Sunday, August 19, 2018

Board Game: Cat Lady

Today, we got a new puppy.

This puppy, to be exact.
She doesn't have a name yet. We're working on that.

But yesterday, we played a game about cats!

The Game: Cat Lady
The Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Time: 15 minutes or so
Players: Me, Cael, Kai, Sarah

Game Play: I played this game at GenCon and then bought it. Unlike a lot of cute games, it's got some depth of play and some replay value.

Feasts most fancy, vittles most tender.
Those cubes there are food. The goal is to get victory points, and you get those by feeding cats, collecting sets of cat toys, collecting cat costumes (the cats in the costumes look pretty unhappy, it's kind of adorable), and having enough catnip to go around.

Cards are laid out in a 9x9 grid, and on your turn you take a row or a column. There's a cat figurine that's next to one row or column, and you can't take that one (the cat is in the way, as cats often are), but if you have a spray bottle you can shoo the cat away. Once you take a set, you replace it from the deck and the cat moves there.

You can also get dealt lost cat cards, and can trade them in for stray cats (that's them at the bottom of the picture; there's only ever three in a game) or victory points. Play continues until the deck of cards runs out.

This game was basically made for Sarah.
Opinions: Like I said, for a cute game it's got some replay value. The strategy comes in what cats you pick up versus what food you get (you don't get points for cats you don't feed), and what lines you pick up and thus prevent other players from grabbing. It's hard to plan too far ahead, especially in a four-player game, but you can generally at least note what the people going after you need and try to prevent it. That said, in a four-player game the turns move pretty fast, and you have to be careful you don't wind up with a bunch of cats that won't eat chicken and a bunch of red cubes (which are chicken). Leftover food costs you points.

Keep? Yes.

Movie #473: Night at the Museum

Night at the Museum is a comedy directed by Shawn Levy and starring Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson, Carla Gugino, Rami Malek, Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs, Mickey Rooney, Steve Coogan, Jake Cherry and Mizuo Peck.

Larry Daley (Stiller) is an often-unemployed would-be entrepreneur who is on the verge of losing access to his son Nick (Cherry) because of his unstable living arrangements. He winds up finding a job at the museum of natural history as the new night guard, as the previous three guards Cecil (Van Dyke), Reginald (Cobbs), and Gus (Rooney) are being downsized. On the first night, though, he finds out that everything in the museum comes to life by the power of a magical tablet on display in the Egypt exhibit. The previous night guards leave Larry a list of how to deal with the exhibits, but he promptly loses it, and only restores order with the help of Teddy Roosevelt (Williams).

Ready to quit, Larry gives it another shot despite the misgivings of his irritable boss (Gervais), and tries to make the museum work, but winds up making an even bigger mess. While trying to reveal to his son the truth of the museum, he learns that the night guards intend to steal the tablet and frame him - the tablet has been prolonging their lives and keeping them strong. A rousing chase through New York ensues, Larry rallies the exhibits, Roosevelt hooks up with Sacajawea (Peck), the weirdness throughout the city gives people interest in visiting the museum, all is well.

It's a cute movie. I have questions about the rules of magic, here (does Teddy really know everything that the real Roosevelt would have? Because holy shit that's amazing). Exhibits appear capable of doing things like eating and drinking - Larry is explicitly told that the lions will eat him, but then, he's told that by the night guards who don't exactly have his best interests at heart. You forget that kind of nitpickery during the movie, though; it's quick and fun and we get to see an ordinary (if somewhat arrogant) guy like Larry find his place, and that's kind of nice.

Plus, I hadn't realized it until last night, but it's cool to see a divorced couple in a movie that doesn't hate each other. Larry's ex (Kim Raver) is perfectly fine with Larry and their relationship as it stands, but she's understandably concerned about him getting evicted repeatedly and what that kind of instability is doing to their son. She's not played as a shrew or nagging, and even Paul Rudd as her new fiancee comes off as a genuinely nice guy (look, kids, it's Ant-Man!).

Overall, it's sweet and it's watchable. I remember thinking the sequel wasn't as good, but I haven't seen it in a while I never saw the third one.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Night of the Creeps

Chill: This is Halloween, Halloween, etc.

Yesterday we started a new Chill case with some new envoys! (We changed the player lineup because some folks were having trouble making it to the game consistently, which is something that always sucks to do, but like, kinda needs to happen if you want to keep playing.)

Anyway, new envoys:

  • Beth Anne Stallard, played by Jenn. Beth Anne is an All-American farm girl, cheerleader, very "normal" through and through...except she used to go have adventures with the monster under the bed. She isn't actually sure what that means in Unknown terms, or indeed, if it even happened, but she's always been a bit attuned to the Unknown and joined SAVE after taking a sociology course with Dylan Reeves (one of the other players' envoys). Her Drive is to be free.
  • Mohammed Al-Zaid, played Jerry. Mohammed was born in the US to immigrant parents (we're still working out where his parents were from). He was recruited by the CIA to be an "interpreter," which he discovered really meant "interrogator." He saw some pretty awful things over in the Middle East, just in terms of what people will do to people, and while in Syria he met Hayat Nejem and her mentor Mafuz El-Hasham. When he went back to the States, he decided to join up with SAVE here, and found the Boise HQ (his parents live here in Boise).
So, in-game, today is October 27, 2017. Jordan Ramsey checks her Facebook and discovers a status from a friend and former coworker that concerns her:

Jordan messages Wendy and asks to meet her for coffee; Wendy says she has to pick Giles up from preschool, but then she's free. They meet up at Crepe Scott!, a local coffee and crepe joint. Jordan notes that Giles (4) is tired and fussy, but calms a bit after he eats. They don't want to talk about this in front of Giles, so they make small talk - Wendy and her wife Janet are doing fine, apart from this "haunted house" dealie. Giles is excited for Halloween, or he was, at least. They head to a playground so Giles can run around, and Wendy explains the last week.

Tuesday, the power went out - she calls it a "blackout," but as Jordan notes, it was just their house that went dark. That night, Giles and Wenday saw spiders crawl out from under the couch - hundreds of them. And then, before Janet saw them, they were gone. 

Wednesday night, the power went out again (just at their house), but nothing else weird happened. 

And then yesterday, all of the books in the house that mentioned Halloween wound up on the kitchen table opened to the page about trick-or-treating. Wendy though Giles had done it, but he was napping. That night, the power went out again, but the TV stayed on and switched over to a horror movie. 

Jordan suggests she could have a look around the house, and see if anything's obvious amiss - maybe they're being pranked. They head home (though Wendy has to talk Giles into coming out of the climber; he does not want to go home, and she reports he's been very difficult to pick up from preschool of late). When they get there, Giles immediately scampers around back to his sandbox. Jordan asks if they'd like to come out to the ranch and have dinner, get out of the house for a while, see the horses. Wendy agrees, texts Janet to make sure, and then goes inside to get some stuff for the trip. Jordan walks around back to keep an eye on Giles, and finds him building a castle in his sandbox.

Jordan shows him pictures on her phone of Sweet Baby Jesus in various sweaters and some of the other animals at the ranch to get him talking (Giles isn't talkative at the best of times, and he's pretty obviously spooked). He finally opens up enough to say that something inside is "trying to scare him", but he doesn't know what and, of course, he's four, so the kinds of questions he can answer are somewhat limited. Jordan offers him a hug and picks him up, and the wind picks up, blowing loud and chilly around the house. Jordan uses Disrupt on Giles, just in case there's something actively targeting him, but nothing happens. She Senses the Unknown, and gets a Colossal success. 

The temperature drops precipitously around her. She senses an entity in or near the house. It's very powerful, and it's very unhappy with Jordan. She takes Giles and gets back to the car. She's definitely unprepared for this.

On the way back to the ranch, she makes contact with Willa Lane, who has some expertise with ghosts. She tells her to round up some envoys, as this has the potential to be a nasty one. Maybe don't use the newbies? Willa contacts Dee, but all Dee has on offer are the newbies - Edward and BB are both in California at the moment, Dylan is teaching, and Jeanie is recovering from injuries sustained by a scarecrow (actually Willa is, too, but they're healing). That leaves Blake Wheeler, Beth Anne Stallard, and Mohammed Al-Zaid. 

They all meet up at the ranch and have a quick powwow while Dee takes Giles and Wendy out to look at horses. Willa, hearing Jordan's report, says that it definitely sounds like a ghost, and asks about Giles' situation. Jordan tells them that Janet and Wendy adopted Giles about a year ago, but doesn't know anything about his before that. 

The envoys decide that maybe they could go check out the house while the Bliss family is here; that would keep them out of harm's way and give them a chance to learn more. Dee can definitely entertain them (that's what she does). They wait until Janet gets there, and Jordan notes that Janet is walking with a limp - she twisted her ankle the other day (but doesn't say how). Jordan talks to Wendy and Janet and offers to check out their house and make sure that no one is messing with them; Mohammed notes that he has some investigative expertise. The women agree (Janet seems a little hesitant), and hand over a key.

The envoys take a couple of cars and gear up. Willa points out that going in blind, it's better to take too much than too little. They arrive at the house and slowly approach the door. Jordan opens it, but then it slams shut and words appear on the door in blood: WHERE JILES

Beth Anne decides to approach this differently and sits on the porch, breathes deep, and uses her Leave the Body discipline. Willa, using Eyes of the Dead, sees her do it and can communicate, but the rest of the envoys can't (Mohammed puts her body in the car so that she's out of harm's way if things go south). Beth Anne pulls herself up onto the roof and peers in the window to Giles' room, but can't really see much from here. And then, suddenly, a woman's face appears in the glass - she's chalk white and has burning blue eyes. Beth Anne stumbles back and reports this to the others. Definitely a ghost.

The envoys reopen the door and enter the house, Beth Anne with them (she comes down from the roof; do note that at Beginner level at this discipline, she can neither fly nor pass through solid objects). The door slams again, shutting them in, and Willa notes that this means the ghost is telekinetic. The envoys decide to take a risky move, but one that's worked before: They'll have Willa use Voice of the Dead to summon the ghost into herself, and Jordan will use Line of Defense to keep it trapped. 

Willa summons the ghost, and Beth Anne sees her float down through the ceiling and settle into Willa. Willa, a Master at this discipline, remains conscious throughout the experience and immediately feels drugged and euphoric, as though she's on powerful painkillers. Jordan completes the circle, and Mohammed steps up to interrogate. 

He notes that the ghost's body language is deferent, yet defiant - as though she's been in this kind of situation before. He asks who she is, and she asks if he is a cop. Rolling the dice, Mohammed says he is, and she promptly refuses to talk to him and calls him "pig." She asks where Giles is.

Jordan tries to change things up a little and appeal to her obvious interest in Giles. The ghost tells her that she's "just trying to make it fun" and "show Giles how much fun Halloween is". She demands to know where Giles is, but Jordan won't tell her, and the ghost immediately gets defensive and hurts Willa. Willa feels pain start in her head and work downward, she feels trigeminal pain as one of her teeth cracks, and the others see scars begin near her ear. Jordan breaks the seal to use Disrupt and the ghost leaves Willa, but Willa collapses, badly hurt. 

Meanwhile, Beth Anne has been watching this, and realizes that the ghost is most likely what SAVE calls a poltergeist - a ghost that has, for whatever reason, attached itself to a child. She isn't likely to hurt the child deliberately, but she's very likely to do it accidentally, and worse poltergeists are powerful and impulsive. Willa, before the injury, has come to a similar conclusion - this ghost is telekinetic, but it doesn't need to throw things. It can kill by sheer Evil Way power. 

The envoys decide it's time to fall back, and she gets Willa to the car to get some medical attention. Blake and Mohammed stand by their car and wait for Beth Anne to return to her body, but Beth Anne decides to run upstairs first. She looks through Giles room and finds residue on the walls from other blood-messages, stuff that wouldn't be visible to the naked eye but that she can see as a "ghost." It's pretty innocuous on its face: "BOO! TRICK R TREAT! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!" but she does note that "Giles" is always misspelled as "Jiles." She leaves the room, and finds the ghost blocking her way. The ghost takes a swing and Beth Anne manages to duck out of the way. Beth Anne says she wants to help with Halloween, and the ghost softens, but still just demands to know where Giles is. Beth Anne says that she'll bring him back (in an attempt to placate the ghost), and the ghost says that if she doesn't, she'll burn the place down. 

Beth Anne flees to the car, and everyone heads out. Willa needs an emergency dentist and some good drugs...and she notes, once those drugs kick in, that this feels familiar. 

The envoys talk through their data. Mohammed guesses that the ghost may have become addicted to opioids following a dental incident; that might even have been how she died. Maybe she was Giles' birth mother? Mohammed does a little digging, but Botches the roll, and learns a lot about opioid addiction in Idaho, but doesn't turn up any likely candidates. Based on the ghost's clothes, she's contemporary, though, so that helps a little. 

Blake asks Darnell if there's a way to track opioid prescriptions, but Darnell says not unless you know the doctor or pharmacist in question, and even then it's iffy. The envoys figure that the ghost is fixated on Giles, not the house, and maybe burning the place down is preferable to the ghost killing someone? Not ideal, but hardly worst-case. In any case, they figure they'd better talk to the Blisses and make sure they don't go home.

When they get to the ranch, though, they learn from Dee that the women left an hour ago. They had to head home. Giles was getting sleepy. 

The envoys get back in the car and head out. Willa insists on going, though she's injured and drugged. This ghost is dangerous, and they're going to need her.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Sssssh, We Have a Boat

Last night was Blades! No actual blades were employed. Weird.

So, last time, the crew set up a score meant to give themselves a cover operation. This time, they carried that out.

The crew of the weird surveyor boat comes ashore to eat in Nightmarket, and the scoundrels are ready. Cage and One-Eye go aboard while Siren and Copper stand lookout. I got a critical on the engagement roll, lucky fuckers, so before anyone goes aboard, they note one crew member leave after the others and sneak into a bar for a drink.

One-Eye and Cage find a map nailed to the outside wall of the cabin. They study it briefly, and note a number of markings in the canals around Doskovol, as well as three out in the bay that seem familiar - they're roughly where the crew dropped those bells. One-Eye employs an alchemical method of duplication for the map (she spreads a thick, stretchy stuff over it that holds an image), and then they slip into the cabin to try and find the papers they need.

The cabin is something of a mess - desks and paperwork. One-Eye, though, as a creative herself, knows that you don't put papers you'll need at a moment's notice with your ongoing projects, and finds the ID papers in a box nailed to the wall. She tries to use the putty trick to duplicate them, but the papers have been treated with something that starts to react to the putty, so she pulls it off.

Cage, fortunately, has brought a different method - a lantern and flash-powder arrangement that can copy written stuff onto paper. They don't need an exact copy, after all, just something with enough detail that One-Eye can fake it.

Outside, Siren and Copper note the flashes from the cabin and figure it must be going well. They see the guy in the bar come out and make for the boat. Copper tries to intercept him and get him chatting, but he's not interested, so she coldcocks him to put him out. Problem is, Button then assumes it's time to fight, and jumps on the guy. Copper manages to pull him off before he kills the poor sucker, and Siren drags him to an alley out of sight.

Cage and One-Eye finish making the copies and are about to head out, Cage notes some drawings that catch his eye. They appear to be connections between some of the marked points in the city, drawn into Tycherosi runes. These are the kinds of the things you might use to summon something, perhaps. He makes some copies...

...which, of course, has given the rest of the crew enough time to come back from lunch. Thinking quickly, Siren gets in their way and tries to act sick, and when that doesn't work, she loses her lunch on their shoes. This gets their attention, and one of them tosses her a coin to make her go away.

Copper, meanwhile, helps the guy in the alley back to the boat, apologizes for her dog, and pays the guy a coin for his understanding. He probably wasn't supposed to be drinking on the job anyway, so he doesn't say anything.

Cage and One-Eye take the opportunity to hop off the boat, and the crew all walks away. They head back to the hideout, and One-Eye gets to work on her forgery. Cage, of course, starts doing some research, and recruits Siren and Copper to help out.

At the end of the day, though, he's not entirely sure what's happening here. It could be that this boat is looking into the desecrated hollows in the canals, the disturbance in the Void Sea, or both. He is able to determine, though, that the Church of Ecstasy seems to be behind it.

The scoundrels do some downtime stuff; training, vice indulging, and whatnot. Cage presents his theory to Lord Penderyn to try and get back into his good graces, while One-Eye anchors her new eye with bone screws. Copper trains Button to only attack on command, since this has been a problem before. The Fog Hounds push against the crew, trying to suck up some of their clients, but they push back, not wanting to cede ground.

And then the crew decides that they going to take the job they've been avoiding for months: Stealing deathseeker crow eggs from the Spirit Wardens. They contact Grull and find that the job is still open; a couple of other crews have tried and failed, though, so security might be tight. The scoundrels do some research and figure that the best way in is directly into the rookery via zipline. One-Eye mixes up some alchemical goo to hold the eggs safely (they're no good broken, and they have to be to Grull within an hour), and they figure they'll zip in from a taller building across the street, grab the eggs, anchor the line to a lower point, zip out, and meet Grull near Clerk Street.

This is the most complicated job they've taken in a while, and they're happy to be stealin' and smugglin' again. Next time, we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Character Creation: Unsung

GenCon ate the last of my summer and now I'm back at work, and I didn't get as far ahead as I'd like, but I'm caught up, so that's nice. My plan is to keep to one character a week and use holidays and days off to try and get ahead, and then maybe jump ahead during Xmas break in December.

But for now, here's a game that was in a bundle a long time ago. I've opened the PDF before but never quite managed to make the character.

The Game: Unsung
The Publisher: Ivanhoe Unbound
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

Unsung is an RPG about people who have to uphold moral codes but are put in tough moral predicaments. It references the Forge a lot and mentions other games that I enjoy, like Sorcerer, and reading it, it looks like there's some interesting stuff going on. The game doesn't have a default setting, and though it promises sample settings later in the book, those "sample settings" are more like "genres." The examples of play in the book (and thank you very much for those) focus on a SWAT team, and the game seems to have the most love for cops. One of the alternatives is criminals, though; you can play members of a crime family. I kinda like that, actually. I'm in the mood for something dark.

To wit, here's my theme song:

It's a song about loving someone even though the relationship is harsh and the world is dirty. I like that. Let's have a look at chargen!

We start with Concept. My character's name is Jimmy White. Jimmy grew up in the roughest part of the city and his older brother got wrapped up in drugs and the dealing of said drugs. Jimmy's parents tried to shield him, but he looked up to his brother and his brother didn't really do much to try and keep Jimmy from all the violence, and Jimmy's parents were killed in a home invasion from a rival gang.

That's all ancient history. Jimmy and his brother (Paul) took care of that. Paul is upstate doing 8 years for manslaughter, and Jimmy is part of the gang. They pull heists, run protection, run some drugs, stuff like that. Jimmy is making his bones and paying his dues.

Jimmy is also in love, and it's weird, because Jimmy's in love with a guy. I mean, it's not weird (Jimmy doesn't much care what kind of sex you're into), but it's weird for Jimmy because he's always thought of himself as straight. But this guy, Miles, he lives in the same neighborhood, and he's definitely at least familiar with the Life, and Jimmy knows he shoots up sometimes. Jimmy and Miles spend a lot of nights together, and they don't talk much, because Jimmy doesn't know how to be a boyfriend to a guy. He just knows that being with Miles feels right, and he's not sure what that means for him or how he's gonna tell Paul.

OK, good start. Now we do Traits & Descriptors. There are 5 traits (well, 6, but I don't have to buy the sixth one). I get 55 points to spend, but I think they start at 1. Higher is better and max is 19. Also, each one gets a descriptor (kinda like an Aspect).

Starting with Savvy, which represents education and knowledge. Jimmy hasn't been to school since 8th grade. I'll give him "Learned from his Brother" as the descriptor and put 10 points in.

Sense: Mental quickness and perception. I want this to be better. "Sharp as a Whip" is the descriptor, and I'll put 13 points in, which takes me to 14. I've spent 23.

Guts: Ability to deal with gross or stressful stuff. "In the Life Since Age 12", and I'll put 10 points in.

Meat: All the physical shit. I picture Jimmy as being quick, but not beefy. Hmm. I also have 18 points left. I think we'll put 10 here, and make the descriptor "Lean & Hungry."

Responsibility: Basically my ethical compass. I only have 8 points left, so that's where they go. "Family First" is my Descriptor.

And then there's Instinct. It starts equal to 20 - Responsibility, so since my Responsibility is 9, my Instinct is 11. Descriptors here are supposed to be what the character is like when out of control, so I'll say "Looks for a Leader." Jimmy isn't self-directed at the best of times, and if shit goes down he's a follower.

I'd start a session with one Gift Point and I don't start with any Retirement Points, so...I'm done, I guess. Wow. That was easy.

Board Game: Adorable Monsters

Hey, finally one of these.

The Game: Adorable Monsters
The Publisher: Zach Weisman, I guess? I don't see a website and there's another game with the same title taking up Google hits.
Time: 15 minutes or so
Players: Me, Michelle, Jenn, JR

Game Play: Players get a monster (draw two, pick one), and then they spend some time placing adjectives on it. Adjectives can be scary ("big," "cumbersome," "eight-legged") or cute ("bumbling," "nice"), and obviously you just want to put scary adjectives on your monsters.

Players can then either dump their hand of cards and redraw, or challenge another player to a Scare-off. During a Scare-off, everyone can play cards on either monster, but no one draws more cards, and once everyone is done the winner is the one with more scary adjectives. The winner takes the loser's monster card as victory point, the loser draws a new monster and on we go.

JR builds a monster.
Monsters have different special powers; the merman wins ties, the dragon prevents uninvolved players from interfering in a Scare-off, and so on. In general, though, it's pretty straightforward.

My beastly, swift, stealthy, big yeti.

Opinions: The game is fun to play and the art is really nice. The monsters' powers are interesting enough to warrant some replay value. I've got three main issues.

First, some editing would be good. "Bumbuling", f'rex, is on an adjective card.

Second, some of the adjectives aren't so great. Like, "blind" is a cute adjective, which strays a little far from the mission as well as being ableist.

Finally, some of the rules aren't clear. The Teenager (yes, there's a monster called the Teenager, hee hee) can redirect "attacks" to other players, but the word "attack" is never used in the instructions. I had to look up the Kickstarter and fortunately someone else had asked (she can redirect Scare-offs to other players, which makes more sense).

Generally, though, it's a fun little game and has enough depth of gameplay to be worth keeping, which isn't true of a lot of "cute" games.

Michelle and Jenn, building monsters. 

Keep? Yes.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Movie #472: The Next Karate Kid

The Next Karate Kid is the fourth movie in the series, starring Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, Hillary Swank, Michael Ironside, Chris Conrad, and Michael Calivieri. It's pretty awful.

Daniel-san has departed for...well, we don't know (and I didn't see Part III so I don't know where they left it). Mr. Miyagi (Morita) travels to Boston to receive a medal for his WWII service, and winds up staying with the widow of an Army pal (Constance Towers, the widow, not the pay). He meets her orphaned teenage granddaughter Julie (Swank), who is way angry and lashing out because her parents died. Miyagi sends Louisa back to California while he stays and takes care of the house, to give them a little time apart.

Julie's high school is run by the evil Dugan (Ironside) and his evil band of evil "teens" (seriously, exactly no one in this movie passes for a high school student), and is on the verge of getting expelled because...Dugan runs this joint, I guess? She winds up getting involved with Eric (Conrad), but then gets suspended for two weeks and Miyagi takes her to a Buddhist monastery where she learns karate, and then comes home and goes to prom with Eric, but that winds up in a fight between her and Ned (Calivieri, the head evil teen, who just straight-up assaulted her earlier in the movie). She beats him handily, but then Dugan starts going nuts, so Miyagi steps in and whups his ass.

OK, where to start. First of all, Karate Kid at least established the characters and spent time on the relationship between Daniel and Miyagi, but also gave Daniel some agency and let him fuck up a bit. Here, Julie spends a lot of time getting blackmailed by everyone, and not just Ned ("come with me to the docks or I'll have you kicked out of school"), but also Eric ("say you'll miss me or I won't feed your pet hawk") and even Miyagi ("do your homework or I won't teach you karate"). Also, Julie shifts from angry and nigh-feral to calm and contemplative by spending time at the monastery and repeating Miyagi's fortune-cookie wisdom, and that's on-brand for the series, at least, but part of that shift involves wearing skirts and becoming more feminine, and that's kind of an issue?

But the thing I find strangest is Miyagi's "final battle" against Dugan. I think it's mostly because the writers figured the audience was a-hankerin' to see Miyagi kick ass, but like, not really? The series has always been about Miyagi teaching his student karate, and the application of those lessons not just in a fight, but in life. But there's none of that here, it's just Julie beating up one dude, and then Dugan refusing to let it drop, so Miyagi has to "save" her by finishing the fight.

Possible I'm giving this more analysis than it needs, but that's kind of what I do. Anyway, the script is weak, the humor is trite, the performances are kind of overwrought (even from Swank, who's actually a good actress), and the only one who seems like he's in the right place is Ironside, who's kind of made a career of playing "scenery-chewing asshole."

My Grade: D-
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Night at the Museum

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Week Ago, We Played Blades

Dammit. I really meant to do this before we left for GenCon Ah, well.

So! Last time, the scoundrels did some stabbing with their blades in the dark. This time, they kinda took it easy; we didn't start a new score, just did a bunch of prep.

Part of the issue is that the heat is very much in Saigon Doskovol; the crew's wanted level is high and they're trying to avoid spending a year in prison. They decide to take a couple of months off, spending some coin to take some downtime action. Copper lowers the Heat level a bit, while One-Eye works on installing and calibrating her new eye. Cage works to get back in Lord Penderyn's good graces, and Siren does some training.

From there, the crew starts to look at how to expand their operation. They toy with the notion of finally dealing with Cricket and getting a luxury fence, with expanding the Ruby and getting a tavern, with expanding their turf, or with finding a cover operation. Given that their exploits of late have gotten loud, they decide to pursue the latter.

They talk about muscling in on a goat-carriage operation like the one that Copper's cousin runs. They ask Grull about it (Grull is a cabbie and he works for someone, but he's tight-lipped about whom), and he mentions that taking over such an operation isn't hard, if you're willing to be mean about it. They also hear about a strange new boat that's out on the canals, that no one is messing with.

The crew spends some time following and investigating this boat, and in their information gathering they learn that it seems to be surveying - it's taking samples and readings in places in the canals where the currents are strange. The crew discusses a few options; some of them don't want to mess with it (Cage's contact Flint says that it might be a conspiracy with powerful people above it, or it might just be basic government stuff that takes years to do its study and never pans out), while others figure that having a boat that no one messes with because it's beneath their notice might be useful.

At the end of the day, they decide it's worth a look, so they decide to forge (or steal) the papers that the boat is using. They discover that the staff disembarks to eat in Nightmarket, and choose that as their point of infiltration. Next time, we'll see how that plays out.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Chill: You Are Going to Jail, Kevin

Finally, we got to play Chill.

Last time, the envoys looked into evidence of a werewolf - possibly Dylan's brother - and its victims, the Caldwells.

Today, as they're getting ready to head out to investigate more, Darnell finds BB and tells him that a man was killed out by where they were investigating yesterday. The victim, one Kyle Brandt, was an employee of the saw mill (the envoys actually met him yesterday). They head back out there, minus Luther, who had something else to do and couldn't join them. They take firearms, and they discuss their strategy: Dylan raises a Sphere of Protection, Jeanie and BB shoot it.

They get to the mill and find lots of police and employees milling around. Dylan talks to the employees and learns that Brandt tends to work late. It looked to them like something grabbed him as he came down the stairs from the office, and dragged him between the buildings.

Jeanie and BB, meanwhile, walk around the building to see if they can find tracks - and lo, they can. They follow the tracks out into the field (well, BB does, Jeanie gets caught up by the cops and lectured about being around a crime scene). BB finds, weirdly, that there are wolf tracks, but then a pair of human shoe prints that just kind of appear, and walk with the wolf, and then fade out. Weird.

Jeanie joins BB, and they find the trail leads to the road, and they see a guy on his porch cleaning a shotgun. He tells them there's a bear or something around and a bunch of the locals are setting traps (so the envoys need to be careful). They decided to check back on the Caldwell's house, figuring the wolf might have fallen back there to lurk during the day (Dylan got some info about werewolves from SAVE, but they were nonspecific about what happens to lycanthropes during daylight hours).

They come up to the door and Jeanie sees that the police tape is broken. That's enough for her, she grabs her shotgun. They open the door and head in, and everything goes dead silent. Dylan raises the Sphere and they can hear again, and they see Darnell (or what looks like him) sitting on the steps. He tries to sell the deception at first, but it doesn't really work, so the thing changes into Loomis, the scarecrow. This is enough for Jeanie, again, and she levels the shotgun, but then everything outside of the Sphere goes dark. Now unable to see the target, the envoys fall back and step outside the kitchen door...whereupon their car smashes into the house at them. Jeanie barely manages (through use of her Quicken discipline) to shove the others back into the house, and Dylan reestablishes the Sphere.

Figuring that they need to make a statement, they decide to blow up the house. Jeanie pulls the over out and breaks open the gas line, while Dylan and BB head for the window in the dining room. Jeanie, once she's out of the Sphere, finds everything going dark and her body coordination going. BB tosses Dylan out the window, and then jumps back to grab Jeanie.

But outside, Dylan sees his brother staggering out of the trees. He's missing a finger, and beckons to Dylan, but Dylan holds fast. BB and Jeanie get out, and Alex starts to grow fur. BB shoots him (with some difficulty, as he's Reluctant to Harm), and Jeanie walks right up and shoots him in the head, killing him. She then grabs a flare from the car and tosses it in the house. Boom.

Of course, this brings the police, and all three of them are arrested. Dylan is breaking down, of course, babbling about werewolves, and the other two know to ask for a lawyer. They eventually wind up claiming self defense, which wouldn't work, except that the coroner's van carrying Alex's body crashes later that night. Both men in it are ripped apart, and Alex's body is gone.

Annie (the lawyer, remember) manages to plead them down to probation, which means that they'll be under the watchful eye of the law next time we have a case with them. I think that the next case, though, might involve Willa, Jordan, and Blake.

Movie #471: The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter

The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter is, as the entirely overwrought title suggests, the sequel to The Neverending Story. It stars Jonathan Brandis, Kenny Morrison, Clarissa Burt, John Wesley Shipp, Martin Umbach, Thomas Hill, and Alexandra Johnes. It's pretty bad.

So, we seem to have ignored the end of the first movie entirely. Bastian (Brandis) has gotten like 4 years older and is now blond and cute but scared of jumping off the diving board. He goes back to see Koreander (Hill), the bookseller, and steals The Neverending Story again, but this time when he starts reading it, he's physically transported into it. The Nothing is gone, but the Emptiness is hollowing everything out, and it's controlled by an evil queen named Xayide (Burt) who is trying to bring order to Fantasia.

Anyway, Bastian still has the Orin (a magic necklace) and it lets him make wishes, but every one loses him a memory. He makes a bunch, but he's really bad at it, and the wishes never really make a difference, nor do the lost memory. In the end...I think he wishes to go home and jumps off a waterfall? I was honestly pretty bored by that point.

The movie is a mess, the plot is full of holes and shit that just doesn't pass a sniff test (like, Bastian's father [Shipp] tracks down Koreander and asks where the hell Bastian is, and he smiles creepily and gives him a response that wasn't literally "he's in my basement" but might as well have been, and dad just fucks off and reads the book). The special effects are pretty weak, but they're not really any worse than other movies of the day. The performances are god-awful, but then, the dialog doesn't leave them much to work with.

All in all, glad it's done.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Night's Black Agents: Holy Shit! There Are Vampires!

I mean, we've known that for a while, but one of the characters just figured it out today. More or less.

So! Last time, the agents decided they'd extract Klobucar and then swing back and deal with Kornai. The four agents that are in the know (that is, Hanover, Parker, MacAteer, and Carlsson) decided to move without Firinci; he was new to the group and doesn't believe in vampires (and his player was late).

MacAteer and Carlsson went to Konjic and got a safe house together in an old, abandoned bank. Parker and Hanover, meanwhile, set up the meet with Mujic - Klobucar met them ("them" here meaning MacAteer and Carlsson) at the airport, and they swept him for bugs and then took him to the bank.

At this point, Parker revealed herself, but Hanover did not (he's committed to remaining dead). They interrogated Klobucar, and he revealed a few things of interest.

First, he'd run because the conspiracy had wanted to turn him, but he wasn't interested in becoming that kind of monster. They'd wanted Hanover, but since he was dead, they'd decided to "upgraded" Klobucar, and he'd dropped off the grid.

Klobucar knew that Hajnal's organization had been part of the conspiracy at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but he wasn't sure when exactly Hajnal had been turned. He knew that Hajnal, Tesla, Sas, and Koltay were all vampires, and he knew that converting someone into a vampire was an operation that took a dedicated space and some time. He told them that there was a new process for converting someone that left more of their personality and memory intact, that Thibault, Kingsilver, and "the American" (Jones) had been subjected to. The conspiracy had stopped using that, though, since the agents had used serum to make them explode, and the conspiracy seemed to feel that human emotion and experience was a weakness.

Parker asked if there were other weaknesses, but Klobucar wasn't sure - he knew they burned just fine, and that they didn't like heat, but it didn't melt them or anything. He did mention that vampires weren't great at lateral thinking, and they didn't always guess well what other people knew.

They ran down a list of people that they'd worked with and asked if they were turned or watched, but Klobucar couldn't tell them anything they didn't already know. They asked where he wanted to go, and he said Canada, so Hanover got to work on his documents.

Meanwhile, though, Firinci, back in Sarajevo, got a text message from Samir - "help." He immediately contacted the agents and asked for help, and zeroed in on Samir's location from his last text. The location was a big house with a fence around it. Firinci got there just as MacAteer and Carlsson did (Parker and Hanover stayed at the bank to keep cover intact and keep an eye on Klobucar).

The door to the house had been smashed in. The agents crept up to the door and saw two SUVs outside; MacAteer recognized them as the ones outside Kornai's apartments. As they looked around, they heard a gunshot, and that spurred them into action. They moved around the side of the house, picked the lock on the patio door, and went in (MacAteer hotwired one of the SUVs and disabled the other, and stayed out to act as getaway).

Firinci peeked into the living room, and saw Samir on the ground, bleeding, but alive. Two other guards were dead, four men with guns covered the room, and Mujic was flanked by two men with blanked expressions and blood on their faces. They were speaking in Hungarian, which Firinci doesn't speak, but it was obviously not a good situation. Firinci reported the numbers to Carlsson, but didn't mention the blank expressions or the blood, which turned out to be important.

They moved through the house to the other entrance to that room, grabbed some liquor bottles on the way to make Molotovs. They got to the door, and Firinci threw a Molotov into the center of the room. Carlsson, seeing the brutes, hurled one toward them, but the brute dodged, moving entirely too fast. Firinci grabbed Samir, and Kornai yelled "shoot them!"

Carlsson shot him right in the head, and they ran. They managed to get to the window by the cars and Carlsson (on coms) yelled to MacAteer to shoot it, and they jumped out. The brutes were on their heels, still moving too fast to be real. They got in the car and MacAteer floored it, but the brutes were chasing...and keeping pace. And then Firinci noticed Kornai running across the lawn. That would be the guy that Carlsson had just shot in the forehead.

They started heading back to Sarajevo. Next time we get to see what Samir saw, and how Firinci is going to deal with this.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Character Creation: Demon: The Fallen

Got some time while the ribs cook, and a friend of mine asked for this game, so here we are.

The Game: Demon: The Fallen
The Publisher: White Wolf
Degree of Familiarity: Quite a bit. I didn't work on the core book, but I wrote some of the important systems in the Player's Guide and I worked on one or two other sourcebooks.
Books Required: Just the one, but I might grab the Player's Guide.

Ah, Demon. There's some weirdness behind the creation of this game - it was something WW said they'd never do (they said that a lot), and it was initially supposed to tie in to Hunter more, but then...I'm not entirely sure (and it's not my story to tell, it's Mike Lee's). I playtested Demon, but I can't remember if anything we said after the playtest got implemented or not. This is, after all, a long-ass time ago.

I ran Demon for about a year - it was actually my first game run on the paradigm of "let's play monthly, decide before we start playing when we're playing next month, and play for a longer session." I presently run three games that way, so it worked out nicely. That was a fun chronicle.

Anydangway, let's do this.

Step One: Concept. I've got an idea. When you're making a Demon character, you're making not only the Fallen angel that got out of Hell, but the person they've possessed, and you can play either of those personas to a greater or lesser degree. One of the things that's fun about Demon is that your angel can have been the Angel of Just About Anything before the War; unlike In Nomine, you still have your "Word" (but since you're not an angel anymore it doesn't much mater). So my demon, as an angel, helped design the mammalian nervous system, and specifically the apparatus that ties chemical responses to mood. Increase sodium here or potassium there, and the monkey feels sad or happy or horny or loved. It was all a matter of ratios and balance, and he loved humanity and made sure that means for contentment was right there in their brains all along.

He rebelled because he wanted to explain to humanity that achieving balance with biology was possible, and of course, God's rules conflicted with that, so he sided with the Morning Star, lost, and spent thousands of years in Hell. He escaped and found himself drawn to a man named Andre Summers. Andre was so deep in depression that he couldn't get out of bed, and with no health insurance and no support system, he only hadn't ended his life because he couldn't muster the energy to do it. The angel - Ymariel - took him over, and was appalled at what the world had become.

Lots of people believed that the consciousness was outside of the body, and lots more believed it was nothing but the body. The harmony he'd created was gone, probably unachievable (Ymariel had lost much of his power and knowledge through eons in Hell). He took Andre's life, largely a blank slate, and started working again, learning all he could about neuroanatomy. He put Andre through med school, at the same time studying philosophy, trying to find the secret he'd once lost. With it, he figures he could save humanity.

So, now we do the splats. House...hmm. I kinda pictured him as a Malefactor, but that might be too stuff-focused. Lemme look. Well, there's not really a life-focused House, so I think I'll play to Ymariel's focus on structure and integration and say he's a Malefactor. As for Faction, he's either a Cryptic or a Reconciler, and I think it'd be interesting to say he's a Cryptic. He doesn't think that the angels were wrong to rebel, but he does think maybe there's more to this whole thing than anyone wants to understand.

Right, so I need a Nature and Demeanor, too. OK. His Nature is Visionary; he wants to find the way to reconcile metaphysical consciousness and the fatty mystery of the brain. His Demeanor is Architect, because well, it fits.

Step Two: Attributes. Standard OWoD array, 7/5/3. I think Ymariel is pretty clearly a Mental/Social/Physical guy. I'll put two into Dexterity and one into Stamina (might raise Strength with freebies, might not).

Two into Manipulation and Charisma, one into Appearance. Andre is pretty average looking.

Four into Intelligence, one into Wits, two into Perception. Andre is hella smart (some of that is Ymariel, but Andre was always clever).

Step Three: Abilities. Again, standard OWoD, 13/9/5, can't go over 3 without spending freebies. Hey-ho. Knowledges first, obviously. Three each into Academics, Medicine, Research, Science, and then one in Occult.

Skills next, I think? Three in Technology, two each in Crafts and Security, one each in Etiquette and Stealth (BTW, "Etiquette" is one of those Abilities that pretty much doesn't need to be there - it's not like when you ask the question "what would fallen angels in a modern fantasy/horror setting be concerned with?", "being polite" would be the answer).

Finally, Talents. One into Alertness, one into Awareness (ugh, those so shouldn't be separate, and look, there's my old friend Dodge!, double ugh), three into Empathy.

Step Four: Advantages. Backgrounds first, I get 5 dots. Well, if I'm a doctor, I need some Resources. I'll take one for now. I want Paragon, Eminence, and Legacy, so I'll go 1 each, and then hell, I'll take Pacts at one dot, just to keep things even. Actually, no, you know what, I'll put that last one in Contacts.

Now Lore (our kewl powerz). I get three dots (boo), and they have to come from the three Lores available to Malefactors or the Common ones. Well, Lore of the Earth doesn't do much for me, but Lore of Paths seems pretty cool, so I'm gonna take two dots there and one dot in...lessee. I'll take one in Lore of Humanity; it's a decent dice pool, anyway. That makes Lore of Paths my primary lore, which guides my demonic form (but I'm gonna use the optional system in the Player's Guide, 'cause it's better. Fnah).

May as well do that, actually. I get 16 "form points" to build my form, and I have to take at least one from the Visage of Paths. Oh, shit, Wings, yes please. That eats 3 points. I'll take Conjuration, that's cool (5 spent). I need some high-Torment ones, so I'll take Ichor (2 points) and Relentless (1 point, so 8 spent, that's not high-Torment, though). Man, still got 8 points. Ooh, Aura of Vitality is good. 4 points, so I've spent 12. I need three more, and they all have to be high-Torment (which means if I pick one that's not normally high-Torment, it's cheaper). I'll take Affirm (high-Torment, which, and then I need two 1-point ones (or rather, 2-points if they're not high-Torment). How about Lashing Tail and Casts No Reflection? Sounds good!

I get three points in Virtues, besides the starting dot. Think maybe I'll dump 'em all into Conscience? Nah, that's too much. One into Conviction.

Faith starts at 3, Torment starts at 3 because I'm a Malefactor, and Willpower starts at the sum of my two highest Virtues, which is 5.

OK, then! 15 freebies. I need to jack up my Backgrounds. I want Eminence at 4 (3 points) and Legacy at 4 (also 3 points). That leaves me 9. I'll buy a dot of Faith, I guess, for 6, and that leaves me 3. I want Medicine 4 so I can have a Specialty in Neurology, and that leaves me 1 more point. I'll jack Resources up to 2.

That's it, then! I picture Ymariel's apocalyptic form as being slender and slight, covered in a sheen of ichor (if analyzed, it would be CSF). He has huge, membraneous wings that sit close to his body when folded, and a long, whip-like tail like a very large nerve cell. In human form, Andre is a biracial man, light skin, brown hair, green eyes, slim and not terribly fit. Andre has a practice; he tried doing pure research, but a) it pays for shit and b) his particular area of interest requires him to get close to people.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Promethean: Provocations

So! Last time, the throng (most of it) was in the jailhouse now. Avalon is incarcerated, Skip was off dealing with Donnie, and the others were in the waiting area of the jail, noting that some kind of riot had occurred.

So let's rewind and talk about Skip (whose player missed last session). Skip gets a text message from Grimm telling him to look in on Donnie, as Donnie was going to get see a girl and Grimm was worried about what he might do. Skip catches up with Donnie as he's walking across the street to talk to her (she's walking out of her apartment complex). He starts talking to her, and Skip notes that he's obviously, nervously professing love, but she's somewhere between putting him off nicely and reaching for her pepper spray.

Skip, on the Provocateur Role, remember, waits until Donnie pauses and then uses the Baffle Distillation on Jenny. She stops, stunned, and Donnie hangs there in limbo for a minute, and then gets angry. He rants a bit about how she could at least respond, and then his disfigurements flare. He turns and runs off, and Skip isn't sure what he did, but Jenny slumps to the ground and sits against the building.

Skip approaches and tries to make sure she's OK, but winds up with a failure-turned-to-dramatic-failure on the Presence roll, and Jenny just starts screaming. Skip, knowing when things are going from bad to worse, fucks off. He reflects that it's really easy to push humans into negative responses, and thinks that if he ever becomes human, he'll need to watch that. He feels Vitriol flood his, and achieves his milestone for the Provocateur Role: Push another Promethean into Torment.

The others are back at the jail, and they decide that there's not a lot they can do from here. They decide to fall back, though Virgil texts Grimm and says that he and Feather are going to check something out (Feather's player was out this week on a severe case of Oklahoma). They head outside, and Skip catches up with them. He tells them what happened with Donnie, and Grimm decides they'd better go find this idiot before he hurts someone.

Meanwhile, in the jail cell, Avalon is confused. She's lost time, and looking around her cell, she sees that the second bed is disturbed - but she didn't disturb it. She decides to meditate and try and get into the zen-artist headspace that the achieved with Emil (but without mescaline this time). She manages that like whoa (she got like 7 successes on the roll), and gets fragments of her time back - someone else was in the room with her, someone she'd met before, but she doesn't remember much else. She forces an Elpis vision, and finds herself floating on a boat down a river made of...Azoth? Fire? Pyros? She drinks a bit and sees her whole Pilgrimage condensed into a few seconds. Up ahead in the river, there's a huge black space, a "nothing" around which the river is flowing. She steers close to it and reaches it, and something grabs her hand. It goes numb, and her gears stop turning, so she quickly lets it go. Whatever this space is, it's anti-Pilgrimage.

She wakes up, and finds herself holding the black orb she found in the floor. Her hand is numb.

The others track down Donnie (using Matt and Enoch's proficiency with Heed the Call), and find a house sound of campus - Donnie's upstairs. They knock on the door and Grimm informs the woman who lives there that he thinks someone's in her house, and manages to be convincing enough that she comes out to call the police. Skip and Grimm go upstairs and find Donnie, and talk him into going out the window and talking with them. He does, and Enoch goes around back and uses Glimpsing the Crasis to cure his Torment. He finds himself in a vision with Donnie, and Donnie tells him that his creator didn't really tell him much - he just made Donnie and left, and then there was an Azoth flare and he was gone. Enoch surmises that this means he achieved the New Dawn, and Donnie muses that it would have been nice if he'd left a note or something.

They come out of the vision, and Donnie says he's going to skip town for a while and try and catch up with Jesse. Grimm says that Donnie should stay in touch - he might not need a throng, but he probably needs friends. Enoch asks that he give Jesse their contact info, and Donnie agrees, and walks off.

The throng hits up a power station to recharge - except Matt, who's already headed back to the exhibit hall to help Jenna tear down her booth. Before he does, he uses the Morning Star Alembic to nudge a group of people into buying stuff at her booth, which of course boosts her Sunday sales, which is always nice. They start working and flirting...and then Matt notices something strange. Everyone around them is frozen, stopped in time...and he hears claw clicks on the floor.

Jenna notices this, too, and swears. "They've found me. Shit. Wait, why aren't you frozen?" Matt, never one for guile under pressure, reveals that he's a Promethean, and Jenna has no idea what that means, but responds to the word "Pilgrimage." She tells him, "OK, this is going to be a little weird, and I'm sorry if this changes how you feel about me."

And she changes into a biomechanical nightmare. He legs and arms lengthen, her skin becomes mirrored, and electricity flows over her body. And then the dog attacks.

The dog is built about like a mastiff, but much bigger. Its eyes are LED lights cycling between 0 and 9, and when it barks, it sounds like a corrupted digital file. It also shoots glass shards when it barks; the first time, both Matt and "Jenna" spin out of the way, but then it rears up and barks ahead, and the glass shreds Matt's shirt and flesh. Jenna smacks it and Matt shoots it, and it stumbles, and Jenna grabs part of her clothes rack and rams it through the thing's chest. It disappears in a puff of digits, and Jenna turns back into herself.

"I have to go," she says. "There are probably more coming. Can you finish here?" Matt agrees, and Jenna tells him to meet her friend "Dry" (Dreyfus) later at Hound Dog. If his friends are Prometheans, hell, bring them, too. The dog-creature isn't dead, just discorporated, and if it comes back it'll bring help.

Matt asks what it was. "An angel," she says, and kisses him before running off.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Character Creation: Chosen

I don't normally stack chargen posts like this, but I haven't run any games, watched any movies (for the project), or played any board games since last time, so here we are.

(Really I should be writing, but depression is kicking my head slowly and steadily today, so I decided I needed to do something and this is better than surfing Facebook and being sad.)

The Game: Chosen
The Publisher: Clockworks Games (now defunct; their old URL is a video gambling site)
Degree of Familiarity: None, I've read it
Books Required: Just the one.

Chosen is by Aaron Rosenberg; I worked with Aaron a little on some Dark Ages books for White Wolf back in the day, and he's a good writer. I did a character for another of his games (Asylum) and I've got Spookshow kicking around as well. Chosen is...a little strange.

The intro to the game talks about mythical beasts choosing avatars in a modern-ish setting, and obviously I can get behind that. And then it's far-future interstellar exploration, and like, cool, it's fun to mix classical mythology and sci-fi. The underlying conflict of the game is the fight between Beasts (creatures of chaos and creativity and individuality) and the Wizards (more about order and regimen), but you actually play Gifted, who can become Chosen of Beasts or Wizards, I guess?

Part of the problem is that the setting and its elements aren't especially intuitive. I mean, it's not like, say, Unhallowed Metropolis where you can say "Industrial Revolution-London, zombie plague, also werewolves and vampires, and the most badass job you can have is 'undertaker' because the dead don't always stay dead" (weird setting but pretty easy to explain). That's not an indictment of the game, mind, just that it didn't really gel when I was reading it. Part of the problem is just layout; there are headers, but very little in the way of formatting on the actual page (no bold or italics) and the print is light and there's watermarking, so it's kinda hard to read.

(I admit, too, that as I was reading it I was hoping that the characters were chosen of the Beasts, but they aren't. Some of the terminology is similar to what we used for Beast: The Primordial, which is pure coincidence, obviously, but it did kind of make reading the book a little fraught for me.)

So, moving on. There are two character creation sections in the book, one in the chapter called "Character" and one in the one called "System." I suspect I shall have to do some flipping. (Doesn't help, too, that the character sheet I have is photocopied and not very good quality.)

OK, anyway, the "Character" section says to choose a place of birth first, while the "System" section says to think about age and gender and the basic shit first. Hmm.

Well, one of the places you can be from is called Solaris Minor, and it's a "resort colony." The text describes it as a cross between Las Vegas, Harvard, and Disney World (the planet has education and tourism as its main sources of revenue). I think that's an interesting mix, so I think I'll say my character is from there, and leaving for the first time, probably something to do with figuring out that he's Gifted.

Next bit is Occupation, which might help me figure a little more out. I think I'd like my character to be an Entertainer. Figure that while in our real world, aspiring to be an entertainer is chancy because there's so much competition and so little promise of a non-exploitative job, on Solaris Minor being an Entertainer is a solid choice because there's so great a need. So my character had a nice singing voice and a decent stage presence, and here we are! My Occupation Skill is (not surprisingly) Performance.

OK, back in the "System" section the book says that after I determine basic conceptual stuff, I should jump right to Function (which is part of my Gift). Generators are creative and energetic, that sounds about right.

So now I select my beginning Gift. Since I'm a Generator, this is something that I can create. Were I a Matter Generator, f'rex, I could make matter from nothing. The obvious choice is Emotion Generator, since, like, as an entertainer that's my whole job. But actually I think I want Energy Generator, because I think his performance ability is all him. His Gift comes in the form of showmanship and pyrotechnics. Def Leppard for the 26th century, if you will.

Now I select my Form. This literally my body type. I think I wish to be Standard (no bonuses or penalties, Health of 10).

Now the book says I fill in Background, which is where the other section said to start. Mregh. OK. I'm from Solaris Minor. I fill in the rest of the basic stuff, too; I'm 5'10", slender, blue eyes, brown hair, named Lorin Wynn. 22 years old.

(I'm starting to remember that Asylum had similar organizational issues.)

Anyway, this is fun. I get my Occupation Skill at 5, which doesn't come out of my Skill Points. And now wheeeee we get 2 freebies, but you can get more by buying Disads, which I'm supposed to do now!

Fine, let's do that. Oh, wait, Ads and Disads affect Skills...which come later. Man what. And like, one of the Disads is "Hunted". In what way does that effect Skills? Jeez.

OK, I want Well-Connected (Entertainment) and Backing (my parents and my agency). That costs 8 points. I can balance that out with Disads, so I'll take Slow (-1 to Initiative) and Dependent (I rely on my parents for support) and then spend my 2 freebie points here. Cool.

Skills, then. I get 25, plus the 5 free in Performance. Let's also take Dodge, Acting, Dancing, Musical Instrument (Guitar), and Singing. I can only take 5 in each, so I hope that's enough. Good grief, why is Performance a separate skill when you've got Dancing, Singing, and so on?

Anyway, now appearance? This is so random. Well, I went through it a little. Lorin is always well-dressed - comfortable but stylish - because his agent insists. His teeth are perfect, his eyes clarified blue, and his nails are always manicured. His shoes come equipped with little panels that can slide into place in case he needs to tap-dance at a moment's notice.

OK, now Characteristics. There's a list and I get one to start with. I'll pick Sensual - I prefer to live in lavish surroundings.

And then (ugh) equipment. Well, there's actually a process here. I have Backing and Well-Connected, so I have tools and equipment for whatever job I do (clothes, guitar, probably) and if I have connections in a given area I pay half for relevant equipment. My starting funds as an Entertainer are 12,500. Because I grew up in a resort colony, I can...apparently buy anything. Neat! Now, do I wish to buy things? I do not, sir!

That's me done, actually. Yeah, this is kind of a jumble.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Character Creation: Cabal

Back at it! Beginning of this week had a lot going on, but now we' less going on! (whoooo)

The Game: Cabal
The Publisher: Corone Design
Degree of Familiarity: None, I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

In Cabal, you play a corporation. Like, the players collectively come up with the corporation, which is as shadowy and arcane as they like, and then you go on missions, creating specialist employees to play as part of that mission. It's an interesting concept, and the system is percentile-ish, which is...not jarring, exactly, but just a little strangely trad in presentation? I don't know, it's possible I've been living in PbtA too long. I haven't played this game, so I dunno, I'm sure it works perfectly well at the table. (I must say, though, that reading it, it didn't scream "run me.")

Well, enough of that. Let's get to work! Normally I would collaborate with the other players to make a corporation, but since it's just me, it's just me.

Step One: Name. What's the name of my organization? I have to admit I'm feeling influence by the Kingsman movies. The first one was better, the sequel wasn't terrible but it wasn't as tight, but I did like the kind of parody-level American portrayal in the Statesmen (yet another thing that our current political situation has ruined). I think I want my organization to be a next-level world-influencing/espionage kind of thing, although I might not have the points to be as badass as either the Kingsmen or the Statesmen. I'll call the organization Fulcrum, Inc.

Step Two: Type. Kinda already answered this; Fulcrum is "espionage/conspiracy."

Step Three: Mission Statement. I want Fulcrum to be the "shadowy conspiracy influencing world events" kind of thing. They're not malicious and they're not, like, driven by something stupid like religious faith (I mean, that might not be stupid in-setting anyway), but they probably do have a bit of self-interest going on. Their mission statement is "changing the world but keeping the balance."

Step Four: Assign Attributes. I get 300 points to split between 11 Attributes, only I get 20 free in Finances because money money money make the world go 'round. Let's see.

Well, I'd like to be Secrecy up to at least 70, but that's gonna eat a bunch of my points. Eh, fuck it. Let's do it.

I want Resources, Influence, and Specialists to be high, too. Facade and Pressures can be pretty low; I think Fulcrum is largely unknown to the mundane populace. Let's put those latter two at 5, and put the first three at 50 each. I've spent 230, meaning I have 70 to go, and I still have 5 to go. Well, crap. Let's put 5 in Prestige (65), 20 in Knowledge (45), 20 in Loyalty (25), 10 in Finances (for a total of 30) and the remaining 15 in Foundation. That's pretty weaksauce, but hey.

Step Five: Logo/Uniform. The Fulcrum logo is easy; simple line over a circle. The uniform is basic black with grey trim, but Fulcrum doesn't put a lot of emphasis on conformity of appearance.

Step Six: Detail Employees. I get 50 team points because that's my score in Specialists. Do I need to do anything with that? It looks like I would make an employee before a mission, but that the Board of Directors (the hypothetical other players and I) would make some decisions about where to spend those 50 points. I don't think I need to do that here, though?

So, I think I'd rather think about Fulcrum a little more. Fulcrum is a conspiracy, it's just not a very old one. It's probably a remnant of another intelligence agency - it's got a decent showing in terms of personnel, but they aren't especially loyal, they're mostly in it for the payday. They are, however, very good at staying off the radar. That limits Fulcrum's options for making money and staying solvent, but they can zip in, fulfill surgical-strike agendas, and zip out. That does, however, leave their agents mostly relying on their wits. I think that Fulcrum remains mysterious and aloof even from their employees, presenting the facade that they're more influential than they really are.

And I think that's me done, actually.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Quite Literally This Time

Last night was Blades, and lo, the scoundrels completed a job that's been bedeviling them for some time.

Last time, you may remember, they took a job for Lyssa of the Crows in return for some help killing Mylera Klev, leader of the Red Sashes, and then set up their next job: Killing Gargoyle, looking and spy for said Sashes. We pick up this time as the Widdershins, already turned to shadow by Cage's magic, ambush Gargoyle outside a drug den in the Docks.

One-Eye darts him with a paralysis drug and he starts to seize up, but then Cage hits him with a dagger and manages to bleed out the potion. Gargoyle starts to run, but Siren hits him with a thrown dagger and Copper walks right up, cuts his throat, and grabs his mask. Done. He's dead.

Well, nothing's ever easy.

Siren sends her hunting raptor, Bartok, to the Crows to let them know their part of the job is done, and the crew heads back to Nightmarket. But then Siren and One-Eye arrive at the Ruby and find a Crow and Bartok waiting, with a message: "Klev escaped. Heading for Iruvian consulate."

If Klev makes it to the consulate, she'll go to ground and probably be untouchable. Plus, this will have the makings of a diplomatic incident. The scoundrels head out there lickety-split, and arrive at the consulate just before Klev does. They park the boat round the back of the building, and Siren and Cage scale the building while Copper and One-Eye flank it. And there they see Klev, wounded, coming toward the gates with two bodyguards.

Knowing that if she reaches the gates, they're done, One-Eye steps out and flings a smoke bomb...but misses. The bodyguards spring into action and one closes with her, brandishing his sword. Copper rounds the corner and closes with the other bodyguard and Klev. Copper and Button face off against them. One-Eye draws a gun and fires at the other guard, who spins and vanishes into an alleyway.

Copper shoots at Klev and drops her (but it's hard to know if she's dead). Siren shoots as well, and manages to hit Copper (though not injure her, thanks to armor). Cage and Siren scale the building and get down to the bottom, but note that the place is getting more active - guards, lights, guns. Siren lays down suppressive fire and drives back the guard, but also scares away Button.

One-Eye heads for the melee, but the other guard appears and slashes her legs. Siren sends Bartok to intervene, but the guy wraps the bird up in the defensive sash around his hand and flings him off. Copper, meanwhile, tries to assess whether Klev is dead, but the guard takes the opportunity and slashes her chest, nearly killing her.

One-Eye yells for help, and Siren vaults the fence. Cage goes to follow, but realizes that the fence has been electrified, so he's forced to take it slow and let his boots insulate him. One-Eye rolls a small grenade toward the guard attacking her and it explodes, incapacitating him, while Siren shoots the other one dead. Cage walks up to Klev and shoots her in the head, figuring it's best to be sure, and then all of the scoundrels run (Siren helping Copper as she's too hurt to run on her own).

They get back to the boat and manage to get back to their headquarters without incident, and over the next couple of days meet with Pickett of the Lampblacks (who discharges their debt and thanks them; it was messy but that's no skin off the Lampblacks' backs) and Lyssa of the Crows (who apologizes for losing Klev and gives them some money, but the subtext is very much "yeah, what exactly are you going to do, file a complaint?").

The scoundrels don't get any entanglement problems, but they do have one major issue: Their wanted level is now high enough that anyone connected to their crew that goes to jail now stands to be executed. They spend some downtime actions finding a patsy, and hit upon a Ministry of Preservation worker named Arvus Keel - he's corrupt and rough, and no fan of Iruvians, which is good enough. They plant evidence on him and then Cage sends ghosts to bedevil him and get him noticed, and the Bluecoats come for him. He's convicted and executed for the murders outside the Iruvian consulate. Case closed (well, the wanted level is still high, its just not that high).

We shall see what the nights of Doskovol hold for our scoundrels next time.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Board Game: Welcome to Slaughterville

Well, we didn't play Alas for the Awful Sea yesterday, so instead...

The Game:Welcome to  
The Publisher: Rubio Games
Time: At least an hour
Players: Me, Michelle, Megan, Melissa - basically your name has to start with M

Can't have "slaughter" without "laughter."
Game Play: We actually tried playing this game a few months back, but the box didn't include the rules and we didn't feel like calling up the PDF online to parse them. This time, though, we did, and it's actually not all that difficult.

The game plays very much like Arkham Horror. The basic premise is that you're college students going to Slaughterville to combat the evil (OK, that's a little muddled, and actually most of the characters you play aren't college students, so never mind that). You choose a Villain, all of which interact with the rules a little differently, and you choose several locations, all of which have their own deck that gives you encounters while you're there.

Setting up.
We chose (randomly) the Serial Killer as our Villain. The parameters here are that you have to find and investigate the killer before 10 rounds are over, because at that point the killer fucks off and you lose. Of course, Slaughterville is full of monsters anyway, so there's lots to do even if you never see the killer.

Games involve coffee. Also Melissa went through like three characters.

Play progresses, again, a lot like Arkham - you can move, encounter a location, or trade with other players in your location. You get clues by defeating enemies in a fight, or very occasionally from other cards. In this particular scenario, you expend clues to track the killer, and every time you "fight" the killer by investigating (or by literally fighting him), you deplete his deck. You have to deplete it entirely to beat him; we lost.

But we were happy about it!
Combat works, again, a lot like Arkham; you roll against an enemy and if you roll more successes (5+) than they do, you win. Roll fewer, you lose, and take the difference in wounds.

Opinions: The general consensus was that this game would be fun to play again now that we know how it works; we didn't strategize especially well. That's normal in a game like this, and I think it's definitely got some replayability. The rules could be explained a little better in places, but again, you expect that (I suppose I could also go check out the Youtube explanation of play).

I was kind of not terribly thrilled by combat; it can stagnate, but you can spend a clue to get out, so there's that. The artwork on the game is fantastic and the card text is fun, if a little over-reliant on movie and media references.

Our Slaughterville.
Keep? Sure. Maybe we'll fight the slasher in fishnets next time.

Masks: Spectres and Swords

Well, we didn't play Alas for the Awful Sea yesterday, but we did play a Masks one-shot on Saturday, so HA, I have a game write-up to do today.

I hadn't run or played Masks before, but it went really smoothly. I like the game a whole lot. Meet the heroes!

  • The Janus is Copycat/Carlos Caballero. Carlos can mimic a substance's properties by touching them, so he wears an outfit with lots of pouches with various materials (we asked if his costume was designed by Rob Liefeld). Carlos works as a barista near La Plaza mall, and only his Judo teacher, Mr. Balfour, knows his real identity. 
  • The Outsider is Positron/Laran Naiar. Positron is from a colony ship simply called Home, and was sent as a long-range scout looking for a new planet for their displaced species. Positron is agender (their species doesn't really have "gender" as a concept). They find humanity inspiring, but also frustrating - humanity lacks tech that Positron takes for granted. They can control their personal density as well as manipulate sunlight. 
  • The Delinquent is El Cucuy/Dante Soto. Dante was given his powers by his mentor, but whereas his mentor used these powers of teleportation and illusions to be forthright and positive and a shining heroic ideal, Dante would ran be dark and scary. He ran away to Halcyon City to avoid those responsibilities, but he takes his team as intentional family. 
  • The Nova is Thunderbird/Jess Tenkiller. Jess' powers manifested in the middle of a tornado, and the spirit of Thunderbird visited her. Her powers injured her best friend Carrie, and she works now to control the vast power within. 
  • The Bull is Marta Hernandez/Wrecking Ball. In spite of her name, Wrecking Ball is actually a highly controlled individual - she knows that if she loses control, the results could be devastating. She is idealistic and positive, and a big proponent of teamwork. She also has some experience with the darker side of the system - after her parents died in a house fire, the government tried to adopt her, but her abuelita fought the system to get custody. 
This young team had their baptism of fire, as it were, during an alien invasion. The insect-like Cicadeans invaded and burrowed into the infrastructure, but their queen actually landed on the outskirts of Halcyon City. City protocol is not to fight with aliens (this happens a lot), but the team saw that bad shit was afoot and took the fight to them...which wound up destroying La Plaza Mall, but saving the life of Luz, El Cucuy's mentor. 

So on this particular day, Carlos is working at the coffee shop near the mall. It's wrecked and under construction, so the coffee shop is busy with construction workers getting their morning Joe. And then an armored car pulls up - normal - but then a beam of light cuts it in half. 

Everyone stares, but Carlos sends a quick text to Marta. He tries to make an excuse to Esteban, his boss, so he can get out there, but Esteban reminds him he's on the clock and to put his phone away, and Carlos relents, hoping his team can handle it. 

El Cucuy is up in the construction site tagging fresh walls, and sees the snafu with the truck. He teleports down and spies a figure with what looks for all the world like a light-saber stealing money from the truck. He summons up illusions of police officers, telling the figure to drop the money and come up. The illusion works, but the figure just slices open a portal in reality and steps through. The rest of the team arrives seconds later, but the figure - a woman with long black hair and a white and green outfit - is gone. The heroes look around the site a bit, but there's no sign of her, and then a helicopter comes in.

The copter is carrying government agents from AEGIS. Marta knows these folks; they tried to adopt her once upon a time, but she figures they're here to help. The agent in charge barely acknowledges the heroes, tells them to stay out of the way and let the adults handle it, and starts directly his people to load up the two halves of the truck onto a flatbed. Positron starts ranting at the agents, aghast that they don't have dimensional rift detectors, and the agents start to finger their weapons (Positron is hovering and glowing a bit), but Cucuy uses his powers to tone down Positron's rant a little...with the effect that the agent in charge takes note of him a bit more. The teens, a little disheartened, decide to retire to Positron's ship (disguised as an under-construction store at the mall) to talk this over. Carlos joins them, finally allowed to take his break. 

Positron alters a camcorder to detect and reopen dimensional rifts, and the heroes decide to wait until evening to try it. That evening, they reopen the gate, and all charge through...into a storage unit made of corrugated steel. There's a bedroll, a huge bag of money...not what they'd expected. Jess searches the bedroll and finds a photo - the woman, along with her parents and siblings. Maybe this "villain" is supporting a family? Dante teleports out of the unit and discovers that they're on a cargo ship in the middle of the damn ocean - this is going to be problematic. 

And just then, the woman appears through a dimensional rift, sword drawn. Wrecking Ball takes a swing and manages to separate her from her sword. She raises her hands in surrender and says she's just trying to help her family out, but when Jess gets closer, she closes her first and energy-blasts her against a wall. Positron jumps for her, raising their density, but the woman grabs her sword back from Marta and expertly dances around Positron, sending them crashing into Marta. Copycat, behind the swordswoman, calls out at her to stop. She fires an energy blast, but Copycat turns to steel and bounces it off the his hand, blowing open the container. This display of force sets everyone back a bit, and the heroes manage to get her talking. She says that a woman named "Dr. Spectre" has her family, and she's meant to deliver money - what she stole and then some - to her tonight. The heroes pledge to stop Spectre, and the swordswoman agrees, but she's keeping the money until then. She opens a gate and lets the money bag fall through, takes the picture of her family, and opens a gate for the heroes back to the city. Dr. Spectre, she says, is in the basement of Santa Maria Hospital (that's in the heroes' neighborhood!). 

Now with a mission, Copycat and Dante scout out the hospital and find a way in. The heroes take the elevator down (building up their Team as they do), and arrive at the bottom. The morgue still has many steel tables, but thankfully no corpses - only cryotubes at the end of the room. Jess looks over the tubes and finds that two on the end are labeled as "MUNDANE" - but the others have weird symbols and numbers that the heroes can't decipher.

Positron steps up to turns them off and free the people, and then a ghostly figure flows out of the one of them! Positron panics and unleashes their sun powers, making everything bright and steaming up the tubes, but Spectre tells them to get out, that they have nothings he needs. Marta dives in to punch her, but she laughs - she is intangible and immune to such base attacks. 

Jess, though, summons the power of Thunderbird and throws a giant bird made of lighting at Spectre. That seems to work, and Spectre flings every table in the place around in a telekinetic storm. Marta finally loses it, smashing tables and punching walls, trying to punch the storm into submission, while Dante teleports to the back of the room to avoid getting hurt. Copycat leaps from table to table and then tries something really risky - he uses his mimicry power to make himself intangible like Spectre. He goes ghost-form and grabs her, and Positron uses their density control to solidify them both. Copycat lands, back to normal, and Marta punches Spectre as hard as she can.

Spectre shatters. The heroes are horrified (they aren't killers, after all), but they quickly gather her up and put her in a tube, and Positron manages to get the tube working - Spectre is alive. They free the others from the tubes, and find that the folks on the end were hospital staff, but the other folks were heroes that Spectre was keeping prisoner. In a separate room, they find more tubes, empty, with one word etched into the glass - GRACIAS. 

AEGIS arrives and takes control of the situation (they found them by tracking Dante's powers, which they started doing after the little tiff in near the mall). Marta asks where they've been, and the agent says they got sidetracked tracking the power all the way out to the middle of the ocean...but they'll handle it from here. The heroes leave (Carlos needs to get to Judo practice!), and AEGIS loads up the tube containing Spectre...which is even now reconstituting her.