Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Avatar World: A Return Look At Moves

Despite flaws in the show, I still thoroughly enjoyed Sword Art Online. Its soundtrack is nothing to write home about save for the occasional bit of quality.

(sorry for any typos I miss, I'm typing with gloves on because I wrecked my nails again and typing without them hurts)
So Avatar World's new draft is sitting nicely, and there might be a game of it this weekend at the Tacoma Game Day @ PLU. My bag will also have Monsterhearts, Sagas of the Icelanders, and probably some easy to play simple stuff like Quiet Year. I might also have some more special stuff that I'm jamming to at the time - last September's surprise appearance was Lasers & Feelings. I'll probably be carrying L&F again too, but I don't think I'll run it, but anyone's permitted to take my copy.
I'm contemplating what my surprise games might be. If I have the chance to read them more thoroughly, it might be Shock: Social Science Fiction (which I've wanted to try for months), Rookvale (same story), or a 1-2 page game (my own Superlite Heroes? Pocket Anima Prime? Some other game that I've converted to a simpler format for my own purposes?). We'll see. You'll have to come by!

Okay, but enough upcoming events! Let's turn to some Avatar World stuff. According to the read-me I wrote for AvW v1.2, my plan for v1.3 and further is as follows:
* Include the Plots and Threats for the MC, thus fully completing the system.
* Rewrite the moves I'm unhappy with.
* Make things presentable.
* Write sub-playbooks.
It wasn't in the read-me, but I want to include an MC Playsheet as well, as with Threats I should have enough content for one.
Over time I also want to write some pages in there of writing. Not really game-text, more just my writings about the game and playing / running it.

Today, I wanted to look at the playbooks more in-depth. More specifically, I wanted to look at what moves of theirs I was still happy with, which ones I want to axe or re-write, and a bit of why for each.
* Move means I don't like it and will be replacng it.
^ Move means I'm happy with it.


* Airbending.
This moves has been a thorn in my side more or less since I wrote it. In theory, I'm okay with it, but it's one of the very first moves I wrote, and it shows. It's a mechanical mess, and not very comprehensive. I made it better when I rewrote the options to be fiction-focused, but it's still not good. It no longer even looks fun to me. It will be rewritten. In fact, it already has been! You'll just have to wait and see.
* Acceleration
No no no this has no reference to the fiction, is barely ever going to come up, and isn't even very helpful. It's just straight-up gonna be replaced. Maybe something linking into Oaths or Chi. Probably Oaths.
^ Attuned
Well, it's boring in form, but it's pretty much essential. If you didn't notice, Improvements can now only bring stats to +2 - it takes one of the benders or the scholar's stat-boosting move to get to +3, and that's the only way now. I can't really think of a limitation to this one the way I have fictional restrictions on the others, but whatever.
^ Nomad
It might be slid around a little, but I'm still like 80% cool with this one. Something rubs me wrong, but I don't know what. It might just be repeated viewings even.
* Redirection
This won't even be applicable any more. I don't know what I'll do; I could rewrite it or replace it, I haven't picked which yet.
^ Soundbending
From its inception this has been the best thing I've written for the Airbender.


^ Currency of Favors
Sure, why not? If anything it's BETTER than before thanks to the boosts to Chi.
^ Henchmen
Yup, still cool with this.
^ Intrigue
It hides in mechanics a bit as a stat-substitution move, but it is still definitely links into the fiction, and all but one stat array is going to significantly benefit from it.
^ Mastermind
It might be one of the most complex moves I've written, but it's also still fine.
^ Silver Tongue
Yup, still cool here too. I feel pretty happy with the Aristocrat. Oh wait...
* Succubus
Almost had a perfect run of it. Two problems here, one major, one minor. Minor: I'm trying to eradicate +1 Forward when I can, so that'd be different. Major: It exists here because that's a major element of a lot of the Eastern media I like thinking Avatar World can support. However, given the default stance of most people toward Avatar World, I'm not sure it really belongs. Given that I'm considering a Geisha sub-playbook, I think I'll be eradicating it from the standard Aristocrat. In return I wrote a move that actually links into the Oaths system, which is shocking to me that there wasn't one directly connected to it already.


^/* Earthbending
It's not bad, I just don't feel it's great. The scope is both too broad and too small at once, by which I mean the trigger is ridiculously broad but the options don't feel representative to me of all the interesting issues that could arise. I wrote a new version of it, but I don't actually know which is better. So this one is basically just on the fence. For now, it's staying, as those who have played it were satisfied with how it felt.
^ Counteroffense
It's fine.
^ Defender
This is still good.
* Metalbending
Ugh, it's just so boring mechanically! In theory just the first line alone opens up this entire new realm of possibility, but it feels mechanically dull! Also I need to pick a format for writing stat-substitution, this uses a different phrasing than the Aristocrit did.
I'm trying to write a move that triggers when you bend metal to do X, where X is some iconic thing metalbending is used for, but I can't figure it out.
^ Rooted
Valuable for the same reasons as Attuned.
^ Vibration Sense
I like this one.


^ Firebending
I considered re-writing it, but then realized I actually like it. It WILL receive a small alteration, but it won't be mechanically large, just expands the fictional range of things. You'll see.
* Conductive
I haven't liked this since I first wrote it, but haven't come up with an interesting thing to replace it. For a while I've tried to come up with an interesting way to make this mechanical, but I think I'll just fold it into regular firebending and make something new.
^ Hot-Headed
One of my absolute favorites still, even with the +1 Forward. It is, after all, intentionally the lesser of the two rewards., though is also less ruinous to your reputation.
^ Lightningbending
Might rewrite the options a bit, make the Tag on the second option a bit more open-ended, but I'm still into this one.
^ Sunsoul
I've justified these already.
^ Stance Focus
A complicated text, but one of my favorite moves thematically. You know what I DO want to change though? The name. Maybe Flames of Passion or something.


^ Calm Stability
Yeah, okay. It can stay for now. I see nothing wrong except the complexity of the trigger.
^ Clarity of Senses
This hasn't change since before the Tags/Chi rewrites, and I don't know how huge this is right now. But since it's not about changing the environment, it basically just adds a thing that you can immediately use to let you use your Chi. Until I see an issue, it's staying.
^ Guru
Completely untested in light of the new Oaths, but I don't see any problems. Kind of a ridiculous way to grind out some Chi, but whatever.
^/* River of Energy
With Chi also being XP now, this is starting to look absurd. If I can come up with a cool rewrite / replacement I'll implement that.
^ Spiritual
I've used this in a game and it did exactly what I wanted. It's costly, but it's also very cool.
^ Stillness
So far the weakest stat-substitution move, but not so weak as to need replacing.


^ Always Prepared
It makes me hesitate, having had multiple Scholars and this getting almost no use, but I think it's because of the complexity rather than uselessness. I'm still fond.
^ Construct
The physical to Mastermind's mental, I'm still all in here.
* Fight With You Head
Mechanically complex and not all that appropriate to the current Tag system, I could do better.
^ Ingenious
Like Attuned, the lack of a fictional condition concerns me, but not all that much.
^ Think It Through
Still like it.
^ Trained Observer
Always a player-favorite mechanic. Reminder: Even though you get a question on failure, the MC still gets their hard move.


^ Ambush
Easily facilitated by Stealth, but also pretty friendly to being used with just Move With Intention. Also, with the current value of Chi it's at the best it's ever been, balance-wise. Among the most absolutely ruthless moves in the whole game.
* Dim Mak
Complicated, and again uses Tags in a way not totally fitting with the new system. I could live with it, but I'm going to at least try to rewrite it. I'm also going to rename it to something simpler probably - Dim Mak is clever, but this isn't a touch of death, and lots of people don't know what Dim Mak means.
^/* Environment Master
Aside from needing a new name because this is dull as hell, I don't think I've adequately considered how this interacts with the Chi / Tags now. It SOUNDS like it might be able to lead to a recursive loops, which I'd rather avoid.
* Samurai
Whoops, "oath with yourself" is not mechanically relevant anymore, changes incoming! Also the usual question of cultural appropriation of the samurai concept versus the not-quite-as-evocative Knight. I think this isn't misrepresentative (it presents the Samurai as armored warriors bound to a lord), but it might still be problematic. I don't know the right communities to ask about this any further! Help people!
^ Stealth
Yeah, this is still great. Except that "Ninja's" prey isn't necessarily true any more. But that is a very simple fix that's just been slipping past my radar.
^ Wire-Fu


^ Water
^ Waterbending
These two moves are inseparable. I think I'll add a brief line about "If you a different playbook taking Water as an Improvement, you also get Waterbending." Fix up the little Witch issue of Hexes without Tokens or vice versa.
I'm considering messing with the list of options for Waterbending though.
^ Healer
I'm still down with this.
* Icebending
This has the exact same issue as Metalbending. We'll see what I come up with.
^ Moonchosen
Hooray! You already know what I'm going to say.
^/* Stances
I don't know if this is actually useful! Also the name has to go. I need to really think on this one.
^ Never Dry
Aside from having extreme difficulties nailing a good name on this one, the move itself is fine.

Uh, that's every playbook move in v1.2. Also I'm considering a small change to Observe Carefully inspired by a thing I wrote in the post! Again, you'll see when I actually work out if I want to do what I'm thinking of.

Let's gather together the moves I don't like, or need to think about:
* Airbending
* Acceleration
* Redirection
* Succubus
* Earthbending
* Metalbending
* Conductive
* River of Energy
* Fight With Your Head
* Dim Mak
* Environment Master
* Samurai
* Icebending
* Stances
Okay. That's a pretty good list.

If you have ideas, please share. Looking forward to writing some new stuff, seeya soon!
End Recording,

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Songs B: Kill the Noise - Saturn (A Shot of EDM)

For the second one today, well, nothing sprung to mind so I just grabbed something new-ish to my collection, though the song itself is over a year old.
Where did I find it? Well, Monstercat very recently added a new artist to their growing repertoire of small-scale EDM producers. When I say small-scale, it has nothing to do with quality, it's just that most of them don't have much name for themselves other than the Monstercat label. I don't listen to Monstercat stuff personally (I'm more of an Armada Music guy), but I can honestly respect that commitment to seeking out new and interesting artists in a highly-saturated field and giving them an audience.
Wait. I don't listen to Monstercat. Where the hell did I find this? Well I might not listen to them, but my BROTHER does, and I was chilling in his room and I heard this song used in one of Case & Point (the new artist)'s mixes and asked him to send me the link because the etherealness, the female vocalist, and the overall feel reminded me a lot of the trance stuff I DO listen to. Unfortunately, Trance Is Life podcast hasn't updated in almost half a year, so I don't have a great feed on new stuff other than the radio, so I've been hearing more and more of my bro's stuff.

Well, I don't know much of anything about Kill the Noise. Their EP that this was on, Black Magic, is basically completely different. Oh, and I know literally nothing about Brillz and Minxx, the collaborators on this track that our gracious uploader decided to omit.
Instead, I figured I'd share some EDM (of various kinds) that I've picked up in the last little while. I feel like making some links. You might have heard a few on the radio, but my main station is c89.5, a Seattle-based dance music station, so you won't hear a lot of this on your average radio station.

Afrojack & Shermanology - Can't Stop Me
Alesso & Calvin Harris - Under Control
Cash Cash - Take Me Home (I've been listening to this one a lot lately!)
Ellie Goulding - Burn (Maths Time Joy Remix) (yeah, it's questionable to include her on a list full of EDM, but I'm not being scientific with the genres here, just enjoy the song)
Ellie Goulding - Burn (Tiesto Remix)
Manufactured Superstars - Like Satellites
Tritonal ft. Phoebe Ryan - Now or Never
Avicii - Wake Me Up (this song is the veritable king of the radio, or at least was for a while. This is the most universally overwhelmingly popular I've ever heard a radio song, and for good reason - I've heard it over a hundred times probably, and I still like it!)
Avicii - Hey Brother
Avicii - Addicted to You
Kaskade & Project 46 - Last Chance
Martin Garrix - Animals
Tiesto - Red Lights
Daft Punk - Get Lucky (congrats DP on your twin Best Album and Best Song awards, they're well-deserved for what must be the catchiest song of the year. To be completely frank I think The Heist is a better album than Random Access Memories, but hey, huge props to the kings of the funk / house scene)
Glowbug - Like a Knife Along the Coast (gotta include some lesser-knowns here!)
Knife Party - LRAD
Kyau & Albert - Made of Sun
Swedish House Mafia - Here We Go
Swedish House Mafia - Antidote
Swedish House Mafia - Don't You Worry Child (Farewell, SHM. We'll miss you. You might be tired of superfame, but you've become the very personification of the ascension of Scandinavian EDM. I don't think you will ever be forgotten. - A belated send-off for entry number 1 on my Blog Songs list)
Vicetone / Barack Obama - Hope
Vicetone / Matthew Koma - One Night (How can I NOT include more Koma songs?)
Vicetone / Fedde Le Grand / Nicky Romero / Matthew Koma - Sparks
Alesso vs OneRepublic - If I Lose Myself (a song I love, remixed by one of my absolute favorite DJs?)
Audien ft. Ruby Prophet - Circles
Grendel - Conflict Instigation (how about a little industrial?)
Hardwell - Apollo
Jenna Drey - One Step Further
Krewella - Alive
Selena Gomez - Slow Down (yes, I like Selena Gomez. I try to keep my pop star fandoms off of here but sometimes I let it bleed through)
W&W - Thunder

That should be a sufficient list just for a kickstart of the stuff littering my Music folder. Sometimes you just gotta leak out some of these things that aren't right for posts of their own. Also it lets me expose a little bit of my Pop folder, which I intentionally don't use here usually.
Now I'm tired, I've been writing this for like two hours, I'm gonna go watch Sherlock.
End Recording,

Sunday Songs A: Oasis - Falling Down

Well, I was in Portland last week and so didn't have a chance to put up Sunday Songs last week, and then decided I didn't want to knock a new Avatar World draft off the top for something so...normal. So instead, today there will be TWO Sunday Songs posts.

I really like this song! I listen to barely any Oasis, but this is an excellent song. I don't even remember where I heard it first. Later, I discovered it was used as the Opening song for the anime Eden of the East, which I'd watched on Netflix with an alternate opening. It's a great fit, and that was a really damn good show. Suprisingly high on my list of favorites.
Anyway, regardless of the anime connection, this is a really good song.

I don't know any other damn Oasis stuff. Sorry for the light links. I'll try to make the other song, which will go up later today, have a good number of links, not that I know of anyone who clicks 'em.

End Recording,

Monday, January 20, 2014

Avatar World v1.2 Release!

I love this song.

It's here!


Click here to download the files individually.

Well, what can I say? I feel good about it. I changed the layout to half-letter, and I really like it. I redid all the layout with my trial copy of InDesign, and oh my god it is so much nicer to work in than Scribus.

I don't have much to say otherwise. All the stuff I've updated is detailed in the Read Me text file. I'm just excited to have this out finally!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Video Games: Dysfunctional Systems Chapter One (and also other VN talk)

The music, much of it done by a cool person called CombatPlayer, is a really great part of Dysfunctional Systems. Purchases come with the soundtrack by default, and it stands up decently for independent listening, which is really cool. Also, this is the intro video for the series, it's great. At the end you can hear a brief excerpt of Terminus, the theme of Episode 1.

So I played this game Dysfunctional Systems: Chapter One, Learning To Manage Chaos the other day. OR, well, okay, game might be a bit strong. Dysfunctional Systems is a Visual Novel. So what the heck is that? My best explanation is that it's a cross between a choose your own adventure book and a comic book. It's a story, and you read the dialogue boxes full of conversation and narration, and you read a lot of it, and occasionally there are points where you can make decisions that branch the story in different directions! There's graphics on the screen, often character portraits, and they move or change expression appropriately, though rarely with any major degree of animation. Music plays. It's like reading a movie that you occasionally determine the path of.

Other than choosing the path, there's no gameplay usually. That's why I struggle to define visual novels as "games" but I open them with Steam and you interact like a game, so I guess that's the best fit.
(and I don't mean to degrade them or anything as "that's not a real game," I like 'em, they just make categorization a bit tougher)

Oh, and while VNs have a reputation for ero / romance stuff, and that makes up a very large percentage of the medium, I haven't played any of those.

So I don't have much experience with Visual Novels. But I really liked this one! It has a cool premise, and all the bits are executed really beautifully.

Hoodie dresses forever.
This is Winter Harrison, our protagonist. She is a 14 year old mediator-in-training. In this game, Earth civilization has progressed to utopia - she has no foundation for the idea of war, deadly sickness, oppression, or murder. Earth has managed to create the technology to enter different planes, where stuff is not quite as rosy. Mediators travel to these places to eliminate chaos - not to right wrongs necessarily, as establishing order is not always are good.
In the game, Winter has been beamed to a former colony that is still ruthlessly oppressed and exploited by the mother country, despite legal independence. She is being towed along by a mentor, Cyrus. They are there to fix detected impending chaos in the world.

I won't spoil more. It's really good. Regardless of the path you choose, there are two major ending types, and even those two have the same general events play out, just with wildly different character relationships at the end. The game has this kinda funny cute tone to begin with, but gets all serious and dramatic and interesting very quickly. More than anything else, it does setup for the future while current stuff is also happening. They have a great framework built.

Confusing thing: pacing. You get the fully-animated title sequence thing about an hour in, which is about fifteen minutes from the end of the whole thing. This kinda makes sense - it's a Chapter 1! The problem is it doesn't make much sense for Ch1 as a standalone release, which it's going to be for a while. Unfortunately, Dischan simply didn't make enough cash off of it to continue development right now. They've axed over half the staff and have put Dysfunctional Systems on indefinite hold while they figure out how to have money. Sad. I really liked what they had going.

So, uh, go buy their thing. It was on for like $2.50 last week, which is why I bought it - it looked pretty and I figured the premise sounded cool enough that I could pay the same as a cup of tea for it. It's always $5 otherwise, which is still decent. Heck, it's even on the app store.


This was the first time I intentionally bought a visual novel. I guess I had a vague idea the last time, when I bought Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel Hate Plus at PAX, but that was mostly just based on them sounding cool on an impulse. Those are also amazing and you should go play them, though they're not quite as easily-accessible as DS.
Also, well, I guess the Phoenix Wright games are basically visual novels with more interaction. But I definitely didn't think of them like that when I bought them.

So, are there like any other Visual Novels out that I should really go play? I have no idea what to look for in this field. I've played 999 and want to play Virtue's Last Reward, and I would want to play Steins;Gate if the anime wasn't so thorough in its amazingness, but I'm really clueless here.
Also, I'll probably draw some more Dysfunctional Systems sometime. Winter is fun to draw.

End Recording,

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Avatar World: Oaths Rewrites (lead-up to v1.2)

I bought my brother Risk of Rain through the Humble Store for his birthday, and tucked away a non-Steam copy for myself at the same time. It's brilliant! It's also ridiculously hard. Because you need to move at such a breakneck pace, I think my bro will always be much better than me at it. I'm better when I can take my time and use my patience to my advantage, which he has none of. It certainly makes me a better Isaac player than him.
Oddly enough, all that patience just dries right up if you pop in a JRPG that is even remotely traditional in nature.
Anyway, the Risk of Rain soundtrack is great, as is the game. The graphics are beautiful and remind me of this little game called Biohazard, and also of Cave Story. The gameplay is fast and vicious. I might talk about it again some time.

Welp, I finally kicked myself into gear re-writing Oaths. I intend to have the complete v1.2 changes available by Sunday, but for now I want to get the Oaths changes in the open, mostly so I can get this post linked onto Story Games so people can catch my oversights.

Why am I changing Oaths and Honor? In my experience, they've worked out fine - they've been unobtrusive to play and are conceptually sound. I've also barely seen them used, which I account to two things: we're playing one-shots with new players, and the system is complex. The former part is a great point about why I might be jumping the gun, but in generally reviewing the system in my head it just feels large and clumsy.
Things I like about the old system: It felt like it did good emulating the genre, it allowed for personal goals and story arcs to be imbued with mechanical weight, and they made players accountable to each other and to themselves. It also created an interesting hierarchy that the most important thing was to be true to yourself, then true to your friends, then finally true to the rest of the world. I think that's kinda interesting. The system had some pretty interesting meaning to it, and was quite fine-grained.
The idea of starting oaths also provided a kickoff to relationships; the concept of starting oaths isn't going anywhere.

Things I dislike about the old system: It's large. Three separate categories to track, of which only some will see use at any given moment. It's hard to explain. It's mechanically clumsy, with three distinct sets of fulfillment/failure procedures.
For Honor, its only purpose was to provide a mechanical influence for player interactions, but it's a big numerical thing that doesn't do too much for that.

Let's see the new version already then!
When you make an oath, write it down under Oaths.
Not complicated.
When you fulfill an Oath, gain Honor with the person the Oath was to and gain 1 Chi.
Gain Honor isn't saying, like, add 1 or anything. Having Honor with someone is now a binary state. I'm wrapping my head around the wording if I'm going to continue using the word Honor, but it's much easier to say Trust. On your sheet, you mark who YOU Trust. When you fulfill an Oath with someone, they now Trust you, and mark that down on their sheet.
Of course, I much prefer the word "Honor" to "Trust", as it feels more accurate for what is being discussed and is also much more genre evocative. 

Oh, and recall (did I ever even mention it here?) that I am changing the spend-Chi-for-7-9 thing to spend-Chi-to-boost-up-by-one-result (ie 6- to 7-9 or 7-9 to 10+). This should get it flowing even faster, and be a pretty great incentive even with advancement as the alternate use. So even 1 Chi is a pretty great thing to get.

When you break an Oath, roll + nothing. If you have Honor with the person the Oath was with, add 2 to the roll, but you no longer have Honor with them. On a 10+, your loss of Honor is all that happens, though you'll need to deal with the personal consequences of going back on your word. On a 7-9, choose 1:
* they immediately and intuitively know you broke the Oath, regardless of where they are, and immediately act on that knowledge.
* you must make a new Oath to them to try and redeem your failure.
* you also lose Honor with someone else who knows you broke your promise.
That list is tentative! It will probably be what goes in v1.2, but I don't have any giant attachment to it. I want better options, though I think those aren't awful. Also, as should be obvious, don't pick an option that makes no sense in context!
A miss, of course, is a Hard Move. Suck, maybe you should've kept your word.
Oh, also, do folks prefer "When you break an Oath, roll." or "When you break an Oath, roll + nothing"? One sticks closer to the format, but is also longer and may be unnecessary.

Help is now streamlined! By default it's just a roll + nothing. When Helping, if you have Honor with them add 2. When Hindering, if you don't have Honor with them add 2. I don't think Avatar is really a show about real betrayal by the people you trust, at least not between party members.
When you help or hinder another PC's move, roll + nothing. If you're helping and have Honor with them, add 2 to the roll. If you're hindering and don't have Honor with them, add 2 to the roll. On a 10+, add +2 (if helping) or -1 (if hindering) to their roll. On a 7-9, same thing, but you get yourself in trouble in the process.
 I think it might slow the action a tad, but we'll see if that hunch is right.

Having two things I can set up with in the backstory part of Character Creation is nice: I can create current Oaths or bind people's pasts together by giving them Honor with each other for some reason.

I'm sure this isn't all that needs to be said about Oaths & Honor in the new version, but it's the key bits. The main thing is does is unify things into a more general approach that still catches the important parts of the genre. In going through and modifying the actual document I'll probably find a more comprehensive range of things to shift around.
Oh, that might interest people. Here's what's coming in v1.2 hopefully:
* a piece of art somewhere. I really want to start pushing forward on this, but I need a little more from myself to get there.
* Maybe remake some of the stuff in a nicer look. This is the lowest priority change.
* Include the Principles/Moves rewrites and explain Tags a bit better.
* Amend some goof-ups (like a repeated stat line and an obsolete move in the Warrior) and alter the Chi mechanic as described above.
* Sweep through and rewrite as many oath-and-honor related moves as I can think of.
After the Oaths rewrite, I feel mostly comfortable with all of the general systems. Nothing else in the playtests felt out-of-whack in my mind, so provided that the rewrite works properly, future elements and decisions will be about optimizing, rather than fixing. That's very exciting to me.

End Recording,

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Songs: U2 - I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight

There is a lot of good U2 stuff out there, and a lot of it gets a lot of airtime. I'm also into Where The Streets Have No Name, Vertigo, Beautiful Day, and so on, but I like this song a lot. I don't even know when I first heard it, or where. It was a while ago.
The video is really good for this one. Enjoy.

Despite enjoying quite a bit of U2's stuff, I don't own any albums, and as such I don't have much to reference when making the list of links, so it's basically just the ones mentioned above. Sorry :/

Where The Streets Have No Name
Beautiful Day

I will be back with a post about video games just as soon as I can draw Winter Harrison a little more consistently. If that means anything to you, well, you have good taste in games.
End Recording,

Friday, January 10, 2014

Monsterhearts Actual Play: End of the Year Hiking Trip

Linkin Park is one of those go-to angsty teenager bands, which is why they get to be in my Monsterhearts playlist. Other stuff includes Ke$ha, Halestorm, and The Birthday Massacre (the difference is I actually really like those three; Linkin Park is less popular on my playlist by a lot). I don't dislike Linkin Park, I just don't care for it all that much.
Unless I'm psyching up to some Monsterhearts, in which case it's perfect. I picked Breaking the Habit because musically it's still kind of enjoyable and "habit" made me think of drugs, of which there were a lot here.
What do you use for a Monsterhearts playlist? I'm considering grabbing some Green Day to toss in there as well.

Before I get into the meat of the post, I have something to ask.
Jackson Tegu, Monsterhearts superstar who's doing the Second Skins, kickstarted last year, is a good friend of mine and of many in the Story Games community. A couple days ago, he revealed that his mother Gayle Bates has recieved her pre-diagnosis of breast cancer. As a single, self-employed woman, she's run into financial difficulty. She has basic medical, but while she's undergoing treatment can't pay for the expenses of living, including groceries and mortgage.
They've put up a GoFundMe page to ask for donations. So please, give a few dollars, anything helps - I'd be giving more if I could. She deserves it, and really needs your help.
Thanks. Now on to the actual play!

So tonight I went down to Olympia for the weekly Story Games meetup. I go pretty often, but this week I didn't take anything to run or anything. We had two main pitches out, a game of Sundered Land and a game of Monsterhearts, but the guy who was pitching Monsterhearts actually wanted to play Sundered Land, so I decided to do the MH game.

Real quick, what is Monsterhearts: Monsterhearts is a game by Joe Mcdaldno, about high schoolers who are also probably monsters. It's based on the Apocalypse World engine, but is a fairly comprehensive hack made to do action like in Buffy, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and the rest of the high school sex and monsters genre. Each player picks a Skin, which is a playbook (read: self-contained character sheet formatted as a series of choices from lists) of a type of monster. The trick is that each type of monster is really a metaphor for some kind of facet of being a teenager - the Ghoul is about obsession, the Infernal is about addiction, the Fae is about promises, the Werewolf is about anger management, etc.
It's a great game. I run and play it all the time, and wrote a Skin for it myself called the Doppleganger.

Alright, back to tonight. I didn't need to to do any real explaining during character creation because all three of my players are Monsterhearts veterans (Morgan, Becca, Henry).
We had:

Rowen the Selkie, played by Morgan! Unlike most Selkies, Rowen doesn't turn into a seal when he puts on his pelt - he's an otter instead! He has mussed hair and deep eyes, and was enticed from the sea by art, specifically electronica/EDM as well as the rave scene in general. Also unlike most Selkies Rowen is a dude. I don't know why people always play the Selkie as female, but this is my first male selkie in about a half-dozen total selkies I've been in games with. Rowen had Hot 0 (highlighted), Cold 1 (highlighted), Volatile -1, and Dark 1, and took the move Catch of the Day. He wore a black coat with fur around the neck (fluorescent-colored, as the raver nature demands), and industry-quality headphones around his neck and all that jazz. His pelt isn't, like, a literal otter pelt (that's pretty tiny...) but is like an otter-fur hat. Like a coonskin hat, but made of otter fur. From what I understand, otter fur is totally bristly, I can't imagine it's very comfortable.
Also, as a raver, Rowen is kind of an ecstasy junkie.

Robin the Mortal, played by Henry! Robin is 'displaced' and has 'human eyes,' and is your barista. Robin is displaced because of the way her family pairs off - there's her parents, and her mostly-identical but technically-fraternal twin brother and sister, Frank and Frank (technically Francis and Francisca; her parents are huge trolls apparently), who are like one year under her. She had Hot 2 (highlighted), Cold -1, Volatile -1, and Dark 1 (highlighted). The moves Henry chose were Excuses Are My Armour and Down the Rabbit Hole. Robin is fairly regular looking, and is a huge math nerd. Not really in that totally uncool nerdy mold, she just found what she really loves doing. Her lover is Rowen! Gosh, that doesn't go well at all... As we discover through the game, Robin doesn't really have morals, just her own set of rules of things she should and should not do, and that list is a bit malleable.

Emilie the Vampire, played by Becca! With hungry eyes and a predatory nature, she was taken this century, specifically in the 80s, which she never really left. She's been feeding on teenagers all these years, and drinking down all that hormone-laden blood has kinda prevented her from mentally getting past the high school level. She's totally goth-y, weird, with this hoodie she wears to keep the sun off of her. She can stand the sun for a couple minutes, but after about a half hour she'd be bursting out in blisters and stuff. She's vulnerable to crosses and can't enter places uninvited, but managed to get over the running-water thing. She had Hot 2 (highlighted - yup, everyone's Hot tonight!), Cold 1, Volatile -1 (highlighted), Dark -1, with the moves Invited and The Feeding.

Robin and Emilie are kind of friends, and Robin once saved Emilie's (un)life. Rowen and Robin are lovers, which means that Rowen is Robin's obsession (as that's the mortal's schtick). Rowen once watched Robin swimming while in otter form and wasn't recognized. Emilie, well, she knows what Rowen is and stole his pelt! And she wears it, in public, just to spite him. We learn what she wants very early on.

Now, tonight's game took on a bit of a different premise from the usual Monsterhearts one-shot. I didn't feel like doing the usual school thing, and I'd seen Jackson Tegu mention one of his Skeletons (pre-built not-the-usual-school-things) in the latest update of the Second Skins kickstarter: End of the year hiking trip. I liked that so I just ran with it, even though I didn't actually have the Skeleton or anything, I just stole the premise. So this was a big hiking trip by a large amount of the schools to the approximately-the-coast of northern British Columbia, Canada. My seating chart was two rows of tents (one male one female) across from each other, four tents per row, two people per most tents. We only named a few NPCs though.
On the guy side, we had a tent from Rowen and Frank (Robin's brother, who is an ecstasy dealer - Rowen's dealer, in fact!), and Davide (pronounced dah-vid-ay) and Samuel. Davide is a stoner, and Samuel is a goth (with the trenchcoat and fedora thing goin' on) who Emilie finds cute in a real way, not necessarily in an I-want-to-devour-your-blood way.
On the girl side, we had Emilie and Carey, a ditzy blonde. You know, the sort who asks where they can plug in their hair dryer while on a a hiking trip. She's annoying. Another tent had Deirdre (a total gossiper) and Frankie (which, for purposes of this AP, is how I'm going to refer to Frank-the-girl). In between those two tents was Robin, who had a tent to herself.
Down at the end was Mr. Tona (Toh-nah), an older tenured teacher who is not a very good chaperone at all. So basically the kids love him, because he just goes to bed and leaves them be.

The whole game took place starting at 9:00pm, with Mr. Tona already asleep, as well as some of the other kids. Rowen went over to Robin's tent, which he could still see light in, expecting that she was up waiting for him. It wasn't the case, as he popped in and tried to Turn Her On and failed right away - she was studying her math textbook and was under the impression that he'd come to get some help with the math stuff. He stayed for a little bit but left fairly quick.
On the way out, Rowen noticed Emilie sitting over at the fire built between the two rows of tents, wearing his pelt. As he approached she rapidly pulled up her hood snugly around her head so he couldn't grab it, and Rowen demanded she give it back. She told him that they'd talk about it if maybe when Rowen and the Franks and Davide went out into the woods later if he could convince Samuel to come too, and bring her along as well. Rowen agreed.
Rowen went over to Davide and Samuel's tent to let Davide know they were going soon, and invited Samuel. Samuel asked if Frankie was gonna be there, which Rowen confirmed. The group left.

While they were organizing things Robin came out and sat by the fire, just staring into it and thinking about Rowen and kinda upset about how he just left and stuff. She Gazed Into The Abyss, and as the flames crackled, the brighter sparks and the shadows of the wood and the licks of the flames started to paint images in the fire - images of Frank and Frankie and Davide and Samuel walking into the forest, and Rowen walking into the forest, pulling Emilie along by the hand, smiling. (the roll was a failure, I was sowing seeds of distrust that didn't exist) When Robin finally blinked out of her reverie, the group was already gone.

The group had been in the woods for a bit and had gotten to this waterfalls area, where they were taking their E and feeling the high. Despite it having no effect, Emilie took a bunch anyway to fit in before Rowen pulled her aside, demanding that now she had to give back the pelt. Nope! Emilie refused, telling him first to get Frankie out of the way, who Samuel was chatting up. Rowen protested, but Emilie stood firm.

Robin snuck into Emilie's tent while Carey was over with Deirdre and rifled through her stuff. She found all sorts of fun things, like some old music, and this small vial full of red liquid, and a yearbook from many years ago with Emilie's picture in it. Getting a decent picture, but in a bit of a panic / rage, she took the yearbook and tossed it into the fire. She kept the blood with her.
Robin got together with Carey and Deirdre, suggesting they take their own walk into the woods. As a motive? "I hear they're talking about all sorts of stuff out there in the woods... don't you want to know what?" which Deirdre fell all over. Carey's kind of a follower, so she just went along.

To get Frankie out of the picture, Rowen went and pulled both of the Franks away, along with Davide, to go ditch these newcomers and get really high out a bit further, which they were cool with - Samuel may have wanted Frankie, but the feeling wasn't really mutual. Thanks to a successful Turn On attempt by Emilie, Samuel and them were all over each other once the others were gone, during which Emilie fed on Samuel. Not lethally, though Samuel fell unconscious.
Emilie was pulling away, blood all over her mouth with an unconscious Samuel on the ground, when Robin and the girls showed up. Carey and Deirdre immediately screamed - anyone looking could see a bunch more flashlight beams lighting up back near where camp was: the authorities were on their way. Emilie (who already didn't like Carey) grabbed her to try to get her to stop screaming - Lash Out Physically, fail. She grabbed her all right, but with the amped-up power of post-feeding, she knocked over Carey, who stumbled and fell back, cracking her head on a rock. Deirdre was screaming even louder, and Robin had drawn the pocket knife she'd grabbed from Frankie's stuff. Robin threw the knife at Emilie, but she's a bad shot and it landed wedged between a couple of rocks near the river. Davide came out toward the action (the Franks and Rowen behind him, having returned at hearing the screams) and Davide is one of those people who just passes out at the sight of blood, so he just conks out upon seeing Carey - conks out and falls leg-first onto the knife. This whole thing is getting out of control, and Rowen tries to Run Away with Robin, and, uh, fucks up. Again. (seriously, we had more failures than successes, and maybe only two 10+s maximum) Oh, Rowen got away, but instead of grabbing Robin, he grabbed Emilie, and they ran. It takes Rowen a bit to realize his mistake.

Trying to clean up the sudden huge mess, Robin got with her siblings (who were trying to figure out how to help Davide) and explained her plan. Their story was that Deirdre got super high but had a bad trip and freaked out. To explain her fingerprints on the knife, Robin pulled the knife out of Davide and put pressure on the wound while Frank went over and offered Deirdre something that would "help her deal with this whole situation."
That's when the teachers showed up.

Out in the woods, Rowen finally realized his mistake and stopped. He demanded once more that Emilie return the pelt, and she again refused. This time though, Rowen made her agree to give it to Robin to hold on to, ensuring that Emilie held up her end this time. They were about to head back when it dawned on them that they couldn't see the lights of the teachers or the smoke of the campfire. They were lost, deep in the woods.

And that's the game! We wrapped there. A little earlier than usual, but we'd definitely struck the climax.

It was a great game! Super fun. Tons of drama everywhere, along with a lot of incompetence (and a bit of overcompetence!). For creating a very small number of NPCs, just about everyone was important and tied together, and there were some great triangles. The woods made for a really interesting change of pace, and we talked about how doing a series of games as the 7 days of camp, or maybe the events of a couple years of camp could be really interesting. I definitely want to do more with unconventional premises for the students.
On a personal note, I was stumped one time with coming up with a hard move (actually, coming up with a 7-9 for Manipulate an NPC - I suppose I should mention that we were using an altered version of the basic moves), but only once. Some of my other hard moves felt really nice - killing Carey was pretty vicious, as was taking Emilie into the woods instead of Robin, and I think the fire-gazing would have great pay-off in a longer term situation, especially given Rowen running off with Emilie instead. He'll say it was an accident, but would she believe him...? (probably, she's the Mortal after all).

A good, tight, satisfying Monsterhearts game. I feel great, especially given that I hadn't planned to do it and wasn't all the way psyched into the right mindset for the first few minutes. Doing the unconventional thing really helped alleviate that.

Anyway, this wasn't going to be my post today, but I couldn't help but write it up. The other post I was gonna do will come soon.
End Recording,

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Songs - Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex - I Can't Be Cool

The background soundtrack to two seasons of anime somehow pulls more listenable material than most full albums. They're fantastic. The best anime soundtracks I've heard, though some get close, like Attack on Titan or Psycho-Pass.
Speaking of anime, I'm writing a post on anime I've seen. I'm even copping to some of the girlie embarrassing ones I probably shouldn't have watched all the way through.

I don't post links for GitS SAC stuff because I need to save it to use other times when I'm similarly baffled by what to put up.

But here, THESE are some links! I spent a couple hours and made Youtube playlists out of each of the Songadays I've done, out of Sunday Songs, and Blog Songs. Now you can skip the part where you have to actually open my previous posts and feed me views / pitiful amounts of ad revenue! *cries softly*

September Songaday
February Songaday
Midsummer Songaday
October Songaday
August of Games / August Songaday
Sunday Songs
Blog Songs

Obviously a few songs are missing (such as anything not from youtube) but any dead videos I found were replaced, so everything currently runs. It was interesting to look back at almost two years of posts I've made. There's 344 videos there total - I almost have an entire year of daily songs total.
Later folks.

End Recording,

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Movies: Catching Fire

Heard this on the radio a week ago, now I know where it's from. A good song.

I could do a whole complete review of Catching Fire but why bother because my real conclusions is HELL YES GOOD I LIKE THIS MOVIE A LOT.
Seriously, I liked The Hunger Games, but this was in a whole new league. Some of that is just overall improvement, some of it is the shuffled staffing, and like a whole half is Jennifer Lawrence just killing it out there. Among the better emotional performances I've seen in an action movie.
Also the movie was not hesitant to pull any punches. My mom (who saw it before me) was talking about how it wasn't quite as violent, or at least wasn't as explicit about the violence, as the first movie. I don't really agree - it was really brutal. The man in District 11, Gale, Cinna, it was intense.

I have a special love for that speech in District 11 though. I'm not invested in Hunger Games too much - I've only read the first book, and I only saw the first movie in the theater and not since. I like it, but I'm no superfan. But that scene made me emotional, hell I almost cried a bit - I'm serious, and that's really damn rare for me. Ed on Twitter made a good point - it was one of the few moments where Katniss is being completely unlike her normal self, breaking out of her hardened shell, and I think that added major power to it.
Well, even if I'm no Hunger Games superfan, I'm pretty sure I'm now a J-Law superfan.

Go see the movie folks.
I should have a real, more significant post soon. I'm almost totally finished with Assassin's Creed IV, so my focus should return soon.

End Recording,