Epitaph for a Misguided Hero

We played another game of Epitaph by Marc Hobbs this week, this time with all new players and in a fictional fantasy setting.

Premise

Grathar is a dwarf living her entire life underground, among the caves and underground lakes of the under dark. She relishes the tranquility of living below ground and the seriousness of her people as they mine the gems that power magical spells and devices in our world. When the gems are emptied of their magical power, they turn into colorful dust. She wants more than anything to have the frivolous jesters of the Academia banished because they besmirch and slander our ways with their jokes and their profligate tossing of the colorful gem powders.

Grathar (she/her)

Born 12th year of Austin Hjorth II — Died 75th year of Austin Hjorth III

Overhead shot of group of people sitting around a table covered in dishes while a warm glowing light shines from the right.
Epitaph cover courtesy of Less Than Three Games.

Timeline

Born: 12th year of Lord Austin Hjorth II in Crystome

Age 20

Festival accident that leaves her uncle Folum injured.

  • Snapshot: Marching jesters throwing colored dust, causing people and animals to turn to run, a pair of dwarfs in their path, the older dwarf (Folum) wrapping a protective arm around the younger (Grathar).
  • Reflection: Recognizes that her feelings then were too easy, too simple.

Age 23

A family trip to underground hot springs when her father plays the didgeridoo and teachers Grathar love of music.

  • Snapshot: Grathar sits rapt watching her father play a didgeridoo beside the hot springs, cementing her love of music and her appreciation for the solemnity of the underdark.
  • Reflection: Feels how this moment put her on an arduous path toward an abstract principle rather than the concrete people who make it meaningful.

Age 127

Cinteele Hjorth recalls the solemn protests at Academia Jesteria

  • Remembrance: Cinteele recalls how the dwarves marched so quietly in soft-soled shoes while waving their signs: “It’s not funny.” Grathar was never intentionally funny, but often inspired us to laugh a lot, especially in the student scripts the following semester. Praxus’ script won third place that year.

Age 202

Failed negotiation with an emissary from the surface world.

  • Scene: Larry the halfling questions Grathar about whether she could ever accept the sincerity of other people when they practice the traditions, but Grathar insists all must carry the same sincerity in their heart as she does.
  • Reflection: Grathar regrets not having gotten to know Larry better. She wonders what might have been if they had become friends and what the halfling might have done later in life.

Age 224

Barivar’s banishment.

  • Snapshot: Grathar looking on as Barivar is carted away, banished by Lord Austin Hjorth II, weighing in her hand the festival powder she will use to rescue and release him.
  • Reflection: Mostly she feels fondness for her adopted son, whom she loves so ferociously. But that nostalgia is tempered by her indignation she felt at the child being abandoned by those spiteful royals. Her whole life turned on this moment.

Age 224

Dedicating Barivar to the old ways at the Amethyst Springs, not long after adopting him from banishment.

  • Snapshot: Grathar holds the toddler Barivar in the dark at precisely the right moment to feel the silence and comforting weight of the dark, hums the resonant tone, and moves as the space beckons.
  • Reflection: Grathar feels her responsibility for Barivar replaced the responsibility she had previously felt to this point for the solemn and sombre traditions.

Age 341

Moments before her death with her friend Praxus at the Pearl Grotto.

  • Snapshot: Praxus throwing powder as they dance between the stalagmites, colorful dust turning the water multicolored, Grathar laughing and enjoying herself immensely.
  • Reflection: Proud to be and feel so free, so unlike where she had started.

Died: 75th year of Lord Austin Hjorth III in the Pearl Grotto

Grathar chokes when too much festival powder gets into her lungs while playing with her friend, Praxus, the Master Jester.

Eulogies

  • Praxus, devastated when Grathar dies because of their play, begins a new performance tradition where the jesters walk in silence in their softest shoes. The guffaws of audience usually break the silence thanks to the jester’s antics.
  • Barivar must conduct the traditional funeral rites for his beloved adoptive father. Afterward, he uses his tenuous royal connection to help spread Grathar’s ideals more widely.
  • Lord Austin Hjorth III, in his official capacity at the funeral, jovially recalls her bothersome youth and the grace and kindness she developed in her mellower, older years. He says all will miss the solid gentleness that had come to characterize her life.
  • Roknet Bellsod, Head of the Student Script Department and a good friend of Praxus, dedicates a trophy of a bronzed soft-shoe in Grathar’s name in the main hall trophy cabinet at the Academia Jesteria. Whenever people walk by and create enough vibrations, a bell springs out and rings loud.

Power & Grace & Nemeses

This week we played the Lasers & Feelings hack for superheroes Power & Grace by an unknown author. We are a newly-formed team of supers known as Outsiders, a well-financed and connected team of four supers led by Saving Grace, the legacy of one of the greatest heroes of the previous generation, a trained martial arts expert. Also on the team is science researcher Silver Streak with his frictionless field generator suit that allows him to move at super-speed; Psi-Klone who uses his telekinetic mutant powers to protect the populace; and Miss Fortune, a brooding mystic from another dimension who can barely control her bad luck powers. We have formed as the Outsiders because each of our arch-enemies—mutant mastermind Revolt, wacky gadgeteer Widget, psychic vampire Luckystrike, and chaotic blaster The Troll—have banded together into a villainous syndicate that we can’t hope to match alone.

Our story begins with Saving Grace getting an alert about syndicate activity at an abandoned cathedral, so he contacts Psi-Klone to join him. Recognizing the insignia of a mutant underworld gang on the boxes a group of suspicious characters are moving into the cathedral, Saving Grace springs into action and easily defeats the half-dozen mooks. When he enters the truck, a trap is sprung and he’s trapped inside. Psi-Klone uses his powers to unlock the truck, but Troll blasts him just as the tumblers turn. Together, Saving Grace and Psi-Klone take out Widget, but as Troll escapes, he activates the pre-wired truck bomb. Psi-Klone launches the truck straight up above the cathedral, so the explosion causes damage but no loss of life.

Having captured Widget, Miss Fortune releases her powers while questioning him about the syndicate’s plans. Unfortunately for him, he lets slip enough random details that Silver Streak can piece together the group’s intentions. While we were fighting at the cathedral, Revolt was fomenting dissension among the mutant population and will be unleashing them upon the diplomatic function at the old mansion that houses the Silesian embassy. The objective is to assassinate the Silesian dictator and start a war between the mutant and the human populations. Despite his crimes, we decide we must protect the dictator to save the world from such a war.

We split up and secret ourselves throughout the party: Miss Fortune serving appetizers, Psi-Klone mingling with the guests, Saving Grace guarding the dictator directly, and Silver Streak patrolling the perimeter. Miss Fortune leads a pair of disguised mutants deep into the mansion but gets lost herself. Saving Grace finds the guard detail’s decisions suspect. A mysterious woman extends Revolt’s offer for Psi-Klone, a fellow mutant, to walk away now before it’s too late. And Silver Streak runs into the initial frontal assault by the horde of mutant forces. Inside, Troll leads the assassination squad and blasts through the window where Saving Grace is protecting the dictator. Psi-Klone refuses Revolt’s offer, and running toward Saving Grace and radioing for an evac of the dictator, opens a hole in the wall for Silver Streak to run through. As the dictator disappears in a flash of silver, Saving Grace takes down the Troll. Psi-Klone creates a massive telekinetic vortex to occupy the attackers while the civilians escape, and Saving Grace dashes for the control room to find Miss Fortune.

Lost in the mansion, Miss Fortune has encountered her nemesis, Luckystrike. He tries to persuade her to join him, for they are the same, two sides of the same coin. His good luck countering her back luck, together she could live a normal life. The pressure to resist and protect herself from his mental assault overwhelms her, so Fortune’s powers go out of control, causing the mansion to begin shaking apart. Luckystrike always steps just out of the way of any falling debris, but Saving Grace locates her on the monitors and races to her aid. He engages Luckystrike in hand-to-hand, each dodging the other, neither able to land a solid blow, until Saving Grace stuns Luckystrike long enough for the pair to escape.

Outside, Silver Streak trips a few blocks from the mansion, felled by a Widget trap. As the giggling gadgeteer spews his venom at Silver Streak and pulls the trigger on his multi-gun, the Streak grabs the dictator and dashes away. In the blink of an eye, he has sped up a car park, dropped the dictator, circled back and come down on Widget from behind and above, just as the energy begins to emerge from the device. Psi-Klone flies into the sky to meet Revolt, who soars above the mansion, conjuring lightning. Revolt taunts him about the inevitability of the war; humans being so easy to provoke, it’s only a matter of time. After several exchanges, Psi-Klone knocks Revolt out of the sky using a car, and as he descends to the ground is joined by the rest of us. Revolt unleashes a ball of chain lightning, but working together, we manage to short out Revolt’s powers and knock him out, ending the fight.

In the epilogue, we see Silver Streak in his lab disassembling one of Widget’s devices, and Psi-Klone reaching out to the mutant community. Miss Fortune runs off to be alone, but later she receives a text from Saving Grace asking if she’s like to hang out.

Galactic Watering Hole

This week we played Galactic by Riley Rethal as a small group of strangers brought together to support the Liberation in defeating a Mandate blockade of water to a planet of rocky deserts and no political affiliation. We are Annabelle Sophie, a diplomat or a spy, who believes in peace but knows you can give no quarter to the Mandate; Pickles, an alien, a scoundrel, and a scofflaw out to bank some credits and pester the complacent; and repair-bot 2B-D5 (Two-bee), who collects favors hoping for a chance to build something truly special.

Galactic cover showing a ragtag group of misfit rebels with planets and stars in the sky behind them.

Our story begins with Pickles in a cantina recognizing Annabelle Sophie as someone who’d gotten in their way on a recent job and deciding to confront the diplomat. Annabelle tries to brush off Pickles attention in order to keep a low profile, but Pickles won’t be dissuaded and pokes the diplomat until getting a rise from her. Annabelle pulls a knife to get the alien to back off, even though she’s never actually use it. Having been roped in by Pickles during the provocation phase, Two-bee tries to make peace between them and suggests they repair back to its repair depot. Once ensconced inside the repair depot, the group realizes they can work together on the water problem. Pickles knows of a comet coming through the system soon that could be a source of water the Mandate can’t control. Pickles has the comet’s trajectory and coordinates but needs a crew in order to make the rendezvous. Annabelle remains suspicious of Pickles, knowing that last job was paid for by the Mandate, but agrees to go along to keep an eye on them.

Pickles explains that their ship is in the police impound lot, so first they need to break in and bust out the ship. Unbeknownst to the others, Pickles doesn’t have a ship and will be stealing whichever ship suits their purposes. Annabelle uses her contacts to arrange for the guard to be away from the control room long enough for Two-bee to slip inside and access the terminal. Two-bee changes the sweep pattern of the patrol-bots to create a corridor through the lot for us to enter and take a ship. Pickles selects a ship, hot-wires it, and blasts out of the lot with us all aboard, but we bounce off one of the depot buildings on the way out.

In space, Pickles must take an oblique route to avoid the Mandate patrols, but that brings us to the rendezvous behind schedule, requiring us to adjust our intercept trajectory. As we begin our approach, the ship’s stabilizers come loose due to damage from our rocky take-off, requiring Two-bee to quickly effect repairs while we’re still flying. Thanks to its phenomenal success, we manage to land successfully on the surface of the comet. Because of our late arrival and the relatively small size of the ship we stole, we can only take a sample of water that we can use to secure funding for a proper harvest mission. Unfortunately, we launch ourselves up in the direction the comet is traveling. As we turn to get out of its way, the comet clips the ship and sends us tumbling off into deep space, bringing today’s adventure to a close.

Floating After the World Drowned

This week we explored the post-apocalyptic solarpunk After the World Drowned by David Harris in which we portray a group forging a paradise in a world after the waters have risen so only the highest points, whether natural or technological, are still above water. We are Mara, a crafter and weaver who set out on her own to escape her overlarge family; Dobbe, a warrior from an amphibious species who finds humanity fascinating; Ernestine, a refugee from a wealthy family who grew up in high-rise hotels and wants to spread beautiful design around the world; and Stuart, an older man who still remembers the time before the cataclysm and fears his age has left him unable to compete with the younger generation for scarce resources. Will we be able to forge this Ideal into the community we all need?

In the first Act, we learn that Stuart used to be a technician and taught his old community about how to use the remains of technology from the before times, using solar cells for power. He also names the long-bodied herbivorous lizards on the island, whose bodies sway as they run, swingbacks. He appreciates the leadership Jade offers the Ideal because she applies it so gently and with such empathy. Mara is frightened to discover someone she remembers from the raids on her family is a member of the Ideal, but she doesn’t know how to respond. She remembers how hard it was to leave her family, but with so many, it seemed necessary. Mara throws a stone in frustration and hits one of the swingbacks, which only fills her with guilt and regret. Ernestine keeps her sketchbook of designs a secret, afraid that people will see her work as frivolous and a waste of time. Ernestine gets into conflict with Mara when the latter discovers Ernestine has draped over a log a blanket Mara wove. They go back and forth about why she would do that, Ernestine explaining that she just thought it looked nice, beautifying things, but Mara concerned how it will rot in the rains. Dobbe has trouble assimilating to the human community, missing her old friend and sparring partner, Penny, so she latches onto the first human who pays her any attention, the same raider who Mara fears. The violence in their pasts is one of the things that draws and binds them together.

In Act 2, Stuart admires the broad-leafed ground cover that grows all over the island, dominating the underbrush, but chooses to live near the shore, facing east so the sun wakes him each morning as it rises. Mara leads us to building our houses in trees to avoid the ever rising waters, and retires one of her weaving materials, a native vine, as it becomes scarce from over-use and the encroachment of the broad-leafs. Dobbe takes comfort from the fighting staff she brought with her from her days as a warrior, and carries it with her whenever she goes off to her secret place to practice and recenter herself. A dispute arises in the community when one of the Ideal tries to adopt Dobbe as a pet, not understanding how humiliating that would be. Dobbe doesn’t take kindly but refrains from violence and allows the human to apologize without bringing the rest of the community into the conflict. Ernestine grows frustrated by the lack of a proper indoors once she discovers macaques eating our stores of fruit. She vows to find a way to use the combined skills of our diverse group to solve this problem. Her solution is a watertight room, sealed but carefully balanced, so it floats on the rising waters.

In Act 3, we see Dobbe adapting to living on land, sunning herself on the rocks away from everyone, but also learning not to lean on violence or power to deal with problems. Ernestine doesn’t stop with her floating room, which is sustainable and works with nature to create interior spaces, and goes on to lead us all to compost in the space the Ideal cleared long ago. Once the soil develops, she plants seedlings to restore the land to its previous state. As the Ideal continues to expand, in order to no longer take up the land, Stuart uses his technical knowledge and Ernestine’s floating design to help us expand out into the water instead of across the land.

In the coda, we each reflect on what makes us hopeful for the future. Dobbe finds hope in how she has managed to find peace living together with another species, proving it can work if you stay open-minded. Mara feels glad to be useful and sees our rustic utopia as the natural result of everyone working toward a single, clear goal. Stuart thinks it’s not just the goal, but the spirit of cooperation rather than competition that explains our success. Ernestine is the most ambitious, believing the floating rooms are a technology that can be used to reclaim the floors below the water’s surface in structures like the high-rises she grew up in.

Around the Whirl by Summer

We played another StorySynth game this week, Around the Whirl by Randy Lubin, in which we tell the story of a pair of childhood friends who are perfect complement each other: outgoing Nella and bookish Bly. When a friend promises to buy us that mystical artifact from the Endless Market we’d been coveting if we can travel around the entire archipelago by the summer solstice, we readily agree. Getting out of this town will be a welcome relief from all the grime and crime.

Our first trip is aboard a luxury liner full of wealthy aristocrats, who we try to fool into believing we belong on board. When one of the wealthy families knocks the ship off-course to knock-off the scion of a rival family, the ship veers dangerously close to the vortex at the center of the Whirl. We discover the plot and warn the other family, then assist the navigator in getting the ship back on course. In the process, our humble origins are revealed, so we’re unceremoniously dumped at a mining outpost, fallen on hard times as their output has dwindled. After we make music, sing, and tell interesting stories at the local tavern, the town of miners insist we stay and provide more entertainment. We instead instruct their children in how to play the concertina, recorders, and drums and put on plays, so the children can entertain their parents without us.

To leave town, we must travel through the mines themselves, traveling in small carriages, but the primary path through the mountain is blocked by a massive boulder. After must arguing between the various members of the expedition, we lead the group back to the last junction and a rising passageway, then dig our way to the surface. On the other side, we come to a beach with a flexible tube leading under the waves. After walking through the tube, we enter a giant soap bubble, filled by a miraculous city of great beauty and excessive civic pride. Unfortunately, a protest by the Nomen, who object to the city’s constant construction churn, devolves into violence. We convince the rulers to give the Nomen their own neighborhood where they can maintain things as they are rather than constantly upgrading as happens elsewhere in the city.

List of the transits and settlements of our session of Around the Whirl.

Reaching shore after leaving the submerged city, we had to pass over a chain of snow-capped mountains. Near the peak, we came across hot springs tended by peaceful people, but their rivals from the valleys attacked using their flying machines, trying to seize the magic stones that heat the springs. We trick the raiders long enough to escape ourselves by giving them a hot bag of normal stones. On the other side of the mountains, we come to a mechanical city of gears and pistons populated by walking automatons and coveralled engineers. To help one inventor win a scholarship during an anniversary contest when her advanced, humanoid android cannot yet speak, Nella, coated in gold and pretending to be the android, is locked in the exhibition. Bly and the inventor concoct a heist to get her out using their knowledge and the actual android.

On our final leg back home, we are riding a passenger flying machine with enormous mechanical wings, when a small group try to hijack the ship using swords and pistols. The Captain has barricaded himself on the bridge, but we know the ship’s secret and open the door for the hijackers. When they get inside, they cannot figure out how to control the ship and eventually give up, evacuating using parachutes. We make it back shortly before the solstice, exhausted by our adventures but also happy to have such magnificent stories to share.

Magical Streets of Ravenhelm

This week we played another session of I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Ascersion and created a Victorian city of the supernatural and steam-driven super-science called Ravenhelm. The River Mana serves as the primary dividing line between the science and supernatural sides of town. The bridges that span the river are tended by the Plongeurs, a guild of mechanics and plumbers known for their precision and elbow grease, who coordinate the raising of the bridges to allow for ships to pass up the Mana.

On the east side of the River Mana, lies Tinker’s Row, the neighborhood dominated by machinery, filled with metalworks, gadgetariums, and gearworks, where the many craftspeople of the city live. The heart of the Row is a metalworks called Smythe’s Smithy, an open air market known for both fine craftsmanship and the welcoming guffaw of its proprietor. Another landmark in Tinker’s Row on Clockwork Alley is the Hall of Science, where the winners of the annual invention competition are on permanent display, including the staticky Tesla coils that dominate the entrance to greet visitors. It is also the starting point of a race between a young inventor and his rival, the former’s jet-carriage competing against the latter’s automated velocipede. As they careen down toward the river, both vehicles crash, but the young inventor wins the foot race back to the Hall. Unfortunately, you can’t win a vehicle race on foot. At the edge of the Row is the Community Archive, called the Bookhouse by most, which welcomes those who enter Ravenhelm from the east and contains many books and pamphlets about the great city and its technological marvels. The Archive is tended by the Head Librarian, who is an agent of compromise able to broker alliances, even between the supernatural keepers of the Candy Apple and Eternal Night from the western side of the river.

A crane waits at a bus station overrun with water.
Image courtesy of Caro Asercion.

On the western shore lies the Bitter Apple Woods, full of great trees that create a vast, shadowy forest in which supernatural creatures dwell in homes scattered amongst the trees. The two biggest landmarks in the Woods are the Candy Apple Church and the Eternal Night Planetarium & Café. The Candy Apple Church is deep in the woods and was long ago abandoned by the believers, so the vampires took over care of it. It’s known for quiet and tranquility, but when two young vampires break tradition to marry elsewhere, the repercussions ripple across Ravenhelm. Across the Woods, at 1 Milky Way, lies the Eternal Night Planetarium & Café, a night spot where you can watch the stars while listening to eerie orchestral new age sounds. Thanks to the intervention of the Librarian, Eternal Night and Candy Apple agree to work together to keep weddings in the Woods and out of Le Grand Ville.

Le Grand Ville is the neighborhood to the north of the other two and spans across the River Mana. Therein live the rich, powerful, and famous, or those who wish to appear so, looking down upon those too strange or too proletarian to live there. The Grandioso on Halindroso Road is the fanciest and most advanced restaurant in the world, using high technology and animated objects to provide exceptional service and delicious dinners to any who can afford their pristine, upscale attentions. The Grandioso is the reason that the Eternal Night and Candy Apple had to band together because it became a venue for vampires and other supernaturals to hold their events. There is quite the scandal when royalty is found to be living at 344B Coventry Lane, creating whispers and rumours about the Heir’s Hideout after having lived there uneventfully for so long. The Heir’s best friend is a kindhearted klutz who makes a mess of the Heir’s surprise birthday celebration. But the biggest event was the arrival of the Queen to bring her son home, an event that caused a stir and an opportunity for the Grandioso to court royal patronage.

Querulous Dram Redux

We played The Wizard’s Querulous Dram by Jason Morningstar and Lizzie Stark another time this week, this time with my modified descriptions of the princes and princesses who are to be married. My changes made it more difficult to determine the best pairing, since each person had serious flaws as well as virtues. So, unlike our previous times, we didn’t pair the two princesses. Instead, Gyongi representing Smallwood, Zoltin representing Black Mountain, and Volkon representing the Wizard’s Guild agree to make Prince Chadwick the monarch with Prince Winthrop as his consort. In exchange for Winthrop taking the consort role, we place the capital in Black Mountain but give Smallwood command of the combined army.

Title in wavering script for The Wizard's Querulous Dram
The Wizard’s Querulous Dram cover image from Bully Pulpit Games.

We quickly eliminate the pairing of Prince Winthrop and Princess Aster because, while they are both imminently qualified, the two together could be a little unbending, both being so certain of their own superiority. We also ruled out putting the two princesses together because Aster and Tiffany seem likely to become competitive with each other, despite being concerned with different domains.

That leaves Prince Chadwick as the royal from Smallwood, and the only question is whether he is best with Princess Tiffany or Prince Winthrop. We almost choose Tiffany, thinking that they complement each other in terms of their connection and concern for the people, but Zoltin balks at putting the two least serious people on the thrones. So, it goes to Winthrop, who can provide the brains to Chadwick’s brawn, and so they will rule together, we hope, to keep the peace and help our new united kingdom to prosper.

Counterfeit & Daring

In this week’s session, we returned to play Truth & Daring by Kristin & Tim Devine, this time as a group of high school freshman in a club they call the Seekers. Our clubhouse is a tent pitched in someone’s yard. We are Minx, an expert Game Master whose always ready to get a game on; Daren Steele is a sneaky actor convinced he’s on his way to becoming an international super-spy; Gina, a curious explorer, who uses her binoculars for more than just watching birds; and Ben the mischievous collector of rocks, minerals, and fossils.

We begin our story with Daren walking to the clubhouse and telling Ben that he believes senior Paige seems way too old to be a teenager and that she spends a lot of time in the new principal’s office. After Gina and Minx join them in the clubhouse, we decide to spy on Paige and the principal to discover what they might be up to. Watching Paige and her boyfriend at drama club while painting scenery, Ben tells us about someone using the shop’s printing press at night and decides to investigate further. When he sneaks to the shop, he spies the principal operating the press to print sheets of money, Paige cutting the sheets into individual bills, and another senior wrapping and boxing the bills into “Art Supply” boxes.

We decide the grown-ups will never believe us unless we get some real evidence, so the next night Daren hides himself inside the room. Paige is watching with her binoculars from across the street. On her signal, Minx pulls a fire alarm elsewhere in the school to distract the criminals long enough to come out of hiding, grab some bills, and run away. Paige gets the license number of the van that the seniors were loading the boxes into. We take the evidence to the police, who surprisingly believe us. They track down the criminals and bust the counterfeit ring. Turns out the principal was wanted and we earn a reward for his capture. Minx uses the money to buy a copy of Hidden Kingdom, an Arthurian game she’s been wanting. Daren gets a fingerprinting kit, and we all get new bikes and a commendation written up in the paper from the police. One of the investigators even tells Daren that he showed a lot of promise and gives him her card so he can reach her later.

Kaleidoscope of Pierogis

In this week’s game, we used Kaleidoscope by Jackson Tegu to create an incoherent foreign art film about ridiculously happy people trapped in a tower with plates full of pierogis. A friend of ours had recommended we see it, saying “It’s like Towering Inferno with the fire taken out and replaced with euphoria as seen through the lens of pierogism.”

Our story begins with a young man with long hair on one side and a shaven head on the other sitting on top of a building, knitting a long piece of fabric that hangs over the tower’s ledge. He seems lost in thought and his name, we think, is Javas. A waitress brings him a cup of coffee with the cosmos floating inside it. Then Javas goes downstairs to the newsstand outside the building, where we meet Luthor the newsagent. They have a very portentous conversation that seems entirely irrelevant to the rest of the film. Javas returns to the coffee shop upstairs and interacts with people there. As he does, we see knitted items everywhere: a dog collar tag, socks, keychains, a tea cozy. We spend much of the rest of the film looking for more knitted items.

Kaleidoscope print out with swirling colors and film strip on it sit on a table. An index card with the pitch for a movie lies atop it.

Afterward, there is a long scene in which we follow a young woman, Simone, as she returns from work to the same tower. We see her taking a subway, getting on a busy walking down the street and petting a lovable stray dog. Everywhere she goes, we see the same woman playing a guitar on the street, busking with the guitar case open. When she arrives at the tower, she stops at the newsstand, where we notice that Luthor seems to charge people different amounts for the same item depending on who they are. The younger you are, the more you seem to pay. The scene ends with Simone arriving in her apartment, going into her kitchen, and making pierogis. Pierogis appear with her throughout the film.

There is a long sequence in which Javas leads people down the stairs and out of the building. Along the way, on one of the landings, a man in a night shirt and top hat rocks on a child’s hobby-horse, and tips his hat to the people as they pass. The evacuation is interspersed with scenes of Luthor at his newsstand. First, he’s bopping his head to the music of street guitar lady, the only time in the movie when he seemed to be enjoying himself. Then, he angrily rejects a cup of coffee brought to him by Simone, demanding she bring him another. Finally, when the people come pouring out of the building and begin their herky-jerky dancing, he becomes angry and stomps off, leaving the picture not to return. Perhaps it’s a commentary on the World Trade Center attacks.

What follows this is a short scene with street guitar lady that is shot in garish, vibrant colors rather than the more sedate palette of the rest of the picture. In this scene, she meets a child and gives him a quarter. The child runs off to the pier and drops a fishing line into the water, pulling a wind-up toy up from the ocean. Then we jump cut to one of those crane/claw games in an arcade full of similar wind-up toys.

The film ends with a shadow moving toward a door, the camera taking on the viewpoint of the person casting the shadow. The person reaches past a plate of pierogis to open the door and step into a porcelain bathroom. We see someone in a pair of rubber boots walk across the bathroom and step into the tub. We never see their face or body, just their legs and the boots. They turn on the water in the tub and the bathroom begins to rapidly fill with water but only the bathroom. The inside of the tub and the person inside stay completely dry. As the bathroom fills with water, “Fin.” appears on the screen.

The movie is sometimes known as Pierogis for Javas because that was the name the producers had selected for the anticipated major U.S. release that never materialized, but the literal translation of its Armenian title is Ecstatic Dregs. You can sometimes find it online from file-sharing sites under the title AirGodsMessenger.

The Magic Circle

Our game this week is The Magic Circle by Jason Morningstar from the Bully Pulpit Patreon in which we play supernatural neighbors living in a suburban cul-de-sac, working to better our community while keeping our true nature secret. Shelley is a mermaid who works in a day care and whose tail disappears when she’s completely dried out. Soma is a sleep demon who works at the sleep clinic. Gil is a creature from the Black Lagoon who works from home as a computer programmer and wears a rubber mask when he has to leave the house. Graves is an angel sent to Earth to help children who works as a school counselor. Ratsep is an enchanted GI Joe doll who runs his own business and who suffers from doll arthritis and digits occasionally fall off. Hudspeth is an android and dentist who can easily pass for human.

Drawings of some of our characters from the Magic Circle: Soma, Gill, Shelley.

At the first meeting of our Monster Neighborhood Watch, we agreed to hold a second Halloween parade since the kids enjoyed the costumes in the first one so much. Ratsep agreed to collect the dues from the neighbors to pay for the annual snow plow fees, Hudseth secured help in getting rid of the wasp nest that had sprung up in the center of our community, and Shelley asked everyone to keep an eye out for her lost seashell keychain. The major topic of discussion was the abyss of utter blackness that had opened up in the house between Shelley and Hudseth. The hole seemed to be emanating screams and howls. Graves will reach out to a landscaper to get a quote to fill it in, while Shelley will ask her sister the witch if her magic can figure out what it is. Soma agrees to swim in the hole to determine if it’s a portal to a nether realm.

Next month, at our second meeting, we recap the success of the second Halloween parade and get an update from Ratsep on the due collections. There is a long discussion about limiting religious Christmas decorations, since they cause Soma literal pain and make it so he cannot pass the decorated house. Graves is the only one planning a nativity, and he agrees to keep it up for only a week as a compromise. Gil wants to talk about how the water taste has changed, and how rancid it has become. Some of us haven’t noticed, but we all agree to file complaints with the water company to get them to come out and test it. We fear the water may have been contaminated by the abyss. Shelley tells us that magic had no effect upon the hole, and Graves says the contractor who came to give a quote fell into the abyss and never returned. Soma entered the portal and determined that it’s the souls of the damned leaking into our reality. We argue for a bit over whether what to do. We eventually decide we must determine why they are damned to be able to release their souls and seal the breach. Hudspeth will, via an ouija board, walk them through a spiritual history health questionnaire to seek clues.

Finally, at our next meeting, Ratsep fails to materialize, apparently having absconded with the snow plow collection, and the water inspection has yet to be completed after being delayed by the holidays. As for the abyss, it seems they were all eaten by some sort of monster, a hellhound perhaps. Graves consults with his employers and determines the best way to set the karmic ledger to balance is for the teenagers who (accidentally) opened the portal through their call to demonic forces to make another appeal, this time to celestial ones. We all agree to get the kids into the right situation to have them appeal to the heavens for help, in hopes this will close the interdimensional rift.