Screenplay: the RPG Review

Caveat: I am a friend of the designer and was part of the playtest for this game. Also, this is part of a round robin review process, meaning that a bunch of designers got together and agreed to review each other’s games. I don’t know if the author of Screenplay will be reviewing my game or not, but he might. This is the third review, and I will be reviewing two other games between now and the end of August.

A review? Sure, let’s call it a review. Those of you who have been around for a bit know that I’ve been part of the playtest crew for Todd Crapper’s Screenplay and that I have been singing its praises. Right now, not only is Screenplay out and available, but so too is Ironbound, its first subgame/setting.

Screenplay is a simple system that provide extensive narrative control to its players. Characters are built from Potentials – which are qualities/description that provide dice for conflict resolution – and resources – which provide bonuses to resolution. The character’s Stamina (a kind of health/stress rating) and Milestones (kind of like experience) are also resources used to effect resolution. The die provided by a character’s Potential and modified by a Resource is rolled against a target number – defined by the opposing Potential. Success allows the character to remove Stamina or apply Complications to an opponent. All the mechanical effects derive from this simple system.

The system does provide the GM with plenty of mechanical means to control the situation, though none of these are absolute. GMs have a special resource called Challenges that allows the GM to increase the difficulty or create some kind of new obstacle. This means if the GM feels the game is too easy or the players are too confident, a Challenge or two in a scene can really spice things up.

This game is for cooperative groups, not competitive ones. If the mentality of your group is GM vs. players – as in the GM is actively trying to kill the characters while the players are attempt to subvert or undermine the GM’s efforts in order to beat them – this game won’t run smoothly for you. However, if you are playing a competitive game, I’m not sure you are having as much as you possibly can with role-playing games.

Screenplay works both for action heavy games and quieter investigative ones. I’ve used it to run a one-shot based on Korean action movies and I’ve participated in a 1940s style horror game set in a museum which evolved into a very quiet character study and investigation. In both these games, Screenplay succeeded in replicating the action with a few minor hiccoughs.

Is it a perfect game? No. Of course not. I haven’t met one of those yet. For a simple set of rules that can be used for a wide variety of high narrative games, Screenplay does the trick.

I give Screenplay 4.75 high plains samurais out of 5. This is a great game for those who like their systems simple, but with mechanics robust enough to even handle high action adventures.

You can find Screenplay at DTRPG.

Right now, Ironbound is “pay what you want” at DTRPG.

You can learn more at Broken Ruler Games.

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Star Trek Beyond – A Review

I was very lucky yesterday to get to see an opening/advanced screening of Star Trek Beyond (does it have a colon? It should probably have a colon). Although among those I viewed it with, mine was the minority opinion, I really liked this one. I’d hazard to say it was the best of the three new Trek movies.

This is coming from someone who found Star Trek through pre-dinner/after school reruns of the original series. I’ve been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can remember. I saw ST:the Motion Picture in the theatre and – this may taint your opinion of me – I loved it. ST: the Wrath of Khan, of course, blew it away. Still, ST:TMP had so many aspects of ST:TOS while providing characters who had grown since the end of their five year mission that I remain a fan.

I had low expectations going in to STB. While I enjoyed 2009’s Star Trek, I was disappointed with Star Trek Into Darkness. I expected STB to focus on action – especially given the director, Justin Lin, known for his work on the Fast and the Furious franchise – and I expected that focus to be to the detriment of the character.

My expectations were – thankfully – dashed.

I am very aware that among the people with whom I saw the movie, I had the minority opinion, but I believe this is the best of the reboot movies. The first act of the movie set the same tone as ST:TWOK, and, for that matter, some of ST:TMP. Kirk and Spock are at turning points in their lives, questioning their choices and their purpose. McCoy is there as a sounding board and support. Finally the deniable friendship between McCoy and Spock is explored while McCoy’s role as Kirk’s friend is cemented. Karl Urban as Leonard McCoy is my favourite part of the reboot and I am so happy he was given plenty of chances to shine.

Justin Lin proved as adept with the close and personal scenes as he did with the action. And, don’t worry, there’s plenty of action. For me, though, the groundwork done with the characters – and not just the big three – paid off when that action happened, because I was much more invested with these characters than I had been in the previous two movies.

Here’s where I am again going to complain about 3D. Maybe it’s just me – I do have an eyeglass prescription, so my vision isn’t the best – but the action is always blurred and muddled in 3D. It’s very noticeable in parts of this movie. I would love to have the chance – which I won’t until Netflix! – to see the movie without the 3D. I don’t think it added anything for me and ruined some of the action scenes.

In the end, I have to give this movie a big recommendation – at least for those who loved ST:TOS, ST:TMP, and/or ST:TWOK. There are issues with this movie, yes, but they are issues shared with the previous two of this iteration. Unlike those others, though, this movie delivers strong characterization, and stakes that aren’t just external. This is as much about Kirk’s future as it is about his survival and that of the Federation.

That made it much more satisfying for me.

I give Star Trek Beyond 4.5 yelly, shouty classical tunes out of 5. This has all the action of its two predecessors while also delivering on the characterization and drama that made the best of the TOS movies so good.

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Krendel Core RPG

It is very difficult for me to review Krendel by William J. (B.J.) Altman. The text reveals a thoughtful designer who cares deeply about the role-playing experience and how mechanics impact on that, and the central mechanic is elegant in its simplicity. The difficulty lies in its complexity. I am a fan of simple systems. As much as I like D&D 5E, I would never run it. The same goes for True20, Savage Worlds and Fate Core (but not Fate Accelerated). As much as I like all these games as systems, I feel that my play style is hindered rather than helped by robust systems.

Krendel fits into this category. Its core is simple but each action is almost its own sub-system in that the standard mechanic provides for multiple successes, and each action has some unique uses for these successes. Krendel also includes modifiers such as range, area, and conditions as well as mechanically relevant equipment – so certain weapons are optimal. Each character also has a plethora of different attributes applied to it – traits and skills, powers and artificer equipment, all of which have a mechanical effect on the game. With these specifics in play, one might pay a mechanical price to create a specific character concept. However, as with many robust systems, this game would likely reward skill mastery, akin to how d20 or D&D 4E did.

I know there are gamers who would love to dig into all the details and specifics of this game. I have played with them and run games for them. I definitely think there is an audience out there for this game, and I do really like its core system. The complexity that is a bonus for others is a detriment for me.

That said, the writing is quite good – though there are certainly areas that could use clarification, which I have found is common with robust systems – and the book includes both a table of contents and an index.

I would say that if you dug the layers of a game like d20, GURPS, or Rolemaster, this is a game you should examine. Like GURPS, it is a universal system, although with things like Traits and Powers one could certainly adjust it to fit a more specific need. The pieces seems to fit together pretty well, but I have never played the game so that is more of an assumption than an assessment.

In the end, I think you’ll need to look and judge for yourself. Right now it is free, so that is not an issue, and I would recommend everyone who plays or runs games to grab it just to read the “Getting Started” section. While there are pieces of this that references the game’s mechanics, there is a lot of advice here that is more universally applicable to gaming in general, and I think the author reveals some excellent insights into the social contract at the table.

You can find Krendel at Drive Thru RPG.

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They Dark Live in Matrix City – the Game

I’ve been working on some writing while taking a break from my academic studies, but I probably haven’t put enough time into my work as I should. That’s because I’m addicted to Saint’s Row IV.

He has no name . . . except maybe Boss.

I picked up Saint’s Row III a while back during one of the Steam sales, probably a summer sale. I really enjoyed Grand Theft Auto 4, so I checked it out. It was so unlike and over the top, I think I actually enjoyed it better. It was kind of crazy. I picked up a bundle of Saint’s Row stuff this last Steam Summer Sale and gave Saint’s Row 2 a shot. The driving was different enough that it messed me up. I wasn’t really excited about Saint’s Row 4 based on what I had read about it – which, it turned out, downplayed all the stuff I found awesome.

And I’m hooked.

The thing is, this game is batshit insane. It flushed any sense of realism down the toilet and then introduced me to a setting that was part They Live, part the Matrix, and part Dark City.

Getting ready to leap a tall building

It’s like they had my brain hooked up to a game design program and this is what it spit out.

This is actually really bad because I have work to do and tonight we just sold our home (well, conditionally), so stress is kind of high and there are tons of things to do. But all I want to do is get back into the simulation, leap tall buildings, run like the flash, and fight aliens. It’s crazy fun. And I have to admit, I dig the story. I mean, it’s nothing fresh or unique, but the character moments are pretty fun and the insane action is like a superhero version of Big Trouble in Little China.

So I will be working on getting some writing done, and will hopefully have something to share with everyone in the next few months, but I’ll probably be staying up late, honing my superpowers, and trying to take over the simulation to stop the evil alien overlord.

Awesome, wacky fun.

You can find out more about the Saint’s Row games here.

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Revisiting The Guild of Echo Transit

For another visit to my idea factory – well, really more like conceits or hooks, because none of them are fully formed – I’m hitting the Guild and continuing the trend of music and existing IP turning into something weird. This one has a lot of similarities to “Serenity Spec Ops,” but they were originally published eight months apart, so it probably wasn’t noticeable when it was first presented.

Originally presented 29 Jun 2010

Okay, so here’s the latest brainstorm, courtesy of the Crystal Method’s Vegas album, but more specifically supported by “Keep Hope Alive,” the awesome tune that intro’d Chow Yun Fat in the fun but ultimately forgettable Replacement Killers. That movie remains a go-to movie for me because it has Mr. Chow, it has Mira Sorvino being all hot and action-y, and it tries to bring John Woo’s Gun-fu to North America along with Mr. Chow. It’s a fun movie, it just isn’t a great movie.

In any case, on the way to work this morning and I’m on the bus, listening to tunes. As has happened so often in the past, that leads to the plotting out of a movie and even a couple of scenes.

The elevator pitch? The cast of the Guild as a team of extra-terrestrial technology recovery specialists called Echo Transit 1.

You need more details before you decide to invest in this movie/mini-series/TV series? Why certainly.

Echo Transit 1—or ET1 . . . yeah, stupid I know, but it amuses me—is part of MAGENTA, set up when MAJESTIC went rogue back in the 1980s. MAJESTIC had all the cool alien artefacts, and MAGENTA was tasked with recovering them. Protocols are now in place to have a MAGENTA recovery team as first responders to any alien incursion anywhere in the world. Most of MAJESTIC has been . . . removed, but some are still around, and they may be aligned with sinister outside influences—possibly alien, possibly not.

That’s all background.

The movie would start with an explosion near a small village in Russia’s back-and-beyond. The villagers who to investigate are vaporized. Cue Echo Transit 1.

During the credits, the team is shown being assembled. Felicia Day plays “Alfa,” the team leader, and an ex-spook for an unnamed agency. She is having a coffee on a patio somewhere in the Mediterranean when she gets the call on her smartphone. She drops some money and goes. When she puts her wallet back in her purse/bag/whatever, we see the weapon with which she travels. It looks like a pistol, but not. Oh yeah, that’s some alien tech happening.

Then we are in a Buddhist or Buddhist-like temple. We are watching “Kilo” meditate. Kilo is played by Jeff Lewis. He is one the team medic and operations man—kind of an executive officer for Alfa. He likes to make sure nobody gets up after going down, so he carries a Desert Eagle .50 autoloader. He gets his activation message and we pan back to see he is somewhere very, very mountainous and a chopper is en route to pick him up.

Next we have Sandeep Parikh playing “Tango.” We see him teaching a young woman some advanced martial arts in a gym. The young woman happens to be “Charlie,” played by Amy Okuda. Tango is the team’s—you guessed it—martial arts expert while Charlie is the weapons specialist. She’s into suppressive fire, so she tends to use two H&K MP7s. They both get the message at the same time, both excuse themselves, then, after reading their respective messages, kind of look at each other like “Hey, wait a minute . . .” There’s a pull back to show that the gym they are using is somewhere inside an underground bunker in a mountain—maybe the Cheyenne Mountain facility?

Finally we are in a university classroom talking very high-level, incomprehensible quantum biology stuff about possible exo-systems existing beyond our planet. The lecturer is quite young. He is also a fucking genius. This is “Victor,” played by Vincent Caso. He’s the team’s xeno-biology expert and general tech-head. He gets the call, ends the class, gathers up his stuff, and is met by two suited, sunglass-wearing goons, who escort him out to the chopper.

But wait, doesn’t that leave one member? Yes it does.

The credits are done, and we are now at a Russian command and control facility. A junior officer indicates that the Russian platoon sent to put things in order at the “incident site” has disappeared. The flag officer to whom he is reporting tells him that the Russian Space Forces now has command of the location. He accepts this without question. As he leaves, the flag officer tells her aide to ready a contact team, and to have satellites survey the area. There is some discussion about the time this will take, but the flag officer is adamant. She goes to her office, picks up her smartphone, and indicates that the Russian contact team has been delayed, and that she will need exfil at the agreed upon location.

This is Ruby, a deep cover operative for Magenta, and she is played by Robin Thorsen.

Where does it go from here? Picture the first act: ET1 getting into position, figuring out that this is an extra-dimensional incursion (apparently this kind of thing happens). What’s more, something survived the transposition, and it’s dangerous.

Act two would be the team hunting down the baddie. They are up against the clock because the Russian contact team is due. Since the team isn’t exactly supposed to be there, this is a problem. Perhaps as big a problem as the extra-dimensional, weaponized sentient the team is tracking.

Act three is the big bash up, as the team realizes this is the first step in a possible invasion. Yes, MAJESTIC is involved, those bastards. Worse yet, there’s more than one of those dimensional thingees running around, and they can subvert regular people, turning them into scaries—are zombies still cool? Should we use werewovles?

Okay, so I can write this script for you, and my prices are very reasonable.

Oh, and the pilot of the Ghost—an uber-futuristic stealth VTOL aircraft? They call him Hawkes, and he’s played by Wil Wheaton.

Oh yeah.

Seriously, wouldn’t you totally love to see this movie? Even as a SyFy original?

Who is the Crystal Method?

What is the Guild?

Where have I done this before?

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Return to Red Gross

Continuing along with my blatant theft of ideas and or casts, this one is just more of a conceit than an adaptation. It’s also much more of a scene with some attached ideas than a more fully fledged concept, however ideas aren’t what’s valuable, it’s the expression of them, so if this sounds cool, take it for your game or your fiction and make it your own. That’s how this works.

You also might notice the trend of music leading me down interesting mental paths. I’m very cool with that.

Originally published 16 Jan 2010.

So, listening to music again on the way to work. I started out with a great episode from the BBC’s Thinking Allowed about the concept of the working class, income disparities and self-identification. It was very, very good and very interesting. I’m going to go back to it. But I realized about two minutes into it that my brain was not in the right place.

So I put on music.

My brain was in that place.

I was listening to Metric’s recent album Fantasies. While the thoughts started coming on Satellite Mind, it overflowed into the album “Grow Up and Blow Away” (Two awesome tracks from that are “On the Sly” and “Soft Rock Star”).

Now, this is probably based a lot on the Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner comic Red (which is in the planning stages of becoming a motion picture [2016 Note: the movie came out in Sep 2010]). It’s basically the story of an assassin happily living in retirement (though haunted by the actions he undertook on behalf of his country). A political appointee to the CIA decides he needs to be removed because if anyone found out, it would be scandal.

I don’t think Mr. Ellis likes politicians.

Anyway, since the character in the comic is the best at what he does (and what he does isn’t very nice), he is able to survive the assassination attempt. He then calls in to his handlers that he is going “Red”–active. And then the shit really gets crazy.

I really like the concept of the person who has paid his/her due not being allowed to rest, and the extremes to which they may be pushed. There is also an aspect of divine retribution in the comic that is very satisfying.

So, in my head, I started to imagine a movie. The story is of an agent named John (not sure of a last name–I was thinking possibly Callow or Caiaphas). He’s now retired (though still relatively young), and the opening is of him making breakfast, enjoying it with his wife and daughter. Then, a cell phone starts ringing. Everyone stops. The daughter is confused. The wife is obviously worried. John is somewhere between annoyed and fearful. He goes to a drawer that has lots of odds and ends, old papers and such, and pulls out the cell phone. He answers.

“This is Six.”

On the other end we hear: “Status active. In motion.” The line goes dead.

John stares at the phone for a moment, then shoves it in his pocket. He looks at his wife, and she knows what this means. His daughter doesn’t.

“I have to go to work,” he tells her.

“But you work from home,” she says.

“Not any more.”

He gives his kid and his wife a kiss, the one with his wife lingering–a good-bye, and the opening montage starts.

With the credits rolling, he’s in some kind of vault. He puts on body armour under his shirt and suit. He straps on a few guns and knives, loads an SMG into a book bag or leather briefcase. We see him emerge from his garage, suit on, briefcase on his shoulder. He smiles and waves to his family, but the smile is forced.

He works for an unnamed branch of the foreign service. In my thoughts, this was Foreign Affairs in Canada. I envisioned the montage following him to work. Taking a bus into Ottawa, along Sussex, to the Lester B Pearson building. He enters, has the proper ID to swipe himself through security, descends some stairs to a single, secure elevator. When it stops, he goes to a guarded door. He puts his hand in some kind of scanner, his eye up to another, and breathes into a third. The door opens and he is through.

The operations centre is kind of run down. This is high tech with lots of monitors and communications equipment, but this isn’t NORAD. This is small. John’s boss approaches him.

John is pissed. “I’m out.”

The boss is good-natured but firm. “You are never out. You were requested.”

“Fuck them. I did my time. I’m out. Let them do the fucking job for once.”

Turns out, there’s a powerful minister that called him in on this. The minister’s got a grudge. He’s using his influence to fuck with John.

There is a second story intertwined with this one. A Muslim male, Ismail, who had helped facilitate some terrorism in the 1990s, is being released from prison after serving his time. He’s changed. He’s denounced violence as a political means. He’s a convert to nonviolent resistance. He’s a convert to the rule of law.

The problem is that no one believes him–not the police, not the intelligence services, and not the people he used to run with. He wants to be left alone, to start a life, to start making amends, but that doesn’t look like it is going to happen.

Now, I’m hazy on the macguffin and the villain of the piece. I know that John and Ismail end up working together and end up validating each other. I hope John returns to his family in the end, though I can see him possibly dying. Maybe both of them do. Nah, they both survive. There is poetic justice for the dicks of the story and final justice for the real baddies. John disappears with his family, the final shot is them somewhere green and lush rolling hills–maybe Scotland or Ireland.

Does Ismail find his small dream? Does he get to have a family and some peace? I think that’s only fair. Since these stories need some kind of love interest, maybe he finds his. Maybe she is the macguffin–a witness or someone who knows something who must be protected, but who is unwilling to reveal that secret until Ismail convinces her.

Hmmm, that might work.

And, as usual, this has been cast.

John is played by Paul Gross, whom I consider something of a national treasure in Canada. I mean, forget Due South (though that was fun), look at Slings and Arrows, look at Men With Brooms (it wasn’t that bad), and look at Passchendaele.

As for Ismail, I’m torn between two actors I’ve cast in something else. Faran Tahir made a huge impact with a very small role in Star Trek. He’s got the gravitas, for certain. Saïd Taghmaoui, though, has been consistently good through those roles in which I’ve seen him. I don’t know, I guess see who is available and interested.

That’s after, of course, someone bankrolls the film. How about $30 mil? I can write the script for low six figures!

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Return to Serenity Spec Ops

As mentioned elsewhere, other commitments are keeping me away from posting much, but I don’t want to leave you guys in a lurch. I did a bunch of posts with movie ideas based on existing properties or with the casts of other shows, so I think I’ll share those. Here’s the first, with the cast from Firefly.

Enjoy!

Originally posted 29 Oct 2009

So, I finally get time to write some blog posts, then I forget to post them. That happens when one is writing a post at 7 Am and posting it at 9 PM.

In any case, on my walk in to work today, I switched from listening to podcasts to listening to tunage. Sometimes the desire just hits me. Usually it lights a match on something creative, even if it is not something I could pursue.

Today, while listening to the Crystal Method’s “Legion of Boom,” I came up with a movie conceit. It’s not really an idea and it’s not really a concept, hence: conceit.

Make a modern action/adventure movie with the cast of Firefly/Serenity.

In this movie, the cast would be members of an elite black ops team. Their handler would be only known as the Badger. In thinking about the roles for the group, I got stuck on Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk. The reason is that I would want to play with roles, give them something different than what they played in Firefly. However, Adam and Alan do their respective roles so damn well, it would suck to lose out on that.

What I have come up with so far, plot wise, is that there is an abandoned science city near Tura, Siberia. Something has happened there. Something very, very bad. The Russians are deciding what to do about it, and it looks like they’ll maybe nuke it from orbit (just to be sure). An unidentified, high-ranking US official takes a meeting with the Badger to activate the black ops team. The team inserts secretly using a stealth aircraft (on which the Serenity name and symbol would be seen!) to investigate. Much badness ensues–I’m thinking werewolves or maybe zombies. Something shootable.

Really original plot, eh? Yeah, like I said, more a conceit than anything else.

Of the characters I already considered, Nathan Fillion would be playing Captain Ray Malcolm, the team’s leader. Morena Baccarin as Sarah, the linguist and second in command. Adam Baldwin would be Sev Janus, a man of uncertain origins, a rough-houser and a psychic. That’s right, a psychic. Jayne gets to play River. Adam Tudyk would be Hobbes, a deadly assassin with a motor-mouth (think a sane and relatively moral Deadpool). Gina Torres would be Zoe Washington, a sniper.

The Badger would be played, of course, by Mark Sheppard. We’d have to get Christina Hendricks in there somewhere.

That’s as far as I got before getting to work. I think it’s kind of a fun exercise, even though it won’t amount to anything. Maybe I can salvage the idea for a kind of modern day dungeon crawl.

The first scene in the movie would look something like this:

1. Interior Bland Office Space type Office
The office is very cluttered and rather small. Papers and books everywhere. The BADGER sits behind the desk. Standing in front of him is the un-named OFFICIAL.

OFFICIAL
There’s a situation we need handled.

BADGER
Yeah. Tura. I know. Nasty business that. We aren’t going to leave it to the Russians? Their territory and all.

OFFICIAL
Listen, Mr. . . . Badger?

BADGER taps the name plate on the desk, facing the official. It reads “R. BADGER”

OFFICIAL
Fine. Mr. Badger. Intel indicates the Russians are going to clean sweep the area. All evidence will be gone. We need to know what was happening there.

BADGER
I doubt it’s a moral imperative, but I’m up for Queen & Country and all that. You give us this mission, and we own it. Your boss told you that, right?

OFFICIAL
You’re a gun, Mr. Badger. We point and pull the trigger. What the bullet does after that is a matter of physics.

BADGER
Well put. You were listening at the briefing. Fine. We’ll take it. Expect the report in 48 hours.

OFFICIAL
In 48 hours, that area is going to be a radioactive cinder.

BADGER
And we’ll all be home and snug in our beds, no one the wiser. Good day.

The OFFICIAL stands looking at BADGER for a moment, then turns and leaves. BADGER sips at his coffee for a moment. He takes the nameplate and tosses it in his bag. He rises, takes his bag and leaves the office.

2. Interior Cubicle Farm type space, just outside office door
BADGER slides the name plate (which reads CRISIS MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT) off the door. Underneath is another name plate (Tom Winchester, Senior Analyst). Two men rise from desks at the cubicles just beyond the office.  These are MALCOLM and JANUS.

BADGER
You get all that?

JANUS
(nods) Like an open book.

BADGER
Are we getting fucked over again?

JANUS
Absolutely.

MALCOLM
We’re in the wrong line of work.

BADGER
Only if you’re making plans for retirement.

 

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