Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Board Game: Locke & Key

On we go! I don't think I have the focus to make a character today, so I'll do this instead.

The Game: Locke & Key
The Publisher: Cryptozoic Games
Time: 20 minutes or so
Players: Me, Michelle, Sarah

Game Play: In this game, you're ostensibly playing the Locke family trying to defeat supernatural challenges and using magical keys. In practice, there's a stack of challenges with numerical ratings and color coding (white, black, blue). The colors have meanings in the fiction (I think blue is puzzles?) but in practice there's no difference. On your turn, you flip up a challenge and read it out (sometimes there's extra text), and everyone plays up to three cards from their hand, face down.

The cards in your hand also have colors and number ratings. After everyone plays, you flip the cards, and if the numbers of cards of the appropriate color equal or exceed the challenge, you win! The one who played the most gets the challenge card, while the one who played the second-most gets a "second place" bonus (drawing more cards, scoring cards in the player's deck, etc.). Eventually you draw a GAME OVER card and then everyone totals their scores, highest winds.

Note the mansion on the right there.
Opinions: The game works just fine, but it's not very interesting. Like, there's a fiction component to the game, but it doesn't actually figure in to anything. The game is based on a comic book series, but I've never read it, and while the art style is really cool, that by itself isn't enough to make up for not having a frame of reference for this "Locke" family or why these "keys" are important. The gameplay is fun, but it's not enough to make me want to pull it out when other, more interesting games exist.

I did win, though.
Keep? Nah.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Movie #477: Night Watch

Night Watch is a Russian urban fantasy film starring Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Maria Poroshina, Dmitry Martynov, and a lot of other people with Vs in their names.

So, a little background: This movie and its sequel, Day Watch, which I thankfully do not own, are World of Darkness-ish, Underworldy sorts of urban fantasy. There are creatures called Others (vampires, shapeshifters, psychics) that roam the world and are divided into Light and Dark, and there's a truce between them. "Night Watch" refers to the Light Others that police the Dark Others, and apparently give...licenses to kill people sometimes?

Anyway, the movie starts - well, there's a long-ass prologue with a battle scene on a bridge, but the story starts - with Anton (Khabensky) visiting a witch (Rimma Markova, I think, but honestly it's hard to keep the names straight) and asking for his wife (Maria Mironova) to come back to him, only she's pregnant, so he asks for her to miscarry, but the Night Watch busts in and prevents that spell from finishing.

The kid grows up into Yegor (Martynov), who's developing Other powers, and there's a whole deal with a vampire and a prophecy and a woman who's cursed (Poroshina), and in the end, Yegor learns that Anton is his father (oh, Anton's now a...psychic? Vampire? it's hard to know, but sometimes he has fangs, anyway he's in the Night Watch) but tried to have him killed as a fetus so he goes hard for the Dark Others and boom, movie ends.

This movie is gibberish. Like, the only reason it's as comprehensible to me as it is, is because I'm familiar enough with the genre and associated properties that I can liken "the Gloom" to "Twilight" or whatever. There are some cool ideas bouncing around, but the rules never get explained, and unlike movies like John Wick that just plop us into the setting and don't waste time explaining themselves, this one has a couple of characters who are set up to be POV characters but the movie doesn't use them that way.

Speaking of characters, there are way too many. It's hard to know who we're supposed to care about - Anton, sure, but the performance is pretty hollow so it's hard to get worked up about him. Yegor and his ascent to be the Great Other, and Svetlana the Cursed Virgin and how she's meant to bring ruin are really the most interesting things, but the movie takes forever to get anywhere (and the sequel seems to bring all of this full circle, but I can't be arsed to care).

Also, they had no budget, so the fights are just quick cuts and blood spurts, apart from where they blew the wad to have a woman turn into a tiger very early in the film. Overall I'm not impressed.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Night's Black Agents: One-Session Op

Yesterday was Night's Black Agents. Some very interesting developments. Read on for tentacly fun!

So! Recall that the agents were heading for Budapest to check out (and probably take out) Dr. Janos Sas, prison doc and vampire (as established here). They arrive in Budapest and find Sas' house - a very modern affair with a gate - and set up shop up the street. Firinci makes use of a contact he knows in Budapest, Lazlo Berger, and manages to get some folks on Berger's payroll into Sas' security rotation. Parker builds a new cover (really they all do), and rents a house in the area. That's more work than she was expecting - there are background checks and hoops to jump through, and she has to take it slow because she doesn't want to tip their hand. But eventually she gets moved in.

MacAteer builds a connected cover to an underboss in the area, and learns that Sas used to be a normal, corrupt-as-hell doctor (that's how he afforded that house!). But then a few years ago, he stopped being interested in money. Now, he offers favors and good reports if you agree to..."experiments" at the prison. It's kind of an underworld ghost story, but no one really knows the truth.

A couple of nights later, a guy with a flashlight comes over to peek in the windows (fortunately MacAteer, Firinci, and Hanover are offsite in a suite that Firinci has procured). Parker "surprises" him taking her trash out, and they have a halting conversation about him looking for a lost cat (he speaks only Hungarian, which Parker doesn't, but they manage to communicate a little). He's clearly lying, but he buys Parker as a legit resident rather than a spy, so that's the important thing.

Sas behaves like a lot of the other "cold" vampires they've seen - he's a creature of habit. He works long hours, rarely eats, and has minimal contact with others. They note that guards' habits, though, and realize that the guards work in four-hour shifts and change up their routines. That means if they go in, they'll have a maximum of just under four hours before more folks show up.

The agents hack into the house security and get control of the cameras, and note that there's a panic room. They can probably rig it so it doesn't open (it's got a biometric lock), and Firinci also wants to make sure the gate stays open so they can retreat if they need to.

Firinci works it so two guards in their pocket are on shift. They sneak onto the grounds and take out the third one, and then creep into the house. The two guards on shift stay out of the way (they need to have a plausible reason why they didn't interfere, after all), and the agents sneak upstairs to Sas' room.

MacAteer sneaks in and takes aim with the dart gun - the dart, recall, contains a new serum he devised to attack the alien DNA directly. He shoots Sas in the neck with it, and Sas immediately wakes up and starts screaming. He flops over and his tentacles emerge, but then split into a bunch of little tentacles. His eyes melt. His bones start to crack. He jumps forward onto MacAteer and tackles him, driving his tentacles into his chest.

MacAteer rips one tentacle out at the root, and Parker and Hanover shoot this monster with their darts. Now with a massive dose of the serum in its system, the changes get worse - Sas' rib cage splits and spreads, and his organs fall out onto MacAteer. But worse, MacAteer feels something getting injected into his chest from the tentacles. They push the creature off and Hanover shoots it in the base of the neck, severing the spine, while Parker gets to work treating MacAteer. Some of his wounds are bleeding freely...but some are oozing some blue stuff. She opens them and tries to get them clean as best she can, but who knows?

The agents search the place, grab his laptop, a bunch of files from his desk, and open the panic room. Nothing in there but weapons, food, and a phone. The fall back and burn the place (letting the guards go, obviously), and then go through the data.

The laptop holds patient reports - everything is above board. The files, though, are the real story, and show that Sas was working on a more efficient way to turn people into vampires. Nothing about Hajnal or Tesla, though, and the agents get the feeling that this is just the most recent set of notes. There's probably more at the prison, but the agents don't want to risk it. They bug out and head for Vienna, ending the op.

Firinci goes to Berlin to line up some work, but a few days in, he gets a call from Berger. Seems the guards who were on shift at Sas' place have vanished...and now Firinci feels like he's being followed.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Board Game: Cthulhu Wars

This was last week, but what the heck, it's not like you'll notice the difference.

The Game: Cthulhu Wars
The Publisher: Petersen Games
Time: Two hours, I think? It'll move faster next time
Players: Me, Michelle, Al, and Sarah

Game Play: I would really love it if my phone would stop randomly not keeping the pictures I take, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, the basic premise here is that the world has ended, the Great Old Ones are returning and battling it out, and we're fighting to see who achieves ultimate mastery of the ruined husk of the world. The factions include Great Cthulhu himself, the Black Goat of the Woods, the Yellow Sign, and so on. That's all very well, but look at these.

Great Cthulhu and his peeps.
You don't get some weak-ass cardboard counters for the Great Old Ones, you get full-on, huge plastic sculpts of the Big Guy, the Star Spawns, the Deep Ones, and whatever the hell else. And then they romp around on this map:

The doomed canvas. 
OK, so that doesn't say much about the game so far, but I think it's important to recognize the scale and production values here, because they're amazing.

Anyway, the game itself: You start with an open gate and six of your cultists on the map, and then every turn you get a certain amount of Power that you can use to move your guys, summon monsters (or a Great Old One), open new gates, or do battle with other players. In addition, you have six spellbooks that you access by doing various things (the book flat-out compares it to achievements in a video game; some of them are as easy as "kill a dude in battle" and some are a little more involved).

Sarah and the Black Goat, Shub-Niggaruth. 

Every turn, you get some Doom points for having open gates. You can get more by performing a ritual, but it eats a lot of your Power for the turn (and eats more the more people do it). In addition, you get Elder Signs for doing various things, and those give you Doom Points, but they remain hidden until the end of the game.

The world in crisis. 

First player to 30 Doom Points who also has all six spellbooks ends the game, and then the Doom Points get tallied, and then the player with the highest Doom total and all six spellbooks wins. There's also an "everybody loses" condition where the Annihilation Track (OH DID I NOT MENTION THAT) runs out before anyone gets to 30 Doom.

Seriously, look at all these damn things.
Opinions: OK, so I know it sounds like there's a lot of moving parts to this game, and the instruction manual is literally thicker than some RPGs I own, but this game is actually surprisingly smooth and easy to learn. Sure, every faction works a little differently, but the differences are right there on the faction cards. I was expecting battle to be this big, long, protracted mess, but it's just "roll some dice, count your 6s, count your 4-5s, inflict Kills, inflict Pains (which makes things retreat)". It took us one battle to get the hang of it.

In the end, Sarah won because she took great advantage of the Black Goat's fecundity. I wasn't nearly aggressive enough with my dudes (Great Cthulhu is not someone to be shy with). I great look forward to playing again; this game's a lot of fun. Also I have an expansion.

Keep? Hell, yeah.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Promethean: End of Story (more or less)

Last night was the end of the story in my Promethean game. We ended with a revelation and a fight. Good times!

Last time, Avalon got out of jail free after paying some fines, and discovered the weird black orb shattering. She suddenly remembers what happened in the cell when she touched it...

...She sees the being she'd named "Milo" (here) standing before her. She talks with it, and learns that it's a strange being that wants her, and other Prometheans, to fail. It wants the Pilgrimage to go on forever, for the New Dawn to be unobtainable. It is, it says, the Principle's shadow. The Jovian. It came into the world when Enoch failed to create an Athanor (here), and was attracted by Avalon touching this failed Athanor. Avalon asks who made this, and the Jovian says it was probably Jesse, but he doesn't know what exactly Jesse was trying to do.

She asks why it wants to flummox the New Dawn, 'cause that's kind of a dick thing to do, and it tells her that it doesn't really know, that that's like asking why water freezes at a certain temperature. Avalon responds that she knows why that happens; there's a reason for it. The Jovian considers this, and says that it isn't sure about its real nature. She asks if it's an angel, and the Jovian makes her clarify - she says "a servant of the God-Machine". He tells her that he's not that, and he's not a qashmal (and draws the distinction). He's something else. And, he says in a somewhat pained way, he's being uncharacteristically honest with her.

Avalon points that out perhaps, given the right information, he could change, and not be this ongoing stumbling block on the Pilgrimage. The walls crack a little and reform, and the Jovian tells her to remember a set of coordinates (he says she'll forget this conversation, but then probably remember it if she can destroy the failed Athanor she's holding).

And then we're back at now, and Avalon remembers the conversation. She relates it to the others, and they talk about the Jovian a bit - Avalon notes that she'd been thinking of him as one of a type of being (a Jovian), but he actually referred to himself as the Jovian. So is he singular? A unique being, or anomaly? Avalon points out that, at the park in Lexington, some of them talked to qashmallim and some of them, probably including Virgil, talked to the Jovian. They need to be careful. And how, indeed, does the God-Machine figure in?

They go to the library and Avalon looks up the coordinates on an atlas - just outside of Tulsa. That's where they were talking about going next, and that's where Skip feels he needs to go, but the others are considering Detroit as well. They head to their next destination, the Noodles & Co outside Polaris mall. There, they meet Dry, and sit down to have some noodles.

Dry explains that the God-Machine creates angels for four general purposes - destroy, inform, protect, or transport. He was one of the latter, an angel meant to take data from the destroyed Infrastructure in Detroit to a destination in the southwest; he isn't sure where because he Fell along the way. But the data is still there and still part of him, and extracting it might harm him if done wrong. Avalon suggests making a copy, but Dry points out that doing that paints a target on whoever's carrying the data, and no offense, but Prometheans are easy to track if you know how.

They decide to head out to find some electricity...and that's when the lights flare brightly. A man (?) made of light appears on the table in front of them and points at Dry, while the Watchdog-angel that fought Matt and Jessa a few days ago leaps through a window (the glass immediately rewinds and fixes itself). Dry stands and tells the others that if they want to go, they can go. Time stutters, and several people with light coming out of their mouths appear, but the normal folks eating noodles are frozen in time. And then Grimm, noting that that choice seems to be "fight" or "leave," shoots the bright angel.

Skip leaps over and pummels the Watchdog into the dirt, while Brilliant points at Dry and dazzles him, dropping him back into his chair. Virgil flips the table and puts Brilliant off balance, while Feather and Matt engage the cultists. Two cultists grab the chair and start dragging it out, but Enoch transforms into Barghest form and tackles on, killing him with poison. Virgil body-checks another into a wall, and Skip finishes off the dog. Grimm shoots the Brilliant angel again for good measure, but now that the Watchdog is gone, the bystanders are free and all hell breaks loose. Matt uses Morning Star to call some nearby bystanders to his aid (achieving his Whip milestone urge a human to take a major risk), and Avalon plays on the cultists' Vices (which are pretty much "BRILLIANT IS GOOD") to get them away from her.

Outside, Dry snaps out of it and has Matt hold up his cell phone. Dry touches it and digitizes, flowing into the phone and disappearing.

The Prometheans flee as sirens approach, and head out. Matt has a text message: "C U in Tulsa."

Next time, we'll do some epilogue stuff and plan the Tulsa trip.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Board Game: Mancala

We cleaned out the game closet yesterday, got rid of a couple of the games we decided we were unlikely to play again, and resolved to be better about playing the ones we haven't tried. So here we go.

The Game: Mancala
The Publisher: Who knows. It was in a box, but it's a traditional game.
Time: About 10 minutes
Players: Me and Michelle

Game Play: So, here's the board:

Or, tray. Or whatever.
Note the 12 slots and the two slightly bigger slots. The bigger ones are the "mancala." You start with 4 gems in each of the smaller slots (the boxed set was supposed to come with them, but they weren't there. Fortunately it's not like I don't have a shitload of tokens around).

On your turn, you pick one of the slots facing you, scoop out the gems, and add them to the following slots going (from your perspective) counter-clockwise. If your last one falls in your mancala, you go again. If it falls in one of your slots and that slot is empty, you get to add that gem and any in the corresponding slot in your opponent's row to your mancala. When one row is empty, the opponent adds all their gems to their mancala and whoever has the most wins.

Simple enough, right? What all that means is that you can't empty them out too fast or else you'll have your opponent just add all their gems to their mancala. You have to be mindful of your opponent's slots and how many of them are empty vs. which ones have enough gems to wrap around and reach the empties, and you have to be aware of giving your opponent potential gems in order to put some gems in their slots.

Opinions: It's a fun strategy game without giant Cthulhu monsters (we played the one with giant monsters today, that write-up coming tomorrow), and it's nice to have a game like that. I like it, even if Michelle was just a little too satisfied with winning.

Keep? Sure.

Character Creation: Project Ninja Panda Taco

Happy Sunday!

The Game: Project Ninja Panda Taco
The Publisher: Jennisodes
Degree of Familiarity: None, really. I've read it and I've seen Despicable Me, but it's been a while since either.
Books Required: Just the one.

I think I've picked this game up to make a character a few times and then not done it, but I can't remember why. Let's see if I remember!

The basic setup here is that you're a mastermind trying to take over the world (or whatever) with convoluted, ridiculous plan, and you're also playing the minions trying to help your mastermind. I think you actually play the minion of another mastermind? In any case, the book is colorful and bright and fun, with art by Brian Patterson (who also did the art for Headspace; I think it fits better here). Anydangway, on we go!

Oh, right, this book is all written in-character. Like, I'm fine with the, but I appreciate dropping the character and explaining to me as the reader how this shit works when we get to things like chargen. Ah, well. I start with Mastermind creation. I start with a name, and it needs to be appropriately mastermind-y, by which I mean ridiculous. I'll name my Mastermind Dr. Boggan MacTeagle, MD, PhD, DEd, DDS, Etc. Yes, there's a Monty Python reference in there, no, I will not apologize for it.

Now I pick my best Quality. The examples are...weird. Eyebeams, giant feet, a scary grin? This is all over the map. But, that's in genre, I suppose. I'll say that Dr. McTeagle's best Quality (for Mastermind purposes) is his huge, gnarly beard. He can stroke it to look thoughtful, it can get all bushy if he needs to look bigger and frighten a bear, and he hides things in it.

Normally at this point I would pass my character sheet around to let other players add qualities, but it's just me, so I'll fill in the other qualities myself.

I'll give Dr. Boggan a Poetic Soul (his pottery, er, poetry, is very avant garde). I'll say he's got a Sporran of Doom. I want him to have a Big Slobbery Dog That Doesn't Listen Well. And, finally, Dr. McTeagle has a Bushel of Crabs. Good.

At this point I would introduce myself to the other Masterminds and tell them why I want to take over the world. So! Dr. McTeagle is, clearly, a Scot with a huge bushy beard. His evil lair is probably a seaside affair, but it's got a dentist's office (there's always time for dental hygiene and Dr. McTeagle takes great offense to the notion of dentists as villains; he's both and that's completely co-incidental!). He wants to take over the world because he's out there working his fingers to the bone getting all these advanced degrees and they keep raising the interest rates and the bank is just a bunch of crooks and WHAT'S ANOTHER THREE DAYS ON MY LAIR PAYMENT ANYWAY.


Right, next would be Nemeses, but that requires other people, so I'll skip it.

So, the next thing is to make a Minion, but like, all a Minion consists of a name and one item. No, really. I'm not necessarily making Dr. McTeagle's Minion; on the Minion turn I'd decide who I wanted to help. So, sure. My Minion's name is Bevis (not "Beavis" thank you very much) Jonkerputts. Bevis has a rubber fish that squeaks. It's probably a chew toy, but for a very large dog. Bevis talks slowly and seems quite dim, but he's actually capable of some startling leaps of insight if you give him a minute to squeak his fish.

And that's it! Everything else would happen in play.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Into the Deathlands!

Last time, on Blades in the Dark, the crew stole some very valuable eggs. This time...well, read on.

The Widdershins has had a couple of weeks to recover since the egg-job. During that time, they've noted that there's a nearby tavern that seems to be selling low-importance contraband. They don't see that any particular gang runs it, so it might be a good front to add to their claims. Likewise, there's a stretch of turf in Nightmarket that the Rail Jacks claim (it's near to Gaddoc Station), and if they felt like muscling in on that, they could probably take it.

Siren is at the Red Lamp, a brothel in Silkshore, spending some of her hard-earned Coin, and the madame, Tesslyn, takes a meeting with her. Seems Tesslyn is looking for a fence to get rid of some expensive trinkets, and she's heard of a fellow called Hammer who might be able to handle the work. She doesn't know him, though, and she wants Widdershins to scope him out first. She's willing to give them a box of expensive baubles to fence, they keep half of whatever they can negotiate out of Hammer and then they have a useful contact. Siren says she's interested and brings that back to the crew.

Meanwhile, though, Cage is meeting with Lord Penderyn (after previously getting back into his good graces, recall). Penderyn tells him that he has an important job for the crew - there's a mystical artifact that Penderyn needs, but it's out in the Deathlands. He gives Cage a ring to put on, and then tells him the name of the Artifact - it's the Eye of Kotar. If Cage tries to say that to the crew, though, the ring will burn him. Just a precaution.

The crew meets up and Cage pushes to recover the Eye, though of course he has to frame it as "a ritual component." The others initially think that maybe getting the tavern might be better short-term, but Cage pushes and Siren is curious, so they decide to go for the bigger score. They decide to go to the Rail Jack turf and try and make some friends, since they'll need to get out into the Deathlands somehow.

The bar they find, though, isn't exactly friendly to them. Some of the Jacks recognize them from their escapades back here, and the name "Twelves" keeps getting murmured. Finally Copper, with characteristic subtlety, asks who "Twelves" is, and a very large man named Spur tells her he was a Rail Jack who died fixing the alchemical mess the crew made of the place...and then punches her in the face.

The scenes starts to get ugly, and Siren apologizes and asks what the crew can do to make amends. Spur says that Twelves left behind a widow and twelve children, and well, it'd be nice to have something to give his twelve children so they don't go hungry. Siren gets the hint, the crew pools their resources (and winds up having to sell off some stash), and pays off the Rail Jacks.

They stay and drink with them, and One Eye and Spur come to an agreement - they'll transport the crew into the Deathlands, stop the train as close as they can to the artifact's supposed location, and wait an hour. If they're not there when the train leaves, well, they're gonna have a long walk back. The crew agrees, and goes home to prep. They all go heavy (no point in not) and Copper buys some supplies, and they board the train.

The first problem is that they're in a cargo hold, and it's quickly filled with cargo. They have almost no room and they have to get to the door. One Eye throws some oil around that makes the crates weightless, and they eventually managed to tie them back so they can get out. The train stops, Copper opens the door...and now they're in the Deathlands.

Everything is ash, petrified trees, and ruin. They hop down and start walking, guided by Cage's map. A pack of mutated pig creatures comes toward them, but they hide behind trees and wait them out, and they head back toward the train ("This may be an issue later," notes One Eye prophetically).

In an ashen riverbed, they find a ghost, obviously stuck here since the Cataclysm and hungry for essence. Cage dominates it, though, and orders it to find the Eye. Siren's head starts itching, and she feels a strange hunger...

The ghost leads them on, down a hill into a valley, and then a bunch of people with spears and slings appear on the ridge above them. Copper greets them nonchalantly, and the Scavengers decide that these folks are more useful dead, so they launch spears.

The crew avoids the initial barrage, and Siren unleashes a barrage of suppressing fire while the crew charges up the hill. Cage finds one of their little hidey holes and dips out of sight, while Siren shoots one dead while Copper routs the rest of them. The Scavengers flee, but the ghost is long gone. Cage pulls out a dowsing rod to track it, and it and Siren's head start to glow. The crew follows the rod into the wastes, until they find a small settlement and the rest of the Scavengers.

As they approach, they run into a pit trap. Copper falls in, One-Eye jumps back, and Cage and Siren jump forward and avoid it...but now they're close to the Scavengers and their fellows are a ways behind. The Scavengers' leader, Lady Thorn, addresses them and asks what they're seeking, and Cage notes that something in a pouch hanging on her belt is glowing. He tells her that's what they're after, and she identifies it - the Eye of Kotar. She also notes that Siren is carrying Kotar's spirit within her, and that makes Lady Thorn very nervous.

Copper and One Eye get out of the pit and join them, and Lady Thorn asks why she should give this immensely powerful artifact to them. One Eye tells her that they were just here to do a job, and Thorn notes ruefully that any number of the Scavengers (all of whom are former Ironhook inmates given the choice between execution or life in the Deathlands) were "just doing a job." She tells them, after some conversation, that she'd feel more comfortable giving the Eye to the Spirit Wardens - they, after all, know what they're doing. Cage reveals his mask, showing that he was a Spirit Warden, but Thorn nods over their shoulder.

Approaching them is a sleigh drawn by a captive horror, carrying four Spirit Wardens. They approach and one of them dismounts, and looks at the mask Cage is holding, and at Button, Copper's weird demon-wolf...and then pulls a sparkcraft rifle off his back. Apparently he recognizes Widdershins.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Character Creation: Crossroads Carnival (ashcan)

The Game: Crossroads Carnival (One Night Only edition)
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: About as much as you can have right now; I've played it a couple of times and I'm familiar with the underlying mechanics
Books Required: Technically just the one, though as the book itself points out it doesn't really go into some of the norms of PbtA games, so reading another such game is helpful. Not necessary for chargen, though

So, in Crossroads Carnival, you're playing the folks working in the carnival...but these folks are also monsters. The Dog-Faced boy is really a werewolf. The Seer can really speak to spirits and knows the future, and so forth. The game delves into some pretty heavy topics, but does so by taking a rich, bleak, fascinating time in history (the Dust Bowl, which you might already know I have an interest in if you've checked out Dark Eras) and framing it as literally the potential end of the world. That's what these monsters are fighting to prevent.

I've played it a couple of times now, and I gotta say I'm really keen to run it for one of my groups (I think that's funny because my one group that was going to play Alas for the Awful Sea has kinda backed off on that game because it's too heavy and they need something lighter, and what's my first thought? "Oh, how about this game about othering and abuse through the lens of a carnival." Anyway.).

Character creation works the way it usually does for PbtA games; choose a playbook first. I've got six to choose from, and I've played two (the Mermaid and the Seer), so I'll do something not-those. That gives me Dog-Faced, Geek, Snake Charmer, or Strongman to choose from. ARGH. I love them all.

I think I'll take Snake-Charmer; I almost played that the other night at QCC (wound up with Seer instead). I don't care for any of the names on the sheet, so I shall name my snake-charmer Xo (first sound is the palatal fricative like in "treasure"). For look I choose "modest," for eyes I choose "teasing," and for origin I choose "child of a basilisk."

Next, I figure out "Indulgence;" this is basically what my character hungers for that feeds his inhuman appetite. It doesn't have to be overtly predatory, but like, nothing senses you can't pick "eating human flesh with an erotic overtone" (which was the Mermaid's in the game I played in the other night).

Well, here's what I'm thinking so far: Xo is the child of a basilisk. He's never known either of his parents; his father (the basilisk) was long gone before he was born, and his mother sickened and died as he and his brother grew in her womb (his brother is his snake, obviously).

Ooh, I think I want his Indulgence to be "body heat." He wants to be warm, and the sun just doesn't do it. He needs to be next to people.

Next I do stats. I get to add one to one of my stats (which are Bones, Breath, Grace, and Guile). So what do I want to be good at? I'm thinking probably offering comfort, which keys off of Grace, so I'll add my point to that.

Now I do my pitch card (I learned about these playing the game; see more here). In context, it's a series of questions about the character:

  • How did you end up at the carnival? I ran away from the orphanage I lived in at age 9 and wound up at the carnival. I was a young boy carrying a large snake; they adopted me right away. (NB: I think Xo would be a late teen in-game.)
  • Why are you fighting on the side of humanity? My mother was a human. Humans are mostly OK, when they want to be. Really they are.
  • Why don't you give in to your monstrous nature? I hate what it makes people do. I don't want to see them like that.
  • What makes your cold blood run hot, no matter how much you resist? Kissing. It's so human
  • What or who has your snake killed that you're keeping hidden? One of the performers used to have a cat. My snake ate it. I still have its collar. I'm not sure why. 
Moves! I get Forbidden Fruit by default (I dance with my snake-brother and I get people to do what I want, but I have to give them at least a glimpse of my flesh to seal the deal). The other choice is either Viper's Kiss (I'm venomous) or Shedding Skin (exactly that; I can shed my skin and alter my appearance). I think I'll take the former, but mostly because I don't really see the latter as appropriate to Xo. We'll call Viper's Kiss something he inherited from his father, and it's not something he's especially proud of.

And that's it! I really like this game.

Board Game: J'Accuse!

These always take me a while. But I'm doing it!

The Game: J'Accuse!
The Publisher: Smirk & Dagger
Time: 20 minutes, give or take
Players: Me, Michelle, Megan, Sarah

Game Play: The victim (who has a name, I just don't remember it because it's long) was kacked in the house, and we're all the suspects! Everyone chooses a suspect (complete with a character card), and then you draw evidence from three different decks - Weapon, Motive, and Opportunity. Players then choose to pass evidence left, right, or across, or to play the J'accuse! card, which cements evidence as "hard" evidence.

Trick is, one player each turn is also the Inspector, who plays an investigation card that specifies which kind of evidence is affected that turn. As such, it's not to your advantage to J'accuse! if you've got evidence on you that's going to get affected, but of course there's no way to know that.

Sarah's smiling. She did it.
In addition, every suspect is "immune" to a certain evidence of each type; I had the late victim's spouse, and she's immune to "In the Dark" as her eyes are too bad to see. That just means you can't fix that evidence on that character, which plays nicely into the strategy.

The noose is tightening. 
Opinions: I really like the game. The rules text encourages you to play out the accusations and make a story out of it, and that's fun but unnecessary (and requires the right group and/or some libations). The artwork is fun, and the little quasi-alibis on the cards are clever (though some of them, we noted, wouldn't so much allay suspicion as intensify it).

Keep? Yep!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Chill: Defenestration

Yesterday we played Chill. First session in the case here.

The envoys get back to the Bliss household, and they see Wendy walking up to meet the car. She's been crying and is obviously upset. Jordan gets out of the car and Wendy tells her she'd better go; Janet is pissed at the condition of the house. Jordan says that they're sorry, and Wendy responds incredulously - how are they sorry? They trashed the place!

Wait, what?

Turns out that when Janet, Wendy, and Giles got home, the house was wrecked. Janet, at this point, comes out of the house and screams at Jordan to get the hell off her property, and says that if she ever sees any of the envoys there again she'll call the police. Wendy begs Jordan to leave (she only barely managed to talk Janet out of calling the cops in the first place), but says she'll call her tomorrow morning if Janet goes to work. Wendy has seen things that Janet hasn't.

The envoys decide that leaving the house unguarded tonight might be unwise; they aren't sure what the ghost is going to do. They decide that Beth Anne and Jordan will stay up and watch the house from a copse of trees across the street, and Mohammed, Blake, and Willa will get a hotel nearby in case something awful happens overnight. (Do note that Willa is injured at this point, and is in a lot of pain.) The envoys go to sleep...including, unfortunately, Beth Anne and Jordan, who both fall asleep on the job.

Next morning, Jordan gets a call from Wendy, telling her that she managed to convince Janet to go to work, but it was difficult and involved a big fight. Wendy is panicked that Janet is going to leave her and she'll have to go home to her mother, but Jordan says that isn't going to happen. She asks if the envoys can come over, investigate some more, and help clean up, and Wendy agrees. At this point, Jordan's phone dies (it's been on all night).

Willa gets a call from Darnell, saying that a SAVE envoy from Chicago named Jennifer Joyce is in town, and maybe they could use some fresh eyes? Willa agrees; this is bad and they need all the help they can get. Jennifer heads out from the airport, which is nearby, and the envoys who actually slept in a bed last night grab some coffee to bring over.

Wendy lets them all in, but asks that they stay quiet, as Giles is asleep (he didn't get to bed until very late). Jordan and Beth Anne check over the house and note that while much of it is destroyed - the kitchen has been trashed, appliances broken, couch overturned, etc. - Giles' toys, the TV, and the bathroom are untouched. Beth Anne pops upstairs to look in on Giles, and he's fast asleep on the floor of his room.

Outside, Jennifer talks with the others, and Mohammed asks that she do some digging (she's better at research than any of the others). Willa asks her to check the house out with them first, get some fresh eyes on the situation. Willa, too, has a look around (she's experienced with the damage that ghosts can do) and reaffirms her earlier suspicion that some powerful telekinesis is going on. Jordan talks with Wendy about Giles' early life; Wendy knows that his birth mother is incarcerated in Wyoming and gave up parental rights. She knows that his birth name wasn't "Giles," but she thinks it started with a "Z". The ghost, then, isn't Giles' birth mother - so who is it?

The envoys decide to split up. Jennifer and Jordan are going to head downtown and do some research, while the other envoys help Wendy clean up. The envoys set to it; Willa goes upstairs and peaks in on Giles using Eyes of the Dead, and notices the ghost in the corner of the room, passed out. She goes back down and reports this, but the envoys aren't sure what to do. The ghost is "asleep" (Willa reports she actually looks drugged, which is in keeping with their suspicions). They decide to keep working, quietly, and try and find a way to trap her.

Jordan and Jennifer, meanwhile, spend some time at the library. Jennifer digs into SAVE archives about poltergeists, and there's plenty of info. She learns that poltergeists ("noisy spirits") fixate on children because, in life, they made or broke a promise to a child. The children they fixate on, though, are rarely their own. They are confused, violent, impulsive ghosts, but they're also very powerful. Worse, a small subset of them become "smothering ghosts," which eventually decide the only way to keep their promise is to kill everyone around them. Jennifer also realizes that the power the ghost used on Willa yesterday was a discipline of the Evil Way called "Wound", and a ghost powerful enough to wield that almost certainly is powerful enough to become a smothering ghost.

The good news, if there is any, is that poltergeists can be banished. It's just a matter of figuring out what they want and giving it to them, letting them pass on quietly. Of course, that's highly personal and particular to the ghost in question. The envoys have to find out who this ghost was in life.

Jordan, for her part, learns that the houses in the area are fairly new, and the land itself doesn't have an unsavory history. Nothing to do with the land, then. She starts checking on obits for women who died in the area within the last few years...and she finds her. June Stevens died October 20, 2016, survived by her parents, her husband Barry, and her son (now 5), Joey. She died right before Halloween, meaning that she didn't get to go trick-or treating with her son.

Meanwhile, at the house, Mohammed, knowing where the ghost is, decides to try and figure out her motives in a bit more detail. He sneaks into the boy's room and senses the Unknown (not hard), and then, focusing on that area, uses Follow the Threads. He realizes that on one level, the ghost wants to show Giles how much fun Halloween is...but that's skin on the pudding. Below that is the seething hatred for humanity that all creatures of the Unknown have. And at this point, the temperature in the room changes. June wakes up.

Mohammnd finds himself flung out of the room against the wall, and feels ribs crack. The door slams. Downstairs, everyone's breath catches (Willa is, at this moment, scrolling through Jennifer's texted report on poltergeists). Giles starts crying, and Wendy and Beth Anne race upstairs. Wendy opens the door and scoops up Giles. Beth Anne, using Eyes of the Dead, sees June crouched over Giles, and when Wendy grabs him she becomes incensed. Beth Anne tells Wendy to run and puts herself in front of the ghost, and June waves her hand, flinging Beth Anne out the window. She lands on the sidewalk, bleeding.

Blake sees Wendy rush downstairs and hears the window break, and runs up. He tries to block the door, and feels something grab his head and slam it into the door frame. Willa, downstairs, sees June float through the ceiling. She looks at Willa and asks "where's Giles?"

"Back door," Willa lies, and June turns her back. Willa takes the opportunity and uses Astral Attack, hammer-fisting June on the back of the neck. June collapses, and turns over, nose "bleeding", and for a moment she looks terrified, and shrieks, "I'll get you your money!" And then she seems to remember where she is. The blood disappears, and she smacks Willa in the head with a coffee table.

Willa stays standing (Shock is your friend!), and punches June again. This seems to trigger something in June, and she disappears. Willa gets the hell out, and Blake helps Mohammed down the stairs. Wendy is outside holding Giles, nearly hysterical. The envoys regroup on the lawn, and Jennifer and Jordan pull up.

Jordan treats Beth Anne, binds her wounds the best she can, but tells Jennifer to take her to the hospital - she'll need stitches. They take Wendy and Giles with them to get them away from the house and the ghost. Jordan tells Blake to get online and find a Facebook profile for Barry Stevens, June's widower. They need to find a picture of Joey in a Halloween costume. Blake finds the profile, but it's locked down - no family listed, no pictures public. Not even June's mother, Joey's grandmother, has any such pictures.

Jordan looks after the other envoys, too - Mohammed has some cracked ribs, Willa might have a mild concussion, Blake's head is bleeding. This ghost is not screwing around.

Willa is watching the house and sees June float out and towards them. Jordan, thinking quickly, draws a circle on the lawn, waits until June is in it, and then seals it. June pounds on the "barrier" and demands to be released, and also where Giles is. Jordan tells her who she is - she's June Stevens, her husband was Barry, and her son is Joey. This seems to have an effect, but all it does is make June insist on being told where Joey is. Mohammed tries to lie to her - Joey is at school, at a Halloween party, having a great time. This does not work, however; June points out that it's Saturday. Mohammed decides to walk away at this point; June thinks he's a cop, and cops lie. She sits down in the circle, says "I want a lawyer," and shuts up. Willa, who is actually the only one who can see or hear her, notes that her clothes change to county lockup.

Jordan contacts Jennifer (using Blake's phone, since hers is dead) and has her find Barry Stevens. He's at work; she calls him and tries to get him to talk about his late wife and their son, but her cover story is flimsy. All he lets slip is that Joey isn't excited for Halloween, and then hangs up. No pictures are forthcoming. Jennifer lets Blake know. Jordan calls Wendy and asks if she can find Halloween decorations somewhere and get a picture of Giles with them, just something to show him having a good time. She says she'll try, but she's a little freaked out. (A lot freaked out.)

This stalemate continues for a bit, and then it starts to rain. Blake runs inside and grabs a tablecloth, hoping to shield the circle. Just then, though, a police car rounds the corner and two cops get out. Seems that Janet called and asked the cops to drive by today. Mohammed lies and tells them that they're here to help clean up and set up Halloween decorations. Jordan leads them up to the house (around the circle) to let them look in. They say they're going to call Janet and verify the envoys' story, but Jordan tells them it was Wendy who gave them permission to be here, and that Janet will be angry (the women are fighting). The cops figure this isn't something they need to get in the middle of, and head back to the car, but watch while the envoys go inside (remember Blake is standing in the yard holding up a the rain).

Knowing that June is about to be released, Willa goes inside and uses Voice of the Dead to summon June. The other envoys head in and the cops leave, but now Willa is possessed. She talks with the envoys a bit and they try to convince her that she's in no danger, the people she owed money to or who sold her drugs are no longer a factor. She doesn't care about any of that. She just wants Joey. Blake gets a text with a picture of Giles in front of some decorations at the pediatric ward, but he just looks upset and forcing a smile. He doesn't show it to June/Willa; he wisely figures it'll just upset her.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, Beth Anne has been discharged and given painkillers, and she and Jennifer head back to the house (they don't have a way to contact Wendy so they figure she's safer here anyway).

Willa feels pain in her face, and Jordan reaches in and uses Disrupt. June flows out of Willa just as Jennifer and Beth Anne arrive. All of the lights go out (and cell phones and other devices stop working; Jennifer's car actually shuts down as she pulls up. They get inside, but the door slams behind them. Dark storm clouds roll in and lightning crashes. Willa sees June floating in the room. "You tell me where my Joey is," she says. "Or I'll scare you all. One at a time."

Spiders start dropping from the ceiling towards the envoys.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Character Creation: Candycreeps

Got a bit of time before the Chill game today, so let's do this.

The Game: Candycreeps
The Publisher: Candycreeps, I guess?
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

Weird little game, this, and I mean that in a good way. It's set at Pembrigan Academy for Gentlemen, Ladies, and Creatures of Good Breeding, which is a boarding school that caters not only to human kids, but the undead Creeps, the animal-hybrid Pops, and pretty much any kind of weirdness you want to include.

The first chapter of the book goes into a lot of detail about the Disney Farney corporation and how they inadvertently created the Pops as living mascots, later created the Creeps through corporate negligence, and then how the Academy formed and reformed after blowing up a couple of times. Also why the Fighting Corgis are the mascots of the school. All of this is actually really well written and compelling, it's just that the font is really small in the book, so it took me a while to get through (I think actually that's why I didn't read it until now, despite really liking the initial pitch).

Anyway, I have read it now, so let's make a character.

Step One: Who the hell are you? Concept, you see. I think I'd like to make a character who transferred to Pembrigan at the beginning of high school, and seems like a totally normal guy. Actually, oh, hell, what was the name of that book? Don't Care High! (I read a lot of Gordon Korman when I was younger.) The main character moves from Saskatchewan to New York City and winds up at this high school where no one cares, and tries to make people care. Anyway, there's a bit in the novel where he's at a rally or something and I remember the line "suddenly it was all too much for a boy from Saskatchewan" and he swings down on a banner and gives a big whoop or something. I want to play that guy, someone who moved from an aggressively "normal" place and discovers that he's not normal. I actually do want some magical or creepy weirdness, but I don't want it to be obvious right away.

So, my character's name is David Rackham (he doesn't know it, but he's a descendant of Calico Jack Rackham, the pirate). Dave is 14. He's tall, gangly, and he's got some peach fuzz on his face. Actually, wait, that's kinda the next step.

Step Two: Break out the Crayons!

The sheet, as you'll see, has a skeletal (not literally) template to draw a character over. Hang on. OK, I think that's OK (I really do not have skills of an artist).

Step Three: What Makes you Stand out? Characters are really made of Features. There's a list of Features, but you can make them up, too. Features don't necessarily have mechanical effect, unless you spend points of them, which is a later step.

Well, I want Dave to have Gangly Limbs, Ordinary Face, Weird Smirk, Fighting Corgis T-Shirt (school spirit!), Blue Jeans (he can't afford the uniform), and just for fun, Red Eyes (that's new since he got to Pembrigan). That's more Features than I can actually pay for, so I think that's good. Oh, wait, I want a Cell Phone, too. And Sweet Kicks, since I took the trouble of drawing in chucks.

Step Four: What are you into? Roles, which are kind of overarching interests and training. The ones in the book don't do much for me; Reporter's kind of interesting, but eh. Actually, yeah, I do think I want that; it would give Dave a reason to be nosy and hang out with the kids.

Step Five: Crunch a few numbers. So now I decide which Features get mechanical representation. I want the Role, for sure, that eats 6 of my 15 points. I have 9, so I can take 3 Features. Well, Red Eyes, Cell Phone, and Sweet Kicks. That's my points!

Step Six: Aesthetics. Every Candycreeps character dances the line between cute and creepy. Most Features are either one or the other, but the only ones that matter are the ones I bought. So Sweet Kicks are cute, Red Eyes is one I made up but it's obviously Creepy, and Cell Phone is neither. So I'm even. (Side note: The book says there are checkboxes on the character sheet, but there aren't.) I have 1 in both, that's fine. I'm also supposed to note how I feel about both: Do I like creepy or cute things, or both, or neither? (Again, the book talks about places to note all these things that the sheet doesn't reflect bad designer bad bad no biscuit.)

Well, I think Dave secretly likes creepy things more than cute, but he's coming to that realization slowly. Like, he's never really thought about it, back in Saskatchewan (or wherever he's from), but now that he's here at Pembrigan and his eyes are glowing...

That's actually it (Step Seven is Play!). There are slots for combat stats at the bottom of the sheet, but you only get bonuses if you have Features for them, and I don't know that I do. I think that his Red Eyes should give him a bonus to find hidden things of value (he has his great-great-etc-grandfather's eyes), but that's not a combat thing, so it doesn't need to get mentioned.

Otherwise, that's me done!