Things We Lost in the Fire



Efren had been cold and wet for so long, his skin had forgotten every other sensation. Standing vigil outside the burnt, soggy remains of the garden shed. Just in case something came out.

The old man had been… a lot of things. He’d been a lot of things. A piece of work. An accomplished, bitter shit-talker. In possession of a mean temper and a right hook to match.

Who knew the bastard could have been sad too?

A body-wracking shiver coursed through Efren’s skinny body. He hadn’t dressed for the weather when he’d gone out early that afternoon—it had only been cold then—and when the rain hit, he’d figured he deserved it.

Fingers traced the tender flesh around his left eye. Blinking madly as fat raindrops rolled down his brow and into both eyes. Nothing was coming out. He couldn’t bring himself to go in. Nor to call whatever authority he ought to have called an hour ago.

Most of the streetlights in the neighborhood had gone. Victims of rocks and indifference. But his eyes had adjusted enough that he could still see a charred once-white undershirt. Light from somewhere glinted off broken glass. Maybe the moon?

Who was Efren supposed to call? The police? What would they do? Nothing he’d like, he assumed. The fire was long out. Did one call firefighters after the fire had been drowned?

Then it struck him. He didn’t have to call anyone. He could just… go.

So he did.


King of Teeth

One of the better jobs was simply maintaining the cage. Quiet, predictable work that was always done in a group or at least a pair. No chance that a grudge might sneak up on kill you. The others in the group didn’t even have to be allies. You were all united in not wanting to add to the blood you had to scrub off the concrete. Cleaning the cage was a little spot of peace in the Underground.

A flash of light caught Zaymie’s eye. She set down her bucket of rinse water and crouched, careful not to let her bare knees meet a soap-covered stain. No immediate joy. One of her locks slid over her shoulder as she  turned her head this way and that, trying to get the firelight from the sconces outside the cage to catch on the mystery object.

There. More of a glint this time, flashes over more than one angle, as if the thing had many facets. Her hand shot out and she jumped back to her feet. “Found a tooth,” she called out, palming it. “Who’s got the bag?”

“I do.” Tiger appeared at her side, the curt reply the only sound he made. Only long acquaintance with the short knife fighter kept Zaymie from jumping. He handed her the smelly burlap sack reserved for debris such as teeth and fingers.

Ill fortune. If Kickaby had been holding the bag, he would have simply thrown it to her, never mind the chance of spilling. When it came to a sharpness contest, Tiger was a dagger and Kickaby was a bowl. “Thanks.” She reached into the bag and relaxed her hand, not quite letting go of the thing. “I’m gonna see if it has any fellows.”

Their eyes locked. Tiger’s normally straight-lipped expression broke into something akin to a bemused smile. The cage was designed to be a heatsink, to cool the combatants in the sweaty, literal heat of battle. Not the sort of environment that allowed for flushed skin. Certainly not from something as basic as lying.

Goosebumps rose to sharp points, prickling hard across her neck like sandpaper under her skin. “Unless you want to be the King of Teeth.”

“Not today.” He turned away first, his breath and shoulders shaking. Laughing at her.


Successful ensemble films


Guardians of the Galaxy is better at ensemble casts than Avengers. I’m only comparing the first movies in each case, as I’m not sure if Age of Ultron did it better or if Civil War technically counts as an Avengers movie. I considered going over Suicide Squad as well, but since I haven’t seen it and have never had any desire to do so, I contented myself with mentioning it where appropriate.

They each have a fair-sized group of characters with distinct abilities, personalities, and histories. But Avengers makes the mistake of treating them like a lineup. Most are introduced in a scene almost divorced from the larger narrative. Recruiting is a not always the best way to show a team assembling. It is certainly better than Suicide Squad’s dumb Powerpoint slide intro card things. But in the case of the Avengers, these are characters who either had their own movie, almost had their own movie, or will never get one but should have done. Thor is the only one whose introduction into the movie is organic.

Conversely, in Guardians of the Galaxy, each of the characters comes into the story rather than being recruited into the movie. Although it’s worth noting that this film didn’t go the same route of movies tying in to each other, I don’t think it’s the reason that GotG worked better. It all comes down to telling the story in a natural way, rather than the committee-driven look of introducing characters rather than integrating them.

Another thing that helps is that GotG has a main character. Even Suicide Squad had Deadshot. Starlord is the heart of the story, a stabilising force on the team (as much of a leader as they really have), and gives the movie an audience proxy. The movie isn’t Starlord Plus These Other Guys, either. He doesn’t get screen time or story focus instead of another character getting it.

An argument can be made that Nick Fury is the main character of Avengers, but if he is, then he’s a weak one. Too much of him is held back because he’s mysterious, and he is technically a supporting character for the ensemble, not a part of it.

Maybe this means that GotG is a better film overall than Avengers. maybe it doesn’t. That would need to take into account quite a few additional factors to determine, in my opinion.

Superhero comics are one of the places one can look for ensemble casts, though I can’t speak to their average quality. (Fantastic Four, cough cough) Superhero ensembles that have made it to film, at least in recent years, haven’t tended to be good ensembles. Big Hero 6 had a team in it, but it was a Boy and His Robot movie. Aside from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that Roger Corman Fantastic Four… occurrence… in 1994, there wasn’t a comic book superhero team movie until Mystery Men.

Now there are a fair number, so it might be interesting to go over them and see how they did.


Watching The King’s Avatar

Yes, even swamped with books, I can make time to watch Chinese cartoons. If only half an hour a day.


This one is really good. I had it recommended to me based on the popularity of Sword Art Online combined with how much I cannot get into that anime. The pitch focused on their similarities while stressing that The King’s Avatar is the better show. Which actually does it a disservice.

All TKA has in common with SAO is that there’s a pro gamer who plays an online game. No stupid Battle Royale mashed together with .hack//SIGN and every other anime or manga with an MMO in it. There isn’t even any of 1/2 Prince’s bullhonky with a game world that is depicted exactly like a straight-up fantasy world but occasionally pretends to be a game. Glory looks and behaves like a fantasy MMO game, with the only (believable) conceit that professional players work a bit like actors or dancers. Youth is key, the company you work for is evil, and the level of celebrity you can attain is on par with athletes and pop stars.

The main character, Ye Xiu, is not like whats-his-face from SAO. He’s twenty-five, and acts like it. And while he’s quiet and not the most socially adept person ever, he’s not emotionally cut off or even standoffish. He is a bit mercurial in a noncommunicative way, but he always just seems like an introvert to me. Also, his boss, one of the people, that he interacts with on a regular basis, is extroverted and openly antagonistic. She also chooses what she will and won’t believe, facts be damned. He doesn’t waste time correcting her.

The premise is nice and simple. After ten years working for Excellent Era as a Battle Mage called One Autumn Leaf and the professional name of Ye Qiu (dubbed God Ye Qiu by his fans), Ye Xiu is canned and forced to hand over his character to a newer, younger guy who will be more willing to work with sponsors. He’s blamed for the lapse of success the company has had in recent years, and offered an insulting demotion that the boss knows he won’t take. But retiring means that Ye Xiu can’t take another job playing the game professionally for a year. When he’s 26, he’ll be considered out of date and probably won’t have a prayer at another job.

Why isn’t he rich? one might ask. Apparently he’s been supporting friends who didn’t do as well in the gaming community,  and so his only opportunity to support himself after this fall from grace is to take a job on the night shift of a nearby Internet café.

The show’s not over yet, and I’m barely on episode 5, but the original story is available to read in English on Gravity Tales. It should be about twelve episodes, I think. I may read the translated story if I get any kind of opportunity. Something tells me that it’d take a bit longer than my free 30 minutes a day. ^^;


Compressed 2 session recap

I’ve been a bit remiss in blogging, so I need to smash together a recap for both last night and the previous Tuesday.

Viva-3 pursued her kidnapped boy-toy with furious determination. His parents had received a note forgery in Henry’s handwriting that spun a story about running away with an opera singer. When Viva convinced them that he’d been kidnapped, they allowed her to speak with their solicitor to hire her on retainer. Her only clue aside from the notes was the Knot-Brummels’ footman Benjamin Coates, who had received the forgery.

As it turned out, he had written it on the instruction of strange humanoid creatures that used hypnotism and drank blood. Benjamin seems to be a neverending fount of revelations. The crew hired him on as he intended to leave the KBs’ household and learned that he has devastatingly beautiful handwriting and likes to read. With no formal education.

While investigating Henry’s other paramours, they came across a haunted house full of indestructible little girls and a chimera. They killed the chimera but fled from the little girls and set the house on fire. Fire is a bit of a go-to for this crew. A different, less crazy paramour gave them a note that actually helped them find the place Henry was being held.

Long story short, a cult of Moreau-idealists had him strapped to an altar to be killed so the beast god could use his body as a vessel. The crew balked at the numbers, but then Captain Pico came up with a brilliant plan that drew from The Princess Bride. They set fire to Victor’s cloak to keep the cultists back, while Captain Pico shot the head priest in the head. Penny Dreadful swung on a rope to grab Henry. She rolled so well, she would up kicking the head priest as he fell dead to the ground and stealing his hat into the bargain.

Once Henry was conscious and healed, he was able to fill in some gaps. The little girls, who are quickly becoming a legend in this campaign, are not automata. They’re steel golems. Living, breathing creatures who are affiliated with a crimelady who is known only as The Profile.

After that, they went to Russia, with several goals. It’s the only change cage city that does business with Sky Folk, usually in the form of booze. Scrimshaw wanted to take advantage of this, and wound up with an honest business liaison called Matvey who smoothed the way for them quite a bit. Ace Cardinal continues to be the face of Scrimshaw’s product.

Novella sought out Russian vigilantes, with mixed results. A crazy stunt with a blind man brought her to the attention of Jack of Hearts, a very young vigilante with, it was decided, an adorable aspect highly reminiscent of Jacksepticeye. At first he thought she wanted to be his sidekick, but even after she set him straight, he was well-disposed to her. When she actually decided to take him on board with her–which would involve smuggling him out of a change cage city–he was over the moon.

Thanks to Jack’s contacts, Viva and Victor were able to find lightning guns on the Black Market, sold by a man called Innuendo Willy. He jacked up the prices, due to their being misbegotten and mechanical, but he’ll regret a missed business opportunity thanks to snubbing Viva.

Captain Pico hired a male escort and used her highborn family’s connections to set herself up among the elite. Using her sister’s name. When the ball finally came, everyone was in high alt. Everyone was able to attend. Scrimshaw found a place on the catering staff, Victor acted as bodyguard to Shadow Pico and Sergei (the escort), Ace escorted Novella–who brought Jack with her–and Henry is Viva’s arm candy.

Viva wowed the entire court with her dancing. Novella was treated like a proud mama thanks to Jack’s sweet face, which the assembled aristos complimented as if she had created him from the clay. Ace entertained a flock of bird-fanciers who liked his shoulder hawk.

Jack tried to hoard food and sneak a drink of the harder stuff. Novella caught him at the first, but not the second, and he succeeded in getting tipsy. She did, however, manage to stop Ace from picking pockets at the table, with Viva’s help.

Shadow Pico charmed her way to the czar’s table and his side. There, she learned that there is no chance of his paying them to rescue his daughter as Pico had hoped–Princess Bogdana is a beloved KPop Idol, and he’s proud of her.

However, he is not proud of his sons. In a bid to recoup her losses and still do business, Pico convinced the czar to take a pleasure jaunt on their ship and pretend to be a pirate for a day. He fought this hard. He may have been a jolly, dorky Santa Claus of a man, but he had a strong sense of his responsibility. In the end, the czarina convinced him to go. And to take one of their stupid sons with him.

She later worked out with Victor an agreement to assassinate Prince Stupid by pushing him over the side.

This plot was executed beautifully.

First, Viva piloted the ship through pockets of turbulence, ostensibly to make the ride exciting for the czar. Then Scrimshaw got Prince Stupid thoroughly bladdered–while himself as legendarily unaffected by alcohol as usual. Finally, Victor did the job he’d been hired to do. He convinced Prince Stupid that swinging around on the ship’s ropes would be the greatest fun.

Perhaps it was. Perhaps Prince Stupid died having a grand old time.

They were paid He6,000 all told. The czarina was pleased to have her less idiotic son in the position of heir, and the czar enjoyed himself immensely.


Airship Pirates Session recap

Eek, this went long. Sorry. ^^; Lots of stuff happened.

It’s really cool to see everyone getting into the game. They never seem to run out of stuff that they want to do. It’s challenging to come up with so much on the fly, but I love it. Last night, I thought they would fudge travel and go straight to the dungeon, but nope. First, Nick wanted to print flyers proclaiming Captain Pico as the greatest marksman alive, which worked out because Victor has a printing press. Most of the posters did go up, although some of the urchins Nick paid to do the work skived off. He also suggested that they go to Russia first, with the idea of getting paid twice to save the same princess.

Then they worked out a route and how many times they would have to stop. I didn’t even do that much work, so I was nice and assumed that they could find a place to dock each time they needed to stop. It did mean I had to make up a couple of Skyloft cities, which had some weird results. The first was called Bedandrest, and was basically just a place to sleep or have a tumble. Viva-3 was careful not to get off there, not wanting to be seen as a regular doll. Scrimshaw, having made half a dozen cases of booze with his new apprentice Tabby Kate, tried to trade a couple of cases for what amounts to a tuppeny upright. The madame turned out to be too honest to let him do that, so she bought the booze and let him pay like a regular customer.

The next city sort of blew up. Not literally (although it gives me ideas) but it started as a place to stop and became a big deal.

Mostly settled by Italians (apparently), this city is affectionately known as The Shoe. Everyone there bets on anything. The city is designed to be able to move at the drop of a hat, but keeps to a schedule in order to maximise trade opportunity. Victor wanted to look for a floating street fight, Scrimshaw wanted a drinking contest. I started with the first, because I needed to brush up on combat–and show everyone how broken it is. I may need to go over it on my own again. I think we had fun, but it was a mess. Literally, my dice kept falling off the table.

Before the fight started, Captain Pico was accosted by a dapper dan in a cravat that will be remembered for an age. He knew of Pico’s disgrace in the IAN, apparently a former citizen of a Change Cage city himself. Pico took advantage of his own obvious narcissism to admit the disgrace and compliment him. This had the effect of humbling him out of his dislike. Viva-3 took the opportunity to attach herself to him like a casino bunny so she could bet on the fight with his money.

It was a very long fight. I don’t even know if we were doing it right. Fights in Airship Pirates are supposed to be dramatic. They’re designed to be conversations, unlike D&D, which can be all about the numbers without getting confusing. I honestly had to ask more than once what step had just been rolled. Eventually, Victor’s opponent turned out to be a fifteen-year-old called Sweet Johnny who had tender feelings. When he had two hitpoints left and Viva-3 was one of the people jeering him from the audience, he threw in the towel.

Presumably while the fight was going on, Scrimshaw had an impressive neck-and-neck drinking battle. That actually went really well, although the tie was difficult to break. They both passed out at the same time.

Also during the fight, Captain Pico hovered around the edges looking for someone who might need their unique style of service. She found the Marked Man, a crimelord with a large wine stain birthmark and a tonne of tattoos. He had a handsome bodyguard who doubled as bodyguard. While they talked business, he suggested that Pico bring her man (Victor) to a more formal fight. With costumes.

Yeah, I put lucha in my Airship Pirates game. If you know me, you’re just nodding your head and saying, “Of course you did.”

That fight. orz

They had armour that time, which meant that to do damage, each had to do more than three points of damage. As dapper dan–now named Henry Knot-Brummel–is part of the Marked Man’s entourage, he was there for Viva-3 to exploit again. He actually grew attached to her, since she seemed to like the fights as much as he does. He brought more money with him to bet.

After a long slog, Victor KO’d Rocky. He now has a reputation in the fighting circles of The Shoe. Sweet Johnny was impressed and Rocky hates him, but everyone is talking about how Victor sent Rocky into a montage.

Captain Pico talked the Marked Man into giving them a shipment of something (now I forget) and wants her to bring back some fabric to wow the current market.

Scrimshaw wound up with another hanger-on in the form of his drinking competition. Now Rusty Potter is a crewman belowdecks.

And poor Viva-3. Excited to find out how much she won betting on that big exhibition fight, she noticed that dear Henry had popped off to the gents’ and hadn’t returned. While adjusting her skirts, she found a note that someone had slipped into her pocket. Henry was kidnapped! The ransom they are asking is INSANE and the drop-off point is on the ground.

It may be a while yet before they get to the dungeon. Which could be the best thing for this campaign. The players are driving most of the action. I feel kind of like I’m just telling them stuff that happens as a result of their actions.


How Character Creation Went


Listening to: If I Had You – Adam Lambert

The bulk of the night went to character creation, as one might expect. While the options are sparse in some ways–only three cultures and three races, with the latter being either Human or incredibly specific other thing–they’re almost sprawling in other ways. Complications and Talents add enough texture to the game that I had everyone text me theirs so I can keep them in my notes. A couple of the complications even came up once we’d started the game rolling.

Everyone had really great backstories. They are mercenaries flying the airship Rum Runner. Going from who sat to my right at the table and around to my left:

Chrissy is a Victorian Vigilante (a la the song) named Novella Reed-Brooks, who fights crime under the moniker Penny Dreadful and uses bartitsu with a parasol instead of a cane. We referred to her as Batman continually, although she has no dead relatives. Instead, she escaped the Change Cage city she was born in to avoid law enforcement and her much-more-terrifying mother finding out about her nocturnal activities. One of my favourite things about her is that Chrissy took the Proper Sensibilities complication, which I call “pearl-clutching.”

Jared’s character is an interesting gymnastic move in character creation. A peeler (automata law enforcement) with a doll (prostitute) model body whose job it was to bring back those who escaped the CCCs, essentially an undercover retrieval agent. Her name is Viva-3. In pursuing Novella, she took a liking to the vigilante and decided to aid and join her instead of taking her back.

Nick is the captain, a former IAN officer inexplicably named Shadow Pico. Shae for short. When he saw that only upper class men can have that background, he gave her a gender-masquerade backstory ended in infamy due to his Kirk-inspired complication, Constantly Loses Shirt. Due to this, she is also a legendarily disgraced Public Figure, so she’ll be sure to run into some trouble in CCCs. Luckily for me, she is also a Narcissist, which played coincidentally well with my first major NPC.

I shouldn’t pick favourites, but I’m a book nerd, so Gama’s character is kind of my favourite. Victor is an upper-class-born Misbegotten who got out of his CCC right away and ran into the crew of the Ophelia, who are in possession of a Chrononautilus. They went back to, let’s say the rainy summer of 1816. He was hit by a lightning gun in a fight and afterwards met–perhaps was rescued and nursed by–Mary Shelley. She misunderstood his story, but as he said, he got an autographed book out of it. Later, he broke with the crew of the Ophelia and ended up with this crew.

All of them have great names. Ethan’s is Robert “Scrimshaw” Gale, a Skyfolk Inventor who drinks like a fish. Or Captain America. There’s little chance of him getting drunk unless he really tries. But he is scruffy and one of his particular skills is building stills and apparently he keeps up with others of similar interest. He’s also the kind of everyman who relates to each person he meets and responds to most situations with a Yes.

The group backstory is that each of the PCs was recruited by Mr Phil Onion, a crippled boatswain with an enigmatic nature. He set them all up at a boardinghouse, and found a ship and crew. He’s basically a Coulson. Everyone loves him and he made a lot of groundwork things happen. His motives have not yet been revealed.

Seriously, everyone legitimately warmed to this character and kind of created him together in a storm of laughter and conversation. I was explaining that the crew is made of regular guys but they can individualise them. Maybe play poker or Cripple Mr Onion. I am the only one who reads the Discworld, so I had to explain it, but by then it had been misheard and we all decided that Mr Onion was the go-to crewman and that he had even brought them all together. Like Coulson.

That’s what I’m going for with most of the NPCs. Genuine emotional connection. I love that lady, I hate that guy. To me, it’s one of the reasons to play Airship Pirates.

Looks like I’ll have to talk about the actual session in another post.