Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Big Gorecki Wedding!!

So, this weekend was the BIG Greek Wedding of our friends Paul and Cathy. First on the agenda was to pick up the tux.

I think the black tux with the harvest orange vest looked very nice, but required the D20 socks and Green Lantern cuff links to really pull the ensemble together.

Thanks to Paul and Cathy for the awesome cuff links. They are very cool.

Next up was the rehearsal. Since this wedding was in Cathy's Greek Orthodox church, there were a lot of parts of the ceremony that we had never seen before, so the rehearsal was necessary. Afterward, Paul's parents hosted the rehearsal dinner.

The groom and me

Cory, Chad, Noah, Hillary, and Devin

The groom's sister, Jill and her husband Nick

Nice robot sweatervest!

After dinner, we all got a quick lesson in the Greek 12-step so we were prepared for the reception.

I put together a little video of highlights from the wedding and reception. The quality isn't great, but it will give you an idea of the Greek 12-step (my name for it since I don't know the actual name).

My dates, Brandon and Devin (since Cory was at the head table)

Cory and Sophia

The best man and maid of honor

The Koumbaro and Paul's godmother

Paul and Cathy are both so wonderful, warm, and fun. Wishes for a lifetime of happiness!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To the Earth's Core!

: The soon-to-be straight-to-DVD blockbuster remake of CHILDREN OF THE CORN (that was filmed in my tiny home town of Lost Nation, IA) premiers this Saturday on the "Syfy" channel at 8pm Central!

I decided to actually give Hollow Earth Expedition a try with my gaming group, and I must say it was a blast. I had a short adventure already planned out for Gencon but never got the opportunity to play it there, so decided to invite my buds over for a convention-style one-shot game of 1930s pulp action!

Now, as my players had never played Hollow Earth Expedition before nor even heard of the dice system, I had to give a quick overview of what was going on. I read the following:

Several months ago, Prof. Challenger received a faint distress signal from a group that identified itself as "Expedition 3." The cryptic messages from Expedition 3 stated they were a scientific crew who had become stranded deep within the Earth's Crust.

Prof. Challenger immediately began work on the Maneuverable Oxygenated Linear Excavator, or MOLE, a drilling machine capable of traversing through the Earth at remarkable speeds.

Most of the world thinks this is either an insane endeavor or a scam, but Prof. Challenger was able to secure funding and pull together a group of distinguished explorers to join him on this expedition. Together, you will travel in the MOLE on a rescue mission to the heart of the planet!

Then I just let the players see all the demo characters I had printed off and let them choose who goes on the mission without knowing what all the stats meant on the sheets. I would explain the rules after they chose characters because I figured it'd be easier to understand while looking at the sheets.

The characters available were as follows (and yes if you're a Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle fan you'll recognize most of the character names I used):

Prof. Edward Challenger -- Mad Scientist (Expedition Leader)
Lord John Roxton -- Big Game Hunter
Ms. Gladys Huntington -- Intrepid Reporter
Preston Weatherby III -- Dying Moneyman (Expedition Sponsor)
Doug McClure -- Ex-Military Rugged Explorer
Prof. Julius Summerlee -- Snooty Professor (Challenger's Academic Nemesis)
Jacqueline Payne -- Archaeologist and Fortune Hunter
Glenda Blondell -- Imperiled Actress

This being their first adventure they opted for a combat-heavy group and chose Prof. Challenger, Lord John Roxton, Doug McClure, and Jacqueline Payne.

The rules to the game are pretty simple, and I won't go into them here. Suffice to say that one of the major differences between HEX and other rpgs are Style points. Each character had a predefined Motivation (Power, Greed, Truth-Seeker, etc.) and a pre-defined Flaw (Overconfident, Absent-minded, Thrill-seeker, etc.). Each time a player plays their character to their motivation or flaw I give them a Style point, which is a poker chip. They can then use these style points to get fairly big bonuses on their die rolls. So for example, Prof. Summerlee's flaw is "Condescending," which means he gets Style points whenever he proves his mental superiority, or just from being a dick in a smarmy and entertaining sort of way. Now, his combat stats are rubbish, but presumably by the time he has to dodge bullets he's saved up so many Style points from antagonizing the group that he can wade through combat by sheer "luck." Style points really made for a fun game, and flew back and forth between me and the players like water.

When starting new games, I prefer to channel my inner Robert E. Howard and start the campaign in media res, that is, toss the characters into an immediate and dangerous situation and gloss over how they got there in the first place. This is much more fun than starting out with the characters sitting around with a long briefing and a Q&A session with the local king, royal sponsor, or general "quest-giver." Don't give the characters the opportunity to waste time haggling with the blacksmith for deals before they've even dented their sword.

With that in mind, the description of the setting was simple and straightforward:

To reach the coordinates broadcast by Expedition 3, the MOLE must travel through over 500 miles of solid rock. You are just getting used to the sound of the grinding drill when suddenly the MOLE is rocked by external explosions. Boiling hot, sulfurous gases penetrate the hull, the electrical systems spark, and the engine pistons scream and struggle to put out enough power! A tectonic tremor has caused the MOLE to fall into a matrix of brittle rock within an enormous magma field!

Then I set down a map I drew of the inside of the MOLE and showed them the five stations, there is the HELM, SYSTEMS MAINTENANCE, ENGINES, AIR PUMP, and SENSORS.

The players had to get ten successes at the HELM within three turns to escape the oncoming rush of hot lava filling the tunnel behind them. Every station gave benefits to other stations or the HELM if successfully maintained, and also gave other stations penalties if not successfully maintained (or in the case of the Air Pump, made everyone start to suffocate and take damage). Of course there were five stations and only four PCs, which is by design. But Doug McClure flexed his mighty thews and manned the bellows of the Air Pump, Prof. Challenger put on his steampunk goggles and drove at the HELM, Ms. Payne interpreted the SENSOR array to help steer the MOLE, and Lord John Roxton took up the monkey wrench and banged on the ENGINES to keep them going. Everybody ignored the smoldering and sparking SYSTEMS MAINTENANCE station and just hoped it would hold until they were safe, and sure enough they were able to just make 10 successes by the third turn and thrust upward through the Earth's crust into an expansive jungle valley! They had little time to ponder this unusual circumstance as they were closely followed by the rushing lava!

They only had a few minutes to spare before the MOLE was swallowed completely in lava, so I let them grab their gear and head out the upper porthole, where they had to jump to a nearby tree for safety. Ms. Payne made it easily, and Lord John Roxton had no trouble grabbing a tree. Doug McClure took a stumble and his boot brushed some lava, but he made it in one piece. Prof. Challenger tried to use the MOLE's ejector seat to get to safety, but only succeeded in setting off a small explosion wrecking the control panel and throwing him harshly into the jungle trees.

Once safe, the PCs were able to look around and while the Professor's coordinates said they were deep within the Earth's crust, they could see a shining sun above them and were deep in a tropical jungle! Then, Doug found some tire tracks in the mud, suggesting they were near the site of where Expedition 3 must be operating!

The PCs followed the tire tracks for a few hours and noticed a lot of previously unknown and thought-extinct ferns and insects. Fortunately, Roxton was keeping an eye up while they traveled because he shushed the group as they came upon a horrendous sight... lizardmen!

A small tribe of lizardmen were dancing around a large bonfire and playing drums. Near the makeshift bonfire they saw an overturned truck and a wooden pole stuck in the ground, with a very distraught woman tied to it! The lizardmen danced around the young sacrifice as the drummers thrummed hypnotic music into the jungle.

Lord John Roxton could not stomach the sight of a woman in distress, and immediately took a knee, aimed his .405 Winchester rifle at the serpentine head of the nearest abomination, and pulled the trigger. The lizardman's head exploded in red mist. The crack of the shot scattered most of the tribal serpentmen, leaving the shaman, his bodyguards and the drummers left to defend the sacrifice.

After a few rounds of intense hand-to-hand combat between the group and the lizardmen, a thunderous roar was heard throughout the jungle, and the PCs realized what the drumming was actually summoning. That's right, since this was a one-shot I wasn't holding back, the lizardmen had summoned a T-rex!

McClure raced to cut the bonds holding the captive with his machete as Ms. Payne distracted the T-Rex with her shotgun and fancy moves. She narrowly escaped being bitten in half only by the grace of spending a lot of Style points and using up her special "Lucky" Talent she gets once a game session. The T-Rex finally reached down to snap up the sacrifice as McClure pushed her out of the way and threw a lizardman drummer forward at the same time, feeding it to the T-Rex Gammorean-guard style. With the death of the drummer the other musician lizardmen stopped playing and started to flee in panic. With the T-rex no longer hypnotized by the music it rampaged around the area attacking things at random. McClure grabbed the damsel and ran past Challenger, the T-rex hot on his heals. Fortunately, Prof. Challenger had in the meantime been attaching a fuse to the overturned truck's gas tank. As the thunderous Superpredator passed the jeep the Professor lit the fuse, and the truck and T-Rex exploded in a tremendous fireball! Prof. Challenger barely leapt out of the path of the explosion into a nearby sinkhole.

Once they were clear of the area, the damsel explained she was Dr. Emily Masterson, a British geologist who was with Expedition 3. She explained that they were ambushed by Nazis who had come into the Hollow Earth on an icebreaker Ship via an opening in the North Pole. The Nazis had found a treasure-trove of strange and precious artifacts and hoped to utilize the riches of the Hollow Earth to help their Fuhrer to conquer the world! She was forced to work with a group of Nazis looking for more precious minerals when they were ambushed by the lizardmen. The Nazis fled leaving her to be sacrificed to the Lizardman gods.

Upon hearing this, patriotic Doug McClure expressed his disdain for Nazis and asked how they could stop the nefarious germans from fulfilling their plans. Dr. Masterson said she could lead the party to where the Nazis had found a strange obelisk in the jungle that they believed to be some sort of weapon. The party needed little prodding with the promise of glory, riches, and a possible escape to the surface and so proceeded to follow Dr. Masterson to the Nazi encampment.

Sure enough, upon arrival at the obelisk they saw a bunch of Nazi guards and Nazi engineers lowering a dug-up obelisk toward the back of a large truck. The obelisk swayed unsteadily on some jury-rigged ropes and it was clear the Nazis were concerned it would fall before they got it on the truck. Deciding they needed to stop whatever it was the Nazis planned, the crew threw together a hasty plan. They would play the lizardmen drums to make the Nazis think more lizardmen were coming, and at the same time Ms. Payne would sneak behind enemy lines and pull the stake holding the obelisk upright at a 45 degree angle above the truck. It seemed like a good plan, until the drumming on the mystical lizardman drums accidentally summoned a group of hungry Ultraraptors from the nearby tall grass!

Nazi, Explorer, and Raptor fought in a desperate three-way battle. In the confusion Ms. Payne pulled up the stake and the obelisk came crashing down onto the truck, just as a guard jumped into the truck to avoid an oncoming raptor. He was flattened instantly. The obelisk broke in half and revealed what the rune-inscribed atlantean artifact had been hiding, a miniature black hole!

Suddenly, everything started to be pulled toward the tiny black hole between the two broken halves of the obelisk. As objects and creatures fell into the dark matter, it grew in intensity and was able to pull toward it larger and larger objects. The players had to hold on for dear life not to get sucked in. As the Professor secured himself between some trees with a hastily-erected harness, he noticed that when the smaller broken-off pieces of the obelisk fell into the hole it decreased in size slightly! On the other side of the battlefield Lord John Roxton noticed it too. Held by his belt and secured to a nearby tree by the stout Doug McClure, he was able to take aim and shatter one half of the obelisk with a well-placed round from ol' Matilda, letting all the smaller pieces fall into the hole, decreasing its size significantly. Unfortunately, the other half of the obelisk was on the other side of the black hole from Roxton, which would suck his bullets into it if he tried to shoot past it!

Seeing his only chance, the professor overloaded the dilithium oscillator on his experimental Stun rifle and tossed it to Ms. Payne, who was able to throw it under the other half of the Obelisk just as a huge explosion rocked the valley. The obelisk section was thrown into the air and came down into the black hole, nullifying the black pulsar, or what was known to the inhabitants of the area 100,000 years ago as an Atlantean Gravity Bomb! The Nazi's plans to take the bomb back to the surface had been foiled!

The trucks and encampment destroyed by the implosion, the players gathered themselves together and headed toward their only hope of escape, the Nazi's icebreaker ship docked just a day's hike away. But as they got to the shore their hopes were dashed, as some time in the night the ship had been attacked by what must be giant sea beasts, or had suffered an artillery explosion, as now only pieces of the deck and various debris bobbed out in the water.

Where would they go now? How would they survive in this hostile world? Where did the rest of the Nazi sailors and soldiers go? Would they ever find their way back to the surface? Find out next time on...

Trapped in the Hollow Earth!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Correspondence from the Reagan Era

We recently helped Cory's grandparents move to an apartment from the home they lived in for 59 years. In the course of cleaning out the house, a box of memories was assembled for each family member. Below is one of the items from Cory's box.

Universal truths reinforced by this letter:
1) Seven year-olds need lined paper.
2) Cory loves Halloween.
3) Conan is a nerd.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rainbow Brite Lanterns

In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night, No Evil Shall Escape My Sight, For Those Who Worship Evil's Might, Beware My Power, Green Lantern's Light!
- The Green Lantern Oath

Jump to comments

So as some of you down with the DC Universe may have heard, the Green Lantern Corps are having some major internal affairs issues with their power rings. For those of you with only a passing knowledge of the current happenings in the Green Lantern universe, I'll break it down.

It all starts with these little blue aliens named "The Guardians of the Universe." These little guys and gals dislike emotion, and believe that excess emotion causes chaos in the universe, and they want order and peace. To that end, thousands of years ago they cut off access to the destuctive power of emotion and created the "Manhunters" to police the galaxy, which are androids devoid of emotion and free of its corrupting influence. However, as all android-police stories go, the androids coldly massacred an entire galactic sector and rebelled against the Guardians. After shutting them down, the guardians decided they needed living police-people to defend the galaxy, and allowed them to wield the power of one emotion: Willpower. Thus forming the Green Lanterns. I'm not really sure how being emotional gives you superpowers either, but lets just move on, okay?

The color Green in the Green Lantern mythos denotes the emotional strength of Willpower. The people who become Green Lanterns have always been chosen by the power rings for two traits: 1) Their ability to overcome fear and 2) Their mastery of their own Willpower. Basically, how ballsy they are. This is why Hal Jordan, who used to be an experimental-jet pilot, is such a badass Green Lantern.

Now, in accordance with an evil prophecy of the "Blackest Night," the remaining colors of the "emotional spectrum" (which is kind of a lame term) powers have broken free of the Guardians imprisonment (or whatever was keeping them under wraps), and now all the colors of R-O-Y-G-B-I-V have their own power rings.

Red - Rage

Red Lanterns express the power of Rage, and are mostly really angry aliens who are pissed at Sinestro, leader of the Yellow Lanterns (I'll get to that). Their leader is named "Atrocitus," which is hilarious. What's cool about the red lanterns is that once they put on the red ring, all their blood is expunged from their system (through their mouths!), and is replaced by pure red plasma energy. Besides the power to disrupt the light-contructs of the other power rings, the red lanterns can puke up the plasma blood in a corrosive form, melting their enemies faces off. They're pretty badass but completely insane. The red lanterns recently destroyed the Green Lantern's Sciencells where they were keeping all the Yellow Power rings they had captured, inadvertantly allowing those rings to make a bunch more Yellow Lanterns, who the red lanterns hate. Whoops! The Blue Lantern rings (see below) can disrupt the red power rings for a short time, and combined Blue+Green power rings can destroy Red power rings.

Orange - Avarice (Greed)

Orange Lanterns wield the power of Greed. In the comics they call it "Avarice," because somebody decided to get cocky with a thesaurus, but basically its just greed. Currently, there's only one real Orange Lantern. He's some kinda alien guy that stumbled on the Orange Lantern Power Battery a long time ago with his twin brother and killed him so he wouldn't have to share it. The Orange lantern allows the user to create thousands of light constructs (all of "orange lanterns") at once which can eat other power rings and envelop their owner's souls, thus allowing the Orange lantern to make more constructs when it kills another color's lantern superhero. The Orange Lantern is still kind of a mystery, except he really, really wants to eat all the Blue Power rings, and is currently launching an attack on the Blue Lantern's home planet of Odym.

Yellow - Fear

Sinestro is the primary enemy of the Green Lanterns, and was a major force in the build up to the release of all seven colors of the emotional power spectrum. Ya see, Sinestro used to be a Green Lantern, but decided that Fear makes a better motivator for peace than asking people to have Willpower, so changed his tune. Somehow he made his Green Lantern ring into a Yellow Lantern ring. It can do all the stuff the Green Lantern ring can do, but is yellow. Also, he was able to reproduce his ring and form his own Yellow Lantern Corps (called the 'Sinestro Corps') to try to take over Oa (home planet of the Green Lanterns). This started the 'Sinestro Wars' that preceeded the Blackest Night prophecy. During this war, the Guardians realized that the Green Lanterns couldn't defeat all the Yellow Lanterns unless they lifted the ban on killing for the Green Lanterns (up to this point, the GLs couldn't kill anybody, so were kind of hamstringed in battles and had to make big cages and fists to grab dudes -- but that doesn't work when you're fighting guys with the same power to un-do the cages and whatnot you made). So the Green Lanterns started killing the Yellow Lanterns, and (temporarily) won the war. This turned out to be Sinestro's plan all along, because he felt once the populace of various worlds found out that Green Lanterns were now willing to kill, they'd be afraid of them, and the galaxy would have peace at last. The Green Lanterns imprisoned all the Yellow Power Rings they found in their super-huge galactic prison, but very recently the red lanterns who were imprisoned there destroyed the prison and the power rings escaped to find new owners.

Green - Willpower

These are the light-construct-making green ring-slingers we've all come to know and love. Normally there was a single green lantern for each one of the 3600 'Sectors' of the universe, but recently have been doubled in number and split into pairs due to the increasing threat of the yellow lanterns. These guys take their orders from the Guardians of the Universe and are generally do-gooders on par with Superman and Friends. Hal Jordan is the most famousest of Lanterns, and has up to this point been exposed to and fought off the effects of the Red, Orange, Yellow (at least, when he was Parallax), and Blue Lantern effects. I'm betting we'll see him almost get taken over by Violet and Indigo at some point, but he's Green through and through.

Blue - Hope

These peace-loving beatniks are very few in number and are founded by two exiled Guardians who felt it was necessary to feel emotion to defeat the oncoming 'Blackest Night.' The Blue power rings don't really have any powers of their own other than flight and a protective shield, but instead they greatly increase the power of any Green Lantern rings nearby. When a Blue Lantern (Hope) and Green Lantern (Willpower) team up, they can destroy some power rings (Red) and drain the energy of others (Yellow). Unfortunately there's only like four of these guys running around and the Guardians forbid the Green Lanterns to commiserate with them, as they are illegally using power rings (or something), and so we haven't seen a lot of teaming-up yet, other than with Hal. The Guardians tipped off the Orange Lantern to the existence of the Blue Lantern's homeworld, and the Orange Lantern has sent his huge legion of nearly-indestructible ring-eating constructs to consume their world. And as the Blue Lanterns are alone, without a Green Lantern to help, it looks bleak.

Indigo - Compassion

These are the only ring folks who haven't really been seen yet by the universe at large. There was like a four-panel section of one issue which showed a group of tibal folks come across a completely exhausted Green and Yellow lantern in the desert, presumably on their home world. The Green Lantern told them to run as he was fighting that Yellow Lantern who may still be dangerous, because his power ring was drained and his body broken. The Indigo Lanterns (?) moved over to him, speaking a language his ring couldn't decode, and quietly smothered him to death. Next they went over to the Yellow lantern (who's ring was also drained) and did the same, but not as nicely. Then they continued on their walk through the desert. Kind of wierd, but at least we know they aren't automatically nice guys just 'cause they are the rings of compassion.

Violet - Love
(Brando's Favorite)

Readers of Green Lantern have seen these ladies before, at least in the form of Star Sapphire. Hal Jordan's old girlfriend Carol Ferris has occasionally been taken over by a somewhat-malignant force from space known as the 'Star Sapphire'. This force gave her Green Lantern-like powers and made her the embodiment of an extinct Queen of a race of evil superwomen called the Zamorazons...or something. Her evil plot was to marry/enslave Hal Jordan and have his superbabies, and to that end she robbed banks and destroyed cities. Look, it was written in like the 1940s, they had no idea about continuity or making female supervillians remotely interesting back then. Anyhoo, now that the emotional spectrum stuff is going on, the Star Sapphire has had a gentler change of heart and hosts the entity of Love rather than the Queen of the Zamorazon's soul, and has started its own Corps. The Star Sapphire crystal (or whatever) realized that the 'power of love' is too strong for just one host, so displaced itself into a Power Battery and Power rings, like the Green Lantern Corps. Of course, all the Violet Lanterns are still hot chicks with evidentally a 'no boys allowed' policy, but that's fine because I really wouldn't want to see a dude in one of their outfits. So far their rings have been shown to make light constructs a la Green Lanterns and show people who their true love is, which is kinda lame.
Mostly they've just used that ability to make yellow lanterns hesitate to strike as they see their true love and then the Violet lanterns sucker-punch them from behind. Go Love!

Black - Death

Now this is the king-daddy of them all, and the epicenter of the Blackest Night prophecy. One of the Guardians who was scarred from a fight with the Anti-Monitor (its a long story, don't ask), went crazy and opened the portal for the Black Lantern Power Rings to come forth. The Black Lantern power rings seek out dead superheros and turn them into Zombie Superheros, who have all their original powers and none of their vulnerabilities. Not only that, but in order to power their rings (which undead superheros really don't need to use their abilities), they have to eat the hearts of other superheros! Currently their power level is at 2.67%, and that's after eating like nine major superhero hearts. Also when they kill a superhero he or she joins their ranks! To find out some of the major superheros/supervillans who've been killed and/or resurrected as Black Lanterns, highlight below:

Martian Manhunter, Jade, AquaMan, AquaLad, Superman Prime, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Elongated Man, Solomon Grundy, and the Spectre!

And that's only up to Blackest Night Issue #2! So now the whole universe is battling these zombie superheros who are seemingly indestructible and want to eat people's beating hearts, and they are laying waste to the superhero population of the DC Universe. Furthermore, the evil Guardian (who I think is now undead), has sent waves of the rings to the home planets of the various Lantern colors, in order to ressurect them and destroy all power colors except for Black.

How will they be stopped? Nobody knows, but I really hope its not something as Deus Ex Machina as Hal Jordan combining the powers of all seven colors and forming the 'White Lantern' or something. That's my guess though.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What are you?

...I'm Batman.
So I picked up the new game Batman: Arkham Asylum this weekend on the recommendation of my good buddy Paul, and its incredible quality has consumed all of my free time since. This new Batman game is the everlovin' bees knees.

Take the best forensic science investigation parts of Condemned: Criminal Origins, the dark atmosphere and open Central Park-sandbox of the latest (otherwise 'meh'-quality) Alone in the Dark, add a sweet brawler combat system, and you've got Rocksteady's latest release, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
I assumed they would put in a quality combat system, and even a stealth-kill mechanic that's fun to use, but what I didn't expect was the cool 'detective mode' system where you can look around a room as Batman would, to pick out fingerprints and chemical vapors and other forensic evidence. It really adds the detective element to the game.

Without giving anything away, the premise of the game is that Joker has set up a super-trap for good ol' Bats, by luring him to Arkham island which he has secretly taken over, and letting all the crazies loose. The plot is an oldie but a goodie, and silently gliding around the island quietly choking-out assault rifle-armed joker thugs from behind just doesn't ever get old.

The voices are all done by the folks from the animated series, so yes we have Mark Hammil as the Joker, which is the most important voice of all because he's constantly mocking you over the loudspeakers. If any of you Jokers are on the fence about picking this game up, or haven't even heard its out, then I heartily recommend grabbing it. Its a Bat-smashing good time.