This week was an interesting exercise in “winging that mo’…” I had a lot of interesting tidbits on Chinatown, names, gang affiliations, and other information all set to go for the game this week…and promptly forgot my laptop that I had plugged in to recharge when I went to the session. It happens. I couldn’t get my phone to talk to iCloud properly, and I didn’t back the adventure up anyway, so what do you do in a situation like this?

Roll with it. I knew the broad strokes. I knew villain names. I had posted the baddies for the adventure on this blog, so I had access to stats, etc. I set to “improvisation” and ran the adventure. I knew that the first scene would be catching up with the character that was taken captive last week, since the player had been absent. We covered Cointreau’s — the French actor and sometimes cat burglar — attempt to find a willing prostitute to try his new mystic Tantric knowledge on…only to find nothing was happening. Disappointed, he got the madam of the house to sent him to “someone that might be able to help….” This was the brothel at which the characters had had their big fight set piece last week when they wen to save him, only to find him gone without a trace.

What we see is that the huli jing, Ming Yao, had coaxed his desire to learn what he’s calling “sex magic” from Cointreau. She recognized the techniques as being old…and offered to take him to someone that could help him. He agreed to this, the player realizing that this would speed the plot. He was taken through a secret trap door down a series of steps that led under the building, under the city’s infrastructure, to a cave system that had wooden foot paths constructed (in an earthquake zone, no less…) She led him to an ornate dragon gate: a red lacquered door surrounded by dragon motifs, and through that into a great hall, like a temple.

Here they met Dai Pan, the leader of the On Yik Tong — slavers, smugglers, and murderers all. Pan has three of these fox spirits at his beck and call, and at some point Cointreau realized that the man didn’t walk. He glided. He didn’t sense him when he was close and at one point, while Dai Pan was convincing him to remain so that they could return him to his mistress, the woman that showed him this was all possible (Morana!), he casually reached out and poked Pan. To find his hand went right through him. He has been here for a long time, guarding the 7th Gate, and now there may be the opportunity to finally have his curse lifted so he might live again, or finally pass beyond.

The rest of the team, meanwhile, goes to Chinatown to try and find out where their friend is. They don’t have to look long before they are directed to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolence Society or “Six Companies” — the cabal of gang leaders who keep the peace in Chinatown since the Tong Wars of the last decade. There, the president of the Six Companies, “Uncle Dave” Pei will tell them their friend is most likely in the hands of the On Yik Tong, a restive bunch of slavers, if their fight last night in one of their brothels is anything to go by. He tells them where they can find the On Yik, but before they can go far, they are attacked outside of the Six Companies, and we had a good chop socky fight sequence, with plenty of fisticuffs and a bit of gun play by O’Bannon and Post. The fight was meant to be difficult, with a dozen opponents, but the boys were blowing through them quickly. We were also starting to run late, so I let the fight close out with the appearance of a rival gang, the 17 Tigers, led by a very American Chinese guy named Eddie Wang.

With Cointreau separated from the group, but the focus on them for much of the night, I gave the player the task of rolling for the bad guys, so that he was engaged and having fun. This technique has been successful for me when it’s neccessary to split the party. Give the player control of the actions of the bad guys is also a nice way of keeping them in the mix, but I recommend this only if your group is adult enough not to get honked off at their companion, should he kick the crap out of their characters.

Their friend isn’t the only one in danger…perhaps the whole world. They know a man who can give them the skinny and help them if they are planning on going up again Dai Pan and the On Yik. He takes them to the Egg Fu Yung Import Store, run by his mother and “Uncle” Runyi Shen, an old man (we went for the inevitable Egg Shen comparison) who has been here for a long time, since before the city was born, protecting the 7th gate from Dai Pan, a “hungry ghost” that exists between worlds, a creature made of dreams.

In this portion, Veitch and Zelansky realized that the ghost might be susceptible to an electrical attack, much like the electroforce cannon Tesla made for the OSI. Can Veitch make something like that? Vetich rolled his Science with the aid of Zelansky and got six successes — with his Weird Science trait, he certainly can. He started putting together a electroforce pistol that would use the crystal that Zelansky took from the tulku in Tibet. (They were using it to identify the new Dalai Lama, but it also responds to Veitch — he’s got Atlantean blood!) He biffed the roll to build it due to the short time, but I decided that he had a working prototype with a highly limited capacity and range…and if he botches a roll, “something will happen.”

We jumped back to Cointreau, who slipped out of bed from his night with three of the fox spirits. He cases the joint, looking for valuables and intelligence on this Dai Pan, only to see some of the gang removing the desiccated body of a young woman that Pan had fed off of. He stumbled into the main chamber that he had arrived in and realized, he’d never looked back at the dragon gate. On this side, he can see the orichalcum, eye-shaped frame of a gate like the Eye of Shambala. And Dai Pan is talking to someone through it, even though it is closed. In front of the gate, they’ve place a four-armed statute of a goddess (Durga, but he didn’t know that) and Pan is talking to a disembodied female voice that they are hearing in their heads, not with their ears…Cointreau is hearing it in French; it’s Morana, the Queen of Shambala. She is telling Pan, once they come to rescue Cointreau, as they will — these mercenaries are a tight group; they will not let one of their number be taken — he should take special pains to keep the “boy” (Veitch, Cointreau realizes) alive…he is hers. If she gets him, Pan will get what he wants.

At this point, Cointreau was discovered by a guard, and Pan — who had known he was there the whole time — tells him “You’re not supposed to be up yet…” and advanced on him. Scene close.

We ended for the night there, with a rescue attempt being put together hastily, Cointreau torn between returning to Morana and her “skills” to learn her “sex magic”, and the form Empress-Consort of Atlantis laying a trap for the crew.

For improvising on the fly, it ran smoothly and quickly. Everyone had a good time and the players are starting to really get into the characters and how to start developing their own shticks for the game. Veitch is doing more inventing, O’Bannon is moving toward kung fu stuff like Pin-Li, Post is moving toward being the gun bunny, Cointreau wants sex magic, and Zelansky is getting into his leader role more. (The player suggested an excellent use of the character’s Guardian trait by kicking over a fruit stand to slow their attackers during the street fight, and hence give a +2 defense to the others.)

Overall, it’s nice to rescue a night from potential failure due to not having your prep. Key is to know what you wanted to do, if you have a more story-driven game. If you are a sandbox-style GM, this probably wouldn’t have phased you in the least. Letting the players take the lead is always a good idea, no matter how much you prepared for the night.


The gaming gang will have a new baddie this week. In keeping with the Chinese mystical themes, and the Big Trouble in Little China vibe we’ve been running, I created the head of the On Yik Tong — Dai Pan. Slaver, smuggler of Chinese to the United States, gang lord, and guardian of the 7th Gate to the “Underworld” (an Atlantean gate like the eye of Shambala or the First Gate in Shambala, itself), he is an ancient thing, a ghost left to guard the gate. He wiles his time away sucking the life out of pretty girls and causing mayhem as he sees fit.

Dai Pan

Archetype: “Hungry Ghost”     Motivation: Power     Health: 8**     Style: 5

ATTRIBUTES: Body: 0 (he has no physical form)   Dexterity: 2   Strength: 2   Charisma: 4   Intelligence: 4   Will: 4

SECONARDY ATTRIBUTES: Size: 1   Move: 4   Perception: 8   Initiative: 6   Defense: 6*    Stun: 4

SKILLS: Academics (History 8, Religion 8 ); Acrobatics 4, Athletics: 4, Con 6, Diplomacy 6, Focus 7, Intimidation 8, Investigation 5, Linguistics 8, Science (Chemistry) 6,  Sorcery (Alchemy 6, Enchantment 7, Necromancy 6)

RESOURCES: Followers 3: On Yik Tong, Refuge 3: Underground maze and Pun Yee Curio Shop; Wealth 3

TALENTS: Charismatic, Chinese Black Magic (Magical Aptitude), Incorporeal (Cannot be injured with physical attacks, but is susceptible to energy weapons), Iron Will, Vampiric (If he occupies the same space as a character, he can attack with a contested WILL check to drain Health from his target and add it to his [if injured.] )

FLAWS: Dream Form, Hedonist, Inscrutable, Obligation, Power Mad

LANGUAGES: Mandarin (native); Cantonese, English, Tibetan

WEAPON: Does need one and couldn’t hold it if he did.

* His defense is based on his Defense and Will, but only energy weapons, sorcery, and psychic abilities can do him harm.

** His Health is a produce of his Intelligence and Charisma.

One thing I see a lot of in game design is a lack of comprehension of firearms and how they do damage. Usually, the thought is “bigger number must mean bigger damage.” You’ll hear this echoed even in the gunnerati out there. (“If it doesn’t start with four and end in five, it’s not enough.”) Bullet punch a hole in things, and bigger holes can mean more bleeding, but they also drop a lot of their energy in a target on the way through creating a “temporary wound cavity. This is the idea behind the “hollow point” or from as they would be called in the 1930s, “dum-dums”; the hole in the front of the bullet acts as a brake, making the bullet fold outward and dropping more hydrostatic energy into the surrounding flesh.

And this means the energy of the bullet is more important than the cross-section (or the “caliber”, for the uninitiated.) That means small and fast bullets can deliver a lot of energy, on par or more than a slower, heavier bullet. (There are years and years of arguing about this going on, right now, on pretty much every gun-related board online.) Fast tends to mean flatter trajectories and more accuracy and well as higher energy; slower, heavier bullets punch a bigger wound channel and it is thought have more “felt energy”, what is sometimes and erroneously called “knockdown power.”

Hollow Earth Expedition gets a lot right in their desire to make weapons stats simple. Statistically, you need about two and a half hits with a pistol to incapacitate a person, and their 3L damage for just about every pistol is about right. Light pistols, which used weaker cartridges like .25 and .32, usually have 2L. If we are kind, and say the break point between 2L and 3L is about 200 ft-lbs. of energy, most of the damage ratings are correct. However, the problem comes when pistols get over 3L in damage. Most of the rifles in Ubiquity get 4L damage for cartridges delivering 1600-3000 ft-lbs. of energy. This is in keeping with the statistical 2 rounds to incapacitation for most rifle rounds. However, even taking the “accuracy as part of the damage” into account, there’s no way a .357 magnum’s 500ish ft-lbs. of energy is doing 5L. This is a case of non-shooters thinking “magnum” means you can shoot through the core of the planet.

So here’s a few suggested corrections you can completely ignore, if you so desire, for the guns of Hollow Earth Expedition.

The Webleys! I own two, and have had another. They’re superb pistols: robust, accurate, but they shoot a 262gr bullet at roughly the speed of smell. (Seriously, if you pay attention, you can see the damned bullet heading downrange.) They’re punching about 250-300 ft-lbs. of energy, depending on the load. That’s still gonna hurt, but it’s not 4L for the .455 round. The Webley’s do 3L. No other changes needed.

S&W .357 Magnum. NO! The muzzle energy is about 500 ft-lbs. for the original loads. That’s still double the usual .38 special, and yes it’s accurate. 4L for damage is much more realistic. And on that note — another round that was designed to increase penetration trough the heavy car hulls of the period was the .38 Super. It used bullets about the same weight as the 9mm Luger, but moving at 1400fps (about the same as the .357 magnum) and had a very flat trajectory. It’s such of straight shooter it is more popular than 9mm in competition shooting. The stats on the weapon on pg. 98 of the Secrets of the Surface World are wrong: Damage: 4L  STR: 2   Rng: 50′   Cap: 8(m)   Rate: M   Speed: A is correct. Alternately, to account for the flat trajectory and full-metal round-nose bullets, you could give it a Dam 3L but a Rng 75′, which would also work well.

So, by this thinking, shouldn’t the Mauser Broonhandles on pg. 98 have a damage of 4L, Scott? Well, figuring the accuracy into damage (which is why the .38 Super get a boost; their use of full metal round-nose bullets often meant they zipped right through the target without the addition of dropping energy into the surrounding tissue) the answer is a resounding NO. Seriously, shoot one. It’s an ergonomic disaster. The range of 75′ listed is the other reason to give the Mauser a 3L; it’s taken into account the accuracy of the weapon in the range stat. This should also be applied to the Mauser 712.

On the same note, the Tokarev TT-30 used a smoking .30 round moving at similar speeds to the .38 Super, but again with FMJ rounds meaning they zipped right through their target. The TT-30 in pg. 110 of SotSW should read: Damage: 3L   Str: 2   Rng: 75′   Cap: 8(m)   Rate: M   Speed: A

Things get worse in the military section of the book. The Lee-Enfield rifle is given an anemic 3L damage…for a rifle pushing 3000 ft-lbs of energy and which was extremely accurate. I know. I own one. Damage for this and the Lewis gun (which also used the .303 British round) should be 4L, as should the Hotchkiss M1914 and other French rifles. The Japanese Nambu rifles were terrible on accuracy and deserve their 3L for that reason, but their rage should be 100′. The Arasaka deserves a 4L. All of the Russian and US rifles deserve a 4L and 100′ range. PPD-34 damage is correct, but range should be 100′.


We picked up our Hollow Earth Expedition game in San Francisco. The party had arrived from India aboard USS Macon, the States’ premiere aerial aircraft carrier, and landed at Moffett Airfield. Waiting for them was another senior officer, Dr. Lancaster, of the Office of Scientific Investigations — the new organization that Zelansky (the team’s “leader”) works for — and some FBI guys to protect them while they are in the States. Also here is a gaggle of press here to record the joyful reunion of aviation legend Wiley Post and his wife and daughter, who had been brought to California courtesy of his friend and famed American humorist, Will Rogers.

We got a couple of tidbits about the OSI during this scene, and the organization could be useful for those looking for a group that could provide characters with a mission to attack. (This group was created for our particular campaign, but could be tweaked for any setting…)


Created in 1934, the OSI was a response to the return of the Byrd Expedition from the Hollow Earth and the subsequent appearance of the “the Second Earth”, Atlantia, which “phased” through the Earth to form a new planet, following Earth at about 20º behind our world. The office was created under the War Department, and pulls personnel from the military and civilian sectors. The Director of the OSI is Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, and there are several “projects” that are studying scientific and archeological or technological artifacts related to the Atlantia and the ancients that had constructed the “Hollow Earth” (what is now thought to have been a pocket dimension created inside the planet for purposes unknown.)

These projects use code-names from various US cities for communications.

ATLANTA: This is a field research group led by Dr. Edmund Zelansky that is investigating phenomenon left over from Atlantia’s passage through the Earth, mostly in the Pacific and Asia. BOSTON: This is a project set up in Huntingdon Park, California on the site of the Goodyear airship plant. They are researching flight-orineted technologies taken from the Atlantean flying saucers recovered during the Byrd Expedition. CHARLESTOWN: This is a Manhattan-based project headed by Nikola Tesla to research electrical and telluric-based weapons and communications systems. DENVER: This is a biomedical project researching the various life forms that were returned from the Hollow Earth, and the biological markers of certain people that seem to be able to activate and control Atlantean technology. EASTON: The counter-espionage division of OSI. Most of the personnel are pulled from the FBI or Naval Intelligence.

The OSI has a smaller budget than the military, but is still adequate to keep scientists and field agents active, as well as operate a small fleet of airplanes and the former naval airship Los Angeles. The headquarters of OSI are in Washington, DC, with offices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The characters were taken by bus into San Francsico, 20 minutes away, where they were put up in the Fairmont Hotel in Nob Hill. Despite the FBI’s requests that they all stay at the hotel, the characters — minus Post — headed out to see the sights. Post and his family stayed at the hotel to enjoy a meal with the Rogers, Will and his wife.

First stop: Chinatown, only a few blocks away. The characters found the place very like Shanghai, save cleaner and with more run down buildings. The addition of cowboys to the landscape was startling. (Remember, San Fran was a port town, but most of California was still very much a Western place.) Cointreau was looking to try out his studies of tantric “magic” he had picked up in Shianking. They quickly found a brothel of sufficient quality for the actor. The others grabbed a small meal in a local restaurant, then headed to the Tenderloin and the nightclubs. Before they leave the neighborhood, however, Pin-Lee sees a fox, of all things, standing in the middle of the road, apparently completely unnoticed by everyone but him. The fox is staring at him, then disappears into the crowd.

Post, meanwhile, finished his meal with his family and returned to his room. He noted the FBI had changed shifts while they were gone, and a giant of a man was keeping them safe. Before he could settle in to get reacquainted with his wife, Agent Parker, called him into Zelansky’s room to speak with him. Inside, he found three miscreants ransacking the room and stealing the scientists’ notes and the books and artifacts he’d brought back from Tibet. The giant man proceeded to slam Post against the wall and show him a photograph of a young woman, asking “Is this the woman in Shianking?” He confirmed that the woman, Olga Markova, was Queen Morana of Shianking. This seemed to agitate the “FBI guy” who tells him to keep his mouth shut and walk. Post, however, noticed the .38 snubnose on the man’s belt and quickly snatches it away, Holding the men at bay, he attempted to exit the room, but Parker lunged and Post shot him dead center in the chest. It put the man on his keister…but didn’t kill him!

Post back out of the room to find another FBI agent (he assumes) shooting at him. Thus begins a foot chase through the hotel, with the second agent blasting .38s at Post in the grand stairwell to the lobby. Post escapes the hotel and jumps onto a passing cable car, jumping out on the other side. He is spotted by the bad guys, who have exited the Fairmont, and rush to pile into a ’34 Oldsmobile. Post beats feet — he’s shot a guy and he’s a former convict who served a year for armed robbery…this could go badly.

He runs into the group returning from the Tenderloin, drunk and singing Irish songs in Chinese. Before he can explain what’s happening, the Olds comes around the corner and tries to run them all down. The team dives into an alley nearby, and the thugs from the Oldsmobile jump out of the car to chase them. In the ensuing fight, Veitch (their mechanic) tries to brain the gunman of the mooks with a trash can, but misses. “Irish” O’Bannon, their pilot and Pin-Lee, their Chinese fighter and Shanghai movie stunt man, punch the guys lights out and chase off the others. They find Zelansky’s stuff in the back seat floor well in pillow cases. They grab up the unconscious gunman and hop into the Olds to get out of the area as they faintly hear approaching sirens.

What to do? Zelansky wants to get to Moffett Field and protect his data, but Pin-Le wants to collect Cointreau. He’s on his own, and who knows what might be happening. They drive to Chinatown, where O’Bannon and Pin-Lee go looking for the actor. Post, Veitch, and Zelansky, meanwhile, dump the gunman into the trunk of the car, drawing attention but no action from bystanders — but this is Chinatown. No one is talking to the cops here. Pin-Lee learns they sent Cointreau to another place that could handle his unusual requests. It turns out to be in a tight alley that the Old almost can’t fit in.

The brothel is run by a staggeringly beautiful Chinese woman with gold eyes. Cointreau is here, in the back. She completely entrances Veitch and Pin-Lee, but O’Bannon’s got a job to do and barrels past, dragging Veitch with him…and right into the middle of four Chinese hatchtmen. Pin-Lee finds himself in a hell of a kung fu fight with the woman, who he suddenly realizes has little golden foxes embroidered on her red qipo — could she be a huli jing? One of the fox spirits he dad told stories about. Maybe he should have listened to his father more!

Outside, post and Zelansky are attacked by eight hatchetmen with various martial arts implements. Post guns the Old and rolls over a few of their assailants, but two get onto the roof. Zelansky puts a .38 through the roof (and the man’s sensitive areas). Post almost get hit by a weird chain weapon with a metal hand/claw. He throws it in reverse and runs down a few more bad guys. Again, forward, then back until they are out of opponents. A four ton Oldsmobile is a hell of a weapon. (The framing on the scene was every time the characters in the brothel were looking to ward the door, the Olds was smoking tires in direction or the other. It amused the hell out of them.)

O’Bannon and Veitch take on the hatchetmen and drop them in a vicious but short martial arts fight, then with Pin-Lee face off against the woman, who easily knocks O’Bannon on his ass. Realizing all of her mooks are down, she tells them she’ll “see them later”, and races off, turning into a fox! on the way out. They search the brothel, but Cointreau is no longer here. A few admit to having seen him, but no one saw him leave. They throw one of the still living hatchetmen in the trunk with the angry gunman, who has been getting thrown around the trunk during the fray.)

They take the Olds to Moffett Field and spend an hour in shore patrol custody when they arrive with crazy stories, no ID (it’s lost somewhere in Tibet), and a couple of hostages in the trunk of their stolen car. Dr. Lancaster finally shows up to intervene. The FBI are interrogating their prisoners. They’re not being kittens about it, either; the man mountain Post shot and his friends killed their two agents. They learn that the attack on the Fairmont was composed of a few dock workers who were hired by “Parker” – actually a Soviet agent named Dmitri Denisovitch. The Chinese assailant didn’t say much, but they did learn he is part of the On Yik Tong.

With not much to go on, the group is finally released and heads back to San Francisco to find out where their friend is. They take time to stop at a gun store and strap up…

That’s where we left it for the night, with the start of my version of Big Trouble in Little China, 1936. With Cointreau playing Miaow Yin.

Ming Yao

Archetype: Huli Jing     Motivation: Mischief     Health: 5

ATTRIBUTES: Body: 2  Dexterity: 4  Strength: 3  Charisma: 6  Intelligence: 2  Will: 3

SECONDARY ATTRIBUTE: Size: 0 Move: 7  Perception: 7  Initiative: 6  Defense: 6  Stun: 3

SKILLS: Acrobatics 8, Athletics 4 (Running 5), Con 10, Linguistics 6, Martial Arts (Fox form Kung Fu) 8, Performance 10, Stealth 8, Streetwise 6, Survival 4


TALENTS: Attractive, Captivate, Charismatic, Feeds on Breath: (contested WILL test to steal Health), Nigh Immortal (Can take damage to -10), Shapechanging (She can change from fox form to human; she can look like anyone female) , Skill Mastery (Performance)

FLAWS: Curious, Impulsive, Lustful, Vow

LANGUAGES: Cantonese, Mandarin, Tibetan, English

WEAPONS: Claws — Dam: 1L


While I’m not especially interested in the pageantry and self-congratulatory nonsense of the Academy Awards, particularly as they’ve become a never-ending platform for vapid people’s political opinions, I do truly enjoy movies and the artistry and workmanship that go into them. The last year was a pretty good year, as well, for films and I’ve gotten to see a lot of the them.

So here’s the list, who I suspect will win and who should, and who should have been nominated but wasn’t.

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name” (This is the one I suspect will win, without even seeing it. The subject matter will make it dear to the acting community’s hearts.)
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk” (This was an excellent film for the strange way time was used and the exceptional sound design.)
“Get Out” (This is the one I want to win. It’s a great debut for Jordan Peele, with a solid script, and a nice creepy Hitchcock-flavored bit of suspense. It won’t win, but should.)
“Lady Bird” (Did anyone actually finish this movie..?)
“Phantom Thread” (Daniel Day Lewis in another period piece.)
“The Post” (Reporters courageously being creative in the face of Nixonian evil. If Call Me doesn’t win, this might just because of the political climate. Resist and all that…)
“The Shape of Water” (It’s pretty, the acting is good, but it’s Starman…but with carboard vilains. What, the ’50s weren’t a stellar time for civil rights? That’s a brave stance, Guillermo! I wanted to like it, but it’s overrated in the extreme.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Haven’t seen it. Supposedly the performances are tremendously good, and it’s Martin McDonagh writing.)

What should have been nominated (but not win) was Blade Runner 2049. It took the source material and used the themes better and more subtly, blended the look and music seamlessly to make it seem a natural extension of the original, had performances on par with anything in the list above, and was a good detective story on top of that.

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread” (Dan, seriously…leave someone else to win an Oscar.)
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out” (This guy should win. Period. His work in this movie is superb.)
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” (If they don’t give it to Day-Lewis, this will probably be Oldman’s year, just on the strength of his long career of good work.)
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (It’s Denzel. He’s always solid. He’s no Kaluuya.)

Who should have been nominated (but not win): Hugh Jackman for Logan. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Jackman does some of his best work. The other good performance overlooked was James MacAvoy in Split — he’s playing multiple characters and his posture and the way he shifts he face, you know which character you’re looking at before he speaks. Brilliant.

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” (She won’t get it, but should.)
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (She’ll get it.)
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Hawkins is simply amazing in Shape. She and Jenkins are the things that elevate this film, outside of Del Toro’s always-amazing eye. I think Sylvia Hoeks deserved a nomination (but not a win) for her work as Luv in Blade Runner 2049. BR was a movie with good performances by all of the female cast, but Hoeks really stood out. The other actress that got shafted because it was a genre film was Dafne Keen in Logan. A first timer knocking it out of the park while starring with Jackman and Stewart, both doing some of (if not the) best work of their careers? Come on…

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water” (Great performance. Probably won’t win.)
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World” (He might, based on a fantastic performance turned in during last minute shoots and a lifetime of good work.)
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Where the f*** is Patrick Stewart for Logan? I had a father with Alzheimers and he nailed it…he deserved a nomination but not a win. (“Hey, Scott, do you think Logan was one of the better movies of the year or something?” YES, and not because it was a superhero movie — it was a Western noir/road trip/family in crisis movie…that also had superheroes.) Between the contenders, I think Jenkins should probably win.

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water” (Probably going to win.)

Strangely, I can’t think of a female supporting role that really stood out this year. There were a lot of solid performances and roles, but nothing that made me say “Ooo!”, unlike the lead actresses (Hawkins and Hoeks, especially.)


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan (It really should be between this and Get Out.)
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele (For a directorial debut to be this good, he deserves it.)
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro (I think Del Toro wins this one, if only on the strength of the visuals and technical aspects of the film.)

Denis Villeneuve should have been up for Blade Runner 2049. Maybe not a win-worthy movie, but it’s a brilliant technical achievement that blends an original story to the iconic source material, and manages to do it better. That’s not nothing.

Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito (No. Read the book.)
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman (I suspect this one wins.)

Can we just start nominating the CGI-heavy Marvel movies for this category? They’re damned close…and what, no Monster Trucks!?! (Who thought that was even a good title, much less an idea?) The obvious one missing here is The Lego Batman Movie, which did all of the Batman themes better than the live action movies . It shouldn’t win, but it should have been nominated, especially over Boss Baby.

Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

I have not seen any of these, so I can’t opine.

Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory (Another win, just because of the material.)
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green (This should win. It won’t.)
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

What should have been nominated: Geof Johns and Allan Heinberg for Wonder Woman. That men wrote women that well — they should get a nomination but not a win.

Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele (He should win. Period.)
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor (The story is awful, the villain is cliche, so no — he shouldn’t win.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh (McDonagh’s a great writer with a fantastic ear for language. It should probably be between him and Peele this year.)

The other screenplay should be here is Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. Seriously, see it. And Hell or High Water, which is even better.


“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins (This should win, hands down. It won’t.)
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen (This is the winner.)

Best Documentary Feature:

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Haven’t seen any of these, so no opinion.

Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Haven’t seen any, no opinion.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Haven’t seen any of these, no opinion. I have a friend who suggests Dunkirk should have been in this category for the impenetrable (to him) English and Scottish accents.

Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss (This should win, but won’t.)
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith (I think this is a possible win.)
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky (I suspect this wins.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green (It should be between this and Dunkrik.)
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King (This should be the winner.)
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

This is actually one I have a strong opinion on. Dunkirk makes brilliant use of sound. The gunfire is piercingly loud and realistic (except for the scene in the boat, where it’s too loud; the gunshots would be muffled, with the sound of the bullets coming through the metal being more pronounced.) The music and sound all work together to continually ratchet up the tension. This movie is a masterpiece of how to use sound and music.

Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo (I suspect this wins…and should.)
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola (This should be far and away the winner. It won’t be.)
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau (Wins.)

One that got shafted here was Ghost in the Shell, which might not have been a success, but had amazing design work on par with Blade Runner 2049.

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer (This should win, if you take it in context with how it propels the movie. Removed from that, it won’t win.)
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat (I think this wins.)
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams (This is a good contender for obvious reasons.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Don’t actually care on this one.

Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten


Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges (It’s a movie about a fashion designer. Win.)
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle (Win if they don’t give it to Phantom Thread.)

Visual Effects:

I was remiss in posting a play report from last week, so I’m going to combine that and this week… The game group picked up a new member the past two weeks, bringing us to seven. This is the largest group I’ve had in the last seven year, and managing pace and crosstalk always becomes a problem once you get over the 4 players and a GM. The new guy is new to gaming, and I needed a fast way to bring him into the action. This was going to be difficult, since they group had just been transported via the Eye of Shambala, an ancient Atlantean device, to said location in the Kunlun Mountains.


The group found themselves surrounded by blue gi-clad monks in a fantastical valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. A few minutes later, another set of monks brought a palanquin to the site. From this dismounted a tall woman, dressed neck to ground in a leather dress and cape. On her chest, the eight pointed star with Tibetan swastika — the symbol of Atlantis. She welcomed them to Shianking, and introduced herself as Queen Morana. Zelansky immediately realized that this was the empress consort of Mot, the Emperor of Atlantis. (More below…) Her attention is primarily on Veitch, the mechanic for the group, who has Atlantean blood and can activate their technology.

They are escorted to the massive building, the royal residence, they are told. They also notice a giant airplane, stopped just at the lip of the valley over a ravine into which the waterfalls of the place fall. It’s big and utilitarian, with the red star of the Soviet Union on it. Under the wings, it carried two small fighters. Morana will tell them the Soviets had come calling and were dealt with. (Zelansky knows Morana has a long history with the Soviets from OSI reports.) Inside the residence, they pass dozens of people; she’s got hundreds of people here, they estimate. Most are Chinese, but there are the Western/Oriental faces of Central Asians: Kazaks, Kyrgiz, a few Russians, she will tell them. There’s also dozens of Vril, residents of the former Hollow Earth. These people were left on Earth, as she was, when the “Interior World” phased through Earth and eventually settled into the same orbit as Earth.

One person stands out. He is obviously a Westerner, dressed much like the others. He has a slight limp and his left eye has a weird cast to it. He immediately tried to interact with them. This was the new guy, and I needed a reason for him to be here, but for him to have a “normal” enough background that the player could jump into the 1930s, but fantasy, setting of the game. I decided to use a real-life figure, an aviator that had been brought down and rescued by the monks. (A classic pulp fiction trope.) After some research, I wrote the new guy up the famed aviator, Wiley Post. (See the Wiley Post…post.)

He has been stuck in Shianking, as the Chinese call it, or Shambala, as the Central Asian call it for three years, ever since the “Ghost World” phased out of the Earth right in front of his Lockheed Vega. He had been on a solo circumnavigation, the first in history, testing the next autopilot and radio direction finding system Sperry Gyroscope Company was developing when the plane was crippled and he crashed. Days later he came to in Shambala, badly injured but miraculously still alive. He healed at an extraordinary rate. Something about the place encouraged life. The monks had taken in the many others that were suddenly left in the mountains by the Ghost World, including Morana. The queen quickly won over the men and Post later relates to them she has an uncanny ability to know what people want and helps them achieve it. Over the last three years, she took control of the monastery from the masters, then led expeditions into the surrounding areas to gain more adherents. She instigated the Soviet expedition to the valley — two Tupolev TB-3s, one with the fighters, but the other was loaded with paratroopers. They were quickly cut down by her people, and she forced the pilots of the second plane to land.

Some say she’s a sorceress, and Post would have thought that ridiculous, except he’s seen it. She can bend people’s will, make them see things. She can heal people with a touch, but he’s heard she can also take that life away. She wins her followers over with ease, and even he has been tempted to join her. The only thing that helped him resist is the desire to get back to his wife and child.. His escape attempts were hampered by the mountains. The altitude is too high, and it is too cold, to venture over; the valley, for some reason, has sea level pressure. He knows there is a tunnel out of the valley, but he has been unable to discover it.

Morana appeals to their desires: Veitch wants to feel important, and is insanely curious about the Atlanteans and the ability to use these gates to get to other worlds. That’s why she wants him:  to get back to Atlantis, her empire, and her son. For Zelansky, she tempts him with the massive library of ancient tomes, scrolls, and maps. For Cointreau, with a touch, she gives him the greatest pleasure he has ever felt. She knows this is what he wants — an escape from the world, his memories of the Great War, and his own cowardice. Pin-Lee and “Irish” O’Bannon, however, are not so easily swayed. For the next few days, they explore the valley and the various buildings, while Veitch and Zelansky pour through the library. There are hundreds of loyal followers, and they hope that some day the queen will lead them out of the city to spread their bounties to the world.

Finally, realizing the trap the place it, O’Bannon and Pin-Lee push for the group to attempt escape. Post has been unable to get to the airplane due to the well-trained monk warriors watching it. He’s only one man, but with six of them, they just might be able to do it. O’Bannon and Veitch act as a distraction, allowing Post, Contreau, and Pin-Lee to slip past and sound out the TB-3. It still has bladders full of fuel and appears to be functional. the machine guns are even still in place! The next day, they make good their escape, slipping onto the Tupolev and risking a dangerous launch with not enough runway. They just manage to take off, even with Morana using her enchantments to try and prevent them, and just clear the mountains around the valley.

That was the end of one night’s play…

We picked up this week with the TB-3 flying through the night sky toward Lhasa. The plane has no heat, they are flying at about 14,000 feet, and the cockpit on the Tupolev is open to the sky. Post and O’Bannon are trading pilot duties every 30 minutes to avoid frostbite and to keep each other sharp. Zelansky wired their findings in code to the OSI, and informed the British legation in Lhasa they were on route. (It wouldn’t do to just show up in a Soviet bomber, would it?) Five hours of flying, with Cointreau trying to cope with the idea that he would never feel that kind of pleasure again, and Pin-Lee trying to get his friend to snap out of it.

They land in Lhasa in the middle of the night and are met by one of the British. Yet again, there is another plane on the field outside of Lhasa — the TB-3 parked next to the Boeing they brought, parked next to the abandoned S-38 from the last campaign, next to the hulk of the Nazi Fokker Trimotor from the last campaign. Once they are back in the British legation, the characters got warm, drunk, and learned that the Brits had been searching for them for the last couple of days, as they hadn’t returned from their trip to the Gardong Monastery. According to the monks, they had been shown the artifact, then left (not actually a lie.) They assumed bandits had gotten them. Post took advantage of their hospitality to fire off a telegram to inform his family he was still alive. (Fortunately, at this time, US law was that without a body, a person was not officially dead for seven years.)

The next day, they were called to General Yama, the head of the Tibetan army. The old warrior knows about the Eye, their interest, and that they had an altercation with the monks before going through it. He wants to know where they went. While the others tried to shine him on, Pin-Lee immediately pointed out the location of Shianking and informed them about the danger of Morana and her followers. Yama points out the Eye is Tibetan property and gives them 24 hours to get out of the country. On returning to the legation building, Post got a telegram from his wife — she and his daughter were alive and well in Oklahoma, and doing well thanks to the generosity of his friend Will Rogers, and his sponsors, the US Mail Service and Texaco. They were waiting for him to come home!

The group them hatched a plan to try and find the Eye and perhaps abscond with it. Zelansky was worried about the international implications; this could be considered an act of war! Veitch took parts from the S-38’s Wasp radial engine to maintain the motors on the Beoing, while Post readied the Tupolev. Then O’Bannon and Post took the Boeing and did aerial reconnaissance, easily finding the monks and their Tibetan escort that were moving the Eye to a new location by mule-drawn wagons. The size and weight, Veitch has estimated, would allow it to be secured to the TB-3 under the fuselage between the forward landing gear, and after finding the Eye, they radioed to the others to come in. Veitch had serious issues flying the Tupolev slow enough to make a run at the caravan moving the Eye, but Cointreau managed to give them a warning strafe with the forward machine guns. One of the guards returned fire with Veitch’s coilgun, tearing up the observation dome in the nose of the plane and nearly killing Zelansky and Pin-Lee. At that point, Cointreau did something he hadn’t since the Great War: he mowed a few of the guards down with the machine guns. This was enough to take the fight out of the Tibetans.

Landing the Tupolev and Boeing, they quickly established they couldn’t get Veitch near the Eye or it would activate. The others used block and tackle to get the Eye affixed to the bomber, then O’Bannon flew the thin, while Post took the others, and they managed to make the 400 mile flight to Calcutta. Zelansky radioed ahead to get the US consulate involved, hoping to prevent the British from snapping up the Eye. He’d realized the likelihood the Chinese officials would impound it was high.

In Calcutta, they were met by consulate officials and marine guards, as well as British officials. One of the men was attached to the OSI, and informed them the Eye would be kept safe until their transport back to the States arrived. Admiral Byrd already had things in motion. They spent two days in India and the OSI offered to have them all return to the States for debriefing in California. Cointreau was in; Hollywood is in California! Pin-Le was in; he wanted paid! The rest were willing to head to the States to find out more about what the hell was going on.

Their ride turned out to be ZR-5, the USS Macon — America’s most advanced airship (which thanks to our alternate history, had modifications made to it that prevented her crash in 1935.) captained by Commander Herbert Wiley, the man who had commanded USS Los Angeles during the Hollow Earth expedition in the last campaign. Wiley was ecstatic to meet Post, a famed aviator and a bit of a legend. Post was similarly impressed to see Macon, which was still under construction when he disappeared.


There was some description of life in the airship, some of the technological bits and bobs that interested the aviators (and the gearheads in the gaming group) while they flew their 8200 miles back to San Francisco, with a stop in the middle of the Pacific to tank off of a replenishment ship with the Yorktown aircraft carrier group. Finally, they flew over the Golden Gate bridge and arrived at the massive hangers of Moffett Field, where OSI and FBI agents were waiting for them, as well as the press who were waiting to capture the teary reunion between Post and his family.

We ended there for the evening, with the promise of supersicence at the “Barstow Project” down near Los Angeles. (Zelansky’s field group is the Atlanta Project.) But there’s also San Francisco and a chance for some mischief…

One of the things I’ve been doing as I research for Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean and while doing game prep for our weekly game is looking for the weird and forgotten airplanes of the ’20s and ’30s. One of the truly beastly looking craft I ran into was the Tupolev TB-3, a Russian heavy bomber that was first flown in the 1932. It was supposed to be retired by 1939, but they wound up serving the Russian Air Force through the Second World War, often as a paratrooper platform. It could carry up to 4000 lbs and still hit a service ceiling was considered 16,000′.

But it was the brutally ugly, utilitarian look of the ship that really got my attention. That and they would occasionally sling two I-16 fighters under the wings so they could carry them long distances into combat. It had an open cockpit on the top for the two pilots, an open air nose gun emplacement, and a air of domed turrets amidships. There was a door on each side, just above the rear edge of the wing to allow people to walk out onto the wing to parachute off the plane by sliding off the wing (see below.) But really….look at this monster:


So, of course this thing had to find a way into my game…here’s the stats (RNG is range, CEIL is ceiling.)


The TB-3 turrets had a pair of belt-fed 7.62x54mm ShKAS machineguns, as did the forward emplacement. Undercarriage turrets were sometimes included, giving the aircraft 6-8 guns. It could carry up to 10,000 lbs of bombs if the plane was stripped down to carry them, but the usual load was 4,000 of bombs. The specs on the paired ShKAS machineguns: Dam: 4L  Str: 3  Rng: 100′  Cap: 64(b)  Rate: A  Spd: A  Wt: 20 lb.

They could be reconfigured as troop or passenger carriers (designated the Antonov-6) and held 36 people, not including the four man crew. The most ridiculous load was a variant that carried the Polikarpov I-16 “Rat” fighters under the wings. The fighters could be dropped by the pilots with a pull of a release lever for action. The Rats would then have to land normally; they could not reconnect, like the Curtis Sparrowhawk could with the American Macon-class airship.