Spam or Feng Shui Game?

Suitcase full of moneyEvery once in a while, a piece of spam is so surreally stupid that I think it needs to become a game scenario.  Today I found this beauty as I was clearing my spam filter, from a highly credible Hotmail address.  Suitcase full of money?  Yeah!  I must be mine, I hadn’t noticed until now but I did indeed lose one.  I’ll e-mail you my personal information right away!  Seriously, this needs to be a game of Fiasco, Leverage, Feng Shui, Over The Edge, or the upcoming Shadow of the Century.

6000 North Terminal Parkway
Suite 4000
Atlanta, GA 30320
Call: 209- XXX-XXXX

Attn: Consignee,

An abandoned Suitcase from Air Cargo Services West Africa was brought to our facility today and when scanned it revealed 450Bundles of $100Dollars Bills which is $4.5Million Dollar. The consignment was abandoned because the Content was not properly declared by the consignee as money rather personal effect to avoid diversion by the delivery Agent.

The details of the consignment are tagged on the Trunk box.

Reconfirm your;

1. Your Name.
2. Home phone & Cell Phone
3. Home delivery address
4. Occupation.
5. Email Address.
6. Any form of Identification either Drivers license or International Passport.

Or disregard.

Send the required details to me through Fax: or send through this email.

This is the nature of the suitcase.

Type: SUITCASE
Wheels: 4 wheels
Handles: Trolley handle with top & side handles
Dimensions: Height: 70cm, Width: 50cm, Depth: 30cm
Weight: 8.1KG.

It is required that you contact us so that l will direct you on the Procedure of normalization and finally the deployment of Transguard to deliver to your doorstep.
They are specialists in this field and very much geared to provide the security it needs to your doorstep home or abroad.

Best regards,
Mr. Peter
(ARP) Atlanta International Airport

Pop Culture Neuromancer

Neuromancer cover, 20th anniversary editionThe book for June in our Goodreads post-SF/F class reading group is William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).  This book marked the next generation of SF authors and fans, and defined the fledgling subgenre of cyberpunk.

As usual, I gathered some pop culture resources to accompany it; however, I’m now faced with Problem Type 3.  You may recall that Problem Type 1 is when a book is old enough to have been half-forgotten and there are very few resources for it (for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland); and Problem Type 2 is when a book is recent enough to still be covered by copyright but old enough to pre-date the Internet, yielding plenty of resources but few available online (for example, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness).  Problem Type 3 is what happens when a book has become so intricately embedded into pop culture that it’s hard to select resources that are both representative and significant among a pervasive background!

While others had already written stories that we would now associate with the genre (Bruce Bethke invented the term with his story “Cyberpunk” in 1980, and John M. Ford’s Web of Angels pioneered the Matrix/Internet/etc. the same year) and a couple of movies had started influencing the visuals (John Carpenter’s Escape From New York in 1981, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, probably also Tron in 1982), Gibson had already started shaping the new style with his short stories like “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982).

He was commissioned by Terry Carr for the third series of Ace Science Fiction Specials, which was intended to exclusively feature debut novels, and given a year to complete the work.  Although Gibson nearly gave up after multiple re-writes and crises of anxiety, the book was an underground success and became a cult classic.  It also received the 1984 Hugo and Nebula awards, and the 1985 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award.

Neuromancer fan movie trailer by Jarred SpekterThere has been a lot of talk over the years about film projects based on Neuromancer, but the projects have repeatedly fallen through.  Given how poorly the movie version of Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic turned out, I can’t say that I particularly mourn the project; besides, there are still rumours of a movie project in the works.  However, there is a rather nice fan-made trailer for a non-existent movie, partly spliced from footage from other movies and accompanied by a fan-made poster.

The BBC aired a radio drama version in 2002, the clips for which can be found in a few places online.  Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of Episode 1 (playlist), and Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of Episode 2 (playlist) on YouTube.

There have been partial releases as graphic novels, but to my knowledge none that gave the complete novel.

Neuromancer game screen captureA computer game also called “Neuromancer” and based on the novel was released in 1988 and got good reviews at the time.  Here is a remix of the soundtrack, with some stills from the game!  But the impact of Gibson’s vision is felt in many more games and movies than those officially licensed for his intellectual property.  Really, if a game description mentions “cyberpunk” anywhere, then it’s a safe to assume that it was influenced by Gibson’s Neuromancer and other stories of the Sprawl.

C yberpunk 2020 cover Shadowrun 4th Anniversary Edition coverThe Sprawl trilogy also deeply influenced the role-playing game scene, particularly with the games Cyberpunk from R. Talsorian Games (three editions in 1988, 1990 and 2005) and Shadowrun from FASA Corporation and later Catalyst Games, the latter of which adds magic and urban fantasy to the mix (1989, 1992, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2013), and their tie-in novels, sourcebooks, and derived materials.  Other significant cyberpunk role-playing games include GURPS Cyberpunk (Steve Jackson Games), Ex Machina (Guardians of Order), SLA Industries (Nightfall Games), and Tokyo NOVA (Enterbrain).

The Kai Tak Job: End of Episode 1

So I finally found time to post the notes from the end of our Fiasco: HK TPK game.  We enjoyed it a lot and have already decided to “film” a sequel, set in 1997 during the handover of the Hong Kong New Territories from Great Britain to China.

The story picks up immediately after the Tilt.

HK TPK: A Stupid Plan Executed to Perfection

Kai Tak landing corridor, seen from Kowloon walls.Tony Chin/Mark resolves the scene; Naomi recognized him when he came for treatment, kept him drugged and strapped down without his disguise. He’s very confused by the drugs and the sirens as the police starts the evacuation of the Kowloon Walled City, which is scheduled for demolition. He eventually talks Hideko into releasing him so he can go to the bathroom, and wanders off while she sees to another patient. In his drugged state, he stumbles into one of the fake police vans during the loading, and goes to sleep under a tarp on a pile of rocket-propelled grenades, escaping Naomi’s clutches. (White die.)  Continue reading “The Kai Tak Job: End of Episode 1”

Movie night for Fiasco: HK TPK

As part of getting in the mood for our Fiasco: HK TPK game, we have been watching a bunch of Hong Kong action movies as well as movies closely emulating the genre.  This week we watched two that pair off pretty well: John Woo’s Once A Thief (1991) and Dong-Hoon Choi’s The Thieves (2012).

Both of them are heist movies, so in terms of playing a a game version, all the comments I made in my earlier series on Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction would apply.

Once A Thief (1991)Once A Thief stars Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung as Joey, Jim and Cherie, a trio of art thieves who were raised together by the Hong Kong answer to Fagin, the sinister Chow (played by Kenneth Tsang), a master criminal and fence.  The three want to get out from the business and from under”Dad’s” thumb, so of course they run afoul of him.

The movie unfolds in a light tone compared to most John Woo movies, with romance and humour as well as action.  The first half or so is spent establishing characters and relationships, and showing us how the team works.  By the time we get to the first “tilt”, however, a big job falls apart when the thieves are double-crossed, resulting in a blood bath, and one of the thieves ends up in a wheelchair.

The second half, the job-to-end-all jobs, gets a little edgier treatment, suggesting sadness and a hint of desperation under the banter of the main characters.  The action also ramps up, to my satisfaction.  Points for the action scenes in a wheelchair, and the whole wheelchair-fu idea; it was well done and novel.  The second half also leads to a spectacular, over-the-top final battle with lots of destruction, and a not unexpected, but well executed second “tilt.”  In Fiasco terms, I’d say that it uses the soft “Aftermath” table from The Fiasco Companion.

We got the DVD from Netflix and watched it with English subtitles; there are portions of dialogue in English and French in addition to Cantonese, which were clear enough that I was able to follow without help from the subtitles.

The Thieves (2012)The Thieves is presented in a very different register, much darker in tone and with more earthy, believable action scenes.  Nine specialists from two different teams, from South Korea and from Macau, come together for one big heist; the crown jewel of the theft will be a huge diamond, the coveted Tear of the Sun.  But each of the thieves has ambitions, dreams, rivalries, an agenda.  Add a greedy fence and a police sting, and we’re ready for a Fiasco.

The movie, in Hollywood terms, plays a lot like a cross of Ocean’s Eleven meets Reservoir Dogs, Leverage meets Heist.  It’s got the teams of skilled pros and the daring theft, mixed with greed, mistrust and revenge.  I liked that, unlike most Hollywood movies in this genre, we pretty much had gender parity (four women, five men on the team) and that the ages ranged from young punk to grizzled veteran for both women and men.

We watched this streaming on YouTube, the whole two hours and fifteen minutes or so.  It’s mostly in Korean but with parts of the dialogue in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and English as it hops around from Seoul to Macau to Hong Kong.  With nine thieves plus secondary characters, many flashbacks, a complex plot, and a lot of scenes with dark lighting and only a glimpse of who is speaking, I found it challenging to follow.  This was complicated by the English subtitles that had to compete with Korean ones for all portions of the voice track not in Korean, and were not very well timed with the speech, leaving the viewer to figure out who said what in rapid-fire dialogue.  Still, I think I did pretty well keeping up, all things considered.

As a Fiasco game, it definitely would not pull any punches.  Many characters meet with a rough end…

Fiasco: HK TPK

So on Saturday we had a bitter-sweet online gaming experience, with a game starting fantastically promising but Internet technology deciding to leave us in a ditch.  We’re test-driving the “HK TPK” playset by Corey Reid, John Rogers, and Gareth-Michael Skarka for Jason Morningstar’s game Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games).  The game is intended to tell tales of things gone wrong, largely in the style of the Cohen Brothers’ movies; the playset simulates Hong Kong action movies.

We had five players spanning different continents and time zones, plus my husband Edmund acting as facilitator.  We got our game set up and it started out as a convoluted generation-spanning tale of duty, regret, temptation and betrayal.  Then one of the connections decided that Saturday night’s all right for fighting, and gave us the boot.  We’ve rescheduled for next weekend, but in the mean time I thought I’d describe our movie’s beginning.

Tony Chin (picture of Chow Yun Fat in "The Replacement Killers")Maybe it all started in 1992, with the botched Kai Tak job.  An entire Boeing 747 cargo of North Korean rocket-propelled grenades, bought from China and destined for sale in Libya, intercepted by a consortium of Triads and Yakuza interests.  Tony got the the cargo, but shot a man he mistook for a cop.  Alas, it was really his contact.  In the scramble that followed, he stashed the cargo — but someone else found it and moved it.  He needs to find it again to free himself from his obligation to the fearsome Madame Wu. Continue reading “Fiasco: HK TPK”

Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction — Part 3

Con Jobs: Part 3Having recently talked about mysteries in games and fiction, I now expand on the related genre of spy missions, heists, capers, and con jobs.  In Part 1, I briefly looked at some staples of the genre in books, television and movies, then I examined a handful of game systems that attempt to bring the heist structure to role-playing.  In Part 2, I drew elements from these sources to discuss more generally what game masters can do to prepare this kind of adventure in any system and provided links to online resources for the genre.

In Part 3, I talk about running the adventure per se, and trouble-shooting typical problems.

Running the Game

As discussed in the first two parts of this series, stories in this genre typically unfold in three acts: Planning the Job, Executing the Mission, and Wrap-Up.

Shiny KeyPlanning Phase

The planning or preparation phase typically include getting the job or the mission, and meeting the client if there is one; investigating to get more information to work with; and planning the operation.  Future complications may be foreshadowed.

Continue reading “Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction — Part 3”

Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction — Part 2

Con Jobs: Part 2Having recently talked about mysteries in games and fiction, I now expand on the related genre of spy missions, heists, capers, and con jobs.  In Part 1, I briefly looked at some staples of the genre in books, television and movies, then I examined a handful of game systems that attempt to bring the heist structure to role-playing.

In Part 2, I draw elements from these sources to discuss more generally what game masters can do to prepare this kind of adventure in any system.  I’ll round this up by providing links to some nifty online resources for the genre.

In Part 3, I will talk about running the adventure per se, and trouble-shooting typical problems.

The Game Master’s Toolbox

Although in Part 1 we looked at five heist-specific games, what if you don’t want to switch to a different system but you want to run a caper or con job to your game?  Here are some tools for the GM, which I gathered from the sources discussed in Part 1 and many more.

Continue reading “Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction — Part 2”

Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction — Part 1

Con Jobs: Part 1Having recently talked about mysteries in games and fiction, I will now expand on the related genre of spy missions, heists, capers, and con jobs.  In Part 1, I’ll briefly look at some staples of the genre in books, television and movies, then examine a handful of game systems that attempt to bring the heist structure to role-playing.

In Part 2 and Part 3, I will draw elements from these sources to discuss more generally what game masters can do to run this kind of adventure in any system.  I’ll round this up by providing links to some nifty online resources for the genre.

Genre Essentials

What I’m talking about here is the kind of fiction — book, movie, television show, or game — where a team of highly skilled pros take on a seemingly impossible job using criminal means (electronic surveillance, breaking-and-entry, theft, swindles, etc.) in full view of the audience or reader.

The genre is characterized by suspense, action, misdirection, the boldness of the plan, the high level of competence of the crew, the relationships and interplay of trust and betrayal between characters, and often a mix of humour and drama.  The crew usually cover distinctive roles, each with their area of expertise such as mastermind, technical whiz, explosives expert, master of disguise, etc.  In addition, the team is often working with limited resources, at least once the plan is under way.

The genre covers an array of gamer favourites.  Surprisingly, it can be found in just about any era or fictional setting  from fantasy to science fiction.  There are several sub-genres (some even classify them as different but related genres):

Continue reading “Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction — Part 1”