Monday, October 30, 2017
Thursday, October 5, 2017
I have very little nostalgia for being a child in the 1980s. I fondly remember the toy lines and pop culture—G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Knight Rider, Transformers—but that’s an artifact of how far out of tune I was with other kids. A combination of anxiety disorder and undiagnosed food allergies meant I spent most of my childhood in a haze of confusion and embarrassing decisions, spending more time playing with toys and watching TV than hanging out. I went on one woodland hike with neighbor kids and everybody got ticks in their hair except me. I saw E.T. during its opening week and liked Megaforce better. I’d happily play a roleplaying game about listening to alternative rock and smoking clove cigarettes as a college student in the ‘90s, but I’m the exact wrong audience for a Stranger Things-inspired RPG.
Which probably makes me the perfect person to evaluate one.
First off, the free preview of The Monster Hunters’ Club available on DriveThruRPG is physically beautiful. The graphic design and layout by Karl Keesler—famous in the Savage Worlds community for his beautifully-rendered character sheets and gorgeously-detailed convention games—perfectly evokes an ‘80s paperback horror novel (the aesthetics of which I do have nostalgia for, even if I never read any). The digital paints of Veronica Jones (who has also illustrated the similarly-themed Little Fears) are some of the best art I’ve ever seen in a Savage Worlds licensee product, rendering everything in a pseudo-charcoal sketch style that perfectly matches the tone of the game—full of childhood wonder, but turned foreboding with a wash of gray and black.
Darren G. Miller hooks me in the introduction by turning literature nerd and giving us a brief history of children’s adventure fiction, beginning with The Swiss Family Robinson. By emphasizing the long history and universality of kids’ adventure lit early in the book, Miller provides an “in” for those (presumably few) of us who remember our childhoods (especially our ‘80s childhoods) with less than fondness. I may have spent my early years usually inside, playing with action figures alone with my brother instead of with the neighbor kids, but it’s not like I didn’t read Encyclopedia Brown.
A significant advantage to this approach is that Miller is able to stick to the spirit of the core Savage Worlds Young Hindrance while providing a means of creating more competent heroes. The painfully-familiar Brain archetype, for instance, gets the Young Hindrance’s 3 attribute points, but also starts with a Smarts of d6 while the 10 points to distribute among skills are enhanced by a free d4 in two Knowledge skills. Additional color is provided by bonus Edges and Hindrances (a more-forgiving requirement for the Scholar Edge, an adult mentor, and a weakness to bullying) as well as a choice of background. Because of these bonuses, players can only choose either a Major Hindrance or two Minor Hindrances for additional character points.
The backgrounds move the character creation process into the enhanced levels provided by The King is Dead’s secret societies or Rifts® for Savage Worlds’ M.A.R.S. packages, but still remain balanced with the intent of The Monster Hunters’ Club. The Brain can choose between the Academic (gaining Jack-of-all-Trades for Knowledge skills only, but also becoming a Doubting Thomas), Hacker (gaining bonuses to rolls involving technology but becoming even more socially awkward), and the Sleuth (gaining bonuses to investigatory activities but becoming blind to danger). Each background also modifies the starting equipment characters get (encyclopedias for the Academic, an early PC for the Hacker, and a magnifying glass and “junior detective set” for the Sleuth).
The preview ends with a partial overview of the Arcane Backgrounds available in The Monster Hunters’ Club. Instead of the usual Magic, Miracles, Psionics, Super Powers, and Weird Science, the child heroes may instead select Belief, Gadgetry, Psychokinesis, and Storytelling. Similarly to the conflict over consensual reality and Paradox in Mage: The Ascension, these abilities are powered by childlike wonder and innocence, and are thereby harder to use in the presence of adults. Belief and Storytelling are previewed; Belief is the make-believe of over-imaginative daydreamers while Storytelling is a bard-like ability to lift spirits and spook people out by spinning yarns. It’s a genre-savvy approach to Arcane Backgrounds that veers sharply into the magical realism side of kids’ adventure, reminding me of The Bridge to Terabithia and The Simpsons episode “Lisa the Drama Queen.”
With such an auspicious preview, I can highly recommend keeping an eye out for news on The Monster Hunters’ Club. Even if I personally can’t see myself ever playing in a setting like this, I can’t imagine a better product for this niche coming to Savage Worlds. The art and design are gorgeous and the writing is genre-savvy with the perfect tone. It all adds up to a project I’m eager to see succeed and which I heartily recommend to fans of ‘80s kids adventure.
|Ok, I was probably five or six in this picture, not ten.|
- Power Points: 10
- Powers: Healing (plush lion named Sylvester)
- Bookworm: Whenever you make a roll for a Knowledge skill you do not have, you roll a d4 instead of d4-2
- Malicious Envy: -2 to Tests of Will to resist Taunt
- Mentor: Joseph Sullivan (grandfather, high school principal)
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
|Camouflage isn't flattering on you, Fujiko.|
- I genuinely got chills when the car chase started and Yuji Ohno’s classic Lupin III theme started playing. I could probably fault Miyazaki for not using the theme more, but that’s probably a reflection of the divide between what I want out of Lupin and what Miyazaki wanted to create.
- In the context of the late 1970s, it’s interesting to see Miyazaki pivot Fujiko away from being a femme fatale and toward an ass-kicker; within that context, it seems downright liberated to make her more than eye candy. Nearly forty years later, though, it just feels like a wrongheaded attempt to clean up a fascinatingly messy character. Y’know, I think the only adult, sexy woman I’ve ever seen in a Miyazaki film is Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke—the quasi-villain who gets her arm bitten off. I’m not saying Miyazaki has issues, but… (I kid, I kid.)
- Before the show, they played an introduction by/interview with John Lasseter of Pixar and Disney. He spoke about analyzing every frame of the film, but I don’t know if he’s ever actually listened to it. He pronounces “Lupin” like the flowers Dennis Moore steals in that Monty Python sketch and Cagliostro with a hard “g” instead of the proper silent Italian “g.”
- The authors of the Wikipedia article identify a number of previous LeBlanc Arsène Lupin works and foreign films that presumably influenced Miyazaki and team, but I binged the original green jacket Lupin III TV series before going to the movies, and it really looks more like Miyazaki self-plagiarized. Episode 10 (“Target the Cash Counterfeiter!”) involves counterfeiters, a clock tower with gigantic gears, and the aristocracy while Episode 11 (“When the Seventh Bridge Falls”) has Lupin saving an innocent maiden from a bad guy who lives in a castle with an entry via boat.
- After the film, there were interviews with Monkey Punch/Kazuhiko Kato and one of the animators who worked on the film. Monkey Punch’s comments were amusingly polite, saying that he “never gets bored” of watching The Castle of Cagliostro, that it’s his favorite Miyazaki film, and that Miyazaki was important in helping the franchise make the transition from “men’s magazine” manga to family viewing television… before then praising the blue jacket films and show for being the first anime to really capture his own cool and stylish vision of the character. Ha!
- [EDITED TO ADD] Also, if Miyazaki can get away with Ruritanian romance in 1979, why can't I do the same thing in My Middle Name is Larceny? I've been debating this for a bit. I couldn't get over the idea that the original imaginary Mitteleuropean countries—Ruritania, Graustark, etc.—would presumably be behind the Iron Curtain in 197X, but that didn't stop Hayao Miyazaki. I'd just need to put it in the Alps or the Pyrenees.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
|Text boxes are your best friend for throwing together character sheets.|
- Our heroine, Beverly “Bev” Larceny Slick, is the master thief child of a pair of deceased phantom thieves; she was raised to a life of globetrotting thievery and is an expert in her field. As the protagonists of this kind of fiction—characters like Lupin III, Modesty Blaise, and To Catch a Thief’s Charles Robie—are cinematic-style polymaths, she was created as a Legendary hero with the Pulp Hero Power Point spread from the Super Powers Companion (said points limited to purchasing super attribute, super edge, and super skill). Frankly, I’d recommend this for any duet Savage Worlds campaign; if you spread around skill points to get at least a d6 in most skills, there’s still plenty of room for improvement at Legendary Rank.
- We’ve been using that Carry Forward hack (not setting rule) I wrote about a couple of posts ago as a way to weaponize intelligence gathering—but with that said, we often go several sessions in a row without rolling dice, just narrating things instead. Dice are for when you want to introduce the element of chance, or enjoy the tactile fun of playing with toys. A game like this where there’s an explicit understanding that the protagonist will overcome and survive physical threats hinges on emotional stakes, and you don’t really need dice for that.
- The setting is sometime in the 1970s, partially as an homage to Lupin III, partially as an excuse to set some cool funky jazz/rock playing in the background while we game. I have both Damnation Decade and Spirit of ’77, but I haven’t made much use of either, instead largely relying on childhood memories and film and TV of the period. For the most part—like Lupin III—My Middle Name is Larceny is more grounded than either of those published settings… except when it’s not, and then it’s more of an homage to Philip Jose Farmer’s sexed-up pulp homages and the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Batman run.
- Admittedly, there’s a lot of borrowing from the late ‘60s as well. I’ve joked about it being set in the Funk Age, somewhere vaguely between 1965 and 1975, but it’s mainly the ‘70s.
- Lots of Dramatic Tasks. They're a nice challenge for Legendary characters and a fun way to simulate the complexity of the obstacles (a safe you can crack with one roll just doesn't seem as cool as one that takes five successes, even if they're both relatively easy for someone so skilled).
- Ranges in Chases don't need to mean actual physical distance. "Long" and "Medium" range can actually just indicate the amount of cover the target has. I need to do more Chases.
- “Killer Queen” + “A Scandal in Belgravia” (yeah, it’s anachronistic, but so is Sherlock) + the X-Men's original Hellfire Club
- Hammer horror + Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu
- ‘70s surf and counterculture outlaw movies + yakuza + Code Name: Diamond Head + a proto-A Team
- Richie Rich + New York real estate mogul + KGB + Xaviera Hollander
- Diabolik + The Godfather + car chases + Olympic decathletes
- Invasion of the Bee Girls + Wonder Woman (1974) + Aguirre, the Wrath of God + Rio de Janeiro
- Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter + Golgo 13 + Battles Without Honor and Humanity + pink eiga
- The Pink Panther (1963) + Batman (1966) + hot tubs + scavenger hunts + disco
- Ra’s al Ghul + Carlos the Jackal + Gaddafi’s terrorist training camps + zombies
Friday, September 15, 2017
|Cross-time Lupins converge in Lupin III: Green vs. Red|
|As drawn by Monkey Punch (AKA Kazuhiko Kato)|
- The Mystery of Mamo (AKA The Secret of Mamo AKA Lupin vs. the Clone AKA Lupin III)The first Lupin III animated film is undoubtedly my favorite self-contained movie or TV special. I’m one of those people who enjoys Lupin at his most roguish (just as I enjoy Bond at his most bitter); the scene where Mamo examines Lupin’s mind and discovers he’s some sort of idiot savant who thinks about nothing but naked ladies epitomizes why I like this roughhewn, sprawling, psychedelic film more than Miyazaki’s introspective gentleman thief. Also, as a fan of Tony Oliver and the Phuuz Entertainment cast, it’s a joy to hear them really dig into their characters.
- The Italian Adventure (AKA Lupin the Third Part Four AKA the blue jacket series)As much as I enjoy Lupin behaving badly, I’m not immune to the charms of more genteel versions of the character. Thankfully, with The Italian Adventure, I don’t have to choose. This series from 2015 was made with the intention of synthesizing all the best of the series so far: the original Monkey Punch rambunctiousness, Miyazaki’s poignancy, the red jacket series’ humor, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine’s stylishness, and Yuji Ohno’s score. In fact, the only reason this is number two on the list is because the English dub doesn’t have Ohno’s score due to using the original Italian TV version of the show instead of the cleaned-up Japanese version, which means I’m going to have to buy two different versions of the series on home video. Argh.
- The Woman Called Fujiko MineAs ribald as anything Monkey Punch created in the manga, but bolstered by deeper, weightier characterization, this show comes so close to being my favorite TV series that I almost feel bad awarding that title to the cheerier blue jacket series. Intensely psychosexual and revolutionary in its design sense, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was almost my least favorite TV show despite its style and heft, as the series makes a play at giving Fujiko Mine a backstory ripped from the worst excesses of Joss Whedon-style “strong female protagonists”—but then it rips away the veil and shows that’s all been a fakeout. If only it had a Yuji Ohno score…
- Lupin the Third Part II** (AKA New Lupin III AKA the red jacket series)The red jacket series, airing on Adult Swim beginning in 2003, was my proper introduction to Lupin III—just as it was the Japanese public’s proper introduction after the failure of the original green jacket TV series. Cartoony and crazy, alternating wildly between adaptations of manga stories, adult-oriented capers, maudlin kid-friendly episodes, and almost plotless, surrealistic stories that show how the grind of a Japanese anime series can break even the most creative wills, this show remains the benchmark by which all other Lupin anime is judged. It’s not always good by any means, but there are 155 episodes, so that’s to be expected; one of the two episodes I watched this morning sent Lupin to a shockingly white 1970s Harlem where he got totally obsessed over Superman (1978), got bamboozled by a blonde street kid named Chico, wound up in a scene-padding motorcycle chase with Zenigata, and finally ended up in front of a firing squad of decadent millionaires dressed like DC and Marvel superheroes. Nonetheless, the best episodes remain amazingly entertaining, and I’m so fond of Tony Oliver’s Lupin III voice that I’ve incorporated it into my repertoire of game mastering voices.
- The original mangaLike Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, Monkey Punch’s original manga series is raw and direct, the author’s id spilling all over the page. Given my own complicated relationship with my own inner life, I appreciate the darker, weirder, less likable places both book series go. It doesn’t mean I always agree with manga Lupin’s actions, but he lives in such a fourth wall-breaking, self-mocking, MAD magazine-inflected funhouse mirror of spy and heist films that it’s impossible for me to not be entertained. Maybe it’s hypocrisy or even doublethink to enjoy such unreformed adventurism, but I cannot deny how much I enjoy manga Lupin’s self-confidence and competency.
- Jigen’s Gravestone (I’m sure Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood will sit equal with this once I get the chance to see it.)
- The Plot of the Fuma Clan
- Episode 0: First Contact
- Green vs. Red
- The Castle of Cagliostro
- The soundtrack albums
- Almost everything else (The other two TV series are clunky but not bad. Most of the specials have their moments and the 2014 live action movie is only as bad as the average TV special. Strange Psychokinetic Energy is too weird to not at least appreciate, and I don’t hate the Detective Conan team-ups. I wish I liked Dead or Alive more and I haven’t seen the infamous Legend of the Gold of Babylon.)
- **Episodes 145 and 155 of the red jacket series (Miyazaki’s version of Fujiko is an acquired taste and 155 in particular seems like Miyazaki used it to finance proof of concept art for Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky.)
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
- +1s may be spent after the dice are rolled.
- +1s are not limited rolls for the same Attribute or Skill.
- +1s may be added to any roll, regardless of whether it is a Trait roll or not.
- If the Critical Failures setting rule is in effect, then +1s may not be spent on critically failed rolls (except Soak Rolls).
- Players may not overspend +1s to generate additional +1s on a roll.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Monday, August 14, 2017
Between being inspired by finally watching Lupin the Third Part Four (the blue jacket series set in Italy) and not feeling like ingesting all the setting lore needed to really give Blue Rose a proper shot, Robin and I decided to run a 1970s-set globetrotting cat burglar Savage Worlds duet game. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much in the way of support materials for such a game.
This isn’t that surprising; the particular mood and tone we’re going for isn’t found in that many works. Outside of the Lupin the Third franchise, there’s what? The Saint? Two Pink Panther movies? Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s series? Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief?
Leverage – both TV series and RPG – come close without quite hitting the mark. The basic rulebook at least doesn’t really support the mood we want, and I don’t feel like paying $25 for the Leverage Companion, Vol. 1 (which, with its firearms rules and the like, might expand the game into more Lupintic territory). I can mine my copy of the main rules for some ideas, but the adventure generator is linked to the premise of the franchise (heroic con artists scam nasty bigwigs) that it falls short of what I need.
Here then is a generator for more – shall we say – “self-directed” larceny on a global stage. Enjoy!
Europe (France, Greece, San Marino, Spain, Portugal, Ruritania, Russia, United Kingdom, etc.)
Asia (China, India, Korea, Japan, Lugash, Malaysia, Turkey, Vietnam, etc.)
Africa (Algeria, Bangalla, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania, Zanzibar, etc.)
Central and North America (The Bahamas, Canada, Cuba, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Saint Honoré, United States, etc.)
South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Sierra Gordo, Venezuela, etc.)
Australia/Oceania (Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Republic of the Marivelles, Samoa, etc.)
City Characteristics (roll twice)
Examples: “Bohemian/art scene” and “resort/sports” suggests Aspen, Colorado in North America, Lucerne, Switzerland, in Europe, and Rio de Janeiro in South America. “Commerce/politics” and “historical/heritage” might suggest Kyoto, Japan in Asia, London, England in Europe, and Mexico City, Mexico in North America.
Art (paintings, statues, first-edition comic books, etc.)
Cash (bearer bonds, bills, bullion, gold coins and pirate booty, etc.)
Gem(s) (crown jewels, gigantic single stones, necklaces created for famous actresses, etc.)
Artifact (non-art antiquities, supposed alchemical secrets, near-mythical sword, etc.)
Technology (new artificial diamond technology, prototype super-safe, military hardware, etc.)
Intelligence (roll again for subject of intelligence; intelligence about intelligence might be a dossier on the burglar herself or criminal allies)
Estate or townhome
Armed compound or facility
High-rise office building or penthouse
Museum or government building
Casino or entertainment venue
Other (ancient ruin, country club, haunted house, private plane, ski lodge, yacht, etc.)
Security Details (roll twice or more, ignoring contradictory or implausible details)
Attack dogs or other animals
Access badge or card reader
Magnetic or electronic lock
Weird (curse, poison darts, floor is made of lava, etc.)
Mark Characteristics (roll once or twice)
Aboveboard (roll twice; two results of aboveboard mean mark actually is honest, any other second result mark is hiding their true nature)
Crime (assassin, crime lord, rival thief, high-ranking intelligence or police agency official, etc.)
Politics (dictator, executive official, governor, legislator, mayor, royalty, etc.)
Entertainment (producer, promoter, artiste, athlete, men’s lifestyle magazine publisher, etc.)
Business (real estate developer, military-industrial contractor, technological futurist, etc.)
Mark has a scheme of their own in the works (trying to take over the world, etc.)
Burglar’s employer/fence/informant has a scheme of their own (roll on Mark tables for employer/fence/informant type)
Law enforcement has set a trap
Rival criminals on the job
Friend/lover works for mark
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