Wednesday 27 August 2014

French Space Opera - Time Jam: Valérian and Laureline

I've mentioned several times on this blog that Luc Besson is one of of my favourite directors/producers/writers and I always keep up to date with what projects he is involved with.  Back in 2012 he announced he was working on a Valérian movie, which for those who don't know, Valérian is a French graphic novel first published in Pilote magazine (Nov 1967) and written by Pierre Christin with art by Jean-Claude Mézières.

A few of the many aliens in the Time Jam universe
Just a few of the many aliens from the Time Jam universe (centre: Valerian and Laureline)
Besson has always been a fan of the original comicbook and so he hired Mézières and Jean Giraud Moebius to do the concept art for a little sci-fi project he was putting together which ended up being "The Fifth Element".  Besson's production company, Europacorp, also colaborated on a 40 episode anime series loosely based on the comic book, first aired in 2007.  Besson is not the only fan to be inspired by and some of the original comicbook has bled through to Star Wars.  Jeffrey Willis has a good write up of some of these on his blog The Geek Flag

The series follows the adventures of junior Space Time Agent Valérian, voiced by Nigel Greaves, who travels back to medieval France to undertake cultural observations for the Oxford Intergalactic University.  Needless to say his first mission goes spectacularly wrong and he ends up escaping feudal justice with a headstrong peasant girl called Laureline, voiced by Alison Dowling.  When they time jump back to 2417 they discover that the Earth has disappeared and they spend the rest of the series as the only humans in the galaxy trying to find out what has happened to it.  

The universe features a plethora of alien species, cultures, planets and technology, most notably the insectoid Vlargos who are intent on dominating the Galaxy.  Valérian and Laureline have to constantly thwart their devious plans as they ply their trade as space adventures.  One of their patrons are a trio of weird small winged entrepreneurs with trunks know as Shingouz.  Much like Star Trek's Ferenghi they are always in search of profit and end up sending Valérian and Laureline on quite a few dangerous missions to retrieve various objects. 

Their encounters often occur on weird planets that try to kill them or have been rendered dangerous by some legendary artefact they must recover and they are assisted by ship's computer "Rondha" which fills in some of the blanks for them and the viewer.  There's plenty of variety in setting and plot for each episode as the pair embark on various missions for their different patrons and they end up making just as many friends as enemies.

With the exception of the bizarre "Space Dandy", it's been a while since I've seen anything that I would class as "Space Opera".  By this I mean in the spirit of of E.E. "Doc" Smith's classic Lensman, a light hearted, galaxy hopping tour of the universe with only a laser blaster and a well timed one liner for defence.  It's pitched at an early teens audience, the tone is firmly in the "mild peril" zone, but it's good inspiration fodder for any Space Opera RPG and could be easily "hardened" up for more engaging adult sessions.  I would recommend using it as an alternative setting when you want to drop your players in at the deep end and watch them gradually learn about the universe as they play.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

5 Things I'd Love to do with RPG Props

Here's a bucket list of things I'd like to do with props have effects in a game world. 

Fortune Cookie (may include game content) 
1.  Fortune Cookies - Imagine a game where the PCs have just polished off a nice celebratory chinese meal, when the DM/waiter hands out a plate of fortune cookies.  Each of the players takes one and discovers a clue or instruction to their next adventure inside.

2.  Defuse the Bomb - Make a prop bomb complete with digital timer and hand the players a screwdriver and a set of wire cutters.  I'm going to need to trap them in a locked room so they have no choice but to defuse it.  This is probably the trickiest of the lot as I'd have to find a good timer circuit which I can use. 

3.  SMS Patron - Have a game where all the instructions coming from the patron are delivered to the characters via SMS text to the players mobile phones.

4.  Amaretti Scroll of Raise Dead - This is something I'd like to do when playing a magic user.  When a party member dies, I'd like to pull out a piece of amaretti paper covered in symbols claiming it's a Raise Dead scroll.  Read out some incantation and then roll it up into a tube and set fire to it.  At the last moment the paper will fly into the air (just like in the video) and the character is back from the dead.

5.  Crossword from Beyond the Grave.  Give one or more PCs a half finished crossword puzzle as a clue, preferable found near the body of someone they wanted to interrogate.  The players must complete the crossword to reveal a message from the victim.

Monday 11 August 2014

Astropia - RPG Advocacy in movies

Last night caught me flicking through the free movie content on my WD TV Live, where I stumbled across a Norwegian language film called Astropia.  Also known as Dorks & Damsels it was an indie film released in 2007. Given the subject matter, it was surprising that I'd never heard of it, but I've had good experiences with Norwegian films in the past so thought I'd give it a go.    

aka Dorks & Damsels
In a plot borrowed heavily from the classics such as "Oliver" and "Pygmalion", socialite Hildur (), is living the life of a minor celebrity when her wealthy boyfriend Jolli, a shady car dealer, is suddenly arrested and jailed.  The confused society girl is thrown out of her home and hounded by the paparazzi, so goes to live with her sister Bjort and 10 year old Nephew Snorri.

She struggles to complete even the most basic tasks and come to terms with her new station in life when, by chance, she lands a job at "Astropia" the local "Nerd Store" as their RPG salesperson.  She knows nothing about roleplaying and her colleagues and customers are initially hostile until she joins her first game session run by store owner Goggi.  

RPG portrayals in mainstream media fall squarely into two camps for me, you're either condescendingly laughing at the nerds (Big Bang Theory) or knowingly laughing with the nerds (Robot Chicken) and this one falls squarely into the latter.  In fact the only condescending character in the movie is the villain Jolli and although Hildur is treated with a bit of suspicion and sexism by her co-workers, she wins them over quite quickly.

The movie does a good job of parodying some of the stereotypical nerd subdivisions and there are some great little moments like DVD salesman Floki trying to sending young Norri off home with copies of "The Exorcist" and "The Shining" as educational movies.

Importantly this movie has has an engaging convential plot centered around Hilda's and Jolli's abusive relationship.  It does a great job of portraying the members of the games group as odd, but likeable and fully functioning adults and the "normal" people as monsters.  The use of LARP costume action is sparing, but serves as an effective mind's eye view inside a game session and is sympathetic.  It explains the core functions of characters and GM well and demonstrates how RPGs have the power to unlock imaginations and how people can often have surprising hidden talents or skills and the determined Hildur also manages to knock some of the sexism for six in her first session.

If you don't mind watching subtitled movies this is definitely well worth a look and I'd definitelty recommend it to anyone trying to explain RPGs to a non playing partner or friend.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Revisiting Teenage Mutant Horror Comet Zombies

Had some down time last week and decided to revisit one of those 80s movies which I raved about after seeing it on Alex Cox's "Moviedrome".  For me it was seminal TV and regularly showed cult movies I had heard of but never seen.  Good Times.

They Came They Shopped They Saved The World
"Night of the Comet" (or as it was known in the UK "Teenage Mutant Horror Comet Zombies") was a relatively low budget (£3million) sci-fi movie released in 1984.  Written and directed by Thom Eberhardt it stars Catherine Mary Stewart (Weekend at Bernie's) and Kelli Maroney (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as Regina and Samantha, as sassy valley girl sisters who end up missing out on the greatest spectacle of their lives, a comet passing Earth.  Does this sound familiar? (Day of The Triffids anyone...)

When morning comes they discover that everyone they ever knew is missing and a dusty red smog has filled the air.  Enter Robert Beltran (ST Voyager's Chakotay) as Hector, the mexican truck driver, an unlikely but entertaining hero who tries to help the girls come to terms with the new world order.

Meanwhile the saviours of humanity in the form of a bunch of "Apocalypse Nuts" led by Geoffrey Lewis are emerging from their underground bunker to start afresh by gathering up all the survivors.

Without giving anything away it's an entertaining slice of 80s L.A. teen culture, deely boppers, rampant consumerism and zombies.  It's got a few great one liners like "Daddy would have gotten us Uzi's" and "The legal drinking is ten... but you will need ID, lets be real".  The two girls are the absolute stars and strong female characters are hard to come by in any post apocalypse movie.

Great inspiration particularly in the case of the two strong female characters, and as a genre setting for an apocalyptic game when you're bored with "The Walking Dead",

Friday 1 August 2014

Ennie Award for Best Cavern Map goes to... Fire Ants.

One of the staple RPG tropes is the "Bug Hunt", we've all done them.  There are some pretty cool bug hunt tunnel maps out there, but even the best human cartographers can't come close in complexity to these real world Fire Ant Colonies.  These stunning aluminium casts are the work of

Fire Ant Colony #45 - 18.5"x12.5"x13" (HxWxL)
Carpenter Ant Colony #31 - 16.5"x4.5"x8" (HxWxL)
The artists YouTube channel has some interesting videos showing the whole casting process which inevitably causes the destruction of the colony.  I'm rooting for Hicks and Hudson on this one and prefer to immortalize the work of these pests rather than go down the "nuke it from orbit" route.