Re-examining All For One: Regime Diabolique

Summer is almost over.  My wife is back to work at a new library.  The kids go back to school in a week.  Time for another big shake up of my schedule, hopefully in a good way.  It may make blogging a bit easier.  We’ll see.

So awhile back, if you recall, I posted my thoughts on running a B/X D&D and just how easy it felt.  It still feels easy, fresh, and fun.  Enough so that Witch Hunter feels a bit clunky by comparison.  So as an exercise, I starting playing around with home-brewing a system that would give me the same easy breezy feeling but include all the stuff I want and need for heroic swashbuckling fantasy.  And that’s what I stumbled right back over All For One: Regime Diabolique, by Wiggy of Triple Ace Games.

prod_35164For those of you unfamiliar with the game, All for One (AFO, hereafter) is a roleplaying game set in early 17th Century France, where the players assume the roles of the King’s Musketeers, protecting King and Country from the threats foreign, domestic, and…supernatural!  Demons, vampires, werewolves, and all manner of other things that go bump in the night lurk in the dark shadows of Paris, and in the catacombs below.  Now if that doesn’t sound like a dead ringer candidate for game of the year for this GM, I don’t know what does?

I used AFO a few years back as the basis for another campaign for my library program.  At that time, I was pretty wrapped up in the Savage Worlds system and the Savage World of Solomon Kane, so the Ubiquity system went in the hopper and was hastily converted to SW mechanics.  This was, of course, before Triple Ace Games (TAG) did me the courtesy of releasing a SW adaption on their own.  Boy, would that have saved me some work.  That campaign has long since wrapped, but I’ve kept AFO on my Witch Hunter resource bookshelf for ideas and inspiration.  So it isn’t like I found my dog-earred copy in the garage.

Now maybe you haven’t heard, but as much as I like the new 7th Sea game, it has some aspects that present a bit of a barrier to me as a go-to game.  But what started out as an exercise in stripping a game for parts became sort of a startling rediscovery of the Ubiquity system.  Understand, I never disliked Ubiquity as a game system, it was just a non-starter for me.  The whole even/odds thing felt gimmicky, and most folks compare its play with Savage Worlds.

Flash forward a few years and I have a sudden epiphany that Ubiquity could be the bad ass d10 dice pool game 7th Sea is never going to be for me.  Even better, it’s a rosetta stone.  You can easily map that parts of 7th Sea 2nd edition you like to it, due to the Hero Point/Style Point economies both games share, and still maintain a more traditional conflict resolution mechanic.  Oh sure, it’s not a perfect fit, but it’s pretty damn close.  It seems like a pretty hard game to break, too.  And the tone and style of the game flirts with covering the same territory as witch hunter (supernatural monster hunting) while at the same time opening itself to a more sandbox approach.  In fact, its a perfect fit for those who want to run a game akin to D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles.

After four years of playing Witch Hunter, I’ve got the system ALMOST where it needs to be.  So I’m not about to pitch the whole thing and jump ship to Ubiquity, but DAMN if it isn’t tempting.  A lot of the lore of Witch Hunter could easily be mapped to AFO, as could the setting material for Savage World of Solomon Kane.  Personally, I like that Witch Hunter is a more global game.  Where if you want to throw together an adventure in India, or Egypt, or the Far East, you are good to go.  But there are parts of the system that just feel like dead weight compared to what Ubiquity offers.

I would make a few changes off the top, however.  These ideas may not sit well, or may seem superfluous, to hard-core Ubiquity fans.  But if I play it, they are going in.

  • d10 dice pools. Successes on a 6+ (instead of standard evens/odds)
  • Exploding dice!  Rolling a 10 on any die lets you reroll.
  • Rule of 10. dice pools are capped at 10. For every two dice extra, the player gets a free success.
  • Static Defense.  At the very least for NPCs, do away with defense rolls and just reduce attacks by the Average defense.
  • Brute squads/Minion Bands! Gotta have rules for mobs of bad guys.  Someone has probably done this for Ubiquity already, but I’m thinking Threat Ratings 1-5, roll 2 dice per Rank.  Defense is equal to Rank.  Defense Rolls against brute squads don’t suffer the usual -2 for multiple opponents (they are brutes!).
  • Cinematic Health: On paper, the game looks a bit more gritty than I’d like for a pulp game.  But having not played before, I’m hesitant to change that.
  • GM Procedural Rolls.  I’m gonna have a whole blog post on these, as I’m coming to realize they are the secret sauce that makes O/B/X D&D click.  Any GM roll against a player skill is done with 1d10.  A roll equal to or less than the average rating succeeds.  Yes, sorry, the high-low thing.  But these are only for the GM, so…

And that’s more or less it.  Ok, I might add some special stunts for Fencing Schools, but I suspect those are already out and in the wild.

So if you’ve been following along with this blog and thinking, yeah, swashbuckling monster hunters sounds fun!  Or if your one of the many people who cracked the new 7th Sea game and said, “what the…um…” then DEFINITELY do yourself a favor and check out this gem.  The game line is well supported and mostly complete, so no supplement train to worry about (feature or negative, your choice).  Plus, the guys at TAG are fantastic folks who threw a lot of support to me when I was using their stuff for my library program.

 

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Mirror, Mirror: the Other Side of the Coin

So about the time my 7th Sea: First Play Impressions post went live, I was being called out for being too much of a 7th Sea fan boy.  That perhaps my enthusiasm for the setting and previous edition was coloring my impression of the new edition.  And I think to myself, well what’s wrong with that?!  If you’ve read anything I’ve posted around here about gaming, it’s no secret that 7th Sea was sort of a seminal game experience for me.  One that sort of set the standard for the play experience I want in any game I play going forward.  And if that colors my expectations and enthusiasm for the 2nd edition, so what of it?  I mean, isn’t that the flip side of calling OSR fans out as nothing more than nostalgic?

But ok.  I’ll play along.  Because it’s not as though 7th Sea 2nd edition is perfect.  It wasn’t dictated by God Almighty as the Final Word in gaming.  You can’t even really compare it to 1st edition beyond the setting, because the game system is almost entirely new with only a cosmetic veneer to tie the two together.  So if you’re on the fence about 7th Sea 2nd edition, wondering if you really want to drop the money on the PDF, or the hardcover, or the leather bound collector’s edition, and you were foolish enough to come here then pay attention!  I’m going to tell you what I don’t like about the new edition.

Dracheneisen vs Hexenwerk

I think Hexenwerk is a poor replacement for Eisen’s national sorcery.  As a replacement for Zerstorung?  Sure!  Great!  But Dracheneisen was so iconic; it defined the look and character of Eisen.  Hexenwerk, as flavorful as it is, is very specialized and isn’t going to fit into every game.  Also, the core book makes it pretty clear that this is it.  There isn’t any more development space for Hexenwerk.  It’s done.  Now I get it that Eisen is now a dark fairy tale land of ghosts, ghouls, and vampires lurking in castles on high.  But you can have that and still have big bad Germans charging around in fancy armor.  There have been rumblings from folks looking to expand the utility of Hexenwerk by making it apply to all monsters, not just undead.  There are also folks working to put dracheneisen back in its rightful place as Eisen’s national sorcery.  Personally, I’m down for both.  And the Die Krieuzritter?  Magical blades forged of light and shadow brought to bear against monsters in the dark works just fine for me.

Faux Diversity

Gender equality and diversity!  These are two things that help define Théah and separate it from 17th century Europe.  Applause.  No, that’s a great thing really, and perfectly fitting with the tone of pre-reboot Théah.  But is it really more diverse?  Not really.  Right now, with just the core book, it’s very difficult to create an “exotic” hero from Ifri, Cathay, or the Crescent Empire without reskinning, homebrewing, or buying another sourcebook.  Is that a mark against the writers?  No.  They can’t include EVERYTHING.  But if you think about it, 1-2 pages of content would have been all you needed to be truly inclusive in terms of Ethnic diversity.  A handful of backgrounds, a handful of thumbnails.  Hell, Iskandar is right there on the map.  This isn’t so much a black mark as a missed opportunity.

Risks

First let me say, I love Action Scenes and Dramatic Sequences (Kinda. More on that later.). By comparisons, Risks still feel a bit forced.  Like an oval peg in a round hole.  I think part of the story in RPGs comes from the unexpected occurring, something that 7th Sea downplays in favor of player’s choosing the consequences of their actions.  I’m not sure a three-tiered success system wouldn’t have fit along side Action and Dramatic scenes more seamlessly (both of them have essentially three tiers of success: Approach, Improvised, and Unskilled.  I’m sure the developers playtested this and chose to go another way because…they liked it more.  But to me, standard Risks FEEL much different than Action and Dramatic Sequences.  They don’t feel like extensions of one another.  And there are limits to what you can express with Risks that I don’t like.  Time will tell on this one.

Raises vs Successes

This one goes hand in hand with the previous point.  Raises, rolling your dice pool and counting 10s, don’t feel quite as intuitive as rolling and counting successes (WoD, Witch Hunter).  Others with better math skills than me have pointed out that rolling and counting 6s and above gives you the same peak probability while widening the curve, thus making your pool of Raises a bit less predictable in the long term.  The method the developers went with feels like change for the sake of change, to help give the game its own identity.  I suppose it does that, and predictability does have some benefits, but I’m not sure the game as a whole wouldn’t be more accessible and just as exciting if they’d taken a more tired and traditional method.

FYI for those who worry about the speed of counting groups of 10s, don’t worry about that.  That isn’t an issue with the way the game handles dice rolling.

Rulings vs Rules

I can’t help but get the feeling that the rules of 7th Sea are a little half-baked.  By that I mean, immature, unseasoned, and untested.  In my previous post I said:

I think it’s safe to say the game succeeds at what it sets out to do.  Now that it’s in the wild, I’m really eager to see how far people are going to push it!

That cuts both ways.  I believe its a good start.  I think Action Sequences are there.  Dramatic Sequences are too open ended, like something they tried a few times and said, “Looks great!  Put em in!”  Risks?  Like I said: oval peg in a round hole.  Almost there, but not quite.  Over the next couple of months, as more and more people get their hands on the rules, beat them, bash them, and twist them like the mercurial things they are, I think we are going to see some maturity, some road weariness, beaten into the system.  We’re going to find out what really works and what doesn’t.

Pay close attention to this.  And please, do not read this as a negative.  I think when 7th Sea: the East rolls off the presses in 2+ years, we are going to be looking at a more mature game.  And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we are 4-5 years away from a revised edition (most likely an expanded or revised second printing, but still).  In that time, I think GMs are going to take the tools given to them in the core book and spin off about 2 or 3 new variants that will become so ubiquitous in play that it would be ridiculous not to include them as part of the core rules.

This isn’t because the rules are bad.  They’re simply immature.  Kinda like the LBB edition of Dungeons and Dragons vs. BECMI/AD&D. I think 7th Sea 2nd edition is a natural extension of where John Wick has been going in terms of game design, but none of those games ever slammed headfirst into the hands of 11,000 people.  I suspect years of hard playtesting, convention play, house ruling and home brewing is going to create an interesting beast, but it’s still a couple of years out from real maturity.

I’m okay with that.  I think John Wick would be okay with that assessment.  But not everyone will be.

The Toolbox

Ok, to be fair 1st edition 7th Sea was no hallmark in this department.  Aside from a few false starts (“Random” Encounters in the GM Screen adventure, The Powder Keg in the Villain’s Kit), the game never offered much in the way of tools for adventure building.  Hooks, sure.  Metaplot, yup.  But nuts and bolts so you could create your own unique vision of Théah?  Nope.  Nada.  Almost zero.  Oh, there were plenty of subsystems and mini-games that made 7th Sea a nice sandbox, but that’s not the same thing.  The GM who wandered off the page was on his own.

2nd edition is following the same playbook thus far.  There aren’t many tools for GMs in the new game.  There is no sample starting point, no example NPCs, no example monsters, no idea generators, no random encounter tables, no tools for creating a town or city.  The information is most big picture stuff (“this is what swashbuckling adventure is…”) and not little stuff (“here’s a list of elements to ratchet up the swashbuckling flavor of your adventure.”).  Is this even a valid critique of modern RPGs?  I think so.  Maybe all those Savage Worlds Adventure Generators have spoiled me.

That may all be coming in the sourcebooks.  John Wick has said as much that this edition will not have a metaplot.  So its quite possible that we’ll see some GM tools that focus on and highlight the individual locations in the setting.  In that sense, Pirate Nations, the first sourcebook (due out in November 2016), will be very telling.  And if JWP doesn’t see the value in providing tools for us hands-on sandbox worldbuilder GM types, maybe the promised Explorer’s Society marketplace will give us a venue for such things.

In Conclusion

I don’t want anyone coming away from my previous comments about 7th Sea 2nd edition thinking its all sunshine, roses, and kittens.  If you look at these critiques and think, “meh,” then by all means polish up those d10s and start dreaming up consequences.  If these give you pause, then track down a game on Roll20 or at convention and give it a spin before you start throwing money at it.  Or toss the new rules and just graft the old R/K system back on top of the new setting.  There’s no shame in that.  Even the crew at JWP is on record as saying they want folks to use the old system if the new one doesn’t work for them.  You know your tastes more than I do.

I’ve said the game is outside of my comfort zone, and it is.  For all the reasons I’ve listed above.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to give it a try.  It also doesn’t mean I’m in it for the long haul (though that kickstarter sure did make that easier).  We had bucket loads of fun with the original edition, and I really hope this edition will deliver even more.  But the proof is in the pudding.  The first taste was nice, but that’s all it was.  Let’s see how things hold up over time.

 

Monty Python's And Now for Something Completely Different (B

The Service Industry

Caveat: I’ve never been a big fan of “crafting” in MMOs and the like.  The idea of spending hours on a computer game collecting different artifacts to put together something for sale just doesn’t do it for me.  That’s why I have a job.  That’s why I have hobbies.  I don’t want to spend my leisure time “crafting” virtual products for sale.  If you are the kind of person who does, you will probably disagree with the assessment in this article.

Recently, over on Google+, I shared a few thoughts with Brian Fitzpatrick on a prospective Alchemist class for old-school D&D.  Now first, let me say that Brian is in good company.  I’m not sure how many versions of an Alchemist class have been developed for D&D, between retro-clones, heartbreakers, Dragon Magazine, Pathfinder, and unattributed home brews, but I’m sure its up there in the Top 10.  He’s not breaking new ground, but he’s not trying to get blood from a stone either.

Once upon a time, I loved the idea of NPC classes.  Because more is better, right?  In a class-based system, the only way to achieve these expressions of diversity is through new classes.  It’s not like a skill or advantage-based system where I can spend a few points and BOOM!  I’m an alchemist, bitches!

The trouble is, those sorts of classes don’t really work in an adventure/exploration heavy game like D&D.  A character class focused solely on a support role just isn’t going to be fun to play over the long haul by the majority of players.  Because they never really get a chance to step into the spotlight when it counts.    Sure, I’m sure there are a handful of games that sort of class will fit like a glove, but the traditional “let’s explore” D&D game, not so much.

Besides, the rules already provide guidelines for the creation of potions and alchemical devices by clerics, magic-users and elves (even the other character types too, if the GM is flexible and willing to be extrapolate a bit).  This makes perfect sense.  After all, if we look at the life and career of Isaac Newton, its reasonable that in a quasi-historical fantasy setting all of these skills would have gone together.  A “wizard” would of course be able to cook up alchemical concoctions.  That would be assumed in the background and training.  So you already have the framework for your adventuring alchemist.  You can make it as simple or robust as you need it to be.

So my response to Brian was, rather than a class, why not just come up with a more detailed alchemy service?  Because that’s what it really comes down to: service and cost.  The party hires an alchemist to keep them afloat in healing potions, greek fire, and (in the case of Brian’s class) keep their magic items charged.  That stuff really isn’t the bread and butter of adventuring PCs, so lets mitigate it to a support role.  Brian disagrees with me on the merits of the class.  Which is fine.  As I’ve said, he’s in good company and I’m hardly the final word in game design.  His argument is as follows:

…I think the party alchemist, especially in a longer campaign with more spellcasters, could be extremely useful. Perhaps not all the time, but more often than not… Here are a few possibilities.

  • Imagine having the ability for both a Cleric and an Alchemist to temporarily enchant or improve weapons for the battle at hand
  • Or recharging an expended magic item at a critical juncture
  • Or creating a scroll, potion or powder from an unused spell at the end of the day “just in case” the party needs it at a future time

If we make the alchemist at lower levels (1-5) more useful for those three tasks, as well as give them a few additional abilities or spells, I think that would be enough to make this a useful player class.

Sure.  Or you could simply tweak the magic item research and fabrication rules as they are and achieve almost the same effect without having to wedge a player into a largely supportive role.

Consider:

  • Clerics and magic users can already temporarily enhance weapons for the battle at hand without the extra step of alchemy.
  • Recharging expended magic item sounds great, but removes the necessity of further exploration to replace expended resources.  Plus, most magic items replicate spell effects, allowing you to put your other limited resources elsewhere.
  • The rules already allow this to some degree.  Building a class around it is unnecessary.

And that’s really what’s at issue here.  Unless alchemy is going to be a big feature of your game (and it could be!), building a class doesn’t really add value to the game.  Instead, it provides a character that isn’t as capable as a magic-user or cleric that is focused on downtime activities and with more equipment and resource requirements.  See, a magic-user is just as capable whether or not he can find a steady supply of mandrake root to create this or that potion.  An alchemist would need to have that same, if not more, utility and versatility.

I’m not saying an adventuring alchemist isn’t a cool idea.  But I do think it needs to have a bigger niche than, “you want me to recharge that for ya?”

But I didn’t write this whole thing to shoot down Brian’s hopes and dreams.  No, see I want to redirect him a little.  Because what I DO NEED, as a DM AND as a player, is a reason to travel 300 miles over land and sea to seek out a MASTER alchemist as opposed to hiring that guy in the base town.  And I need a justification as to why that dude charges x10 as much for his services, other than that his calling card reads “Master Alchemist.”

If you look at B/X and AD&D, you’ll see roughly the same thing:

B/X D&D (Expert Rulebook)
Alchemist (1000 gp/month): If given the formula or a sample, an alchemist may make a potion at half the normal time and cost. They may also conduct research into different types of potions at twice the cost and time required for a magic-user.

AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide
Alchemist (300 gp/month):
This profession handles the compounding of magical substances, and the advantages of employing an alchemist are detailed under the section FABRICATION OF MAGIC ITEMS, Potions. Alchemists will only be found in cities unless you specifically locate one elsewhere. It will require an offer of 10 to 100 gold pieces bonus money, plus a well-stocked laboratory, plus the assurance of not less than a full year of employment, to attract one to service.

There really isn’t anything there that sets one apart from the other.  So there is just as much benefit to tracking down the famed Isaac Newton at University in England as dropping into Ted’s Apothecary and Lubricants for all of your alchemical needs.  What I’m proposing would serve the game well would be to grade hirelings by degrees of skill (I’d recommend three tiers to avoid getting too granular and keep the book keeping manageable), with different rates and some different capabilities attached.  Ted’s A & L might be a great place to go for low level potions.  But for the real heavy hitters (like recharging your wand of fireballs or a potion of super heroism), you have to seek out a Master.  And I think it would be worthwhile to do this across the board.  There should be a difference between hiring the Black Company and Wallace’s Band of Ne’er-do-Wells.  And there really is no guidance on how to do it right now.

I’m going to come back to this eventually on my own, but I suspect someone just as smart and twice as dedicated has already beaten me to the punch on this one.  And if not, someone needs to.  In the meantime, don’t give up hope on your Alchemist class, Brian.  I hear the one in the Arcanum is a fantastic starting point!

 

Would you Believe more Books for Gamers in Training

That’s right!  It’s been awhile, but I’m back with more children’s reading recommendations for gamer parents with young kids.  Here we go!

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George and the Dragon, by Chris Wormell

The story of a fierce fire breathing dragon with a terrible psychological flaw and his new, impoverished but upwardly mobile neighbor.  This book is not what you expect.  It’s short and its fun.  The art is great, too.  If your kid loves dragons, this needs to be in your library.

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Vampirina Ballerina, by Anne Marie Pace (Illus. LeUyen Pham)

Here’s one for you World of Darkness fans, you Camarilla members, goths and gothic lovers.  First up, LeUyen Pham is a fantastic illustrator and has been attached to a lot of good projects (I’ll give the Hillary Clinton puff piece a pass because my personal biases shouldn’t diminish the quality of the art).  This is a cute book and my daughter’s new favorite.  It really speaks to being the new kid, being out of step, and coming together as a team.  Oh, and it has vampires.  BTW, for fashionistas-in-training, I can also recommend another LeUyen Pham illustrated book, Shoe-La-La.

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When a Dragon Moves in Again, by Jodi Moore

What?!  Jodi Moore wrote a follow up to When a Dragon Moves In?  I haven’t even read it and I’m going to recommend it.  That’s how good it’s predecessor was.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Diversity in Gaming

This post started out as a comment to an unrelated thread on the RPGsite.  At the advice of Mr. Hat, I’ve expanded on it here.  Because I feel it’s an important story.

In the past few years there has been schism in geek fandom.  Gamergate.  Sad Puppies.  Rabid Puppies.  The HUGO Awards.  Like so many other facets of our culture, we’re becoming increasingly Balkanized.  Ugly people on both sides saying ugly things to one another until everyone stops listening.  The lines are drawn, the trenches are deep, the cannons are set.

Hmm…I feel a song coming on.  Take it away, Jerry!

Geez!  Was that song really released back in 1970?  The more things change…

All of this has of course bleed into RPG fandom was well.  You have the Social Justice Warrior contingent on TBP and elsewhere that regularly elicit swift and venomous responses from those who don’t subscribe to their way of thinking.  You are starting to see some strange independent games that address all manner of taboo topics and those games may be applauded or trashed and pilloried (even censored) depending on what side of the line you are on.

Now, none of these games really sound like a whole lot of fun to me.  I like my gaming with a side of heroic escapism.  If I want to explore the dark, disgusting side of the human psyche, I’ll read a book or watch Law & Order:SVU.  KULT is about as far down that hole as I’ll go.  There are more mainstream games and settings, like the Queen’s Cavaliers and Blue Rose, that are accused of pushing an ideological agenda.  And while I get the audience these types of games are trying to appeal to, I personally feel that, from the boiler plate back cover text, they’ve bled so much conflict out of the setting in their lofty goals of creating an imaginary Utopia, what’s the point in playing?

815577e1bffbdc49cf0b0333f8c6be3dBut as a response to this sort of stuff, there seems to be a growing chorus that increasing representation of women, ethnic and gender minorities is just paying lip service to the SJW crowd and is little more than panhandling.  After all, if only women make up a drop in the bucket of GMs, why go through the trouble of alternating pronouns in your game.  If LGBT players a tiny fraction of your audience, do we really need art depicting these relationships (and all the baggage that comes with it?  Geez, we just got over the whole demon worship thing, for crying out loud!).  Does it make sense to have images of black and brown people in games set in medieval Europe?

Now that’s probably a bit of a straw man argument.  The number of gamers who are adamantly opposed to all those things is probably more minuscule than the people who identify with those things.  But the US vs THEM mentality that is being fostered by both sides makes it very difficult to take a nuanced stand.  And since its easier just to lump someone into the wrong crowd than actually listen to what they are actually trying to say, we probably shut out a lot of voices just because of the noise on the fringes.

F*&$ing SJW!  I’m out!

Ok, if you’re still reading, I’m going to try and give you my “nuanced” view.  I call it nuanced because there are still things certain geek sub-cultures demand in the name of inclusion that don’t make a lot of sense to me.  But that really isn’t important.  So here goes.

arrowindraMy Teen Roleplaying program at the Lewisville Public Library is closing in on 10 years.  During that time, we’ve had scores of kids come through of every stripe imaginable.  We take all comers.  I don’t care how big a socially awkward misfit you are, I’m a 40 year old guy who likes to play Advanced Cops and Robbers with dice and charts.  I’m not gonna judge you…unless you gush on the Twilight series or Sailor Moon, then we’ll have words.  Because we have to set standards somewhere.  But I digress.

The first year we started, I was using Savage Worlds and running the 50 Fathoms plot point.  Rather than let the players make their own characters, I created a stable of around a dozen different characters.  The rules were simple: each time you come to play, you pick a character.  If you played a character last session, you got first dibs on it this time.  If you want to change it up and play a different character, no problem.

One of these characters was a fiery swordswoman from 17th Century Spain. Think Catherine Zeta-Jones from The Mask of Zorro, but more willful and spiteful.  She was put into the mix because its just a cool concept.  I like strong women type characters, and we had a pretty decent parity between teenage boys and girls at the time (something, I’m proud to say, we’ve been able to maintain over the course of the program!  Yay, us!).  So if a girl wants to sit down and play a fighter archetype character, I’ve got it covered.

So one evening, a young Latina girl — She’s probably 12; maybe 13 at a stretch — picks the swordswoman to play.  She was new to the game.  This might have been her first or second game session, but she was excited to give it a try and had a couple of friends from school who were already playing.  As I always do when I’m explaining the game, I try to put it in terms of the player’s character.  So I’m giving her the boiler plate description of the character and rattle off, “she’s Spanish…” and the girl interjects, “like me!”

Now, I won’t lie.  Part of my brain wanted to correct her.  “No, she’s European.”  But the larger part of me realized that she was relating personally with this character. As in “Spanish swordswoman is a badass = Latinas are baddass = *I* get to be the badass!” And right then, at that exact moment,  my whole perspective on this diversity in roleplaying business changed.  Because of that one connection.  This young girl was looking at a piece of paper and seeing something bigger.  It was giving her, the person she saw every day in the mirror, permission to be a bigger than life hero.  And she embraced it and ran with it!

If that character hadn’t been there, she might have happily played some other character.  I don’t know.  She played the swordswoman character consistently for the next few months.

That singular moment brought in a sea change in my thinking.  I WANT kids to look at an RPG book and imagine themselves in those situations, and I don’t expect them to imagine themselves as european male knights in shining armor. I want them to imagine them as themselves, whatever race, gender, sex, whatever.  While I don’t think anyone really disagrees with me on this score, I’m not sure how many people have seen that connection happen right in front of their eyes.

223c49ed0df1d468a47bd758b3c8bf69Being a college educated white male from an upper-middle class family (Cis, is that what the cool kids are calling it these days?  Everyone has to have a label, right?), I will be the first to admit that I do not understand the formula behind all this. But I am smart enough to know that if I see a picture of two women kissing in the crows nest of a ship, that picture is not there for me. When a transgendered dwarf appears in a Pathfinder book, that’s not for me either.  It’s there for someone else to see it and think “holy shit, *I* get to be the badass!”

For me to complain about that or take that away from someone else seems kinda selfish.

Now that doesn’t mean I LIKE every game that puts it out there like that (see my previous comments on Blue Rose and Queen’s Cavaliers).  I certainly see how a publisher could over do it. (“I never realized there were so many Africans in 16th Century London. What gives?  Is there a convention in town?”).  But let’s not be dismissive of it as a whole.  Because if a kid somewhere in this world can pick up an rpg (or any book really) and find something of herself in it that sparks her imagination in such a way that she HAS TO GET HER FRIENDS TOGETHER TO PLAY THIS GAME NOW!, well that’s a win-win for ALL of us who play these games.

Penny Dreadful: A Retrospective

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So it should be old news by now that after wrapping its third season, the curtain falls and the lights go up on Penny Dreadful.  There is something cool and liberating about these limited run series (limited run in that they tell a finite story rather than dragging things out for 6-7 seasons of 20 episodes each).

One of the things I’ve begun to experience with Walking Dead specifically but even Game of Thrones is the futility of investment.  When characters you care about die in the narrative, characters that you’ve become emotionally invested in, it shakes the narrative to its core.  Now, so far, Game of Thrones has done well to build on those deaths.  (Crap!  How do I do this without spoilers?) The executions, the assassinations, the atrocities, they still reverberate throughout the narrative.  Characters who died in the first novel/1st season are still impacting the story as it moves forward.  In that sense, you’re investment in the character isn’t completely lost.  Walking Dead is a different matter.  The writers may claim to be doing dramatic service to the narrative, promoting the idea that no one being safe raises the tension of each season.  Yes, I suppose it does.  But when a character dies on Walking Dead, their impact is gone after 2-3 episodes.  It becomes spectacle; a gimmick.  This is especially true of last season’s finale.  And its become old hat and annoying.  It’s like profanity.  If you curse like a sailor, those words have no impact.  But the guy who never curses swears once and EVERYONE is suddenly paying attention.  So when the body count in a show reaches a certain level, it doesn’t impact you in the same way anymore.  At some point, your perspective changes from who is going to die to who is going to live.  At that point, you stop investing in anything tangible about the narrative.

What was that Stalin said?  One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.  (At least a lot of people attribute that quote to him.)

Wait.  Stop with the Stalin quotes.  What does ANY of this have to do with Penny Dreadful?!

Sorry.  Let me put my soapbox away.

The point is that a short, defined narrative makes it easier to do the former and blunts the latter.  If you only have 10 episodes to tell your story, it’s easier to have a death or twist reverberate through the narrative longer.

Alright, so let’s get to Penny Dreadful.  First, some spoiler space for those waiting for the DVD collection to binge watch the season.  You folks just go ahead and bookmark this and come back later, k?

spoiler space…

Still with me?  Ok.

First up, I thought the season was incredible.  At least as good as last season.  I really applaud the way they handled Renfield and Dracula’s spawn.  When they revealed Dracula’s identity in episode 3, I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed for Vanessa Ives.  Ethan’s storyline wraps up nicely.  The Creature gets a ray of sunshine, only to have it tragically jerked out from under him.  Man, that guy can’t catch a break.  Doctor Jeckyll doesn’t really get to come into his own, but I liked the spin they put on him. Yes, it feels like by season’s end, everyone has turned a corner in character development.  Except…

Vanessa Ives.

Her fate is the lone, big, fat, red, nasty, pussy pimple on the whole season.  It isn’t bad enough to ruin the season for me, but it is enough to make me throw up my hands and say, “really?!

Now I haven’t seen any of the first season aside from 1 and 1/2 episodes.  I saw Van Helsing get knifed by a street thug and Eva Green get her first solo episode where we wax poetic for an hour about how she betrayed her friend and spiraled into the grip of the devil.  Pure Victorian Melodrama.  Also, pure crap!  If that’s what the show was about, I didn’t need to watch it.  Goodbye.

I did give it a second chance with the Season 2 and, without Vanessa being the sole focus of the show, I came along for the ride.  That’s what you get for trying to jump in mid-season.

But it’s been my complaint about Vanessa all this time.  Her sense of self-loathing just rolls on like a Sherman tank ignoring any obstacle in its path.  And it’s damn irritating.  “Oh, poor me.  I did something bad once and now I am irredeemably evil.  No, don’t try to tell me otherwise.  Lalalala!  I’m not listening to you!

But you helped feed poor orphans in the London underground? Nope.  Sorry.  Evil.

But you were there when the creature needed a shoulder to cry on.  Evil.

You help send evil things back to hell on a regular basis.  You’d love to think that but…evil.

But isn’t forgiveness a tenant of Chri… Ok, would you stop already?  Don’t make me prove how evil I am.  I speak witch!

So after 8 episodes of gearing up to put the screws to Dracula, with everyone behind her, knowing that anything less is to doom mankind, one monologue by our sharp dressed villain and Vanessa “accepts herself” for the evil, self-loathing bitch that she is.  Really?!  

Now you can say that she did it for love, for acceptance, for passion.  But no.  Vanessa did it because at her core she is a selfish, self-loathing lemming whose courage and determination amount to exactly shit when the chips are down.

Which is to say her decision feels totally forced and out of character to me.

And since her decision could be construed as directly related to the death of the Creature’s son, I was terribly disappointed that Mr. Claire was not the one to rip her fool head off.  No, instead we get Ethan who proves once again that Vanessa left her spine in episode 7 somewhere.  Because honestly, if her sacrificing herself so evil couldn’t win was the right move, someone should have suggested that in Season 2.

And this twist of fate is doubly annoying because it robbed me (!!!!!) of a proper finale with the Dracula v the Wolf of God.  Yes, I wanted to see Ethan wolf out and throw down with Dracula.  I wanted them to paint the walls!  Who didn’t?!  But no, Vanessa is the reason we can’t have nice things.  And as the curtain falls on her death, she becomes the story of Penny Dreadful, and that cheapens the whole run.  Thanks a lot, John Logan.

Other than that, it was a great ride.

What did you think?

Brutes

Lieutenant Brute, Reporting for Duty

Having played Savage Worlds for years, and now running an old school B/X D&D game for teens, I’ve gotten used to players wanting to hire retainers, hirelings, mercenaries, and other hangers on.  When prepping my adventure for 7th Sea, it seemed obvious that the ship’s crew was going to go on the adventure with the Heroes.  But other than Brutes being opposition, there really isn’t anything about using them for support.  A couple of us brainstormed some ideas over on the 7th Sea 2nd edition forums and I cobbled together some optional rules regarding brutes, focusing on players commanding them in the field.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Brutes should never outclass the Heroes; there should never be a time when it is to the Heroes’ advantage to let the brutes do the heavy lifting.
  • All things being equal, two brute squads of equal strength will each do 1 wound to the other each round.
  • If a squad outnumbers an opposing squad by 2 or more, the squad will do 2 wounds each round.
  • Players whose Approach allows them to command brutes may use them as any other weapon, and may spend a Raise for the brutes to do an additional wound to an opposing brute squad.

The rest is here.