Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!!: Gamera

Gamera (1965)

Gamera is really neat. The ‘90s Gamera trilogy directed by Shusuke Kaneko remains a high-water mark in kaiju cinema, being to giant monster movies what Watchmen (or, perhaps more aptly, Miracleman) is to superhero comics. The original films from the ‘60s and ‘70s are also certainly special in their own right; my favorite is Gamera vs. Barugon, possibly the only kaiju movie that’s also a heist film. There’s a reason I own both DVD and Blu-Ray copies of almost every Gamera film* (even if the DVDs of the original series have this sleepy-eyed guy and his robots talking over the films).

Gamera is also – as the both series of films take pains to point out – filled with meat. There’s a pretty obviously deliberate gross-out aesthetic to the movies, especially the kid-oriented entries in the original series. Gamera bleeds – a lot – and other monsters routinely get body parts severed. The trailer for the apparently aborted 2016 relaunch (available on YouTube) demonstrates this with a shot of a Gyaos being literally fried by Gamera’s flame breath (including exploding eyeball).

Finally, Gamera is really sweet. Aside from his debut film (in which he’s still oddly friendly with children) and the aforementioned vs. Barugon (in which the Godzilla Threshold makes him the hero), Gamera is almost always played as an overt hero. Admittedly, in the ‘90s movies – especially Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris – he’s not so much the defender of humanity as he is the protector of the biosphere, but he’s still the good guy.

But, again, Gamera is full of meat, as that film shows when the villainous Iris destroys one of his hands. So we’ve got – in opposition to Godzilla – an overtly heroic, armored yet vulnerable, flying turtle who is the friend to all children. On the one hand, he’s constantly getting injured; on the other hand, he’s invulnerable to human weapons. He’s a bit of a puzzle to stat out.


Let's consider this version a blending of the Showa and Heisei Gameras (leaning more toward Heisei). He's shorter than Godzilla (as Gamera always is) thereby reducing his Toughness a bit; we'll also give his armor the Major Limitation "can be bypassed with a Called Shot." His damage field is the jets produced when he flies, so it's Contingent on activating his flight. I think this will work.

Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999)
Seasoned Heavy Hitter Wild Card Kaiju (25 XP)

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d12+7, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d8, Flying d6, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Shooting d10, Swimming d8
Charisma: -4; Pace: 24 (Fly Mach 2+, Swim 32); Parry: 7; Toughness: 40 (12)
Hindrances:Heroic [Major], Ruthless [Major], Illiterate [Minor; unable to communicate through speech or writing with humans], Weakness [Minor; cold]
Edges: AB: Super Powers, Acrobat, Dead Shot, Fast Healer, Take the Hit
Gear: Atlantean magatama
Super Powers
  • Absorption (2): fire/heat
  • Aquatic (2)
  • Armor (4): Armor +12, Heavy Armor, Major Limitation (can be bypassed with called shot)
  • Attack, Melee (20): bite or elbow spikes; 4d6+d12+7 (10); AP 10 (5), Focus (3), Heavy Weapon (-), Switchable (2) or Damage Field (19): fiery jets; 5d6; AP 10 (5), Heavy Weapon (-)
  • Attack, Ranged (24): cone of fire or plasma ball; 6d10 (10); AP 10 (5), Cone (1), Enhanced Damage (4), Focus (3), Heavy Weapon (-), Range 12/24/48, Switchable (2) or Flight (23):fiery jets; -8 Attack Penalty (18), Climb 6 (3), Switchable (2)
  • Regeneration (7): Recovery, Regrowth
  • Resistance (1): fire/heat,  
  • Toughness (10)
  • Kaiju: fear (non-kaiju only, Scary, Terror), gargantuan (Size +11, Heavy Armor, Heavy Weapons)

*I really can’t stand Gamera the Brave and so do not own a copy.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Untitled Celtic Super Powered Setting

from Heroes of the Dawn (1914)

As I’ve shared before, one of the projects Robin and I would like to do is publish a series of Savage Worlds “mini-settings” – 40- to 60-page books that present an abbreviated setting guide, a relatively small number of new Hindrances and Edges and stuff like that, and maybe one full-sized adventure. These mini-settings would rely on published companion books like the Horror Companion and Super Powers Companion to do the heavy lifting on the rules, giving us more space to devote to world-building. To save money, we’d probably use public domain art.
(This will work very well with Last Days of the Law, the Heian Japan horror setting, because no new art we pay for is going to look any better than anything Utagawa Kuniyoshi created.)  
One of the settings I’d like to do doesn’t have a title yet. I imagine it as a Gaelic equivalent to Marvel’s version of Asgard: high fantasy meets superheroics. Inhumanly-powerful protagonists, monstrous villains, a light touch of science fantasy… There’d be a little bit of Sláine, a trace of Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s Keltiad, and a smattering of Kenneth C. Flint. One thing I would want to figure out rules-wise is a way to impart super powers to weapons and artifacts so that other people can wield them instead of just the “owner” (like the way Marvel’s Thor’s Mjolnir can be used by those who prove themselves worthy).
I bring this up because today is St. Patrick’s Day and I used to think of myself as very, very Irish. I’m not; I’m 3/8th Irish, 1/8th German, and 1/2 some kind of mix of Swiss, Polish, and possibly Cherokee. I was just raised in a vociferously Irish-American household that was estranged from my late father’s non-Irish side of the family. U2 was my favorite band and I loved Clannad, Enya, and the Pogues, too. Half the books sitting on my shelves were Celtic fantasies by Morgan Llewellyn or Diana L. Paxson. I wrote a treatment for a graphic novel retelling of the Táin Bó Cúalnge as a tale of the Troubles. I even dabbled in druidism. At this time of year, we’d eat soda bread and watch The Quiet Man.
A few years ago, I became estranged from my Irish-American relatives (leaving me to make a found family of friends, like some kind of Joss Whedon character) and distanced myself from my Celt-crazy youth (which, in many ways, I had already left behind for anime and RPG fandom). Recently though, the passage of the years and the mending of wounds has led me to start warming up to my Gaelic roots a little bit more, and today I’m feeling downright nostalgic.
I don't have much in the way of details worked out for this Celtic super-fantasy setting yet; it's a long, long way off from being written. As I understand it, there's already a few Savage Worlds Celts books  – Mystical Throne Entertainment's Ultimate Celts Guide and some Sláine-inspired fan works – while Chimera Press has staked a claim on Mabinogion-inspired Welsh fantasy with Mythic. Whatever I wind up calling this thing would lean hard into the super powers in order to chart its own course, going for deliberate Kirby-style madness.
I'm thinking giant monsters would help. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!!:Kong: Skull Island (Stats)

Kong: Skull Island

While my earlier King Kong stats adequately describe the character who appeared in 1933’s King Kong (and do fairly well for the 2005 remake), the Kong who appears in Kong: Skull Island is a very different beast. As I pointed out in my review of the film, this is Kong as kaiju – a giant monster at several removes from humankind. He’s a Kong designed from the get-go to get into a fight with Godzilla.
Unfortunately, Kong is another weird outlier among kaiju in that he’s just a BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG GORILILILILILILILA!!!!!!!! (Or, maybe, a hominid, as he walks erect.) He doesn’t have any beam weapons or spikes or wings – an argument could even be made that he doesn’t technically have armor – so there’s a lot less to spend Power Points on when you’re building him with the Super Powers Companion.
Notably, though, one of the characters in Kong: Skull Island points out that he’s still growing. This means that to model his stats in K:SI, we should use the Rising Stars rules. That means fewer Power Points for now, so less worry about what to do with excess points. I guess I’ll be updating these stats in 2020 when we see what size he is when he fights Godzilla.
Kong (2017)
Seasoned Cosmic Kaiju Wild Card (Rising Star)                                  
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d12+8, Vigor d12
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d12, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Survival d6, Throwing d6, Tracking d6
Charisma: -4; Pace: 48; Parry: 8; Toughness: 28
Gear: --
Hindrances: Heroic [Major], Ruthless [Major], Illiterate [Minor; unable to communicate through speech or writing with humans], Vengeful [Minor]
Edges: Arcane Background [Super Powers], Brawler, Improvisational Fighter, Level Headed, Mighty Blow, Nerves of Steel, Take the Hit
Super Powers:
  • Armor (0): Heavy Armor
  • Attack, Melee (22): 5d6 + 1d12 + 10 + weapon ; Armor Piercing 10, Focus, Heavy Weapon, Multiple Attacks, Stackable.
  • Danger Sense (2)
  • Fearless (2)
  • Leaping (4): Bounce, Death From Above
  • Resistance (1): fire
  • Speed (6): Blinding Reflexes, Catch and Throw
  • Super Attribute (6): Strength +1, Vigor +2
  • Super Edge (2): Take the Hit
  • Super Skill (5): Fighting +2
  • Toughness (10)
  • Gargantuan Being Package: fear (Scary, Terror, Limitation: non-kaiju only), size (+11, Heavy Armor, Heavy Weapons, Long Stride, Monster)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (Review)

Also, it's a just plain beautiful movie.

Note that the title of the film is Kong: Skull Island, not King Kong (2017). This is not another remake of the 1933 motion picture, nor – aside from some third act Easter eggs – does it ever pretend to be. Kong: Skull Island is King Kong as pure battling monsters kaiju eiga (complete with the environmental concerns inherent in that genre) not Merian C. Cooper’s mesmerizing ode to bestiality nor Peter Jackson’s far more effective but overlong love story.

Of course, the giant monster battles are not unprecedented. The first two-thirds of every film titled King Kong are about Skull Island and Kong’s fights with the reptilian predators located there; Kong: Skull Island differs from its predecessors in that it begins and ends on Skull Island and the battle against the reptiles is the film’s central conflict. Kong is the protagonist in a way he’s only been in animated versions of the tale or Toho’s King Kong Escapes” the human secondary protagonists are an entry point into his world, viewpoint characters but not truly the heroes.
This approach echoes and amplifies the approach of the previous Legendary Monsterverse film, Godzilla (2014). Just as Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa is introduced only to be replaced as focal character by Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody only to be replaced by Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Ford Brody only to be a through line to the reveal of the film’s true protagonist, Godzilla, so does Kong: Skull Island introduce us to a succession of presumed human leads who gradually cede narrative focus to the giant ape. Thankfully, as an ape (or possibly, based on his bipedal gait, a hominid) Kong possesses enough expressiveness and intelligence to serve well as the hero, justifying his longer screen time over Godzilla’s sparing use of its lead.
More time spent with the monsters is one way that Kong: Skull Island will better satisfy viewers who felt Godzilla had too little of its titular daikaiju (a complaint this reviewer did not have); the human characters are also wittier and more performative than Taylor-Johnson’s deeply internalized, naturalistic Lt. Brody. Unfortunately, they’re also lifted practically whole-cloth from Apocalypse Now and other Vietnam War movies with broad, winking references to the novel Heart of Darkness. It’s not that Tom Hiddleston’s Conrad isn’t nice to look at, but the obviousness of most of the human roles diminishes their impact. One can practically tally who’s going to live or die as early as the launch of the expedition to Skull Island, with only one impressively cruel ironic twist providing a real surprise.
That said, the human cast is largely entertaining. Brie Larson plays anti-war war photographer Mason Weaver with a deeper internalization than any of her male co-stars. John C. Reilly’s stranded WWII vet steals scenes in a good way, providing much of the story’s heart as well as comic relief. John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson acquit their roles with aplomb. The supporting cast is remarkably good, with surprising effort made toward individualizing the seemingly cannon-fodder soldiers. Corey Hawkins’ MONARCH scientist is notably well-rounded, while Tian Jing’s similar character is not. And, as mentioned above, Tom Hiddleston is really, really nice to watch in an action-oriented role that should really have EON Productions considering him for the next James Bond.
In the end, though, it’s the monsters that carry the film, a varied menagerie composed of equal parts homages to the 1933 original, Jackson’s 2005 version, and Princess Mononoke. They are equal parts strange, expressive, and evocative. As incongruous as the herbivorous Sker Buffalo are in a genre dominated by predatory reptiles, their inclusion allows for pathos and a touch of the sublime. The Leafwings provide the scary/cute frisson of the Dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park (or the Procompsognathus from the book). The Skull Crawlers – with their weird, unnatural limitation to only two limbs and a tail – are wonderfully eldritch, a link to the Lovecraftian horror lurking in the background of the kaiju genre.
Kong himself – practically the only character with an arc of character growth – is by turns vicious, sullen, compassionate, world-weary, and genuinely heroic. The performance capture by Toby Kebbell and Terry Notary is second only to Andy Serkis’ performance in Jackson’s film in terms of the sympathy it evokes, while providing Kong with a fierce intelligence (exemplified by his tool use) and muscularity that makes him an excellent action hero. This Kong may not be the doomed lover of earlier versions, but he’s the first to truly earn the title of king and it’s unfortunate that he won’t have more screen appearances to let him grow more into his role opposite Godzilla in Legendary’s 2020 motion picture.
Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see how Legendary handles the conflict presumed in a title like Godzilla vs. Kong. Both kaiju end their recent films as indisputable heroes (with Godzilla perhaps as a more indestructible, Superman-like defender of the innocent and Kong as a more Batman-like avenger), so it seems likely the film will follow classic superhero team-up structure, with the two leads fighting over a misunderstanding before uniting against a common foe. The end credits teaser scene provides some hints of who that foe might be with a brief sequence setting up things to come in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. While less satisfying than one might have hoped for, the scene provides a welcome crescendo to an entertaining, new take on King Kong.
[As an aside to Savage Worlds fans, the movie also feels – to some degree, at least – like a big-budget Weird Wars: Tour of Darkness and could be easily run using that setting book.]

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!!: Shobijin and Mothra

Mothra (1961)

Mothra is an interesting corner case in monster design. First of all, Mothra is actually multiple beings – a series of parents and children (usually mothers and daughters, but occasionally mother and son) who replace each other over the course of several film series. Secondly, the parent and child forms have completely different powers. Third, there’s an argument to be made that Mothra isn’t really an independent character, but rather the Animal Companion of the Shobijin’s animal control power.

The Shobijin (also known as the Little Beauties, the Twin Fairies, the Infant Island priestesses, the Cosmos, and the Elias) are a pair of tiny singing women who accompany Mothra on its adventures. They have a telepathic bond with the kaiju and frequently seem to guide its actions. The Shobijin are usually portrayed as members of a purer, ancient (occasionally pre-human) civilization that’s more in touch with nature. Occasionally, they display super powers of their own outside of their connection to Mothra.

Buying a Size 14 kaiju as an animal companion costs 60 power points (base cost of 2 per level for animal control x (Size +1) x 2 for the Animal Companion modifier) – and that’s before you buy any super powers to add to the base kaiju template. If we assume that Mothra is an aspect of the Shobijin’s powers rather than an independent being, that only gives us another 25 points to build  powers (and any extra powers we give the twins themselves).

That raises the question of whether the twins are separate characters or not. Hmm… If we count both Shobijin as separate characters (as certainly seems to be the case with their incarnations in the Rebirth of Mothra trilogy from the late ‘90s), then we can combine their total power points for both their own powers and Mothra (giving us a whopping 170 points to use with the Super Karma rule). Given that Mothra is better known for defensive abilities than combat prowess, that might actually work really well.  

Shobijin and Mothra
Novice Cosmic Wild Cards and Kaiju Animal Companion

The twin priestesses of Infant Island are able to communicate with any semi-sentient form of life.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6

Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d4, Intimidation d4, Notice d8, Persuasion d10, Stealth d8 
Charisma: +4; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Toughness: 2
Gear: -- 
Hindrances: Gimmick [Major; can only summon Mothra together], Dependent [Major; unhatched Mothra egg], Cautious [Minor], Pacifist [Minor]
Edges: Attractive/Very Attractive
Super Powers:
  • Ageless (1 each)
  • Animal Control (76 each): level 15 (Size 14 animal); Animal Companion, Super Powers (46 points each)
  • Shrink (2 each): Permanent (as per damage field
  • Speak Language (2 each): Written Word
  • Telepathy (4 each): Switchboard 
This god-like, eternally-reborn insect protects not just Infant Island, but also the world. 
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d12+10, Vigor d6 
Skills: Climbing d6 imago/d8 larva, Fighting d8, Flying d8, Notice d6, Persuasion d8, Stealth d6 
Charisma: -2; Pace: 24 (Flying Near Light Speed); Parry: 6; Toughness: 39 (10) as imago/49 (20) as larva 
Gear: --  
Hindrances: Heroic [Major], Dependent [Major; unhatched Mothra egg or entire planet], Cautious [Minor], Pacifist [Minor] 
Edges: Attractive 
Super Powers  

Inherent powers (shared between adult and larval forms)
  • Aquatic (2 total) 
  • Armor (5 total): Heavy Armor 
  • Attack, Melee (16): bite or claws; 4d6 + d12 + 10; Armor Piercing 10, Focus, Heavy Weapon 
  • Doesn’t Breathe (2 total) 
  • Regeneration (7 total): Recovery, Regrowth 
  • Resistance (4 total): air, cold, fire/heat, and radiation (can survive in space) 
  • Toughness (10 total)
Imago only:  
  • Absorption* (11 total): radiation as primary; Energy Master, Reflection, Switchable 
  • Deflection* (14 total): Protector (2), Switchable 
  • Flight (23 total): Near Light Speed; Climb 6, Switchable 
  • Healing* (23 total): Cure, Refresh, Restoration, Resurrection, Switchable 
  • Stun* (9 total): Area Effect (LBT), Strong, Switchable
  • Whirlwind* (8 total): Large Template, Switchable, Twister
*Power relies on Mothra’s wings, either through the force of their beating or the shedding of wing scales. All of imago Mothra’s wing-based powers except for flight switch with each other.
Larva only:
  • Armor** (12 total): +10 Armor; Switchable
  • Burrowing** (5): Pace, Switchable
  • Ensnare** (11 total): Area Effect (LBT), Very Strong, Switchable
  • Healing** (13 total): Limitation (self only), Resurrection (spins cocoon and reemerges in imago form)
  • Super Skill** (3 total): Climbing +1; Switchable
**Mothra’s larval powers do not switch with each other, but rather with Mothra’s imago-form wing-based powers. All of larval Mothra’s powers are in effect at the same time.

Fast and “Fury”-ous

Evil Beagle recently provided me promotional copies of Leonard Pimentel’s Magnum Fury and Six-Gun Fury . No expectation of a review wa...