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.

    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...