Friday, November 30, 2018

Movie #487: Graveyard Shift

Graveyard Shift is a 1990 adaptation of the short story of the same name by Stephen King, and stars Stephen Macht, Brad Dourif, David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, and Jimmy Woodard. It's...not great.

Set at a textile mill in Maine (although the surrounding terrain doesn't look very Maine-like, and the accents are sometimes New England and sometimes Southern), the film sees a drifter named Hall (Andrews) taking work for the evil foreman Warwick (Macht), snuggling up to Jane, the one woman who works on the cleanup crew (Wolf), and then everyone getting eaten by giant rats.

It's pretty much a by-the-numbers monster movie. The characters are largely forgettable; the Exterminator (Dourif, representing the largest chunk of the budget, I'm sure) is the only one with any kind of backstory that gets explained. Hall is a widower, sure, and Jane has some history, but we never really learn any of it. The giant bat-rat that winds up killing everyone is ugly and slimy and kind of impressive as far as effects go (it's gotta be practical, too, which is good), but we never get a good look at it.

The short story this is based on has a nicely Lovecraftian feel to it; the characters (some of them) are the same, but there's a fun power play between Hall and Warwick that becomes a fistfight here, and winds up being about as subtle as, well, the rest of the movie. It's watchable, though, if you like bad creature features, which, fortunately, I do.

My Grade: D-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Now & Then

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Movie #486: The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone is a 1983 horror movie based on the novel by Stephen King, and directed by David Cronenberg, starring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerrit, Herbert Lom, and Martin Sheen. Weirdly, I had never even heard of this movie until we picked it up in a collection.

Johnny Smith (Walken) is a teacher who's doing pretty well; he's dating a fellow teacher (Adams) and plans to marry her, and then gets into a car wreck and is in a coma for five years. When he wakes up, Sarah has moved on and married, and he has the ability to see the future by touching people. He winds up helping the local sheriff (Skerritt) catch a serial killer (Nicholas Campbell), becomes a private tutor in an attempt to cut himself off from people generally, but winds up learning that the crooked-ass candidate for Senate, Greg Stillson (Sheen) is eventually going to become president and plunge the world into nuclear holocaust, so he goes all Taxi Driver on him. He dies in the process, but does manage to ruin the guy's political future.

I enjoyed this movie. Walken was suitably scared and creepy as Smith, and it was nice seeing Martin Sheen playing a nutcase (really, that doesn't happen enough). Likewise, great supporting performance by Lom as Walken's doctor. I also enjoyed that Smith having psychic powers isn't something that people, in general, have a hard time believing; for the most part there's some skepticism but they believe it when it works (which is nice because skepticism in the face of obvious results is tiresome in movies).

If I have a complaint, it's that the movie is paced strangely, and it kind of skips from plot point to plot point without building up a lot of momentum. Like, the serial killer plotline is set up like it's going to occupy the last third of the movie...but then it's resolved in one scene. The plotline with Sarah and her new life is nice, and actually does provide some throughline for the movie, but we don't actually see much of her and she's just a device to get John out of the house. The election and Stillson are mentioned early on, but the real meat of the conflict comes out late and there's a scene with Stillson blackmailing a reporter that makes him look crooked, but not as full-on deranged as he really is.

All in all, it's a funny adaptation of a King novel and has some good performances.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Graveyard Shift

Monday, November 26, 2018

Chill: Missed Check-In

New Chill case! Woo! (Here's the end of the last one.)

It's been a couple of months since the Boise HQ deal with a poltergeist and a werewolf within a couple of weeks of each other. Some of the envoys are on probation, but Unknown-wise, it's been quiet. A blanket of snow has covered the ranch, and it's still and quiet on the evening of February 8, 2018, and a car pulls up the drive...

A man knocks on the door, and Jordan opens it. The man - wearing a suit, but not an expensive one - asks for Ruth Adams (Dee's niece, and daughter of Eli Adams, Dee's late brother). Jordan lets him in to get warm, and goes out to the stable where Ruth and Mohammed are tending to the horses.

BB, meanwhile, chats with the man, whose name is John Howard. John is a parole officer (and has heard of BB, since BB has a PO, too). But John's not here for BB.

Ruth comes in, and John asks her about someone named Vince Jessup. Jessup was apparently paroled a few days ago and was supposed to come out to the ranch, but hasn't checked in. Ruth says that she talked to him on Monday, but he was going to drop in on an old cellmate and she hasn't heard from him. John nods, and asks if Ruth hears from him to contact him, has a cup of coffee and chats a bit, and then leaves.

Ruth talks with the envoys and explains a little more. Vince Jessup was a SAVE envoy from Nampa, ID, who was arrested for double murder in 2001 and has been in prison ever since. That HQ was lost in the infiltration, but some of the envoys might still be around. Ruth doesn't know who his cellmate was, but she's worried - Jessup knew he was welcome at the ranch and was looking forward to having some work and a place to stay. The envoys decide they'll look into this; the disappearance of a SAVE envoy is always cause for concern.

Jordan calls up some friends on the police force, and with some digging finds that Jessup's first cellmate was a fellow named Franklin Wray. Wray was sent to prison in 1990 for manslaughter, but was paroled not long after Jessup got sent to prison. BB, a bounty hunter, does some digging of his own and finds that Wray broke his parole and hasn't been seen since his release. If Jessup was going to drop in on him, he clearly knew something the authorities didn't.

Jennifer, visiting from Chicago to catch up with BB, decides to help out and does some digging into the HQ's records. She finds an envoy list from the Nampa HQ, but of the six envoys on it, four are dead, one is Jessup, and the last one - Susan Wisnewski - still lives in Nampa. Mohammed calls Susan up and asks her about SAVE; Susan asks to talk to Dee (everyone knows Dee) and then agrees to talk with the envoys, but not on the phone. The envoys pile into an SUV and head to Nampa; it's getting dark, but they know the danger of wasting time.

Susan receives them and gives them cider while they talk. She recalls that the case that led to two envoys dying and Jessup being arrested involved some strange, thin, pale-skinned creature with big eyes. It didn't mind-control people, exactly, but manipulated them and cast illusions. Jordan and BB look at each other knowingly - this sounds a lot like the thing that was haunting the Iowa University campus recently. In any case, apparently it tricked Jessup into shooting his girlfriend and another envoy, and he was sent to prison for it. Franklin Wray had told Jessup (truthfully or not, Susan wasn't sure) that he too was in prison over a bullshit charge, and Jessup had apparently taught him the Art and planned on getting him into SAVE when he was released.

This all makes the envoys uncomfortable, but they aren't sure where to go. They decide to check the court records and to visit the police department and see if they can learn a little more, but that'll have to wait for morning. Susan offers to let them stay; she says she misses this part of SAVE ("but not this part," she says, holding up her left hand and revealing she's missing two fingers).

In the morning, BB and Mohammed head to the police department and talk to a detective. They say that they're trying to find Wray - yeah, it's a cold case, but money's money and there's a bounty on the guy. The detective tells them that Wray was a shithead; he had a history of arrests for stalking, weapons, minor assault, and finally got arrested for "accidentally" shooting Tim Fossly, a guy who lived in his neighborhood. They also talk to his PO, but the guy has been over this ground and doesn't have any good insights.

The others pull some court records and look into Wray's conviction. The prevailing feeling was very much that the killing was deliberate, but no one was sure why. The envoys also, however, find that Tim Fossly's uncle, Gregory Fossly, spoke in court and read his address into the record. He owns a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Oregon.

Not having any other leads, the envoys decide to make the road trip out to the ranch. It's a good 3.5 hours from Boise, and it's really isolated - no towns or hotels within 2 hours' drive. Jennifer stays behind in Boise to act as a point of contact and keep researching (because her player won't be there next time).

And off into the snow they go.

Night's Black Agents: Plans and Near Misses

Saturday was Night's Black Agents. Here we go!

Last session was quite while ago, but was pretty important - they took out another of the vampires in the conspiracy.

This time, Firinci is in Berlin, doing his business stuff when he realizes he's being followed. The folks following him look white-nationalist-ish, so that's not great. He runs, leading them on a chase into the subway and back up, and sets off a door alarm to summon the police, and then runs to the Turkish embassy. He evades his pursuers, but contacts his friend Lazlo Berger (whose operation was exposed in Budapest) and the other agents - they've apparently been made.

Berger travels to Vienna and Hanover (in disguise) picks him up and transport him to a safe house. Firinci arrives shortly thereafter, and notes a car outside the townhouse that has evidence of someone on a stakeout (though the stakeout-er isn't there). He tells the others, and they bug out, falling back to a chalet in Innsbruck.

Parker is off in London (her player wasn't feeling well), so the four agents talk about their options. They've apparently been exposed, though to what degree they aren't sure. They know that Vilmos Hajnal, Nikita Utkin, and Ioan Koltay are their best remaining targets (well, Tesla, but they still aren't sure where to find him). They know that the IFEA is going to have a conference in a few months in Minsk, so they know where Koltay will be, and they could in theory infiltrate it. But that's a while, and they want to have something to do in the interim.

Firinci and Hanover start looking at finances, trying to track Hajnal's movements and come up with some kind of predictive model. They realize that it doesn't look like Hajnal is picking the movements, it looks like someone else is doing it for him. So is Hajnal just a puppet? Either way, taking him out would create a power vacuum and a real mess in the European underworld (but maybe that's good?).

Working the model a bit more, they figure that Prague or Bratislava might be the next city Hajnal goes to, and either of them are within an easy drive of where they are presently. They put out feelers to both cities and wait...

Friday, November 23, 2018

Character Creation: W20

Today being Wolfenoot, I thought it appropriate to do a character for a wolf-based game. And lo and behold, I have one more Werewolf game left! (Note I've already done a few.)

The Game: Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition
The Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I worked on this book, and I've run the everloving heck out of Werewolf over the years. It's been a while, though.
Books Required: Just the one.

Ah, Werewolf. At times preachy, gross, racist, and weirdly gonzo, but such a damn fun game. Like many White Wolf properties of the 90s, its heart was in the right place even when its head was up its butt.

So, what kind of Garou do I want to make? I've done a couple of Apocalypse versions (linked above) before, and I made a lupus in the Dark Ages version and a metis in the Revised version (and evidently I didn't have a copy of 1st or 2nd ed kicking around...oh, right, I would have sold 2nd ed because I didn't work on it). Well, that would seem to indicate that I make a homid-breed character, but eh, I dunno. It's Wolfenoot. Seems like lupus would be more appropriate. Let's do that.

I feel like making a character who's a little more optimistic, and the Children of Gaia definitely play to that. Oh, wait, though, the Dark Ages: Werewolf character I made was a lupus Child of Gaia (in my defense that was 10 freaking years ago). OK, I'll keep the "lupus" and the "optimism" but I'll pick a different tribe. Heck, let's do Shadow Lords. Not something that immediately comes to mind when I think "optimistic," but I can make it work (and I love this tribe).

So, again, lupus. My wolf was born in Eastern Europe somewhere (he doesn't know where, like he has a passport). He Changed when a group of humans were tearing around his woods on motorbikes and scaring his pack (there were pups!). He burst from the trees and scattered them, but didn't kill any, just destroyed their bikes and harried them all the way back to the road. Later his tribe caught up with him and...they can't quite figure what to make of him. He's not stupid, but he's simple. He's not cowardly, but he's merciful. There was some talk of foisting him off on the Children of Gaia, but he's Pure Bred as heck, so maybe there's something more to him? They call him Spills-No-Blood.

Oh, and I think he makes the most sense as a Philodox.

So that's Step One: Concept pretty much handled. On to Step Two: Attributes. We have the standard OWoD 7/5/3 array, here, and as a lupus I think Physical first makes the most sense. Two into each and the extra into Dexterity, because it's the best stat.

Social secondary. Three into Charisma, two into Appearance, leaving one lonely dot in Manipulation. Have I mentioned that Appearance is a dumb stat?

Mental, finally, gets 3 dots, and I'll just split them up evenly.

Step Three: Abilities. 13/9/5, nothing over 3. Here we goooooo!

Well, Talents is obviously first (I know I've seen lupus characters not put Talents as primary, but not often). Three each into Primal-Urge and Athletics, two in Brawl, Alertness, and Intimidation, and the last one into Leadership.

I think we'll just go Skills as secondary, and pop three each into Animal Ken and Stealth. Oh, and three in Survival.

Five dots for Knowledges, so two in Enigmas, two in Rituals, and one in Occult.

Step Four: Advantages. I get 5 dots in Backgrounds (W20 changes the stupid Background restrictions to "discouraged" Backgrounds, which is better). I want hella high Pure Breed, so I'll just dump all five dots there and pick up anything else I need with freebies.

I get three Gifts: one from breed, one from auspice, one from tribe.

Well, for breed Gifts, I think either Heightened Senses or Hare's Leap (Sense Prey is kinda weak and Predator's Arsenal, while cool, isn't in-concept). I'll take Heightened Senses.

For auspice Gifts, I want Scent of the True Form. I think Spills likes to know who he's dealing with.

Finally, for Shadow Lord Gifts...ooh, they added a couple. I like Whisper Catching (I like Shadow Weaving, too, but it feels a little hands-on for Spills).

For Renown, I get 3 Honor 'cause I'm Philodox.

Step Five: Finishing Touches. I get 3 Rage (from auspice), 5 Gnosis (from breed), and 3 Willpower (from tribe). I start at rank 1, and then I get 15 freebies to throw around.

Well, I kinda want another dot of Perception, so that's 5 points right there. There are a couple of new Backgrounds, and I think Fate makes sense for Spills, so I'll put three dots in there. Another dot of Primal-Urge? Yes indeedy. 2 more points, 5 left. I think I'll buy Willpower up to 5, Rage up to 4, and I'll put two dots in the Rites Background and pick up the Rite of Heritage and the Rite of Boasting.

That's all my freebies, and I honestly don't much feel like buying Merits & Flaws; I think Spills is pretty much complete as he is. Howly Wolfenoot!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Character Creation: Ghosts of Albion

Happy Thanksgiving! In celebration of the holiday, I chose a game randomly (five bookshelves plus PDFs, roll a d6 to pick a bookshelf, five shelves on said shelf, roll a d5 to pick a shelf, and then just selected a game NOW YOU KNOW MY PROCESS TODAY)

The Game: Ghosts of Albion
The Publisher: Eden Studios
Degree of Familiarity: I'm pretty proficient with the underlying system, and I've played Ghosts of Albion once (at Origins, years ago, it was a pretty awesome time) but I am not familiar with the source material (in fact, I just now learned* that it was co-created by Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy)
Books Required: Just the one

OK, so the book begins with a nice little summary of the adventures of Tamara and William Swift, so as to tell us what kind of weirdness we're in for. Basically this feels very urban fantasy, and in particular it reminds me of Hellboy with a Victorian sensibility about it. I can roll with that.

The book invites me to play a member of the existing cast (nah), use an Archetype (also nah), or make my own character, and like, that's what this is, so that is what we shall do. Groovy.

(Side note: Some time ago I went through and printed off character sheets for all of the game on that list that had them, excluding stuff like PbtA games because the sheets are different for different playbooks, and then I alphabetized them and put them into my binder, but I can't find the one for this game so I had to print another. That's weird. I suspect I'll find it misfiled under a different letter, but I ain't flipping through all of them; it's quicker just to print another one out.)**

Step One is Type (much like other Unisystem games). Here our options are Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. I guess I need a concept.

Well, I don't think I want to play a ghost or a vampire or anything like that...actually, hang on. I haven't made a vampire character for a game that wasn't Vampire or Vampire in a long time. The book says that "Apprentice" characters could be newly-dead vampires, so let's maybe try that out? I need to look up how this game handles them, though.

OK, so looking into this, good-guy vampires are extremely rare (like, there's one in the "canon", but he's an exception). Mostly, they're Victorian-style vampires, which means they're monsters (Copolla aside, Dracula was not a real sympathetic character). I'm fine with that, I just need to find a reason why my newly-turned vampire would be a good guy.

Let's name him Christopher Tennyson (distant cousin to Alfred, though he's never met him). Christopher's family is pretty much middle class, and he had just become engaged to a girl named Francine. He saw the life before him - marry her, work with his father and brothers, help care for his nieces and nephews, read his books, have children, live, die, be remembered. It comforted him, this gentle mediocrity. He had no ambition to become Poet Laureate or to seek the halls of power. Even his love for Francine wasn't fiery or passionate, but gentle and steady.

And then a vampire came to town and blew it all to hell.

The vampire - a beast with the unassuming name of Levi - murdered Christopher and two of his brothers, draining their blood and throwing them in the corner of the room like cordwood. One of them managed to slash the vampire with a knife, and somehow a bit of that blood wound up in Christopher's mouth. Christopher rose the next night, just as the Protectors managed to burn Levi to ash. They had no idea Christopher had turned, but Christopher came to them and asked to be destroyed, too. He had no wish to be...this.

The Protectors agreed, but they mentioned how strange it was for a new vampire to retain so much of his humanity. Christopher asked if that meant anything, and they said that, if he could keep that gentle, steady spark, he could be a force for good, protecting Albion's soul.

Christopher Tennyson never wanted such responsibility, but he found, as he thought about it, that the notion of being a Protector was appealing.

So that's some background, then. Let's put some numbers on it!

I get 15 Attribute points (though I happen to know that the Vampire Quality boosts a few, but that's later). I want a high Willpower, to help explain why Christopher isn't a monster, so I'll put that at 5. I'll put Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution at 2 each...and actually, I'll put Intelligence and Perception at 2 as well. Christopher was, in life, a pretty average guy.

Now, Qualities and Drawbacks. I can take up to 10 in Drawbacks and I get 15 in Qualities, but Vampire costs 15, so there ya have it. That also gives me a suite of other shit, so I'll note that down. And then I can take up to 10 points in Drawbacks, so let's do that.

Well, I think Naive is perfect for Christopher; that's 2 points. I also think Honourable is appropriate, though I don't think more than 2 points makes sense. Home Soil, over on the supernatural side of things, works because Christopher is such a homebody. That's 7 points total; I could take 3 more. I'll take Adversary 3 - not that Christopher knows it, but there are other vampires in England who are none too pleased that Christopher exists at all.

So that gives me 10 points to throw around. I'll take Status 3 (middle class) and that gives me Resources 1 for free; I'll spend one more point and up it to 2. That leaves me 6 points. I kinda want Christopher to have some overt supernatural powers, so I'll take Scale Walls for 2 points and Shadow Manipulation for 2 points (the latter just means I have a reflection and a shadow, which most vampires don't). 2 points left. I'll put them into Charisma; Christopher is a nice guy, and it shows (ignore the fangs, please).

Now I get 20 Skill points (plus I get 2 free in either Fisticuffs or Armed Mayhem, on account I'm a vampire). I'll put 2 in Art, 2 in Fisticuffs (for a total of 4), 4 in Influence, 3 in Knowledge, 2 in Languages, 3 in Marksmanship, 3 in Notice, and 1 in Occultism (he's learning, give him time).

I have 52 Life Points and 20 Drama Points, and that pretty much finishes me up. Well, quick description: Christopher is slim (like vampires often are). His hair is slightly reddish, his skin is pale (obvs), and his fingers are long and delicate. He used to smile widely and easily, now he typically keeps his smiles tight-lipped so his fangs don't show.

*I mean, the Ghosts of Albion book says "Amber Benson & Christopher Golden" on it, so I knew on some level, but I hadn't connected that name to anything until just now.**

**It's apparently a rambly day in Matt's brain, y'all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Preparing for the Big Heist

Last night was Blades in the Dark. Hoo-ah!

The scoundrels recently came into a tavern, and by "came into" I mean "rolled up and punched everyone in it until they gave the tavern away to the Widdershins." This time, it's another fine day/night in Duskwall when One-Eye wakes up Grull's carriage, more than a little hung over (this happens a lot).

Grull says that he has a job for the crew, if they're interested, but it's dangerous and he doesn't have a lot of information. He explains that the Spirit Wardens have a "Wardenlist" - a ledger that gives the names of all of the Wardens - and Grull knows where it is. It's in Whitecrown, at the home of the Master Warden, and Grull wants the crew to steal it. He tells One-Eye that there's probably dummy lists as well as any kind of security they can think of, but if they can pull it off, he's in a position to make them very happy indeed. He admits, though, that he doesn't really expect everyone to survive.

One-Eye, always skeptical, understands that Grull is working for someone but isn't sure who, and wants a demonstration of their influence before she commits to anything. Grull agrees, and asks who (apart from the Spirit Wardens) is nettling the crew at the moment. One-Eye mentions that the Bluecoats and the Widdershins have a somewhat strained relationship of late; Grull says he can help with that, and drops One-Eye off at the tavern.

A couple of nights later, the crew is hanging out at said tavern and Captain Vale walks in for a drink. She mentions to Copper that, while she can't exactly say the crew's records are clear, the Bluecoats aren't actively interested in them at the moment (this clears their Heat). She leaves, and One-Eye explains to the crew that this is the work of Grull and whatever secret organization he belongs to. She tells them about the job, and asks if they want to do it.

The crew discusses. This is a big deal, and it's a potentially an escalation in their war with the Wardens. Copper points out that once you take a job like this, you can't go back - you're signaling that you're ready for a different level of work. Cage is concerned about the scope, here, and is worried that Grull's organization, whatever it is, might hang them out to dry once the job is done. In the end, they decide to do some digging and try to learn a little more.

One-Eye goes and talks to Strain, the Gondolier the crew saved from possession back here. He's assigned to work Crow's Foot, which doesn't thrill him. He explains to One-Eye that the Gondoliers and the Spirit Wardens are not friends because it used to be that the Gondoliers were who the citizens turned to for spirit-stuff, but he's also heard that someone is trying to infiltrate the Spirit Wardens. He looks awfully nervous as he says that, too.

Copper finds Nyelle, the spirit-trafficker buddy of the crew. She tells Copper that the Wardens don't really have a lot of friends - they're close with the Church of Ecstasy (since the Church is state-sponsored and so are the Wardens), and they maintain contact with the Deathlands Scavengers for some reason. She also explains that the Emperor commissioned the Wardens some years back, usurping the work that the Gondoliers used to do.

Cage goes to see Lord Penderyn. Penderyn tells Cage that the Path of Echoes, being opposed to the Church of Ecstasy, is also at odds with the Wardens. He also offers Cage a job. He acknowledges that the last job the crew did at Penderyn's behest didn't go all that well, so this is a kind of olive branch. He needs something - a big, heavy, copper "conveyance" transported from Coalridge (where it's being assembled) to the lighthouse in Whitecrown. He informs Cage that the job isn't illegal, and he doesn't anticipate a lot of resistance, other than the natural risk of someone getting curious about what the big thing is that's being transported.

Siren visits the Adept gang that the crew has taken on, to ask about Kotar (who's, like, in her head). The Adepts inform her that Kotar has a lot of legends about him - he's a hero, a demon, a ghost, whatever - but he's agreed to be very powerful. Some of his body is supposedly scattered around the city, and some factions want to assemble him and some want to burn him. If he's assembled, then he might return, and what then? Burn Duskwall into the sea or raise it up to glory? Depends who you ask.

As she's talking, a ship rolls by - the Fog Hound. Goldie, the navigator, is on board talking to an immense man, arguing apparently about Siren. She calls Siren aboard, and Siren obliges (but takes the Adept she was talking to, Brace, along with her). Goldie tells Siren that she has an opportunity. Turns out the Grinders have amassed a collection of smaller boats and they're keeping them at a dockyard off the books. If the Widdershins were to steal the boats, everyone benefits - the Fog Hounds lose some competition in the smuggling game and the Widdershins have a fleet (the Fog Hounds are fine with their big ol' steamship).

The crew reconvenes and talks about their options. One-Eye finds it interesting that Penderyn's job takes them to Whitecrown, and the crew wonders if that could be used to springboard the Wardenlist job. Siren, a sailor herself, encourages the crew to the take the fleet job (One-Eye notes that this isn't going to make her popular with her Skovland countrymen, but fuck 'em). The crew is potentially open to Penderyn's job, once they establish that Cage isn't magically bound from telling them anything.

In the end, they decide they'll do the fleet job, and use that to help with Penderyn's job, and then jump straight to the Wardenlist job while they're in Whitecrown. This is ambitious as hell, but hey, no risk, no reward. They hire some Rovers for the job, and decide they'll create a distraction to get the Grinders' attention while they nick the boats.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Movie #485: Coming to America

Coming to America is a 1988 comedy directed by John Landis and starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall (remember him?), James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, John Amos, Shari Headley, Eriq La Salle, Allison Dean, and Paul Bates.

Akeem (Murphy) is the prince of Zamunda, a prosperous African nation. On his 21st birthday he's supposed to marry a woman who has been raised since birth to be his ideal, submissive mate (ew), but he decides that he would rather marry for love. He convinces his caring but traditionalist father (Jones) to let him and his friend/servant Semmi (Hall) go to America to "sow his royal oats," when in fact he intends to find a wife.

He and Semmi go to Queens, figuring that's the best place to find a royal bride, and wind up working at a McDonald's knock-off run by Cleo McDowell (Amos). Akeem meets his daughter Lisa (Headley), they fall in love, Akeem's royal status is revealed, everyone reveals their truths, lessons are learned, Lisa and Akeem marry in Zamunda.

There's a lot more to it, of course - Lisa is seeing Darryl (La Salle), the opportunistic, spoiled heir to the Soul-Glo business, her sister Patrice (Dean) is generally hot to trot, Semmi keeps getting into trouble trying to get back to his cushy lifestyle, and then there's the barbership with the four old dudes kibitizing (Murphy, Murphy, Hall, and Clint Smith), but that's the gist.

So: I think this is one of Murphy's better comedies. It's focused on him and lets him show off his chops by playing multiple roles, but there's also enough of an ensemble cast that it's not just Murphy dicking around for two hours. Akeem and Lisa have some chemistry, but the scenes with Akeem and his parents (mom played by Sinclair, and fun fact, she and Jones also played Simba's parents in The Lion King) are also nice.

Zamunda is...somewhat problematic. It's obviously patriarchal - not just arranged marriages, but arranged marriages to women raised from birth to please the prince (first of all, ew, second of all, suppose there's a princess?). Not only that, but women are in predominantly subservient roles, and are implied or outright stated to be sex slaves (the king openly says he fucks his bathers, and while this is never play up as overtly rapey - that is, there's some side-eye flirting from the bathers and rose-bearers - the implications aren't great).

The costuming, too, is interesting. It blends African, French, and British sensibilities, so Michelle and I were speculating that the implication there was that Zamunda was at one time a colony of France or England; probably England since they speak English and their money is called pounds. But then we watched the mini-doc on the costuming and production design, and nope, it seems like the (white) woman who did the design basically just cherry picked shit she liked from different African cultures, was inspired by English movies, and didn't consult with anyone. The result is an aesthetic that works, but kind of by accident?

Anyway, it's a funny movie, I love the cast, and hey, Samuel L. Jackson's debut! But like a lot of 80s movies, it'd look very different today.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: The Dead Zone

Monday, November 19, 2018

Board Game: House of Danger!

So! Yesterday was meant to be brunch & All Flesh Must be Eaten, but it became brunch & board games instead. Check it.

The Game: House of Danger
The Publisher: Z-Man Games
Time: Not less than 2 hours, probably more
Players: Me, Michelle, Melissa, Megan, and Sarah

The path to adventure!
Game Play: So, remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? If you don't, they were all the rage in the 80s. You start reading, the book is written in second person so that "you" are the POV character, and when you come to a decision point the book tells you to turn to p. XX if you do this, or p. YY if you do that. Eventually you come to an end point (which typically concludes with THE END), which often kills you, and then you read it again to find a different ending.

Well, this board game does exactly that, in five chapters. The game starts off with you, an aspiring detective and psychic investigator, involving the police because you're having dreams of a weird house.

Believe me when I tell you that's the least ridiculous thing about this story.

Sarah and Michelle, not knowing what awaits them.
During the game, you draw story cards, read them out (we took turns), and then you'll come to a choice. The cards are number, so it'll be something like "if you do X, read Story Card 32, if you do Y, read Clue Card 98." The cards take you through the story, and can sometimes give you helpful items.

That track I posted earlier shows two meters, a Psychic Meter and a Danger Meter. The psychic meter is effectively a measure of how psychic you are; you'll come to cards that say if you're level 2 or higher, you get a particular clue. The Danger Meter shows the difficulty of rolls; when you come to Challenges, you roll a d6 and you have to roll at or above the current Danger (which never gets lower than 3). If you fail, often you lose Psychic or your Danger gets higher.

Melissa and Megan are also unprepared for what awaits them, but they do have coffee.
You can die before reaching the end, which we did, more than once.

But note that this death doesn't end the game, it just sends you back a bit.

This was likewise true of being killed by the sharknana. No, I'm not making that up.
But at the end, we...lost, because aliens destroyed the world.

Opinions: It's a CYOA book, but it's in game form. It's purely cooperative; like, you could play alone, but it's more fun to have a group of people, read out the cards, and collaboratively decide what stupid thing to do ("Punch the ghost?" "Shit, yeah"). I suspect that eventually the novelty would wear off, but honestly it takes a while to get through the whole story, so it's not like you'd play this any less often than any other all-day game. And the story is so purely bananas that it's a lot of fun with the right group.

Keep? Yep.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Movie #484: Back to the Future

Back to the Future is a sci-fi comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, and Thomas F. Wilson. You've...probably heard of it.

Marty McFly (Fox) is an amiable high school student who hangs out with an eccentric genius named Doc Brown (Lloyd). Doc has figured out the secret of time travel, and built the time-traveling device into a DeLorean sports car. A series of wacky mishaps involving Libyan terrorists leave Brown shot dead and Marty heading back in time 30 years, whereupon he meets the teenage versions of his father George (Glover), his mother Lorraine (Thompson), and the bully who has made his father's life hell for three goddamn decades, Biff (Wilson).

Marty enlists Doc's help to get home, but in the process nearly erases himself from existence by getting his mother to fall in love with him instead of his father (I know). Instead, he manages to teach his father to stand up to Biff, gets home, all is well.

So, this is one of those movies that folks of my generation have seen a lot of times and analyzed to death (here, here's an example, and here's another). And yes, there are some plot holes (note that at the end of the movie, Marty runs 2 miles in under 9 minutes), and some plot points that just beggar the imagination (consider for a moment how different Lorraine and George's lives turned out in the second timeline, but they still live in the same house - in the same town - and their two older and apparently successful kids not only live with them but haven't going to college). And that's on top of the much more problematic stuff; Zemeckis' ongoing love of near-miss date-rape, Marty not only inspiring Goldie Wilson to become mayor (which had to have happened without him) and giving Chuck Berry the idea for "Johnny B Goode" (likewise).

At the end of the day, it's a fun 80s comedy, but one you can't think about too hard.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: Coming to America

Monday, November 12, 2018

Character Creation: Bedlam Hall

I'm so close to being caught up! I think I can actually get ahead of schedule over Thanksgiving break.

I have now jinxed myself, which is appropriate, given today's game.

The Game: Bedlam Hall
The Publisher: Monkeyfun Studios
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at Origins this past summer. It wasn't a great time, but that wasn't the game's fault.
Books Required: Just the one.

Bedlam Hall is a PbtA game in which you're playing the staff at the titular estate, in service to the Blackwood family. The tone is black humor, but it's not meant to be as silly as it was when I played at Origins, I don't think. In any event, it's a mix of an Upstairs, Downstairs kind of situation and, like, Addams Family with the creepy cranked up a little.

As a PbtA game, it uses playbooks, so that's my first step. I played the Cook at Origins, so I want to do something different today. I shall play the Chauffeur, I think.

Next up, Attributes. I can pick between four arrays, depending on how focused I wish to be. Hmm. I think I shall go with 2, 1, 1, -1. I'll put my 2 in Composure, my -1 in Etiquette, and of course Persuasion and Fortitude get the 1s. This guy has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth when he talks, so he tries not to.

Now, moves. I get Access to the Bentley and Better Footwear automatically, and then I get to pick two more. What should my strong & silent driver have?

Well, I'm thinking Don't Make This Physical makes sense (I can cause Trauma if I Direct the Staff and they refuse). And then I think Outsider's Perspective plays to my strengths (it's a Composure roll), so that's fine.

I get a Secret and a Cruel Move. For my secret, I'll say it's a connection with unsavory criminals I've had to dodge for a fresh start. More specifically, my chauffeur was part of a criminal gang that would infiltrate stately homes, get the lay of the land, and then rob them blind. He, however, went to the wrong house, got the chauffeur job, and his gang hasn't seen him since. For his part, he's thinking maybe this is a good enough gig that he doesn't need to go back to a life of crime. Sure, the house is cursed and the lord of the manor summons demons in his parlor, but the pay's not terrible and it beats the Front, anyway.

For my Cruel Move, I think An Expensive Theft makes the most sense. Once a session I can steal shit, and everyone loses Prestige (but I get something valuable).

And then I get 1 Prestige. Interestingly, at no point am I told to do any background, look, or personality-type decision-making, or indeed even name the character (THIS IS WHY AN EXAMPLE OF CHARGEN). But I know to do that stuff, so I shall.

There's a listed of suggested names, and I like "Graves," so I'll pick that. For Appearance, I pick "burly" and for Behavior I pick "gruff." I picture Graves as being strong, dour, short greying hair and weathered hands. Took a bullet in the War, but his background was on the rough streets of London anyway, so the violence didn't affect him like it did some folks. Indeed, choosing not to return to his violent life was highly out of character for him. Maybe this house is having an effect...

And that's me done!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Character Creation: Timewatch

Two chargen posts in a row? Well, sure. I haven't run anything since Blades, I've been at a con all weekend so I haven't watched any movies or played any board games. I don't have anything in particular to say about the industry at the moment (rather, I have opinions, but no interest in sharing them), and my Kickstarter ends tomorrow...


Yeah, I'm running a mini-Kickstarter for Jack's Trick, my card-based spooky micro-RPG. It's well-funded, it's only $5 to get the PDF (which is really the only reward I'm offering), so give it a look/share/pledge if you would?
Cover art by Miguel Santos.
Anyway, all of that in mind:

The Game: Timewatch
The Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Degree of Familiarity: Quite a bit with the underlying system, and Michelle just started running a game of it
Books Required: Just the one.

I actually considered doing a "liveblog" version of this when we all made characters for Michelle's game, but I didn't want to fuss with that at the time. So I'm gonna make a character for it now, how about that.

In Timewatch, you play members of the titular organization, smoothing out paradoxes and other temporal issues. There are other ways to play the game, too, but let's assume that's what we're doing. So, Step One: Concept.

I need to pick where/when I'm from. Timewatch agents can be basically from anywhen, but as always we're limited by somewhat narrow knowledge of history. You know, for once I want to get out of the 20th century. How far back would I like to go? Well, I find the Reign of Terror in France interesting. I think I shall play a character who was a minor noble - or maybe just a supporter - who wound up being sentenced to death. Before the sentence was carried out, Timewatch plucked him from his fate (the official rolls have him being guillotined, though). Good start. I need a French name, though. I'll call him Henri Cloutier.

I could pick up a Profession package at this point, but eh. I think I'll be OK. Henri made nails (family business) and did carpentry, and was often employed by nobility. He made the mistake of opining that maybe the nobles were mostly OK and wound up being imprisoned and nearly beheaded for his trouble.

Step Two: Investigative Abilities. If I were playing this (and I am!) I'm sure we'd have at least 5 players, so I'll say I get 16 points. I get one free one in Timecraft.

So, I figure that after Henri was taken in by Timewatch, he studied up on history to see how this whole "cut off everyone's fucking head" idea went (spoiler: not great), so I'll take a point in History (Ancient) and History (Contemporary). I'll take Military Tactics and Research as well.

Down under Interpersonal, I'll pick up Bureaucracy, Charm, High Society, and Streetwise.

And then under Technical, for my last 8 points, I'll take Forgery, Medical Expertise, Notice (2 points), Outdoor Survival, Paradox Prevention (2 points) and Spying.

Step Three: General Abilities. I get 50 points to throw around here, and there are fewer of them than in a lot of Gumshoe goes.

Well, right off I'll put 4 points into Health and Chronal Stability, boosting them to 10. That puts me down to 42. I'll put 6 into Athletics (36), 5 into Burglary (31), 6 into Disguise (25), 4 into Medic (21), 8 into Preparedness (13), 5 into Scuffling (8) and the last 8 into Tinkering.

Step Four: Background, Appearance, Drive, etc. Let's do Drive first. Much like in Chill, Drive is basically "why you do this." In Henri's case, it kind falls under Duty, in a way, and is expressed as "I Know What People Are Capable Of."

Henri disappeared when he was 18, and it's been a couple of "years". He's slim, he's got shiny white teeth (because they were awful so Timewatch fixed them), black hair, and cautious blue eyes. He's got a generally pleasant but fidgety demeanor, and he's finding that he's comfortable in eras that have a more monarchy-style thing going on; democracy makes him nervous as hell.

And I think that's it!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Character Creation: Eldritch High

Today I find myself not only with some free time, but some alone free time as Michelle is off at Con on the Cob selling our stuff (come visit! We'll be there all weekend!) and Al isn't home yet. I'm not quite ready to start working on Timepeekers in earnest yet, so I think I shall fill the time by making a character.

You will be witnesses.

The Game: Eldritch High, collected in The Big Book of Little Games
The Publisher: John Wick Presents
Degree of Familiarity: None, but I've read Harry Potter
Books Required: Just the one.

So, the beginning of this game feels very Harry Potter, but then we get into a discussion about the Shadowrealm, which includes a secret war between demons and angels and other magical beings. So far, so good.

Holy shit. So, in this game you're playing children (that is, someone younger than 18, which encompasses a pretty goddamn wide range of ages and developmental levels but never mind that for the moment), who are recruited into this war. These folks develop "the Sight", which does pretty much what it does in every similar RPG, and so the kids get drafted and go to "the Academy." They rarely see their parents again.

Side note: The game I'm now working on, Timepeekers, was originally envisioned as a game in which you played kids fighting back an alien invasion by using their powers of learning skills from their future selves. One of the aspects that I ditched was the idea that the government was behind this, because if you're a kid fighting on behalf of a government or another ideological body, what you're called is a "child soldier." It shouldn't be hard to figure out why I ditched that notion.

Anyway, let's move on. After some description of the grounds of the school (during which we're told that people try to escape from their training, but then some people get expelled, too - arrgh), we come to character creation.

Step One: Who Are You? "First, nearly all students admitted to Circe's are 14 years old, but there are a few details that make your character distinct from the rest."

Is the implication here that most 14-year-olds are interchangeable, or is that just a kind of badly phrased sentence? Anyway, sure, we'll say my character is 14. The same age as my oldest child. Twitch.

Where are you from? The school recruits from everywhere. I don't much feel like doing a lot of research into how children from not-USA are raised, though, so I'll say my young lad grew up in Nebraska. I've been through Nebraska - it's Omaha, which is kind of a cool city, and then nothing. My character, Dominic Brussels, grew up in the "nothing" part.

When did you gain Sight? Nic (he prefers "Nic" to "Dom") was out in the field hitching a chain to a stump to pull it free when he spotted something shiny under the roots. He touched it, and saw the Shadowrealm for the first time. He was also blown back 30 feet by the magical energy, and when his head cleared, the thing under the stump had gone. Did someone grab it? Had he opened a prison? He's not sure.

What do you look like? I'm supposed to just say three things that make me distinct from the other kids at the Academy. Sure. Well, Nic is a corn-fed farm boy (muscular, blond, handsome). He's missing two fingers on his right hand (accident in shop class). And he's always hungry. Boy's got a hollow leg, as his dad used to say.

What is your stereotype? You know, what type of kid are you. I think Nic is the hick (this actually is a stereotype in Tales from the Loop, because it just now occurred to me I played a character like that at Breakout last year).

Step 2: Willpower: We use Willpower to do magic, and we start with 3 Willpower. OK, then.

Step 3: Fumbles: We start with 3 Fumbles, which I guess are mistakes you make casting magic, but then it says "I'll explain later in the book," which, argh, give me a fucking page number, at least. Hang on. Oooooookay...Fumbles are, in fact, not mentioned again, that I can see. I don't have a PDF of this book, so I can't search to make sure, but I don't see the word "fumble" anywhere in the magic system.

(See, this is the problem with cutesy shit like "I'll tell you about this later!" - if you forget to do that, you think you've already done it. It's a mistake I've made, too.)

Step Four: Required Courses: OK, so I take six courses per semester. Now, there are slots on the character sheet for each year in high school, but each slot has eight sections for courses, not 12, so...good work?

Anyway, what courses should Nic take? Wait, hang on. There are seven courses listed. Do electives count? They're not listed separately on the sheet, but they're in a separate step. (Jesus, this is so badly organized.)

Ah, OK. This is...check it out. Step Four of character creation is "Required Courses," and implies that you must take six. The section starts off with "Now it's time to consider your course schedule at the Academy." But you don't actually pick six courses here, because Step Five is Electives, which begins with "Your student may also take elective classes," and then lists a bunch, but does not explain what to do with them.

And then Step Six is "Your Freshman Schedule" which tells us how scheduling actually works, and that I must take three required classes and one elective for the first semester, and then in second semester, I'd take three more required's and one more elective (meaning that the setup on the sheet actually does make sense, but the sentence in Step Four saying that we take six courses per semester is wrong).

Editors. Use them.

Right, so, three Required Courses and one Elective. Got it. For my Required Courses, I'll take Crafts (Nic is used to working with his hands), Conjuration, and Alchemy. For my Elective, I'll take Public Speaking (Nic is a little shy and he figures this would be good for him).

That puts me right over to Step 7: Prodigy. Everyone is a "prodigy" in one class, which gives me a bonus to cast in that class. Neat. I'll pick Crafts.

Step 8: Gifts. Special advantage type thingie. I could have a Familiar, which is odd - the sentence just cuts off. Maybe there was meant to be more.

Oh, what the hell. "French" is a Gift. It means you're cultured and smooth. I just...

Anyway, I'll say Nic has Giant Blood. He's not abnormally large, but he's very strong.

And that's it! There's a lot of space on this sheet that we don't use right away, apparently.

I looked ahead at spellcasting; it's all card based. Fumbles are mentioned again, but at the very end, and it doesn't actually tell you how they work, but they seem to involve discarding a card.

Anyway, I suppose that's it! This game actually looks pretty cool, I'd just have to patch the holes if I were going to run it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Blades in the Dark: When in Doubt, Punch

Last night was Blades in the Dark. Check it.

In our previous session, the scoundrels got involved in a fairly convoluted scheme to take control of a Hive-run tavern. They'd made a deal with Captain Vale of the Bluecoats to raid the place, as the Hive was involved in smuggling of leviathan blood, but Vale wanted to know which of the Leviathan Hunter ship captains was involved. They figured out it was Lady Ankhayat, Siren's former captain, so the question was whether or not Siren wanted to sell the Lady out.

Copper and Siren decide to pay a visit to Lady Ankhayat - maybe she can give them someone to frame, or maybe she'll be willing to pay to avoid this little issue? Siren, it turns out, left the high seas because she didn't want to die out there, and so when they turn up at the Sea Rover, she endures a bit of ribbing from her former crewmates. They get admitted to see Ankhayat, and she is, in a word, unreceptive to Siren's veiled threat of turning her over. The scoundrels decide to leave before it gets ugly - Ankhayat is an Iruvian noble, and the crew is already not exactly on great terms with the Iruvian consulate.

They fall back to the lair and talk to the others. Cage favors just turning Ankhayat in and taking whatever happens afterwards, but One-Eye is a little more circumspect. After all, this is just about a tavern, it's probably not worth pissing off the Leviathan Hunters (who are presently well-disposed to the characters), the Iruvians, and whoever else might be allied with these folks. They decide to abandon this job and come up with something better.

They sell off the leviathan blood they stole for far less than it's worth, but they want to get rid of it quickly and quietly. Then they figure, screw it, let's just go into the tavern, beat everybody up, and say "OURS NOW." Cage first goes there and figures that there's a device inside that's driving ghosts away. One-Eye does some asking around and finds out that a device like that is probably in a room without much foot traffic (since proximity to it would irritate living people, not just ghosts), and it'd be about the size of a briefcase. The crew figures they'll break that first, then with the punching. They bring Marlene, a pugilist and buddy of Copper, with them.

Cut to the action! They're in the back storeroom with the device, and they throw things at it until it sparks and starts making bad noises. One-Eye figures it's about to blow, so they toss it out the door into the bar before it explodes, and then all jump out and start punching (except Cage, who calls any ghosts in the area). Siren points at Karth Orris, the bartender, and claims the bar, but Orris just punches her in the nose. One-Eye drops him with a dart, and reasserts their claim as ghosts start possessing patrons.

The crew punches ghosts out of people, and things calm down...but then Captain Vale and the Bluecoats show up to arrest everyone. The crew bribes their way out of the situation, and sets to cleaning out and redecorating their new tavern.

See? You can do it all manipulate-and-skullduggery, or you can just punch things until they're yours.