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Population: One

Review: Yesterday

That was sure a couple of movies jammed into one two hour window!

And I liked it. Danny Boyle’s a great director working with stylistic flair. The primary beats of the movie are completely fantastic. It’s a dream, perhaps literally: it’s constantly playing with space and time. The titles tell us we’re in Los Angeles before we get there. Conversations don’t miss a beat while characters instantly teleport over the space of miles.

Kate McKinnon is playing a Suffolk schoolteacher’s imaginary version of a music executive. It’s a fantasy! If you’re critiquing this movie because it doesn’t make sense, well —

Doskvol Illuminator

I got a wild hair today and hacked together an issue of the Doskvol Illuminator from my Blades in the Dark game. It took a couple of hours but even for an incompetent graphic designer like me it wasn’t too hard.

The tools: Apple Pages and the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society Font and Prop combo pack. The pack comes with a sample newspaper with notes on typography — all you need is that plus a reference plus the fonts, along with any program that will let you shuffle blocks of text around and draw lines.

The advertisements are mostly just from Google searches on “Victorian advertisements”. It takes a bit of poking around but you can find useful things. The tricky bit was cropping out inappropriate locations: there’s no place called St. Louis in the city of Doskvol.

That plus several hours gave me this PDF, or enjoy the partial image below. If I can do it, you can do it.

Review: Hideous Creatures

Pelgrane Press: $50 (print plus PDF, the PDF only version will be released in a couple of months).

Hideous Creatures feels like kind of an under the radar release, perhaps because it’s about 50% made up of previously published Ken Hite monographs. At a quick glance, the main text is exactly the same as you got if you bought the monographs, although the book does add a fun handout for each creature. So there’s some retread factor there.

I got it because, you know, Pelgrane and my wallet. And there are sixteen new creature write-ups! How could I resist?

I am super-glad I did not, because having all of this in one place is amazing. This is one of the best sourcebooks released for Cthulhu mythos gaming ever, and I mean for any system. The stat blocks are for Trail of Cthulhu but they’re the least of what Hideous Creatures offers.

What you get for each creature:

  • A few paragraphs of blurb
  • Game stats
  • A list of abilities you might want to give your version of the creature, so nobody knows what to expect (mostly not tied to any one system)
  • Variations: half a dozen to a dozen origins and attributes of the creatures, many of which contradict each other
  • A list of ways in which the creature has been represented in world mythologies
  • A list of clues the creatures might leave, one for each Trail of Cthulhu ability, but fully useful for any system
  • A few scenario ideas
  • A bibliography
  • A handout

So you’ve got seven or eight pages of solid material for each and every creature, and because Hite and his collaborators focused on variations, it’s immensely flexible. Here’s a bit of the chapter on ghouls, for example.

In the interests of respecting copyright, I cropped that excerpt — get the book if you want suggestions for making ghouls look like jackals, coyotes, flies, or worms.

Are we done? Nah. There’s a chapter at the end about creating or customizing creatures. It’s short but good: Hite covers both how to make creatures horrific (did you know that Lovecraft used catachresis and cubism to evoke horror of the unfamiliar?) and how to generate Trail of Cthulhu stats.

Finally, at the very end, there’s an index. Headers for the index include: “Creatures of Fathomless Space,” “Creatures Who Serve Wizards,” “Creatures of Transformation & Corruption,” “Hideous Creatures By Country, Culture or Region,” and many more. So that’s about a perfect index.

This book is relentlessly useful and evocative, both at once. Seriously worth buying.

Quick Hit Princess Cruise Notes

S. and I took an Amtrak up to Vancouver last Friday, hopped onto Skytrain, had a nice lunch in Gastown, and boarded the Ruby Princess for a one day repositioning cruise down to Seattle. This frivolity is brought to you by the opportunity to check out a cruise line’s style cheap before booking a longer Baltic cruise in a couple of years. We’re gonna stick with Holland America but the Ruby Princess was fun.

We’re not experts in any way, but the Ruby Princess struck us as skewing a bit younger and more flashy than the relatively staid Holland America aesthetic. (Same corporate parent, by the by.) We spent two hours on karaoke and it was fairly awesome.

The main dining room food wasn’t great and the upsell for booze was kind of tiring. The buffet was better — the Indian food had some real spice to it and I liked the roast beef a lot. I also think Holland America’s buffet had more variety.

The open pool spaces were abundant but kinda inward turned. I really liked the aft pool deck on our Holland America ship, because it was very open and you got a great 270 degree view of Alaska. The Ruby Princess has a super-cool terraced aft pool, but it doesn’t have the same panoramic view.

I’d guess the ship was maybe 60-70% full. Judging purely by the karaoke, a lot of locals had the same plan we did — fun night out and some pretty scenery.

Definitely worth grabbing one of these if you live in a cruise ship port that has ‘em.

One-Shots: Delta Green

Said I: “Oh, I’ll just grab the winning entry from the 2018 Shotgun Scenario contest and find some pre-gens from somewhere and that’ll be my Delta Green one-shot.”

And then I said “Hm, there’s no Northern California town called Rama, but the Klamath National Forest is real. What real town could I use instead? And while I’m at it, let me outline a few NPCs so that I’m not coming up with them on the fly, and let me extend the scenario just a bit, and…”

So while the result is certainly still Marco Menarini’s fine scenario, I have added around 3,500 words which will make it easier to run.

A tools note: I did most of the writing on my 2018 iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard Folio, and it was a superb experience. This is the first time I’ve really felt like an iPad could be my travel computer.

Noir City 2019 Streaming

For reference and for my friends who can’t make it to a Noir City showing this year. (San Francisco, Seattle, Hollywood, Austin, Boston, Chicago. Make it if you can.) I’m just listing movies with subscription/free streams here.

Subscription service info is mostly from Lettrboxed. One of the many cool features they have: you can click on a movie and find out where you can see it. You can also filter film lists by services, so if I wanna feel classy I pull up the list of TSPDT 21st Century Top 1000 Movies and find out what’s on Netflix.

One-Shots: Feng Shui

I’ve been accreting a Las Vegas Feng Shui setting since we lived in Austin, where I ran a couple of sessions of Feng Shui set there. The idea stuck and I really liked Jay Ackel, PI; the Chairman of the Board; and a few other NPCs. I also enjoyed working with a primary faction conflict consisting of two Ascended factions. California is home of the bears, right?

So it’s been slowly gaining mass since then. I have a Scrivener file that gets a little more weighty every time I open it up. That isn’t all that often, mind you. Regardless, if I’m gonna run a Feng Shui one-shot, it’ll be in my Las Vegas.

Rather than write up an adventure I decided I knew the setting well enough so that I could just write an oracle. It’d work as a skeleton for any city, although you’d have to replace a bunch of People and Locations entries, plus a couple of the McGuffins. If you’re interested, grab the PDF here.

Let’s do a quick test run:

The Widow’s Regalia

I just sent my Blades in the Dark players a summary of one PC’s research, since he finished up a long-term project clock during the latest downtime. Useful knowledge: Setarra is Dock’s chosen friend from character creation, and his long-term demonic patron. Last session, Dock performed a ritual which shows him the history of an item in order to break into a safe. As a perhaps fortunate consequence of the ritual, he learned that the a powerful set of demonic relics woven through the story to date was originally Setarra’s, and she wants them back.

On the regalia: actual possession of the belt is exactly the key you need to unlock the ciphers in Violette’s husband’s library. (Not a fun experience per se; this is a really dark set of tomes. Human sacrifice, techniques for raising the ambient level of misery in a neighborhood in order to encourage deals with demons, that kind of thing.)

The Regalia is made up of five items:

  • The Widow’s Collar (necklace)
  • The Widow’s Cuffs (bracelets)
  • The Widow’s Shackles (boots)
  • The Widow’s Leash (belt)
  • The Widow’s Shroud (dress)

The Hexhounds stole the Collar for the Attic. You heard on the streets that the Attic got their hands on the Shackles. Lisette the gambler lost her final tournament game, with some assistance on your part, and that put the Cuffs in Lord Scurlock’s hands. You currently have the Leash. The location of the Shroud is completely unknown.

Apparently Dock now knows some things about the origin that nobody else knows, so that’s exciting. Various scholars have assumed that the Widow was a demon of some sort, but nobody’s attached the name Setarra to the story. It’s widely thought that the paladin who fought the demon, Bran, is just a metaphor for the strength of humans in the face of temptation, because everyone knows paladins never existed. Dock knows his history; this would mean that the theft occurred well before the Cataclysm, which was a thousand years ago. Given his knowledge that the paladin really did exist, it’s pretty easy to piece together the next steps — once Bran got his hands on the Regalia, he carefully scattered it to the ends of what is now the Shattered Isles. The individual items used to live in monasteries, temples, churches, and so on. Since then, well, a thousand years of thievery and danger and murderous ghosts do a number on your ability to protect dangerous demonic artifacts.

It is definitely the case that letting a demon assemble all five of the items is a recipe for disaster. They are sort of thaumaturgical batteries when they’re apart; making a set of three or four is no big deal, it’s a linear addition; but getting all five together is potentially world-shaking. Setarra’s threats in the vision are not mere bluster. Perhaps she’s mellowed over the millennium? Also: useful for demons, overwhelming for humans. Trying to channel that much power through a mere human body is not a good idea. 

Authenticity as a Service

Geek joke.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing some awesome things with live-streaming. Beto O’Rourke is embarrassing himself by live-streaming his dental appointment (except he didn’t). Justin Amash is pretty blunt on Twitter.

2020 is going to be a good exercise in decoupling authenticity from our political preferences. Beto’s rambling blog posts are political; I don’t see how he couldn’t be aware of the pressure to run, the magnitude of the decision, and the pros and cons of his choices. He’s auditioning. So is AOC. So is Amash.

I think getting into the habit of being open is a good thing for all of them. The recent Washington Post interview with Beto was amazing and if you’re not applauding his decision to be frank, you’re nuts. His responses made me less likely to vote for him in the primaries, and he has to know many people would react like that, but he was still willing to admit his uncertainties.

Separating my warm feelings about authenticity from my feelings about what that transparency reveals is a 2020 goal for me.