Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reflections on an Evil Sorcerer

So I'm thinking about the campaign I've been talking about lately, which I think I'll be calling Isabelle of the Black Hills.

So Isabelle's looking for the asshole sorcerer who capture her parents' souls. She's slowly making moves towards the steading of some sorcerer who may or may not be her man.

At the beginning of her last game, I asked her what Mortimer looks like. This is because I was debating giving her a chance to face him that very same session.

Now I'm trying to decide whether the guy on this island isn't someone else entirely.

In response to my first post about this campaign, Nate Lumpkin of the oh-so excellent Swamp of Monsters compared Isabelle to a character out of a Studio Ghibli movie or an Ursula Le Guin story. I haven't read Le Guin, but if the comparison is apt, and judging from the tone of Beyond the Wall and Other Stories, I really should.

Actually, holy shit, maybe I should adapt Isabelle to Beyond the Wall. How did I miss this before? That game is perfect for this.

Anyway, Ghibli. I'm definitely feeling that in the way the kid's playing so far. Her character is frail and avoids combat. She's determined and resourceful. Ok, so maybe she poisoned a pool. I can't make everything honobono or it's less special. Those guys were assholes anyway. But there's something great in the way she's been exploring her friendship with Uzen. There's something rare and special about that. And there's the same kind of beauty, the menace of long and dangerous journey, but also this precious glimmer of hope.

There's a certain type of character in Miyazaki films that I adore. They're antagonists - sometimes they're straight up bad guys - but they get these wonderful moments where you totally get them. They're assholes, but they're human assholes.

The best example I can come up with is Lady Eboshi. Forget Ashitaka; San's boring; Lady Eboshi is without question my favourite character in Princess Mononoke. Yeah, she's tearing the forest apart. Yeah, she's killing nature gods. She's also got a population of hundreds of alienated women, lepers, and incompetent men, all of whom have their own lives and virtues, and all of whom depend on her. She owns that burden and carries it masterfully. She's also a complete and total badass.

There are others, too. In my mind, Spirited Away's Zeniba or No-Face fills this roll. In Ponyo it's Ponyo's father. In Howl's, it's the Witch of the Wastes. They're doing bad things, but they have reasons for doing it, which to them are very important and not necessarily malevolent in nature.

Back to the mystery Sorcerer. He can be an Eboshi.

Uhhhhg she's the best how can I begin to even
Like, rather than just being that jerk Mortimer and blowing some shit up and flying away or whatever Mortimer's favourite escape tactic is, he can be some grumpy old man who's been causing some serious changes around here. He's unbalancing the island, he's calling shots in Gem and leading Olmen into a dangerous and destructive campaign. And Isabelle's getting caught up in all that. But when she meets him, he doesn't have to pull out the blasting spells.

He could invite her to tea.

Maybe he'll put her friends in cages to keep the ambiguity up, he might even use magic to force her into the chair, but he'll sit with her and talk to her and counsel her on her quest. Maybe he'll even teach her a spell or two. And then he'll send her on her way, because he's not her man and none of this has anything to do with her.

Maybe he'll be a woman. He could be Zeniba. I did say, "...or Sorceress."

Every time. This scene makes me cry every. Single. Time.

From a gaming perspective it feels good too. It teaches the kid she can't trust me to lead her in the right direction - that the most obvious path leads to danger, violence, and disappointment. The kindly old Sorceress (okay, yeah, it's a woman now. Decided.) is a consolation prize but she won't always be there either. The kid has to ask questions and look carefully with her own eyes to find Mortimer. She has to get there herself.

God, I love this game.

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