Monday, November 30, 2009

Every Angel is Terrifying

Every Angel is Terrifying: The Secret and True Origin of the Slayer and Watchers

Note: This is repost of something I did on the Eden Buffy boards a while back.  I have been working on collecting all my notes from my three season run of "Willow & Tara: The Series" for the Buffy/Angel/Ghost of Albion RPG and thought I might share this.  I am not a fan of Buffy anymore, for a number of reasons, but I do like this write-up.

I was never satisfied with the version of the Watcher's and Slayer's origins given in the show. Plus the demon connection and overt rape metaphor never sat well with me. So I decided it must be part of a propaganda agenda of the demons. Here then is the true history of the Slayer and the Watchers. This version also makes Buffy more compatible with WitchCraft and Armageddon. It also allows multiple Slayers (or not) without worrying about what happened in the show.  It also adresses (a little) a short-coming of the show; where are all the angels?

Something to bide me over till I can get something new up.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?

and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
- Rainer Maria Rilke*

The Council of Watchers of today bares little resemblance to powerful organization it once was, most due to machinations of the Great Beast Belial, but that is getting to the middle of the story first, let’s start at the beginning, which is in this case The Beginning.

Everyone knows of the War in Heaven. Lucifer rebels and the Angels are cast out. There was also a second war, and the Watchers and Slayers start here.

Angie Everhart as Lilith
After Lucifer fell Man and Woman were created. Adam and Lilith. Lilith, either by her own designs or that of Lucifer also rebels and goes out to spawn demons with the Djinn. Adam gets a new helpmate, Eve, and they are fruitful and multiply. Seeing the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve populating the Earth God sends Angels down to protect them and watch over them. These Angels are known as the Grigori, or “the Watchers”, and their leaders are Azazel and Samyaza. The Watchers though looked upon the Daughters of Eve and lusted after them. They taught them the secrets of divination, of the moon and of witchcraft. They also took them to their beds and begat upon them progeny known as the Nephilim. They were giants of their age, and most are monstrosities; Goliath may have been one of their number. The Nephilim war with both the demons and with other humans. Humans war with the demons and Nephilim. Demons kill everything in their path. All the while, Lucifer and his fallen angels laugh.

The actions of the Angels angers God who casts them into Abyss and sends a flood to destroy the wickedness of mankind. But before this happens the Watcher Shamsiel (in some versions it is Samyaza) goes to the one human woman who was never corrupted by Original Sin, the one who never ate from the Tree of Knowledge, Lilith. Shamsiel asked Lilith for one thing, an offspring. Someone that can fight the demons and the Nephilim while protecting the humans. Lilith laughed, but consented, after all she was giving birth to countless demons, what was one more. She gave birth though not to a monstrous son, but a perfect daughter. She named her Naamah and sent her to live with Shamsiel. Shamsiel in turn gave her to the human woman he had sleeping with and her husband. He instructed them to take on his role as Watcher, for this child would be the slayer of demons and the other spawn of darkness. Shamsiel went to his final battle never to return.

Naamah, Slayer of Demons, Protector of Malkuth
Naamah, daughter of Lilith, protector of Malkuth, grew strong, though she was never loved by her foster parents. They taught her the same lessons the Watchers had taught them, combat, the secrets of the occult, the arts of war and witchcraft. While the demons recognized her as kin she hung on to her angelic heritage. She fought them and the Watchers stood by her in the fight. Some even say that she stowed away on Noah’s Ark, knowing that that evil would find a way to survive. Some texts even still list her as Noah’s wife or sometimes his daughter. Even later when she died, she died fighting. One of her many daughters took up the fight and she too became known as the Slayer. In those days when the demons ran free over the Earth there were many Slayers and many Watchers. The original Grigori had spanned the Earth, and so had their progeny. It seemed that the battle was going well for humanity. Till Lucifer and his left-hand devil Belial took an interest in the Slayer. They had already begun a propaganda war against her. She was the spawn of demons they said, she was the patroness of whores. Indeed, the powers of the Slayer were related to her gender and even to her sexual maturity, so some of the ignorant believed this and forced the Slayer out. Some even began to feel she brought trouble with her. The pogrom against the Slayer had begun.

Even the Watchers, having spanned globe and taking up their cause with the Pagan faiths, were not immune. Here they meshed their beliefs with their own. They believed that they and their books were what were really holding back the darkness. They created their world headquarters on the mystical islands and listed in their charter the charge given to them by God, rendered in the local tongue.

Óir thug sé ordú da aingil i do thaobh:
tú a chosaint i do shlite go léir:

Iompróidh siad thú lena lámha sula mbuailfí
do chos in aghaidh chloiche.

Satlóidh tú ar an leon is ar an nathair:
gheobhaidh tú de chosa sa leon óg is a dragan.

That was not even the start for Belial and the Watchers. The Great Deceiver Belial tricked Lilith into revealing her offspring’s true nature. Knowing this Belial then worked on the Watchers. “Why should she be in charge?” he whispered in their ears. “Why would men of good faith follow the dictates of a demon-spawned female child?” It took him years, but soon he broke down their resolve, their myths and soon under the guise of “the good for all” he had them change their own histories. Gone was the story of Naamah and her sisters. Gone was the relationship between Watcher and Slayer as one of equals. And most tragic, gone was the link between the Slayer and the Divine. Instead only the demonic remained and Slayer but a tool, oft times a disposable one.

Belial

But Lilith had her own revenge. If they were to treat her blood so poorly, then she called back her own power only allowing one girl per generation to be born. She infused her other children, the Vampires, with desire to find this girl and hunt her down. Like brother and sister they were then, equal in their strength and parallel in their purpose. Soon the Slayer only became know as a killer of vampires and the Watchers, feeding on their own lies, degraded and rotted from within.

Thus it remained till the dawn of the 3rd Millennium.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sisters of Paradox

Sisters of Paradox

Note: This one is for my friend Robert Black. He was one of the ones that got me into Charmed, Hex and renewed my love for Doctor Who. He is also an unabashed Willow and Tara fan and fellow Kitten. Bob is now a successful novelist and I proudly own an autographed copy of his first book Liberty Girl. Paradox Willow was his idea originally and I am gleefully stealing her for this. Paradox Phoebe is my own, but I am sure he would have come up with it too.

Faction Paradox

The Doctor Who novels and audio plays featuring the 8th Doctor introduced a new enemy to the Doctors rogues gallery, Faction Paradox. This voodoo cult/criminal organization delights in causing temporal paradoxes, including replacing people with their alternates or who they could have been born as. A person and their alternate are completely different people, they can look different and act different but are not an evil twin. Genetically they are siblings. For this reason I call them Paradox Siblings.

Using Paradox Siblings in Your Game

Paradox Siblings, even if you never use Faction Paradox, can bring an interesting twist to a game. They are not evil twins, nor are they alternate universe versions of the character. They are this universes version, different at the moment of conception. They are different yes, but not alternates (say from The Wish or Centennial Charmed). Thus the paradox.

They can be used to cause confusion, erase someone from history, or even supplant someone with nefarious means. Think of the ultimate version of The Manchurian Candidate or the situation Spock faced in Yesteryear from the Star Trek Animated Series. This is especially useful when you need a character replaced for a brief period of time (say due to the absence of a player) or removing someone when killing them outright will not serve the purpose (as with Willow and Phoebe in Semi-Charmed Life). Paradox siblings are also useful if someone needed something that only a particular genetic code or family line good provide. Cant get the hero to give up her blood and she has no living relatives? No problem, yank one out of time and you are good to go.

Ok, so you have you nice new Paradox sibling, what do you do with her? You can go one of two ways. First, everyone but the Paradox Sibling remembers things are they were (are) and can go about their business, the Paradox Sibling remembers something completely different and is the confused one. This the method used by Robert Black in his Sisters of Paradox. The other characters except for the original sibling have vague memories that are the same as the Paradox Sibling. This can be their clue as to what is going on. Directors could apply a Perception Test (maybe Perception + Willpower) to determine what is going on. Characters with Eidetic or Photographic Memory would have two complete and conflicting set of memories. Directors might have them go into some sort of psychogenic fugue state for dramatic purposes.

Another possibility (and I think the more fun one!) is to have the Paradox Sibling replace the original sibling/character and everyone thinks they are the normal one (with altered memories) and the original one is the one that is the outsider. In Semi-Charmed Life it was Tara that finally discovered the difference when Paradox Willow was revealed to be straight.

Paradox Willow and Paradox Phoebe
Canon note: Screw canon. These characters all came from my alternate 8th Season (Season 1 of Willow and Tara the Series: Season of the Witch) adventure Semi-Charmed Life which is as you can guess a Charmed-crossover.

Synopsis: DHoffryn goes to Kira the Seer to gain knowledge on how to become the next Source. Kira tells him the only way to do it is to neutralize the Charmed Ones. Adding to his complications Willow and Tara are visiting San Francisco and are looking forward to meeting the Charmed Ones (Leo and Tara know each other). Knowing he cant out right kill them, he manipulates time to remove one of the Charmed Ones and one of the anamchara witches from history. With the girls connections to their powers lost DHoffryn claims his prize.

First off, why Willow and Phoebe? Easy, both have something in common other than being witches. Both were originally played by different actresses in their respective shows pilots. Willow was originally played by Riff Regan and Phoebe by Lori Rom. For their Paradox versions I have used these actresses and removed their spellcasting ability. That was the key in breaking the characters powers. Willow and Tara are stronger together than separate, unless of course Willow doesnt have magic or love for Tara. The Charmed Ones are much more powerful together, and in Something Wicca this Way Comes it is Phoebe that discovers their magical heritage. Remove those elements and we have some seriously de-powered witches. In the Charmed universe rules if Phoebe had been killed, then Paradox Phoebe could have claimed her powers (again in Centennial Charmed Paige did something similar), which would not have removed the problem only displaced it and pissed off the Charmed Ones in the process (a mistake the former Source had made, only once). So for a temporal demon like DHoffryn, removing someone from a time stream and replacing them with a Paradox Sibling is easy, wellmuch easier than killing them.

Paradox Willow

This is the Original Willow. Thats right, this is the Willow (the girl with brown curly hair) that happened first, but the world was changed to allow the other Willow (the one with straight red hair and likes girls) to exist. So in a way the Willow we all know is really Paradox Willow. But for the sake of argument lets continue calling this girl Paradox Willow.

Use Willows stats from Season 5. Drop the magic completely, Paradox Willow has no magical ability. Increase her Art and Computers and give her the Artist Quality. Paradox Willow is a very fine hacker but an even better Jazz singer. She plays and sings in Ozs band and dated Jonathan before he was killed by Cordelia the Vampire. She looks a lot like her mothers sister Esther. Paradox Willow is played by Riff Regan.


Willow Rosenberg

Character Type: Mundane Human White Hat (with lots of experience)
Life Points: 30
Drama Points: 5

Attributes
Strength 2
Dexterity 2
Constitution 3
Intelligence 6
Perception 3
Willpower 5

Qualities
Artist (Singer and Keyboards)
Nerd

Drawbacks
Adversary (Assorted, Vampire Cordy and wicked Witch Amy in particular) (4)
Love-Tragic (Jonathan)
Minority (Jewish)

Skills
Acrobatics 3
Art 5
Computers 7
Crime 1
Doctor 2
Driving 0
Kung Fu 3
Getting Medieval 1
Gun Fu 0
Knowledge 6
Languages 4
Mr. Fix-It 4
Notice 4
Influence 2
Occultism 4
Science 6
Sports 0
Wild Card 0

Combat
Maneuver Bonus Base Damage Notes
Dodge 5 None Defensive Move
Punch 4 4
Stake 3 4

Paradox Phoebe
This is a true Paradox. Phoebe was never supposed to be born in the first place. All of Patty's doctors told her she would never have children again. In fact she was having marriage troubles with Victor (played James Read) and he was not really around enough to conceive another child (he did of course; make-up sex maybe after one of their fights). How was this change brought about? In this case the change came with not replacing Phoebe but replacing her father at the right moment. A Paradox Victor was created (played by Tony Denison) to conceive Paradox Phoebe. This Phoebe had no magic from her mother (thus paving the way for Pru, Piper and Paige to be the Charmed Ones, except Pru was killed before Paige was found).

Paradox Phoebe was then not a witch and was more dedicated to her career in New York. She is more financially secure and mature and thus consider herself to be the serious sister (a role Pru played in the normal continuity). She frequently distanced herself from her mother and sisters, preferring to live with her father. She even went as far as to use her fathers name instead of her mothers like her other sisters. Phoebe Bennett is now a successful writer for a fashion magazine. She continued the martial arts training she had in high school, but only to stay in shape.

Paradox Phoebe is played by Lori Rom and her father Paradox Victor is played by Tony Denison. (as opposed to Allysa Milano and James Read)


Phoebe Bennett

Character Type: Mundane Human
Life Points: 30
Drama Points: 5

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

Qualities
Attractiveness +2
Resources 5

Drawbacks
Addiction (Mild) Smoking
Covetous (Mild) Greed

Skills
Acrobatics 3
Art 1
Computers 1
Crime 0
Doctor 0
Driving 2
Getting Medieval 0
Gun Fu 0
Influence 4
Knowledge 2
Kung Fu 4
Languages 0
Mr. Fix-It 0
Notice 2
Occultism 0
Science 1
Sports 0
Wild Card (Fashion) 4

Combat
Maneuver Bonus Base Damage Notes
Dodge 9 None Defensive Move
Punch 8 4

Links
Faction Paradox.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faction_Paradox

Sisters of Paradox by Robert Black. A great Buffy Season 4 story featuring the return of Sarah Jane Smith! Sarah Jane, K-9 and Anthony Head together would not happen for real till School Reunion in 2006.
Way to go Bob!
www.altfic.com/subtextfic/buffy/robertblack/sistersofparadox1_3.htm

Andrew Peregrine's Charmed RPG (where I based my stats on Phoebe Bennett)
www.peregrine.madasafish.com/charmedrpg/sphoebe.htm

Something Wicca This Way Comes the Charmed Pilot that was re-done after Lori Rom left the show.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Something_Wicca_This_Way_Comes

Welcome to Sunnydale Unaired Buffy Pilot that was re-done after Riff Regan was replaced by Allyson Hannigan.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unaired_Buffy_pilot

Monday, November 23, 2009

RPG Net Discussions; Pirates and Witches

So there are two threads I am currently actively following on RPG.Net.


Normally I don’t air the dirty laundry on other sites, but the issues of these two discussions need a wider audience.

The first is something that I think more people need to know about.

Outlaw Press, known for selling Tunnels and Trolls products, has been stealing art and publishing material they do not own.

It is worth reading for a few reasons. One, to know if anything you have done might be there (though I think all the artists have been identified). Two, as a cautionary tale, if you steal someone else's work you will get caught.

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=483885 but also discussed in my T&T centric places, http://trollbridge.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=1163

The other is a discussion on Princess Lucinda Nightbane from Witch Girls Adventures.

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=484151

That one has to be read to be believed. But I do find it a tad hypocritical that people playing games about their characters killing things and taking their stuff can get so bent out of shape when it is a little girl doing the exact same things.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Selfish Succubus


I picked up a copy of "Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus" last week. Instant Antagonists is a new product line from Flames Rising. Now full disclaimer here, I know Matt McElroy and I am a fan of his site and his work. IF you are a horror gamer you really can't help but be a fan really. Horror news, gaming news, interviews and now products like IA.



What is IA? Well it is actually a very cool idea. They spend a few pages to fully develop a character to use in any system. This is quite a good idea really. Most often you get character stats, but not much in the way of background or story. The IA aims to change that. So how do they do? Well I have the first one here.
Lily Sinclaire is a succubus. Not in the metaphorical sense, but a really honest-to-the-devil succubus and for whatever reason she is out of Hell and here to have a good time. In "Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus" we are introduced to Lily, also known as Lilis, through some fiction and a description. She is beautiful, looks and sounds exotic and has a prehensile tail. Yeah a tail. She has to cut it off every night, but otherwise it is a tail. In what might be a preview of how future Instant Antagonists might be like, we are given descriptions of how she looks, about how smart she might be. WE are also given insight to what they might be like, powerwise, through their systemless system of Mind, Body and Spirit. Things like "she thinks quickly on her feet", or "she knows a lot about ancient history". I found this to be a very effective way to describe the character. So I have an idea of what she might be like in say Tri-Stat or Unisystem, stats wise.
Multiple origins are given for her to help place her in your favorite system better. Or even as rumors about her. Despite the fact that the book is all fluff, there is no waste.
And finally there are story hooks, ways you can pull her into your game. Either as the titular antagonist or as someone the characters are likely to interact with. Though given how detailed Lily is, she likely to be elevated to the level of "Guest Star" and not "Monster of the Week". So all the plot hooks can be used one way or the other.
I think that the idea behind Instant Antagonists is a great one. Often times it is too easy to come up with stats and forget the character they are supposed to represent. Lily is the opposite. By presenting her as a character, sans stats, you are forced to think of her as a character, with background and motivations, first and not a collection of numbers.
So what would Lily look like. Mind you here is the other plus of this. I can make as powerful or as weak as I need her to be. Given this background I see Lily as a fringe player in the supernatural world. Yes she is evil, and yes she will need to be stopped sometime, but her introduction will be one of a succubus, freed from Hell making her way in the world. Like a demonic Mary Tyler Moore.
So let's build a Lily Sinclaire using Ghosts of Albion/Angel. Using the Mind-Body-Spirit guide in the book lets convert her to some stats. Her Mind says she knows a lot about ancient history, can manipulate others, has a lot of occult contacts. Ok, so To me that says a better than average Intelligence, say 3 or maybe 4, but maybe a higher Willpower and Perception. I would give her a higher level in some skills and maybe keep her Intelligence at 3. Body says she is very attractive, so Appearance 3, a good dexterity 3, but maybe only a 2 in strength. She has a high tolerance for drugs and alcohol (party girl) so a 4 in Constitution. Her Spirit supports a higher Willpower and even some obsessions or mental problems. She is a succubus, so she gets some demonic powers too. So where does that leave us? I fill in the rest with my own guesses and what I need her to do.
Name: Lily Sinclaire

Motivation: To get what she wants
Creature Type: Succubus (demon)
Attributes: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Constitution 4, Intelligence 3, Perception 4, Willpower 4
Life Points: 37
Drama Points: 15
Qualities and Drawbacks: Addictions (Sex 2), Adversaries (anyone that knows her true nature), Attractive 2, Contacts (Supernatural 3), Covetous (lecherous 2), Emotional Problems (Cruel 3, Arrogance 2), Hard to Kill 1, Immortal, Innate Magic, Regeneration, Resources (Well off), Secrets (3, many), Supernatural Form (1, has a tail)
Skills: Armed Mayhem 1, Art 2, Athletics 3, Crime 3, Driving/Riding 1, Engineering 1, Fisticuffs 2, Influence 4, Knowledge 5, Languages 4 (English, Latin, Sumerian, Greek), Marksmanship 0, Notice 4, Occultism 4, Physician 1, Science 1.
Maneuvers

Name Score Damage Notes
Dodge +5 Defense action
Grapple +7 Resisted by Dodge
Punch +5 4 Bash


We can also do her up for Witch Girls Adventures using the same guidelines, though I am going to have to guess about her magic and what powers succubi have in this world.
Lily Sinclair, Succubus
Rank: 3
Body: d6 Mind: d6 Senses: d8
Will: d8 Social: d8 Magic: d6
Life Points: 12 Reflex: 9
Resist Magic: 9 Zap Points: 12
Skills: Athletics +2, Basics +2, Dancing +4, Fighting +1, Hear +1, Leader +3, Look +2, Magic Etiquette +2, Mundane Etiquette +3, Mysticism +2, Mythology +4, Streetwise +3
Abilities: Beautiful, Mysterious
Heritage: Demon
Spells: Lily does not know any spells save those magics all Succubi can use.


Looking forward to more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The City Built around a Tarrasque!

There is a really interesting thread about a (D&D) city built around a tarrasque.
http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=261519 and
http://waelfwulf.wordpress.com/

For those that don't know, in D&D the tarrasque is an immortal killing machine related to the dragons.  It's immune to magic and all sorts of things that make it so it just can't be killed.  It's a DM's way of ridding the world of unneeded PCs really.

But this concept is so cool that I feel the need to adopt it.  It would make sense to me, since I have never used the tarrasque in any of my games even when it first appeared in the MM2 for 1st Edition.  Though I have used the Piasa bird, a similar creature from my neck of the woods.

The idea behind this city is they have captured and immobilized it. Now they are feeding off of it's meat and blood which regenerates all the time. There is a corrupting power to this, plus the moral corruption of keeping a live beast chained up while you continously hack bits of it off.  Something we saw in the Torchwood episode Meat.

Plus it is the type fantastical, out of this world crazieness that I love to have in my games.  Cities built on the corpses of dead gods; Elven nations of thousands living in the trees and a city built around a Tarrasque.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eldritch Witchery, Back to Basics

I am returning to work on Eldritch Witchery, my guide to witches and warlocks for the Spellcraft & Swordplay RPG. The idea is simple really; make a witch class for the game. But I want to do this class justice and not just do a retread of the material I have written for other games.


So I am going back to school.


I have been rereading old Dragon and White Dwarf magazines from the 70s to the early 80s to get a proper feel for the game as it was then. What were people talking about and doing in their games. I have also been going over my basic assumptions. Why is a witch needed if we already have Clerics and Wizards? What niche does a witch fill in a Sword and Sorcerery game? For this I am indebted to Jason Vey who has been giving me a crash course in all things Pulp related. Conan (whom I never really read and now understand I know next to nothing about), the works of Robert Howard and how they relate to Lovecraft. Plus I have been thinking a lot about my own influences for D&D. Clark Ashton Smith is a big one for me. I have been rereading all my old D&D books and notes. My first witch character was made in October of 1986, I wrote my first set of rules (20 pages) around her.

What has this done for me?

Well I have a pretty good idea what I want to do and how I want to do it and it is different than say my d20 version of the witch, or even the magic I wrote about in Ghosts of Albion. What does a witch do in the world of Spellcraft & Swordplay. Well the witch is more connected to the primal nature of magic. I hesitate to say “beyond good and evil” but maybe before good and evil. She is like nature. I also want to incorporate a lot of what is old folklore and fairy tales about witches. So these are defiantly more Baba Yaga than Sabrina.

What do Witches Do?

In any game you need to figure out where a character’s niche will be. What is it that the character will do, what can she do and what will she bring to the adventuring party. Where does she fit in this world organically. I also want keep in mind the classical or stereotypical powers of the witch; casting spells, making potions, the evil eye, curses, charms, turning people into animals, flying on brooms, consulting with familiar spirits. The witch then for me needs to provide that air of mystery in a world already full of magic and magical-using characters. She needs to have something special about her, I want the other characters in the group to say, “We need her, she is a witch!”

Hopefully players will say the same thing.

Next time, more on the occult powers of the witch class.

Blackmoor, no more for 4e?

I have blogged about Blackmoor in the past and was very excited to have picked up the 4e version of the Blackmoor book.

Well I have learned from Mystara expert Havard that there may not be any more Blackmoor for 4e.
http://blackmoormystara.blogspot.com/  and http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/11/blackmoor-news.html for the Grognardia viewpoint.

This is a disapointment, but not a suprise really.  I guess this leaves me to do my own thing in my world.  I am planning on keeping the Docrae race (off shoot of halflings) and keeping the unique classes to give the area a very different feel, the Wokan(i) in particular.   It will be interesting to see where CMP goes from here, but I am likely to go backwards with my Blackmoor and hit the orignal books again and build up my Shangri-La like area somewhere north of the Black Ice where even Dragons dare not fly.

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

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 (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

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 (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

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.
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