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#TorDnD: Gugs & Green Slime. [Jun. 17th, 2015|09:15 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Late out the gate.]
[Current Music |crown me king- you can't do that on television]



My favorite thing about this session of #TorDnD was how effective Tasha's Hideous Laughter was. Not just because my PC is an enchanter, but because of the provenance of the spell. "Tasha" is the "daughter" of Baba Yaga, Natasha. It's what name she used in Castle Greyhawk. Later she went by the name...Iggwilv. My homegirl! Then there is the fact that gugs appear in the same Lovecraft story as nightgaunts, those weird ticklers, so incapacitation by horrible, horrible laughter has a meta-consistancy to it.

Two things happened in this session: one, they very carefully avoided some pockets of green slime, the corrosive ooze only causing some terrible caustic burns & destroying a shovel & a scabbard. Lots of tip-toes & a rope strung across the middle of the cavern & the occasional pratfall. Veins of slime, dripping up, gravity haywire. "Is the slime magical?" they ask? Well, "magical" in the sense that it is acidic anti-grav slime, sure, but magic as in, can you cast dispel magic on it, no. Sorry. Still, they get across, though possibly after making it more difficult than it really needed to be.

The rest of the session was a big enjoyable brawl. The tunnels & tubes of green slime in the ice culminate in H.R. Giger-esque pipes & tubes in another spherical room. In the center is something like an iron maiden, against one wall is a transparent cylinder like the two they've seen already, one on top of a juryrigged golem's head with a brain in it, one empty & with a brain in a web golem. This one has something white & feathery in it, whatever it is. & then also in the room is...a giant, hideous creature with a gnashing vertical grin & four arms, swathed in that creepy yellow fog.



The fight with the "Gug" is joined by another pair of white, four-armed apes with narwhal horns & a fuzzy mammalian centipede creature the size of a pony. It's really the center of the whole conflict & I think it went pretty well! Folks were getting torn up pretty badly, there is cloud kill lingering everywhere, folks are getting chipped away & just when they think they've got the Gug cornered, it teleports across the room. Luckily, as I said, the bard puts the laugh track whammy on it, which lets the rest of the party mop up the support. A few failed Stealth checks later & some of the party see into the next chamber, where a green & yellow filled glass tube is cracking, oozing, covered in...eggs?

(Art by Scott, photos by Liz D. & Mordicai.)

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Cinderella: an Upstate Photo Essay. [Apr. 14th, 2015|09:41 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |By Jennifer & Me.]







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\o/ [Apr. 11th, 2015|05:46 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Random chance.]
[Current Music |crown me king- jenny lewis is not a p-zombie]



Okay, Livejournal. Life. Talking about something that isn't books, or games. Yo. So I'm upstate. Took off Friday & here we are; us, Kira & Nino & Olivia, & then Joe & Leigha. You know what is up with me: new job. I'd already planned this vacation before we left but it meant missing the second all-staff meeting of the imprint; the head of editorial missed the first one, so it's no big deal, but I'm high investment. I am over-thinking it. It's nice to have my work stress be something I can actually try to solve-- viz, "how do I marketing, publicity, ops, etc?"-- & not frustration for being stuck in molasses. So that's my usual week these days: I ask "here is a foundational question about how to do a thing...pretend I know nothing & explain it to me?" & then run around like a chicken with my head cut off until I have enough answers to fake it till I make it. Health-wise, I am still a bit of a mess; PTSD anxiety kicks in around four or five every morning & wakes me up with a pounding heart & wide eyes. Spend an hour awake & then back to bed, if I'm lucky. Not too bad, I think slowly healing; I need to turn a corner & start going to the gym more. At all. So anyhow, sorry-- I am rambling just to be typing. I haven't been writing, though I have been creative lately. Working on an idea with Terra, too. So that's the short story of what is up with me. I'm upstate relaxing, but really thinking about work. That's okay, because work consists of thinking about science-fiction & fantasy & then my opinions are the trim-tab that tilts the rudder. I've totally bought the party line: our stuff is real cool. For real. Otherwise Jennifer has been back & forth to Atlanta a lot, but as long as I get enough attention, I don't mind. We're currently prepping dinner-- grilling burgers-- & talking about playing Settlers of Catan. Oh, & I've been playing Demon's Souls, since I don't have a PS4 & can't play Bloodborne yet.
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#TorDnD: Star Chambers. [Apr. 5th, 2015|02:12 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Skrim's Underworld Railroad.]
[Current Music |crown me king- peanut butter & starjammer]



First day of work at the new job, & I stay after to guest DM #TorDnD. Was hoping to tie it off after this session, but I under estimated how long a "ha ha screw you!" monster fight would take, & we started late & were a little more fun & social & a little less focused & slaying. Tim seems to be enjoying the vacation from DMing, so I don't feel too bad, but my plan wasn't to hijack the game this long. I'm having a lot of fun & learning a bunch about the system & it's quirks-- & how group & DM dynamics change-- so it works for me, but I will be happy to get a chance to be a humble player again, when we finish up the Comet. Pantaloon, I'm coming back for you! So, we had our laughs & our pizza & our beers & ciders & smashed some critters.

First thing first, the players went back to the Cynidicea Marjan's chamber to take a long rest. To peel back the curtain a little bit, I have a "what happens after a short rest?" & "what happens after a long rest?" logic to my monsters & NPCs, but they were wise & retreated to a safe place, Marjan & her pet hook horror Watson having offered them refuge in her igloo. They spent the night & returned to full fighting strength. As a side note: my favorite alternate rule in the Dungeon Master's Guide is to redefine a "short rest" as 8 hours & a "long rest" as a week. That keeps the class balanced, as "long" & "short" stay the same proportionally, but ratchets up the "grit" in a simple, elegant way. Not that I used that rule; just admiring it.

The conflict of the session is in a parallel to another star-shaped chamber, & in the hallway leading up to it. It is a "jerk monster" fight & I'm happy with how it went down. The "main" monster was a neogi, for which I just used the stats for a succubus. I mention that because a) it was a very successful reskin & b) a successful playtest of the succubus. A+, would charm again. The neogi enchants Kal-Ra, Scott's monk, & a little glorious "some harm, no foul" PvP combat commences. Later, the alien thing-- oh, a neogi, that's like a wolf spider the size of a large dog with a moray eel for a head that loves slavery-- puts the brain-whammy (the succubus' enchantment easily mimics the neogi's psionics) on Bridget's tiefling rogue Columbine, too.

Jonathan's paladin Aegwyn breaks one of the spells with protection from evil, & Tim is Mister Support as the Bard Satinsheets. The mate of the phase spider they fought earlier, & swarms of phase spiderlings, little albino babies, take it hard; Wren, Irene's human ranger, puts down the phase spider with bolts between the eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes. Carl's weird cleric Dolmen goes into a gate into the Ethereal & uses his spiritual guardians to kill the egg sacs of the phase spiders there. Oh that's right-- this room has stable portals, not spewing out semi-toxic fog. It also has a control column, like the one chipped out of the ice in Went & Alia's room. Playing with it, the neogi shoots a jet of toxic tear gas at the group, at one point; it also poison's Columbine, which the succubus' kiss also neatly duplicates.

Treasure: two larvae, amorphous maggot-like souls of evil. The paladin stomps them to death.

It is a good fight; the monk goes down hard, two PCs fail interesting saves, the players present a range of interesting solutions to fun problems. Terrain elements were a factor but not as much as I thought; "webs" are not much of a challenge for anyone other than low level players I think. I used the "collapsing ceiling" trap & it was part of the attrition that took down the monk. The pieces came together naturally without needing any edges smoothed, & for the whole adventure the re-skins have been big successes. I hope that with a little elbow grease we can get the comet sorted out next time, & then I'll give a better post-mortem of the whole thing: I know some people hate to have the illusion shattered, but others like to look under the hood & tinker.
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Oubliette Session Twenty-Three: The Tree of Peaches & Onions & the Queen of Nagas. [Mar. 28th, 2015|04:15 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Swear to me!]
[Current Music |crown me king- Fantômas of the Paradise]


(Hida Kaoru by Miguel Coimbra.)

The newest chapter in my current Oubliette campaign ended up being like a mid-season sweeps week episode; things went crazy at the end. Speaking of going to pieces at the end...we spent the first part of this session playing archeologist, piecing together the events at the end of last game. Hey, it was the shrine of the Monkey King; if we got a bit into our cups with the sake, it is just because we are so Method. I thought we'd left it with the start of the duel...but Lilly & Nicole have better memories, which is good, since they were in the mud, the blood & the beer, so to speak, of the whole thing. Amina o-Kitsune had already started dueling Kaori o-Foo, the lover of Iroha o-Lung, betrothed of Haru o-Kitsune. Lilly & Luke's characters are cousins in the Kitsune Family, & since Luke's character Haru is a Kuge courtier & Amina, Lilly's character is a Bushi warrior, she's taking his place: he was the one challenged. That's why he carries a wakizashi & she carries a katana-- in a real way, they are a matched set, a daisho. Amina & Kaori had begun to duel-- the latter being a giant hulking brute of a woman with an iron club studded with spikes-- & each had gotten in blows, with Amina coming off the worse. Amina had licked the blood from her katana, sealing a mystical bloodbond with Kaori.

Keku no-kin, Nicole's cyborg zaibatsu agent, intervened from behind the statue of Gyoja, the Enlightened One, poisoning both of the combatants with a fan of darts, each tipped with soporific venom milked from her serpent familiar, Nagini. That was where we'd left off, resolving the knock-out dart...& we started there again, with me struggling to pronounce "somnambulant." A short tutorial on damage later, & some rolls, & Anima is knocked out, while the larger Kaori shrugs it off-- & is enraged that someone interfered with her duel. Which is when Haru steps out-- having concealed himself in the cherry blossoms with a short bow, in case he needed to cheat to save his cousin's live-- & declares her challenge illegal. Neither Kaori (he guesses) nor Amina sought permission from their daimyos to die, nor did Haru for the seppuku he'd be obligated to perform if Amina lost. He makes some lawyerly intimidation rolls, & they postpone the duel-- & the wedding, till after the duel's conclusion. Kaori stalks off, & Nagini sucks out her venom from Amina, waking her, with Haru's assistance using some of the techniques he learned from the Royal Physician, & some Kitsune ashigaru soldiers.


(The Tree of Peaches & Onions; "Scorched earth" by Daniel Conway.)

There is a path that circles back around, a mirror to the one they just travelled...only they walked the one with Shojo the Monkey King statues, & this way is marked by Gyoja the Enlightened One's idols. Both meet at the Five Pillars, the graffiti covered structure linked with chains where Amina & Kaori had their battle. From there there is another path, going, well...inward. The shrine is built in the caldera of an extinct volcano, as you recall. This third path leads to an outcropping of rock, surrounded by leisurely magma flows, jutting out over the "Wizard's Lake" at the bottom of the bowl of the collapsed volcano. At the pinnacle of this protrusion is a tree unseasonally in blossom; like the peach trees of the monkey grove they passed through, like the black cherry tree Haru brought with him (through Gong, his majordomo, who rejoins them, having come along the servant's path).

Keku has a snake familiar, a childhood pet that became a minor naga spirit after being Awakened by Hebi-no-Hime, the naga of Joko Izumi, that she's with some hubris & minor blasphemy named after a goddess herself, the Naga Queen Nagini. She slithers into the tree to examine the fruit, & notices that onions also grow among the peaches. Strange. The incidental Judeo-Christian mythopoeia is duly acknowledged. Amina, staggered from her wounds but up, touches a peach, & it rots away from her thumb, in the shape of her fingerprint slowly blotting & corrupting the globe of fruit. Haru dares to pluck a peach, then an onion, each blackening. Frustrated at the bad omens & lack of clarity on the cosmos, Haru uses his wakizashi-- mounted with a snake tsuba, also a gift from the Joko Izumi naga, as Luke reminds me-- to hack at the trunk of the millennia old tree. All the signs are right, so I decide to put my cards on the table.


(Me as Nagini the Naga Queen; photo by Nicole S.)

As Haru's blade bites the tree, it spills forth red sap, like blood, & Keku's snake grows, expands till I'm turning off all the lights in the room & standing on a chair, waving my arms. On account of the many arms of the Naga queen, jutting from her feminine torso, stopping where it meets the loops of her serpentine lower body. She is crowned with fangs, & has been with the party ever since Keku gave her that crack into the universe by naming her snake "Nagini." What is the Naga Queen's relationship to Keku? That is unclear, but getting more so: they clearly have a past, an almost familial connection of guilt & flattery. Haru's desecration of the shrine gives her an opening, as does Haru's eerily prescient choice of a black cherry tree as his gift, & Keku's snake being in the tree, & Haru invoking his tsuba's blessing, which the group used to brand themselves with the sign of their secret cabal, the scales of the Blue Koi Society-- the stars align, & she demands from Haru obedience. Soul, souls, everything, & in exchange, she'll put his daughter on the throne of the Shogun...as long as Nagini can possess his daughter, use her as a way to be born into the world. Haru demands that Nagini additionally not deceive him, & she agrees. The deal is struck!
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#TorDnD: Comet Knights. [Mar. 11th, 2015|04:01 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |IOUN.]
[Current Music |crown me king- Fantômas of the Paradise]



Hot time in the old town tonight! Or last night. Or Tuesday night. The return of my #TorDnD dungeon, Day of the Comet mini-game I'm running in the middle of Tim's campaign. Gives me a chance to take the 5e ruleset for a spin, gives Tim a chance to play, it's been pretty successful, though I thought I could do it in two sessions, rather than three. Three it is, though: next session ought to be the last, according to my pacing. I probably could have had one less beer & kept things moving a little more quickly but then, that's why they call it a beer & pizza game, right? The social aspect is a big part of the gun, anyhow. I just don't want to step on Tim's toes by dragging on & on, & as you know from my Oubliette campaign, pacing is something I struggle to nail down. I tried to keep things moving first game & was pretty pleased with how I handled it but this session I backslid! Still a ton of fun, just doing a post-mortem. (Map by Jonathan Roberts, miniature photos by Liz.)



This session was a lot of fun; we left them at a crossroads, a hub with several passages going off of it. They had burned the spider-webbing closing up one passage; I would have given them smoke inhalation damage but I'd already established the ventilation in the "dungeon" because I zoned out the carcinogenic fog's path to know what zones had obscured vision. They took that path first, heading up to encounter...the mother & sister that the pale human woman Marjan had told them to expect. Went & Alia, with Went's pet, a Chuul named Pan. The two strange women get the drop on the monk & the thief, but plenty of Charisma checks go around the table & they talk. In the room is a metal column, melted & chipped free of the ice, with all kinds of levers & dials & knobs & greebles & whosits & whatsits, that periodically rearrange themselves-- ticker-ticker-ticker-- like a Rubik's Cube. Carl's cleric Domen plays with it, unleashing a lightning blast that destroys one of Went & Alia's igloos. Only after making some random rolls first though! There are suspicions all around, of course; Went offers them a shield with a blinking, peering eye on the front, if they bring her the Horn of Zargon or piece of a broken rod...



After a short rest & a Constitution saving check ("no, no reason at all!") they are off, & back down to the collapsed tunnel they discovered on the way in. The party descends on Tim's bard Satinsheet's magic rope & wades into the fog. Thick & heavy, they push against it...only for Bridget's rogue Columbine to feel a strange magnetic force jerk the weapons out of her hands-- a force enough to send Aegwyn, Jonathon's paladin, flying to stick to one. Inside, there are furry man-apes, things with a single narwhal tusk snaggletoothing out of their mouth pouch, below their spider-eyes. With them is a rickety golem, a robotic contraption that seems to be made from a disassembled pillar much like the one they found near Went & Alia, with some kind of glass tank with a crystalized brain in it on top? The room is star shaped, in three dimensions, & there are portals to the Ethereal Plane opening & closing & teleporting at each of the corners. In the middle are five pillars, like larger versions of the pillars with lights in Marjan's camp, & they exert a strong magnetic force as you get close to them.



They fight & it is pretty brutal; the two furry alien beings use weapons made from the bones & horns of other ape-monsters the PCs have seen. Spells seem to bounce off the golem, but they bring it down & kill the two creatures. They carry a bisected blue sphere, visually similar to the driftglobe Scott's monk Kal-Ra found, but while it does shed a strange blacklight effect, it doesn't seem to float. They are able to disassemble enough components from the golem to get one-use items functionally identical to scrolls for colour spray & confusion. From there it is uphill-- but not back up the hole-- towards a web-choked doorway. The PCs wisely conclude that this is probably the same chamber that the room with the iron golem also led to, the slippery tunnel with the webs at the end they didn't explore. To be entirely honest, this chamber was going to have a hook for Irene's ranger, Wren, but since she was out & it was late & I'd had a couple of IPAs...well, I just skipped right ahead to violence. With a little menacing. Drider!



You know how I like driders. This one had a body more like a furry wolf-spider than a sleek weaver. It also had a pet phase spider &...a web golem!? Now then this is a fight! Driders are nice & easy to run; they get three attacks a round & can ignore webbing & gravity. Done! So I filled the whole room with webs, & different levels. Didn't take as much advantage of the terrain as I meant to, but the web golem did get to engulf someone, so I take it as a win! I was also pretty tame with the phase spider's etherealness. Having the fight earlier & more sober would have showcased some of the stuff in the room better, but I have no complaints! Just self-evaluating. It was fun, & I had the players scared-- there were death saves being made. When the battle was done, they found a book of ancient elven poetry, an IOUN stone &...thirty-seven electrum pieces I've decided I like electrum, as the ancient defunct coinage of dead kingdoms. Make non-decimal nature of it do narrative work. Better storytelling though numismatics!

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Oubliette Session Twenty-Two: The Shrine of the Monkey King. [Feb. 20th, 2015|09:03 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Irascible! Un-second-draftable!]
[Current Music |crown me king- jenny lewis is not a p-zombie]


(Statue of Gyoja; Danny Pak, "Secret Entrance.")

Our Thursday session of my Oubliette campaign was a lot of fun; I think I'm getting back on track, at least with running games. Let's hope I can capture the rest of that momentum in my life! So game. I won't go into too much exquisite detail, but it was a lot of fun. After concluding a sprawling wedding story arc that took on a life of its own-- which is me bragging, since character driven storylines are my jam-- I asked my players what they wanted to do next & they said "another big fancy wedding!" so here we are. Luke's character Haru o-Kitsune is betrothed to Iroha o-Lung, & he's off to a shrine of her family's cult god, the Monkey King to get the sect's blessing. Last session was more of a brainstorming & socializing evening, with the 7,kl7 putting their affairs in order. Luke tried to stir up enthusiasm amongst the peasantry, Lilly's character Amina o-Kitsune left her new husband at the Skull Forts to take care of business & Keku no-Kin, Nicole's character, can't say no to a good time. Or to ambition! Hobnobbing with the Shogun's family & all that.

After running D&D 5e, I found myself really missing the "dungeon" sort of environment. Sure, I had the Pyramid of the Royal Physician & I started the whole thing off with Naga haunted ruins at summer camp, but mostly I plan things out as a checklist of vignettes ordered either by trigger or stationary event-- that is, [X] is what is going on in the basement, whenever the PCs go there, but [Y] happens if the PC's get spotted anywhere in the mansion & [Z] if they confront their target, here's what happens. It works well for my character driven sessions...but lately the old school location based system has appealed to me. & to my players, as well, since they tried their best to make the Gates of Yomi a dungeon crawl. Anyhow, my point is that I took this opportunity to make the shrine along a "dungeon" mentality. I drew it as a map, to start with: oh, & Jenny got me a book for maps on Valentine's Day! How about that?

They stay with Haru's vassal-- Mifune, formerly one of Goro's lieutenants-- & the group starts by brainstorming the gift they've brought to the shrine. Haru brings a black cherry blossom tree that he's bonsai spliced together, another nod to his Kumo parentage; Amina brings shochu but her real present is the obsidian bottle she's had crafted for it. Keku's fallen on hard times & she can't get the credit--kane is the Zaibatsu backed credit system-- for her gift. Haru notices & his majordomo Gong buys an expensive bottle of sake & leaves it in Keku's room, nothing further said. Could this mark the mending of the rift between the the notoriously wary Keku & the somewhat scheming Haru? That & the secret pact of the Blue Koi Society.


(Statues of Gyoja & Shojo; photo by me.)

The Lung lands are volcanically more-or-less active, which is to say that the extinct caldera that the shrine to the Monkey King is in is one of the older ones, as periodically a long-dead volcano will burb out enough ash or lava to have destroyed most other similar Kamido temples. Outside there are two large statues in a defunct style; each is about two stories high, & marks a path. One is of Shojo, the drunken monkey, the trickster hero, & the other is of Gyoja, the seeker of enlightenment, the zen master. Both are aspects of the same god. There is a fire a little ways away, but after the serfs-- mixed from the border crossing-- deliver the PCs to the two entrances, they leave, & they players go on in.

In the shrine, they meet Monk Zhu, wearing a simple orange gi & a necklace of shrunken heads. "Oh, these aren't mind, they are Monk Sha's, he loaned them to me when I loaned him my rake," he says to them, & then proceeds to insult & belittle them. Because, right, obviously it is a test of composure, & when Amina fails & goes to threaten him with her wakizashi, he trips, stumbles into her, & knocks them both into the dirt. He comes up easy but she's ass over teakettle. Three things come out of the ensuing dialogue as dawning realizations. One, that this guy is Iroha o-Lung's brother, two, his sister fancies the lasses & three, that he's totally a Drunken Master. He's at a feast table, stuffing himself with food & drink-- we drink too!-- & he lays out a riddle for the party:

A curiosity hangs by the thigh of a man, under its master's cloak. It is pierced through in the front; it is stiff & hard & it has a good standing-place. When the man pulls up his own robe above his knee, he means to poke with the head of his hanging thing that familiar hole of matching length which he has often filled before.

The players fool around for a bit, but before too long Amina figures it out; a Key! Haru insists it must be a Penis. Yes, that's...that's the joke. Thanks, Exeter Book. When they walk into the next area, the orchard of peach trees where monkeys swarm in massive numbers...well, rather than trigger a combat with swarms of primates, their successes with Monk Zhu & solving the riddle of Shojo make a monkey just toss a single peach down to Amina. Inside, instead of a pit, is a black iron key. Okay then! On down along the path. There, at the feet of three massive pillars cris-crossed by graffiti & linked by a web of chains, is an enormous woman. Not the alien proportions of Goldur bint Agrat, Goro's Gaki mentor, but human gigantic, like Brienne of Tarth, wielding a massive iron club, a Kanabo. It is Kaori o-Foo, or so she announces herself...as well as her intention to duel Haru o-Kitsune. Amina o-Kitsune accepts the duel on his behalf-- her honor as his bushi kinsman, as he's a kuge courtier-- as Haru hides himself, drawing back his bow from behind Kaori, ready to strike her down if the duel goes against Amina...


(Kaori o-Foo; Miguel Coimbra, "Hida Kaoru.")
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#TorDnD: Comet Days. [Feb. 4th, 2015|07:13 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Making coffee.]
[Current Music |crown me king- fantômas strikes back!]



To be honest, for #TorDnD, I was worried about my usual curse, over-preparing! I can't help but sprawl & build outward, & learning the pace of a group is hard. The good news is, no worries! The pacing is pretty alright. Oh, so I asked Tim the other week if I could have a crack at DMing 5e as guest spot, & he said "actually, the trail is about to go cold on the PCs, wanna jump in next session?" & so I did! Over xmas I ran a game & TPK'd everyone right out of the gate, first fight. This time I did the math to balance the encounters, though now I'm starting to think I may have gone too far in the other direction. Six fifth level characters are dangerous as heck, & spiritual guardians is a pretty potent spell, as I was warned. It seems broken but I don't have enough sense of scope & scale to really say for sure. Also, I was a little too "third edition" with the monster's multiattack, which is a rules error I will not make a second time! So I lugged in my books & minis though the slush! There was a discussion about rescheduling, but we were all too gung-ho for that! In fact staying late actually worked out; the rush hour trains were apparently a disaster.

Ioun's Tear is a comet that passes in the night sky every 55 years, except for the times when it...doesn't. Every so often it skips a cycle, or so the long-lived elves say. I broke out DC 10, 12, 15 & 20 Intelligence checks for Arcana, Religion, Nature & History. Note: that was stupid, why did I do that. It's not like I didn't tell the PCs in front of all the other players when they made their check. The Tear of Ioun is an omen sacred to the Neutral goddess of knowledge & prophecy, & when it comes near the world just starts having more ioun stones...& abberations & warlocks. The ethereal boundary weakens & elemental cold strengthens; there have been reports of a acid rain, jewels falling from the sky...& they say the critters of the underdark wriggle up when it draws near, like worms after a heavy rain. Some sages-- the wisest-- say that comets go around the sun, & that this one passes through the dark bodies far beyond the planets, & sometimes slingshots off, even farther. Archmages say it is a hoard of ioun stones kept by the Ethernaut, either the child or creation of Ioun. I put Fantômas' Delìrium Còrdia on repeat, & we're off.

I set out to make this a very classic "Dungeons & Dragons" adventure, but then I veered into weirdness almost immediately. Sorry folks, you can take the Dungeon Master out of the Oubliette, but I guess you can't take the Oubliette out of the Dungeon Master. That's fine, plenty of room for oddity in the game! Tim sat it up with a mardi gras festival to celebrate the comet, & then all the players were lovely little ducklings who were like "oh, a star fell? We all should go check it out." Thank you, adventurers for adventuring, sometimes prying folks out of the inn takes doing. Not this time. Stavenham, Tim's bard, already knows the omens of the crashing comet-- so does my tiefling wizard, exit stage right pursued by ape-bear. Or more like enter, since the party concludes that he went into the comet. Wait. Crashing comet?! Oh yes, & Aegwyn the paladin with his spyglass-- I told Jonathan it wasn't useless!-- saw the comet in the sky coruscate with the colours of the rainbow randomly, then fuzz, exploding into...fragments, one of which just coincidentally lands right outside of town. Carl's cleric of the luck goddess loves coincidences, & he & Aegwyn buddy up as holy gamblers, crowing.



The sliver, a chunk of an iceberg smashed into chunks, is six avenue blocks long-- we use common units of measure, like civilized folk, here at the Flatiron-- lying in a crater with yellow, metallic fog billowing out. Adding the bard to their ranks, in they go. Careful, careful...their cautious entry & careful use of spells overcomes the dual disadvantage of the fog & the white fur of the creature within a snowbank! Tim dubs them the IceSpaceNarbeapes, "with imaginary horn" because I describe them thus: "like a giant gorilla with four arms, only instead of evolving from primates, it evolved from bears, & had a narwhal tusk jutting from it's brow, one eye cataracted over white, & it's wasp-like eyes sink into yours with an icy hand of coooooold!" The miniature, of course, lacks a horn, & I think Tim's masterful mini wrangling has spoiled them. Luckily enough, I brought more minis! Sloth-apes with metal pipes who clang on the paladin's heavy armor while the cleric's spells dig into them & Irene's ranger, Wren, sprays their green blood all over the rest of the party with a brutal barrage of arrows. I worry that the cleric's spell spirit guardians is broken, having been warned about it, but I think I figured out the missing piece of game balance; concentration checks for spellcasters taking damage. Extra incentive to kill the cleric! The guardians-- little gems instead of the intended little coins-- still create a messy neon green splatter of alien ichor, themselves. Stavenham, with panache, stays spotless. I'd like to say my adopted daughter Columbine did well, but Bridget's dice were turned against her; it was a rough hex & it stuck on her all night. In the snow the party finds a carnelian & a zircon.



While the rest of the group goes on, Scott's curious Kal-Ra wades into a slushy puddle & kicks at the cracks in the ground: he triggers the "hazard" of the collapsed ice-- there is a blocked tunnel that it extends from-- triggering a cave-in at the mouth to the sphere where they just fought the Barsoomian wampas. In the next bubble, they are lost in the swirling ochre fog, surrounded by dancing white-blue lights...Domen announces them, addressing the wil-o-wisps, but a bald Tilda Swinton of a woman, bearing a black greatsword five feet long answers. She is Marjan, a Knight of Zargon, & her unicorn sigil'd-plate-clad form is shrouded in a cape of white feathers buckled with a silver clasp of a smiling child's face. Impressed by the groups courteous approach, she also introduces Watson, her pet hook horror. "Tame is not the word I'd use." She speaks in my general Transylvanian accent & the camaraderie of the group leads her to open up about being from a forgotten people, the Cynidiceans. Within the comet, she says, there is a horn, the horn of Zargon; she asks that the party bring it to her, for which she will reward them. Her mother & sister also seek the horn, & they have...philosophical disagreements. Marjan seeks to keep the horn safe, control it. She offers to cover their retreat, to keep a place for them to return to rest, & on they go, slanting down into the deeper fog...& out onto a collapsing ice sheet, the floor caving in & crumbling down thirty feet, leaving a twenty foot drop to the rubble. The party teeters on the edge but grab each other, falling back safely. Stavenham's enchanted rope of climbing snakes across the gap, & thanks to the magic of advantage, they all make it across alright, the bard showing off with a tightrope walk. Yup, his backstory about him & Pantaloon being friends sure seems to check out to me!



The next dome has a collapsed tunnel on one end with sludgy, frozen water pouring out of it, freezing into ice fangs & stalagmites & solidifying around a rusted out iron golem...& two more horned mutant apes with the frozen glare! Shaggy & Smiler, though Tim dubbed him Scooby: I gave them names to differentiate the critters, the really hirsute one or the one with the torn cheek & the ragged black shark teeth zig-zawing out. They make short work of them thanks to Wren's deadly aplomb & help from the rest-- but boy does the ranger's bow go thwang. Columbine gets some hits in but still, the dice...I commiserate. I've been there. I tell her about my ranger who had favoured enemy: dragons & didn't land a single hit on the black dragon at the end of Forge of Fury. It's on the cover, shut up about spoilers. Domen is interested in golem, & goes over to it...only to have his chainmail start rusting out as the shy tentacle of a rust monster tickles his leg! Aegwyn & his magic sword spear it handily, but it is easy to see how the golem ended up wrecked so badly. Domen gets it to take a stuttering half step by building a bonfire beneath, knowing that fire helps iron golems. Kal-Ra wades into the icy slush...& is rewarded! By finding a driftglobe, a bisected glass sphere that when twisted lights up a white-blue light & hovers, following him. From here, there is the collapsed tunnel, the tunnel they came through & the new pit leading down to...somewhere with even more fog. There is an iced out corridor going up, with...spider webs at one end. & another corridor choked with webs, which Aegwyn sets ablaze; luckily for them, the reason the fog isn't clouding this room is because I figured out the ventilation in the place, so the nylon-ozone burning smell of webbing is a modest Con save. Now from here, where do they go?



("Inside The Comet" & game play photo by Jonathan Roberts. Miniature photos by Liz!)
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JCM. [Jan. 30th, 2015|02:19 pm]
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I won't go to Cabaret again just to see Emma Stone, but, well, Jennifer got us tickets to go see Hedwig & the Angry Inch with John Cameron Mitchell reprising the eponymous role. So did onatopofthings, ranai, & Dennis! I was really unhappy pre-show; the bar was too hot, I wasn't hungry, I was sleepy, waahwaah wanna baabaa. That ended pretty much as soon as the first note rang out. We saw Hedwig with Neil Patrick Harris, so the comparisons are an easy tool to describe the show. Mind you, none of this is meant to be backhanded; both ruled, but they were very different. NPH...we all know that guy is a superpowered showbiz phenom. Of course he climbed around the stage in six inch heels & did all kinds of energetic stunts. JCM is 50...& also clamboring around the stage & throwing the microphone. Neil Patrick Harris is a drama kid done good who hit all the big numbers; John Cameron Mitchell has punk credentials that make the edges of the show sharp. Also, & this is the movie & the soundtrack talking, I know, but JCM just sings the songs correctly. Not to mention that John Cameron Mitchell is actually transgressive & when stuff gets dark...he does dark & unlikable. Also...it was much more of a love story between Hedwig & Yitzhak this time. I don't know, it all seems so different than when NPH did it, but Jenny says I'm imagining most of the differences. It was...really great, worth seeing, worth re-seeing. Heck, Ryan is even going again tonight. So yeah. Hedwig is problematic & important to me & John Cameron Mitchell is the...well, the speck of dust at the center of the pearl. (Jennifer accidentally took the above photo of yours truly.)
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To Kill a Mockingjay. [Jan. 30th, 2015|10:20 am]
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I know, I said I wanted to be better at this then I didn't. Then that snowballed. Inertia! I'm going to keep pushing against this "super casual, short, stream of consciousness" writing style again, because I want to start writing in here but if I feel like capital-W writing I should be, you know, working on something else, probably. Let's make this fun & relaxing. Babble, babble everywhere. So this was an Eleven-Books Club pick, by fatbutts. Somehow we'd all (Liz excepted) missed it from the canon! In my case not surprisingly, since I wasn't an English major & was a troublesome high school student; I have big holes in the "Western Canon." I thought Boo Radley was their black neighbor who would end up getting blamed for the kids hijinks, or something, that was what I thought going in. I ended up liking the writing, especially how she verbed nouns & alternated between dialogue & exposition. It shares some difficulties with Kindred, in that some of the "racism is bad, mkay?" is a little "preaching to the choir," but more than that it stood out how timely it remained. The Staten Island grand jury, Ferguson, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin...the racist narratives in this book haven't shifted all that much. We had a long discussion about racism & misogyny, as well; a rape trial where the whole point is not to believe the laying woman? Yeah, things haven't changed that much on that front, either. I liked this book; I wasn't blow away by it but I get the hubub, I can see why it is a classic. (Also, looking at the pictures I've been taking, I've sort of claimed the chair in the living room as "my space" lately, huh?)

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Oubliette Session Twenty-One: The Goblin-Fox's Masquerade. [Jan. 11th, 2015|05:29 pm]
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So now that I'm sleeping again-- there is a whole saga there, & when I say sleeping again I mean "at all," basically, not "normally" or "healthily"-- I am getting ready to start re-dedicating myself to creative endeavors. I kept up with my weekly Korra recaps & RPG blogging for Tor.com, but that was just about the limits of how I could get my act together. The last couple of meet-ups for my Oubliette campaign have been "non-sessions" where we talked about character stuff & did some role-playing, but I didn't advance the story. This time it might have helped that we were a little tipsy, a little late starting, & have our Secret Santa, or Gongen Tengu Festival. See, in the Shogunate, the Winter Solstice holiday is dedicated to the goddess Amanozako, queen of plagues & thunders, the Tengu Queen. To celebrate, adults dress up in bird or long-nosed masks & playact as Tengu with wooden swords & paper fans, & many small presents. Children barter with & cajole them, try to outwit them or flatter them, sort of like the ritual trickery of the Passover afikoman, in order to get gifts. Silissa was my Santa, & she got me two boxes of minis. I opened them in front of the group; normally I would be coy, but I figured it was like poker: they paid to see those cards. I was Nicole's Santa, & I remembered when Ron got me Spider Clan L5R dice, & I knew Nicole could use a set, so I got her the green Mantis clan set. She's got a snake thing (Relationship Status: It's Complicated) going on, so the green fits, & she's an agent of the Kin zaibatsu, her technical title being "Mukade," a gold-seeking centipede. Sort of fits with mantis, anyhow...like her pet terrordactyl kind of fits with the serpent thing. Anyhow, see that cool skull container above? Jennifer got it for me for Xmas-- I owe a rundown, at least in photos, to be posted here-- & I've decided it is the best place to keep my d10s. Now when I run Oubliette I have a cartoon skull to pull from. Ware, PCs!

First thing was did was spend XP, when we finally got going. Nicole's zaibatsu cyborg Keku no-Kin bought a second dot of Intimidate after putting the fear of god(s) into the Kitsune trio last session, & she also shuffles a point around from Status: Junk Queendoms to Mariko, her terrordactyl Familar. She uses the downtime to shop for animal trainers & to craft an optimal diet. Silissa's former mummy, former zaibatsu alchemist The Royal Physician buys a third dot of Persuasion. Crafty, that one. Then it was time to figure out how long Luke's blood mage courtier Haru o-Kitsune-- soon to be Haru o-Kitsune no-Lung, since his wedding is next-- & his blood mage warrior cousin Amina o-Kitsune, newly married, Lilly's character. Haru, in preparation for his upcoming nuptials, is informed that his in-laws are strictly religious according to the cult of Shojo, the Monkey King. He sends money (& his reputation) ahead of him to prepare. The good news: Haru's bribed vassal, the former mercenary Mifune, lives nearby, so they can impose on his hospitality; the bad news is Haru only rolls so-so. He'll get the polite & proper greeting for someone of his stature, but not the crowds he was hoping for. Then after that...we just kind of started screwing around in character. See, Amina has a pet fox...& it would be more accurate to say Amina has a kitsune familiar. Relationship Status: It's Complicated. Kreacher, the goblin-fox, seems to have a relationship to Haru & the Royal Physician as well, & considers Keku a kind of peer. So yeah, for a few hours my players just improved about a missing mask & the Uncanny, it was really lovely & fun.
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Agony! [Jan. 11th, 2015|09:20 am]
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We went to go see Into the Woods last night, the Roundabout deconstructed one. I knew nothing going in. I mean, I knew literally zero a while ago: I thought Into the Woods the movie was new, was a Disney attempt to cash in on Wicked, thought the fairytales were overtly the Disney versions. Midway through, Jennifer was like "you know this is just intermission" & it "clicked" that I knew a little bit more about it, that I'd heard about the second act before. Also, we were late thanks to treasonous GPS, & were in the back row for the first half, then our tickets were actually for the front row so we saw the second half from there. So, I mentioned that the stage & performance are deconstructed; from the back, you could see the big picture, see them shuffling around & playing secondary parts & doing foley work. Up close you couldn't, the illusion became entirely different without being able to see behind it. A fun perspective switch. The Baker's Wife, Jessie Austrian, was the co-artistic director, along with Noah Brody, who played the Wolf & Prince Charming & was the other artistic director, were the best parts. I caught 'em eyeballing each other throughout the play & was like "they are either method acting or totally doing it," & lo & behold they are married. Aw, now that is a fun behind-the-scenes love secret. Oh you know what, I'm lying; as much as I liked them, Andy Grotelueschen was the show-stealer. He played the cow, Milky White, & Rapunzel's Prince. Super duper funny, & I kept thinking I've seen him in Twelfth Night in some park production or another...but I'm pretty sure I'm lying about that too. Maybe I just recognized him from The Good Wife. Did I mention Jenny mainlined that show so I saw about half of it?
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The Seaearth. [Jan. 11th, 2015|09:02 am]
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A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

This is my treat for the holidays. Last December I discovered, thanks to fordmadoxfraud picking it for Eleven-Books Club, The Dispossessed & The Hainish Cycle; I decided to save Earthsea for the next year & well, here we are now, next year! UKLG! So these are her YA books. You can certainly tell-- they are far less dense-- but it is hard to me to pinpoint how, in any detail. Le Guin is too good of a writer. So these are great, I've been bad at keeping track of my reading & blogging in general, so here is a quick series of comments.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Having struggled with irrational anxiety after my surgery-- I know, will I ever shut up about that-- I can't help but see that in all of Le Guin's stuggles. Climbing through the irrational dark oppressive world, made suddenly dark & oppressive by magic & your mind, despite being normal just a second ago. This one reminded me of M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel; the Kargad islands would slot into there without confusion, though the cause & effect is probably vice-versa.

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin.

This was a weird one. What is this, Ged fights death & we exalt the monarchy? Or more like, Ged plays Gandalf while fighting Jesus, that's the actual story. Seriously, I can't be the first to make that comparison; the bad guy is totally Jesus, right? He's all gathering disciples, promising them rewards in the afterlife, a bridge to eternal life? & the people's responses an implicit condemnation of religion? Maybe that's just me. It's weird for him to play Gandalf & Aragorn, too; kingship is a surprising direction to go in for Le Guin. I think this is the last "Ged" Earthsea book, right?
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Oubliette Session Twenty: Kitsune Mischief. [Dec. 6th, 2014|05:15 pm]
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The Daimyo of House Kitsune is Hayate o-Kitsune. A brick of a man; squat, wide, & his hair is red. A quick note on that; the ethnicities of Oubliette are not analogue for real world ethnicities. I tend to mix & match trait groupings, in plausible ways; so dark skin & hair are associated with each other, but red hair is a mutation, & can crop up anywhere. The people of the Shogunate live in an equatorial region with historical migration patterns that I've mapped out. I try to use art when Asian or non-white models or characters in order to evoke that, while not appropriating the Pan-Asian influences on this campaign & whitewashing them. (Also, mostly the white people in this campaign have epicanthic folds, because they live in polar regions & never had a big colonial diaspora.)

The Kitsune "Triplets" are frequently with the daimyo. One of them is his daughter; the others are the daughters of two rival sub-families in the House, taken as hostages & raised side by side with his own heir, with none of the three knowing who it is. All three are trained to be bodyguards; when they come of age, the other two will guard the new daimyo. They are Jun, the ambition; Ataru, the talent & Nao, the goth. Do you think the pampered & highly trained tween Kitsune trio might have a bit of mischief up their sleeves? They have the best of intentions: they think they are spoiling the wedding to save their cousin from being in an arranged marriage with a commoner!



So they actually drove the conflict of the wedding. For instance, I broke out my trusty "rat swarm" minis for the mobs of foxes that suddenly broke out everywhere-- the collective noun for a group of foxes is a "leash" or "skulk"-- terrorizing the skull tower with their sudden, frenzied, yipping appearance. A horrible sign, as the Kitsune has a house cult around the Fox God aspect of Okami! Or...well. Imagine how much luggage three princesses take with them to a wedding. Now imagine that instead of filling your trunks with kimonos & netsuke, you actually stuffed them with sedated foxes? That's right, the culprits here were the three little kids, & after the Royal Physician-- assisted by Haru & Keku-- barricaded the foxes in the secret corridor with pheremone bait.

There were other little bits of shenanigans that they got up to. For instance, they poisoned Goro...with laxatives. The party never found out about that-- it was a bit of contested rolls between Goro & the party's social skills, since he was "playing tough"-- but the kids were being awfully "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." The problem with that is...for all that they are "trouble," our party of lunatic adventurers are blood magicians & cyborgs, you know? They've got a cold streak that would lead to, say, Keku no-Kin gently carrying in one of the foxes, petting it, & snapping its neck in front of the little children to teach them a lesson while Amina lectures them on being willing to do whatever it takes for the family. Oh awesome, my players are the bad guys in the background of a YA novel basically? That's fabulous.



Amina decides, the hell with it, she's having the wedding now. It's a smart move & it actually outflanks your humble Narrator; the kids had a few more stunts planned in my notes, but they were mapped out by day. By charging ahead, Lilly just beat her Kitsune cousins at their own game. Plus, the Royal Physician-- flanked with her yojimbo bodyguards Oda & Yuta, hired after she was warned about the Dervishes by Ren-- is here, since this is Silissa's week in the alternating schedule with Eric, & Amina wanted her to officiate the ceremony. It's a Kamido ceremony, even if the "priest" is a reincarnated mummy. Hey, priest-alchemist is pretty close to shaman-oracle, right? This is the muko-iri ritual, the matrilocal one; contrast to the yome-iri. Goro had hakama on, Amina wore a crimson overcoat with golden horns as her head covering. Amina gives Goro rice cakes, he gives her a fan. There is incense-- the Royal Physician may have spiked it with some intoxicant-- & then they share sake. He sips three times, she sips three times; she sips three times, he sips three times; they sip three times together with their patron kami.

So that's that, & finally one wedding is out of the way. I asked the players what they wanted to do next & they...decided to power through to Haru's wedding! Okay, let's get as Game of Thrones as we can, let's make this season all about dramatic weddings. We met on Thursday for game but I wasn't prepared for anything, & the evening sort of turned into a burrito & sake party more than a game session. Which is fine on one hand, since social interaction is a big part of it, but I mostly feel like I cheated Ren, since this was Eric's week & I flaked, but we talked about some of his character stuff at least, & got the ball rolling on where the game is going next. They want to accelerate the Lung-Kitsune wedding between Iroha & Haru as soon as possible, so they are heading directly out to the peninsula where the seat of the Lung Family-- & the Shogunate as a whole-- exist, around the Forbidden City that encloses the Watchtower of Milk & Honey.
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"What do you read, my lord?" "Words, words, words." [Nov. 27th, 2014|01:14 pm]
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The fog of insomnia makings putting your thoughts in order hard. Makes it effort. So I've been sort of absent & silent here, I know. At least I've been writing for stuff over at Tor.com; sorry Livejournal, but they pay me, you dig? Anyhow, today is my sixteen year meet-a-versary with Jennifer, & we've got a low key Thankgiving planned with Kira & Nino & Olivia. "Real" Thanksgiving is with Kira's whole clan, but that isn't on Thanksgiving day, since for some people it is "second" Thanksgiving. Anyhow, we don't have to do anything until 4:00, & despite a patchy night's slumber I actually slept in, so I'm going to drop a couple of book reviews I've been procrastinating on. Right after I make some hashbrowns & eggs for breakfast. Okay, the taters are sizzling, precious, so while I let them sit on the fire, let's get cooking.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

Whoever you are,
Be. Whatever you like, Do.
& Say what you want.

Oh Amy Poehler! I didn't take any notes when I read this, it was just pure pleasure reading. I'm not a big reader of comedy biographies, but I'm totally in the cult of Amy Poehler. & you know, I really liked Mindy Kaling's book as well; maybe I like this sort of memoir or essay thing? Low investment, high return. They don't require a lot of brainpower to get through & they beam out a steady stream of chuckles & dopamine. Poehler talks about insomnia, which I sympathize with on a personal level (same as below, when I sympathize with the kid's recovery from surgery). She never says anything bad about Will Arnett, & says many nice things about her friends. Her story is pretty much great & it seems like everything Amy Poehler does is wonderful. I don't know what to tell you, that's the impression I get & I feel like I'm probably correct. Oh, also, "every mother needs a wife"? The anthropological term is "allomother"!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

The name Soledad.
That's a note to remember.
A really good name.

This was our Eleven-Books club book. Beatrice's pick. I am not a big consumer of "issues & feels" YA, so I was happy to have it. I've never gone the John Green route, is what I'm saying; Terra lent me the one with "Alaska" in its name but I never cracked it. Emotional manipulation is not my thing; I don't mean that as dismissively as it sounds. I just don't go in for drama. If it is bald, cheap emotional manipulation I'll get mad, but if it is well done then go on. (Those Lumatere Chronicles were both cheap & adroit, at the same time; I was conflicted.) So this book! So, I found it very true to being a teenager, as did Rasheem. The sort of unspecified anger, yeah, that's the stuff. The big question I was left with was "am I sad that this was a gay romance book, & not a gay friendship book?" The turn towards romance was a little out of the blue, but then, sexuality & teenagers is like that. I get being a late bloomer, sexually; I didn't "get" it either. I'm not sad it was a romance, is my point, but I wonder if I'm sad that it wasn't about resolving unrequited feelings in a friendship. Shrug! I found the politics of being Mexican to be interesting; the politics of being gay are largely invisible, since everyone's family is very accepting. There is an act of homophobic violence, & there is an act of transphobic violence that is referenced; I think that latter part could have used more attention. Oh & there was also a bit about physical therapy & recovery in here; those scenes stick with me, since I'm in the same boat, & feel like I've been stuck at sea forever.

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Dry Ice, Quinine, Black Light: Psychedelic Fog. [Nov. 22nd, 2014|02:37 pm]
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Halloween(s). [Nov. 1st, 2014|12:05 pm]
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(Olivia was a Vampire Princess. She wanted "baby blood.")


(Olivia teaching the people at our party to "goth dance.")


(My department's executive brought spooky cereal to work.)


(My costume was "Disney buying Star Wars" or "Darth Mickey.")


(I ended up just wearing the ears & carrying the mask, though.)
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Kindred: the Embraced. [Oct. 31st, 2014|10:25 am]
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Kindred by Octavia Butler.

"Underground Railroad."
It SOUNDS subterranean,
but no, not really.





I'm way behind on this, so short & sweet. Luckily, the meeting was relatively short & sweet too; Rasheem, who felt the strongest about it, had to call out, sick. This was littlewashu's Eleven-Books Club pick, & I was excited, because I found the Xenogenesis series by Butler to be weird & engaging. Still, I'd stayed away from Kindred & here is why: I was worried that it would be sort of "preaching to the choir," that a book about how slavery blows would just be sad & not really have new lessons for me in it. I'm not sure that was wrong, but I do think it was a different book than that. What I mean is, sure, this would be good assigned reading for kids; lots of declaratives-- Raz said it sounded like it was for kids, I said it sounded like Hemmingway & carmyarmyofme pointed out that it is suppose to sound like slave narratives-- & a decent message, but that's not "who it's for." Apparently if I had read the foreward or the reading guide I'd have had it spelled out, but I was reading "A Muscular Empathy" by Ta-Nehisi Coates when I realized this & thought it was an original thought: this is about the "house" versus "field" distinction. This was written in the 70s, during the Black Power movement, & it is an answer to divisive tactics. It looks at the system of oppression & says that the victims of the system should stick together, & not fall for the "divide & conquer" tactics of the slave master-- in this case, literally. It's about puncturing the myth of exceptionalism & having empathy for the past...without overlooking the crimes of the past, either. I will say this by way of spoilers: good thing she killed Rufus. I think we all fell in the two-to-three star range, more or less. Liz was the first to arrive, Beatrice the last, & Lilly was the superstar at karaoke. At the end of the summer in one of last year's book clubs we all went to the wormhole karaoke spot in the Carriage House, & we went there again & yep. Still Mos Eisley, in the best way.





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IRL. [Oct. 29th, 2014|03:54 pm]
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[Current Mood |Hack the Planet.]
[Current Music |crown me king- druid droid]

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang.

The Emerald Macaw!
Feathers worth 450 gold.
It's weakness? Music.

Is this the first non-Boing Boing, or at least non-article writing of Doctorow's I've read? I think it might be. First an ettin,, now a Doctorow! You've probably heard about this book by now, it's gotten plenty of attention, but it deserves it. A nice all-ages book about gaming, with a "girl gamer" angle that widens the audience. I liked Jen Wang's first graphic novel, Koko Be Good, & the art doesn't disappoint here. Despite being about topical hot-button issues like "girls play video games too," which is blowing the mind of misogynistic bullies these days, that's not the dominant focus of the story. It is a friendship between a player & a Chinese gold farmer. Gold farming is...weird & pretty futuristic, in a dystopian way, huh? I don't have a lot to say but it's a fast, fun read that might make you think about things, surprising things about the global economy & such. Low risk, with a good return on your invested time. Oh, & I'm pretty sure I spotted a Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery background homage; there are probably others that I overlooked; maybe I'll go back & look to see if I can recognize more subtle video game references.
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#TorDnD: Amarith...Tenebrosi? [Oct. 29th, 2014|11:44 am]
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[Current Mood |Blight Druid, Blight Droid.]
[Current Music |crown me king- gulthias ]



You know, I think this is the first time I've ever fought an ettin. It's neat to get a crack at the classics! I'm an Enchanter, so a fight with a bunch of wolves-- immune to the spells that require a mind or a humanoid target-- & a two headed giant who gets to roll twice to resist, once for each head? Forced some interesting tactical decisions. Tim, the DM, was remarking on how our fairly random distrobution on the map was the sort of accidental chaos that presented more interesting strategic choices. Don Seignour Pantalone, my tiefling wizard, was suddenly pinned between a couple of direwolves & the mutant giant & I ended up using my back-up sub-specialty, Abjuration. I rope-a-doped some attacks-- thanks mage armor, shield, et al-- & the elf monk, Scott's character Kal-Ra & Irene's human ranger Wren finished off the giant, while Jonathon's half-elf paladin killed a dire wolf & scared the other one away with help from Columbine, my characters adopted tiefling rogue daughter. Sam had to bow out of the game, but Carl has taken up his place as the healer with his half-elf cleric, Domin Farwander. Our half-elf paladin worships the elven god of trickery, & our half-elf cleric worships the human god of trickery. This could be fun.



I'm a bit ahead of myself. So two sessions ago we found a key in Wulgreth's possession with a creepy crest of a raven on it. Finally, our investigations into it have borne fruit! At the library Pantalone found all about the now-probably-extinct noble house the Tenebrosi (except for a possible lost heir...) & their last parcel of property; Kal-Ra found out about weird necromancy tree rituals-- as he's searching for a magic seed, it's right up his alley. Given the attack last session I think these issues might be related; the assassin who escaped might be Amarith wul Nariyial-- I wonder if Wulgreth is actually a "wul Greth"?-- & that Amarith might be the lost heir. There is mention of creepy evil wizard journals, my absolute favorite kind of treasure, but they were...gasp, stolen! Following the glues to the abandoned property & using the key netted up some other treasure, though: 23 PP, 138 GP, 1233 SP, 345 CP, a 4th level scroll of magic missile, a cloak of antivenom that grants advantage against poison that Domin claimed & a +1 longsword that Agweyn was born to wield. & more clues! Discussion of a pet-- maybe the wyvern we killed?-- & an allusion to ruins. There were three; we guessed wrong on the first two, facing an ettin & then a necromancer & his gang of wights, ghouls & zombie ogres.
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Oubliette Session Nineteen: Romantic Farce in the Skull Towers. [Oct. 29th, 2014|05:55 am]
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[Current Mood |Next: Wedding?!?]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. haerts- tell-tale heart]


(Goro in his Brokenhearted Armor; Yogo Haruto.)

I promised Lilly that her bushi warrior, Amina o-Kitsune, would finally have her wedding to commoner warlord Goro this session, but I just couldn't deliver. For once, I don't hold myself responsible! After game everyone said they noticed that I was taking due care with the pacing, pushing the story forward. It's just, well, the character's hijacked the story. As I like character driven campaigns, I can't hardly complain. Why would it! I had fun being taken by surprise, they had fun making their own story, & their lateral move ended up revealing facets of the world & the NPCs & the campaign that they hadn't discovered. Wins all around; they advanced their personal story arcs & the campaign's story arc...& just barely, this particular story arc. Goro & twenty of his Shoshin "Broken-Hearted" mercenaries finally arrived, so at least the bridegroom & bride are both here. I ended the session with the daimyo & Amina's parents arriving, so hopefully nothing will stop the wedding from happening next session...unless something actually stops the wedding, that is.

My grumbling is just #humblebragging, ultimately. I want the kind of players who grab the story by the scruff of the neck. Having characters with involved backstories mean that there is a whirling hurricane of plot hooks; it's not just the DM throwing out canned plots, but stories developing out of the primordial soup all on their own. In this case, it was Lilly that started the snowball, but everyone pitched in from there. Last session ended with Luke's character Haru o-Kitsune & Lilly's character Amina both badly injured by a shinobi attack. Nicole's zaibatsu cyborg, Keku no-Kin managed to make it through the fight without a scratch, oddly enough. Lilly's character was down & bleeding, & being carried by Iroha o-Lung, who was wounded herself. I took Lilly aside to discuss maiming her character, but she used her blood magic to bond with Iroha, sharing some of her blood & life-force. I had Amina lose a point of Humanity & write down the power Bloodbond right below where she has Bloodspeaker (& where Haru has Woundstealer).


(Goro's scar; Black Jack by Unknown Kadath.)

That started the love triangle. See, gender & sexuality are explicitly performative in the Shogunate, but marriage exists for the purposes of procreation & family alliance...which can lead to conflicts. Iroha, engaged to Haru, is bisexual by orientation & prefers women by preference, but is perfectly content with her marriage plans. After all, an arranged marriage like this is the fate of all nobility; she's lucky enough to have done the arranging herself. That said, she definitely fancies Amina, & every time the party has split up, Iroha has gone with her group, without fanfare. So as I told Lilly, "Iroha is in love with you now. It is unclear what part of it was genuine & what part of it is a compulsion from your bloody enchantment." Lilly isn't one to turn down a dare, so she turned it up to eleven instead, & decided to full on start wooing the Shogun's cousin, who happens to be her own cousin's fiancée.

Keku, throughout all this romantic courtly intrigue, was engaged in pragmatic & paranoid labour. Her Virtue is Protective, so I gave her Willpower for deciding to spend her time fixing up the weapons of the Castle. She spots the Broken-hearted bandit crew-- well soon to be legitimate soldiers-- & Goro & the wagons of boxes they take with them everywhere first. & when Haru was lying on the ground, full of shinobi poison, her familiar--the blasphemously named Nagini-- sucked out much of the poison. Haru does bear the tsuba of Nagini, he's a minor devotee-- & since he's taken a sudden interest in poison, after being poisoned, maybe he'll become a greater one?-- so Nagini is extra willing. Then of course there are her dreams, as the cybernetic eye in her head hijacks her sleep to crunch numbers...

Haru decided to start writing "romantic" letters to Iroha in response to Amina's pick-up moves. "It looks like I've overlooked a critical duty & now I must seduce my betrothed." His romantic letters consist of basically "we're going to be such a power couple, oh baby, when we join the power of our two households to crush our enemies, how hot is that?" You know how much I like the Avatar: the Last Airbender episode "The Beach" where the bad guys have a day at the beach & Azula goes all ultra-power couple. So basically that. Goro shows up, & that's a distraction for Amina when Haru makes his move; Goro's facial scar has-- strangely-- seemingly grown, a cruder gash covering the top of his head. He still has that dark lure Amina likes, & so Haru's letter's find a receptive audience, since Iroha is also inclined toward Responsibility. So they work! & Haru & Iroha sleep together; Amina & Goro do not.
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La Historia Verdadera y Secreta del Paraíso: El Mundo de los Dinosaurious. [Oct. 17th, 2014|12:16 pm]
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[Current Mood |Dino-Riders!]
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The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán.

But did I mention
knights riding on dinosaurs?
The best selling point.

I won't say much about this, since we're pretty far out from it, & frankly, I don't think I need to say anything about it. There are knights riding on dinosaurs. That's the pitch; I didn't need any more. It has been called a cross between Jurassic Park & Game of Thrones, which is pithy, but carries a bit more weight when you realize that the person who said it is George R. R. Martin. The world is...science-fantasy? Or I imagine it is; it very much strikes me as a terraformed world with human colonists. The gravity, the oxygen levels, the fact that it is all dinosaurs besides humans, dogs & a few key other domesticated animals, & the fact that there are religious texts that appear to be lists of Latin names for dinosaur species all point that way. Or you know, a simulated universe; same difference, in the end. None of this talks to the plot, which I leave for you to discover. Suffice to say, there are dinosaurs, & knights riding them, & then at the end a short play in the style of Gene Wolfe's "Eschatology and Genesis" in The Book of the New Sun. Plus there are a lot of feathers & a very...Spanish influence on the story. We talk about non-Western fantasy a lot; this is Western fantasy, but you don't really see it's sort. Not to mention that "Spanish" is a complicated identity issue; I can't help but see a lot of Mesoamerica & South American in here. The climate & the fashion-- feathers, so many feathers!-- sort of demands it. I liked this book. It has knights riding on dinosaurs in it.
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Rambling Nonsense I Wrote Last Night. [Oct. 10th, 2014|06:52 am]
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So what's up with me, besides like, games I play? Well, first off, doesn't this all count as games I play? I feel like I'm at my most psychologically stable when I view the evolution of rational ethics as a framework for my behavior & evaluate myself in comparison to the past. Isn't that the same thing as gaining experience points? Anyhow, lately my nightmares & insomnia have been back. Not as horribly as before, but not great either. I've been coping with it pretty well, & waking Jenny up when anxiety has gotten too bad, but it has impacted my reading & writing, which I don't like. I've been going back to bed & fighting back & I am definitely getting better, but I've been in a valley, you know? I tell myself it is a process of healing, just like the physical side. I'm having much less insomnia, & it is much less often associated with freaking out, so that's progress. Keep taking care of yourself & eventually...smooth sailing. I haven't been eating, haven't really had much of an appetite since my body digested all my muscle mass & I lost twenty pounds, but as I start going to the gym more, little by little, that gets better. Remember college Mordicai? When you figured out that you could increase your real world attributes through effort, & also that the effort would dose you with endorphins & help regulate your sleep schedule? Yeah, you see where I'm going with this?

Actually-- that's really been part of what is terrible about this in general. This was the norm for most of my life, you know? I just thought I'd gotten past it. I guess it is always lurking under the surface...which isn't surprising, really. It feels shameful to regress to that point; I get all wrapped up in the usual problems. I deserve this, I don't belong here, I wasn't meant to be, it's all my fault, I'm the problem, of course it doesn't work out for me because I don't deserve it. I know: that is false. That's my own personal psychological problems, my own abandonment complex, complimented by growing up in an environment that fostered those issues. Also I hurt my arm & that's apparently a big deal? Which is again, another thing I'm embarrassed about. I had surgery & now my brain is messed up? Rationally, I can understand those links, but irrationally...I feel weak. I just feel like I'm at the bottom of a well, looking up. These are, I am aware, crazy. No, not crazy; I'm not crazy. Just...not rational. This is what I talk about with Jennifer at 2am while she's half asleep. Being alive means problems will happen. That is life. I guess my point is, I feel like I'm coming out of it. Little by little, not fast enough, but I'm back on the upswing. & I'm not worried about jinxing it by talking about it. Someone stole $4000 from our checking account this week, & the stress of that sort of knocked me down, but I chumbawumba'd it. The first step on the Hierarchy is "one foot in front of the other."
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Oubliette Session Eighteen: Shinobi Attack! [Oct. 9th, 2014|03:50 pm]
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[Current Mood |Late!]
[Current Music |crown me king- the black rabbit]


(Shinobi; Art by Adam Tan.)

It's funny how time dilates in roleplaying game battles. The minis hit the table & everyone is waiting their turn to make split second decisions. The consequences of their choices require dice, math, description, & then the enemies go. Infamously, we used to count up the number of rounds in a Dungeons & Dragons fight in Scott's game, then say how long an hours long battle in a session had actually taken, & it was all like, a minute. In Oubliette I prefer to think of each round as being a cinematic take. If the camera cut to you in the big battle scene, what could you do before it cut away? World of Darkness metes out time according to "scenes" already, which is something else I like about the system, so I just want to keep the abstracts wibbly-wobbly. If I needed to set a timed countdown, I'd just tell them a number of turns anyhow. My point is: not a lot happened in the last session of my game, because quite a lot actually happened! Shinobi attack! Assassins in the night!


(Shinobi; Art by Adam Tan.)

I don't use a lot of obvious Japanese terms in this Oubliette campaign. Despite being very visibly Japanese in flavour, that's not the only source I'm pulling from by any means-- just the most visible slice. There are layers below it, in religion & language & history, so I prefer to call it "Pan-Asian" in influence, the same way that very Western fantasy settings are a blend of European mythologies & histories as well as new invention & artifice. That's what I'm going for, a broader base of inspiration rather than appropriation, so I try to avoid "samurai" as much as possible, though it can't be avoided & colloquially I'd rather stay in character than break immersion to try to correct someone so they could be, what, immersed better? Still I say "bushi" rather than "samurai"-- issues of aristocracy over pop culture aside-- & "geiko" instead of "geisha" to make the delineation clearer. It is very hard, however, not to call a spade a spade. I say "shinobi," but you should read: ninjas!


(Masui; Scarab cosplay by Shadow Wolf.)

This session was much more orderly than the previous two sessions, otherwise. Keku no-Kin, Nicoles character, the zaibatsu cyborg, had strange dreams in the night. "UTILIZING LIMINAL PROCESSING" said the strange letters, that she was somehow able to read...much as she was somehow able to read phrases from the scrawl on the wall in the Scribbler's Tower. Bits & pieces, as the mechanisms of her now-integrated cyber-eye used her subconscious mind for data crunching. The word "gods" appears multiple times-- the graffiti on the walls is written in many hands, at many times, with many materials, but seems to be read as one document by the Eye-- as does the words "incarnate" & "mortal vessels." Haru o-Kitsune, meanwhile, buys a dot of Mechanics & he & Amina o-Kitsune-- Luke & Lilly, respectively-- split up to explore the two towers further. Keku goes with Haru & she's able to get the Scribbler's Fort, with it's big steel plate making the mechanisms of the castle accessible, pretty much operational. She's a deft hand. Iroha goes with Amina & then-- ...shinobi!....



In the ninja battle I leaned on a lot of Fourth Edition philosophy. In particular, some of the ideas for solo monsters, like reflex actions. There were two groups-- I'll call them Red Clan & Black Clan, but obviously they've got backstory known only to the Dungeon Master (at this point)-- & one group was led by Masui, the woman from the auction who traded Goto "The Black Sutra," as Amina's sharp senses spotted under the distinctive face paint. Some of the reflect events included things like "attacks of opportunity if you move through the reach of the kusarigama" & "if they get hit they drop a smoke bomb & get a free Stealth check." There was a bunch of nested actions & things but...we all bought a ton of sake & sochu to game so...we were pretty drunk & I might have gotten...a lot sloppy with the complicated rules that I wrote while sober. Still, fun! & I haven't had a fight in forever. The shinobi fought hard, & took Amina to death's door-- where she lingers-- but withdrew when the going got tough; on the otherside, Haru similarly took a brutal series of stabbings, from blade & shuriken & poison; the shinobi retreated, but only because the soldiers were alerted & flooded up the stairs.
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The Other Dragons. [Oct. 4th, 2014|06:34 pm]
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[Current Music |crown me king- marduk was here]



So I think the chromatic dragons in Dungeons & Dragons are pretty much perfect. I don't think they should be staggered by difficulty-- I don't like them being ranked from red to white, & would rather they just filled different roles, like in 4e, with brutes & artillery & what have you-- but otherwise they are pretty great. Unique habitats, it's easy to remember who breathes what, it's cool that they have different breath weapons, & Tiamat rules. It's a nice paradigm & I think about the also-rans, the metallic dragons & the even less well known gem dragons. Years ago, I wrote about Apzu, who is my "missing sibling" for the colours not represented in the chromatics; purple, orange, yellow. I've revised that in my head to cram in gem dragons. Amethyst, Amber, Topaz, there's our neutral psionic dragons, the children of Apzu, a dead draconic god. (I've also had an idea that purple worms are the failed purples, rust monsters are failed oranges, but can't fit the two puzzle pieces together, yet. I thought before about linking their breath weapons to that-- rust dragons are my favorite non-standard dragon by a wide margin-- but that's just stuff to brood on).

With the metallic dragons, the "good," dragons, I've always been pretty annoyed at what a hodge-podge of too-similar metals were used. Brass, bronze & copper? That's...those are all copper alloys. What's the difference between which? Who breathes what, & what do they care about anyhow? Coppers have lightning, that's clever, & they are the...funny ones? I think. See, I don't even know, & so here is my fix: why not associate their colour scheme with historical or mythological paradigms? Just go ahead & cheat. Brass dragons, why they can summon genies & bind devils & live in desert climes because they remind me of Solomon & Arabian Nights. Bronze just makes me think "Bronze Age," so why not go ancient world? Golems of the statues of far antiquity, stone tablets of cuneiform & hieroglyphics & mysterious Linear A & B stuff. Copper dragons are the reverse, scaled Ben Franklins or Isaac Newtons, they love The Enlightenment & electricity & "high tech" treasures. Gold & silver you don't really need to mess with, & I would probably throw an "iron dragon" in while I'm at it. (Illustration by Wayne Reynolds.)
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Oubliette Session Seventeen: Claiming the Gates of Yomi. [Sep. 23rd, 2014|04:53 pm]
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[Current Mood |Running again Thursday!]
[Current Music |crown me king- the smoking mirror]


(The Gates of Yomi, exterior detail; Nick Gindraux.)

I sort of figured that this session would be a mirror-image of last session & I was correct. The one thing I didn't plan on was Silissa's pottery class; I knew she'd signed up, taking her out of game, but I didn't know it had already started. I made a story-dependent conflict that hinged on her presence & didn't go off. Fine with me, I can keep it in my pocket for later, but this session discussed more about "the Dervishes" & how the "White Ones"-- which people think is the Cho zaibatsu, whose agents wear predominantly white as their corporate uniform-- summoned them up to attack the Royal Physician. Consider it officially foreshadowed. I also realized once again how I can struggle against my better instincts. I think I make a pretty good dungeon, & I made the Gate of Yomi like a dungeon, & my players explored it like a dungeon...so why didn't I just commit & make it a dungeon? I put puzzles & social challenges in, so on some level I did, but I could have put monsters & treasure in just as easily. I guess I worry that it will break the flow of the game up, & while that is a good thought to have, the suspension of disbelief & the tropes of the game table would support it. Just something I've been thinking about, as the players explore the castle & find secret passages & occult scribblings; "this is all pretty dungeon-y!" The same thing happened in the last few campaigns at some point or another, & I guess I'm just growing in awareness about it. Why not just toss a couple of risky-but-not-session-length combats in there? There were some in the Pyramid (even though they mostly avoided them with cunning or charisma; I consider those perfectly acceptable "weapons.") This session, to get back on track, started with some big experience point spending: Luke improved Haru's Ranged to OOO, with Haru practicing explicitly to get better for when he marries into the Lung family & has access to guns; Amina goes on a spree & buys Athletic OO, Survival OO & Melee OOO.


(The Arterial Kimono; "Silk Me Back" by FMR.)

Amina o-Kitsune's gift from her betrothed is a white silk kimono with the blood vessels of the human body sewn into it. It can be worn on its own or with armor, & it grants an "extra box" of health, making a "blood pool" available to the wearer. The "pool" allows one health box worth of blood that has been purposefully spilled on it to be stored as a "virtual" health box, used either when the player takes wounds or engages in blood magic. It is refilled when the wearer purposefully spends a point of health box's worth of blood, soaking it into the hungry silk of the robe. Besides that, of course, is her reasonable expectation that the Gates of Yomi are "hers." They are Goro's, in fact, but since they are engaged to be wed, it is fair claim. Most of the session is exploring that castle. They find a secret passage in the fireplace of the samurai's quarters on the right-hand fortress, that leads to the secluded mountain-top shrine of Akira Kitsune, the so-called "Butcher Fox." Haru o-Kitsune & Amina both take turns going into their blood trances, seeing the unseen, trying to sort out the diabolical temptations from the tantalizing hints & vice-versa. Keku no-Kin talks to Iroha o-Lung about her ambitions, & while the others get up to their blasphemous occult hijinks, she manages to unstick the rusted gears somewhat & get the piston-driven spears on the wall to start firing. They also explore the opposite statue-skull of the Gates of Yomi, the one marked with dire warnings about quarantine & contamination; they find much the same layout, except full of the dust of dead spores & ragged "spider"webs like decaying lace. No butcher hooks, but instead scratches, deep in the stone of the walls; no signs of murder but much crazed graffiti in the communal barracks; the dining hall has no iron maidens but is filled with creepy echoes; the map room doesn't have leaks, but does have a metal plate bolted to the wall; the ballista room is full of gross fungi; the noble's living quarters is littered with bones & a statue of Tenko o-Kistune; last, the greenhouse above is criss-crossed & choked-- we're talking impassibly so-- with ancient, sticky, string- & rope-like webs.


(The Butcher Fox; concept art by Carlos NCT.)
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Purple Gel Ink Pens. [Sep. 22nd, 2014|06:28 am]
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[Current Mood |'tis alive!]
[Current Music |crown me king- william shakenstein]

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

I only read the first fifty pages of this book, so let me get that out there. I had a pretty strong negative reaction to those first fifty pages-- I found the voices indistinct, the content sophomoric, the trope tired-- but then, other people said they had a hard time with the beginning but dug in around a hundred pages, so what do I know? Some people really liked it, some people were sort of more meh about it but no one had the dislike for it that the first few chapters left me with. I guess I could give it another try, but I doubt I will, to be honest. I've been reading work stuff lately so I've been bad about reading novels or keeping track of what I do read. This was carmyarmyofme's pick, & she brought bunches of Japanese snacks, which I went at like a hyena. So yeah, I don't have a lot to say here because I sort of opted out. People liked the scenes at the zen temple the best & thought that the end was too pat. Jenny read hers at the same time she was reading the new Murakami & that played them off each other. Rasheem thought for sure that Ruth had Alzheimer's & the diary was actually hers from when she was little. Liz read all of it on a bus. fatbutts & fordmadoxfraud read the lionshare but hadn't finished the end by the time we started.
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Tea Kettles & Tiamat. [Sep. 22nd, 2014|06:07 am]
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[Current Mood |Bones.]
[Current Music |crown me king- dungeon song]



Alright! This gaming recap is overdue, but I'll spill. First things first, a few weeks ago I played one of the official Dungeons & Dragons: Encounters events. Lilly & I met up with Ken & Alicia out at Twenty-Sided Store-- where I'd previously played The Pathfinder Box Set-- & a big group of us all went hard on five hour long convention adventures. We only got through four, but it was fun. Definitely not my style of play, too many people at the table, but the people playing we all pretty good, & I want to learn some of Ken's skills at pacing. There was a halfling innkeeper, Madame Freona, who had five daughters, each with her hair a different shade: blue, red, white..."wait a minute! Those are the chromatic dragons aren't they!" We never figured it out-- you're kind of on the rails for these sorts of adventures-- but I really hope she's an avatar of Tiamat. Fizban needs company. Oh man, the best thing about Dragonlance is the decision to make Bahamut & Tiamat the main gods of the setting. That's just solid as-above-so-below cosmology.

Then last week was Tim's #TorDnD group at work. It was a heck of a lot of fun but there isn't that much to recap! We got there & Tim was setting up an elaborate-- even for him, king of the mini-mold & dungeon-tile-- game table. That's never a good sign for peace & quiet. Lo & behold, it was a big brawl! Sam had to miss the session, so I "played" Kit, which means I picked the best healing spell left on his list & cast it every turn, pretty much. Scott showed up instead, & the session was our meet & greet. He's a monk & he was...fighting a wyvern? What the...wyvern? But then! Berserkers, thugs...& an earth elemental? My tiefling wizard, Pantalone, actually had a spell work, & used suggestion to get the earth elemental to review the assassin who had summoned it, hiding on the rooftops! He escaped, more's the pity, but otherwise we actually cleaned house really well. Everybody worked as a team & the villains were defeated efficiently. Not easily, but without any horrible crisis for once. & now we have a monk! A sad monk whose treetop temple was destroyed.

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Oubliette Session Sixteen: The Gates of Yomi open. [Sep. 16th, 2014|02:59 pm]
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[Current Mood |Just send the draft.]
[Current Music |crown me king- ja whol narwhal]


(The Gates of Yomi; Nick Gindraux.)

The pacing has been off on Oubliette. I'm letting things sprawl all over the place, & could use a little focus. It's something I'm very aware of, & stuff that I've plotted out for a single session can just slime out everywhere. That's fun though, sometimes, even if all that happens in a session is a rising sense of Hitchcockian suspense. Raise the violins! Which is what last Thursday's session became; I think people had fun-- I know Lilly did at least-- so I'm not sweating it, but it is a skill I need to work on, especially after having seen Ken run a slew of hour long one-shots on Sunday...but more about that later. We're talking about my game for now. I had to ask for a confirmation of the last scene from the previous session, if they had concluded with Iroha leading them to the Gates of Yomi, the abandoned fortress that Goro & his bride-to-be Amina o-Kitsune, Lilly's character, are going to live in. Which reminds me, I didn't ask the players for a recap & I didn't go through to confirm their Experience & see if they wanted to spend any. Several of them increased Attributes in the year long gap between the auction & this wedding, so I guess it is probably fine! But, the point being! The session starts with the party, led by Iroha o-Lung, agent (& cousin) of the Shogun as well as Luke's character Haru o-Kitsune betrothed, heading into the higher altitudes & longitudes, seeing the rather rare occurrence of snow. See where the two Watchtowers are on the map? They are equatorial. Then, looming in the cliff walls-- the giant skeleton castle-statues of the Gates of Yomi!

Trying to summarize the session would be tricky, as like I said, it was very fluid, as the characters explored using all of their senses: in the case of the two blood magic using Kitsune, that makes occult visions & the ominous appearance of Mysterious Hints, Allegations & Temptations. Rather than try to lay it all out in a linear fashion, I'll just sort of spill my thoughts out like a dumped over cauldron. Oh & will you look at that; I started writing this right after game, but then life got in the way-- read: laziness, forgetfulness-- & I let this drop. That means it will be even more scattershot, but that's life, bub. So the players are approaching the skeletal statues, the spooky Argonath, & Haru decides to do a little blood magic divination, see what he can find out wearing the creepy mask that he borrowed & has not yet returned from the cult of Yama-of-Many-Faces. Yes, by the way, Yama & Yomi are related figures; Kamido, the religion of the Shogunate, has many gods & subgods, explicitly heterodox. Linguistic drift? Make it a new god, or an aspect, or an avatar, easy peasy. Or was it always really just an aspect or avatar or new god to begin with?


(Iroha o-Lung; "Infestation" by Jed Henry.)

Haru...well, he & the Butcher's Mask are getting along famously. He's not just putting it on & walking around like a cross between a cenobite & Darth Vader, no sir! He's not creeping up on people while having visions of dozens of people being tortured & executed. He doesn't menace Eric's character Ren Joko Izumi hardly at all! That would be too creepy. & what about these "DANGER SPORES" glyphs on the door? Wait, spores? Taking off the mask & coming to his senses, Haru-- who went on an expedition into the Toxic Jungle when he was an older teen (along with the Royal Physician before she re-discovered her supernatural birthright)-- warns Iroha & the rest that there might need to be quarantine protocols up ahead. Taking a handful of Kitsune ashigaru soldiers & Ren with him-- Amina will later catch up with them after some divinations of her own-- Haru rides ahead. Iroha gives him a flare-- forbidden, since he is not Lung, but the rules are bent since he's betrothed to be-- to fire when they want to give the "all clear."

Ren is in the middle of all of these maniacs. Actually, scratch that, Ren has made out with a mummy & a naga, I think he's lost the right to get up on his high horse. He's a weirdo, same as anyone. Everyone got their rewards for their role in the weapons dealing auction except him, since he & Silissa alternate. He was there at Goro's behest, serving as a social lubricant, a fancy Geiko-- Oubliette's "not-Geisha"-- to make everyone's time pass smoothly. Sure, he spent most of his time exploring a haunted pyramid, but he played his part in the vignettes & off screen, he filled his role with aplomb. In return he gets Resources O, as he is paid a fractional share of the profits, per his contract, but his real gift is more sentimental. Goro & Ren grew up in the same small "flower town," & they met the other players at the same time. Goro got drunk, drugged, broke the shochu bottle & ran away; Ren joined the others & became a PC. He gives Ren a kintsugi artifact: kintsugi is the art of repairing a broken thing with precious metals, such as gold, so that the flaws are replaced with strength & character. It is the same shochu bottle, now repaired with gold, that they broke as kids; if Ren uses it in a small meditative ceremony, whomever he shares a libation with regains a point of Willpower.



The bulk of the session is the group exploring the non-spore tainted skull-tower...which is pretty dang creepy all on it's own as it turns out. Just what kind of place are the Lung pawning off on this poor, innocent...peasant warlord? The first "room" is the hollow wall of the gates, of the eponymous Gate. The right hand floor has gone to rubble, & precarious & clumsily hewn wooden planks lay over it as a kind of bridge. There are piston-like spears in the ceiling, seemingly ready to stab upwards if anyone surmounts the walls. Next is a six-story tall circular "tower" inside the cliff face; in the middle a huge iron cage hangs, big enough for a half dozen people if they squeeze in. Butcher hooks hang willy-nilly throughout, & a spiral staircase proceeds up the walls. The chain keeps going up, but eventually the floor widens & the walls...curve, horizontally buttressed with beams like massive ribs. The actual interior of the castle; a barracks for communal living...with blood. What fray was here? Up from there, the "rib-like" walls continue...into a dining hall, with kitchens at each end, & the walls...lined with iron maidens? What is up with this place! Another spiral staircase up-- the "spine" of the structure, with the chain still running through it-- leads to a map room, stained with brackish & rusty water. The chain stops there, & going up the staircases split into two, & come out into the "skull" visible from below. Each "eye" is fitted with a heavy ballista, & a waterfall in the center of the room should crank the gears to wind the ballista, if it was working...& hey, probably powers the chain on that cage! It's an elevator.

Up from there are the makings of a small aristocrat's quarters, with a statue on a rotating pedestal & fireplaces at each end. Above that is...a greenhouse, with all the windows painted black with tar, filled with bones. Human bones, from a fresh kill but disguised as ancient, broken up with rusty weapons. Haru & Amina, the blood magicians, go on quite the tear, licking & touching all of the blood & the gore. Cracking open the rusted-shut iron maidens. Haru mollifies the troops-- he's good for morale-- & Ren investigates practically, but there are visions, visions. The Butcher. A female ghost with a samurai's paired swords through her abdomen. Dark forces are gathered here, tempting Amina with power & somewhere to belong, Haru dancing along the edges. It all seems...almost contrived, put together. Ritualized. It all seems...set up for the Royal Physician? Flirting with the powers of blood & night, that's what they are able to glean, along with hints, so many, many hints. We closed up the session there, with only the right-side of the Gates of Yomi explored, & Amina's wedding due to start in a week!


(A ghost; Peter Mohrbacher.)
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Counting While Breathing. [Aug. 20th, 2014|06:46 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Eat your heart out.]
[Current Music |crown me king- shod a nightmare]



I've seen a bunch of movies lately, which isn't really my usual way. I do experience the same feeling though; about halfway through I'm like "wait, this is only halfway?" Before I give my quickly jotted down thoughts, a quick health & insomnia update. The arm is healing. I'm not a superstar of arm-healing or anything; it's not magically ahead of schedule. Just on schedule. I do my exercises at home & it is just about time for me to rejoin a gym, though I'll have a limited range of things I can do there. Insomnia-wise, things have settled down into a pattern where I wake up at 5am, valium or no. Which isn't to say the valium doesn't work, or to say that I still always need or take it; my tentative experiments are inconclusive, but the point is, I like to look on this as a symptom of healing. I wake up at five but I don't wake up freaking out or anything. It's still definitely part of the same spectrum, so I don't want to accept this as the new status quo, so I've chosen to embrace a paradigm where you call this "progress." Jenny & Terra have been really good about helping me through this; one perk of having your top chum across the planet is that if I wake up in the middle of the night, it's the middle of the day for her.

Movies! I saw a bunch. Finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy-- illness got in the way of seeing it sooner-- at a date night with Jenny on Monday. So, that movie was great & awesome & I laughed the whole time. A couple of obligatory notes before I gush more. First, stop calling people "bitch" & "whore." Yes, I know you say "a-hole" & "dick" in the movie a lot too. No, it isn't the same thing. You know how you wouldn't use the n-word or homophobic slurs or something, but calling someone a "dick" is still fine? Yeah, words aren't all equal, MRA warrior. Put down the casual misogynistic slurs & we'll all be a lot happier. Point two: the whole "DC can't even make a Wonder Woman movie but here is a movie with a talking tree & a raccoon who loves guns" meme doesn't hold water until Marvel actually puts up some female fronted movies; until then, they're in the same boat. That said, it is a movie about a talking tree & a raccoon who loves guns. & you know, Footloose & blackrom sisters, which you know I dig. I liked making the Nova Corps a bunch of Stormtroopers rather than a bunch of Green Lanterns, too. Good movie, fun times. I wish Drax had been focused on Thanos from the beginning-- for some reason, that's what I care about?-- but I liked the interpretation of Ronan. Ronan is the best-worst. As for Quill's dad...smart money is on Adam Warlock, but that almost seems too easy, to me.

I saw Spider-Man 2 last night. So I'm not going to even pretend that we don't already know Gwen Stacy dies in this movie. Duh & obviously. That's a real problem though, because Emma Stone was basically the reason to watch these movies. Oh, they are fine, Garfield is funny, which the last Spidey franchise was lacking, but they just...lack...fire. Spirit. I don't know. They make interesting choices, but sometimes that backfires, like...who cares about Peter Parker's magical Harry Potter parents. Not me. Emma Stone is awesome as Gwen Stacy & if they know what's good for them they'll use some MacGuffin or Deus Ex Machina to bring her back. Also, they should pull a Bendis & make a Spider-Woman who is a clone of Peter; if you are going to put all this "my dad's DNA was in the spider, I'm another boring Chosen One cliche instead of the random nerd trying his best which is obviously a better thesis" storyline, at least take advantage of it. Or combine those ideas & have Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman; wasn't there that one-shot What If? recently where she was? What I'm saying is, I get how you felt you had to kill off Gwen Stacy, but you know what you should do for the third movie, is just make Spider-Man <3s Mary Jane. Or bring back Gwen Stacy. Listen, I'm a Mary Jane guy! I think their relationship eclipses the "first love" of Peter & Gwen. I'm just saying...these movies almost changed my mind. & by these movies, I mean Emma Stone.

Snowpiercer is the other flick I saw. Don't buy the hype, good or bad. This is a fine movie; it won't blow your mind but...if you think it is a dumb, I probably think you are dumb. Yes, the premise is implausible. If there was a new ice age, the only survivors would not live on a train that never stops. Important hint, though: I think it might be a metaphor. I think the train might be about class, & not a hard SF solution to living on an ice world. Do you complain that the lasers in Star Wars make sounds in space? That said, there is plenty in this movie that doesn't make sense. It feels like a Frankenstein of several scripts, or one huge script chopped up & disconnected because all the context has been edited out. Whatever, it is still a fun "class war" story in a train. It is very "East meets West" in the direction; some scenes were just...not tropes you would ever see from a Hollywood movie. What is with all the guys stabbing a fish with their hatchets? I don't....okay. The hatchet scene was probably my favorite; the way the conflict stopped for the "Happy New Year!" made the whole "system" of revolt/crackdown seem like a cultural norm. Also puts the whole "ugh, I'm sick of hearing about police brutality, change the channel" into perspective; selective outrage as a pressure valve to prevent real change?
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Oubliette Session Fourteen & Fifteen: Weddings & Secret Societies. [Aug. 19th, 2014|06:27 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Mild insomnia again.]
[Current Music |crown me king- crows for kings]


(The Kitsune Triplets; BABYMETAL.)

The running joke about my RPG campaign is that while most campaigns are about battling orcs in dungeons or defending a town from a dragon, my game is about fancy masquerade parties & elaborate tea ceremonies; you get less "rescue the princess" & more "marry the princess." I don't lightly gender "princess" there, on account how in this campaign, one of the characters is actually getting married to a princess. Or well, the Shogun's cousin; close enough. Last session it went even further over-board, & we spent the entire time planning weddings. Listen, you've all watched Game of Thrones, you don't need me to convince you that aristocratic weddings are a big deal where a lot of crazy stuff can do down. At least this time they had plenty of Experience Points to spend from the "story bonus": Haru bought Wits OO, Keku bought Dexterity OOO & The Royal Physician bought Persuasion OO. Lots of new attribute dots!


(Kitsune Mask.)

Besides, our protagonists deserve their just desserts for their covert mission to the auction of doom! Before they left, Iroha o-Lung-- the Shogun's ambassador-- took Haru, Keku & Amina aside, as they had formed an alliance last session. Iroha pragmatically offers the same reward to the Kitsune that they offered to Goro; she will marry Haru, & they will give her all but the Black & Red Lions, & she will pay for Haru's little "cash on hand" problem. The Kin-- who never really wanted the canopic jar weapons anyway, just wanted to be in play for whatever advantage or leverage they could get-- get a major piece of technology or ten smaller gifts from the Watchtower. Which, if you are paying careful attention, has some serious implications, in that it implies the Watchtower is open for business. The summary of auction swapping is here. Then, Iroha proposes-- no pun intended-- that they take this little arrangement one step forward, & create a secret societies. The Dragon take naturally to the Gold of the Kin & the cunning of Foxes...& who knows what Mysteries the Royal Physician can bring to the group? They pledge into the Blue Koi Society, & use the Naga's gift of the tsuba heated over a flame to brand scales on their ribs. & I'll point out that two of them are blood magicians & one is a reincarnated mummy, & they've sworn on the curse of the serpent goddess to advance each other's interests within their own Houses & Zaibatsu. So. Blue Koi Society.


(The Butcher Fox's Mask.)

A year passes! I am fond of having time pass in my game, I'll always knock off a boring year or fast-forward in media res, if I can convince the PCs to. This group has been very compliant in that respects; I've even let slip that my half-conceived intention, if the group sticks together long enough, is to have them all retire these PCs & play the children of each other's PCs. Silissa playing Haru & Iroha's kid, Nicole playing Amina & Goro's kid, etc. During that year, first up, are the Kitsune cousins. Their family's daimyo, Hayate o-Kitsune, calls them in & there are three kitsune girls in fox masks; they present a collection of masks for Amina, & she chooses one. So that's Kitsune Mask O to go along with her Oni Mask O. (Meanwhile, Haru has consulted with Masami o-Kitsune-- a house Kannushi priest devoted to the Goblin Fox aspect of Okami-- discovered that the mask he took from the cult of Yama-of-Many-Faces is the Butcher Fox's Mask, belonging once to Akira Kitsune. The "fox in a hen house" Kitsune more than a trickster Kitsune, he had a Vlad Tepes-esque low cunning & brutality. Then the mask was passed to Tenko o-Kitsune, & lost when Tenko committed seppuku in Kumo lands over charges that she killed children in order to further provoke a civil war between the Houses. Butcher Fox's Mask OO, if he chooses to keep it; if fatbutts wants more dots in her Masks, she should do the research, that's the Rule I've decided just now. Also the priest tells him that the cult of Yama-of-Many-Faces were Shinigami, profane witches, necromancers.) Amina's fox? You know the one she let a demon wriggle inside of? クリーチャー? Now when she sees it, she sees it wearing the mask, too. She gets Familiar +O.


(Kumo spider silk kimono; Nicolas Andreas Taralis.)

Meanwhile, Haru's mother asks him to wear the kimono that she was married in, when he gets married. This is what I'm talking about, intense wedding details. & I'm not kidding, either. The genderbending implications aren't really there-- gender is more expressly fluid & performative in the Shogunate-- but the politcal are. Luke chews on it for a little bit. Haru's mother is Shizu o-Kitsune, but before that she was Shizu o-Kumo, a Spider, & her all black kimono is their colour, not Kitsune or Lung. Still, all of the information he's been unravelling about the mask has come from his correspondence with the Spider kuge, his former yojimbo Mio Yudai was from the Kumo lands, & it was be seen as a favor to the Kumo House to show that side of his heritage in his wedding into the ruling House, the Dragon. He agrees, & good thing too, because The mummified Royal Physician called him the Black Fox & this is me making the prophecy true. & also it provides Armor O with no burden or constraint, being woven of spider silk in the Kumo style. So the gift is practical in it's austere beauty & subtle political statement. Being betrothed, Haru gains Status: Lung O & decides that when he gets married his name is going to be Haru o-Kitsune no-Lung, for all the political implications the honorifics & possessive's imply. Amina meanwhile is writing love haikus in her own blood daily to send to Goro as he passes his first year of study with the Gaki, which he ardently returns in kind.


(Mukade leathers; Alice Auaa)

Keku Kin, for all of this, returns to a well-pleased Kin representative. She's just a cog in the machine-- she doesn't know whether the zaibatsu gets one piece of technology or what it might be-- she just did her job, & now it's out of her hands & for the Investors to make the decisions. We do decide, meanwhile, on what her Mukade leathers-- & her scary mask-- look like (which are her Armor OO that she already had). Her success does carry an increase in Status Kin: O as she comes to the direct notice of the Investors & her Fame begins to carry with it respect as well. She's also ensnared in some sort of promotion from the Lung, apparently Iroha following through on her Blue Koi society pledge, appointing her some kind of "Gold Magistrate," which is a fancy word for tax collector. Keku is not exactly thrilled at having been promoted to "tax collector" but she is more excited about what the title comes with: a steel warfan, a tessen. It's a Weapon: O but it also applies to all of her social rolls. Also, Keku & her familiar serpent Nagini have been nursing the terrordactyl egg from the Arboretum, which has hatched into a little fell beastie chick that hangs out on her shoulder. Instead of angels & devils whispering in her ear, she's got a snake & a pterodactyl, giving her a separate Familiar O named "Mariko."


(Gold Magistrate tessen.)

I dont want to overlook The Royal Physician, or Ren, for that matter, but since Eric & Silissa are alternating with each other, his goodies should come next session). & in fact, both of their "gifts" come from Goro, not from their superiors, since well, The Royal Physician has betrayed her superiors, & Goro was Ren's superior, having hired him as the host & entertainment for the auction. Goro, for his part, gives The Royal Physician a small blue face, affixed to a cord. An amulet, the blue visage of a previous Royal Physician. The Blue Amulet O grants plus one to all Heka rolls, which is to say, whenever she uses her ancient Al-Kem alchemy gleaned from numerous lives spent mastering the art. She also gets Enigma O, as the universe sort of shifts sideways to try to accommodate her, to encyst her weirdness. When The Royal Physician was sent on this mission by the Cho Zaibatsu-- when Moe no-Cho was-- they sent her with a briefcase full of pills that would extend your life by fifty years. The Royal Physician sells these on the black market, fully betraying her old captor-employers. Status: Cho OOO becomes Resources OOO & her Retainer O is replaced by Ally: Cho O, as she's still secretly in touch with her mentor within the organization. She decides to live back in Joko Izumi, the artisan "flower town" of the Geiko where Ren lives. Specifically, in the partially restored ruins, the castle that has been converted into a shrine for the naga, Hebi-no-Hime, kept by Wakana. The Royal Physician carries the Naga's blessing in her poison blood, she's welcome there, taking up shop in the dungeon room where she ate her toes.


(The Blue Amulet.)
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What if Rust Cohle Wrote Hard Science-Fiction? (33; 11:22) [Aug. 17th, 2014|09:47 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |But we had nothing left to play for.]
[Current Music |crown me king- !!!!]

Echopraxia by Peter Watts.

Fly to Icarus,
Angel of the Asteroids.
The Spider sent you.

Listen, first off, you should stop what you're doing & go read Blindsight, if you haven't already. This is the follow-up volume to that-- I wouldn't say sequel, since reading Blindsight isn't required for this book to make sense-- & the hits just keep on coming. I don't have a lot of complicated thoughts to say about it, this time. This is really solid hard SF, with Watt's unique brand of grit. I like to call myself an "optimistic nihilist" & you could probably call him a "pessimistic nihilist" & not be too far off. It isn't that black & white, it isn't that stark, so I don't mean that in a reductive sense, just a descriptive one. Heck, if you read what I said at Tor.com about the Rifter series (which starts with Starfish), then you know what I mean. Actually, I think this book could best be described as a synthesis between the two series; the threat of βehemoth very much informs the dangers of Portia (using proper nouns means it isn't a spoiler, since by the time that comment will make sense to you, you'll know as much as I do). Ultimately, like The Rifter books, it is a story of the big dangers of small things, & Blindsight, this is the story of, to use Watt's own words slightly out of context, "a Darwinian fossil in a Lamarckian age."

So to give you the short version, Echopraxia is a story of a human man on the cusp of a post-human world. A trope of a lot of cyberpunk fiction is contrived "otherness"-- you know, think of Shadowrun & losing "Essence" as you get cybernetic implants. I think it is just technophobia, manifesting in weird ways-- see also, "magic versus technology" as the default in a lot of fantasy-- but Watts is a different matter. The post-human "people" of the book range from human, to near-human, to post-human, to in-human & ab-human. That's a lot of prefixes, but that's the range we get; the real post-humans? Aren't "people," not really. & the vampire? Calling her a "person," that's pretty silly. That doesn't mean they aren't characters. Valerie the Vampire we mostly see in reflection, ironically, as characters react to her, theorize as to her motives. She is a lacunae, left to the reader to fill by piecing together the plot...& she's probably my favorite bit of the whole book. You know me, I can't get enough of that sort of stuff. This is Watt's "big idea" book. You could say it is about "God" the same way that 2001: a Space Odyssey & Galactus are about "God."
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Spock, with a Beard. (32; 10:22) [Aug. 17th, 2014|08:22 am]
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[Current Mood |We wanted to play.]
[Current Music |crown me king- \\\\]

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley.

She's sworn to the skull.
No wait; she's Sworn to the Skull.
Emphasis matters.

Oh, see, I didn't even get around to doing a review or blurb of the first one, last year. That sort of thing is at the root of my re-embrace of the short, informal blog post about books; if I let myself get in my own head these will just start backlogging & the whole thing will backfire. So, okay, this series! I don't read a lot of epic fantasy. I figure most people assume that I do, because the sort of SF/F nerd I am usually gets painted with that brush, & I certainly have read plenty of epic fantasy...but it isn't my jam, not really. As a rule of thumb, if it is a big doorstop filled with made-up words with extra apostrophes & double consonants, I probably steer clear. That caveat given, I really like this series. It overcomes a lot of the stumbling blocks that epic fantasy can fall prey to, while giving you the big concept stuff like evil immortal Vulcans & creepy pain wizards that you have come to expect. The series follows the three children of a recently assassinated emperor as they each separately try to untangle the web of murder & politics they are suddenly mired in. One is a monk, another is special ops, & the third is minister of finance. Yeah, it's like that, & actually, you can sort of see some of the major successes in the epic fantasy market in each of their story lines. The monk, Kaden, is enmeshed in a cosmological plot, feeling very Steven Erikson; the SEAL is stuck making hard, violent choices in a way familiar to readers of George R. R. Martin; & the politician ends up negotiating witch-lords & religious zealots in a very Wheel of Time-y way. (An Oxford semi-colon? Is that a thing?) Not to mention there is a lot of interesting worldbuilding going on; do I detect someone's campaign research in the background? My one "complaint" is that this second volume is driven by dramatic tension, & after The Lumatere Chronicles, I'm feeling a little weary of that, personally, but that's just me at this moment, not a structural criticism. Anyhow, the "big bad" are basically evil Vulcans, like I mentioned, so that's pretty great.
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