Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sexy, shirtless Headless Horseman

As a counterpoint to being underwhelmed with Gotham, I would just like to point out that the second season premiere of Sleepy Hollow made me laugh harder than I have in… Umm…  Actually, I pretty hard and I laugh a lot, so it’s probably only been a couple of weeks. 

In any case, Sleepy Hollow treated us to the utter insanity of a sexy, shirtless Headless Horseman in last night’s episode.


Sexy, shirtless Headless Horseman.

I read an unusually large amount of romance novels for a guy, so I instantly recognized the scene as a classic of the genre – the reluctant woman just so happens to see the rough, muscular guy half-naked and all her feminist ideals fly out the window as she melts at the sight of his pecs – but this time the sexy guy’s got an ugly open wound where his head is supposed to be!

[Insert the sound of me laughing uproariously for the next five minutes.]

It occurs to me suddenly that Sleepy Hollow feels like how horror RPGs actually play: thrills and violence and sassy dialogue; absurdly over-armed PCs killing things whenever they get the chance; and constant danger but everyone’s laughing too much to care.  Man, I love that show far beyond reason.



The first thing I checked this morning was to see if English is Gotham head honcho Bruno Heller’s second language.  Nope.  His father is German, but Heller himself was born and raised in England.  In fact, he created HBO’s Rome, a series I quite liked and which certainly did not suffer from the bizarre dissonance of Gotham.

The pilot episode of Gotham suffers from tonal dissonance – different elements of the story just kind of clash – but it also just plain suffers from dissonance.  It sounds weird.  I have never in my life heard the phrase “a tall glass of milk” used to describe a human being; the only reference I can find for it online is at the Urban Dictionary, which – frankly – seems to make a bunch of crap up.  The word “lackadaisical” is prominently used in the pilot, causing both the audience and Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock to ask “Lackadaisical?”  There are forced references to penguins and awkward lines from Jim Gordon and it all just grates on my ears.

The tonal dissonance also bugs me.  Gordon and Bullock’s moment of peril is suddenly a scene from a jokey buddy cop dropped into the middle of Gotham’s grim pretentiousness.  There’s a twelve year-old child slinking around the city in sexy Catwoman poses (I shudder just thinking about it).  Oswald Cobblepot looks like a skinny version of Danny DeVito’s take on the character but walks like Burgess Meredith’s version from “Batman ’66.”   The most natural-feeling scene in the episode was Renee Montoya and Gordon’s fiancée having an “It was just a phase” conversation.  It’s just weird. 

This might all be deliberate.  The show airs in the timeslot before Sleepy Hollow, a show I and many others love for its baroque insanity.  Maybe Gotham is going to follow in that tradition instead of the more obvious “police procedural” mode; it’s hard to really judge a show by its pilot episode, so there’s certainly a chance the show will start to harmonize its elements. 

I’ll keep a wary eye on it for now, but I don’t know how long my interest will last. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Dracula Headcanon

I am totally revved up for Halloween already. 
So, as my previous post about our untitled Victorian adventure campaign (starring the adventurous archaeologist Lady Atalanta Scarborough!) indicated, our current duet game takes place in a world where Dracula happened.  In keeping with the many, many other authors and gamers who have continued the story of Bram Stoker’s characters, I have my own ideas about what the cast has been up to since the novel ended.
Dracula himself is now a globe-trotting supervillain, because of course he is.  Dracula  constantly seeks new information on the origins of vampires and the means to create them, pausing in his relentless hunt only long enough to toy with his dogged foe, Quincey P. Morris (see below).  Why he seeks this knowledge is something of a mystery as yet, as Lady Atalanta didn’t feel much like trading banter with him the only time they met.

Unlike the rest of the Draculacast, he doesn’t look like the actor from Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Instead, I’ve been describing him as young of face but gray of hair, so I guess that means he looks like Alucard or Dracula from Castlevania.

Weird. I’m a Sega guy and never played Castlevania.

Jonathan assumes his marriage is happy and is living a nice, quiet life as a chartered accountant law.  If he discovers Dracula is alive, it may unhinge him…

Honestly, I always feel sorry for Jonathan, but it’s hard to imagine him becoming an interesting character.  If I had the time and patience for such a thing, I’d love to write a Dracula sequel that’s a simple domestic drama about the Harkers’ repressed recrimination and pain.  But I don’t, so I’m not gonna.

Hmm, maybe Jonathan has a thing for kinky sex that he keeps hidden from Mina, and if they only shared their hidden desires they could enjoy a happy swinger lifestyle?  That would be kind of cool…

I just can’t imagine Jonathan deliberately choosing to become an ongoing vampire hunter action hero, though.  That just doesn’t seem like his thing, no matter how much kukri-wielding action he got into at the end of the novel.


You know what Dracula being alive means? 

It means Mina was never cured!

Mina Harker is still a proto-vampire (a moroaică, or “living vampire” in Romanian terms), hiding her curse from her husband and friends through judicious use of make-up and mesmerism.  The initial signs of vampirism that seemed to disappear when Dracula “died” were in fact just “growth pangs” and vanished because Mina’s body adjusted, not because they were gone.  She controls her bloodlust well, but the physical strength and stamina that come from being moroaică leave her frustrated at the confines of hearth and home.  She’s had a string of lovers on the side; she feels guilty because she still loves Jonathan, but he’s such a putz
Mina’s biggest worry is that Dr. van Helsing will discover her secret and kill her in her sleep


Van Helsing has pretty much given up medicine to concentrate on killing things.  He lives in a small London house and keeps no servants.  His cousin, the baronet Sir Justin Integrity Wingates-Hellsing, funds Van Helsing’s continued research, but none of the other characters know about that yet.

I do a pretty good impression of Anthony Hopkins’ Van Helsing, but it takes me a while to warm up. 


I haven’t given a single thought as to what he’s up to.  Maybe he emigrated to New York City and founded a new asylum with a partner named Arkham?   

Actually, I just got off the phone with Robin, and her theory is that Seward is Bram Stoker’s self-insertion character.  Van Helsing might be Stoker’s Mary Sue (they share first names and have similar builds; Van Helsing is all gregarious and wise), but Seward is the quietly competent guy who has to put up with all the crap.  He’s the guy who has to deal with “bookings” and arranging things and all that jazz, just like Stoker handling things for Henry Irving.  That makes me think that Seward has probably been quietly researching vampire phenomena and studying new, technological techniques of vampire fighting so that he can ultimately show up both his mentor Van Helsing and the dreaded Count Dracula.

Seward is kind of an unpleasant ass, but you can understand where he’s coming from.

Quincey P. Morris was, until recently, a vampire and had been so since his apparent death at the end of Dracula.  Quincey’s sire, however, was not Dracula himself.

The exact circumstances of Morris becoming moroi are a mystery to him.  Back before he met Lucy Westenra, he lived an occasionally dissolute lifestyle, so it’s possible he picked up vampirism at a Mexican bordello just south of the Texas border.  The peculiarly snake-like features of his vampirism certainly suggest a connection with vampire cults of that area.   

Yes, I’ve been watching From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.  Your point?      

It may have also occurred during his expedition to the Pampas, as recounted in Dracula.  During that adventure, Quincey’s horse was mortally wounded in the night by vampire bats and had to be put down.  It is possible that Morris himself endured an attack he does not remember and was infected at that time.  In any case, Quincey Morris was already a moroi when he battled Dracula and changed into a strigoi (an “immortal” or undead vampire) after he fell in battle. 

Painfully, that means the blood he donated during the series of blood infusions attempted to save her life actually helped to infect Lucy Westenra with vampirism.  He realizes that and may never quite forgive himself.

Lady Atalanta first encountered Quincey during an adventure involving the Lilith Tablet, a Babylonian relic recounting the supposed origin of the world’s first vampire.  Dracula and Atalanta battled for possession of the tablet and the discovered it housed Lilith’s undying spirit.  Quincey aided Atalanta in banishing the spirit, the Count retreated, and the archaeologist and the reluctant vampire became lovers.  As is the sad story of many such people called to adventure, they had to part to pursue their own destinies.

Many months of game time later, Lady Atalanta and Morris were reunited in the Yucatán.  Both sought a mysterious lost Mayan city that had been recently sighted, but not properly explored.  After fighting off a nest of Mayan vampires, Atalanta discovered a gold "Rosetta Stone" Mayan codex.  Lady Atalanta recently translated the mysterious Mayan codex and discovered a rather… unconventional… cure for vampirism (or at least the South American strain).  After helping to cure her on-again/off-again lover of his curse, Lady Atalanta and Quincey parted once more to pursue their own adventures.


Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming, was shattered by the tragedies he experienced during the events of Dracula... 
So he traveled the world, seeking solace in the mystic teachings of the East... 
And now he fights crime in London as the mysterious vigilante, the Black Pirate!
(Because that's how I roll!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Caius (Weird Wars Rome: Dux Bellorum)

Colin Firth in The Last Legion
(Fun fact: Firth loves playing jerks and laments he doesn't get those roles.)
Heroic Wild Card

Caius Artorius Caecina is the cousin and foster-brother of Artorius.  It is hard to imagine that two men could be so different yet be so close; Artorius is professional and thoughtful, while Caius is boorish and rowdy.  Despite his pride in his Roman heritage, Caius is almost more a barbarian Celt by demeanor.  He acts as as a "drill sergeant" and unit commander for Artorius' warband.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d10, Vigor d8

Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Knowledge (Battle) d6, Knowledge (Briton) d6, Notice d6, Riding d8, Taunt d8, Throwing d6.

Charisma: -1(-2) Pace: Parry: 9(1) Toughness: 10(3)

Hindrances: Arrogant [Major], Mean [Minor], Stubborn [Minor].

Edges: Block/Improved Block, Blood and Guts (WWR), Brawny, Command, Giant Killer, Military Family (WWR), Strong Willed. 

Gear: bronze breastplate (+3 Armor, torso only), clipeus/medium shield (+1 Parry, +2 Armor vs ranged attacks), formal robes, greaves (+2 Armor, legs only), 2 javelins/spears (Str+d6, range: 3/6/12, RoF 1), legionary helmet (+3 Armor, 75% chance of protecting against head shots), marching pack, pavilion, spatha/long sword (Str+d8), war horse.

Bedwyr (Weird Wars Rome: Dux Bellorum)

Clive Owen in King Arthur
(I think he makes a better knight than a king.)
Heroic Wild Card

Bedwyr of the Perfect Sinews is one of Artorius’ oldest friends and most formidable warriors. Even though he lost one of his hands in an early battle, his courage and strength have made him a paragon the younger warriors of Artorius’warband. His success and good looks lead some jealous rivals to accuse him of witchcraft.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8

Skills: Fighting d10, Intimidation d4, Knowledge (Battle) d6, Knowledge (Latin) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d10, Throwing d8.

Charisma: +2 Pace: 6 Parry: 8(1) Toughness: 9(3)

Hindrances: One Arm [Major], Enemy [Minor; jealous rivals], Loyal [Minor].

Edges: Attractive, Counterattack/Improved Counterattack, First Strike/Improved First Strike, Frenzy/Improved Frenzy, Steady Hands.

Gear: bronze breastplate (+3 Armor, torso only), clipeus/medium shield (+1 Parry, +2 Armor vs ranged attacks), formal robes, greaves (+2 Armor, legs only), 2 javelins/spears (Str+d6, range: 3/6/12, RoF 1), legionary helmet (+3 Armor, 75% chance of protecting against head shots), marching pack, spatha/long sword (Str+d8), war horse.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Artorius (Weird Wars Rome: Dux Bellorum)

In the late 5th century CE, the colony of Britannia finds itself defenseless after Rome recalls her legions.  The Romano-British hire Anglo-Saxon mercenaries to defend their borders, but soon find themselves at war with their erstwhile protectors.  As the light of Rome begins to die in the west, a leader arises – a man history will call King Arthur, but whom history knows as the…


Russell Crowe in Gladiator
(The best King Arthur movie yet made is the the first act of Gladiator.)


*Legendary Wild Card

Ambrosius Artorius Aurelianus is the descendant of a long line of respected military leaders.  As Britannia devolves into petty kingdoms in the wake of the Anglo-Saxon uprising, Artorius earns his title as “the last of the Romans” by putting the cause of freedom before personal gain.  He is a master tactician, a competent politician, and leads an army of cavalry descended from Sarmatian and other foreign auxiliaries stationed in Britannia centuries ago. 

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6

Skills: Fighting d10, Intimidation d6, Knowledge (Battle) d10, Knowledge (Briton) d6, Knowledge (Germanic) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d8, Riding d8 (includes bonus from Military Family).

Charisma: +2 Pace: Parry: 8(1) Toughness: 8(5)

Hindrances: Code of Honor [Major], Death Wish [Minor; free Britannia from the Saxons], Loyal [Minor].

*Edges: Band of Brothers (WWR), Command, Common Bond, Cry Havoc! (WWR), Equestrian/Patrician (WWR), Fervor, Inspire, Leader of Men, Military Family (WWR), Rank (tribune, WWR), Tactician, Trademark Weapon (spatha named Caledfwlch).
Gear: bronze breastplate (+3 Armor, torso only), clipeus/medium shield (+1 Parry, +2 Armor vs ranged attacks), contus/lance (Str+d8, AP 2 if charging from horseback, 2 hands), formal robes, greaves (+2 Armor, legs only), legionary helmet (+3 Armor, 75% chance of protecting against head shots), marching pack, pavilion, spatha/long sword (Str+d8), war horse.

*Edit: To heck with it, I'm making Legendary after all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Music = Magic

(I know I should be working on any number of other projects right now, but this is one of those “Write it down or I’ll forget it” things – and the best place to keep things I don’t want to forget is one the blog.)

Since Jem and the Holograms is one of Robin’s favorite childhood cartoons and Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is one of her favorite anime, I have, from time to time, contemplated running a campaign about musicians.  Attempts so far have not been particularly successful, but I think I might have figured out how to make it work.

Music = Magic

Not (necessarily) in the D&D bardic style, but rather in using the mechanics of spellcasting in order to simulate the drama and challenge of performing.  It seems to me that the music itself should be some sort of mini-game with its own evocative flavor, rather than being a dull series of skill checks.  There should be some magic to making music, and an obvious way to do that in a tabletop RPG is to use the game’s magic system.

(Alternatively, of course, we could always bust out the karaoke machine or LEGO Rock Band, but that has its own limitations.)

I’m just tossing out ideas here – I would certainly not claim to have the whole thing thought through – but…


Actually, doing “magic songs” could be perfect for Jem.  Let’s think about that for a moment in Savage Worlds terms.  Got an orphan who is down in the dumps because peer pressure’s getting to her?  That’s being Fatigued and can be cured by a song of succor.  Want to race in the Indy 500 in order to show up your rival?  Sing a thrashing song of speed to get your car moving or boost/lower trait in order to boost your Driving skill so you don’t crash into a wall.  Want to jumpstart a new romance?  That would be… Umm… We’re going to need a few new powers.

Concerts could be a way to earn Power Points or Bennies.  Maybe they’re essentially rituals?  There should be some reward system where the difficulty of the set list (or successes for invoking certain effects) grants extra benefits.  Maybe they’re used to generate Fame points for something similar to Pirates of the Spanish Main’s fame/infamy scale…

Dang it.  I think I’m on to something.  Too bad I don’t have the time to work it up properly.