"You know, we have one of the fastest connections in the world," said Kitty Pryde, "and Youtube still seems to drag its feet. "
"Except the ads," Rachel Grey reminded her. "They run just fine."
"Infuriating, isn't it? I wonder if they'll let me come back to California to streamline things." The chestnut haired woman better known to the public as the X-man named Shadowcat switched over to the mansion's security suite. Seeing no obvious threats in the area, she flipped back to the video streaming website.
"I think that it has buffered enough to start," commented Peter Rasputin, settling his six and a half foot frame down on the sofa.
"Finally!" Kitty said, plopping down next to him and grabbing a handful of popcorn.
The screen lit up white with a green circle containing a logo reading "Geek and Sundry", dissolving into a young looking man, with brown hair and a short beard, who several of them recognized as the actor Wil Wheaton. He was wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with a green playing piece and the phrase "My Meeple can beat up your Meeple."
"When I was growing up at the end of the Cold War, there was a lot of media about the 'enemy within' where your neighbors, friends and relations could suddenly turn against you, Whether it was talk of Manchurian Candidates or McCarthy hearings, or a zombie infestation or pod people from Outer Space replacing your loved ones at the Drive In, there was always the fear that you might not be able to trust those close to you.
"In many of those stories, the audience got the sense of what it was like to be one of those poor creatures, slowly turning into something monstrous, something horrific against your will. Of course, this change wasn't without benefits – enhanced strength, invulnerability, flight, self-transformation, and the viewer could see how the power might seduce them.
"Today on Table Top, Will Borden, Kitty Pryde, and Richard Castle join me to see if we can't work together to defeat our enemy before we succumb to the blandishment – and cookies – of the Dark Side in The Monster Within"
The graphics changed to a variety of game pieces bouncing around, resolving into the logo for the show, Table Top.
"Tell me again why you did this, Will."
"Because, Ms. Murphy, it was an excuse to get out to California and check in with Carlos and Elaine and the local 'Netters, to get an update on the Fomor."
The small blond woman shook her head, taking a deep breath to hide her frustration. "Not the show, I understand the logic behind that. I meant the book, the game - that Wizard Files thing. Putting all of this stuff down for people to read. Aren't you worried about the consequences – if not from the Fae or the Vampires or any number of supernatural asshats, then from those jerks on the White Council."
Will Borden wasn't much taller than the former police detective, but he had a powerful frame beneath the sweats he wore. He took a calming breath of his own before responding. "Harry said it was OK."
"Because Dresden is well known for his brilliant decision making."
"Look at it this way. It's an update to what the Whites did to the Black Court, using old Bram Stoker to write down their weaknesses. Except we were able to put in much more, including what we've learned over the last couple years against the Fomor. It's generic enough that Harry thinks it won't come to bite us in the ass..."
"Again, Harry has made a few bad calls recently. Not to mention you including his new boss in there."
"It'll be fine, Karrin," came a new voice from the living room. Waldo Butters poked his head in the room, "Now it's all loaded up, bring that popcorn in and let's watch the show."
"The Monster Within is a sci-fi/fantasy based card slash board game designed by Douglas Ramsey of CypherLock Games. In it, the alien conqueror - and monster movie fan - Xyzzleglob of Beta Upsilon Gamma 6 has transformed you and your friends into pastiches of classic movie monsters. Each character has been infected with one of the classics - a werewolf, a vampire, a Lovecraftian deep one, a Cybernetic infectee - and then it's a race to complete your mission before succumbing to their evil nature - and each one has a different trigger that will do that. Standing in your way are evil minions and misinformed authorities. To defeat them, you have to use play your special abilities cards. But with each card you play, you are that much closer to joining the dark side.
"Each monster has its own deck of abilities, and each has it's own different mechanic for when they make that Face Heel Turn; the werewolf turns evil under the influence of a full moon card, the vampire when he kills someone with a bite attack, the Cyber-Bot when their limbs and torso have been replaced by robot parts.
"On your turn, you draw up to your hand limit of five, and then turn over a number of enemies cards. This may turn out to be either some of Xyzzleglob's minions, or normal humans that you don't want to kill, such as cops or those guys in Black Suits. They have two hit point scores – one to temporarily neutralize, one to take them out more permanently. You fight your way through the deck until you get to the Big Bad, Xyzzleglob himself. Beat him, and you're cured. As you go, some of you may turn evil and you'll have to fight them as well. Take too long, and you'll all become evil and join him in his quest to subjugate all of humanity.
"Now here's the kicker – if one of us turns evil, and helps defeat the others, then they share in Xyzzleglob's triumph, possibly as Governor General of Northern Siberia. But evil doesn't share – only one of us can win this way, and if more than one turns bad and the good guys fail, then the game wins.
"Will we make it? Will we go bad? Find out, as we play The Monster Within."
"My name is William Borden. I'm probably best known for working with Fred Hicks on the Wizard Files RPG using the FATE system, and also some work I've done with the Paranet. I've been a gamer for years, but mostly RPG's like Arcanos, so this is the first time I've done a game like this."
"I'm Katherine Pryde, from Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, but I'm probably best known as the member of the X-men known as Shadowcat. So, yeah, mutant. But I've been a nerd for even longer than I've been able to walk through walls. I'm also very good friends with Doug Ramsey, who created this game, so I think that will give me an edge in trying to beat it."
"Hey. I'm Richard Castle, but you knew that, didn't you? I'm a writer of mysteries, notably the Derrick Storm and Nikki Heat series. My gaming experience is generally limited to the poker table, but I'm here because my daughter is a huge fan of Wil Wheaton."
"Is that your father?" asked Martha Rodgers, indicating the image on the tablet held by Alexis Castle.
"Oh, yeah. Remember when he was in California a few months back?"
"Oh, that. You'd have thought he would have better things to do, perhaps remind those Hollywood producers that there is a shocking lack of guest spots for his supremely talented mother recently."
"All I'm asking is why he's there on a TV show and I'm not."
"First of all, it's not a TV show. It's a Web show - it's called Table Top and it's just celebrities playing board games. And second, he did it for me."
"Oh, I suppose that's all right then."
The screen now showed four individuals around a very nice table with a red felt top. Wil was seated in his usual position, screen right on the longer side, with Richard Castle to his immediate right. The ends of the table were taken by Will Borden at screen left, and Kitty Pryde at screen right.
"All right, this is The Monster Within. First as a programming note, because there are two of us with the same first name, and since it's Mr. Castle's preference, we'll be referring to each other by last names to avoid confusion. I am playing as the Robotic Infectee, Simon Borgnine. My deck is full of cybernetic enhancements, but if all my limbs and my torso are replaced by robotic ones, I turn evil." He turned to the woman to his left. "Pryde?"
"I am Emily Lou Overwood, werewolf. Unlike the others, I will go wolf and attack my companions whenever I draw a Full Moon card, which are spread over each quarter of my deck.""
The actor nodded, and turned to Will Borden. "And you?"
The young man held up his card, an odd expression on his face. "Dean Montenegro, the sorcerer son of a demon. I have multiple spells available, but each one requires me to discard other cards, and when I run through my deck, my character becomes more like Daddy."
Richard Castle smiled, "And I am the vampire, Viscount Vladimir Impala. Ruggedly handsome, shiny but never sparkly, if I should ever give in to that ever pervasive bloodlust and take the lifeblood from an innocent, I will lose my soul and become an agent of evil."
Wil nodded at Castle, and then said, "We've all drawn our opening hand of five cards, and I was going to suggest that the person who has faced the scariest monster in their life, but then we thought - ok, Ms Pryde is a bona fide superhero, In deference to that, we've all agreed that she can go last. Besides, with the initiative track, it's not terribly important. So, if you would please, Mr. Borden?"
"So I start by drawing our opponents for this round?"
"Yep, and according to the board, the first round needs three baddies."
The young man reached across and flipped over three cards from one of the decks on the board. "Looks like we get a Deputy, an Old Coot, and... crap, a Zombie. A Shambler, though, so not too bad."
Castle's eyes lit up, and he leaned forward, as Wil put a couple tokens on the first two cards. The actor noted, "The Coot and deputy have guns, so they go first, unless one of you has a speed or distance attack card they want to play to jump ahead. The Zombie goes last. Borden, you're the leader this turn, so you pick the order."
Will Borden nodded, "I think we should go with the Cyborg and Werewolf first - hopefully they can neutralize the humans, and I'll mop up if need be. Let's keep Nosferatu from hitting his bloodlust early."
"Sure, take the fun out things. You know I'll have to use one of my ability cards to take out the zombie." The writer paused to consider this, "Clearly this is a ploy by manipulative demonspawn, to push the noble Vampyr to the point of exhaustion, whereupon he would have no defense. Sure, I'll do my part, knowing full well you intend to stake me in my warrior's heart when I least expect it."
"Are you telling tales again, Castle?" asked Will Borden,
Kitty looked up from her cards, "Telling Tails is my Cats Laughing cover band."
Wil Wheaton snorted at her, and Kitty responded with a smirk.
"OK, Borden, roll those gun shots and see what happens," said their host, as a graphic appeared describing how the dice results would determine which of their characters - if any - would be hit.
"Looks like the deputy aims and hits… Castle."
"Of course he did. All part of your dastardly Demonspawn plan, I'm sure."
The screen cut to an interview piece with Richard Castle. "My strategy is to look at this as a prisoner's dilemma. If I think I can pull it off, I'll try to cast suspicion on some of the others, and maybe thin out the field. Then I can go for the kill near the end of the game and nab a solo victory. But if everyone else seems to be playing nice – and working together well, then I may not defect after all."
The screen changed to an image of Will Borden. "I was really hoping to get the werewolf character – at least then Castle would have a legitimate case for not trusting me."
The dice clattered again. "Well, we're in luck. The old coot actually aims for the zombie with his shotgun." Text on the screen described how normals, like police and civilians, and minions, like zombies or aliens, could attack each other instead of the characters. "But not a head shot, so the zombie is fine."
Wil Wheaton looked at his hand, "Since Borden has me first, I'm going to play my Bionic Arm card. It makes me one fifth evil, but when I play this Taser card, I can automatically stun the deputy." He lay the cards down in front of him, then reached over to turn the deputy card over. "So he's out for…" – the dice clattered – "five rounds. And I can take his gun."
Kitty nodded in approval at the play. "No full moon this turn, so I'm on the side of the angels." She reached in her hand.
Will Borden commented, "A melee attack could keep it that way, if you don't have to spend cards this turn, you won't have to draw next time around."
"He's pretty fragile, and the Howlin' and Growlin' card would make him run away. I don't think I want a black mark on my soul in round one, do you?"
Kitty laid down the card in her discard pile and rolled the dice. "So that worked. Borden, why don't you take out that Zombie?"
Will looked at his cards, "On it. I think." He frowned, "Crap, got some stuff that could neutralize normals, and a fireball, but that might be overkill…"
"How convenient," Castle said, "It again falls on me to save the day, wasting my precious resources."
"Hey, I'm good playing the fireball, if the team wants me to play it. I just think it's more a 'boss' attack," Will said defensively, "But it would burn through my entire hand, and we may need me to neutralize some cops or an angry mob,"
"That makes sense to me," Kitty said, "but it assumes our vampire's drawn a card that will allow him to dispatch the zombie. He'll need super strength, or a card like it."
"Crap, good point. I totally misplayed this round. Looks like I have to torch it after all."
He started to lay down the card, but was interrupted by Castle, who laid down a 'Feats of Vampiric Strength' card with a smirk. "No, please, allow me."
"Why didn't you just say so?"
"Trust but verify, my boy, trust but verify,' the writer answered. "The trick of the game - on top of trying to defeat the Evil Overlord - is to determine whether or not any given player is planning to betray us."
"And since I was willing to waste one of my best attacks?"
"It gets you the benefit of the doubt," Castle said, "But the Count still finds you suspicious, vile demonspawn."
Kitty chewed her lip, "Don't some translations of 'Dracula' equate to 'son of the demon'?"
"''Son of the Devil', actually, but it's a bit of a misnomer, partly because of old Vlad Tepes himself, I believe.
"'Devil' is pretty good description, honestly," Kitty said, her eyes distant. "But most of all, Dracula is a dick."
Castle's face showed an expression of intense glee, even as their host looked over at her and asked, "He is?"
"I would think so," she said, her tone an affected blasé. "Wouldn't you? I was never into the whole psychosexual aspect of vampirism anyway. Or the sparkles."
Wil Wheaton asked, "You haven't played 'The Wizard Files', have you? They've got a whole subset of vamps - the Whampires..." He looked over at the game's co-creator.
"The White Court, yes."
"I'm glad that, at least, is fiction," the actor responded, "Death by vampiric snu-snu is not the way I want to go. And with that, we've survived round one, and it's up to Castle to draw our enemies for this round - four of them, please."
The writer reached over and flipped over four enemy cards. "Another deputy. Two more zombies, one slow, one fast. And... oh crap, shoggoth."
Wil Wheaton placed the gun token on the deputy and maneuvered the cards into their respective places on the initiative track. "I'm not saying how you should play this, but I might be able to play a card and go first, if you wanted me to."
Castle looked at him, staring intently. "I will take that under advisement, Mr. Wheaton."
"I probably need to hit a baddie," offered Kitty.
Borden added, "I can handle the deputy this time."
The mystery writer looked at the table, then spoke. "We'll go Cyborg, Sorcerer, Vampire, Werewolf this round, then."
Wil laid down a card under the bionic arm card he played last turn. I've switched on my targeting computer, giving me a bonus to shoot the fast zombie." A successful roll of the dice later and the enemy's card was moved to the discard pile. He rolled two dice and announced, "The deputy takes a shot at the shoggoth and does one damage."
"Sleep spell," said Borden, placing two cards into his discard pile. "On the deputy," he added, rolling the die and flipping the character's card over. "Four rounds."
"He's going to wake up the same time as the other one," noted Kitty.
"We'll deal with that when it happens," said Wil. "Viscount? Are you taking the shoggoth or the zombie? Or are you going to stab us in the back?"
"I? Betray my dear friends for the opportunity to garner sole victory in the contest?" Castle's exaggerated mannerisms caused the table to wince. "Certainly not. Not this early, in any event. I attack the shoggoth."
"And will you be attacking hand to hand or using a card?" asked Wil, "And again, I don't want to tell you how to play, but shoggoths are really, really nasty and you may want to spice up your attack with a little something."
Castle calmly lay down two cards. "Children of the Night and Blood Frenzy should take care of that."
Wil Wheaton leaned over and read the card text, "Well, Children of the Night will, at least. Roll for the number of bats and wolves. But I think you'll see that Blood Frenzy can't be played on eldritch abominations like shoggoths or Mi-go."
"That's preposterous," the writer protested, rolling for his creatures.
The scene cut to an interview scene of Kitty. "The professional writer misread his card. Sure, he didn't set that up to force himself to go evil later. You know, I understand Mr. Castle is working with the NYPD. I wonder if the
inspiration for Nikki Heat would buy that alibi."
"That's two wolves and three bats for seven damage. It's hurting, but still it's not dead yet."
Kitty looked seriously at the two remaining opponents, drawing a card as she did to fill her hand. "I think the shoggoth is our primary enemy here. I'll take my shot at it."
"If you miss..."
"I won't miss," she said, laying down cards indicating a Vicious Bite and two named Rending Claws. She rolled damage, with the others peering at the dice.
"And the shoggoth goes down!" said Wil, "But the remaining zombie targets... me... doing five damage."
The scene jumped to Wil swearing. "*Bleep* Castle *bleep* wrong *bleep* *bleep* card my *bleep* ass!"
Back at Castle's apartment in New York, the two women were watching Mr. Wheaton's tirade with amusement.
"He's a bit uncouth, isn't he?" asked Martha.
Alexis laughed, "Well, Dad didn't do him any favors there by playing that one card. I wonder if he meant to do that."
"I really don't understand all of this. Whatever happened to a nice game of Charades?"