Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Night's Black Agents: Narrow Escapes

Thanks to Finding Nemo, I will never again read the word "escape" any other way than "ess-ka-pay".

Anyway! Last time the agents learned that the vampire-in-charge, the first vampire, was Nikola Tesla. Then they got the hell out of Belgrade. This session, we start off with them disembarking their cruise into Marseille, and deciding what to do next.

After some debate, they figured they'd go to England and make contact with Sedillo and Koltay. They traveled via train through Spain to Gibraltar, and then took a flight to Manchester, and then made contact. Koltay answered and they arranged a meet. The agents figured they'd meet him someplace public, just to be on the safe side. They chose the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Parker made contact with Koltay - he was sitting at the cafe alone. He said that Sedillo had disappeared, just left one night and not come back. This set Parker's mental alarms off immediately, and Ess used a filter on his camera to check whether Koltay had a normal body temp.

He didn't - he was dead. The agents scattered. MacAteer slipped into the bathroom and disguised himself (Disguise is his MOS). Parker stole a staff member's pass and took Gambone through a staff exit. Ess and Hanover left through the front and the backer, respectively, but were both made.

Hanover found himself confronted by tough-looking individuals, and he ran. Through a series of really impressive Athletics rolls, he escaped. Ess wasn't quite so lucky.

He found himself, across the street, confronted by a woman drawing a gun (Sense Trouble is his MOS, and a good thing, too!). He ran, but took a bullet in the shoulder for his trouble. The woman pursued him, much faster than he could run, but they crossed in front of the Nando's where Parker and Gambone were biding time. Gambone recognized the woman - Kingsilver.

He left the restaurant and shot her with a dart, but she just turned and confronted him. "They just want Hanover," she said. "You give us him, and you can walk away." She leaned in closer. "They know her name, Mike."

"Give me some time," said Gambone, perhaps to stall. "I can't just-"

But he didn't need to finish, because Ess doubled back and shot her in the neck with a "hot" dart. She swell and burst, and the agents lit out.

They met back up and got the hell out of London, heading up into Edinburgh and then to the coast. Ess was wounded, everyone was stressed (and losing Stability), and then decided to get the hell out of the UK, keep moving, and try to lose their pursuers. Through Hanover's contacts, they arranged to get a boat, and head across the sea to Iceland...where an unpleasant surprise is waiting for them.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Movie #446: Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire is a comedy starring Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein, Mara Wilson, Matthew Lawrence, and Lisa Jakub.

Daniel Hillard (Williams) is a voice actor who can't seem to hold down a job. His wife Miranda (Field) is therefore stressed and somewhat wound tight, as she winds up being financial support for the family as well as the only real source of discipline and stability. Things finally come to a head, Miranda divorces him, and a judge quite rightly grants him visitation rather than shared custody since he's not exactly in a stable place.

Rather than putting his life back together, Daniel, with the help of his makeup artist brother (Fierstein) creates the persona of Mrs. Doubtfire, a vaguely Scottish old lady, and gets hired as Miranda's housekeeper and babysitter so he can be with his kids. This works pretty well on one level, as since Daniel has to learn to keep a house and sit a kid, he learns the skills he needs to be a better parent, but it's fucking horrifying on another level, since he's gaslighting and deceiving his family pretty terribly (but, y'know, they play "Dude Looks Like a Lady" while he vacuums, so it's cool).

It all falls apart when he tries the rookie sitcom movie of switching back and forth during the same dinner date (with his family on one end and his boss (Robert Prosky) on the other), gets revealed, and promptly loses visitation because holy shit what. And then we get Miranda-ex-machina to fix everything once she realizes that "Mrs. Doubtfire" really made their lives better.

So, the movie moves pretty fast and it's entertaining. It's not one of my favorites, but it's not as maudlin as Jack or as awful as Flubber. My issues with the movie kinda stem from the fact that Daniel doesn't really learn all that much - he does become a better parent, but he does it without learning any real appreciation for Miranda, and what's worse, Miranda has this sneaky little "huh, guess I should lighten up" arc, which isn't really justified, IMO. The other thing that bugs me is that Daniel gets so jealous of Miranda dating her friend Stu (Brosnan), but he never has a kind thing to say about her otherwise. If his focus had been purely on his kids, and he'd acknowledged that his marriage was really over, or if it went the other way and he was at all focused on getting Miranda back (which would have ended badly but might have led to more genuine conflict), that might have been fine. As it is, it's just Williams throwing things at James Bond, and that seems unwise.

My Grade: C-
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Much Ado About Nothing

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Promethean: SAVE THE KITTENS

Last time, Skip got into a fight, then got arrested and bound, then kicked a door off a car and took off on foot. Today, we join the chase in progress.

The other Prometheans, noting the agents leaving the convenience store quickly, follow them. Skip, meanwhile, high-tails it through a residential section to a mall with a power station nearby. He leaps headlong into said power station, knocking out the power in the immediate area but healing and replenishing himself. He charges up into the mall and steals a jacket and a hat, but he's still walking around with this hands bound (though he does manage to flip his arms around so his hands are in front) and electrical burns on his clothes. He flares his disfigurements and arcs lightning between his fingers to scare folks off, and in so doing becomes a feared urban legend (which fulfills his Savage Role).

The other Prometheans, following Skip's Azoth, show up about now and get faced down by mall security and a couple of cops. Feather activates her Vanquish Distillation and knocks one down (which, as he's suffering from Disquiet, gives him Beaten Down), and Grimm scares the others away. The Prometheans sneak out and see that their van is being loaded onto a flatbed. They consider letting it go...but then they realize that all their stuff and their kittens are in that van!

Avalon notes that an agent has put the kittens into a cat carrier. Grimm activates his Zephyrus Alembic, zips over, and grabs it. Feather runs over to the flatbed, pulls the driver out, and starts it up; Matt follows and jumps in the passenger seat, and Grimm jumps on the back. The agents shoot and hit Feather, but they can't touch Grimm. Skip kicks on of the agents' cars and pins three of them up against their other car, and Enoch uses Glimpsing the Crasis to give one of the agents a memory of when he turned from Centimani back to the Pilgrimage. "We just want to be left alone," he tells them (while they're screaming in pain).

Avalon, meanwhile, uses the Eros Alembic to force the last remaining agent to follow her off into the parking lot. Feather takes off, picks up Avalon and the agent, and they head out before the cops arrive.

Pulling in behind a football stadium, they interrogate the agent. He's sympathetic to the Prometheans up to a point, but isn't that sympathetic (Skip nearly killing his compatriots didn't help). Avalon tries to sweet-talk him into spilling his guts about the group hunting them, but isn't quite able to get there and finally just uses her Alembic to force him. This does fulfill a milestone for her (seduce a human being), and she reflects on how easily she can bend his will - much like Ollie, the agent would do anything for her.

He tells them the truth - the government group is called Task Force VALKYRIE. They hunt supernatural dangers. Avalon claims the throng isn't dangerous, but the agent is obviously unconvinced (just look what the Prometheans have done so far). He doesn't know where they're holding Virgil and knows nothing about Lurch. The throng leaves him, and heads to an RV park.

They steal an RV and ditch the van, and Grimm forces an Elpis Vision. In it, he sees himself walking in the city, searching for Virgil, but can't feel his Azoth. He realizes that Prometheans leave other footprints - perhaps a Wasteland. He rounds a corner and finds his throng, and they all salute him (perhaps a clue as to how to fulfill the Soldier Role?).

Next time, perhaps the throng can find Virgil before it's too late?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Movie #445: Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus is somewhat schmaltzy drama starring Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Alicia Witt, and Jay Thomas.

Glenn Holland (Dreyfuss) is a musician who takes a job teaching high school music to support himself and his wife Iris (Headly) while he works on his own original composition. He thinks teaching will afford him "free time" (as the kids say, lol. This is fortunately called out as absurd immediately). He befriends the gym teacher (Thomas) and takes to the nuts and bolts of teaching, but gets frustrated with his students and has to connect with them. He does that, of course, by pointing out how classical music arrangements get used in rock music, and helps a young clarinet player (Witt) play by teaching her to enjoy it.

The movie tracks his life and career from the mid-60s to the mid-90s, whereupon the school district cuts funding for music and the arts entirely (because of course they fucking do), and he retires, but his past and present students surprise him with a performance of his original symphony. His "opus," then, is the education and the passion he gave his students, which is lovely.

So, there are any number of "teacher inspires students" movies out there, and some of them are glurgey as shit, but this one avoids the worst of the treacle and I think the reason for that is perspective. It doesn't present Holland as a teacher swooping in to save one class, it presents him with an arc as a teacher, a husband, a father, and a musician, and it shows us the places where he fails and learns as well. Teaching is presented as hard not because the kids are pains in the ass (though there is that), but because it's hard and he has to learn to do it.

If I have a complaint, it's the subplot with Rowena Morgan (Jean Louisa Kelly). She's a student who captivates him with her singing talent and then asks him to run away with him to New York, and like, if the point of the arc was that she made him nostalgic for his life as a musician before he became a teacher, OK. If the point of the arc is that she's tempting him into an affair, errrgh, less OK. I don't think it read, in the movie, like he was really tempted by her so much as what she represented about what he'd lost (or aged out of it, anyway) in his own life, but then he lies to his wife about who "Rowena" is, and then the whole subplot kinda peters out and we never see Rowena again. Dunno, felt clumsy.

Dreyfuss' performance is great; he's dry, bitter, entitled at points, but willing to learn and embrace love as he gets older and wiser. Headly's performance as his wife is also good, especially as she expresses her anguish over not being able to communicate with her deaf son. Olympia Dukakis is fun as the wise and fair principal, Macy is smarmy and infuriating as her replacement. All in all it's a very solid drama.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Mr. Nice Guy

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Game Prep: All The Things

I have a little time, so I'm gonna try and take some notes for the games I'm running. You've been warned, people.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Movie #444: Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is an action/drama movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (with appearances from Keith David, Vince Vaughn, and Angela Bassett). It's a somewhat perplexing movie to me.

John and Jane Smith (Pitt and Jolie, respectively) are a bored, rich, married couple who, in reality, are both assassins working for competing agencies. They meet while on unrelated assignments in Columbia, fall in love, get married, but conceal their real jobs from each other. Now, several years later, they're bored with their cover lives. And then they botch a job, wind up assigned to kill each other, rekindle their relationship, and kill, just, like, everybody escaping.

This movie was the start of "Brangelina", and it stars two very sexy people. I have never understood, therefore, how it manages to be boring, but there it is. Having now watched it a little more carefully, and with the benefit of some years, I have a couple of thoughts.

First of all, it fails at world-building. John and Jane work for different agencies, but they also seem to be in different movies. John is in Grosse Point Blank; his agency has some tech, but it's more grounded. Jane, meanwhile, is in Charlie's Angels - she has magical neck-breaking skills, she can jump off a skyscraper with only rings connected by a knit purse to rappel with, and her agency is a group of Dangerous Hot Women working for Keith David. The agencies have some cliches attached to them, but there's no real identity. Now, compare that to John Wick, which just knocked world-building out of the park.

And then there's the weird lack of chemistry between the leads. Like, we know they actually have chemistry, so where is it? They nail the "bored with each other" bit, but then comes the scene where they fight, and even that seems kind of phoned-in, and then there's a sex scene that's so badly paced and blocked that I couldn't tell when it was over at first. The framing device of them at a marriage counselor came closer to establishing their relationship, but we never quite crack it.

Pitt, in particular, is really wooden in this movie, and I don't know why, because he's a capable comic actor (and dramatic actor). Jolie does better at conveying what her character is going through subtly, but even she feels kind of stiff. The action scenes are OK, but they're not as balletic as John Wick or as exciting as Grosse Pointe Blank. I dunno, this movie just feels like a near miss to me.

My Grade: D+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next Up: Mr. Holland's Opus

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Promethean: Boom-Shackle

Promethean last night. Whee-buddy.

Last time, five of the Prometheans discovered a government hidey-hole, and then started heading back to the sixth Promethean (Skip). So this time, we start off by catching up with Skip.

Skip and Virgil are in the hotel. Virgil is working on his chronicle, and Skip is applying static electricity to the kittens to make them poof up. Virgil goes out to get ice, and then a moment later, Skip feels his Azoth flare and then dim.

Worried that Virgil's managed to get himself killed again, Skip goes out and sees several people putting a now-bound Virgil into a van...a van Skip recognizes. He starts creeping over toward them, and then they see him, and he recognizes one of them as the woman he saw at the park the other day when he caused an earthquake. He starts calling up Pyros to throw lightning, but one of the other guys shoots him in the chest.

Now, Skip is hella hard to hurt, but he feels that shot. He charges forward and punches the guy, but doesn't manage to drop him. The others load Virgil into the van, jump in, and angle the van around...and Skip can see a huge cannon in the back, pointed right at his head. He runs for it, not sure what that cannon can do and not wanting to see another River of Death. The cannon blows a hole in the hotel and the squad takes off with Virgil, leaving Skip behind to save the kittens.

The others arrive (but don't see the van), and then first responders start showing up. Matt, Avalon, and Feather pack up their gear and get in the van before the police cordon off the area, but Skip, Enoch, and Grimm aren't so lucky. The first three decide they'll pick the stragglers up later and head out to the government installation, while the other three get questioned by the police. Unfortunately, Skip's "Rick Johnson" ID doesn't hold up to scrutiny (he's only got one dot of Alternate ID), and he's arrested. The people who arrest him aren't normal police, though, they're G-men in a black sedan. The things they put on his wrists, too, seem to actively resist being broken.

Meanwhile, though, the others are at the installation. They park down the block, and walk there, which turns out to be good, because another black sedan shows up. One of the people who gets out is the "nurse" they saw at the hospital the other day. The "nurse" and the government spook fellow go into the building, and Avalon activates Soul in the Software to send a "bug" in to listen.

She hears the woman saying that they need an extraction - they were prepared for one of "these things," not seven. Listening to the conversation, Avalon realizes that these folks were hunting Lurch, but haven't had any more luck finding him than the throng has. Now they've got Virgil, which the woman says should be enough, but the man says that they want the other one - Skip. The woman tells him they need more personnel and more gear, and the man says he'll pass it up the chain. Avalon heads back and tells the others, and they decide to follow the government car, but the driver of said car almost immediately notices them and peels out. They head back to the hotel.

There, they pick up Grimm and Enoch, and follow the two black cars leaving (one of which has Skip). Sadly, they pick the wrong one, and just wind up trailing agents to a gas station to get a slushy.

Meanwhile, on the highway, Skip figures he's had about enough. Unable to break the bonds he's held in, he kicks the door right off the hinges and jumps onto the berm. He runs as the car skids to a halt, and the men with the slushies get a call....

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Character Creation: Critical! Go Westerly

Got about a half-hour before we convene to save the future from disease (that is, play Pandemic). So let's make a drunk fantasy character!

The Game: Critical! Go Westerly
The Publisher: Firestorm Ink
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I've played it at cons with +Jonathan once or twice.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, this is a fantasy game that was supposed to have been based on a popular card/board game involving drinking in a tavern...but something went wrong. That's all very unfortunate, but Critical! is a lot of fun, and I say that as someone who doesn't much like fantasy as a genre. I played a dwarf who was far too tall for his people (Urist Axebeard).

In this case, however, I wish to play a tortured vintner. He watched his vines die in a blaze of hellish fire, the grapes sizzling (they did not cry, however, they just let out a little w(h)ine). He has sworn never to rest until every grape is avenged.

This...may take a while, granted.

I shall name my wayward vintner Roger Vintner. (His middle name is basically "the". Look, it's old-timey.)

So we start off with stats: Strength, Smarts, Sneak, and Smile. Minimum is 1, max is 6, and I've got 12 points to divvy up. Well, I already know that Roger is the broody sort, so I'll put his Smile at 2. I'll put Strength at 5, Sneak at 3, and Smart at 2. I think that's 12.

Secondary stats start at fixed values; Damage is 2, Alcohol Content is 0 (for now), Fortitude is 20, and Gold is 10. Easy-peasy.

Skills! I get 6 points, max is 3. Skills can and should have ridiculous titles (in practice they're more like Aspects, actually). I'll give myself Loving, Caring, Cultivation of Plants (a Help Others Skill) at 3. I'll take Vengeful Harvest (Hurt Others) at 2, and then Glower (Help Self) at 1.

Next up, Habits. I have Gotta Get the Gold at 3, and then I get 3 more. I'll take Wine...Wine Never Changes at 3 to reflect my ongoing quest of revenge. I'll take some Comfy Armor (2 gold), a well-made scythe (6 gold), and I'll take a Potion of Chuckles (raises my AC by 1, but gives me +1 Smile for a while).

And that about does it. Roger is lean, tough, grizzled, stubbled, and always looking off to the right. His clothes are stained with red - the blood of his foes, or a nice pinot noir? He gets friendly if he's drinking, which is one reason he doesn't drink much. Sometimes he'll stare off into the middle distance and whisper, sadly, "...concord."

Movie #443: La Femme Nikita

La Femme Nikita is a French action/drama directed by Luc Besson and starring Anne Parillaud, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade, and Jean Reno. It's very French.

Nikita (Parillaud) kills a cop in the middle of a drug-seeking robbery, and is sentenced to life imprisonment, or death by lethal injection (they say one and then do the other). She wakes up in a strange cell confronted by Bob (Karyo), who tells her that she can learn to be an agent for the government, or she can actually die. Nikita, of course, chooses to learn, becomes a capable agent, and then gets sent out into the world. There, she starts a relationship with Marco (Anglade), a cashier, and lives happily ever after until she gets contacted to start shooting people again.

This all ends with a job that goes utterly off the rails and necessitates a "cleaner" (Reno, playing a stupider version of his character Leon), who shows up and shoots people wily-nily. Nikita then flees, leaving both Marco and her life as an assassin behind.

So, I'd seen Point of No Return, the American remake of this movie starring Bridget Fonda, and it's apparently nearly a shot-for-shot remake because I was getting deja vu watching this one. In any case, it's largely Anne Parillaud acting off the rails (she screams a lot). What I think is interesting is that in this movie, Nikita is competent but not brilliant. She learns, but she's not a natural assassin or anything, she gets good through practice and she improvises pretty well, but it looks more like what you'd get if you took someone with a rather traumatized life and taught them to kill, which, like yeah.

The performances are good, but the script is wonky (I'm still a little boggled by Reno's cleaner character, who comes in and just makes things so much worse), the premise is flimsy, and the soundtrack is godawful. I kinda think I like the American version better, except that the boyfriend character (played by Dermot Mulroney in Point) is so much better realized here - he's nonthreatening, nonaggressive, and sweet.

Generally, though, I think it's an interesting character study but it doesn't really require a second viewing.

My Grade: B-
Rewatch Value: Low

Next Up: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, for reals this time

Friday, January 5, 2018

Character Creation: Pasión de las Pasiones

Real quick character before dinner.

The Game: Pasión de las Pasiones (ashcan)
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at Metatopia and I'm pretty familiar with PbtA games in general.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Pasión is a PbtA game emulating telenovelas. I have never watched any of these shows, but I know melodrama and I love games with emotional stakes, and I cannot recommend this game highly enough if you're into those things. If I were playing this game for realsies, obviously there'd be a lot of talk about the tone of the show and where it's set and so forth, but I can keep it pretty generic for purposes of chargen.

First thing, as is typical of PbtA games, is to choose a playbook. When I played this game at Metatopia I played El Caballero, so I think I'd like to do something else this time. The characters are written as gendered (part of this is due to how Spanish works, of course), but there's nothing that says La Doña can't be male, f'rex. Hmm. I think I'll go with El Gemelo (the Twin); I almost chose this one last time.

So, as the name implies, El Gemelo is a twin, and my other sibling could be another PC or a supporting character, were I actually playing. Since that's not an issue, I shall continue. First thing is to choose a name similar to my twin's name. I'll say my character's name is Gilberto, and my brother's is Alberto.

Next question is: Are you taking advantage of your twin's reputation? I'll say sure. Alberto is a big shot, a gambler known to be amazingly lucky and skilled to the point that other folks will fold to his bluff a lot of the time (I may have seen Molly's Game today. Also the last time I played this game there was a lot of casino-related shenanigans).

Next: What are two things people notice about you? I'll say "winning smile" and "gold pinky ring." Alberto and I have matching ones, except his has a diamond and mine has a ruby.

Now I choose up to three props. Ooh. I'll take "your twin's home," "a fancy black car," and "a dashing scarf."

Relationships, I'll skip, because it's just me.

Hmm. "This Time On" sets up a plot point for me ("there is a big event that your twin is supposed to be at. How have you made sure you will also be there and to what purpose?"). I think there's some kind of high rollin', elbow-rubbin', mostly gamblers-and-rich-people kind of event. I'm looking for someone to loan me money, so I just called the place and claimed the dog ate my invite. We've both got invites now, so as long as I avoid Alberto, I should be fine.

Last time: Choose two moves. Ooh. I'll take That Wasn't Me and Twin Tied; basically allowing me to exploit identity confusion a lot (because that's totes how I'd play this character).

And that's it! How easy!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Character Creation: When the Dark is Gone

I picked up Seven Wonders at...GenCon, I think? 2016, I think. It's an anthology of story games, and it was nominated for an Indie Groundbreak Award last year, and I think it won, but the winners aren't posted on the IGDN site (whoops) and, embarrassingly, I don't remember who won. I'm like 90% sure Cat Tobin gave an acceptance speech, though, and she edited and published it.

Anyway, I felt like doing a storygame for my chargen project today, because I'm having trouble focusing on my own work and I tend to find them inspirational. Also they're often easier than D&D clones and other trad games, in the sense that I don't need to do math.

Not "easier" in the sense of "requiring less brain-power", of course, because holy cats. Right out of the gate.

The Game: When the Dark Is Gone
The Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Degree of Familiarity: None. I'm reading it; it's short.
Books Required: Just Seven Wonders

So, this is a game about therapy, not therapy as a game (as the text points out). The idea is that you're playing people who, as children, went to a magical other-world, returned to Earth, and now can't go back. Taking inspiration from C.S. Lewis and The Neverending Story and any number of other books wherein kids save the world by traveling to other dimensions, and asking the same questions as XKCD does here.

And aside: Not all of the games in this anthology present "character creation" in a way that works for this project, but a few of them do and have character sheets. Plus, I have the PDF, because Pelgrane is cool like that. So why does my list say that there's no sheet for any of these games? What the hell, past-Matt?

Anyway. The first thing we'd do if I were actually playing this is to list out banned topics, which I think is a good practice no matter what you're playing. Since it's just me, though, I'm not gonna bother with that.

Next thing: Name, Occupation, Age, and Description. OK, then. We assume this to be modern-day, which means I'm making an adult who went to a magical world as a child. His name is Raymond Ruth. He's (now) 40.

Occupation...hmm. I want to make him something that I could play. I don't think I want him to be a teacher or someone who works with kids; I think he'd find that a little too painful. I'll say he works in banking - he makes good money, no one asks him about his job except other people in the industry.

Description: Ray is skinny (he eats like a bird and he's not prone to putting on weight). He used to be bright blond, now his hair is thinning and grey. He has a light beard that he keeps neatly trimmed. He wears gold-rimmed glasses (bifocals, now). He always wears long-sleeved shirts and usually wears a carpal tunnel glove/brace on his left hand, sometimes both.

OK, the next bit is perhaps the hard part: The psychological disorder. These folks are in therapy for a reason, and the game makes it pretty clear that they're hurting people (self or others) with their behavior. I think for Ray I'm going to say he self-harms. And I'm gonna get personal for a minute, so feel free to skip the next paragraph if you just want to watch me make a character.

I cut myself when I was in high school. My usual method of self-harm is to punch myself in the face, and that persists (though I've got it under control), but there was a time there when I would take a kitchen knife to the back of my hand. I still have the scars, I can see them plain as life and I know exactly what they're from. If anyone in my house noticed, they never said anything, but I was pretty good at keeping it under wraps (as it were). It was a method of...punishment, I guess? Of feeling something sharp and quick and intense rather than the slow rot that my brain gave me? Anyway, that's why I'm going with this for Ray.

OK, back to Ray. Ray cuts himself, usually on the left hand, usually with something slim and sharp. I think the idea is that he remembers how things were in the other-world - they were intense and bright and colorful and sensation was amazing, and here in the real world it's just...not like that. I don't know if that's too much planning for the "why," though.

Anyway, the next sections in the book talk about relationships with the other PCs and why we're in therapy. If we were playing, I'd have specific relationship with two other characters. Since it's just me, I suppose I'll make a couple up. These are folks I knew as kids, but we have more adult relationships now.

First relationship: Joe Bathic. We roomed together in college and we're friends and drinking buddies now. I enable his drinking, because when he's drunk he gets angry and violent and sometimes I can goad him into hitting me. I figure if he hits me he doesn't hit anyone else. Secret: One night he was close to a moment of clarity and asked me to drive him home. I said he was fine and let him drive. We made it home without hurting anyone, but there was some damage to his car; he had no memory of any of it in the morning.

Second relationship: Carly Weiss. Carly came into my bank quite by accident and we remembered each other; she was working on refinancing her house. We wound up going out for drinks; not a date per se (I'm getting the feeling that Ray is largely asexual, though perhaps not aromantic), but just catching up and supporting each other. And Ray panicked and ghosted her and passed her case on to another banker, citing "conflict of interest" because they were friends, and the other guy just fucked it all up. Secret: Ray looked through her phone one night while they were out together, looking for any sign that she remembered what happened to them. He saw text messages talking about how "pathetic" a guy that Carly was seeing was, and he assumes that meant him.

Finally, Ray has a redeeming quality, something that people can recognize as good in him. I'll say that Ray is patient. He doesn't lose his temper, he doesn't fly off the handle, and he doesn't jump to conclusions. That also makes him a good listener, though of course he's abused that trait in the past.

The last thing would be that everyone contributes one memory of the magical world. In Ray's case, I've kinda already said it: Everything was vivid. Colors were brighter, sounds were more harmonious, sensations more intense, flavors more delicious. Everything was more vibrant. To Ray, it's left the real world feeling a little grey.

And that's it, actually. Intense little game, this. I like it.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Character Creation: Dresden Files Accelerated

First character of 2018. Yay!

So, in 2017, I made 39 characters for the project. My goal was 52 (one per week), so I fell a bit short. In particular, of course I went from late October to late November without doing any (some personal issues interfered, plus I went to three cons in as many weeks), and of course during the school year it's easy to go weeks without doing one because I tend to game and sleep on weekends.

I'm gonna set the same goal for myself in 2018: One character a week, for a total of 52. As a point of interest, there are presently 258 games on my list, and that doesn't count games that I've Kickstarted and just not received yet or games that I'll buy in future. If I managed to do 52 games a year, and assuming I only add 20 games per year to the list, I'd be caught up by the end of 2026. For context, I started this project in June 2008, right about the time Cael was born. He'll be 18 when I get caught up, assuming my math is right.

(hahahawheee i really do love this though)

Well, maybe this year I'll try and be better about blocking off time every week to read a game and make a character. What the heck, it's more likely than weight loss.

The Game: Dresden Files Accelerated
The Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
Degree of Familiarity: A decent amount. +Michelle ran a game set in Baltimore wherein I played a kinetomancer, and I ran one set in Lexington. They weren't using this ruleset (except for the very end of Michelle's game), though.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, of course I made a character for the first version of this game some time ago (some time ago. More than seven freaking years ago). Anyway, the essence of the game hasn't changed much, just the mechanics have.

The first thing that I'd do if I had a group would be setting creation, but I haven't got that. There's a handy example right up front, though:


So I'll use that! I love New Orleans, anyway. First thing I do is choose a Mantle. Last character I made was a White Court vampire, and the character I played is a focused practitioner. I don't want to make a wizard, I don't think. Hmm. Suppose I make a changeling? What would it look like to play a Winter Court changeling in a town that doesn't get "winter" the way other places do...especially since the climate is changing now? I like that notion.

OK, to make a changeling, I pick a Pure Mortal mantle and then add changeling on top of it. I have an idea.

Bartholomew Griggs (please just call him "Griggs," not "Bart", for the love of god) is a forensic pathologist. He works in the shittiest hospital in New Orleans, and that means he pulls bullets out of bodies and compares wounds to weapons a lot. I'm taking the Medic mantle and then adding Changeling, too. So I get Medical License as a Condition, and then First Aid and Medical Care as stunts. I can choose one more for free, so I'll take Forensic Pathology.

For Changeling, I get the Called Condition (I can mark it to use Fae stunts, but if I fill it I have to choose to become fae or human, or abstain from magic for a while). I also get one Fae stunt as a core stunt. I'll take Cloak of Shadows - I can see in the dark and, once per session, hide perfectly. Griggs hears "holy shit, Griggs, how long you been standing there?" a lot.

Next up: Aspects! High Concept is easy enough, that's just Shadowy Changeling Coroner. Trouble Aspect is a little tougher, though, and requires that I think about Griggs a little more.

OK, so, Griggs is a doctor, so why is he this kind of doctor? I think he figured out he was a changeling while in his residency "upstairs." He was doing a psych rotation and they brought a guy in raving about "the Cobblers." He saw Griggs, stopped, gibbered, pointed, screamed "You! You're one of them!" and then ripped out his own eyes. Griggs isn't sure why, but in that moment he knew. He was one of the Cobblers, or at least, he half was. He took his next rotation in pathology and found that it fit.

See, death is very much a part of the Winter Court, but it's not about killing, it's about remembering the dead and paying them their tribute. Griggs has always felt that memento mori is important, and now as a pathologist, he helps the dead gain justice, peace, and closure. The trick is, though, that he's not a wizard dealing ghosts or ectoplasm. He's a changeling dealing with death on a much more story-focused level. He closes the books on the story of a person's life, and it's often inconvenient for him if they don't know when to leave. He often concludes autopsies by saying "Thank you for being here," and he considers that the end of it.

So what's his Trouble? His Trouble is that the dead don't always start quiet. I think that'll work as an Aspect, actually: The Dead Don't Know Their Place.

And then a third Aspect. I like the idea that Griggs is spooky, but regarded as wise. I'll take Basement Sage as the Aspect - other doctors come down here to ask him questions, if they can work up the nerve.

Next is Approaches. One Good, two Fair, two Average, one Mediocre, standard FAE allotment. The names are a little different, but they work more or less the same way.

I think Grigg's Good should go in Intellect. I'll put the Fairs in Haste and Focus, the Averages in Force and Guile, and the Mediocre in Flair (Griggs is, obviously, not a flashy guy).

I get 3 refresh, though I can spend some on stunts, if I want. I want to pick up Ghostbane, which lets me interact with ghosts as though they were incorporeal. And, oh heck, there's one under Medic called Psych Rotation, which lets me use my First Aid stunt on emotional or mental conditions. Shit yeah.

And then about does 'er. Griggs would be an interesting character because the thrust of the character's conflict, at least at the beginning, isn't on the Choice, but on some of the kind of knock-on effects of him being a changeling. I think the Choice would come up in play, but in a different way than I've seen it happen in other games.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Turf Expansion

There were blades, it was dark, yurz.

So, last time, the scoundrels got in a spot of bother with the Lampblacks and agreed to kill a couple of Red Sashes in order to clear their debt. Not quite ready to jump into that, though, they looked to expand their turf instead.

They zero in on three options. First, they could procure the services of a high-end fence named Cricket. Cricket normally didn't work with arcane or ghostly smuggling things, though, and that's basically the crew's bread and butter. Sure, they could turn her, but they weren't sure who she was already beholden to, if anyone, and decided just expanding operations was a better idea for now.

And then there's the Island, a gambling den near their lair. It's called that because you access it via a thin gangplank. The crew didn't know if they could continue to turn a profit with it, but the location would be useful for boating purposes.

Finally, a brothel called the Ruby, run by a Tycherosi woman named Jayan. The Ruby catered to a higher-class clientele, folks who were happy to buy and sell while enjoying the services. Useful place to drum up jobs or find fences, but the Wraiths apparently had some influence there.

The crew decides to split up and check these places out. Copper and Cage got to the Island (Copper is thrilled, as she's a gambler at heart; Cage less so). The place is dirty and rough, run by Skovlander refugees, and they're proud of it - they've taken a bunch of NO SKOVS signs from other establishments and nailed them to the walls in defiance. Copper fits in pretty well; she bets on some rat races and chats up Spur, one of the Skovs running the place. Cage plays some Liar's Dice but loses, and in general isn't as happy to be there, but they do learn that the place answers to one Ulf Ironborn, a Skovlander trying to carve out some room in the underworld for himself. He's based in Dunslough, which is a bit of a trek, so maybe they could negotiate a way in, or smoke the Skovs out?

Meanwhile, One-Eye and Siren hit the Ruby. One-Eye talks to Jayan and tries to ferret out some information about the Wraiths, but Jayan is reticent and all One-Eye learns is that Jayan considers the Wraiths "the devil I know." Siren, meanwhile, buys the services of a submissive girl and gets some information out of her. Specifically, the Wraiths don't really run the place or exert much influence. Instead, they sometimes steal from the clients, and sometimes use the place to find buyers for stolen goods. One-Eye, likewise, slips into the lounge and talks with Varuin, a client, relaxing after a session. He tells her more or less the same thing - you have to watch your wallet around here, but it's a nice place and the clientele here is friendly to commerce.

The crew reconvenes and talks about their options. Cage is interested in getting into the Ruby, in no small part because the owner, like him, is Tycherosi. One-Eye worries about trying to muscle in on the Island because she's a Skov (though other Skovs view her as a sell-out), and she knows how pig-headed they can be. That said, they're probably too far away from Ulf Ironborn to be a really firm hold.

The other issue is, the crew's position with the Wraiths is already tenuous. If they hit the Ruby, they risk going to war, and that has the potential to attract more attention and take up more focus than they're ready to commit. So, they could hit the Wraiths directly, weakening their hold, and then take the Ruby. They could try to lure Wraiths away and get them to join up, and work toward assimilating them. The crew decides to do more research.

Cage goes to the Ruby and talks to Jayan, and learns that the Wraiths don't have any real claim on her except that she's afraid they'll hurt her or steal her shit if she stands up to them (Jayan is violence and crime averse in general). One-Eye hangs around the Ruby and watches, and sees that the Wraiths use the back-ways, the staff entrances and hallways, and avoid Jayan's notice. Siren and Cage trail a Wraith back out of the Ruby and find that they have rooftop perches and use lamps to communicate across the city, back to a tower in Silkshore.

The tower, which the crew also investigates, is the remains of an old watchtower (much like theirs). Getting in would be hard; the stairs don't really work and the Wraiths get in by climbing the outside. The crew figures they could unleash some ghosts or otherwise sabotage the place, but that would pretty much ensure war, and all they want is the Ruby.

Instead, they decide on a deception score. They'll release some ghosts in the Ruby, and then show up in their capacity as purveyors and traffickers of spirits to deal with them (you know, putting the Frighteners on people).

So! The score begins with the crew distributed severally around the brothel, and two nasty ghosts tearing the place up and sending the clients out. One-Eye jumps in to help people with medical issues, but the others figure they need to pick their moment. They see a Wraith jump down off a building and start drawing a rune. One-Eye tosses a smoke bomb and Cage tries to mess up the rune, but misses, and the rune works - the ghosts back off. Copper throws her drink at the rune and ruins it, but the Wraith figures out the con and runs, probably intending to get to the lamp and summon help.

Copper hits him with rage essence and drives him into a frenzy. He tackles her, but Siren knocks him out with the butt of her pistol. Figuring that they can deal with him later, the crew now has to deal with the ghosts. Siren shoots one with spectral bullets and dissipates it, and the other one charges at her. Cage shoves it roughly into a spirit bottle, and the folks standing around see that Widdershins handled the ghosts (though not gracefully; there was some bumblefucking due to missed rolls, Cage nearly hit Copper with a lightning hook, that kind of thing).

One-Eye drugs the Wraith and tells him that he got possessed, but that Widdershins helped him, and he agrees. But now the rest of the Wraiths arrive, and it's time to negotiate...which is a skill that this crew is, shall we say, less than stellar at. The crew stays focused - they want the Wraiths to give up the Ruby, not go to war over it, but their best social action is Command, which means they basically have to intimidate them into it. Cage finally manages it, but at the cost of taking Trauma. He becomes Unstable, uncorks one of the spirit bottles, and threatens the Wraiths with rampaging ghosts if they don't just piss off.

The Wraiths decide that this really isn't worth and it leave. Their position with the crew worsens (they're not at war, but it's close).

The ruckus in the street attracts some legal attention, though, and Cage gets arrested. He spends the next month in Ironhook, and comes out of it...changed (poor sucker got another Trauma for his trouble). During that time, Copper finishes training Button, and One-Eye finishes her designs for her alchemical eye (now she just needs to build it).

Next time, they need to look into the Red Sashes a bit more. Cage is ready to stab someone anyway.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Movie #442: The Last Witch Hunter

The Last Witch Hunter is a fantasy/action film starring Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, Rose Marie, and Julie Engelbrecht. It's apparently the adventures of Vin's D&D character put to film, and lordy, it shows.

Kaulder (Diesel) is a witch hunter in old-timey Europe who gets cursed with immortality while slaying the Witch Queen (Engelbrecht). Ignoring the fact that "immortality" is a lousy way to curse someone, he spends the next several centuries working with a faction within the Church, hunting down and killing, then incarcerating witches. He always has a "Dolan," a priest who acts as his chronicler and assistant. When the most recent one (Caine) retires, he meets the new one (Wood), and then Old Dolan seemingly dies, murdered by witches.

Here in the modern era, though, witches and witch-hunters have a truce, so Kaulder is hunting down rogue witches who are trying to bring back the Witch Queen. He meets a young witch named Chloe (Marie) who helps him remember the truth - the Witch Queen's heart still beats, which is what makes him immortal. And then Young Dolan betrays him and a new plague nearly gets unleashed but they kill the Witch Queen, mostly, but keep her heart around so that Kaulder remains immortal because, as Chloe tells him, there are worse things waiting in the shadows than the Witch Queen.

I cannot imagine how you'd begin to enjoy this movie if you were a gamer. Well, I mean, I guess folks liked Constantine and Blade, so maybe they'd dig this, too, though it's not as good as those two. I do enjoy that Kaulder seems to be enjoying his long life and he is obviously hurt by the loss of his family, but he's not a brooding jackass like Blade because of it. Likewise, the banter between Kaulder and Young Dolan and Kaulder and Chloe is fun, though there's not really much chemistry between Diesel and Caine.

It's a fun movie and it'd be interesting as a setting for Dresden or Witch or something, and the witches use a nice variety of magic. And hey, I can't say that if I had Diesel's money and connections, I wouldn't make a movie about one of my characters.

My Grade: C
Rewatch value: Medium, I think

Next up: Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Blades Notes

Oh, right, sometimes I run games, not just make characters.

Tonight is Blades in the Dark, so players should stop reading about....

....

NOW.

Movie #441: The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl With All the Gifts is a recent horror/drama based on a novel by Mike Carey, starring Sennia Nanua, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Gemma Arterton, Fisayo Akinade, and Anthony Welsh. It's a zombie movie, but it goes some places that most zombie movies don't.

The zombies in this story are controlled by a fungal infection, and are referred to as "hungries." They basically stay in one place, gently swaying, until they smell food (and they'll eat basically whatever meat they can catch), and then they run at it full-tilt. In a government facility in England, though, a class of children is being taught (in part) by a woman named Helen Justineau (Arterton). Said class includes a very bright young girl named Melanie (Nanua). All of these children are hungries, but are capable of thought and language. Dr. Caldwell (Close) is working on finding a cure or a vaccine based on their relationship with the fungus.

But then it all goes south; hungries overrun the compound, Melanie escapes with Justineau, Caldwell, a couple of soldiers (Akinade and Welsh), and Sergeant Parks (Considine). They flee toward London, looking for a way to find food and stay off the hungries' radar, until finally they learn the truth - the next stage in the fungus' evolution is airborne spores that will infect anyone who breathes them, effectively ending the human race. Caldwell figures she can still cure it, but Melanie, upon learning that she's really alive and not just mimicking life, sets this event in motion, figuring that it's not fair for humanity to live if it means her people should die out. (Or as she puts it to Parks, "It's not ending. It's just not yours anymore.")

So as zombie movies go, it's both bleak (humanity ends), chilling (Justineau survives, but trapped in a mobile lab to protect her from the spores and giving lessons to zombie children forever), and hopeful (Melanie is right - she absolutely has the right to survive as much as humans do).

Having read the book (which almost never happens), I can say too that it's a pretty faithful adaptation, and while you miss some context for why certain things happen, I don't think anything of crucial importance got cut out. It's creepy, gory in places, and the scenery and production design are beautiful in a Life After People sort of way.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium, I think

Next up: The Last Witchhunter