Monday, July 24, 2017

Promethean Notes

Notes, notes, notes. I actually haven't taken notes on this game for a while, largely because the players have been keeping things going just fine without me introducing new stuff. But, I think a quick break to keep things in perspective is good. So, players, don't read any more.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Character Creation: PreppiePunk

Just on a roll today.

The Game: PreppiePunk
The Publisher: Density Media
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

One thing I love: RPGs that have a strong perspective, even (especially?) a political one, and don't compromise it. I find it hard to write that way (closest I've gotten is curse the darkness), but every now and then you find an RPG that is what it is and doesn't even try to be anything else. PreppiePunk is exactly that.

I love this kind of passion, but man, it's not always a good thing. We get a strong vision, sure, but we also get hostile bullshit like this:

Like, I've got no time for D&D, either, but for a lot people, that is roleplaying. I don't think it's helpful to start your book out with "go fuck yourself," but what do I know.

Anyway, much of the book is in-character (autobiographical? The game's authors are listed as "Brock" and "Biz," and those are the folks writing in the book). The setting is a prep school after Trump's election, and the characters are in distress about that (meaning they're, like, right). The majority of the book is just that, a series of letters, diary entries, that kind of thing from these folks' perspective. And it's good fiction, it's raw, and it's genuine. Make for a good RPG? I dunno. I'd have a hard time selling it to my players, but that's as much because there doesn't seem to be much in the way of genre stuff - no super powers, no magic, etc., and that's kinda important to us, I think.

Well, so, character creation. So, first thing I'm choosing is age. Characters in PreppiePunk are 13-19, because "post graduate" year at prep school is apparently a thing (I work in public schools in Cleveland, it's...not so much a thing here). I'll be 16 (side note: I would not relive being 16 for all the bourbon in Kentucky).

Three stats: Sport, Smarts, and Spirit. And...sigh.

Hostility is boring, and hostility of the "don't let your players buffalo you" variety is as old as the fucking hills in this hobby. (I'm picking on this because I think it's counterproductive and annoying.)

Anyway, I get 4 points to divide up, and they go 0 to 3. Let's see. Interesting to contemplate what sort of person I might have been had I gone to a prep school rather than a downtown-Toledo-Catholic-school, but I'm not making me as a teen. I'll put 0 into Sport and 2 each into Smarts and Spirit.

I'm now asked to choose name and school. Presumably if I were in a group we'd all pick the same school, but here we are. I want it to be a Catholic school, though. A quick online search doesn't reveal a patron saint of rebels or freedom, surprise surprise, so we'll go with Jeanne de Chantal Preparatory Academy (de Chantal is the patron saint of forgotten people, according to one source). My character's name is Matthias Barbary (call him "Matt," thanks. Yes, I know that's my name, but piss off).

So, then we get a few pages of rules explanations. The rules are interesting; you're rolling 4d6 and trying to hit a difficulty based on an age. Try to rent a car, the difficulty is 24, because that's the age at which you can rent one. Even numbers are positive, odds are negative, and you want within a margin of error of 3. I have no idea how well this would work in play, but it's definitely an interesting approach. Stats give you the ability to reroll. Oh, also:

JFC, indeed.
Good good, get over yourself. I gotta explain why describing what "failure" means in the context of this particular game is important? Really? I was under the impression you were a game writer with some modicum of understanding of pedagogy. Well, on we go.

Bonds are the next thing. Bonds aren't necessarily social connections, they're more about who you are societally and who your family is. (Side note: This game doesn't name any actual place names, it'll just say "Y---" instead of "Yale," and I get why they're doing it, but at the same time it's distracting.)

So. I need six Bonds for Matthias. I'll say:

1) Cousin Jack is a movie star's assistant.
2) Mom sits on the board of the Met.
3) Dad was in a powerful Ivy League frat.
4) The Barbary family helped found this school.
5) Uncle Stephen plays golf with the Bishop.
6) My godfather owns a gallery in New York.

And then, Social Capital. Oh, wait, no. Social Capital happens in play. When an NPC is introduced, you can invest some Social Capital to have an existing relationship with that person. Doesn't apply to chargen, though.

And then chargen would conclude with five "I never" statements (like the drinking game), but since that really only applies if you have a group, I think I'll skip that bit.

Look, I'm hard on some bits of this game because they tickle particular pet peeves, but overall this is a very thoughtfully constructed RPG, and I think it deserves some love.

Board Game: Last Friday

I own a bunch of board and card games, and many of them are full-evening activities. We never wind up playing those games, though, because sussing out the rules takes a while on its own. So yesterday we scheduled such a game, and here we are!

The Game: The Last Friday
The Publisher: Ares Games
Time: About 2-3 hours, though I'm sure it would go faster now that we know how it works
Players: Me, +Michelle+John+Dirty Heart, Al, Kathy

Game Play: The Last Friday is a hidden movement game, much like Fury of Dracula or Letters from Whitechapel. As such, it's already a winner in my book. In it, one player (me, in this case) is the "maniac," unnamed but a pretty obvious Jason Vorhees homage. Everyone else is a camper. Five campers need to be represented, whether or not you have six players, so if you have fewer than that someone's controlling a few extras.

"I'll be right back."
The game consists of four chapters, each of which have (at most) 15 rounds, which sounds like a lot, but it moves pretty quickly. In Chapter One, the maniac is hunting down the campers and trying to kill them while the campers are trying to get into cabins safely (the cabins are locked at first, and you have to find keys and open them; the maniac can also use an ax to bust in and claim a cabin). If the maniac manages to kill all five, he wins, if not, then anyone who dies gets to bring in a new camper next chapter.

In Chapter Two, the campers are trying to find the slasher and kill him, while the slasher is trying to get away. Once the camper kills the maniac, that camper becomes the "Predestined".

In Chapter Three, the killer tries to find and kill the Predestined (which, again, wins the game for the maniac).

In Chapter Four, the campers try to surround and block the maniac so the Predestined can kill him. The maniac can win by just staying ahead of the campers and waiting it out.

The bigger white circles on that map are numbered; that's where the maniac moves, one at a time. The campers move on the dots between them. They can kill each other (depending on the chapter) by passing over one another. For example, in the first chapter the maniac kills campers by passing over them or letting them pass over him.

Both sides also have tokens that can be used for various effects. The campers' tokens let them light up an area (forcing the maniac to reveal himself if he comes into that area), run a bit further, listen for the maniac, and so on. The maniac's let him smash into unlocked cabins, trick the campers into thinking he's somewhere else, or extend the chapter a bit longer. During the first chapter, the maniac has almost all of his powers, but during subsequent chapters, it's based on how many people he killed in the previous chapter vs. how many surviving campers there are.

The maniac moves every round, but reveals his previous position (first and third chapters) or current position (second and fourth chapters) every third turn. It's therefore hard for the maniac to get truly lost.

Opinions: I'll say one thing for this game: The instructions were easy to follow. If you play a lot of board games, you know that's huge, especially when the company isn't American. We had a couple of rules hiccups in play, but I was able to find answers for them, and that's a big deal.

I generally like the game. I love this genre of movie, and there are a bunch of things that work to evoke the feel of a slasher movie. Unfortunately, one is that the campers are not the most diverse group of people. There is exactly one POC in 15 camper cards, and one of the others is wearing a faux Native American thing (headdress, paint, etc. I killed her first, with her player's help).  With that said, it's not like the campers' names or personalities impact the game much.

The tokens were kind of a sticking point. Players get clue tokens (which then get revealed to be one of the several types of useful thing) by following the trail that the maniac leaves, which is fine, but there aren't many of them and when you die, you lose any you've accumulated. Likewise, the slasher begins with four of his powers, but then getting more is difficult. The game is weighted to favor the slasher having powers in chapters 2 and 4, when he really needs them because he can't kill, and so I suppose that's good.

All in all, I like it. I enjoy this style of game anyway, but this is nicely uncomplicated in comparison to, say, Fury of Dracula.

A camper is about to meet the business end of a machete.
Keep? Yep.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Movie #414: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a movie directed by Clint Eastwood before he went utterly 'round the bend, and starring John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Allison Eastwood, The Lady Chablis, Jack Thompson, Jude Law, and Irma P. Hall.

John Kelso (Cusack) comes to Savannah, GA to cover the Christmas party of local socialite Jim Williams (Spacey) for Town & Country. He's kind of taken aback by the culture shock ("Everyone here is drunk and heavily armed. New York is boring."), but the night of the party, Williams shoots and kills his lover, Billy Hanson (Law). Williams is arrested for first degree murder, despite claiming self-defense, and the film follows Kelso as he investigates and tries to drum up support for Williams, all the while writing a book on the ensuing trial. At the end, Williams is acquitted on evidence that Kelso helps uncover, but privately confesses to Kelso that he lied in his initial statement: He shot first and staged Hanson's shots at him.

The strength of the movie is the visuals (Savannah is goddamn beautiful), the rather subtle way that people show their prejudices, fears, and jealousies, and of course, in The Lady Chablis being divine (she's playing herself). John Cusack is fine as our leading man, and Eastwood apparently cast him after seeing him in Grosse Point Blank, which is a good decision. The love subplot with Mandy Nichols (Allison Eastwood, Clint's daughter) is fine but felt kind of unnecessary, and really it's her friend Joe Odom (Paul Hipp) who's the more interesting character, but there are so many interesting people in this story that it's hard to give them all screen time and fit in the murder trial. The book, of course, can afford to take its time a little, and puts a lot of what you see on screen in greater context, but it's quite enjoyable enough without that.

This movie does Southern Gothic really well, and has served as inspiration for some of the stuff I've written set in Savannah.

One complaint: The sound mixing is a little off. Some of the dialog is hard to hear, especially in the party scenes.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium-low

Next up: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Character Creation: Strike!

Nope, it's not about bowling.

The Game: Strike!
The Publisher: Jim McGarva
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I've read, facilitated a chargen session, and ran a one-shot (in preparation for writing a review).
Books Required: Just the one.

So! Strike! is billed as "tactical combat and heedless adventure." Having run it, I'll say that it's got a lot of moving parts, and I think it's a game that would take a little time to get the hang of, but I don't mind a bit of tactical in my RPGs (I have more thoughts but I'll save them for the review). On its own, Strike! doesn't have a setting or genre; it's got some suggested settings in the book but they're not terribly interesting (on is Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off, the other one might be Avatar: The Last Airbender but it's hard to know because I haven't watched it). Anyway, for my character I'm gonna make someone who could fit into the crew that my players ran in the game last night - sci-fi, space travel, bandits lootin' shit and sellin' it to collectors.

So, the group had a robot, an appraiser with a cybernetic eye, an accountant with a big gun, and a former professor. We sorely needed a wacky pilot, so I think that's where I'll go with this.

We start with Background, which is what the character is doing now, professional. I'm a Space Pilot. This progresses with some questions that wind up giving me Skills. The first question is how I get what I need, but the question is badly phrased, because it's basically "do you buy it or not?" If you buy it, you get a point in Wealth, if you don't (like you're in a hunter-gatherer kind of situation) you get a Skill. My pilot (his name is "Squeak") is quite happy to partake in capitalism, thanks, so I'll take the Wealth.

Next question: Who can your character call on when times are tough? Again, badly phrased, because there's a whole other Relationship section, but this one gives me either more Wealth (if I buy my way out of trouble) or a Connections skill. I'll take Space Bandit Alliance as a Connection Skill.

Right. Now, "what primary skill do you need to perform the tasks necessary to your Background?" See, that should have been first. Pilot, obviously.

What Skill supports your primary Skill? Navigation, I guess?

What social or business Skill do you need to get ahead? Hmm. I think "Meditation." I picture Squeak as being the one who smoothes things over.

And finally, what Skill do you have from your Background that hasn't been mentioned? How about Spacecraft Repair?

Finally, I get a Trick, something I can always do (though I have to spend an Action Point). I'm gonna say I can always out-maneuver a single enemy in a dogfight (keyed off of Pilot).

So now we move on to Origin, which can be race, but can also be upbringing or a demographic. I think Squeak was "Raised on a Colony Ship", so he grew up on a spaceship and learned to fly by watching. That gives me two Skills and a Complication. The Complication is going to be "Unsteady Planetside;" things like "real air" and "real gravity" fuck with Squeak a bit. Skills, though. Hmm.

Well, I'll take Security Systems (it sucks being a teenager with cameras and trackers everywhere) and Robotics (kinda the same issue).

Now there's a section on gear, but you know I don't care and the system isn't very robust; it's pretty much "what does your character have." Well, he's a pilot. He has a flight suit, a laser pistol, and some of those cool foot-jets like Star-Lord uses. There, done.

Relationships! I get one friend, one enemy, and one somewhere-in-between. Sure thing.

So my ally is Bubble, my best friend (get it? Bubble & Squeak?). Bubble and I grew up on the same ship, but then we both took jobs on different vessels. We keep in contact, and we're willing to do stupid favors for each other, even if that means catching hell from our captains.

My enemy is Frint X2. Frint was a security/nanny-bot on my home ship, and since that ship has landed and the population been broken up into society, Frint has taken other gigs in security. Frint bears a grudge, though, because Squeak disabled his sensors and left him bumbling around in the cargo hold for a while.

My "frenemy" is Lady Xing. Oh, man. Xing and Squeak have this on-again, off-again, will-they-won't-they thing going on (so far they've come down on the side of "won't"). Xing has her own ship and really wants Squeak to fly for her, but Squeak is more than a little intimidated and besides, it's not wise to crush on your captain.

OK, then there are these "kits." Kits are optional, and they're mostly (but not entirely) combat-focused, which is weird because Strike! has this entire subsystem devoted to combat, as well. I think I'm gonna take the Protagonist Kit, because it's interesting to me; I get Hero's Journey (every time I completed a step on the Journey I get an Action Point) and Bumbling (I can get Oaf Tokens when I fuck up and then trade them in for a successful roll).

So that's the first half of chargen. Now we do the "tactical combat" half.

First we pick a Class, which is the "primary way of interacting with the combat system." The titles are kinda aspected toward fantasy, but they're easy enough to reskin. I see Squeak as a support-type character, I think, maybe a long-ranger fighting, definitely not up-close. Warlord actually looks pretty cool; Squeak could totally be the "man in the chair," as Spider-Man puts it. Hmm. I kinda like that. I'll take Warlord as my Class.

I get a Class Feature from that. I can give allies Buffer Points (which come off ahead of Hit Points), I can get folks extra movement, or I can give them extra damage. I think I'll take Incisive; I can spend Support tokens (which I get in various ways) to give folks extra damage, plus I get Support tokens when I assess, which would play to my tactical style, I think.

And then I get three at-will powers and one encounter power. For my at-wills, I'll take Morale-Boosting Punching Bag (I attack someone; it does not damage, but the next ally to attack that target gets HP back), Knock Him Off Balance (I attack; next ally to ally that target gains Advantage), and Come Help Me Over Here (I can shift an ally one square and then attack an adjacent target).

For my encounter power, I'll take Don't Give Up (triggered when an ally drops below 0 HP; they stay standing at 1).

Neat! Now I pick a Role, which is "place on the team and goals in combat." Which, like...OK. I like the intersection of Class and Role in practice, but it's kinda redundant if you just read it.

Anyway, for Squeak, I think his Role is Striker. It's a little more offense-based, but it also helps with mobility and that'd be helpful. So I gain Damage Boost and Quick Shift, which are both pretty meh at first level (oh, yeah, this game has levels, too) but Damage Boost is nice in place.

Now, Feats (oh, yeah, Feats, too). I get a Feat. I just get one to start. I'm gonna take Flying (those boots I mentioned); lets me avoid Melee attacks on the ground and call out plays with a bird's eye view.

And that's it, actually! I think Squeak is tall, lean, favors open shirts and tight pants, wears his black hair bleached pink and spiked, and speaks with a pretty deep voice. If asked about his nickname, he says either "my mom was a lion, my dad was a mouse" or "IT'S PERSONAL" (a la Strong Mad). Really, there's nothing to it - his best friend was nicknamed Bubble, so they were Bubble and Squeak.

Board Game: Chrononauts

Card game, really, of course. Let's go BACK IN TIME!

The Game: Chrononauts
The Publisher: Looney Labs
Time: Varies pretty wildly. As much as an hour.
Players: Me, Teagan, Cael

Behold the timestream.
Game Play: That picture up there is 32 cards, each depicting an event in history from the assassination of Lincoln in 1865 to the Columbine Massacre in 1999. Some of these cards (the purple ones) are Linchpins, which means they affect the ripple points (lighter blue).

Every player has an ID, which is a time traveler trying to get back to their own timeline. To do that, you need to invert certain linchpins, which then causes the associated ripple points to flip. Linchpins have alternate events already built in (Lincoln Assassinated becomes Lincoln Wounded, for instace), but the ripple points just say "PARADOX" on the back. That means in order to make the timeline work, you need a "patch" card. Columbine Massacre is patched by "Guns Banned," f'rex (and is a response to the 1981 linchpin "John Lennon Murdered" being inverted to "John Lennon Nearly Killed").

Every player also has a mission, which has some flavor text associated with it, but at the end of the day the missions mean you need to collect three particular artifacts and have them face up in front of you.

Teagan contemplates eternity.
The timeline cards are out on the table as shown, but everything else - the inverter cards used to flip linchpins, the patches used to fix paradoxes, the artifacts, and "timewarp" cards that let you do things like steal artifacts, rifle through the deck for a particular cards, pass everyone's hand, and so on - are in a draw deck. Every turn you draw one and play one, but you can also discard two cards and draw one more (which keeps your hand static).

Whenever you patch a paradox, you draw a card, increasing your hand size. This is important because if you get 10 cards in your hand, you win! You can also win by getting back to your own timeline or completing your mission.

Cael contemplates chaos.
Opinions: I always enjoy this game. It takes a bit for new players to catch on; like a lot of Looney games, there are a bunch of moving parts and though you can start the game trying to focus on one strategy, it's really good to keep your eye on all of them. I like this game better with more people (the game says it can take up to six), because then shit really gets crazy and you have to be careful patching paradoxes so that you don't inadvertently cause someone to win...or cause 13 paradoxes and end the universe (making everyone lose).

Keep? Yep.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Movie #413: The Mexican

The Mexican is a crime caper/rom-com starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gadolfini, JK Simmons, Bob Balaban, and Gene Hackman. It's a kind of weird movie, but it's one I enjoy.

Jerry (Pitt) and Sam (Roberts) are having relationship problems, stemming mainly from the fact that Jerry is working off a debt to a mob boss named Margolese (Hackman). As his last job, Jerry is tasked with going to Mexico and retrieving an orate pistol simply called "the Mexican." Sam leaves him (since his last job was supposed to be his final job), but is almost immediately abducted by a hitman (Gandolfini) in service to Nayman (Balaban), Margolese's traitorous henchman. Meanwhile, Jerry is just kind of bumblefucking his way through the job, dealing with a stolen car, a crooked cop, a feral dog, and the fact that his buddy Ted (Simmons) has been sent to kill him.

Hands-down, the best thing about this movie is Gandolfini. His portrayal of "Leroy" (actually Winston) as a highly competent, professional heavy who is dealing with relationship problems of his own - he can't seem to find a man he can really connect with - is really touching, and his sexuality is dealt with pretty well, considering when the movie was made. Him opening up to Sam is clearly a risk, and he slips back into hardass professional mode (but with some regrets) when things begin to go south. And then of course Jerry shoots him, which makes perfect sense in context (Winston did kidnap Sam and kill Leroy, the guy that was acting on behalf of Margolese), but is still really heartbreaking as it happens.

I like, too, that both Sam and Jerry have their issues. Sure, Jerry is a bit of a schlub, but Sam is so saturated in psychobabble that she can't always communicate with words, and as much as she accuses Jerry of being selfish, she does seem to miss that they're dealing with people who are happy to shoot him. Through all that, though, I think you buy them as a couple and they have some chemistry when they're together.

All in all: It's funny, touching, and the action scenes are fun. It's a weird movie, but it's a good one.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil