Thursday, January 19, 2017

Movie #387: The Illusionist

The Illusionist is a period romance/drama starring Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti, and Rufus Sewell. It was an Oscar nominee some years back (Cinematography) which is why I saw it originally.

In 1889 Austria-Hungary, a magician named Eisenheim (Norton) wows the crowds with his tricks, and gets a visit from the Crown Prince (Sewell) who is, as is required in these movies, a douchebag. He also meets Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti), who is fascinated with his tricks, but also wants to rise above his station and follow the Prince to greatness. Turns out said prince is also engaged to Duchess von Teschen (Biel), who is Eisenheim's childhood sweetheart. Prince Douchebag, of course, goes full-on jealous rage, shuts Eisenheim down, and then seemingly kills the Duchess, prompting Eisenheim to switch from illusion to necromancy. He calls up the spirit of the Duchess, she intimates that the prince killed her, the prince shoots himself, justice is served. Of course, it's all an illusion (HA!) because Eisenheim smuggled her out with the other "magic chemical that makes you seem dead" routine and plants evidence to frame the prince, which is probably, like, super illegal, but whatevs, they're in love.

So, I'm being flip, but the truth is this movie is enjoyable. It's slow and light, but it's pretty, and while you can see the "twist" coming a mile away if you pay attention, it's still a good show. Plus, it deserved it's nom for cinematography. Norton is decent, Giamatti and Sewell are better, and Biel is wasted as Girlfriend (seriously, you learn literally not one thing about her, but you don't learn that much more about Eisenheim; the character you come away knowing the best is Uhl). Really, this movie's biggest problem is that it came out the same year as The Prestige, which was better scripted, better acted, had a hugely greater budget and had David Bowie as Tesla (but we'll get to the Ps eventually).

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: It Follows

Monday, January 16, 2017

Character Creation: Action Planet

Sure, I've got time. I think.

The Game: Action Planet
The Publisher: Point of Insanity Game Studio
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one, which might be a free rules version, I'm not sure.

I got this game in a bundle some years back. It's a cute idea: Some very rich guy bought a planet and is using it to make movies. You play an actor in those movies, the extras are robots, and you can apparently be revived if things get a little too rough. I'm not crazy about some of the artwork, but the concept is neat (see also It Came From the Late Late Late Show).

So, I'm creating an actor, who would then be cast in a role by the Director (the GM). This is the far-future, so nothing says I have to be human. Actually, sure. I'm kind of inspired by Alan Rickman's amazing performance in Galaxy Quest (yes, he's human, but his character wasn't). So, my character is an alien from the planet Jerzy 4. This planet is big on acting and theater, and so they get along great with humans.

Jerzyians look more or less human, but they have a second thumb (which makes them nimble) and an extra set of vocal folds (which means they can harmonize with themselves). They have different skin tones than people, too; my guy's skin is a rich, golden color. His name is Gralpz Gazin (ethnic, but not too).

OK, I get 25 points to build this guy. I've got four Abilities (Comedy, Action, Romance, and Drama). Those cost 2-for-1, and even a score of 1 isn't terrible (and I start with one in each). OK. So I'll go for:

Action 2 (not really his thing, but he can fake it)
Comedy 3
Romance 4
Drama 3

That costs me 16 points, leaving me 9.

I need to buy Stamina, which costs 3 per 5 points. I start with 50. I'll spend 6, I guess, raise it to 60? Hard to know without playing it. I have 3 left.

I'll leave Health at 25, figuring that my character often "dies" before the end. I really want a big romantic lead role, though.

And then Perks. I want Attractive for 3 (which means I'm out and I'll have to take Cliches if I want more points, which I do), Exit Stage Left (once per movie I can automatically dodge an attack), and Specialist (I get a bonus when playing soldiers; got my start in a rom-com about the Space Marines). That means I'm 8 over, so off to Cliches I go!

Cliches are like drawbacks. I need 8 points. I'll take...oh, man, these are low in points, compared to Perks. This is gonna be hard. I'll take Squeamish (can't stand the sight of blood), Pacifist (I can use weapons, I'm just bad at it), Showoff, Oh Crit (I take extra damage if surprised), and Misfire (guns don't work well for me).

And that'll do, it I think! Ready for my close-up!


Feng Shui Prep!

OMG! GOTTA PREP FENG SHUI!

Last session is here. Obviously we need to get Wildfire back, but beyond that, we must consider how long we wish this particular story to go on.

And now, time for the page break!

Changeling/Promethean: The More You Struggle

Yesterday I ran a Changeling: The Lost/Promethean: The Created one-shot, mostly to get Skip (+John's character) back to our Promethean chronicle.

So! We've got four characters. Ellie Graves, a Telluric changeling who was last seen here chasing werewolves; Skip, an Ulgan Promethean las seen here flying off a mountain; Whisperer, a Whisperwisp information broker; and Sabrina Rae, a Waterborn waitress.

We start off in New Haven, CT, at a diner. Sabrina works here, and Ellie works night stock in the grocery store across the street. Whisperer doesn't usually come to this side of town (near the university), but things have been weird lately.

To wit: The king (Mist) is missing, and he's not the only one. Changelings have been disappearing in the Hedge of late, and the Thorns have become close and dark. Some changelings report tiny glittering treasures on the path, as though luring the Lost off. Everyone's become a bit paranoid about it. So tonight, Whisperer is in the diner. Ellie walks in and sits with him, and they chat with Sabrina.

The changelings agree that Mist going missing is bad, and that this situation problem deserves some scrutiny. Whisperer isn't generally a fan of getting his hands dirty, but in this particular case, it's worth his while. They decide to go do some prep and meet back at noon to go a-Hedging.

During the interim, Whisperer makes some inquiries. He learns that some changelings have seen webs in the trees, which is, um, kinda scary. He also hears tell of a strange creature that apparently cannot be seen by the Fae or Hedge-creatures (though changelings can see it).

They do so, with some gear and some sandwiches, and Whisperer tells them what he's heard. This mysterious being was last seen near the truck stop outside of town, so they go there and enter the Hedge. Ellie uses Pathfinder to look for disturbances, and she finds a place where the Thorns have been beaten down into a path. Some of the thorns have a black, smoky substance on them that evaporates as the changelings watch. Sabrina calls into the hollow: "Hello?"

And Skip answers. "Hello?"

He emerges, and the changelings are confused; this thing looks human, but clearly isn't (because, well, it's here). They decide to take him out of the Hedge, and when they do, their miens fade, which confuses Skip some. They talk, and Skip tells them that the last he knew, he was on a mountain in Colorado, there was a storm, he went blind, something hit him, and he woke up in the Hedge. Whisperer takes this opportunity to use Visions of Strife to see Skip's most traumatic moment, and sees him getting stabbed and dying (it happened here). Whisperer also feels that he can't trust this thing; it's clearly not human.

They buy Skip some clothes and he goes off to change. Whisperer makes his concerns known, and the others concur; they aren't sure what this guy is, really, but he's not human and they've got other concerns. Skip comes back and they tell him he can be on his way, but he demurs - he wants to help them. And besides, he doesn't know where his friends are, and what if they're in the Hedge, trapped like he was? Ellie relents; the changelings need the help, and besides, they understand feeling trapped in the Hedge.

They open a new gateway (which earns Skip his projectio milestone: willingly reenter the Hedge), and they start towards New Haven. Indeed, the trees are dark and full of webs, and the path narrows to only one abreast. Up ahead, they see a hand on the path...Mists'. They have Skip break the thorns and pull him off, and Sabrina uses her token (a vial of water around her neck that can heal or put someone to sleep), mixes a drop with some coffee and gives it to him. He comes to enough to whisper "harvestman."

Ellie has heard of the harvestman, a Hedge-spider of immense proportions. They start going forward, to the nearest Hedge-gate...but then Ellie, in the lead, gets caught up in a net and yanked over the path. The harvestman tries to bite her, but she kicks at it. Skip, Sabrina and Whisperer climb up the tree to help, and Skip tries to punch it, but manages to miss on 15 dice, which is pretty absurd, but it happens.

Sabrina, however, is ready to go. The spider spits webbing at them, but she activates Armor of Elements' Fury and it falls off. Ellie does likewise (only her armor is sound). She falls to the path and the spider follows and bites her, poisoning her. Whisperer grabs Mist and uses Night's Subtle Distractions to confuse the spider, and Sabrina lands on it and kicks it, and Skip follows, knocking it off the path. The changelings run to the gate, and zip through into an office on campus.

Sabrina cures Ellie of the poison, and Mist starts taking volunteers to track down and kill the spider. Ellie, though, promised Skip she'd get him to his friends....but he isn't sure where they are. Since the man at the River of Death told Skip to look him up in New Orleans, that's where he decides to go, so Ellie takes him through the Hedge to the Big Easy. Almost immediately upon exiting, Azoth calls to Azoth. He's found his throng.

In a couple of weeks, we'll have that reunion! Ellie, meanwhile, heads home.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Misspent Youth: Celestial Bureaucracy - Episode 1

Yesterday we played our firs session of Misspent Youth. Characters and setup are here if you need a refresher.

Let's do this.
We start off, of course, with some Authority Figures for the episode:

  • The Comptrollers, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. They determine how long prisoners stay on Bardo and when they've burned off their Mojo.
  • Supply chains. Everything on Bardo is tightly controlled. Food and supplies are brought in from off planet, keeping everyone hungry. 
  • Julio, the characters' advocate. He's got the head of a crocodile. Prisoners on Bardo have "case workers" who advocate for them, but they're really not on the prisoners' sides. 
  • Cerberus, one of three giant, blobby, smoke-creatures that fly around the planet and attack people, to keep them terrorized and weak. 
  • Theo, the fitness instructor. Remember that all the skin-suits need to be kept fit and healthy. Theo works with them to make sure of that. 
And then we have some Friendship Questions:
  • Jacqui asks Alaska: "Whose picture is under your mattress?" Her answer: "Mine, of course."
  • Alaska asks Yasha: "How uncomfortable were you when I stopped sleeping with you?" Her answer: "Very, but we've got a revolution to plan."
  • Yasha asks Kshanti: "What annoys you most about me?" Her answer: "Your belief that you can make things better."
  • Kshanti asks Eli: "What do you have in your pocket?" Their answer: "Your mother's knife."
  • Eli asks Jacqui: "What did you give me for your first hit of Mojo?" Her answer: A sigil drawn as soon as the Mojo kicked in. 
Scene One: What's Up 

Alaska's player starts us off, and chooses Theo. We're in the gym, and Theo is mercilessly working the YOs. They talk telepathically (remember that they can do that), and they fantasize about humiliating Theo and getting away from this. They gripe about how they aren't allowed to do what they want with their bodies, and finally Alaska starts complaining out loud. Theo responds by intensifying the workout, and Jacqui starts a chant: "Let! Us! Stop!" Theo tells them that they'll just be here all day, and locks the doors, but Kshanti hacks the console of the machine she's on and unlocks them. Eli, for their part, drops weights on Theo's foot (accidentally but not really), but Theo, eyes now glowing, is not phased. Yasha tries to join the chant, to keep it going, but chokes and freezes up. The YOs lose, and the spend the day getting mercilessly exercised. 

Kickoff: This episode is about body sovereignty.

Scene Two: Fighting Back

Yasha's player sets us up, and chooses her question to Kshanti ("what annoys you most about me?"). The YOs are back in their dorms, about to get shipped off for their periodic beautification (this includes plastic surgery, though they can't ever seem to remove Jacqui's face birthmark). They talk about how the gods can go get fucked rather than control their bodies, and decide to give each other tattoos...using Mojo, so the tattoos are extra special. Eli supplies the tattoos. Jacqui gets one on her forearm, Yasha on her back, Kshanti on her chest, Eli on their bald head, and Alaska on her face. 

And then they're taken off to the hospital, and Eli is the first into the grinder. The staff at the hospital decide to remove the tattoos, and eventually wind up doing it; they use Mojo and an acid bath to strip it away. 

Beat: Reversal (losing the tattoos). Question: What is bodily sovereignty worth? 

Scene Three: Heating Up

Kshanti's player starts this scene, and chooses Julio, the YO's advocate. Julio arrives at the hospital and tells them that they're likely to get a bunch more time added to their sentences, but they could get their sentences reduced if they reveal where they go the Mojo. The YOs solidly refuse unless Julio sweetens the deal, and Julio tells them he'll try and renegotiate (the YOs, of course, have no intention of selling out Eli, but then, Julio probably has no intention of helping them get their sentences reduced). Kshanti says that this didn't work because they just got tattoos, and Jacqui says they need to go deeper: Ritual scarification. They should steal some drugs from the hospital, go on vision quests, and carve the symbols deep into their flesh. Everyone agrees, and Jacqui goes sneaking into a supply closet to steal drugs. Julio comes back looking for her, but Alaska preens and Yasha confronts him, and the YOs win on Jacqui's Sneaky Conviction. 

Scene Four: We Won

Eli's player kicks us off, choosing Kshanti's question to Eli (about the knife). It's the next day, and the YOs have had their vision questions. With their sigils in mind, they steal out to an abandoned barn after their (very painful) morning workout, and get to work. Eli pulls out the knife, and Kshanti recognizes it as her mother's - but her mother is Kali, the goddess (she says). Eli says it's a long story about how she got it, and they agree to have that conversation another time. Jacqui starts carving and Eli rubs the wounds with ink. 

They carve up Alaska's face, and then Yasha's fist. Yasha goes outside and sees the sky growing dark - something's coming. Is it a Cerberus, or just a passing ship? Inside, Kshanti carves a sigil into Eli's head, and uses the sigil that Jacqui drew for Eli some time back...which Kshanti has never seen. Kshanti's player rolls and loses, but sells out Smart to Pedantic. Kshanti, explaining the significance of the knife and the sigil, cuts Eli deep, but all the YOs get their scars. 

Scene Five: We're Fucked

My turn. I chose Cerberus, obviously. The smoke cloud envelops the barn, and the YOs feel their new wounds start to burn. The Cerberus itself - a skeletal wolf-creature - pounces at Yasha, who punches it, knocking it into the building and making it flash with light. It attacks Eli, who focuses and brings down the pain and the voices in their heads to make them all able to concentrate. The creature leaps down, mouth open, but Jacqui's player rolls and loses. She sells out Fast to Efficient, and flings the rest of the Mojo-laced ink at the wolf. It splashes over the creature, trapping it in a net. The sky lightens again; the YOs have escaped noticed. 

Beat: Discovery (the scars have empowered us)

Scene Six: Who Wins

Jacqui's player sets this up, and chooses Eli's question to Jacqui (about the sigil). The YOs experiment with their powers. They realize that Yasha punched a god-tech monster and damaged it, which is impossible. Jacqui concentrates on the blood streaming from Eli's head and makes it retract - sangromancy! Eli has greater control over the Empathy, letting Eli calm it down and focus it. Kshanti sits by the trapped wolf-monster and tries to manipulate the Mojo, but cannot control it. The wolf's gears strip and it falls apart. The mutations are unstable. 

The YOs lose this one. The Authority gains a new System of Control.

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

Alaska's player sets this up, choosing Jacqui's question to her (about the picture). They're at breakfast the next day, carved up and wounded, but the guards don't seem to be bugging them much. Alaska has her picture with her, and sees Theo...and then changes into him. She's pissed at him, and that seems to spawn her magic. Eli tries to calm him, but that just cements it more. Jacqui shows Alaska her picture, trying to spawn her to get back to her own face, but that doesn't seem to help. Eli focuses more, using their new power, trying to get Alaska's head in the right place (and wins on Eli's Mojo Provider Conviction). Alaska changes into herself, and the YOs get shuffled out for morning workout. 

Aftermath

The Authority doesn't seem to mind about the character's wounds. Indeed, they're doing some Mojo research of their own. I added Mojo Manipulation as a System of Control. 

One-shot Notes: Promethean/Changeling Hoedown

May not actually contain any hoedowns.

I'm running a one-shot tonight, so I should take some notes. This is involving Skip, the Ulgan Promethean from my ongoing game (The 7th Angel) and Ellie Graves, the Telluric changeling who was last seen in this one-shot. We've also got Sabrina Rae, a Waterborn changeling who bought her way out of Faerie, and Whisperer the Rat, a Whisperwisp who escaped by getting dirt on his former master.

So, where do we go with this? (Players stay out.)


Character Creation: Wizards of the Three Moons

I'd meant to do this last week and then I was writing, which I'm also doing today, among many other things, but I have a little time before my next obligation and this is quick.

The Game: Wizards of the Three Moons
The Publisher: Parenthesis Press
Degree of Familiarity: I've played it once, and chargen is pretty easy.
Books Required: Just the one.

So! In this game you're playing wizards, kinda. Really, you play one scene as the godlike wizard, but then you spend the bulk of the game playing the pawns of one of the wizards as they go on a quest. It's kind of a cool setup, though the execution doesn't work very well (but I'm writing a review, so it'll be up this month sometime).

Anyway, the first thing I do is grab my handy Tarot deck (same company as House of Cards, you see) and split it into Major Arcana, the face cards and the aces, and the numbered suit cards. I then shuffle the Major Arcana and draw three to determine my wizard personality.

I get Temperance, the Emperor, and Judgement. Seems like there's a theme. That gives me Fair-Minded, Blusterous, and Short-Tempered, respectively. Seems like my guy is a like a stern dad or something; he's loud and kind of shouty, but he's fair. On we go!

Now I draw three court cards to determine my magical stylin'. I get three Pages: Pentacles, Swords, and Wands. Checking that book that means I'm down with Crystal Magic, Air Magic, and Fire Magic. Wow, I'm kinda like Vitruveous from Lego Movie, I guess.

Now for the tough part: Pawns. I draw five cards from the last batch (which is all the numbered suit cards, 2-10) and make up a pawn based on each one. Not bad, but see, each one has an advantage for every rank, so if I draw a 10 of cups, I have to make up 10 advantages. It's not really a lot of fun and it eats so much time at the table. But I've done worse for this project!

I draw 7 of Cups, 7 of Pentacles, 2 of Swords, 5 of Cups, and 6 of Swords. Well, no 10s, at least. Let's get to work. I guess I should figure out a little about my wizards. Wizards use big long flowery epithets rather than their real names, so my wizard is called Manilus, the Themisite (after Themis, the goddess of justice). He's basically what you think of as "wizard" - big white beard, long blue and red robes, flies in a carriage limned with fire and pulled by crystalline horses.

My first pawn is the 7 of Cups. Those are healers, medics, and clerics. I think this pawn will be an apprentice wizard. Or rather, someone who's learning enough magic to do some basic stuff, but probably won't ever be a real wizard (look, I'm Fair-Minded, not Egalitarian). Her name is Bliss. Bliss has seven advantages, which are: sees the good in people, can mend flesh with magic, herbs & poultices, a pouch of magic crystals, three gryphon feathers, unshakeable faith, and clear sight. (See, it's not hard to do this once, but imagine getting all high numbers.)

Next, 7 of Pentacles. These guys are thieves and rogues and so forth. I think this guy is a con artist who has convinced Malinus that he's really a good guy. His name is Wen. Wen's advantages are: twin sleeve daggers, a piercing whistle, can see in the dark, honest face, gilded lies, can jump from any height, and a heart of gold. (Maybe Malinus really sees potential in this guy.)

2 of Swords. Swords are warriors, and I have two of them. I want this one to be a crystalline rock monster that Malinus made and animated. His name is Kyssh. Kyssh has two advantages: crystalline flesh and mighty.

5 of Cups, and we need another healer-type person. I admit the artwork is influencing me somewhat. This pawn is dour and sad; we'll say he's an exorcist or a spiritualist. His name is Malf. His advantages are has seen the evil of the worlds, refuses to die, cloak that carries the night, speaks all the languages of the moons, and feared by evil spirits. 

Finally, 6 of Swords, which is another warrior. She's going to be Ateni, the righteous swordmaiden of Malinus (her words). Actually, fuck it, that's her first advantage. Righteous swordmaiden of Malinus, armor of tiny crystals, eyes limned with fire, rides a crystalline horse, dazzling smile, and fearless in battle.

And that's me done! I'll try and do another character tomorrow so I stay on my "once a week" schedule.