Saturday, March 15, 2014

There be frogs in them thar ponds.

Seriously. A ton of them. The house I'm staying out is out in the woods and there are a lot of ponds and rivers and inlets in the area. The front of the house is quiet, but man, out by the back windows, it's a chorus of basso profundo frogs in fine voice, making with the joyful froggie sounds in earnest.

The odd thing, to me, was that when I first heard it, I was suprised and had to think of what it was. I honestly couldn't place it for a sec, and then when I did, I was both happy and sad. Happy to be hearing it again, and sad because at my house, there are no frog sounds from the woods and wetland. The forest floor is silent.

Down in the bottom of our yard, you see, it is not anything one would recognize as a pond. There used to be something more pond like on the other side of our property line, on land owned by a church, but they went to a lot of trouble to drain it -- of course, they didn't level it, so it came back, which makes me wonder just what the point was, anyway. But then they also cut down trees and mow a lot, and so I have my own rubber axe to grind with them. But that's not the point. Anyway. So down at the bottom of the yard over the property line is a whole stretch of woodlands, and at the bottom, which is also a hill, it gets a bit wetland-y. There's some water most of the time, and water-loving things grow down there. It's not deep -- it's more swampy, and it doesn't cover a ton of ground. There's no frog sound down there, though. Not a bit of it. And I hear tell there used to be, and that makes me sad. I would love to figure out why there aren't any frogs and what could be done to reintroduce them -- which might have the added pleasure of annoying my neighbors slightly. :) It's all good, though. The frogs would be worth it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rising Waters, Season 2: Characters and Background.

So back in the day, I ran a Dresden Files RPG game. It was the first game I'd GMed in quite some time and I was really nervous, but it came out well, I think. You can read the write-ups here, if you want. It ran for 13 sessions and wrapped the first "season" pretty well. (I like to use the TV show metaphor for planning games -- it helps me get a handle on character arcs and such.)

That was before my MA exams -- god, back in 2010. But now, here in 2014, most of those players are still in the weekly group, and they're still wanting to play in the next installment of this game. Plus I've got two new people, both of whom are excited. With everyone on board, let slip the corgis of adventure!


Anyway, so some background: This group has chosen Baltimore as its city, though not the Baltimore writeup in the core book. This Baltimore's problems include it being a last stand of the Black Court, having demons in the driver's seat, and there there's monsters out in the deep. Also, contracts are a thing around here (read the fine print) and the walls between the worlds are thin, so it's a crossroads in all sorts of ways. 20 Minutes from Anywhere is one of the city aspects. So there's a nexus of stuff, but it's a decent enough old town despite everything, and this is where the characters keep all their stuff, so they're invested.

We got about halfway through chargen last night, getting concept and trouble and phases and skills in place. This game is set six months after the last one, so I used the phases to not only fill the downtime but to integrate the new characters with the old ones as well. We're using the Dresden Files RPG amended for Fate Core, so we're streamlining things slightly -- using Will as the magic casting stat rather than Discipline and Conviction, for example. I used hacks I found online and we'll find out way through the rest of it as we go, at least until Evil Hat releases an official update. We still need to assign powers and what not, but we're doing that in two weeks. I'm putting up concepts here, and I'll give fuller stats once we've finished chargen.

So, the characters:

Ezekiel "Zeke" Akahuen: Zeke's got a semi-permanent ridealong going on with Sauriel, an angel, who has undertake to elevate a worthy human into being a perfect instrument of God's divine will -- except, of course, that Zeke does not always agree with God's will, and thus the two have to find ways to agree to disagree. Zeke can call on power, but doing so is striking a bargain with Sauriel, which is never string-free -- except it's all good for you, right?

Eldi: Eldi is a dewdrop fairy who's living in an herb store with a very nice human lady named Hui. Nobody's quite sure how she got there -- and in fact, very few people realize she is there. It's easy to be overlooked when you're not even a foot tall. Playing any kind of true fae is typically beyond what DFRPG lets you do, but I'm bending the rules here because both the player and I really like her take on it, and she's wildfae, so she's not beholden to any of the courts.

Uno Dextler: Uno's a lovely lad who's got some mom problems -- he's a changeling who's the Summer Lady's Knight (We allowed for more than one knight). His mom is summer court sidhe, though, and wants him to make the choice (and choose fae). Of course, if he chooses fae, then he can't be a Summer Knight anymore, and that'll really annoy the Summer Lady. Decisions, decisions, decisions. In the meantime, he's a student at Johns Hopkins.

Viktor (he has a last name, I just don't have it in front of me): Victor's a White Council Wizard whose specialty is monster hunting, with a focus in demons. He's come to town to help suss out Baltimore's ongoing demon activity. He's Russian by birth and upbringing, and he had a close call with demonic exploitation as a youth -- which luckily he was saved from. He has some self-image problems as a result, though.

Adia Grier: Adia is just this girl, a former gymnast (who now teaches) who can see and talk to ghosts and is unusually good at being sneaky. Adia's also got an ex, Mickey, who tried to sell her to demons once. This put a damper on their relationship, but she somehow keeps getting drawn back to him through circumstance, even though she's vowed never again. She's acquired a new ghost friend who's always around, and it's Josh, the younger brother of Dylan -- killed in Afghanistan.

Dylan Shelby, Ph.D.: Dylan is a physics prof at Johns Hopkins University who woke up one day to find a book that had been delivered to him, that translated the music of the spheres into modern physics. He ended up as a kinetomancer and gets lost in the math sometimes, trying to make it all work out. He tries to act as kind of a go-between and lookout for students on his campus who get mixed up in the crazy supernatural world, but lately his attention has been slipping as he's been devoting more and more time to his studies.

And that's the rough picture of our cast. More to come!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Movie Reviews: The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club

I did not finish all my movie reviews, and it's now the night before Oscars, and I have made (in preparation for our Oscar dinner bash) cider syrup, candied black sesame seed "stars" and Guinness chocolate cake -- as well as cleaning a ton of the things. There are still things to clean, mind you, but with the help of a terribly good friend and a remarkably good-natured stepdaughter, great progress was made.

So. The last of the Oscar movies that I've seen:

Movie: The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Adapted Screenplay (5 nominations total).

This is based on the biography of Jordan Belfort, who is really just an odious human being who got rich through have absolutely no sense of ethics or responsibility to himself or others. He's done his time in prison and now we have his book, which is about all the things he did to go to prison and how he got there. He now tries to tell people how to become rich and get money for that, which... well, yeah. In Scorsese's hands, it becomes something of a condemnation of not just the 1%, but the 1% we all love to hate and the 80s' and 90s' Wall Street free-for-all that came awfully close to flushing the economy down the toilet. Jordan's the central figure, but at no point doing this movie -- not his narration, not his spirals, not his marriages, not his capture, none of it -- is he ever the least bit sympathetic. He isn't redeemed; he doesn't have that much internal integrity. The movie -- even the character, albeit unknowingly -- invites you to hate him as you travel along this crazy horrible ride with him. There's a dreamlike quality to it, frankly; nothing he does ever seems to have repercussions, even though we know otherwise. We just don't see it. It's edited. He's a hugely unreliable narrator and Scorsese makes no apologies for it. The whole idea of "it's not a lie if you don't believe me" is Belfort's raison d'etre throughout the movie, and as such we're allowed to laugh at the horrible things he does and is because it's just never completely real. I went into this movie expecting to hate it, but I didn't. I actually really liked it, and Leo's pretty much the reason why. A few months ago I saw The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013) and I couldn't help but contrast the two movies, in which Leo plays such superficially similar roles -- except that Gatsby actually cares about something beyond himself, and Belfort never does. Really worth watching, even as awful as nearly all of the characters in it are.

Movie: Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)
Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Screenplay (6 nominations total)

So, this is really good. I know there should be more to this review than that, but it's frankly good. The physicality of the acting all the way through -- the things they all did, the weight they lost, the accents, everything. It was painful and sad and amazing, and I will probably not see it again, but it was absolutely worth seeing it once. Jared Leto is wonderful. People have AIDS, even people who think they shouldn't. People die of AIDS, but not everyone, and during the time period of the film, that's saying something. It's not all about the tragic death. It's not Rent.

Just go see it if you haven't. Seriously.