Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Giants in the Girth #2

Figured it was about time for another one.  Once again,  Note this is presented without permission purely for fun.  If you're the copyright holder and have a gripe, drop me a message and I'll take the post down. 


"Paranoid?  Probably.  But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face."  

Harry Dresden is a Chicago-based sad-sack private detective, and powerful wizard.  You can even find him in the phone book, listed under "Wizard."  He's noted as one of the most powerful wizards of his era, but also as one of the most unruly.  He maintains an uneasy relationship with The White Council, an ancient organization that monitors and regulates magicians (in later novels Dresden becomes a "Warden" of the Council, a kind of FBI agent of the magician world).  

Harry is a born wizard, the son of a wizard mother and a stage magician father (his full name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden).  Like another famous magician named Harry, both of his parents died while Dresden was quite young.  After bouncing around the foster care system, he was adopted by a wizard named Justin DuMorne, who gave him his early training, but also tried to lead him down a demonic path.  This ended in DuMorne's death, and began Harry's rocky relationship with the Council.

Harry is stubborn, a smartass, honest to a fault,  with a dangerous sense of honor and commitment.  This often leads him to pursue lost causes and go up against impossible odds in order to protect an innocent or a friend or ally.  He triumphs largely due to combination of blind luck, good allies, and a complete refusal to surrender.  Nevertheless he tends to emerge from these challenges much the worse for wear. Harry's cases invariably draw him into supernatural mysteries and confrontations with more powerful wizards, demons, and Creatures from the Beyond.  

Harry has a host of allies and friends, both mundane and supernatural, who aid him in his investigations.  He is also an avid fan of RPG's.

STR 17 CON 19 SIZ 18 INT 18 POW 25
DEX 14 CHA (APP) 14 EDU 20

Move:  10
Hit Points: 19
Damage Bonus: +1d6
Armor: 10 points AP  if wearing leather duster
Attacks:  Brawl (4) 87% 1d6+1d3
Heavy Revolver (5) 67% 1d6+2
Sword (6) 42% 1d8+1d6
Skills: Bargain 64%, Climb 69%, Command 64%, Dodge 75%, Drive 39%, Etiquette (Faerie) 59%, Etiquette (Vampire Courts) 59%, Fast Talk 69%, Fine Manipulation 62%, First Aid 136%, Grapple 77%, Hide 49%, Insight 65%, Jump 64%, Knowledge - Occult 85%, Listen 90%, Literacy 100%, Medicine 46%, Perform 64%, Persuade 74%, Research 85%, Ride 39%, Sense 70%, Spot 90%, Stealth 54%, Strategy 69%, Swim 67%, Teach 69%, Throw 69%

Powers: Soul Gaze (90%) - when looking directly into another person's eyes, Harry can perceive them at their deepest level - seeing into their soul and realizing their true nature, potential, abilities, motivations.

The Sight (100%) -  a true wizard can see the world as it truly is, on a magical and spiritual level, bypassing all veils and illusions and showing people and things as they truly are.   Using it, Dresden can, for example, see the true nature of a supernatural creature in disguise. Wizards are reluctant to use this skill as memories of whatever is seen as always indelible, and often painful.  

Perfect Healing (100%) - Harry heals at a normal rate, but normally permanent damage such as scars, burns, etc will heal over time and return tissues to normal - though it can take a long time.

Death Curse (100%) - A wizard's death curse is a devastating final act of magic they can unleash, usually in the seconds before their demise.  The existence of the death curse makes many reluctant to kill a true wizard.  The death curse requires all of the wizards POW, leaving him at 0 POW and, therefore, deceased.  The exact nature of the curse depends on the caster, it can be as simple as a blast of devastating force, or something more subtle, such as the death curse Harry himself received from another wizard - that he die alone.

Equipment:  Harry wears an assortment of rings charged with POW (assume 2d6 POW in each ring at a given time); a "blasting rod" which focuses his ability to send energy-based magical attacks (assume it adds +15%); he has a wizard's staff which serves a similar function, and conforms to the "Wizard's Staff" in the BRP rules.  He has a bracelet that doubles the effect of any Shield spell that he casts, and a necklace that also adds +10% to any spell casting (and +15% to any divination spells).  His leather duster is magically enchanted to serve as armor.

Spells: Fire, Perception, Protection, Tracking, Vision, Animate Skeleton, Ward - many others.

Harry's magic has a tendency to go slightly awry, and can be dangerous to innocent bystanders.  Assume his spells to be more powerful than expected.  

This depicts a rather early version of Harry Dresden.  Over the course of the several novels to date, his powers increase (and sometimes decrease) greatly.  Consider this a "generic" Dresden.

Further Reference:  Harry Dresden has appeared in 13 novels and 1 short-story collection, so far, by author Jim Butcher.  So far all of them have been terrific, very reminiscent of the "Unknown" style of pulp fantasy/horror of the 40's, which brought ancient supernatural forces into contemporary setting with a lot of humor that never undercut the spookiness.  I highly recommend the whole series to date.  There have also been some graphic novels (which didn't do much for me) and a short-lived TV series which totally failed to capture the spirit of the books (of course it has its followers).  Evil Hat also has an official Dresden Files roleplaing game on the market.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Conan the Missed-Opportunarian

So I watched the new "Conan the Barbarian" film last night, prepared to really hate it.  I got a little surprise because I actually found it fairly entertaining and not the hopeless piece of shit I expected.  It's much better than the 1982 version (which I enjoyed when it came out but now find unwatchable).  And it actually does capture a certain amount of the spirit of the stories and even the character, though not perfectly.

Still, the thing that bugs me (or more specifically, the frustrated film-maker in me, I suppose), is that it would be possible to make a truly outstanding Conan-based film, if someone just cared enough to do it right.

Allow me to elaborate -  my requirements for doing a proper Conan movie:

I. Casting

1. Cast an Actor as Conan - do not cast a bodybuilder, a pro-wrestler or anyone else whose background isn't in acting.  You don't need Laurence Olivier here, but you do need someone with the ability to emote and deliver a few lines with conviction.  Cast for acting ability - not physique.  Jason Momoa actually wasn't bad - much better than ol' Arnie's leaden performance in the first film - but when he opens in his mouth I hear a 21st Century American Dude - not a Cimmerian from a prehistoric world.
2. Conan Does Not Need To Be Musclebound - he needs to be big, imposing, and muscular.  He does not need to be huge.  Actually, again, I thought Momoa was just about right on this score, too - muscular and fit but not enormous.  Again, cast an actor - bulk him up in the gym before filming if you have to!

II. The Character

1. Drop the "Origin Story" - Conan does not have an origin story.  Howard never wrote one.  It isn't necessary.  All you need to know about Conan is pretty well established the minute he walks onscreen.
2. Conan Is Not Seeking Revenge for His Parents Murder - used twice now and it was stupid the first time.  Conan is seeking adventure and a few niceties of life (very few).  He's not Batman.  He doesn't have Daddy issues.

3. Conan Is Not A Clod - so don't portray him as one.  He's a man of action.  He's not unintelligent.
4. Get His Name Right - Conan's last name is not "Barbarian," and his middle name is not "The."  It is not necessary to have every character he encounters point out his "barbarian-ness" or call him "barbarian" in case we forgot.

III. The Story

1. Read the Howard Stories - or re-read them if you haven't,
2. Now Read the Howard Stories Again - in case you didn't get it the first time
3. Ignore All Conan Stories Not Written By Howard and Howard Alone - if it says DeCamp, Carter, Nyberg, Roy Thomas or anyone else - forget about it.  Go back to the source.
4. Ignore all Comic Books, Cartoon Series, TV Series, and Especially the Schwarzenegger Films
5. Adapt One of the Best Stories (and Do So Respectfully) - look, "Beyond the Black River," "Red Nails," "Rogues in the House," "People of the Black Circle" and "Queen of the Black Coast" - any of those stories gives you all you need to shoot a feature film.  You could practically work without a script, needing little embellishment and no trimming.  There's five possible films right there! You've got your whole series!  (Sadly, an animated film of "Red Nails" was started but apparently never completed, and Karl Edward Wagner wrote a screen treatment for either the second or the unproduced third Schwarzenegger film which also went unproduced).

The thing that people keep missing, I think, is this: Conan is the least interesting aspect of the Howard stories.

There, I said it.  I mean it.
Oh don't get me wrong - he's a good enough character, obviously.  But there's not much to him.  He's big, he's tough, he's occasionally funny in his sarcasm and to-the-point approach.  But really, almost the only thing Conan himself ever does that I find memorable is the hilariously over-the-top machismo of biting off the vulture's head in "A Witch Shall Be Born."
What makes the Conan stories memorable is what happens around Conan.  He's the eye of the hurricane, so to speak, as this fantastic world and events swirl in circles around him, and he observes and reacts.  What sticks with me about the Conan stories ---

* The demon in the woods in "Beyond the Black River"
* The opening of "Conan the Conqueror" with the magicians performing their sinister rites
* Valeria terrorized by the skeletal figure that emerges from the catacombs of the underground city in "Red Nails"
* The broken and dying Yag-Kosha in "The Tower of the Elephant"
* Conan stalking (and being stalked by) Thak through the halls of the Red Priest's home ("Rogues in the House")
* The black, winged figure launching itself from the trees, the disturbing realization that the handholds of the altar were not meant for human hands, Conan's eerie black-lotus induced dream, and, finally, Conan waiting in the temple ruins for a final (for one of them - and the point is it might well be for Conan) confrontation with the degenerate, evil demon  - all in "Queen of the Black Coast."

These are what stays.  It was never Conan, but Howard's ability to evoke his primitive, ancient, sorcerous world so vividly, that made the stories so memorable.  And that's what the films so far have missed.  Maybe someday.  It took three tries to get Tolkein right, after all.