Friday, June 29, 2018

Character Creation: Mage: The Awakening 2nd Edition

Today is the 10th anniversary of my character creation project. It started waaaaaay back here with Mage: The Awakening 1st Edition.

June 29, 2008. Obama was president, my son was only a few weeks old, and my life was in utter turmoil and it was going to get more turbulent. I didn't know it, but in a few months, my father would die, and a few months after that, I would be deep in what was then the worst depression of my life. I had just finished my first year of being employed as an SLP, but I was still doing a bunch of freelance work for (what was then) White Wolf.

And now here we are 10 years later. My life is, again, in utter turmoil, and this last year has taken the prize as "worst depression of my life." My son just turned 10 (obviously), and has grown up into a brilliant young man, and for his 10th birthday, he asked me to run a game for him (which was this). I'm no longer freelancing for (what is now) Onyx Path, and that sucks, but I have my own publishing company and we're doing OK, and I've got some new freelance work that I'm excited about.

And there's this project. When I started it, I owned maybe...100 RPGs? At most? And then the bundles happened, and then I started actively collecting, and then there was Kickstarter, and here we are - more than 350 and climbing, and I'll probably never finish this.

I did think about packing it in. I mean, I have no idea whether or not these posts are useful to anyone, or even if anyone reads them. When I started them on LJ, I got multiple comments on each entry, but that's not how this platform works, and that's fine. So why am I still doing this? (And this, and this.)

I've always enjoyed the exercise of crossing everything off a list, and that's probably part of it. I also really like making characters. This is silly, but when I'm having trouble sleeping, I'll sometimes revisit the characters I've made for this project (the superheroes especially) and think about how they'd function in a story or play out scenes from "their" movies in my head, just to put myself in a different, more controllable headspace. The characters I've made in this project have shown up in games I've run, but I've only played one of them, as far as I remember.

Anyway, I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. If nothing else, this keeps me reading new RPGs, which, as a game designer, is useful. And if I'm going to remain a game designer, I should keep those muscles in shape.

So here we go. Ten more years, probably.

The Game: Mage: The Awakening 2nd Edition
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: I was very familiar with 1st ed, I'm pretty familiar with 2nd ed in general, and I wrote a bit of this book. I haven't actually run this edition, though.
Books Required: Just the one.

With 2nd Ed, Mage finally got the developer it deserved - Dave Brookshaw is pretty damned impressive in his understanding of and love for the game. I was really happy to get to write even the little bit of this book that I did (I wrote the Attainments and the Mage Sight rules, if you're interested).

Step One: Character Concept. I...don't actually have one handy. Reading through the Paths, I find that Moros really speaks to me (I wrote the Moros chapter of Tome of the Watchtowers back in the day, and, ooh, fun fact, Mayfly, who's mentioned and pictured in this book, was a character I made up for that book). Most of the Moros I've seen have focused on Death, so it might be interesting to focus on Matter.

Except, I've made sciencey characters before, and Matter leans that way. How else could I spin this?

Ooh, the book refers to Matter as "the world's skeleton." I like that idea. I like the idea that Matter is the "stuff" that makes up the everything, inert but for other forces (and Forces) that power it, but still, without, there's nothing. That puts a rather more mystical spin on Matter than I was thinking.

Looking over the orders, the obvious choice is Mysterium, but I'm actually leaning toward Silver Ladder. I want to make a character who's very into Consilium politics and magical law and procedure, because he's excited about magic in general. Sustained energy is the hardest thing (something I've said personally just recently, in fact) - it's easy to get excited at the beginning. It's hard to keep the energy going.

I'll say my concept is "Consilium Volunteer." My character is someone who got involved in mage society matters very early on, and so is pretty hooked in to that society. I don't necessarily want him to be a favor-trader or a negotiator, though. He's more the guy that shows up to every meeting, makes suggestions, and is ready to help set up the bake sale (or whatever the magical equivalent would be).

As part of this step, I need Aspirations, but I should really think about the character a bit. Since I'm Moros, my Awakening involved death. OK.

Casey Yost had a job as a shipping manager for a company that dealt mostly in lab supplies - industrial chemicals and the like. The job required organization and executive function, and he was good at that, but gravity makes fools of us all. A bolt sheared, a drum cracked open, the fumes burned his lungs, and Casey died.

But there's "dying" and then there's dying, after all. Casey woke up after a trip to Stygia, and had paid his Leaden Coin. He got scooped up almost immediately by the local Consilium, and he recognized its problems. Sure, these people could pull miracles out of their asses, but they were still people, and they had the same fights. Casey wasn't there to fix that (he's not actually great with people except in very specific contexts), but he could sure make himself available to do some of the work.

So, Aspirations, then. I think our short-terms should be "take on an official position in the Consilium." The long term one is going to be "form and lead a cabal." I need one more short-term, so I'll say that it's "find a suitable replacement for my job." (Casey still works for the company; he's got orders backed up and he's still got three guys out on injury leave...he can't quit.)

Finally, I need a Virtue and Vice. I think Casey's Virtue is Dependable. His Vice is Impatient.

Step Two: Attributes. Standard CofD array, 5/4/3. I'll put Social last, Physical first, and Mental Second. I'll put two dots into Strength and Stamina and one into Dexterity; two into Intelligence (again, good at schedules and executive function, which I think is best represented in this system by Intelligence) and one each into Wits and Resolve; and one each into the Socials.

Step Three: Skills. I think Mental/Physical/Social makes the most sense. Two each in Academics, Crafts, Politics, and Science, and then one each in Computer, Medicine, and Occult.

Two each in Athletics and Drive...and actually, I can't think of a reason to put dots elsewhere. Let's switch and say Physical is tertiary.

Social, then, gets 7 dots, not 4. One in Animal Ken, two in Empathy, one in Persuasion, and three in Socialize.

Step Four: Skill Specialties. Well, I know I want a Politics Specialty in Consilium. I think I'd like a Drive Speciality in Industrial...wait, how about just "Trucks." That's better. Finally, Casey is pretty good at sussing out how a group needs shoring up, so I'll Specialize Socialize in Support.

Step Five: Mage Template. I get a dot of Occult, a dot of Silver Ladder Status, and High Speech for free.

My Nimbus manifests as a chemical scent, and hints of steam of smoke in the air. My Magical Tool is my ID from work (now warped and unrecognizable from the chemical spill).

For Arcana, I think I want to go 3/1/1/1. So that's 3 in Matter, 1 in Death, 1 in Life, 1 in Forces, and 1 in Mind.

I start with three Rotes. Gotta go look at those. OK, we'll take Influence Electricity, State Change, and One Mind, Two Thoughts.

I get one dot of Gnosis to start, and I could raise it with Merits, but I'm not for sure on that yet. I get one Obsession, and one Praxis per dot of Gnosis. Just a moment. Huh, some example Obsessions would've been nice. As it is they're just "like Aspirations, only magic-y" and that's not altogether helpful. Well, we'll say Casey's Obsession is "Learn the Lex Magica." Casey doesn't want to be a rules lawyer, he wants to make sure the bylaws are practical.

Praxis, then. Well, it's easy enough, it's just a spell I'm capable of casting that I've cast so much that it's second nature. I'm gonna make it Cleanse the Body. Makes sense for his history, I think.

I get a dot of a Resistance Attribute; I think it should Composure.

Step Six: Merits. I get 10 dots (because I'm supernatural!) and I might spend 5 to boost Mana, but I dunno. Let's look. Well, I definitely want Consilium Status; I'll take two dots. I'll take Lex Magica as a Merit (seems appropriate). I'll take one dot of Contacts (Corporate), and I'll take two dots of Resources. Three more. I'll take Potent Nimbus at one, and put the other two into Destiny (his Doom is "Die gasping").

Step Seven: Advantages. Usual stuff. Size is 5, Health is 8, Speed is 10, Defense is 3, Willpower is 5, Initiative is 5, Wisdom is 7.

You know, one of the things I miss about the 1st edition of these games is the "spark of life" step - there's no discussion in this book about tying everything together, and no example of chargen. I understand why; this book is overstuffed as it is, but I miss it.

Anyway, I feel like Casey maybe doesn't have a Shadow Name yet, and it's not mentioned anywhere in chargen, so it can't be that important. I keep thinking of Atlas (doing the work to hold up the world), except Atlas was being punished, and that's not the vibe I want, here.

Otherwise, that's me done, though.

Game Prep: Staggering Through Summer

Always surprises me how much my work day wipes me out. Like, I know I can't complain (my job is actually pretty cushy, all things considered), but home at the end of the day and I can't focus, which makes writing and gamestuff hard.

Anyway, with that in mind, I'm running Night's Black Agents and Alas for the Awful Sea this weekend, neither of which I have prepared for, so I figure I better do that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Character Creation: Chronicles of Darkness

Don't feel like watching TV just now, need to kill a bit of time and drink my tea, and I feel like making a character. I do not, however, have time to read through a whole book, so we're stuck doing something I'm familiar with.

The Game: Chronicles of Darkness
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: I developed The God-Machine Chronicle, which introduced the rules changes that became Chronicles of Darkness, so "very yes."
Books Required: Well, that's a fraught question.

So, back in...what, 2012 or so, the World of Darkness and associated properties were owned by CCP and licensed by Onyx Path, and CCP didn't want to let OPP do official second editions of anything. As such, The God-Machine Chronicle and Blood and Smoke were, in all but name, World of Darkness and Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Edition, respectively.

But lo, CCP sold everything to Paradox, which did not care about the words "second edition" but did (correctly) feel that having two Worlds of Darkness led to brand confusion, so what had been called the "new World of Darkness" was rebranded "Chronicles of Darkness," and what had been the GMC was rebranded as the Chronicles of Darkness Rulebook, though it included a bunch more core rules. And then, in a move that still baffles me, all of the core rules were included with all of the core books, going forward, but since you can't cram all of the rules into a 20-40K word chapter, the rules versions in books like Werewolf, Mage, Promethean Second Editions and the newer games like Beast were kind of incomplete and patchwork. It would have been a much better idea to just say "you need the CofD core to use this," in my opinion, but my opinion isn't exactly sought-after, so here we are.

Anyway, Chronicles of Darkness is the only book that you need, and for purposes of this project I'm not considering that and GMC to be separate editions, because...they aren't. CofD just adds in all the core rules that we didn't put in the GMC. Confused yet?

On we go.

Step One: Character Concept. There is a part of me that wishes that, after high school or after college, I had just fucked off to Detroit or something and gotten whatever shitty job I could and live in a tiny apartment (I mean, I did that part, but it was in Toledo). Things cannot be other than they are, of course, but that notion of getting away from what I knew younger than I actually did is persistent. I never did it because I was afraid and staying near my family was comfortable. Anyway, this notion shows up in a couple of the other characters I've made (including this one, for Mage 20th), but I want to play with it a little more, especially in light of today's edition of "this is how our society crumbles."

So I want my basic character concept to be "angry activist." I'm thinking that he might not be American; maybe he's from Honduras or Mexico or Syria or someplace where "activist" is a little different than here (so far). I don't know, not sure yet. That's good enough for a concept, though, and I can flesh out from there.

This step also encourages me to think about Aspirations. I get three; two short-term, one long-term. For short-term, I want "organize a protest" and "punch a Nazi" (what the hell, it's topical). For long-term, I think I want something more personal, so we'll say that my character's father never made it over to the US, and he wants to find him.

Step Two: Anchors. For human characters, that's Virtue and Vice, and one of the things we did in GMC was change these so they're not Christian in flavor. Anyway, I think my activist is, at the end of the day, optimistic. He believes that people can get smarter and fix their own systems. Optimistic is a good Virtue. For Vice, we want something that represents that easy way out, the path the character takes to make himself feel better. "Angry" is too on the nose, and I'm not sure "Shouty" is what I want. "Abrasive" might be closer to the truth, or maybe just "Mean."

Step Three: Attributes. Standard NWoD CofD array, 5/4/3. Do I actually want this fellow to be an immigrant? (I mean, if I do it's going to affect trait choices and I should think about it.) I think I do. We'll say his father was active in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, but he fled with his then-teenage son in 2006. His father went back to Ukraine to visit (and try to help) family in 2012, and (my character) hasn't seen him since.

OK, but Attributes, though. Let's say Social first, Mental second, Physical third (and I'll give him the physical stuff he needs with Skills). Three into Presence, one into Manipulation, one into Composure makes five. For Mental, I'll put two into Resolve and one each into Intelligence and Wits. For Physical, I'll just put one across the board (I don't see this guy being especially weak in any physical area).

Step Four: Skills. 11/7/4. Here, I want to go Physical/Social/Mental, I think. For Physical, I'll put three into Athletics (good for running and throwing), two in to Brawl, Larceny, and Stealth, and one each into Firearms and Weaponry.

For Social, I'll put two each into Streetwise, Intimidation, and Expression and the last one into Empathy.

Finally, for Mental, one each in Computer, Academics, Medicine, and Politics.

Step Five: Skill Specialties. I want to specialize Politics in Activism. I kinda want to give him a Streetwise Specialty, but I'm not sure what. One of the suggestions in the book is "Rumors," but eh.

Let's go back to another technique and think of three (well, two) things about the character. We know he distrusts the government and we know he's loud. I think I'll specialize Intimidation in "Shouting," actually. I'll specialize Stealth in Crowds; he knows how to blend in when he needs to.

Step Six: Merits. Mortal characters still get seven dots in Merits in 2nd Ed, though for supernatural characters it's 10. Anyway, I'll take a dot of Multi-Lingual (Russian and Ukrainian). I'll take Inspiring for three points, and then the question is, do I dump the last three into Allies (fellow activists) or take other cool stuff? I think I'll take Indomitable, and then with my last dot I'll take one point in Anonymity.

Step Seven: Advantages. Well, this is easy, since I didn't take any Merits that change them. Willpower is 5, Health is 7, Integrity is 7, Size is 5, Speed is 9, Initiative is 4, Defense is 5.

And then I guess breaking points would go under here as well. They are not mentioned in the character creation section, which, bit of an oversight, but hey. (I wrote the Integrity system, including breaking points, for what it's worth.)

Well, first I want a name and stuff. His name is Ruslan Chumak, and he's now 24. He's thin and wiry, like a lot of my characters (indulge me a bit of wish-fulfillment), black hair, brown eyes, Roman nose, long fingers. His ears are pierced multiple times, but he's paranoid about getting tattoos (he's got one: his father's name, on his chest over his heart).

And now for the breaking point questions:

  • What is the worst thing your character has ever done? Ruslan and a couple of buddies smashed in the windows of a bunch of cars and shops in a rich section of town one night; they were a little drunk but mostly just pissed off because Ruslan's friend Oleg had lost his job over a bullshit complaint. Someone came out of a house to yell at them and Ruslan hit the guy with a vodka bottle. It didn't break; Ruslan just heard the plink and then the guy fell down, and when he got back up he was gushing blood. I think what bothered Ruslan about this whole thing was that the guy was totally right to confront these kids that were smashing stuff up, so I'll take "violence against a bystander" as a breaking point. 
  • What is the worst thing your character can imagine doing? Gotta go back to violence, here. Ruslan knows what the Russians and the Ukrainians did to each other; his dad told him. "Burning someone alive" is the worst thing Ruslan can imagine doing to a human being. 
  • What is the worst thing your character can imagine someone else doing? "Sending someone to die for corruption/profit" is probably the nadir, as far as Ruslan is concerned, but that's mostly pretty theoretical. I think that profiting off war or revolution is probably in the same boat; if you're acting politically, you shouldn't be using that to get yourself off, as it were. 
  • What has your character forgotten? Supernaturally, that is. Back in the Ukraine, when Ruslan was a boy, he saw a man get pulled into a crack in the sidewalk. Just...gone, into a two-inch crack. Not even a bit of blood left. Ruslan doesn't step on cracks now.
  • What is the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to your character? His father's disappearance. The trip to the US was long, hard, and traumatic, but Ruslan could always lean on his father, and because he was a teen at the time, he was a little less shell-shocked than some of the younger people making that same trek. But then his father disappeared, and Ruslan was only 18, and everything fell apart. 
That leads us to now. Ruslan is working whatever jobs he can get, but always under the table and always manual labor. He's probably overstayed his visa, he's not sure, and he keeps mostly to other Ukrainian ex-pats and refugees. He knows that the US is headed for shit and blood, and he's not going to run this time. He promised his father he'd stand up to evil. 

I can see Ruslan being part of a chronicle tying in elements of Demon. I think it'd be interesting if his father signed a soul pact and "came back" as a demon, and by "interesting" I mean "pretty damn heart-breaking". 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Ahem. Last night we played Promethean. We'd been out of it for a month, but it's like riding a bike.

Last time, the throng discovered that there, perhaps, more Pilgrim Marks downtown, and then they felt Azoth call to Azoth.

Skip feels the Azoth call, and then sees a Promethean pull himself over the edge of the parking garage. The Promethean is tall, lithe, muscular, and handsome, but when he stands still he looks like a store mannequin (so he's a Galateid, though Skip doesn't know that). He introduces himself as Donnie, and asks if Skip is Jesse - apparently Donnie's here looking for the same thing as the throng. He mentions that Jesse was going to help him with something. Skip calls up Enoch to let him know about this new guy, and Enoch says they're tracking down Pilgrim marks that Jesse may have left. Donnie and Skip go to join the throng, Donnie employ some pretty impressive parkour skills to do it.

They meet up, and Donnie meets everybody. He recognizes Grimm, and asks him to help him find someone; Grimm agrees, but not right now (they're hunting marks). Donnie is fine with that.

Grimm grabs a map of Columbus, thinks about his vision, maps out where they found the first mark, and then tries to extrapolate where the other three might be. They figure the next one is nearby, so they wander down the street a ways and find an intersection near Franklin University. Enoch uses Plumb the Fathoms and feels his way to a McDonalds, and Grimm finds the mark in the bathroom. It says "jail."

The first one said "afraid," but it had a slash through it. So, don't be afraid of jail? Of course, there were two more. The throng checks the map and finds probable points for the other two marks, one of which is...a city jail. Figuring that that one might be hard to get to, they head to the last one, which is in German Village.

This area is pretty dead, it being about 1:30AM. The throng finds a bookstore, a coffee roaster, and a bar, but everything's closed. They spread out and start looking (Donnie gets to a roof), but they don't find a mark outside, and then a cop car rolls up. Feather, thinking quickly, says they're looking for their cat (what the heck, it worked in another universe), and the cops tell them to leave private property alone and roll out.

Feather urges the throng to leave - they can come back during the day, after all. But then her Role catches up with her. She's an Explorer, and leaving this obvious clue behind feels wrong. She decides they should to go back and try again.

Avalon, when she's finally done flirting with Donnie, uses Soul in the Software to fly around into the bar, but then realizes this form is far too small to actually search the place. Enoch uses Plumb the Fathoms again and feels that the mark is above their heads, which means it's in the bookstore (as that has a second story). They break in (Matt picks the lock), and search the place, which takes a while due to, well, it's dark. But they find it - it's tucked behind a bookcase and it means "keep away."

Virgil, at this point, says, "uh, guys? We have a problem." And the police lights turn on.

The throng scatters. Donnie is away, over fences. Grimm activates Zephyrus and flees, while Feather and Matt slip away in the shadows. Skip runs, but Avalon gets tackled, feeling stirrings of Vitriol. The cops start to arrest her, but Skip rolls back and uses Eris to befuddle a cop and disarms another with a quick grab. Two more go to arrest Avalon, but she uses Eros to make one tackle another, and runs...but then feels herself stumble (Pilgrimage-wise). This still isn't Deviant. Does she need to get arrested?

She turns around and heads back, cuffs herself, and sits down on the curb. Skip flees, and the cops take Avalon in.

Which means that Avalon is now in police custody, her ID is going to get run, and there's at least one federal agency that's looking for her.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Movie #468: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is an animated movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki and starring (in the English dub) Alison Lohman, Shia LeBeouf, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Mark Hamill, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, and Tress Macneille.

1000 years in the future, the world has been destroyed by war and people live in several different kingdoms. Most of the world has been covered by a toxic jungle inhabited by huge mutant insects, the most dangerous of which are the Om (giant pillbug like creatures that stampede over cities en masse when provoked). Nausicaa (Lohman) is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a kingdom by the sea, and while the ever-encroaching jungle is a problem, she and her family and her people are doing more or less OK.

And then a plane from the kingdom of Tolmekia crashes into their land, carrying poison spores from the jungle and a nascent super-weapon they stole from the kingdom of Pejite, and everything goes to shit. The warlike Tolmekians invade and kill her father the king (Mark Silverman), enslave the inhabitants of the valley, and take Nausciaa back to Tolmekia, but en route are shot down by a young soldier from Pejite (LeBoeuf), and wind up in the jungle, where Nausciaa learns that the trees are slowly cleansing the world and the bugs are there to prevent people from making it worse.

People, of course, proceed to do exactly that, with the Tolmekian warlord Kushana (Thurman) and the Pejites bringing a whole horse of Om to the Valley, the super-weapon getting briefly activated, and everyone learning a valuable lesson about assuming the messianic figure in the prophecy is a dude.

Like all Miyazaki films, this is beautiful shot and animated. The world-building, likewise, is pretty fantastic (it was based on a manga that Miyazaki created), and it doesn't spend much time telling us much about these different kingdoms, yet we get a good sense of who they are and what they're like just from what we do see.

Of interest is Nausicaa being an absolutely badass and laying out a bunch of Tolmekian soldiers before realizing, upon almost killing her friend and mentor Lord Yupa (Stewart) that killing is bad, and swears off violence for the rest of the movie...which is kinda what winds up saving them. In a related matter, I really enjoyed the fear and deference everyone shows to Yupa, and that it's teased early and then pays off when he takes on a bunch of enemy soldiers like an absolute boss (with all due respect to Nausicaa and her quite astute observation that killing just begets more killing, I still love the scene in movies where one lone badass takes down a whole bunch of dudes, sue me).

Like a lot of Miyazaki's stuff, there's still a lot that goes unanswered at the end of the movie, but it's not about resolution of everything, just about this particular story, which is cool. And, likewise, these characters are layered - Kushana is a warmonger and a killer, but she's doing her duty by her country and she's not utterly stupid about her actions. Everyone's got a pretty valid reason for doing what they're doing, and sometimes that leads to violence and stupidity because everybody thinks they're right. That tracks.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Net

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Character Creation: We Used to be Friends (ashcan)

Sadly, working summer sessions means I've been tired in the evenings and have slipped from my lofty goal of a character every week, but I'm only a two weeks behind! I do one today and one more this week, I'm caught up, and then maybe I can get ahead!

The Game: We Used to be Friends (ashcan edition)
The Publisher: Growling Door Games, Inc.
Degree of Familiarity: Plenty. I didn't have anything to do on the creative end (that's Jonathan Lavallee), but we're publishing it and I've played it a few times now.
Books Required: Just the one.

We Used to be Friends is a teenage mystery/drama game, inspired, as you may have guessed, by Veronica Mars (it predates Riverdale, though I'm told it emulates that show well, too). You're playing high school students solving mysteries, but the focus is as much on the town and how those mysteries stem from whatever drama the town and its history create. As such, the first thing you'd do in a real group is design said town. Since I do not have a group, however, I'm just gonna wing it.

I will, therefore, be picking a yearbook profile first-off. I played the Sidekick and the Socialite at Origins this year, and the Tech Geek doesn't really speak to me, so that's between the Hard-Boiled and the Delinquent. I think I shall pick the Hard-Boiled this time.

Now, again, normally this would involve a full group and we'd decide who the rich and the poor people are in town, and what keeps them that way, and I'd decide who the town's detective is, but since it's just me we'll assume that my town is someplace in the Rust Belt, because that makes me happy. Skipping over the rest of the town-related stuff (which, again, all requires a group), I need to choose traits (this is the same as Apocalypse World; choose an array).

Well, what this cooks down to is: Do I want to be better at Eyes or Hard? I think it'd be interesting to make a sleuth who's more willing to do the punishing shit in order to get the case cracked, so I'll take the first array (Eyes +1, Rash -1, Hard +2, Soft 0, Body +1).

Now, there's no slot for this on the sheet (which I'm gonna fix before Gen Con, I hope), but I also need to assign these traits to the five basic moves.

Gumshoe gets Hard (I want my character to be willing to injure or humiliate himself to get the info).
Putting it All Together gets Eyes (mostly because I want to be at least sort of good at it).
Open Up gets Body (my character is an athlete, or was, and he equates being vulnerable with physicality).
And Action! gets Rash (this is a problem because And Action is the basic "act despite danger" move, and my guy's not terribly good at it because he tends to shoot from the hip).
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!, therefore, gets Soft by default (which is OK, because despite being an athlete my guy isn't much for actual fisticuffs, he'd rather trashtalk).

Cool, now I pick a Hard-Boiled Egg move. I want Get Mad, Get Even because it allows me to use Hard to use any basic move, though there are consequences.

That's basically all the mechanical stuff that I can really do without a group, said the stuck record, so I'll just do the character stuff and call it a morning.

Harold Hall was nicknamed "Hall the Wall" his freshman year; he played goalie for the high school soccer team. And then one of his teammates, during a very chaotic set piece in the fourth quarter, stepped on his ankle and it snapped, requiring surgery and pins. He can run a little now, but he can't push on it harder enough to play soccer anymore.

While he was in physical therapy, Harold met a PTA who was under threat of losing his job because equipment was going missing. Harold, not having anything better to do with his evenings, ran it down and cleared the guy, though he wound up having to climb through windows and get punched in the face in the process. Since then, it's kinda become his thing...

Harold might look like a jock - he's tall, blond, handsome, and ripped - but he's sharp and incisive and deliberate (he's a goalie, remember). When he acts impulsively things tend to go badly because he doesn't improvise well, or when he does, he errs on the side of taking the licks himself. Someday that's going to backfire.

(I could, at this point, choose a personal mystery, but honestly neither of the ones listed for Hard-Boiled really inspire me for this character, so I'm gonna skip it and assume that if I had a group I'd have something interesting to work with.)

And that's done!

Movie #467: The Natural

The Natural is a sportsball movie starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Wilford Brimley, Kim Basinger, Glenn Close, Darren McGavin, Michael Madsen, Barbara Hershey, and probably other people I'm forgetting.

Roy Hobbs (Redford) is a gifted baseball player who, upon getting to Chicago to try out for the cubs, get shot in the stomach by a crazy woman who kills sports stars (Hershey). Note that upon until this point in the movie, it's all very standard sportsball stuff; gifted athlete, leaving his girl Iris (Close) behind until he gets signed then he'll marry her, takes on an arrogant sportsball star (Joe Don Baker) and wins...and then bang. My comment to Michelle was "this is some Black Swan shit right here."

Fast forward 16 years, and Pop (Brimley) is the manager of the Cleveland Indians New York Knights, and gets Hobbs assigned to his team. He eventually decides to actually play Hobbs, discovers he's great, and then the movie becomes a more recognizable sportsball movie - Hobbs get popular, people are intrigued by his mysterious past, he falls in with the wrong woman (Basinger), who immediately cools his hot streak with...the power of being a bad influence, I guess? But then Iris comes back into his life and he starts winning again, he gets poisoned, plays in his final game and makes many score-points!

This is one of those movies, like Enter the Dragon, that even if you haven't seen it you've kinda seen it. In particular, BASEketball takes a bunch of moments from it, which was surreal. It won a bunch of Oscars when it came out, and sure, it's that kind of movie, but eh. I was nonplussed.

Part of the issue is that it's about baseball, objectively the most boring sport, and I can't believe they make movies about it as though it's exciting (said the guy who stayed up late watching DVR'd soccer matches). Part of it is that the whole way through the movie Hobbs refuses to say anything about himself, and there's a guy who met him and had what was probably a memorable moment with him (Duvall, playing a sports writer) who now has no idea who he is. And, Hobbs is completely terrified that his true past will get out, and like, dude, you got shot. (They do actually address this, though far too late in the film - Hershey's character threw herself out the window after shooting Hobbs, so it's a dead girl on the sidewalk and a guy shot on the floor, which doesn't look great for anyone.)

Anyway, it's a well-made movie, the performances are good, and the score is actually great, so it's definitely a classic. But like, baseball.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Origins, GMing, and Stuff I Bought

Origins was last week (I didn't get to this before now because I'm working a summer session at the ol' day job). I'm not gonna do a detailed blow-by-blow, but I did want to talk about some of the games I played and how they came out.

First of all, I want to note that Origins' event reg system is crap, and that's having some effects on the kind of gaming I like. For example, this year the event reg system went up...and promptly crashed...and then went up again, but a full third to half of the events (including all of the IGDN ones) weren't there. They did eventually get added in, yes, but that means we lost out on those initial few hours, and who knows how many people said "screw it, I'll just use generics" in disgust?

Also (and this is deeply stupid), you can't search the database by game title. You can search by the name of the game session, but that means that if you were to log on and see if, for example, anyone was running Chill, you wouldn't see anything. You would have to search "High Tide" or "Cold Dark Earth", and why would you know the session titles?

The effect that this is having is that folks who are doing the kind of gaming I enjoy (that is, not D&D, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu or the other big-name games) are doing it at Games on Demand. Let's be clear, I love GoD and what they do, but it leads to a problem where the only way to get players for your indie game is to run it there, which means all the indie players wind up there, which just perpetuates the issue, and that room will sooner or later run out of space. If Origins events was a little more competent, I'd say they'll increase the space, but eh?

But in any case, I got to play more games this year than I usually do, so let's talk about them.

Thursday: Overlight. I backed Overlight on Kickstarter because I liked the art, which is rare for me. Teagan was interested to play it, so we signed up for a session together. I'm happy to report that the game is a lot of fun. It's your basic fantasy game inasmuch as there's a bunch of history, things got borked, there are different races, etc., but I found the history and the races interesting and compelling, which is pretty uncommon for me. Also the system is interesting (usually you wind up rolling three dice for a stat, three for a skill, plus a d4 that does good things if it comes up 4), and intuitive enough that both Teagan and I picked it up pretty quickly.

As for the GM: The game was well-run. I felt like he listened to the players and got enthused by what we did and how we interacted, and he backed off and let us roleplay a bit. He was a little too quick to suggest things for Teagan to do, which is something a lot of adults do to younger players, but he was nice and attentive about it, which is better than it could be. My Grade: B+

Teagan's character did not actually have tentacle fingers.

Friday: Bedlam Hall. I...backed this game on Kickstarter, too. It's PbtA and kind of Addams-family/gothic inspired, dark humor with very Downton Abbey sensibilities, so Michelle and I signed up to play. I hadn't had a chance to read the game first, which is a shame, but I read through it while playing, which should be a bit of a warning sign.

Bedlam Hall commits to its premise - it constantly apologizes that you've chosen to play or read it, reminds you what a horrible choice that is, and tells you about all the weird and terrible things that happen. That's fine. I've read a lot of PbtA games and I'm reading more all the time (as I'm writing my own), so what different games choose to include and what they don't is interesting to me. Bedlam Hall doesn't focus quite as heavily on the "this is a conversation" aspect of PbtA, nor does it make the players' agenda or principles clear up front (at least not that I saw, but again I didn't read it real carefully).

However, none of that matter in this particular case because the GM wasn't prepared to run a PbtA game. He was very much attempting to run it like he was introducing new players to a trad game - instead of the characters being the established house staff, we were all on our first day. That meant that we didn't get to answer the questions that rooted us in the house and with the family:

Which means that the GM was coming up with all of this stuff for us, which just further pushed us out of the moment. Add that to the fact that we were given no chance to establish our characters; the second any of us got together and started to roleplay, the GM jumped in with an NPC to start the next "plot point" or whatever. And the whole notion of "moves" was hard for him; more than once he treated them like actions in a standard RPG, which means he didn't engage what they were supposed to do, and made our choices invalid by doing whatever came into his head and running the game like it was, well, D&D. He seemed to like performing for us and doing silly voices, but gave us very little chance to be part of the story. He admitted that he was not familiar with the game, this particular scenario, or PbtA in general, and apologized for that, so that was good, at least. My Grade: D

Also Friday: Numenera: Hey, one for which I didn't back the Kickstarter! Michelle wanted to play this, so we signed up for a late-night session (look, for me 8PM-midnight is "late night"). We had a full table, so that was cool. The game itself was a lot of fun and I like the system; I like any system that's forgiving of the players and gives them resources to manage in order to succeed. I felt like in general there wasn't a lot of threat, but it could be that it was a simple scenario for beginning players, which would have been appropriate. In general, though, it's a game that encourages players to buff each other and share resources, which, again, very much my jam.

As for the GM: Overall I thought he did really well. A little too over-reliant on reading shit off a page, but the real complaint I had was that he would ask what we wanted to do, half-listen to the answer, and then narrate for a full minute. This was actually something that the Bedlam Hall GM did, too, and you'll see this complaint again for the Saturday game. And like, I get it; you're pressed for time, you know what's going to happen next, you want to get into the plot.

But like...the players aren't here to watch you dance or listen to you talk. We're here to roleplay and be awesome, and that means you need to listen to us so you can respond to what we do. This is old, old, old, GMing advice, but you must be prepared to scrap your carefully-prepared plans in order for us to be awesome, or at least be able to fake that that's what you did.

Anyway, like I said, the game was fun and it definitely got on my list to buy (this was apparently a sneak-peek of the new edition, so I'll wait until that's out), and I'm being harsh but the GM was actually pretty good. My Grade: B-

Saturday: Trail of Cthulhu. This was the only game I played over the weekend that I was really familiar with; I ran it a few times and I've overall pretty solid on the Gumshoe system. I didn't notice when we (Michelle & I) signed up that it was based on a product called Cthulhu City, which takes the game and puts a Dark City kind of spin on it, but I'd have signed up anyway. The characters were pretty cool, and all of them had a couple of questions on the back about the strangeness of Arkham and how they'd encountered it; you chose one answer from an array of four for two questions.

The red flag, though, was that the GM didn't ask what we'd chosen. Here's a fact about GMing: If the GM doesn't know, it doesn't happen in-game. If the GM doesn't ask, it doesn't matter. So we all had these cool character bits that were actually pretty important, but they made no difference to the plot.

There were some tweaks to the system that I thought were pretty interesting, but honestly I remember very, very little about the game and I was falling asleep through a lot of it. That's bad. Now, some of that was because the group (4 players total) split up a bit (along gender lines ha ha, which turned out to be a problem), and the fella I was paired with was about as interesting as a wet sock; I tried to roleplay and he was giving me nothing back. But the larger issue was, again, the GM just kind of ignoring what the players did to keep the session going along its rails, and while he listened to me and the other guy, he all but completely ignored Michelle and the other woman at the table. (This, guys, is the sort of thing that women tell us happens but that we don't notice until we look for it, so look for it.)

Overall the game felt like it was an hour longer than it actually was, and the payoff at the end where Michelle's character sacrificed herself didn't have much impact because we'd never gotten to interact. My Grade: D

Sunday: Rockerboys & Vending Machines. You heard me. This is a hack of John Harper's Lasers & Feelings, run by Phil Vecchione of Encoded Designs and Gnome Stew. It's a cyberpunk game where you're playing a team of mercs/runners/whatever, and it's focused on the flash and the neon and the job. Michelle, Teagan and I all signed up because we figured it would be a nice, light game for Sunday morning, and we were not wrong.

I remember more about this game than anything else I played all weekend. Granted, it's the kind of game that's built on player input, and so that helps, but Phil slowed it down, let us play with each other, let us talk, asked us what were doing and listened to the answer, and fit the events of the session around that, rather than trying to shoehorn our actions into his idea of what the session was. At the end of it all, we stole the Ultimate Meme from a corporation, defeated a rogue AI named Mark Anthony, and escaped (my character was an AI named MASHUP; I provided the soundtrack for my team looking awesome).

High praise: Teagan was engaged enough that they asked everyone for a description so they could draw the characters later. My Grade: A

Stuff I Bought: Check it out!

Smaller haul than most years, because I'm strapped for money this year. I'm planning on buying more at GenCon, finances permitting, but I couldn't pass up a least a couple of purchases from the IGDN booth (gotta support my peeps), and the other two books were things I found at IPR that looked cooled. The board game is a legacy game about building a village that I showed to Michelle and she got bouncy, so that was that.

Overall, Origins was a good time. I know it looks like I complain about GMs a lot, and I do, but that's because I'm interested to watch other GMs work, so even when it's not awesome, it's still interesting. Plus the con was bookended with fun games, so overall it's a win.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Movie #466: The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose is a murder mystery directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, based on the novel by Umberto Eco, and starring Sean Connery, Christian Slater, F. Murray Abraham, Ron Perlman, Helmut Qualtinger, and Valentina Vargas.

William of Baskerville (Connery), a Franciscan monk, arrives at a Dominican monastery with his young novice Adso (Slater) in preparation for a debate. He discovers, though, that there has been a death - a young monk fell from a tower to his death, and the circumstances make the other monks think "the Devil" because they're, well, monks, and sciencey things don't really occur to them when magical things are available. More deaths follow and Baskerville contends with the increasingly gruesome and macabre murders, all of which seem to hinge on a book written in Greek, but into all this, the debate begins, the fucking Inquisition (in the personage of Bernardo Gui, played with merciless intensity by Abraham) shows up, and Adso gets seduced by a young village woman (Vargas) and has to contend with what that means for his faith.

In the end, the monastery is destroyed, all of their beautiful books burned, a bunch of people are dead, and Adso and Baskerville ride off, leaving the girl behind to her poverty. Adso, writing his memoir in the future, notes that while he loved that girl all his life, he never learned her name.

So, I've seen this movie a couple of times, but I think the copies I saw before were not great because I remember the movie being visually hard to process; I think it was just that I was watching on crappy VHS. This time was better, and I could make out the differences between characters a little better, but it doesn't help that most of the background characters are old white men dressed identically, which makes telling them apart hard. It's not a big problem when it comes to, say, Perlman (who's distinctive anyway, and his performance as the near-toothless heretic Salvatore is...memorable), but it does make some crowd scenes hard to follow.

But beyond that, the movie has a lot going on. The Franciscans are concerned that the Pope is going to abolish them, which probably means they're screwed because they'll be declared heretics, and here's Baskerville running off at the mouth and arguing that maybe, just maybe, people are capable of killing each other just fine without Satan getting involved. The local villagers are desperately poor, but they give tithes to the monastery in the form of food, and then get food given back when it's poured out a chute like garbage. The movie does a good job, in my opinion, of highlighting how privileged and arrogant these folks are, even Baskerville, who's a lot more thoughtful than most of the monks.

It's a heavy movie, it's well-shot and well-acted; I actually think it's one of Connery's better roles. It's also, as I recall, a pretty good adaptation of the novel.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Natural

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!