Thursday, May 31, 2018

Character Creation: Against the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

In any case, let's make a character!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie #462: My Fair Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up: My Fellow Americans

Monday, May 28, 2018

Night's Black Agents: New Op, New Agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Character Creation: Undiscovered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's arrange Attributes this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 25, 2018

Game Prep: Promethean, Blades, maybe NBA?

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

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Movie #461: My Cousin Vinny

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: My Fair Lady

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Character Creation: Magicians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie #460: My Best Friend's Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: My Cousin Vinny

Chill: Good Dogs

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

Anyway, Sunday was Chill, so here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They don't.

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

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

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

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

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

Guess we'll see.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Character Creation: Argyle & Crew

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

Anyway, today, socks. No, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Promethean: LARP Shenanigans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie #459: The Musketeer

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

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

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

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

My Grade: F
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: My Best Friend's Wedding

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Game Prep! (Promethean & Chill)

It's like Netflix and chill, except there's more body horror and less snoo-snoo.

Anyway! I'm running Promethean tomorrow and I'm running Chill next week, which means Blades and Night's Black can wait (I want to make a character today, too).

Think that's probably enough lead-in. On we go.

Movie #458: Murder by Death

Murder by Death is one of those movies they don't make anymore: A well done parody. It stars David Niven, Maggie Smith, Peter Falk, Eileen Brennan, Peter Sellers, Truman Capote, Alec Guinness, James Coco, Elsa Lanchester, Estelle Winwood, Richard Narita, and, in his first feature film role, James Cromwell.

This film is a send-up of the whodunit, Agatha Christie style murder mystery. Lionel Twain (Capote) invites the five greatest detectives in the world: Inspector Wang (Sellers, and we'll get to that), Milo Perrier (Coco), Sam Diamond (Falk), Jessica Marbles (Lanchester), and Dick Charleston (Niven) to his spooky-ass house to solve a murder. He tells them that at the stroke of midnight, there will be a murder, and since they won't be able to solve it, that'll make him the greatest living criminologist.

Now, that's flimsy logic on its face (and the characters point out that if he's the one orchestrating this, then he's the murderer), but stick with me, because it gets sillier. Twain is the one who seemingly gets murdered at midnight, after the blind butler Bensonmum (Guinness) has already been poisoned. The guests theorize and point out increasingly absurd preexisting connections between each other and Twain (he's Wang's father! He picked up Diamond in a gay bar!) until finally they all gather in the accusing parlor and discover that Bensonmum, very much alive, is the real killer...kinda.

So, I enjoy the detective story, and I like a good parody. The problem is that there are so few good parodies. This article from the AV Club kinda runs down how the parody genre has tanked in the last couple of decades, but Murder by Death ticks the right boxes - it requires a knowledge of the genre and it certainly helps if you've read Hammett and Christie or seen some of the film adaptations, but it's funny regardless.

Now, let's not ignore the problematic shit. Sellers is playing Wang, a sendup of Charlie Chan, and he's a white dude in yellowface speaking broken English. That said, as Michelle points out, the portrayal here isn't any worse than Warner Oland or Sidney Toller playing him, and here some of the worst bits (like Wang's broken English) actually get called out. I personally thought it would have been better to have "Wang" reveal that he's really a white guy from Fresno or whatever; wouldn't have been any more over the top than the "revelations" we actually get. Lot of ableist humor surrounding Bensonmum's blindness and the maid's (Nancy Warner) deaf/mute-ness, too, which is kinda cringey.

The central takeaway, here, I think, is the metafiction at the end, in which Twain berates them all for their novels, introducing last-minute characters and clues that don't play fair by the reader. The plot and twists of the movie are impossible to follow, you can't trust that anything that people say is true, and of course there are huge plot holes - but I think that's the point, it's all an over-the-top way to "surprise" the reader, which is itself kind of a perversion of what the genre is about.

Dated content aside, too, there are some very funny people in this movie. I love the subtle (and not-so-subtle) callouts to Nick Charles being the "real" detective while Nora ("Dora," here, played by Smith) get relegated to "wife" status. Likewise, the detectives continually one-up each other with their observations and deductions of what's going on around them, but miss some of the context. It's a smart movie with some low gags at times, which is a damn sight better than what passes for "spoof" these days.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium-high

Next up: The Musketeer

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Today we said goodbye to Leo, my yellow lab. I want to tell you his story.

I brought Sephi (my black lab) into the vet in winter of 2005, and the staff told me about a family that had some puppies. Turns out that they had two labs, and had left them in the care of their teenager, who had locked them in a room and sodded off to go do teen things. The result was a little of nine puppies. Leo was the last one to find a home.

My parents had just bought a house in Middleburg Heights down the road from us, so they had a big living room and no furniture. We had the family bring the puppy over there; Leo (born in September) was probably about 10 weeks old. He was very shy and timid, and the family had a little boy (probably about 4) who was very concerned that we take good care of the dog.

The boy had named him "Superhero."

We took the puppy in and named him Helios, Dog of the Sun, or "Leo" for short. Right away we realized how different he was from Sephi. Sephi was confident and tough; Leo was a scaredy-cat and needed constant comfort. The first week we had him, I had to sleep on the couch with my hand over the edge so he could lick my hand from his crate if he got scared. Gradually, he let me leave the room after he fell asleep, and finally he got comfortable enough to fall asleep on his own.

He was a tiny puppy then, but of course he grew into a moose. He never had any sense of how big he really was. I think he lived his whole life thinking he still weighed about seven pounds. When he was younger he was happy to leap up on our couch and snuggle, which was fine, except that Leo had a tendency to lick whatever was within a tongue's length of his face.

He was a friend and companion to Sephi, and when Michelle moved in and brought her terrier Rosie, he bonded with her, too. When Rosie died (hit by a car), Leo mourned. He lay on the floor quietly, not sleeping, staring at where her crate used to be. I'd never seen an animal mourn before, and it was humbling to me.

When Leo was younger we'd take him into the woods and down to the creek. Like mostly labs, he loved the water and he'd happily go charging through it. He wasn't above lounging in mud puddles, too.

In 2011, we brought Si home, and Leo and Si immediately became friends. Sephi was getting older and showing it, so she couldn't really romp, but Leo could, and they'd chase things together. Leo actually managed to learn from Si and follow his cues (because whatever else can be said of Leo, he was no genius).

Just recently, Leo tore a ligament in his leg, and in trying to get around I think he made it worse. The vet thinks, too, that there was some neurological involvement, maybe a tumor on his spine. In any case, he couldn't stand or walk, and he was in constant pain. Today we made the decision to put him to sleep.

We (me, Michelle, John, Teagan, Cael, and Al) went to the vet where Leo had stayed overnight and sat around and rubbed him, told him he was a good boy, and said goodbye. Michelle and I stayed with him until the end. It was quick. "I think he was tired," the vet tech told us. I think he probably was.

Driving home, I noted that the sun wasn't shining. Well, sure.

The Dog of the Sun has gone to sleep.

Helios, Dog of the Sun, "Leo"
Sept. 2005-May 2018

Movie #457: The Muppets Take Manhattan

The Muppets Take Manhattan is, in my opinion one of the weirder Muppet movies. It stars the usual cast of Muppets, plus humans in the form of Juliana Donald, Louis Zorich, Lonny Price, and a whole host of celebrity cameos, as is customary.

The core Muppets (Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Scooter, Rowlf, and the Electric Mayhem) have just graduated from college and decide to take Kermit's original music to Broadway. They go to New York and immediately get an education in how rough that really is, and the group splits up - Kermit stays and starts working as a dishwasher while trying to shop the show, Piggy stays to stalk him, and everyone else heads west (no one gets further than Cleveland, though) to get jobs where they can.

Kermit works at a diner owned by Pete (Zorich) and his daughter Jenny (Donald), and staffed by Rizzo the Rat and his rodent compatriots. The movie is basically Kermit's attempt to get the show on Broadway, which eventually happens because a young producer (Price) finds it and wants to take a chance on it, but then Kermit walks into traffic, gets amnesia, and winds up working as an advertising exec with a bunch of other frogs.

That is not the weirdest thing in this movie. The weirdest thing in this movie is that, while on a buggy ride through Central Park, Piggy wishes she and Kermit could have grown up together, which takes us into a dream sequence with baby versions of the Muppets. You might almost call them...Muppet Babies (which debuted a year later as an animated show, based on positive response to this sequence, which boggles my damn mind).

I didn't realize that there were only 8 Muppet movies. Of those, three of them are kind of meta (The Muppet MovieThe Muppets and The Muppets Most Wanted assume that the Muppets are entertainers and the thrust of the action is about them doing entertainer things, so set in the "real" world in which the Muppet Show was set). Two of them are takes on other stories (Christmas Carol and Treasure Island), and two of them are stories in which the Muppets are playing other characters (Manhattan and The Great Muppet Caper). I have no idea how Muppets from Space fits in since I haven't seen it.

It makes me a little sad that we didn't see more of this sort of Muppet movie - movies in which the Muppets are taking on roles, making "Kermit the Frog" (etc) an actor, but also a character. But I think the world might have moved beyond that point.

In any case, this one is strange, but entertaining, although I was a little disappointed in the musical when we finally get to see it - it's brief and pretty simplistic (compare with Waiting for Guffman where we get a good sense of the whole show-within-a-show even if we only see little bits).

My Grade: B
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Murder by Death

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Go Scoundrels Go

Everyone was rollin' 6s on Monday, it was bananas.

So, last time, the scoundrels completed one job and immediately started a new one. To wit, they were trying to talk Ulf Ironborn into giving up or selling his little gambling den and letting Widdershins have it, which in turn would cement their "Luxury Den" (on the turf map). They bring Ulf to Ruby to get him high and show off their services; Ulf is there with two of his gang, speaking Skovic to One-Eye and generally playing up the "Lockport Pride" thing (which doesn't sit well with her, because she hates Lockport and couldn't wait to get out and certainly doesn't have any issues surrounding her homeland).

They hang around Ruby a bit, and then Ulf says they should walk down to the Island and check that out. As they cross a bridge, two dudes leap out from under the bridge and pull guns on them. This goes badly. Copper releases Button, who mauls one to death, and the other one trades bullets with Siren (but she has armor, he doesn't). Cage examines their bodies and find a handful of coin on them, but it's shiny, new, well-minted coin, the kind of stuff you'd find in Brightstone. Who paid these guys? They're not obviously with any gang, and they don't look familiar. The scoundrels shove the bodies into the canal and move along.

Arriving at the Island, they gamble a bit, drink, and so forth. Ulf asks One-Eye some organizational questions, but then agrees to sell the place for four Coin. Or...he has a job they could do, and knock the price down to one Coin. One-Eye asks what the job is, with some trepidation, and Ulf says that the Grinders have this smuggling job - pick up a trapped specter and transport it to the Docks. One-Eye groans; she still isn't interested in getting involved in rebellion or political issues, but hey, this'll save the crew some money and it's very much in their wheelhouse, so fine.

That concluded this job, though, so the crew paid their Coin and got some rep (and wound up with some additional Coin because they're now selling drugs and gambling fun), and they started working on this new job. They had an additional problem, though - the ghost of the dude that Button had mauled showed up at the hideout to haunt them.

Cage handles that, though; he puts a lightning hook on the ghost's neck and attunes. He sees the guy taking a meeting with a very well-to-do gent in a cloak. The man hands the thugs the coins, and tells them to kill Siren. If they kill other Widdershins, great, he'll pay them for those, too. As he leaves, he warns them to get more people on this - they can't take out the Widdershins by themselves. The ghosts howls and disintegrates (guess they put the body in the furnace!) but Cage relays all this to the crew. Siren is concerned this might have something to do with the spiritual presence in her head?

One-Eye and Copper head out to the Docks to talk to Sercy from the Grinders. One-Eye wants some answers; she knows that the Grinders planned to use this specter as a weapon, but wasn't sure where or how and decides that if Widdershins was going to be party to this, they should know. Sercy isn't very forthcoming, though, claiming that the Grinders weren't sure about where or how to use, but promises it wouldn't be Nightmarket, and that was just gonna have to be good enough. They haggle a bit, and finally Copper steps in and says they'll do the job, they'll get paid, that'll be the end of it.

The crew was to meet Junker and get the specter, near the rail station, then transport it to the Docks. They meet Junker and he hands them a crate (and Cage feels something shift inside as he carried it). On the boat, Siren sees in the distance another ship approaching...and then gets shot. Her armor absorbs it (she was using a heavy loadout since she knew she was being stalked). Cage and Copper head back to the boat; Cage lands and keeps the box even, while Copper misses and winds up hanging on the side. One-Eye guns it.

They alter their route and swing past the prison. Siren shoots the guy steering the pursuing vessel to slow them down, then dumps an explosive charge in the water. The boats hits it and blows up, and the Widdershins move along (see what I mean about them killing it this session?). The shockwave jostles the boat and the box starts glowing, but Cage focuses and restrains whatever's inside. They move through the city (we flash back to One-Eye dealing with Griggs of the Gondoliers and making sure that they aren't going to hassle the crew), but then they wind up going between Brightstone and Charterhall.

They find some spirit wardens scanning the waterways with some kind of spectro-tech. Cage tosses a vial of ectoplasm on the bridge they're standing on to disrupt said tech, and One-Eye talks her way past them. They get to the Docks and walk the thing to the tavern, where they see some other toughs in the corner. They ignore them, though, deliver the crate, and get their money (realizing that the toughs aren't there with the Grinders, so there's no need to start shit).

The crew gets paid and gets rep, and winds up at Tier II. They also wind up with a bunch of Heat (this was not quiet), and going up a wanted level. One-Eye works on her eye and gets it completed, but still needs to install it. Cage, though, has a strange encounter - as he's walking to visit Lord Penderyn, a demonic presence visits him and tells him to steal "a cloak" from someone, and then burns a map into his coat. Penderyn cuts him off - he's getting attention that's just not cool.

Lots of wheels turning. Gotta do some prep over the weekend. And it'll be a while before we play again; running a one-shot of We Used to Be Friends next time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Movie #456: The Muppets

The Muppets is the 2011 revival of the Muppets property, starring the usual cast of Muppets plus Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Peter Linz, Chris Cooper, and a whole bunch of celebrity cameos.

Walter (voiced by Linz) is a Muppet and the apparently adopted brother of Gary (Segel). They grow up together and Walter feels pretty lost until he discovers The Muppets, whereupon he becomes a lifelong fan. Fast forward to now-ish, and Gary is on the verge of proposing to his longtime sweetheart Mary (Adams), so they're going out to LA, but Walter goes with them to see the Muppet museum.

While there, Walter discovers that an evil businessman aptly named Tex Richman (Cooper) is about to buy the building and demolish it. Saving it would require 10 million dollars, so Walter finds Kermit, they get the Muppets back together, host a show with celebrity input by a kidnapped Jack Black, and everything ends up with a deus ex machina (they fail to fund, but then Richman gets hit on the head and gives them back the building anyway).

So, generally, this is a pretty good Muppet movie. The characters are consistent with their older incarnations, for the most part; Fozzie's "fart shoes" are a little lowbrow for the Muppets, but at least they don't milk that particular goat too much. The celebrity cameos are fun, and there are a bunch of references to the fact that the Muppets aren't exactly close to the zeitgeist. The b-plot (Gary cutting loose from Walter and committing to his relationship with Mary) isn't exactly compelling because Segel is kind of boring next to the Muppets, but Adams is charming as always. I think the movie spends maybe a little too much time on the new characters and not enough with the actual Muppets, but the "get the band back together" goes a long way to establishing them (though not enough time on Rowlf, my favorite Muppet).

The songs are cute, though I'm sad they trimmed Cooper's because it included some backstory. All in all, I think that's too sweet in places, but otherwise a good Muppet movie.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Muppets Take Manhattan

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Character Creation: Legend of the Burning Sands



The Game: Legend of the Burning Sands
The Publisher: AEG
Degree of Familiarity: None; I played Legend of the Five Rings once many years ago.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, if Legend of the Five Rings is a fantasy/historical game set in not-Japan, then Legend of the Burning Sands is its counterpart set in not-the-Middle-East. L5R, as the kids call it, has a looooong and detailed history, tying into a CCG (as the kids call them), and leading to a great big long metaplot that's entirely too much for my addled brain (as the kids, hang on).

All of that said, LBS (that really doesn't sing, it doesn't even have a number!) is playable with just the one book and has some pretty interesting stuff going on. The system is basically the same (you roll dice and keep a certain number, total them, and try to get a high sum), but the names of some traits and what they mean in context changes. So let's get to it.

Elle, over on FB, gave me this song to use as a theme song, and I kinda like it:

It's actually dark as hell; to me it's about wishing so hard to take something back, something that's so unfair that you feel sure that some higher authority has the power to reverse it...but that's not what happens, and we bury the remains of something beautiful because that's all we can do.

That's all very well, but because I don't know the game I can't translate it into anything concrete at the moment, so let's take the step-by-step in the book and see what happens.

Step One: Choose a Faction. All right, cool, get right to the meat of it. Is there a handy list of factions? No, but chapters 2 through 9 of the book (good lord) detail factions. Let's see. Oh, well, shit, I can play an Assassin. I'd like to do that.

Step Two: Choose a Sub-Faction. Assassins have a long, rich history, which I'm not reading carefully, but basically there's betrayal and murder and stuff like you'd expect. Anyway, there are three sub-factions, and the one I like is the Caliphate Guards. These are Assassins that are working for the state, basically; every year, 40 of the City Guard get to demonstrate their skill and best become Assassins. My character is one of those, meaning he'd get assigned to guard some important person. I get a +1 to Perception for my trouble.

Step Three: Choose Character Class. I pretty obviously want to be an Assassin Slayer; I'm a warrior. For my trouble I get +1 Agility, 1.5 Integrity, Acting (Disguise), Athletics, Deceit, Stealth, Underworld, any one weapon Skill, and a free Skill. Neat. I assume I'm Rank One, which would give me the All Shadows Walk in the Light Technique, but I'll have to come back to that.

Step Four(?) Character Points: I put the ? in there because based on the headers, this seems to be a sub-section of Step Three, but that doesn't make any sense because it doesn't flow from Character Class. Anyway, I get 45 points with which to buy things. I start with Rings and Traits at 2, except Agility and Perception, which start at 3. I suppose I should also choose the two Skills I need to choose, huh? I get a Weapon Skill and a free one. I love chain weapons, so I'll take that as my Weapon Skill. For my freebie, I'll take Polearms (hearkening back to my days as a guard).

OK, so now, spending points. I'm gonna leave my Void at 2 because it's expensive and it doesn't tie into Skills. I can't raise Ring ratings (it's the same Rings as in L5R; Earth, Air, Water, Fire). They all start at 2, and the Traits attached start at 2 except the ones I get a bonus in, and I can't raise them past 4.

Ugh. OK, it doesn't say that my Skills start equal to their controlling Trait anywhere (that I can find), but the text implies that they do. The text says that I start with 2 in all Rings and Traits, but not in character creation (it's in the intro when it's explaining what those terms mean). The corresponding section on Skills does not state what Skill ratings you start with. The section on character creation likewise doesn't specify. Likewise, there's no fucking example of chargen, which always annoys me. OMG, what the shit, AEG, did you expect no one to play this game?

Ok, well, I don't want to be here all night. Let's assume everything starts at 2. That being the case, I want to raise some things. I think that my Earth traits can stay at 2. I guess there's no way to raise Rings, actually, so they can stay at 2? I can boost Traits, and I think I want higher Agility and Strength. Raising those to 4 and 3, respectively, would cost 16 and 12, or 28 total, out of my 45. Fine. I have 17 left.

Well, I'm gonna leave Acting, Deceit, and Underworld at 2. I'll leave Polearms there, too - it's something he was trained in while a guard, but he's focused on Chains since. If I wanted to raise my other four Skills to 3, that would cost me 12 points. I can do that, it'd leave me 5 left. I'm good with that, I think.

So, Skills have specializations called Emphases, but I can't tell if I get one for free or not. It says that you get one at Rank One, but it's not clear if that's "Rank One" in a Skill or "Rank One" in your class. There is a lot of cross-terminology in this game, and it's hard to keep it all straight; it doesn't help that the lore and setting get a lot of attention while the gameplay aspects seem to take a lot of understanding for granted.

Well, anyway, I have 5 points left. I can take Disadvantages for more, but only 10. I'll do those first.

Aaaaand there's no place to write them. Glorious. Well, I'll put 'em under Mastery Abilities. I'll take Anti-Social, and I'll go ahead and take the 4-point version. It's not that my guy doesn't like people, but like, he has to kill them sometimes, and that means he has trouble relating to non-Assassins. Ooh, I'll take Dark Fate. I'm doomed to some tragic end. I'll take Lost Love; seems to fit my concept. That's 9 points. I'll take a 1-point Phobia of fire (it just raises target numbers when I'm around fire).

OK, so now I've got 15 points. Let's check out Advantages. Ooh, Death Trance. It plays nicely into my Dark Fate. With 12 points remaining, I'll spend them to buy Chain Weapons, Athletics, and Stealth up to 4.

Well, that leaves me Reputation of 1, Status of 1, and Integrity of 1.5, though buggered if I know how to indicate ".5" on this sheet (this is really badly designed). I have to calculate Insight since it determines how to level up. Easy math, it's 120.

Now, interestingly, unlike L5R, LBS doesn't ask me to answer a bunch of character creation questions - in fact, the actual "create a character" portion of the book is really thin. No matter.

Ali was a pretty nondescript City Guard; he was quick and perceptive, but wasn't particularly special. In fact, the reason his superiors knew about him at all was because of his friendship with Kalil. Kalil was another guard, and he and Ali were the best of friends - blood brothers, first into a battle, last out, their love for each other giving the other strength. There were rumors, of course, as to the nature of that "love", but that's not really the important thing - either would have died for the other.

Kalil and Ali were part of a squad that foiled an assassination attempt on a visiting dignitary; the would-be killers weren't Assassins, but mercs for hire, and fled when the Guard showed up. Ali and Kalil got separated, and Ali saw Kalil ambushed, stabbed, and immolated. He heard his friend scream as he burned, and watched him die as he tried to fight his way through the enemies between them.

Ali might have been chosen as one of the 40 to audition to become Assassins because his superiors took pity on him, but whatever the reason, he passed. He's slowly mastering the arts of stealth, movement, and chain weapons - he's never going to be trapped in battle again. Ali fears fire and he wants nothing to do with other people; he's cordial and polite, but never friendly or warm. It's not that he doesn't want to, but he watched what he loved most in the world die in horrible pain, and he doesn't have it in him to go through that again.

Ali is in his late 20s, strong, slim, and dresses like all low-ranking Assassins do. He wears his chain wrapped under his arms and around his waist, and carries a dagger but seldom uses it. Contrary to rumor, he's not seeking revenge. Kalil is dead. He could choke the life out of the men that did it, but to what end? What, really, would that change? Better to do the work he's been chosen to do, and see where life takes him. Ali suspects, in his terrified soul, that destiny is not done with him yet.

There, that's a better character than this book deserves.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Promethean: New Story, New City, New Problems

Monday was Promethean. It's a trip....back in time! (Kinda.)

Recall that the throng was headed out from Lexington after witnessing Lurch achieve the New Dawn. This is humbling for all of them - they reflect, on the drive, about how that might affect them when the time comes. Grimm notes that he's feeling his time coming (his Pilgrimage score is high), while Enoch wonders if New Dawn come with redemption for the thing he's done in his life as a Promethean. Avalon muses about being "human" and what that would mean to someone who was built from gears and wax, and Matt wonders if the New Dawn is even open to him, as an Extempore.

They arrive in Columbus and Grimm finds a shady auto dealer. They trade in the RV (which was stolen, remember) for a mini-van; Avalon does the talking and the salesman does the paperwork in a shady sort of manner and she winds up with registration info as well (attached to her alternate ID!). They get in the van and head into town to get pizza, and find themselves sitting near some folks with name badges, one of whom is dressed in a cloak with pointy ears, playing a card game. Feather asks, and they tell her they're attending a gaming convention called Origins this weekend. (In game, it's June 28, 2008. I should also mention that as I'm writing this, the event grid is supposed to go live for Origins 2018, and the site won't load. So, basically, business as usual.)

The Prometheans talk about this. Grimm isn't interesting; games sound boring to him. The rest of the throng, though, is interested - Enoch points out that their interactions in Lexington were mostly with other Prometheans or were violent in nature, and they haven't had a lot of contact with normal people in a while. The other agree; besides, they don't really have any idea what they should be looking for here (the murders they learned about were over a month ago, and they aren't sure if Jesse is still in town).

They finish their pizza and head for the convention center. They buy badges and start wandering around the dealer's hall. Avalon, Matt, and Feather wind up at a corset booth where a woman fits Avalon for a brown leather corset with gears (very steampunky); it's expensive, and Avalon asks the woman to hold it for her. Matt finds some people who recognize him; rather, they point out that he looks just like James Canaday, the actor who used to be on that TV show about vampires who died in a fall shooting a movie in Pennsylvania. He chats with them a few minutes and gets his picture taken.

Skip looks at the boffer weapons a while (and is a little confused), and then winds up at the Geek Chic booth. He decides he could definitely make custom furniture to fund the group's endeavors, but he'd need materials and a place to do it.

Enoch finds a "paint and keep" minis booth and winds up winning a prize (he got an exceptional success on a Crafts roll). Grimm isn't really into any of this, but chats with Virgil, and Virgil says he wants to go play something called "Rising" tonight. Grimm agrees to go; shooting people with Nerf guns sounds fun. Feather buys a couple of board games to play with the throng.

And then we fast forward to evening. Virgil and Grimm have their game, Avalon meets some artists and goes out drinking (she's hoping to get them to fund her corset), Feather hangs out in the Big Bar, Skip and Enoch are hanging near the car (Skip is sketching out a design for a roof-rack), and Matt goes to play in a vampire-themed LARP.

(Please note: It can't be Masquerade or Requiem because that's a little too meta, so maybe Nightlife blew up in this universe and has a LARP version.)

Grimm and Virgil, during their game, notice a door ajar in the basement rooms in the Hyatt, and what looks like a Pilgrim Mark carved into the wall. When the game is over, they go and find Feather, and the three of them sneak in. It's a Pilgrim Mark, all right - "afraid," with a slash through it. So, not afraid? It doesn't look very old, Grimm guesses it was carved within a month. They bring Enoch down there and he uses Plumb the Fathoms to analyze the area, and learns that Jesse carved it - and is still alive.

Meanwhile, Avalon is out drinking. She, of course, can get drunk, but it takes some doing. She winds up dancing on a table at a bar (she's on Cobalus, remember, and is following Deviant), and they wind up getting kicked out. The cops are called, but Avalon smooths things over and suggests they all go back to the hotel to keep drinking.

All in all, the throng is enjoying the con. We'll see what happens next, probably starting with the LARP.