Friday, June 22, 2018

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 was discussed, but since I feel like writing a blog post and I don’t have a lot of time to come up with something more creative, I’m going to review them anyway.

Built on a Powered by the Apocalypse-adjacent engine, both games set out to emulate competency-porn action—Magnum Fury in the ‘80s action movie mold, Six-Gun Fury in the Western style. Action resolution is much looser and seat-of-your-pants than PbtA games, making the Fury games weirdly perfect for both creative-minded RPG novices and veterans. There are no “Moves,” so certain kinds of newer players who like a more video game-like set of options may find themselves at sea, but fanfic writers and players who don’t like being told what they can and can’t do will enjoy themselves.

Also, the success resolution scale favors player characters succeeding more often than in PbtA games. I appreciate this immensely, because I’d rather run games starring John Wick* than Ted “Theodore” Logan.

Character creation is simple in both games, though simpler in Magnum Fury. Players arrange an array of genre-appropriate stats, choose an archetype (which has more bonuses and choices in Six-Gun Fury), fill in some background fluff to give the GM something to work with, and jump into the action. Players familiar with the games (and genres) should be able to slap characters together in fifteen minutes or less, making both Magnum Fury and Six-Gun Fury perfect for hard-cider-and-GF-pretzels gaming.

I ran Six-Gun Fury last weekend and the players one novice and several veterans) took to it quickly. Even Robin, who has a grudge against Westerns from a childhood filled with parents forcing them on her, enjoyed it and really got into her remorseful Stone Cold Killer character. Admittedly, the game ran toward the zany, gonzo side of action-adventure, but… um… that’s what I do.

If I had the time and energy, I could easily see running a weekly pick-up Fury game. The GM sections of both books emphasize improvisation, providing colorful random adventure generation tables and recommended filmographies. My only objection (as is usual with PbtA and adjacent games) is that the GM doesn’t really play with everyone else; as the dice-rolling is all in the players’ hands, the GM becomes much more a literal storyteller, which is something I can only enjoy doing in moderation.

But that’s much less of a complaint here than in my limited contact with other storygames. Both Fury games emphasize having a rollicking good time, so it’s easy to just sit back and react to players’ absurd actions. I look forward to the official release of Six-Gun Fury and wonder what Leonard Pimentel will create next.

*Action movie character John Wick, not game designer John Wick, obviously.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Savage Rifts Playtest Update: Too Many BUGS!

Sean and I went down to one of our many gaming stores -- Court of Gamers -- to run a playtest of Savage Rifts. Gathered around the table were 5 members of the San Antonio Savages, my long-time friend Tomas, Sean, and myself. We tested out all of the new adult Xiticix, several new Iconic Frameworks, and an adventure. It was a good learning experience.

The game was pretty straight-forward. The Tomorrow Legion headed out into the Dakotas to help refugees from Tolkeen. New settlements risked invasion by expanding Xiticix Hives.

When they reached a village, a group of Deathbringer Tribe Psi-Stalkers and their necromancer -- Shizuka Kun -- asked for their help to take out a new hive nearby. Of course, they accepedt the challenge.

They rested the night in the village. Kun shared information garnered from reconnaissance into the hive. The Vampire in the group turned to mist and checked it out himself, bringing back more info. The heroes' Ethical Necromancer spent time communing with the dead and raised a security detail of six skeletons and two zombies

In the morning just as they began to head out, a young boy and some horses came racing into the village. A patrol of Xiticix followed close behind. A few members targeted the Xiticix Super Warrior leading the patrol, and others sought out the Warriors. It did not take long for them to realize the Super Warrior was their greatest threat; their Rahu-Man Cyberknight took on the task alone but found himself lacking. The Vampire used fear and sent over half of the Xiticix Warriors running, freeing up team members to help fight the main threat. After a long arduous battle, they defeated all of the Xitcix and were on their way.

Lucky for them, Shizuka Kun had time to dismantle the Xiticix. She provided Xiticix armor and scent. This proved useful when the heroes chose to sneak into the hive, evading the guards. That was until the Xiticix caught wind of the Rahu-Man who had been sprayed by one of the Xiticix. A tough battle ensued as some on the outside took on the guards (lead by the Necromancer and Knight of the White Rose. The others--including the Rahu-Man, Vampire, Wilderness Scout, Zapper, and Cyber-Horseman--took on those in the main shaft. It was a slog, but they made it through.

The Vampire made it through first. Using his wiles, and desire to be out of the sunlight, he sunk deep into the hive. There he kept the Young Queen's small guard busy until others joined him below. And in a single swing, the Queen was dead and the Xiticix were running.

I learned 4 lessons as I ran that game:

Lesson 1: Xiticix are tough! The Super Warriors are serious business, but they should be. The Workers, Diggers, and Leapers are a reasonable challenges without being a pain. Nannies and Queens may need some work.

Lesson 2: Clarify some material for the Iconic Frameworks. We tried out quite a few, and for the most part, they worked. There are kinks, but they are looking good. The Ethical Necromancer has lots of potential, and our player really helped show that. The Vampire is REALLY complicated. Thankfully, Sean played that character. That one is going to be tough.

Lesson 3: Novices cannot take on a hive, no matter how new. Small bands of Xitcix work. Equal number of Warriors or Hunters is fine. If a Super Warrior is thrown in, the fight must be carefully choreographed. I think I may have figured that out though. The other less combat oriented are good fodder to make a party feel good -- but for the most part, they should be.

Lesson 4: People are really looking forward to Savage Rifts. So our deep drives back into the books is a good thing. Hopefully, we can have more options that players are looking for.

Now on to the next playtest. Sean and I get to run Savage rifts as long as we want for Free RPG day at Multiverse Games. We will definitely be running a revised vampire game, as for the others with a new MARS package. As for the others, who knows.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Wine and Savages Team Now Co-Lead Developers for Savage Rifts®

While most interested parties already know this, Robin English-Bircher and I have combined forces with Sean Roberson as Lead Developers for Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Rifts® for Savage Worlds line. This is, bluntly, the biggest, most awesome thing that has happened in our short RPG careers and we intend to bring all the dedication and creativity we can muster to this role. As Pinnacle CEO Shane Hensley stated in a recent update to the Savage Rifts® Kickstarter:

Hi friends!

We've been talking a bit about the upcoming Savage Rifts® books on our Facebook page and the Savage Rifts® Facebook page and thought we should point it out to you…          
The short version for those who don't want to hunt down the threads is that three new books are in layout now and we hope to launch them later this year once art, approvals, and a bit more playtesting are in place. 
Wanna know what they are? Here you go!
  • Rifts® North America: Empires of Humanity
  • Rifts® North America: Blood & Banes
  • Rifts® North America: Arcana & Mysticism
We'll tell you more about them soon, including what's inside and where we'll focus next!
We've also secured a new team to take over management of the line and speed things along a little faster, including Sean Roberson, Sean Bircher, and Robin Bircher, whom some of you may have seen host the Savage Rifts® panel at the recent Chupacabracon game convention in beautiful Austin, Texas!
The three of us took over as head writers and editors on Empires of Humanity and Blood & Banes last year—Roberson heading EoH and us taking over B&B—while Robin and I also wrote at least a quarter of Arcana & Mysticism. The books are coming along swimmingly; I personally hope to engage in some of that playtesting in the next few weeks, as I really want to see some more people’s reactions to some of the new Iconic Frameworks and M.A.R.S. options.

For all three of us, this is our big break. Trust us to pour all our energy and excitement into Savage Rifts®. We want you to have as much fun playing it as we aare having developing it.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Savage World of Jane Austen Characters

A quizzing glass in action

As promised, the character sheets for the Savage World of Jane Austen game I ran at Chupacabracon V. I removed the character art (because I didn't own it) so feel free to insert pictures of your favorite version of the characters when you run the game. "Standing" and "Courtesies" work remarkably similarly to Rank and Favors in Rippers Resurrected, while the Wealth Die expands on similar rules in Accursed and Shaintar

Unfortunately for the blog (but fortunately for my pocketbook), I literally just accepted a short turnaround editing assignment and can't expand on anything more at this time.







Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Report from Chupacabracon V

Well, that was a weekend and a half.

Chupacabracon V has come and gone—and I am exhausted. Part of this this is due to the fact that I had to go on a liquid diet yesterday (the Monday after the con) for an endoscopy and colonoscopy today in order to get officially tested for celiac disease. Part of this is due to sleeping very badly in hotels. Much of it is due to the weekend being a whirlwind of events.

Since I’m having a hard time stringing things together narratively, let’s just bullet point this sucker:
  • Robin decided to start a new Chupacabracon tradition by hosting a drinking tour of Austin-adjacent boozeries on the Thursday before the con. The only people able to join us were Nicole Lindroos and Chris Pramas of Green Ronin, but we had a great time. We visited two of the absolute best places in the state (Texas Keeper Cider and Andalusia Whiskey), commiserated about recent troubles over great booze, and finished off at Pecan Street Grill in Johnson City. It was great to make new friends outside of the Savage Worlds circle.
  • Speaking of friends, Ross Watson told us that night that he’s hoping to find more work for us soon on Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory. Have I mentioned that Robin and I edited most of the corebook? We did; it was fun and challenging.
  • I watched most of John Wick: Chapter 2 while trying to wake up on Friday. I hadn’t been able to talk Robin into seeing either movie in the theater, renting them, or buying them, but I think she’s now intrigued by their slick setting.
  • Friday segued into surprising (yet also, sadly, expected) news from Shane Hensley and Jodi Black, asking us and Sean Roberson to pitch ideas for the third set of Rifts® for Savage Worlds books. We were also given permission to speak more openly about what’s coming up in the second series, leading Roberson to suggest we host a panel to replace the missing Freedom Squadron panel.
  • Friday afternoon allowed me to test out a new The King is Dead adventure, taking a more espionage-focused tack than usual. Everyone had a good time; Roberson and I actually got to game together. Like everyone who has ever played the character, Roberson had a blast playing Illuminated scoundrel Walther Leigh; I never really planned on having “iconic characters” for TKiD, but Leigh has definitely earned it.
  • Robin ran Savage Rifts®. She might well be the only woman to receive a writing credit for that setting (so far). Her game previewed some of the vampire content from Blood & Banes. I made her some Chango the Chupacabra minis. 
  • Friday night was the charity game. Ed Wetterman stepped in at the last moment to run game designer John Wick’s least-favoriteadventure. I was in the audience while Robin joined Ross, Cam Banks, Steve Muchow, Wendelyn Reischel, Jack Norris, and Brandon Peterson in a very slaphappy jaunt through the dungeon. The highlight for me was Robin and Ross deciding their elfin characters were perfectly happy getting spat out of the Tomb of Horrors naked but alive, and then wandering off to frolic in the forest.

  • We went to the Green Ronin panel at some point on Friday or Saturday. There’s a city book for Aldis in Blue Rose coming up; we’ll definitely give the setting another shot after we buy that. Pramas announced a Dungeon Masters Guild-type setup for the AGE System is in the works. I’m looking forward to Modern AGE, and I hope the terms of Green Ronin’s community content platform allow me to make something a little more R-rated than what Pinnacle prefers for Savage Worlds. (Maybe a stylish crime setting?)
  • Saturday morning, Robin, other Sean, and I hosted our Savage Rifts® panel. Jeffrey Gordon livestreamed it on Facebook; I think you can still find it there. In short, the next three books are in final edits but don’t expect them until after a few more Pinnacle Kickstarters, there’s lots of cool stuff by us and other authors, and the line will continue onward. Also, none of us can agree on what the worst threat to Rifts® Earth is.
  • Saturday afternoon, I stepped in to GM one of the Savage Worlds VIP games—a position I felt far more confident about qualifying for than I had when I volunteered on Thursday. I talked the players into letting me run Lupin III: The Revenge of Mamo, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Since it was a VIP game, I got to run it in a secluded conference room—which meant I got to play Lupin music during the game! Everyone had a great time, the personalized Adventure Cards worked great, Freedom Squadron’s Planning and Operations rules worked perfectly for the setting (and gave the players a taste of what they missed when the original GM had to drop out), and all the props and craziness was just perfect. Damn…
  • Meanwhile, Robin hosted a "Women ON Gaming" (not "Women IN Gaming") panel with Jennifer Baughman and surprise panelist Nicole Lindroos. I'm sorry I missed it.
  • And then on Saturday night, I turned around and ran the adventure again as part of the Savage Saturday Night block. Because of the random, improvisational nature of the missions, it turned into an almost completely different yet no less exciting and fun game. I only wish that group had gotten to enjoy the music too. This is definitely turning into one of my regularly-scheduled con games.

  • Robin was right next to me running Savage Simpsons vs. MST3K, but I have next to no idea how that went because I was too wrapped-up in my game.
    I know Gamera was in it.
  • Sunday morning, John Atkinson ran Freedom Squadron for us and I got to play my utterly ridiculous character. Since posting about building him with FS’s Vocational Frameworks, Catamount has morphed from “Snake Eyes knockoff with knives and a mountain lion” to an unfrozen cryogenics patient from the 1980s who decided to become a ninja (and befriended a mountain lion) after he discovered his whole family was wiped out in WWIII. He’s a little more Deadpool than what I intended, but—honestly—that’s much more the kind of character I enjoy playing.
  • Also, Wally the Mountain Lion took the lead (and succeeded) on an Interaction Challenge because he had Intimidation and no one else had any social skills.   
  • Also, thinking up new Agility Tricks every round is exhausting. Bringing a knife to a gunfight is hard.
  • Also, if someone specific is reading this, stealing Pirates of the Spanish Main’s Close Fighting Edge for Freedom Squadron would really help out Catamount in the future. Knife-fighting techniques are a much more common part of military training than katanas.
    Catamount is the pawn trying to stab the woman with fire powers.
    Robin's mystic, Black Cat, is played by Santa's Little Helper.
    Wally is, of course, the only character with a proper mini.
  • Finally, Sunday afternoon was The Savage World of Jane Austen, once again in the conference room. It went really well for the first half and proved to me that my social combat rules work, but it went kind of off the rails (in a hilarious and entertaining way) during the second half. Admittedly, I was strung out on green tea and lack of sleep. I should write more about this game, but I’m still processing lessons learned.
  • I met Tuxsen!!!
  • We finished Sunday with a party hosted by Mark Carroll and Jennifer Baughman. It was great. Robin and I get to spend so little time physically with members of our tribe that nights like that really make us feel human.

More thoughts to come, I’m sure.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Paradigmatic Framework: Mystic Warrior

The Mystic Warrior puppets of Thunderbolt Fantasy
The Lupin the Third Part 5 recap is going to be late because I do not want the blog to turn into “all Lupin III, all the time.”


I’m playing in a Freedom Squadron game at Chupacabracon this year, so I’ve been digging deeper into Sean Patrick Fannon’s new setting rules. Despite the fact that I worked on some upcoming Savage Rifts® books and wrote a few Iconic Frameworks for them, I’m still surprised by the Vocational Frameworks found in Freedom Squadron. They’re significantly more powerful than the M.A.R.S. packages without getting quite as overpowered as Iconic Frameworks, striking a balance I would call “cinematic.” With one of these, you’re pretty much jumping right in to the competency level of a John McClane as he appeared in Die Hard, if not quite the level of a James Bond.

I like them. If you’re a fan of the long climb from zero to hero, then I certainly wouldn’t recommend adopting anything similar in your campaign. I prefer heroes with some meat on their bones, so these Vocational Frameworks greatly simplify my usual process of having players level up a few Ranks.

With that said, I’ve been longing once again to play a wuxia game and maybe even dust off “Zhàndòu: City of Warriors,” the martial arts setting I created for Savage Insider (and still one of my favorite things I’ve written; follow the affiliate links to buy a copy). Therefore, I think I’ll create a new Framework to support that.

Mystic Warrior

This Framework emulates heroes whose mastery of the arts of war bleeds into the supernatural—characters like the Irish champion Cu Chulainn, Kenshin Himura, and the youxia of wuxia and xianxia books and movies. It is not meant to emulate modern martial arts-style heroes (such as those portrayed by Bruce Lee and Michael Jai White) nor chanbara characters like Zatoichi or the hero of Yojimbo. For those, I would recommend the Athlete and Sword Saint frameworks found in Freedom Squadron.

Hero’s Journey

If you have access to the Freedom Squadron Commando’s Manual, you may make one roll on the Close Quarters Combat, Command, or Physical Training tables. Otherwise, choose one additional Combat or Command Edge.

Abilities and Bonuses

Blending magical training and martial expertise into otherworldly combat skills, Mystic Warriors regularly perform extraordinary feats.

  • Martial Training: All Mystic Warriors begin with a d6 in Agility, d8 in Fighting, and the Acrobat and Martial Artist Edges. If you have the Freedom Squadron Commando’s Manual, then they also gain the Fighting Style Edge; if not, then they gain the Trademark Weapon Edge.
  • Mystic Attunement: All Mystic Warriors begin with a d6 in Spirit, d8 in Faith, and the Adept Edge. The “faith” embraced by Mystic Warriors varies greatly from individual to individual. Some follow stringent codes of conduct, others do reverence to local gods and follow difficult taboos. In a wuxia setting, heroes will either be aligned to Daoist principles (such as the Wudang sect) or Buddhist principles (such as the monastery of Shaolin).
  • One With the Blade: Mystic Warriors are differentiated from unarmed martial artists by their use of weaponry. Early in their training, every Mystic Warrior masters a particular weapon; commonly chosen weapons are the dao (short sword), jian (long sword), gun (staff), and qiang (spear)—though many Mystic Warriors master more exotic weapons. When using this style of weapon, the Mystic Warrior gains the benefits of Adept and any Edges that require Martial Artist as a prerequisite; for example, a Mystic Warrior with Improved Martial Artist who became one with the staff does Str+d6 damage, while any Mystic Warrior might spend Power Points to improve the AP of their weapon attack as per the Adept Edge. 

    Wednesday, April 18, 2018

    Lupin III – The Killers Gather in the Wasteland

    Who the hell is this?! What is this guy's deal?!

    Summary: Lupin turns the tables on the assassins. Ami reveals secrets. Fujiko joins the game.

    Lupin the Third Part 4 (AKA The Italian Adventure) cherrypicked the best elements from the long history of the Lupin III franchise, giving us alternately Green Jacket crime stories, Red Jacket hijinks, Pink Jacket meta-commentary, and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine levels of characterization. They even did an out-and-out Miyazaki homage in the humorous yet melancholy episode “Welcome to the Haunted Hotel!” I’d have to rewatch the whole series, but the only element I can’t remember seeing in Part 4 was truly Monkey Punch-style gallows humor.

    That is not true of “The Killers Gather in the Wasteland,” which might be the most Monkey Punch episode I’ve seen in any series—even the ones that directly adapted manga stories.

    I’m still not sold on the serialized aspect of this series, but this week’s episode is still fan-freakin’-tastic. Admittedly, it’s also really dark, with a level of (largely implied) lethality completely opposite in tone to The Castle of Cagliostro, so one’s mileage will definitely vary.

    As a middle-aged cishet white male named after Sean Connery and for whom the men’s adventure paperback revival of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s forms an indelible link to my late father, I loved the hell out of it. The reformed male, progressive part of my being recoils somewhat from the horrifying backstory revealed for Ami in this episode, but it makes an ugly sort of sense. The rest of “The Killers Gather in the Wasteland” is just badass action backed up with bizarre character designs taken right from the manga.

    And, honestly, it’s hard to object to Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon killing their way through an army of foes when those foes are top-flight assassins. I just find myself wishing we’d gotten entire episodes dedicated to Captain Bone, Union Mama, Ichigo the fisherman, Akagi and his invisible gun, the Rat Gang, and whoever the hell that weirdo with the dog is supposed to be.

    And then Fujiko Mine finally joins the storyline by doing that thing you knew she was going to do but kept hoping she wouldn’t.


    A side of hands served with a sick burn courtesy of Goemon Ishikawa XIII.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2018

    Lupin III - The Lupin Game

    Goemon cuts an unworthy object
    Summary: With all the eyes in the world on him, Lupin III thwarts the Marco Polo backers by stepping into the spotlight. In return, they change the rules of the game.

    Oh no.

    Oh no... No no nonononono...

    The first episode of Lupin the Third Part 5 ended on a cliffhanger, an obvious set up to keep the action moving into the second episode. I was alright with that—earlier series have done two-part episodes—but “The Lupin Game” also ends in a similar manner. I’m not even going to call it a cliffhanger at this point; it’s really like the first 15 minutes of the episode finish the plot begun in the last five minutes of “The Girl in the Twin Towers” while the last five minutes of “The Lupin Game” belong to next week’s episode.

    It’s like a freakin’ Netflix show.

    Admittedly, my familiarity with original Netflix content is largely limited to the Marvel shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, etc.) but I really, really hate how those shows abandon proper serialization structure. A properly serialized narrative is presented in discrete segments; each episode should tell a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end while including plot threads that advance the season-long narrative. The Netflix model encourages binge-watching by basically taking a ten- or thirteen-hour movie and hacking it into hour-long portions with no requirement that those portions contain a full story, leaving you unfulfilled and in need of more.

    Applying this model to Lupin the Third Part 5 wouldn’t be as much of an issue if this full season was available to stream all at once like a Netflix show, but it isn’t. We’re getting one episode a week, like normal, and the last two episodes have not given satisfaction. I don’t even know what to write about the episode’s plot, given the way it jumbles things up. We get the resolution of last week’s chase scene, a couple of comedy and character-building moments, and then the beginning of what the preview promises will be an extended action scene taking up most of the next episode.

    (There’s also a gay panic joke and what might be racism, but it’s mild for the typical Japanese insensitivity to such things.)

    Thankfully, Goemon gets to do some cool things and the crazy, themed assassins (there’s a guy with a harpoon and another one’s a fly fisher) introduced at the end of the episode seem like they burst out of the original manga or the first two TV series. Watching them get beaten promises to be fun.

    Seriously, I can't figure out if this is racist or just reflecting the reality of someplace the creators visited or saw on TV when researching the episode. Maybe they're a dance squad or a volleyball team?

    Thursday, April 5, 2018

    New Edge: Soft Style

    For some reason, recently I’ve found myself thinking about soft style martial arts—traditions like aikido and judo—and how to model them in Savage Worlds.

    G. I. Joe Special Missions #4 by Larry Hama and Herb Trimpe
    Oh, yeah. Now I remember why they've been on my mind.
    The philosophy behind these schools (at least, the one that action movies and comics taught me) is that they’re supposed to be about redirecting the opponent’s momentum to throw them or knock them off balance. Particularly in the case of aikido (sold to Westerners as the “pacifist” martial art), modeling this with Fighting skill attacks seems contrary to the underlying philosophy.
    The answer looks to be pushing, an underutilized part of the Situational Combat Rules. If we accept that the Bash maneuver also incorporates throws and that “knocking” someone prone can also mean flipping them, then the Bash and Knock Prone maneuvers perfectly encapsulate the kind of redirection of momentum espoused by soft styles. Unfortunately, pushes rely on opposed Strength rolls, so unless your martial artist is Hercules, he’s not going to be throwing a lot of people.
    Therefore, we need a couple of Edges.
    Soft Style
    Requirements: Novice, Martial Artist
    You practice a soft technique martial art such as aikido, hapkido, judo, or t’ai chi ch’uan. The philosophy behind your school emphasizes redirecting your opponent’s momentum, putting yourself in an advantageous position and leaving your opponent off-balance.
    You may use the Push maneuver (see Situational Combat Rules) to Bash or Knock Prone opponents through flips, trips, and throws. When you Bash or Knock Prone, you use Fighting instead of Strength for the opposed roll. Bashing and Knocking Prone count as Fighting and martial arts attacks for Edges that modify such abilities (such as First Strike and Martial Arts Master).
    Improved Soft Style
    Requirements: Veteran, Soft Style  
    You have learned to truly turning your opponents’ own power against them. When you Bash or Knock Prone, your opponent suffers damage equal to their Strength. If your target ran at least 3” toward you before you attacked, you add +2 to your roll.

    For Freedom Squadron, I'd convert this into an aspect of the Fighting Style Edge, while for it could get added into Superior Kung Fu for Deadlands: Reloaded.

    Wednesday, April 4, 2018

    Lupin III – The Girl in the Twin Towers

    Summary: When Lupin robs a dark web marketplace, the owners turn the eyes of the world on him in an attempt at revenge.
    I was out of the loop when The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Lupin the Third Part 4 aired in their initial TV runs, so this season’s Lupin the Third Part 5 is the first chance I’ve enjoyed to watch a Lupin III series while it airs. The anticipation of waiting a week between episodes promises to be both painful and delicious.
    The new series begins where Part 4 left off, with Lupin and gang relocated to France from Italy. A cold open showing mysterious figures pondering Lupin’s elusive origins gives way to a raucously cartoonish opening sequence and a new version of the iconic theme played on the accordion (giving it aural echoes of French café music and the theme to A Shot in the Dark, one of the best Inspector Clouseau films). We then cut to Lupin and Jigen planning a heist targeting Marco Polo, a dark web vendor of drugs and guns that’s more than a little reminiscent of Silk Road.
    The pair (and Goemon) infiltrate Marco Polo’s server farm/headquarters in an action sequence that’s half Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation, half Road Runner cartoon. This leads to the introduction of Ami, one of the season’s new characters and the latest in a line of slightly-too-innocent-for-his-taste young women whom Lupin III rescues. Though the theft is successful, Lupin and gang find themselves on the run when the owners of Marco Polo gamify tracking the thief down and turn everyone with a smartphone into unwitting bounty hunters.
    Lupin the Third Part 5 charges out of the gate with a smart, thoroughly modern take on the Lupin III heist-adventure formula. While the art isn’t quite as delightful as the previous two TV series (mainly due to flatter colors on the characters), the animation remains expressive and action-packed. Morose, withdrawn (possibly chronically depressed) Ami is amusing in her initial appearance, though it’s far too early to see if she’ll have the impact of Fujiko Mine’s Oscar or Part 4’s Rebecca Rossellini. Inspector Zenigata’s new partner, Yatagarasu, makes no impression, making me wonder if he’s intended for a romance with Ami, almost like one of those bland leading man-types teamed with the Marx Brothers in their later films.
    I’m excited by the technological bent of the new series, even if I’m completely indifferent to its promises to explore Lupin’s origins. I hadn’t even heard of Silk Road until reading reviews of the first episode, so I’m hoping the rest of the series continues to educate me about 21st century twists in the heist genre. Even if it doesn’t, Lupin the Third Part 5 will give the thrill of watching a Lupin series unspool in real time for the first time in my life.

    Thursday, March 29, 2018

    Freedom Squadron

    Disclaimer: I have worked for Sean Patrick Fannon on Savage Rifts® and with Evil Beagle Games on several other projects. I am, however, not involved with Freedom Squadron in any capacity.

    It doesn’t come up much, but I’m a G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero fan. In fact, I’m an ARAH snob. As far as I’m concerned, the pinnacle of the franchise is the original Larry Hama-written comic book series and every other aspect—the live-action films, the reboot toy lines Sigma Six and Renegades, the separate Devil’s Due and IDW comic continuities, and especially the Sunbow cartoon—succeed or fail based on how close they come to replicating the mixture of action, espionage, politics, and satire that Hama writes.

    This disadvantages any ARAH cartoon-derivative Savage Worlds setting trying to gain my favor, especially when one of its touchstones is the G. I. Joe animated movie—a film that appeals to me only because of the snappily-animated opening credits and the fact that Duke nearly dies. (Hama fans do not like Duke.) Thankfully, Freedom Squadron transcends its inspiration and the weaknesses of G.E.T. Into Action and Strike Force 7, the other two G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero-based Savage settings.

    Freedom Squadron—based on Spyglass Games’ board game VENOM Assault—presents a setting for military fantasy action set in 2051 CE. In the aftermath of World War III, international anti-terrorist and rescue team Freedom Squadron fights a fiery cold war with VENOM, a mysterious organization with ties to all the major conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries. This futuristic setting helps Freedom Squadron leap the major pitfall Strike Force 7 falls victim to: modern politics. Jumping ahead into a world of new alliances and international cooperation creates a renewed innocence to the military fantasy genre, allowing for a battle against clear-cut bad guys without the spectre of extraordinary rendition or torture scandals.

    The art assets inherited from VENOM Assault easily best the limited budget of G.E.T. Into Action (a petty complaint about the other setting, admittedly), but Freedom Squadron also gifts players with the chance to really…um…get into action. Players build their Freedom Squad heroes using Vocational Frameworks that provide hefty bonuses to skills and special abilities, providing an opportunity to charge headlong into the “high-octane” action writer Sean Patrick Fannon promises.

    As one of Fannon’s Patreon backers, I’ve already read an early edit of the Commando’s Manual, the player’s handbook to character creation and setting background. The new Vocational Frameworks strike an excellent balance between the bombast of the Iconic Frameworks and the relative reserve of the M.A.R.S. packages found in Savage Rifts®. They neither turn player characters into superheroes nor do they require an additional Rank’s worth of Advances to make them viable out of the gate. Supplemented by the new Skill Focus rules, Flash Gordon-inspired narrower skill list, and Savage Rifts®-style Heroic Journey rolls, Freedom Squadron characters start the game ready to take on difficult odds—just like the small, specialized G. I. Joe team did against the faceless legions of COBRA troops in the comic.

    As an example, let me build a character I made up when I was eleven. The mysterious mercenary Catamount was created by painting tan an original 1982 commando Snake-Eyes figure after the 1985 ninja version rendered the first toy redundant. Conceived as an honorable opponent in the vein of Kwinn or Storm Shadow, Catamount wore a ridiculous amount of throwing knives (because I thought throwing knives were cool back then) and had a mountain lion as a companion because of course he did.

    Disclaimer: I am not an artist.

    Catamount is an obvious fit for the Ninja Vocational Framework—which, thankfully, is the one Fannon has shared with the public as part of Freedom Squadron publicity, so I can go ahead and reprint the framework’s bonuses without giving away privileged information. Ninjas get:
    • Hero's Journey (One Roll): Ninja may take their single roll on any chart in this book except Command, Mechanized, and Tech & Engineering. 
    • Martial Training: Ninja study many forms of combat, starting with a d8 Fighting and the Martial Artist Edge. They also start with one of the following Fighting Styles (per the Edge): Accurate, Evasive, Fast, or Power. 
    • "Ninja-Like Reflexes:" The old adage comes from truth. Ninjas begin with a d6 Agility and the Quick Edge.
    • Shadow Masters: A Ninja is not worthy of the name without firm training in physical movement, obfuscation, and infiltration. All Ninja begin with a d6 Athletics, d6 Stealth, d6 Thievery, and the Thief Edge.   
    Most other Vocational Frameworks start with fewer front-loaded abilities and more rolls on the Hero’s Journey tables, but this fits my needs very well. I’ll take Catamount’s single Hero’s Journey roll from the Infantry table (also publicly shared) and roll:
    • Advanced Infantry Training: You get five additional Skill Points, which can be spent on any of the following: Athletics, Fighting, Healing, Shooting, and Survival.
    Aw, yeah. Put that all together, and we get:

    Novice Human Ninja
    Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
    Skills: Athletics d10 (Focuses: Climbing, Throwing), Driving d8, Fighting d10, Healing d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d10, Survival d6, Thievery d10, Tracking d6
    Charisma: –2; Pace: 6; Parry: 7; Toughness: 5
    Hindrances: Turncoat, Loyal, Quirk (hates using guns)
    Edges: Beast Master, Fighting Style (Fast), Martial Artist, Quick, Thief

    Now, the frustrating thing here is that the Kickstarter is still short on unlocking the Friends/Foes Manual, the supplement that details the heroes and villains of the Freedom Squadron universe. When that unlocks, a new backer level will open up that allows backers to buy their characters into the universe (complete with professional illustration)! Even though I doubt I’d be able to afford it anyway, it would be cool to have the chance to make Catamount the Storm Shadow to Blindside’s Snake-Eyes.

    With that in mind, you can back Freedom Squadron here.

    Wednesday, February 28, 2018

    Please Support Olympus Inc: The Pelion Report on Indiegogo

    Right here, right now, a war rages unnoticed. The twelve mega-corporations of the Olympian gods fight the schemes of the unleashed Titans in board rooms and back alleys, with the fate of humanity as the prize. The half-human beings of Greek myth—centaurs, cyclopes, dryads, nymphs, satyrs, and more—lurk hidden in plain sight, selling their services to both gods and Titans. Highly-trained black ops demigods use their powers to engage in corporate espionage and covert warfare on behalf of their patrons—but they must keep their battle hidden or the goddess Nemesis will shut them down.  
    Fabled Environments is back with a new expansion for Olympus, Inc, the Savage Worlds setting of “Olympunk” intrigue! The Pelion Report, by Charles White and Gilbert Gallo, contains five more godly bloodlines—introducing the paragons of Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hephaestus, and Hera to the setting—as well as the ability to play cyclopes and centaurs. Also included are new Slosi (AKA magical items), weapons, equipment, and rules for working with the magical metal Orichalcum.
    The goal is $2,500, which seems pretty reasonable for a print-on-demand book. The first stretch goal (available at $3,000) is an adventure by me. My previous adventure for the setting, Poison Drift, concentrated on the paramilitary aspects of Olympus, Inc., so I think I’ll go with a more espionage-tinged approach if I get the chance this time.
    Additional stretch goals unlock new adventures by Charles and Gilbert as well as minor gods like Nike, goddess of victory, and Hecate, goddess of magic. Personally, after Wonder Woman last year, I’m curious to see what White and Gallo do with the Artemis and Athena paragons.
    The backing tiers have some great perks. $40 gets you the PDF, a POD coupon to order a hardcover or softcover book at cost, PDFs of Poison Drift and another module, and any three floorplans from Fabled Environments—and $50 gets you all that and the POD + PDF option for the original Olympus, Inc! Higher tiers allow contributors to help design elements of the setting, like corporations, monsters, and NPCs.
    Support Olympus, Inc: The Pelion Report by following the link to Indiegogo!

    Friday, February 23, 2018

    Batgirl: Seriously, Joss?

    Yesterday brought the welcome news that Joss Whedon has stepped down from writing and directing Warner Brothers’ Batgirl movie. As a Whedon apostate—first turned off his work by the needless cruelty of Serenity (who the hell rewards the fans who fought to bring back his show by killing off beloved characters?!), and then vindicated by Kai Cole’s accusations of infidelity—I am immensely relieved that he won’t be screwing up another DC movie, and especially relived he won’t be screwing up a female-led movie.
    While many suspect his departure has more to do with bad buzz from the aforementioned infidelity and the failure of Justice League, Whedon’s stated reason for leaving the project is that he couldn’t come up with a story… which is ridiculous. For one thing, all you have to do to come up with a story for a comic book movie is adapt some freaking comic books. I’m pretty sure there’s some good stories to be found in Barbara Gordon’s 51-year history; just bury your damned ego, stop reinventing the wheel, and adapt someone else’s work, asshole. For another thing, Robin and I cracked a basic (admittedly rough) story outline last night during two or three hours of sporadic conversation.
    Batgirl is a character with built-in dichotomy—an independent, brilliant woman defined by the way she reflects the men around her. In the comics and on TV, Batgirl began and largely operated her vigilante career by imitating Batman but working independently from him. A film about her can’t ignore that vein of co-dependence.
    Graduate student Barbara “Babs” Gordon hasn’t found her purpose in life. Torn between the law enforcement legacy of her father, Commissioner James Gordon, and her own intellectualism, she’s studied acrobatics, criminology, dance, library science, martial arts, and several other fields—but has yet to decide what she’s going to do after school. For now, she lives in the hip Burnside neighborhood of Gotham, working as a community activist and sharing an apartment with her transgender friend, Alysia Yeoh. Barbara’s latest project is saving the historic Burnside clocktower.
    Hot on the heels of an inappropriate come-on from her [criminology or computer sciences] professor, Noah Kuttler, Babs learns her father’s been arrested by internal affairs. I haven’t quite cracked what the crime would be, but it probably has something to do with his too-cozy relationship with the recently unhinged Batman. In any case, Batman appears to be doing nothing to help his erstwhile friend.
    Babs begins to investigate. She discovers one of Batman’s batarangs and begins practicing with it. She has an angry encounter with Batman, during which he dismisses her concerns; she fashions the “Batgirl of Burnside” costume in retaliation (and maybe defeats the flashy if ridiculous Killer Moth). Babs discovers Clayface impersonated her father during the crime; this leads two set-piece fights, one of which Babs uses her wits to barely survive and the second of which she handily wins using her new-found vigilante skills and brilliant mind. Eventually, she discovers the plot was set up by Noah Kuttler, secretly the criminal mastermind the Calculator.
    Babs uses money reappropriated from the Calculator to purchase the clocktower. If the film is released prior to the Nightwing movie, the film ends with a handsome young delivery man showing up at the apartment to deliver an unexpected package. Alysia comments that the delivery guy had a nice butt; Babs opens the package to discover a proper Waynetech Batgirl suit. If the film isn’t going to beat Nightwing to theaters, then the suit is delivered by Alfred (or maybe an apologetic Batman). A montage of villains and heroes across Gotham reacts to the emergence of this new vigilante (Catman is intrigued, the Joker is menacing, Black Canary is enthusiastic). Batgirl stands triumphant among the computer monitors in her refurbished clocktower.
    The End
    Again, it’s rough and missing most of the plot points in the middle bit, but we came up with that last night. (And it leans heavily on the Batman: The Animated Series episodes "Shadow of the Bat" and "Holiday Knights.") Give me a year (Whedon was hired last March) and I could have a full script. It ain't hard, Joss. 


    And here's a couple of scenes I couldn't help myself from writing up.


    Inside a garishly-decorated disused warehouse or factory—filled with buzzing, blinking pinball machines, smoking acid vats, evil-eyed dolls and other paraphernalia—the JOKER stabs a stiletto into the picture of Batgirl on the front cover of The Daily Planet.


    Bat…girl? Bat-GIRL? BATGIRL?! Batman’s my toy! Mine!

    He continues to stab away as a bored HARLEY QUINN flops onto the couch and turns on the TV. A news talk show comes on. Footage of Batgirl fighting Clayface plays. Graphics ask “Who is Batgirl?” and show her favorability rating.


    Puddin’! The TV’s talkin’ about Batgirl!

    The Joker spins, pulls out a revolver, and shoots the TV—which explodes in a crackle of light.


    The blazing lights of the studio shine down on LOIS LANE, CAT GRANT, and VIC SAGE, debating the meaning of Batgirl.


    This “Batgirl’s” debut is definitive proof of the Superman Theory. The government is recruiting—creating—building super heroes as part of covert efforts in the first step of a fascist overthrow—


    Superman was not created by the government. He’s a refugee from an alien world—


    So you claim, Ms. Lane. And we’re supposed to take your word for it?


    Lois is intimately familiar with Superman, Mr. Sage.


    What’s that supposed to mean?

    Our POV slides around to view the squabbling commentators through a camera monitor.


    The talk show continues to play, reflecting in the mirror over the sink in a really crappy hovel of an apartment. THOMAS BLAKE, a ruggedly-handsome, athletic man in his early 30s, lifts his head into view as he washes his face. Three ragged, claw-mark scars run across his broad chest.


    Everyone knows you’re the world’s foremost Supermanologist, Lois. Vic, do you really think this Rule 63 Batman is part of a government conspiracy?

    VIC SAGE (TV):

    Is there any doubt she was trained by the same program that produced the Bat? Look at her gear, at her techniques—

    A cat yowls near at hand. Blake looks down. An upset black-and-white tuxedo cat glares back at him.


    I heard you.


    Early photos of her showed what looked to me like a homemade costume. This someone inspired by the Batman—


    Sisters are doing it for themselves!

    The cat yowls again. Blake picks him up and nuzzles him.


    It’s OK, Sylvester. I’m not going to be out all night.

    Blake puts down the cat and goes to the bed. A Kevlar vest, a yellow-orange sweatshirt, and matching orange cape, cowl, and gloves lay on the bed. We see Blake is already wearing boots, tights, and a utility belt. The camera lingers on his body as he puts on the rest of his costume. Sylvester the cat hops onto the bed.


    Um… Thanks, Cat.

    VIC SAGE (TV):

    It’s a prototype, not homemade. A field test of the new agent before she’s fully commissioned.


    Is it so hard to believe private citizens could be inspired to do good?

    Sylvester yowls again.


    I hear you, buddy. I’m going to pick up the good stuff for you tonight. Chicken pâté.

    VIC SAGE (TV):

    So you’re suggesting this “Batgirl” is a copycat vigilante—another unsanctioned, untrained lone actor?


    Would that make you happier, Mr. Sage? You don’t seem to like government oversight.

    Blake crosses to the window, opens it, stops for a moment half-in and half-out. He pulls on his Batman-like cowl.

    Daddy just has to rob a few people first.

    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...