Friday, March 22, 2019

Being Frank Movie Review

Many moons ago I used to review movies. I loved doing it too, and went to some awesome screenings and press conferences - heck I was in the same room as the entire cast of the Avengers! Yes, I was twenty feet away from Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hiddleston without passing out. Getting to these screenings was pricey and soon fell outside of my budget, and the big Marvel movies didn't really need press conferences and screenings to get people interested - people were going to see them no matter what! - so my movie reviewing seemed to have been left by the wayside.

However, I still get invites and review offers for some of the coolest indie movies around, and last month I was offered the chance to check out the new documentary Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story

I couldn't make it to the screening, but my very good friend Maz Webster went in my place and really enjoyed it. Anyway, enough of me waffling on, here's Maz with her review of Being Frank.

This is a portrait of the man underneath the over-sized papier-mâché head of Frank Sidebottom, Chris Sievey. A good looking, hugely creative man. One that saw himself as a pop star, and could have achieved such status but didn’t fit into the Manchester music scene of the time. With his band, The Freshies, he released a few pure pop Manchester singles but they never quite broke out. Frank Sidebottom first appeared at a Freshies gig as a fan. This appears to be the start of a split personality which intimately consumed its creator.

Being Frank is an affectionate film including interviews with some of the privileged few who knew  Chris Sievey and including well known fans such as John Cooper Clarke and Johnny Vegas. This comical and moving story is told through extensive images, music and tapes made by Sievey himself. 

Starting with him as a young man, this is a portrait of a family man who had a fun and unique approach to fatherhood. Often making videos with his children, this is a man who lived and breathed art in all forms. Apparently never disheartened when a project failed to take off, he would just move on to the next idea. Frank Sidebottom was just meant to be a fun character but became a legendary Manchester personality putting the suburb of Timperley on the map. Sidebottom was often on television, released records, produced a comic and made many live appearances particularly through the ‘Madchester’ time of the late 1980’s. 

Frank Sidebottom allowed Chris Sievey to express his art and claim the fame he sought after. The alter ego however, started to overtake his true personality and a double life was truly formed. 

This is a thoroughly enjoyable film and is totally fascinating and inspiring. The world has lost a fantastic artist and human being. It’s time to bring Sievey and Sidebottom into your life. It really is.

Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is released in cinemas in the UK on 29th March 2019 by Altitude. For further information, check out the official website for the movie at and check out the trailer below.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Relics: A Game of Angels

Over the last three weeks I've been looking at the Tarot and how it has influenced my game playing and designing over the years. This brings me handily to this week's blogpost - a review of a forthcoming Kickstarter that uses the Tarot as a game mechanic...

Relics: A Game of Angels launches on Kickstarter on the 10th April 2019
Relics: A Game of Angels really ticks some major boxes in appealing to me. First of all, it uses Tarot as a mechanic for task resolution (and other cool elements). It also is about angels, which is very cool. And also, it's written by Steve Dee who I've known from the days of playtesting Conspiracy X 2.0. Sure, I may be a little biased, but you need to see what is sure to be a very cool Kickstarter launching next month.

Relics uses the Fugue System as designed by James Wallis that first appeared in his game Alas Vegas (which I mentioned last week in the blog). In Alas Vegas the basic premise was that the characters woke with no knowledge of who or where they were, and the game gradually filled in those details as the story progressed. The Tarot cards are used for task resolution using Blackjack (or "21") as the main system. However, in Relics the characters know who they are - they are angels stranded on Earth. The memory recovery element is still present, but the players start with a definite feel for who their character is, as they struggle against demons, creatures and some humans, to try to save the world from itself. Instead of remembering who they are, the mechanic cleverly allows players to recall skills or information that will help them in times of need, filling in the character's backstory as the game progresses. The player determines the skill they need to "remember" but another player narrates the memory.

In addition to this, the angels can discover and reconnect with powerful relics that have powers and abilities that could aid them in their fight, or have the opposite effect. While the game could be a pure fight against demons and evil forces, the inclusion of these relics adds an element of hunting for hidden and powerful items, racing against time and demonic powers to gain control of them before they fall into the wrong hands.

Artwork from the forthcoming Relics RPG
I've been reading the playtest document for Relics and I'm really enjoying the use of the Fugue system for it. It seems like a perfect marriage of system and setting as the characters uncover elements of their past that can influence their actions now.

The Tarot cards are used in additional ways in Relics, coming into play in character creation (though in a faster way to that which I've been toying with in WILD) as well as generating random miracles, and other narrative effects.

It is going to be hard to review or preview Relics without mentioning other angelic roleplaying games, and this really does feel like it could be an excellent successor to the incredibly popular RPG In Nomine, (originally In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas) that was big in the late 90's. And that's not a bad thing to be compared to as I loved In Nomine. Relics also has echoes of TV series such as Lucifer and Supernatural, and movies like The Prophecy, though the tone of the game is certainly a lot darker.

Another fantastic element that the game has going for it is the design of the Tarot cards. Remember a couple of posts ago I talked about the original Mage: The Ascension game and the Mage Tarot that was produced to accompany it? It is still one of my favourite decks and the artwork is fantastic. Well, it seems that Dan Smith (aka SMIF) who did some of the artwork for the Mage Tarot, as well as most of the illustrations for In Nomine, is on board as artist for the Relics Tarot.

With that, and Steve Dee's writing, and a great use of the Fugue system, it looks like Relics could be a huge success. Definitely check it out when the Kickstarter - you can find it here!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tarotica (Part III)

Over the last two weeks I've been chronicling my relationship with the Tarot, and how it has inspired and influenced my gaming and art. Onto the final part (with an epilogue to follow).

The first generation of the Tarot used for playtesting WILD
When I started working on WILD, my RPG of dreamsharing, my natural assumption was to continue with the system I knew the best - Vortex, the game system I'd designed for Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. It seemed to work for just about anything with a few tweaks, and I started stripping the system down to be even simpler. Four Attributes, and five "Skills", though these skills were more like roles or archetypes to begin with.

These skills were initially inspired by the most influential source for the game, with names like Forger, Architect, Pointman, Shade, etc. and I'd had a moment of clarity for the name of the game system - Rapid Die Movement.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to incorporate a set of Tarot cards into the game. I thought the randomness of dreams could be inspired by using a card draw (when the primary dreamer loses control over their own dreamscape) and some of the Tarot images could incorporate some of the list of 100 common dreams that I'd compiled. Then I started to wonder - why am I using dice for one thing, and cards for another, when I could just use the Tarot for everything - randomness, task resolution, and even character creation? Character creation was the real moment I turned my attention purely to the cards - if you lay out a spread of Tarot cards that look at your past to divine the future, why not use the Tarot cards to inspire and guide through character creation for the game? A detailed background is essential for WILD, as images from your past may surface in your dreams.

Much as I hated to say goodbye to the name Rapid Die Movement, I put the dice away and started to focus on the cards - their symbolism, alternative uses, and how they could work in task resolution. In order to do that, I thought I'd check out some other roleplaying games that used cards as a mechanic.

Everway RPG by Jonathan Tweet, Published by Wizards of the Coast (1995)

First one I was recommended was sitting on my gaming shelves. Everway was been a great influence in the way it looks, the design and the production. It's a rather gorgeous set that was way ahead of its time. Using two decks of cards - a Fortune Deck that was used for action resolution, and a Vision Deck that could be used to inspire encounters, quests and adventures. It came in a big box with three books and a handful of character sheets. To my regret, I've never played it, but the way the cards are used to randomly inspire the adventure, and other cards are used to resolve tasks, has been quite inspirational.

Once I'd decided to go the Tarot card resolution route, I actively sought out roleplaying games that used Tarot as a mechanic. Mostly to make sure that whatever mechanic I was using hadn't been done exactly the same way before! People have pointed me to Castle Falkenstein (which I haven't managed to check out yet, but have read up on), and to a quirky game called Psychosis - Ship of Fools.

Psychosis: Ship of Fools by John Fletcher, published by Chameleon Eclectic (1993)
Psychosis - Ship of Fools is an odd game in the fact that it was a set storyline designed to be played in about 4-8 sessions. The first of a line of Psychosis games, the second being Solitary Confinement (which I haven't read yet... must hunt that one down) the game involves the players waking in very different environments and trying to figure out who they are, where they are, and what the hell is going on. The Tarot are split into two piles - Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is used to determine task resolution (Wands are strength, Swords are agility, Coins are knowledge and Cups are intuition). The Major Arcana are drawn at special times in the game, when really major reality shifting stuff can happen. Very interesting!

Alas Vegas - written by James Wallis, published by Spaaace/Magnum Opus Press (2017)
More recently, I'd backed the Kickstarter of James Wallis' Alas Vegas, utilising Wallis' Fugue System, using Tarot cards for task resolution (with extra effects). Like Psychosis, Alas Vegas' gameplay is structured for a limited experience, taking place over four 3-4 hour sessions with a rotating GM. And, also like Psychosis, the characters wake with no memory of who they are or what's happening. The game answers these questions as the players progress. Task resolution is done by playing Blackjack (or "21") but all of the cards are in play, with the Major Arcana's numbers representing their value (special effects happen if you can 21 with 0: The Fool and 21: The World).

Again, very interesting, and thankfully not the same system as I had in mind.

The task resolution in WILD is being tweaked a lot at the moment, and I'm hoping to have another moment of clarity where all the cards will suddenly fall into place...

Until then, I'll keep playing with those cards until something drops.


Next week, continuing the theme of games that use Tarot cards, and following nicely along from Alas Vegas, I'm going to take a look at Relics - A Game of Angels - a game coming to Kickstarter in a matter of weeks that uses the same Fugue system.

Until next time, stay multi-classy!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tarotica (Part II)

Last week I thought I'd start a series of blog posts about the Tarot, and how I've been influenced by their use and design over the years. On to part 2!

I got into University, or Art School as it was then before it gained full University status, with a very clear purpose. I was going to draw comics. I loved comics, and I'd teamed up with some of my RPG group to publish some comics including my first title - Drowning in Darkness. How cheery! After the review that called me the "Goth Hergé" I was more determined to pursue my comic career. You can read more about that, my comic publishing company that was, and the few titles I released here.

While attending Uni, I started hanging out at the local comic shop (Abstract Sprocket) and continued my obsession with all things Vertigo. I loved the Sandman, Shade: The Changing Man, Kid Eternity, Enigma and The Invisibles. Almost everything they brought out I loved. So, when the lovely purveyor of comics at Sprocket showed me the listing for a rather special collectors item - The Vertigo Tarot - I put in an order straight away.

The Vertigo Tarot set, published by DC Comics in 1995. Gorgeous!
What sold it to me was not only the use of Vertigo characters for the Major Arcana (The Fool is an image of John Constantine, The Empress is Titania, Queen of the Fairies from Books of Magic), but the artwork was by Dave McKean - someone whose art I've admired for years. It's a huge set, in a big white box (strangely the same size as the fabled Nobilis 2nd Edition) with the deck, and a hardback guide book that explains the images and divinatory meanings, written by Rachel Pollack. While I'd been aware of her writing from her time on Doom Patrol, I didn't know she was an authority on the Tarot as well. As I read, my eyes were opened to how the cards worked, and Rachel's explanations have become my instant go-to for Tarot readings.

However, a weird thing happened. Inspired by how cool the cards were, and the clear and informative write ups in the accompanying book, I started actually doing Tarot readings. And the weirder thing is - they seemed to be strangely accurate. I had no idea what I was doing, and maybe that is the power of the Tarot and its iconography - with the vaguest of interpretations the questioner applies the meaning to their lives and it suddenly all makes sense.

I was doing readings for myself, as well as friends from Uni and my new found gaming group...


At Uni I rediscovered my love of tabletop roleplaying. When I'd gone into work, and then on my Graphic Design course, I'd almost put the RPG writing side of things away. I was concentrating on the comic production, and getting into Uni, and RPGs didn't really seem to be in my life. However, when I relocated to Uni I quickly fell into a game being run by my fellow students. A game that had become huge in the early 90's - Vampire: The Masquerade. The reawakening of my gaming interests has been covered before in my blog, waaaay back here.

We played a lot of Vampire, and then I kinda went off and started a new game with new players continuing the World of Darkness setting, moving over onto playing Mage: The Ascension. Wow, I loved that game. Our Mage game was huge, epic and bonkers, with some massive Paradox Backlashes that distorted reality. It inspired Debs to write her fiction, and I had my eyes opened again when they released the Mage Tarot set.

The Mage The Ascension Tarot set (pictured on the Mage rulebook)
We were very into Mage: The Ascension in a big way, so much so that Debs was the one who actually bought the Tarot set. As a card carrying Wiccan (as she liked to call herself) she took the cards very seriously, keeping them wrapped rather than boxed, and I was only allowed to handle them for short periods of time (something I respect even now - I touched them enough to put the cards on the table for the above photo before putting them carefully away).

The cards came with a little book of how to read and interpret them, though there was also a short section on using the cards to help with the RPG itself. However, the cards themselves were another revelation. Exchanging the traditional suits from Cups, Coins, Swords and Wands to Dynamism, Questing, Pattern and Primordialism was a revelation to me. You could change the suits? And use them in a roleplaying game?

Now we're getting somewhere.

The next incarnation of Mage (Mage: The Awakening) would explore this in even greater detail with a whole book called "The Keys to the Supernal Tarot" which looked at each card and how they could be used to inspire storylines and adventures. Excellent! Also helps that the art in this newer edition was bloomin' gorgeous!

Anyway, back to the right place chronologically. I had a strange moment when I wanted to continue our game but I had turned my back on the World of Darkness. I managed to fill the hole in my urban horror/magic/occult gaming with a completely different system - KULT. Again, that connection between tabletop gaming and the Tarot would come to the fore when I picked up a supplement for KULT called Taroticum.

The Taroticum supplement for 1st Edition KULT (US Edition 1994)
At its heart, Taroticum is a series of adventures that revolve around a deck of Tarot cards that can shape reality. It's an epic adventure where the characters must basically travel from London to Hell to create a missing Tarot card for the deck to save creation itself. It's wild and wacky, and I never ran it as our game morphed into a game of CJ Carella's Witchcraft.

However, the Taroticum of the game, KULT, has appeared again with the new edition (Divinity Lost) and the cards are available to purchase.

Kult: Divinity Lost set of the Taroticum cards
The Major Arcana are radically different to normal cards, 0 representing the Awakened Man (Anthropos) and 1 representing "God" (The Demiurge), 2 representing "The Devil" (Astaroth) , and the remaining 20 cards each for the 10 Archons and 10 Death Angels. The Minor Arcana is FIVE suits, rather than four, numbered 1-9 (no court cards) with each suit tied to one of the five paths of awakening - Death (Skulls), Passion (Roses), Time & Space (Hourglasses), Dream (Crescents) and Madness/Elysium (Eyes).

Having the suits represent actual elements of the game, like the Mage Tarot, has been a bit of an inspiration too. But I've gone on too long for this post. Next post will be about how I'm using the Tarot in WILD, and maybe a look at other games that use Tarot for task resolution in tabletop roleplaying.

Until next time, may the cards be in your favour.

Be kind.