Saturday, March 31, 2018

Character Creation: D&D 4th

Yep, we're doing this today. 

BUT FIRST: I want you to back this Kickstarter. You back the KS, you get to see me make a D&D character. We're on the honor system, here. 

(Why back the KS? Because Liz' first game, Witch: Fated Souls was pretty damn inspired and I've been really looking forward to her next one. Because this game involves everyone having their own animal companion. Because it's good to support diverse game designers. Because "Angry Hamster" is a fantastic company name. Pick a reason.)

Anyway, on we go. 

The Game: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition
The Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Degree of Familiarity: Almost none with this edition; I played it once not long after it came out and I wasn't impressed, but then I never am with D&D. 
Books Required: I think just the Player's Handbook to make a character. 

So, I bag on D&D a lot, because it's kinda boring, but I actually do like 4th ed more than the others. 4th gets some grief because it's arranged like an MMO or a board game, but like...yeah. That's what D&D is, it's a board game with some light roleplaying thrown in. Sure, I know that you roleplayed the shit out of your D&D game, but roleplaying isn't baked into the rules, it's all about the orcs or whatever, so a game edition that leans into that style of play is, I though, somewhat refreshing. Also my limited experience was that magic-users are actually worth the time it takes to make them in this edition. 

Character creation has nine stages, which the book tells me I can approach in any order. I'm fine with doing them as presented. 

There is literally no setting info in this book. None. Jeez.

Anyway, first up, I choose Race. Just going on the brief little descriptors in the character creation rundown, I like the look of Dragonborn, so I'm gonna go with that. 

Class is next, and I already know I want to make a Warlock. 

Ability scores are next, and y'know, a lot of times I make it hard on myself, but I'm feeling easy today so I'm gonna use the standard array. That means I get 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, and 10 to divvy up. 

Well, I'm told that Constitution is useful for warlocks, so I'll put my 16 there. Having a feeble dragonborn doesn't make any sense, so I'll throw 14 into Strength and 12 into Dexterity. I'll put my 14 into Charisma, my 11 into Wisdom, and that leaves Intelligence as my dump stat at 10 (geez, two kinda slow characters in a row, I'll have to make a genius tomorrow). 

Guess I should add in the racial bonuses and stuff. OK, as a dragonborn, I get a bonus to Strength and Charisma. Groovy. That puts my scores to 15 and 16, respectively. Also means I get a +2 to History and +1 to Intimidate. 

Looking under the Warlock write-up, I get to pick an eldritch pact. I don't really want to be fey or infernal, but star pact sounds pretty cool. That means I get the dire radiance spell, and I get the Fate of the Void pact boon (if a creature dies under my curse, I get a bonus to actions. Brutal). 

OK, I kinda got lost for a minute here. I'm sure it tells me somewhere that I get two at-will powers and one each daily and encounter, but buggered if I can find where it says that. Oh, wait, now I see it, it's in a damn chart. Fucking D&D. Anyway, since I'm here, I'll take Witchfire as my encounter power, and Cure of the Dark Dream as my daily. 

Skills, I guess. I get four trained skills from list. I think I'll take Insight, Intimidate, Arcana (keys off of Intelligence but I feel like I should know something about magic) and Streetwise. And that's apparently it. Holy shit, that's so much simpler than 3rd. Also, I note that with my Charisma bonus, I am intimidating as fuck

Feats! Actually just one, so "foot", I guess. (Tee-hee.) Hmm. Mostly these are about combat (doy), so the Improved Fate of the Void is tempting. But actually, I think I'm gonna go with Skill Training and be trained in Bluff because it's in-concept. 

Next step is equipment...ugh. I do so hate shopping in RPGs. I'm gonna skip it. If I was actually going to play this guy I'd do it.

Fill in numbers. Hang on, I'll do that. Oh, wait, to figure out AC I have to know what type of armor. Let's say leather armor. I'm sure I have 25 gold lying around. 

So, beyond that, just the boring roleplaying stuff. You know, the stuff that good games put front and center (fight me). I need a name, and the book gives me a helpful smattering of dragonborn names, so I pick "Donaar," sounds appropriately fantasy-ish. The book says that dragonborn live about as long as humans, so we'll say Donaar is 23, because I want him to be in a "me" phase. His alignment is "unaligned," and I'll say that Donaar pays lip service to the ancient dragon god of his people, but really...

...really, Donaar is something of a con artist or a budding cult leader (I mean, he doesn't have followers, but still). He managed to half-ass his way through training as a warlock, charming and intimidating and bluffing as need be. He knows some magic, sure, but it's not like that's hard. Donaar is just out for number one.

Except...he is a warlock, and he's got a star pact. He's seen what lies beyond the stars in his dreams. He knows what the gods do when no one's looking, and he knows that the "ancient dragon god" that the dragonborn revere is a hell of a lot hungrier and darker than anyone knows. He's either going to need to buckle down and get serious about this "warlock" thing or take his training elsewhere before he blunders into something he really can't handle. 

Donaar is about 6'3" and 225lbs, about average for a dragonborn. His scales are rust-colored, darkening to a deep, old-blood red around his forearms and legs. His breath weapon is bright, white fire. Donaar looks a lot scarier than he actually is; he's got a cold, black-hole gaze in his eyes and a faraway, uncaring manner when he wants it. 

There ya go! 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Character Creation: TimeZero

How many goddamn blog posts are you gonna make today, Matt!?

AT LEAST ONE MORE.

The Game: TimeZero
The Publisher: GRAmel Games
Degree of Familiarity: None with this game in particular, but it's Savage Worlds, which I know pretty well
Books Required: The TimeZero book and the Savage Worlds core

OK, so! The central idea here is that folks work for the Timeguard, which travels through time to stop other time travelers from fucking up the continuum. This is a pretty...I don't want to say obvious setup, but like, if I said you worked for "Timeguard" and you were familiar with sci-fi at all, that's what you'd assume you did, right? But the setting info is pretty nicely put together, it's detailed enough to feel like you could jump right, and what I think is really cool is that the characters can come from any era. You just have to be not-famous and someone who doesn't have a lot of connections, so that you can just disappear.

With that in mind, I'm asked first to choose a Background. Having just watched the new Jumanji movie again, I'm kinda inspired by Nick Jonas' character, the rascal/pilot sort of fella. I don't necessarily want to make a pilot, but I do like his kinda rogue-like set of expertise (Michelle pointed out that when they're in the tunnels, he's the one telling the others how to avoid traps). The Background that's closest to is "Outlaw," but it's not like Background has a mechanical effect anyway.

Next up is Origin, which also doesn't have a direct mechanical effect, but is important - it's what era I'm from. I kinda want my character to have been supposed to be present (and killed) at some big famous disaster, but not to be famous himself. The Hindenburg is one possibility, but it was coming from Germany...actually, what the heck, I can make this work.

Brutus "Butch" Hagen was a small-time booze-runner and thug in the New York mafia. He made some money during the Prohibition years, but when the 18th Amendment was repealed, he found his prospects drying up (ironically), and his old bosses were largely either dead or in prison. He figured he was next - booze might be legal again but shooting people wasn't - so he figured he'd flee to Germany and live with his cousins there (the fact that he was fleeing to Germany in 1937 is perhaps evidence that Butch is not the most forward-thinking of cats, but never mind). Officially, Butch disappeared on May 6, 1937, but authorities of the time know he had a ticket to take the Hindenburg's return flight to Frankfurt. The thinking is that he either died when the thing crashed (in real life there was only one ground casualty, but hey) or that he fled the country via other means. He was never a big priority, so case closed.

Except that what really happened is that Butch got recruited to be a Timeguard. What the hell, beats shaking people down for protection money.

My race is "human", of course, so I get a free Edge. That's later, though. At present, let's do Attributes. Standard array, d4 in each plus 5 points to divvy up. I'm gonna leave Smarts at d4 (again, Butch is not the smartest of folks). I'll pump Agility, Spirit, and Vigor to d6 and Strength to d8; Butch is a pretty big guy.

Skills, then, I get 15 points. Driving, Fighting, Gambling, Guts, Intimidation, Shooting, Streetwise, Throwing...sounds good. Yeah, I'm gonna break my usual rule and eschew Notice. I'll bump them all to d6 except Gambling (he knows how, he's just not terribly good).

Hindrances, then, because (say with me, y'all!) derived traits go at the end! OK, I'm totally taking the Recruit Hindrance (I'm the new guy and that causes some problems for me). I'm gonna take Greedy (I mean, consider his life). And then I think I'll take Vengeful as a Major Hindrance. Business is business, but you make it personal and Butch is gonna cut you.

Right, then I get one free Edge. None of the Edges in the TimeZero book really make sense, so back to basics. Well, Brawny seems to fit, so there.

Now I get 4 points. This is something of a conundrum; I had planned on raising Agility and then putting up some of my Skills, but see, there's this thing called Hypnotraining - I pick an Edge and two Skills that I can swap out via hypnosis. It does not make sense for Brawny to be a hypnoedge, because like, I don't get smaller if I'm sent to a different time, so I really should blow two points and buy another Edge. Hrm.

OK, well, you know what, I'll take Berserk. Ties in with Vengeful; Butch kinda goes nuts if you hit him. That'll be a good Hypnoedge, too, so I don't have to use it all the time. And then with my other two points, I'll jack Fighting up to d8. I'll tag Fighting and Driving as my Hypnoskills; not every mission requires Butch to punch things, though not knowing how he finds deeply uncomfortable.

Derived traits, then: Charisma 0, Pace 6, Parry 6, Toughness 6. Gear we skip because it's boring, and that's me done!

Movie #450: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a kinda-sorta sequel to 1995's Jumanji, starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Alex Wolff, Ser'Derius Blain, Madison Iseman, and Morgan Turner. It's better than it has any right to be.

In 1996, Alex Vreeke (Mason Guccione) is given the Jumanji board game after his father finds it while jogging. He immediately discards it, so it turns itself into a video game cartridge. Playing it, naturally, sucks in Alex and then...

...cut to 20 years later. Alex has become a local urban legend, but the kids at the local high school have their own issues. Spencer (Wolff) is trying to get back together with his former buddy Fridge (Blain), Fridge is trying to bolster his grade by having Spencer write his papers, Bethany (Iseman) is coping with boyfriend troubles and being a phone-addict butthead, and Martha (Turner) is acting out by not participating in gym class. All four get sent to detention where they find the old video game console, choose characters and get sucked into...Jumanji.

Of course, when they emerge, they've taken the forms of their characters, so nerdy/fearful Spencer is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), nerdy/abrasive Martha is now Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan), athletic/not-terribly-academic Fridge is now "Mouse" Finbar (Hart), and beautifuly/self-absorbed Bethany is now Prof. Sheldon Oberon (Black). The four must complete the game before losing all three of their lives in order to get home.

Which sounds like a pretty standard kids-movie set-up - it's really the same as the original, except that the action takes place in a video game so we don't have to worry about the cops and parents and people on the outside world getting rhino'd, so that's cool. Bobby Cannavale shows up to play Russel Van Pelt, an appropriately gross and menacing villain who's taken control of the beasts of Jumanji. Rhys Darby, who my family knows from Voltron, is the NPC guide that expositions them. All is well.

Except...holy shit, the performances. Jack Black is the absolutely standout, playing Bethany trapped in an unfamiliar body, and I want to note for a moment the absolutely fucking train wreck that setup could have been. Instead, no one ever refers to Bethany as a man. Not once. She says that she's "in the body of an overweight middle-aged man," and she responds with gleeful fascination to having a penis, but never once do any other characters make fun of her situation. Likewise, there's a moment in the movie where she has to give mouth-to-mouth to another (male) character (Nick Jonas playing Jefferson "Seaplane" McDonogh, the avatar that Alex chose when he entered the game). Instead of being played as "ew, gay," which is one hundred percent likely what would have happened if this movie had been made before the year 2000 (being generous), it's a tense moment that allows Bethany to be the hero.

Likewise, Fridge's experience is interesting. He's an athlete who's portrayed as having some trouble in school, but then his character in the game is a zoologist. He's obviously not used to being the guy who knows things, and he comes to embrace that by the end of the movie.

If I'm disappointed in anything, it's Martha. We get a little slice of life for the other three teens, but we don't see Martha until class is already in session, and we never really get a look at what she's about other than "nerd girl." Likewise, her arc never really goes anywhere except inasmuch as she admits to a mutual crush on Spencer, which is nicely handled, but I'd still like to see a little more about who she is when she's not mouthing off to gym teacher.

In general, though, the movie is funny, touching at points, and avoids the lazy, problematic shit that it very much could have done.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Kong: Skull Island

Blades in the Dark: Scoundrels on a Train

I actually ran this game Monday night and I really should do write-ups the next day but Tuesday sucked and then Wednesday was worse, but today I feel a little more like myself again, so I suppose I should do some bloggin' before something else kicks me in the fucking teeth.

(I miss Livejournal.)

Anyway! Last time, the scoundrels learned about a score involving stealing "virgin" spirit bottles from a supply train coming into Gaddoc Station. Figuring this seemed like a pretty sweet gig, they got to work doing some intel.

They figured that the biggest payoff would be to hit the train before it hit the station, but that left them with the choice between trying to get to the train outside the spark-wall (which got a collective "fuuuuuuuuck that", and as an aside, I really like it when the setting is defined enough and the players are thinking enough like their characters that they recognize that something is a bad idea, even if it's profitable) and hitting it once it crosses the wall but before it gets to the station. The latter is objectively safer, but it gives them a very small window of space and time in which to act. Clearly they need an angle.

Delving into the particulars, they learn that it's the Ministry of Preservation and the Rail Jacks they're going to have to deal with. The Ministry is pretty tough and has a fleet of ships meant to guard cargo vessels at its disposal, and the Rail Jacks are armed guards on the train. The fleet, though, won't actually be at the river site where the train goes through; they're stationed at the docks. That means a distraction. The most efficient route to the site is past Ironhook Prison.

The scoundrels figure that their best bet to unloading the train is to stop it, but for that they need a sparkwright. Siren goes down to the docks and hires Bell, a sparkwright who worked on a Leviathan Hunter vessel. Bell is a decent enough chap, very dedicated and principled (not interested in killing folks for a few coin), but, like One-Eye, he's also a big fan of intoxicants. He meets up with the scoundrels to plan, and mentions that if there's a riot or an escape at Ironhook, the waters near the prison are closed to all boat traffic, including the Ministry's vessels. If those vessels had to get to Gaddoc and couldn't go through that section of the river, they'd have to go through the city (which they won't, because that would piss off the Gondoliers) or go around the city (which triples their response time because the waterways are narrower). There's the in.

Copper pays a visit to Ulf Ironbeard and talks him into starting a riot in the prison; he's got some boys still inside (Copper made friends with them when she was in last month). It costs her some Coin up front, but he agrees.

The scoundrels synch up their plan. Bell is going to shut off the power to the train just as the train passes through the spark-wall, and the riot at the prison starts. That should give the crew enough time to get onto the train and get the cargo out and onto their boat. Copper goes with Bell as a bodyguard.

We start out the score in kind of a bad situation, though. Bell and Copper enter the spark tower, but there are four guards right there. Copper, fortunately, is a badass, and can take them down - she drops the mechanical lighting apparatus on their heads and electrocutes them (non-fatally!). Unfortunately, doing so without injury stresses her out, and she takes Trauma. She's out for now.

The power goes out and spark-wall flickers, but remains up. The other three scoundrels hit the now-stationary train, as sirens go up in the distance at Ironhook - Ulf is as good as his word. One-Eye opens the hatch on the train as Rail Jacks jump out to see what's happening. She tosses a smoke bomb to cover Siren and Cage, and drops down...right between two Rail Jacks. She darts them with a sleeping drug and gets to work pouring drift oil around on the cargo crates.

Outside, Rail Jacks are pulled out weapons, but Siren flies down out of the smoke and beats two of them unconscious. Cage tries the same thing, but the Jacks are armored, and engage him, calling for backup. Siren strikes one with knives (non-fatally!) and draws her pistol on the other, ordering them to stand down. The train starts to lurch to life, but One-Eye hits the wheels with binding oil, locking it in place.

Cage jumps back on the train to hook up a pulley system to get the now-floating crates down to the boat. The crew gets to work, but there are boats approaching. They get the crates on and take off down the river, but the Ministry vehicles attack. One-Eye manages to lash down the cargo, and Siren tries to steer the ship but they take some hits. They fall back on alchemy again, tossing out a blackout potion to give them some cover. In flashback, we see that they've arrange with Copper's cousin Georg to store the stuff in his warehouse on the waterfront, so the crew pulls the ship in there.

A Ministry ship approaches and asks to see papers, which of course they have (forged, but hey). The Ministry dude isn't quite buying it, though, and starts to call for help. One-Eye hits him with a trance dart and Siren leads him back to his ship, kinda dazed, and the scoundrels fade away.

The downtime on this one is interesting - they come away with a pretty big score (20 Coin!), but they have a lot of people to pay off. They have to compensate Georg, Ulf, and Bell, and they also give a little Coin to the Gondoliers to try and smooth of their somewhat trouble relationship. They also wind up on the Ministry's shit list, and with some bad rep with the Rail Jacks, but for once they didn't kill anyone, so that helps. The Bluecoats pick up Georg for questioning, but he takes their abuse like a stand-up guy and doesn't roll on the crew, so the crew ends up with enough Coin to pursue their various interests, sock a little away for a rainy day, and outfit their boat as a cohort.

And in the background, the wheels of Doskovol keep turning...

Monday, March 26, 2018

Character Creation: 1001 Nights

I'm on spring break this week. I'm gonna try to do a character every day. If I can manage that, I'll be four weeks ahead of myself (remember I'm trying to do one character a week; right now I'm a couple behind).

As always, I'm happy to take requests. The list is here. For today, though:

The Game: 1001 Nights
The Publisher: Night Sky Games
Degree of Familiarity: None, I just read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

1001 Nights has some similarity to A Tragedy in Five Acts; it's about metanarrative, but also about the story of Scheherazade and the Arab culture in which that story happens. The game encourages tailoring the evening to fit the game and gives a bunch of suggestions about what kinds of food and drink would go with it. The opening to the game also includes this lovely sentiment:


Without meaning to wax poetic, learning about other cultures provides insight into our own, showing us what we take for granted and how it might be different. RPGs can present a way to gain that insight, and I think games like 1001 Nights (or New Fire, or Edhrigor, or even Cartel, if you think about it) can present some of that insight. And we could talk about the dangers of writing about a culture if you're not from that culture, or about the fact that white American dudes like me might find it easier to make up a culture than to cast a critical eye on their own, but we don't need to do that today.

Anywhichway, in making a character here we're making a Courtier, a character who at some point during the evening gets to be the GM (rather, the storyteller) and cast the other Courtiers as characters within a story. I like that idea a whole lot; I actually did something very much like this some years back when I ran a Deadlands Xmas special in which the PCs were listening to a Russian fable and took on roles within it.

Be that as it may, my first job here is to choose a general concept. There's a list, and one of the options is "the Falconer," which I really like, so that's my Courtier. Next up I need a name and a rough age. My falconer's name is Cassim, and he's a young man. I could give him a last name, but I don't think it's necessary. Oh, actually, I'll say he's called Cassim al-Walid (the newcomer) - the old falconer found him during a hunt and took him on as an apprentice.

Now I give my character "flesh," by putting down a sentence for each of five senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch). These don't have to be the senses I engender; "hearing" could be something about how I hear or how I sound, f'rex.

Hearing: My voice cracks if I become angry or embarrassed
Sight: I am often staring at something miles away
Smell: The scent of fresh meat repulses me
Taste: My lips taste of honey
Touch: My fingers are light and deft

Next I'm to consider clothes. I think Cassim wears a red kaftan, though it's now fading a bit (it's old; his mentor gave it to him). He wears a thick leather glove on his right hand when he's training or working with the birds, and he wears a white taqiyah (working around birds, it's good to wear a hat).

Next I'd note down what I Envy about the other Courtiers, but it's just me so I'll skip that. My Ambition can key off an Envy, but it can also key off a sense, so I'll do that. Cassim's Ambition is to become respected, steady, and well-regarded - to speak with authority (that is, his voice doesn't crack anymore).

And for purposes of chargen, that seems to be it!


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Character Creation: Cartel (Ashcan)

I'm cooking oxtails tonight, which is groovy, but they take a while and I got a late start, so I'ma make a quick character while they get tender.

The Game: Cartel (Ashcan version)
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: I played it this past weekend at Breakout, and I'm pretty familiar with the PbtA system in general.
Books Required: Just the one.

Cartel, now Kickstarting and crushing it, as the kids say, is a Powered by the Apocalypse game of "Mexican Narcofiction."

This is a somewhat controversial decision - the author, Mark Diaz Truman, is of Mexican-American descent, but he's caught some flak for making this explicitly Mexican RPG about the drug cartels. And, like, fair enough - that's a controversial decision. Likewise, playing this game with a table full of white dudes (or at least, non-Mexican folks, which is what happened when I played at Breakout - several POC but no Hispanic or Latin folks, to my knowledge) runs afoul of questions of appropriately and sensitively portraying someone not of your own race. Put a different way, I have been playing horror games set in urban environments for a long, long time, and I've seen way too many folks put on a Speedy Gonzalez accent to play a Mexican "gangster" when they wouldn't ever dare try and speak AAVE to portray a black one. Also, there comes a question of glorification - when is it appropriate, if ever, to take a real situation in which people are suffering and dying and make entertainment of it?

I do not have answers to these questions. I am white as fuck, anyway, so I'm really not the one to be answering them anyway. I do have some experience with putting out difficult subject matter and saying "here, roleplay this," but who knows how successful that's been (and it's about very different topics anyway).

But my general opinion is that games like this have a place, and PbtA is a good place for them, because those games are explicitly about a conversation. This subject matter is hard, yes, but that's not a reason to avoid it. It just means that safety mechanics, and focusing in on what the game is really about (to wit: it's violent, but it's not about violence in the way that, say, D&D is) are important.

With all of that in mind, I should make a fucking character and stop jabbering. I downloaded the Quickstart to get the awesome artwork on the playbooks, and now I gotta pick one.

Hmm. I played El Cocinero at Breakout, and that was OK (really, there were some issues with that game, but I think it was mostly down to the environment and the nature of one-shots and players who aren't familiar with PbtA). I think this time I would like El Halcón.

El halcón (the hawk) is the errand runner and guy who does stuff out on the street. I think I want to play a character not unlike Henry Hill at the beginning of Goodfellas (I know, wrong organized crime group, but bear with me) - he fell into service at a young age and he's really not old enough to understand the weight of his actions. I'm gonna name him Toño.

For his look, I pick tired eyes and street clothes. He's got a destitute lifestyle (for now!).

For stats, I'll add my extra one to Hustle. That puts me over to llaves (keys). I'll take Ambition (I mark XP when I get someone to give me a job that was supposed to go to someone else) and Naiveté (I mark XP when I enter a dangerous situation unprepared).

I can't really do los enlaces because that would require a group, so I'll skip it.

Moves: I get Hermano (I lead my little gang) and then two more. I'll take Vendedor (I can mark stress to make someone pick a different option in making a deal if they pick one I don't like) and Matador (I can fill my stress track to kill a motherfucker). Clever readers will notice this gives me multiple ways to fill my stress track, which will reward the kind of roleplaying I enjoy (better to burn out than fade away!).

Tu Pandilla: I have three loyal buddies that came up with me on the streets. They're named Azul, Nacho, and Lola. Of those three: Nacho is always ready to cheer me up when shit goes down, Azul is a dick but I don't seem to be able to get rid of him, and Lola is always ready to kick ass when need be.

I get two features for mi pandilla. Oh, this is easy. We're down to fight and we're down to party. I can roll on Hustle to get lost in a substance or to rough someone up if we all do it together. Shit, yeah.

But then I get two vulnerabilities. Well, addiction, obviously. And then I think I'll take turf war. That sounds like it falls in line with Toño's general vibe.

OK, then. Toño is tall, slim, and dirty, but he hates being dirty. It's just that water is expensive and he had a lot of brothers and sisters, and he never got to wash up as much as he wanted. As soon as he makes it, man, he's getting a house in that new section of town they're building, and he's getting one big-ass shower put in.

And that'll do it!



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Promethean: Day Two in the Parp

It's "parp" now. It'll always be parp.

Last time, the throng got stuck at the parp while Enoch worked on the RV's engine. The rest of the throng collectively discovered that something that local spirits called the "All-Bane" had followed them there, and so they were understandably concerned about that bit. They went to Enoch to include him in the conversation (now that his player was back), and Grimm took him to see the weird-ass tree with the swiped-off Pilgrim Mark. Enoch studied and noted that it contained Flux and Pyros in almost equal measure, but zeroing in on either was impossible - the signature seemed to shift. It wasn't the work of a Centimanus (which Enoch would have recognized). Maybe a mage?

The Prometheans regrouped and talked a bit about it, and about their next moves. They made the connected between the mysterious "All-Bane" and Rock, the weird not-human guy that Enoch had spoken to some time back in the hotel. Matt figured that the guy he'd seen running through the woods might be Rock, but he hadn't gotten a good look.

They realized that Virgil was not among them, but they could feel him - he was just a little ways off. Matt followed him into the woods and found Virgil standing by a creek staring into the water, but there was a second set of footprints next to him. Matt asked about it, but Virgil was standoffish and reticent, and said he needed to be alone for a bit. Matt accepted this, but then dampened his Azoth and followed at a distance. He saw Virgil talking to a man sitting on a fallen tree, and the man encouraged Virgil to leave the throng behind. "They're much farther ahead than you," said the man. When they were done talking, the man collapsed in on himself and vanished.

Matt talked to Virgil, and Virgil told him that he needed to split from the throng for a while. Matt told him he was always welcome back and to send up a flare if he needed them, and Virgil walked off. The others had felt Matt's fire dampen, and since there's a bad history with that, everyone except Avalon went off to find him. They found him, and Matt told them what had happened, but it didn't go well - Matt didn't mention the strange man he'd seen talking to Virgil and the others assumed that Matt had told Virgil that it was OK to leave, and while they understood the impetus to be alone, they were upset that Virgil hadn't said goodbye. Some harsh words were exchanged, Enoch socked Matt in the head so Avalon wouldn't have to, and the throng split up.

In the meanwhile, though, Avalon had been hanging around outside the RV. A young man walked up and asked to play with her cats, and then when he touched one, its fur poofed up - much like when Skip does it. Avalon talked to him, and he dropped some fairly cryptic hints, making her figure him to be a qashmal. He said he didn't have a name and wasn't likely to need one; he would be recycled when he was done with this little mission. She said it was important to have a name - maybe he'd remember it. He told her that she wasn't Deviant-ing very well, and she said she knew, but she was having a hard time figuring it out. He said that the laws of humans weren't really something she had a lot of familiarity or connection to, but Prometheans had their own "laws" (norms, really) and maybe transgressing against those was better? She'd been told to avoid Ollie, for instance, after that whole debacle. Avalon agreed and thanked him, calling him "Milo." Milo collapsed in upon himself and vanished, and Avalon called Ollie (she got his voicemail and left a message).

Feather got back to the RV and talked to Avalon, and told her what had happened with Virgil. They tearfully talked about their experiences with throng members leaving and coming back - Feather said she hadn't been sad about Skip flying off the mountain or the throng splitting for a time or Grimm going off alone or even her time by herself, but she was sad for Virgil because she didn't really believe he wanted to be alone. In the midst of this conversation, they felt Virgil break the throng-bond.

Skip, meantime, went over to the playground to give Avalon and Feather some space (he's not great with people or emotions) and wound up talking to a little boy with a video game...who almost immediately implied himself to be a qashmal. He asked Skip what he was going now, where he was going on his Pilgrimage next, and Skip said he was going to go out among people and try Aurum. The qashmal said that he was apparently ahead of the curve, then, and collapsed in upon himself and vanished.

Matt went walking angrily in the woods. He found a set of footprints - big ones, boots - and followed them kind of half-heartedly. He found someone (far too small to be the one leaving the prints) waiting for him, carving an angel into a tree. He watched for a minute, and then laughed, saying that this was perhaps a bit on the nose, and the man spoke to him ("Finally!"). The man had cat's eyes, and Matt guessed he was the cat from before, which the man confirmed - it became clear that the man (or qashmal?) couldn't offer information so much as confirm it. They talked and the man confirmed that the thing that had been talking to Virgil was the "All-Bane," not a qashmal - he had been the qashmal but had been disrupted, and now was in this form and limited in what he could do. He led Matt through some questions and conclusions, notably that he was different in some way than the others, and that difference might hold the key to figuring out how to beat the All-Bane. At one point he offered information and his hand burst into flame as he wept - offering information directly cost him. He reminded Matt that he hadn't told Virgil to leave - that had been the All-Bane. When they were finished talked, the qashmal burned, collapsing forward and burning to ash.

Matt walked on, following the footprints, and found a makeshift hut. Inside, he found Lurch (his Azoth also dampened). They talked momentarily, and Lurch told him that he'd followed the Refinement of Phosphorus after finding an Athanor teaching it, but had failed to understand it and was losing hope. Matt realized that although he'd looked up to Lurch - regarded him as a creator and kind of parent - Lurch was hurting, confused, and lost, and Matt was in a much better place. In that he found his projectio milestone (Confront Lurch), and brought him back to meet the throng.

Feather, meantime, we in the RV, feeding the cats, and found herself talking to a man in a yarmulke who called himself Isaac. Feather expressed distrust - she used Heed the Call to take his Measure and found that instead of a Pilgrimage, he had the opposite of that, just a cold, dark pit instead of any relation to humanity. Isaac asked if he gave her some help achieving a milestone if that would help her trust him, and she agreed (it was more than most qashmallim did). He told her to think about her experiences with faith and community and apply them.

The Prometheans regrouped, and decided to find Virgil and make sure he wanted to be alone. Grimm tracked him through the woods, and they found him in the cardboard recycling dumpster outside a local Popeye's. He agreed that he didn't really want to be apart, but the man - the All-Bane - had convinced him. The throng took him back, and they bought a bunch of food and beer and went back to the RV. Feather gave a toast and said a prayer (achieving a milestone: lead a prayer...so Isaac's advice kinda panned out), and the throng ate, reunited. They offered Lurch to join, but he said he had some things to figure out. He wanted to talk to Grimm, for one, since Grimm had achieved a Role on Phosphorum.

More to come!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Blades in tha DAARRRRRKKKK

Look, I've had a shit week, I'm tired because I'm not sleeping well, I'm feeling better today so my brain is overcompensating and that means you get some silly shit sometimes. DARRRRRKKK.

Anydangway. Last time, the scoundrels robbed a church (or rather, the catacombs beneath said church). This time, they get the payout and deal with the fallout.

(We just did the downtime, because I was depressed and exhausted and one of the other players we sick, so it was a short session. I swear Blades is the new Wraith: Fun, innovative, but fucking cursed.)

The scoundrels head to Charterhall, except for Copper, who is in custody. They meet with Penderyn, who gives them a bunch of silver for their trouble, after exacting a promise from Cage never to break into his office again. They then head back to the lair to divvy up the loot and rest. Except, again, for Copper - the crew's Heat level has gotten a little too high again, so Copper does a month or so in Ironhook to cool things off. She gets off a lot better than Cage did; she makes friends with some of Ulf Ironbeard's crew inside and gets a claim (bribed guards).

The others go about their usual downtime things - training, indulging their vices, and suchlike. Cage works on finding Gargoyle, but isn't quite there yet. Once Copper gets out, they start talking about their next move, and they decide that this whole "Siren has a spirit-well in her head" is an issue. They head to the Veil and talk to Nyelle, their spirit trafficker contact.

After doing some shots of a lovely red liquid that makes them see pretty colors (remember this is One-Eye's hangout/drug den), Nyelle listens to the story and opines that having Kotar in one's head is potentially a problem - the legends about Kotar are inconsistent but they all agree that he's powerful. Siren mentions that she knows that spirit wells absorb spiritual energy and sometimes explode, disgorging demons, and that's not something she wants happening to her head. The crew decides they need to get an expert to look into this, but not someone motivated by faith (like the Circle of Flame, which is almost certainly already aware). Nyelle mentions the Dimmer Sisters, and says she can probably set up a meeting with Roslyn, their rep.

In the meanwhile, though, Copper mentions that she'd like to take a smuggling job - just to get back to what the crew is good at. Nyelle mentions that there's a shipment of Iruvian glass bottle coming into Gaddoc Station. These are effectively "virgin" spirit bottles; spirit bottles wear out after a while if they're used too much, and these are new ones. But the problems on the Void Sea are making imports in general, and that makes these bottles extra valuable. Nyelle points out where the shipment is coming in, and mentions that if the crew were to jack it before it reaches the station and gets split up, that's a bigger payout, but will be much harder. Wait until it's split up and jack a shipment on the canals, that's an easier (but smaller score).

The crew starts running it down, and we'll see what happens next time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Chill: Beware the Car

Sunday I ran the first session in a new case of my Idaho-based Chill game.

First thing: three of the players made new characters. Two of the players had already done this, both to have a more robust selection of characters and to give folks some backups in case something awful happens to one of the existing ones (which happens, y'know, it's Chill). So we wound up with:


  • Blake Wheeler, the animal control office from Couer d'Alene. that had his first rather graphic encounter with the Unknown here. He has now joined SAVE because Nothing is scary if you know what it is.
  • Annie Crawford: Annie showed up in the last case. She's Dee's lawyer, and has, in her capacity as a lawyer to a SAVE office, wound up seeing some Unknown activity. She joined SAVE because I'm not my father's daughter.
  • Luther Bryson is a former cop, current PI, and a friend of Edward's now-deceased son. He joined SAVE to Protect the innocent
So, on this particular day, Dee gets a call from Rosalita Clemmons, the cardiac nurse at St. Paul Hospital, saying a body was just brought into the morgue that seemed strange. The envoys can check it out, but they're on the clock. Dee calls up Luther (a former cop, remember), Blake, Willa (in case there's ghosts) and Jeanie (since the body was discovered in a rural area) and they head to the hospital. 

Blake, Willa, and Luther check the body while Dee stands guard, and discover that the man (Doug Fuller) was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. That's not the interesting bit, though. The interesting bit is that he's got hundreds of tiny wounds to his face and hands - he was pecked by a flock of good-sized birds. Blake notes that this is not normal animal behavior, and also that the man was alive when they started pecking him - crows are scavengers and they'll cheerfully eat a person's eats, but not while they're alive. Dee senses the Unknown and confirms it - this guy wasn't killed in a normal accident. 

The envoys head out to where his body was found, passing a logging operation. They find the site and investigate, realizing that Fuller rolled down a hill into a ditch by the side of the road. There's a gravel driveway leading up the hill, and the mailbox has been knocked down. It's got blood on it, but it's not the murder weapon - the wood has softened, indicating that it was knocked down some time ago. Dee and Jeanie, being local, recall that this property belongs to the Loomis family. Mrs. Loomis died of cancer some time back, but neither of them can recall hearing from Mr. Loomis recently. 

Doing a bit of mental math, the envoys realize that the Loomis land borders the logging operation on the east side. Figuring that Fuller might have something to offer, Willa has the others lock her in a big dog cage in Blake's truck and uses Voice of the Dead to summon him (she is now Master level at this discipline, meaning she witnesses the conversation). 

Fuller speaks through her, initially terrified of the birds. He tells them that he got lost - he was at the logging site getting a job, was walking back to his car, and went left instead of right. The envoys note this, and then ask what he remembers. He doesn't remember much (he's barely a ghost), but Willa notes that he saw a NO TRESPASSING sign, overgrown with weeds. They ask if he has any unfinished business - any pets to feed? "No," says Fuller. "My wife took the cat." 

Luther, Willa, and Jeanie head back over to the logging operation, while Dee and Blake stay put with Blake's truck. They find a fellow outside the managerial trailer with his arm in a sling, who directs them to the foreman (who's out on site). The foreman is willing to talk to them about Fuller, but doesn't know much - he hired Fuller the other day, Fuller had some experience doing work kinda like this before, seemed a decent enough guy, that's it. The envoys also ask about Loomis, the guy who lives on the property bordering the site. The foreman says that he knows of the guy - he used to come out to the fence surrounding his property and watch the loggers at work. No one ever really had any problem with that. 

The envoys also talk to the guy with his arm in a sling, who is able to recount that some months back, the foreman fired like five guys at once. He's not sure why; he wasn't working that day. 

Meanwhile, Dee and Blake start trudging up the hill. They see a house, and a garage, and in the lawn area in front of the house, a big tree with a tire swing and a firepit. They walk over to the garage and peek in - pickup truck, workbench, bookshelf, but it's too dark to really see anything. No lights on in either the garage or the house.

The others drive Jeanie's jeep up the driveway to meet them. Jeanie gets out and goes to talk to them as they cross in front of the jeep to walk to the house...and the jeep springs to life and lurches forward. Jeanie rolls, but gets clipped on the arm. Blake gets splayed across the hood and feels ribs break, and poor Dee gets nailed right on the hip (but twists to protect Sweet Baby Jesus, riding in her purse). Willa, sitting in back, tries to grab for the wheel but misses and face-plants onto the gearshift, knocking her head pretty good.

The envoys get out of the car and pick themselves up. The sun is setting, and a flock of crows is perched on the house, looking down on them. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Character Creation: Glimpse the Beyond

It's Saturday night and I'm ready to par-tay! And by "par-tay" I mean "make a character."

The Game: Glimpse the Beyond
The Publisher: Aegis Studios
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

I think I got this in a bundle, because I only have it in PDF. I also think there's a second edition now available, but that's not the one I have.

Anyway, Glimpse the Beyond is a game in which the world seems the same as ours, but there's magic(k) in it. I would be tempted to say that setup is cliche as hell, but really, I still find it compelling and I'm hardly the only one; there are dozens if not hundreds of games that have the same basic idea (including Chill, if you squint).

I am, however, not crazy about the artwork in this game.
An example.
But I'm not here to judge, I'm just here to make a character.

Character creation is basic point allocation; you get X points to divvy up into various areas, and then 10 "General Points" that can be spent anywhere but aren't necessarily one-for-one. Simple enough. Let's skip ahead and look at some of the world-building stuff so I have more of sense of the game than "like real, but magick."

(Ugh, the art does not improve. There's a sexy nurse.)

We've got list of madnesses, that's pretty 90s.

The magick system seems to indicate that when you do magick, you're building the spell and giving it flavor based on your Affinity, which is pretty cool. Magick is, by default, ritual, though you can fast-cast. And then there's another scantily clad fantasy Everquest cosplayer art piece (thought this was a modern-day game, so why are the women dressed like that? The occasional menfolk in the art aren't, BTW).

OK, then a chapter on supernatural creatures...and the book ends. That's it. Where's the setting? OK, so this is just Witchcraft or Mage with some questionable art? Righty-ho-ho.

Well, in some ways that makes me life easier. Let's just think about concept, then.

I've been listening to a lot of murderfolk lately - Amigo the Devil, Dead South, and suchlike. I think I shall use the following as a character song:


The lyrics are about love, violence, and death. The video does this neat thing where the setting jumps but the performers keep doing what they're doing, which seems pretty magic(k)al. Hmm.

The book says that I can learn magick however; study, freak occurrence, whatever. So we'll say that Miguel Baez learned magick through time loop. His future self came back and started him learning magick, and his present-self has learned that sometimes future-Miguel just pops out of nowhere and says "eh, Miguel, you need to study up on banishing spells" and present-Miguel has learned that shit, he'd better, because he's gonna need to banish something.

I like the idea that Miguel isn't supernaturally or magickally inclined (at least, he didn't think so), but he's got a job that makes him meticulous and detail-oriented. Not sure what yet.

I get 15 points for Statistics, and I've got six of them. Stats indicate how many d6s I'd roll, then I take the highest die and add the Skill I'm using. That makes sense, I think. Well, I picture Miguel as being sharp, quick, and a smooth talker, so I want a high Intellect, Charisma, and Grace. I'll put 3 in each of the those, and 2 in the other 3 (but I'm probably gonna raise some of these with general points, I think).

18 points in Skills; now I gotta think about what Miguel does. Let's say he's an electrician. Not an engineer or anything fancy like that, he's the guy you'd call when you've got a short and you need your box rewired (I, myself, have zero knowledge of electronics, so there'd be some hand-waving here). I'll arrange my Skills thusly:

Athletics 2
Close Combat 2
Computer 2
Drive 1
Electronics 4
Linguistics 2 (side note: I hate it when games make me spend points on languages)
Occult 3
Perception 2

That's 18, so I'm definitely gonna need some more points here.

And now I get 12 points for Resilience...things. Wounds, Critical Wounds, Sanity, Critical Sanity, and Resolve. These start equal to various values, but then I get points for them, but I can increase the values of the things they're based on with General Points, and I can increase these with General Points. This is kinda bad design, I think; rather, it's not bad, but it does require me to keep some plates spinning while I make a character.

Well, my basics are thus: Wounds starts at 2, Critical Wounds at 1, Sanity at 2, Critical Sanity at 1, and Resolve at 2. I get 12 points, and Wounds and Sanity cost 2 while the others cost 1. Or, wait. Check this out. We get this:
And then two pages later we get this:

That's like...those are opposites, right? Well, I'm gonna go with the first one. That means I'll put four each into Wounds and Sanity (raising them both by 2, taking them to 4, and therefore taking their Critical versions to 2), and putting two into Resolve (to 4) and one each into Critical Sanity and Wounds (to 3). Jesus.

OK, now we're over to General Points! (I gotta say, I'm not crazy about this game generally but at least this process is quick.) In addition to boosting the already-described traits, I can buy Merits Edges Advantages Boons with General Points, or take Drawbacks Disadvantages Hindrances Flaws to get some back. I think I shall.

Well, the pickings are pretty slim, but I'll take one level of Unlucky for 2 points, and I think I'll take a "Madness." I could get into why I don't think it's appropriate to list real mental illnesses and psychological disorders and then say "this happened because magic," but eh. I'm gonna take Insomnia as my "Madness", because I figure it'll be easy enough to play, and then hey, maybe Miguel can meet my character from Don't Rest Your Head.

So that gives me 15 General Points. Everything costs one-for-one, except Stats are 2-for-1. I want to look and see if any Boons jump out at me first.

OK, I'm gonna spend 4 points and buy Ally to represent my future self. Sounds good. Then I shall spend four points to raise Spirit to 3 and Will to 3 (which, in turns, ups my Sanity and Resolve by one, to 5). I have 7 points left. I'll buy Persuasion 2, Ritual Magick 2, and Stealth 1.

So, the only blank on my sheet is Affinity, which...seems pretty important. Let's see what I can find.

OK, it's not mentioned until the magick section, and it's basically just you pick whatever you want and if you can include it when you cast a spell, the GM can lower your difficulty. Well, that's nicely uncomplicated. Miguel's Affinity is Time.

Otherwise, let's just describe him a bit? Miguel is Mexican-American (first generation). He's a little on the heavy side, but he's in shape; he plays softball in the season. He's got black hair, brown eyes, and sleeve tattoos on both arms, but nothing above the collarbone (he promised his mom). Miguel has worked hard to lose his accent in English, or at least be able to - white people treat him differently if he talks like them. He's articulate and clever in both languages. He wears glasses to read, but hates them; he looks like his uncle Ricky when he wears them and Ricky is persona non grata in the family these days. Miguel has no idea how future-Miguel (who looks about 50, maybe?) got into magic or where the loop started, but he figures he'll find out.

And that's done! I have to say, I'm not terribly impressed with the game but I do like this character.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Promethean: A Day at the Parp

I'm a fan of Allie Brosh and Hyperbole & a Half in general, but this is one of my favorite of her stories because it highlights something I say to/about parents a lot: listen to your kids. Know what you agreed to. Do not agree to something because it'll shut the kid up in the moment, because kids will remember that shit. Best case scenario, you have to deal with a disappointed kid, but if you say "we're not doing thing" rather than "we'll do thing if you can do other thing," the kid will make every attempt to do other thing if first thing is important.

(That sentence was fucking salad, but what do you want from me, I'm not a professional writer.)

Anyway! This is obliquely related to gaming because it dovetails nicely with my GMing philosophy of never asking for a roll if I'm not prepared for the result. And we gamed on Monday, and the game was set at a park, which is spelled "parp" at that strip I linked OMG FULL CIRCLE.

Last session, the characters rescued Virgil from TFV, stole an RV, and headed to a park that Virgil had overheard had some Lurch sightings. Please note that I had completely forgotten those last two things happened, so they weren't in the write-up, so I didn't plan based on them. But that's fine.

So, we're at the park. Avalon takes the kittens and goes to sit under a tree. Feather starts looking around for signs of Prometheans. Grimm, a tracker, looks for signs of a campsite, and Matt goes looking for Pilgrim Marks and the like. Enoch and Virgil start working on the RV's engine, which seems to have something wrong with it (Enoch's player was out, so he get sidelined).

Skip stays in the RV, not wanting anyone to recognize him. He's dropped back to Ferrum so that he can create an Athanor. He carves scars onto his body and focuses his knowledge of excellence and endurance, and makes a Refinement Furnace - he can access the Transmutations of Corporeum and Vitality without fixing them. This in turns gives him some Vitriol back, which he uses to boost his Azoth (side note, Refinement Furnace seems really broken, but that's only because it is).

Meanwhile, in the woods, Matt finds a cat! The cat has sparkly Azoth-y eyes, so Matt figures it might be leading him somewhere, but as he follows it, it vanishes mid-leap. This correlates with a pop from the RV as Skip's Azoth increases, so Matt and Grimm keep looking. Grimm finds something weird - a section of a tree where the wood has been swiped like it was wet cement. He checks it with Vitreous Humour and confirms that there was a pilgrim mark (for "leave me alone") in there, but Matt notes that Alchemicus Transmutations don't work on living matter so what the hell.

Matt sees someone in the woods and follows, and Grimm follows him. Matt sees that guy is slim with black hair, but that's as much detail as he notes. Grimm looks at spirit-stuff and notes that spirits seem to be leaving the area, not fleeing exactly, but just shunning something. They need Skip for this shit.

Out in the main areas of the park, Feather tries to suss out where Lurch might be, but can't figure it. Avalon has been joined by a couple of little girls who saw the kittens, and then the girls' mother. Avalon and the mom chat a little, and Avalon realizes that this is a perfect nice and normal conversation to be having...which is totally not in line with her current Refinement. She tries to flirt a little, but before she can really get into it, Matt and Grimm appear from the tress and kinda interrupt things.

This does seem to throw the groove off. In fact, she notes that the woman seems to jump a stage in Disquiet immediately, and she packs up her girls and heads off. Avalon is confused - it shouldn't happen that fast. Avalon heads to the playground to flirt with some hot dads, just to check and see if she still can without Disquiet flaring. Meanwhile, Matt, Grimm, and Skip head back toward the woods. Skip turns on Ephemeral Flesh and talks to a deer-spirit, which acts skittish (it is a deer-spirit), but refers to something called an "All-Bane." This worries Skip; all spirits have Banes, but this thing is repelling everything. Worse, the deer-spirit says that Skip (rather, the throng collectively) brought it.

Avalon talks to some folks at the playground and gets some fairly normal responses, so it's not like she's just engendering Disquiet like crazy. The Prometheans fall back to the RV and talk a bit. They speculate that maybe TFV might have done something or put something in Virgil that's screwing with things. Someone brings up the weird person(?) that Enoch was talking to, Rock, and asks if that's who Matt saw. Matt confirms that it looked like it could have been him.

Skip goes to where people are working out and stretching and talks to a competition-spirit (conceptual spirits tend to be smarter). It confirms that the All-Bane came with the Prometheans and it's centered on the RV. Matt uses his Bestowment to grant Feather a vision, and Feather sees herself tossing a coin into a well. The coin bounces and echoes, but then the echoes get louder and a skeletal hand appears in the well. A man (well, a skeleton) crawls out, grows flesh and blood, and turns into Rock, and sits there smiling. Feather thinks about how she'll know when she's completed her current Role (Pilgrim), and realizes she'll know when she sees the end of the Pilgrimage. That seems a bit of a tautology to her, so this is probably worthy of further consideration.

Next time, when we have everybody.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Character Creation: Angel

HERE WE GO GATHERING NUTS IN MAY.

I don't know. I'm very tired and a little punchy.

The Game: Angel
The Publisher: Eden Studios 
Degree of Familiarity: I don't think I've ever played Angel specifically, but I've played Buffy and All Flesh Must Be Eaten and so on.
Books Required: Just the one.

Now, while I'm more or less familiar with the premise of the show, I've never actually watched Angel. At the end of the day, though, it's a procedural/supernatural drama, and I can get behind that. I was reading through the book the other day and there are creatures called revenants that are basically ghosts of murder victims that possess corpses. If they die, they possess the nearest body of someone who died by violence. As such, the person they really are isn't the person whose body they're in. I have a kind of concept already.

Marvin S. Draper was a fairly popular and well-regarded actor for a few years in the 90s. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for a film set in WWI called The Trench (very low budget, minimal sets, he played a young soldier from Idaho how breaks down before going over the top and gets shot by his CO). A year later, one project he was attached to fell through and another one was delayed, so he took a job on a TV shoot to fill the time and pay the bills. Walking back to his car after the shoot was finished, Marvin got grabbed by a vampire, drained dry, and thrown into traffic (the vampire may have thought he was covering his tracks?).

The weird circumstances of the death of Marvin S. Draper occupied the media's attention for nearly a full day, but if they only knew what happened next! Draper woke up in the body of Kim Veidt, a young woman shoved out a window by a demon. Draper wants to hunt down the vampire that killed him and the demon that killed her, but what he doesn't yet realized is that they two events are connected (I'd let me hypothetical GM play with that).

Sounds good! Over to the stat-bits. "Revenant" is a 17-point Quality, but I still have to pick my character type. I think he works best as a Champion. That gives me 20 points for Attributes, 20 for Qualities, a max of 10 in Drawbacks, 30 Skill points, and 10 Drama points.

Attributes first. I get a +2 bonus in Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution and a +3 to Willpower (these are all perks of being undead). I get 20 points here, meaning I could put all my Attributes at 3 and still have two left over. I think I shall put everything at 3 except Intelligence (2), and then put the extra points into my physicals, so that means Strength, Dex, Constitution, and Willpower are all 6, Perception is 3, and Intelligence is 2.

Qualities are supposed to be next. My Revenant Quality includes Regeneration (1) and Unique Kill (5), but also the 3-point Psychic Visions Drawback. I get 3 more points in Qualities, and then of course I can take 10 in Drawbacks if I wish (I guess just 7, actually). So! I'll take Artist (adds 1 to any two Mental Attributes, so I'll add to Perception and Intelligence), and 1 to the Art Skill. That's two points. And I'll take Situational Awareness, which means I get a bonus to notice things, but that also puts me in the hole one point, so I'll need a Drawback. I'll take Adversary at 3 (the vampire/demon thing somehow, but I don't know the details yet). That gives me 2 extra points, of course. I'll take a Natural Weaponry Quality - Draper's hands carry the Chill of the Grave, which does 3xStrength damage on a Grapple.

Skills, then! I get 30 points. I shall take 3 in Art (for a total of 4), 3 in Acrobatics, 2 in Crime, 2 in Driving, 4 in Getting Medieval, 3 in Gun Fu, 5 in Influence, 3 in Knowledge (Hollywood), 4 in Kung Fu, and 1 in Notice. Most of that is just instinctive stuff he's picked up now that he's a walking corpse, but some of it is retained from his life.

Last thing, I guess, is Life Points. I get 58. Undeath points, really.

So, Marvin is still in Kim's body, but he's Marvin - he calls himself Marvin, uses he/him pronouns, and dresses and presents pretty masc. He can play up his body's appearance if he needs to (he's an actor, after all), and honestly he's not really concerned about gender anymore - he's dead, gender isn't the most pressing issue. Kim was a black woman in her mid-20s, dark skinned with short hair (it doesn't grow so Marvin doesn't have to do much with it). Marvin favors black cargo pants and an army jacket. He carries a gun that he stole off someone, but if he needs to do violence, he prefers up close and personal, letting the chill of the grave do the work.

Marvin is still having visions about Kim's life, and he's avoided digging into it because he doesn't want to make things painful for her family, but someone pushed Kim Veidt out that window for a reason.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oscars: Fishmen and Sunken Places

Sunday night is the Oscars, and as in every year, Michelle and I are spending the weekend cooking. I'll do the Oscar food-post on Monday, though. Today, since I have a little time and I've seen all of the movies I'm likely to be able to see, I shall offer up my thoughts and predictions.

A couple of notes: I'm not going to talk about Best Animated Feature because I've only seen two of the nominees (Coco, the likely winner, and The Boss Baby). Apparently there were some changes the way the nomination for this category is decided this year, which is why, perhaps, we got the usual Pixar offering (in fairness, Coco is pretty baller) but also mainstream crap like Boss Baby and Ferdinand. But then again, I haven't seen Ferdinand, so maybe it's awesome.

Anyway, on we go, in no particular order.

Best Supporting Actor: I missed All the Money in the World, so I don't know if Christopher Plummer knocked it out of the park. I do know that both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson turned in great performances in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter called Three Billboards). Of the two, I think Rockwell's was the meatier role and the more deserving performance. I don't think it's real likely that Willem Dafoe is going to take it for The Florida Project; I think the role was too understated and I think Rockwell has more momentum behind him (plus Florida Project isn't nominated for anything else). That leaves "oh hey that guy!" Richard Jenkins as the narrator in The Shape of Water. Jenkins is a reliably good actor, and it might be that Shape of Water has enough steam built up and the Academy wants to reward Jenkins for his career (this is his second nomination, incidentally). That's especially true if two noms from Three Billboards split the vote.

My choice & prediction: Sam Rockwell

Best Supporting Actress: From everything I've heard, this is basically a lock for Allison Janney for I, Tonya. I don't think that Laurie Metcalf's distraught mom in Lady Bird or Leslie Manville's icy sister in Phantom Thread are going to upset that. That leaves Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water and Mary J. Blige in Mudbound. Of the two, I think the latter is the stronger performance; as much as I loved Spencer in The Shape of Water, the performance felt similar to some of the other things she's done. I don't think Blige is going to take the win, but I have to say that Janney's performance feels deserving.

My choice & prediction: Allison Janney

Best Actress: Another lock: Frances McDormand. And I'm fine with that. The only other role that comes close to the same intensity is Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, and as Elsa Sjunneson-Henry points out here, it would have been nice to see an actress who could sign fluently in the role. Beyond that we the inimitable Meryl Streep in The Post (though honestly my knee-jerk is to grumble when she gets nominated because she's been nominated so many times and yes, she's a fantastic actress, but there are a lot of others, yeah?); Saoirse Ronan as a teen finding herself in Lady Bird; and Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding.

Say what you want about I, Tonya and whether it glorified Harding (I didn't see it that way), Robbie's performance is fantastic and she manages to put across someone who had a shit time of it and is a pretty selfish and terrible person. That's hard to do. She's not going to beat McDormand's performance in Three Billboards, but I kinda think in terms of pure acting, I like what she did more.

My choice: Margot Robbie
My prediction: Frances McDormand

Best Actor: Apparently this one is a lock for Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. Eh. I'm not a fan of the movie. It was good, it was watchable, some great performances, but it was a biopic and like, I've seen those. Now, looking at the rest of the slate, there are some really good performances. We've got Denzel Washington playing the title role in Roman J. Israel, Esq. It was a good performance, some problematic aspects of the movie aside (to wit, the character is supposed to be "autistic savant", but I think the screenwriter needed to bone up on what autism actually is). We've got Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, and while I really loved the movie, I think Chalamet is too young and up against too much love for Oldman to win. Daniel Day-Lewis is up for Phantom Thread, in supposedly his last film role before retiring, and that alone might get him to the win if the Academy thinks they'll never have another chance. Finally, we've got Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out, which I think is far and away the strongest and most nuanced performance here. I don't think, though, that it's going to be enough to get the Academy away from Oldman, sadly.

My choice: Daniel Kaluuya
My prediction: Gary Oldman

Cinematography: So here we have a category that I'm unsure how to judge, but screw it, we'll just wing it. In addition to three Best Picture nominees (The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, and Dunkirk) we have Mudbound and Blade Runner 2049. Now, Blade Runner 2049 was visually impressive but that was about all it had going for it (sorry, I wasn't a fan). The two historical movies were also really cool to watch, but I don't remember anything jumping out at me cinematography-wise. Shape of Water had some really amazing moments, but I think for my money it needs to go to the understated work in Mudbound (plus, y'know, Rachel Morrison is the first and only woman to be nominated in this category and she was the cinematographer for Black Panther, so). I don't think the Academy is gonna go for it, though.

My choice: Rachel Morrison
My prediction: Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

Director: I'm very much in favor of Jordan Peele winning this. Aside from the obvious "POC don't get enough noms" issue, Get Out was fucking amazing and I'd love to see it win everything. I dunno, though. He's up against Christopher Nolan (who's never been nominated before, though his films have), Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro, and Greta Gerwig. Del Toro won the DGA and the Golden Globe, and I think that there's enough oomph behind him that he'll win this, especially since this is Peele's directorial debut (also true of Gerwig, who, incidentally, is only the 5th woman ever to be nominated here). I think Anderson probably doesn't have a shot here, I think it's between Nolan and Del Toro, but hey, I've been wrong before.

My choice: Joran Peele
My prediction: Guillermo de Toro

Visual Effects: Yeah, baby! The boomy movies! Here we've got Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Blade Runner 2049, Kong: Skull Island, and War for the Planet of the Apes. So, in terms of who had the best visual effects and seamlessly integrated them with the movie itself, ehhhh, it's a toss-up to me. I think I ditch War and Guardians because I don't think they did anything the previous installations didn't do (though I hear War the favorite here, which kinda surprises me). Last Jedi had some neat scenes, and the CGI wasn't as obvious to me as in, say, Rogue One or Force Awakens. Blade Runner looked amazing (it also dragged, but that wasn't the VFX fault). Kong was really the one that I thought was really amazing to watch, but maybe it's that I've seen it more recently? I dunno.

My choice: Kong: Skull Island
My prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes, I guess? Not Last Jedi? Not sure.

Adapted Screenplay: Interesting slate here. Novel (Call Me By Your Name), memoir (Molly's Game), graphic novel (Logan), novel (Mudbound), and memoir (The Disaster Artist). I though The Disaster Artist was a pretty well-realized film, and I though Molly's Game was tight without becoming too much like every other Sorkin thing ever. I loved Logan, but as an adaptation of Old Man Logan it's kinda half there (because Old Man Logan is kinda not great and full of rape). The novel adaptations, I have no idea because I haven't read them.

Well, I think Logan and Molly's Game are long shots. I think Disaster Artist is possible, but I think James Franco may have screwed that particular pooch. If it's between Mudbound and Call Me By Your Name, I think I'd call it for the one that's nominated for Best Picture, although frankly both are really well-told stories. I think Call Me might be a little tighter?

My choice & prediction: Call Me By Your Name

Original Screenplay: Normally this is where we'd find the weird stuff. Dan Gilroy got nominated for Nightcrawler here, but this year his movie got a Best Actor nom instead (and it wasn't as good). Four of the five noms are also up for Best Picture, but this year, that means the weird stuff (The Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards) are getting wider recognition, too. I read an article that talked about why that was - it has to do with a) the way Best Picture noms are chosen (basically weaker middle-of-the-road choices aren't as safe anymore, and it's the stuff that people are passionate about that's getting chosen) and b) newer Academy voters choosing newer stuff. Suits me.

Anyway, in addition to the three movies I mentioned and Lady Bird, we've also got The Big Sick, this kind of loosely autobiographical story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. It was funny, but I can't help but notice the sort of similarity between the wanky one-man show Kumail does in the movie and the inherent wankiness of doing a movie like this. In any event, it's interesting to me that normally you'd see Shape of Water OR Get Out OR Three Billboards here, and now they're all Best Picture noms and the rom-com with the woman in a coma is the outlier.

I think Lady Bird is unlikely to win here, but if it wins anything I think it'll be this. I think it's more likely we'll see a streak for Shape of Water, but y'know how I feel.

My choice: Get Out
My prediction: The Shape of Water

Best Picture: OK, here we go!

Unlike in some previous years, there's nothing that's nominated here that makes me go "why was this nominated." I'm not crazy about the two WWII films, but they aren't going to win and they're not bad movies, they're just kinda pale in comparison to the movie innovative or relevant stuff (now, WWII movie that showed the rise of the Nazi party and examined how that kind of shit happened? That would be topical). So that's Dunkirk and Darkest Hour.

Likewise, The Post had the chance to be highly topical. Thematically, it's about the responsibility of the press to tell the truth even in the face of adversity, which is something our press is not really doing. But it wound up feeling like an Oscar movie - it's tense in all the right places, but it winds up with a happy ending an a nomination for Meryl Streep. Eh.

Phantom Thread has gotten more interesting the longer I sit with it. It looks like it's going to be this obsessive, controlling dude kind of abusing his girlfriend, but it turns into this weirdly toxic-yet-functional quasi-BDSM relationship between them. I'm kind of sad Vicky Krieps wasn't nominated for Best Actress over Streep, actually. In any case, I don't think this is winning.

Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird are character studies, and they're both beautiful films in their own way. Lady Bird gave me flashbacks to Catholic school, and showed us what I thought was a nicely modern struggle of a teenager trying to figure out who she is and where she's going. Call Me By Your Name is a love story, and while the fact that it's between two men is relevant, it's not the focus of the movie (that is, it's not what you'd call tragiqueer). Plus, Armie Hammer was fucking amazing. I don't think, however, that either of these are taking it. I think Greta Gerwig is too new, and I think Call Me By Your Name doesn't have the buzz.

So that leaves us Get Out, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards. Now, I'll say right now, my choice is Get Out. I love horror movies, but quite beyond that, this is a movie that's not just made about black Americans but by and for them, and I think that's really goddamn important. And, the movie is fantastic on its own merits, and layered like whoa. Three Billboards looks like it's going to be about racism in a small town, but winds up being about bad choices having consequences (I saw someone give a really scathing review in which they claimed that Clarke Peters' character was a magical Negro trope, and I just don't see it) and the lead characters actually exhibit some growth.

The Shape of Water is a beautiful fairy tale, but, IMO, it's not as tight as, say, Pan's Labyrinth, and the dance sequence in the middle kind stuck out for me for a couple of reasons. I'm thrilled it got nominated and I suspect it'll probably win, and I'm actually OK with that because I like it when genre films win this prize.

But, like, consider what it would say if, following Moonlight's win last year, Get Out won this year. That'd be pretty cool.

My choice: Get Out
My prediction: The Shape of Water

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Movie #449: Baby Driver

Baby Driver is an action/crime movie directed by Edgar Wright and starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Eiza Gonzalez, and CJ Jones.

Baby (Elgort) is a getaway driver working for crimelord Doc (Spacey). He's a bit eccentric; he wears earbuds constantly and plays music to drown out tinnitus acquired as a child in the car wreck that killed his parents, but he's fully aware of what's going on around him and he's a superb driver. He's not really a criminal at heart and isn't at violent, he's just working off his debt to Doc. He lives with his deaf foster father Joseph (Jones), and is somewhat content to dance/groove his way through life.

He meets Debora (James) at a diner and begins a relationship, but has to get around Doc blackmailing him to remain in the life, and then get around Bats (Foxx), another crew member, shooting anyone that looks at him funny. At the end of the day, it all goes to shit, Baby has to kill Buddy (Hamm), another of the crew, and winds up going to prison.

Now, this all sounds very prosaic, but remember this is an Edgar Wright film. That means that nothing is accidental, and the back half of the movie mirrors the first half in a lot of ways. Couple that with a really killer soundtrack and fantastic performances all around, and I think it's one of Wrights best films.

Breaking that down a little, Elgort is great as Baby. He puts across a kind of "I'm aloof because I'm actually scared shitless" kind of thing when he's with a crew, but he loosens up around Joseph and dances, you and can see Elgort's ballet training. Likewise, the fact that they got an actual deaf actor to play Joseph (Elgort learned ASL to communicate with him) is awesome. Gonzalez and Hamm have great chemistry as a kind of Bonne & Clyde team, and Bats is great in his role as "crazy guy" but I was very happy that he doesn't turn out to be the real antagonist of the third act.

The romance between Baby and Debora is nice, too, because the movie lets it percolate a little rather than making it a whirlwind, fall-in-bed kind of thing. Baby is kid, and his relationship with Debora is played very much as two young people getting flirty, and that's kinda sweet.

All in all, it's nice to see Wright breaking away from some of his standbys (with no offense to Simon Pegg).

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Mummy

Blades in the Dark: Take Me to Church (So I Can Rob It)

Perhaps we have finally broken the curse and can get back into playing this regularly? WE SHALL SEE.

The city of Doskovol is having problems. The demon-blood shortage is getting worse, and that's causing brownouts and interruptions in power in the poorer quarters of the city. Also, Leviathan Hunter ships are just not coming back as much, meaning that going out to kill sea monsters is getting even more lucrative (but of course you only get paid if you survive). Cage, in chatting with Flint, his spirit trafficker buddy, learns that he (Cage) isn't terribly popular with Lord Penderyn at the moment - apparently his new, vicious outlook isn't making the academics all that thrilled. But, Flint has heard that Lord Penderyn is very interested in the contents of a particular urn beneath the Sanctorium (the main hub of the Church of Ecstasy, the state religion).

The scoundrels meet and discuss their options - they think about expanding their turf a bit, but decide that this "urn" job sounds potentially like it'll pay out well, and besides, they need to do something ambitious. They start looking into the matter. Cage goes to Penderyn's office, hoping to ask him which urn he wants, but the fellow isn't in. Cage breaks in, sneaking past the guards, and searches the office (he winds up talking to a ghost and convincing him he's there under Penderyn's request). He learns that the urn contains the Hand of Kotar (Kotar being a demigod/mythical figure, very important to several religious factions in the city).

The others, meanwhile, start looking for a way in. The Sanctorium is open for service every week, wherein believer destroy rogue spirits using ectoplasm. It's also in Brightstone, where all the rich folks live. The Bluecoats have regular patrols, and the Spirit Wardens oversee the rites. The scoundrels need to be careful and they need to get in and out without being identified. Definitely a stealth job.

Copper figures that they must get the spirits they destroy from somewhere, and asks Cage (a former Spirit Warden). He informs them that the contract with various folks around the city to sell them spirit bottles, but then they get delivered every week. Perfect. Copper borrows a cart from her cousin, and the crew leans on their influence at Ruby to find a Bluecoat with the proper papers. They swap his out for some forgeries that One-Eye creates (she tries to make her own high-quality fakes, but gets a little too stoned while working and burns them).

They've got their in - they'll play like they're delivering ghosts, and then sneak into the church and into the catacombs from there. They figure they'll be able to recognize the urn by the markings of Kotar, and then they just have to get out before they're made.

They arrive and get into the church loading area easily enough (good result on the engagement roll). As they're unloading, Cage breaks a spirit bottle near one of their goats and the ghost possesses it. One-Eye makes a stink about it, causing a diversion, and Cage, Siren, and Copper peel off and sneak into the building, while One-Eye stays behind to "calm the goat down" after a Spirit Warden exorcises it. The others creep about and find a door to the catacombs. Copper breaks the lock and feels a little jolt. Cage recognizes what just happened - a silent alarm, basically. They need to move.

They head down and Siren pulls out a lantern, while Copper pulls out a little arcane implement to help them find what they're looking for. They discover a spoke that's been partially blocked by debris. Copper slips through easily, and Siren follows, while Cage hides, figuring there might be guards coming. Siren finds the urn at the end of the hall and picks it up...and finds herself in a white plain. A man stands in front of her, asking what she's doing; she responds that she's just doing a job. He traces a symbol on her forehead and they wind up back in the crypt. Siren puts the urn in a bag and warns Copper not to touch it.

Copper moves the debris out of the way using the Not to be Trifled With move, and they head out into the catacombs. Cage hears people coming, and the scoundrels hide, avoiding notice. They head up and back toward the loading dock, snagging a robe on the way. Copper puts it on and acts like a priest, trying to bluster her way past the Wardens, but one of them rounds a corner, comes face to face with them, and draws in a breath to yell a warning. Cage flashes his Spirit Warden mask to distract him, but he notices the bag and what it contains. One-Eye hits him with a dart, but the poison kills him. His body falls, but his spirit is still standing there...and then it gets sucked directly into Siren's forehead.

A little horrified, they shuffle his body into a corner and head for the carriage; One-Eye collects the money for delivering the spirit bottles (which is a wash, since she had to bribe a guard to get in; corruption is everywhere!) and they head out. Problem is, alarms were already going in the church, and when they got to the main gate (sealed by sparkcraft), Siren, sitting on the back of the carriage, saw lights flickering (a signal) and caused a diversion by throwing up. The guards, not wanting their nice clean streets sullied, looked away and let them through.

Now outside the Sanctorium, they head to where they stashed their boat, painted to look like a tour boat and with a sign saying "back soon". There are already Bluecoats standing around wondering what to cite them for. One-Eye tries to sweet talk them, but it winds up requiring that they leave Copper there with the carriage while the other three take the boat away. Spirit Wardens arrive from the Sanctorium, but Copper sticks to her story - the goat was possessed, yes, but she had nothing to do with anything else. She winds up getting taken in for questioning, which means this whole thing is going to generate some Heat, but the job itself seems to have done well.

Now, of course, they have to deliver it to Lord Penderyn, who isn't expecting it. And then there's the whole "Siren has a mark" thing.