Since the episodes are so short, it was easy to binge several in one sitting. Over on the dying Google+, I commented that this resulted in watching more male gaze filming than I have allowed myself to in a long time. Here are my spoiler-free mini-reviews for the episodes I have seen. When I say “spoiler-free” I mean that I only give away as much as you have in the episode title and pitch. (Spoilers may be discussed in comments below, however.)Continue reading “Mini-Review: Love, Death & Robots (1-10)”
I had a chance during the holidays to play with one of my online groups. You know how hard it can be to get a group together, especially when they are spread in different time zones; when the friend who was supposed to run the adventure had to ask for another week to prepare, I offered to run something in our original time slot so we would not lose our precious gaming time.
Since this group has greatly enjoyed Golden Sky Stories, I first thought I would try running Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, but I just can’t quite grasp how play proceeds, let alone explain it to others. So I decided to playtest Turn: A Game of Shapeshifters in Small Towns instead.
Turn (Daedalum Analog Productions) is “a slice-of-life supernatural roleplaying game set in the modern era”; I think of it as Northern Exposure meets Teen Wolf, or Twin Peaks done by Studio Ghibli. It’s written by Brie Beau Sheldon and recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign (where you can find the beta playtest version, freely available.) Here is what the author says:
Players in Turn are shapeshifters in small, rural towns who must balance their human lives and habits with their beast needs and instincts in quiet drama. Their baser natures will challenge them as they strive towards goals from everyday tasks to life-changing experiences, and they will need to find comfort in one another to make it through without becoming stressed out.
Turn is part of the family of games Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA), which means that a lot of the setting and story creation comes from the players, not just the game-master. Starting a game involves group creation of the small town where the stories will unfold, and player characters are designed by picking one human role and one beast archetype and selecting from their menu of options to customize your characters.
We saw Black Panther and it was even better than I had hoped. It’s now a strong contender for best Marvel movie ever, and therefore, for best superhero movie ever.
- Visuals and special effects: 5. The most gorgeous eye-candy delight Marvel Studios have ever brought us. In scale and poise it holds its own against Asgard, and is much more joyous and colourful. Every visual choice was very carefully made. The tribes of Wakanda feel very different yet true and (mostly) unified.
- Soundtrack: 4. Good mix of pop, traditional, and orchestral music.
- Writing: 4.5. I have very few quibbles; the main one is that some characters I would really have liked to see again appear to have died the Final Death. But the dialogue is fun and smart, and the pace is good. Also, reflections on insular and and nationalist attitudes well-suited for our times, by a film-maker who cut his teeth on current events.
- Casting: 5. There was not one actor I didn’t love, the choices were excellent all around. The characters’ personalities shone brightly and the lines were well delivered.
- Direction: 4.5. Superb attention to detail and sense of an overarching vision. Ryan Coogler assembles the funny, dramatic, sad, tense, and absurd moments into a lifelike tapestry. I really enjoy the glances that characters exchange, the little non-verbal moments. Some exposition, but really not that much considering the amount of material the movie brings in, and well handled.
- Editing: 4.5. Tight. Even the slower or more solemn moments did not feel like self-indulgence.
- Superheroics: 4.5. The only problem is that the Black Panther suit is, well, black and can be a little hard to follow in the action. But the fights were definitely larger than life.
- Diversity: 4.9. As the meme says, they even had two Tolkien white guys (Andy “Gollum” Serkis as Ulyses Klaue/Klaw, and Martin “Bilbo” Freeman as Agent Everett Ross.) Gender, orientation, and ability diversity not really showcased.
- Feminism: 5. It passes the Bechdel test as well as the Strong Female Protagonist benchmark. Female characters have their own agendas and goals, their own opnions and methods. You can’t swing a dead panther in this movie without hitting a cool female character doing cool stuff.
- The Edward S. Curtis Award for Anthropological Detail goes to Ryan Coogler and the set design team for the futuristic Wakandan buildings in the style of the Songhai and Aksum empires.
My take on it: who says intersectional social justice is dour? This is the bomb!
On Thursday my husband Edmund, our friend S., and I got to try Relicblade, a miniatures game from local company Metal King Studio. This is a skirmish-level, 35mm-scale game pretty much conceived and executed by one person, Sean Sutter: he wrote the rules, drew the art, and sculpted the minis!
The Relicblade had been Edmund’s birthday present this spring, but we had not tried it yet because Edmund wanted to paint the minis first. The basic game set comes with two factions, the Heroes and the Pig Men. Edmund had immediately declared them to be social justice warriors and male chauvinist pigs, respectively. The colour scheme of the heroes was selected to reflect his official team name, the Rainbow Warriors. Continue reading “Play Report and Review: Relicblade”
The Revolution Will Be Televised
First, it was demo’ed by Wil Wheaton on his show Tabletop (Geek & Sundry channel on YouTube), with geek blogger / vlogger / podcaster / actress Amy Dallen (Geek & Sundry, Future Girl, Nerdy But Flirty), and comic book writers Kelly Sue DeConnick (Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly), and Matt Fraction (The Invincible Iron Man, The Immortal Iron Fist, Casanova).
This demo provide a very good impression of what the game is like. I recommend viewing the episodes in the following order:
- Part 1 for the first three minutes and 15 seconds or so, in order to get the introduction.
- The entirety of Part 0 for the full setting and character creation.
- The rest of Part 1 (from 3:17 to the end.)
- Part 2.
Sell Out With Me
Second exciting happening: A revised edition and a supplement full of new playsets, ideas, and art are being released soon, and the Kickstarter funding campaign is under way.
The new edition will be published through Burning Wheel Headquarters. The development team comprises writer and creative director Robert Bohl, book designer Joshua A.C. Newman, lead artist Jennifer Rodgers, editor Adam Dray, and publisher Luke Crane.
Contributing authors include some fantastic people:
Caitlynn Belle, Strix Beltrán & Ajit George (writing together), Misha Bushyager, Judd Karlman, Kimberley Lam, Daniel Levine, Kira Magrann, Matthew McFarland, Michael Miller, Quinn Murphy, Joshua AC Newman, Dev Purkayastha, Alex Roberts, Hannah Shaffer, Jared Sorensen, Daniel Swensen, Curt Thompson, Rachel E.S. Walton, Bill White, and Gregor Vuga.
Artists include more luminaries:
The Kickstarter campaign is already funded and runs for eight more days. Grab your music box, your balaclava, and your spray paint cans, the revolution needs harbingers.
OMSFSM, Scrivener! I love it so much!
I wrote War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus on LibreOffice and it worked well enough, but by the time the manuscript got to about the 50% mark, it started being a real chore to revise and restructure. By the time I finished, it was 221 pages that we were passing back and forth between writer and editor to handle in LibreOffice and MS Word, and it was rather unwieldy.
Towards the end of the process I downloaded Scrivener but I was too far along to try converting the document. However, when I worked on the Open Content materials from War of Ashes later on, I tested a variety of more advanced writing tools (mostly distraction-free editors and LaTeX-based power tools), with the most promising being LyX and Scrivener.
In the end I decided that Scrivener was a good option for me. It was powerful, flexible, inexpensive, multi-platform, easy to learn thanks to its great tutorials and manuals, and supported by a vibrant community.
When I say inexpensive… The macOS, Windows, and iOS versions go for $40, just enough to cover minor support costs, and you can download a free trial version. The Linux version (that’s the one I use) is free because it’s unofficial but the user community is very helpful, and I ended up sending my $40 as a donation because it was worth every penny.
It has so many features and so much flexibility to work the way you want. I use it right from the planning stage to create my structure and outline, and to gather my writing resources: publisher’s guidelines, references, examples, cheat sheets, lists of names, notes I jotted down, etc.
I use its metadata features to add notes to each section such as keywords, actions needed (“Write examples of play,”) references cited (“Top Secret, TSR, 1980,”) status (“first draft”), or who will be a collaborating author on this section.
I have Scrivener set up to save the draft in my working folder and create a backup on Dropbox, in addition to using iDrive for my regular computer backup. On top of that, every time I stop working for the night or reach a significant milestone, I compile an export version of my draft in .docx format and post it for my publishers on Google Drive so they can follow my progress, and have a work product in hand if anything happened to me.
But I kind of got used to its ease, and I forgot what an improvement it was! Except that when I stopped to take stock of my progress tonight, I looked at the page count and realized what a chore the current drafts would be to handle on a basic word processor. In addition, I had reworked several individual sections of the Tianxia Rules Companion this weekend and instead of being a major hassle to locate the sections to edit in the middle of a manuscript, it was a breeze. So I just had to say a word for useful software!
Back in 2015, Edmund and I backed the Kickstarter funding campaign for Gloomhaven, a new legacy-style miniatures game. Legacy games are campaigns where actions in one scenario may affect game world conditions and future scenarios. Because they involve placing stickers or marking cards, maps, etc. to indicate persistent effects in the game world, it can be very hard for a dedicated gamer to accept.
Many gamers can’t bring themselves to permanently alter game components! Nevertheless, the scope of the game was ambitious and the price tag ($79 for the full version with miniatures for each player character class) was perhaps steep if it turned out to be a game we’d rarely play, but really cheap if it we worked our way through the 70 or so scenarios then expected to be included, even if we only played through the campaign once, so we decided to risk chipping in. Continue reading “Game Review: Gloomhaven”
A few weeks ago, our friend AW ran a one-off episode of the role-playing game Masks for me, my husband Edmund, and two more friends, SP and MP. I thought this was a good time to talk about this game since the PDF version just became available on DriveThruRPG. First, I share a play report that goes a bit long, but talks about the mechanics as well as the fiction generated in play. I follow with a review of the game. Continue reading “Masks: Play report and review”
Yesterday we brought our Night Witches campaign to a close, as the war ended in Europe with Germany’s surrender. Here is a quick look back at the campaign, followed by my review of the game itself.
- Amazingly, four of the seven original characters made it out alive (Maryam, Elena, Vera, and Oksana, played by Edmund, Steve, Alan, and Sophie.) For a while now Elena had been close to taking her last mark — “Embrace death and find your final destiny” — so we were all trying to keep her from meeting the bad premonitions she’d been having!
- Of the others, two players had to drop so their characters (Yulia and Valentina, played by Christine and April) were technically still alive.
- One new character (Anya, played by Adi) had appeared after the earlier tragic death of an airwoman (Sveta, also played by Adi).
Most of us took a turn at being game-master for one duty station or another, which gave us a chance to learn GMing tricks from each other. I really liked that, and I know I will use some of these techniques with other games.
The most marking events in the campaign, the dramatic fulcrum, were Elena forced by circumstances to kill a German prisoner to save him from a worse fate, followed by Sveta abandoning hope and dying in a subsequent mission. We had tragic loves, stormy friendships, splendid bravery, and wistful secrets.
We all stamped our mark on the squadron: Maryam was our fearless leader, fiercely protective of her airwomen; Elena was the career communist, slowly losing both faith and ambition; Vera was the cheerful pragmatist who always had a trick up her sleeve; Yulia was the sweet young recruit painfully hardened by war; Sveta was the tough-minded survivor who lost her zest for life after one too many tragedies; Oksana was the secret romantic who always tried to have her sisters’ backs; Valentina was the wild rebel; and Anya was the gutsy late-addition to the squadron, trying to make her place without being pushed around.
Mini-Review: Night Witches
The role-playing game Night Witches was written by Jason Morningstar and released by Bully Pulpit Games in January 2015 after a successful Kickstarter funding campaign ($48,806 pledged, well surpassing the $5,000 goal.) The game is Powered by the Apocalypse.
Night Witches brings its own refinements to the basic structure introduced by Apocalypse World. For example, the general moves are divided between those taking place during the day and largely involving caring for the regiment, your own squadron, the airwomen and the planes; and moves used during the night missions to accomplish mission objectives and survive encounters with the enemy. Several day moves allow the players, if they so wish, to accumulate “mission points” which can be used one-for-one to add to rolls on night moves.
These general moves are well designed to daisy-chain and create story material. Combined with the handouts supplied by the publisher for duty stations, missions, Witch-y things that can happen, period history, lists of names, etc., these make the GM’s game preparation very easy. No need to plan for complex story arcs, just sow some seeds and the story will happen. Like all PbtA games, it does require that everyone be willing and able to improvise in response to other players’ choices and any triggered moves.
The setting is fantastic, of course. The game’s focus on the experiences of women in one of the most brutal theatres of this exceedingly brutal war is new, refreshing, and challenges a lot of role-playing tropes. The fact that it is also historical, documented, real makes it resonate all the more. If you want to expand from the useful notes on the period provided in the book and handouts, there is a wealth of material available (free or inexpensive), including patriotic music and amazing Soviet and German maps of the era.
Finally, I also got the optional card deck that supplements the book with character portraits, play aids for flight missions, medals, and quick-start character background elements. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for visual aids and this one combines art by Claudia Cangini (portraits) and Rich Longmore (plane schematics) with vintage Soviet playing card deck backs!
Like most other PbtA games, Night Witches‘ character creation process centres around playbooks, essentially templates with a menu of options each character can choose from. There are only five playbooks or “Natures” to pick from: Owl, Raven, Hawk, Pigeon, and Sparrow. You are encouraged to include as many as you can in the game, but you can have more than one player using the same Nature. You can never go back and change a character’s Nature, however. Each has its own special moves.
After picking your Nature, you choose one of six Roles (Adventurer, Misanthrope, Leader, Zealot, Dreamer, and Protector) which will also give you access to a special move. Roles can change throughout a character’s life.
Unfortunately, the Natures did not feel intuitive for anyone in our group and the special moves granted by Natures and Roles were not as fitting as they might have been.Most of us ended up picking very few advancements from the special moves available to use, preferring to get promotions, improve stats, or forge and change bonds. I believe every character still in play at the end had used their one opportunity to go get a special move from a different playbook, reinforcing the sense we got that playbooks did not hang together in a satisfying way.
In some other PbtA games, such as Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, or Masks, the playbooks correspond to easily-grasped archetypes and the special moves fit well with them so that you have little trouble figuring out “what my character would do.” Then again, the game that started it all, Apocalypse World, contains playbooks and associated moves that I found difficult to understand (e.g., the Battle Babe that doesn’t actually, y’know, battle), so as they say: your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, if there is ever a second editions I would recommend revising the Natures, Roles, and associated moves.
This is a memorable game that has produced intense episodes in our campaign as well as in one-off convention games. I have never had a boring session. It’s easy enough for a GM to pick up and run, provided you familiarize yourself with the PbtA style. (For example, a GM has to realize that she never needs to roll dice in these games — the players do all the dice rolling.) Five of us took our turn at the helm during the campaign, including two that had never game-mastered a PbtA game, and everybody did a bang-up job.
This is not the kind of game book that provides extensive setting material (for example, most GURPS sourcebooks); it offers well thought-out summaries and sketches, just enough for the reader to understand the situation without getting mired in detail. (Naturally, our group of geeks immediately turned to historical sources and went down the rabbit hole of research!) For my style of GMing, the amount of material was just right.
Yes, there are wrinkles around the playbooks, but they are not show-stoppers. Perhaps fan-made playbooks will appear and add the finishing touch to this already amazing game.
I’m very late in discovering this, but the hardback compilation Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is a must-have for all readers of the Mouse Guard comics (David Petersen, published by Archaia) and especially for players of the role-playing game based on the comic, the Mouse Guard RPG (Luke Crane & David Petersen).
It’s full of information about what the Guard Mice do, the art is as inspiring as ever, and the book offers a nice appendix full of maps, illustrations of locations, genealogies of famous mouse clans, etc. (You can see examples of location art here, but the ones in the book are different and contain much more information.)