Monday, July 24, 2017

Promethean Notes

Notes, notes, notes. I actually haven't taken notes on this game for a while, largely because the players have been keeping things going just fine without me introducing new stuff. But, I think a quick break to keep things in perspective is good. So, players, don't read any more.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Character Creation: PreppiePunk

Just on a roll today.

The Game: PreppiePunk
The Publisher: Density Media
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

One thing I love: RPGs that have a strong perspective, even (especially?) a political one, and don't compromise it. I find it hard to write that way (closest I've gotten is curse the darkness), but every now and then you find an RPG that is what it is and doesn't even try to be anything else. PreppiePunk is exactly that.

I love this kind of passion, but man, it's not always a good thing. We get a strong vision, sure, but we also get hostile bullshit like this:

Like, I've got no time for D&D, either, but for a lot people, that is roleplaying. I don't think it's helpful to start your book out with "go fuck yourself," but what do I know.

Anyway, much of the book is in-character (autobiographical? The game's authors are listed as "Brock" and "Biz," and those are the folks writing in the book). The setting is a prep school after Trump's election, and the characters are in distress about that (meaning they're, like, right). The majority of the book is just that, a series of letters, diary entries, that kind of thing from these folks' perspective. And it's good fiction, it's raw, and it's genuine. Make for a good RPG? I dunno. I'd have a hard time selling it to my players, but that's as much because there doesn't seem to be much in the way of genre stuff - no super powers, no magic, etc., and that's kinda important to us, I think.

Well, so, character creation. So, first thing I'm choosing is age. Characters in PreppiePunk are 13-19, because "post graduate" year at prep school is apparently a thing (I work in public schools in Cleveland, it's...not so much a thing here). I'll be 16 (side note: I would not relive being 16 for all the bourbon in Kentucky).

Three stats: Sport, Smarts, and Spirit. And...sigh.

Hostility is boring, and hostility of the "don't let your players buffalo you" variety is as old as the fucking hills in this hobby. (I'm picking on this because I think it's counterproductive and annoying.)

Anyway, I get 4 points to divide up, and they go 0 to 3. Let's see. Interesting to contemplate what sort of person I might have been had I gone to a prep school rather than a downtown-Toledo-Catholic-school, but I'm not making me as a teen. I'll put 0 into Sport and 2 each into Smarts and Spirit.

I'm now asked to choose name and school. Presumably if I were in a group we'd all pick the same school, but here we are. I want it to be a Catholic school, though. A quick online search doesn't reveal a patron saint of rebels or freedom, surprise surprise, so we'll go with Jeanne de Chantal Preparatory Academy (de Chantal is the patron saint of forgotten people, according to one source). My character's name is Matthias Barbary (call him "Matt," thanks. Yes, I know that's my name, but piss off).

So, then we get a few pages of rules explanations. The rules are interesting; you're rolling 4d6 and trying to hit a difficulty based on an age. Try to rent a car, the difficulty is 24, because that's the age at which you can rent one. Even numbers are positive, odds are negative, and you want within a margin of error of 3. I have no idea how well this would work in play, but it's definitely an interesting approach. Stats give you the ability to reroll. Oh, also:

JFC, indeed.
Good good, get over yourself. I gotta explain why describing what "failure" means in the context of this particular game is important? Really? I was under the impression you were a game writer with some modicum of understanding of pedagogy. Well, on we go.

Bonds are the next thing. Bonds aren't necessarily social connections, they're more about who you are societally and who your family is. (Side note: This game doesn't name any actual place names, it'll just say "Y---" instead of "Yale," and I get why they're doing it, but at the same time it's distracting.)

So. I need six Bonds for Matthias. I'll say:

1) Cousin Jack is a movie star's assistant.
2) Mom sits on the board of the Met.
3) Dad was in a powerful Ivy League frat.
4) The Barbary family helped found this school.
5) Uncle Stephen plays golf with the Bishop.
6) My godfather owns a gallery in New York.

And then, Social Capital. Oh, wait, no. Social Capital happens in play. When an NPC is introduced, you can invest some Social Capital to have an existing relationship with that person. Doesn't apply to chargen, though.

And then chargen would conclude with five "I never" statements (like the drinking game), but since that really only applies if you have a group, I think I'll skip that bit.

Look, I'm hard on some bits of this game because they tickle particular pet peeves, but overall this is a very thoughtfully constructed RPG, and I think it deserves some love.

Board Game: Last Friday

I own a bunch of board and card games, and many of them are full-evening activities. We never wind up playing those games, though, because sussing out the rules takes a while on its own. So yesterday we scheduled such a game, and here we are!

The Game: The Last Friday
The Publisher: Ares Games
Time: About 2-3 hours, though I'm sure it would go faster now that we know how it works
Players: Me, +Michelle+John+Dirty Heart, Al, Kathy

Game Play: The Last Friday is a hidden movement game, much like Fury of Dracula or Letters from Whitechapel. As such, it's already a winner in my book. In it, one player (me, in this case) is the "maniac," unnamed but a pretty obvious Jason Vorhees homage. Everyone else is a camper. Five campers need to be represented, whether or not you have six players, so if you have fewer than that someone's controlling a few extras.

"I'll be right back."
The game consists of four chapters, each of which have (at most) 15 rounds, which sounds like a lot, but it moves pretty quickly. In Chapter One, the maniac is hunting down the campers and trying to kill them while the campers are trying to get into cabins safely (the cabins are locked at first, and you have to find keys and open them; the maniac can also use an ax to bust in and claim a cabin). If the maniac manages to kill all five, he wins, if not, then anyone who dies gets to bring in a new camper next chapter.

In Chapter Two, the campers are trying to find the slasher and kill him, while the slasher is trying to get away. Once the camper kills the maniac, that camper becomes the "Predestined".

In Chapter Three, the killer tries to find and kill the Predestined (which, again, wins the game for the maniac).

In Chapter Four, the campers try to surround and block the maniac so the Predestined can kill him. The maniac can win by just staying ahead of the campers and waiting it out.

The bigger white circles on that map are numbered; that's where the maniac moves, one at a time. The campers move on the dots between them. They can kill each other (depending on the chapter) by passing over one another. For example, in the first chapter the maniac kills campers by passing over them or letting them pass over him.

Both sides also have tokens that can be used for various effects. The campers' tokens let them light up an area (forcing the maniac to reveal himself if he comes into that area), run a bit further, listen for the maniac, and so on. The maniac's let him smash into unlocked cabins, trick the campers into thinking he's somewhere else, or extend the chapter a bit longer. During the first chapter, the maniac has almost all of his powers, but during subsequent chapters, it's based on how many people he killed in the previous chapter vs. how many surviving campers there are.

The maniac moves every round, but reveals his previous position (first and third chapters) or current position (second and fourth chapters) every third turn. It's therefore hard for the maniac to get truly lost.

Opinions: I'll say one thing for this game: The instructions were easy to follow. If you play a lot of board games, you know that's huge, especially when the company isn't American. We had a couple of rules hiccups in play, but I was able to find answers for them, and that's a big deal.

I generally like the game. I love this genre of movie, and there are a bunch of things that work to evoke the feel of a slasher movie. Unfortunately, one is that the campers are not the most diverse group of people. There is exactly one POC in 15 camper cards, and one of the others is wearing a faux Native American thing (headdress, paint, etc. I killed her first, with her player's help).  With that said, it's not like the campers' names or personalities impact the game much.

The tokens were kind of a sticking point. Players get clue tokens (which then get revealed to be one of the several types of useful thing) by following the trail that the maniac leaves, which is fine, but there aren't many of them and when you die, you lose any you've accumulated. Likewise, the slasher begins with four of his powers, but then getting more is difficult. The game is weighted to favor the slasher having powers in chapters 2 and 4, when he really needs them because he can't kill, and so I suppose that's good.

All in all, I like it. I enjoy this style of game anyway, but this is nicely uncomplicated in comparison to, say, Fury of Dracula.

A camper is about to meet the business end of a machete.
Keep? Yep.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Movie #414: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a movie directed by Clint Eastwood before he went utterly 'round the bend, and starring John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Allison Eastwood, The Lady Chablis, Jack Thompson, Jude Law, and Irma P. Hall.

John Kelso (Cusack) comes to Savannah, GA to cover the Christmas party of local socialite Jim Williams (Spacey) for Town & Country. He's kind of taken aback by the culture shock ("Everyone here is drunk and heavily armed. New York is boring."), but the night of the party, Williams shoots and kills his lover, Billy Hanson (Law). Williams is arrested for first degree murder, despite claiming self-defense, and the film follows Kelso as he investigates and tries to drum up support for Williams, all the while writing a book on the ensuing trial. At the end, Williams is acquitted on evidence that Kelso helps uncover, but privately confesses to Kelso that he lied in his initial statement: He shot first and staged Hanson's shots at him.

The strength of the movie is the visuals (Savannah is goddamn beautiful), the rather subtle way that people show their prejudices, fears, and jealousies, and of course, in The Lady Chablis being divine (she's playing herself). John Cusack is fine as our leading man, and Eastwood apparently cast him after seeing him in Grosse Point Blank, which is a good decision. The love subplot with Mandy Nichols (Allison Eastwood, Clint's daughter) is fine but felt kind of unnecessary, and really it's her friend Joe Odom (Paul Hipp) who's the more interesting character, but there are so many interesting people in this story that it's hard to give them all screen time and fit in the murder trial. The book, of course, can afford to take its time a little, and puts a lot of what you see on screen in greater context, but it's quite enjoyable enough without that.

This movie does Southern Gothic really well, and has served as inspiration for some of the stuff I've written set in Savannah.

One complaint: The sound mixing is a little off. Some of the dialog is hard to hear, especially in the party scenes.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium-low

Next up: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Character Creation: Strike!

Nope, it's not about bowling.

The Game: Strike!
The Publisher: Jim McGarva
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I've read, facilitated a chargen session, and ran a one-shot (in preparation for writing a review).
Books Required: Just the one.

So! Strike! is billed as "tactical combat and heedless adventure." Having run it, I'll say that it's got a lot of moving parts, and I think it's a game that would take a little time to get the hang of, but I don't mind a bit of tactical in my RPGs (I have more thoughts but I'll save them for the review). On its own, Strike! doesn't have a setting or genre; it's got some suggested settings in the book but they're not terribly interesting (on is Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off, the other one might be Avatar: The Last Airbender but it's hard to know because I haven't watched it). Anyway, for my character I'm gonna make someone who could fit into the crew that my players ran in the game last night - sci-fi, space travel, bandits lootin' shit and sellin' it to collectors.

So, the group had a robot, an appraiser with a cybernetic eye, an accountant with a big gun, and a former professor. We sorely needed a wacky pilot, so I think that's where I'll go with this.

We start with Background, which is what the character is doing now, professional. I'm a Space Pilot. This progresses with some questions that wind up giving me Skills. The first question is how I get what I need, but the question is badly phrased, because it's basically "do you buy it or not?" If you buy it, you get a point in Wealth, if you don't (like you're in a hunter-gatherer kind of situation) you get a Skill. My pilot (his name is "Squeak") is quite happy to partake in capitalism, thanks, so I'll take the Wealth.

Next question: Who can your character call on when times are tough? Again, badly phrased, because there's a whole other Relationship section, but this one gives me either more Wealth (if I buy my way out of trouble) or a Connections skill. I'll take Space Bandit Alliance as a Connection Skill.

Right. Now, "what primary skill do you need to perform the tasks necessary to your Background?" See, that should have been first. Pilot, obviously.

What Skill supports your primary Skill? Navigation, I guess?

What social or business Skill do you need to get ahead? Hmm. I think "Meditation." I picture Squeak as being the one who smoothes things over.

And finally, what Skill do you have from your Background that hasn't been mentioned? How about Spacecraft Repair?

Finally, I get a Trick, something I can always do (though I have to spend an Action Point). I'm gonna say I can always out-maneuver a single enemy in a dogfight (keyed off of Pilot).

So now we move on to Origin, which can be race, but can also be upbringing or a demographic. I think Squeak was "Raised on a Colony Ship", so he grew up on a spaceship and learned to fly by watching. That gives me two Skills and a Complication. The Complication is going to be "Unsteady Planetside;" things like "real air" and "real gravity" fuck with Squeak a bit. Skills, though. Hmm.

Well, I'll take Security Systems (it sucks being a teenager with cameras and trackers everywhere) and Robotics (kinda the same issue).

Now there's a section on gear, but you know I don't care and the system isn't very robust; it's pretty much "what does your character have." Well, he's a pilot. He has a flight suit, a laser pistol, and some of those cool foot-jets like Star-Lord uses. There, done.

Relationships! I get one friend, one enemy, and one somewhere-in-between. Sure thing.

So my ally is Bubble, my best friend (get it? Bubble & Squeak?). Bubble and I grew up on the same ship, but then we both took jobs on different vessels. We keep in contact, and we're willing to do stupid favors for each other, even if that means catching hell from our captains.

My enemy is Frint X2. Frint was a security/nanny-bot on my home ship, and since that ship has landed and the population been broken up into society, Frint has taken other gigs in security. Frint bears a grudge, though, because Squeak disabled his sensors and left him bumbling around in the cargo hold for a while.

My "frenemy" is Lady Xing. Oh, man. Xing and Squeak have this on-again, off-again, will-they-won't-they thing going on (so far they've come down on the side of "won't"). Xing has her own ship and really wants Squeak to fly for her, but Squeak is more than a little intimidated and besides, it's not wise to crush on your captain.

OK, then there are these "kits." Kits are optional, and they're mostly (but not entirely) combat-focused, which is weird because Strike! has this entire subsystem devoted to combat, as well. I think I'm gonna take the Protagonist Kit, because it's interesting to me; I get Hero's Journey (every time I completed a step on the Journey I get an Action Point) and Bumbling (I can get Oaf Tokens when I fuck up and then trade them in for a successful roll).

So that's the first half of chargen. Now we do the "tactical combat" half.

First we pick a Class, which is the "primary way of interacting with the combat system." The titles are kinda aspected toward fantasy, but they're easy enough to reskin. I see Squeak as a support-type character, I think, maybe a long-ranger fighting, definitely not up-close. Warlord actually looks pretty cool; Squeak could totally be the "man in the chair," as Spider-Man puts it. Hmm. I kinda like that. I'll take Warlord as my Class.

I get a Class Feature from that. I can give allies Buffer Points (which come off ahead of Hit Points), I can get folks extra movement, or I can give them extra damage. I think I'll take Incisive; I can spend Support tokens (which I get in various ways) to give folks extra damage, plus I get Support tokens when I assess, which would play to my tactical style, I think.

And then I get three at-will powers and one encounter power. For my at-wills, I'll take Morale-Boosting Punching Bag (I attack someone; it does not damage, but the next ally to attack that target gets HP back), Knock Him Off Balance (I attack; next ally to ally that target gains Advantage), and Come Help Me Over Here (I can shift an ally one square and then attack an adjacent target).

For my encounter power, I'll take Don't Give Up (triggered when an ally drops below 0 HP; they stay standing at 1).

Neat! Now I pick a Role, which is "place on the team and goals in combat." Which, like...OK. I like the intersection of Class and Role in practice, but it's kinda redundant if you just read it.

Anyway, for Squeak, I think his Role is Striker. It's a little more offense-based, but it also helps with mobility and that'd be helpful. So I gain Damage Boost and Quick Shift, which are both pretty meh at first level (oh, yeah, this game has levels, too) but Damage Boost is nice in place.

Now, Feats (oh, yeah, Feats, too). I get a Feat. I just get one to start. I'm gonna take Flying (those boots I mentioned); lets me avoid Melee attacks on the ground and call out plays with a bird's eye view.

And that's it, actually! I think Squeak is tall, lean, favors open shirts and tight pants, wears his black hair bleached pink and spiked, and speaks with a pretty deep voice. If asked about his nickname, he says either "my mom was a lion, my dad was a mouse" or "IT'S PERSONAL" (a la Strong Mad). Really, there's nothing to it - his best friend was nicknamed Bubble, so they were Bubble and Squeak.

Board Game: Chrononauts

Card game, really, of course. Let's go BACK IN TIME!

The Game: Chrononauts
The Publisher: Looney Labs
Time: Varies pretty wildly. As much as an hour.
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Behold the timestream.
Game Play: That picture up there is 32 cards, each depicting an event in history from the assassination of Lincoln in 1865 to the Columbine Massacre in 1999. Some of these cards (the purple ones) are Linchpins, which means they affect the ripple points (lighter blue).

Every player has an ID, which is a time traveler trying to get back to their own timeline. To do that, you need to invert certain linchpins, which then causes the associated ripple points to flip. Linchpins have alternate events already built in (Lincoln Assassinated becomes Lincoln Wounded, for instace), but the ripple points just say "PARADOX" on the back. That means in order to make the timeline work, you need a "patch" card. Columbine Massacre is patched by "Guns Banned," f'rex (and is a response to the 1981 linchpin "John Lennon Murdered" being inverted to "John Lennon Nearly Killed").

Every player also has a mission, which has some flavor text associated with it, but at the end of the day the missions mean you need to collect three particular artifacts and have them face up in front of you.

Teagan contemplates eternity.
The timeline cards are out on the table as shown, but everything else - the inverter cards used to flip linchpins, the patches used to fix paradoxes, the artifacts, and "timewarp" cards that let you do things like steal artifacts, rifle through the deck for a particular cards, pass everyone's hand, and so on - are in a draw deck. Every turn you draw one and play one, but you can also discard two cards and draw one more (which keeps your hand static).

Whenever you patch a paradox, you draw a card, increasing your hand size. This is important because if you get 10 cards in your hand, you win! You can also win by getting back to your own timeline or completing your mission.

Cael contemplates chaos.
Opinions: I always enjoy this game. It takes a bit for new players to catch on; like a lot of Looney games, there are a bunch of moving parts and though you can start the game trying to focus on one strategy, it's really good to keep your eye on all of them. I like this game better with more people (the game says it can take up to six), because then shit really gets crazy and you have to be careful patching paradoxes so that you don't inadvertently cause someone to win...or cause 13 paradoxes and end the universe (making everyone lose).

Keep? Yep.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Movie #413: The Mexican

The Mexican is a crime caper/rom-com starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gadolfini, JK Simmons, Bob Balaban, and Gene Hackman. It's a kind of weird movie, but it's one I enjoy.

Jerry (Pitt) and Sam (Roberts) are having relationship problems, stemming mainly from the fact that Jerry is working off a debt to a mob boss named Margolese (Hackman). As his last job, Jerry is tasked with going to Mexico and retrieving an orate pistol simply called "the Mexican." Sam leaves him (since his last job was supposed to be his final job), but is almost immediately abducted by a hitman (Gandolfini) in service to Nayman (Balaban), Margolese's traitorous henchman. Meanwhile, Jerry is just kind of bumblefucking his way through the job, dealing with a stolen car, a crooked cop, a feral dog, and the fact that his buddy Ted (Simmons) has been sent to kill him.

Hands-down, the best thing about this movie is Gandolfini. His portrayal of "Leroy" (actually Winston) as a highly competent, professional heavy who is dealing with relationship problems of his own - he can't seem to find a man he can really connect with - is really touching, and his sexuality is dealt with pretty well, considering when the movie was made. Him opening up to Sam is clearly a risk, and he slips back into hardass professional mode (but with some regrets) when things begin to go south. And then of course Jerry shoots him, which makes perfect sense in context (Winston did kidnap Sam and kill Leroy, the guy that was acting on behalf of Margolese), but is still really heartbreaking as it happens.

I like, too, that both Sam and Jerry have their issues. Sure, Jerry is a bit of a schlub, but Sam is so saturated in psychobabble that she can't always communicate with words, and as much as she accuses Jerry of being selfish, she does seem to miss that they're dealing with people who are happy to shoot him. Through all that, though, I think you buy them as a couple and they have some chemistry when they're together.

All in all: It's funny, touching, and the action scenes are fun. It's a weird movie, but it's a good one.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Monster of the Week One-Shot: The Sack-Man

Last night I ran a one-shot of Monster of the Week. I liked it well enough; I think it's a decent treatment of the monster-hunter genre with the PbtA rules (of course I have a mighty love for this genre of horror in general). Here is the write-up!

Our characters, first of all.

  • Melissa played Heather, the Mundane. Heather is 25 and not quite sure what she's doing with her life. She's got a new car, now...largely because her old one got possessed, probably because of something Craig did. She babysits for Craig and Annie and is Seamus' cousin. 
  • John N. played Father Seamus Bray, the Divine. Seamus is a priest who has received a Sign that the End of Days is coming, and he needs to do what he can to usher it in. Annie, he figures, is the anti-Christ, so he needs to help her get as powerful as possible. He grapples with some decidedly un-priestly feels for his cousin, Heather. 
  • Travis played Adelia Blackthorn, the Expert. Adelia owns a big house here in southern California, and took in the twins when they were orphaned. She's also overseeing their magical training. 
  • Jerry played Annie, the Spell-Slinger. Annie lost track of her brother when they were orphaned and sent into foster care, but they were reunited thanks to Adelia. Annie is the slightly more responsible of the twins, but that's not saying a whole lot. 
  • John M. played Craig, the Spooky. Craig, like his sister, wields powerful magic, but unlike Annie, his comes from a decidedly unsavory source. It makes things. He once broke Heather's arm with magic because she tried to make him go to bed. 
We decided that this crew doesn't necessarily go out searching for monsters, but monsters happen and they wind investigating. Today's mystery starts at school. Annie and Craig get there and realize that their classmate Miguel is missing. Craig listens in to the conversation between the principal, Miguel's mom, and the cops, and learns that Miguel left for school but never arrived (which his mom discovered when she came to drop off his lunch). 

The twins, as it happens, like Miguel's lunches (they've been known to steal from them), so they figure this is worth looking into. They go to the nurse and tell her they've got a tummyache, which of course is code for "mystery/monster" and gets Adelia to pick them up. 

They start retracing Miguel's steps. Adelia uses magic to scry and figure out where he is. She does that by dripping a bit of blood into a skull and adding fire; there's a puff of smoke and then she sees Miguel walking down the street, towards a playground on the block. He pauses, and heads to the playground instead of school.

This is all very well, but Adelia's car is now full of smoke, and she nearly runs into Heather, who is walking home after crashing with a friend after a late night. She whacks the car and yells at Adelia, who gets out and explains the situation. Heather, not thrilled at having a perfectly good hangover hijiacked by hijinks, goes along to help watch over the kids.

They get to the playground and the twins look around. Annie investigates a mystery and finds Miguel's backpack buried in the wood chips under the jungle gym. There's nothing in it of note, but he was definitely here and someone tried to cover it up. Heather stumbles over something important and finds a path leading out of the playground back into the neighborhood, and the kids follow her. Meanwhile, Adelia calls up Seamus - God may need to be involved here.

Heather and the twins find a rickety, broken fence around an overgrown yard. Craig skips ahead and hears a dog snarl and launch itself at him, but he uses jinx and the dog is stopped short, still on its chain. The dog sits stock-still, staring at the characters, and looks Heather up and down as though judging her. It then turns around and goes into its doghouse.

Annie, perhaps unwisely, follows it in and it bites her on the shoulder. She responds by kicking ass with her blast spell, blowing the doghouse apart and forcing the dog out into the open. Heather steps in and protects Annie by bopping the dog on the nose, and it backs off. Craig, seeing the dog has hurt his sister, uses his big whammy spell to kick some ass, and the dog falls over and starts twitching. About then Seamus and Adelia arrived, and Seamus soothes Craig to calm him down.

Adelia investigates a mystery and realizes the dog is a guardian; maybe it's a real dog that's been enchanted or maybe it's a summoned being, it's hard to say, but it's the house, covered in vines, that's really significant. They start approaching the house, but then they see a man on the sidewalk in a Neighborhood Watch cap peeking over the fence. He demands to know who they are and what they're doing.

Adelia manipulates him, but misses (as does Seamus trying to help), and Wes (the dude) walks away calling the cops. Craig hexes his phone, though, and he drops and breaks it. Heather follows him and tells him the truth, and asks if he's seen Miguel.

Wes did, in fact, see Miguel this morning - Miguel was on the playground and Wes was headed there to tell him to go to school, but before he got there Miguel apparently left. He did see another adult on the playground, though, but can't remember anything about him.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Seamus lays on hands to heal Annie, and she uses magic to heal the last of the dog bites. They decide to enter the house, or at least look into it. Seamus knocks, and the silhouette of a man appears in a window in the door. It talks to them, and asks about the children, and seems entirely too eager. Craig reads a bad situation and realizes that the doghouse is back, completely intact. Adelia tells the kids to get into the house

The dog emerges again and charges the group. Adelia protects the kids and gets bit. Seamus banishes the dog, but it doesn't take effect right away. Heather steps in to kick some ass, and the dog bites her leg. Annie, pissed at the dog, uses magic to summon Tibbers, her monstrous teddy-bear creature. It appears and throws the dog upwards, and as soon as it clears the fence, it vanishes. Seamus lays hands on Heather and probably enjoys it far too much.

Meanwhile, Craig uses magic to break the lock, and the door opens. His dark side, though, warns him against entering, and since his dark side turns off his powers if he disobeys, the stays out. The adults enter the house and the door slams, leaving the kids outside.

Craig's dark side tells him to "burn it," and Craig, not really thinking twice, agrees. Annie uses magic and adds her fire effect, and Craig helps, and the door catches fire. It spreads, and the house starts to burn.

Inside, the adults, see a man upstairs. He's tall and robed and carrying a sack. They talk to him briefly, but he's clearly not human. Seamus manifests his flaming sword and kicks some ass, but the Sack-Man touches his chest and chills him to the bone. The man then vanishes...

...and appears outside. He reaches for Craig, but Craig uses the big whammy and Annie kicks ass with magic, blowing him apart and leaving the yard signed and burnt.

Inside, Adelia grabs the door to get out, but it burns her hand. Seamus acts under pressure and kicks the door out, and the adults escape. Adelia investigates a mystery and realizes they're dealing with a (the?) Sack-Man, a boogeyman that steals children. They aren't really vulnerable to mundane weapons, but can be harmed or killed by protective herbs and plants. Adelia isn't sure which one, but she's got a bunch back at the house.

They head back to Blackthorn House, and decide to call up the creature, trap it, and destroy it (though Seamus argues for transferring its power to Annie). Craig's dark side whispers that "Heather is the key," but they aren't sure why - Heather's just the babysitter?

They make a binding, and Craig uses big magic to summon the Sack-Man. He appears, and sucks Craig into his sack. Adelia has her stock of protective herbs: rowan, yew, ague...heather. She burns some and wafts the smoke at the Sack-Man (and kicks ass), and the Sack-Man collapses, weakened. The sack opens, and Craig - and Miguel - crawl out. Annie kicks ass and pulls the sack down over the Man, and he vanishes, banished.

Miguel, a little confused, asks what happened. Annie hugs him, and whispers "tell your mom you want empanadas for lunch tomorrow."

Miguel can only nod.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Character Creation: Monster of the Week

I'm running this game for the first time on Saturday as a one-shot, so I figure I should make a character.

The Game: Monster of the Week
The Publisher: Generic Games
Degree of Familiarity: Haven't played or run it, but I'm very familiar with the genre and I've played and run other PbtA games.
Books Required: Just the one.

So this is a Powered by the Apocalypse take on monster-hunting, and I quite like it. First thing I do, obviously, is pick a playbook. Hmm. Maybe it's just because I finished watching Iron Fist lately and I didn't hate it, but I kinda like the Initiate. I'm a member of a sect dedicated to fighting monsters, and I'm potentially good at using magic to do it. I dig that.

I'm meant to start with a name. I don't want to make a member of a Biblical sect, I don't think, but I'll think about the sect more later. My character's name is Simon Harlow.

Next up is look. Simon's a man. Body...hmm. Tattooed appeals, as does agile. Hmm. I'll go for tattooed. And then I'll go for unfashionable clothes, I think (I don't want formal or ceremonial).

Ratings. Well, my Weird is high no matter what I do, so that's good. I'm fine if my Charm is low, I don't see Simon as being real manipulative. I'll go with the third line (Charm -1, Cool 0, Sharp -1, Tough +2, Weird +2).

Now, my sect. Awesome. Simon's sect is urban. He lived in Chicago, but was kept in an apartment building, close to the beating heart of the city but forever apart from it. The sect operated a tattoo parlor on the first floor, and whenever you passed a test or gained a new skill, you got more ink. The sect (The Painted Walkers of the City) takes in very young children from family members, and doesn't let them leave - you leave when you're 16 or you get your first ink. They stay secret because, um, that's fucked up.

So we get two good traditions and one bad one. I'll take Modernized and Magical lore as the good ones, and Paranoid & Secretive as the bad one.

Moves! I get one based on being in good standing with my sect, but it's a Charm roll, so that sucks. Then I get three more. I'll take Fortunes (I can look into the future, probably by staring into the eyes tattooed on my palms, Helping Hand (I help other hunters well), and That Old Black Magic (when I use magic I get get information).

Gear! Ooh, because we're modernized, I get two modern weapons. I pick a .38 revolver and a shotgun.

The last thing is Introductions, but I'd need a group for that, so I'm pretty much done!

Movie #412: Logan

Logan is, supposedly, the last movie featuring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. It stars Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephan Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, and Eriq La Salle.

Logan is working as a limo driver near the Mexican border, caring for an ailing Professor Xavier (Stewart) with the help of the mutant tracker Caliban (Merchant). He's also dying - his healing factor is failing and his skeleton is poisoning him, so he's drinking to dull the pain and trying to raise enough money to buy a boat and go live on the ocean (it's unclear if he intends to blow his brains out with his one adamantium bullet once he gets there, but it's implied). And then a woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) finds him and begs his help to get a little girl named Laura (Keen) to North Dakota, and Logan embarks on a brutal journey that leaves pretty much everyone dead.

I've seen a lot of people saying this is the Wolverine movie we should have had all along, but I dunno. I grew up with Wolverine in yellow spandex and the comic writers trying vainly to have a dude with claws who didn't messily dismember everyone (before the 90s came along and said "fuck it, messy dismemberments for all!"), and who didn't curse because no one did. And that's basically how Jackman portrayed him in the first X-Men movies, minus the spandex, so seeing a Wolverine here that spits f-bombs like it's a Tarantino movie and goes for visible killing shots is a little jarring.

With that said, it's a testament to how well Jackman knows the character that it still feels very much like the Wolverine we got to know in the other movies. Stewart, likewise, falls back into Professor X perfectly, and does a heart-breaking job of taking this educated, distinguished, intelligent man and breaking him down into fragments (I have seen this happen firsthand, it sucks, and the filmmakers did a great job with it). I like that we never quite find out what happened to the X-Men, and that the exposition of where all the mutants went gets cut short because Logan gets impatient. This film pulls exactly no punches, and if you're going to go full western-noir (I guess), that's how you do it.

For my money, I'd have liked more time with the kids, seeing their powers, and I could have used a little more attention to continuity with the other films (like, is this the same timeline as Days of Future Past? If so...huh?), but taken on its own or as a trilogy with X-Men Origins (ugh) and The Wolverine, it works nicely.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Mexican

Monday, July 10, 2017

Night's Black Agents: Pear-Shaped As Usual

Yay, vampires in a chair! This session was the end of the op.

So, last time, the agents captured Dierke Essert and strapped him to a chair. Figuring they only had a limited time to experiment before someone came looking for him, they got on that (or rather, had their friendly scientists Koltay and Sedillo get on that).

Sedillo told the agents that Essert was alive - they'd been thinking of the vampires as dead (since, y'know, vampires) but really he was a biologically alive organism. He needed to eat, drink, excrete, and so forth. She theorized that these vampires could even reproduce sexually. She also noted that there was a genetic marker and that she could verify someone was a vampire with a DNA test. Parker asked if this was a parasite living in a person, but Sedillo said no, it was actually a new creature. The creature might be able to access the human body's memories, but the human being was gone.

She later gave them a new discovery - there was two distinct species of what the agents had been calling "masters." She called them "hot" and "cold," just for ease of distinction. Essert was cold, whereas Simon Thibault had been hot. She wasn't sure about others, but she was able to note that the serum that killed Thibault would have that effect on a hot one, but almost not effect on a cold (like Essert). From that, they could deduce that Jones had been hot, and so, probably, was Kingsilver. Likewise, the formula they'd use on the vampire that had made it lock up and seize probably wouldn't have much effect on a hot one, but it was hard to know without data.

That was kinda the theme - Sedillo could make all kinds of tests, but she was working from a limited sample size. She did show MacAteer (who has a bunch of technical skill) how to manufacture poisons and the like. All they needed was the materials.

Koltay, meanwhile, said he was no longer sure what the collar's function was. He'd thought it had been for strengthening the vampire's tentacles, encouraging faster development, but now he wasn't sure.

Through all this, Ess was worried about their next move. The agents talked it out, and decided to have MacAteer's contacts (Snug and Christian) get a helicopter and a case of weapons in to the nearest airport. MacAteer and Gambone went into the city to sort that out, while Ess rented snowmobiles to allow for a secondary means of escape.

At the airport, MacAteer noted that their contact, showing them the helicopter, seemed nervous. He opened the hangar door and MacAteer noted someone in the helicopter. Rather than start a fight, they aborted and walked away, but while going through the airport, they realized they were being followed.

The split up. Gambone ducked into an employees only area, waiting for the dude to follow him, and beat him to death with a fire extinguisher (Weapons is his MOS). MacAteer ducked into a bathroom to disguise himself (which is his MOS), but got made by a guy holding up his jacket as he walked out. MacAteer knocked the guy following him out, but followed up with a punch to drop him, and wound up getting arrested.

Gambone, still untouched, walked out of the airport and headed for a strip bar to await further instructions. The agents sent Hanover down to the airport to pose as MacAteer's lawyer, and wound up getting him sprung before anyone figured out his real name (which would have been bad). But that left Parker and Ess alone at the chalet.

They suddenly realized their cell phones weren't working, and heard an incoming helicopter. They packed up everything they could, chopped off Essert's tentacles and set him on fire, and took off on snowmobiles. The helicopter landed and they saw Kingsilver get out, flanked by three guards. They headed down the road on the snowmobiles (the guards shot at them, but missed), and then blew the charges, burying both the house and the road. They weren't sanguine that this would kill Kingsilver, but it should slow her down.

They got to the bottom of the mountain, met up with the others, and headed into Munich. From there, they sent Sedillo, Koltay, and the samples back to London, and pondered their next move. They were curious about Lithuania - they knew Essert had sent a panic code there, but didn't have a target there. Figuring that might be their best bet to learn something new, they headed northeast toward Vilnius.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Character Creation: Wayfarers

I'm gonna take some time today and work on my Game Chef entry, but I feel like making a character and I have some downtime to do something more involved and/or slow. So.

Many years ago, I bought a bundle from DriveThru RPG. I've made characters for most of what was in the bundle, but a few that I've been avoiding are close to the top of the list. One was this game: Wayfarers.

I tried to read this a few months ago but eyes kept falling out. Mind, some of that is because I only have it in PDF and I hate reading books that way, but some of it is just that I find the standard fantasy setup really boring. If it's collaborative - like, if I and the players get to build the setting - that's cool. But just being fed a bunch of stuff about the world puts me right to sleep because it's always the same. It's just quasi-Medieval Europe plus Tolkien. Dwarves mine, elves forest, humans "diverse," snnnnnoooooore.

But hey. Maybe this'll be different.

The Game: Wayfarers
The Publisher: Ye Olde Gaming Companye
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one, it seems like.

So, right away we've got some dissonance. The game is called Wayfarers, right? That implies exploration and travel and discover? Here's the cover.

I mean, the art is kind of cool, but the picture is of war. I don't see a lot of wayfaring.

We get two forewords, one of which compares a game to a language, which is kind of a neat analogy. Doesn't say much about this game, though. Then we get a couple of pages about what a roleplaying games (again, no mention of this game at all). So far this could be literally any genre.

And then into chargen! Hooray!

Chargen is a 7-step process, which according to the book has no randomness involved (which is fine; I don't mind a little random in my life but either's good).

Step One: Choose the character's name, sex, age, and race. Well, I'll stick to where I'm comfy and play a dude. Everything else, I dunno? Let's start with race.

We've got dwarves, elves, humans, half-elves, half-orcs, hobgoblins, and orcs. Dwarves, elves, and humans are just as boring as they always are. I think I'll play a half-orc. Their lifespans are analogous to humans', it looks like, so let's assume my guy is 20. He's a young half-orc, off on adventures! (I say that not because it's what I'd necessarily choose to play, but because since this game seems to be yet another D&D knockoff, I assume that starting characters are going to be pretty useless, so I need to set my backstory accordingly.)

I don't see any mention of culture or civilization, and thus names, until waaaaaaay late in the book, so I assume it's just "Middle Earth but with more Vs". The world is called Twylos, by the way, but since the game hasn't seen fit to tell me anything cool about it I assume it's just "fantasy world #2321" and I should get set for killing kobolds or whatever. Anyway, I'll name my half-orc Dvat.

Next up, Determine Attribute Scores. Looks like there's five of them: Agility, Endurance, Intellect, Presence, and Strength. So far, so good. We start with 5 in each, and 35 points, but it's not a 1-for-1 purchase. Fortunately (and I can't believe other games that use this mathematical setup don't do this) there's a chart.

Well, heck. I guess I need to think about what I want young Dvat to be able to do. Kinda want to make him a generalist rather than a specialist; not terrible at anything, but not especially competent if he's just finding his feet. Would that make for a viable character? Who knows. These Attributes run 1-20, and having higher levels gives you bonus on certain things. Also, the math doesn't work out to be average across the board, so that's out.

OK, well, let's assume Dvat grew up on a farm (I'm picturing tubers and hogs, maybe mushrooms). That'll mean higher Endurance and Strength just from practice. I'll set both of those at 12, which costs me 16. I'll put Presence at 7 (he gets tongue-tied, poor dear) and Intelligence at 10 (not too shabby, but not a genius). That takes me to 23 and leaves me 12 more points for Agility and Intellect. I could put them both at 11, or I could put one higher and knock one down. Hmm. I'll bet putting Agility low is a bad idea and I don't want to make a dumb orc (half-orc), so I'll split them evenly.

Oh, wait, hang on, I counted Intellect and Intelligence as two different things (guess I failed an Intellectigence check). So I have more points than I thought. I could have 11s across the board if I wanted to. I don't, I think I'd rather have some variance. OK, so, how about this:

Agility 11
Endurance 14
Intellect 10
Presence 7
Strength 12

There we go. Now, step three: select initial disciplines and proficiencies. I get 40 points for disciplines and 20 for proficiencies. Let's see what I'm good at.

This is annoying. Both disciplines and proficiencies fit under the umbrella of "skill points," but proficiencies can only because to buy or improve proficiencies. Argh.

Ok, I get it. Disciplines are feats, proficiencies are skills, loosely. For disciplines, I'll take Bash (a bunch of goobledegook about doing damage, but the end result seems to be "hit things hard"), Blindfighting, Critical Hit, Increased Physical Resistance, Last Stand, Shield Bash, Shield Use, and I'd like to take Pause & Study but it was too many points so I'll just take Health Point to burn my last two.

Right, proficiencies. I have to take...oh, wait, shit. Weapon master is a discipline, not a proficiency. Goddammit. I have to take Weapon master for my other shit to work. I'll take weapon class A, that'll give me clubs n' shit.

All right, proficiencies are just skills, but they can only be purchased at grade 1, so it's a question of which I want. I have 20 points. Let's see.

I'll take Agriculture and Animal Handling (duh, farm boy). I'll take Climbing (gotta climb trees for fruit sometimes). Herbalism (this mushroom will kill you, this one will not). Intimidate (big n' scary). Jumping (I...have legs). Local Knowledge (WALK ON THE LEFT). Perception (you're an idiot if you don't take this). Riding (farm). And Wilderness Lore (and that mushroom makes you taste colors).

Step Four: Calculate Health Points n' related shit (I'm paraphrasing). Um, yeah, did that.

Step Five: Shop for shit. Yawwwwwn. If I must. I'll take a club and padded armor, and then I got bored and stopped shopping, because shopping is boring.

Step Six: More derived traits. I did these already.

Step Seven: Flush out your character's personality and background. Psst. Book. I think you mean "flesh."

Anyway, Dvat, as mentioned, was a farm boy. His father was a big, stout human and his mother was...also pretty big and stout, but was an orc. Dvat had four brothers and a sister, and they all worked the farm (again, tubers, mushrooms, hogs). Dvat was the oldest, and when he turned 20, his mother gave him her old padded armor and told him to go out and see the world, as she had. Dvat was pretty confused at first - "see the world?" Like, walk to the city? But he's finding as he travels that there's a lot in the world that's...well, kind of interesting. And although he never asked before, he wonders now how his parents met. While his mom was adventuring?

If I were going to play this, I'd want the GM to come up with some cool reason why mom sent me away, but I'm not, and frankly that's just as well.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Character Creation: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Happy Fourth of July! Since our country is spiraling towards apocalypse in a manner so absurd that sometimes it's funny, let's do a game that has some dark humor in it.

The Game: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Publisher: Eden Studios
Degree of Familiarity: I swear I've played this game, but I can't remember if it was at a con or in a friend's home game (+Matthew Karafa, have you ever run this?). I know I've never run it, but I've run other Unisystem games.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, my Buffy-fu is woefully lacking. I've watching most of the first season and then assorted episodes after that (yes, I've seen "Once More With Feeling") and I'm loosely familiar with the show's progression. And look, I'm generally kinda over Joss Whedon. I was talking with some friends the other day and I forget who said this but I agree with it: In the 90s, Whedon was doing some pretty innovative things as far as diversity and feminism and whatnot, but that's more a commentary on how fucked up things were than how progressive he really is. And he hasn't really progressed much since, and sure, it's hard to hear that about someone whose work you like. I love Firefly, but there sure could have been more Asians in the principle cast. I loved The Avengers, but did Loki have to call Black Widow a cunt? (Sorry, "quim.")

Anyway, all of this to say, if I were to play or run Buffy, it might look a little more like Monsterhearts and a little less like, well, Buffy. Maybe a little less graphic sex and a little more focus on killing vampires.

With all of this in mind, we start with Character Type. Well, I don't like to play cross-gender very much so I don't want to be the Slayer (interesting footnote: the game book allows for playing Buffy, playing a Slayer who replaced Buffy, playing a weird with multiple Slayers, or playing post season seven where the rules are different, but not "there's a single Slayer but it isn't Buffy Summers," which is how I've seen a lot of groups play this game). Let's assume that we're in season one, because that's all I've watched, and that my character is a student at Sunnyvale High, but recently transferred from Cleveland (since Cleveland, canonically, also boasts a Hellmouth). That lets him come in with some occult knowledge already. Not a Hero, though, definitely a White Hat. His name is Sung Liu (family is from China, dad worked at a bank while mom went to Case, and they got the hell out of "the incident"). Most folks in Sunnyvale call him "Lou," and he notices the differences in pronunciation, but what the hell, it's not like he says all their names right, either.

As a White Hat, I get 15 Attribute Points, 10 Quality Points, I can take up to 10 Drawback Points, I get 15 Skill Points, and I get 20 Drama Points.

Speaking of Attributes, I get 15 points to divide up among six Attributes. The book helpfully informs me that I can go 3 at 2, 3 at 3 (for a pretty well-rounded character) or I could bump one to 4 and have another at 1 (for someone more specialized). I suppose I could also got to 5 for one and 1 for two, but seems unwise, having played this game.

So, let's think about Liu. He's smart and his parents (both pretty academically minded) pushed him to hit the books, so he needs a decent Intelligence. I think that that's going to be something he struggles with, though; he feels like all this pressure he's getting to make grades doesn't ultimately matter, because holy shit there are vampires. He still folds to his parents, his dad especially, when there's pressure. So I'm gonna spread my points out more or less evenly: 2 in Willpower, Dexterity, and Perception, and 3 in Intelligence, Strength, and Constitution (he's been working out more since moving here).

I could do Life Points, but I think I'll Qualities first. I get 10 points, plus I can take 10 more in Drawbacks if I want.

Well, it's hard to justify not taking Nerd. That grants me +1 to two mental Attributes, so I'll embrace my destiny and bump Intelligence to 4 and Perception to 3. It also grants me +2 to Computers, Knowledge, or Science (but I'll cross that bridge later). That's 3 points.

Since I'm here, I'll take the Obligation Drawback to represent my parents' influence on me. I'll take it at "Important," so that just gives me a point. I think I pretty much have to take the Teenager Drawback, so that's easy.

I want something cool and supernatural, so I'll take The Sight (I can see and sense magical shit). I'll take Situational Awareness (never been sad about that), which is 2 points, and then 2 points of Hard to Kill.

I could take more Drawbacks, but let's see if I'll need them. I get 15 points in Skills; well, really 18 because I have 3 points in Drawbacks at the moment. Oh, and then I get 2 more levels to one of three nerd-skills. You know what, let's just put Computers at 4 right now. That's 2 from Nerd, and then one more, so I have 16 more points. I'll put 1 in Doctor (I know first aid), 2 in Driving (no racist jokes, thanks), 2 in Getting Medieval, 3 in Knowledge, 2 in Kung Fu (sigh), 1 in Languages (Mandarin), 2 in Notice, 2 in Occultism, 3 in Science, and 2 in Sports. That's a total of 24, so I need to take 4 points in Drawbacks to make that work.

I'll take Resources as a Drawback, why not. His family was decently well-off in Cleveland, and then his parents had a dinner party for some of his father's associates. Turns out that the "dinner" was a front to induct his parents (and maybe Liu himself, he never asked) into the demon-worshipping cult that the folks belonged to. Liu discovered this and, while he doesn't like to talk about it, the house caught fight, one of the cultists wound up in the hospital after getting pushed out the window, and his parents wound up nearly bankrupt. Between his mother's student loans, the legal fees, and the loss they took on the house, Liu saved his parents' lives at the cost of their livelihood. (Heavy, man.)

Ahem. All that I have to do now is go refigure Life Points. I have 34 plus 6 from Hard to Kill, which makes 40. I also have 20 Drama Points because I'm a White Hat. If I wished to go and copy Combat Maneuvers onto my sheet, I could (they don't cost anything), but I don't, so that pretty much puts me done!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Movie #411: John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 is, of course, the sequel to John Wick, and stars Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne.

The movie picks up more or less where the first one left off. Having killed the people who killed his adorable little puppy, the "Boogeyman" John Wick (Reeves) is beating up a host of new dudes to get his car back. He does this, making peace with the brother of the boss his killed last time (Peter Stormare, delightfully chewing scenery as always) and then goes home to feed his new dog.

He then gets a visit from Santino D'Antonio (Scamarcio), who represents a faction of assassins, and calls in a marker from Wick. Wick refuses, and so Santino blows up his house. Wick gets no sympathy from his friend Winston (McShane), curator of the New York Continental hotel for assassins; a marker is a marker. Wick, knowing he's fucked, goes to Rome to fulfill the marker - by killing Santino's sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), letting Santino take her seat the High Table. Santino then double-crosses Wick, and he winds up back in New York with every assassin in the place looking for him, including Gianna's now-disgraced security officer Cassian (Common).

On its face, much like the first movie, this isn't much to write home about - it's a dude-killing action movie. But the world-building, oh my goodness. I said about John Wick that it's a great way to envision Vampire: The Requiem, and I think that the sequel gets a little closer to the suspension-of-disbelief-threatening wahoo of Masquerade instead (seriously, how many assassins are there?), but it's still fun to watch. Wick seems to know exactly how much trouble he's in by refusing to abide by the rules of this underworld, but then, the rules still have consequences - Wick ends the movie excommunicado, on the run with his dog, but very clear that he will kill anyone who comes for him.

The fight choreography and production design, as before, are stunning. Ruby Rose's mute bodyguard character is a lot of fun, and I kinda wish she'd had a little more to do before getting stabbed. Common, likewise, is fun to watch as Cassian and I kinda want him to have his own movie (Common, not necessarily Cassian, though heck, I'd watch a movie about him).

I'm looking forward to the third one, and I hope we get to see the High Table and the different factions.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Logan

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Misspent Youth: Off-Planet

Exciting session of Misspent Youth yesterday!

Meet our Authority Figures:

  • Tartarus, the facility where their keep the Unsuitables. 
  • Erzulie, the goddess of love and a mob boss in the City.
  • Marduk, the god of the city and its ruler.
  • Charybdis, the perpetual storm circling the planet.
  • Argus, the many-guardian guardian of the prison facility. 
And our Friendship Questions:

  • Alaska asked Kshanti: "Where did you put my weaving loom?" Kshanti answered: "I exchanged it for a funhouse mirror and you broke it."
  • Jacqui asked Yasha: "Why did I see you watching Kshanti?" Yasha answered: "I'm worried she's a liability."
  • Yasha asked Alaska: "Why did you want me in the first place?" Alaska answered: "I've never really thought about it."
  • Eli asked Jacqui: "How often have you really used your sangromancy (though she said 'boner-mancy'?)" Jacqui answered: "Rarely, because I don't know if there are side-effects."
  • Kshanti asked Eli: "Now that we're free, what part of our friendship are you glad to be free of?" Eli answered: "I can be by myself now."
Scene One: What's Up

Eli's player starts us off and chooses Erzulie. 

The YOs are apartment hunting in the City. They've got some money from Eli's dad (Eli's Rich, remember), but they're trying to find someplace that's tactical as well as affordable. Yasha, in particular, is looking to stage the resistance. 

They meet Dantor, a goblin who dresses in purple and smells sweet, and he shows them a new building. The decor is tasteful and the apartment on the top floor has a room for everyone, walls that can become transparent at a touch or change color as the owner wishes, and automatic delivery from many of the vendors in the City. The YOs are suspicious, particularly when Dantor shows them the lease and they realize how cheap it is. Dantor tells him he's not the owner, he's just the super. Erzulie owns the building and a few like it. 

The YOs' Struggle here is to avoid signing the lease, but Alaska stands up and loses, and she's the one who really wants to live here. The YOs sign the lease and move in, and we have our kickoff.

Kickoff: This episode is about security. 

Scene Two: Fighting Back

I set this up and chose Jacqui's question to Yasha about watching Kshanti. 

We fast forward a month. Everyone's been living their own way in the apartment. Eli's been spending a lot of time alone (the joke is that they think about Theo. A lot). Kshanti meditates, Yasha buys military grade gear, and Alaska uses the pool after dark when the people who live downstairs ("ugh, poor people") aren't allowed up anymore. Jacqui is the only one who makes a point of going outside, and refuses to use the delivery service, not wanting her purchases tracked. 

Yasha notes Kshanti in her room, walls still bare, meditating, and talks with her about life and what she's doing. Kshanti responds with a koan on the nature of space, that outer space vs. the space here really isn't different. Alaska and Jacqui join this conversation, and Alaska reveals that she's been lonely as her friends have been separated, even as they've been close together. Eli joins them as well, and Jacqui convinces Eli to go out to get coffee. 

As they do, though, they see guards from the prison facility at the coffee shop, and the others in the apartment realize that those guards are going door to door. Eli and Jacqui duck into a fabric-seller's stand at the bazaar to hide, but the YOs in the apartment have a problem. Alaska tries to get angry and change her form, but she can't do it. Eli tries to send the others a message, but it comes through garbled and faint. Alaska and Yasha try to disguise themselves via mundane means, but Kshanti just opens the door when the guards knock. Eli stands up and loses.

Erzulie herself appears and bewitches the guards; they leave in a stupor. Erzulie tells her tenants that she's not interested in losing them (that's lost rent, after all), and she's happy to help protect them from the facility. At what cost? Nothing specific. Just enjoy the apartment. She gives them necklaces with a single seed in a pouch, and tells them to bite down on the seed if they need her. 

Beat: Discovery - Erzulie is on the YOs side Question: What does Erzulie want?

Scene Three: Heating Up

Jacqui's players sets this up and chooses Kshanti's question to Eli about friendship. Back at the fabric seller's, Eli and Jacqui talk about isolation and why Eli is cutting themself off. Eli states that it's just nice to have the option to be alone. They head back to the apartment and talk about what happened, and realize that their powers don't seem to be working right. They decide to get out of the city for a while, and head to visit Bruce, Eli's father, out in the country. They take an Orbu out of the City, but realize they're being followed. 

They convince their Orbu driver to take some evasive maneuvers, and Kshanti stands up and wins on Jacqui's Sneaky Conviction. The Orbu driver, on Kshanti's instruction, dives into a tunnel beneath the roads, and from below they see the cars following them are marked with Erzulie's sigil. 

Scene Four: We Won

Yasha's player sets this up, and chooses Marduk, the god of the City. 

The YOs arrive at the farm to discover that Bruce has company already - four servants of Marduk. He tells the YOs to wait outside while he finishes his business. Eli and Alaska lay on the grass and talk; Alaska is lonelier than anyone realized. Eli, too, misses the facility; sure, it's nice to be free, but they miss the routine and the understood expectations. 

Kshanti, of course, wants to know what's going on, so sneaks up to eavesdrop. After almost being made by Eli's cat, Admiral Fuzzbottom, the YOs win when Jacqui stands up and wins on Kshanti's MO (If You're Gonna Do Wrong, Buddy, Do Wrong Right). One of the Marduk-servants opens a window and Kshanti, hiding, learns that Marduk is vying for power against Erzulie, who is stockpiling Mojo. 

Scene Five: We're Fucked

Alaska's player sets this up, and chooses Charybdis, the eternal storm. 

The YOs talk with Bruce, and learn that every 550 years or so, the storm descends to the planet's surface, scouring everything and destroying it. Only facilities or cities with lots of Mojo to spare that can generate force fields can wait it out. Maybe gods could survive on their own, but certainly not the YOs. 

Everyone has dinner and the YOs talk about their plans. Kshanti is pretty adamant to get off-planet, perhaps by gorging herself on Mojo and becoming all-powerful. The others are less certain of this, and Yasha, in particular, wonders what becomes of the other prisoners if the YOs just leave. The YOs talk about other options - could they turn one god against another? Could they exploit their connection with Billy or Theo? As they talk, Jacqui notices she's getting sleepy - they've been drugged. She tries to control her blood's response to the poison, but Bruce hits a button on his wrist-device and pulls their Mojo toward him, disrupting their powers. Kshanti stands up and loses, but sells out her MO to Sacrifice to win the scene. She takes control of the Mojo, rips it out of Bruce, and divides it up into the YOs. But the guards are already on their way. The YOs load Bruce (and the cat) into a car and take off, heading for Tartarus, which they believes holds the refinery for Mojo.

Beat: Reversal - Bruce betrays the clique

Scene Six: Who Wins

Kshanti's player starts us off and chooses Tartarus. The YOs head for Tartarus, with the Argus-troops in pursuit. They arrive at the pit, and that's all it is: A giant circle of nothing. They get out of the car and look in, but can see nothing. Kshanti, predictably, jumps in. 

Eli's not interested in following this insanity through, but the others trust in Kshanti, so Eli gets back in the car to draw off the troops. Bruce wakes up and Eli growls at him a bit, but Bruce tells Eli that all he wanted was for Eli to be safe, and the clique was talking crazy. At least at the facility, Bruce had a chance of helping Eli avoid becoming a meat-puppet. 

Inside the pit, though, the YOs were descending. They were touched and groped by the Hundred-Handed, pulled down into the pit, and met a young man who wasn't...perfect like they were. He was Unsuitable. He told them that they were engineered, while he was born here (though Yasha noted that Kshanti was native to Bardo, and the Unsuitable man shrugged and said some people just won the genetic lottery). They mentioned Mojo, and he laughed and asked where they thought it came from? Mojo was the result of rendering people like him down to their essence. 

They continued to descend, and felt tendrils in their ears and noses, tasting them. Yasha stood up and lost, but wasn't going to let this stand, so sold out Tough to Vicious. She grabbed the tendril and bit it in the half, destroying the protective god-tech, and the YOs fell deeper into the pit, into a gigantic pool of Mojo guarded by Titans. They've won the episode. 

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

Eli's player set this up and chose Argus, the many-eyed guardian of the facility. 

Four of the five YOs have become super-infused with Mojo, making them more powerful than they've ever been. The troops arrive, but ignore Eli - they have much bigger fish to fry. The Titans grab for the YOs, but Alaska takes on the form of a Titan and fights them off. Yasha and Kshanti use their powers to form debris into a space-elevator, while Jacqui decimates the Argus-troops by making their blood pressure drop. Eli drives her car straight at the elevator, and Kshanti ascends all of them, the Unsuitables as well, off-planet as the storm descends. 


The YOs have escaped Bardo (so it's no longer a System of Control for them), but they have not escaped the gods. Next session, we'll see which planet they landed on. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Movie #410: Get Out

Get Out is a horror movie directed by Jordan Peele and starring Daniel Kaluuya, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Allison Williams, Stephen Root, Lil Rey Howery, Betty Gabriel, and Marcus Henderson.

Chris (Kaluuya) is a young black photographer who goes home with his white girlfriend Rose (Williams) to visit her parents for the weekend. He's nervous enough about that, but discovers that her parents are not only vaguely racist in ways he's probably really used to, but her mother Missy (Keener) is a psychiatrist happy to hypnotize away his smoking habit and her brother Jeremy (Jones) is aggressive and drunk. Likewise, the two household staff, Georgina and Walter (Gabriel and Henderson, respectively) are just...strange. They're black, but they don't respond to Chris like they are.

Well, spoiler alert: The whole thing is a setup. The Armitage family belongs to a cult (an "order", actually, though it's a really brief mention) and the weekend is actually an auction for Chris. His intended fate is to have Jim Hudson (Root)'s brain transplanted into his body, where a sliver of his mind will forever live in "the sunken place," a black pit inside his own mind. They've been stealing black people for this purpose for a long time. Why black people? Oh, they're just in fashion.

This movie is goddamn fantastic, and I say that knowing that I'm a white guy watching it which means I'm missing untold amounts of nuance that I just don't have the life experience to get. Kaluuya's performance is amazing, and his ability to look vaguely uncomfortable for a long beat and then just break is chilling. Williams, likewise, keeps you guessing pretty late in the game as to whether she's really in on it, and you really don't want her to be. The final beat, when Chris' TSA buddy Rod (Howery) shows up, had the whole theater holding its breath.

I'm really, really looking forward to Peele doing more horror. I hope he does. The genre needs this kind of talent, and it needs this kind of perspective.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Probably low because it's so damn intense

Next up: John Wick: Chapter 2

Promethean: Chats in the Swamp

Last time, which was a while ago, there was some light death and chopping. This time, the characters had stuff to do.

Enoch, Skip, Feather, and Matt took Barbara and stopped by the power line that Sicky had showed them, and then headed out to the remains of the camp. Barbara and Matt started fixing up Barbara's old shack; Matt, reasonably, decided that having this as a backup hovel might be wise. He also talked to Barbara about her Pilgrimage. She wasn't really sure where to go next, having been on Stannum (and chasing the Gator) for so long, and asked Matt about where he'd been. He talked about going out to California and learning who he'd been before (that is, his body's history), and that he found some value in that. He'd been started on that path because a librarian had recognized him waaaaaay back in New Mexico. Barbara noted that she'd never really tried to be out among people, focusing on learning about herself as a Promethean first. Matt, on the other hand, did it the other way: started among people and then self-focused. Barbara decided it was time to learn more about humans (switching to the Refinement of Gold), and Matt made a milestone (help a Promethean choose a new Refinement) and completed his Ascetic Role. He decided to switch to Chronicler and finish the Pilgrim Mark dictionary he was working on, figuring that would dovetail nicely with Feather's work.

Feather, meantime, dove into the swamp, using her Saturninus Transmutations to focus on the Pilgrim Marks. She found a bunch of them, noting parts of the camp, but also found on reading "this place is doomed." She had an Elpis Vision, and saw that all of these Marks were stories and Rambles and she'd learned a lot about them, but what was she doing with that information? She resurfaced with a new sense of purpose.

Skip, standing guard while Feather dove, was wondering about his own path. He'd completed the Soldier Role, but wasn't sure where to go next. He tried to force an Elpis Vision, but failed.

Back in New Orleans, Grimm called up the person that Charon had recommended to ask about "the Bound." She met him at DuMonde for coffee, and he told her about Red and what had happened. She (introducing herself as Anita) told him a little about what "Bound" meant - she was one, too. Red, upon death, had bonded with a powerful spirit. She told Grimm that the Bound were hard to kill because the spirit of death could shunt their death off onto someone else; there were consequences, but someone like Red might not care. She wondered if by having someone like Grimm or one of his compatriots, who could return from death, actually strike the death-blow, the death might not "take" and Red would stay dead. She warned him that they were in highly theoretical territory, though. She said she'd consult a source and get back to him tomorrow.

Avalon did some sketching and went to visit Carroll. He liked her drawings of monsters and body horror, but noted that Ysolde's face kept creeping in and that was where the real emotion lived. Avalon agreed, but asked for him to hit her with another Nightmare. Carroll, perhaps a little taken aback, touched her hand, and as she walked away she felt like all human interaction was fake, no one was being honest with her, and she was alone.

Grimm, back at the storefront, called Rosa, his creator. They talked for a moment he mentioned he might come see her, and as he hung up he got flickers of Elpis, but no vision. Confused, he forced a Vision, and saw that Vitriol could be used to smooth out his stitches, to push himself along on the Pilgrimage, to fix Alembics. He was close, he realized, to fermentatio, but wasn't sure how to get there.

The Prometheans headed back to the storefront and met back up with Avalon and Grimm. Avalon contacted Emil and asked for a local drug hookup (she wanted mescaline to kickstart her creative process). The throng talked about moving - since Red clearly knew where they were, maybe it was safer to move? But then, if Red came back and just found Beth, the owner, who knew what he'd do? They decided it was better to stay safe and just keep watch, and it was getting late anyway.

Grimm talked with Enoch and asked about his vision, and Enoch concurred that using Vitriol to push himself towards humanity sounded about right, given the context. Grimm needed more Vitriol for that, though.

Well, not everyone. Avalon met the dealer and bought her tabs, and then got a little sleep as Feather typed away on her new typewriter, writing up the history of the camp (Matt collaborated on Pilgrim Marks). Grimm and Enoch slept, but Skip was upstairs, trying again to force a vision. He failed again, and, frustrated, he punched a beam. Of course, Skip is ridiculously strong, and cracked it, and the whole roof shifted.

Everyone woke up, and Avalon used her Fortification Distillation to fix it; it would still need some shoring up. Skip was in Torment and probably about to punch something else, but Matt used his knowledge of Saturninus to resolve the Torment and calm Skip the hell down. He then took Skip on a walk and dressed him down a bit; Skip was frustrated because he didn't know where to go and he wasn't getting any guidance, but Matt pointed out that maybe trying to do something different - something creative - was key. Skip got everyone coffee and beignets, and apologized to the throng, which it turned out was a milestone for him.

Now unable to sleep, Avalon popped a whole bunch of pills and got to work. She worked until sunrise, and though her masterpiece isn't done, it's taking shape.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Character Creation: Vampire 20th

I'm going to work tomorrow (yeah, summer, but I need the money so I took some work at the summer clinic), so I figure I should make a character again while I have time, spoons, and...time-spoons.

So! Vampire! There's a new edition coming, this one kinda disconnected from previous editions in terms of mechanics. There's a "pre-alpha" playtest version link floating around, which is fucking dumb because "alpha" literally means "first," but whatever. I'm not involved, and neither is anyone else on the Onyx Path side of things, as far as I know. All I know is: It's going to be a shitshow, even if nuWW manages to make an awesome game, because they kinda already started off with one foot in the shitshow.

But never mind that.

The Game: Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition
The Publisher: White Wolf by way of CCP, with maybe some Onyx Path, I don't remember the timing and I can't be fucked to look it up right now
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I worked on this edition a little (bloodlines) and I worked on the line quite a bit
Books Required: Just the one.

I made a character for the 2nd edition of the game some time ago. "Some time ago." That was back in 2008. Remember 2008? Obama was about to be elected, we knew Bush was on the way out. There was hope.

And here we are now, in a World of Darkness. Ah, well. (We just watched the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale, so you'll pardon me if I'm a little bleak.)

So, since my last character was a Camarilla vampire, let's go a little different this time and make a Sabbat one.

Step One: Character Concept. Leon "Franco" Franchetti was a college dropout and a bouncer. Franco was also really smart; he didn't drop out because he couldn't make the grades, but because his father died of a stroke and the money that had been supplementing his income to help with his tuition had to go to the service and then to keep the household running. Franco figured he'd get back into it at some point, but he decided he'd drop out for a while and get a job to pay the bills, and he had a cousin who ran a bar.

Franco was working one night when a group of people rolled up, cut the line, and tried to get in. Franco stepped in front of them, and one of them - a little skinny guy - tossed him out of the way. Franco rounded up the other fellas and went after these pricks, but the woman with them stared all the tough guys down and Franco was left standing there by himself.

The little skinny guy looked Franco up and down and said something in a language Franco didn't understand, and then a third guy got up, handed Franco some folded hundred-dollar-bills, and said "Sorry, man. We'll be more polite." And that was it.

Three nights later, this same group ambush Franco outside his car, and the skinny guy bit him on the neck, drained his blood, and then brought him back. He took the time to educate him, too - humanity was a joke. People were a joke. Death was an afterthought.

Franco's sire wanted him to follow him down the Path of Cathari, and Franco probably would have, but he came to the attention of another local Sabbat vampire with different ideas. Sure, sex and abandon and so on is great, but there's a higher purpose to it all...if you're strong enough to look. Franco's on the Path of Lilith now.

So: Franco's a Lasombra. His Nature is Eye of the Storm; Franco is good at staying focused when everything goes nuts. His Demeanor is Soldier. The Path of Lilith is considered heretical, so he keeps it under wraps.

Good start. So, Step Two is Attributes. I want Physical to be primary, I think. I'll put three into Strength and two each into Dexterity and Stamina (because this stupid system still uses Dex as the "to-hit" stat).

Mental secondary. Three into Intelligence, once into Wits and Perception.

And then one each into the three Social Attributes.

Step Three: Abilities. 13/9/5. SO MANY POINTS. I'll make Talents primary, and put two each into Alertness, Athletics, Awareness, Brawl, Intimidation, and Streetwise. Last point goes into Subterfuge.

Knowledges are secondary. God, these are stupid. "Finance" and "Law" really need to be separate Abilities? Yawn. Anyway, three into Academics and Occult, two into Computer, one into Investigation.

Then Skills. One each into Drive, Etiquette, and Melee, and two into Stealth. Boom.

Step Four: Advantages. I get three dots in Disciplines and five in Backgrounds, but because I'm on a Path, not Humanity, I don't get any free dots in Virtues, except Courage. So I have to spend two of my 7 for a dot in Conviction and Instincts, and then I'll put two more into Instincts and Courage and one more into Conviction.

For Disciplines, I get Obtenebration, Potence, and Dominate. Hrm. Well, I like the shadow-things, but they're all useful, so I'll take one of each.

Then Backgrounds. I'll put one into Herd (folks at the club), two into Generation, and two into Mentor (not my sire, the one who's instructing me in my Path).

I get 5 in my Path (which is as high as it gets as a starting character), three in Willpower (which I have to raise), and roll a virtual d10 for blood pool (4). And of course I get 15 freebies, and I can take Flaws, which I will. I'll take Permanent Fangs (which my mentor sees as a blessing from Lilith, and who I am to argue?). I'll take Sire's Resentment, too; Michele (my sire) kinda takes offense that I think he's a schmuck and a hedonist. And I'll take Repelled by Crosses; Franco's family is Catholic and that respect and fear runs deep.

So that gives me 22 freebies. I have to spend two to raise my Willpower to 5. I'll burn 7 to buy a second dot of Obtenebration. I'll dump some into Backgrounds: Raise Herd to 2, Mentor to 3, and pick up Status 1 and Domain 1 (his cousin's club). That's 13 spent total. I want the Iron Will Merit, so that takes me to 16. I'll blow 5 more on a dot of Manipulation, and my last one I'll put into Retainers (my cousin Paul; he owns the club).

I'll specialize Strength and Intelligence, since I can. For Strength I'll take "Buff" (Franco was something of a weightlifting enthusiast pre-Embrace), and for Intelligence I'll take "Methodical".

And that's me done. Let's go eat some babies!*

*I do not actually advocate eating babies, even when playing Sabbat.