So continuing the saga of my review and ongoing campaign log for Free League Publishing’s Twilight 2000 RPG, we finally met for our first session earlier in the previous month and here’s what happened. We created characters, whom you met previously on Haunted MTL here. We got the Brief History of WWIII as we know it and the introduction of a failed major assault to set the scene. The backstory and setting were believable and provided a good launching point for the game. (I won’t go into this so you can enjoy the setup when you play for yourselves, and so you can adapt it to current events if you want to hit even closer to home.) And so we began gameplay. Here’s the story of what happened.
After all Hell broke loose…, as told by Kyle Van Schoen (Ice)
Our first encounter after all Hell broke loose was with some US troops messing with a radio they’d propped up on a Jeep: Captain Morris and his entourage, Radioman Scott, Carlos, and Deb. Once they tuned out the initial static the message was loud and clear – we’re on our own. Maestro (Roger) pansied up to the Cap’n seeking orders but the Cap’n commanded that we split up to draw less attention by having fewer vehicles and because frankly we wouldn’t be able to keep up. I think he just took one look at our baby-faced leader and wanted us gone so our asses wouldn’t be blown to smithereens on his watch. They were heading west; he suggested we go a different direction away from the Ruskies, perhaps southwest.
So we embarked on the bumpy off-road journey through the deep woods towards Kepno. Fortunately, our driver Nadya, a local Polish girl, is on it. On the way, we encountered a not-very-well-fed bear that sized us up and thought we might make a tasty dinner if not for the truck. Apparently Pooh had blown through his stash of honey and was looking for something meatier. Scope (Alek) handily shot the hostile creature in the head and blew out its brains. It’s definitely cold dead, Jim, time to take its… oh never mind.
Having put the beast out of its misery (and us out of possible harm), we loaded the bulky fuzzy-wuzzy-ass bear carcass in the truck in the hopes that it may be worth something to the townsfolk in trade. Nadya set up camp in a small plot of woods on the other side of the river and, after an uneventful night, we made it to Kepno in the morning, bear in tow.
Nadya talked our way into town despite some sideways glances from the locals. Someone threw a blanket over the SAW as if my bulging package was somehow less conspicuous. We were told to keep our hands in sight and our weapons in the truck and tooled slowly into town looking for some dude named Hirek. A number of other Poles talked to Nadya as she recounted our story over and over; I lost track of who all they were, I think there was a Tytus and a Kornel and a Luiza and a local yokel whom I’ll just call D. Thankfully D stayed out of our business for the most part.
Luiza ran shop and Brick (Jack) & I were recruited to help haul Pooh in to be appraised. After much banter, Nadya let us know that we would be able to get a small still to keep the truck running in exchange for the bear, but that she would have to work on a couple of vehicles to seal the deal. A day out on our own and we’re already getting hooked up with some reasonable equipment, that’s a good shake.
We were just lollygagging around near the truck killing time for most of the afternoon. Once Nadya finished working on the car, she needed some parts for their truck to fix a blown-out engine. I tagged along to help and keep her out of trouble, and to stretch my legs. We found a couple of car parts we could salvage from some old beaters and they let us keep the extra. As dusk settled in, we heard a commotion out front. We grabbed our weapons out of our truck because the townsfolk were busy and we’d do best to ready ourselves for action whether they told us to lay low or not.
It seems some wild dogs were trying to run amok in the village and the guards were calling for help. Nadya revved the truck and sped off as we piled through the streets to get a better view. Sadly, I’d been taking a piss at the time so I was not on top of my game and brought up the rear. Wild dogs, whatever. I heard a resounding scream as I rounded the corner. Damn rabid bitches, who’d they jumped now?! By the time I caught up and could see what was going on, the guards were elbow deep in the fray and one of them was badly bitten.
Someone had culled a few curs from the pack and Nadya was taking it off road to ram and scatter some of the mongrels in the back. Yep, that settled it – she’d earned the name Wheelz that’s for sure. Scope aimed and downed one of the dogs in the midst of the crazy, but the terrified locals cowered in fear and were soon awash in the frenzy. There was a dog on Brick, so I ran in and smashed it with my rifle to save his ass.
Scope took a pot shot and took out one of the dogs on the downed guard without aiming. Brick ran over to club the remaining mongrel with his rifle butt in a giant F-you-I-don’t need-your-stinking-help as he sneered at me. It was on. I raced in to take out the last dog on the other guard but Brick beat me to it. Scope lowered his rifle looking sheepishly at the other guard who had snapped out of the cowering stupor and was yelling a string of profanities at him. I don’t speak a word of Polish but I can recognize a good swear streak in any language when I hear one… Hirek and the copper D started asking around about what happened. Time to melt back into the background. At least Doc (Trish) was on it and Nadya (Wheelz) was helping her to smooth things over. It must’ve worked because everyone quieted down for the time being as we all went in for supper.
From a Gaming Perspective – So, How Did It Go?
Play in Twilight 2000 RPG went pretty smoothly. The encounters that were drawn provided a good way to ease into combat and get a feel for the mechanics, which was helpful since we are all fresh as rain (no seasoned veteran gamers in this system here). Action was intense but we were able to think on the fly. Drawing for initiative worked well.
Rolling for skill checks and attacks was relatively straightforward once you got the hang of it. I’m especially grateful that not everything relies on dice rolls because I’m a total snake eye salesman and that is rarely a benefit in these sorts of games. (It did hinder me when rolling up characters, but you learn to work with what you have when you are blessed with these sorts of abilities in real life…) I like the die roll percentage tables – they really do help calculate what dice you should use when upgrading (or downgrading) a roll for the best likelihood of success.
The ability for others to help with skill checks simplified game mechanics and kept things from slogging on like in some other RPGs where everyone rolls to see who struck it lucky and made the check versus who fell flat on their face this time. The dogs were able to act together which further helped to keep things from getting convoluted. The skill-pushing mechanic is interesting and adds another layer to the storytelling aspect of the RPG.
From a referee standpoint, you’re supposed to go with the flow and my husband did for the most part but he did do a lot of prep getting things together beforehand to flesh out the possible random encounters. I think this greatly strengthened the experience and appreciate all of the effort. Depending on the gaming group and the referee it may not be wholly necessary, but some work ahead of time means you don’t get caught with your pants down and name every NPC they meet Bob regardless of gender, nationality, etc. Not that names matter when they’re just cannon-fodder (damn those red shirts), but it still provides depth and decreases the likelihood of that outcome being the only path forward. Because everybody’s somebody to someone. I will admit, my husband is a bit extreme in his not wanting to use the same name twice though, which inspired me to write a short story as part of our upcoming spring series here on Haunted MTL…
I like the game mechanics so far and think all of us enjoyed ourselves. V is looking forward to the next session and has asked about taking it to video chat to game again sooner, but my husband and I would rather not because that seems… overly complicated…. There is more prep on behalf of the referee than necessarily known up front but that isn’t unexpected in RPGs and is generally what the group makes of it. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and we all look forward to playing again when we can get together, about every other month.
The Last of Us: Episodes 8 and 9: The End
Sometimes life gets in the way. Maybe you watched the episodes the nights they came out, but then you got your stomach tattooed so you didn’t have the energy to type on your computer, and then you had to work nonstop for six days straight and housesit 20 miles out of town, and then you got into a hit-and-run car accident with your boyfriend (luckily you’re both okay but really very angry at the asshole that just drove away), etc. etc.. March has been a lot, but I finally rolled up my sleeves, made time for my computer and stopped procrastinating the job of writing my final review on HBO’s The Last of Us.
Here we will cover the final events of Joel and Ellie’s saga. Both episodes were directed by Ali Abassi and written by Craig Mazin and, in episode 9, Neil Druckmann. The adaptation continued to cover the story elements of the game, leaving out and/or changing most of the fighting and action scenes. This change is especially noticeable in episode 9, “Look for the Light,” but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s first do a recap of episode 8, “When We Are in Need.”
“When We Are in Need”
Ellie is on the hunt for food and comes across a deer, which she shoots down almost effortlessly. It is in this moment that she meets a preacher named David (Scott Shepherd) and his partner, James (Troy Baker, (Joel’s voice actor in the video games)). After a moment of hostility towards the stranger, Ellie agrees to give the deer to David in exchange for penicillin. Shortly after giving Joel the medication, Ellie has to leave again to deter David’s religious crew from hunting her and Joel. It turns out Joel killed a few of David’s men, and the preacher is out for revenge.
The religious group captures Ellie and puts her in a cell, where she discovers David has been feed them human remains. Meanwhile, Joel finally awakes and is stable enough to escape the house and search for Ellie. He tortures two men into disclosing her location, but he is almost too late. David places Ellie on a butcher block and is just about to chop her up when she narrowly escapes. The two fight until she finally has the advantage and takes him down, bludgeoning him to death with an insurmountable fury of vengeance.
“Look for the Light”
Episode 9 begins with a flashback of Ellie’s pregnant mother, Anna (Ashley Johnson, (Ellie’s voice actor in the video games). An infected bit Anna just moments before she gave birth to Ellie. Moments pass, and Marlene finds the two in a pool of blood. She is forced to take the baby and kill her friend. Fast forward 14 years, and Joel and Ellie are almost done with their journey. They finally made it to Utah. Ellie, still processing everything that happened with David, is sad and somber. Joel tries his best to cheer her up, but nothing seems to work.
Suddenly, the youth sees something and runs off to get a better look. Joel chases her until he stops and stares in awe. The camera pans from him to Ellie inches away from a giraffe. She is her old self again, cracking jokes and asking a myriad of questions. Later on, when Joel reveals that he tried to kill himself after Sarah’s death, Ellie provides him as much comfort as she can. But the fact that Joel can trust her enough to reveal such a secret means is a comfort on its own. He asks Ellie to read some puns to lighten the mood, but his moment is interrupted when a group of Fireflies knock them out.
Joel wakes up in a hospital to see Marleen, who informs him that the doctors are preparing Ellie for surgery to remove the part of her brain that makes her immune. This procedure, however, will result in Ellie’s death. No matter how hard Joel fights, Marlene won’t budge. She instead has two Firefly soldiers escort Joel out of the hospital, but he kills them and everyone else until he finds the surgery room, where he murders the doctor in cold blood. He escapes with an unconscious Ellie and makes it as far as the parking garage until Marlene stops them. The camera cuts to Joel driving a car with Ellie in the backseat.
Ellie wakes up and asks Joel what happens. While he lies to her that there is no cure, the camera flickers back to the parking garage scene with Marlene. He shoots her once. After listening to her begs and pleas, he kills her with a final shot.
The duo have to walk the last few miles to Tommy’s town. At the top of a waterfall, they get a spectacular view of their new home, their new futures. Before making the final trek, Ellie tells Joel about her past and how she saw her best friend die. This lead to watching Tess, Sam and Henry die because of the disease. The fact that they all had to go through such gruesome deaths, only for there not to be a cure, is too much for Ellie to handle. She makes Joel swear that he is telling the truth, and in a beat, he does.
HBO’s The Last of Us is a remarkable video game adaptation that deserves all the high praise it has received the past few months. From the set design and effects to the filming, screenwriting and acting, the show is a peak example of how to do an adaptation well. It is heart-throbbing and terrifying.
A few issues with HBO’s adaptation is how much they excluded the game play scenes. Despite the world being filled with infected, they were rarely on screen. This is disappointing, especially because it increases the stakes and so much of Joel and Ellie’s relationship builds in these fight scenes. The biggest disappointment was in episode 9, in which the show completely cut out the game’s highway scene. Furthermore, there are numerous creative weapons the show could have included to illustrate Joel and Ellie’s means of survival, from molotov cocktails and nail bombs to the beloved shotgun and its shorty companion.
Despite these small quibbles, the show is arguably one of the best American video game adaptations out there. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were the perfect casting choices for Joel and Ellie, as was the casting for all the other characters.
It will be exciting to see where Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin take The Last of Us 2. I hope they will include more gameplay (aka a little more violence), more screen time for infected, and some creative liberties with the original story while also sticking to the heart of it. We will just have to wait and see what they come up with. Until we meet again, don’t forgot to read about the other shows and games we’re loving here at HauntedMTL.
(4 / 5)
Review: A Plague Tale series
Asobo Studios A Plague Tale series consisting of Innocence (2019) and Requiem (2022) has been out for a while. Weirdly enough, I struggled to put my thoughts into words about these games until now. The way I see it, it’s impossible to talk about one without the other, so let’s dive in, shall we?
Plot and characters
The story of A Plague Tale games takes loose inspiration from the Black Plague times with a touch of the Hundred Years’ War. Amicia and Hugo are siblings on the run from soldiers while also fighting off infected rats, meeting allies along the way. A huge theme of Innocence is Amicia finding a solution for Hugo’s long-term sickness. As one would suspect, it turns out to be connected to the plague itself. Amicia also goes from being a disconnected older sister to his biggest protector throughout the game.
Hugo himself is more or less an annoying kid who wants his mother. This is frankly a realistic characterization as he actually speaks and acts as a child would act. Granted, him essentially walking into the Pope’s trap is frustrating but the climax needed to be set up somehow. I also enjoyed Lucas’s character as an alchemist apprentice as he proved to be one of the more consistent helpers to the duo.
While Innocence ends on a hopeful note, with the characters on the verge of starting over somewhere new and the plague contained, Requiem shows this was a fake out. The sequel really puts Amicia through her paces. Her character is broken both physically and mentally to the point where she is barely recognizable. Hugo is more mature, although his insistence on this magical island that will fix the Macula issue is an immediate red flag. It’s not surprising the supposed safe haven turns into hell quite quickly.
The generational curse where the protector and carrier story repeats itself means a tragic ending for our protagonists. This means it can feel fruitless to play the two installments as the whole point of Amecia’s journey is to protect Hugo at all costs, which proves to be impossible. Was it because of certain choices they made or just extremely unfortunate circumstances? Either way, I felt horrible for them both while playing Requiem, so at least it invoked a strong emotion in me.
The series is a third-person stealth adventure with survival horror elements. Innocence has a clear-cut mechanic that relies on Amicia sneaking past or distracting threats with a certain number of puzzles to get past the rats. She is also extremely vulnerable, dying from one enemy hit, forcing the player to start all over. This is something Requiem updates, adding the opportunity for you to recover by running away from the enemy.
It can be frustrating to have to restart a whole section because of one mistake. However, it does make the player think methodically about what the best approach is. I found the challenges a tad repetitive which stopped me from binge-playing the game, but that’s just my opinion.
After taking this time to digest my feelings towards A Plague Tale games, I can still vouch for the amazing experience. The historical aspects are endearing, and the graphics are beautiful, as is the score. The scriptwriters knew what kind of emotional punches would hit the players just right and the voice actors really gave it all. It’s obvious a lot of love went into this project and I am grateful to have played it.
Regardless, there were certain aspects of the story that for me personally, did not sit right. I am not a massive fan of a tragedy that ends, well, in tragedy, especially with hints history will repeat itself again. The entire concept of the ‘greater good’ and the main characters sacrificing their happiness has been done before and while I can understand why they went that way, it also left me feeling a bit empty.
(4 / 5)
The Last of Us: Episode 7: Left Behind
The Last of Us series is winding down with only three episodes left. Directed by Liza Johnson and written by Neil Druckmann, “Left Behind” adapts the video game’s DLC story of the same name. Ellie and Joel are hiding out in a basement, and Joel is suffering greatly from his stabbing. He orders Ellie to go back to Tommy and leave him behind, but she’s reluctant. The episode cuts to a flashback of the events that happened before Ellie and Joel met, thus beginning the sweet, tragic backstory of our young protagonist.
Ellie is stuck in a FEDRA boarding school in Boston. Her best friend and roommate, Riley, ran away a few weeks back and Ellie has been grieving the loss. She gets into fights with classmates and even sends one girl to the infirmary to get 15 stitches. Everything changes when Riley suddenly returns and reveals she joined the Fireflies, the organization FEDRA is training students to fight and kill.
Ellie disapproves of her friend’s choices, but there isn’t anything she can say that will change Riley’s mind. However, as a sort of apology for leaving without saying goodbye, Riley asks Ellie to sneak out for a few hours and join her on a little adventure. Ellie reluctantly agrees.
The two sneak into an abandoned mall that was once used to hoard infected. Now it is filled with wonders and surprises beyond the youths’ wildest dreams. The girls connect like they haven’t been separated for weeks, and their chemistry is sweet and wholesome. Riley gives Ellie an array of gifts, from a photo booth and carousel ride to an arcade with Mortal Kombat and a brand new pun book.
All Good Things End
The evening comes to a halt when Riley reveals the Fireflies are sending her to the Atlanta base and this is her last night in Boston. Ellie is furious and runs away, fully intended on returning back to her dorm room. But she only gets so far before caving into her feelings and running back to Riley. They reunite in a Halloween store, where they wear goofy wolf and clown masks (replicas of the game’s masks) and dance to Etta James’ “I Got You Babe.” They share a kiss and the moment is so delicate.
Everything is perfect until it’s not.
An infected emerges into the store and attacks the girls. Riley shoots it and Ellie stabs it to death, but neither are unscathed. The clicker bit both of them. At the moment, any and all hope has been destroyed.
HBO’s “Left Behind” is the show’s truest adaptation of the video game thus far. The show cuts out the parts of the video game where Ellie roams through a mall and evades hunters as she searches for a first aid kit for Joel. Instead, The Last of Us focuses on Ellie’s history with her best friend and first love, Riley.
Just as Bella Ramsey is the perfect casting for Ellie, Storm Reid is perfect as Riley. The actors’ chemistry maintains the game’s charm; their portrayal of teenagers after an apocalyptic pandemic is pure and authentic. For the first time, Ellie and Riley can act like the kids they are, not the soldiers every adult is training them to be. It is endearing to see their relationship come to life.
Ellie’s backstory mirrors Joel’s in that it emphasizes their experiences of loss and grief. The pair have formed a connection they cannot lose. It is because of this that, at the end of “Left Behind,” Ellie goes against Joel’s wishes and stays with him to help him heal. She had to leave one friend behind before and she refuses to do it again.
“Left Behind” deserves five out of five Cthulhu. (5 / 5)
There are only just a few episodes left in The Last of Us. Episode 8 releases Sunday, March 5, where we should expect to meet the notorious cult leader, Dave. Until then, check out the other shows and games we’re loving here at HauntedMTL.