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**SPOILERS** "Horror on the Orient Express" posts contain spoilers for my group's playthrough and the campaign in general. My ...

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Rose Quartz

Some more Steven Universe thoughts:

I’ll be getting into some third season spoilers here. Spoilers are a big problem when discovering an ongoing series. It’s hard to even look at cosplay photos and not learn secrets.

A narrative technique which always interests me is when a story spends a lot of time referring to a character before that person ever appears on screen. When they do show up, can the actual character possibly live up to (or at least be as dramatically as satisfying as) whatever image the viewer has formed in their own mind? Some successes at this would be, say, The Third Man or… The Wizard of Oz, now that I think of it.

We hear about Steven’s mother, Rose Quartz, from the first episode. We know she was a Gem, and in some manner, passed her life energy on to Steven so he could be born. For much of the first season we don’t even get a good image of her. There might be a quick shot of an old photo. Whenever the large portrait that hangs in the Steven’s house is on screen, a roof beam or something blocks her face. Later, we do see some statues of her, and we see a Rubenesque figure with long flowing, curly hair. We learn that she had healing powers, could converse with and control plants, and her spirt weapon was a shield (all abilities Steven is developing as well). An earth goddess, a nurturer and protector.

More episodes pass before Steven finds the VHS tape Rose made for him and we “see” Rose for the first time, largely supporting the mother/goddess image, though we also see the first glimpse of her and Steven’s father Greg’s relationship (and in a wonderfully disconcerting bit of character design, that Rose was about 8 feet tall!)

That all would be a cool example of the type of character reveal that I mentioned, even if it stopped there. But this is Steven Universe and we have only gotten started.

I’m in the series’ third season and am still learning about the Crystal Gems’ dark history of war and rebellion, but we have seen, through a slow accumulation of background lore, at lot more of who and what Rose Quartz was. Yes, her and Steven’s spirit weapon is a Shield – but Rose also wielded a Sword. She appears to be the one who lead the Crystal Gems against their Homeworld, and rallied them to protect the Earth, a world she had grown to love. Not just a Mother Goddess, she was a General in the terrible war thousands of years ago (the details of which I have yet to get to in the show). She was a figure of great strength that could inspire great loyalty (as we see in Pearl), and perhaps shift the destiny of empires.

So for thousands of years, she lead the Crystal Gems as protectors of the Earth, a place of fragile, mortal life that she cherished. And then she met Greg. In the amazing “We Need to Talk” we see a Rose who, while she is fond of and attracted to the very human Greg, still looks down on earthly things from a goddess’s point of view. She finds humans cute and amusing. It’s only when Greg has truly reached out to her, when he makes her see and love him as a real person, that Rose finally steps down and walks the Earth she has been guarding.

What happened next? Well, I haven’t watched more of the show yet! From what I have seen, the Gems originally came to Earth to mine it for its life energies, to breed and hatch new Gems from it. They wanted to consume Earth to make new life. What did Rose Quartz do, after falling in love with Greg? She too, chose to use the Earth to make new life, but not as a predator, but as a creator, a transformer, to make something new, to give birth to Steven.

More Steven

I'm into the third season of Steven Universe now and the show continues to amaze.

One thing that makes it so refreshing is that, while it's greatly influenced by anime, it's blessedly free of most of the cliches, tropes, and shortcuts that clutter and cheapen many Japanese shows. Even when the show is referencing Dragonball, Sailor Moon, Utena, etc. it isn't just making easy references from a check-list...

P.S., while I referred earlier to Garnet being my new "Coolest Character Ever," the more we see of Rose Quartz... 😳

Steven Universe

I haven't kept up with recent animated series, either Japanese or American, so I am only just now watching Steven Universe and...

Wow... just Wow...

It's the kind of show where only towards the end of the first season do you begin to realize the depth of worldbuilding and character developed that has been going on. Then in the second season (where I am now) they just keep turning those dials up and up... I've been watching the climax of "Prison Break" over and over again this evening...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Horror on the Orient Express: Session 30; Vinkovci 1923

The game books for Orient Express have a scenario set in the Yugoslavian city of Vinkovci, but it's an optional side-adventure to the main campaign. I used the published adventure as a bit of source material for an original scenario that grew out of our characters’ unique situation. The Investigators were looking for one of the character’s missing uncle – who had actually been a PC way back when we played the 1893 flashback adventure “The Blood Red Fez.” This uncle has been doing his own research into the mysteries of the Sedekfar Simulacrum.

My goals was to accelerate the tempo of the situation and communicate what some of the other factions have been up to while the Investigators have been going about their missions. The Makryat family are being more open in their schemes, both protesting the British authority in Constantinople and expanding their cult into a messianic movement across Turkey. At the same time, factions within the cult are becoming discontented with their leader’s dreams of godhood. Clues about that are hooks that the players might follow to a final confrontation with these enemies. The published ending for this plot line doesn’t really work at all for us anymore, but as usual I will try to bring in some of its core elements.

The meeting with the Investigator’s uncle is one that I’ve planned a half-dozen different ways previously, but each time it never quite fit into the players’ actions. I’d been concerned about it being too much of a data-dump, with the Uncle explaining at excessive length 20,000 years of background lore about the Simulacrum and it cults. Sometimes I had him be kidnapped or murdered, leaving his notes behind, but that felt unsatisfying as well. Ultimately I decided to present him as a scholar on the edge of madness, driven to 1 Stability by what he’d discovered. His research I condensed to a crazy wall of notes that he’d scrawled across his study, and gave that as a handout for the players’ the mull over.

I also finally got to mention two names that I’ve incorporated into the campaign. The word “Mi-go” is openly used now, though their influence has been a factor for some time. Several of my players aren’t big Lovecraft readers, so I don’t know how many of my hints they’d picked up on, even when they stumbled on a Mi-go medical lab complete with brain-cylinders. There isn’t much direct Mythos material in the published campaign and using the Mi-go was one of my ways of bringing more in. The other story element brought in and no longer secret is “Project Edom,” which of course is from Dracula Dossier. My Project Edom though, while having its origins in researching vampires, is now mainly interested in acquiring and reverse engineering Mi-go technology. I think players are beginning to suspect this, and I’ll probably be open about it soon. The Investigators have been getting a lot of help from the British Secret Service (and one PC is an MI6 agent) and a want them to be increasingly uncertain about how much trust they should put in this help.

Those trust questions also involve the Investigators with each other. We had a fairly tense standoff between PCs in this session when the uncle pulled a gun the MI6 agent PC, demanding she tell what she knew of Project Edom. One PC moved to project her, while the nephew was loyal to his uncle. The fourth PC talked everybody down, for now. The question of PvP conflict in GUMSHOE is something I think a lot about. No so much physical attacks, but conflicts between goals. I wonder what's the best way to resolve these confrontations, which can involve both sides hunkering down and sticking to their guns. Robin Laws' DramaSystem game is all about these kinds of conflicts, so can aspects of it be brought into a GUMSHOE game such as Trail of Cthulhu?