Sunday, July 30, 2017

Movie #417: Milo & Otis

Milo & Otis is, weirdly, an English re-dub of a Japanese movie. Dudley Moore narrated the English version, which otherwise has no people in it.

It's the story of a kitten (Milo) and a pug pup (Otis) who live on a farm, and then one day Milo gets swept away by a river, Otis chase after him, they have various misadventures including Otis fighting a goddamn bear and Milo falling off a goddamn cliff until finally they meet up again, both find mates (who knew there was another pug randomly wandering the wastes?), hole up in caves for the winter and both have babies, and then all go back to the farm together. Hurray!

The movie is cute and everything, except...there was apparently a lot of controversy when it was released because there were rumors of a lot of animal cruelty (one rumor said that as many as 20 kittens died filming the movie), but no one could verify it because it was all filmed in Japan and there were no records of the animals being treated well, or not. But like, that's clearly a cat falling from a cliff. That's clearly a pug wrestling with a bear. That can't be safe.

Anyway, I think we picked it up on VHS when Teagan was small for like a buck fifty at Half-Price Books and I just never bothered watching it before. Teagan liked it when she was younger; now it's just kinda uncomfortable. On top of all that, it's boring. It just kind of rambles and has this sprawling, not very interesting narrative where the animals keep running, then they see a fox, and the fox jumps around, and then...nothing happens. And then there's a deer, and the deer teaches the cat to frolic, and...nothing happens. Teagan and I joked that they just put the animals out in the woods, filmed it, and then added the narration later, which, horribly, may not have been inaccurate.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Mimic

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Chill: The Envoys Take a Poundin'

So! Today was Chill. We closed a case. The envoys all lived, but it was a near thing.

Last time, the envoys investigated an abandoned church and Edward got spurted in the face by some black gunk. The envoys decided to nail up the exit in the window they found (which BB did handily), and then sod off and regroup. Jeannie used Schematic on a component of the trap that had nearly killed BB and saw that the whole place was trapped, but the highest concentration of Unknown was in the basement. Armed with that knowledge, they headed for the door. They were on their way out when they heard a cat crying.

BB found said cat in the corner in a trap. He decided to take it out of the church, but Jeannie Sensed the Unknown (and got a Colossal success, which of course means the Unknown senses her right back) and realized the cat wasn't a cat. She yelled this to BB, and the trap opened. The cat turned into a little green humanoid armed with a blade, and tried to stab BB, but BB was too fast and kicked the little beast into the wall. It hissed at them, and they heard chittering from the ceiling.

Edward and Dylan ran out to the truck to get Edward's rifle. Meanwhile, objects started falling from the ceiling. BB dodged one, but one caught Jeannie in the back and sliced her open pretty good. Edward came back in with the rifle and shot the monster, apparently killing it. The envoys fell back - they weren't sure how many there were and they couldn't see them.

Dylan noted a woman across the street staring at the church, so he called out to her and told her that there were rabid cats in the church and that they'd had to shoot one. She said she'd already called the police (rifle shots are loud); the envoys told her that one of them had been injured and they need to go to the hospital, which they did.

The doctors put some cream on Edward's face, but were unable to identify the stuff he'd been sprayed with. They were concerned that his skin was so inflamed (he was losing STA every scene, too). Jeannie, meanwhile, got stitched up, tetanus'd, and rabies shot'd. The cop they'd talked to earlier came in to interview them and said he'd get animal control on the case, but it might take a day.

They went up and talked to Father John, who was weak, but still said he should get up and go do his prayer over the place (they didn't let him). They headed back to the resort to debrief (and so that Dylan could use Crisis Counselor to remove some Trauma).

They talked about what had happened and did a little research. Dylan found reports of little humanoid creatures variously called "trolls," "imps," or "bogeys" (also "gremlins," but those like to screw with more advanced tech; these didn't fit the profile). Literature said that they were malicious and carnivorous, and they were vulnerable to sunlight, though how vulnerable was a point of contention.

BB suggested they level the place, or set it on fire. The others pointed out that doing that would bring a lot of attention that they weren't prepared to deal with. Instead, they decided to go and tool up - coveralls, steel-toed boots, crowbars, hard hats, and UV lights - and head in the next day. They checked the footage of the little cameras they'd set up, but it mostly just caught the trolls right before they broke the cameras.

They arrived at the church to find the animal control van already there. They entered, and BB set off a different trap (but his boots protected his feet from it). They walked in and found booted footprints leading back - the animal control guy? Edward used Clairvoyance to scope the bottom of the stairs, and noted that the stairs were rigged to collapse if you walked on the left side, and that the railing was rigged with razor blades. Likewise, there was a big pool of blood at the bottom. BB (whom you'll recall is Reluctant to Harm, which includes by omission of action, just ask any robot) headed to the back of the church and started heading downstairs.

He got to the bottom and found a blood trail leading in; it looked like someone was dragging themselves along the floor. He called up to the others to report it (the others were prying the boards off the windows to let in more light). Jeannie headed to the top of the stairs, while Edward and Dylan watched from the hole in the floor.

BB kept heading back, through the patch of sunlight from the hole in the floor. Jeannie started heading down, but forgot which side to walk on and fell (but landed safely). BB saw the animal control guy leaning against the far wall, covered in blood, holding his hand over his left eye.

Dylan and Edward lowered themselves down through the hole - but now no one was upstairs.

The guy started crawling towards BB, but a troll jumped out of nowhere and landed on his back, raising up a sharpened trowel. BB rushed forward and smacked it with his bat, knocking the creature out into the dark. Two more trolls rushed Jeannie with sharpened wire, trying to trip or maim her, but her Quicken discipline stood her in good stead and she caught the wire with her staff and flipped the trolls into the light. Edward stood on one, holding it down as it sizzled, and Dylan just bashed in the other's head with his crowbar.

BB grabbed the guy and carried him back to the light...but then their UV lights went out. The trolls started throwing things at the envoys; Jeannie and Edward dodged, but Dylan got smacked full-on. He looked down at the animal control guy and saw the ruined remnants of his eye, and kind of lost his shit (and all of his WPR, making him overwhelmed). He ran for the stairs, but forgot which side to run up and collapsed into the basement again.

The trolls attacked him and stabbed him in the shoulder. Jeannie dragged him toward the light. BB realized that they needed a way to get out, so he activated Feat of Strength and jumped up out of the hole with the animal control guy. He took the guy out to his truck, gave him his phone, and told him to call 911. Then he grabbed rope and broke off all the mirrors from the trucks, and headed back in.

The envoys weren't doing well. Dylan was badly injured. Jeannie had lost her staff (it just shattered in her hands), and had gone into shock after a chunk of debris hit her. BB dropped the mirrors into the hole so the others could reflect sunlight back at the little fuckers, but it was obvious that they weren't going to win this fight - they were outnumbered and had no Protective disciplines without Dylan.

As if to underline the point, a stray chunk of debris cracked Dylan across the head, and he fell unconscious (the player turned all the tokens dark to save his life). BB fashioned the rope into a sling and lowered it down to haul Dylan up, and then hauled the others up one at a time. They headed the hell out, just in time for the police to arrive.

The aftermath was sticky. The animal control officer didn't remember much, but he was very clear that BB had saved his life. The wounds the envoys had weren't from animals, so the police treated the church like there was a hostile person inside, but by the time they actually went in (after dark), they found nothing really conclusive. The trolls, it seemed, had taken the opportunity to escape their longtime prison.

Jeannie was treated for a mild concussion. Dylan's shoulder was more serious; severed muscles and bone damage required surgery and physical therapy. BB was annoyed that they hadn't come up with a better plan, but had rejected "burn it" (which was frankly the best they could have done, though it still would have been messy).

The envoys got in touch with Joy Taylor and Father John. Father John was too old and sick to join SAVE officially, though he asked to help as he could. Joy headed back to the compound for some training and induction into the Society. The envoys needed some rest before their next case.

Movie #416: Milk Money

Milk Money is a 90s rom-com starring Melanie Griffith, Ed Harris, Malcom McDowell, Michael Patrick Carter, Anne Heche, Brian Christopher, and Adam Lavorgna. It was one of my father's favorite movies, which explains why I own a copy. I'd never watched it until the other day.

So: In the misty yore of the late 90s, pre-Internet (this movie does not work in a modern era), young Frank (Carter) and his pals Kevin (Christopher) and Brad (Lavorgna) really, really want to see a naked woman (their age is unclear, but Frank looks about 9 and the other boys maybe 11, so I'm not sure why they're all in the same grade, but maybe Frank is just small). Instead of conspiring with an older classmate to buy them a copy of Penthouse or whatever, they bike to "the city" (Pittsburgh was where they filmed it, though it was supposedly set in Ohio) and try to hire a prostitute to get nekkid for them.

They immediately get assaulted and nearly robbed, but are accidentally saved by V (Griffith), a sex worker who, after some hesitation, take them home and shows them her breasts. Their bikes have been stolen, however, and V, tired of getting slapped around by her asshole pimp (Casey Siemaszko), steals his car and drives them home. Said car breaks down, and V winds up crash in Frank's tree house while Frank tries to hook her up with his widower father (Harris).

Now, granted, all of that makes perfect sense, but then the movie just kind of goes in four or five different directions. We've got a subplot with a crazed English gangster (McDowell) coming after V because he stashed a lot of money in the car. We've got Kevin's father (I cannot figure out who played him) recognizing V because he's a client. We've got Dad trying to save the wetlands. We've got Kevin, who was a neat freak, suddenly deciding to...stop bathing and smear food on his face? We've got Brad (Lavorga) losing his prized leather jacket to Frank on a bet, and both boys crushing on girls in their class. It's a hot mess.

Look, ignore for a moment that in 1999, even people in small-town Ohio had cable and could therefore see tits. Ignore for a moment that V in this movie wears a gold heart locket around her neck so she's literally a hooker with a heart of gold. Ignore for a moment that exposing herself to minors is a sex crime (it doesn't count because they're boys and she's a hot woman, right?).

Actually, no, don't ignore any of that. This movie is really pretty awful. About the best I can say for it is that Griffith and Harris are talented enough actors to make their scenes work. (I also feel the need to point out that when my dad saw and loved this movie, he was suffering from Alzheimer's, so don't judge him.)

My Grade: D
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Milo & Otis

Friday, July 28, 2017

Character Creation: Golden Sky Stories

A little later in the day that I normally make characters, sure, but why not.

The Game: Golden Sky Stories
The Publisher: Starline Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

I grabbed this book off the shelf yesterday to read while Cael was at occupational therapy, and it's a really fun-looking and well-written game. In Golden Sky Stories, you play henge; animals that turn into people sometimes. They're kinda-sorta animal spirits, but maybe not in the way we'd think of that in the US (the game is Japanese, and influenced by, among other things, Miyazaki's movies).

The stories here are deliberately non-violent, which I think is cool; the stakes are low in general but important to the people in question. It might seem childish, but on the other hand, the stakes in a lot of RPGs are pretty silly if you think about them. At least here, where you might be called upon to reconcile two friends who are fighting over a pretty rock one of them found, the stakes are understandable.

Anyway! First thing we do is choose what kind of animal. There are six possibilities; I think I want to be a dog (bork! bork!). Since I am a dog, I get six powers: Doggie, Sticking Close, Petting, It's All Right, Substitution, and Howl. Honestly, it'd be worth playing this game just to have a power called "Doggie."

Now I divide up Attributes. I get 8 points, and they have to at least have 1, except for Adult, which I can put at zero if I want to be all like "WHAT'S THAT JANGLING THING! A PHONE?! WHAAAT?" I should think about my doggie a bit.

Well, nothing says he has to be a Japanese breed, but Akitas are adorable, so he can be an Akita. I kinda want him to be a pet, so he's got a little girl who loves him and named his Acorn. Akita is three, but when he turns human his human form is 16 - a little older than some other henge, but Acorn (or Shu, as he's called when he's human) is tall, lanky, and has big feet that he hasn't grown into yet. His owner's name is Michiru, and she likes to put her arms around Acorn and hug him. He doesn't mind.

So: I think I'll put three into Child (helps me play and wheedle), two into Henge (my magic), and three into Animal (run, hide, sniff). That leaves Adult at zero, but eh. It'd be fun to play.

I have to take a Weakness, which gives me an additional power, and I can take up to three. I'll take Collar (I have an owner that I can't go against, but I also have a Home); Clumsy (my Adult is 0 and I'm kinda clueless, but I can also Persevere); and Naive (I never think badly of people even when I should, but I Love Everyone).

Normally I wouldn't start with any Connections (not without a group), but because of my Weaknesses I start with a Connection to Michiru and one to Everyone, and that finishes me up.

Neat! I'm a doggie! Bork bork!

Board Game: Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill

Bark! Bark!

The Game: Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill
The Publisher: Stratamax Games
Time: 30-40 minutes, depending
Players: Teagan, Cael, Al, Michelle, me

Michelle explaining shepherding.
Game Play: The board is arranged into pastures with paths between them, each of which is worth some points (1 for the bottom-level pastures, then 3, 5, and then one lofty 7-point pasture). Players place a few shepherds in various pastures (but can't place two of their own shepherds in the same pasture), and then play cards to make moves, including adding sheep to a pen, moving a flock pasture to pasture, placing more shepherds, and moving the wolf.

Teagan made the best wolf-noise, so she went first.
What's interesting is that you can move other people's sheep along with your flock, and in fact it's better to have mixed flocks because that means you can move them more easily (some cards only allow you to make moves for other people, which includes moving mixed flocks). You can also place other people's shepherds. Sheep automatically score when they reach a shepherd, so if you want to prevent someone's sheep from reaching the high-scoring pastures you can plop a shepherd of their color down. You can also move the wolf to intercept, as he scares off a sheep.

This is during setup, so there are no sheep yet.
Opinions: I like this game and I wanted to play it again, but Michelle had a migraine and Teagan was feeling unfocused, so we just played once. I feel like it could be a fun little strategy game without a million little pieces or phases or whatever, but I want to play it again to try and think about the strategy a bit. That's a good recommendation, of course.

Keep? Yep.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Movie #415: A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a screen adaptation of Shakespeare's play, directed by Michael Hoffman and starring (deep breath) Stanley Tucci, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline, David Straithairn, Calista Flockhart, Christian Bale, Dominic West, Sophie Marceau, and Anna Friel (that's most of the principal cast).

Right, so, you probably know the story: Theseus (Straithairn) is going to marry Hippolyta (Marceau), but meanwhile, Demetrius (Bale) is forcibly betrothed to Hermia (Friel) even though she loves Lysander (West) and Helena (Flockhart) is head-over-heels for Demetrius. Meanwhile-meanwhile, the faerie monarchs Oberon (Everett) and Titania (Pfeiffer) have their own little squabble over a changeling child, and a troupe of workers who are working to put on a play, including Bottom the Weaver (Kline) are trying to rehearse their little opus, and all of these folks (except Theseus and Hippolyta) wind up in the woods on the very same night. And Oberon's little helper Puck (Tucci) kinda screws things up by making Lysander fall for Helena, and then really makes things fun by turning Bottom into a weird half-donkey and making Titania fall for him.

Whew. It's a Shakespeare comedy, meaning at the end everybody gets married and all is well. So let's think about this particular version.

It's set in the 19th century and people ride around on bicycles. There's a lot of focus on human things (often things with wheels or that spin) being brought into faerie-land (gramophones, bicycles), and a lot of the humor is done with closeups of Oberon or Puck rolling their eyes at folks. Nudity is also used as a fun little plot device (Lysander surprising Hermia by betting butt-ass nekkid, but the best bit is all four lovers waking up nude as Theseus and his people ride up).

The nice thing about movies made out of Shakespeare is that because they're not on stage, folks can whisper or murmur sexfully (that's two Futurama references in the same post, Matt, you're on a roll) rather than having to project, and that's nice. We get to see Oberon and Titania actually share some intimacy, and you get the sense that this screwing about with love potions is kinda the way faeries interact with one another normally.

One thing I didn't think worked so well was adding scenes with Bottom's wife; she refers to him (in Italian) as a dreamer, and he kind of dodges her, but it never really goes anywhere and of course it's not really part of the play. One gets the sense that Kevin Kline, in an interesting instance of life imitating art, insisted on more screen time and development for his character. It has the effect of making Bottom seem sad rather than just foolish, which is a shame.

Oh, something I forgot when I saw this before: Sam Rockwell playing Flute playing Thisbe deciding to ditch the stupid high-pitched voice and just act and actually moving the audience. It works perfectly, since doing that voice for laughs wouldn't have carried the whole scene.

On the whole, it's a nicely light and well put-together version of the story.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Probably medium-low, but good as Shakespeare adaptations go

Next up: Milk Money

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Character Creation: Venture City

Been thinking about superheroes of late. Let's do this.

The Game: Venture City
The Publisher: Evil Hat
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game, but a great deal with Fate.
Books Required: The Venture City book and Fate Core.

OK, so this is a superhero setting for Fate Core. It's a lot more sparse than I was expecting, really; mostly it's "here's a way to do superpowers in Fate, plus some pregens and some mini-adventures. But that's fine, that's really all I need.

I'm feeling a little mellow today, so I kinda want to make someone whose powers revolve around telepathy or empathy. The Venture City book says to make a character as described in Fate Core and then add the "powers" step, so we start with high concept and trouble aspects.

Well, I want my character to be restricted by his powers - he can feel what others are feeling but he can't really turn it off. Actually, Can't Switch it Off is a good trouble aspect; he feels what everyone around him feels and that means that if he's with teammates who are just having fun pummeling mooks, he gets overwhelmed because he feels the pain, anger, and fear of said mooks. High concept, though. Let's call it Troubled Empath.

And then I should give him a name. I like alliteration for superheroes, so I'll call him Oliver Owen.

OK, now I get into the Phase Trio. This is the "your first three adventures and each one gets me an Aspect" thing. Since I don't have a Venture City of my very own and I don't feel like parsing out the one in the book (it's just an example anyway), we'll just assume this is a basic four-color comic, maybe drifting a little closer to Iron Age but not quite Watchmen level of violence and so on. I also can't really do Phases Two and Three as they're intended, so I'll just wing it.

So, for my first phase, Oliver gets his powers. I think I want how he got his powers to be kind of a mystery. He's always been an intuitive person, but then one day he was attending a friend's wedding. He got their early and saw a woman in the church praying, and he was struck with this overwhelming wave of grief from her. Turned out her husband had been murdered, and she had no recourse - the police weren't taking it seriously. Oliver kind of bumbled his way through investigating it, mostly going on the fact that no one could really lie to him, and eventually dug up evidence that led to the killer's arrest. First Aspect: Don't Even Try to Lie to Me.

Second phase: Oliver tries to use his powers to continue to solve crimes, but the justice system makes that hard. He offered his services to the police (he's a perfect lie detector), and one detective even took him up on it, but the problem is that Oliver can read feelings, not thoughts. He knows when someone is lying, but not necessarily why. The detective brought him along to question a witness, but pushed her a little too hard and Oliver experienced her panic attack right along with her. After that he stopped working with the cops. Second Aspect: Stay Outside the System.

Third phase: Oliver, now angry, started going out looking for trouble. He found that just tailing people who were up to no good could prevent crime, which was more than a lot of superheroes can manage. One night, though, he wandered into a mugging in progress. The woman getting mugged was hurt, bloody, and terrified, and the guy might not have stopped there. Oliver, not the most fit or combat-capable guy, tried to step in, and the guy slugged him. Oliver glared at him and grabbed his hand, and caused an emotional "loop" that wound up shutting the guy down (he survived, but it was close). Third Aspect: Emotion is a Weapon.

Next step: The Skill ladder. One Great, two Good, three Fair, four Average.

Well, I think Empathy at Great makes a whole lot of sense, don't you? Then I'll put Rapport and Provoke at Good. I'll put Investigate, Deceive, and Will at Fair, and then Athletics, Burglary, Stealth, and Notice at Average.

And now, stunts and refresh, but that also means powers. Basically I get three extra stunts, but the three extras have to spent on powers. I think I'd like to do that first, because I can use my basic three stunts as powers, I just don't know if I'll need to.

Well, there's a Telepathy power that does more or less what I want. Let's start there. That's "read people's emotions." That costs 1 stunt.

Enhancements make the power more better. I'll take Master Telepathy (gives me a +2 when using it). I want something like Mental Blasts, but I don't need to use it at a distance. I'll call it Emotion Feedback (works on touch, Attack action, resist with Will). That's all three of my stunts for powers.

Next thing is Theme, and I get one for free, but I don't like any of them, so I'm gonna skip it.

Special Effects! I get two. These are things that I can activate with a Fate point when I succeed with style. I like Mental Recover (I recover all mental stress; basically I'm using someone else's feelings to recenter my own), and I kinda want to be able to stun people. I guess Inflict Condition; I can put the Overwhelmed Aspect on folks.

Now a Drawback, which is basically a trouble Aspect for my power. I think I want Easily Overwhelmed; I'm prone to emotional overload.

And finally, a Collateral Damage Effect. This is basically me letting go of my power and bad things happen. I like Psychic Maelstrom a whole lot; basically I open my mind up and share everyone's emotions among them, and everyone in my zone takes two mental stress. I think at the beginning of the game, Oliver doesn't know he can do that.

That still leaves me three stunts, fer cryin' out loud. You know, what, I'll use two to jack my Telepathy up to Master 3 (so I get a +6 when I use it). That means I only have one stunt left (plus more if I want to use refresh).

I'll make a stunt called Reality Check; I can Defend against a physical attack with Empathy (but it doesn't work on robots or other beings without emotions). And then I'll use a point of refresh to grab the Nose for Trouble stunt (lets me use Empathy as initiative; I'll substitute the usual caveat of "observe for a few minutes" with "if opponents have emotions," because if they don't I can't read 'em).

That makes my refresh 2. Sounds good. Last thing I need is a superhero name. I think Oliver wears grey cargo pants, a black or grey hoodie, boots, and dark glasses when super-heroing. He's known to try and defuse things rather than jump in and start punching (he's actually pretty punch-averse), and so he goes by Pax.

Promethean: Roles upon Roles

Monday night was Promethean. So!

Last time was a while ago, but we rejoin our throng taking a couple of days to focus on their own projects.

Skip spends the time working on the building and sparring with Grimm.

Grimm, for his part, is trying to pursue the fermentatio milestone. He believes that he can accomplish it by forcing himself to become more human using the Vitriol he's earned, but the trick is that he hasn't earned any in a while. He talks with Enoch about this, and Enoch notes that a lot of times, coming to understand why you were created and the circumstances under which it happens is important. Grimm considers this, and calls up Rosa (the demiurge who created him) and they talk a little about her reasons, but nothing Grimm didn't already know. Grimm does a little research on his own, and learns that the five guys whom Rosa used to create him were a group of criminals who were trying to blow their way into a bank vault. They overestimated the explosive charge, though, and the wall collapsed on them, killing them. Grimm forces an Elpis vision (yeah, normally it's once a story, but fuck it) and feels what those men felt. He learns, too, that Skip will be important on the next stage of his Pilgrimage - he sees himself charging through an open portal into he-knows-not-where, and Skip warning him off. He jumps anyway. When his vision clears, he's Shaken (side-effect of Residual Memory) and he's achieved a milestone: use an Elpis vision to learn about his component bodies.

Enoch gets to working on the obsidian butterfly, the one that was formerly an Athanor created by Papillion and that is now in pieces, thanks to Red (you've been following the story so far and so that makes sense, right?). He figures he can make it work again, but he's going to use his knowledge of electronics and metallurgy to bind it together. He makes some progress, but it's slow (because +Matthew Karafa has this amazing thing going where if he's rolling more than 7 dice, he only ever gets 1 success, which is weird). Grimm pestering him about milestones probably doesn't help.

Matt, likewise, is working on his dictionary of Pilgrim Marks. He gets as far as he can (in game terms, he runs out of rolls for the extended action), but it still doesn't feel done. He needs to find a different approach if he's going to finish this Role.

Feather, on the other hand, hits her new typewriter, jacks up her Manipulation with Pyros, spends a shitload of Willpower, buys a dot of Expression, and rocks out on her Ramble. She types up the history of the camp and finishes it up with her own Ramble (to this point). It's a parable about the Pilgrimage, that being strong and carrying on is the best way to approach it, because it takes you in places you didn't know you could go. She talks about Papillion/Parris Mick, Cassius, Sicky, and herself, and completes her Chronicler Role with the milestone create a parable including the Rambles of a Redeemed, dead, and active Promethean. She switches over to Pilgrim, not really knowing where else to go right now.

Finally, Avalon takes a whole bunch of drugs and gets back to work, finishing up her painting with just enough successes. She delivers it to Carroll, who asks why Ysolde's face is kept to the shadows, and Avalon says that it's because she can't quite let Ysolde go...but she needs to find a way. Carroll suggests tracking her down and telling her, but Avalon isn't sure where she is. In doing all this, Avalon completes her Craftsman Role, with the milestone complete a work on commission. She figures next, she'll try and learn about sin and deviance, but that requires a way to learn Cobalus.

The characters met up in the evening and talk about their days and their plans, and they decide to go out and get po' boys (Avalon's treat, since Carroll paid for the painting). They head to a food truck and sit on the curb eating, and Matt points out that they had planned on letting Sicky into the throng officially. Matt, having recently learned the Prime the Vessel Alembic (remember he achieved the Ascetic Role last session) does so, and Sicky hugs everyone.

The Prometheans head for home, and Grimm smells smoke down the block. He calls for the others, and they discover Parris' building on fire - smoke coming out the top floor. Grimm shoots the lock and rushes upstairs with Avalon and Matt. He kicks in the door and gets caught in the backblast, but manages to get Parris and hand her off to Matt. Grimm uses his Ignis Aspiratus Alembic to quell the fire, and looks around a bit. The point of origin seems to be the bedroom; something blew in the windows and then everything caught fire.

The cops and fire department are on scene, including Peter, the detective who was flirting with Feather a few nights ago (and who looks familiar to Grimm, too). He takes her statement and then asks her out, and Feather agrees (with encouragement from Avalon). Grim and Matt are taken to the hospital; Grimm heads back, but Matt decides to stay with Parris in case she wakes up.

Back at the storefront, Grimm remembers where he saw Peter - he was the vampire he saw feeding in the alley the night of the blackout. Feather isn't convinced, but is willing to go on the date, in any case (just maybe stay somewhere public).

At the hospital, Parris wakes up and Matt talks with her. She remembers seeing her bedroom windows burst inwards and tendrils like heat shimmers reach in, and then burst into flames. She has no idea what happened and she didn't see anyone. Matt leaves and heads back to the others, but learns en route that they're going to Charon, so he joins them there.

At said storefront, the throng decides that some of them need some juice. Grimm, Avalon, and Matt are going to see Charon and go across the river. Skip heads to the hospital to look after Parris, while Feather, Sicky, and Enoch stay at the house (letting Enoch work on his Athanor project some more).

Charon is waiting for them, and tells them that his own sources have revealed that it was Red who burned Parris' flat. He's also been implicated in several local cases of ectophagia, and that's upsetting the supernatural community. Several folks want to have a sit-down with the throng, which will probably take a night or two to arrange. So the throng has that to look forward to.

At the hospital, Parris shifts in her sleep as Skip watches over her. "Nergal?" she whispers.

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 attack 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.