Monday, June 23, 2014

Mining Firebirds: Grimjack 01 - The Setup

The inaugural issue of Grimjack was not the first Grimjack story. He'd already appeared as a backup feature in Starslayer, and quickly proved that he could stand on his own. But I start here for several reasons: because it's issue number 01, and that carries some weight with me; because it's a solid story, and made an impression on me in terms of the writing by Ostrander and the visual storytelling by Tim Truman; and because it's one of my fave Grimjack stories.

Now, let's get on with mining some plot, character, and setting elements from this issue for use in Fading Suns! I hope it goes without saying: SPOILERS galore for those who've not read this 30 year old story.

Here's part 01 of Grimjack #1: A Shade of Truth -- the adventure setup.

We start with a suicide. A young girl plummets to her death in a place that is clearly not Earth (note the satellites or planets above the building). That's because Grimjack's default setting is on Cynosure -- a place where dimensions meet, and where ultimately, every dimension or bit of the multiverse will intersect eventually.

Firebird 01: This kind of matches the Fading Suns setting, with its mix of low tech and high tech, psychic abilities and theurgical rites, and other hidden secrets of magic and science.

A bit mysterious at the beginning, but deaths and suicides are possible in the Fading Suns universe. In the Known Worlds, there are limits to healing, limits to technological regeneration -- and if the suicide was very thorough despite access to miraculous healing tech, that says something too about the desperation or the purpose of the death.

Of course, in the tradition of many great RPG adventures, someone wants to find out why the victim took her own life and drags the PCs into it.

In the case of the late Marcie, her mother (Mrs. Sondra Grant) wants to find out the truth about her daughter's suicide. She wants it bad enough to go into one of the roughest parts of Cynosure -- the Pit -- and seek out one of the oldest and toughest guys with a rep for solving difficult problems: John Gaunt a.k.a Grimjack.

I like the line "She looked like an angel slumming." It really drives home the disparity between the quality of her clothing, the care of her skin and hair, and the breeding that must show in her body language, in her poise, and in her speech.

Of course, that's to be expected. The ex-wife of Cynosure's Finance Minister would certainly be of excellent stock and upbringing.

Firebird 02: Of prime importance is this type of character -- one that the PCs are unlikely to ignore out of principle, or curiosity, or profit, or personal interest. She becomes the embodiment of the problem they're trying to solve, the one who helps facilitate things that may be out of reach, and the one who pushes them when they're stuck.

Also, she has ties to very powerful people that are somewhat blunted by the implied severance (or perhaps weakening) of those ties. And she's motivated by very strong emotions to keep close to the PCs to find out the truth.

Of particular interest is this bit: the ghost of Marcie. Her mother, Sondra, went to her former room to look for clues to her suicide.

There, she finds an apparition of her deceased daughter scribbling furiously before taking a step out into the open air. It keeps repeating until dawn.

Now while this may seem tragic and *ahem* haunting, Sondra is also a sharp and practical woman. She searches for the note, paper, or diary that her daughter must have been writing on, but she cannot find it.

Someone must have taken it: why?

Firebird #03: this is the McGuffin that the PCs will be after. Sure, in the process of investigation they'll probably get a lot of additional information from witnesses and antagonists. But the diary will be the words of Marcie -- a deathbed confession of sorts -- to give her own version of events that led up to her extreme actions.

Firebird #4: In the Fading Suns universe, given the religious themes and elements, engaging in activities that will lay a soul to rest would be of critical importance to many. However, this may be balanced against the secrets that some one like to keep. And perhaps some would argue that some souls do not deserve peace -- but that won't sit well with her mother, and probably not with the PCs as well.

NEXT: Grimjack 01 -- The Investigation. Wherein we see how the progress in this case introduces us to different corners and players in the setting of Cynosure, and how such a framework might be used for Fading Suns adventures as well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

IDIC Files: Introduction (or Is Romeo Tanghal Filipino?)

I'm going to start posting about little mentions of the Philippines and Filipinos (and Filipinas) in gaming and geek culture. But for some reason, I feel the need to explain why.

And that's why I'm going to talk a bit about The New Teen Titans and Romeo Tanghal.

In the days before the world wide web, you couldn't just Google things that you were curious about. And in the infancy of my fandom, there were many things I wanted to find out -- and tried to, the old-fashioned way:

library searches
fandom magazines
letter columns of comic books
and so on..

One of the things I wanted to know -- something that many of my comic-book reading grade school classmates wanted to know -- was this: is Romeo Tanghal, inker on The New Teen Titans and other comics from DC, Filipino?

In the days of Google, a quick visit to a suggested link reveals that, yes, Romeo Tanghal was and is Filipino.

But back then, going only on his name, we guessed he was. (We originally though Perez might be too, but we also knew that Perez was a name that was more Spanish-derived in origin, and we quickly found out via the letters pages and fan publications that he was Puerto Rican.)

Why was this of interest to us?

The thrill of identification

I suppose it's very similar to the feeling of knowing that someone from your family, from your neighborhood, from your hometown, from whatever you consider your "tribe" or "group" is doing well or doing something cool.

Perhaps because we all liked comics, and a fair number of us had given some thought about getting into the industry, it was like hoping that someone from the Philippines had already made it into the industry. (Of course, we didn't know about the Filipinos that HAD already made it into the industry, because they hadn't really been the focus of the sources of info available to us; but that's another story).

It's not (necessarily) about being a minority

Before this threatens to become a talk about being a minority looking for more equitable representation in media (which is a worthy goal, though I'm not necessarily agreeing with all the ways that have been suggested online and offline), let me just make a few statements as to why it isn't exactly that.

At the time, I was living and studying in the Philippines. I was surrounded by Filipinos, and the mestizos and folks who could pass themselves off as American or European were few and far between. I guess what I'm saying is, we didn't necessarily need to see more Filipinos represented in media -- because we got that every day by virtue of where we lived.

So why did we look for it? Why did I look for it? I mean, it's not like it was this big thing that I spent nights wondering about -- but it pleased me when I found out.

It's a big world, and I'm just one guy

Well, I can only speak for myself, and introspection isn't always my strongest suit.

I do believe that it's not just one reason, but a multitude of reasons of varying intensitives. Here are a few:
  • I can be president after all -- one of the major exports of the U.S. to the Philippines is the American Dream, the one that says anyone born anywhere (in the U.S.) can become whatever they want to become, even president, so seeing someone from the Philippines doing something you want to do yourself, seems to re-affirm that possibility and chip away at barriers (like the fact that I'm NOT someone born in the U.S.)
  • I'm not alone -- you get made fun of for having strange, unpopular hobbies, and perhaps not-so-practical plans for your future; and it's nice to see someone you can identify with doing the very thing you want
  • That person's like me -- I believe it also has something to do with looking for something that resonates with you in media -- whether it's in a profession, or on the news, or in fictional exploits. For example, I tend to react less strongly to, say, a Filipino in the news who is an ultra-athlete than a Filipino who had a very nerdy childhood

Mining Firebirds: Grimjack

Way back in 2011, I mentioned how I'd been using Grimjack as an inspiration for some of the Fading Suns games that I'd run in the past.

And that I might do a series of posts mining the ideas in the comic for adventure seeds, characters, and setting ideas.

Given the sudden ton of work that has descended on my head, I think I'll be doing more of that in the future.

It'll work nicely with my returned fascination with comics in general.

I'll try to go sequentially through the series, but be advised: this comic didn't start with an origin story. In fact, the protagonist is already old and ageing, and comes with a ton of backstory between him and many of his supporting cast.

Any other Grimjack fans out there?