Skum Of The Stars: an RPG Review

For our next post in our RPG month I bring you a review of an interesting little Sci-Fi RPG called Skum of the Stars recently published by Owlman Press.

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The rulebook starts off with a page of background on the universe you’ll be playing in, and as with most things about this game things are kept quite simple yet effective. A huge and ancient inter-stellar empire, awesomely named The Blood Empire, has gone the way of Rome and collapsed, allowing barbarians and criminals to run rampant across the galaxy. This has led to new opportunities of adventure, not for your usual RPG heroes, but instead for pirates, warlords, thieves and other outlaws. The writing in this section really conjures up images of something like Star Wars, except each space-port is as much of a wretched hive of scum and villainy as Mos Eisley. Other than this there is mention of new kingdoms and empires popping up and vanishing regularly, an increasing scarcity of warp-gate technology causing chaos, and the existence of many different humanoid species. As I said, things are kept quite simple in terms of story here, which can be a nice change for a DM hoping to run a wacky Sci-Fi game without having to read a ton of fluff to just get started coming up with their own campaign. There’s just enough here to kick you off and give you the tone of the game. Continue reading “Skum Of The Stars: an RPG Review”

Women of Colour: Geekdom and Some Recent Developments

A little while back I heard someone complaint about the lack of women of colour in the geek industry. I do not remember whether the person in specific (some blogger somewhere) meant this in a specific media or genre. In any case, the comment stuck in my head for a while, and made me actually put an effort into finding women of a non-white background, in my comics and TV series, particularly women of ethnic origins with darker skin – leaving the Asian far east for another occasion. And I don’t know if it was serendipity or fate, but almost as soon as I started, these girls started cropping up. And let me tell you, they are all kickass!

My first point of reference was obvious. Any browncoat would immediately call Zoe into action for that. What more could anyone want than Zoe? Clever, disciplined, reliable, honourable, knows to handle her guns, fights for what is right. She may be a woman of few words, but when she speaks it is to be heard. But, of course, Firefly and Serenity are not the most updated data on the subject. Yet, it didn’t take me long to find an example everywhere I looked. Following the sci-fi train, I soon enough met Dutch: the fearless badass main character of Killjoys. Dutch is no lady, she is a killer, a trained assassin, a renegade princess. Guns (and Johnny) are her best friends. She is bloody-minded, not scared of using any of her charms and skills to get the job done. But she is also fragile, has a lot of baggage and issues. Yet, at the end of the day, Dutch always delivers. Her wild looks remind us that, in an age ruled by fear of terrorism, people from the Middle-East are not just the messed up criminals you see on the news – they can be dystopian saving freedom fighters too; the good guys, or girls in this case. But that was almost an easy find: you all knew about Killjoys presence in ManaBurnt before this right? Well, let’s give you some other examples of non-featured before series:

Continue reading “Women of Colour: Geekdom and Some Recent Developments”

Women in Science & Science Fiction

I’ve been on a big sci-fi rampage lately, and whilst doing some research on gender studies and what have you not, I came across these thoughts I want to share with you guys today. I have always been really happy with the positive and active portrayal of women in sci-fi and fantasy which fall outside your usual girly girl stereotype. Particularly, I like how science fiction has that ability to bring women back into the scientific/technological environment which is not commonly represented in ordinary TV shows, movies, books, comics, and hey even society. I mean you all may not a nurse or a doctor who is a woman, but how many female engineers, chemists, mathematicians have you met in your life? The point is this is still a fairly uncommon site. I remember in the last year or so the BBC has produced several programmes such as “Girls Can Code”, and other documentaries about women in science.

Now, we commonly make this mistake with science fiction where we just assume that because a girl has some involvement with high-tech, cables, cybernetics and what not this makes them more tuned to science, and science is part of themselves, but this is not really the case. In addition, the value of their participation in any scientific or technological activity is usually undermined by their active portrayal as badassess with guns, explosions, or ridiculous combat skills. For example, take the classic Ghost in the Shell: the Major is essentially the coolest hacker in the universe, but who remember that is one of her main character traits after she spends half her life shooting people and commanding her team? Or Ripley. Sent out to space on a mission to find Alien life. Which is the first image that comes to your mind about her, the space suit and nerdy sciency talk or any of the multiple moments of “me-and-my-flame-thrower-are-gonna-say-hi-to-you-pretty-ugly-space-parasite”? Even most people end up forgetting that our beloved Willow was a nerd who Giles took on board for her brainiac skills, particularly science and computer knowledge. So, I have picked a few examples of how the science women do exist in science fiction series, and how their importance to the narrative does not actually come from anything else but the fact that “them girls can maths”:

-Firefly: starting with an obvious one here. We all know how River is the genius, I mean in every single way, shape or form, science included. But River’s character is defined mostly by her trauma and her otherworldliness. The character Joss Whedon gave the power of science was Kayleigh. The sunny,always happy and cheerful member of the Serenity’s crew is the one person in charge of keeping Mal and the rest flying! She is a mechanic, engineer, always covered in grease, with her adorkable dungarees. That is her role, and we are constantly reminded of this. Moreover, Kayleigh’s personality and otherwise very gentle and polite manners almost seem to oppose her job, which many could consider it to be hard labour, not particularly glamorous, and from a traditional point of view “a man’s job”. Well, no. In fact, we know that Mal kicked out the Serenity’s supposed engineer for her due to her amazing knowledge of the ship, and the set of skills required for the task.

-Orphan Black: in case you weren’t aware of the clones, well, now you are. And Cosima is the nerdiest clone, and her importance in the team is purely due to the fact that she is an experimental evolutionary biologist. I do not think Cos grabs a gun in the entirety of the series. Her input is always thanks to the “crazy science”. If the clones did not have Cosima they would struggle to even understand the very nature of what they are, needless to say attempt to fathom half of the things they deal with. From testing blood samples to developing cures, and working out impossible equations, Cosima is a great example of what 21st century society could achieve if more women would get involved in science. And her brilliance comes from her utter and selfless dedication, to the point of even putting herself at risk for the sake of the team. Cosima is that member you wished you had in your DnD party, even though you know she’d never hold a sword.

-Killjoys: you obviously have heard us talking about this here: https://manaburnt.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/killjoys-the-warrant-is-all/

But we hardly talked about my favourite redhead: Dr Illenore Pawter Simms. Yeah she may be an exiled princess, yeah she may have issues, but without her medical knowledge, Pawter would just be like any other nameless secondary character in the background. But no, her way is that of science. Okay, she isn’t Dutch, but she doesn’t have to. The Killjoys need her. Old Town needs her. Whether you need surgery, some drugs or just a generic lecture in biochemistry, that is what makes her Pawter. She is a RAC certified doctor. You need to have a certain degree of skill to get that accreditation. Funny enough, throughout the 2 seasons, every time she has been in danger or in need to save herself by radical means, these have always come from her scientific knowledge: exploding devices, pinching nerves, you named it. She made it look cool and effortless.

-Video Game High School: okay, this may be a bit unexpected, but it did take me by surprise too. If you’re not aware of this series, it is available in YouTube and Netflix (currently). There are 4 main characters in here: Jenny Matrix (the badass FPS girl), Brian (the happy-go-lucky gaming nerd), Ted (the mandatory asian-looking member of the cast who sadly must fulfill a stereotype by being an asian and playing video games, who is just a nice person), and Ki. Now Ki is a very subtle character and often forgotten. She is not hardcore like Matrix, she isn’t any of the guys with their active bromance. She is the nerdy girl who goes out with Ted. But what we forget is that, although Ki is an amazing fighter (as in video game fighting player!), she is in the school not to be a professional player, but because she can code. And she codes pretty and good. This helped creating her as a more logical, calm and mature personality in comparison with the others. That’s her thing. She uses her abilities with computers and technology to help her friends, and uses the same methodological approach to life to get her through her troubles and always come on top of things.

I could carry on, but I must leave it there for today. Of course, these are just mere examples that meant something to me, mostly because they felt real. Sometimes it is difficult to identify with the heroine that just overcomes everything and is a bit of a Mary Sue. Therefore, it is always pleasant to find characters like these, which not only represent a very current issue within our societal structure, but also demonstrate that to be part of the main narrative you don’t need to always come in guns blazing. You can also be relevant, crucial even with some brains and a little experimenting.

Stranger Things – Because You Should

Once again, Netflix has proven that the reason why they are owning the TV industry of ou day an age is because they are able to produce high quality shows that engage with people in a very deep level. The latest hit is the fan favourite, viral hit Stranger Things. You haven’t seen it? You re in this blog, therefore you ought to watch it. It will not let you down. Why? Because Stranger Things is a show for geeks – amongst others who may just suffer from 80s nostalgia.

I did not have Netflix until recently, so I heard about it from my friends collective who really encouraged me to get on to it because: “it is totally your thing”. Well, they were right. But first, let me tell you about some of the ways the show had been described to me, and maybe then you will get why this is cool. “Stranger things is like playing very trippy DnD with your friends, but stuff actually gets real, like , for good, and super quick”. “Just imagine DnD meets Silent Hill, in the 80s”. “I mean, it is Winona Rider”. “Just so many references to absolutely everything, ever”….I am sure you get the picture, right? Well then, in the very best ManaBurnt style, I’ll give you my piece as to why this is a great show and why i liked it -and don’t worry: no spoilers, just in case.

First of all, let me tell you that the acting is SUPERB. There is not a single character in the entire series that is not well delineated and well established from their first appearance. Winona is particularly amazing, and more importantly, credible. The children are seriously relatable: if you play RPGs, you know straight out each of them play their role in the party to the core. Moreover, they actually struggle with real problems everyone can relate to: being bully at school, being misunderstood, ignored, or underestimated…and of course, lets not forget the deep connotations the show throws at you about depriving children from their childhood, child abuse…Violence –  and not just guns or weapons, but the brutal reality of events that can just creep in at any moment of your life, suffering…All these things are very real and well transmitted by the entire cast. Period.

Continue reading “Stranger Things – Because You Should”

Forgetting Dystopian Sci-Fi: Dark Angel & Dollhouse

I have been thinking about how to approach this post for a while. I wanted to write about these two series that I enjoyed thoroughly. Yet when I ask most people about either of them, I usually get the “You what?” look and the conversation ends. For some unknown reason most Sci-Fi fans I know have never heard of them or have shown little interest in having a look for themselves. Why? Well, I am still trying to come to terms with it, but there may be several reasons to this issue.

Starting with Dark Angel – this was Jessica Alba’s big hit on TV. Yet after a couple of seasons the show met the fate that us Sci-Fi fans know all too well: cancelled! How could a show created by James Cameron end up failing so hard? I mean for once FOX seemed really keen on a sci-fi show, the first season was received with a positive mental attitude…So what went wrong? Well, seemingly the fact that FOX changed the show to Friday nights and certain plot developments during the second season lead most viewers to drop completely and forget about Max and her bio/cyberpunk corporate dominated world. So what, people didn’t like that the female lead got her presumed love interest in trouble after breaking out of Manticore and fought hard to expose the evil corp to the world? Perhaps we are far too cynical to appreciate science fiction when fiction becomes too close to reality – I don’t really know. Perhaps the audience rejected Alba’s more proactive role, where her character was prompted to think and react rather than just posed epic for the camera and run around trying to figure stuff out in her bike. Who knows. Maybe I am missing something…In any case, somehow, somewhat a loved and acclaimed series and an audience favourite stopped being so and the fans had to just deal with its legacy. Thankfully there was an arrangement to produce a video game for the Play Station 2 and to publish 3 novels written by Mark Allan Collins to continue exploring the universe Cameron had created. And yet…

Continue reading “Forgetting Dystopian Sci-Fi: Dark Angel & Dollhouse”

Killjoys: “The Warrant is All”

With the recent announcement from SyFy confirming that Killjoys is back for the Summer of 2016, I decided it was time we talked about this series that has really tickled me. My father originally recommended that I watched it when I was visiting home for Xmas. He called it “Firefly’s little sister”. And as a commended browncoat that I am, I decided I needed to test this myself. So I hooked up the TV and…

…A few hours and days later, Killjoys was My Kinda Series.

Now, I won’t ruin it all for you and make spoilers, for the 10 episodes that are out so far are really worth while. So I’ll give you a waltz through, see what you think.

The series follows a team of I guess you can call them space bounty hunters. We meet John and Dutch first, then D’Avin comes along. Dutch is the team leader for this squad of Killjoys that works for the RAC – an independent organisation that takes care of business for whoever will pay, always remaining neutral. Dutch is a badass, practical, strong and decisive woman, with a pretty disturbing past, that accounts for a lot of her amazing assassin like moves and skills. She is a fantastic diplomat too and a con artist when needed. And then we have John. John is awesome, everyone loves John. He is daring, reckless, kind and charming. He is both the pilot, engineer, technician and unlikely daredevil of the team – more often than not. Shortly into the first episode, Dutch and John, get hold of D’Avin who is John’s older brother, and who has been missing for several years. The emotional tensions and family issues will take over most of the relationship between the two brothers, and the team in general. And for that reason, D’Avin must prove himself to Dutch. Dutch and John have bonded almost like siblings, and the space amazon is too protective of her own to just let anyone in. But D’Avin is truly a good guy. He used to be in the military – then things and stuff happened…and he wasn’t in the military anymore! – so he is a great addition to the ranks of the RAC. He is a soldier in every way. A hero, put perhaps a broken one. Continue reading “Killjoys: “The Warrant is All””