Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Feng Shui: The Ape Comes Due

Ooh, momma.

Well, last time, the Dragons got into a fight at the museum and learned that "Leon" was also known as "the Eternal Chameleon," a sorcerer with cults across the junctures dedicated to bringing him back to life if he died. And, it seemed that he and his contemporary cult, the White Serpents, wanted Melody, Celeste's sister, for some nefarious purpose! Spider Feng and her people agreed to lead the Dragons to the White Serpent hideout, but only if they agreed to give them the feng shui site there.

So! The Ascended Ones led them to a skyscraper, and they drove up to the top of the parking structure next to it. But apparently the sorcerers knew they were coming - a women with magical black wings swooped in and blew up the ramp under the Ascended Ones' van, taking them out of the fight (so I don't have to deal with a bunch of NPCS).

Chrys swung the car around facing the butterfy-woman, Celeste bailed and wrapped her whip around the woman's foot. But then windows on the skyscraper next to them opened, and a whole host of sorcerers appeared! Along with them, a man in a business suit with a big gun! One of the sorcerers, with a bladed braid in his hair, leaped down into the midst of the Dragons, while snake people crawled up from the parking garage. The battle was joined.

The fight was long and arduous, but the Dragons were victorious; highlights include:


  • Chrys blowing snake-people apart with Johnny (her pistol). 
  • Victor, the dude in the suit, accidentally vaporizing a bunch of mooks.
  • Bai calling down healing petals to heal up his comrades.
  • Black Butterfly utterly failing to harm Bai with magic.
  • Jun Ji, the dude with the blade-braid, coming really close to slicing off Bai's face, only to miss when he Staved Off the Monkey.
  • Black Butterfly's magic shredding Bai's staff.
  • Celeste parkour-ing her way up into the building and wrapping her whip around Victor's neck, whereupon Tang appeared behind him and shoved him out the window.
They interrogated Victor, and he (eventually) revealed that Melody was in the building, but that the Eternal Chameleon would be waiting for them. Then he uncoiled the whip and fell to his death. 

The Dragons went into the elevator to the penthouse, searching for Leon, and hoo-boy, they found him. The elevator opened, and they found a horde of armed security (including a hopping vampire and a badass with two pistols), Leon casting a spell on Melody as she lay bound in a summoning pit, and Thrill Kill Mandrill! "Kill them!" shrieked Leon, and the battle was, again, joined!

Celeste charged out, gunning down mooks, and made for Leon. Thrill Kill swung on a chandelier and fired into the elevator, wounding some of the Dragons, but they eventually made it out and started fighting. Thrill Kill focused mostly on Wu Tang, predictably, and the two pounded on each other with parking meters and huge ape-fists. Chrys suffered a bite from the vampire, but eventually blew a big hole in it with Johnny and Bai smashed his fist into it and ripped out its spine. Bai also set Leon's robes on fire (after pretty much everyone got at least one good hit in), and then Celeste shot him, downing him...but is Leon immortal? Are his methods supernatural?

NO TIME TO WORRY ABOUT THAT! Thrill Kill was still in the room, the mooks were around and occasionally dangerous, and Linda, the security op, was taking shot (and mostly missing). Tang finally teleported over the ape and dropped the hammer on him (by "hammer" I mean "parking meter"), and wounded him. Thrill Kill charged, and pounded the ground. BOXCARS.

He pounded the ground, and his missed, but he hit the summoning circle. Magic flared up, and dragged Linda (on the edge of the circle) down into the Netherrealm. He traded blows with Tang, and then turned to attack the others. Tang, behind him, used Push to throw him out of the window, and Thrill Kill fell many stories, landing on the pavement like a sack of chunk beef soup, and the parking meter landed next to him, ticking over to EXPIRED. 

Back in the room, the mooks gave up. Celeste was bloodied, but unbowed, and Melody was safe. She's joined up with these idiots because they'd promised to teach her magic. "Welcome to the Chi War," said Chrys.

Wu Tang looked out the window at his fallen foe...and then collapsed, dead, his skull crushed by Thrill Kill's relentless assault. 

The Dragons took his body back to the Future juncture for a funeral pyre, and of course Chrys had to stay in bed a few weeks eating sticky rice to clear out the contagion from the vampire. The Dragons are resting. The end of their journey is near, and with the magical knowledge they've gained from Melody about the White Serpents, they can, perhaps, find the final vision in the Ancient juncture and end this war.

We shall see.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Character Creation: Jadepunk: Tales from Kausao City

Well, I had grandiose plans for making a character for a game closer to the top of my list, but then I started reading a bunch of PDFs of D&D clones and kinda went "fuck it." So instead:

The Game: Jadepunk: Tales from Kausao City
The Publisher: Reroll Productions
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game, but I've played and run a lot of Fate.
Books Required: Just the one, as far as I can tell. I don't think you need Fate Accelerated, but I have it if I do need it.

So, I read this book on the plane back form New York. It's a cool martial-arts/wuxia/sword and sorcery kind of thing. I think you could do Man with the Irons Fists with it, but it takes itself a little more seriously than Feng Shui. It's actually kind of a cool setting; if I ever did run it, I think I'd pick up one or two of the sourcebooks, which is saying something (I almost never buy sourcebooks anymore).

Anyway, the book starts off with a foreword by +Bruce Baugh noting that many games don't ask players to consider how moral their characters are, which I kinda disagree with. My experience has been that a lot of games do ask that, but comparatively few make it part of the mechanics, and of those, few integrate mechanics and morality well.

In any case, I need to start off with a concept that will give way to Aspects. Since the characters in Jadepunk are, of necessity, rebelling against the violent government, I need to think about my character's reason for fighting back. I want to take inspiration from the three secret masters in Kung Fu Hustle, men who are expert combatants and come out of retirement only to fight on behalf of others.

My character is from Tuyang (pardon my lack of an accent mark). He served in the military and did his time out in the outskirts of nowhere, where he discovered that the "bands of marauders" were just as often nomadic Naramel tribes just looking to survive. He retired to Kausao City and opened a bakery (everyone loves cake), and for the most part, could live with just watching the world go by.

That's a good start, and it's enough to give me my Portrayal Aspect: Secretly Badass Baker. I think it also gives me a Background Aspect: Retired Tuyang Military.

Next is Inciting Incident, or why I decided to rebel. My character was a good soldier, followed orders, and so on. He was always a believer in the rule of law; yes, soldiers broke the law and violated their oaths, but there were military tribunals for that. All in all, justice will out. Except then he saw that those in power don't respect the law; The Council Forced People From their Homes. Soldiers came and evicted a whole block by force, and my character stood up in court to argue their case. The judge, clearly bribed, came down in favor of the Council.

So, with that in mind, my next Aspect is my Belief. I think I'll phrase this as Justice is Blind, and Must be Led. He used to believe that justice always found its own way, but clearly that isn't the case. Finally, I get a Trouble Aspect. I would take "Reluctant Whatever," but honestly the interesting part of that story after the hero decides "yeah, I'm in this," so I'll take Hero of the Dispossessed. His bake shop is well-known, and his reputation as someone who'll stand up for the common folk is spreading, which actually isn't good.

Now I do Professions, which are basically what this variant calls Approaches. I've got six to worry about, and I get Good, Fair, Fair, Average, Average, Mediocre to throw around.

Well, I think it's in concept to take Fighter at Good (there's no Baker Profession, after all). I'll put Scholar at Fair (he managed to make a decent showing as a lawyer), and I'll put Explorer as the other one. I'll put Scoundrel and Engineer at Average, and that leaves Aristocrat as Mediocre. Makes sense.

Next is Assets, which are like stunts, but somehow a little more narrow in scope. I can take Allies, Devices, or Techniques. Hmm. I'd like to take the bake shop as an Asset, can I do that? Doesn't seem like it (I could spin it as an Ally, but eh). I'll take a Technique, though. I want a fighting style.

Techniques have to key off one of my Assets; the obvious choice is my Background one. So let's say that my character learned the Tuyang Army Style. It focuses on protecting allies, hard strikes to take down foes, and supporting comrades. My Technique Assets can be different attacks within that style, should I be so inclined.

I'll first take on called Clear the Way. I get a +2 to Fighter when Creating an Advantage for a comrade, but one after we've already been in one fight together (have to have time to learn their style). That only costs me one refresh, because one gives me two features (Focus twice) and a flaw (Situational).

For another, I'll take Technique. I want to be able to whoop ass. Very simple, just +2 to Fighter when outnumbered. Call it Tuyang Army Style.

And then do I wish to have a Jade sword or something? I think I do not. I think that'd be good, actually; it'll leave me 5 Refresh, so I can have a bunch of Fate points at my disposal.

And that's mostly done, except I need a name. There are example names listed for each of the nations, and I like Myon (though around the way it's Myon the Baker).


Night's Black Agents: "Good Guys"

Some musings: One of the reasons I don't like D&D in its purest form is that the characters are, at best, glory-seeking killers. They invade dungeons, kill off whatever life they find, and take whatever is of value. There's an understandable paradigm there (it was good enough to power years of real-world "discovery"), and I'm not ragging on the gaming done during the 70s as the hobby was defining itself at first.

But, I started with Marvel Superheroes. My first RPG was one in which if you killed, you literally lost all your Karma (which did double-duty as XP and a roll-enhancer, so losing it kinda sucked, especially if you'd built up a lot). Killing had consequences, but moreover, it wasn't something the characters did without it being a major thing. In D&D, you killed everything in sight, because it might give you XP, and XP led to leveling up, and leveling up made you better so you could kill more things. (I'm told that in later editions of the game, you can get XP without necessarily killing, and I seem to recall that in earlier editions XP was just as tied to gold as killing monsters, but it's still what the mechanics of the game are built around.)

If you consider the morality of your characters, then no character in D&D should be "Lawful Good." Intrinsic to being "good" should be "respectful of life." Or, put another way, if you were walking home and you passed by, like, a badger den and the badger had for some stupid reason made a nest on top of a bag of money, could you kill the badger and take it? Killing is hard.

I say all this not to judge, but just to call out that old joke about PCs in RPGs being kill-crazy murderhobos. It's a joke that gets a lot of play in Dork Tower, and in games with a combat focus, it's pretty often true. But any game in which the characters commit acts of questionable morality runs the risk of desensitizing itself, which is why I think systems that at least make the players aware of what their actions might mean are good.

CASE IN POINT.

Last time on Night's Black Agents, the agents got out of the villa with their lives, but it was a near thing. Now hiding in Florence, they begin a new op looking for a target and a way to get out from under.

First thing: Money. MacAteer contacts a friend, formerly of the IRA, named Sean Christian, and has him wire some money (Sean owes him a favor or two). Hanover moves some money around, so the group is solvent, at least for the time being. Parker contacts her friend Patel in London and has him check on on Sedillo and Koltay; they're doing OK, but Sedillo drops a bit of a bombshell: The thing the agents killed outside the villa wasn't the same kind of master they'd seen before. It was a different, but similar, species, and the poison they'd used wouldn't kill it. It would make its muscles lock up, and thus make it more vulnerable to brute force attacks (like a van), but wouldn't kill one on its own.

The agents ponder this: Is the conspiracy escalating somehow? Is this a response to their actions? Or just something they hadn't seen up to now? Is it the same conspiracy? It must be, they're too closely linked not to be.

The agents dig into Vilmos Hajnal some more. Hanover does some hacking, starting with the ruins of Hi-Klass Escorts and the finances of Rus-Bel Air, and narrow down the areas that Hajnal's organization really wields power. They note, interestingly, that he doesn't have a lot of influence in Russia - he might well be at odds, in some places, with the Russian mob. The agents decide to use that.

Gambone activates an old cover (Ivan Kostov), and contacts an associate of his named Tick - drug mule, krokodil addict, general scumbag. With Hanover's help, he sets up a job for Tick, moving into Budapest and moving in on a human trafficking ring that Hajnal's organization runs.

The agents decide that this is a good start, but a two-pronged attack might be better. Hanover and Parker hack the gibson or whatever and go after Hajnal's finances, making it look like Russian interference. Then they get the hell out of Florence, heading to London, and setting up the safehouse so it looks like the Russians were there.

A couple of days later, in London, they learn on the news that a brothel in Budapest was burned, multiple people were dead, and Tick's head was mounted on an iron fence outside. Gambone sees this, and feels shaken. He's killed people before and Tick was a crook, but it's one thing to whack a guy. It's another to deliver him to vampires. (Ess, meanwhile, sleeps soundly that night: God has his back, he feels.)

The agents discuss their next move. The conspiracy is distracted, Budapest is hot - maybe under the cover of this chaos they can hit the prison? Hanover suggests going to Minsk and looking into Rus-Bel Air more, but no one is very keen on that. In the end, they collect some new darts from Sedillo (and Parker taps her friend Dr. Highbridge to get Sedillo some lab space), and the agents decide to check out the Isle of Man while they're in the area. Financial things keep leading back there; maybe there's something to find. MacAteer has his buddy Snug set them up with a boat and some guns, so they can get off the island quickly if they need to.

They track the trail from the capital city of Douglas to a smaller village called Laxey. They spend the day on bikes as tourists, and their trained eyes note that a house near the seashore that has some enhanced security and recent construction.

Ess and MacAteer knock on the door, MacAteer pretending he fell off his bike and got hurt. A woman answers the door, takes them in, and starts to patch him up, but Ess notes that she's armed and MacAteer realizes that she's trained and strong - plus she has a com in her ear. A flicker of recognition crosses her face...

Hanover is covering the front, Parker is up on a hill covering the back, and Gambone picks the lock at the back of the house, disables the motion detector he finds there, and hides in the kitchen. A black car starts heading down the road, and Parker signals to Ess that trouble is incoming.

Ess disarms the woman, and MacAteer socks her in the jaw, stunning her long enough for Ess to immobilize her. Two men with machine pistols get out of the car; Parker shoots one of them dead and then forces the other to drop his gun (Gambone takes him prisoner). The agents have to move quickly (people around here aren't used to gunshots, but surely someone heard). They load the woman and the surviving security man into the car, put the body in the trunk, and Hanover and Gambone search the house.

Hanover takes a laptop from the woman's downstairs room, but Gambone finds something upstairs that no one expected: Bugarcic, the curator of the Tesla museum in Belgrade. The agents had figured he went to the USA, but here he is. They take him prisoner as well, head for the seaside, get in the boat, and get the hell off the island.

Next time: Interrogation.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Movie #397: The Man with the Iron Fists

The Man with the Iron Fists is martial-arts action movie starring (and directed by) RZA, with Russel Crowe, Lucy Liu, Byron Mann, Rick Yune, Dave Bautisa, Jamie Chung, and Daniel Wu.

In ancient China, the Blacksmith (RZA) works in Jungle City, a crime-ridden district. He mostly makes weapons for the various clans that fight it out all kung-fu style there. In the meanwhile, he saves up money to buy his lover, Lady Silk (Chung) out from her contract to Madame Blossom (Liu), the owner of the local brothel.

Yeah, strap in. It gets worse.

A shipment of gold is coming through town, and the imperial forces of planet Spaceball have contracted with the Lion Clan to protect, but the second-in-command, Silver Lion (Mann) betrays his master Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen) and steals it. Word of this reaches Gold Lion's son, Zen Yi, the X-Blade (Yune, and no, I'm not making that name up), and he returns to Jungle City to avenge his father.

And into all this is Jack Knife (Crowe), a British agent and representative of the emperor, checking on the gold. The Lion Clan brings in Brass Body (Bautisa), a magical fighter-dude who can literally become living brass, and everyone fights in magical kung-fu glory. Eventually the bad guys chop off the Blacksmith's arms, but with the others' help he forges the titular iron fists, using his chi or some shit to manipulate them like normal hands.

So, I'm gonna own it right away: This movie is problematic as shit in places. It treats women terribly; sure, the ladies under Blossom's command are kind of badass, but they wind up getting killed anyway, including Lady Silk. Actually, she gets raped (by Brass Body) and killed (by Brass Body), but does wind up injuring him enough that the Blacksmith can beat him. Yeah, that's not really good enough (Blossom dies, too, for what it's worth).

The other overriding issue is that RZA can't act his way out of a wet paper bag. He's flat as old cardboard, and his narration, while it has some good lines ("these motherfuckers had a Gatling gun, and more bullets than China has rice") is so mumbly and uninspired that it kind of detracts from the movie.

But for all that? I love this movie. I have no idea if RZA ever played Feng Shui, but it sure feels like he did. It's over the top and utterly ridiculous, set to a soundtrack of Wu Tang and associated acts, and includes some really fun fight choreography. Russel Crowe is especially fun to watch, playing Jack Knife with drugged-out, oversexed bliss.

I haven't yet been brave enough to check out the sequel, which I'm reliably informed was pretty terrible, but if you can look past the acting and some of the uncomfortable bits of the script, check this out.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Mary Poppins

Friday, March 24, 2017

Character Creation: Belly of the Beast

I backed this game on Kickstarter, and it's kind of a rarity inasmuch as...OK, I'm a bit of an RPG junkie. My usual criteria for backing a game on KS or buying it at a con (which is where I do much of my RPG shopping) is "is it a table-top RPG" and "is it not D&D."

Anyway, Belly of Beast was a rarity inasmuch as the premise hooked me and got me excited, rather than just tripping me "this is an RPG and therefore might be interesting as research" reflex. I read it on my trip to New York recently, and I want to run it. So, I'm gonna make me a character.

The Game: Belly of the Beast
The Publisher: Sigil Stone Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it, looks pretty simple, system-wise.
Books Required: Just the one.

Belly of the Beast is a game in which you play folks trying to eke out a life in the belly of a monster that ate the world. It smashed into the world as an asteroid, hatched, and started gulping down cities. The monster is big enough that it has a whole ecosystem, and three generations of people have lived and died since it started its feast.

The game is basically survival horror, but it's really damn focused, which I enjoy. So let's get to it.

Step one is, of course, character concept. I want to create an explorer - or rather, a forager, but one who specializes in getting into hard-to-reach places. So he's good at climbing up fleshy mountains (and, like, normal ones that have been swallowed), diving into subterranean lakes, and otherwise dealing with harsh environments. He's not great with people and social situations, though - he mostly grew up on his own and he's lousy as a trader or negotiator. (Note that this doesn't mean he doesn't like people, because lone-wolf characters tend to be kind of boring and hard to play with, and you know how I feel about misanthropy. Here, +Kate Bullock is very smart, go see what she has to say on the subject.)

Anyway, my character's name is Speet. That's not his "real" name (he doesn't really have one), but when he was about 13 and he approached someone to offer to work for them, he froze up, and the dude kept saying "speak!" Speet finally just repeated that, but his speech is a bit underdeveloped and he fronted the velar /k/ sound at the end of the word (why he didn't simplify the /sp/ blend is a different question).

Now I pick two Instincts that drive Speet, and each one gives me a maneuver. And, +Ben had these Instincts and maneuvers printed on the character sheet, god bless 'im. I'll pick Curiosity and Fear. For my maneuvers, I think I'll be able to spend 1D to identify any potential danger in a scene, and to spend 1D to identify something immediately useful. That's gonna mean I'd spend a lot of my dice on that stuff, but that's fine, you get them back pretty quickly, it looks like.

Next up, I define a Specialty. Bileborn (I'm hardy because I was born in the Evergut) and Forager (I can, like, forage good) both make sense, but I think it's closer to concept to take Bileborn and make up the difference with Skills.

Speaking of which, Skills are next. I can pick one of several arrays that gives me a certain number of ranks in Skills. I'll stick to my usual preference and take Specialized, so I get 1 Brilliant (I succeed on a 3 or better), 3 Capable (4 or better), 1 Acceptable (5+) and 3 Rotten (only succeeds on a 6).

Well, I'll put my Rottens in Influence, Lore, and Stealth. I know, I know, Stealth? But this guy's a climber and an explorer, being stealthy isn't what he's good at. I'll put Might on my Acceptable. For my Capables, I'll take Awareness, Cunning, and Coordination, which leaves Resolve as my Brilliant. Speet can power through almost anything; it's how he's lived this long.

And then I get a Talent, which is more free-form; it's what I do that makes me awesome. Actually, one of the examples is "Terrain Master," and I really like that.

Finally, Equipment. I don't like to shop, but this is quick. Speet needs a dagger, a backpack, climbing pitons, rope, and a pouch of herbs around his neck. That'll do it.

I would do starting Bonds, but that requires a group and it's just me, so that's me done!




Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie #396: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an action/spy movie based on the TV show of the same name, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, and Sylvester Groth.

In the height of the Cold War, an American CIA agent named Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and a Russian KGB agent named Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) are forced to team to save the world. Wacky hijinks ensue.

More specifically, after nearly killing each other trying to obtain an asset - Gaby (Vikander), the daughter of a missing nuclear scientist (Christian Berkel) - they wind up assigned to partner up to find said scientist before he is forced to show some fascists how to enrich uranium. She does so by tracking down her uncle Rudi (Groth) and pretending she's engaged to Kuryakin, while Solo cozies up to/seduces the head of the fascist family business (Debicki).

The show has some twists and turns; it turns out Rudi's a Nazi and a torturer, and Gaby is working for British intelligence under a chap named Waverly (Grant), but in the end, the bad guys get blown up, Kuryakin and Solo don't shoot each other, and Waverly recruits them all for a new intelligence outfit: UNCLE.

I've watched a bit of the Man from UNCLE TV show, and I think this is a nice "origin story" for it. Sure, the show wasn't nearly so violent, and Kuyakin (David McCallum on TV) wasn't, like, prone to psychotic breaks, but Cavill's performance as the smooth, sophisticated Solo is perfect. I like the addition of Vikander as Gaby, and I really wish we'd get a sequel so we could a) see them as a team and b) see Gaby doing badass car things some more. (Sadly, a sequel doesn't seem in the offing.) The chemistry between the cast is present, the performances generally are good, and casting Grant as Waverly was pretty genius.

In an example of "that's awesome but arrgh," the end credits show files on each of the principles, and we learn, for instance, that Waverly was an opium addict and Gaby trained as a ballet dancer. I'm not saying they should have worked in a scene where she dances or Waverly tokes up, just that a sequel would be really cool.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: The Man with the Iron Fists

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Game Prep: Something New

Fun fact: The words "something new" conjure up either a line from the Amazing Stories episode "Family Dog" ("something new!" "What's that?" "A recipe I found in Suburban Paradise magazine! Tater pops and cheese whip!") or this song by Hozier. But anyway, I'm gonna take some game notes and you should stay out if you're playing in these games!


Movie #395: Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia! is a musical based on the stage musical of the same name, which is in turn based on the songs of ABBA, starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Skellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, and Dominic Cooper.

Sophie (Seyfried) is getting married very young to her boyfriend Sky (Cooper). She lives on a Greek island with her mother Donna (Streep) who runs a hotel/B&B kind of thing, but she's never known her father. Shortly before her wedding, she reads her mom's diary and learns that mom had...rather a busy summer 20 years ago. Sophie has three possible fathers: Sam (Brosnan), Bill (Skarsgard), or Harry (Firth). She invites them all to her wedding, figuring she's magically know her real dad on sight (what) and ask him to walk her down the aisle.

Of course, this does not go quite as planned, there's drama, Donna reconnects with her former lovers and confronts the fact that Sophie's being a little protective of her mother, but that her mother really does need someone around. And then Sophie and Sky decide they're far too young to marry, but Sam proposes to Donna, Bill hooks up with Donna's old friend Rosie (Walters), Harry, it turns out, is gay and finds a lovely young Greek man to snog, and all is well.

The movie maps pretty well from the show; they cut a couple of songs, but nothing that you miss. The mistake was casting Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgard, none of whom can sing, and especially not next to Streep and Seyfried, who both really clearly can. Likewise, in a musical you get an intermission, and there are a lot of songs, even with the cut.

The performances are good, though, discounting the troubled vocals. They changed Harry from "happily in a relationship" to "met a dude on the island", but since that gives him someone to kiss during the last scenes, I'm kinda OK with it. The scenery is well-realized, too; the villa feels real and you learn your way around, which is always fun.

Overall, it's worth watching if you like ABBA and you're not going to get too bothered by the lead men's lack of singing chops.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: The Man from UNCLE

Monday, March 20, 2017

Movie #394: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon is a detective/noir film starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr., Barton MacLaine, and Lee Patrick. It's one of those movies that if you haven't seen it, you've seen homages to it.

Sam Spade (Bogart), a private dick (lol), takes a job watching out for a mysterious femme fatale later revealed to be named Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Astor, and, fun fact, when Liza Minelli guest-starred on The Muppet Show they did a spoofy on a murder mystery, and her character was named Liza O'Shaughnessy). His partner Miles (Jerome Cowan) winds up getting shot shortly before the dude that shot him gets shot, the chief of detectives (MacLaine) is all over Spade to figure this out, and what exactly is Brigid's deal?

Well, it turns out that she stole a MacGuffin priceless statue of a falcon, which other interested parties, including a wealthy criminal named Gutman (Greenstreet) and a gun for hire named Cairo (Lorre) are after. And after all is said and done, the damn thing is fake, Gutman and Cairo leave to go and find the real one (though it's implied they'll be arrested), Brigid gets sent down for Archer's murder, and Spade goes back to his office.

In a rare show of literacy, I actually have read the novel by Dashiell Hammett on which this is based (I took a class called "The Detective Story" in college), and I note that some of the changes might make for a more period-appropriate movie, but they feel a little out of place. Witness the constant declarations of love been Astor and Bogart (it comes up in the novel, but I don't remember it being mentioned as frequently, though I admit it's been a while). Actually, I sort of feel like with Falcon is more consistent and makes more sense, The Big Sleep is the better movie and definitely the better example of noir. Falcon approaches it when Spade insists that "when a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it."

Lorre and Greenstreet are, for my money, the best parts of this films, and Cook Jr. also turns in a really subtle performance as Wilmer Cook, Gutman's "gunzel". All in all it's a classic for a reason, even if it is a remake.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Mama Mia!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Feng Shui: Fight at the Museum!

Last time, the Dragons mixed it up with some Jade Wheel types, but it was all just a wacky misunderstanding. This time, they started off searching for Spider Feng. Celeste found a blood trail, and followed it, she and Bai leap across buildings (and Tang just teleporting) while Chrys followed in her car and Captain Ping and his folks followed in their van.

They arrived at the museum, which was both where the blood trail led and the place the shopkeeper said he'd taken inspiration for his room setup from. Bai, Celeste, and Tang popped in through an open wind, while Chrys and the other folks (Ping, Zep, Ban Wei, and the mooks) charged in the front, dodging people streaming out

And why the panic? Because Spider Feng was fighting with a dude in robes! He crackled with sorcerous energy, and Feng fought bravely, but was clearly getting overwhelmed...but now the dude was badly outnumbered!

But alas! He threw his hands to the ceiling and magic lanced down! Celeste quickly made a gesture, disrupting the ritual, and protecting her fellow Dragons, but all the others were mind-controlled, and the fight was on.

Spider Feng leaped to the second level (where Bai, Celeste, and Tang were) and kicked Tang right in the head. She and Bai fought, and she dropped into a splits and punched Bai right in a very uncomfortable place (like the back of a Volkswagon?). Meanwhile, Celeste shot one of the mooks in the leg, dropping him and giving the other ones pause.

Big Ban Wei pushed a statue over onto Tang and Bai, and then threw a big chunk of wreckage at them. The dude in robes flew up into the air, but Tang tackled him to the ground and Celeste used her knowledge of disrupting magic to...disrupt his magic. He lost the ability to fly, but could still throw magic lightning!

Chrys, meanwhile, had a not-terrible-subtle way of getting involved. She jacked the aforementioned van and drove it right into the museum, knocking a bunch of mooks out of the way and putting Ping on her windshield. He pulled out a gun and tried to shoot her. BOXCARS. The bullet bounced off the windshield and knocked him out.

Meanwhile, Feng and Bai were still mixing it up. Feng went to spin-kick Bai in the back of the neck. BOXCARS. And Feng fell off the damn balcony, pulled a bunch of debris on top of her and knocking herself out.

Zep tossed a grenade under the van and blew it up, but Chrys jumped to safety. She pulled out Johnny (her gun) and went to fire at the dude in robes. BOXCARS. And two mooks in front of her exploded with magic energy, knocking her back.

(Seriously, we had three boxcars and they were all bad for the people rolling.)

At this point, Tang was about done with this nonsense. He jumped up into the air and landed on the dude in robes, bringing his fists down on the dude's head. That dropped him and broke the spell; the others woke up.

They realized they had to work quickly. They could already hear sirens (Tang: "I miss the future"). They found the tableau that Celeste had seen in her vision, and behind a painting she found a message from her sister: "White Serpent."

Cut to getting noodles later: Spider Feng identified "White Serpent" as a circle of sorcerers, one of several cults dedicated to a strange figure named "the Eternal Chameleon." Said Chameleon, or "Leon" for short, had cults in every juncture dedicated to resurrecting him should he die...and now, apparently, he was here in the contemporary juncture. And the Dragons are gonna go fuck him up.

Epilogue: A shadowy man on a shadowy throne turns to his shadowy lieutenant. "They're coming. Remember, I want one of them alive. Kill the rest."

The lieutenant responds: "Eek. Ook."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Promethean: AAAA TOO MUCH TO DO

Leaving for Breakout today. Meant to do this Tuesday, but y'know, best laid plans blardy-blar. On we go.

Last time, the characters started fixing up their place. This time, they started off continuing with that, and then split up to go do things. Grimm was not with the group; he'd gone to meet with a friend of his, Justine, who was apparently in town (ignore that ominous music in the background, won't you?).

Skip wanted to go find a set of brass knuckles (since taking on the baby-leg-gator-Pandoran was on the agenda). He asked Sicky, who said he knew a dude who could probably help. They went to a seedy-looking bar and Skip talked to a guy named Red, who sold weapons. Skip, however, set off some Disquiet, and Red wound up jacking up the price on him. Skip, not interested in that and feeling threatened by the dudes standing up to menace him, took a swing.

The fight ended quickly; Skip punched one dude in the chest and dropped him, and broke Red's nose. One guy grabbed a sawed-off shotgun from behind the bar, but Skip had activated Zephyrus and was pretty hard to hit. He warned the guy not to shoot, and left. He'd been feeling Vitriol rise, but when he left, he felt it fade, like he'd missed something. He did reflect, though, that beating down the guy with the shotgun when he was clearly scared rather than hostile wouldn't have been right, and thus he made a minor milestone (suffer a setback due to honor).

Meanwhile, Feather and Matt went to visit Parris Mick. She invited them up to her studio and talked about her work a bit, and showed them a painting she'd titled "Pentimento." Feather noted that the term meant that she'd painting over an existing work, and Parris agreed that she had, but wasn't sure what it was. Feather offered that she had a friend who might be able to help with that (figuring that Avalon, using the Stone Alembic, could probably do it), and Parris agreed, but was reluctant to let the painting leave.

Everyone regrouped (and the Prometheans noted that Skip had been clocked on the head pretty good). They talked with Sicky a bit, and Feather noted that he'd maybe been in town too long. Sicky said that he was afraid to leave; he knew this city and he felt he was too weak and stupid to be elsewhere. The throng offered to let him tag along when they left, and Sicky was very moved.

They decide to go looking for Pilgrim Marks; Sicky knew where a bunch of them were. He led them around the city, showing them where other Prometheans had marked their progress (of course the real prize was the camp, but they wanted to wait until Grimm was back to take that on). Sicky noted a mark that said "be quiet" and told them to shush, but Skip noted a spirit in the shadows and greeted it. And then a door opened, and a short man in a nice suit greeted Sicky, and asked if they wouldn't like to come in for a drink.

The man - who introduced himself as "Carroll" - was genteel and polite. His storefront was a photography studio, consisting mainly of stark photos of homeless people, destruction from the hurricane, and suchlike. He obviously knew who and what Sicky was, and recognized the other Prometheans for what they were, but noted that Matt "smelled different." He talked to them about vampires and mages in the city, and when they asked what sort of weirdness he was, he said, "just think of me as your cousin."

Carroll made Skip and Feather nervous, but intrigued Avalon, especially as they talked about art. He asked her to come to lunch the next day so that they could talk about her style of artwork. Sicky was uncomfortable (terrified, really), and the characters asked why. Carroll said he'd show them, and Sicky stepped out for a minute (he'd seen this already). Carroll vanished, and the room's shadows lengthened. The Prometheans felt miles away from each other, and constantly felt that something was behind them. And then Carroll reappeared and the light came back.

Carroll told them that he'd be happy to help them on their journeys if he could; when they asked what he got out of it, he replied that it was nothing in particular, he just found the process fascinating. He told them that when Parris had arrived on the art scene (he seemed unaware that she'd been a Promethean, but maybe it just didn't come up) that she'd been broken, depressed, and a mess, but that she'd found her pace and done well for herself.

The Prometheans bid him goodbye and headed out. Skip wanted to go across the river to the power station (one of the dudes had clocked him with a bat pretty good, and he'd burned through most of his Pyros anyway). The brought Charon a po' boy, which he appreciated, and Matt joined Skip for the trip. They got to the power station and Skip healed up, and then Matt decided he'd try it - maybe he'd given up too soon before. He grabbed the lines and felt searing pain...but he pushed through it, and felt his Fire flare again. He made a milestone (reignite his fire)...but then every light in New Orleans went out.

Next time, we'll deal with the blackout.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chill, and then Promethean Notes

Not to say "relax" but as in "I ran Chill yesterday." So!

The Boise HQ has a number of cases it could investigate, but before they really dig into one, Auntie Dee has a little errand for them. Eleanor Henry, a former SAVE envoy, passed away recently, and she left behind a lot of notes and case histories that she wanted taken back to the HQ. So, the envoys head over to the house of her son, Dennis, to pick them up. They bring casserole, because obviously.

Dennis is holding up OK; he's sad, but his mother lived a long life and died peacefully. He mentions that she's been chatting with a nurse named Rosalita Clemmons at the hospital where she used to work (Eleanor was also a nurse), and thinks that she might have been doing SAVE-style investigations, as she was wont to do. Dee promises to look into it, and the envoys take away several banker's boxes full of notebooks. They're in a cypher, though, and Dennis doesn't have a key. On the way out, Edward uses Premonition, and sees Dennis translating photocopies of one of the notebooks - something to keep an eye on.

The envoys decide that maybe they should talk to this Rosalita person, so they head to the hospital and make up a story. She comes out to meet them, and when they mention Eleanor, she pulls them ("them" here meaning Dylan, Dee, and Edward) aside and tells them that a woman on her floor died recently (she's a cardiac nurse), but she heard from the morgue attendant that the body was mutilated in the morgue - the eyes were missing. And then she heard that several other bodies had the same thing happen, but they're being processed far too quickly. Cover up? She's not sure; she knows that the hospital is building a new wing (she points out the construction) and the admins don't want any trouble.

The envoys convince her to show them the morgue and introduce the attendant, which she does. They see one of the eyeless bodies, but apart from Edward noting that the sockets don't have any damage or wounds, they aren't able to tell much. Dylan does note where the body of the first "victim" was taken, though.

They head back to the ranch and Dylan gets the computers going on a cypher-breaker, but it's going to take time. The envoys decide to wait until dark, and break into the funeral home where the first eyeless victim was taken. Jeanie uses Skeleton Key to get in, and she, Dee, and Dylan head downstairs to the prep room, while Edward sneaks upstairs to the office and BB keeps lookout.

Edward only has time to see some paperwork on the desk before the owner wakes up, but, thinking fast, he claims that he talked to an employee about using the place for a movie shoot. A few really impressive Communication rolls later, the guy lets him leave with his card (but is annoyed when he sees BB there, too), and the others sneak out the back. The others didn't learn much else - the body was missing its eyes, but with no wounds. They looked like they were removed very cleanly.

It's late, so everyone beds down. Dee dreams of being in a tunnel, and hearing something scuttling behind her. She feels her vision fade, and then something jumps on her back before she wakes with a start.

The envoys get up, have breakfast, and do some research. The hospital is more than 100 years old, and just recently was purchased by Glorian Health Group, which is turning the remains of an old church (St. Pauls, which used to be connected to the hospital) into the new wing. Meanwhile, the de-cyphered files indicate that Eleanor and a team of envoys fought a creature they called the "Eye-Biter' back in 1975. It killed one envoy and injured another, and apparently could "make you feel like your head was in a bucket of dishwater." The injured envoy, the files note, pulled a fire alarm, after which the creature spun in a circle rather than attacking - maybe loud noise or flashing lights distracted it? Jeanie rigs up a device that would do both (but botched the roll to do so; it worked fine when she tested it!).

The files said that the 1975 team had trapped the creature in a tunnel with an explosive device. If the construction site had disturbed it, it might be using the old tunnels to get to the morgue. The envoys decide they'll just head over that night and check out the construction site.

They arrive and creep into the site, and Edward uses Premonition...which leads him to a dead body. The dead man, a construction worker, has a broken neck and is missing his eyes, but there's a milky white substance near the socket - it looks like his eyes have been melted right out. BB posits that the Eye-Biter might be like a spider, dissolving the eyes with a digestive enzyme and then drinking them. The envoys have a collective "yuck" over that, but then a police car rolls up. BB and Jeanine deftly hide, but the others don't. Edward, again, is on the spot with his "making a movie" excuse, and Dee backs him up. The cop makes them leave, but doesn't pursue it further.

They, of course, wait until the cop has gone, and then return. The plan is to lure the creature out and then trap it using Dylan's Line of Defense discipline, hopefully disorienting it with the device Jeanie made. We shall see how well that works in a few weeks.

And now, Promethean notes. Players, stay out.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Movie #393: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Eijofor (I SPELLED THAT RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY), Rachel McAdams (that too, but that's less impressive), Tilda Swinton, and Mads Mikkelsen.

Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is the world's greatest neurosurgeon, but he's an arrogant douchebag and much more interested in breaking new ground (which is fine) and notoriety (less fine) than actually saving lives. His partner and former lover Christine Palmer (McAdams) serves as the foil, here, trying to remind him that what he does has consequences to people, but like, whatever, I've got a thousand watches. Then he gets in a car wreck that mangles his hands, and spends all his money trying to fix them. Eventually he winds up in Nepal and meets Mordo (Eijofor) and the Ancient One (Swinton), learns the mystic arts, and gets drafted into a war to protect humanity from extradimensional threats. Case in point: A former disciple name Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to bring the Dark Dimension to Earth, which is bad.

Let's get the bad shit out of the way first. Right out of the gate, it's basically the same plot as Iron Man. The particulars are different, but the throughline is pretty similar: arrogant, rich, amazingly talented douchebag is injured and winds up with superpowers as a consequence of trying to correct that. Sure, Tony finds his "mission" pretty early on, while a major theme of Strange's journey is learning humility, but that actually brings me to the second thing that bugs me.

There's a lot of missed potential in this movie. Like, Mordo came to Kamar Taj because he wanted the power to "destroy his enemies." We get the sense that he did that, that he maybe regrets some of what he did, but we never learn particulars. Likewise, Kaecilius "lost everyone he loved," but we don't learn a thing about him and he's just a cartoony villain, so his quest to bring immortality to the world, even in a misguided way, which should feel a little agonizing (because fuck me, is there anyone who can't relate to the feeling that "time is the enemy"?), just kinda feels like generic monologing.

The greatest example of that, though, is when Strange kills an enemy wizard and then insists to Mordo and the Ancient One that he's a doctor, and that means he took an oath to save lives, not take them. And that should have been really poignant, but then the moment kind of passed because of Mordo and Ancient One bitching at him about how it's not really about the oath, but about covering his own ass.

The other missed opportunity, of course, was the Ancient One. Look, I like Tilda Swinton as much as the next movie buff, but what exactly was the thinking here? You want to reclaim the character from the Orientalism, OK, cast an Asian actor and write it well. You want to gender-flip it, cool, cast Michelle Yeoh. You want to make it a non-Asian character, OK, if you must, but then why does the mystical place need to be in Nepal? If she's Celtic, put her base of operations in Ireland or something and remove the "Far East Exoticism". (I'm being kinda flip here, because I know that the real reason for not wanting to make the character Tibetan was to appease China, but there's still so much they could have done.)

And the other thing: Why is all the fighting punching? Where's the reality-bending magic? Kaecilius does some of it, but Strange's go-to is summon a flexible weapon, which was cool the first time, but got a little repetitive (and yes, I know he's a novice, but that's unsatisfying).

So generally, despite all of that, I like this movie. I like Cumberbatch as Strange (would've preferred Oded Fehr, but hey), I really like Eijofor as Mordo and I love his setup as a future villain. But frankly, the most satisfying moment of the movie was the post-credits scene with Thor. I did like Strange's time-loop gambit, but there was another missed opportunity there: Why not have Strange come out of that even more powerful and knowledgable and nuts than before as a kind of Groundhog Day kind of scenario?

I like the movie, but I like it because of what it sets up more than for what it is.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Maltese Falcon

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Character Creation: Riders

Well, illness and various conflicts have kinda fudutzed my plan to make a character a week; I'm presently 5 behind schedule, counting this week. But! If I can get back on the horse, so to speak, I can maybe catch up over spring break. (This is going to be tricky because I'm traveling a lot in March and April, but maybe if I lean towards characters that have simple chargen systems or games I know well.)

Anywhichway!

The Game: Riders: A Game About Cheating Doomsday
The Publisher: Talespinner Holdings
Degree of Familiarity: None, but the system is pretty reminiscent of PbtA.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, in Riders, you play servants of one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You're trying to prevent the End Times, though, which involves seeking out the troubles that may herald send End Times and resolving them before Alan Rickman the Metatron notices.

This game has wound up on our short list to play a couple of times, so I'm sure it'll be in the rotation at some point. For the moment, though, let's us make a Rider.

First thing we think about is Life Before, that is, before I got tapped to be a Rider.

Actually, first, I'm gonna post this:

Theme song, y'see. I wanted to make a Rider of Pestilence because I've been so goddman sick this month, but that's not an option, so I'm going for Death. I want my character to be someone who's been afraid of dying. We'll say he got a diagnosis when he was fairly young (20s) of some kind of blood disorder that isn't contagious, but keeps him thin and weak and meant that he wouldn't live to see 30. And then the Horseman tapped him to be a Rider, and that was how he finally hit acceptance: Everything dies. It's lonely. It's cold. It's scary as hell, but it's happening. It just doesn't have to happen for everyone. Not yet.

OK, back to work. So, my first Element (these characters are all made up of Elements) is Dream, something he accomplished or wanted to accomplish. I'm gonna say "Survived to 25" as his Dream. That was something he wasn't sure he could do. For Regret (pretty much what it sounds like), I'll say "Pushed his brothers away." Of course he just didn't want to make them go through seeing him die, but he wound up being such an insufferable dick that they had to cut him off. He misses them, but he doesn't want to risk luring Death upon them by visiting.

Profession. Hrm. What'd this guy do? Can't have been something that required a lot of schooling, I guess. I think he wrote freelance, mostly magazines and whatnot. Enough money he could live on. "Freelance writer," then.

Hobby. Is "gravestone rubbings" too obvious? Oh, how about graffiti? "Tagging artist." Sure. I like the idea that his hobby is kinda illegal, because really, what are they gonna do? Put him in prison?

Sin. I have the standard array of seven. I'll take Pride.

Virtue. I'll take Charity. He's pretty big on giving shit away, because, like, fuck it, he's probably not going to need it.

OK, now I add modifiers to each of these (+1, +1, +2, +2, +3). So, where do I want the big boost? I think his Dream makes the most sense. I'll put the +2s in Sin and Virtue, and that leaves +1 in the other three.

Now I do Element Dice, which means I get to split up 2D6, 2D6, 2D6, 3D6, 3D6, 4D6 the same way. I can assign a lot of dice to something low-modifier'd, to balance things out, if I so desire.

I'll put 3D6 in Regret and Hobby. I'll put 4D6 in Sin, and that leaves 2D6 everywhere else.

Now, I consider Life as a Rider. First thing is: Why did Death pick me? I think it's pretty obvious; not only is this guy gonna die (which doesn't make him special; everyone is gonna die), but it was his defining feature. What everyone knew about him was that he was not long for the world, so he marinated in his own impending death. It might have started as a coping mechanism, but it passed that into a major facet of his personality.

Next, we think about a Shepherd (angel that wants to protect humanity). This would be a group thing, but it's just me, so. We'll say the Shepherd was a cop that found my character as he was about to step into a bar right before it erupted in flames (my character was there to witness all the death). The Shepherd, Officer Smoake, showed my character how to shut off the gas in the building and save everyone, and in the process, showed him that he doesn't have to be defined by death.

How long have I been a Rider? I think a little while, maybe six months. He did some Rider-y things before he met Smoake that he's now not proud of, but like, no point in feeling guilty. Everyone dies.

And then my Unearthly Element, which is Rider of Death 2D6/1D6.

And then Gifts. I get Doomrider (my magic motorcycle; it says "of your choice," so mine will be something that doesn't make that godawful BRUM BRUM noise the used to wake my daughter up from her nap when fucking bikers would tear down Fowles Road), Resilience (I heal quick, turkey), Tongues (I speak all the tongues of Babel), and Coils (I have a bunch of health). That's the standard Rider package. As a Rider of Death, I also get Time of Death (I can tell, in a general sense, when someone's going to die) and Scythe of Death (I can summon a goddamn mystical scythe).

And then I get one more, and god damn this is a tough choice. The Death Gifts are baller, and a lot of them fit this character, too.

Huh. I think I gotta go with Fear the Reaper, just because of that line in the song ("God damn right, you should be scared of me"). It lets me instill fear in all Earthly beings.

Oh, one more bit: Three Death-related questions.

Why did Death pick you? I think I answered that; Death defined him. It was a natural fit.
Did you ever kill anyone before? No, and the thought would have horrified him, no matter how much he rabbited on about "fuck it, everyone dies." For him that was a call to be generous and maybe a little maudlin, not homicidal.
Why do you think the world is worth saving? Precisely because it has to end someday.

My character's name is Kevin MacHeath (and he's heard all the Mac the Knife jokes, thanks).

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Movie #392: Deathtrap

Deathtrap is a 1982 thriller starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth, and Henry Jones. It's based on the play by Ira Levin, which I think I auditioned for once.

Sidney Bruhl (Caine) is a playwright who's lost his edge; his last few plays have flopped and he's anxious about sponging off his rich wife, Myra (Cannon). He receives an unsolicited play from a new playwright named Clifford Anderson (Reeve), and jokes to Myra about murdering him for the play, but then when Anderson actually arrives, he goes through with hit, strangling him in front of Myra. Then, the next night, Anderson returns from the grave to beat Bruhl to death, and Myra dies of a heart attack.

Which, of course, was Bruhl and Anderson's plan all along - kill Myra, take her money, and live together as lovers. Of course, it all comes unraveled when Anderson starts writing what happened as a play, and Bruhl conspires to kill him. And in the midst of all this is Helga Ten Dorp (Worth), a psychic who lives up the way and (correctly) predicts some of the death.

When I read this play years ago, I noticed that Bruhl and Anderson were coded as gay, but it's not explicit. In the movie, they kiss, and this was 1982, so that's kind of a big deal (and this was, what, two years after Superman II, so Reeve in this role, that was pretty daring).

The movie is good and very watchable (movies based on plays can get talky, for obvious reasons). Caine is perfectly smarmy and, at times, menacing as Bruhl, and Reeve switches from gentle lover to scary monster on a dime. I found Cannon's portrayal of Myra to be a little overwrought (lots of screaming), but Worth was perfect as Helga.

Interestingly, the play ends with Helga and Porter (the lawyer, played her by Jones) circling each other with Helga holding a dagger, arguing about who's going to write the play based on these events; meanwhile, Anderson and Bruhl have killed each other. The movie ends with Anderson and Bruhl both dying, but Helga surviving and making a hit play out of it. I think I prefer the stage ending in concept, though making it work on screen would have been difficult (it kind of ends in the middle of a tense scene). Overall, though, this is a fun movie and I'm glad we picked it up.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Doctor Strange

Feng Shui: Back to the Block

Monday was a short session of Feng Shui. Here we go!

The Dragons made it back to the contemporary juncture, and Dani (who goes by "Chrys Archer" in this juncture) headed for her apartment to get a change of clothes. From there, they headed back to the storefront, and Celeste went out to get lattes (the things you miss while you're in an ape-dominated far future).

While she was on the train headed back, she saw a woman watching her. This woman was slight, but athletic, and had a spider tattoo on her hand. Celeste thought she looked familiar, but couldn't place her. She dodged her at the bus station, and headed back to the storefront, convinced she'd lost her shadow.

The Dragons hung around at the storefront for a while; Chrys meditated to synch herself up with the Feng Shui site, and Celeste talked with Sylvan Master about the woman she'd see. He recognized her as Spider Feng, an associate of the Jade Wheel Society and someone that the Dragons had fought before (about the time that Johnny showed up and they claimed this Feng Shui site). Feng was an Ascended, an animal that had assumed human form. The Dragons wondered if, were she to assume her natural form, she'd be a normal-sized spider? They weren't sure, but knew to be wary.

Celeste then began looking for her sister, Melody. She started by sketching the room that she'd seen in her vision. Sylvan Master then flipped through some image recognition for the whole city (wah-hoo!) and found a few possibles. The closest one was an antique store, so off they went!

They arrived (and Tang yanked up a parking meter to use as a weapon, should the need arise). They went inside, and the owner did not recognize Melody from a photo. Celeste found the furniture setup that looked like the room in her vision, but the owner said that he'd taken inspiration from a museum exhibit he'd seen - and said museum was also on the list. They were about to head out, when Spider Feng walked in.

Celeste suggested they head outside, and Feng agreed. With her was Big Ban Wei, a huge pile of muscle, and nearby, a guy waiting in a car, clearly armed (his name is Zep). The Dragons were wary, of course, but then there came an explosion from the shop!

Chrys, in a clear display of the tree not being far from the fallen apple, pulled her guns and said, "OK, let's do this!" Feng leaped over and disarmed her, and the fight was on. A bunch of dudes in black uniforms, led by Captain Ping, charged around the corner and fired on the Dragons, but missed them. Celeste shot a couple (but just to wound), and Zep pulled his car out to block the Dragon's car. Tang teleported on his hood and smashed in the windshield, and Zep shot him (seemed reasonable).

Ban Wei charged in, but Bai smacked him around with his staff and took him out (BOXCARS!). Feng, having taken some shots from Chrys and Bai, Cheesed It, and vanished in a swirl of ribbons. Ping, about this point, gave up and told his men to stand down, and asked why the Dragons had attacked. Chrys retorted that Feng attacked them, and Ping said, no, you pulled guns and said "let's do this," which was a clear precursor to attack.

But the explosion! Ah, yes. Celeste went around back and talked to a kid who'd been hiding in the alley. He said that a man in a black uniform had planted the bomb on the building, and that his eyes had glowed green. Ping, told this, realized he was missing a man, and they found said man unconscious across the street, missing his uniform. Someone was playing both the Dragons and the Ascended!

Ping said that they'd come to parley with the Dragons, but Feng knew the details and she's been spooked (turns out that Bai, if he'd taken Feng out, would have knocked her back into animal form and she wasn't having that). Bai figured he could track Feng mystically, though, so that's where we're headed next time.