Black Panther: Spoiler-Free Mini-Review

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!

 

 

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12 RPGs for the 12th Month: Gateway Game

Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)

Question 1: 1st to 2nd December

You’re running an RPG to introduce new players to the RPG hobby this month. Which game and genre do you choose, and why?

My answer might vary a bit depending on what the recuit players’ interests are. For example, I would try to tie in with a fiction world I know they already like, such as Harry Potter, the Marvel Universe, Star Wars, etc., which might affect the choice of system.

As general introductory systems, I have had particularly good success for this using InSpectres (Memento Mori Theatricks), The Zorcerer of Zo (Atomic Sock Monkey Press), Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions), etc.

All else being equal, though, I would probably use Truth & Justice (Atomic Sock Monkey Press) again. I have had great success with completely new players taking on the persona of superheroes that might be complex to model in other systems, just jumping in and having great fun without the headaches. For example, I remember one forty-something who had never been in a role-playing game in his life, and decided he wanted to play Marvin Minsky with a body made of nanites. I just went along, and no, it didn’t break the game. He had a blast and said he would look into gaming in his hometown.

New Releases: Harlem Unbound, Sins of the Past Revisited

Today I take a quick look at a couple of new releases in two different genres: horror and superheroes. Both can be used to expand an existing campaign or as the backbone for a whole new campaign. These will be overviews, not full-fledged reviews since I have not had a chance to run either campaign.

Harlem Unbound

Cover of Harlem Unbound

If you want Cthulhu Mythos horror that flips the standard Lovecraftian view of minorities on its head, putting them in the roles of heroes who must struggle against cosmic horrors while also fighting for a chance at equality, this is the sourcebook for you.

Harlem Unbound is a 274-page sourcebook for Cthulhu Mythos role-play written by Chris Spivey and published by Darker Hue Studios, which provides setting history, locations, characters, adventures, and game-master advice for the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City during the 1920s, the era known as the Harlem Renaissance.

System-wise, elements are detailed for play with both Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed. (Chaosium) and the GUMSHOE system (Pelgrane Press). In fact, you can play it as a GUMSHOE standalone, it contains the necessary rules; or you could play it with a GUMSHOE game such as Trail of Cthulhu, Fear Itself, The Yellow King, or The Esoterrorists.

However, the materials offered in Harlem Unbound are rich and well-formulated so that in my opinion, there should be little trouble adapting them to another system of your choice. Mechanics are the least of your worries—doing the material justice in play is the GM and players’ true challenge. This is exactly the game supplement you need to run adventures in the vein of The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle) or Lovecraft Country: A Novel (Matt Ruff).

The art is of course strongly influenced by luminaries of the Harlem Artists Guild and precursors. Some of it is not my cup of tea (the gorier images), but it is nevertheless well done. I am particularly fond of artist Nino Malong’s contributions.

If you missed the Kickstarter funding campaign, you can still pre-order Harlem Unbound on Backerkit.

Sins of the Past, Revisited

Sins of the Past Revisited - coverThe original Sins of the Past adventure, published back in 2010, is one of the best scenarios ever written for the superhero game ICONS. Since its release, however, the system has undergone a revision and expansion published as the Assembled Edition in 2014.

Sins of the Past, Revisited is a 52-page adventure written by Theron Bretz, illustrated by Dan Houser—the same team that created the original edition—and published by Ad Infinitum Adventures for ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition.

It does not only update the mechanical bits to reflect the most recent version of the game; it offers new material, game-master advice, and notes on the playtest games. There is more art and new maps, everything a GM needs to run exciting scenes of superheroic action.

To top it off, if you prefer to run ICONS using the original rules, this comes with the 2010 version of the adventure for free. This means you can enjoy the new materials without major system adjustments.

The adventure connects modern-day superheroes (and villains) with those of the Golden Age. I think the adventure might have the most impact if its chapters were introduced one at a time over the course of a long-running campaign, when some of the GM characters have become familiar figures of the game setting. This could create fantastic buy-in for the players, inviting their characters to shoulder a legacy.

You can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG, and I understand that the print version will be available soon.

Masks: Play report and review

Masks

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”

RPG a Day: Next game?

12. What game is your group most likely to play next? Why?

MasksAside from the continuing ones (Dungeon World, Night Witches, and a Savage Worlds game based on a setting mashup of The Sixth Gun and Through the Breach), the next game we play should be a one-off episode of Masks (Magpie Games). Powered by the Apocalypse, Masks is a game of young superheroes.

It’s the most likely because it’s scheduled for tonight!

#RPGaDay2016

 

 

Women as Action Heroes: Supply and Demand

ST1

We’ve heard about a number of prodigiously insulting marketing decisions at the intersection of merchandising, pop culture and genre fiction, such as the disappearance of Black Widow from lines of Avengers merchandise and Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise. It’s been made clear that boys are the target market for toys. But do you ever wonder if it’s not also a deliberate ploy to manipulate supply and demand for price gouging?

We just learned that to mark the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek series, CBS has licensed toy company Mattel to produce a line of Barbie-style dolls based on Lieutenant Uhura, Captain Kirk, and Commander Spock. I immediately checked on Amazon, because I want Lt. Uhura on my desk! But I discovered that she’s unavailable, even though the other two can be purchased just fine for $34.99 each.

Uhura-doll

StarTrek50th-dollsWhat gives?

But Amazon went on to offer me other lopsided-deals on memorabilia Barbie-like dolls. How about Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman figures based on the recent movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Hey, good news: all three are available. And priced at…

Wait, what? Continue reading “Women as Action Heroes: Supply and Demand”

Fiasco: Nextwave comes crashing down!

Nextwave_issue_11Tonight we played the second act of a Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games) episode using the Heroes of Pinnacle City playset written by Ryan Consell, Josh Hoey, Anna Kreider, and Kit Kreider, to simulate Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

We had as much fun as we had in the first act; let’s just say that the portal which the Bloodstone family had been supposed to guard re-opened in Daeseong-dong, bringing hordes of doppelgangers of The Captain, and Pulgasari himself! Despite Nextwave nearly starting World War III, and Monica very publicly insulting the Avengers, Aaron Stacks managed to end up on top as the Avengers’ new leader…

pulgasari

Fiasco: Nextwave!

Tonight we played a Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games) episode using the Heroes of Pinnacle City playset written by Ryan Consell, Josh Hoey, Anna Kreider, and Kit Kreider, to simulate Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

We had a blast. Several, actually. The characters were Aaron Stack, Elsa Bloodstone, The Captain, and Monica Rambeau. Here is a shot of the Roll20 board as we reached the tilt phase; we’ll have the second half of the game in a couple of weeks. Roll20 works really well, you can set the colour of your dice and then drag them on the board.

That was game no. 21 of #61in16 for me, and 22 players out of #36in16.

Fiasco: Nextwave!

ICONS: Monster Mash!

I ran ICONS (1st edition) for Edmund, Karen and Jesse and had a fun time. They decided to play Spectre, Risk and Cheshire Cat (nemesis: Turbo-Cat) — a corporate-sponsored black ops industrial (counter-)espionage team working for Standard Industries. They stayed unknown and unappreciated, unlike Standard Industries’ public super team, the Standard-Bearers.

Two of the best moments were when Cheshire Cat, in her secret identity as mild-mannered teacher Mr. Myerson, met with his student Angel on the train and had to both save the train from a super-villain and protect his cover; and when Risk intimidated The Troll by sheer force of gumption, even though she was outclassed in terms of power.

I enjoyed the game but next time I run ICONS, I will hit the Fate-like elements harder.

Playing ICONS

 

Fault Lines: A Venture City story, coming up at KublaCon

EDIT: Cancelled due to illness.

Venture-City-Page-Header

This past weekend was DunDraCon but I didn’t attend because I couldn’t afford a hotel room (it’s too far from home to drive safely and still have time to game.) However, KublaCon is the next big tabletop gaming convention in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s held only minutes from where I live. It’s not nearly as strong in the role-playing department as I’d like, so of course the thing to do is add a couple of games to the schedule!

My first choice of game is an adventure for 2 to 5 players set in Venture City, a Fate World created by Brian Engard for Evil Hat Productions’ Fate Core system. Venture City is a Fate Core implementation for supers, but whether they’re heroes or not is up to them. Here is the blurb for my adventure (I’m limited to 400 characters for the printed program):

Fault Lines

When a series of small earthquakes rock the city, are they foreshadowing the Big One or the work of some new super being? Either way, your group of low-rent unsanctioned supers may be the only help for the citizens of the sprawl… unless you accept a more lucrative offer from alarmed one-percenters.

Of course, in my version Venture City is just another name for “here.”

If you are a role-player in the Bay Area and you’re in need of some gaming on Memorial Day weekend, check out one my games, and consider adding one of your own to the schedule so I can play in yours!

tazio-bettin-venture-city-stories-art-4-by-taziobettin-d7b3og5
Credits: Illustrations by Tazio Bettin.