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2017-01-20 10:52 pm

RIP Larry Smith

I've been in the habit of making a list of books to look for at Larry's tables at various conventions. I'm still a bit dazed by the news, as we saw him at Arisia and at GAFilk before that.
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2017-01-04 11:44 pm

Team Tremontaine: Swordsmen, Scholars, and Social Media -- and musings on last few episodes

This week's challenges:

Challenge 1: Would you rather be a Swords-person or a scholar? Discuss!

Really, it's not as if one can't be both.

Challenge 2: What social media sites would the characters use? Feel free to either write a post describing their habits, or create a post/tweet/image as if you were one of them.

Here Be Spoilers )
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2017-01-04 10:55 pm

Recent Reading


67. City of Wolves by Willow Palecek. Intriguing and enjoyable -- I'm hoping for more in that world.
68. Reread of H. P. Lovecraft's "Horror at Red Hook" and Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom.
69. Devils & Realist #10
70. Whitehall by Liz Duffy Adams, Delia Sherman, Barbara Samuel, Mary Robinette Kowal, Madeleine Robins, and Sarah Smith. I am trying to figure out why I like this one. I know the history, and I don't care for most of the actual people. But every other week, I'd gobble down two installments. It worked best for me two at time, for some reason.
71. Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. I need to reread this.
72. Bloody Mary #4
73. Alarums & Excursions #491
74. Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire. Oh boy. It's on. When's the next book coming out?
75. Once Broken Faith & Dreams and Slumbers by Seanan McGuire. I'm counting the second as part of the first.
76. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. Reread. Hey, I had to reread the first four so I could read the fifth. This one's an old friend already. Also, some stuff that surprised me in the third and fourth book is very carefully set up here. Or maybe not, and Valente picked up things she put there by accident, which is just as good.
77. Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Meyer
78. Tales of the Caribbean, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios from Golden Goblin Press. I edited this one, and while I've read all of it several times, I'm only counting the final full read through of the final version of the laid out book.
79. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente. reread. I loved this when I read it and appreciated it even more on the reread as I saw how things were set up.
80. Alarums & Excursions #492
81. Medusa's Web by Tim Powers. It's very much a Tim Powers book. Fortunately, I like Tim Powers books.
82. I am counting Justin Alexander's Alexandrian Remix of Pelgrane Press's Trail of Cthulhu campaign Eternal Lies here. If you have read it, I think you will agree that it counts as a feull book. I am itching to run Eternal Lies again, and if I do, I will be using a substantial amount of Justin's material.
83. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne Valente. Reread. I need to do a review of this one. It's the middle child of the family and the one that I didn't like as much the first time through, so I paid careful attention this time. And it's about time. The book, I mean.
84. Lucifer, vol. 1: Cold Heaven by Holly Black, Lee Garbett, Stephanie Hans, and Antonia Fabela
85. Alarums & Excursions #493
86. The Monsterhearts 2nd edition sneak peak pack by Avery Alder. I'm using this for a Monsterhearts game, with 1st edition for whatever's not in it.
87. The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian. I read this as background material for the first part of the Night's Black Agents scenario "The Carmilla Sanction" and it did what it was supposed to, which was give me a better sense of how dangerous mountain climbing is. The book's a parody of the James Bond stuff, but the section on the mountain is in a class by itself.
88. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne Valente. Reread. This felt like an old friend already.
89. Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee. Bisexual teenage superheroics was what I was expecting. There's also a lot of intriguing worldbuilding. Turns out this is the first of a trilogy, and I'll want to read the next two. I'm annoyed that Barnes & Nobles didn't have it on the shelves. Apparently, it's only print on demand, so I ordered it online. (Yeah, B&N would've special ordered it, but at that point, I'm not Right There to catch the book as it falls off the shelf.)
90. Black Butler #23
91. Devils & Realist #11
92. Occult Crimes Taskforce by Rosario Dawson, David Atchinson, and Tony Shasteen. Yes, that Rosario Dawson.
93. The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman. Some authors do set up you can feel sliding into place. Here, stuff I didn't see slid into place, which isn't so much "ah, yes, I was expecting that" as "oh!... That explains a lot that I didn't realize needed explaining, but it totally did!" or "Yeah, I was sort of wondering about that, but I kind of assumed it was just a thing -- and no, there's actually a reason for it!"
94. The Necessary Deaths by David C. Dawson
95. Alarums & Excursions #494
96: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne Valente, as well as a reread of "The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland--For a Little While" (read before this book, but after the first in the series) and "The Beast Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still" (read any time after the first in the series, remembering that, as with Coleridge's "Kubla Khan", the introduction is a part of the work). There are more stories that could be told here, past, present, and future, but this is a fine ending to the series itself.
97. Bloody Mary #5
98. Clover by CLAMP. Oh CLAMP! Sigh. I gather that there were supposed to be 2 more volumes, making this a 6 volume set (well, depending on how you count things -- the existent 4 volumes are collected into a single volume and are in three parts). As with X/1999, which I doubt the work will ever be finished in graphic novel form, I very much want a written summary of where CLAMP was going to go with this. Cyberpunk, dystopic, and all about love. Oh CLAMP.
99. Chobits by CLAMP. Published in 2 large volumes, but I'm considering it one work. Complete, all about love and humanity and some questions that are very good questions and, depending on your point of view, either sidestepped or answered in the only way that counts. Oh CLAMP>
100. The Devourers by Indra Das. Very well done. I'm a sucker for well told stores.


1. Backers' Draft of Dresden Accelerated for Fate. Sweet! I playtested the alpha and beta versions, which were about 96 pages. This is over twice that length, as it has all the material we didn't need for the playtest as well as improvements. We had a blast with the alpha playtest, and documented all our bumps. Moving house happened during the beta, so we didn't have many playtest sessions, which meant we couldn't test the new stuff, but it looked solid and a lot of the bumps were gone. The version I just read looks even better and has a section that was so obviously needed -- and it never occurred to me that this was the case until I read it. At base, the Dresden books are mysteries, so there is a rock solid section on how to use Dresden Accelerated -- and, by extension, Fate in general -- when running mysteries so that things move, rather than stall. And the expansions of Accelerated make me wonder if I should switch my Kerberos Fate game from an Atomic Robo Fate base to a Dresden Accelerated base. Possibly not, but Dresden Accelerated has still taught me a few tricks that will transfer over.
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2016-12-12 03:36 pm

Team Tremontaine: Choices

With thanks to Duchess Tremontaine for her grace and forbearance, here is this week's challenge, somewhat belated.

Major spoilers here )
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2016-11-10 12:45 am

Team Tremontaine: Heroes, Protagonists, and Others

One of the challenges this week is to talk about who we think the hero of season one is and who the hero of season two might be. I'm not sure I'd describe anyone in Tremontaine as The Hero, but let's look at the list.

Details and spoilers )
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2016-11-08 12:55 pm

Tremontaine: Season 2, Episode 3

I've finally written about Season 2, Episode 3 of Tremontaine.

Here be spoilers and ranting )
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2016-10-29 06:30 pm

Team Tremontaine: Current (and Possibly Previous) Challenge

Week 8 Challenge: Shipping in Tremontaine -- and perhaps half credit for week 7: Something I'm curious about

I'm curious about Theodorick de Bertel and Rafe Fenton. Actually, I'm curious about Rafe's University years in general, and about his friends, especially, Joshua, but today, I'm focusing on de Bertel.

Here be Season 1 Spoilers )
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2016-10-15 10:23 pm

Casting Tremontaine

I'm not sure about a lot of these, and I did handicap myself by trying to do most of the core cast. I'd love to know other people's choices. I am presuming time travel technology exists to smooth over any unfortunate matters of the actors' actual ages.

Diane -- I'd go with Michelle Pfeiffer. I'm totally biased.
Will -- James McAvoy.
Rafe -- Honestly, he's the hardest. It's not that there aren't actors who can do it, more a matter of finding the one who seems perfect. I'm going with Harry Treadaway.
Tess -- Tilda Swinton. (Or perhaps Deborah Ann Woll.)
Kaab -- Rosario Dawson.
Vincent -- Peter Facinelli. (I could also see Chris Hemsworth.)
Micah -- Tough cast. A young Bae Doona or Amber Benson could probably do it.
Madeleine -- Could we have Ellen Kushner do a special cameo for her?
Saabim -- LaTanya Richardson Jackson
Joshua -- This is where I'd put Tom Hiddleston. (Or possibly de Bertel.)
Chuleb -- Chadwick Boseman. He's supposed to be almost too young and beautiful. (Unless, of course, you want to keep Boseman for Ahtul / Arthur in season 2.)
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2016-10-11 12:20 pm

Finding Tremontaine

How did I find Tremontaine?
I have always been here.

I don't recall when I bought Swordspoint, but I do remember reading it while walking through a department store, to the annoyance of my mother, who wanted me to pay attention to the clothing shopping we were there to do. Not unreasonable, but... book!

I don't remember whether I read Thomas the Rhymer before or after Swordspoint.

Josh and I went to many of Ellen's readings back when she was working on what we thought of as "the Katherine book". But, that wasn't the Riverside book that came out next. That was The Fall of the Kings, which she and Delia wrote. Well, actually, first the novella version of that came out, and that confused the heck out of me when I read the novel. Now that I've heard the term "proof of concept" applied to the novella, it makes a lot more sense.

But, when I read the novel, I was annoyed that it wasn't The Katherine Book, and annoyed that it wasn't another Swordspoint, and annoyed at a few other things. And normally, that would have been that -- I'd have kept the book on my shelf, reread it in a decade, and realized a few things I hadn't known on a first reread.

Then, it became a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Fiction in a year when only three items made the ballot. (Originally, there were four, but that's a long story for another time.) I'd been on the Adult Fiction committee for... oh my. Eight years already. And, I'd recently read one of the nominees, so it was fresh in my mind, but I felt it was proper to reread the other two. Also, this was the year Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had come out, I think, and while I knew I would read it, I really didn't want to deal with it just then. No, I definitely wanted to reread The Fall of the Kings.

And, to paraphrase James Branch Cabell, it finally dawned on me that perhaps Ellen Kushner did not want to keep writing Swordspoint over and over again, and perhaps she and Delia were not trying to write Swordspoint when they wrote The Fall of the Kings.

With that in mind, I could read the book that was there, not the book I had expected to see. And, it was a much better book than I remembered. Oh, I had some issues and opinions, as well as some questions.

Well, I think Ellen had answered one of the questions privately before I reread the book, and if I were to go into more detail there, she and Delia would probably be honor bound to send a swordsperson to challenge me, which would be unfortunate. I have had fencing lessons, but I think they have too, and if they sent Racheline, that would be particularly unfortunate. I remember being rather proud of myself at having scored a single touch on her the one time we fenced, which almost certainly means she handed me my ass after that. And, while it's possible that she hasn't fenced in a while, neither have I, and I'm fairly sure she's both younger and in better shape than I am.

But, I digress. The point is that I had Opinions, and I started to write them down. And, when I had a long, rambling letter, I emailed it to Ellen. She read it and asked if I'd like to be a beta reader and continuity checker for The Privlege of the Sword, aka The Katherine Book. There was, of course, only one answer.

So, I had the e-manuscript for the book, which I printed out and read. Josh put it on his Device, and read it that way. As this was 2005, tablets weren't quite there yet. He had something that wasn't a Palm Pilot, but was roughly the same size. And, he brought it to the second Glasgow WorldCon, aka Once More, With Ceiling. (That would be another long story.)

We went to Ellen's reading at the convention, of course. She had thought she had a half hour slot, and had planned accordingly, but she actually had an hour slot. This meant that she ran out of reading material. Now, if we had not been there, all would not have been lost -- she would have simply had a longer Q&A session. But, as we were, Josh noted that he had the entire manuscript available on his Device, and which section would she like to read? (In Birmingham, for Tolkien 2005, he looked up something online that folks half remembered. This was before we all had Devices that could do such things.)

And, when The Privilege of the Sword came out, it was even better than the draft I had read, though I was not sure how that was possible. Among other things, Ellen had added a very brief scene that I had not realized needed to be there. She also corrected my copy of the book, as that scene was missing a line in the trade paperback version. (That is to say, she corrected my original copy of the book; I have since acquired two others. It happens.)

I've also read most of the Riverside short stories. I have two in anthologies which I still need to read.

So, when we heard about Tremontaine -- I don't even recall exactly how we heard. Ellen's mailing list? Twitter? Facebook? One of Ellen and Delia's readings? All of the above? It wasn't so much a discovery as a welcome back. There's more, so much more than there had seemed to be.

This should not be a surprise. The City, particularly Riverside, has its roots in our city, New York City. I have always been here. And I am always discovering new things about it.
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2016-09-30 05:42 pm

Bloodwork Back

Hypothesis disproven, which means I know a lot of things it wasn't. I left a message for the doctor letting him know I got the email report of the bloodwork and asking where we go from here.
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2016-09-29 01:05 pm

Saw Doctor

No fever, and heart is fine. Blood pressure a bit high, possibly due to what they called "white coat syndrome" plus before my first meal. Blood taken for tests.
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2016-09-29 05:12 am

Awake, feeling odd

Feeling weird, but not wanting to wake Josh, and doing better sitting up, so going to knock of the almost done of the three projects I'm juggling. It's too similar to what I had in June for my comfort, feeling like I'm wearing armor when I'm really not -- pressing and constricting -- and waves of scaredness and the odd tingling and not-quite-tingling. Could be digestive, cyclical, something else -- we never did figure out what it was in June. Jotting this down here and in blog so I've a record if I need one.
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2016-09-25 04:06 am

Team Tremontaine: Choice Real Estate

The challenge that interested me this week was to create a real estate ad. So, with much help from [livejournal.com profile] mneme (i. e., if you're laughing, he probably wrote that bit):

Two rooms in Riverside, unexpectedly vacated. Slight bloodstains, but right next to Three Dogs. Two flights up, reasonably steady. Floor is almost flat. Roof almost intact, dry except when it rains. Fully furnished, some clothing available, all on an as-in basis. Neighbors friendly or extra friendly for a modest fee. Several other eateries in semi-safe walking distance, one of which will deliver. Requires three months deposit, two months if you drop the names of the previous occupants. One month deposit if you can tell me where those bastards went.
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2016-09-25 03:34 am

Cataloging Files

I've finished re-cataloging my non-RPG ebooks. Re-cataloging the RPG ebooks will be a bit trickier.

I've got multiple versions of several files because publishers have figured out that one of the advantages of ebooks is that mistakes can be corrected and a new file uploaded and because I keep many of the old versions. So, the first thing I'm going to have to do is create a file to archive old versions.

After that, I'm going to want to rethink how the current versions are organized. The most logical way is alphabetically, by game name or system name, but this isn't exactly how I do it. Sometimes, it's by game name or system name. Sometimes, it's by publisher. Sometimes, it's by category.

So, while I have Apocalypse World in the folder for lumpley games, I have all of the Apocalypse World hacks in a folder called AW Hacks. The Fate folder is... let's just say complicated. The Cthulhu folder has a whole bunch of subfolders for Lovecraftian games, but it's also got, in the Pelgrane subfolder, folders for other Pelgrane games, like Time Watch. But, Hillfolk has its own folder, even though it's also a Pelgrane game. I've also got folders for some authors, like Jenna Moran and Greg Stolze and Dennis Detwiller. And various Bundles of Holding have their own folders, only sometimes put inside of other folders.

This means I need to figure out whether to go with more consistency or more familiarity, and if the former, exactly what kind of consistency I'm aiming for. Still, this is necessary, as I do want to re-catalog everything. There's a lot of stuff I get via Bits-n-Mortar or various Bundles or as freebies that I simply lose track of. I want to know what I already have.
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2016-09-19 06:05 pm

Team Tremontaine -- Sneak Peek at Tremontaine Season 2

I read Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint more years ago than I care to remember, and memories of the book are tangled with memories of wandering in the department store where I was reading it, with my mother trying to get me to focus on shopping for whatever clothing we wanted to buy. There are now two more novels and several short stories set in the world of Riverside -- and then, there's Tremontaine.

Tremontaine is serialized fiction set 15 years before Swordspoint, available from Serial Box. The first episode of season one is free, both text and audio version. It's written by Ellen Kushner and several other talented writers, and read by amazing voice actors.

Season two will be starting soon, and I joined TremonTEAM, which got me an early look at the first chapter of that season and a request to write about it. I am assuming anyone reading this summary has read at least the first season of Tremontaine.

Here be spoilers... )
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2016-08-15 03:38 pm

Recent Reading

56. Grandville Noir, by Bryan Talbot
57. Alarums & Excursions #489
58. The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School by Kim Newman
59. Devils & Realist, Vol. 9
60. Black Butler, Vol. 22
61. The Ancient Magus' Bride, Vol. 1
62. Prince's Gambit, by C. S. Pascat
63. Flashman at the Charge, by George MacDonald Fraser
64. Flashman in the Great Game, by George MacDonald Fraser
65. Kings Rising, by C. S. Pascat
66. Alarums & Excursions #490
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2016-08-12 01:35 am

RPGaDay 2016, Days 1-10

Here are my answers for #RPGaDay 2016 for the first ten days of the month.

Unless otherwise specified, I am limiting answers to "after GenCon 2015".

1. Real Dice, Dice App, Diceless: How do you prefer to roll?

Real dice for mechanics involving dice, though I will play some card based games, and I'll use apps occasionally.

2. Best game session since August 2015?

If this does not include August 2015, then Brendan Conway's Masks game at the 2015 Metatopia, followed by Dreamation 2016's Fall of Magic and Fellowship. If it does include August 2015, then I add GenCon 2015 sessions: Morgan Ellis's SW FAE, Clockwork: Dominion's "In for a Penny", the Luther Arkwright game where Josh and I played John Steed and Emma Peel, Scott Acker's run of Don't Rest Your Head's "The Bad Man", and Todd Furler's Unknown Armies game "Luciano Fernandez, Demon Hunter".

3. Character moment you are proudest of?

Ask me tomorrow and you will get a different answer. Today: In "Highland Spirits" for Clockwork: Dominion on Saturday morning at GenCon, when the PCs were giving a sidhe lord gifts that had meaning and story, I pondered my character's possessions, listed on the sheet. This was a con artist, with calling cards in several names, male and female. I decided that would be the gift and said, in character: I have been all these people.

It wasn't until today that I realized how very appropriate that is for a roleplaying game at GenCon.

4. Most impressive thing another's character did?

This is the hardest of the first 8. So many good gamers! I'm going with two:

At Dreamation, in Fellowship, Tony Lower-Basch was playing The Halfling, and Michael McDowell was playing The Heir, whose people had ancestral memories in their minds going back many generations. Players create bonds between PCs by answering preset questions.

For the Halfling, this was: I once told a lie so good Delphine _still_ thinks it's true: Halflings are just the first step down. There are quartrlings and eighthlings. You'll never see them although they live in your cities.

And the Heir's player immediately responded, as if stunned by the realization: And I don't remember them so it must be true!

Thursday at GenCon 2016, one player in the Clockwork: Dominion scenario "Witch Hunt", a black man, demonstrated how to play a bigot, prejudiced against folks with inhuman features and powers, sure, but more prejudiced against a half-Indian half-British man, in such a way that:

*No one was made to feel inappropriately uncomfortable. (Appropriate discomfort is, well, appropriate.)
*No direct ethnic slurs were used.
*Indeed, nothing intended to insult anyone in character was said; rather, sincere statements intended by the character to be complimentary were made.
*The character never acted against the group.
*The player did not, IMO, hog the limelight, but made sure to hand it off / pass it around.
*The player did not bring the plot to a halt. In character banter did slow things down a bit, but that was all of us having fun, so far as I could tell.
*The player acted to move things along. Granted, this was not always in the optimal direction from a tactical or strategic point of view, but he was good about allowing the character to be reined in and redirected.
*And, with all that, it was always very clear that this was a racist man, and that the character's unfortunate attitudes were not endorsed by any of us, including his player.

This is a very tricky thing to pull off. Real world issues and learning experiences aside, although these are not irrelevant, I need to remember this the next time I play a character whose prejudices are a substantial part of what he is, and I need to remember this as an interesting option when playing a Slytherin.

5. What story does your group tell about your character?

... I have no idea. I do a fair bit of the gming.

6. Most amazing thing a gaming group did for their community?

Double Exposure may not technically be a gaming group, but it has raised the bar in outreach and making conventions as accessible and safe as possible.

7. What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?

The community: being able to trade ideas and learn, as a gm, as a player, as a writer, as an editor, as a member of a varied community. Apart from local groups, this probably started with Alarums & Excursions, edited by Lee Gold.

8.Hardcover, softcover, or digital? What is your preference?

Softback and sturdy, with digital loaded simultaneously. I do like lays flat binding.

9. Beyond the game, what's involved in an ideal session?

Being on the same page as the other gamers. This allows for flexibility and improvisation, but also for building on what each other does. A comfortable gaming space, but not so comfortable folks doze. Food is optional, but liquid is not. A meal after the game or other post game decompression activity can be good. Wrapping to a good resolution or cliffhanger. Respect. Remembering details, but not being stuck on them.

10. Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

As a player:

A. In Aviatrix's Eternal Lies game, there were two (and these are non-spoilery, being specific to her game): Discovering my PC had a sister (sort of) and that the sister was (possibly) the actual Chosen One, and learning the my PC was not (any longer) in her own body, but rather, in a body built of the stuff of dreams. For all practical purposes it was real, just not the body she'd been in for the last several years.

B. In the Dreamation run of Witch, a violent standoff being broken by another PC committing the murder I'd half expected my PC to commit. It worked much better that way. Possibly also misunderstanding a player's goal with a scene, but I'm not sure there. My PC wasn't in that scene (and didn't belong in it).

C. The motivation of the villain in the GenCon Clockwork: Dominion game of "Witch Hunt".

D. How utterly delightful Dread: Gremlins with the "British servants in a mansion, just four years before WWI" setting is.

As a GM:

A. When playtesting Gumshoe One-2-One, the person who played private investigator Dexter Raymond was full of surprises. Dex was the world's nicest private eye, serving tea to everyone, and losening a witness's tongue by pretending to be a new neighbor coming by with a casserole. Dex also used his culinary skills as a weapon when needed, spilling hot coffee on someone who took a swing at him. (This turned out to be based on a misunderstanding, and the two were reconciled.) He then set a Nazi spy on USA fascists who might have been the guy's allies. This was the big one I didn't see coming. Finally, he did a fine Yojimbo end game, setting two fairly despicable groups on each other while he beat a strategic withdrawal.

B. In the 1894 leg of Dracula Dossier, the players essentially started creating my future Conspyramid / Vampyramid. Mrs. Beatrice Campbell, aka Mrs. Pat, went to Carmilla and pointed out that the vampire had just lost a lieutenant, and hence had an opening in her organization, while the Rt. Hon. Sebastian Wimsey decided to reform Edom from within. Sure, becoming a vampire was icky, but there were other ways of becoming immortal, and Surely None of Those had Unfortunate Side Effects, right? Or, as the player put it, I can use Sebastian as a major villain when we get to the modern setting.

C. In the 1940 leg of Dracula Dossier, Hedy Lamarr decided to plant a beacon in Castle Dracula, which is in an interdimensional space. The pilot, who had mythos knowledge, was able to help her out. I saw no reason to block that, but I sure didn't see it coming.