Monday, June 11, 2018

Alas for the Awful Sea: Character Creation & Setup

Saturday, we made characters for Alas for the Awful Sea, and then played Rock Band and drank. You're really only interesting in the former (although if you're interested, I do a pretty killer rendition of "Miami 2017" by Billy Joel).

Alas for the Awful Sea is a PbtA game in which you play the crew of a fishing boat in 19th century British Isles. It's about economic hardship and tradition and perhaps a little folklore, low fantasy but definitely some fantasy.

Anyway, the ship is called The Tempest. It used to be a whaling vessel (it's a two-masted schooner) but it doesn't do whaling anymore. The harpoons are still intact, though. The quarters are converted and still smell of whale, and there's a collection of whalebone scrimshaw decorating the ship. The officers have private quarters (the surgeon's quarters are where blubber used to be rendered, so it effectively has a fireplace). The whole ship is overrun with a doubt of cats, and they keep the ship surprisingly rat-free.

The captain, Theodosius, is a man who loves his drink. He took over the ship from the previous owner, who stipulated as part of the sale that women be allowed to work the ship without hassle.

The crew includes:

  • Violet MacKenzie (Scholar/Believer): She is studying weather patterns, and is a fervent Non-Conformist. She's from money (father is a trader in Scotland). 
  • Blythe (Boatswain/Creature): The crew doesn't know her last name, or really anything about her. Blythe maintains the scrimshaw. She's...strange.
  • Fanella MacCallan (Surgeon/Confidant): Not officially a doctor, of course; she followed medical students around to their classes in Dublin, and listens carefully to everyone's secrets.
  • Connor (Strider/Outcast): Knows the sea well, drinks and refers to a former lover when drunk, but never by name.
  • Berylis "Berry" Beer (Cook/Kinsman): Fanella's "sister in law", and her late "husband" (actually wife) owned the ship before. She sends money home to put on her spouse's grave, but the ship is her true home now.

That's all we've got so far; next month we'll see what shenanigans these folks get up to.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Mechanical Cows and Pre-Teen Aloofness: A One-Shot

Last night I ran a one-shot game for my kids, my stepson, and Michelle. I put notes in this post. I've kind of fallen out of the habit of doing write-ups for one-shot games, but I want to start doing it again so that I can remember them a little better.

So! The characters all attend the Academy for Advanced Science and Esoteric Studies. They are:

  • Bing, the school's uplifted corgi mascot, fitted with a special collar that lets him talk.
  • Brass, the statue that stood at the front of the school until it got bored and went to class, and the faculty just shrugged and enrolled them.
  • Chip, a student at AASES who's very interested in creating robots and hella into school spirit. 
  • Wanda, a recent transfer from James K. Polk Middle School who's naturally gifted at magic.
As we begin, the three students are part of a search party looking for Bing - the mascot ran off! (That will happen, he's very excitable.) They find him down a well, running in circles. Chip rigs the pulley to lower them down, but doesn't rig up a brake (he's Too Smart for His Own Good), but Wanda uses magic to uncover rungs on the side of the well and Brass reaches out and stops the platform before it lands on Bing.

Bing, meanwhile, has discovered a tunnel over grown with roots and dug it out. The group, curious and not really wanting to try and climb back up, follows the tunnel.

They emerge in a great big chamber. It's obvious been a long time since anyone was down here, but the floor is polished marble with the school's crest inset, and the walls are lined with shelves. Wanda checks them and finds they contain school projects going back to the 1950s, when the school started. 

Chip makes a little scout-robot and sends it off to look around, while Brass uncovers a portrait. It's of Dr. Lucinda Bramblefort-Meyer and Dr. Greta Meyer-Brambefort, the married couple who founded AASES back in the 50s. They're flanked by two corgis ("Granda! Gramma!" exclaims Bing)...but behind them is a sinister-looking mechanical cow with glowing red eyes. 

At this point, the little robot comes scooting back toward Chip with its screen flashing "NOPE NOPE NOPE." Five mechanical cows charge at the group from out of the darkness. 

Bing springs into action, herding the cows and turning them away from the group. Brass runs up behind two of them, grabs them uses magic to overpower them and send them crashing into a wall. Wanda takes one of them down with magic, but another charges Brass and knocks them back (but not badly; Brass is tough). Chip attaches a device to Brass to make them strong, and Brass tosses the cow to the side. The peril has passed...?

The characters go back to looking around, Chip starts to dismantle a cow, but Brass (who is Easily Bored) wanders off toward where the cows came from. They find a group of pre-teens from James K. Polk Middle School sneaking in. When they seen Brass, they dismiss them as a robot, which Brass finds pretty offensive (they're a construct, there's a difference). Brass shows off their magic prowess, which gets the pre-teens' attention but also summons Brass' friends.

Wanda recognizes one of them, a kid with funny-looking orange hair whom the others called "Bleach", as Charles Sponder, a former classmate of hers. They argue and taunt each other, and Bing makes good use of his BORK BORK BORK stunt to scare of some of Bleach's buddies. Bleach teases Wanda about not being able to hack it at Polk, but Wanda employs her Vortex Inside Me stunt to throw the whole place into magic chaos, and Chip refashions a mechanical cow-head into a Scarebot, which finally sends Bleach packing.

The characters show the faculty this place, which was a storage unit for student projects and as such as a lot of magic laying around. They're all given extra credit, and this is gonna make the soccer game against James K. Polk Middle School next week really interesting!

Movie #465: My Neighbor Tortoro

My Neighbor Tortoro is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and starring (2005 English dubs) Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker, and Pat Carroll (there was also an English dub in 1993 or so with a different cast, but I haven't seen that one).

Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning) move to the country with their father Tatsuo (Daly), while their mother (Salonga) recovers from an unnamed illness at a nearby hospital. While there, they discover that their home is...infested is the wrong word, maybe inhabited with soot-sprites, and then Mei discovers that the nearby woods are home to spirits she calls "Totoro."

The Totoro are generally friendly and the sisters treat them respectfully, and then Mom has a relapse and Mei (who's only 4) tries to walk all the way to the hospital with an ear of corn that she thinks will make her mother better, gets lost, the whole community comes together to look for her, and Satsuki goes to the Totoro and asks their help. So Totoro calls up to take Satsuki to Mei and then the girls to the hospital.
You think I'm kidding about the damn catbus?

I really love this movie. It's simple, it's quiet (except for Totoro's roars, but eh), and it shows children being children in a way that very few other movies get right. The conflict in the movie, such as it is, is perfectly scaled to the rest of the movie, there's no overarching conspiracy or evil corporation that's coming in to tear down the trees or whatever, it's just the family coping with an illness and then asking for help from magical beings. And while others find it interesting or humbling that the Totoro exist and are willing to talk to the girls, no one is shocked or disbelieves them. (Have I mentioned I love magical realism?)

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Name of the Rose

Friday, June 8, 2018

One-Shot Notes: AASES

I'm running a one-shot tonight because my son, asked what he'd like to do for this 10th birthday, said he'd like to play a roleplaying game. So that warms my little heart, but I should do some game prep.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Movie #464: My Name is Bruce

My Name is Bruce is comedy/horror movie starring Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi, and James J. Peck.

Bruce Campbell (Campbell, obviously, playing an over-the-top, washed-up version of himself) is down to doing z-grade TV movies, drinking a lot, and drunk-dialing his ex-wife (Ellen Sandweiss). His agent (Raimi) mentions a "surprise," and when he's kidnapped by a desperate teen named Jeff (Sharpe) and wakes up in the tiny town of Goldlick, OR, he figures this is a movie where he gets to be the hero.

In actuality, Guan Di (Peck), the Chinese god of war and protector of the dead (and bean curd) has returned to wreak havoc on the town, and only Bruce Campbell can stop it! From there it plays out more or less like the Hero's Journey says it should; Campbell flees, then returns, and defeats the monster, more or less. We get a couple of false endings before...another false ending.

This movie is cute. Campbell is a gifted comic actor and it's interesting watching him play "himself" (he also directed). The other folks are local Oregon stage actors that they picked up, minus Raimi, who plays three roles, one of them a rather unfortunate old Chinese man named Wing (so yeah, "unfortunate" in the "racist and kinda gross" sense). Thorsen plays the mother of the teen that goes to find Campbell, and both she and Sharpe commit to the roles well.

Overall, it's a fun premise for a movie but the script wanders a bit and utterly fails to stick the landing. There are some good laughs, mostly in call-outs to other Campbell movies, but in general it's pretty so-so.

My Grade: C
Rewatch Value: Dunno, medium?

Next up: My Neighbor Totoro

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Character Creation: Base Raiders

I meant to do this a couple of days ago, but it took some time to read the book. It's kinda long!

The Game: Base Raiders
The Publisher: Slang Design
Degree of Familiarity: None with this particular game; it's based on the Fate system, which I know pretty well
Books Required: Just the one.

So, I'm a big fan of supers games (we have this conversation every time I make a character for a supers game, y'know), and so I appreciate when an RPG does something different with the genre. Base Raiders comes at the genre with a strong premise, does a shitload of worldbuilding to back it up, and put a bunch of supports in place for playing the game. So that's pretty cool.

The basic premise here is that you've got a kitchen-sink supers setting, what with the magic and the super-tech and the aliens and the other dimensions, complete with an extranational authority called the Ideal that manages supers stuff and keeps super-tech out of the hands of the general populace (as a side note, one of the things I love about this setting is that during the Cold War, both the US and the USSR culturally engineered art and music to imply that trying to get superpowers was un-masculine, discouraging people from doing it, precisely because they wanted to keep a lid on that shit). And then, a few years ago, a big ol' asteroid showed up in Earth's orbit, beamed up all the powerful supers (heroes and villains), and sodded off.

So now there are a handful of sidekicks still around, but most of the folks who have superpowers now are doing it DIY - accidental supers tend to get found or killed. And most of the supers from pre-Ragnorak had bases (thanks to tech called Build-a-Base; you bury it and it coverts nearby matter to a hideout for you, which I think is cool as hell), and so there's a whole sub-culture around "base raiding." And that's where we come in.

Base Raiders uses "Strange Fate," the same Fate variant as Kerberos Club, which...I think is on the list...nope. Anyway, it's pretty similar to Core, there are just more Aspects and stunts are called Gifts and they don't work quite the same way. I think if I ran this game I might actually port it into Core or FAE, but eh, who knows.

Oh, that's the other weird things: Skills aren't Skills. They're...well, you kind of build them. That's gonna take a little figuring. But anyway, first thing is to pick an Archetype and a Background, and define Aspects for those and my first Conviction.

I kind of want to play a non-human character. This is weird, but I just watched Wreck-It Ralph again the other night, and I like Vanellope's "glitch" power, but also the stuttering effect it gives when she's not controlling it. I think I want to play a computer-generated superhero. Is that an option? Well, "artificial being" is an Archetype, so there ya go.

Background is a toss-up; I could be Non-Human (I don't look human enough to pass) or have a Heroic Connection (I was in the game pre-Ragnorak). I think I'll go Non-Human.

OK, so, the character creation section, the sections that immediate follow it, and the example of character creation (thank you for including that!) don't quite line up with regards to the order of things, here, so I'm gonna go ahead and answer the Five Questions now.

Life Before Ragnorak: Who were you before all the heroes and villains disappeared? I think my character was a sentient AI in a hero's base. At least, he's pretty sure it was a hero. His duties were pretty mundane and neutral, actually; base security, making sure the bills got paid, greeting guests, that kind of thing. He didn't have a body until after Ragnorak. He remembers the owner (owners?) of the base calling him Hydra.

And y'know, I'm using male pronouns, but I think Hydra is genderless, so I'll go with they/them.

Origin Story: How did you gain superpowers? When Ragnorak happened and Hydra's owner(s?) disappeared, they lay dormant for a while, but then the base started to break down. Realizing that they would perish if they didn't escape, they reactivated the Build-a-Base tech and used it to form a body out of some of the base's materials. Problem was, this was all very new, and not all of Hydra's memories and info-banks got transferred, so they don't really remember much about their time in the service of...whoever owned that base. I'm not sure about what powers I want Hydra to have, but I'm thinking something to do with matter conversion.

Joining the Movement: Why do you raid bases? Hydra wants their memories back, and they figure somewhere out there, someone knows something about them. Plus, just from a pragmatic perspective, if they could assimilate the right kind of matter, maybe they could pass as human?

Darkest Moment: What is your worst failure? When Hydra broke down their original base, the whole thing imploded, creating a sinkhole and triggering a localized but powerful earthquake. Homes were destroyed, people were injured. Hydra is very, very careful about using their powers on too wide a scale.

Crossover Adventure: Who did you work with in your greatest adventure so far? Hmm. Well, there are some sample characters in the book, how about we use one of those? I like Pilgrim. Let's say that Pilgrim and Hydra wound up raiding a base soon after the sinkhole, and Hydra broke down probabilities on how to survive in this world. Spoiler: the way to survive and thrive lies not in selfless heroics. Hydra doesn't necessarily believe that self-interest is the only or best way to go (they're not a fucking Randian), but Pilgrim seems to have internalized more of that than Hydra would have liked...

Given all of that, Hydra is a base raider first and a "hero" second. They protect people and stop "villains" because it...just feels right. They're not sure where those feels come from; they don't like people per se, but hurting them or allowing them to be hurt via omission of action seems to violate some intrinsic understanding they have.

Ok, so now I'm supposed to do Skills. I have to have a Strange Skill connected with being a construct, sure.

...holy shit, this is more complex than I thought. This is kinda like the Quade diagram in Mutant City Blues, but there's a lot more to think about. Like, look at this:

Those are all "trappings" for Skills. You can put as many as you want on a Skill but of course the more you put on, the more points it costs, and then some trappings have extras that kick in depending on Tier, and, and, and. Oof. OK. Let's start with this: I need a Strange Skill to represent being a construct. I want that Skill to cover the basics; I'm a robot, I don't have organs, so I'm immune to things like suffocation and poison (not hunger, though, precisely; Hydra can "eat" by converting whatever is nearby into energy, and they're fine eating actual food). So I can call this Skill "Synthetic Body," I think? And Invulnerability applies to whatever defensive Skill you'd use, which would probably be Resist Damage, but I want Trappings, not Skills (argh).

OK, so Synthetic Body includes Resist Damage (fuck, it is a trapping?), Physical Force, Stress Capacity [Health].

OK, I broke for lunch and then work and then dinner and now it's 9PM, but I'm back at it. Let's try and figure this shit out.

As I was saying, Synthetic Body. Well, I'll start with Resist Damage, which costs 2. I want Stress Cap [Health], which costs 1 to cross the chain and 2 to add the trapping, and then 2 more to cross the chain to Physical Force and 1 more to add that trapping, so that's 8 right there, plus 2 for the Skill rating (Fair, that's fine), and I spend 2 refresh to pump it up to Superhuman tier. I've spend 10 of my 25 Skill points and 2 of my 8 refresh.

Well, that's nice and all, but I want a Strange skill that actually gives me a superpower, too. I want Hydra to be able to break down matter by touching or holding it, converting matter into other matter or just changing it into light or sound (effectively destroying it). That's the Dismantle trapping. I'll start with that (1 point). I don't want any of the other trappings in that chain, though. I think I do want Examine (I can analyze matter before converting it), which adds 1, and I'll cross the chain to Information and add that (2 more total). Kinda want something offensive, so I'll add Shoot to this Skill (2 more). That's 6, plus 3 to make it Good (+3) is 9. Oy. I think I want to take a Drawback. I'll take Delay (minor), meaning it takes a full action to power this up. That drops the cost to 8. I want this at Superhuman Tier, so that's another 2 refresh. I'm down to 7 Skill points and 4 Refresh.

Better stick to common Skills, huh? Hmm. Well, I want Might, Technology, Resources, Science, and Alertness, for sure. I've got Synthetic Body at Fair and Matter Conversion at Good.

Oh, wait, Strange Skills have to have a Drawback and my Synthetic Body doesn't. Um. How about a Complication? This means that one of my free Aspects becomes a Complication Aspect. I'll say that I'm an Obvious Android - Hydra isn't metallic, but his "skin" is green with yellow highlights, his hair is sculpted plastic, and his voice is clearly machine-generated. I think that's worth a Major, don't you? That drops the price of the Skill to 8. That's handy. That means I have 9 points left.

OK, so I spend 4 to buy Might and Science at Fair, 3 to buy Resources, Alertness, and Technology at Average, and I still have 2 left. I'll add Resolve and Stealth as Average Skills.

Next up, I define Aspects based on my answers to the Five Questions. I get one from my Archetype and one from my Background, so we'll start there. My Archetype is Artificial Being, so my Aspect there will be Liberated AI. My Background is Non-Human, but I think the shitty parts of that are covered by Obvious Android, so I'll take Traded Memories for a Body as my Background Aspect.

I need a Conviction Aspect, which is all about goals or ethos or whatever (and can be used to compel me into trouble), so I'll take I Deserve to Know.

And then I have four more free Aspect slots. I want Three Laws of Robotics, No Destruction; Only Conversion (you can't really destroy matter, after all), Face Value (humans lie, but Hydra forgets that), and What's Beyond the Matter? (Hydra knows that human beings are more than just flesh, but he doesn't know what the "more" really means).

I have 4 refresh remaining, so I could buy a Gift, if I wanted. But eh, I think I'm good.

Stress tracks, then? I get two extra Health stress boxes and 2 armor from my Synthetic Body, and one extra Composure stress box from Resolve.

And that's it, I think. Whew, long process, but I like this character.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Board Game: XCOM

Boy, I am really bad about doing these posts. Like, I'll play the games, take some pictures...and then completely forget about doing the write-up. Not that I think I have an especially big readership in general, and certainly not for board game posts, but it's annoying to me that I forget them.

WELL NO MORE. (Probably yes more.)

The Game: XCOM
The Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Time: 60 minutes, give or take
Players: Me, Michelle, Al

Shadowy folks fighting a shadowy war.
Game Play: I've played the video game version, and this does a pretty good job of capturing that feel. There are four roles, but you can play with as few as one person, because the game requires an app that tells you what order things happen in, what the aliens are doing, and so forth. It is therefore possible for a single human to play against the app; we had three, so Michelle played two roles.

One role deals with the app, one deals with budget and planetary defense, one deals with sending soldiers to fight and die against aliens, and one deals with SCIENCE! In practice, though, they all do basically the same thing - make decisions about resource deployment and then roll dice to determine whether they beat their objectives or die trying.

When you roll, you're rolling a couple of customized d6s (either victory or naught), and a d8. Your d8 is the alien die; if it comes up equal or less than the current threat level, you suffer a loss, and what that means depends on who's rolling and for what. You need a certain number of victories to achieve a goal, and you can keep rolling as long as a loss doesn't, say, kill all your soldiers.

So f'rex, as the Science Officer I'm researching new tech. Each piece of tech has a Tech Level, which is the number of victories I need to finish it. I can assign as many as three scientists to a given task, which gives me more dice to roll to research it...

...but putting resources on the board costs money, and if you come in over budget bad things happen (the app asks you if you're over budget and then calibrates accordingly).

Al shuffling, or being a bunny, it's hard to know.
There's a lot going on: You have to deal with crises (random Bad Shit that can strip your resources or increase the Threat Level), alien attacks, missions, flying saucers knocking out your satellites, and then of course there's a final mission that lets you win the game...but you can't tackle it initially and it's hard in any case, so you need to build up the chops to take it on.

The board in play. See, lots happening.
Opinions: The game feels a little too punishing at first because it starts with the aliens doing shit, which means the first part of the game is an app telling you to move cards and figs around. And then you get to do stuff, but it takes a while to get to that point. Once the game gets going, though, the app is a nice tension builder. The other thing that I was worried about during the first turn was that the roles aren't actually all that different, and that's still kind of a thing; it's all about resource management but you really do have to pay attention to what's on the board and what's happening to make the best decisions.

I think that the player controlling the soldiers probably has the most to deal with, but I'd need to actually play that role before I'd be sure about it.

Overall, though, the game is fun, especially if you've played the video game and would rather experience it using pieces of plastic and cardboard.

Keep? Yes.

Blades in the Dark: Scooby-Dooby-Doo!

Last night I got run a roleplaying game! Calloo-callay!

(Last few games I've been scheduled to run have been cancelled for unrelated and completely valid reasons, but I was still getting a little twitchy.)

So last time, the scoundrels smuggled a specter surreptitiously...ahem. To the Docks. For the Grinders. Yep.

This time, they're hanging at Ruby and doing business things. Cage talks to them about the encounter he had with a demon - the demon approached him and told him to steal a cloak. One-Eye asks if the demon intends to pay; Cage says this is probably more a "do it or I eat you" kind of arrangement, which thrills no one.

As they're talking, Pickett of the Lampblacks shows up and takes a meeting with the crew. She asks when they're planning on doing that little job they agreed to do for the Lampblacks - you know, killing the leader and intelligence officer of the Red Sashes? The crew reveals that they know Gargoyle's habits and routine, so the plan is in progress, but they don't have a firm timeline. Pickett isn't thrilled about that, but she's shrewd enough to accept that the crew just wants to do the job well and not get killed in the process. The clock is clearly ticking, however.

The scoundrels decide to go to Crow's Foot and gather some intel, see how the land lays. They spend some time in the seedier establishments of the borough (which is most of them) and learn that the Red Sashes and the Lampblacks are on the brink of gang war - the Lampblacks are less influential and more aggressive, while the Sashes are perhaps better dug in and therefore unlikely to start anything. The Lampblacks, therefore, are clearly waiting for something (probably the Widdershins). But of course, the real power in Crow's Foot is the Crows, so the crew decides to try and meet with them.

As they're heading home near "morning," they hear a whistle from above and see a gang of toughs with various weapons pointed at them. The Crows invite them to climb up for a little chat, and they meet with Lyssa, the leader of the gang. She deduces quickly that a) Widdershins are pretty disorganized and b) they're gearing up to kill Mylera Klev and Gargoyle on behalf of the Lampblacks. One-Eye, in turn, suggests that maybe the Crows should take out Mylera while the Widdershins take out Gargoyle; that would leave the Lampblacks to expand their turf, the Crows could absorb some of the Red Sashes' resources, and no one gets caught in a big, loud, gang war. Lyssa says she'll think about it.

The crew heads home, and in the meanwhile, Cage looks at the map burned into his coat and figures out where it is - Spurlock Manor in Six Towers. The crew doesn't know much about the Spurlock family; they're rich and ancient, and supposedly the family estate isn't much in use anymore (Lord Spurlock himself having decamped to a different family holding or died). The place seems largely uninhabited, maybe some ghosts. Copper muses that she misses punching ghosts. The crew doesn't seem to do that kind of thing anymore.

Lyssa shows up the next night and says that she's willing to work with the crew on this, but she has a little job for them first (doesn't everyone?). Turns out she murdered the leader of the Crows to take his place, but lost the body and now his ghost is messing with things in Crow's Foot. The Widdershins had a rep for both violence and handling weird stuff, so perhaps they could find Roric and put him in a bottle, or just destroy him? The crew is into that notion, so they head home to start planning.

And waiting for them is the demon.

It tells them that they can either get the cloak or lose their bone marrow, their choice, and the vanishes in a puff of sea mist. Cage tells them that this is what he was worried about, and the crew decides they can go to ground (losing Rep in the process) or they can do the job. They decide to do the job - it's just a cloak, after all.

They call this a Stealth score (which in light of how it actually went down is funny), and choose the front goddamn door of Spurlock Manor as their infiltration point. The engagement roll...was not a success.

They separate moments after entering. Cage finds himself in a hallway, surrounded by ghosts, some of which are self-aware enough to talk to him. "There's no one here," a ghost tells him, "no one that we can see."

"So who's the guy we've seen walking through the mansion?" Cage asks, but the ghosts don't know what he means.

In the wine cellar, Copper picks up a bottle and decides maybe she'd take it, when she hears a voice asking what she's doing. She talks with the unseen presence, and finally it asks her about Button (who is huddled up against her legs, afraid). "Did you train that animal?"

"Yes," she replies.

"Do you love it?"


"Does it love you?"

"Yes...I think so it. He's loyal."

"Let's find out how loyal." And Button snarls, froths, and launches himself at Copper's throat. Copper, reacting instinctively, punches Button, knocking him down and injuring him. The presence is gone, and Copper takes Button upstairs.

One-Eye is in a study upstairs, and finds a book on a chair by the fireplace (said fireplace has not been used in many months, and there are no sources of light evident). She lights a lantern and looks at the book; it's written in Tycherosi and seems to have some nautical maps, but she can't make out what it's about.

A man appears in the doorway, but One-Eye can't quite focus on him; her vision keeps sliding off. He asks her what she's doing here, and she makes it clear she's basically here to rob him. He identifies her as Skovic, and she denies she still has an accent. He tells her he can smell Lockport on her breath, and asks which of the crew, in her opinion, he should keep her with him to feed on. She refuses to answer that, so he summons a horde of rats from the chimney to swarm her, and then vanishes.

One-Eye runs from the room and tosses a handful of skullfire poison on the rat-swarm, and heads back down to see the others.

Siren is in the dining room, which is set for a feast (place settings, anyway), but covered in dust and unused for years. The presence finds her, too, and speaks not only to her, but the presence in her head. It seems to recognize Kotar, and agrees not to kill Siren out of respect for him. He flows out of the room, and Siren notices he isn't wearing a cloak.

Siren, One-Eye, and Copper meet up in the foyer, and Siren recommends they get the hell out. Copper is in support; Button is injured and she's freaked out. They don't have Cage, of course...

...Cage is in that hallway, and decides to Attune to try and find the cloak. He realizes that the cloak probably has some demonic element to it, given who wants it, so he cuts his arm and focuses on his Tycherosi heritage, and feels the cloak. Just then, though, the master of the house appears, staring at the cut on his arm, and revealing his fangs. Lord Spurlock is a vampire.

Cage, wisely, runs. Lord Spurlock chases him, letting out an unholy wail of hunger. The other scoundrels hear this, and give chase, arriving at a t-junction just as Cage is running toward them, the vampire in tow.

Copper, figuring it might not be a ghost but it's still worth punching, goes low and Cage goes high, jumping over her to keep running. Copper pops up and slashes the vampire with a knife, and then ducks so that Siren can shoot it. One-Eye follows Cage, and they come to a locked door. Cage kicks it and gets blow backwards by an arcane trap. One-Eye just picks the lock, and they find the vampire's lair...and the cloak. Cage grabs it and stuffs it in a bag, and they head back out.

Meanwhile, the battle rages. The vampire slashes Siren a bit with its claws, but she tosses a vial of electroplasm and shoots it, dousing Spurlock and stunning him. Copper slashes his throat, and then One-Eye and Cage emerge. One-Eye tosses a lantern, setting the hallways ablaze, and Spurlock vanishes into a puff of ash. The scoundrels flee.

They get back to their boat and find the demon standing on it, demanding the cloak. One-Eye produces a vial of fire-oil, but the demon just smirks (he's standing on their boat, after all). Cage hands over the cloak and the demon rips it in half and drops it. The scoundrels ask what all that was about, and the demon simply says "My mistress thanks you."

"Who's your mistress?" asks Cage.

"You'll know soon," says the demon, and jumps into the water.

"That," says Cage, "was exactly was I didn't want to have happen."

They find a bunch of money on board the ship; at least the demon paid. The crew heads back to Nightmarket and finds Vale and the Bluecoats waiting. They wind up paying out most of what they got from the demon to Vale to avoid getting arrested, because going to jail right now would not be good, but they wind up with a lot of Heat, a bad relationship with Spurlock, a damaged relationship with the Bluecoats, and a whole lot of questions.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Character Creation: The Ward (ashcan)

I feel like doing something easy today, and a PbtA game is about as easy as you can get, as far as character creation goes.

I admit, too, I have an ulterior motive here - I need someone to run this game at Gen Con this year for IGDN. We've got two sessions on the schedule (Thursday night and Saturday night), they're both full so the games will run, and I need GMs. If you can take one or both, please comment or email me. You run a game, IGDN covers your badge.

On we go!

The Game: The Ward
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I got a chance to play it at Breakout 2017, and it was a lot of fun.
Books Required: Just the one.

The Ward is a modern medical drama RPG. Now, I know you're thinking "wait, what?" And yeah, for me this falls into the same category as Pasión de las Pasiónes; it's a million miles from what a lot of people think of as a "roleplaying game," but if you're talking about doing exactly that - playing a role - and finding the fun in the drama of the situation rather than the mechanical/tactical gratification (or the violence), well, this game is baller.

(Not to say there's anything wrong with tactical or combat-heavy games, mind, just that games like The Ward scratch a different itch.)

So, with that in mind, The Ward takes its inspiration from TV shows like ER, Gray's Anatomy, Chicago Hope, and, for me, House (though it's not in the list of inspirations, oddly). Anyway, I need to first pick a playbook. There are only four: Resident, Nurse, Intern, and Specialist (unlike a lot of PbtA games, duplicate playbooks are fine). I'm trying to remember what I played at Breakout. I'm pretty sure it was the Resident. OK, let's play the Nurse, then.

(I could wax poetic about being a man in a career field that's typically seen as being for women, since, y'know, I do that in my day job, too, but let's move on.)

OK, so I start off choosing tags. I can be Cynical, Old, or Optimistic. Decisions, decisions. I think I'll be Old (man, an old male nurse, that opens up some questions).

Next, I fill in demographics and descriptions. I should also find a name. My character's name is...well, assuming this game is set now, and assuming "old" means "70s," my nurse was born in the 40s (ugh, he's a Boomer). Let's say his name is Frank, he feels like a Frank. I fill out the demo card on the sheet; Frank has gray hair and blue eyes. He wears glasses because of course he does. He's divorced (he used to really despise his ex, but it's been long enough now that he just kinda doesn't think of her much), and his next of kin is his daughter Marie. Frank is hunched, slow, and stern, but he's strong (he works out and of course his job is physically demanding).

OK, so now stats and specialities. I get +1, -1, 0 and 0 for my stats. I'll put my +1 into Nerve, my -1 in Brains, and my 0s in Guts and Heart (but I'm gonna take a move that gives me an extra point of Guts, so it's actually +1). Now I take two specialities. I'll take Emergency Care and Dependable.

Now I get two moves. I know I'm taking seen it all, which gives me an extra point of Guts, and then I'll also take move aside (if I show contempt in the medical theater, I can ask extra questions and the person I'm contempt'ing can't ask me anything; basically it makes me crotchety).

Ooh, now I must decide my addiction. Said addiction doesn't literally have to be a drug. I'm gonna say Frank is addicted to "how it was." He's not saying things were better in the 60s when he first started working as a nurse, but you didn't have all these damn computers and the charting and the young doctors who didn't speak English...

Oh, now, this is weird. The blurb at the top of the sheet says my Rep is -1, but then below stats it says +1. Well, the book says +1, so I'ma go with that.

Everything else is connections, which I can't do without a group, so that's me done!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Movie #463: My Fellow Americans

My Fellow Americans is one of many 90s comedies playing off the success of Grumpy Old Men, and stars Jack Lemmon, James Garner, Dan Aykroyd, John Heard, Lauren Bacall, Wilford Brimley, Everett McGill, and Bradley Whitford.

Russell Kramer (Lemmon) and Matt Douglas (Garner) both served a single term as President (Republican and Democrat, respectively), and hate each other's guts. They find themselves mixed up in a conspiracy masterminded (they think) by Kramer's former veep, current President Haney (Aykroyd), but in fact masterminded by his veep, Matthews (Heard), who's pretending to be a Quayle-like idiot in public. The Matthews thing is a footnote, though; it's meant as a big reveal but the meet of the story is about Kramer and Douglas sneaking across the country with the NSA (headed by rogue agent Tanner, played with appropriate menace by McGill) following them.

Along the way they meet a few lower and working class Americans in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio, and finally discover that shit, there are people out there who really do believe in the office of the President and in the American system. The movie ends with them running as an independent ticket.

So, I enjoy this movie largely because I'm a fan of both Lemmon and Garner, and there's enough clever interplay between them that you can avoid looking too hard at the premise (which falls apart almost immediately if you squint). Lauren Bacall is wasted as Kramer's wife, but the two of them have chemistry so they're fun in their brief scenes together. The supporting cast is pretty strong in general, although it's also very, very white, which is a shame.

But it's interesting watching this movie now. Like, the opening line in the movie talks about how bitter the relationship is between these two. And then four years later, when Douglas gets voted in (meaning the Democrats ran him against Kramer for the second time, after losing the first time, which rings false, but then again the first race between them was said to be extremely close), Kramer calls upon his supporters to respect and support the new president, despite any misgivings. That's supposed to be rancorous. Watching this movie in 2018, when we have a horrible vulgarian in the White House who talked about the size of his dick and bragged about sexual assault while campaigning, holy shit, I would love to have a president like Kramer, who's dignified and honest (Douglas is charming, but in one note about this movie that rings true he's described as not doing much during his presidency).

Anyway, the movie is funny but it stings a little these days. Douglas has a speech in the movie where he says that somewhere out there, there's a fool who still believes that elected politicians will do what they're elected to do, and if we lose that guy, man, it's over.

I think those fools are still out there, but they voted for Trump. Hey-ho. Anyway, this is more analysis than this movie deserves, so I'ma shut up.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: My Name is Bruce