Friday, August 12, 2016

Ghost House Pictures' 'Don't Breathe' Reunites Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy

In 2013, Ghost House Pictures rebooted the classic horror comedy series Evil Dead with a new director (Fede Alvarez) and a new star (Jane Levy). The film attempted to balance itself between the two horror/comedy extremes of the Evil Dead franchise. It was less creepy and haunting than the original film and focused less on humor than Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness. In attempting this balance, the film selected a talented comedic actress whose prior work included the short-lived and entertaining series Suburgatory.

The pairing was a success. Rotten Tomatoes ratings show that many critics and audience members found the Alvarez/Levy Evil Dead to be a worthy addition and the film is by a large margin the most successful theatrical release in the series. This success was in no small part due to the cult classic status the movies have attained as they have continued to build audience. The box office success of the 2013 Evil Dead film doesn't in itself answer whether audiences truly liked the new vision or whether the success was due primarily to the power of the brand. The film was polarizing among some of the fan base who thought the film was too gory and lacked sufficient humor. Ghost House Pictures has an opportunity to prove that Alvarez and Levy have appeal outside of a strong brand with this year's Don't Breathe. This film is an original story that features no supernatural elements and promises to focus on suspense rather than gore.

Don't Breathe opens with a premise similar to that of In Cold Blood, but turns the tables on the criminals in a fashion common in horror films like You're Next. The filmic twist in this case is that audiences are supposed to sympathize with one of the home invaders as she realizes that she and her friends have invaded the home of someone who, though blind, is freakishly good at killing people.

The film is slated for wide release on August 26th, right in time for the new school year and a good lead into Halloween.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Savage Things (Part 3) -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Stranger Things' Eleven/Elle

Image Source -- Thorin Thompson


Welcome to the third entry in a series of posts that translates the hit Netflix television Stranger Things into material useful for the Savage Worlds role playing game. Following the final entry in this series, there will be posts featuring statistics in Mentzer B/E Dungeons & Dragons, Fantasy Flight Games' Grimm role playing game, Hero Kids, Shadow of the Demon Lord, and other games as I am inspired to create the statistics.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens

Eleven/Elle Revisited (A Superheroic Look)

In the first entry in the Savage Things series, I presented statistics for Eleven/Elle that relied solely on the Savage Worlds Core Rulebook. This version of the character fits with a Firestarter or Scanners inspired campaign, but it doesn't capture the character for campaigns that want to take advantage of a more X-Men style of play. One of Stranger Things many influences, and one stated outright in the show, is issue #134 of The Uncanny X-Men. That issue marked the first appearance of "Dark Phoenix" and hinted to viewers who were familiar with the comics that psychic powers might be coming into play. My own take on the character is that she is also inspired by Rachel Summers, first seen in The Uncanny X-Men issue #141. The shaved head and manipulation of the character by scientists fits more with Rachel Summers, than with Jean Grey. With these thoughts in mind, I present to you an updated version of Eleven/Elle that uses the Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion which provides a more powerful version of the character. In order to balance this character, two versions of the Demogorgon/Monster will also be presented in the adversaries post.

  Eleven/Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) was kidnapped by Dr. Martin Brenner when she was born. Eleven's mother was one of Dr. Brenner's subjects in his experiments at the University of Indiana. While the show hints that she is the 11th child/subject Dr. Brenner has worked with, no other subjects are shown in the series. When Eleven runs away, she befriends a local diner owner named Benny and eventually encounters Mike Wheeler. Even though Eleven is quiet and largely clueless to the mundane world around her, she and Mike become very close friends. Eleven has abilities beyond her "experience" level and is an extremely powerful young woman. She hopes to find a way to rescue Will Byers and free herself from the influence of Dr. Brenner.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Faith d4, Notice d6, Psionics d12, Shooting d4, Survival d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: All Thumbs, Clueless, Loyal, Exhausting Powers -- Powers Cause 1 Level of Fatigue When Used Can Knockout, but not Kill, Eleven.
Edges: Arcane Background (Superpowers), Brave, Danger Sense
Powers: Attack Ranged (Heavy Weapon, 4d6) 7 Points, Broadcast (One Channel at a Time, Contingent) 1 Point, Mind Reading (Slow to Activate, Increased Range to 1 mile, Complete Concentration) 5 Points, Increased Range on Mind Reading to Anywhere on Earth (Device: Requires Sensory Deprivation Chamber and Complete Concentration) 5 Points, Ensnare 3 Points, Mind Control (Slow to Activate, Very Limited Actions) 3 Points, Telekinesis (d12+1) 6 Points.  Power Points: 30 (Street Fighters)
Quirk: Loves Eggo Waffles.

It should be noted that this version of Eleven/Elle is significantly more powerful than the one from the first entry in the series, but that the character should still be used as a Player Character in order to not have the players feel railroaded by the Game Master.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Savage Things (Part 2): The Heroic Teens of Stranger Things

This is the second post in a series of posts presenting the people and places portrayed in the Netflix Original Series Stranger Things. You can find more information about the series, characters, and places in Part One. This entry focuses on what I call "Team Nancy." These are the teenage characters who are central to the story and who are centered around their relationship to Nancy Wheeler.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens
Part 3 -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Eleven/Elle

The Heroic Teens (Team Nancy)

Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is Joyce Byers' oldest son and the brother of Will Byers. He has a quiet and introverted personality that has led him to be considered an outsider by his classmates at Hawkins High School. Jonathan is developing talent as a photographer and hopes to someday attend NYU to study cinematography and become a film maker. His character is similar in personality to John Bender in The Breakfast Club or Michael Fitzsimmons in Peggy Sue Got Married. Jonathan loves his family, but is worried that Will's disappearance has caused his mother to have another psychiatric episode.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6,
Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Photography) d6, Notice d6, Shooting d4, Streetwise d4, Survival d4, Swimming d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5;
: 0
Hindrances: Curious, Doubting Thomas, Outsider
Edges: Alertness, Brave
Gear: Car, Camera, .38 Pistol, Bear Trap, 5 Gallons of Gasoline, Lighter

Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) is a young woman caught between two social worlds. She is Mike Wheeler's older sister and used to have a very close relationship to her "D&D geek" brother, but that changed when she started dating Steve Harrington who hangs with a more popular crowd. Nancy's conflict extends to more than her family though. In her desire to "fit in" with Steve and his friends, Nancy has recently begun to rebel against her family and her own instincts. Her friend Barbara sees this conflict and tries to point it out to Nancy, but Nancy doesn't quite see how much Steve genuinely cares for Nancy. Nancy Wheeler's character is a combination of Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Andie (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d4, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Chemistry) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6
Charisma: 2; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Toughness: 4; Academics: 1
Hindrances: Loyal, Overprotective Parents, Small
Edges: Attractive, Brave, Test Taker

Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry) – Steve is Nancy’s boyfriend and is at a point in his life where he is going to have to choose what kind of man he will become. He comes from a relatively wealthy family and is one of the cooler kids in school. His character is a combination of Blane in Pretty in Pink and Stefen Djordjevic in All the Right Moves. His story arc through the first season of Stranger Things parallels that of Djordjevic in that he could be a good guy, and when push comes to shove comes back to being one, but he’s so caught up in being “cool” that his instincts lead him to initially make bad choices. In the end though, he will do whatever he can to keep Nancy safe.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Driving d6, Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Investigation d4, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Shooting d4, Streetwise d4, Swimming d6, Taunt d8
Charisma: 2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6;
Hindrances: Arrogant, Party Animal, Stubborn
Edges: Attractive, Fast Healer, Nerves of Steel
Gear: $500
Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser) -- Barbara has been Nancy Wheeler's best friend since Elementary School. She doesn't quite understand what Nancy sees in Steve Harrington, but knows deep down that she and Nancy will always be friends. Barbara is an excellent student, but she is viewed as a bit of an outsider because of her lack of "fashion sense" and her focus on school work. Barbara knows what's important in life and it's succeeding in school so you can get out of Hawkins and being loyal to those who deserve your loyalty and Nancy Wheeler deserves her loyalty.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Driving d6, Investigation d4, Knowledge (Biology) d6, Knowledge (Chemistry) d6, Knowledge (History) d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4, Survival d4, Swimming d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 2
Hindrances: Bad Eyes (Minor), Bad Luck, Outsider
Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Test Taker
Gear: Car

New Buffy the Vampire Slayer Boardgame Coming from Jasco Games and Lynnvander Productions

Lynnvander Studios, a game design studio founded in 2005 by Thomas Grofton, has recently announced that they will be producing a number of licensed board games with significant cache in the geek community in partnership with Jasco Games. One of the first games to be released will be a new Whedonverse inspired game entitled Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Board Game.

When designing adventure games inspired by heroic fiction or tropes, designers tend to choose between one of two models. The first model, and that chosen by games like Heroquest and the majority of role playing games, is to have one player take responsibility for being the Game Master/Storyteller who controls the actions of all of the villains, adversaries, and non-central characters in the narrative. The second model is to create a cooperative game where all of the players take the role of characters central to the narrative. In a cooperative game, the players work together to overcome the game itself. While there has been a recent increase in the number of cooperative games available, these kinds of games existed earlier in the hobby with one of my favorites being Games Workshop's classic Warhammer Quest board game. Either form of game play can be rewarding, but one of the advantages of cooperative game designs is that they allow for more natural implementation of solitaire game play.

The Buffy game being designed by Lynnvander studios is a fully cooperative game for 1 to 6 players that should be able to be played in about 40 to 60 minutes. The designers have decided to have the players take the roles of Buffy and her friends as they defend the town of Sunnydale from an onslaught of vampires and demons, even as the players must also work to prevent a big bad’s plot and open the Hellmouth.

By the description of the game, it seems that the Lynnvander productions design will be closer in mechanics to Fantasy Flight Games' challenging Lord of the Rings card game than to classic Warhammer Quest. Both of those games are excellent, but each presents a different gaming experience. This is all speculation on my part based on the descriptions presented, but either way I am excited to see what a new Buffy game brings.

The game should be available from Jasco this October, just in time for Halloween.