Monday, June 29, 2009

Heist, Part Four

And the saga continues...we're still quite a ways out from the Doctor's involvement, so I hope you're not reading this waiting for him to show up...

Idly, as she headed out of the maze of darkened hallways and into the well-lit ballroom where Dame Abigail was holding her latest party, she wondered if her industrialist friend might not be here tonight. She snatched up a glass of champagne from a passing hover-tray without breaking stride, sashaying casually through the knots of guests. It was a risk; after all, when one stole from high society for a living, it did make parties a bit more high-risk than one usually considered. The Duke of Sarabeth, over there, still had a four-million diam reward on her head for the theft of his wife’s necklace, and if he knew what she looked like, Amanda was sure he wouldn’t spare decorum in tackling her right into the hors d’ouvres. The Baroness Alexandra Winter, on the other hand, served as the final destination for many of the items she stole, and Amanda smirked lightly to see that she was wearing the Sarabeth family jewels. The woman had style, even if she was a ruthless, amoral, possibly actively immoral, cruel, vicious aristo bitch. Fabulously rich, though, and able to afford the things Amanda stole…and since Amanda had long ago amassed enough personal wealth to be able to donate the proceeds of her thefts to charity, she felt no misgivings in dealing with the woman. In fact, Amanda thought, you could almost think of it as noble, if you were genuinely self-deluded and didn’t want to admit that you stole things for fun. She raised her champagne glass to Winter in an impromptu toast, but wasn’t surprised that the Baroness didn’t respond.

A young man in a forest-green suit who’d tinted his eyes and hair to match walked up to her, hand extended. “Would Madam like to dance?” he asked, smiling to reveal a line of perfect teeth.

Amanda blinked once, consulting her HUD chronometer. She still had three hours before her computer virus expired and the security satellites around the planet began noticing little things like her space-ship in geostationary orbit; that was plenty of time for a quick waltz with a handsome young man. “Why not,” she said, taking his hand in one of hers while keeping a grip on her champagne with the other. A small fleet of sonic generators hovered around them and began resonating with each other, creating a small field of perfect dance music that wouldn’t disturb anyone outside of their tiny little universe of noise. Amanda smiled, and began to waltz.

Over the music, the man said, “My name is Gavin. Gavin Lloyd. I’m here as a guest of the Duchess of Westchire, but to tell the truth, I’m feeling a bit low-born—I’m new money, made it all in computers. And you are…?”

Amanda smiled. Gavin danced quite well. “What kind of a mystery woman would I be if I told you my name?”

He grinned back. “The kind I could call tomorrow and invite to a better party.”

“I’ll have to hand you my slipper,” she said. “Mind you, we’re not anywhere near midnight yet, so we’ll get to finish the dance before I turn into a pumpkin.”

Gavin laughed at that one, and the two continued to dance in their own little world, while all around them dozens of others moved to their own beats. It was almost a metaphor for the universe, Amanda thought, excepting that nobody was bumping into each other and getting violent. For just a moment, she let herself forget why she was there, just enjoying the music, the dance, and the company.

As the dance finally ended, she curtseyed to Gavin, who said, “Another, perhaps?”

She shook her head, careful to make it seem regretful. “I do have to keep moving,” she said. “This is as much business for me as pleasure, and I’m afraid I can’t let one person, even a charming one, monopolize my time.”

He frowned. “Will I see you later, then?”

She touched his cheek. “Maybe. If you’re good.” With a last, dazzling smile, she turned and headed off. A good job, that; she could turn up somewhere else ‘by accident’ a few weeks from now, and be almost guaranteed entry to his house. Always assuming he had anything tasteful, of course; new money tended towards the garish. Old money did too, come to that, but at least they’d had generations to build up a few nice pieces.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Heist, Part Three

Impressively, I manage to be late posting an entry I didn't have to write...

The door gently slid open and Amanda stepped inside. Almost immediately, she dropped into a crouch just as two massive arms closed around the space where she’d just been. She lashed out with a sweep kick, dropping the guard onto his back, then stood up and planted a foot solidly between his legs. Of course, she thought as he curled up into a fetal ball, the truly successful criminals were the ones who understood that, while violence wasn’t the preferred option, it was nonetheless one of the ones available to them.

She knew that the patrols here worked in pairs, which kept her from being surprised when the second guard showed up. He came in a bit more cautiously than his partner, knowing that not only did he not have the advantage of surprise, but that his partner had and look what had happened to him. Amanda risked the slightest of glances downward at her wrist to ensure that the red light on her wrist-band still blinked steadily; after doing so, and knowing that the guard’s comlink remained jammed, she locked her eyes back on the guard and prepared for his initial assault.

He started out by throwing a round-house kick at her, almost immediately betraying his fighting style as one of the old Earth karate variants; she ducked under it easily and closed in, wanting to get too close for him to try another kick. She’d heard the tell-tale humming of a kinetic enhancer as his foot passed by her head—that meant that a single well-placed blow on his part could probably take her head clean off her shoulders and send it a good fifteen feet down the hallway…or embed it in a wall, depending on the direction she was facing.

The guard used the momentum of his kick to spin himself in a full circle, so that by the time she’d closed in with her he was facing her again. He punched straight out at her head, but this time she was ready for the blow; she grabbed his arm and used his momentum to throw him to the floor. He leapt to his feet, only slightly winded, but before he could turn to face her again, she’d grabbed his shoulder and put him in a joint lock. As always, her mind returned to the time she’d learnt that hold, her sifu putting her in it by way of demonstration.

“You see,” Sifu’d said, her voice like old leather, “how the lock forces you to put your weight evenly on both feet. Try to lift one to kick back at me, and you either lift the shoulder too high causing pain, or too low causing pain. You cannot turn, or you will dislocate it, and—“ Her reverie was interrupted by the popping sound of the guard dislocating his own shoulder. She winced. He’d done exactly what she’d done the first time Sifu had used the hold on her, and with exactly the same result.

With a quick shove, she sent the dazed guard sprawling forward into the transparisteel barrier, after which he slumped forward to the ground. She didn’t know if he was actually unconscious or simply considering discretion to be the better part of valor, but she didn’t much care either. She headed purposefully down the hallway, preparing herself for the most enjoyable part of her little caper. She pulled out a gem-studded brooch and placed it just over her heart, where it affixed itself to her dark grey cat-suit. Amanda pressed one of the gems on the image-bender, activated the holographic evening gown, and prepared to mingle.

The image-bender was unique among the items she’d assembled for the evening’s activities, in that it was the only device she hadn’t obtained herself. It was a gift from an admirer, some boring industrialist from the Dival Nebula with a bull neck and a hairy back, who insisted that the sea-blue gown would bring out the blue in her eyes. Oddly enough, he’d been right—the holographic gown had looked perfect on her, right down to the way the back was cut low enough that her hair didn’t brush through the holographic field. Not that it mattered tonight—she was wearing it in a bun. Blonde hair might look beautiful, but she didn’t intend on giving anyone anything to grab. Even so, she was proud of the way she looked in the holo-gown, and a little surprised at the taste of what was otherwise an odious little squat of a man—so surprised that she briefly considered not robbing him of his priceless sculpture and leaving him tied to the bed wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts that said, “Love Machine—Grab Handle To Activate”. But then, on thinking about it, she realized that fashion comes and goes, but that kind of opportunity can only come along once in a lifetime.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Heist, Part Two

Picking up where we left off, as cat burglar Amanda Delacourt plans her latest caper...

She pulled out a heavy black glove and pressed her hand up against the surface of the wall; it sizzled and popped slightly as she touched it, but the insulation protected her from the lethal current running through micro-filament wires baked into the red brick. She rolled her eyes heavenward—or, more precisely, she rolled her eyes up towards the expanse of space above the small planetoid, which Dame Abigail Marsten had bought and gotten towed into a custom orbit around an otherwise barren solar system, then expensively terraformed for the express purpose of holding parties at. It almost made Amanda want to laugh. She went to all the expense of making a planet of her very own, she had more money than the total GNP of some entire solar systems, she was obsessed with holding onto her valuables to the point of spending astronomical sums to keep them, and the best she could do was a glorified electric fence? It was an insult, that’s what it was. Amanda applied a slight amount of pressure to the ring finger of the glove, activating a feedback surge that blew out the generator supplying power to the wall. Clearly, Dame Abigail deserved to lose the Styrax Medallion.

Which wasn’t to say that Amanda deserved to have it. As she pulled off the feedback gauntlet and slipped on a pair of gravity induction gloves, she admitted freely to herself that she didn’t even want the silly thing. A lump of pure gold the size of a clenched fist, studded with rare gems around the periphery and a diamond the size of an eyeball at the center—really, who would want something like that? No, she was in this simply for the challenge. She wanted to steal it, she thought proudly as she climbed effortlessly up the wall, simply to prove that it could be stolen. She reached the top of the wall and swung herself up onto it, then checked to see if her breathing filters were in place. Having done so, she dropped a small glass phial to the ground. It shattered, releasing a nano-atomically engineered chemical essence derived from hot peppers; the chemical, on releasing, immediately began spreading to cover the widest possible area in search of living beings, just as it was programmed to do. Dogs…honestly, what did they think she was, an amateur?

Amanda walked briskly through the grounds, ignoring the occasional strangled yelp of a German Shepard and the not entirely dissimilar yelp of a human being who’d gotten sentient pepper spray up his nose, and headed to a set of sliding glass doors in the west wing of the mansion. They weren’t actually glass, of course—Dame Abigail had spent far too much on security to put glass in her glass doors. No, these doors were made of transparisteel, specially hardened and able to resist .50 calibre machine-gun fire. Amanda knew just by looking at them that she wouldn’t be able to force her way in.

Luckily, she wasn’t interested in trying. As she kneeled down by the lock and pulled out a set of micro-manipulators, she mused on the common assumption among the law-abiding; they always seemed to think, for some impenetrable reason, that the successful criminal was some sort of jumped-up thug with a crowbar and big arm muscles who liked to smash things. Whereas in fact, that description fit far better the unsuccessful criminal, the kind who got caught because breaking glass and twisting metal always made loud, attention-attracting sounds. Successful criminals, she thought modestly, like the one currently and gently convincing the tiny computer in the locking mechanism that emergency evacuation protocols had been enacted and the door needed to unlock itself so that the inhabitants could leave, were the sort who weren’t violent at all, and finessed their way into things.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heist, Part One

By way of introduction:

Some time ago, back when the Doctor Who novels were still accepting submissions from unpublished authors, I came up with an idea for a Doctor Who novel featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, where they assembled a group of criminals a la "Ocean's Eleven" for a grand theft of an expensive jewel that also happened to be the computer core of a fleet of invincible battleships. The range editor, Justin Richards, liked the idea...but unfortunately not quite enough to commission it. He did encourage me to submit something else, though. At that point, with what I have to consider to be perfect timing, the entire range collapsed due to the prominence of the new series, and novels set in the "classic" Doctor Who timeline ceased to be. Oh, and they decided that the new series novels would exclusively use authors who'd written for the range before.

But I've still got the two sample chapters I wrote and the synopsis, just sitting there on my hard drive. And here I've got a blog that's always starved for content. So, for the next few "until it's dones", allow me to entertain you with a serialized version of "Heist", an adventure for the Seventh Doctor and Ace!

(Um, they don't show up until Chapter Two. Just to warn you.)

Chapter One

To Catch a Thief

The safe itself had pressure-sensitive plates that measured the weight of its contents, instantly setting off dozens of alarms if the balance of its weight changed in any way. The computerized lock on the safe responded only to the genetic code of its authorized operator, and any attempt to open it by unauthorized users fused the lock into a solid mass of metal. This left force as the only option for a potential thief, and given that the material of the safe was composed of pure styronium, a metal whose melting point could only be reached by the heart of a star, it seemed like the one-billion-diam insurance policy that came with each safe would remain safely in the pockets of its manufacturers.

The room in which the safe was located, in turn, had a number of security measures of its own, all of which triggered more alarms; three separate and redundant sets of motion detectors, each with its own internal power supply, more pressure sensors on the floor, electric eye laser grids, and a web of nano-machines that prowled the room, constantly in Brownian motion and looking for anything out of the ordinary.

Outside of the room, one encountered two guards; after all, computers had their advantages, but the living brain still beat it in some highly specialized areas and as a further redundant system, it helped the owner of the contents of the safe sleep at night. They patrolled the hallway leading to the room, which had a lock of its own with a numerical keypad that accepted a ten-digit code, thus presenting the hypothetical thief with a further ten billion possible errors to make in their quest for ill-gotten gains.

The hallway, in turn, was part of a house whose entrances and exits all contained security devices of their own, and which had guards patrolling the different floors. A private security firm that catered to the very rich employed the guards for their ability to seem reassuring and non-threatening to their clients, while at the same time remaining highly capable of dealing with intruders through a number of options, up to and including lethal force.

They also employed them to handle boredom very well, because any potential intruder would have to have gotten through the grounds before getting to the secured entrances to get to the guards inside the house, and the guards patrolling the grounds would take care of them. Even if they didn’t notice anything—after all, the grounds were quite vast—the owners had twenty-seven German Shepards, imported at vast expense from ancient Earth. They weren’t even clones; these dogs had actually been bred from the original ancestral beasts that had guarded humanity before they made their leap to the stars. Their owner could sell any one of them to buy a small continent, but preferred the reassurance that came from their excited barking when they happened upon an intruder.

Of course, that intruder would first have to scale the three-meter wall that surrounded the entire estate, keeping everything inside in, and more importantly, keeping everything outside out. The owner, a sweet old lady who’d inherited a vast munitions fortune, considered all this a small price to pay for knowing that she and her belongings were safe.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, thought Amanda Delacourt, professional cat burglar, as she went over her selection of tools one last time. The dogs were a nice touch, though. Very quaint.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dream Movie of the Week

So my stack of unread books is now finally down to the point where I can see it all (it's actually an entire bookcase, and I'm proud to say that I've read through enough that it's no longer stacked two deep on every shelf.) This means that I can now read some of those series that have been sitting in the stack for a while, since I can now find every book in the series instead of going, "OK, there's Book Two, Book Four, and Book Seven...Books One, Three, Five and Six must be in the back somewhere."

So I'm now reading the "Phule" series, by Robert Asprin. The first book, "Phule's Company", is an old favorite of mine, I enjoyed the second and the third books, but after that it got away from me a bit and I'm just now getting back to them. As a result, I'm starting by re-reading the ones I've read already to refresh my memory. They hold up pretty well on re-reading so far--it's always a danger, going back to old favorites, that you might find that you've outgrown the book (the Narnia books, for example, just didn't seem the same to me at thirty-three as they did at five.) But I'm still enjoying Asprin's characters, and aside from noticing that the book does make a hero out of a wealthy playboy with dubious business ethics and finding some unintentional humor in Asprin's description of a futuristic "Port-A-Brain" that apparently costs as much as a small company but does about what a Blackberry does today, I'm having just as much fun as I ever did.

And halfway through the book, it hit me. For the first time, I know exactly who should play Willard Phule in the movie version of this.

David Tennant.

He's absolutely perfect. He's the right age (actually maybe a little older than the character, but actors play younger than their real age all the time.) He's physically perfect for the part--Phule is described as tall and lanky. And he's got the right attitude for the part--Phule is constantly described as filled with energy, constantly pacing and moving and jumping from thought to thought as fast as he can and expecting everyone else to keep up. Sound familiar?

He can even fence. (A must for the part, if you've ever read the first book.)

So there, that's casting underway. Now, I just need a script. And money. And the film rights to the book. And a director. And the rest of the cast. And locations, props, costumes...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Entertainment News #3



Singer and songwriter Billy Joel was arrested today on suspicion of arson, after being found near the scene of a three-alarm fire by police officer Sergeant Thomas O'Leary. O'Leary was off-duty at the time, heading to a second job as a bartender at "Mister Cacciatore's", a popular local establishment, but nonetheless made the arrest.

Police claim that when questioned about the incident, Joel offered a confused and incoherent "alibi" that amounted to little more than a string of names of people and places, many of whom were deceased at the time of the fire and a few of which were fictional. The four and a half minute long statement seemed to imply, at points, that he was with "Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, (and) Elvis Presley" at "Disneyland", but contradicted itself with his later claim that he was with "(Menachim) Begin (and Ronald) Reagan" in "Palestine."

One thing that Joel maintained steadfastly throughout the stream-of-consciousness statement was his innocence of the crime that police accused him of. Frequently and repeatedly, he insisted that "we didn't start the fire, it was always burning since the world's been turning" (police are now searching for co-conspirators based on Joel's unintentional use of the word "we".) He further claimed to be trying to fight the blaze when police found him.

Ironically, while attempting to clear his name of arson charges, Joel seemed to confess to a crime he almost certainly didn't commit--at one point, he cocked his thumb and forefinger into a gun and said, simply, "JFK, blown away--what else do I have to say?" Police point out that the singer would have been fourteen at the time of the Kennedy assassinations, and would have had no way to get from New York City to Dallas for the shooting.

At this point, the next stage in the legal process remains unclear. Joel has been released on bail, but his press conference consisted solely of him insisting again and again, frequently in a high-pitched voice, that he was "an innocent man." His lawyers have not declared yet whether they intend to use an insanity defense, even though Joel has stated publicly on his leaving the courtroom that "you may be right, I may be crazy, but I just may be the lunatic you're looking for" (an incriminating statement that may make it difficult to find an unbiased jury.)

One thing is certain; if convicted, the legal system has made it clear that they intend to seek the maximum sentence for his crimes. It seems that the New York City penal system intends, if possible, to hold him for the longest time.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Personal Favorites: Hawk and Dove #4

Feeling a bit uninspired today (more from lack of sleep than any sort of ennui), so I figured I'd take it easy while wallowing in nostalgia with another reminiscence of a personal favorite comic. Someday, these will include things other than comics, by the way. It's just that when I thought about cool moments that always bring a smile to my face, Hawk and Dove #4 (written by Karl and Barbara Kesel, penciled by Greg Guler, inked by Scott Hanna) is perennially high on the list.

It's a charming, light-hearted, self-contained comic, the kind that DC doesn't really do a great job of publishing anymore in its "mainstream" universe. Hawk and Dove come up against a group of bank robbers calling themselves "The Untouchables", because a) they dress up like 1920s gangsters and use tommy-guns, and b) they have devices in their belt buckles that let them become intangible. Because of this, robbing banks is ludicrously easy, even when super-heroes get involved (it's made pretty clear that the gang robs more for the thrill than the money.)

Hawk gets annoyed by the way the gang humiliates the duo with the ease of their escapes, and decides to track them down. He comes up with a clever plan (a rarity for Hawk--he's not stupid, but he's impulsive and direct and tends to like the simplicity of the frontal attack.) To wit, he looks up information on old speak-easies from the Prohibition era, and goes to each one attempting to change into his super-heroic identity (something they can only do when danger threatens.) When he suddenly finds himself transforming outside of a boarded-up building, he suspects supervillainy. He calls Dove and gets her out there to whomp some bad guy butt.

With the advantage of surprise on their side, the duo easily take out most of the gang. Only one of them even has the chance to put on her belt and grab her gun. Still, that's one woman with a machine gun against two heroes who aren't bullet-proof. She sprays machine-gun fire all over the warehouse in a lethal burst. While Dove distracts her by providing a convenient target, Hawk rips the belt off, leading to the awesome moment that gives me a warm, happy glow remembering it even now, twenty years later.

"You should have taken the gun!" the mock-gangster shouts, drawing a bead on Dove. Dove just stands there, fixing the woman with a cold stare.

"I can think of fourteen ways to keep you from firing that gun," she says. "Six are painful. Face facts. It's broad daylight, you can't turn intangible, in order to get out of here, you have to get past Hawk and me, and your gun is empty." Dove smirks. "You did know that, right? No bullets? I've been counting." (Because unlike the simple, direct Hawk, Dove develops super-perception and insight on how to use her environment tactically and strategically. She becomes, in essence, a master planner when she changes.)

There's a certain brilliant, quiet simplicity to a single-issue story with great dialogue and stellar art. You don't need game-changing metastories, epic world-shattering events, or shocking deaths. All you need is a good idea, well executed. And this issue had that in spades.

Dang, I miss that series.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Cinematic Titanic: The Story So Far

It occurs to me that I really haven't talked much about Cinematic Titanic, one of the two heirs to the legacy of the late great "Mystery Science Theater 3000", since I reviewed their debut release. This is somewhat unfair, because a) my initial review focused more on "things they could improve" than talking about the episode, and b) they've had six more DVDs out since then, and they deserve all the publicity they can get for them. (Yes, the eight people following my blog will no doubt be the source of tremendous additional revenue, assuming they don't just skim this and say, "Damn. Not a Storytelling Engines entry. Oh, well, maybe next week...")

So, here are my thoughts, in the form of quick capsule reviews, on how the series is doing with seven releases under its belt.

The Oozing Skull: Again, it's their first release, and you can see where there's room to improve, but this one holds up quite well on re-watching. 70s horror always seems to be a goldmine for movie riffing goodness, and this one is definitely 70s-riffic. ("Feel free to turn on the 8-track. That's 'Frampton Comes Alive'!" "Nehru's right! This stuff is really comfortable!")

Doomsday Machine: I still feel like this is probably their best movie to date, although "Legacy of Blood" comes in a close second. The movie is absolutely insane (I guarantee you, your jaw will drop in confusion when you get to the double-twist ending...the second twist came about because they ran out of money and had to fire all the actors...) the riffing is great ("Want some Ben and Jerry's? It's Nuclear Choco-caust!") and the sketches are terrific. I adore the one where Mary Jo is trying to discuss who should live and who should die in the event of apocalypse. (MJ: "Naturally, as a woman, I would be in the living group--" Frank: "You're going to have kids?" MJ: "Hell, no!" Frank: "Well, then, get back in line, sister!") And best of all, this one is where they start doing the pre-movie sketches. I've looked forward to every single one of these little skits, as the group discusses conditions in the bunker where they toil tirelessly to preserve bad movies for future generations, and I think they're a wonderful and welcome addition to the show.

The Wasp Woman: It's a Corman movie, so it drags a little, but there's one bit where Trace riffs over an extended montage that is worth the price of the DVD all by itself. I also never get tired of Joel's cute animal voice when the mad scientist is injecting the guinea pigs with his youth serum. ("I swear, it's like kissing God!") The line is funny, but it's Joel's delivery that makes it kill. This is, unfortunately, the point where they go down to two sketches an episode instead of three--I'm still hoping they'll get that number back up in future releases. (Plus, the sketches are a little weak, but I admire their self-awareness on that point. "And now, for one of the most beloved features on Cinematic Titanic--" "You don't read the Internet much, do you, Frank?")

Legacy of Blood: This one is also a 70s classic, featuring the late, legendary John Carradine as the patriarch of a dysfunctional family who come together for his funeral. Unsurprisingly, he's got a will conducive to murder ("Dad was watching a lot of Scooby-Doo before he died.") This one is an absolute riffer's paradise; plenty of bizarre dialogue, oddly-staged scenes, and goofy-looking characters ("Body by Charles Atlas. Head by Mel Brooks.") to make it absolutely soar. Even the lowered sketch count doesn't hurt it. Great, great stuff.

(I should also note that this was when I stopped getting the DVDs sent to me and went to their "download to burn" option, which lets you make the DVD yourself. I highly recommend this if you have a DVD burner and a Windows computer; the software is smooth and user-friendly, the whole thing takes just a few hours, and you wind up with a DVD that you can pop right into your DVD player and watch like normal. And you save about five bucks. As much as I like the case art on the first three releases, it's not really worth five dollars to me.)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: This one was a bit controversial, since they already did the movie on MST3K, but they do a good job with it (I showed a friend both versions, and he preferred the newer one.) They show the movie uncut, so you do get jokes on a few sequences that weren't in the MST3K edition ("If you haven't seen Dumbledore's cabaret act, you haven't lived.") And, of course, they use a prop version of the TARDIS in the sketch (cutting down the sketches yet further is unfortunate, though.) Oh, and the pre-movie sequence has a dynamite gag involving Trace's reaction on finding out what movie they're watching.

Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks: This is one of their weaker releases, to be honest; mostly it's because the movie is so badly-dubbed (it's originally Italian) that you can't get past the terrible voice work to the rest of the movie. The crew tries their best, and there are some good lines about the bad dubbing ("Now, let's go get a lozenge together!") but it's not their best.

Blood of the Vampires: But they rally magnificently with this Filipino vampire movie set in Mexico ("It's not a good sign when English is your movie's third language.") This one has more bad dubbing, but not distractingly bad, and it's also got bizarre vampire behavior, kinky relationships ("It's going to be awful hard to spice up the marriage a few years down the line when you start off with a Master/slave blood covenant.") and the eye-poppingly racist spectacle of actual actors in blackface...and this was made in the 70s, just to clarify. ("Back in the old days, everyone had an actual vaudeville actor sleeping at the foot of their bed!") Still low on sketches, but the riffing is great.

So of the seven releases, I'd say there are four excellent films ("Doomsday Machine", "Legacy of Blood", "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians", and "Blood of the Vampires"), two solid hits ("The Oozing Skull", "The Wasp Woman"), and one slight underperformer ("Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks".) All in all, a pretty good track record, even considering that these guys are all polished performers with a lot of work behind them. Oh, and direct download is definitely the way to go, if you have the equipment for it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Evil That Demi-Humans Do

So, yes, I've officially sunk so low that I'm willing to tell my old gaming stories on my blog. Let's consider this a test, to see whether all gaming stories are really just "you kind of had to be there" shaggy dog stories, or just the vast majority of them.

This one isn't actually about me (which is, I think, a +1 on the "general entertainment" scale...any gamer will tell you that the worst nightmare is to be stuck sitting next to someone whose every utterance is about how tough their imaginary self is.) It's about a game I was in, though, where we were helping the rightful Emperor regain his throne from a secret cabal of evil mages who feared the Emperor because he was immune to magic. It was our job to foil these evil schemers and restore the Emperor to power!

Until we, um, killed him.

See, we'd found a few magical items on our travels (like you do), and one of them was a "castle in a bottle"--it was a bottle, about the size of a backpack, with a castle inside it. You put on a ring, you got teleported inside the castle in the bottle, and you shrank so that the castle was full-scale to you. Fairly straightforward magical item.

Well, one of the players, Amanda, was getting on everyone's nerves (in a good way--she was a fun person playing an obnoxious character, not an obnoxious person driving the rest of the group up the wall), and someone got the bright idea of sticking her in the bottle. So they grabbed her, put on the ring, let her go, and took off the ring. Bingo, she's in the castle and can't get out until we let her out.

But she's a mage in her own right (not an evil cabal mage, just a mage.) She decides she's not putting up with that, and casts "dispel magic" on the bottle. She actually succeeds, temporarily dispelling the magic that makes the castle small. Suddenly, the entire party is hit with what the GM charmingly describes as a "+1/+1 castle."

Most of us survive. (I was reduced to single-digit hit points, but I survived.) The Emperor? Turns out immunity to magic is great, but immunity to rapidly-approaching stone walls would be handier.

So now our quest is to destroy the cabal of mages and find a new Emperor. Amanda's character is still around, mainly because the gods themselves appeared to us and told us that she has to take part in the divine task of finding the godly-anointed Emperor, and killing her would be met with a little high-quality smiting. Which, fair enough, most of the people who died were NPCs, and the motto of our gaming group was always "NPCs are like tropical fish. They're pretty to look at, but don't get too attached to them." (I should put that on a T-shirt.)

But another member of our group, Joe, was not the "forgive and forget" type. He decided to find a way to bump off Amanda that would be non-smite-inducing. He decided to do a little research on the castle while everyone else was asleep, putting on the ring and taking it off over and over again while walking away from the castle (which had returned to the bottle once the effects of the "dispel magic" spell wore off--it's a powerful magical item, you don't just dispel them with a wave of your hand), and he figured out the exact range of the teleportation spell.

How is this fatal? Well, for the final battle against the cabal, we'd obtained a powerful, destructive magical item...sort of like a nuke, except that it turned stuff to stone instead of just blowing it up. The problem was, it was activated by holding it and speaking a command word. So the user had a tendency to get turned to stone, as well. But good old helpful Joe came up with a plan. "Amanda, we'll fly far overhead with the castle. You take the item, and we'll drop you. Then, you speak the command word, let go of the item and put on the ring, and zap! You'll be teleported back to the castle and perfect safety."

And so Amanda dropped out of the sky towards dozens of evil mages, spoke the command word, put on the ring...and nothing happened. Until, that is, she was turned to stone, hit with just about every destructive spell in the Player's Handbook, and then fell onto the ground and shattered into a million pieces.

Because you really, really didn't want to mess with Joe.