Saturday, March 19, 2011

Charlie's in the wire!

It's looks like the Vietnam War issue of The Black Seal, which has been in production for a very long time, is finally nearing publication. Instead of being issue #4 of TBS, it'll be it's own book, two in fact: Cthulhu by Arclight and Missing in Action. Considering one of those volumes should include the article I wrote on the Tcho-Tcho in Vietnam, I'm quite excited to see it finished and finally see something of mine in print.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To Portrait or Not to Portrait...

[I have no idea where to put this, and it's a question I can't get out of my head, so I'm slapping it here.]

I've submitted a game for KublaCon, which has put me knee-deep into creating characters. Set during the Battle of Berlin, the Call of Cthulhu game will involve OSS/Delta Green agents (dressed as SS-Fallschirmjäger) flying a glider into the besieged city to infiltrate the Berlin headquarters of the Karotechia. Right now, the characters are:
2 veteran OSS/Delta Green field operatives
1 OSS/Delta Green research specialist
1 former Karotechia research subject
1 US Army glider pilot
1 US Army Japanese-American infantryman
Of these six characters, two are definitively male but the rest are gender-neutral. Whereas the glider pilot and the infantryman have to be men, any of the OSS/Delta Green personnel could be either male or female.

Now this would not be an issue if I simply used tent cards which gave the character's last name, organization, and nationality. In that case, the player could choose what gender they want for their character and could create a physical description of them on their own terms, both for themselves and the other players.

However, I've become enamored of using character portraits that are put in clear plastic photo stands instead of tent cards. Here is an example from the Call of Cthulhu scenario "The Burning Stars" in Terrors from Beyond:
And here's another example, from a Vietnam War Call of Cthulhu game I ran involving the disastrous Cambodian operation that lead to Delta Green being deactivated in 1970:And here is a character portrait from a Deadlands Reloaded game I ran at Dead of Winter:

I find these props much more evocative than simple tent cards, and, in the case of the Deadlands characters, capable of conveying important game information (the portrait shows the characters vice/virtue and the white space is where that character's particular "demon card" from a poker deck is supposed to go).

My problem is that when I create a character as gender-neutral, it means I have to create 2 sets of portraits for that character. I could simply fix the gender to one or the other, but then I run into the issue of forcing players into certain roles based on their gender preferences at the table. Even if I create an equal number of male and female characters, I'm still forcing a player that is comfortable with a certain gender to pick from a less than possible pool of characters.

There's also the rougher problem that it is just damn hard to find character portraits for the kind of female roles I need. In the case of my KublaCon game, it is relatively easy to find 4 sets of portraits of Waffen-SS soldiers (for the gender-neutral characters' disguises), but it's tough as hell to find even 1 decent portrait of an SS-Helferin.

Compounding the problem is that I don't like to use historical photos for character portraits, preferring instead to use photos from movies and television shows. It's partially because it feels a little like disrespecting the dead (or in the case of using Nazi photos, just plain creepy), but it's mostly because I'm really trying to emulate a fictional portrayal of the period rather than history wie es eigentlich gewesen. I wasn't a WWII spy and I doubt anyone else at the gaming table was either, so what we're really working off of is the fictional portrayal of the war as seen in movies, books, and tv shows.

I have no idea where I was going with this. It's just something I needed to write down, and maybe get other GM's opinions on. I'll probably end up using tent cards.