successfully (which she does), I'm pretty sure you deserve to be an Insider.

+Renee and +Anna, in addition to their gaming credits (which you can look up if you feel inclined) also do some amazing work blogging. I've spent literally hours reading posts on Anna's site, in part because I do want to sell games to women and it behooves me to pay attention when folks are being eloquent about the subject. Likewise, you could do a lot worse than reading Gaming as Women (in addition to Renee, +Michelle+Dymphna, and +Kira contribute there, plus lots of other women I don't know personally but enjoy reading).

+Monica developed Firefly, and at this point I really have to just smack my forehead, because I actually saw some butthead elsewhere on the Interweb talking about how +Eddy Webb deserved his slot on the list because of all the work he's done for various games (which is totally true), but Monica didn't because she's a "somewhat busy small timer." She hired Eddy to work on Firefly. Like, she was his boss. She's also developing Hunter: The Vigil 2nd Ed, and I've asked her to to work on it, meaning if she hires me, she'll be my boss. Like, she's the one responsible for making the game work.

As a line developer myself (Chill, Beast, Promethean, Demon, etc.), I gotta tell you, that shit is work. It's not something that you do lightly or casually. It requires skills far beyond writing game systems or writing prose - both of those things are necessary, plus you have to be a manager, which is its own special skill set. It's often invisible work, unless you're loud about it...which very few female game devs (side note: see how I used "female" as an adjective, there? That's how you use the word so you don't sound like a fucking reptoid) are. Wonder why that might be?

Look, I don't have solutions, here. I understand that as a male feminist, the bar for me is so fucking low I could step over it without breaking stride, and I don't need congratulations for treating women like people. I try to make the industry as welcoming a place as I can, and I don't pretend I have the answers or that I've never fucked up.

But for the record, here's what I do. These are things that I consciously, deliberately do as a game dev:

1) I hire women. I go out of my way to hire women. When I get submissions, I read the ones from women first (going by names). I don't hire every woman who submits, but I give them first crack at my brain. (Side note: I do this when POC and queer folks apply, too, but it's harder to know that right off the bat.) Sometimes I wind up working with women that I don't want to hire twice, but guess what? Not any more often than it happens with men.

2) I don't call women pet names (hon, sweetie, dear) unless we have a relationship that allows for that.

3) I don't shy away from giving women assignments on game mechanics. If you're working on a game I develop, you should know the rules and be able to write them. I have been writing and developing games professionally for close to 20 years, and it has not been my experience that gender is a determinant for ability to write or understand game mechanics.

4) I don't make jokes involving or about sexual assault (yes, men can be victims of sexual assault, too, but women are far more likely to have been assaulted, and anyway, "men might have experienced it too" is harder an argument for anything). If someone does it at the table when I'm running or playing a game, especially at a con, I'll call it out.

5) I don't hide behind "oh, we're all just here to play" or "I don't see gender/color/whatever, I just see gamers." No. I do see you. I want to see you, and if we're working together, I want your experience to color what you write and create. I am not the yardstick.

That's what I've got. I wish there was more. I wish there was some magical way to shut down the folks making death and rape threats against a cosplayer because her picture got run in an IndyStar article about GenCon that mentioned GamerGate. I wish there was a way to sit down with these dudes griping about the Insider list and say "look, I understand that story games might not be your thing, but guess what? D&D isn't my thing, but I can't deny its place in the industry." I wish there was a way to keep everyone safe.

But that's what I've got.

Sick Day Post #1: Changeling

Out sick today (really shitty POTS day yesterday = muscles sore and unsteady today), so here we are!

Last time, the motley began and ended by bringing a Thallain captive to Duke Kelodin. This time, though, when they got there they found Kelodin on the ground in his gym, getting pummeled by what looked like a gang.

The characters charged in! Krysa Unleashed Sovereign to force them to "BEHOLD THE RAT QUEEN!", and they stopped and stared. Thaia crept through a window and snuck up on them, preparing to jump. Zulkis took a more trollish approach, grabbed fire extinguisher off the wall and knocked one of them right the fuck out. Sander took a "let's not give the GM opportunities" and stayed with Fetinus to make sure he didn't run.

Ambrose, meanwhile, took a more "raving psycho" approach, drew his sword, and sliced two of them open but beheaded a third. That was about all it took; the others ran.

They tended to Kelodin, who was injured but not horribly. Ambrose used Chronos to look back in time, and saw that these guys had come in and caught the duke off guard - but they could apparently see him for what he was. Kelodin invited them all back to the Ducal Seat, which had a balefire, in case they wanted to rest and absorb some Glamour.

They went with him, bringing Fetinus and the unconscious thug (Kelodin called in someone to clean up the body at the gym, probably a redcap), and at the Seat, Zulkis noticed that he didn't any of the staff. It was late, though; they might have been sleeping. The changelings went to the balefire to soak up some Glamour, and Thaia, Krysa, and Ambrose indulged (neither Zulkis nor Sander had spent any). They didn't get Glamour, though...they got Nightmare. The balefire had been poisoned. It felt like something corrosive, something that hated and wished to destroy the Dreaming - not Banality, which is numb and fairly neutral, but something actively hateful.

They heard a noise upstairs, and Thaia and Zulkis went to investigate. They found a boggan, one of the staff, in bed, deathly ill, talking about chimerical bringing illness. Thaia, of course, recognized this as the plagues that they had dealt with earlier, and put in a call to Kara, but then...

Meanwhile, downstairs, Sander decided to use Pyretics to cleanse the tainted balefire. The balefire swelled, and then belched forth some icky black magicky stuff, but then started burning again. Krysa used her rats to search the house, and found someone hiding in the corner. She sent the rats after it, and an eshu stumbled forward, brushing rats off of herself.

Anyway, it looked like an eshu, but something was definitely wrong with her. She was broken and hateful, magically speaking. Sander, on a roll Unleashed Pyretics to burn in the infection out of her, just as the other folks ran downstairs. The woman was engulfed in magical flame, and a brand on her arm began to glow; Thaia, recognizing it as something definitely bad news, Unleashed Infusion to add more power to Sander's magic.

The balefire flared up, and everything went white, and the changelings were standing on a silver path...in the Dreaming. And then they heard a roar, as though a tornado mixed with screams and wind chimes and other weird noises were coming - the Firchlis.

They huddled together and collectively bolstered themselves (Glamour rolls, and they made exactly the number of successes they needed). They heard a scream as the Firchlis ripped the broken eshu away, and then there they were, back in the house, in front of the (now low-burning) balefire. The duke was alive, the Thallain was gone (probably sucked up into the Firchlis, though who really knows), and all was...well. If not right, then better.

Meanwhile, at the theater across town, Branziah is rehearsing. "Now the hurley-burley's...um. Line?"

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Character Creation: A Dirty World

I wrote 3000 words of Changeling today, I can take a little time to make a character.

The Game: A Dirty World
The Publisher: Originally Cubicle 7, but now it seems to be available directly from the author, +Greg Stolze
Degree of Familiarity: None with the game as such, but I'm very familiar with the subject matter and I ran Better Angels, which uses essentially the same system.
Books Required: Just the one.

A Dirty World is a film noir RPG, full of gumshoes and PIs and snitches and femmes fatales and so on. I'm a big fan of noir. I'm not as big a fan of this iteration of the One Roll Engine; again, it's basically the same as Better Angels, in that your traits are personality and moralistic measures rather than the game being a physics emulator. I think, though, that it seems more intuitive here. In any case, the game is short and really easy to follow, so that's nice.

So! Character creation is pretty simple. You get 40 points to build the character; Identities, which are the more important, controlling traits cost 3, while Qualities, which are more specific, cost one. You get a Profession, and if you want to spend points on a Specialties, you can (but they're not really necessary and there's not even a slot for them on the character sheet).

Since I don't really have a concept in mind, I think I'll jump ahead to Profession to get me started. Professions don't have much in the way of mechanical effect, except that they allow a link between two Qualities. Normally, when you take "damage" you slide dots between two linked traits; if you get hurt in a fight, f'rex, you might slide a point of Courage into Wrath. If someone seduces you, you might have to slide Purity to Corruption. At the end of a scene, you can slide a trait how you wish. Profession links two traits that aren't on the same continuum; an Academic, for instance, can slide between Generosity and Determination.

Looking over the profession, I note that the Ingenue mentions that although cinematic examples are typically female, nothing says that these characters can't be men. And having been watching season two of Arrow (which has some noir elements, if you squint), I'm interested in playing a man who's pure of heart, but really in over his head and hasn't figured it out yet.

So: Clarence William Feldman III is the son of (duh) Clarence William Feldman II, the mayor of the city. Daddy Clarence got elected in lightning-in-a-bottle circumstances; he was a war hero with an impeccable record, he returned from war and joined the police force, and he was promoted up the ranks until, as a captain, he oversaw a major bust of organized crime that saw the former mayor indicted and jailed. Feldman ran for office off that momentum, and became the first honest politician in the city's history. His son, whom he'd dutifully shielded from the ugly parts of his job, enjoyed the fruits of all that work, and wound up well-educated, handsome, and the toast of the town.

But Clarence is about to get into trouble...and if I were going to play him, that'd be the GM's job to hook me, but my immediate preference would be a woman giving Clarence a sob story and leading him into a web of lies and murder. I think it would also be a lot of fun for him to discover that dear ol' Dad broke a few eggs making omelets for the whole city.

Anyway! Good enough for me to start on points. Ingenue, incidentally, lets me slide Purity to Honesty, which is pretty much perfect.

So, to start off, I get a free point in Vigor. I apparently need at least one point in all of the Identities, but not necessarily the Qualities. Putting 1 in every Identity (except Vigor, which has one) would cost me 15, leaving me 25 points (which makes me wonder why you just don't start with one in each Identity and 25 points, rather than 40 overall, but whatevs).

Well, I know I want to bump up Patience, Grace, and Understanding to 2. That eats 9 points, so I'm at 16. I'll put two into Generosity (money and means, man), two into Purity, and three into Honesty. That's 9 remaining. I guess I should put one into Deceit (he's not a total naif), and I'll put one more into Vigor (5 left), two into Courage, two into Endurance, and the last one into Demonstration.

Oh, I forgot, I get a secret. It's minor by default (embarrassing, but not life-altering), but if I make it more serious I get another point to throw around. Hmm. You know, I'm tempted to make him gay. I mean, if we're playing this game period (in the 40s or 50s), that'd be enough to screw with Dad's career. Actually, hell, let's make him bi, because that way the "lured into trouble by a woman with a story" still works as intended. I'll put that extra point into Observation.

And that's me done, actually (told you this was easy).


Movie #360: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is the first movie in the so-called "Disney Renaissance," marking their return to making movies that were, like, good (and profitable). It stars Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Jason Marin, Buddy Hackett, Samuel E. Wright, and Kenneth Mars. It's based on the fucking horrifying story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Ariel (Benson), the titular mermaid, is the youngest daughter of King Triton (Mars). She's fascinated with surface-dwellers, whom her father fears and hates. She collects masses of stuff that sinks into the ocean (mostly misidentified by her buddy Scuttle the seagull; Hackett), and one night, in the act of watching a birthday celebration for the handsome Prince Eric (Barnes), she saves his life after his ship burns. Her father, not quite ready for his sixteen-year-old daughter to hare off after a man she's literally never spoken with, goes a little nuts and trashes her collection, so she bargains with Ursula (Carroll) the sea-witch, who apparently was once queen of the undersea-folk. She trades her voice for human legs, on the condition that she can get Eric to fall in love with her in three days. Wacky hijinks ensue.

So, watching this movie in comparison to earlier Disney fare, it's worlds better. It's faster, funnier, and I would argue a better adaptation (not "more faithful," because I don't want a faithful adaptation of Andersen's stuff, I want my children to be able to sleep at night) than, say, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. But it's got some problems. For one thing, although the lead character is a woman, she's literally silenced for most of the movie. For another, there's Sebastian the crab (Wright), who's not the most racially sensitive of characters (the whole "Under the Sea" number has a couple of issues - "the blackfish, she sings" - what the actual hell, Disney?).

This movie came out in 1989 when I was a freshman in high school, but I didn't see it until we watched it on video at a cast party. It's cute, the music is fun, and as a teenager it's easy to identify with Ariel and how unfair she feels her father is being (and in fairness, the biggest threat to his kingdom seems to be the witch who's turning his subjects into living seaweed, like, a five-minute swim from his palace, but whatever). As I've gotten older, of course, I'm a little more down with Triton's concerns, though he expresses them in a completely piss-poor manner. So once again we find that a lot of children's movie conflicts cook down to "why don't you fuckers communicate better?"

I also really enjoy Pat Carroll's performance as Ursula, right down to her actually showing remorse for accidentally killing her two eel henchmen. Of course, she winds up getting impaled by a giant boat...by Eric, while Ariel watches helplessly, because c'mon, she's a girl.

My Grade: B (would be higher but for the sexism and racism and stuff)
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Little Shop of Horrors, unless the Amazon shipment with Deadpool gets her first

Friday, May 13, 2016

Game Prep: Changeling, The Finale

Monday our Changeling: The Dreaming game is coming to a close. I have thoughts, which I will spill since it acts as a buffer before I start talking about my plans.

I really love Changeling. I don't love the OWoD system. We've made some tweaks to the magic and so on that I think make the game a lot more palatable to my current crop of players, but I'm also realizing that I ignored a lot of rules when running OWoD games back in the day. That style of play - have system for everything, but ignore the shit that got in the way of making the game fun - was pretty endemic to 90s games (shows up in Chill 2nd Ed, too), but it doesn't really mesh with my design sensibility now (which is more "you're not gonna use this rule? Why the hell have it, then?").

But Changeling 20th is a nostalgia product, and that's fine. It's appealing to the people who know and love this system and this setting, and I have to say that despite some of the system wonkiness (1s canceling successes is an objectively terrible idea, guys), I've really enjoyed running it again.

So. Last session. Let's do this. Stop reading now if you're a player.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Movie #359: Lilo & Stitch

Lilo & Stitch is an animated Disney movie starring Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders (also co-directed), Tia Carrere, Ving Rhames, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald, Jason Scott Lee, and Kevin Michael Richardson. It makes me cry every time.

Lilo (Chase) is a little girl living in Hawai'i with her big sister, Nani (Carrere). They're both orphans (their parents died in a car accident, and it couldn't have been too long ago, based on the photo of the whole family together) and they're having troubles. Lilo is a a somewhat strange little girl; she has a homemade doll named Scrump that she pretends is dying of brain infestation, she feeds a magic fish a sandwich every week ("Pudge controls the weather."), and she acts out and loses her temper. Nani, meanwhile, is struggling trying to take care of Lilo and keep a job, and she has a social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Rhames) considering whether Lilo would be better off in foster care.

Meanwhile, in outer-goddamn-space, an idiot scientist ("I PREFER TO BE CALLED EVIL GENIUS!") named Jumba (Stiers) creates a tiny, four-armed, engine of destruction (Sanders). The grand councilwoman (Zoe Caldwell) decides to banish the thing, but it gets loose and winds up heading for Earth. The council sends Jumba (since he created the thing) and an "expert" on Earth named Pleakly (McDonald) to retrieve the monster...

...but the monster, looking for a way to hide, has retracted its arms and been adopted, as a dog, by Lilo, who renames him "Stitch." Stitch proceeds to wreck their lives just by being himself (in fairness, Lilo helps), and finally he realizes that he's hurting Lilo by being around. He leaves to find his family, the aliens catch him, the enormous Captain Gantu (Richardson) shows up and recaptures him, and eventually everything comes to head with explosions. The council allows Stitch to stay on Earth with his newfound family, and Jumba and Pleakly get left behind as well (but join the family, too). Bubbles turns out to be ex-CIA, so he's actually a pretty good advocate for this situation. Yay!

So, I really love this movie. Not to get too personal, but the idea of being, at heart, a monster or a destructive force is one that I've grappled with for most of my life, and I have, at points, wavered between saying "fuck it" and embracing that to actively trying to change it. Stitch isn't, at heart, "bad" - he's genetically programmed to be destructive, but not malicious. He doesn't actually like hurting people, he just kind of likes chaos. He still wants love and family, though, and one of the themes of the movie, to me, is that even people who have trouble coping with society and its expectations - like Lilo, Stitch, but even Jumba and Nani - are deserving of love and empathy and family.

Plus, the characters get to be vulnerable. Nani is terrified and angry that Lilo might be taken away. Lilo is lonely and traumatized, but loves her sister and feels bad about what she does. Stitch is frightened and lonely, but believes that maybe he has a family. I've said it a bunch of times, but I'll say it again: I like it when characters in movies are generally well-intentioned, good, competent people who have to rise above their situation, rather than awful, selfish people who have to "learn a lesson." Stitch doesn't "learn a lesson," he gains a family. The lesson is ongoing.

(By the way, I never make it past him saying "lost" without crying.)

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: High, if you have a box of tissues on hand

Next up: The Little Mermaid

Changeling: The Sweater Unravels

Busy week at work plus gearing up for MarCon equals not having time to do this write-up until now GO!

Last time, the characters captured a Thallain and decided to bring him to Duke Kelodin for interrogation. They called him up and, and Kelodin said to meet at the gym where Parliament had been held. He would get there as soon as he could, but he'd call someone to meet them.

When the motley got there, Baroness Ulsa was waiting for them. To refresh your memory, Ulsa is an Unseelie Scathach sidhe whom Zulkis knew carried out the assassination of a city councilman on behalf of Count Maldiset (the job he had refused, that lost Zulkis his title). When they brought the Thallain in, several of the characters noticed a flicker or recognition from him when he saw Ulsa (that Thallain has a shitty poker face).

Ulsa used Legerdemain to immobilize the Thallain, and talked with the characters a bit. She recommended that they check the perimeter of the building. Thaia, Zulkis, Krysa, and Ambrose split up and walked around the building, while Sander stayed with Ulsa to watch the Thallain captive. Krysa called up her rats and got a bazillion successes on the Guest List cantrip, so the rats circled the building, and then warned her of a breach.

Ambrose, meanwhile, tried using his newly-acquired Chronos Art to look back in time, but botch and stuttered in time a bit, unable to get his equilibrium. The characters converged on a window looking into the gym, and found they had a good view of Sander, Ulsa, and the captive.

Inside, Ulsa was talking with Sander and flipping her daggers around in an impressive but nonchalant fashion. Nothing seemed untoward, but the changelings outside realized someone had cast a cantrip. They found a small trinket on the ground, one of the Treasures stolen from Spruce's repair shop. It had been smashed to pieces - possibly to power a cantrip? Breaking a Treasure release Glamour, after all.

Thaia used Soothsay to get some insight into what had happened, and realized that the cantrip that had been cast here was one that they'd seen earlier that night. Krysa remembered that a doorknob at the theater had been poisoned with the Poison Apple cantrip...but what was the target?

They went inside and discovered that the Thallain was dead...poisoned. Had the ropes been poisoned? Had he been poisoned directly? Duke Kelodin arrived and Baroness Ulsa took responsibility for the captive; she said she shouldn't have tied him up in view of the window. Kelodin dismissed her, and then talked with the motley - he said that he didn't trust Ulsa, but wasn't sure of the angle.

The motley tried to suss it out. Ulsa was working for Maldiset, they knew that. But Maldiset wouldn't benefit from the Thallain trying to start a war between changelings. The characters decided they needed to find out more, so they split up. Krysa and Ambrose set off after Ulsa, using Krysa's rats to track her. Thaia used Soothsay again, zeroing in on whoever cast the Poisoned Apple cantrip. She followed the will-o-wisp, and Zulkis and Sander went with her.

The rats led Krysa to a club with a line out the door; Krysa tried to get in, but the bouncer wasn't interested. Ambrose crept around back and slithered in a window, and hid in the crowd; the noise and lights bothered his senses.

Meanwhile, the other three changelings had made a big circle and approached the club from the other direction. The bouncer pointed at Thaia and told her she could go in (she's a sidhe, remember), and Sander charmed his way in, too. Inside, they saw Ulsa sitting at a table with a changeling...they thought? They didn't recognize his kith. The glowy ball, however, made straight for them (Ambrose had been creeping toward them, too, but the glow-ball kind of tipped Ulsa off).

Ulsa looked up, jumped up on a railing, and fell forward into the crowd. Ambrose tried to catch her, but missed, and she vanished. The other changeling tried to run, but the others caught him. He introduced himself as Fetinus.

He said that he was Thallain, and he and his friends Rista (the now-dead Beastie) and Hyum (the now-dead skinwalker) had been hired by a woman named Hex to work with Ulsa. The aim? Start chaos? Fetinus wasn't exactly sure of the long-term goal, but he said he didn't need one. After all, he said, you folks are all Unseelie. You're just one little push away from us.

He agreed to talk with them if they could get him out of the city; he had no interest in joining his comrades. The characters figured they should take him to Kelodin, and so we ended much as we began - en route to see the duke with a captive Thallain in tow.

But who is Hex? All Fetinus said was that she wasn't Thallain...in fact, he didn't know what she was. She just wanted to "burn it all down."

Next time, the exciting conclusion!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Non-Participatory

"No way."

She was the worst kind of parent. Absolutely my least favorite. She wasn't undereducated or slow or poor or rich; those parents all came with their own challenges, but there was always an approach that tended to work.

No, this lady was well-informed, and that was a lot harder to work with. Lots of times it involved telling them the truth, but I wasn't quite ready to do that, yet.

"Mrs. Green, I can't guarantee your son's safety." I took a sip of water. "I can't guarantee anyone's. That's the whole problem." I swiveled my computer screen around. It was open to an article in the Globe. The headline read 124, 32 ABDUCTED DEAD IN LATEST ATTACK. "This is what's happening."

She didn't move. She didn't nod. She didn't respond. Damn it.

"It's actually worse that this," I said, lowering my voice. "These are the visible attacks, the ones that happen when they feel secure enough to go loud. The worst ones, there aren't any headlines about those, because the numbers are more like 'zero dead, hundreds abducted.'"

This time she nodded. Her pursed lips softened, the wall cracked a little. Good. She still didn't say anything, though.

"We've had a lot of successes with this program, but we can't publicize it. For one thing, due to the nature of the tech involved, the more people who know it exists, the more variables we have to account for in the calculations. If that gets out of control, we honestly don't know what happens." I shuddered. It wasn't an act. Dr. Al-Oakdi had run those numbers our first day, and his left eye hadn't stopped twitching since.

"And this is all supposed to make me feel better about giving you my 8-year-old son, so you can take his brain and-"

I didn't let her finish. It was rude, I know. "No, no, no. We're not doing anything with his brain, nothing his brain can't already do. We're going to train him in using his brain. And it only works because he's so young."

She dropped her eyes. I don't pray, but I found myself thinking please don't make me tell her the truth. Not because I didn't think it would work, but because the more people who knew the truth, the more likely it was that someone who screw that truth up.

"Well," she said. "What if he's an analyst? Like, what if he learns something he can do here? You need people with those skills, right?" Damn. Very smart.

"Sure," I said. "And we can ask that of him. But you have to remember - it's his head. Ultimately, there is literally no way we can force him to learn communications tech, or the invaders' language, or computer sims, or targeting systems, or any number of things he could do from here rather than out in the field." I took another drink. It gets dry in here; biohazard protocols and all. "But if he wants to learn sniping, or lockpicking, or driving, or stealth, or anything else than an 8-year-old boy might find cool...then that's what he'll learned." What he will have learned, as Dr. Ramirez would say, but I'm not as much of a stickler for the grammar. "We had one kid - Mei - who went forward and learned to make candy. Like, she's amazing at it." I nodded at the dish of hard candies on my desk. "Those have lavender and lemon in them, they're fantastic. But it's not much of a help against the invaders."

Mrs. Green is quiet for a minute. "What if I give Marius the choice?"

"You mean, explain it to him and ask if he wants to do it? Sure, that's fine. I'd just suggest we let one of our recruits explain it."

"Why?"

Because the kids make it sound awesome, I thought. "Kids relate to other kids better, and the kids who have actually gone through it can explain it in experiential terms. I can't do that, all I can do is explain it in theory, and then it seems too abstract."

She nods. "OK. I'll bring him in tomorrow, if that's all right."

"That's fine. I'll make sure someone's free to talk to him. There's a playroom we use for this kind of thing. No video games, just space to run around, some toys, basketball hoop, that kind of thing."

"He likes superheroes," she whispers. She's tearing up. I don't blame her, but I need her son. His scores on the NPAT were 87th percentile, highest I've seen in weeks.

"OK. I'll get Tim up here, he's Marius' age and I've never seen him without a Batman t-shirt." Except when he's in uniform.

Mrs. Green leaves. She doesn't know the truth, which is just as well. I breathe, and pop one of Mei's candies in my mouth.

They really are fantastic.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Post #2: Character Creation: Beyond

So, I was planning on doing a character that required a bit more work today, and then I got wrapped up in updating my list and printing some errant character sheets and stuff, so I need to do a low-work character today. I did think about Feng Shui 2nd Ed, but eh, I'll do that sometime this week when I have a few minutes (my resolution this week is to spend less time playing X-Com).

But I have another game I can do.

The Game: Beyond
The Publisher: Zero Point Information
Degree of Familiarity: None with this game, but the game is 2 pages long and it's not terribly complicated.
Books Required: Just the PDF.

I think I got this game in a bundle, either that or I bought it when +Stew posted about it originally. In any case, it's Pay What You Want, so give it a look.

In Beyond, you're playing a ghost, but the experience is pretty distilled (as opposed to some other games). One player in a given scene controls Entropy, the force that pulls all the ghosts down into nothingness. Ghosts work to resolve the questions they're face with (which double as character creation, as we'll seen in a minute).

The system uses color-coded d6s; you get successes on low rolls but Pathos on high ones. Entropy can use Pathos to damage ghosts, crossing out questions.

All in all it looks pretty simple; as usual I think an example of play would not go amiss. But let's make a dead guy.

What Was Your Name? Let's call him Jeff Tylinski.

What Did You Do? Jeff was a FedEx driver. He had a degree in psychology and just hadn't figured out what to do with it.

How Did You Die? Jeff was making a delivery to a kiosk at a mall (some materials that the owners sent out to the franchisees; Jeff doesn't know what was in the box) when some 20-something, pissed off at the world, pulled an AR-15 out of his coat and started firing. Jeff was dead before he heard the first shots. 12 other people died that day, but Jeff hasn't seen any of them around.

Who Remembers You? Jeff's roommate was his best friend from college. Lynch was in basically the same position as Jeff; educated but underemployed. They were close. Jeff was actually kind of happy when Lynch got turned down for a well-paying job that would have taken him out of state.

Why Did You Not Pass On? What Emotion Held You Back? Jeff supposes his should be pissed at how he died, but he didn't really have time to get angry about it. I think Jeff didn't pass on because he felt frustrated - like he was dumped into adulthood with no clear picture of what he was supposed to be doing and afraid of what that meant for the future. That's not exactly traditional ghost story stuff, but I think I'm OK with that. I think if we confronted this question in a scene it would be Jeff dealing with a kid very much like the one who shot him; frustrated at the world and unable to express it or cope.

What Does Your Darkness Want? What Emotion Drives It? Ooh. Well, I think his Darkness is the guy who shot him, or someone very much like him. It's driven by entitlement, the notion that because Jeff played by the rules and got a degree and so forth, he deserves something, that the promise of a comfortable life was in some way a promise. His Darkness is the ugly, sticky rage of the guy who started shooting. Jeff wasn't like that...but then, the voice says otherwise.

What Was the First Gift that Death Brought? The Second? These are ghosty powers. I'll take Wisp (making a little glowy ball that can flummox electronics) and Haunter (making walls bleed and form messages).

And that's it, actually. Interesting little game, this.


Sunday Post #1: Unwritten

So, last night we did character creation for Unwritten, and we were going to play it, but time got away from us and we decided we'd rather have a second date to play it rather than either play until 2AM or rush through a scene or two.

Unwritten, if you don't know, is an RPG based on the old Myst video games (you can get the PDF here, pay what you want). Now, I played the first one waaaaaay back in the day, liked it, and never really got into the others, but there's like a whole huge fandom around the games and the novels and the MMO. I really like Unwritten (I'm gonna be writing a review for RPG.net, I just haven't decided if I'm going to write it before or after we play the session).

Anyway, we used one of the preexisting frameworks, but then went on to do much of the rest of the game creation-work. Everyone created an Age, which might or might not get visited when we play. Folks all added a detail about the setting, which wound up focusing on the underground city of D'ni.

Specifically, there's an unexplored section of the city where the weather is backwards. Rain pools on the ground and then falls up, and occasionally it gets cold enough to snow (also in reverse). Electrical devices don't work there, either. Also, D'ni has an organized crime ring, and they're very interested in the unexplored section...

Characters, then:


  • Sarah plays Eleni, daughter of a minor magistrate in the Guild of Maintainers. The mafia has him under their thumb, and she'd like to get him out. She's curious and has a knack for finding Books in weird places. 
  • Mike plays Nick Boydelatour, a veteran explorer. He was going to be an astronaut, but a minor heart murmur kept him out. He found his way to D'ni, and he's been exploring new worlds ever since. 
  • John plays Terra, who Linked into D'ni as a child, carrying a grapple gun, and having no idea what kind of Age she's from. She's been searching for her home Age ever since. She was adopted by the head of the local "mafia," which puts her at odds with her friend, Eleni; Terra refuses to believe what Eleni tells her about her dad.
  • Travis plays Principessa, a young orphan who acts as a gopher for the mafia. She's overconfident, daring, and skilled at reading art and making judgements about the people who made it.
  • Michelle plays Saron, a junior member of the Guild of Archivists. She's heavily book-smart, but has very little real-world experience. She's also the secret daughter of the mafia head (Terra's adopted father); she's been told her father died in an accident. 
So, next time, we'll actually get into this. Unwritten doesn't really do much with combat (there are, in fact, no combat skills), so all of this mafia stuff is going to be more an omnipresent threat/family issue than a source of physical conflict. I'm looking forward to it.