Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Blades in the Dark: Downtime

Monday we had an abbreviated session of Blades in the Dark, because my car broke down on my way home and I didn't get back to the house until about half an hour later than the game should have started. So we kept things simple.

I still wanted to do the write-up, however, as we're new to the game and it's useful for me to have a record. Likewise, there's a thread over on RPGnet in which the OP mentioned that their group found Blades unsatisfying after about two sessions; downtime actions were too dear, harm too hard to get rid of it, and the focus on jumping into a score rather than planning it out didn't work for them. (That's perfectly fair; in my group, skipping the planning step and jumping right to the meet prevents the folks who fub from turning their phones on and prevents everyone from overthinking things to death.)

I think that so far, I see their point, but I don't think it's a problem for us. Like, healing is a bitch. I get that. Harm can be debilitating, but there are ways around it. It seems like a lot of that is GM management of consequences, but playing RAW, I can see how harm would get out of control quickly. I'm liking the game, though, so I don't think we're quite ready to quit (also Blades really does seem like a game that works better with a long-term campaign, so that you can see long-term projects and turf war and stuff pay off).

So anyway: Downtime. Step one is payoff. The characters delivered the corpse they'd stolen from the Gondoliers to Captain Vale of the Bluecoats, and she paid them a big bag of silver coins (probably evidence from something that she wanted to make disappear, but money's money). They split it up (1 Coin each, 2 to the gang's stash). They also got 5 Rep (2 for the score + 3 because they tangled with the Gondoliers, a Tier-3 faction).

Heat is next. The character's score was, erm, not subtle, so they wound up with a bunch of Heat (the overall rating settled at 5).

Entanglements was next, and they have no Wanted level, so I rolled two dice and took the lower result...and then roll boxcars. Sucks to be them. The Gondoliers decided to make life hard for them, so they did a Show of Force. Since Widdershins has no claims, they just dropped from strong to weak hold. That's a bummer.

Finally, downtime actions. Everyone took some time to get healed (using One Eye, since she's a physicker), and a couple of them paid her Coin for better result. Everyone also indulged their vice and burned off some stress. One Eye started a long-term project. She wants to build an alchemical eye to replace the one she lost, so she started drawing up specs for that. Cage, too, started a project: He wants to walk the Path of Echoes, so he's learning about the occult path to do so.

And that's downtime! Next time we'll start a score. The crew is looking for a way to reduce their antipathy with the Gondoliers, because being on their bad side is inconvenient, so that'll be next time.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Night's Black Agents: Messages to/from Space

Two game write-ups in one day, ain't you lucky. End of an op, even!

Last time, the agents went to Lithuania and wound up out in the woods (well, as we start, Ess and Gambone are in the woods, Hanover, Parker, and MacAteer are in the van, which is disguised as a hillock). Gambone and Ess sneak around and discover a pretty large facility with multiple radio dishes pointed at the sky, a barracks, and a central building. The agents took a bunch of pictures and then started to fall back, but got noticed by the guards at the jeep.

Gambone grabbed hold of Ess and pretended like they were a couple off in the woods for a hike, and managed to distract the guards. Ess then struck and disarmed one, Gambone the other, and now they had two captives. The clock, as Parker noted, had started.

They examined the photos and realized that these dishes were not dissimilar to the ones at Aricebo, sending messages into deep space. Where, why, what? They had no idea, but they figured the answers would be found in the central building. They did some recon and figured that this wasn't a government facility, though some of the guards were probably ex-military. They decided they needed to take it out, though.

Ess and MacAteer took the guards' uniforms and took up their post to buy some time. Parker and Gambone circled the compound in the woods and found a good spot to sneak up to the main building, while Hanover got up into a tree to snipe as necessary. They also loaded up the jeep with explosives, figuring it would make a nice distraction.

After dark, Parker shot the one guard by the main building and she and Gambone started moving up...but then they alarms went off. When they got back in sight of that back door, they realized Parker had just wounded the guard, and he was being tended. Deciding to press on, Ess and MacAteer drove into the compound (still disguised), while Parker shot the other guards and moved into the building and Gambone planted explosives on the dishes.

Inside, Parker found main servers and swiped a bunch of hard drives before the self-destruct mechanisms when off, burning the place. She got out just as the building went up. Ess and MacAteer parked the jeep with some other vehicles, got to a safe distance, and blew it up, and then faded into the woods. The agents also set explosives on the road to prevent evacuation (and pursuit), and they managed to get to the hillock and get the hell out before reinforcements arrived.

They fell back to the safe house, and then got the hell out of Lithuania and headed north into Latvia, stopping in Riga. They sifted through the data, and found that these dishes were sending a lot of information about vampire/human DNA into space...along with figures on population density and human cities. Hanover finally found a reference for a numeric code that he'd found on Lennart's laptop waaaaaay back at the start of all this: the astronomical coordinates that the data was being sent to, and a date. The date was July 3, 1903, which stumped the agents for a bit, and then MacAteer wondered about Nikola Tesla, since the conspiracy seemed to have an interest.

In 1903, Tesla was trying to get funding for his tower at Wardenclyffe, but the Tesla tower was functional, at least somewhat. Parker applied her knowledge of astronomy and figured out that a message from the coordinates they found would have hit Earth right about there.

So what was really going on? They did some digging into Tesla's life and figured out that there weren't any extant photos of him after about 1920 or so. He died in 1943 at age 86, supposedly, at a hotel in New York, and was then cremated. His belongings were shipped to Belgrade in 1952 at the behest of his cousin, but the agents couldn't find any record of his cousin dying and no photos after about 1955.

Hanover did some research, using the online library at MIT (where a lot of Tesla's research was taken after his death) and realized that the collars that Dr. Macan was working on, the dishes at the Lithuania site, all of it was natural extrapolation of Tesla's experiments. Was Tesla, then, the first vampire? The agents didn't know, but they needed to find out.

They took a boat north to Stockholm, and then flew to Belgrade. Ess made contact with an arms dealer he knows name Kurjak, and got explosives and weapons shipped over from Bosnia. The agents are going to break into the museum again, and check the archives, hoping to find something to point them towards the truth about Tesla.

Misspent Youth: Planet Trippinballs

Yesterday was Misspent Youth, and since I've got to run Night's Black Agents in a few hours, I better get this done!

Last session is here, BTW. The characters had landed on a new planet, but we hadn't established anything about it.

First, of course, we need our Authority Figures:

  • The Valkyries, a cadre of agender space cops.
  • Morpheus, the god-ruler of this planet, with power of perception and dreams
  • The oceans themselves! On this planet, the waters are meant to hydrate the ambrosia farms, so they're highly narcotic and hallucinogenic
  • Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, the former ruler of this planet, now in hiding
  • Pythons, immense serpents roaming this planet as security
And then our Friendship Questions:
  • Eli asked Jacqui: "What did Bruce (my father) say to you when he out of the car?" Jacqui: "If anything happens to me, dig under the shed at my house."
  • Jacqui asked Yasha: "What did you have to leave behind on Bardo?" Yasha: "My brother. I don't talk about him."
  • Yasha asked Alaska: "Why did you insist on this planet?" Alaska: "I saw something shiny in the distance. Also I like to appear decisive." 
  • Alaska asked Kshanti: "Do you feel different now that you're off Bardo?" Kshanti: "Not internally, but I feel different things."
  • Kshanti asked Eli: "What have you been taking your wrath out on?" Eli: "Punching a lot of bulkheads."
Scene One: What's Up

Kshanti's player set us up and chose the giant pythons. 

We open flying over the new planet, skimming down near the ocean's surface, heading towards an immense yellow obelisk. And then a huge goddamn serpent lunges up out of the water, wraps around their ship, and starts to crush it! The YOs fight back - Eli punches it, Jacqui tries to use her power to mess with its blood flow, but then Yasha stands up and loses. She sells out her MO (Righteous Fury sells out to Revenge is Best Served Cold) and turns on the ship's force field generators - which, unbeknownst to Kshanti (who designed the ship to have no weapons), work just fine to vaporize flesh. The snake dies, and the ship splashes down into the water. 

Kickoff: This episode is about survival. 

Scene Two: Fighting Back

Eli's player sets us up, and it seems natural to choose the oceans as the authority figure. The ship is leaking and every gets high as balls, seeing sounds, feeling colors, and so on. Jacqui realizes that everyone is full of paint (which is a disquieting realization), everyone sees Alaska changing into the monster snake - Yasha decides she's in love with it - and Kshanti stays quiet but all of the Unsuitables on the ship scream for her. The YOs struggle to control their minds, but they can't - Yasha stands up and loses and falls into madness. The ship eventually washes up on the shore, but by that time, the YOs are the only ones left alive, and everything else on the ship is a mural of blood. 

First Beat: Catastrophe (massacre on the ship) Question: What have we done?

Scene Three: Heating Up

I set this up, and chose Yasha's question to Alaska: "Why did you insist on this planet?" "I saw something shiny in the distance, and I like to appear decisive." 

Alaska was the only one who wasn't terribly affected by the seas (perhaps because her perceptions are always a little skewed). She kind of becomes the de facto leader, which terrifies her. The YOs walk up the black beach to a huge field of flowers (that become blood red when the YOs see them). Kshanti starts immediately pulling mojo and stuffing it into the YOs, trying to supercharge them, and YOs argue about what happened on the ship. Jacqui, in particular, is horrified (everyone was full of paint), but Alaska repeats that it's not her fault.

And then the serpent arrives! Another huge snake, drawn by Kshanti's mojo manipulation, perhaps, lunges at them. Eli punches it, and Alaska stands up and fails. The snake swallows them, and everything goes dark. 

Scene Four: We Won

Jacqui's player sets us up, and chooses Tezcatlipoca.

The YOs awaken in a dark place, covered in slime. The snake is nowhere to be found. Everything around them is made of black glass. They walk a ways, and find themselves in the presence of a huge man with black scales and smoking eye-sockets - Tezcatlipoca. 

He reveals that he used to rule this planet, until Morpheus moved in, put these damn oceans in and started growing ambrosia flowers. He wants his planet back, and that means Morpheus needs to die. He can't act directly against another god, but perhaps these folks...

The YOs agree - if they kill Morpheus, Tezcatlipoca gives them passage off this planet. Tezcat agrees, and provides Yasha with a powerful obsidian sword, Eli with glass gauntlets, and Alaska with a gun that shoots hurricanes of blue smoke. The serpent swallows them again to transport them to Morpheus palace (in the midst of the biggest ocean), but along the way, the serpent gets pretty stoned and starts slithering this way and that. The YOs work to control it, and Jacqui stands up and wins on Kshanti's Unctuous Conviction. She uses her sangromancy power to keep everything nice and smooth for the snake, and the snake deposits them on the shore of Morpheus' palace, the obelisk that Alaska saw in the distance. The YOs are ready for battle.

Scene Five: We're Fucked

Yasha's player sets this up and chooses Eli's question to Jacqui: "What did Bruce tell you when he got out of the car?" "If anything happens to me, dig under the shed."

The YOs walk towards the palace, and Bruce is there waiting for them. He and Alaska (who have some history, which is always disturbing to both Eli as Bruce's child and Yasha as Alaska's lover) start flirting. Bruce tells them they need to be careful here; Morpheus' power can make their desires turn real, but even if that happens Morpheus still controls them. Bruce is unable to tell them how he got here, though, preferring to ask leading questions using information they already know. He also starts caressing Alaska, just like she wants...and she realizes he was never that good. He's a construct, a hallucination, but it's too late. Jacqui stands up and loses, and the YOs' cover is blown. Nightmares descend from the palace to kill them, and Morpheus stands on a balcony and watches. 

Second Beat: Catastrophe - Nightmares of the palace!

Scene Six: Who Wins

Alaska's player sets this up and choose Morpheus (seems appropriate). 

The battle rages, which the YOs fighting off their own personal nightmares (Yasha fights Alaska, but with a god behind her eyes; Kshanti sees herself, but grown up; Jacqui sees the dead Unsuitables; etc.). Eli stands up and loses, but sells out Rich to Profligate. Eli uses a secret stash of mojo that they hid from everyone, and punches the ground, sending out a ripple that causes the tower to collapse. Morpheus lands in their midst, and Alaska shoots him with the gun she got from Tezcatlipoca. Morpheus is killed - the clique has won the episode. 

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

Kshanti's player sets this up and chooses her question to Eli: "How have you been venting your wrath?" "Punching bulkheads." 

Tezcatlipoca gains control of the planet, and the towers collapse. The seas recede, and all changes to black glass. The serpents come in to feast on them, and Eli punches them angrily, but it's to no avail (Jacqui stands up and loses). They get swallowed again, and when they wake up, the planet is blackened and barren. Tezcatlipoca is back in charge, and has no intention of letting them leave. They're stuck on this planet. 


Of course, they did win the episode, so they add a new Exploit. They find the ship, now on a barren sea bed, and fix it up, fitting it with treads. It's now a tank called Bruce. Next time, we'll see what they can do with it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Movie #425: Inglorious Basterds

Inglorious Basterds is a war film directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Daniel Bruhl, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger and a lot of other people.

In the midst of WWII, the US drops a small contingent of Jewish soldiers into France, led by Aldo Raine (Pitt), for the express purpose of striking terror into the Nazi soldiers' black little hearts. "Aldo the Apache" quickly develops a reputation, ambushing, slaughtering, and scalping Nazi soldiers.

Meanwhile, Col. Hans Landa (Waltz) of the SS has made his name as the "Jew-Hunter," tracking down Jewish refugees in occupied France. In the opening scene he tracks down a family hiding at a farmhouse and has them shot, but one of them, Shoshana (Laurent) escapes. Some years later, she's running a theater in Paris with her lover Marcel (Jacky Ido), and finds that because of the unwanted attention of Nazi war hero Fredrick Zoller (Bruhl), her theater will be used to premiere Zoller's biopic/propaganda film for the German high command, including Hitler himself (Martin Wuttke).

So, of course, there's a big plan to blow the damn thing up, masterminded by British intelligence with British solider Archie Hicox (Fassbender) at the forefront, including German movie star/double agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Kruger), and the Basterds. And everyone goes completely off the rails, but the plan kinda works, Hitler gets mowed down by Donny "Bear Jew" Donowitz (Roth) before the place burns down thanks to the fire Shoshana set, and Landa weasels his way into American citizenship...but not before Aldo cuts a swastika into his forehead.

I kinda feel like this is one of Tarantino's better films. Sure, it's a little long, but it actually improves on a second viewing in that regard. Waltz won an Oscar for his portrayal of Landa and absolutely earned it, though I think Melanie Laurent deserved some recognition, too. Tarantino doesn't generally treat his women very well, so that's a thing, but if any movie deserves to get brutal with its characters, it's a WWII movie. Bruhl, too, has a great performance as a Nazi who spends most of the movie in "nice guy" mode and then shows his true colors at the end.

The asides narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and the little on-screen titles don't always work, but that's a small thing in the scheme of things. The movie works best when it just lets the actors work, and Tarantino doesn't get all wanky with things, which is actually true of most of his movies.

Gotta say, for a variety of reasons, this movie feels really fucking timely.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Misery

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Promethean: Chop, Sploosh, Gack, Pow

Anybody ever watch Harper's Island? Horror mini-series, basically a slasher movie played out over 13 episodes, which has the effect of making things really uncomfortable by the last couple because you've come to know the main characters well enough that it's hard to be densensitized to their deaths. Anyway, I mention it because the episode titles were all onomatopoeias, and pretty violent, MUCH LIKE LAST NIGHT'S GAME.

So! Skip heads out to the swamp with Jesse, and we'll learn what happened to them next time (Skip's player was absent). Avalon and Carroll head back towards town, but next a salvage yard there's a loud bang and then the car spins out and crashes. Both are mostly unhurt, but Avalon is worried - that sounded like a gunshot. She gets out of the car and is immediately struck by a blast of acidic blood that melts the flesh from her body...and there stands Red. She rushes forward and uses her knowledge of Alchemicus to turn him to stone, and Carroll's eyes go completely black. The darkness pours out of him and surrounds them, and Carroll and Red both vanish.

Avalon, realizing they're probably screwed without help, pulls Fluffy (Enoch's shabti, whom we haven't seen in a while) out of her backpack and tells him to alert Enoch, and then runs into the dark.

Avalon realizes they're in a maze, but she can, inexplicably, easily find her way through it. In the center of the maze, she sees a huge, monster-ghost thing erupting from Red's petrified body, and facing off against it is some horrible spindly-legged creature, shrouded in darkness. The creature is badly wounded, and the ghost turns the blood-torrent on Avalon again.

Avalon, enraged, switches to the Refinement of Tin and throws lightning at the creature. It cries out in pain, and Avalon gears up to fire again, but then Red de-petrifies and shoots her.

And in a cab, heading towards town, Feather and Enoch feel Avalon die. Grimm and Matt, walking back towards the city, feel it too. The folks in the cab see the boys on the side of the road and stop to get them, and based on what Enoch can see through Fluffy's eyes, finds the salvage yard. Grimm gets out of the car and sees the huge pocket of darkness, and rushes in (completing a milestone and his Daredevil Role for enter a gateway without knowing where it goes). Feather and Matt follow, telling the cab driver to wait.

Enoch, seeing them go, calls out "OK, I've sent them in, now come get me," trying to bait Red. It works - Red appears behind him. Enoch tells him that his quest for vengeance is going to get him killed; the other supernatural beings of New Orleans are looking for him. Red says that all he wants is "all of you at the River." Enoch asks why, and Red tells him "figure it out, you stupid sonofabitch, you killed my boys" and then hits him with an ax.

Enoch changes to barghest form and attacks, but the first hit took too much out of him, and Red blasts him with blood and then finishes him with a second stroke of the ax. Enoch dies, and the others feel it.

Inside the darkness, they find themselves isolated and lost in a maze. Matt and Feather make it to the center, though, and find the spindly creature slinking up in the dark. Feather sees that it has Carroll's eyes...but then those eyes go away and become the black, insect-like eyes of the creature. The maze walls start to collapse, and the Prometheans run. Outside, they find the cab gone and the cab driver dead.

They call DeVries for help, and moments later a car with the mages Sebek, Mort, and a third one named Cassie, arrive. Cassie looks around at all the death and gives an abbreviated version of what happened, but notes that it's like it all happened "in a nightmare." The Prometheans note that Red seems to have a thing for junkyards, and maybe he was holed up there - of course, he's not there now because he took the cab towards New Orleans. The mages decide to investigate the junkyard, and the Prometheans take their car (with the bodies of their friends in the trunk) and head for town. They call Sicky, who's terrified because he felt Avalon and Enoch die, too, and have him meet them at DuMonde.

In the Underworld, Avalon awakens on the shores of the River of Blood. She unleashes her rage in lightning form at the river, screaming in anger, and firmly cements herself as on Stannum, pursuing the Vigilante Role. Enoch appears behind her, and they talk a bit, and then start heading upriver. The river splits, and Avalon remembers that the River of Blood is about violence and passion, so she takes a drink and feels aggression and anger surge. She takes a little blood with her in her shoe. She figures she'll need it.

They find ghosts in the nearby tunnels, and Enoch asks where he might look to find a particular person (specifically he's looking to find Red's family to try and get them to calm him down). The ghost responds that Enoch should look in the Web of Names, and tells him to follow the River of Memory. They find said river (Lethe) and Enoch takes a couple of stones to work into his project back in the world of the living. Note, too, that all of this fulfills the projectio milestone for both Avalon and Enoch: Visit a River of Death.

Back in the world of the living, the Prometheans decide that maybe they should check out a local scrapyard (Sicky tells them that the one that the characters were near earlier has werewolves in it; they call the mages and warn them off. Grimm espouses a theory that every scrapyard has some kind of supernatural creature running it, which is now canon in my Chronicles of Darkness). There's one nearby, though, outside of the city, pretty small - some of it got destroyed by Katrina. The Prometheans decide to go check it out. If they can find Red while he's hurt, maybe they can kill him.

Grimm, meanwhile, adopts Ferrum and the Soldier Role. ETA: Upon reflection the player decided instead to go back to Cuprum for the fight with Red. He also forces himself a little further along on the Pilgrimage, and achieves the fermentatio milestone (use Vitriol to increase Pilgrimage). Enoch uses Vitriol to fix Mutatus Aspiratus and Sanctus Aspiratus, and Matt uses Vitriol to fix Externalize, which is where we'll pick up next time.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Chill: Layin' Old Ghosts to Rest

Yesterday was the end of a Chill case (beginning was here).

The envoys have Darnell come down from Boise, and he brings Dylan (Edward's player was out, so we figured Edward was out in LA doing movie-stuff) along. Dylan is still recovering from his last mission - still a little injured, still a little delicate mentally. They arrive at Stewart's house, and Darnell checks out Jordan. She's badly dehydrated and sick, so he puts a saline bag up and tells her to rest. He checks out Stewart, too, but he's not as bad, so Darnell just tells him to stay hydrated.

The envoys talk a little about what to do, and in a couple hours Jordan is walking again. They think about heading out to the site that evening, but decide it's better if they have everyone (and Jordan isn't really 100%), so they choose to sleep on it and gear up in the morning. Dee dreams of riding in a car with Bryan, the mysterious hitchhiker. The car stops and he follows a light into the woods, and then falls into a crevasse. Dee hears a crack when he lands, and then realizes something else is there with her. It chases her and she falls near the road, scrabbling for a foothold, and then the creature backs off. Before she wakes up, Dee realizes that her hands smell like carrots.

The envoys wake up and realizes that Stewart has gone to work, which is good - at least he's feeling better. Darnell, however, is not well; he's contracted the strange disease. Jordan draws a line of defense around his bed and he starts to feel better, but that of course means he's stuck in the circle.

Dylan realizes that he was going to hit the books last night, but forgot and passed out instead. The envoys get some breakfast at the diner and then make some plans. Dylan does a little research and learns that Unknown-caused diseases tend to be fast and acute, but if you can get through the initial sickness they're usually not fatal. They are, however, sometimes contagious, and often the only way to stop the spread is destroy the creature that caused it. Some ghosts can cause contagion, as can some undead creatures, but without knowing what the envoys are up against they can't really make a plan.

Dee mentions that she woke up craving carrots and that they might be significant. Carrots don't grow wild around her, but Queen Anne's Lace, which is also called a wild carrot (and smells like just carrots) does. The envoys figure that their best bet is to get down into the crevasse and see what they see, so they hit Wal-Mart and buy a rope ladder, some garbage bags, some rope a tarp, and some lights.

They head out to the site and see a man flagging their car down - Bryan. They pick him up and start driving him back to town. They ask him questions, but he's pretty uninformative; Willa realizes that he probably doesn't quite know what's happening and is just recreating a particular scene. She uses Voice of the Dead to channel him, and he reveals that his full name is Bryan Gill. He was visiting his brother in Mountain View, NV and on the way home when he pulled over because he saw a light in the woods. He felt compelled to follow it, and then fell, and then nothing. He asks that the envoys tell his brother what happened to him, and then he fades away, leaving some ectoplasm behind.

They head back out to the site, make some garlands out of Queen Anne's Lace, and rig the rope ladder to go down. Willa starts descending, and activates Eyes of the Dead. Sure enough, she sees a figure in the bottom of the crevasse, but it isn't approaching her. The bottom of the crevasse is covered in white mushrooms, which makes the envoys nervous - what if the spores cause the illness? Willa hangs on the ladder a minute, but when she goes to descend again she forgets how her hands work and lands on her ass in the shrooms.

She looks around and finds Bryan's body, and calls to the others. Jordan descends as well, and touches Willa, using Disrupt, which gives her back her coordination. Unfortunately, Willa looks off in the distance and sees lights...and wants nothing more than to touch them. She starts walking slowly towards them, but Jordan notices, darts in front of her, and uses Line of Defense to block her path. Willa comes to and sees the figure out in the dark...hovering over another level to the crevasse. They decide to head back, put Bryan's body in the tarp, and rig it so Dylan and Dee can pull it up.

They start to do that (some minor Trauma from Bryan's decomposing body later), and get the body hauled up. And then it starts raining blood. Dylan, a bit freaked out but not terribly, puts up a Sphere of Protection, which blocks the rain from him and Dee.

Willa goes up the ladder to assist, but then Jordan sees the lights. She walks right off the edge and falls into a lower area, but isn't seriously hurt. The others move the ladder, and Willa sees the figure standing directly in front of Jordan, pulling back as if to strike her. Thinking quickly, Willa uses Voice of the Dead and summons the creature into her own body. Dylan draws a Line of Defense around Willa to keep it trapped, and Dee rigs the ladder so Jordan can climb up.

Willa can sense that this creature was once human - a Chinese woman - but that she's been dead for so long that most of her humanity has gone. Jordan looks around in the lower crevasse and finds a skull, a fragment of a spine, and part of a femur - the last remains of the woman. She bags them, and climbs up.

The envoys engage in a bit of pantomime and nonverbal communication with the ghost to try and figure out what she wants, but finally they figure that burying her in a cemetery might do it. She's been dead long enough that the specific tradition doesn't matter anymore, just the recognition would be enough. They load up the bodies (like, 1.2 bodies) into the car and call ahead to Stewart for help. He says he'll meet them with the Reverend at the church, but they'll need to explain it.

The Reverend tells them that they'll need to call the police about Bryan, but allows himself to be convince that the other body could just be buried in the older part of the cemetery. The envoys dig a grave for the bones, and mark it with a stone labeled with the Chinese character for "daughter" (Jordan figures she had to be somebody's daughter, so that's accurate). They see mushrooms sprout in seconds, and then die, and the Unknown presence fades.

The police reprimand them a little for hauling Bryan's body out (this is technically illegal), but they let it go, presumably because they saved the police the trouble. Bryan's brother is notified, and the envoys collect Darnell (now recovered) and head back to Boise.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Character Creation: Synthicide

It's early in the morning, but I can't start doing inventory yet and I gotta take Sephi to the vet and no one else is up, so.

The Game: Synthicide
The Publisher: Will Power Games
Degree of Familiarity: Enough. I ran a session last night in preparation to write a review.
Books Required: Just the one.

So! Synthicide is billed as sci-fi noir, and that's not a bad description. You're playing "sharpers," mercenaries or hired help trying to survive in a universe that really doesn't give a shit what you do, as long as you don't fuck with the Church or its Synthetics.

Oh, this is sad. There's a PC generator here, but there's no way to print the sheet it creates. Boo. Guess I'll have to do this analog.

OK, so, the book has a bunch of random tables that you can roll on to generate an origin story. I enjoy such things, so I'm gonna use 'em. First roll: Birthplace. I was born on a ship. I have no home planet. Sounds OK.

Next roll: Why did I become a sharper? Restlessness. Wanderlust. Search for meaning. I can get behind that.

Next, connection to other players: Sworn to secrecy. My character and other sharper share a terrible secret. I get to roll on the mystery table to determine what we're hiding. Sounds good to me! Visions - I get visions of a terrible future...maybe past? Anyway, I start with three doses of Illuminix, which is cool, because that's the drug you need to take if you have psychic powers and I was thinking that'd be fun.

Now I choose a Motivation (there's a list). These are very broad, and help determine how I can regain Resolve in play. I'll say my guy's motivation is Don't Get Mad, Get Even, because I feel like making a character who's a little harder around the edges today. He gets Resolve if he denies an opponent mercy or settles a debt.

Step Three, I select a bioclass, which is basically whether I have or could have any cyber. You don't actually start with any cyber either way (which is kinda weaksauce). I think if I want to have psychic powers, my brain has to be organic. Yep, I can't be a scraphead or a rigfiend. I think I'll be a hardshell - got some work done in the body, but the brain is all meat. That sets my Attributes totals, but I don't fill them in yet because they'll be modified by Aspect. I also start with either Cyber Eyes or Serbs Limbs; I think I'll go with the eyes. I get +1 Awareness. I get 2 cybernetic slots for my body, but those don't matter at chargen.

Next up, Aspect. I already know I want to be a Bulbhead. I get +2 Influence but -1 to another Attribute of my choice. Hmm. I think I'll take it to Toughness; my rigged body was done on the cheap and it's prone to shorting out at bad times. Now I can fill in my Attributes. My Influence and Awareness are both pretty good, but my Toughness and Combat are sucky, so I'll need to rely on my psychic powers, which, speaking of, I get two.

Ooh, these are pretty baller. I'll take Psychic Barrier (I need a way to prevent damage), and...hmm. Do I want a movement power, or do I want a way to do damage? I think given my motivates I should take the latter. I'll take Mind Burst (there's a slot to write these on the back of the sheet, but I don't care that much, so I'll just jot 'em in on the front).

Now I pick a Natural Talent, which is the closest this system gets to skills. There are really only two types, Influence (which, perhaps ironically, let me use my highest Attribute instead of Influence to lie to or otherwise persuade certain types of people or in certain situations) or Operate, which let me use a higher Attribute than Operation to perform certain tasks. Since Influence is one of my highest Attributes, I'll take an Operate one. Since I grew up on a ship, let's make it Operate Vehicles.

And then, an equipment package. I appreciate these; you can just pick one and get stuff you might need without shopping. I'll take the Gutter Psych package; that gives me a gun and a combat vest, but more importantly, it gives me Illuminix, which I need to be all psychic. That means I have 10 doses total.

And that's all the number stuff. Now for a little backstory. Stelo (means "star" in Esperanto) was born on a colony ship bound unknown (turns out they were bound of Cruxian, which is a planet that doesn't realize that space travel exists - they're kept forcibly ignorant by the Church). Stelo was taken off the ship by his mother during an incident (she never told him about it, but he has visions of explosions and monsters), and she became crew on another transport ship. Stelo grew up in space.

He fell in with a crew of sharpers when he was 14, and on his first mission got caught between two huge cargo crates and crushed. The buyer, who was moderately wealthy, felt bad and paid for some augmentation to keep Stelo alive, but not, like top of the line. Stelo stayed with the crew for a while, though, and then met up his current crew (which would be the PCs). He revealed his occasional visions to another sharper, and they realized they both had similar visions. Stelo is curious about what he's really seeing, but up till now he figured it was just Illuminix side effects. Stelo also took to heart he lesson of the buyer fixing his body - if you wrong someone or are responsible for someone getting hurt, you balance the scales. He's toying with the notion that the reason he's seeing these visions is because something is out of balance, but that hasn't really crystalized yet.

OK, I think that does it!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Movie #424: Home

Home is an animated comedy starring Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Martin, and Matt Jones. It didn't do fantastic at the box office, but it's got a special place in my heart.

Oh (Parsons) is a member of an alien race called the Boov. They are the self-described "best at running away," and move from planet to planet, fleeing their world-destroying enemies, the Gorg. They find Earth and use their superior, bubble-based technology to move the world's population to Australia, where they arrange everyone in circular neighborhoods with Ask-a-Boov kiosks in the middle (side note: it's never revealed if they arrange people in any particular way, and Boov don't have families the way people understand them, so it's a good thing they took the time to learn all these peoples' names so they can find missing folks!. Further side note: Their relocation always makes me think of this).

Anyway, Oh is kind of a fuckup - he's enthusiastic about being with other Boov (most Boov aren't), and he's hyper enthused about his race and their cowardly leader, Captain Smek (Martin). In his haste to have everyone over for a warming-of-house party, he inadvertently broadcasts the invite to the whole universe...including the Gorg. Now a fugitive, he runs into a young girl named Tip (Rihanna), hiding out in her apartment after the Boov's technology missed her. After some highly amusing initial disagreements ("Can I come into the out now?"), they team up to find Tip's mother (Lopez) and try and clear Oh's name.

This movie is based on a book and diverges wildly, but that's normal. I like Oh's linguistic foibles (what they do with gerunds is fascinating), and I like that one of the main characters is a girl and a POC. I don't know if she's from Barbados in the book, too, but that was also a nice touch - she's assimilating to a new culture, and in the process winds up teaching Oh that he can't just steamroll in and take everything.

I think the fact that the Boov are pretty clear analogs for well-meaning white people could be underlined a little more heavily, but hey, this ain't a Pixar movie and we're not in it for the message. Home is funny and touching at points, and the voice acting is good.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Inglorious Basterds

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Character Creation: Blades in the Dark

I started running this game Monday. I'm really liking it, for a number of reasons. I love the notion of a criminal gang being all sneaky and stuff, I love the kinda Dishonored-ish setting, and I really am looking forward to playing with the system.

But, you know, I like to make characters for games that I run so let's fucking do that! (Woooo.)

The Game: Blades in the Dark
The Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
Degree of Familiarity: I've read it, and it uses a system that's kinda like PbtA.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, first thing I need to do is pick a playbook. It says to play a Lurk if you want to sneak around in the shadows, and boy-howdy, that sounds like fun. I'ma make a Lurk.

Next up, I choose a Heritage. I think I want to be Tycherosi, supposedly part-demon. My character gets a telltale, which in his case I'm gonna say are utterly black, slightly-too-large eyes. Neat! I get to add a detail, so I'll say he was adopted by a blind Iruvian, an old merchant who didn't care about his weird-ass unsettling eyes because he couldn't see them.

Now we choose a Background, which is what he did before becoming a professional scoundrel. I'm gonna go with trade. He was a shopkeeper; he ran a spice stand in Nightmarket. I'll add former spice dealer as the detail (presumably he inherited the shop from his adopted father).

Next, we assign four Action Dots. I already get Finesse and Prowl. I'm gonna take Hunt, Tinker, Sway, and...hmm. I kinda feel like Study might be appropriate, but then, Attune is useful, too, and that would give me two resistance dice in each area (see, it's different when you've played the game before you make the character). I'm gonna go with Study, actually.

Special ability! Ooh, I really like Ghost Field (which lets me become shadowy and insubstantial briefly), but then, Shadow is groovy, too - that would let me perform Kevin-like feats of leaping and silence. I think I'll do that.

Now I get a close friend and a rival. For my friend, I'll take Darmot, the Bluecoat. He was a friend of my adopted father and stopped by the shop every now and then to get a particular smoked salt that he liked. As a rival, I'll take Frake, a locksmith. She takes my skills as a burglar personally.

Choose my vice! My vice is Pleasure. He has very sensitive skin, so he goes to Madame Tesslyn at the Red Lamp (a brothel). He doesn't always indulge in sex, though - more often he pays the girls (or, y'know, whoever) to stroke him with various silks and textured things.

Name, alias, and look. OK, then! His name is Sesereth Karstas, but on the streets he's called Silk. He wears loose silks, soft boots, and pulls a scarf up over the lower half of his face when working. He speaks softly, and has a faint Iruvian accent. His eyes, as mentioned, are just a little too big, and are completely black.

That's it!

Movie #423: Heat

Heat is a crime drama directed by Michael Mann and starring (deeeeep breath) Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Danny Trejo, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Dennis Haysbert, Jon Voight, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Mykelti Williamson, and Natalie Portman, plus a bunch of other fairly famous people.

There are a bunch of storylines going on, here, but the main thing is: Neil (de Niro) runs a crew of highly skilled thieves. On a job sticking up an armored car, new recruit Waingro (Kevin Gage) gets squirrely and shoots a guard, prompting the others to shoot the rest. Neil is pissed - they don't need any heat, and killing people brings that. He goes to shoot Waingro, but he manages to escape. File that away for now.

They start working on their next job, but Detective Hannah (Pacino) and his crew are in pursuit. They play a bunch of cat and mouse, and Hannah and Neil meet and express respect for each other. Neil, meanwhile, meets a woman (Brenneman) and falls in love, and when the last score goes south he looks to take her with him out of the country. At the last minute, he goes off plan to kill Waingro, and winds up getting pursued, and shot, by Hannah.

Into this mix, there are at least a half-dozen subplots. Chris (Kilmer) has a gambling problem that's pushing his wife Charlene (Judd) to canoodle with a Las Vegas bookie (Hank Azaria). Waingro is actually a serial killer knocking off prostitutes, which is something I missed the first time I saw this, somehow. Hannah's wife Justine (Venora) is deeply unhappy in their marriage, and her daughter (Portman) ultimately attempts suicide because of depression brought on in part by her own absentee father. Breedan (Haysbert) is just out of jail and trying to make ends meet, and winds up in the crew when Trejo (Danny Trejo) has to back out because he can't shake the cops, and winds up getting shot for his trouble.

Michael Mann sure knows how to put this kind of movie together, though, I'll tell you what. The characters each have strong motivations, and they're professional and competent, and the chemistry between the crews is great. The criminals are utterly ruthless - they're the bad guys, and they're not afraid to gun down cops and civilians to show it. There's no question about morality, here, it's a question of motivation and what someone is willing to risk - or abandon - for one's own interests. Hannah is absent from his family and it costs him his marriage very nearly his stepdaughter. Neil risks and loses for the chance for revenge after he loses his crew. They're very similar characters, and casting Pacino and de Niro just underlines that.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low (long but well paced)

Next up: Home

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Blades in the Dark: Widdershins

Monday night was our first session of our new game (replacing Feng Shui): Blades in the Dark!

We talked about playing Unhallowed Metropolis and...something else vaguely Victorian and scary (can't remember now), but landed on Blades because it sounded intriguing to all of us and since it's PbtA based, it's meant to be low-prep. So, without further ado, the characters!

  • Una Daava, aka "One Eye," played by Megan. One Eye is the Leech of the group, and is also a physicker (medic). She's an orphaned refugee; her parents died in the Unity War. She's from Skovlan, but has worked diligently to lose her Skovic accent. She's an enthusiastic user of all drugs and intoxicants.
  • Zamira Obedin, aka "Copper," played by Michelle. Copper is the Cutter, and specializes in punching ghosts as well as people. She's a pugilist and spirit guard for hire, and her family were mercenaries. She's from Severos, and enjoys betting on hound races. 
  • Vond Helker, aka "Cage," played by Toasty. Cage is the Whisper, and is Tycherosi - he has onyx scales on his body. He used to be a Spirit Warden, but left the organization for reasons yet unrevealed. He kept the mask, though. 
  • Cyrene Daava, aka "Siren," played by Amanda. Siren grew up on a leviathan hunter boat, and would stand on the bow and sing. The crew believes this led the beasts to them, hence the nickname. She's from Akoros, and is a practiced marksman. 
The crew is called Widdershins, and they're a group of Smugglers with their own boat. They have a reputation for being strange, and taking spirit and supernatural-related smuggling jobs in and around their home turf of Nightmarket. Tonight would be no different.

As we open, the crew has been arrested. Occasionally the Bluecoats just round up the usual suspects, as it were, and throw them in a carriage (pulled by immense goats) and cart them around. Once they've been taken in circles for a while, the carriage stops, and they find themselves face to face with Captain Vale. 

Vale tells them to look off yonder, and they see a Gondolier boat - the Gondoliers are pulling a body out of the water. As they watch, the body twitches and spits up water. A hollow, then. Vale informs them that the Gondoliers have been pulling these bodies out of the canals for a while now, but they aren't involving the Bluecoats and the Spirit Wardens are staying well away. If someone were to bring Vale one of these bodies, they would be rewarded. 

One Eye haggles a bit, and manages to get some cash up front out of Vale, but Vale clearly makes a mental note to remember these folks (bringing some Heat). The scoundrels start looking for intel. 

Copper follows the Gondoliers back to their hideout, and watches as the corpse is taken into a closed building. She isn't sure what happens then, but sees Griggs, a high-ranking Gondolier and a whisper, talking to another member. Griggs glances over and Copper realizes there's a ghost present, but manages to dodge it before she's made.

One Eye hits the Veil, a nightclub where she partakes of all the drugs. Nyelle, a spirit trafficker known to the crew, hangs out there, and lo, she is there, drinking a very sweet new drug. One Eye stays and learns a few things - the bodies are indeed being pulled out of the canals in a particular pattern, and the pattern forms a rune across Doskovol, but Nyelle isn't familiar with what the rune means. She also tells One Eye that the Gondoliers were once the go-to folks for helping normal people out with spirit issues, but the Spirit Wardens have been assuming that role, and the Gondoliers aren't happy about it. Nyelle isn't sure what, if anything, the Spirit Wardens know about all this, but so far they're steering clear. One Eye stays and gets very drunk on all this. 

Siren, meanwhile, decides that meeting with Eliese, the leader of the Gondoliers, would be worthwhile. She arranges a messenger and sends him out, bearing a special invitation (on which she spends the advance money the crew was given). The messenger returns, possessed, and informs Siren that Eliese doesn't have time to meet with her right now. The ghost leaves the messenger, who of course remembers nothing. 

One Eye returns to the lair and shares what she knows with the group, drawing the rune from memory...and it explodes in her face, frazzling her a bit. Cage tries to decipher it, but can't (it's an old symbol, not one he's seen before). The crew does know, however, where the next corpse should appear, so they head into Crow's Foot to scope out the location. 

They note that this is right near the orphanage, and there are a bunch of scamps watching out for weirdness (not uncommon to use these kids as lookouts). They find the place that the body went in, and then plan out their escape route. And then it's time to begin the score. 

We open on that as they're pulling the body out, and it's fighting them. Copper punches the ghost in the body into submission and One Eye ties it up, while Cage gets the boat moving. Gondoliers are en route - the kids are blowing little whistles and summoning them. Cage summons a bunch of scary ghosts to drive the kids away, and the scoundrels pull away from Crow's Foot, into the canal between Coalridge and Charterhall. They see a bunch of Gondolier boats, as well as Spirit Wardens and Bluecoats, but they try and fade into the background. 

They get stopped in a bit by a Gondolier boat that asks what they're transporting, and Siren gives us a brief flashback to when she got some manifest documents from Rolan, the proprietor of the Veil. She got them, but they're old (Rolan didn't have another use for them), so the Gondolier calls them out. One Eye hits him with a trance dart, making him stoned, but his co-boater sends up a flare, summoning the other Gondoliers. Copper splashes him in the face with rage essences, driving him berserk, and throws him overboard to slow down the Gondoliers, and the scoundrels take off. 

Realizing that they're still being pursued, though, they slip under a bridge and work together to blow it up. The bridge crashes down and the scoundrels escape into Nightmarket's canals...and next time, we'll finish up the score and have some downtime. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Tale of Two Kickstarters

OK, so check this out. We've got two superhero-themed RPG Kickstarters, launched within day of each other. I backed one of them. I think a little examination would be instructive.

Kickstarter Number One: Superhero 2044

So, first, we have Superhero 2044. Now, this is a reboot, if you will, of the game first published in 1977, apparently the first professionally produced supers RPG, predating TSR's Marvel Superheroes. I never played (or even heard of, weirdly) Superhero 2044, but I love me some supers gaming, so I checked out this Kickstarter when it came across my feed. 

Well, anyway, when the first version did. See, it was launched with a goal of $100,000 (since it included miniatures) and...didn't take off like a shot, let's say. So the creator decided to cancel it and relaunched without the minis, just creating the book. Solid strategy, first go-round might have been too ambitious. So he relaunches...with a goal of $100. 

OK, look. Kickstarter is not a store, and yes, some folks (creators and backers) treat it that way. But if all that's standing between you and publishing a huge book (I don't see a page count on the KS page, but frankly the wall of text is a little hard to parse) is a fucking c-note, then, like, borrow a hundred bucks from a buddy and publish that puppy yourself. 

But that weird decision, and the horrible format of the KS text, and the just all-over-the-map artwork taken from multiple sources aren't the problem. Here's the problem. 

That's a screengrab from the RPG Kickstarter News Facebook group. The commenter (Mark Thompson) is the KS creator, who apparently bought the rights to Superhero 2044 from the original creator. The context here is that the person he's talking to raise the question of whether he was legally allowed to use the word "superhero" (since it's held as a trademark by Marvel and DC), and to use characters like "Thor" and "Black Panther" in the context of being superheroes (since, although "Thor" as the god of thunder is unlikely to be trademarked, "Thor" in this particular context might well raise an eyebrow). Thompson had similar questions raised on his initial Kickstarter, and responded similarly: 

Now, I'm not a lawyer. There's interesting discussion revolving around the trademark that Marvel and DC hold on the word "superhero", how it's applied, whether it can or has been successfully defended - I don't know and I don't much care. That alone probably wouldn't compel me not to back a Kickstarter. The disrespect shown to backers and to just random folks asking questions, though, that very much would put me off (and did). And that's before we get into use ableist slurs. 

Kickstarter Number Two: Metahumans Rising Redux

This one came to my notice yesterday when a friend backed it. It's called "Redux," I think, because the creators launched it once before and weren't successful. It looks like a supers game - there's very little info about the system on the KS page, which isn't a red flag per se but it's definitely a strike against. The artwork, though, is lovely, features some POC and some women, and the goal seems reasonable for what they're doing. 

This, to me, is what Kickstarter is meant to do - help creators who want to get a project off the ground and can do (or commission) the work but don't have the cash to make it happen. So, shit yeah, I backed this one. And I don't know, maybe it crashes and burns, or doesn't fund, or it funds and the product is meh. I don't know, but I'm willing to give it a shot, because more games is better than fewer games, and I like superheroes. 

And also because when I asked what the system was like, I got this response: 

See? Not hard to be respectful. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Promethean: Meeting of the Scary People

Last night was Promethean. The session involved playing a lot of NPCs, which is something I usually try to avoid (like, I don't mind NPCs but I don't like playing a bunch at once), but I think I manage to make them distinct. It also involved factions of various supernatural forces coming together, which can feel really corny (like, I've played in OWoD games where it's like "we're having a meeting at Elysium, and here's the rep from the fucking Technocracy, which is a totally normal thing!"), but I think it worked pretty well. I do try and keep city supernatural culture in mind, and New Orleans seems like the kind of place that would have more of a community.

Anyway! The characters meet up at the DeVries mansion for their meeting; Avalon was, of course, already there (in a sparkly dress!) having spent the day with DeVries. Folks arrive severally: Jesse "Burning-Bones" Cartwright, a werewolf. Pearl Chastain, a vampire. Anita Guiterrez, a Sin-Eater. Charon arrived with two other mages (Mort and Sebek). Carroll (whose last name is Zachary).

Skip talks with Jesse about ghosts and spirits, and Jesse gives him kind of a 101: Spirits get more powerful by eating others like them, but if they eat something else, they can become magath, weird hybrid spirits. Ghosts are basically people-spirits, which means that, like, people, they're unpredictable. A chaos-spirit like Nergal is acting chaotic because that's it's nature, but at least you can trust that it'll act that way reliably. He mentions, too, that every spirit has a Ban and a Bane, a way to repel it and a way to kill it. The more powerful the spirit, the more complicated or obscure its weakness. Jesse also asks Feather if the man she killed deserves it (Jesse has a sense about these things), and notes that Avalon is the only one of the throng who's "clean."

Pearl chatters happily (and flirtily) with Grimm and then Matt. She laments that New Orleans has moved away from the blossoming town it was back in "her day" (the 19th century). Anita warns Grimm that the tone of this meeting might turn ugly quickly - the throng might wind up exiled if things don't go well.

The whole party moves into the conference room, and since the throng is such a...well, a throng, the assemblage chooses one of the characters to speak for the throng: Skip. The others kind of look nervous, but Skip acquits himself well. He summarizes what happened with Red and answers their questions to the best of his knowledge, and while Enoch nearly blows the whole thing by being rude (DeVries shoots him a please don't fuck this up sort of look), by the end of it the other factions agree to help the throng in tracking down and killing this thing. Grimm, also, blurts out that Feather punched Skip off the mountain in Colorado, which led to him landing in the Hedge - this of course is the first time Skip has heard about that. Skip achieves a milestone for enduring social pressure without lashing out, achieving his Martyr Role.

Afterwards, the assemblage moves back into the front room for dessert. Skip hits the bar, and Matt tries to talk to Feather, but she's not in the mood. Pearl questions Grimm about what happens if a vampire tries to feed from one of them, and Grimm says he isn't sure but he's willing to find out. They go out into the garden, where Matt is wandering sulkily. Pearl bites Grimm...and then turns, wretches, spits out yellow bile (Frankensteins don't have blood) and lunges at him.

Meanwhile, Skip approaches Feather. She apologizes - she was in the midst of Torment when she punched him off the mountain and doesn't even remember doing it. Skip, who recently had his own bout with Torment, understands and forgives her, and achieves his ceratio milestone: Confront Feather.

Matt runs in to tell DeVries and bring the rest of the throng, but Pearl has already put Grimm in a headlock and starts ripping open his neck. The others arrive and pull them apart, and Pearl gets herself under control - she's terribly embarrassed. Grimm handles the situation nicely ("Lesson learned!") and they head back into the party. Pearl insists on replacing his shirt.

Jesse, meanwhile, talks with Matt. Matt claims to have died and that the end of the Pilgrimage shows a way "back" to the people they were, but Jesse talks him through this misconception - James Canaday died. Matt rose up, and is alive. The death that happened wasn't James', so the life that follows can't be his, either. Matt thanks him, and the party starts winding down.

The throng asks Jesse to check out the remains of the camp, to see if any lingering spiritual instability would make it unsuitable for baiting Red. Skip agrees to go with him. Avalon catches a ride back to town with Carroll, and the others wait for a cab. Matt decides to walk. It's a nice night.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Deadlands: Legacy of the Red Fist

Saturday I ran a session in my occasional Deadlands game. It was long (we didn't have multiple sessions so we devoted basically a whole day to it), so let's get into it.

So, the game as a whole is here, but most of these characters weren't present. Sheriff Mark has given up on his quest for vengeance and settled into his life in law enforcement in Novygrad. Lillie Carmicheal, likewise, has a schoolhouse to mind, and Nikolai's adventuring days are long behind him. But Sam Kelt - also known as "Shortstop" - still wants to find out what really happened to his parents and why (his master, Chen, died of cancer a few months back) and Suzi Love, the devotee of the loa Erzulie, is going with him to keep an eye on him. Deputy George, too, goes along in case they need something shot.

They first stop in Denver and take a meeting with Mina Devlin. Since the Black River Railroad was involved in the Kelts' death and Sam knows it, they figure she's got information for them. She agrees to talk to them, but only if Suzi returns her magic whip. Suzi doesn't exactly have pleasant memories of the thing, and agrees. Mina tells them that the answers they seek can be found in Shan Fan, far to the west on the edge of the Great Maze. Sam's parents worked for Union Blue railroad, but Iron Dragon Rail was the company that really orchestrated their deaths.

And so we cut to several weeks later when the three of them arrive Shan Fan. As they're putting their horses into the livery, they see a warehouse nearby, in which there's a bit of a scuffle - a bunch of tong are beating the shit out of a guy in gambler's garb. Shortstop, not liking the 8-to-1 odds and not wanting to watch someone get murdered, intervenes, whereupon the factory foreman squares off with him. Said foreman is a martial artist, too.

Suzi throws Fear at a bunch of them, but the characters aren't alone. A frontierswoman, there to sell ghost rocks, jumps in to help protect the gambler. A young kid, too, sneaks in out of curiosity and then throws a blast of energy from a weird gauntlet, stunning a bunch of the tong.

Shortstop trades kicks and punches with the foreman, and the foreman recognizes Shortstop's style. "You are a student of Red Fist Chen!" he says. "Killing you will bring honor and glory." Whereupon, he slices open Shortstop's neck with his fingers.

Problem is, Sam has Suzi on his side, and she heals him. The frontierswoman shoots the ghost rock lantern and it falls to the floor, setting the building on fire. The tong scatter, and Suzi calls up elemental magic and sucks the whole fire into one tiny burning feather (seriously, she rolled like five raises). The characters realize that the foreman has fled, leaving more questions. They head back to the inn that George was setting up rooms in to talk this over.

The frontierswoman introduces herself as Jolee Jessup; she was just there to sell ghost rock to the tong, as she does. The little kid calls himself "Specs," after the glasses he's always adjusting, and he has something of a fixation on ghost rock, too. The gambler, it turns out, is a Pinkerton named Harold Faire, here in town looking for a fugitive named Rattlesnake James (George offers to help find him, but Faire says he's happy to help out Sam first - he's not even sure James is in Shan Fan). The characters sit down to dinner at the Strangled Serpent and start eating, trying to figure out their next move. Shortstop is disconcerted by the fact that the foreman referred to Chen as "Red Fist;" he isn't sure what that means. Specs, having lived on the streets in Shan Fan, recognizes the name as something the tongs use with fear and reverence. Red Fist was a kind of bogeyman.

And then Jolee collapses, Sam and Harold get slurred and sleepy, and Suzi and Specs start blinking. Their food has been drugged (George isn't affected, but he arrived late).

They hear people being cleared out of the dining room (they're in a private room), and George goes to investigate and gets punched in the face for his trouble. It's the foreman, Wan, again, with his muscle, come back for Shortstop. A fight seems imminent, but Harold throws down a playing card and the whole room goes black, and Specs shows them a way out into the city and a place to hide. Seems Harold is a huckster.

They meet up at Specs' hovel, and realize that they're being watched. They decide to sleep on it.

The next morning, Shortstop goes up to the roof to do his exercises and clear his head. He talks to a crow and asks about Chen (showing the crow a picture), and the crow recognizes the old man. He was a brutal warrior and killer, the crow says, called "Red Fist" because he was capable of splitting a man's head with a single punch. Shortstop is taken aback - the Chen he knew was an old, humble, quiet man, capable of fighting, sure, but not at all violent. He talks to the others and they decide to go to the Iron Dragon railroad headquarters and ask about Shortstop's parents.

The assistant they talk to shows them into a boardroom, where they find one man waiting for them: Master Kang, the owner of Iron Dragon Rail. He admits to know Sam's parents, but taunts him, saying that Chen didn't teach him enough. He then says that he's face Sam in a fight - if he knocks Kang down, Kang will tell him everything. If he knocks Sam down, Sam agrees to leave Shan Fan forever (Suzi clarifies this means "leave unharmed"). Sam agrees. Suzi tells him he's going to lose (and Specs is terrified of Kang, and shows it), but Sam says "A warrior does not run."

Kang utterly demolishes him in less than a minute. Sam is unable to so much as land a blow, and Kang remains relaxed, flowing away from Sam's attacks like a branch in a breeze. Finally Kang gets bored and strikes so fast that the others can't see it, knocking the wind out of Sam and putting him on the ground.

The characters leave town and go to Jolee's camp outside the city. Sam is despondent, and asks Suzi for a big favor - he needs to talk to Chen. Suzi hesitates; Chen is dead, and communing with the dead is dangerous. First, they decide, Suzi and Harold will go to the trainyard and see if they find anything there.

They arrive and talk with the workers, but one them points to Harold and says, "Pinkerton! Your friends are here! I told them you were here!" Harold looks nervous...and then four Pinkertons show up and arrest him. They're about reading to shoot him right there (apparently "Harold" is actually a gambler named Jonathan Hart, who killed Harold Faire and took his badge). Suzi stops them from killing him, saying that they need to follow the law, and the Pinkertons agree. Suzi realizes, though, that they're just going to take him out of town and hang him.

She races to get the others, and Specs uses his tech to see through Hart's eyes. They find that the Pinkertons are at the edge of the Maze, and about to push Hart over the edge. The characters ride up and confront the Pinkertons; the lawmen fight them and Jolee has to shoot a couple, a couple get thrown over the edge, and the last one surrenders. Suzi dresses him down for being about to murder a suspect, and sends him and his wounded compatriots on their way. Clearly, though, Hart's not out of the woods.

The others are annoyed at Hart for lying to them and putting them in this position, but they fall back to the camp, and Suzi agrees to perform the ritual for Sam.

The ritual takes days, but they eventually sink into a trance, and Sam finds Chen washing clothes. "A shirt gets bloody," says Chen, "and it can never be not-bloody. It can be clean enough, so clean you can't see the blood, but the blood remains."

Sam asks about Chen's past, and Chen admits it - he was a violent, brutal man. He worked for Iron Dragon, and he was there when Sam's parents were driven into a canyon. He was there to make sure they were dead, but not to kill them - that was someone from Black River. He isn't sure of all of the particulars because that wasn't his job. But over the trip, he became friends with the Kelts. He was unable to save them, but their son, Sam, was riding with him when they were killed, and Chen left Iron Dragon and took up residence in what became Novygrad.

Sam says that he wants revenge, and asks who will teach him now that Chen is dead. Chen says that he didn't teach Sam everything he knew because what he knew was murder - he didn't want Sam to become the next Red Fist. Sam was something else - "Shortstop." Sam needs to find a way to become a master on his own, to find his own style. He tells Sam that while a warrior never quits, a wise man knows when to walk away.

Sam, says Chen, has a choice. He can pursue this matter and try to learn the truth, or he can go back to Novygrad and find peace. Sam asks how, and Chen tells him to ask Lillie, Mark, or Nikolai - all people with fraught and violent pasts who settled into fulfilling lives. Sam asks if Chen can find peace, and Chen says he found his peace the day he made a home with Sam.

Sam returns to the waking world, and tells the others than he can find answers with Chen's old rival, Steel Gaze...also known as Wan.

Suzi and Jolee go into town and talk with Wan, who agrees to meet Sam in a neutral place - the Seven Devils Plateau. Sounds benign enough. Specs, though, notes that it's not, it's down a big stone staircase and near the water, enough that sea beasts sometimes jump out. It's a treacherous place for a fight.

The two groups meet on the Plateau - the tong and the characters - and Sam talks with Wan. Wan reveals that the Iron Dragon and the Black River were feuding with the Union Blue railroad - the railroad that employed the Kelts as surveyors. They were scouting out land for a new Union Blue line, but if they died suddenly and did not send word back, Iron Dragon could sweep in and claim the land for its own line. Black River agreed to kill them, in exchange for use of the new line for a predetermined number of years (that time had just expired, in fact).

So who really killed the Kelts? Wan didn't know. He'd arranged their deaths, but it had never been personal. Probably the men who really did it were in Mina Devil's employ, and at that time such rough characters were probably based in the town of Coffin Rock, north of Denver. "Everything is complicated," says Wan. "You want it to be simple, but it never is simple." He tenses to fight.

"A warrior never quits," says Sam, "but a wise man knows when to walk away." And he and the others start up the staircase.

They have a long ride ahead of them back to Colorado. Hart decides to ride with them because he knows his days are number alone. Jolee figures it's time to go east for a while, and Specs has nothing better to do here in Shan Fan. Maybe he can find some interesting ghost rock to play with back there?

"Besides," says Suzi, "Nikolai would love you all."

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Movie #422: Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is, of course, the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy, starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautisa, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, and Elizabeth Debicki. And that's not even touching on the host of secondary characters.

So: Some time after the Guardians save the galaxy from Ronan, they're taking odd jobs and wind up crash-landing on a planet after pissing off the Sovereign, the high priestess of which (Debicki) takes shit like Rocket (Cooper) stealing their batteries very seriously. They then meet a celestial being called Ego (Russell) who turns out to be the father of Peter Quill (Pratt), and wants to show him how to manipulate the power cosmic (so that they can infect the universe together, but Ego doesn't lead with that information).

Meanwhile, Gamora (Saldana) runs afoul of her adopted sister Nebula (Gillan), who betrays the Guardians to Yondu (Rooker), the leader of the Ravagers, and everything kinda turns upside-down. Eventually Yondu kills the rest of the Ravagers following a mutiny (with the exception of Kraglin (Sean Gunn), who started said mutiny but has a change of heart), and assists the Guardians and Nebula in killing Ego before he can destroy the universe.

So, I know that most of that gibberish if you don't know the characters, but that's actually good - this movie builds on the first movie and you can see growth and movement in the characters. Groot (Diesel) is a literal child in this movie, impulsive and reckless and emotional, but the others treat him like one and all act as caregivers. Rocket in particular is willing to give himself up to save Groot; when the Ravagers capture him that's his only request. Drax (Bautisa) is still pretty awkward by human communication standards, but he's obviously learning about figurative language and other such concepts. Gamora and Peter are dealing with a mutual attraction, but Peter isn't creepy about it.

And then there's Yondu, holy shit. Spoiler alert: Yondu sacrifices himself to save Peter at the end, because he realizes that he thinks of himself as Peter's real father, even if Ego was his biological father. It's literally the first time in the MCU that a heroic death has meant anything (Coulson in Avengers came close, but then they had to bring him back for the show and it got weird; Groot in the first Guardians was good in-universe, but we watching the movie knew he wasn't going anywhere).

This movie is full of real emotional moments; two of my favorites are: Mantis (Klementieff) touching Drax while the latter is thinking about his family so that we get to see Drax' grief and love through Mantis, even if Drax is far too repressed to show it. And then Quill telling Yondu, "hell, yeah, he's cool" after telling Yondu he looks like Mary Poppins - it's meant as a joke at first, but then becomes a nod of respect and lover for his father.

I'm not saying the movie is perfect (the banter between Drax and Mantis never quite works for me), but in general I think this is a great sequel - it doesn't insult us by redefining characters and it introduces some new characters into the mix, but doesn't overdo it.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Heat

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Deadlands Prep: Into the Black River

So! Waaaaay back in 2011 when my stepsons were tweens, I started running a game of Deadlands. We played a few stories over the years, but never frequently (due to distance). Today, though, we are playing what might be the final story in the campaign (but you never know).

Michelle and Al feel that their characters' stories have kinda run down, so they made new characters. Teagan is joining us, so she made a character last night. Will and Sarah are sticking with their original characters, so today, we finally get to find out what really happened to Shortstop's parents.

Players, if you happen to be reading this, stop here.