Blast from the Past: SkyRealms of Jorune

Skyrealms of Jorune 2nd edition - coverFor a retro-themed role-playing game day at Endgame, Edmund chose to run SkyRealms of Jorune; specifically, he used the third edition published by Chessex under license in 1992 as well as some older sourcebooks from previous editions. I had played in a short campaign Edmund ran for me eight or ten years ago, and read a lot of the setting material on and off over the years before and since, but it sure had been a while.

If you don’t know the game, it drew a cult following back in the late 1980s-early 1990s because of its rich and original background, its effort to support fantasy conceits with plausible in-world explanations, and its atmospheric art by Miles Teves as well as Janet Aulisio, George Barr, and others.

But the system, in all its incarnations, was at best clunky and sometimes opaque. There is a lot of jargon, a lot of character sheet scouring in order to locate appropriate skills, a lot of rule mechanics that pull in different directions, and a lot of whiffing.

Despite the system obstacles, thanks to a game-master and two players anchored in modern role-playing aesthetics, we had a blast. Sean Nittner (of Big Bad Con game convention, Evil Hat Productions, and Narrative Control podcast fame) and I picked among the six pre-generated characters; Sean picked Persiphon, a human durlig farmer (the durlig is a labour-intensive crop), and I played “Dark” Mood, a Bronth private eye (a genetically engineered were-bear.)

We were harvesting durlig when a fearful Thriddle went running past us at high speed, before hitting a wall and knocking itself out. We discovered that it was suffering from hypothermia despite the hot Sobayid sun! After giving it care and reuniting the Thriddle with others of its species for medical care, we went investigating what it had been running away from. We found a hole that led to a crevasse that led to a room filled with crystals and a mysterious portal… We stepped through and found ourselves on a Sky Realm in the middle of a blizzard. We fought Cleash, we rescued Persiphon’s five-year old cousin Jessa from being eaten by the Cleash, we found a Shanta preserved inside a large crystal… We had adventures!

Edmund made it easier  to play by giving a large penumbra for skills we did have rather than demanding we use the skills we didn’t have. He also reduced the number of steps needed when we got into combat. The system requires: (1) an Advantage roll to determine who has the upper hand; an attack roll; if you hit, a hit location roll (which Edmund dropped), then a roll to penetrate armour if the opponent is wearing any, and finally a damage roll if you make it that far. Oh, and the defender may have a defense roll to avoid being hurt. You generally want to roll low… except when it’s time to roll for Advantage and for damage.

Because Edmund limited the rolls to where they made sense, and because Sean and I were completely into the modern mind set of “look at the die and narrate what happens,” rather than the old “Must Not Fail Roll!!” we had a great time. We also played our backwater hick-but-gung-ho characters to the hilt. In truth, I would love to play the further adventures of Persiphon and Moody!

For more on SkyRealms of Jorune, read Grognardia’s overview, Grymbok’s “Let’s Read” feature on RPG.net, or The Lonely DM’s review.

Bronth

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Shadow of the Kickstarted Action Movie!

Blowing Up the Movies plus  backstory-boxmockup   plusShadow-of-the-Century-Playtest-Draft-256x300

Earlier this week I received the ebook for Robin D. Laws’ Blowing Up the Movies, a backer reward for the recent Feng Shui 2 Kickstarter campaign. This morning I received the alpha playtest version of Evil Hat Productions’ role-playing game Shadow of the Century, which when released will be a backer reward for the Fate Core Kickstarter campaign. And when I got home tonight, Brooklyn Indie Games’ Backstory Cards, which I had purchased through Kickstarter, were waiting for me.

Tomorrow night, I’m having four players over for dinner and playtesting. We will use all three together and build us a giant badass of an 80s action movie!

explosion

Post-Apocalypse Gaming

As a follow-up to my review of Mad Max: Fury Road, let me point to previous posts about a few role-playing games that are excellent matches for the genre, Apocalypse World (Lumpley Games), octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks), Motobushido (Alliterated Games), and my hack of Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions):

Apocalyse World (Lumpley Games) octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks) Motobushido (Alliterated  Games) Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions)

As a bonus, check out the various games based on Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games), and Dream Pod 9’s Tribe 8.
Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games) Tribe 8 (Dream Pod 9)

Mad Max: Fury Road—Spoiler-Free Mini-Review

Mad Max and Furiosa at the Salt DesertFirst, I would like to thank the self-described “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) who alerted me to the fact that I needed to see this movie with their claim that it is feminist propaganda. I was lukewarm about seeing it in theatre, but they convinced me and I’m glad they did—so here is my spoiler-free review.

First, the style.

Mad Max: Fury Road is full of nearly non-stop action, pausing just long enough between plot segments to let you get your bearings. It has enough explosions to keep Michael Bay happy, and beautifully choreographed fight scenes.The stunts are so over-the-top, you’ll think it’s all computer graphics but in fact the CG enhances bad-ass old-school pyrotechnics and stunts.

The cinematography is gorgeous, with the post-production perfectly highlighting the drama through visual details. The use of different colour palettes and monochrome scenes in different hues serves as a language of its own to convey themes. The aesthetics are straight from the 1980s—the good part of the 80s, that is—but backed by today’s movie-making technology and lots of money. The soundtrack by Junkie XL is excellent and crazily topical.

The visual elements show not only mastery of a subgenre which director/producer/screen co-writer George Miller practically created, or at least greatly shaped (the post-apocalypse road movie), but also of other contributions and inspirations, including other movies, comic books, and games. George Miller is not stuck thirty years in his own past like some movie-makers, but has moved with the times. The casting is quite good and in some instances delightful. It’s also a who’s who of people with extensive family connections in the world of stardom.

The editing is tight, and used to support a “show, don’t tell” approach that I wish was more frequently used. Explanations and implications are there, but no narrative time is wasted in belabouring the obvious. If you’re the kind of people who likes for things to make sense, it’s there but you have to pay attention, there will be no lengthy exposition. If you don’t care, you can just follow the action uninterrupted.

And now for the substance.

The fearful MRAs are right: this movie is everything they hate. The fact that it’s also everything they usually love is just hilarious bonus. The movie’s bad guys so well represent the MRA platform!

Mad Max: Fury Road is chock-full of very clear messages about institutions, social mores, attitudes, and current issues that are squarely driving on the left side of the road. Interesting points are made about environmental degradation, aggression, territoriality, concentration of wealth, resource waste, religion, authority, education, and more. And the status of women is only one of these topics, but it’s beautifully handled.

For a spoiler-heavy review of the subversion of sexist tropes, go see Donna Dickens’ overview on HitFix—but only after you’ve seen the movie if, like me, you enjoy discovering a work of fiction with fresh eyes.

And I so greatly appreciated that the narrative was there, that it was not just gratuitous special effects, and that it was handled deftly. Miller does not talk down to his audience.

In short, it’s great fun and I want to see it again on the big screen.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Oncoming vehicles