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Oubliette Session Twenty: Kitsune Mischief. [Dec. 6th, 2014|05:15 pm]
[Tags|, ]
[Current Mood |Skullduggery.]
[Current Music |crown me king- nimrod!]

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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[Current Mood |No more coffee.]
[Current Music |crown me king- nox]

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; 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]
[Current Mood |Pastel Smoke.]
[Current Music |crown me king- prismatic cloud]

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Halloween(s). [Nov. 1st, 2014|12:05 pm]
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[Current Mood |NaNoWriMo.]
[Current Music |crown me king- ||||||]

(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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[Current Mood |Big Shot]
[Current Music |crown me king- darth mikey]

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!]
[Current Music |crown me king- drider]

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 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]
[Current Mood |Then? A little buzzed.]
[Current Music |crown me king- ⁂]

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 Mood |Apzy.]
[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 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]
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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 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 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]
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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]
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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 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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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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"don't go to sleep i want to talk about math." (31; 9:22) [Aug. 17th, 2014|07:46 am]
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Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg.

"I drew you something!"
"Wow, is it horrifying?"
"Uh, I'm William Blake."

Every so often I find out that we're publishing someone who I really, really want us to publish, like when I found out we were putting out-- or, err, distributing, or whatever, I don't want to get "industry" here-- Tavi Gevinson's Rookie compilations. This is another big win, if you ask me. Ortberg is, frankly, hilarious. You probably know that already. I found out about her with her "Text Messages from a Ghost" series, so this book is a natural fit for her style. There is only so much you can say about something like this-- what, you want me to go through & explain the jokes?-- but I do have a few notes. One, the René Descartes chapter was my favorite. Two, I laughed out loud on the train, which is always a good sign; I think the last time that happened was Surface Detail. Three, Ortberg has a knack for hitting the reference "just so." That is, if you actually know what she's talking about, it is very, very funny...but even if you haven't read the book (or whatever) that she's spoofing, she's a light enough touch that your general pop culture knowledge will give you enough context to chuckle along, & I suspect that even if you were completely in the dark bits would be funny because it is, well, funny.
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Brother Cadis Fly. (30; 9:21) [Aug. 17th, 2014|07:27 am]
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A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters.

The crown & crosier:
neither really care about
framers & poachers.

Between battling insomnia & being sick, I haven't been drunk in a minute, but last night's book club sure fixed that, yeah buddy. Roll call, before I forget: Liz, then carmyarmyofme, then Rasheem, & of course fordmadoxfraud on the teleconference since it was his pick, then a little late we got Beatrice & fatbutts. So I'm a little hung over this morning! I haven't felt like this in a while, it is almost novel, while familiar at the same time. Anyhow, moving on to the book. This was David's pick, his third after Novel with Cocaine & Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry (Edit: Jenny has informed me that David also picked The Dispossessed, not Kerry; good job, that book is one of my all-time favorite books ever). I powered threw it on Saturday, mostly, after having put it off because it was thin & then being surprised by its density. It isn't a slog but it certainly isn't a page turner, either; I don't quite know how to describe the book's character. Welsh? That's cheating. Still, it has a surprising complexity to the prose that is hard to put my finger on. Anyhow, let's keep this moving; I'm behind on book blurbs & I need to step it up. So, I found this to be a natural follow-up to Hild; whereas Hild is all about the promotion of the Roman church in order to provide a bridge between the Angles & the British, this is about...the church as a bridge between the Normans & the Welsh centuries later. Carmen thinks that's just because I'm not exposed to a lot of British history, & that's fair, but that's how I viewed it anyhow! So, the biggest complaint from the group was that it was too "pat," that everyone ends up paired off & the mystery is solved with all the loose ends tied up...which I found a weird complaint because....right. Yes, that's what happened, isn't that why we all read this book? Isn't the sales pitch "a mystery where all the loose ends get tied up & everyone get paired off?" I mean, I agree, Cadfael is a bit of a Marty Sue with his whole "well I was an adventurer & a hero & I totally slept with a ton of women before I was a monk, & I'm good at everything," sure. It read, to me (& Rasheem agreed) very "pulp," & reminded me of the Appendix N series I did. A parting note; I didn't realize this was a female author writing under an ambiguous pseudonym until halfway through the book, when I looked at the author bio. Liz had mentioned that the author described the men in the way women are usually described in books, & that's what put the thought in my head.
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Oubliette: Auction Summary. [Aug. 15th, 2014|12:37 pm]
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In the midst of the insomnia from my shoulder, I fell behind on Oubliette. Both running it & recording it, since I ran a session that fell through the cracks. I've also written a great big post that I made private because it ended up containing too many spoilers. So you know what I think I'm going to do? I'm going to spit this post out in tiny, bite-sized morsels. I'll write up whatever little bit I feel like, & then write up the rest later, until it's all finished. I should be talking about the Blue Koi Society, for instance, but I'd rather talk about the very, final-most tally of the auction, after our heroes & villains finish conspiring in the epilogue. Actually, those dovetail together, & the story ends in personal rewards, which means pretty pictures, so here we go! I'll use some of the "b-sides" of the image posts (of which I have no source or provinance & a reverse Google Image look-up came up empty) for everyone's rewards to punch it up; I know they'll be out of context, but this record keeping is worthwhile on its own, just to see where each canopic jar ended up, & where everything ended up after the backroom doors sealed, before Iroha took them away on a surprise, secret Lung heavier-than-airship. An ironclad zepplin!

Red Skull: (Goro -> Goldur for five years tutelage)
Black Frog: (Goro -> Kitsune for marriage)
White Scarab: (Goro -> Kitsune for marriage) (Kitsune -> Shogun for marriage)
Black Scarab: (Goro -> Kitsune for marriage)
Red Lion: (Goro -> Kitsune for marriage) (Kitsune -> Shogun for marriage)
Black Lion: (Goro -> Kitsune for marriage) (Kitsune -> Shogun for marriage)
White Falcon: (Goro -> Lung for castle)
Green Scarab: (Goro -> Masui for Black Sutra)
Black Skull: (Goro -> Kitsune for 550,000 mon) (Kitsune -> Shogun for marriage; Lung pays off sum)
White Skull: (Goro -> Kin for 500,000 kane) (Kin -> Lung for 1 major tech or 10 minor)

Five years of tutelage from Goldur for the Red Skull.
The Black Sutra from Masui for the Green Scarab.
The Gates of Yomi from the Lung for the White Falcon.
500,000 in kane from the Kin Zaibatsu for the White Skull.
550,000 in mon from the Kitsune (& Lung) for the Black Skull.
Goro o-Kitsune for the Black Frog, White Scarab, Black Scarab, Red Lion, Black Lion.)

Goldur bint Agrat:
Red Skull for five years of tutelage.

Green Scarab for Black Sutra.

Kin Zaibatsu:
One piece of major tech or ten minor from Lung for White Skull (for 500,000 kane)

House Kitsune:
Red Lion from Goro for marriage to Amina.
Black Lion from Goro for marriage to Amina.
Wreckage from Goro for marriage to Amina.
Marriage to Lung for Black Frog, Black Scarab, Black Skull, White Scarab.

White Falcon from Goro for Gates of Yomi castle.
Black Skull from Kitsune for marriage to Haru (Haru's overbid paid by Lung).
Black Frog from Kitsune for marriage to Haru
Black Scarab from Kitsune for marriage to Haru
White Scarab from Kitsune for marriage to Haru.
White Skull from Kin for 1 major or 10 minor technologies.

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#TorDnD: Practical Demonology. [Aug. 8th, 2014|04:09 pm]
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The triumphant return of #TorDnD, where Tim runs a game for Irene (Wren, human ranger), Jonathan (Aegwyn, half-elf paladin), Sam (Kit, human cleric), Bridget (Columbine, tiefling rogue) & me (Pantalone, tiefling wizard). Last session saw us in the depths of a crypt, having killed a necromancer Molgi & her troll "igor". Hey, I took her books; I'm hoping that I can convince Tim that at least one of them is a spellbook! One of my biggest pet peeves about Dungeons & Dragons is that divine casters just get automatic access, out of the box, to every single cleric spell ever, & if a new book comes out, they instantly get those to, while meanwhile wizards are left begging the Dungeon Master to throw a spellbook into the treasure every so often. Spellbooks are better game design, if you ask me. I think clerics should have a similar mechanic limiting their selection; maybe by the invention of the Domains their religion has access to? Anyhow, neither here nor there, just that spell lists & Vancian mechanics are things I have a fondness for but lots of Opinions about, like "if you are trying to balance a class by building its own bespoke spell list, you've already messed up." That said, the "no overlap on the Venn diagram between Divine & Arcane spells" is something I can live with; mostly I just think heck, you've already got spell levels. Build the class to restrict or allow access using your existing foundation of spell levels!

Anyhow, we had killed off the necromancer, so Pantalone got to the business of looting. There wasn't much. Meanwhile, other PCs were like "why don't we rescue the kids in this pit?" Okay, you got it. From there? We deduce that what the mark that the evil cultists are looking for is demonic parentage. Tieflings, in Tim's game like in Fourth Edition, are a distinct race, distinctly diabolical in fact, not like Planescape's general Lower Planes thing. Notable, since right-- Pantalone is definitely a creepy old jester-wizard who adopted Bridget's character Columbine as a daughter just because she was a tiefling-- we've got a "thing." The next step? Across the water, there is an island; there is a rowboat tied up at a secret dock & there is a lantern for signaling so we're able to Sherlock where to go next. Across the pond!

Into a totally stealth little cove! Uh, I kind of want to just...take over this dungeon? Set it up as our stronghold & go tower defense kingdom builders. It miiiiight be a little too evil for that though; the door to the lighthouse-like structure was a barbed, needled demon hand. Kit grasped it, & it grasped him, slicing him badly, & I made a mental note to prod Columbine to try to disable traps next time. Sorry, I was busy talking to my chicken familiar, Scaramouche. In & up into-- the hideous ritual! Well, two huge, blazing braziers-- a word I am notorious for mispronouncing as "brassiere" on occasion-- blocked the way, at first, & in fact shot flames at us when we used the stairs. There we fought albino troglodytes, gooey lizard-people, who protected a demonic figure, writhing in different aspects; incubus wings, hezrou arms, vrock head, what have you. Wren shot off an arrow & it hit him dead on & barely scratched him. He flew, & below him were a swarm of dretches, loathsome lowly demons. Behind them all, shackled to the floor, were three children, writhing in pain from visible bands of divine & arcane energy snaking together to power the mad demonologist, Wulgreth.

Wulgreth & his minions put up a fight! There are a few things you should know, up front. The first is that I have been having such shit luck with my polyhedral dice, every freaking d20 mechanical set that uses the full mix. If it was just my d20, I would just get new d20s. Oh, & it was the d20s, but remember fordmadoxfraud's Stories of Our Youth campaign, & how I rolled only 1s & 2s for my hit points every single level? Well, I went out & I bought two new sets of dice, & I did not screw around: I bought a black set, with white numbers, & I bought a black set, with red numbers. As Rob & Big would say, I got 'em murdered out. & guess who wasn't a completely useless buffoon for the battle? Pantalone! Oh, don't get me wrong; as the Dungeon Master, Tim's luck is uncanny, in the way that The Terminator is uncanny, it's unlikely in an Uncanny Vally, oh well this is doomsday, of course he rolled two 20s. So there were a lot of unlikely saves that were all out on the table for us to see, mocking our characters. Still, I coloursprayed the troglodytes & dretches, used my suggestion to counterspell Wulgreth's suggestion on Aegwyn, caused fear on the troglodytes & took a decent number of them out of the game, one of them completely, used my enchanter kit ability to give all attackers Disadvantage & soak up a good number of attacks-- unscathed-- I have to say, daddy needed a new pair of shoes & the new dice rolled the hard six.

The other thing you need to know is that our crew is a rope-a-dope party. In David's game, the "Thieves Three" were a surgical group with a glass jaw; we were stealth & assassination & then vanishing into the maze of secret tunnels in the Temple of Elemental Evil that we had seized control of, & lived inside of, carrying out special ops missions from within. That is now how this crew rolls. We roll in with Aegwyn in front, for one thing. Way in front. The paladin charges into it &...goes down a couple of times a fight. It's a scary thing. This time-- oh god, we were cracking up, things looked grim-- I had just turned him invisible to buy him time while the cleric's turn came up, since there were a truckload of monster's initiatives between then & now-- one of the blindly flailing dretches or troglodytes rolled a natural 20, on the randomly picked right square, & put him down. Down & invisible in the middle of the brawl. It turned out, Kit had an area effect heal spell, & it saved the day, but we are bruisers. We come out of a fight with bloody knuckles. I cast my mage armor & give all attackers disadvantage, so I actually stick around the edges of a fight, try to draw attacks-- I hope to get some bracers of armor or a ring of protection or magic robes,-- & I think I got my first kill, smashing a dretch in with my slapstick. Tim was proud that I didn't take magic missile-- I am Evocation light, by avocation-- but that means this was first blood.

The real blood letting was back behind everything, by the urchins writhing in agony. Kit, Sam's cleric, goes to slit one's throat, to mercy kill it, & the DM asks about his alignment, his god. Ehlonna, Kit says, is the fertility goddess, & the harvest goddess & sometimes there needs to be a reaping. Well that sounds like boilerplate doctrine to me, & Sam gets a just little kudos...& Wulgreth gets a little less mighty, dropping to the ground, one of his power sources taken away. Wren, meanwhile, has no such moral qualms or high-falutin' quandaries; she takes out the other two-- Tim swapping minis as he slowly loses demonic aspects, going from fearsome to just another crazy evil wizard. Listen, I'm a crazy not-evil wizard, I get it. & he gets it; I can't remember who got the kill in the end, Aegwyn's blade-- speaking of alignments, being a Paladin of a god of trickery has come in handy-- or Columbine's knife or another of Wren's arrows, heck-- Kit could have brained 'em. He went down. (Edit:Jonathan notes that Aegwyn did indeed get the justly deserved Finish Him.) They all went down. We took a lickin' & kept on tickin'. Put us in the ring & it is going to get a little bit messy. & I hope this freaking guy has a spellbook.

(Map by Jonathan Roberts; photo & map--click to enlarge-- by Tim Paul.)
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Where Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean. [Aug. 7th, 2014|11:31 am]
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Another episode in Tom's series of thematically linked one-shots, Dead World! This time, set in the Civil War. We were supposed to play extraordinary individuals, so I made "Poor Mister Threadway," a convalescent in one of Dorthea Dix's new mental asylums. How'd he end up there? Well, in another life he was Lieutenant Colonel Gaius Threadway, an officer in a Union Zouve unit, one of the Civil War's special ops. His soldiers were out-maneuvered & out-generaled by Lee, & they perished in a bloodbath. Badly injured, Gaius lived, & woke to find himself in a shallow mass grave with all his men. After digging & cutting his way out, he was left a shell of a man. Nerves broken, mind in a protective fugue, he was retired to care in a new-fangled mental health facility. I gave him wonky stats; only one dot in Composure, Stamina & Resolve, & highest marks in Dexterity, for shooting & swording. (Photography by Jessica & fatbutts respectively.)

He woke up in his nightgown & therapeutic rose-coloured glasses, in a clearing in the woods surrounded by a thicket of unnatural thorns. Clearly, to Gaius, he was having an "episode." Along the way he met Alicia's character "Nurse Wendy," a Confederate nurse who was the only person I thought was "real": I assumed she was from the asylum, come to look after me & fetch me hope after my "constitutional." "Rusty" was Lilly's Wild West scoundrel; I don't know her history but she's trouble, & she gave me some money to buy a crushed red velvet suit, pink shirt with lace, a pistol & a saber. Because obviously that's what I should wear. Cyrus was Rasheem's character, a Confederate Negro. Yeah, playing in the Civil War is one of those things where you have to bite the bullet & decide what to call black people. I went with Negro or "coloured folks," since I figured that was the inoffensive-in-historical-context I cheated & just played an abolitionist from the Union. Cyrus was awfully angry, & disappointed that we never went to the bawdy house in town. Felton was the last of our number, Ken's character, who was a Revivalist, a travelling preacher...but also a Santería practitioner, passing.

All of us, thrown into this odd & prickled clearing, hedged in by massive brambles with dagger-like thorns. Slashing, stabbing, mist-covered. I have to admit, Poor Mister Threadway was little help, convinced as he was that he was in a hallucination. Mostly waited for the nurse to lead him back to his hospital. Eventually the thorns opened, closing behind us, & we found a dead Confederate, a withered husk, with some paper money & gold coins. & a town! Hallelujah & pass the ammunition, Rusty just bought me a new Colt .44 Dragoon. This town is great, they gave the crazy guy guns! & then of course, while we are sitting in the common room of the saloon talking about whist or old timey stuff, it goes sideways. The sounds of the meat tenderizer smashing bones is the innkeeper hammering her hands into pulp, shattering her forearms into jagged splinters to try to stab us with. We actually beat her up pretty well; pinned in a hallway where we can stay in charge of the fight. The next fight is not as easy of a thing, now is it?

No it is not. So here is the thing: I bought a gun, but my plan from the beginning was that Gaius would react badly-- as in, post-traumatically to gunfire. That was my "trigger" & I think there were only...two gunshots? One from a PC, & one from outside. All the zombie, Silent Hill stuff? Well, I just decided that was what it was like for Poor Mister Threadway, all the time. The corpses of his men, that he'd hacked up to dig out of, all around him, haunting him in his fitful sleeping dreams & insomniac waking thoughts. Everyone is clearly trapped inside of his hallucination, he says, as a ghoul jumps on him, spearing him in the neck & getting one of those big lumber hooks right in his belly. Ouch; I'm almost dead right there! Eventually the next wave is fought off & I know where to go: the church! The barricaded, fortified church. Heck, that's the only thing I haven't seen in my dream before, so that has to be it! At this point I should mention that Jess hosts a party like I host a party. You finish your beer, there's another one before you notice. Wine half empty? Top it off. Try this whiskey we have! Easy to lose track of drinks.

What's in the church? Exposition, creepy church stuff, ghosts & the dead. & the Nuremberg Clock! Showing up in the first Dead World-- "like a dream, I've seen this in my dreams!" as Gaius loses his grip on real, hallucinatory, dream, awake-- he thinks they can use it to fix their mistakes. People who've been giving in to their Vice are starting to show signs of it. We discover that there is a big bad devil or undead or Problem at the cemetery; religious Nurse Wendy says it is the Devil & Gaius thinks maybe he can use the clock & the Devil to save his "boys" from being killed by Lee's forces. Or instead the monster is a giant maggoty blob, obese with cancer & throwing tombstones like frisbees. It is a dark scene but always was a dark campaign, as the note we get from the Narrator is Tom telling us we've been dead all along, & we've been trapped together in Purgatory. Gaius set the fire to escape from the asylum, but ended up killing the other inmates; I had stolen the keys but was too afraid to stop & let them out, & when I finally threw open the window to make a break for it, the backdraft burned us all alive...& I woke up in having traveled to Hell, or near enough to it, geographically. In a southern direction.

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Tariq of the Citavita. (29; 9:20) [Jul. 25th, 2014|01:21 pm]
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Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta.

Pluck the barb from flesh.
Clean. Sew with needle & thread.
Repeat as needed.

Phew. I'm finally done with The Lumatere Chronicles. I have powerful mixed feelings about this series. On one hand, it is the apotheosis of everything I dislike in fiction. On the other hand, I chainsawed through the series like a famished wendigo. There you have it, in a nutshell. I fundamentally disagree with the entire tone & structure &...everything of these books, & on the other hand they are an addicting, obsessive read. The answer to both questions is quite simply dramatic irony. The cards are on the table & you spend the book screaming at the characters to pick them up & look at them. The conflict in these books is driven by two things: the grimmest grimdark, like the institutionalized rape of children, or the dumbest of miscommunications. "Suddenly, all the characters you like had swords to each other's throats, because they couldn't take five seconds to have a quick conversation. I'd call it a classic example of Ebert's Idiot Plot if it wasn't so damn well executed, if it didn't....well, work. Basically this book is just "why don't you make yourself feel terrible & stressed out until at the end you get catharsis?" Which...whatever, I liked this book! All these books. They just infuriate me. They did succeed in making me like Froi, though, which is an awfully tall order. It came at the expense of Isaboe, though; she fell quite far in my estimation, especially from the first book where she was the only character I really liked. So. I feel really lukewarm about these books, powerfully lukewarm. Yes I know that is a contradiction. No, I don't care. This series is a soap opera of incredibly damaged people-- mostly, like I said, rape survivors, because especially in the first two books, that's what most of the main characters are-- but I found it an equally incredibly compelling read. If you like that sort of thing-- you might well, because that's a flavour of thing people like, I've noticed-- then you should check it out. When you find yourself gnashing your teeth, don't say I didn't warn you. & don't worry. You'll fall into a hole & ignore the world until you've finished, anyway. That's what I did.
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Bow Ties are Cool. [Jul. 25th, 2014|06:00 am]
[Tags|, , , ]
[Current Mood |Okay with Charleston.]
[Current Music |crown me king- death crown gangster]

I made an appointment with my doctor to talk about my sleep problems, & he couldn't see me for a week. Then I went ahead & filled in the pre-appointment survey, & he called me up & was like "this sounds sort of serious, I can slot you in today?" & so in I went. Talking about it, he pretty much agreed with my diagnosis about a sleep deprivation loop, though he did through in the wild card idea that maybe I have post-traumatic stress disorder from the surgery. & then I went "wow, I totally have all this crappy cultural baggage that says 'if you weren't like, tortured by the Red Skull for three years in a POW camp, then your PTSD diagnosis is crap' huh? That's not cool." Anyhow, the moral of the story is, he called in the heavy hitters & prescribed me valium. I've taken it two nights now & had similar experiences-- that is, I still wake up fairly frequently, but then if I get up to urinate or just roll over, I'm able to fall back asleep. No freaking out about being abandoned by angels or crickets living in the walls; panic attacks & vomiting haven't even been a factor, & that is such a massive relief that I'm really hoping that I'm actually breaking the loop, not just putting a bandaid on it with medication. Which, frankly, even if I was doing the latter, I'd be happy for it. That is an important step; my phyiscal therapist said she thought I seemed to be hitting a roadblock in regaining some mobility lately, & that lack of sleep could be interfering in my healing. I'm trying to Behave Rationally.

Gerd is in town! If you are a gamer, you know the bond you can share with someone that you have played in multiple campaigns with; we played in Mike's Oisos campaigns together, notably the epic level game, the Spelljammer campaign, & Scott's game, plus he was a key member of my first full Oubliette campaign. I gave him a hard time about how he gave the messiah-baby to an angel after we explicitly all agreed not to let anyone have the baby, & the angel kidnapped it; he reminded me that it was after he survived six attacks of opportunity from a marilith to grab the baby in the first place, & that his cleric in another game had made my orc monk a white cape that let him use the spell wind walk. Good times indeed. Last night he came over for board game night, & so did Alicia & Rasheem & Jess, & if you recall, Rasheem & Alicia were in David's Temple of Elemental evil campaign, so we talked about the star-crossed lovers of the elf thief & the human thief who never resolved their romantic tension, & of course about Rasheem killing Zuggtmoy with a natural 100 on a rod of wonder. We played Snake Oil first, which I dominated, I must admit, & then Cards Against Humanity second, which Alicia dominated. Plus, I put on Jamie Lee Curtis' stripping scene for Jess, because she was surprised to hear that she was super hot. Yes she is (I think Jenny has a resemblance, but don't tell her I said that, because she doesn't particularly like the comparison.)
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Cabin Fever. (28; 9:19) [Jul. 24th, 2014|06:31 am]
[Tags|, , , ]
[Current Mood |I'll tell you later.]
[Current Music |crown me king- dirge for sniper wolf]

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki.

Chocolate, marshmallow;
press it between graham crackers:
it makes the sound "s'more."

This sort of genre, of telling might-as-well-betrue stories of childhood, can be a tough line to walk. You risk, at least with a reader like me, the story becoming too universal, too banal. The Tamaki's never really do risk that, because they are smart enough to anchor the story in relationships, not just the interior world of a hurting kid. Two friends who spend their summers together, because their families have cottages next door to each other. Rose, the protagonist, is a girl on the cusp of puberty struggling with family stuff-- her mother's depression & parents relationship around that-- while feeling the allure of the older teenagers. The younger, Windy, is the daughter of hippies, & her story is one from a distance; younger than Rose, she sees the attraction to the more "adult" things-- like slasher movies & sex-- but doesn't feel it herself. She's outside of the circle of the fire. Really I would say what this comic is about-- thematically, not narratively, as this is hardly a polemic-- is the insidious nature of misogyny, & how the shitty cultural narratives of sexism try to get their toxic fingers into young women. You probably can feel a connection to the mise-en-scène if you've ever been a camper; the divide between you & the townies, the mayfly friendships that might just, on a freak outside chance, survive when the summer ends, but probably won't, the small quests & nothings that fill the hours. There's a lot of real life inside of here. I was reading this when the trailer for Leigh's movie Honeymoon came out, so in my head the cabin where they watched all these horror movies totally transformed to the cabin her family has in Canada where we spent a chunk of a couple summers.

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Triptych. [Jul. 23rd, 2014|06:59 am]
[Tags|, , , ]
[Current Mood |Not that great.]
[Current Music |crown me king- ehyeh asher ehyeh]

Before we lose track of what has been going on, let me drop two pieces of history in here. We had July Shenanigans, for one thing. Basically, everyone who isn't me in the Television Night Crew has a July Birthday, so rather than have a whole bunch of social obligations, we pancake it into one big event. fordmadoxfraud & Libby flew in from San Francisco, ranai & Dennis came from Queens & Sleepy Hollow, & we got ready to roll. Because of my aforementioned sleep problems-- by the way, last night, melatonin night two, we got home later from a concert than I had wanted, but I still got five hours of sleep, though it was a higher percentage of forcing myself to stay in bed & when I finally got out of bed at five I felt anxious & nauseous-- so I was out of it all night & left early. First we went to a taco place in SoHo where they make the tacos in a bus that is inside. I didn't have an appetite, so I just drank juice. I'm a real fun guy lately. (Gif is from there, taken by fatbutts.)

The real highlight was Escape the Room. I first heard about this from Terra, then from David, then from my...physical therapist? I guess it is the hot new thing. Built by the people who build haunted houses, it is essentially a themed puzzle room. Ours was the "Theater" & the theme was puppets. You're locked inside with a few Rube Goldberg devices & a host of padlocks, & have an hour to get out. Despite the fact that it sounds like you'd think I'd be good at it-- getting out of a trapped dungeon?-- I'm not actually a whiz at riddles, less so with sleep deprivation. Still, I figured out one puzzle & manifestly helped with two more, so at least I pulled my weight! Afterwards, the crew went to karaoke but I went home, because I'm broken. For extra points, the trains were messed up, so I had to deal with that. Which doesn't sound like a big deal but just about broke my heart at the time.

Then last night, Ryan came into town, & he took Jenny & I to go see Sarah McLachlan, since we met in an AOL chat room about Sarah McLachlan in 1998, & went to the Surfacing tour together. We both went pretty deep down that rabbit retrospect, very confusing. I mean, I've always had a thing for female vocalists, but come on. I think the problem here is the exegesis of her later work informing her earlier stuff. A young woman singing airy ballads in honest terms is one thing, but eventually that honesty become pablum. Not to mention my fundamental disagreements with her hermeneutics on Lilith. Anyhow, first off, Beacon Theater is gorgeous. Second off, she sang "Fear," which is the song I still have feelings for...she killed it, vocally, but it typifies the problems I have with her now. One, it didn't really feel like she was connected to it in the same way...I mean, she had pathos, but it was just of a different sort now that she's grown up. Which is fine! For her as a person, I mean. & for those who identify with who she is now. But I guess that's the crux; I was a sad teenager, & I want sad teenager songs. I get it though; I am happy to grow up along side Jenny Lewis, for instance. Two, all of the silences in the song are gone, replaced with smooth jazz riffs from her band. The lacunae are important! Don't make this up tempo easy listening!
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Melatonin. [Jul. 22nd, 2014|06:26 am]
[Tags|, , ]
[Current Mood |Banal but real.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. jenny lewis- the v'ger]

Tried out melatonin last night. Results-- not that I think a single data point is all that useful-- is that I slept from nine to five, with an hour long period of half-awake torment in the middle where I tried to meditate to keep the nausea under control & fall back under. That's not shabby, though other factors like the aforementioned forcing myself to stay in bed, our guests being gone, built up exhaustion & listening to Jenny Lewis' new album "The Voyager" were obviously involved. Still, I'll take that; even if it is just a contributing factor, even if it is just placebo, I'll accept it. So I'll keep on living the teetotaler lifestyle & keep on being anti-social. Seriously, if you are reading this & you think I have a social obligation to you, do us both a favour & don't try to call in your marker. I'll be all snarls & sorrow, & I'll be miserable. Just let me try to regulate my life so I can go back to not sucking, to not being a spider with half his legs pulled off. This whole "four hours of panic attacks" thing is not my style. Oh, sure, when I was in college that was the blank canvas, but...remember how self-destructive & unhappy I was? Right. I'm perfectly glad to have modified my behavior, & now I have to undertake slightly more effort in that direction. With any luck, only for a limited time. This is a pretty obvious physiological response. I don't sleep, I don't sleep for weeks, for months, because my arm hurts. Then suddenly I start having symptoms consistent with sleep deprivation, like nausea & anxiety? There is no great mystery, Sherlock. As my arm heals, the catalyst should resolve, leaving only the feedback loop of nausea & anxiety causing sleep deprivation which causes nausea & anxiety. If I can unhitch it from the post, I should be okay. & the arm is getting better; still hurts, still limited range of motion, but it seems like every two days, it is a little bit improved on both fronts. Oh, also, I shaved my beard off.
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No God, No King, No Country. (27; 9:18) [Jul. 18th, 2014|05:49 am]
[Tags|, , , ]
[Current Mood |Trying to distract myself.]
[Current Music |crown me king- ||||]

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta.

Tongue-twisters, word games
& well, etymology.
The little moments.

Ugh, as I got closer to the end of this book, I started to suspect the worst: despite being a doorstop, there wasn't going to be an ending. Lo & behold...there wasn't. So first things first; I liked this better than the first book, but not as much as what I'd say it's nearest comparison is, Bitterblue. "I heard you like sad in your sad?" This book is one big trigger warning; it is a story of rape survivors, & without wanting to sound cavalier about it, pretty much every major character has been raped, including the men. Consequences of war, of prison, & of...a curse that makes the whole country institutionalize the rape of young girls. So it is...pretty bleak! & also driven by the same tropes I dislike, like romantic tension fueled by over-the-top willful miscommunication & plot points "foreshadowed" by drowning them in dramatic irony. I like the book though; it overcomes those flaws. I mention them specifically because even though this is a bit of a brick, the book doesn't "break" in the middle on them. You know, the moment where the characters all go "ohhhh!" about the twist or the misunderstanding? For example, basically everyone is a secret twin, too? Or characters who have racial or gendered biases & need to get over them, those arcs are dragged out, too. Get it together! As I got closer & closer to the end I was like, "oh man, this is just going to be a cliff hanger." & it was. Which I'm grumbling about, not actually critical of; that's the author's choice, but now I'm left unresolved. The sales guy in me is okay with it though-- drive some customers to the conclusion while it is still in hardcover! What I like best about the series is the sense of history, out of the grasp of the characters. There is a world, they are just living in it. Things like religion, which might seem like set dressing to the non-religious characters, actually matter a great deal & have a pretty tight mythopoeic core. Also I like spooky weird female the fact that one finally gets to be the star of the next book makes it that much more appealing, after the last two.
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At Least There is New Jenny Lewis. [Jul. 18th, 2014|05:22 am]
[Tags|, , ]
[Current Mood |Trying to distract myself.]
[Current Music |crown me king- jenny lewis is not a p-zombie]

At this point, the worst part about my hurt arm is that it has moved me into having insomnia. I've never slept well; I used to have chronic nightmare, then there's sleep apnea...I try to cover the spread, psychological & physiological. That improved drastically when I moved in with Jennifer, both because of comfort & her kicking me if I stop breathing. Things were going great until my arm made it impossible to sleep in any of my usual positions & started pinging with pain every few hours. Things are a lot better with the arm, but there is still plenty of pain, but even worse is that I have trained my circadian rhythms to basically give up & stop working. I don't mind so much that my body wants to go to bed at ten & wake up at six, I can be a curmudgeonly old dude, but now I just can't sleep. I have a pet peeve about people who brag about their lack of sleep (or how "busy" they are) but this sure isn't bragging. This isn't some hyper-adapted trait. I didn't stop needing sleep, I stopped getting it. Plus it comes complete with chronic nausea! Waking up in a panic & having to throw up is something from growing up that I didn't miss. Also you know, snarly & disassociated. A raw nerve who needs constant reassurance. It is unflattering. I trying things like "going back to bed after you wake up" or "try sleeping on the couch" or "what if you stay up late to reset the clock?" have been failures & I worry in some cases even counter-productive. The arm is improving though, I'm ahead of the program that the doctor gave my physical therapist. Oh & I haven't cut my hair in forever, because I need both hands to go against the warp & weft of my hair with the buzzers. So that's my medical update. In other news, fordmadoxfraud & Libby just arrived at my apartment for this weekend's July Shenanigans.
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Sea plus. (26; 9:17) [Jul. 16th, 2014|04:56 am]
[Tags|, , ]
[Current Mood |Insomnia.]
[Current Music |crown me king- jenny lewis is not a p-zombie]

Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler.

Skinless, she waited,
patient for the Monomyth.
Reskinned, she twirled, danced.

This is a book for someone else. I mean that in the best way, though it sounds backhanded. What I mean is, this is a good book that I quite enjoyed...but in the hands of the right reader, I think it could be a bigger deal than that. The right audience will bond with this book. I read it on a few people's strident recommendation, so I know they are out there. It has a Gaiman-y feel to it; yes, it has the contemporary "bespoke children's tales & vaguely pomo mythology" Neil Gaiman the novelist's shine, but it is as if old school scary trousers Sandman Gaiman wrote it. The stakes are a little bit more graphic than Gaiman goes for these days, being more Clive Barker & less Tim Burton. Gender is in flux, memory is tampered with, Stockholm is syndromed. Structurally this is an odd duck; the biggest section of the book is a side quest. A heist that involves bandits, betrayal & witches. Oh & I almost forgot, the "damsel in distress" is a kraken. Sorry, sort of burying the lede there; yep, giant kraken pal. Like I said, I liked this book, but I am more interested in knowing about the people who the book really works for.
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