Our first encounter with Iron Legacy

“We regret to inform you that Iron Legacy will not be speaking at tonight’s League of Evil dinner. Legacy, Tempest, Chrono-Ranger and Nightmist will bring him flowers.”

We got two of the expansions for Sentinels of the Multiverse during the holidays, “Shattered Timelines” and “Wrath of the Cosmos.” We’ve faced, and eventually beaten, every villain until the only one left was Iron Legacy, so that’s who we faced for our dinnertime game.

He hits hard, but Nightmist got rid of all four of his ongoing cards at the end of the first round. After that, it was just a question of hitting as hard and as fast as we could; with (heroic) Legacy boosting our damage by two, Chrono-Ranger shot Iron Legacy to tiny ribbons.

We’re horribly pleased with ourselves, and we’ve decided that we can’t play again for a while. We’ll switch back to Mice & Mystics at dinnertime!

RIP Iron Legacy

Today’s Ups and Downs in Gaming

I did a chunk of writing on the War of Ashes RPG today, which was good. I’m in the finicky portion, finalizing everything and tying the game together, making sure the examples of play reflect the final changes, etc. It’s harder for me to write a bunch of small inserts than one long section; I don’t know if it’s like that for everyone.

Old-Style MicrophoneIn the afternoon we had an episode of a Skype-based role-playing game that runs on a biweekly basis (or nearly so). The GM and four players are at one end, Edmund and I at the other, so that a single connection. Unfortunately, the players tend to be constantly talking, so the microphone has trouble picking up our responses; there isn’t always enough of a pause in background noise. We’re used to it, plus Edmund chose to play a taciturn character, so we expect this to affect our input. On the flip side, I made the character most skilled at social interaction, so I actually often do a good deal of talking, so for me it evens out. Usually.

Today, though, was frustrating. About 60 to 90 minutes in, the other four players wanted to go on what I thought would be a short side-quest. It was clearly something they would enjoy, and just as clearly something my character would be dubious about, so they didn’t mention it in character, and as a player I didn’t express an interest in joining. I had just had an extended scene so I was happy to wait for my turn again. They did ask Edmund’s character along, since this PC is a gun-bunny, but he already had a plot thread in play so Edmund declined.

The side trip took three hours, including an extended shopping expedition. It was not rousing for us, but everyone has to have a chance to do something fun, so we let it ride. I do think the GM had not expected this to take so long, but at the end he offered to wrap up the plot thread that had brought us there in the first place, so we cheerfully agreed. Naturally, the secret meeting with our contacts turned out to have attracted an ambush by competitors. I opened my mouth to answer—I play the ship’s captain—and two of the players promptly acted without giving me a chance to even put a word in, ending the scene.

I instantly went from tired-but-agreeable to pissed-off-as-all-hell. I told them this was the opposite of fun to wait all afternoon, be invited to play in one last scene and then be completely written out of it. The GM, stung, suggested that maybe I didn’t like playing via Skype. This “excluded middle” argument only poured oil on the fire, and I hung up the call. I’ve since decided I will wait until I’ve had a day or two to cool off before getting in touch.

Then Edmund served dinner and we played Sentinels of the Multiverse, trying some of the decks from the expansions we recently got: Expatriette, The Scholar, Captain Cosmic, and Nightmist versus The Dreamer in The Enclave of the Endlings. Expatriette and Captain Cosmic were incapacitated soon after we got The Dreamer to flip, but The Scholar and Nightmist managed to hang on just enough to eke a victory.

It was a nail-biting finish: The Scholar managed to clear the last Projection card needed, but we had to make it through the Environment turn in order to win at the start of the Villain turn. Nightmist played the ongoing that lets her use a power to look at the top two cards of the environment deck (I think it’s Astral Premonition), sending a card that would have killed The Dreamer to the bottom! A hard-earned victory in our first encounter with The Dreamer.

That left me time to do some more writing, wrapping up the day the way it had started.

DramaSystem/Hillfolk: A Brief Review

Blood On The Snow cover Hillfolk coverOver a year ago I posted a book review of the two-book set, Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow (Pelgrane Press.) I loved both as source material, but I wanted more experience with the game mechanics in play before I could review the system itself. Since I gave a pretty lengthy description of the two volumes last year, I will concentrate here on the mechanics and the feel of the game.

I experienced the system in two modes: I hosted a game at Big Bad Con 2013 using the “Colony Wars” setting pitch by Emily Care Boss; and I played in a mini-series inspired by Kevin Allen Jr.’s series pitch “To End All Wars.” Both groups of players were just fantastic.

The system relies on shared narrative control between all participants, everyone taking turns at selecting theme and setting scenes, starting with the game-master. The focus of the game is the cast of player characters, which are created in the first session and are linked by a web of relationships established by the players. These relationships are deliberately held in balanced tension and constitute the dramatic underpinnings of the game.

The character creation process is also largely the setting creation, and with a group of people who enjoy shared narration, this turns into pure magic.

Two types of scenes are used: dramatic scenes, in which one character tries to obtain something—an emotional reward—from another who presents some opposition; and procedural scenes, in which the characters confront and overcome external obstacles.

In most role-playing games, we are used to paying attention mostly to procedural resolution: opening the door, killing the monster, escaping the larger monster, and so forth. However, in most dramatic fiction, there is a lot of time spent on dramatic scenes: will President Roslin get Commander Adama’s support? Will G’Kar agree to help Lando Molari? Will Detective Marty Hart trust his creepy partner Rust Cohle?

A majority of the scenes in DramaSystem are expected to be, well, dramatic, with characters pushing and pulling on each others’ motivations. Each scene is set by a player in turn, with their character trying to get something from another. If the petition is granted, the player whose character yielded gets a Drama token; if the petition is refused, the one who was turned down gets the Drama token. In other words, you either get what you want or get a Drama token as consolation prize. Drama tokens can be used to force concessions later, to crash a scene where your character was not invited or, on the contrary, to avoid a scene you are called to, and so forth.

External challenges are resolved using procedural scenes, using three types of Procedural tokens (red, yellow and green) and ordinary playing cards. The Procedural tokens grant a certain number of card draws, and do not replenish until all three have been used (i.e., you won’t get another red token until you’ve used both your yellow and green ones; when you’re out, all three replenish.) Procedural scenes are normally resolved with two sides, either GM against one lead PC, or two lead PCs squaring off, and all other PCs either supporting one of the two sides or abstaining.

In addition, there are seven very broad skills (e.g., Talking, Fighting, etc.) and using one of your strong skills versus someone else’s middling skill grants an additional redraw, while using a strong skill versus a weak one means automatic success. In practice, of course, creative players always find a way to use their strong skills.

There is some back and forth between the two sides, taking turns describing the results of each action, and a stronger position can allow one side to knock high cards out. However, the truth is that the whole system, with its multiple tokens, unclear descriptions of card draws, and high luck factor just doesn’t feel very exciting. It’s not horrible, it’s certainly workable, and sometimes the cards even cooperate. But most of the time, procedural resolution ends up being rather anticlimactic. This was particularly highlighted for my husband and I recently by the contrast with another card-based resolution system that provided high suspense and interesting tactical options: the Motobushido RPG.

On the other hand, Hillfolk and especially Blood on the Snow provide a number of alternate rules options that we have not had a chance to try. I did use the advice for single-session play contained in these books when I ran “Colony Wars” at a convention, and found it very helpful. But reading the Advanced Procedural Rules presented in appendix in Blood on the Snow got our group somewhat confused.

In short, the tension and pacing supported by the DramaSystem structure, and the drama that resulted, were highly satisfying. However, the mechanical resolution of procedural scenes was lacklustre; in the future, I am likely to either tinker with the mechanics—perhaps using some of the plentiful ideas provided in the two books—or use the structure with a different system altogether. Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed the games, I would certainly play this again with a suitable group, and I am glad I bought the books.

This is a great game for people who like to think about how a story is constructed and what makes dramatic characters tick, and who enjoy creating a lot of the setting material in-game. You may enjoy this game if you like Primetime Adventures, Fiasco, Universalis, or In A Wicked Age, or if you read Robin D. Laws’ Hamlet’s Hit Points and found yourself nodding in agreement. It’s probably not a good choice for people who prefer richly detailed sourcebooks, procedural action, lots of mechanical options, or dice rolling.

Stretching Our Minds: Je suis Charlie Coulibaly

imageThere is no need to embrace everything about the victim of a crime in order to denounce that crime.

I can support Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech and even agree with some of the things they publish while disagreeing with other parts of their content and recognizing that they can also be racist and misogynist.

I can support Charlie Hebdo and oppose racism.

I can oppose both Dieudonné’s ideas or jokes and their censorship.

I can deplore Islam’s tenets and defend the right to practice it.

I can support rationalism atheism while disagreeing with prominent atheists.

I can condemn colonialism and  terrorism.

And yes, I realize that I can hold these opinions and voice them because I am one of the lucky people who not only was raised in a democracy (Canada) and now arguably lives in another (the US), but also had the benefits of fantastic parents, education, middle class, being white, etcetera.

I borrow Epidiah’s “51 in 15” resolution

Playing at ECG

Update: Epidiah expanded on his resolution and posted cool badges for various challenges! (Jan. 12, 2015)

Epidiah Ravachol came up with a game-related New Year’s resolution: play 51 different tabletop games in 2015 (he uses the hashtag #51in15). He includes all sort of games: role-playing, card games, board games, miniatures games, etc., counting each title only once, no matter how many times he plays it over the course of the year. I don’t know if I can get to that many, but I like the idea and I started keeping track of my games. The holidays gave me a head start, getting together with friends from out-of-town to play games. I started a spreadsheet to keep track and I will report at the end of the year.

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Progression

Sentinel of the MultiverseMy husband and I encountered Sentinels of the Multiverse (published by Greater Than Games) for the first time in 2014—i.e., after everyone else—and we immediately loved it. It is a superhero-themed cooperative game, easy to learn and with fantastic replay value.

Also in 2014, we started replacing movie- or television-watching during dinner time with board games instead: some that got a lot of mileage included Mice & Mystics (Plaid Hat Games), Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert (GameWright), Zeppelin Attack! (Evil Hat Productions), Galactic Strike Force (Greater Than Games), Smash Up (Alderac Entertainment Group), and a smattering of others.

But our most-played was hands-down Sentinels of the Multiverse, which prompted us to get the Infernal Relics/Rook City expansion and the decks for heroes Unity and The Scholar, villains Miss Information and Ambuscade, and the Silver Gulch 1883 and Final Wasteland environments. (I’m sure we’ll get other expansions in 2015…)

We usually played with two heroes each, one of us also handling the villain deck and the other the environment deck. We worked our way through all the villains we had available a few times, then encountered them again in Advanced mode until we had managed to beat them all. (I think Citizen Dawn was the toughest in Advanced mode.)

We tried playing with three heroes a few times, but it broke the convenient back-and-forth of alternating turns between Edmund and I, so for our next challenge we decided to start tackling villains using only two heroes. We started during the holidays; so far, Expatriette and Nightmist have beaten Baron Blade in the Realm of Discordia; then Ra and Tempest beat Omnitron in Wagner Mars Base, and Ambuscade in Insula Primalis.

Now we’re done with the wimpy villains—things are about to get tough! Our own ratings for the villains’ increasing difficulty, different from the official ones:

  1. Baron Blade, Omnitron, Ambuscade
  2. The Ennead, Plague Rat, Spite, Apostate, Gloomweaver,
  3. Akash’bhuta, Grand Warlord Voss, Miss Information
  4. Citizen Dawn, The Matriarch, The Chairman

Expatriette Ra_0 Tempest

Update: On 1/11 Ra and Tempest beat Gloomweaver to a pulp in Silver Gulch 1883, and on 1/12, they squeaked to a victory over Apostate in the Ruins of Atlantis, with Ra incapacitated two turns from the end and Tempest ending with 1 HP!

Update #2: Last night Ra and Tempest beat Spite on Wagner Mars Base. Ra was not ideal, Haka would have been a better choice here, but we still managed it on the second try.

Update #3: Epic victory against Plague Rat tonight for Haka and Tempest, in the Realm of Disco(rd). At one point both heroes were at 2-3 HP left, afflicted with “Infection” and Plague Rat was back at full health with half a dozen Ongoings. Then the moment we’d been waiting for arrived: the Distortion “Imbued Vitality” came into play, so all ongoings suddenly had 6 HP and were the lowest villain targets. Haka used “Punish the Weak” and destroyed them all. Shortly before that, Tempest had just managed to put two copies of “Cleansing Downpour” in play. From then on we slowly crept up on Plague Rat, but then we started worrying that we would have to shuffle the villain trash—and bring back all the Infection cards. We finished him on his last card!

Religious Offense

Jesus and MoThere’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about religious offense (according to Wikipedia, that means “any action which offends religious sensibilities and arouses serious negative emotions in people with strong belief and which is usually associated with an orthodox response to, or correction of, sin.”) And I, for one am mightily tired of suffering religious offense.

I’m offended every time someone suggests that posting irreverent cartoons might deserve murder.

I’m offended every time someone tells a kid that their friend who isn’t of the same religion will go to hell because of it.

I’m offended every time a woman is treated as being half a man’s worth because someone’s god supposedly decreed it so.

I’m offended every time a child is molested by a religious authority, and I’m fucking mad as hell when the higher religious authorities systematically cover this up.

I’m offended every time a girl suffers genital mutilation in the name of purity.

I’m offended when people are denied basic rights, harassed, jailed, even murdered for their sexual orientation in the name of religious belief.

I’m offended every time a pharmacist, doctor, counsellor, or other health professional withholds contraception from a woman because of their religion.

I’m offended when a child is denied medical care because their parents have religious objections.

I’m offended every time I see a barrier to holding office based on religious belief or lack thereof.

I’m offended people are jailed, beaten, mutilated, murdered under the law of the land for blasphemy.

In short, I’m religiously offended all the time. So if you’re one of those people who care deeply about religious offense and like to tell me how I should adopt a gentler tone, won’t you please, pretty please, fuck right off?

Credits: Jesus and Mo is used under Creative Commons License for noncommercial purposes, under the same license. Joe Forde, I made a donation to Jesus and Mo’s Patreon site for you. You’re welcome.

In Praise of Defiance and Pride

Mohamed overwhelmed by fundamentalists: "It's rough, being loved by idiots..."
Mohamed overwhelmed by fundamentalists: “It’s rough, being loved by idiots…”

Why is anyone asking seriously whether cartoons of Mohamed (or any other naughty cartoons) should be published? Why is anyone asking whether the people murdered at Charlie Hebdo “asked for it”, “deserved it”? And why is anyone hesitating for a moment to answer “Yes!” to the first question, and “Are you fucking kidding me?” to the second?

I’ll tell you, I’m damn tired of people who want to protect free speech as long as it’s pleasing and fluffy and considerate. Unobjectionable, accommodating speech is not an endangered species; controversial speech is what needs to be free, and protected. (That includes posting irreverent cartoons and outrageous articles, not committing murder, so we’re clear.)

And on a related topic, I’ve had it up to here with the privileged telling the marginalized, the colonized, the subjugated to be patient and wait for good things to fall out of the social piñata by magic. Women, visible minorities, LGBTQ, handicapped, and other marginalized people have never achieved, and will never achieve, anything by being demure and polite. Sure, we need the diplomats and the peace-makers but we also need the firebrands and the shit-stirrers. Otherwise, nothing ever changes. For those who don’t know, Charlie Hebdo pretty reliably challenges the powerful on behalf of the marginalized.

Ahmed MerabetWhile I’m at it, here’s another thing I’m fed up with: one-size-fits-all mentalities. No, not all Muslims, and not all men, and not all white people, and so forth… Not all any one characteristic defines anybody. At least two Muslims were killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo: a police officer and an employee of the magazine. Ahmed Merabet was not terrifically happy of the treatment he sometimes received as a Frenchman of Arab origin, and as a cop. I bet he didn’t agree with everything Charlie Hebdo published (I sure don’t), but his job was to protect the place because of the 2011 firebombing, and he did his job with professionalism. If you have a problem with “those people”: show some fucking respect.

In conclusion: if you are qualifying your support for free speech with “Of course the cartoonists  and journalists of Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t have been killed, but…” then fuck you. And if you think “I don’t have anything against the Muslims, but…” then fuck you.

Kicking Off 2015: The Taking of Tiger Mountain

The Taking of Tiger Mountain U.S. posterHappy New Year, peeps! On the 1st of the year we had a wonderful Japanese-style dinner with our friends, on the 2nd I worked, on the 3rd we played board games with another friend visiting from Seattle. But today—today we kicked off the movie year! We went to see Tsui Hark’s new movie, The Taking of Tiger Mountain.

TL;DR: It’s awesome.

This sounded like a somewhat improbable endeavour: it’s based on a piece of Cultural Revolution-era propaganda. First a book by novelist Qu Bo (a.k.a. Chu Po), Tracks in the Snowy Forest (1957), itself based on a real 1946 incident, which became the basis for a sanctioned Peking opera, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, that became one of the Cultural Revolution’s eight model plays.

I don’t know about you, but Maoist propaganda does not usually rise to the top of my list of things I want to watch, so I was a little wary, but hey—Tsui Hark deserves being given a chance, right? So we went to a matinee show in; we’re lucky that the Daly City Century 20 theatre shows international blockbusters, not just American ones.

The plot: in 1946 during the Chinese Civil War, a small reconnaissance force of the People’s Liberation Army (communist) fights a local gang of bandits in the northern mountains and protects the local villagers; one scout poses as a bandit to infiltrate Lord Hawk’s gang and set up the final fight.

Tsui Hark does a wonderful job of meshing the Chinese tropes of action films, traditional storytelling, and communist propaganda. There are homages and send-offs, adaptations and transpositions, and excitement throughout. The acting, photography, fight choreography, sets, and special effects are impeccable. The music combines swelling suspense movie music with corny-as-all-hell but rousing patriotic anthems.

There is not only ample bullet time but knife time, grenade time, mortar shell time, etc… So yeah, this is a violent movie and you don’t want to bring kids there. But it’s stylish violence, if you see what I mean. And the heroes are good, merciful, dutiful, and brave; there are lots of interesting support characters to follow. The villains are classic wuxia villains, over-the-top and all very distinctive.

Some reviewers have expressed surprise that Hark was doing propaganda, but I see it differently; it’s classic Hark, where duty is more important than authority, and the heroes actually fight for one another and for the people.

In case you can’t tell because I’m being too demure: I loved this movie.


New Year 2015

Our friend Steve was raised heavily influenced by Japanese culture, so he has a tradition of hosting New Year in that style. This is what the table looked like; we had a lovely day with Steve, Dorene, Mark, Crystal, Chantal, Edmund and I. Dishes shown: burdock root salad, mochi, sashimi (tako, hamachi, maguro), rice crackers. Not shown: o-zōni soup, soy prawns, takuan, a number of other pickles and condiments.