Evil Thrives on Silence

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.
Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence University in New York, 1963.

Just yesterday, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since hearing the news, his words have been dancing around in my head, demanding attention. I was never a big Dylan fan when I was younger. I didn’t like his voice, felt his guitar playing was… adequate… and put my attention to musicians who were more devoted to playing in strange time signatures.

(Yes, I’m a Rush fan.)

But as I got older, I started appreciating his work more. Especially his poetry. Describing what makes Dylan’s words so special is not an easy task. The subtlety and nuance, the pure poetry of his lyrics… See, Rush fans are typically musicians because musicians can hear the complexity and nuance and poetry of the music. As a drummer, I could listen to Neil Peart play the skins all day long. Sure, watching him bang away with speed and accuracy is one thing, but knowing exactly what he’s doing, and then watching him do it… as a drummer, it’s simply amazing.

Now, a it turns out, I had to become a better writer to hear what Dylan was doing with words.

I was a Lovecraft fan when I was younger. Well, I still am, but less so now. Lovecraft’s prose was… well, let’s just say you don’t become a Lovecraft fan because of his prose. You become a Lovecraft fan because of his ideas. I had to put some on some miles—and read different writers—before I started gaining an appreciation for what Dylan was doing. But once I got it… I got it.

My favorite Dylan song always chokes me up. A play on the Lord Randall ballad, a mother sees her son who left home long ago, returning to the place of his birth. She asks, “Where have you been, my son?” and the balladeer answers, describing the places he’s seen since he left.

In Dylan’s version, the places he describes are nothing short of nightmares. Dark, miserable descriptions of the 1960’s. Awful places I’d never want to be or see or even think about.

I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it

I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it

I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’

Listening to the lyrics now, reminded that he wrote them in 1961, describing the things he’d seen and putting them down on the page. Seven years before I was born. But I look around now, and I see the same things he saw. The world hasn’t really changed all that much. Yes, the internet is here, and cops are still shooting black men face-down on the street. Yes, we can travel all the way around the world, and in this year’s election, we have to choose between the lesser of who cares. (Thank you Aaron Sorkin.) We eradicated Polio, only to have it show up again because people would rather listen to ex-Playboy bunnies than doctors. No, the world hasn’t changed all that much.

And, at the end, the mother asks her prodigal child, “What will you do now?” And the answer he gives is the part I choke up. Always.

After all the horror he’s seen, he hasn’t given up hope. Instead, he will go back into those awful places, singing the songs of hope he brought with him.

And I’ll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it

And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it

And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’

But I’ll know my song well before I start singing

Many of my friends tell me today’s political climate has murdered their hope. Looking at the world today does not fill my heart with despair. It reminds me that I’m not singing that song of hope loud enough. Others need to hear it. In the shadowy places where “none is the number,” they need to hear it. The hard rain that’s coming will wash all of the filth and heartbreak and hatred and scum away. It’s coming. You’ve got to believe me, it’s coming.

Evil thrives on silence. That’s why we cannot be silent. Speak. Shout. And sing. For all you’re worth, stand on the rooftop, stand on the mountain, stand in the gutter… and sing.

UnReview: Luke Cage

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I just finished watching the first four episodes of Luke Cage and after the first, I came to a realization.

I could not write this show.

The other two Marvel shows, I could have taken a swing at. I could write about Daredevil, I could have written about Jessica Jones. Whether or not the shows would have increased or decreased in quality isn’t the issue. I could have taken a swing at those shows and written with some skill.

I watched the first fifty minutes of Luke Cage and knew I wouldn’t have stood a chance at making something this awesome. Not only that, I would have been lost in the woods.

Back in the ‘90’s, Spike Lee took a lot of heat for saying a white man couldn’t direct a movie about Malcolm X. I understood what he meant at the time. My 10th grade Civics teacher was a black man. We were in Georgia. He had a picture of King and Malcolm on the wall. I knew who King was, but I had no idea who Malcolm was. So, he gave me a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography on a Friday. I read it all weekend. Stayed up at night. I burned through it like a Stephen King novel. I returned it on the following Monday. He was surprised I read it that fast and even suggested I hadn’t read it and gave me a small verbal quiz. Then, he asked me what I thought.

I told him, “I understand why you don’t trust white people.” Then, I said, “In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t trust white people anymore.”

So, when Spike Lee said a white man couldn’t make a Malcolm X movie, I understood what he meant. The same goes for Luke Cage.

Sure, I could write a Luke Cage script, but it would not have the nuance or substance this show has. It wouldn’t have the same dialogue, the same nuance. I would have never thought to put the Notorious B.I.G. on Cottonmouth’s wall. I couldn’t write the basketball dialogue. I wouldn’t know the black authors and poets to invoke. In short, I would have made the script white. And Luke Cage isn’t white.

I love this show. I can’t express how much I love it. I spent five years in Georgia, and for three of those years, I was steeped in black culture. That’s because I was a kid from the North. The white kids literally tortured me. For the latter part of my life in Georgia, most of my friends were black. The black kids didn’t trust me at first, but I earned that trust. Even still, that was a long time ago and I was still an outsider. But I learned blues and jazz from men and women who played and sang. I learned how to tell stories from an 80-year-old black man, sitting on a back porch, drinking sweet tea. But I was still an outsider.

Watching Luke Cage reminds me the world is a lot bigger than I see. Luke’s Harlem may as well be on the other side of the world. The language is different. The culture is different. If I stepped into Luke’s world, I’d be stumbling around helplessly trying to figure things out.

But the people are people. They care about family and friendship. They care about keeping your word. They love good food, good music and good sex. And…

… hey, let’s stop for a moment and talk about how amazing the music is on this show? Marvel, can I haz soundtrack, please? Please?!?!?

Luke Cage is a hero. A different kind of hero who lives in a different kind of world. It’s a world that I’ve seen as an outsider, but I could never write with the degree of authenticity and urgency this show has. If I wrote Luke Cage, it would be his story through the eyes of a white man. And that would be a goddamn shame.

Oops. Swear jar. Sorry Pops.

My Wonder Woman

EXT. DAY – TWO DAYS AFTER DIANA’S FIRST APPEARANCE AS WW IN NY

PANEL ONE

JESSIE WILKINS, a professional ambush reporter, approaches DIANA after she stops a bank robbery. He rushes up, putting the microphone directly in her face. DIANA looks confused.

WILKINS
Wonder Woman! Can you answer a few questions for me! Why are you dressed this way? Do you think it’s a good example for young girls?

DIANA
Excuse me?

PANEL TWO

WILKINS pushes closer, pressing on the advantage of confusion.

WILKINS
Do you think you’re a good example for young girls running around dressed in your underwear?

PANEL THREE

Close up of DIANA as glares at WILKINS, not saying a word.

PANEL FOUR

Same shot. DIANA responds.

DIANA
Where I come from, we celebrate the human body as beautiful and we do not shame our children into believing they must cover themselves.

WILKINS
So you…

DIANA
On your way to speak to me, you rushed by a man sitting on the corner with a sign that says, “Will work for food.” And you did it without any pause or hesitation.

PANEL FIVE

WILKINS
So you believe you are a positive influence—

DIANA
That is a man who is literally begging for the right to live. Begging for the right to survive another day. And you did it without thinking. Because you have seen it a thousand times a day and it means nothing to you. A man who is literally begging for the right to live. And you are not disgusted by it. Or disgraced by it. Or dishonored by it.

PANEL SIX

DIANA begins flying away, holding the homeless man. WILKINS holding up the microphone. She looks down at him.

WILKINS
—a positive influence on young girls?

DIANA
And yet you persist. You are a pathetic creature. Go home and apologize to your mother that you have dishonored her so miserably. She deserves better than the likes of you.

 

UnReview: Suicide Squad

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A desperate plea to all screenwriters. Please stop trying to destroy the Earth. Or, if you’re gonna do it, have some guts and actually do it.

I have a notion for a Star Trek campaign for my friends. They’re Federation cops on the fringe of Federation space handling smugglers, renegade Klingon captains and other miscreants. Their ship is small (a command crew of five with a squad of marines) but heavily armored and armed. Yes, they try to use diplomacy, but their job sometimes calls for a little firepower.

They stumble on a shapeshifter plot to destroy Earth and cripple the Federation. They capture one of the conspirators and with the help of a Vulcan mind meld, they discover the details of the plot. They send the information back to Earth—they’re on the fringe remember?—and start heading back to help and drop off their shapeshifter buddy.

Then, the Earth blows up.

All Federation computers go down. All starships have to be manually rebooted and are helpless while doing so. Sixty minutes of emergency life support and nothing else.

The shapeshifters invade with the Romulan Empire.

The Klingon Empire divides into two factions: those who want to help their allies and those who are ready to exact revenge.

The Vulcans look at the situation and come to the only logical conclusion to save their species: they surrender.

Everything’s fucked. Every. Thing. Is. Fucked.

And our little police ship—with a crew of five, some marines and a shapeshifter in the brig—are on their own.

If you’re gonna blow up the world, have the guts to blow up the fucking world.

So. We were talking about Suicide Squad...

My friend Rob Justice (www.robjustice.net) ran a Suicide Squad game for our online group last year. I had a blast. We all had a blast. Rob understood the comic is about consequences and choices. The characters not only pay for the consequences of their past lives, but pay for the consequences of their choices in the Squad. Folks die. A lot of folks die. Our first mission had us waking up in mid-drop, plummeting toward the ground. We all pulled our parachutes… and Kraven the Hunter’s shoot didn’t open. He went splat.

Was that intentional? Was it an accident? Was it a message? We didn’t know and our boss wasn’t telling.

That’s how our game started.

My favorite session involved Amanda Waller ordering us to find and kill The Batman. We spent four hours talking about it. How we would do it, if we should do it, if we should just run. I asked Waller, “Can I have a suitcase nuke?” She said, “Yes.” And gave it to me.

Shit got real after that.

But the game was always about the consequences of our choices. The World’s Greatest Thief, the World’s Greatest Assassin, the World’s Greatest Mastermind and the World’s Greatest Imposter. Others died around us, and we knew we could die at any moment. And our choices mattered. Our choices got other folks killed. And maimed. And splatted.

Because that, my friends, is what Suicide Squad is about: choices and consequences. Everything else is bells and whistles.

And so, when the movie came out, with all of us in one place at Gen Con, we conspired to see it together. A little drunk. Well, the world conspired against us and that didn’t happen, so I saw it myself this morning.

I really liked the beginning. I liked the style of it. Liked the introduction of Deadshot and Harley Quinn. The others… eh. Oh, except for Diablo. I loved Diablo. But more on that later.

I love “gathering the team.” And that’s exactly what the first act of this film was. The director made it fun, the actors made it interesting and I was thinking, “Why do people hate this movie so much.”

Then, the second act started. And I wished I was doing anything else. Such as laundry.

You see, the plot has our anti-heroes going after a villain who wants to destroy the world. Is she going to succeed?

NO. OF COURSE NOT. ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID????

Of course she’s not going to succeed because that would mean the end of the DC Cinematic Universe. And because this is Warner Brothers, they’re not going to do anything remotely that interesting or daring or challenging.

Instead, we make sure to get plenty of shots of Harley’s ass. Make sure she bends over, boys. As often as you fucking can.

 

Now, let me stop right there for a quick aside. Because I have something to say about Margot Robbie. She saved this fucking movie for me. Her performance sold me. She knows the Harley Quinn character. She’s perfect for the role. This is despite all the bullshit dialogue they throw at her, despite all the cheesecake shots, despite all the… well, despite the film itself doing its best to bury her performance.

And Will Smith delivers. He gets an opportunity to play a real bad ass. And he milks it for all he’s worth. I don’t know for certain—in fact, I’m just guessing—but I believe his best lines were written by him or improvised on the spot. Will Smith’s Deadshot is a real motherfucker and I like him. Despite the fact the film does its best to bury his performance.

And let’s talk for a moment about Jay Hernandez in the role of Diablo. Goddamn, I loved him. I loved this character. I bought it. There’s a bit at the very end that made me stand up and cheer. Granted, I was in a mostly empty theater, but I did it anyway. My buddy Mark Diaz Truman needs to see this movie for Hernandez’s performance. I’m telling him that as soon as I get done here.

 

So, anyway, back to the whole blowing up the world bit. The second act begins with the Squad crash landing on the outside of the city where all this shit’s going on and they have to hoof it to the huge beam of light flashing into the sky to stop Zul from opening the…

… yeah. It’s the plot from the first Ghostbusters. Fucking hell.

So, like Frodo and Sam, they walk to the fucking big beam of flashing light. And that’s when the plot grinds to a dead halt. We get a fight scene we know they’re gonna win because they have to get to the big beam of light. And they have another fight scene we know they’re gonna win because they have to get to the big beam of light. And Harley has a solo fight scene so we can prove she’s a real bad ass in high heels and a thong and we know she’s gonna win because…

… you get the point.

Everything that happens after the crash landing bored me to fucking tears because I know where all this is going. We’re gonna get to the big beam of light, they’re gonna fight the villain, they’re gonna win. And maybe—just maybe—some of them are gonna die.

Deadshot? Not a chance.

Harley Quinn? Not a chance.

Killer Croc? He has maybe two lines of dialogue, so I don’t give fuck all about him.

Captain Boomer—

… sorry. I had to stop myself from crying/laughing. Captain Fucking Boomerang.

In other words, you know exactly who’s disposable and who isn’t. Unfortunately, they kill off the most interesting non-disposable character—if you’re paying attention, you know who that is—which also made me wish I was doing anything else.

Because I know how this all ends. The Squad beats the villain, saves the world and goes right back to their cells. I’m not intrigued. I’m pretty fucking far from intrigued. And when you kill my favorite character… yeah, you can fuck right the hell off.

I really liked the first act. I liked it a lot. But the movie misses the entire point of the comic.

Choices and consequences. They don’t matter in this universe. We’ve seen that in the Zack Snyder movies. Choices and consequences don’t matter.

In Suicide Squad, they’re the only things that do matter. Except in this film.

In this film, the only thing that matters is walking to the inevitable ending.

 

 

 

BATMAN v (supersomeguymaybe) PLUS WONDER OMG WOMAN

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Before I begin, I feel the need to reintroduce my concept of an “unreview.”

I write reviews using e-prime, a linguistical tool that excludes all uses of the verb “to be.” In other words, I can’t say “the movie is bad” or “the plot is confusing” or anything like that. I put this limitation on myself because I feel most reviewers would be out of a job if they couldn’t utilize that language. Instead of telling you whether or not the movie is good or bad, I just talk about my own reactions to it. My own highly subjective reactions that you evaluate on your own. Using e-prime also assists a writer in getting rid of a pesky little habit known as “passive voice.” If you want to learn how to write, I suggest you try it sometime.

Also, in reference to reviewers of any kind, I highly suggest you remain skeptical of anyone who makes a living criticizing the creative accomplishments of others.

Oh, and I’m including spoilers. Just so you know.

 

 

Now, in other mediums (cough-cough-Facebook-cough) I expressed some doubts about Zach Snyder directing a second Superman film. In fact, I think I expressed doubts on whether or not anyone should allow Zach Snyder to direct any movie ever again. However, I decided to check out this latest my adoration for Superman demanded I check out this film.

I liked Gal Gadot. She looks right, sounds right, moves right. My friend Mike said that when he first saw her—the way she moved, the slinky red dress, the way she was flirting with Bruce—that he thought she was Selina Kyle. I could see that. My (very healthy) preoccupation with Wonder Woman means I could not make that mistake, but after some reflection, I could see why he would. And I liked the way she looked in the costume. Although, I couldn’t parse out why she wanted her picture back. Because she didn’t want a picture, she wanted a digital copy of a picture which… well, I didn’t understand that part. Maybe because I was distracted by the fact every outfit she wore directed by eyes to about three inches below her shoulders. Not that I’m complaining! I like her shoulders very much.

I thought this Bruce Wayne was the most comic book Bruce Wayne we’ve seen yet. What I mean by that is, this whole movie felt like a Batman comic. Out of all the Bruce Waynes I’ve seen on the screen, I like Ben Affleck’s the best. I like the news about him getting to write and direct his own Batman movie. I think I will like that one more than this one. Although, I have to say, if we’re going with a Batman who kills people—and he kills a lot of people in this movie—I can’t think of a reason why the Joker is still alive in the DC Cinematic Universe. A Batman with such a casual attitude toward murder would not allow the Joker to take ten more steps. Harley Quinn, neither. In fact, half the cast of Suicide Squad should be in the ground. Batman murders gangsters without blinking an eyelash, he sure as shit ain’t lettin’ the Joker walk away. He’d take one look at that crazy sumbitch and PLLLLTHTHTHTH no more Joker. Which also made me wonder why Lex Luther was alive at the end of all this. Batman killed his cronies, why didn’t he kill Lex? Hm. Questions to ponder.

I felt the initial scene of Wayne in Gotham should have started the film. I’ve seen Batman’s folks killed a thousand times already, I don’t need to see it in Zach Snyder Slow Motion (TM). In fact, those moments really took my breath away, that shot of everyone running away from the wreckage and ruin and Wayne running toward it? That moment communicated more to me about who this Bruce Wayne is than anything else in the movie. I like this Bruce Wayne. Which made all the moments after that one really difficult for me to watch.

I didn’t like Batman and Superman threatening to kill each other. Not at all.

And I don’t like being ahead of the detective. For those of you who don’t read mysteries, “being ahead of the detective” is when you feel like you’ve figured out the mystery before the protagonist does. In this movie, I know from the first second of the film that Superman is a hero (e-prime protocol break there; my apologies). I know this, but Batman does not. Which means throughout the entire film, I’m ahead of Batman. I’m smarter than Batman. And it isn’t until the very end of the film that Batman catches up to the audience. I didn’t like that. Not one bit.

As for other stuff I liked…

Um…

Uh…

Yeah.

Gal Gadot looked fantastic. I understand Snyder isn’t directing the Wonder Woman movie. I’m glad about that.

And if I have to suffer through this movie to get an Affleck Batman… after seeing Gone Baby GoneThe Town and Argo, I’m good with that.

Rulings, Not Rules

(from the forthcoming 7th Sea: Second Edition Game Master chapter)

People always ask me how I feel about hearing GMs change the rules of games I’ve published. I always say the same thing: “Great! I’d love to see what they came up with.” That answer tends to confuse people, so then I often have to explain that I see RPGs as a kind of oral tradition. You can go to different cities, sit down at different game tables and play different versions of 7th Sea. To me, that’s exciting. And it was hard for me to explain why… until recently.

A few months ago, I read an article online called “How I helped to pull the rope that tolled the bell for OD&D.” (You can read it here.)

The article stunned me. In summation, the author—a kindly gentleman named Tim Kask—talks about the earliest days of Dungeons & Dragons, and how the rulebook wasn’t a rulebook at all, but a list of example rulings. The difference, he argued, was that rulings gave the Dungeon Master freedom to improvise creatively while rules limited the DM’s ability to run the game. He lamented that later editions went to the side of rules vs rulings and the game has suffered ever since.

Like I said, the article stunned me. (I could talk about it for hours, really. And have.) And it also got me thinking about how I run my own table. Many times, if I can’t think of a specific rule, I make something up on the spot. A quick ruling that’s fair, but also fast. I make the promise, “After the game, I’ll look up the rule,” and I do and try to keep it in my head for the next time. But, generally, if I can’t think of a rule, I ask for a quick roll of the dice. If the player has an Advantage that would benefit him, I let him use it. Sometimes, I even ignore an existing rule and create a new one that better fits the circumstance.

That’s how I want you to look at these rules. These are the rulings we’ve come up with, that we’ve found fair and useful. Sometimes, they’ll get in the way and a quick roll of the dice may be a better solution. Sometimes, the rules we’ve given you will fit like a glove and add to the fun.

The end result of all this navel-gazing is a simple piece of advice. When it comes time to run the game, you don’t need to have all 300 pages memorized. Just stick to the basics:

  1. You Create a Scene.
  2. Players Create Raises.
  3. Players use Raises to change the Scene.

That’s really all you need. Those are the only rules. All the rest is rulings. Suggestions we found useful. You may not find them useful. You may ditch one in a moment of forgetfulness or panic or dramatic necessity.

That’s okay. Nobody’s sending the 7th Sea Rules Enforcement Force to your door to make sure you get everything right.

Improvise. Have fun. And remember: it’s a storytelling game. And these are your friends. More importantly, this is your game. You bought it. You can change whatever you want in it, including the rules. Sometimes, especially the rules.

7th Sea Quickstart FAQ v2

After consulting with Mike Curry, here are answers to your questions.

Can you please clarify how Wounds now work as a Consequence? The explanation seems clear in the rules, and the adventure Risk box seems to have been adjusted to reflect Wounds as a group consequence, but then the walk through of how the risk works immediately after is confusing because it references the Hero taking two wounds if they haven’t spent raises.

The walkthrough is an artifact of the earlier version of the Quick Start. Use the explanation in the rules portion.

Also, under taking wounds for another hero, it says a hero who wants to take wounds for someone else must have spent a raise. Does that mean must have spent a raise in the Risk to show that they were a part of it, or must have spent a raise specifically to allow them to take those wounds, or must spend a raise to take each wound as it had been previously? (The last option isn’t economical)

If you want to take Wounds for another Hero, you spend one Raise. You can take any number of Wounds that Hero would have taken. You don’t spend 1 Raise per Wound (that’d be silly, as you should then just use your Raise to cancel the Wounds as a Consequence instead) but your Raise otherwise doesn’t do anything. Effectively, you spend a Raise and say “I’ll shield the Prince with my body.”

Would you ever require players to spend more than once raise to accomplish their intent if it’s particularly difficult?

Probably not. Use the Danger Point rule for increasing the cost of Raises, rather than requiring additional Raises to be spent for Intent.

During an action sequence when a player has already completed his intent (and ignored or resisted the consequences), what does he do with any remaining raises? If he had a bounty of raises, can he complete another intent? He can create opportunities for other players, which seem kind of like intents. If he knocks the gun out of the guards hand (as in your example), can he also pick it up, or must that be another PC?

He does whatever he wants with his Raises, within the context of the Scene. If it makes sense to you, as the GM, for them to be able to accomplish another Intent, that’s your call. My advice would be that as long as it makes sense, a player can spend a Raise to do it.

As for your question about Opportunities, it would need to be another PC. You can’t create an Opportunity for yourself. Think about them sort of like a “combo move.” You don’t need to spend a Raise to knock the gun out of the guard’s hand, then another Raise to pick it up. You just spend a Raise and say “I take the guard’s gun away from him.” An Opportunity is if you want to give the gun to another PC who couldn’t get it on their own—for example, if the guard is out of their reach because they’re locked inside a jail cell.

A PC can never achieve another PC’s intent. When a group tries to escape a burning building, and one PC #1 fails to generate any raises, what do you say to PC #2 who wants to use extra raises to carry out PC #1?

I would probably let them spend a Raise to carry them out, but I’d saddle PC #1 with some pretty hefty drawbacks for failing to make their Intent. Maybe they’re Helpless for a scene, or they drop something as they’re being carried out and their friend doesn’t notice it. PC #2 should not be penalized for helping their friend, but PC #1 should pay a price for not making Intent.

In the QS on page 7 under “Wounds as Consequences” you say that the consequences are resisted as a group and any remaining wounds hit all players at the end of the round. On page 10 under “Using Multiple Raises For a Single Action” you say that have to commit any raises to resisting a consequence as a single action, and afterwards can’t negate any more wounds. I’m having trouble reconciling those two passages. Could you clarify?

Basically, this means that if you want to Do A Thing, you need to decide how many Raises you want to devote to it at the time. You can’t spend 1 Raise to reduce a Wound Consequence by 1… and then do it again on your next Action, and again on your next Action, and again on your next Action. You have one Action that you can use to reduce a particular Consequence, and you can spend as many Raises as you want on that Action, but you can’t piece them out one by one.

If there are multiple Consequences, they are addressed with individual Actions. For example, if the ceiling is going to collapse (5 Wounds) and a bomb is about to explode (10 Wounds) you can take separate Actions to devote Raises to each. But you can’t spend 1 Raise to reduce the bomb Consequence, then on your next Action spend an additional Raise to reduce the bomb Consequence, then again, and again. You say “I’m going to deal with the bomb. I’ll spend 3 Raises.” Then on your next Action, you say “I’m going to deal with the collapsing roof. I’ll spend 2 Raises.”

Imagine I have 2 resolve and find myself on three wounds. I take three more wounds. Which of the following situations is true: A. I fill up the next three available boxes, including the starburst dramatic wound box, leaving me with one box of the second track filled. B. As soon as the fourth and final box in the first track is filled, I also fill the dramatic wound box. The remaining two wounds are applied to the next track. C. Taking the fourth wound triggers the dramatic wound, and all other wounds from that source are ignored. D. Filling the dramatic wound with the second wound applied stops any more damage from being applied from that source.

If I understand your question correctly, A is true.

When Villains use influence to “buy” things (Like other villains etc.) is that influence “tied up” in the process? Or is is spent and lost forever? E.x. If I have my BBEG buy a strength 5 villain for 2 influence points. Does he loose those 2 points from his influence score? Or, does he still have those points – but they’re just “tied up” in the villain so they aren’t available to be used for anything else? If they are “tied up” what happens if the players kill the hireling? Are the points then lost? Or does the villain then get to reinvest those points?

That Influence is effectively “invested” in his new hireling. If his hireling is lost (the heroes defeat and exile him, throw him in prison, convince him to turn against his boss, etc) then the Influence spent on him is lost. If the hireling returns to his boss after a failed mission and his boss executes him for incompetence (as is all-too-common with Villains whose underlings fail them), he gets his Influence back. Basically, hirelings are Influence piggybanks.

What determines whether a “scheme” is successful? I get it if the players directly oppose a scheme—but I think the idea seems to be that the players might know about the schemes, but won’t necessarily be able to stop them all. Do unopposed schemes automatically succeed? Is there a roll that the villain needs to make behind the scenes?

A scheme is successful if the Heroes don’t stop it. After all, you’re the HEROES. If you don’t stop the Villain… who will?

Finally – how would you handle the players “finding out” about the schemes?

The same ways you handle them finding out about plots from any other RPG. Informants, gossip at local watering holes, secret letters that they intercept, an underling having a crisis of conscience. As Areo Hotah said, “Someone talked. Someone always talks.”

Special Brute Squads. Is there any way to counter the theft or kidnapping effects that certain special brute squads have. Such as the ‘Thieves’ and ‘Pirates’. Say a group of Hero’s are trying to protect something/someone or if they want to prevent the action can they spend a raise? Or would they have to spend a Hero Point? Or does it just happen?

In general, it just happens. It’s important to remember, however, that as the GM you should be using these things to further the story rather than annoy or punish your players. If you have the thieves steal a player’s sword, the one he inherited from his grandfather, it should be because you plan to have him go get it back.

Can I swim with Athletics, Profession (pearl diver) or Sailing?

Yes, yes (probably), and yes.

Can the Consequences come by packs of Wounds? E.g. Falling to a river “2 damage from the fall”, “5 damage by pirannas”

I don’t see why not. 🙂

Villainous influence: does influence spent on sending henchmen (lesser villains and brutes), producing betrayals and getting data for villain’s Scheme count as influence invested in a scheme?

No. A Villain invests Influence to launch a Scheme, and then sends his underlings to make sure that Scheme succeeds.

You’ve mentioned that there’s potential plans to remove the Duelling rules entirely as Action Sequences cover it well enough. I agree with that in principle, but the dueling rules do provide some unique abilities – such as generating Hero Points or preventing wounds while doing damage with a Riposte – that are not covered (I don’t think) by the standard Action Sequence rules. Is it intended that these abilities will become unavailable to characters/swordsmen with the removal of these rules?

This is something of a miscommunication. The dueling subsystem is being removed, in favor of moving much of that instead to ways that Duelists can spend their Raises in Action Scenes even outside of a formal duel. The new way that the system works wasn’t ready in time for the Quick Start revision, but you can think of it more along the lines of the Maneuvers listed in the Quick Start Dueling rules being used anytime.

Similarly, the changes to the Swordsman’s School technique for Ambrogia technically give the Swordsman School less interesting abilities than in the previous QS rules. Is this going to be the extent of Swordsman’s Schools – one minor ability – or will their be other abilities, or even tiered abilities as in 1st Edition in the full rules?

There is some amount of progression with Duelist Schools, but we are focusing less on a linear progression (Apprentice, Journeyman, Master) and more on a Duelist’s personal journey and crafting their own unique style by studying others. It’s not the easiest thing to explain without the full ruleset being available, but instead of being an Ambrogia Journeyman, you know Ambrogia. You also know Aldana. You also know Eisenfaust. And you switch fluidly from style to style, based on what you’re doing and what the situation calls for.

There are plans for “Style Mastery” to denote a difference between someone who “just knows” a Style and someone who has devoted themselves to true Mastery, but it’s still in the early stages of development.