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Sunday, June 20, 2010

UK Games Expo'10 #4. Winding up and wending home

Birmingham geek-out!
My travel plans on the Monday after the Expo gave me a day to spend in Birmingham. I deposited my luggage at the station then pondered my options: was I going for the cultural day out, or the geek day out? I chose the latter, naturally enough (no slur intended on the cultural attractions of the fair city of Birmingham I assure you dear readers, this option just proved easier to pursue on the day).

Who goes where?
Decision made, I set off to visit the local GW as is my wont when I'm on my travels. Luke- the staffer on duty, gave me the familiar friendly GW greeting when I arrived. I gave him my card and told him the story of my trip to Birmingham, then we fell to chatting. Answering the usual questions, I told him that I'm a DIY Space Marine Chapter Master and filled him in on some of Penumbra's Talons' background. I talked about how Belon (the Talons' home world remember) is located in the Eastern Fringes, which is where it's all going down in the Dark Millenium these days:
  • There are rumours that the protracted death of the Emperor on his Golden Throne has reached a point where the Astronomicon- upon which depends all human interplanetary travel, no longer reaches the Eastern Fringes; or that it is at least weaker and less reliable than ever.
  • The imminent Deathwatch RPG is to be set in the Jericho Reaches: located in the Eastern Fringes, and the target of a major Imperial Crusade aiming to reconquer lost Imperial worlds.
Little did I know what I was letting myself in for all those years ago when- on a simple whim, I plumped for the Eastern Fringes as the location for the home of my lads.

When our talk moved onto WHFB I confessed that I'm not a player and that most of my knowledge of the Old World comes from WFRP. It turned out that Luke was a big fan and experienced GM of WFRP2. He'd run the entire Paths of the Damned campaign; most or all of the other WFRP2 adventures; and many of the older 1st edition and Flame Publications adventures to boot. This is an impressive record and no mistake, as this bibliography of WFRP adventures demonstrates.

Luke and I passed a pleasant while sharing stories about our campaigns and swapping tidbits of the highs, lows, trials and tribulations of the GM's life. I also passed on to Luke a tip about Keynote, which readers might remember was invaluable to me when I was running my own Ashes of Middenheim.

While I'm on the subject of Keynote, I'm pleased to be able to report that someone has reactivated the Keynote project, which now goes by the name of Keynote NF (New Features). I've not been keeping a close eye on developments but there's certainly a lot of activity on the project page. It's nice to know that my favourite app is alive and well out there in cyberspace.

Luke was on the job so he had to attend to other customers, leaving me to ponder my inevitable latest donation to my favourite moneysuckers. My funds were limited so- possessed by the completist daemon and in the spirit of 'know thine enemy', I bought a copy of Codex: Tau Empire. Here's hoping that the knowledge contained therein will yield benefits when next the Talons encounter the battlegroup of the maverick Shas El Quixo.

Robin Hood
After GW it was time to go to the movies. The cinema schedule and my timetable left me with no choice but the new Robin Hood, a movie I was quite keen to see so that was OK.

The critic's eye
The Squareman- usually reliable but never dull, had reviewed Robin Hood last month. His key point was that the movie laboured under the burden of the trappings of the Robin Hood story because it had a very interesting story of its own to which those trappings are superfluous. I soon found myself in agreement.

This turned out to be a real problem for me. It seemed to me that the character names were just convenient tags used as shorthand to tell us that this was Robin Hood, while the story and characters had nothing at all to do with Robin Hood. The result was a permanent disconnect between expectations and actuality which completely undermined my identification with the characters:
  • They didn't share nearly enough with the Robin Hood archetypes for the shorthand to pay off in its own terms.
  • The use of the shorthand meant that the story wasn't doing enough work of its own to bring the characters to life.
This was a real shame because the movie did have an interesting story in its own right; there were some decent performances- Mark Strong as the villainous Godfrey was always fun to watch; and- Ridley Scott being Ridlely Scott, there were some great action sequences. It was just that, well, by the time I'd almost started to give a damn, my goodwill was blown out of the water by two particularly egregious episodes of Hollywood stupidity:
  • The restaging of Operation Overlord in miniature- this time with the French invading England, complete with medieval landing craft: yes, they had little cabins aft, drop-down ramps forward, and they were powered by oars; this was just too much for yours truly.
  • The arrival of Cate Blanchett's Marion- in a suit of perfectly-crafted figure-hugging plate armour, just in time to join the final big fight against those dastardly French; as the SquareMan suggests, this'd've been OK if it had somehow been foreshadowed but just dropping it in out of nowhere like that was shite pure and simple.
And then, as if all this wasn't bad enough, the movie turned out to be the reimagined origin of Robin Hood- no longer the noble cast down because of his empathy for the common man, but a yoeman who could've made good were it not for the machinations of a self-serving monarch; and all for the sake of another new movie franchise. Gah.

The geek's eye
As many of my readers will know only too well, gaming geeks- roleplayers especially, often have their own special reasons for appreciating TV and movies. I can still remember watching Lethal Weapon and Total Recall and mentally parsing their action scenes using HERO rules as a 'reality check' (they passed BTW). The new Robin Hood definitely has a lot to offer in this respect.

The story itself is chock-full of incidents which could easily be lifted by GMs and dropped into their campaigns. In fact you couldn't go far wrong just using the whole story as the basis of a campaign: simply add your PCs with their own agendas and you'd be good to go. And the movie is a visual feast for the gaming geek's imagination.

This is where the film really scored IMO- hardly surprising with Ridley Scott really: it is visually sumptuous without ever presenting that faux High Medieval look so familiar from older movies. Everything looks just right: small castles; manor houses with rude wooden furnishings; small dingy chapels; squalid little hovels; and mud, lots of mud. It's period authenticity the way that roleplayers love: everything looking just so, even if it wasn't actually quite so.

Of course I was soon aware of a problem with all this: I spent so much of the movie admiring the scenery because I was quite disengaged from the story because I didn't give a monkey's for the characters. Still, I'd see the movie again just for the visuals. Can't say more than that really, can I? ;)

Related@RD/KA!
UK Games Expo'10
- #1. Friends old and new
- #2. Once more unto those hex-and-counter battlefields
- #3. Games to the left of them, games to the right of them
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