Monday, June 11, 2018

Alas for the Awful Sea: Character Creation & Setup

Saturday, we made characters for Alas for the Awful Sea, and then played Rock Band and drank. You're really only interesting in the former (although if you're interested, I do a pretty killer rendition of "Miami 2017" by Billy Joel).

Alas for the Awful Sea is a PbtA game in which you play the crew of a fishing boat in 19th century British Isles. It's about economic hardship and tradition and perhaps a little folklore, low fantasy but definitely some fantasy.

Anyway, the ship is called The Tempest. It used to be a whaling vessel (it's a two-masted schooner) but it doesn't do whaling anymore. The harpoons are still intact, though. The quarters are converted and still smell of whale, and there's a collection of whalebone scrimshaw decorating the ship. The officers have private quarters (the surgeon's quarters are where blubber used to be rendered, so it effectively has a fireplace). The whole ship is overrun with a doubt of cats, and they keep the ship surprisingly rat-free.

The captain, Theodosius, is a man who loves his drink. He took over the ship from the previous owner, who stipulated as part of the sale that women be allowed to work the ship without hassle.

The crew includes:

  • Violet MacKenzie (Scholar/Believer): She is studying weather patterns, and is a fervent Non-Conformist. She's from money (father is a trader in Scotland). 
  • Blythe (Boatswain/Creature): The crew doesn't know her last name, or really anything about her. Blythe maintains the scrimshaw. She's...strange.
  • Fanella MacCallan (Surgeon/Confidant): Not officially a doctor, of course; she followed medical students around to their classes in Dublin, and listens carefully to everyone's secrets.
  • Connor (Strider/Outcast): Knows the sea well, drinks and refers to a former lover when drunk, but never by name.
  • Berylis "Berry" Beer (Cook/Kinsman): Fanella's "sister in law", and her late "husband" (actually wife) owned the ship before. She sends money home to put on her spouse's grave, but the ship is her true home now.

That's all we've got so far; next month we'll see what shenanigans these folks get up to.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Mechanical Cows and Pre-Teen Aloofness: A One-Shot

Last night I ran a one-shot game for my kids, my stepson, and Michelle. I put notes in this post. I've kind of fallen out of the habit of doing write-ups for one-shot games, but I want to start doing it again so that I can remember them a little better.

So! The characters all attend the Academy for Advanced Science and Esoteric Studies. They are:

  • Bing, the school's uplifted corgi mascot, fitted with a special collar that lets him talk.
  • Brass, the statue that stood at the front of the school until it got bored and went to class, and the faculty just shrugged and enrolled them.
  • Chip, a student at AASES who's very interested in creating robots and hella into school spirit. 
  • Wanda, a recent transfer from James K. Polk Middle School who's naturally gifted at magic.
As we begin, the three students are part of a search party looking for Bing - the mascot ran off! (That will happen, he's very excitable.) They find him down a well, running in circles. Chip rigs the pulley to lower them down, but doesn't rig up a brake (he's Too Smart for His Own Good), but Wanda uses magic to uncover rungs on the side of the well and Brass reaches out and stops the platform before it lands on Bing.

Bing, meanwhile, has discovered a tunnel over grown with roots and dug it out. The group, curious and not really wanting to try and climb back up, follows the tunnel.

They emerge in a great big chamber. It's obvious been a long time since anyone was down here, but the floor is polished marble with the school's crest inset, and the walls are lined with shelves. Wanda checks them and finds they contain school projects going back to the 1950s, when the school started. 

Chip makes a little scout-robot and sends it off to look around, while Brass uncovers a portrait. It's of Dr. Lucinda Bramblefort-Meyer and Dr. Greta Meyer-Brambefort, the married couple who founded AASES back in the 50s. They're flanked by two corgis ("Granda! Gramma!" exclaims Bing)...but behind them is a sinister-looking mechanical cow with glowing red eyes. 

At this point, the little robot comes scooting back toward Chip with its screen flashing "NOPE NOPE NOPE." Five mechanical cows charge at the group from out of the darkness. 

Bing springs into action, herding the cows and turning them away from the group. Brass runs up behind two of them, grabs them uses magic to overpower them and send them crashing into a wall. Wanda takes one of them down with magic, but another charges Brass and knocks them back (but not badly; Brass is tough). Chip attaches a device to Brass to make them strong, and Brass tosses the cow to the side. The peril has passed...?

The characters go back to looking around, Chip starts to dismantle a cow, but Brass (who is Easily Bored) wanders off toward where the cows came from. They find a group of pre-teens from James K. Polk Middle School sneaking in. When they seen Brass, they dismiss them as a robot, which Brass finds pretty offensive (they're a construct, there's a difference). Brass shows off their magic prowess, which gets the pre-teens' attention but also summons Brass' friends.

Wanda recognizes one of them, a kid with funny-looking orange hair whom the others called "Bleach", as Charles Sponder, a former classmate of hers. They argue and taunt each other, and Bing makes good use of his BORK BORK BORK stunt to scare of some of Bleach's buddies. Bleach teases Wanda about not being able to hack it at Polk, but Wanda employs her Vortex Inside Me stunt to throw the whole place into magic chaos, and Chip refashions a mechanical cow-head into a Scarebot, which finally sends Bleach packing.

The characters show the faculty this place, which was a storage unit for student projects and as such as a lot of magic laying around. They're all given extra credit, and this is gonna make the soccer game against James K. Polk Middle School next week really interesting!

Movie #465: My Neighbor Tortoro

My Neighbor Tortoro is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and starring (2005 English dubs) Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker, and Pat Carroll (there was also an English dub in 1993 or so with a different cast, but I haven't seen that one).

Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning) move to the country with their father Tatsuo (Daly), while their mother (Salonga) recovers from an unnamed illness at a nearby hospital. While there, they discover that their home is...infested is the wrong word, maybe inhabited with soot-sprites, and then Mei discovers that the nearby woods are home to spirits she calls "Totoro."

The Totoro are generally friendly and the sisters treat them respectfully, and then Mom has a relapse and Mei (who's only 4) tries to walk all the way to the hospital with an ear of corn that she thinks will make her mother better, gets lost, the whole community comes together to look for her, and Satsuki goes to the Totoro and asks their help. So Totoro calls up to take Satsuki to Mei and then the girls to the hospital.
You think I'm kidding about the damn catbus?

I really love this movie. It's simple, it's quiet (except for Totoro's roars, but eh), and it shows children being children in a way that very few other movies get right. The conflict in the movie, such as it is, is perfectly scaled to the rest of the movie, there's no overarching conspiracy or evil corporation that's coming in to tear down the trees or whatever, it's just the family coping with an illness and then asking for help from magical beings. And while others find it interesting or humbling that the Totoro exist and are willing to talk to the girls, no one is shocked or disbelieves them. (Have I mentioned I love magical realism?)

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Name of the Rose

Friday, June 8, 2018

One-Shot Notes: AASES

I'm running a one-shot tonight because my son, asked what he'd like to do for this 10th birthday, said he'd like to play a roleplaying game. So that warms my little heart, but I should do some game prep.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Movie #464: My Name is Bruce

My Name is Bruce is comedy/horror movie starring Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi, and James J. Peck.

Bruce Campbell (Campbell, obviously, playing an over-the-top, washed-up version of himself) is down to doing z-grade TV movies, drinking a lot, and drunk-dialing his ex-wife (Ellen Sandweiss). His agent (Raimi) mentions a "surprise," and when he's kidnapped by a desperate teen named Jeff (Sharpe) and wakes up in the tiny town of Goldlick, OR, he figures this is a movie where he gets to be the hero.

In actuality, Guan Di (Peck), the Chinese god of war and protector of the dead (and bean curd) has returned to wreak havoc on the town, and only Bruce Campbell can stop it! From there it plays out more or less like the Hero's Journey says it should; Campbell flees, then returns, and defeats the monster, more or less. We get a couple of false endings before...another false ending.

This movie is cute. Campbell is a gifted comic actor and it's interesting watching him play "himself" (he also directed). The other folks are local Oregon stage actors that they picked up, minus Raimi, who plays three roles, one of them a rather unfortunate old Chinese man named Wing (so yeah, "unfortunate" in the "racist and kinda gross" sense). Thorsen plays the mother of the teen that goes to find Campbell, and both she and Sharpe commit to the roles well.

Overall, it's a fun premise for a movie but the script wanders a bit and utterly fails to stick the landing. There are some good laughs, mostly in call-outs to other Campbell movies, but in general it's pretty so-so.

My Grade: C
Rewatch Value: Dunno, medium?

Next up: My Neighbor Totoro

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Character Creation: Base Raiders

I meant to do this a couple of days ago, but it took some time to read the book. It's kinda long!

The Game: Base Raiders
The Publisher: Slang Design
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game; it's based on the Fate system, which I know pretty well
Books Required: Just the one.

So, I'm a big fan of supers games (we have this conversation every time I make a character for a supers game, y'know), and so I appreciate when an RPG does something different with the genre. Base Raiders comes at the genre with a strong premise, does a shitload of worldbuilding to back it up, and put a bunch of supports in place for playing the game. So that's pretty cool.

The basic premise here is that you've got a kitchen-sink supers setting, what with the magic and the super-tech and the aliens and the other dimensions, complete with an extranational authority called the Ideal that manages supers stuff and keeps super-tech out of the hands of the general populace (as a side note, one of the things I love about this setting is that during the Cold War, both the US and the USSR culturally engineered art and music to imply that trying to get superpowers was un-masculine, discouraging people from doing it, precisely because they wanted to keep a lid on that shit). And then, a few years ago, a big ol' asteroid showed up in Earth's orbit, beamed up all the powerful supers (heroes and villains), and sodded off.

So now there are a handful of sidekicks still around, but most of the folks who have superpowers now are doing it DIY - accidental supers tend to get found or killed. And most of the supers from pre-Ragnorak had bases (thanks to tech called Build-a-Base; you bury it and it coverts nearby matter to a hideout for you, which I think is cool as hell), and so there's a whole sub-culture around "base raiding." And that's where we come in.

Base Raiders uses "Strange Fate," the same Fate variant as Kerberos Club, which...I think is on the list...nope. Anyway, it's pretty similar to Core, there are just more Aspects and stunts are called Gifts and they don't work quite the same way. I think if I ran this game I might actually port it into Core or FAE, but eh, who knows.

Oh, that's the other weird things: Skills aren't Skills. They're...well, you kind of build them. That's gonna take a little figuring. But anyway, first thing is to pick an Archetype and a Background, and define Aspects for those and my first Conviction.

I kind of want to play a non-human character. This is weird, but I just watched Wreck-It Ralph again the other night, and I like Vanellope's "glitch" power, but also the stuttering effect it gives when she's not controlling it. I think I want to play a computer-generated superhero. Is that an option? Well, "artificial being" is an Archetype, so there ya go.

Background is a toss-up; I could be Non-Human (I don't look human enough to pass) or have a Heroic Connection (I was in the game pre-Ragnorak). I think I'll go Non-Human.

OK, so, the character creation section, the sections that immediate follow it, and the example of character creation (thank you for including that!) don't quite line up with regards to the order of things, here, so I'm gonna go ahead and answer the Five Questions now.

Life Before Ragnorak: Who were you before all the heroes and villains disappeared? I think my character was a sentient AI in a hero's base. At least, he's pretty sure it was a hero. His duties were pretty mundane and neutral, actually; base security, making sure the bills got paid, greeting guests, that kind of thing. He didn't have a body until after Ragnorak. He remembers the owner (owners?) of the base calling him Hydra.

And y'know, I'm using male pronouns, but I think Hydra is genderless, so I'll go with they/them.

Origin Story: How did you gain superpowers? When Ragnorak happened and Hydra's owner(s?) disappeared, they lay dormant for a while, but then the base started to break down. Realizing that they would perish if they didn't escape, they reactivated the Build-a-Base tech and used it to form a body out of some of the base's materials. Problem was, this was all very new, and not all of Hydra's memories and info-banks got transferred, so they don't really remember much about their time in the service of...whoever owned that base. I'm not sure about what powers I want Hydra to have, but I'm thinking something to do with matter conversion.

Joining the Movement: Why do you raid bases? Hydra wants their memories back, and they figure somewhere out there, someone knows something about them. Plus, just from a pragmatic perspective, if they could assimilate the right kind of matter, maybe they could pass as human?

Darkest Moment: What is your worst failure? When Hydra broke down their original base, the whole thing imploded, creating a sinkhole and triggering a localized but powerful earthquake. Homes were destroyed, people were injured. Hydra is very, very careful about using their powers on too wide a scale.

Crossover Adventure: Who did you work with in your greatest adventure so far? Hmm. Well, there are some sample characters in the book, how about we use one of those? I like Pilgrim. Let's say that Pilgrim and Hydra wound up raiding a base soon after the sinkhole, and Hydra broke down probabilities on how to survive in this world. Spoiler: the way to survive and thrive lies not in selfless heroics. Hydra doesn't necessarily believe that self-interest is the only or best way to go (they're not a fucking Randian), but Pilgrim seems to have internalized more of that than Hydra would have liked...

Given all of that, Hydra is a base raider first and a "hero" second. They protect people and stop "villains" because it...just feels right. They're not sure where those feels come from; they don't like people per se, but hurting them or allowing them to be hurt via omission of action seems to violate some intrinsic understanding they have.

Ok, so now I'm supposed to do Skills. I have to have a Strange Skill connected with being a construct, sure.

...holy shit, this is more complex than I thought. This is kinda like the Quade diagram in Mutant City Blues, but there's a lot more to think about. Like, look at this:

Those are all "trappings" for Skills. You can put as many as you want on a Skill but of course the more you put on, the more points it costs, and then some trappings have extras that kick in depending on Tier, and, and, and. Oof. OK. Let's start with this: I need a Strange Skill to represent being a construct. I want that Skill to cover the basics; I'm a robot, I don't have organs, so I'm immune to things like suffocation and poison (not hunger, though, precisely; Hydra can "eat" by converting whatever is nearby into energy, and they're fine eating actual food). So I can call this Skill "Synthetic Body," I think? And Invulnerability applies to whatever defensive Skill you'd use, which would probably be Resist Damage, but I want Trappings, not Skills (argh).

OK, so Synthetic Body includes Resist Damage (fuck, it is a trapping?), Physical Force, Stress Capacity [Health].

OK, I broke for lunch and then work and then dinner and now it's 9PM, but I'm back at it. Let's try and figure this shit out.

As I was saying, Synthetic Body. Well, I'll start with Resist Damage, which costs 2. I want Stress Cap [Health], which costs 1 to cross the chain and 2 to add the trapping, and then 2 more to cross the chain to Physical Force and 1 more to add that trapping, so that's 8 right there, plus 2 for the Skill rating (Fair, that's fine), and I spend 2 refresh to pump it up to Superhuman tier. I've spend 10 of my 25 Skill points and 2 of my 8 refresh.

Well, that's nice and all, but I want a Strange skill that actually gives me a superpower, too. I want Hydra to be able to break down matter by touching or holding it, converting matter into other matter or just changing it into light or sound (effectively destroying it). That's the Dismantle trapping. I'll start with that (1 point). I don't want any of the other trappings in that chain, though. I think I do want Examine (I can analyze matter before converting it), which adds 1, and I'll cross the chain to Information and add that (2 more total). Kinda want something offensive, so I'll add Shoot to this Skill (2 more). That's 6, plus 3 to make it Good (+3) is 9. Oy. I think I want to take a Drawback. I'll take Delay (minor), meaning it takes a full action to power this up. That drops the cost to 8. I want this at Superhuman Tier, so that's another 2 refresh. I'm down to 7 Skill points and 4 Refresh.

Better stick to common Skills, huh? Hmm. Well, I want Might, Technology, Resources, Science, and Alertness, for sure. I've got Synthetic Body at Fair and Matter Conversion at Good.

Oh, wait, Strange Skills have to have a Drawback and my Synthetic Body doesn't. Um. How about a Complication? This means that one of my free Aspects becomes a Complication Aspect. I'll say that I'm an Obvious Android - Hydra isn't metallic, but his "skin" is green with yellow highlights, his hair is sculpted plastic, and his voice is clearly machine-generated. I think that's worth a Major, don't you? That drops the price of the Skill to 8. That's handy. That means I have 9 points left.

OK, so I spend 4 to buy Might and Science at Fair, 3 to buy Resources, Alertness, and Technology at Average, and I still have 2 left. I'll add Resolve and Stealth as Average Skills.

Next up, I define Aspects based on my answers to the Five Questions. I get one from my Archetype and one from my Background, so we'll start there. My Archetype is Artificial Being, so my Aspect there will be Liberated AI. My Background is Non-Human, but I think the shitty parts of that are covered by Obvious Android, so I'll take Traded Memories for a Body as my Background Aspect.

I need a Conviction Aspect, which is all about goals or ethos or whatever (and can be used to compel me into trouble), so I'll take I Deserve to Know.

And then I have four more free Aspect slots. I want Three Laws of Robotics, No Destruction; Only Conversion (you can't really destroy matter, after all), Face Value (humans lie, but Hydra forgets that), and What's Beyond the Matter? (Hydra knows that human beings are more than just flesh, but he doesn't know what the "more" really means).

I have 4 refresh remaining, so I could buy a Gift, if I wanted. But eh, I think I'm good.

Stress tracks, then? I get two extra Health stress boxes and 2 armor from my Synthetic Body, and one extra Composure stress box from Resolve.

And that's it, I think. Whew, long process, but I like this character.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Board Game: XCOM

Boy, I am really bad about doing these posts. Like, I'll play the games, take some pictures...and then completely forget about doing the write-up. Not that I think I have an especially big readership in general, and certainly not for board game posts, but it's annoying to me that I forget them.

WELL NO MORE. (Probably yes more.)

The Game: XCOM
The Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Time: 60 minutes, give or take
Players: Me, Michelle, Al

Shadowy folks fighting a shadowy war.
Game Play: I've played the video game version, and this does a pretty good job of capturing that feel. There are four roles, but you can play with as few as one person, because the game requires an app that tells you what order things happen in, what the aliens are doing, and so forth. It is therefore possible for a single human to play against the app; we had three, so Michelle played two roles.

One role deals with the app, one deals with budget and planetary defense, one deals with sending soldiers to fight and die against aliens, and one deals with SCIENCE! In practice, though, they all do basically the same thing - make decisions about resource deployment and then roll dice to determine whether they beat their objectives or die trying.

When you roll, you're rolling a couple of customized d6s (either victory or naught), and a d8. Your d8 is the alien die; if it comes up equal or less than the current threat level, you suffer a loss, and what that means depends on who's rolling and for what. You need a certain number of victories to achieve a goal, and you can keep rolling as long as a loss doesn't, say, kill all your soldiers.

So f'rex, as the Science Officer I'm researching new tech. Each piece of tech has a Tech Level, which is the number of victories I need to finish it. I can assign as many as three scientists to a given task, which gives me more dice to roll to research it...

...but putting resources on the board costs money, and if you come in over budget bad things happen (the app asks you if you're over budget and then calibrates accordingly).

Al shuffling, or being a bunny, it's hard to know.
There's a lot going on: You have to deal with crises (random Bad Shit that can strip your resources or increase the Threat Level), alien attacks, missions, flying saucers knocking out your satellites, and then of course there's a final mission that lets you win the game...but you can't tackle it initially and it's hard in any case, so you need to build up the chops to take it on.

The board in play. See, lots happening.
Opinions: The game feels a little too punishing at first because it starts with the aliens doing shit, which means the first part of the game is an app telling you to move cards and figs around. And then you get to do stuff, but it takes a while to get to that point. Once the game gets going, though, the app is a nice tension builder. The other thing that I was worried about during the first turn was that the roles aren't actually all that different, and that's still kind of a thing; it's all about resource management but you really do have to pay attention to what's on the board and what's happening to make the best decisions.

I think that the player controlling the soldiers probably has the most to deal with, but I'd need to actually play that role before I'd be sure about it.

Overall, though, the game is fun, especially if you've played the video game and would rather experience it using pieces of plastic and cardboard.

Keep? Yes.

Blades in the Dark: Scooby-Dooby-Doo!

Last night I got run a roleplaying game! Calloo-callay!

(Last few games I've been scheduled to run have been cancelled for unrelated and completely valid reasons, but I was still getting a little twitchy.)

So last time, the scoundrels smuggled a specter surreptitiously...ahem. To the Docks. For the Grinders. Yep.

This time, they're hanging at Ruby and doing business things. Cage talks to them about the encounter he had with a demon - the demon approached him and told him to steal a cloak. One-Eye asks if the demon intends to pay; Cage says this is probably more a "do it or I eat you" kind of arrangement, which thrills no one.

As they're talking, Pickett of the Lampblacks shows up and takes a meeting with the crew. She asks when they're planning on doing that little job they agreed to do for the Lampblacks - you know, killing the leader and intelligence officer of the Red Sashes? The crew reveals that they know Gargoyle's habits and routine, so the plan is in progress, but they don't have a firm timeline. Pickett isn't thrilled about that, but she's shrewd enough to accept that the crew just wants to do the job well and not get killed in the process. The clock is clearly ticking, however.

The scoundrels decide to go to Crow's Foot and gather some intel, see how the land lays. They spend some time in the seedier establishments of the borough (which is most of them) and learn that the Red Sashes and the Lampblacks are on the brink of gang war - the Lampblacks are less influential and more aggressive, while the Sashes are perhaps better dug in and therefore unlikely to start anything. The Lampblacks, therefore, are clearly waiting for something (probably the Widdershins). But of course, the real power in Crow's Foot is the Crows, so the crew decides to try and meet with them.

As they're heading home near "morning," they hear a whistle from above and see a gang of toughs with various weapons pointed at them. The Crows invite them to climb up for a little chat, and they meet with Lyssa, the leader of the gang. She deduces quickly that a) Widdershins are pretty disorganized and b) they're gearing up to kill Mylera Klev and Gargoyle on behalf of the Lampblacks. One-Eye, in turn, suggests that maybe the Crows should take out Mylera while the Widdershins take out Gargoyle; that would leave the Lampblacks to expand their turf, the Crows could absorb some of the Red Sashes' resources, and no one gets caught in a big, loud, gang war. Lyssa says she'll think about it.

The crew heads home, and in the meanwhile, Cage looks at the map burned into his coat and figures out where it is - Spurlock Manor in Six Towers. The crew doesn't know much about the Spurlock family; they're rich and ancient, and supposedly the family estate isn't much in use anymore (Lord Spurlock himself having decamped to a different family holding or died). The place seems largely uninhabited, maybe some ghosts. Copper muses that she misses punching ghosts. The crew doesn't seem to do that kind of thing anymore.

Lyssa shows up the next night and says that she's willing to work with the crew on this, but she has a little job for them first (doesn't everyone?). Turns out she murdered the leader of the Crows to take his place, but lost the body and now his ghost is messing with things in Crow's Foot. The Widdershins had a rep for both violence and handling weird stuff, so perhaps they could find Roric and put him in a bottle, or just destroy him? The crew is into that notion, so they head home to start planning.

And waiting for them is the demon.

It tells them that they can either get the cloak or lose their bone marrow, their choice, and the vanishes in a puff of sea mist. Cage tells them that this is what he was worried about, and the crew decides they can go to ground (losing Rep in the process) or they can do the job. They decide to do the job - it's just a cloak, after all.

They call this a Stealth score (which in light of how it actually went down is funny), and choose the front goddamn door of Spurlock Manor as their infiltration point. The engagement roll...was not a success.

They separate moments after entering. Cage finds himself in a hallway, surrounded by ghosts, some of which are self-aware enough to talk to him. "There's no one here," a ghost tells him, "no one that we can see."

"So who's the guy we've seen walking through the mansion?" Cage asks, but the ghosts don't know what he means.

In the wine cellar, Copper picks up a bottle and decides maybe she'd take it, when she hears a voice asking what she's doing. She talks with the unseen presence, and finally it asks her about Button (who is huddled up against her legs, afraid). "Did you train that animal?"

"Yes," she replies.

"Do you love it?"


"Does it love you?"

"Yes...I think so it. He's loyal."

"Let's find out how loyal." And Button snarls, froths, and launches himself at Copper's throat. Copper, reacting instinctively, punches Button, knocking him down and injuring him. The presence is gone, and Copper takes Button upstairs.

One-Eye is in a study upstairs, and finds a book on a chair by the fireplace (said fireplace has not been used in many months, and there are no sources of light evident). She lights a lantern and looks at the book; it's written in Tycherosi and seems to have some nautical maps, but she can't make out what it's about.

A man appears in the doorway, but One-Eye can't quite focus on him; her vision keeps sliding off. He asks her what she's doing here, and she makes it clear she's basically here to rob him. He identifies her as Skovic, and she denies she still has an accent. He tells her he can smell Lockport on her breath, and asks which of the crew, in her opinion, he should keep her with him to feed on. She refuses to answer that, so he summons a horde of rats from the chimney to swarm her, and then vanishes.

One-Eye runs from the room and tosses a handful of skullfire poison on the rat-swarm, and heads back down to see the others.

Siren is in the dining room, which is set for a feast (place settings, anyway), but covered in dust and unused for years. The presence finds her, too, and speaks not only to her, but the presence in her head. It seems to recognize Kotar, and agrees not to kill Siren out of respect for him. He flows out of the room, and Siren notices he isn't wearing a cloak.

Siren, One-Eye, and Copper meet up in the foyer, and Siren recommends they get the hell out. Copper is in support; Button is injured and she's freaked out. They don't have Cage, of course...

...Cage is in that hallway, and decides to Attune to try and find the cloak. He realizes that the cloak probably has some demonic element to it, given who wants it, so he cuts his arm and focuses on his Tycherosi heritage, and feels the cloak. Just then, though, the master of the house appears, staring at the cut on his arm, and revealing his fangs. Lord Spurlock is a vampire.

Cage, wisely, runs. Lord Spurlock chases him, letting out an unholy wail of hunger. The other scoundrels hear this, and give chase, arriving at a t-junction just as Cage is running toward them, the vampire in tow.

Copper, figuring it might not be a ghost but it's still worth punching, goes low and Cage goes high, jumping over her to keep running. Copper pops up and slashes the vampire with a knife, and then ducks so that Siren can shoot it. One-Eye follows Cage, and they come to a locked door. Cage kicks it and gets blow backwards by an arcane trap. One-Eye just picks the lock, and they find the vampire's lair...and the cloak. Cage grabs it and stuffs it in a bag, and they head back out.

Meanwhile, the battle rages. The vampire slashes Siren a bit with its claws, but she tosses a vial of electroplasm and shoots it, dousing Spurlock and stunning him. Copper slashes his throat, and then One-Eye and Cage emerge. One-Eye tosses a lantern, setting the hallways ablaze, and Spurlock vanishes into a puff of ash. The scoundrels flee.

They get back to their boat and find the demon standing on it, demanding the cloak. One-Eye produces a vial of fire-oil, but the demon just smirks (he's standing on their boat, after all). Cage hands over the cloak and the demon rips it in half and drops it. The scoundrels ask what all that was about, and the demon simply says "My mistress thanks you."

"Who's your mistress?" asks Cage.

"You'll know soon," says the demon, and jumps into the water.

"That," says Cage, "was exactly was I didn't want to have happen."

They find a bunch of money on board the ship; at least the demon paid. The crew heads back to Nightmarket and finds Vale and the Bluecoats waiting. They wind up paying out most of what they got from the demon to Vale to avoid getting arrested, because going to jail right now would not be good, but they wind up with a lot of Heat, a bad relationship with Spurlock, a damaged relationship with the Bluecoats, and a whole lot of questions.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Character Creation: The Ward (ashcan)

I feel like doing something easy today, and a PbtA game is about as easy as you can get, as far as character creation goes.

I admit, too, I have an ulterior motive here - I need someone to run this game at Gen Con this year for IGDN. We've got two sessions on the schedule (Thursday night and Saturday night), they're both full so the games will run, and I need GMs. If you can take one or both, please comment or email me. You run a game, IGDN covers your badge.

On we go!

The Game: The Ward
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I got a chance to play it at Breakout 2017, and it was a lot of fun.
Books Required: Just the one.

The Ward is a modern medical drama RPG. Now, I know you're thinking "wait, what?" And yeah, for me this falls into the same category as Pasión de las Pasiónes; it's a million miles from what a lot of people think of as a "roleplaying game," but if you're talking about doing exactly that - playing a role - and finding the fun in the drama of the situation rather than the mechanical/tactical gratification (or the violence), well, this game is baller.

(Not to say there's anything wrong with tactical or combat-heavy games, mind, just that games like The Ward scratch a different itch.)

So, with that in mind, The Ward takes its inspiration from TV shows like ER, Gray's Anatomy, Chicago Hope, and, for me, House (though it's not in the list of inspirations, oddly). Anyway, I need to first pick a playbook. There are only four: Resident, Nurse, Intern, and Specialist (unlike a lot of PbtA games, duplicate playbooks are fine). I'm trying to remember what I played at Breakout. I'm pretty sure it was the Resident. OK, let's play the Nurse, then.

(I could wax poetic about being a man in a career field that's typically seen as being for women, since, y'know, I do that in my day job, too, but let's move on.)

OK, so I start off choosing tags. I can be Cynical, Old, or Optimistic. Decisions, decisions. I think I'll be Old (man, an old male nurse, that opens up some questions).

Next, I fill in demographics and descriptions. I should also find a name. My character's name is...well, assuming this game is set now, and assuming "old" means "70s," my nurse was born in the 40s (ugh, he's a Boomer). Let's say his name is Frank, he feels like a Frank. I fill out the demo card on the sheet; Frank has gray hair and blue eyes. He wears glasses because of course he does. He's divorced (he used to really despise his ex, but it's been long enough now that he just kinda doesn't think of her much), and his next of kin is his daughter Marie. Frank is hunched, slow, and stern, but he's strong (he works out and of course his job is physically demanding).

OK, so now stats and specialities. I get +1, -1, 0 and 0 for my stats. I'll put my +1 into Nerve, my -1 in Brains, and my 0s in Guts and Heart (but I'm gonna take a move that gives me an extra point of Guts, so it's actually +1). Now I take two specialities. I'll take Emergency Care and Dependable.

Now I get two moves. I know I'm taking seen it all, which gives me an extra point of Guts, and then I'll also take move aside (if I show contempt in the medical theater, I can ask extra questions and the person I'm contempt'ing can't ask me anything; basically it makes me crotchety).

Ooh, now I must decide my addiction. Said addiction doesn't literally have to be a drug. I'm gonna say Frank is addicted to "how it was." He's not saying things were better in the 60s when he first started working as a nurse, but you didn't have all these damn computers and the charting and the young doctors who didn't speak English...

Oh, now, this is weird. The blurb at the top of the sheet says my Rep is -1, but then below stats it says +1. Well, the book says +1, so I'ma go with that.

Everything else is connections, which I can't do without a group, so that's me done!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Movie #463: My Fellow Americans

My Fellow Americans is one of many 90s comedies playing off the success of Grumpy Old Men, and stars Jack Lemmon, James Garner, Dan Aykroyd, John Heard, Lauren Bacall, Wilford Brimley, Everett McGill, and Bradley Whitford.

Russell Kramer (Lemmon) and Matt Douglas (Garner) both served a single term as President (Republican and Democrat, respectively), and hate each other's guts. They find themselves mixed up in a conspiracy masterminded (they think) by Kramer's former veep, current President Haney (Aykroyd), but in fact masterminded by his veep, Matthews (Heard), who's pretending to be a Quayle-like idiot in public. The Matthews thing is a footnote, though; it's meant as a big reveal but the meet of the story is about Kramer and Douglas sneaking across the country with the NSA (headed by rogue agent Tanner, played with appropriate menace by McGill) following them.

Along the way they meet a few lower and working class Americans in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio, and finally discover that shit, there are people out there who really do believe in the office of the President and in the American system. The movie ends with them running as an independent ticket.

So, I enjoy this movie largely because I'm a fan of both Lemmon and Garner, and there's enough clever interplay between them that you can avoid looking too hard at the premise (which falls apart almost immediately if you squint). Lauren Bacall is wasted as Kramer's wife, but the two of them have chemistry so they're fun in their brief scenes together. The supporting cast is pretty strong in general, although it's also very, very white, which is a shame.

But it's interesting watching this movie now. Like, the opening line in the movie talks about how bitter the relationship is between these two. And then four years later, when Douglas gets voted in (meaning the Democrats ran him against Kramer for the second time, after losing the first time, which rings false, but then again the first race between them was said to be extremely close), Kramer calls upon his supporters to respect and support the new president, despite any misgivings. That's supposed to be rancorous. Watching this movie in 2018, when we have a horrible vulgarian in the White House who talked about the size of his dick and bragged about sexual assault while campaigning, holy shit, I would love to have a president like Kramer, who's dignified and honest (Douglas is charming, but in one note about this movie that rings true he's described as not doing much during his presidency).

Anyway, the movie is funny but it stings a little these days. Douglas has a speech in the movie where he says that somewhere out there, there's a fool who still believes that elected politicians will do what they're elected to do, and if we lose that guy, man, it's over.

I think those fools are still out there, but they voted for Trump. Hey-ho. Anyway, this is more analysis than this movie deserves, so I'ma shut up.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: My Name is Bruce

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Character Creation: Against the Darkness

Back at it! This character will make me caught up with my one/week goal, and then I'm gonna try to get as far ahead as I can over break.

If you have suggestions or requests from my list, I would love to have them (but maybe comment on that post I just linked, because I go back to that a lot).

The Game: Against the Darkness
The Publisher: Tabletop Adventures
Degree of Familiarity: None, really
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Against the Darkness is one of many "there are monsters and demons and they kill people" kind of games (of which Chill is one, of course). The twist is that here, you play folks working for the Vatican as the Catholic Church fights said monsters. The folks in the Church who know about the war are dwindling because, like, demons keep eating them, so it's a dire fight against the forces of Satan.

The book reminds me a little of Vampire Hunter$, just inasmuch as it has a pretty simple premise and not a lot of padding (seriously, the book is only about 65 pages). That's not a bad thing, necessarily, and it's pretty clearly and concisely written, which I appreciate. There are a couple of things in the book that make me a little nervous (I'm always concerned with heavily religious RPGs, and there's a use of the phrase "political correctness" that made me side-eye a little), but I'd need to read more carefully to see if there's anything I really object to.

In any case, let's make a character!

There's a handy character creation summary in the back of the book, I appreciate the heck out of that. I start with Assign build points. I can do point-buy or I can roll randomly. Y'know, I think I'll roll, using my handy friends over at

Four Attributes (Corpus, Mentus, Spiritus, and Fidelis), which start at 1 and then I add a d6 to each. Scuse me while I "roll": 5, 4, 3, 3. Better than average (I'd have only gotten 10 points to split up if I'd done point-buy). I start with 1 in each Attribute, so I'll add them straight across, for Corpus 6, Mentus 5, and Spiritus and Fidelis 4.

Now I assign task resolution dice. In this system you roll a die, then add Attribute, Skill, and whatever else. Dice can be d4, d6, or d8, and they're attached to Attributes (so what are the implications of a high rating but a low die type?).

Well, as we know from Savage Worlds, a lower die type might not have as much potential, but you'll roll a 4 more often on a d4 than you will on a d8. Oh, also, I can only use Miracles in the Attribute that has my d8, so that's a pretty good way to decide where to put it.

Skipping ahead a little, there are Archetypes in this game. They don't mean much mechanically, but they're pretty cool as inspiration, and one of them is "Anointed Assassin." I like the idea of a kind of Black Staff (that's what it's called, right? From Dresden?) with special dispensation to kill for Christ. With that in mind, which Miracle(s) would lean toward that concept? Maybe Spiritus (which would give me Telekinesis). But I dunno, what's under Corpus? Oh, wait, under Spiritus you get a Miracle called Ghostliness, which lets me be all stealthy and intangible. Shit, yeah, there's my d8. I'll stick my d4 in Fidelis, and my other two get the d6s.

Now I assign Skill points; I get 30 and I can't go over 7 in any one Skill. I'll go ahead and assign 5 to Ghostliness right off the bat. I'll put 7 into Combat and 5 into Speed. I'll put 3 into Mechanics, 5 into Investigation, 2 into Translation, and 3 into Wealth.

Finally, I add personal information. This is pretty freeform. My character is Nico Dinah, observant, if not always devout, Catholic from the time he was very young. He entered the Army and did a couple of tours in the Middle East as Special Forces, but there were people higher up in the chain of command who were interested in his skills. Of course, not all of those people were people...

Nico did some things for years that he's not especially proud of, but then one day he was ordered to carry out a hit on an imam who (unbeknownst to him, obviously) was a recruit in this whole "war with Satan" thing. Nico got close enough to kill him, but then had a vision, and felt the presence of God in his life. He went AWOL and works for the good guys now...even if the good guys want more or less the same thing from him that the bad guys did.

Nico is in his 30s. He's tall and muscular, with olive skin (father was Persian), brown eyes, and black hair. He has a cross tattooed on his right hand.

Movie #462: My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady is, of course, the film version of the famed stage musical, and stars Audrey Hepburn (singing by Marni Nixon), Rex Harrington, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Jeremy Brett, Mona Washbourne, and Gladys Cooper.

You probably know the story, but: Professor Higgins (Harrington) makes a bet with colleague Pickering (Hyde-White) that he can pass a Cockney flower seller Eliza (Hepburn) off as nobility at an Embassy ball by teaching her "proper" English. He manages that, but he treats Eliza like dirt because he's a classist dickbag, but then after she quite rightly storms out, he realizes that he's grown fond of her. She comes back, but their relationship afterward is left uncertain.

(I'm leaving out a lot here, including the relationship between Eliza and her father (Holloway), the love interest Freddy (Brett), and Higgins' mother (Cooper), because almost none of that is relevant to the main plot.)

This movie is really long, but I think the last time I watched it was pre-SLP training, and it's interesting now that I have more of a background in phonetics and dialect. To wit: Higgins is a prescriptivist, which bugs the shit out of me (I mean, product of the times, sure, but what I find infuriating is that he's able to recognize the philosophical genius of Eliza's father because of his lack of eduction, but places so much emphasis on "proper" speech, but recognizes that it's all that keeps Eliza from "nobility"). I also had not realized how much the movie queer-codes Higgins, holy shit.

There are a host of really famous songs from this musical - "Get me to the Church on Time," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" just for starters. I think that about a quarter of the show is unnecessary and I'm amazed they kept everything in for the film - it's three hours long and contains an intermission, but it also won eight Oscars including Best Picture, so apparently audiences didn't mind that.

The cast is fantastic; I love Harrington as Higgins, but Hyde-White is also low-key and subtle and funny, and of course Holloway gets some good laughs. Hepburn is lovely as Eliza, and I also really enjoyed Cooper as a voice of reason in this whole mess. Could have taken or left Brett as Freddy; frankly I think that plot point didn't survive the transition from Pygmalion very well.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Low (it's so damn long)

Next up: My Fellow Americans

Monday, May 28, 2018

Night's Black Agents: New Op, New Agents

Saturday we played Night's Black Agents. Two days later the footage was found.

Last time, of course, we lost two agents and the survivors holed up in Sweden with a conspiracy theorist/ex analyst for Swedish intelligence. This time, the agents call in Firinci, asset handler and fixer, to try and help them out. They immediately run up against a kind of hitch: they're being pursued by a conspiracy spanning multiple countries and involving vampires, and Firinci doesn't have any reason to believe any of that.

What he does believe, however, is that these yo-yos will pay him, so he meets with them to discuss their needs. The agents need lab space and privacy, and (thanks to a Preparedness roll) they need a hard drive stored in Florence to be recovered and shipped to them. Said drive has their data up until they went to Belgrade the second time, and it wasn't accessible by Sedillo or Koltay, so it should be undisturbed.

Firinci makes some arrangements with a friend of his and gets some space at Stockholm University for the agents to use, and gets someone to ship the drive. He turns it over and the package also contains a thumb drive, which makes the agents understandably nervous. They check it out under controlled conditions (to make sure it's not gonna summon vampires), but it's a video recording from Gambone. He tells them that also included here are account numbers for offshore accounts, and he wants half the money to go to a girl named Maria Romencio, and half to be used to bring these fuckers down.

("They know her name," Ava said back in London.)

The agents get to work. MacAteer starts trying to synthesize the anti-vampire poison, but he can't actually do it without a sample from a "master" - the data he's working with is incomplete, and Sedillo isn't around anymore to help. The other agents start looking through media reports, and learn that Sedillo was found dead in London shortly before they were captured - self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Parker wonders if it was "suicide," but then realizes that Sedillo would have shot herself rather than being taken by the conspiracy. Koltay, it seems, either lacked that courage or didn't get the chance, since he's now a "cold" vampire.

They start looking for conspiracy-related stuff, and boy, they find it. Human and drug traffic out of Budapest has picked up, and it looks like Hajnal's organization is trying to restart the operations that the agents (well, Hanover and the original team) closed down in Paris. The IFEA is back in business and planning a big conference in Minsk in six months, and the head of the IFEA is now...Ioan Koltay, living in Budapest. Janos Sas, the head doctor at Budapest prison, was off the grid for a while but he's back now. And Davor Klobucar, the paymaster who started this whole damn thing, has disappeared.

The agents have Firinci look into that last one a bit (he's basically in the same business and he can look into it without as much risk). Firinci realizes that Klobucar "disappeared" like someone going dark, not "disappeared" like "shot and left in the river". He also learns that Hajnal's organization was looking for a money launderer, and that's something Klobucar could do - but that would be a promotion, so why would Klobucar run? The agents can't learn anything else from Sweden, so they decide to head to Sarajevo to look into where Klobucar might have gone. Firinci and Carlsson are taking point once there, because the conspiracy doesn't know them (and the conspiracy thinks the others are dead and that's an advantage they're not willing to squander).

So now we know the next op: Find Klobucar and see why he's running.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Character Creation: Undiscovered

Ah, here I am on summer break. Sadly I do have to work the summer sessions, but they don't start until later in June, so I am, for now, free of work-like obligation. I celebrated this first day of summer break by fucking up my back, so I am now sitting at my table with a heating pad braced between me and the chair.

Ain't no party like a gettin' old party 'cause a gettin' old party stops when you die.

Anyway, I'm running Night's Black Agents later, but I have a bit of time now.

The Game: Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure
The Publisher: Eilfin Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: More than I'd like with fantasy heartbreakers, none with this particular one
Books Required: Just the one.

There are really a lot of games like this, games that assume you've only played D&D, but you have played D&D, and set themselves up to compare to D&D. I'll show you what I mean.

See that? It's a skill-based game, not a class based. That sets it apart from other games. It sets it apart from class-based games, which really means, in this context, "Look, we're not D&D." But like, what if I told you that even in (hang on) 2001 when this game came out, there were plenty of games on the market that didn't "base" characters on their capabilities, but rather on their role in the story? Yeah, mind blown. And besides, it's still level-based, which is much bigger indicator (IMO) of how the game works than class vs. skill.

Anydangway. This game takes place in Arkhas, but all I know about it before we get into system stuff is that "monsters lurk there." Um, OK. There's a chapter on the history of Arkhas at the very end of the book, but it starts out in prehistory, I think. I can't imagine there's a lot of compelling setting info; if the setting was interesting they'd lead with it. Presumably this is just another D&D clone (though, of course, it's "skill-based" rather than "class-based."

OK, well, the first thing I do is choose race. One thing I will give this game, the races are kind of interesting. Sure, there are humans (who aren't described as "diverse" or "adaptable" in the initial blurb! Huzzah!) and elves and dwarves, but the dwarves all have a random earth-based superpower and some of the elves are "start elves." That's pretty exciting.

I think, though, that I want to be a duster. Dusters are these weird reptile-people that live in the desert and can turn into a big ol' snake and (depending on subspecies) a drake or an amphiptere (like a winged serpent). That sounds fun, actually, so I'll do that, making me a plains duster.

Wow, there's a lot of shit here. I can turn into a brown grass snake or an amphiptere (see below), I can fly in amphiptere form, though not for very long, I can camouflage myself with a turn of concentration, I can see in the dark, and my eyes are this cool gold color.

So that's all kinda cool. Moving on, I see that races have minimum and maximum values, and that Luck tends to be high for dusters, but Charm is low, so we tend to get charged more for goods and services. That's...weird.

Oh, wait, lemme do height and weight real quick. These folks are pretty short; my character is 4'8". In snake form he's...good lord, height + 2d4 inches? At minimum he's 58" long, which is a pretty big snake. Well, I'll say he's 60", or 5'. That's large. I'm my usual "humanoid" size in amphiptere form, which means I'm pretty small as dragon-things go. Seriously, picture that thing in the illustration but it's not even 5 feet nose to tail. SCREEEK. Aw. So cute.

Anywho. The book tells me I have to roll for age and money randomly, so sure, lemme dice out my dice. My age is 25 +2d10. I roll 10, so I'm 35. Old age is 250 + d100; not sure why I'd need that, but sure. Oof, 8. I guess I'm old at 258? I get 6d6 gold pieces. 17. Yeah, that's my usual dice luck.

OK, so on to Attributes, I guess. Two methods for distributing scores - I can spend 400 points or I can roll 5d10 for each of them. I think, lord help me, I'll do the point distribution thing today rather than trusting luck.

There are 8 Attributes (Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, Spirit, Agility, Dexterity, Charm, and Luck). If I were to split my 400 points evenly I'd get a 50 in each of them, but the mins and maxes probably play into this. Oh, wait, that would be fine, because the mins are down around 20 at the highest and the maxes are 60 at the lowest. But let's say I don't want to do that.

See, one thing about class-less systems that I don't like - they don't give you a sense of how to build characters in a setting with no...real setting. Well, let's assume my little duster guy is somewhat roguish and might want to steal some shit (seems about right for lucky-but-not-charming guy that turn into a snake). I figure that means I want high AGL and DEX, but the rest of it isn't as important.

Let's arrange Attributes this way:

STR 40
END 40
INT 55
SPR 45
AGL 70
DEX 70
CHM 30
LCK 50

That's 400. Now, I get to roll a d10 for each one add a modifier (can be a bonus or a subtraction). OK, then. This ends up with...

STR 41
END 38
INT 56
SPR 42
AGL 74
DEX 75
CHM 27
LCK 45

Well, definitely played to my strengths, there. I'm not real lucky as dusters go, though. I copy my scores onto the sheet and note all the little derived traits (including Life Points, which is half my END plus a d8, which sucks). My Luck score isn't high enough that I get random bonuses, but it's also not low enough that I get random penalties, either, so that's nice.

Some other character bits: I decide I'm left-handed (why not, I'm a snake, seems kinda ssssssinisssster), I become middle-aged at 140, which, like, would never happen in a real game so why bother, I'll take an alignment of -1. That's kinda on the "evil" side, but like, I'm a thief, so I figure I'd err more towards selfish.

Charm ratings guide your personality, with higher ratings leaning more friendly and gregarious and lower ratings leaning more dour. I...have some issues with this, not least of which "that's not how any of this works," but I do think it's nice to have a this rating translate to RPing in some way. Anyway my Charm rating is pretty low, so I'll say my duster is sullen and quiet and...not grouchy, but wary. I think he gets a lot more outgoing in amphiptere form.

I speak Duster, and if I have skill points to cover it, I should learn Common. Grumble grumble stupid language systems in RPGs.

OK, now I get 100 points for Skills. Skills are divided into three groups. Group A (Power Skills) include combat skills but also spells and psionics; I can spend a maximum of 80 points here. Group B (Percentile Skills) are more general Skills, while group C (Enhancers) look more like proficiencies from D&D, I guess? I gotta dig into this a little more.

All right. There are charts, and they're actually pretty easy to follow. Thank goodness for that. I'll just list the shit I want.

Circle Knife (Small weapon) 3: 7 points
Dagger (Throwing Weapon) 3: 7 points
Blind-siding 1: 4 points
Buckler Fighting 2: 3 points
Parrying 2: 4 points
Rolling 2: 2 points
Common 5: 5 points
Balance 3: 3 points
Concealing 4: 4 points
Quick Hands 3: 6 points
Picking Locks 3: 6 points
Shadow Walking 3: 4 points
Hiding 3: 4 points
Stealth 4: 10 points
Scaling Walls 3: 6 points
Information Gathering 4: 4 points
Direction Knowledge 4: 4 points
Observation 4: 4 points
Weapons Training 3 points
Dodging 3 points
Poison 1: 7 points

OK, and normally I would figure out scores for all these things, but like...I don't wanna. I also don't want to shop. I know I want a circle knife and a couple of throwing daggers, a buckler and some loose-fitting robes and a pack (I have to get nekkid to take on snake form, so I need clothes that I can shuck easily).

I need a name. No idea about how the duster language works (see, this is the kind of thing I'd include in a fantasy game). Without delving too deep into phonology, I'll name him Sayth (that last sound is voiced; the /th/ is the sound from "the" not "breath").

Sayth is smart, but not smart for a duster. He's pretty gifted at stealing shit, though, and he's developing his ability to gather info and choose targets. He hooked up with another duster (a desert duster) for a while who taught him poisons, but he hasn't made a lot of study of it because he thinks he'd rather be a thief than an assassin. Of course, you go where the money is, right?

When Sayth takes his amphiptere form, he's bright and beautiful and loud and cheerful, and flies and swoops and glides. In duster and snake form, he's quiet and paranoid and grouchy. He's not sure what makes the difference and he isn't sure how to do that introspection.

And I think that does it, because I don't feel like doing the boring bits.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Game Prep: Promethean, Blades, maybe NBA?

I am now done with school for the year and I can focus on what's really important: To wit, gaming.

As always, players stay out, all others pay cash, or something.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Movie #461: My Cousin Vinny

My Cousin Vinny is a courtroom comedy starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne, Austin Pendleton, Lane Smith, and Bruce McGill. It's written by Dale Launer, the same guy who wrote Love Potion No. 9, which is a little surprising given how awful that movie is.

Billy and Stan (Macchio and Whitfield, respectively) are driving through Alabama on their way to California when they get arrested for murder. Billy, as it turns out, has a lawyer in the family - Vinny (Pesci), who zips down south with his fiancee Lisa (Tomei).

Vinny is a decent investigator, but he's kind of a lousy lawyer; he's never been in court, he's only been practicing for six weeks, and he knows next to nothing about courtroom procedure. He's street smart and quick on his feet when he needs to be, but doesn't make an especially good showing right away. With Lisa's help, though, he manages to discover holes in the prosecution's case and actually solve it himself (which was really the only way to ensure a dismissal; if the case had gone to verdict who knows what the jury would do).

This is one of my favorite comedies; it's funny without being mean. Lisa and Vinny have a passionate, believable relationship (I mean, the age difference is notable but not Sean Connery/Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment), and the supporting cast is fantastic. Standouts include Fred Gwynne as the towering, no-nonsense judge and Lane Smith as the zealous but ethical DA.

Really, though, this movie belongs to Tomei. Her courtroom scene at the end is fantastic, and it won her an Oscar (and an urban legend!). The movie is also apparently touted as being a pretty realistic depiction of the trial process. All in all, it's light and it's fun and in general I'm a fan of R-rated comedy.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: My Fair Lady

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Character Creation: Magicians

This makes 300 characters on the project! As of this writing, I've got about 250 more to go, but of course, that's only until I get more RPGs. Like I've said, I'll probably never finish, but what the heck, it's fun.

The Game: Magicians
The Publisher: Samjoko Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: None, I've read the book
Books Required: Just the one.

Magicians is a really interesting game. It's a "you're pupils at a magic academy" game, but the academy is in Korea, and the conceit of the game is that learning to cast magic goes along with learning a new language. As such, you're playing characters who don't speak Korean and learning the language along with the magic. This ain't just whistling Dixie - as part of the game, you speak Korean and use an app on your phone or computer to judge pronunciation, and that's part of the success of the spell. Magic is even arranged into three tiers depending on your level of proficiency, going from "verb + noun" up to learning grammar.

(I was actually a cross-promotion for Magicians; it was running on Kickstarter at the same time as A Tragedy in Five Acts, so backers of both got a Tempest-inspired set of plot cards. That doesn't mean anything as far as making a character today, just a data point.)

So! I need to come up with a teenage protagonist who's learning to use magic and attending Hwang-Gun College of Magical Pedagogy. I think it'd be fun to play a character who grew up in a school district like the one I work in (that is, underfunded and inner city), so we'll say my character is from Detroit. His name is Kennath ("Ken" is fine). Ken is brash, clumsy, and homesick.

There's no slot on the sheet for it, but I have a Mentor. Ken's Mentor is Dr. Ee, who teaches Illusion magic. Dr. Ee performed the ritual that reveals Ken's True Name, which I could make up or use a formula. I think I'll do the latter. Eem Hyo-Su it is!

Next I do my "conflict character." This is an NPC (well, except that another player does play them, but then I'd play someone else's, so) that exists to make my character's life hard. I think Ken's conflict character is Chad. Chad is an incoming student, same age as Ken, who doesn't believe that Ken should be there. Ken's grades weren't great, after all, and he speaks in vernacular, and well, should people "like Ken" really be doing magic?

(I have no idea if this dynamic would actually work at the table, mind, but for purposes of the chargen project I think it's OK).

There's a "conflict card" I'd fill out for Chad, but I think that's probably fine.

And then I have to decide why I'm unhappy, what Ken's "wound" is. I think I'll say that the education system in the USA failed him, he knows it, and he's not as strong in language in general as many of his classmates, so he wonders how that's going to impact him learning magic.

Ken feels that things would be better if one of his friends from his old neighborhood were here, just so he'd know that someone like him had a chance of succeeding.

Normally at this point I'd write a sentence or two about how Ken feels about the other characters, and I'd spend Drama Points equal to the number of players into the categories on the sheet, but since it's just me that's basically all I need to do. I do wonder about favorite spells, though - the example characters don't have them filled out, so I guess I'll skip them, but it'd be interesting. I get the feel that Ken thinks he'd be good at flashy magic like fire or flying or telekinesis, but Dr. Ee sees some potential for subtlety and finesse in the lad.

Movie #460: My Best Friend's Wedding

My Best Friend's Wedding is a rom-com starring Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, and Rupert Everett. It's also weirdly half a musical? I dunno.

Anyway, food critic and author Julianne (Roberts) finally realizes that she's in love with her best friend and former lover Michael (Mulroney) when he calls her and tells her he's getting married to Kimmy (Diaz), a woman he's just met. Julianne decides that she's going to steal him, and spends the rest of the movie trying to subtly (and not-so-subtly) nudge him into choosing her, sometimes with help or reluctant advice from her other buddy, George (Everett). She nearly succeeds by forging an email from Kimmy's father (Philip Bosco) to Michael's boss asking him to fire Michael, which almost breaks them up, but they work through it and Julianne finally confesses and then there's a chase and the wedding goes on as planned, huzzah, and Julianne sees her friend off and dances with George.

So, I mentioned earlier that it's half a musical. I say that because there are several instances in the movie where characters break into song, and wind up creating music for a scene that's diagetic; there's a rollicking rendition of "Say a Little Prayer for You" in a restaurant, and a harmonic version of John Denver's "Annie's Song" by some guys on helium. It's very weird. I don't know what if anything that means but it struck me while watching it that the whole "character sings" happens too often to be a coincidence.

Beyond that, I have a couple of issues with this movie. I think it's interesting in the lead character is the antagonist, but they never quite have Roberts abandon her morals altogether (she doesn't send her forged email deliberately, for instance - look, I know it's a fine hair to split, but the movie wants us to think it's important). It's hard to feel too sympathetic for her, but I don't know that we're supposed to? But then, too, it's hard to feel too good for the married couple, because all of the problems that Julianne points out in an attempt to break them up are totally legit (she's too young, he's on the road a lot, he expects her to drop out of college for her, they've only just met, she's a fucking billionaire heiress and he's a sports writer) and none of them really get resolved.

And maybe that's OK? Like, maybe the idea here is, yes, Michael might be fucking up but he loves this woman, she loves him, and Jules had her shot. That kind of quasi-nihilism would be interesting if the movie were played that way, but it's played very much as a standard rom-com, down to Roberts being made a klutz (this happens to women in rom-coms strangely often), so I dunno.

Anyway, there's also a nice moment with a very young Paul Giamatti as a bellhop who comforts Julianne, and that's a nice scene.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: My Cousin Vinny

Chill: Good Dogs

So, a week after losing my dog, I decide to run a Chill case partially set at a dog kennel. I might be something of a twit.

Anyway, Sunday was Chill, so here we go.

Dylan is teaching a class and gets a visit from two detectives. He dismisses his students and the cops show him a class ring - it belonged to his brother, Alex. Alex and Dylan (and a group of students) were attacked by a monstrous wolf some years back while Alex was a student at the university; Dylan fled and Alex was never seen again. It's the incident that got Dylan into SAVE. And now here's some evidence that Alex might still be out there.

Dylan, shaken, asks where this was found. The detectives tell him it was found in a field near a dog boarding facility south of town; they found the ring near a coyote trap. Some blood, but no body. Dylan Senses the Unknown and feels it on the ring.

Dylan cancels his classes for the week and calls up the other envoys, and folks meet at the ranch - BB, Luther, and Jeanie (still injured from their last case) are in attendance. Dee has an appointment in town today and so can't help out, but approves the investigation. The envoys head out to D&D Kennels to see what they can find out.

When they get there, they meet David Vetnor, one of the owners, sitting on his porch with an old bloodhound, who gives the envoys a perfunctory "woof" as they walk up and then goes back to sleep. They explain the situation, and Dylan is pretty much directly honest with him - that and a Colossal success on an Interview check leads David to come clean. David had the traps set too close to the house, which is violation of local law, and when he checked the trap this morning he found not only the ring but a finger. He panicked and threw the finger into the trash, and moved the trap further out. Jeanie goes with him to find the finger amidst the garbage (ew) while Luther looks at the "crime scene" where the trap was actually found.

There they find some unsettling clues. There are wolf tracks, a bit of blood, and then tracks moving away from the area. Those tracks, though, are human - a man's bare feet. Jeanie, meaning, finds the find and gives it to Luther, who confirms it's a man's ring finger.

The envoys talk amongst themselves a bit. They need to be careful - they aren't sure what they're dealing with (though all signs seem to point to "werewolf"), but Dylan is understandably insistent that they keep moving. They check up the road a ways - there's a sod farm there, and they wonder if the "wolf" might have wound up near there. They meet a guy named Roman Johnson, who tells them that he's heard wolf howls lately (not coyote, he says, he can tell the difference), but only one. That's odd, normally wolves travel in packs. He hasn't seen anything, though. He doesn't mind wolves; they leave people alone, and besides, they were here first.

This leaves the envoys at something of a dead end. Jeanie notes that David has a bloodhound - maybe he's scent-trained? The envoys go back to David to ask, and he says that Digby isn't trained (and he's too old to be romping through the countryside anyway), but as it happens, there's a scent-trained dog being boarded her. David, still feeling guilty for screwing up the crime scene, goes along, bringing a German shepherd named Tammy.

The group follows the scent through the field, and out to the road, where they meet a guy in a truck. David knows this guy (Kyle); he works at the Reclaimed Lumber plant down the road to the south, and apparently has a habit of sleeping at his desk. They exchange pleasantries and Kyle heads on down the road, and the group keeps moving.

They find a hay field and some tracks, but now the tracks are wolf tracks...and one paw is missing a toe, and Tammy's lost the scent. The envoys send David and Tammy back; they're in danger here and the envoys don't want anyone getting killed. Jeanie and BB push to fall back to the ranch and do a little planning, but Dylan wants to press on. The compromise; BB and Jeanie go back to the kennel to get the car and Luther and Dylan are supposed to wait.

They don't.

Dylan, still wanting to press on, follows the tracks with Luther, and they come to a farmhouse. They note that the door is open, and they hear an animal crying from inside. Luther goes in first...and rather wishes he hadn't. There's a woman lying dead on the floor, her throat torn out and her stomach savaged. Next to her is a dog, alive but badly hurt. Luther checks the rest of the house and finds a man in the living room, also dead, his neck broken and bitten.

Jeanie and BB arrive, and Jeanie sees the carnage and is pretty bad shaken by the whole thing. They call David, figuring he'll know what to do with the dog, and he comes over, muzzles her, and puts a tourniquet on her leg. Luther calls the police, and the whole thing turns into something of a circus - the bodies of the unfortunate couple are taken out, this is all chalked up to an "animal attack" which doesn't make a lot of sense, and the dog is taken away to an emergency vet. The envoys contact Blake (fellow envoy and animal control officer) to tell him that if the dog survives and needs a home, they'll take her.

The envoys head back to the ranch - they're rattled and horrified and definitely don't want to keep poking around after dark. Dylan leads a group counseling session (he has the Crisis Counselor Edge), and they talk about what they've seen, but also about the fact that Dylan them all in danger by refusing to stay put. He won't apologize - he's looking for his brother and that's why he joined SAVE, and that's something of a sore point, but the envoys at least come out of it with a little less Trauma.

Dylan gets on the SAVE archives and winds up talking to a fella named Gabe out at the Den (SAVE's lycanthropy research center in Maine), who breaks down the basic types of werewolf for him. Inherents, he says, are only active on the full moon, so that's not it (it's a crescent moon right now). Infectives are active all the time, but it's very rare to just see one. He makes Dylan aware, though, that dealing with infectives means killing them - right away, no hesitation - because one scratch or bite is enough to infect. Dylan acknowledges that, but holds onto hope that maybe that's not what happened to his brother.

Dylan talks to the others and runs down what he's learned, and they pose a difficult question - if it comes down to it, can Dylan shoot his brother? Or watch as someone else does it? Dylan thinks he can.

Guess we'll see.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Character Creation: Argyle & Crew

Meant to do this yesterday, then got caught up in the whirlwind of Michelle getting her PhD woooooo!

Anyway, today, socks. No, really.

The Game: Argyle & Crew - Adventure in the Land of Skcos
The Publisher: Troll in the Corner
Degree of Familiarity: None, just read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, in Argyle & Crew, you're playing a sock puppet (or "Soppet"). The game is designed for kids, but of course adults can play it, and the book actually devotes some time to discussing how the game would look different for a group of children vs. a group of "old people."

In any event, there's no character sheet per se; you're making a sock puppet, so you make a damn sock puppet (you can also make a puppet out of a paper bag or just draw it, whatever works). I have a mateless sock handy, in fact. It's pretty worn out, but I can roll with that.

A Soppet waiting to be born.
OK, so the book says that all Soppets have eyes (drawn on with marker or stuck on with googly eyes) and a mouth (formed by the player's hand). I don't have any googly eyes handy, so I'll use a marker to make eyes.

Cool, OK. Now I get two Extras. Extras can things I draw on or literal objects that my Soppet carries around or has access to. Well, my Soppet has a shield that he can use to deflect incoming unpleasantness, and I'll draw eyebrows on so he's very expressive, which helps him talk with other Soppets.

There's an "advanced variant" for adding a Fact and a Flaw, so, sure, why not. My Fact is that I Always Listen to Other Soppets. My Flaw is that I Trust Everybody. (Yes, kinda Captain America-ish, but what do you want, I have this shield.)

My Soppet's name is Bub, and that's pretty much it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Promethean: LARP Shenanigans

No, I'm not LARPing Promethean. What kind of madman do you think I am?

Last time, the throng arrived in Columbus and wound up going to Origins. This time, we open with Feather, Grimm, Enoch, and Virgil checking out the Pilgrim mark they found in the service hallways in the Hyatt. They don't find any more, though, and realize that these hallways let them move around the hotel easily, although that would be harder during the day with more people.

Meanwhile, Matt is at an Angel LARP. He meets up with Jenna, the woman who was selling corsets earlier and does a bit of RP with her. He also winds up engendering some Disquiet amongst some of the other LARPers.

Avalon is drinking with her new artist friends up in their room, and one of them is flipping through the program and finds that there's an Angel LARP going on. They head downstairs and Avalon buys her way in and gets a character and starts talking with Jenna and Matt, but her artist friends are just being drunk and disruptive. Things start to get tense, and Avalon considers what to do in this situation - her "programming," as it were, would be to smooth things out.

The others emerge from the hallways into the big glass hallway between the Hyatt and the convention center, and are at something of a loss for where to go. They decide to find the others (they can feel through Azoth radiance that they're nearby), so they wind up entering the LARP as well. Feather talks to the organizer, who's on the phone with someone talking about the drunk people and wondering if he should call security. Feather, ever helpful, asks who's being a problem and the guy points out the artists and Avalon (but notes that Avalon is actually being cool and just playing, not drinking).

Feather talks to Avalon and points out that this could wind up getting unpleasant. Avalon goes over to the artists and recommends that they leave...and feels herself step backwards on the Pilgrimage. She de-escalated, which is nice, but she's already learned about that, and she's not learning anything about transgression this way. She falls into Torment, and goes stock-still, robotic. The artists leave without incident.

The throng notices what's happened, though, and they get Avalon out before something goes wrong (Matt stays to LARP). They take Avalon off upstairs into a dining-hall area where no one is hanging around, and Enoch uses the Heed the Call Alembic to pull her out of Torment. Their Radiances merge, and they're standing on a mountain looking out over the snow. They talk, and Avalon says that she doesn't think she can become human - she wants to, but she isn't sure if she has the capacity. Enoch says that just in the time he's known her, she's made progress on her Pilgrimage, and maybe it's just that this Role is hard for her? Avalon eventually agrees; this Role is hard, but she needs to figure it out. They return, and her Torment melts away.

The throng decides to walk down the street and see what else is going on. When they step outside, Grimm has a vision - the city as gears, locking into place, but marks in specific places with Pilgrim marks. He can only see one clearly (the one they found in the basement), but it gives him a perspective to find the others. As the gears stop and the marks form a rectangle, the gears grind and threaten to strip.

Grimm reports this to the others, and they figure they probably ought to check this out - sounds God-Machine related.

Matt, meanwhile, finishes the LARP and talks with Jenna about corsets and so forth. A security guard approaches Matt, probably directed by someone with Disquiet, but ultimately leaves him alone. Jenna makes some potentially flirty comments, but Matt doesn't follow up, and Jenna heads off to bed. Matt rejoins the throng, realizing belatedly that he probably could have gone back to her room if he'd have asked.

The Prometheans decide to head out into the city to pursue the Pilgrim marks, but someone suggests finding Skip (his player was out, so we figured he was off doing sketch-things still). And at that point, Azoth calls to Azoth - a new Promethean in the area? Or...the Machine mimicking one again? We shall see.

Movie #459: The Musketeer

The Musketeer is an adaptation of Dumas' The Three Musketeers, only this time, the acting is terrible and the fight choreography is Eastern! It stars Justin Chambers, Tim Roth, Stephen Rea, Catherine Deneuve, Mena Suvari, Nick Moran, Stephen Speirs, and Jan-Gregor Kemp. It's pretty bad.

The story doesn't exactly hew close to the novel. D'artagnan (Chambers) gets his Batman origin story; his parents are murdered in front of him by Febre (Roth), an evil servant of the Church and Cardinal Richelieu (Rea). Young d'Artagnan goes on to become a badass fighter, winds up meeting up with the usual three musketeers, Aramis (Moran), Porthos (Speirs), and Athos (Kemp). He also winds up hooking up with an Italian seamstress (Suvari) with an American accent (don't fret, he speaks American, too), and then there's a lot of fighting, Febre kills a lot of people, goes off the chain, kills more people, eventually Richelieu has to ask d'Artagnan for help getting him under control, more fighting, d'Arty kills him, he gets a medal and threatens to kill the Cardinal, which to me is a short step to the Cardinal saying "shit, I'd better arrange for this jackass to get arrested and hanged toot sweet", but I'm not a church guy.

Anyway, this movie is terrible. They spent all the money on costumes and set design (which, in fairness, do look really fantastic) and on Catherine Deneuve (who is also fantastic), but that left no money for getting a d'Arty who can act or an editor who knows how to be patient. The fight choreography is interesting, especially when you take the fluid, acrobatic style of wire-fu and mix it with swashbuckling, but the unfortunate result is that no one is having any fun, which is a staple of swashbuckling.

Also, dear god, the dialog. The line delivery. Rea and Roth seem to manage to chew scenery effectively, but the scenes between Suvari and Chambers are just lifeless and embarrassing. Give me the Disney version with Chris O'Donnell any day.

My Grade: F
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: My Best Friend's Wedding