Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mutant: Year Zero: 36 Plots for Roles

I’m currently running Mutant: Year Zero for the Gauntlet Hangouts. (You can see the sessions here). It’s an experiment in continuity. The thirteen sessions run through the first quarter of the year. The Ark, the homestead for the PCs, remains and grows throughout. The cast of PCs can change from game to game. As they come in new players can add to the lore and description of the community.

When I reviewed M: YZ, I mentioned I’d like to see more tools for events within the Ark. Free League’s released 5 Zone Compendiums which detail exploration of the Zone. But the game’s written to split the time between at-home and away. It has great tools (the NPC generators, certain Threats), but could use more development and support.

Below I’ve created six plot hooks for each role from the core rules. I start with some questions about the role and how it fits into the community. The GM can answer these or use them as prompts for collaboration. Some of these plots border on being Threats and a GM could connect them to random session problems. I can also see these as just scenes, a chance for players to explore and use their unique skills and talents.

What’s the dynamic between the Ark’s Bosses? If you’re going to create a general relationship map, that’s a good place to start (so players can “Yojimbo” it if they want to). Have there been other Bosses? How do they rise up? How obviously do the Bosses display their character traits? How does the Ark react to racketeering?

1. A gang member from a rival Boss wants to defect to the PC Boss gang. Why? What will it take to have that happen? Is there a conspiracy afoot? What if it’s instead someone wanting to leave the gang?
2. One of their gang members harms or kills someone they shouldn’t. What happened? Does the PC Boss make it right? What kind of discipline do they keep?
3. Another Boss wants to sit down with the PC about territory and space. Can they be trusted? How do two Bosses negotiate and ensure compliance? What do the other Bosses think of any cozy relationship?
4. Information seems to be slipping out from the PC’s gang to another Boss. Is it coming from one of their own or is it a new tech/power? What kind of information’s being passed?
5. There’s rumblings among the community that something needs to be done about the Boss system. If these malcontents act, do they use non-cooperation, sabotage, or something else? Does the PC work to undermine the organization, strike at ringleaders, or demonstrate the value of their gang?
6. Someone seems to be gathering people close to them: bribes, secret meetings, etc. Are they a new Boss or is something else going on? If they are, how does the PC Boss respond?

What’s the relationship between the Chroniclers and the Elder? Do they act as gatekeepers, isolating the weakened Elder from the Ark? Or do they simply aid and listen to the Elder? How do they handle obvious Dawn Vault violations? At the present Culture level, what kinds of writing/recording technologies exist in the Ark? Is there a hierarchy among the Chroniclers?

1. Someone has marked places in the Ark with sigils or graffiti (at the Culture level of community). The PC Chronicler is called on to interpret or to suss out who has been doing it. Are the writings screeds against the Elder, satirical comments, prophecies, or something else?
2. Rumors spread that someone uncovered a stash of colorful documents and writings but has refused to share it with the Dawn Vault. Who has it and what knowledge does it offer?
3. With the Elder clearly aging, it’s become unclear who will be the next voice of wisdom within the Ark. One or two Chroniclers have begun to make political maneuvers: making promises, gathering allies. Will the PC Chronicler do the same, speak against it, or join a side?
4. A Boss’ gang has been remarkably healthy of late. They’ve treated some illnesses and diseases which have vexed the community. But so far they’ve said nothing and shared no details of their medicines or treatments.
5. The murder of a beloved member shakes the community. How does the Chronicler deal with the atmosphere of resignation, fear, and hopelessness?
6. One of the factions (a cult, gang, or household) has begun preaching and writing their own history, with their own symbol set and coded language. Are the spreading misinformation or revealing the truth? How do these new stories affect the old ones?

Where do the dogs come from? Is there one lineage of canines or multiple breeds? How are they replaced? Is there a formal process for choosing Handlers? Is there a central kennel or does everyone “A Boy a His Dog” it in different areas?

1. There’s rumblings in the camp about the value of the dogs. Some people question feeding the animals. Does anyone take action? How does the PC Dog Handler justify their role?
2. A fellow Dog Handler died recently. They had a particularly excellent beast. Now there’s arguments over who will take on his animal and how to handle that. Can a dog even change masters?
3. One of Dog Handlers is experimenting with crueler and more vicious treatment to push their animal. It might be successful, at a cost, but could spur others to try such inhumane methods. How does the PC Dog Handler react?
4. The kennel or pen the PC Dog Handler uses has become contaminated. They must find and secure a new location in the Ark for themselves.
5. The Handler’s dog has begun barking and reacting badly to a fellow mutant in the Ark. Until now, the animal exhibited no reaction to the subject. What’s going on? How does the PC follow up? If the cause is something sinister, does it spread?
6. Rumor has it that a Boss or Fixer found litter of zone dogs some time ago. Rather than turn them over or train them, they’ve used them to fight captured beasts or other dogs as a spectator sport. How does the PC Dog Handler stop this?

Any PC Enforcer’s going to be a badass obviously, but what’s the pecking order among the Enforcers of the Ark? Are most Enforcers affiliated with a Boss or do they operate solo? Is there any kind of formal training among them?

1. A fellow Enforcer takes a liking to something or someone the PC has feelings for or protects. The aggressor's reputed as badass among Enforcers. The target’s feelings remain ambiguous. Does this lead to a throw down or is there another solution?
2. Someone asks the PC Enforcer for fighting lessons. If they agree, they’ll have to figure out a training program. If the PC does well, they may have other clients looking for their services.
3. One of the Bosses offers the PC Enforcer a sweet deal to join up. However this Boss has strange beliefs and behaviors. What’s a deal breaker and why are they asking the PC? Perhaps someone else asks them to accept the offer to get info or organize a coup.
4. Another Enforcer secures badass artifact armor (kinetic repulsion wear, personal force field device). They begin to lord it over others and disrupt the status quo. How does the PC Enforcer react? Is the item keyed to that Enforcer or can it be taken?
5. The Elder, one of the Chroniclers, or even a Boss announces a new position (Watch Commander, Gate Keeper, Knight). They set up a competition, which may involve serious risk. The winner gets a secure grub supply and status.
6. A Chronicler, Gearhead, or Fixer offers the PC a job as a personal bodyguard for the next week. But the situation’s more complicated: someone’s trying to assassinate them, they’ve made an enemy of a Boss, something followed them from the zone, or they have a romantic interest in the Enforcer.

We know from the core book that a barter economy exists. Is that solely Fixers or a more general group of people? Do the Fixers simply take advantage? What’s the relationship between Fixers and Bosses (who control resources) or Gearheads (who make things)? Are there other creators or scavengers? The economy will change throughout the game (better purchasing price for grub bullets, new items available, possibly the establishment of a Market); how does that impact Fixers?

1. There’s some high quality booze floating around the Ark, but no one’s saying where it came from. Who got it and how can the PC get a slice of that action?
2. One of the Fixer’s clients has come up with a new flavor additive (for booze, grub, or even water). How can they monopolize this discovery? Is the additive safe?
3. The Fixer discovers a mutant has a stash of minor but valuable artifacts hidden away somewhere in the Ark. Do they report the withholding from the Dawn Vault, steal the goods for themselves, or something else?
4. A Gearhead asks the Fixer for some very particular pieces of scrap. They seem innocuous enough, but getting all of them will take some serious trading. What is the Gearhead making?
5. There’s a thief in the Ark. While Fixers lift things from time to time, this person’s getting everyone upset and raising the heat level. Does the Fixer lie low or try to correct the situation? What happens if some of their stuff gets taken?
6. Two mutants have formed a close personal bond (romantic or otherwise). However they’re associated with two rival Bosses. They come to the Fixer asking for help in finding a way out. Are they on the level? Are there other factors at play?

How is technical knowledge acquired? Given all mutants in the Ark are the same age, we probably don’t have masters teaching. Is it lore from the Elder? Drawings? Instinct? How do the Gearheads operate—independently? Under a Boss? In a group? Or is it some mix of that? What kinds of responsibilities do they have and what are they building for the general economy? What’s the going price for ID’ing an item?

1. Someone comes to the Gearhead with a custom job they want, an item “tricked-out” or decorated. If they agree what’s the ramifications for the Ark? Does the person gain status or mockery? Is there an escalating competition to see who can look the most dangerous?
2. One of their fellow Gearheads is completely under the thumb of a Boss. The victim has some skills other Gearheads envy. What do they know? Is it worth the energy to try to get this person out?
3. There’s talk among the Gearheads about setting minimum prices for goods and services. Does this create pressure on the PC to charge their companions more (or at all)? Or does the discussion create pushback from Bosses and Fixers.
4. Someone’s buying up and hording a particular kind of scrap. It’s making jury-rigging more difficult. Who is it and why have they done this? Can the Gearhead track down other sources or will they have to find a way to pry it away from the hoarder?
5. A Gearhead blows up their shop—injuring several mutants (part of the end of session loss of life). There’s rumors that the Elder may limit what Gearheads can do. Bosses might take advantage of this to strong-arm independent Gearheads into their fold. What does the PC Gearhead do to protect their interests?
6. Among the scrap, the Gearhead finds an object that attaches itself physically to them. It grants a mutation power (GM sets what that is), but it has independent thought, speaks in their head, and sometimes takes over their body. How do they deal with it? Do they sever whatever limb it’s attached to or learn to live with it? How do others react?

Always interesting to look at what drives the Stalkers. What pushed them to be the first to leave the Ark? Do the PC Stalker’s motivations differ from any NPC’s? How do they operate in the zone? How much communication is their between them?

1. A fellow Stalker comes to warn the PC about a particularly dangerous place they found in the zone. Is it true? What do they describe?
2. A Fixer approaches the Stalker offering bullets to be taken out to a sector close to the Ark. They seem suspicious and want to make sure the trip is secret from others. If the Stalker agrees, what do they find? What’s the Fixer’s angle?
3. Mutants have been returning from the Zone and not turning things over (likely including the PCs). Now there’s talk of more heavy-handed enforcement of Dawn Vault rules. Some Chroniclers and Bosses like the idea as it potentially gives them more control. How does the PC Stalker respond?
4. A fellow Stalker vanishes. No one but the PC Stalker remembers them. What is going on?
5. A Chronicler asks for the Stalker to bring back different samples of Rot. Why? Curiosity? Making a weapon? Trying to hide that the usual decontamination procedures have begun to break down?
6. One of the other Stalkers stops going out into the Zone. They become isolated and withdrawn. What’s going on? Did they see something that shook them, have they lost confidence, or have they become obsessed with something they found out there?

The Slave’s a tough role and the group needs to have a conversation about what “slavery” means in the context of the game. Is the PC a former slave? What kinds of rules are their? In my games it’s been more of an indentured servitude, protection racket, or serfdom. But I’ve also suggested players might want to carefully consider the role before picking it. In any case you’ll have to tweak these plots based on that.

1. The last several casualties in the Ark have been fellow Slaves. Most don’t think anything of it, but the PC Slave can tell something’s going on. What’s happening?
2. Someone wants to buy the PC Slave’s service/mastery from the owner. Is this person reputedly good, an abuser, or something more complicated. How does the owner respond?
3. Some Slaves find a refuge spot hidden away within the Ark. What does the PC Slave do to support, protect, or reveal this temporary retreat. How will that change if some of the Slaves start using this as a means to escape?
4. The Slaves of a particular Boss have become strangely docile and unquestioning. What’s going on? Does the Boss have an artifact or technique they’re using to create this change?
5. A Slave badly injures one of the Bosses. This sets all the Bosses on edge and some begin to test for obedience and loyalty. How far do they push this?
6. The PC Slave’s owner or controller dies. Alternately someone forces them to give up their influence. The PC's fellow group of slaves will be distributed across the Bosses. How is that handled or negotiated? How does the PC deal with this?

Other ideas? Anything especially cool from your own games?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

150 Colorful NPCs for 7th Sea

I generated the NPCs below from a reworked version of my NPC tables, combined with online name generators. You have a name, couple of traits, “profession,” and country of origin. I’ve stuck with the core Théah nations. I hope this will serve as an resource for creating fellow travelers, patrons, contacts, persons at an inn, and encounters at galas or festivals. If you want anyone to be nobility, you could easily have their profession simply be a hobby. Tell me if you find these useful.

Reine Beauvais: Doe-eyed, Secretive Minstrel (Montaigne)
Dietrich Hengsbach: Bruised, Sarcastic Poet (Eisen)
Yedemsky Pyotr Maximovich: Svelte, Generous Drunk (Ussura)
Áirdin Ó Dreaghneáin: Stuttering, Stern Ship’s Captain (Inismore)
Tullia Di Salvo: Colorful, Gluttonous Playwright (Vodacce)
Basilia Scarpaci: Strapping, Morose Chaplain (Vodacce)
Denisa Jež: Square-Jawed, Incisive Miniature Maker (Sarmatian)
Gaby Boulle: Coughing, Jaded Solider (Montaigne)
Ignazio Bailon: Awkward, Charismatic General, (Castille)
Prainnseas Dùghallach: Scowling, Proud Bookbinder (Highlands)
Balduíno Simões: One-Eyed, Morbid Actor (Castille)
Dunayevsky Germanovich: Virile, Fickle Seamstress (Ussura)
Guillemette Halphen: Worried, Helpful Poisoner (Montaigne)
Dudko Miloslava Timurovna: Well-Dressed, Suspicious Clothier, (Ussura)
Narcyz Galas: Impulsive, Cooperative Servant (Sarmatian)
Lea Del Monte: Leaden, Miserly Mayor (Vodacce)
Jonathan Choquet: Lithe, Studious Auctioneer (Montaigne)
Ingelöv Lundholm: Clumsy, Vain Imposter (Vestenmennavenjar)
Francine Dubuisson: Hairless, Placid Chamberlain (Montaigne)
Medard Misiak: Sweaty, Merciful Solicitor (Sarmatian)
Elimena Frisella: Craggy, Stubborn Provisioner (Vodacce)
Patricio Patrido Messa: Articulate, Grim Explorer, (Castille)
Muircheartach Mac Ardghail: Bellowing, Reclusive Amateur (Inismore)
Pierre-Marie Colbert: Shaggy, Apologetic Clock-Maker (Montaigne)
Matthieu Brasseur: Muscled, Possessive Chancellor (Montaigne)
Honor Carrion: Disfigured, Guilt Ridden Scholar (Castille)
Atanasio Ritacco: Formal, Arrogant Pirate (Vodacce)
Loreno Del Medico: Fearsome, Bashful Constable (Vodacce)
Pelagia Jelinska: Perfect, Obsessive Lawyer (Sarmatian)
Karsten Heuser: Stiff-Backed, Lazy Assayer (Eisen)
Tsvileneva Alla Alekseevna: Hard of Hearing, Sophisticated Notary (Ussura)
Beitiris MacIlleDhòmhnaich: Crusty, Drug-Addicted Jailer (Highlands)
Alamanno Caiazzo: Barrel-Chested, Impudent Assassin (Vodacce)
Telitsyn Anatolievich: Bespeckled, Whimsical Messenger (Ussura)
Maj Vikström: Freckled, Shallow Dog Breeder (Vestenmennavenjar)
Mira Björk:  Pale, Tactless Bon Vivant (Vestenmennavenjar)
Martial Boulle: Mumbling, Blithe Alchemist, (Montaigne)
Xavier Resende: Sly, Brazen Astrologer (Castille)
Quintilio Ciolino: Predatory, Unsentimental Satirist (Vodacce)
Muadhnait Nic Muiris: Old Seeming, Delusional Revolutionary (Inismore)
Silayev Agafon Yanovich: Bright-Eyed, Solicitous Conspirator (Ussura)
Nevada Amores: Rat-Like, Fearful Singer (Castille)
Jesenia Zubia: Chiseled, Brave Heretic (Castille)
Cotrìona MacUrardaigh: Pierced, Honest Sailor (Highlands)
Estienne Malet: Composed, Precise Gallivant (Montaigne)
Eberhard Heller: Wiry, Ostentatious Victim (Eisen)
Dubova Aleksandra Semyonovna: Unsteady, Vengeful Tax Collector (Ussura)
Dunla Uí Duibhlin: Immaculate, Heartless Barrister (Inismore)
Penelope Borrelli: One-Armed, Feckless Retired Adventurer (Vodacce)
Nikonov Zinoviy Stepanovich: Scary, Abrupt Guild Master (Ussura)
Dennis Moss: Ravishing, Rowdy Duelist (Avalon)
Cainnear Ní Tuachair: Elegant, Blowhard Secretary (Inismore)
Asa Hart: Steady, Remorseful Reeve (Avalon)
Bradley Dixon: Craven, Cold-Hearted Stationer (Avalon)
Manuela Kirchner: Tall, Cocky Broker (Eisen)
Ilva Maffia: Gaudy, Egocentric Expert (Vodacce)
Annabella Di Vittorio: Stylish, Shy Priest (Vodacce)
Ceitidh Caimbeulach: Hawk-Faced, Compassionate Debt Collector (Highlands)
Lucienne Bureau: Shorn, Crafty Forger (Montaigne)
Tia Davidson: Wrinkled, Fretful Cartographer (Avalon)
Anthony Porter: Lisping, Cynical Gossip (Avalon)
Iginia Capaccio: Mousy, Crude Woodworker (Vodacce)
Ambre Suchet: Plump, Sharp-Tongued Sheriff (Montaigne)
Alfred De Guignes: Tired, Dramatic Musician (Montaigne)
Rafael Lacayo: Deaf, Pugnacious Falconer (Castille)
Zak Baxter: Bloodshot, Amoral Seducer (Avalon)
Nárbhla Nic Dhubháin: Senile, Weak-Willed Engineer (Inismore)
Nozdrina Yana Mikhailovna: Agile, Sanctimonious Diplomat (Ussura)
Lysagh Uí hAinbhthín: Aloof, Quarrelsome Historian (Inismore)
Janina Mrotek: Disheveled, Reliable Dye Maker (Sarmatian)
Rosalina Maciel: Limping, Dishonest Tailor (Castille)
Zyta Rybka: Emaciated, Humble Royal Pirate, (Sarmatian)
Rufino Lo Castro: Hunchbacked, Pedantic Apothecary (Vodacce)
Eliza Hayes: Scarred, Pure Fixer (Avalon)
Erlena Sada: Broad-Shouldered, Level-Headed Scullery Maid, (Castille)
Decimo Zaccardi: Athletic, Contrary Goldsmith (Vodacce)
Dorota Obniska: Rugged, Rash Apprentice (Sarmatian)
Bartel Fazekas: Branded, Retiring Composer (Sarmatian)
Svante Hellqvist: Glowing, Well-Informed Agent (Vestenmennavenjar)
Allegra Di Bona: Gravelly, Ill-Informed Tutor (Vodacce)
Bella Cook: Busty, Envious Furrier (Avalon)
Barbro Magnuson: Beak-Nosed, Frivolous Guide (Vestenmennavenjar)
Megan Hughes: Unfashionable, Self-Confident Vintner (Avalon)
Karl Hjertsson: Gaunt, Deceptive Shipwright (Vestenmennavenjar)
Sara Bernardino: Sinuous, Careless Con Artist (Castille)
Braiden Mullen: Red-Faced, Coarse Merchant (Avalon)
Eusebio Sciara: Thin, Calculating Banker (Vodacce)
Anett Lantos: Saucy, Desperate Companion (Sarmatian)
Janine Kieber: Wooden, Bored Porter (Eisen)
Herbert Pohl: Hirsute, Preoccupied Barber (Eisen)
Marta MacIlleMhàrtainn: Pleasant, Garrulous Silk Master (Highlands)
Viktor Merz: Relaxed, Incorruptible Judge (Eisen)
Anasenko Innokentievich: Brawny, Tight-Lipped Sculptor (Ussura)
Glagoleva Oksana Anatolievna: Slender, Soft Spoken Overseer (Ussura)
Divo Campobasso: Oddly-Attired, Boring Sympathizer (Vodacce)
José Mace: Shifty, Loyal Physician (Montaigne)
Angel Reyes: Rough, Hungry Moneylender (Castille)
Elvin Granqvist: Unkempt, Absorbed Spymaster (Vestenmennavenjar)
Corinna Krämer: Beady-Eyed, Romantic Courtesan (Eisen)
Céadach Ó Brosnacháin: Elderly, Self-Conscious Calligrapher (Inismore)
Remedios Partida: Vulpine, Narcissistic Herbalist, (Castille)
Kató Somogyi: Petite, Thick-Skinned Host (Sarmatian)
Síoda Mac Giolla Chathair: Furtive, Gullible Highwayman (Inismore)
Julie Besson: Angular, Disgusted Marshal (Montaigne)
Tobie Fresnel: Brainy, Impressionable Warehouse Keeper (Montaigne)
Ilija Vantchev: Thunderous, Vindictive Polymath (Sarmatian)
Yubkin Gleb Grigorievich: Gnarled, Corrupt Butler (Ussura)
Anya Day: Quiet, Righteous Patron (Avalon)
Sonia Gounelle: Greying, Covetous Bodyguard (Montaigne)
Kilian Denzel: Enigmatic, Ambitious, Thief, (Eisen)
Michael Panzinger: Staring, Law-Abiding Huntsman (Eisen)
Monita Baro: Oily, Rude Salon Master (Castille)
Emma Smith: Drab, Hateful Charitable Administrator (Avalon)
Ingrid Keller: Scratching, Giggly Swordsmith (Avalon)
Léonard Joguet: Battle-Scarred, Calm Smuggler (Montaigne)
Hermine Riehl: Unassuming, Cautious Cavalryman (Eisen)
Liliane Bittencourt: Near-Sighted, Disloyal Mason (Montaigne)
Ramiro Freire: Sinewy, Indecisive Black Sheep (Castille)
Presta Silvera: Sloppy, Friendly Master of Decrees (Castille)
Seòras Fearghasdan: Shaky, Burnt-Out, Informant, (Highlands)
Tolokonskaya Agata Vitalievna: Hoarse, Passionate Chef (Ussura)
Elisabeth Heerwagen: Bland, Domineering Herald (Eisen)
Jax Mata: Short, Selfish Acrobat, (Castille)
Ove Sjöholm: Lively, Gruff Writer (Vestenmennavenjar)
Eòghann Grannda: Scrawny, Lovable Scribe (Highlands)
Domhnall MacTuirc: Solid, Playful Instrument Maker (Highlands)
Amy Fyre: Charming, Honor-Bound Storyteller (Avalon)
Manuel Bragga: Forgettable, Scheming Painter (Castille)
Camila Canino: Radiant, Forgetful Cook (Castille)
Yutilova Bogdana Vsevolodovna: Monotone, Shrewd Knight (Ussura)
Sìle MacAnndaidh: Lame, Patient Spice-Trader (Highlands)
Radgärd Holmlund: Perfumed, Cantankerous Clerk (Vestenmennavenjar)
Rosa Naoumov: Anemic, Clinical Dress Maker (Sarmatian)
Klara Skala: Twitching, Heart-Broken Candlemaker (Sarmatian)
Silvestr Krejci: Portly, Ungrateful Turncoat (Sarmatian)
Georgette Agostinho: Fragile, Timid Innkeep (Castille)
Baryshnikova Sofia Yanovna: Pock-marked, Perfectionist Arms Master (Ussura)
Rebecca Grasshoff: Refined, Idealistic Stonecutter (Eisen)
Davis Thomson: Wide-Eyed, Hotheaded Maestro (Avalon)
Tazio Ciaramitaro: Hesitant, Frugal Inventor (Vodacce)
Eracla Flaminio: Blind, Questioning Steward (Vodacce)
Sanyi Venczel: Spindly, Trustworthy Pilgrim (Sarmatian)
Tomaidh MacGill'Fhiontag: Alluring, Alcoholic Architect (Highlands)
Mainchín Ó Cathal: Graceful, Sleepy Celebrity (Inismore)
Maurice Azaïs: Business-like, Fussy, Translator, (Montaigne)
Ronald Schroth: Lurking, Flirtatious Haberdasher (Eisen)
Seraphina Doerr: Neat, Talkative Navigato, (Eisen)
Martin Jakobsson: Tremulous, Depressed Perfumer, (Vestenmennavenjar)
Sandro Di Giovanna: Tattooed, Dazzling Master Builder (Vodacce)
Laurence Jacquet: Cadaverous, Defiant Money Changer (Montaigne)

Monday, January 15, 2018

150 Details for 7th Sea Scenes

Inspirational details for opportunities, consequences, risks, or just color.

Animal trophy heads
Armor and shield display
Baby carriage
Baby, crying
Balconies, overlooking
Bank credit drafts
Banner tapestries
Barrel, rain
Barrels of ship’s tar
Basinet, ornate
Bench, flexible
Birds, caged
Block and tackle
Brass orrery, elegant
Bushes, bloom-filled
Bust, reasonable likeness
Cable, chandelier
Candelabra, standing
Cannon, ceremonial
Captain’s Maps
Carriage, unhooked
Cart or horse, spooked through
Cart, kitchen staff
Cask of flammable liquid
Cask of slippery liquid (water, beer, wine)
Chafing dish with cover
Chimney flue lever
Cipher wheel
Clock, spring-wound
Clockworks, massive
Clotheslines and pulley ropes
Convenient well
Cooking implements and/or boiling pots
Crate of netting
Curtains, loose
Deck, radically swaying
Dictionary, foreign
Display of masks
Display simulacrums, water-powered
Door bar, upraised
Dovecote, shattered
Drain-pipes, loose
Dropping metal doors
Dumbwaiter entrance
Ear horn
Fertilizer and wheel-barrow
Fireplace, walk-in
Firewood, badly stacked
Flooding with something
Floor grate for things to fall into
Flower arrangement, massive
Flower-box window ledge.
Flower-garden greenhouse
Footstool, runaway
Footwear, inappropriate
Fountain waterworks
Fowl, freshly roasted
Garter belt
Glass case, standing
Guards shutting the gates
Hatch holding back waters
Hidden door in the floor
Hidden door, spinning
Hidden pits
Household pets, let loose
Ice sculpture
Icon, religious
Iron fences, sharp tipped
Jewelry, slightly unhinged
Laboratory for natural sciences
Ladder, misplaced
Lady fan, ornate and distinct
Lantern, precariously
Letter of marque
Letters, love
List of names
Long table, food-cover
Loom, running
Loose stone ramparts
Lute, overlying large
Map, treasure
Menagerie animals, set free
Millstone, turning
Model ship
Muddied, sticky ground
Musical score
Narrow wooden bridge over rushing waters
Needles, sewing and knitting
Orchestra pit
Pail, nightsoil
Painter’s easel and paints
Painting, famous and valuable
Parallel flag poles
Parrot, irritating
Pendulum, massive
Piano forte, enormous
Pig on a spit
Pipe, smoking
Pistol stuck in a drawer
Playing card deck, hand-made
Podium with hidden door
Pond, deceptively deep
Printing press and boxes of type
Ribbon or stay, loose
Rocking Horse
Roof tiles, loose
Rope bridge, swaying
Rope, counterweight
Rows of bookshelves
Rows of flag banners
Rows of pews
Sack, coin-filled
Sack, flour
Sails, collapsing
Scaffolding, construction
Seal, official
Servant, erroneously entering
Servant, tray-carrying
Sextant, well-crafted
Silverware, pokers, or frying pans
Sniper, hidden
Snow drifts
Space within the raters
Spear or arrow trap
Stacked barrels, held by rope
Stage sets and rafters
Staircase, servants’
Standing closet, overfilled
Statue, large and teetering
Steep slope of mud or ice
Steps slippery from the rain
String quartets
Tools, workman’s
Trough, slops
Tub, washing
Urn with family ashes
Urn, Pickles
Volume of poetry, rare
Wall sconces, fixed
Wall trap, slowly closing
Weakened post bracing balcony
Windows, stained-glass
Wine, vintage
Writ of arrest
Yardarm, swinging

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Wuxia Homework: Shaw Brothers Films on Amazon Prime

In preparation for next month’s Hearts of Wulin PbtA game, I’m working through Amazon Prime’s Shaw Brothers wulin movies. Growing up, I saw these films occasionally as afternoon TV filler. That was rare; more often retro movies consisted of creature features, adventure classics, and Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes. It’s too bad—I would have loved these martial arts epics. With a few exceptions, I never got into conventional adventure stories: Swashbuckling, Robin Hood, Arthurian, or even Westerns. But these films with unexplained backstories, odd magic, flashy fights, and bad special effects would have wooed me.

Many, if not most, of the Shaw Brothers films on Amazon fall into the “Wandering Knight” category. They offer tales of lone heroes avenging wrongs, dealing with the costs of being wulin famous, or getting caught up in clan conspiracies. You can see a few other types-- comedies, historical/literary epics, and Shaolin Temple films—but they’re the minority. Most of their Shaw Brothers library comes from the 1970s, the earliest from the late 1960s. A few go up to the early 1980s; they’re particularly well shot but also stilted and mannered.

If you watch a bunch in quick succession as I have, you pick up on the repeated tics (places, scenes, props, characters, actors). All of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films have a look to them, super clean and staged. I’m shocked that the same period also saw the release of Bruce Lee’s The Chinese Connection (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). Those films radically shift the formula and presentation, making the Shaw Brothers films look old and creaky.

You can also compare these to films from Shaw Brothers’ rival studio/production house, Golden Harvest especially from the early 1980’s. Those feature brutality, mess, and a rough cinematic style. Films like Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980), Zu Warriors (1983), and Mr. Vampire (1981) keep the wulin world, but move away from clean staging. They’re also the precursor for latter wild wuxia films like Heroic Trio, Bride with White Hair, Chinese Ghost Story, and The Duel. John Woo’s early entry from them, Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979) uses the genre’s element but hints at his future stylishness. You also have a host of Jackie Chan martial arts film in multiple genres moving away from a straight, operatic approach.

For American comparison, it’s like watching late period Westerns (John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or John Wayne’s McLintock or El Dorado) and then watching a Sergio Leone or Sam Pecinpath film. There’s a massive tonal and visual change.

I dwell on this because, as much as I love the Shaw Brothers stuff, these aren’t great films. They’re a super acquired taste. Sherri repeatedly rolled her eyes as I watched them. They’re hyper-stylized, with weird dramatic conventions that wear thin if you watch a bunch in a row. Some have great fight set-pieces and I love those. But more often the action blends together.

They’re also quite different from the Chinese wuxia TV series that I dig (and have talked about before). There’s a body of wuxia literature that both draw from. I’ve watched Shaw Brothers and more modern TV series adaptations of a couple of these novels (The Proud Twins/The Handsome Siblings; Sword Stained with Royal Blood). The films compress and focus on a single theme, where the series give the story time to grow and breathe. In the end I prefer the latter for sheer soap opera complexity, but if I’m just sitting down to watch a little something, I’ll more often go to the films.

I’m not an expert on any of this media. Instead I’m an enthusiastic amateur, so take what I say with a grain of salt. There’s a ton of great (and not so great) movies and & TV shows in this genre I haven’t seen or read about. I watched only subbed movies. I'm not a purist, I''ll watch anime dubs, but the English voice acting can be painful in these. OOH the new transfers from Celestial Pictures are amazing and clear, 

Death Duel (1977)
I had a weird experience with this. I’d started watching a 2016 movie called The Swordsmaster on Netflix. I stopped 45 minutes in and forgot to go back. Watching Death Duel I had a growing sense of familiarity. Turns out they’re both based on the same novel novel by Gu Long. That made sense; the plot has a strange formal feel to it. It’s clearer and more literary than some other Shaw Brothers movies.

Death Duel has interesting twist: the first character we see vanishes for most of the film. The playoff’s a little obvious, but that’s a hallmark of these films. The movie has some great cameos from the Shaw Brothers stable (including Ti Lung who appears in almost all the movies on this list). It’s OK, not as fun as others. Has a cool bit for the ending, but also fridges the main non-villain female.

Duel of the Century (1981)
I love this wild, convoluted movie. The plot jumps into high gear from the first scene that introduces six characters spouting indirect exposition. Most of them then functionally disappear until the end. The story isn’t broken or haphazard, instead there’s just so much going on: imposters, double crosses, dead suspects, and so on.

Partway through I realized this fell into a series of films with a recurring main character. The martial artist detective Lu Xiaofeng appears in a series of novels and films. I had another moment of déjà vu when I figured out one of my favorite modern wuxia films, The Duel (2000), draws from the same novel as this. As with Death Duel I had a weird sense of having watched/not-watched the movie before.

Anyway, I love Duel of the Century for the high-speed melodrama and world-building. I dig Lu Xiaofeng and his circle of amazing friends (a blind monk, the King of Thieves, etc). Tony Liu became one of my favorite actors from his performance here—charming and fun. I recommend this, but be prepared to not get the thread of the story until halfway through.

Clan of Amazons (1978)
Not actually about Amazons. Yes, there’s an all-woman secret fighting society, but in no way are they Amazons. This is another Lu Xiaofeng mystery. It’s more straight-forward than Duel of the Century, but still has weird twists and secondary characters. Xiaofeng’s asked to solve the mystery of the “Embroidery Bandit” who blinds his victims with needles. That made me cringe, but it’s essentially just people clutching their hands to their faces with red tempura paint pouring out between their fingers.

There’s some odd bits including bed-wetting and presumably offensive jokes about the Cantonese. But overall it holds together. Has some great gameable challenges for characters. I particularly like that during the first half, Xiaofeng investigates alongside his girlfriend Xue Bing. She’s treated as an equally competent martial arts hero during these scenes. While she’s eventually kidnapped, she gets her own in the final fight sequence. I dig it.

Pursuit of Vengeance (1977)
A couple of great leads, an Agatha Christie-style mystery set up, and a lot of people in Mission Impossible-level disguises. I dig the sheer number of colorful characters and the over-the-top twists. It never, ever stops moving. Great chemistry between the protagonists. During fights one or the other sits out because “they’re not trying to kill me.” The movie also ends with a butt joke. A good stand alone movie.

Soul of the Sword (1978)
I think Shakespearean pretty much covers this one. Our swordsman protagonist wants to beat legendary top swords master, he falls in love, and tragedy ensues. Wuxia toxic masculainity: The Movie. Soul of the Sword has a “twist” that you can see coming miles off, but still feels right. The movie treats women particularly badly; even the villainess comes off looking dopey. Not one I’d go back to watch again.

The Sentimental Swordsman (1977)
First of a series with the central character played by Ti Lung. He returns home from ten years exile to find everything kind of a mess. He’s accused of a crime and despite lots of evidence and character witnesses, everyone immediately believes he’s done it. It’s never clear whether the people have an ulterior motive, are just stupid, or if that’s the dramatic convention of these movies. Takes the long way around to get from place to place and just about everyone dies except the lead and his swordsman buddy. Also Ti Lung’s character clearly has debilitating tuberculous which is sells by occasionally coughing.

Return of the Sentimental Swordsman (1981)
We see the same character several years later and get to watch some martial arts moping. A couple of cool sword-fights, but a weak plot that relies on people being even dumber than usual. If you like the characters from the last film, it’s worth watching.

Perils of the Sentimental Swordsman (1982) 
I think it’s supposed to be the same character, but the plot of the last two movies doesn’t matter, only the main character returns, and the tone’s all over the place. Plus some gay panic moments played (of course) for laughs. Clearly they had a script laying around and plugged it into the series. It’s OK, but does have a great town of criminals set-piece which you could adapt for a game.

The Supreme Swordsman (1984)
Has great and gameable bits to it. There’s lost clan arts, mystical secrets, and a strange training gauntlet for the hero. The villain’s compelling and gets just as much screen time as our hero. In fact, the villain’s more interesting. He fights swordmasters to get their weapons to complete his collection. Of course the final fight takes place in the villa housing his 99 sword trophies.

There’s cool world building going on throughout. We find out pieces, but there’s a ton left unstated. That’s my favorite kind of stuff. The film has two great sequences. First, when the villain comes to challenge the venerable sword master, the elder defeats him with a paint brush. It’s a great visual moment as he paints a line of black across the villain’s throat. Later during their rematch, the sword master simply breaks his own blade and drops it, leaving the villain nothing to fight him for. A good film, though there’s an extended wtf section in the middle.

If you watch this, keep in mind it came out the same year as Ghostbusters, The Terminator, and Dune.

Swordsman & Enchantress (1978)
Ho boy. This one goes in unexpected directions. Most other films on this list have some coherency. They get weird in places, but this one has serious wtf twists and turns. It also leans hard into the wuxia dramatic principle: heroes are dumb. Unless you’re in a story specifically about detectives, your wandering wulin characters will walk into every trap, ignore every warning sign, drink every potion, and be fooled by every disguise.

The movie has severe problems with space and time. We get from point A to B with no explanation and things which shouldn’t be close together are. For example the hero gets attacked in his mountain house. He runs maybe fifty feet to find himself at the secret door to secret villainous house. Was he living next door to it the whole time? There’s lots of bits like that.

Also, there’s no enchantress in the movie.

It wins me over because Ti Lung’s so good as the rough, barbarian warrior living in the mountains in a super nice and ornate house…weird.

But the movie also has a shrunken villa and miniaturized martial artists. The translation calls them puppets when I think they means dolls, but whatevs. It’s nuts. Great and gameable.

And the villain’s plot? It makes absolutely no sense when you actually think about it. It’s worse than the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies. I mean, no sense. For example, when a villain wants to frame the hero, she instructs the guards she’s robbed to tell their master that “Xiao stole their treasure.” Everyone just goes along with that, “well, obviously he did it because the person who robbed me who clearly isn’t them said so.” That happens several times.

Fun and has a couple of solid female characters, especially the young villain.

The Deadly Breaking Sword (1979)
The only one of these I’d watched before. It’s one of my favorites and I’m not quite sure why. One of our two protagonists seems like a villain at the start, but he’s called out on some of his arrogance. Our other protagonist is a skillful but comic character who’s charming until he drops a woman headfirst down a well. I like the actual villains of the story and the final fight with an acupuncture-revived transformed warrior. Some good bits to steal, especially the jail break out. That sequence feels like a PC going “f*ck it, the only way to solve this problem is to ride a long ways, break this dude out, and get him to say who the bad guy actually is.”