Saturday, December 30, 2017

Character Creation: Breaking the Ice

I was thinking about romance and love in RPGs today, and honestly I don't have anything profound to say on the subject that folks smarter than haven't already said.

I will say, though, that I came at RPGs from kind of a weird place; my first players (well, not first, but what I would consider my first real players) were theater kids, not gamers. Also a lot of them were women, and so they approached gaming by thinking about character and motivation and relationships rather than (or in addition to) powerz (remember too that I started with Marvel Superheroes, not D&D).

What that means is that I had years of gaming where relationships weren't a joke before I played D&D with dudebros, and the "wench" lines started to come out. And even then, mostly I was into horror games, and that led me to World of Darkness, and my first WoD game was Wraith, which of course is all about relationships (well, it's about a lot of things).

All of this to say: One of my favorite moments in gaming ever was playing in a mixed WoD game with lots of homebrew craziness, wherein a player (male) got down on one knee to propose, in character, to his character's girlfriend, played by the Storyteller (also male). It was a really beautiful moment, one of the best I've ever seen, and there was nothing violent or even conflicted about it, and it was only possible because of the level of trust and work that this group had.

Games that are about romance and love and so on, specifically about that, are hard to play for a lot of folks because it's not what they're used to, and because they require a level of trust that other in-game activities don't, and because they require men, specifically, to access a lot of shit that we're socialized not to express. But man, you get the people together and it makes for such a fantastic time.

With all of that in mind:

The Game: Breaking the Ice
The Publisher: Black & Green Games
Degree of Familiarity: Haven't played it, just read it. It's short.
Books Required: Just the one.

Making a character for this game solo is going to be hard, because everything - chargen included - is built around two people making characters together. I'm going to be taking some liberties with the game, as such, but I'll try and stick as close to the process as I can.

The first step would be establishing a romance genre and a rating. Because it's just me and therefore this character won't actually get played, I'll opt for the steamier end of things and take inspiration from erotic/sexual romances like Original Sin, 9 1/2 Weeks and (yeah, fuck it) 50 Shades of Grey. Sure, there are problematic elements of all of those, but there are problematic elements in pretty much any genre of romance you can name, so we'd just have to work through them. Let's assume the rating we're working with here is an R - sex can happen onscreen, but the more graphic elements don't get shown.

OK, so then we do a thing called the Switch. That's where each player takes on (for purposes of the character) an element of the other player. Since I don't have another player, this is all very hypothetical. The obvious one is gender (that is, I would play as the gender of my other player, if it's different than mine), but again, I don't have another player, so let's assume I'm staying male.

Since sex and the exploration thereof is a part of the genre, let's assume that the Switch I'm making is that the character I'm playing is submissive (the S bit of BDSM).

Next thing is a Word Web. I'm to choose my character's favorite color. I'll pick green, why not. At this point, I'd write "green" on a sheet of paper, circle it, and then I and the other player would take turns writing words branching off the color or off those words until we have 12. However, since, again, it's just me, I'll do these 12 m'self. Scuse me a minute.

OK, so that gives me:

Green --> forest --> hike --> lost
New --> fear --> excited --> anxiety
Life --> growing --> plants --> garden --> food

Not bad. I use these words to build Traits. Traits are divided into Self, Work, and Play, and they're inspired by the words I've used in my Web.

Well, looking at this, I get the feeling that my character is either young or sheltered in some other way. He's either outdoorsy or wants to be, and potentially works in a capacity that lets him grow things or does so as a hobby.

Let's say he grew up on a farming commune, with a group of people who were isolationist, but not creepy or violent about it. He learned how to farm, grow things, and prepare food, but living in a city (even a fairly small one; as an aside, my mother used to teach at Defiance College and it was amusing to hear her students refer to Toledo as "the big city") would be new and scary to him. But he's doing it now - why? I think I'll hang onto that question for now.

So for my Self traits, I'll put down Sheltered, Grew Up on a Farming Commune, Bad Sense of Direction. For Work, I'll put down Works for a Restaurant, Grower/Gardener, and Poor (what he does doesn't pay well, but in romances even people with low-paying jobs can afford apartments). For Play, I'll put down Hikes in Parks (it's too hard to get a real forest) and Likes to Watch People Eat (like, eat together).

Neat! So now I need a Conflict; this is something that will cause an issue on our first date. I have money issues, but in the genre we're dealing with, that would cause a power imbalance that frankly I don't find all that sexy or fun. I think, instead, we'll say that his family is looking for him. That implies that he left the commune under less-than-ideal circumstances, lets us play in a kind of "fish out of water" sort of arena, and sets up some interesting conflict down the line. Given the genre, there's potentially enough of an edge that it could be dire or scary, but it could just as easily be silly or farcical.

That's really it for chargen; we'd decide on a setting at this point, but "medium-sized city" sounds about right. I'd want the "movie" to start in late spring when everything's blooming.

Oh, I do need a name, though. Let's call this guy...I kinda want a hippie name, something plausible but weird. Oh, wait, I got it. His name is Patroclus (Achilles' lover). He goes by "Pat" in his new life, but I like the reference to classical Greek. This movie might well have a larger "battle of Troy" theme going on, with a talented screenwriter. I also think his mother, still back on the commune and played by Sharon Stone or Diane Lane or someone like that, might wind up being a kind quasi-antagonist.

That's me done, then!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Character Creation: Mage: The Ascension 20th Etc.

It's late, but I'm feeling restless, and Toasty's been asking me to do this game.

The Game: Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Quite a bit with the previous editions of the game. I haven't played or run this edition, though looking at it, it all looks pretty familiar (which of course is appropriate).
Books Required: Just the one, I hope, good grief, it's 700 freaking pages.

I played a lot of Mage back in the day. It's actually the most recent OWoD game I've played (not run, that was Changeling and then Demon before that), in a group that I was in right after I moved back from Atlanta (less said the better). The last Ascension game I ran kinda-sorta wound up forming the basis for the Mage: The Awakening starter chronicle (which you can find here; it's listed as an Ennie nominee but it actually won the silver Ennie that year, thanks very much). Anyway, my point is that I love Mage and I'm getting kinda nostalgic thinking about it.

So, I haven't done a character with a theme song in a while, but as I was thinking about this game, this song came into my head:


To me, the song is about staying positive, or at least active, in the face of the inexorable march of time. That works thematically for Changeling, but also for Mage, which also has themes of clinging to one's beliefs and passions in the wake of "progress." As I'm getting older, I reflect on how angrily, brazenly passionate I was in my youth, and on the one hand, I wish I'd been just a bit smarter and a whole lot kinder. At the same time, though, I miss being ready to jump into the fire if that's what passion demanded.

With all of that in mind, Step One is character concept, as usual. There's a list of concepts, and "night owl" sticks with me. I want to play a character who's pretty much nocturnal by choice (unlike my Vampire characters, who are pretty much stuck that way). He's a busboy, waiter, sometime line cook at a greasy spoon in [wherever this game is set]. He was a college student, but dropped out when he talked to his older sister and realized that a degree just doesn't mean what it used to - if he was going to be stuck working shitty jobs, at least he could be without quite so much debt. So he shares a studio with a couple of other guys, but doesn't really see them because they work days, which is when he sleeps. His name is Zachery Sibress.

Next thing is Affiliation. I know I don't want to be a Technocrat. Tradition or Disparate, then? Oh, hey, Traditions get to choose from several affinity Spheres nowadays. And what's this "Data" thing? Guess some things did change. Anyway, I don't see this guy as being a big Tradition person; I think Zachary is more a fan of the DIY aesthetic of the Disparates. I don't want to be an Orphan, though, I want some structure. Let's go Hollow Ones.

And then Nature and Demeanor. I think I like Prophet as Nature. Zachary speaks truth to power in a Cassandra kind of way; Troy's going to fall and no one wants to hear it, but he's gonna say it anyway. I'll put Loner as Demeanor even though it makes me cringe (it's hard to play loners in an RPG without being insufferable). I think Zachary's Essence is pretty obviously Questing.

Step Two is Attributes. 7/5/3, party like it's 1995.

Well, I think Zachary probably needs Social as primary, Mental secondary, Physical tertiary. Let's put two dots into all of the Social Attributes and then the last one into Charisma. Zachary makes an impression. I'll specialize it in Trustworthy.

For Mental, I'll put one in each, and then the other two into Perception (I have literally never regretted giving a character a high Perception score. In fact, I once played a Vampire character with Perception 5 and Intelligence 1; he could see 2+2 all day, but could not make 4. But I digress). I need a specialty, but nothing comes to mind, so I'll sit on that for a while.

Physical, just 1 into each sounds good. Might raise Stamina later.

Step Three is Abilities, with this janky-ass OWoD distribution. 13/9/5, you say. Oh, and Mage has Secondary Abilities, which I think is a bad idea because there's already too much granularity, but whatevs, I don't have to buy them.

Well, given Zachary's kinda gritty life, Talents as primary would seem wise. I think Knowledges can be secondary, and Skills tertiary. Hokay then.

Talents: Three in Streetwise, two in Empathy, three in Alertness (again, never regretted being perceptive). Let's take one in Art, I guess? Wait, I'm gonna shave one off Alertness to put it in Athletics, and I'll put one in Brawl, and one in Subterfuge. Two in Awareness, and that's good.

Skills: One each in Drive, Mediation, Research, Stealth and Survival.

Knowledges: One in Academics, Computer, and Science (all from his year in college) and two in Enigmas, Occult, and Politics (from his time with the Hollow Ones).

Step Four: Advantages. Which pretty much means Backgrounds. I get 7 dots, and there are a bunch. Let's check it out.

Well, I'm sure I'll want Arcane and Avatar, because those are fun, but I kinda want Contacts. I see Zachary as the kind of guy that folks talk to at 3AM over really shitty food. As such, he's hooked into the night-owl community; folks who work 3rd shift, folks with insomnia, folks carrying out the orders of their undead masters (wait, what?), and so on. I'll throw three dots into Contacts and one each into Arcane and Avatar, but I might come back to this with freebies later.

The other part of Step Four is to think about paradigm and focus, which have changed a bit in this edition. Basically I need to think about Zachary's type of magic, and I think he's very caught up in nightlife. Like, sure, there's the music scene and the drug scene and those things happen after dark, but there's a stillness to the city once you crest 2AM and the bars close. The diner he works at is open, sure. Gas stations. And there are some folks that just don't sleep. But in that stillness, he can hear the truth as the city whispers (and if he ever goes into the country, he'll learn that the rural areas have their own voices).

Zachary's magick, therefore, is very bound up in listening to voices that the hustle and bustle of the daytime world drowns out. His foci, then, include silence, meditation, chants, music (but music with repetitive beats and a lot of bass), salt (pour a pile of salt and blow on it, and watch the patterns), dice, and food and cooking (you share a meal with someone and you learn about them quickly).

Step Five is finishing touches, starting with Spheres. I get 6 dots, starting with my Affinity, but Hollow Ones can take whatever they want. OK, now I have to look at these rules a bit. They don't look too different, actually. I'm gonna take one in Correspondence, one in Entropy, two in Spirit, and two in Time.

I get 5 in Willpower, 1 in Arete, nothing in Paradox. I get 1 in Quintessence so far, but I might raise Avatar with freebies.

Speaking of which, next up is 15 freebies. Unless I wish to take Flaws. Just a moment. Oh, wait, never mind. The Merits & Flaws section is seriously truncated and I don't much like how it's done. Gonna skip it.

OK, so I have to raise Arete to two because it can't be lower than my highest Sphere (argh, this is not something I missed; I always said that mages basically start with Arete 3 and 7 freebies, since they effectively have to spend 8 to raise Arete to be useful, but since I'm not gonna play this guy I guess I'll leave it at 2). I'll burn two to raise Avatar, which means I've spent 6. I'll spend 5 to raise Stamina to 3, and with the last one I'll raise...let's say Willpower.

That's the end of chargen; the rest of it gets into beliefs and history and so on, but I've kinda done that already. I think that Zachary's path would involve learning to use Prime, Matter, Forces, or Life and figuring how those things fit into his paradigm. To him, magick is very ephemeral and...sleepy, I guess. I think his paradigm separates magick into "daytime" and "nighttime" Spheres, and he's very much on the "nighttime" side of things.

I gotta say, although I have my usual quibbles with the OWoD system, Mage remains a really compelling game.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Character Creation: Alas for the Awful Sea

Here we go!

The Game: Alas for the Awful Sea
The Publisher: Storybrewers Roleplaying
Degree of Familiarity: None yet, though this game is on my list for 2018.
Books Required: Just the one.

Alas for the Awful Sea is a low-fantasy PbtA game set in the remote British Isles around the turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is). It's meant to explore why people hate and what they're afraid of, conflict between tradition and progress, poverty, starvation, fishing, myth and legend, that kind of thing. I'm looking forward to running it, though I suspect that played well it's going to be very sad. I like sad RPGs, though.

Anyway, like most PbtA games, my first order of business is to choose a playbook and print it. Also like most PbtA games, this is going to be quick because the real meat of chargen happens with a group, and it's just me for this project.

So, for my playbook, I'll choose...hmm. I don't think I want the Captain. I know I don't want the Boatswain because I played something very much like that in a Savage Worlds game some time ago. Likewise, I don't want the Cook; I've played cooks (or at least made them for this project). Scholar's out for the same reason. Merchant, Strider, Old Sea Dog. Hmm.

I kinda like Strider, especially if I spun it more towards navigation and reading the stars. Yeah, I think I'll go with that.

Going in the order laid out in the book, I'll start with a name. I don't much like the name options here, so I'll name my Strider Diarmid Craig. For appearance, I'll circle man for gender, faraway for eyes, honest for face, reedy for body, and versatile oilskin coat for dress.

I think Bonds is the next thing, but that requires a group so I'll skip it. Stats, then. Unlike the other playbooks, the Strider gets to allocate all of the stats (the others have a +2) already in place. I get a +2, two +1s, a 0, and a -1 to place.

Well, I know I want the +2 in Beyond so I can do the otherworldly shit well. That also plays into my special move (Innate Compass), as it happens. I'll put +1s in Brains and Balance, the 0 in Brawn, and the -1 in Beauty. I tend to make things worse when I try to convince or bargain.

Right, what's next? A Descriptor! These, coupled with the playbooks, create a unique axis for each character. I could be a Creature, for instance, and be overtly supernatural, or I could a Lover and my arc is more about my relationship with whomever. Let's take a look.

Well, the Kinsman and the Lover rely too much on other PCs, so I'm not using them. The Believer doesn't really do it for me, to no one's great surprise. The Confidant sounds pretty cool, but let's check the others. Ooh, Outcast or Creature. Hrm. I like them both.

You know, my impulse to leave Creature for "someone else," but there is no one else, so I'm gonna grab it. OK, cool. So my first thing is define my True Form. I need to decide what I am. I could go digging around in Scottish myth for a while, but I'm gonna say I'm a crow. A stormcrow. That sounds good.

I'm from the sky, obviously. When I assume my true form, I'm very small (crow-sized), and I have wings. I think Diarmid looks more or less like a real crow in that form, but his eyes remain blue and keep that faraway quality to them. I can call upon my True Form to do cool things, and I can call other stormcrows in a pinch. Neat.

I think it'd be fun to play this character out and figure out why Diarmid took human form. Being "from the sky" it's easy to say he fell, angel-style, but I also like the notion that he fell in love with the sky so much that only by being on the ground could he gaze upwards. There's some tragic poetry there.

And that's me done.



Monday, December 25, 2017

Character Creation: Vampire Hunter$

I have to assume you pronounce that "vampire hunterCHA-CHING." Kinda unwieldy.

The Game: Vampire Hunter$
The Publisher: Nightshift Games, at least this edition. Googling the game's title brings up my game index on the first page, so that kinda indicates to me that not much is going on with this game lately.
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, the back of the book says that Nightshift Game is "a tiny little division of Crunchy Frog Games," but that doesn't tell me much more. Reading through the book, it's pretty damn basic. Like, modern day, except monsters are real, and you're working for a company that hunts them. That's an interesting premise if you dig into it a little (are they incorporated? What do they officially do, since the world at large doesn't acknowledge that monsters exist?), but the game doesn't seem to (though I admit I'm skimming). It feels very 90s as I'm reading it, though the system seems pretty simple, which is good. Let's dig into chargen.

OK, characters are made of Talents, Knacks, and Faults. Cool, very few numbers. I get 10 dice in Talents, but no more than 3 in any one, so I have to have at least four. Neato. Guess maybe I should think about concept, eh?

Well, the usual "vampires killed my family" thing would work, but eh. What about someone more like Winston Zeddmore from Ghostbusters? Someone who's not necessarily personally invested in the job, but needs the paycheck.

Wait, hang on. This is weird. John Carpenter's movie Vampires was based on a novel by John Steakley called Vampire$, wherein the characters work for a company called Vampire$, Inc. The game lists copyrights in 1995 and 1999, the novel came out in 1990. I can't believe that's a coincidence, but I don't know what conclusion to draw.

Anyway, I still like my "working guy" idea for a character. I think that he fell into the job after his family-owned exterminator business went out of business. He went from cleaning out rat colonies to shoot werewolves. It's a living.

So, Talents, then. I'll take Authority 2, Bureaucracy 2, Computer Programming 1, Investigation 2, and Science (Chemistry) 3. There are far too many of these.

OK, Knacks, then. Umm...Knacks are just Talents that give you a static +1 die. What boring-ass game design. I get 5 of these. I'll take Stealth, Memory, Non-Descript, Mechanic, and Electronics.

There are only 4 lines for Knacks on the sheet. Geez.

And, finally, Faults. I get one by default (lol), and if my GM agrees I could take more and get more Talent dice, but eh. Let's look through them and see if anything looks appropriate. I think I'll take Out of Shape; my guy isn't much of an athlete and has no military training. He's a bit on the heavy side and spent a lot of time in his truck or at his desk. Probably he should do some carido at some point; he'll get around to it.

Well, that's the last of the numbers (I should figure out Hits, but there's nowhere on the sheet to put it). So, just some more background stuff, then.

Nicholas "Nick" Balladino is the most recent owner of 'Dino Brothers Extermination Services (they got in trouble in the 60s for putting Dino from The Flintstones on their van, but that was Nick's uncle who did that). Nick inherited the business from his father, and then the economy tanked and he went under. His extended family still hasn't forgiven him, and he figures that if builds up a few grand, he can get it going again - he's already talked to the bank about a loan. This new outfit paid well, but he'd never heard of them, so he figured his experience as an exterminator would be useful.

He was right, but holy shit.

Nick had never encountered the supernatural before, and now he's trying to work silver nitrate into everything. He's good with chemicals but he's used to killing bugs, not bloodsuckers. On some level, though, he's gotta admit this is exciting shit. Like, you can only get so jazzed clearing out wasps' nests, but ghouls' nests? That's something else again.

Nick is in his 40s, black hair, full beard with some grey, kinda pudgy 'round the middle. Favors button-down shirts (you want to be able to get a shirt off quickly if a bunch of spiders crawl into it), work boots, jeans.

And that's me done! This game...there really ain't much to it, is there? Even when it was new, I think my response might have been "yeah, and?"


Board Game: Shear Panic

Xmas Day, a traditional time for board games about sheep.

The Game: Shear Panic
The Publisher: Fragor Games
Time: 20-30 minutes
Players: Me, +Michelle, Teagan, Cael

Discombobulated Sheep
Game Play: Shear Panic goes in four stages (fields, if you will). In the first, you try and get your two sheep (see how they're colored?) next to each other. In the second, you try to get them in the front row, near Roger the Ram. In the third, you try to get them next to the black sheep. In the last, you try to get them far away from the Shearer Sheep, whom I must assume is some kind of traitor to sheep-kind.

Lookit that bastard.
The sheep start out in a tight little square, but immediately get jostled around by a "lamb slam." That's not a shot in a charcuterie, it's just a nudge of one sheep or another that moves all the others in line, too. From there, on to the first field.

Play progresses using cards that give each player 12 different choices for moves, including a lamb slam, a line push (move sheep orthogonally), a diagonal push (duh), ewe-turn (get it?), which rotates all the sheep's facing 90 degrees, and so on. Once you've used a move, you put a counter on it and you can't use it again, so it pays to be attentive not only to what you can do, but what your opponents can do and how many turns remain in a given field.

See, each move nudges the flock marker a little way along, and when it moves out of a given field (if I were smart I'd have taken a picture of this), the scoring and strategy changes.

Teagan and Cael ponder strategy. 
Opinions: I like this game, but it definitely improves if you're playing with people who understand how to play it. The first time with players, it's pretty random as everyone's trying to remember what the various moves are and all.

The production values on this game are pretty baller, though. The sheep are made of ceramic, I think, and they're quite heavy and sturdy. They're fun to move around and manipulate, though I admit that might be genetic on my part.

McFarlands have long-standing traditions involving livestock. 

Keep? Yep.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Character Creation: Camp Myth

So, this is weird. In looking for a game for which to make a character, I saw Camp Myth. Figuring that might be a good choice (I haven't played the game but I've read the source material and I know the Pip system that a lot of Third Eye stuff uses), I went to find the character sheet I had printed...and discovered I didn't.

Generally I print off a character sheet as soon as I have a physical copy of the game and put it in my binder, but nope, not a sausage. And then I looked at my list, and realized the game wasn't on there.

I have no idea what all this means, but I blame +Eloy somehow. Anyway.

The Game: Camp Myth
The Publisher: Third Eye Games, though I don't know the status of this particular game
Degree of Familiarity: As I said, none with this game specifically, but I've read the novel it's based on
Books Required: Just the one.

So, the history of Camp Myth is somewhat fraught. I backed the Kickstarter for the first novel waaaay back in 2012 or so, read the book to Teagan (she was, what, about 8 at the time?), and she really liked it. I contacted the writer and asked about licensing the property to do an RPG, but was told that he'd already licensed it to Eloy. "Well, it's in good hands, anyway," I thought, and went on with life.

And then I backed the second novel he did, but then the author kinda fell off the face of the earth. I have no idea what happened, but that novel did become available for sale (because I bought a copy so that Teagan could read it, off Amazon; the author refunded me the money I put in on Kickstarter). And then nothing in the Camp Myth-verse happened. Weird.

Anyway, the basic idea here is that various mythological creatures go to summer camp to learn how to avoid the problems of said creatures, use their powers, and do the things that humans do at summer camp (flirt awkwardly, eat s'mores, that kind of thing). The lead characters are a kitsune, a fae, and a nerdy cyclops. It's cute, and I won't go so far as to say it's a Percy Jackson ripoff, but it draws on some of the same inspiration, and that's fine.

So, step one is to Choose Mythic Race. Well, drawing on my own experiences at summer camp, I think I want to make a camper who's most at home in the woods, barefoot, out in nature. So I'll make a dryad. I get 5 Health, 6 Homesickness, and one free point in Arts & Crafts and Wilderness Training. I also get a racial ability and hindrance: I get an extra die to any roll in the forest, but I get annoyed if people harm trees or animals.

Step two is Skills. I get 10 points to split up amongst Skills, so let's check it out.

Well, Archery applies to literally using a bow and arrow, but also for javelins. I'll put two points there. I'll put one into Concealment and Discovery, and two into Friendship. 4 left. I'll put one into Mythic Knowledge, one into Sports, and the last two into Runes & Rituals. Looks good.

Step three is Comforts from Home, your basic Merits/Advantages/Edges type thing. I get a Myth Army Knife for free (I know), and then 5 more points. Let's see.

Oh, OK. I'm gonna spend 3 points and have a pet hodag. His name is Gene, and he's got an overbite and spikes around his head (but they're pretty blunt, because he's young). Normally I'd alter the stats of an adult creature given in the book, but Eloy didn't think to include the noble hodag (jeez, Eloy), so I'll just wing it. Let's assume 4 hits, because that's what it usually works out to, and then a special ability...let's pick Stone Drop (from Gargoyle), because Gene likes to drop on people from out of trees, and he's heavier than he looks.

That leaves me 2 points. I'll take one point of Armor (bark-like skin) and a Quirk: Flexible like the Willow (+1W to wriggle out of restraints or otherwise go with the flow).

OK, cool. So, my dryad's name is Jack Lumber (get it?). That's a self-applied name; he claims his real name is unpronounceable to folks who communicate via sound, but really it's just embarrassing). Jack likes to pretend to be all slow and ent-y, but only with non-dryads. Really, Ents are like the great-grandparents of the dryads and who wants to be like those old folks?

And that's me done!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Movie #440: Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! is a jukebox musical directed Baz Luhrman and starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Richard Roxburgh, Jim Broadbent, and Caroline O'Connor.

In 1900, we meet Christian (McGregor), wallowing in misery in the ruins of the Bohemian revolution in Paris. He flashes back to the previous year when he arrived in Paris to immerse himself in the culture and write about love, and is immediately recruited by Toulous-Latrec (Leguizamo) to write a musical called Spectacular Spectacular for the proprietor of the Moulin Rouge bordello/club. Christian, through a series of wacky misunderstandings and deceptions, winds up falling in love with the show's star, Satine (Kidman), and then helping her and the owner Zidler (Broadbent) into duping a rich Duke (Roxburgh) into bankrolling the show. The Duke's price is the deed to the theater, and ownership of Satine.

Christian and Satine continue their affair as rehearsals go on, but it's obvious that Satine is ill (she keeps coughing up blood), and Zidler pushes her to drive Christian away in order to save him from the Duke. In the end, though, love wins out and they drive the Duke away and affirm their love...right before Satine dies of consumption in his arms.

So, it's a tragedy, then, but it's a Luhrman tragedy, with bright lights and rock numbers (the first time I saw it, I thought "man, if they don't use "The Show Must Go On," that's a missed opportunity" and guess what they did). McGregor and Kidman are beautiful as the doomed couple, and both of them can sing. Broadbent is by turns selfish, clever, and kind as the opportunistic Zidler, and Roxburgh is a total slimeball as the Duke. The visuals are fantastic, the costume and production design are gorgeous. It's fun to listen to McGregor's accent slip sometimes, too.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Character Creation: Karma Roleplaying System

I mentioned the last time I made a character that I only had two games left from the Haiti bundle, which were Roma Imperious and the Karma Roleplaying System. As I am on Xmas break, and I'm not gaming today, and the weather outside has turned from shitty rain to sloppy snow, and I have nothing in particular to do today outside of running an errand for my mother, I think I'll do this game and thus close out that particular batch of RPGs.

Incidentally, I'm planning on making more characters while on break, so if anybody reading this has suggestions or requests for which games I should do, I'd love to hear 'em.

The Game: Karma Roleplaying System
The Publisher: Bards and Sages
Degree of Familiarity: None. It reads a lot like your basic D&D clone, but I admit I'm skimming.
Books Required: Just the one, but see below.

So, Karma has a lot more support than I thought, but again, it reads a lot like D&D in that it's a trad game, uses a d20 + some numbers, and it's just a system. There's a lot of focus up front on deciding what kind of setting your group is using and what that means as far as magic, expectations, genre, and so on, which is cool. What I'm missing is some examples - there are a few little paragraphs like this:


No real step-by-step world-building with the whole group involved, though. I admit, however, that given that this game came out in 2008, that kind of play wasn't terribly common anyway (I mean, universal systems are much older than that, but the kind of collaborative world-building I'm talking about wasn't really a thing), so it's not really fair to get persnickety about that.

It does mean, though, that I need a setting before I can really make a character. I normally make magic-using characters, but reading ahead, I see that they have a different and more complex system, and I'm not sure I'm up for that today. Hmm. Oh, heavens, look at this, though: I have a thing called Karmic Revelations that gives us a post-apocalyptic world in which to play Karma, and thus gives me a setting to work with. How nice.

Well, the character creation section of Revelations explains that there's no magic in this irradiated wasteland, so we replace Mana with Adrenaline. Cool, sounds good. Also it gives us a list of Mutations, some of which are from the Karma core with some tweaks. One of those is Blind, which in Revelations means (or can mean, I hope) that you just don't have eye sockets and that can garner some weird reactions. Personally I think there are some other Mutations that are much more jarring, but whatevs. I think maybe I'll go in that direction for my character, kind of a Book of Eli thing without all the heavy-handed religious BS.

So, where do we start? We start with Attributes...oh, lord. I hope I'm reading this wrong.

OK, so there are three categories of Attributes (Physical, Cerebral, and Spiritual). Each category has four Attributes. You prioritize categories just like this was a White Wolf game, but you only get 3/2/1, which means that of your 12 Attributes, at least half of them have a rating of 0. According to the book, having a rating of 0 means that you have a handicap or something that prevents you from making full use of that Attribute. Why...in the hell...?

(If you've been reading, you know I hate games that make incompetent starting characters, so this one is a special kind of hell for me. But again, maybe I'm reading it wrong. This is why examples of character creation are helpful.)

Oh, OK! Jesus! You start with one in each Attribute automatically. Whew. So how would I get a 0? Maybe there are drawbacks or something that lower them. Anyway, much better. OK, so I'm gonna prioritize Cerebral, because I know my guy has no eyes and I don't want to make him a blind seer or whatever. I'll put my secondary in Spiritual, though, which leaves my tertiary in Physical. I'll put that one lone point into Constitution. For Spiritual, I'll put both points into Empathy. For Cerebral, I'll put two into Intellect and one into Wits. What's next?

Abilities! Abilities (skills, basically) are divided into groups. If you've got a point in a given ability, it's trained, and you add the higher of a given Attribute pair to a roll. If it's untrained, you use the lower. Sounds reasonable. I get a free point in each group (which seems intuitive enough, except that each ability in the Combat Group is called "weapon group, [whatever]", which was confusing for a second), and then 10 more to put anywhere.

Since the setting I'm working with has no magic, I can skip Magic Group. So. For my freebies, I'll put one into Weapon Group (Simple), which is stuff like "pick up a rock and hit someone with it." I don't feel the need to put more points into combat stuff; I'll pay this game the complement of assuming that a character without explicit combat skills would still be viable.

For Knowledge Group, I'll put my free point into Humanities, and then I'll put one point each into Mechanical Aptitude and Social Sciences. 8 points remaining.

For Social Group, I'll put my freebie into Diplomacy, and I'll put one of my other points in there as well, plus one more into Resolve. 6 left.

For Talent Group, I'll put my freebie into Alertness, and then I'll put one into Alertness, Leadership, and Linguistics. 3 left.

Wellness Group! I'll put one into Mental Health, and then I'll put one into Reflexes. That leaves me with 2, so I'll put one into Linguistics (for a total of 2) and the other one into Reflexes.

Now, Specialities. I get 2 of them, and I take them in Abilities where I have 2 or more. That means I can take Specialities in (hang on):

Diplomacy
Alertness
Linguistics
Reflexes

Cool, OK. I'll put one into Linguistics for Translations, and one into Alertness for Listening.

Then I can take a Profession, I think? This gives me a suite of bonuses to existing traits to reflect training and experience in whatever my line of work is. I like this idea, actually, though now I have to think about my character a little more.

OK, then. I love language and translation, and I think it'd be cool to have a character who has an ear for such things (though of course visual communication is beyond him). I think we'll assume he was born to two people from different cultures and grew up speaking both of their languages (which languages those are would require me reading the backstory for Revelations, so stick a pin in that). I'll put my free Attribute point in Intellect, raising it to 4, and I'll put my free Ability points into Linguistics and Presence. I'll take a Specialty in Etiquette (under Presence).

So then there are some derived traits, but as we know, those should go after the bonus point stage, because the bonus points can raise your base traits. Grr. Anyway, skipping ahead to bonus points, I get 15. Oh, wait, powers work differently than I thought, but because I'm using the Revelations setting, I get one mutation to start with, so I'm gonna choose Blind.  Aaaaand there's nowhere to write powers or mutations on sheet. Well, never mind, I know I have it.

OK, cool, so I have 15 freebie/bonus points. Attributes are 5 each, and that seems like the best high for the buy. I'll buy up Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma to 2.

Now the derived traits. Damage Threshold is 12, Adrenaline is 9, Karma is 6. Those seem on the low end, but eh.

Just some background, then. So, Wing was born to a Chinese mother and an American father, after the Revelation stuff happened. Born without eyes, he grew up listening intently to everything around him, and learning the languages of both parents. His parents died when he was 12; he's still not sure how. He heard it happen, and it was pretty goddamn horrible, but he hasn't been able to match what he heard to any creature he's learned about before or since. He didn't hear gunshots, though, which makes him think it wasn't people.

In any case, Wing wears dark grey clothing (trying to stay neutral), and a pair of big honkin' sunglasses to hide the fact that he doesn't have eyes. He has natty black hair, and his hands are covered in scars and burns (since he tends to lead with them). He carries a cane or a walking stick sometimes, but he tends to lose them.

Wing speaks multiple languages and is willing to act as a translator. He has a reputation as scrupulously honest in his translations, but that's not altogether true - he's not above manipulating things to benefit himself or the party he feels is "better." When he's found out doing stuff like that, he's ready with a linguistics-based explanation. It's worked so far.

And I think that's it. What game should I do next?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Board Game: Sushi Go

You know, this happens every year: We play a game at the holiday party and then I forget to the do the write-up because I forget we played it "officially" for the blog. Only off by a couple of weeks, that's better than I usually do.

The Game: Sushi Go!
The Publisher: AdventureLand Games, but their site seems to have turned Russian
Time: 10 minutes or so
Players: Me, +Michelle+Amanda, Megan, +John

Prepare for Sushi Go!
Game Play: It's a pick-and-pass game; you're trying to complete several different sets of sushi and other related foodstuffs. Each turn you choose on card to play and pass the rest. You can also choose to lay down a chopsticks card, which allows you to play two cards on a subsequent turn (putting the chopsticks back into your hand), which is useful if there are two cards you can grab to complete a set, but shit if you get stuck with a chopsticks still in your hand when the cards run out and it's time to score.
Suuuuushi.
From that point, it's just a matter of figuring out what strategy you're going to commit to. Dumplings, by themselves, don't give you much, but if you don't have the most dumplings at the end, you lose points. Stuff like that.

Opinions: Eh, y'know. It's a cute time-waster, and I've got a bunch of other, similar games. My chief complaint is that the game doesn't encourage any kind of interaction - it's just pick and pass, so you never need to discuss anything, but unlike mindless card games like euchre there's also no reason to interact about non-game things. The art is fun, but generally the game doesn't thrill me.

Keep? Maybe I'll see if Half-Price wants it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Movie #439: Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat is a movie based on the video game of the same name, and starring Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Talisa Soto, Robin Shou, Christopher Lambert, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and Trevor Goddard. It's pretty awful, and fantastic all at once.

The tournament of Mortal Kombat is held "once a generation," but it's not just another Enter the Dragon ripoff! The Emperor Shao Kahn (voiced by Frank Welker, briefly) has won 9 tournaments in a row, and if he wins this one, he gets to invade Earth. His sorcerer flunky Shang Tsung (Tagawa) commands a legion of evil warriors meant to stop the kombatants from Earthrealm. Specifically, spoiled martial arts movie star Johnny Cage (Ashby), bitter and isolated Special Forces...cop? Sonya Blade (Wilson-Sampras), and the Chosen One, Liu Kang (Shou), who just wants revenge because Shang Tsung killed his brother (Steven Ho).

So of course they all get to the magical island, they have some fights, Liu Kang faces and defeats Shang Tsung, and all is well (until Shao Khan appears and sets off the events of the sequel, which is fucking godawful, but I don't own it so that's fine). All of this is set to some really catchy techno music.

This movie is objectively stupid. The dialog is crap, the acting ranges from wooden (Wilson-Sampras) to hammy (Ashby) to earnest but not especially compelling (Shou) to cheerfully nomming on scenery (Tagawa, and Lambert, who shows up playing Raiden for some reason). The fight scenes are mostly jump cuts and people doing cartwheels, though the ones with Shou aren't bad, and the one between him and Reptile (Keith Cooke) is pretty wheel done. The movie's also PG-13, whereas the video games are solidly R for gore, so that's an odd choice. Sonya doesn't get fridged, but she gets damseled pretty hard, and her own fight scene is...pretty weaksauce (and she gets one, not counting the "beat up the flunkies" scene where they fight as a group).

For all that, though, there's something endearing about this movie. It's probably because I saw it in theaters in Toledo with my friends, and we decided that it's a pretty perfect representation of an RPG we'd have played (Johnny Cage is my character; I like playing the support role, getting a good scene or two, and then letting the Chosen One do his stuff). It's dumb, but it's fun and light. I wish the sequel had been as good, because it's...really not. But you can't have everything.

My Grade: D (honestly, it's a bad movie)
Rewatch Value: High (but it's fun)

Next up: Moulin Rouge

Blades in the Dark: An Arrow to the Knee

Last night was Blades. You know the drill.

Last time, we left the scoundrels on their boat, with hostiles on the buildings of Six Towers around them, with a wriggly corpse on the end of a hook. It's a weird night.

Bolts carrying ropes thud into the boat, and Cage lays about with a blade and slices them. He hears bodies fall into the water (ziplines, you see) and then feels a crossbow bolt rip through his cloak, but it gets tangled and doesn't hit his body. One-Eye grabs the ring and puts it in a pocket of her cloak, but nudges the rudder in the process and sends the boat heading for the canal wall. Copper gets it under control, and Siren shoots one of the enemies off a building. The boat scrapes up against the wall and the scoundrels see the enemies taking cover, ready to shoot. Siren lets loose a volley of suppressive fire, and One-Eye throws a smoke bomb. Copper leaps out of the boat, yells "meet you back at the clubhouse!" and runs off into the night.

Cage flings a knife at one of them and kills him, and the others take "well, fuck this" sort of approach and run. They do chase Copper, of course, and corner her nearby.

They demand the ring. She blithely responds "what ring?" whereupon the leader of the other gang orders her shot in the kneecap. She finally admits she doesn't have it, and tries to negotiate. The gang - the Lampblacks - say that this is just business; they want the ring or else Widdershins can kill a couple of their enemies, since they have no problem planting a goddamn knife in someone's head. Copper offers to go make that proposal, and the Lampblacks consider it, but then decide they don't trust her even a little, bag her head, and take her away.

The others get back to the lair and talk things out. They figure out who the other gang was by an insignia that Cage ripped off the one he killed, but they don't know too much about the Lampblacks other than they were the former lamplighters guild before Duskwall went "electric." The citizenry, especially in Crow's Foot, like the Lampblacks, and so One-Eye isn't keen to start a war with them. That said, they figure they'd better go get paid for this ring while they getting is good.

They head to Charterhall and ask around about the Foundation, and get directions to an innocuous but orate building. There, they're shown into a big, cold, stone room, and a man in an apron gives them money in exchange for the ring. One-Eye makes a point of mentioning that they're available for smuggling jobs, and the man says he'll remember that.

From there, they head to Crow's Foot and wind up at a brothel catering to clients who like young men, the Rookery. They stomp in and ask about Copper, and the Lampblacks join them shortly. The negotiations are terse and the point - the gang killed a Lampblack and the Lampblacks have Copper, so they figure Widdershins owes them two lives (or the ring, or the cash for the ring, but One-Eye outright refuses to give up the payday). The Lampblacks know who they want dead: Two members of the Red Sashes, a rival gang. The targets are Mylera Klev, the gang's leader, and a mysterious figure called "Gargoyle", their lookout. The Lampblacks inform the gang that the Red Sashes are known to be expert swordsmen, and that some of them are children of Iruvian diplomats and nobles. "Be careful who you kill."

With that all agreed, the Lampblacks produce Copper, and everyone heads back to the lair. The gang decides that they need to rest up and plan, which is going to mean passing on the spirit bottle job, but that's life. One-Eye patches up Copper, and Copper devotes some time to training Button. One-Eye, for her part, works more on her alchemical eye. Siren spends the time at the club, singing to relieve stress, and Cage is kidnapped one night and inducted into the Path of Echoes as an initiate.

The scoundrels ponder their options. They have an assassination job, which isn't really their forte, and it's not going to pay well (or anything). Other options present themselves, though - what if they join up with the Red Sashes to take down the Lampblacks? What if they play both gangs against each other? What if they try and build up their own turf so they can stand up to the Lampblacks?

Next time, we'll find out which way they go.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Movie #438: Moonstruck

Moonstruck is an 80s rom-com starring Cher, Nicholas Cage, Danny Aiello, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, and Feodor Chalipin, Jr. It was nominated for a shitload of Oscars back in the day, and has the distinction of being a movie I saw on a "date" when I was in...what, probably eighth grade?

Loretta (Cher) is a widow who's been seeing Johnny (Aiello) for a while. It's not a terribly passionate relationship, but they like each other OK. He proposes, she accepts, but he needs to go to Sicily to see his mother on her deathbed. He makes one request of her: Contact his estranged younger brother and invite him to the wedding. Loretta goes home to tell her mother Rose (Dukakis) and her father Cosmo (Gardenia) what's going on; they accept it, though they're not exactly happy about it.

Loretta meets Ronny (Cage), Johnny's brother, and learns that they're estranged because Ronny got his hand caught in machinery while talking to Johnny, and his fiancee left him shortly afterwards. This is by no means Johnny's fault, but Ronny is a melodramatic idiot. She and Ronny wind up getting drunk and sleeping together, whereupon Ronny decides he's in love with her. They wind up going to the opera and actually deciding they're in love, which of course is complicated.

Meanwhile, Cosmo is having an affair, and Rose knows it, but isn't sure what to do about it. This is all intercut with scenes of Loretta's grandfather (Chalipin Jr.) and her aunt and uncle (Julie Bovasso and Louis Guss, respectively), lots of talk about moons and love and so on.

So, Michelle really loves this movie. I'm...less of a fan. It's a great performance from Cher (better than Glenn Close for Fatal Attraction, who was also nominated that year? Eh), and it's light and funny and sweet. Where I get hung up, I think, is Cage - he's just such a loudmouth dork in this movie, and his complaint with his brother doesn't make any damn sense (and it could have worked with a better performance, but as it was I didn't buy it).

Overall, though, it's pretty good as rom-coms go, and it presents Loretta as the main character and having some agency, so that's pretty cool.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Mortal Kombat

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Prometheans in the Park with George

When I was in middle school, I had really bad insomnia and wound up going down into our basement and watching TV. Of course, late at night, pre-cable, you got PBS and then not much else of interest. I wound up watching Sunday in the Park with George late one night, and ghosts of the opening song still flit about my head from time to time.

All of which has nothing to do with Promethean, but you're here, you cope with my non sequiturs.

So! The characters go to the park, except for Grimm (who nips over to the police station) and Skip (whose player was out sick, so Skip went back to the hotel to keep an eye on things with Virgil).

Grimm fills out a form and gets the info on the accident, but doesn't learn anything new - the driver of the truck reported that he had a green light and smashed into Daley's car. That's consistent with what Grimm had learned elsewhere, and with the notion of a Frankenstein Wasteland in the area.

The others go into the park, and Enoch, Feather, and Matt look around and find Lurch's camp. Moldering blankets, some depressing Pilgrim marks carved into the trees, and a bunch of books about death, the afterlife, coping with death, and funerary practices (some of which are library books). Clearly Lurch was obsessed with death, but why? Maybe he was dying, but what kind of sense does that make? He's a Promethean.

Avalon wanders the perimeter of the Firestorm area looking for evidence, but doesn't find much; it's been too long and the Firestorm seems to have wiped away the Pyros (like it do). Grimm returns and the Prometheans figure that maybe someone could track Lurch from the campsite, so Enoch finds a bloodhound (remember they're in a dog park), pets it, and then uses this Chimera Distillation to turn into one. He follows the scent from the camp out into the city, but loses it around the library.

Feather and Avalon return the books, claiming they found them in the park, and Avalon notices an employee kind of blanch at seeing them. She gets him aside and charms him into telling her why - he gave Lurch a library card even though he knew he was homeless, using a fake address and name (Andre Holt). Avalon gets the address and the throng goes to check it out, but it's a vacant lot. There's a Pilgrim mark on the wall - "fake safe place."

Figuring that if Lurch is still in the city, he might be hiding his Azoth, Feather uses Heed the Call and amps up her own Azothic radiance to detect him. She gets a hit and the Prometheans get in the van and follow it, and wind up at an office park. They pick the lock on a door leading into a warehouse area and Grimm and Matt go in, but they don't find Lurch. They find a van similar to the one they saw at the park and then the hospital.

Checking it out, they find the back has a bunch of automatic weapons and grenades. Grimm notes that the guns have special protective technology - they won't work for anyone without an RFID chip on (or in) their person. The characters also find a bunch of photos of Lurch around town, clearly taken from security cameras, a map detailing his movements, and pictures of them outside the hospital. Feather finds mattresses and living space in the office building next door, but very little in the way of personal effects - these folks are well-trained. Avalon finds a roster, though, apparently for guarding Daley, and finds their names: Fields. Hanson. Ramirez. McKinney. Moss. The documents don't reveal what agency these folks are from, but the letters "TFV" show up occasionally. Avalon also finds a post-it note under the "HOT LEADS" section of their murder-board...with the address of the hotel where the characters are staying.

They take the time to disable the guns, and Grimm scoops up a couple of grenades. Figuring they're probably on tape here, Avalon uses Arc to short the transformer and cut power to the building, and the Prometheans take all their pictures and maps (probably they have backups, but this might slow them down). Then they figure they'd better go check the hotel, so they head out.

As they approach, they see smoke rising. So next time, we'll check in with Skip and see what happened (but next time won't be until January, because the next Monday we'd play this is Xmas day).

Monday, December 11, 2017

Some Quick Promethean Notes

I used to keep notes for all my games in notebooks. I don't do that anymore for a number of reasons (my wrist cramps when I write more than a few sentences, and my handwriting has deteriorated over the years), but sometimes I do miss it. But the only reason I miss it, really, is that taking notes right before the game leads to two blog posts in a row about the same game.

Which is, probably, a kind of neurotic thing to fret over, but hey, my brain is a fatty mystery.

Movie #437: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

Monty Python & The Holy Grail is the first feature-length movie from Monty Python, and as such stars John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, and various other Python regulars like Carol Cleveland, Neil Innes, and Connie Booth.

In AD 932, King Arthur (Chapman) and his faithful servant/horse Patsy (Gilliam) ride across the land, first looking for knights to join them in Camelot and then, after deciding not to go to Camelot (as it's only a model, and is also a silly place), receive a quest from God: Find the Holy Grail. What follows is them bumblefucking their way through multiple roles, trials, and tribulations until finally they discover the resting place of the Grail...and promptly get arrested by fourth-wall-breaking cops, ending the movie.

Seriously, though, if you're reading this, the odds are that you've seen this movie at least once. It's probably one of the most-quoted movies of all time in geek circles, and even if you don't know it, you know parts of it. It's spawned a hit musical and a whole bunch of other merch. But how is the movie, really?

It's actually really funny the first couple of times you see it. The problem is over-saturation, and I've been through the period in my life where I had a Grail quote for every occasion (Futurama probably takes up that position in my life now, if I'm honest). But the jokes are good; the right mix of Python-esque absurdism and enough of a story that it doesn't just feel like random craziness (which was my problem with Meaning of Life). Watching it with Teagan was fun because she hadn't seen it, just a few clips here and there, and then listening to her start to quote it with Al was like watching myself as a teenager, and it's a testament to the movie's staying power that the silliness carries through.

If I have a complaint, of course, it's that like a lot of Python things, there's nothing here for women to do. The only time in the movie we get any women of consequence is the Castle Anthrax, and then it's a bunch of teenage girls getting really worked up over Galahad the Chaste, which is funny as far as it goes, but then beyond that the only women characters are fairly inconsequential or Terry Jones in drag. So that's a bummer. Otherwise, though, it's a fun, light movie, not really parodying anything in particular.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: High, though higher when I was younger

Next up: Moonstruck

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Night's Black Agents: The Truth

Last night, Night's Black Agents ended an op (but by no means the game as a whole). Let's watch.

Last session, the characters broke into the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, cracked the secret vault, and stole a bunch of shit. This session, having retreated to their safe house, they watch the news and learn that the museum's first floor was heavily damaged using explosives (which was much more damage than they did). The conspiracy, it seems, is quite will to blow up the place and kill some of the security in order to increase the heat on the agents. The government is involved now, as well as Hajnal's people. They're going to have a problem getting the hell out of Belgrade.

They decide to give it a few days and look over their data. The notebooks are written in a combination of Russian, Serbian, and English (all of which Hanover reads) and a made-up code language. He and Parker get to work cracking it, and meanwhile, the agents watch some of the videos.

The notes in the notebooks appear to be experiment records corresponding to the videos, which is handy because there's no sound. In the first one, a man in a mask brings a dead body into the lab, puts it on the table, pumps some blood out with a machine that resembles a dialysis machine, and then pumps some blood back in. The body twitches and spits up a lot of blood, but then ceases to move. The notes record this as a failure.

The next few entries and videos are more of the same - failures and differing dosages and methods - but then the masked man gets it right. He moves his mask (facing away from the camera) and tentacles snap out and strike a living body, kill it, and then the blood infusion. This, based on the notes, creates what the agents have been calling a "brute." Success.

These experiments continue for a while, and then the video that really brings it home: Vilmos Hajnal enters the shot, following by the masked man...but without the mask. The man grabs Hajnal from behind and chokes him out, and then straps him to the table and sets up the machine. The machine gives Hajnal an infusion from a bottle, clearly biological but not blood. When it's done, the man unstraps Hajnal and inspects his mouth, helping him unfurl his tentacles.

The man is unquestionably Nikola Tesla. The agents have found the first vampire.

They all make some Stability rolls, and Hanover and MacAteer lose the most. The agents decide to back off a little and try and get out of town. They've digitized all of the notebooks and sent the data to Sedillo, but digitizing the VHS tapes has to happen in real time. They figure that maybe that oughta happen in not-Belgrade.

They do some checking around and find a trucking depot. They figure they'll steal a truck, pack the people into the back of it, drive to Montenegro and catch a cruise liner out of Kotor. Traveling as tourists might keep them under the radar. They leave the house severally - MacAteer first, in disguise, carrying the videotapes (Disguise is his MOS, so he's safe). Then Gambone and Ess, and finally Hanover and Parker.

MacAteer enters the depot, disguised, and makes a Bureaucracy spend to get a truck without hassle. The others meet him at a truck stop and start unloading enough cargo to get into the back.

And then another truck pulls by them, turns and blocks the exit ramp. Two guys get out, holding assault rifles. Two SUVs pull into the stop. The agents are made.

They pile into the truck - Parker, Gambone, and Ess in the back, MacAteer driving, Hanover riding shotgun. MacAteer, eschewing subtlety for survival, guns it and smashes into the back end of the truck blocking them. He knocks it out of the way and keeps going, but hears metal grinding metal - this truck isn't long for the world. The SUVs are in pursuit, of course.

Hanover leans out the window and shoots the driver of one SUV, sending it off the road. MacAteer leans out the window on the other side and shoots at the other, dropping it back behind them. The agents in the back, banged up from getting jostled when the truck collided with the other truck, open the back. Parker dumps debris, forcing the SUV to swerve, and Ess shoots the driver, crashing the car. The agents are away...for now.

They pull off the highway, ditch the truck, and steal a lorry. They head for Montenegro, keeping off the main roads. It takes a while, and the stress takes a toll on their Stability, but they eventually make it to the border. Parker, using a cover, rents a car so they don't try and cross the border in a stolen vehicle, and they book passage (using their covers) on a cruise liner bound for Marseille. They leave Kotor apparently ahead of the conspiracy, but still being pursued both by Interpol and Hajnal's people. (We're also now using the extended chase mechanic, which is much less forgiving, but I think it's a good point in the game to make use of it.)

Next time, they'll watch the rest of the tapes and learn of their most recent setback. It's kind of a doozy.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Blades in the Dark: Body Un-Disposal

Monday was Blades in the Dark, as the title to this entry implies. Let's get to it.

The scoundrels have heard rumors on the streets of Doskovol. Storms are raging in the Void Sea, capsizing ships and making it hard for leviathan hunters to retrieve their cargo. Likewise, the Skoval city of Lockport is getting pounded, and that's making refining demon blood harder, which hasn't impacted Doskovol yet, but it will (imported goods are already getting expensive). A new gang called The Grinders is hitting cargo barges in the canals, which is going to be a problem at some point. Also, rumor has it that the Path of Echoes is paying for inhabited spirit bottles - if you can find one of them to sell to (Cage in particular finds this interesting, as he's been corresponding with the Path of Echoes via anonymous letter in preparation to join).

On this particular "day", Cage finds himself chatting with Flint, a spirit trafficker and friend. Flint says that he has a job that Widdershins might be interested in - he's going to transport a bunch of spirit bottles from Charterhall (the university) to Silkshore (a brothel called the Red Lamp). Really, he just needs the crew to pick up and transport - he's got access handled.

Elsewhere in the city, Siren is having a drink at the Veil after singing her little heart out. A man approaches her - Steiner, a friend and assassin. Steiner, hiding his face from the room, tells Siren that he screwed up. He took a job, killed a guy, and was supposed to retrieve the ring from his left hand, but fucked up and took the one from the right hand. Then he weighted the body down and sunk it in a canal near Six Towers, and now he's got people on his tail - probably the people who hired him. He asks Siren to retrieve the ring so he can try and fix this.

The crew convenes at the Watchtower and chats about their prospects. In addition to this gig, they also have the line on the "retrieve eggs from the Crematorium," but that job still seems a little too intense for them. That leaves retrieving a ring from a dead guy (and doing a favor for a friend in the process) or smuggling some spirit bottles.

On its face, the latter seems better - it's more profitable, sure, and it's very much in line with what the crew does. But Cage has some misgivings; stealing spirit bottles from the university might put them in conflict with Lord Penderyn, who, in addition to being someone you probably don't want mad at you, is Cage's vice purveyor and erstwhile spiritual advisor. Likewise, helping out Steiner means they have an assassin who owes them a favor. Either job sounds good, so the crew splits up to do some research.

Copper and Siren hit the streets, looking for information on the dead dude (Phin Dalmore) and his ring. They learn that Dalmore is probably related to Lord Dalmore, the executive officer in charge of the Ministry of Preservation, which is in charge of transit between cities and disbursing food and resources. No wonder Steiner is getting some pushback.

As they're looking, they realize they're being followed. Copper, since she has her demon-wolf (almost trained, and now named "Button") with her, isn't very stealthy, so she distracts them while Siren slips around behind the pursuers. She surprises them, bluntly asking what they're doing, and one lashes out with a punch-dagger in surprise. Copper handily disarms him, and recognizes these guys as members of a rival gang called the Wraiths.

The Wraiths, despite their fearsome name, are apparently quite receptive to being intimidated, and spill the beans - there's word on the street that the ring that Dalmore wears is worth a good price to the Foundation (a kind of Masonic-like organization), so there are a few interested parties. They heard Siren and Copper asking about Dalmore and decided to follow them and see what they knew. The incident resolves without violence; no one really wants a fight.

Meanwhile, Cage and One-Eye get an audience with Lord Penderyn. Penderyn is non-committal about the spirit-bottle affair, but tells Cage to listen to his heart, apparently indicating that if he takes the gig, it's his to deal with. One-Eye, not impressed with Penderyn (or, like, anything) stops off in the alchemy department, steals some components, and bribes her way to some new designs to incorporate into her alchemical/mechanical eye.

Cage, for his part, goes to Silkshore and finds Flint at the Red Lamp (he's reliable with the ladies, apparently) and questions him a bit more. Flint says that he's getting the equivalent of 12 Coin for this, but since he's really relying on the crew to do the work, he'll just take 2.

The crew reconvenes, and decide that grabbing the ring should be quick and relatively easy; it's not as much money, sure, but if they can do it quick, they can still do the job with Flint. Besides, Steiner's in a jam. They know the location of the body, so they rig up a gondola pole with a claw at the end, and head out to the site (and get a critical on the engagement roll, so the first obstacle - get the body out of the water - is handled).

One-Eye lifts the body out with the claw and snips off the ring finger...whereupon the body comes to life and grabs her neck. Copper grabs the ring, but drops it onto the boat deck and knocks it further away trying to grab it. Siren pushes the pole away from One-Eye...but then the lamps on the nearby shore go out, and the crew sees people jumping across rooftops to the edges of the canal. They are, it seems, not alone...

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Chill: Voices

Sunday was Chill. Check it. You know, or don't. You do you.

Last time, the envoys opened their investigation into a killing on the University of Idaho campus. We open today with Dee and Dylan at the vet, and Jordan and BB heading back into town from the ranch. The envoys meet up for brunch so that Dee can get day-drunk, but they also decide that they should head back to campus, look at the steam plant, maybe try and get a sense of what's happening a bit more. They stop at a church near the university and Dee (now more than a little tipsy) asks the priest about whether he's heard of increased violence at the university. He says he hasn't - sure, there will always be tragedy, but it's not abnormally bad out there, apart from the young man who was just killed (Mendoza) or the student who committed suicide last year.

This isn't the first time the envoys have heard this mentioned, so Dylan does a bit of quick research. The guy's name was Sidney Bass, and he jumped off the Gym Tower. The articles at the time state that he had dealt with depression since high school and was on medication for it; some of the editorials talked about the link between certain psych meds and suicidal ideation. The envoys note that Bass was a member of the Delta Tau Delta frat - no immediate connection to Mendoza, then.

They head back onto campus, and climb Gym Tower to see where he jumped. There's a dried-up bouquet of flowers, but no evidence and no Unknown. They check the base of the tower, too - if Bass has returned as a ghost, they don't see any evidence of that. They head back over toward Greek Row to ask at his old frat house, and are met with crowds and first responders. Last night another student was murdered - Stacy Diaz.

The envoys are a bit shaken by this (Jordan especially, who winds up with a Minor Trauma), but they resolve to try and figure this out. Jordan goes to the hospital and tracks down an EMT buddy and buys him lunch, and he tells her that the kid's head was bashed in with something heavy and with defined edges - probably a brick. They found Stacy's body in a ditch, between Greek Row and the dorm where he lived. The EMT mentions that Stacy had some defensive wounds, so he probably got a good lick in before he died.

The envoys check the area. It's wide open, but at night it would be completely unlit - not a bad area for an ambush. They can see the dorm, Greek Row, and Morrill Hall (a small classroom building). Dylan and BB check out the DTD frat house and rouse a member, who tells them that the chapter president (Doug Campbell) is away at class. Sensing that they're being fed BS, Dylan and BB go to Dylan's office to look up Doug's schedule. On the way, they pass Morrill Hall, and BB notes a pile of bricks - some light construction going on here, and probably that's where someone got a murder weapon.

Dylan finds Doug's schedule, but by the time he does (slow computer system), Doug should already have left class. The envoys regroup and go back to the DTD house, hoping to find Doug there. Dee brings a couple of pies and her now casted and somewhat doped up dog.

Two frat boys are in evidence, the somewhat slow one from before (Jason) and a much sharper guy named Ben. Jason doesn't say much at all, but Ben is adept at deflecting questions and saying nothing while still talking (he's pre-law). The envoys noticed multiple pairs of shoes by the door; someone else is here. BB checks the bathroom, and finds a bottle of pills with Sidney's name on it (which he pockets), and paper towels with blood on them in the garbage - looks like someone cleaned up a cut.

Jordan slips upstairs and finds Doug's door. She knocks and opens it, surprising Doug. He's sitting on the bed, perhaps pretending he's not home, and he's got a nasty black eye and a cut on his cheek. She leaves him be and goes back downstairs - it looks like Doug killed Stacy, but why?

Dee gets Jason in the kitchen and tries to get him talking. She senses the Unknown and realizes it's all over the place, but it's more like a bunch of echoes just bouncing around - not a solid, specific presence. Jason zones out, and then starts answering much faster. His speech patterns are different, and Dee notices it. She asks who she's really talking to, and Jason seems confused by the question.

Reasoning that Doug is really the problem, Dee and BB go upstairs to get him, figuring that if Dee can't talk him down, BB can punch him. They smell smoke, though, and BB kicks in the door to reveal the room burning. They head downstairs and evacuate the house, and the firefighters put out the blaze with minimal damage. By now, more of the frat has arrived, and the envoys see Jason, Ben, and two new folks named Joey and Dave talking heatedly. Jordan, ever the picture of subtlety, confronts them, and it's Joey who breaks.

He reveals that it was supposed to be a prank - someone was supposed to swap out one of Sidney's pills, since missing one just made him weepy and morose for a day or so. But all four of them did it, and Sidney killed himself. Joey reveals that someones he hears a voice telling him things, but it doesn't sound like Sidney...it doesn't even sound human. And then he has dreams, too, dreams of falling and dying.

The envoys arrange for all of the frat to come stay at the ranch. They figure that'll let them keep the boys under surveillance and out of harm's way. They have Darnell bring a bus down to get them, and then they start focusing on Doug. BB tracks him away from the house, but loses the trail as it gets into the heart of campus. They can see the steam plant up ahead, though...

Monday, December 4, 2017

Movie #436: Monsters vs. Aliens

Monsters vs. Aliens is an animated movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, Hugh Laurie, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett, and Stephen Colbert. It's part of a slate of Dreamworks films (including Shark Tale and MegaMind) that drew on parodying older films, to varying degrees of success.

On her wedding day, Susan Murphy (Witherspoon) gets hit with a meteorite and grows to roughly 50' in height. Immediately captured by the government under the supervision of General W.R. Monger (Sutherland, channeling George C. Scott with a dash of R. Lee Emery), Susan - renamed Ginormica - meets the other monsters currently in custody: fish-man Link (Arnett), supervillain Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), giant monster Insectosaurs (RRRROAARR!), and brainless blob B.O.B. (Rogen). She settles in for a lifetime of isolation...

...but then a squid-like alien called Galaxharr (Wilson) attacks Earth looking for the handwavium unobtanium quantonium that suffuses Susan's body, and the monsters get called out to deal with the aliens. In the end, of course, Susan learns a valuable lesson about how being a monster is awesome and she and her team fly off to fight a giant snail.

So, this movie clearly went through some rewrites. At one point the president (Colbert) was supposed to revoke the monsters' freedom, and there are definitely some details that were left out but that show up in promotional materials (Susan, for instance, grows to 49' 11" tall, making her just shy of being a 50-foot-woman, but that's never mentioned in the movie). The other thing I find weird about this movie is that it gives shout-outs to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. (1982), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), and Dr. Strangelove (1964), and that's before you get into all of the references that the monsters themselves represent. And, like, for the monsters that's fine - sure, the target audience won't get the The Blob references, but B.O.B. is still funny, but what about the president segueing from the five famous notes from Close Encounters to Harold Faltmeyer's famous Beverly Hills Cop synth bit? What's that in aid of?

The dialog is fun, the voice cast is decent. Not a huge fan of Arnett's Link ("ugh, why'd we get a girl monster", c'mon now), but otherwise there's some nice chemistry. Laurie, Rogen, and Witherspoon are the standouts, and Colbert is brilliant as the president, even if the jokes get a little dated at times.

All in all, though, it's a fun concept that, like a lot of Dreamworks movies, could have been better if they had Pixar's love and care behind it.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Monty Python & the Holy Grail

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Notes in the Dark

The sounds more dramatic than it needs to, but really I'm just taking notes for the Blades in the Dark game I'm running tomorrow and perhaps the Chill game I'm running later today.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Character Creation: Roma Imperious

Well, this'll be my 33rd character this year. My resolution was one a week (or 52), so I'm a little short, but I rather suspected I would be when I came out of summer still really behind. I could probably make up the shortfall over Xmas break by doing a bunch of PbtA games, which are quick, but that'll bore me, I suspect.

Anyway, one thing I did notice was that I have two more games that originally came from the Haiti bundle. If you don't know, that bundle was on sale waaaaaaay the hell back in January of 2010, following the earthquake. That charity bundle got something like $178,000 for Doctors Without Borders, and folks who supported it got 170 different products valued at about $1000 for $20. I've supported a few similar projects since then, but that one was the one that cemented the fact that I will never finish this project.

But it's not about the destination, it's about the journey. To wit:

The Game: Roma Imperious
The Publisher: HinterWelt Enterprises
Degree of Familiarity: None. I'm reading through it now. It's a pretty big book, so I'm not going to read the whole thing, but I might offer some commentary as I go.
Books Required: Just the one.

Roma Imperious is an "alternative history role-playing game," which is interesting because I just finished reading a historical fiction novel called Captain Alatriste and developed a hypothesis that I might enjoy such fiction more than fantasy because in fantasy, all the made-up names and places tend to fall right out of my brain. In historical fiction, at least I know what "Madrid" is and I can latch onto that (the experiment, then, is to read a novel that draws on a culture that I'm not as familiar with, but that's for another time).

Anyway, reading the beginning of the book, it starts off with a very nice introduction that talks about the passion the author has for Roman history. What it doesn't do is talk about what characters do in this game or what the basic conflict, struggle, or conversation is about, and I'm finding as I get older that such introductions are really helpful for me in determining how to approach an RPG. But, with that said, this game was written in 2004, so I'm willing to cut it a little slack.

Moving on, we get into history and structure of the Empire. It looks like the turning point between real history and this world is the discovery or use of magic, but I'm not up enough on Roman history to spot the fine details (and again, I'm not doing a close reading because I have other shit to do today). I will say that the book doesn't quite nail down the "now" as firmly as I'd like, or at least not to my casual read.

And then we many, many pages about other cultures, and then...classes? This is weird, hang on. OK, classes seem to be mostly in-setting, but then there are some game mechanics attached. Templates, which follow, are fully-made characters that folks can just grab.

(Where to put the system in an RPG book is a subject of no small debate amongst those of us who make these books. I personally like having the system, or at least the basics, up front so that when you see references to mechanics in the text they make some kind of sense, but there's also a school of thought that wants to put all of the setting stuff first and the system stuff later. In this case, character creation follows the templates, so I'm gonna jump ahead a bit.)

Oh, fuck me, this is mathy. Hang on.

My eyes glaze over when you say things like "curved progression." Let's jump ahead again.

OK, so now I'm at the actual character creation bit, which tells me that the process is less about making up the numbers and more about making up the person. Could've fooled me, looking at the sheet, but let's not be cynical. Let's be Roman.

Step One: Develop a Concept. OK, so I'm actually going to skip this, and I'll tell ya why. Much like in D&D and related games, if you're developing your stats randomly (which I don't necessarily mind), there's no point in developing a concept before you roll. Sure, I could get all tasted up to run a gladiator-style character, but if I roll shit for physical stats, my concept doesn't work.

I will say, though, that this section notes that the players and the GM should work together to make all the concepts fit, and I appreciate that nod to group cohesion. But, be that as it may, let's find some d20s and roll some stats. The idea is I roll 3 d20s and take the highest one for each stat, which gives me:

Strength 8
Agility 17
Constitution 20
Dexterity 15
Intelligence 16
Wisdom 18
Appearance 20
Charisma 17
Luck 15
Piety 18
Will 14

Wow, not bad. Well, the book notes that this makes your vital stats skew high, so I suppose that's fine. Does mean I'm not real likely to be a warrior 'cause I'm kind of weak, but you know me, I'd rather make fast jumpy-flippy-magicky types anyway. What's next! Oh, right, that was Step Two, so I should really go back and do step one and come up with a concept.

Well, I could play to my strengths in any number of ways. I like making magical characters, so I could play a magus or a druid. With my social stats as high as they are, I could also play a performer or a spy or something. Actually, given that my Piety is as high as it is, I'll go with Druid. As part of that, I pick a tribe, which also determines what kind of magic I'm good at. I'll Dumnonnii, which makes me good at magic involving Truth, Sea, and Combat (it's the "sea" that attracted me). Reading on, this particular tribe has a "good if somewhat cool relationship" with the Romans, so assuming that the game is set somewhere in Britannia, I like the idea that my character is half-Roman (his father was a Roman soldier stationed there, and took a Celtic woman as a wife). My character's name, then, is Oppius Velius Vindex.

(Now, I'm aware that as a Roman being raised in this culture and then becoming one of, in effect, their holy people, there's potentially some appropriation going on, but thematically I think that kind of works.)

Right, good, NEXT STEP. Back to math. Step Three: Calculate Fortitude and Defense Stat. 15 and 14, respectively (they're the average of 3 traits each).

Step Four: Choose Class. I did that, I'm a druid. I get two in Wilderness Survival, two in Herbology, one First Aid, and one Meditation. I...guess that's it? I'll come back to this if there's more.

Step Five: Skills. I get skill points each to the average of my Intelligence and Wisdom, which is 17. Let's see how this works.

OK, so, you put levels into skills, which then gives you a higher percentage chance to use them (level 3 is 70%). I seem to get 2 free to put into weapon proficiencies (the way it's phrased isn't super clear), so let's assume that's true. I'll put them into Staff Use.

And then I get these other 17. Holy cats. I'll put one more into Herbology, Wilderness Survival, and First Aid (for 3, 3, and 2, respectively), 2 into Medicine, 2 into Memory, 3 into Mythology (Celts) and Spell Direction, 2 into Wilderness Lore, and 2 into Arcane Lore. That makes me pretty damn druid, methinks.

Step Six: Spells is something I can largely skip, because since I'm using clerical mage rather than spell magic, I don't use "spells" so much as "I do magical shit within my tribe's parameters and take a penalty depending on how amazing it is." So that's pretty baller.

Step Seven is Equip Your Character. So like, my dude is dressed however folks in Britannia would be dressing this season (white robes, very nighttime telly) and has a staff and probably a dagger he doesn't really fight with.

Step Eight is Character History, but I feel like I've done that pretty well. I didn't note a code (what the character believes in), but there's no space for it on the sheet so it can't be that important. I think Velius probably believes in Family and the Land (which is kinda like being pious for him), but if I were to actually play this character I'd expect to get caught between his two peoples and their beliefs at some point.

I could figure out Fortitude points, but honestly it's more fiddly than I want to deal with right now, so I'm gonna call that done.