Saturday, November 14, 2009

Google Wave

I am now on Google Wave!  Not yet sure what I will do with it but there are plenty of things I can do with my day job for it and I have heard of plenty of RPG applications.

I'll keep you all posted.  Maybe I'll run some Ghosts of Albion games on it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wonder Woman and the Curriculum of Gender

One of the more interesting books I have been reading is "Wonder Woman: The Complete History" by Les Daniels (2000) and a related documentary "Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream" (2009, Warner Brothers). I am struck by the parallels between the creation of this comic book character and some of our discussions on gender and public curriculum. Some of these parallels were in fact intentional by the comic's creator William Moulton Marston, a Harvard psychologist.

Background

In 1940 Prof. Marston wrote a pop-ed piece in Family Circle called "Don't Laugh at the Comics" in which he stated that the comic books of the time, read predominantly by pre-adolescent boys and then later service men, were a source of great educational material. He made the claim in this article and in a follow piece two years later that the comics were a great morality tale in which one could educate the masses in "good moral behavior". As mentioned before William Marston was a Harvard psychologist who, among other things, wrote articles on child care, education and even invents the lie-detector (and early proto-type). While most other creators and comic book writers were barely high school educated; not that this matters, but it is a stark contrast. Marston was a critic of comics, till he began to read them. He then decided that he needed to create a comic that conveyed the stories of myth and Greeco-Roman culture as well educate readers on this as well his other ideals (detailed in a bit). In an oft-quoted tale Marston told his wife Elizabeth (also an educated, liberated woman) what he was planning to do, she paused and said, "fine. But make her a woman." This of course was part of Marston's larger plan, to teach people that women were the superior gender and that the world would be a better place if they were in charge. In his 1943 follow-up in The American Scholar Marston points out that he planned Wonder Woman as something for younger girls to look up too as well. That girls "didn't even want to be girls as long at the female archetype lacks strength and power…"
In December of 1941 Wonder Woman, previously called Suprema, appeared on the stands in All-Star Comics #8. She appeared again a month later and by June of 192 she had her own headlining title (Wonder Woman #1), a time line unheard of in those days. Despite a brief reboot, the series has never been out of publication. Unlike her co-heroes Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman was a Goddess. Marston wanted to be very clear that his hero is not an alien or a man driven by revenge but a superior Goddess. He states throughout "Complete History" that the Goddess choice was intentional to equate the woman of the 20th Century as Goddesses. Still he has Diana/Wonder Woman, go through the classical Hero's Journey. She earns her place in this tale because she is better than the others.
Wonder Woman is also of princess of the Amazons, which were the archetypes of female warriors and "those on the outside". The amazons were self-reliant, peaceful, though could be warriors when needed, and all skilled at fighting. Yet despite the fact that Wonder Woman is faster, stronger and more skilled at battle, her mission (and Marston's) is one of love and peace.
 Curriculum of Non-Violence and Love

What was Marston's plan, his hidden curriculum? As it turns out his curriculum is not so hidden, at least in his mind. Marston had been DC Comics (then called Detective Comics) Educational consultant. He took his knowledge of how people read comics and his own feminist viewpoints (some of which may seem a bit skewed by today's standards, ie women are not equal to men, they are superior to men). He was very open about what he had planned on doing. Present a character that can be admired by both boys and girls, give her a strong background in the classics, show that she has traditional feminine qualities (beauty, compassion, empathy) but is as strong and wise as any of the Gods and Goddess in her own background. Wonder Woman cared. Her first mission was one of returning wounded pilot, Steve Trevor, home and to help improve diplomatic ties between Paradise Island and "The World of Man". In Wonder Woman comics produced today a common theme is that the sign Wonder Woman has failed is not whether the "bad guy" gets away (like Superman and Batman) but whether or not she can promote peace and stop war.

He based Wonder Woman's qualities on his own research that lead to his creation of the systolic blood pressure based lie detector. Amazons and Wonder Woman were superior in their peaceful environment due their steadiness. Unlike Superman with his massive strength, flight, heat vision, freezing breath and an array of powers, or Batman and his billions of dollars and high-tech gadgets, Wonder Woman is known for two items, her magic lasso that compels people to tell the truth and her silver bracelets which can deflect any weapon (but most often bullets). These are no accidents or mere comic book constructions, they hold key significance to the psychology of Marston and his creation. The parallels between the lasso and Marston's own early "lie-detector" should be obvious; truth is more powerful than a lie. Wonder Woman's bracelets are a reminder of a time when the Amazons were held in bondage and how they never would again, referencing myth but also the post-suffrage movements of women and their expanded role in the work-place of WWII. The bracelets also represent protection, in a sense it is Marston saying my heroine not only doesn't need weapons, but yours are useless on her too. There is the tie to female-archetype as well, bracelets that stop bullets, earrings that allow her communicate with anyone including animals and a girdle that boosts her own already prodigious strength. The fact that is research assistant Olive Byrne (his other "wife" in a three-person polyamorous relationship with him and his wife Elizabeth) often wore large metal bracelets on each wrist should not be ignored.

Marston even said that all boys and men, not just ones reading Wonder Woman, would willingly follow an alluring woman stronger than themselves. Marston believed that he was luring them towards a more peaceful and non-violent way of life.

Hidden Curriculum to Global Curriculum

In 1972 a feminist of a different type, Gloria Steinem put Wonder Woman on the cover of Ms. Magazine. In that 30 years other comic book heroes had come, gone or been radically changed, partially due to the Comics Authority Code, but Wonder Woman was still recognizable as the archetype, or even icon, she had started out to be. In 2009 I just finished working on a new course called "Culture, Gender, and Power Differences in Conflict", which many of Marston's own curriculum for Wonder Woman is part of the objectives for this course. Understanding how men and women approach conflict differently, how are minorities oppressed in subtle ways that either side may not be aware of. Between these two points we have decades of pop culture references that have influenced and been influenced by Marston's creation. Even saying "Wonder Woman" invokes not just an image of a 6 foot tall Amazon in red, white and blue, but is synonymous with "powerful woman".

It is difficult to measure at level Marston met with success in his original conception of his idea. He certainly created not just a feminist icon, but a feminine one. A lot of what he wanted to see accomplished did in fact happen, though not everything. In the end I am left with two quotes from two very different males about Wonder Woman. When asked about Marston's view of women as superior Playboy founder and former editor and CEO Hugh Heffner said "would the world be better if women were running things? No question about it, absolutely."
When asked about Wonder Woman my 6-year old son said "don't make girls mad, they will kick your butt, best to do what they say."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Craft: Rochelle Zimmerman

The last Craft Girl.  The very hot Rachel True as the dangerous type Rochelle
Again, for Unisystem, using Ghosts of Albion magic rules and Witch Girls Adventures.


Rochelle Zimmerman (Rachel True)
Quote: I don't know. She doesn't want to be white trash anymore. I told her, You're white honey! Just get over it.

Drama Points 20
Life Points 34

Attributes
Strength: 3
Dexterity: 3
Constitution: 3
Intelligence: 4
Perception: 2
Willpower: 3

Useful Information
Initiative: 1d10 + 3
Perception: 1d10 + 3
Additional Actions: 2
Fear Modifier: 6
Survival: 6

Qualities
Athlete
Attractiveness 2
Magic 2
Guardian of the Watchtowers (Water)

Drawbacks
Addiction (smoking) 1
Minority
Misfit
Teenager

Skills
Acrobatics 2
Art 1
Computers 1
Crime 1
Doctor 1
Driving 1
Getting Medieval 1
Gun Fu
Influence 2
Knowledge 4
Kung Fu 1
Languages 2
Mr. Fix-It
Notice 1
Occultism 3
Science 1
Sports 5 (swimming)
Wild Card

Combat
Maneuver Bonus Base Damage Notes
Punch +3 4 Bash
Dodge +3 Defense action
Grapple +5 Resisted by Dodge
Cast Spell +8 Varies By Spell

Rochelle is the most different of the group, not because she is African-American, but because she is the most normal of the girls. Pretty, athletic (she is on the swim team), and her quest for power was for to be more understanding against the racist members on her swim team. Later though she casts a spell (with Sarahs help) that causes one of the swimmers, Laura, to begin to loose all her hair.

It is Rochelle and Bonnie that leave the group when Nancy turns murderous, and they both approach Sarah in the end to try to reacquaint themselves with her in the end.

Witch Girls Adventures
Clique: Insider

Rochelle (Rachel True)

Body: d6
Mind: d6
Senses: d4
Will: d6
Social: d6
Magic: d6

Life Points: 12
Reflex: 9
Resistance: 9
Zap Points: 17

Traits: Calm, Jock
Heritage: Attuned

Skills: Acrobatics +2, Acting +1, Athletics +5, Basics +2, Computers +1, Fighting +1, Pop Culture +2, Science +1
Casting +3, Magical Etiquette +1, Mysticism +3

Magic:
Elementalism 3
Alteration 2
Conjuration 1
Curse 2
Illusion 3
Offense 1

Age: 16
Gender: Female
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown

If we are going to have Bonnie working at a witch school teaching ethics then it seems only right to have Rochelle there as well as the swim coach. I would imagine that Bonnie and Rochelle would have stayed friends after the end of the movie. An listening to the commentary I think that Rochelle would have come around to point of view that she can’t use magic to curse other people, no matter if the racist stuck-up little bleach blonde deserved it or not.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Craft: Bonnie Harper

More Craft girls. Up next, former Partier of Five and future Wild Thing Neve Campbel as Bonnie
Again, for Unisystem, using Ghosts of Albion magic rules and Witch Girls Adventures.

Bonnie Harper (Neve Campbell)
Quote: A new wholeness and with it a new balance. Earth, air, water, fire. Maybe it's our fourth.



Drama Points 20
Life Points 29

Attributes
Strength: 1
Dexterity: 2
Constitution: 3
Intelligence: 3
Perception: 2
Willpower: 2

Useful Information
Initiative: 1d10 + 2
Perception: 1d10 + 4
Additional Actions: 2
Fear Modifier: 4
Survival: 6

Qualities
Attractiveness 2
Magic 2
Guardian of the Watchtowers (fire)
Hard to Kill

Drawbacks
Addiction (smoking) 1
Depression
Outcast
Screwed-up Adolescent
Secret (covered in burns)

Skills
Acrobatics 1
Art 2
Computers 1
Crime 1
Doctor 2
Driving 1
Getting Medieval 1
Gun Fu
Influence 1
Knowledge 3
Kung Fu 1
Languages 2
Mr. Fix-It 1
Notice 2
Occultism 3
Science 2
Sports 1
Wild Card

Combat
Maneuver Bonus Base Damage Notes
Punch +3 2 Bash
Dodge +3 Defense action
Grapple +5 Resisted by Dodge
Cast Spell +7 Varies By Spell

Bonnie is the most withdrawn of Nancys group and maybe one of the most knowledgeable. At some point Bonnie was caught in a fire, leaving most her back, and her psyche, all scared. When she gains her power she uses it to heal herself, but like Nancy and Rochelle it goes to her head. Her attractiveness starts at -1 and then goes up to +2.

She was also the first to notice Sarah was a witch and to notice their power. Bonnie is most likely to have turned back to the religion of witchcraft.

Witch Girls Adventures
Clique: Gothique (not as perfect as with Nancy, but it works)

Bonnie (Neve Campbell)

Body: d4
Mind: d6
Senses: d4
Will: d6
Social: d4
Magic: d6

Life Points: 8
Reflex: 7
Resistance: 9
Zap Points: 12

Traits: Gloomy, Meek
Heritage: Oracle

Skills: Acrobatics +1, Acting +1, Basics +2, Computers +1, Fighting +1, Pop Culture +2, Science +2
Casting +3, Magical Etiquette +3, Mysticism +3

Magic:
Elementalism 3
Alteration 2
Conjuration 2
Curse 1
Healing 1
Illusion 3
Offense 1

Age: 16
Gender: Female
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown

What might make an interesting Witch Girls adventure idea is have Bonnie, now older, working at a magic school where she is teaching magical ethics.  She does not cast anymore (except when dramatically needed, and she is able to heal and near death student) and discovering her past could be a episode away from the main story arc for a season.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Craft: Nancy Downs

Here are the Craft girls.  Everyone's favorite psycho-witch played by a real life pagan, Nancy.
Again, for Unisystem, using Ghosts of Albion magic rules and Witch Girls Adventures.

Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk)
quote: You know, if I were as pathetic as you are, I would have killed myself *ages* ago. You should get on with it.



Drama Points 20
Life Points 33

Attributes
Strength: 2
Dexterity: 2
Constitution: 3
Intelligence: 3
Perception: 2
Willpower: 3

Useful Information
Initiative: 1d10 + 2
Perception: 1d10 + 4
Additional Actions: 2
Fear Modifier: 6
Survival: 7

Qualities
Attractiveness 2
Guardian of the Watchtowers (air)
Hard to Kill
Occult Library 1 (Minimal)
magic 3 (4)


Drawbacks
Addiction (smoking) 1
Conspicuousness (only goth girl in school with a pierced nose)
Cruelty 2
Depression 1
Delusions 1
Lechery 1
Obsession (be powerful) 1
Outcast
Screwed-up Adolescent
Violence 1


Skills
Acrobatics 1
Art
Computers 1
Crime 3
Doctor 1
Driving 2
Getting Medieval 2
Gun Fu 1
Influence 2
Knowledge 3
Kung Fu 2
Languages 1
Mr. Fix-It 1
Notice 2
Occultism 4
Science 2
Sports 1
Wild Card

Combat
Maneuver Bonus Base Damage Notes
Punch +4 4 Bash
Choke +4 1
Kick +3 6 Bash
Knife +4 3
Dodge +4 Defense action
Grapple +6 Resisted by Dodge
Cast Spell +10
Telekinesis +10


Nancy has always been an outsider. Poor, from the wrong family, living in a trailer with mom and her mom's boyfriend, is everything the young and rich of St. Benedicts is not. If Nancy has a philosophy it is "if you can't gain their respect, go for their fear."
With the arrival of Sarah, Nancy sees her chance at real power. Nancy and the other girls gain true power, but it goes to their heads with Nancy even cursing her mom's boyfriend to death. Of course power corrupts and quicker than you can say been there and done that Nancy and Sarah are at it, and not in a good way.



Witch Girls Adventures
Clique (if we were to use it she would be perfect): Gothique

Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk)
Body: d4
Mind: d6
Senses: d4
Will: d8
Social: d6
Magic: d6

Life Points: 8
Reflex: 7
Resistance: 9
Zap Points: 12

Traits: Queen Bee, Wicked
Heritage: Evil Eye (not so much, but Fairuza has some killer eyes)

Skills: Acrobatics +1, Acting +1, Basics +1, Computers +1, Fighting +2, Pop Culture +2, Science +2
Casting +3, Mysticism +4

Magic:
Elementalism 4
Alteration 2
Conjuration 2
Curse 1
Illusion 3
Offense 2

Age: 16
Gender: Female
Hair: Black
Eyes: Blue

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Craft: Sarah Bailey

Here are the Craft girls.  First up Sarah.
Unisystem, using Ghosts of Albion magic rules and Witch Girls Adventures.

Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney)
quote: Relax... it's only magic. Now who's pathetic?



Drama Points 20
Life Points 33

Attributes
Strength: 2
Dexterity: 2
Constitution: 3
Intelligence: 3
Perception: 3
Willpower: 4

Useful Information
Initiative: 1d10 + 2
Perception: 1d10 + 6
Additional Actions: 2
Fear Modifier: 8
Survival: 8

Qualities
Attractiveness 2
Guardian of the Watchtowers (earth)
Hard to Kill
Magical Family 1
Magical Group 1
Occult Library 1 (Minimal)
magic 3 (4)


Drawbacks
Adversary (Nancy)
Depression 1
Love: Tragic (Mother)
Misfit
Secret (attempted suicide)
Teenager

Skills
Acrobatics 1
Art 3
Computers 2
Crime 1
Doctor
Driving 1
Getting Medieval 1
Gun Fu
Influence 2
Knowledge 4
Kung Fu 1
Languages 2
Mr. Fix-It
Notice 3
Occultism 4
Science 2
Sports 2
Wild Card

Combat
Maneuver        Bonus      Base Damage        Notes
Punch              +3           4                           Bash
Dodge             +5                                        Defense action
Grapple           +3                                        Resisted by Dodge
Telekinesis       +11
Cast Spell        +11        --                           By Spell


Sarah has already experienced a lot of pain for someone so young. Her mother died in her childbirth and she attempted suicide recently. She moves to LA with her dad and his new wife and her troubles begin a new.
Sarah gets involved with the girls, but has a change of heart when they start to abuse their magic. She tries to bind Nancy, so Nancy uses glamours to get Sarah to kill herself. To fight back Sarah must embrace who she truly is; a witch.  At the end of the movie she has gained an extra level of magic.


Witch Girls Adventures

Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney)
Body: d4

Mind: d6
Senses: d6
Will: d8
Social: d6
Magic: d8

Life Points: 8
Reflex: 7
Resistance: 11
Zap Points: 16

Traits: Jaded, Gloomy
Heritage: Atuned

Skills: Acrobatics +1, Acting +1, Basics +3, Computers +2, Fighting +1, Pop Culture +2, Science +2
Casting +4, Mysticism +3

Magic:
Elementalism 5
Alteration 2
Conjuration 1
Mentalism 2
Protection 2

Age: 16

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Craft

Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power!


Welcome to the Witching hour.

Before Cassie and Thelma, before Pru, Pipper, Phoebe and Paige, even before Willow and Tara, there was Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle. It was in fact due to the success of 'The Craft' that we even saw those other witches, or did you miss Love Spit Love's version of How Soon is Now? in both The Craft and Charmed? Or even the similarity in the above quote? Or how about that Morpheus font face for the movie poster? Where did you see that before 1996? How about after? (WitchCraft and Angel corebooks I am looking at you…oh, and my 1999 Witches’ netbook too).

The movie starts out with the new girl in town, Sarah Bailey. She comes to St. Benedicts Academy in LA and wants to fit into the in crowd, but instead finds herself drawn to these three outsiders, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle. Though she tries to avoid them, Sarah comes to realize that they share a connection. The girls introduce Sarah to their coven. We learn the girls dabble in magic but have never been able to do much and that Sarah has some power of her own (Bonnie watches Sarah absent mindedly levitate a pencil in class). She is accepted in their group, and secrets are traded (Sarah mom died when she was young and she tried to commit suicide a while back). In a ceremony, the girls unlock their own magic and thats when the movie moves into high gear.

Chris: Anyway, they're-- nah, never mind.
Sarah: What? What?
Chris: They're witches.


But as girls grow in power the power goes to their heads. Even level headed Sarah ends up turning a boy into her mindless slave. Of course that is only the beginning when Rochelle strikes out at a rival swimmer, and Nancy seeks vengeance on her moms boyfriend. Like Charmed, the girls need to learn that magic has consequences, and often those consequences are returned to them three-fold. Once Nancy realizes that she had made Chris nothing more than a toy, she is horrified. The others revel in their new found powers. Guessing, correctly, that Sarah wants out, they launch a preemptive strike against her. They try to make her attempt suicide again, and battle her (Crowley style) with magic. It is only when Sarah accepts who, and what she is, a natural witch, that she is able to deal with a now murderous Nancy. Sarah binds their powers and we leave with her having more power than before and Nancy locked up in a mental hospital.

I have this real love/hate relationship with this film. I was prepared to really like this flick and man was I disappointed. For a while I hated it, now I just look at it and see a lot of failed potential. I mean they had all the right elements (no pun intended) but somehow all they made with it was kind of a mess. At least Practical Magic knew when to talk about things, when to let the story take over and when to shut up. I would like to see this cast in another, better witch movie, either together or by themselves. Hell, Neve Campbell was a better witch in Wild Things.
I do love witches, so in that vein the film itself is ok, I liked the owner of the magic store, Lirio, and I might have a no small fondness for girls in Catholic school uniforms (esp. if it is these girls), but I don't know if that excuses it's faults. The whole 'Manon' or 'Mano' thing annoyed the hell out of me (at least it was not Manos!), in some parts the movie just dragged, and I never bought into a lot of Nancy’s motivation on things.

I did like the attempt to put some real-life ceremonies into their magic (the entering the Circle with perfect love and trust was nice) and I liked the writers showing them being just girls (the 'light as feather, stiff as a board' deal).

Then of course there is the behind the movie story, that The Craft was written in conjunction with real Pagans/Wiccans (it was to an extent, Fairuz is a neopagan), that it caused thousands to turn to Wicca as a religion (it did, but how many of those then later went on to the next thing?), and that Fairuza Balk is a practicing witch and she used to own an Occult book store (true, and she has since had some not-so-nice things to say about this movie). But the one thing that The Craft does REALLY well is stir up the online pagan community like no other film. Wiccan writer Raymond Buckland has had quite a lot to say about The Craft and not all of it good (for the record he dislikes Buffy’s magic system, but liked Tara, and he likes Charmed to an extent). Though Buckland in 2001 did do the forward of a book called, guess what, The Craft using the same Morpheus font face that appears on the movie poster and a Charmed triquetra.

For this I take the Mystery Science Theater 3000 approach; repeat to yourself it is only a show and really just relax. That said, lets get on with what we are really supposed to do with this film, come up with things for our games!


Driver: Watch out for the weirdoes, girls.
Nancy: We are the weirdoes, mister.

The Craft in Your Game
Mage (either oWoD or nWoD) has potential, but there is so much baggage with Mage. Though I had considered writing up the Craft girls using nMage at one point and I think it could work, but there would need to be some fundemenatal changes made.

A Unisystem game would be great, but which one? WitchCraft again is a good choice, the girls do invocations, and they could very easily be Solitaries and Wicce. But again, there is nothing like Essence, or crowd effects, or anything that makes WitchCraft so special. There are no invocations here, just Hollywood magic. So CineUnisystem is not a bad choice either. We can emulate the girls with levels of Sorcerery easily, account for most of their magics and fit them in a movie environment.

If you keep the girls in High School a Witch Girls Adventures based game would also work great. The Elementalism magic in WGA is practically perfect as it is for this.

When/How/Why do you want to drop them in to your game?
I see three basic plots.

1. Do the Movie
The Cast can meet the girls while the events of the movie are going on. Great for High School based games. Directors should keep in mind about how events can and will change with the involvement of the Cast. Will Nancy still go crazy? Will the girls join forces against a common foe (the Cast)? Will Sarah join the Cast?

2. Do a Sequel
Ok, so the Craft movie did its thing in 1996 and we were supossed to get a sequel, but didn't. Well its 2009, Sarah is 29, out of college, living in Seattle and a powerful Wicca/Wicce. That is where she meets the Cast. Maybe Nancy is out of the mental hospital and is looking for Sarah. Maybe Bonnie and Rochelle (and Nancy for that matter) have found a new source of power and want to finish the work began at the end of the Craft?

3. Choose your Own Ending
What is the good of having an RPG based on a mass-media license if you can’t change what the original author did? How about this. The Craft did not end the way it did. The girls fought but everyone retained their powers and an occult cold-war exists now between them, with Nancy on one side, Sarah on the other and Bonnie and Rochelle in the middle. Or maybe they came to terms when something else posed a bigger threat. Or just take the girls and drop them, context free, into your adventure.

Part of me, because I do like Fairuza Balk and she is a Pagan in real life, wants to see Nancy redeemed. But you can’t save everyone I guess. Maybe take her role as Mildred in 1986's The Worst Witch and update it with Nancy in mind. Or, given her role as Dorothy in 1985's Return the Oz, maybe she is now a witch hunter (Careful, be a good witch or Nancy will drop a house on you). Fairuza does play a great bad girl though and to deny that would be a crime.

Tomorrow, the crunchy stuff.