Sunday, October 21, 2018

Character Creation: Spycraft 2.0

Happy Sunday! Time to make the donuts a character.

The Game: Spycraft 2.0
The Publisher: Crafty Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've played d20 games, but I haven't played this one
Books Required: Just the one, which the intro makes a point of saying, which is nice.

So, this is a second edition of Spycraft. I must have bought it in a bundle some years ago, because a) I only have it in PDF and b) it's a d20 game, which I wouldn't normally buy. But here we are.

I have to say, this is a darned friendly chargen section. It takes us through the basics, but doesn't talk down to the reader. In any event, the assumption here is that characters work for the Agency, and we're superspies, but the book also points out that there are a lot of knobs with which to fiddle if you want to do things, say, steampunk style. I'm gonna stick to the default for purposes of this project, however.

Step 0: Concept. Jeez, just make it step 1, guys. The book gives me a series of questions to answer to build my character up, so I'll g'head and answer those.

  • Name three traits you would like to see in your character. Um, OK. How about "observant," "practiced," and "precise?" 
  • Name three traits your character doesn't like to see in others. "Disloyal," "cowardly," and "pedantic," how about.
  • Where was your character born, and when? He was born 30 or so years before this game is set (so if it's present-day, 1988, sweet jesus). I think he was born in Langley, Virginia (might as well start 'em early!) and wanted to get the hell out when he turned 18. He joined the Army, and his aptitude tests put him into intelligence work; he eventually wound up joining the Agency. 
  • What is your ideal character's specialty? Hopefully my character will start off competent; I'm used to level 1 d20 characters being pretty weak. Anyway, I think my guy's speciality is marksmanship; specifically he's a sniper. 
  • What does your character look like? Picture "Virginia born and bred." That's him. He's white, tall, good teeth, brown hair, blue eyes, stocky, square-jawed. Could be played by a younger Henry Cavill. 
  • Does your character have any quirks? Everyone has quirks. My guy wears a gold ring on his left middle finger and absently taps it against hard surfaces.
  • What does your character love most? My guy loves to travel, preferably on as little money as possible. Favors backpacking or train-hopping trips especially. His parents are still around, but his father was always distant and his mother is nice but not terribly up on current events, so they never really have much to talk about.
  • What are your character's favorite things? Bright copper buttons, whiskers on kittens...but no, really. My guy keeps his apartment pretty sparse (again, he'd rather travel). He wears his dog tags when he's traveling, but not any other time, and he loves the gold ring he wears (it belonged to his uncle John, who was his favorite person - John died in a car accident when my guy was 19). 
  • What was the most important event in your character's life? My guy went to the Bahamas once and wound up on a parasailing trip. The boat capsized (the guy running the trip was drunk), and my guy pulled a fellow tourist out of the water and saved his life. It wasn't the life-saving thing that was important, though, it was the knowledge that in crisis situations, you either drown or you swim. My guy swims.
  • What does your character think of espionage? He's got a knack for it, he likes it, and it's one long crisis situation. You gotta keep swimming. 
  • What is your character's motivation? Seeing the world, learning as much about different cultures as he can. Sucks that he has to do that by shooting people sometimes, but hey, lots of people hate their jobs. He just finds his mildly distasteful sometimes.
Step 1: Attributes. I start with 8 in each of them, and then I get 36 points to boost 'em. Let's see here. Ah, but the progression isn't linear (blah), so I can't start at 14 in everything. OK. Well, I think for a marksman I'd want my Dexterity and maybe Wisdom to be high? So I'll jack Dex to 16 and my Wisdom to 13, which eats 20 of my points, FFS. That leaves 16 points for the other four Attributes. If I put 4 into each, that's 12s all around. I can live with that. Wait, actually, you know what, if I bust one of those down to 10 I can put Wisdom up to 14 and get a better bonus. I'll take Intelligence down to 10. 

Step 2: Origin. I get a Talent and a Specialty as part of my Origin. Cool. Hrm. These all boost one Attribute but lower another, which kinda sucks. I'll take Fit, which boosts Strength by 2 but lowers Intelligence, gives me extra speed, makes Athletics a class skill, and gives me a bonus to Fortitude. 

Now I pick a Specialty (to represent training). Well, clearly I want Wanderer. I get the World Traveler feat, one additional Cultures skill focus, 1 acquaintance grade contact, and 2 additional vitality points at career level 1, whatever the hell that means.

Step 3: Class. Pick a class, obvs. Hmm. Explorer is my first choice, but it says it relies on Intelligence, which, um, not my bag, baby. Reading through these, Intelligence is a bad choice for dump stat (in a game where you play intelligence operatives, who'da thunk it?). I guess I'll go for Soldier, keying off that "marksman" thing. 

Oh, and I get 8 proficiencies (6 for being a Solider and then 2 more at level 1, I think). I'll take Unarmed, Handgun, Indirect Fire, Rifle, Shotgun, and Submachine Gun. And then for the two extra, I'll take Edged and bump the Rifle to forte (so I get a +1 with rifles). 

Step 4: Skills. This is annoying. The book jumps to step 6 here; you have to flip to a different chapter to do Skills. Blah. 

Anyway, I wind up with 12 ranks (4 - 1 because my INT sucks, times 4). I'll put 2 each in Athletics, Intimidate, Notice, and Tactics, 1 in Search and Survival, and then put the last two into Cultures (which only gets me 1 because it's not a class skill). 

Step 5: Feats. I get World Traveler already, and then I get a bonus Feat. Better take something Marksman related, huh? I'll take Bullseye; basically I can take a penalty on a shot to do more damage.

Step 6: Interests. So these are basically hobbies for the character. I get two, and then more if I level up. They're worth a bonus to rolls if the GM agrees, but honestly I got distracted reading this section because someone fucked up and said "loosing" when they meant "losing" OMG ARGH anyway. 

Well, we know my guy is interested in traveling, and I think also hiking and climbing. Good enough.

Step 7: Subplots. These are actually pretty cool; they basically let you have character-based subplots (as the name implies) that are separate from the main mission. That's a good addition for mission-based games; I ought to think about that for Chill at some point. 

Anyway, I don't care much for the ones presented and honestly if it were me, I'd probably pick the "Game Control Fiat" one, which is basically "surprise me."

Step 8: Derived Values. Hokay. I've got 12 Vitality, 1 wound. Stress and Subdual damage thresholds are both 1, I think. Attack, defense, and saves are already figured. 

Step 9: Description. Kinda did that up above, but I need a name and code name, too. We'll say his name is Trent Cable (yeah, that's a total spy name). His code name is "Vagabond"; someone suggested "Rover," but Trent wasn't down to be called a dog's name. 

And that's it (I mean, normally I'd do gear, but you know how I feel about that)! I'm just putting the first page of the sheet up because the second page doesn't have much of interest other than the Feats. 

All Flesh Must be Eaten: Only the Young

So, yesterday we started a new game: All Flesh Must be Eaten. A little background on this particular campaign is necessary.

I've been wanting to do this setup for a while. I had the players choose an album to act as the framework and inspiration for the campaign as a whole. My players, always a group to challenge me, chose Journey's Greatest Hits. Now, my first thought was "ugh, not exactly a deep inspiration," but thinking about the songs, I actually warmed to the idea. Sure, most of the songs on that album are love songs (not always the greatest inspiration for RPGs), but there's often a mature, kind of wistful element to them. Plus, we also have songs like "Wheel in the Sky" and "Lights" that aren't love songs, and that imply travel and a sense of place. So that's cool.

Next, I had each player pick a band, and then I gave them a song by that band to act as the inspiration/theme song for their character. Here's what we came up with:

  • Michelle chose Halsey, so I gave her "Drive". Her character is Mia Starek. Mia is a Classics major at the University of California (Santa Cruz). She's a Tri-Delt, formerly a "big sis" to Daisy. She also suffers from depression. She's 23, probably the most mature of the group. 
  • Travis chose Hozier; I gave him "Jackie & Wilson." His character is Kyle Thomas. Kyle is 25, the oldest of the group. He's a dropout, lazy, show-off, and utterly emotionally needy but distant. He's hooked up with most of the Tri-Delts, dated Heather when she was in high school, sometimes gets together with Mia.
  • Megan chose Florence & the Machine; I gave her "Sky Full of Song." Her character is Daisy Bitcherman. Daisy was a Tri-Delt, but dropped out of college and now rejects her father's money and all assistance, and lives in, basically, a utility closet in a shitty apartment building. She's lost weight and her health is suffering, but she's sticking to her economic anti-capitalist principles, at least for the moment. She's Heather's younger sister, and crushing on Kyle. 
  • Sarah chose Ludo; I gave her "Anything For You." Her character is Patricia Allen. Patricia (do not call her "Trish" or "Patty") got back from a backpack tour of Europe to find herself, and is presently a business major. She works at a co-op and is trying to get Daisy a job there, and takes a class or two with Mia. She actually came back and tried to assimilate into college life for love, but she won't say who she's in love with.
  • Melissa chose Taylor Swift; I gave her "Getaway Car." Her character is Heather Bitcherman. Heather is a Tri-Delt, and she's Daisy's older sister. She's obsessed with Kyle (formerly her boyfriend, but that's been over for years, not that you can tell Heather that). She's emotionally dependent and not as smart as she thinks she is, but she wants to be renowned and loved. 
So, our first session of the game is based on this song:

We start off the game on Saturday, November 7th, 1992. Bill Clinton was just elected President this week, and the characters are going about normal Saturday things.

Kyle and Mia hooked up last night; Kyle was actually on a date with Daisy, but Daisy had to call it early, so Kyle showed up at Mia's door. Mia let him in, because why not? It worked out for her (Mia is under no illusions as to the nature of her relationship with Kyle). Kyle pulls on his clothes and heads out, but Heather spots him in the hallway and confronts him, loudly, about hooking up with Mia and who knows who else in the Tri-Delt house.

Mia, for her part, glides on down to the shower while Kyle tries to extricate himself. Heather, true to form, freaks out for a while and then softens, verifying that Kyle will be at the opening of the new sandwich shop later (free samples!). Kyle says he will, but not for long; there's an open mic later. Heather confirms that she'll be there, since Kyle invited her (he totally didn't). 

Meanwhile, Daisy is hanging with Patricia at the co-op; she does some work and takes some food in exchange. Patricia notices a missing person poster on the wall - it's a grad student named Stella Aminat. She gets a strange feeling when she sees the poster, but isn't sure what it means. 

Later, all five of them wind up at the sandwich shop (City Bites), snacking on the free samples and kibitzing. Patricia and Mia wind up chatting, trying to drown out the sisters bickering and fighting over Kyle. Patricia talks a bit about her experiences backpacking, and Kyle regales them with the time he went to Oakland.

And then the characters glance up, and note that the sun seems to be...changing. There's an eclipse happening, which is odd because none of them remember hearing anything about one coming up ("It's not like they schedule these", says Heather). Kyle and Mia go into the laundromat next door and check the TV; the newscaster is talking about the eclipse, but not in a "OMG SURPRISE ECLIPSE" kind of way, so they just assume they missed it. The characters watch the eclipse for a while, and Daisy and Patricia both feel...strange. Daisy, in particular, feels an odd kind of hunger, a sensation that feels wrong somehow. But it passes, and the group decides to go to Kyle's open mic (Patricia and Mia are somewhat reluctant, but they figure it'll be amusing at least).

The coffee shop is called Rocco's Beans & Things. Rocco D'Onfrio is a tough-talking Italian-American who opened the coffee shop after his restaurant failed, and it's got a lively open mic scene going. The characters order drinks (Kyle gets them all hand stamps so they can get beer), and Kyle goes up and does his song. Afterwards, Kyle makes to leave, but Heather goes up and does a poem that she wrote, which everyone kind of suffers through (note: Heather has the Talentless Drawback). 

The characters split up for the night; Daisy goes home to her awful little closet, Heather and Mia go back to the sorority house, Kyle hooks up with a barista, and Patricia goes back to her apartment. 

In the morning, Kyle wakes up to the alarm playing a radio. The broadcast is gruesome - Rocco was found dead in the back room of the restaurant. His heart has been cut out. 

Next time, we'll learn what the characters do following that bit of horror.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Movie #482: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is, obviously, the third movie in the franchise and stars Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, and a bunch of less famous people (Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Ira Heiden, Priscilla Pointer). Fun fact: Directed by Charles Russell, who would go on to direct The Mask.

Anyway, Kristen (Arquette) is our Final Girl this time, and she's dreaming of Freddy (Englund) and Freddy's old house. Freddy eventually slashes her wrist open to make it look like she's attempted suicide and gets her shut up in a mental hospital with a bunch of other teens who are also getting stalked by Freddy. Turns out, of course, that they're the last of the "Elm Street Kids" whose parents burned Freddy to death.

An aside, here: Let's assume that the people that Freddy kills in Part 2 aren't necessarily Elm Street Kids, because they're never mentioned as such and the metaphysics get really whack-a-ding-hoy in that movie anyway. That means that as of this movie, Freddy's killed three Elm Street Kids in the first movie (Tina, Rod, and Glen) and in this movie we meet seven more, and there's a reference to two other kids committing suicide before we even meet them. That means that Freddy was murdered by at least 11 different families, which, given that he racked up a body count of over 20, is about right, but it also means that shouldn't some of these kids, like, know that they had siblings that died? Anyway, plot hole over, just thought I'd mention it.

Nancy (Langenkamp) is now a therapist or, like, an intern or something, and comes to work with Dr. Gordon (Wasson), the psych working with these traumatized, suicidal kids, alongside the stern and useless Dr. Simms (Pointer) and the cool orderly Max (Fishburne). Freddy does his thing, but his kills are much more magical and elaborate; where before he killed like a ghost, now he's turning into a snake or smashing people into TVs.

Into all of this there's a ghost nun, which turns out to be Freddy's biological mother (Nan Martin). Freddy's bones need to be laid to rest, but the kids are already asleep, so they have to use their dream powers to fight him.

Oh, right, didn't mention that. Turns out all these kids have a super-power in their dreams. Kristen's is the only one that's actually a power, because she can pull other people into her dreams. Everyone else can just do weird shit while dreaming, and like, so can literally everyone ever. But nerdy D&D (sorry, "Wizard Master") player Will (Heiden) can throw green lightning around, Kincaid (Sagoes) is vaguely super-strong, etc.

Sadly, these powers do exactly nothing to Freddy, and he happily slaughters the kids until Dr. Gordon manages to splash some holy water on Freddy's bones, at which point he's destroy, but not really, because there are several more movies in the franchise.

I remember this movie being better than it actually is. The concept of using some kind of lucid dreaming against Freddy is cool, but it doesn't go anywhere and the kids die just the same. Freddy's backstory is kind of cool, but he comes back, so it's kinda all for naught? The idea that he grows stronger because he's absorbing souls is fun, but again, it doesn't really matter. There are a lot of cool concepts in this movie, but the script is weak, the acting is pretty awful (Arquette has become a good actress, but this isn't her best work), and Freddy's transformation from brutal, scary monster-ghost into wisecracking shapeshifting murder-prankster is pretty much complete here.

One more to go!

My Grade: D
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Character Creation: Flatpack

Well, I was supposed to be running my new All Flesh Must Be Eaten game today, but illness laid one of the players low and I don't like starting without everyone present, so here we are. I thought about doing something a little closer to the top of the list, but a bunch of them are D&D clones and I just don't have that in me today.

The Game: Flatpack: Fix the Future
The Publisher: Machine Age Productions
Degree of Familiarity: None
Books Required: Just the one.

Flatpack is billed as "optimistic apocalyptic roleplaying," and I can get behind that. The early parts of the book talk about civilization being, well, largely destroyed, but the characters (WRENCHs) being the ones with the smarts and the gumption to fix it. There are also these things called Flatpacks, which are basically machines or buildings or complexes packed into a small, rectangular box, that our WRENCHs can find and put together.

The emphasis in the game is very much on solving riddles and puzzles rather than on combat (fighting is, in fact, not part of the game, and I don't see many RPGs like that, so that's cool). So how do we make a WRENCH?

Hrm, character creation seems to be written in-character. Not always a fan of that, but let's see. We start off with some questions and multiple choice answers. Check it out.

So, the first question is "you were a shoo-in for class president, when you heard rumors that your opponent has a plan to cheat the election. In order to out-cheat him, you..." And then six options. I want to look ahead and see if these answers tie into mechanics at all, hang on. Yes, they do. Groovy. OK, then I pick... d, turn to the school's bylaws. I'm thinking my WRENCH is research-focused, and/or likes to have his i's dotted and t's crossed.

Next question: Do you feel, right now, that your parents would say they are proud of you? Oof, that's hard. I'll pick f. maybe someday. Aw.

Third question: This is long so I'll summarize. You're dating the perfect guy, but he's a writer, and not necessarily a successful one. How's that gonna work out? I'll pick e., which, again, is long, but basically cooks down "you don't seem to understand him, so talk with him and try to get a glimpse into his world."

Final question: Um...

That's weird. The answers are similarly odd. I'll pick d., explain how things were so much better back in my father's day.

I was wrong, the final question is asking if my work environment were a bowl of fruit, what sort of fruit would I be. I will choose c., an apple, both because it's fall in Ohio so apples are in season, and because apples are nicely versatile.

So where does all this get me? Well, actually, the idea isn't necessarily to pick one answer to the questions, but to consider what answers give you strong reactions, which give you no real reaction, and which you can't ever see yourself choosing, and pick traits as positive, neutral, or negative (two of each) based on that. OK, then.

The traits are Wiles, Resourcefulness, Ego, Nostalgia, Curiosity, and Hope (WRENCH). I'm gonna take Ego and Wiles as negative traits (meaning that my character is kind of easily led), Hope and Resourcefulness as neutral, and Curiosity and Nostalgia as positive. Neat!

So, the rest of the character creation process is just doing group dynamics and playing a round of Two Truths & a Lie, where another player determines the truth or the lie. There's a slot on the sheet that says "Claim to Fame," but those words literally do not appear anywhere else in the book (grr), and there's no example of character creation (also grr). That's a little disappointing.

Well, let's do this: I'll do the two truths etc thing and then randomly pick one to be true. I'll say that my three statements are:

  1. I've seen over 100 movies from before the Collapse.
  2. I can dislocate my shoulder anytime I want.
  3. I'm afraid of bugs. 
(If these seem kind of simplistic, it's because there's not really much attempt at setting, here, so it's hard to have anything to work with in the absence of a group.)

OK, so my hypothetical other player chooses the first statement to be the lie. I...actually want that to be true, because I think it ties in with my love of Nostalgia, so I'm going to reject that and say that the last one is the lie. That means I don't get to start with a Spirit point, but c'est la vie.

That's it for the structure bit of chargen, the rest is just making shit up. So I'll say that my WRENCH is named Bell. Bell grew up in what used to be Los Angeles, now flooded and destroyed in earthquakes. There were a lot of spare DVDs lying around, though, and it wasn't hard to have power sometimes, so he wound up killing a lot of time watching movies. Of course, that leaves him with a sort of skewed perspective on what the Time Before was like, but it also means he knows a bit more about history than most folks. 

I think Bell is fresh-faced and blond. He's got scars up and down his left arm (from the same accident that left him able to dislocate his shoulder). He has brown eyes and wears a blue knitted cap that his mom made him a long time ago.

And that's it, I think!

Movie #481: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is, of course, the first sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street and stars no one from the first movie except Robert Englund. Instead, we get Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Marshall Bell, Clu Gulager, and Hope Lange. It' interesting movie.

Five years after...whatever the hell happened in the first movie (it ends ambiguously, recall), the Thompsons' house has been sold to a new family, the Walshes. Their teenage son Jesse (Patton) is having nightmares that leave him screaming and sweating, and his father (Gulager), who is something of a dick, can't quite seem to get the AC working, so the house is always hot (I mention this both because it becomes something of a plot point and because it's why Jesse is always sweaty).

Jesse is having nightmares about Freddy Krueger (Englund), but he's also coping with being the new boy in school, crushing on Lisa (Myers), and his complicated feelings for his fellow baseball teammate Grady (Rusler).

Wait, what? Surely there's no obvious homoerotic plotline in an 80s horror movie?

Well, yeah, there kinda is, and smarter people than me have talked a lot about it. Evidently at the time, the screenwriter denied it and blamed Patton for playing the part too gay (Patton actually is gay, but was closeted at the time), but later admitted that he was totally going for Jesse to be gay and for a large part of the conflict here to be him coping with that.

But back to the horror: Freddy doesn't just possess Jesse, he physically bursts out of his body to kill people and then disappears, leaving Jesse covered in blood. It's Jesse's love for Lisa, though, that allows him to burn out Freddy's influence and regain himself, which, considering that two of the people Jesse kills "as" Freddy are gay men (you can't tell me Grady isn't gay, and Marshall Bell's Schneider is pretty obviously written that way, too), that's a pretty troubling implication.

In any case, though, there are some nice throughlines involving heat and fire, and the continuity from the first movie is actually pretty well respected, considering that none of the original cast shows up. All in all it's not as bad a movie as I was expecting.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Character Creation: BRP

I am hella behind on characters for the project, mostly because I've had a pretty awful couple of weeks, but never mind that. As of this coming Sunday, I should be up to 41 characters to keep my "once a week" thing going. As of right now, I've done 36 this year, so I'm what, five weeks behind. If I can manage to do a couple extra before the school breaks (Thanksgiving and Xmas), I can get caught up.

Not that anyone really cares, but I care about my silly little lists.

Anydangway, today's thing is:

The Game: Basic RolePlaying
The Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Degree of Familiarity: Almost none. I don't think I've ever played this edition, but I know I played some Call of Cthulhu back in the day.
Books Required: Just the one, but read on.

So, I want to say first that I'm doing this game today because Greg Stafford, the game designer behind Pendragon, RuneQuest and a lot of others, passed away yesterday. I never met Greg and I'm actually not terribly familiar with his work, at least firsthand - I've played Pendragon but never RuneQuest, and I think that the only game I own that he worked on is BRP, which sounds like an oversight on my part.

But in any case, this tribute by John Wick kind of puts into perspective the influence that Stafford had on the hobby. Again, I don't know, I never met the man and I have only limited experience with his work, but watching all of the outpouring of love from folks I do know over the last couple of days makes me think he's someone whose work I should know.

In any case: BRP. BRP is, like GURPS, a system that can be applied to a variety of games. (Incidentally, as I'm reading the book, I note that it was used in Nephilim, which Stafford also worked on.) As such, before I make a character I really need to have a setting. There's a chapter in this book about settings, and looking through it, it's got a lot of bare-bones ideas for settings (mostly, but not entirely, framed as historical eras). I think I'll make a character for a Western setting, just because apart from Deadlands I haven't really done that.

Step One: Name and Characteristics. Never sure how I feel about naming characters right off the bat. Well, I kinda want to make a cowboy, and I was interested to learn that the word "buckaroo" is an alteration of the Spanish word vaquero. Turns out a lot of cowboys were of Mexican or mestizo extraction (or black, which is something you don't tend to see in Westerns, dammit). I think I want my character to be mixed race, originally from Louisiana and then moved to Kansas after the Civil War (figure on this being 1880 or so, so figure my character was born in 1858, roughly, a few years before the War broke out). His name is Levi Matthews.

For Characteristics, I roll 3d6 for Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Power, and Appearance. One of the suggested optional rules for Western is to choose what value goes to what Characteristic (rather than just assigning them in order), so I think I shall do that.

My rolls are 6 (ugh), 13, 16, 11, 9. Well, something's getting a dump. Hmm. Well, the life of a cowboy isn't really conducive to having a low CON or STR or DEX, so I'm thinking that the 6 is gonna go in APP. I'll put the 9 in POW, the 11 in STR, the 16 in DEX, and the 13 in CON.

Now I roll 2d6+6 for Intelligence and Size. I get 12 for INT and 16 for Size. I have an option for an Education roll, but I'm think Levi's education would be pretty spare (or rather, his formal education would be), so I'll skip that.

Step Two is Powers, and if I was running this game, I might include some magic or something, but for now let's assume we're playing a pretty straight Western and skip it.

Step Three: Age. Oh, wait. I'm meant to roll for this (17 + 1d6). OK, sure. I roll a 5, which means I'm 22.

Step Four: Characteristic Rolls. Derived traits. Well, some, and there are more in the next step. Effort is STR x 5 (55), Stamina is CON x 5 (65), Idea is INT x 5 (60), Luck is POW x 5 (45), Agility is DEX x 5 (80), and Charisma is APP x 5 (30).

Step Five: Derived Characteristics. Like it says. Damage bonus is STR + SIZ and then look it up on a chart, so +1d4. Hit points is the average of CON and Size, or 15 in my case. Major wound is half that, or 8. Power Points I'll skip because I'm not using powers. EXP bonus is half my INT, or 6 (but I don't see a place on the sheet for it). MOV is 10 units per round, so that's easy enough.

Step Six: Personality. Oh, this is interesting. It's less about personality and more about how the character approaches problems - physically, with technique, outsmarting, or persuading. I think that Levi is pretty clearly most comfortable being physical, so I'll take that option. That gives me 20 points each in Brawl, Climb, Dodge, Grapple, Insight, Jump, Ride, Sense, Stealth, Swim, Throw, and any two Combat skills. I'll fill these in later, when I do the rest of my skills.

Step Seven: Skills. Well, hey. So, I pick a profession, and then I allocate points into professional skills. Let's assume we're playing a "normal" game in which the characters are mostly normal people, and I get 250 points for said professional skills. Is "cowboy" an option for profession? Hot diggity, it is.

My professional skills are Craft, Firearm (Rifle), Knowledge (Natural History), Knowledge (Region), Listen, Navigate, Ride, Spot, Throw, and Track. Neat. I can't start higher than 75%, but I already have 20 in some of these, so.

Brawl 20
Climb 20
Dodge 20
Grapple 20
Insight 20
Jump 20
Knowledge (Natural History)
Knowledge (Region)
*Ride 20
Sense 20
Stealth 20
Swim 20
*Throw 20
*Firearms (Rifle) 20
Firearms (Pistol) 20

That's where I start. Let's add 55 to Ride (boosting it to max), which takes me down to 195. I'll put 35 into Spot (160), 40 into Track (120), 30 into Rifle (90), 25 into Knowledge: Region (65), 30 into Listen (35) and the other 35 into Craft.

Step Eight: Distinctive Features. I'll say that Levi has a slight cleft palate that (of course) is uncorrected. As such, his speech is often unclear, and so he doesn't talk much and he eats very slowly and carefully (it's one reason he's thin). I'll say, too, that he wears a length of cloth around his face when he rides, to keep himself from inhaling too much dust.

Step Nine: Profession. Hang on, I thought I did this. Oh, wait, I did, this is just the stuff I get based on my profession. Rope, rifle, horse, etc.

Step Ten: Name & Finish. I did the name already, so that's basically it.

That was actually really painless, all things considered. I worry that the numbers are too low (you know how I feel about systems where starting characters are useless), but I'd have to play it to know; it's been too many years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Movie #480: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a supernatural slasher flick directed by the late, great Wes Craven and starring Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia (credited as Nick Corri), Ronee Blakely, and of course, Robert Englund.

The kids living on Elm Street - Nancy (Langenkamp), her buddy Tina (Wyss), Tina's rough boyfriend Rod (Garcia), and Nancy's boyfriend Glen (Depp, in his film debut) are having nightmares about a dude in a sweater with finger-knives. And then said dream-monster actually murders Tina while she's sleeping, and it all gets weird - Rod is initially blamed, but he dies in a cell. Nancy sees the killer in her dreams, too, and then grabs his hat and brings it into the real world, and there's the name: Freddy Krueger (Englund).

Turns out Krueger was a serial killer who murdered 20 kids (!) in the neighborhood, was caught, walked on a technicality, and was burned alive by the parents. Now he's back to murder the teens of Elm Street in their dreams. Eventually Nancy figures out that she can pull Freddy into the real world and, perhaps, kill him, but Glen dies before she can figure out how, so she booby-traps the shit out of her house and takes on Freddy alone.

I think that it's important to note that while subsequent films in the franchise got sequentially stupider (Part 2 is considered especially bad, as I recall, but I'm not sure I've seen it), the original Nightmare is a goddamn horror masterpiece. Freddy isn't campy or silly, he's purely evil and violent. He's never shown well-lit, but his burnt face is always in shadow. The effects of the violence are still there in the morning, and there's no explanation or apology - sure, maybe Rod hanged himself, but Glen was liquified and no one has a good way to explain that. And the end of the movie, where we're apparently all alive and Freddy's dreams have been vanquished...but no, we're back in the dream, is perfect, as we question how much of what we saw really happened.

One of my favorite horror movies, and continuing proof that you don't need the huge body count or the "carnage candy" (as Randy says in Scream 2) to make a good one.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

Blades in the Dark: Dissension in the Ranks

Last night was Blades, after a bit of a hiatus.

Last time, the scoundrels rather grudgingly took a job that Cage brought them via Lord Penderyn to retrieve a mysterious artifact from the Deathlands. This turned out to be the Eye of Kotar, but Cage wasn't able to tell the others that until they were already out in the soup. And then Spirit Wardens showed up, and things went to hell.

The Spirit Wardens fire their rifles at the scoundrels, and they scatter. Siren disappears entirely (she maxed out her stress and took Trauma, which put her out of the action for a while), Cage and One-Eye drop back into a structure with the Deathlands Scavengers. Copper puts up her hands and yells at the Wardens to cease fire; they do, but keep their weapons trained on her. They tell her to approach, slowly; Copper tells Button to go find One-Eye, worried that the Wardens will shoot him if he gets too close.

They strip Copper of her armor and weapons, and she tries to talk them into coming to some arrangement. The Wardens, though, aren't much interested, and point out that they don't have a lot of incentive not to just shoot the crew and leave them here in the ash.

Meanwhile, in the hut, One-Eye tries to talk Lady Thorn into giving them the Eye so they can make a deal. Thorn isn't having it, though; she was more inclined to give the Eye to the Wardens anyway, and this little incident isn't making her predisposed to trust the Widdershins. One-Eye, never the most patient of people, throws down a smoke bomb, tackles Lady Thorn, and snatches the Eye away. She, Cage and Button leave the hut, back to the back, watching and holding out weapons.

Of course, when they get out, they see Copper has been captured. One-Eye asks if pulling out the Eye, or threatening to destroy it, might motivate the Wardens to give up Copper, but Cage isn't sure. The Wardens, indeed, threaten to shoot Copper, but One-Eye says she'll give them the Eye for Copper. They tell Copper and One-Eye to both start walking, but Copper, true to form as a Cutter, decides she'll start a ruckus.

She snatches the mask off a Warden, and smashes the protective glyph holding the horror pulling their carriage in place. The horror knocks her out of the way and pounces on the Wardens, mauling them, and the crew gets the hell out of the area, fading into the desert.

As they walk back, they talk - argue, really - about this job. One-Eye is pissed, and of the opinion that this is Cage's fault for not telling them about the job. Cage points out that he couldn't, but One-Eye notes that she probably could have deactivated the ring preventing him, and anyway now they've lost Siren. Cage tries to find her by attuning, but can't get a fix - it's like she's not even around anymore, which is odd (even if she's dead, she should be somewhere). One-Eye argues that they should get double for this job, and that Cage ought to give up his share, or maybe they should just find another buyer. Cage points out that Penderyn is probably able to find Siren, but that letting the world know they have the Eye would put them in the crosshairs.

They eventually get back to the train, and then to Gaddoc Station, and then to Duskwall. They head for the lair (still no Siren), and Cage goes to visit Penderyn. Penderyn is unsympathetic as to Cage's problems with his crew, but says that if he has the Eye, he can find Siren. He points out, though, that there are any number of interested parties, many of whom won't be interested in buying the Eye so much as taking it, and that includes the crew's buddy Lord Scurlock. Cage reports this back to One-Eye and Copper, and they agree that selling to Penderyn is probably the best course of action.

Penderyn takes the Eye and looks palpably relieved. "You idiots just saved the city, and you don't even know it," he murmurs, and then holds it up and it starts to glow. He tells them that Siren is in Gaddoc Station, but then notes that she's walking into town. She's in Nightmarket, anyway. He pays them, suffering some pretty constant abuse from One-Eye, and shoos them out.

The crew catches up with Siren, who asks about the Eye. When she hears that Penderyn has it, she starts walking toward Charterhall, and One-Eye, concerned about this obsession, tranqs her. She wakes up, a little more clear-headed, in the lair, and the scoundrels start coping with the fallout. They inadvertently killed four Spirit Wardens, and that means the Wardens have finally had enough - they go to war. Not only that, but the Bluecoats show up to arrest the crew, and they all scatter, avoiding the arrest but worsening their relationship with the Bluecoats.

Cage visits Penderyn, hoping to learn what he meant by "saved the city," but Penderyn is being tight-lipped. Perhaps next time we'll learn the truth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Movie #479: The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stop-motion animated movie directed by Henry Selick, but from the mind of Tim Burton, starring Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, Glen Shadix, Ken Page, Ed Ivory, Paul Reubens, and William Hickey.

The opening narration informs us that every holiday is the product of special holiday realms, and then dumps us into Halloween-town, which has a two-faced Mayor (Shadix) but really answers to its most prominent citizen, Jack Skellington (Sarandon, sung by Elfman). Jack is renowned as the creative force behind Halloween, but he's bored, and goes wandering until he finds the magic grove that leads to other holidays. He falls into Christmas-town, and feels inspired again - but he wants to understand the nature of Christmas. He winds up, instead, stealing it, sending three little trick-or-treaters (Lock, Shock, and Barrel, voiced by Reubens, O'Hara, and Elfman, respectively) to kidnap "Sandy Claws" (Ivory) so that the Halloween-ers can take over Xmas.

In the midst of all this is the kinda-sorta subplot of Sally (O'hara's main role), the ragdoll creature made by Dr. Finklestein (Hickey), who is in love with Jack but also trying to escape her creator. She is, as Santa notes, the only one that makes sense around here.

So, this movie has a following, and there's a lot I like about it. I like the characters, I like the music, and I love the look - it's very Burton, but it's more colorful than a lot of his stuff. But let's be real honest: This movie is thin. The plot is weak, the characters are fun and clever, but the world isn't fleshed out. I'm not even talking about the fact that we're apparently in world that treats Santa as a real, common-knowledge fact and what the hell that implies about the shenanigans that the Halloween-folk pull on their holiday. Just the dialog alone is weak, basic and boring, and the lyrics are simple at best and flat-out dumb at worst.

And then there's Oogie Boogie (Page), who's nominally the villain, but he literally has no reason to be in this movie except to give Jack a reason to rescue Santa (and Sally) in the third act. He's planning Santa? "Take the whole thing over" as his minions say? Gamble with Santa's life? It's not at all clear.

I have to assume that this movie had a much more first draft that wasn't filmed because it was expensive and time-consuming.

My Grade: C
Rewatch Value: Medium-high (look, I said it wasn't great, but it's still watchable)

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Monday, October 1, 2018

Movie #478: And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None is a whodunit murder mystery starring C. Aubrey Smith, Judith Anderson, Walter Huston, Mischa Auer, June Duprez, Barry Fitzgerald, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, Richard Haydn, and Queenie Leonard. It's adapted from the novel (which was originally published under a title I'm not gonna repeat here) by Agatha Christie.

A group of strangers are all summoned to meet a mysterious host - one that none of them actually know, but are referred to by people they do know - on an isolated island. When they get there, they realize that they've been tricked into appearing and that their host "Mr. U. N. Owen" or "Mr. Unknown", considers them all guilty of murder or murder by inaction or proxy, and intends to kill them in line with the "Ten Little Indians" rhyme that the first victim (Auer) plays on the piano before quaffing a poisoned drink.

From there, people keep dropping like flies in various horrible ways, all vaguely related to the song, until the killer is revealed - Judge Quinncannon (Fitzgerald), killing all these sinners off in a quest for justice. He intended for the final remaining victim, Vera Clayborne (Duprez) to hang herself, but with some help from the dashing young Lombard (Hayward), she tricks the killer and learns the truth and they escape.

Note, however, in the novel the killer's plan works, everybody dies, and the police are baffled. I think that ending would work for a movie now pretty well, but in 1945 that would have been pretty dark.

And Then There Were None is one of those movies that has been remixed and parodied and sampled so much that even if you haven't seen it, you've basically seen it. That said, this version is suspenseful, creepy, and brutal, even considering that there's no gore or violence to speak of (bodies are only shown partially, never faces, no blood or wounds depicted). The performances are perfect murder-mystery, and although Murder by Death lampoons this style of movie and pokes fun at last-minute reveals and adding characters, And Then There Were None plays fair by the audience and doesn't reveal a "twist" at the end that the audience couldn't have foreseen.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Board Game: Locke & Key

On we go! I don't think I have the focus to make a character today, so I'll do this instead.

The Game: Locke & Key
The Publisher: Cryptozoic Games
Time: 20 minutes or so
Players: Me, Michelle, Sarah

Game Play: In this game, you're ostensibly playing the Locke family trying to defeat supernatural challenges and using magical keys. In practice, there's a stack of challenges with numerical ratings and color coding (white, black, blue). The colors have meanings in the fiction (I think blue is puzzles?) but in practice there's no difference. On your turn, you flip up a challenge and read it out (sometimes there's extra text), and everyone plays up to three cards from their hand, face down.

The cards in your hand also have colors and number ratings. After everyone plays, you flip the cards, and if the numbers of cards of the appropriate color equal or exceed the challenge, you win! The one who played the most gets the challenge card, while the one who played the second-most gets a "second place" bonus (drawing more cards, scoring cards in the player's deck, etc.). Eventually you draw a GAME OVER card and then everyone totals their scores, highest winds.

Note the mansion on the right there.
Opinions: The game works just fine, but it's not very interesting. Like, there's a fiction component to the game, but it doesn't actually figure in to anything. The game is based on a comic book series, but I've never read it, and while the art style is really cool, that by itself isn't enough to make up for not having a frame of reference for this "Locke" family or why these "keys" are important. The gameplay is fun, but it's not enough to make me want to pull it out when other, more interesting games exist.

I did win, though.
Keep? Nah.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Movie #477: Night Watch

Night Watch is a Russian urban fantasy film starring Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Maria Poroshina, Dmitry Martynov, and a lot of other people with Vs in their names.

So, a little background: This movie and its sequel, Day Watch, which I thankfully do not own, are World of Darkness-ish, Underworldy sorts of urban fantasy. There are creatures called Others (vampires, shapeshifters, psychics) that roam the world and are divided into Light and Dark, and there's a truce between them. "Night Watch" refers to the Light Others that police the Dark Others, and apparently give...licenses to kill people sometimes?

Anyway, the movie starts - well, there's a long-ass prologue with a battle scene on a bridge, but the story starts - with Anton (Khabensky) visiting a witch (Rimma Markova, I think, but honestly it's hard to keep the names straight) and asking for his wife (Maria Mironova) to come back to him, only she's pregnant, so he asks for her to miscarry, but the Night Watch busts in and prevents that spell from finishing.

The kid grows up into Yegor (Martynov), who's developing Other powers, and there's a whole deal with a vampire and a prophecy and a woman who's cursed (Poroshina), and in the end, Yegor learns that Anton is his father (oh, Anton's now a...psychic? Vampire? it's hard to know, but sometimes he has fangs, anyway he's in the Night Watch) but tried to have him killed as a fetus so he goes hard for the Dark Others and boom, movie ends.

This movie is gibberish. Like, the only reason it's as comprehensible to me as it is, is because I'm familiar enough with the genre and associated properties that I can liken "the Gloom" to "Twilight" or whatever. There are some cool ideas bouncing around, but the rules never get explained, and unlike movies like John Wick that just plop us into the setting and don't waste time explaining themselves, this one has a couple of characters who are set up to be POV characters but the movie doesn't use them that way.

Speaking of characters, there are way too many. It's hard to know who we're supposed to care about - Anton, sure, but the performance is pretty hollow so it's hard to get worked up about him. Yegor and his ascent to be the Great Other, and Svetlana the Cursed Virgin and how she's meant to bring ruin are really the most interesting things, but the movie takes forever to get anywhere (and the sequel seems to bring all of this full circle, but I can't be arsed to care).

Also, they had no budget, so the fights are just quick cuts and blood spurts, apart from where they blew the wad to have a woman turn into a tiger very early in the film. Overall I'm not impressed.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Night's Black Agents: One-Session Op

Yesterday was Night's Black Agents. Some very interesting developments. Read on for tentacly fun!

So! Recall that the agents were heading for Budapest to check out (and probably take out) Dr. Janos Sas, prison doc and vampire (as established here). They arrive in Budapest and find Sas' house - a very modern affair with a gate - and set up shop up the street. Firinci makes use of a contact he knows in Budapest, Lazlo Berger, and manages to get some folks on Berger's payroll into Sas' security rotation. Parker builds a new cover (really they all do), and rents a house in the area. That's more work than she was expecting - there are background checks and hoops to jump through, and she has to take it slow because she doesn't want to tip their hand. But eventually she gets moved in.

MacAteer builds a connected cover to an underboss in the area, and learns that Sas used to be a normal, corrupt-as-hell doctor (that's how he afforded that house!). But then a few years ago, he stopped being interested in money. Now, he offers favors and good reports if you agree to..."experiments" at the prison. It's kind of an underworld ghost story, but no one really knows the truth.

A couple of nights later, a guy with a flashlight comes over to peek in the windows (fortunately MacAteer, Firinci, and Hanover are offsite in a suite that Firinci has procured). Parker "surprises" him taking her trash out, and they have a halting conversation about him looking for a lost cat (he speaks only Hungarian, which Parker doesn't, but they manage to communicate a little). He's clearly lying, but he buys Parker as a legit resident rather than a spy, so that's the important thing.

Sas behaves like a lot of the other "cold" vampires they've seen - he's a creature of habit. He works long hours, rarely eats, and has minimal contact with others. They note that guards' habits, though, and realize that the guards work in four-hour shifts and change up their routines. That means if they go in, they'll have a maximum of just under four hours before more folks show up.

The agents hack into the house security and get control of the cameras, and note that there's a panic room. They can probably rig it so it doesn't open (it's got a biometric lock), and Firinci also wants to make sure the gate stays open so they can retreat if they need to.

Firinci works it so two guards in their pocket are on shift. They sneak onto the grounds and take out the third one, and then creep into the house. The two guards on shift stay out of the way (they need to have a plausible reason why they didn't interfere, after all), and the agents sneak upstairs to Sas' room.

MacAteer sneaks in and takes aim with the dart gun - the dart, recall, contains a new serum he devised to attack the alien DNA directly. He shoots Sas in the neck with it, and Sas immediately wakes up and starts screaming. He flops over and his tentacles emerge, but then split into a bunch of little tentacles. His eyes melt. His bones start to crack. He jumps forward onto MacAteer and tackles him, driving his tentacles into his chest.

MacAteer rips one tentacle out at the root, and Parker and Hanover shoot this monster with their darts. Now with a massive dose of the serum in its system, the changes get worse - Sas' rib cage splits and spreads, and his organs fall out onto MacAteer. But worse, MacAteer feels something getting injected into his chest from the tentacles. They push the creature off and Hanover shoots it in the base of the neck, severing the spine, while Parker gets to work treating MacAteer. Some of his wounds are bleeding freely...but some are oozing some blue stuff. She opens them and tries to get them clean as best she can, but who knows?

The agents search the place, grab his laptop, a bunch of files from his desk, and open the panic room. Nothing in there but weapons, food, and a phone. The fall back and burn the place (letting the guards go, obviously), and then go through the data.

The laptop holds patient reports - everything is above board. The files, though, are the real story, and show that Sas was working on a more efficient way to turn people into vampires. Nothing about Hajnal or Tesla, though, and the agents get the feeling that this is just the most recent set of notes. There's probably more at the prison, but the agents don't want to risk it. They bug out and head for Vienna, ending the op.

Firinci goes to Berlin to line up some work, but a few days in, he gets a call from Berger. Seems the guards who were on shift at Sas' place have vanished...and now Firinci feels like he's being followed.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Board Game: Cthulhu Wars

This was last week, but what the heck, it's not like you'll notice the difference.

The Game: Cthulhu Wars
The Publisher: Petersen Games
Time: Two hours, I think? It'll move faster next time
Players: Me, Michelle, Al, and Sarah

Game Play: I would really love it if my phone would stop randomly not keeping the pictures I take, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, the basic premise here is that the world has ended, the Great Old Ones are returning and battling it out, and we're fighting to see who achieves ultimate mastery of the ruined husk of the world. The factions include Great Cthulhu himself, the Black Goat of the Woods, the Yellow Sign, and so on. That's all very well, but look at these.

Great Cthulhu and his peeps.
You don't get some weak-ass cardboard counters for the Great Old Ones, you get full-on, huge plastic sculpts of the Big Guy, the Star Spawns, the Deep Ones, and whatever the hell else. And then they romp around on this map:

The doomed canvas. 
OK, so that doesn't say much about the game so far, but I think it's important to recognize the scale and production values here, because they're amazing.

Anyway, the game itself: You start with an open gate and six of your cultists on the map, and then every turn you get a certain amount of Power that you can use to move your guys, summon monsters (or a Great Old One), open new gates, or do battle with other players. In addition, you have six spellbooks that you access by doing various things (the book flat-out compares it to achievements in a video game; some of them are as easy as "kill a dude in battle" and some are a little more involved).

Sarah and the Black Goat, Shub-Niggaruth. 

Every turn, you get some Doom points for having open gates. You can get more by performing a ritual, but it eats a lot of your Power for the turn (and eats more the more people do it). In addition, you get Elder Signs for doing various things, and those give you Doom Points, but they remain hidden until the end of the game.

The world in crisis. 

First player to 30 Doom Points who also has all six spellbooks ends the game, and then the Doom Points get tallied, and then the player with the highest Doom total and all six spellbooks wins. There's also an "everybody loses" condition where the Annihilation Track (OH DID I NOT MENTION THAT) runs out before anyone gets to 30 Doom.

Seriously, look at all these damn things.
Opinions: OK, so I know it sounds like there's a lot of moving parts to this game, and the instruction manual is literally thicker than some RPGs I own, but this game is actually surprisingly smooth and easy to learn. Sure, every faction works a little differently, but the differences are right there on the faction cards. I was expecting battle to be this big, long, protracted mess, but it's just "roll some dice, count your 6s, count your 4-5s, inflict Kills, inflict Pains (which makes things retreat)". It took us one battle to get the hang of it.

In the end, Sarah won because she took great advantage of the Black Goat's fecundity. I wasn't nearly aggressive enough with my dudes (Great Cthulhu is not someone to be shy with). I great look forward to playing again; this game's a lot of fun. Also I have an expansion.

Keep? Hell, yeah.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Promethean: End of Story (more or less)

Last night was the end of the story in my Promethean game. We ended with a revelation and a fight. Good times!

Last time, Avalon got out of jail free after paying some fines, and discovered the weird black orb shattering. She suddenly remembers what happened in the cell when she touched it...

...She sees the being she'd named "Milo" (here) standing before her. She talks with it, and learns that it's a strange being that wants her, and other Prometheans, to fail. It wants the Pilgrimage to go on forever, for the New Dawn to be unobtainable. It is, it says, the Principle's shadow. The Jovian. It came into the world when Enoch failed to create an Athanor (here), and was attracted by Avalon touching this failed Athanor. Avalon asks who made this, and the Jovian says it was probably Jesse, but he doesn't know what exactly Jesse was trying to do.

She asks why it wants to flummox the New Dawn, 'cause that's kind of a dick thing to do, and it tells her that it doesn't really know, that that's like asking why water freezes at a certain temperature. Avalon responds that she knows why that happens; there's a reason for it. The Jovian considers this, and says that it isn't sure about its real nature. She asks if it's an angel, and the Jovian makes her clarify - she says "a servant of the God-Machine". He tells her that he's not that, and he's not a qashmal (and draws the distinction). He's something else. And, he says in a somewhat pained way, he's being uncharacteristically honest with her.

Avalon points that out perhaps, given the right information, he could change, and not be this ongoing stumbling block on the Pilgrimage. The walls crack a little and reform, and the Jovian tells her to remember a set of coordinates (he says she'll forget this conversation, but then probably remember it if she can destroy the failed Athanor she's holding).

And then we're back at now, and Avalon remembers the conversation. She relates it to the others, and they talk about the Jovian a bit - Avalon notes that she'd been thinking of him as one of a type of being (a Jovian), but he actually referred to himself as the Jovian. So is he singular? A unique being, or anomaly? Avalon points out that, at the park in Lexington, some of them talked to qashmallim and some of them, probably including Virgil, talked to the Jovian. They need to be careful. And how, indeed, does the God-Machine figure in?

They go to the library and Avalon looks up the coordinates on an atlas - just outside of Tulsa. That's where they were talking about going next, and that's where Skip feels he needs to go, but the others are considering Detroit as well. They head to their next destination, the Noodles & Co outside Polaris mall. There, they meet Dry, and sit down to have some noodles.

Dry explains that the God-Machine creates angels for four general purposes - destroy, inform, protect, or transport. He was one of the latter, an angel meant to take data from the destroyed Infrastructure in Detroit to a destination in the southwest; he isn't sure where because he Fell along the way. But the data is still there and still part of him, and extracting it might harm him if done wrong. Avalon suggests making a copy, but Dry points out that doing that paints a target on whoever's carrying the data, and no offense, but Prometheans are easy to track if you know how.

They decide to head out to find some electricity...and that's when the lights flare brightly. A man (?) made of light appears on the table in front of them and points at Dry, while the Watchdog-angel that fought Matt and Jessa a few days ago leaps through a window (the glass immediately rewinds and fixes itself). Dry stands and tells the others that if they want to go, they can go. Time stutters, and several people with light coming out of their mouths appear, but the normal folks eating noodles are frozen in time. And then Grimm, noting that that choice seems to be "fight" or "leave," shoots the bright angel.

Skip leaps over and pummels the Watchdog into the dirt, while Brilliant points at Dry and dazzles him, dropping him back into his chair. Virgil flips the table and puts Brilliant off balance, while Feather and Matt engage the cultists. Two cultists grab the chair and start dragging it out, but Enoch transforms into Barghest form and tackles on, killing him with poison. Virgil body-checks another into a wall, and Skip finishes off the dog. Grimm shoots the Brilliant angel again for good measure, but now that the Watchdog is gone, the bystanders are free and all hell breaks loose. Matt uses Morning Star to call some nearby bystanders to his aid (achieving his Whip milestone urge a human to take a major risk), and Avalon plays on the cultists' Vices (which are pretty much "BRILLIANT IS GOOD") to get them away from her.

Outside, Dry snaps out of it and has Matt hold up his cell phone. Dry touches it and digitizes, flowing into the phone and disappearing.

The Prometheans flee as sirens approach, and head out. Matt has a text message: "C U in Tulsa."

Next time, we'll do some epilogue stuff and plan the Tulsa trip.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Board Game: Mancala

We cleaned out the game closet yesterday, got rid of a couple of the games we decided we were unlikely to play again, and resolved to be better about playing the ones we haven't tried. So here we go.

The Game: Mancala
The Publisher: Who knows. It was in a box, but it's a traditional game.
Time: About 10 minutes
Players: Me and Michelle

Game Play: So, here's the board:

Or, tray. Or whatever.
Note the 12 slots and the two slightly bigger slots. The bigger ones are the "mancala." You start with 4 gems in each of the smaller slots (the boxed set was supposed to come with them, but they weren't there. Fortunately it's not like I don't have a shitload of tokens around).

On your turn, you pick one of the slots facing you, scoop out the gems, and add them to the following slots going (from your perspective) counter-clockwise. If your last one falls in your mancala, you go again. If it falls in one of your slots and that slot is empty, you get to add that gem and any in the corresponding slot in your opponent's row to your mancala. When one row is empty, the opponent adds all their gems to their mancala and whoever has the most wins.

Simple enough, right? What all that means is that you can't empty them out too fast or else you'll have your opponent just add all their gems to their mancala. You have to be mindful of your opponent's slots and how many of them are empty vs. which ones have enough gems to wrap around and reach the empties, and you have to be aware of giving your opponent potential gems in order to put some gems in their slots.

Opinions: It's a fun strategy game without giant Cthulhu monsters (we played the one with giant monsters today, that write-up coming tomorrow), and it's nice to have a game like that. I like it, even if Michelle was just a little too satisfied with winning.

Keep? Sure.

Character Creation: Project Ninja Panda Taco

Happy Sunday!

The Game: Project Ninja Panda Taco
The Publisher: Jennisodes
Degree of Familiarity: None, really. I've read it and I've seen Despicable Me, but it's been a while since either.
Books Required: Just the one.

I think I've picked this game up to make a character a few times and then not done it, but I can't remember why. Let's see if I remember!

The basic setup here is that you're a mastermind trying to take over the world (or whatever) with convoluted, ridiculous plan, and you're also playing the minions trying to help your mastermind. I think you actually play the minion of another mastermind? In any case, the book is colorful and bright and fun, with art by Brian Patterson (who also did the art for Headspace; I think it fits better here). Anydangway, on we go!

Oh, right, this book is all written in-character. Like, I'm fine with the, but I appreciate dropping the character and explaining to me as the reader how this shit works when we get to things like chargen. Ah, well. I start with Mastermind creation. I start with a name, and it needs to be appropriately mastermind-y, by which I mean ridiculous. I'll name my Mastermind Dr. Boggan MacTeagle, MD, PhD, DEd, DDS, Etc. Yes, there's a Monty Python reference in there, no, I will not apologize for it.

Now I pick my best Quality. The examples are...weird. Eyebeams, giant feet, a scary grin? This is all over the map. But, that's in genre, I suppose. I'll say that Dr. McTeagle's best Quality (for Mastermind purposes) is his huge, gnarly beard. He can stroke it to look thoughtful, it can get all bushy if he needs to look bigger and frighten a bear, and he hides things in it.

Normally at this point I would pass my character sheet around to let other players add qualities, but it's just me, so I'll fill in the other qualities myself.

I'll give Dr. Boggan a Poetic Soul (his pottery, er, poetry, is very avant garde). I'll say he's got a Sporran of Doom. I want him to have a Big Slobbery Dog That Doesn't Listen Well. And, finally, Dr. McTeagle has a Bushel of Crabs. Good.

At this point I would introduce myself to the other Masterminds and tell them why I want to take over the world. So! Dr. McTeagle is, clearly, a Scot with a huge bushy beard. His evil lair is probably a seaside affair, but it's got a dentist's office (there's always time for dental hygiene and Dr. McTeagle takes great offense to the notion of dentists as villains; he's both and that's completely co-incidental!). He wants to take over the world because he's out there working his fingers to the bone getting all these advanced degrees and they keep raising the interest rates and the bank is just a bunch of crooks and WHAT'S ANOTHER THREE DAYS ON MY LAIR PAYMENT ANYWAY.


Right, next would be Nemeses, but that requires other people, so I'll skip it.

So, the next thing is to make a Minion, but like, all a Minion consists of a name and one item. No, really. I'm not necessarily making Dr. McTeagle's Minion; on the Minion turn I'd decide who I wanted to help. So, sure. My Minion's name is Bevis (not "Beavis" thank you very much) Jonkerputts. Bevis has a rubber fish that squeaks. It's probably a chew toy, but for a very large dog. Bevis talks slowly and seems quite dim, but he's actually capable of some startling leaps of insight if you give him a minute to squeak his fish.

And that's it! Everything else would happen in play.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Into the Deathlands!

Last time, on Blades in the Dark, the crew stole some very valuable eggs. This time...well, read on.

The Widdershins has had a couple of weeks to recover since the egg-job. During that time, they've noted that there's a nearby tavern that seems to be selling low-importance contraband. They don't see that any particular gang runs it, so it might be a good front to add to their claims. Likewise, there's a stretch of turf in Nightmarket that the Rail Jacks claim (it's near to Gaddoc Station), and if they felt like muscling in on that, they could probably take it.

Siren is at the Red Lamp, a brothel in Silkshore, spending some of her hard-earned Coin, and the madame, Tesslyn, takes a meeting with her. Seems Tesslyn is looking for a fence to get rid of some expensive trinkets, and she's heard of a fellow called Hammer who might be able to handle the work. She doesn't know him, though, and she wants Widdershins to scope him out first. She's willing to give them a box of expensive baubles to fence, they keep half of whatever they can negotiate out of Hammer and then they have a useful contact. Siren says she's interested and brings that back to the crew.

Meanwhile, though, Cage is meeting with Lord Penderyn (after previously getting back into his good graces, recall). Penderyn tells him that he has an important job for the crew - there's a mystical artifact that Penderyn needs, but it's out in the Deathlands. He gives Cage a ring to put on, and then tells him the name of the Artifact - it's the Eye of Kotar. If Cage tries to say that to the crew, though, the ring will burn him. Just a precaution.

The crew meets up and Cage pushes to recover the Eye, though of course he has to frame it as "a ritual component." The others initially think that maybe getting the tavern might be better short-term, but Cage pushes and Siren is curious, so they decide to go for the bigger score. They decide to go to the Rail Jack turf and try and make some friends, since they'll need to get out into the Deathlands somehow.

The bar they find, though, isn't exactly friendly to them. Some of the Jacks recognize them from their escapades back here, and the name "Twelves" keeps getting murmured. Finally Copper, with characteristic subtlety, asks who "Twelves" is, and a very large man named Spur tells her he was a Rail Jack who died fixing the alchemical mess the crew made of the place...and then punches her in the face.

The scenes starts to get ugly, and Siren apologizes and asks what the crew can do to make amends. Spur says that Twelves left behind a widow and twelve children, and well, it'd be nice to have something to give his twelve children so they don't go hungry. Siren gets the hint, the crew pools their resources (and winds up having to sell off some stash), and pays off the Rail Jacks.

They stay and drink with them, and One Eye and Spur come to an agreement - they'll transport the crew into the Deathlands, stop the train as close as they can to the artifact's supposed location, and wait an hour. If they're not there when the train leaves, well, they're gonna have a long walk back. The crew agrees, and goes home to prep. They all go heavy (no point in not) and Copper buys some supplies, and they board the train.

The first problem is that they're in a cargo hold, and it's quickly filled with cargo. They have almost no room and they have to get to the door. One Eye throws some oil around that makes the crates weightless, and they eventually managed to tie them back so they can get out. The train stops, Copper opens the door...and now they're in the Deathlands.

Everything is ash, petrified trees, and ruin. They hop down and start walking, guided by Cage's map. A pack of mutated pig creatures comes toward them, but they hide behind trees and wait them out, and they head back toward the train ("This may be an issue later," notes One Eye prophetically).

In an ashen riverbed, they find a ghost, obviously stuck here since the Cataclysm and hungry for essence. Cage dominates it, though, and orders it to find the Eye. Siren's head starts itching, and she feels a strange hunger...

The ghost leads them on, down a hill into a valley, and then a bunch of people with spears and slings appear on the ridge above them. Copper greets them nonchalantly, and the Scavengers decide that these folks are more useful dead, so they launch spears.

The crew avoids the initial barrage, and Siren unleashes a barrage of suppressing fire while the crew charges up the hill. Cage finds one of their little hidey holes and dips out of sight, while Siren shoots one dead while Copper routs the rest of them. The Scavengers flee, but the ghost is long gone. Cage pulls out a dowsing rod to track it, and it and Siren's head start to glow. The crew follows the rod into the wastes, until they find a small settlement and the rest of the Scavengers.

As they approach, they run into a pit trap. Copper falls in, One-Eye jumps back, and Cage and Siren jump forward and avoid it...but now they're close to the Scavengers and their fellows are a ways behind. The Scavengers' leader, Lady Thorn, addresses them and asks what they're seeking, and Cage notes that something in a pouch hanging on her belt is glowing. He tells her that's what they're after, and she identifies it - the Eye of Kotar. She also notes that Siren is carrying Kotar's spirit within her, and that makes Lady Thorn very nervous.

Copper and One Eye get out of the pit and join them, and Lady Thorn asks why she should give this immensely powerful artifact to them. One Eye tells her that they were just here to do a job, and Thorn notes ruefully that any number of the Scavengers (all of whom are former Ironhook inmates given the choice between execution or life in the Deathlands) were "just doing a job." She tells them, after some conversation, that she'd feel more comfortable giving the Eye to the Spirit Wardens - they, after all, know what they're doing. Cage reveals his mask, showing that he was a Spirit Warden, but Thorn nods over their shoulder.

Approaching them is a sleigh drawn by a captive horror, carrying four Spirit Wardens. They approach and one of them dismounts, and looks at the mask Cage is holding, and at Button, Copper's weird demon-wolf...and then pulls a sparkcraft rifle off his back. Apparently he recognizes Widdershins.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Character Creation: Crossroads Carnival (ashcan)

The Game: Crossroads Carnival (One Night Only edition)
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: About as much as you can have right now; I've played it a couple of times and I'm familiar with the underlying mechanics
Books Required: Technically just the one, though as the book itself points out it doesn't really go into some of the norms of PbtA games, so reading another such game is helpful. Not necessary for chargen, though

So, in Crossroads Carnival, you're playing the folks working in the carnival...but these folks are also monsters. The Dog-Faced boy is really a werewolf. The Seer can really speak to spirits and knows the future, and so forth. The game delves into some pretty heavy topics, but does so by taking a rich, bleak, fascinating time in history (the Dust Bowl, which you might already know I have an interest in if you've checked out Dark Eras) and framing it as literally the potential end of the world. That's what these monsters are fighting to prevent.

I've played it a couple of times now, and I gotta say I'm really keen to run it for one of my groups (I think that's funny because my one group that was going to play Alas for the Awful Sea has kinda backed off on that game because it's too heavy and they need something lighter, and what's my first thought? "Oh, how about this game about othering and abuse through the lens of a carnival." Anyway.).

Character creation works the way it usually does for PbtA games; choose a playbook first. I've got six to choose from, and I've played two (the Mermaid and the Seer), so I'll do something not-those. That gives me Dog-Faced, Geek, Snake Charmer, or Strongman to choose from. ARGH. I love them all.

I think I'll take Snake-Charmer; I almost played that the other night at QCC (wound up with Seer instead). I don't care for any of the names on the sheet, so I shall name my snake-charmer Xo (first sound is the palatal fricative like in "treasure"). For look I choose "modest," for eyes I choose "teasing," and for origin I choose "child of a basilisk."

Next, I figure out "Indulgence;" this is basically what my character hungers for that feeds his inhuman appetite. It doesn't have to be overtly predatory, but like, nothing senses you can't pick "eating human flesh with an erotic overtone" (which was the Mermaid's in the game I played in the other night).

Well, here's what I'm thinking so far: Xo is the child of a basilisk. He's never known either of his parents; his father (the basilisk) was long gone before he was born, and his mother sickened and died as he and his brother grew in her womb (his brother is his snake, obviously).

Ooh, I think I want his Indulgence to be "body heat." He wants to be warm, and the sun just doesn't do it. He needs to be next to people.

Next I do stats. I get to add one to one of my stats (which are Bones, Breath, Grace, and Guile). So what do I want to be good at? I'm thinking probably offering comfort, which keys off of Grace, so I'll add my point to that.

Now I do my pitch card (I learned about these playing the game; see more here). In context, it's a series of questions about the character:

  • How did you end up at the carnival? I ran away from the orphanage I lived in at age 9 and wound up at the carnival. I was a young boy carrying a large snake; they adopted me right away. (NB: I think Xo would be a late teen in-game.)
  • Why are you fighting on the side of humanity? My mother was a human. Humans are mostly OK, when they want to be. Really they are.
  • Why don't you give in to your monstrous nature? I hate what it makes people do. I don't want to see them like that.
  • What makes your cold blood run hot, no matter how much you resist? Kissing. It's so human
  • What or who has your snake killed that you're keeping hidden? One of the performers used to have a cat. My snake ate it. I still have its collar. I'm not sure why. 
Moves! I get Forbidden Fruit by default (I dance with my snake-brother and I get people to do what I want, but I have to give them at least a glimpse of my flesh to seal the deal). The other choice is either Viper's Kiss (I'm venomous) or Shedding Skin (exactly that; I can shed my skin and alter my appearance). I think I'll take the former, but mostly because I don't really see the latter as appropriate to Xo. We'll call Viper's Kiss something he inherited from his father, and it's not something he's especially proud of.

And that's it! I really like this game.

Board Game: J'Accuse!

These always take me a while. But I'm doing it!

The Game: J'Accuse!
The Publisher: Smirk & Dagger
Time: 20 minutes, give or take
Players: Me, Michelle, Megan, Sarah

Game Play: The victim (who has a name, I just don't remember it because it's long) was kacked in the house, and we're all the suspects! Everyone chooses a suspect (complete with a character card), and then you draw evidence from three different decks - Weapon, Motive, and Opportunity. Players then choose to pass evidence left, right, or across, or to play the J'accuse! card, which cements evidence as "hard" evidence.

Trick is, one player each turn is also the Inspector, who plays an investigation card that specifies which kind of evidence is affected that turn. As such, it's not to your advantage to J'accuse! if you've got evidence on you that's going to get affected, but of course there's no way to know that.

Sarah's smiling. She did it.
In addition, every suspect is "immune" to a certain evidence of each type; I had the late victim's spouse, and she's immune to "In the Dark" as her eyes are too bad to see. That just means you can't fix that evidence on that character, which plays nicely into the strategy.

The noose is tightening. 
Opinions: I really like the game. The rules text encourages you to play out the accusations and make a story out of it, and that's fun but unnecessary (and requires the right group and/or some libations). The artwork is fun, and the little quasi-alibis on the cards are clever (though some of them, we noted, wouldn't so much allay suspicion as intensify it).

Keep? Yep!