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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Movie #399: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins is musical based (loosely) on the books by P.L. Travers and starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Jones, Ed Wynn, Karen Dotrice, and Matthew Garber.

London, 1910. The Banks family, headed by George (Tomlinson), a banker, is experiencing some stress. They can't seem to keep a nanny, because the children, Jane (Dotrice) and Michael (Garber) keep...running off to fly kites? Anyway, George composes a new ad for a nanny, as do the children, and the next Mary Poppins (Andrews) flies down from the clouds and takes the job. She agrees to stay "until the wind changes" and proceeds to throw magic around, taking the children into a chalk drawing with the local lovable camp Bert (Van Dyke). Finally, George takes the kids to work with him, where his ancient boss (also Van Dyke) tries to get Michael to invest his money, and then there's a riot, and George gets fired but learns What's Really Important, and Poppins sods off into the sky again. In the midst of all of this, there are songs and animated penguins.

So, this movie is cute. I haven't read the books, though Michelle has and says they're not quite so much about George's feels, which, like, that's kinda typical, yeah? I admit I've never been much of a fan of how his wife Winifred (Jones) is a hardcore suffragette but completely kowtows to him at him, nor of how Mary denies all of the magic stuff after the kids get home. But, regardless, the absolute worst thing about this movie is Van Dyke's god-awful cockney accent. Like, his dialect coach needs a stern talking-to.

Andrews is, of course, charming as Poppins, and the kids are cute. There are some funny bits, and the songs are nice, though the dance sequences go on a little long. My daughter used to really like this movie when she was little, and I think it wouldn't be the worst thing to see a remake, maybe hewn a little closer to the books?

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Mask

Monday, April 10, 2017

Watch Out for the Missing Stair

Go read the link (yes, it's a blog that's about BDSM and sex parties and suchlike, but that's not relevant to the point, I just want the term "missing stair" in your vocab).
Then, consider that you might well have a friend who's a missing stair. You might be inclined to discount what other people say about them, because you *trust* your friends (as well you should!). You might be inclined to find excuses when people bring up issues. "He's not like that anymore." "You're jealous/bitter/etc." "He would never do that." "You're being racist."
Well, sure. I mean, sometimes people get falsely accused. Sometimes people repeat a story that's not *quite* true so often they believe it. Sometimes there's just such a monumental misunderstanding that two otherwise reasonable people wind up hating each other for something that's no one's fault.
But it's in these shadows that the missing stair exists. It's that kind of doubt and goodwill that allows other people to break their metaphorical ankles. And the guys that are the missing stairs, they're smart. They know not to alienate everyone. They know to choose their battles, to avoid saying things in public or in print (or, now, online) that will prove people accusing them of harassment (or whatever) right.
This is why it's so important to listen to people when they say "he sexually harassed me" (or whatever). I'm not saying you should uncritically believe everything you hear. I'm saying you should listen. Very, very rarely do people accuse others for no reason, and if you hear multiple people saying the same thing, it's probably worth your attention, especially if by, say, hiring someone as a developer, you're potentially putting others at risk of the same treatment.
This is hard. I know it is. It sucks when someone you trust gets accused of doing something shitty, something that, if a friend said happened to her, you'd believe her and have her back and be ready to go after the fucker who did it (or at least, like, never hire him). But if your commitments really are to making the hobby and the industry a better place, then you have to be willing to examine your own biases.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Character Creation: Remember Tomorrow

Two characters in two days, whaaaat? I know, crazy.

No political agenda today, just straight to the game. Feel free to go back one entry, though.

The Game: Remember Tomorrow
The Publisher: Box Ninja
Degree of Familiarity: None, but it's real short and easy to follow.
Books Required: Just the one.

Remember Tomorrow is by the same company and author as 3:16, and is similarly simple, mechanics-wise. It's also GMless, or rather, control of the game passes from player to player. I admit that I just kinda read through the character creation section, but I'm totally gonna read this in more detail, because it looks like fun.

Also, as an aside, it's kind of an oddity for me because I own a physical copy but I know I didn't Kickstart it (it predates Kickstarter) and I don't have any memory of buying it. It's position in the list indicates I've had it for a while, so maybe GenCon 2010 or so? Dunno.

Anyway! Remember Tomorrow is billed as "Near Future Roleplaying," set in a fast-paced world of travel, money, sex, and cyberware (kind of). You make up characters, Factions, and Goals, and end an episode when three characters or Factions are Written Out. Sounds like my kind of thing, actually.

So, we start with an Identity. I could pick, but I'd rather roll. I roll Torpedo, which is a hired killer. I'm OK with that, mostly because I like the notion of them being called "torpedoes."

Next, Motivation. I roll Freedom. Ooh. I'm an enslaved Torpedo. Jet Li in Unleashed comes to mind.

Oh, I'm supposed to have a Handle already. Um. Going with the torpedo metaphor, my guy is named (rather, called), /sub. Pick your wordplay, here. He's "subscribed" (whether he wants it or not). He's subservient, submissive, sub rosa. Subterranean, sometimes.

Next, Gear. All cyberware, because someone else holds /sub's leash. I'll take jacked reflexes, jacked senses, and a throat snake, which is a really disturbing mod that has a thing with teeth pop out of my throat and kill people. Bleah! I roll for...I guess the companies that make these? It's not clear yet what effect that has.

Parameters are Ready, Willing, and Able. I get 12 points to divvy up, and I have to put 1 into each, but if anything goes to zero than I'm Written Out. I think that Willing and Able are /sub's strong points. I'll put 2 into Ready (he never plans), 4 into Willing and the remaining 6 into Able.

Next I get one Positive Condition (PCon) and one Negative Condition (NCon). So. For positive, I think I want Dangerous. /sub is ready to kill. He's not used to questioning why or whether, he just waits to be "launched." His NCon is "Trapped." Someone owns him. He doesn't know who. He doesn't care (right now). He might even change owners frequently (which plays into the "subscribed" idea).

And then a Goal, which has to be tied into my Motivation. I'm Ready, Willing, and Able to achieve it, and those notions play into the scenes. Neat!

OK, so, /sub's goal is to get free. He wants to find his Kill Code, which will delete the software running in his brain that controls the Throat Snake (which would kill him if he goes off mission). He calls the snake Silas. He doesn't remember why.

And that', actually! If I were actually playing I'd have to make up a Faction, but since it's just me and I need to go cook dinner, I think we'll call it good.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Character Creation: A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying

So, you might have heard that Green Ronin is running a talent search to find a writer for a new RPG line. The catch is: They're looking for a woman or non-binary person. Dudes like me need not apply.

Know what? GOOD.

I frequently have occasion to hire new writers, usually for Onyx Path but sometimes for Growling Door, too (my company publishes one book a year, so my need for writers is sadly minimal, so I totally use OPP as a way to get new people into the industry). And when I'm reviewing submissions, I read the ones from women first (where possible, I read the ones from POC and trans/nonbinary folks first, too, but it's not always easy to tell that).

The reason is not because I want to make a political statement or exclude white men or whatever. The reason is because when you have a diverse group of voices in a project, it makes the project better. It's because I am really good at writing about the experience of growing up in the Midwest in the middle class, and I have a little bit of skill at writing from some other perspectives, but even if we're generous there's still most of the goddamn planet that I'm better off asking for someone else's brain on.

So, hats off to +Nicole and +Chris and the other GR folks. And now, I'm gonna make a character for one of their games.

ETA: Actually, upon further reflection, I have some concerns about the talent search, but it has nothing to do with how it's being run or the fact that they're not accepting submissions from men. If you want to know more or you're thinking about applying, PM me or email me and I'll be happy to give you more context, but it's not something I feel like getting into publicly. Again, this has nothing to do with the way the talent search is set up.

The Game: A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying
The Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Some. +Michelle ran a game of it some time ago. I have neither read the books nor seen the show that the game is based on, nor do I have any particular desire to.
Books Required: Just the one. I have a copy of Night's Watch because Michelle worked on it; dunno if it'll be helpful, but what the heck.

So! I have not read any of the Game of Thrones books. I started to, got as far as Bran getting through out of a window, tossed the book across the room and went "nah." Likewise, we watched the first ep of the show in preparation for this game (which, coincidentally, ends in the same place) and I don't feel a strong urge to continue.

Like, no judgement. Fantasy is not my favorite genre in general, and so it's a hard sell. But, with that said, I remember really liking the game and the system, and of course the nigh-Shakesperean family drama we came up with for our game was fun. So, with that in mind, let's kick this pig.

Well, if I had a group, the first thing I'd do is create a noble house (we did this for our game, it was lots of fun). I do not have a group, however, and the process is pretty involved, so I'm gonna go ahead and do what I often do in these situations: Use the example in the book (and kudos to +Joseph and company for showing the process in action). So my character is a member of House Orlych.

So, back to the actual chargen section, we're at Character Concept. Um. Oh, wait, thank god, there are random tables to determine some things. Scuse me, gotta get dice. Or...wait, it's all d6s. Entropy it is!

Rolling for age makes me an adult, 18-30. That means my character might have found in the War of the Usurper (which my House has some history with, I think). Interesting. Let's move on to Status. Rolling for that, too, I get ranking member of the household, Status 4, Position 16, whatever that means.

The book asks me to think about a role; it's not an official part of character creation, just something to work for. My last character for this game was somewhere between Fighter and Expert. Hmm. I was just thinking yesterday it might be interesting to apply this song to a character in a fantasy game:

To me it suggests a hired gun or an outlaw, which is a little at odds with my status. But then again, the house was formed by people who told the truth and stood up for it, and were rewarded. So that's a place to start - maybe this guy married into the house? I think I'll use Rogue as a basis, but without the sneaky moral flexibility that usually comes with that.

OK, Background! More random stuff! I should come up with three background events, so I'll start by rolling one and see if I want to keep doing that.

First one I roll is "present at a significant tournament," which, eh. No, you know what, I can roll with that. My guy was present at a tournament where he watched nobles fighting with swords, and was taken with how a big, strong guy could just crush the smaller men. If you're small, you rely on speed and taking opportunity. Good lesson.

Roll again? Nah. We'll say that during the way, my character made himself useful and excelled at sneaking up behind people, knocking them off of ledges, setting traps, making diversions, that kind of thing. In particular, he assassinated an enemy leader, but did so in such a way that the guy wasn't even discovered to be missing for a full day, giving the opposing forces time to regroup and set their position.

One more. "Involved in a villainous scandal." My character was involved in a scheme to steal a bunch of equipment and sell it off. He (correctly) guessed, however, as he walked into the sale that it was a sting. Before the other side could yell "halt in the name of Robert" or whatever, he did the same thing, claiming to have been leading the thieves into the trap himself. Of course it took some fancy social maneuvering to get out of that, but he managed. His neck had never been that close to the noose before, and he swore that after that he was going to stick to the truth. And here I'd like to have him marry into House Orlych, simply on virtue of their motto and reputation, but I'll wait and see if that's really doable.

Well, we need a Goal. I think his Goal is Security. He wants to die happy and warm. His fixation on truth is a way to get to that, because he's seen what happens if the webs get too tangled.

His Motivation is Stability, for the same reason. His Virtue is that he's Honest (though he has his reasons for it), and his Vice is that he's Amoral. Truth really does conquer all, he feels, so might as well stay on that team.

Oof, good Concept stage. Now on to Step Three: Assign Abilities. I get 210 Experience to build the character, but I have to buy Status first. I'll stick to Status 4, making me a landed knight. I'll say that I did marry into the house, marrying one of the daughters of Brandon Orlych. My wife died of a fever three months after we were married, though, which leaves my character in a kind of awkward position; he's never going to really be an heir unless a lot of people die, which he's got the skill to engineer, but he doesn't do that kind of thing anymore.

Well, Status 4 costs me 40. Let's look at other stuff I need.

Animal Handling 3 (10)
Athletics 3 (10)
Awareness 3 (10)
Cunning 3 (10)
Deception 4 (40)
Fighting 3 (10)
Knowledge 3 (10)
Marksmanship 3 (10)
Persuasion 4 (40)
Stealth 4 (40)
Thievery 3 (10)
Warfare 3 (10)

That'll work. Now on to Specialties. I get 80 points here. Each bonus die in a Specialty costs 10. So, I think I want 2 in Notice (20), 2 in Bluff (20), 1 in Short Blades (10), 1 in Crossbows (10), and 2 in Sneak (20).

Cool. Step Five: Destiny Points and Benefit. I get 4 Destiny Points and I can take up to three Benefits. Let's check it out. OK, so I can invest Destiny Points in these. Ooh, I want Adept Negotiator. Seems appropriate. Likewise, I think Treacherous is just too cool. And I think that's good.

Step Six: Flaws & Drawbacks. Unlike most games, you get more of these as you get older, but they don't give points back (well, except you get more points if you're older, so they kinda do). I just need to take one, so I'll take Nemesis. The thief that was planning on taken stolen weapons and selling them with me is still alive (bribed his way out, maybe?) and has been looking for me ever since.

Step Seven: All the derived stuff. At the end, as it should be. I note that my Will is perhaps too low; maybe should have raised that. Ah, well. Inner turmoil caused by being honest as a matter of policy, not inclination.

I'm not gonna worry about gear, because it's generally boring. I will, however, get myself a name. Hmm. Ser Remlin Orlych (of course he took his wife's name, she's the one with the title. Also, he really wanted in on this house).

And I think that about does it!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Movie #398: Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire is, you might recall (if you've been here a long time), the only one of the Harry Potter movies that I didn't own. There was a reason for that, but a friend of mine decided he couldn't abide the hole in the collection, so here we are. Movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, David Tennant, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Pattinson, and Brendan Gleeson. And that's not remotely all.

So, picking up after the events of Prisoner of Azkaban, we find Harry (Radcliffe) having nightmares, and then whoosh, we're off to the World Cup of Quidditch, and then whoosh, Death-Eaters show up and nuke the place, and then whoosh, back to Hogwarts and there's this Tri-Wizard thing and OMG THERE ARE OTHER MAGIC SCHOOLS! But no time for that! Also a new Defense Against Dark Arts teacher, "Mad-Eye Moody" (Gleeson), but whoosh, Harry has to compete even thought it's like obviously a trap for him to do so, and then there's a dance, and a seriously 10-minute-long bath sequence, and then a maze, and Cedric Diggory (Pattinson) who's actually kind of cool in the book dies, and Voldemort (Fiennes) is alive again, and "Moody" was really an evil Death-Eater named Barty Crouch (Tennant), and whoosh year is over and...Harry and pals are all smiles.

Fuck. This. Movie.

OK, where to start? This movie jumps around like a cricket on a hot plate. It never gives you any time to establish...anything. The Quidditch match should have been fucking fantastic, instead we get a dancing CGI leprechaun and then bam, it's over. The Death-Eaters invading the World Cup should have been fucking scary, but it happens too fast and mostly we just hear what happens from Harry's perspective in a tent (not the only time in the movie that happens). The Tri-Wizard Tournament...I'm sure there was some reason given in the books why Harry couldn't just be like "lol no" and not compete, but it never gets mentioned here, just this grave assurance that it's totes a magical contract. And then we get the Yule Ball, which could have been played for better laughs, but the movie is already overstuffed and so it's just a distraction from the main plot.

Alas poor Cedric; he seems cool in the few scenes we get for him (likewise Fleur (Clemence Posey) and Krum (Stanislva Ianevski)), but not only do we never get a good establishment of who these people are, the scenes they're in are so trite and thin that it's hard to care about them. Indeed, the ones we do care about (kinda) are Moody and Crouch Jr.

As usual, the casting is spot-on. Gleeson is fantastic playing not-Moody, and Tennant looks very happy to be a bad guy for a while. Likewise, Matthew Lewis is coming into his own as Neville Longbottom, looking fucking shell-shocked at the realization of what his parents really went through.

All in all, though, this movie is one huge miss. It would have been possible in the hands of a deft screenwriter and director to cover the ground it needed to, but really, it might have been better to split it into two movies, especially since it's really the point at which the series transitions from "kids stories that are kinda dark in places" to "holy shit a beloved character dies every book."


My Grade: D
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Mary Poppins

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Promethean: Lights Out!

Last time, the lights went out in New Orleans. But let's rewind.

That morning, Grimm saw Justine, who asked for his help in tracking down some vampires. She led him to an abandoned house, lured him downstairs, and there he saw a huge, weird, intricate machine. He barely had time to register that when she shoved him into it and it immobilized his arms. Her human form melted away, and she revealed herself to be a metallic being on a track.

Her hand flipped open to reveal a small sawblade, and she said she needed to look through his memories a bit. He resisted, but he was also immobile, so she sawed into his head and had a look. She looked at the events of Tuscon and the Bad Angel, and when the memory of the angel's prophecy "played", it looked choppy, like a glitchy DVD. She told him, by the way, that she was looking for someone (a thin, Middle Eastern fellow), but Grimm didn't know him and the woman (an angel, she said, but she didn't have a name) didn't expect her to.

Grimm activated his Morning Star Alembic and melted through the metal holding him (burning his hand in the process) and punched the angel, knocking part of her metal face off. She sighed and, apparently, prepared to re-restrain him...but then the power went off, and she slumped over. Grimm burned his way out, and headed for his throng.

Meanwhile, said throng reconvened by Cafe Dumonde. They could already hear breaking glass in the Quarter, and worried about their storefront. They decided to head there. On the way they saw a bodega getting looting; Feather tried to talk one of the thieves, but he just threw a bag of chips at her head. He tried push past Avalon, but she stood firm, and he finally gave up and left. Another guy tried to run out with money, but Skip clotheslined him, and he wound up crawling out. The shopkeeper tossed Skip a candy bar in thanks.

Grimm, running back, saw what looked like a couple of guys making out in an alley...but Grimm knew a vampire feeding when he saw one. He interrupted, and the victim ran off. The vampire, however, pulled out a badge - he was a cop. Grimm wasn't impressed by this, and the vampire wasn't impressed by Grimm's gun, so they just kind of glowered at each other until Grimm left.

Everyone got back to the storefront around the same time, but there was a problem. Two cops were standing near the storefront, back to back, surrounded by an angry mob. There was a woman on the ground, bleeding from a head wound, and a nightstick nearby. Didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened.

Feather ran over to help the woman. Grimm, realizing that Phosphorum has some great tools for this, activated Morning Star and became the de facto leader of the mob (taking the Reckless Condition for doing it without flaring disfigurements). He had the mob put the woman in the cop car (along with Feather), and had the rest of the mob disperse to go make sure no one else was getting brutalized. Avalon told the cops to sod off and not hurt people, and the Prometheans holed up in their storefront.

Feather, meanwhile, went to the hospital with the injured woman, and while there wound up talking with a cop named Peter LeBeau. Peter took her name ("Robin Schwartz") and info, and told her that he wasn't going to make an issue of the whole "stolen cop car" thing, given the circumstances. She mentioned she was in town on vacation; he said he was a lifelong resident and asked if he could show her the nightlife. She agreed and took his card, and headed back to the store.

Grimm told the throng about what he'd seen, and showed Avalon the piece of the angel he'd punched off. She analyzed it with Stone, and realized that it was metal that simply didn't exist - there were no current processes that would produce it, though in the future there might be. The metal then melted right through Avalon's wax skin and unfurled, linking in with her gears, and she gained an HUD.

The angel appeared and talked with her, and explained that she was looking for someone. She also explained that not all of the angels the throng had seen were properly angels. As this was happening, though, Avalon was losing Pyros; the characters decided to take this back to the basement and see if they could get the whole apparatus (or...Infrastructure?) working. They stole a car battery or two on the way.

Once there, Enoch tried to route it so that the battery would grant a steady supply of power rather than quickly shorting out, but he fucked up (dramatic failure for a Beat!) and when the battery went on, it sucked all of Avalon's Pyros out. The angel woke up, though, and talked with the characters. She flipped through Avalon's memories, seeing the interactions with angels and the trip to Chicago, and then said she'd figured out where the person she was looking for might be. She also revealed that the Bad Angel was an angel like her, but the others (the Seraph, the Bright Light, and Wolfpack) were qashmallim. She was unclear on the difference, except that angels like her had missions that she understood, but she wasn't sure what the deal was with the others.

And then she folded up into a cube and collapsed in on herself, becoming simple carbon. Avalon grabbed some, planning to make some art. The characters headed home - they all have plans for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Misspent Yutes, Episode Two

What is "yute?"

Anyway! Last session is here, this session below!

Authority Figures:

  • The Kennel Master, who controls the Cereboi
  • Charybdis, the Ongoing Storm, that disrupts communications not sanctioned by the gods
  • ArachneTech Clothing, a clothing manufacturer that makes all the YOs uniforms, run by an incestuous brother and sister
  • Tea, Theo's brother, the cafeteria monitor and nutritionist
  • Quan Yin, the god-like force that surrounds Bardo and "helps" the YOs come to terms with their crimes
Friendship Questions:
  • Khsanti asks Alaska: "How do you feel about me being so young?" Answer: "It worries me but I'll never let on."
  • Alaska asks Yasha: "What happened when you were brought here?" Answer: "I was brought in fighting and kicking, and thrown on the floor; Kshanti came to comfort me and tend my injuries."
  • Yasha asks Jacqui: "Where were you when I was brought in?" Answer: "In solitary for drawing sigils all over my room."
  • Jacqui asks Eli: "Who did I overhear you have a crush on?" Answer: "Theo."
  • Eli asks Kshanti: "What secret of yours did I discover?" Answer: "There was a piece of my birthright in my mother's knife."
Scene One: What's Up 

Eli's player handles this one. She chooses the Kennel Master. 

We start off the day after the last session, after morning working. The YOs notice that the Kennel Master is nearby on a floating chariot, and two more Cereboi are swooping through the air. They realize they're looking for the one that the YOs destroyed last time. Figuring that letting the Kennel Master actually find the black box would be bad, they set out to distract him. 

Yasha approaches the Kennel Master and talks with him; they met once at a party that Odin threw (events of which led to Yasha coming to Bardo). The Kennel Master remembers her, and they chat amiably enough for a moment. 

Meanwhile, Kshanti climbs up a hill and tries to seize control of a Cerebus with her new Mojo powers. It stops, but the gears start to grind; her control is still imperfect. Alaska and Jacqui sneak into the barn where they destroyed the other Cerebus and try to find the recording device, but despite Alaska nearly electrocuting herself reaching into the now-sparking parts, their efforts are in vain. Yasha's player rolls and fails, and the Kennel Master recognizes the distraction. A Cerebus smashes through the wall ("OH YEAH!") and catches Alaska and Jacqui red-handed. The YOs also note that bits of their outfits get ArachneTech feature they didn't know about.

Kickoff: This episode is about being punished.

Scene Two: Fighting Back

I set this up. I chose Yasha's question to Jacqui about being in solitary. 

And, indeed, the YOs are in solitary. Kshanti is meditating. Alaska is a little panicky; she hates being alone. Yasha is pissed, and Jacqui pulls out her paints; she knows the drills. Eli, though, isn't there; they didn't do anything to break the rules last scene. Eli, therefore, wanders out to the free-standing solitary building and sneaks in. They use their Mojo power to knock out the guards...meanwhile, though, the other YOs can review footage of what they did and get computerized voices asking them to contemplate. That footage was from shoulder-level cameras sewn into their collars. Are they to have no privacy? Needless to say they aren't much interested in their rehab. 

Alaska strips off her clothes, stomps on them screaming "VAGINA VAGINA, ME ME ME" and then shorts a wire, setting the clothes ablaze (and her player rolls and wins on Eli's Disorder We Are All Created Equal). The YOs are released from solitary as the building is evacuated, and they start heading back to the main building. 

Beat: Reversal (getting released) Question: What can the YOs get away with?

Scene Three: Heating Up

Jacqui's player set this up, and chose ArachneTeach. We pick up back at the main building, in Alaska's room. Jacqui asks Alaska for help accessorizing, preferably to block out the camera's feed a bit. Alaska, not surprisingly, is all about this, and the YOs get to work on fixing their clothes. They decide not only to screw with the cameras, but to use their Mojo powers to muck with the footage and frame the Kennel Master for their crimes, making him look complicit or like he was framing them. Yasha's player rolls and wins on Alaska's Disorder (Wants to be Loved), and they footage is altered. 

Scene Four: We Won

Yasha's player set this up, and chose Quan Yin.

The framing took, so now the YOs get the participate in a trial for the Kennel Master. They each give testimony (standing on nifty light-up platforms) while Quan Yin, or rather, a three-story hologram thereof, runs the show. The Kennel Master, naturally, tells the truth, and everyone enters a kind of dreamscape/trial by fire sort of thing. Dogs charge at them (hologram dogs), but they dismantle that illusion and reveal it to be fake. Yasha's player rolls and wins on Kshanti's MO (If You're Gonna Do Wrong, Buddy, Do Wrong Right) and the YOs convince Quan Yin that Kennel Master lied and framed them. He is taken away, and the YOs are returned to their dorm via nifty pneumatic tubes.

Scene Five: We're Fucked

Alaska's player set this up, and chose Tea, the nutritionist.

The YOs wind up back at the dorm after dinner, so they go to the cafe in time for a plate of flax seeds an unsweet honey...yuck. Tea's nutritional program is meant to keep the husks supple and beautiful until such time as they're needed for a god. The YOs, Alaska especially, are having none of it - Alaska wants chocolate. It comes out (well, Jacqui gleefully reveals) that Eli has a big crush on Theo, which horrifies and disgusts Alaska in particular, but Eli points out that as a member of the House of Stone, they appreciate finely sculpted bods.

This is all very well, but it gets the YOs no closer to chocolate. In keeping with the episode's question, they decide that Eli will distract Tea and the others will sneak into the kitchen and steal ambrosia, the food of the gods. Eli chats with Tea about her brother and a potential intense exercise program, while the others creep into the kitchen and try to fast-talk the kitchen gnomes working there. Kshanti rolls and fails, but sells out Altruism to Unctuous, and shorts out the gnomes with her Mojo powers. The YOs steal some ambrosia and sneak back to the rooms. The stuff takes the form of the food they want, and enhances their powers temporarily - Jacqui finds she can manipulate her blood and create bruise-art, for instance.

The next day, the YOs are taken out to the kennels. The skeletal dogs are there, but they're sad and listless. Jacqui forms some of the ambrosia into biscuits, but they just kind of sniff at them.

Beat: Discovery (the Cereboi love their master)

Scene Six: Who Wins

Kshanti's player sets this up, and chooses the question between her and Eli about the birthright.

They're at the kennels, and Kshanti mentally contacts Quan Yin, revealing the YO's presence, their magic, and Kshanti's regret at lying. Eli, however, with their particular master of Empathy, shuts that down, and calls Kshanti out on nearly getting them pinched. They argue about this a bit, and they start manipulating Mojo again (I'll be honest, I'm having trouble remembering the stakes in this scene, which is weird). They wind up losing, but Eli sells out Outrage to Wrathful and win - their powers stay secret and Quan Yin appoints them to help care for the dogs in the Kennel Master's absence.

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

Back around to Eli's player, and she chooses her question to from Jacqui about the crush on Theo.

It's pool day, and the YOs are in the swimming pool, nekkid, getting their laps on. The pool is huge and bottomless, and the strange creatures lurk beneath. Theo is there, as well, helping facilitate swimming exercise, which everyone but Eli just finds really funny.

Jacqui decides that because she manipulate blood, it might be amusing to make Theo, erm, a bit tumescent in places. Gods aren't supposed to fraternize with people (though of course it happens), and certainly not with inmates. Eli asks for help getting the stroke right, and Jacqui starts activating her sangromancy. Alaska's player rolls and wins on Pride, so Theo gets a bit too into it, then swims away awkwardly and heads for the showers.


The YOs have won the episode, and they choose Theo as their new Exploit (he's compromised, and they can use that).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Character Creation: Helix

As I'm looking over the top-most games in my list, I'm interested to note that most of them are games I want nothing to do with. Mostly, that's because they're D&D clones that came in bundles I bought, and as I'm looking through the PDFs, trying to decide which game to focus on today (since I have nothing else pressing on my time and I can do a character that's a little more involved, system-wise), I just find myself going "ugh."

Like, OK. I know you're sick of hearing this, but I didn't start with D&D, I started with Marvel. As such, I have never been a part of D&D gaming, but I'm learning that it's completely different than other sectors of gaming. It is, like Hamilton, a host unto itself, and it's pretty insular. So it's amazing to me that there are RPGs (and so many of them) that start off with the assumption that you're going to dungeon-delve...and that's it!

Anyway, I'm not doing one of those games today.

The Game: Helix: The Post-Apocalyptic, High Tech, Fantasy, Western Roleplaying Game
The Publisher: Adam J. Weber (game seems defunct, can't find any online support anywhere)
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

Well, the title of the game kinda tells you what you're in for. And I have to say, while the opening section is badly in need of an editor, I do appreciate that it sets up the games, gives us the relevant history, and lays out the stakes for the PCs (lots of war, city-states are starting to gear up for more war, the Umbrea Corporation is the bad guy, what are you gonna do about it?) all in a few pages. And then we get right into character creation.

So, we start off with Archetype. I've got five choices, here: Average Joe (just...a dude), Cyber Mystic, Code Slinger (both magic-types, and reading it I don't get a strong sense of what they mean), Mutant (with a picture of a faun, which is weird) and Gun Jack (smartlinked firearms! woo!).

Well, I like magical characters. Code Slinger seems to be "alter the source code of reality," which is hard a new concept, magic-wise, whereas Cyber Mystic is more "teach other people to magic." I think I'll go with Code Slinger, because I don't really have a strong preference.

Not crazy about the artwork.
That gives me Mental of 8, Para-coding quality, and a free Standard Comp Deck, whatever all of that means. My stigma is that I'm hunted by Umbrea, though interestingly, Cyber Mystics are hunted and feared.

Next, there's a list of Concepts, which are more like occupations, but there's no mechanics associated, so I don't now if I have to choose one or what. There's a slot for it on the sheet. I dunno. I guess I'll pick one and let it guide me. Without knowing much about the magic system so far...oh, wait, this is weird. Gun slinger is on the list of Concepts, but like, Gun Jack/Jill is  Some of these Concepts also don't seem very PC-friendly, but who knows. I think I'll skip it for now.

Attributes. I roll 2d6 four times and take the highest three to assign to Physical, Mental, and Social. Well, that's nicely simple. Scuse me a minute. 8, 7, 7, 5. Dropping the 5, I'll put the 8 into Mental...oh, wait, hang on. I have a Mental of 8 from my Archetype. What does that mean here? Hang on. Oh, that's a prereq. Doy. OK, well, that means 8 in Mental, 7 in the other two, which is where I was leaning anyway.

Qualities, which are basically Skills, I think. You've either got standard (can go up to 6 or half the level of the controlling Attribute) or capped (level 1 or level 2). The book recommends that if this is my first time making a Helix character, I start with Physical. OK, then.

You know, this would be easer if I understood the mechanics. This is why they're up front in Chill. Hang on.

Ok, I've looked it up and I rather wish I hadn't. When you do a Quality check, you roll 1d6 and try to roll under your Quality level. That means that Qualities lower than 4 have a less-than-50% check of succeeding, which is ass. Also ass: This skill list (sorry, Quality) is huge and is granular enough to include Erotic Dancing. But my Physical is 7, which is an average roll, and means that I can't put more than 3 points into a Quality. If I spread the points out, I can have 7 Qualities that I'll succeed on if I roll a 1. Whee. FUN.

Well, anyway. This'll be quick, at least. Fuck it. I'll put 2 in Erotic Dancing, 1 in Gun (Hand), and 3 in Acrobatics. Oh, 1 more. I'll put it in Dodge.

Oh, hey. Gotta show you something.

Also, "Dancing" is a different skill, so my character can dance suggestively with a 30% success rate, but cannot do the hokey-pokey.

Anyway, on to Mental. I'll put 4 (the max) in Para-Coding, 2 in Psychology, and 2 in Computer Hacking. Other Mental Qualities include Cooking, Data Analysis, Listen,, that's the level we're at, here.

An aside: Let's say I'd rolled a 12. I would then have 3 skills out of that list that I could succeed on, unmodified, 50% of the time. PLAYTEST YOUR GAMES, PEOPLE.

Anyway. Now Social. I have 7 points. I'll put 2 each in Know a Guy, Innuendo, Seduction (WHY ARE THEY SEPARATE SKILLS) and one into Smooth Operator.

And then Flaws. Oh, wait. This is weird. Remember those rolls from before? You don't ditch the low number, it becomes your Flaw Attributes. Mine is 5. I'll take Kleptomaniac 2 (I have to try and steal something twice per week), Reckless 2 (I have to do something stupid and reckless twice per week), and Talentless 1 (I can't ever get the hang of...let's matter how hard I try. How fucking dumb is this.)

Oh, wait. And then I get 5 free points. I'll buy the Attractive Quality for 2 and then put the other 3 into Carousing.

I get 21 hit points (Physical x 3)...and there's a bunch of other derived stuff that I've done on the sheet but I'm not gonna type because it's boring.

Magic! Here we go! I get 40 Magic Points, which I'm sure isn't enough to do anything cool, because that's the minimum I could have. I start with 2 spells (yep) though my deck can hold more.

OK, so, looking at this, it looks like you have to write your own spells (there's a list of examples, but it's short), and then when you actually cast a spell, it disappears from your Deck. Which is dumb, but it does mean that you can code your own spells in every day or whatever. And then you spend magic points to cast them.

I think I'll make up one spell to test out the system a little, because as badly realized as this game is, I'm a sucker for DIY in RPGs.

So, clearly my character is an exotic dancer. I picture him as working in a Magic Mike kind of situation; working for tips in one a bar for people who like to watch nubile men dance. And then he took up with a grizzled fella who came in for a lap dance, and wound up offering to teach him the ways of the Code Slinger. My dancer agreed; he still dances, but he's also learning to sling Code around.

I want a spell that lets him throw out a dazzling, hypnotic lights display. Possible? Let's see.

Duration: Instant (0)
Range: 1 yard (0)
Radius: 6-yard radius (-2)
Targets: area (0)
Damage: 0(0)
Effects: Lights flicking from caster's body, disorienting any onlookers (-1)
Limitations: Spell cost 5
Total: -2 (1 hour to code)

Well, that's actually not hard. I could, if I wished, design one more spell, but I do not wish.

The last section of this is to spend Credits, but you know how I feel about shopping. I shall instead simply do a little description.

My character's stage name is (now) Binary (yes, it's a pun). He's slim, tanned, half his head shaved and the other half dyed blue, and he tends to wear clothes that are colored on one side and black (or white) on the other. He carries a gun when out and about, but he's not a good shot and would rather throw magic at people...except he's not great at that, either. He knows the sort of people who come to the club looking for a lap dance from a pretty young man like himself (which is where I'd use the Know a Guy Quality).

I kinda like the character, shame the system seems weak.