Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Chill: Happy Halloween!

Sunday we finished a Chill case. Read on!

Last time, the envoys were at the Bliss' house, taking on a very spooky ghost. This time (with a slight retcon to have Blake back at the hospital with the family, since his player couldn't make it), we start off with everyone dealing with the spiders and other supernatural horror.

Jordan, thinking quickly, uses her Line of Defense discipline to ward the room, driving June (the ghost) out. This allows the envoys to talk things over a bit, and has the effect of letting their electronics work (June had shut them off). They decide that they need to lure her away from the house - she doesn't want Giles anymore, now that she's remember her own son's name, and that'll prevent further damage to the house. The envoys do a little research, and Jennifer figures out that there's an address in downtown Boise where June got arrested - it's a vacant building. It's a place she knows, and no one should be there. That's the best they've got.

They decide to try and lure her there and show her footage of kids trick-or-treating; maybe that'll be enough? They talk it over some more and realize that while they probably don't have a shot at talking to June's widower, they might be able to get information out of the grandparents. Barry (that is, June's husband) has family that live just out of town, so Mohammed and Jennifer decide to head out there.

They leave the house, and June slams Mohammed up against the wall. Willa comes out as well (since she can see the ghost), and explains that they have a possible line on Joey, but they need to go check it out. June agrees; Mohammed and Jennifer can go, but if they aren't back by sundown (about 90 minutes), she'll kill everyone in the house.

Mohammed and Jennifer get out to the grandparents' place and talk their way in. They decide on the very risky move of telling them the truth, and Mohammed makes use of his Telepathic Empathy discipline. The grandparents aren't quite sure what to make of the envoys' claims that June's spirit isn't resting, but the envoys are very clear that they don't want money, and they claim that Joey (June's son) might be in danger. Finally, the grandparents allow them to borrow a photograph taken last year - Joey trick-or-treating in a Spider-Man costume.

Meanwhile, Beth Anne and Jordan leave the house, and Jordan gets likewise slammed against a wall. They manage to talk their way past June and leave the house, going to buy a wall projector (still going with the idea of "trap June at the abandoned building and make her watch trick-or-treating videos"). That leaves Willa alone at the house, in the warded room.

The others get out to the building and case it; it's empty. They buy the projector and Jordan draws a circle, ready to close it and trap June. Willa, as the sun sets, tells June where they're going, and June disappears...just as Janet, Wendy, and Giles pull in.

Janet screams at Willa to leave, and basically refuses to listen to anything she says. Willa doesn't do this for kudos, though, and says that she hopes that Janet never knows why all this was necessary. Wendy, who does not, silently thanks Willa as Willa walks up the driveway and calls an Uber.

The envoys arrive at the building, and June appears, furious, but Jordan manages to close the circle and trap her. June starts wrecking the ceiling and the floor, which would eventually shatter the circle, but Jennifer shows her the photo of Joey, and she stops.

"I bought him that costume," she says. "I bought it at the thrift store. I wanted to get the newer one, but I spent the money on pills."

The envoys assure her that her son is safe, and that she can go. She fades away, disappearing into nothing, and the envoys get the hell out before they get arrested again. Apart from some injury, they're doing pretty well, and Jennifer heads back to Chicago - but says she'll fly back if she's needed.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Character Creation: Epyllion

But wait, you might be thinking, didn't you do an Epyllion character already? Like, three years ago?

Well, the truth is, hypothetical extremely observant reader, that I did, but that was for the ashcan version of the game and I like to do characters for any edition(s) I have. And I wanted to do a game today that would be quick, because I'm running Chill in a few hours but I figured I could try and get caught up a little. So here we go.

The Game: Epyllion: A Dragon Epic
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran a game of Epyllion using the ashcan rules, and I played it at New Mexicon (I think) a couple of years back
Books Required: Just the one.

For those that don't know, Epyllion is a PbtA game in which you play baby dragons ("drakes") who are fighting against the coming Darkness using the power of friendship. And that all sounds very cutesy, but in play it doesn't need to be. Your dragon has a virtue that they admire, and when another character exhibits that virtue, you give them a friendship gem, which you can then use to power your magic.

I actually had a lot of fun running this game and I'd totally be up for doing it again sometime. For now, however, let's make a drake.

First thing, I pick a playbook. There are six in the core book, and then a few more in supplemental material. I actually like one of the ones from the latter, the Elementalist. I feel like doing something a little overtly magical today.

So, I start off with the stuff on the first page (name, look, and colors). There's a choice of names (though nothing says you couldn't make one up). I'm picturing a low-voiced, gruff kind of earthy dragon. I'll name them Froghar.

For look, I pick one adjective from each line. I'll take wooden antlers, moss-covered, muddy snout, club tail, hooves, and large body. Froghar is a dragon of the deep woods and forests. For colors, I'll pick dark green.

Now I pick stats. I start with Charm 0, Courage -1, and Cunning +1, and then I add one to one of them. Hmm. My special move keys off of Cunning, but the miss is actually pretty cool, so I think I'm gonna put my bonus in Courage so I'm not negative there.

For house, I have a choice between Myndoth and Kebros. Pardon me while I read up on these real quick. OK, so Kebros is a house with some redemption issues (a lot of them went bad during the war), while Myndoth is all about preserving and learning secrets. I think I'll go Kebros. Froghar sees the truth - House Kebros never really betrayed Dragonia, even if individual dragons did. The heart of the house is in Dragonia, always has been, and sure, it can be uncaring or elemental, but everything in context.

For virtue, then, I'll pick Confidence. Froghar doesn't see the value in dithering around. Dre would rather just make a decision and stick by it.

Now I pick a move. I get From Chaos, Purpose automatically, and then I can choose one more. I think I want Channel Dragonia's Spirit; it lets my clutch get a quest from the elements and clear Shadow, which is pretty cool.

Normally at this point I would do fellowship, but since it's just me there's no point (sadly).

I picture Froghar as this big, moss-covered, dirty thing, uses to burrowing into hills and bogs and so on. Dris elemental constructs are going to be very wood- and earth-based, and wind up with moss growing on things and little grubs and bugs everywhere.

That's me done, then!

Movie #484: North by Northwest

North by Northwest is a spy thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, Leo G. Carroll, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, and Martin Landau.

Roger Thornhill (Grant) is an ad exec just living his life when he gets mistaken for "George Kaplan," a government agent being hunted by an enemy of state named Vandamm (Mason). He winds up falsely but credibly accused of murdering a diplomat, going on the run, hopping a train, bedding a beautiful woman named Eve (Saint) who happens to be in Vandamm's employ, and getting chased by a crop duster (that's the scene everyone knows).

As it happens, Kaplan doesn't exist - he's a decoy created by the US government to lead Vandamm astray while their actual agent, Eve, gathers intel on him. Since rescuing Thornhill would compromise their operation, their chief, "the Professor" (Carroll) just kinda says "screw it, let him twist," but Thornhill is clever and lucky enough to stay alive until it becomes more useful to use him to pretend to be Kaplan to cement Eve's cover.

So, that right there is a very succinct summary of the movie, and it doesn't touch on the last third of the film (which involves the climactic fight on Mount Rushmore, the MacGuffin, the gun loaded with blanks, or the film's famous ending shot symboling, um, bonin'). It's safe to say, though, that like most Hitchcock films, this movie is tight, not a shot is wasted, and it paved the way for the James Bond franchise in a lot of ways.

The chemistry between Grant and Saint is pretty amazing, but the performance that kinda stood out to me was Martin Landau as Leonard, Vandamm's henchman who makes Eve as a plant. He's loyal and clever, and is obviously not enjoying delivering bad news to his boss. It's a small thing, but I enjoyed that scene very much.

Also of note is Thornhill's weird relationship with his mother (Landis); he takes her along in his initial investigation of "Kaplan" (after he's been kidnapped, forcibly intoxicated, and then manages to escape his assailants), but bribes her to go get a key from Kaplan's hotel. Their relationship is oddly familiar and adversarial, and hints to Thornhill having a kind of roguish side (as does the mention that he can drink with the best of them).

All in all, there's a lot to see here even in what more or less amounts to an action movie, and honestly it kind of puts later spy movies to shame in a lot of ways. I don't want to be one of those "oh, movies were better back in the day" because that's not really what happens (what happens is that good movies stand the test of time no matter when they're made), but it's nice to see a spy thriller that takes its time and is still playful.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Now & Then

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Character Creation: Ingenium

I find myself with some time this afternoon, and rather than doing something useful, I'm going to make a character. It's what makes me me.

The Game: Ingenium
The Publisher: Silver Gryphon Games
Degree of Familiarity: None, though I'm hopeful.
Books Required: Just the one.

I got Ingenium in PDF from a bundle from DTRPG some years back, and I'd always just assumed it was yet another D&D clone. And, well, to an extent, maybe it is, but right off the bat I see some things I find encouraging.
"Powerful" in this context usually means "combat capable," but the author talks about his love for epic-scope games and heroes that fit into those kinds of stories, so I'm hopeful that Ingenium clears one of my main hurdles for fantasy games - starting characters are weaksauce.


Character creation starts with three words. The first one is a choice for "Trait", which determines how Attributes are laid out. I think I see where this is going.

Yeah, I was right. The first word is an adjective, the second is your race, and the third is your profession, so you wind up with, like, "Agile Elven Sorcerer" or whatever (much like a High Concept Aspect in Fate games, actually). OK, sounds cool.

Well, I don't thoughts about race or profession, and there's a list of traits, so I'll pick...Lively. It's not immediately magical, but playing the Merry/Pippin style character has some appeal. That makes Appearance my primary Attribute and Dexterity my secondary, whatever that means. Ah, wait, what that means is that Appearance starts at 3, Dexterity at 2, and everything else at one. Glancing ahead, I see that race can increase these, so I'm not filling them in just yet.

On we go to Race, then! We've got the usual stuff: humans are populous and therefore diverse (yawn), elves and dwarves look more or less Tolkein, but then we've got a couple of animal/human hybrid types, plus fucking gargoyles. Yes, please. I'm a Lively Gargoyle!

Gargoyles don't have wings, sadly, but they do get 1 free Soak (tough skin) and a +3 to intimidate (because they're scary).

(I have to say, I'm liking this game so far. Dunno how it'd work in play, but the sheet is nice, simple and intuitive and the chargen is explained well.)

Anyway, third word is profession. Again, I have a list. There are some pretty cool ones, actually; you've got your fantasy staples (wizard, ranger) but also stuff like "battle medic" and "beast tamer." I like that last one, actually. Groovy, I'll be a Lively Gargoyle Beast Tamer.

So I get an extra +1 to Charisma, and my starting Talent Pool is Empathy, though I'm not quite sure how that works. I shall read on!

OK, this is easy enough. I get all the Talents in the Empathy Pool at level 1, and then I get 4 Talents from the General Pool as well. Empathy gives me Negotiation Mastery, Leadership, Entertaining, Public Oration, Bluffing, and Seduction. But not intimidation, that's interesting.

Well, Generals, then. We've got our weapon and armor proficiency, here, so I'll take Armor Use: Medium and Weapon Use: Medium, just to cover my bases. I'll also take Infallible Direction (I can always find true north), and Harmonic Spirit (I get a +2 to Charisma checks in social situations; dunno if that includes with animals or not).

Hmm. Hit points and Wealth are both random and both a function of profession, which seems a little odd (Hit Points feel like they should involve race, too, but I dunno). Anyway, a quick stop at the entropy store gets me 9 for hit points and 5 gold (ugh, my gargoyle is broke as fuck). Can I buy anything with 5 gold? No, I really can't. That's...problematic. Well, screw it, I don't like shopping anyway.

Initiative seems to be Speed + a d10, but there's a separate line for Speed and Initiative, which is odd. I guess my Soak is just one (people don't seem to have natural Soak, but if they do I can't find it). Spell points also don't seem to be a thing I worry about, but then I'm not a spellcaster.

I have to say, for saying that characters start off powerful, I'm not seeing it. My highest Attribute is 3, my highest Talent is 1, meaning I'd roll a d10 and add 4 for my best rolls. If the difficulty on a moderately difficult task is 10 (as the examples in the book seem to indicate), I've got a worse-than-50% chance of success, which is pretty weak for characters that are meant to start off powerful. Not to mention that I lack the funds necessary to buy the stuff I really need, not to mention that the Beast Tamer write-up says they're better with animals than people and then promptly gives me all the skills to be good at...dealing with people.

Hey-ho. Guess it is another D&D knock-off. It's well-constructed at least in part, though, but so many game writers are afraid to make the mechanics match the presumed power level. And maybe it plays differently than it reads, I dunno.

Well anyway, my gargoyle needs a name. I'll call him Brates. His family were goatherds in the mountains, and he was down taking some goats to market when the avalanche happened. He doesn't know if any of his family and people survived, but the roads up the mountain are impassable (and he's a little afraid of what he'd find if he tried to get there). He's alone, virtually penniless, but he's in good health and he's covering his fear and pain with humor and good cheer...for the moment.

Movie #483: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is, obviously, the fourth in the series and mercifully the last one that I own. It stars Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Tuesday Knight, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Andras Jones, Brooke Theiss, and Toy Newkirk.

Following the events of Dream Warriors, Kristen (Knight, taking over because Patricia Arquette had better things to do), Kincaid (Sagoes), and Joey (Eastman) and back in Springwood and going to high school. Kristen is dating Rick (Jones), and is buddies with his weird sister Alice (Lisa). She also instinctively pulls Kincaid and Joey into her dreams sometimes.

She's convinced Freddy's coming back, they both think she's being silly, and then Freddy kills all three of them because that's how these movies are. She gives her "pull people into dreams and also be strangely agile" power to Alice, but Freddy kills Alice's friends, and finally Alice manages to remember some completely stupid children's rhyme that ends with "force evil to face itself" or some such nonsense, shows Freddy a mirror, and he explodes.

So, by this point in the franchise, Freddy has completed his transformation from "menacing and brutal dream-monster" to "chatty and pun-flinging quipster", but that's not actually the worst thing about the movie. The worst thing about the movie is that it never quite makes the leap to horror-comedy, and so the ridiculous bits - Jones flinging nuncuks around and demonstrating his martial arts prowess that you think is gonna get deployed against Freddy and then he dies like a chump, the stupid Groundhog Day-esque loop that Freddy traps Alice and Dan (Hassel) in while he's killing Debbie (Theiss) - never quite pay out the way they should. Some of the kill sequences (Debbie's in particular) start off kind of interesting, but then they all devolve back Freddy giving a one-liner and one we merrily go.

All in all, I'm kinda happy to be moving on from this franchise, especially since the next movie on the list is Hitchcock.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: North by Northwest

Friday, October 26, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Let's Steal a Tavern



The scoundrels had pulled off a pretty big heist that involved going into the Deathlands and stealing the Eye of Kotar from the Deathlands Scavengers, and once again I'm reminded that most gaming talk sounds utterly bananas out of context.

Anyway, this time, seeing as the Spirit Wardens were actively gunning for them, they decided to do a job a little on the lower-key side (so they thought). Looking over the options to expand their turf, they consider doing the "check out the fence" gig for Madame Tesslyn or the "rumble with the Rail Jacks" deal to get more turf, but ultimately settle on the tavern near their gambling den. They go to visit the place, and Copper notes that there's plenty of under-the-table deals going on, but no particular gang seems to claim territory and there are a lot of dirty looks getting shot toward the crew.

Likewise, Cage notes that there are no ghosts in the tavern, no arcane implements, and the place's sparkcraft is running pretty cleanly. There's never that kind of lack of weirdness by accident.

One-Eye and Copper chat with the bartender (who seems to be the most dangerous person here) and try to entice him to give up some info about who runs things here and whether the crew could buy in, but he's pretty stony. The crew falls back and watches the place, and sees a wagon with the emblem of a golden bee on the side pull up and start unloading. Copper, whose family were traders, knows this logo - it's the Hive, a group of merchants who dabble in trade both legal and not.

The crew falls back to the lair and discusses things. The Hive is definitely above their pay grade, so they aren't sure if mixing it up with them is wise right now (they already have some heat on them). Copper goes to find Grull, who she figures would know about this kind of thing, and indeed, he's able to offer some context. The Hive likes to keep their public face clean, meaning that if they're running their illegal operations out of the tavern, the crew might be able to get it shut down or raided in such a way that makes it not worth the Hive's while to hold onto it.

The crew decides to take this job; they're going to try and get the tavern raided, and that means they need evidence. They hijack a carriage coming to the tavern and pull it into an alley, but are unable to stop the driver from blowing a loud whistle. One-Eye hits him with trance powder and the crew cracks open the crates in the back...bottles of leviathan blood.

Smuggling leviathan blood is highly profitable and highly illegal, so they've got some evidence that they can use, but leveraging it is tricky. They take a crate (figuring they can sell it), and get on the boat parked nearby. They pull away as the Bluecoats roll up (responding the whistle), and the cops smack the driver out the stupor...and the driver promptly bribes them, and they leave him alone.

The crew takes the blood back to their hideout, and realizes they're going to need some support from the Bluecoats before they really make this work. The crew is kind of on the outs with the Bluecoats just at the moment, but they figure that handing Vale a major bust would be a good way to repair that relationship, so they do some checking around and find that Vale likes to hang out at the library in Charterhall during her off time. They get Siren dolled up in some respectable clothes and send her to find Vale. Siren puts across the offer - the crew will set it up so that the tavern will have a nice juicy bunch of contraband, if she'll raid it and scare off the Hive.

Vale is amenable, but that's not a rich enough prize for her. She wants the source behind the blood, whichever captain is letting this stuff get smuggled. Siren takes this back to the crew, and One-Eye and the brand new cohort of adepts that the crew picked up get to work analyzing the blood.

Leviathan blood is always refined in a particular way, and different ships use different additives. One-Eye isolates them and then runs it by Siren (a former Leviathan hunter), and Siren recognizes the process - it's the one that Lady Ankhayat uses.

Complication: That's the ship that Siren used to sail on. This leaves the crew in a kind of pickle, which we'll peel next time.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Character Creation: Spycraft 2.0

Happy Sunday! Time to make the donuts a character.

The Game: Spycraft 2.0
The Publisher: Crafty Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've played d20 games, but I haven't played this one
Books Required: Just the one, which the intro makes a point of saying, which is nice.

So, this is a second edition of Spycraft. I must have bought it in a bundle some years ago, because a) I only have it in PDF and b) it's a d20 game, which I wouldn't normally buy. But here we are.

I have to say, this is a darned friendly chargen section. It takes us through the basics, but doesn't talk down to the reader. In any event, the assumption here is that characters work for the Agency, and we're superspies, but the book also points out that there are a lot of knobs with which to fiddle if you want to do things, say, steampunk style. I'm gonna stick to the default for purposes of this project, however.

Step 0: Concept. Jeez, just make it step 1, guys. The book gives me a series of questions to answer to build my character up, so I'll g'head and answer those.

  • Name three traits you would like to see in your character. Um, OK. How about "observant," "practiced," and "precise?" 
  • Name three traits your character doesn't like to see in others. "Disloyal," "cowardly," and "pedantic," how about.
  • Where was your character born, and when? He was born 30 or so years before this game is set (so if it's present-day, 1988, sweet jesus). I think he was born in Langley, Virginia (might as well start 'em early!) and wanted to get the hell out when he turned 18. He joined the Army, and his aptitude tests put him into intelligence work; he eventually wound up joining the Agency. 
  • What is your ideal character's specialty? Hopefully my character will start off competent; I'm used to level 1 d20 characters being pretty weak. Anyway, I think my guy's speciality is marksmanship; specifically he's a sniper. 
  • What does your character look like? Picture "Virginia born and bred." That's him. He's white, tall, good teeth, brown hair, blue eyes, stocky, square-jawed. Could be played by a younger Henry Cavill. 
  • Does your character have any quirks? Everyone has quirks. My guy wears a gold ring on his left middle finger and absently taps it against hard surfaces.
  • What does your character love most? My guy loves to travel, preferably on as little money as possible. Favors backpacking or train-hopping trips especially. His parents are still around, but his father was always distant and his mother is nice but not terribly up on current events, so they never really have much to talk about.
  • What are your character's favorite things? Bright copper buttons, whiskers on kittens...but no, really. My guy keeps his apartment pretty sparse (again, he'd rather travel). He wears his dog tags when he's traveling, but not any other time, and he loves the gold ring he wears (it belonged to his uncle John, who was his favorite person - John died in a car accident when my guy was 19). 
  • What was the most important event in your character's life? My guy went to the Bahamas once and wound up on a parasailing trip. The boat capsized (the guy running the trip was drunk), and my guy pulled a fellow tourist out of the water and saved his life. It wasn't the life-saving thing that was important, though, it was the knowledge that in crisis situations, you either drown or you swim. My guy swims.
  • What does your character think of espionage? He's got a knack for it, he likes it, and it's one long crisis situation. You gotta keep swimming. 
  • What is your character's motivation? Seeing the world, learning as much about different cultures as he can. Sucks that he has to do that by shooting people sometimes, but hey, lots of people hate their jobs. He just finds his mildly distasteful sometimes.
Step 1: Attributes. I start with 8 in each of them, and then I get 36 points to boost 'em. Let's see here. Ah, but the progression isn't linear (blah), so I can't start at 14 in everything. OK. Well, I think for a marksman I'd want my Dexterity and maybe Wisdom to be high? So I'll jack Dex to 16 and my Wisdom to 13, which eats 20 of my points, FFS. That leaves 16 points for the other four Attributes. If I put 4 into each, that's 12s all around. I can live with that. Wait, actually, you know what, if I bust one of those down to 10 I can put Wisdom up to 14 and get a better bonus. I'll take Intelligence down to 10. 

Step 2: Origin. I get a Talent and a Specialty as part of my Origin. Cool. Hrm. These all boost one Attribute but lower another, which kinda sucks. I'll take Fit, which boosts Strength by 2 but lowers Intelligence, gives me extra speed, makes Athletics a class skill, and gives me a bonus to Fortitude. 

Now I pick a Specialty (to represent training). Well, clearly I want Wanderer. I get the World Traveler feat, one additional Cultures skill focus, 1 acquaintance grade contact, and 2 additional vitality points at career level 1, whatever the hell that means.

Step 3: Class. Pick a class, obvs. Hmm. Explorer is my first choice, but it says it relies on Intelligence, which, um, not my bag, baby. Reading through these, Intelligence is a bad choice for dump stat (in a game where you play intelligence operatives, who'da thunk it?). I guess I'll go for Soldier, keying off that "marksman" thing. 

Oh, and I get 8 proficiencies (6 for being a Solider and then 2 more at level 1, I think). I'll take Unarmed, Handgun, Indirect Fire, Rifle, Shotgun, and Submachine Gun. And then for the two extra, I'll take Edged and bump the Rifle to forte (so I get a +1 with rifles). 

Step 4: Skills. This is annoying. The book jumps to step 6 here; you have to flip to a different chapter to do Skills. Blah. 

Anyway, I wind up with 12 ranks (4 - 1 because my INT sucks, times 4). I'll put 2 each in Athletics, Intimidate, Notice, and Tactics, 1 in Search and Survival, and then put the last two into Cultures (which only gets me 1 because it's not a class skill). 

Step 5: Feats. I get World Traveler already, and then I get a bonus Feat. Better take something Marksman related, huh? I'll take Bullseye; basically I can take a penalty on a shot to do more damage.

Step 6: Interests. So these are basically hobbies for the character. I get two, and then more if I level up. They're worth a bonus to rolls if the GM agrees, but honestly I got distracted reading this section because someone fucked up and said "loosing" when they meant "losing" OMG ARGH anyway. 

Well, we know my guy is interested in traveling, and I think also hiking and climbing. Good enough.

Step 7: Subplots. These are actually pretty cool; they basically let you have character-based subplots (as the name implies) that are separate from the main mission. That's a good addition for mission-based games; I ought to think about that for Chill at some point. 

Anyway, I don't care much for the ones presented and honestly if it were me, I'd probably pick the "Game Control Fiat" one, which is basically "surprise me."

Step 8: Derived Values. Hokay. I've got 12 Vitality, 1 wound. Stress and Subdual damage thresholds are both 1, I think. Attack, defense, and saves are already figured. 

Step 9: Description. Kinda did that up above, but I need a name and code name, too. We'll say his name is Trent Cable (yeah, that's a total spy name). His code name is "Vagabond"; someone suggested "Rover," but Trent wasn't down to be called a dog's name. 

And that's it (I mean, normally I'd do gear, but you know how I feel about that)! I'm just putting the first page of the sheet up because the second page doesn't have much of interest other than the Feats. 

All Flesh Must be Eaten: Only the Young

So, yesterday we started a new game: All Flesh Must be Eaten. A little background on this particular campaign is necessary.

I've been wanting to do this setup for a while. I had the players choose an album to act as the framework and inspiration for the campaign as a whole. My players, always a group to challenge me, chose Journey's Greatest Hits. Now, my first thought was "ugh, not exactly a deep inspiration," but thinking about the songs, I actually warmed to the idea. Sure, most of the songs on that album are love songs (not always the greatest inspiration for RPGs), but there's often a mature, kind of wistful element to them. Plus, we also have songs like "Wheel in the Sky" and "Lights" that aren't love songs, and that imply travel and a sense of place. So that's cool.

Next, I had each player pick a band, and then I gave them a song by that band to act as the inspiration/theme song for their character. Here's what we came up with:

  • Michelle chose Halsey, so I gave her "Drive". Her character is Mia Starek. Mia is a Classics major at the University of California (Santa Cruz). She's a Tri-Delt, formerly a "big sis" to Daisy. She also suffers from depression. She's 23, probably the most mature of the group. 
  • Travis chose Hozier; I gave him "Jackie & Wilson." His character is Kyle Thomas. Kyle is 25, the oldest of the group. He's a dropout, lazy, show-off, and utterly emotionally needy but distant. He's hooked up with most of the Tri-Delts, dated Heather when she was in high school, sometimes gets together with Mia.
  • Megan chose Florence & the Machine; I gave her "Sky Full of Song." Her character is Daisy Bitcherman. Daisy was a Tri-Delt, but dropped out of college and now rejects her father's money and all assistance, and lives in, basically, a utility closet in a shitty apartment building. She's lost weight and her health is suffering, but she's sticking to her economic anti-capitalist principles, at least for the moment. She's Heather's younger sister, and crushing on Kyle. 
  • Sarah chose Ludo; I gave her "Anything For You." Her character is Patricia Allen. Patricia (do not call her "Trish" or "Patty") got back from a backpack tour of Europe to find herself, and is presently a business major. She works at a co-op and is trying to get Daisy a job there, and takes a class or two with Mia. She actually came back and tried to assimilate into college life for love, but she won't say who she's in love with.
  • Melissa chose Taylor Swift; I gave her "Getaway Car." Her character is Heather Bitcherman. Heather is a Tri-Delt, and she's Daisy's older sister. She's obsessed with Kyle (formerly her boyfriend, but that's been over for years, not that you can tell Heather that). She's emotionally dependent and not as smart as she thinks she is, but she wants to be renowned and loved. 
So, our first session of the game is based on this song:

We start off the game on Saturday, November 7th, 1992. Bill Clinton was just elected President this week, and the characters are going about normal Saturday things.

Kyle and Mia hooked up last night; Kyle was actually on a date with Daisy, but Daisy had to call it early, so Kyle showed up at Mia's door. Mia let him in, because why not? It worked out for her (Mia is under no illusions as to the nature of her relationship with Kyle). Kyle pulls on his clothes and heads out, but Heather spots him in the hallway and confronts him, loudly, about hooking up with Mia and who knows who else in the Tri-Delt house.

Mia, for her part, glides on down to the shower while Kyle tries to extricate himself. Heather, true to form, freaks out for a while and then softens, verifying that Kyle will be at the opening of the new sandwich shop later (free samples!). Kyle says he will, but not for long; there's an open mic later. Heather confirms that she'll be there, since Kyle invited her (he totally didn't). 

Meanwhile, Daisy is hanging with Patricia at the co-op; she does some work and takes some food in exchange. Patricia notices a missing person poster on the wall - it's a grad student named Stella Aminat. She gets a strange feeling when she sees the poster, but isn't sure what it means. 

Later, all five of them wind up at the sandwich shop (City Bites), snacking on the free samples and kibitzing. Patricia and Mia wind up chatting, trying to drown out the sisters bickering and fighting over Kyle. Patricia talks a bit about her experiences backpacking, and Kyle regales them with the time he went to Oakland.

And then the characters glance up, and note that the sun seems to be...changing. There's an eclipse happening, which is odd because none of them remember hearing anything about one coming up ("It's not like they schedule these", says Heather). Kyle and Mia go into the laundromat next door and check the TV; the newscaster is talking about the eclipse, but not in a "OMG SURPRISE ECLIPSE" kind of way, so they just assume they missed it. The characters watch the eclipse for a while, and Daisy and Patricia both feel...strange. Daisy, in particular, feels an odd kind of hunger, a sensation that feels wrong somehow. But it passes, and the group decides to go to Kyle's open mic (Patricia and Mia are somewhat reluctant, but they figure it'll be amusing at least).

The coffee shop is called Rocco's Beans & Things. Rocco D'Onfrio is a tough-talking Italian-American who opened the coffee shop after his restaurant failed, and it's got a lively open mic scene going. The characters order drinks (Kyle gets them all hand stamps so they can get beer), and Kyle goes up and does his song. Afterwards, Kyle makes to leave, but Heather goes up and does a poem that she wrote, which everyone kind of suffers through (note: Heather has the Talentless Drawback). 

The characters split up for the night; Daisy goes home to her awful little closet, Heather and Mia go back to the sorority house, Kyle hooks up with a barista, and Patricia goes back to her apartment. 

In the morning, Kyle wakes up to the alarm playing a radio. The broadcast is gruesome - Rocco was found dead in the back room of the restaurant. His heart has been cut out. 

Next time, we'll learn what the characters do following that bit of horror.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Movie #482: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is, obviously, the third movie in the franchise and stars Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, and a bunch of less famous people (Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Ira Heiden, Priscilla Pointer). Fun fact: Directed by Charles Russell, who would go on to direct The Mask.

Anyway, Kristen (Arquette) is our Final Girl this time, and she's dreaming of Freddy (Englund) and Freddy's old house. Freddy eventually slashes her wrist open to make it look like she's attempted suicide and gets her shut up in a mental hospital with a bunch of other teens who are also getting stalked by Freddy. Turns out, of course, that they're the last of the "Elm Street Kids" whose parents burned Freddy to death.

An aside, here: Let's assume that the people that Freddy kills in Part 2 aren't necessarily Elm Street Kids, because they're never mentioned as such and the metaphysics get really whack-a-ding-hoy in that movie anyway. That means that as of this movie, Freddy's killed three Elm Street Kids in the first movie (Tina, Rod, and Glen) and in this movie we meet seven more, and there's a reference to two other kids committing suicide before we even meet them. That means that Freddy was murdered by at least 11 different families, which, given that he racked up a body count of over 20, is about right, but it also means that shouldn't some of these kids, like, know that they had siblings that died? Anyway, plot hole over, just thought I'd mention it.

Nancy (Langenkamp) is now a therapist or, like, an intern or something, and comes to work with Dr. Gordon (Wasson), the psych working with these traumatized, suicidal kids, alongside the stern and useless Dr. Simms (Pointer) and the cool orderly Max (Fishburne). Freddy does his thing, but his kills are much more magical and elaborate; where before he killed like a ghost, now he's turning into a snake or smashing people into TVs.

Into all of this there's a ghost nun, which turns out to be Freddy's biological mother (Nan Martin). Freddy's bones need to be laid to rest, but the kids are already asleep, so they have to use their dream powers to fight him.

Oh, right, didn't mention that. Turns out all these kids have a super-power in their dreams. Kristen's is the only one that's actually a power, because she can pull other people into her dreams. Everyone else can just do weird shit while dreaming, and like, so can literally everyone ever. But nerdy D&D (sorry, "Wizard Master") player Will (Heiden) can throw green lightning around, Kincaid (Sagoes) is vaguely super-strong, etc.

Sadly, these powers do exactly nothing to Freddy, and he happily slaughters the kids until Dr. Gordon manages to splash some holy water on Freddy's bones, at which point he's destroy, but not really, because there are several more movies in the franchise.

I remember this movie being better than it actually is. The concept of using some kind of lucid dreaming against Freddy is cool, but it doesn't go anywhere and the kids die just the same. Freddy's backstory is kind of cool, but he comes back, so it's kinda all for naught? The idea that he grows stronger because he's absorbing souls is fun, but again, it doesn't really matter. There are a lot of cool concepts in this movie, but the script is weak, the acting is pretty awful (Arquette has become a good actress, but this isn't her best work), and Freddy's transformation from brutal, scary monster-ghost into wisecracking shapeshifting murder-prankster is pretty much complete here.

One more to go!

My Grade: D
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Character Creation: Flatpack

Well, I was supposed to be running my new All Flesh Must Be Eaten game today, but illness laid one of the players low and I don't like starting without everyone present, so here we are. I thought about doing something a little closer to the top of the list, but a bunch of them are D&D clones and I just don't have that in me today.

The Game: Flatpack: Fix the Future
The Publisher: Machine Age Productions
Degree of Familiarity: None
Books Required: Just the one.

Flatpack is billed as "optimistic apocalyptic roleplaying," and I can get behind that. The early parts of the book talk about civilization being, well, largely destroyed, but the characters (WRENCHs) being the ones with the smarts and the gumption to fix it. There are also these things called Flatpacks, which are basically machines or buildings or complexes packed into a small, rectangular box, that our WRENCHs can find and put together.

The emphasis in the game is very much on solving riddles and puzzles rather than on combat (fighting is, in fact, not part of the game, and I don't see many RPGs like that, so that's cool). So how do we make a WRENCH?

Hrm, character creation seems to be written in-character. Not always a fan of that, but let's see. We start off with some questions and multiple choice answers. Check it out.

So, the first question is "you were a shoo-in for class president, when you heard rumors that your opponent has a plan to cheat the election. In order to out-cheat him, you..." And then six options. I want to look ahead and see if these answers tie into mechanics at all, hang on. Yes, they do. Groovy. OK, then I pick... d, turn to the school's bylaws. I'm thinking my WRENCH is research-focused, and/or likes to have his i's dotted and t's crossed.

Next question: Do you feel, right now, that your parents would say they are proud of you? Oof, that's hard. I'll pick f. maybe someday. Aw.

Third question: This is long so I'll summarize. You're dating the perfect guy, but he's a writer, and not necessarily a successful one. How's that gonna work out? I'll pick e., which, again, is long, but basically cooks down "you don't seem to understand him, so talk with him and try to get a glimpse into his world."

Final question: Um...

That's weird. The answers are similarly odd. I'll pick d., explain how things were so much better back in my father's day.

I was wrong, the final question is asking if my work environment were a bowl of fruit, what sort of fruit would I be. I will choose c., an apple, both because it's fall in Ohio so apples are in season, and because apples are nicely versatile.

So where does all this get me? Well, actually, the idea isn't necessarily to pick one answer to the questions, but to consider what answers give you strong reactions, which give you no real reaction, and which you can't ever see yourself choosing, and pick traits as positive, neutral, or negative (two of each) based on that. OK, then.

The traits are Wiles, Resourcefulness, Ego, Nostalgia, Curiosity, and Hope (WRENCH). I'm gonna take Ego and Wiles as negative traits (meaning that my character is kind of easily led), Hope and Resourcefulness as neutral, and Curiosity and Nostalgia as positive. Neat!

So, the rest of the character creation process is just doing group dynamics and playing a round of Two Truths & a Lie, where another player determines the truth or the lie. There's a slot on the sheet that says "Claim to Fame," but those words literally do not appear anywhere else in the book (grr), and there's no example of character creation (also grr). That's a little disappointing.

Well, let's do this: I'll do the two truths etc thing and then randomly pick one to be true. I'll say that my three statements are:

  1. I've seen over 100 movies from before the Collapse.
  2. I can dislocate my shoulder anytime I want.
  3. I'm afraid of bugs. 
(If these seem kind of simplistic, it's because there's not really much attempt at setting, here, so it's hard to have anything to work with in the absence of a group.)

OK, so my hypothetical other player chooses the first statement to be the lie. I...actually want that to be true, because I think it ties in with my love of Nostalgia, so I'm going to reject that and say that the last one is the lie. That means I don't get to start with a Spirit point, but c'est la vie.

That's it for the structure bit of chargen, the rest is just making shit up. So I'll say that my WRENCH is named Bell. Bell grew up in what used to be Los Angeles, now flooded and destroyed in earthquakes. There were a lot of spare DVDs lying around, though, and it wasn't hard to have power sometimes, so he wound up killing a lot of time watching movies. Of course, that leaves him with a sort of skewed perspective on what the Time Before was like, but it also means he knows a bit more about history than most folks. 

I think Bell is fresh-faced and blond. He's got scars up and down his left arm (from the same accident that left him able to dislocate his shoulder). He has brown eyes and wears a blue knitted cap that his mom made him a long time ago.

And that's it, I think!

Movie #481: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is, of course, the first sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street and stars no one from the first movie except Robert Englund. Instead, we get Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Marshall Bell, Clu Gulager, and Hope Lange. It's...an interesting movie.

Five years after...whatever the hell happened in the first movie (it ends ambiguously, recall), the Thompsons' house has been sold to a new family, the Walshes. Their teenage son Jesse (Patton) is having nightmares that leave him screaming and sweating, and his father (Gulager), who is something of a dick, can't quite seem to get the AC working, so the house is always hot (I mention this both because it becomes something of a plot point and because it's why Jesse is always sweaty).

Jesse is having nightmares about Freddy Krueger (Englund), but he's also coping with being the new boy in school, crushing on Lisa (Myers), and his complicated feelings for his fellow baseball teammate Grady (Rusler).

Wait, what? Surely there's no obvious homoerotic plotline in an 80s horror movie?

Well, yeah, there kinda is, and smarter people than me have talked a lot about it. Evidently at the time, the screenwriter denied it and blamed Patton for playing the part too gay (Patton actually is gay, but was closeted at the time), but later admitted that he was totally going for Jesse to be gay and for a large part of the conflict here to be him coping with that.

But back to the horror: Freddy doesn't just possess Jesse, he physically bursts out of his body to kill people and then disappears, leaving Jesse covered in blood. It's Jesse's love for Lisa, though, that allows him to burn out Freddy's influence and regain himself, which, considering that two of the people Jesse kills "as" Freddy are gay men (you can't tell me Grady isn't gay, and Marshall Bell's Schneider is pretty obviously written that way, too), that's a pretty troubling implication.

In any case, though, there are some nice throughlines involving heat and fire, and the continuity from the first movie is actually pretty well respected, considering that none of the original cast shows up. All in all it's not as bad a movie as I was expecting.

My Grade: C+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Character Creation: BRP

I am hella behind on characters for the project, mostly because I've had a pretty awful couple of weeks, but never mind that. As of this coming Sunday, I should be up to 41 characters to keep my "once a week" thing going. As of right now, I've done 36 this year, so I'm what, five weeks behind. If I can manage to do a couple extra before the school breaks (Thanksgiving and Xmas), I can get caught up.

Not that anyone really cares, but I care about my silly little lists.

Anydangway, today's thing is:

The Game: Basic RolePlaying
The Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Degree of Familiarity: Almost none. I don't think I've ever played this edition, but I know I played some Call of Cthulhu back in the day.
Books Required: Just the one, but read on.

So, I want to say first that I'm doing this game today because Greg Stafford, the game designer behind Pendragon, RuneQuest and a lot of others, passed away yesterday. I never met Greg and I'm actually not terribly familiar with his work, at least firsthand - I've played Pendragon but never RuneQuest, and I think that the only game I own that he worked on is BRP, which sounds like an oversight on my part.

But in any case, this tribute by John Wick kind of puts into perspective the influence that Stafford had on the hobby. Again, I don't know, I never met the man and I have only limited experience with his work, but watching all of the outpouring of love from folks I do know over the last couple of days makes me think he's someone whose work I should know.

In any case: BRP. BRP is, like GURPS, a system that can be applied to a variety of games. (Incidentally, as I'm reading the book, I note that it was used in Nephilim, which Stafford also worked on.) As such, before I make a character I really need to have a setting. There's a chapter in this book about settings, and looking through it, it's got a lot of bare-bones ideas for settings (mostly, but not entirely, framed as historical eras). I think I'll make a character for a Western setting, just because apart from Deadlands I haven't really done that.

Step One: Name and Characteristics. Never sure how I feel about naming characters right off the bat. Well, I kinda want to make a cowboy, and I was interested to learn that the word "buckaroo" is an alteration of the Spanish word vaquero. Turns out a lot of cowboys were of Mexican or mestizo extraction (or black, which is something you don't tend to see in Westerns, dammit). I think I want my character to be mixed race, originally from Louisiana and then moved to Kansas after the Civil War (figure on this being 1880 or so, so figure my character was born in 1858, roughly, a few years before the War broke out). His name is Levi Matthews.

For Characteristics, I roll 3d6 for Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Power, and Appearance. One of the suggested optional rules for Western is to choose what value goes to what Characteristic (rather than just assigning them in order), so I think I shall do that.

My rolls are 6 (ugh), 13, 16, 11, 9. Well, something's getting a dump. Hmm. Well, the life of a cowboy isn't really conducive to having a low CON or STR or DEX, so I'm thinking that the 6 is gonna go in APP. I'll put the 9 in POW, the 11 in STR, the 16 in DEX, and the 13 in CON.

Now I roll 2d6+6 for Intelligence and Size. I get 12 for INT and 16 for Size. I have an option for an Education roll, but I'm think Levi's education would be pretty spare (or rather, his formal education would be), so I'll skip that.

Step Two is Powers, and if I was running this game, I might include some magic or something, but for now let's assume we're playing a pretty straight Western and skip it.

Step Three: Age. Oh, wait. I'm meant to roll for this (17 + 1d6). OK, sure. I roll a 5, which means I'm 22.

Step Four: Characteristic Rolls. Derived traits. Well, some, and there are more in the next step. Effort is STR x 5 (55), Stamina is CON x 5 (65), Idea is INT x 5 (60), Luck is POW x 5 (45), Agility is DEX x 5 (80), and Charisma is APP x 5 (30).

Step Five: Derived Characteristics. Like it says. Damage bonus is STR + SIZ and then look it up on a chart, so +1d4. Hit points is the average of CON and Size, or 15 in my case. Major wound is half that, or 8. Power Points I'll skip because I'm not using powers. EXP bonus is half my INT, or 6 (but I don't see a place on the sheet for it). MOV is 10 units per round, so that's easy enough.

Step Six: Personality. Oh, this is interesting. It's less about personality and more about how the character approaches problems - physically, with technique, outsmarting, or persuading. I think that Levi is pretty clearly most comfortable being physical, so I'll take that option. That gives me 20 points each in Brawl, Climb, Dodge, Grapple, Insight, Jump, Ride, Sense, Stealth, Swim, Throw, and any two Combat skills. I'll fill these in later, when I do the rest of my skills.

Step Seven: Skills. Well, hey. So, I pick a profession, and then I allocate points into professional skills. Let's assume we're playing a "normal" game in which the characters are mostly normal people, and I get 250 points for said professional skills. Is "cowboy" an option for profession? Hot diggity, it is.

My professional skills are Craft, Firearm (Rifle), Knowledge (Natural History), Knowledge (Region), Listen, Navigate, Ride, Spot, Throw, and Track. Neat. I can't start higher than 75%, but I already have 20 in some of these, so.

Brawl 20
Climb 20
Dodge 20
Grapple 20
Insight 20
Jump 20
Knowledge (Natural History)
Knowledge (Region)
*Ride 20
Sense 20
Stealth 20
Swim 20
*Throw 20
*Firearms (Rifle) 20
Firearms (Pistol) 20

That's where I start. Let's add 55 to Ride (boosting it to max), which takes me down to 195. I'll put 35 into Spot (160), 40 into Track (120), 30 into Rifle (90), 25 into Knowledge: Region (65), 30 into Listen (35) and the other 35 into Craft.

Step Eight: Distinctive Features. I'll say that Levi has a slight cleft palate that (of course) is uncorrected. As such, his speech is often unclear, and so he doesn't talk much and he eats very slowly and carefully (it's one reason he's thin). I'll say, too, that he wears a length of cloth around his face when he rides, to keep himself from inhaling too much dust.

Step Nine: Profession. Hang on, I thought I did this. Oh, wait, I did, this is just the stuff I get based on my profession. Rope, rifle, horse, etc.

Step Ten: Name & Finish. I did the name already, so that's basically it.

That was actually really painless, all things considered. I worry that the numbers are too low (you know how I feel about systems where starting characters are useless), but I'd have to play it to know; it's been too many years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Movie #480: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a supernatural slasher flick directed by the late, great Wes Craven and starring Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia (credited as Nick Corri), Ronee Blakely, and of course, Robert Englund.

The kids living on Elm Street - Nancy (Langenkamp), her buddy Tina (Wyss), Tina's rough boyfriend Rod (Garcia), and Nancy's boyfriend Glen (Depp, in his film debut) are having nightmares about a dude in a sweater with finger-knives. And then said dream-monster actually murders Tina while she's sleeping, and it all gets weird - Rod is initially blamed, but he dies in a cell. Nancy sees the killer in her dreams, too, and then grabs his hat and brings it into the real world, and there's the name: Freddy Krueger (Englund).

Turns out Krueger was a serial killer who murdered 20 kids (!) in the neighborhood, was caught, walked on a technicality, and was burned alive by the parents. Now he's back to murder the teens of Elm Street in their dreams. Eventually Nancy figures out that she can pull Freddy into the real world and, perhaps, kill him, but Glen dies before she can figure out how, so she booby-traps the shit out of her house and takes on Freddy alone.

I think that it's important to note that while subsequent films in the franchise got sequentially stupider (Part 2 is considered especially bad, as I recall, but I'm not sure I've seen it), the original Nightmare is a goddamn horror masterpiece. Freddy isn't campy or silly, he's purely evil and violent. He's never shown well-lit, but his burnt face is always in shadow. The effects of the violence are still there in the morning, and there's no explanation or apology - sure, maybe Rod hanged himself, but Glen was liquified and no one has a good way to explain that. And the end of the movie, where we're apparently all alive and Freddy's dreams have been vanquished...but no, we're back in the dream, is perfect, as we question how much of what we saw really happened.

One of my favorite horror movies, and continuing proof that you don't need the huge body count or the "carnage candy" (as Randy says in Scream 2) to make a good one.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

Blades in the Dark: Dissension in the Ranks

Last night was Blades, after a bit of a hiatus.

Last time, the scoundrels rather grudgingly took a job that Cage brought them via Lord Penderyn to retrieve a mysterious artifact from the Deathlands. This turned out to be the Eye of Kotar, but Cage wasn't able to tell the others that until they were already out in the soup. And then Spirit Wardens showed up, and things went to hell.

The Spirit Wardens fire their rifles at the scoundrels, and they scatter. Siren disappears entirely (she maxed out her stress and took Trauma, which put her out of the action for a while), Cage and One-Eye drop back into a structure with the Deathlands Scavengers. Copper puts up her hands and yells at the Wardens to cease fire; they do, but keep their weapons trained on her. They tell her to approach, slowly; Copper tells Button to go find One-Eye, worried that the Wardens will shoot him if he gets too close.

They strip Copper of her armor and weapons, and she tries to talk them into coming to some arrangement. The Wardens, though, aren't much interested, and point out that they don't have a lot of incentive not to just shoot the crew and leave them here in the ash.

Meanwhile, in the hut, One-Eye tries to talk Lady Thorn into giving them the Eye so they can make a deal. Thorn isn't having it, though; she was more inclined to give the Eye to the Wardens anyway, and this little incident isn't making her predisposed to trust the Widdershins. One-Eye, never the most patient of people, throws down a smoke bomb, tackles Lady Thorn, and snatches the Eye away. She, Cage and Button leave the hut, back to the back, watching and holding out weapons.

Of course, when they get out, they see Copper has been captured. One-Eye asks if pulling out the Eye, or threatening to destroy it, might motivate the Wardens to give up Copper, but Cage isn't sure. The Wardens, indeed, threaten to shoot Copper, but One-Eye says she'll give them the Eye for Copper. They tell Copper and One-Eye to both start walking, but Copper, true to form as a Cutter, decides she'll start a ruckus.

She snatches the mask off a Warden, and smashes the protective glyph holding the horror pulling their carriage in place. The horror knocks her out of the way and pounces on the Wardens, mauling them, and the crew gets the hell out of the area, fading into the desert.

As they walk back, they talk - argue, really - about this job. One-Eye is pissed, and of the opinion that this is Cage's fault for not telling them about the job. Cage points out that he couldn't, but One-Eye notes that she probably could have deactivated the ring preventing him, and anyway now they've lost Siren. Cage tries to find her by attuning, but can't get a fix - it's like she's not even around anymore, which is odd (even if she's dead, she should be somewhere). One-Eye argues that they should get double for this job, and that Cage ought to give up his share, or maybe they should just find another buyer. Cage points out that Penderyn is probably able to find Siren, but that letting the world know they have the Eye would put them in the crosshairs.

They eventually get back to the train, and then to Gaddoc Station, and then to Duskwall. They head for the lair (still no Siren), and Cage goes to visit Penderyn. Penderyn is unsympathetic as to Cage's problems with his crew, but says that if he has the Eye, he can find Siren. He points out, though, that there are any number of interested parties, many of whom won't be interested in buying the Eye so much as taking it, and that includes the crew's buddy Lord Scurlock. Cage reports this back to One-Eye and Copper, and they agree that selling to Penderyn is probably the best course of action.

Penderyn takes the Eye and looks palpably relieved. "You idiots just saved the city, and you don't even know it," he murmurs, and then holds it up and it starts to glow. He tells them that Siren is in Gaddoc Station, but then notes that she's walking into town. She's in Nightmarket, anyway. He pays them, suffering some pretty constant abuse from One-Eye, and shoos them out.

The crew catches up with Siren, who asks about the Eye. When she hears that Penderyn has it, she starts walking toward Charterhall, and One-Eye, concerned about this obsession, tranqs her. She wakes up, a little more clear-headed, in the lair, and the scoundrels start coping with the fallout. They inadvertently killed four Spirit Wardens, and that means the Wardens have finally had enough - they go to war. Not only that, but the Bluecoats show up to arrest the crew, and they all scatter, avoiding the arrest but worsening their relationship with the Bluecoats.

Cage visits Penderyn, hoping to learn what he meant by "saved the city," but Penderyn is being tight-lipped. Perhaps next time we'll learn the truth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Movie #479: The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stop-motion animated movie directed by Henry Selick, but from the mind of Tim Burton, starring Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, Glen Shadix, Ken Page, Ed Ivory, Paul Reubens, and William Hickey.

The opening narration informs us that every holiday is the product of special holiday realms, and then dumps us into Halloween-town, which has a two-faced Mayor (Shadix) but really answers to its most prominent citizen, Jack Skellington (Sarandon, sung by Elfman). Jack is renowned as the creative force behind Halloween, but he's bored, and goes wandering until he finds the magic grove that leads to other holidays. He falls into Christmas-town, and feels inspired again - but he wants to understand the nature of Christmas. He winds up, instead, stealing it, sending three little trick-or-treaters (Lock, Shock, and Barrel, voiced by Reubens, O'Hara, and Elfman, respectively) to kidnap "Sandy Claws" (Ivory) so that the Halloween-ers can take over Xmas.

In the midst of all this is the kinda-sorta subplot of Sally (O'hara's main role), the ragdoll creature made by Dr. Finklestein (Hickey), who is in love with Jack but also trying to escape her creator. She is, as Santa notes, the only one that makes sense around here.

So, this movie has a following, and there's a lot I like about it. I like the characters, I like the music, and I love the look - it's very Burton, but it's more colorful than a lot of his stuff. But let's be real honest: This movie is thin. The plot is weak, the characters are fun and clever, but the world isn't fleshed out. I'm not even talking about the fact that we're apparently in world that treats Santa as a real, common-knowledge fact and what the hell that implies about the shenanigans that the Halloween-folk pull on their holiday. Just the dialog alone is weak, basic and boring, and the lyrics are simple at best and flat-out dumb at worst.

And then there's Oogie Boogie (Page), who's nominally the villain, but he literally has no reason to be in this movie except to give Jack a reason to rescue Santa (and Sally) in the third act. He's planning to...eat Santa? "Take the whole thing over" as his minions say? Gamble with Santa's life? It's not at all clear.

I have to assume that this movie had a much more first draft that wasn't filmed because it was expensive and time-consuming.

My Grade: C
Rewatch Value: Medium-high (look, I said it wasn't great, but it's still watchable)

Next up: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Monday, October 1, 2018

Movie #478: And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None is a whodunit murder mystery starring C. Aubrey Smith, Judith Anderson, Walter Huston, Mischa Auer, June Duprez, Barry Fitzgerald, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, Richard Haydn, and Queenie Leonard. It's adapted from the novel (which was originally published under a title I'm not gonna repeat here) by Agatha Christie.

A group of strangers are all summoned to meet a mysterious host - one that none of them actually know, but are referred to by people they do know - on an isolated island. When they get there, they realize that they've been tricked into appearing and that their host "Mr. U. N. Owen" or "Mr. Unknown", considers them all guilty of murder or murder by inaction or proxy, and intends to kill them in line with the "Ten Little Indians" rhyme that the first victim (Auer) plays on the piano before quaffing a poisoned drink.

From there, people keep dropping like flies in various horrible ways, all vaguely related to the song, until the killer is revealed - Judge Quinncannon (Fitzgerald), killing all these sinners off in a quest for justice. He intended for the final remaining victim, Vera Clayborne (Duprez) to hang herself, but with some help from the dashing young Lombard (Hayward), she tricks the killer and learns the truth and they escape.

Note, however, in the novel the killer's plan works, everybody dies, and the police are baffled. I think that ending would work for a movie now pretty well, but in 1945 that would have been pretty dark.

And Then There Were None is one of those movies that has been remixed and parodied and sampled so much that even if you haven't seen it, you've basically seen it. That said, this version is suspenseful, creepy, and brutal, even considering that there's no gore or violence to speak of (bodies are only shown partially, never faces, no blood or wounds depicted). The performances are perfect murder-mystery, and although Murder by Death lampoons this style of movie and pokes fun at last-minute reveals and adding characters, And Then There Were None plays fair by the audience and doesn't reveal a "twist" at the end that the audience couldn't have foreseen.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Nightmare Before Christmas