In an amusing way, I feel “compelled” to review the new live-action Mulan, if only because my review of the original animated version has been archived for decades at IMDB for the whole world to see.* But this was also one of the only Disney remakes I was actually keen on seeing. When they announced that they would not be doing a near shot-for-shot remake and would instead be shaking things up (not making it a musical, the removal of Mushu, etc) my interest was piqued. As long as they had good writing, I figured, this could be a good thing: a chance to tell the story in a new way, opening up new avenues to explore and to play in. And even though I have very much disliked most of the remakes thus far, as long as they nailed that one, crucial, thing of good writing, it could turn out well! Continue reading
There’s this refrain I’ve seen pop up a few times over the past few weeks that, while the first time seemed amusing, by the third there was clearly some gross misunderstanding going on at best or, at the other end of the spectrum, some downright purposeful falsehood being peddled to promote hostility and prejudice.
So here’s the thing:
NO, D&D did not remove all distinction between ‘races’ in the game.
NO, all ‘races’ are not now the same.
NO, the publisher was not forced/pressured/browbeat into doing this by some sort of morality warrior mob.
NO, the game hasn’t been ruined.
What has occurred is that the recent sourcebook (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) notes that the standard attribute score bonuses of the various races (species) speak to archetypes and gives the option for you to switch them around on your character, if you choose. Also, you can swap out languages and proficiencies for another.
Now, I’ve made the argument before that attribute bonuses are the most boring way to differentiate between different species, while also being sorely restricting to RP and flavour. So I’m quite happy that this change has been made, opening things up.
But for those who are making the argument that without these attribute bonuses all races within the game are now the same, what they’re saying is that for them, a +2 to Dex is a greater differentiator than being resistant to poison. Or being a construct that doesn’t breathe or sleep. Or innate magic. Or, you know, breathing fire.
Which, to editorialize for a moment, I find absolutely and hilariously ridiculous.
Besides providing a more prominent distinction between the different heritages, these kind of abilities are also far more exciting and meaningful in their use and how they shape the feel of the character’s lineage. Best of all, in sidelining attribute bonuses it also sidelines the potential for them to invoke or reinforce limiting and/or negative stereotypes, connotations, and contexts that can bleed beyond the game.
So I would invite those who are worried to set that aside and see that far from being a diminishment this is a flourishment instead.
And to those who say the game itself is under attack by a bunch of hysterical agitators, I would like to say that we all can see that it is, in actuality, you who has got your knickers all up in a twist.
Oh this is neat. A new production starting up at the Princess of Wales theatre in Toronto in November (coming over from the UK) that’s creatively inventive and great for these socially distanced times. Called “Blindness” it’s an auditory only sound installation, with the audience sitting on stage (spread apart, wearing masks) surrounded by simple colour changing lights. I’m intrigued! Unfortunately I’m not traveling home this year so I’ll miss it, but if you’re near Toronto this might just be the ticket.
I am very much excited about WotC’s announcement that they’ll be shifting how they portray (and thus limit) ‘inherently evil races’ to open up much greater latitudes in alignment, abilities, societies, and etc. For one, the term race is confusing, since these are really whole different species. For two, just as our species (humans) are vast and varied, so too should be and can be members of other species (whether elves, or dwarves, or kobolds, or orcs). For three, it’s far more interesting! Automatic evil is easy (and still available, be it through fiends or monstrosities or undead) but allowing for greater agency by the antagonists is more juicy, and the meatiest stories often deal with the ‘evil within’ (both individual character but fellow humans/etc acting in very bad ways) vs an external and ‘black box’ kind of auto-evility machine. For four, as someone who finds attribute bonuses the least interesting way to differentiate different species, I hope this pushes more games (even if D&D itself likely won’t adopt this unless they ever do make a new edition or come out with an optional ruleset) towards more nifty species talents/stunts/feats (such as the Dwarf’s resistance to poison, or the Dragonborn’s breath weapon) that create far more interesting options, capabilities, and side uses for players.
For five, and of great importance, is this: who we know ourselves as a person and as a collective people is/are thoroughly governed by story – the story we know about ourselves, the stories we tell about our community, the stories we speak of about the world. As such, the stories we make up and tell each other for entertainment absolutely has an impact on how we view, interact with, and treat the real world and others within it. They are not separate. Thus to say ‘this race is all bad’ or ‘this race is always big and scary’ or ‘this race is really only good at this’ creates mental traps for us as we relate to and deal with others in our actual and lived lives.
So yeah. Doing away with the more rigid stereotypes and tropes and that present a gameworld view that one’s place, role, competencies, and expected outcomes in the world are governed primarily (and almost entirely) by factors of their species and instead moving towards the item(s) that often draws us to our favourite fiction: culture, style, worldview, way of life, way of building things, and ways of dealing with things. In short: towards character.
Because character and characters are what an RPG is all about.
I love this story, as published in the editorial of Dragon magazine, issue 144, penned by Roger E Moore:
The mountain pass was called the Demon Tongue, which implied there might be a demon and treasure there, so the party headed for it right away. The characters were hungry for combat and cash – lots of each. I was the DM. We were gaming on the pool table in the medical company rec room in West Germany, a decade ago last fall.
Not many of the details of that adventure are left with me now, but I remember what happened when the adventurers got to the Demon Tongue. The paladin was the point man, mounted up and armored like a tank (he had volunteered for, no, demanded the position). Some distance behind, the wizard was checking the landscape with his amulet of ESP, hunting for enemy thoughts. Everyone else was gathered near the wizard, weapons ready. They were on a narrow road in the pass itself, with a slope up to the left and a sheer drop to the right, when the wizard got a reading. Continue reading
As you’ve likely noticed, I haven’t written anything further on crafting the ruleset for our upcoming Star Wars campaign. That’s because the starting date got moved up a bunch and my time had to be focused on writing the rules rather than writing about the rules. Our first session was last weekend and it went well! And there’s already a few tweaks to make, which is cool and exciting – I knew there would be plenty of things to fix and refine and it’s great to do some honest actual playtesting!
I’m prepping like mad for this weekend’s game (and I need to make the opening crawl, of course), but I fully intend to return here to share the rules writing process, the nuances of the rules themselves, and to demonstrate how to take the core Aurora engine and craft an entire system out of it that supports the style of gameplay perfect for the game and campaign.
Until then, let’s talk a bit about… Kickstarters!
For the first, I got my copy of the Cortex Prime book (in PDF form) and W O W. It is a thing of beauty in terms of graphic layout (and hopefully in terms of organization too… I haven’t given it a thorough enough read with a blank perspective to assess it yet). I already had experience with the rules and liked them, so there was no disappointment there either. But what really caught my eye and has me super thrilled was reading all the contributors. Because many of them worked on other systems I have enjoyed, some of which were systems that they created. Which means that these creators – and sellers! – of their own rules nonetheless helped develop and play with other rulesets and enjoy them. It’s this great circle of everyone having fun and supporting each other (again, even if some might otherwise see them as “competitors”) and playing all sorts of different types of games and using the rulesets that support them. That’s just super heartwarming to me.
For the second, a new campaign just launched today on Kickstarter for something that, if you’re picking up on the theme here by now, has me giddily excited: an RPG based on the genre of Franco-Belgian graphic novels (aka bandes dessinée).
“It’s just a kid’s movie.”
I do not like this phrase. As a way of excusing or justifying poor storytelling (or, worse, a poor story), it feels weird to me. As in, is the person uttering it really trying to say that because it’s for a child, it’s OK if it is not well made? That quality doesn’t matter? That throw any ol’ thing onto the screen and that’s enough?
Because to say that in other contexts can be quite bizarre, no? “It’s only a child seat. Quality isn’t important here.” “It’s only kid’s food… it doesn’t matter if its good or healthy, they won’t know the difference.”
To me, the thing is, they’re our children. We should want to provide them with the best. To give them the biggest and best leg up in life. To let them grow.
No, that doesn’t mean a movie has to dissect the epistemological underpinnings of post-dynamism economies, but kids are way more capable than we often give them credit for. And no, that also doesn’t mean that every movie has to teach something either (though they can), just the same as it is for adults. There are plenty of rich, amazing, and profound stories we can tell, and tell them with excellent storytelling craft that engages, whether it be to inspire, to enlighten, or to simply amuse. Or to do all three at once, and more.
And that’s the biggest thing for me about that phrase… because it’s not like there aren’t already excellent examples of movies ostensibly made for kids that are, well, excellent. Movies that are excellent on many levels. Take many of the works of Pixar, Disney movies (including my most favourite, of course), and, most certainly, the amazing (even stunning) works of Hayao Miyazaki. Movies that are moving, Illuminating, full of heart, and that deal with the inner drama of both children (in a most profound Mr Rogers way) and of people in general. While also being appealing, funny, delightful, charming, and captivatingly well told, a pure delight to watch.
So much so that not only do kids like them, but they are movies that are beloved in a general sense, from young to old alike, and whether we have children ourselves or do not. They are simply good stories. Good movies. And good stories attract everyone.
We can make these amazing stories. We do. And kids deserve them. There should be nothing “just” about a kid’s movie (or any other work of fiction).
And I invite us all to ask for it.
As we go through life – and this is doubly so when we are young, for it starts very early on – we hear things, see things, and learn things about the world and about living in it. Things that we ourselves are years away from having to actually live through or to deal with. Even in the cases where we experience some aspect(s) of it directly, like being a child of a parent, we are not on that end of it yet. It is still some other world that lives out there in our, potential, future.
But we’re still getting ready for it. Not deliberately… no, our minds are simply always vacuuming in all the data it can and vacuuming it in from everywhere. Some comes from directly observing those around us, some comes from hearing what they say and describe, some comes from education, and a surprising amount comes from the stories we hear. Just by the sheer amount and presence of media (be it books, movies, TV, etc) and, especially, due to the narrative structures they use to make it compelling, the stories we consume play a big role in what goes into our vacuum.
And like that our minds continue to pull it all in, cross-referencing, checking which ones agree with each other, bolstering those that are repeated, and all the while forming its model of the world. A model that turns out to be invisible to us and that is, to our day-in and day-out lived experience, simply reality. It’s how things are.
Until that one day when BAM! In an instant we cross that bridge and are now confronted with a whole ‘new’ situation. BAM, married. BAM, a parent. BAM, in the workforce. BAM, an adult. BAM, (fill in the blank here). All of a sudden, we’re thrust into it. We’ve never been there. We’ve never done this. We’ve never been in this position before. There’s nothing for our prediction engine to guide us on how to behave/be/act.
Except, of course, for those realities, all those things about the world and living in it that, for years, our mind has dutifully been storing and crafting. And so we immediately pull from it, and likewise immediately begin living it out. We perpetuate it. It becomes a self-fulfilling story. Even if the outcome may not be great or bring us or those around us joy, freedom, love, or peace of mind, it’s how it IS… we’ve even got all this evidence for it. How could we act or be in any other way? It’d be like breaking the laws of physics, right?
Not at all. No physics breaking required. Just being present, mindful, and remembering that many of the ways we experience things and many of the ways we be in life are not intentional on our part. We weren’t squeezed out of the womb with it. Rather, we are just repeating a pattern that we automatically cobbled together over time. And, most importantly, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor do we have to be that way. It is interruptable.
And with that we instantly gain a measure of freedom and choice. In that clearing, we can reorient ourselves towards new and glorious possibilities, possibilities that enliven us and all those around us.