Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Karate-Robo Zaborgar

I haven't seen a lot of Japanese cinema, but I am a huge Godzilla fan and have fond memories of watching Johnny Sokko in syndication when I was about 8 years old. I am also a huge comic book fan (an art form I fear may be dying in our computer age.) The success and quality of movies like the Avengers and X-men First Class fill me with hope that comics will persevere.

I have recently begun to explore Japanese movies and anime with new eyes and I am really enjoying what I see. I mentioned in the recent posts about the story-telling game I have been trying to design that I wanted to use an anime inspired setting (at least I think I did.) I think it's because the shows I have been watching have stirred the imagination of my youth like nothing else has in a long time. Case in point: Karate-Robo Zaborgar.

I don't really write reviews of things when I write this kind of thing. I am not sure I understand the proper way to structure and write an objective review. I write about what I like. And I really like: Karate-Robo Zaborgar. I watched this on Netflix, so if you have that service, then you have no reason to wait. Give this movie a quick look. If you can somehow pull yourself away after watching through to the opening credits then your joyful child's heart is buried deeper than mine.

Some very rudimentary research tells me this movie is a spoof of a Japanese child's action TV show from the 70's. One example compared the treatment this show receives to that of the Brady Bunch movie. I think that's probably a fair comparison, and this movie is funny in a "I can't believe what I am seeing" kind of way. Karate-Robo Zaborgar is a ridiculous farce that oozes with such a sense of love and heart that it rises above the sum of its parts into something grand.

When I added the movie to my queue I expected to be treated by something "so bad ... it's good." Karate-Robo Zaborgar was so much worse and so much better than I expected. I am reminded of my friend Jon's one sentence review of "Galaxy Quest" which I believe fits here as well, "Way better than it should have been."

Galaxy Quest might be a better movie to compare Zaborgar to than the Brady Bunch. As a spoof of Star Trek, Galaxy Quest managed to create a heart and spirit all its own, and it succeeds as an action comedy that transcends the material inspiring it. I have said more than once that, "Galaxy Quest is my favorite Star Trek movie." So, too: Karate-Robo Zaborgar may be my favorite Japanese superhero robot movie. (Not that I have seen a lot, besides Johnny Sokko, only "Infra-man" comes to mind, and I believe that is also a spoof and a Chinese one at that, not Japanese at all.)

If you have Netflix (or I think Amazon Prime) give Karate-Robo Zaborgar a look. It provided me with the most fun I've had watching a movie since the Avengers (a comparison that if you know me, is no small amount of praise.) I plan to seek the movie out on Blu-Ray and make it a permanent part of my personal collection.


Jeff Moore

Saturday, January 12, 2013

More on GM-less RPG stuff

I have been reading a number of example RPGs that work without a GM, and for the most part I am afraid that I am under whelmed. There are a few ideas out there that have caught my attention but for the most part I am still floundering. Here is what I am thinking:

The dealer deals 3 cards to each "Player" then turns a card face up in front of himself. This is a random seed generator. It's meaning will be based on where the players are in the story. If it's the first scene of the night then the first table is used ... this table (of 52 possible outcomes) sets the initial scene.

The dealer reads the scene and then asks each player to add a detail to the scene.

The dealer then turns over a second card. This is a complication. The dealer presents the players with this complication.

The non-dealer players react to the complication by playing cards from their hands.

The cards represent things their "characters" are able to do.

Each player plays a card face up in front of them.

The referee starts with the player who played the card with the highest face value and moves through to the player who plays the card with the lowest face value.

The dealer asks ... "What do you do?"

(If values are the same, refer to the card's suit.

A suit whose name appears 'later' in the alphabet is of a higher value than a suit with a name that appears alphabetically before it.

For example: clubs appears first alphabetically and has the lowest value, diamonds appears next and is of lower value than hearts, and spades has the highest value.)

On a players turn:

A card's suit tells the player which aspect they should role-play.

If the card value is lower than the score on their character sheet for that aspect, they should describe a successful application of the aspect.

If the score on their character sheet is higher than the value of the card played for the aspect being described, then they need to describe a failed application of the aspect.

If the card value and the score on the character sheet are equal, the player should describe some spectacular failure related to the use of the aspect, unless this is the resolution round in which case the player should describe some spectacular success related to the use of the aspect.

It's important to note that everyone describes their own successes's and failures.

Note that since high cards resolve first, generally failures resolve before successes.

The dealer has an opportunity to respond to the descriptions made by each player. It is the dealer's job to make sure the scene isn't 'killed' by a specific player description and that the scene keeps moving around the table.

In extreme circumstances if a description seems to make continuing a scene impossible the dealer can ask a player to modify their description or create and entirely new one.

Finally, the dealer places another random card in front of him that can be referenced on a random table, this represents a complication or escalation.

The dealer can describe actions for his own character, but the dealer's character should take a back seat to the other players while the dealer is in control.

The dealer's focus should be on maintaining the conflict and complications of the scene, to keep things moving and stitch descriptions together when needed.

After the escalation the dealer plays a final card, this is the resolution card. It demonstrates some boost for the players that sets them on their way to victory.

Now each player plays their final card. The referee responds to the players descriptions. The ultimate goal here is to work together to bring the scene to a climactic resolution.

These are the ideas that I am struggling with.

Let me know what you think.


Friday, January 04, 2013

Spit-balling my next RPG project.

I play D&D every week with some friends. I DM; that's my job. It's a good time, but I do find myself yearning for a new kind of experience every so often.

I have two roommates. My girlfriend, Mendi and my friend Michael. Michael has suggested we play a tabletop RPG with just the three of us where we can share the DMing chores between us in a round-robin sort of way so that I can get to play the character I want to play.

We talked about using D&D (third edition, this is the game Michael likes) and just taking turns as DM. The problem here is Mendi likes to play, and might even be willing to DM provided she could do so without too much preparation or time spent with the rules.

Mendi is a player who wants to sit down and play. She wants the immediately relevant information available to her in the moment of play where it is required, but she does not want to think about, read, or process game rules or information outside of what is necessary during the act of actually playing the game.

She wants to play. She doesn't want to read rules or think about game balance, or building encounters, or anything outside of what she perceives as the act of "playing." And she is not alone. Many players just want to sit down, roll some dice, have some fun ... and then go home and forget the whole thing until the next time we play.

There is nothing wrong with this, but to DM a player needs to be able to invest more. Given this, I have decided that a "round robin DM" D&D game isn't going to work out. I need a game that can be played without a DM, GM or Referee.

I have been searching for ideas on GM-less story telling fantasy adventure games. THE game that I am looking for may have already been written. If it's out there, please share it with me. I want to know about it. In the meantime, I have been thinking ...

The classic Hero Quest by Milton Bradley or Soda Pop Game's: Super Dungeon Explore are dungeon crawl board games. These exist to emulate the war-gaming style of the first RPG's while creating an experience more accessible to casual gamers. That's kind of what I want to do ... But these games aren't role-playing games.

I want to role-play. I want to combine role-playing and game playing in a format that is accessible to casual gamers. I want role-play that works without a GM, where the narrative voice can be shared by all players without prior preparation or diminishing the fun or flow of the game.

In trying to keep the GAME in RPG, but lose the board game / war game influence, I am thinking of making this RPG a card game. I know this has been done before, but I am not sure to what extent. I do not want to use cards as a substitute for dice. I do not want to emulate war-game battles. I do not want miniatures or those kinds of trappings that are common to war game inspired RPG's.

Instead, I want card game trappings. Each player will hold cards in their hand. A 'hand' will be dealt and played. Like in poker stakes will be set, the hand will be played out, then the player to the left will become the dealer.

I see the dealer as holding some manner of narrative control and this moving with the deal as each hand is played. I see a game where cards are played as a scene unfolds and each scene completes as each hand is finished.

I don't know yet how all of this is going to work ... But here are some thoughts:

I have been really into Japanese Anime of late, especially those anime stories about high-school students and their various antics. (I loved 'School Rumble', and 'Rosario + Vampire' for example) I want to start here. This will give the system a foundation and anime is versatile enough that once everything has been said and done, playing in other genres should be possible with little trouble.

So, starting there I have decided that characters are defined by RESOURCES. These resources provide the tools a character can use to complete a task. There are four Resources.

SPADES: a spade is a tool used in gardening. As a resource this represents 'skill use' for the character.

HEARTS: the heart is classically associated with love and passion. As a resource this represents 'emotional drive' for the character.

DIAMONDS: diamonds are a sign of wealth. As a resource this represents 'material possessions' for the character.

CLUBS: a common aspect of Japanese school-age anime is the participation in extra-curricular activities in the form of clubs. As a resource this represents 'social contacts' for the character.


Imagine that a player wants their character to do well on a math test.

Perhaps the character has studied very hard. This may represent the use of their SPADES resource.

Perhaps the character has a crush on their teacher and wants to do well on the test to impress their sensei. This may represent the use of the HEARTS resource.

Perhaps the character means to purchase a fancy scientific calculator to help them to do well on the test. This may represent use of the DIAMONDS resource.

Maybe the character has convinced a friend to let them look at their answers during the test and copy from their paper. This may represent use of the CLUBS resource.

Not sure yet what all of this will really look like during play. But this is what I have bouncing in my head. I am open to suggestions and ideas.


Jeff Moore

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