Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century!!!

As a Sherlock Holmes fan and having posted a couple of blogs on the Victorian sleuth I’m almost embarrassed that I missed this one. BBC has launched a new Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin John C. Freeman as Watson set in the London of today.

The idea of making a modern day Holmes is nothing new. Basil Rathbone had a career of playing Holmes in what was in the 1940s’ the modern era. Roger Moore even had stint in the 70s’ with a female Watson. There have been a couple of instances of waking Holmes from a deep freeze into the present day.

The first of these new Holmes adventures is called A Study in Pink, an adaptation of A Study in Scarlett, followed by The Blind Banker, which I am not sure, but appears to be a take on The Adventure of the Dancing Men . Holmes is still a Consulting Detective, a occupation he created and is the only one of his kind, as he told Watson. Holmes is very tech savvy, utilizing GPS, text messaging, and other modern mean of information gathering as easily as his Victorian counterpart did with his Baker Street Irregulars. Watson is a returned war veteran looking for lodgings in London, having been wounded in the leg in Afghanistan, a very strong and historic parallel.

The character of Holmes and Watson are as much as they are in Doyle’s original prose. Holmes is distant, sharp, insulting, and flawlessly observant, Watson, a man of action, amazed in Holmes’ ability, with a sharp eye for the ladies. They are well fleshed out men in their own right, yet complete and compliment each other.
The acting is top notch Cumeberbatch makes Holmes his own, yet stays true to the heart of the character, giving him new quirks and nuances so different from Rathbone and Berrett’s interpretations. Freeman is a great Watson, he can’t help but like Holmes and be annoyed by him at the same time. His participation in the war has left him an adrenalin junkie, he, like many warriors and soldiers, needs action--danger, to feel alive. The opening of A Study in Pink has Watson with a therapist discussing his blog. It is not going well as Watson cannot bring himself to write down those inner most thoughts and feelings that the therapist feel will help him heal from his experiences in war. This should be a foreshadowing of Watson becoming Holmes’ Boswell.

Mycroft and Moriarity are both introduced immediately into the story. Mycroft Holmes keeping security tabs on his younger brother and Moriarity being a shadow figure chatting with other villains via computer. Though Moriarity seemed to be a device by Doyle to lead up to Holmes’ demise, the series starts with Moriarity immediately setting himself as Holmes’ arch nemesis. This promises to be the underlying plot for the series.

These adventures of Sherlock Holmes are as cerebral as Doyle’s narrative, yet add the action and flash of Guy Ritchie’s vision from 2009, even the music has strains that hearken to that film’s period soundtrack.

Of course the adaptation suffers from the modern era’s political correctness as well. The two episodes I watched are rife with homosexual reference to the two characters, an “are they or aren’t they?” kind of thing with dating references, sharing rooms and beyond. One of the creators, Steven Moffat, stated that he thought it just shows how acceptable that lifestyle is now in society. Be that as it may, the constant reference gets old, and appears to be used for cheap laughs. Not exactly an enlightened perspective that Moffat suggests. Let it go…..Watson’s four marriages within cannon, and Holmes avowed dislike of women as cunning creatures and his cerebral asexuality are enough to work with. One almost expects such juvenile references from Saturday Night Live.

A second is Holmes’ use of nicotine patches instead of smoking his pipe. “it’s a three patch problem…..” as he says. This is lame (My own personal enjoyment of a good pipe aside) because Holmes basically laments his inability to be able to smoke anywhere in London, yet there are strong references that the character is a drug user, as he was in Doyle’s stories. It would seem to me, as unconventional a man as Holmes would fire up a pipe to aid his thought process should he want to. New social mores be damned!

The overall production and performance are great and have had me wanting to watch the next episode. It also shows the resilience and power of great writing. Despite one hundred and twenty five years passing Holmes and Watson are still relevant and entertaining in a modern venue. As Shakespeare, Shelly, Wells, and others who wrote in their own eras the stories they told are easily and smoothly adapted to the modern age and sensibilities.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Figure Flats for Untold: Game Accessories for the Dark Future

Not so long ago I announced the release of Untold to the general public. I have also posted the character backgrounds and ecologies I have created for Wandering Men Studios’ post-apocalyptic fantasy. The company has big plans for expansion beyond releasing decks for the game. One such release is figure flats for Untold. Figure flats are not a new concept, many board games actually utilize the card board cut outs to represent the player’s pieces on the board, and Steve Jackson Games released numerous versions for their myriad worlds of GURPS. These character representations have also been referred to as penny men, because the base can be weighted with pennies pasted to the base to make them stand better.

Wandering Men Studios released these flats a couple weeks ago as a PDF download. I decide to see what they had and give them a try in my own pick up game I run for my nephew.

Armies Assembled
The download is pretty standard for such things that are purchased through places like RPGNow, etc. The basic sheets total twenty-five pages, including the cover page. The images are recycled art from the actual cards in circulation , using various minions, iconic characters, and creatures from Toa, the Apoc-Churl, to klik, to Vrr, a wide smattering of images to use in your game. The images are crisp, allowing for high resolution if one so desires. There is the ability in character building in Untold to allow for a Large character, and the images are offered in this scale. (My nephew encountered several Vrr with such an advantage.) The images are offered both in color and in gray scale for those who want to save precious ink.

Assembly was easier than Tab A to Slot B, simply cut and tape the base. I attempted to use thin card board backing to stiffen the figures, but the card board as still too thick when bent and the glue of course adds a layer of mess I don’t want to deal with. So I kept it simple with just the paper. I found with the Large images that the base was not wide enough for the height if the tabs were over lapped, no big issues as I simply joined them at the edges. (Who would have thought the whole height/base ratio we learned in school would have practical gaming application?) I did not bother weighting the bottoms as it was for a quick pick up game and the only issue I had with that were any air gusts that came up. No issues there during the session I ran with them.

The benefits of these flats versus minis are cost, weight, and space. At $3.50 and the ability to print off vast armies over and over again, these simple cut outs are more cost effective than miniatures which can cost as much for one mini. This price point seems to be in line with other PDF products out there. Weight is of course nonexistent with just paper minis, and they take up a fraction of the space that solid plastic miniatures use. These are perfect for travel and convention play.

There is also a versatility factor, with Untold, and the Splintered Serenity the default setting, having a multi-genre feel, the flats can be used for numerous games. On the whole, the post-apocalyptic Gamma World or even Twilight 2000 come to mind, but the high-bred flats could be easily co-opted for a special ops game, or the churls used in any fantasy setting. How about introducing your dungeon crawling adventures to a Vrr? Of course the L’na and kilk offer endless possibilities as well.

The only draw back is aesthetic, because these are recycled two dimensional images; there are back images, only shadow outlines to represent the back of the character.

Much of the art can be seen on the Untold website so the buyer already knows the great quality of art they are receiving. The versatility is there to make this a worthwhile investment for gamers of different systems and settings. It paid off for me, as the images helped bring the world and adventure I created for my nephew to life. It was actually the imagery of the klik roller that prompted him to play that character when I ran the game. When I put the Large Vrr out there with his smaller brethren, my nephew knew pain was coming…… so worth it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Prophecy Forgotten: Young Fantasy in a Different Direction

The Prophecy Forgotten is the first of The Elysian Chronicles written by M.B. Weston. The series has been likened to C.S. Lewis, for its religious allegory, though the overtones are heavier than Narnia’s yarns. Michelle Weston says that she does not write Christian fiction, but rather, she is a Christian that writes fiction. After reading the book I would agree with her statement. The Prophecy Forgotten has Christian trappings to tell the story, as Harry Potter, Artimes Fowl, and Spiderwick have used other mythologies and trappings to create their setting and stories for younger readers.

The books are geared for younger readers, but I found it an enjoyable modern fantasy despite the age of the target audience. The cherubian’s have been at war with the mornachts for thousands of years. (read angels and demons) The battle raging across their own dimension and spilling to Earth as mornachts seek to possess and use humans for their evil ends. The cherubians also fight on Earth as the guardians and protectors of humans: assigned to watch over their charges as Guardian Angels to keep humans from harm and to subtly nudge them toward goodness and charity, so that they do not “harden” and become easier prey for the mornachts. This spreads their efforts thinly on both fronts, but they have allies in the unicorns as the other mythical races like gnomes and dragons stay relatively neutral. Gnomes are almost war profiteers in these stories.

The Prophecy Forgotten is two stories that converge and over lap, becoming the overarching plot. The prophecy refers to a human that is important in the war between good and evil that shall rise when he is most needed; a warrior named Davian realizes that the time of the prophecy is at hand. Unlike many cherubians he has not forgotten their mission handed down by Ianoda (God) to protect and watch over Man, nor has he lost his faith. Davian is the proverbial bad ass with a Bushido code. He is the leader of an elite infiltration special forces team that does extensive reconnaissance into mornacht territory, yet all he yearns for is time to read and plant a garden.

APF Graphic Novel Concept Art: Artist: Adam Black

Then there is Gabriella, a Guardian Angel that is set to watch over Tommy, a small eight year old boy that has a tendency to take great risks in his personal quest for adventure. Tommy appears to be the one that the prophecy is referring to. So Gabriella’s task is doubly challenging, but she is a deadly archer and committed warrior that has a mother’s love and protective instincts for the boy. Davian has of course fallen deeply in love with her. Hell I fell in love with her! So did Tommy’s dad when she assumed human form in the story.

Meanwhile there is a cabal of cherubians sick of the politicians and their far too cautious approach to the war with the mornachts and the bureaucracy that keeps final victory out of reach. These cherubians have dismissed Ianoda as a long absent father that no longer holds any importance to them. They devise a plot to take control of Elysia, pinning the blame on the mornachts.

The story itself is fairly straight forward, with clever twists and turns to entertain older readers, despite the target audience. Some of the devices M.B. Weston uses are a little cliché for my jaded mind, but they move the tale forward. I also found some very important plot points had been glossed over, or too simply resolved even for the audience it was intended for.

What really makes the story enjoyable for me, as with all stories are the characters. They are well drawn, living, breathing individuals, with well defined goals, loves and hates. Gabriella and Davian are only two examples. Marcus, Davian’s good friend and fellow soldier has the sidekick personality that Davian needs to keep him grounded, but is also the guy who has his back no matter what. Even the family of young Tommy that Gabriella interacts with are wonderful characters to meet.

APF Graphic Novel: Artist: Adam Black

I have always enjoyed fantasy stories that involve the war in Heaven idea and this one is no exception. What I enjoyed most about the novel as opposed to others like Harry Potter are the adults. They are not bumbling or disbelieving fools, but rather they are adults interacting with a child and the events that swirl around that child. They protect Tommy, keeping him out of harms way, unlike those in the aforementioned series, that seems to use Harry as bait or actually pin the success of defeating the evil squarely on him.

Michelle‘s first novel is a great debut, with the second novel already out: Out of the Shadows and the third close behind. I will be delving into the second shortly, and looking forward to the third: The Sword of the Vanir.

M.B. Weston