Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Monomyth

I remember when I first read Joseph Campbell. I was taking a class at a community college on the weekend so I could graduate from high school early. That particular class was Ancient Literature and to this day, I look back at that class fondly. The teacher loved his topic and the students -- all from such a wide variety of backgrounds-- wanted to learn. But it was also the first time I was introduced to Joseph Campbell and his theory of the Monomyth. The idea was we're all basically telling the same story over and over again. We just change certain aspects of the formula. You can apply this as far back as Gilgamesh and to as recent as Harry Potter. Our heroes go on a journey and we expect them to meet with trials and nearly die and reconcile with their past before they come out of the whole ordeal a better and/or a different person. It resonates with everyone because, well, we like stories we can relate to. And don't we all go on our own journeys?

Here is a handy picture guide for you

Needless to say, I grew kind of obsessed with comparative mythology for a time. It may be linked to the fact that I just like the origin of things. I want to know where it all began, even if the story is a bit ambiguous. Additionally, I just like comparing things to other things. I like observing the monomyth in stories people may not have thought of. I also like watching/reading things in which I note how characters are very similar to people I know in real life. It may be my own personal quirk or just human nature to categorize and organize things.

Like Final Fantasy X is a great example of the Hero's Journey

The Monomyth is, as one of my friends puts it, something to love and hate. On one hand, if you apply the formula with your own spin on it, you are creating an epic tale. On the other hand, formulas can get tiring after a while and people sometimes become too reliant on it which causes the end result to become kind of stale.

Despite my keen interest in Campbell's ideas, I never wrote a story monomyth style. I took some concepts -- like the trickster for instance. I adore tricksters but that will likely be a different entry for a different time. Conversely, I always try to write original tales when it comes to my writing. I always aim to write something I haven't seen much of before. True, I always get frustrated when I fall into the "The Simpsons Did It" conundrum. But I try to work past that and find a different spin on ideas that had been used before.

This brings me to my nanowrimo story which I just finished last week and won that contest for the first time despite all the times I tried before and just failed. Part of it was due to the fact I really got into my story. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I actually took an idea I came up with as a teenager, dusted it off, changed a few things, packed away the 90's cheese in it, and went nuts. As I wrote it out, I felt this is it. This is my best story. These are my best characters. This is my best writing.

I was worried too, because I didn't want my main character to turn into the typical everyman. But when I came up with the MacGuffin -- his earth mother -- I got thinking on what kind of person would desire such a thing so much he would compromise The Mission to go and meet her. And thus Gabriel was born. He's spacy. Not necessarily stupid, just more that he gets ideas and runs with them without thinking them through -- most of the problems he gets into ties into this character flaw of his. He's well-meaning but incredibly ignorant of everything outside the world he grew up in. And he's a tiny bit lost like anyone is at that age -- and not only is he lost on trying to figure out who he is but also he gets perpetually lost physically as well.

When I started this story, I did intend for it to be a road trip-coming of age story with a looming alien invasion sprinkled in to keep things interesting. And not only did I want it to be about Gabriel growing up but his travel companion, human truck driver Theo, to rediscover herself in the process. I feel I failed Theo a little but I have ways to change that in the rewrite.

I don't know if it was the banter between earthy Theo snarking at spacy Gabriel's ignorance that kept me going. Or that I really wanted Gabriel to realize all what he thought he knew was a lie. Or that I wanted him to get the MacGuffin in the end. The story just flowed. I still need to fix a lot of things. This is mainly because I took some great advice from a friend. "Don't worry about filling every blank yet". And I realized it was me wanting to fill in every little detail, whether it comes up or not was what held me back all these years.

My reaction when he told me about blank spaces

Anyways, as I came upon the climax of the story, I realized something I promptly fell on the floor and rolled around. My story fit the Hero's Journey to a T. The story begins with Gabriel tripping over the threshold of his space pod on earth. He thrusts himself into adventure. In flashbacks, he actually leaps at the call to adventure and tries to finagle his way to be placed on the scouting mission to Earth. The time he spends in the desert after he got caught and escaped from authorities is the belly of the whale. He doesn't have any of his alien goodies to help him on his adventure. Just his telekinesis and telepathy and his wits. He has several encounters along the journey of both the "Men in Suits" and the other hybrids trying to get him to focus on his mission.

Men in Black was Copyrighted

As with the Monomyth, he has a lot of female figures that he must confront. He is tempted by the MacGuffin. That is what propels him forward. He is tempted to carry out the mission even though it may result in deaths. He is also tempted by just giving up on everything too and spends a period of time lost in a cornfield pondering just that. He nearly dies and comes out of it more powerful than before. He confronts the Father -- the Mothership oddly enough -- and brings to his people knowledge of the truth which is the ultimate boon. And the title he takes as the end result is probably the Master of Two Worlds.

Just, I didn't even intend for my story to follow the Hero's Journey Formula, yet I sort of subconsciously did. Is the Hero's Journey THAT pervasive into our collective unconsciousness? Granted, I think I have a few spins on the formula. The Woman as a Temptress is clearly the hybrid named Michael (she's a chick) but she does not offer physical temptation but the temptation of duty to please the aliens.

Another ancient storytelling device I used I realized later was The Allegory of the Cave. Gabriel spends his entire childhood and teen years being told that the humans on Earth are warlike and need to be appropriately guided to peace. It is in their nature and thus in his nature as a hybrid. This is why he could never expect to rise far up the ladder and must be forceably be corrected for bad thoughts. Gabriel found out later that warlike is a simplistic way to describe humans and peace is not what the aliens are going for.

Another picture for your convenience

 The reason why I started this entry because it got me thinking. Does my story work because it really works? Or does it work because it follows the formula? Either way, I am waiting until December to revise and begin the second draft. I want to do it now because I have so much I want to do to fill out the world I built.

 But I believe in this story and I look forward to seeing it through.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Veterans Day

It is 11 November which means it is Veterans Day in the United States. I, myself, am a veteran as it says in my description. I served 4 years active duty with 4 years inactive. I finally got my Honorable Discharge as I am now fully a civilian. Even though in the scheme of things, my military career was a short one, it has become part of how I identify myself and a lot of what I experience does influence of I view media and how I write too.

I will say outright, I am not the biggest fan of war movies. There are very few I enjoy and I am not going to run out and watch a movie that is centered around a soldier at war. It's not that the topic doesn't interest me. I really like watching documentaries about wars and military. My NaNoWriMo novel has shades of a military story (even though it is mostly a coming of age road trip story). I just find that many war stories tend to walk a tried and true line. You have to go through a bucket of crabapples to find good ones. And I really don't understand why people don't try to be daring (I'm not talking about using buckets of violence or anything meaning daring) as war has been a part of the human condition for almost as long as humans have been around. It is also one of the most debated topics in human history. So, I find it frustrating that people fall into formulas. Don't get me wrong, there are some stories that rock the formula. And there is nothing wrong with that.

I just find, at least to me, is that war movies usually fall into two categories: War is Hell and Makes Us All Monsters versus War is Glory/Good Guys Will Win Over Bad Guys. There is no middle ground which is where I tend to stand. I fully acknowledge that nothing really good comes from war. People die and those who don't are left with scars both physical and mental. But I can never fully buy into the pacifist frame of mind. There will be misguided people out there who will want to kill you and your family based on perceived politics or religion or ethnicity/race no matter what diplomatic argument you may present. And when it comes to that, I will fight to protect myself and those I love. And that is war.

I know there are movies/books/media in which it does fall somewhere in the middle but they tend to be pretty rare. I tend to like my war movies to fall in the middle of that. Yes, war makes monsters of us all and is hell. But also, war is sometimes a necessary evil and it forms bonds like no other. I want my war movies to focus on grey morality. Of course, even saying that, there are exceptions.

This Veteran's Day I decided to post my favorite "War Movies" and it will show just how eclectic I can be. I know I am cheating with some of these and stretching the definition but here you go. There will be no Saving Private Ryan (man they played that thing on repeat at MEPS) or Top Gun (man, they played that repeatedly when I was stationed at a Naval Station) but there will be some that are surprising and some that aren't.

1. Full Metal Jacket

Let's get this one out of the way because I am sure some people are rolling their eyes at me, especially at the spiel I just wrote up there. I happen to really enjoy this movie but then, I tend to enjoy Stanley Kubrick. This is the ultimate war movie that pretty much defined war movies for the latter part of the 20th century. Before Full Metal Jacket, many war movies went along the lines of War is Glory as I mentioned above. Full Metal Jacket really is War is Hell.

People who are a fan of this movie always point to the first 20 minutes or so in which the main character goes through basic training, watches as a fellow recruit "Private Pyle" gets bullied by the Drill Instructor, and then Pyle blows the Drill away. People remember this scene because it is so brutal and the Drill's lines are quotable even if vicious. Most people who watch Full Metal Jacket will talk about this part of the movie and if you didn't know any better, you wouldn't know most of the movie takes place in Vietnam.

It's a shame, really, because I really like the climax. Up until that point, the main character and his squad are being gunned down by a lone sniper. They curse about him. They talk about how they will destroy him. When they finally get to the sniper's nest, they realize that he is really a she in a classic Samus is a Girl moment. She was gravely injured and as she writhes in pain on the ground, she begs for them to kill her. These tough talking guys suddenly can't. They've been talking about it and they're upset to lose several of their own. But now they saw the face of the sniper and realize that if she had been in Saigon in a bar, they probably would have hit on her. The whole Vietnam section of the film does a great deal to dehumanize the Vietnamese in the eyes of the main characters. This quiet moment when they face the enemy is that programing reversed. Until the main character pulls the trigger, as if given into his programming finally.

I will never forget watching this movie for the first time and just gasping when the sniper turned around. That look of not messing around, that she is not fighting for some ideology but for her life. It is a shame that all people remember from Full Metal Jacket is Private Pyle and the "sucky sucky five dollah" scene.


Full Metal Jacket is full of war tropes that it both borrows from old movie and also created them but I just feel the movie does them well.  And I don't know why but if someone said, "Hey, Mary, you want to watch Full Metal Jacket?" I will almost always say yes.

2. The Hurt Locker

This time, I sense my military friends rolling their eyes. One of my friends got downright pissed at me for saying I enjoy this film. Yeah, I know it's not really accurate. And Jeremy Renner's SFC James pretty much plays a cowboy soldier who does things that no one in the actual military could get away with. But there was so much about Hurt Locker I liked narrative-wise I can forgive all that.

For one, there is a lot of "senseless" tension in the movie. Many war movies are about traveling through enemy territory or meeting on the battlefield. In the Hurt Locker, the lines of the battlefield are blurry which makes you feel on edge. This is the Iraq War. You don't know if a cellphone is linked to a bomb. You don't know if there is a bomb under that car. It is the psychology of terror. Another aspect that adds to the tension is there are a few scenes that contribute to how futile it really is. SFC James goes out of the way to get retribution for the death of a boy, going through hell and confusing who to trust, only to realize the kid never went missing to begin with. Then there is the scene of the suicide bomber who got cold feet who James tries to save and is unsuccessful. Renner's character seems broken up about it too. The Hurt Locker reminds you that in War you may tell yourself you are going to save the little guy but sometimes you just can't.

The last part of the Hurt Locker I absolute love is when the main character heads back home. He is asked to pick up cereal at the grocery store by his wife. He stands in front of the cereal and looks completely lost. If this had been a question of which wire to cut, he would have no problem but making an innocuous choice with no consequence between Cheerios and Fruit Loops, he just can't do.

It is my cheat day so maybe I can eat Reece's Peanut Butter Puffs

The opening quote in the Hurt Locker notes War is a Drug. And that is what the movie follows along. SFC James can't handle the withdrawal of the adrenaline rush war brings him, even when he can't save the little guy in the end. But he keeps going back. And so does humanity.

3. A Very Long Engagement

This one is kind of cheating as the movie is post World War I but about almost half the movie is war flashbacks so I think it counts. I have only seen this movie once and I do feel I need to revisit it but it left a standing impression on me which is why it occupies a spot on the top five.

This beautiful French Film about a young woman named Mathilde who's fiancee never returns from the trenches during World War I. She proceeds to head off on her own to find out what happened to him only to uncover a conspiracy at the front lines. I can best describe this film as bittersweet. The acting is incredible. The storytelling is just absolutely amazing. I highly recommend this movie if you are in the mood for a foreign film.

There is so much I really like about this movie. For one, the World War I setting is pretty intriguing. It seems like nowadays people just cannot get over World War II. I think maybe part of it has to do with the fact that the U.S. didn't enter WWI until the end but had a much larger part in WWII. WWI was just brutal for France, Belgium and Germany. Trench warfare was no joke. This movie doesn't pull any punches about the trenches either. Those particular scenes were terrifying and the soldiers act terrified. They weren't strong men but a bunch scared shitless boys who had no idea what they were getting into.

Don't worry, it's not so scary, kid! But make sure you have an extra set of underware

But I think one of the main reasons I really like this film is because this movie is about war through the eyes of a woman. Mathilde should have been the good girl who would wait for her fiancee to come home. However, she is proactive and goes to look for him. She's a clever woman who is out to get the information she wants with any means possible. She is not passive at all and is quite engaging. You watch not only to find out what happened to Manech, her fiancee, but just how she will accomplish this task.

The ending will knock you off your feet so I won't give anything else away. 

4. Fullmetal Alchemist

Okay, I'm cheating again because this is not really a war movie. It is a TV/comic series that has a lot of elements from a war movie in it. Fullmetal Alchemist is a manga/anime series that follows the adventures of the Elric Brothers who broke the greatest taboo in their world -- using Alchemy to try and bring back their dead mother. They sacrificed for it -- Ed loses a leg and Al loses his body. Ed sacrifices his arm to bind Al's soul to a suit of armor and together they try to find a way to gain back their bodies and uncover a government conspiracy in the process. That is what the show is about at first glance and the Elric brothers seem to be the sole main characters.

However, this sprawling narrative is actually two stories that intertwine. Yes, you do have the tale of Ed and Al's coming of age redemption story but that is only one part. The other tale follows Colonel Roy Mustang and his Band of Brothers who are in the process of planning to overthrow the country's military junta -- the country of which has shades of both Bismark's and Hitler's Germany and a bit of Japanese Imperialism tossed in for good measure.  There are several episodes that deal with the war that happened proceeding the show's events and in my humble opinion, I find them to be among the best episodes in the series. They do feel like a throwback to military stories of old and I just felt they were well done.

In the show, the country where it takes place is called Amestris which does have a habit of absorbing nearby countries. In particular, there is a part of their country called Ishval. The people there have darker skin, red eyes, and worship a deity called Leto who calls Alchemy evil (as it plays God). There was an uprising after a soldier killed a little boy which turned into an all out war which resulted in the genocide against many innocent people. Mustang and his group are all veterans of this war.

The kid even has a Teddy Bear because they always do

The episodes dealing with war are heavy and do not pull punches. And you see how the war changed those in the Mustang group and how they individually dealt with it in the future. You see why Mustang's closest confidant, LTC Maes Hughes is so obsessed with his wife and daughter (it is what got him through the war, thinking he could see his then girlfriend again). You see why Lt. Riza Hawkeye, Mustang's right-hand woman, the Zoe to Mustang's Mal, is very stoic and cold. She was a sniper during the war. And as she tells Ed, many people in the war could just shoot into the crowd not aiming at anything but as a sniper, she knew who she was killing and she remembered every single one.

Pretty heavy stuff.

That is another part of why Mustang Group's storyline intrigues me so much as a war story. These people who up until that point you grew to like and see them as generally good people only to realize they were on the wrong side of that war. They were the bad guys. And they knew it. This is why they help Mustang with his goal to overthrow the Despot, it is for redemption. Hawkeye also tells Ed that she knows as soon as the revolution happens and Democracy is ushered in, there will be a call to try all those involved in the Ishval War. She will be one of them. And she would happily go on trial and accept whatever sentence is imposed on her. Democracy was worth it to her.

Eh, it is more like a SQUAD as a Team implies two but now I'm being nitpicky

Originally, I considered making this entry entirely about the military aspects of Fullmetal Alchemist. I love it very much so, mostly because it falls in the middle of the spectrum. Roy Mustang's tale has many complicated layers to it and it manages to discuss the tragedies of war but not diss those who serve in the military. In fact it is the bonds formed during war that brings the Mustang group close like a family (a Brotherhood if you will hur hur) and they possess traits common to those of the "honorable soldier" who fights for his men and to protect others. Mustang and his group envision a future in which everyone protects each other.

What I also like about the military culture in Fullmetal Alchemist is how there is a lot that happens at Garrison. It reminds me of my time in the military. There are a few filler episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist that are about the hijinx at HQ that kind of like M.A.S.H. in its hilarity (In fact, I am pretty sure Hawkeye is a purposeful MASH reference). But then there are other quiet moments that kind of remind me of how Frodo and Sam look at each other in Return of the King. The whole, "We've been through some tough shit but I got your back, brother."

I know there is a lot of military anime out there. Attack on Titan has military aspects to it. But why I chose FMA is because the show actively has a discussion of the dual nature of war and military culture that I feel is done extremely well for an anime. Also, I like how the heroes were on the wrong side of the war in question. 

5. Mulan

This one I also expect to get some eye rolls but Mulan is technically a war movie. It has all the staples of war movies albeit watered down and animated. It is also a very black and white good guys (China) against the bad guys (the Huns).  It is still one of my favorite films and it has little to do with the fact of its Asian influence. There are a lot of themes in Mulan that still touch me in many ways which is why I really enjoy it.

For one, unrelated to war, Reflection always gets to me. Throughout my life, I always tried to impress my father and I always felt like I failed for most of my life. So this movie speaks to me on just that issue alone.

Another reason why I like Mulan as a war film is also because -- don't laugh -- I watched this movie the day before I shipped off to Basic Training to get pumped. I'll Make a Man Out of You is the best Training Montage ever -- move over Karate Kid! And actually, it wasn't too far from my Basic Training experience. You suck so bad when you get there and you all hate each other but by the end, you are the ultimate party warrior who can shimmy up poles with two weights on your hands or grab fish from a moving river with all the force of a Great Typhoon.

Also, one of my Drill Sergeants was like Sheng and it wasn't just because he was hot and Asian. He had this no-nonsense way about him. The other DS's were a bit funny. Not DS Sato. He was serious but when he demonstrated stuff, he did it with such cool skill. Also, all the girls crushed on him. No comment from me (I was in a relationship at the time) although he did save my life.

Anyway, even with all this, the scene in Mulan that will make me cry every time is when Mulan comes home to her father and shows him the sword from the Hun guy, the seal of the emperor, and other goodies. Her father tosses it all aside and gives her a hug. It reminds me of when I got out of the military and I was in a hotel room in South Carolina finishing paperwork. I talked to my dad on the phone and read the citation for my Joint Service Achievement Medal. My dad said that I always set out and did what I said I would do, his advice aside. He said he was proud of me without a hint of sarcasm. That was the Holy Grail.


I have a few honorable mentions. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy definitely has a lot of elements of a war story. In fact, Tolkien did borrow from his time in WWI. I absolutely enjoy those films (the books I could never finish). I am also putzing through Tolkien and the Great War which has been interesting

Letters from Iwo Jima was a really good movie. What I think it is so good about it has little to do with the fact I have this picture of the main character Saigo as played by Kazunari Ninomiya on my hard drive:

Happy Veteran's Day People
Just that, like Fullmetal Alchemist, the story follows those on the losing side of the war. No one should ever try to justify the actions of Imperial Japan but it is still a country made of people who were thrust into the war in which some just wanted to stay home and make bread or something (like the main character). Or how about admiring the enemy's culture but still deciding that he would fight for the homeland. Iwo Jima gave a human face to the Japanese Army during WWII but never justified what they did during the war. In WWII films, the Japanese are always depicted as this collective, evil force that works on a hive mind. Nevermind that it is a country of people who like anywhere had their own thoughts and opinions and goals outside destroying America.

The Israeli TV show Hatufim, or Prisoners of War, also deserves a mention. The reason I like it very much ties into why I like A Very Long Engagement -- very interesting female characters who are stuck at home waiting. It is on Hulu. Check it out!

I have not finished Band of Brothers (I keep on walking in mid-way) but what I saw of it, I liked it.

The Australian Film, Tomorrow When the War Began is full of cheese that I absolutely love. That movie follows a group of Australian Teenagers whose town has been taken over by a "Them" (IDK, I think they're supposed to be China?) and they engage in guerilla warfare to try and take their town back. Sure, it is like Red Dawn but they have Australian accents! And lots of Australian scenery porn. That movie is on Amazon Prime. I recommend it for a good romp but don't take it too seriously. Although it would get you thinking about what if your home town was taken over. Could you become an insurgent?

Anyways, Happy Veteran's Day!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Big Hero 6 and Grief

Today I wanted to write more for my Nanowrimo story and I am pretty far ahead but I still want to keep up the pace. However, I'm a little distracted thinking about a movie I say yesterday namely Big Hero 6.

When I first saw a teaser trailer for this film a little while ago, I already determined I wanted to see it. Cartoons, Superheros, Asian Inspired Setting, Cute robots -- sign me up! Generally, when I decide to see a movie, I will watch little or read little about it until it comes out so I went into the movie generally not sure what to expect outside cartoon, Asian-inspired Setting, and cute robots.

I wouldn't say it is a perfect movie but it is a very good movie and what I really liked about it far outweighed the bad. The colors were so rich, the characters were fun and interesting, the fight scenes were fun, and there were so many heart-warming scenes revolving around Baymax (seriously, Christmas is coming followed by my birthday. I want one. Make it happen, people!). I found myself disappointed when it ended because it ended, even though it ended on a good note in my opinion.


However, there was one aspect of the movie that I really liked and tugged at my heartstrings (I cried twice) and the more I think about it, the more I find Big Hero 6 addressed this issue extremely well for a superhero/family film. And that ties to the issue of grief.

Spoilers for Big Hero 6 below.

In my attempt to block out information about this film before seeing it, I did read somewhere that Hiro's older brother, Tadashi, dies. It did make me pause in my enthusiasm only for a few moments because well, as many of my friends know that in 2013, I lost my older brother suddenly to cancer. It has been such a rough ride recovering from that and while I am a lot better than I used to be, even opening up a lot more about it, it is still something that visits me during unexpected moments.

While Tadashi's death itself did not touch me deeply when it happened because I knew it was (I felt one of the movie's weak spots was the overuse of dramatic irony in the scenes with Tadashi in the beginning), Hiro's reactions to the whole thing, especially at the climax, really got to me. I cried so hard, I had to take my glasses off. It was at the climax did I realize this movie was more than just beating bad guys -- it was about recovering from grief and loss, about how to best remember those who are no longer with us. Yeah, Big Hero 6 follows the Hero's Journey Formula to a T and the movie is about Hiro's coming of age but those were all incidental.

It is Tadashi's death that sets the plot into motion and in someways gets Hiro motivated. I heard some girls talking in the bathroom after the movie about this. One didn't want Tadashi to die. The other said he had to or else the plot wouldn't happen. And she's right. Tadashi is Hiro's Uncle Ben except unlike Peter Parker, it took him a lot longer to figure out the lessons Tadashi was trying to teach Hiro. Uncle Ben wanted Peter to understand great power comes great responsibility. Tadashi wanted Hiro to use his potential for good things. 

But I am going to say something controversial here -- I think Big Hero 6 deals with that better than Spiderman. Peter is sad about Uncle Ben's death and feels guilty for their last conversation but after a few moments he is like, "Yeah. Yeah. With Great Power DOES Come Great Responsibility." With Hiro, it takes the entire movie to get there. It is part of his journey to become a superhero. I think part of it has to do with age. Peter is an older teenager when he gains his abilities. Hiro is 14 when the events begin to happen. But still. Sometimes I feel like superhero stories kind of cheapen deaths of loved ones to get heroes going.

This is another thing that I feel Big Hero 6 does right. Tadashi dies and Hiro doesn't get moving -- at least not at first. He doesn't get moving until he accidentally activates Baymax. And Baymax acts like Hiro's Threshhold Figure in the Hero's Journey, pushing him to the call to adventure. When Hiro realizes his brother probably died because someone set the fire to steal Hiro's prototype, that is when he begins to get angry and works with the kids at the Nerd School to capture Silent Sparrow.

Baymax as a character is also interesting. He is a medical bot that Tadashi created. When Hiro activates him, Baymax reads about grief and everything he does is to make Hiro better. It is like Baymax is a ghost of the deceased trying to comfort those left behind. It is the last bit of Tadashi that exists. Notice that when Hiro is happy, Baymax says, "I am glad the treatment is working!" even when Baymax didn't do something direct -- almost as if the events that transpire were part of his plan all along.

This brings me to the first scene that got me teary-eyed. When Hiro is bent on revenge now that they discovered the true identity of Silent Sparrow, he tries to remove Baymax's program that prevents Baymax from harming others. Baymax will not let him remove it and instead shows pictures of Tadashi working on Baymax who states how much he couldn't wait to show Hiro and how much Baymax would make a difference in the world. Hiro sees this and realizes that removing that part of Baymax, he is dishonoring Tadashi's memory.

Hiro had to be reminded of this. I know that revenge stories are common so this isn't new. Person wants revenge and has to be reminded if this what they really want and all that. But I really liked how this happened and that scene was so touching. As I said, Baymax is almost like Tadashi's ghost. It was as if Tadashi was reminding Hiro to make something of himself like he did at the beginning of the film.

However, the scene that had me crying hard (and to be frank, the entire audience) was when Hiro had to leave Baymax in the portal. Baymax tells Hiro to say the deactivation words. Hiro won't. He begins to cry hard that he wouldn't leave Baymax. At this point, Hiro got a little teary at the show Baymax shows him of Tadashi but he didn't just cry as hard as he is at this moment. Hiro doesn't want to let go of Baymax but he has to. He has to, to live.

I know a lot of people talked about how this scene got them so sad due to the bond Hiro and Baymax develop throughout the movie. Hiro now sees Baymax beyond just a bot he can use. But, I read the scene a little differently -- projecting my own experience no doubt. Hiro didn't want to let go of Baymax because of the bond, sure, but also because that is all he physically had left of his brother. To let go of Baymax was letting go of Tadashi all over again.

The day my brother died, my mother asked me how I felt. I was numb but there was a troubling thought that crossed my mind. I told her that I wouldn't be making any new memories with him. All I had was memories. And what if I forgot them? Then part of him disappears until I have nothing left of him. That thought terrified me, terrified me and made me sad. Watching that scene from Big Hero 6 caused me to recall those feelings.

When the movie ends, Hiro finds the Baymax program Tadashi made so Baymax lived on -- maybe not the one that Tadashi made but Tadashi's inspiration lived on in Hiro. In the end, Hiro learns the lessons Tadashi was trying to teach him at the beginning. He realizes he is not alone and eventually you have to let go.

I just want to say, I really didn't like how they handled Tadashi's death but the recovery from Hiro was just extremely well done. It was by far the narrative's strength.

As I left the movie theater, I got thinking about what my brother would have wanted for me like what Tadashi wanted for Hiro. And all I could think of was my brother thought I was an awesome person. Maybe I should start seeing myself through my brother's eyes.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Episode 6: How Does That Make You Feel?

When we last left our heroes, Ash didn't learn from 1980s PSA films that say you shouldn't get into cars with strange people and got into the car of Dr. Selnik before the rest of the gang could come by and save her.

But before we find out Ash's fate, where was Anna during the events in last episode? Our little power leeching investigator decided to follow her mother into work (her mother cleans houses) to do some snooping. What she ended up uncovering were secret rooms that you needed a code to get into. Anna did not have the code but she did get caught by Dr. Selnik's middle daughter, Tatiana.

After calling her mother, Tatiana asked Anna to stay for dinner and up until then asked Anna to clean her room and do other various chores. She even gave Anna a makeover.

While Tatiana tortured Anna, Male Cheerleader/Doormat/Earth Bender Randy Palmer had picked up Anna's homework for her and prepared to drop it off at the Selniks where Anna said she was. On his way there, as he carried his bass (violin) on his back, he thought he saw Dr. Selnik and Ash in the car drive past him. He waved... but no one saw. When he dropped off the homework, he saw a sleepy Ash being escorted into Dr. Selnik's office.

As he left, he began to walk home to only run into Joss, Iggy, and Mateo who just arrived looking for Ash. Randy explained what he saw and Joss saw the opportunity to make a new minion. The quartet drove to Mateo's house and plotted what to do next. Joss made Randy go back to the Selniks' and describe what he saw. He did so, after doubling back to return an earring to Tatiana that he accidentally had the earth swallow up.

Joss forces Mateo to go and do some spying to figure where Ash and Anna were. He doesn't come back. After waiting a while Joss, Iggy, and Randy low crawl to the Selnik's yard. They hear Mateo crying for help from inside the ground. Before they could investigate further, they hear the sip as if from  a juice box. On the porch watching them is the Selniks' 14 year old son, Cody.

Joss bargains with him to get him to show where Mateo is. A few joints and a couple hundred dollars later, Cody shows them the basement where there is a prototype trap in development. While Cody is showing where Mateo fell, Mr. Selnik comes home and locks all of them, even his own son, in the underground prison "for their own good".

Meanwhile, Dr. Selnik let Ash go and Ash, who still felt foggy about everything that happened goes to Joss's house who is for obvious reasons, is not home. Joss's mother is and she brings Ash inside and feeds her and gives her hot cocoa.

Destroying things and hot cocoa are just a thing with this group

Back at the Selnik's, Anna is forced into Dr. Selnik's office in which everything feels hazy and funny. She comes out of the office with a whole new view on life -- or so Dr. Selnik thinks because she Is So That Good At Her Job. Anna joins Tatiana at dinner as Dr. Selnik and Mr. Selnik talk in hushened whispers in the other room.

Transitional Phrase back into the hole, Joss, Iggy, Randy, Mateo, and now Cody try to figure their way out of the hole. After a bit of team work and collective use of their powers, they manage to escape. This sets off an alarm in the house and the parent Selniks quickly rush to the backyard. The fence around the house began to grow taller to prevent escape. Joss managed to use some quick thinking and stop it from expanding and further. And sprinklers began to spew sleepy gas into the air. Randy managed to use his earth power to cover the sprinklers, some of them at least.

Mr. Selnik went all ninja and took out a net launcher from... somewhere and shot it towards the kids. Randy did a perfect round-off to get out of the way but no one saw because Iggy grabbed the net and sent the electric current back at Mr. Selnik which sent him backwards through the window causing a loud explosion. He was out for the count.

Dr. Selnik was on her cellphone calling someone when Anna touched her causing her to fall to the ground. The one they came to save saved them.

As Ash enjoyed food that was not frozen, she heard the ruckus and heard Joss's mom on the phone. She leaves and heads to Galileo Street.

Just as the gang exits the Selnik residence, a series of unmarked cars began to swarm around. Randy created a hole which allowed them to get away. The cowboy drove up with a van and they all jumped in as they drove into the evening.


This session, I invited a friend of mine to play. He travels a lot for work but I decided to figure a way to work him in. I felt he successfully dived right into our crazy group and blended right in. Randy was a hit with his eager to please ways and Joss easily began to boss him around.

There are parts of this episode that makes me internally cringe. It wasn't a bad roleplaying session but I actually forgot a couple of things I meant to do but it's at a point I can't go back. I also realized a missed opportunity to poke one of the characters further along. I'm slightly angry at myself for that one. I also feel awful that Ash had a very small part in this session (although it is interesting how much she remains the soul of the team even when she has a smaller role). I always want to give each player something to do a session. This is the missed opportunity I am speaking of. I realized afterwards that I could have done a lot more with Ash than I did. So I blame myself for that.

However, I think we're all our worst critic. This session had a lot of laughter and my players had a lot of fun. This episode was a bit off the wall admittedly in someways but the reason why we all laughed was not because we were making in-jokes or peanut gallery comments (although that contributed a bit). We laughed because the situation was hilarious-- a nice break after last week in which the tone was pretty heavy.

This time, it was a comedy of errors. Everyone goes to rescue Ash and Anna. Ash ends up being let go (her brainwashing complete) and spends the rest of the episode drinking hot cocoa with Joss's mom. Anna ends up saving them after many ridiculous screw ups (and horrible rolls on all our parts). In reality, this session played like a game of Fiasco. I very much liked it story-wise, especially when you cut from the intense hole problem with Joss, Iggy, and Randy to Anna being bossed around and berated by Tatiana a la Mean Girls to Ash just being happy little Ash drinking her hot cocoa and swinging her legs.

I think if this session was an actual TV episode, it probably would have been a big hit with the fans because of the multilayers of it.

Although one last criticism of myself -- I need to reread my Watcher Sheet again. I am sure I will eventually get the hang of it. I just keep forgetting things and still use one of my players who is familiar with the system as a crutch.


There is no quotes of the session mostly because I was so busy laughing so hard I didn't take any. And there will be no NPC of the session mainly because I'm trying to push this out and go back to Nanowrimo. Apologies for this entry seeming rushed!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Inside Mary's Cluttered Mind

Well, I got roped into NaNoWriMo this year. Nevermind I have signed up for it before and failed each time. No matter how pumped I get, mid-month or in the case of last year, mid-week, I get swamped with real life stuff and that project falls to the wayside. Maybe this year will be different, though. For instance, I am writing with three friends who, even though I've only known for about a year, have already been the most encouraging friends I have ever had when it came to my writing and my creativity. This is probably because they're all writers too so they know the struggles.

Even though I'm trying to be optimistic, it is hard to not look behind me and see my collection of unfinished projects. I've always been a writer or at least always someone who had ideas for stories. I have an online friend who once said she envied how often I came up with ideas. That part was so hard for her. Well, when she came up with one she wrote it up and got it published.though.  And in the end, that is what matters.

Ever since I was a teenager, I would come up with ideas and begin to write them out to only hit a wall or come up with another idea that I am eager to write down as well. I have mentioned before, my mind is like a hoarder's house. It is cluttered and hard to walk through sometimes and I never find what I'm looking for but I will find something interesting nonetheless. I sometimes find it very hard to remain focused on one thing. It is extremely frustrating to me. But I just happen to be a person who finds a lot of different topics fascinating and interesting. I want to write about them ALL.

Like last year, I spent the entire month of October reading about World War I and the Weimar Republic purely for NaNoWriMo. The idea I came up with I expected to be a simple one which would make it easier for me to finish, or so I told myself. I named the novel Stefans Zeitgeist (hur hur, I am so clever) and it was about a German soldier who nearly died in the Battlefield in France to only wake up with the ability to see ghosts and other things. He kept on seeing his battle buddy around which made things very awkward when he took an interest in the friend's sister. I wanted the story to walk the fine line of "Can he really see ghosts?" or "is it really just PTSD out of control?" WWI was when people began to actively describe PTSD as a mental disorder so there was going to be a scene with that. Then, Stefan was going to go to Paris (because he is actually a talented artist). He sees a ghost and a Frenchman with a missing arm sees it too. They notice each other. The Frenchman says, "You see them too." End of Book.

I had a really good outline going. I wrote three pages. Maybe one day I will go back to it. I really like "vintage" settings. I also really like ghost stories as I said numerous times.

Even though I'm down on myself about finishing stuff, I did finish a rough draft of a novel (I'm in editing hell right now with it. I have to rewrite about three scenes in its entirety). That one, I made sure I wrote every night and it was at least 500 words. Sometimes, I wrote just the 500 words but other days I would write 5000. I finished it in two months and it clocked in at 90,000 words. However, I had another fuel that pushed me through -- grief. My brother had passed away and I put his teenage/young adult self as one of my main characters. I had to write it down because I wanted to preserve the memory. I know that may sound silly but that is what motivated me to do it.

I have done it before. There is no reason why I shouldn't be able to do NaNoWriMo. That is what I keep on trying to tell myself.

This year, I am revisiting an idea I came up with as a teenager. I had forgotten about it until my mom gave me a bunch of my journals I had full of unfinished ideas. And I remembered that one and thought maybe I could tackle it again. I call it Star Orphan even though that is a preliminary title. It is about an alien Hybrid who escapes the mothership and lands on earth to find his earth mother. He goes on a cross-country trip with a truck driver named Theo as the two run from government types and the aliens that want him back for the upcoming invasion. I intend for it to be a little silly but also a little heartbreaking. Making it a road trip, alien invasion, coming of age story.

Anyways, we'll see how this goes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Are You Afraid Of?

Since this week is Halloween, I decided to ramble some of what actually frightens me.

As I mentioned before in my Weird New England post, scary stories have always been a large part of my life from a very young age. Part of it was also due to the fact that my brothers liked to try and scare me and tell me plots to the Stephen King novels or by telling local lore about a supposed haunted locale. I also lived in a house for a year that had a Historical Society plate on it saying it was built in 1717. The house had its creepiness about it as it did have a secret room and a secret passage. I had/have an overactive imagination so I always thought there were ghosts in that house.

I didn't always like this sort of thing, though. In fact, when I was about 6 or 7, I went through a phase in which everything scared me. But then, I grew out of it and began to actually read about what scared me to better understand it. When I understood it better, I found myself less afraid. It is also why I know a ridiculous amount about ghosts and ghostly folklore. I read everything I could about it. If ghosts are real or not, at least I knew what I was up against.

Pull off the sheet and run

That is advice I apply to non-supernatural/horror related problems today. If something scares you or worries you, do your research and suddenly it is not as overwhelming.

Even with that advice, there are still some paranormal things that scare the crap out of me. One of them is demons. I blame purely Unsolved Mysteries for this one although I do remember one of my brothers telling me the real story about the Exorcist and that scared me shitless. I don't think I ever saw the Exorcist because of that. Or maybe I did and just blocked it from my memory.

The theme song is now stuck in your head -- your welcome!

Anyways, Unsolved Mysteries. Back when I was little, my family only had one small TV and we all had to share it. I often lost out. My brothers and my mom loved Unsolved Mysteries and America's Most Wanted and with both the theme music alone scared me. Unsolved Mysteries -- while it mostly dealt with missing persons -- often went into the paranormal. There were a few episodes involving demonic possession. And there was one in which a demon haunted a playground that would bother the children who went there with nightmares. I remember that episode very clearly because I thought, "They're kids and I'm a kid!"

I asked my brothers about this and they told me a few stories. I think what terrified me the most about demons was demonic possession. Just the thought that something could invade my body and use it without my say seemed ultimately frightening. I don't like the idea of being under something else's control.

I started to look at demonic possession pictures but it frightened me so here's an exorcist cat instead

The thought of it still frightens me but it didn't stop me from reading more and more about it. And heck, the novel project I'm working on right now deals with demons and demonic possession. I did so much reading about it, I came up with a story idea about it. Still, give me a movie with a demonic possession storyline, I will have nightmares for weeks.

Whether demons are real or not, from all the reading I did, I must say I still learned a few lessons. For one, be careful who you invite in. That should go without saying. The second is, if something is trying to frighten you, don't draw attention to them. It gives them more power. I feel both those piece of advice work outside demonology.

There is another thing that also frightens me incredibly and is part of the reason why I really like Sci-Fi Horror because it will guarantee to scare the living daylights out of me. I think part of the reason why Sci-Fi Horror frightens me so much is simply because space itself is so vast and apparently empty. There is so much we don't know and what is out there must be so alien, we couldn't even begin to understand. You know how I said the less we know about something, the scarier it seems to be? Yeah, Sci-Fi Horror uses this trope and bounces off the fact that civilization is so far away that there is no place safe to run to, leaving you completely vulnerable.

With all those galaxies, there is bound to be dickish aliens

That is terrifying for me because I am a very planned, rational person who needs to know what the plan is. I need to know what I'm up against. I need to prepare. So the idea of being in the vast emptiness of space and up against something completely alien is completely horrifying to me. It is a loss of control akin to demonic possession like I mentioned above.

Not all Sci-Fi Horror takes place in space, though. In fact, there is another sub-genre that also scares the crap out of me -- Alien Abduction. I'm not talking about Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy type of abduction. I'm talking about the kind in which aliens kidnap you like you were some animal in the wild and conduct experiments on you. Once again, this exploits my fears of a complete loss of agency. And also, the fact this could happen while your in bed trying to sleep. The place you should feel safest is invaded by something completely not of this earth that you can't even begin to understand.


I do find the lore regarding aliens and alien abductions fascinating. And I did begin a story revolving around that. Clearly, I like to write about the crap that scares me the most. But sometimes, when I can't sleep, I'll see someone's headlights bounce off the wall and for a split second, I'll scare myself about it. I know it's not true, but it still the idea of it frightens me.

I'm not afraid of serial killers or whatever. Those don't terrify me because when you're dead, you're dead. But just the idea of being up against something I don't understand or something I don't completely understand having control over my being while I'm aware of it will keep me up at night.

It is interesting because what we're afraid of does say a lot about our personalities. For me, it is definitely a control thing. I need to be in control. The thought of a situation in which I have none is my worst nightmare. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Episode 4: Jocelyn Keys's Day Off/Episode 5: The Devil's Advocate

I am rolling up two sessions into one. The first one was a one on one session I had with Joss's player because she was sick for the third session. She came over my apartment and we roleplayed while drinking hot cocoa. Her husband, Ash's player, played Super Smash Brothers in the other room and paid little attention (I think!) to the goings on.

The 5th episode took place last Sunday. This time, Brock's player was sick and Anna's player had some stuff to do. I ran the game with Alan, Joss, Ash, and Iggy. And I must say, things went rather... interestingly.

Now, onto the recap:

During the events that took place in the 3rd episode, Joss got ready for school when on her way there, Mateo stops her and produces two joints, grinning a roguish grin, and asks her to skip. Joss doesn't need to be told twice. So the pair ride off to the nearby ghost town and smoke up. They get onto the deep topic of speculating what exactly happened to them; like why can Joss suddenly talk to computers and why Mateo is super fast. At first, the conversation is silly before Mateo wonders, "What if it is a conspiracy? What if the company is behind it. I mean, do you even know what your parents really do?" Joss realizes Mateo is right.

The two then decide since Mateo's mother is the head of IT, that they should go to his house and see what they can dig up in Elena Rodriguez's special "mom space" protected by security codes. After Joss hacks in, they find a high class computer room and immediately Joss links in. What they discover is an executive chat room with user names like Tide Trout and Iron Fox and Wind Mouse. In it, they discussed experiments they are choosing for the infiltration group and about the Upcoming Age. They also talk about experiment 0001 and her current location (which they practiced good OPSEC on) before Tide Trout realized they were being infiltrated. Mateo and Joss immediately disconnect and try to eliminate any signs that they were in there.

They panic and run away to the ghost town again and try to recuperate and process what they just saw. Nothing kills a buzz faster than fresh truth. Mateo speculates two of the user names belong to his parents as he does live on Galileo Street. They don't have a clue as to anyone else. But now they got the taste of the truth -- that they may be the experiment this entire company is built around -- Joss wanted more. She used her cellphone to find a back door into the security system to find that the whole town was under tight surveillance. She could spy into anyone's house but could not crack the code to get into the actual facility.

Things just got weirder and weirder.

Joss decides that maybe they could break into one of the houses on Galileo Street and decides on the Zanjani Household -- after all, he's head of Science Research. She and Mateo make fun of Shirin's bedroom before trying to hack into one of Dr. Zanjani's computers. Most of his files were in Farsi. She does find a video of a nervous Dr. Zanjani saying a confession. He did not feel right about what the company did and he worried if he was in too deep. But even if it cost his own life, he had to blow the whole lid off this whole thing.

That spooked Mateo and Joss and since it was time for school to be over, they quickly left the premise and hid at Joss's house. Mateo decides to sleep over, using the excuse that he doesn't even know his parents anymore.

Ash comes over to Joss's late at night, tying together the two episodes. After being glad to see Joss safe, Ash exclaimed, "The weirdest thing happened today! I had hot cocoa. Twice."

Joss retorts, "Do you want to make it a third time?"

End of Episode.

This game is known for destroying things and hot cocoa


The 5th Episode began with Iggy tying up the Cowboy he tased in the last episode. The Cowboy is forthright with information. He explains that Iggy's mother uncovered a lot of evidence of unethical scientific research and reached out to the FBI to help. The Cowboy was brought into the case and from there, he used her as a source to gather information to build the case so he could get a warrant and bust in. However, there were some indiscretions as the Cowboy and Iggy's mother got a little cozy and then it got weird. But she tried to follow through and she was on her way to deliver papers to the Cowboy before she was killed in a car accident.

The Cowboy tried to make his case to his leadership but "they" had already infiltrated. They destroyed his reputation by using his relationship with Iggy's mother as collateral. The Cowboy never forgave himself for what happened to Iggy's mother and wanted to bust open the company once and for all. So he hung around and tried to recruit sources while keeping an eye on Iggy. He claims he got one rather high up on the inside. But he also wanted to see if he could gather some of the experiments to fight for their freedom -- if Iggy was interested.

After punching the Cowboy -- whose name is Cortland Blair -- Iggy agrees to meet him the next day at the ghost town so they can plan from there.

The next day at school, Brock and Anna do not show up. Alan does and Iggy, Ash, and Joss meet somewhere quiet to exchange what they knew. Joss tells everyone about her little adventure with Mateo and Iggy talks about Blair. The four generally agree things are really messed up. How could they have not noticed all this all this time?

The four of them decide to go to school. At lunch time, Shirin comes up to Ash and tells her that she knows something bad will happen tonight at her house and she doesn't think she can stop it. She hands off a thumb drive to Ash and tells her to keep it safe and not tell any grown up about it.

It was totally like this except it wasn't in 8-bit and Ash didn't really go anywhere and oh yeah the sword was a thumb drive

Ash feels conflicted about this. Shirin is in trouble and going to a ghost town! Both of them sound very important. Unable to make the decision, she goes to Dr. Selnik on the advice of Alan. Ash tells Mrs. Selnik everything she heard from the morning and asks the guidance counselor if she should go to the ghost town or Shirin's. Dr. Selnik says ghost town. Ash steals some donuts and leaves. She happily tells Joss what happened.

Joss tells Ash what she did was stupid and Ash ends up leaving very sad. Joss tells Iggy to tell the Cowboy the location was compromised and they agree to meet at a different location, a truck stop just outside town. But before that, Iggy asks Joss to hack into the personnel files again to find information about his mother. Joss finds out about a program called Purple Coat which seeks to "eliminate" leakers. Iggy is now a man with a mission. The Company killed his mother because she had a conscience.

Purple Coats Are Deadly -- or I am just crap at making up names

Ash is crestfallen about what Joss said to her and Alan immediately steps in and invites her over for dinner when he finds out all she has is frozen fish sticks. His parents are home for once and are cordial as long as Ash is there. What happens behind closed doors in the Powers Household is anyone's guess.

Ash decides to forgo the ghost town which is now a truck stop anyway and goes to see if she could help Shirin. After no answer at the door and no answer to ask if it is okay for her to break the window in, Ash enters Shirin's room to find it in a disarray. In the rest of the house, particularly the master bed room, thing was tossed about and there were broken pictures and also a blood stained bathroom floor that looked like someone was in the process of cleaning up but were interrupted.

Meanwhile, at the truck stop, Blair tells Iggy, Alan, and Joss that what he can put together so far is that the company is a front for people who want to organize a coup. They need to break the place wide open. And his inside source -- who is Dr. Zanjani -- happened to be getting him that information as they speak.

Joss remembers what Ash said about Shirin and immediately searched the network for call records to and from the Zanjani household only to find out 911 was being in use right then and there.

Cut back to Ash who called the number to only be told the situation there was taken care of. Joss called the phone a few times before Ash picked up and she told her to wait for and meet Joss at the end of the road.

As Ash is waiting, Dr. Selnik rolls up and tries to offer Ash a ride. Ash said she's waiting for Joss. Dr. Selnik points out the sun is setting and it will get cold. Why doesn't she wait in the car.

Ash considers this, then hops in. The door closes.

Fade to Black


I feel proud of both these sessions. I didn't think Joss and Mateo would last so long but Joss kept on rolling well and like all teenagers, she tried to see just how far she could go. Mateo is also good at egging her on.

The second session, I actually decided to switch systems. After confiding in a friend, he pointed out that I may have more freedom in Marvel Heroic. I felt constrained by Cortex Dramatic -- even though I really like the idea of the system. But because I had a hard time abandoning what I knew about other systems, I just couldn't get the flow going.

My friend and I rewrote the character sheets (although giving options for distinctions and keeping milestones blank). I felt this whole change was probably why episode 5 went extremely well. The more I think about it, the more I realize how it really was a good session. Everyone was engaged and eager to figure out what was going on. They felt their characters were engaged and each character had something to do. Additionally, I put one of the veteran gamers in the group in two very difficult situations that he had to think out of while thinking in character. In fact, everyone had to make some tough decisions.  And it also worked back against me. My players made decisions in which I had to think on my toes to continue to make the story engaging. It was a give and take session and I really liked it.

I hate praising myself like that. I already deleted those last few sentences twice and rewrote them but no. I think it is one of my top 5 sessions if not top 10. And it is weird because when I ended with Ash getting into Dr. Selnik's car, I felt like nothing happened and this was because we did not roll a lot of dice. My friend had to remind me that this is ROLEplaying not ROLLplaying. The characters still did actions and received consequences but I just did not find dice were needed. My players roleplayed extremely well with each other. There were also misunderstandings and personal conflict. You didn't need the dice for that.

When I said I didn't feel like much happened, my players gave me the look. "Are you kidding? So much happened!" one even said.

I guess I am my own worst critic.


NPC of the Session

The part of Dr. Selnik will be played by Tina Fey
 Name: Dr. Anita Alice Selnik nee Abrams

Place of Birth: Chicago, Illinois

Family: Nathan Selnik, husband, Head of Finance, a mousy looking sort of fellow but is quite active in neighborhood activities. Really good with names
Rhea Selnik, eldest daughter, college student, an incredible type-A personality
Tatiana Selnik, middle daughter, senior in high school, a huge gossip and active in student government
Cody Selnik, youngest son, freshmen in high school, into video games and computers, kind of a smart ass

Public Information: The Selniks have been in Apache Springs for decades. Rumors are that Anita herself was one of the CEO's proteges but no one knows for certain. She has many degrees and holds two doctorates in Psychology and Neuroscience which she got at a young age. She worked for the company before she was the guidance counselor at the school but no one ever knew what she did. Some people speculate that she developed some face cream to make her look younger than she is.

Quotes of the Session

"I hacked into the system to find out they're watching us. It's insidious." "That's unbelievable! ... You know the word insidious!" -- Joss, Alan

"Brock always mentions how hard it is to 'tap that'." - Ash

"*smack* That's for sleeping with my mom!" "I deserved that!" - Iggy, Cortland

"Tomorrow, I'll just go to my last period. Twice!" -Ash

"I think Shirin is dead!" "Okay, good." - Ash, Joss 

Monday, October 13, 2014

This Too Shall Pass

I am one of five people who actually enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and liked about 95% of Final Fantasy XIII-2. I completely understand when people say it didn't feel like a Final Fantasy game and in many ways, it wasn't. But I could not help but fall in love with the world and the world's rules. How the angelic figures were actually very robotic in nature -- inhuman. And I loved Gran Pulse when you finally could explore it in the sequel.

So beautiful -- So creepy -- So deadly

What I loved most about Gran Pulse was it was an entire world made up of abandoned cities and ruins. Part of what you had to figure out was what did this particular city mean? What happened there? And why was it abandoned? I felt particularly intrigued by the city of seers. In the past , the high seer saw the destruction of the world and from there, the city of seers split into two factions. One wanted to keep to their bylaws and just let fate carry itself out. The other wanted to stop the fate. They now knew what would happen so why couldn't they use that knowledge to prevent the world's destruction? The two factions warred over this and eventually destroyed each other.

Actually, it is that story in Final Fantasy XIII-2 that I felt best described Final Fantasy in general. There is a grim fate in store for the world. Do you just march to your end or do you stop it?

There is another part of FFXIII-2 that really kind of brought this idea home. It is a level called the Dying World. Everything is dark and the sun that warmed the world is giving out less and less energy. The world is empty and practically dust. This level made me feel very unsettled. Uncomfortable. Depressed. Because it was the extreme. There was nothing but darkness and monsters. Even the NPCs seemed distant. I knew this feeling and here I was playing a video game about it.

It was darker on my tv screen

Outside the video gaming world, I also have an odd fascination with ghost towns and abandoned places. I read every entry about ghost towns on wikipedia once. I'm a dork like that. But I think it is because, like how I grew fascinated by the city of the seers and the Dying World level of FFXIII-2, I wanted to know more about that abandoned place's hay day. Why did the people come? Why did the people flourish? Why did they move on/died? 

I like to think the reason why this draws me in is because I love history. I love to know what happened. I like to know how we got here so I can figure out and analyze where I'm going or we're going. But maybe, it is a bit more complex than that.

To pull out a cliche (sorry for the pretentiousness):

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Perhaps my fascination has more to do with the fact that it is a reminder that nothing is permanent. Yeah, it does mean that even good times come to an end. But if the good times can end, so can the bad times. The bad times may seem neverending at the time but like all things, they will pass and soon will be a foundation or a weathered statue.
True, I say this now but I am sure when the black hole appears again, I will look at this entry and scoff. Maybe the logical part of myself will remind me this is just temporary but the emotional part will be in the Dying World. "Don't you see? The sun is dead. Everything is dust. Monsters are everywhere. The people I love are far away and unreachable!"

But things will get better because I have fought it off before and nothing lasts forever.

But like Sin from FFX and History, sometimes depression can inevitably repeat itself

**Note: This post was in no way to say I speak for all those who suffer from depression or that I even had a cure but these were just some free-flowing ideas -- some of which I intended to write about at some time using a different framing device. I also haven't slept in four days which may be the reason this jumps around a bit. Anyway, I did not mean for any offense or anything! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Game Recap Episode 3 -- On the Fly

It has been a month since I last ran my game  (I am glad my friend convinced me to run every other week as opposed to monthly. It is good to have a steady flow of story) and I knew it would be difficult to get back into it again. Not only that but last week was a difficult week. Work had me running around, working on several tasks at once. I had difficulty falling asleep because I could not get my spun up mind spun back down. I know I had a month to work on this session but I kept on procrastinating. But when it came down to the crunch, I just couldn't focus enough to plan this session. Then I thought I can work on it Saturday but after the week from hell, my mind officially shut down to the point all I could do was play Diablo III and watch Disney movies.

Before the fall, my wizard was a blitzball champion

Since I went into this game On the Fly, I decided call this episode that. In fact, I felt the title very much summed up the actions of the characters this session. I felt unprepared but my players are such a lovely bunch, it really didn't matter. They continue to dazzle me with their creativity and make me laugh with their jokes. The story moved forward -- maybe a little quicker than I intended to --but overall, I think my players had fun. And I think the story is moving in a way that it is still surprising.

 Now, onto the summary!

This episode opened up with a flashback to know where Anna has been all this time. After she touched her brother Tim, he passed out and she discovered she could move things with her mind. But before she could investigate that ability further, she called 911 to figure out why her brother wouldn't respond. He was taken to the hospital in which people in lab coats quickly surrounded him to take him away. Just as he was about to be taken out of sight, Tim opened his eyes and looked at his sister and mumbled out her name.

  Anna relayed what happened to Alan and Alan told her about the crazy weekend and how everyone developed powers. Anna had no idea why she did not have telekinesis anymore. She theorized that maybe everyone should sleep it off.

Tuesday came and school resumed from a three day weekend. Things seemed to be going back to normal despite the news of the dead teacher, rumors about the casino going up in flames, and Selena Gomez/Ariana Grande showing up in town. That is, at least for half the day.

Out of game, a friend who is about to move out of the country came to game so I allowed him to quickly roll up a character. He created a dumb jock named Josh. I started the day off with him. Josh was hanging out with Declan McGowan, the head jock, who also had a battle of the bands entry at the casino. Declan wanted to get the gang to confront Brock for ruining the night after school -- which didn't come how Declan hoped. Instead, Josh ended up going up to Brock because Brock had herbal refreshments he wanted and got involved in the shenanigans that followed.

But before that happened, Brock took an interest in two men in black suits that stood at the entrance of the school. One of them, a red-head named Wilson, was amicable with the students and seemed incredibly non-threatening.

The part of "Wilson" was played by Alan Tudyk in this episode

The other, a brunette named Flick, was a bit more serious and business-like who often chastised Wilson for being so friendly.

The part of "Flick" was played by Eric Bana in this episode

Using Ash as a distraction (who put a sheet over her head), Brock managed to steal Flick's phone. He handed it off to Alan who worked his geek magic to discover there wasn't much on it other than coded contacts, a stupid message from Wilson, and about 100 Corgi pictures.

Now I am just distracting you with cuteness

Just as Alan was about to leave the phone in the bathroom, Brock worked on his next distraction to get the other phone. He convinced Josh to shove Alan, which Josh gladly did. Josh's ability is gravity control so he used it to make Alan light. Alan -- who doesn't like the jocks so much to begin with -- made himself super dense. The result happened to be dense Alan shooting through the wall to outside, like a bullet. He got a concussion and was sent to the hospital as the school got locked down and Flick and Wilson went from classroom to classroom with some sort of device.

Brock, Anna, Ash, and Josh went to visit Alan in the hospital in which he got diagnosed with a concussion. While there, Anna asked about Tim to only find out there was no record of him being at the hospital. Our team was suspicious and began to explore but didn't get very far. Alan then got himself admitted for observation deciding to explore when most of the hospital was asleep.

But before that, the team -- of which Iggy joined after school was let out early because there was a hole in the wall -- decided Tim had to be in the same place They took Tony. Alan pointed out that they failed to get in last time but was quickly corrected that they didn't have powers then. The team then formulated a plan on how they would infiltrate and went for it that evening after Alan slipped out using his phasing ability.

They spotted what they thought was a blind spot in security and proceeded to try to sneak in that way. Josh would use his gravity abilities to toss people over and got into a confrontation with Alan when he tried to toss the nerd first. Alan punched Josh making his fist dense and just phased through the fence. However, the "blind spot" wasn't a blind spot and it triggered the intruder alert. Instead of running, Brock cast an illusion of about a dozen Ariana Grandes running away as the rest tried to make it over.

While this went on, Ash broke away from the group and walked up like a boss to the front and asked to see her dad as she hadn't seen him in days. Ash has the distinction "Underage" which makes her appear much younger than she is. We rolled for it and it turned out the guards happened to be those who knew and were fond of Ash. Ash's dad took her often to work. They let her in and because there was an intruder alert, they plopped her down in the guard shack and gave her hot cocoa. Ash snuffed out the light in the room and wandered out to let the gang into the cafeteria. Brock and Josh decided to get coffee while Ash, Anna, Alan, and Iggy headed to Ash's father's office.

Ash is clearly queen of On The Fly -- she just doesn't even realize it

The only thing was they got stopped again in the hallway. Ash worked her wide-eyed innocent little girl routine explaining Anna and Iggy were her friends and they needed to see her father as it was an emergency. Alan decided to use the distraction to phase through the wall. He did so into the bathroom (no luck with bathrooms!) and managed to escape that guard by phasing through the wall again into the arms of another. Alan was captured. The intruder captured and the lights returned to normal.

The guard Ash spoke to managed believe Ash's story and brought Ash, Anna, and Iggy to Ash's father's office. Josh and Brock ask the guards where everyone went and they ended up detained.

Meanwhile, Ash, Anna, and Iggy find Ash's father asleep -- which happened a lot as he would not sleep for days and just crash. The three began to snoop and uncovered quite a bit of information in Ash's father's messy desk and unsecured computer. Anna discovered Project Y which talked about unlocking the human genome to unleash powers from within. The project listed its goals which was to create a military and launch Operation Coup. She also uncovered other secrets, including that each one of them is assigned an experiment number.

Ash's father's boss, Dr. Zanjani came into the room obviously surprised. He seemed distracted and agitated but gave them a ride home stopping for waffles on the way.

Victory Waffles to those who followed Ash.

The tag scenes went like this: Ash went to knock on Joss's door only to realize she wasn't missing, just skipped school (Joss's player was sick). Brock was in a cell and my mind escapes me with what happened. Alan assessed his values as he lay sedated. Anna's slipped my mind. Iggy met the cowboy again and tased him. And Josh broke out of prison after going crazy (Anna discovered the abilities aren't always stable). Players please help me with your tag scenes. I can't believe I forgot (I blame 7 Wonders somehow)


As I said, this game was very on the fly and as I wrote out a summary of this I can see it shows a little. The game still was a lot of fun and my players still manage to surprise me. Ash just going right up to the guards and playing innocent girl still gets me. Or a dozen Ariana Grandes running away For Reasons. I also really enjoy how well Anna's player is playing the Head archetype, especially since she was initially shaky about it.

 I still feel shaky about the system. I meant to reread the rules again but like I mentioned -- Diablo III and Disney. I do find it interesting that every session, it is always Alan who is challenging his values and relationships. I think it is because Alan's player created him to be at odds with himself which sometimes translates to others (I feel this is one of Alan's player's strength -- he is not afraid to play a character who has ideas that differ from the other player characters). This is perfect for Cortex Plus Dramatic. I feel like his character has grown the most in three sessions. Not saying the other characters haven't. There is growth in the other characters but Alan has made the biggest strides. He has rewritten a value statement and a character relationship statement.  Joss comes next as she rewrote her relationship statement with Alan.

And while I get stuck in the frame of thought of typical rpg (I'm really trying to break out of it), I really really like this aspect of the game. It shows the progression of the characters and how they continue to grow. And I love that so much.

Regardless of how much I follow the rules to Cortex Plus Dramatic, I do feel we have a great story going. And that is the most important aspect of roleplaying.


NPC Of The Session

The Role of Dr. Zanjani is played by Shaun Toub

Name: Dr. Parviz Zanjani

Place of Birth: Tehran, Iran

Children: Naveed, 19, a student at MIT
Shirin, 17, senior in High School

Public Information: The Zanjanis arrived in town about 15 years ago and started life in the middle of the road. But Dr. Zanjani became a rising star within the company and quickly rose up the ladder, making it to Galileo Street about 5 years ago after the previous head of the department head of Science Research left suddenly. Ash and Alan's parents both work under him.

He is friendly but closed off about what happened to his wife -- which there are still pictures around the house of her. He invites everyone under him to the two Eids where he and his children cook a massive feast and what is not eaten, they give to homeless shelters in Tuscon.


Quotes of the Session

I didn't take as many this time, mostly because I forgot. Players are more than welcome to contribute.

"The nicer the suit, the blacker the heart" - Brock to Alan

"You're small and creepy. You can follow them" - Brock to Ash

"He pushed you through the wall, so he is part of the group now." -Ash about the wall busting incident

"It's an Ariana 'GRANDE' Latte! HA! HA! I can be funny!" - Anna

"Being an asshole. Not a superpower" - Alan about Josh