Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Movie #374: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the final movie in the trilogy, and stars everybody from the first two, plus we get a lot more of

Frodo and Sam are being led by Gollum up to Mount Doom, by way of the tunnel of Shelob, the spider-queen. Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli head for the city of Minas Tirith with the soldiers of Rohan, but stop along the way to rouse an army of ghosts from a mountain. They arrive and wipe out Sauron's mercenary reinforcements, and help win the day Gondor.

Meanwhile, though, it's all about Frodo and Sam, who manage to limp up the mountain, whereupon Frodo finally succumbs to the ring and puts it on. Gollum, though, jumps on him, bites of his finger, and is promptly knocked into the lava. The ring melts, Sauron is defeated, all the orcs run away (we don't find out where they go, but one assumes Tolkein gave each of their addresses in an appendix or something), and then we get the epilogue. Which lasts an hour or so.

Life goes back more or less to normal in the Shire, but Frodo is still wounded from his stab on Weathertop, and never really recovers from his time as Ring-Bearer. Sam marries Rosie (Sarah McLeod) and has a couple of hobbit children, and then accompanies Merry, Pippin, and Frodo to the harbor to see Bilbo (Ian Holm, remember) off to the Gray Havens. Frodo, of course, decides to go as well, as does Gandalf, and the movie ends with Sam going home to his family.

So, I can only imagine what it must have been like filming that scene, after so many years of shooting together. I hope the actors were really close and not just sick of each other. In any case, though, the feeling of this movie is just weary. Everything is coming down, and while the scope of the movie is just as spectacular as the rest, it's another huge battle, another majestic cityscape, another battle of wills over the Ring. The best parts of the movie are probably with the hobbits and Gollum, because Sean Astin really gets a chance to shine as Sam. At the same time, though, you can see the end coming, and the movie is so long and has so many apparent end-points that you just wind up wanting to jump ahead maybe a little.

With all that said, the effects hold up really well, the performances are fine for the most part ("A diversion!"), and the ending, taking us back where we began to the Shire, is sweet and simple. I still think Fellowship is the best of the trilogy, but you really have to take the trilogy as a whole.

My grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Lost Boys

Feng Shuimmy Shimmy Ya

Monday was Feng Shui. It's been about a month since our last foray into ape-land, in which the Dragons fought off the soldiers of Thrill Kill Mandrill (whom they assumed was dead, since they watched him get vaporized by magic). This time, they were camping out in the ruins of an old factory when the monkeys attacked!

The monkeys swooped into the factory and started grabbing the humans that the Dragons were escorting. An unseen assassin shot Wildfire from the trees; Wildfire responded by changing into his monster form, of course. A knife came flying through the air and struck Bai...a knife that smell oddly boozy ("God damn you, Drunky Monkey!").

The battle was joined, with Dragons flipping between the two levels of the factory and knocking monkeys off and into the trees. Celeste used her whip to yank prisoners out of monkey hands, and Wu Tang employed his signature "hit a monkey with another monkey" method. What the Dragons missed, though, was a monkey sneaking up to the truck and letting out Smilin' Bill; both that monkey and Bill Cheesed It into the trees (carrying the parking meter that Wu Tang had used to bar the door), and soon thereafter the rest of the monkeys fled. The Dragons captured a couple of monkeys and put them in the truck, and headed on.

One of the human folks approached Wu Tang and asked what he planned to do when they reached the river. Tang asked him to elaborate, and the man explained that there was a wooden bridge that led across, but that it wasn't really sturdy and the apes might have taken it. There was another, much larger stone bridge up ahead, but that required walking along the river, which with the truck would be difficult. Tang thanked the man ("Shimmy-ya, Wu Tang," he said in respect), and then assembled the Dragons.

Celeste recognized that this was the futuristic ruins of Hong Kong, and that if her calculations were right, Genomic Solutions - wherein they'd first fought Thrill Kill Mandrill - was in the woods somewhere. The Dragons decided to let the humans crossed the river at the stone bridge and move along, while they turned into the forest to check out the remains of the lab and, perhaps, confront Thrill Kill. Thanks to careful driving from Johnny, they made it there safely, and the people headed over the bridge to a (hopefully) safer life.

The Dragons headed into the trees, and were suddenly accosted by a troop of chimps with bows and arrows. The leader, a jaunty fellow wearing green, demanded payment for traipsing through the woods. ("Robin Hood?" said Johnny. "No, robbin' you!") He said he'd take the truck, and the Dragons shrugged; they were just about done with it anyway. Wu Tang, though, just couldn't let it go without a fight. He slashed a tire as he walked by, and the leader chimp ordered the attack.

The Dragons fought them off non-lethally, knocking them into the convenient nearby pond and batting away their arrows, until finally Johnny said that if they weren't allied with Thrill Kill (the leader had earlier spat at the mention of his name), perhaps they would be willing to do a little light ninja-ing? The leader-chimp, Errol, asked Tang why he was going after Thrill Kill, and Tang explained that he'd killed his partner. "A noble quest for revenge, then!" said Errol, and ordered his monkeys to get the truck fixed.

Next time, we'll see where this insanity leads us.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Character Creation: East Texas University

My group that was playing Iron Edda decided to switch over to something quick and light in tone before we jump into Promethean again (we also talked about getting back into my Hunter: The Vigil/Mage: The Awakening game, but the consensus was that if we played Mage we wanted time to really get into it and this game isn't going to go that long. In a related matter, I love that I can say to this group "we'll totally play Mage in a few months" and they're like "Oh, OK, fine").

Anyway, we talked about a bunch of different games, but we were aiming for a pretty narrow target. To wit:

  • A game that was light in tone, even if it had horror elements
  • A game that I didn't have sink a lot of time into reading (which meant a shorter book)
  • A game that didn't require the players to read it, because they won't
We talked about a bunch of games, but many of them fell short of those last two requirements. We talked about Guild of Shadows, which I'm interested in running at some point, but folks were skeptical about the "everyone's a thief" bit. In the end, we landed on East Texas University; it's modern day, it's Savage Worlds (which most of them know), and it's Buffy-level horror. Plus it's got a random adventure generator, which I'm totally using. 

As you know, I like to make characters for the games I'm running, so since I have a little time before I have to go pick Teagan up from riding lessons (which sounds so posh when I say it like that), I'll do up a college freshman real quick. I said on Facebook that my next character would use this as a theme song: 

Don't worry about the video per se, it's just the song I'm after. Well, reading the lyrics, the drugs are evident. I can't decide if I want to play the person singing the song (I mean, not Halsey) or the subject. I think I'd like to play the person singing. So here's the deal.

My character is Drake Stephens. He's a freshman at ETU, but ETU wasn't his first choice. He was going to go to his local university, which I'll say is Michigan because I know the area kinda-sorta. So he's from the Detroit area. Drake fell in love with a guy (Ryan) his senior year in high school. Ryan didn't have as easy a time with coming out as Drake did (Drake's parents' reaction was basically "yeah, and?"), and Ryan developed a drug habit. This culminated with Ryan OD'ing in late July and then disappearing out of the psych ward. As far as Drake knows, Ryan's parents had him moved to a different hospital.

Now, if I'm running the game, this being a horror game and all, Ryan might show up on the run from the demonic conversion therapy place (conveniently running distance from ETU or something) that he'd been stashed, which would leave Drake and Ryan to contemplate their relationship and whether it's a good idea to resume. But for the moment, let's assume that Drake went to ETU to get away from his home town and his memories of his boyfriend, so he's like a lot of college freshmen - a little confused, a little damaged, ready to start something new.

Step One of chargen is race, even though they're all human so why bother. Step Two is Major. I think we'll make Drake a Folklore Major. ETU actually has a well-renowned Folklore program, and I think Drake picked that because his original major at U of M was Psychology, and then he got a close look at a psych ward and decided "no, mythology is better." That makes my Major Skill Knowledge (Folklore).

Step Three is Traits. Starting with Attributes, I get a d4 in each and then five more to split up, just like in the home game. I actually think I'll just split it up evenly; d6 is each Attribute.

Now I get 15 points in Skills. I swear to god, if I ever do M0arpigz, I'm gonna put the Skills on the damn character sheet. This flipping between books is for the birds. Anyway, I'll put a d6 in my Major Skill, so that's two points. I'll take Driving and Fighting at d4, why not. I'll take Investigation at d6 (so I'm up to 6 points spent; 9 more). Ooh, Notice. I'll splurge and by it d8, which costs extra because my Smarts is only d6. I've got 5 more. Riding and Stealth at d4, Streetwise at d6 (Ryan's influence) and Taunt at d4.

Sigh. No, we don't do Derived Traits now because Edges & Hindrances can change them.

Step Four: Edges and Hindrances! I get a free Edge because I'm human. I want Be a Zebra, which raises my Parry by two if I'm standing next to a target. I want Hindrances, though. I'll take Second Fiddle, which frankly a lot of my characters should have (I feel like a secondary character and have to make a Spirit roll or lose a Benny). I'll take Clueless for my Major Hindrance; it sounds dire but it just means I take a -2 to Common Knowledge checks (and that Drake is out of touch with the mainstream, which is a pretty good representation of a Michigan boy in East Texas anyway). And them I'll take Doubting Thomas, because it's so rarely applicable (Drake, quite reasonably, doesn't believe in supernatural shit).

Right, that's four points. I'll spend two and boost my Spirit to d8. And then I think I'll boost Fighting to d6 and pick up Persuasion at d4.

I can pick an Extracurricular Activity for my first semester. I'll be boring and take Fitness (I get a +2 to avoid Fatigue from any source this semester; Drake is committed to eating right, exercising, and avoiding drugs and booze, for now).

OK, now derived traits. Charisma and Academics are 0, Pace is 6, Parry is 5 (or 7 if I'm with "the herd"), Toughness is 5, and that'll do it. Drake is ready for academic craziness! Go Ravens!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Headspace Gets Weird!

Today was Headspace; we actually just finished up a few minutes ago. But for a change, I don't have anything pressing right afterwards, so I'ma do the write-up now.

Last time, the Operators prevented PSS from making headway on their goal to subsume civilian police, and stopped Applied Optimism's project to get proof that another corp was behind the tsunami. This time, they learned the Applied Optimism was taking aim at Headspace tech directly, trying to learn to subsume or crack it.

They decided that was important enough to focus on to the exclusion of all else (which meant that the PSS project achieves an objective, but we'll get to that next time). They decided to take aim at the AO project's Time Milestone, which was Test Headspace crack using a broadcast facility. Their objectives were to locate this facility, rescue their test subjects and liberate the data, and then destroy the facility.

Spider activated his AI, Diane, to check the footage of their original raid on AO (where their Handler and Whitecoat were killed). They found that there was an aerodyne that landed just before the building exploded, marked with passes to get in and out of the quarantine zone - that must be where the facility is. As they were checking data, though, Diane told Spider that their feed was being tracked. They left, Grease driving (and plowing through a taco stand - Rage feedback!). Willis leaned out the window and blew up an aerodyne that was following them, and they made it to Grease's hideout in an old, abandoned bank.

Arrow checked the security feeds and found someone tooling around on a hoverbike, adjusting his nose - he had the same disguise implant that she did. Figuring he was probably looking for them, Arrow and Willis went down the road to see if he'd follow (he did) while Spider tagged the dude with a special invisible tracking paint that he rigged up. They followed the guy into the quarantine zone, but Grease got cold feet at the last minute before crossing the border. Willis jumped out and parkour'd their way in, following the guy, while Grease searched around for a safer crossing point.

Willis trailed the guy to a short, squat building in the q-zone. The others caught up, and Arrow used her contacts in the Architect's Guild to get the blueprints - there was no roof access, but they could get in through a manhole (or, to use the less sexist term, "street orifice"). The Operators went below and, hacking their way past security, emerged into the ground floor.

There, they found 20 beds, each occupied by a person hooked up to electrodes. The people were all breathing in perfect unison. One of the people was Angel, their supposedly-dead Whitecoat. But if she's here, then how is her memory still in the Headspace? (At this point, the Operators had achieved their first Objective: Found the facility, but Operators are off-balance and freaked out.)

They decided to split up. Grease left to go and find a vehicle big enough to transport these people. Spider create a failsafe to buy them time if AO decided to fry these folks. Arrow and Willis climbed up the elevator shaft (the only egress from their floor), and emerged in a control room with three whitecoats and the op from before.

Arrow nailed the op in the back with a monofilament knife, but those are messy, and the whitecoats noticed and hit the alarm. Spider was unable to stop the data from being purged (rather, he chose to save the people instead). Willis shot the whitecoats, but Diane warned Spider that vehicles were incoming.

Grease, meanwhile, contacted his ring of thieves and got them to send a bus. He got it to the facility, and Willis blew a hole in the wall. Willis used their weapons and grenades to fend off the security response, but was shot and wounded (and Taken Out) in the process. Arrow went to grab Willis, but collapsed into the bus (also Taken Out). Spider ran off into the q-zone, abandoning the others but circling back around to where they crossed into the q-zone. This completed the second Objective (Victims rescued, but data was lost and Operators and separated).

Grease drove the bus to the Dodge Clan's den, but wasn't allowed to leave the bus (the Clan was justifiably concerned that they'd been in the q-zone. Spider arrived and rigged the bus' engine to provide power to the victim's communal headspace, but knew that wouldn't last. Grease, meanwhile, fussed over Angel (who'd been injured in the escape), and Arrow obsessed over how Angel was here, alive, but also her "ghost" was in their heads. Willis woke up and discovered their left hand wasn't moving; too badly injured in the fight.

Spider hacked into the headspace, but did it too forcefully and all four of the Operators appeared. They talked with the people, who were confused and defensive, but Willis talked them into waking up. They did, including Angel, but Angel's memories after receiving her headspace implant were gone - she had no memory of the other Operators. She was, however, able to give them tests and prove that they were negative for the Tsunami Flu, so the Clan let the Operators leave.

By then, though, they'd been in there long enough that AO had time to get rid of all the evidence at the facility. This meant that the Operators failed the final Objective, but since they completed the first two they won the Milestone.

Next time, though, they'll have to split their focus or give ground.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Board Game: Small World

Boy, where ya been, Matt?

Writin' bout Monsters. That's a Kickstarter, go back it.


The Game: Small World
The Publisher: Days of Wonder
Time: Depends how many players, but less than an hour
Players: Me, +Michelle, Kathy, +John, Gwen

New game, so we get to punch out cardboard thingies!
Game Play: Small World consists of various races trying to keep hold of land in a shrinking world (I mean, the fact that the world is shrinking is part of the conceit of the game; it doesn't actually happen in-game). The board has four variants (2, 3, 4, and 5 players), and gets bigger the more players you have, but the game also has fewer turns.

Here's the 5-player variant.
At the start of the game, you shuffle the races, and then the special powers and make a line of five (powers and races are separate, so you don't get the same combos game to game). You can pick the top one in the column, or buy a lower one with victory points, but in either case, you wind up with a bunch of little cardboard squares representing your units. Once you've got your units, you place them in those little segments (starting with a border one and then going adjacent); you've got to place at least two, then one more for things like mountains and enemy units.

And then you get victory points, and then play passes!

Michelle contemplates colonization.
Subsequent rounds let you pick up your units and keep moving out, conquering other folks if you've got the units for it, but eventually you get spread too thin. At that point, you can go into decline; you flip your units, they're basically dead (they still generate victory points, but they're easy to conquer) and you can pick a new race.

Busy, busy.
Opinions: It's a fun game. Part of the strategy is knowing which combinations of race and special power are good to pick up when (I wound up with Spirit Ghouls at the end of the game, which would have been fantastic at the beginning) and when to go into decline to best maximize your race's position. Since there are a limited number of turns, you definitely have to plan ahead, but it doesn't have as many things to keep in mind as other similar games, so that's nice.

Keep? Yep.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Movie #373: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is, of course, the second in the movie trilogy and stars everybody from the first movie, plus Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Craig Parker, and David Wenham.

The Fellowship is broken; Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) are captured by orcs, but said orcs are slaughtered by riders of Rohan led by Eomer (Urban), nephew to King Theoden (Hill) who's been banished by Grima Wormtongue (Dourif), an advisor to the king and puppet of Saruman (Lee) and whose name didn't somehow tip everybody off.

Gandalf (McKellan) comes back from the dead as Gandalf the White, and cures Theoden of his magical poison, Wormtongue gets kicked out of Rohan and fucks off to join Saruman. Meanwhile, Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) and tramping their way into Mordor, and wind up picking up Gollum (Serkis) as a guide. Gollum, of course, really wants the ring, but Frodo treats him with kindness and he manages to make himself free of his vicious alter ego. That is, at least, until the hobbits (and eventually Gollum) get picked up by Faramir (Wenham), younger brother to Boromir (Bean), and yanked back to Gondor until Faramir comes to his sense and lets the hobbits go.

Meanwhile, orcs attack Rohan, Aragorn (Mortensen), Gimli (Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Bloom) fall back with the Rohan folk into the massive fortress of Helm's Deep, and they're very nearly overrun until Gandalf Ex Machina returns with Eomer and his peeps, the orcs flee into the forest, said forest eats them (the trees are very angry with Saruman), and we get a bit of hope to end on.

Two Towers is a good continuation of the series. The scope just goes crazy-wide and we have three different main perspectives to consider (Merry/Pippin, Sam/Frodo/Gollum, Aragorn/Gimli/Legolas), plus a half-dozen others. We get a bunch of new characters dropped on us, but one thing I'll say for the extended edition, it plays fair by those folks and gives them enough attention that they feel like they belong here.

My big complaint about this movie is Gimli, if I'm honest. In the first movie he's got some personality, but he's a badass warrior and this dramatic and dire-sounding guy. And here he's got that, sure, but he's also the wacky comic relief, and it feels really out of joint. I'm also not crazy about extreme-sports Legolas, and I seem to remember that gets even weirder in the finale.

All in all, though, the scope of the movies is just epic, it's lovingly realized, and Sam's speech about the grand stories and being part of them at the end is always moving.

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Nobilis: Haruspexy

Yesterday was Nobilis! Violence was done to an unblemished goat.

Last time, we ended with the Familia jumping through a portal into a new Chancel. This time, we begin with them hanging off the edge of the world. This Chancel was flat, thin, and round with a hole in the center. Out in the middle of the void was a couch, on which an Asian man was sleeping, a butterfly flitting around his head.

The Nobles found themselves in a deep, dark, wood, and quickly discovered a grizzled man with a huge, fuck-off beard gnawing on a raw salmon. After some initial speculation that he might be the Power of Bears, we learned that his name was Hugh, and he was the Power of Self-Reliance. He wasn't so much interested in helping us save the world ("World that can't save itself ain't worth saving," he grumbled beardily), but was able to point us toward someone who could help us - Tim, the Power of Kites.

(Tommy recognized Hugh as Hugh Glass, but only because he's seen The Revenant.)

Realizing that they needed to get out to a particular star (which was actually a kite), Woolaroo floated up, kite-like, and then extended string that the others could all cling to. She deposited them on a beach, with hundreds of people flying kites. A surfer dude directed them to the end of the beach, where Tim, a young boy, was flying a blue diamond kite.

Tim was much more receptive to the idea of saving the world (the fact that there would be no more kites just wrecked him), and he agreed to turn his impressive reconnaissance ability to the task. He looked through all the kites, and said that the Shard of Rejuvenation had gone through the next domain over, that of Lu Bon. The Familia thanked him and charged ahead, emerging in a land of stone houses and people doing crafts - making wheels, pottery, and so forth.

Asking around, the Familia found Lu Bon, the Power of Obsolete Crafts. He said that the silk yield had been abnormally high, and the Familia tracked the Shard of Rejuvenation that way - the Excrucian carrying it had moved through the forest toward a land dotted with altars, the domain of Corban, the Power of Sacrifice. This, in a bit of foreshadowing, made Isabel very nervous. People sacrifice goats, after all.

The Familia trudged there, sacrificing time and energy to arrive, and saw Corban slicing the throats of a host of folks and shoving them down a cliff. The Powers spoke with him, and while he was disturbed by the idea of the Shard of Rejuvenation being removed, he wasn't interested (or able?) to help without a sacrifice.

Each of the Familia gave something up: the Countess gave up the White Whale, the great beast she'd been keeping alive because she hated it so. It died, and sank to the bottom of the ocean, happy to be free. Tommy gave up Carlos Gallardo, an actor that he'd Anchored to (Gallardo was the star of El Mariachi, if you're interested). Gallardo died on the set of a new movie, falling out a window doing a stunt, and never got his big break or comeback. Woolaroo gave up Mary Margaret, an old woman she'd Anchored herself to, and Mary Margaret died of a stroke, a blanket falling over her face. Isabel, after some complaining (she wasn't cool with sacrificing something with will and a soul, since she felt it wasn't her place to do), gave up her Bond to Provence. The bees that pollinate the lavender died off, and she ceded the land to the Power of Pesticides.

Drinking in these sacrifices, Corban tracked down the Shard, and found the butterfly ("I fucking knew it," said Tommy. "First thing you see, you know it's gonna be relevant later in the act"). The man and the butterfly, Corban explained, were the Imperator in this Chancel - the man dreaming he is a butterfly, the butterfly dreaming he's a man.

The Familia talked about potential solutions, but part of the problem was that they weren't sure of the scope of the problem - was the Imperator dead, possessed, sleeping, what? And where was the Shard? Tommy pointed out that his Gift of Cogent Exposition would help, but he wasn't going to just pull out a phone and turned on the radio; that wouldn't make any sense at all. Woolaroo suggested haruspexy (that is, reading the entrails) and Corban zeroed in on Isabel (she was "unblemished", after all). Isabel wasn't really on board with having her entrails read; Tommy offered, but Corban said that he wasn't really a suitable sacrifice (blemished, I guess). Isabel agreed, but grudgingly.

Corban opened her up and pulled out her liver, and inside was a scroll of paper that revealed that the Imperator had, in fact, been destroyed. Isabel pulled herself together (she's a Power, it'll take more than a ripped-out liver to hurt her), while Woolaroo projected herself across the abyss. As she did, the thought occurred - was she the threads, or the space between them? What was truth but a framework of lies? She put all this aside and smothered the man and butterfly, and returned to the Familia.

This, of course, left Corban, Tim, Hugh, and Lu Bon without an Imperator, so the Familia performed the Rite of Rescue, adopting them into their Chancel. They reappeared in Erehwon Island, and Isabel, still hurt that we'd used her for haruspexy, stomped off with her daughter.

We still have to find the Shard, however.