Monday, May 22, 2017

Movie #406: Megamind

Megamind is an animated superhero movie starring Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, and Brad Pitt.

As a baby, the blue-skinned, huge-headed Megamind (Ferrell) is sent to Earth in a spaceship, but so is a handsome, super-powered baby that winds up the hero of Metro City, Metroman (Pitt). Megamind, raised by convicts in a "prison for the criminally gifted", decides that since his attempts to be liked failed, he will instead be the villain they already seem to think he is. He and Metroman grow up to have a very comfortable dynamic - Megamind attacks the city, kidnaps Roxanne Ritchi (Fey), the plucky reporter who is rumored to be involved with Metroman, Metroman beats him, he goes to jail.

And then one day, he wins, killing Metroman and taking over the city. Megamind quickly grows bored and dissatisfied, but rebounds by (in disguise) romancing Roxanne and plotting to create a new hero. Unfortunately, his attempts to do that go horribly wrong when he empowers Hal (Hill), Roxanne's love-smitten cameraman, who's about one fedora away from talking about red pills and friend zones. As Titan (or Tighten, depending on who's spelling it).

Twist, of course, is that Metroman isn't dead, he just got bored, too, and wanted to live his own life. Megamind eventually winds up beating Tighten and taking on the mantle of Metro City's protector.

This movie caught some flak for being unoriginal when it opened, and yeah, we've seen all these beats before. I like it, though. Megamind's interplay with his sapient-fish Minion (Cross) is a lot of fun, as is Roxanne's boredom when she's kidnapped - everyone knows that Megamind is no real threat, including Megamind, which means that when Metroman "dies" it's a legitimate shock for everyone. Hill is uncomfortably recognizable to anyone who's been in the geek/comic/RPG/gaming scene for any length of time, completely oblivious to what's really going on and earnestly believing that the world owes him.

It does kind of bug me that Metroman just drops out, even when lives are obviously at stake; I kind of wish he'd actually shown up during the latter part of the movie and been incapacitated or something (although for all we know, he was zipping around the city at superspeed saving people and letting Megamind take on Tighten). Megamind's awesome showmanship and love of classic rock is likewise a selling point, though I did point out to my kids that if you'd told me in 1987 that an Ozzy Osbourne song would be used in a kid's cartoon about superheroes, I'd have told you to shut up.

All in all, it's well-cast and fun. It doesn't have the "right in the feels" of The Incredibles, but that's probably good; it's nice to have a superhero movie that's both good and light.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Memento

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Feng Shui: One Last (Prep) Time

And now we come to the last session of Feng Shui. Players, stop reading now.

Night's Black Agents: Road Movie To Berlin

(I actually really hate that song, but it was in my head yesterday.)

Yesterday we ended the current op in Night's Black Agents, with comparatively little fanfare and no one getting shot!

The agents, you'll recall, had captured Obrad Burarcic, Sheela Smith, and Matis Bagdonas and were keeping them prisoner in a warehouse in Dublin while they interrogated them. Figuring that they'd learned all they could from their prisoners, they went about setting them free.

The real question here was what to do after that. They figured that Sheela would be in the wind once released and Obrad would probably have the full weight of the conspiracy on his side, but maybe Matis would lead them somewhere interesting. They left the warehouse, but watched it. About a day after they left, they saw Sheela emerge, walk up the way to the harbormaster, and talk to some dock works. A bit later, the police arrived. Matis was taken away in handcuffs. Obrad was taken away in an ambulance, and Sheela was taken away in a police car, but didn't seem to be under arrest.

The agents fell back to London, and Parker called her friend in MI5, Gerard Patel, to ask about Sheela. He told her that Sheela hadn't been arrested because she didn't have any criminal warrants out (Parker had initially been concerned that Smith might be in the intelligence community, too). Patel said that Matis had warrants out in a few places, including Hungary; he was being shipped to Budapest tomorrow. Obrad was in the hospital in Dublin, but wasn't in any danger; he was just old and had been held prisoner for a week.

The agents considered: Was Matis being taken to Budapest just bait? Probably he'd wind up in the prison, and from there who knows, but hitting the prison remained something they were pretty terrified to do. They talked about their targets once again. Ava Kingsilver was discussed, since if the agents resurfaced she'd probably come for Gambone, but they decided to hit the softest target they knew about: Dierke Essert.

They did some digging; Essert, you might recall, is an industrialist and higher-up in the International Free Energy Association. He was at the party in Switzerland, and then delayed his return to Berlin for a day. Obrad had identified him as a vampire, but he hadn't exhibited the trademark lisp at the party, so the agents assumed he'd been turned shortly thereafter.

Digging into his personal accounts, Hanover and MacAteer learned that he'd given himself a raise and started moving money into offshore accounts - thus far, he wasn't doing anything illegal, but to them it looked like the kind of thing one did if one expected to have to disappear. They also noted that he had been an avid patron of the symphony and opera, but his attendance had fallen off since the night of the party.

Talking to Sedillo and Koltay, the agents realized that making weapons against the vampires would be easiest if they had a "live" specimen to work with. But how to get Essert across the continent to England? The answer was obvious: Don't. Bring the scientists to him.

But then where to set up? Essert lived in a luxury apartment, that was no help. But, upon some further investigation, they found he owned a chalet in the German Alps. It was remote and difficult to access, and didn't have a full-time staff. That could work.

The agents decided to go out there, secure the place, and then have MacAteer do something in Berlin to scare Essert and send him running for the chalet. Then they'll take care of whatever personal security is with him, and Koltay and Sedillo can do their experiments.

That's the rough idea. The plan will actually be the first stage of the next op.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Movie #405: The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life is the last feature film from the Monty Python troupe, and as such stars Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman. Carol Cleveland shows up as well.

Unlike Life of Brian and Monty Python & The Holy Grail, which had, like, plots, The Meaning of Life is just a bunch of sketches that wouldn't really have been funny enough for the TV show stitched together with the very loose premise of "the meaning of life." That is, there are title cards after after scene or two that say "THE MEANING OF LIFE PART [WHATEVER]: [A THING]".

Now, obviously Python humor is always absurdist, and I'm a big fan of the TV show (right up until Cleese left, and then it took a serious dip in quality) and the other two movies. But Meaning of Life is just...kind of sad. There are a couple of good sketches. "Every Sperm is Sacred" and the subsequent segue into a Protestant couple talking about how their religion allows for contraception, except that the man is so severe and joyless that he can't tell when his wife is asking for sex, is fun, and the scene where Death visits the chatty, vapid dinner party has the potential for humor, but it never quite arrives. Interestingly, I think the scene that works the best from a Python perspective is the Crimson Permanent Assurance sketch, in which a bunch of accountants overthrow their masters and sail their building off to attack other financial districts...and that has nothing to do with the rest of the film (except for a callback joke, which is kinda why it works?).

And then you get the sketches that are truly horrible. Basically everything in the restaurant. I forced myself to watch the sequence with Mr. Creosote this time (before I've skipped it, because watching Terry Jones in a fat suit spewing vomit on people is not any version of "funny" that I'm familiar with), and it's just ghastly.

I dunno. I think that this movie kinda signaled the death knell for Monty Python, even before Graham Chapman actually died. It feels like a bunch of sketches that weren't funny enough for TV but that they thought maybe they could string together with a flimsy pretext, and the result ranges from "mild chuckle" to "fuck, that's gross."

My grade: D-
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Megamind

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Promethean: Carnage

Last night was Promethean. I warned you last time of the horror that awaited the throng. Here we go with the horror.

They arrived back at the storefront late at night. They noticed that they didn't feel Sicky's Azoth, but that in itself wasn't concerning; Sicky had mentioned that he felt it was wise to dampen it. Skip entered the building first, and saw Sicky's hand on the counter...severed. The rest of him was behind the counter. He'd been decapitated and hacked up.

Grimm, himself a skilled investigator, examined the crime scene and realized that someone had taken Sicky out with a large hatchet. He activated Vitreous Humour to look for spirits, but just found some lingering death-spirits; no ghosts (he wasn't sure if Prometheans left ghosts, anyway). Barbara didn't know if Sicky had ever died before, and as far as the throng knew you only get one death. Grimm, pondering this, found himself in a vision: He was a cop, crouched on the floor while other cops worked the scene. Justine Berry approached and said the only way to know what happened was to ask the victim. Grimm asked how that was possible, and she said "guess you'll have to find him." Grimm awoke from the vision realizing he was close to the projectio milestone.

Grimm, Enoch, and Feather stitched his body back together, and Avalon used her Spark of Life Distillation to bring the corpse to some semblance of life (though of course she wasn't sure if she'd get Sicky, the person whose body was used to make Sicky, or something else entirely). The creature she animated was able to answer some questions; the person who'd killed Sicky was a muscular man carrying a hatchet and smelling of grease and metal.

The body answered Avalon's questions, but then grew agitated when she talked about sending him "back," saying he didn't have a "back" to go to. Feather urged her to sever the connection as thunder started to rumble outside and the sky grew yellow, but she waited, and then finally pulled out the Pyros she'd infused the body with. But then that ball of Pyros exploded.

The blast pushed the furniture around the room and warped everyone's flesh (except Avalon's). Feather grew gills and had to rush to the bathroom to run water on her neck so she could breathe. Skip's rib cage cracked backwards and formed into flesh wings. Enoch's frog-hand shed its skin and grew a mouth. Matt's tattoos started moving and constricting his arm, and Grimm's hand fell off while the arm bones grew into a hideous prong.

This all lasted just a few minutes (Enoch felt his body start to degrade toward the end), but then the effect abated and their flesh returned to normal. Everyone kind of groused at Avalon for letting her curiosity get the better of her again. Enoch noted that this effect was similar to a very localized Firestorm.

All of this didn't tell them where Sicky was, though. They decided that the best way to find him would be to go to the Underworld and look, but aside from the obvious, they weren't sure how to get there. They decided to go and ask Charon, since if anyone would know about the Underworld, it'd be him (Barbara stayed behind to wait in case Sicky returned). They found Charon and he said he could introduce them to someone who knew more about the Underworld, but he didn't know her well and made no promises. Grimm said it would easier just to go and find Sicky himself, and Charon agreed to send him. He bade Grimm turn around, then pulled out a gun and shot him in the head (using magic to mute the sound).

Grimm woke up on the banks of the River of Memory (Lethe), Sicky sitting next to him. Sicky, when he realized that Grimm had come to the Underworld (using up his one free death to do so), he wept. Sicky, for his part, had visited the Underworld before; he claimed he could do it and return, which fascinated Grimm. Sicky told him about the man who'd killed him. The body's description from earlier was accurate, but Sicky also mentioned a mechanic's shirt and a ball cap. The killer had asked "Where's the bitch?", but Sicky hadn't known, and had kind of been in shock when the man chopped off his hand. Sicky was horrified by the rage the man had shown, and felt powerless to defend himself. Sicky returned, but first told Grimm that the waters of Lethe could show him anything he wanted to know, even steps along the Pilgrimage...but there was a price.

Grimm pondered his death. He'd chosen to die because Sicky was a good guy, and anyone who'd take out that kind of anger on Sicky needed retribution. In realizing this, he achieved his projectio milestone: Visit the River of Death. He sipped from the river, and felt his mind grow numb (losing a dot of Intelligence), but he learned the identity of the killer: Red Odell, the blood bather than the characters killed in New Mexico some months back (and who Feather kicked into the River of Woe, in fact). He'd returned...with a new friend, though Grimm didn't know what that meant.

Grimm returned to his body. In the meanwhile, the Prometheans and Charon had chatted about death and the ability to return from it. Enoch got the number for the person Charon had mentioned. They bade him farewell and headed back up to the storefront, where they found Sicky chatting with Barbara. Sicky ran to give Grimm a hug, and thanked him for coming to the Underworld to find him. Sicky's hand was now twisted and useless; the price of resurrection, he said (Enoch confirmed that this was something some Osirans could do).

The Prometheans, now realizing that Red was after them and probably had been for some time, called up the people they'd met on their travels to check in. Matt contacted the folks who ran the Bed n' Breakfast and werewolf-cousin who worked there, Feather called up her rabbi friend, Avalon contacted Babi Singh (to check on him and Ollie; she wasn't going to call Ollie herself for fear of reigniting his Disquiet) and Emil, the artist. Everyone was fine, and Emil promised to trash a hotel room for Avalon.

The characters decided that they'd ask Carroll about this (and check in, though no one really expected him to be hurt). Avalon called him up and he invited her and Feather to brunch (and gamely smiled when the rest of the throng showed up, too). They talked over bloody marys, and Carroll revealed that what they were talking about sounded like one of the Bound. They were decent enough people, mostly, but then, they were people, and that meant some variance. Carroll promised he'd be careful.

The characters split up, having various things they wanted to handle (going to the camp, for one). Grimm, for his, part, pondered how to track one of these "Bound."

Board Game: Tokaido

Actually played this a few weeks back, but I don't like stacking these posts. Also I forgot.

The Game: Tokaido
The Publisher: Passport Game Studios
Time: 20-30 minutes, I think
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Game play: The idea here is that you're a traveler along the "east sea road." It's basically a point-gathering game; you can gather points by stopping at villages and buying stuff (you get more points if you get sets), stopping at hot springs, praying at temples, and so forth. You pick a random traveler at the beginning of the game, each of which has a special power. My traveler was a messenger, meaning that I could draw event cards every time I stopped at a village (and event cards generally help you complete portraits, which help you get points).

The board.
What's interesting is that the turns aren't round-robin; you go if you're the further from the end. That means that you can block someone from landing on a particular space by landing on it first, but if you jump too far ahead, you're cutting yourself off from a lot of potential sources of points.

Teagan ponders her cards.
Everyone has to stop at inns, which serve as a way to kind of reset and equalize things a bit. The game ends when everyone reaches the destination, and then you get some achievements for, like, most items, most money, most time in hot springs, etc.

Opinions: It's a fun and deceptively simple game with some hidden strategy to it. It also plays pretty quickly once you understand it, and, I gotta point this out: The instructions are clear. That's huge for a board game; typically it seems like a bot wrote them in Icelandic and then fed them to Google translate.

There's a bunch of stuff to keep track of it, but it flows pretty well once you've played a few turns.

Keep? Yep.

Chill Y'all Nice

There was story arc in Doonesbury a long time ago involving Mr. Butts, a sentient cigarette meant to be a mascot for cig companies. Anyway, at one point there was an ad campaign within the comic (or maybe a nightmare about one? I never read the comic consistently) in which Butts, as "Mr. B" did a rap shilling cigarettes called "Uptown Smokes" alongside "Baby Tar." It was written...about like you'd expect a white guy in Canada to write a rap in the 80s. It included the line "Uptown smokes gon' chill y'all nice."

Now, casual racism aside (Bloom County did this kind of thing, too, and as a fan of hip-hop all throughout the mid/late 80s and early 90s, it kind of horrified me), that line doesn't even make sense, because when "chill" is used as a verb, it's almost invariably used to mean "relax or kick back and hang out," as in "just chillin'" or "chill out." If used as an adjective, it could mean roughly the same thing as "cool" or "fresh." I have never seen the word used as a verb to mean "make someone or something else relaxed," though I suppose that's not too far off the standard meanings. Anyway, it's a play on the word "chill," and I ran Chill on Saturday, so here we are.

Last time, the envoys investigated the strange goings-on at St. Paul Hospital, recently purchased by the Glorian Health Group, and discovered that it was haunted by a creature called the "Eye Biter." They waited until dark, gathered up their gear, and headed for the hospital.

They entered the tunnel leading from the construction site to the hospital, and picked their way along carefully. They eventually got to the hospital proper, and found an opening that had been drywalled over and then punched in from the tunnel side. They climbed through (after BB used Feat of Strength to make the hole bigger) and discovered that there had been a big filing cabinet blocking it, but that had been moved. Also they found some cigarette butts on the floor - apparently this little disused room made for a handy smoke break room.

They crept down the hall and to the morgue, and found a morgue attendant sitting up at his desk...dead. His back had been snapped just above the waist, and his eyes melted. After some Resolve checks (and some attendant Trauma), the envoys moved the body onto a table and covered it with a sheet. They were looking around when they heard footsteps - another orderly appeared. Everyone hid except BB, who pulled on a lab coat and pretended to be a new hire, a resident from Brisbane. The orderly (John) asked after Ryan (the morgue attendant) and wasn't really buying BB's story (BB is a terrible liar); he peeked into the other room and saw the other characters. Thinking quickly, Dee yelled "SURPRISE...oh, wait, you're not Ryan," and played it off like they were waiting to surprise Ryan for his birthday. John fell for this one (Dee is a good liar), and agreed to go back up and text BB if Ryan came around.

This led to some quick discussion - they'd been seen, Ryan was dead, and that was probably going to be a problem. In the meanwhile, though, they still had work to do. They started opening the drawers, figuring that the creature might have crawled into one...and indeed, when Jeanie opened one, it sprang out.

Her Quicken discipline kept her from being injured, but the creature - a horrible centipede thing with a baby-like head and composed of little doll-like arms - hissed, and suddenly the envoys couldn't see it anymore. Jeanie tossed her device, but it made a short screech and fizzled (her player botched when making it, remember).

Edward ran to the other room to try and head it off, but it jumped on him and twisted, and he felt ribs crack. BB ran in after him, brandishing his pistol and smacked it on the head, but it reversed itself and landed on BB, giving him the same treatment. Dee ran in banging a tray with a metal implement and it let go of BB and twitched, whereupon Jeanie pulled the fire alarm. The klaxons seemed to confuse it, and Dylan drew a Line of Defense around it, trapped it. The envoys retrieved their guns (which they'd left in this room) and blew the thing to a milky white smear.

Knowing they only had a few minutes, they retrieved some chemicals from the morgue and lit the thing's body up. They also put Ryan's body in this room, hoping it might look like he'd killed the thing before he died. They fled, realizing that Dee's dog Sweet Baby Jesus had disappeared, but having no time to find him.

The next day, the pound call; the dog had been picked up in the hospital. Dee gave them a story about visiting a friend there and the dog getting loose, and they bought that. The characters healed and started exercising (everyone felt they needed more STA), and decided maybe their next case would be this closed-down church in Coeur d'Alene.

Of course, the hospital situation isn't clean. The CEO that Glorian put in charge was made to resign after it became clear she'd covered up some eyeless corpse issues in the morgue, but that didn't explain the two murdered bodies (Ryan and the construction worked) the folks found on site. The characters' prints were also all over the morgue, but that only matters if the characters were ever printed...or if they get printed after this.

For now, though, case closed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Board Game: Super Munchkin

I can basically just cut-n-paste the header from the last time I played Munchkin, huh? 

The Game: Munchkin
The Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Time: 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how many people are playing
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Kick in the door...heroically!
Game Play: Super Munchkin is just Munchkin reskinned. So: you start out level 1 and no class or race, and then every turn you kick in a door. If you get a monster (sorry, villain) you can fight it. If you win (meaning your level is higher than its level) you go up a level. You can also find treasures (which mostly just give you bonuses to levels), backgrounds (which are like races and give you some special abilities), and traps (which do bad things to you). 

Behold, I am a mutant.
First one to level 10 wins. Much of the strategy of the game, such as it is, is to hit your opponents with modifier cards to make it impossible for them to win fights, or end fights before they can win them, and so on. You can ask for help from people (and they've specified now that you can only accept help from one person at a time), and I usually agreed to help when the kids would ask, but if I were serious there's no way I would because no matter what they give you, the person you help always winds up closer to winning. 

Opinions: I dunno. Munchkin is cute and all, but I find the endless reskins a little boring. There's usually some attempt at shifting the rules a little, but not so you'd notice. Plus, a lot of the humor relies a little too much on gender stereotypes (fun fact: Your character starts off the same gender as you, and then there are references to cards making you "switch" genders). It never quite crosses over into offensive, but it's more than a little sophomoric. 

Cael handily won this game.
Keep? Probably not. I have Munchkin classic, and that skin suits the game better.

Feng Shui: Penultimate

As the story winds down, we find the Dragons approaching the Mountain of Storms, which the Ladies of Jade & Ivory have told them is the stronghold of the Eternal Chameleon.

They climb into the foothills with their contingent of soldiers, staring up into the rain-slicked mountains. And then, in a flash of lightning, arrows! Soldiers and sorcerers appear and fire, accompanied by four lieutenants: A sorcerer, a martial artist, a dude in a huge suit of armor crackling with electricity, and their general, the man known as the Demon River.

Lord Smoke fires before the enemies can attack, however, felling two of the soldiers. Celeste shoots, Melody tries (and fails) to use magic (dice were not cooperating), and Bai leaps up into the foothills to engage directly. The martial artist leaps down and engages, but Bai sets them on fire. Demon River fires at Lord Smoke, declaring him to be most dangerous, but never quite hits well enough.

The dude in the armor, though...when Celeste shoots (and spends Fortune), he calls to the heavens and lightning lances down at her! She employs her counter-ritual and prevents the lightning from hitting, at least accurately, and the fight rages on. The soldiers the Dragons brought fire a volley and mostly miss (because that's what mooks do), but they do manage to take out a couple of the opponents.

Lord Smoke fires arrows at Demon River, felling him. Bai throws the martial artist down the mountain, and Chrys coldly dispatches them with a headshot ("Dodge this" counts as Blam! Blam! Epigram! because the bad guys haven't seen The Matrix). Celeste fires on the Lightning Eater and he explodes in a blast of electricity. The last one, a sorceress named Ghost Tears, knows she's beat and vanishes.

The characters enter the cave, and written on the wall is a warning: Continuing on faces four tests.

The Blade's Embrace: The Dragons and their five surviving soldiers press on through a tight, tiny hallway...and then the blades start popping out. Bai and Celeste survive unscathed, but Chrys and Smoke bleed...and behind them, they hear the screams of their soldiers. Only one survives.

The Demon's Mouth: They emerge into a rounded room, and encounter a stench of monstrous proportions. Bai and Smoke double over, retching, but Chrs and Celeste hold it together (as do Melody and the surviving soldier). The Dragons stumble forward into the next trap...

The Deluge of Pain: They stand in a huge, featureless plain and in the distance hear the distinct twip of multiple arrows. The Dragons dodge, but Smoke and...someone else (I think Celeste?) are struck. The soldier, however, manages to dodge the arrows, and Smoke acknowledges him as "Fang" (you survive all this as a mook, you get a name).

The Endless Road: Past the featureless plain is a corridor that just continues forever. The Dragons walk, and find themselves lulled into zombie-like shambling...all except Smoke, who manages to find the light within and keep his focus. The Dragons emerge into an endless cemetery.

Each of the headstones in the cemetery bears a name, but, Celeste notes, also a character meaning "Vengeful Dead." She warns them about this, and in the distance they see a mausoleum. As they approach, they see a monstrous spirit rise up...Wildfire, the spirit of vengeance. As it springs forward, the dead rise around them.

The Dragons fight valiantly, though, Smoke felling ghosts with his arrows and Chrys shooting at Wildfire (but not doing much damage to his ectoplasmic form). Melody threw magic at him and stunned him, and Celeste counter-ritual'd his "eat people for health" power (she wasn't sure if this version of him had it, but that's not the kind of luck you test).

Wildfire leaped at Melody and bit her open. Celeste jumped to her aid and Bai healed her, and Smoke shot and Chrys shot him until his form vanished. Bai patched up Melody with his Healing Petals, and the Dragons listened and heard voices from the sepulcher. Inside, they found a casket with the void inside, and heard the Eternal Chameleon's rants.

They climbed in, onward toward destiny and, perhaps, the end of the Chi War.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Movie #404: Maverick

Maverick is a Western/comedy starring Mel Gibson, James Garner, Jodie Foster, Alfred Molina, and James Coburn. It's one of those "this movie is really funny and it's Mel Gibson before he went publicly crazy" movies.

Brett Maverick (Gibson) is a gambler trying to get his hands on the last $3000 he needs to enter a high-stakes poker championship. He keeps getting stymied, though; people who owe him money stiff him, and he runs afoul of a hired gun and fellow gambler named Angel (Molina), who attempts to hang him. However, he also makes the acquaintance of a thief named Annabelle (Foster) and a Marshall named Cooper (Garner) who help him get where he's going, and of course he wins the championship and it's revealed that Cooper is actually his father. Good times had by all!

Maverick was a TV show in the late 50s, also starring James Garner, but I've never watched it and I don't know how closely it relates. The movie is a good time: It's basically a road movie, culminating in a poker game, which is hard to film with any real tension for any protracted amount of time. I think they could have milked the early stages of the poker game a little more, but that's mostly because I think it would have been nice to see Foster's character winning a bit.

I think my favorite bits of this movie are with Graham Greene (playing Maverick's Native buddy Joseph), scamming the Russian Archduke (Paul L. Smith) out of a bunch of money. Joseph kinda flips the Magical Indian stereotype; he's clever but he's not magical, and he's not shy about telling Maverick what assholes white people are. Plus, of course, the Archduke was the loose inspiration for my Deadlands character Nikolai, so there's that.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Meaning of Life, The

Feng Shui Prep

Once again into the breach, dear friends.

Last session of Feng Shui was good, though everyone (me included) was pretty tired. I used a tool called the Destiny Deck and wound up writing the scenario out of that. I'm tempted to do it again, but I dunno. We're coming to the end of this game, and I've got an idea of where I want to go with it.

But, for that, you'd need to read on, unless you're playing in the game, in which case sod off.

Misspent Youth Episode Three: Sellin' Out Like Whoa

Yesterday's session of Misspent Youth was brutal; the characters lost six of seven episodes on the dice, but only wound up actually losing one because they decided winning was more important than their Convictions. Let's watch.

First, our Authority Figures for the day.

  • The Overseer, maintaining a list of people who needed to be punished, which the YOs could handle because of their new responsibilities with the Kennels (this really didn't get touched on at all, but hopefully it gets brought up next time). 
  • Billy, the Master of Revels, a god in charge of getting the parties together and boosting morale. 
  • The Four Winds, four gods coming to claim new bodies. 
  • Veris, the spider-like god of inventory.
  • Narcissus, a newly-appointed Prefect and member of the House of Gaga, like Alaska
And then our Friendship Questions:
  • Jacqui asked Alaska: "Who did you sneak out to see the other night?" Answer: "Yasha."
  • Alaska asked Eli: "Why Theo?" Answer: "Have you seen his butt?"
  • Eli asked Yasha: "Who were you talking to that you don't want Alaska to know about?" Answer: "Tea, to get more ambrosia."
  • Yasha asked Kshanti: "What aren't you telling us about why you're in this facility?" Answer: "I volunteered."
  • Kshanti asked Jacqui: "What have you been mixing into your inks?" Answer: "Carbon dust and ambrosia."
Scene One: What's Up

Yasha's player sets the scene and chooses Billy as the Authority Figure. 

The YOs are out in the middle of nowhere on a butte doing trust falls, but because we're talking about gods, here, they're falling off the butte. Alaska, on her turn, refuses, saying that she does not, in fact, trust these people. Billy offers to fall into her arms to show trust, and flies up to the top of the butte. He falls, and Alaska deliberately lets him fall (Yasha's play wins on Alaska's Thrills Conviction), but Billy is convinced it was an accident and agrees to let the YOs come out later and blow off some steam. 

Kickoff: This episode is about trust.

Scene Two: Fighting Back

Alaska's player sets this up, and chooses Eli's question to Yasha ("Who were you talking to that you don't want Alaska to know about?"). The YOs are back in their room and Yasha, claiming to be hungry, heads to the kitchen to talk to Tea. Alaska and Kshanti follow quietly. Eli and Jacqui run interference around Theo, who's in the hallway, and Eli and Theo flirt awkwardly. 

Meanwhile, Yasha talks with Tea as the kitchen-goblins scamper around. She tries to set up some conflict between Theo and Tea and Billy, but before she can really get into it, Alaska sees her and starts yelling at her for talking to Tea. Tea pushes them all out of the kitchen, and Alaska and Yasha have a really fun argument in which Yasha explains what she's doing: Trying to manipulate Tea into giving up more ambrosia and making things rocky enough that maybe the YOs won't be used as meat puppets to the gods. Alaska eventually relents, and Kshanti notices a goblin watching them. It scampers off and the YOs chase it, realizing it'll parrot everything they just said to Tea. Alaska hits it with a shoe and nearly knocks it down, but Jacqui runs smack into Eli and the goblin escapes into a vent (the YOs lose). Tea now knows Yasha's plans.

First Beat - Complication: What will Tea do?

Scene Three: Heating Up

Kshanti's player sets us up, using the Four Winds. They've arrived early, and now the Choosing begins. The YOs and the other inmates are in the bottom of a huge upside-down cone, with all the gods (or holographic representations thereof) seated on the sides. The Winds, in their old, decrepit, used-up bodies, are on a floating disc above the crowd. Billy act as master of ceremonies. 

The Winds assume their wind form and fly down among the people. Some of the inmates are hoping to be chosen, but most, including the YOs, are terrified. The West Wind flows around them and Jacqui's scarf goes fluttering up - the Wind seems to be considering her. The Winds finally decide that they will wait to make their decision until later, and the inmates are released. 

The YOs talk amongst themselves, trying to find a way out of this. They don't want to be meat-puppets, but they don't want the others to fall to that fate, either. Maybe it would be better if, at least, someone willing was taken by the Wind? They decide that their best bet is to compromise Billy the way they did Theo. Alaska suggests using her sexuality, seducing Billy, though the thought disgusts her. 

The YOs wind up going with Billy to a forest biome, and given special gloves to punch down diseased trees. Alaska again refuses, and Billy confronts her. Alaska turns on the charm, and Kshanti sneaks up behind him and puts her fingers in his head to manipulate his Mojo...but Billy is far, far more powerful than any of them thought. The really interesting bit comes when Kshanti is plugged into Billy and being spread across the Empathy between the YOs by Eli...but Billy is aware of this, on some level, meaning that Alaska is looking at herself as Billy sees her...with the potential to be a goddess. Jacqui uses her power over blood to arouse Billy like she did Theo, so that's in the mix, too. Yasha's player rolls and fails, but sells out Optimism to Cynical. She explains the whole plan to Billy, and Billy looks at her and realizes the attraction and history between Yasha and Alaska. But that does mean the YOs win, and Kshanti can exert some control over Billy. 

Scene Four: We Won

Eli's player sets us up, and chooses Alaska's question to Eli ("Why Theo?"). 

We're back at the dorm, after dinner, and the YOs are in a hot tub (which is heated by a small sleeping salamander). They talk about the day and what they've accomplished, and about Theo and Eli's weird lust. Alaska, though, understands now, since she's seen into Billy's head and seen how powerful and grand he really is. 

They see Jacqui's scarf blow in and get caught up in a tree. Jacqui, refusing to take part in this, leaves and asks Alaska to come with her so she can paint her. Kshanti decides to go find Billy, and Eli and Yasha go with her. 

They find Billy in his ship watching everything on innumerable screens...including Alaska getting painted. They give him the scarf, and Yasha again tries to play Billy against Tea and Theo. Billy isn't really having it (he's secure in his position, as are the siblings), but he's still taken with Alaska and notes, again, that maybe if he were to take Yasha's body, Alaska would be a better consort for him. 

Back in the room, Alaska, sensing what's happening through the bond, gets up to dance. Kshanti amplifies Billy's desire, and Eli's player rolls and loses...but sells out their MO to Empathy Gatekeeper, letting Billy into their web. Billy agrees to intervene if the West Wind chooses Jacqui, and the YOs leave. 

Scene Five: We're Fucked

I set this up, choosing Jacqui's question to Alaska ("who did you sneak out to see?"). At the Choosing. Billy, again MCing, has told the YOs that three of the Winds have chosen willing inmates, and the fourth might choose Jacqui, but if it does Billy will intervene. The North Wind flows down and chooses Phyllis, and they see her eyes go white as the god claims her body. The East Wind flows down and chooses someone that the YOs don't see. The South Wind flies down and claims Satin, a young man who screams in resistance. He collapses and Jacqui runs to him, trying to force the wind out. Kshanti bolsters Satin's own Mojo to help him resist. Satin spins around as the Wind tries to pull the breath from his body, and Jacqui tosses up a handful of inks. They sparkle and illuminate the Mojo within. Meanwhile, Yasha talks to Billy, but he says he can't interfere twice - it'll be this kid or Jacqui, not both. Alaska's player stands up and fails, but sells out her MO to It's All About Me! She screams and points to Kelly, another member of the House of Gaga, and someone who wants to be a god. The South Wind relinquishes Satin and flows into Kelly, who gives a weird "thanks?" look to Alaska before she is subsumed. 

The West Wind then flows down and tries to claim Jacqui, but Billy, true to his word, intervenes. He claims that Jacqui and her friends are marked by higher gods, gods not in attendance. (Murmurs begin among the gods - "Death gods?") The West Wind chooses another inmate, and the Choosing ends. 

Second Beat - Complication: Billy protects the clique. 

Scene Six: Who Wins

Jacqui's player sets this up. She chooses Kshanti's question to Jacqui ("What have you been mixing with the inks?"). 

After dinner, the characters are back in their dorm. Billy shows up and waves everyone else out, and talks with the YOs. He revealed that by protecting the YOs, he may have marked them even worse - because they are supposedly marked by gods unknown, everyone is going to want to know why. He leaves, and the YOs talk a bit...and then they realize that they are being gassed. 

Yasha punches the door and dents it, and Eli tries to force it open. Kshanti summons one of the Cerberoi to help, but it sniffs as though distracted. Alaska stands up and loses, but sells out Cool to Trendy. She jams the door open with a high heel, and the YOs win the episode. They follow the Cerberoi as it runs away towards what it was sniffing, and they find a tray of treats outside the cafeteria. Tea, apparently, tried to gas them, but for what purpose they don't know. 

Scene Seven: Aftermath

Yasha's player sets this scene up, and chooses Veris, the spider-like god of inventory. 

Veris appears as the YOs vent their anger at the cafeteria doors. Veris frisks Yasha for mouthing off to him, and then notes that the sparkly ink that Jacqui threw earlier was laced with ambrosia, which the YOs shouldn't have access to. They take the opportunity to cast aspersions on Tea (making it seem like her security is lax). Jacqui stands up and loses, but sells out Pride to Arrogant, and trash-talks Tea, saying that she tried to gas them. Veris agrees to look into this, and the YOs have driven a wedge between Veris and Tea. They've also added Billy as an Exploit, since he's compromised. 

Movie #403: The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Reloaded is the sequel to The Matrix, and stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ian Bliss, Gloria Foster, and really just a lot of people.

Some time after the events of The Matrix, Zion, the human city, is facing unprecedented aggression from the machines. Their military leader, Lock (Harry Lennix) orders all ships back to Zion, Morpheus (Fishburne) requests that one stay handy to see if the Oracle (Foster) tries to contact them. She does, but a crazed, self-replicating Agent Smith (Weaving) manages to infect a real live person called Bane (Bliss), and upload himself into the real world.

Neo (Reeves) meets with the Oracle and gets today's quest (go find the Keymaker and he can lead you to the Source), fights a horde of Smiths, then he and Morpheus and Trinity (Moss) go confront the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) because he's holding the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) prisoner, so more big fights, and then Neo finally gets into the Source and meets the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) who tells him that he's actually the sixth "One," the result of a compounding anomaly that blah blah lots of words Zion is about to be destroyed so he has to reboot the Matrix and pick out some survivors but he fucks off to save Trinity instead, and then leaves the Matrix, and disables a bunch of robots with real-world magic, falls unconscious, to be concluded in Matrix Revolutions which I don't own.

Woof. I remember seeing this movie in theaters and being really, really confused, and it hasn't gotten better. The whole movie is infodump followed by huge action set pieces, and those set pieces generally look really cool (the Neo vs. a Million Smiths fight hasn't aged very well, but the freeway chase is still awesome), but then we're back to "introduce a new character, let said character monologue, now another fight." It's like a game of Feng Shui if all of the wacky fun was stripped out.

The obvious conclusion to draw when Neo fries the Sentinels at the end is that the "real world" is in fact another layer of the Matrix, and there's some more evidence for that if you want to be a nerd and really analyze it (and these fine folks did). I kind of feel like the movie doesn't quite do a good enough job of explaining itself clearly, but it sure tries to explain itself. Repeatedly. The only thing that really comes across is that everyone thinks this universe is deterministic as fuck, which maybe plays into the idea that the "real world" isn't real, but unfolds as it must? I dunno. I think it might make more sense if you topped it off with the third movie, but I've had enough Christian imagery to last a lifetime and I'm not interested in watching it just to see if it makes this movie make more sense. Frankly, I'd have been happy if they'd left it at one Matrix movie.

My Grade: C
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Maverick

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Promethean: Stompy in the Swampy

Last time, you might recall, we ended with the throng heading out to the swamp to search for the camp, Barbara the Ulgan, or the gator-sublimatus. And indeed, they found all three.

They were walking into the swamp and noticed a human figure running about in the brush (Grimm, using his Vitreous Humour Alembic, realized it was a woman and a Promethean, and therefore probably Barbara). Feather called out to her, and she emerged and talked with them. This immediately tripped some milestones. For Skip, it was meet another Ulgan. For Enoch, it was much more significant: seek out a Promethean from the camp, which completed his Explorer Role. This, in turn, allowed him unlock a new Alembic (Mutatus Aspiratus), which turned out to be handy.

Barbara told the characters that the Gator was her creation, and she'd been trying to kill it for years but every time she got close, something would happen - people would be in danger, it would escape, whatever. Enoch took her aside and told her that he'd been in a similar position, and not to worry - the generative act was hard. Barbara said that the Gator probably wouldn't attack a big group like this, and they should split off.

Feather found the remains of a structure from the camp, and a Pilgrim Mark reading "knowledge." Underneath some boards, she found books. Skip and Matt walked to the water's edge to look for spirits (using Skip's Bestowment). Avalon kind of hung back; she'd used her Stone Alembic to change Skip and Grimm's shirts to armor, but she wasn't sanguine about her chances in a fight. Of course, that meant the Gator hit her first.

It exploded out of nowhere and landed on Avalon, ripping away a chunk of her shoulder and draining all of her Pyros. Grimm drew his pistol and fired one well-placed shot into the thing's head, nearly dropping it (seriously, he did like 10 damage). The Gator fell back and Avalon backed off, not wanting to get eaten completely. Barbara called down lightning and threw it at Avalon, healing her up.

And then the baby-gator Pandoran burst from the water, grabbed Skip, and pulled him in! Enoch activated his new Alembic and tried to drive them into Dormancy, but they were too angry and powerful. The Gator charged at Feather and bit her up pretty badly. Grimm shot it again, and it charged for the water. Barbara hit it with lightning, Matt shot it, and Feather blasted it with the Externalize Alembic, but its armor was strong enough that it kept going.

It charged into the water and grappled Skip, biting more of the flesh off his leg. He broke free and started to swim for shore, but then he realized that running from this fight would just endanger others, and turned around to punch it. The Gator bit him again, pulling him closer to death (and remember, Skip has seen the River already so if he dies, it's real), but he held on and punched it, cracking its skull.

Feather and Matt waded in to help. The smaller on snapped at Matt, but missed. Barbara yelled to get the Gator's head up, and Feather dove in to do that. They held up the monster and Barbara hit it with lightning, and blew its head right off.

Enoch tried his new Distillation again and dropped the baby gator into Dormancy. Matt grabbed it by the tail and threw it onto the bank, where Grimm and Matt made short work of it.

Skip waded out of the water, wounded, bleeding, but enlightened. This fight wasn't really his, but he'd risked his life to finish it. In doing so, he'd completed a milestone: win a fight while wounded with aggravated damage, and mastered the Soldier Role.

Barbara hit Skip with her healing-lightning and fixed some of the damage, and the throng threw some Pyros at Avalon to help her feel better. The Prometheans talked. Barbara felt that she was finally free of the Gator - the beast she'd been chasing for years. Now she was ready to move along. Matt asked her how she was able to command lightning like that, and she told him (and the others) that it was a matter of embracing Torment rather than pushing it away, and letting the lightning follow. She took the throng to her little hovel in the swamp, and gave Avalon a shirt. Matt found a Pilgrim Mark on the shack that said "BEWARE," which Barbara said was a warning about the Gator.

Matt, figuring that there was more here than he was realizing, used his Plumb the Fathoms Alembic. He realized as they walked back to town that Barbara could help him achieve a milestone, but he wasn't sure which one. He reflected on the nature of the Ascetic Role, and asked if he and Barbara could return to the shack later to talk in more depth. She agreed, but wasn't sure what she had to teach - she was feeling pretty directionless at the moment.

The Prometheans also asked her about Papillon and the Athanor. She remembered Papillon making it, and was horrified that someone had broken it. She said that no Promethean had a reason to do that, but New Orleans had plenty of other supernatural entities in it and she wasn't sure about their proclivities. Enoch mused that repairing the Athanor might be possible...and he was leaning toward completing Mercurius by adopting the Craftsman Role anyway.

The characters wound their way back to the storefront to find Sicky, give Barbara a little company, and plan their next move. Little do they know the horror that awaits them.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Character Creation: Masks

I rather suspect I'll wind up playing or running this game sooner rather than later, and PbtA characters are hella fast to make, anyway.

The Game: Masks: A New Generation
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: None with this game specifically; I've read it. A decent amount with the underlying system.
Books Required: Just the one, though the playbooks aren't in the book, so you gotta download or print them from the site. I mention this because they took some flak for that, and I admit it is kinda annoying to not have them to hand when you're reading the book.

Anyway! Masks is about being a superhero, but also about being a teenager. Characters in the game are taking over for the last generation of heroes, but those older heroes are still very much part of this. Honestly, Masks takes supers RPGs in a new direction, and it's a pretty darned perfect expression of the genre through PbtA.

So, first off, we choose a playbook. Hmm. I like most of them, actually. I'm not crazy about the Legacy or the Beacon, so not those. I really like the Doomed, the Delinquent, and the Janus. Hrm. I do Doomed things all the time and I don't have a specific concept. I'm gonna go with the Janus. 'Scuse me while I print this out.

OK, so. The Janus' whole thing is the secret identity; it's the Spider-Man kind of character where the split in focus between hero and "real life" is what comes back on you. Interestingly, that's something I don't see a lot of in supers RPGs, unless you really try to make time for it (shows up in With Great Power... pretty well, f'rex).

So, my character is a young man in Halcyon City who's taking a year off between high school and college (so he's about 19). His real name is Roger Royce (because I'm a firm believer in superheroes having alliterative names). On the streets, he's called...hmm. Well, looking over the abilities I can choose from, I have an idea.

I'm gonna take substance mimicry and energy absorption (in addition to my freebies of echanced physical prowess). Roger can absorb energy thrown at him, and he can take on the physical properties of whatever substances he touches. In his "Roger Royce" form, he's a boringly dressed young man just trying to make his way in the city. He keeps his costume in his duffel bag, though - black cargo pants, black boots, black hoodie that covers his face. He can become whatever he needs to just by touching it, and the last time someone asked his superhero handle, that's what he responded: "Whatever."

Now, Labels. I can put +1 wherever I want, and it would behoove me to think ahead (one of my playbook moves involves a Label). I think I'll put my +1 into Freak. I'm getting a vibe of some...not self-loathing, exactly, off of Whatever, but the sense that he's not entirely comfortable with these abilities and what they might mean.

I don't have any conditions, so I zip directly into backstory questions.

  • When did you first put on the mask? Why? Roger isn't sure how he gained his powers. After he graduated from high school, he noticed that his hands would take on the colors of whatever he touched...then the texture...then the properties. He put on the mask (the hood, really) during a Fourth of July block party. Some idiot fired a Roman candle right into the back of a van loaded with fireworks, and the thing exploded. Roger pulled on the hoodie to protect himself, took on the properties of the burning van (fire doesn't burn, after all) and helped guide people to safety. He did it because he knew these people - they were the folks from his block. He wasn't going to let them get hurt.
  • Why do you keep a secret identity? Roger was all set to reveal his powers and his identity, but then the news showed up and people were talking about the "freak" that was there walking through fire. Probably he started it, he was burning. Roger kinda decided fuck it after that.
  • Who, outside of the team, knows about your dual identity? Tina Durst, little sister of John Durst, Roger's best friend. John went into the Navy after graduation and Tina feels a little lost without him. She was following Roger around one day and saw him change. 
  • Who things the worst of your masked identity? Officer Pete Marple. He lives on the block, but he lost his husband to a superhero dustup last year and he's not a fan of people wearing costumes. Plus, Whatever looks like a hoodlum. Marple is sure Whatever set the fire (maybe by accident) and then tried to get out of it by "helping" people. Marple is getting fast-tracked to promotion, too. 
  • Why do you care about the team? Roger knows he's in over his head. His powers are impressive but they aren't going to save him from someone who really wants him dead, and his life is precarious. He needs the support, and he needs to be able to trust someone other than Tina. 
So, next thing would be to introduce Whatever to the team and answer a couple of team-based questions, but I ain't got a team, so.  Moves!

I get The Mask, which means I choose a Label that I can switch with Mundane (which starts high) once per session. I think it's in keeping to make it Freak, but I'm gonna say Savior. Whatever wouldn't admit it, but he wants to protect people.

And then I get two more moves out of the five available. I'll take Game Face (I can totally see Whatever flipping up his hood and charging into the fray) and I'll Save You! (I can reveal my identity to automatically defend someone). 

And finally, I have to take three obligations for my secret identity. I'll take dishwasher (Roger got a job in a high-end restaurant as a dishwasher; it pays OK and it's easy work); household chores (he still lives with his parents and they don't mind as long as he does "some work around the house," which is basically all of the work around the house; best friend (that'd be Tina - she knows his ID but she gets into trouble, and Roger would never forgive himself if something happened to her). 

And that's it!

Board Game: Timeline

Yay! Games!

The Game: Timeline
The Publisher: Asmodee
Time: 10 minutes per game, if that
People: Me, +Michelle+Danielle+Jerry, Renee, +Shoshana

Had the pleasure of playing this game at New Mexicon, on Sunday afternoon, as we stared blearily into time and waited to go to the airport.

OK, we were really all blearier than this.
Game Play: This game is simple and fun. You get a hand of four cards, each of which has an event and, and on the back, a year. A card is played face up, for your starting point. On your turn, you play a card into the timeline, trying to get the year right.

As Danielle explains.
The events range from "creation of bronze" to "Titanic." (I did note, however, that certain events that have movies named after them you have to look carefully to see what's on the card; I drew Titanic and immediately thought "1912" before I realized it said "James Cameron" on the bottom.)

Once you play a card, you flip it, revealing the year. If you're right, great, move along. If you're wrong, you put that card where it goes and draw another one. The object is to lose all your cards.

Opinions: We apparently played this with a bunch of expansions (it's Danielle's set, though we own one, too, which is why I counted this toward the list), but the game play is the same either way. It's nice and simple to understand and it teaches you a little history. It's also mindless enough to play on Sunday of a con and portal enough to fit in a pocket of a bag or purse. Win-win.

So perky!
Keep? Yep.

Movie #402: The Matrix

The Matrix is an action/sci-fi movie, probably one of the most influential of all time, directed by the Wachowskis (pre-transition) and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano (which I spelled right on the first try!), and Hugo Weaving.

Neo (Reeves) is a computer programmer and hacker who gets recruited into a shadow war by a mysterious figure called Morpheus (Fishburne) and a kick-ass woman in black named Trinity (Moss). He learns that what he thinks of as the "real world" is in fact a computer simulation called the Matrix, whereas the real world is a blasted wasteland in which human beings are used as fuel sources to keep the machines running. The few liberated people can pop in and out of the Matrix and, while there, can program themselves with whatever skills they need. As such, all of them are badasses, masters of martial arts, and capable of being the laws of physics. Of course, the machines have their own soldiers called agents, who are even more badass, and one in particular called Smith (Weaving) is trying desperately to destroy the humans so he can go home.

The movie ends with Neo embracing his destiny as "the One," a kind of quasi-messianic figure who's meant to lead humanity to freedom. Now, the sequels go completely off the rails, here (I don't own the third one because I kinda hated it), but this movie is pretty well wrapped up - Neo tells the machines that what happens next is up to them, and then literally flies off, breaking the system of control that is the Matrix.

So, the first thing about this movie is that there are some very uncomfortable truths about Morpheus and what he's doing. He's literally recruiting people when they're young (not Neo, but he's told that they don't free minds after a certain age) and bringing them around to his cause. Also, his people slaughter cops and soldiers with abandon, because any of them could immediately become an agent, but those people still die.

There's also the issue that using people as batteries is ludicrous, but Futurama made that point, so I don't feel I need to dwell. :)

At the time it came out (1999), I remember folks referring to it as a Mountain Dew commercial (but like, many, many more people absolutely loved it). It's held up pretty well, even the special effects, though I'm not expecting that to be the case for the next one. And, looked at through the lens of two trans directors who hadn't transitioned yet, there's a lot of depth there that cis folks like me completely missed at the time, but that I'm sure folks who were more apt to notice did.

Performances are good, and it's interesting to note the differences in vs. out of the Matrix. It always annoyed me that we don't see much of Mouse, Switch, Dozer, and Apoc before they die.

Worst thing to come out of this movie, of course, is the fact that a segment of real scumbags coopted the "red pill" imagery, though I do have to wonder how they feel about know that a trans woman gave them their "reality check." Probably it doesn't register.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Matrix Reloaded

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Feng Shui: Ladies of Jade & Ivory

Monday was Feng Shui and now it's Thursday and arrrgh. Doin' the write-up.

The Dragons fought off a bunch of Lotus Eaters at Lord Smoke's village last time, but then Smoke got poisoned and they realized their paths had converged - they needed to find the White Serpent and their Eternal Chameleon master to prevent his resurrection and find an antidote for Smoke. They traveled hard on horseback for days, until they came up on the home of the Ladies of Jade & Ivory, two noblewomen who maintained an opulent household.

They got there and the archers pointed arrows at them, but Smoke explained who they were. A young archer leapt down to talk with them, and Bai Lin recognized him at as Tao Lin, a young man from his home village. Tao seemed concerned, but before he could explain, the Lady Ivory appeared, gliding out to meet the Dragons. She welcomed them in and offered them space to wash up, care for their horses, clean clothes, and dinner.

The Dragons came together for dinner, along with the members of the household and the Ladies themselves. Chrys, herself a student of the Chi Way, knew the Lady Jade from her studies and remembered that she was a fierce and noble warrior, happy to take the field alongside her soldiers. But tonight, Lady Jade was reserved and almost subdued. As she pondered this, Chrys noticed one of the soldiers in the corner raise a dart gun to his lip and fire!).

Chrys reached forward and caught the dart handily, but she wasn't sure who the dude had fired at, and no one else had seen what happened - all the guards saw was a stranger with a dart. Chaos broke out, with some of the guards attacking each other, some attacking the Dragons, and some just trying to guard the Ladies. The Dragons were unarmed, of course, meaning that they were at something of a disadvantage.

Smoke jumped over to one of the guards, disarmed him, and started firing arrows (but sliding the arrowheads off as he did, so he didn't kill anyone, which is a real thing that totally works). One of the guards stood back to back with him. Bai jumped over next to Tao Lin, who said he could explain what was happening, but then the Lady Ivory reached into her robes and flung daggers everywhere (and missed spectacularly, but it did mean there were daggers in the walls for folks to grab).

Celeste started punching out people shooting arrows, but a door opened and a big dude with a club lumbered in. He mixed it up with Smoke, but Smoke stepped back and put an arrow in his foot to keep him in place. The Lady Ivory stood up and entered the fight, but Melody cast a spell and wrapped her up in magic bonds. The big dude saw this, yanked the arrow out of his foot, jumped at Melody and stabbed her in the stomach. Celeste charged the dude, knocking him under a table.

Meanwhile, another lieutenant with a hooked sword arrived and fought with Bai Lin, but neither of them did much damage. Chrys moved from guard to guard, punching them out, and finally Lord Smoke managed to get to the front of the room grab the Ladies, and tell everyone to put a sock in it - no one was here to hurt them (at least, none of the Dragons).

Bai went to ask Tao Lin what was happening, but he'd caught a dagger to the throat, tragically. The dude who'd actually spit the dart plunged two darts into his neck and died rather than talk. Celeste crouched down and listened to Lady Jade, who told her "find the garden."

The characters spoke to the guards, who acknowledged that something was wrong with the Ladies of late, but they weren't sure what. Melody, whom Bai had worked healing magic on, was kept in the infirmary with some of the other wounded. The Dragons decided to search the place.

Celeste did her detective routine, looking for hallways that didn't align and so on. She found one near the Ladies' room, and opened it to find a garden with a huge spiral leading to a corpse-flower in the center...but this corpse-flower was green and white.

Meanwhile, Bai and Smoke did their own searching. Bai felt the presence of the magic in the garden, and they found it soon after Celeste and Chrys did. Bai used his healing petals, but they turned black as they fell from the sky. Something was evil and powerful here.

As they thought about this, the Gardener appeared, brandishing a tool, and scattered petals on the ground. The petals sprang up into warriors, and they attacked! The Dragons made pretty short work of the Gardener, though, between Smoke putting arrows into him and Chrys firing her big gun; he exploded and the warriors with him.

But now...Bai and Smoke looked, and saw a horrible monster with a tentacle coming from its hand, and a zombie-like creature brandishing a weapon of metal and fire! They attacked these monstrosities, which, of course, turned out to be Celeste and Chrys. Celeste managed to use her ritual disruption to free Bai, but then Smoke turned around and shot all three of them with arrows. Bai managed to leap over to him and realign his energies to free him, but now the Dragons were wounded and newly aware of the threat this garden posed.

Celeste used her knowledge of ritual magic and Bai called down healing petals, and between them, they cleansed the site of its poisoned Chi. The Ladies arrived both now invigorated, and thanked them for their help. They gave Smoke a pouched of special tea that would stave off the worst effects of the poison, but warned him that the Creeping Black poison would kill him eventually if he couldn't find the antidote. They sent a contingent of soldiers with the Dragons to find and stop the Eternal Chameleon, and the Dragons left the House of Jade and Ivory to move along in their journey.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Promethean: 22 Short Films

Not really, but it was one of those games where people split up and did stuff.

First, we had a rousing game of "do you know what your goddamn Merits do?", wherein everyone listed off their Merits and told me what they did, and I gave them a Beat for getting most of them right. This is useful, because sometimes you forget that, say, Vivid Dreams gets you two points of Willpower back for sleeping, which is important to know.

Then, into character! The throng woke up, newly refreshed, and went their separate ways for the day. Enoch went to the house where they had encountered the metal angel. Grimm went looking for Charon (what he really wanted was a dead body, but figured Charon could help). Avalon had a lunch date with Carroll, after which she was meeting Matt and Feather at Carroll's studio so that she could peek under the paint and see what the pentimento was all about. Skip stayed behind at the storefront with Sicky.

Enoch got to the building and headed downstairs, and found the carbon on the floor. Some of it was sparkling, and so he picked it up, but the floor crumbled beneath him and he fell into darkness. He landed in what looked to be a library, but all of the books were written in script he didn't understand or Pilgrim Marks that he couldn't decipher. He'd need help to understand these truths.

He stepped out of a door, and felt the ground squish under his feet as though he was in wetlands. The sun grew brighter and brighter, until he was again staring at the Bright Light, which asked him the question again - "what are the angels?" Reflecting on what he'd learned in the library-vision, he said "our predecessors," and then was back in the basement having achieved his fermentatio milestone: revise his answer to the angel.

Avalon, meanwhile, was lunching with Carroll. She told him a little about her art and that she'd started reproducing what she'd seen in nature, but that she was interested in pursuing something unique. She told him about Ysolde and how her creator had abandoned her due to Disquiet. She mentioned she was always interested in feeling things she hadn't felt before, and Carroll smiled...and suddenly Avalon felt guilt. Maybe it was her fault that Ysolde had crumbled to Disquiet. After all, there were ways to mitigate it. Feeling a bit more reserved than usual, Avalon went with Carroll back to the studio, where Matt and Feather were waiting.

Parris arrived with her painting, and Avalon used Stone to peek under the first layer of paint (we'll leave the specifics of how this worked murky). She saw Parris' Ramble, from when she was the Promethean known as Papillion. Remembering the obsidian butterfly that the characters found smashed in the garden, Avalon told Parris that it was a painting of a butterfly, and that seemed to make sense to her. Matt, meanwhile, asked her questions about her life and her art (playing his role as an art reporter), and learned that she couldn't really answer questions about her life before she arrived on the New Orleans art scene (recall, too, that Carroll described her as "broken" at that point in her life).

Parris left with her painting, and Avalon starting writing out copies of her Ramble. The Prometheans realized that Parris had attempted the New Dawn too soon - though she had succeeded, she had an incomplete understanding of it when she did, and that might account for how thin her human "life" was. They also noted her descriptions of the Promethean refugee camp, and how she claimed that though it had led to good things for the Created who stopped there, it had also led to death when the Firestorm came, so maybe she was wrong for ever trying it. Matt wondered if the guilt of this might be something that she carried even now, as Parris, and whether there might be a way to take that burden from her.

Meanwhile, Grimm was looking for Charon and not doing very well. He asked around, but the crowds and the contrast between day-New Orleans and night-New Orleans just got him confused, so he headed back to the storefront, figuring he'd find Charon at night.

Skip had been working on repairing the damage from the blackout and chatting with Sicky. Sicky talked about the camp a bit, and specifically the gator-thing in the swamp. Not the little one that Skip had fought - there was a bigger one, a man-sized one with a gator's mouth, that had also been an accidental creation of Barbara. The gator, Sicky said, ate people (though it preferred Prometheans) and it was dangerous. Skip felt a stirring of Vitriol, and a word came to his mind unbidden from the Azothic Memory: sublimatus.

The others got back, and Skip excitedly told them about what Sicky had said. The others figured that they should track this thing down. For one thing, both Enoch and Feather wanted to investigate the camp wreckage further. For another, Skip and Grimm figured that killing the gator-monster would be a public service (and an interesting challenge to boot). Avalon worried that she wasn't a skilled combatant, but the others pointed out that with her mastery of Stone, she could play an important support role, strengthening their clothes and effectively giving them armor, or making their weapons inflict extra damage.

All of this in mind, they headed back toward the camp, back toward where Skip emerged from the Hedge. They stopped off at a power line that Sicky knew of to regenerate Pyros and heal a bit, and then into the swamps, in the dark, looking for a gator-sublimatus.

Next time, they'll find out what those eyes shimmering in the dark belong to.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Promethean Notes

Ok, gotta make this quickish.

Stop reading, players.

Movie #401: The Mask of Zorro

The Mask of Zorro is a swashbuckler/action film starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, and Matt Letscher.

Zorro, a swashbuckling, mask-wearing, champion of the people, is really Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins). Having helped to drive the evil governor Don Rafael (Wilson) out of California and back to Spain, he looks forward to retiring with his wife (Julieta Rosen), but Rafeal shows up, Wife dies, and Diego is put in prison while Rafael leaves the country with Diego's infant daughter.

Fast forward 20 years. A young man, Alejandro Murietta who helped Zorro out on his last ride has grown up into a thief and scoundrel (Banderas). Rafael returns to California in triumph, with "his" adult daughter Elena (Zeta-Jones), and Diego promptly escapes. He finds Murietta about to pick a fight with a soldier named Love (Letscher) who killed his brother Joaquin (Victor Rivers), stops him, and trains him as the new Zorro. Along the way, of course, Murietta falls for Elena, Elena learns of her true father, Diego dies, Rafael dies, Love dies, and Murietta marries Elena and becomes a noble and the new Zorro. Yay!

So, this movie is fun. I love Banderas for any number of impure reasons, and seeing him swashbuckle is good. Hopkins, likewise, applies his mastery of being measured and slightly intimidating to Don Diego. The villains are OK, though I much prefer Love's "dedicated psycho" to Wilson's "suddenly turn gun on adopted daughter" schtick. The filmmakers went out of their way to give Elena something to do in the last battle (rescue the trapped workers,, how did they get all those people into the cages? there's hundreds of them), but since it'd been established that she's a baller swordfighter, how about having the duels between Rafael/Diego and Zorro/Love involve her for a few passes? On the other hand, she doesn't spend the last few action scenes tied to something, so I suppose that's a win.

We could talk about the fact that they cast Hopkins (British, white) and Wilson (British, white) as Spaniards, though I guess maybe that's better than casting them as Mexicans? I don't know. As a side note, I thought I'd seen the sequel to this movie, but I haven't, so I might give that a look.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Matrix

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Night's Black Agents: Interrogation

Yesterday was Night's Black Agents. So!

Last time, the characters captured three people: Obrad Bugarcic, curator of the Tesla Museum in Belgrade; a woman acting as his bodyguard; and a security op who came driving up to get him. They hopped in their boat and headed away from the Isle of Man into port at Dublin (which MacAteer is familiar with).

They found a disused, though not abandoned, warehouse, and set up shop, reinforcing the offices to act as cells. They set up surveillance outside to (hopefully) avoid anyone finding them without them noticing first, and then got to work on interrogation.

Their first hurdle was that the driver, Matis Bogdonas, didn't speak English; the only language they really had in common was Russian, and his grasp of that wasn't great (he's Lithuanian). Their second was that the bodyguard had obviously been trained in resisting interrogation.

Obrad, though, only held out for a day before he started talking to Parker. He acknowledged the existence of vampires, and said that Hajnal was the first, but that he'd only been like that since the 1950s. Indeed, he didn't even like to think of these people as "vampires;" they could eat, drink, and reproduce. Hajnal even had a son.

(Ess and Hanover tried to run that lead down, but it didn't go anywhere and they had to admit there was no way to verify it.)

Obrad talked at length about his work with the Tesla museum, and clearly was a fan - he said that Tesla's work was largely theoretical, but if it could just be explored or funded better! Parker asked why he was so willing to throw in his lot with literal monsters, and Obrad gently reminded her that he was Serbian. He'd seen what people did to other people, and these "monsters" were no worse to humanity than humanity was to itself. He believed that the vampires could lead humanity into a new age...but that got Parker and Ess wondering why Hajnal, a criminal overlord, was interested in any of that? What was the connection?

Obrad confirmed that Hajnal, Sas, and Essert were vampires, but Utkin wasn't. He mentioned that he'd gone to London and Blackpool every so often to Skype in with his people in Belgrade, but that mostly he was just biding his time out there on the Isle. Obrad also mentioned that the collars that Macan had been working on were meant to strengthen the tentacles of new vampires; immediately after creation they were weak. He confirmed how vampires were made: A person had to be specially prepared with a "cocktail" of blood, lymph, CSF, and fluid from another vampire's tentacles. A "brute", though, could be created with just a corpse and the fluid, though brutes didn't last long.

Parker took a sample of his blood (which he gave willingly) and sent it to Sedillo, who confirmed that Obrad was just human. Koltay said that he might be able to use the point of reference about the collar to make a weapon, but getting radioactive material would be hard.

Meanwhile, Matis cracked after a few days. He said that he'd gotten this job from Davor Klobucar, and that he'd almost been sent to Lithuanian (to an assignment he guessed to be kind of a shit gig) before getting sent to the Isle of Man last-minute. He didn't know much otherwise; he did mentioned he'd been briefed on the agents and told to shoot to kill.

The woman was the last to break and start talking. Her name was Sheela Smith, and she said she'd served in the army (Hanover and Ess confirmed it; she was British Special Forces, honorably discharged). She said that Klobucor had given this job, probably because she was actually from the Isle of Man. She didn't know much else, other than there was someone living in the house before her, someone she only knew as "Adam."

The agents discussed all this. Was "Adam" Hajnal's son? Or, as Gambone theorized, was Obrad his son (if Hajnal doesn't age, after all)? Parker wondered about all this; she'd had a distinct feeling she was missing something when Obrad was talking about the first vampires and Hajnal, but she wasn't sure what. And then there was the other question - what to do with these people?

The agents figured that Matis and Sheela would be in the wind if they let them go, but Obrad would call in help. Could they put him on a plane? Sure, maybe, but if they did, the situation was out of their control immediately. They could kill him, of course, but MacAteer objected (cold-blooded murder bothers him, and probably Ess, too).

The agents were six days into their stay in Dublin, with a Lead of 8 against their conspiracy, and more questions than answers. We'll see what they decide to do.

Movie #400: The Mask

The Mask is a mid-90s superhero/comedy starring Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz (in her film debut), Peter Riegert, Amy Yasbeck, Peter Greene, and Richard Jeni.

Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) is a shy, repressed, but generally good-hearted banker who has a run of shit luck, until he finds a mask that channels Loki (identified in the movie as being cast out of Valhalla, because research is super hard, you guys). Putting it on, he becomes a cartoon-come-to-life imaginatively called "the Mask." He toys with the notion of being a superhero, but would rather shove muffler pipes up the asses of the mechanics who cheated him. He also uses his new powers to hit on the girlfriend (Diaz) of mob underboss Dorian Tyrell (Greene), who winds up stealing the mask for his own purposes. He does that, by the way, because a news reporter named Peggy (Yasbeck) betrays Ipkiss to him. And then of course Ipkiss manages to become the Mask once again, kill Dorian, and get away scot free because it was illegal in the mid-90s for comedies to challenge you in any way.

I'm being flip, of course, but it's not a terrible movie. Sure, the Mask is just a tad too willing to violate consent with Tina, and sure, Diaz gets captured, smacked, and tied up (though in fairness she does outsmart Tyrell). We get Carrey's usual brand of 90s zany, but it's tempered somewhat by the fact that he plays Ipkiss so low-key to highlight the Mask's lack of inhibitions (which saves us from having to stomach one of his really hyper-annoying characters, like Ace Ventura, for a whole movie). I've also always been annoyed that Peggy just betrays Ipkiss and gets away with it - after Tyrell dons the mask, there's no further mention of her character (there's a deleted scene where he kills her, but it's clumsy and stupid).

We get to see Carrey and Diaz doing some really impressive dancing, and there are some truly funny bits (Peter Greene fixing his hair when the Mask does the Academy Award speech bit always tickles me), and of course Milo the dog is adorable. As 90s comedy goes, it's not bad.

My Grade: B
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next up: The Mask of Zorro

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Notes Right Quick For Night's Blick. Er, Black. Agents.

Yowza! Exciting session coming up, I'm sure!

(This is where players stop reading.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Feng Shui: Snoring Dog

Nothing to do with the game, but Leo is sacked out on the floor and snoring loudly, like he does.

Anyway! The Dragons, having attended Wu Tang's funeral, headed back to the modern juncture to regroup and rest. They gathered in their little storefront to plan their next move.

They knew that the Eternal Chameleon could reincarnate, but Melody told them that he couldn't incarnate in the same juncture twice in a row. He had to skip around, completing a "cycle" before incarnating again. He'd already reincarnated in the Past Juncture (it was a splinter, but it counts), the Contemporary (just last time!) and the Future Juncture (apes, etc.). That meant he'd head for the Ancient next. Melody also mentioned that he was able to keep doing this by keeping a living person in stasis through magic; in a sense, that person was possessed by unclean powers. They needed an Bai Lin.

They still needed a reference point, though, but that's where Celeste is a viking! She hit the books, and came up with a reference to a battle in a village in China many centuries ago. A painting of the events there came up with a face that looked quite similar to Chrys. Well, that was probably a good place to start. ("But why don't we remember the battle?" "Because we haven't fought it yet.")

The Dragons headed out into the Netherrealm and then out into the Ancient juncture, and found their way to a village where all the people were hiding in their homes. A lone archer stood facing the west, with riders bearing down on him in the distance. The Dragons introduced themselves, and told the archer - Master Smoke - that they'd protect the village with him. He thanked then, and shot a rider off his horse. The Dragons realized the riders were wearing robes with sigils that they recognized, and that their leader seemed to be...flying.

The riders surrounded the village and attacked with sorcery. Crys unhorsed one and grabbed his mount. Smoke rolled and dipped, firing arrows and skewering dudes. The sorceress fired magic at Chrys, nearly knocking her off her horse. Celeste whipped one into the mud, and then Melody turned to see a rider charging at her. She waved her arms and mandalas appeared.... BOXCARS.

The rider charged into the magic, and it closed around him and his horse and flew them both up into the air, where it remained. "Way to go, Sis!" called Celeste.

The battle continued! Bai leaped into the fray and cast about with a garden implement, but didn't make contact (he missed his staff). Melody tried to magic another one, but the spell fizzled and she got blasted in the back by the one of the sorcerers. "Don't get cocky," Chrys scolded her, blowing another one off his horse with her shotgun.

The sorcerers were getting picked off, though. Chrys blew the leader back into the river, and she rose up, flying, magic, and started to cackle evil things...and then Smoke put two arrows in her and dropped back into the water.

One lone sorcerer, screaming in protest, lobbed a black gob of something at Smoke. He fired an arrow at it and it burst...covering him in spores. He started to choke, but it was too late. He was poisoned. He recognized the poison. It was fatal, but slow. An antidote, if any, would rest with the White Serpents.

Melody lowered the magical cage down and they interrogated the sorcerer. He refused to talk, and then Chrys shot the ground in front of him, and he cried out "west! They're to the west!" That was easy. Smoke told the Dragons that the master of the village was Alabaster, an Ascended dragon (not dragon), but he was traveling and should be back soon. The sorcerer laughed, claiming that they had found and killed him, and soon the Eternal Chameleon would-

(At this point, Smoke put an arrow in his throat.)

The Dragons buried or burned the dead, and Smoke packed up his gear. He needed the antidote, and the Dragons needed to stop the Chameleon. The road leads west.